Monthly Archives: August 2018

Notre Dame’s retooling O meets one of the country’s best defenses

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Rashan Gary

Week 1’s most attention-grabbing game will kick off a pair of brutal schedules.

Note: This Week 1 game preview was originally published in June. Read more on Michigan and Notre Dame from Bill Connelly’s 130-team preview series.

There’s not much margin on either Michigan’s or Notre Dame’s schedule.

The Wolverines are in a division with national frontrunner Ohio State, resurgent Penn State, and a quietly stacked Michigan State while facing some of the tougher Big Ten West teams in Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.

The Fighting Irish draw Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, and Florida State from the ACC, also face Northwestern, and play rivals Stanford and USC.

This rivalry’s Week 1 resumption was always going to be a major event, but it might also winnow out which team is poised for a top-10 season and which is rounding out the top 25.

Notre Dame’s retooled offense vs. maybe the country’s best D

The Wolverines had to replace nine starters in 2017 and still finished 10th in defensive S&P+. For 2018, they return eight starters, including leading tackler Devin Bush, top pass-rushers Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, and their entire nickel secondary.

In South Bend, the offense has to replace a pair of top-10-pick OL in LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quentin Nelson, fourth-round TE Durham Smythe, sixth-round WR Equanimeous St. Brown, and RB Josh Adams, who ran for 1,430 yards last season. The Irish return embattled QB Brandon Wimbush, who was benched during the bowl victory over LSU.

Despite losing arguably the most talented OL tandem in the program’s history, Notre Dame is returning two starters from last year’s OL, along with two who split time at right tackle and promising RS sophomore Liam Eichenberg at LT. Notre Dame is also loaded with large targets in the passing game, including TEs Alize Mack and Cole Kmet, big slot Chase Claypool (6’4, 229), and outside receiver Miles Boykin (6’4, 227).

The plan in year two with OC Chip Long is to make up for the loss of beef by expanding the RPO game that made Long’s Memphis so devastating. In 2017, the Irish leaned on Wimbush’s legs and their superiority up front. For 2018, they’re working to incorporate WRs like Boykin, who destroyed LSU in the Citrus Bowl, by using their QB’s arm, rather than his legs, as the complement to the run game.

For instance, the 2017 Irish loved to use plays like GT counter-read, with the QB reading a backside defender (here, the unblocked defensive end who chases the RB) for the keep option:

There is a quick passing option at the top of the screen. But in the 2018 spring game, they showed some more complex RPOs, such as this play that combined an out/go route combo with a split zone run:

The idea is to punish a cloud quarters coverage, in which the nickel is playing the edge against the run and the CB is trapping short passes. This makes the safety cover the go route while the offense is also mixing in a run play. The QB has to make some really good reads, but it makes life tough for even elite defenses.

Notre Dame is building this kind of balanced attack, but they have a lot of young components, and Michigan is a tough initial contest. The Wolverines will throw man coverage and pressures at the Irish, making Wimbush prove he’s ready to beat tight coverage.

Notre Dame’s got some big changes on defense, too

The Irish also took a loss when Texas A&M poached DC Mike Elko as a part of an “open the vaults!” offseason plan. Brian Kelly promoted LB coach Clark Lea, and the plan is to maintain the same defense, but with Irish stars moving around in an attempt at maximization.

Some of the big changes include sliding 6’7, 299-pound athlete Jerry Tillery from nose tackle to the 3-technique, so he can attack opposing backfields, and bumping LBs Drue Tranquill and Te’Von Coney down a spot, with Tranquill moving from nickel LB to the weakside LB position and Coney from there to middle LB. The upshot will be a faster defense, one that should be more challenging to throw against.

Stopping Michigan is always going to come back to handling the power O run game. While all eyes have been on transfer QB Shea Patterson, his eligibility, and his spring battle with Brandon Peters, the Wolverines have something much closer to the sort of OL that Harbaugh built his Stanford offenses around.

The key is an interior OL that will likely include Ben Bredeson (6’5, 308, 25 starts), Cesar Ruiz (6’3, 315, six), and Michael Onwenu (6’3, 350, eight) all of whom were recruited by Harbaugh to execute his power run game. The Wolverines have an absurd collection of TEs (four could see major action) and bruising FB Ben Mason back to lead the way for a pair of RBs (Karan Higdon, Chris Evans) who ran for a combined 1,679 yards in 2017.

The Wolverines will bring all kinds of formations and tricks …

… but often just to either isolate a TE in coverage or run power.

Notre Dame’s solution will be its 4-2-5 under, which puts big DE Khalik Kareem (6’4, 270) at the point of attack, along with nose tackle Jonathan Bonner (6’4, 293) and MLB Te’Von Coney, with the hopes of spilling runs to the rover LB, strong safety, or Tillery/Tranquill.

They held up okay against LSU’s power game in their bowl game …

… and they’ll need similar resolve at the point of attack to protect their field against Michigan.

The pick

Harbaugh wants a hard-nosed team that can run, play defense, and throw to TEs with play-action. The 2018 season could be when they finally have both the run game and the QB to put it all together.

Notre Dame has been pivoting under Brian Kelly to include more RPOs in the equation. If Michigan is ready to go with its young OL and Patterson at QB, then Notre Dame will really need Wimbush and the next generation of offensive stars to match them against a top defense.

Expect Michigan to win a tough contest here and become a leading contender for Ohio State’s Big Ten crown.

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Who’ll win Auburn-Washington, Week 1’s most important game?

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Unless the season goes off the rails, the winner of this game should have a nice item to show the Playoff committee.

Note: This Week 1 game preview was originally published in June. Read more on Auburn and Washington from Bill Connelly’s 130-team preview series.

Week 1’s most consequential game is in the middle of the afternoon on the first big Saturday, when Chris Petersen’s Huskies will step into Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta to take on Gus Malzahn’s Tigers. The S&P+ projections rank these teams No. 4 and No. 5, and it’s possible that this game could differentiate the two come Playoff selection time at the end of the year.

