SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #24 Stanford

As the college football season draws nearer, the college football staff at SQ has put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #24 Stanford.

Team: Stanford

SQ Ranking: 24

2014 Record: 8-5

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: David Shaw (5th year)

Key Arrivals: WR Trent Irwin, CB Frank Buncom IV, DE Brennan Scarlett

Key Departures: RB Kelsey Young, CB Wayne Lyons, OT Andrus Peat, SS Jordan Richards

Previewing the Stanford Offense: Going into 2015, Stanford’s offense will have to see improvement from its running game if it’s going to compete for a PAC-12 title. For the first time since 2007, the Cardinal failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher, which seemed to put more weight on the shoulders of QB Kevin Hogan.

Hogan, who is entering his third season as the team’s starter, took great strides in becoming a much more accurate passer towards the end of last season, completing 71 percent of his passes over his last six games. He’ll need to continue that trend, especially if the Stanford running game under-performs as it did last year. 

Look for Stanford to use a committee of running backs this season with sophomore Christian McCaffrey and seniors Remound Wright and Barry Sanders all getting plenty of carries. McCaffrey is likely to get more touches after putting up a stellar freshman campaign, averaging 7.14 yards per carry on 42 attempts.

Previewing the Stanford Defense: The offense may be a work in progress, but Stanford’s got the defense pretty much figured out after having one of the most dominant units last season. Nearly impenetrable, the Stanford defense allowed just 16.4 points per game (2nd nationally) last season, while giving up just 282.4 yards per contest (3rd nationally).

The Cardinal are largely inexperienced up front on the line with two-thirds of the presumed starters playing in a combined 11 games last season. However, the line will get a boost from Cal transfer Brennan Scarlett who should fill the remaining defensive end spot.  Defensive back will also be an area of inexperience for the Cardinal this season as well. After the departure of four key players in the position group, the team will rely on a pair of players who previously played other positions: former QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield.

There’s no question that the linebackers will be the heart of the defense this season. An explosive pass-rushing duo of outside linebackers – Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi – will create pressure that will drive opposing QBs insane. Leading tackler Blake Martinez, who recorded 102 tackles in 2014, returns to fortify the middle, along with Kevin Palma.

Three Key Games: 

1. Stanford at USC, September 19th – A field goal in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the game gave USC the 13-10 edge last season, a game that Stanford wishes it could have back after missing two field goals of its own. This early road test will make for a great game as the last two contests between these two teams have been decided by a combined six points, with USC emerging as the victors in both matches.

2. Stanford vs. Oregon, November 14th – If Stanford is going to get back to the PAC-12 Championship Game, it’s going to have to find a way to beat Oregon. As over-matched as Stanford looked last season, the series has been pretty even over the past seven years, although Oregon holds a 4-3 advantage. Oregon was the only team to score more than 30 points against Stanford’s defense last season, so you can bet the Cardinal will want revenge.

3. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, November 28th – One of the most entertaining rivalries to watch in college football will be on display once again this season as the Fighting Irish travel to take on the Cardinal. Last season, Notre Dame came away with a last-minute victory as then QB Everett Golson found TE Ben Koyack in the back of the endzone on fourth and 11. If that’s not enough to get Stanford motivated, then I’m not sure what is.

Final Analysis: Things are looking up for Stanford this season. The offense played really well down the stretch last season and should improve this season now that the team has found some footing in the run game. Although the defense has been the backbone of this team for quite some time now, there are some questions on this side of the ball, but you can trust David Shaw to get those ironed out.

Overall, Stanford should have another solid season, even though it probably won’t lead to a PAC-12 title. Be that as it may, the Cardinal will be able to muster out at least nine wins and finish in the top-15 or top-20. Stanford is still a ways off from competing for a national title, but don’t be surprised if this team gets off to an impressive start. 

Should You Expect A Better Geno Smith In 2015?

SQ’s AFC East preview gets to the heart of the matter for the New York Jets in 2015: “Will Geno Smith finally make the leap?” The answer to this question will affect the Jets’ organizational strategy and the landscape of that division for the next few seasons, at least. Can you expect a better Geno Smith in 2015?

Less than a year ago, Football Perspective published a piece entitled “How Long Does It Take Great Quarterbacks to Break Out?”  This miniature study examined the best 42 QBs to enter the league since 1970 and determined, to paraphrase, that it only takes two years. Through two years, the piece said, only four of the 42 great quarterbacks produced below average passing numbers. Importantly, these four also were drafted by bad teams.

So what about Geno Smith? He’s started in the NFL for two years, and his numbers are decidedly below average. Pro-Football Reference has him ranked 31 of 34 and 37 of 38 in ANY/A (adjusted net yards per pass attempt) for 2014 and 2013, respectively. He’s been in the bottom five of the entire league for traditional quarterback rating and QBR both seasons. And worse yet, he’s had one of the five highest interception percentages each year. His advanced stats are plainly atrocious, but they don’t necessarily mean Smith is the problem. He could be like the four exceptions (Bradshaw, Aikman, Testaverde, Brees), with his teammates dragging him down. 

Either of these realities hurts me as a Jet fan. But one lets Gang Green hope for better days with an improving starter (bad team), and the other forces the Jets to get a new quarterback (bad Smith). Which is it? And let’s hope it’s not both.

