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Pac-12 football has long been synonymous with offensive innovation. In 2015, the conference’s next step in offensive evolution may very well be systems that are completely fluid.
Half of the Pac-12 ranked No. 36 or better in scoring offense for a second consecutive season. The league’s most prolific systems stay on the cutting edge by constantly changing rather than adhering to a regimented style.
California head coach Sonny Dykes oversees a system nicknamed the “Bear Raid.” As the Air Raid-derived moniker implies, it relies heavily on the pass — returning quarterback Jared Goff threw 509 times in 2014, fifth-most in college football.
But where Dykes has deviated from former colleague Mike Leach — current head coach at Washington State and one of the originators of the Air Raid — is introducing an emphasis on the run into the potent passing attack.
"We're a team that wants to run the football," Dykes said. "We've got to be good enough to run it where, if we've got the ball and four minutes left in the game... when everyone in the stadium knows we're going to run it."
Dykes sums that up as the ability to "line up and impose our will." Not exactly the language one might associate with an Air Raid offense, but a key to the Golden Bears competing in the Pac-12 North.
Cal tried various methods of attacking via the rush last season, including giving backup quarterback Luke Rubenzer frequent snaps to run zone-read plays in a new wrinkle added to the Bear Raid.
More important than new wrinkles, however, is having a running back capable of imposing his will on defenses. Cal has that in Daniel Lasco — "a great, all-purpose running back," according to Dykes.
"He catches the ball well, he can pass protect, he can obviously run the football," Dykes said. "He's playing with confidence and makes great decisions with his hands on the football."
Lasco is the second big-time playmaker Dykes has showcased in his offense in the last few years. At Louisiana Tech in 2012, Kenneth Dixon rushed for a nation-leading 27 touchdowns.
Lasco is also one five returning Pac-12 running backs who rushed for more than 1,100 yards in 2014.
Arizona has one such back in sophomore Nick Wilson, the latest breakout ball-carrying protege of head coach Rich Rodriguez. Wilson's ascent to stardom, following in the footsteps of 2013 Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year Ka'Deem Carey, probably doesn't come as a surprise to those familiar with Rodriguez's offensive background.
In previous stops at West Virginia and Michigan, Rodriguez's offenses ranked near the top of college football in rushing offense.
Rodriguez has flipped his script in the opposite direction of Dykes. Upon his arrival at Arizona in 2012 and inheriting talented dual-threat quarterback Matt Scott, Rodriguez adapted with more emphasis on the pass. Coincidentally, Scott was recruited to run an Air Raid-like system when Dykes was Arizona's offensive coordinator.
Even since Scott's departure, Rodriguez has not abandoned the balanced philosophy — on the contrary, as the Wildcats' 564 pass attempts in 2014 were third most in the nation.
The return of redshirt sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon and a deep, multifaceted wide receiver corps ensure the Wildcats will continue to feature plenty of gun to go with their run.
Rodriguez's in-state rival, Todd Graham, and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell made midseason adjustments in 2014 that demonstrated the flexibility of Arizona State's "high octane" system. Two-way quarterback Taylor Kelly's foot injury in September thrust into the lineup Mike Bercovici, a more pass-inclined player.
Bercovici takes over as the full-time starter in 2015, and Graham is not concerned about any changes having negative impact on the Sun Devils' 36.9-point-per-game offense.
"Mike's a heckuva quarterback," Graham said, adding that the most significant changes he's seeking from Bercovici's game are all about leadership.
"Just continue to become the offensive coordinator. That’s what I challenge him with all the time," Graham continued. "He’s a guy I think has tremendous capabilities. Gives me a lot of confidence in the abilities of our offense."
Everyone from UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone — an NFL-tenured coach — to USC’s Steve Sarkisian, overseer of a strict pro-style attack over the last decade, have adopted this same kind of adaptive style.
At UCLA, Mazzone spent the last three seasons working with quarterback Brett Hundley, a two-way star who was one of the Bruins' leading ball carriers each year he captained the offense.
One of the competitors for the Bruins’ starting job in 2015 is freshman Josh Rosen, an NFL prototype who has drawn comparisons to Andrew Luck — a mobile quarterback, sure, but certainly not in the same vein as Hundley.
Likewise, USC's quarterback depth chart features pocket-passer Max Browne, with two-way threat Jalen Greene behind him, and dual-capable freshman Sam Darnold coming into the mix this summer.
The new identity of the Pac-12 is one built around programs constantly changing theirs.
"You see everything in this league, and it makes you pretty unique," Dykes said. "There’s not another league that’s as varied and unique, whether it’s offense or defense."
Keith Olbermann is usually the one getting sports fans worked up at night, but with Ryen Russillo filling it, he more than gladly took on the role.
The radio host gave an almost six-minute speech about LeBron James and his greatness, and that the haters should stop hating. Russillo also continues to ruffle feathers by bringing in up Michael Jordan in comparison.
"There's zero gap between Jordan and James as players," Russillo said. "Talent-wise they're on the same level."
The Big Ten Conference had a bit of a revival in 2014. Star power at the running back position had a lot to do with that, as all three finalists for the Doak Walker Award came from the Big Ten. Those three backs and two other B1G stars at running back have moved on via the NFL draft.
Now we are left with one question: Who steps up and replaces those elite ball carriers? Here now are the leading candidates to do so:
Corey Clement, Wisconsin
We won't be sure how much — if any — drop-off there will be in Wisconsin's running game until we see Clement fully embrace the role of "feature back" in the Badger offense. The transition should be a smooth one, as the junior has piled up nearly 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in two seasons playing second fiddle to Melvin Gordon. Clement is a more compact, shiftier runner than Gordon, but look for him to put up some of the best numbers in the Big Ten and the nation in 2015.
Terrell Newby, Nebraska
If the spring game was any indication, it looks like Newby is the leading candidate to replace Ameer Abdullah in the Husker offense. Newby is a little bigger than Abdullah and doesn't quite have the same wiggle. That said, his acceleration and open-field speed might be a little better than his predecessor. It will be interesting to see how the coaching change in Lincoln impacts the I-back position at Nebraska.
Jordan Howard, Indiana
You could make the argument that no player in college football meant more to his team in 2014 than Tevin Coleman did to Indiana. As a result, Howard might have the biggest shoes to fill of any player in the nation this season. The UAB transfer has already been named the starter for the Hoosiers. Howard has the same smooth running style that Coleman had, with maybe a little more power and a little less speed. Look for him to carry the load on first and second down, while Devine Redding shares carries and gets more looks on passing downs.
Rodrick Williams, Minnesota
There may not have been a more underrated back in the conference a season ago than David Cobb. His vision and toughness as a runner were unrivaled. Williams brings a similar skill set to the table, perhaps with a little more power. After losing 20 pounds in the offseason, the Gopher staff hopes he can stay healthy and be the primary ball carrier. The loss of tight end Maxx Williams and no real threat at receiver will put extra pressure on Williams to get those tough yards in the crunch. If he is unable to do so, look for Jerry Kill to make a switch to Berkley Edwards — literally a track star.
Madre London/Gerald Holmes, Michigan State
There could very well be a two-back system in East Lansing this fall, as the top two names on the depth chart both lack experience but bring different skills to the table. London is more of a quick, shifty runner, while Holmes is more of your traditional Michigan State straight-ahead power back. This versatility will be necessary as the Spartans navigate a schedule full of diverse defensive schemes, both in and out of conference.
Transfers are a big part of any college football season. And over the last few seasons, graduate transfers have become a bigger part of the offseason player movement landscape.
However, taking a transfer (graduate or four-year) isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. Graduate transfer quarterbacks were a mixed bag of success in 2014, as Cody Sokol (Louisiana Tech), Tyler Murphy (Boston College), Jameill Showers (UTEP), Andrew Hendrix (Miami, Ohio) and Blake Frohnapfel (UMass) turned in solid seasons. However, on the other side, Jake Heaps (Miami), Matt Joeckel (TCU), Brandon Connette (Fresno State), Jake Coker (Alabama) and Stephen Rivers (Vanderbilt) didn’t have much of an impact. And some quarterbacks (Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer) fall into the wait and see category.
Just because a team lands a transfer doesn’t equal success for the upcoming year. However, graduate transfer quarterbacks can have an instant impact for teams needing a new starter under center. How do the 12 graduate transfer quarterbacks stack up for 2015? Here’s a ranking of the passers based upon likely impact.
Note: This only includes quarterbacks landing at a new team for 2015.
