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GEORGIA BEGINS QUEST FOR 3RD STRAIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP AS NO. 1 IN AP TOP 25. MICHIGAN, OHIO STATE NEXT
Georgia will begin its drive for an unprecedented college football championship three-peat as the No. 1 team in The Associated Press preseason Top 25.
The Bulldogs received 60 of 63 first-place votes in the poll released Monday to easily outpoint No. 2 Michigan, which received two first-place votes and has its best preseason rankings since being No. 2 in 1991. The Wolverines’ Big Ten rival, Ohio State, is No. 3 with one first-place vote.
Two more Southeastern Conference teams join Georgia in the top five. Alabama is No. 4, the Crimson Tide’s lowest preseason ranking in more than a decade, and LSU starts at No. 5, its best preseason ranking since 2016.
The Bulldogs have won the last two national titles while going 29-2, but this will be only the second time in program history they have been preseason No. 1. The first was in 2008.
Georgia started the 2021 season No. 5, before going on to win its first national title since 1980. The Bulldogs followed up with a perfect season in 2022 after being preseason No. 3.
The Bulldogs have had 25 players drafted by NFL teams the last two years, including quarterback Stetson Bennett and All-America defensive tackle Jalen Carter this past April. Coach Kirby Smart has built a program to rival Nick Saban’s Alabama dynasty so voters are now giving Georgia the Crimson Tide treatment.
Alabama had been preseason No. 1 each of the last two seasons, and five of the previous seven. Clemson was preseason No. 1 in the other two seasons, making Georgia the first team other than the Tide or Tigers to be preseason No. 1 since Ohio State in 2015.
Alabama is also the last team to win back-to-back major college football national championships, doing so in 2011 and ’12.
No team has won three straight national titles during the AP poll era, which dates to 1936. For the record, Minnesota, the first official AP champion, was retroactively crowned champion for the 1934 and ’35 seasons by a couple of organizations.
Coach Bernie Bierman’s Gophers from long ago are the closest thing major college football has to a three-peater.
“We have not addressed that with them,” Smart said during SEC media days of chasing college football history. “We’ve certainly looked at some three-peat scenarios of teams like the Bulls and different sports teams that they might actually know about. No offense to the Minnesota 1935 team, but I don’t know if it’s going to resonate with my audience.”
The Bulldogs are reloading on the defensive front and at quarterback, but do not lack for stars. Tight end Brock Bowers is one of the nation’s best players; linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson was a second-team All-American; and center Sedrick Van Pran anchors one of the country’s most talented offensive lines.
Rounding out the top 10 is Southern California at No. 6, which is the Trojans’ best preseason ranking since 2017, followed by Penn State, Florida State, Clemson and Washington.
The Seminoles are back in the preseason rankings for the first time since 2018, and in the top 10 for the first time since 2017.
STARTING ON TOP, STAYING ON TOP
Since the AP preseason poll started in 1950, 11 teams that started No. 1 also finished No. 1. Only two of those have occurred since 2000: Southern California in 2004 and Alabama in 2017.
“The threat for us is complacency,” Smart said. “The first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it’s a threat. Like if you acknowledge the complacency is a threat, it’s the first step towards stomping it out.”
TIDE’S OUT … OF THE TOP THREE
For most schools, a preseason No. 4 ranking would feel pretty good.
For Alabama, it feels like a sign of decline. The last time the Crimson Tide had a lower preseason ranking was 2009. That was Year 3 for Saban in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama went on to win the first of six national championships during his unprecedented run.
This preseason poll is the first since 2015 in which the Tide did not receive at least one first-place vote.
The Tide did run its record streak of top-five preseason rankings to 15. Next best in poll history is 11 for Florida State in 1990-2000. Ohio State has had 11 top-five preseason rankings since 2009.
Over the last three years, schools have been redrawing the conference maps.
This year, the Big 12 has four new members, the American Athletic Conference has six and Conference USA has four.
The really flashy moves come in 2024.
This season will be the last with Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 ( before moving to the SEC ) and maybe the last with a Pac-12 at all. USC, UCLA, Oregon and Washington will play in the Big Ten next year while Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah move to the Big 12 as major college football moves toward sprawling super conferences.
Heading into this season the breakdown by conference of teams in the Top 25:
SEC — 6 (Nos. 1, 4, 5, 12, 22, 23).
Big Ten — 5 (Nos. 2, 3, 7, 19, 25).
Pac-12 — 5 (Nos. 6, 10, 14, 15, 18).
Big 12 — 4 (Nos. 11, 16, 17, 20).
ACC — 3 (Nos. 8, 9, 21).
American Athletic — 1 (No. 24).
Independent — 1 (No. 13).
If sorted by next season’s conference alignment the breakdown looks like this:
SEC — 8 (Nos. 1, 4, 5, 11, 12, 20, 22, 23).
Big Ten — 8 (Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 15, 19, 25).
Big 12 — 3 (Nos. 14, 16, 17).
ACC — 3 (Nos. 8, 9, 21).
Pac-12 — 1 (No. 18 – counts Oregon State as a Pac-12 team).
American Athletic— 1 (No. 24)
Independent — 1 (No. 13).
SCOUTING THE TEAMS IN THE PRESEASON AP TOP 25, FROM GEORGIA TO TEXAS TO IOWA
A look at the preseason AP Top 25 from Georgia to Iowa:
No. 1 Georgia
2022 finish: 15-0, No. 1 final ranking.
Key games: vs. South Carolina, Sept. 16; vs. Florida in Jacksonville, Oct. 28; vs. No. 22 Mississippi, Nov. 11; at No. 12 Tennessee, Nov. 18.
Potential All-Americans: TE Brock Bowers, C Sedrick Van Pran; LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson, DB Javon Bullard.
Outlook: The Bulldogs are favored to become the first team in The Associated Press poll era to win three straight national championships. While they must replace QB Stetson Bennett and three first-round NFL draft picks, Georgia is loaded on both sides of the line. The biggest question mark is who will start at quarterback, with Carson Beck appearing to have the inside track.
