Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay claimed social media comments he made regarding the diminished market for NFL running backs were not directed at his team’s All-Pro back, Jonathan Taylor.

Irsay’s most recent comments on Thursday came one day after he took aim at Najee Harris following the Pittsburgh Steelers star saying the league’s top running backs were discussing the idea of altering the way salaries of franchise-tagged players are determined in a bid to make top-tier money. Irsay dismissed the notion, saying “some (a)gents are selling ‘bad faith.’”

Irsay’s comment drew the ire of Taylor’s agent Malki Kawa, who tweeted: “Bad faith is not paying your top offensive player.”

“The comment wasn’t really directed at Jonathan,” Irsay told ESPN. “We haven’t exchanged any contract numbers with each other or anything like that. So, it’s not like we’re in the midst of that. I think we had a tough season last year. Didn’t win a lot of games. This is a year about coming back together and having a great year and we’re really depending on Jonathan to team up with (quarterback) Anthony Richardson to try and pull together to have a great year.”

Taylor, 24. is entering the final season of his four-year rookie contract.

He has rushed for 3,841 yards in his career — including a league-leading 1,811 in 2021, when he was selected to the All-Pro team.

Taylor has a career 4,643 yards from scrimmage to go with 36 touchdowns since being selected by the Colts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.


Westfield, Ind. – The Indianapolis Colts today signed free agent cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart and waived cornerback Cole Coleman.

Taylor-Stuart, 6-2, 200 pounds, spent the entire 2022 season on the Dallas Cowboys’ Injured Reserve list. He signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent on May 13, 2022. Collegiately, Taylor-Stuart played in 32 games (19 starts) at USC (2018-21) and compiled 80 tackles (54 solo), 1.0 tackle for loss, nine passes defensed and two interceptions.

Coleman, 5-9, 188 pounds, was signed by the Colts as an undrafted free agent on May 5, 2023. Collegiately, he appeared in 42 games (37 starts) at Elon (2018-22) and totaled 281 tackles (156 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, nine passes defensed, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one blocked kick. Coleman also registered three kickoff returns for 23 yards.


CINCINNATI (AP) Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow could miss “several weeks” with a right calf strain, coach Zac Taylor said Friday.

The 26-year-old franchise quarterback hobbled on one leg and then went to the ground after a scramble play near the end of Thursday’s practice. He rode off the field in a medical cart.

“It will take several weeks, and that’s all the information we have,” Taylor said.

Burrow did not practice Friday, with backup QBs Jake Browning and Trevor Siemian taking the snaps. The Bengals play their first preseason game on Aug. 11 and open the regular season Sept. 10.

Taylor said Burrow “has seen the doctors” and was present for meetings at the team’s training facility Friday. The quarterback was wearing a compression sleeve on his right calf when he pulled up with the injury, but Taylor said Friday he was unaware there was anything wrong before that play.

Burrow is still negotiating with the Bengals on a long-term contract that could make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid players.

The team’s top draft pick in 2020 had talked Wednesday about how good he felt at the opening of camp after his first three NFL training camps were disrupted and how he hoped to play in some preseason games.

Preseason practice was truncated in Burrow’s rookie year in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2001, he was still rehabbing after knee surgery the previous December. On the first day of camp last year, he was stricken with appendicitis.


On the first day of Cincinnati Bengals’ training camp, star quarterback Joe Burrow took a snap, pump faked and rolled out to his right before pulling up with a non-contact injury that forced him to limp off the field.

While non-contact injuries are often serious, Bengals coach Zac Taylor told members of the media on Friday Burrow is dealing with a calf strain that will require him to miss “several weeks” of practice time, which is good news given the potential outcome.

With Burrow in the midst of contract extension negotiations, and the regular season just more than a month away, there is a possibility the former first-overall pick will miss the beginning of the season.

Considering Cincinnati’s sky high aspirations this season, missing their Pro Bowl quarterback for any amount of time in the regular season would have a significant negative impact.

The 33rd Team contributor Mike Tannenbaum believes the Bengals should begin looking into improving their backup quarterback situation.

“You want to have as strong a backup as possible,” Tannenbaum said. “The Bengals are a legitimate Super Bowl contender, so even though it appears that Cincinnati got good news in the last 24 hours, I’d still look to upgrade the QB2 position.”

The Bengals have two other quarterbacks on their roster in Trevor Siemian and Jake Browning. Siemian has a 15-20 record as a starter across eight seasons, and Browning has never thrown a pass in an NFL game.

While Cincinnati’s staff looks heavily into its backup quarterback situation, it’ll also likely continue contract extension talks with Burrow. In The 33rd Team contributor Joe Banner’s opinion, Burrow’s injury shouldn’t have any impact on him and the Bengals agreeing to a new deal.

“The calf injury shouldn’t change anything with Burrow’s future contract extension, and it won’t,” Banner said.

“If I were running the organization, I’d actually run out to get the deal done as soon as possible as a sign of good faith. And I’d expect Joe, who is from Ohio and loyal to the organization, to quickly come to an agreement with the club.

