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NC State had a bit of a surprising 2014 season. The Wolfpack went from three wins in 2013 to eight and a St. Petersburg Bowl victory over UCF in head coach Dave Doeren’s second season.
This season, not a lot of experts are giving NC State much of a chance to win the ACC Atlantic Division. In the ACC preseason media poll, the Wolfpack were picked to finish fourth in the division behind Clemson, Florida State and Louisville.
While NC State doesn’t have the toughest of schedules, quarterback Jacoby Brissett and company will need to pull off some upsets if they are to shock the world and win the Atlantic. Here are NC State's 12 regular season games, ranked from the easiest to the toughest matchup.
12. Sept. 12 vs. Eastern Kentucky
Eastern Kentucky finished the 2014 season 9-4, but the Colonels find themselves at No.12 because they are an FCS opponent. The game will be in Raleigh, so NC State should have little to no problem defeating Eastern Kentucky.
11. Sept. 5 vs. Troy
There wasn’t a lot to celebrate for Troy in 2014, as the team won only three games. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Silvers should improve from his 18-touchdown season, but the Wolfpack defense should be able to contain him and the rest of the Trojans at home in the season opener.
10. Sept. 26 at South Alabama
Only three starters return on offense for South Alabama this fall. Head coach Joey Jones said the Jaguars are as deep and talented as they have ever been. The problem is they will have a difficult time scoring points and stopping NC State.
9. Sept. 19 at Old Dominion
Old Dominion will be one of the youngest teams in the nation in 2015. The Monarchs will return only 10 seniors on a team that has 105 players. Old Dominion could be a player in Conference USA, but the Wolfpack should win by double digits.
8. Oct. 24 at Wake Forest
Last season, Wake Forest’s offense averaged 216.3 yards per game, which was the lowest in the nation. Head coach Dave Clawson will have more talent in his second year in Winston-Salem, but probably not enough to keep the Demon Deacons from finishing in last place again in the Atlantic Division.
7. Nov. 21 vs. Syracuse
The Syracuse defense gave up an average of 349.2 yards per game last season, which put them 26th in the nation. The bad news is the Orange will have to replace seven of their eight leading tacklers from a year ago. With the game in Raleigh, this is a contest NC State should win.
6. Nov. 7 at Boston College
Head coach Steve Addazio has done a great job in his two years at Boston College, as the Eagles have been bowling each season. Boston College should have one of the best front sevens in the ACC. On paper, NC State should win this game due to the Eagles’ lack of experience Boston College has, but this will not be a cakewalk.
5. Oct.3 vs. Louisville
Louisville will have to replace some of its best players, including All-ACC wide receiver DeVante Parker. The Cardinals’ defense should be strong again, so that will make for a good test for NC State.
4. Nov.28 vs. North Carolina
Rivalry games are always tough and North Carolina coming to Raleigh won't be any different. Despite being destroyed 35-7 by the Wolfpack last season, the Tar Heels have enough offensive weapons to make this season’s matchup very entertaining.
3. Oct. 9 (Friday) at Virginia Tech
While there are questions about the Virginia Tech offense, the defense is once again expected to one of the best in the ACC. The game in Blacksburg will be played on a Friday night, so NC State will certainly have its work cut out for them in one of the louder home environments in the nation.
2. Oct. 31 vs. Clemson
During ACC Media Week in July, Clemson was named the favorites to not only win the Atlantic Division but also to win the entire ACC. If you have followed the Tigers throughout the years, they tend to lose games they are not supposed to. Strange things usually happen on Halloween in college football and Clemson will be on the road for this one.
1. Nov. 14 at Florida State
Florida State lost a number of last year’s starters to the NFL during the offseason. The Seminoles also will break in a new starting quarterback in either Sean Maguire or graduate transfer Everett Golson. Whoever is the starter, he will have a lot of talent surrounding them. Doak Campbell Stadium has been a house of horrors for NC State, who hasn’t won in Tallahassee since 2005.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.
Florida has surfaced as a potential destination for freshman quarterback Ricky Town, following his recent decision to transfer from the University of Southern California. Town was the nation’s fifth-best pro-style quarterback in the class of 2015, according to Rivals.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound early enrollee attended St. Bonaventure High School in Ventura, Calif., and received offers from Alabama, Georgia, Miami, Texas and a number of other Power 5 conference schools. Town originally committed to Alabama and then-offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier in 2013, but withdrew his commitment in early 2014 after Nussmeier left Tuscaloosa for a lateral move to Michigan.
Nussmeier accepted the offensive coordinator job under new Florida head coach Jim McElwain this offseason, making the Gators an attractive destination for Town, as the two established a good relationship when Nussmeier recruited the four-star quarterback for Alabama.
Florida has struggled to find success at the quarterback position since Tim Tebow's departure in 2009. The Gators in 2014 finished second to last in the SEC in passing yards (2,159), averaging 179.9 yards per game. They finished 13th out of the 14 teams in that same category in 2012 with just 1,902 passing yards.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
Some college football teams have a long history of redshirting freshmen preferring to give a full year of maturity in the weight room and on the practice field before unleashing the former high school talents onto the college gridiron. When it comes to Arkansas, the luxury of slowly bringing along a 4- or 3-star prospect is not necessarily an option, as third-year head coach Bret Bielema slowly restocks the talent shelf left bare from the Bobby Petrino era.
Arkansas is in great shape on offense with nine starters returning (including running back Jonathan Williams, who is expected to miss the regular season due to a foot injury), but will more than likely look to a few freshmen to fill in some gaps on defense with just five starters back in 2015.
Here are five true freshmen who should have an immediate impact for the Razorbacks this fall.
1. Ryan Pulley, CB
Pulley has shrunk and gained muscle mass since leaving Island Coast (Fla.) High School. The Razorbacks have him listed at 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, making him a beast of a matchup at corner for any big SEC receiver.
Recruiting services ranked Pulley as a 3-star out of the Fort Myers area but his play on the field in fall camp quickly disputes the rankings. Pulley shined in the Hogs’ first preseason scrimmage, picking off an Austin Allen pass and returning it 41 yards for a touchdown. Arkansas looks like they have its first- and second-string units at cornerback locked in with D.J. Dean and Jared Collins starting, Henre Toliver at starting nickel, and Cornelius Floyd and Pulley manning the second team.
2. Rawleigh Williams, RB
Had this list gone up before Sunday Williams more than likely would not have had a spot in the top 5. But following the injury to Williams, a senior who was an All-SEC selection last season after rushing for 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns, the true freshman Williams could be asked to contribute sooner rather than later.
Williams was a beast in high school for Dallas-area Bishop Lynch, rushing for more than 2,800 yards as a senior and looks every bit of the part so far wearing an Arkansas uniform. During Saturday’s scrimmage he picked up 105 yards on 14 carries, including a 63-yard touchdown run off tackle.
3. Hjalte Froholdt, DT
Froholdt has been a standout in the weight room and on the practice field. The 6-foot-5 defensive tackle has already added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame and is now pushing 300 pounds, getting him closer to being a physically-ready SEC defensive lineman.
The IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.) graduate was an early enrollee at Arkansas giving him an eight-month head start on most true freshman playing college football for the first time this season. Junior tackle Taiwan Johnson is locked in at one tackle spot but the other spot is up for grabs. Sophomore Bijhon Jackson, senior DeMarcus Hodge, Armon Watts, and Froholdt will all battle it out to be in the two-deep rotation this fall.
4. Dre Greenlaw, LB
Greenlaw was a do-everything type of player for Fayetteville High School throughout his career lining up at safety and linebacker. The local talent has taken major strides in the weight room over the summer coming into fall camp at 231 pounds, screaming to play outside linebacker for the Hogs.
Throughout the early part of fall camp Bielema has been singing Greenlaw’s praises. Settling in as a second-string Will linebacker behind third-year starter Brooks Ellis, during Saturday’s scrimmage Greenlaw was second on the team with eight stops behind sophomore middle linebacker Khalia Hackett’s nine tackles.
5. Willie Sykes, FS
Sykes might be the biggest surprise on the list considering Rivals rated the Texas free safety as a 2-star out of Spring High School. Sykes has played his way into a second-string role behind Josh Liddell thus far in camp. The Hogs rolled with Liddell as a true freshman last year giving the Pine Bluff, Ark., native two starts in 2014, proving defensive coordinator Robb Smith is not afraid to play the best available.
Since Arkansas has started fall camp there has not been a lot of chatter coming from the true freshmen wide receivers as some may have hoped. Junior college transfer Dominque Reed has played well but many believed La’Michael Pettway (6-2, 205) could have challenged for a spot early.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
There is good news surrounding the University of Pittsburgh's 2015 schedule; there really isn't an unwinnable game on the slate.
The bad news is the Panthers have lost to every single team on their schedule at one point or another, including Youngstown State and Akron.
Such is the inconsistency that haunts fans of the Pitt Panthers. New head coach Pat Narduzzi helped turn around Michigan State as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator and hope springs eternal in Oakland behind promising quarterback Chad Voytik, record-setting running back James Conner, and wide receiver Tyler Boyd, or shall we say the North Shore and South Side as that's where the team plays and practices?
Regardless, here's how the Panthers’ schedule stacks up in 2015, from easiest to most difficult matchup.
