In eight days, Auburn will begin its 2015 season in a venue that it wants to return to in December—the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Tigers are the preseason pick by the SEC media to return to the Dome and capture their second conference championship in three seasons.
But Auburn will enter next Saturday's season opener against Louisville with a handful of question marks that need to be answered before a push for a title.
What do the Tigers need to accomplish in order to claim another championship in the nation's toughest conference? Here's the blueprint for success in 2015.
Establish consistent receivers not named Duke Williams
The hype surrounding Jeremy Johnson is real, and it is unstoppable.
Johnson could be the next Cam Newton or the best pure passer in Auburn football history, but it's going to be hard for him to prove that—and for the Tigers offense to hit the next level—with just one successful receiver.
Duke Williams lived up to his reputation as a physical receiver with a seemingly infinite catch radius last season. While his surprise return to the team has featured some bumps in the road, Williams will be the clear-cut No. 1 receiver on the Plains this season.
Part of what made Williams such a breakout star for Auburn last season was the presence of Sammie Coates, who is now in the NFL. Coates could stretch the field with his impressive speed, which left Williams to dominate the intermediate routes.
Auburn needs to find that secondary threat to line up with Williams, or teams will be able to lock down the senior star. Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray have shown flashes of becoming that vertical threat in their first few seasons with the team.
"Melvin is probably as steady a guy as we've had in the first two years," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said, per Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com. "He's not flashy, but every time you watch film, he's always doing right... Ricardo has loads of talent. He's made a lot of plays in the last two years; it's can he do it at a consistent rate."
One of the most underrated losses in the offseason was Quan Bray, a departed senior who was the team's No. 3 receiver over the last two seasons. He had five more receptions than Coates last year and just as many touchdowns.
Having Williams back is fantastic for the Tigers, but if Johnson is going to be the pass-first player who will change the way Auburn attacks opponents, he can't do it with just one star.
The 2013 run-first Tigers used multiple rushers—Nick Marshall, Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant—to pave the way for a championship. Finding that vertical threat and an established No. 3 in what is a deep group of receivers is paramount for this year's offense, which is looking to get to the next level through the air.
Bring back the pass rush
Auburn's depth in the secondary is what it is. Malzahn called it one of his two biggest concerns heading into the season, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com, and new defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson has plainly stated that true freshmen will have to play at corner this fall.
Even with the addition of Blake Countess in the offseason, a secondary that has struggled with limiting big plays through the air over the last two years will be the Tigers' weakest link in 2015. And while the young corners could rise up and become better than expected this fall, it's hard to put a lot of faith in guys who were playing high school ball less than a year ago.
How far Auburn's defense improves under Muschamp in year one is what the team's championship campaign hinges on in the eyes of many experts across the country. The Tigers should be improved in run defense with the return of veteran defensive tackles and linebackers—the passing game is the biggest concern.
The lack of a pass rush was part of Auburn's undoing last season, and its return could mask the flaws of a thin secondary this fall. Auburn can't magically add new players to the defensive backfield, but it can ease the pressure by wreaking havoc in the opponent's backfield.
The return of the "unblockable" Carl Lawson should fix some of those woes. Per the team website, the former 5-star had four sacks and seven quarterback hurries in his true freshman campaign, but he missed all of 2014 with an ACL injury.
But, like Williams in the receiving game, Lawson can't do it alone. Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com nailed it with his take on the position battle opposite Lawson, who will take the stand-up "Buck" role in Muschamp's new defensive scheme.
"Yes, the secondary has depth questions, but Auburn has to find a consistent pass rush, and you know offenses will be keying on Lawson," Aschoff wrote. "He will need help if the Tigers are going to get to the quarterback better than they did last season."
Senior DaVonte Lambert, who led Auburn with just 3.5 sacks last season, is back at practice after an ACL injury of his own. The Tigers will need improvement from returning faces such as Lambert and possibly a breakout year from 5-star true freshman Byron Cowart in order to reach full potential in the pass rush.
Without it, this defense will be chasing receivers game after game this season.
If you lose, don't do it at the end
With several question marks heading into the season, it's hard to see a team like Auburn running the table in the brutal SEC West this season. Each team has a legitimate claim as a contender.
But one of the best aspects of Auburn's preseason resume is the end of the season, when it gets the "Amen Corner" duo of Georgia and Alabama inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Those two teams are Auburn's biggest competition for the SEC title this season, according to the preseason polls, and the Tigers will have an advantage for each matchup.
As the Tigers showed in 2013, having those home games is quite beneficial, especially if they lose a conference game early in the season. Two years ago, Auburn had time to rebound from a loss to LSU and start its run to the national championship.
Two losses probably won't cut it in the race for the SEC West, and winning the head-to-head against Alabama is important—it's hard to visualize a scenario where the Crimson Tide have two losses heading into the Iron Bowl against an unbeaten Auburn.
LSU could be a tricky matchup in Week 3, especially if the Tigers can find a quarterback and some momentum in Death Valley. Arkansas' ground-and-pound style will challenge the strength of the Muschamp defense.
And if Auburn can make it to College Station unscathed, a loss to air-it-out Texas A&M won't eliminate the Tigers from championship contention. A loss to Georgia might be the most acceptable—if there is such a thing as an acceptable defeat in Auburn—because it wouldn't damage a tiebreaker in the West.
Auburn's path to winning the SEC West and eventually the SEC championship is simply more than just "beat Alabama." The Tigers have to fight through a rigorous schedule with one loss at the most and then win another winner-take-all matchup with the Tide in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The 2013 Tigers drew up the blueprint—have multiple weapons on offense, use the pass rush to cover any major flaws on defense and rally back from an early loss to sweep an all-home "Amen Corner."
This year's team may do things a little differently, but the pieces are in place for another run.
Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Eight days from Notre Dame football’s season opener against Texas, the Irish depth chart is sharpening in focus. There’s still one position, however, with uncertainty and flexibility: tight end.
As quick as Notre Dame is to bill itself as “Tight End U,” and rightfully so, the Irish only bring back one reception for seven yards at the position—a first-quarter grab by Durham Smythe against Arizona State. Despite the lack of past production and clarity, Irish head coach Brian Kelly is confident in his five tight ends and the different strengths they bring onto the field.
“We’ve got some really good flexibility,” Kelly said last week. “I think at the end of the day we can really do some things with those tight ends to keep teams off balance.”
Smythe, a redshirt sophomore, stood out as the top tight end throughout the spring. However, the Belton, Texas, native tweaked his hamstring during Notre Dame’s fourth fall practice.
Until Smythe returned to full contact last week, second-year tight ends Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua received more first-team reps in practices open to the media. Smythe said the hamstring hasn’t bothered him at all since returning to full strength.
“I think there is that sense of competition, but I think that helps all of us,” Smythe said. “And you know there are guys who come in and have strengths in certain areas of the game. And if those strengths are strong enough and you can play and help the team, sure, we’ll find a role for that.”
Smythe still figures to headline the position. Now in his third year on campus, he has bulked up to roughly 245-250 pounds, the result of a winter and spring spent focusing on weight gain and strength progression. Smythe admitted he edged toward pass-catching on the receiving-blocking spectrum of tight ends coming out of high school.
“Now that I’ve established some weight gain, some strength gain and stuff, if I really had to put one strength above everything else, I think it’s starting to become the knowledge of the offense,” Smythe said.
“I think over the past couple years, I guess I’m technically the oldest tight end with experience,” said Smythe with a laugh.
Luatua, meanwhile, has dropped down to 255 pounds, and the quiet sophomore mostly factored into Notre Dame’s offense as a blocker in 2014.
“Coming into camp, I feel like I’ve improved in the passing game a lot more than during the spring,” Luatua said. “I lost weight. I’m gaining back more muscle.”
