Network Bulletin - 2015 NFL Preseason and College Preview Issue
Volume 31, Issue 1 - Online at www.JimHuley.com - July / August 2015
Normally it's not a good thing to get into the summer months and not know yet who your starting quarterback is going to be, but it's really NBD (no big deal) at OHIO STATE.
In fact, the defending champion Buckeyes (14-1 last year) have three high-quality quarterbacks who could start this year - Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones - and you could make the case that any/all of the above could steer O-State to a second straight national title but what's head coach Urban Meyer gonna do?
Well, if he listens to Barrett's dad, then Miller should start ... say what?
That's right, the one-time Heisman Trophy candidate who only lost his starting job because of injury is in his final season at Columbus - note that Barrett is just a redshirt sophomore and the burly Jones is a redshirt junior - and if you go by that old football axiom that you shouldn't lose your starting job because of injuries, than it figures to be "Miller Time" but the elder Barrett did suggest that if either his son (injured last year in the Michigan game in late November) or Jones (who led playoff wins against Alabama and Oregon) are good enough to beat Miller out, than either Barrett or Jones should be No. 1. Stay tuned!
No matter who starts under center for Ohio State this year, this Big 10 crew heads into the 2015 season ranked #1 - a ranking it never held a year ago until finally beating Oregon 42-20 as 6-point underdogs in the College Football Championship Game - but what about the other teams that figure to give chase for this year's crown?
Here's a look at - what we believe - are Ohio State's five biggest threats to winning this year's crown with last year's SU (straight-up) records included alongside:
ALABAMA (12-2) actually sported a 21-6 lead over Ohio State in last year's Sugar Bowl game (a/k/a the national semifinals) but everything fell apart for Nick Saban's crew in that 42-35 loss as 7.5-point favorites and so no wonder there's major concern regarding this Crimson Tide defense that also allowed 40-plus points in a wild 55-44 win/cover against archrival Auburn. Maybe veteran ILB Reggie Ragland can pull things together for a 'Bama stop unit that could be leaky in the secondary once again.
TCU (12-1) comes off a monster year in more ways than one - the Horned Frogs piled up lots of greenbacks en route to a spiffy 11-2 ATS (against the spread) record - and folks in Fort Worth are whispering this year will be even better. No question QB Trevone Boykin (3,901 yards passing with 33 TD passes) should be on everyone's short list for this year's Heisman Trophy but can TCU win road games at Minnesota, Kansas State and Oklahoma?
OREGON (13-2) has won 60 games overall the past five years but zero national championships - last year's painful 22-point loss to Ohio State was a major embarrassment and that 22-19 loss to Auburn in the 2010 BCS Championship Game didn't feel so great either and so now this Pac-12 club must pick itself up by his glittery high tops and look to make another run to No. 1. Let's just say if third-year head coach Mark Helfrich can't decide by early September whether Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams, Jr. or Jeff Lockie (the backup to Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota last year) should be starting, then things could get messy.
BAYLOR (11-2) piled up 627 points a year ago (or 48.2 ppg) while leading the nation in total offense but the Bears surrendered 41 and 42 points in those losses versus West Virginia and Michigan State (the latter a come-from-way-behind late win by Sparty in the Cotton Bowl) and so boning up the "D" is critical if this Big 12 team wants to be in the hunt for a national title this year. Say bye-bye to record-breaking QB Bryce Petty and hello to Seth Russell who did toss eight TDs a year ago in reserve duty.
AUBURN (8-5) was a major money-burner a year ago while going 4-9 versus the vig - perhaps War Eagle was an overrated item going into the 2014 season? Well, flip forward to the here-and-now and the Tigers are getting plenty of preseason hype, thanks in large part to the team's new/old defensive coordinator Will Muschamp who served as Auburn's DC back in 2006-07 when this SEC gang rolled up a composite 20-6 SU mark. If Gus Malzahn's fast-paced offense starring QB Jeremy Johnson (28-of-37 passing last year) can score anywhere near the 35.5 ppg average from a year ago, watch out!
