The 7 Most Electric Running Backs of the Last Decade

The QB is the playmaker of the team, and almost always the highest drafted by the NFL – but Running Backs are almost definitely the most entertaining to watch. The jukes, stiff arms and hurdles make them some of the most dynamic, powerful and entertaining athletes in any sport. With that, here’s our 7 most exciting RB’s of the last decade that we love to binge watch highlights of.

7. Derrick Henry

Henry couldn’t go unnoticed. The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner (the only non-QB to win it in the last decade) was Alabama’s workhorse in their national championship run. While he doesn’t boast the insane production of some of the others on this list, Derrick Henry could explode whenever you needed him, and that brought the Crimson Tide the title. Plus, you’d be hard pressed to find someone with a nastier stiff arm.

6. Montee Ball

The above video is one of the best highlights ever. Montee Ball was a monster, and any defender trying to stop him was simply at his whim. Just look how he spins players off and then pushes them away to charge into the end zone. Wisconsin is known to produce beastly running backs (with a few others on this list), but Ball was truly something special. He could always manage a touchdown, as shown above; in fact, he had 33 rushing TD’s his senior year, the single season record for the decade.

5. Christian McCaffrey

Anyone that watched McCaffrey in his 2016 season should know why he’s on this list. The man was an absolute tractor, pushing aside anyone in his way. McCaffrey is another person on this list that doesn’t boast insane total yardage, but he was the very definition of electric. Anytime the ball ended up in McCaffrey’s hands, there’s a chance it was going for a touchdown. And anyway – 3,922 career yards ain’t shabby.

4. Melvin Gordon

Melvin Gordon was the human highlight reel. He could hurdle anybody, and leapt over plenty of desperate defenders on his way to the end zone. He had a whopping 4,915 yards in his college career, with over 2,500 of those in his record breaking junior year. He also boasted a whopping 45 rushing touchdowns. In the above game vs. Nebraska, Melvin Gordon broke LaDainian Tomlinson’s single-game rushing record with 408 yards. He had 16.3 yards per carry – scary!

3. Saquon Barkley

“HE IS SO ELECTRIC!” – you got that right. If Gordon is the human highlight reel, Saquon is the human cheat code. No matter what situation you put him in he could break out for a big gain. The man was monstrous, with some of the biggest quads the game has ever seen. He’s continuing to dominate in the NFL with the New York Giants, proving he’s a generational talent at his position. Saquon’s college career brought 3,843 rushing yards, 1,195 receiving yards, and 51 total TD’s.

2. Donnel Pumphrey

6,405 rushing yards. Need we say more? Donnel Pumphrey was the king of speed, repeatedly torching opponents defenses and making them look like kids. Game after game Pumphrey embarrassed anyone that tried to tackle him and broke record after record while doing so. While our #1 came close to knocking him off, Pumphrey retains the FBS record for career rushing yards. Simply electric.

1. Johnathan Taylor

Johnathan Taylor was something else. You can claim recency bias, but the numbers and film don’t lie. Taylor had two seasons with over 2,000 rushing yards and was only 25 yards away from having a third his freshmen year. Opposing teams always put everyone they could on him, and yet he still managed a career 6.7 yards per carry. He wasn’t facing easy opponents either; these were stacked Big 10 defenses built to stop the run, and Johnathan Taylor just shredded them. He was a generational talent, a Badger legend, and any NFL fan is eagerly waiting to see what he’ll do there.

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Tennessee is Poised for a Leap to the Top

Everyone has an opinion on the Volunteers. Many hate them, in fact, most probably hate them. They have arguably the largest online presence of any fan base, and that doesn’t help. But they have consistently had some of the best teams in CFB history and when they’re down, they’re not down for long. And while last season had one of the worst starts in Vol history, it appears a massive rebound is exactly what’s coming next. Here’s why we’re making that prediction:

Defense

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For starters, the Volunteers return their entire Defensive Line. The team will miss Darrell Taylor, but have signees Tyler Baron and Morven Joseph coming in. Pruitt’s defense has been consistently getting more cohesive and effective, and 2020 may be their greatest improvement yet with the amount of returning talent. Cornerbacks Bryce Thompson, Alontae Taylor and Shawn Shamburger will surely be feasting downfield. It became clear how vital Thompson was when the defense got significantly better following his return from suspension. Shamburger should also provide leadership to the ‘backs group in his senior year. Tennessee is adding promising recruits to an extremely experienced defense; they should have one of the Top 25 defenses in the country barring any major injuries.

QB Potential

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Jarrett Guarantano didn’t have the best 2019 season. There were some shining moments of potential, but the terrible start to the season as well as glaring inconsistency made him out to be one of the worst QBs in the SEC. However, with the 2020 season comes a new opportunity, and Guarantano is up for it. He announced he had “unfinished business,” and a second year under experienced OC Jim Chaney should help Guarantano iron out the wrinkles. As an added bonus, touted recruit Harrison Bailey is waiting in the wings. He can watch and learn from Guarantano, and if things don’t pan out well, be ready to replace him. Either way, the QB will be protected because…

O Line Improvement

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Pruitt and Chaney have worked year round to improve the Vol O Line over the last two years, and it’s paid off. Furthermore, *all five* starting O Linemen are returning. This should do wonders for chemistry and consistency, especially since last year’s squad already saw great improvement by the end of the season. Trey Smith, who made the All-SEC first team last season, will lead this group. Guarantano will have a comfortable pocket.