Ranking College Football’s Graduate Transfer QBs for 2015
1. Vernon Adams, Oregon (from Eastern Washington)
Marcus Mariota leaves big shoes to fill in Eugene. Regardless of whether Adams or Jeff Lockie gets the nod under center, the Ducks will have a hard time replicating Mariota’s production in 2015. But even if there’s a slight drop in performance, Oregon’s offense is still going to be among the best in the nation. Adams was a dynamic player at Eastern Washington, throwing for 10,438 yards and 110 touchdowns and adding 1,232 yards and 11 scores on the ground. It may take Adams a few games to adjust, but he has the talent to rank among the Pac-12’s best quarterbacks by the end of 2015.
2. Everett Golson, Florida State (from Notre Dame)
Jimbo Fisher is three-for-three in starting quarterbacks at Florida State going in the first round of the NFL Draft. Golson probably won’t extend that streak to four, but the South Carolina native is a key addition as the Seminoles continue the process of replacing Jameis Winston this fall. Golson threw for 5,850 yards and 41 touchdowns and added 14 rushing scores during his two-year stint as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback. Sean Maguire has the edge in experience in Florida State’s offense, but Golson is already a proven quarterback on the Power 5 Conference/FBS level.
Jim Harbaugh’s arrival should help Michigan’s offense take a step forward in 2015. The Wolverines can only go up after averaging only 20.9 points per game in 2014, and there’s a clear identity and direction now with Harbaugh at the helm. Rudock is a rare intra-conference transfer, as he left Iowa to use his final season of eligibility in Ann Arbor. The Florida native threw for 4,819 yards and 34 scores with the Hawkeyes and should start over Shane Morris in 2015.
4. Jeff Driskel, Louisiana Tech (from Florida)
Louisiana Tech went the graduate transfer route last year and had success with former Iowa passer Cody Sokol. Driskel was regarded as a five-star recruit in the 2011 signing class and finished his Florida career with 3,411 passing yards and 23 scores. He also rushed for 552 yards and 23 touchdowns in four seasons of playing time with the Gators. Driskel didn’t quite match his recruiting hype at Florida, but he’s landed in a good situation at Louisiana Tech for the 2015 season.
5. Maxwell Smith, San Diego State (from Kentucky)
Shoulder injuries sidelined Smith’s career at Kentucky, but the California native has a good opportunity to thrive at San Diego State in 2015. In three years with the Wildcats, Smith threw for 3,070 yards and 21 scores to just nine interceptions. The senior finished spring at the top of San Diego State’s quarterback depth chart.
Related: San Diego State Ranks No. 68 in Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings
6. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh (from Tennessee)
Chad Voytik was solid in his first full year as the starter in 2014, throwing for 2,233 yards and 16 scores to just seven interceptions. He also rushed for 466 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. Peterman transferred to Pittsburgh after three years at Tennessee and was recruited by Panthers’ offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to Knoxville in 2012. Peterman’s familiarity in this scheme should help, but Voytik has the edge to start.
7. Daxx Garman, Maryland (from Oklahoma State)
Maryland is the third stop in Garman’s collegiate career. The Texas native redshirted in his only season at Arizona (2011) and spent the next three years at Oklahoma State. Garman played in nine games for the Cowboys in 2014, throwing for 2,041 yards and 12 scores. Garman has a strong arm and connected on 19 passing plays of 30 yards or more last season. With likely starter Caleb Rowe returning from injury, Garman is a good backup plan for coach Randy Edsall.
Related: Maryland Ranks No. 57 in Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings
New coach Tom Herman should feel good about his starter (Greg Ward), but Schulz is a nice insurance option. The Wisconsin native played in eight games at Utah and started three contests in 2013. Schulz threw for 1,008 yards and six scores that season, including a 347-yard performance against Washington State.
9. Trey Anderson, FIU (from Pittsburgh)
FIU’s offense is looking for a spark after ranking 98th nationally in scoring last year. Youth at the quarterback spot had a lot to do with the offensive woes, but there’s hope for improvement with Alex McGough having another offseason under his belt. Anderson played in eight games during his Pittsburgh career and completed 25 of 53 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown to three interceptions.
10. Greyson Lambert, Virginia to ?
Lambert could move a few spots up on this list depending on his transfer destination. In two years with the Cavaliers, he threw for 1,972 yards and 11 touchdowns but also tossed 13 interceptions and completed 55.7 percent of his throws. Lambert started nine of Virginia’s 12 games in 2014.
Bellomy played sparingly in his Michigan career and made only one appearance in 2014. The Texas native was a three-star recruit coming out of high school and will compete with Blake Bogenschutz and Austin Robinson for the starting job. Bellomy is a dual-threat option for coordinator Kevin Brown.
12. Josh Grady, Florida (from Vanderbilt)
Grady completed only 3 of 7 pass attempts for 27 yards during his three years of playing time at Vanderbilt. The Florida native also received snaps at receiver and finished his career in Nashville with seven catches for 89 yards. The Gators need depth at the quarterback spot, and first-year coach Jim McElwain plans to use the Florida native under center – and not at receiver – in 2015. Grady is likely slated to be the No. 3 quarterback for McElwain this year.
The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 26-128.
The 61-80 rankings release features more teams from the Power 5 leagues, as well as some predicted champions from the Group of 5 conferences. WKU leads the way in C-USA teams at No. 69, while Marshall is one spot behind at No. 70. Toledo also ranks No. 75 as the first MAC team in the 128 rankings.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season
College Football's 2015 Projected Rankings: No. 61-80
Coach Mike London is no stranger to the hot seat. He’s been under a cloud for three seasons. Last year’s improvement from 2–10 to 5–7 was encouraging to a point. But a second-half fade after a 4–2 start raised old questions about the team’s inability to finish close games under London.
Last year’s progress earned London a last chance. Nothing short of a bowl game appearance is likely to keep him around. With the usual questions on offense and big shoes to fill on defense — as well as another brutal non-conference schedule — Virginia has a lot to overcome for that to happen. Too much, probably.
Temple went from two wins in 2013 to six a year ago. There is reason to believe they can at least get back to a bowl game for the first time in four seasons, and a run at the American Athletic Conference East Division crown is not out of the question. To take that next step, the offense must produce as it did in Matt Rhule’s debut season of 2013, and Temple must find what it takes to win more close games against better opponents.
Despite losing key players who helped the program clinch a share of its second consecutive American title in 2014, coach George O’Leary emphasizes that it’s a reload, not a rebuild. It’s hard to argue with O’Leary, who has averaged 9.4 wins over the past five seasons. Though there are question marks at certain positions, there’s an expectation that UCF has the talent to again be a contender for the conference title.
It is a simple question with a complicated answer: What does Tim Beckman need to do to continue as Illinois football coach? The coach enters his fourth season with a 12–25 overall record and a 4–20 mark in the Big Ten. No doubt the team has improved during Beckman’s tenure. But the bar was set low with a 2–10 mark his first year. The Illini won four in 2013 and six in 2014. The fans demand more.
The schedule doesn’t help. The Illini travel to North Carolina and Iowa, while hosting Big Ten powerhouses Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Another bowl bid is doable, and six wins should keep Beckman at the school for at least another season.
No one expected life in the Big Ten to be easy for Rutgers, and losses to Ohio State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan State by a combined 180–44 score showed that the Scarlet Knights have a long way to go before they can compete with the cream of the conference crop. Rutgers’ quest to reach a bowl game for the 10th time in 11 years will depend on whether coach Kyle Flood can find enough offense to compensate for a young defensive corps that figures to struggle against elite Big Ten competition once again.
66. Washington State
After making their first bowl game in a decade in 2013, the Cougars backslid last season. Experience and depth are still issues, but the hope in Pullman is that the coaching changes combined with an infusion of junior college talent will help this team get back to the postseason.
Colorado won only two games in coach Mike MacIntyre’s second season and went winless in conference play for the first time in 99 years. Despite those harsh realities, there were tangible signs that the program is finally on the right track and in position to become more competitive in the Pac-12. Four of the Buffaloes’ nine league losses came by five points or fewer, including double-overtime losses to Cal and UCLA. The goal in Year 3 is to turn some of those close losses into wins and make a move out of the Pac-12 South basement.
68. San Diego State
San Diego State has gone to five consecutive bowl games for the first time in program history and has been steady but not spectacular in four seasons under coach Rocky Long’s leadership. The seven victories in 2014 were the Aztecs’ fewest since 2009 (under Brady Hoke), and there is now an expectation of a winning season and bowl game appearance every year.