JIM HURLEY'S COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 10
1. OHIO STATE
THE REAL SLEEPERS
Okay, so you see how College Football Preseason Top 10 - you might prefer to call 'em the "usual suspects" - but keep in mind there's always a couple of teams that come out of the blue ... remember that last year TCU was listed among the "others receiving votes" in the Associated Press Top 25 poll prior to that aforementioned terrific 12-win season.
So, who should we all be paying attention to as potential "sleepers" come 2015? Here's a trio of teams that could be poll-climbers this year ...
ARKANSAS (7-6) fits the bill in terms of one thing we look for and that's a talented team that closes out the previous campaign with lots of positive momentum. The Hogs covered five of their final six games last year (and went 10-3 vig-wise overall in 2014) and they return both 1,000-plus yard running backs Jonathan Williams (1,190 yards rushing with 12 TDs) and Alex Collins (1,100 rushing yards with 12 TDs).
CINCINNATI (9-4) had all winter to absorb that 33-17 loss to Virginia Tech in last year's Military Bowl game but Tommy Tuberville's crew accomplished plenty while going 6-1-1 spreadwise in the team's final eight games. Now, a fully-stocked Bearcats bunch starring QB Gunner Kiel (3,254 yards passing with 31 TDs) should enjoy a special season that may include some football in January.
STANFORD (8-5) is considered a borderline Top 25 team this year but take note that the Cardinal - who won/covered its final three games last year including a resounding 45-21 triumph over Maryland in the San Francisco Bowl - bring back all 11 offensive starters and that's a unit that really perked up late in the year behind QB Kevin Hogan. If Stanford's somewhat retooled defense can rise up behind key LB Blake Martinez, then maybe early-season road wins at USC and/or Oregon State could lead to a memorable year on "The Farm".
COLLEGE FOOTBALL - MAJOR CONFERENCE REPORTS
Let's zip around the nation and get you quick-hitter looks at all the major conferences/leagues:
AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE
MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE
Early-Bird Prices On 2015 Network Football Won't Last Long
NFL PRESEASON PICKS & PREVIEWS
Jim Hurley's NFL PRESEASON PICKS & PREVIEWS are based on information obtained prior to press time. To get all the firmed-up game-day NFL Preseason winners, check with us at the exclusive toll-free # of 1-800-323-4453 or online at www.JimHurley.com after 10am ET on weekends and after 1pm ET for the weeknight games.
HALL OF FAME GAME: SUNDAY, AUGUST 9
PITTSBURGH vs. MINNESOTA (at Canton, OH): Annual NFL Hall of Fame Game but you know the deal as the "stars" only play a series or two at most and remember the Vikings (as per usual) won't be playing re-instated RB Peterson at all this summer. Check out the Steelers' new looks on defense as DC Butler replaces legendary coordinator LeBeau and wonder if he's gonna bring the blitz early against Minny's second-year QB Bridgewater. Good opportunity for Pittsburgh to play young RB Archer because RB Bell will miss the first three games of regular-season action with a suspension.
Hall of Fame Game Kicks off the Preseason
Steelers vs. Vikings (NBC) Sunday Night August 9
Free with a season subscription.
NFL PRESEASON WEEK 1
THURSDAY, AUGUST 13
NEW ORLEANS at BALTIMORE: The Saints shook up the nest a bit when they traded TE Graham to Seattle for a late first-round draft pick and so N'Orleans is looking to see who will be the go-to guys here this season but don't expect 15-year vet QB Brees to play more than a single offensive series here while rookie QB Grayson gets plenty of snaps against Ravens' defense that ranked 23rd in the league in pass defense a year ago. P.S., we'll see if Baltimore's first-round draft pick WR Perriman can get over his "dropsies" that have plagued 'em in camp. Baltimore 20, New Orleans 13.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 14
NY GIANTS at CINCINNATI: It's gonna be a real interesting summer for the Giants who are keeping fingers crossed that rookie LT Flowers will be the answer along this re-jiggered O-line while Cincy has designs on throwing the ball more in these preseason games after the Bengals ranked just 21st in the NFL in passing a year ago. Still, Cincinnati won't play much-maligned QB Dalton here and instead will go with the Johnson/Wenning combo under center and gotta feeling Giants' defense will cave in the pocket and batter both slingers. Maybe DL Pierre-Paul has a little "something to prove" to the NYG front office while he goes through contract hassles? Call it NY Giants 20, Cincinnati 15.
