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It has been almost a decade since the Tennessee Volunteers have entered a season with so much fanfare. The media and Vol fans alike, have set the “expectations bar” fairly high and with good reason. Tennessee returns 18 starters from a 2014 team that won four of its last five games, culminating in a lopsided victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl. Head coach Butch Jones also has stockpiled a wealth of young talent by way of highly rated recruiting classes in 2014 and '15. For the first time in years, Tennessee has the talent and depth on both sides of the football to compete in big games.
Standing in the way of the Vols’ quest to return to relevance are 12 proud football programs that have no intention of making that journey easy. On paper, Tennessee’s 2015 football schedule is slightly more forgiving than it has been in years past with eight of the 12 matchups taking place in the Volunteer State. That being said, there is no such thing as an easy path to success when you play in the SEC, especially when teams such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia reside on your schedule annually. Add in a tough, non-conference matchup against Big 12 power Oklahoma, and you still have the makings for one of the tougher schedules in all of college football. It will not be a cakewalk by any stretch of the imagination, but Vol fans finally have cause for optimism heading into a season after years of being confined to mediocrity.
Here now is a look at Tennessee’s 12 regular season opponents, ranked from easiest to most difficult.
12. Sept. 19 vs. Western Carolina
The Vols do not have too many cupcakes on the schedule, but this is one of them. Like the Vols, the Catamounts return most of their starters from 2014. They are also expected to make some noise this season in the FCS, coming in at no. 23 in Athlon Sport's FCS preseason Top 25. That said, they are no match for the unfriendly confines of Neyland Stadium. Tennessee wins big.
11. Nov. 14 vs. North Texas
Sadly, North Texas lost the majority of its top players from 2014 to graduation. Even sadder, that same 2014 team only managed to go 4-8 with a schedule that ranked as the second easiest in the nation. The Mean Green could not have picked a worse time to pay a visit to Knoxville. The Vols will steamroll a rebuilding North Texas squad.
10. Sept. 5 vs. Bowling Green (in Nashville)
The good news for the Falcons is that they should field a very solid offense that returns 10 starters from 2014. The bad news is that they only return five starters from one of college football’s worst defenses in 2014. They also have to play the Vols in (not so neutral) Nashville, Tenn. Bowling Green will likely score more points than Vol fans are anticipating, but it will not be enough to keep it close.
9. Nov. 28 vs. Vanderbilt
In spite of a terrible 2014 season for Derek Mason’s Commodores, they still managed to give Tennessee a run for its money, losing to the Vols by just seven points in Nashville. Vanderbilt should be improved across the board in 2015, but not nearly as much as Tennessee. This should be the year that the balance of the universe gets restored, heavily favoring the Vols in this historically one-sided affair.
8. Oct. 31 at Kentucky
Mark Stoops has Kentucky headed in the right direction, but it is a tall order to compete in the SEC in football at a school known, first and foremost, for basketball. The Wildcats have a solid corps of skill players returning in 2015, and junior QB Patrick Towles may be the most underrated signal-caller in the SEC. Regardless, Tennessee has dominated this rivalry for the better part of 50-plus years now. The Vols take care of business once again in Lexington.
7. Nov. 7 vs. South Carolina
Butch Jones is now 2-0 against Steve Spurrier as the Vols' head coach. On paper, there is nothing to suggest that South Carolina will field a better football team in 2015 than it did in the previous two seasons. Thus, simple logic would tell you that the Vols should once again come out on top against the Gamecocks in Knoxville.
6. Sept. 12 vs. Oklahoma
There is little doubt that the Vols’ 2015 home opener against the Sooners will be pivotal in determining just how much Tennessee has turned the corner. Oklahoma handed a young Tennessee team, with plenty of question marks, a solid beating in Norman last season. This year, the Sooners are the road team with more questions than answers. This game could honestly go either way, but the Vols are slight favorites at home.
5. Oct. 3 vs. Arkansas
Like the Vols, Arkansas is a team on the rise with soaring expectations. They return almost their entire offense from 2014, including a punishing running attack that will be led by Alex Collins following the foot injury to fellow All-SEC ball carrier Jonathan Williams. However, the Razorbacks lose plenty of star power from a defense that ranked 10th nationally a season ago. This will be a physical battle for Tennessee, especially being sandwiched in between the Florida and Georgia games, but playing at home could be the edge the Vols need.