Think through the potential scenarios. We could see Auburn with only a loss to Alabama in a top-heavy SEC, hoping its win over the Pac-12 champ makes up for its lack of SEC West title. We could see Washington win a down Pac-12 despite a conference loss, but find itself confident in Playoff seeding, thanks to its win over an SEC power. However the rest of the season plays out, the winner of this game will likely enter Week 2 with the country’s best résumé item so far.

Here are some of the big matchups that could ultimately alter Selection Sunday.

1. Jarrett Stidham vs. the best secondary in the country?

Auburn is losing four mainstays from a bruising offensive line, including jack-of-all-trades Austin Golson and two-time All-SEC Braden Smith. Kerryon Johnson had a lot of success running behind them, and he’s moving on as well, leaving some youth and uncertainty to the normal feature of the Auburn offense, the run game.

However, War Eagle is in year two with new OC Chip Lindsey and transfer QB Jarrett Stidham, who threw for 3,158 yards last year, the first time this century an Auburn QB threw for 3,000 yards in a season (yeah, Heisman winner Cam Newton came close). His rebuilt OL should feature rising junior and star athlete Prince Tega Wanogho at LT after an impressive spring and UMass transfer and veteran RT Jack Driscoll, once he arrives for fall camp.

Gus Malzahn isn’t moving away from his smashmouth spread roots, and FB Chandler Cox returns to guarantee physical lead blocking.

But this offense is going to fling the ball around more than we’ve grown accustomed to. Stidham’s top three targets should all be back, with explosive slot Ryan Davis and big outside target Darius Slayton leading the way.

Of course, that’s a challenging way to approach beating this Washington team. The defense returns all five starters from a very good secondary on a top-10 S&P+ 2017 defense that was No. 2 nationally in minimizing explosive passing plays, as well as four other starters.

The Huskies play a multiple, speed-oriented style, with personnel up front that can morph from a 3-3-5 to a 2-4-5 thanks to the versatility of DE/LB Ryan Bowman.

The only really tough loss is NT Vita Vea, but the hole he’s leaving is likely to be filled by 322-pound returning starter Greg Gaines. And while Auburn’s interior run game could be good, it’s not the obvious strength it normally is.

The preferred style at Washington is to play single-high-safety coverages that mix and match which DBs and LBs end up in the four underneath coverage roles, while locking down the outside with CBs Austin Joyner and Byron Murphy. For example, the call above:

A mix of off-zone coverage and tighter pattern-matching, which ultimately creates a base four-man rush/cover 3 shell. If that sounds like a lot for a QB and his OL to figure out before and during a snap, it is.

But you can always just try to overpower it with the run game or beat the coverage outside (particularly the nickel and CB on this play).

Auburn might need Stidham to be ready to do the latter, but if his linemen aren’t ready to pick up the inside stunts, then even that might not matter.

2. Auburn’s D vs. Jake Browning and Co.

The Auburn defense is probably going to be the best and most talented unit Washington faces in the regular season. The Tigers return eight starters from last year’s salty unit and will be very tough between the hash marks, with all the experienced talent they have at DT, LB, and S.

Much like the Huskies, the Tigers tend to defer stress to their CBs outside while locking down the middle with the safeties and backers and leaning on a four-man rush.

The Tigers prefer to play quarters coverage and bring a more standard four-man rush, with their “buck” position player coming off the edge like a normal pass rusher. See No. 4, new Denver Bronco Jeff Holland, at the bottom of the line here, forcing Georgia into a sack:

DC Kevin Steele’s strategy is really simple: play sound defense and rely on talent and execution. The Tigers involve safety play aggressively on standard downs, but usually with two DBs in deep coverage and press coverage outside.

So beating the Tiger D comes down to execution. UCF did it with hybrid players who could play matchup games, tricky option tactics, and the improv ability of QB Milton McKenzie. Washington will probably lean on the hybrid/matchup game, thanks to having a veteran QB in Jake Browning and a roster filled with tight ends.

The name of the game has been about creating angles for speedy players, rather than overpowering teams in the trenches, although the Huskies will use multiple-TE sets towards that end too at times.

With Browning returning for his fourth year in this offense and what might be his best OL yet, the Huskies should have a variety of ways to attack, even if Petersen’s offense can’t exactly light up this talented defense.

This is a big chance for Petersen to prove his clever tactics can once again work against a highly talented opponent.

Out-executing the Auburn defense with a straightforward approach is a difficult path, but the Huskies’ familiarity with more creative game planning could be a leg up, though they weren’t quite there during their Playoff season, which included multiple-score losses to the Sam Darnold Trojans and to Alabama. They also stayed a step behind Penn State throughout last year’s bowl.

They could regain credibility by scoring on this defense and winning a strength-on-strength battle against the Auburn passing game.

Catching the Tigers early in the season, before their young OL gels, the Huskies should be able to pull off an impressive win (and slight upset, per Vegas), giving themselves a high ceiling moving toward December.

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How many points can Lane Kiffin score on Mike Stoops?

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Oklahoma’s probably gonna win, but let’s see whether FAU can turn this into a shootout.

Note: This Week 1 game preview was originally published in June. Read more on FAU and Oklahoma from Bill Connelly’s 130-team preview series.

One of the most fascinating — if not necessarily important — Week 1 contests is Oklahoma’s home opener against Lane Kiffin’s FAU. Kiffin had a great inaugural season at “Last Strike U” in 2017, going 11-3 while fielding an offense that ranked sixth nationally in opponent-adjusted S&P+.

Kiffin had already begun to explore RPO spread offense at Alabama, turning Amari Cooper into a horrifying weapon in 2014 by having him run routes attached to runs for Derrick Henry or T.J. Yeldon. At FAU, the Owls built a similar offense that unleashed sophomore RB Devin Singletary for a 1,918-yard season.

