Articles By All
Just six months after UAB announced its football team would be disbanded following the 2014 season, the Blazers are set to return to FBS competition.
School president Ray Watts announced the decision to reinstate the football program on Monday afternoon, but it’s uncertain when UAB will return to the gridiron.
Since the decision to eliminate the football team in December, UAB’s fanbase and the city of Birmingham stepped up with donations and overall support to help the program return.
With UAB keeping its football program, the Blazers will be allowed to remain in Conference USA.
It’s anticipated UAB will hit the field again in 2016, but many questions remain for the program. Bill Clark did an outstanding job in leading the Blazers to a 6-6 mark in 2014 and will return as the head coach. But UAB is also starting from scratch in terms of players and talent and it will take time to rebuild the roster.
Also, there’s the question of facilities. UAB plays in antiquated Legion Field and an on-campus facility or improved stadium is needed. The program is also raising to funds to improve the practice fields and invest in the overall facilities.
All of the questions surrounding the disbanding and resinstating of the program weren’t answered on Monday. However, thanks to the #FreeUAB movement on Twitter and some leaders in Birmingham and in the state of Alabama, the Blazers will be back on the gridiron in the near future.
Watts we are taking steps to reinstate football rifle and bowling notifying Conference USA and NCAA— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) June 1, 2015
Ingram hopes to resume 2016— Alan Collins (@fox6alancollins) June 1, 2015
We all know J.J. Watt can catch passes, but who was paying enough attentio to Vince Wilfork to know he could throw them.
During the Texans practice, Wilfork winds up and hauls a deep pass to Watt. Houston may want to to explore this possibility during the season. It's a crazy idea but people said the same thing when Watt lined up as a tight end.
Just a 325-pound guy expanding his range, no big deal.
For five straight seasons, now, LeBron James has sat in the Eastern Conference throne. Only two of his past four trips to the NBA Finals, however, have resulted in championships. And if James is to win a third this June, he’s got his work cut out for him.
The Golden State Warriors were the NBA’s best team this year, and it wasn’t close. Their 67-win campaign makes them one of the 10 best regular-season teams of all time. The bad news for the Cavs is that Golden State hasn’t looked much worse in the postseason.
The Warriors can do pretty much everything, and do it very well. Their collective basketball IQ on both sides of the ball is unparalleled across the league, as is their ability to switch assignments on defense. Perhaps most daunting of all for Cleveland is that Golden State has arguably the best possible collection of players to throw at James, in Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. The lengthy Shaun Livingston may even get spot minutes covering LeBron.
The Warriors, by all rational measures, are the favorites to win this series. They’ve been historically great in every statistical category. Teams who play this well simply win championships.
But the giant caveat, as always, is that one of these teams has LeBron, and the other doesn’t. Despite an inefficient run by the numbers, James’ postseason has been remarkable. He’s put an injured, inexperienced team on his shoulders. And the depleted Cavs have found lightning in the surge of Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov in the front court, who look emboldened by a bigger stage. Add the the hot shooting of a mercurial J.R. Smith to the mix — along with a hopefully healthy Kyrie Irving — and this is an improbably dangerous squad.
The Warriors should win this series, but don’t be a surprised if the duel is a more hotly contested struggle than anticipated.
Prediction: Warriors in six.
— John Wilmes
There is no more Bruce Jenner.
Caitlyn Jenner makes her debut. The former Olympian posed for Vanity Fair and caused quite the stir. After spending months somewhat secluded to make the transition, Jenner is comfortable to show the world what she's been up to.
Jenner is on Twitter as Caitlyn and even explained how happy she is to finally live as her true self.
"If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, 'You just blew your life,'" Jenner said.
I'm so happy after such a long struggle to be living my true self. Welcome to the world Caitlyn. Can't wait for you to get to know her/me.— Caitlyn Jenner (@Caitlyn_Jenner) June 1, 2015
ESPN tapped Jenner to receive the Arthur Ashe award July 15 at the ESPYs.
The headline of the New England Patriots' offseason, if you're not including "Deflategate" of course, has to be their decision to decline expensive options on cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, while also cutting fellow corners Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard. A Super Bowl-winning team completely jettisoning their top-four covermen is unheard of, but given New England's history with paying cornerbacks, it should hardly be a surprise.
With Bill Belichick's 15-season sample size, it's pretty clear how the Patriots value cornerbacks in their system. Yes, they'll occasionally spend big money for a one-year deal on a cornerback in his prime, but they'll never give one a long-term, monster deal. And even when they do give an extension at the position, the player will almost assuredly be cut before the final year of it, if not sooner.
For the most part, the cornerbacks Belichick has gotten the most out of have either been on their rookie deals or free agents brought in for the veteran minimum.
Let's take a look back.
We begin in 2000 with Ty Law and Otis Smith. Law was already in the midst of a seven-year, $51 million deal he signed before Belichick arrived, while Smith, at age 34, was brought in on a veteran minimum deal. Smith would go on to start Super Bowl XXXVI with Law.
Law was the first example of how Belichick valued cornerbacks. In 2004, Law wanted another extension and the Patriots offered him $26 million over four years. Even today that would be the biggest contract extension the Patriots ever awarded to a corner.
Law called the offer an insult and countered with a seven-year deal worth $63 million, including a $20 million signing bonus.
Then-general manager Scott Pioli simply responded "We can't do that. Save the paper."
Law would play out 2004 and then be cut in '05 and sign with the Jets for an almost identical contract to his last, seven years, $50 million. He was released after just one year by the cap-strapped Jets and would then sign a five-year deal with the Chiefs worth $30 million. He would play just two seasons in Kansas City and continue to kick around until he retired after the 2009 season.
The Patriots replaced Law with 2003 fourth-round pick Asante Samuel, who was thrust into the starting lineup in '04, after injuries sidelined Law as well as 31-year-old Tyrone Poole, another veteran added at a minimum salary. Poole gave the Patriots an excellent year in 2003, as New England fielded one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Samuel led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 2006 in the final year of his rookie deal but the Pats didn't reward him with a long-term deal. Instead, they chose to use the Franchise Tag on Samuel, paying him $7.79 million before letting him walk in 2008 to sign a six-year, $56 million deal with the Eagles.
Samuel's partner at cornerback from 2005-07 was primarily Ellis Hobbs, a 2005 fourth-round pick, who would also start all 16 games in '08 after Samuel's departure. But once again the Patriots chose to discard a homegrown talent at cornerback rather than overpay or extend him, trading Hobbs in 2009 before the final year of his rookie deal to the Eagles for two fifth-round draft picks.
