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Minnesota's football program has shown continuous improvement each year under head coach Jerry Kill. That improvement has raised the bar of expectations in some circles, as the Golden Gophers are being mentioned as a front-runner in the Big Ten West, despite losing two of the conference's most talented offensive weapons from a season ago.
The 2015 slate will present plenty of challenges for Minnesota in its attempt to win a division title and possible more. Matchups with a couple of top-5-caliber teams as well as some tricky road games are scattered throughout the schedule.
Here now are Minnesota's 12 regular season games, ranked according to degree of difficulty from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 19 vs. Kent State
This will be the first home game of the season with no limelight or pressure on the Gophers. The early start should eliminate any butterflies and allow Minnesota to go out and take care of business as expected.
11. Sept. 26 vs. Ohio
Ohio will be the third consecutive Group of Five team the Gophers play to wrap up their non-conference schedule. They'll need to remain focused, as Ohio head coach Frank Solich has won bigger games against better teams. His Bobcats will be ready.
10. Sept. 12 at Colorado State
Win or lose against TCU to open the season, the Gophers will need to be mentally prepared for a road trip against a team that won 10 games a season ago. New head coach Mike Bobo is trying to instill a bit of "SEC toughness" in Colorado State.
9. Nov. 21 vs. Illinois
Illinois' strength is going to be its passing game. Thankfully for Minnesota, the secondary may be the defense's best unit. Aside from being more talented than the Illini, Minnesota's style of play is conducive to a sound win in this one.
8. Oct. 10 at Purdue
The Boilermakers are going to be in the same boat as Illinois. Purdue's strength will be its offense, but it'll still be no match for the talented playmakers on Minnesota's defense. The Gophers should be able to win this game even with a pedestrian effort from their offense.
7. Oct. 3 at Northwestern
The Wildcats are consistently one of the tougher teams to read and predict. This game being the Big Ten opener doesn't make things any easier for Minnesota. The Gophers will be favored, but anything can happen in Evanston.
6. Oct. 31 vs. Michigan
The Wolverines are probably going to get back to the top of the conference under Jim Harbaugh, but it won't be in 2015. These two teams have similar talent in a lot of places, but coaching continuity in Minnesota and question marks at quarterback in Michigan both favor the Gophers in this one.
5. Nov. 14 at Iowa
Kinnick Stadium is never an easy place to place. It's even tougher under the lights with the fans dressed in all black. The Hawkeyes have enough talent on both sides of the ball to make this battle for the Floyd of Rosedale an interesting one.
4. Oct. 17 vs. Nebraska
Minnesota has beaten the Huskers twice in a row. Nebraska wants to end that streak in the worst way. New coach Mike Riley is likely going to field a much more composed version of the Huskers. They won't crumble when the chips are down, and this one won't be decided until the fourth quarter.
3. Nov. 28 vs. Wisconsin
These two teams are almost mirror images of one another. The Badgers are going through a coaching change, but in reality, that's not going to mean much in terms of strategy and attack. This could be the de facto Big Ten West Division title game.
2. Sept. 3 (Thursday) vs. TCU
The Horned Frogs could very well be the best team in the country. The Gophers are going to find out just how good TCU is in Week 1. This game will either serve as a measuring stick for how far Minnesota needs to go or an announcement to the nation that the Gophers have arrived.
1. Nov. 7 at Ohio State
Minnesota played the Buckeyes tough a season ago at home. This one could be different. Ohio State might be better than it was last season and the Buckeyes will likely be firing on all cylinders in November. Incidentally, this might be the first of two meetings between the teams in 2015.
Two weeks ago, my enthusiasm over finally seeing the New Orleans Saints play football for the first time in eight months quickly turned to dismay. The Saints’ performance in their first preseason game caused me to dread the upcoming. The weakest link in the defense, the secondary, saw two players leave the game with injuries in the first quarter at Baltimore. The Saints piled up 16 penalties for 143 yards. The first-string defense allowed touchdowns during the Ravens' first two series.
Meanwhile, the offense went three-and-out during its first two possessions. Topping off the mountain of calamities, the defense gave up a first down on fourth-an- 20 in the final minute, allowing the Ravens to continue the drive toward the game-winning points. After the first quarter, I was already designing a paper bag to wear while watching Sean Payton's team this season.
After awaking the next morning, the light of a new day provided some different perspectives. I watched a replay of the fiasco just to torture myself a little bit more. I halted my nearly completed headgear of shame for the upcoming season.
First of all, Drew Brees did not take a single snap during the game. The Saints will succeed in nothing on offense other than setting the NFL record for punts in a season if he misses multiple games due to injuries. He served the team in a more valuable fashion by riding the bench. Other conclusions in this same vein include these: water is wet, the sun rises in the east and soccer is boring.
Secondly, Marques Colston and C.J. Spiller never did appear for a single down. Both will serve as vital cogs in this offense. Therefore, their absences made this game an invalid evaluation.
Finally, the Saints did win the turnover battle 2-0. That was encouraging considering that a team that does not give away the ball while taking away two from the opponent will very rarely lose.
On Saturday, I watched the Saints' second preseason game. Once again, they lost the lead in the last minute to drop to 0-2. They flubbed two-point conversion attempts three times during the game. They turned over the ball after not having done so last week.
Despite the loss to New England, New Orleans provided more reasons for optimism:
1. The Saints' defense held the Tom Brady-led Patriot starters to three-and-out on their first three offensive possessions.
2. The Saints’ expected offensive starters scored a field goal then two touchdowns on their first three possessions.
3. The number of penalties was cut in half compared to the first game, costing the name just 88 yards.
In the final analysis, I remind Saints fans everywhere to avoid overreacting to two defeats in both preseason games. The team did show improvement in most areas compared to the first game. Also, preseason games are notorious for misleading fans and media into predicting glorious success or humiliating failure in the upcoming season. If only I can convince myself to follow my own advice.
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
The Tennessee Volunteers received a boost to their 2017 recruiting efforts in the form of a big-time commitment on Sunday. Hunter Johnson, who is ranked as the No. 1 high school quarterback in the nation for the 2017 class, has pledged to take his talents to Rocky Top.
The 6-foot-3, 197-pound, pro-style signal-caller from Brownsburg High School in Indiana is a 5-star prospect according to the 247Sports Composite Rankings. 247Sports also ranks him as the No. 11 overall player in the nation for the class of 2017, and he has already committed to play in the 2017 U.S Army All-American game.
Johnson claims more than 20 offers from some of the best schools in the country. He ultimately chose Tennessee over the likes of Notre Dame, Florida, Michigan, Miami, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Penn State to name a few. The home state Fighting Irish were believed to be Tennessee’s toughest competitor in landing Johnson. NC State also was named as a finalist.
Johnson, who is just now entering his junior year at Brownsburg, decided to make the early commitment in order to focus on his final two seasons of high school football and avoid the many distractions that accompany the recruiting process. He has visited Knoxville on at least six occasions, citing comfort level as the deciding factor in choosing the Vols. Johnson becomes the Vols’ first commitment for the class of 2017 and plans on enrolling early at Tennessee.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McVey is a diehard Tennessee Volunteers' fan who loves singing "Rocky Top" every opportunity he gets. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS
Normally after a Pittsburgh Steelers game the five key points of the contest are reviewed here. But Sunday's 24-19 victory against the Green Bay Packers was notable not so much in that it was only Pittsburgh's second preseason victory in its last 11 exhibition games, or that it ended a four-game August losing streak.
It was notable because of the injury factor, namely that center Maurkice Pouncey could be lost for the season with a broken left ankle. Pouncey's injury wasn't the only one the Steelers suffered. Last year's second-round draft choice, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, also suffered a left ankle injury, and backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, like Pouncey recently removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list, may be returning to inactivity after injuring his left hand.
The Packers also suffered potential season-defining injuries. Star wide receiver Jordy Nelson is out for the season after sustaining a serious right knee injury, while guard T.J. Lang suffered a concussion.
Calls to shorten or end the preseason will likely become more prevalent, and the standard Pittsburgh sense of panic has accompanied Pouncey's injury. He is, after all, a four-time Pro Bowler. But is it valid?
