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It's finally here! College football is back and the longest offseason in sports is over. We've got a great slate of games to open the season, thanks in large part to a growing movement by a few teams and conferences to shed the cupcakes from the schedule and replace them with a few high-profile, strength-of-schedule boosting Power 5 opponents.
As always, we head into opening week with a bunch of ideas, opinions and perceptions that we try to convince ourselves are facts. As history proves, however, we are quickly corrected by the football gods. Nobody gets it right, because more often than not, the outrageous happens.
With that, here are five outrageous predictions for Week 1 of the 2015 college football season.
Taysom Hill will rush for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns against Nebraska
Hill is the quarterback, the best running back and the bread & butter of the BYU offensive attack. He's at 100 percent coming off his injury 10 months ago, and he'll exploit a defensive personnel group whose core allowed 177.8 rushing yards per game a last season. It will be a lower scoring game than most think, and Hill's ground game will be the difference in a slight upset win for the Cougars.
3 FCS teams will record wins over Power 5 teams
Illinois State was one drive from winning the FCS national championship in 2014. The Redbirds visit an Iowa team with a bunch of question marks. Richmond is consistently one of the better FCS programs nationally. Look for them to stun Maryland at College Park. In Pittsburgh, the Panther and their new head coach Pat Narduzzi play host to Bo Pelini and Youngstown State. Pelini will have his team, which includes a couple of his former Nebraska players, fired up to take down a team that has nothing to gain from playing them.
Podcast: Week 1 Preview w/ Rece Davis
Nick Chubb will rush for 300 yards against Louisiana Monroe
Look for Chubb to bust a couple of long runs early on his way to 30 or more carries. Once Georgia has this one in the bag, it will be time for Chubb to pad those stats — and subsequently his Heisman resume — in what should be a video game-like performance that keeps him and the Bulldogs in the national conversation.
2 Top 10 teams will lose
The same teams appear in the top 10 of both the AP Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll. I see four teams who very well could lose their opening games: No. 2 TCU travels to Minnesota, No. 6/7 Auburn hosts Louisville, No. 3 Alabama squares off with No. 18/20 Wisconsin and No. 1 Ohio State travels to Virginia Tech. At least two of them will lose.
The Top 4 you see now will all be absent from the College Football Playoff
Take a look at the top four teams in both the AP Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll. Bookmark this article. Not one of those four teams (Ohio State, TCU, Alabama or Baylor) will even get a shot to play for the national championship in January.
The 2015 college football season starts on Thursday, Sept. 3 and concludes in early January with the national championship in Glendale, Ariz. With kickoff right around the corner, it’s time to fill up your Twitter timelines with information on all of the teams, players, coaches and latest news.
To help you prepare for the 2015 season, Athlon Sports has compiled the best Twitter guide on the web. Here’s 620 (plus a few more that came in after we posted this) Twitter accounts you need to follow to get the best information this year. We hope we covered it all here, but if we missed anyone that needs to be on this list, let us know via Twitter: @AthlonSteven and @AthlonSports
Podcast: Week 1 Preview w/ Rece Davis
620 Twitter Accounts Every CFB Should Follow in 2015
Dr. Saturday Blog
|Sports On Earth||Matt Brown||@MattBrownCFB|
College Football Talk
Bryan D. Fischer
|College Football Playoff||@CFBPlayoff|
|Associated Press||Ralph D. Russo||@RalphDRussoAP|
Chris B. Brown
|CFB Matrix||Dave Bartoo||@CFBMatrix|
|Orlando Sentinel||Matt Murschel||@OSMattMurschel|
|CFB Huddle||Kyle Kensing||@CFBHuddle|
|The Student Section|
College Football News
|Los Angeles Times||Chris Dufresne||@DufresneLATimes|
|Lost Lettermen||Jim Weber||@LostLettermen|
|Today's U||Tyler Waddell||@Tyler_Waddell|
Sport Source Analytics
College FB Reference
Pro Football Focus
ESPN - Jeremy Crabtree
ESPN - Tom Luginbill
247Sports - Keith Niebuhr
247Sports - Barton Simmons
247Sports - JC Shurburtt
Rivals - MIke Farrell
Scout - Brandon Huffman
ESPN ACC Blog
|ACC Sports Journal|
|ACC Football News||@ACCFootballNews|
|ACC Freelance Writer||Lauren Brownlow||@lebrownlow|
|Team||Official Account||Media Follows|
Big 12: @Big12Conference
ESPN Big 12 Blog
Sports on Earth/
|Dallas Morning News||Chuck Carlton||@ChuckCarltonDMN|
|The Oklahoman||Berry Tramel|
|San Antonio Express-News||Tim Griffin||@TimGriffinBig12|
|Team||Official Account||Media Follows|
Big Ten: (@B1GFootball)
ESPN Big Ten Blog
Big Ten Network
|Chicago Tribune||Teddy Greenstein||@TeddyGreenstein|
|Chicago Sun-Times||Steve Greenberg||@SLGreenberg|
|Team||Official Account||Media Follows|
ESPN Pac-12 Blog
|San Jose Mercury News||Jon Wilner||@WilnerHotline|
|Team||Official Account||Media Follows|
|SEC Commissioner||Greg Sankey||@GregSankey|
ESPN SEC Blog
|SB Nation||Brandon Larrabee||@TeamSpeedKills|
Saturday Down South
|Southern Pigskin||Matt Smith||@MattSmithCFB|
|Sports Radio WNML||Josh Ward||@Josh_Ward|
|Saturday Blitz||Chad Neipling||@SEC_Chad|
|Team||Official Account||Media Follows|
Independents/Group of 5 Follows
|Team||Official Account||Media Follows|
In 2014, the Mississippi State Bulldogs won 10 games for the first time since 1999. This season will mark Dan Mullen's seventh in Starkville and with the exception of a 5-7 first year, Mullen has not had a losing season with the Bulldogs. Last year also marked the fifth straight wining campaign for the program. Fans in Starkville haven’t seen a streak like that since Allyn McKeen lead his Maroons to eight straight winning seasons from 1939-47 (Mississippi State did not field a team in 1943).
Dak Prescott returns for his senior year and to hopefully lead his team to an SEC West championship, something the Bulldogs haven’t accomplished since 1998. The Bulldogs return only seven starters and 45 lettermen to a team that was picked to finish last in the division at SEC Media Days.
Here are Mississippi State’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 19 vs. Northwestern State
The only FCS team on the Bulldogs' schedule will come in the third week of the season. The Bulldogs are 2-0 against the Demons but those games were played in 1945 and '46. This game comes a week after Mississippi State plays LSU so the Bulldogs could be flying high or looking to rebound after a tough loss.
11. Oct. 10 vs. Troy
Troy was 3-9 last year and will have a first-year head coach in Neal Brown, who has no previous head coaching experience in college football. The Bulldogs will be coming off an away game at Texas A&M so again the Bulldogs will need to stay focused whether they are coming off a win or loss but should handle Troy pretty easily.
10. Sept. 5 at Southern Miss
Last year the Bulldogs defeated Southern Miss 49-0. No amount of revenge will help them in 2015. The Golden Eagles may be an improving team but not enough to beat an SEC foe.
9. Oct. 17 vs. Louisiana Tech (Homecoming)
Louisiana Tech had a chance to win the C-USA crown but gave up a late touchdown to Marshall in the championship game. Skip Holtz will have his best quarterback in Florida transfer Jeff Driskel and the Bulldogs are poised to hit double-digit wins and return to the C-USA Championship Game. The home team is 5-1 in this series since 1980.
8. Oct. 24 vs. Kentucky
These two have played every year since 1990 with the Bulldogs leading the series 16-9. The Bulldogs entered last year’s contest as the No. 1 team in the nation. The Wildcats gave them fits for most of the game but could never catch up, never getting within more than two touchdowns. The Wildcats will be an improved team this year but not enough to go on the road and win in Starkville.
7. Oct. 3 at Texas A&M
Last year’s win by the Bulldogs tied the all-time series at 4-4. Road games are always tough in college football and the last time Mississippi State traveled to Kyle field, the Aggies and Johnny Manziel hung 51 points on the visitors.
6. Nov. 5 (Thursday) at Missouri
The Bulldogs are 11-4 against SEC East teams since 2009 but are 0-2 against Missouri all-time. Both teams will be coming off a bye and this year’s matchup will be on a Thursday night. In the last three years, the Bulldogs are 2-0 in weekday games.
5. Nov. 21 at Arkansas
Last year’s game was a defensive struggle, as Arkansas picked off Prescott twice and totaled three turnovers in the first half. The Razorbacks weren’t able to capitalize on those turnovers as they fell 17-10. This will be a much improved Arkansas team and the Bulldogs cannot afford turnovers like last year.
4. Nov. 28 vs. Ole Miss
The Egg Bowl has seen the home team win this annual game in each of the last four years. Early last year, it looked like the Egg Bowl might have been bigger than the Iron Bowl, which ended up not being the case. Could it be this year? Both schools will need this win if they want any shot at the College Football Playoff.
3. Sept. 12 vs. LSU
The Bulldogs begin the year on the road in week one and then welcome LSU into town. This will be an early test for both teams and with question marks about the quarterback situation in Baton Rouge, it could play into Manny Diaz’s defensive scheme to pressure the Tigers into throwing the ball rather than allowing Leonard Fournette to beat you all day.
2. Nov. 14 vs. Alabama
The Bulldogs haven’t defeated Alabama since 2007. In fact, they only have three wins against the Tide since 2000. Alabama is the favorite to win the West while the Bulldogs were picked to finish last. Not a lot of national love for the Bulldogs this year but you don’t need love to pull off an upset.
1. Sept. 26 at Auburn
The SEC West is as difficult a division in college football. Going on the road in SEC West games are even tougher. Within the first four games of the season, the Bulldogs have a chance of knocking off both LSU and Auburn, splitting the two games or being out of the Playoff picture before the end of September.
— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails
Auburn's offense ranked second in the SEC in yards per game (485.0) and third in total yards (6,305). But its defense was No. 61 overall in the FBS and allowed 26.7 points per game, which ranked 10th in the conference.
However, following the hire of new coordinator Will Muschamp and one of the SEC's best returning linebacker groups, the Tigers are expected to be one of the SEC's most complete teams and a favorite to contend for a national championship.
But before fans plan January trips to either the Orange or Cotton Bowl, Auburn will need to survive the toughest schedule in college football, according to TeamRankings.com. Here now are Auburn's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty, from easiest to most difficult.
12. Nov. 21 vs. Idaho
Auburn faces some of its toughest matchups late in the season. This, however, is not one of them. Idaho finished with a 1-10 (1-7 Sun Belt) record in 2014 and should pose little threat to the Tigers.
11. Sept. 12 vs. Jacksonville State
Jacksonville State dominated the Ohio Valley Conference and made an FCS Playoff appearance last season. But that won't be enough to compete against a heavily overmatched Auburn team, expected to make its own playoff run in the FBS.
10. Oct. 3 vs. San Jose State
San Jose State travels to Auburn in between the team's second and third SEC games. The matchup should provide an easy win before the Tigers face back-to-back conference road games.
9. Oct. 15 (Thursday) at Kentucky
Kentucky is the first of two SEC opponents that will host the Tigers in October. The Wildcats showed signs of improvement, matching their previous win totals from their past two combined seasons in 2014 with a 5-1 start. However, their season ended on a six-game losing streak and failed to secure bowl eligibility. Kentucky may have learned from its late season collapse, but it shouldn't be enough to defeat an overmatched Auburn team.
8. Sept. 5 vs. Louisville
Louisville proved to be the more talented of the Bluegrass State's two biggest programs. But with Auburn entering its season at full strength looking to win a national title, the Cardinals should expect to start their season with a losing record.
7. Sept. 26 vs. Mississippi State
Mississippi State earned its first No. 1 ranking in school history and finished second in the SEC West in 2014. But the Bulldogs need to replace a conference leading 15 starters in order to remain among the SEC's contenders. Auburn should enjoy a victory at home as Mississippi State struggles to find its identity early in the season.
6. Nov. 14 vs. Georgia
By November we will know whether Auburn and Georgia live up to their preseason hype as national contenders. The Bulldogs have the strongest running back depth of any SEC team, including Nick Chubb, who finished second to former Auburn back Cameron Artis-Payne in rushing yards as a freshman. But the Tigers seem to be the more complete team beyond rushing offense and should earn the victory at home.
5. Oct. 31 vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss looks like a program on the rise. The Rebels improved to 9-4 (5-3 SEC) and face high expectations with their program-changing 2013 recruiting class in Year Three. This will be a tough matchup if both teams live up to their preseason hype, but the Tigers should remain a favorite at home.
4. Oct. 24 at Arkansas
Like Ole Miss, Arkansas is expected to make a jump back into contention in 2015. The Razorbacks were the best last place team in any FBS division and finished with a 7-6 (2-6 SEC) record. What gives this game a slight edge in difficulty over Ole Miss and Georgia is that its on the road. Plus, the Razorbacks will be hungry for an upset win after coming off consecutive matchups against Tennessee and Alabama.