Oklahoma’s defensive reputation under Bob Stoops already took some hits when he brought back his little brother Mike Stoops and edged Brent Venables to Clemson. OU’s defense fell as low as 55th in 2016 S&P+, while Clemson became an annual top-10 defense.

But after Bob retired, the 2017 Oklahoma defense went off the rails, finishing 101st in S&P+ (as Clemson ranked No. 2).

Entering 2018, Mike Stoops’ defense loses top pass-rusher Obo Okoronkwo, leading tackler LB Emmanuel Beal, both starting safeties, and talented DT Du’Vonta Lampkin. The 2018 Sooners’ overhaul on defense will rely heavily on sophomores and freshmen, with Kiffin’s Owls serving as the first test.

OU’s a three-TD favorite and expected to be in Playoff contention again, but limiting the Owls would inspire some needed confidence in this defense.

Anything involving Kiffin won’t be boring. That goes for his offense, too.

While the story centered around Kiffin giving play-calling duties to since-departed OC Kendal Briles, the actual 2017 FAU offense was pretty close to Kiffin’s Alabama offenses. In fact, they started out close to Baylor and ended the year more like the Tide.

Simply running inside zone from a spread set became a considerable chunk of the attack, with some quick pass options attached outside, to help create angles for the runs. From there, it was Singletary running behind a dominant left side for gain after gain.

Singletary knew how to work the angles on the play. Ideally, the play works like a downhill power run, with a double-team block and a lead insert (watch the H-back go in motion toward the top of the GIF) on the backside of the play, with zone blocking to the play side.

If the defense wants to bunch up the middle and spill the ball to a DB, they can get into trouble. FAU would mix in zone-read and pass options outside, to punish defenders for attacking the run aggressively:

If linebackers paid too much attention to the H-back, Singletary was excellent at running to where they were being replaced by a small DB, then running him over:

Kiffin’s group returns both starting tackles while welcoming in Tulane’s starting center, Raul Diaz, as a grad transfer and JUCO OL Zach Bennett as a likely starting guard. They return leading receiver Willie Wright while adding West Virginia transfer Jovon Durante and promoting Texas transfer DeAndre McNeal. At QB, they have to replace Jason Driskel but figure to do so either with dual-threat JUCO (and former Last Chance U star) De’Andre Johnson or Oklahoma transfer Chris Robison.

Johnson was removed from the Florida State program after punching a woman at a bar. A blood clot in his arm kept him out in 2017. Robison was suspended from Oklahoma after being arrested for public intoxication after a spring game, then suspended by Kiffin before coming back.

Most likely the Owls will roll with Johnson and continue to run the option add-ons to their inside zone package.

This is a very difficult offense for linebackers and safeties to handle. While there are only a handful of blocking schemes, they’ll run inside zone in a variety of ways to pressure different defenders, and Singletary can always make a front pay for a mistake with a hard cut.

In 2018 the Owls could have a more dangerous passing dimension with one of their transfer QBs throwing to a talented receiving corps. They sprinkled in some deep shots in 2017 …

… and if they add more vertical passing off play-action, this offense could be devastating. It’s hard to keep safeties deep while facing Singletary’s run game, and thanks to the Owls’ policy of taking any and all transfers, they have Big 12-caliber athletes outside.

Meanwhile, Mike Stoops’ defense is overhauling the disastrous 2017 unit that arguably cost the program a championship.

This includes position changes and infusions of younger players into key spots.

At linebacker, they are backing away somewhat from the 3-4 base defenses in favor of moving former five-star outside linebacker Caleb Kelly inside to play next to sophomore and returning mike Kenneth Murray. The rest of the interior will revolve around the move of talented DL Neville Gallimore to nose tackle. Big sophomore Robert Barnes and senior Kahlil Haughton are in pole position to take the open safety jobs.

On the outside, Okoronkwo’s featured pass-rush spot should be filled either by Mark Jackson Jr. or Addison Gumbs, with the elder Jackson holding the advantage. The Sooners expect to play more nickel, to help against spread teams. and are plugging in freshman Brendan Radley-Hiles who received rave coverage in the spring. The cornerback spots could be in better shape, with freshman Tre Norwood emerging and Parnell Motley returning opposite him.

This is a group with the athletes to man up against FAU’s receivers and bring an extra defender up front to account for Singletary.

The question is, will that be enough? The Sooners have built their defense to load the box just about every year, only to blow assignments or get blown off the ball time and time again when facing better spread run games. For instance …

… and:

To say nothing of what happened against Georgia. In the former example, you see Kelly (No. 19) take a poor angle while trying to make a tackle as the extra man. In the latter, the DL and LBs aren’t on the same page against the option, and no one up front is playing a style that you’d describe as “physical.”

These Sooners were unrecognizable from a classic Bob Stoops team. They have been veering into shaky run defense against the spread for much of this decade.

They have a long way to go in order to play respectable run defense, and FAU will provide a much bigger test than your typical G5 program.

Can the young Sooner linebackers stay in position against FAU’s option-heavy, straight-ahead attack? Will the Sooners’ DBs make solo tackles on athletes like Singletary or Johnson? Or will we see Kiffin smirking on the sidelines while his obscure band of anti-heroes run roughshod over a recent playoff defense?

That’s a lot of fun questions for an 11 a.m. CT game in early September.

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7 winners and 4 losers from the NFL preseason

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Teddy Bridgewater has a new home, the Browns should always be on “Hard Knocks,” and four teams went 0-4 this preseason.

Everyone, give yourselves a pat on the back. You made it. I made it. We made it.

The preseason is officially in the books, and it’s been an eventful one. The 2018 preseason gave us a bit of everything — talented rookies hitting the stage for the first time, players trying to rebuild what they had in the past, and a boatload of highlight plays.

Before we look ahead to the first week of the regular season, let’s recap the big winners and losers of the 2018 preseason:

Winners: Sam Darnold gets the Jets job and Teddy Bridgewater finds a new team

It’s not often that a trade after the third week of the preseason results in a win for the player, but that’s what happened when the Jets shipped Teddy Bridgewater off to the New Orleans Saints.

