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All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-cover-2-college-football-podcast-big-12-preview-and-predictions


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.


Send any ideas, questions or comments to @BradenGall or @DavidFox615 or email [email protected]. The podcast can be found on, iTunes, Stitcher and our podcast RSS feed.

Athlon Sports Cover 2 College Football Podcast: Big 12 Preview and Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 15:12
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2015-whos-number-1

With NFL training camps cranking up, that means the 2015 fantasy football season is just around the corner. And when it comes to a fantasy draft, it all starts with the No. 1 pick.


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,


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, 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, 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, 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/


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

Fantasy Football 2015: Who's Number 1?
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Oregon Ducks, Pac-12, Overtime
Path: /college-football/oregon-gives-awesome-360-view-game-day-experience-ducks

Many will never get the chance to play college football, but Oregon is trying to give fans a close experience. 


The video department released a pretty cool 360 video to give people the feeling of how electric it is to be a Duck on game day. Using the arrows in the top left, you can pan the camera to any direction. This video will make you feel like you're in the famous Autzen Stadium.


Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 14:03
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/top-5-players-improved-fantasy-value

As the 2015 fantasy football season is quickly approaching, it is important to know which players have changed teams and how that affects their outlook. While sometimes a change in scenery decreases a player's fantasy value, sometimes change is a good thing. Here's a look at five players, who should improve on last year's numbers, to keep in mind on draft day.


Related: Top 5 Players With Decreased Fantasy Football Value in 2015


Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis Colts

Year after year, fantasy owners shy away from Gore, saying he's too old, he's going to break down, there's no way he's going to last the season, etc. Well, he's played all 16 games the past four seasons. He's 32 years old, but that doesn't mean that you should give up on him just yet. Of all running backs, Gore sees the biggest uptick in fantasy value with a change in scenery.


In San Francisco, Gore constantly saw eight men in the box, and yet, in each of the past four seasons, he's rushed for over 1,000 yards. His reception totals have decreased over those seasons, but that may change in Indianapolis as well.


The backfield will belong to Gore. Andrew Luck will work with him, use him for check-downs and allow him to run the ball more effectively than he did in San Francisco. It is hard to trust a 32-year-old back with plenty of mileage on him as your RB1, but if you have solid talent at the other positions, you could do much worse. Gore is currently being drafted at the beginning of the third round. This is about right. His situation has improved, but the risk is still there.


Kenny Stills, WR, Miami Dolphins

Currently being drafted in the 11th round, Stills has the potential to be a solid WR2 on your fantasy team. He'll be an outside receiver, with Jarvis Landry filling in the slot, but Stills has shown that he has the speed and ability to succeed in that position. He is 23 years old, with only two years in the league.


Last year, he improved on his rookie numbers, posting a 63/931/3 stat line. He was very boom-or-bust, which made him hard to trust in fantasy. However, he was at least third in line for receptions, if not fourth with the Saints. In Miami, he becomes the second target for Ryan Tannehill.


Tannehill, with an improved offensive line, has the potential to be a top-tier quarterback this year, and part of that hinges on Stills. We haven't yet seen the best of either player, but this an opportunity for the two of them to click and put up good fantasy numbers. Keep an eye on Stills on draft day; he's a late-round receiver that may be in your weekly starting roster sooner rather than later.


Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints

Okay, Cooks didn't change teams. However, he watched as most of the offense on his team left him. In 2014, Drew Brees had many mouths to feed. Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Tavaris Cadet were all in the picture, just to name a few. Now, only Colston and Ingram remain from that list.


Look for Colston to be slowly phased out of the game plan. Brees has trusted him, so Colston will still be involved, but Cooks also earned his quarterback’s trust last season. With far fewer options, Brees should look to Cooks early and often. Ingram will clearly be the No. 1 back in New Orleans, but he only had 29 receptions last year. He's a running back, not a pass-catching back.


Yes, the Saints brought in C.J. Spiller, who has not had more than 43 receptions in a season. The reports are that he'll see more than that, which is certainly possible. Last season, Thomas and Cadet combined for 83 catches. However, the Saints are a passing team. Brees is a passing quarterback. He'll check down, sure, but he wants to sling the ball. Who better to sling it to than Cooks?


Last season, in his rookie year, Cooks had 53 receptions for 550 yards and three touchdowns. He added 73 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown as well. While the rushing touchdown may not happen again this year, look for his receiving totals to double. Sure, that may sound far-fetched right now, but it is a very real possibility. Cooks is currently going at the beginning of the fourth round, as the 15th receiver off the board. Don't be afraid to grab him at the end of the third round, especially in a PPR league.


Andre Johnson, WR, Indianapolis Colts

A talented receiver with Andrew Luck now throwing to him? Sign me up. Yes, I know Johnson is 34 years old. He had some of his worst numbers ever last year. Taking out his 2011 season where he was injured and only played in seven games, he had his lowest touchdown total and yards per game since 2005. It's always hard to promote a player that is older and coming off a down year.


But it's also hard to ignore the, well, Luck factor. Luck threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns last season. Luck also loved working with Reggie Wayne, who became relevant with Luck throwing to him. If Johnson can put up the numbers that Wayne had in 2012 (106 receptions for 1,355 yards and five touchdowns), he's a solid WR2.


Johnson was the No. 1 receiver in Houston with far less talented quarterbacks throwing to him. Now, he gets to be the No. 2 receiver, with T.Y. Hilton drawing most of the defensive attention. He's reportedly already in sync with Luck, and as long as he can stay injury free, his value will exceed his (current) fourth round ADP.


Jordan Cameron, TE, Miami Dolphins

It's no secret that I'm high on Ryan Tannehill this year. This is evident based on my love for Kenny Stills and now, throwing some love Cameron's way. The risk factor with Cameron is his injury history. His history of concussions is concerning, however, the upside on Cameron may be worth the risk (as long as you don't reach for him).


In 2013, Cameron had 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Fantasy owners drafted him last year hoping that he would repeat or improve on those numbers. Instead, they ended up with 24 receptions for 424 yards and two touchdowns.


The Dolphins love using their tight end in the red zone. Now they have a big target to throw to whn they get there. Cameron is currently being drafted in the eighth round, as the ninth tight end off the board. He is a TE1, but in the second tier of tight ends. His value increases because his quarterback situation improves. Be aware that his injury history does make him a risk, so don't reach on him, but don't be upset if you get him in the middle rounds of your draft.


(Brandin Cooks photo by Michael C. Hebert, courtesy of


— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 13:00
Path: /nfl/examining-overunder-2015-win-totals-nfc-north

Adrian Peterson returns after a year off for the Vikings. Minnesota is widely considered to be a sleeper, but does that mean this will have enough to catch up to Green Bay and Detroit? Chicago, meanwhile, turns to John Fox to try and clean things up after a five-win season in 2014. In the coming years, this will be a three-team race with the Vikes moving into contention.


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


NFC North


Chicago Bears

(Over 7 wins +120, Under 7 wins -140)


Record Last Year: 5-11


Offense: Brandon Marshall is gone although the team replaced him with rookie Kevin White. Between White and Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler has weapons to go to if he gets time. Eddie Royal is an underrated addition to play the slot, as he just knows how to get open. The offensive line hopes for better health than last year. The new regime will use do-everything running back Matt Forte a little less then Marc Trestman did.


Defense: The majority of the changes took place on this side of the ball. Lance Briggs, Chris Conte, Stephen Paea, Charles Tillman and D.J. Williams all depart, as this unit tries to get younger. Among those being shuttled in are Mason Foster, Jarvis Jenkins, Pernell McPhee and Antrel Rolle.


Schedule: Chicago's road games are bunched up with three back-to-backs this season. It could be a long year if the Bears lose their first two contests at home against Green Bay and Arizona.


Prediction: The under is the play here. Chicago's rebuilding and in this division you can't afford to do so and contend. The Bears have road games at Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City which won't help. It could be a long year for Bears fans.



Detroit Lions

(Over 8.5 wins +135, Under 8.5 wins -155)


Record Last Year: 11-5


Offense: It's pretty much status quo for the Lions offense. The only major change occurred with Reggie Bush going to San Francisco. He'll be replaced by Ameer Abdullah, who will fit in nicely with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. An already solid offensive line added Manny Ramirez and rookie Laken Tomlinson. The key as always will be Calvin Johnson's health and Matthew Stafford's accuracy.


Defense: A big hole in the middle opened up when Ndamukong Suh moved on to Miami. It got even bigger when Nick Fairley also left in free agency, but Haloti Ngata was brought over to help out. This was the best team against the rush in the NFL last year. That may be hard to duplicate without Fairley and Suh. Ziggy Ansah will be asked to pick up the slack on the outside along with DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch.


Schedule: Detroit plays three of the first four on the road with trips out west to Seattle and San Diego early. The Lions have two three-week homestands on the schedule, Weeks 5-7 and 11-13.


Prediction: No real lean on this one. The defense will struggle to maintain its success from last year while the offense will be expected to score a little more. The Lions need to improve on the league's 28th-ranked rushing offense.



Green Bay Packers

(Over 11 wins -115, Under 11 wins -105)


Record Last Year: 12-4


Offense: As usual the Packers didn't bring in a ton of new faces through free agency and instead relied on improvements through the draft. The offense should keep rolling along with Aaron Rodgers at the helm. He has an embarrassment of riches with Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson on the outside while Eddie Lacy patrols the backfield.


Defense: Several players on this side of the ball departed with A.J. Hawk, Davon House, Tramon Williams and Jamari Lattimore all finding new homes. Teams were able to run on this unit in 2014 despite the presence of B.J. Raji inside and Clay Matthews outside. Who knows if the Packers will get the same production from Julius Peppers, who is 35 years old.


Schedule: Green Bay can start fast with four of its first six at home before the Week 7 bye. The two road games over that span are winnable, coming at Chicago and San Francisco. Road games at Denver and Carolina await the Pack after the bye.


Prediction: Eleven wins is on the money as far as I'm concerned. This team is solid all the way around and should continue to be the front-runner in the division. As long as Rodgers is healthy, the playoffs are in Green Bay's future.



Minnesota Vikings

(Over 7 wins -270, Under 7 wins +230)


Record Last Year: 7-9


Offense: Adrian Peterson is back and there's two schools of thought on how well he will do. One school says he'll be rested and ready to rush the ball well, while the other says he'll be a year older and not as effective. Whatever AP can do will be a big help to Teddy Bridgewater, who was pretty solid as a rookie starter for Minnesota. The Vikes added Mike Wallace this offseason to go with Charles Johnson and tight end Kyle Rudolph.


Defense: This is a very young group that continues to grow and improve. Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith and Everson Griffen are all under 28 years old and the building blocks for a good defense. Trae Waynes was drafted to beef up a secondary that will be under fire in this division. This unit more than held its own against the pass last season, finishing seventh in that category.


Schedule: The Vikings will be in the spotlight in Week 1, as part of the later "Monday Night Football" game in San Francisco. Minnesota hosts Seattle, San Diego and Kansas City while the Vikings have to play at Denver and Atlanta.


Prediction: The money move is right as the Vikings are primed to make a move up in the NFC North. The defense has pieces in place while the offense figures to be more successful with Peterson back. Minnesota will win this division in either 2016 or '17.


— 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.

Examining the Over/Under 2015 Win Totals for the NFC North
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /college-football/pac-12s-top-10-heisman-candidates-2015

The conference now known as the Pac-12 became a regular home for the Heisman Trophy in the 1960s. In that decade, USC's Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson, UCLA's Gary Beban and Oregon State's Terry Baker all brought the most celebrated individual award in the sport out West.


In the years since, the Heisman has made just a few return trips. In fact, barring USC recipients, John Heisman's bronze likeness was persona non grata in the Pac-12 after Jim Plunkett's 1971 win.


That changed last year with Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota receiving the award. Mariota's victory symbolized a change evident throughout the conference, as collective improvements throughout virtually the whole league have brought newfound national recognition.


