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Path: /college-football/alabamas-qb-battle-shifts-david-cornwell-and-blake-barnett-after-jake-cokers-injury
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Alabama’s quarterback battle is one of the biggest in college football this fall, and the ongoing competition to replace Blake Sims took an interesting turn on Monday. Senior Jake Coker – considered by some to be the favorite – missed practice due to a minor foot injury and will be out “several days” according to AL.com.

 

With Coker out indefinitely, the focus in Tuscaloosa shifts to redshirt freshman David Cornwell and true freshman Blake Barnett. Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman are also competing for snaps, but Cornwell was considered Coker’s biggest challenger, and Barnett was a five-star recruit in the 2015 247Sports Composite.

 

After suffering a knee injury as a high school senior in 2013, Cornwell benefitted from a redshirt season in 2014. The strong-armed Oklahoma native also has nearly the same amount of experience as Coker within coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense.

 

In the spring game, Cornwell completed 12 of 24 passes for 110 yards and one touchdown, while Coker led all quarterbacks with 183 yards on 14 completions.

 

Barnett might have the most all-around ability of any Alabama quarterback on the roster, but how quickly can he adapt to the offense? Would the Crimson Tide start a true freshman at quarterback?

 

Considering Cornwell was already pushing Coker for the No. 1 job, Monday’s news of a foot injury for Coker could alter this race. With Week 1 preparations right around the corner, the opportunity to stake a claim for the No. 1 spot on the depth chart is getting smaller.

 

While Alabama’s quarterback battle will draw plenty of attention and is surrounded with significant uncertainty, it’s important to remember just how this team is built. The Crimson Tide won’t need a 300-yard passer every week. With one of the nation’s top defenses and rushing attacks, the quarterback simply needs to be efficient and eliminate the big mistakes. 

 

With another scrimmage coming on Saturday, Alabama could have clarity in its quarterback battle. However, after Coker’s injury, the focus under center has shifted to the freshmen: Barnett and Cornwell.

 

Will Cornwell (a pocket passer) or Barnett (more of a dual-threat option) stake a claim for the starting job this week or in the final scrimmage?

 

The door is open for both players to make a move while Coker is sidelined.  

Teaser:
Alabama's QB Battle Shifts to David Cornwell and Blake Barnett After Jake Coker's Injury
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 15:35
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/john-cena-new-york-yankees-surprise-today-show-son-charleston-shooting-victim-chris-singleton
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Chris Singleton lost his mother in the Charleston shooting, but he has remained grounded by his teammates and support system.

 

On "The Today Show," the college baseball player learned he would be throwing out the first pitch at Yankees Stadium, and he was told by none other than some Yankees. John Cena was also on hand to tell the young man how brave he's been throughout the whole tragedy.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 15:29
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/robert-griffin-iii-i-feel-im-best-quarterback-nfl-league-washington-redskins
Body:

So this is a thing. Robert Griffin III thinks he's the best quarterback in the NFL.

 

In an interview WJLA, the Redskins quarterback talks about the confidence he has in himself and his team. RGIII has always been sure of his abilities, but some fans feel he may be taking it to an extreme in this video.

 

"I don't feel like I have to come out here and show anybody anything or why I'm better than this guy or better than that guy," Griffin said. "It's more about going out and affirming that for me, I go out and I play, I know I'm the best quarterback on this team. I feel like I'm the best quarterback in the league and I have to go out and show that."

The world will be watching to see if Griffin's right about himself.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 13:28
All taxonomy terms: ACC, College Football, Miami Hurricanes
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-miamis-college-football-schedule-2015
Body:

After a disappointing 6-7 season, the Miami Hurricanes have made their 2015 goal clear, which is to play in the school’s first ACC Championship Game. In the 11 years since joining the conference, the team has averaged 4.2 wins a season in ACC play.

 

Related: Miami 2015 Fall Camp Preview and Key Position Battles to Watch

 

If quarterback Brad Kaaya and Miami want to win the ACC Coastal Division, the team may have to do a lot better than four wins in the conference. The team will have a tough October schedule, as they play four opponents who could be contending for the ACC title.

 

Here are Miami’s 12 regular season games, ranked from easiest to the most difficult.

 

12. Sept. 5 vs. Bethune-Cookman

This is what you would call a typical cupcake opponent to begin the season. While Bethune-Cookman finished the 2014 season with a 9-3 record, Miami has way too much talent for this game to be competitive. Bethune-Cookman is the only FCS team on Miami's schedule in 2015, so that’s why this game is at No. 12.

 

11. Sept. 11 (Friday) at FAU

The FAU Owls return 13 starters from last year’s team, but that team ended the 2014 season with a 3-9 record. While senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson could give the leaky Canes defense a little trouble, the Owls don’t have enough skill position players to keep the game close against Miami. After the Hurricanes visit to FAU, the schedule gets very difficult.

 

10. Nov. 7 vs. Virginia

Despite losing 30-13 to Virginia last season, this is a game Miami should win. The Cavaliers have major questions at the quarterback position and the game is at Sun Life Stadium.

 

9. Oct 31 at Duke

Duke will have a lot of major pieces to replace on offense, including at quarterback. While the Blue Devils have given Miami trouble the last few seasons, Duke will have to replace three of its four starters on the defensive line.

 

8. Nov. 27 (Friday) at Pittsburgh

Miami’s last game of the regular season at Pittsburgh isn’t easy by any means, but the rest of the games on the team’s schedule are more daunting. Both teams are evenly matched, so Pittsburgh cannot be overlooked.

 

7. Oct. 1 (Thursday) at Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Bearcats have been picked by many to win the American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats return nine starters from a team that won nine games a season ago. This will be the Canes’ tune-up before the trip to face Florida State nine days later.

 

6. Sept. 19 vs. Nebraska

There’s a new regime at Nebraska, as Mike Riley takes over as head coach. While running back Ameer Abdullah is gone, the team still has quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. Armstrong accumulated 3,400 yards in total offense last season. 

 

5. Nov. 14 at North Carolina

North Carolina hasn’t had a problem scoring points. The team’s biggest issue the last couple of seasons has been giving up too many. With new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik now in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels could be a dark horse to win the ACC Coastal.

 

4. Oct. 17 vs. Virginia Tech

Last season, Miami ran all over Virginia Tech, rushing for 364 yards in Blacksburg. The Hokies return eight starters on defense, so things could be a bit different this time at Sun Life Stadium.

 

3. Nov. 21 vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech are the favorites to repeat as Coastal Division champions, but at least Miami will play the Yellow Jackets at home. The Hurricanes will attempt to avenge last season’s 28-17 loss in Atlanta.

 

2. Oct. 24 vs. Clemson

Clemson could very well end up winning the ACC title this season. The reason this game is at No. 2 on the list is because it is at Sun Life Stadium and not Clemson Memorial Stadium. This will be the third straight ACC contender Miami will play in October.

 

1. Oct. 10 at Florida State

Despite Florida State only returning three starters on offense, the team is still loaded, especially defensively. This could be the year that Miami ends its five-game losing streak against the Seminoles. The problem for the Hurricanes, however, is that this game is in Tallahassee, where Florida State hasn’t lost since the 2012 season.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Miami's College Football Schedule in 2015
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /nfl/nfl-scouts-talk-anonymously-about-nfc-east-teams-2015
Body:

The NFC East is tough. From an external look, the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants all have legitimate chances to win this division. The Redskins need to improve a lot, but they're headed in that direction. There's a reason that this division has some of the most intense rivalries, and that should play out over the course of the season. Each team has won the division once in the past four seasons. Is it time again for a new team to take the title?

 

In order to get an accurate assessment of how the NFC East looks entering the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Cowboys, Giants, Eagles and Redskins.

 

Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff. 