It's true Pouncey was injured and did not play in Super Bowl XLV or in the playoffs the following season. The Steelers lost to the Packers, 31-25, in the Super Bowl and to the Broncos, 29-23, in overtime in the Wild Card round of the 2011 playoffs.
Some have pointed to Pouncey's injury as a reason for the losses. But to blame these defeats on Doug Legursky is a bit much. Legursky did not allow the Howard Green hit of Ben Roethlisberger that resulted in Nick Collins' game-changing interception in the Super Bowl, nor did he cause the key fumble from Rashard Mendenhall in the third quarter.
In fact, despite playing catch-up for the entire game, the Steelers outrushed Green Bay, 126-50, and Green's hurry notwithstanding, Roethlisberger was only sacked once despite attempting 40 passes.
Against Denver, Isaac Redman ran for 66 yards on three carries through the middle of the line, and the Steelers outrushed the Broncos, 156-131. While Roethlisberger was sacked five times, one has to wonder if this is because of Legursky's blocking calls or a bum ankle suffered the previous month by Big Ben in a 14-3 victory against Cleveland. Two weeks before the playoff loss, Legursky had started at center against the Rams along with backup quarterback Charlie Batch, who was not sacked once.
Others pointed to the fact the Steelers started the 2013 season 0-4 after Pouncey was lost for the season in Week 1. But the final record of 8-8 was the same as the season before, and one has to wonder if this poor start was solely the result of Pouncey's right ACL and MCL injury or a continuation of the team's demise that saw them lose five of its last seven games in 2012 and all four preseason games in ‘13.
The man who will step in for Pouncey this season is Cody Wallace. The journeyman lineman, 30, played in 15 games last season and actually started the final four games of the 2013 season after Fernando Velasco, signed to replace Pouncey, was injured and lost for the season in the 12th game of the year. For the record, the Steelers allowed only three sacks in their final three games that year behind Wallace, all victories, after allowing 40 sacks in the previous 13 games.
While the running game averaged roughly four yards a rush in two games with Wallace as the starting center, the Steelers gained less than three in a frigid 30-20 victory against the Bengals in their 14th game, and more than five per carry in a 38-31 victory at Green Bay the following week.
Wallace played college football at Texas A&M and was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round in 2008. The Steelers are the sixth organization he's been with, but they thought enough of Wallace to give him a three-year contract in 2014. Now he’ll have a chance to earn his paycheck, as the trigger man for what should be one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses.
— 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.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is back with the team after a one-day trial on misdemeanor battery charges ended in a not guilty verdict.
According to a release from the school, Cook has been reinstated immediately and is eligible to practice. The sophomore is expected to open the 2015 season as Florida State’s No. 1 running back. Cook is one of the nation’s top rushers after an impressive freshman campaign and is a key piece of the Seminoles’ offense with the departure of quarterback Jameis Winston. Cook's return to the field is also a huge boost for a Florida State backfield that should be one of the best in the nation. In addition to Cook, the Seminoles have touted freshman Jacques Patrick and Mario Pender.
The sophomore running back was suspended after charges were filed in early July, putting his status in question for the 2015 season. However, any doubts about Cook’s playing status for the upcoming year have cleared, as the verdict has opened the door for a full return.
Statement from FSU athletics reinstating Dalvin Cook. pic.twitter.com/OrmmuoU3IN— Jared Shanker (@JShankerESPN) August 25, 2015
25 minutes. 25 minutes of deliberation. Tell me how charging that was a legit case and not a PR stunt. Sure.— Bud Elliott (@TomahawkNation) August 24, 2015
FSU says Dalvin Cook will return to practice immediately— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) August 25, 2015
Well that didn't take long. Jury with quick decision to exonerate FSU Dalvin Cook.— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) August 25, 2015
Oklahoma’s quarterback battle was one of the biggest in college football this fall, but the intrigue is over in Norman. On Monday, the Sooners announced Baker Mayfield edged Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas for the starting spot for the Sept. 5 opener against Akron.
The decision to pick Mayfield as the starter is really no surprise. The Texas Tech transfer was considered the favorite since the spring and remained at the top of the depth chart over Knight and Thomas.
Mayfield has traveled an interesting path to Norman. The Texas native was a walk-on to Texas Tech in 2013 and started seven games for the Red Raiders. Mayfield threw for 2,315 yards and 12 scores during the regular season but decided to leave prior to the Holiday Bowl. Mayfield appealed for immediate eligibility with the Sooners in 2014. However, that appeal was unsuccessful, and Mayfield sat out 2014 as a result of transfer rules.
The play of the offense is under the microscope for Oklahoma this season. The Sooners averaged 36.4 points per game last year but ranked eighth in the Big 12 in passing and needed a new identity and direction.
Coach Bob Stoops decided to hit the reset button on offense, hiring rising star Lincoln Riley to call the plays. Riley plans on implementing an offense similar to the Air Raid approach he learned at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, as well as the one he coordinated at East Carolina from 2010-14.
Mayfield is well versed in this offense from his time at Texas Tech and in high school at Lake Travis. Having a grasp of this scheme certainly helped in this battle, and the junior possesses the confidence and playmaking ability to help Oklahoma make a quick transition to the new scheme.
Mayfield isn’t shy about taking chances with the ball, but he’s also accurate. The junior doesn’t necessarily have to connect on big plays every week, just be accurate and distribute the ball to the playmakers on the outside.
While Mayfield is likely the best fit among the Oklahoma quarterbacks for the new scheme, the strength of this offense still resides with its running backs. Samaje Perine, Alex Ross and Joe Mixon form one of the top backfields in the nation.
Choosing Mayfield as the starter should come as no surprise for the Sooners. But here’s the big question for Oklahoma: How much will the offense improve under Riley this year? With a loaded backfield and talent at receiver, there’s reason for optimism. However, there are four new starters on the line and a transition in schemes.
Is Mayfield the right player to lead this offense? Or will Thomas and Knight play their way into snaps? The Sept. 12 date at Tennessee should be a huge barometer test for Mayfield, Riley and Oklahoma’s new offense. For now, everything suggests Mayfield is the right (and easy) pick.
Several SEC teams opened fall practice with uncertainty at quarterback, but Texas A&M ended any controversy about its signal-caller with 10 days until its opener against Arizona State. On Monday, coach Kevin Sumlin picked sophomore Kyle Allen as the team’s starter over talented freshman Kyler Murray.
The decision to go with Allen should come as no surprise. The sophomore was the favorite to win the job and played well in his stint as Texas A&M’s starter. With the announcement out of the way, Allen has a chance to spend a full allotment of practices over the next two weeks as the starter for game preparation against the Sun Devils.
As a true freshman last season, Allen guided the Aggies to an upset road victory over Auburn, passed for 237 yards and three scores in a 34-27 loss to Missouri and threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns in the 45-37 win over West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl.
The Arizona native was a five-star prospect in last year’s signing class and showed plenty of promise in a limited run as the starter. With a full offseason to work in the No. 1 role, the sophomore should be ready to build off that success in 2015 and could challenge for All-SEC honors.
Murray was also a five-star prospect, ranking as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 signing class by 247Sports. The touted true freshman should see some snaps this year but picking Allen as the starter was the right move by Sumlin. With valuable experience gained last season, combined with an impressive finish to the season, the sophomore is poised to emerge as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.
Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Texas A&M since joining the SEC. And with one of the nation’s top receiving corps and a solid offensive line in place, the Aggies’ offensive attack won’t be easy to stop for opposing defenses once again in 2015. Murray is a dynamic and intriguing talent, but naming Allen as the team's starter was the right (and easy) call for Sumlin.
Fans of USC are fired up, but not nearly as much as Steve Sarkisian was during a team rally.
The Trojans head coach was assumed to be intoxicated while giving a little speech to pump up the crowd during USC's Salute To Troy.
"Get ready to [expletive] fight on baby," Sarkisian yelled.
Sarkisian issued an apology this morning.
"I sincerely apologize to my players and staff and to our fans for my behavior and my inappropriate language at our kickoff event Saturday night. I have a responsibility to all of them and I let them down. [USC Athletic Director] Pat Haden talked to me after the even about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again."
Haden also mentioned the encounter and wants Sarkisian to use it as a learning experience.