The Football Perspective piece judges team quality by record. For example, Drew Brees posted below average numbers his first two years, but this under-performance can be attributed to the 1-15 Chargers who drafted him. The Jets were 6-10 when they drafted Smith, went 8-8 his rookie year, and then plummeted to 4-12. On face, the records don’t bode well for Smith. A decline from .500 football to four wins largely falls on the quarterback’s shoulders, at least in the minds of fans and most analysts. We can go beyond the wins and losses, however. To determine if the team or Smith is the problem, let’s isolate the factors most directly impacting quarterback play: offensive line and wide receiver performance.

In 2013, the Jet offensive line ranked 27th in the league. Its adjusted sack rate, at 8.4%, was considerably higher than the league average. In 2014, the performance was also poor, if slightly better. Ranked 25th, the offensive line permitted the sixth-most tackles for a loss. In both years, the Jets had the 13th most sacks and 12th most QB hits allowed. Of all the Jet offensive linemen, only Center Nick Mangold finished 2014 with a positive grade from Pro Football Focus. All in all, these numbers amount to one not-so-shocking point of summary: the O-line, an incredibly important asset for a quarterback, was one of the worst in the NFL in 2013 and 2014. 

As for the receiver corps, the Jets again left a lot to be desired. Bleacher Report ranks the New York wideouts 25th in the league, even with the addition of Brandon Marshall. Last year, only Eric Decker finished among the top forty receivers, pulling down 74 receptions for almost 1,000 yards at a catch rate of 64.9%. The second best receiver on the team was Jeremy Kerley, who caught only 38 passes for 1 TD. In 2013, Kerley led the team in receiving yards at 523, while a waning Santonio Holmes had 456. It’s fair to say that the NYJ receiver corps gave Smith very little to work with during his first two years. 

Before any conclusions can be drawn about Smith and the Jets from these disappointing numbers, we have to take a look at one more thing: the hope at the end of 2014. In the last four games, after an abysmal 35.7 quarterback rating the week before, Smith earned an 87.4, 88.2, 83.9, and a very impressive 158.3. These performances represented more patience from Smith and strong efforts from the O-line. The Jets rushed for over 100 yards in these games, while Smith only threw two picks. Under these circumstances, the Jets had a serviceable quarterback. 

Going into the 2015 season, Jet fans have to confront a bittersweet reality: the players around Smith have been very bad, and Smith himself was, at best, below-average. That’s bitter, but the sweetness comes in the form of hope. Despite the rule of thumb provided by Football Perspective’s study, it is not fair or wise to write Smith off yet. As proven by the statistics, the Jets were too bad in 2013 and 2014 to give him a fair shake.

2015 will provide Smith with better weapons and, ideally, an offensive line that prevents pressure. With these two weaknesses improved, Smith will finally have the tools to succeed; one should expect solid play (a la the last four games of 2014). If the O-line continues to permit pressure, though, the Jets will find themselves losing and unable to evaluate their most important asset, the quarterback.

Fix It: No Standing PAT

This article is part of my “Fix It” series. Each article in the series examines one problem facing the NBA or NFL and offers a potential solution. Please feel free to comment with your own ideas on how to fix the problem.

Your heart is pounding as the professor hands back the exams. You tightly close your eyes as he drops it on your desk and walks past you. You finally muster up the courage to peek just enough to notice a red “94” at the top of the page. “What a relief!” you remark as you open your eyes. And that’s when you see it: a big fat ‘F’, right below the “94.”

The Problem

The Chicago Bears ranked dead last in the NFL last season with a 94.3% conversion rate on extra points. The average was 99.5% and only six teams finished below 100% – and there was no curve! The purpose of competitive sports is to separate oneself from the competition, but the Point After Touchdown is clearly failing to cause any separation.

Additionally, the extra point does not carry a whole lot of value. It is worth just one point. So even if you do manage to miss one, it is rarely going to affect the outcome of the game. 

Here is a chart detailing all eight missed extra points from the 2014 Season:

Week Kicker Team Opponent Result
1 Kai Forbath Washington Redskins Houston Texans L 6-17
3 Shayne Graham New Orleans Saints Minnesota Vikings W 20-9
6 Robbie Gould Chicago Bears Atlanta Falcons W 27-13
8 Dan Carpenter Buffalo Bills New York Jets W 43-23
11 Mason Crosby Green Bay Packers Philadelphia Eagles W 53-20
14 Jay Feely Chicago Bears Dallas Cowboys L 28-41
14 Mason Crosby Green Bay Packers Atlanta Falcons W 43-37
14 Greg Zuerlein St. Louis Rams Washington Redskins W 24-0

None of those games were decided by a single point. In fact, only one was decided by even a single possession. Some of these games were huge blowouts. In other words, we have to be lucky to have a season in which even one game is impacted by a missed PAT.

The relative lack of impact of the PAT has relegated it, in the eyes of fans, to an opportune time to answer the call of nature, rather than a play with any entertainment value. Last season, the average game featured a total of 4.64 touchdowns; it’s safe to assume that few fans are drinking nearly enough water or beer to take advantage of quite so many bathroom breaks!

A much more exciting play is the two-point conversion. Not only is it worth twice as much as the PAT, but it actually resembles the typical football play that NFL fans obviously love to watch.

Unfortunately, the two-point conversion is quite rare in the NFL. This past season there were exactly 59 such attempts in the 256-game regular season, or one per 4.3 games. Teams were successful on 28 of them, or 47.5% – less than half the rate of the extra point. The extra point is therefore both the safer and more valuable play on average, giving teams no incentive to go for two in any but the most extreme of circumstances.

