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If you're a recruit thinking about going to Florida State but scared of the trouble you might get into, then they have a solution for you.
Florida State has started to implement multiple programs to give those Seminoles a fighting chance of staying out of trouble. There's a course designed around the many responsibilities of student-athletes. Although these courses are open to other students, they are a requirement for players. Drug and alcohol abuse, pair with guest speakers are the areas of focus for this class.
Another new frontier Florida State is embarking on is how to deal with money. Student-athletes need to learn how to manage their finances, and the school is planning to help in that area.
"We feel that when it's a course the individual has to invest more into as opposed to when it's an expert coming in talking to the kids," Florida State AD Stan Wilcox told the Palm Beach Post. "They'll touch a good portion of them but there won't be a time they won't get to some kids and then that person is gone. If it's a course that's required the kids have to be vested in it and they have to get more out of it."
With football season set to kick off, now is a good time to talk about another favorite pastime — drinking a beer while watching the game. We sat down for a cold one with Redhook Ale Brewery’s Nick Crandall, who gave us his expert opinion on everything from tailgating tips to Andre the Giant drinking 150 beers once upon a time. (And don’t forget, always find a designated driver and tip your bartender.) Cheers!
[Q] Do you have any tailgating tips?
Plan ahead and always start early.
[Q] What’s the best drinking game to play while tailgating?
I’m a big fan of cornhole, especially drinking when your opponent scores or whenever either of you score. The more drinking, the better.
[Q] What’s the optimal temperature for beer? It depends on the style.
But generally, lagers are around 40°F and ales are around 50°F. But each beer sort of has a sweet spot.
[Q] Which is the best way to serve beer: can, bottle or draft?
I prefer draft, since you’re automatically putting it into a glass, allowing you to smell the beer and appreciate the flavors more.
[Q] What is the proper technique to pour a beer?
Hold your glass at a 45-degree angle to start. Pour onto the side of the glass to reduce foaming. As the glass fills, slowly bring your glass back to vertical and create a little foam by giving some distance to the glass to create a nice thick head.
[Q] Why do some beers have fruit garnishes and others do not?
Some beers don’t need them.
[Q] What’s your personal favorite beer that your company brews?
Winterhook. Our winter seasonal changes a little each year, giving us a fresh new malty and hoppy beer each winter.
[Q] What’s the fastest way to make hot beer cold enough to drink?
I’m going to say liquid nitrogen, but I wouldn’t recommend that for safety reasons.
[Q] There’s a tall tale that Andre the Giant once drank 150 beers in one sitting. Do you believe that? Is that what it would take to get buzzed if you’re 7'4" and 500 pounds?
I do believe that the 8th Wonder of the World drank 150 beers, but I also believe that he was a little more than “buzzed” after that.
[Q] What question are you asked most about beer?
No doubt, how much beer I get to drink while I’m at work.
[Q] How much beer do you get to drink while you’re at work?
Depends on if the boss has gone home already.
[Q] What food goes best with your Winterhook beer?
Burritos. But I kind of just really love burritos.
[Q] How many beers are too many for one sitting?
I don’t know. I usually just end up standing.
Fantasy football is one of the greatest joys of life. But with great joy must come deep, soul-crushing sadness. As can be the case when one of your so-called stud picks turns out to be a complete bust that kills any chance you have of making your fantasy football playoffs.
Busts are a real part of fantasy football and they happen every year. There’s nothing you can do if a player gets hurts, benched or suspended, but there is something you do have control over.
You can (and should) try your best to avoid any player who might not perform to their ADP or even to what they are capable of.
Predicting these players can often be harder than dividing fractions, but luckily here are some players that you should be wary of in 2015.
1. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Things aren’t looking good for Brees in 2015 and a lot of it has to do with Brees himself and what people expect of him. A lot of drafters look at past history as a predictor for future success and that’s where they go wrong and ultimately miss the playoffs (hopefully you have a few of these players in your fantasy league). Now Brees was a decent QB1 last year, throwing for almost 5,000 yards with 33 touchdowns. Who wouldn’t take that?
The problem was that he was drafted to be a top-3 fantasy QB and fight to be fantasy’s No. 1 overall player. That was with All-Pro TE Jimmy Graham and speed burner Kenny Stills running down deep balls. Now both Graham and Stills are gone and there really isn’t anyone to replace them. Brees will have second-year WR Brandin Cooks (back from injury) to toss the pigskin to (Cooks is one of my must-have 2015 fantasy breakouts) and he also has new RB C.J. Spiller to take over the role that Darren Sproles once starred in.
The way New Orleans’ offseason went (especially with trading Graham for center Max Unger) and re-signing RB Mark Ingram, it looks like the Saints also realize that Brees’ best days are behind him and they are going to be more of a run-heavy team in 2015. You should draft accordingly and let someone else fall for the idea that Brees is still a top-5 fantasy QB.
2. Julius Thomas, TE, Jacksonville
Believe it or not, the Jags’ offense won’t be terrible this year, but if you draft Thomas to be a top-3 TE and match the numbers he put up in Denver, you’re crazy. First of all Thomas goes from Peyton Manning throwing him the ball to Blake Bortles. That’s never a good thing.
Also, Bortles has a history of ignoring his tight ends. Now that will probably change since Jacksonville paid Thomas a boatload of money and will have plays specifically designed to get him the ball. There’s a good chance that someone will take Thomas way too early in your league and hope that he produces top-5 TE numbers. You can call that person a fool when Thomas is fighting to be the 12th-best fantasy TE in 2015.
3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Philadelphia
This is not a slight against Murray. There is no doubt that he will still be a first-round pick or at the very least, an early second-round pick in almost all fantasy football leagues across the country. So Murray probably won’t really be a bust, so consider this more of a warning.
When thinking about selecting Murray on draft day keep in the back of your mind three things:
1. He’s been injured every year (except last year), even going back to his college days
2. He’s coming off a 392-carry season (that’s an insane workload)
3. He’s no longer running behind the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line
Yes, he now has offensive-minded guru Chip Kelly calling the plays for him, but Murray has to be downgraded on draft day because not only can a lot of his success be attributed to Dallas’ O-line, he also no longer has Tony Romo or Dez Bryant to draw attention from him. Opposing defenses will target Murray, especially early in the season, until they see something from Sam Bradford. Just look at LeSean McCoy’s numbers from last year. They were decent, but not elite, especially considering that McCoy was a top-5 pick last year. Don’t make the same mistake with Murray, he’ll be good, but not great.
4. Joique Bell, RB, Detroit
Bell finds himself in an ideal situation. He is the default No. 1 RB on a team that has a QB with a cannon arm in Matthew Stafford, and one of the best wide receiver combos in the game today in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Bell probably went into the offseason really excited to start the 2015 season, and then the Lions drafted Ameer Abdullah, casting a large shadow over Bell’s role with the team.
To make things worse Bell is trying to get back to 100 percent health from a knee injury that has hampered him all offseason and now he is dealing with an Achilles issue. So he is pretty banged up and the season hasn’t even started yet.
The only thing that isn’t hurt is Bell’s confidence. He has been quoted this offseason saying “he’s going to rush for over 1,200 yards.” You have to love his confidence, but keep in mind that his career yards per carry average is a weak 3.9, he has never rushed for more than 860 yards in a season and he is 29 years old. Stay away.
5. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Kansas City
This one is so easy. It has nothing to do with Maclin’s ability; he is an excellent wide receiver and has all the intangibles. The problem is that he left the pass-happy scheme of Chip Kelly for wide receiver hell in Kansas City. This sentence basically sums it all up… Jeremy Maclin has Alex Smith throwing him the ball.
Actually, I take that back. This sentence is even better than that one… Somehow, Alex Smith managed to throw zero touchdowns to a wide receiver all of last year.
Read that last sentence again. In a league where passing is off the charts, wide receivers are better than ever and the rules greatly favor offenses, Smith couldn’t manage to throw a touchdown to a single wide receiver. That’s amazing.
Maclin will probably score a few touchdowns this year as he is a major upgrade over all the wide receivers Kansas City had on the roster last year, but most people will draft him based off of name value and not based on his current situation. Don’t be one of those people.
6. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina
Newton had a decent campaign in 2014, but even though he has been in the league now for four seasons, he still gets hype each and every year. This is crazy. If you are seriously considering drafting Newton as your starting QB check out his stats over the last four seasons…
2011: 4,051 passing yards, 21 TDs
2012: 3,869 passing yards, 19 TDs
2013: 3,379 passing yards, 24 TDs
2014: 3,127 passing yards, 18 TDs (14 games)
What stands out? That he is getting worse as he gains more experience, at least fantasy football-wise.
Now Carolina has done him no favors by giving him pathetic options to work with over his career. Yes, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen are nice options, but they are hardly elite, and Benjamin is now out for the season due to a torn ACL. Jonathan Stewart is the starting running back, so if Carolina is going to make it back into the playoffs, it will be up to Newton. This makes him a good QB, but we are talking about fantasy QBs here.
Most drafters fall in love with the fact that Newton can run, which is true. But even his rushing numbers are going down each year and so are his rushing touchdowns and this is simply because he is a valuable asset and Carolina doesn’t want him getting hurt, which makes perfect sense.
Here are his rushing numbers…
2011: 706 rushing yards, 14 TDs
2012: 741 rushing yards, 8 TDs
2013: 585 rushing yards, 6 TDs
2014: 539 rushing yards, 5 TDs (14 games)
Newton will not be a top-12 fantasy QB this year. Yet he is still being drafted ahead of Tony Romo, Ryan Tannehill and Eli Manning. All of which will have a better fantasy year than Newton. You’ve been warned.
7. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver
This has everything to do with the fact that Gary Kubiak is the new head coach and play-caller in Denver. This all but eliminates the run-and-gun approach that Peyton Manning has loved his entire career.
Peyton is going to line up more under center more than ever before, which will mean less shotgun formations and less three-wide receiver sets while Denver pounds the rock.
Last year Sanders was a draft day steal. Most likely drafted after Wes Welker in the later rounds of the draft and he produced as an elite WR2. He will not be able to match last year’s numbers. His targets will be down and this year he will have more competition from fellow wideout Cody Latimer. Plus Sanders has a nasty concussion history and you have to wonder if that will affect him this year.
8. LeSean McCoy, RB, Buffalo
Arguably the No. 1 overall pick last year, Murray sure didn’t help win many fantasy football championships in 2014. His rushing yards were down, he only scored five total touchdowns and thanks to Darren Sproles, he became an afterthought in the Eagles’ passing game.
Now McCoy finds himself in Buffalo, a fantasy football wasteland, with perhaps the worst coach in terms of fantasy football in Rex Ryan. Yes it’s true that Ryan loves to run the football and yes McCoy will get his touches. The primary backup in Buffalo is 79-year-old Fred Jackson (okay, he’s 34) and then they have a cast-off in Bryce Brown. So if you are looking for volume, McCoy is your guy.
But EJ Manuel or Matt Cassel will be McCoy’s starting QB. That’s not a misprint. Buffalo goes into the 2015 season with by far the worst quarterback situation in the league. Basically opposing defenses can stack all 12 guys in the box to stop McCoy because Manuel or Cassel don’t scare anyone. Plus, Buffalo added Percy Harvin (another perennial, injury-prone bust) and all Harvin is going to do is take catches away from McCoy in space. Oh and somehow Buffalo needs to get the ball to wide receiver Sammy Watkins because he’s their best playmaker. See how much of a mess this is?