12. Sept. 5 vs. Youngstown State
Yes, the last time the Panthers had a new coach he lost to the Penguins in his first game. Not going to happen again. Interestingly enough Narduzzi's father Bill paved the way for YSU to become a Division I program in the 1980s. Boyd, who caught 76 passes for 1,261 yards, won't play in the game because of an offseason DUI, but that might even be beneficial as it gives another Pitt receiver the chance to emerge.
11. Sept. 12 at Akron
Yeah, another school Pitt should beat without a second thought in recent times, but instead lost to. And why so many fans are happy Paul Chryst left for Wisconsin. Terry Bowden is just 11-25 with the Zips and the school recently cut baseball. Will that mean more money for football or Bowden has to win now to leave the sinking ship?
10. Oct. 24 at Syracuse
Remember when Syracuse had the third-longest streak of winning seasons in college football from 1987-2001? Since then they've had three winning campaigns. And whereas during this streak Pitt lost 11 straight to the Cuse from 1991-2001, the Panthers have now taken nine of 10 from their former Big East and Lambert Trophy rivals. Quarterback Terrel Hunt returns from a broken leg to lead what was one of the most anemic offenses in FBS last year.
9. Oct. 10 vs. Virginia
The Cavaliers lost lots of pass-rushing talent to the NFL draft. Offensively junior Taquan Mizzell becomes the Hoos' feature back. He was once a 5-star recruit, but wouldn't you rather have James Conner?
8. Sept. 19 at Iowa
The "High Octane Offense" couldn't hold a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead in 2011 and last year the Panthers lost a 17-7 halftime lead to fall the Hawkeyes 24-20. C.J. Beathard, the quarterback who engineered Iowa's comeback last year returns, but is one of only four starters coming back. Conner can also feast on four newcomers in the Iowa defensive box. Beating the Big Ten is important to win recruiting battles, and a victory here would be Pitt's first against the conference since 2008. It would also likely give the Panthers a 3-0 record as they approached ACC play.
7. Nov. 14 at Duke
Pitt followed a 58-55 victory against the Blue Devils in 2013 with a 51-48 loss last year.
For comparison's sake, Jock Sutherland's last game at Pitt was a 7-0 loss to the Blue Devils. The two teams won't spend the day exchanging punts in Durham as they did in 1938, and they probably won't push 100 points since Blue Devils starting quarterback Thomas Sirk was only the short-yardage quarterback last year. But we can hope this matchup continues to be as fun to watch as the previous two games.
6. Nov. 27 (Friday) vs. Miami
A little known fact is the Hurricanes' football program was originally shaped by Pitt's success during the Jock Sutherland era. Miami president Bowman Foster Ashe had previously taught at Pitt, pushed for the program's varsity creation, and hired former Panthers Jack Harding and Andy Gustafson to coach the program from 1937-64. Ashe even pushed for the construction of a stadium as grand as Pitt Stadium, the Orange Bowl, for the Hurricanes to play in. Now both structures have been razed and the two programs play off campus as secondary tenants to the local pro football teams. The thought here is former glories at both schools may not be revived until they get their own yards again.
Three starters return on offense for the Canes from a 6-7 team that dropped their final four games of 2014, including a 35-23 loss to Pitt. Frankly, this is a game the Panthers should win. As mediocre as they've been in recent years, Pitt's program is likely better than Miami's now.
5. Oct. 29 (Thursday) vs. North Carolina
Sometimes Pitt feels like an odd fit in the ACC. Then a matchup like this comes up that surprisingly revives memories. The Tar Heels' 17-7 victory against Pitt in 1979 ultimately prevented the Panthers from playing for a national championship. Three decades later, Pitt earned its first 10-victory season since with a 19-17 Belk Bowl victory over North Carolina in 2009; and the two teams even met at Three Rivers Stadium twice. The first coming when the top-ranked Panthers beat the fifth-ranked Tar Heels to kick off the 1982 season. The other came in 2000, as Willie Parker and Jeff Reed engineered a 20-17 UNC victory on a day when the quarterback who engineered the aforementioned 7-6 triumph, Dan Marino, was honored. North Carolina's defense was atrocious last season but the Tar Heels still managed a 40-35 victory. UNC will now be utilizing seven men in the box instead of a 4-2-5 defense. How will that affect Conner?
4. Nov. 21 vs. Louisville
Is anyone else disturbed Bobby Petrino is back in a major conference? Opponents are, as the Cardinals went 9-4 last year. With Conner, Boyd, and Voytik Pitt likely has more offensive weapons than Louisville, which actually ranked higher defensively than offensively last year despite the presence of a new head coach.
3. Oct. 3 at Virginia Tech
Once upon a time this was a game in which Pitt hung its hat on to make their season — 1997, 2001-03. Now, after two 6-6 regular seasons the last three years and a 21-16 victory last year, Pitt may see the Hokies as a team they can overtake in ACC hierarchy. But Virginia Tech returns eight starters from a strong defense. Chances for victory may be determined on Hokie quarterback Michael Brewer's inconsistency, as he threw 11 interceptions in the first six games of 2014 and twice failed to produce a touchdown in the final six regular season matchups. But if a victory is found, Pitt will likely be nationally ranked in the second week of October.
2. Oct. 17 at Georgia Tech
The Ramblin’ Wreck is looked at as a dark-horse contender in the ACC, as quarterback and 1,000-yard rusher Justin Thomas returns from the nation's No. 2 rushing attack last season. But the starting running backs don't, and there's always the chance the Yellow Jackets might overlook the Panthers as they play Florida State the following week.
1. Nov. 7 vs. Notre Dame
There is a natural tendency for Pitt fans to have an inferiority complex to Notre Dame; look at Beano Cook. But the Panthers have actually had a longer streak of consecutive bowl seasons than the Irish, have split their last six meetings, and have won only five fewer games than Notre Dame since 2007.
What makes the Irish such a fashionable pick for success in 2015 is they have 10 starters returning on offense, including 1,000-yard receiver Will Fuller, strong lines on offense and defense, and corner KeiVarae Russell to cover Boyd. Still, Notre Dame was only 7-5 last year in the regular season. Irish fans blame that on injuries that caused the team to lose its last four, but this game is being played in November as well.
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Ball is life.
That's the motto of whoever decided to get tattoos of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan on their legs. The text underneath reads, "I love this game," and you definitely have to in order to do something like this.
Well there's no doubt in this person's mind who would be the first two faces on the NBA's Mt. Rushmore.
The NFC West is poised for another great year, as the Seahawks will once again begin as the presumed favorites. Meanwhile, the Cardinals and the Rams appear to be capable of contending, while there are plenty of unknowns when it comes to the 49ers. The Cardinals might have the best chance to take down the Seahawks, especially if Carson Palmer can play a full season. However, the Rams seem to be headed towards a great season with such a strong defense. The 49ers disappointed last season and had a tumultuous offseason, but they're only two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. The biggest question seems to be, can the Seahawks make it back to a third straight Super Bowl?
In order to get an accurate assessment of the four NFC West teams heading into 2015, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and Seahawks.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“The Cardinals opened 9-1 a year ago, but lost QB Carson Palmer after six games, could not compensate at the position, and lost five of their last seven including a wild card exit against Carolina."…
"Bruce Arians has an ability to tap into the mentality of pro players and they have responded to his approach in a big way."…
"If Palmer can come back healthy, their passing game should pick up where it left off before his injury."…
"Larry Fitzgerald is on the back-nine of his career, but between him, Michael Floyd and John Brown, the rookie sensation from Pitt State (Kan.), they have an excellent combination of styles and ability."…
"TE John Carlson chipped in 33 receptions a year ago, but because of their past RT problems, the tight ends are often kept in to help with pass protection."…
"With that said, they drafted Florida OT D.J. Humphries in the first round and plan to insert him into the lineup right away."…
"Arians is very high on RB Andre Ellington, but there were lots of doubts he could be the lead pony and it proved to be true when he ran for only 660 yards (3.3 ypc) and only three touchdowns. He did catch 46 passes, but Northern Iowa RB David Johnson (6-1, 224), the team's third-round pick, has been added to the mix."…
"LT Jared Veldheer was a solid addition in free agency last year and the Cardinals hope LG Mike Iupati (49ers) can do the same this year. Iupati is a power player all the way and can help them improve their run game, which ranked 31st in the league (81.8 ypg)."…
"Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles parlayed their defensive success into the head coaching job with the Jets, so James Bettcher takes over the role."…
"Arizona is based in a 3-4, but they love to play their ‘big’ nickel/three-safety package. Deone Bucannon was a surprise first-round selection in 2014, but he found a contributing role and registered 86 total tackles."…
"Rashad Johnson led the team with 101 total stops and four interceptions."…
"CB Patrick Peterson is an elite player and Jerraud Powers is expected to take over the other side with the departure of Antonio Cromartie back to the Jets."…
"The front seven is going through some changes with the loss of Darnell Dockett, Dan Williams, Larry Foote and Tommy Kelly, however, they still have Calais Campbell with Cory Redding and Corey Peters both being signed as free agents."…
"Other than Alex Okafor who had eight sacks in 2014, this linebacker group needed a boost, so Missouri's Markus Golden was their choice in the second round. He is extremely tough and was discounted by the media because of all the attention on Shane Ray."…
"The window for winning is closing with an aging and vulnerable Palmer, so there is palpable urgency inside the Cardinals' building to make a huge push in 2015.”