The Solution

Luckily, the NFL has already addressed one of the problems this offseason. Starting in 2015, a new rule will be in place to move the location for extra points back to the 15-yard line, instead of the two. While kickers will likely still make the vast majority of extra points (likely close to 95%), these kicks will no longer be essentially automatic.

It remains to be seen exactly how much the change – which will result in 32 or 33-yard attempts – will alter the success rate of PATs or incentivize teams to go for two. However, the NFL will likely continue to adjust the distance in future seasons until they find one which they believe is appropriate. At the very least, this is a good start.

Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that extra points are currently worth too little to consistently effect games.

Simply making the PAT worth an additional point is not an option. This would result in the two-point conversion being a more difficult way to achieve the same result, rendering the play completely useless. In order for teams to ever consider the “two-point conversion,” it would have to be worth twice as much as the PAT, or four points. This would allow for the possibility of touchdown plays being worth ten points total – more than three times that of a field goal. In order to prevent teams from abandoning the field goal, it would have to be upped to four points. Now that everything is worth more, we are back to the original problem of the extra point being almost worthless.

A much better option is to force teams to wager a point when kicking the PAT. In other words, a missed PAT would result in the touchdown play being worth merely five points, while a make would earn seven. This fix strikes the magical balance of making the kick more important while also encouraging teams to choose the alternative.

But why stop there? This is not going to prevent fans from using the facilities, checking their fantasy teams, clipping their toenails, or doing just about anything but watching the game during the time between touchdown and kickoff.

Rather than having teams attempting a bunch of boring extra points, we should have them take one super exciting one. Under this plan, teams will decide whether they want to go for two immediately after they score a touchdown. If they do choose to go for two, they will receive six points and will then attempt the conversion right away. All of that follows the current procedure exactly.

However, if they select to take the PAT, they will be awarded only five points. There will then be commercials, followed by the kickoff. During the two minute warning in the second half, each team will attempt a single kick. If the kick is successful the team will receive two points for every touchdown they scored for which they did not attempt a two-point conversion. Otherwise, they will receive nothing.

Any extra point attempted after with fewer than two minutes remaining in the second half will immediately follow the touchdown. The last two minutes of close games are already filled with intense drama, and there is no reason to alter them.

Combining the extra points will not drastically affect the probability that the kick will be made (assuming the kicker is not significantly affected by pressure), nor the average number of points accumulated from all of the extra points.

However, it will make the average NFL game a lot more electrifying. There would no longer be the need for such a prolonged break between a touchdown and the ensuing kickoff. More importantly, this format would give teams who are behind by multiple possessions in the fourth quarter extra hope for a comeback.

The NFL has made some positive changes this offseason, and it deserves a solid grade. However, the NFL needs to adopt the proposals above if it wants a big fat ‘A+’.

SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #25 Boise State

It’s mid-July and that means college football season is right around the corner. Here at SQ, we’re all about getting our readers informed and giving them great analysis. With that in mind we’ve put together our own top-25 college football rankings and will preview each of those teams over the next few weeks. Today the countdown starts with #25 Boise State.

Team: Boise State

SQ Ranking: 25

2014 Record: 12-2

Finish in AP Poll: 16th

Head Coach: Bryan Harsin (2nd year)

Key Arrivals: QB Brett Rypien, S Kameron Miles, RB Kelsey Young

Key Departures: QB Grant Hedrick, RB Jay Ajayi

Previewing the Boise State Offense: Boise State returns nine starters to an offense that led the Mountain West in scoring last season, averaging 39.7 points per game. However, it’ll be missing the two key components that accounted for most of the scoring – 92.4 percent of the offensive touchdowns, in fact – as QB Grant Hedrick was lost to graduation and dynamic RB Jay Ajayi has departed for the NFL. Adding on to that is the fact that the team has changed offensive coordinators once more, promoting TE coach Eliah Drinkwitz to the position.

The starting QB job is still wide open between sophomore Ryan Finley and four-star true freshman Brett Rypien, who’s one of the Broncos’ highest rated recruits ever. Finley saw limited action in a backup role last season, tossing two touchdown passes and throwing for 161 yards. As far as replacing Ajayi, Boise State will look to go with more of a committee approach. Sophomore Jeremy McNichols is likely to get a bulk of the carries, while Stanford transfer Kelsey Young and junior Devan Demas are likely to be in the mix as well.

Whatever direction the Broncos decide to go in with these two positions, they will be surrounded by other talented players. The new QB will be protected by two all-conference offensive linemen in Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo, and will have plenty of highly skilled pass catchers. Tight end Jake Roh and WR Shane Williams-Rhodes each return to help the rookie QB after receiving all-conference honorable mention honors.

Previewing the Boise State Defense: If there’s one thing the Boise State defense excels at, it’s creating disruption in the backfield. From getting after the quarterback, to taking down runners before they could cross the line of scrimmage, the Broncos’ defensive front is a penetrating force. It was a force that last season ranked in the top-six nationally in both sacks (47) and tackles for loss (109).

Pressuring the quarterback will again be a strength for Boise State as the team’s sack leader from a season ago, DE Kamalei Correa, returns. Correa notched 12 sacks, good for eighth on the national scale, and also racked up 19 tackles for loss which put him at 15th in the nation. He won’t be alone as DT Elliot Hoyte returns to the line after putting up 3.5 sacks of his own last season.

