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IndyCar driver Graham Rahal will have the best-looking helmet in Sunday’s race at Mid-Ohio SportsCar Course.
Rahal is a big Ohio State fan and unveiled on Wednesday night a Buckeye-themed helmet, complete with the college football playoff and stickers.
A couple of interesting details about the helmet were the No. 15 sticker on the back – Rahal’s number (which also happens to be Ezekiel Elliott’s number) and the 18 Buckeye stickers. The 18 stickers represent Rahal’s career podium finishes in the IndyCar series.
Art Briles and Drake... basically the same person.
The Baylor coach mentioned Drake on Twitter after the rapper dropped the now-infamous diss track toward Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill titled, "Back To Back." Briles went on to say that Drake isn't the only one to go back to back because the Bears have won back to back Big 12 titles.
Who knew Briles is part-time hip-hop aficionado.
Say what you will about Tim Tebow, but he works hard.
The Eagles backup QB is always one for the unusual workout, but this takes it to another level. This is one "leg day" Tebow will be feeling in the morning.
Jose Canseco hasn't played in many years but he's still making headlines.
The former MLB star is going to show support for Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce) by "dressing up and living as a woman for a week." It may be odd for some to see the slugger don a dress and perhaps heels, but he told NY Daily News that he's reformed. As a man once "kind of against" Jenner's transition to female, he's doing the one thing he can think of to show solidarity and understanding.
"The only thing I can do is confirm it," Canseco said referring to a TMZ Sports report that he would live as a woman. "I can't say exactly how it's going to be done yet. It will be done for about a week — it will be on my Internet show called, 'Spend a Day with Jose.' Once it's completely done, I will be dressing and living as a woman for a week. I'm talking about full everything."
Fans claiming it's too "weird" for them, won't have to think too far back when that idea about Jenner seemed too far-fetched. Canseco says all you can do is support those going through the change.
"Once I watched it more and more, and realized what it really entailed and what he was going through, I started supporting him."
This will definitely qualify as "must-see tv."
So much talk this week will surround Kyle Busch’s push toward the Chase. Scoring his third win in four races Sunday, taking NASCAR’s Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has launched Busch just 23 points from the top 30 cutoff. Busch now has as many wins (four) as anyone in the Cup Series this season – and that’s despite missing 11 races with serious leg injuries.
At this point, it’s not a matter of if Busch makes the field but whether he’ll be a championship contender. Expectations are rising fast for a Joe Gibbs Racing team that wasn’t even sure at one point if their driver would return this season. Suddenly, at age 30 Busch is maturing into the type of consistent performer he needs to be to become a champion.
“I might have found my happy place,” he said Sunday. “I can’t believe what’s going on. I just want to celebrate with my team, my wife and my family.”
Expectations are rising for a No. 18 team that didn’t look like it could be in this position. But even if Busch falters from here on out, leading to a first-round Chase exit, it’s important to stop and acknowledge what he’s accomplished. Looking back at NASCAR modern-era injuries, stepping out of the car for that length of time and then excelling during the same season is unprecedented.
Let’s quickly compare Busch to some other serious injuries that have befallen NASCAR stars during the modern era….
Tony Stewart (2013): Broken leg, didn’t return that season. In 2014, he went winless and scored just three top-5 finishes.
Steve Park (2001): Suffering head injuries during a wreck at Darlington, Park doesn’t return until the following season. He goes winless in Cup without a top-5 finish. Earlier in his career, he missed half of the 1998 season due to an Atlanta wreck and then came back and failed to score a top-10 finish.
Bill Elliott (1996): Fractured his left thighbone during a crash at Talladega. Came back and failed to score a top-5 finish after missing seven races.
Ernie Irvan (1994-95): Suffered near-death injuries in a crash at Michigan. Missed the rest of the 1994 season, came back in ’95 and scored no top-5 finishes in three races. He won twice the following year (’96) and placed 10th in the season standings.
Kyle Petty (1991): Broke his leg as part of injuries suffered at Talladega. Failed to score a top-5 finish upon his return later that season.
The history of these top-tier drivers makes Busch’s recovery all the more impressive. A return to the car after this type of injury should be a struggle for survival. Instead, Busch has turned the Cup Series on its ear and become the hottest driver on the circuit. No matter what happens from here, it’s one of the more impressive feats we’ve seen in NASCAR’s modern era, an accomplishment that should be celebrated even if by some god-awful stroke of bad luck Busch misses the Chase.
Through the Gears we go….
FIRST GEAR: High-Drag Rule Package… A Drag
Including winner Kyle Busch, who knocked the package in the XFINITY race Saturday, it was hard to find a driver happy with the new high-downforce rules NASCAR introduced. The tall spoiler, 43-inch splitter extension and other adjustments designed for use at Indy to make cars “slingshot” past each other instead made the aerodynamics behind a car worse than ever.
“When you got back in traffic, whether you were behind a guy or behind a group of cars, you were horrible,” Busch said. “It was just absolutely so hard to handle in traffic. It's not sometimes such a bad thing, but you don't want to feel like you're going off into the corner and you're going to crash every time.”
His teammate was less politically correct.
“It’s terrible, that’s what I think,” said Matt Kenseth. “You just can’t pass. Yeah, you can run up on the straightaway a little bit, but you can’t run through the corner with anything.”
Technically, Indy had one more lead change than last season and the racing on restarts was markedly better. But this expert agrees with the drivers; within a few laps, single-file racing was produced and it became near impossible for cars to move up. Another problem with Indy is after the great Goodyear debacle of ’08, where tires kept blowing every 10-12 laps; the tire introduced there will always be on the conservative side. The less a tire wears out through a run, the less speed differential you have and it becomes more difficult for cars to pass each other.
You have to give NASCAR credit for trying a new experiment; on the plus side, it’s not like the racing was any worse at Indy. But faced with these rules or the ones introduced at Kentucky this month, it’s the low-downforce package that wins, hands down. They’ll try this configuration one more time, at Michigan in August but I don’t expect NASCAR to use it after that.
SECOND GEAR: Cause for Concern for Jeff Gordon?
Gordon’s final Brickyard 400? More like running into a ton of bricks. A midrace crash crushed any momentum for the No. 24 team when Gordon turned into the wall to avoid a spinning Clint Bowyer. A 42nd-place finish left Gordon 11th in the standings, winless and buzz building he could possibly miss the Chase.
Could that really happen? Right now, Gordon is 67 points ahead of the first driver outside the Chase, Aric Almirola. However, Busch’s push toward the top 30 means at least one driver above Almirola will eventually get knocked out. That would leave Gordon 37 points ahead of Clint Bowyer, within the margin of error where one bad race could leave the No. 24 on the outside looking in.
On paper, Gordon’s track record makes this possibility small. He had a top-5 car at Bristol, owns Darlington and could even win Watkins Glen in two weeks. But this season has been uncharacteristic for a No. 24 team who just seems off. Stay tuned….
THIRD GEAR: Healthy Chase Alternatives
For most of the year, NASCAR’s Chase seemed set for a Hendrick Motorsports / Stewart-Haas Racing final four. Kevin Harvick has been dominant at the top of the Sprint Cup standings while Jimmie Johnson is tied with Busch, earning four victories to date this season. Kurt Busch has been consistent despite missing the first three races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sits pretty at third in points.
Suddenly, though the long list of recent rule changes has mixed up the front of the field. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have spent the past month at the top of the food chain, Busch matched by the consistency of Kenseth and the pole-winning speed of Carl Edwards. Hendrick appears to have fallen back as Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have begun to flex some muscle again for Team Penske. Suddenly, a Chase that appeared headed Harvick/Chevy’s way appears more wide open than ever. The big loser: Martin Truex Jr. whose small team is struggling to keep up with all the additional expenses. Eight to 10 men now look to be in position to win a championship and that’s a much better storyline for the sport.
FOURTH GEAR: Ford’s Continued Fall
Indianapolis was the latest sign of how difficult this season has been for Ford. While Logano won the Daytona 500, Ford’s other programs outside of Team Penske continue to struggle. Eight of the 13 Ford entries at Indianapolis wound up 29th or worse. Roush Fenway Racing saw two of their drivers (Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Greg Biffle) wreck. Almirola, on the Chase bubble, spun out as well and still has yet to lead a single lap all season.
Much talk surrounds Toyota improving its roster for 2016 but you hear nothing from Ford despite several months of struggle. Logano and Keselowski may certainly be title contenders but as a whole Ford looks to be the “weakest link” of the three manufacturers right now, struggling to keep up with rule package changes and most of its future talent (Chris Buescher, Darrell Wallace Jr.) struggling to even earn sponsorship in the XFINITY Series.
Tony Stewart, despite a 28th-place finish at Indy appeared to show signs of life. He had a top-10 car for most of the event and was dogged by pit strategy, not handling at the finish. Does that mean he can pull off a surprise at Watkins Glen? …. Alex Bowman was one of only two cars to fail to finish at Indianapolis. His Tommy Baldwin Racing team has yet to earn a top-15 finish all season…. Pocono has just 43 entries, the bare minimum for a full field and the two-car Premium Motorsports team is struggling to survive week-to-week. Could short fields be in NASCAR’s future down the stretch of the 2015 season?
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
There is a probably not a more eager NFL team ready to get back to the practice field for training camp than the Seattle Seahawks. After the infamous failure to give Marshawn Lynch the ball on the one-yard line, costing the Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX, it is finally time for them to get the bitter taste out of their mouth.
Altogether 32 teams start the 2015 season with one goal and that is to go to the Super Bowl., In Seattle, that is not just the end, but it is the expectation. But, even a team that has been two consecutive Super Bowls like the Seahawks enters training camp with questions that need to be answered. Here is a look at three storylines as the two-time defending NFC champions get ready to open training camp on Thursday in Renton, Wash.
What will the revamped offensive line look like?
With the trade of Max Unger to New Orleans as part of the deal that brought Jimmy Graham to Seattle and losing James Carpenter in free agency, expect the competition for jobs on the offensive line to be fierce. The top candidate to win the job at center figures to be Patrick Lewis, who saw extensive playing last season while Unger was injured and was at center when the Seahawks exploded for 596 yards in their Week 16 win at Arizona. Lemuel Jean-Pierre also is someone that you can’t count out, as he always seems to find a way to stick around and get on the field. At Guard, Alvin Bailey and J.R. Sweezy should be the front-runners to lock down the left and right guard spots, respectively. Still, it would be a huge plus if rookie Mark Glowinski can come in and provide competition and invaluable depth. Russell Okung and Justin Britt are pretty much locked in at the two tackle positions. The key for Okung is to stay healthy, while Britt needs to be more consistent in his second season as the starting right tackle.
Can the Legion of Boom stay healthy?