“Not sure how a possible move to LA affects the players and coaches in 2014, but the Rams certainly look like an organization on the move based upon owner Stan Kroenke’s activities in Southern California."…
"Head Coach Jeff Fisher goes into his fourth season with a record of 20-27-1, so this is a huge year for his future."…
"Having grown weary of all the injuries to QB Sam Bradford and his unwillingness to re-structure the contract, they dealt him and a fifth-round pick to the Eagles for Nick Foles and a pair of draft choices (including a 2016 second-round choice). They are hoping Foles’ availability will win the day as compared to the oft-injured Bradford."…
"Brian Schottenheimer left for Georgia as offensive coordinator, so Frank Cignetti takes over and he will need better play from a substandard offensive line."…
"Last year’s first-round selection Greg Robinson will likely go back to LT after starting 12 games at guard."…
"At pick No. 10, they opted for talent over need as Georgia RB Todd Gurley was the choice. He is coming off a November ACL, but they saw him as the best player in the entire 2015 class."…
"This is a defensive-centric team, but after a slow start in 2014, they only finished tied for 16th in scoring and 17th in total yards."…
"Their front line has phenomenal talent in DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long, plus DTs Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and new addition Nick Fairley."…
"Akeem Ayers was signed in free agency from New England as a Sam linebacker, while James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree are very active defenders."…
"In the back end, the Rams traded for Bucs’ safety Mark Barron in October and they are hoping that he, T.J. McDonald and Rodney McLeod can give them the ability to put three safeties on the field together to contend with the taller wide receivers and bigger tight ends of the league."…
"The corners are good enough with pressure up front as Janoris Jenkins has always been athletic and E.J. Gaines was an impressive sixth-round find in last year’s draft."…
"With San Francisco losing so many starting caliber players in the offseason, maybe the door is open for the Rams to get out of the NFC West cellar."…
"How Foles plays behind a shaky OL will determine much of what happens both on and off the field in 2015.”
“As many in the league anticipated, the 49ers’ brass got what they wanted at the end of 2014, head coach Jim Harbaugh departing for another job. In what was discussed and speculated on for almost two years, the divorce finally happened when the parties mutually agreed to part ways and Harbaugh left for Michigan."…
"DL coach Jim Tomsula takes over and he was rumored to be the internal favorite all along."…
"He will have his hands full trying to make QB Colin Kaepernick into a bona fide starter and figuring out how to replace five notable players that retired or left in free agency on the defensive side of the football."…
"Kaepernick spent the offseason in Arizona re-tooling his mechanics and it will be interesting to see if that training can translate to the real season."…
"RB Frank Gore hit free agency and ended up with Indianapolis, so Carlos Hyde, who only had 333 yards rushing last year, will become the feature back."…
"The offensive line is still in the top third, if everyone is healthy, and should bounce back from a subpar showing in 2014."…
"Mike Iupati opted for the Cardinals, which opens his LG spot for Brandon Thomas who essentially ‘redshirted’ last season with an ACL tear."…
"WR Anquan Boldin had his seventh 1,000-yard plus season despite the 49ers ranking 30th in passing at 191.4 yards per game…
"Torrey Smith was brought in from the Ravens to replace Michael Crabtree, who went across the Bay to Oakland."…
"Maybe the biggest key for Kaepernick will be getting TE Vernon Davis back into the offense, he only caught 26 balls for a 9.4 average and two touchdowns last season."…
"On defense, DE Darnell Dockett decided to stay within the division and he will bolster the front in the absence of Ray McDonald and the retired Justin Smith."…
"They also drafted Oregon DE Arik Armstead to help put the unit back together again."…
"The linebacker position was jolted when All-Pro Patrick Willis, their spiritual leader, retired from the game at age 30, only to have rookie Chris Borland walk away from the sport less than a week later."…
"NaVorro Bowman missed the entire season, but is expected to be 100 percent healthy for the 2015 campaign."…
"With Aldon Smith only playing seven games, Ahmad Brooks and Aaron Lynch combined for 12 sacks, so this might be their deepest position."… [Editor's note: Aldon Smith was released by the 49ers on Aug. 7 shortly after he was arrested on DUI, hit-and-run and vandalism charges.]
"Former Chargers’ CB Shareece Wright was signed as a starter with Tramaine Brock, Chris Cook and Dontae Johnson battling at the other post."…
"It appeared San Francisco was set at safety with Antoine Bethea and maybe the best young centerfielder in the game in Eric Reid, but they made a surprise pick in the second round by choosing Samford FS Jaquiski Tartt."…
"Expect Jimmie Ward, who was plagued by a foot problem all year, to play a more prominent role in 2015."…
"On paper, the 49ers have definitely taken a step back from a personnel perspective, now we will see if the same is true in coaching as well.”
“Don’t expect a case of the Super Bowl ‘blues’ with this team. Pete Carroll and John Schneider really operate from the same sheet of music in terms of communicating their philosophy of competition and high energy for the entire organization."…
"Russell Wilson is exceptionally instinctive as a player and with the trade for TE Jimmy Graham, he will have another option down the seam and on scrambles."…
"Because of Graham’s capacity to detach and play from the slot, his presence should create even more air inside the box for RB Marshawn Lynch. ‘Beast Mode’ re-upped after his feelings were hurt and he left the country for a few weeks post-Super Bowl, but he should be able to play out the deal for the next three seasons."…
"Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn departed for the Falcons’ head coaching position, but Seattle still has talent at every level of the D."…
"They have more of a ‘rotational’ front four now, but the linebackers complement each other well and play outstanding football. Bobby Wagner still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, yet people around the league know exactly what he represents as a player."…
"Three-quarters of the secondary starters return with Cary Williams replacing Byron Maxwell opposite of Richard Sherman and he should be an adequate fit in this scheme."…
"Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor form the best safety tandem in the entire NFL, they are spectacular together, but of course, Thomas is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be available until October."…
"The Seahawks have mastered the art of bringing in players that ‘have something to prove’ and built a roster of hungry individuals that should keep them right at the top of the NFC.”
P.J. Fleck is the head coach for Western Michigan and as long as he is this creative, he should never be out of a job.
The team delivered a scholarship to walk-on Trevor Sweeney in the best way... an onside kick. Although hard to execute, they ran this one to perfection. They taped the scholarship paper on the football and Sweeney was overcome with emotion once he read it. Awesome.
Beware of the tricks up Fleck's sleeve after this one.
There’s plenty of uncertainty at quarterback in the SEC for 2015, but talent certainly isn’t an issue among the league’s 14 teams. And needless to say, pairing down the SEC’s talent to the top 15 players is no easy assignment. However, that’s the task Athlon recently assigned over 40 experts.
With the season right around the corner, Athlon Sports sought to answer this question: Who are the best 15 players in the SEC for 2015?
In order to rank the top 15 players in the SEC for 2015, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2015 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2015.
A point system was assigned, giving 15 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 14 points for a No. 2 vote, 13 points for a No. 3 vote and so on.
Ranking the SEC's Best Players for 2015 (Experts Poll)
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
(20 first-place votes)
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
(11 first-place votes)
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
(3 first-place votes)
|4||Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss||398|
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
(3 first-place votes)
Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
(2 first-place votes)
A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
(1 first-place vote)
|8||Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M||250|
|9||Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee||229|
|10||Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss||228|
|11||Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina||179|
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
(2 first-place votes)
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
(1 first-place vote)
|14T||Duke Williams, WR, Auburn||134|
|14T||Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama||134|
|16||Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn||96|
|17||Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia||74|
|18||Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas||61|
|19||Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia||46|
|20||Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn||44|
|21||Vadal Alexander, OT, LSU||41|
|22||Jalen Mills, DB, LSU||29|
|23||Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri||23|
|24||Joshua Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M||20|
|25||Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas||18|
|26||Curt Maggitt, DL/LB, Tennessee||16|
|27||Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss||15|
|28T||Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee||14|
|28T||Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss||14|
|30T||Tre'Davious White, CB, LSU||12|
|30T||Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas||12|
|32T||Cam Sutton, CB, Tennessee||11|
|32T||The Entire Arkansas OL||11|
|32T||Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State||11|
|35T||Cyrus Jones, CB, Alabama||9|
|35T||Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee||9|
|35T||Jamal Adams, S, LSU||9|
|38T||Jovon Robinson, RB, Auburn||8|
|38T||Greg Pyke, OL, Georgia||8|
|38T||Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida||8|
|41T||Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU||6|
|41T||Melvin Lewis, DL, Kentucky||6|
|41T||Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri||6|
|44||Tony Bridges, CB, Ole Miss||5|
|45T||Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas||3|
|45T||Sebastian Tretola, OG, Arkansas||3|
|45T||Cassanova McKinzy, LB, Auburn||3|
|45T||Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama||3|
|45T||Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M||3|
|50T||Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama||2|
|50T||Patrick Towles, QB, Kentucky||2|
|50T||Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn||2|
|50T||Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M||2|
|54T||De'Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State||1|
|54T||Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt||1|
|54T||Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas||1|
|54T||Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M||1|
|54T||Russell Hansbrough, RB, Missouri||1|
Just about every sports fan is tied to their team’s logo, which makes ranking logos complicated. To get an educated opinion on what is a good logo and what isn't, Athlon Sports turned to one of the people most responsible for helping produce some of the best-looking magazines on the newsstands, graphic designer Daly Cantrell.