Come draft day McCoy will probably be drafted in the first round based off his name value. Don’t be that fool. If he falls to you in the late second round maybe, but there still might be better options with more upside out there.
— Written by Michael Horvath, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Horvath is a Canadian who also happens to be a fantasy football (not to be confused with CFL) and fitness nut. Follow him on Twitter @realmikehorvath.
In the SEC, the schedule matters every year. The difference between a night game in Bryant-Denny Stadium or at home could mean the difference between a SEC West title and playing a bowl game before New Year’s Day. Heading into last season, Arkansas was returning five starters on offense and four on defense, but had to navigate the NCAA’s toughest-ranked schedule, which is part of the reason why the Razorbacks went 7-6.
Entering the 2015 season, Arkansas is as loaded as any team in the nation on offense, returning nine starters, not counting 1,100-yard rusher Alex Collins. On defense the Hogs have five starters returning, but did lose defensive end Trey Flowers, linebacker Martrell Spaight, and defensive tackle Darius Philon to the NFL.
If Arkansas has hopes of winning the SEC West Bret Bielema’s team must manage a schedule that includes just three home games in Fayetteville against conference opponents while managing two separate back-to-back road trips. Seven of Arkansas’ 12 regular season games come against teams ranked in Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25.
Based on home-field advantage vs. being on the road, projected toughness of opponent, and Arkansas’ style of play vs. opponent, the following is a ranking of the Razorbacks’ regular season games from easiest to toughest.
12. Oct. 31 vs. Tennessee-Martin
On All Hallows Eve the scariest thing at play for an established program like Arkansas is to overlook a Skyhawks team that finished 6-6 in 2014.
11. Sept. 5 vs. UTEP
Once the Razorbacks get past any opening drive jitters and find their rhythm, Bielema should be able to rest his starters somewhere in the third quarter.
The Miners finished 7-6 last season, including a 5-3 mark in Conference USA. UTEP has some returning talent on offense that could give Arkansas a good early test with new faces at key positions, namely defensive end and linebacker. If the Hogs can shutdown returning 1,300-yard rusher Aaron Jones that should be a good sign of things to come for Razorback Nation.
10. Sept. 12 vs. Toledo (Little Rock)
The Rockets finished the 2014 season 9-4, going 7-1 in the Mid-American Conference. The strength of the team was Toledo’s ability to run the ball, a great second consecutive test for the Hogs’ front seven in preparation for SEC play. Junior running back Kareem Hunt is arguably one of the best running backs in the nation, certainly the best no one has heard of, coming off a 1,631-yard campaign with 16 touchdowns while averaging 8.0 yards per carry.
9. Sept. 19 vs. Texas Tech
The Hogs manhandled Texas Tech last season in Lubbock, winning 49-28. The Red Raiders have eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense. The bad news for the Razorbacks, four of five starters return along Tech’s offensive line. The good news for the Razorbacks is senior defensive end Pete Robertson is the only Red Raider of note returning along the front seven.
Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, likely featuring Patrick Mahones at quarterback, will be the Hogs’ first test against a very efficient passing attack. Tech finished fifth in the nation in 2014 with 351 passing yards per game.
8. Nov. 21 vs. Mississippi State
This game will likely be a gut check, how-much-gas-is-left-in-the-tank kind of game for the Hogs. Arkansas returns home after games against Ole Miss and LSU to face what right now is an unknown entity in the Bulldogs. Chances are Mississippi State will be on a down note only returning four starters on offense and three on defense, but head coach Dan Mullen did give game experience to his 2015 starters as key backups last fall.
The other thing the Bulldogs may have going their way, other than the return of quarterback Dak Prescott and linebacker Beniquez Brown, is the majority of the players expected to fill the gaps left by graduation are all seniors and juniors.
7. Nov. 28 vs. Missouri
Every college football fan outside of the Mizzou faithful are wondering how much longer head coach Gary Pinkel can keep up the double-digit win seasons. The Hogs had Missouri last year in Columbia before surrendering a fourth-quarter lead, losing 21-14.
The Tigers’ defensive front and wide receiver corps was hit hard by graduation and the NFL draft. Missouri could be fighting to become bowl eligible by the time they come to Fayetteville in late November, making this game a state border dogfight.
6. Sept. 26 vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas)
Arkansas’ home game against Texas Tech is the perfect tune-up before heading to Arlington to face the Aggies. If the Razorbacks’ secondary is able to hold up against the Air Raid offense expect them to hold their own against Kevin Sumlin’s passing attack.
Texas A&M’s wide receiver corps is arguably the best in the nation with Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, and Speedy Noil. If Arkansas does not get pressure up front on defense against quarterback Kyle Allen, this not-so-neutral-site game could be a shootout.
5. Nov. 7 at Ole Miss
As is the case with several SEC West teams, Ole Miss could be either pretty good or pretty average. The Rebels’ defense should be top shelf with seven starters back from a unit that finished 13th nationally last season.
Question marks line Mississippi’s offense entering the season from who will win the starting quarterback job, the eligibility of potential first-team All-American left tackle Laremy Tunsil, the health of potential All-American wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, and if head coach Hugh Freeze can find a running game.
4. Oct. 3 at Tennessee
Some history could be made for Bielema in Knoxville in early October. He has yet to win a SEC road game since taking over at Arkansas in 2013. Could the Volunteers be his first victim?
Tennessee returns four starters on the offensive line (three with the loss of senior Marcus Jackson), two being seniors. Junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs could be laying the groundwork for an early Heisman Trophy campaign if Tennessee jumps out of the gate strong. The Volunteers will be tough but still very young.
3. Nov. 14 at LSU
LSU is pushed up these rankings based on location and the fact that Arkansas held the Tigers scoreless last season, winning 17-0, gives this game a revenge factor.
The Tigers always recruit well thus will have great athletic talent on the field but how this team gels going forward is a big question mark. If offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can solve the inconsistent play under center and new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele can mold the unit to his liking, LSU will be tough to play regardless of the site… but this team has the feel of a squad in flux.
Head coach Les Miles always has running back sensation Leonard Fournette to fall back on as needed.
2. Oct. 3 at Alabama
This game represents a stretch of three consecutive tough road matchups for Arkansas, starting with Texas A&M in Arlington and a trip to Knoxville, Tenn., sandwiched in between. Luckily the Crimson Tide will be coming off what should be a tough road game against SEC East favorite Georgia before hosting Arkansas.
Alabama will have a terrific front seven on defense, creating an intriguing strength vs. strength matchup because of Arkansas’ run-heavy offense. Bama’s ground game will always be there but who starts under center and how productive will that quarterback be in 2015?
1. Oct. 24 vs. Auburn
When the Razorbacks take the field in 2015 they should fear no team after how they played last season. Arkansas let five games slip away in the second half after being tied or holding a lead coming out of halftime — Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Auburn.
An Arkansas fan could make a logical argument that Auburn got lucky getting the Razorbacks in the 2014 season opener and not somewhere in the second half of the season once the Hogs started putting it all together.
Arkansas gets Auburn after consecutive games against Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Alabama, a daunting stretch for any FBS team. The good news is Arkansas gets a bye the week before Auburn comes to town allowing the Hogs a week to rest and prepare. The Tigers will head to Fayetteville after a road trip to an up-and-coming Kentucky team.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
The battle to replace Marcus Mariota as Oregon’s starting quarterback is officially underway. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams passed a math test on Thursday, allowing the senior quarterback to receive his undergraduate degree and join the Ducks in time for fall practice.
Adams announced his intentions to transfer to Oregon prior to spring practice but was unable to officially join the team until graduating from Eastern Washington. In three years with the Eagles, Adams recorded over 10,000 total yards and threw 110 touchdown passes.
Oregon started fall camp on Aug. 10, so Adams is joining his new team a few days late in fall camp. Additionally, Jeff Lockie had a good spring and was able to spend the summer working as the No. 1 quarterback and build a rapport with the supporting cast.
Here’s a quick overview of the Lockie-Adams battle:
Enters fourth season on Oregon’s roster. Redshirted as a freshman but played as Mariota’s backup in each of the last two years. Has an edge in experience and grasp of system.
Working with the No. 1 offense in the spring was a boost for Lockie’s chances of winning the starting job.
Edge in talent goes to Adams.
Made strides within the offense in the spring but has just 41 career pass attempts with the Ducks.
Not as dynamic of a runner as Adams or Mariota.
Dynamic playmaker and a good fit for Oregon’s offense as a dual-threat option.
Has an edge in overall talent against Lockie.
Most experience as a starting quarterback on the Oregon roster.
Late arrival to fall practice makes it difficult to win the starting job before the opener.
How quickly will it take Adams to adjust to the FBS level of competition?
Not the biggest quarterback (around 6-foot). Will finding throwing lanes against bigger and more talented defenses prove problematic?
How’s this for a storyline? Oregon’s first game of the year is against Vernon Adams’ old team – Eastern Washington. Although Adams holds the edge in talent and is a good fit for the Ducks’ high-powered offense, Lockie’s experience within the system is will be tough to beat after a late arrival to fall camp. Although Mariota will be missed, Lockie and Adams are reliable options for coach Mark Helfrich. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see both quarterbacks play significant snaps in the first few games.
Prediction: Lockie opens the year as the starter, but Adams eventually takes over the job.
We are gathered here to join the ultimate game day nachos with the classic BLT. No objections, right? It’s that moment when bacon, lettuce and tomato meet layers of chips and melted cheese, drizzled with ranch dressing. This combo of all-time favorites will upgrade your game-watching grub.
8 oz. tortilla chips
12 oz. shredded cheese (Monterey Jack)
8 slices pre-cooked bacon, crumbled
1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
1 romaine heart, finely shredded
1/3 cup bottled ranch dressing
Rimmed baking sheet or oven-safe platter
Preheat oven to 350 F
Round 1 | Build Foundation
Place half the chips on platter or baking sheet
Sprinkle with half bacon and half cheese
Round 2 | Another Layer
Top the first layer with leftover chips and cheese
Round 3 | Heat Check
Bake nachos about 5 minutes, until cheese melts
Round 4 | Top It Off
Scatter tomatoes, lettuce and remaining bacon over the top
Drizzle with ranch dressing
—Recipe by Laraine Perri
When it comes to college football and Las Vegas, there are many wagers available, depending on your level of interest and risk tolerance. One such area is win totals, which has already been discussed in full in previous articles.
Instead, this article takes a closer look at prop bets. In particular those prop bets that could offer value based on current odds. Prop bets are different from win totals, as they range from picking conference champions to award winners and other things. Using 5Dimes Sportsbook for current values, most of the selections you will see here are either the underdog play or of a reasonable value.
TCU makes the College Football Playoff (+190)
The Horned Frogs return the majority of a potent offense from last season. They also have a schedule that is very conducive for them to make the College Football Playoff. TCU plays Baylor at home while its non-conference slate consists of Minnesota, SMU and Stephen F. Austin. The Big 12 being left out of the Playoff last year, may actually help the Horned Frogs in 2015.