While Luatua has dropped extra weight, Weishar continues to pack on pounds. A 220-pound wide receiver in high school, Weishar said he’s now up to 245 pounds. The Midlothian, Illinois, native flashed in the fall as a red-zone target, shielding defenders along the goal line.
“I think as a tight end that’s one of the main things we need to focus on, is being viable threats in the red zone,” Weishar said.
Speaking of pass-catching threats, Kelly said freshman Alize Jones could even line up at wide receiver for Notre Dame and called him “a matchup nightmare.”
Fifth-year senior Chase Hounshell, a converted defensive lineman, rounds out the group. Hounshell admitted he thought his Irish career was over after Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU in December. After dropping 20 pounds, Hounshell gives the Irish depth as a blocking option.
“Every single one of the tight ends brings something different to the table,” Hounshell said. “We all have different strengths.”
Kelly said Notre Dame can deploy those strengths situationally.
“We’ve really recognized—especially this spring leading into this fall camp—that we have a lot of guys who can make plays in every facet of the game,” Smythe said. “So if there’s an opportunity to get three, three-plus tight ends on the field, I think as a group we’re really in support of that.”
“We could go 0-5 personnel,” Smythe joked. “We could just put one of us at quarterback.”
All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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The 2015 college football season kicks off in less than a week, but we always keep an eye on national signing day here at Bleacher Report. Plenty of premier prospects enter their final high school campaigns uncommitted, creating opportunities for programs to make a push in their respective recruitments.
While surveying an array of available young talent, it quickly becomes apparent how much teams covet particular targeted athletes. Ongoing communication with coaching staffs and official visits will eventually determine who ends up where next year.
We examined every squad in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll, determining which prized prospects present the most intrigue for each team. Here's a look at the players programs must focus on in the coming months and how they could make an impact at these universities as early as 2016.
Based on the wording—and more importantly, the timing—of Tim Beckman's firing Friday, it was clear that Illinois could no longer continue with him as its head coach.
With a mere week remaining until the Fighting Illini's season opener against Kent State, Illinois announced it had relieved Beckman of his duties citing "preliminary results of an external review into allegations involving the program." That review was the byproduct of claims of mistreatment from former Illini offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic.
Several ex-Illinois players backed up Cvijanovic's claims in a July report in the Chicago Tribune by Jared S. Hopkins and Shannon Ryan.
"The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I’ve chosen to act accordingly," Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas said in a statement. "During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program."
Make no mistake, Illinois' firing of Beckman is a move that comes better late than never. If the school felt so strongly that it opted to remove its head coach just seven days out from the start of the season, that's a pretty clear indication of the severity of the findings of its investigation.
The Fighting Illini have essentially sacrificed their 2015 season in favor of dealing with the mess that accompanies a head coach's firing on such short notice. But it's a mess that should have been avoided altogether.
Because while Illinois can now claim just cause in firing Beckman—the school says he won't receive the final $3.1 million remaining on the final two years of his contract—the reality is that his dismissal should have come much sooner.
While the details of the findings of the investigation still remain unclear—and unfinished—perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against Beckman's ability as a college football coach came at the end of the school's statement announcing his firing, when it listed the results of each of his three seasons in Champaign.
Over the course of his time in charge of the Illini, Beckman compiled a 12-25 record, including a disastrous 4-20 mark in Big Ten play. One could have argued he should've been fired after Illinois' 4-8 season in 2013, where the Illini lost seven of their final eight games, their lone win in that stretch being a 20-16 victory over lowly Purdue.
It may have even made sense to let him go after his debut season in 2012, a 2-10 campaign that offered plenty of signs of the rocky nature that would be omnipresent throughout his Illinois tenure.
After a third consecutive losing season in 2014, however, there seemed to be no reasons left for the Illini to enter Year 4 of the Beckman era, his lone saving grace being an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against Louisiana Tech, which Illinois would lose, 35-18.
But despite the dwindling attendance at Memorial Stadium and a recruiting resume that offered no better than a No. 47 nationally ranked class in four cycles, Illinois opted to stick with Beckman, seemingly based on a backdoor Big Ten finish that allowed it to meet he minimum total of wins for a bowl appearance.
That kept the Illini standing on the sideline for the hirings of hot head coaching candidates like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who wound up as the head coaches at Pitt and Houston, respectively.
Instead of hiring such replacements, Illinois spent the offseason with a head coach on the hot seat and will enter the 2015 campaign under the direction of interim coach Bill Cubit, who went 51-47 as the head coach of Western Michigan from 2005 to 2012 before joining Beckman's staff as the offensive coordinator in 2013.
That's not to say Illinois won't wind up with a suitable long-term successor, as Western Michigan's P.J. Fleck and Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash are already names that come to mind as potential replacements. The Fighting Illini likely would have been looking for a new head coach next offseason anyway, considering Beckman's lack of an extension this offseason, and can now spend 2015 getting a head start on their search.
That head start, however, will come at least eight months too late.
On the one hand, Illinois should be commended for being willing to take this disaster head on, knowing the ripple effect that making this move at this time will create.
On the other hand, it's a disaster that should have never come to fruition in the first place.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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College football players come in all shapes and sizes, but some are bigger, or smaller, than others. Much bigger or smaller.
Offensive linemen are built to be big, but some manage to grow to such gargantuan sizes they break the mold for the position. Some are so humongous and yet so athletic that limiting them to just blocking and pulling isn't enough.
And on the smaller side, the tiniest players often have a distinct advantage over their bigger brethren because they can slip through tight spaces and sidestep troublesome tacklers.
As we move within a week of the start of the 2015 season, it's time to turn the spotlight on some of the game's most notable players who fall to one extreme side or the other of the big/small spectrum. Here's our look at college football's smallest and tallest players, highlighting how they and their teams hope to maximize their size (or lack thereof) this fall.
The first half of the college football season calendar has some interesting games. Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss which matchups you should be excited to see.
Which games are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments section below.
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One week before opening the 2015 season on September 4, Illinois has fired head football coach Tim Beckman.
University of Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas announced Friday that Beckman was being dismissed following an internal investigation into the well-being of student-athletes:
The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I've chosen to act accordingly. During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program.
Thomas also announced that offensive coordinator Bill Cubit will take over as head coach on an interim basis. Cubit has been on Beckman's staff since 2013.
In May, per ESPN.com's Mitch Sherman, former Illinois offensive lineman Simon Cvijanovic alleged in a series of Twitter posts that Beckman used and abused his position of power, urging his lineman to play through injuries and dismissing him after various injuries prevented him from playing football again.
Peter Bailey-Wells of the Daily Illini spoke to former Illinois defensive back Nick North, who called Beckman "the worst coach I ever met."
At that point, the National College Players Association requested Illinois conduct an investigation into the claims by Cvijanovic.
Beckman's firing Friday provides more credence to the allegations levied against him, with Thomas saying a preliminary briefing led to findings of efforts to deter injury reporting and convincing players to postpone treatment to play despite injuries.
Illinois hired Beckman in 2012 after he spent three seasons as head coach at Toledo. He went 12-25 in three seasons with the program, making one bowl appearance in 2014.
The Illini open play next Friday at home against Kent State.
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Every year around the time preseason polls are released ahead of a college football season, debates across the country flare up over which teams will prove in the fall that they were underrated—or overrated—heading into the year.
Some teams have a reputation for failing to live up to their always-lofty preseason rankings each year, while others have continued to defy expectations and become new-school powers in the world of college football.
With the preseason AP poll coming out earlier this week and the countdown to kickoff now just six days away, let's take a look at the teams who have overachieved and underachieved the most in college football over the last decade.
Using detailed AP poll information from College Poll Archive, I've compared each Power Five team's preseason ranking—or lack of a preseason ranking—to where they finished that season in the final polls. Those differentials have been added up to give the results of the teams that have made the biggest rises and the biggest falls in the sport over the last 10 seasons. Check out the full results here.