With the recent news that All-Pro safety Earl Thomas is considered questionable at the best for the Sept. 13 season opener in St. Louis, the question has to be asked if the toll of 38 games over the past two season is starting to finally take its toll on the NFL’s best secondary. Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have never been guys afraid of contract, no matter the situation. But with Thomas’ status already in doubt and the fact that neither Chancellor nor Sherman were at 100 percent during the Super Bowl, it is critical that the Seahawks get immediate contributions from free agent signee Cary Williams, as well as help from the rest of the supporting cast. Don’t forget that Williams, the former Eagle, is the one tasked with replacing Byron Maxwell, who left via free agency and landed in Philadelphia. Some of the burden also falls to the offense, which can help the Legion of Boom by jumping out to big leads and putting more points on the scoreboard. The less punishment the L.O.B. has to dole out this season, the better chance the Seahawks have of being at full strength come playoff time, something that was not the case last season.
Can Tyler Lockett revive the Seahawks’ struggling return game?
The punt return game was one of the worst in the NFL last season, as Seattle clearly missed Golden Tate. The season started promising with Percy Harvin and Thomas lined up as Tate’s replacement. But that was before the implosion that led to Harvin getting traded and common sense kicking in to stop using Thomas, an All-Pro safety, on punt returns. The Seahawks were then relegated to using guys like Bryan Walters, pretty much eliminating the possibility of a big return. So Seattle had 28 fair catches on punt returns, second only to, ironically enough, Tate’s new team, Detroit, which led the league with 37.
Lockett, was an outstanding return man at Kansas State, returning four kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns during his career. It’s still early, but Lockett has shown signs that he is ready to walk right in and take over duties in Week 1, a homecoming of sorts for him in St. Louis. If Lockett can step in right away and make an impact on special teams, this will be a huge plus for Seattle. Besides giving the team a much-needed spark, it also will allow fellow wide receives Doug Baldwin and Paul Richardson to not have to do double duty this 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.
Style is important and nobody knows that better than Bobby Butter. Oh, you don't know the Bobby Butter story?
Damian Lillard schools Andrew Wiggins on the art of swag in their new Foot Locker commercial. Jimmy Kimmel stars as Butter and shows an important lesson in how style, or lack thereof, can lead you down an unwanted path.
Sadly, we all know a Bobby Butter that just didn't make it.
The NFC South was absolutely awful last year with every team posting a record below .500. Almost every team in the division shuttled players in and out to prevent that from happening again in 2015. The biggest question is who is going to take the crown and by how much.
Much like I did with the college football win totals, I will break down the schedules in terms of home and road opponents outside the division. In most situations, I'll give a split to each team in divisional play with them winning at home and losing on the road. Vegas is much more on the ball in the NFL compared to college football so the numbers are a lot sharper.
Note: Over/under odds courtesy of 5Dimes Sportsbook
(Over 8.5 wins -105, Under 8.5 wins -115)
Record Last Year: 6-10
Offense: The big three is the same with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White returning for another season. It'll be interesting to see new coordinator Kyle Shanahan's spin on the group, as he was able to fix the running game in Cleveland last year as well as Washington before that. Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith are all in the mix in the backfield. The offensive line needs to improve to help keep Ryan upright. Harry Douglas, Steven Jackson and Jacquizz Rodgers all found new homes.
Defense: The addition of Dan Quinn as head coach should help this side of the ball, which has been awful. He brought in Phillip Adams and O'Brien Schofield from Seattle as well as Brooks Reed and Justin Durant at linebacker. The team also addressed defensive holes with the draft picks of Vic Beasley and Jalen Collins. It's going to be a struggle for this side of the ball.
Schedule: A tour of the NFC East begins the season for Atlanta with a home game against the Eagles followed by back-to-back road trips to play the Giants and Cowboys. The Falcons also play three straight on the road Weeks 14-16 at Tampa, Carolina and Jacksonville. That stretch doesn't sound daunting but the road has been unkind at times to the Falcons.
Prediction: No real strong feel for the Falcons. A lot of questions and a lot of shootouts are in Atlanta's future. In this division though, you could probably say the same thing for every team.
(Over 8.5 wins +115, Under 8.5 wins -135)
Record Last Year: 7-8-1
Offense: Cam Newton didn't really get much in the way of offensive help this offseason. One could argue the most impactful addition was either Michael Oher for the offensive line or Devin Funchess for the outside. Oher replaces Byron Bell, who was not very good in 2014. The clogged backfield lost DeAngelo Williams, who went to Pittsburgh. Now it's Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert's show. Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen will be the main cogs to the passing game.
Defense: Carolina challenges Philly for the best group of linebackers in the NFL with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. This group could get better with the addition of first-round pick Shaq Thompson. Cornerback Charles Tillman comes over from Chicago, but who knows how much he has left in the tank. This is the best defense in the division.
Schedule: There are some easy and hard stretches to this schedule. Carolina plays at Seattle then hosts Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay after a Week 5 bye. The Panthers also have four road games out of five from Weeks 12-16.
Prediction: The under is the play, but not because of a lack of talent. Carolina's schedule will be its undoing. The Panthers are lucky to be in this division because it's going to give them several victories. They are the most talented team in the NFC South.
(Over 8.5 wins -125, Under 8.5 wins +105)
Record Last Year: 7-9
Offense: We'll see what Drew Brees can do this year without security blanket Jimmy Graham, who went to Seattle. Brees also lost Kenny Stills and Pierre Thomas, but the Saints did add in C.J. Spiller to help add some explosiveness. Brandin Cooks becomes the No. 1 receiver with Marques Colston and Nick Toon among those trying to help. The Graham trade did bring over Max Unger, who should be a nice addition to a beleaguered offensive line.
Defense: Rob Ryan's group was absolutely horrific last year, finishing 31st in total defense. The Saints lost Curtis Lofton and Patrick Robinson in free agency, but replaced them with Anthony Spencer and Brandon Browner. The unexpected release of Junior Galette will hurt since he had 10 sacks last year.
Schedule: The Saints alternate road and home games for the first eight weeks of the season. They don't have a single stretch with more than one road game in a row unless you count Weeks 10-12 when they play at Washington and Houston with a bye sandwiched in between.
Prediction: No strong lean for this one. The defense will be a project this year once again, but the schedule isn't too tough. New Orleans should compete with Carolina for first place in the division.
(Over 6 wins +110, Under 6 wins -130)
Record Last Year: 2-14
Offense: Jameis Winston actually enters a pretty good situation for a rookie quarterback. He's got a basketball team for weapons with Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The running back position is being held down by Doug Martin and Charles Sims. The problem with this unit is the offensive line, although they drafted help in Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet
Defense: This side of the ball needs some work too. Tampa can build around Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy as well as Alterraun Verner. Last year the Bucs tried to fix the defense by spending on almost every impact free agent. It didn't work so this year they let some of those players go while bringing in a few new pieces. The new faces include Chris Conte, Bruce Carter, Henry Melton and George Johnson. They are replacing disappointing Dashon Goldson and Mason Foster among others.
Schedule: Week 1 should be Winston vs. Marcus Mariota as the Bucs host the Titans. Tampa Bay has some winnable games before a Week 6 bye. The toughest stretch could be from Weeks 9-12 when the Bucs host the Giants and Cowboys followed by road games at the Eagles and Colts.
Prediction: I came up with six wins almost every time that I ran through the schedule. The defense should be able to keep this team in games with an offense that needs time to click with Winston under center. Once again another flawed team with some talent in this division.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
USC last entered the national championship race in 2008, which also was the last season the Trojans won the conference title. To call seven years a drought might be somewhat disingenuous — just ask Cal or Oregon State, neither of which have been to a Rose Bowl in more than a half-century — but expectations are such that this time has given those around the USC football something of a seven-year itch.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian said after USC’s 45-42 Holiday Bowl defeat of Nebraska last December, “We’re going to compete for championships. That’s why you come to USC.”
Expectations are indeed high heading into 2015, due in no small part to the return of record-setting quarterback Cody Kessler. His 39 touchdown passes matched the program’s single-season high, and the fifth-year senior from Bakersfield, California, threw just five interceptions.
Versatile playmakers Adoree’ Jackson, who played equally effectively in all three phases as a freshman, and Su’a Cravens, a standout at both linebacker and nickel back, give the Trojan defense star power.
Three Reasons USC Will Reach the College Football Playoff in 2015
It’s pretty simple: USC’s wins on the recruiting trail should give the Trojans an edge in certain key matchups. Each of the first two recruiting classes Sarkisian and Co. signed ranked No. 1 in the conference, and the 2015 class was Rivals.com’s best in the nation.
And, it’s not as if the new regime had to restock the cupboard. The previous staff included Ed Orgeron, one of the most celebrated recruiters in college football, and Tee Martin, still at USC and a key figure in the Trojan recruiting effort.
2. Offensive Line
Kessler’s record-setting season was thanks in large part to an offensive line that exceeded its collective experience level. USC started two true freshmen on the front five in Week 1, something that had previously not happened in USC history dating back to World War II.
Those two freshmen — Damien Mama and Toa Lobendahn — grew into hardened veterans as the season progressed. Along with a veteran in the more traditional sense of the word, preseason All-American center Max Tuerk, USC enters 2015 with arguably the best interior line in college football.
Tackle was a bit of a concern midway through last season, with Aundrey Walker playing sparingly after a slow recovery from injury, and starting left tackle Chad Wheeler lost to a torn ACL at Utah. However, Zach Banner stepped up nicely at right tackle, and Wheeler is working his way back.
Khaliel Rodgers and Viane Talamaivao saw significant playing time last season and provide depth in 2015, while 5-star recruit Chuma Edoga could push for playing time. All told, this is one of the best units in the nation.
3. End-of-Game Experience
USC was on the losing end of heartbreakers against Arizona State and Utah, both of which were decided on the final drive. Together, the defeats effectively kept the Trojans out of the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Only Arizona — which, coincidentally, USC beat thanks to a missed field goal in the final seconds — had more nail-biters last year.
The sting of those narrow defeats paid dividends in the bowl, as USC held off a Nebraska rally.
Last season’s Pac-12 South race proved the importance of closing in single-score games. Division champion Arizona won four of them. USC’s experience with close calls has already proven beneficial, and should carry over into the new campaign.
USC's 2015 Schedule
|Date||Opponent||Athlon Projected Rank for 2015||Projected Record|
|Sept. 5||Arkansas State||76||8-4|
|Sept. 26||at Arizona State||13||9-3|
|Oct. 17||at Notre Dame||12||9-3|
|Oct. 31||at California||47||6-6|
|Nov. 13||at Colorado||67||5-8|
|Nov. 21||at Oregon||8||10-3|
Three Reasons USC Will Not Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. Depth and Youth
While technically these are two elements of USC’s identity that could prevent the Trojans from reaching the Playoff, they combine to form one, key problem.
USC is still roughly a dozen players shy of the 85 on scholarship most teams carries. Injuries can pile up over the course of a season and render even full-sized rosters thin. USC experienced that last season, when it took fewer than 50 scholarship players on Pac-12 road trips.
The Trojan depth chart isn’t nearly as shallow this year, but Sarkisian will have to rely heavily on true freshmen and unproven reserves to fill out certain positions.