3. Nov. 7 at Texas A&M
Texas A&M is another middle of the road SEC West team. They're best case/worst case scenarios are either double digit wins or finishing last in the division, depending on how soon new coordinator John Chavis can provide an improvement on defense. But the team definitely has the potential to be the conference's best passing offense with a more experienced Kyle Allen and several former five-star receiver prospects. The Aggies also have the luxury of playing at home in front of the SEC's largest-capacity stadium in between favorable matchups against South Carolina and Western Carolina.
2. Nov. 28 vs. Alabama
While this might be Auburn's most important game, the Tigers have the luxury of playing at home. Still, Alabama should be a difficult matchup for the Tigers as both teams could be playing for both an SEC Championship Game and College Football Playoff berth. There is a chance that both teams, should they survive their difficult schedules, enter atop the conference with undefeated records and see a repeat matchup in the playoffs.
1. Sept. 19 at LSU
No team has a bigger home field advantage than LSU at Death Valley. Auburn hasn't won in Baton Rogue since 1999. Regardless of its quarterback situation, LSU has one of the nation's best running backs in Leonard Fournette, a talented, young wide receiving corps and the SEC's top defensive back group. For Auburn to keep its College Football Playoff chances alive, it will need to survive an early season matchup at Death Valley.
— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter @jasonhallFSN.
Every season has one ritual that’s both exciting and infuriating — the practice of throwing out the preseason polls after only a few weeks of the season.
Teams we thought we understood in June, July and August turn out to be imposters — or wolves in sheep’s clothing — by the time games begin in September.
Just last season, three teams that were unranked in the preseason AP poll (Mississippi State, TCU and Arizona) were ranked in the top 10 in the first poll in August. Preseason No. 18 Ole Miss tied with the rival Bulldogs at No. 3 in the Oct. 5 poll.
At the same time, five teams in the preseason top 16 started October unranked (South Carolina, LSU, Wisconsin and Clemson).
While some teams may be able to survive the September upset — Ohio State and Oregon still played for the championship, after all — other seasons soar or crumble based on September results. These are teams that are already at a crossroads during the first month of the 2015 season.
Sept. 5 vs. Bowling Green (Nashville)
Sept. 12 Oklahoma
Sept. 19 Western Carolina
Sept. 26 at Florida
The entire month of September will be a test of Tennessee’s ability to avoid its own hype. Bowling Green might not be able to upset the Volunteers, but the Falcons are a MAC contender. Tennessee ran out of steam against Oklahoma last season in a 34-10 loss in Norman, and the Volunteers still lack the depth to match their standout frontline talent. The whole month, though, points to that critical game against Florida. The Gators have won 10 in a row, and it’s tough to buy the Vols as an SEC favorite if they can’t solve their Florida problem.
Sept. 5 vs. Louisville (Atlanta)
Sept. 12 Jacksonville State
Sept. 19 at LSU
Sept. 26 Mississippi State
Tigers quarterback Jeremy Johnson is already being named as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC even though he threw fewer than 40 passes last season. He’ll be challenged immediately by Louisville and LSU — both away from home. Louisville and LSU ranked in the top 20 nationally in yards allowed per play and in the top five nationally in pass efficiency defense. Both defenses expect to pick up where they left off last season. Throw in a match up against Dak Prescott to round out the month, and Auburn will know right away if it has the goods to win the SEC.
Sept. 5 at Northwestern
Sept. 12 UCF
Sept. 19 at USC
Sept. 25 at Oregon State
Stanford gets its share of tough games at home — Arizona, UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame. The Cardinal makes up for it with only one home game in the first month of the season. A trip to Evanston figures to be tricky (even if a lesser Cal team was able to win there last season). The highlight, though, is a road trip to USC, the potential Pac-12 favorite that beat Stanford 13-10 last season.
Sept. 5 at Notre Dame
Sept. 12 Rice
Sept. 19 Cal
Sept. 26 Oklahoma State
Texas isn’t getting much hype in the Big 12 — and after a 6-7 season and back-to-back routs to end 2014, that’s with good reason. That said, if Texas is able to upset Notre Dame and South Bend, the Longhorns would shift the balance of power in the Big 12. More realistically, Texas will need to show it can beat a mediocre West Coast team after losing to BYU twice and UCLA in the last two seasons. A home date against rising Oklahoma State, a team that’s won three in a row in Austin is key. A 1-3 start would be disastrous for second-year coach Charlie Strong.
Sept. 5 vs. Arizona State (Houston)
Sept. 12 Ball State
Sept. 19 Nevada
Sept. 26 vs. Arkansas (Arlington)
The Aggies have dropped from 11 wins to nine to eight and six SEC wins to four to three in the three seasons under Kevin Sumlin. While no one would suggest he’s any trouble, Texas A&M’s status as an “it” program may be in jeopardy if the Aggies can’t get off to a hot start, which essentially boils down to those two neutral site games against Arizona State and Arkansas. Sumlin brought in John Chavis to fix a defense that will immediately get tested against two wildly different schemes in Arizona State’s up-tempo spread with a strong-armed QB and Arkansas’ grinding run game.
Sept. 4 Washington
Sept. 12 at BYU
Sept. 18 Idaho State
Sept. 25 at Virginia
Thanks to the new Playoff bowl assignments, Boise State doesn’t need to go undefeated to get to a major bowl game. The Broncos simply have to win the Mountain West and be ranked higher than champs in the American, Conference USA, MAC and Sun Belt. Boise State is already the favorite in the Mountain West and can wrap up the “highest-ranked” criteria with signature wins against power programs in September. With two road games and a new quarterback, that’s easier said than done.
Sept. 5 at Nebraska
Sept. 12 Boise State
Sept. 19 at UCLA
Sept. 26 at Michigan
Last season, BYU started 4-0 with Taysom Hill at quarterback. He won’t have a ton of opportunities to work himself into the lineup with three of the first four on the road. This opening slate against a defending Fiesta Bowl champ (Boise State), a veteran Pac-12 contender (UCLA) and a team that hasn’t lost a season opener since 1985 (Nebraska) is much more difficult than the one Hill sliced through to start 2014. Remember, as an independent, BYU has to finish in the top 10 or better to get a coveted New Year’s Bowl slot. Winning a couple of these early would be a good start toward that goal.
Sept. 5 vs. Auburn (Atlanta)
Sept. 12 Houston
Sept. 17 Clemson
Sept. 26 Samford
Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will earn his pay in the first month of the season facing arguably the best offensive coach in the SEC (Auburn’s Gus Malzahn), the offensive coordinator from the reigning national champions (Houston’s Tom Herman) and the best quarterback in the ACC (Clemson’s Deshaun Watson). Louisville had a standout season on defense a year ago and will use Power 5 refugees Devonte Fields (TCU) and Josh Harvey-Clemons (Georgia) to fill the gaps.
Sept. 5 Grambling State
Sept. 12 San Diego State
Sept. 19 at Texas
Sept. 26 at Washington
Cal’s big September essentially boils down to those two big road games at the end of the month, though a loss to San Diego State would limit any momentum Sonny Dykes has built. A road trip to face a standout Texas secondary could be a key moment for Cal quarterback Jared Goff. And beating Washington for the first time since 2008 would be a critical Pac-12 win for a Cal team that has to face Utah, UCLA and USC from the South and Oregon and Stanford on the road.
Sept. 5 UL Lafayette
Sept. 12 at South Carolina
Sept. 19 Florida
Sept. 26 Missouri
Even in a weak SEC East, Kentucky has an uphill climb to contend for the division. Mark Stoops’ team improved from 2-10 to 5-7 and stepped up in recruiting. If the Wildcats are going to deliver on that potential, September would be a good time to do so. South Carolina, which lost 45-38 in Columbia to UK last year, is as vulnerable as its been under Steve Spurrier. Florida figures to be offensively challenged again under a new coach, especially early. And Missouri’s strength along the defensive line has been diminished due to departures. Kentucky hasn’t won an SEC road game since 2009, so getting Florida and Mizzou in Lexington is critical.
Sept. 5 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 10 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 19 at Indiana
Sept. 26 Miami (Ohio)
Looking for a Group of 5 team not named Boise State to watch? Why not Western Kentucky? Quarterback Brandon Doughty — who led shootout wins over Marshall (67-66) and Central Michigan (49-48) to finish last season — is back. The Hilltoppers have a chance to beat two Power 5 teams on the road, albeit Vandy and Indiana, and knock out a Conference USA contender (Louisiana Tech) all before Sept. 20.
College Football is finally here!
So Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast is kicking off the season in style. Hosts Braden Gall and Mitch Light preview the entire first weekend of action and visit with new ESPN College Gameday host Rece Davis.
The guys pick every Top 25 game, offer locks of the week against the spread and cover THE LEAST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE WEEK! before visiting with Davis about his new roll at ESPN and getting his official College Football Playoff picks for the upcoming season.
It's been well documented that Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch loves Skittles. Of course, we didn't know he loved them this much. Lynch surprised viewers when he shared his passion for the colorful candy during an infomercial and did not disappoint. Watch as Lynch goes into full pitchman mode during this 5-minute segment on the EVINE Live shopping show.
But don't try to order your brick of Skittles. According the show's website, they're sold out.
When Les Miles left Oklahoma State for LSU in 2005, Mike Gundy returned to Stillwater to take the reins. Gundy’s tenure at his alma mater has largely been a success. He’s appeared in nine bowl games, accumulated nine consecutive winning seasons and has won more games than any Oklahoma State head coach.
The Cowboys were college football’s youngest team in 2014, one of the reasons why they finished just 7-6. However, they also showed enough promise to give fans reason to be optimistic about this season. Oklahoma State took defending national champion Florida State down to wire before losing by six points in the season opener, defeated in-state rival Oklahoma and capped the season with a 30-22 Cactus Bowl win over Washington.
The road to the 2015 College Football Playoff for the Cowboys is littered with obstacles, as they will face Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and TCU this season. But 11 returning starters on offense, and nine on defense, gives Oklahoma State a trove of depth as Gundy attempts to win his second Big 12 championship (2011).
Here now is a look at Oklahoma State’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult matchup:
12. Sept. 12 vs. Central Arkansas
FCS member Central Arkansas travels to Stillwater in Week 2. Central Arkansas opened the 2014 season at Texas Tech and nearly pulled off the upset, losing 42-35. While Oklahoma State shouldn’t have any difficulty grabbing the win, this one could be closer than the Cowboys want it to be.
11. Sept. 19 vs. UTSA
Former Miami Hurricanes head coach Larry Coker’s UTSA squad traveled to Stillwater last September and suffered a 30-point loss. This time around shouldn’t be any different. Although this will be the third time UTSA faces Oklahoma State in as many years, it won’t be the charm as the Cowboys should easily notch their third win of the season.
10. Sept. 3 (Thursday) at Central Michigan
Central Michigan cut bait with head coach Dan Enos following a 7-6 season and hired alumnus John Bonamego in February. Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush – who tossed seven touchdowns in the inaugural Bahamas Bowl last December – returns, but won’t have much help as the Chippewas must replace a number of offensive starters. Oklahoma State, 67-41-5 in season openers, will play spoiler in Mount Pleasant and begin the season with a win.
9. Oct. 24 vs. Kansas
New year, new look for Kansas. This offseason, Kansas athletic director Dr. Sheahon Zenger brought in former Texas A&M wide receivers coach David Beaty to replace Charlie Weis and revive a sputtering Kansas program that has won just 12 games since 2010.
Kansas played Oklahoma State close in Lawrence last year before falling 27-20. Don’t expect the same results for this year’s contest, which happens to fall on Homecoming in Stillwater. The Pokes should win big and push their all-time Homecoming record to 51-36-7.
8. Nov. 14 at Iowa State
Depending on who you ask, this game could be a must-win for Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads by the time these teams meet. Gundy has gone 5-2 against Iowa State in his career, with one of the losses coming in double overtime in Ames in 2011. The loss knocked then-second-ranked Oklahoma State from national title contention. That game was played under somber circumstances, as a plane crash the night before claimed the lives of two Oklahoma State women’s basketball coaches and two others.
Iowa State, which failed to win a Big 12 game last year, will have its hands full. The Cowboys shouldn’t have too much trouble getting the win.
7. Oct. 31 at Texas Tech
Texas Tech came close to stealing a road win against Oklahoma State last season, but quarterback Daxx Garman’s (who transferred to Maryland this offseason) five-touchdown day proved too much to overcome as the Cowboys won 45-35.
Texas Tech, winners of four games last season, should be much improved as head coach Kliff Kingsbury enters year three of his tenure. If the Red Raiders are to beat the Cowboys, they’ll have to cut down on the number of penalties (16) and interceptions (3) they accumulated in last year’s game.
6. Sept. 26 at Texas
The Longhorns defeated the Cowboys 28-7 in Stillwater last season to snag Charlie Strong’s sixth win in his first season leading Texas. Oklahoma State found itself in a 19-0 hole, as Longhorns quarterback Tyrone Swoopes shelled the Cowboys' defense for 305 yards and two touchdowns while the offense could muster just 192 yards of its own.