No. 2 Michigan
2022 finish: 13-1, No. 3.
Key games: at Michigan State, Oct. 21; at No. 7 Penn State, Nov. 11; No. 3 Ohio State.
Potential All-Americans: QB J.J. McCarthy; RB Blake Corum; OG Zak Zinter; CB Will Johnson.
Outlook: The Wolverines are seeking their first national title since 1997 after winning two Big Ten titles and losing in the CFP semifinals twice. McCarthy is in his second season as a starter and has plenty of help with an experienced OL, Corum and RB Donovan Edwards in the backfield. An influx of transfers, including C Drake Nugent (Stanford) and CB Josh Wallace (UMass), help Jim Harbaugh have perhaps his best team in nine years as the coach at his alma mater.
No. 3 Ohio State
2022 finish: 11-2, No. 4.
Key games: at Notre Dame, Sept. 23; vs. No. 7 Penn State, Oct. 23; at No. 2 Michigan, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: WR Marvin Harrison Jr.; WR Emeka Egbuka; DE J.T. Tuilmoloau.
Outlook: The Buckeyes are still stinging after losing to Michigan for the second straight year and then dropping a heartbreaker to eventual national champion Georgia in the College Football Playoff. With QB C.J. Stroud gone, coach Ryan Day must decide on a new starter between Kyle McCord and Devin Brown. Either will have a bevy of weapons and the defense is experienced.
No. 4 Alabama
2022 finish: 11-2, No. 5.
Key games: vs. No. 11 Texas, Sept. 9; vs. No. 12 Tennessee, Oct. 21; vs. No. 5 LSU, Nov. 4; at Auburn, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: CB Kool-Aid McKinstry; LB Dallas Turner; OT JC Latham; PK Will Reichard.
Outlook: Alabama must replace the No. 1 and No. 3 NFL draft picks, QB Bryce Young and LB Will Anderson Jr., and other standouts from a team that failed to make the SEC Championship Game. Talent is still abundant but there remain question marks and room for members from the nation’s top recruiting class to step up. Notre Dame transfer QB Tyler Buchner enters a three-man race to replace Young.
No. 5 LSU
2022 finish: 10-4, No. 16.
Key games: vs. No. 8 Florida State in Orlando, Sept. 3; at No. 22 Mississippi, Sept. 30; at No. 4 Alabama, Nov. 4; vs. No. 23 Texas A&M, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: KLB Harold Perkins; WR Malik Nabers; TE Mason Taylor; DT Mekhi Wingo
Outlook: LSU exceeded expectations in coach Brian Kelly’s first season in Baton Rouge and had a team with new starters across all units. Now the defending SEC West champions enter this season as a national title contender. Most of the prominent players from last season are back and there have been notable additions, including transfers Alabama WR Aaron Anderson and Notre Dame RB Logan Diggs along with DE Dashawn Womack.
No. 6 USC
2022 finish: 11-3, No. 12.
Key games: at No. 13 Notre Dame, Oct. 14; vs. No. 14 Utah, Oct. 21; at No. 15 Oregon, Nov. 11.
Potential All-Americans: QB Caleb Williams; S Calen Bullock; C Justin Dedich.
Outlook: Williams returns with his Heisman Trophy for a second year under Lincoln Riley after the duo returned the Trojans to national prominence in one season. Another fruitful offseason in recruiting and the transfer market has surrounded Williams with a wealth of talent, including new receivers Dorian Singer and Zachariah Branch and freshman TE Duce Robinson. Both lines also look stronger, but Riley needs coordinator Alex Grinch to make strides with the defense.
No. 7 Penn State
2022 finish: 11-2, No. 7.
Key games: vs. No. 25 Iowa, Sept. 23; at No. 3 Ohio State, Oct. 21; vs. No. 2 Michigan, Nov. 11.
Potential All-Americans: LT Olu Fashanu; DE Chop Robinson; DB Kalen King; RB Nick Singleton.
Outlook: The Nittany Lions have been one of the top, but not quite elite, programs in the nation under James Franklin. Playing in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan is a big part of it. The defense could be among the nation’s best. If Penn State wants to leapfrog the Buckeyes or Wolverines, second-year QB Drew Allar is going to have to be as good as advertised. He will need help from unproven receivers and transfer WR Dante Cephus.
No. 8 Florida State
2022 finish: 10-3, No. 11.
Key games: vs No. 5 LSU in Orlando, Florida, Sept. 3; at No. 9 Clemson, Sept. 23; vs. Miami, Nov. 11; at Florida, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: DE Jared Verse; QB Jordan Travis; WR Johnny Wilson; CB Fentrell Cypress II.
Outlook: After nearly a decade out of the national spotlight, Florida State is suddenly a championship contender again. The Seminoles had a number of key players return after winning their final six games last season, including Verse, Travis, Wilson and RB Trey Benson. Travis is a Heisman contender, but the defense needs to find one more level.
No. 9 Clemson
2022 finish: 11-3, No. 13.
Key games vs. No. 8 Florida State, Sept. 23; vs. No. 13 Notre Dame, Nov. 4; vs. No. 21 North Carolina, Nov. 18; at South Carolina, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: RB Will Shipley; LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr.; LB Barrett Carter; DT Tyler Davis.
Outlook: Clemson’s best offseason transfer was landing TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley to reboot the Tigers’ attack. It’s QB Cade Klubnik’s show now with DJ Uiagalelei off to Oregon State. The defense looks as strong again with DT Tyler Davis passing up the NFL for another season in college and Trotter and Carter perhaps the country’s best linebacking combo.
No. 10 Washington
2022 finish: 11-2, No. 8.
Key games: at Michigan State, Sept. 16; vs. No. 15 Oregon, Oct. 14; at No. 6 USC, Nov. 4; vs. No. 14 Utah, Nov. 11.