2. Run Game Sputters
The loss of Tre Madden to a season-ending injury just before Week 1 and Ty Isaac’s transfer to Michigan left Javorius "Buck" Allen and Justin Davis as USC’s only scholarship running backs last season. The lack of depth didn’t have too much of a noticeable impact, as Allen grinded 276 carries for 1,489 yards.
The Trojans have more scholarship backs on roster heading into 2015, but face more questions than a year ago. Can anyone shoulder the load quite as reliably as Allen?
Madden did so through the first half of the 2013 season, but he’s been on the shelf since. He’ll have considerable rust to shake off upon his return.
Davis showed explosiveness in his 2013 freshman campaign before sustaining a midseason injury, but his performance as the No. 2 ball carrier last season was decidedly up-and-down. Freshman Ronald Jones could find a prominent role in the rotation, but much like the entire running back situation, it’s uncertain.
3. No Replacement for Leonard Williams
The first-round NFL pick and All-American defensive lineman was both USC’s best pass rusher and arguably its top run-stopper, as Williams set the table for entire USC defense last season.
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will have to use multiple players to replicate Williams’ production, in part because Williams could effectively play both on the edge and interior. Should someone step up in one of those roles, the Trojans should be fine. But if would-be replacements for the All-American fall short, USC will lose its advantage on the line.
“Our future is ridiculously bright,” Sarkisian said after the Holiday Bowl.
He’s not wrong. The recruiting of Sarkisian and his staff are positioning USC for a run back to the top of the Pac-12 and the national college football landscape.
That run could come in 2015, but it may be early for the Trojans. The Pac-12 South is no easier than it was a season ago. Any one of five teams — Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Utah, as well as USC — could emerge as champion.
However, the Trojans have the misfortune of drawing each of the North’s two best teams in cross-divisional competition, including Oregon in late November. The defending conference champion Ducks are one of at least three opponents with considerable Playoff buzz heading into the fall, along with Trojan rivals UCLA and Notre Dame.
USC is a leading contender for the Pac-12 South’s spot in the conference championship game, but a Playoff appearance may be a year or two away.
This season marks the fifth for BYU as a football independent. When the Cougars declared their independence back in 2010, one of the major concerns was scheduling. Everyone in the college football world was wondering how on earth would a team not named Notre Dame, put out a schedule with 12 games that warrants respect nationally?
It was a big concern; one that even BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe had his trepidations about when the Cougars went rogue from the conference establishment.
Now in year five, Holmoe and the Cougars are hitting their stride when it comes to scheduling. This season boasts one of the toughest September slates in the country, and the schedule is sprinkled in with some of the best programs the Group of Five has to offer.
The 2015 slate is what many around BYU’s program feel will become the norm in regards to scheduling. You could argue that the 2016 schedule is even tougher.
Despite all the positive momentum, scheduling continues to become an ongoing battle for BYU, as the school knows it doesn’t have much leverage when it comes to brokering games, or getting return trips back to Provo, Utah. The only thing BYU can control at this point is winning the games it schedules. If BYU wins with this schedule, the nation will be buzzing and respected programs around the country might reconsider the risk of playing a game in Provo.
Here’s a break down of the 12 teams on BYU’s regular season schedule, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Oct. 24 vs. Wagner
Yes, it’s never fun to see FBS programs face FCS opponents. But BYU is indebted to Wagner for helping make the Missouri game in Kansas City this season a reality. It took three programs to readjust their 2015 schedules to get BYU and Missouri on this year’s slate, and Wagner was one of those schools. The others were UNLV and Idaho State, who were originally supposed to be on BYU’s schedule this season.
So the Cougars dropped UNLV and Idaho State for Missouri and Wagner. I think BYU fans would take that anytime. The Missouri game shows the behind-the-scenes work that it sometimes takes for a series to happen, and also the power of BYU’s relationship with ESPN.
11. Oct. 2 (Friday) vs. UConn
BYU defeated the Huskies 35-10 in Storrs to open the 2014 season. UConn won two games last season, and one of those came in a dogfight against FCS school Stony Brook.
Have to think there are going to be some more growing pains in the second year of the Bob Diaco era. North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs might inject life at the quarterback position, where there’s been a revolving door since Dan Orlovsky was slinging it around in the Big East days for the Huskies.
The Huskies averaged only 21 points per game last season, they won’t be able to hang with BYU’s explosive offense in their first-ever trip to Provo.
10. Nov. 21 vs. Fresno State
An old WAC rivalry renews on senior night in Provo. BYU hasn’t squared off against the Bulldogs since the 1998 season. Fresno State leads the all-time series 5-4.
The Bulldogs somehow reached the Mountain West Championship Game last season, the second consecutive appearance for the program; but this year they return only 11 starters. Marteze Waller is one of the better running backs BYU will face this season. Waller racked up 1,368 yards in 2014. With how inexperienced the Bulldogs are this season; some on the Valley are going to be wondering when the next member of the Carr family is going to appear at quarterback.
9. Nov. 6 (Friday) at San Jose State
The last time BYU travelled to San Jose in 2012, the Cougars left Spartan Stadium with a loss. The Cougars will look to get revenge on the Spartans in a game that will be the latest kickoff in program history on the mainland. If that isn’t a unique stat for you, well, I just don’t know what it is.
San Jose State went 3-9 last season and enters year three under Ron Caragher. The Spartans should have an exciting offense with 10 starters returning, and one of the best wide receiver units in the Mountain West despite losing three-star Kanya Bell who was expected to be an instant difference maker for SJSU.
8. Oct. 10 vs. East Carolina
The American Athletic Conference and BYU have had a strong and healthy relationship since the Cougars went independent. AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has even stated in the past that his league and BYU have a “quasi-alliance” in regards to scheduling, as both parties benefit from these games. The AAC needs to bolster its non-conference slate, and BYU wants to schedule games around the country for its nationwide fanbase and piece together games that’ll be nice for its ESPN contract. ECU and BYU could fit the bill nicely for TV.
The Pirates are one of the better Group of Five teams despite losing NCAA all-time receptions leader Justin Hardy to graduation. The Pirates have an identity of being a good offense under Ruffin McNeill, I’d expect nothing less in the Pirates’ first-ever against BYU.
7. Nov. 28 at Utah State
The Battle for the Old Wagon Wheel should have both Taysom Hill and Chuckie Keeton on high alert. Why? Both QBs have suffered season-ending injuries in BYU-USU matchups the past three seasons.
These old rivals will be squaring off against each other for the 85th time. The Aggies defeated BYU last season when the Cougars were ranked No. 18 nationally, sending BYU into a tailspin that turned into a four-game losing streak. Usually this game is played on the first Friday in October to accommodate LDS General Conference in the area, but this year it gets moved to after Thanksgiving for an end of the year showdown. For both schools, they are excited to have a rivalry matchup to cap off the season.
6. Sept. 26 at Michigan
This is BYU’s second meeting all-time against the Maize and Blue. The other game came in the 1984 Holiday Bowl, which led to BYU winning the school’s one and only national championship.
One of the players roaming the Michigan sidelines was none other than Jim Harbaugh, have you heard of him? Yeah, I thought so. The Harbaugh era starts with much anticipation, but do the Wolverines have the talent to keep pace in the difficult Big Ten East? Definitely not this year, although eventually Harbaugh will turn it around. But will he stay long enough at his alma mater before another NFL job comes calling?
Of the teams BYU is facing in the month of September (Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA), Michigan appears to be the best chance for BYU to pull off a victory.
5. Oct. 16 (Friday) vs. Cincinnati
The Bearcats are one of the preseason favorites to land in the Group of Five automatic New Year’s Six spot, and the biggest reason is because of junior quarterback Gunner Kiel, one of the best in the country.
Kiel threw for 3,254 yards a year ago, if he puts up bigger numbers this season he could become a Heisman contender, which was what everyone said he would be when he signed to attend Notre Dame as the nation’s No. 1 recruit out of high school.
Last year, Cincinnati won nine games and I’d expect them to outdo that in year three under Tommy Tuberville. Sliverberry Mouhon is one of the better defensive ends in the AAC, but he also is the lone returning starter along the Bearcats’ D-line.
4. Sept. 5 at Nebraska
BYU and Nebraska is a juicy opening week matchup that will have a national ABC audience to help showcase it. This will mark the first time that these two schools have squared off against each other.
I could see Nebraska winning by two touchdowns, but I could also see BYU winning by a similar margin. This game could go a multitude of ways, and I think that’s what adds to the intrigue.
Bronco Mendenhall and Mike Riley are close friends in the coaching profession, and they’ve squared off against each other three times with Mendenhall winning two of those contests. Riley inherits a talented Huskers team that will have high expectations, as is the norm in Lincoln. But can Riley deliver and get the Huskers to the top of the Big Ten mountain? The BYU game will be a tone-setter for Riley.
3. Sept. 12 vs. Boise State
After one year, the Broncos are riding high under Bryan Harsin, and for good reason. The Broncos, who won the Fiesta Bowl last season, will be better in 2015, despite losing RB Jay Ajayi and QB Grant Hedrick.
The Broncos lead the all-time series against BYU 4-1, including last year’s game on the blue turf , which Boise dominated 55-30. And it actually wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. This game is critical for BYU if it hopes to have a successful season. If the Cougars can’t defeat Boise at home, it’s hard to imagine them escaping September with more than two wins.
2. Nov. 14 vs. Missouri (in Kansas City)
The two-time defending SEC East champions are not a program to sleep on anymore. The Tigers are a legitimate force in college football, and they have an identity of nasty defenses. This is the first meeting between the two schools since the 1983 Holiday Bowl, which BYU won due to Steve Young’s late heroics. This is the first of a two-game series that will have the Tigers making a November 2020 visit to Provo.
Missouri returns 12 starters from last season and a majority of those are the big hogmollies up front protecting two-year starting quarterback Maty Mauk.
A lot of BYU’s chances in this game will rest on the health of Taysom Hill. If he is healthy, BYU could potentially pull off an upset here, but the Cougars aren’t used to facing a front seven as physical as what the Tigers put out on a yearly basis.
Either way, BYU fans are thrilled to see more quality opponents filling up the November schedules.
1. Sept. 19 at UCLA
Jim Mora continues to do a terrific job in Westwood. Entering year four, Mora already has 29 wins under him, and he has his best team yet in 2015.
The Bruins return 18 starters, 10 on the offensive side of the ball. The one position that doesn’t have a starter returning is the quarterback spot. Brett Hundley was a three-year starter for the Bruins, but do-it-all freshman Josh Rosen comes in with lofty expectations, as lofty as some saying he’s the best QB prospect to arrive at UCLA since Troy Aikman.
UCLA is a classic example of a team that BYU historically struggles against, talented offensive and defensive lines, and the Bruins are better than BYU at every position except QB. If BYU were to win in Pasadena, it would mark the first time the Cougars have won in the Rose Bowl since 1983 when Steve Young was the QB. They’ve lost their last three appearances in the historic venue since.
— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.
After being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December, Kansas City Chiefs’ Eric Berry has been deemed healthy enough to resume his football career. The Chiefs open up their training camp today, and everybody will surely be excited to have him back. Berry had finished treatment in June, and some testing yesterday cleared him for the football field.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Berry has been among the top safeties in the league, after a storied career at the University of Tennessee. Although his transition back will be filled with caution, early indications say that he is in strong shape, even after chemotherapy. This has to be one of the best feel-good stories of the year.
See how the Chiefs announced his return:
UPDATE: After several rounds of thorough tests, Eric Berry has been cleared for Wednesday morning’s #ChiefsCamp practice.— Kansas City Chiefs (@KCChiefs) July 29, 2015
LSU enters the 2015 season ranked No. 15 in the nation by Athlon Sports with a lot of question marks on both sides of the ball. Beyond the amount of returning starters and gifted players stretched across the roster, LSU has a very favorable schedule all things considered, which could make them a contender to reach the College Football Playoff this season.
The Tigers will take the field with one of the best running backs in the nation in sophomore Leonard Fournette. Three starting offensive linemen return along with a highly underrated receiving unit, which should help win tight games. On defense the Tigers are strong up the middle on the line and at linebacker, and also in the secondary, leaving just a couple of holes that need to be filled. If some consistency is found under center and at outside linebacker – watch out for the Tigers in 2015.
LSU will have to gel quickly after getting a warm-up game against McNeese State before traveling to Starkville to face a potentially dangerous Mississippi State team. Being just the second game of the season, head coach Les Miles must keep his team focused on the goal at hand and not allow the Tigers to overlook the Bulldogs with a Week 3 home date against Auburn looming.
The other Tigers in the SEC West will be no picnic but getting them early in the season helps. One negative against LSU in this matchup: Auburn opens against Louisville but then gets Jacksonville State in Week 2 to make any necessary adjustments before jumping into a conference play.
The next five games on LSU’s schedule are all winnable games; at Syracuse, vs. Eastern Michigan, at South Carolina, vs. Florida, and vs. Western Kentucky. Game 9 starts what could upend a 7-1 or 6-2 potential season in SEC play. The Tigers travel to Alabama, host Arkansas, travel to Ole Miss, and then return home to face Texas A&M.
Gearing up for Alabama has never been a problem for LSU, especially under Les Miles. What favors LSU in this matchup this time around is Bama’s schedule prior to facing LSU. Alabama’s schedule is brutal in October starting with a road trip to Georgia, and followed by games against Arkansas (home), Texas A&M (road), and Tennessee (home). The Crimson Tide could be a battered and worn out wave of exhausted players by Nov. 7.
Even if Arkansas has faltered and fallen below expectations by Nov. 14, the Hogs always play better in the second half of the season under head coach Bret Bielema. LSU will not take the Razorbacks lightly this season after being blanked 17-0 last year in Fayetteville.
Arkansas will be in the middle of a difficult month by the time the Razorbacks come to Baton Rouge. A date with Ole Miss precedes LSU, and is followed by back-to-back home games against Mississippi State and Missouri. The Tigers just might catch the Hogs at the right time.
Last season Ole Miss jumped out to a 7-0 record but then injuries and a lack of depth started to take their toll. LSU stopped the Rebels' winning streak at seven games in Death Valley. The Rebels will be out for revenge in 2015 but face a lot of questions on offense that will have to be answered before Nov. 21 if this team is to be taken seriously.
LSU gets lucky again, if possible, with the placement of the Ole Miss game. Game 3 of the Rebels’ season starts at Alabama, followed by Vanderbilt, at Florida, vs. New Mexico State, at Memphis, home against Texas A&M, at Auburn, host Arkansas, and then LSU. Ole Miss has a bye before facing LSU but that bye comes on the heels of an eight-game stretch, seven of which should be tough contests.
The final game of the regular season welcomes back the one-time beloved, but now surely to be hated, John Chavis. Chavis was in Baton Rouge for six seasons helping LSU get to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game as the team’s defensive coordinator.
If anyone knows how to defend a Les Miles team, other than Nick Saban, Chavis would be the man. The big question is how quickly will the Aggies defense respond to Chavis’ way of doing things on the field?
The Aggies have a great passing attack but then again LSU is “DBU.” A&M has trouble running the ball, which could play into the Tigers’ hands.
Of all the SEC West squads Texas A&M may have it the easiest with a very home-friendly schedule. The contest in Tiger Stadium on Nov. 28 will be just the third time the Aggies will have left the state of Texas in 2015. The one positive for LSU is this game is on the backside of a two-game road trip for the Aggies, with game one being at Vanderbilt.
If LSU can upset preseason ranked No. 4 Auburn, the other Tigers team will have a full head of steam entering their road contest against Alabama. Arkansas might be Miles and company's last tough game of the season depending on how Ole Miss shapes up on offense.
A 10-2 season could very easily be had, which could be good enough to tie for first place in the SEC West.
LSU gets South Carolina and Florida in crossover play, in what should be down years for both programs, and avoids preseason SEC East favorite Georgia and an upstart Tennessee team during the regular season. Georgia is a mirror image team of LSU with inexperience under center, a potential All-American at tailback, and an All-SEC-caliber offensive line. The other similarity is a great secondary.
Should the two teams get to square off in Atlanta in the SEC Championship Game, talk about a matchup for the ages, getting to watch Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette take turns working their magic.
Oddly, LSU is projected to go 4-4 in SEC play but only three teams are ranked ahead of them in the preseason poll. Swap Arkansas for Ole Miss, leaving the must-win games as the Alabama and Auburn matchups or at minimum a split for any shot at getting into the College Football Playoff.
This Tigers’ team could be 10-2 on the high end, 9-3 in the middle, or 8-4 as projected by season’s end. Everything depends on the play under center and how new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele works the outside of his front seven.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
The New York Jets couldn’t do much right last year, highlighted by lackluster quarterback performance and a good defense that gave up a lot of points. However, the Jets look to start over again, having flipped their coaching staff. The vocal Rex Ryan is out, and Todd Bowles is getting his first full season at head coach. With the old regime out, can the Jets make a significant leap to a playoff contender?
5 Burning Questions for the New York Jets in Training Camp
Will the quarterback play improve?
Last year, Geno Smith really struggled to establish himself as a franchise quarterback. While he started the majority of the season, Michael Vick got a few starts and was always looming around. Now, Ryan Fitzpatrick will backup Smith, and the Jets clearly are not afraid to make a quarterback change if Smith doesn’t play well. This may be Smith’s last chance, so he certainly must play better than last year. With a strong defense, they don't Smith to be a superstar; he just needs to be consistent and keep them in better position to win games. However, there are some silver linings: The Jets acquired Brandon Marshall to be the premier wide receiver, and Smith threw for a perfect passer rating in his last game last season.
How will Brandon Marshall help the offense?
Geno Smith only had one true wide receiving target in Eric Decker in 2014, but the Jets significantly upgraded this corps by trading for Brandon Marshall. This move provides a much-needed player to a depleted group and weapon-less quarterback. Marshall now gives them two solid redzone threats, an area in which they struggled to get passing touchdowns. Instead of having one option, there are now two outside options to attack the endzone. It’s also important to note that they drafted speedster Devin Smith, who can also help stretch the field.
What will the Jets running game look like?
The Jets don’t have a true, great primary running back. They do have plenty of depth at the position, with five currently on the roster. After splitting time last year, Chris Ivory will probably get the starting job. However, with his inconsistency, there will be a mix of backs playing. At the top of the backup options will be Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley, who is recovering from an ACL and MCL tear. They will both get plenty of carries, but will any of the running backs separate from the rest of the field? With obvious questions at quarterback, similar questions at running back have to be concerning. The Jets need something on offense to be successful to carry this team, but which will it be?
What will the impact of Sheldon Richardson suspension be?
The Jets have some great talent on defense, and Sheldon Richardson is among the best players on the entire team. Well, they’ll have to play without him for the first four games, serving a suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. The Jets still have a great defense, but losing a player of Richardson's caliber has to have a fairly significant impact. Richardson gets to the quarterback quickly and had among the most quarterback knockdowns last year. Muhammad Wilkerson and Richardson formed a great tandem on the outside of the defensive line, but Wilkerson will be doing it without him for some time. The Jets need a great start to the season, but losing Richardson will hurt.
How will the Jets fare under new coaches?
It was time for the Jets to change their coaching staff, especially as Rex Ryan never lived up to his extremely high expectations. Now they’re handing the reins of the team to Todd Bowles, who has never been a full-time head coach. However, he was among one of the league’s top coordinators the past few years and won't bring the kind of unnecessary attention that Ryan garnered. The Jets outfitted Bowles with Chan Gailey as offensive coordinator and Kacy Rodgers as defensive coordinator. While Rodgers was a solid choice, Gailey is a head-scratcher for sure: He hasn’t coached since 2012, when he was fired as the head coach of the Bills. And his stint before that in 2008 with the Kansas City Chiefs ended shortly after a lackluster year. The offense needs to improve the most, but they didn’t hire a strong candidate for the job.
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Coordinator changes in college football can have an immediate impact on either side of the ball. Every year, it seems a handful of teams show significant improvement in the win column or on the stat sheet as a result of a coordinator change.
Last season, TCU’s offense improved to one of the best in the nation after the hire of Doug Meacham as the team’s play-caller. Which teams will see the biggest jump from a coordinator hire in 2015? Texas Tech’s David Gibbs (defense), Texas A&M’s John Chavis (defense), Auburn’s Will Muschamp (defense) and Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley are just a few names to watch this fall.
Here’s a look at some of the top coordinator hires to watch in 2015 from the Power 5 and Group of 5 teams in college football:
Top Coordinator Hires from Power 5 Programs
Tim Beck/Ed Warinner, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Ohio State
Beck and Warinner have big shoes to fill in 2015. This duo is tasked with replacing Tom Herman after he left to be the coach at Houston. Urban Meyer is always involved prominently with the offense, but the Beck/Warinner combination should be a good setup for the Buckeyes. Beck and Warinner worked together at Kansas from 2005-07, helping to guide a Jayhawk offense that averaged 42.3 points per game in 2007. Warinner is regarded as one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches.
Tom Bradley, Defensive Coordinator, UCLA
Bradley was a long-time assistant at Penn State from 1979-11 and departed Happy Valley prior to Bill O’Brien’s arrival in 2012. After sitting out the 2012-13 seasons, Bradley resurfaced at West Virginia as a defensive assistant in 2014 and was hired by coach Jim Mora to call the defensive signals in 2015. Under Bradley’s watch, the Nittany Lions led the Big Ten in fewest points allowed in 2009 and 2011.
Kendal Briles, Offensive Coordinator, Baylor
Briles inherits the play-calling duties after Philip Montgomery left to be the head coach at Tulsa. Briles has worked on his father’s staff since 2008 and guided the Bears’ offense to an average of 7.9 yards per play in the Cotton Bowl against Michigan State.
