There's no question that USC quarterback Sam Darnold will get a healthy helping of the Heisman hype before and during the 2017 season. The kid has it all, and he's coming off a breakout redshirt freshman season (3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns and just nine interceptions). He also completed 67.2 percent of his passes, which means he's is pretty accurate.
Well, every bit of that accuracy was on full display during a recent boating trip. Darnold posted an Instagram video in which he launches a pass from the back of a moving boat to USC freshman volleyball player Sean Morrissey.
Not only does Darnold connect with Morrissey, he does so while the frosh is leaping off a wakeboard, arms outstretched and body ready to get drenched.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) June 19, 2017
It's tough to say which feat was more impressive, but Darnold might be sending head coach Clay Helton a message with the caption of his video: "Heads up Trojan nation. I think we may have found our next great receiver @seanmorrissey"
Friends. How many of us have them?
It's a question we must dive into every now and then, and it's no different in the world of college football. Like Marvel superheroes, a good duo -- or trio -- can literally make all the difference in the world.
Now, college athletes aren't out to right all the injustices of the universe, but a good tag team can be the difference between a win and a loss. Last week, esteemed colleague Mitch Sherman took a look at the country's most dynamic duos, so we decided to adopt that for SEC land.
This week, we'll be looking at the top duos or trios on offense and defense. Today, we start with the offensive backfield (quarterback and running back).
1. Alabama: QB Jalen Hurts, RB Damien Harris, RB Bo Scarbrough. This trio combined for 2,806 rushing yards last year. That was more than 11 SEC teams had the entire 2016 season. Add the fact that they totaled 26 rushing touchdowns and Hurts added another 2,780 passing yards and 23 passing touchdowns, and you just won't find a more dangerous backfield in the SEC.
2. Georgia: QB Jacob Eason, RB Nick Chubb, RB Sony Michel. Chubb and Michel have totaled an impressive 5,835 rushing yards over the last three seasons, including 1,970 yards last year with 12 touchdowns. Eason threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns as a true freshman in 2016. As he continues to get more comfortable with Georgia's offense, expect those passing numbers to increase this fall.
3. Auburn: QB Jarrett Stidham, RB Kamryn Pettway, RB Kerryon Johnson. Stidham hasn't played a lick of SEC ball, but he did throw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns in limited work at Baylor back in 2015. He didn't run a ton with the Bears, but he should with the Tigers, and coaches around the league think he'll be an instant star. As for the running backs, all Pettway and Johnson did was combine for 2,119 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
4. Missouri: QB Drew Lock, RB Damarea Crockett, RB Ish Witter. Lock was second in the SEC with 3,399 passing yards and tied for third with 23 touchdowns. He also had 123 rushing yards and a score, but he's more arm than legs. Crockett was a pleasant surprise in the league with 1,062 yards, while Witter followed up with 750 yards on the ground.
5. Arkansas: QB Austin Allen, RB Devwah Whaley. This would have been a trio months ago if not for the untimely retirement of outstanding back Rawleigh Williams. But it's not like this backfield is done for. Allen led the SEC with 3,430 passing yards and was second with 25 touchdowns. Whaley is an up-and-comer who looks poised for a 1,000-plus-yard season after his 602-yard debut as a backup last year.
Others to watch:
Texas A&M: Trayveon Williams, Keith Ford
If you’re a fan of an SEC team, chances are you know where you’re going to be on fall Saturdays. But what if you were given the chance to go to any game involving an SEC team each week of the season? That’s the scenario we envisioned for the ultimate SEC road trip.
College football reporters Edward Aschoff and Sam Khan Jr. take their picks of which game they would attend, if given the choice of any involving an SEC team, each week this season. Today, we look at the November games:
Aschoff: LSU at Alabama -- It is the game in the SEC just about every year. Now, this season it likely won’t have the same fervor around it, but you can’t get through an SEC season without checking this one out. Alabama has won six consecutive meetings with LSU, but the last time the Tigers won, the game just so happened to be in Tuscaloosa.