While preseason polls are far from an exact science, they are a good way to determine the perceived strength of a team heading into a season and what neighborhood it should expect to finish by season's end. Fluctuations are almost guaranteed, but what this list shows is the teams who have been the biggest surprises—in the positive and the negative.
Which Power Five team do you think is the biggest overachiever or underachiever in college football? Make your voice heard in the comments below.
Philadelphia 4-star tight end Naseir Upshur announced last week that he would make his verbal commitment on Tuesday.
As of Thursday evening, his two finalists, Michigan and Florida State, were still neck-and-neck. But the nation's No. 5 tight end said he's ready to end a process he described as "stressful" at times.
One thing's for certain: He knows what he wants in a winning program.
"Everything," he said. "From the coaches to the academics to the classrooms."
Fair enough. And you can bet that Upshur, Imhotep Institute's standout tight end, will continue researching until it's time to formally announce.
The good news for fans of both schools is that Upshur had positive things to say about both programs. He's being recruited by his potential position coaches, Florida State's Tim Brewster and Michigan's Jay Harbaugh.
The winning school will get a 6'2", 233-pound athlete who can be a reliable flex tight end at the next level. Michigan and Florida State are the finalists out of 41 reported offers for Upshur.
If he chooses Michigan, Upshur will add to a talented class that already includes quarterback Brandon Peters, offensive linemen Ben Bredeson and Michael Onwenu and newest Wolverines commit Ahmir Mitchell, who made his announcement via a Bleacher Report video.
Upshur said he's been in contact with Jay Harbaugh, head coach Jim Harbaugh and other members of the coaching staff. In fact, that's been one of the things he appreciates most about the Wolverines.
"Communication,' Upshur said. "We've been talking for forever."
Florida State is a heavy favorite to land Upshur, according to his 247Sports Crystal Ball. Florida State has an advantage over Michigan in that the Seminoles are without a tight end commitment. Sean McKeon, a 3-star tight end, has been a Michigan pledge since June.
Florida State had committed the nation's No. 1 tight end in Isaac Nauta, but he decommitted last month to explore other options. Nauta's decision gives Upshur a chance to step in uncontested in the class if he so chooses.
"Florida state is just a great program, from the coaches to sending (players) to the next level," said Upshur, who added that he has a comfort level with the staff.
Tuesday will be a big day for one school, and when Upshur makes his decision, expect him to be ready for next-level competition. Upshur wants fans of both schools to know the kind of player they would get.
"A player who's going to dominate from day one," he said. "Physical and athletic."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles
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If there's one thing to know about the Heisman Trophy voting, it's that the process is extremely formulaic. As such, it inherently benefits some players while completely disregarding others.
Perhaps no one in college football this year stands to gain from that algorithm like TCU's star quarterback Trevone Boykin.
The truest example of Boykin's Heisman hype is in the numbers (in more ways than one). According to the most recent Heisman odds from Bovada.lv, courtesy of OddsShark.com, Boykin, along with Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, is the odds-on favorite to win the award.
Boykin isn't so concerned about winning the Heisman as he is about getting TCU a national championship. At Big 12 media days, Frogs coach Gary Patterson raved about Boykin's levelheadedness in light of his new-found fame.
“If I’m blessed enough to win it, and it comes back to Fort Worth, I’ll be proud,” Boykin told Kate Hairopoulos of the Dallas Morning News. “The city of Fort Worth and Dallas, where I’m from, will be proud. And I’m pretty sure my family will be too.”
Boykin may be modest, but there's good reason to believe in him as a Heisman candidate. Here's why:
He Thrives in a Heisman-Friendly Offense
To be clear, this isn't an indictment. Few quarterbacks in college football improved as dramatically in their passing game from 2013 to '14 as Boykin did. In fact, Boykin took such a dramatic step forward that he is now considered a player to watch for the 2016 NFL draft, according to B/R's draft guru Matt Miller.
Of course, Heisman-esque numbers don't just appear out of thin air. They might be cushioned by a certain type of scheme, but without personal improvement Boykin isn't averaging 355 yards of total offense a game and scoring 42 total touchdowns like he did last year.
As insane as it sounds, he can get even better, too. The Frogs return practically their entire offense from last year. To think that Boykin could approach the 50-touchdown mark is mind-boggling, but nowhere near impossible. No other position allows for that kind of scoring responsibility.
That puts him firmly in focus with Heisman voters, as Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated explained:
Why do Heisman voters tend to favor offensive players? For one, the numbers. Most offensive candidates boast gaudy stats, especially with running quarterbacks so prevalent in today's game. Five of the last seven Heisman winners have been dual-threat passers who threw for at least 2,500 yards and ran for at least 600 yards. Voters love players who can do it all.
And Boykin can do it all. His scrambling ability is well-noted. He's clearly improved as a passer. He can even play a little receiver (not that he would now). When a player can be versatile and touch the ball on every play, it gives them an instant leg up.
Long story short, Boykin plays the right position in the right offense.
The Process of Elimination
Conversely, whereas Boykin is benefited by playing the right position, others are naturally eliminated for playing the wrong position.
Take offensive linemen, for example. An O-lineman may very well be the best player on the field every week, but so often the O-line is referred to as a group position. It doesn't naturally promote individualism. And other than grading and pancakes, there's not a tangible number you can explicitly attach to linemen. Sacks allowed could still be the result of missed assignments elsewhere, an indecisive quarterback or great protection meeting better coverage. Furthermore, rushing numbers rack up a lot easier when the guy carrying the ball is Nick Chubb and not Trent Richardson running into a wall of blockers.
And voters are a people of numbers.
Even then, that's not always enough. A true defensive player has no chance in this day and age of winning the Heisman. Oh, sure, there are the Manti Te'os or the Ndamukong Suhs of the world who tackle, sack and disrupt their way to New York City for the finalist ceremony, but they are the rare ones. The last defensive player to win the Heisman was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997—and he did more than just cover wide receivers.
Referring back to the Sports Illustrated piece, Ellis also brings up a sound point about as to why defensive players are Heisman long shots: In today's game of spread and/or uptempo offenses, how we view elite defenses (and defenders) changes. The end result is that guys like Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III or Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa face longer odds now more than ever of winning the Heisman even though their stats pop off the page.
All Eyes Are on TCU
The other thing Boykin has going for him is he plays on a nationally relevant team. The Horned Frogs were the overwhelming favorite to win the Big 12 this year as determined by media members. Additionally, preseason playoff projections usually have TCU at least in the conversation.
Assuming those predictions come to fruition, odds are Boykin will be on every Heisman short list. His team's highlights will be played constantly throughout game day. He and TCU will be heavy talking points for ESPN's College GameDay and other college football-related shows.
Want to at least make it to New York for the Heisman ceremony? People have to talk about you first.
Boykin also has the chance to "peak" in the Heisman race at the right time. If we assume that TCU makes its way through the '15 schedule without falling off the face of the planet, the biggest game could come at the end of the year at home against Baylor. This is already the game of the year on paper in the Big 12. With both programs trying to make the playoff field again, there could be high stakes nationally as well. From a viewership standpoint, this game gets top billing. Baylor-TCU occupies the prime-time slot on ESPN the Friday following Thanksgiving. You can't get much of a bigger spotlight than that.
It's the perfect time for Boykin to have his Heisman game. The so-called Heisman moment was born with Doug Flutie's Hail Mary against Miami back in November 1984. Flutie was already having a banner year, but the Hail Mary was the right play in the right game against the right opponent at the right time.
The Heisman, among other things, is about how the best players perform in the biggest settings.
Can Boykin Survive Multiple Losses?