Hobbs was due to make $2.545 million in 2009, so moving him for two picks was a surprise, especially with a complete turnover coming at the position.
Forced to start over once again at the corner spot, the Pats loaded up in free agency and the draft, bringing in Leigh Bodden on a veteran one-year minimum, Shawn Springs on a three-year, $13 million deal, while also drafting Darius Butler and adding them to the mix with 2008 draft picks Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite.
Bodden had a breakthrough year and cashed in with the biggest contract extension the Patriots had ever awarded to a cornerback at four years, $20 million, with $10 million guaranteed. This came back to bite the team, as Bodden missed all of 2010 with a shoulder injury and would return in '11 only to be cut midseason.
At the same time, the aforementioned Arrington was emerging from the ranks of an undrafted unknown into a stalwart both on defense and special teams. While overmatched against tall outside receivers, Arrington was one of the best slot corners in the league. In 2011, he led the NFL in interceptions with seven.
After being signed to the practice squad midseason of 2009, Arrington became a full-time starter in '10 and would go on to play in 66 games over the next five seasons, including 56 starts.
In 2013, Arrington signed a four-year contract extension worth $16 million with $7.5 million guaranteed. Slightly less than Bodden, but still one of the most significant contracts the Pats had ever given a cornerback. But Arrington would never see the end of that deal, being cut loose with two years remaining before signing with the Ravens this offseason.
The Patriots traded for Aqib Talib in 2012 and got a couple shutdown games and a couple injuries out of him, and once again, instead of giving a (somewhat) shutdown corner in his prime a long-term, monster deal, they settled on just a one-year deal worth $4.86 million.
That brings us to Revis and Browner, who were both signed in 2014 on what were essentially one-year deals with team options for additional seasons. Revis got $12 million for his one season, the highest total paid for one season to a cornerback under Belichick. Browner made $2.95 million, but his option would've paid him $4.6 million this season.
Given the Patriots' history at the cornerback position, it shouldn't be a surprise the Pats weren't going to give Revis anywhere close to the monster deal he got from the Jets which will pay him $16 million this season alone.
Bill Belichick is certainly willing to spend a bit more for a single season from a good cornerback, but they're not interested in long-term expensive contracts. Bodden and Springs both never lived up to the contracts they received, while Arrington and Hobbs were cut even before their deals were up.
In many ways, 2015 is reminiscent of '09, when the Patriots were in full do-over mode at cornerback. They responded by bringing in a number of veterans to complement their young draft picks, and despite how 2009 is generally seen as the worst season of Bill Belichick's Patriots tenure, the pass defense was still middle of the pack that year at 16th overall in Football Outsiders' DVOA.
The answers are not apparent right now. No one knew Bodden would have a breakout year in 2009 after an unspectacular year in Detroit. The Patriots have certainly taken plenty of shots on castoff defensive backs who have not worked out. Players like Duane Starks and Fernando Bryant never broke out like Bodden, Smith or Poole did.
Who knows which path current cornerbacks Bradley Fletcher or Robert McClain will follow, or if Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan or Darryl Roberts will become the next Samuel, Hobbs or Arrington.
But the Patriots' methodology has been consistent over the last 15 years, relying on young players on rookie deals, veterans on minimum deals, or the occasional one-year hired gun on a big contract.
Expensive long-term contracts on cornerbacks just aren't their thing.
Jahlil Okafor is destined to be a high pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.
Before he made it to this point, the former Duke star went through a lot of adversity in his life. Okafor lost his mother at the age of nine and from there things changed. It strengthed his relationship with his father, and when he went on to Duke he created a new family of sorts.
The events in Okafor's life have shaped him into the person he is today, and that's something any NBA team will be lucky to have.
The Monster Mile was known just as much for a monstrous meeting this weekend as it was for on-track competition. Saturday night, NASCAR spoke with nine drivers privately, a constructive conversation but facing the reality they’ve got the closest formation to some sort of driver’s union since those movements were shut down by force in the late 1960s.
For now, it’s unofficially called a “Driver’s Council,” one reported by Motorsport.com that Denny Hamlin was at the epicenter of starting up. The full slate of participants was not released, nor was their detailed agenda as the goal appeared to keep it all quiet. Kevin Harvick, when asked afterSunday’s race, was tight-lipped about his attendance, simply calling it a “positive meeting” while Hamlin simply assured reporters the group was “diverse,” filled with winners and underdogs alike inside the weekly field of 43.
Similar to the Race Team Alliance, a union of Sprint Cup team owners formed last year, detailed information on this Council’s long-term goals will be hard to piece together. The two most obvious, based on garage talk, surround safety and competition. Drivers appeared agitated following a series of wrecks at Dover, several getting out of their cars before safety crews arrived on the scene. Some, like Jennifer Jo Cobb of the Truck Series did so because they were angry with a potential rival but others? They might have been making a statement as to the length of time it took for workers to get to their racecars. There’s a reason why safety has jumped up the priority list even though we’re 14 years removed from NASCAR’s last major death (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) Higher corner speeds this season have kept many on edge, worried about the potential crash impacts even if it’s into a life-saving SAFER Barrier. Sadly, that extra level of safety isn’t available for everyplace a racecar can hit, either. Kyle Busch’s Daytona injury, in which he broke parts of both legs hitting a SAFER-less inside wall, reminded drivers the sport they participate in is far from bulletproof.
In the meantime, competition concerns have bubbled up, representative of drivers’ frustrations over NASCAR’s new rule package. The “clean air” phenomenon, giving those out in front an extra boost, have made passing the leader under green near impossible. Aerodynamics have put a premium on qualifying; Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. started from the rear, had the fastest car and yet took nearly half the race to crack the top 10. Winning would have been a near impossibility with the way track position, combined with similar speeds, have brought side-by-side racing amongst the frontrunners to a halt.
“You couldn’t pass,” said winner Jimmie Johnson, spouting off a theme that left fans, drivers, virtually everyone associated with the sport disappointed with Dover. “You really just could not get by somebody. If they made a bobble or a mistake you could close up, but then the next set of corners, they would get back to the bottom, run a line, kind of hold you up and you couldn’t go anywhere.”
At one point during the event, during a 15-lap stretch just one position within the top 25 changed hands. That’s not going to earn NASCAR new fans, nor will it please the drivers who want to compete instead of feeling “stuck in place” for laps at a time.