Khan: Auburn at Texas A&M -- As Edward said, LSU-Alabama is the game in the SEC these days, so that’s the No. 1 choice, but if you had to go another direction in Week 10, an SEC game at Kyle Field is a solid option. It’s a great place to watch football. Both of these teams should be putting up the points with regularity this season, and it’s a return to Texas for Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, the former Baylor signal-caller who prepped at Stephenville High School. One bit of intrigue here: Stidham considered the Aggies both as a high school recruit and during the transfer process but the Aggies passed, opting to stick with 2017 four-star recruit Kellen Mond.
Aschoff: Georgia at Auburn -- Another great rivalry for us to drool over. Last season, this game was a defensive struggle, but both teams are expected to see their offenses take some positive steps forward because of their respective quarterbacks. The Jacob Eason-Jarrett Stidham battle under center should make for great TV.
Khan: Arkansas at LSU -- It’s not as prestigious or long-running as the Auburn-Georgia rivalry, but the Arkansas-LSU Battle for the Golden Boot can often be entertaining. LSU has won 13 of the 21 meetings since it became a trophy game in 1996; this season it’s in Death Valley, which is always a great place to attend a game.
Aschoff: LSU at Tennessee -- These two haven’t faced each other since 2011. It’s been a long time coming, and with so many unknowns for both teams, this one should be fun. All eyes are on Volunteers coach Butch Jones, who needs to show that his program is headed in a positive direction late in the season.
Khan: LSU at Tennessee -- This is one of those iffy weeks on the schedule with four SEC teams playing non-Power 5 conference opposition, so the variety of choices isn’t wide. Neyland Stadium is probably the safe bet here, with both teams likely having some stake in the division race on the line.
Aschoff: Alabama at Auburn -- Simply put, it’s the Iron Bowl. Alabama is the favorite to win the SEC, while Auburn could well have the best shot at dethroning the Tide. You get Alabama’s new-look defense on the Plains against program-changing QB Jarrett Stidham. Then there’s Alabama’s high-octane offense against an ever-improving Auburn defense.
Khan: Florida State at Florida -- If Auburn is as good as we think it will be, the Iron Bowl is hard to beat. However, this is a great week for rivalries, including FSU-Florida, which could have plenty at stake. Could FSU -- No. 2 in our Way-Too-Early Top 25 -- be in the College Football Playoff hunt? Will Florida have already clinched a spot in Atlanta for its third consecutive SEC title game and have an outside shot at the CFP? Either way, the Swamp should be rocking for this one.
On Wednesday, we offered our prediction for which Big Ten quarterbacks will throw for 3,000 yards next season. On Thursday, we are predicting the running backs who will reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
Nine Big Ten rushers eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2016, and quite a few of them should reach that milestone in 2017, but some new names could make the list as well.
Here is a look at the Big Ten running backs who will likely reach 1,000 yards rushing next season.
2016 1,000-yard rushers in the Big Ten
RB Justin Jackson, Northwestern -- 1,524
RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State -- 1,496
RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin -- 1,375
RB Rodney Smith, Minnesota -- 1,158
RB Devine Redding, Indiana -- 1,122
RB Mike Weber, Ohio State -- 1,096
RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa -- 1,081
RB LeShun Daniels, Iowa -- 1,058
RB Ty Johnson, Maryland -- 1,004
Guys who could make a run at 1,000 yards this season:
1. Justin Jackson, Northwestern: Jackson is back for Northwestern and is roughly 1,500 yards from becoming No. 2 all time in career rushing yards for the Big Ten. That would put him ahead of Ohio State’s Archie Griffin and behind Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne. Another 1,000-yard season would give Jackson four seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing. It seems likely that will happen, and Jackson could be well on his way to No. 2.
2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State: Barkley was second in the conference in rushing yards last season, just 28 yards behind Jackson, and should be near the top again next season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Barkley move past Jackson as the league's leading rusher; Penn State’s offense is in Year 2 with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who has a more experienced offensive line and returning quarterback Trace McSorley. Barkley's name is starting to pop up on the Heisman Trophy watch, so it should be an exciting season for the electric back.
3. Mike Weber, Ohio State: Weber was just behind Indiana’s Devine Redding and Minnesota’s Rodney Smith in yards last season, but Weber had 66 fewer carries than Smith and 71 less than Redding. Weber’s new offensive coordinator, Kevin Wilson, called the plays for Redding last season, so it’s easy to see why Weber’s production could be close to last season's tally, if not better. Ohio State’s offense has more playmakers than Indiana’s, but Weber still will get plenty of reps in his quest for 1,000 yards.