As much as folks may want to pin wins and losses directly on a quarterback's shoulders, that's ultimately not a quarterback statistic. Still, that hasn't stopped Heisman pollsters from voting for the "best player (quarterback) on the best team" before.
John Walters of Newsweek posted a worthy talking point on Twitter this week, noting that TCU's final two games come against Oklahoma and Baylor. If the preseason Big 12 poll were to play out as predicted, those would be the two toughest tests for TCU. And if the Frogs lose either of those games, would it hurt Boykin's Heisman stock?
It's certainly possible, but the details here are important. While rare, there are fairly recent examples when wins and losses didn't directly impact the Heisman voting. The two quarterbacks to break the rule were former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow in 2007 and former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2011. Specifically, their respective teams lost three games during those Heisman-winning seasons.
(Another example is former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In 2012, the year Manziel won the Heisman, the Aggies lost two games, but beat Alabama in November.)
You can see Griffin's and Tebow's stats, along with their team's records, in the table below:
The common theme between these two is that, even in defeat, Grffin and Tebow weren't held completely in check. Tebow still averaged 241 all-purpose yards per game and tallied eight total touchdowns in three losses. Griffin, whose total yards came almost exclusively through the air in Baylor's three losses, still put up 400 yards of offense. In a 36-35 loss to Kansas State, Griffin threw five touchdown passes.
History suggests Boykin can survive multiple losses if the numbers are still there. The key distinction is that Baylor and Florida went on late-season runs. Obviously, a loss to either Oklahoma or Baylor, or both, would test this theory.
Is Being the Odds-On Favorite a Good Thing?
Is being an odds-on favorite helpful or hurtful for Boykin? It might not matter at all, actually.
We've seen examples of when preseason Heisman favorites go on to win the award and examples of when someone comes out of nowhere. In fact, you don't have to look back very far. Last year's winner, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, was determined to be a "clear preseason Heisman pick" by ESPN insider Travis Haney in August 2014. With Mariota penciled in as the year-long favorite, not even Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, who rushed for a then-single-game FBS record 408 yards against Nebraska, could take that title away. And Gordon finished the '14 regular season with 2,336 yards.
That doesn't bode well for the likes of Chubb or Elliott if Boykin starts the season as a Heisman favorite and lives up to the billing.
At the same time, the two previous Heisman winners before Mariota, Manziel and former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, burst onto the scene with surprising redshirt freshman seasons. What that means is Boykin isn't safe if another quarterback from a prominent Power Five team emerges with video game-type numbers.
Trying to pin Heisman winners before the season can be similar to trying to nail down the playoff field months ahead of time. It's fun, but ultimately little more than a game of blindfolded dart throwing. The unpredictability of college football is in large part what makes it so appealing.
But when you look at the history and formula of the Heisman, there are certain boxes that annually get checked. And Boykin has those appropriate boxes.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless noted otherwise.
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C.J. O'Grady, an 18-year-old freshman tight end at the University of Arkansas, was arrested on suspicion of DWI and being a minor in possession of alcohol.
According to the Washington County Sheriff's Office report, O'Grady was booked around 6:30 a.m. CT on Friday, and his bond was set at $1,265.
Shawnya Meyers and Zuzanna Sitek of KFSM 5 News in Arkansas, citing the arrest report, added the arresting officer pulled O'Grady over because the tail light on his scooter was not working and noticed he "had blood shot, red, watery eyes, an odor of intoxicants on his breath and slurred speech."
Matt Jones of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette added that "O'Grady was taken to the Washington County jail and at 2:47 a.m. registered a blood alcohol level of .099 - nearly five times the legal limit for minors in Arkansas."
Meyers' report does note that Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema recently said O'Grady is expected to redshirt this season. Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette mentioned that tight end depth was a problem for Arkansas last season with three healthy tight ends used in game plans that implemented a lot of three tight end sets.
O'Grady is a high-profile incoming recruit for Bielema. The Fayetteville, Arkansas, native ranked as the sixth-best tight end in the 2015 class and a 4-star prospect by 247Sports.
Arkansas enters the 2015 season ranked 18th in the Associated Press top 25. Hunter Henry is the incumbent starter at tight end, with Jeremy Sprinkle, Alex Voelzke, Jack Kraus also returning to Bielema's roster.
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The weight of Rutgers' student body is now resting heavily on Janarion Grant's shoulders.
If the junior kick returner takes one to the house on the Scarlet Knights' season-opening kickoff against Norfolk State on September 5, the school will pay 100 lucky students $1,000 each.
For the non-math wizards, that's a total payout of $100,000.
According to the team, every Rutgers student who sits in the student section will automatically have a chance to win. This is a pretty smart way to get kids in the seats, and Grant did score on a 100-yard return in Rutgers' home opener two years ago. That was the last time the Knights turned a kick return into six points.
So, yes, there's a chance.
If the Spartans want to really spite the Scarlet Nation, though, a squib kick may be in order.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
It's never easy for a true freshman to garner playing time in his first year, let alone start.
The athlete needs to acclimate to the collegiate level in all facets. This includes not only the physicality and speed of the game, but also the social and academic challenges.
This piece will look at 11 players with a great shot at starting in 2015. The inclusion will be primarily based on positional need—in addition to sheer talent.
Honorable mentions: Iman Marshall, Jordan Scarlett, Christian Wilkins, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terry Beckner Jr., Christian Kirk, Osa Masina, CeCe Jefferson, Calvin Ridley, Jacques Patrick, LJ Scott, Seth Collins, Kevin Toliver II, Chris Clark
Baylor University is undergoing an investigation involving its handling of the sexual assault allegations against Sam Ukwuachu, who was convicted of the crime last week. The victim and her family have reportedly hired Title IX attorney John Clune to review the situation.
Barry Horn of the Dallas Morning News confirmed the addition of Clune, who's part of a firm that's worked on several high-profile sexual assault cases. The Colorado-based lawyer provided a statement about the Baylor inquiry.
"We are glad to see that President [Ken] Starr and Baylor have chosen to conduct their own investigation and look forward to learning the outcome of that process," Clune said. "Regardless of what facts these investigations may bare, there is a significant teachable moment here for all in higher education and we are hopeful that Baylor University embraces that great opportunity."
Ukwuachu was sentenced to 180 days in jail, given 10 years of probation and must complete 400 hours of community service after being found guilty, according to USA Today. The report added he could have faced up to 20 years in prison.
ESPN notes a Baylor official testified during the case that the school looked into the victim's complaint but determined there wasn't enough evidence "to move forward." After the case, Starr requested a "comprehensive internal inquiry" of the actions taken by the offices involved.
"After an analysis of his report, I will determine what additional action to take," the school president said in a statement.
Another question raised is how much Baylor knew about Ukwuachu's past before accepting him as a transfer from Boise State. Head coach Art Briles said he was never made aware of previous allegations of domestic assault, but Boise's Chris Petersen said he did provide the background info, per ESPN.
It's unknown what role Clune is going to play as the investigation moves forward. The Dallas Morning News states he was retained to "investigate a number of issues surrounding the case," but the attorney didn't detail what that would include.
Baylor hasn't provided a timetable to complete the investigation.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Every year, football players all say the same thing, about how each game is just as important as the others, and you have to take them all one at a time.
Don’t blame them. The clichés keep everyone from providing excessive bulletin board material and getting into trouble with their coaches.
But when it comes to Mississippi State, there really is one early game that needs to be circled on the 2015 schedule, because it’ll likely dictate the tone of the whole season.
It’s the same game that essentially started last year’s epic run, LSU, which had previously won 14 straight meetings, and 21 of 22 against the Bulldogs.
This time the Tigers will be visiting on Sept. 12 (9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN). Win, and everything is possible. Lose, and Mississippi State could quickly find itself in a very big hole in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division.
