The Bearden & Welborn College Football Preview
By: Dalton Bearden & Matthew Welborn
#3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) @ #11 Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC) 3:30 CBS
The Alabama Crimson Tide will travel to “The Grove” in Oxford, to face fellow SEC West opponent Ole Miss. Alabama is averaging 42 points a game and 335.8 passing yards per game. Ole Miss currently has the best scoring defense in the SEC giving up a mere 8.5 points and a total of 248 yards a game. Ole Miss only surrendered 108 total yards against Memphis last week in a 24-3 victory. Blake Sims QB for Alabama and Bo Wallace the QB for Ole Miss, have been the top Qbs in the SEC so far this year. Sims has 1091 yards passing, 8 Tds, and 2 ints. Bo Wallace threw 2 picks last week against Memphis, running his total to 6 on the year to go along with 1271 yards passing, and 11 Tds. This game however could come down to who excels and is more efficient on special teams, both of these teams field two of the worst special teams units in the SEC and FBS, per ESPN’s Football Power Index.
- Bearden: Alabama
- Welborn: Alabama
#4 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 BIG 12) @ #25 TCU (3-0, 0-0 BIG 12) 3:30 FOX
This game will be played in Fort Worth, TX. Oklahoma escaped with a win 24-17 last year, and both offenses are averaging 44 points per game this year. Trevone Boykin TCU’s QB has been flawless this year only throwing 1 int. TCU’s Defense has been nearly perfect as well only allowing 7 points a game, yet they have not faced a ranked team yet this year or a team near the caliber of that of Oklahoma. Trevor Knight has thrown 4 Tds and 3 Ints this year along with 1065 yards passing. The Sooners have taken more of a running and ‘ground and pound’ approach to games as, Rbs Perine and Ford, have rushed for over 600 and 10 tds. Boykin for TCU, also adds a running threat as he is the team’s leading rusher with almost 200 yds rushing and 3 tds.
- Bearden: TCU
- Welborn: Oklahoma
#15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) @ #5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC) 7:00 ESPN
This game is being played in Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn. Brandon Harris will receive his first start of the year after Les Miles named him the starter on Monday. This game will be the first of a plethora of games that Auburn will play a top-15 team, they go to 12 Miss. State, 11 Ole Miss, and 13 Georgia. Then have tough away games at So. Carolina and Texas A&M. With Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings wildly inexperienced, LSU has relied heavily on Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard to run often. Both Running backs have compiled 300 yards rushing and 4 tds a piece. Nick Marshall Has also only thrown 1 int as well and will need to make key throws and smart decisions with his feet to beat the LSU Tigers. LSU’s Les Miles believes that Brandon Harris is an excellent choice at QB stating that, “He has done everything we have asked, and has made smart decisions with the ball”
- Bearden: Auburn
- Welborn: LSU
#6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC) @ #12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0) 12:00 ESPN
Game will be played in Starkville, Mississippi, where Texas A&M has a chance to begin the season 6-0 for the first time since 1994. Texas A&M packs massive amounts of power on an offense that Ranks 2nd in the country in ppg with 51.2. Additionally, Texas A&M has shored up its’ ability to stop opponents on defense; improving a unit that ranked 92nd in defense last year to 13th this year. Kenny Hill has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Aggies this year. Hill has thrown for 1745 yds, 17 tds, and a mere 2 ints. Yet, if we learned anything from Arkansas this past weekend, it’s that running the ball with efficacy and “milking the clock” could prove as a powerful combatant against this stellar ‘spread offense’ of Kevin Sumlin. Mississippi State runs the ball well enough to do just that. Josh Robinson (Junior RB) and Dak Prescott both have 62 carries a piece on the year and have combined for almost 900 yards on the ground, with 7 rushing scores. Dak Prescott has also been extremely efficient through the air with 964 yards passing, 11 tds, and only 2 ints. Dan Mullen, coach of the Bulldogs reiterated the concern he has while facing Texas A&M’s potent offense, saying “You know you’re going to have to score. If they hit their average (51), it means we are going to have to score 52.” Mississippi is coming off a bye after going into a hostile environment at LSU’s Death Valley and hanging it on them early.