 

Dallas Cowboys

 

“The pick of OG Zack Martin in last year’s firstround over QB Johnny Manziel showed a discipline and direction uncommon to the Cowboys since the Jimmy Johnson and Bill Parcells tenures."…

 

"Jerry and Stephen Jones wisely added to their offensive line, which helped the run game, protected QB Tony Romo better and gave some cover to their suspect defense."…

 

"Romo enjoyed a Pro Bowl-level season by hitting nearly 70 percent of his passes with 34 touchdowns and only nine picks."…

 

"DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards, but he hit free agency, and again, the Jones’ demonstrated their new-found restraint and did not chase him beyond the predetermined budget. To their surprise, he ended up in Philadelphia, and it seemed obvious that a RB would be taken in the first three rounds of the draft."…

 

"That did not happen, so at present, free agent Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar will shoulder the load behind this OL."…

 

"TE Jason Witten is one of the most competitive, consistent performers in the league, all he does is block, catch passes and lead by example."…

 

"Dez Bryant is a dominant force on the outside because of his physical stature and desire to go after the football."…

 

"WR Terrence Williams flies under the radar, but he had 37 catches last year, eight of which went for scores and Cole Beasley re-upped as their slot receiver (37 grabs in 2015), too, so they are set out wide."…

 

"Head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan must stay balanced and lean on their run game to set up for success on third downs (47.1 percent conversions/2nd in NFL), rather than wanting to throw the football all over the lot."…

 

"Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli made enough lemonade out of this group to keep the Cowboys competitive all year and into the playoffs."…

 

"They signed DE Greg Hardy to help with the pass rush (28 total sacks/28th in league), and was was a 10-game suspension was reduced upon appeal to just four."…

 

"Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory fell into the second round after his well-chronicled marijuana issues and the Cowboys were more than willing to take him at pick No. 60."…

 

"DT Henry Melton took his five sacks to Tampa Bay as a free agent, so DE Jeremy Mincey is their top returning producer with six from last season."…

 

"LB Sean Lee returns from a knee injury and should, if healthy, bolster a group that includes Rolando McClain (87 total tackles) and Anthony Hitchens (84 total tackles), a nice find for them from the 2014 draft."… [Editor's note: McClain is suspended for the first four games due to a violation of the leagues' substance-abuse policy.]

 

"The secondary needed a boost at cornerback because Brandon Carr has not produced big plays and Orlando Scandrick is better as a nickel back than full-time starter, so they added UConn CB Byron Jones as their first-round pick."…

 

"Barry Church led the team in tackles from one safety post, while J.J. Wilcox has developed into a dependable starter."…

 

"The Cowboys must stick with their formula in order to win the NFC East again, and that is to run the football, set up manageable third downs, score touchdowns in the red zone (64.7 percent TD rate/2nd in NFL) and continue to mask their sub-standard defense.”


 

New York Giants

 

“The Giants stuck with head coach Tom Coughlin and GM Jerry Reese, while making sweeping changes to their offense with the hiring of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo last year."…

 

"After some growing pains for the entire offense, Eli Manning took off and finished with 30 touchdowns and cut his interceptions in half from 27 to 14. He enters the final season of his seven-year/$107 million deal, but if he plays like he did in 2014, another extension at $20 million-plus per year will be on the table."…

 

"In only 12 games, WR Odell Beckham earned a Pro Bowl trip with 91 receptions for 1,305 yards (14.3avg) and 12 touchdowns. He is a terrific, hand-eye coordination athlete with change-of-direction skills and big speed."…

 

"Victor Cruz went down after six games with a patellar injury and his 100 percent return is in question for September/October."…

 

"Rueben Randle doesn’t get much recognition, but he chipped in 71 catches and three touchdowns, and has developed into a solid No. 3 WR."…

 

"The biggest surprise may have been the performance of TE Larry Donnell, who ended 2014 with 63 grabs and six touchdowns. Everyone knew the McAdoo offense was TE-friendly, but very few felt he could be a legitimate answer."…

 

"The offensive line was upgraded when Miami OT Ereck Flowers was picked at No. 9 in the first round, so with OC Weston Richburg and OT Justin Pugh, they now have three young prospects that can be secure long-time starters."…

 

"While the offense showed progress, the defense struggled all year, so defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was shown the door and Steve Spagnuolo was hired as his replacement."…

 

"Spags will find some pieces to work with in DE Jason Pierre-Paul, who returned to form with 12.5 sacks and DT Johnathan Hankins (7 sacks), plus OLB Devon Kennard."… [Editor's note: Pierre-Paul has yet to sign his franchise tender and his return to the Giants is up in the air after he seriously injured his hands in a July 4 fireworks accident. His injuries were so bad he had to have his right index finger amputated.]

 

"Kennard played well as a rookie when he registered 43 total tackles and 4.5 sacks."…

 

"Jameel McClain stepped up in Jon Beason’s absence and totaled 116 tackles, but this is probably the weakest position on their roster."…

 

"After Antrel Rolle signed in Chicago, the safety position was the most vacant spot on a depth chart in the NFL until the Giants traded up in the second round to select Alabama’s Landon Collins."…

 

"Veteran cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (missed eight games with torn bicep) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie give them a start in their base defense, but depth is a concern in the nickel package."…

 

"No one in the NFC East is invincible, so if the Giants can stay healthy and improve their turnover margin again, they can be in the mix with Dallas and Philadelphia.”


 

Philadelphia Eagles

 

“This will be the most-watched team in the NFL in 2015. After an offseason of upheaval in the organization and numerous high-profile roster moves during free agency, Chip Kelly has assumed control of all player personnel moves and is pushing to advance the Eagles past the 10-6 threshold."…

 

"They saw QBs Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez in virtually the same light and felt that the only way to get a better passer would be to take a chance on another signal-caller on the 'rebound.' Sam Bradford was the option and they traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams to get him."…

 

"Bradford has a pure release and can spin the football, but has not been able to stay healthy and every time he drops back beginning in OTAs, the Eagles’ organization will be holding their collective breath."…

 

"Even before the QB surprise, there was the trade of RB LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for LB Kiko Alonso, who missed all of 2014 with a torn ACL. Word has it that they felt he was over-priced and spent too much time going East-West, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations."…

 

"In a later-than-expected development, the Cowboys would not go beyond their budget for RB DeMarco Murray and he ended up signing in Philly. Prior to last season, he battled his own injury concerns before breaking out to lead the NFL in rushing (1,845 yards). The expectation is that he will give Kelly a more dependable North-South option as a runner, and don’t forget Ryan Mathews was inked as well (from San Diego)."…

 

"The tight ends are very competent in Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, while USC’s Nelson Agholor was added to a deficient mix of wide receivers as their first-round pick."…

 

"The offensive line was signed as a five-man unit through 2016, but there are rumblings about OG Evan Mathis being traded and longtime OG Todd Herremans was released and signed by Indianapolis."… [Editor's note: Mathis was released by the Eagles in June and has yet to sign with another team as of Aug. 17.]

 

"Kelly’s unique offense has put up terrific numbers in his first two seasons, but it certainly is a scheme that leaves the defense on the field."…

 

"Philadelphia finished 28th in total defense (375.6 yards per game) and 31st in passing yards allowed (264.9 yards per game), despite finishing tied for second with 49 sacks."…

 

"DE Fletcher Cox is the real deal and scheme-versatile."…

 

"Alonso will help DeMeco Ryans serve as a signal-caller on the defense, and both can help get LB Mychal Kendricks pointed in the right direction."…

 

"OLB Connor Barwin broke out with 14.5 sacks last season."…

 

"The cornerbacks have been re-made with the additions of Byron Maxwell (Seahawks) and Walter Thurmond (Giants) in free agency."…

 

"FS Malcolm Jenkins will be paired with either Earl Wolff or potentially second-round DB Eric Rowe from Utah."…

 

"Philly struck gold when they traded for PK Cody Parkey. All he did was hit 32-of-36 field goals and earn a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie."…

 

"However, if the two-point play rule is changed so the football is placed at the 1-yard line, new addition Tim Tebow could represent 2-4 points per game because of his abilities as a run/pass threat in that particular situation.”