Potential All-Americans: QB Michael Penix, Jr.; WR Rome Odunze; DE Bralen Trice.
Outlook: Washington has a legit chance at winning the Pac-12 in its final season in the conference, but will have to navigate a brutal November schedule. Penix will be hard-pressed to top his numbers from last season, but has one of the best wide receiver groups in the country led by Odunze and Jalen McMillan. Trice leads a talented defensive front but the Huskies success will be largely determined by how much the rest of the defense improves.
No. 11 Texas
2022 finish: 8-5, No. 25
Key games: at No. 4 Alabama, Sept. 9; at Baylor, Sept. 25; vs No. 20 Oklahoma in Dallas, Oct. 7; at No. 17 TCU, Nov. 11.
Potential All-Americans: WR Xavier Worthy; LB Jaylan Ford; OT Kelvin Banks.
Outlook: Texas returns 10 starters and the entire offensive line for what should be an explosive offense led by QB Quinn Ewers. The Longhorns are favorites to win their first Big 12 title since 2009 in their last season in the league before heading to the SEC. The biggest question marks are how to replace star RB Bijan Robinson, and the performance of coach Steve Sarkisian, who has never won more than eight games in the regular season.
No. 12 Tennessee
2022 finish: 11-2, No. 6.
Key games: at Florida, Sept. 16; No. 23 Texas A&M, Oct. 14; at No. 4 Alabama, Oct. 21; No. 1 Georgia, Nov. 18.
Potential All-Americans: QB Joe Milton III; WR Ramel Keyton; OL Cooper Mays.
Outlook: The Vols come off their best season since 2001 with the NCAA investigation cloud gone. Coach Josh Heupel has Milton replacing Hendon Hooker, now in the NFL; Milton is going into his third season in the nation’s fastest-operating offense. He also has experienced WRs in Keyton and Bru McCoy and RB Jaylen Wright. The defense added a couple BYU transfers and will be led by senior DL Omari Thomas.
No. 13 Notre Dame
2022 finish: 9-4, No. 18.
Key games: vs. Navy in Dublin, Ireland, Aug. 26; No. 3 Ohio State, Sept. 25; No. 6 Southern California, Oct. 14; at No. 9 Clemson, Nov. 4.
Potential All-Americans: LT Joe Alt; CB Benjamin Morrison; QB Sam Hartman.
Outlook: Hartman’s arrival after a record-breaking career at Wake Forest gives coach Marcus Freeman a more stable quarterback room than he had in his first season in charge. Hartman also has a solid supporting cast with Alt anchoring the line. Seven starters, including Morrison (six interceptions), return on a defense that was ranked No. 22 in yards allowed per game.
No. 14 Utah
2021 finish: 10-4, No. 10.
Key games: vs. Florida, Aug. 31; at No. 6 USC, Oct. 21; vs. No. 15 Oregon, Oct. 28; at No. 10 Washington, Nov. 11.
Potential All-Americans: OL Keaton Bills; DT Junior Tafuna; S Cole Bishop.
Outlook: QB Cam Rising’s rehabbing injury knee will go a long way toward determining if the Utes will win the Pac-12 championship for the third year in a row. A critical piece behind both league titles, Rising tore an ACL in the Rose Bowl loss to Penn State. Utah returns 14 starters overall, and that veteran experience will be necessary facing a daunting schedule.
No. 15 Oregon
2022 finish: 10-3, No. 15.
Key games: at No. 10 Washington, Oct. 14; No. 14 Utah, Oct. 28; No. 6 USC, No. 11; vs. No. 18 Oregon State, Nov. 24.
Potential All-Americans: QB Bo Nix; RB Bucky Irving; DE Brandon Dorlus.
Outlook: The Ducks enter their final season in the Pac-12 looking for a final conference title before a new life in the Big Ten in the second season under Dan Lanning. Nix opted to return for a second season, but will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Will Stein. Irving and a stellar run game will help, but the Ducks need to see a jump defensively.
No. 16 Kansas State
2022 finish: 10-4, No. 14 (final ranking).
Key games: at Missouri, Sept. 16; vs No. 17. TCU, Oct. 24; at No. 11 Texas, Nov. 4.
Potential All-Americans: OG Cooper Beebe; KR Phillip Brooks; TE Ben Sinnott.
Outlook: The defending Big 12 champions must replace RB Deuce Vaughn, one of the best playmakers in school history. They return QB Will Howard and their entire offensive line, and Florida State transfer RB Treshaun Ward will join returning backup DJ Giddens in what should remain one of the league’s best backfields. On defense, the Wildcats must replace first-round pick DE Felix Anudike-Uzomah and two key defensive backs in Josh Hayes and Julius Brents.
No. 17 TCU
2022 finish: 13-2, No. 2.
Key games: vs. Colorado, Sept. 2; at No. 16 Kansas State, Oct. 21; vs. No. 11 Texas, Nov. 11; at No. 20 Oklahoma, Nov. 24.
Potential All-Americans: LB Johnny Hodges; CB Josh Newton.
Outlook: TCU could still be good on offense, even without Heisman Trophy runner-up QB Max Duggan, its top two RBs, top three WRs and coordinator (Garrett Riley) from last season’s national runner-up. Chandler Morris was the starting QB going into last season before getting hurt in the opener. Among transfers the Frogs added were WRs JoJo Earle from Alabama, JP Richardson from Oklahoma State and Jack Bech from LSU; and RB Trey Sanders from Alabama.
No. 18 Oregon State
2022 finish: 10-3, No. 17.
Key games: vs. No. 14 Utah, Sept. 29; vs. No. 10 Washington, Nov. 18; at No. 15 Oregon, Nov. 24.
Potential All-Americans: RB Damien Martinez; LT Joshua Gray; DB Kitan Oladapo.