Perhaps that’s why Dan Mullen stated at SEC media days: “This is my seventh year coming here, and I think all seven years they've pretty much picked us to finish last in the West. It's kind of like a tradition, I guess.”
He said that before his team was listed last in the predicted order of finish, and on the outside looking in of the Top 25 in the preseason Associated Press Poll. Mullen’s been playing the respect card so loudly that one wouldn’t be surprised to see him followed around by a person carrying a boombox playing Aretha Franklin.
The Bulldogs know this tune well, as it’s a theme they’ve heard over and over again over the years, about how no one gives them enough credit and they’re left proving their critics wrong.
“I definitely have a big chip,” senior quarterback Dak Prescott said. “We’re never predicted to be at the top of the SEC, so we go in every year with a chip. To have the kind of season that we had last year and to be placed wherever we’re placed, that chip is going to grow a little bit.”
Last year, of course, Mississippi State was on top of the college football world for a while. After being unranked in the AP poll for all of September, it knocked off three straight top-10 teams, including No. 2 Auburn, to move into the No. 1 slot.
It stayed there until running into Alabama a month later, and combined with subsequent losses against Ole Miss and Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl finished No. 11.
What Mississippi State learned during its first trip to the top of the rankings was just how difficult being the bullseye can be, and that it’s a lot tougher staying No. 1 than getting there.
“Definitely to stay,” Prescott said. “To go from hunting to being the hunted. We were just getting everybody’s best shot.”
“That’s why we tip our hats to the Alabamas of the world, or the Ohio States or Oregons, because it’s hard to do that, to get to that spot and maintain it,” defensive end Ryan Brown said.
Only no team has really been able to do so over the past 10 years. The most recent champion, Ohio State, followed everyone else’s example in that it didn’t land at No. 1 until the end of last season. The only program to buck the trend and regain No. 1 in the final AP poll after losing it during the season was Alabama (in 2009 and 2012).
Give Mississippi State a ton of credit for getting a good look at college football’s promised land, but Mullen knows this season has the potential to be comparable or possibly play out even better for the Bulldogs, which he’s been preaching, but very few people outside of the state have been hearing.
Here’s what they see when they look at the 2015 team:
Four returning starters on offense.
Four returning starters on defense.
An offensive line that has to find three new starters and has a big question mark at center.
No one in the backfield had more than 300 rushing yards last season.
The defense was last in the SEC in passing yards allowed (No. 117 nationally) and 10th in total defense. It gave up 532 yards in the Egg Bowl and 577 to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Now here’s what Mullen sees:
Numerous players returning with game experience. For example, running back Ashton Shumpert had 207 rushing yards over the final four games of last season, and Mississippi State appears to have some depth at the position.
Seven players who have caught a touchdown pass returned, giving Prescott numerous options.
Defensive lineman Chris Jones has just three starts while playing in 26 games, and has totaled 58 tackles, 10½ for a loss and six sacks.
Beniquez Brown was second in team tackles in 2014, and Gerri Green has a lot of potential at middle linebacker.
Last year’s defense was clutch on third downs and in the red zone. New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who held the same position in 2010 before being hired away by Texas, will try to maintain that while striving to improve the pass defense.
Will Redmond has played in 20 games, with 74 tackles, 5½ for a loss and three interceptions, giving the coaches a second senior corner, with the other being Taveze Calhoun.
“They're not returning starters because they didn't play the first play of the game,” Mullen said. “I don't view that as a real negative, which I love that maybe people look past us, underestimate us, say they don't have much of a chance this year.”
Considering the way the Bulldogs have started to add some depth, the key may be how long it takes things to come together. Thus, the LSU game features to be huge because two weeks later, Mississippi State plays a tough back-to-back on the road at Auburn and Texas A&M.
The obvious danger there is an 0-1 conference start could snowball into 0-3. As long as Mississippi State avoids that, it’ll be in the running when the division is finally decided in November.
That’s when the Bulldogs finish up with a brutal stretch of games at Missouri, Alabama, at Arkansas and finally Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl. All four teams were ranked in the preseason polls.
“We talk about it every day,” Calhoun said. “When things get hard, we’re working out, running or whatever it may be, we always think about the last three games of last year. We have to learn how to finish.”
It should have all the motivation it needs.
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer.
Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Introductions can be awkward. Sometimes, even more awkward than you thought possible.
Over the years traveling the country covering college football, I've had my fair share of them. Sometimes it's on me, sometimes it's on the head coach or sports information director who has no idea what I look like and leaves me in the hallway thinking I’m a graduate assistant.
This, however, doesn't have to be awkward at all. My name is Bryan Fischer and I'm excited to be named a new National College Football Columnist here at Bleacher Report..
As pumped as we all are for the season to start, I’m doubly so because I’m joining a great team here with plenty of top-notch ideas about how to best cover the sport we all love in a way that resonates with you, the fan.
If you haven’t already been following me on Twitter or familiar with some of my past work, I’ve covered everything from recruiting at Rivals to Johnny Manziel’s antics at CBS Sports and plenty of other things at a number of diverse outlets. I most recently covered college football and the NFL draft for NFL.com and the NFL Network group, and I’m thrilled to bring a bit of a different spin on things to Bleacher Report.
I’ll be up front. You’re not always going to agree or enjoy what I write. That’s fine and doesn’t bother me. All I ask is for an open mind. Oh, and I don’t root for (insert your rival here) nor despise (your team here). I also don’t care who wins or loses, but I do root for Hawaii to become a threat to make the College Football Playoff so the company sends me there to cover a game.
So buckle up and get ready for what should be another thrilling season of college football filled with more twists and turns than a soap opera. I can’t wait, and I’m sure plenty of you can’t either after making it through the desert of another offseason.
Best athlete or coach to interview
There are plenty to choose from and hard to pick just one coach from all the years of one-on-ones, press conferences and random chit-chats. It’s hard to top Stanford’s David Shaw though, who is not only one of the most thoughtful and eloquent around, but one of the few coaches who doesn’t cringe or look like he wants to be elsewhere when the media comes walking up.
Nebraska’s Mike Riley is another one who instantly comes to mind, mostly because we always end up dovetailing at the end of an interview into talking about the best places to visit in the Texas Hill Country. You also never know what you’re going to get when you talk to Les Miles or Bret Bielema.
As far as players, I’ll go with two of the quarterbacks I talked with the most, with either Matt Barkley or Brett Hundley.
Best player or team covered
Andrew Luck pops into my head as the best offensive player I’ve covered in the past decade or so. There have been plenty of great quarterbacks, running backs and more to spend a few years playing college football, but few who did so many little things the right way.
From high school through college, Jadeveon Clowney was the best defensive player I ever laid eyes on, but Ndamukong Suh had the best season of any defensive player back in 2009.
Most memorable game ever covered
This year's Rose Bowl between Oregon and Florida State came to mind initially, but I was at the Coliseum for the 2007 Stanford-USC game, so I’m going to go with the biggest point spread upset in college football history as my pick.
As fun as national championship games and dozens of Rose Bowls have been, that whole contest on a chilly night in Los Angeles was just so bizarre, and I don’t think I can ever forget the look of shock everywhere but the Cardinal bench. The final matchup between Texas and Texas A&M in College Station also sticks out, but that probably is just me being a little sentimental.
Who will win the CFP National Championship in 2015?
Sorry to disappoint everybody, but I’ll go with the overwhelming favorite this year in Ohio State. They are loaded at just about every position, have plenty of team chemistry and, by the way, are led by one of the best coaches in the history of the sport in Urban Meyer.
The coaching staff and a number of folks around the program seemed up front in thinking 2015 was the season the team really would be in position to win a national title, and that’s certainly the case—only this time they’re gunning for a repeat.
The winner of the Baylor-TCU game between Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin and Bears signal-caller Seth Russell. I'm leaning Russell at the moment.
