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  1. #91
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    College football notebook: Iowa loaded at running back
    August 6, 2017


    Only one college football team in the country has two running backs who each ran for 1,000 yards last season. That would be Iowa.

    The Hawkeyes bring back senior Akrum Wadley (1,081 yards and 10 touchdowns) and added Nevada graduate transfer James Butler (1,336 yards, 12 touchdowns) over the summer. Butler ran for 3,313 yards, averaging 5.5 per carry, while playing in the Wolf Pack's run-tilted Pistol offense.

    With new Nevada coach Jay Norvell installing the Air Raid offense, Butler looked for other options after spring ball, landing at Iowa, known for its physical, ground-based attack.

    "Everything about it since we got the release has been very impressive," coach Kirk Ferentz said of Butler at the team's media day Saturday.

    "He did a tremendous job academically at Nevada. His statistics in football are impressive. But certainly to have him here on campus and have an opportunity to work with him, I think all of us are enjoying that, really pleased. Anytime you can add a good player, a good person, a high-caliber guy to your roster, that's a positive."

    Butler is the 1,000-yard replacement for graduated Leshun Daniels Jr., who ran for 1,058 yards and 10 scores last season for the Hawkeyes, who went 8-5. Wadley, at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, isn't built like a workhorse, so there will be ample opportunities for him and Butler, running behind a typically stout Iowa offensive line and helping ease the transition to a new starting quarterback.

    "Akrum is one of our best football players. We've seen him, we've witnessed him ... boy, he's right on task right now," Ferentz said. "But like last year, we were better when we had two guys that could help us there. If we have three, that would be great too."

    --Oregon State quarterback Marcus McMaryion, who lost out on the team's starting quarterback job last week, will transfer and be immediately eligible as a graduate, the school announced Sunday. McMaryion has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

    Coach Gary Andersen picked junior college transfer Jake Luton as his starter early in camp over McMaryion and Darell Garretson. McMaryion started six games last season as an injury replacement, completing 101 of 170 passes for 1,286 yards, with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.

    --Offensive lineman Khaliel Rodgers, who joined North Carolina this summer as a graduate transfer from USC, announced on social media that he is retiring from football. Rodgers started nine career games on the offensive line for the Trojans, but none last season, when he played sparingly after being moved to the defensive line. The Tar Heels were trying to use him at offensive guard.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

  2. #92
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    SEC East Predictions
    August 4, 2017


    1-Florida Gators:
    Best Players: OT Martez Ivey, WR Antonio Callaway, CB Duke Dawson, DE CeCe Jefferson, CB Chauncey Gardner & PK Eddy Pineiro.
    Toughest Games: vs. Michigan (Arlington, TX.), vs. LSU, vs. Georgia (Jacksonville) and vs. FSU.
    Danger Spots: at Missouri on Nov. 4 & at South Carolina on Nov. 11.


    UF will be looking for its third consecutive trip to Atlanta on Jim McElwain’s watch. McElwain is the first coach in SEC history to win division titles in the first two seasons of his tenure at a school. The Gators probably won’t be quite as salty on defense in 2017, especially after last season’s leading tackler, senior safety Marcell Harris, went down with a torn Achilles in late July. However, the Gators finally appear poised to field an offense that can score.

    In McElwain’s first two seasons, UF averaged 23.2 and 23.9 points per game. But the offensive woes at Florida date all the way back to Tim Tebow’s exit in 2009. Since then, the Gators have averaged more than 30.0 PPG just once (30.3 PPG in 2015). Furthermore, every QB that has made a start was either a player that eventually transferred out or transferred in. Those QBs include Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg, Treon Harris and Will Grier. Two others – Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby – came to UF from other schools, and now Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire is wearing orange and blue.

    The reason for optimism on offense extends well beyond the QB position, but even the most talented unit can’t function well without adequate QB play. The thinking in Gainesville is that the arrival of Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire and the presence of four-star redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will cure an illness that’s engulfed the program for seven seasons. Whoever earns the starting job will have weapons galore at his disposal. Callaway, the true junior WR and special-teams ace, is the only player in school history to score five different ways – passing, rushing, receiving, kick return and punt return. He had 54 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, but his status for the opener against Michigan was in question after his arrest in June for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Now it seems he’ll play, however, after McElwain addressed the media on Aug. 2. When asked if there will be in any Week 1 suspensions, he said “not at this time as long as some obligations are met.” Senior WR Brandon Powell is a three-year starter who’s joined by Tyrie Cleveland, the true sophomore who has NFL size and speed and made the huge play (a 99-yard TD reception) to trigger last year’s division-clinching victory at LSU.

    The defense returns just four starters, but that’s a misleading number. When LBs Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone went down with injuries at Arkansas in ’16, true freshmen David Reese and Kylan Johnson were inserted into the starting lineup. Both played well, earned starting experience and will be better for it as full-time starters this year. Also, Jefferson and Jordan Sherit weren’t considered starters, but both took snaps galore and made many big plays in ’15 and ’16. The Harris injury is costly, especially with less depth in the secondary this year. With that said, though, CBs Gardner (MVP of Outback Bowl) and Dawson are All-SEC candidates.

    Gambling Numbers: 8/1 odds to win the SEC, 50/1 odds to win nat’l title & a season win total of 8.5 (‘over’ -115).

    Prediction: With every prediction I make in August, you go by the presumption that most key players stay healthy. The reality of college football (or pigskin at any level) is that teams will indeed lose key players to injuries or even suspensions in some case. So with that said pertaining to this prediction and the rest of them below, I’m confident in seven wins for UF and then there are five crucial swing games – vs. Michigan, vs. LSU, vs UGA, at South Carolina and vs. FSU. You notice how only one of those five are on the road? (Thanks, Joe Alleva!) In fact, the Gators play only three true road games all year and are likely to be favored in each – at Kentucky, at Missouri and at USC. If things fall into place, this could be a monster season for UF. Then again, the depth on defense isn’t what it has been and if injuries are anywhere near the level of last season (UF won at LSU with seven defensive starters back in Gainesville), things could go south in a hurry. And, as always, until a Florida QB has a big year, that position remains a question mark. Regardless though, I think the Gators are a given to win eight games. I feel it’s more likely they go 9-3 or 10-2. I’ll call for UF to win the SEC East but lose again to Alabama in Atlanta.

    Bets: Florida pick ‘em vs. Georgia in Games of the Year (three units). Why? UF’s defensive line eats UGA’s o-line for breakfast, lunch and dinner annually.

    2-Georgia Bulldogs:
    Best Players: RB Nick Chubb, QB Jacob Eason, RB Sony Michel, DT Trenton Thompson & LB Roquan Smith.
    Toughest Games: at Notre Dame, at Tennessee, vs. UF, at Auburn & at Ga. Tech.
    Danger Spots: vs. Appalachian St. in Week 1 & at Vanderbilt on Oct. 7.

    Georgia went 8-5 straight up and 6-7 against the spread in the first season of the Kirby Smart Era. In fairness, the Bulldogs lost three games by five combined points and one of those defeats came on a Hail Mary on the game’s final play. But they also stole one at Missouri on a fourth-and-10 TD pass in the final minute of a 28-27 triumph. Also, UGA’s 13-7 win over Auburn came when Gus Malzahn’s team had its two best offensive players (QB Sean White and RB Kamryn Pettway) injured, and a victory at South Carolina came before Jake Bentley was inserted into USC’s starting lineup.

    Smart’s second squad has seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. Eason was predictably inconsistent as a true freshman, displaying his NFL arm on plays like the game-winning pass at Missouri and especially on his ridiculous go-ahead TD throw against Tennessee with 10 ticks left. He completed only 55.1 percent of his passes, throwing 16 TD passes compared to eight interceptions. Five of his top six pass catchers return, but his top target Isaiah McKenzie has departed. Chubb and Michel provide UGA with the best 1-2 punch of RBs in the country, but will the offensive line show improvement? This unit, which is ranked just 46th nationally by Phil Steele in his preseason magazine, was dominated by the defensive fronts for Missouri (2.7 yards per carry), Vanderbilt (2.1 YPC), Florida (1.1 YPC) and Auburn (3.1 YPC).

    Fourteen of UGA’s top 15 tacklers are back from a defense that gave up 24.0 PPG. This unit is filled with veterans. In fact, only juniors and seniors were listed as starters coming out of spring practice. Thompson, Smith, FS Dominick Sanders and Lorenzo Carter are the leaders on this side of the ball. Smart, who cut his teeth as an excellent defensive coordinator for nearly a decade at Alabama under Nick Saban, should have this side of the ball playing at a elite level in 2017.

    Gambling Numbers: UGA has 6/1 odds to win the SEC and 25/1 odds to win the College Football Playoff at Sportsbook.ag. Depending on if you like the ‘over’ or ‘under,’ you probably need to shop around. I’ve seen the Bulldogs’ win total at 8.5 with the juice as high as -135 (Sportsbook.ag as of 8/2), but they can also be found at nine with a price in the -140 neighborhood.

    Prediction: The first two games are crucial and it would be ignorant for anyone to think Appalachian St. doesn’t have a chance between the hedges. UGA is currently favored by 14 over the Mountaineers, while most shops with Games of the Year have it installed as a short underdog (I’ve seen it from +1 to +3) for the trip to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish. If Smart’s club wins at UT on Sept. 30, that will make the ensuing trip to Nashville even more challenging. I see Georgia finishing second in the East. I have the Dawgs going 8-4 or 9-3, depending on how their trip to The Flats for the regular-season finale works out.

    Bets: I have nothing here.

    3-Tennessee Volunteers:
    Best Players: WR Jauan Jennings, SS Todd Kelly, LB Darrin Kirkland, KR Evan Berry & TE Ethan Wolf.
    Toughest Games: vs. Ga Tech in Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Dome, not Bobby Dodd Stadium), at Florida, vs. Georgia, at Alabama & vs. LSU.
    Danger Spots: at Kentucky on Oct. 28 & at Missouri (11/11).

    Tennessee finished 9-4 SU and 5-7-1 ATS in 2016. The Volunteers went 2-2 in four one-possession games, beating Appalachian St. in overtime and winning at Georgia on a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play. They lost in double overtime at Texas A&M and dropped a 24-21 decision at South Carolina.


    Jones enters his fifth season with a 30-21 record at UT, guiding his team to a 3-0 record in bowl games since limping to a 5-7 record in his first season in Knoxville. He is only 2-2 against Vanderbilt and remains winless against Will Muschamp’s teams in three head-to-head meetings. Many in the media seem to think Jones is on steady footing in terms of job security, but those members of the press have absolutely zero clue.

    Jones is a relentless excuse maker who constantly ruffles the feathers of his fan base with asinine remarks like last year’s senior class being “champions of life” (rather than SEC East champs in a division UT was favored to win and was in the driver’s seat of after rallying from 21 points down to beat Florida and stealing its game in Athens). Jones lacked the stones to own his kindergarten-level mistake of note going for two at UF two years ago after his team took a 12-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. In short, he’s a clown who is on the hot seat and will remain there until he takes this program back to Atlanta (in early December).

    Gambling Numbers: UT has 20/1 odds to win the SEC and 85/1 odds to win the CFP. The Vols have a win total of 7.5 with the juice toward the ‘over’ in the -130 range. They are +7 at UF, pick ‘em vs. UGA, +24.5 at ‘Bama, -1 at UK, +7.5 vs. LSU & -8.5 vs. Vandy.

    Prediction: UT has seven starters back on each side of the ball, but offensive playmakers like Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone are gone. On the flip side, the Vols have their top five and eight of their top nine tacklers returning. With that said, Derek Barnett and key secondary players like Cam Sutton and Malik Foreman have moved on. The QB position is a question mark, making it difficult for pundits to peg this squad in August. I look at the schedule and see a likely 5-2 record with five games I’m uncertain about. Those contests are vs. Ga. Tech, vs. UGA, vs. South Carolina, at Missouri and vs. LSU. The Vols have two weeks to prep for the Gamecocks and will be in revenge mode, but arch-rival Alabama will be on deck to potentially provide a look-ahead scenario. If UT gets quality QB play, I think it can finish 8-4. If the QB play is poor, 6-6 is a possibility. I’ll hedge and say 7-5.

    Bets: I want to say fade UT as a seven-point ‘dog at The Swamp. However, I’d like to see who gets both starting jobs at QB (and then see how they play in Weeks 1 and 2) for those division rivals before committing to that wager. I’ll pass on the win total.


    4-South Carolina
    Best Players: TE Hayden Hurst, WR Deebo Samuel, LB Skai Moore, LB Bryson Allen-Williams & QB Jake Bentley.
    Toughest Games: vs. N.C. St. in Charlotte, at UT, at UGA, vs. UF & vs. Clemson.
    Danger Spots: vs. La. Tech on Sept. 23 & vs. Arkansas on Oct. 7.

    I went in-depth on my take on the ’17 Gamecocks and why I love their win total ‘over’ 5.5 victories. They have 85/1 odds to win the SEC.

    5-Vanderbilt Commodores: Best Players: RB Ralph Webb, LB Oren Burks, NG Nifae Lealao, SS Ryan White & WR Trent Sherfield.
    Toughest Games: vs. Kansas St., vs. Alabama, at UT, vs. UGA, at South Carolina & at Tennessee.
    Danger Spots: at Middle Tennessee in Week 1 & vs. Western Ky. on Nov. 4.