“Yes, the deal is close to done — and they are going to eventually do it anyway. But doing it now makes a great statement to your team leader for the next decade.”

With young quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Jalen Hurts and Justin Herbert all inking big-money extensions this offseason that will pay them $51 million or more annually, do not expect Burrow to command anything less, even if his calf injury persists through the beginning of the regular season.


Saquon Barkley worked out his contract squabble with the New York Giants and showed up for training camp. Josh Jacobs is holding out with the Las Vegas Raiders. Le’Veon Bell once sat out the entire season after getting the franchise tag.

Different running backs. Same problem. No solution on the horizon.

NFL teams have devalued running backs to the point where Bell’s franchise total just five years ago was significantly higher at $14.5 million. The tag for Barkley, Jacobs and Dallas’ Tony Pollard was $10.1 million this season.

Bell played on the franchise tag in 2017 but sat out the following year in Pittsburgh and ended up going to the New York Jets. The two-time All-Pro wasn’t the same player he was with the Steelers and ended up bouncing around from Kansas City to Baltimore to Tampa Bay.

“My franchise tag was 14.5 and I walked away from it,” Bell said on the AP Pro Football Podcast. “It’s a respect thing. You told me you were going to do this for me but you didn’t. … I could’ve just ignored it, went inside the locker room and had been playing. But that wouldn’t have made me happy and I’m sure inside the locker room, everybody would’ve felt it and, as a team, we wouldn’t have been good. I feel that’s the same with Saquon. He’s trying to be the best he can, but obviously deep down, he’s not happy because he wanted to be compensated. He still wants his teammates to be good so he showed up.”

Barkley and the Giants agreed on a one-year deal that raised his contract value to $11 million with incentives. He had threatened to skip the season because the Giants didn’t give him a long-term deal but he had a change of heart.

“I could sit here and lie to you and be like, ‘I wasn’t disappointed, I wasn’t this and that and the third,’” Barkley said. “That would just be a flat-out lie. But I am mature enough to understand that it’s a business and understand that deals don’t get done every year.”

Barkley accounted for 29.1% of New York’s offense last year but he watched the Giants give quarterback Daniel Jones ($160 million) and left tackle Andrew Thomas ($117.5 million) big money while he had no leverage.

Barkley said all the right things Thursday and isn’t holding any grudges.

“I’m all about my teammates and my brothers getting paid,” he said. “I’m all about success coming to them. … Those guys deserve it. I’m so happy for them. You see all throughout the league, there are people that get paid every single year, and I’m happy for those guys, too. But what I will say, for the running back position, not speaking necessarily on my teammates that got signed, there are a lot of running backs out here that are pivotal, key points to teams having success in this league, and helping teams have success in this league. The way that we are getting devalued, it’s not fair at all. But life’s not fair.”

There was no anger or bitterness in Barkley’s voice when he spoke to reporters. It speaks to his strong character. But it’s natural for members of the position group to express frustration and disappointment. Austin Ekeler, Nick Chubb, Christian McCaffrey, Najee Harris and others have spoken out. They met virtually last week to discuss ways to remedy the situation.

Some guys have quietly pointed out to The Associated Press and questioned why some injury-prone players at other positions got lucrative contracts. That’s a departure from the old code players have among themselves. Don’t begrudge someone else getting paid.

“I thought it was an unwritten rule,” said Bell, who recently partnered with OnlyFans to promote his new career in music and boxing. “I thought you weren’t supposed to count other people’s money but when it was my turn, everybody was in my pocket worried about what I was making.”

On some teams, that could lead to dissension in the locker room.

“It subconsciously affects it,” Bell said.

It’s not a concern in New York because Barkley has handled his business professionally. Time will tell how it plays out in other cities.


MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Jalen Ramsey, set for surgery on Friday, addressed his Miami Dolphins teammates a day earlier about the injury and told them not to worry or feel sorry for him.

The six-time Pro Bowl cornerback suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee at the end of Thursday’s practice and is expected to miss the start of the regular season. But he vowed — bragged a little — that he could beat whatever timeline for return doctors give him.

“It really moved a lot of people,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Friday. “He first let everybody know how much he appreciated this team, how this team has accepted him, how he has been in the league a little bit and how he knows what we’re doing here, in his opinion, is special, for his position group not to waiver, and exuded all the confidence that he had in that position group.”

McDaniel said Ramsey will have surgery Friday afternoon to repair the tear and his timeline for return won’t be known until the procedure is complete.

The injury happened during an 11-on-11 drill during Miami’s second practice of training camp. McDaniel said it was a non-contact injury that happened while he was matched up against receiver Tyreek Hill. Ramsey and Hill collided on the play, but the injury, McDaniel clarified, happened before the contact.

“That end of the season push (will) be legendary!” Ramsey tweeted Thursday night.

Miami acquired the All-Pro cornerback Ramsey in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams in March.