Bridgewater’s play in the preseason made the Saints comfortable enough to trade a 2019 third-round pick for him (remember, the Saints already traded their 2019 first-round pick to get Marcus Davenport). While Bridgewater won’t be usurping Drew Brees for the starting job, it’s still encouraging to see a team invest a Day 2 pick in him.

It’s also a high enough investment to show that the Saints are interested in him potentially being the quarterback of the future.

That trade opened the door for Sam Darnold to comfortably take the reins as the New York Jets starting quarterback, possibly the only rookie passer who will start in Week 1. Darnold has had a conservative approach to throwing the ball, but he’s still shown off his signature playmaking ability that made him exciting to watch as a USC Trojan.

Darnold and Bridgewater are both in positions to be future starters and escaped the preseason without injury. That’s a win-win.

Loser: Nick Foles was all over the place

There’s no denying that Nick Foles’ peaks as a passer can take teams to great places. Consistency has been the biggest issue in his career, and he appears to be in a bit of a rut right now.

In two preseason games, Nick Foles went 16 of 26 for 171 yards, zero touchdowns, and two interceptions. He was also sacked six times and lost two fumbles. That’s a far cry from the quarterback that eviscerated the Vikings and the Patriots on the way to Super Bowl MVP.

After Foles’ three-turnover game against the Cleveland Browns, head coach Doug Pederson said he was “very disappointed” in Foles’ performance. There’s no telling which Nick Foles the Eagles are going to get, but that uncertainty has to be a little troubling with the Atlanta Falcons coming to town next week to start the season.

Philadelphia hasn’t announced if it’ll start the season with Foles or Carson Wentz, who’s coming off a late-season ACL tear. Wentz hasn’t been cleared yet, but it’s still possible the Eagles could play him in their season opener if he’s ready.

The Eagles are certainly capable of winning in spite of Foles — no teams have the combined offensive line and defensive line talent that the Eagles do. Still, strong quarterback play makes everything easier and Foles didn’t delivering this preseason.

Winner: The Patrick Mahomes/Tyreek Hill connection looks as good as advertised

The idea of pairing a howitzer-armed quarterback with a speed demon at wide receiver is always tantalizing, and it appears the Chiefs have a duo that will produce the exciting plays the we’ve come to love.

Mahomes and Hill already have one of the best plays of the preseason under their belt. In their Week 2 game against the Atlanta Falcons, Mahomes launched a ball almost 70 yards in the air to Hill who got behind three Falcons’ defenders for a touchdown.

For the preseason, Mahomes went a perfect 14 of 14 for 182 yards and a touchdown when targeting Hill. Mahomes still has some bumps to work out with the rest of his game, but he’s clearly on the same page with his best wideout. With the Chiefs’ defense looking porous in the exhibition games, Mahomes and Hill might need to rely on their big-play ability to get wins in the regular season.

Winner: Alfred Morris is right back at home

Alfred Morris was born to play for Kyle Shanahan. Morris had the best season of his career as a rookie playing for Shanahan when he was the offensive coordinator in Washington, rushing for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns.

After spending 2015 and 2016 in Dallas as a backup running back, Morris recently signed with the 49ers to reunite with Shanahan. His patience, vision, and strength make him a perfect fit for Shanahan’s zone-based running scheme.

In the 49ers’ third preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, Morris ran for 84 yards on 17 carries and showed flashes that he could be the same player from 2012.

Morris made a living running off the tackle on outside zone plays throughout his tenure in Washington. He looked right at home running Shanahan’s plays again versus the Colts.

Morris got the start in the 49ers’ final preseason game, though his appearance was brief. He carried the ball just two times for 5 yards.

Given the contract that Jerick McKinnon signed this offseason, Morris won’t be stealing the starting spot from him during the regular season. However, Morris does have the playbook familiarity and skill to beat out Matt Breida and see a good amount of playing time this season.

Loser: The Lions if Matthew Stafford gets even slightly hurt

Detroit brought in Matt Cassel to push Jake Rudock for the backup job behind Stafford, giving the club a veteran-youngster dichotomy to compete for a job. The good news is the two performed similarly this preseason. The bad news is they were both terrible.

Rudock completed 68 percent of his passes … for a whopping 5.0 yards per attempt. Cassel has been just as bad and even threw an ugly pick-six in the Lions’ Week 4 preseason game against the Browns. Neither man has shown any kind of proficiency beyond screen passes and quick outs. Third-and-long situations without Stafford have been hopeless. It’s so bad Pride of Detroit is ranking potential cutdown day casualties to come in and salvage the situation.

Winner: Chad Kelly stunted on Paxton Lynch for the Broncos’ backup job

When the Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million it was a pretty good sign that they weren’t optimistic Paxton Lynch would ever live up to his first-round draft status.

He had been awful enough to earn boos from Denver fans, with 14 completions on 29 passes for 102 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception through his first three preseason games. Then in the Broncos’ final preseason game, Lynch played the game of his life, completing 14 of 15 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

But it could have been too little, too late. John Elway gave Chad Kelly a vote of confidence before the game, saying he had done enough to earn the backup job.

Mr. Irrelevant 2017 didn’t have his best performance against the Cardinals, but he looked better as the game went on. Kelly also looked much better than Lynch earlier this preseason. In four games, he completed 40 of his 60 passes with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Denver may be interested in adding a veteran to help shore up the depth chart, but the team has reason to be really pleased with Kelly’s development.

Loser: Andrew Luck’s chances of playing a 16-game season

Luck missed all of the 2017 season due to a shoulder injury. The good news is he’s finally healthy for the 2018 season. The bad news is the Colts’ blocking might send him right back to injured reserve.