    Derek Mason’s fourth team should be his best but, according to Phil Steele, it has the fourth-toughest schedule in the SEC and the 15th-toughest in the nation. After 2.5 years of inept QB play on Mason’s watch, Kyle Shurmur caught fire in November and led the Commodores to consecutive home wins over Ole Miss (38-17 as 9.5-point ‘dogs) and Tennessee (45-34 as 7.5-point ‘dogs) to close the regular season and become bowl eligible. Vandy also won at Georgia and at Western Ky., which won Conference USA and finished with an 11-3 record, in addition to a 47-24 blowout victory over Middle Tennessee when Brent Stockstill was healthy. The Commodores, who finished 6-7 SU and 7-6 ATS in ’16, return nine starters on offense and seven on defense. Ralph Webb is already the school’s all-time leading rusher and appears poised for a banner senior campaign. The Gainesville, Fla., product ran for 1,283 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 5.1 YPC last year. Khari Blasingame had a strong ’16 as well in a reserve role, rushing for 449 yards and 10 TDs with a 4.6 YPC average. The top eight pass catchers are back, including Sherfield and C.J. Duncan.

    After struggling on defense in Mason’s first season (33.3 PPG), he fired his defensive coordinator to take over that position himself. The results have been great and can’t even really be told in the stats. Vandy gave up just 21.0 PPG in ’15, but that was with an abysmal offense that averaged only 15.2 PPG. Then last season, the Commodores allowed 24.0 PPG while slightly improving on offense with a 23.0 PPG average.

    Thirteen of 22 starters, including eight on defense, will be seniors for Vandy. The ‘Dores only lost 19 lettermen, but they lost their best player in LB Zach Cunningham, who went pro a year early after recording 125 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, three passes broken up, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one QB Hurry and one blocked field goal. He should’ve had another forced fumble and fumble recovery at Auburn, but his strip and recovery of the ball on Kamryn Pettway early in third quarter was inexplicably reversed on replay (that clearly didn’t have any evidence to overturn the call on the field).

    Gambling Numbers: Vandy has 225/1 odds to win the SEC. The win total varies from six (‘under’ -170 at Sportsbook) to five (‘over’ -135 at South Point).

    Prediction: The only victory that’s a given is a Week 2 home game vs. Alabama A&M and the only guaranteed defeat is a Week 4 home game vs. the Crimson Tide. Every other game on the schedule can be won or lost. Vandy lost four of six one-possession games last season. If the veteran-laden ‘Dores can flip that stat, they’ll be bowling again for a second straight year. I’m taking the optimistic view on this team that I thought really turned the corner in November of last year. With 18 career starts now under his belt, I think Shurmur will look closer to the signal caller we saw in November rather than the first two months of ’16. If that’s the case, I see five wins (at Middle Tennessee and at home vs. Alabama A&M, Western Ky., UK and Missouri) and three losses (vs. ‘Bama, at UF & at UT). That leaves four swing games vs. Kansas St., vs. UGA, at Ole Miss and at South Carolina. I’m thinking Vandy goes 2-2 or 1-3 in those four contests, leaving it with a 6-6 or 7-5 mark.

    Bets: I lean slightly to the ‘over,’ but I’d keep it at just one unit and wouldn’t play ‘over’ five wins if the price is north of -135.

    6-Kentucky Wildcats
    Best Players: RB Benny Snell, LB Jordan Jones, SS Mike Edwards, WR Garrett Johnson, DE Denzil Ware & PK Austin MacGinnis.
    Toughest Games: at USC, vs. UF, vs. UT, at UGA & vs. Louisville.
    Danger Spots: at Southern Miss in Week 1 & at Vandy on Nov. 11.


    Mark Stoops was on the hot seat early in his fourth year at the helm, especially after blowing a 25-point lead at home in the opener vs. So. Miss before getting blasted at UF the following week by a 45-7 count. From there, however, the ‘Cats won five of their next six games with the only loss coming at Alabama. They would finish 7-6 both SU and ATS, losing 33-18 to Ga. Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. But UK went to the postseason for the first time since 2010 and broke a series-high five-game losing streak to its bitter in-state rival Louisville.

    Kentucky returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense. The leading rusher (‘Boom’ Williams) and leader in receiving yards (Jeff Badet, grad transfer to Oklahoma) are gone, but the best players on defense are back. Junior LB Jordan Jones is an All-American candidate who had 109 tackles, four sacks, 11.5 TFL’s, four PBU and nine QB hurries in ’16.

    Gambling Numbers: UK has 120/1 odds to win the SEC and 1,000/1 odds to win the CFP. The Wildcats’ win tally is 6.5 (-110 either way at South Point).

    Prediction: Stephen Johnson did an adequate job at QB (13/6 TD-INT) after Drew Barker was injured in September. This duo will battle throughout August for the starting gig. The offense averaged 30.0 PPG with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Williams is gone, but Freshman All-American Snell is back for his sophomore campaign. Snell rushed for 1,091 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 5.9 YPC as a freshman. I initially marked UK with a 4-6 record with two swing games: vs. Ole Miss and vs. Louisville. I now think the ‘Cats will beat the Rebels, but I’m undecided on the U of L game in Lexington. I think it’s 5-7 or 6-6 for UK depending on the regular-season finale.

    -I’ll pass.

    7-Missouri TigersBest Players- QB Drew Lock, DT Terry Beckner, WR J’Mon Moore, RB Damarea Crockett & DE Marcell Frazier.Toughest Games- vs. Auburn, at UGA, vs. UF, vs. UT & at Arkansas.Danger Spots- vs. South Carolina & at Vandy-


    Missouri limped to a 4-8 SU record and a 5-7 ATS mark in Barry Odom’s first season as head coach. The offense was vastly improved, going from an anemic 13.6 PPG average in ’15 to scoring at a 31.4 PPG clip last year. The opposite was true on the other side of the ball. The Tigers had one of the nation’s top defenses in ’15, allowing only 16.2 PPG despite having one of the worst offenses in the country. But in ’16, this unit lost Beckner to a season-ending injury last summer and gave up 31.5 PPG.

    The offense improved because Lock settled in as a true sophomore, throwing for 3,399 yards with a 23/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Moore enjoyed a breakout campaign, catching 62 balls for 1,012 yards and eight TDs. Lock has his top four pass catchers back in the mix and a pair of excellent RBs in Crockett and Ish Witter (750 yards LY).

    The offense returns 10 starters, while five starters are back on defense (really six, though, with Beckner’s return). The non-conference games should be a breeze and Missouri could steal a couple of home games out of four vs USC, Auburn, UF and UT.

    Gambling Numbers: Missouri has 225/1 odds to win the SEC and its win total is 6.5 (‘under’ -145) at Sportsbook. Some spots in Vegas have the number at six with similarly expensive odds for the ‘over.’

    Prediction: I have the Tigers going 5-7 or 6-6, so I have no bets on the win total. Many of their games could go either way, especially the ones at home vs. USC and UT, in addition to a road game at Vandy.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

  3. #93
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    Wolfpack's defensive front ready for 2017
    August 6, 2017


    RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Kentavius Street knows what awaits for North Carolina State's defensive line.

    Stacked with experience and headlined by an NFL first-round prospect in Bradley Chubb, the Wolfpack's front four could be the best symbol of the program's steady maturation under fifth-year coach Dave Doeren. And so much of the defense's success in 2017 will depend on how well that unit stuffs the run and hits quarterbacks in the backfield.

    ''I don't think it's so much a pressure,'' Street said Sunday during the team's preseason media day. ''I would just say it's we're accepting our role now, because we're not little pups anymore. We're the big dogs on the team.

    ''We're growing into that role, and with that role comes responsibility.''

    N.C. State returns four senior starters on the line with Chubb and Street on the outside, and B.J. Hill and Justin Jones on the interior. It's a group that has climbed the depth charts together in a program where Doeren emphasizes developing prospects over time into proven veterans.

    The quartet probably captures that philosophy better than any part of the projected staring lineup. They've played a lot of games together, know how to play off one another and have a good idea exactly how their linemates will react in a pressure situation - starting Sept. 2 against South Carolina in Charlotte.

    ''It's definitely a huge advantage,'' Chubb said. ''We've got that camaraderie with each other, and we know what makes each other go. We know when somebody's not feeling it how to snap them back into that zone.''

    The four started 12 of the Wolfpack's 13 games together last season, serving as the front line of a run defense that finished eighth nationally at 108.6 yards per game. N.C. State tied a school record by holding five opponents to fewer than 70 yards rushing last season.

    Chubb grabbed most of the attention, ranking tied for fourth in FBS with 22 tackles for loss and tied for 19th with 10.5 sacks. Street had 5.5 sacks, Jones had three sacks in his first year as a fulltime starter, and the 315-pound Hill has the most career starts (31) of anyone on the defense.

    Perhaps more importantly, there's some experienced depth, too. Junior end Darian Roseboro was second on the team with seven sacks as a top reserve, while junior tackle Eurndraus Bryant has played in 25 games through two seasons.

    Doeren said the focus during preseason camp has been sorting through the depth chart with the top spots already settled.

    ''You can't have four good players that are NFL quality guys and then nothing behind them,'' Doeren said. ''I don't think we have nothing, but we've got to get those guys ready. . To know who six of them are right now, that's a great place to be. We've just got to keep them healthy and keep developing their weaknesses.''
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    U Network: Richt reaches out to Miami alumni needing help
    August 6, 2017


    CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) The first week of training camp at Miami had just ended, and Hurricanes coach Mark Richt made his way after practice into a luncheon to do some recruiting.

    He wasn't seeking new players.

    His aim was to assist past ones.

    Richt calls it ''The U Network,'' a program he's been plotting ever since he returned to his alma mater to coach 20 months ago. It is now off the ground with a simple mission: to help any former Miami player, especially those seeking a job. Richt, along with several members of his staff and other university personnel, set up what became a networking event and job fair - the first of what will be many, Richt hopes.

    ''The U Network is a 365-days-a-year adventure, so to speak,'' Richt said. ''We just want to help our guys connect with each other in a reunion-type thing, help friendships that already exist and make new friends within the football alumni. But also, if anybody feels forgotten or anybody feels like nobody cares, we do care. And we want everybody to know that we're here to find work if they need work, or a good connection, or just know that you've got friends.''

    For the inaugural event, Miami had representatives from numerous sides of the business world - the plumbers' union, the Coral Gables Police Department, builders, roofers, a flooring company, the hospitality industry and others come out to talk to job-seeking `Canes.

    Dozens of former players from different generations and their families showed up - and at least one got a job on the spot. Others said they left with more meetings scheduled, or at least a better idea of what might be out there in the marketplace.

    ''I've been in business for over 30 years and it's hard for me to ask for help,'' said former Miami player John Fenton, who was a Richt teammate with the Hurricanes and now is a CEO coach in Atlanta. ''I've come to the realization that I can't do it all myself. None of us have all the answers. So this is a great way to connect, build relationships and get the help we need.''

    Tolbert Bain has no problem asking for help.

    He's been sufficiently humbled by what he's gone through.

    Bain was a starting defensive back for Miami's national championship team in 1987. He went to prison in a heroin conspiracy case and served about three years, getting out in 2013. He went to the first U Network event in a suit, hoping someone will give him a chance.

    ''Coach is straight up, a great guy. We have the right guy back in place to take the program back to its glory days,'' Bain said. ''When I heard about this, I knew it was a great idea. Brotherhood here at the University of Miami, it's for real. It's not just for TV. It's for real. This place, everybody truly supports one another.''

    Richt said he wants anyone who played for Miami involved. To illustrate that, placards were set up around the event naming all former Hurricanes who Richt's staff hasn't been able to reach. Those in attendance were asked to fill in the gaps with a phone number or an email address of anyone they knew who was on that list.

    The way he sees it, investing in Miami's past will also help the present and the future.

    ''We want our current players to know that when it's all over, whether it's after a pro career or whatever it is, that when they need help they'll have a place to go,'' Richt said. ''If they know that coach will care about them then, I think that helps them play even harder for each other now.''

    Richt originally hoped to start the program months ago, but planning took longer than first envisioned. It's training camp right now, and Miami goes into 2017 with the annual set of high expectations that all Hurricane teams carry.

    Still, Richt and his coaching staff found the time to be at the network's debut event. Richt had practice film waiting for him when the event started; he didn't get to it for hours.

    ''Mark Richt is asking players to commit three, four or five years, the most important years of their lives to him and this program,'' said Don Bailey Jr., a former Richt teammate, the team's radio broadcast analyst and one of the business owners talking to players. ''In turn, he's committing to them to make sure their life is secure after football. I think it's the ultimate payback.''
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Gundy believes defense can lift Cowboys
    August 5, 2017


    STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy believes his defense has the goods to support the team's well-known offensive firepower.

    The Cowboys return the key offensive players from last year's 10-3 squad that won the Alamo Bowl. Quarterback Mason Rudolph and receivers James Washington and Jalen McCleskey are national honors candidates, and running back Justice Hill was the conference Newcomer of the Year last season.

    The defense hopes to make some noise this season, too, and possibly propel the Cowboys to the Big 12 title and a slot in the College Football Playoff. Gundy said the unit has held its own in practice so far and has embraced facing some of the nation's best talent each day.

