Articles By All
USC football stockpiled talented quarterbacks during its run of dominance in the 2000s, when current head coach Steve Sarkisian was an assistant to Pete Carroll.
Sarkisian is emulating that blueprint now, aggressively hitting the recruiting trail for quarterback prospects.
In the 2000s, the Trojans went from one Heisman Trophy winner, Carson Palmer, to another, Matt Leinart. Matt Cassell was at USC in the same era, and despite playing rarely, went on to a solid NFL career. John David Booty succeeded Leinart and played two underrated seasons as starter before turning over the reins to Mark Sanchez, whose 2008 was statistically similar to the Heisman campaigns of Palmer and Leinart.
Cody Kessler now heads into 2015, his third season as USC's starter, generating a fair amount of Heisman buzz himself.
It's a departure from Kessler's first season behind center, when he backed into the starting job as then-head coach Lane Kiffin scrambled for a replacement to four-year signal-caller Matt Barkley. The ensuing problems that emanated from Kiffin not having a ready-made line of succession ultimately hastened his firing.
Sarkisian has no such issue. When Kessler leaves the program after 2015, understudy Max Browne is primed to take over.
But after Browne, Sarkisian's aggressive quarterback recruitment strategy has USC stockpiling young playmakers. The most recent signing class featured a pair of 4-star prospects from the local prep scene: Ricky Town, a pro-style quarterback from Ventura's St. Bonaventure, and Sam Darnold, a dual-threat player out of San Clemente.
Besides the 2015 signees, USC also gained a verbal commitment earlier this month from 2016 4-star prospect Matt Fink of Glendora, Calif. Add in Jalen Greene, a redshirt freshman this season, and that's quite a logjam on the depth chart. However, even this hasn't dissuaded Sarkisian's efforts to land 5-star 2017 recruit Tate Martell, who currently plays for Las Vegas prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman.
While loading up on quarterback talent is a ploy from USC's strategy of years past, the type of quarterback being pursued by Sarkisian points to at least one significant philosophical departure.
Martell is just 5-foot-11, much shorter than the line of Palmer, Leinart and Sanchez, who all stood tall in the pocket. But while Martell won't draw comparisons to those USC greats of the past, he has already garnered a highly complimentary comparison from Steve Clarkson, who told Scout.com's Greg Biggins the 2017 prospect is reminiscent of Russell Wilson.
Likewise, Darnold may have the size of USC quarterbacks past, but his rushing ability is unlike anything the Trojans have ever employed. He carried for 785 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior season at San Clemente High School, per MaxPreps.com.
The diversity with which Sarkisian is building the USC quarterback corps should give the Trojans flexibility in scheme, tailoring the attack to the players rather than try to force a predetermined concept.
It's a strategy with which other programs around the Pac-12 have succeeded, including the last two Pac-12 South champions, Arizona and Arizona State.
Just one quarterback can play at a time, of course, and that's a harsh reality that has made transfers at the position an annual inevitability. USC parted with Aaron Corp in 2009, Max Wittek in '14, and is unlikely to keep every signal-caller it either already has on the roster, or is looking to add in the coming years.
But by building up the pool for competition, Sarkisian can cultivate a system of succession that functions seamlessly, much like a decade ago.
"Inside the NBA" is easily the most entertaining show because of the hosts.
Kenny "The Jet" Smith and Shaquille O'Neal took time from their schedule to play Mortal Kombat. A much-needed break. Smith won and then hit O'Neal with the finishing move in reality.
There goes that theory that O'Neal could beat Ronda Rousey in the ring.
Good news, everyone: Schedule-shaming works.
Those two weeks during the SEC schedule in November aren’t nearly as embarrassing as they used to be. Sure, every league team didn’t try to add another conference game or big-time out-of-conference game. But many of the FCS games that week have been traded out with Conference USA or Sun Belt teams.
They’re cupcakes for the most part, but it’s nice to see overmatched FCS teams depart schedules in September rather than setting up rivalry week.
In the final weeks of November, Conference USA replaces the SoCon as Florida faces FAU and Tennessee faces North Texas. Georgia is taking a bit of an in-state risk by hosting the option-running Sun Belt champion Georgia Southern. Missouri plays Southeast Missouri State early in the season but balances that with BYU in November.
Don’t worry for those of you who are for some reason fans of the SEC-FCS challenge, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas A&M are holding out with their own shameful games in November.
Shameful games here aren’t just ordinary power teams facing FCS competition. They’re they ones who are going out of their way to cross state lines to face a historically bad team from a Division with fewer scholarships and few resources.
In other words, they’re buying wins and ripping off their season-ticket holders.
And let’s be clear: We do not care about the circumstances of these particular games and if an opponent bought out of a series. Find a way to do better, we say.
1. Nov. 21: Charleston Southern at Alabama
Most of the SEC has been shamed into shedding its traditional November FCS opponent in November for Conference USA or Sun Belt opponents. Not Alabama. The Crimson Tide have played an FCS opponent in November every season since 2009, and the final scores have been predictably lopsided. As an opponent, Charleston Southern isn’t particularly shameful. The Buccaneers are 18-5 the last two seasons, a long way from 2011 when they went 0-11 with losses to Florida State at UCF that year. Alabama has been a consistent top-five team for eight seasons and continues to import an FCS team to face the week before Auburn. We’ve come to accept the late-season SEC tune-up game but Alabama has FBS candidates in arm’s reach — Troy, South Alabama and until this season, UAB.
2. Sept. 5: Norfolk State at Rutgers
If Rutgers continues this shameful series any longer, it should have a rivalry trophy. Rutgers has faced Norfolk State in 2007, 2010 and 2013, winning by a combined score of 128-0.
3. Nov. 14: Western Carolina at Texas A&M
Again, most of the SEC is ditching the November FCS opponent. A&M is bringing one from Cullowhee, N.C., to visit. And until last season, Western Carolina was an automatic win — for FCS teams. The Catamounts won 14 games from 2006-13 (and lost twice at Alabama). They went 7-5 last season. Still, Texas A&M is inviting and paying a team to travel nearly 1,000 miles for a likely rout.
4. Sept. 5: Savannah State at Colorado State
No list of shameful games would be complete without Savannah State, a woefully overmatched opponent FBS teams can’t help but schedule to start the season. In an 0-12 season, Savannah State faced three FBS opponents and scored two total touchdowns in garbage time against Middle Tennessee (61-7), Georgia Southern (83-9) and BYU (64-0). Savannah State has played seven FBS teams in three seasons, losing by a combined score of 490-26.
5. Sept. 5: South Dakota at Kansas State
On a streak of four consecutive FCS national titles, North Dakota State has defeated an FBS opponent in each of the last five seasons. One of those victims has learned the lesson and scheduled a lesser Dakota school. Former Wyoming coach Joe Glenn is 7-28 in three seasons with the Coyotes.
6. Sept. 26: Nicholls State at Colorado
Colorado is 10-39 in the last four seasons. Nicholls State is 6-40. One of which is in the Pac-12 and the other is in the Southland and getting a paid trip from Thibodaux, La., to Boulder, Colo. The Buffaloes need all the wins they can get, so this will suffice.
7. Sept. 4: Rhode Island at Syracuse
Syracuse may be fighting for bowl eligibility, so the Orange probably need to sweep this opening stretch against Rhode Island, Wake Forest and Central Michigan. At 7-39 the last four seasons and no winning seasons since 2001, Rhody seems like a sure bet for 1-0 for Syracuse.
8. Sept. 5 Grambling State at Cal
Grambling State rebounded nicely with a 7-5 season under Broderick Fobbs last season, just a year removed from a 2-21 record in two seasons and a player revolt against the administration and the midseason firing of Doug Williams in 2014. Grambling rarely plays power conference teams but has traveled to Oklahoma State and Washington in recent years, both for loss by more than 40 points.
9. Nov. 21: The Citadel at South Carolina
Another SEC-FCS game in late November, but at least this is an in-state game with a little bit of history, most of it bad for The Citadel. South Carolina played The Citadel regularly until 1965. The Gamecocks have a 7-40-3 edge in the series.
10. Sept. 4: Weber State at Oregon State
Not long ago, Weber State could be competitive against some lesser FBS teams. Those days are over as the Ogden, Utah, school is 6-29 in the last three seasons.
11. Sept. 3: New Hampshire at San Jose State
New Hampshire is a solid FCS program, winning 10-plus games six times since 2004 and in each of the last two seasons. Not all of that was with Chip Kelly as offensive coordinator. The question is why New Hampshire has to go all the way to San Jose to get an FBS game. This is less shameful for the Spartans than it is for teams like Rutgers, Syracuse, UConn and Boston College.
12. Sept. 19 Austin Peay at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt needs wins and knows it doesn’t have to look far to get one from the school up the interstate. Austin Peal is 1-23 in two seasons under its current coach. The Governors went 20-46 under his predecessor, 11-33 under the coach before him and 19-46 under the coach prior. Need we go on?
Ahh, photography. It can catch a split-second moment in time and turn it into a hilarious photo that can be interpreted the completely wrong way. And sports provides more of these moments than most other subjects--usually because there's a lot of sweaty dudes rolling around with each other and celebrating as only sweaty dudes know how. Here are 21 unintentionally funny sports photos that are hilarious even if you don't like sports.
The 2015 college football season is still a few months away. However, the news cycle never stops, and there’s plenty to keep the conversation going this summer.
Athlon Sports is counting down its rankings for 2015, while 5Dimes Sportsbook has released some early win total over/under odds for the upcoming season.
5Dimes’ win totals featured some interesting projections for Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama. Auburn was only 8.5, while the Crimson Tide is listed at 9.5 on the sportsbook.