Coaching

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Any Vol that’s been paying close attention should be thrilled with what Pruitt’s built so far. Sure, a 13-12 record doesn’t look stellar on paper, but the improvement over the last two years has been notable. Last season certainly had a rocky start, but the Vols comeback, six game winning streak and Gator Bowl win over a strong Indiana team perhaps show Pruitt’s coaching strength more than anything. The Volunteers really figured things out in the second half of the season, and you have to give Coach Pruitt credit. He’s clearly built a culture down there, and something tells me we’re just starting to see the benefits of this. We’ll see if Pruitt can be the first of Saban’s former assistants to take him down.

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Top 10 Non Conference Games of the 2020 Season

Here we go again. It’s the end of February and the off-season seems to go by slower and slower. It’s around this time that the speculations of the college football world start kicking into high gear. Conversations about what teams will have a down year, which players will shine the best, and who will make the playoff are already in full swing, and although those conversations are fun to talk about, it’s still too early to tell. Spring games are still a month and a half away and the summer workouts and practices are even farther than that.

However, one of the many things that can be talked about for this upcoming season are what games can impact the college football landscape the most, specifically the non-conference games, as they can either give a team a massive boost to their morale and resume to carry on into conference play, or leave a bitter taste in their mouths that could impact their season.

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Let’s look at one example; LSU-Texas was undoubtedly the most important non-conference matchup in 2019. It kickstarted LSU’s historic championship season with a quality win on the road versus a (at the time) Top 10 Power 5 team, while Texas couldn’t seem to recover, going 7-5 in the regular season.

There are many games this year that could have the same impact. In this list we’ll look at the top 10 non-conference matchups of the 2020 college football season, and how they could impact the CFB world.

Honorable Mentions

Miami @ Michigan State (Sep. 26th)

Although this game doesn’t seem to have major implications, it will be interesting to see how Michigan State fares under a new head coach, and if Manny Diaz can get the train rolling for the U.

Oklahoma vs. Army (Sep 26th)

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Trap game, Trap game, Trap game. Both OU in 2018 and Michigan in 2019 learned the dangers of underestimating this Army team, and the triple option is just so difficult to game plan for.

Iowa State @ Iowa (Sep 12th)

The annual battle for the CyHawk trophy is always a must watch. Although both teams are dark horse candidates to win their division/conference, it will be interesting to see how each team plays with their increasing expectations. Can Iowa state pick up their first win in the rivalry since 2014?

Florida State @ Boise State (Sep. 5th)

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Everyone thought this game was over by halftime last year Florida State was up 31-19. However, Boise State came charging back and won the game 36-31, shutting out the Seminoles in the second half. With FSU looking to bounce back after a 6-7 season and Boise State looking to reclaim the title as the best G5 team in the nation, this is a must watch game.

Notre Dame @ USC (Nov. 28th)

By this time of year, these two teams will either have their fates decided or this game will determine who makes the College Football Playoff, There is no in-between. How will Clay Helton respond after constant calls for his firing last season, if he is still the head coach at this point? And can ND continue their winning streak? They have taken 4 out of the last 5 against the Trojans. Do they have the skills to make it 5 out of the last 6?

Top 10 Non-Conference Games

  1. North Carolina vs. Auburn (Sep. 12th, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia)

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I see a fair amount of people overlooking this game, and I don’t understand why. Mack Brown has put in a winning mindset at UNC; don’t let last year’s record fool you. Although they finished 7-6, they never lost a game by more than 8 points, with two of those losses coming in OT, and an almost upset victory over Clemson. This game for UNC comes after a trip on the road vs UCF and starting the season 2-0 against these opponents could help boost UNC up the ACC ladder. Auburn is an interesting case, as this will be the first true test under the Chad Morris/Bo Nix offense, along with how well Auburn replaced 4 former starters on the offensive line. Will Nix and a deep running back core for the Tigers be enough to top the Tar Heels? As for the grand scheme of things, Auburn has a tough schedule towards the end of the season, with their last two games against LSU and Alabama, as well as playing at Georgia early on. If they want to make the CFP, they cannot afford an early season loss. However, this is UNC’s, as well as the ACC’s, chance to show the world that their conference isn’t “Clemson and Friends” and that the depth of the ACC should not be overlooked.

  1. Penn State @ Virginia Tech (Sep. 12th)

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This matchup gives vibes of a game that will originally fly under the radar but could become an instant classic. VT had a bad end to the season, losing to their rival Virginia for the first time since 2003 and losing their bowl game to a Kentucky team playing a Wide Receiver at QB. However, saying that this Virginia Tech team will be experienced is an understatement, as all 5 O-linemen, their 4 best pass catchers, and their punter and kicker are coming back. The defensive side is a similar story, as they are only losing 1 safety to the draft. Penn State on the other hand is only returning 5 starters on defense. However, Sean Clifford is back again for the Nittany Lions and looks to improve on a good season from last year. This game could provide each team with a strong non-conference victory when it comes time to decide bowl games and potential CFP spots, and it can give an insight on the state of the ACC Coastal and the Big Ten East.