If Maxwell Smith can avoid the injuries that hindered him at Kentucky and can provide the downfield passing attack San Diego State lacked last season, the Aztecs will be a solid threat to reach the Mountain West title game. The defense is strong enough for San Diego State to win the division crown, and there is enough overall talent for the Aztecs to set winning the conference championship as a legitimate goal.
Few programs have transitioned to the FBS level as well as WKU, which is just six years into its move up from FCS. Of 27 teams to make the jump since 1987, only eight reached a second bowl game during a six-year window. Eight of 20 head coaching openings in the country last year were filled by first-time head coaches, and Jeff Brohm was the only one of the eight to win a bowl game.
With all the offensive weapons returning, especially quarterback Brandon Doughty and running back Leon Allen, the Hilltoppers will continue to score points. If the defense can at least start to slow teams down, WKU is poised to make that next jump to becoming a consistent Conference USA challenger.
Running back Devon Johnson’s return and a bevy of talented receivers help ease the pressure on new quarterback Michael Birdsong for an offense that has eclipsed 500 yards per game on average for each of the last three seasons. If the defense provides anything this season, the Herd — who face another soft schedule — should be in contention for a Conference USA Championship and potential New Year’s Six bowl berth.
71. Colorado State
It will be hard to match the success the Rams had last season, when they won nine games in a row and posted only the fifth 10-win season in school history. There’s bound to be a drop-off as they learn new schemes and replace key players. Jim McElwain left the program in good shape, though, with solid depth at most positions and some talented players who are ready to step into starring roles. A third consecutive bowl appearance is well within reach.
72. East Carolina
Ruffin McNeill, on a cane all spring after hip surgery, can stand tall with what he has done in Greenville at his alma mater. The Pirates were 5–3 in their first year in the American Athletic Conference and went to their fourth bowl in McNeill’s five seasons. He graduated the leading passer (Shane Carden) in school history and the FBS’s all-time receptions leader (Justin Hardy), but he had a 105-man roster out in spring, certainly a sign of a healthy program. If his young quarterback comes through, it looks like he has another bowl team to lean on.
73. Oregon State
Oregon State has been trumpeting the “new era” motto, and for good reason. After former coach Mike Riley pulled off arguably the biggest stunner of the coaching carousel by bolting for Nebraska, Oregon State’s luring Gary Andersen away from Wisconsin was almost as shocking. Andersen rebuilt Utah State in a short time and has hired a top-notch staff to help him do the same in Corvallis. But with so much youth at quarterback, plus a slew of holes to fill on a defense that will consistently match up against some of the nation’s most potent offenses, can Oregon State expect to contend for a bowl game in a loaded Pac-12? The Beavers are likely still at least a year away from making serious progress in the win/loss column.
74. Iowa State
There is significant pressure on Paul Rhoads, whose program has won a total of five games in the past two years, to show significant improvement this season. First and foremost, for that to happen, the Cyclones have to stay healthy. After that, the offense needs to be more explosive and efficient. The defense should be improved, but not enough to consistently slow down quality Big 12 offenses. Getting to six wins — and reaching bowl-eligibility — will be a challenge for the 2014 Cyclones.
Toledo has the luxury of playing seven home games in 2015, and the Rockets return of plenty of playmakers on defense and some extremely talented individuals at running back and receiver. But all of the optimism has to be tempered by the fact that Toledo has gone from having one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country last year with five senior starters to having one of the least experienced this time around. The development of that new line is the key to the season. If the offensive line grows up fast, the Rockets should be a championship-caliber team in 2015.
76. Arkansas State
The Red Wolves’ depth chart started to show the effects of four coaching changes in four seasons last fall. ASU was critically thin in key areas, starting with the defensive line, before a rash of season-ending injuries made matters worse. Still, there was enough talent on hand to pull out seven victories and make a fourth straight bowl trip. Blake Anderson’s second season starts with a difficult non-conference schedule, but ASU won’t face defending Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern in conference play. While the Red Wolves should put up plenty of points, they will have to improve defensively to maximize their potential.
77. Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern’s first year as an FBS member could hardly have gone better, as the Eagles went 8–0 in the Sun Belt and came within a couple plays of knocking off NC State and Georgia Tech. Don’t count on the Eagles getting complacent either, as NCAA rules governing FCS-to-FBS transitions prevented them from playing in a bowl game.
“We deserved a chance to go,” offensive lineman Darien Foreman says. “We felt like it wasn’t fair, but that’s a big motivation for us this offseason.” Georgia Southern should only get more potent as Willie Fritz molds and recruits players who fit his offense. If the defense plays at the same level or improves, the Eagles could easily repeat as conference champs.
78. Bowling Green
How the expectations have changed. The Falcons won at least eight games for the third straight season, claimed a second consecutive MAC East crown and won their first bowl game in a decade — but it wasn’t enough to reach the team’s lofty goals.
When coach Dino Babers and his fast-paced, high-powered offense arrived following the MAC championship season of 2013, visions of 50 points per game and another league title were prevalent. For 2015, Babers has the personnel to pull off that kind of explosive scoring. The Falcons have just about everyone back on an offense that should be among the best in the league. The young and inexperienced defense is suspect, however. Babers will be plugging holes with players he hopes possess the skill set to solidify the defense. If that happens, this should be a championship-caliber team that once again flirts with fulfilling those lofty expectations.
It’s difficult to put a positive spin on Derek Mason’s first year as a head coach. Coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons, Vanderbilt slumped to 3–9 overall and failed to win a game in the SEC. Mason’s second Vanderbilt team should be improved, thanks in part to more experience on both sides of the ball and upgrades on the coaching staff. But the Commodores will have to be drastically better, especially on offense, to make a move in the SEC East, where seemingly every program — with the possible exception of South Carolina — is on the uptick.
Despite the Huskies’ loss of most of their playmakers on offense and top sack specialist, the road to the MAC West title still goes through Northern Illinois. The offense has the potential to be formidable again with a solid group of running backs, an explosive corps of receivers and Hare benefiting from a full offseason as the starting quarterback. Defensively, the Huskies are solid in the secondary with a few spots to fill at linebacker and along the defensive line.
The Huskies have lost three straight bowl games, including a 52–23 blowout loss to Marshall in the Boca Raton Bowl last season. Rod Carey is not shying away from using that as motivation. The conference schedule is favorable for a run at a sixth straight West title and fourth conference championship in five years.
Some say there's no bond stronger than that of a football team.
When the Coffee County Trojans lost one of their own in Malik Sparkman, they decided to grant his last wish. The 18-year-old lost his battle with kidney cancer, and he simply wanted to go through the tunnel and be on the field with his teammates one last time. The Georgia team was happy to oblige before the funeral.
Carried by some of this teammates, the linebacker entered his school's stadium and took the field for the final time.
With his teammates in their jerseys, Sparkman received quite the send-off.
Nick Saban wants college football to focus more on the bowls.
His biggest fear is that the College Football Playoff is taking too much attention away from prestigious and historically significant games like the Poulan/Weed Eater Bowl.
With TV ratings soaring for bowl games and new games pushing the total number of bowls to 41, Saban and fellow bowl czar Bill Hancock couldn’t be more wrong.
However, Hancock’s beloved bowl system — one that was grandfathered into the Playoff structure via cronyism — should have absolutely nothing to do with the College Football Playoff.
Ignore the fact that 80 teams will be playing in bowls this year and that the “sanctity of the bowl system” is stronger than it’s ever been before. Start with the main reason college football is the best sport on the planet.
The pageantry that exists on campuses across the country on fall Saturdays is what separates the college game from the NFL. Other than the Green Bay Packers, who are publicly owned, where in pro sports are the fans and organization an interwoven community like in college football? The nostalgia of alumni returning to campus for games is a treasured ritual in American culture.
Why would the College Football Playoff want to remove one of the most critical aspects of the game from the postseason? It should want to showcase the amazing locations and historic venues while awarding the higher seeds with home-field advantage in the process.
Alabama and Ohio State in The Horseshoe? Yes, please. USC and LSU in Death Valley? Are you kidding? Texas and Florida in The Swamp? Hell yeah.
It sounds a lot better than Oklahoma and Michigan in Sun Life Stadium.
And what happens when the tourney expands to eight?
Can the Playoff honestly ask fans to travel to neutral-site games three weeks in a row immediately after returning home from a conference title game?
Just wait until a Playoff game features Stanford and Virginia Tech in Dallas and there are 20,000 empty seats in JerryWorld. Lane Stadium wouldn’t have that problem.
The gameday atmosphere would be better. Ticket sales are a known commodity and local economies would benefit (instead of bowl organizers). Friends and family of players and coaches would potentially be able to attend in greater numbers and it wouldn't cost them as much money either. The better team gains a legitimate advantage after earning it in the regular season.