At least all sides know the end result has to be better. A meeting is clearly a step in the right direction. Now, the question is simple: can anyone come up with solutions?
Through The Gears post-Dover we go...
FIRST GEAR: Johnson Makes History
Three-quarters of the way through Sunday’s race it was a disappointing Dover for Jimmie Johnson. The man who’s led more laps here than anyone else, nearly 3,000, hadn’t been out in front for a single one. Charging quickly from his 14th starting spot, he stalled out about fifth, as handling amongst the frontrunners was so equal.
“I could see the leader in most scenarios,” he said. “So it was inspiring to stay on your game in your car and stay disciplined.”
That discipline paid off with a long green-flag run late, where Johnson and fast stops by his crew let him pick off rivals slowly. First, it was Kyle Busch, then Martin Truex Jr. who faded after a strong early performance. Suddenly, Matt Kenseth broke and it was just Kevin Harvick up ahead. A series of late cautions, combined with some strong restarts versus Harvick and suddenly, Dover’s nine-time winner upped his record to 10 in no time flat. It’s a discouraging thought for those who had finally thought they’d caught the No. 48 at their best track; instead, he’ll remain the favorite to win when the Chase brings NASCAR back this fall.
“We fired off well and maintained,” he explained, running the end of the race on old tires and using track position to beat those behind him and Harvick, who pitted. “In that last restart Harvick hammered me in the back of the car, shot me in front of the 5, and once I had the racetrack to myself, we were in control then.”
Johnson’s 10th career Dover victory leaves him as just one of five Sprint Cup drivers with 10 or more at any track. The others? Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt Sr., David Pearson, Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip. It’s an exclusive crowd to be in, and at age 39, Johnson’s far from done.
SECOND GEAR: Gibbs Goes From Hero To Zero
Joe Gibbs Racing came into Sunday beefed up with high expectations. Denny Hamlin had the pole, they took four of the top-five fastest speeds in final practice and were coming off a dominating two-week sweep in Charlotte. All of a sudden, it looked like the gap had been closed on Harvick, Johnson, and their Chevy rivals as JGR entered Sunday heavy favorites.
But then, the green flag dropped and the organization promptly chose a different approach: shooting themselves in the foot. One by one, self-inflicting wounds combined with Lady Luck gone haywire turned JGR’s day into a disaster. Carl Edwards had two pit road penalties, his crew leaving a wedge wrench in the No. 19 Toyota before a speeding violation wiped out his day. Matt Kenseth saw his top-5 performance torn to pieces by a broken suspension. Kyle Busch, running solidly in third got wiped out when backmarker Brian Scott didn’t see him; the DNF left him devastated with a race that could have cut a big chunk out of his Chase deficit toward the top 30.
Suddenly, the scrappy pole-sitter Hamlin was all JGR had left in contention. But after an awkward slide back through the field, his car falling as far as 15th mid-race, Clint Bowyer bumped the No. 11 Toyota coming out of turn 2, causing a wreck that put the ill-handling FedEx car out of its misery.
“Dammit!” Bowyer said on the radio afterwards. “I tried to lift for him.” But in the end, his mistake added to a disappointing theme: the only lift JGR would get from this weekend was seeing their cars lifted up onto tow trucks. That, my friends, is why they run the races…
THIRD GEAR: Big Rebounds for Big Drivers
For drivers in need of a turnaround, the “shorter track” at the Monster Mile offered a different layout and a true opportunity to rebound. Kyle Larson was the biggest benefactor, surging to third on a series of late restarts after mired in a “sophomore slump” so bad he didn’t have a single top-5 finish through 12 races.
“We were terrible last week,” he said, 25th at Charlotte in what he felt was a low point of the season. “Really happy with how the team rebounded. Hopefully, this will transition into some momentum.”
Further down, Clint Bowyer was ninth, tying his best finish since February’s Daytona 500. On a difficult passing day, he moved up 11 spots from his 20th starting spot and had a top-5 finish in hand until the Hamlin incident zapped momentum late in the race. It’s astounding to note the former multi-race winner led just his second lap all year Sunday, still searching for his first victory since mid-2012.
FOURTH GEAR: Ford Floundering
Dover, once a stronghold for the Blue Oval crowd, became a sore spot this weekend. Only Aric Almirola finished inside the top 10, earning a season-high fifth when those around him crashed out late in the race. The next best anyone could muster was Joey Logano in 11th and Brad Keselowski in 12th. Keselowski, in particular was nasty on the radio, apologizing to crew chief Paul Wolfe after the race as Team Penske searches hard to make up a growing gap in raw speed. It was uncharacteristic Keselowski, outside the top 15 much of the day while both handling and track position were never on their side.
Roush Fenway Racing, whose difficulties have been well-documented here was even worse. Saturday, their development driver Chris Buescher won the XFINITY race but crashed into teammate Darrell Wallace Jr. to do it. (Wallace, so disgusted by the incident claimed “he wasn’t happy” Roush won and pledged to only attend Monday’s team meeting by phone). Then, during the Cup race struggling youngsters Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne spent time behind the wall for separate incidents. They were 37th and 43rd, respectively while Greg Biffle squandered a top-10 qualifying run by fading to 17th.
“I’m sorry I wrecked it,” said Bayne on the radio after the race. Sorry, at this point may not be good enough with no top-15 finishes through the regular season’s first half.
At least one team found it suspect Jimmie Johnson slammed into the outside wall after the race, slightly damaging the No. 48 before promptly clearing post-race inspection. “Jimmie just hit the wall with his right rear quarterpanel,” said Sam Hornish Jr.’s team on the radio. “They plan everything, don’t they?” … Kurt Busch, an innocent victim in the Denny Hamlin crash had some frustration boil over after the race. “I just knew something was going to happen today,” he said. “There was no way Dover was going to be anything proper whatsoever. The f***ing judicial system and everything else. Just perfect.” Patricia Driscoll, Busch’s ex-girlfriend saw her order of protection upheld in a Delaware court this week… Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart were among a group of drivers frustrated with Hornish at the end of the race. While the driver of the No. 9 Ford was five laps down, he mixed it up during the green-white-checkered finish with a handful of other drivers racing for position… Martin Truex Jr., sixth on Sunday has now led 357 laps in the last three races. By comparison, he led 354 laps combined during the entire 2013 and ’14 seasons.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
People aren't too happy with FIFA or Sepp Blatter at the moment.