Winning in Austin is never an easy task. This promises to be an enticing early-season matchup as Strong will look to go 2-0 against Gundy.
5. Oct. 10 at West Virginia
Many in Stillwater were sad to see former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen take his high-powered offense to West Virginia as its new offensive coordinator in December 2010. The Mountaineers named him head coach in June 2011 to replace Bill Stewart. Since then, Holgorsen has gone 2-1 against his former school, beating Oklahoma State 34-10 in Stillwater in 2014.
West Virginia was one of college football’s mysteries last season, as it handed Baylor its lone regular-season loss, yet dropped a game at Texas. Holgorsen’s squad could give Oklahoma State fits this go round in Morgantown.
4. Oct. 3 vs. Kansas State
In 2014, Oklahoma State scored on its opening possession against the Wildcats to take a 7-0 lead. The Wildcats answered with a kickoff return for a touchdown and never looked back, as Kansas State cruised to a 48-14 victory.
Kansas State must replace offensive sparkplug Jake Waters at quarterback, along with his favorite target, wide receiver Tyler Lockett. The Wildcats return six defensive starters and the unit should be the strength of this year’s team. The Pokes under Gundy have won their last three home games against Kansas State.
3. Nov. 28 vs. Oklahoma
Oklahoma State welcomes bitter rival Oklahoma to the house that T. Boone Pickens built to close out the regular season. The Cowboys defeated the Sooners 38-35 in overtime last year. The win was Gundy’s first in Norman.
The Sooners get the Cowboys a week after traveling to Baylor and a week before TCU, which could play in Oklahoma State's favor. Oklahoma returns six starters on offense and six on defense, including sophomore sensation running back Samaje Perine, who rushed for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman. The Bedlam Series has gone into overtime in two of the last three years.
2. Nov. 7 vs. TCU
Simply put, the Horned Frogs will be a tough out. In 2014, TCU racked up 415 passing yards and 676 yards of total offense in a 42-9 rout of the Cowboys in Fort Worth. And with 10 returning starters on offense, this year’s TCU team is just as good and will play with a chip on its shoulder after being turned away from the inaugural College Football Playoff last season.
TCU has dropped its last three games in Stillwater, but that streak should end this year as Oklahoma State won’t be able to keep up with an uber-talented Horned Frogs team.
1. Nov. 21 vs. Baylor
Like TCU, Baylor will play this season with a Texas-sized chip on its shoulder, as the Bears also were excluded from the College Football Playoff. And like TCU, Baylor hung more than 40 points on the Cowboys last year. The good news for Cowboys’ fans is this: 1939 is the last time Baylor has won in Stillwater. While Oklahoma State has a slight edge in the series (19-14), Baylor is closing the gap.
Baylor quarterback Seth Russell replaces Bryce Petty and he will have an arsenal of weapons to complement a defense that returns nine starters. Baylor should have little problem against the Cowboys in the next-to-last week of the regular season for Oklahoma State.
— 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.
Vanderbilt got a pretty good draw with this year's schedule. The Commodores play in the SEC, so there will be a handful of difficult matchups. But for Derek Mason's team, which returns 18 starters, there should be a glimmer of hope on the horizon.]
Not only does Vanderbilt avoid Alabama and Auburn from the SEC West, but also it also gets two out of three of the SEC East's top contenders, Georgia and Missouri, at home. Accompany that with what looks to be an uninspiring non-conference schedule and the prospect of a bowl game looks possible.
Here is a look at Vanderbilt's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to toughest matchup:
12. Sept. 19 vs. Austin Peay
The Governors haven't squared off against an SEC team since they played both Tennessee and Vanderbilt in 2013, losing by a combined 83-3. They finished that season 0-12. In 2014 they showed little improvement, rounding out the year 1-11. This game will be a breeze for the Commodores.
11. Oct. 3 at Middle Tennessee
Going on the road against a bowl eligible C-USA team from last year that returns 13 starters could be a challenge for Vandy. Luckily, it's not a long trip. If traffic isn't too bad, the Commodores should make it to MTSU's Floyd Stadium in under an hour.
10. Sept. 3 (Thursday) vs. Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers are no joke and no stranger to the SEC. They have beaten Kentucky in their last two meetings, so Vanderbilt fans shouldn't feel overconfident about this one. Western Kentucky returns 14 starters from an 8-5 team that knocked off undefeated Marshall near the end of 2014. Look out, Vandy.
9. Oct. 31 at Houston
Western Kentucky might actually be Vanderbilt's best out-of-conference opponent. However, the Houston game is on the road and is sandwiched right in the middle of SEC play. By this time in the year, the Commodores could be banged up. Houston will be a formidable adversary. The Cougars return some key pieces from a team that knocked off Pitt in the bowl season.
8. Nov. 14 vs. Kentucky
The Wildcats return a pair of solid running backs in Jojo Kemp and Stanley "Boom" Williams as well as an experienced offensive line known for its run-blocking ability. Yet, the most important piece of the offense will be quarterback Patrick Towles. Hopefully, Vanderbilt's defense will be improved enough to slow down Kentucky's offensive attack.
7. Nov. 7 at Florida
New head coach Jim McElwain is looking to improve the Gators' offense in 2015, but the defense should still be pretty good, especially in the secondary. The Commodores showed few signs of life last season when trying to throw the football and Florida will likely be able to hold Vanderbilt to few points. But can Florida score enough themselves to get a win in The Swamp?
6. Oct. 24 vs. Missouri
Mizzou has won the SEC East in back-to-back years, but last year the Tigers struggled to a 24-14 victory over Vanderbilt. As bad as Vandy was, the Commodores showed some promise against their SEC East rivals, losing close games to Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Tennessee. Vanderbilt could have success running the ball against a depleted defensive line for the Tigers.
5. Oct. 17 at South Carolina
The week before the tilt against Mizzou, Vanderbilt will find itself in a treacherous environment in the other Columbia. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks will be on the hunt in 2015 after blowing multiple fourth-quarter leads a year ago. This will be a difficult matchup for Vanderbilt, especially on the road.
4. Nov. 21 vs. Texas A&M
The Aggies may be one of the most underrated teams in college football. They return eight starters on both sides of the ball, including their starting quarterback, running back and three best receivers from a year ago. Legendary defensive coordinator, "Chief" John Chavis, could have an immediate impact by simplifying the defense. Vanderbilt will have its work cut out when the Aggies visit Nashville.
3. Nov. 28 at Tennessee
Vanderbilt has won two of the past three against the Vols, but the tables have turned for the better in Knoxville. Tennessee fans are still irate over Patton Robinette's fake jump pass touchdown into the checkerboard in 2013. With talent such as Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt, the Vols should be able to enact their revenge.
2. Sept. 26 at Ole Miss
While they avoid most of the SEC West's elite contenders, Vanderbilt still has to deal with its permanent draw in Oxford. And although Ole Miss leads the series only 49-38-2, they are light years ahead of the Commodores on the field right now. Prosperous recruiting has put Ole Miss back on the map and the Rebels will be favored by double digits when Vanderbilt comes to town early in the season.
1. Sept. 12 vs. Georgia
Georgia is without a doubt the most difficult game on Vanderbilt's schedule. Fortunately, the game will take place in Nashville, but it might not make a difference when Nick Chubb gets his motor running. There is some hope for Vanderbilt's defensive line this season, but both sides of the ball will have to play their best game of the year to have a chance in this one.
After consulting the Oracle at Sparta, (not to be confused with that charlatan in Delphi), I can report the following predictions about Michigan State's upcoming football season.
1. Michigan State's victory over Western Michigan in Kalamazoo will set up the first contest between top-10 teams in East Lansing since 1966. The questions directed to head coach Mark Dantonio in the postgame press conference will revolve around two constant themes:
* "How awesome are the coaching abilities of Jim Harbaugh?"
* "How soon will Jim Harbaugh lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship, College Football Playoff appearance and national championship, in 2015 or by next season at the latest?"
2. Dantonio will once again need emergency hospitalization after a dramatic non-conference victory as he did in 2011. After a last-minute win over Oregon, Dantonio will suffer severe facial trauma from cracking a smile during the postgame celebration. His therapy will consist of maintaining a scowl while watching his team drub opponents for the next several weeks.
3. After rising to No. 3 in both polls after beating Oregon, Michigan State will encounter a letdown. The speedy option attack of the Air Force Academy will give the Spartan defense fits in the first half. The score will remain very close with the teams within seven points of each other for the first 30 minutes. However, a thorough tongue-lashing by Dantonio at halftime plus some defensive adjustments hold the Falcons in check while Connor Cook leads the offense to multiple scores to pull away in the fourth quarter.
4. Despite defeating Michigan for the seventh time in the past eight years, the two questions that Dantonio will receive in slightly altered versions will be:
* "How awesome are the coaching abilities of Harbaugh?"
* "How soon will Jim Harbaugh lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship, College Football Playoff appearance and national championship, in 2015 or by next season at the latest?"
5. The Spartans will dominate their first 10 opponents with exception of the nail-biter versus Oregon. That streak will set up a top-5 matchup of undefeated teams in Columbus against No. 1 Ohio State.
6. During the press conferences leading up to the game between Michigan State and Ohio State, the majority of questions that Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer will receive follow along two repeated lines:
* "Can any member of the Big Ten Western Division be even remotely competitive as an opponent in the conference championship versus your team?"
* "Would you rather head to Jerry World or Miami for your playoff game on New Year's Eve?"
7. The majority of the questions directed toward Dantonio during the week before traveling to Columbus will involve speculation along these two themes:
* "How awesome are the coaching abilities of Harbaugh?"
* "How soon will Jim Harbaugh lead the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship, College Football Playoff appearance and national championship, in 2015 or by next season at the latest?"
8. In November, the thick smoke will be blanketing of all Ohio. It will be due to weeks of bitterly disappointed Cleveland Browns' fans burning their Johnny Manziel apparel. Because of that, the Oracle was unable to see the final score of this contest in Columbus.
9. Cook will receive an invitation to the Downtown Athletic Club as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. During his turn to be interviewed during the ceremony and prior to announcement of the winner, Cook will be asked two questions:
* "How awesome are the coaching abilities of Harbaugh?"
10. The Spartan defense will finish in the top 10 nationally in the categories of rushing yards allowed, passing yards allowed, total yards allowed and total points allowed.
11. Michigan State will ring in 2016 at the site of one of the New Year's Six bowl games. Due to extensive smoke from celebratory fireworks, the Oracle was not able to identify which one.
The Oracle has spoken!
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
After a highly successful inaugural season as a member of the ACC with a 9-4 (5-3 conference) record, Louisville is ready to build on that success. The Cardinals lost six players to the NFL draft on a defense that finished sixth nationally in FBS in yards allowed per game. This unit does return four starters, led by preseason ACC first-team defensive end Sheldon Rankins.
Louisville’s biggest challenge last year was and trying to find consistency and efficiency in head coach Bobby Petrino's high-powered offense, and that will be the case again in 2015. The Cardinals could define their entire season within the first six weeks, as they will embark on one the most challenging schedules in the nation. If the Cardinals can manage to get through the first half of the season with just one loss, they could find themselves in the discussion for a College Football Playoff spot up until the end.
Here now are Louisville's 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to most difficult matchup.
12. Sept. 26 vs. Samford
This game comes at a perfect time on the schedule because there is a possibility that the Cardinals could be fighting to be .500. However, if the Cards can win two out of three leading into this game, they will set themselves up to stay in the Playoff hunt, while using new head coach Chris Hatcher’s Bulldogs team as a nice tune up.
11. Sept. 12 vs. Houston
This is the classic definition of a “trap game.” Houston possesses a stingy defense, while also having a decent, but not great offense. The problem with the Cougars is that the very things that make them weak are the things that make them sneaky. And if Louisville falls asleep at the wheel, even a little bit, it could find itself on the wrong end of the outcome.
10. Nov. 14 vs. Virginia
Cavaliers head coach Mike London has gotten his “hot seat” notice, after back-to-back subpar seasons. The Louisville game could come at a time that is “job saving” for London, as Virginia's schedule also is a challenging one. However, with so many question marks surrounding this team on both sides of the ball, Louisville should have an easy time at home against the Cavs.
9. Nov. 7 vs. Syracuse
Everyone thought that Syracuse would have a breakout season in 2014. Then starting QB Terrel Hunt went down in injury and that was that. The Orange struggled mightily with no offensive backup plan. Now Hunt has returned, but the Orange defense, which was the only bright spot of 2014, has completely changed. This is not a team that is ready for the next step. This is a team that is looking for identity. And Louisville will make Syracuse pay for it.
8. Oct. 30 (Friday) at Wake Forest
Wake Forest is a work in progress. But there IS progress being made. If this team gains momentum off of its early challenges, then the Demon Deacons could become a threat in the ACC. Wake Forest is the kind of threat that you must play well to defeat. Head coach Dave Clawson’s young team is hungry for success, and they have bought into the philosophy of their young coach. The Cardinals will have to be good and solid on both sides of the ball, especially defensively.