One of the advantages of having a defense that is able to get into the backfield with ease is forcing QBs to get rid of the ball earlier than they want to. And forcing a QB’s hand too soon creates interceptions, which Boise State is no stranger to. The Broncos forced 22 interceptions in 2014 and bring back a duo that racked up 13 of its own in FS Darian Thompson and CB Donte Deayon.

The combination of a strong defensive front seven and defensive backs that are some of the best ball hawks in the country will make for a formidable defense.

Three Key Games:

1. Boise State vs. Washington, September 4 – That’s right, former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen heads to his old stomping grounds in the season opener. This game can provide for a huge opening statement for the Broncos as they look to get off on the right foot by beating a PAC-12 opponent, just as they ended last season by beating Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Both Washington and Boise State have something to prove in this game and it’ll make for a great game to kick off the 2015 season.

2. Boise State vs. BYU, September 12 – Last season Boise State got past BYU fairly easily, racing out to a 41-16 lead at the half, and eventually beating the Cougars 55-30. But BYU was without QB Taysom Hill, who before he was lost for the season against Utah State looked like a dark horse candidate for the Heisman. This time Boise State will have to stop Hill as he returns to lead BYU and finish what he started last season.

3. Boise State vs. Air Force, November 20 – Boise State lost only two games last season, and one of those losses came against Air Force in a game that the Broncos’ literally gave away. The Air Force defense forced Boise State to turn the ball over seven times in that contest, forcing two fumbles and five interceptions. Needless to say it was not a pretty sight to see. This game could have division title implications being played so late in the season.

Final Analysis: Going 12-2 under a new head coach last season was certainly a surprise that not many expected so suddenly. Now in 2015, the team looks like it could be poised for a similar run. A loaded September schedule featuring Washington, BYU and Virginia will put Boise State to the test, but the team should be able to come away with two wins out of the three contests.

Though there are still questions on the offense, the Broncos should still be able to put up plenty of points and compete for another conference title. This team could easily go 12-2 again, while winning the Mountain West title and advancing to another New Year’s Six b
It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise, especially if the team can get things going early.

2015 Division Preview Series: AFC East

This is part one of our eight-part division preview series. I will pose two questions per team, one about offense and one about defense, and then predict each team’s 2015 record and final standing within the division. Tune in each Sunday for a new part of the series!


Buffalo Bills (9-7 in 2014, 2nd in AFC East)

Will LeSean McCoy live up to his new contract?

The Bills gave McCoy a five-year, $40 million contract, which, when broken down by average, seems reasonable. McCoy will be the fifth-highest paid running back in terms of average salary, but his guaranteed salary is $26.5 million, which is not nearly as excusable.

The percentage of guaranteed money in McCoy’s contract is the highest of any running back on a veteran contract, and the amount of guaranteed money is second only to Adrian Peterson, who signed his current contract back in 2011. Still, this would not necessarily be a bad thing, were it not for the fact that McCoy is coming off a down year.

McCoy’s 2013 season was fantastic, as he racked up 1,607 rushing yards, 539 receiving yards 11 total touchdowns and only one turnover, all the while averaging just over 100 yards per game on the ground. Unfortunately, his 2014 campaign saw his numbers diminish in nearly every category. McCoy’s most drastic drops in output came in receiving yards (down 71 percent) and touchdowns (down 54 percent). His total yards from scrimmage also dropped (31 percent), and he had four turnovers. His overall rating from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) also fell dramatically, from 26.8 in 2013 to -9.3 in 2014.

In order for McCoy to live up to his big, new contract — and for the Bills to make the playoffs — he will need to put up 2013 numbers again. Another 2014 will not cut it.

How will Rex Ryan further elevate Buffalo’s defense?

Buffalo’s defense was pretty great in 2014. That is not really up for debate. The unit finished fourth in both yards and points allowed, and third in takeaways. The pass defense was especially dominant, coming in third, behind Seattle and Kansas City.

Bringing in the defensive-minded Ryan as the team’s new head coach makes sense, but what can he realistically do to make the Bills’ defense that much better?
The 2014 Bills ran a 4-3 defense and were one of only two teams — the other being the Lions — to do so consistently, according to ESPN. Ryan typically runs a hybrid 3-4, which is far more common, though he claimed in January that he will run neither a 3-4 nor a 4-3. How well and how quickly the defense adapts to Ryan’s scheme, whatever he calls it, will determine how far this team can go.

Ryan has had no shortage of success defensively throughout his career, and he has even more talent on this Bills team than he did on last year’s Jets team. One thing seems to be certain: the Bills defense will be a fun unit to watch.

Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in AFC East

The Bills made a good move by going out to get a great running back in McCoy. He pairs well with Ryan’s ground-and-pound offensive approach, and he should take pressure off either Matt Cassel or EJ Manuel, whoever ends up starting. If Ryan can make the defense even better than its 2014 counterpart, the Bills can and will make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.


Miami Dolphins (8-8 in 2014, 3rd in AFC East)

Will Ryan Tannehill continue to improve now that the team has committed to him financially?

Tannehill is now the seventh-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, annually, and is under team control through 2020. He often flies under the radar in the loaded QB class of 2012, but he has been the third-best QB of that draft, ahead of Robert Griffin III and behind Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Tannehill has improved statistically in each of his three pro seasons, most impressively raising his completion percentage by 8.1 points in just two years. One thing that separates him from the rest of the 2012 QB class is his lack of a playoff appearance.