Bold Prediction for 2015
Chaos is the easy answer, especially with what should be so many tight races in the ACC and Pac-12, plus a potential party crasher in Notre Dame. If I had to nail down just one thing though, I’ll go out on a limb and say that after not getting any teams into the College Football Playoff last year, the Big 12 places two in the final four in 2015.
You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
If you're waiting on the edge of your seat to find out who's going to be Florida's primary quarterback in 2015, it's time to sit back, relax and get comfortable.
It might take awhile.
First-year Gator head coach Jim McElwain confirmed on Thursday afternoon that both of his quarterbacks—sophomore dual threat Treon Harris and redshirt freshman pro-style QB Will Grier—will both play in the season opener vs. New Mexico State, according to Chris Harry of GatorZone.com:
That's not terribly surprising considering Harris has the experience from last year under his belt. Plus, Florida has a tune-up with the Aggies before hosting a solid East Carolina team that the Gators played in the Birmingham Bowl last year and heading on the road to Kentucky for the SEC opener.
Wading into the season rather than jumping into it feet-first is a luxury that McElwain has based on the schedule, and doing that might be more attractive now based on some recent events that have occurred along the offensive line.
Florida also announced on Thursday that star freshman offensive lineman and likely starter at left tackle Martez Ivey will have arthroscopic knee surgery on Friday. According to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel, that could keep Ivey out for nearly a month:
That's key, because suddenly Florida's patchwork offensive line—which appeared to be coming together nicely during fall camp—has to shuffle some pieces around quickly before toe meets leather for the 2015 season.
With that in mind, it's probably a good idea for McElwain to keep his options open a little bit more with Harris in case he needs to use his legs to evade the pass rush when protection breaks down.
Sooner or later, though—perhaps when Ivey returns and the offensive line is solidified—this is going to be Grier's job.
McElwain made his mark first as Alabama's offensive coordinator and then as Colorado State's head coach running a pro-style system that is based on pounding the rock and working off play action with a quarterback who can make smart decisions, difficult throws from sideline to sideline and stretch the field deep.
"They hired a great coach," ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. "I know 'Mac' very well. He will bring a certain toughness to the offensive side of the football that's been missing for a number of years. It's going to take some time for [McElwain] to develop a team that he wants on that side of the ball."
Grier is the only guy on the roster who can make McElwain's system click, although the specific circumstances surrounding this offensive line—particularly the recent news of Ivey's injury—might force it to take longer than expected to make that official.
Earlier this month, I wrote that it was time for McElwain and new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to step out and officially name Grier the starting quarterback.
I still feel that way because it's important for Grier to learn what to do—and more importantly, what not to do—in game action.
But the curveball that Ivey's injury threw to the coaching staff makes it understandable that McElwain might want to play it safe and keep his options open during the season opener.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93 XM 208. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The 2015 Michigan Wolverines defense has the experience to improve upon its impressive finish last season, and coordinator D.J. Durkin's coaching history provides a clear outlook on what to expect from the unit this year.
In addition to eight returning starters, the unit will include two clear-cut replacements in the trenches, a three-year starting linebacker who missed last season due to injury, a transfer and a super sophomore.
Under Greg Mattison, who is now the defensive line coach, the Wolverines finished the 2014 campaign ranked No. 7 in the country, holding opponents to 311.3 yards per outing.
Michigan possesses the talent to excel defensively, and with Durkin calling the shots, a less efficient season—not necessarily worsened raw numbers—than 2014 would be a failure.
Durkin will utilize both the 4-3 (one-gap) and 3-4 (two-gap) defenses, and he's been moving pieces around throughout the offseason to find where the athletes are best suited to play.
According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Durkin said:
It's really a matter of who haven't we moved. We like to play multiple packages on defense and we're trying to find out who can do what right now. This is the time you find it. You go through a season and get a guy banged up and you don't know if a guy playing corner can play safety or vice versa. We bounce them all around, shuffling and getting closer to who is playing where.
One of the biggest changes to Michigan's defense is the insertion of the "Buck" position, a hybrid role that Dante Fowler Jr., the third overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft, occupied for Durkin at Florida.
The Wolverines don't have a lineman of Fowler's caliber, but Mario Ojemudia is penciled in for the important position. He'll be tasked with helping the defense shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3—sometimes in the middle of drives—by changing roles on the fly.
Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley can both contribute on the opposite side, while Willie Henry and Maurice Hurst can shuffle between tackle and end if necessary. Now that Bryan Mone is sidelined for 2015, the trio will likely see action all over the line next to Ryan Glasgow.
Additionally, when Durkin sends in the nickel defense, Jabrill Peppers will shift down from free safety to "Star," and Delano Hill is the probable replacement for Peppers.
Michigan will have lots of moving pieces, and although the early portion of the season will include trial and error, there's assuredly a method behind Durkin's possible madness.
Reliance on 3- and 4-Man Pressure
From the typical straightforward blitzes to long sticks and stunts coupled with linebacker pressure, Durkin employs a variety of ways to get after the quarterback.
However, the Wolverines will rely on the defensive line's pure talent and technique to disrupt the backfield instead of regularly bringing linebackers. Durkin often avoids selling out on blitzes that leave the secondary at risk.
Durkin relies on two-deep man coverage, though he certainly mixes in Cover 1 and Cover 3. Nevertheless, when linebackers are intended to track an eligible receiver, it limits what the defense can actually send at the quarterback anyway.
Consequently, "bend but don't break" is a description that's bound to be heard when discussing the Michigan defense. Opponents who don't force big plays will earn a couple of hard-fought first downs.
But when the Wolverines stand tall without sending extra pressure, it makes sustaining drives much more difficult.
Stout Run Defense
It wasn't easy to run on Michigan in 2014, and there's no reason to suggest that will change this season.
Yes, Jake Ryan is gone, but Desmond Morgan—who only appeared in one game last year before a hand injury sidelined him—returns to a tremendously experienced position. Between Morgan, Joe Bolden and James Ross, the linebackers boast 569 tackles, 112 games played and 65 starts.
The similarity between Durkin's defense at Florida last season and Michigan's is striking. The Wolverines tallied 82 tackles for loss and ceded just 3.2 yards per carry last season, while Florida recorded 87 and 3.2, respectively. It can hardly get more even than that.
What Michigan hopes changes because of Durkin, though, is the potential for turnovers. Florida forced 17 fumbles, but the Wolverines managed just five. Improving their takeaway numbers would greatly benefit an offense that needs plenty of help.
But no matter if Michigan is pouncing on loose footballs, it's safe to expect a strong presence in the trenches that affects an opponent's running game.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
No one needs to remind you how to tailgate, so please don’t take this as such.
You are more than capable of handling these matters accordingly: to build a proper parking-lot fortress, stock it with the proper food and beverage and spend a lovely Saturday celebrating the greatest sport on the planet with the people you like most.
You know these things.
In the end, that’s what this is all about. Yes, there is football—sweet, succulent, never-leave-us-again football. But the preparation for the actual in-stadium happenings carries a significance that is hard to put into words.
Tailgating, in many ways, is an art form. There is no single way to maximize a game-day experience. A good tailgate is in the eye of the beholder, which is why college campuses around the nation will be studded with noble attempts to create these masterpieces in the not-too-distant future.
In honor of college football’s glorious return, I have put together an essential guide to this splendiferous pastime, highlighting developing trends, magnificent locations and even a bold power ranking of gastronomic delights to partake of in 2015.
Congratulations. You made it through another offseason. Let’s eat something awesome.
Positive Tailgating Trend: Coffin Coolers
Death is cold and cavernous, which is precisely what you’re looking for in a tailgating apparatus that holds bottles and cans filled with ritualistically imbibed beverages.