With the win totals released, Athlon Sports is taking a look at all 14 of the SEC teams and whether we would take the over, under or push on the projections for 2015.
SEC Win Total Projections: Over, Under or Push
Braden Gall: Over
Jim McElwain alone adds a win or two for this offense, and this team was WAY closer to winning the East than folks remember last year.
Steven Lassan: Under
I like the Jim McElwain hire, and the defense should be strong once again. However, the offensive line is a major issue, and a redshirt freshman (Will Grier) is likely to start at quarterback.
Mitch Light: Under
The defense should be stout, but there are too many issues on offense to expect this team to contend in the East.
Braden Gall: Over
The Dawgs are the clear-cut frontrunner in the East and get a bunch of big games at home. This is the most complete team in the easier division.
Steven Lassan: Over
The passing game is still a question mark, but the Bulldogs have the best backfield and one of the top defenses in the SEC. Outside of games against Alabama and Auburn, I don’t see a loss on this schedule.
Mitch Light: Over
The conference schedule is very tough — Georgia plays both Alabama and Auburn — but Mark Richt has the most complete team in the SEC.
Braden Gall: Under
This team is improving under Coach Stoops, and Patrick Towles could will them to a push. But I'm going under with that schedule.
Steven Lassan: Push
I might be too optimistic on Kentucky, but a bowl seems reasonable for the Wildcats in 2015. Boom Williams is a breakout candidate at running back, and the talent level has improved on the recruiting trail. The finale against Louisville could be a must-win game to get to six.
Mitch Light: Over
Mark Stoops talented young core is a year older and should break through with the school’s first winning season since 2009.
Braden Gall: Over
When in doubt, take the over with Gary Pinkel. The defensive line is starting to become a concern, but Maty Mauk should improve and keep the Tigers in the East race.
Steven Lassan: Over
Never count out Missouri in the SEC East under Gary Pinkel’s watch. While I don’t think this team will win the division again, reaching eight wins is reasonable – if quarterback Maty Mauk plays better in SEC games.
Mitch Light: Under
We’ve been wrong about Missouri in the past, but this could be the year the Tigers take a step back in the East.
Braden Gall: Push
Run as far away from this one as possible. South Carolina should be better on defense but is lacking in star power.
Steven Lassan: Push
South Carolina’s defense can’t be any worse than it was in 2014. That’s the good news. The bad news? There’s uncertainty at quarterback, two key starters gone from the offensive line and a lack of proven receivers outside of Pharoh Cooper. Additionally, crossover games against LSU and Texas A&M are tough.
Mitch Light: Push
Other than Pharoh Cooper, the Gamecocks don’t have many (or any) difference makers on offense.
Braden Gall: Over
There are some key swing games — Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri — that could result in a push. I think they get over the hump in one of those.
Steven Lassan: Over
Tennessee is Georgia’s top challenger in the East. Yes, the schedule is tough, but the talent level is improving, Josh Dobbs is back for a full year under center, and the defense is trending up.
Mitch Light: Over
The Vols boast some of the top young talent in the league. As long as Josh Dobbs stays healthy, this is an eight-win team.
Braden Gall: Over
There aren't a lot of wins there but this defense should be legit. One SEC win gets you the over.
Steven Lassan: Push
The Commodores will be better in coach Derek Mason’s second season. But games against Western Kentucky and Houston aren’t guaranteed wins, and it’s tough to find a win in SEC play.
Mitch Light: Over
The Commodores’ non-conference schedule is tricky, but Derek Mason’s club will find a way to win at least four games.
Braden Gall: Over
This may not be a national title-type team at Bama but losing three times in the regular season seems highly unlikely with that talent and Nick Saban calling the shots.
Steven Lassan: Over
Alabama has won at least 10 games in each of the last seven seasons. There are some concerns – quarterback, receiving corps and secondary – but the Crimson Tide isn’t short on talent. Nick Saban will keep this team among the nation’s best in 2015.
Mitch Light: Over
This is far from a perfect team, but Alabama still has fewer weaknesses than 99 percent of the teams in the nation.
Braden Gall: Under
I love what Bret Bielema has done and this team will be in every game it plays. But it needs balance against an elite schedule to win nine games.
Steven Lassan: Under
This is one of the toughest picks on the board. Arkansas is due for better luck in close games and has two swing contests against Tennessee and Missouri from the East. If Dan Enos helps the passing attack improve, the Razorbacks could hit nine victories.
Mitch Light: Under
The Hogs are a top-20 team, but a brutal schedule will prevent them from winning nine or 10 games.
Braden Gall: Over
Take the over and run. This is the best bet on this SEC board. Athlon Sports has the Tigers making the playoff, so 11 wins is essentially a must for that to happen. And it could easily.
Steven Lassan: Over
Easiest pick among the SEC teams. Take the over. Auburn is due to rebound back into the national title conversation this year. The offense is explosive behind quarterback Jeremy Johnson, and the defense will improve with Will Muschamp calling the plays.
Mitch Light: Over
The Auburn offense, led by QB Jeremy Johnson, will be explosive. This is a legitimate national title contender.
Braden Gall: Under
Like Carolina in the East, there are just too many questions to bet on LSU in anyway. I'd punt this one with anything from six to 10 wins possible for the Tigers.
Steven Lassan: Push
LSU is the hardest team to figure out in the SEC this season. Talent isn’t the issue, but there’s massive uncertainty at quarterback and a new scheme (and personnel concerns) on defense. If all of the pieces fall into place, the Tigers could finish 9-3 or 10-2. However, matching last year’s win total seems more realistic.
Mitch Light: Push
It wouldn’t surprise me if this team went 10–2 or 6–6. Let’s split the difference.
Braden Gall: Over
They may not finish in the top half of the West but last place could easily win seven games. I'll give Dak Prescott credit for one extra win somewhere.
Steven Lassan: Push
Another tough call. Mississippi State is losing a lot, but there’s also talent waiting to step into the lineup. The Bulldogs will get better as the season goes along, and senior quarterback Dak Prescott could pull off an upset late in the year to push Mississippi State to eight wins.
Mitch Light: Push
The Bulldogs have a star at quarterback in Dak Prescott but suffered heavy personnel losses elsewhere.
Ole Miss: 8.5
Braden Gall: Over
This team is a QB away from being a national title contender and still could be without one. The Rebels are closer to Bama/Auburn territory than LSU.
Steven Lassan: Over
Even with the losses in the secondary, Ole Miss should have one of the nation’s top defenses. While the quarterback spot and rushing attack is a concern, the talent at receiver is better, and the offensive line is improving. I think Ole Miss could go 10-2 in 2015.
Mitch Light: Over
The Rebels are my sleeper pick to flirt with a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Texas A&M: 7.5
Braden Gall: Over
There is a lot of upside here in terms of talent and coaching. However, it's very young or new to campus. If I had to bet, I'd take the over but I'd stay away from the volatile Aggies.
Steven Lassan: Over
One team is going to exceed preseason expectations in the West. Texas A&M is a good sleeper pick, as the Aggies are dynamic once again on offense, and the defense will be better under John Chavis. A crossover schedule with Vanderbilt and South Carolina certainly helps.
Mitch Light: Under
The Aggies are loaded with talent, but do the math: Not every team can win eight in the SEC West.
This past January, the Atlanta Hawks looked to be leaders of an NBA revolution. Without a superstar or even many years together, they were working from a blueprint of selflessness and intelligence that was all but unbeatable. They put together a 19-game winning streak to go lossless in the month, and rode their mid-season dominance to 60 wins, the most in the Eastern Conference.
Today, many fans may be forgetting all that. The Hawks are merely LeBron James’ latest victim, after he and his Cavaliers swept them out of the conference finals and sent them home for the summer.
Even before Cleveland snuffed out their flame, though, Atlanta had looked like a shadow of their regular-season selves this spring. Injuries piled up for them quickly in the postseason. Some of them were bad enough to take players out for the year (Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha), while the rest of them were just making their active players worse (DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Mike Scott).
Some may take the Hawks’ swift exit as a referendum on their formula. In at least one way, this is probably true: If nothing else, Atlanta peaked far too early. Had that brilliant team in January been up against LeBron, we would have been watching a terrific version of playoff basketball. But the Hawks didn’t have the resolve or stamina to keep up the blistering pace they’d set.
What this loss doesn’t do is prove that you need a superstar to go to the Finals. Had the Hawks played well, there’d be an argument there — but the performance they put in was an iteration of team basketball that lands well below the standard they’d set for themselves. Now, they face an uncertain future together.
Carroll and Millsap are both free agents this summer. Many have assumed both will be back to keep the Hawks’ front five together, because of the friendliness and cohesion thats visible among this cast. But neither player has ever made the kind of money that multiple suitors will show them this July, so we’ll have to wait and see how they react when that happens.
— John Wilmes
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.
In the 26-40 range, there’s no shortage of intriguing teams or programs that could push for a spot among the top 25 by the end of 2015. Florida, Michigan and Nebraska are three programs to watch with first-year coaches, while Missouri just missed the top 25 after winning back-to-back SEC East titles. Oklahoma State is due for a rebound year after finishing 7-6 last year.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season
College Football 2015 Projected Rankings: 26-40
Will Muschamp’s failure to identify an offensive coordinator or quarterback doomed him, leaving new coach Jim McElwain with a program that won just 11 games the past two seasons. The 53-year-old immediately set out to upgrade Florida’s offensive talent and address lagging facilities. Faced with a massive rebuild, McElwain will need time to field an SEC East contender at a school where championships were once the standard.