Miami has an opening, however small, thanks to the Tom Brady suspension. While the Dolphins will not play a Brady-less Patriots team — regardless of whether his suspension is reduced — they have a chance to pick up serious ground in the division race. Four of Miami’s first five games come against teams that finished 2014 under .500, and two are against Buffalo and the New York Jets. Tannehill needs to be the leader of the offense if the team is to take full advantage of Brady’s suspension.

He has weapons now, including wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker, and it is time to take advantage of them. 2014 was Tannehill’s first 4,000-yard season, and he needs to do even more in 2015 in order to take
the Dolphins to the next level. He needs somewhere in the range of 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns to make that leap.

Can Ndamukong Suh prove he is worth nearly $20 million per year?

Miami’s defense was nothing special in 2014. The unit was a bit above average in yards allowed and takeaways and a bit below in points allowed. The lackluster output led the Dolphins to go out and land the biggest fish of the free-agent class, Suh, who joined the team on a six-year, $114 million with nearly $60 million guaranteed, good for the largest contract for a defensive player in NFL history. Suh was an absolute force in Detroit for the first five years of his career, and now he looks to replicate that in South Beach.

But how on Earth can Suh make a mark worthy of franchise QB money? No one is questioning Suh’s overall value — he ranked third among DTs in PFF’s 2014 rankings — but how can he prove he is worth almost $2.5 million per year more than J.J. Watt? In short, he can’t. Watt is underpaid, as insane as that sounds, and Suh is not a more dominant player than Watt is. In terms of value in a vacuum, Suh is not worth the same as Tannehill or Watt, but teams overpay in free agency; that is just the reality. What Suh can do to maximize the value of his contract: disrupt offensive lines, reach double-digit sacks for the second time in his career and stay on the field by avoiding unsportsmanlike behavior. That might be the best for which Miami can ask.

Prediction: 9-7, 3rd in AFC East

If Tannehill can continue his trend of improving every year, Miami could be in play for its first winning season, and playoff spot, since 2008. He needs to have a truly breakout year, instead of just slowly getting better, and he has weapons in the receiving corps to help him do just that. Suh needs to be a leader on defense and help improve a unit that did nothing special last year. If the team can get off to a fast start and take advantage of Brady’s suspension, Miami could do more than just hang around at the end of the regular season.


New England Patriots (12-4 in 2014, 1st in AFC East)

Will Jimmy Garoppolo shine in Brady’s absence, however long it ends up being?

The result of Brady’s appeal has not yet been announced, but it seems likely that he will miss some amount of time, which means Garoppolo will be making his first career start this year. We have not seen much from Garoppolo — he played in six games as a rookie, completing 19 of 27 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown — but that fact that he has been learning from both Brady and Bill Belichick makes his debut that much more anticipated. Throw in the fact that Brady backups tend to play well in New England, and it is easy to see why there may be unfair expectations placed on Garoppolo before he even takes his first snap as a starter.

Brady has always been good at getting more out of his receivers than they might provide a lesser QB. Garoppolo will have a couple solid targets in tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Julian Edelman, but beyond that, the receiving corps is lacking. The running game is not as solid as it used to be, either, with Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley both leaving in free agency. An experienced QB could make do with this supporting cast, but a green passer like Garoppolo could understandably struggle in such a situation. That is not to say that he cannot eventually become a great QB; it just is not fair to assume that he can stand in for Brady without a loss in production.

How will the secondary hold up without cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner?

Belichick is nothing if not inventive with his secondaries, but making this unit serviceable may be one of his biggest challenges yet. The insane drop-off from the Revis-Browner CB duo to Logan Ryan and Justin Green cannot be exaggerated. Keeping free safety Devin McCourty was huge, but it did nothing to solidify the sideline coverage, and McCourty can hardly be everywhere at once.

To answer the question, I am not sure the secondary can hold up. I would not be completely surprised to see Edelman making a cameo or two back in the secondary, as he did a couple seasons ago. I believe that Belichick will get the secondary playing as well as it can, but that may not be enough to fend off AFC East receivers like Brandon Marshall, Sammy Watkins or DeVante Parker.

Prediction: 11-5, 1st in AFC East

The Patriots have won at least 12 games every season since 2009, but I think this could be the season that streak ends, especially if Brady’s suspension sticks at four games. The combination of a crumbling secondary and an inexperienced backup QB taking the reigns just reeks of an overall drop-off for the team. Could the Patriots still win 12 or more games? Absolutely. Will they make th
e playoffs for the seventh-consecutive year? Almost certainly. Will they win the division for the seventh-straight year? That seems less certain. Buffalo, Miami and the New York Jets are all making strides, and one of those teams could leapfrog New England while Brady sits. I am still picking the Patriots to win the East, but I would not be too surprised if Buffalo or Miami won it instead.


New York Jets (4-12 in 2014, 4th in AFC East)

Will Geno Smith finally make the leap?

Time is running out for the former second-round pick out of West Virginia, who has struggled to find his place in the NFL. Smith has a career completion percentage of 57.5 and has thrown nine more interceptions than touchdown passes through two years. Some thought the Jets might select Marcus Mariota in May’s draft, but when he went off the board second overall to the Tennessee Titans, that possibility went out the window. The Titans’ decision may have saved Smith’s pro career. Now Smith needs to take advantage of that opportunity by becoming a leader on offense and making the leap to deserving NFL starter.