When multiple hosts are going on and on about corruption and scandal, it's probably time to re-evaluate things. John Oliver is the latest to weigh-in. The "Last Week Tonight" host went on a 10-minute rant about the FIFA, its officials, and the sponsors. It wasn't pretty.
Toward the end Oliver pleads with multiple brands to pull their sponsorships with FIFA. He pledged to even drink a Bud Light Lime.
Come on, things don't need to go that far.
The American Athletic Conference has seen its share of changes recently, but this league should have more stability entering 2015. There’s a solid 12-team lineup in place with the addition of Navy, and the American Athletic Conference will have a title game in December at the home site of the divisional champion with the best record in league contests.
The winner of this league also has a good chance to claim the Group of 5 spot among college football’s biggest games.
Cincinnati and Houston are Athlon’s picks to win the divisions and meet in the American Athletic Conference title game. Here are a few storylines to watch in 2015, followed by Athlon’s full predictions.
5 Key Questions That Will Shape the AAC in 2015
Behind explosive and productive offenses, Cincinnati and Memphis are two of the league’s top contenders in 2015. But winning the conference championship for both programs will largely depend on the development of defense. Cincinnati allowed 27.2 points per game last season and gave up 33 plays of 30 yards or more. Coach Tommy Tuberville handed play-calling duties to Steve Clinkscale, and the new coordinator inherits five returning starters and question marks about the front seven. At Memphis, coach Justin Fuente lost rising star Barry Odom at coordinator and only return only three starters from a unit that held opponents to just 19.5 points per game in 2014. The development of defenses at Memphis and Cincinnati will have a huge impact on the battle to win the American Athletic Conference.
2. New Coaches, Big Impact
The American Athletic Conference welcomes three new coaches in its West Division for 2015. While none of the three are proven as a head coach in the collegiate ranks, all three programs received high marks for their offseason hire. Tom Herman comes to Houston after coordinating Ohio State’s offense, and the Cougars are Athlon’s pick to win the West Division in 2015. Chad Morris takes over at SMU after a stint as Clemson’s offensive coordinator. The Mustangs went 1-11 last year and should show big improvement in Morris’ debut. Tulsa hired Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, and the Texas native’s background on offense should pay dividends for the Golden Hurricane in 2015.
3. East Carolina Reloads on Offense
The Pirates were one of the top storylines at the start of 2014, as quarterback Shane Carden guided the program to wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina. But East Carolina lost four out of its last six games, and coach Ruffin McNeill’s team enters 2015 with question marks on offense. Carden and record-setting receiver Justin Hardy have expired their eligibility, and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley now calls the plays at Oklahoma. Sophomore Kurt Benkert has the difficult task of replacing Carden, but the Pirates have a solid offensive line and deep receiving corps to ease his transition into the lineup. With a schedule featuring matchups against Florida, Virginia Tech, BYU and a crossover game against Navy, East Carolina will be challenged to match last year’s 8-5 mark.
4. Navy Joins the American Athletic Conference
Navy leaves the Independent ranks to join the American Athletic Conference in 2015. The Midshipmen should be one of the top contenders for the league crown this year, as quarterback Keenan Reynolds returns after accounting for 29 scores in 2014. Under coach Ken Niumatalolo’s direction, Navy has won at least eight games in six out of the last seven years. While the Midshipmen have to travel to Memphis and Houston, Niumatalolo’s team misses Cincinnati, UCF and Temple from the East in crossover play. Navy’s style of play will be a challenge for the rest of the league. The Midshipmen also have the element of surprise in their conference debut.
5. Changes at South Florida
Is 2015 a make-or-break year for Taggart at South Florida? Taggart was a good hire after guiding Western Kentucky to 14 victories in his final two seasons (2011-12). But in two years, the Bulls are just 6-18 under Taggart’s watch, and the third-year coach made a handful of changes this offseason in an effort to spark the program. South Florida has a new up-tempo, spread offense, as well as a new defensive play-caller in Tom Allen. Taggart has recruited well, but the pressure is building to produce a winner. Will the Bulls take a step forward? Or will the quarterback and offensive line concerns be too much to overcome?
American Athletic Conference 2015 Team Previews
Visit the Athlon Sports Online Store to order a copy of the 2015 National College Football Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 128 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year.
American Athletic Conference Predictions for 2015
|Rank||Team||Projected AAC Record||Projected Overall Record|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of Cincinnati for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of Temple for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of UCF for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of East Carolina for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of USF for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of UConn for 2015.|
|Rank||Team||Projected AAC Record||Projected Overall Record|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of Houston for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of Navy for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of Memphis for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of SMU for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of Tulane for 2015.|
|Read the full, in-depth preview of Tulsa for 2015.|
American Athletic Conference Championship
|Cincinnati over Houston|
American Athletic 2015 Superlatives and Season Predictions
|Offensive POY||Keenan Reynolds|
|Defensive POY||Tyler Matakevich|
|Coach of the Year||Tom Herman|
|Coach on Hot Seat||Willie Taggart|
|Top Freshman||Tre'Quan Smith|
|Top Newcomer||Ryan Mack|
|Top Coordinator Hire||Todd Orlando|
|Key Position to Watch||Memphis DL/LB||Cincinnati DL||Houston QB||Cincinnati DL/LB|
|Hardest to Evaluate||USF||East Carolina||East Carolina||Navy|
|Coach on the Rise||Justin Fuente|
|Must-See Game||Cincinnati at|
|Breakout Player||Matt Davis|
|Comeback Player||Terrell Stanley|
Ranking the American Athletic Coaches for 2015
1. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati
2. Justin Fuente, Memphis
3. George O'Leary, UCF
4. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy
5. Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina
Ranking the American Athletic Quarterbacks for 2015
1. Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
2. Keenan Reynolds, Navy
3. Paxton Lynch, Memphis
4. Greg Ward, Houston
5. Justin Holman, UCF
Ranking the American Athletic Running Backs for 2015
1. Marlon Mack, USF
2. Kenneth Farrow, Houston
3. William Stanback, UCF
4. Sherman Badie, Tulane
5. Mike Boone, Cincinnati
The American Athletic's Top 5 Players on the Rise for 2015
1. Greg Ward, QB, Houston
2. Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF
3. Matt Davis, QB, SMU
4. Parry Nickerson, CB, Tulane
5. Noel Thomas, WR, UConn
The Top 5 Non-Conference Games for 2015
1. Cincinnati at BYU - Oct. 17
2. Houston at Louisville - Sept. 12
3. Navy vs. Army (Philadelphia) - Dec. 12
4. Navy at Notre Dame - Oct. 10
5. Ole Miss at Memphis - Oct. 12
Key Coordinator Hires for 2015
1. Todd Orlando, Co-Defensive Coordinator, Houston
2. Bill Young, Defensive Coordinator, Tulsa
3. Tom Allen, Defensive Coordinator, USF
4. Brent Key, Offensive Coordinator, UCF
5. Van Malone, Defensive Coordinator, SMU
Top Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)
1. Tristan Payton, WR, UCF
2. Chad President, QB, Tulsa
3. Tyreik Gray, RB, Houston
4. T.J. Simmons, RB, Temple
5. Kareem Ali Jr., DB, Temple
6. Ross Trail, QB, Cincinnati
7. Rashard Causey, DB, UCF
8. James Proche, WR, SMU
9. Khalid McGee, DB, USF
10. Luke Hiers, OL, UCF
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 12 this fall? Who has the easiest path?