Here is what she had to say about the Big Ten's football logos:
|1.||Penn State||A very underrated logo, Penn State’s Nittany Lion looks like it is ready to hunt someone down. The oval makes this animal-based logo different from the others and gives it an all-around aggressive feel. I love it.|
The Spartans’ logo is spot on; I particularly enjoy the curves of the helmet.
|3.||Indiana||The placement of the Hoosiers logo is what makes it distinctive, and the simplicity of it makes it stand out among the rest.|
|4.||Iowa||The Hawkeye is fierce, without being too intense. Keeping a one-color scheme makes the logo pop.|
|5.||Ohio State||I actually like the Buckeyes logo a lot, but it is a little busy. The color scheme is on point though. Also, does anyone else think the spacing of the words is a little off?|
|6.||Nebraska||The Huskers’ logo is straightforward and clean. I am a fan of this block letter N.|
|7.||Michigan||Every thing but the "Michigan" banner is great.|
|8.||Minnesota||The treatment and color scheme of this logo works, but I am not a fan of how large the seraphs are.|
|9.||Purdue||The slant of this logo is really harsh and combined with the lightness of the gold it makes this logo hard to read.|
|10.||Maryland||I know there is an attachment to the state flag, but this added detail is unneeded. It’s too tiny and detailed to be in a logo.|
|11.||Illinois||I prefer the old power “I” to this one (without the text), but this logo is a little more modern and looks a lot sleeker than the old logo with Illinois written over the top of it.|
|12.||Rutgers||Illinois and Rutgers seem to be thinking the same things. While modernizing their logo they have taken all creativity and washed it away. However, I am a fan of some of their secondary logos.|
|13.||Northwestern||Northwestern hasn’t updated their logo in a while and it’s noticeable. The shape of then N just doesn’t work by itself.|
|14.||Wisconsin||This logo wouldn’t be that bad if the W didn’t look like it is dancing. This gives it a cartoonish look and the drop shadow doesn’t help its case.|
No one likes to admit when they're wrong.
It's rare that a big sports entity like ESPN apologizes for false reporting. They are held to a higher standard than most and everything they report is put under a microscope. NFL reporter Chris Mortensen has taken heat recently for giving out false information.
This time SportsCenter host Steve Levy took time out of a 12:20 a.m. show to apologize. Not about Deflategate... something we all remember from 2002. ESPN incorrectly cited a report regarding Super Bowl XXXVI.
The beauty in the apology? It was on a late SportsCenter, when less viewers are likely to watch. Smart. For those who may have missed it, the Patriots tweeted it out for the rest of the world to see.
As we turn our calendars over to August, the college fantasy football season is kicking into high gear. Are you prepared?
Athlon Sports has teamed up with college fantasy veterans CollegeFootballGeek.com to help you dominate in 2015! Over the course of the preseason, CFG will be providing insight into their player rankings, as well as helping you identify sleepers and breakout candidates to bolster your lineups.
Whether you play daily or season-long college fantasy football, CollegeFootballGeek.com (@CFFGeek) prepares you to win with the best advice, tools and customer service in the industry — they've been doing it since 2008. Click here to learn how you can subscribe to CFG for FREE.
Below, you will find CFG writer and AthlonSports.com contributor Mike Bainbridge's top five potential fantasy busts for 2015. To see the full in-depth article, make sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. *Note: The goal of this article isn't to sway you away from drafting these players early on, but to identify the significant risks attached to these fantasy stars.
Rashard Higgins (WR, Colorado State)
CFG Preseason rank: 6
About the only thing that is remaining the same on offense this season for the Rams is Higgins, their All-American wide receiver. Colorado State will be breaking in a new head coach, new running back, new quarterback and three new offensive linemen with the hopes of continuing its offensive success from a year ago — ranking second in the Mountain West in scoring (34 ppg) and first in passing (322 ypg).
New head coach Mike Bobo will not be overhauling the offensive system, bringing in a pro-style attack that will not deviate far from what the Rams ran a season ago under now-Florida head man Jim McElwain. That is not necessarily good news for Higgins. Not once in the eight seasons that Bobo was offensive coordinator for Georgia did a receiver top 1,000 yards receiving. Let me repeat — NOT ONCE. And it is not like those teams were devoid of talent, with the likes of Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green, Kris Durham to name a few. Does that mean Higgins won’t reach that benchmark? Of course not. But that fact, in addition to all the new pieces on offense, raises a ton a red flags surrounding Higgins and the CSU offense heading into 2015.
*For more talk on Higgins and his potential bust factor, check out the “Shooting the Breese” podcast where CFG’s own Todd DeVries joins Michael Calabrese to discuss that and much more.
Taysom Hill (QB, BYU)
CFG Preseason rank: 8
Hill can be one of the most exciting quarterbacks in all of college football with his running ability from the pocket, but injuries are a major concern for the senior quarterback. Since 2012, two of the three seasons he has played have ended because of injury — derailing BYU and fantasy teams alike in the process.
While his passing numbers improved significantly last season (up to 67 percent completion percentage in 2014), Hill’s running ability remains his bread and butter, but often leaves him susceptible to frequent hits from defenders. In addition to the injury concerns, BYU’s early-season schedule is as formidable as there is in the country with three out of the four on the road, including trips to Nebraska, UCLA and Michigan. The only home game in that stretch is against former Mountain West foe Boise State, which is far from a push over.
If that isn’t enough, BYU closes out the season with road games against Missouri (neutral site) and Utah State — both of whom finished in the top third of the country in total defense a season ago. The Cougars will rely heavily on Hill to navigate them through the early portion of the schedule, but that strategy has proven to take a toll on his health in year’s past.
Jarvion Franklin (RB, Western Michigan)
CFG Preseason rank: 7
This time last season, Franklin was not on anyone’s radar. Unranked by most recruiting services, Franklin had a total of only four offers coming out of high school — primarily MAC schools — but wound up as the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year with over 1,500 yards as a true freshman.
With those kinds of numbers, you can bet he is on the radar of Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans for Week 1 when Western Michigan travels to East Lansing. But that is exactly why Franklin could get off to a rocky start in 2015. The Broncos not only open up on the road against the Spartans (1st in the entire country in rush defense last year), but also travel to Columbus in Week 4 to face off with the defending champs. The schedule will lessen significantly following the matchup with the Buckeyes, but Franklin may find the rushing yards difficult to come by in early September. Keep in mind as well that Franklin already has some tread on those tires, racking up 300-plus carries last season. That workload began to damper his production in the latter portion of the year, as Franklin did not top 100 yards in any of the final four games. Not a surprise considering Franklin was just a freshman and had not been used to playing that long of a season coming from high school.
As a result, might we see the coaches put Franklin on a rep count to sustain his production through the entire season? Good for the team’s success, sure… but would it be for Franklin’s fantasy owners?
Joshua Dobbs (QB, Tennessee)
CFG Preseason rank: 19
With consecutive Top-5 recruiting classes, and their first bowl appearance in five years, Rocky Top is a trendy pick to possibly make an appearance in the SEC Championship Game in 2015. The primary reason for the skyrocketing expectations is that Butch Jones looks to have finally settled on a quarterback in Dobbs , who lead the Volunteers to a 4-1 finish to close out 2014. In those four wins, Dobbs was remarkable with 15 total touchdowns, including eight on the ground.
While no team should apologize for wins, three of the four victories came against Vanderbilt, Kentucky and South Carolina — all of whom finished behind Tennessee at the very bottom of the SEC East. Tennessee’s bowl win came at the expense of a reeling 7-6 Iowa squad that failed to live up to expectations. So while some of the hype surrounding Dobbs and the Volunteers is certainly warranted, let’s wait and see how they fare against the heavyweights of the SEC.
Patrick Mahomes (QB, Texas Tech)
CFG Preseason rank: 13
Mahomes has been pegged by many, including CFG, as the favorite to win the starting quarterback job for the Red Raiders, but that is far from a sure thing with Davis Webb still around. Webb was the opening day starter last year for Texas Tech, but injuries and interceptions forced him to the sidelines. In came Mahomes, and after a slow start, the true freshman blew up in the final three games with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
That finish to the season, coupled with the offensive system under Kliff Kingsbury are the key factors as to why Mahomes is slated 13th at the quarterback position in CFG’s preseason ranks. The ranking is the true definition of a projection, though, as Mahomes has just four starts under his belt and is not even guaranteed to start with a proven competitor waiting in the wings in Webb. Tread carefully with the Texas Tech QB’s until one separates himself in the fall… hopefully.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
In particular, the league's perennial powers, Oklahoma and Texas, are counting on a number of freshmen to help lead them back to the top of the standings.
Here are some of the key freshmen making their debuts for the Longhorns, Sooners and the rest of the Big 12 this season.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
Arguably the best linebacker prospect to come out of Texas in the last decade, Jefferson should slide into the Longhorns' starting lineup sooner than later. He will likely begin by manning the middle of the field, but Jefferson has the raw materials to do it all — cover, stop the run and rush the quarterback. Charlie Strong will be counting on Jefferson's freshman frame to hold up for the entire year.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
Mixon is making a repeat appearance on this list after sitting out all of 2014 on suspension. In a league full of dynamic offensive playmakers, Mixon might be the best. Yes, he really is that good already. The immensely talented all-around running back should thrive in new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's system, but that also will require that he withstand intense scrutiny away from the field following an altercation last summer with a female co-ed.