When veteran players reported to training camp on Monday, Ramsey spoke of the potential of the Dolphins defense, which is adjusting to a new scheme under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

“I’ve been a part of his defense for the past three years so I kind of know how to play it,” Ramsey said. “I know what’s needed to play this defense and be one of the best defenses in the league and be elite. And we got all the pieces — edge rushers to the secondary. We even got the linebackers and all that. Like I said, I don’t compare, but I look at other teams I’ve been a part of and I feel like we, on paper, we stack up well. But the work comes first.”

The Dolphins dealt with several injuries at the cornerback position last season. Veteran cornerback Xavien Howard played through groin injuries all year.

Byron Jones missed the entire season after having surgery on his Achilles tendon. The Dolphins cut him earlier this year in a cost-cutting move.

Trill Williams tore the ACL in his left knee during the preseason. Nik Needham tore his Achilles last October.

Williams and safety Brandon Jones are still working their way back from their respective season-ending injuries.

McDaniel said he’s confident in the team’s cornerback room, which also includes Kader Kohou, who had a breakout 2022 season as an undrafted rookie free agent, Keion Crossen and 2020 first-round pick Noah Igbinoghene.

Earlier this week, Howard pointed to Kohou as a player to watch as camp opened.

“My boy, Kader. Dude is a straight dawg,” Howard said. “His mentality he has, just being an undrafted guy, I continue to see him grow and get better on the field.”

Miami also drafted cornerback Cam Smith in the second round in April to add more depth. Smith’s role will likely increase in Ramsey’s absence.

“I feel good about the entire crew,” McDaniel said. “We are dealing with some injuries now in that group, but I feel very, very, very good about the competition there and the guys that are ready to go see some more opportunities.”

With the cornerback room not at full strength, McDaniel said the team will work out a cornerback soon for “depth purposes.”

Notes: McDaniel said linebacker Jaelan Phillips was “stepped on” during the first practice of training camp. McDaniel said the team is not worried about the injury, but it would “not be healed” if he continues practicing with it. Phillips did not practice Thursday. … Crossen has an undisclosed injury and will not practice Friday. … McDaniel said he’s happy with Miami’s running back group as the Dolphins continue to be linked to Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook.


The compass for free agent running back Dalvin Cook is pointing toward the AFC East.

Cook will visit the New York Jets this weekend. And he also has his eye on Miami as a potential landing spot with the Dolphins, he told NFL Network on Friday.

Cook, who turns 28 next month, was born in Miami and played his high school ball in the city before moving on to Florida State. He was linked with the Dolphins following his release from the Minnesota Vikings on June 9 but a deal hasn’t materialized.

“Playing in my hometown would mean so much for me, for my community, for my family, for just everything around,” Cook told NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” Friday morning. “It’s a Cinderella story. It’s just something that’ll bring so much joy to the city, and I know what I can bring to the city. So it’ll be big for the city and myself.”

For now, the focus is on his trip to Jets headquarters in Florham Park, N.J. Cook potentially could pair with his former NFC North rival, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and the idea intrigues him.

“It’s a unique situation because I feel like they’re building something special over there,” Cook said. “You always want to be around a great QB. You always want to be around somebody that you can pick his brain and learn from. A-Rod’s a four-time MVP. Being around a guy like that, you can learn a lot more and develop as a player.”

Even though Miami remains a dream, the reality is that Cook could sign with the Jets soon.

“I want to be part of something special as a player,” he told NFL Network. “And I want to add to whatever they got going on. I think the possibility is high, right now, of getting things done,” he said on the odds he winds up in New York.

Cook is a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He had shoulder surgery on Feb. 14, the latest in a series of major shoulder issues that include a dislocation and a torn labrum.

He was set to earn $11 million in 2023 with the Vikings. Cook rushed for 5,024 yards and scored 43 touchdowns the past four seasons.


Preseason games are pointless. Training camp is pretty much a waste of time.

I’ve heard fans, and even the media, utter some form of these sentiments many times through the years. Heck, I’ve even listened to some established players say it in private.

As a former journeyman offensive lineman who played for five teams in seven NFL seasons, I can tell you nothing can be further from the truth, at least for guys like me who were competing for a starting job or a roster spot every year. 

In my world, training camp and the preseason were even more important than the regular season because there was no regular season for me if I didn’t perform in the six weeks leading up to it.

That said, there are plenty of bigger names who need to have a good training camp and preseason.  Here are a few guys who jump out to me as needing to play their best football this August.

Players in Need of Strong Camp

Mac Jones, QB, New England Patriots

Is it time for the “Return of the Mac” in New England?

With a stellar camp, fans and media alike will be more than happy to blame last year’s offensive coordinator — Matt Patricia — for the debacle that was Mac Jones and the passing game in 2022.

With a lousy camp, those same folks might call for Bailey Zappe to replace the former first-round pick whose performance dropped off in Year 2 after an excellent rookie campaign in 2021.

Either way, the pressure is on for Jones this August.