  1. Georgia vs. Virginia (Sep. 5th, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia)

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Opening Weekend has been providing us with eye-opening matchups. Although neutral site, this will essentially be a home game for the Bulldogs. Georgia will look like a very different team from last year though, only returning 10 out of the 22 starters on offense and defense. Still, a top 5 recruiting class and high expectations set in place by Kirby Smart should help lead the Bulldogs to another successful year. Virginia is coming off a 9-5 season which is a far cry from where there were just a few short years ago. Although they will have to replace Bryce Perkins at QB, which is by far their greatest loss, their defense returns several veterans to have a solid core to work around. The overall college football world will view this game to evaluate Georgia’s performance, and how they fare against this Virginia team without Jake Fromm. Although Virginia is far from the same team that was playing in the Orange Bowl a few months ago, it will be noteworthy to see how this ACC-SEC matchup plays out.

  1. USC vs. Alabama (Sep. 5th AT&T Stadium, Dallas, Texas)

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Welcome to the annual “Why is this game at a neutral site, it would be better to see each team play a home-and-home series” opening week game of 2020. Regardless, this game will show the strengths and weaknesses of both teams right from the start. USC finished 8-5 last season and Clay Helton was on and off the hot seat throughout the year, and a lackluster 2020 recruit class may spell some trouble for the upcoming future. Revenge is on the table for the Trojans though, after 2016’s 52-6 loss to the Tide. But, Alabama is out to prove something this season. It was the first year they missed the CFP and suffered losses to LSU and rival Auburn. Bama also lost Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III on offense, as well as some key players on defense. But Mack Jones and Najee Harris are ready to take run the bulk of the offense for the Crimson Tide this year, and Nick Saban will make sure the Bama defense is ready for anything. Overall, this game will show how ready Alabama is to bounce back, and if USC can stand up and put up a fight. Because, if they get blown out by Alabama, how will they fare against Oregon, Utah, and Notre Dame?

  1. Tennessee @ Oklahoma (Sep. 12th)

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It was the 2015 OU vs. Tennessee game where Baker Mayfield made his name known to the nation. Will this game be as intriguing? Tennessee looks to continue its strong 2019 finish into this year. Even with all the drama in Knoxville, Jeremy Pruitt took an at the time 2-5 Tennessee team on a 6-game win streak to finish 8-5 with a bowl win over Indiana. With a good recruiting class coming in as well as a good number of returning starters, this game will be a great test for this rising Tennessee team. As for Oklahoma, losing a QB, a star WR, and number of key assets on defense can look troubling for some teams.But as the last few years showed, that’s not the case for OU. However, this will be the first year where a Lincoln Riley recruited and trained QB will take the starting role. It will be Oklahoma’s chance to show that they don’t rebuild, they reload. If Tennessee keeps the game close or wins, the legitimacy of the Big 12 will be in question, while an OU win or blow out will show that the Vols still have a long way to go and the Big 12 still runs through Norman.

  1. Michigan @ Washington (Sep. 5th)

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If this game were played in 2016, it could have very well been the most watched game of the year. In the year 2020, things have changed a bit, but it is still a matchup worth taking a closer look at. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan team has not been very good against good teams on the road, and after losing their starting QB, a few WRs, and several players on the defensive side, it will be interesting to see how they handle a trip to the hostile environment in Seattle. Washington had a down year last year finishing 8-5, and with the sudden resignation of Chris Peterson, former Defensive Coordinator Jimmy Lake is now the HC. With a fair number of starters returning on the defensive side, it should make for a good matchup coming September in the Evergreen State. For the rest of the college football world, more people will be looking for how Michigan does against Washington, rather than the other way around. Can this finally be Michigan’s year? Can Jim Harbaugh pick up another signature win on the road? Two top teams from the Pac 12 and Big 10 week one will set the tone for the rest of the season for each team, as well as early playoff predictions.

  1. Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin (Oct. 3rd, Lambeau Field, Green Bay Wisconsin)

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We have a showdown in the Frozen Tundra on this October Saturday. Wisconsin will play this game one week after returning from Michigan in what is expected to be back-to-back top 25 games. How will the offense do without Johnathon Taylor in the backfield? Or will it even matter? Wisconsin is returning a lot of starters on defense and is expected to be one of the best in the nation. Ian Book will be in his 3rd year as a starter, and this will be his first real test. If Wisconsin loses, how can they beat Ohio State, Iowa, or Minnesota? If Notre Dame loses, how can they beat Clemson? This is a game where each team has a lot more to lose than to gain, and whoever comes out on top has a chance to control their own destiny.

  1. Clemson @ Notre Dame (Nov. 7th)

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A November non-conference game with major implications? How could we leave this off the list? This is Notre Dame’s third time on this list (including honorable mentions), and this one is their most important. By this point of the season, Notre Dame will have played Pitt and Wisconsin, and could be in the mix for a bid in the CFP. They’re also looking to avenge last year’s loss to the Tigers. For Clemson, this game comes off a bye week, and could very well be their first ranked opponent of the season. Expectations are high for this team, and no one feels that more than Trevor Lawrence, with his sole loss coming to the LSU Tigers in the National Championship Game. A loss could put an end to either team’s CFP hopes, so don’t expect anything less than the best from this November matchup.