4. Nov. 21 at Missouri
Mizzou has somehow managed to fly under the radar every preseason since joining the SEC. And every regular season, opposing teams pay the price by underestimating the back-to-back SEC East champions. Tennessee gets Mizzou late in the year, so it typically already know what to expect, and yet the Vols still haven’t been able to get past Gary Pinkel’s Tigers. Tennessee has more talent than Mizzou in 2015, but that guarantees nothing on the road in Columbia.
3. Oct. 10 vs. Georgia
The undermanned Vols have given the Bulldogs all they could handle in each of their last two meetings. Unfortunately, it was not enough to get the win in either meeting. This year, Tennessee finally has the weapons to match up against a Georgia squad with plenty of question marks on offense. It does not hurt matters that Georgia has to play Alabama the week prior. This is a must-win game for the Vols in Knoxville if they want to have any shot at the SEC East title. It is also a game that Tennessee is more than capable of winning, but that is easier said than done.
2. Sept. 26 at Florida
The Gators have been the Vols’ kryptonite for the better part of two decades now. If Tennessee is going to once again compete in the SEC and on the national stage, it starts by getting this long festering thorn out of its side. Tennessee has the better team in 2015, but that has been the case in past meetings as well, and the result always seems to be the same. It does not help matters by having to play the Gators in “The Swamp” where the Vols have not won since 2003.
1. Oct. 24 at Alabama
The Vols played Alabama tough in the second half of last year’s 34-20 contest in Knoxville, thanks in large part to QB Joshua Dobbs entering the game. This could be the year that Tennessee makes this long-standing SEC rivalry competitive once again. The gap is definitely narrowing, but a visiting team coming out of Tuscaloosa with a victory may be the most difficult task in all of college football.
— 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
At schools like Florida State and Clemson, four- and five-star recruits waltz onto campus every year. This year’s superstar-in-waiting is competing with last year’s hotshot, who has spent a full year in the system and in the strength and conditioning program. It gives those with multiple years on campus the upper hand in the quest for playing time.
But the two ACC powers had a large amount of contributors leave the program after last season, leaving holes to fill. Both the Seminoles and the Tigers have freshmen ready to show that they can make an impact in 2015.
Of course, the other ACC programs have standout freshmen ready to roll as well. Here is a list of some of the top freshmen to watch in the ACC in 2015.
Derwin James, S, Florida State
How do you get to be considered one of the best safety prospects of the last decade? Standing 6-foot-3, weighing 212, running like a wide receiver, and bench-pressing 405 pounds before your 19th birthday is a good start. James could team with Jalen Ramsey to give the Seminoles two freak athletes in the secondary.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
If Deshaun Watson is not pressured from the blind side, you’re going to hear about Hyatt. If Watson is continually getting crunched from behind, you’re going to hear about Hyatt. Either way, you’re going to hear about Hyatt.
Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
Sweat was one of the top prospects in America coming out of Chesapeake, Va. A terrible knee injury suffered last September led everyone to believe that a redshirt year was waiting in Tallahassee. However, Sweat is practicing with the Seminoles and it is possible that he could play this year.
Nyheim Hines, WR, North Carolina State
At worst, Hines is going to give the Wolfpack a boost in the return game. If Saturday’s scrimmage is any indication, he should be able to provide a whole lot more. The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder had a long touchdown reception and could be another valuable asset for quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
Clemson lost a lot of bodies off last year’s defensive front seven. Wilkins looks like he is going to grab a spot in the rotation. The 6-foot-5, 299-pound, five-star prospect has been very impressive this August.
Jalen Dalton, DE, North Carolina
The early enrollee did enough in spring practice to put himself in contention for a starting position this fall. The Tar Heels’ defense needs an influx of talent and talent is something Dalton has.
Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville
Alexander started impressing the Louisville staff the moment he stepped on campus in January. The Charlotte, N.C., product exited spring ball on the two-deep and now he is pressing to be one of the four new starters in the Cardinals’ secondary.