    ''It's human nature for an offense or a defense to feel like they want to do their part, but I also think that they (the defensive players) use that to their advantage because I see them at practice, and when one of the corners or safeties will cover James Washington or Jalen McCleskey, they like it,'' Gundy said. ''Their body language is saying `I'm doing my part,'''

    The defense had some strong performances late last season, offering hope that the unit won't put too much pressure on the offense. Oklahoma State held TCU to 343 yards in a 31-6 win to get in position to compete for the Big 12 title. After slipping against Oklahoma, the Cowboys bounced back and held Colorado to 318 yards in a 38-8 victory in the Alamo Bowl.

    Some of the talent that produced those results is gone. Defensive tackle Vincent Taylor and safety Jordan Sterns - both AP All-Big 12 first-team picks - have moved on. Still, the Cowboys have solid players coming back. Safety Tre Flowers is a preseason all-Big 12 pick. Cornerback Ramon Richards has moved to safety after starting 23 games at cornerback. Linebacker Chad Whitener was a second-team All-Big 12 pick by the coaches last season. In all, five starters and 21 lettermen return on that side of the ball.

    ''We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of minutes against some high-potent offenses, and we have a high-potent offense as well,'' Whitener said. ''Going against these guys and doing what we do all the time just gets us ready to take on everything. We're ready to go.''

    Adrian Baker, a transfer from Clemson, should help the Cowboys deal with Richards' position switch and the loss of cornerback Ashton Lampkin. Defensive linemen Cole Walterscheid and Jarrell Owens should be anchors.

    ''I see hungry players trying to make a name for themselves, competing every day, and they are getting better every day,'' Flowers said.

    Richards said the talent is there, and the players just need to buy into defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer's plans and stay focused.

    ''If everyone takes personal ownership, then we should be great,'' Richards said.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    New Oklahoma coach Riley still adjusting
    August 5, 2017


    NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Lincoln Riley is still getting used to his new job as Oklahoma's head football coach.

    It would be hard to blame him, given how quickly everything changed. The 33-year-old was promoted from offensive coordinator in June after Bob Stoops abruptly stepped down, and it's been a whirlwind ever since.

    Saturday was just another of those crazy busy days for Riley. He spent the morning meeting fans, then addressed the media in the afternoon. Riley is learning how to balance running the team, directing the coaching staff and dealing with off-the-field obligations on the fly.

    ''I love the Xs and the Os and coaching on the field, but I enjoy the other parts of it, too,''' he said. ''There's certainly more things to keep track of. There's more things running through your head. I've had to delegate more like we've talked about offensively, but so far, I think everybody has done a great job with it.''

    Riley joked earlier in the week that he had to remind himself of his new position when fall camp opened. He expects to be more comfortable by the time the Sooners open the season Sept. 2 against Texas-El Paso.

    ''The first day I had to catch myself a few times, like, `Oh yeah, I'm the guy that's gotta go break `em down,''' he said. ''You know, you get in your same mode for so long. It feels good. There was a lot of buildup and it was a bit of a mad rush there from early June to now, so just to finally get on the field and get going and do what we all love to do - it was good.''

    Riley isn't stepping in for just anyone. Stoops went 190-48 in 18 years, with a national title and three other appearances in title games. Stoops still works for the athletic department, and he has helped Riley's transition by attending some practices and offering advice.

    ''He's not the type of guy who is going to call me every single night,'' Riley said. ''That's just not his personality. He wouldn't do it that way. But he's always available for a call.''

    Riley appreciates Stoops' input.

    ''Always good to hear what he sees,'' Riley said. ''A lot of times, it's just confirming what you think you're seeing. He just wants to be there in any way I or this program can use him. And I certainly will.''

    One of Riley's first moves upon becoming head coach was hiring Ruffin McNeill as an assistant. Riley was an assistant for McNeill at East Carolina. McNeill was assistant head coach at Virginia last season before Riley brought him to Oklahoma.

    McNeill said Riley is handling things with calm and poise.

    ''Still keeping everybody accountable and involving everyone on the staff as well,'' McNeill said. ''He's doing a great job himself of just handling the different situations that come with that job. That head coaching job is a three-legged stool. It's wobbly. But he's doing a great job keeping it balanced.''

    Quarterback Baker Mayfield said the things that made Riley popular as offensive coordinator make him popular now. He's still brilliant, down to Earth, honest and humble. Mayfield said receiver Jeff Mead razzed Riley for three weeks before he finally upgraded his car.

    ''He has an ability to adapt to his players and relate to them,'' Mayfield said. ''Coaching-wise, he adapts to our personnel and he calls plays based on that. But he has the ability to relate to them and get the best out of every individual person.''

    Riley is adjusting to being the final decision-maker when it comes to discipline. He suspended cornerback Will Sunderland indefinitely after Sunderland was arrested for burglary, and he recently dismissed backup quarterback Chris Robison from the team for a rules violation.

    ''Certainly, being that person that makes the final decision or has that final talk or whatever it is, that is different,'' he said. ''It's not part of the job I shy away from, but it's definitely one of the worst parts of the job, too.''
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    SEC West Predictions
    August 13, 2017

    1-Alabama Crimson Tide:
    Best Players: WR Calvin Ridley, SS Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS Ronnie Harrison, QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough & LB Rashaan Evans.
    Toughest Games: vs. FSU in Atlanta, vs. LSU & at Auburn.
    Danger Spots: at Texas A&M & at Mississippi State


    Alabama has won 36 of its last 39 games after finishing 14-1 and just one play shy of another national championship. Other than a pair of losses to Ole Miss in 2014 and ’15, Nick Saban’s teams have dropped just two regular-season contests in the last five years. Those defeats came at Auburn in ’13 on the remarkable kick-six return on the game’s final play and the 29-24 home loss to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel back in ’12.

    The Crimson Tide return six starters on offense and five on defense. They’re literally five deep at running back and probably have the nation’s best WR in Calvin Ridley. As a true freshman last season, Jalen Hurts had a 24/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio with 954 rushing yards and 13 more TDs. He’ll face competition from true freshman and five-star recruit, Tua Tagovailoa, who is from Hawaii and came to school early for spring practice.

    Another five-star recruit and true freshman is RB Najee Harris, who was also in for the spring. He joins the nation’s premier backfield along with Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs and B.J. Emmons. The defense is led by Minkah Fitzpatrick, a future-first-round pick who had 66 tackles and six interceptions last year. Other standouts on this unit include DB Ronnie Harrison, LB Rashaan Evans, DE Da’Shawn Hand, DT Da’Ron Payne and LB Shaun Dion Hamilton.

    Gambling Numbers: The Westgate has Alabama’s win total at 11 (‘under’ -125, ‘over’ +105). The Tide is the +250 ‘chalk’ to win the College Football Playoff at the Las Vegas betting shop. They have -150 odds to win the SEC Championship Game.

    Prediction: There’s a strong chance Alabama will be a double-digit favorite in 10 of its 12 games, with the lone exceptions being the opener vs. FSU and regular-season finale at Auburn. You never know what will happen at the Iron Bowl but even if Alabama loses in that spot, it will probably remain on solid footing for a CFP berth if it finishes 11-1. I have Alabama winning the SEC by beating Florida for a third straight season in Atlanta and getting back to the CFP for the fourth consecutive campaign. Bets: I’m on the sidelines here.

    2-Auburn Tigers:
    Best Players: QB Jarrett Stidham, RB Kamryn Pettway, PK Daniel Carlson, CB Carlton Davis & OT Braden Smith.
    Toughest Games: at Clemson, at LSU, vs. Georgia & vs. Alabama.
    Danger Spots: at Missouri & at Arkansas.


    Auburn returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. The 2016 Tigers finished 8-5 straight up and 7-6 against the spread, but they were 7-2 before injuries to starting QB Sean White and workhorse RB Kamryn Pettway derailed the season. They lost three of their last four, mustering only 19 combined points in losses at Georgia (13-7) and at Alabama (30-12). The ’16 defense was outstanding under new coordinator Kevin Steele. This unit gave up just 17.1 points per game and returns nine of its top 11 tacklers.

    Although White played well before getting injured last year (9/3 TD-INT), I’m confident Jarrett Stidham will be an upgrade at QB. He was a 5-star recruit in Baylor’s 2015 class. When Seth Russell sustained a season-ending injury, the Bears were undefeated and ranked second in the nation. As a true freshman in his first start the following week, all Stidham did was guide Baylor to a 31-24 win at Kansas State by throwing for 410 yards and three TDs without an interception. In a rain game at home next, Art Briles’s club dropped a 44-34 decision to Oklahoma (but 34 points should be enough to win). Stidham would get injured in a 45-35 victory at unbeaten and No. 4 Oklahoma State during his third start. He left Baylor when Briles was fired, did not play while in junior college last year and arrived on The Plains for spring football.

    Gambling Numbers: Auburn is a 34-point home favorite vs. Ga. Southern in Week 1. The Tigers are an abysmal 1-7 ATS in their last eight outings as favorites of 23 points or more, while the Eagles are 7-1 ATS in eight games against SEC or ACC foes dating back to 2011. AU has 30/1 odds to win the CFP at The Westgate. The Tigers have the second-shortest odds to win the SEC (+450, risk $100 to win $450), while their season win total is 8.5 (‘over’ -140, ‘under’ +120).

    Prediction: I believe Stidham is going to be outstanding and Auburn has a pair of excellent RBs in Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. The offensive line will be led by third-team All-American Braden Smith, who turned down the NFL to stick around for his senior season. Three starters return on an o-line that’ll be bolstered by a pair of grad transfers. Wilson Bell is expected to start at guard after making 18 starts at FSU, while Jacksonville State transfer Casey Dunn will provide quality depth. Dunn was an FCS All-American in ’16. Gus Malzahn has brought in a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey, who should work well with Stidham in an offense more suited for a pro-style passer. Even if Auburn loses at Clemson in Week 2 and at LSU in October, it will be able to win the SEC West if it takes a 6-1 conference record into the regular-season finale at home vs. ‘Bama. I think that’s what happens, but I have the Tide prevailing at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Therefore, I think Auburn finishes 9-3.

    Bets: I like to have a 1.5-game cushion to play a season win total, so I’m not interested in betting ‘over’ 8.5 wins, especially with the -140 price tag. I’m leaning Ga. Southern catching the huge number in Week 1.

    3-LSU Tigers:
    Best Players: OLB Arden Key, RB Derrius Guice, C Will Clapp, WR DJ Chark, CB Kevin Toliver & CB Donte Jackson
    Toughest Games: vs. BYU in Houston, at Florida, vs. Auburn, at Tennessee & at Alabama.
    Danger Spots: at Mississippi State & vs. Arkansas.


    LSU went 8-4 SU and 6-6 ATS in a season that saw Les Miles fired after an 18-13 loss at Auburn in Week 4. The Tigers lost three games by eight combined points at Wisconsin (16-14 at Lambeau in Green Bay), at Auburn (18-13) and vs. Florida (17-16), and they dropped a 10-0 decision vs. Alabama in a game that was a one-possession contest for nearly 60 minutes. Ed Orgeron earned the head-coaching gig thanks to a 6-2 record that included wins at Texas A&M (54-39 in the regular-season finale) and vs. Louisville (29-9 at Citrus Bowl).

    However, AD Joe Alleva struck out on Tom Herman and Jimbo Fisher before choosing Orgeron. Also, he insisted on the Gators coming to Baton Rouge after the originally-scheduled game in Gainesville was postponed due to Hurricane Matthew. As it turned out, the game decided UF’s SEC East fate but didn’t have major implications for the Tigers after they had lost to Alabama and were eliminated from the SEC West race. Not only did Florida win at Tiger Stadium to clinch the East with an epic goal-line stand in the final seconds, but now the Gators get to play LSU at The Swamp in 2017 and ’18. Therefore, LSU plays five SEC road games this year and has just three league tilts at home.

    LSU brings back six starters on offense and five on defense. Derrius Guice is a legit Heisman Trophy candidate after rushing for 1,387 yards and 15 TDs while averaging 7.6 YPC despite sharing touches with first-round draft pick Leonard Fournette last year. Guice is poised for a monster campaign behind one of the nation’s premier offensive lines, albeit one that just lost junior OG Maea Teuhema (21 starts as a freshman and sophomore) to a transfer. Nevertheless, the QB position remains a question mark. Danny Etling was adequate in ’16 and is the likely starter again, but he doesn’t scare opposing DCs. He threw for 2,123 yards with an 11/5 TD-INT ratio, but he won’t have talented WRs Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural around anymore. DJ Chark will be his favorite target after hauling in 26 catches for 466 yards and three TDs last season.

    LSU’s defense lost its top five tacklers. Key, who is projected as a potential top-five pick in next spring’s NFL Draft after recording 12 sacks last year, had offseason shoulder surgery and hasn’t been cleared for full contact yet. His status for early September remains a question mark. Dave Aranda is one of the country’s top DCs, directing a unit that gave up just 15.8 PPG in ’16.

    Gambling Numbers: LSU’s win total is nine flat (-110 either way) at The Westgate, which has its odds to win the CFP at 20/1. The Tigers have the third-shortest odds (5/1) to win the SEC. They are favored by 12.5 or 13 points vs. BYU in Week 1.

    Prediction: I have LSU going 9-3, losing at Florida and at Alabama. The third loss could come in a number of different spots, perhaps at Mississippi State or at Tennessee and Auburn at home certainly won’t be easy, either.