  1. Texas @ LSU (Sep. 12th)

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Part 2 of 2 in this home-and-home series, last year’s edition was the most anticipated non-conference matchup of 2019. For LSU, this game can show that last year wasn’t a one-year wonder and has a chance to prove that even with all the losses to the offense, defense, and coaching staff that they are still a force to be reckoned with. For Texas, this year is all business. The “We’re baaaaaack” statement has long passed the mind of Sam Ehlinger, who has returned for another year to lead the Texas offense. For the College Football World, a lot of eyes will be on this game to see what the playoff field will look like. It seems at this point, no less than 3 SEC teams will be in consideration for the CFP come mid-November, and if you’re not a fan of that, Texas is the team to root for. When it comes to teams on the outside looking in, the more losses each SEC team has, the better.

 

     1. Ohio State @ Oregon (Sep. 12th)

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This is the top game of the year in the non-conference, as two great teams who played in the first college football playoff championship game face off again. For Ohio State, going into Eugene to face a top Pac-12 opponent will be a great test to see how the Justin Fields/Ryan Day connection has grown over the off-season, and a win on the road versus this Ducks team early on in the season could pay off toward playoff selection time. For Oregon, this will show how a Justin Herbert-less offense steps up to the challenge against a team with a strong defense, and how can their defense fair against a top scoring team in the nation? This is a chance for the Pac-12 to enforce its claim that its top teams can go toe-to-toe with the top teams of the other Power 5 conferences. Fun Fact: Oregon has NEVER beaten Ohio State (tOSU leads 9-0 in the all-time series).

Written by Sidelines – Oklahoma (@Sidelines_OU)

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Data Dive – NFL Combine

The NFL Combine provides an opportunity for NFL GMs to wipe their mind of all scouting info from games and instead dwell on the hand size of an athlete.

In all seriousness, the NFL Combine is a fun chance for fans to see just what these incredible athletes can accomplish, and often be surprised by some ridiculous standouts. But for college athletic departments, it’s also a marketing opportunity to show how much NFL talent they’ve been able to develop (even if some players were already beasts out of high school). In this post we’re going to dive in to the data and see which conferences and teams have the largest representation.

Combine Athletes By P5 Conference

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No surprise here, the SEC produces a heck of a lot of NFL talent. Perhaps the most surprising is that the Big 12 is in dead last, but a factor is also that the conference has less teams. So, here’s the same chart but with Avg. # of Combine Athletes per Team.

Combine Athletes per Team by P5 Conference

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Notre Dame kind of gets an unfair advantage here, since they’re the only Independent we’ve considered P5 for this data. When your one representative has 9 athletes, you get a boost. Again, the SEC is still dominating here, but what’s interesting is that the gap between the Pac 12 and the Big 10 significantly closes. While combine representation is a mix of how well schools recruit and how well they develop their talent, this makes a good case for the Pac 12 not being as far behind in talent as some think. ACC truly gets left in the dust here, showing that while they have good total representation its really Miami and Clemson carrying the weight.

On that note, let’s look at the schools that are the top performers.

Combine Athletes by School: Top 10

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While this attests to how talented LSU’s roster was this year, it’s got to be a little concerning for Tigers fans how many great players they’re losing to the draft. I doubt they’re crying holding that trophy, though.

Miami is definitely the biggest example of a team that didn’t perform well on the field but sent many players to the combine. Granted it was his first year, but I think this makes Manny Diaz look pretty bad. Hopefully he learns how to develop talent in year two.

This is also a bit of a bummer for Utah. They had a wonderful season, but the Utes better hope they’re still able to perform even with losing 9 good guys to the draft. It would be sad to see them barely miss the playoffs and a Rose Bowl and fail to compete at that level again.

It’s also interesting to see rivals Michigan and Ohio State bumping shoulders at second place. Ohio State has clearly accomplished more with their talent, but is this Harbaugh’s fault? That’s for Michigan fans to debate in online forums while Buckeyes laugh.

Combine Athletes by G5 Conference:

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Don’t worry other guys, we didn’t forget about you. The American is the only G5 conference even close to hanging with the P5…P6? Both the American and the Mountain West have 12 football schools, so that isn’t really an excuse here. If the American is able to send more representatives to the combine than a P5 conference consistently, it could really shake up how they recruit and maybe give more G5 schools a fighting chance.

Combine Athletes by School: Non P5

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These are the only non P5 teams to send 3 or more representatives to the combine. Talent will always aggregate at P5 schools, but I hope more G5 schools are able to get media attention and maybe send some more deserving players to the combine in later years.

Either way, Rhode Island is probably the most impressive school in this article. For a CAA school to send three representatives to the combine is incredible, and a fantastic recruiting pitch for the Rams.

The biggest takeaways from all this? Well, it’s tough to extract that much information from combine representatives since, as mentioned, it’s a complicated mix of recruiting and talent development. Furthermore, a championship caliber team will always get more screen time and NFL interest than a G5 school. Schools that sent a ton of representatives will get a huge recruitment boost, especially those that over performed like Utah, Miami, Charlotte and Rhode Island. I think the biggest questions surround Miami; when will they start doing something with the talent they have, and if they don’t will it start to hurt their recruitment?

But at the end of the day, the most fun part is just obsessing over data that really might not matter at all. Like hand size.

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The Largest Apparel Deal in CFB – and Which One Will Be Next

The largest apparel deal in CFB is not with a playoff team. In fact, it’s not even with a Top 25 team. Perhaps even more surprising, the company writing the check isn’t Nike.