"I met with Coach Sarkisian and I expressed my disappointment in the way he represented himself and the University at our Salute To Troy event. While the details of our conversation will remain between us, I am confident he heard my message loud and clear."
Ohio State are the champions and that's undisputed.
There are some people out there that happen to think they should be credited for the Buckeyes' title. Former Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi told The Griff & Grinz Show that Ohio State's defense is eerily similar to that of Michigan State.
"Ohio State's facing the same problem (against offenses), because they stole our defense, too," Narduzzi said. "There's a lot of teams throughout the country. You go watch them, they're exactly us, whether they admit it or not."
Narduzzi says it's no coinciedence the Buckeyes' scheme changed at some point. It's no secret that Michigan State arguably had one of the best defenses in the country under Narduzzi.
"They're exactly us, and they weren't before. They won a national championship with the defense."
Narduzzi is now the head coach for Pitt and we're eager to see if he has a scheme for others to "steal" or if the Panthers will be the ones winning the championship this season.
Just about every sports fan is tied to their team’s logo, which makes ranking logos complicated. To get an educated opinion on what is a good logo and what isn't, Athlon Sports turned to one of the people most responsible for helping produce some of the best-looking magazines on the newsstands, graphic designer Daly Cantrell.
Here is what she had to say about the Pac-12's football logos:
I love a good script font that is gender neutral… and this logo does the trick. The color scheme along with the beautiful flow of the letters makes this logo top in my book in the Pac-12.
|2.||Oregon||The Ducks' O displays simplicity at its finest. The font of the O has a great shape that gives it a different compared to your average O.|
|3.||USC||The interlocking letters make this logo. That subtle detail in the crossing gives just enough detail to really bring this logo to the next level.|
|4.||Washington||The Huskies’ W is so classic and sleek that it works.|
|5.||UCLA||The Bruins’ logo is a classic take on a script logo. Underlining the letters make the logo stand out and gives a great softness to all the curves.|
|6.||Washington State||A lot of creativity went into making this logo. The subtle WSU in the body of the cougar is a really cool concept.|
|7.||Colorado||I really like the concept behind this logo, but I wish the CU was a little easier to read.|
|8.||Stanford||Stanford’s S is extremely classic. The touch of white and red trim makes the logo.|
|9.||Arizona||I like the concept, but I hate that two typefaces were made in the making of this. The inner A is too pointed for the slab serif A around it.|
|10.||Arizona State||I am glad they finally dropped the words that used to be incorporated with this logo. The pitchfork has an edginess to it and is quite different to the rest the logos in college football.|
|11.||Utah||This logo could be really cool, but the circle bothers me. The block U and feather detail is great, but it the circle gives an off-balanced feel.|
|12.||Oregon State||I am just not a fan of the beaver... it looks like a blob.|
Life in the SEC is always survival of the fittest. The conference has nine teams ranked in Athlon Sports’ 2015 college football preseason Top 25, which is more than any other conference. The Florida Gators are not one of these nine teams.
Florida is probably not ranked because of its 7-5 record last season and the transition the program is currently going through. The school fired head coach Will Muschamp last November and hired Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain to replace him.
Experts don’t have high expectations for the Gators this season, as during SEC Media Days the team was picked to finish fifth in the SEC East. Despite the low expectations, could the Gators be one of the biggest surprises in the SEC?
Here’s Florida 12 regular season games ranked from the easiest to the most difficult matchup.
12. Sept. 5 vs. New Mexico State
The New Mexico State went 2-10 last season so the Aggies are the runaway choice for the Gators’ easiest game of the 2015 season. New Mexico State’s defense finished 113th nationally in 2014, so Florida should have an opportunity to score 50 points on the Aggies.
11. Nov. 21 vs. FAU
FAU’s strength is running the football, as the Owls have Jaquez Johnson and Jay Warren, who each rushed for more than 500 yards last season. The problem is stopping the run is a strength of the Gators, as the team finished 13th in in the nation in rush defense. This should make for quick work of the Owls.
10. Nov. 7 vs. Vanderbilt
A couple of years ago, a game against Vanderbilt would not have been considered an easy game by any means. But after an abysmal 2014 season, the Commodores will have a tough time winning in The Swamp.
9. Sept. 12 vs. East Carolina
East Carolina had a successful AAC debut last season, as the team finished 8-5, including victories over ACC programs Virginia Tech and North Carolina. The Pirates will have to replace two of their better players in quarterback Shane Carden and wide receiver Justin Hardy along with having a new offensive coordinator. With East Carolina rebuilding, Florida will be the favorites in Gainesville.
8. Nov. 14 at South Carolina
Steve Spurrier will have a tough time replacing his playmakers at South Carolina, as the team returns only four starters on offense. The defense has been rebuilt and revamped, but it doesn’t have enough game-changers to be a challenger in the SEC East. While it won’t be easy, Florida can go into Columbia and defeat South Carolina.
7. Sept 19 at Kentucky
Who could forget the Gators’ thrilling 36-30 overtime victory against the Wildcats last September? Kentucky got close to making a bowl game last season and Mark Stoops will have his team looking for revenge against the Gators.
6. Oct. 10 at Missouri
The Tigers have won two straight against the Gators, including last season’s 42-13 victory in Gainesville. The Tigers have some issues at wide receiver and on defense to figure out, but they should be in the thick of the SEC East race once again in 2015.
5. Sept. 26 vs. Tennessee
The last time Tennessee defeated the Gators was back in 2004, when George W. Bush was finishing his first term in office, “American Idol” was television's No.1 show and gas was only $1.85 per gallon. The Volunteers are many an analyst’s pick for SEC sleeper team this fall. With 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-6 last season, Tennessee will be looking to break its 10-game losing streak against the Gators.
4. Oct. 17 at LSU
While LSU went a disappointing 8-5 last season, playing in Tiger Stadium is always a chore for any opponent. The Tigers should be improved with their 16 returning starters, including stud running back Leonard Fournette. Florida and LSU have traditionally played each other tough and this season probably won’t be any different.
3. Oct. 3 vs. Ole Miss
Ole Miss has enough talent to not only defeat Florida in The Swamp, but also to win the SEC West this season. Last season the Rebels went 9-4 and return plenty of NFL-caliber talent. If Ole Miss can find a quarterback to replace three-year starter Bo Wallace, watch out.
2. Nov. 28 vs. Florida State
The Florida vs. Florida State game is always one of college football’s most bitter and intense rivalries. The Seminoles have finished with 12 or more wins each of the last three seasons. While Florida State lost a lot of talent to the NFL, this will still be one of the toughest games on the Gators’ schedule.
1. Oct. 31 vs. Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
Georgia's talent is as good as it has been in several years, but the Bulldogs have to find a quarterback. If they can settle on one guy, Georgia can not only win the SEC East, but they also can make a run at the College Football Playoff and perhaps a national title.
— 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.
It’s not as if Rutgers has ever had any realistic expectations to be one of the premiere college football programs in the country, but joining the Big Ten amplifies everything for everyone involved. Both players and coaches are under immense scrutiny to not only perform at the highest level, but exceed expectations en route to soaring heights for their programs.
Greg Schiano brought Rutgers football back into the national spotlight in 2006, in what could be one of the most wild college football seasons in history, finishing 11-2 and beating Kansas State in a January bowl game. However since that memorable season the program has fallen back into mediocrity, going just 57-42 over the past eight years.
One thing Schiano brought back to the Scarlet Knights was a respect factor. A team that was once considered the worst program in all of college football, Schiano’s Knights were ranked in the preseason Top 25 in 2006, the first time in 30 years the program had seen a number next to their name.
But Schiano’s success with a once-moribund program didn’t go unnoticed, as he left following the 2011 season for the NFL as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Given what Schiano helped build, Rutgers felt it best to keep both structure and continuity in the program and decided to hire within by promoting longtime assistant coach Kyle Flood.
Flood, who has been with the program since 2005, saw immediate success in 2012, finishing 9-4 and tied for first in the then Big East Conference, ultimately losing in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The 2013 season was a rude awakening from Flood’s honeymoon campaign, as the Scarlet Knights finished below .500 at 6-7, missing out on a bowl game and landing near the bottom of the brand-new American Athletic Conference.