Ray Ray McCloud, RB, Clemson
The Tampa product has shown some versatility by being able to catch the ball coming out of the backfield. That is a good way for McCloud get on the field as a reserve for starter Wayne Gallman.
C.J. Stalker, LB, Virginia
The Ohio native came to Charlottesville with a four-star reputation and so far he has performed. The Cavaliers have to replace all three linebackers and in the spring Stalker staked his claim to the weak-side position. He has shined again in preseason camp, so a starting spot is likely.
Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
There is a chance that Whitehead is a starting safety by the end of the season. He has also been getting reps as a return man. The Pittsburgh staff knows that he is a special talent that has to be utilized in some way.
Mavin Saunders/Ryan Izzo, TE, Florida State
One of the two will start in place of the departed Nick O’Leary. Both will play. Saunders is the more dynamic athlete; Izzo is more fundamentally sound. Jimbo Fisher likes to use the tight end, so both will be featured at times.
Corey Martinez, C, Florida State
Martinez is above fellow redshirt freshman Alec Eberle on the depth chart. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder has drawn high praise from the coaching staff and seems to have the position locked down.
Chris Taylor, WR, Duke
No one is going to completely fill the void left by the graduations of Jamison Crowder and Isaac Blakeney. Taylor, however, can be one of the main cogs in the Duke passing game this season. An unheralded recruit out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder hopes to team with Max McCaffrey in the same way Crowder and Blakeney did for the Blue Devils.
Kendall Joseph, LB, Clemson
So far this camp, Korrin Wiggins has been injured and lost for the season and Korie Rogers has decided that he no longer wants to play football. Clemson needs Joseph to emerge as a quality linebacker.
Holland Fisher, LB, Virginia Tech
Fisher is currently No. 2 on the depth chart behind Ronny Vandyke, a player with a history of getting hurt. A heavily sought after recruit that had offers from Alabama, Ohio State and Tennessee, Fisher will get a lot of playing time this year.
Other true freshmen to watch:
Tabari Hines, WR, Wake Forest
Tommy Hatton, C, North Carolina
Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
Albert Huggins, DT, Clemson
Marcus Marshall, RB, Georgia Tech
Jacques Patrick, RB, Florida State
Ben Humphreys, LB, Duke
Other redshirt freshmen to watch:
Carson Lydon, LB, Virginia Tech
Richard Yeargin, DE, Clemson
Kayton Samuels, DT, Syracuse
Chris Lindstrom, OG, Boston College
Alex Bookser, OG, Pittsburgh
David Njoku, TE, Miami
Qua Searcy, RB, Georgia Tech
— 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.
If you want a Gatorade, you have to work for it.
J.J. Watt, Peyton and Eli Manning are starring in commercials for Gatorade proving that theory. Don't just think you're going to put your money in and get a drink that way, there's more to it than that. The Texans star even stiff arms a vending machine to get his point across.
Not to be outdone, the Mannings give their pitch for Gatorade by putting some young teens to work. Nothing comes easy.
NFL stars are always good for a laugh.
The Green Bay Packers have won four straight NFC North titles, and that grasp atop the standings doesn't seem to be fading away anytime soon. However, this certainly remains a very interesting division, and each team's success could revolve around just a few key players. The Vikings will have Adrian Peterson back, so that should have a strong impact on the team. Will it be enough to make the playoffs though? How will these teams compete with the dominant Packers?
In order to get an accurate assessment of how the four NFC North teams are shaping up heading into the 2015 season, Athlon asked NFL scouts to talk anonymously about the Bears, Lions, Packers and Vikings.
Note: These scouting reports come directly from NFL scouts and do not necessarily reflect the views of Athlon's editorial staff.
“With high hopes for 2014, the Bears’ season quickly dissolved into a 5-11 campaign due to a dysfunctional locker room, no apparent leadership from the head coach or QB positions and a defense that made zero strides as a unit."…
"Marc Trestman and GM Phil Emery were shown the door and veteran coach John Fox and first-time GM Ryan Pace were hired in the offseason."…
"New offensive coordinator Adam Gase followed Fox from Denver and he has the unenviable task of ‘fixing’ Jay Cutler."…
"WR Brandon Marshall was traded to the Jets, but Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett all return, and West Virginia WR Kevin White was chosen at pick No. 7, so there is ‘talent’ in the building."… [Editor's note: Kevin White will start the season on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list because of a stress fracture in his shin that will require surgery. He will miss the first six games, at minimum.]