With the Pac-12 playing it's best collective football in 50 years — if not ever — the conference has a strong case to bring a second straight Heisman into its trophy case. The following are the Pac-12's 10 most likely Heisman Trophy candidates heading into 2015.


1. Cody Kessler, QB, USC

Kessler put up Heisman-caliber numbers in 2014, tying the USC single-season record with 39 touchdown passes against just five interceptions. He was far from a dual-threat quarterback, but he also demonstrated just enough mobility to add a new dimension to the Trojans’ offense when necessary.


What Kessler lacked in a season punctuated by Heisman-like statistics were the so-called Heisman moments. He’ll get his chances to make big-time plays in high-profile games this season. USC is a contender for the Pac-12 championship, and its schedule is loaded with several marquee matchups.


Given the spotlight the Trojans will command against opponents like Stanford, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA, Kessler has the most logical path to New York City.


2. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Keeping the Heisman in the Pacific Northwest could be as easy as feeding Freeman the ball and letting the powerful running back build on his impressive freshman season.


Freeman, a highly touted prospect from Imperial, Calif., is a back one might expect to see in the traditional crimson-and-white of Alabama, rather than the flashy and ever-changing duds sported at Oregon. And indeed, Nick Saban tried to recruit Freeman away from the West Coast.


Instead, Mark Helfrich landed the bulldozer back, and it's a good thing for the Ducks he did. Freeman gives Oregon a cornerstone around whom to build its Mariota-less offense, in much the same fashion the offense was centered around 2010 Heisman finalist LaMichael James previously.


3. Scooby Wright, LB, Arizona

History proves that playing defense exclusively is a good way to guarantee a player doesn’t win the Heisman, but Wright has unique buzz heading into the 2015 season. The Wildcats’ star junior linebacker broke into the Heisman conversation last fall with his nation-leading output for tackles, tackles for a loss and forced fumbles.


With national attention already on him, Wright is ahead of the game. The hard part now is replicating his otherworldly play of a season ago, which might be asking more than even expecting Heisman voters to cast ballots for a defensive player.


Still, in terms of past production and sheer name recognition, Wright may be the conference's most recognized player heading into 2015. That goes a long way in pursuit of the coveted award.


4. Jared Goff, QB, Cal

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes opted to turn over his pass-happy “Bear Raid” offense to a true freshman in 2013. That freshman took his lumps early, but Goff flourished as a result in his sophomore campaign. Goff has quickly matured into a favorite quarterback of NFL draftniks. His size and pocket presence make him the quintessential pro prospect.


But more importantly for the Golden Bears’ chances in the Pac-12 North — and Goff’s own pursuit of the Heisman — his ability to spread the ball around the field effectively fills the stat sheet. Goff could produce some eye-popping numbers in 2015. He’ll get the chance to break the 40-touchdown barrier.


5. Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Perkins went from second on UCLA’s depth chart at running back, to first in the Pac-12 in rushing yards over the course of the 2014 season. The next surprise this dynamic, junior playmaker might have in store is representing the Bruins in New York City.


Perkins is an elusive ball carrier, but he can be equally effective catching passes on the periphery. UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone used him primarily in that pass-catching role in 2013, but continued to showcase Perkins’ receiving abilities last season. Contributing to the Bruins’ offense in two ways gives Perkins even more opportunities to touch the ball and impress Heisman voters in the process.


With UCLA starting a new quarterback this season — more on that in a moment — the Bruins could lean on Perkins’ production early. He’ll get the opportunity to pile up numbers in both facets. Should UCLA contend for the Pac-12 championship, Perkins will also be front and center in the Heisman race.


6. Devontae Booker, RB, Utah

Booker's Heisman campaign started in earnest in the spring when Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said the running back is capable of putting up numbers worthy of the award. Not bad for a player who wasn't even the projected No. 1 a year ago at this time. Now, Booker fuels the entire Ute offense.


Because of Utah's sometimes shaky passing game, Booker will get plenty of carries and thus, chances to rack up impressive stats. The bad news is he'll need the Utes to improve through the air to keep defenses honest.


7. Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR, USC

The Heisman campaign for  Jackson started in USC’s last game of 2014. His two-touchdown performance in the Trojans’ 45-42, Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska invoked memories of Charles Woodson, the do-everything Michigan cornerback/wide receiver/punt returner who claimed the 1997 award.


Jackson's versatility allows him to play in all three phases without a decline in production in any.


8. Nick Wilson, RB, Arizona

Before the start of the 2014 season, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said just one back replacing Ka’Deem Carey was unlikely. Whether Rodriguez was playing his hand close to the vest, or if he didn’t know just what he had in Wilson, but the Wildcats barely missed a beat without the record-setting Carey.


Now after a spectacular freshman debut, Wilson can one-up his predecessor, who was never a Heisman finalist despite two monsters seasons in 2012 and ‘13. He'll be given more opportunities to run in his sophomore campaign.


9. Demario Richard, RB, Arizona State

Richard has two-way playmaking ability out of the backfield in much the same vein as former Sun Devil running back Marion Grice. Before a leg injury ended his 2013 season early, Grice was making a case for the stiff-armed trophy when he tied legendary Whizzer White as Arizona State’s single-season touchdown leader with 22.


Arizona State will rely less on designed quarterback runs with Mike Bercovici taking over for Taylor Kelly, but the Sun Devils are unlikely to run less. That means Richard should see a steady diet of carries in coordinator Mike Norvell's high-octane offense, while also serving as an invaluable safety-valve option in the passing game on swing routes.


10. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Rosen is the wildest of Heisman wild cards. He’s yet to take a snap at the college level, unless you count his appearance in the Bruins’ spring game in April. He’s not even UCLA’s official starting quarterback yet, if at all, but buzz about the 5-star prospect is palpable. He’s drawn comparisons to two-time Heisman finalist Andrew Luck of Stanford.


Before Luck became one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, however, he spent a season learning the ropes as a redshirt and another deferring to fellow Heisman contender, running back Toby Gerhart. Rosen would be jumping straight into the fray if he’s named the Bruins’ starter, and entering the Heisman mix just one year removed from high school would be unprecedented.


Of course, a true freshman contending for the award is the next, natural progression. Just eight years ago, before Tim Tebow won it, no sophomore had claimed the Heisman. Johnny Manziel became the first redshirt freshman to do so in 2012, only to be immediately followed by Jameis Winston.


If a true freshman wins the award, he’ll need a lot of veteran experience around him to ease his transition. Rosen has just that at UCLA, which returns the most veteran roster in the Pac-12.


Others to consider: Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona; D.J. Foster, WR, Arizona State; Mike Bercovici, QB, Arizona State; Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon; Kevin Hogan, QB, Stanford; Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford; Myles Jack, LB, UCLA; JuJu Smith, WR, USC


— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

The Pac-12's Top 10 Heisman Candidates for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/bottom-line-sensibility-ad-steve-patterson-causing-problems-university-texas

If you are the athletic director of a sports program that raked in over $161 million in 2014 and is part of a university that receives $3.45 billion in endowments what do you tell your athletic staff at meal time? If you are University of Texas AD Steve Patterson you tell your coaches to pay up!


Several reports have emerged criticizing Patterson’s bottom-line CEO narrative with Longhorn coaches leaving their positions over the $10 per meal fee now charged to eat in the athletic dining hall.


In fairness to Patterson (above right, with football head coach Charlie Strong and former University of Texas president Bill Powers) each coach is given 30 free visits to the athletic dining hall each year, or 2.5 meals per month, to sit with other coaches and players bonding outside a group’s given sport. Patterson’s rationale is to shave $300,000 a year off the budget, the estimated cost of feeding the various Longhorn coaching staffs throughout a given year.


Another possible point in Patterson’s favor is the $7.50 discount each coach receives per paid meal. The cost of each meal is valued at $17.50. A mark against Patterson is the $0.50 price increase from last year. They do not take credit cards and per the memo sent out by Dave Marmion under Patterson’s orders on Aug. 11, 2014, “Like any cash business, if you show up without cash you will need to go find some (cash) or eat somewhere else that day.”


Generally speaking when one thinks about coaches coupled with money many relate to the million dollar contracts head coaches receive in football and basketball. Those types of salaries do not translate to other sports like tennis, swimming and diving, and so on. The greater impact of charging for meals are met at the lower coaching levels where video coordinators, assistant strength coaches, and graduate assistants essentially work for free or next to nothing to get experience on their resume to start the tough climb up their coaching ladders. In the long run this negative effect works its way back up to the hierarchy of the coaching staff.


The rumblings from Patterson’s underlings have made their way above his head with new Texas President Greg Fenves giving his AD a directive to change his ways in mid-July.


Patterson’s personality has not just rubbed his subordinates wrong but has also upset donors and alumni as well. A report from cited a story by Sally Lehr, an alumni member in Austin for a 50th reunion celebration, saying Patterson asked for $25 from each of the 158 people in town for the celebration to step foot on the field at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.


Lehr explained the run-in stating, “He (Patterson) said it was expensive to allow people on the field. They had to turn on the lights. They had to have people leading the tour and a groundskeeper (on hand). He said if athletics had to pay for all of that, they might have to cut the donation they made to the UT library. I was stunned by his arrogance and avarice.”


The bad publicity from the occasion gets worse when Lehr adds that the initial cost was supposed to be $15 per person but was then raised to $25. To make the ill will between Lehr, who attended the celebration with former Longhorns’ athletes in the mix, and Patterson a notch worse, Lehr’s stepfather was the sports information director for the Longhorns from 1961-83.


One might think the 57-year-old Patterson would have more of a soft spot for other alumni being a graduate of Texas himself.


Patterson has little support from the fans after he raised football ticket prices. After the Longhorns posted a 6-7 season in 2014, ticket prices saw an average increase of 21.5 percent. Because of the jump in prices fans said thanks but no thanks. The total number of 2014 season tickets who did not renew was in the neighborhood of 10,000 for the 2015 schedule.


One would think Patterson would have a better pulse on the fanbase and Texans in general, as he and his family have been deeply intertwined in Texas sports for decades. His father, Ray Patterson, was the general manager for the Houston Rockets from 1972-90. Steve succeeded his father as the Rockets' GM, holding the position from 1989-93. After leaving the Rockets he was the Governor, President and General Manger of the Houston Aeros (hockey) and then became the Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer for the Houston Texans (1997-2003). In 2003, Patterson returned to the NBA as President of the Portland Trailblazers. On March 28, 2012 he was hired as the Vice President for University Athletics and Athletics Director for Arizona State. When DeLoss Dodds retired as AD, Patterson was hired to replace him at Texas on Nov. 5, 2013.


With Patterson in control of the athletic department for nearly two years the Longhorns have won one national championship (Swimming and Diving) and notched eight Big 12 Conference Championships (Golf – 2, Swimming and Diving – 2, Baseball – 1, Tennis – 1, Track and Field Indoor – 1, and Track and Field Outdoor – 1).


Banners in big-money sports like basketball and football will be the determining factors on how long Patterson maintains his position. For now his seemingly tenuous grip on that role is a big question mark with two new coaches in Austin, men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart (formerly at VCU) and second-year head football coach Charlie Strong (Louisville).


Both Strong and Smart are rightfully lauded as winning coaches due to their resumes, which should give Patterson some breathing room. If Strong and Smart grow tired of Patterson’s antics while producing winning teams a change at the top of the Longhorns' athletics hierarchy could potentially come much sooner than expected.


— 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, Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.

Bottom-Line Sensibility for AD Steve Patterson Causing Problems at University of Texas
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/top-10-best-available-nfl-free-agents-training-camp

With NFL training camps getting started, we at figured we would put together a list of the top 10 players who are still looking for a team. 


It's worth mentioning that all of these players come with some kind of issues, which explains why they're available. Even so, each player included on this list could help a team fill a roster need, as preparation for the 2015 season goes into full gear.


1. Junior Gallette, DE/OLB, 27

The Saints made a surprising move last week when they decided to part ways with DE/OLB Junior Galette just over a year after signing him to a six-year, $45.3 million contract that included $23 million guaranteed.