Last season, Rutgers’ debut in the Big Ten was viewed as both a surprise and a success, not only to those close to the program, but outside as well. A team that many national pundits expected to finish with double-digit losses, tallied an eight-win season. Their performance in Big Ten games was unimpressive, as all five losses in 2014 coming at the hands of conference foes, including blowout defeats against perennial powers Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
The Scarlet Knights’ first season in Big Ten play wasn’t all bad, however, as it also included victory over Michigan at home, and a nail-biting loss to Penn State early in the season in Happy Valley. Even with the mixed results, Rutgers and Flood put belief in a fan base that was otherwise skeptical about the team’s future success in a Power 5 conference.
The issue at hand is whether Flood can sustain and build on the success the program saw in year one as members of the Big Ten. Especially considering that Ohio State is the reigning national champion, and Michigan State appears to be knocking on the door of being a part of the College Football Playoff by season’s end. Not only is competition ramping up at a rapid pace in the conference, but recruiting also is expected to be at its most competitive moving forward with Jim Harbaugh returning to Michigan to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Buckeyes’ Urban Meyer and the Nittany Lions’ James Franklin.
Flood’s career 23-16 record, while nothing to be overly ashamed about, isn’t anything to be comfortable with either. His Scarlet Knights have a difficult schedule in 2015, with major road tests against the likes of Penn State early and then Wisconsin and Michigan in back-to-back in weeks to end October and open November.
One of Flood’s biggest marks against him is that while he can beat quality football teams, he loses, and sometimes in embarrassing fashion, to very bad football teams. In just his second year in 2013, he saw his team lose five of its final seven games after beginning the season 4-1, and only two of the teams the Scarlet Knights lost to that year finished their seasons with winning records. If Flood continues this discouraging trend, the whispers about his job security that are already circulating around Piscataway are only going to get louder with the pressure of competing in a power conference in a major television market hanging over the program’s head.
The 2015 season likely won’t be the battle axe that comes down on Flood’s head unless it’s an absolute abomination. If it’s anywhere other than on the field that’ll cost Flood his job, it’ll be in recruiting. According to 247Sports.com’s Composite Rankings, Rutgers had the 24th overall recruiting class in the country in 2012; which would’ve been mostly credited to Schiano prior to his departure to the NFL.
In the three full years Flood has been the head coach, the program’s performance has steadily declined in the rankings, coming in at 50th (2013), 53rd (2014), and 55th during the 2015 cycle. If there’s any sort of silver lining from those gaudy numbers, it’s that Rutgers currently is on pace for a major improvement, as they currently sit 43rd in the country with National Signing Day still seven months away.
With another eight-win campaign for the Scarlet Knights, and even just two or three top recruits committing to the future of the program, Flood could begin to build what both fans and boosters are looking for — an annual Big Ten powerhouse.
While this upcoming season isn’t likely to be the be-all-end-all for Flood as the head coach, it’s certainly a crucial season. If there was a meter to gauge his hot seat ranking, one could argue that it’s a firm, very firm 6/10. That rating is purely contingent upon his success during the 2015 campaign.
Rutgers isn’t expected to dominate Big Ten competition, being that the Scarlet Knights are still basically playing with a roster built to compete in the AAC. But a few upset victories could really propel Flood and this program to new heights in a Power 5 conference. A few upset losses, however, and Flood could be in search of new employment, for better or worse. None of us will know until the games are played, but there’s reason for concern in the birthplace of college football, and the time is now for Flood to earn himself some job security.
— Written by Chris Dougherty, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Dougherty also serves as a National Recruiting Analyst for 247Sports.com and has written for other sites, including FanSided.com and Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @warontheweekend.
Don't be like Petite Randy Moss, because his life is not at fun as the regular-sized one.
In a new commercial for DirecTV, we get a preview into the former NFL star's life, and what it would've been like if he would've chose cable. Spoiler: The outcome would not have been so good.
Leave it to the internet to make a big deal out of something said a year ago.
During a 2014 NFL Rookie Symposium, the former NFL star, along with Warren Sapp, talked to the rookies about all kinds of things and it was recently brought to light because of an ESPN profile of former 49ers player Chris Borland. He said the talk of the former player, later found out to be Carter, appalled him but he decided to stay because he didn't want to make a scene.
"Get yourself a fall guy. I was just sitting there thinking, 'Should I walk out? What am I supposed to do?'" Borland told ESPN.
Carter recently apologized for his comments, once they had come to light over the weekend.
Seeing that video has made me realize how wrong I was. I was brought there to educate young people and instead I gave them very...— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) August 24, 2015
bad advice. Every person should take responsibility for his own actions. I’m sorry and I truly regret what I said that day.”— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) August 24, 2015
The offensive line is often the most overlooked position for any college football team. While the linemen in the trenches don’t get enough credit, they are often the most important piece to a successful offense. Flashy skill talent and quarterbacks take home all of the accolades and headlines, but neither position can thrive without a solid offensive line.
Which teams are strongest in the trenches heading into the 2015 season? Five SEC teams rank among college football's best lines, while Ohio State and Michigan State give the Big Ten two teams inside of the top three.
How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2015 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a different quarterback or a change of scheme can make a huge difference. These rankings reflect projection for 2015, not solely what teams have accomplished in 2014.
CFB's Top 30 Offensive Lines for 2015
New line coach Rob Sale couldn’t ask for a better way to begin his tenure in Athens. This unit allowed only 12 sacks in SEC games and excelled in run blocking by clearing lanes for rushers to average 6.0 yards per carry. All-SEC center David Andrews will be missed, but Sale’s group is set with the return of rising star Greg Pyke at guard, along with the standout tackle duo of John Theus and Kolton Houston. Brandon Kublanow is the favorite to replace Andrews at center.
The Spartans boasted one of the nation’s top offensive lines last season, and this unit is only getting better with the return of four starters, along with the emergence of sophomore guard Brian Allen. Left tackle Jack Conklin and center Jack Allen headline a group that gave up only 11 sacks last season and allowed rushers to average 5.2 yards per carry. Senior guard Donavon Clark and right tackle Kodi Kieler anchor an experienced right side.
3. Ohio State
After a shaky start to the 2014 season, no line in the nation progressed as much as Ohio State’s. The Buckeyes gave up seven sacks in the loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2 but allowed only 15 sacks in Big Ten games, and quarterback Cardale Jones was sacked once in the national title win over Oregon. Four starters are back, and the Buckeyes expect this group to be even stronger. Left tackle Taylor Decker and right guard Pat Elflein are the unit’s top performers and first-team Athlon Sports All-Americans for 2015. Jacoby Boren returns at center, while Billy Price (left guard) and Chase Farris (right tackle) round out the starting five.
The success of Baylor’s high-powered offense starts in the trenches. Left tackle Spencer Drango considered an early jump to the NFL, but the three-year starter is back and is a first-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2015. Three other seniors join Drango up front, including guard Blake Muir and tackle Pat Colbert. Center Kyle Fuller started all 13 games last year and will push for all-conference honors in 2015. The coaching staff wants to develop more depth, but there are few concerns about the starting group. This unit gave up only one sack every 22 pass attempts and allowed Baylor rushers to average 4.5 yards per carry.
The Razorbacks return four starters from the nation’s largest offensive line. This unit cleared the way for rushers to average 5.1 yards per carry and allowed only 14 sacks in 2014. All five projected starters for 2015 weigh over 300 pounds, with converted guard Denver Kirkland slated to anchor the line at left tackle. Kirkland and Dan Skipper are among the SEC’s best up front, and the tackle duo will have plenty of support from the starters on the interior. Sebastian Tretola is a mauling 322-pound guard, and senior Mitch Smothers enters 2015 with 21 career starts. Sophomore Frank Ragnow is the only new starter for this unit.
The Tigers must replace standout center Reese Dismukes and guard Chad Slade, but this unit remains a strength for coach Gus Malzahn. Three starters are back, including tackle Avery Young and left tackle Shon Coleman. The return of guard Alex Kozan from a back injury should bolster the interior, while Austin Golson and Xavier Dampeer are locked into a tight battle to replace Dismukes at center. Promising sophomore Braden Smith is expected to start at right guard. This unit allowed only 10 sacks in SEC play last season.