Chase Claypool, WR, Chicago Bears

Perhaps nobody needs Chase Claypool to have a better camp and preseason leading into the regular season than Chicago Bears second-year general manager Ryan Poles.

Poles traded what ended up being the top pick in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for Claypool, knowing he only had 1.5 years left on his rookie contract.

Claypool proceeded to catch 14 passes in seven games the remainder of the season, as the Bears lost game after game on their way to securing the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft and the No. 32 pick, which was the equivalent of a first-round pick. However, that pick went to Pittsburgh due to the Claypool trade.

Poles is desperately hoping Claypool can prove he is worthy of a new contract so that it doesn’t go down as one of the worst trades in NFL history. That starts with Claypool staying healthy and establishing a much better rapport with Bears quarterback Justin Fields during camp.

Rashaad Penny, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

Rashaad Penny falls into the Trey Lance category of having both a high ceiling and low floor for his career based on how this season, starting with training camp and the preseason, goes.

Penny has been outstanding the past couple of years when healthy. He’s establishing himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL for brief stretches, ranking No. 1 among eligible ball carriers in yards after contact.

Unfortunately, he just hasn’t stayed healthy, getting injured every season of his first five.

If Penny shows he is healthy and still has his explosiveness, he could have a massive season behind arguably the best offensive line in the NFL. Given his injury history, the Philadelphia Eagles probably won’t give him bell-cow-type touches, but the possibility still exists for an All-Pro campaign. 

Conversely, if Penny gets dinged during camp and doesn’t appear to have fully regained his burst after last year’s tibia fracture, he could get cut.

Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints

Remember this guy?  He’s actually still in the NFL and still on the New Orleans Saints. According to coach Dennis Allen, Michael Thomas is 100 percent for training camp, even though it feels like he retired a couple of years ago.

Since leading the NFL with 149 receptions and 1725 yards in 2019, Thomas has played in a grand total of 10 football games in the last three years — 10.

He is only 30 and was known more for his body control, hands and route running than his speed when he was at the top of his game. A good camp could allow the Saints to feel like they are all set with Thomas and fellow former Ohio State Buckeye Chris Olave at wide receiver.

That should remove question marks about whether or not New Orleans should add another pass catcher outside.

Trey Lance, QB, San Francisco 49ers

The myriad of possibilities for the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft seem endless at this point. It wouldn’t be shocking that with a great camp and preseason, Trey Lance could be the starting quarterback for one of the NFC favorites.

However, that seems unlikely, with the San Francisco 49ers announcing that Brock Purdy is 100 percent good to go to start training camp after elbow surgery.  

Conversely, if Lance struggles, one realistic option for the 49ers would be to trade him for pennies on the dollar. Still, with the new rule allowing three quarterbacks to dress on game day combined with the NFC Championship Game fiasco in Philadelphia last season, that seems unlikely. 

I’m most interested in the scenario in which Lance performs well but still doesn’t beat out Purdy for the starting job. Are there teams that would trade something of value to bring Lance in to compete for their starting job, or at least give the team another viable option should their incumbent falter?

Either way, Lance needs to show he still has the ability the 49ers saw when they drafted him so high and put himself in a position to get playing time somewhere. 


The Lions face expectations, the Vikings are the defending champs, the Packers are rebuilding and the Bears look to take a step up. Here are nine summer thoughts on the NFC North.


*The Lions not only finished last year strong, but they had what looks like a good offseason. Detroit drafted Sam LaPorta, the best tight end in college football. They added Jahmyr Gibbs, a speedy running back from Alabama. And for more running game help, they raided Chicago to get David Montgomery. The quarterback, Jared Goff, has had an interesting career. He’s been a #1 overall pick with the Rams, gotten his team to a Super Bowl and then been cut loose. Goff, in a way, is a perfect microcosm of his team—he’s got all the pieces in place, there’s reason for optimism, but it’s hard to know what to make of him.

*There’s plenty to love about the pass-rushing combo at defensive end, with Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston. The duo, both coming off strong rookie campaigns, key up what promises to be a strong pass rush.  I like the draft move to add linebacker Jack Campbell, the Butkus Award winner, who can stabilize the middle. The defense as a whole ranked 28th in the league in points allowed last year and they still nearly made the playoffs. It won’t take much improvement to make a difference in the W-L column.


*I generally don’t get too excited about wide receivers, seeing most of them as a product of the quarterback they play with. But there are exceptions and Justin Jefferson is clearly one of them. This is an offense that didn’t run the ball well last year. And while Kirk Cousins is good enough at quarterback, the reason the Vikings ended up 8th in the league in points scored is Jefferson. When you consider that Minnesota didn’t run the ball, didn’t play defense, won a lot of close games through their passing game, and ran away with the division title, it’s fair to ask why Jefferson didn’t get at least some consideration in the MVP voting.