The Tigers boast solid experience at a majority of units on offense and defense, but they are young at defensive end and ultra-young at receiver, where they must replace all three starters for the second straight year. That seems like a lot to overcome in the battle for a third straight SEC East crown, but suddenly you don’t make much money betting against Pinkel.
28. Oklahoma State
With the loss of 28 seniors leaving an inexperienced cast to try and contend in the Big 12, the 2014 season always figured to be a rebuilding effort. And it played out as such, turning worse when injuries and a lack of depth left the Cowboys exposed.
But quarterback Mason Rudolph’s arrival, both to the lineup and as a key piece to the future, reversed course and momentum. Now there’s talk that Oklahoma State, like TCU a year ago, could rise from seventh place to the top of the Big 12 in 2015.
Nebraska won nine or more games in each of Bo Pelini’s seven seasons as coach. His overall record was 67–27. So Riley can expect to be held to a high standard. But he is considerably more engaging than his predecessor, which probably means there will be some degree of patience during the transition.
The non-conference schedule could be challenging, with an opener at home against BYU and a trip to Miami (Fla.) two weeks later. But the conference schedule is such that nine wins, even in transition, should be possible. Nebraska hasn’t won a conference championship since 1999. Winning one this year would be a stretch, though the Huskers should contend in the Big Ten West if the defense improves.
Arizona has won 26 games in coach Rich Rodriguez’s first three seasons, the most of any three-year period in school history. “I’m not saying we’re ahead of expectations,” says Rodriguez, “because we need to get deeper and tougher.” This is Rodriguez’s top group at Arizona, but it must play 12 weeks in succession without a bye.
Utah is getting closer. In their fourth season of Pac-12 membership, the Utes posted their first winning record (5–4) in conference play and competed favorably against nearly every opponent. Coach Kyle Whittingham likes the program’s trajectory entering its fifth season in the Pac-12. “We’ve taken a step forward every year with our depth and talent on the roster, one through 85,” he says. “It’s still a work in progress … but we feel like last year we made a lot of headway.”
In 2015, the Utes hope to overcome a lack of experience at receiver and in the secondary while counting on their senior quarterback to play more consistently as he completes an adventurous career.
32. Penn State
The Lions have addressed their glaring weakness, building depth and experience along a patchwork offensive line. They’ll still be young up front, with only one senior on the projected two-deep (two if you count incoming graduate transfer Kevin Reihner), but the line probably won’t be as big of a liability. On the opposite side of the ball, they return seven starters from what was, statistically, the Big Ten’s best defense last season.
Of Penn State’s six losses last fall, only two were by more than a touchdown. If the defense holds strong and Hackenberg gets a chance to show what he can do, it’s not hard to imagine the Lions turning a few of those close losses into close wins in 2015.
Charlie Strong is still rebuilding in many ways after replacing his offense as well as two assistant coaches (Strong fired receivers coach Les Koenning and tight ends coach Bruce Chambers) after one season. Strong brought in former Oklahoma co-OC Jay Norvell as receivers coach, and Traylor replaced Chambers.
The defense will undoubtedly be the strength again this year. Special teams must improve. But it will be the direction of an offense that averaged an anemic 21.4 points per game in 2014 that will determine the fate of the Longhorns this season.
With a schedule that includes road games against potential top-10 teams Notre Dame, TCU and Baylor, the quarterback play has to lead a turnaround in 2015 or the results could be very similar to last year’s 6–7.
If new coach Jim Harbaugh can keep Michigan’s offense from stepping on land mines while showing improvement week to week, the defense is good enough to push the Wolverines to at least eight victories. But if Michigan doesn’t find a quarterback who can protect the football, or get a serious push from its offensive line, the team may struggle to make a huge leap in Year 1 of the Harbaugh era.
35. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech is 22–17 overall and a .500 team in the league since 2012, prompting the uncomfortable conversation about how much longer revered coach Frank Beamer will walk the sideline in Blacksburg. A return to prominence would quash that talk, and with 16 returning starters, including a promising group of up-and-coming playmakers on offense and Foster’s usual great defense, Virginia Tech has a chance to challenge in the Coastal Division again. Another middling season, however, will only intensify the chatter that perhaps it’s time for Beamer to pass the torch.
36. West Virginia
With the exception of what seems to be a quirky 2013 campaign, coach Dana Holgorsen continues to crank out fine offenses. Pair that with what should be a solid defense — especially if you believe Tony Gibson, the unit’s coordinator — and the Mountaineers look like a solid a bowl team that isn’t quite good enough to contend for a conference title.
37. South Carolina
“Sometimes after you go 11–2 three years in a row, some people just assume, ‘We’re going to keep on winning,’ but it didn’t quite happen that way,” Spurrier says. “We were not a real strong team. We are by a long way not a finished product, but we’ve got time.”
The Gamecocks will be breaking in a new quarterback and rebuilding a defense that lost its morale along with a lot of games last year, so the time had better be well spent.
Louisville has lost considerable talent and undergone a coaching staff change over the last two seasons. Those are warning signs the program could take a step back in 2015, especially with a schedule that includes Auburn and Clemson in two of the first three games. The Cardinals need a quarterback to emerge, receivers to step forward, three new offensive linemen to step up and a rebuilt secondary to deliver to keep winning big. That’s a lot to ask.
39. NC State
NC State improved its win total by five games from 2013 to ’14. The Wolfpack hope to make another jump in 2015 with a veteran quarterback and seven starters back on defense. Another five-game improvement might be asking too much, but coach Dave Doeren won’t put a ceiling on the program’s progress.
The key to moving the momentum forward again will be replacing main parts up front on both sides of the ball. But with the return of quarterback Jacoby Brissett and a host of new talented recruits supplementing an already deep backfield, the Wolfpack have an opportunity to at least push Atlantic Division powers Florida State and Clemson.
After two consecutive 9–4 seasons and two bowl losses under Tuberville, some believe UC is running in place. The Bearcats did share the AAC title last year, but they lack a signature win in Tuberville’s brief tenure. Tuberville turns 61 in September, and he has not had a team finish in the final AP top 25 since 2007 (Auburn). The 2014 Bearcats don’t look like a top 25 team, either, but they should be considered the favorite in the East Division of the expanded American Athletic Conference. There are some issues on defense, but the offense, led by Kiel, will put UC in position to win eight or nine games once again.
Someone saying they can fight Ronda Rousey is something we don't hear everyday.
On "Inside The NBA," the guys from "Entourage" spoke a little about the fighter's cameo in the movie. That's when Shaquille O'Neal stepped out of the realm of possibilities by saying he could last 45 seconds with Rousey. Charles Barkley being himself said there was a joke there and once O'Neal got it, everyone had a big laugh.
If Shaq did end up losing to Rousey, that's one lost he'll never be able to live down.
Quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers are glamour positions in college football. While offensive linemen and defensive players are just as important to winning a title, it’s no secret the skill players and quarterbacks grab the attention and headlines. With that in mind, Athlon has ranked the top 25 triplets in college football for the 2015 season.
How did we compile the rankings? Ranking the trios by conference is the first step, and we used a formula by assigning points to the quarterbacks, running backs and receivers ranked within each league. It’s important to weigh talent, production against Power 5 opponents, overall balance among the three players and projection for the 2015 season.
College Football's Top 25 Offensive Triplets for 2015
1. Ohio State
QB: Cardale Jones
RB: Ezekiel Elliott
WR: Michael Thomas
Regardless of who starts under center for coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have one of the nation’s best trios. Jones is penciled in as the starter at quarterback after guiding Ohio State to a 3-0 record and a national championship in his short tenure under center. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 696 yards over the final three games of last year, and Thomas led all Ohio State receivers with 54 catches in 2014.
Related: Urban Meyer Ranks No. 1 Among Big Ten Coaches for 2015
QB: Jeremy Johnson
RB: Jovon Robinson
WR: Duke Williams
Gus Malzahn’s offense has averaged over 30 points per game in back-to-back seasons in SEC contests. The 2015 version of Auburn’s offense will be just as explosive, as quarterback Jeremy Johnson is a rising star, and there’s no shortage of skill talent, including All-America candidate at receiver Duke Williams.
QB: Seth Russell
RB: Shock Linwood
WR: Corey Coleman
Baylor has averaged over 40 points a game in four consecutive seasons. Good luck stopping the Bears in 2015. Even with quarterback Bryce Petty expiring his eligibility, Baylor is loaded with offensive talent. Russell has played well in limited action, and coach Art Briles has a strong track record of developing quarterbacks. Shock Linwood rushed for 1,252 yards and 16 scores last season, while the receiving corps is the nation’s best, headlined by Corey Coleman and KD Cannon.
Related: Baylor's Art Briles is the No. 1 Coach in the Big 12
QB: Trevone Boykin
RB: Aaron Green
WR: Josh Doctson
TCU’s offense showed major improvement under co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie in 2014. After averaging only 25.1 points per game in 2013, the Horned Frogs increased that total to 46.5 last season. Boykin also emerged as one of the nation’s most improved quarterbacks and opens 2015 as one of the favorites to win the Heisman. TCU has a solid crop of playmakers in place, including Aaron Green (7.2 ypc in 2014) and Doctson (11 TD catches).
Related: TCU's Trevone Boykin is the No. 1 QB in the Big 12
QB: Deshaun Watson
RB: Wayne Gallman
WR: Artavis Scott
Chad Morris will be missed as Clemson’s play-caller, but the Tigers should still have one of the ACC’s top offenses. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of the nation’s rising stars and will be at full strength from a torn ACL by this fall. Scott and Gallman showed promise as freshmen last season and depth is plentiful at running back and receiver.