    Bets: I’ll pass.

    4-Arkansas Razorbacks:
    Best Players: C Frank Ragnow, QB Austin Allen, WR Jared Cornelius, DE McTelvin Agim & OG Hjalte Froholdt.
    Toughest Games: vs. TCU, vs. Texas A&M at Jerry World in Arlington, vs. Auburn, at Alabama & at LSU.
    Danger Spots: at South Carolina & at Ole Miss.


    Arkansas finished 7-6 SU and 5-8 ATS in 2016 after blowing leads at Missouri in the regular-season finale and vs. Va. Tech at the Belk Bowl. The Razorbacks raced out to a 24-0 halftime lead over the Hokies in Charlotte, only to see that advantage evaporate when Justin Fuente’s team scored 35 unanswered points to not only win outright, but to also crush the wallets of Arky backers (like me!!) who lost as a seven-point underdog despite being ahead of the number by 31 points at intermission.

    Some pundits have suggested Bret Bielema’s seat could be warming in Fayetteville going into the fifth season of his tenure, but I believe that’s a joke and Arkansas is fortunate to have one of the league’s best coaches (3rd or 4th-best in my opinion). Arkansas had three wins over ranked teams last year, winning at TCU (No. 15 at the time) in double overtime, in addition to home scalps of 12th-ranked Ole Miss and 10th-ranked Florida.

    The Hogs, who are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games as road underdogs, return 12 total starters (six on each side of the ball). The defense lost three of its top four tacklers, including Brooks Ellis, Jeremiah Ledbetter and Deatrich Wise. Furthermore, the offense lost its best playmakers in RB Rawleigh Williams (1,360 rushing yards, 12 TDs & 5.6 YPC), WR Keon Hatcher (44 catches, 743 yards, 8 TDs), WR Drew Morgan (65/739 & 3 TDs) and TE Jeremy Sprinkle (33/380 & 4 TDs). On the bright side, Jared Cornelius returns after hauling in 32 receptions for 515 yards and four TDs. Plus, juco transfer WR Brandon Martin, who started his career at LSU, is expected to start right away and be a key contributor.

    Williams had a breakout 2016 campaign, only to sustain another neck injury during spring practice that prompted him to retire from football. Devwah Whaley rushed for 602 yards and three TDs while averaging 5.5 YPC as a true freshman last season. Also, Bielema has two talented true freshmen backs who will be in the mix and Arkansas was fortunate to land South Carolina grad transfer David Williams, who brings plenty of experience with him.

    Austin Allen enjoyed an excellent first season as a starter. He completed 61.1 percent of his throws for 3,430 yards and 25 TDs. The negative stat was his 15 interceptions, but we should point out that he was often under heavy pressure and took a plethora of big hits (although there was ZERO excuse for the pick he threw in the red zone with a 24-14 lead at Missouri). Nevertheless, he jumped back up each time and demonstrated toughness and leadership throughout the year.

    Gambling Numbers: Arky’s season win total is 6.5 flat (-110 either way) at The Westgate. Sportsbook.ag has the Hogs with 65/1 odds to win the SEC and 300/1 odds to win the CFP.

    Prediction: I initially marked Arkansas with a 4-3 record and five swing games: vs. TCU, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Auburn, at Ole Miss and vs. Mississippi State. For those wondering about the third loss I was confident about (outside of at Alabama & at LSU, obviously), it was at South Carolina, which is certainly a game the Hogs can win. I’m going to call it 7-5 for Arkansas, but eight or nine wins is undoubtedly within reach, especially if they can run the table at home. The key will be the offensive line, a unit that’s always strong under Bielema with the exception of last season. If the o-line is elite and Arkansas can avoid more injuries at the RB position, it’ll be a solid season in Fayetteville.

    Bets: I like Arkansas +4.5 vs. Texas A&M (8/12 spread at Sportsbook.ag).

    5-Texas A&M Aggies:
    Best Players: RB Trayveon Williams, SS Armani Watts, DB Donovan Wilson, WR Christian Kirk & DT Zaycoven Henderson.
    Toughest Games: at UCLA, vs. Arkansas (Arlington), vs. Alabama, at Florida, vs. Auburn & at LSU.
    Danger Spots: vs. South Carolina (9/30) & at Ole Miss (11/18).


    Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is on a boiling hot seat going into his sixth season at the helm. The Aggies have finished 8-5 for three straight years, limping down the stretch in each of those campaigns. Sumlin’s squad started 6-0 last year and held a 14-13 lead at Alabama early in the third quarter. However, the Tide would score 20 unanswered points to win a 33-14 decision. A&M lost four of its last five contests with the lone victory coming at home vs. UTSA.

    Texas A&M returns five starters on offense and seven on defense, but QB Trevor Knight is gone along with three elite WRs (Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones & Speedy Noil), the NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick (Myles Garrett), two-time third-team All-SEC DE Daeshon Hall and the defense’s two leading tacklers (Shaan Washington & Justin Evans).

    Let’s hit on some positives now. Kirk is one of the nation’s top WRs and might be the country’s most dangerous return player on special teams. There are three veteran seniors in the secondary, including All-SEC candidates Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson. John Chavis is one of the nation’s top DCs and has some talent in the trenches with players such as Zaycoven Henderson, Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke.

    The biggest question mark is at QB. Jake Hubenak has the most experience, starting three games over the last two years while posting a 9/3 TD-INT ratio. He’ll face stiff competition to earn the starting job from redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman 4-star recruit Kellen Mond.

    Gambling Numbers: The Westgate has A&M’s win total at seven (‘under’ -130, ‘over’ +110), while the Aggies have 40/1 odds to win the SEC and 100/1 odds to win the CFP.

    Prediction: Just like with Arkansas, my first look at A&M’s schedule resulted in a 4-3 record with five swing games. Those include at UCLA, vs. Arky, vs. South Carolina, vs. Auburn and at Ole Miss. I think the Aggies will go 3-2 or 2-3 in those matchups. I’ll say they finish 7-5 or 6-6 depending on how the trip to Oxford goes. The opener at UCLA is obviously pivotal. If A&M loses to the Bruins, it will be 4-1 (at best) going into games vs. Alabama and at Florida. I think the Aggies lose both of those before their open date and wouldn’t be shocked if Sumlin got fired after they get back to College Station from Gainesville. My main reasoning for that possibility is to get an early start on putting an offer on Chip Kelly’s plate that will be tough to pass up.

    Bets: Another pass here.


    6-Mississippi State Bulldogs
    Best Players: QB Nick Fitzgerald, WR Donald Gray, LB Leo Lewis, DT Jeffery Simmons & OT Martinas Rankin.
    Toughest Games: vs. LSU, at UGA, at Auburn, vs. Alabama & at Arkansas.
    Danger Spots: at La. Tech in Week 2 & vs. BYU.


    Mississippi State finished last year with a 6-7 SU record and a 5-8 ATS mark. The Bulldogs dropped four one-possession games, including three defeats by six combined points. They lost the opener vs. South Alabama after missing a chip-shot field goal off the crossbar on the game’s final play, fell in double OT at BYU and went home from Lexington a loser after Kentucky hit a walk-off game-winning FG. Dan Mullen’s team did win outright as a double-digit underdog twice, defeating seventh-ranked Texas A&M in Starkville and blasting Ole Miss 55-20 in Oxford for the Egg Bowl. The victory allowed MSU to go bowling despite a 5-7 record. The Bulldogs blocked a Miami (OH.) FG attempt on the game’s final play to preserve a 17-16 triumph.

    There’s plenty of optimism for ’17 based on the return of QB Nick Fitzgerald, who threw for 2,423 yards with a 21/10 TD-INT ratio in his first year as a starter after replacing Dak Prescott. Fitzgerald also rushed for 1,375 yards and 16 TDs with a 7.1 YPC average. Donald Gray will be his favorite target after the senior WR brought down 41 balls for 709 yards and five TDs last season.

    The defense will be led by Todd Grantham, the new DC who led the units at Louisville and Georgia over the last seven years. This was considered a big-time hire by Mullen, who has taken Mississippi State to seven bowl games in his eight seasons at the school. Leo Lewis, a sophomore LB, enjoyed a banner freshman campaign in ’16. Lewis recorded 79 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

    MSU has seven starters back on offense and six on defense. Phil Steele lists the Bulldogs’ schedule as the fifth-toughest in the nation.

    Gambling Numbers: MSU has a season win total of 5.5 (‘over’ -150, ‘under’ +120). Sportsbook.ag has the Bulldogs with 75/1 and 300/1 odds to win the SEC and CFP, respectively.

    Prediction: Mullen is one of the better coaches in the SEC and Fitzgerald is an elite talent who can be the difference in a number of games. Looking at the schedule, I see five wins, three losses and four swing games: at La. Tech, vs. LSU, at Texas A&M and at Arkansas. MSU lost outright in Ruston to a different set of Bulldogs in 2008. Nevertheless, I see MSU knocking off La. Tech this year and winning another one of the swing games to finish 7-5.

    Bets: The expensive price on the ‘over’ makes me less interested. I lean to the ‘over’ clearly but I’d keep the play really small due to the juice.

    7-Ole Miss Rebels:
    Best Players: DE Marquis Haynes, QB Shea Patterson, WR Van Jefferson, LB DeMarquis Gates & OT Greg Little.
    Toughest Games: at Alabama, at Auburn, vs. LSU, vs. Arkansas & at Mississippi State
    Danger Spots: vs. Vandy (10/14) & vs. Texas A&M (11/18).


    Ole Miss self-imposed a bowl ban and isn’t eligible for the SEC Championship Game due to NCAA violations committed on Hugh Freeze’s watch. Freeze resigned before being fired with cause in late July, ending a tumultuous tenure filled with the highest of highs (two wins over Alabama and a blowout win over Oklahoma State in the school’s first trip to the Sugar Bowl in decades) and the lowest of lows (all the lies & NCAA violations, the excruciating losses at home to Auburn in ’14 and to Arkansas in overtime in ’15 & the assbeating taken in last year’s Egg Bowl). More penalties will be levied by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in November, including a likely ban from postseason play in ’18 and maybe even ’19.

    Ole Miss finished ’16 with a 5-7 SU record and a 4-8 ATS ledger. The Rebels led at halftime in four of their losses and blew leads of 22 and 21 points in setbacks against FSU and Alabama. The Rebels return five starters on offense and six on defense. Shea Patterson started the last three games of ’16 after Chad Kelly was sidelined with an injury. The five-star recruit, who is now a rising sophomore, threw for 880 yards with a 6/3 TD-INT ratio. He has a pair of extremely talented sophomore WRs in Van Jefferson and AJ Brown.

    The defense will be led by senior DE Marquis Haynes, who is one of the country’s top pass rushers. Haynes had 53 tackles, seven sacks, four TFL’s, eight QB hurries, three PBU and one interception last season. Five of the top seven tacklers return, including leading tackler DeMarquis Gates (79 tackles & 4 sacks), and a lot of young players earned valuable playing time in ’16.

    Gambling Numbers: Ole Miss has a win total of 5.5 flat (-110 either way). The Rebels are ineligible for the SEC and CFP.

    Prediction: Interim head coach Matt Luke has never even been a coordinator before, much less a head coach. Freeze was an outstanding game coach, so he’ll be missed in that department as well. It’s difficult to gauge the morale of this club that’s been mired in the issues created by its former coach for well over a year. I think it’s a 4-8 or 5-7 finish, and then a major rebuild under crippling sanctions for the next head coach.

    Bets: I liked South Alabama +26 at Ole Miss in the opener even before Freeze was escorted out (hat tip to the Oxford Eagle). Even with it down to 24 or 24.5 at quite a few books, I still like the Jaguars.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    SEC East Predictions
    August 4, 2017


    1-Florida Gators:
    Best Players: OT Martez Ivey, WR Antonio Callaway, CB Duke Dawson, DE CeCe Jefferson, CB Chauncey Gardner & PK Eddy Pineiro.
    Toughest Games: vs. Michigan (Arlington, TX.), vs. LSU, vs. Georgia (Jacksonville) and vs. FSU.
    Danger Spots: at Missouri on Nov. 4 & at South Carolina on Nov. 11.


    UF will be looking for its third consecutive trip to Atlanta on Jim McElwain’s watch. McElwain is the first coach in SEC history to win division titles in the first two seasons of his tenure at a school. The Gators probably won’t be quite as salty on defense in 2017, especially after last season’s leading tackler, senior safety Marcell Harris, went down with a torn Achilles in late July. However, the Gators finally appear poised to field an offense that can score.

    In McElwain’s first two seasons, UF averaged 23.2 and 23.9 points per game. But the offensive woes at Florida date all the way back to Tim Tebow’s exit in 2009. Since then, the Gators have averaged more than 30.0 PPG just once (30.3 PPG in 2015). Furthermore, every QB that has made a start was either a player that eventually transferred out or transferred in. Those QBs include Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg, Treon Harris and Will Grier. Two others – Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby – came to UF from other schools, and now Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire is wearing orange and blue.