 

 

Washington Redskins

 

“Other than President Barack Obama, no one has more focus on them within the Beltway than Robert Griffin III."…

 

"Washington has been on a roller-coaster ride since giving up a king’s ransom to obtain him back in 2011."…

 

"He and head coach Jay Gruden got off to a rough start in 2014, but the hope this year is that everything has been smoothed over, he is 100 percent healthy and will have a better team around him."…

 

"The set of skill players in DC is not an issue with WRs DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Andre Roberts, plus TEs Jordan Reed and Niles Paul and RB Alfred Morris. Jackson fit in well and produced 56 receptions for a 20.9 yard average and six touchdowns, while Garcon and Roberts are more than capable complimentary pieces."… [Editor's note: Paul is out for the season after breaking his left ankle in the Redskins' first preseason game on Aug. 13]

 

"Reed is super-talented, but has to find a way to stay healthy (missed five games in 2014)."…

 

"Morris, behind an inept offensive line and without the threat of the zone-read QB keeper, struggled to reach 1,000 yards."…

 

"The line is simply awful other than LT Trent Williams and he is no consensus Pro Bowler."…

 

"They gave up 58 sacks (third highest in the league), and combined with a minus-12 turnover ratio, equaled a difficult year on offense, hence, their selection of Iowa OT/OG Brandon Scherff as a day one starter at fifth overall."…

 

"Defensively, Jim Haslett survived one season under Gruden, but now Joe Barry is in charge."…

 

"They tried to rebuild the defensive line by signing Stephen Paea (Bears), Terrance Knighton (Broncos) and Ricky Jean-Francois (Colts) during free agency."…

 

"OLB Ryan Kerrigan continues to be one of the more under-appreciated players in the NFL, all he does is play hard and produce each year."…

 

"Brian Orakpo is off to the Titans after being derailed by injuries here."…

 

"The hope is that Trent Murphy and second-rounder Preston Smith (from Miss State) can become part of a three-man, pass-rushing rotation."…

 

"The secondary has a lot of names, but not sure how good they will be."…

 

"Dashon Goldson was acquired from Tampa Bay via trade and they signed Chris Culliver, too."…

 

"If this sounds like the 49ers from a few years ago, it is, because GM Bruce Allen was bumped up to president and Scot McCloughan was brought in to run their personnel department."…

 

"David Amerson and Bashaud Breeland have shown flashes of decent play, but will likely be in backup roles to Culliver and DeAngelo Hall."…

 

"RGIII has been his own soap opera, but the truth is, that the OL and defense have been in disrepair, and until those things are fixed, it may not matter if he ‘talks small and plays big’ in 2015.”

Teaser:
NFL Scouts Talk Anonymously About NFC East Teams
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 12:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/nc-state-football-teams-goes-crazy-after-walk-nick-lacy-gets-scholarship
Body:

A walk-on earning his scholarship makes for some of the best videos in all of college football.

 

This time it's NC State cornerback Nick Lacy getting his scholarship after all the hard work and effort he put into the team. His sacrifice was rewarded in a speech by the defensive backs coach George Barlow.

These guys are genuinely happy for their teammate. This is a true team.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 11:57
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-texas-am-college-football-schedule-2015
Body:

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin made one of the biggest hires of the offseason in luring defensive coordinator John Chavis away from SEC West rival LSU. Chavis is a defensive-minded guru who should turn around that side of the ball for the Aggies. Measurable defensive improvement coupled with Sumlin’s offensive repertoire could have Texas A&M going from pretenders to yearly contenders, perhaps as early as this season.

 

Related: Why Texas A&M Will or Won’t Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

 

However, it cannot be overlooked that Sumlin has seen his record in College Station trickle from a 11-win debut in 2012, to nine wins in ’13, and just eight a year ago. Former Big 12 foes and in-state rivals, Baylor and TCU, are at an all-time high in terms of on-the-field performance and enthusiasm within the Lone Star State. Even with the Texas Longhorns still struggling to find their footing that does little to change the high expectations emanating from the 12th Man.

 

The 2015 college football campaign brings promise of a new season along with hopes and a few expectations. Aggie fans expect Chavis to turn around a defense that finished ranked 102nd in the nation under Mark Snyder, are hopeful that Sumlin will find a return to a powerful running attack, while maintaining what was one of the nation’s best passing attacks (306 ypg) in 2014. With seven starters returning on offense and six on defense the possibility for contending for a SEC West title is favorable, once a few question marks are answered, and thanks to the schedule.

 

Texas A&M’s 2015 slate shapes up pretty favorably. The Aggies do not leave the state of Texas until Oct. 24, which means they six games in front of home state fans before facing a hostile crowd. It’s three more home games after that before closing out the regular season with back-to-back road games at Vanderbilt and LSU. But don’t take this to mean Texas A&M’s schedule is easy, however, as after all the Aggies do reside in the SEC West. All seven teams in the West made Athlon Sports’ preseason Top 25.

 

Based on home-field advantage vs. being on the road, projected toughness of opponent, and Texas A&M’s style of play vs. opponent, the following is a ranking of the Aggies’ regular season games from easiest to toughest in 2015.

 

12. Sept 12. vs. Ball State

The Cardinals will be just what the Aggies need after a tough opening game against Arizona State. Ball State finished 5-7 in 2014 out of the Mid-American Conference. Look for Sumlin and Chavis in Week 2 to address any soft spots or areas of weakness that came to light against the Sun Devils.

 

11. Nov. 14 vs. Western Carolina

The Catamounts amount to a working bye week after an exhausting six-game haul through SEC opponents. Western Carolina, a FCS program out of the Southern Conference, is a nice, padded game after Auburn and before traveling to Vanderbilt.

 

10. Sept. 19 vs. Nevada

The layout of the schedule may be ideal but the actual quality of opponent is tough. The Wolf Pack is not a rollover team out of the Mountain West. Nevada went 7-6 in 2014, beating Washington State 24-13, putting a scare into Arizona before falling 35-28, and defeating BYU 42-35. Nevada returns six on offense and five on defense making this a tougher early-season matchup than Sumlin and company may want. The Aggies should still come out with a win.

 

9. Nov. 21 at Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt could be one of the surprise teams in the nation in 2015. The flipside is Derek Mason may not be a head coach but just an excellent defensive coordinator.

 

The Commodores return eight players on offense and nine on defense. If this was any other squad in the SEC with this much returning talent, national title talk would smother the program. As is, Vanderbilt has a nice mix of seniors coming back complemented by the underclassmen, making this a tricky game.

 

Favoring A&M is Vandy’s schedule leading up to the showdown in Nashville. The Commodores play at South Carolina, home against Missouri, at Houston, at Florida, host Kentucky, and then host the Aggies.

 

8. Oct. 31 vs. South Carolina

The frightening thought of playing South Carolina has seemingly disappeared. Steve Spurrier has lost too much talent on defense without replacing it when times were good, same goes for key positions on offense.

 

The Gamecocks have four starters back on offense and six on defense. At this point in the season whoever has won the right to be South Carolina’s starting quarterback is either getting into a groove or is so shell-shocked by Spurrier’s constant yelling that he does not know what to do one way or the other.

In favor of A&M, South Carolina does not have a “gimme” game on the schedule until facing Citadel on Nov. 21. The Gamecocks do have a bye after playing Vanderbilt before heading to College Station.

 

7. Oct. 3 vs. Mississippi State

The Aggies have four games on the schedule they should win with the rest potentially going one way or the other. The Bulldogs are another team, much like South Carolina, that seems to be in a rebuilding mode. Mississippi State has four starters back on offense and three on defense but if you listen to the chatter out of Starkville the new starters got valuable game snaps in 2014,  making this unit a little bit more experienced than what is on paper.

 

Facing a quarterback with Dak Prescott’s abilities gives Mississippi State a puncher’s chance. In favor of the Aggies is the Bulloddogs’ prior game against Auburn. The Bulldogs travel to Jordan-Hare. Aggies fans have to hope Mississippi State turns this one into, knockdown, drag-out fight. If Auburn jumps out to a big lead early in the second half, the Bulldogs could their focus to the next game and decide to rest key players in the fourth quarter.

 

6. Oct. 24 at Ole Miss

The “toughness” scale of this game could easily slide up a game or two if Ole Miss can answer a few questions going into the season. Those questions are the eligibility of left tackle Jeremy Tunsil, the health of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, and the assurance of a running attack. Perhaps the biggest unknown is the production that will come from under center. Bo Wallace is gone and a battle in fall camp has begun between JUCO transfer Chad Kelly, dual threat option DeVante Kincade, and pocket passer Ryan Buchanan.

 

Ole Miss’ schedule lays out favorably to pick up some momentum in spurts. The Aggies could be facing a Rebels squad with a win-loss record of 6-1 before Ole Miss faces the meat of its SEC West schedule. Texas A&M will test the talented Rebels’ secondary for what should be an entertaining strength vs. strength matchup.