The toughest non-conference game in the Big 12 this season is Texas' Week 1 trip to face Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. Add a rapidly improving Cal team and the Longhorns get the toughest non-conference slate of any team. The road schedule also includes Baylor, TCU and West Virginia (and Iowa State) as well as Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. The saving grace for Charlie Strong is that swing games with Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech come at home.
The Mountaineers boast the toughest road schedule in the Big 12 of any team in the league. West Virginia has to face the top three (Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma) on the road as well as always-tough Kansas State. It gets just four Big 12 home games and also has to play a quality Big Ten team in Maryland and a tricky mid-major in Georgia Southern.
Memphis at home and Rutgers on the road are tough non-conference games for a first-year regime. Add to that road trips to TCU, Oklahoma State and Texas and there just aren’t many winnable games on this schedule. Iowa State on the road might be KU’s best shot at a Big 12 win. The home slate offers Baylor, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas State. This should be good to ticket sales, but not for wins.
One of the toughest non-conference games in the Big 12 this fall is Oklahoma’s trip to Tennessee. The Sooners' league road slate is a mixed bag. The TCU and West Virginia games will come at home but huge showdowns with Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas (neutral) will come away from Norman.
5. Iowa State
For most teams, a non-conference slate of Northern Iowa, Iowa and Toledo isn’t overly daunting. For Iowa State, it could be concerning. Mix in five road games in the Big 12 to some serious outposts (Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State, West Virginia, Texas Tech) and the only chances for conference wins this fall likely come at home (Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State, TCU).
5. Texas Tech
Getting TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State at home is huge but the road games are brutal for Tech. Visiting Austin, Norman, Morgantown and Arkansas is downright nasty. Sam Houston State and UTEP are guaranteed wins (along with Kansas and Iowa State) and playing Baylor in Arlington offers some semblance of comfort.
A road trip to Minnesota on opening weekend could be tricky, but the Gophers aren’t as good as last year’s team that got smoked in Fort Worth. Home games with Baylor, West Virginia and Texas are huge for the Frogs while five road games in the Big 12 create come upset chances. Trips to both Oklahoma schools, Manhattan, Kan., and Lubbock, Texas, could all be tricky. This isn’t one of the tougher slates but it’s not as easy as the three other contenders.
8. Kansas State
The non-conference schedule should provide three wins for Bill Snyder’s rebuilt Wildcats. Getting Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and West Virginia at home makes pulling an upset very likely at some point during the year. Otherwise, the road schedule’s worst two trips come against a pair of teams (Texas, Oklahoma State) that went 6-6 in the regular season in 2014.
The Bears should once again be concerned about a meaningless non-conference schedule — unless Chad Morris works some miracle at SMU. Road trips to TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State should be points of focus but the rest of the key games (Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia) come at home while Texas Tech happens in JerryWorld.
10. Oklahoma State
The easiest road slate in the Big 12 includes Iowa State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Texas — all teams picked in the bottom half of the Big 12. The home schedule offers some huge chances at upsets with TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Kansas coming to Stillwater. And the three non-conference games are all walks in the park.
The ACC enters 2015 as a league in transition. No team from this conference was projected to make the college football playoff in Athlon Sports’ rankings for the upcoming season, and there’s a loss of star power with the departure of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley and Miami running back Duke Johnson.
In 2014, 13 out of the ACC’s 14 programs lost at least two games in league play. Florida State was the only exception, finishing with a perfect 8-0 mark. The Seminoles are the favorites to win the ACC for the fourth consecutive year. But the gap between Florida State and the rest of the league has decreased in 2015.
5 Key Questions That Will Shape the ACC in 2015
1. Jimbo Fisher Rebuilds (Reloads?) at Florida State
Florida State is coming off one of the best two-year runs by a program in recent memory. The Seminoles went 27-1 during that span and claimed the 2013 national championship. Fisher has returned this program back to the nation’s elite and enters 2015 with a rebuilding effort on his hands. Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson and Sean Maguire will compete to replace Jameis Winston, but the bigger question mark on this team is on defense after giving up 5.5 yards per play last year. With the departures of end Mario Edwards Jr. and tackle Eddie Goldman, along with a thin linebacking corps, the Seminoles are searching for answers on this side of the ball. Talent certainly isn’t an issue. How quickly does Florida State reload in 2015? If all of the young talent emerges, another playoff run is within reach.
Podcast: Complete 2015 ACC Preview and Predictions
2. Offense and Defense Question Marks at Clemson
Clemson’s defense was arguably the best in the nation last season, limiting opponents to 16.7 points per game and just four yards per play. Coordinator Brent Venables has a lot of work to do this offseason, as the Tigers return just two starters and suffered big losses at each level. The good news for Venables? There’s plenty of talent ready to emerge. But until the defense is stabilized, the offense may have to carry this team. Just like the defense, there’s question marks, but also a lot of promising talent. Sophomore Deshaun Watson is the ACC’s top quarterback, and the Tigers are loaded at the skill positions. The offense should remain one of the best in the conference, but how much will this unit miss coordinator Chad Morris? He left to be the head coach at SMU, and coach Dabo Swinney promoted Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott to the co-coordinator level.