"OG Kyle Long has proven to be a Pro Bowl-level player, but the rest of the offensive line is a work in progress."…
"Vic Fangio comes to the Windy City from the 49ers as the defensive coordinator and he has one of the toughest jobs in football as Chicago tries to transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4."…
"They signed a notable free agent at every level of the defense in OLB/DE Pernell McPhee (Ravens), LB Mason Foster (Buccaneers) and safety Antrel Rolle (Giants). McPhee has never been a full-time player, Foster missed most of 2014 with an Achilles injury and Rolle is on the backside of his career, however, they can provide a new voice and serve as a conduit for Fangio to the other defensive players."…
"PK Robbie Gould struggled with a nagging quad injury all season and only made 9-of-12 field goals in 12 games."…
"Fox and Co. will try to push the reset button with a roster of mixed pieces and parts, but this looks like the weakest team in the division.”
“Give Jim Caldwell and his staff credit, they cleaned up the turnover margin (minus-12 to plus-seven) and put themselves in position to win 11 games last year."…
"They dialed back QB Matthew Stafford and relied on a defense that finished top two in run, total and scoring defense."…
"DT Ndamukong Suh and his contract situation dominated the headlines for months on end before they opted not to franchise tag him and he signed with the Dolphins. Now, the trick will be to see if Haloti Ngata and a host of others can replace Suh in the middle."…
"Calvin Johnson continues to be a preeminent talent in the league, but he did miss three games in 2014."…
"The Lions are looking for much more from last year’s first-round pick, TE Eric Ebron, to give Stafford another safe option in the passing game."…
"Joique Bell is a dependable RB and Theo Riddick will assume the Reggie Bush role…The offensive line was uneven last year, but first-round pick, Duke OG Laken Tomlinson should help right away."…
"DE Ziggy Ansah is developing nicely as a complete player and their linebackers are underrated as a group."…
"Overall, this secondary was OK with Suh and that front, but they did add a pair of rookie corners in Stanford’s CB Alex Carter and Texas’ Quandre Diggs."…
"After shuffling through three placekickers, Matt Prater came onboard and was adequate enough to hold the job."…
"GM Martin Mayhew made the right call on Caldwell as coach in 2014. With more organizational leadership stability and financial flexibility post-Suh, it will be interesting to see if the Lions can chase down the Packers in the division.”
“The Packers major in evaluating college prospects and their own team, then they sit back and use this knowledge to selectively sign pro free agents and fill specific needs in the draft."…
"GM Ted Thompson and head coach Mike McCarthy are the longest-tenured duo in the entire NFL and that continuity pays dividends when it comes to scouting and developing players."…
"Offensively, Green Bay is set at all of the skill positions with Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb all at the top of their respective games."…
"The offensive line is more functional than spectacular, but they found a fifth-round gem in OC Corey Linsley last year."…
"This is a middle-of-the-league defense and they will rely on a wave of linemen and the flexibility of Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers to bolster their front, while they drafted Arizona State DB Damarious Randall in the first round and Miami-OH CB Quentin Rollins in the second."…
"Much will be expected of Casey Hayward and Micah Hyde, so the competition for playing time will be intense in training camp."…
"McCarthy announced over the winter that he would no longer call plays in order to focus on the entire team, this coming after the Packers gave up seven blocked kicks during the season and melted down in the final minutes of the NFC title game on special teams. Still, as long as Rodgers is healthy, they are the clear front-runners in the NFC North.”