Cody Kessler wins the Heisman Trophy (+1250)
Kessler put up very good numbers last year, throwing 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions. The Trojans may have to rely on their passing game and with the chances they'll be in the mix for a Pac-12 title that means there will be plenty of opportunities for Kessler to impress the voters. Defenses in the conference are mighty shaky, and the same can be said for the majority of USC’s non-conference matchups as well.
Virginia Tech to win the ACC Coastal (+185), ACC Title (+575)
The Hokies have the best defense in the conference with talent all over that side of the ball. Kendall Fuller is a lockdown corner while Dadi Nicholas, Ken Ekanem and Luther Maddy will get pressure on the quarterback. The offense is the big question mark, but quarterback Michael Brewer got a full offseason to get a better grasp of the system. The road slate in the ACC is manageable with the toughest game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has had the Yellow Jackets’ number.
Nebraska to win the Big Ten West (+230)
The West will probably come down to Wisconsin and Nebraska, with the Cornhuskers hosting the Badgers on Oct. 10. Nebraska also gets Michigan State at home and has several winnable road games. If quarterback Tommy Armstrong can continue to develop as a passer and limit the turnovers, this offense could be tough to stop. The Huskers also could use a vintage Blackshirt defense to emerge.
Western Kentucky to win the C-USA (+290)
As I documented in my C-USA win total article, I like the Hilltoppers and their chances this season. They have the best offense in the conference as well as a defense that’s on par with the other teams. My one concern is Western Kentucky’s schedule and the grouping of road games. Quarterback Brandon Doughty is a fun quarterback and there's no reason he can't lead these guys to a conference title.
Tennessee to win the SEC East (+250)
The Volunteers are the flavor of the week entering the 2015 season. A lot of prognosticators are predicting them to win a lot of games, yet you can get some value in taking Tennessee to win the East, which doesn’t appear to be that difficult. The Vols host Georgia at home in October, which is advantageous considering the Bulldogs are the heavy favorites in the division. But Tennessee could play spoiler on the strength of 17 returning starters and momentum from last season’s strong finish.
— 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.
There's no question that Ice Cube is one of the best rappers in the game.
Many young rappers would love to hear would he thinks of their rhymes. Athletes on the other hand, are a different story. The west coast rapper and his son, along with some help from ESPN, decided to critic the rhymes of some of your favorite sports stars. From Kobe Bryant to Deion Sanders, everyone is fair game.
"It's dope, but it sounds like he's reading his rhymes." Ice Cube judged athlete rappers from Kobe to Damian Lillard: http://t.co/Bf87W2QKFJ— ESPN (@espn) August 13, 2015
Despite a coaching change and the loss of a Heisman Trophy candidate in the offseason, it's surprisingly (or not, depending on who you talk to) business as usual for Wisconsin.
The Badgers are gearing up for another division championship run, leaning on veterans on defense and the same old "pound the ball down their throat" running game. Corey Clement is expected to fill the big shoes of Melvin Gordon in the backfield, while Joel Stave is expected to give new coach Paul Chryst an experienced leader under center.
Wisconsin's 2015 schedule starts with a bang. After that, however, it's rather "ho-hum" in terms of making noise nationally. The Badgers will need to beat Alabama or keep it close before winning every game on the schedule if they want any shot of being in the College Football Playoff conversation by season's end.
Here now are Wisconsin's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 12 vs. Miami (Ohio)
It'll be the home opener after gearing up all offseason to play Alabama. Win or lose against the Tide, Wisconsin should still be fired up to debut in front of the home crowd and give them a reason to jump around early in the season.
11. Sept. 26 vs. Hawaii
This will be the first home game of the season under the lights in Madison. Anytime Hawaii travels east of the Rockies, jet lag is going to be a concern for them. Additionally, the Badgers have the athletes on defense to neutralize what Hawaii does schematically on offense.
10. Sept. 19 vs. Troy
I wouldn't call this a trap game, but I can see the Badgers coming out sluggish early on, as this game is sandwiched between the previously mentioned two. There also will be a couple of athletes on Troy who may challenge the Badgers in ways they haven't seen since the Alabama game.
9. Oct. 17 vs. Purdue
The Boilermakers are up and coming, but they won't have enough on defense to slow Wisconsin's rushing attack and prevent the Badgers from controlling the game. This should be Wisconsin's easiest home conference game.
8. Nov. 7 at Maryland
If this game were in Madison, it would be in the 10-12 range. Outside of William Likely in the secondary, the Terps have very little that is going to keep opposing coaching staffs up at night from a talent standpoint.
7. Oct. 31 vs. Rutgers
Chryst will likely use the same game plan from 2014 when the Badgers destroyed the Scarlet Knights in New Jersey. Leonte Caroo might be able to cause a few problems in the Wisconsin secondary, but a steady Badger pass rush should be enough to limit his targets.
6. Oct. 24 at Illinois
The offensive duo of Wes Lunt and Josh Ferguson are going to give plenty of teams fits all season — including Wisconsin. This will be another game where the Badgers will need to control the clock and tempo with the run game and limit opposing possessions to avoid getting into a shootout.
5. Oct. 3 vs. Iowa
Records and rankings rarely matter in this border war. The Badgers escaped Iowa City last year with a two-point win. They'll need to keep C.J. Beathard and the Hawkeye passing game in check if they want to retain the Heartland Trophy.
4. Nov. 21 vs. Northwestern
This is the definition of a trap game. Northwestern thrives on playing spoiler in these situations. Chryst will need to keep the Badgers focused on Northwestern and avoid looking ahead to Minnesota.
3. Oct. 10 at Nebraska
Wisconsin has gotten the better end of this exchange as of late, but that doesn't mean much in 2015. The Huskers will want revenge for the rushing clinic the Badgers put on against them in Madison last year. This early October battle of new head coaches may not be decided until late in the fourth quarter.
2. Nov. 28 at Minnesota
If this one is for the Big Test West title like some think it could be, this one will be electric. The two teams are very similar to one another, but Jerry Kill's consistency and continuity — not to mention Minnesota's home-field advantage — are going to make this a difficult hurdle for the Badgers.
1. Sept. 5 vs. Alabama (at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
Alabama is going to be a difficult team to prepare for early. An ever-evolving offensive attack combined with a bevy of new faces on both sides of the ball are going to make things difficult for Wisconsin from a scouting standpoint. Controlling the tempo will be key, and again, the Badger rushing attack will be crucial to keeping this one close and possibly pulling off the upset.
The Schmitter isn’t named after the greatest Philadelphia Phillie, Mike Schmidt, but it may be the all-time best variation of a Philly cheesesteak. Served at both Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies games, The Schmitter is a McNally’s Tavern original that the City of Brotherly Love adores. We talked to McNally’s Joe Pié about recreating the signature sandwich at home.
1 large Kaiser roll
3 slices white American cheese
1 tablespoon butter
2-3 oz. sliced white onion
4-6 oz. sliced choice bottom round
2-3 oz. sliced cooked salami
3 slices red tomato
¼ cup mayonnaise
1½ tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon tomato ketchup
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Slice Kaiser roll; place 1 slice cheese on each half. Broil Kaiser roll to melt cheese, toasting the edges.
Melt butter. Cook onions until caramelized. Place beef on onions, cook 3-4 minutes. Flip beef and onions, cook 1 minute and flip again. Place beef and onions on bottom of Kaiser roll. Place salami, 1 slice cheese and tomatoes in pan. Cook 2 minutes, until cheese melts.
Flip salami, cheese and tomatoes on top of beef and onions on sandwich (with salami on top). Slather with sauce. Add 1 slice cheese and top of Kaiser roll, cut in half and enjoy.
History is made during the course of every NFL season, and while some of the milestones will be etched on a Hall of Fame bust (Tom Brady’s six Super Bowl starts), some are a little more obscure (LaGarrette Blount’s seven career playoff touchdowns against the Colts).
Certainly, the 2015 season will add to this list of monumental and not-so-monumental firsts.
As the NFL season nears, let’s take a look back at 2014’s weird firsts.
2014 was the first time…
• Won a game by 17 points after being shut out by at least that many points in the first half (Eagles over Jaguars).
• Shoveled itself out of 14-point second-half deficits to win each of its first two games of the year (Eagles).
• Opened a season 3–0 despite trailing in each game by at least 10 points (Eagles).
• Won a game on the road that it once trailed by 25 points (Browns).
• Fielded a running back who rushed for four touchdowns (Marshawn Lynch) and a quarterback who rushed for 100 yards (Russell Wilson) in the same game (Seahawks).
• Lost at least nine of its first 10 games for a third consecutive season (Jaguars).
• Scored 28 or more first-half points in four consecutive home games (Packers).
• Won three games in a row by 20 or more points against teams who were at least three games over .500 (Patriots).
• Fielded a rookie rusher (Andre Williams) and a rookie receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.) who each piled up at least 130 yards in the same game (Giants).
• Went 14 consecutive seasons without being swept in a multiple-game series by a team in its own division (Patriots).
• Allowed an opposing QB to complete 80 percent of its passes and throw for three TDs in three games of a season (Bears).
• Rushed for as many as 355 yards and lost (49ers).
• Had two different backs who broke runs of 85 yards or longer in the same season (Bengals: Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill).
• From the NFC South won its division for a second straight year (Panthers).
• Got a non-offensive TD from 10 different players (Eagles).
• Limited another team to as few as 78 yards in a postseason game (Panthers vs. Cardinals).
• Dropped a fourth consecutive opening-round playoff game (Bengals).
• Fell to 0–7 in postseason road contests (Bengals).
• Overcame a deficit as large as 16 points to win a conference title game (Seahawks).
• Blew a fourth-quarter lead as large as 10 points to lose a Super Bowl (Seahawks).
• Passed for 400 yards for the 14th time in a career (Peyton Manning).
• Compiled a TD-to-INT ratio as high as 18-to-1 the first seven games of a season (Aaron Rodgers).
• Threw a fifth TD pass less than 20 minutes into a game (Joe Flacco).
• Passed for 300 yards and rushed for 100 in the same game (Russell Wilson).
• Completed more than 85 percent of his passes (min. 20 atts.) in a game against a defending Super Bowl champion (Austin Davis).
• Completed seven game-winning TD passes inside the two-minute warning in his first six seasons (Matthew Stafford).
• Passed for 350-plus yards in five consecutive road games (Andrew Luck).
• Completed at least five TD passes in a game nine times in a career (Manning and Drew Brees).
• Threw 418 consecutive passes without an interception in home games (Rodgers; still active).
• Threw for at least three TDs without being picked off in four straight road games (Tony Romo).
• Lost his first 20 road starts against teams that finished with a winning record (Ryan Fitzpatrick).
• Attained a 100.0 passer rating in a sixth consecutive season (Rodgers).
• Lost nine one-and-done starts in the postseason (Manning).
• Started two Super Bowls in his first three seasons (Wilson).
• Started six Super Bowls (Tom Brady).
A RUNNING BACK
• Began a season with eight consecutive 100-yard games (Murray).
• Caught 102 passes in a season (Matt Forte).
• Rushed for seven career TDs against one particular team in postseason play (LeGarrette Blount vs. Colts).
• Made at least five catches for 50 or more yards in 32 consecutive games (Antonio Brown).
• Age 35 or older caught 400 yards worth of passes in his first four games (Steve Smith).
• Went more than nine years between 80-yard touchdown catches (Brandon Lloyd).