Even kickoff dates and times are being manipulated because the bowl system is involved.
The Rose Bowl has forced the majority of the Playoff games to New Year’s Eve because it refuses to budge off its hallowed New Year’s kickoff time slot.
If The Granddaddy of Them All wasn’t involved in the process, it wouldn’t be able to strong-arm the entire structure into doing what it wants. On the contrary, if the Rose Bowl were in danger of missing out on viewers, there is no doubt it would move its start time to guarantee ratings.
The powers that be want to protect the bowl system. They want to ensure that students get a celebratory trip to a “postseason” game, that fans get a farewell send-off to each season, that smaller schools get the national spotlight to themselves for one night and that TV partners are loaded down with meaningful inventory during the holiday season.
All of this is true and not one bit of it would change if the bowls were removed from the Playoff.
If there's one place Nolan Smith would be treated like a celebrity, it would be Durham.
Smith went to the most famous school in the area, and was a star on the Duke basketball team. He even won a championship with the Blue Devils.
That wasn't the case when the former Duke guard was pulled over the by the police. Smith tweeted about the encounter after it was done. Luckily his run-in with police didn't turn out the others that have been so prominent in the news.
The encounter I had with the police tonight...... Guns drawn, yelling, no questions asked... Smh... What's really going on?— Nolan Smith (@NdotSmitty) May 28, 2015
Yes I have 4% Tint... But I rolled the windows down right away... And showed them I was harmless.. They didn't care. Guns were out... Wow— Nolan Smith (@NdotSmitty) May 28, 2015
Soon as they relaxed and asked questions.. They became fans... Chill you not getting a autograph now, you just pulled a gun on me. Smh— Nolan Smith (@NdotSmitty) May 28, 2015
The world we living in.... Yes I'm upset so I'm letting Yall know what happened. Cuz it's real.— Nolan Smith (@NdotSmitty) May 28, 2015
Smith is okay after his encounter, knowing it could've ended differently.
In case you haven't noticed, the President of the United States is a bit of a sports fan.
President Barack Obama had a mini Twitter Q&A and people couldn't help but to ask him a few sports-related questions.
.@NathenVieira jr smith having a great season but the heart of the Cavs is Lebron. And no one can outshoot Curry - maybe Korver if wide open— President Obama (@POTUS) May 28, 2015
Everything about that is right, although I'm not sold on Korver out-shooting Steph Curry even if he is wide-open.
This one had to be tough for Obama to swallow, being a long-time Bulls fan, but another team is going to quickly scoop Tom Thibodeau up.
The Chicago Bulls made the inevitable into reality early Thursday, firing five-year head coach Tom Thibodeau. The move came after multiple seasons of frigidity and acrimony between Thibodeau and his front office had risen to the point that owner Jerry Reinsdorf, typically distant from team operations, become involved. Here’s what Reinsdorf had to say in the press release:
Statement from Bulls statement Jerry Reinsdorf on firing of coach Tom Thibodeau pic.twitter.com/7iKWnRre1V— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 28, 2015
Recent reports indicate that Reinsdorf was especially miffed by Jeff Van Gundy, a confidante of Thibodeau’s, speaking ill of the team during ABC broadcasts. Nothing Van Gundy said was off base, of course: The Bulls have an organizational history of feeling insecure about the greatness of those they employ, and make their stars — however big, however valuable — uncomfortable over time.
Just ask Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson. Or Thibodeau’s predecessor, Scott Skiles, who was fired on Christmas Eve. This is a franchise that has long been its own worst enemy, bungling success when it gets large enough and starts feeling that proper credit hasn’t been given to the characters operating behind the curtains.
To be sure, this is a front office with considerable basketball acumen. Their record in the NBA Draft has been stellar for close to a decade, with Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler all blossoming into outstanding players. But you can expect the Bulls to continue having bad luck on the free agency market so long as this is how they treat people.
The salty words of Reinsdorf’s press release are in line with the harsh handle they’ve had with their icons, and Thibodeau is most certainly a Chicago icon now; not only does he have the best record of any Bulls coach who isn’t Jackson, but he joins the illustrious ranks of Reinsdorf-induced martyrdom. That annal spreads to Reinsdorf’s Chicago White Sox, too — in 1986, that team had an ugly divorce with none other than Tony La Russa.
The Bulls are expected to close on Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg soon. Hoiberg has long been rumored to be next in line after Thibodeau, as he has a good relationship with the front office. Maybe he won't, though, if he becomes too successful.
— John Wilmes
Bill Laimbeer had his fair share of run-ins with Michael Jordan.
The former Pistons player battled Jordan many times and with all that being said, he would still pick LeBron James as the best player ever. At about the 4:10 mark, the former "Bad Boy" discusses the difference between the two.
"There's no question I would take LeBron James," Laimbeer said. "He can do more. Michael Jordan could could score and make big shots and look spectacular at times with wild flying dunks, but LeBron can get you 18 rebounds, get you 15 assists, or score 50 if he wants to. The triple threat he poses is just phenomenal, and the size — he just physically dominates. It's impressive."
Laimbeer also doubts Jordan could do what James has done with this Cavaliers team.
"Look at what LeBron has in the Finals right how," Laimbeer continued. "Could anybody else in the world have led this team of role players to the Finals right now? I don't think so. Jordan could not have led this team to the Finals."
For someone who's been beaten by Jordan more than a few times, one would think Laimbeer would have a different opinion.
Few people thought the Houston Rockets could make it this far. They were counted out after falling into a 3-1 hole against the Los Angeles Clippers, only to surge and make a historic comeback in the second round.
Such a feat was not meant to be repeated. Although the Western Conference finals was closer than many would have you believe, the Rockets ultimately took just one victory home with them as Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors advanced.
In the series, Houston could rarely keep up with the Warriors’ offensive production. They lost the first two games in Oakland by a combined five points — James Harden averaged 33 points and nine assists in those games. He scored 45 in their Game 4 win in Houston. When Harden wasn’t playing an excellent game, though, the Rockets sputtered.
That was the case in the closeout contest, in which Harden played what was probably the worst game of his career. He shot 2-for-11 and turned the ball over 13 times, an all-time record for anyone in a playoff contest.
Houston’s lack of complementary playmakers hurt them more than anything in this series. Though their defensive intensity wavered at times, they showed often enough that they’re as capable as anyone at making the Warriors work hard for their buckets.
There’s not a lot that needs to be changed for these Rockets. This is a stellar team, capable of huge things as long as they can keep Dwight Howard on a rest program that has him playing the role of superman rim-protector in the spring. If they run this roster back next year, it’s certainly possible that they could improve and emerge out of the Western Conference.
But the cap space Houston has — about $10 million worth — should be spent on someone who can do more with the ball in his hands. As outstanding as Harden is, he has his limits; everyone does. He can only be a one-man offense for so long.
— John Wilmes
Some of the best NBA moments happen after the game when the "Inside the NBA" crew is on.
Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal, and Kenny Smith are the best at what they do. From lip sync battles to freestyling with Nicki Minaj, there's nothing the crew won't attempt. A "best of" video was released to commemorate the amazing year the team had, and we're all looking forward to more.
Shaq tripping was definitely one of the highlights.
Only five months removed from having not one but two teams snubbed from the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Big 12 Conference has some big decisions to make about its future.
After it was announced that both Baylor and TCU had not made the four-team Playoff Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby was seemingly left scrambling to find answers and make adjustments to ensure this same situation would not repeat itself in the future. The most logical remedy was the implementation of a conference championship game. That elusive 13th game that although in the beginning was said NOT to have a bearing on the decision has recently been pegged as one of the determining factors.
The current problem facing the Big 12 is that NCAA regulations require a conference to have at least 12 teams and two divisions in order to produce a conference championship game. With only 10 teams currently in the conference the Big 12 had to determine whether it wanted to challenge that arbitrary rule. With support of the ACC, Bowlsby and the Big 12 did petition the NCAA to deregulate conference championship games. A ruling on that petition is expected to take effect by the 2016 season in favor of the Big 12.
However, the implementation of said game is still not a foregone conclusion. Big 12 coaches and athletic directors will have the opportunity to voice their opinions on whether to bring back a Big 12 Conference Championship Game, which has been absent from the postseason lineup since 2010, this week during the spring meetings. The Big 12 Board of Directors will meet this Friday and presumably make a final determination to move forward with a 13th game or keep the status quo.