“Mike Zimmer put his imprint on this team with a no-nonsense, tough guy approach that resulted in a very competitive 7-9 record despite not having RB Adrian Peterson for the final 15 games."…
"There are three major coaching chores for the Vikings on offense in 2015: the continued development of QB Teddy Bridgewater, getting OT Matt Kalil back to Pro Bowl form and tapping into the raw talent of underachieving WR Cordarrelle Patterson."…
"Bridgewater looks like the future at the position after starting 12 games and hitting 64.6 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while leading the team to four come-from-behind victories."…
"The Peterson suspension/reinstatement, ‘I Don’t Want To Play in Minnesota Anymore Game,’ grabbed all the headlines during the spring, but at the end of the day, he was not traded, so the anticipation is that he will be in a purple uniform by September."…
"They traded for Mike Wallace from the Dolphins to give them a vertical threat, while figuring out what happens with Patterson."…
"TE Kyle Rudolph is solid and the rest of the offensive line is intact, so there is a degree of continuity around Bridgewater."…
"DE Everson Griffen and rookie OLB Anthony Barr are both playmakers, and the Vikings added an immediate starter in Round 2 with the selection of UCLA LB Eric Kendricks."…
"The secondary has more ‘ability’ than results, but still added the draft’s consensus No. 1 corner, Trae Waynes from Michigan State."…
"The reality is that there is a blue-chip talent in virtually every position group on this roster. If DT Sharrif Floyd, safety Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes continue to improve, this defense has the makings of becoming a top-third unit in the league.”
It is hard to believe that fantasy football is right around the corner. Preseason games have begun, injuries have occurred and if you are smart, draft prep has already begun. Maybe you even took the first step and purchased Athlon Sports’ 2015 Fantasy Football Guide.
Even though many of you may have already been drafting for the last month or more in MFL10s, draft season is officially here. It is hard for some who have been playing fantasy for eons not to shrug off draft prep, or get overly concerned about mock drafting. After all, you may have won the league two of the last three seasons. You know what is going on right?
You certainly may, and perhaps you know all of the helpful rules, but if not, being prepared for your draft and having the right tools and weapons at your disposal are critical to any fantasy owners’ success.
I will provide my top 5 ways to dominate your fantasy football draft. Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @fantsychillpony to share yours. Good luck with your draft prep, and actual drafts folks.
1. Know Your League(s) Rules and Scoring
This is the cardinal rule in my world and you would be amazed at how many people don’t know it, or care enough to follow it. Bottom line is if you want to actually compete and win your league you simply need to know and understand your league rules PRIOR to the draft. Ask yourself these questions if you are newer to the game, or even if you consider yourself a veteran. Being prepared and knowing your league in and out will only help you.
*Do you know your league(s) basic rules and roster setup? Make sure you do mock drafts for the same, or as close as you can to the same scoring and roster settings. If you are studying, or doing mock drafts in a 12-team league and your league is only 10 teams you will have skewed results.
*Are you in a Superflex, or 2-quarterback league? Two-QB leagues have a very unique impact on fantasy drafts. If you are planning on rolling into a 2-QB league draft with the “wait on a quarterback” philosophy, you will be in trouble.
*Do you fully understand your league's scoring? Are passing touchdowns four points, or six? Are there yardage bonuses for yards thrown or gained? How about field goal yardage (I know… yuck). Is it a full point, or only half point PPR?
*Any odd or unique scoring rules? Find these and make sure you are ready, and even exploit them. I tell the story of joining a friends league the night of the draft and completely dominated the season. I lost however to a team that started Josh Cribbs and Devin Hester at WR with Leon Washington at RB. If you didn’t guess already this league awarded points for return yards, along with significant bonuses for touchdowns.
2. Make Your Own Cheat Sheet
I know pre-made sheets are nice and easy and in many ways they can work just fine. However I much prefer to nerd out and make my own. I love Google Docs, or Excel spreadsheets too much not too. If your league is truly standard, no scoring tweaks, roster size adjustments, or extra rounds then a cheat sheet found online or in a magazine/guide could work.
I like to make my own and add a top 3 list for each round and pick I have in the draft for snake drafts. For auction leagues I try to forecast my roster as much as possible and include targets along with ADP, auction values and a budget balance ledger you can use as you are drafting.
Either way having a sheet of rankings, tiers, and other details for your league can help you far more than a top 300 sheet ever will. Also, by default you will be more prepared for the draft by making the sheet in advance.
3. Use Tiers and ADP Instead of Straight Rankings
If you have been reading my posts for a while you know how much I love tiers. I use them as my primary weapon during drafts. They help utilize rankings, and ADP if you set it up that way, but most importantly they break up players into, well, tiers. Each position once grouped can then be ranked based on tier level, remaining players in that tier, and by your roster needs.