Breiden Fehoko, DL, Texas Tech
Fehoko has the skill set to slide from the interior of Tech's defensive line to the edge as needed. The Red Raiders need all the help they can get to shore up their putrid defense, which puts the big Hawaiian (6-3, 287) in position to get on the field right away. Enrolling in January will help Fehoko's cause.
Patrick Vahe and Connor Williams, OL, Texas
Strong's roster purge hit UT's offensive line as hard as any position on the squad. That has cleared the way for 4-star recruits Vahe and Williams to contribute immediately. Don't be surprised if both are in the starting lineup when the 'Horns hit the field in their opener versus Notre Dame.
Mark Andrews, WR/TE, Oklahoma
Think Jace Amaro in crimson and cream. Riley will likely flex out Andrews (6-5, 245) as often as he has the redshirt freshman from Arizona in a traditional tight end position. The scariest part for opposing defenses is that Andrews has the speed and athleticism to get downfield in a hurry and win jump balls.
Jovon Durante, WR, West Virginia
The Mountaineers have some gaping holes at receiver with the departures of Kevin White and Mario Alford to the NFL. By the end of the season, Durante might turn into WVU's top target. At the very least, he can stake a claim to a spot in the receiver rotation from the jump.
Connor Dyer and Madison Akamnonu, OL, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders already have a solid offensive line, but Dyer and Akamnonu add depth and talent. Akamnonu may even find his way into the starting rotation at some point this year.
Jeremiah Booker, WR, Kansas
The Jayhawks didn’t have much in the way of playmakers last year — or in the last few years, for that matter. With David Beaty installing the Air Raid offense, KU will need to find some talent to populate the skill positions right away. Assuming he can recover from a preseason shoulder injury, Booker should get a chance to make a mark at some point this year.
Duke Shelley, DB, Kansas State
Freshmen rarely see a lot of snaps on Bill Snyder’s team. Shelley might be an exception. The 4-star recruit out of Georgia will be fighting for time in the Wildcats’ veteran secondary.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
Arizona State is at it again. The team unveiled new “Desert Ice” alternate football uniforms, which will be worn Sept. 5 when the Sun Devils take on Texas A&M at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
According to uniform maker adidas, the new special-edition uniform pays homage to the state’s nickname and identity as the “Copper State.”
Football (and likewise fantasy football) season is here! Many die-hard fantasy football players don't consider the preseason real football, but it is here and it is important. The preseason holds the keys to many in-season decisions (as well as many draft day decisions).
While you certainly want to know if someone is injured before heading into your draft, you also should be aware of someone who has battled injuries throughout the preseason. Soft tissue injuries (hamstring pulls, for example) are more than likely to crop up again, so buyer beware.
You can't predict if a player is going to be injured during the season, but you can be cautious drafting someone who will have a higher likelihood of re-injuring themselves.
Continue to watch the preseason to see if some of the guys on this list are able to play, especially in Week 3, which is typically the game that means the most in a preseason that doesn't hold much meaning to those not trying to win a roster spot on a real-life NFL team.
In the meantime, let's look at some of the more meaningful injuries that may affect your fantasy football team.
To start with, news broke that Kelvin Benjamin's "knee sprain," as originally reported by the Panthers, is actually a torn ACL. His season is over, but he should be back to 100 percent health and return in 2016. If you are in a keeper league and you have an IR spot you can use, he is worth holding onto.
The loss of Benjamin means rookie Devin Funchess is now the No. 1 receiver in Carolina. While Cam Newton did help to make Benjamin's rookie season a success, it's hard to say if Funchess is the same caliber of player as Benjamin. Funchess becomes a must-own, but don't reach for him in the early rounds of your draft (where you might have taken Benjamin).
Tight end Greg Olsen's value skyrockets as well, as Newton is going to be looking for someone, anyone, to throw the ball to, and a tight end is usually a quarterback's security blanket. Newton's fantasy value takes a hit, however, after losing his top receiver. Newton's ADP was the eighth quarterback off the board, but the Benjamin injury may knock him out of the top 10.
Here are the other fantasy-relevant injuries you need to know with three weeks of preseason games still to go.
Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets (broken jaw)
With a blow to the jaw, Smith is now sidelined for at least the first four games of the regular season. The Jets have a bye in Week 5, so odds are the earliest Smith would be on the field would be Week 6. Reports from Jets camp are saying that he is unlikely to be placed on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list, which would mean he would be out until at least Week 8. At this point, the starting quarterback job is Ryan Fitzpatrick's to lose. With Cleveland, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Miami on the schedule for the first four weeks, it is possible that the Jets will want to turn back to Smith. However, in standard fantasy leagues, both quarterbacks can be left on waivers until someone has earned a spot on your roster.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo Bills (hamstring)
McCoy made it through the first preseason game only to only to leave practice on Tuesday with a hamstring injury. He is scheduled for a MRI, but this is something to be concerned with if you are a fantasy owner. Even if the hamstring pull is said to be mild, it is something that is easily aggravated. McCoy will likely miss the rest of the preseason, but this injury will haunt him throughout the season.
The silver lining for McCoy owners is that all four running backs on the Bills' depth chart are currently injured. Fred Jackson is nursing a hamstring injury of his own, Anthony Dixon has a calf injury and Karlos Williams is out and has been in the hospital with an undisclosed ailment. At this point, be wary of drafting McCoy in the first round. Again, while you can never predict when injuries will occur, go with someone in the first round that isn't starting the season with a balky hamstring.
C.J. Spiller, RB, New Orleans Saints (knee surgery)
Last week, the Saints said that Spiller was dealing with a minor injury. This week, we learned that the minor injury was actually arthroscopic knee surgery. While this will cause him to miss the rest of the preseason games, this actually is a "better" injury than the hamstring pulls that are catching fire throughout the league.
Spiller is coming off a disappointing 2014 season, where he only played nine games and had 425 total offensive yards. While he is certainly capable of running the ball 200 times a year, the Saints have Mark Ingram to do that. Spiller will be the pass-catching back and has RB2 value in PPR leagues. At this point, don't let a knee scope affect his draft position too much.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (groin)
In case you're just getting your injury news for the first time, Foster is included on this list. He had groin surgery and will be on the PUP list. While it is hard to say now what his timeline for recovery looks like, it is possible that Foster will be available for the second half of the season. It's a gamble for a player who is arguably a top-5 running back when healthy, but has yet to prove that he can stay healthy. He has had a history of suffering an injury in the preseason or early-season games and having it linger throughout the year. If you have an IR spot on your team, grab Foster in the middle rounds of your draft with the hope that he can help your team get into the playoffs. Just don't count on him too much.
Kevin White, WR, Chicago Bears (shin)
While the first-round draft pick may have been a promising rookie, in standard leagues, at this point, he can be left alone. White, who apparently was dealing with more than shin splints, is having surgery to have a rod inserted in his leg to help stabilize the shin as a result of stress fractures. He will begin the season on the PUP list, but it is not a guarantee that he will he see the field at any point this season.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears (calf)
While White is dealing with a long-term lower leg injury, Jeffery is dealing with a calf strain of his own. The Bears will likely keep him out of the rest of the preseason games, as he is the main focus of the receiver corps at this point. The calf strain isn't something to be concerned with as he should be fine for Week 1, but Jeffery did deal with ankle injuries last season as well, so keep that in mind when constructing your roster.
Percy Harvin, WR, Buffalo Bills (hip)
It's not clear what the hip injury is that Harvin is dealing with, but he has received an injection for the pain. This is a concern because Harvin has had a history of hip problems — he missed the entire 2013 fantasy season because of a hip injury and subsequent surgery. At this point, this raises a red flag for Harvin's fantasy stock in 2015. Given the injury bug that is going around Buffalo, the team may rest him through the preseason in order to give him time to heal, but pay attention to his practice status over the next week or so.
Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals (hand)
Floyd had a pretty gruesome injury where he dislocated three of the fingers on his left hand pretty badly, according to reports. He had surgery on the hand in early August, and no official timeline has been given. The Cardinals don't have a reason to rush him back for a preseason game, so odds are that you won't see Floyd until Week 1 of the regular season, assuming his recovery goes well. This is an injury that shouldn't affect him throughout the season, as long as everything heals properly.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins (shoulder)
Jackson suffered a separated shoulder in early August and the initial reports were that he would only miss a couple weeks. Jackson won't play in this weekend's preseason game, but the Week 3 game may be a possibility. He's a WR2 after putting up 1,169 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2014. The shoulder injury shouldn't be lingering; the inability for Robert Griffin III to get him the ball will be a bigger issue.
Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (hamstring)
Bryant pulled his hamstring at the beginning of August and has been taking it slow since. The Cowboys likely want their top receiver to rest and get to full health for the regular season. He knows the playbook, he's familiar with Tony Romo, so there is no need to rush him back. Be aware, however, that if the hammy isn't completely healed, it is easy to pull it again. After scoring a career-high 16 touchdowns in 2014, Bryant inked a contract in the offseason that makes him the second-highest paid wide receiver (behind Calvin Johnson). Don't worry as much about the hamstring; worry about Bryant keeping his head in the game now that he has his paycheck.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos (hamstring)
Similar to Bryant, Sanders pulled his hamstring in early August and has not returned to practice. He is coming off a breakout 2014 season where he had 1,404 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. While his numbers may not be that high again in 2015, watch to see when he returns to practice or game action. Be aware, like with Bryant, that if the hamstring doesn't heal, he can easily re-pull it and have to miss regular season action. Currently about the 14th receiver off the board, this ADP may be a little high given the hamstring injury.