While some coaches are in favor of the move there still seems to be a trend toward holding off. The question is why? First and foremost, although deregulation is bound to be approved it has yet to be implemented. Voting on a conference championship game is irrelevant at this point being since current rules still negate the conference from moving forward. Bowlsby also said yesterday that, “a year does not make a trend.” While he is correct it does show there are situations where the lack of a 13th game can hurt the conference. Whether or not that becomes a trend is obviously yet to be determined but the writing is already on the wall.
While many analysts and media alike feel the Big 12 has the easiest road to a Playoff berth the fact remains they are 0-for-1 in that theory. Yes the Ohio State win over Wisconsin was a freak event. It is not often a conference championship game renders such a lopsided victory. However, a Big 12 title game between TCU and Baylor, which at the time were both in the top 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, would have presumably negated any Ohio State victory.
While many will argue the probability of this same scenario happening again is remote the fact remains it has already happened. Without a title game the Big 12 will more than likely need a team to run the table, something that is nearly impossible to do in that conference. The fear that a 10-2 SEC school jumping an 11-1 Big 12 school is real whether people want to believe it or not.
There are other ways to remedy last season's snub without a conference championship game, some of which I am merely throwing out as suggestions. The Big 12 could go the way of the Big 10 and do away with the scheduling of any FCS opponents. The Big 12 has already discussed requiring teams to schedule at least one non-conference Power 5 opponent, “We talk about it all the time,” Bowlsby said yesterday when asked about the possibility.
Another albeit less likely remedy is to schedule marquee conference matchups later in the season. TCU’s end-of-the-season matchup against a then 2-9 Iowa State team did not help the “what have you done lately” perspective of the selection committee. And while Baylor’s victory over Kansas State was a quality win the Big 12 tiebreaker may have played a role.
Speaking of tiebreakers, that is one thing the Big 12 has remedied this week. The conference finalized the details of a three-way tiebreaker thus forever doing away with the possibility of having co-champions in the future.
Regardless of the outcome from this week’s spring meetings the Big 12 has decisions to make that may have a huge bearing on its postseason future. However, the best decision right now may be not to make a decision at all.
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.
It wasn't that long ago that Mark Jackson brought the Warriors to new heights.
He was fired this past year and replaced by Steve Kerr who has taken Golden State to the first finals since 1975. After the Warriors defeated the Rockets to advance to the Finals, play-by-play announcer Mike Breen asked Jackson what was going through his head at the moment.
"Well proud... at the end of the day proud," Jackson said while holding back emotion.
Draymond Green walked over and acknowledged his former coach.
It's not the way he would have wanted, but at least Jackson got to experience the Warriors advancing to the Finals.
Michael Vick was first. Then Vince Young.
Then it was Tebow, RG3, Johnny Football and Super Mariota.
The super quarterback is a relatively new phenomenon in college football that changed the way game is played forever.
With new rules and new offensive innovation, the quarterback has become even more important — and it was already the most important position on the field.
Despite some major names leaving for the NFL, the 2015 season is loaded with elite QB matchups that could decide championships. Here are the best quarterback matchups to look forward to in ’15:
Note: This is based on pure athletic talent, raw entertainment value and potential gravity of the situation.
1. Connor Cook at Cardale Jones
Michigan State at Ohio State (Nov. 21)
Two potential first-round NFL draft picks will likely go head-to-head for the division, conference and potential national championship in the penultimate weekend of the year. Jones hasn’t taken a snap against a Spartans defense while Cook has topped 300 yards in two meetings with the Buckeyes.
2. Dak Prescott at Jeremy Johnson
Mississippi State at Auburn (Sept. 26)
Prescott is a Heisman candidate whose resume speaks for itself. Johnson is poised to explode onto the national scene in Gus Malzahn’s offense. With these two meeting in September, both should be unbeaten and ranked in the top 15. Both defenses will be better later, so this early-season matchup should provide plenty of chances for both signal-callers to make plays.
3. Christian Hackenberg at Connor Cook
Penn State at Michigan State (Nov. 28)
Hackenberg could be the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft or at least the first quarterback taken. He doesn’t have the support of the rest of the names on this list but his talent speaks for itself. Cook is a star in his own right who will spend his final season at MSU proving his first-round grade is accurate.
4. Cody Kessler at Mike Bercovici
USC at Arizona State (Sept. 26)
The de facto Pac-12 South championship game should feature the best two quarterbacks in the division and possibly the conference. This game was a scorcher last year that featured a successful Hail Mary, 510 yards and five touchdowns from the big-armed Bercovici. Kessler is a preseason All-American and has elite weaponry around him this fall. Buckle up, folks.
5. Cody Kessler at Jared Goff
USC at Cal (Oct. 31)
The first- and second-team All-Pac-12 quarterbacks meet on Halloween in the Bay Area this fall. While Cal isn’t going to contend, the aerial shootout between these two should be plenty entertaining. These are the top two most efficient returning passers in the Pac-12 after a combined 74 passing touchdowns and only 12 interceptions a year ago.
6. Brad Kaaya at Deshaun Watson
Miami at Clemson (Oct. 24)
These are two really special talents. Watson and Kaaya proved as freshmen last year that they belong among the nation’s best. Kaaya posted 3,198 and 26 touchdowns while Watson delivered 19 total touchdowns and two interceptions in just eight games. These two sophomores could take the ACC to a different level at the position.
7. Christian Hackenberg at Cardale Jones
Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 17)
Both Jones and Hackenberg could be first-round picks and no one at either school will forget the epic battle between these two programs a year ago. Ohio State’s toughest test all year outside of Virginia Tech was Penn State. That said, the Bucks will be a heavy favorite at home.
8. Seth Russell at Trevone Boykin
Baylor at TCU (Nov. 27)
Russell is a first-time starter but there is no reason to think he won’t be electric in Art Briles’ system. He threw for 801 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in backup duty last fall. In what could be the biggest game of the year in any league — one that featured 119 points and over 1,200 yards of offense last season — these two should put on a show.
9. Dak Prescott at Kyle Allen
Mississippi State at Texas A&M (Oct. 3)
Allen proved in the second half of the 2014 season that his five-star recruiting hype was warranted. He is now the clear starter in an offense loaded with elite playmakers and great schemes. Both defenses should allow for plenty of space for both to operate early in October.
10. Jeremy Johnson at Kyle Allen
Texas A&M at Auburn (Nov. 7)
These two guys are more projections than others on this list but few rivalries have been more entertaining over the last three seasons. Both Johnson and Allen are dripping with elite upside and both play in elite offensive systems. There is no reason TAMU-Auburn IV won’t be another high-scoring affair.
Related: SEC win total projections for 2015
11. Mike Bercovici at Jared Goff
Arizona State at Cal (Nov. 28)
USC's Cody Kessler gets the nod as the first-team All-Pac-12 signal-caller but Bercovici and Goff are hot on his tracks. Goff has blossomed into a potential superstar and Bercovici posted over 1,200 yards in three starts last fall. If the game held more importance, it would be higher on this list.
12. Cody Kessler at Vernon Adams
USC at Oregon (Nov. 21)
Oregon isn’t bringing in Adams from Eastern Washington to sit on the bench. So the question isn’t if he’ll start but it will be how good is he? He threw for over 10,000 yards, rushed for over 1,200, and accounted for 121 total touchdowns in three seasons on the FCS level. If he comes close to that, both his big-time matchups will outperform this ranking. This is a Pac-12 title game preview.
13. Trevone Boykin at Mason Rudolph
TCU at Oklahoma State (Nov. 7)
The first- and second-team All-Big 12 preseason quarterbacks will battle in Stillwater to begin November. Rudolph has the makings of a star and Boykin is already one. TCU won’t have many hurdles to clear this fall but a road trip to Oklahoma State might be one of the biggest of the year for Gary Patterson’s bunch.
14. Vernon Adams at Connor Cook
Oregon at Michigan State (Sept. 12)
As explained earlier, projecting Adams is difficult but he has the keys to a Rolls Royce offense and should be the guy taking snaps. Going into East Lansing and winning is much more difficult a task. Cook put on a show in a loss in Eugene last year and should be extra motivated in Week 2 at home.