DENVER at SEATTLE: Surely get the feeling that the Seahawks will be asleep at the wheel this preseason after spending last six months fully digesting that ultra-painful Super Bowl loss to New England but before you get any ideas that the "Broncos plus points" are the way to go here, consider this is brand new season for the AFC West gang with HC Kubiak replacing four-year coach Fox and with QB Manning and lots of offensive folks not expected to get many (if any) snaps here. Still, there's things in the preseason we all can learn even when sitting a game out and so let's take some mental notes here and see if Seattle has any interest at all in playing four exhibition games this summer.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 15
** PREFERRED PICK ** PREFERRED PICK **
SAN FRANCISCO at HOUSTON: Remember the Texans are the subject of this year's HBO "Hard Knocks" series and gotta believe second-year HC O'Brien wants his guys to put best foot forward here against 49ers team riddled with offseason retirements and assorted other personnel changes. Look for Houston QB Hoyer to get in a couple of series here and unload some downfield strikes while San Fran won't expose QB Kaepernick all that much. Hey, this one could get out of hand if new Niners' HC Tomsula (the team's former defensive line coach) is more intent on getting snaps for all his new players. The Texans - we believe - will be playing for keeps this summer. Houston 25, San Francisco 10.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 16
INDIANAPOLIS at PHILADELPHIA: Get ready to see lots of Eagles' backup QBs here (that's Sanchez, Tebow, Barkley and Kinne) and not much of new starter Bradford who's been slowed in practice by his post-surgery knee woes. The flip side says the visiting Colts - one of the NFL's deepest teams around - want to spend plenty of preseason time eyeballing rookie WR Dorsett (he could be a major game-breaker down the road with QB Luck) plus remember Indy drafted five defensive players among its first six picks and so this winds up your glorified scrimmage of sorts ... pass!
THE NFL REPORT
Lots of pro football topics to tackle in our first Jim Hurley Network Bulletin of the season, but let's get things revved up with ...
RATING THE NEWEST HEAD COACHES:
JOHN FOX, Chicago Bears - Gotta admit we still don't know why everything crumbled the way it did in Denver (see lifeless 24-13 loss in the AFC Divisional Playoffs against 9.5-point underdog Indianapolis) but the truth is the four-year run in the Mile High City produced 49 regular-season wins (against just 22 losses) but a meek 3-4 post-season mark. Still, Fox is a winner and a master communicator (especially with his defenses) and he could flip the switch in Year One and make the Bears a 10-win team if things break right and if QB Cutler hits a few home runs.
JACK DEL RIO, Oakland Raiders - Believe what you want, but we rate Del Rio as a "better hire" for his team than anyone else out there save for Fox-to-the-Bears and here's one reason why: The silver-and-black need an established coach and a booming voice to turn the beat around and Del Rio is a "B+" type hire who will have a positive effect on this defense that last year allowed 47, 52, 41 and 38 points and was among the league's worst stop units in a 3-13 season.
REX RYAN, Buffalo Bills - No doubt the yappy former coach of the New York Jets came equipped to western New York with all his (tired) one-liners but this defensive whiz does figure to fine-tune an already stout stop unit but where in Ryan's history has he or his staff worked wonders with their own quarterbacks? Remember that Ryan's already "guaranteed" a playoff berth for the starving Bills fans.
TODD BOWLES, New York Jets - The new regime in NYC including GM Mike Maccagnan must be viewed as a tandem of sorts and we believe the jury is very much out on both gentlemen even though re-joining CB Darrell Revis with the J-E-T-S will make things go a bit more smoothly for gang green. Bowles has paid his dues as an NFL assistant - for sure -- and was wonderful as the DC in Arizona but not about to hand out any gold stars just yet and we could see some major growing pains.