• Caught a dozen or more TD passes from the tight end position in successive seasons (Julius Thomas).
• Collected more than 100 yards in a season debut that was as late as Week 12 (Josh Gordon).
• Got to 10,000 yards in as few as 115 games (Calvin Johnson).
• Age 36 or older caught a pass of at least 80 yards (Reggie Wayne).
• Threw a TD pass of longer than 50 yards in a postseason game (Julian Edelman).
• Scored an overtime TD on the only pass he caught in a playoff contest (Jermaine Kearse).
This story and more appears in the 2015 Athlon Sports NFL Preview Magazine, available online now and on newsstands everywhere.
Friday night the Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason for the first time in history. But it will not be the first time the Steelers have played a preseason game in Jacksonville, Fla.
It's been 45 years, but in 1970 the Steelers kicked off their preseason in Jacksonville against the Miami Dolphins. In front of only 11,800 fans at the Gator Bowl on Aug. 8, 1970, the Steelers lost 16-10 in a game noted for the following debuts:
It was the first game the Steelers ever played as a member of the American Football Conference.
Terry Bradshaw made his first appearance in a Steelers uniform, completing his first two passes before finishing 9-of-19 for 92 yards and an interception.
Don Shula coached his first game as the Dolphins’ head coach.
But perhaps most importantly, it was the first time Myron Cope ever broadcast a Steelers game.
This game, which will be shown on local television instead of the networks, probably won't make the same historic impact the Steelers' first preseason game in Jacksonville did.
But Tahj Boyd is expected to play for the first time as a Steelers quarterback. And while it seems rather unlikely Boyd will eventually lead Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl championships, he will have karma on his side.
That said, here are the five things to look for Friday night in Jacksonville.
1. Will the Steelers keep making excuses?
Shaun Suisham is lost for the season because of the lousy playing surface in Canton.
Jesse James dropped two passes because he was distraught about the passing of a friend from South Allegheny High School.
The Steelers' top players didn't suit up for the Hall of Fame Game.
Enough! Head coach Mike Tomlin has said all healthy Steelers will play in the game, and while it's unlikely they'll see lengthy action (so don't miss kickoff!), at least they'll have the chance to set the tone for the game.
Not to be unsympathetic to James and the friends and family of his departed-too-soon friend from Glassport, but if off-field circumstances are affecting a player's performance in the middle of the third quarter, he needs more focus.
Condolences should abound, not dropped passes.
Fieldturf is the playing surface at the stadium formerly known as Fawcett (what does Tom Benson have to do with Canton, Ohio, anyway), which the Steelers have in their indoor practice facility. It is certainly an improvement from TartanTurf, which Rod Woodson tore his knee up on at Three Rivers Stadium in 1995, or the bumpy rock pile old Cleveland Municipal Stadium was, where current linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky tore up his knee and lost forever his starting position in 1993 immediately following the Indians' last season there.
2. How will Garrett Hartley do?
The Steelers' new kicker made 11 of 13 in practice on Wednesday. Historically, however, though he's never missed a kick in 23 postseason attempts, he is only 77 percent (27 for 35) in his career from 30-39 yards, where extra points are now kicked from.
Nothing to worry about, or the return of David Trout?
Incidentally, speaking of excuses, the recent media discussion Tomlin should have brought two kickers into camp is nothing but erroneous hindsight.
Suisham was signed for four years this offseason and any additional kicker signed by the Steelers under the circumstances would have to be someone who just wanted experience. He wouldn't have been as good as Hartley, who is actually an improvement from Suisham from long range. In his career, Hartley has been successful on six of eight field goal attempts from 50 yards and beyond.
So instead of having their choice of three quality kickers to audition this week, the signing of another kicker would have put the Steelers in a position to feel pressure to keep a player like Tom Obarski, who the Cincinnati Bengals have brought in to compete with Mike Nugent. Obarski is from Concordia-St. Paul, a school so small the Bengals' roster on ESPN.com lists Obarski's college as "null" and "none."
Furthermore, imagine waiting for a job interview. Across the waiting room is the person you know will be interviewing for the same job; an awkward situation to say the least.
Now imagine being in that room with your competition for six weeks.
That's what it's like with two kickers in camp. They are told to stand off to the side and watch the other players practice daily, every now and then attempting a practice kick to break up the boredom. There's little conversation, the atmosphere thick with both men knowing the other is trying to take away his job.
Now you know why kickers are said to be flakes. Such a situation is simply not a healthy environment and if it can be avoided, it should.
3. Who will play quarterback?
Ben Roethlisberger is slated to get 10-12 snaps, and Bruce Gradkowski is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list. This means still more Landry Jones, though, as mentioned above, Tomlin has said Boyd will see action as well. Will Tyler Murphy get the occasional snap as a wild card option between quarterback and receiver, a la Antwaan Randle El, or could he get an honest-to-goodness series, a la Kordell Stewart?
Murphy can breathe easier now that Devin Gardner was released this week. Gardner had also been auditioning for a roster spot as a quarterback-wide receiver hybrid.
If Gradkowski remains on the shelf, Boyd may have a legitimate chance to be the backup. Jones has failed to impress at any point in his Steelers career and, 2013 fourth-round selection or no, if he continues to sputter and Boyd plays well in whatever time he is given, can the Steelers continue to justify his spot ahead of Boyd on the depth chart?
4. What will DeAngelo Williams’ role be?
Williams didn't play against Minnesota on Sunday, but he likely will be the starter for the season's first two games as Le'Veon Bell serves his suspension for marijuana use and a DUI charge.
How much action Williams receives, how well he does, and, most of all, if he catches any passes out of the backfield are things to watch with an eye on the first two games of the regular season. Remember, Williams historically has not been the pass catcher Bell has shown himself to be. Last season Bell led all running backs with 854 yards on 83 receptions.
5. Will the secondary get burned again?
With as many options as the Steelers have at linebacker, the feeling is the front seven will take care of itself. But with Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor now gone from a defense that finished 27th in the NFL last year against the pass, questions abound.
New cornerback Brian Boykin made a splash against the Vikings, but there was still a breakdown where Minnesota tight end MyCole Pruitt was wide open and was able to run into the end zone untouched from 34 yards out after catching a pass over the middle in the second quarter.
Safeties Robert Golden and Ross Ventrone of Chartiers Valley and cornerback Senquez Golson are expected to miss the game due to injury. The safeties are journeymen; their absence figures to be minimal. Golson's loss, which could be for the entire season if he undergoes surgery on his shoulder, is a setback to a prospect's development, however large or small.
(DeAngelo Williams photo courtesy of www.steelers.com)
— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.
Few things are better than when a walk-on earns a scholarship.
Hard work paid off for Josh Anderson as Brian Kelly had him model the team's new "Shamrock Series" uniforms, and presented him with a surprise of his own. The Notre Dame running back was awarded a full scholarship for all his hard work with the team and in Kelly's words, "he models a lot of things that are right with Notre Dame football."
By now everyone has seen the video of DeAndre Hopkins burning DeAngelo Hall during a joint practice between the Redskins and the Texans.
Hall didn't appreciate everyone still talking about it, and had a few words to say to Hopkins on Twitter.
When the highlight of your career is catching a 10yd pass on a DB while he slips and you feel like you did something. #SadDayInFootball— DeAngelo Hall (@DeAngeloHall23) August 13, 2015
You gonna take that, DeAndre??
Hope treatment going well. https://t.co/9wR4UrjEAP— Deandre Hopkins (@Nukdabomb) August 13, 2015
Ouch. Don't think Hall is going to let that slide.
@Nukdabomb I'm good to go young fella. Here's some advice don't stutter on your comebacks they're too easy to read. Take it or leave it— DeAngelo Hall (@DeAngeloHall23) August 13, 2015
USC has not factored into the national championship race since 2008. If the Trojans are to end that drought in 2015, they’ll have earned it by navigating one of the most treacherous schedules in college football.
After opening with a pair of Sun Belt Conference opponents, USC tackles a meaty docket that's punctuated with several potential College Football Playoff teams.
The Trojans’ championship mettle will undoubtedly be tested in head coach Steve Sarkisian’s second year at the helm. Here are USC's 12 regular season games ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 12 vs. Idaho
Establishing depth is key to USC’s Pac-12 and Playoff aspirations. Idaho presents Sarkisian with a prime opportunity to get second- and third-stringers live snaps ahead of the conference slate.
11. Sept. 5 vs. Arkansas State
Arkansas State will compete for a Sun Belt Conference championship in 2015, but the Red Wolves will be hard-pressed to challenge USC in Week 1. The Trojans’ season of high expectations should start with an emphatic defense of their home turf.
10. Oct. 8 (Thursday) vs. Washington
Sarkisian’s first meeting with a program he headed for five seasons comes with inherent potential for distraction. However, the Huskies are in something of a rebuilding mode under second-year coach Chris Petersen and shouldn’t pose too much of a threat to the Trojans in this Thursday night affair.
9. Nov. 13 (Friday) at Colorado
USC has had no problem with Colorado since the Buffs joined the Pac-12 in 2011, and last year’s rout culminated in quarterback Cody Kessler throwing a USC-record seven touchdown passes.
Colorado returns a bevy of players for what should be head coach Mike MacIntyre’s best team since arriving in Boulder. Getting the Trojans at home on what’s sure to be a frigid November night helps the Buffs’ upset bid. So, too, does drawing them between marquee matchups with Arizona and Oregon.
8. Oct. 24 vs. Utah
Last season’s meeting in Rice-Eccles Stadium was an instant classic, with the Utes scoring a game-winning touchdown on the final possession.
The Utes are dark horses in the Pac-12 South race, playing a physical style that could pose USC trouble just one week removed from the rivalry matchup with Notre Dame.
7. Oct. 31 at Cal
Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff nearly led a fourth-quarter comeback against USC last season. This year, the third-year starter captains a much more experienced Cal team that could be the surprise contender in the Pac-12 title hunt.
6. Nov. 7 vs. Arizona
A blocked field goal in the waning seconds staved off an Arizona rally to upend the Trojans last season in Tucson. The defending Pac-12 South champion Wildcats will be itching to exact payback for that narrow defeat. A win here is critical for USC’s divisional chances, particularly with a tough final stretch to the month likely determining the race.
5. Sept. 19 vs. Stanford
Few series in college football have been as exciting or as fiercely contested as USC vs. Stanford. The Trojans have won the last two meetings after the Cardinal took four straight from 2009-12. Stanford should have a much-improved team from last year’s eight-game winner, and the victor in this conference opener gets an immediate, inside track on returning to the Pac-12 mountaintop.
4. Oct. 17 at Notre Dame
USC’s 49-14 rout of the Fighting Irish last November was the series’ most lopsided outcome since a 38-3 shellacking in 2008.
Don’t think those lumps Notre Dame took a year ago will be easily forgotten. A presumably healthier, more experienced Irish lineup has the look of a possible Playoff team and promises to give USC a better game this time around.
3. Sept. 26 at Arizona State
After going winless against UCLA from 1997 through 2010, the Sun Devils are winners of three of the last four, including last season’s Hail Mary finish in the Coliseum.
Arizona State’s high-tempo offense and aggressive, blitz-happy defense can pose problems for the Trojans, especially if the early-season heat of Tempe impacts the visitors to Sun Devil Stadium.