 

5. Nov. 28 at LSU

Another swing game on the toughness scale for Texas A&M that could move either direction. The highlight of the game is Chavis returning to Baton Rouge to face his old employer, LSU head coach Les Miles. Chavis and Miles know one another’s tendencies, making this a fun college football chess match.

 

The game within the game is LSU’s secondary vs. the Aggies’ passing attack. Texas A&M has as good of a receiving corps as there is in college football. The same can be said about the Tigers’ secondary.

 

This is the last regular season game for both teams. If either is dealing with unrealized expectations headed into this game, it could turn out to be a one-sided affair. This also could be a slugfest if one team or both teams are jockeying for a potential SEC West crown or better bowl positioning.

 

4. Sept. 26 vs. Arkansas (at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

The Aggies escaped the Hogs last season, winning 35-28 in overtime after being down 28-14 in the third quarter. Former starting quarterback Kenny Hill exposed the Razorbacks’ secondary in the fourth with two long scoring plays — an 86-yarder to Edward Pope and a 59-yard pitch and catch with Josh Reynolds — to send the game into overtime. On the Aggies’ opening play of the extra period, Hill found Malcome Kennedy for the game-winning, 25-yard touchdown, with the defense stopping the Razorbacks on 4th and 1 to seal the come-from-behind victory.

 

Arkansas gets a great warm-up game the week before against Texas Tech, which is similar to Texas A&M in terms of offensive philosophy. If Arkansas’ secondary figures everything out against the Red Raiders this could be a tough game for the Aggies.

 

3. Sept. 5 (Saturday) vs. Arizona State (at NRG Stadium in Houston)

The Sun Devils present a very tough season opener for Texas A&M. Arizona State has five returning starters, plus senior quarterback Mike Bercovici, back on offense and seven on defense. The Sun Devils were 10-3 last year and easily could have been 12-1 suffering an eight-point loss on the road to Oregon State (35-27) and a seven-point defeat to in-state rival Arizona (42-35).

 

Bercovici is talented and one could easily argue that he should have been the starter last season over Taylor Kelly. As a junior, Bercovici replaced an injured Kelly against UCLA. The Bruins laid a bombshell on the Sun Devils, winning 62-27, but Bercovici still threw for 488 yards and two scores, but also had two costly interceptions. The following week on the road against USC he lit up the Trojans for 510 yards with five touchdown passes and zero picks. Against a tough Stanford defense the next week he completed 23-of-33 for 245 yards with one score and zero picks. Kelly came back in the following week, putting Bercovici back on the bench until the regular season finale against Arizona.

 

This one could be decided in the head-to-head matchup of Arizona State’s secondary vs. Texas A&M’s passing attack.

 

2. Oct. 17 vs. Alabama

If you are an SEC fan you should have seen the final two top “tough” games coming. The Crimson Tide may not be as stacked from top to bottom as in recent years, but Alabama still has a lot of talent to work with. No one, not even Nick Saban or offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin knows what Bama will have on offense until a starter under center is named and said quarterback starts to play some games.

 

One known entering the 2015 season is Alabama’s defense. Saban is a defense-first coach and coordinator Kirby Smart is given credit for being among the best of the best. Bama has seven starters back on defense and a mean and nasty front seven that no offense wants to face this season.

 

1. Nov. 7 vs. Auburn

The good news is Texas A&M gets Auburn at home. The bad news is Auburn will be ridiculously talented on offense with Jeremy Johnson taking over for Nick Marshall under center and 5-star JUCO transfer Jovon Robinson (6-0, 230) set to replace Cameron Artis-Payne, the SEC’s leading rusher last season.

 

The Tigers, like the Aggies, upgraded in the offseason at defensive coordinator with former Florida head coach Will Muschamp. Auburn had the nation’s 64th-ranked defense in 2014, giving up 399 yards per game. Texas A&M’s was worse, coming in at No. 102 at 451 yards per game. In terms of reclamation projects, Muschamp seems to have an easier road getting his defense into shape compared to Chavis.

 

One thing, okay two things, appear to favor the Aggies: 1) Texas A&M beat Auburn last year in Jordan-Hare in a 41-38 shocker. 2) Auburn has a tough stretch of games prior to this one —at Kentucky, at Arkansas, home against Ole Miss. And after the Aggies, Auburn will go back to home to face a potential top-10 team in Georgia. Could this be a trap game for Gus Malzahn’s Tigers?

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Texas A&M’s College Football Schedule in 2015
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 11:45
Path: /college-football/ranking-top-15-players-acc-2015-experts-poll
Body:

Some of the ACC’s biggest names and best players from the 2014 season are playing on Sundays this fall, but the league still has a strong core of talent for 2015. The ACC boasts a solid overall group of quarterbacks and talent on defense with the return of Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller.

 

With the season right around the corner, Athlon Sports sought to answer this question: Who is the best player in the ACC this year?

 

In order to rank the top 15 players in the ACC for 2015, Athlon Sports sought the insight of several experts from the conference. The voting process was simple. Using criteria such as career performance so far, 2015 potential/projection, pro outlook, recruiting ranking, value to team or overall talent, each voter was asked to rank their top 15 players for 2015.

 

A point system was assigned, giving 15 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 14 points for a No. 2 vote, 13 points for a No. 3 vote and so on.

 

Podcast: Complete 2015 ACC Preview and Predictions



Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher

 

The Voters

 

Chris Nee, (@CNee247), Noles247.com

Rich Cirminiello, (@RichCirminiello), CampusInsiders.com

Sam Werner, (@SWernerPG), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

David Glenn, (@DavidGlennShow), ACCSports.com

Steven Lassan, (@AthlonSteven), AthlonSports.com

Adam Powell, (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com

David Teel, (@DavidTeelatDP), DailyPress.com

A.J. Black, (@BCHysteria), BCInterruption.com

Jon Kinne, (@JonRKinne), Athlon Contributor Network

David Fox, (@DavidFox615), AthlonSports.com

James Henderson, (@PackPride), PackPride.com

John Cassillo, (@JohnCassillo), NunesMagician.com

Antwan Stanley, (@Antwanstaley), Athlon Contributor Network

Joe Giglio, (@Jwgiglio), NewsObserver.com

Ethan Moore, (@LvilleSprtsLive), LouisvilleSportslive.Net

Ariya Massoudi, (@AriyaMassoudi), FSView.com

Anson Whaley, (@AnsonWhaley), CardiacHill.com

Mitch Light, (@AthlonMitch), AthlonSports.com

J.P. Scott, (@TheJPScott), Athlon Contributor Network

Matt Carter, (@TheWolfPacker), The Wolfpacker

Mark Ross, (@AthlonMarkR), AthlonSports.com

 

Ranking the ACC's Best Players for 2015 (Experts Poll)
 PlayerTeamTotal Points
1Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State (7 first-place votes)281
2Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (6)278
3James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh (7)276
4Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech242
5Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh (1)227
6Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech152
7Jeremy Cash, S, Duke122
8Quin Blanding, S, Virginia109
9Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech105
10Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State103
11Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami77
12TMarquise Williams, QB, North Carolina69
12TMike Williams, WR, Clemson69
14Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson44
15Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State39
16Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson35
17TJacoby Brissett, QB, NC State29
17TRoberto Aguayo, K, Florida State29
19Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina28
20Everett Golson, QB, Florida State26
21Terrance Smith, LB, Florida State23
22TLuther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech22
22TDevonte Fields, DE/LB, Louisville22
24Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville20
25James Burgess, LB, Louisville19
26Keith Kelsey, LB, Louisville14
27Nate Andrews, DB, Florida State12
28Jon Hilliman, RB, Boston College10
29TAdam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh6
29TRyan Switzer, WR, North Carolina6
29TMario Pender, RB, Florida State6
32Ken Ekanem, DE, Virginia Tech5
33TMatt Skura, C, Duke3
33TAdam Gotsis, DT, Georgia Tech3
35TBucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech2
35TBrandon Chubb, LB, Wake Forest2
35TShaq Lawson, DE, Clemson2
38TReggie Northrup, LB, Florida State1
38TWayne Gallman, RB, Clemson1
38TMatt Dayes, RB, NC State1

* Four players received first-place votes. Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and Pittsburgh running back James Conner received the most first-place votes (seven). Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson received six, while Pittsburgh receiver Tyler Boyd received one.