7. Nov. 21 at Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is a problem. Pittsburgh is more than ready to take a giant leap this year with a scorching-hot new head coach in former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and with reigning ACC Player of the Year RB James Conner, as well as WR Tyler Boyd and QB Chad Voytik. The Panthers and The Cardinals will both field a lot of talent during this game, and if both teams play as well as expected, this game could decide a lot for the ACC title picture.
6. Oct. 24 vs. Boston College
Boston College's defense last season could be described in one word — nasty. The Eagles ranked 11th in FBS in total defense and second in rushing defense. Last year Boston College would not allow opponents to run the ball. Period. It took a breakout performance from then-freshman QB Reggie Bonnafon for the Cardinals to overcome the Eagles' stingy defense. Now the Eagles will return two stellar RBs in Jon Hilliman and Sherman Alston, who is poised to have a breakout season. The Cards will definitely be faced with a stronger and more passionate Eagles team, who will show up to Papa John’s Stadium thinking upset.
5. Oct. 3 at NC State
In a conference where coaching turnover has become common place, Dave Doeren seems to have the formula working, leading NC State from 3-9 to 8-5 in just one year. Doeren now returns a plethora of starters that include QB Jacoby Brissett, and maybe the nation's best RB duo in Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes, who combined for 1,480 yards and 14 TDs in 2014. Louisville was able to overcome the Wolfpack last year, but that was a young team, and it was at home. This game is on the road, and it is placed right before an even bigger statement game, Florida State. If the Cardinals look forward, or can’t match last year’s defensive prowess, this is a definite loss. The Wolfpack are THAT good.
4. Nov. 28 at Kentucky
The biggest problem with rivalry games is the scenarios that surround them. This one could be a problem. If Louisville is the sleeper that many think this team could be, then this game could become the reason why the Cardinals get into the College Football Playoff or not. If they can’t come out and dominate what looks to be a weaker Kentucky team, then like Baylor and TCU last year, it could cost them a spot in the Playoff. Then there also is the crazy scenario that the Wildcats could actually win this game because Louisville is simply uninterested or unmotivated. Petrino's Cardinals must stay focused and execute well on the road in the battle for the Governor's Cup.
3. Sept. 17 (Thursday) vs. Clemson
The good news for Louisville is that offensive coordinator Chad Morris is now at SMU. The bad news is that Clemson’s defense, which was ranked No. 1 last year, is still there, despite the fact that the Tigers lost several key players, including sack leader Vic Beasley and leading tackler Stephone Anthony. Throw in Heisman Trophy candidate QB Deshaun Watson, who is poised and ready to dominate, and this game may be the greatest challenge on Louisville’s schedule.
2. Oct. 17 at Florida State
The ACC champs lost Jameis Winston, along with other key components on the offensive line, and are still poised to make a serious chase at another conference title and College Football Playoff berth. There is skill, power, and talent EVERYWHERE on the field, and Louisville will have its hands full trying to slow the Seminoles down. Louisville is talented in its own right, and that may be the only reason why this game is close. This game will come down to simple execution and who can cut down the mistakes. If Louisville can do this, it may be the catalyst to its own ACC title run.
1. Sept. 5 vs. Auburn (in Atlanta)
This is the most significant game of the season, not because Auburn enters the season ranked sixth in the AP Top 25 poll. This game is the most significant of the season because of the perception that Auburn is a dominant team, potentially on its way to an SEC title and spot in the College Football Playoff, and a win against the Tigers places you squarely in the national championship conversation right out of the gates. It sets season-long expectations that will test the mettle of a growing football team. That however is easier said than done. The Cardinals will have to find a way to stop what appears to be the second coming of Cam Newton in QB Jeremy Johnson. But the good news is that this game is the first game of the season and Petrino is 10-0 in season openers.
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence has covered both high school and college sports for several years, and has written for several outlets, including ESPNLouisville.com and CardinalSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ
Wisconsin’s Corey Clement is the latest running back to attempt to break the mold of quarterback Heisman Trophy winners. To truly understand the uphill battle Clement has, you must first know how exactly the annual recipient of the Heisman Trophy is determined.
Heisman Trophy 101
Chris Huston, who is now editor-in-chief for Heisman.com, is the foremost authority on the Heisman Trophy and its variable intricacies. In fact, he broke down the Heisman Trophy in such a scientific fashion, he came up with his infamous “Heismandments” a play of words on the famous Ten Commandments. And in reality, they’re the best “Heisman Trophy for Dummies” anyone will probably ever find. I’ve studied the Heismandments, and this is what I realized regarding Clement’s chances at winning the trophy. First, a look at the infamous list:
The more Heismandments that apply to a player in a given season, the better his chances are of winning.
1. The winner must be a quarterback, a running back, or a multi-threat athlete.
2. Juniors and seniors have the overwhelming advantage in the Heisman race and, as a general rule, will win over an underclassman if all other factors are equal. Underclassmen can overcome this disadvantage only through extraordinary single-season production.
3. The winner must produce good numbers in high-profile games on TV.
4. The winner must have some prior name recognition.
5. The winner must be one or more of the following three: (a) The top player on a national title contender. (b) A player who puts up good numbers for a traditional power with good record or (c) A player who puts up superlative single-season or career numbers on a good team, or produces numbers that are way out ahead of his Heisman competitors.
6. The winner cannot be considered an obvious product of his team’s system.
7. If you are a quarterback, running back or multi-purpose athlete at one of the following schools — Notre Dame, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami, Florida and Florida State — you have a good chance to win if you have a very good statistical season and your team wins at least nine games.
8. Statistical benchmarks exist for each position to help voters gauge a player’s "Heisman worthiness."
a. A running back who is NOT on a traditional power or a national championship contender usually must gain at least 2,000 yards. This hefty yardage requirement for such backs has risen a bit over the years as the longer regular season has made it more commonplace. A back on a traditional power or national title contender, must gain at least 1,600 yards. In either case, the back must score at least 15 touchdowns.
b. Dual-threat quarterbacks must produce at least 3,500 yards of total offense and 35 combined touchdowns and have a passer rating of 140 or better. Traditional pocket passers must have a passer rating over 160, at least 3,500 yards passing and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of at least 4-to-1.
c. A multi-purpose athlete/receiver has to score at least 20 touchdowns and can only win by producing spectacular plays on special teams, specifically kick and punt returns.
9. There will never be another two-time Heisman winner.
10. The winner must be likeable.
When you essentially “dumb down” this list, you come to a player needing to be very good at three essential things:
*Play on a team that wins and wins in big games
*Put up gaudy numbers in said big games, and even better numbers in your less-marketable matchups
*Be the epicenter of your offense’s success
Essentially, without those three you’re not going to find yourself anywhere near the top of any Heisman voting ballot.
To stress how difficult it’s going to be for Clement to win the award, Melvin Gordon’s season statistically dominated the prior Heisman-winning running backs before him. If you were to include Reggie Bush as a winner, for the sake of an argument, the combined stats for Bush, Ingram, and former Badger Ron Dayne (1999 winner) you’d be looking at 1,810 yards to go with 17 touchdowns and 6.7 yards per carry. Melvin Gordon’s season totaled 2,587 yards rushing with 29 touchdowns and a mind-numbing 7.5 yards per carry.
So, to put it in perspective for Clement, in order for him to even be considered for the Heisman Trophy, he’d have to surpass the 2,000-yard mark, and ring the bell somewhere around the 30-touchdown mark. In two seasons of essential garbage time, Clement has amassed 1,496 yards with 16 touchdowns, averaging seven yards per carry. Quite impressive for someone stepping in from time-to-time without any definitive role other than to give your record-breaking tailback a breather.
Key Games For Clement
Sept. 5 vs. Alabama
Alabama was the 12th-ranked defense in the country in 2014, and fourth best against the run. The kicker? The Crimson Tide allowed five rushing touchdowns... all year. If Clement wants to solidify himself as a true Heisman candidate, he’s going to need at least a 200-yard performance, and is going to need to find the end zone anywhere from two to three times.
Oct. 10 at Nebraska
Oct. 31 vs Rutgers
Nov. 7 at Maryland
These are three top Big Ten opponents the Badgers will play this year on an overwhelmingly soft schedule, so Clement needs to absolutely dominate every single one of these contests, especially the road games against Nebraska and Maryland, in order to maintain any national respect amongst voters. After the season-opening bloodbath with Alabama, Clement has a cakewalk against the likes of Miami (Ohio), Troy, Hawaii and the down-on-their-luck Iowa Hawkeyes. If Clement doesn’t surpass the 1,000-yard mark by at least the Iowa game, it’s over for him and his Heisman wishes.
While Clement is expected by many national pundits to have a breakout campaign, it’s highly unlikely he’s a finalist for an award that’s just too tough on non-passers. Clement could see misfortune like Gordon and surpass the 2,000-yard plateau and wind up the trophy’s runner-up. In all likelihood, Clement has a dominant season, where he finishes with anywhere from 1,700-2,000 yards rushing and 20-plus touchdowns on the ground. Far less than what’s going to be needed for his consideration as a national finalist for the prestigious award.
Note: The Heismandments and voting information were provided courtesy of Chris Huston, editor-in-chief of Heisman.com with his full consent. You can follow Chris on Twitter @HeismanPundit.
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.
The 2014 Ole Miss Rebels completed one of the best seasons the program has seen in decades, posting nine wins and climbing as high as No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings and No. 3 in the AP Top 25.
Much of that success came as the result of one of the nation’s best defenses. The Rebels allowed just 16 points per game in 2014, which led the nation. During the poll-climbing 7-0 start to the season, Ole Miss allowed just 10.6 points per contest, and in the first loss of the year, the Rebels gave up just 10 points to LSU in Tiger Stadium.
The Landshark defense ranked in the top five in the SEC and top 30 nationally in every major defensive statistical category. The Rebels allowed 329 yards per game, which was the fourth best mark in the conference and No. 13 in the country. Opponents gained 136.9 yards on the ground (No. 5 in the SEC, No. 29 nationally) and 192.1 through the air (No. 3 in the SEC, No. 16 nationally). Four separate opponents failed to gain even 200 total yards.
Ole Miss was great defensively, but can the Rebels overcome the departure of five key players to match — or possibly even improve — that performance in 2015?
The 2014 Landsharks were led by a handful of veteran seniors, including linebackers D.T. Shackelford and Serderius Bryant, both of whom recorded 65 total tackles last season, which tied for third on the team. Shackelford, who spent six seasons with the Rebels as the result of two ACL surgeries and earned numerous accolades for his impact in the community as well as his play on the field, recorded five tackles for a loss, two sacks, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble last year. Bryant added eight TFLs, one sack and an interception.
Even more notable is the loss of defensive backs Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt, both of whom earned All-American honors. Opponents tried to pick on the 5-foot-9 Golson and he made them pay with 10 interceptions and eight pass breakups in 2014. Golson added 43 total tackles, including three tackles for a loss, and half a sack and was a second-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Prewitt, a ball-hawking safety who was an All-American in 2013, started all 13 games last season and made 64 tackles, four tackles for a loss, three interceptions, two pass breakups, one forced fumble and one recovered fumble. Also, defensive tackle Byron Bennett made six starts for the Rebels last year and finished with 19 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, two sacks and two pass breakups.
All five players appeared in each of the Rebels’ 13 games last season and combined to start 41 games in 2014. During their careers in Oxford, the five defenders appeared in a combined 247 games for the Rebels and started 143.
That’s a lot of experience to replace heading into the 2015 season, but there is reason to be optimistic. Ole Miss has seven returning starters, including a handful of elite players, plus three great recruiting classes have boosted the overall talent that remains on the roster and created depth that will help the Rebels overcome those five key losses.
Recruiting to the Rescue
Simply, Ole Miss can be better defensively in 2015, and the most important reason is that the team has more talent and more depth than it did a year ago — and the year before that, and the year before that.
Head coach Hugh Freeze has now signed three consecutive recruiting classes ranked among the top 15 in the nation. The first of those brought elite talent like defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and hybrid safety/linebacker Tony Conner to Oxford, both of whom are potential first-round NFL Draft picks. Obviously such pro-level players raise the Rebels’ overall talent level, but just as important is that Freeze’s recruiting has given Ole Miss more depth throughout the roster, which will help the defense to replace the departed impact performers.
The Rebels have also had success recruiting junior college players and picking up transfers from other programs. The two most important newcomers this year are Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard. Bridges was the nation’s highest rated junior college defensive back in the most recent class, and at 6-foot and 183 pounds he has the size Golson lacked in order to match up with bigger SEC receivers. He’s also got terrific ball skills and has reportedly been terrorizing Ole Miss quarterbacks on the practice field this fall.
On the opposite side, Shepard is finally healthy after signing in 2014 but missing the entire campaign with a toe injury. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior is a former Notre Dame signee and was the top-rated JUCO transfer in 2014. Before the injury last year, Shepard was expected to start.