Related: No. 14 Clemson Tigers 2015 Preview and Prediction
QB: Anu Solomon
RB: Nick Wilson
WR: Cayleb Jones
Arizona averaged 33.4 points per game in Pac-12 contests last season, and coach Rich Rodriguez’s offense could be even better in 2015. Quarterback Anu Solomon is returning to full strength after suffering from an ankle injury late in 2014. Wilson and Jones are among the Pac-12’s top playmakers.
QB: Vernon Adams
RB: Royce Freeman
WR: Byron Marshall
Marcus Mariota will be missed, but the Ducks offense should still remain among the Pac-12’s best. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams replaces Mariota at quarterback, and Oregon’s running back and wide receiving corps are among the best in college football.
Related: Oregon Football Turns the Page from "Emotional" Ending
QB: Cody Kessler
RB: Justin Davis
WR: JuJu Smith
The only thing holding USC back from ranking No. 1 on among Pac-12 schools on this list is the committee approach at running back. Will someone step up as the go-to back in 2015? Cody Kessler ranks as the Pac-12’s best quarterback, and JuJu Smith should have a huge year as the Trojans’ top receiver.
Related: USC's Cody Kessler is the Pac-12's No. 1 QB for 2015
QB: Brandon Doughty
RB: Leon Allen
WR: Jared Dangerfield
With a loaded group of skill players and prolific senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, the Hilltoppers are the early favorites to win Conference USA. Doughty threw for 49 touchdowns last season and 4,830 yards, while Allen rushed for 1,542 yards on 272 attempts. Dangerfield led the team with 11 receiving scores and caught 69 passes.
QB: Jared Goff
RB: Daniel Lasco
WR: Kenny Lawler
The Golden Bears ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 (conference-only games) by averaging 37.6 points per contest last year. Don’t be surprised if that number climbs even higher in 2015, as coach Sonny Dykes has a loaded receiver corps, one of the nation’s rising stars at quarterback in Jared Goff, along with an underrated running back in Daniel Lasco.
QB: Taysom Hill
RB: Jamaal Williams
WR: Mitch Mathews
BYU’s trio of Hill-Williams-Mathews could be ranked higher, but health is a question mark with two players. Hill missed the last eight games of 2014 due to a leg injury, while Williams suffered a season-ending knee injury in November. Mathews led the team with 73 catches for 922 yards last season.
QB: Chad Voytik
RB: James Conner
WR: Tyler Boyd
Pat Narduzzi is known for his defensive acumen, but the first-year coach inherits some of the ACC’s top offensive talent. James Conner (RB) and Tyler Boyd (WR) are two of the nation’s top playmakers at their respective positions. Quarterback Chad Voytik played better in the second half of 2014 by tossing only one interception in his final six games.
Related: Pittsburgh's James Conner Ranks as the ACC's No. 1 RB
13. Florida State
QB: Everett Golson
RB: Dalvin Cook
WR: Travis Rudolph
Jameis Winston leaves big shoes to fill, but coach Jimbo Fisher is one of the nation’s best quarterback coaches. Sean Maguire started one game last season (Clemson) and finished 2014 with 339 passing yards on 25 completions. However, Everett Golson is transferring to Florida State and is considered by many to be the favorite to take the first snap of 2015. Cook averaged 141.3 rushing yards over the final three games of 2014, while Rudolph caught 38 passes as a true freshman.
Related: Florida State's Jimbo Fisher Ranks as the ACC's No. 1 Coach
QB: Joshua Dobbs
RB: Jalen Hurd
WR: Marquez North
Tennessee is on its way back into SEC East title contention under third-year coach Butch Jones. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs shined in the second half of 2014, and the junior will be surrounded by a young and talented group of skill players. Hurd leads the way in the Volunteers’ backfield, but junior college recruit (and former Alabama running back) Alvin Kamara is a player to watch in 2015. Receiver Marquez North was limited by injuries last season.
QB: Dak Prescott
RB: Ashton Shumpert
WR: De’Runnya Wilson
Mississippi State returns the SEC’s No. 1 quarterback in senior Dak Prescott. While running back Josh Robinson will be missed, there’s talent in place with Ashton Shumpert and Aeris Williams battling for carries. Wilson averaged 15.3 yards per catch in SEC games last year.
16. Notre Dame
QB: Malik Zaire
RB: Tarean Folston
WR: Will Fuller
With Everett Golson transferring to Florida State, this is clearly Zaire’s team. The promising sophomore is a good fit for coach Brian Kelly’s offense but has only 35 career pass attempts. Folston rushed for 889 yards and six touchdowns last year and will be pushed for time by Greg Bryant and C.J. Prosise. Will Fuller (1,094 yards) should be in the mix for All-America honors at receiver in 2015. Zaire’s performance will determine how high this trio rises.
17. Penn State
QB: Christian Hackenberg
RB: Akeel Lynch
WR: DaeSean Hamilton
Ranking Penn State at No. 2 among Big Ten triplets largely depends on how far the offensive line develops during the offseason. The Nittany Lions struggled up front in 2014 and prevented the offense from taking off in coach James Franklin’s first year. Improvement is expected up front, which should allow quarterback Christian Hackenberg to rebound after an up and down 2014 campaign. Akeel Lynch rushed for at least 75 yards in three out of his last four outings, while Hamilton – only a sophomore – is among the Big Ten’s top receivers.
Related: QB Christian Hackenberg Ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten QB Ranks for 2015
QB: Baker Mayfield
RB: Samaje Perine
WR: Sterling Shepard
Yes, the Sooners have a new scheme and coordinator (Lincoln Riley), but the offense is still going to rely heavily on one of the nation’s top backfields. Samaje Perine rushed for 1,713 yards and 21 scores as a true freshman in 2014, and he will have plenty of help from Joe Mixon and Alex Ross. Having a healthy Sterling Shepard at receiver should make a difference for new quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Related: Oklahoma Ranks No. 17 in Athlon's 2015 CFB Top 25
QB: Josh Rosen
RB: Paul Perkins
WR: Jordan Payton
Uncertainty remains at quarterback with the departure of Brett Hundley, but true freshman Josh Rosen is one of the top recruits in the 2015 signing class. Running back Paul Perkins led the Pac-12 with 1,575 rushing yards last season, and receiver Jordan Payton averaged 14.3 yards per reception in conference games.
20. Arizona State
QB: Mike Bercovici
RB: Demario Richard
WR: D.J. Foster
The Sun Devils have a balanced trio and could easily climb this list by the end of 2015. Bercovici has played well in limited action, and Richard is set to have a breakout year as Arizona State’s No. 1 running back. D.J. Foster will slide from running back to receiver to replace the production lost by Jaelen Strong.
Related: Arizona State's Todd Graham Ranks as the Pac-12's No. 1 Coach for 2015
21. Western Michigan
QB: Zach Terrell
RB: Jarvion Franklin
WR: Corey Davis
This trio anchored one of the nation’s most improved teams in 2014. Franklin rushed for 1,551 yards and 24 scores as a true freshman, and Davis was one of the nation’s top big-play threats at receiver by averaging 18.1 yards per catch. Terrell threw for 26 touchdowns and completed 67.9 percent of his throws in his first full year as Western Michigan’s starter.
22. Texas Tech
QB: Patrick Mahomes
RB: DeAndre Washington
WR: Jakeem Grant
Offense is always a strength for Texas Tech, and the Red Raiders are loaded with talent for 2015. Patrick Mahomes is likely to start over Davis Webb, and the sophomore should improve off a solid stat line as a freshman (1,547 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs). DeAndre Washington was the first 1,000-yard rusher in Lubbock since 1998. Jakeem Grant led the team in receptions and receiving yards last year.
QB: Brandon Allen
RB: Jonathan Williams
WR: Keon Hatcher
The Razorbacks improved their scoring average by 11.2 points per game from 2013 to 2014. Expect this unit to take another step forward under new coordinator Dan Enos, as Arkansas returns an experienced quarterback in Brandon Allen and the nation’s top running back duo in Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams.
24. Bowling Green
QB: Matt Johnson
RB: Travis Greene
WR: Roger Lewis
Second-year coach Dino Babers wants to install a “Falcon Fast” offense in Bowling Green, and the Falcons averaged 30 points per game in 2014 despite losing quarterback Matt Johnson to an injury in Week 1. Johnson is back in 2015, and the offense is loaded with proven playmakers at running back and receiver. Greene rushed for 949 yards in 2014, while Lewis ranked third among MAC receivers with 1,093 yards.
QB: Gunner Kiel
RB: Mike Boone
WR: Mekale McKay
Kiel battled injuries last season but still threw for 3,254 yards and 31 scores in his first year as Cincinnati’s starting quarterback. The Notre Dame transfer will have plenty of playmakers at his disposal at receiver, and the backfield is set with Mike Boone (650 yards as a freshman), along with Hosey Williams returning from injury.
Just Missing the Top 25: Georgia, Texas A&M, Miami, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Carolina, NC State, Boise State, Utah State, Toledo, Arkansas State, Appalachian State
Meaning, both the ACC and Pac-12 are picked to miss the 2015 College Football Playoff.
According to the preseason rankings, the SEC will be the evil villain once again, knocking a second conference from the postseason tournament. But that could just as easily be the Big Ten or the Big 12.
That’s right, Bob Bowlsby, the league that was left out in the cold last winter could be in a great position to get two teams into the postseason this year.
In fact, it could happen much easier than expected.
Baylor and TCU appear to be the class of the Big 12 once again after barely missing out on a Playoff bid a year ago. Both were deserving of being in the conversation, of course, but someone had to be left out and no one can legitimately argue that the four teams that got in didn’t deserve it.
Both look like nationally elite teams this fall and expect that motivation to work in favor of the Big 12 this fall.