Breshard Perriman, WR, Baltimore Ravens (knee)
The rookie was on many expert's sleeper list, but he has been dealing with a knee injury. He had an MRI, which revealed no structural damage. Reportedly, he is still dealing with swelling, which is keeping him off the field. If Perriman cannot play in the third preseason game, his draft stock should drop, as he is missing out on important time to work on his game. As a rookie, he needs to learn the playbook and be able to run the routes in game situations. His current ADP is about 110 overall, but this may drop.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, Cleveland Browns (hamstring)
Like the other wide receivers on this list, Bowe is battling a hamstring pull. He missed the first preseason game, and he likely will miss the second as well. As Cleveland's No. 1 receiver, he should get in some reps with the new-to-him offense. Bowe currently has an ADP of 148, or the 59th receiver off the board. If you can, avoid drafting the soon-to-be 31-year-old receiver who hasn't had more than 1,000 yards in the past three seasons.
Marquise Lee, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (hamstring)
Another wide receiver, another hamstring injury. Lee injured his hamstring at the beginning of August and is still expected to be out for another couple weeks. Perhaps he'll be available for the start of the regular season, but after missing much of the offseason, he should be off the fantasy radar. This offense doesn't have a lot of promise to begin with, and Lee is slowly finding himself buried on the depth chart.
Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins (hamstring)
Reed is known as being injury-prone, but the starting tight end job is his now that Niles Paul has been ruled out for the season. In his two seasons in the league, Reed has played in nine and 11 games respectively, for an average of 482 yards a season. He had three touchdowns in his first season and none last year. He's being drafted as the 22nd tight end off the board — a bye week fill-in, if he stays healthy enough through the bye weeks.
Julius Thomas, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars (hand)
Thomas has a broken hand, but will avoid having surgery. He should be out for the entire preseason, but the Jaguars are expecting him to play in Week 1 of the regular season. He will have to wear a protective covering on his hand, but should not be hindered by it. Thomas, coming off back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons, won't repeat on that success now that he's in Jacksonville. The hand injury will heal; the fact that he's in Jacksonville is what is hurting his draft stock. His ADP has him as the eighth tight end off the board and being drafted in the ninth round.
Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles (groin)
Being drafting just after Thomas is Ertz, even though he recently had groin surgery. The Eagles are saying he will be ready by Week 1, but missing the entire preseason is tough. He has played in all 16 games in the two seasons he's played in the league, but be wary of him this year. He's coming into the season not completely healthy, and while the Eagles do focus on maximizing health, it's going to be tough for him to be 100 percent. Look for a decrease on last year's 702 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer is reportedly recovering from an apparent suicide attempt.
The quarterback who spent time with the Falcons, Bears, Lions, and Chargers shot himself in a motel and is now being treated at the hospital for a non-life threatening gunshot wound.
"He is a very amazing man, a beautiful soul, but he has suffered depression since he was with the Bears," Kramer's ex-wife Marshawn told NBC News. "I can promise you he is not the same man I married."
The former Mrs. Kramer also went on to say his mental state could be a direct reflection of the hits he took during his time in the NFL. Kramer had a child that his ex-wife says he wouldn't put through this if he were in his right mind.
"I know Erik and we would still be together if not for his football injury," she said. "He's such a good dad and he would not do this to his son. This is a brain injury."
She's hoping Kramer's brush with death will give him the wake-up call he needs.
The color black is one of the most popular, yet on the Ohio State Buckeyes, the color black is something that freshmen players are hoping to shed and avoid as quickly as possible. The origins for this mindset go back to head coach Urban Meyer's first season in Columbus in 2012.
Even before Meyer was named as Ohio State's head coach, he abhorred the old college football traditions of hazing by upperclassmen to incoming freshmen. Wanting to welcome new players into the fold as part of a larger football family, Meyer instituted a concept of a black stripe that would be applied to the helmets of freshmen football players. Upperclassmen would be designated as a "big brother" to a freshman, and would be responsible to help and acclimate their designated "little brother" into the program.
How would a freshman know if they were doing the right things, on and off the field, as the season approached? The designated big brother would make a public announcement to the team, by ritualistically removing the black stripe from the helmet, symbolizing that the freshman should now be considered ready to contribute to the team.
In the words of Meyer, “I wanted to put them through a ritual to become a member of the team, but not allow hazing,” Meyer said. “They had to earn it the right way, not through hazing and silly, dangerous stuff. They had to earn the right on the football field and by being accountable."
So far this season, three players have had their black stripes removed from their helmets — offensive tackle Isaiah Prince, running back Mike Weber, and wide receiver K.J. Hill. Prince was the first of the players to have the black stripe removed, while Hill was the latest. By the time of this publication, it is possible that other players may also have had their black stripes removed.
Who will be next? It is certainly a popular guessing game for Buckeye fans and media members. No matter, Buckeye freshmen players are hungrily working towards the moment when the black stripe will be removed, and will be able to avoid going to practice "Back in Black."
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Minnich also writes and podcasts for menofthescarletandgray.com, a site dedicated to Ohio sports with a special emphasis on the Buckeyes. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
The best thing possible happened to NASCAR’s high-drag, highly destructive to competition package this week. As of Wednesday afternoon, nobody officially cares anymore. The past 24 hours has been an onslaught of news, from Danica Patrick’s contract extension to the demise of two-car Michael Waltrip Racing.
For Patrick, the emergence of Nature’s Bakery was paired with a longtime contract extension to keep her behind the wheel of Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet. She’ll run there through at least 2018 despite zero top-5 finishes in her first 105 career starts. By comparison, teammate Kevin Harvick sits as the reigning Cup Series champion, posting 30 top-5 finishes in his first 59 starts running with SHR.
Nature’s Bakery itself doesn’t care. The five-year-old company, whose revenue was reported to be $100 million for 2014 is clearly going “all in” with its next level of growth based on Patrick’s ability to be a spokesperson off the track. Her visibility with soon-to-be-former sponsor GoDaddy.com, culminating in a series of Super Bowl commercials, makes her one of the most recognizable racecar drivers in the country. What better way to get to the next level in business than by pairing with a “celebrity” spokesperson?
That brand won’t be affected if Patrick finishes 35th each week instead of fifth. For Patrick, that’s a blessing and a curse within an SHR organization that has another driver struggling within its four-car ranks: co-owner Tony Stewart. What’s more important now that Patrick’s sponsorship future is secure; getting the three-time champ, who’s also the manager of this multi-car giant, on track or getting the underperforming No. 10 more competitive?
SHR likes Patrick and there are plenty of reasons why — they come in the size of dollar bills. It’s great for her future as a millionaire but you wonder how much better she can be as a driver during a season where the other two SHR cars (Harvick and Kurt Busch) are challenging for the championship. Patrick now gets six years to rise to that level where someone else in her position elsewhere might get six races. It’s the name of the game in the sport these days — finding money to race gets you farther than your on-track results — but that doesn’t mean we all have to like it.
As for Michael Waltrip Racing, the demise of the organization beyond 2015 finishes off a slow death that’s been brewing for over two years. Two, of course also is the number of times MWR got caught with a major cheating scandal. Their first, occurring prior to the 2007 Daytona 500 when jet fuel was discovered, disrupted their growth for three years, scarred the Toyota brand and left their reputation an uphill climb. The Spingate incident six years later, one where Clint Bowyer spun out intentionally in order to try and ensure Martin Truex Jr.’s slot in the Chase, finished off any hope the organization could one day grow into a title contender.
MWR hasn’t made the Chase since, a track record that left sponsors and investor/co-owner Rob Kauffman unable to feel comfortable over the long term. Truex and sponsor NAPA left, cutting the team to two cars and they were never replaced; another driver, Brian Vickers has endured an onslaught of health problems due to blood clots, currently sidelined for the rest of the 2015 season. It was clear the upward path of mobility was no longer there and finally Kauffman, the financial brains behind the operation, decided to pull the plug.
Where does everyone go from here? Kauffman, Waltrip’s co-owner and financial arm, will be headed to Chip Ganassi Racing for 2016. Bowyer becomes the sport’s most prized free agent, likely headed to Furniture Row Racing as that team undergoes a long-awaited expansion. And Waltrip? The TV broadcaster must now hope FOX retains his analyst role while he’s forced to restart ownership from scratch.
“We just have the perfect workplace, and unfortunately in 2016, we’re not going to be racing there,” he said. “My hope is somebody wants to have a really nice shop full of really cool people that work together well and want to have a race team and we can provide that for them.”
Just think of a mid-level baseball team – say, the Cleveland Indians – having to stop, disband their franchise and sell everything they own piecemeal. That’s what is happening for Waltrip right now and you have to feel for him.
What happens to his former driver jumpstarts this edition of Through the Gears as we try and “forget” Michigan and remember the four biggest storylines facing the sport…
FIRST GEAR: The MWR Impact on the Chase Race
Today’s news for MWR comes at a critical time in NASCAR’s playoff race. Bowyer was the biggest casualty from Sunday’s Michigan 400-miler; a mid-race wreck left him in 41st place, leaving him as the last driver currently inside the Chase on points. A win by someone outside the current field of 16 will drop Bowyer out. Aric Almirola, the first driver below him is only 23 points behind.