LSU’s passing offense is once again surrounded in mystery. However, there’s no doubt about the strength of the Tigers’ offense. The rushing attack should be among the best in the SEC and is anchored by rising star Leonard Fournette. The line is also a big part of LSU’s success on the ground, as three starters return from a unit that helped the Tigers average 224.5 rushing yards per game in 2014. Tackles Vadal Alexander and Jerald Hawkins are among the best in the SEC, while Ethan Pocic (a returning starter) is penciled in at left guard. Freshman Will Clapp (center) and Garrett Brumfield (right guard) should round out the starting five.
The Crimson Tide’s offensive line is undergoing some renovations with the loss of three starters. However, line coach Mario Cristobal has plenty of talent to develop, while the two returning starters – left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly – are among the best in the nation at their position. Redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher is expected to start at left guard, while Bradley Bozeman and Alphonse Taylor are battling for snaps at right guard. Senior Dominick Jackson has the inside track at right tackle.
The Trojans need to settle on a starting five, but this unit has plenty of promise and talent leading the way for one of the nation’s top offenses. Solidifying the left tackle position is critical, as junior Chad Wheeler is working his way back from a knee injury suffered in 2014. Toa Lobendahn could start at left tackle if Wheeler isn’t ready, or the talented sophomore could shift inside to left guard. Max Tuerk is arguably the nation’s best center, while the Trojans also boast returning starters at right tackle (Zach Banner) and right guard (Viane Talamaivao).
Protecting quarterback Trevone Boykin won’t be a problem for TCU in 2015. The Horned Frogs return four starters from a unit that allowed 23 sacks in 13 games last season. Hala Vaitai missed time in the spring due to a shoulder injury, but the senior is penciled in at left tackle after starting on the right side last year. Center Joey Hunt is among the nation’s best, while fellow seniors Jamelle Naff and Brady Foltz round out the returning starters.
12. Notre Dame
13. Texas Tech
14. Boise State
15. Georgia Tech
18. Texas A&M
19. Ole Miss
23. Kansas State
25. North Carolina
27. Oklahoma State
30. Bowling Green
If you want to see the biggest games in the ACC, Clemson Memorial Stadium is the place to be in 2015. What looks like the most important game on the conference schedule, the Tigers versus Florida State on Nov. 7, will be played at Clemson. So will the highly anticipated clash with Notre Dame and the match up with Coastal contender Georgia Tech.
Head coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers do have some challenges on the road, including at Louisville and at North Carolina State. But Clemson catches a break this year. In the Tigers' pursuit of an ACC title — and a spot in the College Football Playoff — their biggest games are at home.
Here is a ranking of Clemson’s 12 regular season games, from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 5 vs. Wofford
The Terriers will come to Clemson to open season, get beat in a bad way, and will go home with a very sizeable paycheck.
11. Sept. 12 vs. Appalachian State
The Mountaineers return 20 starters from a 7-5 team and are poised to make noise in the Sun Belt. They won’t see anyone in the Sun Belt quite like Clemson.
10. Nov. 21 vs. Wake Forest
Wake’s questionable secondary will struggle to contain the Clemson skill players and the Deacons' offense should sputter against most everyone. The spot on the schedule makes this a slightly easier game than...
9. Nov. 14 at Syracuse
Wake should have a better team than the Orange. But this is a road game and the Tigers will be coming off their steel cage match with Florida State.
8. Oct. 24 at Miami
This isn’t about where this is on Clemson’s schedule; it’s about where it is on Miami’s schedule. The Canes’ four games leading up to the Tigers are Nebraska, Cincinnati, Florida State and Virginia Tech.
7. Oct. 17 vs. Boston College
Clemson has Notre Dame and then Georgia Tech prior to hosting the Eagles. BC’s tough front seven could give Clemson’s young offensive line some problems.
6. Sept. 17 (Thursday) at Louisville
Thursday nights at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium are never easy. Clemson does have two layup games before going to Louisville while the Cardinals will be tested by Auburn and Houston.
5. Nov. 28 at South Carolina
Last year, Clemson broke a five-game losing streak versus the hated Gamecocks. They are now looking to end a three-game skid at Williams-Brice.
4. Oct. 31 at NC State
The Wolfpack should be a balanced unit with a lot of returning starters. Plus, there is the danger of looking ahead to Florida State, something that is not recommended when venturing to Raleigh.
3. Oct. 10 vs. Georgia Tech
There will be a lot of hype when Notre Dame comes to Clemson seven days before Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets' veteran offensive line and their multiple-option attack could be an issue for Clemson’s inexperienced defensive front.
2. Oct. 3 vs. Notre Dame
Like Clemson, Notre Dame wants to be playing on New Year’s Eve in either Miami or Dallas. The Irish are used to all kinds of crazy environments, which is good for them because Death Valley will be a madhouse.
1. Nov. 7 vs. Florida State
It’s not that the Seminoles are necessarily better than Notre Dame. It’s that this is the game that will probably decide the Atlantic Division and Clemson has bad memories of the Seminoles' last visit to the upstate.
— 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.
The East Carolina football team welcomed their freshmen class the right way.
Some of the players did the whip and the nae nae, but it was head coach Ruffin McNeill who upstaged them all. Coach McNeill even threw up his fraternity's hooks to shout out the men of Omega Psi Phi.
Let's hope this team is this lively on the field.
Every season of college football starts out the same way. We have all of these things that we think are knowns — lead-pipe locks as one popular radio host calls them. Then, by midseason, we're all wrong, sitting around wondering what happened to all that we thought was written in stone.
It shouldn't surprise us, considering that we are dealing with young men in their late teens and early 20s, but it always does.
The Big Ten Conference leads the way in "things we think we know" in 2015. Much of that has to do with Ohio State returning the bulk of its championship roster from a season ago and fielding a team many think could be the best in quite some time.
That sounds like a perfect reason to make some outrageous predictions about the Big Ten in 2015. Here goes:
The Big Ten will have a losing record as a conference after Week 1
Michigan visits Utah. TCU visits Minnesota. Northwestern hosts Stanford. Penn State visits Temple. Nebraska hosts BYU. Wisconsin plays Alabama. Purdue visits Marshall. Ohio State visits Virginia Tech. Richmond (yes Richmond) visits Maryland. That's nine games that I would not feel comfortable placing any sort of wager on. I won't exactly fall out of my chair if the B1G drops eight of them.
Michigan won't break .500 for a second consecutive season
Forget the coaching transition. This team has a star-power problem. The phrase has been beat to death over the past couple of seasons, but college football is in fact more about the Jimmy's and Joe's than the X's and O's. Michigan is short on Jimmy's (outside of the head coach) and Joe's. They also have serious questions at quarterback, as one of the main candidates for the job couldn't nail down the same gig at Iowa a season ago. And that schedule is brutal. Trips to Utah, Minnesota and Penn State accompany home contests with BYU, Michigan State and Ohio State. Let's not overlook those B1G newcomers, either. Both Maryland and Rutgers notched wins over the Wolverines a season ago.
Indiana's Nate Sudfeld will lead the conference in passing yards
Christian Hackenberg, Conner Cook and whoever starts for the Buckeyes are the popular picks here, but Sudfeld has some things in his "favor." Hackenberg's offensive line will still be a work in progress, again limiting the time he spends upright in the pocket. Cook doesn't really have any proven targets outside of the tight end position that he can depend on. And word on the street is that J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones might be sharing snaps in Columbus. Combine all of those factors with the assumptions that Indiana will be playing from behind in most games, and this prediction does not seem so outrageous.
No Big Ten teams will be represented in the College Football Playoff
The Big Ten is in the same boat that Florida State was a season ago. They have no room for error. The problem is, the conference is a lot better than most give it credit for. It's not crazy to imagine a scenario where Michigan State loses to Oregon and say — Nebraska — and goes on to knock off Ohio State. The Spartans would get the berth into the Big Ten Championship Game with two losses, while the potentially one-loss Buckeyes would have no conference title to lean on when the committee selects its final four.