4. Akrum Wadley, Iowa: Wadley reached 1,000 yards last season despite sharing carries with LeShun Daniels. He won’t be sharing with Daniels next season and also has a new offensive coordinator in Brian Ferentz. Wadley will be called upon to help carry a Hawkeyes offense that will have a new starting quarterback, new receiver and tight end. The stage is set for Wadley to have an explosive season.
5. Ty Johnson, Maryland: Johnson has proved that he is the guy for Maryland after averaging 9.1 yards per carry in 2016. He rushed for 1,004 yards on 110 carries and should have more opportunities in 2017. This will be his third season, and for the most part, he will have a more experienced offensive line in front of him. Johnson was part of a crowded backfield that included Wes Brown and Kenneth Goins, but those two have graduated, giving Johnson a chance at the spotlight.
6. LJ Scott, Michigan State: Scott missed out on 1,000 yards by six yards last season. Nothing went right for the Spartans, so maybe there will be a little more consistency next season. Scott will be asked to help a struggling offense that no longer has last season's top four receivers. He will need to come up with big plays and shoulder most of the load if the Spartans are to have any success, so he'll have a good shot at 1,000 yards.
7. Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin: The Badgers’ top two rushers in Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale have both graduated, which leaves Shaw next in line to carry the torch of outstanding running backs at Wisconsin. Given the Badgers' success at running back in recent years, it's almost a given that a Wisconsin back will run for over 1,000 yards. Quite a few players will return on offense, and Shaw will be joined by Taiwan Deal and Chris James in the backfield, so he won’t have to carry the load alone. If Shaw can take over as the lead back, he'll have plenty of opportunities to hit at least 1,000 yards.
8. Rodney Smith, Minnesota: Smith ran for 1,158 yards in 2016 and will likely have an important role for new coach P.J. Fleck. Minnesota will be breaking in a new quarterback, who will need some help. Smith and Shannon Brooks, who ran for 650 yards last season, could be a good two-headed monster in the backfield, but Smith likely will get the bulk of the carries. Fleck brought offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca with him from Western Michigan, and the Broncos almost had two 1,000-yard rushers last season: Jarvion Franklin collected 1,353 yards and Jamauri Bogan notched 923. If the Golden Gophers can get similar production from their two backs, it will be a huge boost to the offense.
9. Chris Evans, Michigan: Evans burst on the scene as a freshman last season, running for 614 yards on 88 carries. Starter De'Veon Smith has moved on, and the opportunity for Evans to get more reps will be there. He still will have plenty of competition with Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and Kareem Walker on the roster, plus O’Maury Samuels and Kurt Taylor from the 2017 recruiting class. Evans has bulked up this offseason and focused on improving his game, so despite the number of backs on the roster, he still has a chance for 1,000 yards.
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Four quarterbacks passed for 3,000 yards in the Big Ten last season and all of them are back in 2017. Will others be able to join them?
The Big Ten has shed its reputation as a league of plodding, pro-style offenses during the last several years. Coaching turnover continues to bring more firepower to the league. Additions like Jeff Brohm at Purdue this offseason and offensive coordinator Walt Bell at Maryland add more fast-paced mentalities that have the potential to lead to big-time stats if the coaches able to get the players they need in place. This year's crop of quarterbacks returns plenty of experience to help with that trend. Here are our picks for the players most likely to top 3,000 yards in the fall:
1. Trace McSorley, Penn State: As a first-year starter, McSorley threw for a league-high 3,614 yards. There is no reason to think he'll take a significant step back in 2017. Top target Chris Godwin is gone, but the Nittany Lions have a more-than-capable group at wide receiver. Toss in tight end Mike Gesicki, Saquon Barkley demanding a defense's attention and offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead's creativity, and McSorley should hit the 3,000-yard mark by early November.