The Bears, ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll, have 17 starters back and arguably the best combined line of scrimmage in football. Art Briles is stacked at the skill positions and his quarterback freight train will continue to roll with Seth Russell manning the controls.
Despite another weak non-conference schedule, an undefeated Baylor squad would easily make it into the College Football Playoff and a one-loss Big 12 champion Bears team would probably make the tournament as well.
TCU returns 15 starters, including 10 on offense — one of which is All-American quarterback Trevone Boykin. The defense has major holes to fill and those voids are the biggest reason the Horned Frogs are picked second in the Big 12 behind Baylor despite the game moving to Fort Worth this fall.
However, TCU is picked No. 5 in the nation and the first team left out of the Playoff according to Athlon's preseason Top 25. If Gary Patterson’s bunch loses only one game in close fashion to the Big 12 champion Baylor Bears — exactly like it did last year — then TCU has as good a shot at snatching a Playoff bid as any team in the land.
A one-loss TCU with wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech and a road victory over Minnesota could easily give the Big 12 two Playoff representatives.
The same story could be written if the roles are reversed.
Even if one of the two doesn’t go unbeaten and the pair ties atop the Big 12 standings again (each with only one loss), both would still be in excellent shape to make the Playoff.
Much of that hinges on how the other leagues fare. But with two Power 5 leagues — the ACC and Pac-12 — potentially lacking a clear-cut elite team, this fall is as good a year as any for one conference to steal two Playoff bids.
Not only is the Big 12 likely to get its champion into the Playoff, but it also may have the best shot at getting a second team in the final four. It’s really not far-fetched at all.
The irony of the entire situation is that if the Big 12 had a championship game this season, none of the above would be possible.
There's no telling when a Kodak moment will present itself.
After the Cavaliers took care of the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, it was the perfect time. J.R. Smith tapped LeBron James to take a picture, and Tristan Thompson didn't want to be left out so he jumped in as well.
This is classic Smith.
Expect way more selfies from Smith if the Cavaliers win the championship.
Colin Kaepernick doesn't have the best timing, and isn't always the most sensitive.
Houston has been hit with bad weather recently and the 49ers quarterback took it upon himself to remind people that his "7torm is coming." Bad idea.
Kaepernick quickly deleted the link to the Instagram post, but the internet is just a bit quicker.
Kaepernick tried to smooth things over with another tweet.
No disrespect intended! Prayers up!— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) May 26, 2015
Some players shouldn't tweet. Ever.
Florida State is about to get a scary good running back.
Zaquandre White is set to suit up for the Seminoles in 2017, but we're getting a preview of what he plans to do in the garnet and gold. The North Fort Myers High School running back is staying in the state of Florida to dominate during his college career as well.
Champions are made in the offseason.
The Clemson football team is getting ready for the 2015 football season. The Tigers are putting in a lot of conditioning work in order to prepare. Cardio, strength, endurance seems to be on the agenda for Dabo Swinney's crew.
People are already backing their Heisman favorites.
Mekka Don has gone a step further and created a hype video for Ezekiel Elliott. The Ohio State running back is on the tips of everyone's tongue when it comes to the Heisman trophy this year, and with this video it's easy to see why.
The NBA’s head coach carousel looked like it might wait for Tom Thibodeau’s fate to be known, before it started turning. Now, not so much — suitor teams like the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans appear to be moving on in their searches, all but refusing to give the Chicago Bulls draft compensation for the right to Thibodeau’s contract.
The Magic seem to be on the verge of locking down the beta version of Thibodeau, in Scott Skiles. Skiles, who also coached the Bulls in addition to the Milwaukee Bucks, is known for a defense-first philosophy and an intense vision that’s suited for a young, eager roster like Orlando’s. In Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo, they have a backcourt that’s a good coach away from providing some of the best first-line defense in the league.
Many Magic fans will groan at the hiring, if it becomes official — Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Skiles “has clearly separated himself in the process.” There’s a rightful skepticism about Skiles, as his exits from Milwaukee and Chicago were both ugly, and his style has proven to wear on rosters over time. The ideal scenario for the long-term may be to only keep Skiles on board for two or three seasons, and find the more appropriate man once the Magic are ready to take the next step.
Regardless of what could happen in 2017 or 2018, though, the Magic are in an exciting place right now. Skiles doesn’t inspire the kind of galvanizing feel as Thibodeau might, but he has a history of success and will likely help this exciting young roster compete for postseason berths, and perhaps as soon as next season. If the Eastern Conference playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that things on the Atlantic half of the bracket are more than open for a new contender.
— John Wilmes
Zach LaVine is the king of dunking.
The 2015 Slam Dunk Contest champion has elevated his game to new heights. LaVine, along with PureSweatBasketball, shows that his game doesn't just end with basketball.
The touchdown alley-oop will soon be a new craze in all the school yards.
The Buckeyes finish the countdown where they ended last season at No. 1, but they’re also Athlon’s preseason No. 1 for the fourth time since our first rankings in 1976. Only three teams have been Athlon’s preseason No. 1 more than Ohio State — Florida State (eight times), USC (six) and Oklahoma (five).
Selecting a preseason No. 1 is no easy task. After all, no one spends a ton of time thinking about the preseason No. 2 or No. 3. The top spot has a special place. The preseason No. 1 is as much a prediction for the future — a national championship — as it is a starting point.
Does the preseason No. 1 always win the national championship? No. Far from it. Six of our preseason No. 1 teams have won the national title, but many more have come close, falling short by one game or one play. Half of our preseason No. 1 teams have finished in the top five. Only one, Lane Kiffin’s 2012 USC team, fooled everybody by earning preseason No. 1 honors and finishing unranked in the AP poll with a 7-6 record and a loss in the Sun Bowl.
You can’t win them all. Just don’t tell Ohio State.
|Year||Athlon Preseason No. 1||AP Finish, record, bowl result|
|2014||No. 5, 13-1, lost Rose Bowl|
|2013||No. 7, 11-2, lost Sugar Bowl|
|2012||NR, 7-6, lost Sun Bowl|
|2011||No. 1, 12-1, won BCS Championship Game|
|2010||No. 10, 10-3, won Capital One Bowl|
|2009||No. 3, 13-1, won Sugar Bowl|
|2008||No. 1, 13-1, won BCS Championship Game|
|2007||No. 3, 11-2, won Rose Bowl|
|2006||No. 11, 11-3, lost Fiesta Bowl|
|2005||No. 2, 12-1, lost Rose Bowl|
|2004||No. 1, 13-0, won Orange Bowl|
|2003||No. 3, 12-2, lost Sugar Bowl|
|2002||No. 21, 9-5, lost Sugar Bowl|
|2001||No. 3, 10-2, won Orange Bowl|
|2000||No. 5, 11-2, lost Orange Bowl|
|1999||No. 1, 12-0, won Sugar Bowl|
|1998||No. 2, 11-1, won Sugar Bowl|
|1997||No. 18, 8-4, won Aloha Bowl|
|1996||No. 9, 10-2, won Citrus Bowl|
|1995||No. 4, 10-2, won Orange Bowl|
|1994||No. 6, 10-2, lost Orange Bowl|
|1993||No. 1, 12-1, won Orange Bowl|
|1992||No. 4, 10-1-1, won Cotton Bowl|
|1991||No. 6, 10-2, lost Rose Bowl|
|1990||No. 4, 10-2, won Blockbuster Bowl|
|1989||No. 8, 9-2-1, won Rose Bowl|
|1988||No. 3, 11-1, won Sugar Bowl|
|1987||No. 3, 11-1, lost Orange Bowl|
|1986||No. 13, 9-3, lost Cotton Bowl|
|1985||No. 1, 11-1, won Orange Bowl|
|1984||No. 14, 9-4, won Liberty Bowl|
|1983||No. 2, 12-1, lost Orange Bowl|
|1982||No. 10, 9-3, lost Cotton Bowl|
|1981||No. 12, 9-3, won Bluebonnet Bowl|
|1980||No. 15, 9-3, lost Fiesta Bowl|
|1979||No. 2, 11-0-1, won Rose Bowl|
|1978||No. 9, 9-3, won Sugar Bowl|
|1977||No. 7, 10-2, lost Orange Bowl|
|1976||No. 6, 9-2-1, won Orange Bowl|
Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman was one of the most feared linebackers of his day, winning the 1987 Lombardi Award and earning consensus All-America honors in 1986-87. The decorated recruit made an immediate impression as a freshman in 1984, with a style described as “brutality” after his debut against Oregon State.
Athlon Sports spoke with Spielman before his sophomore season in this piece from our archives — two seasons before he was an All-American.
Originally published in Athlon’s Big Ten 1985 Annual
By Dick Fenlon
It bothers Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman to be called a sadist. But not enough to change his mind about football.
“At this level, it’s a game of survival,” says Spielman. “You hit your hardest, or you take a chance of getting hurt. I hit to put somebody out of the game, and I would expect the same thing from him. It’s clean, but when you hit somebody you try to knock him so he doesn’t get up. I don’t care what anybody says, it’s part of the game.”
Speaking to reporters in the locker room after the first game of his college career, Spielman put it even more bluntly. “When I hit somebody,” he told them, “and I see him hurting, just grimacing, it sends something through me that’s hard to explain. A bolt. A charge. You play to hurt somebody.”
Thoughts like those — frank, unfettered, uncensored — can get a guy in trouble. Talk about putting somebody out of the game, of hurting him, and a lot of minds turn immediately to players who have been put out of the game permanently. Chris Spielman says that’s not at all what he means, but when he volunteered his football philosophy after Ohio State’s opener with Oregon State last season, a general columnist in a Columbus newspaper concluded that there was something decidedly wrong with his approach to the game.