 

* Four of the top 12 players in this poll were quarterbacks. According to the voting panel, Watson is No. 1, followed by Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, Miami’s Brad Kaaya and North Carolina’s Marquise Williams.

 

Related: ACC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Their League Opponents for 2015

 

* Seven different teams were represented in the top 10.

 

* Despite the uncertainty surrounding his status for 2015, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook ranked No. 10 in this expert poll.

 

* Florida State (nine) had the most players voted for in this expert poll. Clemson was second with six, followed by Virginia Tech (five) and Louisville (four). 

Teaser:
Ranking the Top 15 Players in the ACC for 2015 (Experts Poll)
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/big-tens-top-freshmen-watch-2015
Body:

As the Big Ten Conference improves, so too does the incoming talent. The end result is a new crop of players talented enough to crack their respective starting lineups and make an impact throughout the season.

 

The Big Ten has a group of freshmen as talented as any conference in the country. They'll be stepping into starting roles or regular rotations and likely having a say in how the 2015 college football season plays out.

 

Related: Big Ten Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2015

 

Here are the ten freshmen to watch in the Big Ten this fall.

 

Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan

Peppers made this list last season but ended up redshirting after playing limited downs. Various reports out of Ann Arbor say that Peppers is quite simply the best player on Michigan's roster. He's going to lead Michigan's secondary and be an integral part of what Jim Harbaugh wants to do on special teams. Don't be shocked to see him used on offense as well.

 

Madre London, RB, Michigan State

The departure of Jeremy Langford leaves a gaping hole to fill in the Spartan backfield. It's looking more and more like that hole will be filled by committee for the time being. London figures heavily into that committee and could eventually emerge as the bell cow. He's as complete a back as Michigan State has on its roster, physical enough to get tough yards inside and quick enough to shoot 30 yards downfield in a blink.

 

Derwin Gray, T, Maryland

The 6-foot-5, 328-pound Gray is a monster with unlimited potential. He'll be thrust into a starting role immediately and will be a key piece in Maryland's quest to play in a bowl. In an offense with not a lot of individual playmaking talent at the skill positions, the ability to protect the pocket and own the edge will be instrumental to Maryland's success in 2015.

 

Vayante Copeland, CB, Michigan State

Copeland is one of the more decorated high school players to come out of Ohio in recent memory. He'll compete for a starting spot at corner, but will be a regular fixture in the Spartan secondary regardless of whether or not he wins the starting role. His ability to play like an upperclassman will be critical in a year where Michigan State is considered by many as a dark horse in the College Football Playoff conversation.

 

Nick Allegretti, G, Illinois

Protecting Wes Lunt and opening holes for Josh Ferguson are steps one and two in the plan for Illinois offensive success in 2015. Allegretti will be the youngest member of an offensive line that returns three starters. If the Illini are to make a repeat bowl appearance, Allegretti will play a pivotal role in that attempt.

 

Isaiah Gentry, WR, Minnesota

In an offense with limited skill position weapons, Gentry could be a major factor — particularly in the red zone. The departure of Maxx Williams leaves quarterback Mitch Leidner without a big, dependable target downfield. Gentry's prototypical (6-4, 210), NFL-caliber frame is going to be very inviting to a quarterback who likes to throw on the run.

 

Markell Jones, RB, Purdue

The Boilermaker offensive line returns five starters and figure to be the strength of Purdue. Markell Jones — Indiana's 2014 Mr. Football — is likely to be the feature back running behind the group. Jones is a patient runner with good vision. He may very well be the difference for Purdue down the stretch in close games, eating up yards and clock to preserve a couple of wins.

 

T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin

Edwards joins a talented linebacker corps that includes Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel. The former high school quarterback will be tasked with reading some of the better signal-callers in the conference and using his speed and athleticism to make key stops. It's important that Wisconsin does not get into shootouts throughout the season. Edwards will play a key role in that effort.

 

Dedrick Young, LB, Nebraska

Husker fans and media alike can't stop blushing and gushing over Young's physical attributes. "Grown man" is a term commonly used to describe him, and that's going to have to be the case in 2015. He figures to play plenty of snaps — if not start — in what may be Nebraska's thinnest position group from both a talent and depth standpoint. If he can step in and pick up the new defense quickly, it would prevent a lot of would-be heartburn in Husker Nation.

 

Michael Deiter, G, Wisconsin

Running the ball down the opponent's throat has become both Wisconsin's strategy and identity. That's not likely to change under new head coach Paul Chryst. The Badgers are expecting big things from running back Corey Clement in 2015, and Deiter will play a key role if those big things coming to fruition. If he can play anywhere near the level of returning starters Tyler Marz and Dan Voltz, the Badgers should once again field one of the better offensive lines in the conference.

 

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

Teaser:
The Big Ten's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2015
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/rob-gronkowski-tells-story-super-bowl-ring-sportscenter-espn
Body:

We've all been there. Listening to a friend who just got a ring, and pretending to be happy for them.

 

Rob Gronkowski tells the story of how he got his ring in the new "This is SportsCenter" ad. Neil Everett, Stan Verrett, and Kenny Mayne put on their best "I'm so happy for you" faces as Gronk gives the details.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 10:32
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC East, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/5-new-england-patriots-youngsters-rise-after-first-preseason-game
Body:

It's important to never get too carried away after the first NFL preseason game, but there's no denying Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots continue to replenish their cupboard with solid rookies who can immediately play. In fact, quite a few of them were on display Thursday night against the Packers.

 

With near-complete turnover at cornerback and running back, along with retirement and injuries at guard, the Pats have quite a few significant roles up for grabs. Here are five young players who will be names to remember come September.

 

1. Rookie Guards Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason

Jackson and Mason played almost all of the first preseason game, just as they've seen the majority of the snaps in training camp. Despite no experienced veterans around them, they showed well against Green Bay. Mason looked especially comfortable in a pulling role where he helped spring Jonas Gray's 55-yard touchdown run. Jackson was solid as well, in the workman-like right guard role. Veteran Ryan Wendell remains sidelined on the PUP list, but could be inserted for Mason once he returns. Regardless, the Patriots look like they have two keepers at a position that needed an upgrade this offseason.

 

2. Second-year Running Back James White

White is a lead candidate to replace Shane Vereen in the receiving back role and showed some flashes against the Packers, grabbing four catches for 53 yards, while showing the ability to make defenders miss in space. White will still likely split time early in the season with Travaris Cadet and Brandon Bolden, but showed he can contribute with a different dimension. His willingness in pass protection was apparent, even if he did whiff a couple times.

 

3. Rookie Defensive End Trey Flowers

Suddenly defensive end is a position of solid depth for the Patriots, with the rookie Flowers being the cherry on top after free agent Jabaal Sheard had a great showing himself. Flowers' best highlight was his sack of Aaron Rodgers, but left the game after appearing to take a knee to the stomach. In a league where you can never have too many edge defenders/pass rushers, Flowers looks like the most promising rookie at the position since Chandler Jones. He might be buried a bit on the depth chart, but should get some chances in spot duty.

 

4. Rookie Safety Jordan Richards

The second-round pick out of Stanford looked like he belonged against the Packers, finishing second on the team with six tackles, playing 45 of 88 snaps. Richards played a strong safety role that had him both in the box and dropping into coverage. Richards' emergence will put Tavon Wilson right on the roster bubble and if the amount of playing time is any indication, Wilson is currently looking up at Richards on the depth chart. Richards has the smarts to find himself on the field both on special teams and in three-safety packages this season.

 

5. Running Back Jonas Gray

Technically this is Gray's fourth year in the NFL, but he should be a significant part of the Patriots’ ground attack. LeGarrette Blount is the team's best early-down back, but Gray should see significant carries, and, at the very least, be the primary back for the season opener while Blount is suspended. Gray showed impressive burst on his 55-yard touchdown run against the Packers. Explosive plays and hard running like that are just what the Patriots need.