- Bearden: Mississippi State
- Welborn: Mississippi State
#14 Stanford (3-1, 1-1 PAC 12) @ #9 Notre Dame (4-0) 3:30 NBC
Stanford has an incredible on defense that ranks 1st in scoring defense and that has been very stingy in defending the pass as well. The Cardinal has allowed opponents to pass for over 100 yards this year only once. It’s also worth noting that The Cardinal have beaten the Irish 4 out of their last 5 meetings. Notre Dame was sloppy as it gets on last Saturday turning the ball over 5 times against Syracuse. This will be Notre Dame’s first real test of the season. Golson has proven that he can do everything that Brian Kelly has asked, while completing 69% of his passes while throwing for 1142 yds, 11 td, and 2 ints. Turnovers could prove to be the turning point of this game as Stanford ranks an abysmal 111th in turnover margin. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is currently 16th in turnover margin.
- Bearden: Notre Dame
- Welborn: Notre Dame
#19 Nebraska (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) @ #10 Michigan State (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) 8:00 ABC
Playing in East Lansing, Michigan in a pairing between two teams that could possibly meet again in the very “watered down” Big Ten’s Championship Game. Both of these teams are incredibly efficient on offense and rank in the top 10 in scoring offense. Nebraska ranks 7th in the country in scoring, averaging north of 45 points a game. Additionally, Ameer Abdullah has rushed for 200+ in 3 games this year, 229 vs. Miami in week 4, and 208 against Illinois last week. Still, it will be immensely difficult for Abdullah to repeat this feat against a strong Michigan State run defense that ranks 6th in the nation, even though that defense only returns 4 starters from last year. Nebraska in 5-1 against Michigan State, that one loss happened last season, the Cornhuskers are 2-0 in games in East Lansing.
- Bearden: Michigan State
- Welborn: Michigan State
SMU (0-4, 0-0 American) @ #22 ECU (3-1, 0-0 American) 12:00 ESPNU
East Carolina has been on a roll since dropping a game to South Carolina in a game that they led in the 2nd quarter. ECU then upset then 17th ranked Virginia Tech, then throttled UNC 70-41 at home. Shane Carden has been an absolute beast this year; throwing for almost 1500 yards, 11 td and only 3 ints. ECU’s offense has been averaging an astounding 43 points per game, with cupcake SMU in town, who is allowing 50 points per game on defense, it seems this is a trend that will continue. SMU is 0-4 and has only averaged an underwhelming 3 points per game this season. SMU has been outscored 202-12 this year and ranks dead last in scoring offense and scoring defense. ECU posted a school record 789 yards of offense against power 5 conference opponent UNC. Should be a blow out in ECU’s favor again this week, just do the MATH!
- Bearden: ECU
- Welborn: ECU
Florida (2-1, 1-1 SEC) @ Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 12:00 SECN
The Gators will travel to Knoxville, Tennessee this weekend, in a showdown of what used to be perennial powerhouses in the SEC East. The Vols have lost a staggering 9 straight to the Gators, their last win came 10 years ago in Knoxville. Tennessee’s QB Worley looked great against a very formidable Georgia opponent last week, and has done a relatively good job as the signal caller this year with a 9:3 TD/int ratio. The Vol’s were in an absolute shoot-out with Georgia eventually losing the game 35-32, as Todd Gurley played “with his hair on fire” accruing 200+ yards and hurdling defenders to add to the Heisman talk. This could be an excellent opportunity for Justin Worley to eclipse 300+ yards passing for the first time in collegiate career. After he posted a career-high 264 yards last week against Georgia, he gets a chance to go against a very poor secondary in Florida that allowed Blake Sims from Alabama to pass for 400+ a couple weeks ago.
- Bearden: Tennessee
- Welborn: Tennessee
South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC) @ Kentucky (3-1, 1-1) 7:30 SECN
South Carolina is trying to rebound from a massive 4th qtr let down last week against Mizzou. With 6 minutes left to go in the game the defense allowed Maty Mauk and Co. to score 14 unanswered and capture a win in Williams-Brice. The defense held Mizzou to 156 total yards through the 4th qtr, easily their best performance of the season on defense, then the meltdown occurred. Not to mention Mizzou play a ton of Cover 2 in which it seemed Dylan Thompson couldn’t figure it out. He resorted to throwing check down routes for most of the game. The one ball that Pharoh Cooper caught in the Endzone was more of a spectacular grab than a good throw, as Thompson threw it into triple coverage. The Wildcats are coming off a 17-7 win against Vandy and have had to deal with off-field issue this week where they suspended 4 players for shooting pellet guns on campus. Kentucky’s defense has only allowed 15 ppg on defense this year so far and took Florida into 3 overtimes before allowing Florida to win. Interestingly enough, the Gamecocks have scored 33.4 ppg, yet have allowed 33.0 ppg as well. If Thompson plays well and makes the reads, and the defense plays like they did for the first 3 and half quarters against Mizzou then the Cocks should roll. If not, then Kentucky will spoil the Gamecock’s road trip and probably cause Spurrier to have an aneurism.