2015 Positional Tiers and Rankings:
The problem with rankings is it may make owners feel obligated to take a player based solely on ranking rather than considering positional depth, or need for their rosters. Just because Roddy White is available and the highest overall ranked player doesn’t mean owners should always take him. What if they have two WR already or there are five more players left in White’s tier and only one RB remaining in the third tier?
Draft based on talent and need more often than not, but when you get to the middle of drafts having tiers to help make important decisions easier while also breaking up the draft in easy to follow groups. Maybe you can pass on that QB one more round and go for the final remaining WR in a tier.
4. Keep An Eye on Positional Battles and Injuries
This offseason has already been filled with some surprises and injuries. The Bears lost their newest weapon and first-round pick Kevin White, possibly for the season already. This news by default boosts Matt Forté, Eddie Royal, and Alshon Jeffery’s value.
Dallas’ RB situation is still a question mark and although it certainly looks as if they are rolling with Joseph Randle. However, with names like Chris Johnson still floating around the Cowboys’ backfield remains murky, and very important to follow for fantasy reasons. Whoever is appointed the lead back in Big D will have immense fantasy value.
5. Know or Observe Your League’s Draft Tendencies
Sure you may read an expert's columns on draft strategy, listen to Sirius/XM Fantasy, follow industry drafts and mock drafts and feel prepared. You just may be, but what if you are in a league that over-values quarterbacks? Can you still afford to wait on a QB like all the experts say?
Do you have an owner who is notorious for taking two QBs early? Will expecting the top 4 RBs to be gone by the eighth pick in the draft be accurate because of mock drafts? What if you have owners who will take Andrew Luck and/or Aaron Rodgers in round 1? What if you have a die-hard Giants fan and they jump on Odell Beckham Jr. as the first WR off the board?
Want to mock draft? Check out this Mock Draft Simulator powered by FantasyPros.com
If you have been in your league for a long time, then you likely know other owners’ tendencies and which bits of knowledge or recommendations to take seriously from industry experts. It may make complete sense, and actually work well, but it is pointless if your league has unique scoring options, or owners who consistently make unexpected decisions.
If you are new to your league and you can keep track of owners’ moves and make note for future reference it can play into your advantage. Knowing which owner seems to drool over rookies, or the owner stocking up on RBs with intent to drain the pool can help you plan your next pick.
Live drafts bring a far different atmosphere and make the observations easier to accomplish than online or slow drafts. It can still be done though and knowing your league-mates and their styles is critical to winning your league and dominating your draft, along with a little luck of course.
— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.
Just about every sports fan is tied to their team’s logo, which makes ranking logos complicated. To get an educated opinion on what is a good logo and what isn't, Athlon Sports turned to one of the people most responsible for helping produce some of the best-looking magazines on the newsstands, graphic designer Daly Cantrell.
Here is what she had to say about the Big 12's football logos:
|1.||Texas||Talk about classic. The Longhorns’ logo is simply unique and is arguably one of the best in college football.|
|2.||West Virginia||Perfect placement. The placement of the WV is what makes this logo. It’s different and the sharp edges really bring a strong, tough look to the logo.|
|3.||Oklahoma||Again, like the West Virginia logo, this logo stands out because of the placement of the letters. It’s clean, bold and gets right to the point.|
|4.||Kansas State||Kansas State’s logo is an aggressive take on a silhouette, and I love it. The simplicity in the details is what makes this logo shine.|
|5.||TCU||The block-style font is classic in the world of sports logos. A three-letter logo can sometimes be tricky to keep balanced, but curving the letters was the right way to go.|
|6.||Baylor||The placement of this logo is similar to the Sooners one, but in my book, the thickness of the gold stroke weakens this logo.|
|7.||Iowa State||I am a fan of block letters and arched text, but this logo has too much going on. Backing off on something — beveling, stoke or color would strengthen the logo.|
|8.||Oklahoma State||This is not a monogram, but a logo. If the words did not vary so drastically in size I think the logo would have a stronger presence. I do enjoy the use of the black and orange, but the thin grey stroke is unnecessary.|
|9.||Texas Tech||Great placement; too much beveling. The two-toned colors along with both a white and black stroke makes this logo look overdone.|
|10.||Kansas||The Jayhawk has design potential, but this cartoon look isn’t it. Someone needs to jump into the 21st century and modernize this bad boy.|
Kickers don't get enough shine.