    The reason for optimism on offense extends well beyond the QB position, but even the most talented unit can’t function well without adequate QB play. The thinking in Gainesville is that the arrival of Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire and the presence of four-star redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will cure an illness that’s engulfed the program for seven seasons. Whoever earns the starting job will have weapons galore at his disposal. Callaway, the true junior WR and special-teams ace, is the only player in school history to score five different ways – passing, rushing, receiving, kick return and punt return. He had 54 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, but his status for the opener against Michigan was in question after his arrest in June for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Now it seems he’ll play, however, after McElwain addressed the media on Aug. 2. When asked if there will be in any Week 1 suspensions, he said “not at this time as long as some obligations are met.” Senior WR Brandon Powell is a three-year starter who’s joined by Tyrie Cleveland, the true sophomore who has NFL size and speed and made the huge play (a 99-yard TD reception) to trigger last year’s division-clinching victory at LSU.

    The defense returns just four starters, but that’s a misleading number. When LBs Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone went down with injuries at Arkansas in ’16, true freshmen David Reese and Kylan Johnson were inserted into the starting lineup. Both played well, earned starting experience and will be better for it as full-time starters this year. Also, Jefferson and Jordan Sherit weren’t considered starters, but both took snaps galore and made many big plays in ’15 and ’16. The Harris injury is costly, especially with less depth in the secondary this year. With that said, though, CBs Gardner (MVP of Outback Bowl) and Dawson are All-SEC candidates.

    Gambling Numbers: 8/1 odds to win the SEC, 50/1 odds to win nat’l title & a season win total of 8.5 (‘over’ -115).

    Prediction: With every prediction I make in August, you go by the presumption that most key players stay healthy. The reality of college football (or pigskin at any level) is that teams will indeed lose key players to injuries or even suspensions in some case. So with that said pertaining to this prediction and the rest of them below, I’m confident in seven wins for UF and then there are five crucial swing games – vs. Michigan, vs. LSU, vs UGA, at South Carolina and vs. FSU. You notice how only one of those five are on the road? (Thanks, Joe Alleva!) In fact, the Gators play only three true road games all year and are likely to be favored in each – at Kentucky, at Missouri and at USC. If things fall into place, this could be a monster season for UF. Then again, the depth on defense isn’t what it has been and if injuries are anywhere near the level of last season (UF won at LSU with seven defensive starters back in Gainesville), things could go south in a hurry. And, as always, until a Florida QB has a big year, that position remains a question mark. Regardless though, I think the Gators are a given to win eight games. I feel it’s more likely they go 9-3 or 10-2. I’ll call for UF to win the SEC East but lose again to Alabama in Atlanta.

    Bets: Florida pick ‘em vs. Georgia in Games of the Year (three units). Why? UF’s defensive line eats UGA’s o-line for breakfast, lunch and dinner annually.

    2-Georgia Bulldogs:
    Best Players: RB Nick Chubb, QB Jacob Eason, RB Sony Michel, DT Trenton Thompson & LB Roquan Smith.
    Toughest Games: at Notre Dame, at Tennessee, vs. UF, at Auburn & at Ga. Tech.
    Danger Spots: vs. Appalachian St. in Week 1 & at Vanderbilt on Oct. 7.


    Georgia went 8-5 straight up and 6-7 against the spread in the first season of the Kirby Smart Era. In fairness, the Bulldogs lost three games by five combined points and one of those defeats came on a Hail Mary on the game’s final play. But they also stole one at Missouri on a fourth-and-10 TD pass in the final minute of a 28-27 triumph. Also, UGA’s 13-7 win over Auburn came when Gus Malzahn’s team had its two best offensive players (QB Sean White and RB Kamryn Pettway) injured, and a victory at South Carolina came before Jake Bentley was inserted into USC’s starting lineup.

    Smart’s second squad has seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. Eason was predictably inconsistent as a true freshman, displaying his NFL arm on plays like the game-winning pass at Missouri and especially on his ridiculous go-ahead TD throw against Tennessee with 10 ticks left. He completed only 55.1 percent of his passes, throwing 16 TD passes compared to eight interceptions. Five of his top six pass catchers return, but his top target Isaiah McKenzie has departed. Chubb and Michel provide UGA with the best 1-2 punch of RBs in the country, but will the offensive line show improvement? This unit, which is ranked just 46th nationally by Phil Steele in his preseason magazine, was dominated by the defensive fronts for Missouri (2.7 yards per carry), Vanderbilt (2.1 YPC), Florida (1.1 YPC) and Auburn (3.1 YPC).

    Fourteen of UGA’s top 15 tacklers are back from a defense that gave up 24.0 PPG. This unit is filled with veterans. In fact, only juniors and seniors were listed as starters coming out of spring practice. Thompson, Smith, FS Dominick Sanders and Lorenzo Carter are the leaders on this side of the ball. Smart, who cut his teeth as an excellent defensive coordinator for nearly a decade at Alabama under Nick Saban, should have this side of the ball playing at a elite level in 2017.

    Gambling Numbers: UGA has 6/1 odds to win the SEC and 25/1 odds to win the College Football Playoff at Sportsbook.ag. Depending on if you like the ‘over’ or ‘under,’ you probably need to shop around. I’ve seen the Bulldogs’ win total at 8.5 with the juice as high as -135 (Sportsbook.ag as of 8/2), but they can also be found at nine with a price in the -140 neighborhood.

    Prediction: The first two games are crucial and it would be ignorant for anyone to think Appalachian St. doesn’t have a chance between the hedges. UGA is currently favored by 14 over the Mountaineers, while most shops with Games of the Year have it installed as a short underdog (I’ve seen it from +1 to +3) for the trip to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish. If Smart’s club wins at UT on Sept. 30, that will make the ensuing trip to Nashville even more challenging. I see Georgia finishing second in the East. I have the Dawgs going 8-4 or 9-3, depending on how their trip to The Flats for the regular-season finale works out.

    Bets: I have nothing here.

    3-Tennessee Volunteers:
    Best Players: WR Jauan Jennings, SS Todd Kelly, LB Darrin Kirkland, KR Evan Berry & TE Ethan Wolf.
    Toughest Games: vs. Ga Tech in Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Dome, not Bobby Dodd Stadium), at Florida, vs. Georgia, at Alabama & vs. LSU.
    Danger Spots: at Kentucky on Oct. 28 & at Missouri (11/11).


    Tennessee finished 9-4 SU and 5-7-1 ATS in 2016. The Volunteers went 2-2 in four one-possession games, beating Appalachian St. in overtime and winning at Georgia on a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play. They lost in double overtime at Texas A&M and dropped a 24-21 decision at South Carolina.

    Jones enters his fifth season with a 30-21 record at UT, guiding his team to a 3-0 record in bowl games since limping to a 5-7 record in his first season in Knoxville. He is only 2-2 against Vanderbilt and remains winless against Will Muschamp’s teams in three head-to-head meetings. Many in the media seem to think Jones is on steady footing in terms of job security, but those members of the press have absolutely zero clue.

    Jones is a relentless excuse maker who constantly ruffles the feathers of his fan base with asinine remarks like last year’s senior class being “champions of life” (rather than SEC East champs in a division UT was favored to win and was in the driver’s seat of after rallying from 21 points down to beat Florida and stealing its game in Athens). Jones lacked the stones to own his kindergarten-level mistake of note going for two at UF two years ago after his team took a 12-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. In short, he’s a clown who is on the hot seat and will remain there until he takes this program back to Atlanta (in early December).

    Gambling Numbers: UT has 20/1 odds to win the SEC and 85/1 odds to win the CFP. The Vols have a win total of 7.5 with the juice toward the ‘over’ in the -130 range. They are +7 at UF, pick ‘em vs. UGA, +24.5 at ‘Bama, -1 at UK, +7.5 vs. LSU & -8.5 vs. Vandy.

    Prediction: UT has seven starters back on each side of the ball, but offensive playmakers like Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone are gone. On the flip side, the Vols have their top five and eight of their top nine tacklers returning. With that said, Derek Barnett and key secondary players like Cam Sutton and Malik Foreman have moved on. The QB position is a question mark, making it difficult for pundits to peg this squad in August. I look at the schedule and see a likely 5-2 record with five games I’m uncertain about. Those contests are vs. Ga. Tech, vs. UGA, vs. South Carolina, at Missouri and vs. LSU. The Vols have two weeks to prep for the Gamecocks and will be in revenge mode, but arch-rival Alabama will be on deck to potentially provide a look-ahead scenario. If UT gets quality QB play, I think it can finish 8-4. If the QB play is poor, 6-6 is a possibility. I’ll hedge and say 7-5.

    Bets: I want to say fade UT as a seven-point ‘dog at The Swamp. However, I’d like to see who gets both starting jobs at QB (and then see how they play in Weeks 1 and 2) for those division rivals before committing to that wager. I’ll pass on the win total.

    4-South Carolina
    Best Players: TE Hayden Hurst, WR Deebo Samuel, LB Skai Moore, LB Bryson Allen-Williams & QB Jake Bentley.
    Toughest Games: vs. N.C. St. in Charlotte, at UT, at UGA, vs. UF & vs. Clemson.
    Danger Spots: vs. La. Tech on Sept. 23 & vs. Arkansas on Oct. 7.


    I went in-depth on my take on the ’17 Gamecocks and why I love their win total ‘over’ 5.5 victories. They have 85/1 odds to win the SEC.

    5-Vanderbilt Commodores: Best Players: RB Ralph Webb, LB Oren Burks, NG Nifae Lealao, SS Ryan White & WR Trent Sherfield.
    Toughest Games: vs. Kansas St., vs. Alabama, at UT, vs. UGA, at South Carolina & at Tennessee.
    Danger Spots: at Middle Tennessee in Week 1 & vs. Western Ky. on Nov. 4.


    Derek Mason’s fourth team should be his best but, according to Phil Steele, it has the fourth-toughest schedule in the SEC and the 15th-toughest in the nation. After 2.5 years of inept QB play on Mason’s watch, Kyle Shurmur caught fire in November and led the Commodores to consecutive home wins over Ole Miss (38-17 as 9.5-point ‘dogs) and Tennessee (45-34 as 7.5-point ‘dogs) to close the regular season and become bowl eligible. Vandy also won at Georgia and at Western Ky., which won Conference USA and finished with an 11-3 record, in addition to a 47-24 blowout victory over Middle Tennessee when Brent Stockstill was healthy. The Commodores, who finished 6-7 SU and 7-6 ATS in ’16, return nine starters on offense and seven on defense. Ralph Webb is already the school’s all-time leading rusher and appears poised for a banner senior campaign. The Gainesville, Fla., product ran for 1,283 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 5.1 YPC last year. Khari Blasingame had a strong ’16 as well in a reserve role, rushing for 449 yards and 10 TDs with a 4.6 YPC average. The top eight pass catchers are back, including Sherfield and C.J. Duncan.

    After struggling on defense in Mason’s first season (33.3 PPG), he fired his defensive coordinator to take over that position himself. The results have been great and can’t even really be told in the stats. Vandy gave up just 21.0 PPG in ’15, but that was with an abysmal offense that averaged only 15.2 PPG. Then last season, the Commodores allowed 24.0 PPG while slightly improving on offense with a 23.0 PPG average.

    Thirteen of 22 starters, including eight on defense, will be seniors for Vandy. The ‘Dores only lost 19 lettermen, but they lost their best player in LB Zach Cunningham, who went pro a year early after recording 125 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, three passes broken up, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one QB Hurry and one blocked field goal. He should’ve had another forced fumble and fumble recovery at Auburn, but his strip and recovery of the ball on Kamryn Pettway early in third quarter was inexplicably reversed on replay (that clearly didn’t have any evidence to overturn the call on the field).

    Gambling Numbers: Vandy has 225/1 odds to win the SEC. The win total varies from six (‘under’ -170 at Sportsbook) to five (‘over’ -135 at South Point).

    Prediction: The only victory that’s a given is a Week 2 home game vs. Alabama A&M and the only guaranteed defeat is a Week 4 home game vs. the Crimson Tide. Every other game on the schedule can be won or lost. Vandy lost four of six one-possession games last season. If the veteran-laden ‘Dores can flip that stat, they’ll be bowling again for a second straight year. I’m taking the optimistic view on this team that I thought really turned the corner in November of last year. With 18 career starts now under his belt, I think Shurmur will look closer to the signal caller we saw in November rather than the first two months of ’16. If that’s the case, I see five wins (at Middle Tennessee and at home vs. Alabama A&M, Western Ky., UK and Missouri) and three losses (vs. ‘Bama, at UF & at UT). That leaves four swing games vs. Kansas St., vs. UGA, at Ole Miss and at South Carolina. I’m thinking Vandy goes 2-2 or 1-3 in those four contests, leaving it with a 6-6 or 7-5 mark.

    Bets: I lean slightly to the ‘over,’ but I’d keep it at just one unit and wouldn’t play ‘over’ five wins if the price is north of -135.

    6-Kentucky Wildcats
    Best Players: RB Benny Snell, LB Jordan Jones, SS Mike Edwards, WR Garrett Johnson, DE Denzil Ware & PK Austin MacGinnis.
    Toughest Games: at USC, vs. UF, vs. UT, at UGA & vs. Louisville.
    Danger Spots: at Southern Miss in Week 1 & at Vandy on Nov. 11.


    Mark Stoops was on the hot seat early in his fourth year at the helm, especially after blowing a 25-point lead at home in the opener vs. So. Miss before getting blasted at UF the following week by a 45-7 count. From there, however, the ‘Cats won five of their next six games with the only loss coming at Alabama. They would finish 7-6 both SU and ATS, losing 33-18 to Ga. Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. But UK went to the postseason for the first time since 2010 and broke a series-high five-game losing streak to its bitter in-state rival Louisville.