- Bearden: So. Carolina
- Welborn: So. Carolina
1. Who’s your pick to win the ACC Coastal Division?
Bobby - North Carolina-it’s such a wide open race that just about any team could win, but North Carolina has great talent on offense that should be enough to carry the Tar Heels. Duke was a cinderalla story last year, but they’ve already lost two key players for the season here in August. I don’t see the Blue Devils defense being strong enough to allow Duke to repeat.
Justin - The ACC Coastal Division is more than wide open with four teams that can legitimately contend for the divisional crown. Virginia Tech used to be the consensus, but they’ve struggled to even be good over the past couple of seasons. Miami has the most talent in the division that can never put it together, along with still searching for their answer at quarterback. UNC will likely have the best offense with an average defense, to be generous, but the problem with UNC is that they can’t seem to consistently put their best foot forward on Saturdays. There’s only one team left-the Duke Blue Devils, who will be my pick to win the ACC’s Coastal Division. Despite Duke losing their starting senior linebacker Kelby Brown to an ACL tear, quarterback Anthony Boone and stud wide receiver Jamison Crowder will be enough to lead the Blue Devils to Charlotte for their second consecutive ACC Championship Game appearance.
Chris - While I wouldn't have picked Duke anyway, the injury to Kelby Brown definitely drops them down a spot or two in my mind. I'm picking North Carolina. The Tar Heels should avoid a horrific start that doomed them a year ago. Quarterback Marquise Williams has the chance to be a star, and he has experienced receivers to throw to. The defense returns 9 of the top 12 tacklers from last year. This should be a memorable third season for Larry Fedora.
2) Who is your pick to win the ACC Championship?
Justin - If everyone’s pick to win the ACC Championship is not Florida State, then I suggest you take a visit to get your eyes checked. Top to bottom, the Florida State Seminoles are the best team on paper and in person when it comes to the ACC. Jimbo Fisher and his Seminoles will not only be favored in every ACC game they play, but also every game they play this season. Though nothing is handed to you in college football, Florida State will have to show up every Saturday if they want to run the table again. Yes, Clemson will be a solid football team, but I don’t see them being successful when they travel to Doak Campbell Stadium. There is that other team in Florida that plays in the ACC, but no need to mention them, they won’t be a factor.
Chris - I'm going with Florida State to repeat as ACC Champions, and I don't think it will be close. Expect the Seminoles offense to continue to be unstoppable. Winston returns, and while they will miss Devonta Freeman and Kelvin Benjamin, there are plenty of weapons to help fill the scoreboard. It's not an easy task, but I think FSU might run the table again.
Bobby –Despite losing tons of talent to the NFL, Florida State has enough talent to repeat as ACC Champions. Unfortunately for the ACC, the game that will decide the conference will be in September when Florida State host Clemson, which takes away late season drama. Clemson has great returning talent on defense, but the offense will be tough to match from last season.
3) Will we see two SEC teams make the Playoff?
Chris - I'm not convinced that we will see two SEC teams in the Playoff. I think the battle the committee has to fight is which Power 5 Conference Champion to leave out of the four team event. Will it be the Big XII Winner who didn't play in a Conference Title Game? There are no parameters set by the committee and coaches are struggling to know what's important. I look forward to the December drama!
Bobby – If any conference gets two teams in the playoff it will be the SEC, but I don’t see it happening in year 1. The only chance for the SEC to get two will be for both teams playing in the SEC Championship being undefeated when that game occurs. The selection committee will be under great scrutiny this year, and it should be tremendous drama come the end of the season.
Justin - SEC fans won’t like this response, but there’s a 99 percent chance we will not have two teams from the SEC in the four-team playoff. As dominate as the SEC has been over the years, there is not one dominant team in the conference this year. With that being said, when you have three to four really good teams, they’ll beat each other up before the season is over. The SEC will have one team represent the conference, and that team will be the winner of the SEC Championship Game in the four-team playoff.