15. Gunner Kiel at Taysom Hill
Cincinnati at BYU (Oct. 17)
It doesn’t feature a Power 5 team and it isn’t a conference game, but the fireworks will be on full display when the Bearcats visit the Cougars. Hill was scorching the earth before being lost for the season with a broken leg early in the year last fall. Kiel has blossomed into the five-star prospect he was supposed to become after 3,254 yards and 31 touchdowns as a sophomore.
|Road QB||Team||Home QB||Team||Date|
|16.||Anu Solomon||Cody Kessler||Nov. 7|
|17.||Justin Thomas||Deshaun Watson||Oct. 10|
|18.||Mike Bercovici||Kyle Allen||Sept. 5|
|19.||Justin Thomas||Brad Kaaya||Nov. 21|
|20.||Taysom Hill||Chuckie Keeton||Nov. 28|
|21.||Seth Russell||Mason Rudolph||Nov. 21|
|22.||Everett Golson||Deshaun Watson||Nov. 7|
|23.||Anu Solomon||Mike Bercovici||Nov. 21|
|24.||Dak Prescott||Maty Mauk||Nov. 5|
|25.||Brad Kaaya||Everett Golson||Oct. 10|
|26.||Cody Kessler||Malik Zaire||Oct. 17|
|27.||Deshaun Watson||Jacoby Brissett||Oct. 31|
|28.||Vernon Adams||Mike Bercovici||Oct. 29|
|29.||Malik Zaire||Deshaun Watson||Oct. 3|
|30.||Jared Goff||Vernon Adams||Nov. 7|
|31.||Joshua Dobbs||Maty Mauk||Nov. 21|
|32.||Keenan Reynolds||Malik Zaire||Oct. 10|
|33.||Taysom Hill||Maty Mauk||Nov. 14|
|34.||Brandon Doughty||Driphus Jackson||Oct. 3|
|35.||Everett Golson||Justin Thomas||Oct. 24|
The 2015 college football season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to project how the upcoming year will play out on the field. Athlon Sports has released its top 25 for this season and continues the countdown to September with a look at the teams ranked No. 41-60.
The 41-60 range features two teams breaking in new coaches (Houston and Pittsburgh), along with a handful of midpack teams from Power 5 leagues. North Carolina, Miami, Boston College and Duke all appear in this position from the ACC, while Minnesota and Iowa are in from the Big Ten. Entering a crucial season under coach Mark Stoops, Kentucky is No. 55 in the 2015 rankings.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season
College Football 2015 Projected Rankings: 41-60
Seven years. Five coaches. Zero continuity. That is the storyline for Pittsburgh, which hired Pat Narduzzi in December. The situation is confounding and maddening to a fan base that’s been witness to a program mired in mediocrity. Whether Narduzzi can provide stability is unclear, but the former Michigan State defensive coordinator offers a snappy résumé as a career assistant. Under Narduzzi, Michigan State was the only school in the FBS to rank in the top 10 in total and rushing defense the past four seasons. He inherits a Panthers team that was the youngest in the nation with 81 underclassmen (53 freshmen and 28 sophomores). Fifteen starters return.
Pittsburgh features game-changers in running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd, but a transition to a new coaching staff — again — and uncertainty at quarterback and on defense will surely create challenges.
42. North Carolina
North Carolina's season depends heavily upon two factors: the health of quarterback Marquise Williams, and how much the defense can improve on last season’s disastrous results. The Tar Heels don’t look like a championship contender, but they have a couple of factors in their favor. One, they play in the ACC’s Coastal Division, so they don’t have to worry about league heavyweights Florida State and Clemson in the standings. And two, they don’t have to worry about Florida State and Clemson at all because they don’t play them (or Louisville, for that matter) this season. A winning season and another bowl trip are within reach, and any result substantially better than that could make new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik an appealing candidate for a head coaching job with another program.
Few coaches in America occupy a hotter seat than Al Golden, who is 28–22 entering his fifth season. The Hurricanes lost four straight to finish 6–7 — UM’s third losing season in the last 35 years. He recruited well through a lengthy NCAA investigation, but fans howl that the program keeps sailing further and further from the glory years.
This year’s team is young, after losing a host of NFL-caliber talent, and has to battle a brutal October stretch that includes Florida State (in Tallahassee) and Clemson. The Canes haven’t played for the ACC title since joining the conference in 2004, and it doesn’t look like this will be the year.
The ‘U’ stands for ‘Underwhelming’ now, and if Golden doesn’t produce results this season, he might be looking for work elsewhere.
44. Kansas State
“It is obvious there were some critical elements in our program that we lost. When you lose the production that we had offensively, it certainly is sorely missed,” Snyder says. “From a defensive standpoint, we lost fewer people, fewer numbers. The dynamics are difficult, and they are every year. Some positions are a little harder to reconstruct than others. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Jerry Kill was named Big Ten Coach of the Year last season, and he’ll need to work more magic this year against a schedule that includes TCU and Ohio State. The coaches are confident they have enough running back talent to replace David Cobb, but there’s no substitute for a dynamic tight end like Maxx Williams. Mitch Leidner was instrumental in all five Big Ten wins last year. He needs to be more consistent. If the offense finds a way, this won’t be a fun team to play.
“We’ve got a chance to be a really, really good football team,” Kill says. “We’re very athletic on both sides of the ball.”
The Gophers were picked to finish fifth in the Big Ten West last year but wound up pushing Wisconsin to a final-week showdown for the division title. The Gophers landed their first New Year’s Day bowl appearance since 1962, and more than 20,000 of their fans turned out to watch them play Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.
The fans want more. The Gophers haven’t defeated Wisconsin since 2003 and haven’t won a bowl game since 2004. If Kill can get those things done, his popularity will continue to soar.
For coach Chris Petersen’s second season, Huskies followers will lower their expectations. Just nine starters return. The defensive front seven must be almost completely rebuilt. A new quarterback needs to be broken in. Now the rebuilding really begins. Six or seven wins would be considered progress.
Cal was one of the nation’s most-improved teams in 2014. But the Bears were far from satisfied after losing six of their final seven games to miss out on the postseason for the third straight year. “We could have taken the program to the next step,” receiver Kenny Lawler says, “but we just came up short.”
No one in the program will be happy with anything less than a bowl game and the chance to compete near the top of the Pac-12 North. Defense remains Cal’s great unknown, and the road schedule is daunting. But quarterback Jared Goff says the team is ready for something different. “There’s so much more confidence on our team,” Goff says. “Expectations are very high.”
48. Texas Tech
In Year 3 of Kliff Kingsbury’s tenure, two things are very clear: The offense must find some consistency and the defense simply has to be better. The addition of coordinator David Gibbs should help stabilize the ailing defense, but all bets are off until they hit the field this fall. The big key, however, is at quarterback. The winner of the Patrick Mahomes vs. Davis Webb battle must play at a high level for Texas Tech to return to form.
BYU’s 2014 season did not end well. The loss to Memphis, followed by a postgame brawl, left the Cougars with regrets. The Cougars’ September schedule offers an opportunity for them to feel better about themselves and improve the outside perception of the program. Games with Nebraska, Boise State, UCLA and Michigan will go a long way toward defining BYU’s 2015 season. In an era when BYU is an Independent, coach Bronco Mendenhall is eager to make an impact. “We’re playing our way into contention and national recognition through the best opponents on the biggest stages, mostly away from home,” he says.
A first-time head coach, Tom Herman brings credibility after winning a national title as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State. He’s spent the first several months on the job instilling a toughness that had been lacking in recent years. The Cougars have enough talent to compete in the AAC but will need to figure things out on the offensive line and develop across-the-board depth. A ninth bowl appearance in the last 11 years is certainly within reach.
51. Utah State
Not even a plethora of key injuries derailed the Aggies from going to their fourth straight bowl game and emerging victorious for the third consecutive year. One has to wonder how good they could have been had they stayed healthy. Most of those athletes are back, and a strong recruiting class has been added.
With the success Utah State has enjoyed, several key assistants left for bigger schools. The Aggies will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Josh Heupel (offense) and Kevin Clune (defense), who was a position coach at USU several years ago. Coach Matt Wells believes the new coordinators have added to the program and brought a new and different enthusiasm.
Extending the school record streak of bowl appearances is nearly a given.
Duke will play the 2015 season amid signs of its revival. The quaint track at Wallace Wade has finally been removed, seating has been brought closer to the field and a new tower of luxury boxes will be under construction during the season.
As for the on-field product, the Blue Devils can show progress by managing to maintain their current status quo — a winning season and another bowl trip. There are probably too many question marks on offense to contend for the Coastal Division crown. But a manageable non-conference schedule (Northwestern is the biggest challenge) and avoiding Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in conference provides Duke ample opportunity to get to at least six wins and another bowl berth. The key may be David Cutcliffe’s ability to convince a team that’s won 25 games in the past three years that it still has something to prove.
It seems like with every strength that Iowa has, there is a weakness to offset it. Three starters return on the offensive line, but both tackles have to be replaced, including Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff. Both starters return at defensive end, but neither starter returns at defensive tackle.