“Is This Youth Or Brutality?” the headline on Mike Harden’s column in The Columbus Dispatch asked. “It may be folly to seek reason and compassion from a game which is comprised, as Roy Blount once said, of grown men flying through the air in plastic hats,” wrote Harden. “That fact notwithstanding, Spielman’s words still had a distinctly ruthless, if not sadistic, ring to them.”
“It bothered me a little bit because I think I am a religious person,” says Spielman. “But that’s his opinion. Freedom of the press, I guess.”
And how, you may wonder, did Spielman come by his football philosophy. “I grew up with it,” he says. “I never had any kids my own age to play football with. They were all my brother’s age. When we played ball, I used to get the heck beat out of me. After a while, I didn’t like it. But if I wanted to keep on playing with older kids, I knew I had to be as tough as they were. So I just kept hitting as hard as could, and I wouldn’t back down for nothing. I’ve always been that way. It’s something you’re born with and grow up with.”
Spielman is the son of a football coach who is now a junior high school principal. He’s the younger brother of Rick Spielman, a junior linebacker at Southern Illinois. Chris grew up in Canton, Ohio, and played high school football in Massillon, where the sport itself takes on overtones of a quasi-religious nature.
When Spielman arrived at Ohio State, he was accompanied by a reputation uncommon even for Massillon blue chippers. Coach Earle Bruce said he was the best high school player he had ever seen. And everybody knew he was tough as iron.
Spielman had started every game at Massillon High and played both ways — as fullback and linebacker. Parade magazine named him the top high school linebacker in the country in 1983. Selected as the All-American Boy football player and pictured on the side of a zillion boxes of Wheaties, he stared at America from the shelves of every supermarket across the land.
When Spielman turned 17 on Oct. 11, 1983, he received more than 400 birthday cards from coaches and schools. That astounded even the football-hip Spielman. “Guys who didn’t know me from Adam were saying, ‘How are you doing?’” he says.
He visited five schools — Penn State, UCLA, Miami of Florida, Michigan and Ohio State. It came down to the last two. Some schools said he might be able to make it as a fullback, if that’s what he wanted, but he had no delusions about that.
“I think I was just an average back,” Spielman says. “If we needed a couple of yards, I’d say, ‘Give me the ball,’ and I’d put my head down and go.” But he know that average wouldn’t be good enough in college. “And I’d rather be the hitter than the hittee. It’s less painful.”
Naturally, Bruce was ecstatic when Spielman signed on. Then, in the Ohio High School North-South All-Star game after graduation, he suffered the first injury he could remember, an inversion sprain of his left ankle. He reinjured it in preseason practice. When Ohio State trainer Billy Hill handed Spielman the yellow slip-on that players not sound enough to take part in full practice wear and insisted he wear it for the day, he literally threw it back at him. Only grudgingly did he finally tuck it into his waist.
Even with no particular connotation, yellow is hardly Spielman’s favorite hue. “I’m glad to see you back,” Bruce wisecracked the next day. “I thought we changed our colors.”
By this time, Spielman had gained something of a reputation among older teammates. He wasn’t just the freshman linebacker with the big reputation and his mug on a cereal box. He was the gung-ho, flaky kid who just wouldn’t ease up, even in practice.
“They think I’m a little weird,” admitted Spielman at the time. “When I’m on the field, I’m weird. When I’m not, I’m just a normal 18-year-old freshman.”
When the Oregon State opener arrived, Spielman was beside himself. Not starting the first game of his life was bad enough. Getting in for only two plays in the first half was worse.
Finally, with Ohio State trailing, Spielman was inserted to blitz Oregon State quarterback Ricky Greene. In less than a half, Spielman had five tackles, five assists, two tackles for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble — and one victory put on ice. He was voted Ohio State’s Defensive Player of the Game. His career was on fast-start.
It didn’t stay in that gear for long. Spielman started the next two games, against Washington State and Iowa, but in the first quarter of a 45-26 rout of Iowa, he tore ligaments in his right ankle.
“It was a nightmare,” says Spielman. “I thought I had the strongest ankles in the world, and I never even taped them in high school. I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do. I sat out three weeks, and I told myself that if I had to crawl, I was going to play the next game against Michigan State.”
One of the student managers taped his ankles. Tight. If the tape had been around his neck it would have strangled him. Spielman figured that if the tape was tight enough, it would numb the pain, but by the time the game started, he could hardly walk. “Like a dumb, silly kid, I didn’t tell anybody.” he says. “I told them I was feeling great. Pretty dumb, huh?”
Pretty dumb. Three plays into the game, a Michigan State tackle landed on the sore ankle and he was out again. When the regular season ended a month later, Spielman was a part-time player, and with 12 tackles and 18 assists, ranked no better than 13th on the Ohio State hit list.
When the Rose Bowl game against Southern California began, he was still a substitute, but by this time, both of his ankles had had time to heal. He was also mentally ready.
“I wanted to play so bad, and I was determined to play the best game of my life,” Spielman says. “I don’t know if I did, and I hated losing, but my consolation was that I was satisfied with my performance.”
He had 12 unassisted tackles and three assists, and the 103,000 fans in the Pasadena gulch and a nationwide TV audience got an eyeful of just how good he can be when healthy.
Offensively for Ohio State this season, all eyes will be on senior tailback Keith Byars as he goes for the Heisman Trophy. Many of them will be on the 6-2, 225-pound linebacker Chris Spielman in his sophomore season.
“I set my goals high, both for me and the team,” he says. “For the team, I want to go back to the Rose Bowl and win, go 12-0 and be No. 1. For me, I’d like to be All-Big Ten.”
What about shooting for All-American?
Obviously Spielman is a first-things-first kind of guy. “In my junior year,” says Spielman. “I’d like to be an All-American. I think with a lot of hard work and experience I can be.”
The Bears released Ray McDonald, and not too many people are upset to see him go.
Chicago decided to part ways with McDonald because he didn't meet the standards of what it takes to be a part of the organization.
GM Ryan Pace: "We believe in 2nd chances, but when we signed Ray we were very clear what our expectations were if he was to remain a Bear...— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) May 25, 2015
Pace cont: "He was not able to meet the standard and the decision was made to release him."— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) May 25, 2015
Moments after, lineman Kyle Long tweeted this.
Good riddance— KL (@Ky1eLong) May 25, 2015
Sometimes it's easier to say good-bye than one would think.
After the 1995 season, Ohio State tackle Orlando Pace had only scratched the surface of his potential — and at that point he was already a Lombardi Award winner and blocker for a Heisman Trophy recipient. Pace would finish his career as a two-time unanimous All-American, a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, a top-four finisher for the Heisman Trophy and a likely Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Athlon Sports featured Pace prior to his 1996 season when he first grew into his reputation as “The Pancake Man.”
Originally published in Athlon’s 1996 Big Ten Annual
By Dick Fenlon
When asked to imagine himself on the other side of the ball, as a defensive lineman looking into the eyes of the renowned Pancake Man, Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace wonders what ploy, what diversion, what marvelous feat of athleticism would be needed to avoid being flattened by the best interior offensive lineman in the country.
“If I’m across from me,” he says, “I’m thinking, do I want to bull rush? Or maybe I’ll fake him? It’s hard to analyze. Lining up against me? That would be a challenge, definitely.”
Pace, a 6-6, 330-pounder who looks as big without shoulder pads as he does with them (maybe they came with the body, installed at the factory, right off the assembly line), speaks so softly you have to lean close to hear him.
“Off the field I am calm,” the very large man whispers. “On the field, I have a little different demeanor. When I go out and play, I try and kill them (opposing defenders). It’s the aggression you have to take with you when you play big-time football.”
Pace plays football so well that the selectors for the Lombardi Award (presented to the outstanding college lineman) passed over worthy upperclassmen to give the award to an offensive tackle just two years off the high school field in Sandusky, Ohio. That move surprised the first sophomore to win the Lombardi in its 26-year history that he had to revise his own tentative awards schedule.
“Just before they awarded the Lombardi, they announced Outland (outstanding interior lineman),” says Pace, “and I didn’t win that one (it went to UCLA senior offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden). So I’m sitting at the awards banquet real relaxed. And I’m thinking, ‘Well, if (Ogden wins the Lombardi, too) I can win it next year, and the year after that.’ When they called my name, it really shocked me. It means a lot to me. It shows me where I stand among linemen. It tells me I did something in history.”
So maybe there’ll be a repeat, or even a three-peat, although, one certainly wouldn’t want to bet on that, not with the scouts from the NFL lusting after him the way a pack of dogs might hunger for 330 pounds of fresh liver.
Or maybe he’ll make a run at the Heisman Trophy, which no interior offensive lineman, being perforce faceless, has ever won.
OK, so the odds on that off the board. So what? As Pace says, “I can say I’ve got a piece of Eddie George’s.”
Believe it. Because without Pace’s pancaking, there would have been no Heisman for Ohio State’s senior tailback last season. George ran past the opposition, both on and off the field and in the balloting, but he wasn’t alone. Much of the time, it was Pace opening the way. or setting the pace. In a 41-3 win over Illinois, George rushed for a school-record 314 yards. Not coincidentally, in that game Pace had 10 pancake blocks.
But ask Joe Hollis, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, if he can come up with the definitive Pace play or series or game, and he can’t do it. He doesn't point to anything that happened in the Illinois game or any other game in Pace’s two seasons as a starter. Instead, he shakes his head.