2. David Blough, Purdue: For all its faults in the last five years, Purdue has never stopped bringing in quality quarterbacks. Blough managed to comfortably pass the 3,000-yard barrier a year ago while operating an offense that finished 101st in scoring. Imagine what he'll do behind the wheel of a new scheme that helped Western Kentucky and coach Jeff Brohm lead the nation in scoring. Brohm's QBs topped 4,000 yards in each of his three years as head coach for the Hilltoppers. It will take time to get his offense up to full speed in West Lafayette, but that shouldn't stop Blough from putting up big numbers.
3. Richard Lagow, Indiana: The 6-foot-6 Texan with a big arm has two great targets at wide receiver at his disposal. Like Blough, Lagow had issues with accuracy at times last year but they didn't keep him from continuing to the heave the ball downfield. The big question for Lagow is whether the Hoosiers will be more conservative under new coordinator Mike DeBord than they were with the breakneck pace of Kevin Wilson's offense.
4. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: For all his accomplishments in Columbus, Barrett has yet to top the 3,000-yard mark during his career as a Buckeye. Why will that change in 2017? Ohio State snatched up Kevin Wilson and his offensive mind when he parted ways with Indiana in December. Head coach Urban Meyer has also placed a big emphasis on going deep since the team's shutout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff. The only reason Barrett isn't higher on our list: Ohio State's offense is loaded with enough weapons that Barrett might not be in many situations where he needs to air it out later in games.
5. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern: Thorson is the one guy on our list who might be most negatively impacted by a wide receiver departure. Austin Carr caught more than 1,200 of the 3,182 passing yards that the Wildcats starter threw for last year. Thorson took an impressive step forward during his second season as a starter. If Northwestern's receiver corps matures fast enough to replace Carr's production, Thorson should be able to join the 3,000 club again during his redshirt junior season.
6. Wilton Speight, Michigan: Had Speight played more against Hawaii (145 passing yards) and Rutgers (100 passing yards), he might have been on pace to join the 3,000-yard group when a shoulder injury zapped his production in November. Now, he has to try to improve his production despite the departure of three all-conference-caliber receivers: Jake Butt, Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson. On the plus side, Speight has good options and the Wolverines might need to take to the air a little more often in 2017 with a young defense that is less likely to be as dominant as last year's group.
With spring ball over, coaches have a better sense of where their teams are and what needs to be improved in the fall.
The season will be here before we know it, and there are still big questions that remain unanswered for Big Ten West teams.
Here is a look at some of the biggest questions for each team in the division.
Illinois: All of the questions
There is really more than one big question for Illinois, so it’s too hard to pinpoint just one. There are questions on offense and defense for coach Lovie Smith and his staff, which could mean another poor season is in store.
On offense, the staff is losing two of its top receivers, starting quarterback Wes Lunt, three starting offensive linemen and tight ends Tyler White and Ainslie Johnson. This is an offense that ranked 123rd in total yards per game, ahead of only five other FBS teams last season.
On defense, defensive ends Dawuane Smoot and Carroll Phillips are gone, as well as defensive tackles Jarrod Clements and Robbie Bain. The coaches are also replacing linebacker Hardy Nickerson and defensive backs Taylor Barton and Darius Mosely.
The defensive unit ranked 61st in yards allowed per game in 2016 and is losing its leading tackler in Nickerson and three leaders in sacks from last season.
How this staff can replace those names and that production will be a question that will remain until the season starts. The numbers don’t show a lot of promise for Smith and his staff.
Iowa: Can changes on the coaching staff help the offense?
Brian Ferentz is the new offensive coordinator for the Hawkeyes, and fans are hoping that move provides a spark on offense.
Iowa, in an 8-5 season in 2016, ranked 117th in total offense, 121st in yards per game and 95th in points per game. Not to pile on, but the team is losing quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels and leading receiver Riley McCarron along with tight end George Kittle.
Beathard threw for 17 touchdowns last season, and McCarron and Kittle accounted for eight of them. That is a lot of production to replace on a team that is already struggling to produce offensively.
Ferentz has a big task in front of him, and this season will pose a challenge to stay consistent throughout. Penn State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska are all on the schedule and should field good defenses.
Expectations might not be high for the Hawkeyes’ offense, but frustration levels could be if this season ends in a disappointing manner.
Minnesota: Can P.J. Fleck work his magic in Season 1?