Outlook: Coach Jonathan Smith inherited a program in shambles when he returned to his alma mater in 2018. It’s taken a few years, but Smith has rebuilt the foundation and the payoff could come this season with a favorable schedule, a high-profile quarterback and a renovated home stadium. Clemson transfer DJ Uiagealelei is likely to be the starting QB and the Beavers’ feisty defense allowed 10 points or fewer to five of their final seven opponents last season.
No. 19 Wisconsin
2022 finish: 7-6, unranked.
Key games: at Purdue, Sept. 22; vs. No. 25 Iowa, Oct. 14; vs. No. 3 Ohio State, Oct. 28; at Minnesota, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: RB Braelon Allen; OT Jack Nelson; LB Maema Njongmeta.
Outlook: Wisconsin enters this season with buzz even after going 7-6 last year due to the hire of former Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and the arrival of offensive coordinator Phil Longo. Longo has emphasized Wisconsin will continue to run the ball often, but the offense figures to be more balanced with less of the Badgers’ traditional smashmouth approach. Wisconsin added 17 transfers, including former SMU QB Tanner Mordecai and four wide receivers.
No. 20 Oklahoma
2022 finish: 6-7, unranked.
Key games: vs. SMU, Sept. 9; vs. No. 11 Texas in Dallas, Oct. 7; at Oklahoma State, Nov. 4; vs. No. 17 TCU, Nov. 24.
Potential All-Americans: QB Dillon Gabriel; DL Ethan Downs; LB Danny Stutsman.
Outlook: Oklahoma looks to bounce back after Brent Venables led the Sooners to their first losing season since 1998. The Sooners had no problem scoring last season and have plenty of firepower back on offense. The biggest questions are on defense, where coordinator Ted Roof will try to fix what was one of the nation’s worst units.
No. 21 North Carolina
2022 finish: 9-5, unranked.
Key games: vs South Carolina in Charlotte, Sept. 2; vs. Miami, Oct. 14; at No. 9 Clemson, Nov. 18; at North Carolina State, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: QB Drake Maye; LB Cedric Gray.
Outlook: Everything starts with Maye, last year’s Associated Press offensive player of the year for the Atlantic Coast Conference. The offense is expected to be a strength even with the arrival of new coordinator Chip Lindsey. But for UNC to take a step forward, it will need much more from a defense that was adequate at best for a team that reached the ACC title game.
No. 22 Mississippi
2022 finish: 8-5, unranked.
Key games: at No. 4 Alabama, Sept. 23; vs. No. 5 LSU, Sept. 30; at No. 1 Georgia, Nov. 11; at Mississippi State, Nov. 23.
Potential All-Americans: RB Quinshon Judkins; OL Jeremy James.
Outlook: The Rebels are trying to bounce back after losing their last four games and five of six. But Judkins returns to power a running game that ranked third nationally last season. Four-year Oklahoma State starter Spencer Sanders arrives to challenge incumbent Jaxson Dart. Coach Lane Kiffin also brought in defensive coordinator Pete Golding from Alabama.
No. 23 Texas A&M
2022 finish: 5-7, unranked.
Key games: vs. No. 4 Alabama, Oct. 7; at No. 22 Mississippi, Nov. 4; at No. 5 LSU, Nov. 25.
Potential All-Americans: WR Ainias Smith; OL Layden Robinson; DB Demani Richardson.
Outlook: The Aggies look to bounce back in coach Jimbo Fisher’s sixth season after they had their fewest wins since going 4-8 in 2008. Fisher brought in former Louisville and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks Conner Weigman and Max Johnson are vying for the starting job. D.J. Durkin is back for his second years as defensive coordinator with Richardson expected to star for the group loaded with blue-chippers.
No. 24 Tulane
2022 finish: 12-2, No. 9.
Key games: vs. No. 22 Mississippi, Sept. 9; at Memphis, Oct 13; vs. UTSA, Nov. 24 or 25.
Potential All-Americans: QB Michael Pratt; CB Jarius Monroe.
Outlook: Coming off of a Cotton Bowl victory over Southern California, Tulane is the preseason favorite to win the American Athletic Conference. Pratt’s return was crucial for an offense that lost dynamic RB Tyjae Spears. Coach Willie Fritz is optimistic his defense will remain strong despite the departure of LBs Dorian Williams and Nick Anderson to the NFL. Fritz is entering his eighth season with the Green Wave, which has played in four bowl games in the past five years, winning three.
No. 25 Iowa
2022 finish: 8-5, unranked.
Key games: at No. 7 Penn State, Sept. 23; at No. 19 Wisconsin, Oct. 14; vs. Minnesota, Oct. 21; at Nebraska, Nov. 24.
Potential All-Americans: DB Cooper DeJean; P Tory Taylor.
Outlook: All eyes are on beleaguered offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, whose revised contract makes this a make-or-break season for him depending on whether the Hawkeyes can score 325 points. Michigan transfer QB Cade McNamara is an upgrade. Defense and special teams are among Big Ten’s best — again.
NEW COACH AND OFFENSE HAVE NO. 19 WISCONSIN EAGER TO RETURN TO BIG TEN TITLE CONTENTION
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — No. 19 Wisconsin’s uncharacteristic recent struggles have led to a dramatic makeover.
The Badgers have a new coach and offense as the team attempts to bounce back from a 7-6 season and win the Big Ten West in the conference’s last year of divisional competition.
“The pressure’s really on for this team as a whole to start producing,” offensive tackle Jack Nelson said. “We’re excited for that.”
Wisconsin has finished just a game above .500 two of the last three years. Former coach Paul Chryst was fired midway through last season despite owning a 67-26 record. Wisconsin made a splash by landing new coach Luke Fickell, who led Cincinnati to a College Football Playoff berth two seasons ago.
“It has a lot to do with being back in the Big Ten,” said Fickell, a former Ohio State player, assistant coach and interim head coach. “It has to do with the respect I’ve always had playing against and preparing for Wisconsin. Understanding and recognizing what the culture, what I assumed the culture was like from afar. Felt like something that would be really, really in my wheelhouse.”