Jim Chaney, Offensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
Chaney is on his fourth stop in the FBS ranks as a play-caller, joining new coach Pat Narduzzi’s staff after a two-year stint in Arkansas. Chaney also called the plays at Purdue and Tennessee prior to joining the Razorbacks. The Missouri native has a versatile background, which includes experience with the spread and power rushing attacks.
John Chavis, Defensive Coordinator, Texas A&M
Defense has been Texas A&M’s biggest issue since joining the SEC in 2012. The Aggies gave up 36.5 points in SEC contests in 2013 and 36.6 in 2014. However, improvement should be noticeable in 2015. Chavis is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in the nation and has worked as a play-caller in the SEC since 1995. The South Carolina native was a huge hire for coach Kevin Sumlin, and the Aggies are starting to trend in the right direction on defense.
Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina
Chizik returns to the sidelines for the first time since he was fired as Auburn’s head coach at the end of the 2012 season. Even though Chizik’s stints as a head coach were mixed – he did win a national championship with the Tigers and spent two years as the head coach at Iowa State – he is regarded for his work as a defensive coordinator. Chizik has previously called the plays at Texas, Auburn and UCF. He’s tasked with improving a defense that allowed 6.5 yards per play and surrendered 39 points a game last season.
Geoff Collins, Defensive Coordinator, Florida
The “Minister of Mayhem” should keep Florida’s defense near the top of the SEC. Despite a sluggish offense under former coach Will Muschamp, the Gators never finished lower than sixth in the SEC in points allowed from 2011-14. Mississippi State’s defense was a big reason why the Bulldogs won 10 games in 2014, and Collins inherits a solid core of defensive talent in Gainesville.
Josh Conklin, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
Conklin is a rising star in the assistant ranks and was picked by defensive guru Pat Narduzzi to call the signals for Pittsburgh’s defense. The Wyoming native started his coaching career in 2003 and was hired at Tennessee in 2012, before landing his first FBS coordinator position at FIU in 2013. The Panthers ranked third in Conference USA in scoring defense and generated 33 turnovers last season.
Manny Diaz, Defensive Coordinator, Mississippi State
Diaz was considered a rising star when he was hired by Mack Brown at Texas in 2011. However, the Longhorns regressed on defense after a promising 2011 season, and Diaz was removed as the coordinator in 2013. Even though his tenure in Austin was a disappointment, Diaz bounced back at Louisiana Tech in 2014, as the Bulldogs led the nation with 42 turnovers and held opponents to 24.7 points per game. The Miami native returns to Starkville after working as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator in 2010.
D.J. Durkin, Defensive Coordinator, Michigan
The play of Florida’s defense was overlooked during the Will Muschamp era due to the struggles of the offense. Although Muschamp played a huge role in developing the defense, Durkin also deserves a lot of credit. The Ohio native is a highly-regarded assistant and is reunited with Jim Harbaugh after working at Stanford with the former Michigan quarterback from 2007-09.
Dan Enos, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas
Enos’ decision to leave his position as head coach of Central Michigan for a coordinator job came as a surprise. However, the Michigan native was a good hire for an Arkansas’ offense hoping to increase its passing output in 2015. Enos worked as a quarterback coach from 2004-05 at Cincinnati and 2006 at Michigan State. And at Central Michigan, the Chippewas averaged at least 25 points per game in MAC contests from 2011-14.
David Gibbs, Defensive Coordinator, Texas Tech
Defense has been a major issue at Texas Tech in recent years. Since 2010, the Red Raiders have never ranked higher than seventh in the Big 12 in scoring defense and allowed a whopping 41.3 points per game in 2014. Gibbs takes over in Lubbock after coordinating an aggressive, turnover-driven Houston defense from 2013-14. The Cougars also limited opponents to 20.6 points per game last year. This should be one of the nation’s top hires in 2015.
Danny Langsdorf, Offensive Coordinator, Nebraska
Langsdorf is back in the collegiate ranks after a one-year stint with the Giants. Prior to 2014, Langsdorf worked as Oregon State’s coordinator from 2005-13 and also has stops on his resume from the CFL (Edmonton) and in the NFL (Saints). Langsdorf was a valuable assistant for coach Mike Riley in developing quarterbacks and passing attacks at Oregon State. The Beavers led the Pac-12 in passing offense in 2013 and finished second in 2012.
Jim Leavitt, Defensive Coordinator, Colorado
Leavitt is back in the collegiate ranks after a four-year stint as an assistant with the 49ers. The Texas native previously worked as the head coach at USF from 1996-09 and made a stop as a co-defensive coordinator at Kansas State from 1992-95. Leavitt has a wealth of experience on defense, which is a huge asset to Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre as he looks to improve a defense that allowed 43 points per game in Pac-12 action in 2014.
Will Muschamp, Defensive Coordinator, Auburn
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Auburn in coach Gus Malzahn’s two-year tenure. However, the defense allowed 32.8 points per game in SEC contests in 2014 and surrendered 29.6 points per contests in 2013. Muschamp’s arrival should pay huge dividends for the Tigers this season, as he’s regarded as one of the top defensive minds in college football. Muschamp didn’t work out at Florida as a head coach, but he should have more success calling the defensive signals for Auburn.
Barry Odom, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri
Memphis showed significant progress under Justin Fuente’s watch over the last three seasons. Fuente has been instrumental in the turnaround, but he also hired a good staff, including Odom as the defensive coordinator. The Tigers gave up 19.5 points per game in 2014 and limited opponents to 4.7 yards per play. As a former Missouri linebacker and Gary Pinkel assistant, Odom should provide Missouri with a seamless transition from Dave Steckel at coordinator.
Lincoln Riley, Offensive Coordinator, Oklahoma
After last year’s disappointing 8-5 record, Bob Stoops wasted no time in overhauling Oklahoma’s coaching staff. Riley plans on implementing an Air Raid attack similar to the one he coordinated at East Carolina and learned under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. The Sooners want to jumpstart their passing attack after ranking eighth in the Big 12 last season, but Riley won’t abandon the rushing game, especially with talented sophomore Samaje Perine leading the way. Under Riley’s watch (2010-14), East Carolina averaged at least 30 points a game in three out of the last four seasons.
Mike Sanford, Offensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
Sanford is considered a rising star among coordinators and has been on a fast track through the assistant ranks. Sanford worked as a graduate assistant with UNLV in 2005-06 and later spent two seasons with Stanford from 2007-08. After one season at Yale, the former Boise State quarterback spent a year at WKU and returned to the Cardinal to work under David Shaw from 2011-13. Sanford coordinated Boise State’s offense last year, guiding the Broncos to an average of 39.7 points per game.
Kalani Sitake, Defensive Corodinator, Oregon State
Gary Andersen inherited a rebuilding project at Oregon State, but future looks bright in Corvallis with the former Utah State and Wisconsin head coach leading the way. Andersen also hired an outstanding staff, including Sitake as the team’s defensive coordinator. The Hawaii native was hired away from Utah after spending 10 years with the Utes, including six as the play-caller on defense. In 2014, Utah ranked No. 4 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense.
Top Group of 5 Coordinator Hires
Kent Baer, Defensive Coordinator, UNLV
A veteran coordinator like Baer is a huge asset to UNLV, as new coach Tony Sanchez makes the transition from the high school ranks. Baer was hired to Las Vegas away from Colorado after a two-year stint with the Buffaloes. In addition to his last job, Baer has worked as the defensive coordinator at San Jose State, Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, California, Idaho and Utah State.
Brian Borland, Defensive Coordinator, Buffalo
Buffalo made one of the offseason’s top hires with the addition of Lance Leipold from Wisconsin-Whitewater, and a few coaches followed Leipold to the FBS level. Borland worked as Wisconsin-Whitewater’s defensive play-caller from 2002-14, with the Warhawks holding opponents to just 12.2 points per game last season.
Kevin Clune, Defensive Coordinator, Utah State
Clune coached at Utah State from 2009-13 before leaving for a season to coordinate Hawaii’s defense in 2014. The Rainbow Warriors defense showed significant improvement under Clune’s direction, allowing 26.8 points per game in 2014 after giving up 38.8 in 2013.
Brent Key, Offensive Coordinator, UCF
Key is known for his work on the recruiting trail but now has a chance to call the plays for UCF’s offense in 2015. The Birmingham native has worked as a full-time assistant at UCF since 2006.
Todd Orlando, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Houston
Orlando is part of a solid staff pieced together by new coach Tom Herman. The Pennsylvania native has worked as a defensive coordinator in the FBS ranks since 2005, including the last two with Utah State. The Aggies limited opposing offenses to 19.7 points per game last year.
Tyson Summers, Defensive Coordinator, Colorado State
Summers was picked by new Colorado State coach Mike Bobo to coordinate the Rams’ defense after a successful one-year stint as UCF’s defensive signal-caller in 2014. Under Summers’ watch, the Knights held opponents to 19.2 points per game.
Don Treadwell, Offensive Coordinator, Kent State
Treadwell struggled as a head coach at Miami (Ohio), but the Ohio native is regarded for his work as a play-caller, especially during a four-year stint at Michigan State from 2007-10.
Bryant Vincent, Offensive Coordinator, South Alabama
Vincent returns to South Alabama after one season at UAB. In 2014, Vincent guided the Blazers to an average of 33.2 points per game and ranked fourth in Conference USA with 17 plays of 40 yards or more.
Brian Ward, Defensive Coordinator, Bowling Green
Bowling Green’s defense struggled mightily last year, giving up 33.5 points per game in coach Dino Babers’ first season. Ward returns only four starters, but the Falcons should be better on this side of the ball in 2015. Under Ward’s direction, Western Illinois ranked seventh nationally in total defense in 2013.
Bill Young, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Tulsa
Young is sharing the co-defensive coordinator title with former Baylor assistant Brian Norwood, and the veteran assistant should be a huge asset for new coach Philip Montgomery. Young has a wealth of experience as a coordinator, including recent stops at Oklahoma State (2009-12), Miami (2008) and Kansas (2002-07).
Athlon Sports is going division by division, asking and (trying to) answering the biggest question for every team in the league entering the 2015 season.
Baltimore: Who makes plays on offense?
Baltimore’s offensive line is one of the best in the NFL and Joe Flacco is a Super Bowl champion. But what will his supporting cast look like in 2015? Justin Forsett broke out last fall but is still undersized and one year removed from journeyman status while Lorenzo Taliaferro acts as the primary backup with just 68 career NFL carries. The receiver corps is led by a 36-year-old Steve Smith and two rookies in first-rounder Breshad Perriman and second-round tight end Maxx Williams. There are major questions about Perriman’s ability to play right away but both have loads of upside. It will be interesting to see who steps up into a primary playmaker role around Flacco.
Cincinnati: Can Andy Dalton take the next step?