Justin Tucker is out to change that. The Ravens kicker stars in a Carbiz ad and mimicks the iconic (term used loosely) Matthew McConaughey Lincoln commercial. The resemeblance is uncanny.
Tucker pretty much nails the pensive nature of McConaughey in the original version.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs accomplished great things in 2014. After a 6-0 start, which included three straight wins over top-10 teams, the Bulldogs catapulted from unranked to No. 1 in the country. It actually only took five weeks for them to go from unranked to the top spot in the Associated Press Top 25, which was the fastest rise in the history of the poll (and they unseated undefeated, defending national champion Florida State to do it).
Overall, Mississippi State capped the best season in the history of the program with 10 wins and a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl game. But last year has come and gone. Now, head coach Dan Mullen faces the task of living up to the expectations that come with past results, as well as his new $4 million salary.
Here are five things to keep an eye on Mississippi State prepares for the upcoming season:
1. New Faces on the Offensive Line
Mississippi State returns just four starters on offense and three on defense from last season’s squad. The seven total returning starters is the lowest number in the SEC. One of the hardest hit positions is the offensive line, which lost three starters to graduation, including four-year starting center Dillon Day. No player on the roster has appeared at center in a collegiate game and projected starter Jamaal Clayborn hasn’t played center since he was 12 years old.
The players that return on the O-line have made just 32 career starts combined, which is the second fewest of any unit in the SEC and ranks 118th out of 128 FBS programs. Those that graduated started a combined 108 games for the Bulldogs.
Senior guard Justin Malone is the most experienced member of the unit, with 16 starts over the last three seasons, while tackle Justin Senior has made 14 total starts, all but one of those coming in 2014. Devon Desper and Rufus Warren, expected to take over at left guard and right tackle, respectively, have two combined starts to date – both by Desper.
2. Replacing Josh Robinson
The Bulldogs have a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the football, but arguably the most important is the one left by Robinson, who rushed for 1,203 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last season before opting for the NFL Draft. A talented receiver out of the backfield, Robinson also caught 28 passes for 370 yards and one TD. His 1,573 total yards accounted for 23.5 percent of the Bulldogs’ offense last season.
The top choice to replace Robinson is junior Ashton Shumpert, who has run for 464 yards and five touchdowns across 24 games the past two seasons. At 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, Shumpert is taller and thinner than Robinson, who was nicknamed “bowling ball” for his 5-foot-9, 225-pound frame.
He’s the only running back on the roster to appear in a college game to date, which gives Shumpert the edge in the competition early in fall camp. However, redshirt freshmen Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee will compete for carries this fall. The biggest question is whether or not one of the three will be able to replace Robinson’s durability and production.
3. Dak Prescott is More Important Than Ever Before
Despite a lack of experience on the offensive line and at running back, the offense should be in good hands at quarterback with Dak Prescott, who orchestrated the Bulldogs’ offense to a school-record 513.8 yards per game in 2014.
Prescott himself set 12 school records, and he smashed several of them. For instance, no Mississippi State player had ever accounted for more than 3,000 yards of offense in a single season prior to last year when Prescott threw for 3,449 yards and ran for 986 more. He piled on 27 touchdowns through the air and another 14 on the ground in what was easily the greatest offensive season in program history. But he’ll be more important in 2015 than ever before.
A dual-threat signal-caller, Prescott will likely be asked to run even more this season to help replace the production of Josh Robinson, at least until the running back situation shakes out. That would put the 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior in line to take more hits in 2015, which is a concern.
Prescott has the benefit of playmaking wide receiver De’Runnya Wilson, who led the Bulldogs with 47 receptions, 680 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches last season. One of the SEC’s biggest targets, the 6-foot-5 Wilson will team once again with Fred Ross, Joe Morrow and Fred Brown to give Prescott plenty of receiving options to work with. In fact, it would be reasonable to expect Prescott to break his own passing record this season. However, with a newly configured offensive line, Prescott may also be more exposed to oncoming pass rushers.