3. Coastal Division Uncertainty
It seems to be an annual storyline in recent years, but the Coastal Division is a wide open race once again. Georgia Tech should be the favorite with the return of quarterback Justin Thomas and an improving defense. However, coach Paul Johnson’s team loses seven of the top 10 rushers from last year, along with receiver DeAndre Smelter. Additionally, Georgia Tech plays crossover games against Clemson and Florida State. But if the Yellow Jackets stumble, which team will emerge? Virginia Tech has the top defense in the ACC. However, question marks remain on offense. Is Miami ready to contend in Al Golden’s fifth year? Will North Carolina’s defense improve? Or is this the year where a surprise team like Pittsburgh or Duke wins the division? Questions abound in the Coastal in 2015.
With the three projected top 25 teams for 2015 all suffering key losses from last season, there’s plenty of room for a sleeper to emerge. The gap between the top and the middle of the ACC has closed a bit with the losses at the top three programs, but which team will take advantage? Is it Louisville? The Cardinals need to settle on a quarterback and rebuild the offensive line, but the defense should be stout once again. Pittsburgh has a favorable crossover by missing three of the top four teams in the Atlantic and returns two of the ACC’s top players in running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd. How much will the defense improve in Pat Narduzzi’s first year? NC State closed 2014 by winning four out of its last five. The Wolfpack return 14 starters, including quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Another step forward in the win column wouldn’t be a surprise.
2015 could be a make-or-break year for Virginia’s Mike London and Miami’s Al Golden. London is 23-38 in five years with the Cavaliers and has not played in a bowl since 2011. After showing progress last season with five victories, London needs to get Virginia back into the postseason in 2015. For Miami, the Hurricanes are still looking for the first appearance in the ACC Championship. Miami showed signs of progress with a 9-4 record in 2013 but has just one season of more than seven wins under Golden. After going 6-7 last year, the pressure is building at Miami. Adding to Golden’s challenge in 2015 will be a rebuilt offensive line, the loss of running back Duke Johnson and the departure of standout linebacker Denzel Perryman.
ACC 2015 Team Previews
Visit the Athlon Sports Online Store to order a copy of the 2015 ACC Preview Magazine, which features in-depth analysis and previews for all 14 teams, predictions, rankings and features to prepare for the upcoming year.
ACC Predictions for 2015
ACC 2015 Superlatives and Season Predictions
|Defensive POY||Jalen Ramsey|
CB, Va. Tech
|Coach of the Year||Jimbo Fisher|
|Coach on Hot Seat||Mike London|
|Top Freshman||Derwin James|
|George Campbell, WR, FSU|
|Top Newcomer||Everett Golson|
|Sleeper Team||NC State||NC State||NC State||Duke||Miami|
|Top Coordinator Hire||Gene Chizik|
|Key Position to Watch||Florida State DL||Virginia Tech OL||Florida State OL||Clemson|
|Florida State OL|
|Hardest to Evaluate||Miami||Miami||Miami||North Carolina||Miami|
|Coach on the Rise||Josh Conklin|
|Must-See Game||FSU at Clemson||FSU at|
|FSU at Clemson||FSU at Clemson||FSU at Clemson|
|Breakout Player||Shaq Lawson|
|Comeback Player||Luther Maddy|
DT, Va. Tech
RB, Va. Tech
Ranking the ACC's Coaches for 2015
1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
2. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
3. David Cutcliffe, Duke
4. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
5. Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
Ranking the ACC's Quarterbacks for 2015
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
2. Brad Kaaya, Miami
3. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
4. Marquise Williams, North Carolina
5. Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Click here to view the full ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2015
Ranking the ACC's Running Backs for 2015
1. James Conner, Pittsburgh
2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
3. Jon Hilliman, Boston College
4. Joseph Yearby, Miami
5. Shadrach Thornton, NC State
The ACC's Top 5 Players on the Rise for 2015
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
3. Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
4. Rod Johnson, OT, Florida State
5. Wyatt Teller, OG, Virginia Tech
Top 5 Non-Conference Games for 2015
1. Notre Dame at Clemson (Oct. 3)
2. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 28)
3. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame (Sept. 19)
4. Louisville vs. Auburn (Atlanta (Sept. 5)
5. Georgia at Georgia Tech (Nov. 28)
Key Coordinator Hires for 2015
1. Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina
2. Josh Conklin, Defensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
3. Jim Chaney, Offensive Coordinator, Pittsburgh
4. Tony Elliott/Jeff Scott, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
5. Todd Fitch, Offensive Coordinator, Boston College
Top Incoming Freshmen (from 247Sports)
1. Derwin James, S, Florida State
2. Josh Sweat, DL, Florida State
3. Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State
4. Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
5. George Campbell, WR, Florida State
6. Mitch Hyatt, OL, Clemson
7. Christian Wilkins, DL, Clemson
8. Jacques Patrick, RB, Florida State
9. Jalen Dalton, DL, North Carolina
10. Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
Anthony Davis has a new molder. The best young NBA big man this side of Shaquille O’Neal was the best selling point for any free agent coach this offseason, once Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans created an opening by dismissing Monty Williams after five years of service.
Now, Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry takes Williams’ old job. The former head coach of the Phoenix Suns, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons and Los Angeles Clippers has been in the league, in one capacity or another, since 1989. One of the shrewdest offensive strategists of today, he propelled the Suns’ seven-seconds-or-less squad to their deepest playoff run, when they came within two games of the Finals in 2010.
Gentry has also been integral to Steve Kerr’s adjustment curve as a rookie head coach for the Warriors, and the advancement of Stephen Curry’s game to an MVP level. Before he takes over in New Orleans, of course, he still has to help his current roster through the 2015 Finals, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"I'm truly honored for the opportunity to lead the Pelicans as their head coach and am anxious to get started," Gentry said in a public statement. His contract is said to be worth $13.7 million, over four years, with a team option in the fourth year.
Whether New Orleans exercises the fourth year, and whether Gentry’s tenure is considered a success, will likely hinge upon how far he can take Davis and Co. into the playoffs. Ownership had made it clear to Williams that his job would not be safe if the Pelicans missed the postseason in 2015, but they fired him even though New Orleans grabbed the eighth spot in the stacked Western Conference.
Clearly, expectations are high for Gentry in his new position — as they should be when Davis, a generational talent, is in tow. Honorable of a job as Williams did, Gentry is by all accounts the right man to take the best young player in the game to the next level. This is going to be fun.
— John Wilmes
Nick Saban's daughter got married this past weekend, and it was as Alabama as a wedding could get.
There were dances with the school's mascot. The band played "Sweet Home Alabama" with the spontaneous adding of "Roll Tide Roll" spliced between.