 

(Jonas Gray photo by Keith Nordstrom, courtesy of www.patriots.com)

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
5 New England Patriots Youngsters on the Rise After First Preseason Game
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/how-will-jarron-jones-injury-affect-notre-dame
Body:

Notre Dame left spring practice with a lot of bodies along the defensive line. Then defensive ends Jhonny Williams and Kolin Hill announced their decision to transfer, lessening the depth on the edge.

 

But a much bigger blow came on Friday when defensive tackle Jarron Jones tore his MCL and was lost for the season. The 6-foot-5, 315-pounder from Rochester, N.Y., was coming back from a foot injury suffered in the first quarter of 2014’s home finale against Louisville. While his progress from that injury had been slow, he was making strides and was on track to start the season on the field.

 

The question that is now being asked by all Notre Dame fans is how much will Jones’s injury affect the 2015 Irish?

 

Related: Why Notre Dame Will or Won't Make the College Football Playoff in 2015

 

Obviously, it’s not going to help. Jones established himself as a powerful presence in the middle of the Irish line last year and a healthy Jones, along with Sheldon Day on the interior, would have been a major strength for Notre Dame.

 

In some ways, though, last year’s injury may help Notre Dame in 2015. Daniel Cage and Jay Hayes saw meaningful snaps as freshmen and Jacob Matuska made some plays at that position as well.

 

Another option is to move defensive end Isaac Rochell inside. Rochell played tackle in the Music City Bowl and seemed to take to the position quite naturally. He is a big, strong guy who isn’t a natural pass rusher, so he would be a fit as a replacement for Jones. The problem is that he sets the edge very well against the run at end. While Andrew Trumbetti has a bright future, he just doesn’t boast the size (6-3, 260) needed to be a force up front like Rochell.

 

The wild card is true freshman Jerry Tillery. The early entry was the talk of spring practice and will be at the very least part of the rotation in the middle. Tillery (6-6, 305) is similar in size to Jones.

 

It is true that none of these players are known commodities. But the good news is that Notre Dame has a few options, increasing the likelihood that at least one of them will pan out.

 

Notre Dame comes into the season with lofty goals and despite the loss of Jones, the bar is still set very high. While the injury stings badly, it is by no means a death blow to the Irish’s hopes of earning a spot in the College Football Playoff.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
How Will Jarron Jones' Injury Affect Notre Dame?
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/dan-mullen-hugh-freeze-call-change-state-flag-ole-miss-mississippi-state-clarion-ledger
Body:

Dan Mullen and Hugh Freeze don't come together for much, but this is one thing they agree on.

 

In a full-page ad appearing in the Clarion-Ledger, the Mississippi State and Ole Miss coaches along with Morgan Freeman, Archie Manning, and others are calling for the state flag to be changed.

 

Since other states are progressing and removing the state flag, some figures in Mississippi figure it's time for the state to follow suit.

 

 

The ad reads as follows:

 

"It's simply not fair, or honorable, to ask black Mississippians to attend schools, compete in athletic events, work in the public sector, serve in the National Guard, and go about their normal lives with the state flag that glorifies a war fought to keep their ancestors enslaved. It's time for Mississippi to fly a flag for all its people."

 

 

Freeze has gone on record before to say the flag needs to be changed.

 

"I'm a Mississippian," Freeze said. "No one understands the pride of the people and the heritage of that state any better than I do. While I'm not a political figure, that symbol [the Confederate flag] has been hijacked by groups that have meant ill will toward other people. I think it's time we move in a different direction with the state flag."

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 09:48
Path: /nfl/impressions-pittsburgh-steelers-23-21-preseason-loss-jacksonville-jaguars
Body:

Ah, yes, preseason football! A time when the Steelers’ first team comes in, marches down the field for a touchdown on the opening drive, and even take the 2-point conversion. Makes it look easy.

 

And then there are the backups, who go on to lose the game 23-21.

 

That said, here's what we took from Friday night's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

What’s this? A 2-point conversion after the first score?

In theory, if a team felt it could be successful at 2-point conversions more than 50 percent of the time, then it would make sense to go for two more often since that’s twice as many points as a PAT.

 

In practicality, it doesn't make a lot of sense. Still, this is preseason football, where new ideas can be explored. On the Steelers' radio network pregame show it was revealed the Steelers have had a competition where they line up for 2-point conversions seven times, offense and defense. They are said to be spirited competitions where score is not only kept, but the unit that gets beat is reminded of it.

 

Therefore it wasn't that much of a surprise when the Steelers went for two, and got it, in the first quarter after Ben Roethlisberger marched the team down the field a six-play, 80-yard drive. With extra points now kicked from 32 yards out instead of 20, some have theorized teams will attempt 2-point conversions more often. After all, the extra point on the scoreboard was the impetus for Jacksonville to go for its own 2-point conversion following Stephen Morris' go-ahead, one-yard touchdown put the Jaguars up 23-21, as overtime is frowned upon in the preseason.

 

The conversion failed, and the Steelers could have won the game with a field goal. While in the regular season such a touchdown would likely have been followed with a regular kicking conversion, it would have made the score 24-21, and a field goal would still be en vouge.

 

Is this a new strategic element in NFL games? Two-point conversion attempts were all the rage this week in preseason. Possibly, but it should be mentioned such ploys are not new in the preseason. In Pittsburgh’s 31-10 victory at Buffalo to kick off the 1995 preseason, Bill Cowher also decided to go for two following the Steelers’ first touchdown.

 

On Friday night, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley elected to have Jason Myers attempt a 58-yard field goal in the third quarter. It's unlikely in the regular season such a decision would have been made, and though Myers' attempt was unsuccessful, his long kicks meant the Steelers did not return a kickoff in the game.

 

Improved special teams play

Against Minnesota the Steelers allowed Stefon Diggs to return a punt 62 yards to set up the Vikings’ second touchdown and Shaun Suisham infamously was hurt making a tackle on a kickoff at midfield.

 

On Friday the special teams weren't great, allowing 174 return yards. But they were good, as Garrett Hartley made all his kicks in his Steelers debut. More importantly, Shayon Green forced a Storm Johnson fumble, recovered by Sammie Coates, on a kickoff in the fourth quarter to set up the Steelers’ go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Without that fumble, it's unlikely the Steelers would have re-taken the lead because…

 

This quarterback Jones

Save for the opening series, Landry Jones played his second straight complete game. And save for a 17-yard drive in the fourth quarter where he threw his first touchdown pass in two seasons of preseason football, he continued to be unimpressive.

 

His defenders stated he didn't have the luxury of playing with first-string players against Minnesota; on Friday his first pass was to Martavis Bryant and was too high. For the game, Jones was 24 for 46 for 200 yards, an embarrassingly low 4.3 yards per pass attempt.

 

Yes, he suffered some dropped passes. Shakim Phillips is the new Limas Sweed. But at the end of the day Jones' first five drives produced punts. He had three two-minute drives and could never get the team past the 50.

 

Furthermore, it seemed as if Mike Tomlin kept Jones in the game almost to make a point, or as if to play favorites with his own fourth-round choice of two years ago rather than another team's sixth-round pick of last season.

 

Tomlin hinted both Tyler Murphy and Tahj Boyd would see action behind center before the game, but it never came. Tomlin also defended Jones' play against Minnesota in his coach's show with Bill Hillgrove, saying he felt he was accurate in the first half of the Hall of Fame Game before his accuracy declined in the second.

 

Jones' spot on the roster may now lie with Bruce Gradkowski's ability to heal. One gets the feeling Tomlin sees Jones as a similar quarterback to Roethlisberger in that he is willing to let a play develop.

 

It's just that the plays haven't developed.

 

The secondary

On the good side, cornerback William Gay started well. His tackle of Julius Thomas in the first quarter made the big pass catcher flip in the air, and his ensuing footsteps made Allen Hurns drop a pass later on in the drive. Then Gay allowed Allen Robinson to get past him in the first quarter for a 15-yard catch on 3rd and 14.

 

There were so many little things. Backup Jacksonville quarterback Chad Henne threw only one incomplete pass (a drop). Four Steelers penalties, including two consecutive ones on cornerback Jordan Sullen, let a quarterback, Stephen Morris, who completed only 33 percent of his passes in the game, march the Jaguars 92 yards for the winning score late in the fourth quarter.