Keeping Prescott healthy is paramount. If Prescott is injured — and remember that he missed two games and didn’t start against Ole Miss in 2013 because of a shoulder injury — Mississippi State will be in big trouble.
4. New Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz
Like the offense, the Mississippi State defense lost a lot of talented players from the 2014 squad. The Bulldogs must find a replacement for middle linebacker Benardrick McKinney, fellow linebacker Matthew Wells, and defensive lineman Preston Smith, all of whom are now in the NFL. Also, this defense must replace three starters from a secondary that struggled often and finished last in the SEC against the pass (272.8 ypg) in 2014.
Just as important, the Bulldogs lost defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, who left to take the same position at Florida. Diaz, a familiar face that led the Mississippi State defense in 2011 before leaving for Texas, returns after one season at Louisiana Tech.
Last season, Diaz’s unit led Conference USA in rushing defense (118.2 yards per game) and ranked second in scoring (24.7 ppg) and total defense (362.5 ypg). An opportunistic Bulldogs squad also led C-USA in turnover margin (plus-16) because the Tech defense tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions with 26 and paced the country with 42 total turnovers.
Diaz’s attacking style should help Mississippi State overcome its lack of experience. Plus, Mullen and his coaching staff made a point to play two full defensive units early during the 2014 season, so last year’s backups are more experienced than the average replacements at most schools across the SEC.
5. Newcomers to Watch
Mississippi State fans are sick and tired of hearing how inexperienced the Bulldogs are heading into the 2015 season, but it’s a fact that’s hard to ignore. It also means several first-year players will be counted on to play big roles this fall.
At least two freshmen could start for the Bulldogs on defense, though four or more are likely to be key contributors. Redshirt freshman linebacker Gerri Green is expected to replace McKinney at middle linebacker and four-star true freshman Leo Lewis also could be in the linebacker rotation.
In the secondary, true freshman Jamal Peters was the most highly coveted member of the Bulldogs’ 2015 recruiting class, and he and redshirt freshman
Brandon Bryant are both likely to play early and often as safeties this year.
A few junior college transfers are also expected to compete for playing time for the Bulldogs this season, including defensive lineman Johnathan Calvin, linebacker Traver Jung, offensive lineman Martinas Rankin and wide receiver Donald Gray.
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Allen's work on college football can also be found on SaturdayBlitz.com and FanSided.com. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
Ranking the ACC's Best Players for 2015 (Experts Poll)
|1||Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State (7 first-place votes)||281|
|2||Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson (6)||278|
|3||James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh (7)||276|
|4||Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech||242|
|5||Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh (1)||227|
|6||Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech||152|
|7||Jeremy Cash, S, Duke||122|
|8||Quin Blanding, S, Virginia||109|
|9||Dadi Nicolas, DE, Virginia Tech||105|
|10||Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State||103|
|11||Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami||77|
|12T||Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina||69|
|12T||Mike Williams, WR, Clemson||69|
|14||Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson||44|
|15||Roderick Johnson, OT, Florida State||39|
|16||Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson||35|
|17T||Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State||29|
|17T||Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State||29|
|19||Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina||28|
|20||Everett Golson, QB, Florida State||26|
|21||Terrance Smith, LB, Florida State||23|
|22T||Luther Maddy, DT, Virginia Tech||22|
|22T||Devonte Fields, DE/LB, Louisville||22|
|24||Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville||20|
|25||James Burgess, LB, Louisville||19|
|26||Keith Kelsey, LB, Louisville||14|
|27||Nate Andrews, DB, Florida State||12|
|28||Jon Hilliman, RB, Boston College||10|
|29T||Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh||6|
|29T||Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina||6|
|29T||Mario Pender, RB, Florida State||6|
|32||Ken Ekanem, DE, Virginia Tech||5|
|33T||Matt Skura, C, Duke||3|
|33T||Adam Gotsis, DT, Georgia Tech||3|
|35T||Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech||2|
|35T||Brandon Chubb, LB, Wake Forest||2|
|35T||Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson||2|
|38T||Reggie Northrup, LB, Florida State||1|
|38T||Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson||1|
|38T||Matt Dayes, RB, NC State||1|
* 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.
* 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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
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?
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
#DeepWater (@VandyFootball) August 16, 2015