*Head coach Kevin O’Connell was all too aware of the defensive shortcomings, ones that led to Minnesota’s now-predictable first-round playoff flameout. O’Connell hired Brian Flores to run the defense and the expectation is that the Vikings will bring more pressure. That should be music to the ears of Danielle Hunter on the edge. And Flores will need Harrison Smith, one of the league’s great strong safeties, but now 33-years-old, to keep producing.


*The Jordan Love era begins in Green Bay. The Packers are counting on quantity to produce quality at the receiver spots—they’ve picked seven wide receivers in the last three drafts, four of them in the fourth round or higher. Green Bay has also attempted to be more physical in the running game since the arrival of head coach Matt LaFleur in 2019. They have a tough duo in A.J. Dillon and Aaron Jones, and a healthy David Bakhtiari will be good for the offensive line. What no one knows is how much the running game of recent years was facilitated by the presence of Rodgers. If LaFleur wants to keep the pressure off of Love, he’ll have to find some way of preventing opposing defenses from stacking the box and going one-on-one with the young receivers.

*While the Packers have invested Draft Day quantity on receivers lately, they’ve used their money picks on defense. In 2022, it was Quay Walker and Devonte Wyatt from Georgia, a program known to play a little defense of late. This past spring it was Lukas Van Ness out of Iowa, another historically good defensive school. But Van Ness will have to go through something of a conversion, from defensive end to outside linebacker. It’s hardly an unprecedented move, but it should temper expectations in this first year. Which means coordinator Joe Barry, on a hot seat after producing the 17th-ranked unit last year, should keep that resume updated.


*It’s a big year for Justin Fields. With the #1 pick in the draft and the chance to get Bryce Young from Alabama, the Bears instead stayed with Fields and dealt the pick to get more help elsewhere. I think it was the right move. But, with all candor, my record judging quarterbacks is about as good as that of Chicago’s front office. The draft-day trade gave Fields a true #1 receiver in D.J. Moore. But free agency also cost them Montgomery, as noted above. This is Fields’ third year and improvement has to start by cutting down on the mistakes. His 3.5% interception rate needs to be cut in half.

*The Bears made some good moves on the defensive side of the ball. They hit the free agent market and added Tremaine Edmund and T.J. Edwards. Coming from Buffalo and Philadelphia respectively, the new additions not only provide a significant talent upgrade, but they come from winning cultures, often the hardest thing for a long-suffering franchise like Chicago’s to shed.



The Pac-12 Conference issued a statement aimed at stability after Colorado became the third school in a year to announce plans to leave. The nine schools remaining for the 2024-25 season were largely silent Friday.

Colorado on Thursday announced it would join the Big 12 beginning in 2024, joining Big Ten-bound Southern California and UCLA in an exodus that could continue in coming weeks and months. Their departures coincide with the expiration of the league’s current media rights deals and the Pac-12 has not yet announced a lucrative deal going forward.

Shortly after CU’s regents approved the move to the Big 12, the Pac-12 issued a statement pledging to soldier on. Possible Pac-12 expansion targets could include San Diego State and SMU.

“We are focused on concluding our media rights deal and securing our continued success and growth,” the Pac-12 said. “Immediately following the conclusion of our media rights deal, we will embrace expansion opportunities and bring new fans, markets, excitement and value to the Pac-12.”

The Pac-12’s media rights contract expires at the end of the 2023-24 academic year, and Commissioner George Kliavkoff has not noted any progress in landing a new deal.

Oregon State was the only Pac-12 school to comment following the Colorado announcement. A founding member of the league in 1915, Oregon State is considered one of the least likely schools to be poached by another conference.

“Oregon State Athletics trusts that the Pac-12 will secure a media rights deal that will strongly benefit the institutions that are remaining loyal to this conference,” Oregon State athletic director Scott Barnes said. “All of us at Oregon State will continue to work hard and diligently to continue the long-term membership and success of our athletic department at a national level.”

Oregon State President Jayathi Murthy said his school joins other members in reaffirming its commitment to the Pac-12.

“We are united by our shared values, our passion for the highest level of intercollegiate athletic competition, our leadership roles as Tier 1 research universities and our support for student-athletes’ academic and athletic excellence,” Murthy said.

The administrations and athletic departments at Utah and Washington declined comment. Arizona State, California and Washington State athletic departments also declined comment, as did the Arizona president’s office.

Oregon and Stanford did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Arizona, Arizona State and Utah are believed to be potential targets for further Big 12 expansion, though those schools publicly committed to the Pac-12 prior to Colorado’s announced departure. The Big 12 has a six-year, $2 billion contract that is projected to net annual revenue of $31 million for each school.

Under then-Commissioner Kevin Warren, the Big Ten still had eyes out west even after landing USC and UCLA, with Oregon and Washington having the most appeal of the remaining Pac-12 schools. But Warren is gone now and his replacement, Tony Pettit, said earlier this week that the Big Ten isn’t eager to expand more.


As that sage philosopher Yogi Berra supposedly opined, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Not to worry.