This Bengals team has all of the pieces to win a Super Bowl. The offensive line, skill players, defensive line and secondary are among the best in the NFL. But Andy Dalton, despite four playoff appearances in four years, is under the microscope. He’s 0-4 in the postseason and posted career lows in yards (3,398) and touchdowns (19) last year. If A.J. Green is fully healthy, those numbers should be better but Dalton needs to prove he’s a championship-caliber quarterback sooner rather than later before the Bengals' title window begins to close.
Cleveland: What role does Johnny Manziel play?
The Browns began the year 7-4 last year behind the play of Brian Hoyer before the offense fell flat on its face and lost five straight to end the year. Johnny Manziel entered the NFL with huge fanfare and bright spotlights and it eventually landed him in rehab. Cleaned up and focused, Manziel is set to push free-agent signee Josh McCown for the starting job in Cleveland. Manziel, when good, is a sight to behold, making plays all over the field and he could resurrect the Browns offense. But with so many ifs surrounding his second season, fans are left wondering what role Manziel will play in 2015.
Pittsburgh: What will life after Dick LeBeau be like?
The Steelers were aging quickly on defense but will enter 2015 with lots of new faces and young blood. Dick LeBeau is now coaching the Titans defense, Troy Polamalu has retired and the average age of the Steelers' starting 11 on defense is just 26.5 years old. The core 3-4 philosophy won’t change much under new coordinator Keith Butler and the starting linebacker corps could feature four first-round picks. The Steelers' defense has tons of talent but this group is young and inexperienced. If this unit gels quickly and plays up to the same level as the Pittsburgh offense, the Steel City could easily win the division and push for a deep playoff run. Otherwise, this could be a one-sided franchise once again.
The Chicago Bears are looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2010. They have a shiny new head coach, who has a track record of taking teams to the Super Bowl after he comes into the fold. They have Jay Cutler, who despite throwing 28 touchdowns, was benched during the regular season. They have a defense that desperatly needs saving, and will be making the transition to a 3-4 scheme. Can all this change cultivate into a winning culture sooner than later for the team from the Windy City?
Hree are some storylines to follow as the Bears open training camp at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill.
Can John Fox right the ship?
Fox takes over a Bears team that went 5-11, as head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery were both relieved of their duties. Fox has his work cut out for him, but this isn’t the first time he has stepped into a difficult situation. Fox turned a Carolina Panthers team from bottom-dwellers to NFC champions in under 24 months. Fans hope that Fox can get the Bears team back on track and compete in the meat grinder that is the NFC North. On the bright side, the Bears do have two Pro Bowlers, and neither is named Alshon Jeffery.
Is Jay Cutler the answer at quarterback?
If the Bears are going to have success, they will have to rely on Cutler to not turn the ball over as much. Cutler, while he threw a career-high 28 touchdown passes last season, also threw 18 passes that ended up in the defense’s hands. Popular belief is that under a new system, Cutler should find success with weapons like Jeffery, first-round pick Kevin White, and Pro Bowl-caliber tight end Martellus Bennett. If Cutler can return to his Pro Bowl form, the Bears will contend for a playoff spot in a division that many analysts have multiple teams getting into the postseason.
How much did the Bears' defense improve?
With a new head coach, also comes a new defensive coordinator. Vic Fangio makes his way over to Chicago from San Francisco where he was the architect of a defense that finished in the top 10 in the NFL in both yards and points allowed all four seasons. The 49ers also played in three straight NFC Championship Games from 2011-13. Now with the Bears, Fangio takes over a defense that will be making a change to a 3-4, a switch that should eventually produce positive results. That being said, it isn’t that hard to improve from being the second-worst defense in points allowed. Then again, things don’t get any easier when you have to play prolific offenses that feature quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford (as well as the emerging Teddy Bridgewater) two times each.
Do the Bears have the best WR duo in the division?
It would take two individuals who have exceptional talents to overtake the duo of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb as the best wide receiver tandem in the NFC North. That said, Jeffery and White might be the two to take the title away from the Packers' productive pairing. Rookie wide receivers were the toast of the NFL last season, and White might be the best one out of this year’s draft class. If Cutler can adapt quickly to and thrive in Fox and cooridnator Adam Gase's offense, White and Jeffery could put up big numbers in a pass-happy division.
Is Matt Forté going to slow down at all?
Forté is the definition of consistency at the running back position in the NFL. The man has rushed for over 1,000 yards all but twice in his career, and both of those seasons he was within 100 yards of getting there. In 2014, he broke the record for catches in a season by a running back and scored a total 10 touchdowns. The question is, can he continue to do what he has done both rushing and receiving? Forté will turn 30 years old towards the end of the season. That age has been a death sentence for running backs, and Forté has logged tons of time on the field over the past eight seasons. Cutler has plenty of weapons at his disposal, but none have been as durable or reliable as Forté.
— Written by Josh Koop, who is a part of the Athlon Contributor Network and Director of New Media with the Bemidji Axemen of the Indoor Football League. You can follow Josh on Twitter at @Koopsnet.
Georgia will enter the 2015 season with a lot of momentum coming off a 10-win season, a bowl win against Louisville and playmakers at almost every key position. During SEC Media Days, the Bulldogs were picked to win the SEC East and have Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb, returning after a record-setting freshman season, and wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell leading the way on offense.
Jeremy Pruitt will enter his second year as defensive coordinator with returning starters Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins as well as highly touted freshman defensive tackle Trenton Thompson. The Bulldogs look to take back the SEC reigns and de-thrown whomever survives the SEC West. Mark Richt will enter his 15th season at Georgia with one of the most talented teams he has ever had and should be a championship contender in the SEC.
Three Reasons Why Georgia Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
1. Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall and Sony Michel
After Todd Gurley was suspended prior to him tearing his ACL after playing just six games, freshman Nick Chubb came in and wowed everyone with his physical running style. Chubb finished off his freshman year by rushing for 100 yards or more in the final eight games for Georgia, including his 266 yards against Louisville in the Belk Bowl. Georgia leaned on Chubb heavily last year, as he topped the 30-carry mark at least three times last year. Georgia must find a way to get Michel and Marshall the ball more to keep Chubb fresh and healthy. Michel rushed for 413 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 and should see more carries this fall. Marshall, who is coming off of an ACL injury, looks to get back to his freshman form when he rushed for more than 700 yards. With four starters returning on the offensive line, Georgia will again lean heavily on the run. The Bulldogs led the SEC in scoring last year with 41 points per game. They will try to duplicate that again this year.
In Jeremy Pruitt’s first year as Georgia’s defensive coordinator he had eight returning starters as the unit had an up-and-down season. Pruitt’s defense showed promise in games against Missouri, shutting them out 34-0, and Auburn, defeating the Tigers 34-7, but struggled at times as well, allowing Florida and South Carolina both to score 38 points. This season, Pruitt has six starters returning, but the defense should be better. Linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins passed on the NFL to come back to Athens and will head up a talented front seven that will include sophomore Lorenzo Carter, freshman Trenton Thompson and UAB transfer Jake Ganus Sr., a linebacker who was a second-team All-CUSA selection last season. The secondary returns three of the team’s top returning tacklers from a group whose longest pass play allowed last season was just 38 yards. Pruitt and his defense will surely be a force in 2015.
3. Good History
In 14 years at Georgia, Richt has never finished lower than third in the SEC East. He has led Georgia to five SEC Championship Game appearances, and most would agree the Bulldogs blew their chances the last two years to play in Atlanta. The SEC East is still very weak overall and Georgia is considered the clear-cut favorite for this season, receiving 166 first-place votes in the SEC Media Day preseason poll. Tennessee finished a distant second with only 36 first-place votes. Georgia has been the favorite in the East for the better part of Richt's tenure at Georgia and that will not change in 2015.
Georgia’s 2015 Schedule
Athlon Projected Rank
|Sept. 5||UL Monroe||115||5-8|
|Sept. 12||at Vanderbilt||79||3-9|
|Sept. 19||South Carolina||37||7-5|
|Oct. 10||at Tennessee||22||8-4|
|Oct. 31||vs. Florida*||11||9-3|
|Nov. 14||at Auburn||4||10-2|
|Nov. 21||Georgia Southern||77||8-4|
|Nov. 28||at Georgia Tech||18||8-5|
*Game in Jacksonville, FL
Three Reasons Why Georgia Won’t Make the College Football Playoff
1. Too Many New Parts on Offense
With the departure of former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and quarterback Hutson Mason, the Bulldogs are left with new play-caller Brian Schottenheimer, who hasn’t coached in college since he was a tight ends coach at USC (Southern Cal) and has never been an OC in college, and either Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta or Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert under center. Ramsey has been a disappointment after coming to Athens as a finalist in the 2012 Elite 11 competition and was outplayed in this year’s spring game by Bauta. Lambert still has two years of eligibility and showed some flashes last season for the Cavaliers, but he was never able to put it all together. Maybe a change of scenery is what he needs. Maybe he just isn’t that good. But Georgia will struggle if the signal-caller can’t make some things happen and take the pressure off of Chubb and the backfield contingent. It doesn’t matter how great your running game is if the opponent is allowed to stack the box with eight or nine guys because they don’t fear the passer.
2. A Brutal Schedule
Even though Georgia only has three true road games, not counting the yearly trip to Jacksonville, the Bulldogs will have to navigate one of the toughest months in college football in October. The Bulldogs open October with a home game against SEC juggernaut Alabama followed by a trip to Knoxville the very next week. Georgia is back home for Missouri on the 17th, has an open date and then plays Florida in Jacksonville. Things don’t get much easier after that as they take a trip to Auburn on Nov. 14, have a home date against 2014 Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern the following week and then travel to Atlanta to face in-state rival Georgia Tech to end the season. Georgia should enter the Alabama game undefeated. After that, all bets are off.
3. Bad History
For as good as Georgia has been under Richt, his Bulldog teams just can’t seem to put a full season together. Richt had early success at Georgia, but hasn’t won an SEC title since 2005. His best chance came in one of the most memorable title games in 2012 when his Bulldogs fell to Alabama in what most thought was a much better game than the actual national championship game that year. Georgia seems to slip up yearly against South Carolina and last season let a inept Florida offense put up 38 points in a game where the Gators gashed the Bulldogs for 418 yards rushing in what ended up being a 38-20 rout. The Bulldogs simply cannot get out of their own way. The 2015 schedule leaves little to the imagination, as Georgia cannot afford any slip ups.
If Georgia can enter Oct. 3 against Alabama undefeated, Athens will be what SEC writers and historians talk about when they talk about the atmosphere of the conference’s tradition. Georgia will have revenge on its mind and will know that if anyone is to take these Bulldogs serious, they must compete with Alabama throughout the game. Nick Chubb and the other 12 returning starters give Georgia a more than capable roster to compete in the talent-laden SEC. But with a new offensive coordinator and a question mark at the most important position on the field, along with a very tough schedule, history says Georgia will have a hard time making it back to Atlanta, let alone make a strong case for getting into the College Football Playoff.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 10
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 10-3
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 9
CG Technology Over/Under Odds: 9
5 Dimes Projected Over/Under Odds: 9
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails.