4) Is autonomy good for college sports?
Bobby – Change was needed for the NCAA to stay afloat. While this is good for the players at top schools, the schools outside the Power 5 will be hurt, which in turns hurts their players. There is already talk of Hawaii getting rid of football in a couple years because of the cost they will see in trying to get athletes to play football there. The players deserve more, as I said at the beginning, but the gap between the Power 5 and smaller conferences such as Conference USA & the Sun Belt will be huge.
Justin - I’m not sure if I support autonomy for college sports. The problem is that you can make an argument for both sides, despite having a strong argument it can go both ways. I know a cornerback at Florida State and an offensive lineman at Appalachian State, not once have they ever complained about missing a meal or needing money. As a full-time student, I also have an on-campus job to support my nutritional needs. With the money college football and basketball generates, you can argue the athletes deserve a portion with all of the work they put in. As for the other side I’m not sure women’s softball and men’s soccer generates enough money for them to receive compensation. But at the end of the day, if college athletes are receiving some form of compensation are they still considered amateurs? If I’m not mistaken, you work hard at the collegiate level to be able to become a professional to make money? I guess times have changed.
Chris - Good? No. Needed? Yes. Money has taken over, and the Power 5 Schools have television contracts that would make Donald Trump blush. They need their own set of rules. I'm interested to see how Title 9 figures into this process. Will this eventually lead to some sports being eliminated because paying the non-revenue athletes isn't financially beneficial? Maybe. Stay tuned.
5) How does South Carolina fair in 2014?
Justin - South Carolina should represent the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game in 2014, but the Gamecocks should have been in the SEC Championship Game in 2013. As usual, South Carolina dropped a game that they should have won. The Gamecocks will replace quarterback Connor Shaw, a guy who went 27-5 over his career with Dylan Thompson. Though Thompson won’t provide the mobility with his legs, he makes up for it with his passing ability. South Carolina will have talent to match their experience on both sides of the ball. When you look at their schedule, the Gamecocks will be favored in every game they play this season except when they travel to Auburn. Even if South Carolina loses to Auburn, I like their chances at home against Georgia and on the road against Florida. Tennessee will be a team that the Gamecocks can’t look past seeing they lost to the Vols last season, but with that home-winning streak South Carolina will be pretty hard to beat inside of Williams-Brice Stadium. Steve Spurrier should have his team in Atlanta playing for the SEC Championship, but you never know when it comes to the Gamecocks.
Bobby – The SEC East will come down to South Carolina & Georgia. My guess right now is to favor the Gamecocks with South Carolina being the home team when the two face off September 13th. South Carolina will see one truly tough road game in conference with that being at Auburn in late October. The Gamecocks have an experienced QB in Dylan Thompson to replace Connor Shaw, but the key for South Carolina will be running back Mike Davis who I think will be a Heisman finalist come December. South Carolina will play in the Georgia Dome in the SEC Championship but still fall short of an SEC title and a trip to the playoffs.
Chris - Conner Shaw threw for nearly 2,500 yards last season and 24 touchdowns. He was picked off once. Good luck matching those numbers Dylan Thompson. While the Cocks (can I say that?) will miss Shaw and Clowney, I still expect them to play for the SEC Championship. They host Georgia September 13, and that game will tell the story. I think even losses at Auburn and Clemson won't stall South Carolina from winning the East. The key is winning the games within your division, and South Carolina has the luxury of playing road games at Vanderbilt and Kentucky, the worst teams in the East. That means they host the tougher opponents like Georgia and Missouri.
Question 1: What is the biggest concern for Carolina this training camp? WR’s, OL or DB’s
Bobby – The WR’s get too much grief in my opinion…I think we will actually see improvement at that position. I feel the same way about the DB’s-nobody was raving about the secondary before the season last year, and they did fine. As long as you have that Front 7, the Panther DB’s should be fine. The OL is where all of my concern lies…with the exception of Ryan Kalil, there’s no one with a strong history of success in the NFL. The Panthers will only go as far as Cam Newton takes them, and he can’t take them anywhere if he has no protection.