C.J. Beathard is considered more athletic than Rudock, but he still is mostly unproven as a Big Ten starting quarterback.
Iowa has been average over the past three seasons with a 19–19 record. Expect more of the same from this team despite another favorable schedule.
This is a new era for Navy, which joins the American Athletic Conference following more than a century as an Independent. The Midshipmen own a 34–27–1 record against current AAC members and have regularly played schools such as SMU, East Carolina and Tulane.
Veteran coach Ken Niumatalolo says capturing the conference championship has now been added to the annual goals of beating service academy rivals Army and Air Force to secure the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy and qualifying for a bowl game.
“I think joining a conference is something we had to do and will be good for the program over the long haul,” Niumatalolo says. “However, there is a lot of apprehension and nervousness because there are so many unknowns.”
This is a critical season for Mark Stoops and Kentucky. The administration has given him the resources — huge raises for him and his staff, a $120 million stadium renovation that opens this fall and a $45 million practice facility under construction — and Year 3 is time to deliver results.
The positive vibes of a 5–1 start last fall vanished with the Wildcats’ 0–6 finish. But after three straight top-40 recruiting classes and three springs and summers to develop that talent, Stoops is confident the tide is turning. “Significantly better right now,” he says. “I think it’s hard to put into words exactly. I definitely feel like we’re developing them to be a winning football team.”
56. Boston College
Coach Steve Addazio has this program going in the right direction after taking over a 2–10 team and putting together back-to-back winning seasons. Still, the question remains whether or not the Eagles can take that next step and become a true contender in the ACC. The defense should give this team a chance, but an inexperienced offense may prevent any giant leaps forward.
The Terrapins surprised everyone with a seven-win season out of the gate in their first Big Ten campaign. Okay, okay, Penn State and Michigan — two big Maryland road victims — weren’t exactly Penn State and Michigan last season, but the Terrapins still managed to finish 4–4 in league play.
Moving forward, there are so many variables in play — new quarterback, young but bigger and better offensive line, a new 4-3 defense and just two defensive starters back in the positions they played in 2014 — making the Terrapins a tough team to forecast. Say this at least: They’ve been resilient. Through devastating injuries (they’re just three years removed from a freshman linebacker playing quarterback, and a running back had to play wide receiver last year) and the major move to Midwestern football, the Terrapins have stayed on course, slow and steady.
A sense of normalcy is back at Northwestern, and so is a sense of urgency. The Wildcats understand what a third consecutive bowl-less campaign would do to a program still fighting the pre-1995 loser label. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has arguably his most talented defense, and if the special teams meet his expectations, the season once again could hinge on reigniting the offense. A drop-prone receiving corps must take a step forward, and an inconsistent line must protect the new quarterback, but there are weapons such as Justin Jackson (RB), Christian Jones (WR) and Dan Vitale (TE).
Northwestern must navigate another tricky non-league schedule with Stanford and Duke but once again misses Ohio State and Michigan State in league play. “We’ve got to do the things winners do,” Fitzgerald says. “We’ve got to get that edge back.”
After going 10–3 last season and claiming a share of the AAC title, the Tigers are poised to repeat those successes. With Paxton Lynch at quarterback, the Tigers will possess a potent offense, one capable of overcoming whatever a rebuilding defense allows. A running game featuring two physical, punishing backs could be potent. Defensively, the Tigers will have to find replacements for eight players, including two — Bobby McCain and Martin Ifedi — who will be playing in the NFL. How quickly the secondary develops in a pass-oriented conference could determine the team’s ability to repeat as league champs.
This year matters for coach Kevin Wilson, who has yet to win more than five games in a season. With three years remaining on his contract, Wilson needs to deliver a bowl trip to earn an extension and love from Indiana’s modest fan base. With three home games and a trip to Wake Forest to open the season, the Hoosiers need a big start before sliding into Big Ten play against Ohio State. If quarterback Nate Sudfeld can stay healthy and the defense creates more turnovers, a six-win season is realistic.
When putting together Athlon Sports' college football magazine and preseason Top 25 each year, a huge part of the process is scheduling. Non-conference games, crossovers, home-road splits and timing all play a role in determining order of finish.
And don’t forget that the College Football Playoff Committee made it very clear in its first season that it values scheduling.
So who has the toughest schedule in the Big Ten this fall? Who has the easiest path?
Rutgers must face five (possibly six) potential bowl teams from the East Division and gets the top two teams from the West (Nebraska, Wisconsin). It also faces two Power 5 teams in non-conference play (albeit Washington State and Kansas). It seems highly unlikely the Knights will return to the postseason.
Minnesota could face two potential Playoff teams with TCU in the non-conference and Ohio State in crossover. The Gophers also must face Michigan from the East. Add to that slate divisional dates with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa and Jerry Kill is looking at an uphill battle in the West.
The Spartans will earn their way into the Big Ten title game or Playoff this year. Oregon and Penn State have to come to East Lansing but a trio of brutal road trips will likely decide the Spartans' fate: at Michigan (Oct. 17), Nebraska (Nov. 7) and Ohio State (Nov. 21).
Crossover didn’t play out well for the Terps with Wisconsin and at Iowa on the slate for 2015. That goes along with facing the big four from the East: at Ohio State, at Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan. Even the non-conference has some tricky games with USF and at West Virginia.
The home slate for Tim Beckman is brutal, featuring Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska and a semi-neutral field tilt with Northwestern. The road trips aren’t much better as the Illini must visit Penn State, Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina in the non-conference. There isn’t a lot to like on this schedule other than a road trip to Purdue and three semi-easy non-conference home games.
The non-conference slate for Jim Harbaugh is no joke with a road trip to Utah and home games with BYU and Oregon State. The divisional slate will be tough enough with road trips to Penn State and Maryland as well as home games against Michigan State and Ohio State.
There is no Missouri in non-con play this year so that is comforting. However, road trips to Penn State, Michigan State and Maryland will be tough along with home games with Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan.
Non-conference games with BYU (home) and Miami (road) are really juicy and not easy (but winnable). Crossover features a huge test with Michigan State but that one comes at home. Additionally, huge games with Wisconsin and Iowa come at home. The road trips in the B1G for the Huskers are Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue and Rutgers.
Games against Stanford and Duke in the smart kids non-conference round-robin will be tough to win. As will crossover games with Michigan and Penn State and divisional road tilts with Wisconsin and Nebraska. Key swing games with Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois (Chicago) and Purdue, however, come at home.
The non-conference schedule wouldn’t be daunting for most teams but watch out for teams like Bowling Green, Marshall and, of course, Virginia Tech. Crossover with Michigan State on the road is brutal as are road trips to Wisconsin and Iowa. However, home games with Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana offer some chances for an upset.
11. Ohio State
The road trip to Virginia Tech will be testy but full of revenge for Ohio State. After that, the toughest road trip for the Buckeyes will be visiting Ann Arbor in the season finale. Otherwise, Michigan State, Penn State and Minnesota come to Columbus. There isn't a lot of meat here for Urban Meyer to add to his pizza.
12. Penn State
Penn State has four easy, winnable, non-conference games and gets really lucky in crossover play with Northwestern and Illinois. Yes, PSU must face Michigan State and Ohio State on the road. But, otherwise, the rest of the schedule is manageable in a very difficult division.
Alabama in Week 1 is a flashing warning signal but the rest of this schedule is extremely manageable. There is no Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State. Road trips to Nebraska (Oct. 10), Maryland (Nov. 7) and Minnesota (Nov. 28) is as tough as it gets for the Badgers.
Wisconsin and Nebraska have tougher non-conference and crossover schedules. This gives the nod to Iowa as the easiest slate in the division despite having to face both Big Red foes on the road. The Hawkeyes could be favorites to win all four of their non-conference games and all four home Big Ten games.
By now Riley Curry has made her way into America's hearts.
The daughter of Warriors star Steph Curry is one of the best things about post game press conferences these days. Journalists claim children are a distraction, but some players have been distracted by much less.
Let's face it, these things are boring. Any chance there is to breathe some life into these things, we should jump on it.
The most overlooked part of a hype video is the narration.
Michigan didn't want to take any chances, so they called on rapper and former Pimp My Ride host Xzibit to provide the voice for their hype video. The 2015 season can't get here soon enough.
Check it out here.
By the looks of things, Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines are anxious for the upcoming season.
Tarik Cohen has the physical ability many of us would kill to have.
The North Carolina A&T running back one-ups himself by doing a backflip while catching two footballs in mid-air. Boss.
Cohen at wide receiver this upcoming season doesn't sound like a bad idea.