Both Bridges and Shepard should give the Rebels a more physical presence on the outside. Because of their size and physicality, opposing quarterbacks won’t often try to pick on either player. Neither is likely to pick off double-digit passes in 2015, but their coverage ability will allow the defensive front seven more time to get after the quarterback, which should result in more sacks and potentially more fumbles. And of course, depth is just as good as it was last year with Kendarius Webster, Kailo Moore and Mike Hilton (who is moving to safety) if needed.
Freeze and his staff have also found a few diamonds in the rough. For example, under-the-radar 2014 signee Marquis Haynes led the Landsharks with 7.5 sacks last season and earned Freshman All-American honors as a result. Haynes has proven to be more talented than his recruiting rankings coming out of Jacksonville, Fla., but he’s still not guaranteed to start this year. Haynes is competing with returning starter Fadol Brown (a transfer from FIU) at defensive end, as well as redshirt freshmen Breeland Speaks and Victor Evans, who are all expected to contribute in the defensive line rotation.
At defensive tackle, Issac Gross may be unheralded and undersized (6-1, 240), but he played well enough tol supplant Bennett in the starting lineup midway through last season. He’ll compete to start at nose tackle with strong 310-pound JUCO transfer D.J. Jones.
Promote From Within
Bryant and Shackelford were the two starting linebackers last season in defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s base 4-2-5 defense. They’ll be missed, but the two players expected to replace them are both talented and experienced and capable of an even bigger impact on the field.
C.J. Johnson started 12 games for the Rebels as a defensive end last season, which brought his career total to 29 starts in 41 games. Long one of the Rebels’ top pass rushers — he led the Rebels with 6.5 sacks in 2012 and had four last season — and team leaders, Johnson will move into the middle linebacker spot in 2015.
Denzel Nkemdiche is expected to slide back into the starting lineup beside Johnson, as he has been plagued by injury and discipline issues over the past few seasons. Nkemdiche is also undersized by prototypical linebacker standards. However, when Nkemdiche is on the field, all he does is produce.
In 2012, the 5-foot-11, 212-pound Georgia native earned Freshman All-American honors with 82 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, three sacks, three interceptions, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He’s only played in 17 games over the past two seasons, including four starts last season before injury struck, but Nkemdiche has the ability to recapture the magic that made him a star as a freshman.
In the secondary, versatile senior Hilton is moving from cornerback to rover. The Chucky Mullins award winner started every game last season and led the Rebels with 71 tackles. He also picked off three passes. Hilton’s move allows Trae Elston to take over for Prewitt at free safety. Elston has been a fixture in the defensive backfield for three seasons already and should provide a smooth transition. The safety positions are even deeper in 2015 thanks to the return of Chief Brown, who was injured all of last season, as well as sophomores C.J. Hampton and C.J. Moore, both of whom saw action in all 13 games last season.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
Kentucky will enter the fall with redemption on its mind after losing six straight games to close out last season. After a surprising 5-1 start it appeared the Wildcats would possibly contend for the SEC East but a lack of quality depth and an inability to stop anyone on defense eventually led to their demise.
Fast-forward to 2015 where the Wildcats boast one of the SEC's most experienced rosters. Head coach Mark Stoops is confident in this year's squad but a challenging schedule still stands in the way of his team making it to a bowl game.
Here are Kentucky's 12 regular season games ranked in difficulty from easiest to toughest.
12. Nov. 21 vs. Charlotte
The 49ers are making a major jump to Conference USA this season after going 5-6 last year against the likes of The Citadel and Gardner-Webb. Despite their best efforts, it will be extremely difficult for the 49ers to compete with Kentucky for four quarters. The rosters are simply too unevenly matched. The Wildcats should come through with an easy win here.
11. Oct. 3 vs. Eastern Kentucky
Kentucky could be a little banged up when they clash with the Colonels in early October. The Wildcats will be coming off three straight divisional games against South Carolina, Florida and Missouri. While Eastern Kentucky maintains moderate success in its league, this one should still be a snoozer (and a much-needed break for the 'Cats). The Colonels dropped their last game against an SEC team, 52-3 to Florida in 2014.
10. Sept. 5 vs. UL Lafayette
The Ragin' Cajuns are not a team Kentucky can take lightly and still beat. They have won nine games in each of the last four seasons with some impressive triumphs over Nevada, San Diego State and East Carolina along the way. The Ragin' Cajuns will have some questions on defense, but Mark Hudspeth is still their head coach. This is a difficult matchup for Kentucky to open the season.
9. Nov. 14 at Vanderbilt
The Commodores probably shouldn't be written off until some games are played. After all, they played well at times last year and gave Kentucky all they wanted before falling 17-7 in Lexington. With 18 returning starters and Derek Mason now running the defense, Vanderbilt will be in this game. Patrick Towles and company will have to play well to fend off the pesky Commodores.
8. Sept. 19 vs. Florida
Could this be the game where Stoops breaks through and proves his worth as an SEC head coach? Knocking off South Carolina last year was big but a win over the Gators would keep Stoops' job safe. Florida is in serious rebuilding mode and could finish as low as sixth in the SEC East this year if the ball doesn't bounce its way a few times. This could be a key swing game in determining the order of finish in the East.
7. Sept. 26 vs. Missouri
Kentucky gets the East's back-to-back champs at home. Both of these teams have question marks at defensive end. Mizzou has to replace the elite duo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden, while Kentucky must find replacements for Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith. Mizzou's defensive line against Kentucky's offensive line will be an interesting matchup here. The 'Cats haven't beaten Mizzou since the Tigers entered the SEC in 2012.
6. Sept. 12 at South Carolina
Steve Spurrier is a zealous competitor and last year's results against Kentucky, and the season in general, probably didn't sit well with him. The Gamecocks may be getting overlooked coming into 2015. They have 15 starters returning and could have won 10 games a year ago if not for fourth quarter blunders against Kentucky, Mizzou and Tennessee. The Gamecocks will be looking to return the favor when the 'Cats visit Columbia.
5. Nov. 28 vs. Louisville
Louisville returns a moderate 11 starters from last year's 9-4 team, but is in desperate need of playmakers. The Cardinals lost four key receivers, which could spell trouble in head coach Bobby Petrino's pass-heavy offense. Louisville also is thin at running back. While Kentucky looks like the more complete team here, a Petrino-coached group deserves to be high on the list. Kentucky is 0-5 against Petrino-coached Louisville teams. The 'Cats also lost to a Western Kentucky team coached by Petrino in 2013.
4. Oct. 24 at Mississippi State
Starkville isn't the most intimidating venue in college football but Mississippi State recently added seats to Davis Wade Stadium and those cowbells can be quite effective in annoying the visiting team. Dak Prescott, the SEC's best quarterback, along with receiver De'Runnya Wilson will be a difficult pair for Kentucky's defense to overcome. Mississippi State is Kentucky's permanent rival and was handled by the Wildcats in the series up until 2009. Since then, the Bulldogs have won six straight.
3. Oct. 31 vs. Tennessee
This one has been listed as a potential trap game for the Volunteers. Kentucky's explosive running backs present a unique challenge for a UT defense trying to find an answer at middle linebacker. The Vols also aren't overly deep on the interior of the defensive line and Kentucky has a solid group of run blockers. However, by this time in the season, Josh Dobbs could be lighting up the scoreboard. If last year's performance by Tennessee is any indication, the Wildcats will be in trouble.
2. Oct. 15 (Thursday) vs. Auburn
Auburn is 25-6-1 against Kentucky but the two haven't met since 2010 when the Cam Newton-led Tigers edged the Wildcats 37-34 in Lexington. Auburn is known as a run-first offense, but if quarterback Jeremy Johnson's throwing potential turns out as expected there is a chance War Eagle will torch Kentucky through the air. Maybe the 'Cats can put up some points on Auburn's defense as well.
1. Nov. 7 at Georgia
The 'Dawgs scored 63 points on Kentucky last year. Nick Chubb had a field day, piling up 170 yards rushing on only 13 carries. From a matchup standpoint, the Wildcats' defense doesn't stand much of a chance this year either, at least on paper. Kentucky's best chance to stay in this game will be holding onto the ball and feeding its two running backs while keeping Chubb off the field.
With just days until the FBS college football season begins, it's time to lock in on my favorite win totals. I've given you a lot of previews and things to consider when it comes to putting your hard-earned money down on a team's season. Before you actually make the wager, remember that your money will be tied up all year long and you won't be able to have it for your weekly bankroll.
Once again we head to 5Dimes Sportsbook for the prices to my selections.
Tennessee Over 8 wins (-120)
There are several places you can find this at 7.5 if you'd like to shop around and feel a little bit better. The Volunteers improved last year picking up seven wins with a rather young team. The good thing about youth is that the players grow older and improve. Joshua Dobbs came in and stabilized the quarterback position, completing 63.3 percent of his passes. Dobbs has weapons around him, including Jalen Hurd at RB and a solid group of WRs. This is a defense that has some talent as well. Curt Maggitt had 11 sacks to go with Derek Barnett’s 10. The non-conference slate features contests with Bowling Green, Oklahoma, Western Carolina and North Texas. They have just four true road games and there's a chance to win at least one (at Kentucky). I think they beat the Sooners at home and sail over the total. This is a squad that will be a threat in the SEC East.
Navy Over 7.5 wins (-140)
It's year one in the AAC for Navy as the Midshipmen leave the Independent world. Keenan Reynolds is back and he's the NCAA’s all-time leader for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. There are just three opponents that saw Navy's option last year and none of those teams are in the AAC. The team has Jamir Tillman back on offense as well just in case Reynolds decides to throw the ball. The defense is an issue, no doubt, but teams may be pressed to score if they can't slow down the offense. The non-conference slate features Colgate, Air Force, Notre Dame and Army. Navy also gets East Carolina at home, as well as weaker teams such as SMU, Tulane and South Florida. This squad gets at least eight wins this year and is a factor in the AAC West.
UTSA Under 2.5 wins (+145)
If you've been following me for a while, you know that I loved the Roadrunners two years ago as they were undersold by Vegas with a veteran team and Larry Coker coaching. Now it's time for them to pay the piper, as they lose 36 seniors including almost all of their offense. UTSA won four games last year, but is almost starting from scratch again. In Conference USA you need to be able to score and I don't think these Roadrunners can. They won't win a non-conference game, as they take on Arizona, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Colorado State. The best chances for wins come at Charlotte and at North Texas with a possibility of beating Old Dominion at home. The question is motivation for this team, which could be winless entering November. I'll take the value of the under.
Southern Miss Over 4.5 Wins (-135)
It's been a rough few years for Southern Miss as the Golden Eagles have won just four games over the past three seasons. The offense is back almost completely intact with Nick Mullens under center. He's got his weapons in Michael Thomas and Casey Martin out wide. The defense has its issues, but which teams don't in the C-USA? The Golden Eagles play Mississippi State, Austin Peay, Texas State and Nebraska out of conference. They will beat Austin Peay with an outside shot of getting the Bobcats. The good thing for USM is they host UTSA, North Texas and ODU, which are all winnable contests with a road game at FBS upstart Charlotte. We like them to go over the total and start to turn things around.
Mississippi State Under 7 Wins (EVEN)
Last year I was on the over for the Bulldogs and that came in easily with the 10-3 record. The problem is that there's not a ton returning from that squad. Dak Prescott has De'Runnya Wilson on offense and not a lot else. Both the offensive and defensive lines need to rebuild, as each lost a lot of talent. The schedule features non-conference matchups against Southern Miss, Northwestern State, Troy and Louisiana Tech, which should be all victories. The problem comes that Mississippi State plays at Auburn, Missouri and Arkansas, which should all be losses. The Bulldogs host LSU and Alabama, but I can't pick them to win either of those. If there's any plus value or even then take the under for MSU.
Miami Under 6.5 Wins (+115)
This one is my biggest longshot of all the totals, as you can get the under at a healthy price. There are books in Vegas where you can even get this number at seven wins with a plus money price tag. Brad Kaaya is going to be one of the best QBs in the ACC this season and he's got Stacy Coley out wide with a few solid RBs. The offensive line needs to be rebuilt as well as several pieces of the defense. The non-conference schedule features Bethune-Cookman, Florida Atlantic, Nebraska and Cincinnati. The last two games are both toss-ups and I think the Hurricanes lose at least one of them. The Canes also get Clemson, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Georgia Tech at home with each of those presenting a challenge. Should this team start losing early, more questions will arise surrounding Al Golden and the fan base won't be in the building. The Cavaliers have had their success against Miami and I think this is the final nail in Al Golden's coffin. Take a chance here and go under the total with the Canes.
Hawaii Over 5.5 wins (+160)
I'm heading out to the islands for my surprise over win total. The Warriors need more success if Norm Chow hopes to keep his job. The offense is going to move the ball a bit better than it did last year if former USC quarterback Max Wittek discovers himself in his senior year. The Rainbow Warriors have multiple options at running back with Steven Lakalaka leading the way. The defense was pretty good last year and will need to replace a few pieces, but they don't take on too many prolific offenses. If Hawaii can survive a start with Colorado, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Boise State then the Warriors will pay off in the end when they play four of five at home. I like the Warriors to beat Colorado in their opener and defend home field. My surprise team in college football in terms of an over is Hawaii.