Indianapolis’ offensive line depth chart sports no fewer than three former first-round picks and is rounded out by a couple of Day 2 selections, but that group has looked disjointed throughout the preseason. The Colts needed a major improvement after allowing Jacoby Brissett to be sacked on a league-worst 10 percent of his dropbacks last year, but a combination of chemistry and awful timing have limited the unit to slow progress, if any.

Luck was sacked four times in just 36 dropbacks in the preseason, a rate worse than Brissett’s 2017. Former starting guard Jack Mewhort was forced to retire at 27 years old due to health concerns. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo has battled a hamstring injury during the preseason.

Add it all up, and you’re going to have a whole bunch of awkwardly complimented pass rushers in the AFC South this fall.

Winner: the Browns’ Hard Knocks experiment

In 2017, the Browns were losers. After allowing HBO to follow their team through training camp and the preseason, they’re now lovable losers.

Bob Wylie hates stretching, which is probably a bad thing for an offensive line coach to believe, but at least he’s hilarious and nonsensical with his explanations. Devon Cajuste made himself a fan favorite by explaining how much he loves rocks, and he might turn that newfound support into a roster spot if Seth DeValve’s injury concerns linger. Todd Haley did Todd Haley things —that is, acting like a total dick. Brad Paisley showed up, for some reason! That’s probably not something that happens without HBO being there.

On the flip side the show did, however, confirm the mounting suspicions Hue Jackson may not be very good at his job.

We kinda wish the Browns could be on every season of Hard Knocks.

Winner: The legend of Michael Dickson

It’s not that rare for a punter to get drafted. In the past decade, an average of two punters have been selected each draft. It’s not that often a team trades up to get one, though — especially a team that already has a solid punter who holds many of the franchise records.

But the Seahawks did just that this April, trading up in the fifth round to take Texas punter Michael Dickson. The 22-year-old Aussie with a background in Australian Rules Football was a star with the Longhorns; he even won MVP honors in their bowl game and then declared early for the draft.

So it wasn’t terribly surprising that his monster leg translated to the NFL — or that Seahawks veteran punter Jon Ryan asked for his release this preseason. What might be a surprise is just how his complete his skills are, from hang time to ball placement to tackling even, the one time he outkicked his coverage.

After the third week of the preseason, Peter King took a look at Dickson’s ability to put just the right spin on his punts to get them to bounce perfectly out of bounds:

And Seahawks fans LOVE HIM, as they should:

Here at SB Nation, we’re big fans of good f***ing punts anyway. Having Dickson in the league will only give us something else to celebrate. As for the Seahawks, they have a player who can help win the field position battle, which could come in handy for a team that pretty much blew up its roster outside of Russell Wilson.

Loser: The Super Bowl hopes for the Falcons, Cowboys, Titans, and Seahawks

OK, so that’s a little dramatic. Yes, the Falcons, Cowboys, Titans, and Seahawks finished the month 0-4, but preseason doesn’t really matter. After all, the only two teams to go 0-16 in the regular season (2008 Lions, 2017 Browns) also went 4-0 in the preseason.

Last season, four teams were perfect in the preseason: the Browns, Ravens, Seahawks, and Broncos. All four missed the playoffs.

HOWEVER, in the 16-game season era, no team has gone winless in the preseason and then won the Super Bowl that same year. Washington did it in 1982, although the regular season was only nine games due to a players’ strike.

The Falcons and Cowboys have at least been here before — though they both came up short of a Super Bowl. The Falcons were 0-4 in the preseason last year and made it to the NFC Divisional Round. Same thing for the Cowboys in 2014. So while preseason performance is not necessarily an indicator of regular season success, it’s also not the greatest omen for these four teams.

On that note, congratulations to the defending Super Bowl champs. The Eagles eked out an extremely preseason 10-9 win over the Jets in their final warmup to avoid the same 0-4 fate.

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Your Week 1 college football schedule Watch Grid

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Guiding you to the best games all throughout five days of college football.

College football is back, and so is its annual tradition of kicking off with a large sprawl across Labor Day weekend. Thursday night is considered opening night by most people, whether that’s technically accurate or not (it’s not), Saturday is the first day of the season with actual big games, and things might continue until very early Tuesday morning.

Below, you’ll find each group of games, sorted for you according to watchability. That doesn’t always mean the best teams — sometimes it means mediocre teams who are highly capable of producing dramatic, messy football. Let’s go!

As for streaming online, here are the links associated with almost every TV channel listed below.

[Note: Thursday games removed, for your Friday and Saturday convenience.]

Friday, Aug. 31 college football schedule

Those of you not at the Shutdown Fullcast live show do not appear to have a strong night of viewing ahead of you. Cuse-WMU and Army-Duke could get silly in very different ways (POINTSsplosion or game-winning 37-play drive, respectively), and SDSU is always capable of beating a Pac-12 team, but keep your eyeballs fresh for the Rocky Mountain Showdown. CSU’s already played one super dumb game this season, so let’s go for two [Tom Osborne voice].

Saturday, Sept. 1 college football schedule

Early shift

We are starting off the day at maximum stupid. “Ole Miss-Texas Tech” is quite possibly the most combustible matchup in all of college football. In more consequential matters, see how many points Lane Kiffin can dump on Mike Stoops.

Middle shift

Likely the weekend’s most important game should hog your main screen here, but this is a sneaky great window. Somebody’s losing a game they really shouldn’t! And Boise State-Troy is possibly the best non-power game of the year to not involve an AAC team.

Why does Austin Peay-Georgia feature Paintbrush art? Because I forgot TV and didn’t feel like going back into the spreadsheet for another screenshot. Next question.

Late shift

Maybe I’m being generous, but I really don’t see many sure snoozers in this list. There’s only one true standout game, though.

Actually, I am being generous, because I moved Louisville-Alabama up from the It’s football group just so the screenshot of my spreadsheet would fit better. Yes, I’m more interested in watching South Dakota State-Iowa State than in Louisville-Bama, and you should be, too.