A normal-sized cooler will no longer suffice. And while you could bring multiple coolers, that sounds like a heck of a lot of work for a weekend. What many are doing instead involves bringing coffins in which to chill their beverages.
That is not code for some sort of newer cooler; people are schlepping actual mortuary coffins to the party. It is both terrifying and brilliant.September 20, 2014
Don’t think about the dark part of this movement and what these containers are normally used for. Instead, think about all the ice and drinks that could fit in this team-centric monstrosity and how much easier life just became.
The next time you’re surveying a tailgate and come across a coffin, don’t run to the nearest authorities. Run toward the contraption and you’ll likely be greeted with frosted excellence.
Negative Tailgating Trend: Spray-Painting Your Dog
With a nod to the animal kingdom, we now dive into one of tailgating’s most curious recent developments.
People have started using their animals as props on game day. Instead of proudly planting flags on cars, they are turning family members into sixth-grade art projects.
This pup was just minding his business one Saturday morning when his favorite people on the planet approached him with an idea. (Well, it wasn’t really much of an idea because our furry friend here didn’t have much of a say.)
The end result is this: a mortified pooch that kinda-sorta resembles a…tiger?May 16, 2014
I love the passion at work here. This took time. It took multiple people. It took careful planning and probably in-depth Internet research. Perhaps that’s also what’s troubling about it.
Moving forward, let’s use our precious tailgating time more wisely. Let’s put an enormous amount of pork in a Big Green Egg and share the end result with man’s best friend instead of making him look like a mutant Beanie Baby.
Positive Tailgating Trend: Incorporating Televisions
Technology is a handsome beast. Sure, you have a cellphone that is capable of checking scores, but this little devil will be out of battery by noon, and then you’ll end up stranded in a Family Video parking lot hours after the game ends.
No one wants that.
It is this realization that has made televisions far more regular at tailgates. Well, that and the fact that they have gotten far easier to move and cheaper to purchase.
Once a relic, more people are incorporating this critical piece into their setups. This is a positive advancement, because the only thing better than eating, drinking and talking about football is eating, drinking, talking about football and watching football.September 6, 2014
Pro tip: Don’t be the dedicated soul tasked to lug around the flat screen. Find a good friend up to such tall task and bribe him with delicious baked goods.
Negative Tailgating Trend: Body-Tape Artwork
Let’s skip right to the image before attempting to determine what exactly is going on here and if you should ever try it. The fact that this gentleman has yet to run for president of the United States—at least to my knowledge—is a dear shame.
This game is attracting all types of fans. This guy put tape on and then went to the beach. 90 minutes later: voila pic.twitter.com/9av2AfI7h2— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 13, 2014
Now, the man gets high marks in a few categories. The overall craftsmanship and presentation are exceptional. There’s also still something remarkable about a Rutgers fan showing his love for the Big Ten—his new conference—which still doesn’t feel real. He’s done that with his mortal flesh.
But this is not something I can officially recommend you attempt to emulate. The likelihood of pulling this off is minimal, while the likelihood of ending up dehydrated and sunburned with illegible letters on your person is high. Use your immense talents elsewhere.
Greatest Tailgating Tradition: Midnight Yell
Not all tailgating has to take place shortly before or after the sun cracks the horizon. In fact, the nation’s most passionate pregame addition—a ritual that showcases passion in ways that are unparalleled—is Texas A&M’s Midnight Yell.
Since the 1930s, A&M fans have carried the torch. They are the tailgating’s finest alarm clock—a sign of great things to come. Now that the Aggies have increased the size of their lovely football digs, this moment will only continue to grow.
It is a sight to be seen—a dedicated mass of humanity that fills full sides of stadiums at unreasonable hours all in the name of team and one another. The end result is something that makes every college football bone in your body start to shake like a washing machine in need of leveling.
Food Power Rankings
The only thing that can enrage fans more than meaningless preseason polls is some stranger on the Internet telling them what they should eat.
Chosen for taste, presentation, tailgate accessibility and personal preference—here are my first Tailgate Food Power Rankings. Allow me to apologize in advance.
10. The Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookie: One of the most underrated foods at the tailgate is the one that can be made the night before. Cookies are a wonderful palate cleanser, great on the move and a solid change of pace.
9. Burgers and Hot Dogs: These classic standbys are fine, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Easy, predictable and filling, this is the vanilla ice cream of tailgate food, which makes it a popular selection.
8. Elaborate Dip(s): The best dip usually has a friend. In fact, offering up multiple chip companions at a tailgate is a good way to make friends. It's not the centerpiece but a quality filler as you overthrow your football and hit that dude’s Camry.October 18, 2014
7. Wings: So much variety to be had here, which makes them such a versatile option. And if you bring your deep fryer to the tailgate, you should be given an award for effort and excellence.
6. Chili: This will depend greatly on the calendar along with your geographic location, but a hearty chili served outside of a Big Ten stadium in November makes for a lovely treat.
5. Jambalaya: When done right, this dish can easily move near the very top of this hit list. The hard part is finding the perfect recipe. When you can do that, the sky is the limit.April 6, 2015
4. Meat-Filled Breakfast Sandwich: Cooking this might require some finesse, but it’s time and effort well spent. If you’re going to start early—and you should—make this at least one course.
3. Ribs: They are not clean or easy to eat; they require expert preparation, and you need a lot of them to satisfy a large group. Outside of that, there is no fault in this food when prepared properly.
2. Pulled Pork: Preparation may vary, as will the results. But it’s hard to think of a food more destined for Saturdays than this.
1. Whole Hog: It’s a power move that is also delicious. When you show up at a tailgate with an entire hog, you (a) can feed a large sum of people and (b) up the ante for everyone else.
Always enjoy homecoming tailgate food - especially when my fraternity smokes a whole hog. pic.twitter.com/tFqFGcQm2j— Paul Smith (@ptsmith109) November 2, 2014
Bonus Food Item: Fire. The wheel. The lever. The light bulb. The Internet. And now this. History's great innovation has led us to a point where we can put a turkey inside an alligator, cover that alligator with bacon and then throw it on the grill.November 27, 2014
Tailgates You Need to Visit at Some Point in Your Life
If you’re serious about tailgating, you owe it to yourself to make a pilgrimage to these singular shrines.
(It’s worth noting that there were roughly 50 other tailgates I wanted to include; I simply ran out of time. I’m sure your school does it wonderfully right, too.)
Ole Miss (Oxford, Mississippi): A combination of bowties, boat shoes and chaotic elegance, The Grove is unique from any other tailgate experience in the nation. A sea of red, white and blue tents scatter the grounds, housing resplendent cuisine options. It is a magnificent operation that is slightly short of assigned seating. This place is for professionals.
Bucket List: Tailgate at the Grove pic.twitter.com/Utr34wlEO2— Football Down South (@Football_South) December 23, 2014
LSU (Baton Rouge, Louisiana): There is a level of intensity—a spiced ball of united energy—that resonates from an LSU tailgate as the sounds and smells overtake you. Your palette deserves the best treatment possible, and it will get it here. The jambalaya and gumbo options are endlessly delicious, and that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of consumable options.September 20, 2014
Wisconsin (Madison, Wisconsin): The people of the great state of Wisconsin move at a pace different than yours, and I mean this as a tremendous compliment. They are a lovely, caring bunch who will hand you a Solo cup with a hamburger and a bratwurst sticking out of it before you can even ask. Somehow, on this beautiful campus, it will all make magical sense.November 15, 2014
Georgia (Athens, Georgia): I spent nearly one week in Athens and instantly realized that (a) I made a huge mistake not booking this trip sooner and (b) I probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer. There’s a buzz to this town that is hard to put into words, a place of great culture that reaches new decibels on Saturday mornings.September 28, 2013
Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio): If you fancy grilled meat of all kinds, Columbus, Ohio—one of the more robust tailgating options around—is a must. Look, 100,000 fans tailgated for the team’s spring game, which felt more like a playoff game than it did an organized scrimmage. Sure, it gets cold, but there are plenty of things that help deal with that, and this city has perfected those things.November 29, 2014
One Last Thing...