— 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.
Quarterback play is always under the microscope for every college football team. Finding and developing a reliable starter isn’t easy for some programs, but for other schools, the next quarterback steps in and the offense doesn’t miss a beat.
With the 2015 season just days away, who has the best quarterback situations in college football? And which teams should be concerned? We ranked all 128 quarterbacks – with a few stipulations. This is not a list of career achievements or NFL Draft stock. Both of those elements were considered, but we also weighed value to the team, scheme, projection for 2015, recruiting background, talent and production so far. Anything you can think of to evaluate quarterbacks was used in this ranking.
Ranking All 128 College Football's Starting QBs for 2015
1. J.T. Barrett/Cardale Jones, Ohio State
Urban Meyer isn’t going to name a starter for the opener against Virginia Tech, and both players are likely to see snaps against the Hokies. Regardless of who starts or finishes a game, this is the best quarterback situation in college football.
2. Trevone Boykin, TCU
Boykin was arguably the most improved quarterback in the nation last season. He’s a Heisman frontrunner in 2015.
3. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Prescott guided Mississippi State to just its third season of double-digit wins in program history in 2014 and earned first-team All-SEC honors. Prescott’s return for his senior year is a big reason why Mississippi State will remain a factor in the SEC West.
4. Connor Cook, Michigan State
Cook is 23-3 as a starter at Michigan State and will keep the Spartans in the mix for a playoff spot this fall. Cook is also regarded as one of the top quarterback prospects in next season’s draft.
5. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson could rank among the top three quarterbacks on this list by the end of 2015. Injuries limited Watson to just eight games last season, but he finished with 1,466 yards and 14 passing scores.
6. Cody Kessler, USC
Kessler closed 2014 on a high note by recording nine touchdown passes over the final two games and at least 300 yards through the air in four out of the last five contests. Additionally, Kessler’s 69.7 completion percentage ranked third nationally.
7. Jared Goff, California
Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense is in good hands with Goff at the controls. The junior is rising on NFL boards for next year’s draft after throwing for 3,973 yards and 35 scores last season.
Podcast: Week 1 Preview w/ Rece Davis
8. Jeremy Johnson, Auburn
High expectations surround Johnson. All signs point to a breakout year from the junior in coach Gus Malzahn’s high-powered offense.
9. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Didn’t have the best sophomore season, but there’s no question about talent. Hackenberg needs more help from his supporting cast.
10. Taysom Hill, BYU
A leg injury sidelined Hill for the second half of 2014, but the senior is back at full strength this fall. While he’s always garnered attention for his rushing ability, Hill quietly showed marked improvement as a passer last year, completing 66.7 percent of his passes through five games.
11. Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya was among the nation’s most impressive freshman quarterbacks in 2014, throwing for 26 scores and 3,198 yards. Expectations are even higher for the sophomore in 2015.
12. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
Thomas was nearly flawless in his first season as the starter in coach Paul Johnson’s option attack. He led the team with 1,086 rushing yards and connected on 14 passing plays of 30 yards or more.
13. Marquise Williams, North Carolina
North Carolina’s defense has been an issue in recent years, but the offense should be among the best in the ACC once again. Williams slightly averaged under 300 total yards (296.6) a game in 2014 and recorded 34 overall scores.
14. Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
Kiel had a prolific debut as Cincinnati’s starter, throwing 14 scores in his first three games and finishing the season with for 3,254 yards and 31 touchdown tosses. With a loaded receiving corps, Kiel is poised for another huge year in 2015.
15. Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Brissett sparked a turnaround at NC State last season, guiding the Wolfpack to a five-win improvement in the win column. The Florida transfer tossed 23 scores to only five picks in 2014.
16. Keenan Reynolds, Navy
Reynolds is the perfect match for Navy’s option attack and has the Midshipmen among the favorites to win the American Athletic Conference this season. The Tennessee native has recorded back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards on the ground and has 54 rushing scores in that span.
17. Vernon Adams, Oregon
Adams could be the most intriguing quarterback in college football this season. Replacing Marcus Mariota won’t be easy, but the senior had a prolific career at Eastern Washington and should be a good fit in Eugene.
18. Brandon Doughty, WKU
Doughty shattered the WKU single-season passing record by throwing for 4,830 yards and 49 scores last year. The senior enters 2015 as the nation’s leading passer among active quarterbacks (7,800 yards).
19. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Rudolph had the redshirt removed in late November and started the final three games of 2014. A rising star in the Big 12 ranks.
20. Seth Russell, Baylor
Russell has only one career start, but coach Art Briles has a strong track record with quarterbacks and the supporting cast is among the nation’s best. The junior will try to become the fourth Baylor quarterback to throw for at least 4,000 yards in five years.
21. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Dobbs’ late-season emergence is a big reason why Tennessee is on the rise in the SEC East.
22. Kyle Allen, Texas A&M
Allen faced a challenge for the starting job from talented freshman Kyler Murray, but the sophomore was named the No. 1 quarterback and should build off a promising end to the 2014 season (four touchdowns in the Liberty Bowl).
23. Anu Solomon, Arizona
Solomon was steady in his first year as Arizona’s starter and recorded 4,084 total yards and 30 scores. A leg injury slowed Solomon at the end of 2014. He should benefit from another year under coach Rich Rodriguez.
24. Mike Bercovici, Arizona State
Led Arizona State to a 2-1 record in three starts last season. Strong-armed senior should thrive in his first full year as a starter.
25. Everett Golson, Florida State
Golson left Notre Dame after spring practice and will spend the final year of his eligibility at Florida State. After guiding the Fighting Irish to an appearance in the national championship in 2012, Golson was ineligible in 2013 and threw for 3,445 yards and 29 scores last season. Coach Jimbo Fisher picked Golson as Florida State's No. 1 quarterback on Monday.
26. Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Will Hogan pick up where he left off at the end of 2014? Over the last three games of last season, Hogan tossed only one interception and completed at least 70 percent of his passes in each contest. Here’s the most important stat for Hogan and coach David Shaw: Stanford went 3-0 in that stretch.
27. Malik Zaire, Notre Dame
With Everett Golson off to Florida State, Zaire is the unquestioned starter in South Bend. The sample size is limited, but all signs point to a huge year for the sophomore.
28. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
Knee injuries have sidelined Keeton for significant chunks of time in each of the last two seasons. Will the senior return to full strength and regain his form from 2012 (3,992 yards, 35 scores)?
29. Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Lynch was one of the nation’s most improved passers in 2014. After throwing for 2,056 yards and nine touchdowns as a freshman, Lynch threw for 22 scores and 3,031 yards last season.
30. Blake Frohnapfel, UMass
Graduate transfer provided an instant boost for UMass’ offense last season. Frohnapfel’s season was cut short by a leg injury, but he threw for 3,345 yards and 23 scores and earned first-team All-MAC honors.
31. Maty Mauk, Missouri
Mauk had his share of ups and downs in his first full year as a starter but guided Missouri to the SEC East title. Needs to improve completion percentage in conference games (48.9 last year).
32. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
The next star quarterback at Texas Tech? Mahomes tossed 14 scores over the final three contests last season.
33. Fredi Knighten, Arkansas State
Dynamic dual-threat quarterback led the Sun Belt by averaging 312 total yards per game last season.
34. Kevin Ellison, Georgia Southern
Ellison is sidelined for the first two games due to suspension this year. Led all Sun Belt quarterbacks with 1,082 rushing yards last season and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
Related: Sun Belt Predictions for 2015
35. Matt Johnson, Bowling Green
Johnson’s 2014 season was cut short after a hip injury in the opener. Expect a huge statistical season at the controls of coach Dino Babers’ “Falcon Fast” offense.
36. Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
Terrell led the MAC by completing 67.9 percent of his passes last season and should have a huge 2015 with one of the conference’s top receiving corps at his disposal.
37. Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
How quickly Armstrong adapts to new coach Mike Riley and coordinator Danny Langsdorf will play a huge role in how high Nebraska climbs in the Big Ten West.
38. Sefo Liufau, Colorado
Rising star for coach Mike MacIntyre after throwing 28 touchdowns and completing 65.3 percent of his passes in his first full year as Colorado’s starter.
39. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh
Quietly closed 2014 on a high note, finishing with seven touchdowns to just one interception over final five games.
40. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
Won’t post huge numbers in Arkansas’ run-first offense but poised for his best overall season.
41. Patrick Towles, Kentucky
Towles was steady as a passer last season (2,718 yards, 14 passing scores) and added 303 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. New coordinator Shannon Dawson is tasked with taking Towles’ game to the next level.
42. Drew Hare, Northern Illinois
Hare is poised to emerge as the next star quarterback at Northern Illinois. Threw for 18 scores and added 900 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games last year.
43. Wes Lunt, Illinois
Talented passer but has yet to start for a full season. Missed nearly half of 2014 due to a leg injury but passed for 1,763 yards and 14 scores in eight games.
44. Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Missed half of 2014 due to a shoulder injury. Sudfeld’s return should be a huge boost for Indiana’s bowl hopes in 2015.
45. Joe Licata, Buffalo
Licata is one of the nation’s underrated quarterbacks, passing for 53 touchdowns over the last two years. Should thrive under new coach Lance Leipold.
46. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
From walk-on at Texas Tech to earning the starting job at Oklahoma after leaving Lubbock, Mayfield has one of the most interesting backstories for a starter at the FBS level. Should be a good fit in new Oklahoma’s new offense under coordinator Lincoln Riley.
47. Travis Wilson, Utah
Returned from injury-shortened 2013 campaign to post career high in touchdown passes (18) last season. Working under new co-coordinators Jim Harding and Aaron Roderick this year.
48. Justin Holman, UCF
Emerged as a solid replacement for Blake Bortles last season and should take another step forward in 2015.
49. Skyler Howard, West Virginia
Junior college recruit showed promise as West Virginia’s starter at the end of 2014. Howard passed for 346 yards and three scores in the Liberty Bowl but needs to improve completion percentage (50.9 in 2014).
50. Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville
Bonnafon has yet to be named the starter, but the sophomore is the favorite to take the first snap of Louisville’s opener against Auburn.
51. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech
Guided Virginia Tech to an upset win over Ohio State in early September but had an up and down debut. Should be better in his second season as the starter.
52. Josh Rosen, UCLA
There’s plenty of pressure on Rosen as a true freshman starter, but the five-star recruit isn’t lacking for confidence or talent.
53. Greg Ward, Houston
Started the final eight games of 2014 at quarterback and should thrive under new coach Tom Herman - if he wins the job over Adam Schulz.
54. Jake Rudock, Michigan
Rudock is making the rare intra-conference transfer from Iowa to Michigan. Expected to beat Shane Morris for the starting job.
55. Sam Richardson, Iowa State
Richardson should benefit from another offseason under coordinator Mark Mangino. Quietly threw for 2,669 yards and 18 scores last year.
56. Tyler Jones, Texas State
Jones nearly led Texas State to its first bowl appearance last season, recording 3,209 total yards and 28 overall scores.
57. Taylor Lamb, Appalachian State
Emerging star in the Sun Belt helped Appalachian State close 2014 on a six-game winning streak.
58. Thomas Sirk, Duke
Sirk is coach David Cutcliffe’s next star quarterback.
59. Phillip Ely, Toledo
Alabama transfer was off to a solid start (4 TDs, 541 yards) but suffered a season-ending leg injury in Week 2.
60. Driphus Jackson, Rice
Jackson accumulated 3,243 total yards last season en route to leading Rice to its third consecutive bowl.
61. Mitch Leidner, Minnesota
Leidner is a good runner, but he has to progress as a passer for Minnesota to win the Big Ten West.
62 Cooper Rush, Central Michigan
Rush turned in a solid sophomore campaign and finished the season with seven touchdown tosses in the 49-48 loss to WKU in the Bahamas Bowl.
63. C.J. Beathard, Iowa
Iowa coaches hope the switch to Beathard gives the offense more big-play ability.
64. P.J. Walker, Temple
Walker had a solid freshman season (20 TDs, 8 INTs) but regressed in 2014 (13 TDs, 15 INTs). A better supporting cast in 2015 should help.
65. Nick Arbuckle, Georgia State
Solid junior college pickup for coach Trent Miles in 2014. Arbuckle recorded three games of at least four touchdowns for the Panthers last season.
66. Cody Clements, South Alabama
UAB transfer should have a seamless transition to South Alabama with Bryant Vincent (last year’s coordinator at UAB) calling the plays.
67. Ryan Finley, Boise State
New starter at quarterback? That's usually no problem for the Broncos. Finley completed 12 of 27 passes for 161 yards and two scores last year and will be tested right away with matchups against Washington and BYU to start the season.
68. Jaquez Johnson, FAU
Johnson was a bright spot for FAU’s offense last year, recording 2,728 total yards and 17 passing scores in 11 games.
69. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech
Driskel’s career didn’t pan out at Florida, but he’s got one more opportunity after transferring to Louisiana Tech.