Sunday, Sept. 2 college football schedule

The only game is No. 8 Miami vs. No. 25 LSU at 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC. It might end up with a final score of 11-8, but you should watch it.

Labor Day college football schedule

No. 20 Virginia Tech at No. 19 Florida State (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) shuts down the weekend. If the Hokies can make up for losing like six sevenths of their roster (approximately) over the offseason, this could be a good one, or we could all clock out a little early and prepare for Week 2, which starts three days later.

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Google News serves conservatives and liberals similar results, but favors mainstream media

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Hey Google: How’s your news? BigTunaOnline/

Google News does not deliver different news to users based on their position on the political spectrum, despite accusations from conservative commentators and even President Donald Trump. Rather than contributing to the sort of “echo chamber” problem that critics fear have plagued Facebook and other social media networks, our research has found that Google News algorithms recommended virtually identical news sources to both liberals and conservatives. That’s an important point to keep in mind when evaluating accusations that Google News is biased.

Our findings are part of an ample and growing body of research on this question. Online services – including Google’s regular search function – may provide intensely personalized information. But media scholars like us have found that when it comes to news, search engines and social media tend to lead people not to a more narrow set of sources, but rather to a broader range of information. In fact, we found, Google News is designed to avoid personalized search results, intentionally constructing a shared public conversation based on traditional criteria of journalistic values.

There is, however, one aspect of this lack of personalization that may strike conservatives the wrong way: Established mainstream news outlets strongly dominate the results, regardless of what a user is searching for. Of all the Google News recommendations we collected, a full 49 percent – nearly half – were to just five national news organizations: The New York Times, CNN, Politico, The Washington Post and HuffPost. And those five, much like other mainstream news organizations, tend to be seen as center-left.

In addition, Google News favors sites with original reporting – as well as ones that produce large numbers of articles, respond reasonably quickly to events and have larger staffs. Those criteria, which don’t directly have anything to do with a news organization’s political bent, do appear to disadvantage explicitly partisan right-wing commentary sites, which tend to be small, low-volume and do little of their own on-the-ground reporting. And it’s definitely true that users don’t know how Google News works. The company, like many of its ilk, is tight-lipped about how its news and other algorithms function – at least in part to prevent media companies from gaming the system to favor their own material.

How we tested for echo chambers

Shortly before the 2016 election, we studied what would happen when people searched for news about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Google News. Specifically, we used Amazon Mechanical Turk to recruit a diverse set of 168 people in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. Participants were of different ages, education levels and political views: 41 percent identified as liberals and 26 percent identified as conservatives. The remaining 33 percent did not declare a political affiliation.

We asked them to search Google News for news about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump while logged in to their personal Google accounts, and report the first five stories they were recommended on each candidate. We repeated this on two separate occasions, once after a presidential debate and later during a slow news period. Then we compared the stories that people were recommended.

The fact that they were logged in to their Google accounts was important: Google, of course, collects huge amounts of data about each of its users, and could leverage that information when returning search results. Therefore, we expected to find people getting different article recommendations based on their prior search history and online activity, as recorded by Google and applied to the results they got from Google News.

That’s not what we found at all. Instead, liberals and conservatives were recommended virtually identical news sources.

No collusion against conservatives

We found, as have others, no evidence that major technology companies collude against conservatives or tweak their algorithms to return politically slanted search results.

In fact, some have suggested that the opposite may be true. In the run-up to the 2016 election, Facebook was accused of yielding to charges of bias, moving to favor right-wing views by letting leading conservatives investigate its internal biases. Twitter has been similarly accused for protecting InfoWars in 2018.

Further, as tech journalist Kara Swisher has argued, “Mr. Trump himself is the most voluble politician ever to use digital media, and his entire existence has been amplified, echoed and re-echoed over and over again by the tools that Silicon Valley has let loose on the world over the past two decades.”

Who determines what gets prioritized online?

However, there is reason to understand – even if not to agree with – claims of bias. First, Google News search results do favor legacy news organizations, ones with a long history. In our study, of the 14 news sites that ranked highly on at least one search, only three were newer “digital-first” news organizations. The rest were legacy newspapers, national TV stations and magazines.

Whether this is a problem – and if so, how much of one – is largely up to individual interpretation. For people who care that public discourse is based on a shared set of facts, it’s good news to learn that most people get the same results when they search Google News. And for people who believe that long-standing news producers with proven track records are best equipped to report on current events, our research is reassuring.

Trust in the news media

Yet across the political spectrum, Americans have far more trust in their local media than in the national media organizations that dominate online – including the results of Google News. It’s especially difficult to trust search engines and social media sites whose algorithms are secret, complex and constantly changing.

Ultimately, the concerns about algorithms and technology boil down to the principles that guide recommendation engines in shaping what reports get the most attention. Should Google News prioritize stories that adhere to traditional journalistic norms? Or should it reflect some other, yet undetermined standard? Trump’s rhetoric resonates with his supporters because, to them and others, the answer is not so clear-cut.

People have different visions of how societies should narrate their shared life. That’s perhaps why concepts of news judgment and balanced coverage largely assume that human editors will be involved. Algorithms can’t solve these quandaries – but they can help bring sharper focus to the public debate of the role news should play in a democratic society. Trump’s latest attacks may forestall that debate, though, by doing to technology companies what he did to the press: convincing many people they are “fake” and thus not to be trusted at all.

The Conversation

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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VIDEO: MTN8 Semi-Finals Preview

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Wafa-wafa! The MTN8 Semi-Finals continue this weekend. Kaizer Chiefs welcome SuperSport United at the FNB Stadium, while Mamelodi Sundowns take on Cape Town City at the Lucas Moripe.

Which teams will go through to the final?

Our soccer analysts, Eggs Benedict Ngwenya and Banele Pikwa, discuss the 2018 semi-finals. We’d love to know your thoughts as well, have your say in the comments section below!

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Teko calls for ‘culture change’

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Teko Modise has asked South African fans to be more supportive of PSL players.