Smith is 11-18 as a starter, and he only occasionally shows the skills necessary to be a starting QB in the NFL. In 29 starts, just two — at Atlanta in 2013 and at Miami in 2014 — netted him a quarterback rating in the triple digits, the latter a perfect 158.3. With the acquisition of Marshall from the Chicago Bears, Smith now has two solid receivers, the other being Eric Decker. He also has a committee of running backs at his disposal, including Chris Ivory, former Patriot Ridley, and former Ram Zac Stacy. The Jets defense and run game should be able to support Smith in a way that keeps him from being the focal point. He needs to step up and develop consistency, and the team can really take off.

How quickly can Revis and Antonio Cromartie fix the Jets secondary?

In a word: probably. Last year, without Revis or Cromartie, the Jets finished 14th in passing yards allowed. In 2012, the last year both were on the team, the Jets finished second in that category. After a disastrous 2013, Cromartie improved in 2014 as a member of the Arizona Cardinals and now has a chance to reunite with the last CB to bring out the best in him. Maybe the best part about Revis’ return is that Dee Milliner will not be starting anymore. That alone will really help the secondary out.

Prediction: 7-9, 4th in AFC East

With Revis Island back in New York (well, New Jersey, technically), the Jets have a distinct advantage over opposing offenses, which will especially help them out in divisional play. If the ground game can get going offensively, and if Smith can find some consistency, the Jets have a chance to make a big improvement on their 2014 record. I am not ready to predict a playoff spot for Gang Green, but an eight-win season actually would not surprise me.

Judge Rules NCAA Owes Athletes $60 Million in Lawsuit

A U.S. judge ruled Friday that the NCAA and EA Sports owe student-athletes $60 million for use of their likenesses in video games. 

The class-action lawsuit was initiated in 2009 by a group of football players who felt their likenesses were being used in NCAA Football video games published by EA Sports. The series never used names or pictures of athletes, but the usage of information such as height, weight, facial structure, skin tone, hometown and past statistics were enough for the judge to determine a violation had occurred. 

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken approved the settlement to any student-athletes whose likeness appeared in NCAA Football and Basketball video games over the history of these series. This case kept the games off shelves since 2013, in order to avoid further violations. 

The case allows an individual to claim a maximum of $7,026, and they must do so by July 31st. 

With the NCAA constantly under fire for rights of student-athletes, especially in the “pay for play” discussion, this is a major win for student-athletes who may seek further compensation in the future. No word yet if the NCAA is planning an appeal. 

Pre-Season NFL Draft Watch: Quarterbacks

The prospects within the specific categories are not listed in any particular order

Top Tier

Cardale Jones, Ohio State

It may be hard to believe that a player who has just three starts under his belt is in line to be an first round pick. But Jones has mobility and the best arm strength in this class hands down. And by no means is he a raw thrower, showing generally good accuracy and decision making in his limited reps. However, he must show drastic improvement in his footwork, pocket presence and touch going forward.

Connor Cook, Michigan State

Like Jones, Cook has a great arm, but he also boasts some more nuanced traits. He makes a ton of NFL caliber throws at the college level and shows good accuracy in making those throws. His pocket presence is also very good, and he is willing to take a hit to complete the pass. On the other hand, his decision making is not spectacular and his accuracy, while good, can be inconsistent at times.

Sleepers and Mid Round

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

Simply by looking at the numbers, Hackenberg seems to have greatly regressed in his sophomore season. This was due in large part to a terrible supporting cast at Penn State both at receiver and on the offensive line. But what really prevents Hackenberg from being listed as a “Top Tier” player is his accuracy, which can look amazing one play and horrific the next. If he can improve in that aspect, Hackenberg’s arm strength, footwork, pocket presence and mobility make him first round caliber.

Jared Goff, Cal 

Goff is a player who can make a big jump with a strong 2015. The most immediate tool that stands out is his arm strength, giving him the ability to make almost any throw on the field. Goff is generally a very good decision maker and shows good pocket presence to move around as the play breaks down. His accuracy is good but not great.

Gunner Kiel, Cinnciniati

A former top-rated quarterback recruit out of high school, Kiel left Notre Dame after he failed to beat out Everett Golson. Kiel boasts a great arm and some really good accuracy, though it can really suffer when he takes shots down the field. His delivery is a little unorthodox, and he needs to build on his pocket presence along with his decision making.

Best of the Rest

Cody Kessler, USC

Trevone Boykin, TCU

Everett Golson, Notre Dame

Chuckie Keaton, Utah State

JT Barrett, Ohio State

Josh Dobbs, Tennessee

The Vol’s starter from last season has some intriguing tools and is worth following during the 2015 season. Dobbs is a highly mobile, big-armed passer. His decision making was usually pretty sound, but his touch and accuracy are two big components of his game that need to be developed.

Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Hogan’s delivery does not feature as much of a windup as it used to, but it is still not as compact as some other passers in this group. While making very few throws at Stanford due to the offense, Hogan is a sound decision maker and is pretty accurate in the short and intermediate areas of the field. His arm strength is below average.

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

Travis Wilson, Utah

Why J. J. Watt Is Everyone's Favorite Player

After being drafted 11th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft (amid boos by fans in attendance), J.J. Watt has surpassed all the naysayers’ expectations. Since coming out of the University of Wisconsin four years ago, Watt has quickly become arguably the most formidable defensive threat in the league. 

His numerous accolades back up this reputation: he won two AP Defensive Player of the Year awards (his first in 2012 and his second in 2014), became the first player in NFL history to record over 20 sacks in two seasons, and was voted as the best player in pro football by his colleagues in the league.  