The head coaching switch is only one of the changes to hit Wisconsin.
A team that traditionally has focused on running the ball should have a much more balanced offense under new coordinator Phil Longo, who succeeded in the same role at Ole Miss and North Carolina with an Air Raid attack. Wisconsin has also added 17 transfers.
New quarterback Tanner Mordecai threw a school-record 72 career touchdown passes at SMU. The arrival of Longo and Mordecai ensures the Badgers won’t have the same old grind-it-out offense they’ve had in years past even as they return running back Braelon Allen, who has rushed for over 1,200 yards both of the last two seasons.
All these changes add plenty of intrigue to a program known for its traditional reliance on smashmouth football.
“Is Wisconsin boring?” Nelson asked. “I wouldn’t say so, but I’ll tell you what isn’t is winning football games. And that’s something we plan to do this year.”
The identity of Wisconsin’s offense is one of the most interesting stories in the Big Ten.
Longo repeatedly has said throughout the offseason that Wisconsin will continue to run the ball. He’s cited the success running backs had during his North Carolina tenure.
Wisconsin has one of the nation’s top returning running backs in Allen and will have a formidable running back tandem if Chez Mellusi stays healthy after injuries limited him to nine games both of the last two seasons.
RESTOCKING AT RECEIVER
Wisconsin boosted its receiving depth in the transfer portal by adding Bryson Green from Oklahoma State, C.J. Williams (Southern California), Will Pauling (Cincinnati) and Quincy Burroughs (Cincinnati).
Mordecai says nobody should overlook Wisconsin’s returning receivers. Chimere Dike heads that group after catching 47 passes for 689 yards last season.
“The guys who have been here kind of have a chip on their shoulder,” Mordecai said. “The media’s written them off as much as anyone else as far as their productivity or what they’ve put on the field, but I don’t think the offense they were in gave them a fair chance to show what they have. I’m especially excited to see those guys perform.”
Wisconsin no longer has longtime defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, a former All-American safety for the Badgers who went 4-3 as the interim head coach after Chryst’s dismissal last season. Leonhard instead is working as an analyst at Illinois.
The Badgers annually had one of the nation’s top defenses under Leonhard, who was passed over for the head coaching job when Wisconsin hired Fickell. That puts pressure on new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel, who followed Fickell from Cincinnati.
Wisconsin opens Fickell’s tenure by hosting Buffalo on Sept. 2. The Badgers begin Big Ten competition by visiting defending West champion Purdue on Sept. 22. Their only meetings with preseason Top 25 teams are home matchups Oct. 14 vs. No. 25 Iowa and Oct. 28 vs. No. 3 Ohio State.
NEW NEBRASKA COACH MATT RHULE WANTS TO WIN NOW, BUT HE PROMISES TO TAKE NO SHORTCUTS
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Make no mistake, Matt Rhule wants to win and win often in his first season at Nebraska.
The Cornhuskers’ new coach also understands where the team sits in 2023, and he’s taken the program down to the studs with the hope of building it back into the respected national brand it was a generation ago.
“When I think about Nebraska, I just think about that helmet,” Rhule said of the Huskers’ classic white and red headgear. “It’s iconic to me, and it is across college football.”
Rhule said Nebraska — winners of five national championships but none since 1997 — should be in the national discussion year in and year out, and for the right reasons. Talk about Nebraska in recent years has centered on coach Scott Frost’s spectacular failure over four-plus seasons. The Huskers are coming off six straight losing seasons with no bowl appearances. There’s been no Top 25 ranking since 2019, 10 seasons without an appearance in a conference championship game and no league title since 1999.
Athletic director Trev Alberts began pursuing Rhule shortly after the Carolina Panthers fired him as coach last October.
Nebraska is banking on Rhule to orchestrate the kind of turnarounds he did at Temple and Baylor before he left for the NFL. His $74 million, eight-year contract makes him the third highest-paid coach in the Big Ten and among the top 10 nationally.
Rhule said his coaching philosophy is not for everybody. He demands discipline on and off the field, and he has suspended a number of players since spring for not adhering to his standards. The team spent the first two weeks of preseason practice living in cramped on-campus dormitories. Starting safety Myles Farmer decided to transfer and projected starting receiver Zavier Betts quit.
“I don’t want to take shortcuts,” Rhule said. “I don’t want to build something (where) we show everybody a little bit of hope this year, but the next year we take a step back. I want to win, but right now I can’t think about the games. I expect us to do everything right. I expect guys to show up and be on time. So it’s just this mindset of everything matters, everything counts.”
Georgia Tech transfer Jeff Sims won the starting quarterback job in the spring, prompting incumbent Casey Thompson to transfer.
Offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield’s system will mix what’s hoped to be a physical run game that includes a fullback with a passing game predicated on intermediate throws.
“It puts me in a lot of different situations and puts me in a greater situation to show off my arm and my ability to pass the ball,” Sims said. “I’m willing to run whenever I need to. I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it at a high level.”
Defensive coordinator Tony White brought the 3-3-5 base alignment with him from Syracuse, and the idea of using the system in the Big Ten raised eyebrows among fans.
Big Ten offenses, to be sure, have evolved from plodding to more wide open, and that should alleviate concerns about there not being enough heft up front. The four-man front isn’t going away entirely. The 3-3-5 is adaptable, White said, and it allows for more blitzing options and coverage disguises.
“Chaos,” is how linebackers coach Rob Dvoracek described it.
FEELING AT HOME
Though he’s been on the job only nine months, Rhule said he’s comfortable in an environment where Nebraska football is a year-round passion. He has spoken often about putting on the field a team the inspires pride in a fan base that has sold out every home game since 1962.
“You’re not just serving a university. You’re serving an entire state as well,” he said. “That’s a responsibility I take very seriously.”
The Huskers’ schedule has them playing their first two games on the road, at Minnesota on Aug. 31 and at Colorado on Sept. 9.