Galette has done himself no favors with his off-the-field behavior and calling out members of the franchise since his release, but there's no question that he has been a very productive player on the field in recent years.


If a team ends up feeling comfortable with the type of personality it’s bringing into its facility, then it could be getting a solid pass rusher for the 2015 season.


In 2014, Galette appeared in all 16 games for the Saints and recorded 45 tackles, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles, two safeties and two passes defended. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 4 4-3 defensive end out of 59 qualifying players.


2. Evan Mathis, G, 34

Mathis is by far the best available free agent offensive lineman and our No. 2 player overall based on how well he's performed for the Eagles over the past few years.


While many expected Mathis to have a decent market for his services, there really has been a surprisingly limited amount of buzz since he was cut loose by the Eagles.


The Bills, Dolphins, Giants, Jets, Seahawks, Chiefs, Patriots and Vikings have all come up as potential options in recent months.


Last year, Mathis appeared in nine games for the Eagles after he dealt with an MCL injury. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 2 guard out of 78 qualifying players.


3. Jake Long, OT, 30

Any serviceable offensive tackle shouldn't have a hard time finding an opportunity to, at the very least, compete for a roster spot in training camp at this point in the year.


Long was cut loose by the Rams and has visited with the Giants, but it appears as though his rehab from a second torn ACL could be holding things up.


Assuming that things check out with his knee, Long should have a respectable market for his services.


In 2014, Long was limited to appearing in seven games and playing a total of 449 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Long ultimately graded out as the No. 36 offensive tackle out of 84 qualifying players in 2014.


4. Red Bryant, DT, 31

Given where we are in the NFL calendar, there isn't any marquee talent available, so teams are likely to be looking at players who can fit certain roles.


Bryant fits this description about as well as any available free agent, as he offers very little in terms of pass rush, but he has been a stout run-defender.


Since being cut by the Jaguars, there hasn't been any reported interest in Bryant. However, I wouldn't be shocked to see him take a visit, especially if someone loses an interior defensive lineman.


In 2014, Bryant appeared in all 16 games for Jacksonville and recorded 22 tackles, a half sack, and a forced fumble. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 31 defensive end in a 4-3 defense out of 59 qualifying players.


5. Pierre Thomas, RB, 30

Every year there are a number of notable free agents still available as training camp nears, but Thomas stands out among the group of veteran backs for his balanced production and effectiveness out of the backfield.


The Redskins and Ravens have both come up as speculative landing spots for Thomas since the Saints cut him loose, but it looks like it will likely take an injury for him to get a serious look.


In 2014, Thomas ran for 222 yards on 45 carries (4.9 ypc) to go along with 45 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 9 running back in the league out of 57 qualifying players.


6. Brandon Spikes, ILB, 27

Spkies' inclusion on this list should be prefaced by pointing out that he comes with obvious off-the-field concerns, as he pled guilty to leaving the scene of a car collision that resulted in a personal injury a few months ago.


After signing with the Patriots in May, New England subsequently released the linebacker, who is facing one year of probation stemming from the incident, less than a month later.


In the event a team is comfortable giving him another opportunity and happen to be in the market for inside linebacker help, Spikes has been a solid run-stopper in recent years.


In 2014, he appeared in all 16 games for the Bills, recording 54 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and three passes defended. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 13 inside linebacker out of 60 qualifying players due in large part to a very solid rating as a run-defender.


7. Lance Briggs, OLB, 34

Briggs' advanced age and overall mileage has likely played a role in him being skipped over for opportunities this offseason.


The 49ers actually brought him in for a visit after they lost Patrick Willis and Chris Borland to retirement. However, San Francisco wound up going in a different direction.


Despite playing for an underwhelming Bears defense last year, Briggs was still a productive player. It goes without saying that he's likely a stop-gap option at best right now.


In 2014, Briggs appeared in eight games and recorded 35 tackles, one interception, a forced fumble and three pass defensded for Chicago. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the No. 10 outside linebacker in a 4-3 system.


8. Chris Myers, C, 33

It's actually fairly surprising that Myers doesn't have a team right now. Since being released by the Texans, Myers has visited with the Broncos and Seahawks, but there really hasn't been any indications that he will land with a team in the near future.


Myers has been a consistent contributor for a number of years and would be a very solid addition for any team in need of help at center.


Myers was rated by Pro Football Focus as the No. 16 center in the league last season out of 41 qualifying players. It's worth mentioning that he hasn't missed a single game in the last nine years.


9. Zach Miller, TE, 29

As previously mentioned, there are a number of teams who could use some depth at tight end, but even though Miller has been available for several months, there has been little to no reported interest in him.


The Seahawks released him in a move that cleared $2,390,625 in cap space. His 2014 season was cut short after he sustained an ankle injury that resulted in him being placed on season-ending injured reserve.


In 2014, Miller was limited to appearing in three games due to injury and caught just six passes for 76 yards.


10. Anthony Collins, OT, 29

Collins' inclusion in the list has more to do with the position he plays and the one good season he had a few years ago than his recent performance.


It's just extremely hard to find offensive tackle at this point in the year, and while you could argue that Collins' doesn't offer very much at this pivotal position, he was a solid option for the Bengals in 2013. On top of that, he's still just 29 years old and wouldn't require much in terms of salary.


The Buccaneers signed him to a five-year, $30 million contract that included $15 million guaranteed, only to cut him loose just a year into the agreement.


Pro Football Focus has Collins rated as the No. 63 offensive tackle out of 84 qualifying players. Although, he was rated as a decent run-blocker.


— Written by NFL Trade Rumors, a member of Athlon Sports' Contributor network. For more on NFL Trade Rumors visit or check them out on Twitter at @nfltrade_rumors.

Top 10 Best Available NFL Free Agents
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/why-texas-am-will-wont-make-college-football-playoff-2015

Life as a Texas A&M fan can either be viewed from an optimistic or pessimistic stance with no in between. In 2014 the Aggies either exceeded expectations in Year 1 after Johnny Manziel, going 8-5 overall, or floundered after winning their first five games, jumping to sixth in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll, only to post a 3-5 mark from the start of October through a season-salvaging 45-37 Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia.


Year after year A&M really should be one of the top teams in the nation given all the recruiting talent in the Lone Star State. The Aggies have recruited well, if rankings mean anything, but the signed letters of intent from 4- and 5-star recruits over the past three years have not produced the desired results on the field since Kevin Sumlin’s first season in College Station. That was when the Aggies won 11 games, including a resounding 41-13 drumming of former Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.


Expectations are high once again for Texas A&M, as the Aggies enter the 2015 season No. 20 in Athlon Sports’ preseason poll. This team has a solid mix of six starters returning on offense and six on defense along with a lot of highly regarded but inexperienced talent on the roster.


If Texas A&M is to make a push to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game and aim for a spot in the College Football Playoff, the football gods will have to be on the Aggies’ side throughout the 2015 season.


Three Reasons Why Texas A&M Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2015


1. New Defensive Coordinator John Chavis

Cue the harps and heavenly music of the football gods! When the 2014 season was finished Sumlin wisely parted ways with Mark Snyder luring Chavis away from LSU. No other defensive coordinator in the SEC has Chavis’ background or experience, meaning an immediate upgrade on the defensive side of the ball is expected in College Station.


Since heading to Knoxville in 1989 as Tennessee’s linebackers coach, Chavis has effectively stopped opposing offenses around the league, establishing a reputation as the best of the best. His ability to recruit top talent to LSU made the Tigers one of the most feared defensive units in the SEC during his tenure in Baton Rouge.


A&M has recruited well on both sides of the ball but the big question is, can Chavis make a dramatic of enough change in one season to give support to Sumlin’s offense?


2. A&M’s Passing Attack

The roller-coaster ride under center last year between Kenny Hill (2,649 yds., 23 TDs, 8 INTs) and Kyle Allen (1,322-16-7) still produced the SEC’s top passing attack and one that finished 12th nationally at 305.5 yards per game. Hill is gone (transferred to TCU) and Allen is expected to earn the starting spot even though true freshman Kyler Murray is coming to College Station. Murray left Allen High School a high school legend, never losing a game and winning three consecutive state championships.


The key to the attack is the high quality of depth at receiver. Malcome Kennedy is gone but big-play target Josh Reynolds (52 rec., 842 yds., 13 TDs) is back along with Ricky Seals-Jones (49-465-4) and game-changer Speedy Noil (46-583-5). Add incoming 5-star freshman Christian Kirk from Saguaro (Ariz.) High School and this unit might be the best in the nation.


3. Defensive Line

As bad as the A&M defense was in 2014 the one group that played well was the defensive line. The Aggies have two senior starters returning in defensive tackle Alonzo Williams and defensive end Julien Obioha, but the headliner of the group is Myles Garrett. Garrett had 53 tackles last year as true freshman, including 14.0 tackles for a loss and 11.5 sacks.


The big question about Garrett is can he produce the same big numbers in SEC play? As is the case with most true freshmen, he worn down as the season went on. He picked up two sacks against Lamar, 2.5 against Rice, 3.0 against Louisiana Monroe, and 0.5 against West Virginia. But in SEC play he had three sacks in eight games. Tough to needle his superb freshman All-American season but a bigger presence in tough SEC games will be needed by Garrett if the Aggies’ defense is going to be successful.


Texas A&M's 2015 Schedule

DateOpponent Athlon Projected Rank
for 2015
Projected Record
Sept. 5vs. Arizona State*139-3
Sept. 12Ball State946-6
Sept. 19Nevada916-6
Sept. 26vs. Arkansas^168-4
Oct. 3Mississippi State217-5
Oct. 17Alabama212-1
Oct. 24at Ole Miss119-3
Oct. 31South Carolina377-5
Nov. 7Auburn410-2
Nov. 14Western Carolina
Nov. 21at Vanderbilt793-9
Nov. 28at LSU158-4

*Game to be played in Houston; ^Little Rock, AR


Three Reasons Why Texas A&M Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015


1. The Defensive Back Seven

Preseason expectations for the Aggies making a run in the SEC West are largely predicated on the “Chavis Effect.” The reality is A&M allowed 216 rushing yards (109th nationally) and 234.8 passing yards (80th) per game. This defense gave up 28.1 points per game (75th), and finished 102nd in FBS in total defense.


A one-year wonder turnaround can happen, just look at Arkansas’ defense. The Razorbacks finished 76th in total defense in 2013, but skyrocketed all the way to 10th last season under new coordinator Robb Smith. The rub for the Aggies is their style of offense and how quickly the back seven can adjust to Chavis’ style of play.


A&M is an up-tempo, quick-strike offense, which means more time on the field for the defense. This unit might need a year or two before becoming a true Chavis defense.


Related: 14 Position Groups Under Pressure in the SEC for 2015


2. The Running Backs

Recruiting for the Aggies at the running back position has been up and down under Sumlin. In 2012, the recruiting class included 5-star running back prospect Trey Williams. In 2013, Sumlin signed 3-star James White, but no ball carriers were in the 2014 class. Two backs were part of the 2015 class — 4-star Kendall Bussey and 3-star Jay Bradford.


Williams is gone after a disappointing career at A&M, leaving seniors Tra Carson, last year’s leading rusher with 581 yards, along with Brandon Williams (379 yards) as the team’s only truly experienced backs. This lack of proven depth puts even more pressure on underclassmen to step up and become key contributors.


The good news for the Aggies is that running back is a position in the SEC where other young players have been able to have an immediate impact recently. Look no further than what LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb were able to do for their respective teams last season.


3. Offensive Line

For the running backs to have a good season the offensive line has to do a better job of run blocking. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital has worked under some of the better offensive minds in the college game (Gus Malzahn, Dana Holgorsen, now Sumlin) but has to put a greater emphasis on the offensive line in both run and pass blocking.


Hill and Allen were sacked a combined 27 times in 2014, the fourth highest total in the SEC behind Tennessee (41), Kentucky (36) and Ole Miss (31). This also tied for No. 64 in the nation.


The sacks could be overlooked if the running game was not so anemic. A&M averaged 149.9 rushing yards per game (82nd in FBS), but this production dropped dramatically in conference play to just 107.2 ypg.