We’re diving right in with a bold forecast of where college football is headed over the next decade, with the caveat that we’ve got about as much chance of getting this right as landing a ticket to a Taylor Swift concert. Here goes:

2023 — After breaking all box office records, “Barbie” gets invitations from both the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten. She politely declines, deciding it’s more profitable for now to remain on a twin bill with “Oppenheimer.” Nevertheless, Mattel begins exploring whether to add a pink stadium to its line of Barbie products.

2024 — In previously announced moves, Texas and Oklahoma move to the SEC, Southern Cal and UCLA join the Big Ten, and Colorado returns to the Big 12. The Big Ten also adds Washington and Oregon, the Big 12 picks off Arizona, Arizona State and Utah, and the Pac-12 changes its name to the Pac-4. The “Conference of Champions” finally lands a TV deal, agreeing to a 12-year, $17.50 package with ESPN8, The Ocho.

2025 — In a stunning move, Elon Musk pays $44 billion for the Pac-4, rebrands it Conference X, shoos away its last four members and hires Joe Rogan as commissioner. With membership down to zero, the league insists that it remains a viable entity but still gets dropped from the College Football Playoff (which no one realized it was eligible for, anyway).

2026 — The World Cup comes to the United States, so naturally the SEC seizes the moment by grabbing France, Germany and Italy for its new European Division before their squads can return home. Not to be outdone, the Big Ten expands further westward with clubs from Japan, South Korea and Australia.

2027 — After realizing that France, Germany, Italy play a different kind of football, an embarrassed SEC disbands its European Division. But the Big Ten doubles down, growing to 106 teams playing several variations of football on every continent, including the newly founded University of Antarctica (which, with rapidly warming temperatures, has become a trendy destination for high school grads). The league announces a new $1.7 quadrillion television package that will allow it to show a weekly block of games from 6 a.m. Saturday until midnight Friday.

2028 — Perturbed at the Big Ten for expanding into its South Pole footprint, the SEC swipes Clemson, Florida State, Miami from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The remaining ACC members drop their football programs, finally acknowledging they really are a basketball league.

2029 — Notre Dame ends its decades-long tease by deciding to join a football conference. Still mad at being blackballed from the Big Ten by former Michigan coach Fielding Yost (who died in 1946) and realistic that they have no chance of beating anyone in the SEC beyond Vanderbilt, the Fighting Irish announce they are headed to the Big 12.

2030 — Suddenly realizing that the Big 12 still exists, and had actually grown to 32 members with the addition of Notre Dame, the Big Ten and SEC swoop in to divvy up a bunch of schools that neither conference really wants. Asked why they executed this disgraceful power play against a league with more survival skills than Bear Grylls (who, coincidentally, had been named head of the Big 12 a few years earlier), commissioners Greg Sankey and Tony Petitti issue a simple joint statement: “Spite.”

2031 — Angry at the demise of the Big 12, not to mention its 70-7 loss to Baylor in the conference’s final championship game, Notre Dame returns to being an independent. But the Fighting Irish promise to explore the possibility of joining either the Big Ten or SEC in the near future. We’ll check back around 2050.

2032 — The major college landscape now consists of only two super, duper conferences. The College Football Playoff expands to 48 teams, split evenly between the SEC and Big Ten. Even with all those schools, the title game is all too familiar: Georgia vs. Alabama. The Crimson Tide wins its fifth in the last decade (the Bulldogs had claimed the other five) and rewards 81-year-old Nick Saban with a 25-year, $500 million contract extension. Saban, who has purchased most of neighboring north Georgia to build second, third and fourth vacation homes, grumbles about the ruinous effects of NIL on the college game.

2033 — With fan interest waning and griping that a 24-game conference schedule is too taxing on the players — remember, it’s all about the student-athletes — the Big Ten and SEC decide to split their memberships along regional lines. The Big Ten spins off its western schools into a new entity known as the Pac-10. The SEC assigns its members along the Atlantic seaboard to an upstart league known as the ACC. A joint venture takes a dozen schools in the middle of the country; the Big 12 is deemed an appropriate moniker.

Suddenly, everyone realizes it is 1996 all over again.


BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Colorado’s return to the Big 12 in 2024 fits right into Deion Sanders’ recruiting blueprint, allowing him to get an even better foothold in the teeming Texas and Florida markets.

“I think Colorado is already an exciting team on the recruiting trail with Coach Prime and his experienced staff full of college coaches who have been around for a while and a lot of guys with NFL pedigree,” said Steve Wiltfong, national recruiting director for 247Sports. “So I think more than anything it adds to the excitement because it’s moving to what is certainly a more stable conference and one that just had a football team (TCU) in the playoff.”

Athletic director Rick George said he kept basketball coaches Tad Boyle and JR Payne in the loop along with Sanders, who’s entering his first season in Boulder, before the CU board of regents rubber-stamped Colorado’s return to the Big 12 on Thursday.