Chris - The Panthers at least have experienced NFL veterans at Wide Receiver and at both Safety positions. They will start the 2014 season with two guys that weren't drafted out of college at both tackle positions, and a rookie at Guard. Nate Chandler is a converted Defensive Lineman, and Byron Bell is an average Right Tackle trying to replace Jordan Gross. The Offensive Line is by far the biggest concern.
Marty - The biggest question early in camp is the offensive line. There's talent there but largely inexperienced. It most likely will take time for the group to come together. Right now, Ryan Kalil is the only starter inked at the same position he played last year. The return of Amini Silatolu at left guard off of a torn ACL last year is a key. Byron Bell and Nate Chandler are competing for the starting left tackle spot with the other probably starting at right tackle. The team really likes third-round rookie, Trai Turner, who is in a competition with Chris Scott for the starting job at right guard. Scott needs to overcome weight and conditioning questions that led to Buffalo waiving him this time a year ago. The Panthers claimed him and he started 8 games last year, one at left guard and 7 at right. Veteran Garry Williams likely will be the backup tackle but this group needs to stay healthy and mesh quickly. Chandler and Williams can also play guard so there is some position flexibility among the top seven. Fernando Velasco, who was signed as a free agent recently, could also provide depth at center and guard. This group could end up being solid, but right now they don't have enough history together.
Question 2: Who will be the Left Tackle & Right Tackle for Carolina once the season starts?
Chris – This competition will eventually end with Byron Bell moving to Left Tackle, and Nate Chandler starting at Right Tackle. Bell has more size and experience, and the fact that he is left handed should help him adjust to the new position
Marty - As I said above, barring injury the starting tackles likely will be Bell and Chandler, both originally signed by the Panthers as rookie free agents. Bell is a natural left hander and has the athletic ability to play the position. Consistency will be his biggest challenge. Chandler was converted from defensive line to offensive line before last season and showed a lot of promise starting the last eight games, six at right guard and two at right tackle. There are some in the organization who think he could win the starting job at left tackle, in which case Bell would move back to his familiar role as starting right tackle. Williams can also play both sides, although he is better suited on the right.
Bobby – Despite the “open” competition between Bryon Bell, Nate Chandler & Garry Williams, the LT job belongs to Byron Bell. Bell is the left-hander who fits the position naturally, and has the makeup to play the position. Bell has not shown he’s ready to be a starting LT in the NFL after a so-so season last year at RT-but someone has to play LT, and he’s the best bet. By default, Nate Chandler gets the RT job with Garry being the utility guy.
Question 3: What is one area of concern for you that has been under the radar so far at camp?
Marty – Punt returner. With the loss of Ted Ginn to Arizona in free agency, this job is wide open and could be a position the Panthers look to fill via a pickup at one of the two cutdown dates, likely the second. Preseason games will go a long way in determining how critical a need there is, if at all, but right now it appears to be a position of need.
Chris - There is an assumption that the NFL will not punish Greg Hardy until after his appeal is heard in front of a jury. But what if Roger Goodell decides that a judge finding Hardy guilty of Domestic Violence is all he needs to suspend the Pro Bowl Defensive End? After the Ray Rice debacle, Goodell needs something to help restore the image of the NFL when it comes to domestic violence. A four game suspension of Greg Hardy might be the perfect answer.
Bobby – I agree with Marty-the conversation out of camp hasn’t been glowing about the guys returning kicks. I don’t think the Panthers need a game changer back there, but you do need someone who won’t fumble the ball. I think of the position like a long snapper. When you don’t hear anything about a LS, then it’s usually all good-same for the Punt Returner. Look at the 49ers a couple of years ago in the NFC Championship Game-they lost because of fumbled kicks.
Question 4: Will Greg Hardy be a distraction for the Carolina Panthers? (editor note – answers submitted before the Hardy trail was scheduled for November 17th)
Bobby – I don’t think so. Former NFL Offensive Lineman Ross Tucker was on The Pulse recently and said that most guys are worried about themselves and the job they have to do, so Hardy won’t be a topic of conversation for the players. The other key point- if the court date is in January, then it will have no impact on the regular season whatsoever….now the playoffs could be another story.
Chris – Assuming that the NFL does wait for the jury trial before deciding on a punishment for Hardy, I don't think this will be an issue for the team. One thing to watch out for is the date of the trial. If it does fall into 2015, there will be no problems. But the courts work on their watch, not on the accused. If that date is set in December or January, then it will be a distraction for sure.