GARY KUBIAK, Denver Broncos - Maybe this is too much a case of the "buddy system" with team boss John Elway wanting his old pal back in town but we rate Kubiak no more than an average head coach (our classroom grade would be a "C") despite a couple of playoff years in Houston in 2011 and '12. Sorry, just don't think this is the best short- or long-term fit for the Broncos as Kubiak falls in the "recycled coach" category.
JIM TOMSULA, San Francisco 49ers - If this relative unknown has a "positive" working for 'em it's that the Niners' defense loves the guy and that's got to count for something but all those retirements, defections, etc. will smack San Fan upside the helmet this year and - let's face it - if you could choose between Jim Harbaugh and almost any NFL head coach you probably would take the khaki-wearing Harbaugh, right?
DAN QUINN, Atlanta Falcons - The NFL's hottest assistant heading into last year's Super Bowl, this former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator has a yeoman's job ahead for a defense that allowed 29-or-more points in six different games last year and it's not as if CB Richard Sherman or S Earl Thomas is "walking through the door" at any moment to help this unit. Here's a word of advice to Mr. Quinn ... be patient!
POINTSPREAD NEWS & NOTES
Here's a little refresher course on the NFL's Pointspread Booms last year ...
- Arizona went 11-6 ATS (against the spread) last year including a nifty 8-4 spread mark as underdogs
- Dallas registered an 11-7 spread log last season but note the Cowboys covered 8-of-9 road games
- Houston banged out a 9-5-2 ATS season in 2014 and that included a 6-1-1 ATS mark as betting favorites
- Indianapolis finished last year at 12-6-1 vig-wise and that included a 10-4-1 ATS mark in AFC play
- Kansas City pounded out a 10-5-1 spread log last year and did you know the Chiefs were 6-2 ATS at home?
- Minnesota wound up 10-6 ATS a year ago after covering five of its final six games
NFL ODDS TO WIN IT ALL
Let's zip through the Super Bowl 50 Odds to Win it All (all prices below are based on $100 per-play):
|Seattle||6-1||The betting favs must overcome Super Bowl hangover|
|Green Bay||7-1||Packers have plenty of ammo for QB Rodgers|
|New England||8-1||Defending SB champs filled with new faces|
|Indianapolis||9-1||The next step in the march is SB 50, right?|
|Dallas||12-1||SB or bust for QB Romo and mates|
|Denver||12-1||Don't believe Manning trade talk at all|
|Philadelphia||20-1||The Chip Kelly Experiment begins now|
|Baltimore||25-1||Ravens could be major sleepers in '15|
|Pittsburgh||25-1||Zero playoff wins the past four years|
|Arizona||30-1||Can QB Palmer stay in one piece?|
|Cincinnati||35-1||Wake us when Bengals win in playoffs|
|NY Giants||35-1||"Lame duck" year for QB Manning is trouble|
|St. Louis||35-1||Rams could be major movers-and-shakers|
|Detroit||40-1||Lions take a huge step backwards|
|Kansas City||40-1||Lots of QB Smith questions still|
|Miami||40-1||The Fish could be bargains here|
|New Orleans||40-1||Has "window of opportunity" closed?|
|Atlanta||45-1||QB Ryan-to-WR Jones not enough|
|Carolina||45-1||Is this monster year for QB Newton?|
|Chicago||45-1||New boss Fox changes culture|
|Buffalo||50-1||Bills' offense (QB) bogs 'em down|
|Houston||50-1||The HBO Hard Knocks crew a sleeper?|
|Minnesota||50-1||Vikes a handful with two-pronged attack|
|NY Jets||50-1||Green gang still searching for a true QB|
|San Diego||50-1||Is this the last hurrah before moving to LA?|
|San Francisco||50-1||Post-Harbaugh Era has lots of new faces|
|Cleveland||100-1||Johnny Football to the rescue?|
|Oakland||100-1||Talk about your "black holes"|
|Tampa Bay||125-1||It's your team now, QB Jameis Winston|
|Washington||125-1||Hard to believe 'Skins have gone 7 years with no playoffs|
|Tennessee||200-1||Sorry to say Titans may yet have hit rock bottom|
|Jacksonville||250-1||Nine wins in last 3 years ... ugh|
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