“If you ask me about Orlando Pace, I wouldn’t say, for instance, let’s have a look at the Notre Dame game. I’d tell you to go in and pick out a game. You wouldn’t be in there very long. The other day, the coaches from Eastern Kentucky came to visit, and we were looking at the Iowa film. There’s (backup tailback) Pepe Pearson going 50 or 60 yards to the 2. But what catches your eye when you see this 5-11, 195 pound tailback going up the hash is this huge tackle matching him stride for stride.”
What did the visiting coaches have to say about that? “They were amazed,” according to Hollis.
Ohio State’s staff has been amazed ever since watching its first film of Pace as a high school junior. That season (1992), 6-5, 315-pound Korey Stringer was making his own mark as a Buckeye offensive tackle, starting in six straight games and earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. The next two years, Stringer was an All-American. After his junior season, he opted for the NFL and was a first-round selection, 24th overall, by the Minnesota Vikings. The chances of finding another talent like him seemed impossible.
And yet, says Hollis, “I thought immediately that he looks like another Korey Stringer. By the time Stringer was a high school senior, there was a unanimous thought among the OSU staff: ‘If we can get him to come to Ohio State, we project him as a starter in his first year.’”
Pace, athletic enough despite his girth to start and average 18 points for a Sandusky High basketball team that went to the regional semifinals before losing in Ohio’s high school final, played the usual games in keeping football recruiters out of his hair.
“I’d answer the phone and tell them I wasn’t home,” he says. “It was difficult. I’d be talking to one coach and I’d have a call waiting, and I’d have to make a choice right there.”
But the most important choice was fairly easy.
“I had it narrowed down to Ohio State or Michigan pretty early,” he says, “and one reason I came to Ohio State was Korey. I came in the summer and he kind of took me under his wing. What better thing for a young player to do but play under a great player the first year? I learned a lot from him. It was a great thing for me.”
But Pace didn’t play under him, he played on the same starting unit with him. He became the first freshman to start an entire season for Ohio State, 13 games and 322 minutes, third-highest among offensive players.
“We started with Fresno State (in the Kickoff Classic),” says Pace, “and once I got myself relaxed, it was just like an ordinary game, except that the guys were bigger and stronger. What you’ve got to do, I found, is uplift your level to their level.”
It’s been a totally uplifting experience. Pace followed in Stringer’s footsteps in 1994, becoming the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year, and again last year he was named a unanimous All-American.
Another Buckeye offensive tackle blazed an even greater trail in 1973. That year, John Hicks won both the Lombardi and Outland trophies and finished second to Penn State’s John Cappelletti in the run for the Heisman.
As far as Pace is concerned, as the old saying goes, here’s a man who was big when was still little. By the time he was in junior high school, Pace stood 6-4 and weight 275 pounds. Back then, he though he’d grow up to be a basketball player. But by the time he was starting on the line for Sandusky as a high school sophomore, he knew that football would be his route to fame. And while some might equate working in the trenches with hard labor, he has a refreshing outlook.
“Football is fun,” he says. “Right now it’s to a point that it’s extremely fun. During camp you might say to yourself, ‘Boy, I hate football.’ But once the game starts and you’re out in front of 90,000-plus people doing something you like, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.”
Maybe it’s that exuberance, his passing for what he does, that distinguishes this potentially biggest of all big Buckeyes.
“All of the things keep falling in place for Orlando,” says Hollis. “It’s just like a flower that grows and grows and grows. It’s hard for anybody to handle him because he plays so much on the edge of formations and it’s difficult to put people in front of him. He is a dominating player. More than that, he’s a recognized dominating player. It’s easy to go to a game and recognize that in a tailback. But to have gained that much respect and recognition in just two seasons playing where he does, that’s just phenomenal.”
Let's not judge. It has to be hard playing tic-tac-toe in front of thousands of people.
The rules of the game are the same, but somehow the two contestants got confused on where to place their markers. The crowd groaning probably didn't help much either. In the end, the host was forced to choose a winner from two guys who clearly lost.
Ohio State’s return to year-in and year-out dominance in the early 2000s was led by the most unlikely of quarterbacks. After a brief audition in 2001, Craig Krenzel became the starting quarterback in 2002. Despite modest numbers, Krenzel led Ohio State to a BCS championship and Fiesta Bowl MVP honors for the Buckeyes’ first national championship in more than 30 years.
After earning instant hero status in Columbus, Krenzel was still the humble Academic All-American when he returned for his senior season in 2003.
Originally published in Athlon Sports’ 2003 Big Ten Preview
By Jeff Rapp
The morning after Ohio State’s stunning victory in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel admitted one player got left behind in the excitement. The story would have been funny enough if it were a third-string lineman — “Hey, man, you’re missing the party” — but was downright ironic considering it was Craig Krenzel. After all, the Buckcyes never would have been in position to play for a national title without his heroics.
“We had to send a police car back to get him,” Tressel said of his starting quarterback. “I hope it wasn’t a violation.”
It turns out Tressel either embellished the story or wasn’t aware that Krenzel was able to get a lift back to the team hotel without help from Arizona’s finest.
“I don’t know where he hard that but I got a ride back with my parents,” Krenzel says. “It was a long walk back to the car.”
Apparently nothing makes you more late for the bus than being the centerpiece on a national championship team. Krenzel was part of the on-field celebration, granting interviews and hugging coaches and teammates. He then addressed the media and was ambushed by a well-wisher who lied to a security guard and said he was in the Krenzel family. That fan was none other than Rex Kern, the beloved quarterback of the 1968 Buckeyes, the last Ohio State team to win the title.
As Kern embraced and beamed at Krenzel, the two looked like father and son. It was a moment that harkened back to the glory days. After all, Krenzel had done it the same way as Kern — with poise beyond his years, toughness, smarts and the uncanny ability to make the big play when absolutely necessary.
After the very symbolic passing of the torch with Kern, Krenzel did a national radio show and changed in an empty locker room.
Outside, the Sun Devil Stadium parking lot was still mostly full. That’s because the 60,000 or so Ohio State fans in attendance din’t know what to do after a four-hour double-overtime thriller other than head directly to Mill Avenue for a desert-sized celebration.
The title game compliments of more outstanding defense, clutch play and the gritty performance of No. 16, who outgained teammate Maurice Clarett and the Hurricanes’ Willis McGahee as the game’s leading rusher.
Krenzel was named the game’s Offensive MVP, despite completing just 7-of-21 passes and throwing a pair of interceptions. That’s because he took hit after hit en route to 81 rushing yards and two crucial touchdowns, including the tying score in overtime. Earlier in that session he converted a fourth-and-14 — make that fourth and championship — with a sideline strike to Mike Jenkins. Moments later he threw the infamous pass to Chris Gamble in the end zone on another fourth down that was flagged as defensive interference. Many writers and critics said that the late penalty stole the game from Miami and ruined a great contest.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Krenzel says. “We ended up with a victory and a national championship. And people around the country that are saying we shouldn’t have won the game because of that call, that’s probably the same people that were saying before the game that we had no chance.”
Krenzel was a main reason there were so many doubters. How in the world could Ohio State beat a superpower like Miami if it couldn’t throw the ball? Krenzel was among the most efficient quarterbacks in the country, but his season stats were rather ordinary. Starting all 14 games in 2002, he completed just 148 passes and managed a little more than 2,000 yards passing. Yet as the wins kept mounting, no one doubted he was the man for the job.
Krenzel had paid his dues to be the starting quarterback, and he wasn’t about to risk losing that privilege by demanding more throws. He had seen firsthand how the kamikaze style of his predecessor and roommate Steve Bellisari had turned Bellisari into a feast-or-famine quarterback that often received the blame during the lean years of 1999-2001.
While Krenzel liked his friend Bellisari, he endured a few sleepless nights wondering if he was ever going to get the chance to try to lead the team. Certainly he didn’t come from Sterling Heights, Mich., and turn down offers from other major programs to be a career backup.
Craig’s brother Brian, who played safety at Duke, says the two spent “many, many nights on the phone” early in Craig’s career. Brian, who won fewer games (13) in four years with the Blue Devils than Craig did last season, often repeated the same advice to his baby brother: Keep your mouth shut, keep working, and believe it will all work out.
“It’s just a motto that my parents instilled in us: Good things happen to good people, but maybe not on the timetable that you want them to happen,” says Brian, a Louisville medical school graduate who is embarking on a career as an orthopedic surgeon.
As a backup to Bellisari, Krenzel played sparingly in seven games in 2000 for head coach John Cooper and spent the 2001 season signaling in plays for Tressel until Bellisari was suspended from the team late in the year. Krenzel played well enough in a home loss to Illinois to earn the start at Michigan, then endeared himself to the Buckeye Nation by calmly directing OSU to its first win in Ann Arbor in 14 years.
Last year, Krenzel clearly earned the job over classmate Scott McMullen and freshman phenoms Justin Zwick and Troy Smith. Then the magic began. Eleven straight completions vs. Kent State. A game-winning, twisting touchdown run at Cincinnati. A pair of backbreaking touchdown passes at Wisconsin. A perfectly tossed, season-saving 37-yard touchdown lob to Jenkins on fourth down in the final minutes at Purdue. A had-to-have scoring march in the final minutes against Michigan.
Things went so well for Krenzel that he told his brother shortly after the Fiesta Bowl: “I think I’m just going to retire. How do you top this?”
Now that very question will gnaw at Krenzel this fall as he tries to lead the Buckeyes back to the promised land in his senior season. If he can pull it off, he will be in very elite company. In fact, since 1980, only one quarterback has led his team to back-to-back national championships — Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier. Many before him have tried and come up short, most recently Miami’s Ken Dorsey.