Marty - No. It appears Hardy's appeal will not be heard until late in the season, and most likely after it ends. There is not much anybody can say and inside the locker room, the focus will be on the field.
Question 5: How would you rank the four NFC South QBs?
Chris – 1) Drew Brees - Super Bowl Champ, four seasons over 5,000 yards...enough said. 2) Cam Newton - His ability to escape the pass rush and make plays puts him here. 3) Matt Ryan - Better passer than Cam, but better weapons. Close call here, but he's my third choice. 4) Josh McCown - There is a reason he's played for 8 teams in 12 years.
Marty – Right now you'd have to rank New Orleans' Drew Brees number one with Carolina's Cam Newton and Atlanta's Matt Ryan battling for second. Newton would get the nod off of last season and should continue to improve despite a new receiving core and young offensive line. Ryan's disappointing 2013 season was largely due to injuries at wide receiver and a below average offensive line, but he has proven to be a top 10 or 15 quarterback in the League. He was pressured approximately 35 percent of the time he dropped back to pass last season and his team's rushing attack ranked 31st in the League. Both Newton and Ryan have proven they can win games in the fourth quarter and the answer to who is second could be determined by whose offensive line plays better. Josh McCown would be fourth if for no other reason than he's on his eighth NFL team since being selected by the Arizona Cardinals in Round 3 of the 2002 draft. He underwent a professional rebirth so to speak last season with Chicago and signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Bucs during the offseason. He, too, has an offensive line this season with some question marks.
Bobby – Drew Brees is hands down the #1 guy on this list & it’s not even close. Josh McCown is 4th on this list and it’s not even close. When you get to Cam Newton & Matt Ryan, that’s where the fun debate begins. Matt Ryan has had good success with the Falcons, but still has only one playoff win and he has some of the best weapons in the NFL. Cam Newton is the offense for Carolina. Without him, the Panthers would go nowhere and I just dream about how good he could be with weapons that Ryan has to work with. So I’ll put Cam 2nd, followed by Matt Ryan. Both guys have a chance for a big year.
Charlotte Plays Host to Top European Clubs
By: Brad Barnett
The City of Charlotte looked to capitalize off of the recent World Cup euphoria that swept across the country by hosting a match between Liverpool FC and AC Milan, as both attempt to win the International Champions Cup. The preseason tournament pits top European clubs, played across different venues throughout the United States. Bank of America stadium joined the likes of Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Soldier Field.
On an unseasonably cool night, it was apparent that the Liverpool faithful made up the majority of the more than 69,000 tickets sold for the event after singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, a staple with Liverpool fans across the globe. Controlling most of the match, Liverpool went up early on a Joe Allen goal in the 17th minute. After the quick goal, the game opened up with opportunities from both teams. AC Milan star striker Mario Balotelli made his introduction at half-time to the applause of the full stadium, and the same happened when Steven Gerrard, Liverpool captain and fan favorite, was introduced at the 60th minute. Liverpool finally put the match away in the last minutes of the game when Suso scored from just outside the box.
The economic impact of this match was apparent as every restaurant and bar throughout uptown was packed with fans from both clubs before and after the match. More importantly, this event is evidence that Charlotte can not only house a high profile event, but is a hotbed for the sport going forward. This is great news for the Charlotte Hounds ownership group, who recently purchased the rights to the Charlotte USL franchise with the intention of growing into a club within Major League Soccer by 2020.
This was only a preseason friendly in the eyes of the teams, but this was a big win for the city. Could Charlotte be a host for a possible World Cup game in the future? That is yet to be determined, but the city took a big step in that direction with the success of this match.
Year two of Charlotte 49ers football gets underway Wednesday morning. Here are some things to keep an eye on this season.
The 49ers are playing one more year as an NCAA FCS Independent and Head Coach Brad Lambert is setting his team up for the start of Conference USA play in 2015. With that in mind, players who had an impact in 2013 could sit this year to give them more years of eligibility for Conference USA. WR Trent Bostick & RB Kalif Phillips are two players to keep an eye on as practice gets underway. Phillips leads the 49ers with 716 yards rushing last season and was a prime candidate to be redshirted this year. However, the dismissal of fellow RB Alan Barnwell in the offseason most likely means Phillips will be playing in 2014. Bostick is a more interesting case: the freshman had 42 catches with an average of 14.1 yards in 2013. Despite the dismal of Jamel Ross, Bostick could still be redshirted because of a new crop of freshmen and a transfer. Other players who may sit out in the 2014 season include LB Justin Bridges Thompson & DB Devin Pearson.