2. Nov. 28 vs. UCLA
UCLA is a winner of three straight in the Crosstown Showdown. All of those Bruins victories have come by double digits.
Reclaiming the Pac-12 means winning the South. Winning the South means reclaiming Los Angeles, but the Trojans will be trying to do so against a bunch of Bruins who only know victory in this rivalry.
1. Nov. 21 at Oregon
Voters in the Pac-12’s preseason media poll tabbed USC to edge out defending champion Oregon for the 2015 league title. Here’s a chance for the Trojans to validate that vote of confidence.
Oregon took over USC’s place as the conference’s heavyweight over the last seven years, but this season’s encounter could well determine the direction of the Pac-12 for the next decade.
The Denver Broncos continue to lead this division, with Peyton Manning leading the way. However, Manning's not getting any younger, and the Chiefs and Chargers both made some personnel upgrades after each just missed out on a wild card spot last season. They are certainly not far behind, and the Raiders finally appear to have some pieces to build around too. The Broncos remain the team to be beat, but the gap is narrowing.
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the AFC West is shaping up heading into the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“No one will ever know what would have happened if Peyton Manning didn’t agree to take a ‘haircut’ on his contract and go from $19M to $15M for 2015."…
"Nevertheless, he returns for what might be his last season, although at 39, he feels that a high level of play is still attainable."…
"If it is, it will likely be because Gary Kubiak’s emphasis on the run game and play-action will take some of the load off the future Hall of Famer."…
"Kubiak takes over for John Fox, who flamed out in the postseason for the third year in a row."…
"TE Julius Thomas left in free agency for Jacksonville, but WR Demaryius Thomas was first tagged and then signed to a long-term deal. He is a supremely talented player that has prospered under Manning’s guidance."…
"Emmanuel Sanders filled the slot role well in 2014, but how much will that change under Kubiak?"...
"2014 second-round pick Cody Latimer must take a big step forward after catching only two passes as a rookie."…
"The offensive line is sort of ordinary, but they get by because the QB simply doesn’t hold the football."…
"LT Ryan Clady is clearly their best lineman, but the rest are just guys."… [Editor's note: Clady will miss the 2015 season because of a torn ACL.]
"On defense, they are set up front with Sylvester Williams, Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson in their base 3-4."…
"Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and first-round pick Shane Ray will form one of the best pass-rushing trios in all of football."…
"At safety, T.J. Ward always brings the right kind of demeanor, and former Raven Darian Stewart was signed during free agency."…
"With Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby at the corner spots, the Broncos have enough variety at the position to match up with most everyone."…
"Despite Peyton’s protests, the theme of the season will be can the Broncos make a final run with No. 18 at the helm? And, if not, what is the plan going forward at QB and for the entire organization?”
“Despite no wide receivers catching a single touchdown pass and a defense that was 28th in the league vs. the run (127.3 yards per game), Andy Reid and Co. still finished with a 9-7 record."…
"With zero explosiveness in the passing game, KC allowed Dwayne Bowe to walk and probably overpaid for the Eagles’ Jeremy Maclin."…
"They are very high on second-year wide receiver Albert Wilson who had 12 of his 16 catches in the final five games and look for De'Anthony Thomas to get an increased role in 2015 as a ‘satellite’ player."…
"Their two best offensive producers are RB Jamaal Charles and TE Travis Kelce."…
"Charles had his third straight 1,000-yard season and caught 40 passes, while Kelce came back from a ‘redshirt’ season and latched on to 67 throws."…
"The offensive line allowed 49 sacks (26th in NFL) and Rodney Hudson left for the Raiders in free agency."…
"They are banking on Eric Fisher getting healthy and playing well at LT, while they traded for the Saints’ Ben Grubbs to fill the LG spot and drafted Missouri OL Mitch Morse to compete at center with Eric Kush. This unit may be the most worrisome on the entire roster."…
"Internally, the organization believes in Alex Smith as a starting QB, but his impending contract situation will tell the world what they really think long-term."…
"Defensively, KC gave up 17.6 points per game (2nd in league), where they were particularly stingy down in the red zone."…
"NT Dontari Poe is a Pro Bowl-caliber player and upped his sack total to six in 2014…Their biggest losses were sustained in Week 1 when both LB Derrick Johnson DE Mike DeVito went down with torn Achilles and their absence left a crater in the middle of the D."…
"Justin Houston was franchised and then signed to a massive deal after a 22-sack season and he has really developed into a complete outside linebacker."…
"His counterpart, Tamba Hali, continues to plug along and will always chip in 6-10 sacks per year."…
"The Chiefs took CB Marcus Peters from Washington with their first-round pick and they are gambling that his character and personality can be managed."…
"He will line up opposite of Sean Smith with the thinking that the Chiefs now have the athleticism and length to compete with the receivers of the AFC West."…
"This division has bunched up some during the offseason, so with Reid at the helm, they should again be competitive and in the hunt for a playoff berth.”
“Everything that was said about the Raiders going into the 2014 season, came true: no firepower on offense and too many aged players on defense."…
"The good news is that GM Reggie McKenzie hit on OLB Khalil Mack, QB Derek Carr and OG Gabe Jackson with his first three picks of the 2014 draft and they are all good, young players to build around in the future."…
"Dennis Allen did not survive the season, so Tony Sparano finished up as the interim coach and now Jack Del Rio gets his second chance as a head coach in the league."…
"Carr is their greatest asset, so they chose Alabama WR Amari Cooper with the fourth overall pick and Miami-FL TE Clive Walford in the third round to give him more options."…
"Cooper is a pro-ready talent that can line up anywhere and help Carr immediately, while Walford is a gifted pass catcher that can threaten the seam."…
"The offensive line should be bolstered in the middle with former Chiefs’ center Rodney Hudson, but still not sure they are good enough on the edges with Donald Penn and Austin Howard."…
"Defensively, Mack was sensational as a rookie and looks to be a star-in-the-making."…
"LB Sio Moore has had two solid years of production and really plays hard…The back end is a work-in-progress and this part of their roster could derail everything."…
"With only Charles Woodson established as a starter, they signed FS Nate Allen from Philadelphia."…
"If they played a game tomorrow, D.J. Hayden and Travis Carrie would be the opening corners, but Keith McGill (’14 fourth round) is expected to challenge for play time."…
"The Raiders were deplorable in total offense and then scoring offense and defense, but their bigger issue was not taking care of the football. They were minus-15 in the turnover margin category (32nd in league) and that is the area Del Rio must clean up first and foremost for them to escape the basement of the AFC West.”
“Word got out this spring that QB Philip Rivers would play out his contract and was not interested in going to LA, if in fact, the Chargers were on the move."…
"Rumors swirled before the draft that San Diego would trade him to the Titans in exchange for the chance to pick Marcus Mariota at No. 2."…
"None of that happened, so now it’s back to trying to work through an extension for the 33-year-old QB."…
"RB Ryan Mathews signed with the Eagles, so SD moved up two spots in the draft for Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon who should help their 30th-ranked rushing attack (85.4 yards per game)."…
"The offensive line has been surprisingly effective over the past two years, especially LT King Dunlap. He has far surpassed most scouts’ expectations as a full-time starter."…
"D.J. Fluker is huge on the right side and has become a staple figure along their front wall."…
"TE Antonio Gates just keeps going, but has indicated that 2015 will be his last season."… [Editor's note: Gates is suspended the first four games of the season for a violation of the NFL's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs.]
"Keenan Allen and Malcolm Floyd give them a set of legitimate WRs and they helped them finish fourth in the league in third down conversions (45.1 percent)."…
"Most of the success of the 3-4 defense stems from the pass rush and the Chargers were 29th in sacks with just 26 last year."…
"They are banking on Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu to stay healthy and produce better results in 2015 (6.5 sacks between them)."…
"Safety Marcus Gilchrist left for the Jets and Eric Weddle is sitting out the spring, except for the mandatory minicamp, due to a contract dispute."…
"The Chargers are smallish in the back end, but Jason Verrett is a nifty cover man who has to demonstrate that he can survive the rigors of the NFL."...
"San Diego has won between seven and nine games for five straight seasons and nothing seems to indicate that 2015 will be any different.”
Few college football coaches have achieved the kind of success LSU's Les Miles has on the field. Since arriving in Baton Rouge in 2005 the Tigers have played for (2011) and won (2007) a BCS National Championship with the “Mad Hatter compiling a win-loss record of 103-29 and 56-24 in SEC play.
With all of the success and talent that Miles has trotted out onto the field in Tiger Stadium, he has now built extremely high expectations that few could live up to year after year. The Tigers have been to a bowl game every year under Miles, setting another high-water mark of 6-4 in postseason play. Although the 2014 season was a successful season by most programs’ standards, finishing 8-5 was a low-water mark for Miles, tying his worst record since coming to Baton Rouge (2008).
The 2014 season was tough after returning six starters on offense and six on defense. The 2015 squad has the same feel with seven returning on offense and six on defense, but the one familiar thread between the two seasons is the uncertainty under center.
If the Tigers can get consistent play from whoever gets the nod at quarterback, the 2015 schedule lines up favorably for LSU.
Based on preseason rankings, team matchup history, game location, and returning experience, here is a ranking of LSU’s 12 regular season games from easiest to toughest.
12. Sept. 5 vs. McNeese State
When the media starts their annual uninformed diatribe about the lack of quality non-conference opponents SEC teams play, the Tigers’ season opener is why. The Cowboys finished 6-5 last year coming out of the Southland Conference. McNeese State is the proverbial cupcake warm-up game for LSU, but these Cowboys did give No. 19 Nebraska a scare in the 2014 season opener before falling 31-24.
Opening with McNeese State is a far cry from last year’s opener against No. 14 Wisconsin, but serves as a good tune up before jumping into SEC action against Mississippi State the following week.
11. Oct. 3 vs. Eastern Michigan
Quick, which conference is Eastern Michigan in? If you answered the Mid-American Conference or MAC, you are correct. If you are a LSU fan and did not know, no worries. The Eagles won just two games last year and were chased out of the Swamp by the Gators 65-0 and beat up on by in-state big brother Michigan State 73-14.
10. Sept. 26 at Syracuse
On paper this game is a SEC vs. ACC matchup or Power 5 Conference vs. Power 5 Conference. The reality is Syracuse has struggled to remain a .500 team over the last five seasons. The Orange’s 2014 campaign might have been rock bottom for the program, as they finished 3-9. Things do not look much brighter with only four starters back on offense and three on defense.
Syracuse could enter the LSU game 3-0 if senior quarterback Terrel Hunt is firing on all cylinders. The Orange have a couple of decent tailbacks and a threat in the passing game with wide receiver Steve Ishmael. Syracuse’s defense was actually hard-nosed last year, finishing ranked No. 26 in the nation.
9. Oct. 24 vs. Western Kentucky
Easily one of the more entertaining games LSU will play this season. The Hilltoppers had the nation’s top passer in 2014 in Brandon Doughty, and he is returning after piling up 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns against just 10 picks. Western Kentucky also returns its top rusher, Leon Allen (1,500 yards) along with its top receiver, Jared Dangerfield (69 rec., 825 yds., 11 TD).
Western Kentucky was the nation’s No. 4 total offense at 535 yards per game. LSU had the nation’s No. 9 defense and kept up the “DBU” (defensive back university) motto, only allowing 164 yards per game through the air, good for third in FBS.