“I think all of them felt like: Whatever you think’s best for us, we’re going to play whomever you ask us to play,” George said. “I will tell you, there are tremendous benefits for being in the Big 12 for the direction that Coach Prime’s going as it relates to recruiting, being able to play in Orlando against UCF, where he’s recruiting very heavily (and) the state of Texas has always been a priority for us.”

The newfangled Big 12 isn’t the same league the Buffs left in 2011 during the initial rounds of conference realigment when Texas A&M, Missouri and Nebraska also left. Texas and Oklahoma are leaving next year for the Big Ten. TCU and West Virginia came on board a decade ago and Cincinnati, Houston, BYU and Central Florida were added this year.

Sanders, who’s overseen the biggest roster overhaul in the nation since his hiring this spring, already has strong roots in Florida and Texas.

He was born in Fort Myers and starred at Florida State before embarking on a dual sports career as an NFL defensive back and a Major League outfielder. Some of his best years came during his half decade with the Cowboys from 1995-99 and he still has a home in the Dallas area.

When the Buffaloes return to the Big 12 next year, they will have four conference opponents in the Lone Star State in TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor and Houston, which features one of the nation’s largest television markets.

“Houston has always been a favorable market for us in recruiting,” said George, who then mentioned a few players from CU’s heyday in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. “You think back to Alfred Williams, Kanavis McGhee and Chris Hudson. That area — the fifth-largest market in the country — also was a factor” in Colorado’s decision to return to the Big 12.

“Colorado recruits Texas hard because it’s an obvious state to go recruit,” Wiltfong said, “and now being in the Big 12, with all those Texas teams, it gives them one more inch to say, ’Hey, we’re going to be coming to the Lone Star State a lot throughout your career to play some big games.’”

Wiltfong expects Sanders to compete with the big boys when it comes to the recruiting trails of Texas.

“Deion’s lived in Texas, right? Deion is going to go where the players are. He’s going to recruit nationally because his name is electric,” Wiltfong said.

Colorado is the third school to leave the Pac-12 in the last year, joining UCLA and USC, which are going to the Big Ten next year. The moves coincide with the expiration of current media rights deals with ESPN and Fox.

Colorado is expected to get $31.7 million in annual TV revenue in the Big 12, which last year came to an agreement with ESPN and Fox on a six-year extension worth more than $2 billion that runs through 2030-31.

After Colorado’s vote to leave, the Pac-12 issued a statement that read, “We are focused on concluding our media rights deal and securing our continued success and growth. Immediately following the conclusion of our media rights deal, we will embrace expansion opportunities and bring new fans, markets, excitement and value to the Pac-12.”


2022 Record: 6-7 overall, 3-6 in Big 12
Head Coach: Brent Venables, 2nd year: 6-7

Maybe, for just that penultimate year in the Big 12, the rest of the conference caught up to Oklahoma.

On the way to the College Football Playoff, the 2017 Sooners were able to work their way through the conference that had two other very good teams, a bunch of okay ones, and two in Baylor and Kansas that did absolutely nothing.

The 2018 Big 12 was okay, but other than a solid Texas squad there weren’t many threats to OU’s conference title hopes. The 2019 Big 12 was also decent – Baylor was great – but it wasn’t exactly a gauntlet of a conference run to get another title and a CFP appearance.

2020 was 2020 – everything was a weird – and 40% of the league finished with losing records partly because there weren’t a ton of fluffy non-conference games – Oklahoma still managed to win the Big 12 title. Half of the league finished with losing records with a full slate in 2021.

The 2022 Big 12? TCU put together a historic run, Kansas State was fantastic, and Texas Tech, Kansas, and Texas were all dangerous. Eight teams ended up going bowling, and the two that didn’t – West Virginia and Iowa State – were hardly the free space games of previous Big 12 bottom-dwellers. The conference was really good from top to bottom.

And yes, Oklahoma was off.

That started to happen at the end of 2021, and the coaching change to Brent Venables in 2022 was a major pivot, but to look at the 6-7 season – OU’s first losing campaign since 1998 – and call it almost half full, maybe it was a trial run for what’s coming.

It’s Oklahoma. It’s supposed to be playing for the Big 12 Championship, no matter what. That had better happen this year, because …

Fast-forward to 2024, and the Oklahoma football schedule gets Alabama, LSU, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Auburn, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas in conference play. The 2023 Big 12 conference slate is a soft kiss on the forehead compared to the SEC schedule, and under Venables the program has to show it’s got the parts, systems, and momentum in place to handle life in the big city.

Again, to look on the bright side of 2022, losing to Kansas State and TCU – as it turned out – was forgivable, injuries were part of the problem in the debacle against Texas, and the road losses to West Virginia and Texas Tech were each by three points and could’ve gone the other way.

And then there was the Cheez-It Bowl loss to a red-hot Florida State team. That was a fight of a 35-32 Sooner loss that came down to a last minute field goal – the team showed up.

There’s a ton of work that still needs to be done, but the 2023 Sooners will be a whole lot better, the schedule is a lot more manageable, and they should get a huge season from the …

For all of the narratives about how things were different without Lincoln Riley around, and without a Heisman-caliber quarterback running the attack, the offense wasn’t all that bad.