The Big Ten champion will come from the West Division
The West is the red-headed stepchild of the conference — if not the entire Power 5 — heading into 2015. All they hear is how terrible and soft the division is. That said, let's say the scenario laid out above comes to fruition and Michigan State is representing the East in Indianapolis. It's not too crazy to imagine Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska or even an upstart Iowa having a good day and leaving Indy with the conference trophy.
The LSU Tigers enter the 2015 college football season seemingly with more questions on the roster than answers, yet still made enough of an impression on voters to be ranked 14th in the Associated Press' preseason poll.
The Ohio State Buckeyes took the top honors receiving all 61 first-place votes while the SEC led Power 5 conferences with eight teams in the Top 25. The Tigers were in the middle of the SEC pack behind No. 3 Alabama, No. 6 Auburn, and No. 9 Georgia. The other SEC teams in the initial Top 25 were No. 17 Ole Miss, No. 18 Arkansas, No. 24 Missouri, and No. 25 Tennessee.
LSU returns one of the more dynamic players in college football, sophomore running back Leonard Fournette. The Tigers have a strong offensive line coming back with three starters returning, along with an extremely talented receiving corps.
The defense returns six starters but will be without potential All-American safety Jalen Mills for an extended period due to injury. LSU’s depth on defense is a concern for head coach Les Miles, along with the ability to get a consistent pass rush.
The Tigers’ season could easily swing on the play of quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris. Jennings is the returning starter but Harris is considered to have greater upside, although he is still raw in the pocket.
LSU's 2015 season begins on Sept. 5 when McNeese State comes to Death Valley. LSU quickly begins SEC play the following week by traveling to Starkville to play Mississippi State.
2015 Associated Press Preseason Poll
1. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
10. Florida State
11. Notre Dame
15. Arizona State
16. Georgia Tech
17. Ole Miss
23. Boise State
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManinLA.
Iowa didn't even show up as a blip on the radar of most national publications entering the 2015 season. And given recent history, that's probably a well-deserved slight. But even as Kirk Ferentz’ name comes up repeatedly when talk turns to coaches on the hot seat, there's a very quiet renewed confidence in this edition of the Hawkeyes, who secretly feel they could be wearing Cinderella's slipper by the time December rolls around.
Given the Hawkeyes’ proven ability to win as underdogs, it'd be hard to count them out with a schedule that goes a long way toward providing them opportunities to break out of the pack and become part of the Big Ten West Division title conversation for the first time since the East-West Division format and conference championship game was introduced.
Can they make it from contention in the West Division race all the way to a date in Indianapolis on Dec. 5? Possibly, but not without some help from their opponents along the way. And there's virtually zero chance the Hawkeyes make the gigantic leap from middle of the Big Ten pack all the way to the College Football Playoff discussion in 2015.
So let's talk about each of those 12 guaranteed games on the Hawkeyes’ schedule and handicap them from easiest to most difficult:
12. Oct. 10 vs. Illinois
The Illini were just plain horrible in 2014, ranking dead last among all Big Ten teams in scoring defense, rushing defense, and total defense and allowing their opponents to score on 90.0 percent of their red zone possessions. This year doesn't look much better for Illinois. And if Iowa's offense is hitting on all cylinders by October, it could be explosive. Expect it to be the Hawkeyes cruising to an easy win on Homecoming and most likely one of their highest scoring offensive performances of the season.
11. Nov. 21 vs. Purdue
To many followers of Big Ten football, the Boilermakers are more commonly known as “Pur-don't.” They haven't done much in recent years to shed that unfortunate nickname either. While they have sophomore quarterback Austin Appleby back under center, they have virtually nothing else to work with from an offense that averaged just 23.8 points per game last season. This might just be the Hawkeyes’ first Big Ten shutout in a very long time.
10. Sept. 26 vs. North Texas
The Mean Green will unveil new uniforms this season, but the issue of a new, winning attitude is still up for debate. They were picked to win Conference USA’s West Division in 2014, but finished at the bottom of the heap instead. Don't expect this to be the year head coach Dan McCarney sees his record against his alma mater get any better. It'll be all Hawkeyes, going away.
9. Sept. 5 vs. Illinois State
The 2014 Missouri Valley Football Conference champs bring a loaded roster for an FCS team, so watch for them to give the Hawkeyes a game for 60 minutes. Just like fellow MVC member Northern Iowa in 2014, this could be decided in the final few minutes with Iowa pulling out yet another season-opening squeaker that on paper should be all Hawks.
8. Sept. 12 at Iowa State
The Cyclones spent the offseason focused on improving fans’ “game-day experience.” If they really want to improve it, they should start by winning more than two games this season. Unfortunately for Iowa fans, one of those victories in 2014 came against the Hawkeyes. Expect Ferentz to turn to the wily skills of fourth-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis and throw some Texas-sized surprises at the Cyclones to avoid back-to-back upsets to their in-state rivals and a team that’s expected to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 this season.
7. Oct. 17 at Northwestern
2014 may have been the year Northwestern returned to the days of “Mildcat” football. Or it could've been just a blip on an otherwise respectable few years for head coach Pat Fitzgerald and his crew. The Hawkeyes simply dismantled the Wildcats en route to a 48-7 victory last season. Given the relative youth and inexperience of this year's edition of the Wildcats, don't look for much improvement against a much more talented group of Hawkeyes.
6. Nov. 7 at Indiana
The Hoosiers couldn't catch many breaks in 2014, especially in conference play, unless you count their lone quality win over eventual SEC East champion Missouri. They did improve tremendously in nearly every statistical category however, setting numerous single-season records on offense. While those improvements have been fairly impressive, the Hawkeyes have won all but one game against the Hoosiers since 2007, and most of those weren't even close. 2015 is unlikely to be the year that changes.
5. Oct. 31 vs. Maryland
Another Big Ten East Division team, the Terrapins were expected to hold court at the bottom of the standings in their first year in the conference. Not so fast they told critics. Maryland's offense tore apart the Hawkeye rushing defense, amassing 212 yards on the ground, while holding Iowa to 116 rushing yards before Iowa resorted to the air regularly in what ended up an old-fashioned 38-31 offensive shoot-out. This season’s game looks primed for a repeat of last year's air show. But give the home-field advantage to the Hawkeyes, in one of the most entertaining offensive displays of the year.
4. Sept. 19 vs. Pittsburgh
Pat Narduzzi is a proven defensive genius, helping put Michigan State on the championship map in his time there. Now he's at Pitt, and comes into his first season with an offense loaded with talent and led by Maxwell, Walker, and Heisman Trophy watch list running back James Conner. The Hawkeyes had to play from behind for most of last year’s meeting, and could find themselves in the same situation again this season.
3. Nov. 14 vs. Minnesota
In 2014 the Gophers leap-frogged Iowa to land in third in the Big Ten West after crushing the Hawkeyes 51-14 in what Hayden Fry used to call “a good ole fashion butt-kickin'!” Jerry Kill has his team thinking like champions since his arrival, and Dinkytown's not looking nearly as dinky any more. But these games have been back-and-forth romps in each direction the last couple of years, and Iowa's got a bone to pick with their neighbors to the north. Iowa could be looking at an 8-2 record after this one.
2. Nov. 27 (Friday) at Nebraska
The importance of this game to both Husker and Hawkeye faithful was evident the second Nebraska entered the Big Ten and immediately supplanted Minnesota as “the rivalry” for Iowa fans. Travel across Western Iowa's rolling cornfields and you're likely to see just as much Red and White as you are Black and Gold. Played on the Friday after Thanksgiving in front of a national television audience, these games have not disappointed. But the winds of change are blowing in both Iowa City and Lincoln, and first-year Nebraska head coach Mike Riley may not care for their direction in 2015. Bring on the Hokey Pokey Hawkeyes, it's Iowa in the upset of the season.
1. Oct. 3 at Wisconsin
Gary Andersen's tenure at Wisconsin was short-lived. One could argue he saw the writing on the wall for the next few years in Madison, and bolted for greener pastures before being handed any blame for a downturn in Badger victory totals. But it's hard to ever rule out these big, athletic, and physical Badger players. Paul Chryst most likely has another Big Ten West Division champ on his hands, but Iowa plays them right to the end with the notoriously rowdy fans in Camp Randall Stadium giving the Badgers the winning edge.