Despite coming off a nine-win season, this is a completely different Minnesota team. There are big holes on the roster and issues with depth, which Fleck has noted in the past.
Offensive and defensive line numbers were an issue; quarterback Mitch Leidner is gone and because of sexual assault allegations; the secondary is depleted. But a good challenge has never scared off Fleck and he almost seems to thrive in the underdog position.
Dealing with the roster issues and a team that was divided early in his tenure could mean a rocky season for the Gophers. That is, unless Fleck can work his magic and get the team working together early in the season. In his first season with Western Michigan, the Broncos only won one game, so this isn’t new territory for Fleck and his staff.
This is somewhat of a different situation than Western Michigan, though, and there are some pieces that could work this season. At quarterback, the Gophers have former four-star Seth Green, Demry Croft and Conor Rhoda.
While the job is up in the air, there is competition and depth to build with, which should help. If Fleck can find his quarterback, that will help to row this boat away from a one-win season and toward another nine-win season for the Gophers.
Nebraska: Can Tanner Lee lead the offense?
The Huskers took on Tulane quarterback transfer Tanner Lee, and it looks as though the offense will be his to run. Taking over for Tommy Armstrong and a team that finished with nine wins last season, the fans are hoping and expecting to continue to progress forward.
At Tulane, Lee threw for 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, 14 of which came during his freshman season. Those numbers aren’t exactly reassuring for Nebraska fans, but Lee has been on campus for a year taking in the offense and getting adjusted.
Also, Armstrong only ranked 75th in passing yards last season, 76th in touchdown passes and 77th in passing efficiency, and the Huskers still won nine games. Lee doesn’t need to light the world on fire, especially with a defense that should be improved.
If Lee can manage games and not make big mistakes, the Huskers could be on their way to an excellent season. But at this point, it remains a question of what the quarterback position will look like with Lee.
Thorson started the season a bit rough, losing back-to-back games to Western Michigan and Illinois State while throwing for just one touchdown in the two games.
That can’t happen this season, and Thorson needs to take over from the start against Nevada and Duke if this is going to be the season Northwestern fans are hoping for. He will need help to do it, though.
The pieces are there as the Wildcats are really only losing two major starters on offense and will have a more experienced offensive line protecting Thorson. That experienced line should also help Jackson, who could join the four-time 1,000-yard rushing club with another good season.
Jackson’s rushing yards have continually increased each season, starting at 1,187 in 2014, 1,418 the following season and 1,524 last season. If he duplicates his rushing yards from last season, Jackson would be second all-time in Big Ten career rushing yards, behind Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne and ahead of Ohio State’s Archie Griffin.
That would be a huge boost and a big help to keep Thorson in control of the offense throughout the season. Those two will be the main pieces to how this offense runs, but they will need other names to step up and produce big numbers to finish this season the way fans are hoping it does.
Purdue: Can Jeff Brohm get this offense going?
Brohm was brought in partially because of his acumen and wizardry on the offensive side, which has been a big part of Purdue’s struggles in recent years.
Brohm has quarterback David Blough returning, but he is losing his top three receivers from last season in DeAngelo Yancey, Bilal Marshall and Cameron Posey. That raises the question of how Brohm will tweak the offense to adapt to what he does have on the roster.
This offense will very likely look different than what he had at Western Kentucky for quite some time, so the question is whether Brohm has enough pieces to create something that can be effective.
No one is expecting huge results in Season 1, but if he can show big improvements with this roster, that could be a good sign for the next few years under his regime.
Wisconsin: What will the defense look like with a new coordinator and new faces?
Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is now the head coach at Cal, and defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard was promoted to fill that spot. Leonhard has never called a play as a coordinator and ascended to this job very quickly in his short coaching career.
The Badgers are projected to still have an excellent defense, but bringing in a young coach to take over the defense will naturally raise questions on how that will translate. Add in the fact that the Badgers’ staff is also replacing big names on defense, and it becomes one of the bigger questions.
Those are big shoes to fill in a short amount of time for a new coordinator. Wisconsin opens with Utah State and Florida Atlantic, so there will be somewhat of an adjustment period that Leonhard and his defense will have to get everyone acclimated.
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