    Kentucky returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense. The leading rusher (‘Boom’ Williams) and leader in receiving yards (Jeff Badet, grad transfer to Oklahoma) are gone, but the best players on defense are back. Junior LB Jordan Jones is an All-American candidate who had 109 tackles, four sacks, 11.5 TFL’s, four PBU and nine QB hurries in ’16.

    Gambling Numbers: UK has 120/1 odds to win the SEC and 1,000/1 odds to win the CFP. The Wildcats’ win tally is 6.5 (-110 either way at South Point).

    Prediction: Stephen Johnson did an adequate job at QB (13/6 TD-INT) after Drew Barker was injured in September. This duo will battle throughout August for the starting gig. The offense averaged 30.0 PPG with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Williams is gone, but Freshman All-American Snell is back for his sophomore campaign. Snell rushed for 1,091 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 5.9 YPC as a freshman. I initially marked UK with a 4-6 record with two swing games: vs. Ole Miss and vs. Louisville. I now think the ‘Cats will beat the Rebels, but I’m undecided on the U of L game in Lexington. I think it’s 5-7 or 6-6 for UK depending on the regular-season finale.

    Bets: I’ll pass.

    7-Missouri Tigers
    Best Players: QB Drew Lock, DT Terry Beckner, WR J’Mon Moore, RB Damarea Crockett & DE Marcell Frazier.
    Toughest Games: vs. Auburn, at UGA, vs. UF, vs. UT & at Arkansas.
    Danger Spots: vs. South Carolina & at Vandy.

    Missouri limped to a 4-8 SU record and a 5-7 ATS mark in Barry Odom’s first season as head coach. The offense was vastly improved, going from an anemic 13.6 PPG average in ’15 to scoring at a 31.4 PPG clip last year. The opposite was true on the other side of the ball. The Tigers had one of the nation’s top defenses in ’15, allowing only 16.2 PPG despite having one of the worst offenses in the country. But in ’16, this unit lost Beckner to a season-ending injury last summer and gave up 31.5 PPG.

    The offense improved because Lock settled in as a true sophomore, throwing for 3,399 yards with a 23/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Moore enjoyed a breakout campaign, catching 62 balls for 1,012 yards and eight TDs. Lock has his top four pass catchers back in the mix and a pair of excellent RBs in Crockett and Ish Witter (750 yards LY).

    The offense returns 10 starters, while five starters are back on defense (really six, though, with Beckner’s return). The non-conference games should be a breeze and Missouri could steal a couple of home games out of four vs USC, Auburn, UF and UT.

    Gambling Numbers: Missouri has 225/1 odds to win the SEC and its win total is 6.5 (‘under’ -145) at Sportsbook. Some spots in Vegas have the number at six with similarly expensive odds for the ‘over.’

    Prediction: I have the Tigers going 5-7 or 6-6, so I have no bets on the win total. Many of their games could go either way, especially the ones at home vs. USC and UT, in addition to a road game at Vandy.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Seven Gators suspended
    August 15, 2017


    Florida will be without seven players for its first season opener outside of Gainesville since 1987. Star junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway and six other teammates were suspended Sunday for the misuse of funds that are a part of their scholarship provided by the university.

    UF will meet Michigan in the lid-lifter for both schools at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX., on ABC at 3:30 p.m. Eastern. Most books had Jim Harbaugh’s squad listed as a 2.5-point favorite before this news broke on Sunday afternoon. The Westgate SuperBook immediately pushed the Wolverines up to four-point ‘chalk,’ where the number remained Tuesday afternoon (8/15). Most other shops have Michigan favored by 3.5 points.

    The six other players in addition to Callaway include DE Keivonnis Davis, DE Jordan Smith, LB James Houston, OT Kadeem Telfort, DT Richerd Desir-Jones and LB Ventrell Miller. They are suspended indefinitely from all team activities, meaning that more than just the Sept. 2 opener is in doubt if certain demands aren’t met.

    “Obviously, I’m very disappointed and at the same time, swift and quick action was taken," UF head coach Jim McElwain told the assembled media on Monday. “With that, we’ve had some guys not with us, been suspended from team activities, will not go to Michigan will not play in that game. Anything further from there, obviously, we’ve got a lot of time now between then and whatever the next thing is. At that point, we’ll kind of move from there.”

    We should note that beyond Callaway, only Davis was expected to see significant playing time against the Wolverines. Davis is a reserve defensive lineman who started five games last year, recording 27 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and five QB hurries.

    Callaway is the team’s best player, one who was listed No. 12 on Mel Kiper Jr.’s first Big Board for the 2018 NFL Draft several months ago. He is the only player in school history to score in five different ways – by kick return, punt return, passing, rushing and receiving. Callaway had 54 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdowns in 2016.

    Fortunately for UF, WR is its deepest position. Senior Brandon Powell is a three-year starter and sophomore WR Tyrie Cleveland has NFL size and speed, leading most to think he’s poised for a breakout campaign. Remember, his 98-yard TD catch at LSU was the catalyst – in addition to the epic goal-line stand in the final seconds -- in the Gators’ SEC East clinching win last year.

    Florida owns the most consecutive active season-opening win streak (27) in college football. The Gators haven’t dropped an opener since a loss to Ole Miss in 1989. However, they’ve faced just two Power Five schools in that span and have played at home in Week 1 ever year since losing 31-4 to Miami at the old Orange Bowl in ’87.

    UF will be looking to avenge a 41-7 beatdown from Michigan at the 2015 Citrus Bowl. The Wolverines also beat the Gators in a 2007 bowl game, the same year Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy.

    Who will UF be starting at QB vs. Michigan? That remains a three-man race between redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, a four-star recruit out of Wakulla High School, Malik Zaire, a grad transfer from Notre Dame, and Luke Del Rio, who went 5-1 in six starts last season before getting injured.

    Don’t be surprised if McElwain remains coy on his starter against Michigan up until minutes before kickoff at Jerry World.

    **B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**


    -- Wisconsin suffered a crushing blow last week when All-American candidate Jack Cichy went down with a season-ending knee injury. The senior LB started the Badgers’ first seven games last year before sustaining an injury that kept him out for the rest of the year. Before the injury, Cichy had 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL’s, two PBU and three QB hurries. We should note that Wisconsin went 6-1 in the seven games without Cichy last year, but its schedule was much more difficult in the early going than down the stretch.

    -- Kentucky lost one of its starting offensive tackles when fifth-year senior Cole Mosier went down with a season-ending ACL tear several days ago. Mosier logged 13 career starts, including 10 last year, in 32 career games played.

    -- Tennessee starting OT Chance Hall is also out for the entire season due to a knee injury. Hall was a Freshman All-American in 2015.

    -- Western Kenutcky starting senior CB De’Andre Simmons is out for all of the 2017 campaign with a knee injury. Simmons had 30 tackles, one interception and eight PBU last season. Also, starting DE Tanner Reeves has been dismissed from the program following his arrest early Sunday morning on multiple charges dealing with driving under the influence and without a valid license. Reeves had 17 tackles, two TFL’s and two QB hurries in five starts last year.

    -- Oklahoma junior WR Nick Basquine is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Basquine had 20 receptions for 265 yards and two TDs in ’16.

    -- Virginia Tech announced Monday (8/14) that redshirt freshman Joshua Jackson will be its starting QB. The Hokies open the season vs. West Virginia in Landover, MY., and are installed as 4.5-point favorites.

    -- Speaking of WVU, it has suspended sophomore WR Marcus Simms indefinitely following his recent arrest for driving under the influence. Simms had six catches for 95 yards as a true freshman last season, but he was expected to take on a much larger role this year.

    -- After Gary Andersen announced Jake Luton as his starting QB early last week, Oregon State’s Marcus McMaryion elected to leave the team for Fresno State as a grad transfer. McMaryion started the Beavers’ last six games in 2016, throwing 10 TD passes compared to five interceptions. OSU went 2-4 straight up and 5-1 against the spread in his six starts. He can play right away for the Bulldogs.

    -- To the surprise of nobody, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn announced yesterday that Jarrett Stidham will be the team’s starting QB.

    -- The San Diego State team is dealing with an outbreak of chicken pox, forcing the team to cancel Monday’s practice.

    -- One of the most iconic figures in the history of the state of Arkansas, legendary former coach Frank Broyles, died Monday at the age of 92. Broyles led the Razorbacks to seven Southwestern Conference championships and one national title in 1964. After retiring from coaching with a 149-62-6 record in 1976, he went on to become one of the best color analysts ever alongside Keith Jackson in the booth with ABC. Broyles served as Arkansas’ AD from 1974-2007, playing the leading role in the Razorbacks joining the SEC in 1992. This was a pivotal move for the school, one that elevated its national brand and ensured financial security for decades to come, that might have seen itself left out when four SWC schools moved to the Big Eight, prompting the league to change its name to the Big 12. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983. The Broyles Award was named in his honor in 1996, going to the best assistant coach each year. Many of his former assistants moved on and enjoyed great success as head coaches, including the likes of Barry Switzer, Johnny Majors, Joe Gibbs, Jimmy Johnson and Hayden Fry. Gibbs and Johnson won multiple Super Bowls at the NFL level and Switzer won one. Switzer, Johnson and Majors won national titles at the collegiate level. RIP: Frank Broyles (1924-2017).

    -- Former Alabama head coach Gene Stallings suffered his second stroke in less than a year when he fell ill Monday morning at a Dallas airport while awaiting a flight to Huntsville, where he was to speak at an event with Pay Dye. Stallings was in stable condition and expected to be ok, according to the most recent reports.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Heisman Trophy Frontrunners
    August 15, 2017


    There are roughly 10,000 FBS football players among the 130 schools -- welcome, Coastal Carolina -- preparing for action starting later this month. The NCAA has eliminated two-a-days, one of the few useful things they've done over the last two decades, as teams will now have walk-through practices or weight training instead of two separate sessions of tackling and on-field activities.

    We'll see how teams are affected, if at all, but as someone who used to cover two-a-days in the humid, Florida heat at UCF, I'm certain the media appreciates it. It's a good bet that the players who actually had to toil through the tough summer conditions are happy about the change too, but it remains to be seen what effect it has, if any, on the early season.

    Will the better athletes be more dominant early since they'll presumably be fresher. Will the less disciplined be more vulnerable? Are teams that return more piece in place going to have an even greater advantage than they already would have?

    The college football season has always felt more like a sprint than a marathon, but that seems even more pronounced in 2017 since we get Florida State-Alabama, Florida-Michigan and Texas A&M-UCLA on the opening weekend. Strap in for the bullet train. It speeds up immediately. Here are the 20 names you need to know if you're placing a buck or two down on the Heisman. Not coincidentally, they're the players with the best odds placed on them courtesy of the Westgate, which offered a mid-August update on Monday.

    Sam Darnold, QB, USC (9/2): His talent has him atop most draft boards for 2018, but it also doesn't hurt that he's both personable and smart, since this is a popularity contest after all. The favorite for a reason, he's got a favorable schedule, too. Stanford, Texas, Utah and UCLA all have to come through the Coliseum. His toughest road test will come at Notre Dame. I'm guessing people will watch.

    Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma (10/1): After throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns last season, the Sooners slinger finished third in last year's voting. He'll have a new head coach and new receivers to work with since three of his top four targets are gone. He's already been defending the new crop on Twitter, which is hilarious since the season is months away. So long as he isn't stuck defending them following that Sept. 9 visit to Columbus, he'll be in the mix deep into the season. If he flops at Ohio State, you may as well rip up your tickets.

    Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville (10/1): The reigning honoree has a legitimate chance to join Archie Griffin in the lonely two-time Heisman winner club, but he'll have to be undeniably special to succeed where others have failed. Those who had little choice but vote for him last year will probably be looking to spread the wealth, so Jackson will have to pull a similar wire-to-wire act. It's possible too, since the Cards play at North Carolina and host Clemson in two of their first three games. If he hits the ground running and takes down the Heels and the defending champs, he'll likely be riding high as the favorite entering an Oct. 21 showdown at Florida State.

    J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (12/1): Back for his senior year, the kid who finished fifth for the Heisman after starting as a freshman didn't even crack the Top 10 despite throwing for over 2,500 yards and running for over 1,000 in earning First Team All-Big Ten honors. If he survives Mayfield and the Sooners, he's going to be a factor all year and could crown himself in Ann Arbor in the regular-season finale at Michigan (Nov. 25). The Wolverines bottled him up last year but he still made the winning plays when he had to in order to produce an OT win in an instant classic.

    Jake Browning, QB, Washington (15/1): Following a sixth-place finish for last year's award that included three first-place votes, the Huskies star will look to build on a 43-touchdown season that saw him throw only nine interceptions. He avoids a head-to-head showdown with Darnold unless the teams meet for the Pac-12 Championship game, and there's a good chance he'll put up similar cartoonish numbers.

    Deondre Francois, QB, Florida St. (15/1): He'll get his chance to become the favorite immediately, leading his offense out against the mighty Crimson Tide in Atlanta on Sept. 2. After shining in his first big game right out of the gate last year in beating Ole Miss as a redshirt freshman first-time starter, he proved he's comfortable in the spotlight and now has vast big-game experience. Francois has tasted the ups and downs of beating the Rebels, Miami, Florida and Michigan in addition to losing shootouts in head-to-head matchups against the Ville's Jackson and current pros Mitch Trubisky (UNC) and Deshaun Watson (Clemson).

    Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn (15/1): After being available at 50-to-1 when odds were released on April 9, the former Baylor standout has climbed into the class of top candidates by officially winning the starting job over incumbent Sean White. Head coach Gus Malzahn made that official on Monday morning, so Stidham, who enrolled in January, has a great opportunity to become a household name since the Tigers will play at Clemson on Sept. 9. Auburn hosts the Iron Bowl this year too, so a loss in Death Valley wouldn't be a deal-breaker.

    Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St. (15/1): The lone non-quarterback among the top 10 racked up 22 touchdowns last season in helping the Nittany Lions become a factor again following a 2-2 start and a disappointingly mediocre start to the James Franklin era. Penn State will play Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks in late October, so he'll have to be at his best in those games to have a shot at this entering the regular season's final month. A trip to East Lasnsing is first up in November.

    Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma St. (20/1): A fantastic sleeper candidate, the senior threw for 28 scores and just four interceptions last season and is experienced enough to run the Cowboys' high-octane spread offense in his sleep. OSU has won 10 games in each of the last two season and has a chance to run the table since Oklahoma, TCU and Kansas State, the trio expected to join them in the mix for the Big 12 title, must all come through Stillwater.

    Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA (20/1):
    He was struggling some before a shoulder injury cut his sophomore season short, but that might help motivating into not resting on his impressive physical gifts. He was ahead of Darnold -- ahead of everyone, really -- prior to last year's disappointment, so the highly touted prospect will have redemption on his mind as he looks to lead the Bruins back from a 4-8 disaster in '16.

    Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama (20/1): It wasn't his fault that the Tide fell short in last year's National Championship Game, but the first true freshman starter in Tuscaloosa since 1984 does bring the motivation of unfinished business into this season. He's already a household name and has plenty he can improve upon, so there's no question he's a threat to win a Heisman. However, because 'Bama is so loaded on the defensive side of the ball, Hurts will have to put up eye-popping numbers to earn the votes and overcome the inevitable bias that he's leading a loaded group. Fortunately for his sake, Nick Saban felt he was too conservative last year and will task former NFL assistant Brian Daboll, his new offensive coordinator, with spicing things up and putting his foot on the gas more often. We'll see how much he really trusts Hurts immediately against FSU.

    Derrius Guice, RB, LSU (25/1): Already having replaced an injured Leonard Fournette last year, he enters the season as no stranger to anyone considering he averaged 7.6 yards per carry. New coordinator Matt Canada will look to showcase his skills as he takes over intent on making the Tigers less conservative and predictable. He'll run into enough elite defenses to be a Heisman factor if LSU defies expectations in Ed Orgeron's first full season in the head seat.

    Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama (30/1): Hoping to follow in the footsteps of Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, this human bowling ball starred for the Tide down the stretch and is poised to take over as the top back after sharing work with Damien Harris last season. Still, with Harris looking formidable as he returns for his junior year and other highly touted backs in Nick Saban's stable, there's a reason Scarbrough isn't even the most likely Heisman candidate on his own team.

    Trace McSorley, QB, Penn St. (30/1): Speaking of which, the Nittany Lions signal caller will be most focused on handing off to Barkley, but he did put up big numbers last year in contributing to State's resurgence. After setting school records in passing yards and touchdowns, Franklin has a quarterback he actually trusts, unlike current pro Christian Hackenberg, who never achieved his potential despite all the accolades bestowed upon him coming in. McSorley's chances hinge on a prosperous run through that brutal stretch mentioned above -- while also outplaying the nation's top back, his teammate.

    Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (30/1):
    Injuries have cut short productive seasons in each of the last two years, but if he stays healthy, there's no denying his talent. A lot of his success will also hinge on a revamped offensive line, but Chubb will have showcase games at Notre Dame, Tennessee and Auburn in addition to the annual showdown with Florida in Jacksonville. If the Dawgs are in the mix for an SEC title, he'll have a shot at this hardware.

    Others: Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn (30/1); Luke Falk, QB, Washington St. (40/1); Derwin James, S, Florida St. (50/1); Wilson Speight, QB, Michigan (50/1); Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia (50/1); Shane Buechele, QB, Texas (60/1); Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington (60/1); Mike Weber, RB, Ohio St. (60/1); Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon (60/1); Brandon Wimbush, QB, Notre Dame (60/1); Quinton Flowers, QB, USF (80/1).
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    August 15, 2017

    Commodores' offense could be a strength


    Vanderbilt's offenses have generally been horrible for most of the past quarter-century.

    That might change in 2017.

    After fielding one of the worst offenses in America during the first half of the 2016 season, the light came on. In Vandy's last six games, the Commodores averaged 443 yards and 28 points.

    Left tackle Will Holden, a fifth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals, is gone, and so is starting center Barrett Gouger. But practically everyone else of significance returns.

    That includes junior quarterback Kyle Shurmur. As coaches gained confidence in his ability to grasp the offense last season, the playbook expanded.

    The 'Dores return three quality wide receivers in seniors in Trent Sherfield -- coach Derek Mason called him the offense's most improved player in August -- Caleb Scott and C.J. Duncan. Also watch for talented sophomore Kalija Lipscomb, probably the most explosive of the bunch.

    Vanderbilt also has capable down-field threats in Sam Dobbs and Jared Pinkney.

    As for the ground game, senior running back Ralph Webb amassed 1,449 yards from scrimmage last year despite battling injuries, and may wind up as the Southeastern Conference's No. 2 all-time rusher.

    Behind him, Khari Blasingame scored 10 touchdowns, and the coaches and players rave about the potential of redshirt freshman Jamauri Wakefield.

    The Commodores' offensive line improved markedly under first-year offensive line coach Cameron Norcross in 2016 and now has good depth. A fierce battle has ensued in camp, with seven linemen battling for five starting spots. Norcross and Mason aim to play the best five, and sort out the positions along the way.

    No, this group isn't vintage Southern California or Ohio State. But for SEC fans used to seeing an impotent Vandy offense, this year could be an eye-opener.

    With the offense seemingly ahead of the defense, there seem to be more key questions on that side of the ball.

    Among them, who can create a pass rush? The most obvious answer seems to be outside linebacker Charles Wright, but the junior has just one career sack.

    Creating sacks and interceptions have been a deficiency throughout Mason's tenure. Vanderbilt had just 15 sacks and five interceptions last season.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Kyle Shurmur -- He may not be Vandy's best player -- that would be running back Ralph Webb -- but an injury to Shurmur would send the Commodores scrambling to Deuce Wallace or Sean Stankavage, neither of whom has taken a college snap. Shurmur's numbers -- a 53.3 percent completion percentage, 2,486 yards and nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions -- weren't great last year, but he was a different quarterback in the second half once he had command of the playbook and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig loosened the reins. Shurmur has been sharp in practice, which is a big reason why coach Derek Mason recently assigned the passing game a grade of "A-minus to B-plus" for what it had done in fall camp.

    BREAKOUT STAR: CB JoeJuan Williams -- The Nashville native played more often as a true freshman as last season progressed; toward the end of the year, he seemed to play as many snaps as the starter (graduated Torren McGaster) ahead of him. Williams was a top 100 recruit until he was ruled ineligible for his senior year after transferring high schools, although programs such as LSU and Alabama pursued him right up until Signing Day in 2016. Williams, a physical corner who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, had 19 stops and two breakups last year. He has the physical attributes to be an NFL player.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: OT Devin Cochran -- The 6-foot-7, 315-pound Cochran drew late recruiting interest from big schools before signing with VU in 2016, and he looked the part of an SEC offensive tackle the minute he reported to campus. He was listed as the backup left tackle all last year, but wasn't quite ready mentally and the 'Dores were able to preserve his redshirt year. Cochran entered fall camp as a backup but seems to have played his way into the conversation as a starter at right tackle.

    --FB Bailey McElwain, a projected starter, has missed fall camp with a boot on his right foot. McElwain is a devastating blocker who started to see more use (six catches, two TDs) in the passing game at the end of 2016.

    --DL Drew Birchmaier, who projected as a second-team end exiting spring practice, has missed all of fall camp with an undisclosed injury.

    --LB Kenny Hebert, a potential second-teamer at outside linebacker, hasn't participated in the scrimmage portion of fall camp.

    --WR Donaven Tennyson, a third-string receiver, is the team's fastest player and could be used in the return game. However, Tennyson had missed much of fall camp as of mid-August.

    --WR Caleb Scott has been held out of the contact portion of fall camp. That was also the case last spring and last fall, and it seems he'll likely be available for the opener.

    --OL Bruno Reagan, a starter at right guard last year, is getting an audition at center in fall camp.

    --LB Andrew Rector has moved from safety, where he played sparingly last season.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    August 15, 2017

    Aggies searching for stronger finish


    By the end of August, most folks in Texas long for the latter part of fall, when the fever breaks and a cool breeze can be felt even in a crowded football stadium.

    However, given the trend of Texas A&M's recent seasons, Aggie fans likely wish the sweltering summer heat would hang around until mid-January.

    Since 2014, Texas A&M has developed a habit of racing out of the blocks, destroying everyone in its path and climbing the national rankings. The Aggies reached No. 6 in the Associated Press poll in 2014, No. 9 in 2015 and No. 6 in 2016, posting perfect records through the early stages of all three campaigns.

    But each time things began to fall apart beginning in October. All three seasons culminated in 8-5 records, which were respectable but ultimately disappointing, given the early-season promises.

    To be fair, a huge percentage of teams would struggle through a portion of the season that featured a barrage of SEC West opponents. Even so, the feast-or-famine routine has seen the Aggies go 8-15 after the October tipping point. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin responded to the habitual downturn by hiring new strength and conditioning coach Mark Hocke from Florida State, specifically to bolster the team's endurance through October and November.

    The Aggies will find out quickly if the change makes a difference, because the 2017 schedule sets up similarly to recent years.

    Texas A&M opens the season at the UCLA Bruins, whom the Aggies edged in overtime in 2016, then continues with home dates vs. Nicholls State and Louisiana-Lafayette. Texas A&M travels to Dallas for its traditional neutral-site contest against Arkansas, then is back home to host South Carolina.

    Although the first month of the season presents its challenges, the schedule once again ramps up beginning in October. The Aggies face Alabama and Florida on the first two Saturdays in October and continue with Mississippi State, Mississippi, Auburn and LSU all in the second half of the campaign.

    However, before Sumlin has to answer the same old questions starting in October, he'll grapple with the more pressing issues of who to lineup where.

    The Aggies most important position battle, as per usual, is at quarterback.

    Senior Jake Hubenak has starting experience, while redshirt freshman Nick Starkel posted an impressive spring. True freshman Kellen Mond makes it a three-headed battle to start at quarterback. Sumlin indicated in early August that he might not make a decision until the final scrimmage a couple of weeks before the season-opener.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Christian Kirk -- Kirk is by far the most dynamic and consistent offensive weapon returning for the Aggies. He caught a team-leading 83 passes in 2016, converting those catches into 928 yards and nine touchdowns. Furthermore, he's the only returning Texas A&M player to have caught more than 20 passes last season. Whoever emerges as the Aggies' starting quarterback will lean heavily on Kirk, who will need to adjust to the role as he won't have fellow star Josh Reynolds to dilute the opposing defense's attention.

    BREAKOUT STAR: RB Keith Ford -- Although Ford was second on the team in rushing yards last season, well behind fellow returner Trayveon Williams -- Williams rushed for 1,057 yards to Ford's 669 -- Ford averaged 5.3 per carry and finished the season stronger. The Aggies are likely to deploy Ford and Williams with a healthy amount of carries as a new starting quarterback finds his legs. They will also be running behind an improved offensive line. Bigger holes could allow Ford to get going downhill and accentuate his bruising running style.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DE Michael Clemons -- Clemons enrolled in Cisco Junior College as a relative unknown a year ago. Since then, the 6-foot-5, 255-pounder ascended to become one of the nation's top 20 junior college prospects and an intriguing new member of an Aggie defensive line that needs him. He took some time to fulfill his junior college academic requirements and joined the Aggies during the second summer school session. He was behind in conditioning when practice started, but quickly caught up. Texas A&M coaches are closely monitoring his progress, likely because they know they're going to need production from the raw talent.

    --SS Armani Watts missed four games with a knee injury in 2016, but still posted 56 total tackles, including six for loss, and caused four turnovers. Texas A&M needs him to stay healthy and productive.

    --DT Zaycoven Henderson had a solid season with 10 tackles for loss, including three sacks in 2016. The question will be whether he can improve on those numbers now that DE Myles Garrett is gone.

    --WR Jhamon Ausbon will be counted on during his freshman season as the Aggies attempt to refill their receiving corps. Ausbon was a top 100 national prospect, much like new teammate Christian Kirk was out of high school. Texas A&M is hoping Ausbon takes to college football as quickly as Kirk did two seasons ago.

    --QB Nick Starkel made a bid to be the Aggies' starter with a solid performance during the spring. He appears to be the early frontrunner in a three-way race to start with Jake Hubenak and Kellen Mond.