— Written by Robert A. Boleyn, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a native Iowan currently living in Los Angeles. A University of Iowa graduate, Boleyn is a Hawkeye fanatic and former contributing writing for The Daily Iowan. Follow him on Twitter @BoleynRobert.
Another week, another (potentially) devastating injury to a top NFL and fantasy wide receiver. The preseason usually isn't this brutal, but 2015 has shown that at any given time, any given player can go down with an injury. Hopefully fantasy football owners have not yet had their draft, as the guy that went Jordy Nelson/Kelvin Benjamin in the first two rounds is now likely without a WR1 on his team.
During the Packers’ preseason game against Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon, Nelson went down with a non-contact knee injury. He was helped off the field, and the initial reports out of Green Bay are that it is feared that he tore his ACL.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said he would wait until Nelson underwent further tests before commenting further, but for the sake of fantasy owners looking for answers, let's assume that Nelson is now out for the season. Non-contact injuries are rarely good, and this has shades of Benjamin's injury written all over it.
If Nelson is out, Randall Cobb moves up to be the No. 1 receiver for the Packers, although he often lines up in the slot. Davante Adams will actually be the biggest beneficiary of Nelson being out. Cobb may get a few extra passes, but Adams will take over the role that Nelson played, lining up out wide.
Last season, in his rookie year, Adams had 38 receptions for 446 yards and three touchdowns. However, those numbers are slightly skewed, as he had a 6-121-0 effort in Week 13. (Both Nelson and Cobb did play in that game). In the three games following that breakout game, Adams totaled four receptions for 29 yards.
He does have the potential for success in such a high-powered offense, so he now jumps to a WR2 for fantasy purposes with upside. Another player to watch is Richard Rodgers, the starting tight end for the Packers. He may be worth a late-round flyer if he ends up getting some red-zone looks in Nelson's absence.
If you are in deep leagues or are just looking for another late-round pick, grab Jeff Janis. He would be next in line behind Cobb and Adams, and the likely receiver to line up when the Packers go three-wide. Rookie Ty Montgomery also is worth draft consideration in very deep leagues.
Lastly, don't get concerned yet, but Aaron Rodgers was spotted with his right (throwing) arm wrapped after he came out of Sunday’s preseason game. The focus after the game was on Nelson, but just be sure to monitor Rodgers' status as well. Assuming he is not injured, he is still a top-3 quarterback, although without his top receiver, calling him the No. 1 option at his position may now be arguable.
Other Injuries Around the League
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons (elbow)
White will turn 34 during this season, and it appears that his age is catching up with him. He is set to undergo minor surgery on his elbow, although the Falcons say he should be ready for Week 1. Keep in mind this is a player that had his knee drained in the offseason and will likely need to have his knee drained again during the season. The elbow injury didn't keep him out of practice and may just be a similar maintenance procedure. However, when drafting White, don't expect 16 games out of him. He's played 14 games in each of the past two seasons and has failed to reach 1,000 yards receiving. At this point, he's a WR3, but don't expect consistency from him.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins (head)
RG3 reportedly suffered a concussion during Washington’s Thursday night preseason game. He also suffered a shoulder stinger, but that has checked out fine. By Sunday, RG3 was cleared and back on the practice field and the plan right now is for him to start the Redskins’ third preseason game on Saturday. But the concern for RG3 isn’t so much the injuries; it’s that his offensive line can't protect him at all. With no time to get out of the pocket, move around or complete accurate throws, RG3's fantasy value is tanking (as is the receivers around him). In standard leagues, RG3 shouldn't be drafted, and DeSean Jackson's value is dropping as well. Even though he's the No. 1 receiver on the team, he should be drafted as a WR3 at best.
Nick Toon, WR, New Orleans Saints (ankle)
While Toon may not have been on many draft lists, his position mate Brandon Coleman may not be such a sleeper any more. Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston are the two top wide receivers in New Orleans, but a battle was ongoing through the preseason between Toon and Coleman for the No. 3 job. Toon suffered a high ankle sprain in the second preseason game, which should pave the way for Coleman to land the job. The rookie was praised by head coach Sean Payton for his performance during training camp, which is always a good sign. A tall (6-6), rangy target, Coleman could emerge as a key red-zone option or Drew Brees especially with Jimmy Graham now in Seattle. No longer a sleeper, Coleman should be drafted as a WR4 with huge upside.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.
Florida will open its season at home on Sept. 5 without three players. The school announced on Friday that redshirt juniors Marcus Maye and Alex McCalister, and senior Latroy Pittman Jr., will not play in the home opener against New Mexico State, citing an undisclosed violation of team policy. The infraction isn't Pittman's first, as he also was suspended at the start of the 2013 season. The absence of these three players could test the Gators’ depth at their positions early, as first-year head coach Jim McElwain looks to start his tenure in Gainesville with a strong showing against the Aggies.
Maye is the projected starter at free safety after collecting 62 tackles, an interception, five pass deflections, forcing two fumbles in 11 games last season. Three of Maye's 62 tackles were for losses, and he led the team in tackles in games against East Carolina and Vanderbilt. In 2013 Maye appeared in 12 games – with two starts – where he registered an interception and 16 tackles.
McCalister played in all 12 of the Gators’ games last year and finished the season with 23 tackles, including nine for a loss. McCalister’s six sacks are the most among returning players. The defensive end saw action in six games in 2013 and ended that year with three tackles. He also is projected to be a starter for new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
Pittman, a wide receiver, was carted off of the field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last October after being hit by LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander. He returned a week later and ended the year with 164 receiving yards on 15 receptions. Pittman saw nine starts as a slot receiver in 2014 and is expected to be an integral part of Florida's passing attack this season.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
Preseason is at midpoint! Less than three weeks until Pittsburgh helps kick off the 2015 NFL regular season on the road against defending Super Bowl champion New England.
Perhaps "Opening Day" is a term reserved for baseball. Regardless, here's what to look for when the Steelers play the Green Bay Packers this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Heinz Field. The game, for those interested in watching preseason action, will be televised by the NFL Network.
1. Who’s at quarterback?
You know things have been pretty bad in the first two preseason games if people are actually excited about Bruce Gradkowski getting into a game.
But since Landry Jones' has produced a grand total of one touchdown in his last 40 preseason drives, and that was a 17-yard march in the fourth quarter last week against Jacksonville's scrubs, it would be nice if the Steelers could score more often after Ben Roethlisberger has his reps.
So when will Gradkowski play and for how long? Does Jones continue to get extended time? Does he get booed?
And since Tahj Boyd was cut, what does that mean for Tyler Murphy? Will he get any extended time and be groomed to be a third-string quarterback who will possibly come in for 2-point conversions, the way some are theorizing Tim Tebow is being groomed by Philadelphia or Kordell Stewart came in to play quarterback in goal-line situations in 1995?
This will be a fun storyline to follow until two weeks from now when Steelers fans essentially hope none of the quarterbacks who figure to play this Sunday will actually play.
2. Ryan Shazier and the development of the front seven
After a sluggish, injury-plagued rookie season, Shazier has made some big stops this preseason from inside linebacker and even asked the coaching staff to let him play in the third quarter.
Is this a matter of feasting against scrubs or returning worth from his first-round draft status? Time will tell, but the initial signs this year are positive.
Also, take note of the different fronts the Steelers' front seven plays, as well as their stance. Players have been standing instead of lining up in a traditional three-point stance at times.
3. Better play from the safeties?
Perhaps the best news to come out of training camp this week is starting safeties Shamarko Thomas and Mike Mitchell are playing together on the first string for the first time. Mitchell had previously been sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Touchdowns were scored against the Steelers in the first two preseason games in large part because of breakdowns by the safeties not being in the right place, and a third touchdown was avoided last week against Jacksonville only because Clay Harbour dropped a pass in the flat with 9:07 left in the second quarter.
Thomas and Mitchell figure only to play for a quarter or two against the Packers. But like Ben Roethlisberger's lone drive of the preseason, a six-play, 80-yard march resulting in a touchdown complete with 2-point conversion, has quelled fears about the offense, a flawless game from Mitchell and Thomas against Aaron Rodgers would do the same about what is perceived as the Steelers' Achilles' heel.