Yet everywhere Krenzel went during his whirlwind offseason of magazine covers and impromptu autograph sessions, he was asked, “Can you repeat?” The question even came up in Detroit, of all places, as Krenzel was feted in his home state in March as the winner of the Socrates Award for the most outstanding college football player on and off the field. A molecular genetics major with a 3.71 GPA, Krenzel showed up to spring practice a little weary after trying to keep up with his studies and his newfound fame.
“It kind of went fast,” he says of the three-month break. “It seemed like just yesterday that we played. For those of us who have been here for a while, it seems like we’re getting old.”
Krenzel’s roommate, OSU center and fellow senior Alex Stepanovich, said the two talk about their aspirations for 2003. That is when Craig is actually in their apartment. “He’s not around very much. You guys usually have him doing some things or he’s picking up awards and stuff like that,” Stepanovich says. “But we’ve talked about being in more of a leadership role than we were last year at this point. A lot of times the younger guys don’t understand what it takes to do what we did.”
But that doesn’t mean Krenzel plans to boss around his underlings like a Hollywood star. In fact, his teammates see absolutely no change in him.
“He’ll be the same old guy — cool, calm and collected,” Jenkins says. “That’s just the way he is.”
“Craig is a great guy,” adds Stepanovich. “People talk about how smart he is, but I think the great thing about him is that maybe things around him have changed by he stayed the same guy. He stayed Craig and he stayed with what made Craig who he is. He’s the same guy he was before anyone knew he could do what he did.”
Krenzel is getting more respect than ever for his on-the-field exploits, but don’t expect to see a different quarterback on the field in 2003. It should be more of the same, even if it is a little boring.
“If I proved anything, it’s what it takes to win football games,” says Krenzel, who completed 59.4 percent of his passes and was intercepted just seven times last season. “You don’t need the big, flashy numbers. You have to take care of the football, make good decisions and get the team into the right play.
“Personally I just want to get more consistent, more fluid in my mechanics, and just relax a bit and be more comfortable. I also want to improve my decision-making and my reads. We’d like to have more balance this season. It’s going to be fun. There are some guys that can go out and make big plays for us. It’s going to be up to myself to distribute the ball to them and put it where it needs to be.”
Krenzel wore a visor on his helmet in the spring as precaution after having Lasik surgery on his right eye, which is naturally weaker than the left. He hopes the procedure helps him dial in on receivers better this season.
But whether he is asked to run the option like Kern or carve up defenses like Joe Germaine, he always expects one result — victory. A 15-1 record as a starter will do that for you.
“He’s a confident kid,” OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels says. “He had no question he could lead this team. But now he has proven it. That’s the difference for him.”
Tressel adds: “I think he’s obviously carrying himself with more confidence. I think he always believed in himself, but he also felt like he needed to establish that over a period of time. As he looks at things now, he can say, ‘I’ve seen that before.’ When you watch film, I think you see a much more mature, more experienced guy.
“I’ve been really pleased with the way he’s paid special attention to the little things — his footwork and ball placement. A completion isn’t satisfactory to him. He wants the ball put in the right spot.”
Krenzel admits he likes proving detractors wrong as much as anyone else, but that’s not his driving force.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who is a bigger critic of me than myself,” he says. “I’ll go through and watch film and I’m extremely critical of myself in what I do technique-wise, decision-making-wise, just knowing that there are a lot of little things I need to do to get better.
“I guess in that respect I am driven by criticism but it’s more stuff I put on myself.”
Krenzel watches so much film of himself and his upcoming opponent that the OSU video staff makes sure he is the first to receive tapes each week.
“The video people know he’ll probably spend more time than the coaches on it,” Tressel said.
“He’s just an extraordinary kid that’s competitive and wants the ball in his hands. I can’t say enough about Craig Krenzel. He’s a winner.”
He’s also fearless. At 6-4, 225, Krenzel is a big target for oncoming linebackers when he takes off with the ball. Yet he always pops up no matter how vicious the hit, including what looked like a near decapitation by Miami hit man Jonathan Vilma in the Fiesta Bowl.
“He’s tough,” Stepanovich says. “He’s run for a lot of first downs for us and sometimes he stands back there and takes a shot. It’s great to play with a guy like that.”
Krenzel intends to take medical school entrance exams in August. He is as serious about his future as he is about winning games. Off the field and away from the cameras, however, he’s not as serious as you’d think.
“He’s pretty much a clown,” says Ben Hartsock, OSU’s starting tight end and Krenzel’s best friend. “I know you guys don’t see much of that but trust me, he has his silly moments. I’ve seen some interesting dives into the whirlpool.”
Hartsock and Krenzel thought it would be fun to run out and imprint the snow on the White House lawn moments after the team was honored by President Bush. Fun, that is, until a Secret Service man cut them off at the pass by showing them his gun.
Oh well, no harm in trying.
“That’s always been Craig’s personality,” his brother says. “He has a way of not taking things too seriously and putting them in the proper perspective. Studies are important, but your test score doesn’t necessarily dictate how well you now the material. A performance on the field statistically doesn’t necessarily dictate how well you performed in game management or something like that.
“He keeps all that in view and has an incredible perspective for someone his age.”
Long before we get to those bitter border and in-state conference wars that have come to define college football, we deal with a slate of non-conference games that, in many years, leave something to be desired.
In 2015, however, there are some pretty interesting matchups during the first month of the season that hardcore college football fans should definitely consider must-see TV.
Here are the 10 most intriguing non-conference matchups of the 2015 college football season.
Thursday, Sept. 3
Michigan at Utah – The Jim Harbaugh era gets underway on the first night of the season. His Wolverines will be underdogs against Kyle Whittingham’s Utes in what should be an electric atmosphere in Salt Lake City.
TCU at Minnesota – The Horned Frogs are expected to be a serious College Football Playoff contender, while some are looking at the Gophers as a dark horse to win the Big Ten West. Both teams will be looking to make a statement to the nation in this one, with the Gophers thinking revenge for the beating they took a season ago.
Friday, Sept. 4
Washington at Boise State – Chris Petersen returns to Boise to take on the program that he turned into the model mid-major program and a national power. After losing plenty of star power to the NFL draft and graduation, Petersen will step onto the blue turf as an underdog for the first time.
Saturday, Sept. 5
Texas at Notre Dame – These two storied programs will meet for just the 11th time, with Texas making its first trip to South Bend in 20 years. A win by the Longhorns could be the catalyst Charlie Strong needs to get the Texas program back to relevancy.
Arizona State at Texas A&M – This early season battle of what should be top 20 teams is going to carry a lot of weight as the rest of the season progresses. The winner will get a boost in the court of public opinion, adding extra flare to their respective conference schedule. It’ll also be the first time in history that these two programs meet.
BYU at Nebraska – Nebraska’s record 29-game winning streak in home openers could be in serious jeopardy when Bronco Mendenhall’s Cougars visit Lincoln. The Huskers lost their best offensive and defensive players from a season ago and also went through a coaching change. On the other side of the ball, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill looks to pick up where he left off in 2014, as he was mentioned in most Heisman discussions before going down in early October with a broken leg.
Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington, TX) – The last time we saw these teams, Alabama was losing to Ohio State and Wisconsin defeated Auburn. The Tide will be favored in this game, but don’t underestimate the number of impact players that Alabama lost. Wisconsin lost Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon and not much else. This also will be head coach Paul Chryst’s first game at the helm of his alma mater.
Monday, Sept. 7
Ohio State at Virginia Tech – The Buckeyes will have revenge on their minds for the upset that took place in Columbus last season. That said, anyone who has seen a night game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg – on TV or in person – knows what kind of atmosphere Urban Meyer’s bunch is walking into. The Hokies are ready to be more than just a speed bump on Ohio State’s road to a repeat.
Saturday, Sept. 12
Oklahoma at Tennessee – Bob Stoops finds himself in the unfamiliar position of leading Oklahoma into a season and not being one of the favorites to win the Big 12. Meanwhile in Knoxville, there is a lot of chatter about “being back,” largely due to the talent the Vols return and the way they ended the 2014 season, winning three of their last four.
Oregon at Michigan State – This is a bit of a flip-flop game compared to a season ago. Oregon will be the road team coming off of a successful year, facing a high-profile quarterback in hostile territory. Both the Spartans and Ducks have questions all over the field. This game will not only set the tone for both teams, it could end up having Playoff ramifications before all is said and done.
30-year-old LeBron James is in his twelfth NBA season. This winter, he sat for multiple weeks of action, resting his increasingly human body; James missed 13 games in 2014-15, the most of his career. He hasn’t been a consistently fearsome defender for years, and has developed a very noticeable on/off switch in general.
None of that matters at this time of year. LeBron is still the best in the game, and he is proving it as loudly as anybody can in his latest run at an NBA title with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without Kevin Love or a healthy Kyrie Irving, James has simply ratcheted his own game up to a level so high that everyone around him can’t help but take his lead and thrive.
Role players like Tristan Thompson, Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova are all perfecting their bit pieces around LeBron. That’s probably not a coincidence: From Mario Chalmers to Donyell Marshall, there’s a long lineage of secondary characters who have been emboldened to do surprising things next to the King.
For all the guffawing about James’ bickering and passive-aggressive power plays with David Blatt, he and the Cavs’ head coach clearly have a relationship that functions well enough to produce wins. Cleveland hasn’t missed a beat despite tough health breaks to two of their best players, embodying a next-man-up ethos unwincingly. Blatt deserves a lot of credit for that, but James is who the roster truly takes their cues from.
Building something new is exactly what James came back home to do. Few doubted he could do it — especially with Irving and Love set to be next to him — but probably even fewer thought he could bring Cleveland back to prominence so swiftly, and through this much bad injury luck. The throne appears to be on lockdown this spring.
— John Wilmes