Third down conversions also hurt the Aggies all year, as the offense was unable to extend drives, especially in short-yardage situations. Auburn (.525) and Alabama (.515) led the conference and were in the top four in the nation in third down conversions. A&M converted just 40.8 percent of its third downs, placing the Aggies 63rd in FBS.


Final Verdict


Texas A&M’s schedule, while difficult, could not be laid out any better. Sumlin’s team does not leave the state of Texas for a game until Oct. 27 to play Ole Miss. That’s the seventh game of a 12-game slate. The only other two games outside the state are at Vanderbilt and LSU.


The toughest stretch of the season begins when the Aggies travel to Houston to meet Arkansas. After playing the Razorbacks, A&M welcomes Mississippi State and Alabama then heads off to Ole Miss. The Aggies return home to face a humbled South Carolina team and a tough Auburn squad. The four swing games that A&M must split for a shot at winning the SEC West and staying in the Playoff hunt are Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. The other games on its slate should be winnable.


The Aggies also can make a very strong opening statement by defeating Arizona State in their season opener. But a loss doesn’t mean the end to A&M’s Playoff hopes either; as all could be forgotten if it goes on to win the SEC West and the championship game in Atlanta.


Finesse offenses can work in the SEC and on the national level if the defense can win a few games, pitching near shutouts or in A&M’s case holding a team to two scores. An 8-4 regular season finish for A&M seems like a fair projection until the nation can see the Chavis Effect.


If a running game is found, a little more toughness is instilled (especially up front), and the Aggies embrace Chavis’ defensive mindset, this team could win as many as 10 games and open a few eyes along the way.


— 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, Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.

Why Texas A&M Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/sec-football-breakout-players-2015

Projecting college football’s breakout players for any given season is no easy assignment. After all, each person has a different take on what a “breakout player” is, and college football is always home to several new faces throughout the season. While it’s difficult to label breakout players, the new stars of any season can have a huge impact on conference championship or national title races.


Related: College Football’s Top 50 Players for 2015


The SEC lost some big names at quarterback, which opens the door for new stars to emerge like Texas A&M’s Kyle Allen, Auburn’s Jeremy Johnson and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s no shortage of talent for college football's No. 1 league in 2015. Texas A&M’s Otaro Alaka is a rising star in the sophomore ranks, while true freshman defensive tackle Trent Thompson is poised to be a key part of the line rotation for Georgia.


Predicting the SEC's Breakout Players for 2015


Jamal Adams, S, LSU

Adams was an impact freshman for coach Les Miles in 2014, and the expectations are even higher for the Texas native in 2015. In 13 games last season, Adams recorded 66 tackles, one sack and five pass breakups. The sophomore is expected to start this year and help anchor a secondary that is among the best in college football.


Related: Why LSU Will or Won't Make the CFB Playoff in 2015


Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M

New coordinator John Chavis inherits a defense that allowed 28.1 points per game last season but has promising young talent to build around. Alaka is one of the players for Texas A&M’s core on defense, as the Houston native had an underrated debut with the Aggies in 2014. As a true freshman, Alaka recorded 33 tackles in 12 games and also forced two fumbles. After earning Defensive MVP honors in the Liberty Bowl, Alaka is poised to push for All-SEC accolades this year.


Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015


Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M

Talented true freshman Kyler Murray is going to see some snaps this season, but Allen is expected to hold onto the starting spot this fall. Allen was one of the top quarterbacks in last year’s signing class and eventually replaced Kenny Hill as the Aggies’ starter. The Arizona native played in nine games and finished the year with 1,322 yards and 16 scores. Allen’s best performance came against West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl, tossing four scores in a 45-37 win by the Aggies.


Jeb Blazevich, TE, Georgia

Georgia’s receiving corps is a question mark, but the concerns over this unit could be eased if Blazevich is more involved in the passing attack in 2014. As a true freshman last year, Blazevich caught 18 passes for 269 yards and two scores. The North Carolina native should be in the mix for All-SEC honors in 2015.


Related: Ranking the SEC Offensive Lines for 2015


Tony Bridges, CB, Ole Miss

The Rebels’ pass defense was among the stingiest in college football last season. While there’s a few personnel tweaks coming to the secondary in 2015, this unit should once again rank among the best in the nation. Bridges was a key pickup on the recruiting trail for coach Hugh Freeze, ranking as the No. 7 junior college prospect in the 247Sports Composite. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College transfer was a first-team NJCAA All-American last year and is penciled in as one starter at cornerback this season.


Nate Brown, WR, Missouri

There’s no shortage of available playing time in Missouri’s receiving corps in 2015. The Tigers must replace their top four statistical options in the passing game from 2014, with tight end Sean Culkin (20 catches) as the team’s most proven option. Brown played in nine games as a true freshman last season and caught five passes for 45 yards. He could emerge as the go-to target for quarterback Maty Mauk this fall.


Related: College Football's Top 25 Non-Conference Games for 2015


Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

If Dobbs picks up where he left off in 2014, Tennessee should be in the race to win the SEC East. Over the final six games of last season, Dobbs threw for 1,206 yards and nine scores and rushed for 469 yards and eight touchdowns. After posting big numbers against South Carolina and Kentucky in 2014, Dobbs is tasked with increasing his production against some of the SEC’s top defenses this year.


Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

LSU isn’t hurting for talent at receiver, but the success of the passing attack heavily depends on the development of quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Dupre was a five-star recruit in the 2014 signing class and played in 12 contests last year. The New Orleans native caught 14 passes for 318 yards and five scores in his first season on campus and could easily double those totals in 2015.


Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama

Foster is known for his punishing hits, but the junior could be much more than a highlight-reel player in 2015. The Alabama native played in 11 contests last year and recorded 22 stops and one sack. Foster is expected to push for a starting job on the interior of the Crimson Tide’s linebacking corps and is primed for his best season in Tuscaloosa.


Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2015


Robert Foster, WR, Alabama

Alabama’s passing attack has to be retooled this offseason. Quarterback Blake Sims has expired his eligibility, and the Crimson Tide must replace the top three receivers from last year, including No. 1 target Amari Cooper (124 catches in 2014). Foster could be the new go-to receiver for coordinator Lane Kiffin after catching six passes for 44 yards in nine games last season. The former five-star recruit is just scratching the surface of his potential.


Gerri Green, LB, Mississippi State

The Bulldogs have to replace some key pieces from last year’s defense, starting with star linebacker Benardrick McKinney. However, the linebacking corps has plenty of talent in place, and coordinator Manny Diaz has to be excited about the potential of Green and fellow freshman Leo Lewis. Green redshirted in 2014 and should push for a starting job in the fall.


Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015


Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

Even though Shane Ray and Markus Golden have departed, there’s not a ton of concern at defensive end for Missouri. After all, the Tigers continue to produce standout ends under line coach Craig Kuligowski. All signs point to Harris as the next star off the edge. The sophomore played in all 14 games as a reserve last season and recorded 19 tackles and two sacks.


Jason Hatcher, LB/DE, Kentucky

With Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith off to the NFL, Kentucky is replacing two key members from a pass rush ranked No. 9 in the SEC in sacks last year. Needless to say, Dupree and Smith leave big shoes to fill, but there’s promise in the form of Hatcher. As a sophomore last year, Hatcher recorded 28 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. The hybrid end/linebacker is due for his best statistical year for coach Mark Stoops.


Bijhon Jackson, DT, Arkansas

With the departure of standouts Trey Flowers and Darius Philon, the Razorbacks are looking for new players to emerge up front. This group may not have a star performer in 2015, but Arkansas has solid depth and plenty of talent for coordinator Robb Smith. Jackson is a name to watch after playing in all 13 games as a true freshman last season. The Arkansas native finished 2014 with nine tackles and one pass breakup and will be a bigger part of the rotation in the trenches this year.


Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

Johnson’s mention in this column should come as no surprise. The junior has received plenty of offseason hype, and all signs point to Johnson emerging as an All-SEC quarterback in 2015. In limited action over the last two seasons, Johnson has passed for 858 yards and nine scores.


Related: 10 First-Year Starters at QB That Could Win the National Title in 2015


Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

Jalen Hurd returns after leading Tennessee with 899 rushing yards in 2014, but the Volunteers’ backfield will be even deeper with the addition of Kamara from the junior college ranks. Kamara started his career at Alabama and transferred after one year in Tuscaloosa. In nine games in 2014, Kamara rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 scores with Hutchinson Community College. Expect Kamara and Hurd to share the workload in Tennessee’s backfield, which has the potential to emerge as one of the best in the SEC this season.


Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Texas A&M’s receiving corps was already one of the best in the nation, and the rich are about to get a little richer in 2015. True freshman Christian Kirk is expected to push for a starting job at one of the inside spots in Texas A&M’s receiver lineup. The Arizona native ranked as the No. 25 recruit in the 2015 247Sports and is expected to be one of the SEC’s top freshman performers in 2015.


Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2015


Marquavius Lewis, DE, South Carolina

Improving the performance of the defensive line is a huge priority for new co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke this offseason. The Gamecocks registered only 14 sacks last year and surrendered 212.2 rushing yards per game. Lewis is expected to be an impact junior college recruit for Hoke after two standout years at Hutchinson Community College. The South Carolina native was the Jayhawk Conference Defensive Player of the Year and registered 11 sacks in 2014.


Alex McCalister, DE/LB, Florida

The strength of Florida’s team in coach Jim McElwain’s first year clearly rests on a defense that allowed only 21.1 points per game in 2014. Seven starters are back for coordinator Geoff Collins, but standout end Dante Fowler must be replaced. However, the drop in pass rush may be minimal with McCalister’s emergence last year. The North Carolina native recorded 23 tackles and six sacks in 12 contests and is due for a bigger role in the trenches this fall.


Related: College Football's Top 50 Players for 2015


Markell Pack, WR, Ole Miss

With Laquon Treadwell returning to full strength from a leg injury by the fall, along with the return of proven targets Cody Core and tight end Evan Engram, the Rebels should boast one of the top receiving corps in college football. This group could get even deeper if Pack continues to develop. As a true freshman in 2014, Pack caught 14 passes for 173 yards, with four of those coming in the bowl against TCU. After a strong finish to 2014, bigger things are expected of Pack in 2015.


Jamal Peters, S, Mississippi State

Mississippi State’s cornerback duo of Taveze Calhoun and Will Redmond should be among the best in the SEC in 2015. But there’s some uncertainty at safety entering fall camp. Peters is a touted true freshman, ranking as the No. 58 recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite. The Mississippi native will compete for a starting job in the fall.


Ross Pierschbacher, OG, Alabama

Alabama must replace three starters on its line, but this unit already has two of the better building blocks in the SEC with the return of left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly. Pierschbacher is penciled in as a starter at one of the guard spots, and the Iowa native is ready to be a key contributor for Alabama’s offensive line after a redshirt year in 2014. Pierschbacher ranked as the No. 74 recruit in the 2014 247Sports Composite.


Brandon Powell, WR, Florida

The Gators are looking for a spark on offense after averaging 24.9 points in SEC games last season. Redshirt freshman Will Grier is the favorite to start at quarterback and could be another breakout candidate to monitor. However, Powell is an intriguing player for new coach Jim McElwain. A foot injury sidelined Powell for part of spring practice, but the sophomore made a successful transition from running back to receiver. He should be a solid No. 2 option in the receiving corps behind Demarcus Robinson.


Jovon Robinson, RB, Auburn

The Tigers have good depth at running back, but Robinson is likely to handle the bulk of the carries this season. The Memphis native ranked as the No. 1 junior college prospect in the 2015 247Sports Composite and rushed for 2,387 yards at Georgia Military College in 2013. Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber are expected to spell Robinson, but the junior college recruit will be tough to unseat at the top.