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Image Courtesy 247 Sports

In May 2016, Under Armour inked a 15 year, $280 million deal with UCLA to be their official shoe and apparel sponsor. This is the largest such deal in the history of college athletics.

For Under Armour, it was just another move in the imperialist game of athletic apparel brands. While Nike has claimed most of the lucrative brands like Ohio State and Texas, Under Armour planted a flag in the second largest TV market in the country.

The largest brand Under Armour has under its belt is arguably still Notre Dame, but the addition of UCLA expands their growing foothold to the West Coast – right in the heart of Nike Territory.

For UCLA, it’s more than just money – of course, it *is* an unimaginably large amount of money. But this contract identified them as one of the most valuable brands in athletics. By market value alone, they now stand shoulder to shoulder with the Alabama’s and Michigan’s of CFB. With a coach like Chip Kelly, who carries attention with him wherever he goes even if his teams haven’t performed as of late, eyes will be on UCLA every preseason.

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This is huge for recruiting as well. A recruit going to UCLA knows media attention will be on them, as well as millions of dollars for facility improvements and equipment.

The Under Armour – UCLA deal was done 4 years ago. A lot has changed in CFB, but a lot has stayed the same too – mainly, money is still king. So, which deal will beat UCLA’s?

The first thing to think about is obviously the team itself. Better performing teams will always bring more money, but as Texas has shown, fan following and brand power matter far more. This leaves a pretty short list of teams that could be expected to make a landmark deal, and it’s pretty similar to the list of teams that have a chance of making the CFB playoff every year: Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, UGA, OU, LSU, Notre Dame, Penn State, Nebraska, Oregon, Florida, Florida State, Texas, Texas A&M, USC. We can immediately cross off a few – Oregon will never need a payout to stick with Nike, and Clemson and Florida State just don’t have the size of fan base or brand power to milk that large of a contract.

The second thing to look for is geography and market; this is arguably the main reason why UCLA has the largest apparel deal right now. There are no New York teams worth paying a super contract too. Chicago is tied to Notre Dame, a good candidate for the largest contract (they currently have the fifth largest, also with Under Armour). LA could be snatched up on the other end by paying out to USC.

Finally, you have to look at the companies themselves. What are Nike’s goals? They have the most money – which battles are they going to choose to fight? Nike already runs the west coast, and I don’t think they are interested in stealing Notre Dame from Under Armour. Adidas is also a major player we haven’t discussed much thus far – their cash cow is Texas A&M, who they gave the most lucrative deal in the SEC. They actually held the UCLA deal before Under Armour took it. SEC deals are huge for a brand, and a few contracts there are expiring soon.

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Taking all of this into account, it seems likely the next biggest contract will go to a team that is already a massive brand, probably to rip them away from another apparel company. It will likely be Nike, since them and Under Armour have been the biggest spenders but Under Armour has faced extreme financial difficulties recently as they stand on the line of bankruptcy. I would guess Nike might try to rip a big brand away from another company. Maybe Texas A&M away from Adidas, although they already have Texas in that region.

Who do you think will be the next shoe and apparel super deal in CFB? Let us know on Twitter @Sidelines_SN!

10 Best Stadium Views in CFB

The main reason we go to a stadium is to see the on field product, but the ambience and atmosphere are just as much a part of the fun. While the crowd is a big part of that, incredible views can certainly make game day even more memorable. Here’s 10 stadiums that you should visit if you love beautiful views.

10. Falcon Stadium – Air Force

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Colorado Springs is just a beautiful place in general, but sitting in Falcon Stadium you have grand views of the surrounding mountains. Plus, Air Force provides the best flyover you could possibly get!

9. Sun Bowl Stadium – UTEP

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The Sun Bowl, opened in 1963, is one of the most historic stadiums in the country. The stadium truly feels built into the El Paso hills, perfect for a team called the Miners. You also have a chance to come here every postseason with the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl game.

8. California Memorial Stadium – Cal Berkeley

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While lots of stadiums on this list made it for beautiful mountain ranges, the Golden Bear’s stadium shows that a forest view can be just as incredible. Fans often try to get a free seat at the game by sitting on the opposite hill, which has consequently been nicknamed “Tightwad Hill”.

7. Folsom Field – Colorado

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Folsom Field’s horseshoe shape opens to the North, giving grandiose views of the Rockies. The stadium surpasses Colorado’s “mile-high” reputation, actually sitting 5,360 feet above sea level!

6. Rice-Eccles Stadium – University of Utah

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Salt Lake City is already one of the best weekend-visit cities imaginable, but Rice-Eccles’ views will convince you to buy that plane ticket for game day. This beautiful stadium is about to get even bigger with an $80 million renovation approved.

5. Michie Stadium – Army West Point

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Nothing says “Fall Afternoon” like being surrounded by autumn leaves and a picturesque view of the Hudson. Michie Stadium was truly built for September game days. Plus, who doesn’t want to cheer on America’s own?

4. Maverik Stadium – Utah State University

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Something about the state of Utah leads to the most incredible stadium views. Being embedded in the mountains certainly helps, as the Aggies’ Maverik Stadium is. The colorful trees in the background are the perfect highlight Logan’s western views.