This game may fall as the ninth toughest game of the year but easily could be a Top 5 in terms of football enjoyment watching two great squads lineup strength-on-strength.
8. Oct. 10 at South Carolina
A SEC road trip to Williams-Brice Stadium gets a downgrade in “toughness” coming off a 7-6 season in 2014 and no clear proof of improvement coming this season. The Gamecocks have a quarterback battle going on between Connor Mitch and Perry Orth, running back Brandon Wilds is talented but oft injured, and the front seven on defense is highly questionable sans linebacker Skai Moore.
South Carolina is in the middle of a rebuilding or rebranding of its offense and defense, plus the Gamecocks are very young.
7. Oct. 17 vs. Florida
In years past this game would be a “can’t miss” matchup, but times have been tough in Gainesville over the past two seasons. A reboot under first-year head coach Jim McElwain is underway but Florida’s lack of playmakers and depth on the offensive line may make this a one-sided affair.
Florida rolls into Baton Rouge after playing at Kentucky and hosting Tennessee and Ole Miss, and then has the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” on tap the following week – absolutely brutal.
6. Sept. 12 at Mississippi State
When the Tigers travel to Starkville Miles might be in the middle of a quandary not resolved from fall camp, a proven leader under center. Mississippi State has the potential to be a very solid program despite only returning seven total starters.
The Bulldogs open against Southern Miss so very little of head coach Dan Mullen and returning starting quarterback Dak Prescott’s hand will be shown then. The other looming problem for the Tigers is the potential to look past Mississippi State with a home showdown against Auburn looming the following week.
5. Nov. 21 at Ole Miss
The final five games in these rankings could be argued one way or the other in regards to level of difficulty. Playing in Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium has become far more difficult, just ask Alabama, and winning on the road in the SEC is not an easy task.
The Rebels are a very talented team but also full of a lot of question marks on offense. Like LSU, Ole Miss must figure out who will start at quarterback. The Rebels’ problems do not stop there, needing a consistent rushing attack and a healthy Laquon Treadwell in hopes of a standout season.
Ole Miss has a tough stretch leading up to LSU’s visit, traveling to Memphis, hosting Texas A&M, at Auburn, hosting Arkansas, and then the Tigers before finishing the season in the annual Egg Bowl on the road against Mississippi State.
4. Nov. 28 vs. Texas A&M
At this point in the season LSU is either a team with somewhere big to go or fighting to maintain its reputation. What could make this game even tougher is John Chavis. Chavis was LSU’s defensive coordinator from 2009 until last season, but now he’s part of Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin’s staff. What opposing coach will know the Tigers’ offense and personnel better than Chavis?
3. Nov. 14 vs. Arkansas
The final four games of the season are where Miles will earn his paycheck and his team will hopefully earn its stripes. The Razorbacks are a mirror image of the Tigers but have better returning experience on offense.
LSU is sure to remember the 17-0 beating it took in Fayetteville last year but might be a little beat up coming home after playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
2. Nov. 7 at Alabama
Even though it’s Alabama, the Crimson Tide check in as the second toughest game of the season. One could argue LSU has a pretty easy six-week schedule from Week 3 (Auburn) to Week 10 (Alabama). And the Tigers should be fresh coming off a bye to face the Crimson Tide.
The Tigers could once again play spoiler to Alabama or Alabama could play spoiler to LSU, either way it’s a very big game for both squads late in the season.
1. Sept. 19 vs. Auburn
The way individuals count returning starters, Auburn should be in trouble in 2015. Only three starters of consequence return out of the five listed on offense, but there is far more depth and talent on the roster making these Tigers extremely dangerous.
LSU will have this game circled as a revenge game after getting tossed around 41-7 in Jordan-Hare last year. Auburn opens with what should be a tough game against Louisville in Atlanta and then get an instructional “fix what’s wrong” game against Jacksonville State. LSU could be pushed against Mississippi State or could be coming off a momentum-building win.
Whoever wins this one assumes the position of early favorite in the ultra-competitive SEC West.
— 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.
Rankings are a big part of any college football season. Whether it’s preseason projections or the in-season polls from the playoff committee, rankings generate discussion and interest from all 128 fanbases.
While some argue preseason rankings have too much of an impact on the actual in-season product, the reality is a playoff contender or national champion can come from anywhere. Need proof? Auburn was unranked to start 2013, yet played in the national championship against Florida State.
Could another surprise team (or two) sneak their way into playoff contention in 2015? Using Athlon’s projected final top 25 for this season, let’s examine a few dark horse playoff contenders and biggest concerns for all 10 teams.
College Football's Top 10 Dark Horse Playoff Contenders
(Note: Only teams outside of Athlon's projected top 10 for 2015 were selected for this article)
1. Notre Dame
Why Notre Dame Can Make the College Football Playoff: Experience isn’t a necessity to contend for a playoff bid. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt Notre Dame’s cause to have 16 returning starters. Quarterback Malik Zaire showed promise in limited snaps last season and assumes the starting role after Everett Golson transferred to Florida State. Zaire lacks experience, but he’s got potential to thrive in coach Brian Kelly’s system. The Fighting Irish also have a strong supporting cast for Zaire, including a standout offensive line and top four receivers from 2014. The defense struggled with injuries, coordinator transition and the loss of a two key players before the start of last season. A year later, Notre Dame’s only “new” starter for 2015 is KeiVarae Russell off academic suspension. Improvement should be noticeable for Kelly’s defense this fall.
Biggest Concerns: It’s dangerous to read too much into trends, but it is worth noting Notre Dame has won more than nine games just once over the last five years. Making the leap from eight to 11 or 12 victories will be a challenge, especially with eight bowl teams dotting the schedule in 2015. Zaire is one of the top breakout candidates this season, but will there be growing pains in his first year as the starter? The defense allowed 29.2 points and over 400 total yards per game last year. While the added depth and experience will help, can the Fighting Irish make the necessary leap from struggling defense to shutdown group?
Why Clemson Can Make the College Football Playoff: The path to an ACC Championship isn’t overly difficult for the Tigers. Georgia Tech and Florida State visit Death Valley, and the Tigers catch Notre Dame at home in non-conference play. Even though Chad Morris is now the head coach at SMU, the offense should continue to perform at a high level behind quarterback Deshaun Watson and one of the nation’s top groups of skill talent. The defense returns only two starters, but coordinator Brent Venables should keep this unit near the top of the ACC.
Biggest Concerns: Sure, the schedule is favorable. But the Tigers still have to navigate road trips to Louisville and NC State in conference action. Will Watson hold up for a full season after recovering from ACL surgery? The offensive line is coach Dabo Swinney’s biggest concern, as only one starter is back from last season, and true freshman Mitch Hyatt will anchor the left tackle spot.
3. Ole Miss
Why Ole Miss Can Make the College Football Playoff: Defense. The Rebels limited opponents to just 16 points a game last season and could be even stingier in 2015. Seven starters return for coordinator Dave Wommack, including tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Tony Conner. It’s not a stretch to say Ole Miss could have the SEC’s best defense this fall. Quarterback play and establishing the run are question marks for the offense, but the receiving corps should be among the best in the nation, especially with standout Laquon Treadwell back to full strength. The offensive line struggled last season but improvement should be noticeable with five returning starters and better depth. Matchups against Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU take place in Oxford, and the Rebels miss Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee in crossover play with the East Division.
Biggest Concerns: Even though the defense needs to solidify the linebacking corps and has two new starters at cornerback, there’s very little for coach Hugh Freeze to worry about. The offense? Well, that’s a different story. Will the Rebels end fall camp with an answer at quarterback? Chad Kelly, Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade are competing for the No. 1 job, with Kelly – a former Clemson quarterback and JUCO transfer – considered the favorite to start the opener. The Rebels averaged only 155.5 rushing yards last season. Will the offense develop a consistent ground attack? Road trips to Alabama, Mississippi State and Auburn are challenging.
Why LSU Can Make the College Football Playoff: Any of the seven teams in the rugged SEC West has an opportunity to reach one of the four spots in the playoff. Strength of schedule is on the West Division’s side, and the No. 1 from this league will have an opportunity to earn several marquee wins. LSU also has one of the nation’s most talented rosters. Over the last five years, the Tigers average a 6.8 finish in national recruiting rankings, which checks in No. 4 nationally. The three teams ahead of LSU? Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State – the last three national champions. The secondary is among the best in the nation, and linebacker Kendell Beckwith’s emergence provided a boost to the run defense in the second half of 2014. The offense has its share of question marks, but running back Leonard Fournette could be the best in college football. Three starters return on one of the SEC’s top offensive lines.
Biggest Concerns: Quarterback play. Talent level and strength of schedule at the end of the year will matter little if LSU doesn’t get better quarterback play than it did in 2014. The Tigers averaged only 162.9 passing yards per game and tossed only seven touchdowns in SEC action. The battle between Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris is expected to last until the end of fall camp. While the talent level is strong on defense, the pass rush hasn’t been as dominant in recent years. Also, will this defense struggle with the transition to new coordinator Kevin Steele?
5. Boise State
Why Boise State Can Make the College Football Playoff: Outside of Ohio State, there’s not a team with an easier path to an unbeaten record. Boise State should be favored in nearly all of its games in 2015, with road trips to BYU, Virginia, Colorado State and Utah State the toughest contests for coach Bryan Harsin’s team. The Broncos need to find a new starting quarterback and running back, but the rest of the depth chart is in great shape. Boise State’s offensive and defensive lines should rank among the top 10-15 nationally, and the secondary ranks as the best in the Mountain West.
Biggest Concerns: Boise State usually has no trouble finding the next stars at quarterback or running back. However, until the new faces clearly emerge, the quarterback and running back spots will be a question mark. The Broncos also need to do a better job eliminating big plays allowed. In 14 games last season, Boise State’s defense gave up 34 plays of 40 yards or more. The secondary also has room to improve after giving up 39 plays of 20 yards or more (ranked 11th in the Mountain West). But the big question about Boise State isn’t about personnel. Will an undefeated record or 11-1 mark get the Broncos in consideration for a playoff bid?
Why Oklahoma Can Make the College Football Playoff: Oklahoma’s final record in 2014 was only 8-5, but the Sooners weren’t far off from winning 10 games last season. Coach Bob Stoops’ team lost by three in overtime to Oklahoma State, by one to Kansas State and by four to TCU. After recording a negative turnover margin (-5) in 2014, getting into the positive side of the turnover battle could swing a couple of games in Oklahoma’s direction. Also, despite last year’s disappointing record, the Sooners still have one of the Big 12’s most talented rosters. Could the new scheme and addition of coordinator Lincoln Riley catch the Big 12 by surprise? The change in offensive coordinators certainly worked with TCU last season. Oklahoma’s backfield is arguably the best in college football, and the receiving corps has options with Sterling Shepard and intriguing junior college recruit Dede Westbrook.