Related: SEC Football 2015 Predictions


Fred Ross, WR, Mississippi State

Mississippi State already has one of the SEC’s top receiving corps, and this unit is going to benefit from the continued emergence of Ross this fall. In 13 games last season, Ross grabbed 30 passes for 489 yards and five scores. The 16.3 yards per catch average also ranked ninth among receivers in the SEC. Ross caught only nine passes as a freshman but showed steady progress as a sophomore and finished with 11 receptions over the final two games. Expect the junior to be more involved in the offense in 2015.


Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

Pharoh Cooper is one of the SEC’s top playmakers, but South Carolina lacks proven options outside of its star receiver. Samuel is pushing for a starting spot after a redshirt year in 2014, and the South Carolina native finished spring by catching three passes for 94 yards in the final scrimmage.


Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2015


Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas

The Razorbacks hope to upgrade their passing attack after managing only 188 yards per game last season. New coordinator Dan Enos needs more targets to emerge in the passing game to help quarterback Brandon Allen, and Sprinkle is a name to watch after a strong spring. Sprinkle caught seven passes for 84 yards and one score last year and should be more involved with the offense in 2015.


Related: Why Arkansas Will or Won't Make the CFB Playoff in 2015


Trent Thompson, DT, Georgia

Thompson ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite and is expected to play a key role in Georgia’s defensive line rotation this fall. At 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds, the Georgia native is a good fit as the anchor for coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 scheme.


Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt

Second-year coach Derek Mason is taking over the defensive play-calling after Vanderbilt allowed 33.3 points per game in 2014. Weatherly is one player for Mason to build around after the Georgia native recorded 55 tackles (12.5 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks last season. Mason needs edge rushers to emerge for the 3-4 approach to succeed this year, and Weatherly has the potential to double his sack total this fall.


Boom Williams, RB, Kentucky

If last season’s finale against Louisville was any indication of what to expect from Williams in 2015, the sophomore is in for a huge year. On 18 carries against the Cardinals, Williams recorded 126 rushing yards and two scores and caught three passes for 13 yards. Williams only received 74 carries, but he averaged a healthy 6.6 yards per carry and accumulated 115.9 all-purpose yards a game in 2014. 

SEC Football Breakout Players for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/power-struggles-becoming-norm-successful-nfl-franchises

Jim Harbaugh posted a 44–19–1 record in four years in San Francisco, never had a losing record and took the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game three times. John Fox went 46–18 in four years in Denver, never had a losing record and took the Broncos to a Super Bowl. Yet, when Harbaugh and Fox parted ways with their teams after last season, the NFL reacted with a collective yawn.


“I’ve seen it too many times,” Hall of Fame general manager Bill Polian says. “Who knows why these things change. There’s always internal dynamics that you can’t really put your finger on. That’s the way it looks. But it’s been done before, and I’m sure it’ll be done again.”


Harbaugh and Trent Baalke went through a messy divorce, with the coach claiming it was not nearly as mutual as the general manager depicted. Philosophical differences sent Harbaugh to the University of Michigan, leading to the 49ers’ elevation of little-known assistant Jim Tomsula to head coach.


Fox became the first Broncos coach in 30 years not to have final say in all football matters. And he and general manager John Elway eventually reached a point where they agreed to disagree, parting ways when the Broncos failed to get over the hump in three years with Peyton Manning as their quarterback. Fox moved on to Chicago, and Elway hired good buddy Gary Kubiak as the Broncos’ new head coach.


“In any relationship, whether it be player-coach, coach-GM, you’re always going to have bumpy patches,” Elway said at the press conference announcing Fox’s departure. “I think the main thing between John and I was we disagreed on how to get to the next level. We accomplished so much, four AFC West championships. But I think the biggest miss between us was how we can take that next step and what it was going to take to get to that next step. I think that’s where the disagreement came from.”


Why can’t they all just get along?


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More than 21 years have passed since Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson parted ways. Yet, they continue to play tug-of-war over credit for the back-to-back Lombardi Trophies the Cowboys won with them. Their five-year relationship ended after a public feud, with Johnson claiming his “girlfriend knows more about football” than Jones, and Jones countering that “any one of 500 coaches could have won those Super Bowls.”


Johnson walked away with a $2 million payoff, and Jones’ Cowboys won another Super Bowl two years later with Barry Switzer as the coach. They haven’t won one since.


The coach Johnson succeeded in Dallas, Tom Landry, lasted 29 years with president/general manager Tex Schramm. Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo says his research revealed that the Landry-Schramm union stands as the only one in the modern era to last its whole tenure.


“Nobody was jealous of who got the credit,” says Gil Brandt, player personnel director for Dallas from 1960-89. “We got along even though we didn’t always agree. The funny thing is we all lived within a mile of one another. But I’ll say this: It was just a lot easier then than it is now with the salary cap and everything else that goes into it.”


The ugly divorces have become far more common than the long marriages. The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer after a 14–2 season and a one-and-done playoff exit in 2006, citing a “dysfunctional situation” between the coach and general manager A.J. Smith.


Sometimes the coach loses the battle; other times it’s the general manager who goes. The Titans fired Floyd Reese after the 2006 season to end a power struggle between the general manager and coach Jeff Fisher.


Fisher worked with general managers Reese and Mike Reinfeldt and president/CEO Jeff Diamond during his 16 seasons in Houston/Tennessee. He enters his fourth season with Les Snead as his general manager in St. Louis.


“It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of trust,” Fisher says. “Communication is important. The responsibilities are so different. You have to share those responsibilities and respect those responsibilities. It starts from Day 1. There are going to be issues and disagreements.”


One of Bill Parcells’ most memorable lines came during his departure from the Patriots after the 1996 season when he said, “If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”


Yet, Parcells’ Super Bowl titles came with George Young as his general manager.


Mike Holmgren, seeking more power, left Green Bay after the 1998 season despite going 75–37 with two Super Bowl appearances and a Vince Lombardi Trophy. With Ron Wolf having final say concerning personnel, Holmgren went to Seattle for the dual role. Yet, Holmgren ended up being stripped of his general manager title in Seattle, going 86–74 with one NFC title in his tenure as head coach.


It’s the reason few owners allow the coach to have control over all football decisions.


Bill Belichick, of course, wields the power in New England, with those around him understanding their roles. Nick Caserio, Belichick’s trusted right-hand man, recently signed a contract extension with the team through the 2020 season. Caserio enters his 15th season with the organization, including his eighth as the director of player personnel, apparently comfortable with Belichick getting most of the credit.


The Eagles became a coach-driven franchise this offseason when they gave coach Chip Kelly all-encompassing power. Howie Roseman lost his title of general manager, which included authority over the draft.


The Cowboys have operated the other way since Johnson left in 1994, with owner Jones also carrying the GM title and having final say. But most organizations split the duties between the general manager and the coach.


“I’ve never wanted the GM to have the authority to hire the coach,” Texans owner Bob McNair says. “I think that puts too much power in the hands of the GM. That’s still my responsibility. The GM and coach have to appreciate each other’s responsibility. They have to understand how we operate, and that they’ve got to get along with each other and respect each other and listen to each other.”


Breakups aren’t always over power. Sometimes, like in Dallas with Jones and Johnson, it comes down to credit.


“Ego,” says Angelo, who spent 11 seasons as the Bears’ general manager. “That’s what it is. It comes down to ego. Who’s getting the credit? The funny thing is, there is so much credit to go around when you’re winning. Everybody is getting the credit. But somebody always thinks they are getting the short straw. That’s unfortunate, because great teams, great organizations win it. It’s not a great coach or a great player or a great owner or a great general manager. It’s a combination of all those things. When one feels like he should be treated more special than the others, that’s when we have a problem.”


The friction between Jon Gruden and Rich McKay began almost the moment the Buccaneers acquired the coach in a trade with the Raiders. The Bucs won a Super Bowl in their only full season together, but Gruden ripped McKay’s personnel decisions and deactivated receiver Keyshawn Johnson. It led to a split in the middle of the 2003 season, with McKay leaving for a division rival, the Falcons, where he remains as their president/CEO.


Both Gruden and McKay continue to take the high road in discussing the fallout.


“It’s as simple as one word — trust,” McKay says. “I don’t think you need to go too far beyond that word. If you trust each other and your agendas are the same — and they’re always the same — then you have a great opportunity for success. As soon as it becomes clear to one of them, whether real or not, that there are different agendas, they can’t necessarily trust them in the way their message is being conveyed to some other party — whether it’s the media, another coach or whoever that may be — then you’ve got a problem. Trust has to be built. The way trust is built up is you work together, and you make concessions together. You don’t go in and say, ‘We’ve got to have this defensive end.’ You go in and say, ‘We want this defensive end. This is why I like him. This is the case for him.’ Then, when I give you a counter-case, you’ve got to take that into account, and you have to reach a joint decision. Trust will go away if one or the two of you decides to become the unilateral decider of fact.”


Sometimes the general manager and coach have different outlooks. Coaches, who generally don’t last long with one team, have a goal of winning now. They rarely are promised next year. General managers, who often have longer leashes, might look more toward the future. They build with a long-term plan in mind.


“There are a lot of dynamics,” Snead, the Rams’ general manager, says. “…You’re trying to come up with the best solution to a problem, so you talk through the different points of view. Often, it’s the head coach going to his staff and the general manager going to his staff to get other points of view and trying to mesh those together to make the best decisions for the organization.”


Most view the Steelers as the model organization. They have had only three head coaches since 1969, and since owner Dan Rooney gave up his general manager duties after the 1970 season, the Steelers have had only three general managers or de facto general managers.


Bill Walsh served as head coach/GM during his 10 years with the 49ers, winning three Super Bowls. In his book, Building a Champion, Walsh wrote of the relationship between general managers and coaches: “The advantage of having a coach and a general manager is obvious: You have two people with clearly defined responsibilities who can concentrate on their individual areas of expertise. There’s certainly enough work for two men.”


If the team wins, there’s credit enough to go around, too.


“Everyone has to check their egos at the door,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid says, “and they have to do what it takes to work together.”


-By Charean Williams, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Power Struggles Becoming the Norm for Successful NFL Franchises
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/ohio-state-players-pranked-fake-mannequin-buckeyes-cardale-jones

All work and no play makes the Buckeyes some very dull boys.


The national champs, including Cardale Jones, were pranked by a fake mannaquin in the team's practice facility. Ohio State will be sure to stay on their toes this season.


Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 09:22
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-15-heisman-candidates-2015

We go through this exercise every year. "Who will be the face of the college football season?," we ask ourselves. Recently, names like Mariota, Manziel and Winston have answered that question, putting their own personal stamps on an entire season and making it their own en route to winning the Heisman Trophy.


Every Power 5 conference is filled with players who could potentially do the same. The Big Ten offers arguably the most diverse group of Heisman candidates from a position standpoint. It's been a quarterback's award as of late, but there are plenty of running backs, receivers, all-purpose players and yes — even some defenders — who could make enough noise to get an invite to New York City at the end of the year.


Here now are the top 15 Heisman candidates in the Big Ten for 2015 (with current Bovada odds):


1. Ohio State Quarterback

It doesn't matter if J.T. Barrett (12/1) or Cardale Jones (16/1) wins the starting the job — whoever goes under center for the Buckeyes is going to be in the driver's seat. Based on the entire production at the position from a season ago and given all the skill position talent that returns, you can expect the guy who wins the job to approach 3,700 passing yards, 40 touchdown passes and flirt with 1,000 yards on the ground. Combine that with leading what should be the nation's top team for most of the season and it's almost a lock for the starter to be a Heisman finalist.


2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (7/1)

If anyone in the conference can upstage Ohio State's quarterback, it's the guy playing right behind him. Elliott exploded onto the national scene with his video game-like postseason numbers — kicking off a 2015 Heisman campaign nearly eight months before the season started. As previously mentioned, quarterbacks have had the upper hand in Heisman races lately, but a season filled with performances like the ones he turned in during the College Football Playoff would almost certainly put him in the pole position.


3. Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin (50/1)

The Wisconsin offense is built for its running backs to post big numbers. Clement nearly eclipsed the 1,000 yard-mark a season ago while playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon. The spotlight and the bulk of the touches will now all belong to Clement, who will be out to prove that Elliott isn't the premier back in the conference.


4. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State (25/1)

Cook will have a chance early to establish himself as a front-runner. A big performance (and a win) over Oregon will shoot him to the top of the national conversation and set him up to stay there until his Spartans travel to Columbus in late November. He'll get extra credit for a big season, given the fact that he lost the majority of his primary weapons from 2014.


5. Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State

Marshall is going to step into a role for the Buckeyes that will be conducive to creating plenty of "Heisman moments." Not only is he likely to replace Devin Smith as the primary deep threat for the Buckeyes, but Marshall also will have the benefit of returning what will likely be a high number of punts by opposing teams — thanks to Ohio State's elite defense. A couple of big touchdown catches here and there combined with a handful of trips to the end zone on special teams could be enough to catapult Marshall to the top of the race — much like it did for Desmond Howard years ago.


6. De'Mornay Pierson-El, WR, Nebraska

Speaking of returning punts, Pierson-El might do it better than anyone in the country. He's projected to play a larger role in Nebraska's offense in 2015, even though he scored from three different positions last season. With a few more carries and the ability to score from anywhere, the former high school quarterback might score four different ways this fall, which would make him hard to ignore in the Heisman race.


7. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

Hackenberg will enter the season as one of a handful of surefire NFL prospects in college football. The fact that he plays quarterback makes him a serious contender to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He'll have a lot of eyes on him all year. If he can excel with those eyes on him and play well enough to get Penn State into the No. 2 spot in the Big Ten East, that may be enough for him to take home some hardware.


8. R.J. Shelton, WR, Michigan State

Using the same formula as Pierson-El and Marshall, Shelton will likely shine on special teams for the Spartans as well as provide Cook with a much-needed, big-play weapon. If he can evolve into the primary threat and play a major role in a win over Ohio State, he'll be tough not to talk about.


9. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

Sure, he's a defensive player, but he's also going to be in the conversation as the best player in the country. He'll be the leader of a defense loaded with stars. If he can turn in enough performances to make himself the face of the 2015 Buckeyes, it'll be impossible not to invite him to the trophy presentation.


10. Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana

Howard, a transfer from UAB, replaces one of the best running backs in the nation in Tevin Coleman. If he can post another 1,500-yard season and help get the Hoosiers bowl-eligible, he'll deserve consideration.


11. Jabril Peppers, S, Michigan

All signs point to Peppers looking the part of the highly touted recruited he was a couple of years ago. Solid play at safety, success on special teams and a highlight-reel play or two on offense could put him on the Heisman radar.


12. Josh Ferguson, RB, Illinois

The "do-it-all" back is going to again be the focal point of the Illini offensive attack. If he can carry his team into the conversation for the Big Ten West title, he'll deserve some attention from voters.


13. Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers

It's tough for a pure receiver to win the Heisman. In fact, it's only ever been done twice and both previous winners were significant contributors on special teams. Be that as it may, Carroo is probably the most talented wideout in the conference. He's a long shot, but one worth mentioning.


14. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State

He's going to do much more than just line up at receiver. That said, Miller will need to maximize his production in limited touches. The Buckeye offense is loaded with talent at the skill positions. Miller's position change adds to that talent, but does not guarantee that he'll be the focal point of any offensive package.


15. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska

It wouldn't be the first time in recent memory that a Nebraska defensive tackle generated Heisman buzz. Collins plays with the same level of intensity and violence as Ndamukong Suh once did for the Huskers. He's going to jump off the TV screen this season. How much attention it will get him remains to be seen.


Others to watch: DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State, Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana, Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska, Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota, Jalen Myrick, CB/KR, Minnesota


— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Scott is the editor-in-chief of, a Big Ten site for Big Ten fans. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

The Big Ten's Top 15 Heisman Candidates for 2015
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/answering-nfc-easts-biggest-questions-2015

NFL training camps are opening up all across the nation, signaling the official return of pro football.


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.


AFC's Biggest Questions: East | North | South | West
NFC's Biggest Questions: East | North | South | West


NFC East


Dallas: Can the misfit toys come together on defense?

The only questions on offense are Tony Romo’s back and can the stable of backs collectively replace DeMarco Murray. Basically, there shouldn’t really be any concerns about this high-octane offense. But the defense is stacked with talented, but enigmatic players. Sean Lee is a rock in the middle but is recovering from ACL surgery (and moving to the weak side) while Rolando McClain has had his fair share of off-field issues and is suspended for the first four games. Morris Claiborne missed 12 games with an injury and rookie first-rounder Byron Jones is expected to play right away in the secondary. And the defensive line is a total unknown. Free-agent acquisition Greg Hardy also will sit for the first four games, second-year end Demarcus Lawrence played just seven games last year and rookie Randy Gregory dropped to the second round because of dedication issues. If all of these pieces fit well, it’s a Super Bowl team. If not, it might not even win the division.


NY Giants: Can Steve Spagnuolo be the savior?

With one of the best offenses in the league, New York’s biggest questions loom on defense. Tom Coughlin tabbed former partner in crime Steve Spagnuolo to run his defense in 2015 — the same guy who led the 2007 Giants past the undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl. The schemes will be different (look for defensive backs to be blitzing), the players will be different and hopefully the results will be as well. This team ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing defense, 29th in total defense and gave up 25.0 points per game in 2014. With Jason Pierre-Paul’s future an unknown at this point and an influx of free agent additions and draft picks (Landon Collins, Owamagbe Odighizuwa), this unit should look (and play) totally differently this time around.


Philadelphia: Will Sam Bradford stay healthy?

Okay, Tim Tebow moves the headline needle and Chip Kelly is a rock star but the real reason the Eagles will win (or lose) an NFC East title is Sam Bradford. If he stays healthy, he’s got more than enough ability to lead this elite-level offense to a deep playoff run. Kelly’s system is all about getting the football out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and with the right read into space so playmakers can make things happen. This is stuff Bradford has excelled at when healthy. The running game and defense will be improved as well so as long as Bradford can stay healthy, these Eagles might be the team to beat in the division.


Washington: Is this Robert Griffin III’s last stand?

Jay Gruden was supposed to be an offensive wizard and his first year in Washington was marred by having to start three different quarterbacks and total dysfunction on that side of the ball. Certainly, a team that won four games has loads of questions but Gruden needs to find out if Robert Griffin III is the long-term answer at quarterback. He’s already been named the starter (which is good) but has yet to prove he can adjust and adapt his playing style for consistent success in the NFL. If he does not show improvement and stay healthy, this will be his last chance at being the Redskins' starting quarterback. Signs of growth and improvement would be a huge step in the right direction for a franchise embroiled in bizarre headlines.



Answering the NFC East's Biggest Questions in 2015
Post date: Tuesday, July 28, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/junior-galette-blasts-saints-twitter-rant-new-orleans-girlfriend-drew-brees-payton

Ah, Twitter. Who knew that 140 characters can cause such a big deal? Junior Galette certainly didn't know. 


The former Saints linebacker deleted his personal account and then started tweeting through his girlfriend's account. That never ends well. Galette was understandably upset after being dropped by the team before training camp. 


Galette went through the trouble of sending out a series of tweets going after the Saints and head coach Sean Payton.





Not even Drew Brees, who's generally a likeable guy in the NFL, was safe from the tirade.



The authenticity of the person behind the account is to be debated, although many are saying it's Galette himself. If it's not, then his girlfriend sure knows an awful lot about football.

Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 16:07
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/kids-teach-jj-watt-how-nae-nae-whip-houston-texans-ymca

When it comes to dance moves, J.J. Watt isn't afraid to ask for help.


As the Texans star visited a YMCA, he asked a group of kids to teach him how to do the popular "Nae Nae" dance. They obliged, and sang to him at the same time. Yes, this is the cutest thing you'll see all day.


Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 12:57
Path: /nfl/examining-overunder-2015-win-totals-nfc-east

DeMarco Murray jumped ship, but stayed in the NFC East, taking his almost 2,000 yards rushing to Philadelphia where he can torment Dallas twice a year. Time will tell if that's enough to tip the scales to the Eagles in this division. We know that the Giants also will have something to say, especially if Victor Cruz can get healthy. The Redskins are building towards respectability, but are probably at least another year away from contending.


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


NFC East


Dallas Cowboys

(Over 9.5 wins -140, Under 9.5 wins +120)


Record Last Year: 12-4


Offense: DeMarco Murray's departure leaves a huge hole at running back for Dallas. The Cowboys added Darren McFadden, but he joins a crowded group with Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams also vying for touches. Williams, a former all-conference performer at Virginia Tech hasn't been mentioned much, but if healthy, he could be a wild card. Pretty much everything else is in place and stable now that Dez Bryant got his money and is happy.


Defense: Greg Hardy's suspension has been reduced to four games, which will help a unit that is dying to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Dallas also had Nebraska's Randy Gregory fall to them in the draft, giving them more potential pass-rushing options. Byron Jones will help a secondary that was 26th against the pass in 2014.


Schedule: The toughest stretch could be from Weeks 10-14 when Dallas plays at Tampa Bay and Miami followed by a quick turnaround at home against Carolina. After the Panthers, the Cowboys get road games at Washington and Green Bay. Heck, it doesn't get easier with a Saturday night home tilt with the Jets after that.


Prediction: I'm taking the under with Dallas. Road games at New Orleans, Miami, Green Bay and Buffalo are just part of a schedule that I think has the Cowboys back to their familiar 8-8 finishes. This is just not as fierce an offense without a competent ball carrier.


New York Giants

(Over 8.5 wins +120, Under 8.5 wins -140)


Record Last Year: 6-10


Offense: Just in case you lived under a rock last year, Odell Beckham Jr. had a pretty good rookie season for the Giants. He scored 12 touchdowns in 12 games and nearly hauled in 100 catches. The big key for this offense is Victor Cruz and his health. Even if he spends the start of the season on the PUP list, Cruz can be a factor. The injury to Will Beatty is a huge problem for the offensive line, as first-round pick Ereck Flowers will probably start and may not be ready to. Running back Shane Vereen is an underrated addition, especially given his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.


Defense: It was an interesting offseason for this side of the ball. Jason Pierre-Paul severely injured his hands in a fireworks accident and there's no timetable for his return nor does anyone know how effective after having his right index finger amputated. The Giants drafted Landon Collins out of Alabama and he'll step right in at safety, a position that desperately needs help. Linebacker Jon Beason being completely healthy will be huge as he's a critical piece to this defense.


Schedule: New York has one of the latest byes (Week 11), which won't bode well for a team that has had injury issues in the past. The Giants play one set of back-to-back home games and one set of back-to-back road contests.


Prediction: I like the under for the Giants too. With all of the NFC East teams getting the AFC East in crossover play, you will probably see lower win totals in this division. Too many questions for this Giants team as of now for me to have any confidence in the over.


Philadelphia Eagles

(Over 9.5 wins +125, Under 9.5 wins -145)


Record Last Year: 10-6


Offense: Chip Kelly went to work on this side of the ball. He brought in the aforementioned Murray, as well as Sam Bradford, Ryan Mathews and Miles Austin, and drafted Nelson Agholor in the first round. Leaving Philly was Nick Foles, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. One could argue that the combination of Murray and Mathews will be better then McCoy, but will that once stout offensive line still be good without two veteran starters? Bradford and Mark Sanchez will have one of the best quarterback competitions in training camp and the winner should put up good statistics despite Maclin leaving.


Defense: This horrific secondary got a complete overhaul from last year. Gone are Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen and in comes Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and second-round pick Eric Rowe. Whomever is back there should benefit from a front seven that will put plenty of pressure on the QB. This defense had 49 sacks last year and should be fun to watch.


Schedule: Things start fast for Philly with three of the first four on the road with the lone home game coming in Week 2 against Dallas. The Eagles host Buffalo, Arizona and Washington Weeks 14-16 before a road game at the Giants to finish out the year.


Prediction: I'm abstaining from this selection based on the fact that I'm an Eagles fan and can't clearly make a prediction. You can also point to the uncertainty at QB and the sheer number of moves that were made this offseason. Chip Kelly is setting himself up for backlash if the grand experiment fails.