Their toughest crossover game is at home, against No. 2 Michigan, on Sept. 30. Preseason West favorite No. 19 Wisconsin visits Nov. 18 and border rival No. 25 Iowa on Nov. 24.
IOWA STATE’S ISAIAH LEE, WHO IS ACCUSED OF BETTING AGAINST CYCLONES IN A 2021 GAME, LEAVES PROGRAM
AMES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa State defensive lineman accused of wagering on his team’s games, including one where he bet against them Cyclones, has left the program, the school confirmed Monday.
Isaiah Lee, who started all 12 games last season, was among the athletes charged last week in connection with the state’s investigation into illegal sports wagering at Iowa State and Iowa.
Lee was charged with tampering with records for allegedly disguising his identity to place online sports wagers, according to court documents.
Lee is alleged to have made 115 bets for $885 on the FanDuel mobile app. Among them were 12 on Iowa State football games, including one money-line bet against the Cyclones against Texas in 2021. ISU won 30-7, and Lee made one tackle.
A total of five Iowa State football starters have been charged in the investigation. Athletes found to have wagered on games in which they played are subject to being permanently banned by the NCAA. The tampering charge is punishable by up to two years in prison and fines.
NO. 2 MICHIGAN AIMING FOR ITS 1ST NATIONAL TITLE SINCE 1997 BEHIND QB J.J. MCCARTHY, RB BLAKE CORUM
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan might have its best team in nine years under Jim Harbaugh as the second-ranked Wolverines aim for their first national title since 1997.
J.J. McCarthy returns as the staring quarterback along with All-America running back Blake Corum and perhaps one of the best offensive lines in college football. The defense is experienced with several returning starters, including All-Big Ten linebackers Junior Colson and Michael Barrett, and standout cornerback Will Johnson.
As successful as the last two seasons were — finally beating Ohio State and winning a school-record 25 games — each ended in humbling fashion in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Michigan gave up 51 points in a loss to TCU last season and was routed by Georgia a year earlier.
“If we get there, we just got to get over the hump,” Corum said. “For me, I have high standards so yeah, it’s win or bust.”
Harbaugh didn’t quite agree with the title-or-best mentality, but has been pleased that his team isn’t satisfied with previous accomplishments.
“Not one of them wants to hear about what they did last year, or the last two years,” Harbaugh said. “Now is the time that matters, that’s the attitude.”
The Wolverines know they have work to do to catch up to the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs. To close the gap, they implemented a “Beat Georgia” drill last spring after adding a “Beat Ohio State” section of practice two years ago.
“To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,‘” Corum said. “Georgia is at the top right now. And if we want to be able to be at the top, we’ve got to beat them.”
Harbaugh could be facing a four-game suspension for breaking NCAA rules over improper contact with recruits. Michigan submitted a negotiated resolution to the NCAA in a case that has been in the works for about two years but NCAA officials have more questions. The case may go to a full hearing, which would lengthen the process and push any suspension back.
“Nothing to be ashamed of,” Harbaugh said this preseason, declining further comment.
Corum said if Harbaugh is suspended, the team will be even more motivated.
“If anything, it’s going to light a fire under us,” Corum said.
CALL IT A COMEBACK
Corum has been cleared medically, bouncing back from surgery on his left knee after he was injured late in the regular season last year. The senior will share carries in the backfield with Donovan Edwards, who will line up at receiver at times to take advantage of his speed and hands.
McCarthy beat out Cade McNamara to be the No. 1 quarterback last year and in Year 2 under center, he plans to run more while improving his passing.
“He’s a once-in-a-generational-type quarterback,” said Harbaugh, comparing McCarthy’s talent and selflessness to NFL greats Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
All-Big Ten offensive lineman Zak Zinter and Trevor Keegan lead a line that should give McCarthy time to throw, and provide holes in the running game. Colston Loveland, a 6-foot-5 tight end, may emerge as McCarthy’s go-to target.
“The longer it takes him to realize how good he is, the better off he’ll probably be,” Harbaugh said. “But the secret is out. He’s really, really good.”
Michigan won’t leave home in September for the third straight year and likely won’t be tested against East Carolina in the opener Sept. 2 or in the following games against UNLV, Bowling Green and Rutgers.
Michigan will face at least a pair of challenges on the road: Oct. 21 against rival Michigan State and Nov. 11 at Penn State. The Wolverines iwill host rival Ohio State, hoping to win three straight in the rivalry for the first time since 1995-97, on Nov. 25 to close the regular season.
RYAN DAY NOT CLOSE TO NAMING WINNER IN OHIO STATE QB COMPETITION
It’s “not ideal,” head coach Ryan Day said, as Ohio State’s starting quarterback competition appears set to continue into the regular season.
Neither Kyle McCord nor Devin Brown have fully seized the No. 1 quarterback job in the coaching staff’s eyes, Day told reporters Monday.
Ohio State, ranked No. 3 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll released Monday, will open its season Sept. 2 at Indiana.
“That’s something we have to decide this week, probably,” Day said. “Are we ready to name someone by the end of the week or does the competition continue into the season? That’s not ideal, but if that’s where we’re at, that’s what we’ll do.”
By this point of fall camp in recent Buckeyes seasons, the program was ready to name a starting quarterback. Past starters included Justin Fields and C.J. Stroud.
Day initially pictured a similar timeline for this year’s camp and had a press conference scheduled for Wednesday before moving it up to Monday.
“In C.J.’s or Justin’s year, it was probably about that time (that we named them the starter), practice 12 or 13,” Day said. “But we’re not there right now.”
Ohio State held a scrimmage on Saturday, but Day and his staff didn’t see enough from either McCord or Brown that would significantly alter their competition.
McCord has seen limited game action in relief of other quarterbacks over the past two seasons. He has tallied 606 yards on 41-of-58 passing, with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Brown was an early enrollee in January 2022 and appeared in two games last season before redshirting. He missed the end of spring practices and the spring game due to a finger injury but is healthy now.