It led the Big 12 in total offense, was balanced, great on the ground, and it didn’t have a problem with turnovers. There was an issue putting the biscuit in the basket at a consistent level, but overall the O came up with more yards – 6,162 to 5,851 – than the 2021 version.

Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, Spencer Rattler, Caleb Williams. Since 2015 those were the top Oklahoma quarterbacks. Two Heisman winners, two No. 1 picks in the draft, an NFL MVP-caliber superstar, and a guy with the best arm out of all of them.

All things considered, former UCF transfer Dillon Gabriel did just fine, throwing for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns with just six picks. He’s a solid starting quarterback, but the future is coming with the new guy – 6-1, 206-pound Jackson Arnold – one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterback recruits and the possible starter when SEC life begins next year.

There’s no Marvin Mims to throw to, but No. 2 WR Jalil Farooq is back along with Drake Stoops as a go-to inside guy. On the way is Andel Anthony, a big-time recruit for Michigan who should be a bigger factor at OU. Former Sooner-turned-South Carolina Gamecock-turned-Sooner Austin Stogner is back at tight end – he’ll catch at least 25 passes.

Eric Gray is gone after leading the way with 1,366 yards and 11 scores, but the ground game should still be explosive with Jovantae Barnes good enough to take on a bigger role, There are a few nice backs behind him, and Gabriel is likely to account for at least 300 yards.

They’re all working behind an improved line that was good for the ground game but struggled in pass protection. Transfers OT Walter Rouse (Stanford) and OG Caleb Shaffer (Miami University) are two instant fill-ins around all-star C Andrew Raym and a decent group returning.

The O has to keep pumping out the production, or the Sooners need a much better year from the …

Oklahoma Sooners Preview: Defense

You don’t have a head coach with the defensive mind of Brent Venables and have the second-worst defense in the Big 12. There wasn’t anything happening consistently against the run, the pass D was dead last in the conference, and no team in America allowed more first downs per game. However, the parts are there to do a whole lot more, and …

The Sooners lived in opposing backfields. There weren’t enough sacks, but the D cranked up a whopping 104 tackles for loss with the plays coming from everywhere.

The line is set at tackle with veterans Jordan Kelley and Isaiah Coe in place, but transfers Jacob Lacey (Notre Dame) and Davon Sears (Texas State) will get plenty of time. The combination of Ethan Downs, Reggie Grimes, and Wake Forest transfer Rondell Bothroyd will keep the heat coming, but …

The stars this year should be in the linebacking corps.
 Danny Stutsman is a future NFL outside linebacker who did it all, leading the team with 124 stops with three sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss, and two picks. He’s outside, so is Indiana transfer Dasan McCullough around Jaren Kanak, who’ll likely take over on the inside with second-leading tackler David Ugwoegbu leaving for Houston.

If the pass rush can be a wee bit stronger, the defensive backs should be far more of a factor this season.
 Top corner Jaden Davis left for Miami, but Woodi Washington is a good all-around veteran corner. The safety situation is better with Reggie Pearson (Houston) coming in and with Billy Bowman – one of the quicker strong safeties in the country – returning.

Oklahoma Sooners Preview 2023: Keys To The Season, Top Players, What Will Happen

Stop the run already. There’s a recent history of Oklahoma defenses struggling, but the offense managed to make up for it. The 2018 team was good enough to win the Big 12 and go to the College Football Playoff, but two of its four worst days of the year against the run came in the losses to Texas and Alabama – the pass D was the bigger issue.

The glitch was fixed in 2019, but the team went 3-2 when allowing 160 rushing yards or more and 9-0 when giving up fewer. Fast forward to last year – Oklahoma was 6-1 when allowing fewer than 200 yards rushing yards and 0-6 when giving up more, and that’s the problem. No one does well when giving up 200 rushing yards, much less five times.

Oklahoma Sooners Top Transfer, Biggest Loss

DE Rondell Bothroyd in from Wake Forest, LB David Ugwoegbu gone to Houston. The Sooners won’t have any problems getting into the backfield again, but they need a star pass rusher to make offenses worry. That might just be the 6-3, 275-pound sixth-year senior from Wake Forest, who came up with 13 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons.

Oklahoma should be solid and set at linebacker, but it’s still not a plus to lose a veteran as good as David Ugwoegbu. The four-year part of the defensive puzzle left with 208 tackles, four sacks, and 16 tackles for loss coming off a big 2022.

Oklahoma Sooners Key Player

Walter Rouse, OT, Sr. There are plenty of good transfers coming in – S Reggie Pearson from Texas Tech and Bothroyd from Wake Forest might make the biggest splash – but Oklahoma needs the Stanford guy to be the best of the bunch.

Rouse was a massive recruit for the Cardinal. He has the 6-6, 315-pound size and NFL starting upside, and he was good. Not amazing, but good enough with the talent to come to Norman as a starting left tackle.