Washington Redskins

(Over 6.5 wins +120, Under 6.5 wins -140)


Record Last Year: 4-12


Offense: It's pretty easy to see that this unit goes as Robert Griffin III goes. The weapons are there all around RG3 with Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Alfred Morris. The front line is a question mark although Brandon Scherff is a great pick to build around alongside Trent Williams. Rookie Matt Jones is a nice complement to Morris at RB.


Defense: This side of the ball was the focus of the offseason with Chris Culliver, Dashon Goldson, Ricky Jean-Francois, Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea all being added to a unit to only lost Jarvis Jenkins and Brian Orakpo. The secondary was picked apart at times and should see some improvement with another year of seasoning for Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson.


Schedule: Three of the first four are at home with the Dolphins, Rams and Eagles coming to FedEx Field. It gets rough at the end of the year with three of the final four on the road (Chicago, Philly and Dallas).


Prediction: There's value with the over. The talent is there for the Redskins if Griffin improves from last year. The Redskins finally have a GM in place who knows what he's doing and it's going to start to show on the field.


— 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.

Examining the Over/Under 2015 Win Totals for the NFC East
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 12:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Florida Gators, SEC
Path: /college-football/florida-gators-land-four-verbal-commitments-four-states-over-weekend

The Florida Gators' recruiting efforts had run dry since early June when last picking up commitments from cornerback Aaron Robinson and wide receiver Josh Hammond. All of that changed over the weekend during Florida’s Friday Night Lights when first-year head coach Jim McElwain and staff landed four recruits — OL Brett Heggie, SS Quincy Lenton, LB Jeremiah Moon, and QB Kyle Trask.


Of the four who verbally committed only Heggie is an in-state product. The Mount Dora High School product was widely recruited, choosing the Gators over 18 other reported offers. Among the heavy hitters that offered included the likes of West Virginia, Iowa State, Louisville, South Carolina, Mississippi State, NC State, Cincinnati and in-state brethren Miami and UCF.


Landing Moon was a big recruiting win for Florida. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound outside linebacker is a product of Alabama's Hoover High School, one of the top prep programs in the Keystone State. The Gators went up against Auburn, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Kentucky, Louisville, and Mississippi State among others to get Moon.


Lenton was another victory for McElwain and staff as the Gators are re-establishing their recruiting status within the SEC. A one-time Mississippi State commit, Lenton (6-0, 190) changed his mind in mid-May before switching over to Florida. Other SEC teams to offer Lenton included Auburn, Georgia, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.


Trask, a tall Texan, is a relative unknown on the recruiting traill. Before Florida offered only Houston Baptist, Lamar and McNeese State went after the quarterback, who stands nearly 6-6. McElwain was not able to secure a signal-caller in his first recruiting class, making the need for one in 2016 a priority.


The other oddity about Trask is the fact that he was not a starter for Manvel (Texas) High School last year and more than likely will not be in 2015. That honor belongs to D’Eriq King, a TCU commit. King is a dual-threat option while Trask is a pocket passer. King passed for 3,193 yards with 47 touchdowns and ran for another 780 with 12 more scores leading the Mavericks. Trask completed 48 of 68 pass attempts for 786 yards with six touchdowns and no picks.


Florida’s 2016 Class now has 18 verbal commitments. The Gators’ class while solid has not impressed recruiting services. 247Sports only has three of Florida’s commits ranked as 4-star prospects- Moon, CB Chauncey Gardner and RB Mark Thompson.


Florida Gators 2016 Verbal Commitment List

OG Branton Autry, 6’5”, 320 lbs, Coffeyville C.C., Coffeyville, KS

DE JaQuan Bailey, 6’3.5”, 230 lbs, Raines HS, Jacksonville, FL

OT Stone Forsythe, 6’7.5”, 325 lbs, West Orange HS, Winter Garden, FL

CB Chauncey Gardner, 6’0”, 194 lbs, Cocoa HS, Cocoa, FL

WR Joshua Hammond, 6’0”, 180 lbs, Hallandale HS, Hallandale, FL

OC Brett Heggie, 6’4.5”, 300 lbs, Mt. Dora HS, Mount Dora, FL

WR Isaiah Johnson, 6’3”, 198 lbs, Dwyer HS, Palm Beach Gardens, FL

LB Vosean Joseph, 6’2”, 210 lbs, Norland HS, Miami, FL

SS Quincy Lenton, 6’0”, 190 lbs, Meridian HS, Meridian, MS

CB Christopher McWilliams, 5’11”, 161 lbs, Southwest Miami HS, Miami, FL

DE Eric Mitchell, 6’1”, 220 lbs, Miami Central HS, Miami, FL

LB Jeremiah Moon, 6’4”, 205 lbs, Hoover HS, Birmingham, AL

RB Lamical Perine, 5’11”, 210 lbs, Theodore HS, Theodore, AL

CB Aaron Robinson, 6’1”, 185 lbs, Deerfield Beach HS, Deerfield Beach, FL

RB Mark Thompson, 6’2”, 230 lbs, Dodge City C.C., Dodge City, KS

RB Tyrek Tisdale, 6’1”, 199 lbs, Oak Ridge HS, Orlando, FL

QB Kyle Trask, 6’5.5”, 210 lbs, Manvel HS, Manvel, TX

WR Rick Wells, 6’0”, 185 lbs, Raines HS, Jacksonville, FL


— 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, Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.

Florida Gators Land Four Verbal Commitments from Four States over the Weekend
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 12:15
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Denver Broncos, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/burning-questions-denver-broncos-enter-training-camp

The Denver Broncos won the AFC West with ease in 2014, finishing last year ranked in the top five in both total offensive yards and defensive yards allowed. However, they cleaned house over the offseason and brought in a new coaching staff. With great talent and new coaches, will this finally be the year that the Broncos take the next step and win the Super Bowl?


How will the running back situation play out?

With Peyton Manning at quarterback, it can be easy to overlook the Broncos' depth at running back. There is some competition at the position, but coming off a Pro Bowl campaign, C.J. Anderson should be the starter. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman will also compete for plentiful playing time as backups. Ball played very little, after suffering a groin injury, while Hillman played well as both a starter and backup. Even Juwan Thompson played well in the mix last year. With an added emphasis on the run this year, it will be more of a question of who to play as opposed to how good it will be.


How will the line be in protecting Peyton and fostering the run game?

With Peyton Manning still going strong at 39 years old, the offensive line will need to protect him from taking hits. Losing four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Clady has to be one of the biggest losses in the league to date, considering the overhaul on the offensive line. During training camp, the starters were Chris Clark, Louis Vasquez, Gino Gradkowski, Ben Garland, and Ty Sambrailo. Of those five listed starters, only two of them made starts last season. That certainly has to be of concern to Peyton Manning and the running game. However, Gary Kubiak will be implementing a zone blocking scheme, which worked extremely well in Baltimore last year. Peyton Manning is also arguably the best at avoiding sacks, but there should still be some concern. With an emphasis on the running game, the ability for the line to create lanes will be more crucial. Manning can get the ball out of his hand quickly, but with an expanded running game, the offensive line has to outperform preseason expectations.


How will Gary Kubiak change this team?

One decade later and Gary Kubiak is back with the Broncos, now as the head coach of an already dominant team. After leading the Baltimore Ravens’ offense to an impressive season, he looks to take the Broncos to a Super Bowl that they’re definitely worthy of. With his zone blocking scheme and added emphasis on the run, he should be able to bring some more balance to the Broncos’ offense. Just these small adjustments could ultimately be the difference between just another playoff run and a Super Bowl appearance. Kubiak is solely an offensive mind, so new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will be handling any changes on that side of the ball.

Will the linebackers be fully healthy?

While the Broncos have star outside linebackers in Demarcus Ware and Von Miller, they have some concerns about the health of their two inside ones. Brandon Marshall is recovering from an offseason foot surgery, while Danny Trevathan missed most of the 2014 campaign because of a knee injury. Both are very young players, who have demonstrated great instinct and athleticism in their playing time. However, they only have 30 totals games started between the two of them over the past three seasons. With health concerns looming in the near past, they will be looked at with a cautious eye. They’re certainly not the premier players on this defense, but they’ve proven to be valuable assets.

Is this the last season for Peyton?

Toward the end of the past season, Peyton had a significant drop-off in production that led to an early playoff departure. That has to be a little concerning to the team this year, but more importantly to his future. While he has denied that this will be a farewell season, there has to be some chance that it could be. He’s now 39 years old, and a few years removed from a serious neck injury. As the season progresses, it will be important to keep an eye on his production and health. Even if it’s not his last season, perhaps it might be the Broncos' last best shot to win a Super Bowl. This team has been close over the past few years under his leadership, but time is running out.

Burning Questions as the Denver Broncos Enter Training Camp
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Virginia Tech Hokies
Path: /college-football/how-virginia-tech-hokies-can-rebound-2015

Frank Beamer has had a long, wonderful run at Virginia Tech. During the 83 years prior to Beamer arriving in Blacksburg, the Hokies had been to just six bowl games and had won just one - the 1986 Peach Bowl. In 1993, Virginia Tech went to its first bowl under Beamer and has been in the postseason every year since, winning 10 times and playing for the national title in 1999.


From 1993 to 2011, Virginia Tech had double-digit wins in 13 seasons and never lost more than five games. But in the past three years, the Hokies have not had a 10-win season and two six-loss seasons have sandwiched a five-loss campaign.


The question is, why the drop off? What is Virginia Tech doing, or not doing, that has led to three disappointing seasons in a row? A look at the stats from the past three seasons may shed some light on the reasons and how Beamer and Virginia Tech can right the ship in 2015.


Related: Virginia Tech Hokies 2015 Preview and Prediction


In the years when it was most effective, the Virginia Tech offense had a productive running game, routinely ranking in the top 30 nationally in rushing offense. There was always a back to carry the load whether it was David Wilson or Darren Evans or Ryan Williams. Going back further there was Lee Suggs, Kevin Jones, and several other very good ball carriers.


But in 2012, Virginia Tech ranked 81st in the country in rushing yards per game. Two years ago and 2014 were even worse, as the Hokies finished 110th and 89th, respectively. The single-season rushing leader from 2012 to ‘14 was Trey Edmunds, who ran for 675 yards in 2013.


Because the offense struggled to establish a running game, Virginia Tech ran the ball fewer times. In this new age of fast-paced college football, more snaps are occurring. So if Virginia Tech was not running the ball, it was going in the air. That put more pressure on quarterbacks Logan Thomas and Michael Brewer, and they responded by throwing a lot of picks. Over that three-season span, Virginia Tech quarterbacks threw 47 total interceptions, causing the team’s normally strong turnover margin to plummet.


As a result, Virginia Tech lost the field position game. According to Football Outsiders, in 2014 Virginia Tech ranked 114th in Starting Field Position Delta; which is the difference between the Hokies’ starting field position and their opponents.  That put the defense in one tough spot after another and though the unit often responded, it could only do so much.


Brewer was not the only problem with the passing game last year. The offensive line allowed 34 sacks, ranking 101st in the country.  So to summarize, the offensive line has had trouble opening holes in the running game and has struggled protecting the quarterback. The running backs have not made the best use of the holes that were opened and the quarterback that has been under pressure has held the ball too long on some occasions and thrown it to the other team on others.


With eight starters back on defense this season, including stars in cornerback Kendall Fuller and defensive ends Ken Ekanem and Dadi Nicolas, defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s guys should again be very tough. But does the offense have the ability to run the ball and take pressure off Brewer? Can Brewer protect the ball to take pressure off the defense?


Three starters are back on the offensive line, including both members of the left side in tackle Jonathan McGlaughlin and guard Wyatt Teller. In the backfield, J.C. Coleman closed the year with a flourish and was named MVP of the Military Bowl after rushing for 157 yards against Cincinnati. Edmunds also returns from injury and there are new options in freshman Deshawn McClease and converted quarterback Travon McMillan. Also, Shai McKenzie has shown promise, but off-the-field issues have hampered his progress.