70. Jake Coker, Alabama
Alabama’s Week 1 starter is a mystery. However, Coker seems to hold a slight edge over Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman.
71. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
Kelly was named the starter by coach Hugh Freeze on Monday. The former Clemson passer and junior college product is an intriguing talent. Can he put it all together in 2015?
72. Will Grier, Florida
While Grier – a redshirt freshman and four-star recruit – is considered the favorite to start, Treon Harris will also see time in the opener. New coach Jim McElwain should help the offense take a step forward after managing only 24.9 points in SEC games last year.
73. Brandon Harris, LSU
LSU’s passing attack is in desperate need of a spark. Talent certainly isn’t the issue for Harris, and he showed improvement throughout the offseason.
74. Luke Falk, Washington State
Should post huge numbers in coach Mike Leach’s offense. However, Falk also needs to take better care of the ball (seven picks in last four games of 2014).
75. Matt Davis, SMU
Breakout candidate to watch in new coach Chad Morris’ high-powered offense.
76. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
Thorson was a huge catch on the recruiting trail for coach Pat Fitzgerald, ranking as a four-star recruit and the No. 188 overall player in the 2014 247Sports Composite. The redshirt freshman is an intriguing player to watch this fall.
77. Dane Evans, Tulsa
Evans had a nice statistical season last year (3,102 yards and 23 scores) and should thrive under new coach Philip Montgomery.
78. Tyrone Swoopes, Texas
Quarterback play will be under the microscope for Texas in 2015. Will Swoopes improve enough to hold off Jerrod Heard?
79. Terrel Hunt, Syracuse
Hunt never had a chance to build off a promising end to the 2013 season. A leg injury limited Hunt to just six games, while the rest of the Syracuse offense also had its share of issues. Despite playing in just six contests, Hunt finished 2014 as the leading passer for the Orange (983 yards).
80. Joel Stave, Wisconsin
Which Stave will Wisconsin get in 2015? The version that threw for 22 touchdowns and 2,494 yards in 2013? Or the one that struggled last year?
81. Perry Hills, Maryland
Hills started seven games for the Terrapins in 2012 but suffered a torn ACL and used 2013 as a redshirt. Edged Caleb Rowe and Daxx Garman for the job this fall.
82. Matt Johns, Virginia
Johns made three starts last season and edged Greyson Lambert for the starting job in spring ball. Willing to take chances downfield (seven passing plays of 30 yards or more) but also needs to raise completion percentage (54.9).
83. Nick Stevens, Colorado State
New coach Mike Bobo and coordinator Will Friend should keep Colorado State’s offense among the best in the Mountain West. Stevens only has 25 career pass attempts, but he has one of the best receivers in the nation at his disposal in junior Rashard Higgins.
84. Jack Milas, Ball State
Milas is a rising star to watch in the MAC this year. Threw for 1,302 yards and nine scores in six appearances in 2014.
85. John Wolford, Wake Forest
Wolford was placed into a no-win situation last season with a lackluster rushing attack and struggling offensive line. Threw for 2,037 yards and 12 scores in 12 games.
86. Darius Wade, Boston College
Promising sophomore with all of the necessary physical tools to thrive under coach Steve Addazio.
87. Jake Browning, Washington
Browning isn’t guaranteed to start the opener against Boise State. However, he’s the most talented quarterback on the roster.
88. Hayden Rettig, Rutgers
LSU transfer is slated to start the opener after Chris Laviano was suspended. Rettig ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2013 signing class.
89. Seth Collins, Oregon State
Collins and fellow freshman Marcus McMaryion will play in the opener against Weber State.
90. Greyson Lambert, Georgia
In a mild surprise, Lambert was picked as Georgia’s starter over Brice Ramsey. The Virginia transfer struggled with the Cavaliers last year (10 TDs, 11 INTs).
91. Nate Romine, Air Force
Air Force doesn’t have much trouble replacing starting quarterbacks under coach Troy Calhoun. Romine is an interesting player to watch, as he is regarded as a better passer than runner.
92. Max Wittek, Hawaii
Big-time pickup for Hawaii coach Norm Chow. Will Wittek live up to his recruiting hype this season? Could be much higher on this list by the end of 2015.
93. Maxwell Smith, San Diego State
Kentucky transfer returns home for last season of eligibility. Started 11 games with the Wildcats and should be an impact addition for coach Rocky Long.
94. Cameron Coffman, Wyoming
Indiana transfer should be an upgrade for Wyoming’s quarterback spot in 2015.
Related: Mountain West Predictions for 2015
95. Brooks Haack, UL Lafayette
Breakout candidate? Haack was solid in limited action last year (20 of 23 for 179 yards).
96. Michael Birdsong, Marshall
James Madison transfer has the tough task of replacing Rakeem Cato.
97. Connor Mitch, South Carolina
Mitch steps into the starting lineup under the watchful eye of coach Steve Spurrier. Keep an eye on true freshman Lorenzo Nunez
98. Lamar Jordan, New Mexico
Regarded as an excellent runner (612 yards last season), but Lobos hoping for more from passing attack. Junior college transfer Austin Apodaca – a better passer – is expected to see snaps in the opener.
99. Reginald Bell, Eastern Michigan
Promising sophomore emerged as playmaker for Eastern Michigan last season. Bell led the team with 562 rushing yards and threw for 409 yards in a loss to Ball State. Could be much higher on this list by the end of 2015.
100. Austin Appleby, Purdue
Purdue hopes to take a step forward in coach Darrell Hazell’s third season. The Boilermakers need better quarterback play to escape the Big Ten West cellar.
101. Brandon Silvers, Troy
New coach Neal Brown should help Silvers’ development. Threw for 1,836 yards and 11 scores last season.
102. Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
Mystery in Manhattan. Will Ertz, Joe Hubener, Jonathan Banks or Alex Delton start at quarterback? Ertz is the favorite to take the first snap and has yet to throw a pass on the FBS level.
103. Tanner Lee, Tulane
Lee had an up and down season as a freshman and did not throw a touchdown pass in the final three games after tossing eight in the first three weeks.
104. Nick Mullens, Southern Miss
Southern Miss is trending in the right direction under third-year coach Todd Monken. Mullens is also on the hot seat with TCU transfer Tyler Matthews also expected to play.
105. Brent Stockstill, MTSU
Son of the head coach (Rick Stockstill) edged Austin Grammer for the starting job this fall.
Related: Conference USA Predictions for 2015
106. Kyle Pohl, Akron
Will Pohl hold onto the starting job? Former Pittsburgh signal-caller Tra’von Chapman is making a push for snaps.
107. Derrius Vick, Ohio
Ohio’s passing attack needs a spark after managing only 11 passing scores last season.
108. Shuler Bentley, Old Dominion
Taylor Heinicke won’t be easy to replace, but Shuler – the two-time Gatorade Player of the Year in South Carolina – is an intriguing replacement.
109. Alex McGough, FIU
McGough showed promise as a true freshman last season, throwing for 1,680 yards and 14 scores in 12 games. Should be better as a sophomore.
110. Tyler Stewart, Nevada
Inherits big shoes to fill in replacing Cody Fajardo.
111. Johnny McCrary, Vanderbilt
New play-caller Andy Ludwig should help a Vanderbilt offense that managed only 12.8 points in SEC games last year. McCrary is competing with Wade Freebeck for the No. 1 spot.
112. Quinton Flowers, USF
Beat Penn State transfer Steven Bench for the starting job this fall, only completed 8 of 20 passes for 111 yards last year.
113. Joe Gray, San Jose State
Gray finished 2014 as the starter, but junior college recruit Kenny Potter is making a push for the job this offseason.
114. Tyler Rogers, New Mexico State
Should have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball in 2015 (436 attempts last year) but needs to cut the interceptions (23).
115. Montell Cozart, Kansas
Pressed into starting role after Michael Cummings was lost for the year in the spring game. Has eight career starts.
116. Zack Greenlee, Fresno State
Greenlee started one game in 2014 and finished the year with 213 yards after completing 18 of 41 passes. Former West Virginia quarterback Ford Childress is also expected to see time for the Bulldogs this season.
117. Bryant Shirreffs, UConn
NC State transfer needs to spark a UConn offense that averaged only 15.5 points per game in 2014.
118. Colin Reardon, Kent State
Reardon has passed for 26 scores over the last two seasons and should benefit from the addition of Don Treadwell at coordinator and the return of Trayion Durham at running back.
119. Blake Decker, UNLV
Junior college transfer passed for 2,886 yards in his first season in Las Vegas.
120. Matt Linehan, Idaho
Getting receiver Dezmon Epps back, as well as another year of experience should help Linehan after he tossed 18 picks in 2014.
121. Andrew McNulty, North Texas
Three quarterbacks received snaps for the Mean Green last season. McNulty is expected to start over DaMarcus Smith this fall.
122. Blake Kemp, East Carolina
Projected starter Kurt Benkert suffered a torn ACL in fall practice. Kemp – a junior college transfer from Mesa Community College – is the new projected No. 1. He’s yet to throw a pass on the FBS level.
123. Mack Leftwich, UTEP
Started four games for the Miners in 2013 and used a redshirt year last season. Miners plan to lean heavily on one of C-USA’s best offensive lines and running back Aaron Jones.
124. Matt Johnson, Charlotte
49ers join the FBS ranks in 2015. Johnson threw for 1,941 yards and 13 scores before a season-ending knee injury.
125. Blake Bogenshutz, UTSA
Bogenshutz played in four games last season before taking a medical redshirt. Completed 8 of 14 passes for 82 yards against Oklahoma State in 2014.
126. Garrett Smith, ULM
Promising redshirt freshman topped senior Brayle Brown for the No. 1 spot this offseason.
127. Gus Ragland, Miami, Ohio
Redshirt freshman is locked into battle with Drew Kummer for the starting job.
128. Ahmad Bradshaw, Army West Point
Bradshaw did not play last season and passed A.J. Schurr for the top spot this offseason.
While we knew the starters for most teams would play in the third NFL preseason game, we simply hoped no major injuries would crop up. Obviously no one ever wants a player to get hurt, but for those in fantasy football leagues that have already drafted, you don't want to see one of your guys go down with injury.
Thankfully, this week seems to have gone with only a few injuries, none of which appear to be too serious as of now. The biggest name and injury scare was Randall Cobb. After already losing Jordy Nelson for the season, Aaron Rodgers watched as his current top wide receiver left the field in pain.
While the questions surrounding Cobb's injury were whether it was a fractured collar bone or shoulder injury, the MRI results, as reported, revealed a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. Clearly this is better than a fractured collar bone, but AC joint injuries can linger in receivers.
While the Packers won't rush Cobb back until he's ready, be prepared to be without your WR1 for Week 1. The reports are optimistic, but after losing Nelson, the Packers want to make sure that they will have their top wideout for the long haul. If Cobb is out Week 1, Rodgers' fantasy value does take a hit, but he's still Aaron Rodgers. Even if he is throwing to Davante Adams, Jeff Janis and Ty Montgomery. The long-term implications of Cobb's situation shouldn't affect season-long fantasy owners, but daily fantasy owners need to be prepared to grab bargain receivers in Green Bay.
Also, in deeper leagues, don't overlook Janis and Montgomery. If Cobb misses time for this injury or something else down the road, they will be the guys to fill in as much as possible.
Other Injuries Around the League
Julius Thomas, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars (hand)
This isn't a new injury, as Thomas has been sidelined with a broken bone in his hand since the first preseason game. However, initially the reports were that the hand would heal on its own and he'd be ready for Week 1, wearing just a protective cast. Now it appears that Thomas needs surgery on his hand, and will likely be out for at least the first month of the season. Tight end Marcedes Lewis will take over, but Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will likely end up seeing most of Blake Bortles' targets. This is a blow to Jacksonville's offense, especially in the red zone. Thomas drops out of the top 10 tight ends with this news. Unless fantasy owners draft back-up tight ends, Thomas can remain undrafted.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts (head)
In the third preseason game, Hilton suffered a concussion and is now in the league's concussion protocol. He did look good in the game, but he does need to be cleared in order to play in Week 1. Keep an eye on his practice schedule to see how he progresses. If he were to miss the first week of regular games, Andre Johnson and tight end Dwayne Allen should pick up some extra targets. No need at this point to worry about the season; just cross your fingers he's ok to be cleared soon.
Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams (hamstring)
Everyone knew Mason's time as the starting running back in St. Louis was limited with the addition of Todd Gurley, however, everyone thought that Mason would at least get through the first few games of the season before Gurley started taking carries away. Apparently even that is questionable, as Mason injured his hamstring in the third preseason game of the year and is questionable for Week 1 of the regular season. Benny Cunningham is now poised to be the starting running back for the Rams. While the plan was to ease Gurley into game action, the Rams may be forced to bring him along sooner than they originally intended. Mason, at this point, is only worth a late-round pick. Gurley is the back to own in St. Louis, but don't reach for him.