 

Clay Harbour's 31-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter came when he beat B.W. Webb when the Steelers were in Cover 2 and the safety was late in response. The play came after Harbour dropped a pass with 9:07 left in the first half when he was wide open in the flat with a clear path to the end zone, much like Minnesota tight end MyCole Pruitt was able to get open for his touchdown reception in the Hall of Fame game.

 

Thank goodness for Bill Hillgrove and Bob Pompeani

The Jaguars’ radio play-by-play announcer is Frank Frangie, a veteran radio sportscaster who actually spent many of his formative summers in Western Pennsylvania. The background of Frangie's Twitter page is PNC Park.

 

Unfortunately the Jaguars' television play-by-play broadcaster is Sam Kouvaris, a veteran television sportscaster who votes on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. Hopefully he is more prepared for his selections than this particular broadcast. Consider:

 

* He opened the broadcast stating the Jaguars were playing their second preseason game of the year and the Steelers were playing their first.

* Did not identify Markus Wheaton on his 2-point conversion catch

* Stated Devin Gardner was still on the Steelers. Gardner was cut when Garrett Hartley was signed on Wednesday.

* Broadcast the game with an overall very dry delivery.

 

This just made one thankful for Bill Hillgrove's calls on the radio and Bob Pompeani's on KDKA. While Kouvaris is likely as iconic in Jacksonville as Hillgrove and Pompeani are to Pittsburgh, Hillgrove's radio broadcasts are always lively and Pompeani is always sharp.

 

Final note

Much has been made in modern times how warm-weather states are now producing as many football players, if not more, than the traditional breeding grounds of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

 

Therefore it was refreshing that the three team captains for the Jaguars; Henne, Paul Posluszny and Bernard Pierce, all hail from the Keystone State. True, none are from Western Pennsylvania proper. But it's fun to note Henne was born in Wyomissing, the hometown of former University of Pittsburgh quarterback Matt Lytle and Taylor Swift.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Impressions from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 23-21 Preseason Loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: Arkansas Razorbacks, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/alex-collins-takes-center-stage-arkansas-backfield-after-jonathan-williams-injury
Body:

Arkansas’ mighty ground attack suffered a setback this weekend, as the school announced running back Jonathan Williams will miss an extended period of time after a foot injury in a weekend scrimmage.

 

According to a release from the school, Williams’ left foot injury will require surgery and the timetable for his return is uncertain.

 

Williams is one of the nation’s top running backs after recording 1,190 yards and 12 scores last season. The senior turned down an opportunity to head to the NFL for one more year with the Razorbacks.

 

While the timetable for Williams’ return is uncertain, Arkansas’ schedule is manageable in most of September. The Razorbacks host UTEP, Toledo and Texas Tech before the SEC opener against Texas A&M.

 

The matchup against the Aggies is arguably the first game where Williams would be needed. That’s over a month in terms of a recovery. Optimistically, a return in the Sept. 26 neutral site affair would be the best-case scenario for Williams. On the negative side, Williams could be out even longer.  

 

While Williams is a key piece of Arkansas’ offense, the good news is junior Alex Collins is capable of carrying the rushing attack and is also one of the top running backs in the nation.

 

Collins rushed for 1,100 yards and 12 scores last season and led the team with 1,026 yards in 2013. The junior has been pushed by coach Bret Bielema this offseason and went into fall camp in better shape.

 

Collins has been one of the SEC’s top running backs over the last two years and a little extra commitment and improved speed is a dangerous thought for defensive coordinators in the SEC.

 

After working as co-No. 1’s in Arkansas’ backfield over the last two years, Collins is now the go-to back for the Razorbacks until Williams is back in action.

 

How much will Arkansas utilize Collins early in September? Without Williams, keeping Collins healthy is now a priority. Expect to see Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams III filling in for Williams during the non-conference action, which should allow Collins to stay fresh and limit the wear and tear until SEC play on Sept. 26 against Texas A&M.

 

There’s no doubt Arkansas will miss Jonathan Williams. However, Collins, Walker and Williams III are capable of keeping the ground attack in good shape through the non-conference portion. Additionally, the Razorbacks expect quarterback Brandon Allen to improve in his senior year.

 

Assuming Williams returns in time for late September or early October, Arkansas shouldn’t miss a beat and will be positioned for improvement in SEC play. If Williams is out longer, his injury becomes a bigger issue for the Razorbacks and a hindrance to the hopes of improving into the top of the SEC West. Even if Williams is out for more than a month, the ground attack is in good shape with an improving (and more dangerous) Collins toting the ball 25-30 times a game.

Teaser:
Alex Collins Takes Center Stage in Arkansas' Backfield After Jonathan Williams' Injury
Post date: Monday, August 17, 2015 - 09:00
Path: /college-football/vanderbilt-unveils-awesome-deep-water-alternate-uniforms-2015
Body:

Vanderbilt unveiled its new alternate uniforms for 2015 during its annual Dore Jam, and the school hit a home run with this design.

 

The alternate look is the nicknamed “Deep Water” and features a gray uniform with a chrome helmet.

 

The new alternate look goes with the traditional black, white and gold uniforms the school will wear in 2015.

 

Check out Vanderbilt’s new alternate uniforms: 

 

 

 

Teaser:
Vanderbilt Unveils Awesome New Deep Water Alternate Uniforms for 2015
Post date: Sunday, August 16, 2015 - 16:08
Path: /college-football/michigan-unveils-new-all-white-road-alternate-uniform-2015
Body:

Jim Harbaugh’s fingerprints are all over the Michigan football program in 2015, and the first-year coach reportedly plans on making an alteration to the Wolverines’ away uniforms.

 

According to thewolverine.com, Michigan is changing its road uniforms to an all-white design. Usually, the Wolverines wear white jerseys and maize pants in away games. The new all-white look is a tribute to the 1974 team and could be used in all of Michigan’s road contests in 2015.

 

Here’s a look at Michigan’s new all-white uniforms for 2015: 

Teaser:
Michigan Unveils New Road Alternate Uniform for 2015
Post date: Saturday, August 15, 2015 - 10:00
Path: /overtime/wake-forest-wr-cortez-lewis-different-handshake-over-50-team
Body:

One thing you can say about Cortez Lewis is that he has a phenomenal memory.

 

The Wake Forest wide receiver has a secret handshake with over 50 members of the team. That's a lot of memory being used. You have to remember who's who and which handshake goes with which guy. My goodness, give this kid an MVP just because.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 16:41
All taxonomy terms: Arizona Wildcats, College Football, Pac-12
Path: /college-football/arizona-football-licence-thrill-wildcats-rich-rodriguez
Body:

Everyone in college football wants to have the best hype video, but many are put to shame with Arizona's work of art.

 

The Wildcats went all-out with "Licence to Thrill." The team channels James Bond as they ride around in exotic cars, live it up at exclusive parties, all while styling in nice suits. Let's hope they bring some of that style and finesse to the field this season.

Scooby Wright looks like he had a lot of fun filming as well.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 16:04
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/hypocritical-bullying-ncaa
Body:

Bullying has become an issue, which teachers and coaches at all levels and parents with children of all ages have had to confront. Seemingly insignificant cases of verbal attacks and subtle intimidation have led to tragic consequences. Public service announcements and educational programs address bullying of children. The assumption is that this is not an issue facing adults or organizations. Everyone is encouraged to aid the victims and confront the tormenters. After hearing and seeing so much on this issue for so long, I can no longer stay silent.

 

To the National Collegiate Athletic Association, I must say this: stop picking on the University of North Dakota!

   

This harassment began several years ago. In 2007, the NCAA browbeat the university into an agreement to drop UND’s nickname, the Fighting Sioux, and its logo within four years, unless two specified Sioux tribes gave their consent to the usage of both. One tribe voiced its approval; the other expressed its opposition. Faced with banishments from postseason tournaments, the university caved to the pressure in 2011. Its teams have competed without an official nickname ever since. Those associated with UND are still grappling with a replacement acceptable to the self-appointed judges of propriety in Indianapolis.

 

The NCAA began its politically correct jihad in 2005. Arkansas State University, Southeast Missouri State University and the University of Louisiana-Monroe buckled under the threats to drop the historically erroneous nickname “Indians.” Saint John’s University, formerly called “Redmen,” and Marquette University, previously known as “Warriors,” chose other nicknames out of fear of being declared ineligible for postseason participation. Evidently, the NCAA could not be content with strong-arming some members to change their nicknames that lump all aboriginal peoples of the Americas into one non-descript classification.