Last year, the 49ers, under NCAA rule, could only offer 63 scholarships. This year, it’s up to 74, and that will help the depth for Charlotte. Nowhere was the depth tested more for the 49ers in 2013 than on the defensive line. DE Devon Johnson suffered an Achilles injury midway through 2013, and DT Larry Ogunjobi played despite being banged up throughout the year. Charlotte will also see help this year on defense thanks to transfers, including LB Nick Cook from Butler Community College in Kansas. Lambert spoke highly of Cook when I talked with him last week and said he’s had a huge impact on the defense during the spring. Lambert is a defensive guy, and I know he expects to see improvement from a unit that struggled at times in 2013, especially on 3rd down. The 49ers were ranked 120th out of 122 teams on 3rd down defense. With the fast pace the 49ers play on offense, the defense has to get off the field any time they can make it happen.
The 2nd year should be more comforting to everyone involved for the 49ers. Brad Lambert was at Conference USA Media Days in Dallas last week, and he said that it’s a lot easier this year because everyone knows what is going to happen. The 49ers have not only players with one year under their belt, but also a coaching staff that is largely intact. The core of the Charlotte coaching staff returns led by Lambert, along with Offensive Coordinator Jeff Mullen and Defensive Coordinator Bruce Tall. One coach that will be interesting to watch is former Wake Forest star and a 1st round pick in the NFL Draft, Aaron Curry. Curry, who retired from the NFL just before the start of last season, was around the team in 2013 and is now a Graduate Assistant. Lambert said the number one thing Curry brings is an everyday intensity.
Year two gets underway tomorrow morning. It should be a fun transition year for the 49ers with Conference USA just one year away.
Question 1: Did you like what you saw from Noah Vonleh & P.J. Hairston in Vegas?
Bobby: Noah Vonleh, while not putting up the greatest numbers, showed he has potential-that’s why Rich Cho grabbed him at the 9th pick. Vonleh is just 18 and still has a long way to go to develop his game, but I like the early signs. The good news for P.J. is he didn’t get in trouble while in Vegas. We know P.J. can shoot, and that’s what he did in Vegas. I didn’t say he shot well but he did shoot. P.J.’s role on this team is up in the air with Lance Stephenson & Gerald Henderson, but as we saw last year, if you can make threes you can get minutes.
Chris: I thought Hairston performed as advertised. He can score. Hairston poured in 27 points in the finale vs. Houston, his sixth game in double figures. If PJ Hairston continues to focus on basketball, and indeed shrinks his "circle" of acquaintances, I believe he could be a true threat in the NBA.
Justin: When watching the summer league you can’t get too high on or too low on a player. Noah Vonleh and PJ Hairston both displayed some very encouraging signs for Hornet fans going forward. Vonleh showed why his game drew comparisons to Chris Bosh-with his ability to play with his back to the basket and the range to step out and knockdown the 15-foot jumper.
Question 2: Outside the draft picks for the Hornets, did anyone else stand out in Vegas?
Chris: Josh Davis certainly made a case for himself to earn a shot at making an NBA roster. After an All-Conference season to wrap up his career at San Diego State, the forward earned workouts with four NBA teams. The Hornets inked Davis, and he performed admirably in Las Vegas. Davis scored 18 points and gobbled up 14 rebounds in the final game, recording his second double-double in Sin City.
Justin: Forward Josh Davis out of San Diego State played some good basketball. Davis did a very good job on the boards, having four games of 12 or more rebounds. He was also efficient on the offensive end averaging 8.9 points on 51 percent shooting. Though the chances of Davis making this Hornets roster are slim to none, I’m sure there will be some GM’s interested in his services based on his performance in Vegas.
Bobby: For me it was Josh Davis-the undrafted player from Raleigh has the one thing you can’t teach: hustle. Josh was all over the place so I have to imagine he is a player coaches love. Will Josh make it with the Hornets? Probably not because of the players in front of him, but I hope he gets a shot somewhere. He was easily the best player for Charlotte outside of Cody, P.J. & Noah.
Question 3: Do you like the Lance Stephenson deal?