Besides these tangible accomplishments, Watt has emerged as the opposing team’s biggest concern in every game. The three-time Pro Bowler had an incredible 2014 season, with stats that give Texans fans a lot to look forward to in 2015. Watt, who stands 6’5” and weighs around 295 pounds, recorded 78 tackles and 20.5 sacks over 16 games. 

While great athleticism usually carries a great number of detractors, this is not the case with Watt. The rest of the football world looks upon him with respect and awe, not only as a result of his prowess on the field, but also due to his actions off of it.   

Elite professional athletes are celebrities in their own right, and thus their social lives are dissected and documented accordingly. As a result, though it is unfair, the legacies of many players are built upon their in-game performance, but then diminished due to their negative relationship with the media.   

For example, Bill Russell is revered for winning 11 NBA championship rings in 13 seasons on the Boston Celtics, but he is equally notorious for his deplorable attitude towards his fans. He did not attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1976, and also was not present when the Celtics retired his jersey number (6) in 1972. Though the city and Russell have since arrived at a reconciliation of sorts, Russell still avoids visiting Boston.  

It is much harder to find a player who has mastered the Xs and Os as well as the art of public relations. The fact that J.J.Watt fits this elusive mold elevates him from star player to future legend. Like the NBA’s Stephen Curry or MLB’s David Wright, when Watt makes headlines, it is not because he was caught canoodling with a Kardashian or because he accidentally shot himself in the leg. It is either a result of another record-breaking, highlight reel-making game, or a result of his pure personality shining through an off-the-field event.  

When a player of Watt’s caliber takes time out to help a fan with her birth announcement, it doesn’t appear to be publicity stunt or a calculated PR move. On the contrary, it proves that classiness, combined with a bit of quirk, goes a long way. It also reminds fans that, despite the pedestal athletes are put on, a player can rise above egocentrism and petty controversies and show the world that getting nervous in the presence of Jennifer Aniston is inevitable.

Top 10 Coaches In College Football

The players are the ones on the field executing the plays. The coaches are the ones telling them what to execute. Every good team needs good players. But, more importantly, every good team needs a good coach. Who are the top 10 coaches in college football? Let’s find out!

10. Mark Richt-Georgia Bulldogs: Mark Richt has done an excellent job with the Georiga football program since he became its head coach. He has guided them to a 136-48 regular season record with nine double-digit winning seasons, a 78-34 SEC record, and a respectable 9-5 record in bowl games. He has not won a national championship as the coach of the team, and while some Dawgs fans may be getting impatient with that, Richt is the best man for the job and deserves to stay where he is.

9. Chris Petersen-Washington Huskies: In his first season with the Huskies, Petersen went 8-6. That doesn’t sound too impressive. The reason why Petersen is on this list is for the extraordinary job he did as the head coach of the Boise State Broncos. In his eight seasons there, he guided them to an insane 92-12 regular season record a 5-2 bowl record. You might be thinking “Big deal, Boise State did not have much competition to deal with.” While that may be true, one can never forget the team’s improbable victory over automatic qualifier Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos became just the second non-automatic qualifer to play in and win a BCS bowl game (the 2004 Utah utes were the first). In addition, Petersen has won the Paul “Bear” Bryant award for coach of the year in 2006 and 2009, making him the only two-time recipient of the award.

8. Mark Dantonio-Michigan State Spartans: Michigan State has become one of college football’s elite teams lately and it’s in large part thanks to Dantonio. He has guided them to a solid 75-31 regular season record and after a slow start in bowl games, the team has now won four straight. He has been recognized as the Big Ten Coach of the Year twice, in 2010 and 2013.

7. Gary Patterson-TCU Horned Frogs: Patterson, just like Petersen, has spent a majority of his career coaching a non-automatic qualifying team. Just like Petersen, Patterson was able to guide his team to a victory over an automatic qualifier in a BCS bowl as the Horned Frogs defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2011 Rose Bowl. The Horned Frogs moved from the Mountain West Conference to the Big 12 Conference in 2012 and while they got off to a slow start in their new conference, going 7-6 and 4-8 in their first two years respectively, they came out firing the very next year with a 12-1 record and a final ranking of 3 in the AP rankings.

6. Gus Malzahn-Auburn Tigers: As stated in my previous article, Malzahn might be the best offensive mind in the country and he has a plethora of offensive talent to work with. In his first year as the head coach of the Tigers, he immediately changed the culture of the team as he guided them to a 12-2 record and a national championship appearance, just one year after they posted a 3-9 record with zero SEC victories. Thanks to Malzahn, Auburn is back to being one of the country’s most feared teams.

5. Bob Stoops-Oklahoma Sooners: Bob Stoops has been nothing but consistent since he became the head coach of the Sooners. He has not had one losing season as the coach and has guided them to 12 double-digit winning seasons and a national championship victory in 2001. He also guided them to the 2009 national championship where they eventually lost to the Florida Gators.

4. Les Miles-LSU Tigers: “The Mad Hatter” has done an excellent job as the head coach of the Tigers, guiding them a 103-29 regular season record, two national championship appearances, and one national championship victory. In his 11 seasons as the coach, the Tigers have been in the top 3 of the ultra-competitive SEC West standings 10 times.

3. Jimbo Fisher-Florida State Seminoles: Fisher has done a fantastic job as the head coach of the Seminoles. He has guided them to a ridiculous 58-11 regular season record, two undefeated regular seasons, a playoff appearance, and a national championship victory. Say whatever you want about his ability (or inability) to handle off-the-field issues, but there is absolutely no doubt that the man can coach. 