Biggest Concerns: Who will start at quarterback for Riley? Although the Sooners won’t go away from Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Alex Ross on the ground, the passing attack has to show progress for Oklahoma to win the Big 12. Additionally, four new starters must be found on the offensive line. The defense has star power with the return of linebacker Eric Striker and cornerback Zack Sanchez. However, question marks remain up front and in the secondary. The road schedule in conference play features trips to Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
7. Texas A&M
Why Texas A&M Can Make the College Football Playoff: Once again, Texas A&M’s offense should be among the best in the SEC. The Aggies are loaded with skill talent, return three starters on the line and a rising star at quarterback in Kyle Allen. The defense has lagged at times since joining the SEC, but there’s reason for optimism with the addition of John Chavis at coordinator. The overall talent and depth level has improved on defense under coach Kevin Sumlin, especially in the trenches where the Aggies return standout sophomore Myles Garrett, talented freshman Daylon Mack and seniors Alonzo Williams and Julien Obioha. The schedule is also favorable for a run at the SEC West title. Texas A&M plays Vanderbilt and South Carolina in crossover games with the East Division and hosts Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama.
Biggest Concerns: Can the Aggies find the next star at left tackle? Cedric Ogbuehi departed College Station for the NFL, leaving a massive void on the left side. Junior Avery Gennesy could be the answer at left tackle and will be under the spotlight early in 2015. The line also needs to generate a better push on the ground. In eight SEC games last season, Texas A&M averaged only 3.8 yards per carry. While defensive improvement should be anticipated under Chavis, is this group a year away from drastically changing the numbers on the stat sheet? The secondary is the biggest concern for Chavis after this unit allowed SEC quarterbacks to complete 60.9 percent of their passes in 2014.
Why Arizona State Can Make the College Football Playoff: Todd Graham has transformed Arizona State into a consistent Pac-12 title contender in just three years. The Sun Devils have back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1972-73. Even with a few personnel concerns, the Sun Devils should be in good shape to reach 10 wins once again in 2015. New quarterback Mike Bercovici shined in limited action last season, and the coaching staff bolstered the receiving corps with the addition of graduate transfer Devin Lucien and D.J. Foster's move from running back. Graham’s aggressive defense returns seven starters from a group that forced 27 turnovers and 39 sacks in 2014.
Biggest Concerns: Will the Sun Devils reload in the trenches after losing both starting offensive tackles from 2014? Will Bercovici continue to play at a high level for the full season? The defense is in relatively good shape, but Graham needs to find a player to fill the Devilbacker role and eliminate some of the big plays this unit allowed last year. Arizona State ranked last in the Pac-12 by giving up 40 plays of 30 yards or more last season. The schedule isn’t kind, as the Sun Devils play Texas A&M in a neutral site affair to open the year, host USC, Arizona and Oregon, while making road trips to UCLA, Utah and California.
Related: Pac-12 Quarterback Rankings for 2015
Why UCLA Can Make the College Football Playoff: The Bruins are experienced and loaded for a run at the Pac-12 championship. UCLA has won at least nine games in each of coach Jim Mora’s three seasons and finished No. 10 in last year’s final poll. The Bruins return 17 starters, including defensive standouts Myles Jack (LB), Eddie Vanderdoes (DL) and rising star Kenny Clark (DT). The addition of Tom Bradley as the team’s coordinator is also another reason to believe UCLA can own one of the Pac-12’s top defenses in 2015. While a quarterback must emerge to replace Brett Hundley, the supporting cast is in place to ease the new signal-caller into the lineup. The Bruins return standout running back Paul Perkins, five starters on the offensive line and the top five receivers from last season.
Biggest Concerns: UCLA’s hopes of winning the Pac-12 and contending for the playoffs relies heavily on settling the quarterback battle between Jerry Neuheisel and Josh Rosen. Neuheisel has the edge in experience, but Rosen is one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2015 signing class and enrolled in time to compete this spring. Is it asking too much for a true freshman to lead UCLA to the Pac-12 title? The offensive line played better in the second half of last season but still surrendered 40 sacks. While the defense should be among the best in the conference, linebacker Eric Kendricks and end Owa Odighizuwa will be missed.
Why Stanford Can Make the College Football Playoff: For the first time under coach David Shaw, Stanford is coming off a season of fewer than 11 wins. However, the Cardinal is positioned for a quick turnaround after an 8-5 mark in 2014. The offense finished the year on a high note, scoring at least 31 points in each of its last three games. Quarterback Kevin Hogan was a catalyst during that span, throwing for 234 yards and two scores against UCLA and 189 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland. Assuming Hogan picks up where he left off, Stanford’s offense should show marked improvement on the stat sheet. The offensive line is among the best in the Pac-12, sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey is poised for a breakout year, and the coaching staff has assembled a good collection of receivers and tight ends. Despite returning only four starters, Stanford’s defense shouldn’t slip too far on the stat sheet. The Cardinal also catch a break in scheduling, hosting Arizona, UCLA, California, Oregon and Notre Dame.
Biggest Concerns: Will Stanford’s offense pickup where it left off last year or resort to the sluggish version that showed up for a large portion of 2014? The defense returns enough pieces to prevent a significant drop in performance, but the line is thin on depth, and the secondary lost three starters. Just how fast will this unit mesh the new additions to the lineup with the returning starters in September?
UCLA’s classic white and blue uniforms are some of the best in the Pac-12, but the program has mixed in new alternate designs in recent years. On Thursday, UCLA and adidas unveiled a new “City” alternate for the Bruins to wear in 2015.
The new all-black alternate features metallic classic UCLA stripes, as well as metallic gold numbers with a blue outline. Additionally, the Bruins will swap out the gold helmet for a black design.
Check out the full release from the school on the new alternate uniforms for 2015:
It’s a new era for Nebraska football in 2015. Bo Pelini was jettisoned after leading the Cornhuskers to at least nine wins in every year from 2008-14. Needless to say, the bar is set high in Lincoln, and Nebraska expects to contend (and win) Big Ten titles.
New coach Mike Riley inherits a team capable of winning the West Division, but also a roster with question marks on both sides of the ball and a transition in schemes.
How will Mike Riley’s first season at Nebraska pan out? Will the Cornhuskers finish with nine wins once again? Or can Riley make an immediate impact in his first season in Lincoln?
Athlon polled a few writers to get their take on Nebraska’s realistic 2015 win/loss projection.
Nebraska Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2015
If Tommy Armstrong improves his accuracy and a pass-rusher, or two, emerges, there’s potential in Mike Riley’s first season. The offense could be pretty good — yes, even with Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell playing on Sundays. Jordan Westerkamp, De’Mornay Pierson-El and Jamal Turner are talented targets who will make plays, often in exciting highlight fashion. The running game, while inexperienced and unproven, has some nice depth. As for the defense, it’s impossible not to like the tackle tandem of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine, massive bodies who should make finding the aforementioned pass rusher(s) a little easier.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
I'll probably have my Omaha home egged for saying this, but the only "gimmies" on Nebraska's schedule are South Alabama and Southern Miss. BYU to open the season is no slouch, but the Huskers are the better team talent-wise and playing at home, so I'll count that as a win. They have Miami on the road, but I like Nebraska's matchups enough to favor the Huskers in that one.
Once conference play comes, I see losses at Minnesota and at home to Wisconsin and Michigan State. The road trips to Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers are all more difficult that meets the eye. They'll lose one of those, and my guess is it'll be at Rutgers.
I believe Nebraska has the talent to prevail over Northwestern at home. As was the case against Miami, the Huskers match up well enough with Iowa to slow down what the Hawkeyes want to do.
I'm probably off by a game here or there, but an 8-4 record seems like the most likely scenario for the 2015 Nebraska squad.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
When I look at Nebraska’s roster I struggle to see a 10-win team that runs through Big Ten play, but when I start going through the schedule I just feel as tough everything seems to work in Nebraska’s favor. Getting Wisconsin and Michigan State at home could be a nice edge to have in what should be a pair of close contests.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This isn’t a daunting or overly difficult schedule for first-year coach Mike Riley. The Cornhuskers host key games against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa and BYU visits Lincoln for the opener.
However, as with every first-year coach, transition is a key word to keep in mind. Nebraska has the talent to push Wisconsin for the Big Ten West Division, but how quickly will the new schemes fall into place on both sides of the ball? Quarterback Tommy Armstrong must adapt to a new offense, and standout running back Ameer Abdullah must be replaced. The defensive tackle duo of Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine is arguably one of the best in the nation. However, Nebraska is thin at linebacker and defensive end.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this team finishes 9-3, but I think there’s enough personnel concerns and transition among the coaching staff to drop to 8-4 in Riley’s debut.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Even though he consistently won at least nine games, the timing was right for Nebraska to sever ties with Bo Pelini. I really liked the Mike Riley hire and expect the transition to go fairly smoothly. Although I am a little worried about the potential drop off in the running game with Ameer Abdullah now in the NFL, as long as Tommy Armstrong embraces what Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf want from him and enough playmakers step up, this should be a fairly balanced and potent attack.
Defensively, I don’t think we’ll see the return of a vintage Blackshirts unit, but I do expect this side of the ball to perform very well because of the combination of experience returning and the fact that I think the defense will play more disciplined and work together better. Schedule-wise, Nebraska has its work cut out for it in both the non-conference and Big Ten, but the only real landmines I see are the trip to Miami, and of course Wisconsin and Michigan State. Bottom line, I think Cornhusker fans are going to be really pleased with Year One of the Riley era, even if it does produce Pelini-esque results in the win-loss column.
Notre Dame's "Shamrock Series" uniforms may make you green with envy.
The Fighting Irish will play Boston College in their newly revealed Under Armour uniforms. They're pretty green but it's not overdone, and the design is good so there are no complaints there.
The helmet could arguably be the star of the uniform. Bold and in your face, kind of like Notre Dame plans to be this season.
My office renovation is complete. Ryan & UA did a fantastic job on design. Now back to getting better every day. pic.twitter.com/egaBKAUz98— Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly) August 13, 2015
As you can see, the team was pretty excited about the uniforms.
Let's just file this under awkward.
James Harrison is 37 and still a scary player in the NFL. The Steelers linebacker is a monster, and everyone knows it. From his intense Instagram videos to his aggressive nature on the field, nobody wants to get in this guy's way.
During an interivew with 93.7 The Fan, offensive lineman Ramon Foster gave a funny anecdote about how one of the young Steelers wasn't even aware that Harrison was still an active member of the NFL.
"It was a young guy," Foster said. "I won't say who it was... he actually thought James was retired, and he was just here helping out. So everything that he's seen him do in the weight room, he's got to realized that that's what he's about to go through. So he was like, 'Man I thought that dude was retired and helping out!' I was like, 'No, he'll be out here real soon,' and he's like, 'Oh.'"
Here's just a small taste of the beast that is James Harrison.
A video posted by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on
Ladies and gentlemen… I have seen the future. Louisville, as predicted by former head coach Howard Schnellenberger is INDEED on a collision course with the national championship, and the crash is imminent.
The past five years of Louisville football has been pretty amazing. Under Charlie Strong, the Cardinals achieved tremendous success, but it also achieved something far more important.
Louisville had traditionally been seen in the same light as someone running for President of the United States. Every four years, there would be a significant impact and transition that would gain national attention and recognition. However, when Strong arrived, he began implementing a strategy that would not only assure short-term success, but also long-term stability.