Rivalry games are a huge part of college football, but recent conference realignment has changed the outlook for some of these annual matchups. Missouri-Kansas and Texas-Texas A&M aren’t scheduled to play anytime soon, and Pittsburgh-West Virginia – known as the Backyard Brawl – is also in hiatus.
The Backyard Brawl is among the best rivalries in college football, but it’s future is up in the air.
New Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi was asked about the future of the rivalry when the ACC coaches visited ESPN this week:
Pat Narduzzi responding to Dana Holgorsen’s “we’re begging to play Pitt” comment: “I never beg"— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 28, 2015
Pat Narduzzi on WVU series: “I’d love to play WVU someday but our instate rivalry (Penn State) is bigger than an out-of-state rivalry”— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) July 28, 2015
After Narduzzi’s comments were circulated, Holgorsen took to Twitter to issue a (rather perfect) response:
Mountaineers don't back out of a Brawl! #SweetCaroline...— Dana Holgorsen (@Holgorsendana) July 28, 2015
While the back-and-forth between the two coaches makes for excellent offseason discussion, there’s no reason for either program to avoid scheduling the other to renew the rivalry. After all, scheduling this game would meet two criteria: Better non-conference games and selling tickets.
Sounds like a win-win proposition doesn’t it?
Let’s get this game scheduled as soon as possible.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down his decision on Tom Brady's appeal of his four-game suspension for Deflategate Tuesday, upholding Brady's full punishment and setting the stage for him to either accept sitting out the first quarter of the 2015 season, or take the NFL to court.
In his 20-page ruling, Goodell reveals that Brady had destroyed his cell phone on March 6, the very day he was to meet with investigator Ted Wells. Brady said it was common practice, but for the commissioner this was the final nail in Brady's coffin. This was the only new revelation of the appeal ruling, but it's a big one.
The rest rehashes Goodell's support for the initial findings of the Wells Report, while also dismissing all arguments made by Brady and his attorneys that might've poked holes in the extensive document released on May 6. This includes rejecting popular issues with the Wells Report such as the use of the logo vs. non-logo gauge and the measurement of the Colts' footballs taking place after they had warmed up in the official's locker room during halftime of the AFC Championship Game.
The commissioner also rejected the AEI study that concluded the deflation for the Patriots' footballs was within the Ideal Gas Law range.
Goodell reinforced what he sees as the key elements to Brady's punishment — text messages from Patriots employees Jim McNally and John Jastremski that included McNally referring to himself as the "deflator," a sudden increase in communication between Brady and Jastremski after the AFC title game, and the discussion of gifts that Brady had given to both men in charge of preparing and handling the footballs.
The commissioner also justified Brady's four-game ban by focusing on what he saw as Brady's deliberate attempt to circumvent a rule that affected the integrity of the game.
Now Brady must choose whether to put this behind him and start preparing for the Colts on Oct. 18, or to take the NFL to court, which would have no guaranteed outcome.
If Brady wants to continue the fight, his first order of business must be to have a court issue a stay on his punishment until his case is decided. While that is possible, Brady will be taking the chance that he could lose in court and end up serving his suspension at a more critical time in the Patriots' season.
Or he could get lucky and the issue won't get decided until 2016. Still, the Deflategate cloud would continue to hang over him, with no end in sight.
Did the NFL nail Brady with any cold, hard proof? Not really. But there was enough circumstantial evidence from the Wells Report to make it seem possible Brady was orchestrating a ball-deflating scheme. The destruction of the cell phone was the cherry on top and one that could be a real problem for Brady in court, complicating a case that seemed much more of a slam dunk before this ruling.
Should Brady be required to turn over his cell phone to the NFL at all is a question worth debating, but the NFL feels he should and that is all that matters right now. Certainly that would be one of the main points of contention in a court of law.
The ball is in Brady's hands once again and historically he's best when the pressure is on him.
This might be his most interesting last drive yet.
Tom Brady has authorized the NFLPA to appeal his case in federal court, per source.— Jim Trotter (@JimTrotter_NFL) July 28, 2015
Urban Meyer will live on forever... in our arteries.
The Ohio State coach has his likeness in butter at the Ohio Expo Center. In the Dairy Building there are sculptures of Meyer, Brutus Buckeye, the national championship trophy, and two Ohio State football helmets.
"It humbles you, and it's a great honor," Meyer told the American Dairy Association Mideast.
The Patriots have been a part of the NFL’s ruling class for the better part of the last 14 seasons, winning 12 AFC East titles, six conference titles and four Super Bowls. The AFC has long taken aim at Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Co., and it appeared the Patriots were on the ropes last season at 2–2 after a 41–14 dismantling in Kansas City. Brady looked old, Rob Gronkowski wasn’t 100 percent, the offensive line was in disarray and the defense was below average.
But New England rose from the dead, won its sixth straight division title and captured its fourth Super Bowl title in thrilling fashion against the Seahawks. The Patriots remain an upper-echelon team, but free agency took a serious toll on the defense. And perennial Pro Bowlers Ndamukong Suh (Dolphins), LeSean McCoy (Bills), Brandon Marshall (Jets) and Darrelle Revis (Jets) all joined division rivals in the offseason. The Pats are AFC East favorites, but the gap is narrowing.
Brady, the three-time Super Bowl MVP, will turn 38 in the preseason. His dedication to fitness has allowed him to maintain his elite level of production and has even improved his one major weakness — mobility. Brady picked up 11 first downs on the ground in 2014, his second-highest total of the last six seasons, and he was more willing to scramble than in previous years.
With Brady's four-game suspension upheld by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the Patriots should at least prepare for the likelihood that Jimmy Garoppolo, the team’s second-round pick in 2014 who threw 27 passes as a rookie, will start the season. Another possible option could be veteran Matt Flynn, who was signed in June.
If Brady is the No. 1 piece to the Patriots offense, Gronkowski stands firmly at 1A. The big tight end from the University of Arizona has had an enormous effect on the team — when healthy. The best illustration of his impact may have been last fall. Gronkowski played less than half the snaps in the first four games of the season as he continued to recover from knee surgery, and he sat out the season finale against Buffalo when the Patriots had wrapped up the No. 1 seed. In those five games, the Patriots averaged 17.8 points and went 2–3. In their other 14 games, including the playoffs, the Patriots averaged 34.8 points and went 13–1.
The threat of Gronkowski makes the receiving corps of Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola much more dangerous than it would otherwise be, as defenses dedicate multiple linebackers and/or safeties to him. The Patriots added another receiving tight end in the offseason, signing Scott Chandler from Buffalo. Tim Wright (released in June) never emerged as the second receiving tight end Belichick likes to feature after the Pats traded Logan Mankins for him, so look for Chandler to get that chance.
The offensive line will have to replace one starter, as Dan Connolly, who started at guard but also saw time at center, has decided to retire. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer and center Bryan Stork are all plus-players at their positions. Guard play is a bit of an issue.
At running back, the Patriots lost Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley in free agency. Vereen emerged as a critical piece of the offensive arsenal, outgrowing his third-down role and becoming an every-down contributor. He played three times the snaps of any other running back on the team in the regular season and 50 of the 74 snaps in the Super Bowl, according to ESPNBoston. James White is the early candidate to be the pass-catching, third-down back, while LeGarrette Blount, Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden will handle the work between the tackles.
Three key starters departed in free agency, leaving some significant questions as the season approaches. Revis (Jets) and fellow cornerback Brandon Browner (Saints) will need to be replaced, and the defensive philosophy the Patriots employed the last three seasons will likely be altered as well. With Revis last season and Aqib Talib in 2012 and ’13, the Patriots had a lockdown corner who allowed them to play man-to-man on the opponent’s best receiver and let the rest of the secondary handle the remainder of the field. Logan Ryan and Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler are not in the class of Revis or Talib, so expect much more zone. The Patriots did invest in safety Devin McCourty with a five-year contract, and fellow safety Patrick Chung was also re-signed, but the cornerback situation bears watching.
Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is the third starter who needs to be replaced after he departed for Houston after a highly successful 11-year run in New England that included five Pro Bowls. The 325-pounder bounced back from a ruptured Achilles in 2013 and played 74 percent of the defensive snaps, far and away New England’s leader along the line. First-round draft pick Malcom Brown will be given an opportunity to step right in and compete with veterans Sealver Siliga and Alan Branch. Second-year pro Dominique Easley will be expected to take a larger role at the other defensive tackle spot. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are back at defensive end, two players who have had their moments but can also disappear for stretches.
The Patriots’ starting linebacker corps is loaded after Jerod Mayo decided to restructure his deal and return to the team after the second of his two injury-shortened seasons. With Mayo, Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, the Patriots have one of the finest starting trios in the NFL. Hightower was tremendous after Mayo went down after six games, and the athletic Collins continues to improve all aspects of his game and appears on his way to a Pro Bowl very soon.
The Patriots are in very good shape in all aspects of their special teams. Stephen Gostkowski has been incredibly accurate the past two seasons, connecting on 73-of-78 field goals (including 6-of-7 from beyond 50). Edelman is the NFL’s active leader in punt return average at 12.3 yards per return, and Amendola proved to be a serviceable kickoff return man when he took over halfway through last season (24.9-yard average). The Patriots were 11th in net punting with left-footed Ryan Allen at the controls.
On paper, the Patriots do not appear to be as good as last season’s Super Bowl champions, but no AFC team can safely be called an overwhelming favorite. Brady has shown no signs of slowing down, and his top receiving targets will all be back except for Vereen. Expect the offense, with a healthy Gronkowski, to continue to produce at a high level. The question is whether the defense can be championship-quality. After ranking 25th or worse in total defense every year from 2010-13, the Patriots improved to 13th last season with the addition of Revis. Will they regress without him, or will a strong linebacking corps continue the improvement? It will be Belichick’s challenge to try to win without a shutdown corner. The goal for the Patriots should be to secure a first-round bye for the sixth straight year and be in the mix for a return trip to the Super Bowl.