“I do wish that somebody had really emerged,” Day said. “I don’t think, right now, it’s two guys that are just blowing it out of the water to where you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know who’s going to play.’ But it’s also not like they’re not doing well either. There’s really good play out there, there’s ability. Now we’re just looking for consistency.”
FIVE-STAR DE WILLIAMS NWANERI CHOOSES MISSOURI
The No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2024 is staying in-state to play his college football, and that’s welcome news for Missouri.
Five-star defensive end Williams Nwaneri committed to the Tigers on Monday, choosing them over Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon and Tennessee.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pounder is considered the No. 1 defensive end and the No. 3 overall prospect by the 247Sports composite rankings. He hails from Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Nwaneri is the second five-star to commit to Missouri since Eliah Drinkwitz became head coach in December 2019. The first was wide receiver Luther Burden, who is now entering his sophomore season there.
Missouri now has 12 players committed for the Class of 2024. Per 247, only one of the previous 11 commits was a four-star.
PATRIOTS TO SIGN RB EZEKIEL ELLIOTT
The New England Patriots are in agreement with free agent running back Ezekiel Elliott on a one-year deal, with NFL Network reporting the contract is worth up to $6 million.
The two-time NFL rushing champion visited with the Patriots late last month and provides important depth behind starter Rhamondre Stevenson. Elliott referenced the Patriots in a Twitter post Monday.
Elliott, 28, was released by the Dallas Cowboys in a salary-cutting move in March.
The Ohio State product was slowed in the second half of last season by a knee injury and wasn’t fully healthy in 2021. He rushed for a career-low 876 yards and 3.9 yards per carry in 2022 while backup Tony Pollard emerged as a 1,000-yard rusher and big-play threat.
Elliott led the NFL in rushing in 2016 and 2018 and posted four 1,000-yard seasons with Dallas. The 2016 first-round pick (fourth overall) ranks third in Cowboys history in rushing yards (8,262) and rushing touchdowns (68) behind Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett. He also has 305 catches for 2,336 yards and 12 scores in 103 games (102 starts).
The Patriots released running back James Robinson in June, and Ty Montgomery is nursing an undisclosed injury. Second-year running backs Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris are also on the depth chart.
FREE AGENT JADEVEON CLOWNEY VISITS JAGUARS
Free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney visited the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday but did not sign with the team.
Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson classified the meeting with Clowney as a “good visit.”
Clowney reportedly has a contract offer in hand from the Baltimore Ravens. He visited the team last week and has also met with the Houston Texans.
The 30-year-old former No. 1 overall pick had two sacks with the Browns last season.
The Texans selected Clowney at the top of the 2014 NFL Draft. He spent five seasons in Houston and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection. Traded to the Seahawks prior to the 2019 season, he spent one year in Seattle, followed by one with the Tennessee Titans and the past two seasons in Cleveland.
Clowney has appeared in 109 games (98 starts) and has tallied 320 tackles (90 for loss), 43 sacks, 109 quarterback hits, 23 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles and one interception.
MICHAEL OHER, FORMER NFL TACKLE KNOWN FOR ‘THE BLIND SIDE,’ SUES TO END TUOHYS’ CONSERVATORSHIP
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Michael Oher, the former NFL tackle known for the movie “The Blind Side,” filed a petition Monday in a Tennessee probate court accusing Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy of lying to him by having him sign papers making them his conservators rather than his adoptive parents nearly two decades ago.
In the petition filed Monday in Shelby County Probate Court, Oher asks for the conservatorship to be terminated along with asking for a full accounting of the money earned off the use of his name and story.
He also asks to be paid what he is due along with interest. Oher, who has never been a fan of the movie of his life, also asks in the petition that the Tuohys be sanctioned and required to pay both compensatory and punitive damages determined by the court.
ESPN.com first reported the petition.
Steve Farese, a lawyer for the Tuohys, told The Associated Press that they will file an answer to the allegations in court but he declined to comment further. He was among three attorneys served on behalf of the Tuohys on Monday.
Leigh Anne Tuohy did not immediately respond to an email sent to her personal website.
The movie was nominated for an Oscar, and Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy.
In the petition, Oher says he only learned in February that the Tuohys remain his conservators.
Oher accuses the Tuohys of never trying to take legal action to assume custody from the Tennessee Department of Human Services before he turned 18. The conservatorship paperwork was filed Aug. 4, 2004 — after Oher turned 18 in May that year.
He was the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Mississippi, and he spent his first five seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. He wound up playing eight NFL seasons, including 2014 when he started 11 games for the Tennessee Titans. Oher finished his career with two years in Carolina.
He started 110 career games and won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. He also finished second in the voting to Percy Harvin of Minnesota for The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year after starting all 16 games his first season at right tackle.
Oher, who turned 37 in May, last played in the NFL in 2016 before being released in 2017 by Carolina.
Nearly two years ago, supporters cheered when Britney Spears was freed from her conservatorship. The ruling came after Spears publicly demanded the end of the arrangement, which had prevented her from making her own medical, financial and personal decisions since 2008.
Spears’ high-profile battle put a spotlight on efforts advocates across the United States have launched raising questions that such strict controls result in more harm than protection.
PANTHERS WR TERRACE MARSHALL LEAVES PRACTICE ON CART
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Terrace Marshall departed practice early on a golf cart Monday.
He exited with a member of the training staff, but it was not immediately clear what happened.
Marshall, 23, caught 28 passes for 490 yards and a touchdown in 14 games (nine starts) last season.
The 2021 second-round draft pick has 45 receptions for 628 yards in 27 career games (12 starts).
REPORT: RAVENS ACTIVATING RB J.K. DOBBINS OFF PUP LIST
The Baltimore Ravens are activating top running back J.K. Dobbins off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list on Monday, ESPN reported.
Dobbins, 24, has officially been on the PUP list since the start of training camp with a hamstring issue. However, the speculation is that Dobbins has been “holding in” — as opposed to not reporting and holding out — because he wants a long-term deal with the club, per multiple media outlets.