 

Then, the NCAA targeted the University of North Dakota. The alleged justification lies in the supposed “hostile or abusive” nature of UND’s nickname and logo featuring a warrior wearing war paint and feathers. How does the use of the name of a specific tribe fit the description of "hostile or abusive"? If that is the standard, why are those hypocrites not harassing Central Michigan University (Chippewas), Florida State University (Seminoles), the University of Illinois (Fighting Illini), San Diego State University (Aztecs) or the University of Utah (Utes)?

 

If UND’s logo is causing this badgering, then an official from the NCAA needs to explain why Florida State’s logo is not also held to the same standard. Is that because those other programs compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest classification of football, and, thus, they have the resources and clout to resist the threats? Perhaps, the busybodies are just starting with the weaker targets before turning their muzzles in the direction of those FBS programs.

 

The NCAA’s bullying of UND reeks of selective enforcement of a subjective policy. Besides ignoring the use of other tribes’ names, the NCAA conveniently overlooks the names and logos of other members referring to other ethnic groups. Among these are Fighting Irish (University of Notre Dame), Ragin’ Cajuns (University of Louisiana-Lafayette), Spartans (Michigan State University and San Jose State University), Trojans (University of Southern California and Troy University) and Vandals (University of Idaho). Did the NCAA demand a referendum in Ireland, Acadiana, in southeastern Peloponnese, in northwestern Anatolia, or in any of the territories occupied by the Vandals at any point in history to seek approval from the inhabitants of those places for the use of those nicknames and logos?

 

Does the problem with UND’s nickname lie in the use of the adjective “Fighting"? If so, why does the University of Illinois have an exemption from persecution? It uses the name of a tribe, which is preceded by a word that connotes violence. Also, is the nickname of Notre Dame not perpetuating the negative stereotype of the Irish as drunkards eager to brawl at a moment’s notice? Theses two other examples are no less hostile or abusive than the term “Fighting Sioux”.

 

I admit that I have no stake in this fight. I am not, nor have I ever been a fan of, or a student at the University of North Dakota. Actually, I have never even stepped inside the borders of that state. I do not even watch games involving Football Championship Subdivision teams, which UND is a member. However, I do resent it when self-important ninnies try to micromanage the behaviors of others. This especially irritates me when the behavior has no bearing on those dictating how others must unquestioningly conform. I suggest that the NCAA tackle important problems facing college athletes and university sports programs instead of a trivial issue such as this one. I advise the universities with nicknames and logos referring to any ethnic group to ban together to resist this usurping of power by sanctimonious bureaucrats before theirs become the NCAA's next target.

 

— 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.

Teaser:
Hypocritical Bullying by the NCAA
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 16:00
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, Tennessee Titans, NFL
Path: /nfl/five-things-watch-fridays-tennessee-titans-vs-atlanta-falcons-preseason-game
Body:

The Titans and Falcons are both coming off of disappointing seasons and look to make 2015 a fresh start. The Titans and second-year head coach Ken Whisenhunt will look to bounce back from a dreadful 2-14 campaign last year. The Falcons hired new head coach Dan Quinn, formerly the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks.

 

Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s preseason matchup.

 

1. Marcus Mariota

Since being picked second overall in the 2015 draft, Mariota has been under constant pressure as the face of the franchise. The hype kicked into another gear as Mariota has yet to throw an interception in training camp. Most think he is the closest thing to NFL-ready as any rookie quarterback will be this year. He has become a leader in the locker room, picked up the offense quickly and has kept his headlines to what has happened on the field. Now let’s see what he can do against a live defense.

 

2. Vic Beasley

It’s safe to say that the Atlanta Falcons haven’t had a pass rush in a very, very long time. Oh they’ve drafted players, but unfortunately they have missed on all of them. The Falcons hope that Beasley, the eighth overall pick a few months ago, will be everything they hoped he would be. Beasley has impressed in practice and looks the part. We know he can get up field, but can he secure the edge and help his team stop the run as well?

 

3. Dorial Green-Beckham

With their second-round pick, the Titans decided to give Mariota some help on the outside by drafting Green-Beckham, who is talented but has had problems staying out of trouble. If DGB can grow up, this will be the steal of the 2015 draft. If he continues his ways, it will be another miss for the Titans.

 

4. The running game

Both teams feature a number of young ball carriers that were taken in the last couple of drafts. The Falcons’ Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman will both be sidelined with injuries so that will mean plenty of carries for Antone Smith and Terron Ward. Smith continues to be an enigma, as he is very talented but for some reason can’t get playing time. Look for rookie David Cobb to get a lot of carries for the Titans as the backup to Bishop Sankey. The Titans have faith that Sankey’s rough rookie season was primarily due to him making the adjustment to the NFL.

 

5. Upgraded defenses

The Titans added free agents Brian Orakpo, Da‘Norris Searcy and Perrish Cox to help DT Jurrell Casey in hopes to upgrade a unit that ranked 27th in total defense in 2014. Bringing in Hall of Famer and longtime Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau should help as well. The Falcons hired a defensive-minded head coach in Quinn and immediately signed defensive help in free agents Brooks Reed and Justin Durant, while loading up on defenders in the draft, including Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Jalen Collins. Then again, considering this unit ranked dead last in total defense, it will need all the help it can get. Both teams needed to make drastic changes on that side of the ball and were aggressive this offseason in doing so. Will it equal better results on the field and in the win column? Only time will tell.

 

— Written by Justin Nails, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @justinnails

Teaser:
Five Things to Watch in Friday’s Tennessee Titans vs. Atlanta Falcons Preseason Game
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/cam-newton-sing-weeknd-earned-it-carolina-panthers
Body:

Cam Newton is a popular quarterback in the NFL. After this video, that could change.

 

The Panthers star belted out a popular song right now by The Weeknd, called "Earned It." Ironically people are wondering what they did to earn this performance because there is serious work to be done.

 
Cam Newton Sings The Weeknd's "Earned It" Acapella!

Panthers QB Cam Newton has moved on from the Josh Norman scuffle, & now he's ready to sing some CAM-E-OKE with Kiss Mornings crew! #CamNewton

Posted by Kiss 95.1 on Wednesday, August 12, 2015

 

Clearly Newton has never heard the original version.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 14:47
All taxonomy terms: NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/aaron-rodgers-supports-tom-brady-deflategate-patriots-packers
Body:

Being a quarterback in the NFL is like being a part of a brotherhood, at least if you ask Aaron Rodgers.

 

The Packers quarterback is sticking by his fellow athlete Tom Brady during the whole Deflategate scandal. 

 

"Tom's a buddy, and he's going through some stuff right now," Rodgers told WEEI.com. "I'm sure we'll have resolution here pretty soon... I don't know enough about it to make any comment on [Deflategate]. But Tom's a buddy, and I'd like to see it get figured out before the season."

 

Rodgers continued about the different pressures quarterbacks and under and how it's never fun, as a friend or competitor, to see another player held out of the game.

 

"There's 32 of us," Rodgers said. "A lot of expectations. A lot of adversity. We also have a great opportunity and platform to make a difference. I think you realize how difficult it is to play the position, the stuff you deal with every single day. You wear a lot of hats, as a leader, as an encourager. As a supporter. You lead from a lot of different vantage points. It's also really thrilling. You know what those guys are going through and it's fun to get to know some of the guys."

 

There's something about those Green Bay quarterbacks that just make them love Brady.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 14:05
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /overtime/lebron-james-responds-michael-jordan-one-on-one-bulls-cavaliers-today-show
Body:

Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Who would win in a one-on-one?

 

That's the eternal question. MJ says he would definitely beat LeBron and, as you could imagine, the Cavaliers star is taking himself over the Bulls legend. James is a competitor so he said he would choose himself over anyone. That's fair.

Here's Jordan saying James couldn't beat him.

Jordan's not in his prime anymore, but can we just make this happen already?

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 13:35
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/florida-state-creates-course-keep-football-players-out-trouble
Body:

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."

 

Based on the recent activities of De'Andre Johnson and Dalvin Cook, implementing new courses certainly couldn't hurt.

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, August 14, 2015 - 12:36

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