I am blessed to write about the sport I love, which is not something I take for granted.
What drew me to this job in the first place wasn't seeing physically gifted human beings collide into one another repeatedly. No, this whole thing began in large part because of the game-day atmosphere—the sights, smells and feels that come with a Saturday morning outside a stadium.
If I could bottle this sensation and sell it, I would be very rich, and our winters would be far more enjoyable. For the time being, please maximize the season's return and enjoy this euphoria for yourselves.
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When it comes to the Georgia Bulldogs and the 2015 season, the goal is the same as it is every year: Win the SEC East, and everything else will fall into place.
UGA has a chance to do it, as it was picked as the favorite to win the SEC East by media members during SEC media days. The Bulldogs have an experienced offensive line, a talented running back, two of the best linebackers in the country and an improving secondary.
However, the one position that is in question is quarterback as the coaching staff is still trying to figure out who will be the starter on opening weekend. Whoever wins it will have a ton of pressure to deal with because he will be the leader of one the more talented teams in the country.
In this piece, we will break down everything you need to know about the 2015 Bulldogs in this season preview.
The coaching staff for the Bulldogs will look different from what it has been in the past, especially on the offensive side of the football.
The most noticeable new hire on the coaching staff is Brian Schottenheimer. He’s the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and he has the task of maintaining what Richt and Mike Bobo have built the last few years.
Another new coach on offense is former UGA running back Thomas Brown. He will coach the running back this season, and he previously coached at Wisconsin, where he helped Melvin Gordon have a career season.
Jeremy Pruitt returns as the defensive coordinator for his second season. The defense improved with Pruitt last year, but he knows it can be better. He will have his entire staff from last season back, so that should help the defense take another step in its progression.
Head coach Mark Richt is entering his 15th season at Georgia. He has accomplished a lot during that time, but the quest for a national title is something he wants to get to before he calls it a career.
What to watch for on offense
Last year, the Bulldogs had the No. 1 scoring offense in the SEC, scoring 41 points per game. This was with offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who is now the head coach at Colorado State.
With Schottenheimer taking over as offensive coordinator, the offense shouldn’t change too much. And the reason is Nick Chubb, who rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns as a true freshman last season.
Chubb has the size (5' 10", 220 lbs), speed and balance a coach would want in a running back. He was the team’s most valuable player last season, and he will be this season if he stays healthy. Sony Michel and Keith Marshall are strong backups for Chubb, but they have had health issues, especially Marshall, who suffered an ACL injury in 2013 and has never been the same since.August 26, 2015
The receiver position is a question mark because of health as well. Malcolm Mitchell suffered a torn ACL at the start of the 2013 season and had a not-so-stellar 2014 season because of it. Mitchell is healthy now and is poised to have a great 2015 season. Isaiah McKenzie has the inside track at starting at the other receiver position. He was dangerous on special teams with three touchdowns. He looks to be the same threat on offense. Jay Rome, Jeb Blazevich and Jackson Harris make up the tight ends. All three can block, and all three have solid hands.
The offensive line could be the best in the SEC. Greg Pyke, Kolton Houston, John Theus, Brandon Kublanow and Isaiah Wynn make up the starting five. Kublanow started at guard last season, but he’s making the transition to center. Wynn was a center during spring ball, but he is now back at guard, which is his natural position.
The area of concern on offense is the most important position: quarterback. Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert have been battling all fall camp. It might come down to Ramsey and Lambert. Ramsey has the makeup of a SEC quarterback, while Lambert has the experience. This battle will likely be decided after the first game of the season.
What to watch for on defense
Under Pruitt, the defense improved, but it still wasn’t where it wanted to be. The defense was sixth in the SEC in rushing yards allowed, and the reason the Bulldogs lost three games last season was because they could not stop the run.
It starts with the defensive line. Sterling Bailey, John Atkins and James DeLoach have plenty of experience, but they are not game-changers. That’s why the Bulldogs are hoping highly recruited Trent Thompson can be the impact player they’ve been looking for. Jonathan Ledbetter is another young defensive lineman to watch. He enrolled early to join the team during spring practice.
The linebackers are the strength of the defense. They are led by outside linebackers Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd, who are both great at rushing the passer and making plays from sideline to sideline. Tim Kimbrough and Reggie Carter are the inside linebackers. They played a good amount last season, and they can be just as consistent as the previous inside linebackers, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson. Lorenzo Carter is another linebacker to watch. He made a name for himself last season with 4.5 sacks as a true freshman. He can play either inside or outside.August 25, 2015
The defensive backs improved last season because it was more stable. Quincy Mauger is the leader of the group, while Dominick Sanders has strong ball-hawking skills. Both players had a combined seven interceptions. Aaron Davis is a cornerback that started slow last season, but he got better as the season went on and ended the year with one pick and five pass breakups. Malkom Parrish will likely start at the other corner, but he is being pushed by Tramel Terry, who was recruited as a receiver.
The Bulldogs come into the start of the season relatively healthy. The one major injury they have had was to Justin Scott-Wesley, who suffered a knee injury during practice, and his career could be over, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald. Scott-Wesley was looking to start at receiver this season, but three knee injuries the last two years have kept him from seeing significant action.
The other two injuries of note are fullback Christian Payne and defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter. Payne has a leg injury, and Ledbetter’s injury is unknown, according to Seth Emerson of DawgNation.com.
On offense, Isaiah McKenzie could be the deep threat the Bulldogs have been looking for the last two years.
McKenzie only had six catches for 67 yards last season, but he made an impact on special teams with two kick returns for touchdowns and a punt return for a touchdown.
According to Jake Rowe of 247Sports, McKenzie has great hands, which is good for him because he’s fast and explosive. If he can stretch the field, the offense will be more dangerous than it was last season.
On defense, Trent Thompson could be the defensive lineman that could make an impact right away. Rowe said Thompson has impressed his teammates with his work ethic and not taking plays off. Thompson will be part of the defensive line rotation this year, and he could be a starter as the season rolls on.August 13, 2015
The first test for Georgia will be a home game against South Carolina on September 19. The Gamecocks have beaten the Bulldogs two of the last three years, and Steve Spurrier will likely have some tricks up his sleeve for the contest.
Two weeks later, the Bulldogs host Alabama for the first time since 2008. The Crimson Tide have beaten Georgia the last two meetings, and this could be an early preview of the SEC title game.
Tennessee is the following week, and this will be the Bulldogs' toughest road contest of the year. The Bulldogs will have to play their best football to beat a Vols team that is on the rise.
The Florida game is on Halloween, which is not a good thing for the Bulldogs. Despite winning three of the last four against the Gators, this game will have some twist and turns nobody would expect.
The Bulldogs travel to Auburn on November 14 for the Bulldogs' final road and SEC game of the year. The Bulldogs blasted the Tigers last year, but the Tigers are projected to win the SEC this year. This could also possibly be another preview of this year’s SEC title game.
In a previous article, I predicted the Bulldogs would lose only one game. They are by far the most talented team in the SEC East, and they should not have any issues taking care of their opponents in their division.
Alabama and Auburn will be tough matchups, but the Bulldogs will face the Crimson Tide at Sanford Stadium. And despite the love for Auburn, the Bulldogs should have more firepower to steal one in the Plains.
The quarterback issue will be something to watch this season, but because of the experience at the other positions on offense, whoever is starting at quarterback just needs to not make mistakes.
This team has the tools to make a run to the College Football Playoff. If they play consistent football, the Bulldogs could have a magical season.
Overall Record: 11-1
Conference Record: 7-1
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