3. Husky Stadium – University of Washington

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The American Pacific is arguably the most beautiful part of the country, so why not build your stadium right on the coast? Husky Stadium’s waterfront views have birthed the tradition of “sailgating” – watching a Husky Football game from the water as you tailgate on your sailboat!

2. LaVell Edwards Stadium – BYU

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Yes, many Utah stadiums have made this list, but LaVell Edwards is truly the king of them all. Provo’s mountain views rise higher than any of the others, and perfectly frame the stadium itself. Utah’s mountain skies seal the deal – this is the most beautiful stadium backdrop in the country except the Granddaddy of them All.

1. Rose Bowl – UCLA

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It’s simply unbeatable. The Rose Bowl is the most beautiful stadium experience and nothing compares. Pasadena’s hills surround the bowl and glow a beautiful red during sunset. This effect is actually what gave the stadium its name. Surely on every CFB fans bucket list, nothing compares to the Rose Bowl game experience.

 

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The Ballad of Scott Frost

Coming off of a 13-0 season (and, depending on who you ask, a National Championship), UCF’s Scott Frost seemed to be the hottest coach on the market. Any P5 team that could snap him up would be lucky to do so, and surely would see improvement in their player development and culture, two things he was hailed for as the Knights head coach…right?

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Image Courtesy bleacherreport.com

As it was quite rudely announced during UCF’s conference championship game, Scott Frost was going back home to mama. His alma mater, Nebraska, offered him a 7 year, $35 million contract. That’s a lot of money for any athletic program, even when you’re Nebraska, who had an athletic department revenue of $120 million last year.

Some of the immediate concerns were that he had only competed against opponents from a “G5” schedule, though the American conference has been much stronger in recent years. Others were simply concerned at paying so much to a coach that was relatively unproven at the highest level, which might have been on the money after all.

As his first season approached, Frost was able to flip a few recruits and snag the 23rd overall recruitment class in the country, 4th in the Big Ten. A few preseason polls contained Nebraska, though most were able to temper their expectations in Frost’s first season. He ultimately went 4-8, losing to rival Colorado in a heart-breaking season opener, and Sun Belt contender Troy in the game immediately following. In fact, Nebraska lost their first 6 games under Frost until beating Minnesota at home.

Still, a coach should always be given a year to establish a culture and bring in his guys, right? In fact, most people use the “second year test” as a gauge to determine if the head coach will find success at the school. Firing anyone before their second season is general irresponsible, save some particularly dire situations we have seen recently.

In Frost’s second preseason with the Huskers, he brought in the 17th best overall recruiting class, which was once again 4th in the Big Ten. It was a competitive recruiting cycle, but fans definitely were expecting a little more (though it’s tough when you have to go against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan). Still, these were “Scott’s Guys” and the expectation was that he would win with them. In the 2019 offseason, a majority of preseason polls had the Huskers in the Top 25. This was proven to be a gross overreaction, especially when nothing had really changed other than time.

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Image Courtesy The Denver Post

Frost’s Huskers won their first game of the season against South Alabama (finally beating that pesky Sun Belt opponent), but once again lost their rivalry game against Colorado. This was one of the first times we saw large groups of Husker fans showing visible frustration under Frost’s tenure. This was his second year, he had his guys, what could possibly be going wrong? Maybe it was just a bad game…

Frost went 5-7 that season, demonstrating a one game improvement in record. Two of those wins were against G5 opponents.

The purpose of this article isn’t to say Scott Frost should be fired and Nebraska has exercised too much tolerance with him. In fact, one of the worst trends in college football is firing coaches before they really get a chance to establish themselves. But hasn’t Frost established himself? He has brought in his guys and done the usual showy things to demonstrate a culture change, hopefully getting Nebraska as far away from the Riley years as possible. But what is their left to do? Nebraska is once again ranked in many preseason polls, becoming the over hyped poll laughingstock that Texas is usually known to be. All that Frost can do at this point is win and earn that massive contract.

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Nebraska Football’s “Money Cleats”. Image Courtesy Sneaker Freaker

And that contract? It just got more massive. This off season, Frost was given a 2 year contract extension to 2026. This move by the athletic department demonstrated a commitment to Frost that should put away some pitchforks and even help recruiting. But does Nebraska actually have a plan for the next few years? What would it take to convince them the Frost experiment has failed?

Part of the Frost problem is hiring alumni. Alumni head coaches will always be viewed in an unfairly positive light. Look at the disaster happening year after year in Ann Arbor? I also don’t think Harbaugh should be fired, and he has posted some of Michigan’s best seasons in decades, but he still hasn’t beaten Ohio State. Would selecting a non-alumni, but rather best coach on the market brought them over that edge?

I think the model for alumni Head Coaches is David Shaw at Stanford. He has posted an 86-34 overall record and gone 5-3 in bowls. He has also won the conference 3 times, something the Michigan Man (and certainly not Frost) have accomplished yet. But he worked his way from within the program as OC, proved himself, and has demonstrated his coaching knowledge with his team’s on field performances.

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Rose Bowl Champion David Shaw. Image Courtesy San Francisco Chronicle.

Teams simply need to make sure the coach they are hiring is the best coach for them. Is motivating alumni and selling tickets important? Yes. But do you know what sells the most tickets? Winning. Big name schools that will be looking for their next head coach – looking at you, USC – need to learn what they can from the story of Scott Frost so far. Demonstrate a commitment to your coaches – but should you really be granting super contracts to them just because they played for your team already? Has the coach really proven themselves just yet?