The strength of the offense resides in pass catchers Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford, meaning Brewer will still be asked to throw the ball quite a bit. It is obviously incumbent upon him to protect the football no matter how often he is asked to pass.


One thing Virginia Tech has going for it is that with a defense that could be among the best in the country, the offense does not have to be spectacular. It just needs to be efficient. The Hokies also don’t have to solely lean on the run, like say Army, for this to be a successful season. They need the threat of the run more than anything and an increase of 20 more yards rushing per game, getting them into the 50s in terms of the national rankings, would do wonders for this offense and the team as a whole.


The ACC Coastal Division is there for some team to take. Georgia Tech has some questions on defense and the Yellow Jackets are replacing many of their offensive skill players. Duke needs a new quarterback and all-conference wide receiver Jamison Crowder is gone. North Carolina’s defense was abysmal last year. Despite having the ACC’s leading returning receiver, Pittsburgh struggled throwing the ball. Miami has to rebuild just about everything except the quarterback. And Virginia has numerous challenges.


Most importantly, none of these teams have a defense like Virginia Tech. If the offense does just a little bit more, a Coastal championship could be waiting for Beamer and the Hokies.


— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

How the Virginia Tech Hokies Can Rebound in 2015
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Overtime
Path: /college-football/auburn-defense-hype-video-tigers-fast-physical

Auburn has a fast and physical defense, and they're going to need it.


In the SEC West, wins are a little more difficult to come by. Although the offense is more electrifying these days, the Tigers released a video letting everyone know their defense is still to be feared and revered.


Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 11:08
Path: /college-football/cardale-jones-body-slams-kid-pool

With fall practice right around the corner, coaches and players are trying to squeeze in the last bit of free time or vacation before the season begins in force. Even though Ohio State is focused on winning another national championship, there’s still plenty of time for the Buckeyes to relax and get away from the summer heat.


Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones is locked into a tight battle for the starting quarterback job with J.T. Barrett, but the junior isn't one to be bothered by pressure. 


On Sunday, Jones and a few teammates were hanging out at a pool. And needless to say, just a simple hangout at the pool wasn’t in order for Jones. Instead, the quarterback had a little fun and put a couple of WWE moves on a child at the pool.


Teammate Tyvis Powell captured the wrestling moves on video:


Cardale Jones Body Slams Kid Into Pool
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 11:07
Path: /nfl/answering-afc-easts-biggest-questions-2015

NFL training camps are opening up all across the nation, signaling the official return of pro football.


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.


AFC East


Buffalo: Can the QB distribute the ball effectively?

The Bills' coaching staff has been stabilized with the hiring of Rex Ryan. The defense should continue to be one of the league’s best. And with playmaking additions to the offense (LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton), the lone remaining question about a Buffalo playoff run is who plays quarterback? Matt Cassell was brought in to compete with EJ Manuel and Tyrod Taylor for the starting job. Cassell fits the system the best and clearly has the most experience, however, Manuel still has the most upside. If the signal-caller in Buffalo can simply distribute the football quickly, decisively and without turnovers, the Bills could easily end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.


Miami: Are the right leaders in place?

Last year, the defense featured players questioning coordinator Kevin Coyle. The offense never reached the tempo and efficiency talked about by coordinator Bill Lazor. Calls for Joe Philbin’s scalp were ignored by a totally new front office structure. All three were kept, free agent Ndamukong Suh was added to lead the defense and Ryan Tannehill was inked to a monstrous new long-term contract. The time is now for a team that has been middling for years and key leadership positions are filled by coaches and players with major question marks. If Miami isn’t careful, the Dolphins could fall to the bottom of the AFC East.


New England: What does the secondary look like?

Tom Brady’s suspension has dominated headlines but the Patriots' offense will be just fine the second he steps back into the lineup (if he leaves it at all). The real question about a Super Bowl repeat is holes left on the defense. Losing veteran Vince Wilfork from the line hurts but replacing both Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner at cornerback could completely change the way this defense plays. The Pats invested heavily in safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung, which helps, but look for a heavy dose of zone defense to make up for the lack of star power at cornerback.

New York Jets: Can the passing game create balance?

Much like Buffalo, the Jets feel more stable under a new head coach in Todd Bowles. The already salty defense should be downright nasty after a very active offseason. But can all that defensive firepower mask the one glaring question about the Jets: Can they produce offense through the air? New York has ranked 32nd, 31st and 30th in passing offense the last three years and the quarterback battle will feature Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick and fourth-round pick Bryce Petty. There is a lot to like about this team on defense and on the ground, but it won’t make a playoff run without some support from a highly questionable aerial attack. 

Answering the AFC East's Biggest Questions in 2015
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-top-10-coaches-hot-seat-2015

College football coaches are always on the hot seat. The pressure to win now is greater than it was 15-20 years ago. With the 24-hour news cycle, social media and message boards, coaches, teams and players are always on the spotlight.


The terms “hot seat” and “under pressure” don’t necessarily mean a coach is entering a year with concerns about job security, but there are a handful of coaches needing a big season to return in 2016.


Illinois’ Tim Beckman, Virginia’s Mike London and Miami's Al Golden top the hot seat list from Power 5 programs for 2015, while Hawaii’s Norm Chow and San Jose State’s Ron Caragher lead the way from Group of 5 teams. 


College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015


1. Tim Beckman, Illinois

Record at Illinois: 12-25 (3 years)


It’s been a difficult offseason for Beckman, as allegations of player mistreatment surfaced in May, adding to the pressure for a program that is just 12-25 over the last three years. Illinois has showed some improvement under Beckman, jumping in wins from just two in 2012 to four in 2013, followed by a 6-7 mark last season. The Fighting Illini needs to get back to a bowl in 2015 to save Beckman’s job.


Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2015


2. Mike London, Virginia

Record at Virginia: 23-38 (5 years)


Recruiting talent to Virginia hasn’t been a problem for London. Since 2011, the Cavaliers rank No. 6 among ACC teams with an average of 31.8 in recruiting rankings. However, there’s room to improve in the on-field performance. Virginia has only one winning season during London’s tenure (2011) and has just five ACC victories over the last three years. London’s 5-7 record in 2014 bought him another season, but the Cavaliers need to get to a bowl in 2015.


Related: ACC Predictions for 2015


3. Norm Chow, Hawaii

Record at Hawaii: 8-29 (3 years)


Chow was a popular hire for the Rainbow Warriors, but the Hawaii native and long-time assistant needs to show progress in 2015. Hawaii is just 8-29 under Chow’s watch but recorded its best mark (4-9) of his tenure last year. Prior to taking over as the head coach for the Rainbow Warriors, Chow was regarded as an assistant during stops at UCLA, USC, Utah, NC State and BYU. 2015 is a make-or-break year for Chow in Honolulu. 


Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2015


4. Al Golden, Miami

Record at Miami: 28-22 (4 years)


Is Miami ready to win the ACC Coastal? That question has surrounded the Hurricanes each offseason in recent memory, and the pressure on Golden is increasing in intensity after a 6-7 record last year. Simply, Miami has too much talent to finish with a losing record in ACC play two times in the last four years. Golden inherited a few issues in Coral Gables, including the NCAA/Nevin Shapiro investigation. However, Miami ranks as the No. 3 roster in the ACC and is just 16-16 in conference play over the last four seasons. 


Related: ACC 2015 All-Conference Team


5. Ron Caragher, San Jose State

Record at San Jose State: 9-15 (2 years)


Mike MacIntyre set the bar high for Caragher at San Jose State. In three years with the Spartans, MacIntyre went 16-21, including a 10-2 mark (prior to the bowl) in 2012. While reaching 10 wins at San Jose State isn’t easy, Caragher and San Jose State are trending in the wrong direction. After a 6-6 mark in 2013, the Spartans regressed to 3-9 last season. Caragher reeled in a solid recruiting class in the spring, and the third-year coach may need big contributions from a handful of freshmen in 2015.


6. Willie Taggart, USF

Record at USF: 6-18 (2 years)


Taggart was a promising hire for a USF program coming off an 8-16 record from 2011-12 under Skip Holtz. However, the Bulls are only 6-18 over the last two seasons and is picked by most to finish near the bottom of the American Athletic Conference’s East Division. Taggart has recruited well, so talent isn’t an issue. However, there’s a lot of youth on the roster, and assistant/scheme changes on both sides of the ball. USF has enough returning talent to reach a bowl. But there’s also enough concerns to finish 4-8 again.


Related: American Athletic Conference 2015 Predictions


7. Kevin Wilson, Indiana

Record at Indiana: 14-34 (4 years)


Indiana is one of the Big Ten’s toughest jobs, and Wilson was handed a serious setback after quarterback Nate Sudfeld was lost midway through 2014 with a shoulder injury. The Hoosiers have made progress under Wilson’s watch and nearly made a bowl in 2014 with a 5-7 mark. After a 1-11 record in Wilson’s first year (2011), Indiana has won at least four games in each of the last three seasons. The pressure on Wilson is building, but progress has been noticeable and a postseason trip is within reach for 2015.


Related: College Football's Top Transfers for 2015


8. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Record at Iowa: 115-85 (16 years)


Ferentz is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the nation, entering his 17th season at the helm in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have played in 12 bowls under Ferentz, finished in the Associated Press poll five times and posted four years of double-digit wins. That’s the positive side of Ferentz’s tenure. However, the Hawkeyes have not won more than eight games and have only one winning mark in Big Ten play since 2009. Ferentz has done a lot of good things for Iowa. But it’s not easy to maintain success at one program for an extended period of time. 2015 probably isn’t a make-or-break year, but Ferentz needs to show this program isn’t growing stale under his watch. 


9. Paul Haynes, Kent State

Record at Kent State: 6-17 (2 years)


Maintaining success as been difficult at Kent State. Darrell Hazell guided the Golden Flashes to an 11-3 mark in 2012, which was the program’s first double-digit win total in school history. However, Kent State has struggled under Haynes’ direction, going 6-17 over the last two years. The Golden Flashes went 2-9 last season and won only one game in conference play. 


10. Ron Turner, FIU

Record at FIU: 5-19 (2 years)


Turner was a surprising hire at FIU, and the program slumped to a 1-11 record in his first season (2013). However, there were some signs of life by the Panthers last year, as Turner guided the program to a 4-8 mark. With 14 starters returning, FIU has a chance to show more progress in 2015.


Getting Warm?


Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

Record at Virginia Tech: 231-115-2 (28 years)


This will be an interesting scenario to watch. It’s unlikely Virginia Tech will fire Beamer, but the Hokies have been trending in the wrong direction since 2011. This program is 22-17 over the last three years and is coming off its worst conference record (3-5) since joining the ACC.  


Related: College Football's Top Cornerback Tandems for 2015


Derek Mason, Vanderbilt

Record at Vanderbilt: 3-9 (1 year)


James Franklin set the bar high after three successful years in Nashville, and Mason is looking for improvement after a 3-9 record in his debut.


Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

Record at Iowa State: 29-46 (6 years)


Iowa State is easily one of the toughest Power 5 jobs in college football. However, since guiding the Cyclones to three bowl appearances in four years, Rhoads is just 5-19 over the last two seasons.


Scott Shafer, Syracuse

Record at Syracuse: 10-15 (2 years)


Shafer had a solid debut (7-6), but the Orange regressed to 3-9 last season. Injuries hit this team hard last year, and the offense managed only 17.1 points a game. With a new athletic director, Shafer needs to make a good first impression.

College Football's Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2015
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/usf-unveils-new-uniforms-and-alternate-jerseys-2015

USF is searching for improvement in coach Willie Taggart’s third season, and the Bulls hope their quest for a turnaround is bolstered by some sharp new uniforms for 2015.


Some of these designs have been used before, but USF appears to have a new alternate, which features yellow and green stripes on the shoulders (along with bright yellow numbers).


Check out USF’s sharp new uniforms for the 2015 season: 


USF Unveils New Uniforms and Alternate Jerseys for 2015
Post date: Monday, July 27, 2015 - 10:18