In the wake of the Thamsanqa Gabuza incident, Teko Modise has asked South African fans to be more supportive of PSL players.

Gabuza provided an assist for a Black Leopards own goal in Orlando Pirates’ 2-1 win on Tuesday.

He then threw his jersey towards the Bucs supporters and subsequently walked off the pitch and down the tunnel, seemingly in protest at those fans who have been on his case for missing chances in front of goal.

Cape Town City midfielder Modise, who previously played for SuperSport, Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns, has also had to deal with booing fans over the years.

It’s something that if you overlook, it’s going to be a big problem,” the 35-year-old Modise told the Sowetan.

“I don’t condone what he [Gabuza] did, but I understand how it feels, because I was once in that position.

Not every player is strong to sustain those kind of things and keep going. It’s not easy at all,” he said.

In closing, Modise voiced his admiration for Gabuza’s unselfish team work.

I’ll die to have Gabuza as my teammate today, because of the stuff that he does on the pitch. He’s selfless. Let’s start a new culture in South Africa and let’s be supportive.”

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MTN8: Semi-Finals Second Leg Preview

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MTN8: Semi-Finals Second Leg Preview

Second legs of two-legged encounters are very exciting because you already know what each team needs to do to progress to the next stage of the competition and this weekend’s MTN8 action will be no exception. Kaizer Chiefs managed to come back from 2-1 down to salvage a 2-2 draw at SuperSport United, which means Matsatsantsa are now chasing the game. Elsewhere, Mamelodi Sundowns couldn’t hold their own at Cape Town City where they were beaten 1-0 in a one-sided encounter. Can home ground advantage help the Brazilians overturn the score? Which two teams will go through to the final?

Saturday 1 September 

Kaizer Chiefs 9/10
Draw 22/10 
SuperSport United 3/1

The first leg was a thrill-packed encounter which ended in a 2-2 draw which puts Kaizer Chiefs on the front foot. However, they can’t overly on the two away goals because complacency might creep in. Last week, coach Solinas gave Bongolwethu Jayiya a chance but he failed to make his presence felt and I foresee him being benched for the second leg especially if newly-signed Lebogang Manyama is available for selection.

The only thing I don’t understand from Chiefs’ midfield point of view is Siphelele Ntshangase being asked to play in a deeper role as his defensive ineptitudes are well known. I hope Johannesburg-based Chiefs fans come out in numbers for a change as attendance figures have been poor in recent weeks.

In terms of their record so far this season, Kaizer Chiefs have played six competitive matches, winning once, losing once and drawing the rest. Their counter-attacking tactics seemed to work last week as they caught SuperSport on transition a couple of times but they didn’t utilise most opportunities they created.

SuperSport United need nothing less than a victory or a high scoring draw to progress to the ultimate stage of the competition. Man of the Match award winner in the first leg, Bradley Grobler, had the game of his life, netting a brace and getting a couple more shots on target and Amakhosi have got to be wary of him at the FNB Stadium.

Defensively, SuperSport need to improve when it comes to dealing with counter attacks as they nearly got caught a couple of times last week, but Chiefs weren’t clinical enough in front of goal or forwards wouldn’t connect with the final pass.

Former Bidvest Wits midfielder, Phumlani Ntshangase played in defence, and alongside Aubrey Modiba, did well in terms of helping the team with pace as the two centre-backs, Clayton Daniels and Bongani Khumalo are slow. Kaizer Chiefs will be looking to avoid a penalty shootout at all costs as Ronwen Williams is arguably the best in the country when it comes to saving those. This will be a thrill-packed encounter which I foresee ending in a score draw with Kaizer Chiefs going through – just be brave and say 1-1.

Sunday 2 September

Mamelodi Sundowns 6/10 
Draw 3/1 
Cape Town City 9/2 

Cape Town City are pretty much in the driving seat in this encounter as they take a 1-0 lead to Lucas Masterpieces Moripe Stadium to take on a Sundowns team which has endured a heavy workload in recent weeks. Pitso Mosimane had to put out a second-string team last week which had no answers to questions posed by the Citizens in Cape Town.

I’m expecting the Brazilians to be a bit stronger at home as they’ll have gotten the must-win CAF Champions League clash against Horoya AC out of the way. The fact that they won’t have to travel as they play back-to-back matches at home will also help their cause.
In terms of permutations, Sundowns have to win by two or more goals to go through. A 1-0 win would mean they’ve reversed the score and the match will be decided on penalties as there will be no extra time.

The visitors, who are already leading, need just one goal which would mean Sundowns need to win by three or more goals. The team played attacking football in Cape Town and had they been more clinical, they’d have won the first leg convincingly. On this occasion, they’re playing Sundowns’ first team and they need to work twice as hard.

City have now defeated Sundowns four times out of six meetings and the other two were won by the Brazilians. There’s been no draws in matches between these two sides and all matches were decided by a one-goal margin. I’m expecting the trend to continue hence why I’m putting my money on a narrow victory for Sundowns.

DOUBLE @ 4/1
Chiefs vs SuperSport Draw 21/10
Sundowns Win 6/10

Written by Benedict Ngwenya

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English Premier League: Gameweek 4 Preview

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English Premier League: Gameweek 4 Preview

This is the league we all want to watch, and gameweek three showed us just why. Champions, Manchester City, dropped points at last season’s Championship winners, Wolves, while Tottenham Hotspur ran riot at Old Trafford, claiming a massive 3-0 win over Manchester United. Is Jose Mourinho’s time running up at United? Elsewhere, Watford, Chelsea and Liverpool maintained their 100% record, while Unai Emery picked up his first win as Arsenal boss. More of the same in gameweek four, please!