The official dissolution of MWR is bound to be a distraction for Bowyer and the No. 15 team going forward. So will be any announcement of Bowyer’s future plans, a decision that could come as soon as this weekend at Bristol. With 2016 closing in rapidly it’s not prudent for Bowyer to wait around a few weeks now that the door has closed on following co-owner Kauffman to Chip Ganassi Racing.
That opens an opportunity for Almirola as well as Kasey Kahne to sneak into the Chase while Bowyer deals with a circus. But they’re not the only ones potentially affected. CGR is dealing with getting Kauffman’s deal done and their two-car organization is in the dark about the future. How will that adjust preparations for Jamie McMurray as he prepares for his first-ever Chase? Or how will Furniture Row handle potential expansion at the same time they have their best shot ever for a championship with Truex Jr.?
It’s hard to say. Suddenly, though the final spots in this year’s playoff just got a whole lot more interesting.
SECOND GEAR: Bye-Bye, High-Drag. Hello… 2015 Rules?
The big news has pushed the utter failure of the high-drag aerodynamics package for NASCAR to the back burner. At Michigan, Matt Kenseth dominated the race, leading 146 laps and at one point had a lead of well over 13 seconds. A mysterious debris caution may have been the only thing stopping the No. 20 car from lapping the field; meanwhile, cars behind him ran single file as loose conditions kept passing to an absolute minimum.
Garage chatter after the race ranged from “no comment” to “never again.” NASCAR vice president Steve O’Donnell all but confirmed the combination would not reappear this week, quickly killing the grand experiment while leaving the low downforce package used at Kentucky the front-runner to be used in 2016.
So why aren’t we seeing low downforce utilized in this year’s Chase? It’s rough to go back to the normal 2015 rules package, one that reduced competition to the point we experimented with aerodynamics in the first place. But it’s unfair to teams like Kevin Harvick, Truex, Jimmie Johnson and others who have dominated the season to this point to suddenly have to scrap the millions they’ve put into a rules package that was supposed to be used for the playoffs. What if the NFL changed rules a week before the Super Bowl? Everyone involved, from fans to players would be furious. It’s a tough call for NASCAR to keep the 2015 rules but also the right one.
THIRD GEAR: Is Gibbs for Real?
The return of that rules package for the Chase also makes it difficult to determine just how strong Joe Gibbs Racing is compared to the rest of the field. JGR won again at Michigan, their sixth victory in eight races, and is running a level above the competition on paper right now. Here’s the problem though; three of those wins were with rules that won’t be in effect during the 10-race playoff stretch.
That leaves Sonoma, a road course where Kyle Busch dominated; Kentucky, a low downforce package where Busch has a history of running well; and Loudon, featured in the Chase but a track where the rest of JGR struggled behind a red-hot Busch. So are these stats a bit of “smoke and mirrors” for the final 10-race stretch? JGR has struggled on intermediate tracks with the old rules and five of the final 10 races are on 1.5-milers. I’m not saying they haven’t improved but beware; this four-car team may be peaking before the playoffs rather than in it.
FOURTH GEAR: The Emergence of Austin
The feel-good story from Michigan was the run of Austin Dillon, coming from the back of the field after an engine change to post his best career finish (fourth) driving the No. 3 car. Since earning the pole for the 2014 Daytona 500, Dillon has largely underachieved while trying to fill the shoes of a number once owned by a legend. Dale Earnhardt Sr. Dillon clearly is not, but he’s also shown flashes of consistency on the circuit, completing 10,488 laps as a rookie (second best in Cup) while keeping his nose clean. The midseason pairing of him and crew chief Slugger Labbe seems to have shaken off a slump; the youngster needed someone with better chemistry on top of the pit box.
Will Dillon win before the year is out? Probably not. But this run is a sign things will be looking up for what is supposed to be Richard Childress Racing’s premier operation come 2016.
Greg Biffle and his Roush Fenway Racing No. 16 team used to be a dominant force at Michigan. This year? He posted an average finish of 29.5 in two races. My, how mighty RFR has fallen… Rumors are popping up that Sam Hornish Jr. will not be back with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2016. Adding the freed-up Bowyer will be a longshot for RPM but how about the other Michael Waltrip Racing driver, David Ragan? Ragan has done well substituting for Vickers in the No. 55, was paired with Ford for several years (RFR) and has put himself in position for one last Chase-contending opportunity… Timmy Hill and Premium Motorsports were embarrassing at Michigan. The No. 98 leaked oil all over the track, then saw part of the oil cooler/pan come right off to cause a debris caution. At Indianapolis the car was literally falling apart coming to the green. It’s admirable the team is trying to run the distance but their existence is a reminder of how difficult it’s been these days for NASCAR to find teams to fill the 43-car grid.
If only Alabama’s Derrick Henry had a twin. One with a cannon of an arm and pinpoint accuracy.
That would solve a lot of questions.
"Somebody's got to make it happen," a somewhat exasperated Nick Saban said of the quarterbacks this past Saturday following the Crimson Tide’s first fall camp scrimmage. "I can't make it happen. As bad as I'd like to make it happen, I can't make it happen.
"As bad as everybody wants it to happen and they want to create this great hope that Coach said this guy is the man, I can't make it happen."
A few feet behind the handful of quarterback contenders receiving snaps from center this fall ... it's a far different story. At the running back position, somebody is making it happen. And somebody is the man. And that somebody is Henry.
Maybe it started last January when Ohio State — not Alabama — was putting a pounding on Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game. During the sans-Crimson Tide title game, Henry put out a photo of himself on Instagram drenched in sweat working out inside Alabama's weight room.
His caption? “Only way I can release anger.”
Podcast: Complete 2015 SEC Preview
That drive to get Bama back to the mountaintop of college football apparently hasn't waned in the Tide’s new feature running back for 2015. Henry was co-recipient, along with Kenyan Drake, of the Johnny Musso Offensive Back Award this past spring, and Henry has continued to impress and — to stick with Saban's phraseology — “make things happen” in fall camp thus far.
"He has done a great job in this camp of carrying the football and being a hard guy to tackle and finishing plays," the Bama head coach said Saturday of the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder. "Nobody can complain about his work ethic and how he's playing. He's doing a fabulous job."
As a sophomore last season, Henry, playing behind then-starter T.J. Yeldon, rushed for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns, while averaging a hefty 5.8 yards per carry. He also had five catches for 133 yards and two more scores.
With Yeldon now gone to the NFL, everyone expects all those numbers to go up — maybe way up — for the one-time, record-setting high school running back out of Yulee, Fla., this fall. Especially if that fire that started in his belly last January continues to rage.
Yeah, Alabama may not have its “man” at quarterback just yet. But it does at running back.
— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.
Odell Beckham Jr. was a shining star for the Giants last season.
With no Victor Cruz due to injury, OBJ took full advantage. From glorious catches to sponsorships and endorsements, it's safe to say the young star had a good year.
Now that Cruz is back, things get a little awkward in their new Foot Locker commercial.
The lawyers from the NFL and NFLPA were back in Judge Richard Berman's court on Wednesday and the judge continued to hammer the NFL on a number of fronts. At last week's hearing, Judge Berman took aim at the NFL's lack of hard evidence against Tom Brady in the Deflategate scandal, a curious move considering Berman is supposed to be ruling on the fairness of the process, not whether or not Brady actually did have a role in deflating footballs.
But this time, Berman was more concerned with the NFL's process in deciding punishment, the area under scrutiny if he's to dismiss Brady's suspension. The two most interesting points Berman made:
Berman: "I don't understand the thinking to not allow Mr. Pash as a witness. Who else but Pash had the opportunity to edit the Wells Report?— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 19, 2015
Berman: "I believe some arbitration awards have been vacated" because a witness was not allowed to be called without explanation.— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 19, 2015
Make no mistake, the Berman would prefer the sides settle without him having to make a ruling that will inevitably mean Deflategate drags on into next year with appeals. So while his hard questioning of the NFL poked obvious holes in its process, it was once again done with the purpose of pushing settlement.
Brady's camp has acknowledged they're willing to accept some form of punishment, but what he won't do is admit guilt.
Adam Schefter of ESPN even went so far to report that Brady would accept a reduced suspension without admitting guilt, though this report has now been disputed. Still, this goes on top of last week's admission by Brady's lawyer Jeffrey Kessler, that Brady's cooperation "could've been handled differently," acknowledging some gray area for settlement talks as far as Brady's cooperation with the investigation goes.
But the NFL seems to be on a hard line for Brady to accept guilt as part of any settlement and that is why Berman made it clear that there's enough evidence for him to vacate the "award."
The ball is once again in the NFL's court, but if it didn't get the message last week it certainly should've gotten it today. Brady has publicly acknowledged he's willing to make concessions, but if the NFL refuses to negotiate without an admission of guilt, Berman will have no choice to make a ruling, and it's very possible the NFL won't like that ruling.
The sides, including Brady and Commissioner Goodell, will be back in court on Aug. 31 for another settlement hearing, and if that final session does not produce results, Berman will "try" to make a ruling by Sept. 4 to allow Brady and the Patriots enough time to prepare for their season opener with or without him.
Berman made no promises as to issuing a ruling by that date, adding just a little more pressure to the settlement talks.
There seems to be little doubt now that Deflategate will almost certainly bleed into the regular season unless the NFL realizes it has to concede some points if it doesn't want to be litigating this entire farce for the foreseeable future.