    --LT Koda Martin married former Texas A&M volleyball player Jazzmin Babers, the daughter of Syracuse coach Dino Babers, in late July. Along with entering married life, Martin will be counted on to anchor the Aggies' offensive line as one of three returning starters.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    August 15, 2017

    Revamped Vols aim for elusive SEC East title


    Butch Jones is known for his somewhat unorthodox outlook toward the way he governs his football team, including the assertion that his Tennessee program is adept at producing players with "five-star hearts" and that they are "champions of life."

    Tennessee is talented once again -- the Vols are 24th in the preseason coaches' poll -- but the notion around Knoxville is that life titles won't cut it much longer. It might be time for the Vols to finally produce a championship of the SEC East variety.

    The 49-year-old Jones will have to accomplish that feat -- one that's eluded Tennessee since 2007 when Erik Ainge and Arian Foster manned the offense -- with a roster that boasts as much skill and firepower as it does question marks.

    The Volunteers will have a starkly different look from its past two squads that each finished 9-4.

    Off to test their mettle in the NFL are a slew of leaders that leave enormous cleats to fill, including quarterback Josh Dobbs, running back Alvin Kamara, defensive end Derek Barnett and cornerback Cam Sutton.

    Those stepping in will do so under the tutelage of a revamped coaching staff.

    Larry Scott, who takes over at offensive coordinator for Mike DeBord, and new quarterbacks coach Mike Canales are tasked with replacing Dobbs, whose 7,138 career yards and 53 touchdowns made him the highest-drafted Tennessee quarterback since Peyton Manning.

    Junior Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano impressed through a couple of weeks of camp, with Dormady drawing comparisons to Philip Rivers, a former Canales disciple. That said, Jones hasn't set a timetable for announcing a starter and hasn't ruled out going with a two-quarterback system.

    Whoever gets the nod is going to be tested immediately.

    A treacherous opening month awaits Tennessee with trips to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech and a home tilt against Florida within the first 13 days of the season. The Volunteers close out September with a visit to a Georgia team that eagerly awaits a chance to exact revenge on the Vols for last year's Hail Mary thriller.

    The Vols' squad from last year ended up suffering a lot of injuries, which, in turn, provided plenty of young players the chance to gain valuable game experience. And while the Tennessee roster might be deep, getting the parts to come together in 2017 won't be easy.

    "We're nowhere near where we need to be, in terms of being ready to play a football game," said Jones, who is 30-21 in four seasons at Tennessee.

    "Every practice has to count; every rep will be valuable. I thought where our football team was at this point and time, we still need to focus on the fundamentals -- the execution and being able to focus."

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB Darrin Kirkland Jr. -- The Tennessee defense is deep with experienced upperclassmen, but the unit is in search of a leader. Now that he's fully recovered from an ankle injury that affected him throughout most of the 2016 season, Kirkland is poised to take charge of the Vols, on and off the field. The junior has 111 tackles in 21 career games, including 11.5 tackles for a loss.

    BREAKOUT STAR: RB John Kelly -- The Volunteers entered 2016 with two horses in the backfield in Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. But it was John Kelly who led all Tennessee running backs with 630 yards, to go along with five TDs. Kelly made the most of Hurd's implosion and subsequent transfer, while Kamara was derailed by injuries. Kelly rushed for 515 yards in the final six games and his 6.43 yards per carry ranked ninth in the SEC. Tennessee will lean heavily on Kelly, who will get an opportunity to play a full season as the starter. "John Kelly is an individual who waited for his opportunity in our program, and when his opportunity came, obviously he made the most of it," coach Butch Jones said.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RG Trey Smith -- Smith is earning the hype that made him a five-star recruit and the No. 13 overall prospect in the 2017 class. The 6-6, 320-pound freshman is making a case for playing time along an offensive line that returns four starters. As impressive as Smith has been, coach Butch Jones is not going to rush the first-year player. "Trey's settled in at guard, and I think we all have to be careful," Jones said. "He's never played one down of college football. Even us as coaches, we have to step back. He's still a true freshman, and make sure that we don't put too many expectations on him early."

    --CB Shaq Wiggins is a potential impact newcomer. The Louisville graduate transfer intercepted four passes and broke up another 14 during 21 games in a Cardinals uniform. He provides versatility and depth to a Volunteers secondary that is looking to improve upon the 230.7 passing yards per game that the unit yielded in 2016.

    --OT K'Rojhn Calbert is the latest to suffer from an injury bug that has plagued the offensive line. He joins RT Chance Hall with season-ending knee injuries. Other tackles nursing ailments include Marcus Tatum (foot) and Brett Kendrick (undisclosed).

    --Former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke will make his SEC debut this year as Tennessee's associate head coach and defensive line coach. Hoke arrives after a one-year stint as Oregon's defensive coordinator, where he wasn't retained after Willie Taggart took over for Mark Helfrich.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

  14. #104
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    August 15, 2017

    Rebels moving on from noisy offseason


    The season-opener on Sept. 2 can't come soon enough for Ole Miss' players.

    They've spent their offseason having to answer one question after another about the program, few of them pertaining to the upcoming season. Ole Miss has been college football's biggest storyline with various twists in its NCAA case that ultimately led to a sudden change in the program's leadership.

    Players are ready to expend their energy physically rather than verbally.

    "We keep getting hit with stones. We're going to keep getting up," offensive lineman Javon Patterson said. "Somebody's going to have to feel this frustration. We're going to go out there, play 12 games and get after it."

    That frustration has been building for a while.

    The Rebels experienced their first losing season under Hugh Freeze last fall, a 5-7 record that was punctuated with a 55-20 home loss to Mississippi State. Freeze overhauled his staff as a result, bringing in five new assistants, including offensive coordinator Phil Longo and defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, that players are still getting used to during camp. A sixth assistant -- offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. -- was hired last month.

    In February, players found out they have no chance at a bowl game this season as the school imposed a one-year postseason ban as part of its penalties stemming from the investigation, which has Ole Miss facing 21 charges of rules violations, including 15 Level I allegations, which the NCAA deems the most serious.

    The most stunning development came last month when Freeze's five-year tenure ended with an abrupt resignation after it was discovered that a call placed from Freeze's university-issued cell phone to a number linked to an escort service led to a more thorough examination of Freeze's phone records. That revealed what athletic director Ross Bjork called a "concerning pattern" of personal misconduct.

    "It was shocking," Patterson said.

    But the players are moving on with the coaches that are still around. It starts with interim coach Matt Luke, a former Ole Miss player whose first head coaching job comes at his alma mater after serving two stints as an assistant with the Rebels.

    "He's passionate. That's the best way I can describe Coach Luke," defensive tackle Breeland Speaks said. "I love Coach Luke because he gets after it. He doesn't mind the grind. He doesn't mind getting his hands dirty. That's just how Coach Luke has always been."

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Shea Patterson -- The defense needs to be better after bottoming out last season, but with much of the same personnel on that side of the ball returning, Ole Miss will go as their young quarterback goes. Patterson, a former five-star recruit, got some unexpected experience last season after having his redshirt burned once Chad Kelly suffered a season-ending knee injury, throwing for 880 yards and six touchdowns while adding 169 yards on the ground in the last three games. With an experienced offensive line and backfield, as well as another talented receiving corps to work with, the natural expectation is for Patterson to take another step in his development during a season in which the Rebels may once again have to outscore opponents to win.

    BREAKOUT STAR: WR D.K. Metcalf -- Metcalf showed his potential on the outside last season as a true freshman with his only two catches going for touchdowns before a broken foot ended his debut season early. Pushing 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Metcalf already looks like an NFL receiver and possesses the physical tools to overwhelm smaller defensive backs. Metcalf, the son of former Ole Miss All-American and NFL offensive lineman Terrence Metcalf, could emerge as one of the SEC's top wideouts by season's end if he's able to stay healthy.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: CB D.D. Bowie -- The highest-ranked signee in Ole Miss' latest recruiting class, Bowie was running with the second-team defense during the first couple of weeks of camp. Also a receiver in high school, Bowie already has the speed and range coaches covet at the position. Technique and consistency can improve like any true freshman, but Bowie is already showing advanced ball skills for a youngster. "When you put on the tape every day, at some point, that young man has gotten his hand on the football," defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said.

    --LB Detric Bing-Dukes and CB Ken Webster are suspended for the Sept. 2 opener against South Alabama after being arrested earlier this month on shoplifting charges. Webster, who's coming off reconstructive knee surgery, and Bing-Dukes are projected starters.

    --CB Ken Webster, who's still being allowed to practice despite his arrest, has gotten an extensive look at safety during camp. There aren't many proven commodities at the position behind strong safety Zedrick Woods, with defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff saying he's currently taking a by-committee approach to the No. 2 safety spot.

    --RB Jordan Wilkins is eligible again and getting his first chance to be Ole Miss' primary back entering his senior season. An academic credits snafu cost Wilkins all of last season.

    --TE Octavious Cooley, a backup, has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Interim head coach Matt Luke said he expects Cooley, the biggest tight end on the roster at 6-foot-3 and 257 pounds, back at some point.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    August 15, 2017

    Gamecocks to face early challenges


    South Carolina coach Will Muschamp should find out rather quickly if his Gamecocks are going to continue the success they had late in his debut season a year ago.

    The Gamecocks, who closed fast to finish with a 6-7 record following a 2-4 start, open the season against North Carolina State in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 2, then dive right into SEC play with a trip to Missouri and a home game against Kentucky in the next two weeks.

    With 16 starters back, 10 of them on offense, and the return of linebacker Skai Moore, who led the team in tackles for three consecutive seasons before a neck injury sidelined him for 2016, the Gamecocks are in much better shape to handle the challenge than they were a year ago.

    Among those returning starters is sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley. Bentley was the key to last season's turnaround and has a firm grasp on the position going into the fall. Michael Scarnecchia, a junior coming off a shoulder injury that sidelined him last year, backs him up.

    "Those guys have made a lot of progress," Muschamp said. "I see a lot of progress with those two young men, and I've been pleased with their work ethic."

    Despite the number of returning starters, Muschamp sees lots of competition for playing time for other spots on offense -- at running back, tight end, receiver and the offensive line.

    Sophomore Rico Dowdle, who started the last six games of 2016, North Carolina transfer Ty'Son Williams and A.J. Turner provide depth and variety at running back.

    "Ty'Son and Rico are very similar running style, and A.J. gives us a little different style," Muschamp said. "We need to get the ball into A.J.'s hands as well."

    Deebo Samuel, who shared the team's MVP award with Bentley, is a versatile receiver who had 59 catches in just 10 games. He also had 15 rushes -- six that went for touchdowns -- and stood out in the return game. He also has had a "great camp" so far, Muschamp said.

    "Deebo is extremely bright. He's extremely intelligent," Muschamp said. "He can play inside, he can play outside, he can play running back. He can do a lot of different things for us."

    There are some concerns on defense from a depth standpoint.

    "I do like our first group that we roll out there, but we've got to have some guys continue to step up and be more consistent," Muschamp said. "I don't think it's ability. I think it's consistency and a lot of that goes to youth. We're sort of working through that right now."

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Deebo Samuel -- Samuel has been hobbled by nagging injuries in the past two years, with a hamstring problem sidelining him for three games last season and the first seven the year before. Despite that, he led the team in catches in 2016 with 59 for 783 yards, 14 of them in the Birmingham Bowl. He gives the Gamecocks a big-play threat not only as a receiver but in the return game. He even threw a 33-yard touchdown pass last year. He should get plenty of opportunities as he moves into his junior season. "The more you put him in different spots, the harder it is to defend," coach Will Muschamp said.

    BREAKOUT STAR: FS D.J. Smith -- Smith backed up a solid junior season in 2016 (a team-high 80 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries) with an outstanding performance in the spring. Smith's 62 solo stops were the third-highest in the SEC. As a senior, he looks to take over more of a leadership role as the "quarterback" of the Gamecocks' defense. "He needs to continue that going forward," coach Will Muschamp said.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DT Javon Kinlaw -- Kinlaw is one of several first-year Gamecocks who are being counted on to step up on defense. Kinlaw spent last season at Jones County Community College in Mississippi, where he recorded 4.5 sacks among his 26 tackles. At 6-6, 326, the sophomore could be a huge factor in a run defense that often was shredded for big yards last fall.

    --CB Korey Banks is moving to the secondary after spending his freshman campaign at wide receiver last year. He saw limited action in six games and had one reception in the bowl loss to USF.

    --OL Zack Bailey is at right tackle after spending last year as the starter at left guard.

    --OT Malik Young has moved to the left side after starting nine games on the right side last year, but he could be used on both sides.

    --TE Evan Hinson missed last spring because he was a member of the Gamecocks basketball team that made a run to the NCAA tourney's Final Four. A redshirt freshman, he is competing for time at a crowded position that includes returning starter Hayden Hurst.

    --DB Chris Lammons, a senior, will play all the positions in the secondary -- corner, nickel, dime, and safety. "He'll be able to handle that," coach Will Muschamp said.

    --DE Shameik Blackshear, who played in nine games as a redshirt freshman last year, suffered a concussion in practice and is out indefinitely.

    --DB Jaylin Dickerson will miss the season after requiring shoulder surgery. He a true freshman who enrolled early to go through spring drills and was expected to be a contributor this fall.

    --DB Steven Montac, who has played safety, corner, and nickel, has a stress fracture in his foot, but it will not require surgery.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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