Saturday 1 September

Leicester City 11/2 
Draw 37/10 
Liverpool 9/20 

Leicester City and Liverpool kick-start proceedings in the Premier League this weekend, a match that many regard as the biggest blockbuster of the weekend. The Foxes have been in decent form since their opening day defeat at Old Trafford to Manchester United, winning their last two games. Liverpool lead the way with three matches played so far, proving that this could be their year, being the only team yet to concede a goal this season. Leicester City will still be without Jamie Vardy, who has a brilliant record against the top six in England, while Dejan Lovren could possibly make his return to the Reds squad. It may sound cynical, but back Liverpool to drop their first points of the campaign. Take the Foxes on the Win/Draw Double Chance here at 31/20.

Chelsea 3/10  
Draw 5/1 
Bournemouth 17/2 

Maurizio Sarri will be looking to keep up his perfect record at Chelsea when they host Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth team. Chelsea are one of four teams to win all three of their matches played so far, while the Cherries can also take some positives from their first three encounters, heading into the new month unbeaten with two wins. The Blues have looked brilliant going forward, but there’s still question marks that hover over their defence. I expect Chelsea to win here, but I fancy Bournemouth getting on the scoresheet. Back a Blues Win & Both Teams to Score at 14/10 here.

Crystal Palace 19/20  
Draw 24/10 
Southampton 31/10 

Crystal Palace return to Selhurst Park this weekend when they prepare to host a Southampton side who remain winless since the start of the new campaign. Palace may have lost two consecutive matches, but there were certainly some positives to take from their last home game in which they lost to Liverpool. The Saints suffered their second 2-1 defeat in a row when they were left heartbroken by a superb last-minute Harry Maguire strike to rub salt in the wounds of the Southampton supporters. The Saints should struggle again here against a side who have looked much more up for the challenge than their opponents. Back the Eagles here at 19/20.

Everton 11/20  
Draw 3/1 
Huddersfield 52/10 

Everton fought on hard yet again as they had to play with a man short for the second time this season as multi-million-pound signing, Richarlison, received his marching orders in the first half. Huddersfield picked up their first point of the season when they drew 0-0 with Cardiff last weekend. The Terriers are backed by many to fall down to the Championship at the end of the season, and so far, have done nothing to change their doubters’ minds. Marco Silva could give new boys, Yerry Mina and Andre Gomes, a run out, while a rejuvenated Theo Walcott seems to have found his best form again. Get on the home win here and include in all multiples.

Brighton 13/10  
Draw 23/10 
Fulham 9/4 

Brighton did what they could but were just not good enough at Anfield as they suffered a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool. It wasn’t the result they had hoped for, especially after beating Manchester United, but there were positives to take into their next match. Fulham picked up their first win of the campaign, and what an emphatic one it was. The Cottagers smashed four passed Burnley, but their defence is still an area that needs to be addressed by coach, Slavisa Jokanovic. My money is on a draw.

West Ham 31/20  
Draw 23/10 
Wolves 18/10 

West Ham head into the new month with an unwanted record of being the only team in the league yet to pick up a single point so far. Still, somehow, there has been some signs that West Ham will cause plenty of teams problems this season. Wolves picked up the result of the weekend, holding off the champions, Manchester City, to a 1-1 draw. They did score a wrongfully given goal, but that’s football, and sometimes you have to take what you can get, especially against the best team in the land. After such an impressive draw, the worst that Wolves could do now is drop points at the league’s most underperforming side. Funny enough, I expect just that. West Ham are a good value bet here at 31/20.

Manchester City 1/8  
Draw 8/1 
Newcastle United 21/1 

Manchester City will be looking to get their title defence back on track when they host Newcastle United this Saturday evening. City dropped their first points of the campaign, sharing the spoils at Wolves, although, had there been VAR in the league, some might argue that Pep Guardiola’s side would not have conceded that handball goal. Newcastle fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Chelsea, and although it was an exciting last few minutes of the game, the way the Toon set up was absolutely atrocious. They played for a goalless draw, and although some harsh decisions went in favour of the opposition, playing like that only brings negativity into the camp. If Newcastle sit back and keep up their defensive antics, they could be in for an annihilation. The Citizens on the Half-time/Full-time win is priced up at 4/10 – one worth including in all multiples.

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Sunday 2 September

Cardiff 9/2  
Draw 31/10 
Arsenal 6/10 

Cardiff City will be hoping they can upset the applecart and pick up their first victory since their return to the top flight. The Bluebirds are the only team in the Premier League yet to score a single goal this campaign. Unai Emery claimed his first win as Arsenal boss when the Gunners came out 3-1 victors against West Ham United. It’s fair to say that Emery got his changes right as his Arsenal team looked better and better after each substitute. Cardiff haven’t scored in their last four meetings against Arsenal and are still yet to break their duck this season. The away win is tipped here at 6/10.

Watford 17/4 
Draw 31/10 
Tottenham 6/10 

Watford and Tottenham do battle in what promises to be a thrilling affair with both teams winning their opening three games. The Hornets have been fun to watch thus far, with Roberto Pereyra netting three goals to his name, leading the way alongside some of the best attackers in England. Tottenham come off the back of a brilliant performance at Old Trafford, hammering Manchester United 3-0 in what proved to be a one-sided second half. Lucas Moura was the star of the show, while Harry Kane netted his second goal in succession. Take Over 2.5 Goals at 7/10.

Burnley 47/10  
Draw 11/4 
Manchester United 13/20 

Winless Burnley face a massive test against a Manchester United side looking to bounce back after two consecutive defeats. The Clarets have been plagued with a tough schedule, playing two UEFA Europa League qualifiers since the start of the league. United played well in the first half against Spurs but capitulated in the second half as Tottenham ran riot and claimed a 3-0 win in front of the Manchester United hierarchy, and thousands of supporters, who had had enough before the final whistle had gone. They’ve conceded six goals in two games, and Jose Mourinho needs a massive response from his players. At 23/20, Both Teams to Score seems like a bet worth having a punt on.

TREBLE @ 4/1
Crystal Palace Win 19/20
Everton Win 11/20
Arsenal Win 6/10

Written by Jesse Nagel

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