Prediction: 1st in AFC East
As the NFL announced that they would uphold Tom Brady's four game suspension for his role in deflating footballs, Twitter users reacted to the situation. The suspension allegedly remained in part due to Tom Brady destroying his cell, a key piece of evidence during the investigation. Take a look at some of the best Tweets:
Tom Brady to league investigators "Here's my evidence" pic.twitter.com/R4T2gsRRNX— Dylan (@DylanTheMan37) July 28, 2015
BREAKING: Tom Brady's 4 game suspension is upheld. Patriots sign Free Agent quarterback Matt Saracen. pic.twitter.com/vvtoAsJ4fT— Tim Riggins (@Real_TimRiggins) July 28, 2015
Roger Goodell showed no mercy in the Tom Brady ruling pic.twitter.com/Wla29XM6Qm— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) July 28, 2015
Goodell: Let me see the phone, Tom. Tom Brady: pic.twitter.com/vsxjWl6qZH— NIGris Elba (@hosienation) July 28, 2015
Thoughts/prayers with Tom Brady who must sit out 4 games in a mansion with his supermodel wife. You are in our hearts pic.twitter.com/KOUAvbg3BP— pourmecoffee (@pourmecoffee) July 28, 2015
STILL awaiting RSVPs from Lev Bell, L.Blount, Tom Brady & Simmons on my invite to drive around Gillette & listen to PITvNE on the radio.— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) July 28, 2015
Tom Brady be like pic.twitter.com/Xa5MlIKzj5— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) July 28, 2015
I heard Tom #Brady had to destroy his phone because Donald Trump gave out his phone number.— jay svoboda (@jaysvoboda) July 28, 2015
Tom Brady didn't directly order his cell phone to be destroyed. He just wisely asked Gronkowski "Hey - hold this." pic.twitter.com/NXrXlJoU6f— nascarcasm (@nascarcasm) July 28, 2015
A little more than a month separates us from the start of the college football seasons. The weather is still unbearably hot at Athlon Sports HQ, but the signs of the fall and football season are in the air as preseason practice takes the place of media day season.
Our series previewing each major conference starts today with the Big 12 in perhaps the most heated race at the top of the league. Our staff agrees Baylor and TCU are a step ahead of the competition right now, but don’t agree with the consensus No. 1. After Baylor and TCU a host of teams could contend to be the surprise team in the league like the Horned Frogs were last season.
On this edition of the Cover 2 College Football Podcast:
• The big question: Does the Big 12 champion need to go undefeated to reach the College Football Playoff? We’re divided.
• Why is Baylor the right choice in the Big 12 when almost everyone else is picking TCU?
• Who has reason to be optimistic in the bottom of the league — Kansas, Iowa State and Texas Tech?
• Which team has the best chance to get into the top two? Our three hosts state cases for Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and — perhaps the biggest surprise of them all — West Virginia.
• We take the pulse of Texas and why 2016 might be the season to watch for the Longhorns.
• Finally, we all believe Kansas State will take a step back in 2015, but we firmly believe Bill Snyder will ruin someone’s season.
Entering 2015, the race for the No. 1 overall pick appears to be as wide open as it has been in recent years, thanks in part to Le’Veon Bell’s suspension, which upon appeal was reduced to two games. Pittsburgh’s All-Pro running back led all non-quarterbacks in fantasy points, but there’s a pretty big difference when it comes to the possbility of missing three games to the reaility that he will miss just two.
How big of a difference you ask. Big enough that a number of Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors weren’t in complete agreement when they were asked who they would take with the No. 1 overall pick.
Le’Veon Bell for No. 1
A strong argument can be made for a couple of RBs at the No. 1 spot, but I have to go with Bell. Sure, the early suspension limits his value and will require a little patience from fantasy owners. However, the All-Pro finished second in the league with 1,361 rushing yards last season and ranked No. 2 among running backs by catching 83 passes. He also totaled 11 overall scores in 16 games.
While Bell is going to miss a couple of games, the third-year back is only getting better, and Pittsburgh’s offensive line has improved significantly over the last few seasons. Additionally, the Steelers will have to lean on their offense even more in 2015, as the defense is still a unit in transition. Yes, the schedule is difficult, and Bell’s suspension has to be taken into account. However, Bell might be the league’s best all-around back, and the overall versatility is a huge bonus in PPR leagues. I’ll take the risk on the suspension for an All-Pro RB entering the prime of his career with the opportunity to still play 14 games in 2015. — Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Le’Veon Bell for No. 1
Who’s No. 1 this year? I hope I’m not drafting in that spot. But if I need to pick someone ... it’s still Le’Veon Bell. In PPR leagues, Bell finished among the top 24 running backs every single week last season. He’ll remain Pittsburgh’s workhorse and one of the league’s best receiving backs when he takes the field this year, so a repeat in that category seems possible. Thirteen fantasy-starter weeks would have still beaten every other back in the league last year besides DeMarco Murray and Matt Forté. So why not favor those guys? Murray moves to Philly, where he’ll probably fall well short of 300 carries. (Chip Kelly has said he doesn’t want to over-work Murray.) Forté loses Marc Trestman’s reception-heavy scheme, which threatens to reveal an aging back who gained just 3.9 yards per rush last year.
Rob Gronkowski looked like a No. 1 candidate before Tom Brady’s suspension. Eddie Lacy sits closest to Bell on my board but isn’t as good a weekly bet for touches. He averaged 2.7 fewer carries and 2.6 fewer catches per game than Bell last year. Give me the latter, in a strong offense and perhaps fresher at playoff time after his early-season break. — Matt Schauf, DraftSharks.com
Eddie Lacy for No. 1
If not for the two games that Le’Veon Bell will sit out at the beginning of the season, he would be my no-doubt No. 1. As it is, instead I’ll go with Bell’s 2013 draft classmate, Eddie Lacy. Last season, Lacy finished seventh in rushing with 1,139 yards. What’s more important, however, is that he raised his yards per carry average from 4.1 as a rookie to 4.6 in 2014.
Lacy also improved his receiving numbers, reeling in 42 catches for 427 yards. His 13 total TDs were tied for fifth in the NFL, and only two backs (Marshawn Lynch, Jamaal Charles) had more. Since Bell won’t be able to play a full season, I’ll take my chances on another young, do-everything back entrenched in a lead role in an explosive offense. — Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Eddie Lacy for No. 1
Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension alone doesn’t scare me off, but it has to be considered. His receiving production was also off the charts last season; it nearly matched his rushing total from the year before. That’s unlikely to happen again.
So looking elsewhere, I find myself down to two Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy.
Rodgers is a sure thing, the best quarterback in the game with all kinds of weapons around him in a system which has brought him success. Thing is, there are plenty of quarterbacks who can get you numbers; if you wait until the end of Round 2 to take a back, you might not like what’s left.
So I’ll take Lacy. The Packers seemed to find a way to keep him fresh last season without cutting into his production, and there are going to be plenty of scoring opportunities on perhaps the league’s best offense. — John Gworek, Athlon Sports
Adrian Peterson for No. 1
In 2015 with the No. 1 pick I am going with Adrian Peterson. I am a Vikings fan but that isn't the only reason. We all know what AP can do when healthy, and the year off did not leave him out of shape or behind the curve. His work ethic is phenomenal. Add to it that He's happy with his new contract and has an underrated offensive line, and that makes me excited about this season, and feeling safe about Peterson's fantasy prospects. The only other close option for me would be Antonio Brown. — Chris Meyers, AthlonSports.com fantasy football contributor
Adrian Peterson for No. 1
With the first pick in a 2015 fantasy football draft, I am going to take Adrian Peterson. Let me preface my rationale by saying that I understand the arguments for at least three other guys, however, give me Peterson. Yes, he missed last year, but it was not because of injury. He's as healthy as he could be (and reportedly in great shape at training camp), he's motivated to show the league how good he is, and he is on a team that can put together a high-powered offense.
In the six seasons where Peterson played at least 14 games, he has had at least 1,200 rushing yards. If you add up the rushing yards from Peterson, Joe Banyard, Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon in 2014, they total 1,271. That's to say that the four backs are equal to one back, but when that one running back is Peterson, with a year of experience behind Teddy Bridgewater, barring injury, he should come close to 2,000 rushing yards again. He's one of the few backs in the league that will be an every-down back, and he is poised to put up No. 1 numbers in 2015. — Sarah Lewis, AthlonSports.com fantasy football contributor
Adrian Peterson for No. 1
If I had the No. 1 pick in my fantasy football draft I would choose Adrian Peterson in 10 milliseconds. Why? Because he’s fresh after a year off and he wants to remind people why he's one of the best running backs of all time. I know he’s now the dreaded running back age of 30, but I’ll take a pissed-off, take-no-prisoners Adrian Peterson any day. If the Vikings are going to do anything this year, it will be on the shoulders of Peterson. His backups are Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata, who both had a chance to show their stuff last year and what showed was that the Vikings need “All-Day” on the field. Which is why the word coming of out Vikings land is that AP might not come off the field. I’ll take close to 300 touches, 1,500 total yards and over 12 touchdowns all the way to the bank. — Michael Horvath, AtlhonSports.com fantasy football contributor
Jamaal Charles for No. 1
Looking at some of the top running backs from 2014, it’s relatively easy to come to the conclusion that Charles should be the No. 1 overall pick again in 2015, much like I said last year. DeMarco Murray changed teams. Le’Veon Bell is automatically out a few games from suspension. Charles, meanwhile, runs behind an offensive line that is still jelling, and he was still able to rush for 5.0 yards per carry last season.
Charles also scored more total touchdowns (14) than any RB but Marshawn Lynch (17). Lynch is a year older than Charles, and he has 50 percent more career touches. Eddie Lacy might be the only option other than Charles. But I like Charles’ gamebreaking ability better, and the Chiefs added some weapons in the passing game around him, which should keep defenses more honest. — David Gonos, FanDuel/SoCalledFantasyExperts.com
Jamaal Charles for No. 1
This has been one crazy summer, and there’s no Bobcat Goldthwait. There also is no clear No. 1 pick in fantasy football, in all honesty. Adrian Peterson is coming off a lengthy absence and has reached the dangerous age of 30. Le’Veon Bell is coming off a late-season knee injury and is suspended for the start of the season. Marshawn Lynch had back issues last year and is now 29. DeMarco Murray heads to Philly, where LeSean McCoy struggled last year and where Ryan Mathews might also be sharing touches.
Eddie Lacy and Jamaal Charles have fewer question marks. I just flipped a coin and went with Charles at No. 1, but you might just be best off picking in the middle of Round 1 and not having to make the choice yourself. — Eric Mack, FanDuel
Marshawn Lynch for No. 1
This is the most wide-open race for No. 1 that I can remember. Every player in the conversation has massive upside, but all have question marks as well. Le’Veon Bell is going to miss two games due to suspension. Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Arian Foster and DeMarco Murray have injury concerns. And there is too much depth and value to take a quarterback.
My debate falls to the most talented runner on the planet who also is extremely rested, Adrian Peterson, and the most durable player with the highest floor, Marshawn Lynch. I’ll take Lynch over Peterson because he will be force-fed the ball as Seattle runs all of the tread off his tires over the next few seasons. — Braden Gall, Athlon Sports
Rob Gronkowski for No. 1
Gronkowski checks all the boxes for factors that could lead to his being selected No. 1 overall. If the tight end can only be used as such, he is head and shoulders above the rest of his position mates in the league, and you crush at the position. He was tops in targets (130) and yards (1,124) and tied for most touchdown receptions (12) among TEs last season. If a TE can be started as a flex, he’s going to dominate that spot as well. He would have scored as either a top-10 RB or WR last season. PPR leagues only amplify his value. He was 21st in the entire league in catches, was tied for fourth in TD receptions, and was 15th in receiving yards. Simply put: Gronk. Scores. Points. — Corby Yarbrough, Athlon Sports