4. Will a new attendance record be set?
With an expansion of seats beneath the main scoreboard by Gate A this summer, Heinz Field’s seating capacity now stands at 68,400.
The current attendance record at Heinz Field for a Steelers game is 66,662 for the 2010-11 AFC Championship Game. A Pitt-West Virginia football game in 2002 drew 66,731.
The largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in Pittsburgh was 68,918 to see Pitt's 24-13 victory against Fordham in 1938 at Pitt Stadium. This record will likely fall this year; it is just a matter of when.
5. Will the receivers grow hands?
Tight end Jesse James did. But after making a sensational one-handed catch in the Hall of Fame Game rookie Shakim Phillips had multiple drops against Jacksonville.
Dropped passes have plagued the Steelers this preseason. They've been the main defense of Jones' play, and are a primary reason why the team is 0-2 this preseason.
— 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.
With the college football season quickly approaching, one of the University of Florida’s recent hires took to the camera to welcome new and returning students to Gainesville, and to galvanize Gator football fans.
It wasn’t, however, first-year head football coach Jim McElwain. Instead it was W. Kent Fuchs, who was hired as president late last year, who starred in the two-minute video that was shared on the school’s Twitter account Friday.
Florida opens its season on Sept. 5 against New Mexico State in The Swamp in Gainesville.
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of Athlon Sports "Cover Catch Ups" in which we check in with a former Athlon cover subject. We start with former Ohio State defensive end Matt Finkes, who starred for the Buckeyes from 1993-96.
In the early ‘90s, the Big Ten was on top of the college football world.
The addition of Penn State had given the league another top-five team. Breakout years for Wisconsin and Northwestern gave the league new blood.
And, as usual, Ohio State was near the top. The Buckeyes entered the 1995 season hungry. A year earlier, they finished a pedestrian 9-4 with a Citrus Bowl loss to Alabama, but on the bright side, they had picked up one of coach John Cooper’s rare wins over rival Michigan.
Ohio State entered the 1995 season with a star running back, Eddie George, who would go on to win the Heisman that season, and a pair of relentless pass rushers in Mike Vrabel and Matt Finkes.
Finkes finished his career with 59 career tackles for a loss, second in Ohio State history only to Vrabel’s 66. Finkes also finished with the third-most sacks in school history.
Finkes also graced the cover of Athlon Sports’ 1995 Big Ten preview. That season, Ohio State started on a tear, defeating six ranked teams en route to an 11-0 start and a No. 2 ranking. Only Michigan stood in the way of a Rose Bowl and potential national championship.
The 18th-ranked Wolverines spoiled the season with a 31-23 win over Ohio State in Ann Arbor, sending Ohio State to the Citrus Bowl to lose 20-14 to then-sophomore Peyton Manning.
Finkes didn’t have the long NFL career of some of his teammates – Finkes was drafted in the sixth round in 1997 and lasted only eight games before injury ended his career — but he remains entrenched at Ohio State.
What was the most memorable part of the 1995 season?
We had a great team in ’95. We were coming off a down year in 1994 as a team but we had a lot of guys back, had a really good offensive football team. But a young defensive team. Eddie George was our running back. Bobby Hoying was our quarterback. Terry Glenn was our wide receiver. We were loaded on offense. We started out highly ranked and were cruising right along and then ran into a problem in Ann Arbor against Michigan and deflated the season for us. A lot of high expectations, but we didn’t fulfill all that we thought we could.
We had the back to back with Notre Dame (ranked No. 15, Ohio State won 45-26) and Penn State (ranked No. 12, Ohio State won 28-25 on the road). You look back at those years, and we had Notre Dame on the schedule and the Big Ten was kind of at its peak — Penn State going undefeated a few years before, us in 1995 and ’96 and Michigan in 1997. It was a different time. You can compare it to what the SEC was 4-5 years ago. It wasn’t just one team dominating like Ohio State is now in the Big Ten. It was really the premier conference. It was a grinding schedule. You look at Ohio State’s schedule this year — we didn’t quite have that.
Even though you beat Michigan in 1994, your era was in the middle of a bad stretch against the Wolverines. You might have a little bit of empathy about this: What’s going on in the Michigan locker room right now in terms of the rivalry?
It was tough. We beat Michigan in 1994, which was the first time in (then-coach John) Cooper’s era. That was a game where it was win or go home for him, and everyone knew it. It wasn’t just the people in the stands; it was the kids in the locker room. We knew if we don’t win this game, Coop’s getting fired. We are able to win that game, but we fell under that same trap the next two years. It’s like a baseball player when you’re on a bad streak and you don’t know why and you don’t know how to fix it and maybe you’re tight. I think that’s what Michigan is going through a little bit. Obviously, the talent level there with the coaches changes has hurt them. With (Jim) Harbaugh in, that’s going to be their biggest challenge, getting over that mental block.
What are you up to these days?
I do the pre- and post-game show in town for the (Columbus) ABC affiliate. I work with Time Warner Cable sports, involved with high school football doing some broadcasting for that. It’s a great way to stay connected for the game. I coached for a while (at his alma mater, Piqua High in Ohio), but that’s a grind. This is a way to stay local and stay involved and in the game.
Was broadcasting even on your radar when you were a player?
Absolutely not. I got called by our local ABC affiliate and they asked if I wanted to do the pre- and post-game show. I just jumped into it with both feet and zero experience. I’m not going to lie: It didn’t look great the first 3-4 games, but you get your feet wet and now I’m real comfortable. I enjoy it. It keeps you involved in the game, keeps you around the team. You go out to practice with a purpose.
Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell was your teammate in college. How do you balance your friendship/media responsibilities?
Fickell and Mike Vrabel (an Ohio State assistant from 2011-13, now with the Houston Texans) were my college roommates. I talk to those guys on a weekly basis. With Mike it’s a lot easier now that he’s with the Texans. I don’t have to worry about that anymore. It’s easy to manage. When we’re in a social setting we don’t talk football. We don’t talk details of what’s going on at Ohio State. We never sat down and discussed what we’re going to do but that’s what we do. Our friendship comes before anything I would do as a job. Those guys know that.
How are you still involved with Ohio State?
I do fundraising for the Ohio State medical center. I started a year and a half ago. I sold a couple of my companies and tried to retire again and the wife told me to get back to work, so I went back and talked to the medical center about doing some fundraising there.
You’re also involved with something called Category5Sports. What is that?
That is a personal and individualized training started by Ryan Clement, who was a quarterback at Miami-Florida who was in the game when I was playing. We met in NFL Europe. We do individualized coaching for all positions. It’s one-on-one coaching and we use a web-based platform to analyze using motion analysis software to help kids who are trying to get to the next level. It’s not a broad-based camp system for everybody. It’s really more of a specialized, very intensive coaching procedure.
You said last summer that Braxton Miller’s shoulder injury could be the end of him as a quarterback. What did you see that perhaps more optimistic fans didn’t in 2014?
That was the injury that basically put my out of the NFL. I tore my labrum at Jacksonville. I knew what that entailed for me just to get back to everyday life and that that point I had just retired, so I’m talking about just swinging a golf club. I knew how hard that would be. The time that it happened to him was right at the beginning of camp. A nine-month, year recovery time didn’t bode well for his chances of coming back and being a starting quarterback. And then looking at his athletic ability, the open-field ability is an elite level. There are probably 10-15 guys in the NFL who have his athletic ability. For him to make a long sustainable career in the NFL, it made a lot of sense to me (for him to move to receiver).
As one pass rusher evaluating another one, where does Joey Bosa stand among Ohio State greats? What do you see in him that stands out?
His first step is just phenomenal. Watching him practice, go through his career here, he’s a special talent. He’s going to pass me on the sack list to move up to No. 2 and he might even get Vrabel here depending on the season. Aside from knocking me down a peg on the career sack list at Ohio State, he’s a guy you cheer for. He’s exciting to watch and he has all the physical tools you need to succeed. And he’s a hard-worker on the field. He’s done a great job of mentoring Sam Hubbard, who is an incredible talent, but moved from safety to tight end to defensive end. And Joey took a lot of time this spring to teach him the ins and outs of playing defensive end and mentoring him. He’s going to be a special talent.