Saban looked like a proud papa as he walked his daughter down the aisle and during the father-daugther dance.
The newlyweds ended the night with fireworks and a ride in a Rolls-Royce out of Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Roll tide roll.
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 81-100 rankings release features only three teams from the Power 5 leagues. The majority of the programs in this batch of rankings is from the Group of 5 leagues, including a program on the rise in Western Michigan, two talented Sun Belt programs in UL Lafayette and Appalachian State and Air Force and Nevada from the Mountain West.
Note: Ranking is where team is projected to finish at the end of the 2015 season
College Football's 2015 Projected Rankings: No. 81-100
81. Western Michigan
WMU won eight games in 2014, but “we probably won more games on paper than what kind of football team we actually had,” P.J. Fleck says. “We kind of got on a roll.” This year’s team might be better and win less. The schedule is unforgiving. In an apparent effort to win the Big Ten’s East Division, the Broncos get Michigan State and Ohio State in September, opening with the Spartans in Kalamazoo. They close with midweek road games at division rivals Northern Illinois and Toledo, both of which Fleck has yet to beat. “We’ve done all the work to earn expectations,” Fleck says. Meeting them will be a bear.
82. Wake Forest
Coach Dave Clawson, coming off two straight bowl games at Bowling Green, walked into a disaster. The Deacons will be one of the nation’s youngest teams again, and the offense could feature eight underclassmen as starters. They have a difficult schedule and are likely a year away from being truly competitive, but Clawson’s recruiting classes have been historically good, giving hope that he can transform the program.
83. Air Force
The Falcons averaged 31.5 points per game in 2014. That number could jump to near 40 this season. The fullbacks and receivers are at historical strength, and if opposing defensive coordinators stack against the run, Romine owns the arm power and accuracy to torch defensive backs.
But can the defense keep opposing offenses in check? The Falcons win, and win big, when their undersized defenders consistently keep opponents under 25 points per game.
Expect the Falcons to rush to a winning record, which would be the seventh in nine seasons under coach Troy Calhoun, but the youthful defense must quickly jell for the Falcons to again flirt with 10 wins.
Having yet to win a Big Ten home game in coach Darrell Hazell’s first two seasons and having failed to win any game after the first week of October, Purdue needs to take a big step in 2015 to placate a fan base that is grumbling after a November free fall that included losing to rival Indiana for a second consecutive season. The defense has a chance to be much better, and the offensive line is sound with six players back who started at least six games in 2014. But other than receiver Danny Anthrop, the Boilermakers are lacking in proven playmakers — and he is coming off a torn ACL.
Finding a way to get out of the Big Ten West basement will be quite a challenge.
Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer has his work cut out to improve on a 3–9 season. Margin for error will be slim with a new offensive system and eight new defensive starters. And with (now former) athletic director Daryl Gross choosing to “take on new challenges” following the NCAA’s handing down of sanctions in March, Shafer could be coaching for his job.
86. Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs are expected to repeat as C-USA West champs, though their two most challenging league games — Western Kentucky and Rice — are both on the road. Two other significant road challenges will come at Kansas State (9–4 in 2014) and Mississippi State (10–3), although coach Skip Holtz should plan on another bowl trip this holiday season. Florida transfer quarterback Jeff Driskel’s acclimation to his new offense is the key. He has plenty of skill pieces in place to propel him to the consistent level of success he never enjoyed at Florida. The defense is again loaded with playmakers, but linebackers must emerge if it wants to be one of the league’s best units. This should be another fun season in Ruston.
87. UL Lafayette
This is a program that has thrived under coach Mark Hudspeth’s leadership, and the Cajuns are expected to continue to enjoy success again this year. They have posted four consecutive 9–4 records and four straight New Orleans Bowl appearances. While competition will be strong, Lafayette is expected to contend for the Sun Belt title once again. There is concern based on inexperience at a couple of key positions, most notably quarterback and on the defensive line, but there is also a confidence among those in the program based on recent success.
MTSU has been bowl-eligible in five of the past six seasons, and the 2015 squad has enough talent and experience to add to that total. But the schedule doesn’t do the Blue Raiders any favors. Two weeks after a trip to Alabama, MTSU begins a three-game stretch against Illinois, Vanderbilt and high-powered rival Western Kentucky. The senior-laden squad could be coach Rick Stockstill’s best in a few years, but the record might not show it.
“We’ve got some tough road games; it’s not just our out-of-conference games,” Stockstill says. “Western Kentucky could be favored to win the East, and we go there. Louisiana Tech could be favored to win the West, and we go there. But for us to contend (in Conference USA), we have got to stay healthy through those first five games so we can play well down the stretch in our conference.”
Rice has come a long way since the days of being “everybody’s homecoming game,” head coach David Bailiff says. The best three-year stretch in school history has produced three straight bowl appearances (two wins), 25 victories and a 2013 C-USA title. Construction began this offseason on a $31.5 million end-zone training facility, and there are talks about a much-needed facelift for Rice Stadium. With so many questions — and a tough opening month — it might be asking too much to come close to the win totals from the last three seasons, but the Owls should be in position for another bowl trip.
The transition from FCS powerhouse to Sun Belt newcomer was likely a jarring one for Mountaineers fans who fondly recall the heady days of winning national titles and authoring an all-time great upset at Michigan. But this season should provide them with a pleasant taste of their new normal.
By finishing third in the Sun Belt last season, the Mountaineers showed they could compete. With loads of experience back and plenty of confidence banked from last year’s strong finish, there’s no reason to believe this season can’t be even better.
Throw in the fact that the Mountaineers could now earn a bowl invite — they were barred from it last season — and have a schedule that features home games against league heavyweights UL-Lafayette, Arkansas State and longtime Southern Conference rival Georgia Southern, and life on the FBS level should begin to feel just right.
With questions at quarterback, offensive line and receiver, Nevada will rely on its improving defense. Still, there will be bumps.
San Diego State is the favorite in the West Division, but Nevada isn’t far behind. A favorable home conference slate should help Nevada land a bowl game for the 10th time in 11 years.
UMass won just one game in each of its first two FBS seasons. Last year it jumped up to three wins and nearly had more as a play or two might have changed the results of several games. With most of last year’s team returning, the Minutemen have a chance to take a significant step forward. It’s a critical year for UMass, which is leaving the MAC after the season for an undetermined stretch as an Independent. It’s hoped that a strong year capped by UMass’ first bowl appearance since 1972 might pique the interest of a conference willing to offer permanent membership.