Dobbins is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is set to make a base of $1.39 million this season. He’s eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
“The ball is in J.K.’s court,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters last week. “We have talked. We talked again yesterday. We had great conversation. I do expect him back very soon, but I don’t have anything to say about it. It’s up to J.K., so hopefully that will happen soon.”
The Ravens have Justice Hill, Gus Edwards and Melvin Gordon III next in line on the depth chart after Dobbins.
Dobbins has only played in 23 games — missing the entire 2021 season — after sustaining a major knee injury in the final preseason game that year.
He played in just eight games in 2022 after undergoing knee surgery in October to clear out scar tissue that resulted from a prior surgery.
Dobbins has 1,325 career yards rushing, starting nine games in two seasons of action. He has 12 total touchdowns since being selected in the second round of the 2020 draft out of Ohio State.
REPORT: SAINTS RB KENDRE MILLER (KNEE) SHOULD BE READY FOR WEEK 1
The New Orleans Saints were breathing a sigh of relief on Monday after an MRI showed that rookie running back Kendre Miller only sustained a knee sprain and should be ready for Week 1, NFL Network reported.
Miller, 21, will miss some time but will not require surgery, per the report.
It’s a bit of good news for a position group that needed some. Starting running back Alvin Kamara is suspended for the first three games of the regular season, and Eno Benjamin is lost for the season after rupturing an Achilles in practice.
Miller left Sunday’s preseason game against Kansas City with the injury and did not return. He had four carries for five yards and a reception out of the backfield for one yard.
Miller was a third-round pick (71st overall) by the Saints in April’s draft.
Offseason free-agent signee Jamaal Williams is slated to open the season as the starting running back. He had 28 yards on nine carries against the Chiefs.
REPORT: CARDINALS’ ZACH ERTZ (KNEE) CLEARED FOR FULL ACTIVITY
Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz has been cleared for full football activity after suffering a major knee injury last year that required surgery, NFL Network reported Monday.
Ertz, 32, tore his ACL and MCL in Week 10 during a game against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 11.
He told reporters in December his goal was to be ready for the beginning of the 2024 season, and according to the NFL Network report, Ertz is in line to start Week 1.
The veteran tight end was in his first full season with the Cardinals after spending the bulk of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles traded him to Arizona before the deadline in 2021.
Ertz had 47 receptions for 406 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games, all starts, in 2022. In 10 NFL campaigns, he has caught 682 passes for 7,247 yards and 45 touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowl selection in three straight seasons in 2017-19.
The Cardinals open the season Sept. 10 on the road against the Washington Commanders.
REPORT: COWBOYS, MARTIN AGREE ON REWORKED CONTRACT TO END HOLDOUT
Zack Martin’s holdout is over.
The All-Pro guard reached an agreement with the Dallas Cowboys on a reworked deal that’ll pay him $18 million in each of the next two seasons, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Both years are reportedly fully guaranteed.
Martin had stayed away from training camp due to his contract situation. The 32-year-old, who’s signed through 2025, was initially set to earn around $13.5 million in 2023 and $14 million in 2024, according to Spotrac. Chris Lindstrom of the Atlanta Falcons tops all guards with a $20.5-million average annual salary.
Martin’s absence at camp reached around $1 million in accrued fines, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. That number can’t be reduced or forgiven based on the NFL collective bargaining agreement.
The Notre Dame product is one of football’s premier interior linemen. A member of the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team, he’s earned six first-team All-Pro nods and eight Pro Bowl berths across nine NFL seasons.
Martin has started 137 games since the Cowboys drafted him 16th overall in 2014.
REPORTS: JETS LAND RB DALVIN COOK ON ONE-YEAR DEAL
The New York Jets and free agent running back Dalvin Cook agreed to a one-year contract worth up to $8.6 million, NFL Network and ESPN reported Monday.
After being released by the Minnesota Vikings on June 9 following his fourth straight 1,000-yard season, the four-time Pro Bowler will team up with an ex-NFC North rival, Aaron Rodgers.
Cook confirmed the deal by reposting social media posts about the news.
Cook, 28, visited with the Jets last month and also showed interest in the Miami Dolphins. He was linked to yet another AFC East team, the New England Patriots, who wound up signing free agent running back Ezekiel Elliott earlier Monday.
Cook was slated to earn $11 million in 2023 with Minnesota, where he rushed for 5,024 yards and 43 touchdowns the past four seasons.
In 73 career games (72 starts) since the Vikings drafted him in the second round in 2017, Cook has 5,993 rushing yards, 47 rushing touchdowns, 221 receptions, 1,794 receiving yards and five TD catches.
He is coming off surgery on Feb. 14, the latest in a series of major shoulder issues that include a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum.
The Jets’ backfield includes Breece Hall, who averaged 5.8 yards per attempt across seven games as a rookie in 2022 before tearing his ACL; Michael Carter, a fourth-round pick in 2021; and rookie Israel Abanikanda, a fifth-round pick last April who has performed well in the preseason.
FORMER NFL RB ALEX COLLINS DIES AT 28
Former Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks running back Alex Collins died on Monday. He was 28.
Information regarding the cause of Collins’ death was not released.
“With heavy hearts, we mourn the passing of Alex Collins,” the Ravens said in a statement on social media. “Always quick to greet everyone with a smile, he was a genuinely kind person who carried a special joy and passion wherever he went. May Alex always be remembered for the light and love he brought to so many people in his life.”
The Seahawks also posted on social media, offering their condolences to Collins’ family.
Collins began his NFL career with Seattle in 2016 as a fifth-round draft pick before spending two seasons with Baltimore. He then went back to the Seahawks for the final two years of his five-year career.
In 50 career games (29 starts), Collins rushed for 1,997 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also had 59 receptions for 467 yards and a score.
A native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Collins most recently played for the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League, signing with them this past January.