After four years of recruiting, the mission is accomplished. No longer is Louisville an afterthought on the college football landscape, but it is quickly becoming a national destination place. Recruits desire to be a part of this program. Recently, four-star recruit Jawan Pass, from Columbus, Ga., shocked many, when he chose Louisville, over the likes of Alabama and Auburn. On a national scale, this is a huge recruiting coup for Louisville, as Pass appears to have the skill set to become a dominant, dual-threat quarterback, in the mold of recent Louisville alum and current Minnesota Viking Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater achieved tremendous success at Louisville and left an undeniable mark on the team, fan base and city. He propelled the Cardinals to a level of national prominence that the program had never witnessed before. The greatest irony about Bridgewater, however, is that he probably owes a tremendous amount of his on-the-field success to a young man that was born and raised in Louisville.
Wide receiver DeVante Parker, who went No. 14 overall to Miami in the most recent NFL Draft, is a graduate of Ballard High School who could have been a Heisman Trophy candidate last year, had he not missed the first six games of the season with a foot injury. When he returned, he was nothing short of brilliant, amassing almost 900 yards and five touchdowns in just six games. His absence gave opportunity to a sophomore with tremendous upside. The No. 2 WR, James Quick, who first starred at Kentucky prep powerhouse Trinity High School, showed tremendous flashes of brilliance. He returns with the experience he needs to lead Louisville’s skill position players along with probable starting QB and fellow Trinity teammate, Reggie Bonnafon.
These two homegrown stars are the “diamonds” found in a state that most nationally do not see as a talent-rich recruiting base. Quick and Bonnafon both possess the offensive prowess and skill to help Louisville achieve the championship greatness that has evaded the Cardinals so far. In fact, when you look at Louisville’s young celebrated gridiron history, it has been these “diamonds” of the Derby City that have helped to make the teams special.
Louisville has circled the national championship since 2006, but never quite crossed the threshold officially into the conversation. QB Brian Brohm led the Cardinals in 2006, along with another hometown diamond, RB Michael Bush (from Louisville Male who was at one time a Heisman Trophy candidate, but was injured in the first game of that season), to a 12-1 record. The only blemish was to Rutgers on a last-second field goal, as Louisville settled for its first-ever BCS bowl appearance, a 24-13 Orange Bowl victory over ACC champion Wake Forest.
Strong did get his quarterback, Bridgewater, from Florida, but it was Parker, his go-to, record-breaking pass catcher, who served as the fuel that made this offensive engine hum. While Strong was leading the Cardinals, Parker amassed 1,629 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Bridgewater-Parker combination was responsible for the best parts of the offense during their tenure together, and it was the latter’s play last year that salvaged a season that was very much in danger, as he returned from injury to match his total yards output the previous year, in just SIX GAMES.
Louisville’s statement game from last year took place in South Bend, Ind., right in front of the iconic Touchdown Jesus statue when a freshman QB (Bonnafon) shocked everyone with his steady and clutch play under pressure. Bonnafon only completed eight of his 21 attempts against the Fighting Irish, but it was his leadership and steadiness, (despite his youth) in the fourth quarter that led the Cardinals to victory. It seems that Louisville traditionally, when it has needed that pivotal player to put them over the top, has only needed to look in its own back yard for a “diamond.”
The 2016 Louisville recruiting class just got another verbal commitment from the No. 4 WR in Kentucky, 3-star recruit Keion Wakefield from Louisville Male High School. He is an underrated speed demon, with tremendous upside and ability. He is a playmaker, with an unbelievable work ethic and desire to be great. He should be able to prosper in head coach Bobby Petrino’s offense. Most importantly, Wakefield is another local kid, which has the fan base buzzing about the possibilities that he brings.
It’s one thing to win a title and a city embraces you for that. It is a transcendent joy to be from that city and to bring the city a title (See LeBron James returning to Cleveland). It was an impressive accomplishment to be able to lure Bridgewater out of the diamond-filled recruiting mines of Florida. But it is even more rewards and fulfilling to find NFL-level talent in your own backyard, and keep them there. Parker could be the first of what is a parade of high school graduates to transition from Louisville’s Jefferson County Public Schools system to the stage of the NFL Draft.
The growing perception of a homegrown assembly line also seems to suggest that Louisville is determined to mine its home fields well, in addition to searching elsewhere. While Louisville has not been known for being a high school football powerhouse region (except for Trinity and Male), there is no reason to ignore the diamonds that you do find in your own backyard.
After all… a diamond is valuable, no matter which mine it comes from.
— 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, incuding ESPNLouisville.com and CardinalSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.
At Florida State, the goal is to win the national title every year. Heisman-winning quarterback leaves… star player suspended… song remains the same. The folks in Tallahassee expect no less.
To win a national championship you need plenty of talent and a little bit of luck. We will see in the next four months if Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles have enough of each of those traits to contend in January.
Teams also need the proper schedule, one that provides some soft spots along with showcase opportunities. That Florida State has. The Seminoles’ big battles are on the road and victories in those games will give the College Football Playoff selection committee plenty to chew on.
Here are my rankings of Florida State’s toughest regular season games from 12 to 1.
12. Nov. 21 vs. Chattanooga
The Mocs have a very good program for FCS and their spot on the schedule could have the Seminoles looking forward. It won’t matter. Florida State will roll.
11. Sept. 5 vs. Texas State
Texas State had a winning record in the Sun Belt last year and played tough against Illinois. The Noles are not the Illini, though, and the Bobcats have some searching to do on defense.
10. Sept. 12 vs. South Florida
There is no doubt that the Bulls will be fired up to play their in-state foe. Head coach Willie Taggart’s team, however, is just not good enough to hang with FSU and South Florida’s offensive personnel will still be learning the newly implemented spread system in week two.
9. Oct. 31 vs. Syracuse
It looks like it is going to be a long season for the Orange. The only glimmer of hope for the ‘Cuse is that Florida State faces them the week after Georgia Tech and the week before Clemson.
8. Oct. 3 at Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons could have a nice defense that could slow down the Seminoles’ offensive attack. But Wake’s offense was awful last fall and they don’t have anyone that will scare Jalen Ramsey and the FSU defense.
7. Sept. 18 (Friday) at Boston College
Boston College has some considerable question marks coming into this season. But the Eagles gave the Seminoles their toughest regular season challenge in 2013 and a late Roberto Aguayo field goal was the reason Florida State survived last year’s contest.
6. Oct. 10 vs. Miami
This is always the biggest game of the year for the Hurricanes. Pass rush could be a concern for Florida State this year and if they give Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya time to throw, he could make the Seminoles pay.
5. Oct. 17 vs. Louisville
Despite losing star wide receiver DeVante Parker, Gerord Holliman’s 14 interceptions, and eight other NFL draft picks, many experts are high on the 2015 Cardinals. The front seven of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s group should be very good and you always expect head coach Bobby Petrino to manufacture some type of offense.
4. Nov. 14 vs. NC State
The Wolfpack have 14 starters returning from a team that finished 2014 very strong. They also play Florida State the week after the Seminoles go to Clemson. Finally, NC State has been a thorn in the Seminoles’ side for a very long time.
3. Nov. 28 at Florida
By the end of the season, new head coach Jim McElwain should have the Gators on the upswing. The Florida defense should be rigid and the Swamp will be primed for the arrival of their hated rival.
2. Oct. 24 at Georgia Tech
At times last year, Florida State’s rushing defense struggled. It better not be a problem heading into Atlanta because Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets will run, run, and run some more.
1. Nov. 7 at Clemson
The Tigers come into the season with very high expectations and they fully expect to wrestle the Atlantic Division crown away from Florida State. It will be a crazy scene the first Saturday night of November in Death Valley. The good news for the Seminoles is that they faced a similar scenario in 2013 and put a 51-14 beating on the guys in orange.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
Believe or not, the Miami Dolphins will play in their first preseason game on Thursday night. The team has been in training camp the last two weeks preparing for their matchup against the Chicago Bears.
There are only a select number of starting jobs still open on the Dolphins, but the 53-man roster is far from a finished production. Here are five things to keep an eye on Thursday night.
1. Offensive line
Without a healthy Branden Albert during training camp, the Dolphins’ offensive line has performed poorly. Albert's replacement, Jason Fox, has gotten beaten by the defensive ends regularly. Also, the play of guards Billy Turner, Dallas Thomas and Jamil Douglas has been up and down. Head coach Joe Philbin says the battle for the starting guard spots has been close in camp.
"Yeah, it’s been close," said Philbin. "I thought Jamil (Douglas), for a rookie, the other night kind of [held] his own and out there. I thought he handled himself pretty well out there, I really did."
None of the guards has outperformed the other. Maybe Turner, Thomas or Douglas will stand out against a Bears defense they have yet to line up against.
2. With Stills and Parker still out, who will step up at receiver?
Kenny Stills has missed a number of training camp practices with a calf injury and isn’t expected to play. With Stills and rookie DeVante Parker still injured, that will give receivers Rishard Matthews and Michael Preston more opportunities to showcase themselves.
Matthews was thought to be a player that could be in danger of being cut, but he has been one of the best players in Dolphins’ training camp thus far. Even quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been impressed by the way Matthews has performed.
“He’s taking advantage of the opportunity, said Tannehill. “He’s getting a lot of reps, he’s a big physical receiver with strong hands and I feel like if the ball is in his area, he has strong hands and he’s going to come down with it. He uses his big body to separate and makes plays on the ball. He attacks the ball and that’s what you want to see from a receiver.”
Preston is still unlikely to make the final roster considering the team’s depth at receiver. Despite being a long shot, Philbin hope he keeps playing well.
"He likes football, he’s out there, he’s a competitor and he’s stepped up and made some plays, said Philbin. “So he has to do it, obviously, against outside competition now.”
3. Will the defensive line dominate?
All throughout camp, the defensive line of the Dolphins has been manhandling the team’s offensive line during practices and it hasn’t just been the starters. Players like Terrence Fede, Derrick Shelby and Jordan Phillips have been some of the best players on defense throughout drills.
“I thought the two ends have really been consistent throughout camp, Derrick (Shelby) and Terrence Fede, really I thought played at a high level, said Philbin. “On the interior, C.J. Mosley I think has come along the last couple of days and we’ve seen some flash plays out of Jordan Phillips, Anthony Johnson and Deandre Coleman. It’s a good group, but I think we need some more consistency.”
4. Can any of the cornerbacks not named Brent Grimes separate themselves?
Brent Grimes is a three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, so the Dolphins don’t have to worry about his side of the field. Miami is still evaluating who will line up opposite him.
Jamar Taylor is the No. 2 corner on the current depth chart but has been inconsistent during practices. Brice McCain has had a great camp and is threating to supplant Taylor as the starter.
“Brice (McCain) has played good football since he’s been here, said Philbin. “He’s competitive, he’s got good recovery speed and he’s picked up the system well and so he’s going to get opportunities to show if he’s the best, second best, third best, whatever it may be.”
Will Davis, Walt Aikens, Tony Lippett and Bobby McCain are also fighting for roster spots on the team, so expect each of them to get a lot of snaps on Thursday.
5. Sturgis or Franks, who will get the most opportunities at kicker?
In his two seasons in the NFL, Celeb Sturgis has been a mediocre field goal kicker. Last season, the former Florida Gator was successful on 78.4 percent of his field goals, which placed him 28th in the league. That’s why the Dolphins brought in competition for Sturgis in the form of Andrew Franks.
Franks has a huge leg but has been inconsistent in kicking drills.
“He’s got pop in his leg," said Philbin. “The ball comes off his foot. Again, not perfect every time, but there’s something to work with there, for sure.”
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.