2. Nick Saban-Alabama Crimson Tide: When you talk about the two best coaches in the nation, Nick Saban’s name is usually brought up. The man has turned Alabama into a football powerhouse since he became the head coach. His most notable work was guiding them to three national championships in a four-year span. The model of consistency that Saban has instilled in his team has made them one of college football’s elite.

1. Urban Meyer-Ohio State Buckeyes: Urban Meyer is the best coach in the nation, and at this point it shouldn’t even be a question. His overall regular season record as a head coach is an astounding 142-26. He guided the 2004 Utah Utes to a victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Fiesta Bowl (as mentioned before, the 2004 Utes were the first non-automatic qualifier to ever play in and win a BCS bowl game), the 2008 Florida Gators to a national championship victory, and just recently led the Buckeyes to a national championship victory. His work with the 2014 Buckeyes was by far his most impressive. The Buckeyes entered the season without their starting quarterback Braxton Miller. Some time later, their second-string quarterback J.T. Barrett went down, giving third-string quarterback Cardale Jones control at the helm. Jones went 3-0 as the starter with victories over Wisconsin in the Big Ten national championship, Alabama in the college football playoff semi-final, and Oregon in the national championship. You’re not supposed to win a championship with your third-string quarterback but Ohio State was able to do it. It was arguably the best coaching job in college football that we have ever seen.

Will Demarco Murray Succeed In Philly?

Anybody can run well in Dallas.

Demarco Murray was the latest product of the running back machine that is the Cowboys, who have an offensive line so powerful they are commonly accepted to be the best position group in the NFL. We’re talking about four first-round picks, all young and still ahead of their prime playing years, all together on the same team. Behind this mass of human blockage, any RB in the league could look good (even Trent Richardson). 

There’s no question that Murray, a graduate out of Oklahoma originally drafted by the Cowboys in 2011, has some serious running chops. His college stats show how dominant he was even before going to Dallas. Murray tied Adrian Peterson’s freshman record for rushing touchdowns with 15, and set the all-time Oklahoma records for touchdowns (65), all purpose yards (6,718), receiving yards for a running back (1,571), and kickoff return average (27.6). Murray is impressive in raw statistics too, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.40 seconds and broad jump of 10 ft 4 in. There’s no question about it, he’s a real athlete, and he’ll be a good running back no matter where he goes.

That’s not the point, though.

The question is whether Murray can stand out on his own, given the opportunity to prove himself without the aid of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins, Dallas’ big front men. Chip Kelly’s offense is entirely different from that of Scott Linehan, and in many ways it will play to Murray’s strengths. Fast-paced, with an emphasis on speed and intelligence, Kelly is hoping that Demarco will be able to slide right into his plans for a Philadelphia championship team in the coming years. The spread offense style in particular will be helpful to the speedy Murray, and it will give him plenty of room to work with. In previous years we saw how this worked for LeSean McCoy, who dominated whenever he got a few yards in front of him to work with. For sure, everybody in Philly is excited to see what Murray will be able to do, and how quickly he’ll be able to adapt to the new style of offense.

Not everything will be sunshine and rainbows during the transition, though. Anyone who paid attention to the Eagles last year will remember their offensive linemen injury woes. They didn’t play a single game in 2014 with all of their starters on the line, and often had to play with only three of their best guys. Just let that statistic sink in for a moment. 0 for 16. Lane Johnson started the issues with a four game suspension, and as soon as he got back star center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis fell to injuries (sports hernia and a knee injury, respectively). To make matters worse, Todd Herremans fell to a bicep injury at the end of the season, and played some pretty ugly games while suffering through the pain.

In total, they tried out seven different starting rotations, pulling on a total of 10 players to fill the five spots on the line. LeSean McCoy suffered at the hands of this inconsistency, running for 288 yards less than he had the previous year. They allowed 49.0 sacks to their opponents, way beyond of their goal of 22 set at the beginning of the season (this would’ve been the Eagles franchise record). philly.com

Demarco won’t have to do it alone, at least. In the backfield with Murray will be Ryan Mathews, an acquisition from the Chargers, and Darren Sproles, the Eagles powerhouse specialist who lit the special teams game on fire with his dynamic punt returns. The combination of these men, now dubbed the “Legion of Zoom”, poses possibly the biggest threat of any backfield in the NFL, and with Bradford coming in off of an injury plagued stretch in his career, Chip Kelly will most certainly lean on these three men to put the offense on their backs. The majority of the offense’s production will most likely come from the run game. Not to be doubtful of Bradford or the wide receivers, but the talent has been diminished for sure since the departure of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. 

So what does this all mean?

Demarco Murray’s success will hinge on a few factors, including the health of the offensive line and the success of Bradford as a long ball threat, but for the most part, it looks as though he has another big season in his future. There’s a perfect storm in Philly that’s been brewing ever since Papa Chip took over the squad, and I think this year could be the beginning of a major breakout. Murray will have another great offensive line to run behind, and although they don’t quite rival the squad in Dallas, they are a force to be reckoned with. If Bradford can be a good enough player to alleviate some of the pressure on the run game and keep teams honest, then Murray will have the perfect opportunity to chase down McCoy’s single season rushing record (1,607 yards). Mathews and Sproles will provide him with the critical relief he may need, and they will play an integral role as well in the success of the Eagles franchise. 

Legion of Zoom, ready to take off.