Justin: When the news broke that Lance Stephenson would be signing a three-year $27 million dollar deal with the third year being a team option, I couldn’t believe it. Charlotte should actually be happy that the Utah Jazz matched their offer sheet for Gordon Hayward of four years $63 million dollars. In Stephenson you get a better overall basketball player that brings it on both ends of the floor, for a much cheaper price. We all know that Stephenson comes with some baggage, but if he starts adding turmoil you can cut ties after two seasons. The signing was a good one for both Charlotte and Stephenson.
Bobby: I was firmly against bringing Lance to Charlotte when Free Agency started, but that was based on the contract Indiana offered him for five-years and $44 million dollars. Lance no doubt has great potential, but the distraction he brings is too much for a long term deal. The fact that Rich Cho got the deal done for two years with a team option for a 3rd year was a complete steal. Add in the fact that you take a player away from a top Eastern Conference team, and then it’s grand larceny.
Chris: It's risky. But not risky enough to pass up this potential star. Stephenson brings energy, passion, and talent to the floor. His attitude will feed his teammates, and what unsuccessful franchise doesn't need a little more of an edge? Stephenson shot 49% last season, and if he is able to duplicate that performance with this roster, the Hornets will win a lot of games. Will he get along with Big Al? Will he be selfish with the ball and upset other teammates? Stay tuned. My hope is that Lance has learned from his past immature actions.
Question 4: Have the Hornets improved from the end of last season?
Bobby: Before Lance Stephenson came aboard, the answer was an easy no-now it’s an easy yes. The loss of Josh McRoberts was a sting for the Hornets. With Gordon Hayward’s deal matched by Utah, Charlotte was looking at an off-season where most of the Eastern Conference was improving while we were declining. Now add Lance Stephenson along with Marvin Williams to a starting lineup with Kemba Walker & Al Jefferson and it gets you pretty excited for the upcoming season. If MKG can add any offense to his game, this team is a Top 4 Eastern Conference team.
Chris: The Hornets are certainly better now than they were at the end of 2013-14. They have lost Josh McRoberts, and that hurts. But adding Marvin Williams and his outside threat, along with Lance Stephenson, and I think the Hornets are set to win playoff games this season. A healthy Big Al, a more experienced Kemba Walker, and a better jump shot from MKG won't hurt either. And let’s not forget that Steve Clifford has his first year under his belt as an NBA Head Coach as well.
Justin: Yes, the Hornets have improved from the end of last season. Going into the offseason Charlotte wanted to add more depth to the frontcourt, improve the shooting guard, and sign a backup point guard. The Hornets addressed all of their needs, despite losing Josh McRoberts. Losing McRoberts hurt, but adding Marvin Williams, a versatile stretch-four, will sooth the pain. The depth on this roster is a stout six to seven deep with wings and bigs. With what Charlotte did last season despite a lack of scoring was impressive. Now with the offseason additions the Hornets can legitimately compete for one of the top-four seeds in the Eastern Conference.
Question 5: Should Hornets look to trade Gerald Henderson?
Chris: I'm a little nervous about a shooting guard position being occupied by P.J. Hairston and Lance Stephenson alone. This will be the first season with both on the roster. Chances are one will play this season with more maturity than we anticipate, and one won't. I'm keeping Gerald until I learn more about how these two players fit into the rotation.
Justin: Last offseason provided some insight on how the rest of the NBA felt about Gerald Henderson when he went out to test the open market as a restricted free-agent. Nobody wanted his services forcing him to return because he didn’t have any other options. Henderson is not a bad basketball player, he just isn’t a starting caliber shooting guard. On a good team he would be the seventh or eighth option off the bench-he started in Charlotte because they didn’t have a better option, but now they do. Lance Stephenson is going to start, and the Hornets are going to have extreme depth off the bench when it comes to wings. If Henderson wants to see the floor, he better bring a jump shot with him when the team reports to training camp in October.
Bobby: Gerald was a major disappointment for me last season. It’s never good when you have a shooting guard who doesn’t like to shoot, however, you do have to give Gerald the benefit of the doubt for having a wrist issue during the season. Gerald still only costs $6 million dollars for Charlotte, so unless Cho can pull off a great deal, I think you have to keep Henderson around-not only for what he brings on the floor but also off the floor. The Hornets are a very young team and they need any veteran leadership they can get-Gerald has been with this organization longer than any other player.
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