Welcome to the new SidelinesSports.net! Articles will be posted weekly – be sure to follow us on twitter @Sidelines_SN to stay in the know!

SSN Best of the Decade Awards

Sidelines Sports Network was only founded in 2018 (as Grid Lines Blog – thanks to those who have supported us since then), but all throughout this decade we’ve been watching some incredible College Football. In this article, we highlight the moments, players and teams that we believe were the most outstanding and will truly stand the test of time. Without further ado…

Play of the Decade:

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The Kick Six – Auburn vs. Alabama 2013

Sorry, you just can’t beat this. BCS championship bid on the line, rivalry game, last minute chaos and a radio call heard round the world. “AUBURNS GONNA WIN THE FOOTBALL GAME” still rings in our ears. This play encapsulates the beautiful madness that is college football.

Honorable mentions: 2nd and 26, Watson to Renfrow

Coach of the Decade:

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Nick Saban – Alabama

Sorry, rest of College Football. We’ve been bullied by one guy throughout these ten years and he sits on a throne in Tuscaloosa. While coaches like Dabo Swinney, Lincoln Riley and more recently Ed Orgeron have pulled teams to new levels of achievement, Saban has brought the Tide to a whopping 4 national championship games this decade (and made it to almost all the others). Saban owns this decade – we’ll see how far he can go.

Honorable mentions: Dabo Swinney, Bob Stoops, Lincoln Riley

Player of the Decade:

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Deshaun Watson

While we’re on the subject of lifting teams to new heights, Deshaun Watson has to come to your mind. While he had the benefit of Swinney’s coaching and a loaded roster to surround him, Watson still went toe to toe with Saban’s seemingly unstoppable Bama and won. His victory also marked the beginning of a new powerhouse at Clemson, and the momentum hasn’t stopped since. Though he never actually won the Heisman (but was a finalist twice), Clemson graduate Deshaun Watson is our most outstanding player of the decade.

Honorable Mentions: Cam Newton, Ezekiel Elliott, Johnny Manziel

Team of the Decade:

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2018-19 Clemson (15-0, National Champions)

Yes, two Clemson winners on the list – but it’s deserved. First of all, the 2018 Clemson team was the first team to go undefeated in the playoff era at 15-0. That alone merits legend status, but how they got there is equally as impressive. Clemson cruised through their ACC schedule with nothing more than a close game here and there, then crushed undefeated Notre Dame in the semifinal 30-3. In a championship game of undefeated teams that everyone expected to be fairly close, Clemson absolutely demolished Alabama 44-16. Dabo outcoached Saban at every level and Trevor Lawrence was nothing but a gunslinger. The Clemson Defense also lived up to their reputation and put Alabama in a chokehold. It’s worth noting that whichever team wins this year will also go 15-0, and both Clemson and LSU could have a strong case to finish as team of the decade – but for now, no one tops the 2018 Clemson Tigers.

Honorable mentions: 2011 Alabama, 2013 Florida State, 2014 Ohio State

Fans of the Decade: YOU!

And that’s a wrap! This was the first year of Sidelines Sports Network, and we have no one but our fans to thank for our success. It’s been an incredible ride, and we have massive plans for growth. Keep engaging with us on our Twitter (@Sidelines_SN and affiliate accounts) and reading our articles – the best is yet to come!

 

Eulogy for the AAF

March 20, 2018, the AAF was announced by Charlie Ebersol. Football fans around the nation (and some around the globe) lit up with excitement; spring football once again! A new generation of sports fanatics had grown up since the last attempt at a secondary professional league (the last being the infamous XFL failure in the early 2000’s) and with time, a sense of optimism had grown. Many believed that enough had changed between streaming options, technology, and simply learning from past mistakes that another football league was viable.

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Image Courtesy of USA Today

In short, people believed in the vision of the AAF.

It wasn’t just unfounded optimism though. Ebersol and his co-founder, Bill Polian, seemed to have a clear plan. TV deals were made. Advanced technology, integrated into a live tracking app, marketed the league as not just football, but a true tech startup. Teams were to be managed by the central office rather than individual owners.

As with all startups, however, there were concerns. The AAF didn’t have quite the budget Vince McMahon and the other spring league launching the following year, the renewed XFL. The app had a rocky roll out and was barely ready by the time the season began. Even when it was released, it was clear it was not everything it was hyped to be.

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Image Courtesy of Tampa Bay Times

Still, fans got what they wanted. Eight teams were announced complete with fairly nice looking uniforms from Starter and intriguing brands, all tied in with their respective local cultures. People took to social media to claim a team, some choosing based on location, others on NFL or college football affiliation, and others even on something so simple as thinking the Stallions had cool helmets.

Play began on February 9, 2019. It was no NFL, but it was football. Trent Richardson immediately became infamous for his consistent less-than-3-yards-per-carry. Bercovici became the face of the league my taking a monster, helmet-removing hit. And of course, everyone was just happy to see Coach Spurrier take to the sideline once again.