Thirty-five seasons ago, the NBA instituted its 3-point arc. Much has changed regarding the details of this extra, ever-important stripe on the court, but the simple, essential truth of it has remained the same since then. One shot, much further from the rim, is worth three points instead of two.
Only more recently, however, has the value of the 3-point line been understood in exacting fashion. The dawn of analytics in the sport has given way to a re-imagination of court strategy across the league, with 2015 MVP Stephen Curry standing as the evolutionary zenith of how modern talent can fit into a new understanding of the parquet’s real estate. Teams are shooting more from beyond the arc than they ever have.
Lost in the discussion about the Year of the Three has been nuance. Old-school polemicists like Phil Jackson and Charles Barkley have very publicly bemoaned offensive styles that start at the perimeter and often end there, too; lane penetration and post play are still integral to the diet of a healthy contender, they say, and deep shooting should be little more than a peripheral benefit of a squad that looks to get to the rim first and foremost.
On the other side of the fence stands a pack of progress-obsessed analysts who readily laugh at Jackson and Barkley, insisting that they’re lost in the sands of time as the 3-point shot has become of singular, undeniable importance.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the more reasonable middle. Three-pointers are important: If you can’t shoot them at least at an average rate, you probably won’t be winning any NBA titles this century. But the fetish of the shot — particularly as it fills in as a metaphor of power for certain branches of thinking — often goes to extreme places in the wrong hands. The direction of play in this sport has been and always will be fluid, and while the upwardly trending nature of 3-point shooting teams is a powerful development, it is far from a permanent one.
— John Wilmes
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson may not be the first name that comes to mind when a person thinks of the University of Miami, but he's arguably the most famous.
The school that boast alums like Jeremy Shockey and Ray Lewis is giving a sneak-peek inside its football locker room. The locker room is called the "Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson locker room" and it's pretty awesome. Quarterback Brad Kaaya serves as tour guide of the facility.
The NFL and crime has unfortunately gone hand-in-hand.
PM Guardian made a cool inforgraphic for 10 of the worst criminals in the NFL. From Aaron Hernandez to Rae Carruth, these guys are not the nicest in the game.
The 10 Worst Criminals in the NFL, and Why You Can’t Rent to Them [INFOGRAPHIC]This infographic came from PM Guardian.com
NASCAR’s “new” Chase is changing the way we look at the course of a driver’s season. It used to be all 26 races were taken into account while judging success or failure. Now? Just one checkered flag will make the difference, both with shop morale and in the boardroom.
This week’s example is one Carl Edwards, victorious at Charlotte after a fuel mileage gamble stole the show at the end of NASCAR’s longest race. Those 600 miles have now turned the driver’s season into a success story. He’s got the playoff bid all sponsors are looking for, three-plus months to test for the postseason and that all-important Sprint Cup victory.
However, take a look at what Edwards’ season would look like under the “old” NASCAR point system, where there was no playoff and your year was judged over a full 36-race schedule. Edwards sits 16th in points, without a race finish better than 10th before Sunday’s Charlotte surprise. He had two finishes of 31st or worse, showed less speed than teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth while struggling at was once his biggest strength: intermediate tracks. This win, while a sure sign of a turnaround, still leaves him a whopping 161 points behind current leader Kevin Harvick. Without a NASCAR playoff, his goal would have been to finish 10th in points — not make a run to win it all at Homestead.
Instead, Edwards now has as much of a chance to take home that hardware as Harvick, who’s earned himself 11 top-10 finishes through the season’s first 12 races. Edwards, by comparison has only two, yet has the resources to compete well in a 10-race playoff. How would fans react if one of these inconsistent seasons somehow scrounges up the ability to pull a trophy out of their hat in the season finale?
NASCAR has had a postseason now for a dozen years. So why does it still always feel like it’s imperfect?
Through the gears we go...
FIRST GEAR: A New Team Beats a Former Friend
For Carl Edwards, Sunday’s win brought confidence his move from Roush Fenway Racing this offseason was the right one. Jumping to Joe Gibbs Racing this season has been a bit of a rollercoaster, but crew chief Darian Grubb knew the right strategy to pull down the stretch. The decision to stretch fuel in the No. 19 car left him battling with former teammate Greg Biffle of RFR down the stretch. It was probably Biffle’s best chance to make the Chase this season, putting up a strong fight until his No. 16 car lost fuel pressure over the final two laps of the race.
Now, Edwards can breathe a sigh of relief as a postseason bid is assured months before the pressure to earn one ramps up.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that you’re a lot better off to go to the races in the position that we’re going to go now,” he said. “You go there a little more relaxed. I can let Darian and these guys work on what they’re good at, making the cars better and figuring out the communication… it’s a huge opportunity for us.”
Considering this veteran’s strength on 1.5-mile ovals, tracks which make up five of the 10 Chase races, this team cannot be counted out once the postseason begins in September.
SECOND GEAR: Joe Gibbs Racing Makes its Statement
Carl Edwards may have led the pack but Joe Gibbs Racing had plenty of other success stories at Charlotte. Denny Hamlin, although needing fluids after the race, was eighth and won the All-Star Race at the track the week before. Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch also finished inside the top 11 during the Coca-Cola 600.
While Hendrick equipment and chassis appear to still have more raw speed JGR is gaining on their rivals. They also now have three of their four drivers in the Chase, allowing them to focus on Busch and the No. 18 Toyota for much of the rest of the regular season. Busch, making his return this month, needs a win and to climb inside the top 30 in points in order to make the postseason like everyone else. His 11th-place result at Charlotte was a good start.
THIRD GEAR: Opposite Ends of the Spectrum for Stewart-Haas Racing
While they didn’t win Sunday, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick continue to run circles around the competition at intermediate tracks. Combined, they’ve led 715 laps at these 1.5- and 2-mile ovals, blowing away the rest of their competition. (Hendrick Motorsports, next in line has led just 292). But in the wacky world of Stewart-Haas Racing, all those moments up front have come from only Busch and Harvick. Know how many laps Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick have led during that stretch?
The inability for either driver to get going is puzzling considering how much success their teammates are having across the way. Patrick, after struggling All-Star Race weekend, was never a factor Sunday and ran 22nd, two laps off the pace. Her fourth straight finish outside the top 20 has dropped her five positions in the point standings, down to 18th and she’s now on the fringes of Chase contention. What will that mean for her NASCAR career as she sits sponsor-less for 2016? Will she be dumped or used elsewhere within the Stewart-Haas organization? (I.E. - Formula One)
As for Stewart, he could barely do better, clocking in 21st to remain a lowly 30th in series points. The three-time champion is now a whopping 134 points behind Paul Menard for a Chase spot with 14 races remaining. That means it’s “win or bust” as far as the postseason is concerned. At this rate, crew chief Chad Johnston should go radical with both strategy and setups. What’s the point of trying to run 15th instead of 25th? There’s still a chance for Smoke to salvage his season but it’ll have to happen at short tracks like Bristol or even the road courses of Sonoma and Watkins Glen.
FOURTH GEAR: Race to the Chase Redefined
Carl Edwards’ win didn’t just lock in a “bubble” driver into the postseason field; it also brought clarity to the Chase race entering the regular season’s second half. The Cup Series now has nine winners through its first 12 races, all virtually guaranteed a spot: Edwards, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. That leaves seven spots remaining for drivers to either win or get in on points.
Looking at the standings, there are three drivers who have flashed the speed to win and should do so within the next three months: Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, and Martin Truex Jr. Should Kyle Busch be able to break through, charging toward the top 30 in points, we’d have 13 of the 16 spots filled. That would leave Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola to fight for the final three spots based on points. Menard, last in that group, has a 40-point edge on Clint Bowyer, the next winless driver and has finally flashed the consistency this year to stay out in front.
What about other drivers not mentioned, like Bowyer, Danica Patrick, Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Larson? So far down in the standings, their path forward to the postseason is simple: Win. Win. Win. Trying to point their way forward, with just 14 races left, will be difficult based on their inconsistency to date.
We’ve said it many times in this space, but how much longer will Roush Fenway Racing put up with underperforming Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne? While teammate Greg Biffle ran second Sunday, neither Stenhouse Jr. nor Bayne were so much as sniffing the top 20 by the checkered flag… The 22 lead changes over 600 miles at Charlotte paled in comparison to the 37 made over Sunday’s Indy 500. No wonder INDYCAR beat NASCAR in Sunday’s ratings by a whopping 16 percent … Edwards, despite a history of success at intermediates had never won at Charlotte in a Cup car prior to Sunday night.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.