Duke Johnson, RB, Cleveland Browns (head)
Rookie Johnson could have been the starting running back for the Browns… if only he could stay healthy. He's missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury already. He was able to play in the third preseason game, but ended up suffering a concussion, and is now in the league's concussion protocol. Depending on how he responds, it is still feasible he will be ready for Week 1, but not a guarantee. Currently Isaiah Crowell is the No. 1 running back for Cleveland, although it's mostly by default at this point. If possible the Cleveland running back situation is one to avoid for fantasy owners. Crowell will get you some carries, at least early in the year. Johnson has potential to be the feature back as the year goes on or he could be a complete bust. Both backs should only be drafted in the late rounds.
Garrett Hartley, K, Pittsburgh Steelers (hamstring)
It's not a good year to be a kicker for Pittsburgh. First, Shaun Suisham tore his ACL; now Hartley has a hamstring injury severe enough that the Steelers placed him on Injured Reserve. Former Jacksonville kicker Josh Scobee will now try his luck for the Steelers. In 11 seasons in Jacksonville, he's made 317 out of 322 extra points and 235 out of 291 field goals (mostly from over 40 yards). He's worth drafting in fantasy leagues, but only in the last round of your draft.
— 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.
The Nebraska football program finds itself with a clean slate, thanks to a new head coach, offense and defense. Still, after seven years of four-loss seasons under coach Bo Pelini, it's hard for the media to give Mike Riley the benefit of the doubt right out of the chute.
The Amway USA Today Coaches Poll was less than kind, giving the Huskers a mere 27 votes.
Props do go out to Brian Howell (Daily Camera), Gary Horowitz (Statesman Journal), Matt McCoy (610 WTVN-AM, Columbus, Ohio) and Mike Sorensen (Deseret News, Salt Lake), who dipped a toe and added the Cornhuskers to their Associated Press ballots.
Those four will likely be vindicated once the college football season is over. I know, blasphemy to talk about such things before it's even begun.
Thanks to suspensions and BYU's porous defense, Nebraska should jump into the Top 20 quickly. With Miami (FL)'s mass exodus of players to the NFL, an undefeated non-conference slate is far from unattainable for the Big Red.
At this point, if the Huskers aren't at the No. 19 spot or better, they have a grand opportunity to not only bust into the Top 15, but take a firm hold of the Big Ten West division lead as Wisconsin comes to Lincoln.
Not only is this a pivotal game, but All-Everything Nebraska sensation DeMornay Pierson-El may be ready to step back onto the field and make first-year Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst's initial visit to the Cornhusker State anything but pleasant.
Nebraska has to trudge through nine games before welcoming the Michigan State Spartans to Lincoln and I've been predicting that game as a loss for quite some time. Conditioning can only do so much, but if Riley can manage to beat coach Mark Dantonio, he deserves...I don't know, is it too early to build a statue?
If WWE has taught us anything, no, it is not.
Very winnable games against Rutgers and Iowa (which visits following the much needed and only bye week of the Huskers' season) set up Nebraska for an oh so fun matchup in the Big Ten Championship Game, likely against Urban Meyer's merciless Ohio State Buckeyes.
I’m certainly not naive enough to think the Huskers take home the Stagg Championship Trophy. However, I do believe that if this is all to unfold, not only does the Big Red make the aforementioned pollsters look like powerful prognosticators, but there’s a shot at the Fiesta Bowl or the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.
A 10-2 regular season record is very feasible. I personally feel double-digits is a safe bet. Get on board, pollsters. You’ll only look 10 times better if you do so now.
— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Cavanaugh is founder of Eightlaces.com, a site devoted to in-depth Nebraska coverage. Be sure to follow Brandon on Twitter @eightlaces and Periscope (eightlaces), and like his Facebook page.
The early strain of another season in the SEC West is already taking a toll on the LSU coaching staff after head coach Les Miles was reportedly taken to a local hospital Monday morning after not feeling well.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva addressed the situation 30 minutes after a scheduled luncheon with the media was supposed to start. Alleva updated the press stating, “Coach Miles was a little bit under the weather this morning in his office. He went down to see the trainers and they told him it would be best for him to go to the hospital. They wanted him checked out on a precautionary basis.”
Miles returned to Tigers’ athletic facility in the afternoon for LSU’s practice.
The scare for Miles comes on the heels of Friday’s announcement that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had received several weeks of treatment for prostate cancer. Fortunately for Cameron, his cancer is reportedly in remission and he will be able to fulfill his duties on the Tigers’ staff this season.
LSU kicks off the season on Sept. 5 against McNeese State.
— 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.
Happy September, folks.
If college football season seems a little later this season, that's because it is. The first FBS game of the college football season is on Sept. 3, the latest opener since 2009. For the first time since 2011, the season didn't feature at least one August football game. Labor Day doesn't fall until Sept. 7, so the college football schedule follows, making the wait that much longer.
If only every fan base could enjoy that offseason optimism through the fall months. Alas, some teams might have their hopes dashed early in the season while others are just getting started on a potential journey to a special season. These are the games in the first month of the season that may send a team on one path or the other.
|1.||Sept. 12||East Lansing, Mich.|
|Oregon defeated Michigan State 46-27 in Eugene to set the table for a College Football Playoff appearance and a Heisman Trophy last season. In the Ducks' return trip, Michigan State is looking for revenge — and to show the Big Ten that Ohio State isn't the only contender in the league.|
|2.||Sept. 7||Blacksburg, Va.|
|Ohio State's 35-21 loss to the Hokies seems like ages ago. Whether J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones starts, the Buckeyes quarterback will face a nasty defense on the road. The Buckeyes' suspensions, including defensive end Joey Bosa, add drama to a game that already had plenty of storylines.|
|3.||Sept. 19||Baton Rouge, La.|
|An even series has gone into LSU's favor recently (6-2 in the last eight). A standout performance by Jeremy Johnson against the stout Tigers defense in Death Valley would be eyebrow raising. An LSU win puts the Tigers into SEC West contention.|
|4.||Sept. 19||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Along with Auburn-LSU, this Saturday sets up as a monster day for the SEC West. Ole Miss has not won in Tuscaloosa since 1988 and has never defeated Alabama in back-to-back years. Alabama has lost to only one opponent in back-to-back seasons under Nick Saban (LSU, 2010-11).|
|5.||Sept. 19||Los Angeles|
|With any luck, this game will be more entertaining than Stanford's 13-10 win last season. Both teams are expecting more after being conference also-rans a year ago. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan is looking for a rebound year while USC's Cody Kessler is looking to prove himself against a top-flight defense.|
|6.||Sept. 5||South Bend, Ind.|
|Texas visits South Bend for the first time in 20 years. A Longhorns win would be a surprise as new Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire looks for an early signature moment.|
|7.||Sept. 12||Knoxville, Tenn.|
|Oklahoma clobbered Tennessee 34-10 in Norman last season. In the interim, Oklahoma has become an afterthought in the Big 12 to TCU and Baylor while Tennessee is one of the "it" teams in the SEC. Time now to see how much has really changed.|
|Auburn quarterback Jeremy Johnson has thrown 78 passes in two seasons, but his reputation preceeds him. In his first game as the unquestioned starter, Johnson faces a stout Louisville defense.|
|9.||Sept. 5||Arlington, Texas|
|A sneaky good matchup in the first Saturday of the season could turn the winner into a Playoff contender overnight.|
|10.||Sept. 26||Tempe, Ariz.|
|Last season's meeting ended on a Mike Bercovici Hail Mary to Jaelen Strong for a Sun Devils' win. With Bercovici facing Kessler and plenty of skill talent again, expect more fireworks.|
|11.||Sept. 17||Louisville, Ky.|
|After facing Wofford and Appalachian State to start the season, Clemson and Deshaun Watson will face their first post-Chad Morris test against Louisville on a Thursday night.|
|12.||Sept. 26||Tucson, Ariz.|
|UCLA will be tested against Virginia and BYU by the time of its Pac-12 opener against Arizona. After facing a soft non-conference schedule, Arizona will try to use this game prove its Pac-12 South credentials.|
|13.||Sept. 26||Arlington, Texas|
|A lesson in identity football — Arkansas' grinding run-offense vs. Texas A&M's hurry-up passing attack — will play a key role in determining the pecking order in the SEC West.|
|14.||Sept. 12||Provo, Utah|
|Both Boise State and BYU have tough September matchups. The Broncos might not need to go undefeated for a major bowl bid (they lost twice last season), but BYU probably does.|
|15.||Sept. 19||South Bend, Ind.|
|The Yellow Jackets bring the elite option offense to face a salty Notre Dame defense. Who blinks first?|
|16.||Sept. 26||Gainesville, Fla.|
|Tennessee plays Oklahoma before its SEC opener in Gainesville, but the Volunteers need to beat Florida for the first time since 2004 if only for the sake of their collective psyche heading into the conference season.|
|17.||Sept. 26||Austin, Texas|
|Oklahoma State has won three in a row in Austin after losing 11 in a row, dating to before the formation of the Big 12. Meanwhile, the Cowboys and Longhorns are embroiled in a lawsuit concerning whether former Pokes assistant Joe Wickline calls the offensive plays for Texas.|
|18.||Sept. 5||Arlington, Texas|
|Alabama will be a clear favorite in another neutral-site opener. A more compelling storyline will be how either Jake Coker or David Cornwell fares against Dave Aranda's Wisconsin defense.|
|TCU defeated Minnesota 30-7 in Fort Worth last season and will be favored to win at Minnesota. Horned Frogs quarterback and Heisman contender Trevone Boykin will face one of the best defensive backfields on the road.|
|20.||Sept. 19||Austin, Texas|
|Cal is getting plenty of run as a sleeper team but only if the Bears' defense can give Jared Goff and the Air Raid a chance. With its brutal schedule, Cal will need to win games like this to get to a bowl.|
Nebraska’s defense received big news on Monday. With the season just around the corner, the defensive staff handed out the “Blackshirts” practice jerseys to 11 players.
This annual tradition of handing out black practice jerseys is a big deal for the defense, and this video captured the reactions as they walked into the locker room.
Needless to say, the Cornhuskers’ defenders were excited about this moment with the 2015 season inching closer:
To commemorate 10 years since NBC started broadcasting Sunday Night Football games, they've decided to have a little Q&A with some of the NFL's biggest stars.
Isabella Dayyeah gets the honor of interviewing Andrew Luck, Patrick Peterson, Dez Bryant Clay Matthews, Kam Chancellor, Demarco Murray, and Odell Beckham Jr. FYI, they weren't ready for her.
What they thought was a nice, innocent interview turned into something completely different.
Life comes at you fast.
After the explosive trailer for Will Smith's new movie "Concussion" was revealed today, people started talking.
There's talk this movie is good for people to see, but others are saying this will bring a damper to the game of football by bringing up the whole CTE issue. Whichever side of the fence you're on, it's something you'll be talking and hearing about for months to come.
The NFL knew the movie's trailer had been all over the internet by early after and had no choice but to issue a statement about it.
"We are encouraged by the ongoing focus on the critical issue of player health and safety. We have no higher priority. We all know more about this issue than we did 10 or 20 years ago. As we continue to learn more, we apply those learnings to make our game and players safer."
"Concussion" is set to hit theaters in December.
Football is life.
A young Bears fan is using the quarterback for his hated rivals as motivation. Miguel Reyes, a 14-year-old Bears fanatic, has a brain tumor that causes him headaches, among other problems. It was the idea of Reyes' former teacher Peg Kelly to give the tumor a name.
"I said, 'You need to name that tumor so we can kill it,'" Kelly told The Elkhart Truth. "You know what he named it? Rodgers. Aaron Rodgers. What a stinker!"
If you haven't noticed, Kelly is a die-hard Packers fan, hence the stinker comment. On the other hand, she's all for what ever motivation Reyes needs to beat kill his tumor. She even got him a German shepherd last year, hoping he could help detect Reyes' seizures and prevent him from bumping into things. The dog's name? Devin Hester
If you want to contribute, Reyes has a GoFundMe page to raise money to properly train Hester.
Unless your fantasy football league doesn't use them, kickers need to be drafted too. And just like any other football player kickers are subject to injury and/or competition. That has been the case this preseason as Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham is already lost due to a torn ACL, while Denver cut Connor Barth on Aug. 26. The Steelers had signed veteran Garrett Hartley to replace Suisham, but he too got hurt in a preseason game. Pittsburgh traded for Jacksonville's Josh Scobee on Monday, as the Steelers are hoping the third kicker is the charm. The Broncos meanwhile have turned back to Brandon McManus, who originally replaced Matt Prater after he was suspended for four games at the start of the 2014 season. McManus would up losing the job to the aforementioned Barth. As far this kicker roulette goes, McManus obviously carries some interest because he kicks his home games at altitude and for a pretty potent offense. Scobee likewise should at be on your radar because his situation greatly improves going from the Jaguars' work-in-progress offense to the Steelers' high-powered attack. And as far as Jacksonville goes, it appears the Jaguars are going to go with first-year kicker Jason Myers, who played at Marist and spent time in the Arena Football League last season.
Fantasy Football 2015 Kicker Rankings
(Updated Aug. 31)
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