Nebraska’s offense suffered a setback on Wednesday, as receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El was ruled out for six to eight weeks after a foot injury in fall camp. Pierson-El was slated to be a key piece of the Cornhuskers’ passing game in 2015 under new coach Mike Riley.
Pierson-El finished third on the team with 23 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns last season but expected to see more passes in his direction with the departure of Kenny Bell, along with Nebraska’s new offense under Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf.
The overall receiving totals don’t explain how valuable Pierson-El was to Nebraska last season. As a freshman in 2014, he was a dynamic punt returner, averaging 17.5 yards per return and scored three times.
In addition to his role on special teams, Pierson-El was pegged as an all-purpose threat for the Cornhuskers’ offense. At Oregon State, Riley and Langsdorf frequently used receivers on handoffs on fly sweeps or in quick passes in space. Pierson-El has the ability to be a dynamic gamechanger for the offense, and the new role was a great fit for his talent.
While Pierson-El’s absence will be felt on an offense transitioning to more of a pro-style approach from a spread, he could return for the meat of Nebraska’s season. The Cornhuskers play BYU, South Alabama, Miami, Southern Miss and Illinois before a critical Big Ten West showdown against Wisconsin on Oct. 10. There’s a good shot Pierson-El is back in the lineup before the game against the Badgers, which could decide the Big Ten West.
In the meantime, Nebraska can lean on an experienced core of Jordan Westerkamp, Jamal Turner, Brandon Reilly and Alonzo Moore at receiver. But does this offense have a versatile, all-purpose threat to lean on until Pierson-El is back? That’s the key task for Riley and Langsdorf to decide in the remaining days of fall camp.
What adjustments will the Cornhuskers make for the opener? How will the offense change? Those are two key questions to watch against BYU, which certainly isn’t a guaranteed victory. And the road date at Miami gets a little tougher too with Pierson-El sidelined.
Injuries are an unfortunate part of fall camp for any college football team. While Pierson-El’s injury has to alter Nebraska’s gameplan just a bit early in the season, the dynamic sophomore should return in time for the biggest game on the schedule (Wisconsin). Not having Pierson-El for a full year is a setback. However, getting the sophomore back in time for a the Big Ten stretch is a huge plus for Riley and Langsdorf, as well as Nebraska's hopes of winning the Big Ten West Division.
On Tuesday's "Hard Knocks" we all learned an important opinion of Brian Cushing. Only chicks drink Starbucks.
The Texans linebacker made his stance on lattes and Starbucks pretty clear.
"I don't even go to Starbucks," Cushing said. "I mean I used to... then I realized I wasn't a chick."
Don't even think about challenging Cushing on his stance, because this could happen to you.
LOS ANGELES — Freshmen are off limits to media during USC fall training camp — the youngsters have enough on their plates as is.
The weeks leading up to the Trojans’ 2015 season opener put first-year players through a crash course in College Football 101.
“We do the best we can to put a lot on the young kids,” said linebackers coach Peter Sirmon. “But at the same time, you have to coach young kids differently than older kids.”
USC’s highly regarded class of newcomers will be graded on a steeper learning curve than some of their freshman counterparts around college football. That’s because the Trojans will rely on first-year contributors up and down the lineup.
The influx of instant-impact newbies is a result of both necessity — three years of NCAA sanctions rendered USC’s roster thin, and the program’s first full signing class since 2012 adds needed depth – and, quite simply, because the Trojans can.
The 2015 signing class ranked No. 1 or No. 2, depending on the outlet. It features a variety of 4-and-5-star prospects ready to contribute right away. But that doesn’t mean they don’t also have lessons to learn in the meantime.
“When you’re a freshman and a newcomer, it’s all about consistency that’s needed to be a great player,” said defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. “It’s a very simple concept: You’ve got to bring it every day. Everybody says that every day, in your job and my job. But you have to do it, and it takes mental maturity.”
For coaches, getting the freshmen up to speed both with strategic concepts and in cultivating that mental maturity is a balancing act.
“The challenge when you get really talented players [is] not to over-coach them,” Sirmon said. “You give them the big-picture structure of what we want to do, then you’ve got to let some of that talent shine through.”
A portion of the teaching duties fall with the team’s veterans, a tradition that carries on from season-to-season as seniors graduate and newcomers arrive. Cornerback/wide receiver Adoree’ Jackson knows the freshman process well, having experienced it himself just last year.
“That’s why I want to go out there and help them as much possible,” he said. “When I was coming in, we had Josh Shaw, Kevon Seymour, Gerald Bowman, Su’a Cravens, all those guys wanted to help me out. Now, it’s just me returning the favor.”
For a fourth-year player like linebacker Scott Felix who has been through scores of these preseason workouts, he knows what to look for from first-timers — positive or negative. And according to him, it’s so far, so good for the new Trojans.
“They’re learning fast,” Felix said. “They’re getting competitive with us. Overall, most of the freshmen here are competing and that’s what we want to see from them.”
The linebacker corps is especially rife with freshman talent, which Felix said he, “like[s] a lot.” And with good reason.
USC signed a pair of 5-star prospects in Porter Gustin and Osa Masina, as well as 4-star recruits John Houston and Cam Smith. They may be freshmen in terms of their age and experience, but physically is another story in a few instances.
Gustin in particular has a build one would not expect of a first-year player. The only “person” with a more statuesque physique on USC’s campus is Tommy Trojan.
“He was a highly sought-after kid for a reason,” Sirmon said.
Smith is the furthest along of the fab four, having joined the Trojans as an early enrollee in the spring. Smith went through spring workouts and player-led workouts in the early summer, in that time earning kudos from such teammates as Cravens.
“He's playing like a veteran,” Cravens said of Smith at July’s Pac-12 media days.
Smith’s quick acclimation to the duties of a Trojan middle linebacker have earned him first-team repetitions. He anticipates and pursues the run well and reads the quarterback on pass plays effectively enough to have done something no one defender in the Pac-12 can claim. Per Cravens, Smith intercepted Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback Cody Kessler twice.
The youngster from Granite Bay, Calif., has been good enough for head coach Steve Sarkisian to resurrect an old tradition. Sarkisian gave Smith the No. 35, a number donned by great Trojan linebackers like Scott Ross, Rex Moore and Riki Ellison.
The head start was an obvious boon for Smith.
“You go through 15 sessions of anything, add on the meetings, and then the offseason program, you’re going to be ahead of the game that way,” Wilcox said. “That doesn’t mean the guys who got here in summer and the start of camp can’t pick it up quickly.
“But yeah,” he added. “If you’re going to learn French, and you took 15 classes, you’re going to be ahead of the people who joined you on the 16th, right? Same idea.”
No word if any of USC’s freshman class is taking French once classes start in September. That’s the next phase in their adjustment to college: balancing obligations as a student-athlete.
By then, however, the football stuff will be old hat.
“You’re only a freshman until you play,” Kessler said.
The NFL season is almost here and gamblers are looking for any sort of value that will get them a little extra cash and props from their friends. There's always a wager or two out there that the general public may not think is worth its time, but it should be on their radar. We head back to 5Dimes Sportsbook for the values. These props will be at underdog prices for the most part. Wager at your own risk
Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC (+1000)... Super Bowl (+2250)
Listen it's hard to find an underdog in terms of a Super Bowl champion. The usual suspects are at the top of the board with the Ravens being one of the lowest of the probable playoff teams. Word is early on that the secondary is going to be improved, which was the weak link of the Ravens. Joe Flacco has the pedigree to lead this team far, but he needs more weapons to be developed around him. If you absolutely don't want to wager on some of the favorites, then head to Baltimore for your Super Bowl champ.
Cincinnati Bengals to not make the playoffs (-135)
I'm not as big of a fan of the Bengals as most. Their defense didn't get the quarterback much in 2014 and I don't trust Andy Dalton at all. The schedule is real tough and doesn't lay out too nicely for Cincy. I think the Ravens win the division and the wild cards come from the AFC East and West.
Washington Redskins to make the playoffs (+700)... to win the NFC East (+1500)
It may be because I've been planted in Redskins training camp, but I like what they have got right now. Their front seven is fierce and if they stay healthy, then the defense will keep them in games. The big question is Robert Griffin III and how effective he will be. If the rookie RG3 shows up, then this team is capable of winning the division. No one in the NFC East enters this season without question marks. The Cowboys and Giants will have poor defenses while the Eagles have plenty of concerns on offense. This one will be tough to do, but there's value here with a team that if all breaks right, could win its division.
Carolina Panthers to win the NFC South (+250)
Carolina's got the only defense in the division and a competent enough offense that the Panthers should win this weak division for the third year in a row. Cam Newton has a solid run game with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert and enough weapons to make things interesting. (Note: This changes with the injury to Kelvin Benjamin. You may be able to get a better number, but I'm not as confident in this selection.)
Note: I came really close to putting Minnesota Vikings to make the playoffs (+260) and win the division (+775) on here, but I think they are still another year away. We'll see what Teddy Bridgewater can do with Adrian Peterson in the backfield and some weapons being developed. Their defensive stars are all young and all improving. I just didn't see a scenario where they beat both the Packers and Lions in the NFC North standings.
— 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.
It's the most wonderful time of the year (if you're a walk-on who's been working hard).
Bowling Green head coach Dino Babers surprised a couple players with the best thing they've heard in a while, they no longer have to pay for school. Terrance Bush and Trenton Greene are both on scholarship and "won't have to worry about [paying tuition] anymore."