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Image Courtesy of Black Sports Online

All those story lines began in just week one. In the weeks that followed, the Apollos would go on a dominant run (finishing the season with the best record, 6-1), the Express, Legends and Stallions would become the butt of most jokes but still claim an upset every now and again, and the Iron would continue to be a monster on defense – although, often struggling on the other side of the ball.

And of course – Money Manziel. Johnny Manziel’s arrival to the league came with much more excitement than his actual play ever would. Still, his exit from the CFL back into American professional football was talked about everywhere. Manziel, in his short time as unofficial league spokesmen, kept his cool and did seem to be more mature than prior years – even if his main moment of fame was eating nachos on the sideline.

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Image Courtesy of USA Today

The main point of these recollections is that, although an upstart league that so desperately wanted to become a feeder for the NFL, the AAF really was capable of carrying its story lines. It delivered a product that fans, although often not enough in person save for the packed Alamodome, wanted to see. It really seemed that the league had a chance.

Financial struggles were the first nail in the coffin. Rumors began swirling, and news broke that another investor was desperately needed to save the league. Tom Dundon emerged as the leagues savior, offering 250 million dollars and easing the minds of anxious fans, so afraid to lose what they had gained. Dundon had big plans, and sentiments of praise were seen on all corners of the internet, from tweets to memes on Reddit.

But then Dundon’s plans got a little too big.

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Image Courtesy of Deadspin

Fans who closely followed the ensuing drama remember that no one really knew what was going on – reports that Dundon was playing hardball to get a deal with the NFLPA to formalize the AAF as a development league began to come out. This had been the plan from the beginning, as most were aware, but it was believed Ebersol and Polian were going to wait until the NFLPA contract was renegotiated in 2020. Whether Dundon had information that the fans (and, for that matter, Ebersol and Polian) did not, or if he was just desperate to see a return on his massive investment, it’s not really certain. What we do know is what followed – after seven entertaining weeks of football, Dundon began threatening to fold the league if an agreement with the NFLPA did not come to fruition.

The agreement was never made.

On April 2, 2019, it was announced the league was suspending operations. Shortly afterward, notices of termination were released to league staff and, crossing the point of no return, all players released from their contracts effective immediately. In just a few short weeks the league went from riding the high of success to nothing but assets, waiting to be sold off.

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Image Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Fans, understandably, were outraged. People began crying for Dundon’s head, since he seemed to be at fault for this. Some postured that he simply wanted the league’s valuable technology and IP, and simply left it for dead when he had secured what he wanted. Other saw Dundon as just a reasonable businessman, realizing a profit wasn’t going to happen and then folding to stop the bleeding. After all, he had lost 70 million dollars in just a few weeks.

When the dust settles, it will probably come out exactly what happened. Some compensation packages will surely be arranged. Remaining assets will be sold; the XFL may even snatch some up. But when all is done and the AAF is but a footnote on the tragic history of startup football leagues, there will be something left behind. Fans will hold onto their T-shirts – some may have not even delivered yet. Hundreds of abandoned Twitter accounts dedicated to the league will go inactive. Future articles on Trent Richardson and Johnny Manziel will always reference the few weeks we had together. But there’s not just these archives. Fans will have the memories. Those who sat in Legion field, baking in the Birmingham heat to catch a glimpse of football in the spring. Those in San Diego, so excited to finally have professional football return to their city. Apollos fans, happy to see a Florida pro team find success again.

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Image Courtesy of Pewter Report

Every team had their stories, and every fan will have their memories. It’s soul-crushing that this is all we have now, especially when we all hoped – all believed – that this league could be different. Reality hits hard. People want someone to blame. But in this eulogy for the AAF, I just ask we all remember the good times we had. Short-lived as it was, the AAF was something special – and I don’t want it to only be remembered for it’s demise.

 

Grid Lines Sports Blog has covered the AAF since prior to its inception. We assembled and published weekly power rankings. We will continue to cover College Football and other professional sports leagues, and hope fans that found us through the AAF stay with us for this other coverage.

Grid Lines Blog #UniformOfTheYear

The votes are in, and your Grid Lines Blog #UniformOfTheYear for 2018 is the Iowa State Cyclones All Black uniforms.

These uniforms were announced on July 10, 2018, along with two other base uniforms. These new combos removed the stripes from previous uniforms, instituted a new number style with cyclone-esque curls, and added the words “Loyal, Forever, True” onto the collar.

These uniforms were worn in a Week 7 upset of the #6 West Virginia Mountaineers and a 42-38 victory over Kansas State. Both games were at night, which was likely the motivation for bringing out these blackout uniforms.

This also fit within Iowa State’s season mantra, “Win In The Dark.” The inspiration for this motto was that the best victories sometimes happen when no one is looking – hence, the Cyclone’s would “Win In The Dark.” In fact, this mantra itself may have been the motivation for these all black uniforms being added to the rotation.

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What makes these uniforms so special is their simplicity. Rather than an over the top look, Iowa State implemented crisp lettering, matte helmets, and subtle gray accents rather than color. The dark colors resemble a powerful and foreboding storm, matching the Cyclone’s brand. The West Virginia upset certainly emphasized the impact of this look.

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The new numbering really shines on these uniforms as well. The curves in the numbers introduce more tornado imagery without over-complicating the design.

After going undefeated in these uniforms and receiving near universal acclaim for them, I’m sure Iowa State will keep them in the equipment room. A well-deserved #UniformOfTheYear title.

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