93. Texas State
Texas State has been knocking on the door for a bowl game during the past two seasons. In fact, the Bobcats were the only 7–5 bowl-eligible team not to receive a postseason invite last season. To secure its first bowl berth in program history, Texas State will likely ask its offense to carry the torch early in the hope that its defense will flourish toward the end of the season. The Bobcats have a favorable home schedule but must face league powers Arkansas State, Georgia Southern and UL Lafayette on the road. If Texas State can sweep its home slate and steal one or two games on the road, coach Dennis Franchione’s team should finally bust down the bowl door.
94. Ball State
Blessed with 17 returning starters from a group that won four of its final six games, Ball State ought to be able to shrug off last year’s step back and be a factor in the tough MAC West. The key is how Jack Milas grows into the starting quarterback role. “I’m not going to say he has arrived by any means,” Pete Lembo says, “but he’s more comfortable out there.”
Wyoming is still a work in progress after switching offensive and defensive philosophies when Craig Bohl was hired. More development should occur this season with a more manageable schedule, but the Cowboys are still a couple of years away from being serious contenders in the Mountain West.
96. New Mexico
New Mexico faces five teams that won four or fewer games last season, plus FCS member Mississippi Valley State, so getting to six wins is not an impossible task. Should quarterback Austin Apodaca adjust to the running portion of the offense and create a legitimate passing attack, New Mexico is going to score enough to win some games.
Defensively, the team gave up more than 28 points per game against unranked opponents, a number that simply has to come down. A bowl game is the ceiling for this year’s team, but it is a ceiling that at least appears to be reachable for the first time in the Bob Davie era.
The third year of the Terry Bowden era was a major disappointment as the Zips finished with a second straight 5–7 record. Led by some key returnees and a host of talented transfers, Akron should take a step forward in 2015 and contend in the MAC East Division. Anything short of a winning record will be considered a disappointment.
Coming off a 6–6 season in which the Bobcats were blown out several times, Ohio should rebound nicely in 2015. With experienced depth across the board, an aggressive, quick defense, and an emerging star in running back A.J. Ouellette, the Bobcats won’t be learning on the fly like they were in 2014. Ohio will be a factor in the MAC East, and a bump in wins and a bowl berth should be the expectation.
99. South Florida
It has the look of a produce-or-else season for Willie Taggart, who is 6–18 with the Bulls and must avoid the program’s fifth straight season without a bowl appearance. Taggart fired three assistant coaches immediately after last season, including both coordinators. He changed the offensive style of play, shocking observers who said Taggart was too stubborn.
Running back Marlon Mack is a wonderful weapon. There are some building blocks on defense. But the schedule is formidable, and the Bulls must make a big jump to reach the postseason. The offense may be picking up the pace, but Taggart is running out of time.
In just three springs, coach Sean Kugler has built exactly the team he wants at his alma mater: An offense that pounds the ball up the middle, a stout defense that makes plays and a squad that avoids penalties and turnovers. UTEP’s problems have come when it runs into teams with a similar mentality and better personnel, which happened in four of the six losses last season and figures to happen in the first game of the season at Arkansas. These Miners, though, should be better than last year, and for the first time since 2006, they’re building off a winning season.
Basketball is a tough game especially if the stakes are high.
North Carolina State alum Alex Johnson pulled off the basketball game to end all games. While playing with girlfriend Brey Dorsett, he pretended to trip and fall. Before he got all the way up, he stopped on one knee.
Dorsett is of course shocked because she's sweaty and not expecting a proposal at this moment, but she says yes and it's a cute moment to tell the kids later in life.
All fights between this couple will be solved on the court.
This has been an exciting NBA season.
The Warriors and Cavaliers are set to meet in the Finals, but before they do let's take a look back at the exciting moments of the season. Buzzer-beaters are the best and most heart-wrenching moments all in one.
Take a look at your favorite team's triumph or agony in one clip.
Texas A&M will take the field in 2015 looking better than ever thanks to Snoop Dogg.
The popular rapper, along with adidas, hooked the Aggies up with an awesome cleat. As part of the new Uncaged Collection, the cleat is lighter and features sweet artwork on the side.
As imagined, every player getting the cleats are not only happy about the design, but the ties to "The Doggfather" as well.
Bob Ley is probably one of the more calmer personalities at ESPN. When he's seen enough, you know it's enough.
The "Outside The Lines" host discussed FIFA on SportsCenter, and he wasn't buying any of the story he's heard about it. Ley even went as far as to rip up the release by FIFA.
Braxton Miller’s future at Ohio State has been a hot topic since the end of the 2014 season. But according to coach Urban Meyer, Miller will be playing for the Buckeyes in 2015.
Meyer told reporters on Friday that Miller is “playing for Ohio State this fall.”
Urban Meyer on Braxton Miller status: "He's playing for Ohio State (this) fall."— Tim May (@TIM_MAYsports) May 29, 2015
Additionally, Meyer mentioned Miller’s rehab is going well from shoulder surgery and is now throwing 35-yard passes.
Meyer said Braxton Miller is up to throwing football 35 yards now with zip. As I reported months ago, he's on rigid rehab sched.— Tim May (@TIM_MAYsports) May 29, 2015
Ohio State has three proven quarterbacks entering fall practice and plenty of uncertainty about which passer takes the first snap.
Here’s a quick take on each quarterback:
Jones entered the year as the third-string quarterback but finished as the team’s No. 1 after injuries to Miller and J.T. Barrett. Jones guided Ohio State to the national championship and was the only healthy quarterback out of this trio in the spring. He should be the favorite to take the first snap.
With Meyer’s comments on Friday, it’s safe to assume Miller will be back at Ohio State for 2015. Returning from a shoulder injury is no easy task for a quarterback. Could he play another position in 2015?
Before suffering a season-ending leg injury against Michigan, Barrett threw for 34 touchdowns and 2,834 yards. There’s a lot of upside with Barrett, and he could work as the team’s No. 2 quarterback if Miller shifts to a different position. Assuming Barrett is at full strength, he should see playing time in 2015.
Art Briles has transformed Baylor into one of college football’s top programs in recent years, and the Bears are expected to be one of the leading contenders for a spot in the four-team playoff this season.
And in the process of competing for the Big 12 title once again, Baylor will have a new set of gray uniforms for 2015.
The uniforms were tweeted by Briles on Friday morning and are a sharp design for the Bears. Needless to say, we like this scheme for Baylor:
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.