With college football season finally here, let’s talk about what you really care about — those teams with the best shot to make it to the playoffs. So who will be the last four standing? Here are the 10 teams you need to watch:
1. Alabama (AP Rank 1)
Number one is no surprise. Nick Saban’s squad lost a ton of key players to the NFL last year, but, like always, the roster is stacked with elite prospects groomed to take their place. Watch for dangerous running QB Jalen Hurts to improve as a passer this year, junior wideout Calvin Ridley to contend for numerous awards, and for the Crimson Tide to hold on to the number one seed.
2. Ohio State (AP Rank 2)
Urban Meyer and co. have their own incredible recruiting class and they’ll be put to good use. The Buckeyes will be led by experienced senior J.T. Barrett on offense, but the real gem of the team is the defensive line. Linemen Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, and Sam Hubbard should be wreaking havoc in opposing backfields all season long.
3. Florida State (AP Rank 3)
FSU was dealt a major blow in 2016 when safety Derwin James missed almost the entire year with a knee injury. The versatile, athletic playmaker may just be the best defensive player in college football, and the whole unit will improve drastically with him on the field in 2017. On the other side of the ball, QB Deondre Francois will look to build off of a solid freshman season without the help of do-everything RB Dalvin Cook, who is now a Minnesota Viking.
4. Clemson (AP Rank 5)
This may seem high for a team that seemingly lost key players at every position, but there’s still talent across the board. Junior QB Kelly Bryant has the biggest shoes to fill, but with great receiving options like Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow still around, the Tigers don’t need him to be Deshaun Watson 2.0. They host FSU on November 11 in a game that could have major playoff implications.
5. Penn State (AP Rank 6)
Remember the name Saquon Barkley come awards season. The electrifying Nittany Lion RB is primed for a huge year. QB Trace McSorley and TE Mike Gesicki are no slouches either. The date to pay attention to: October 28. If they want to head to the playoffs, they’ll have to get the W when they square off against the Buckeyes in Columbus.
6. USC (AP Rank 4)
QB Sam Darnold and RB Ronald Jones give the Trojans a formidable backfield and guarantee that this offense can keep score with anyone. The defense is led by junior LB Cameron Smith and is full of solid players, but USC’s schedule will be a beast. They’ll have plenty of difficult tests, including battles against Stanford, Texas, and Washington State.
7. Washington (AP Rank 8)
From WR John Ross to the formidable secondary trio of Kevin King, Sidney Jones, and Budda Baker, the Huskies lost a lot of talent to the NFL. But this year’s team still has a star signal caller in junior Jake Browning and plenty of young talent to pick up the pieces at corner and safety. Look for Chris Petersen’s team to be in the hunt all season long.
8. Wisconsin (AP Rank 9)
The schedule sets up very favorably for the Badgers this season. Besides a Nov. 18 battle against Michigan, this unit will almost undoubtedly be favored in every game they play. If Coach Chryst can get a step up in performance from sophomore QB Alex Hornibrook to complement their always-formidable running attack, the offense should be solid. And ‘solid’ is all this team will need on that end if the Wisconsin defense can perform as well as they did in 2016.
9. Michigan (AP Rank 11)
Only one starter returns on the Wolverine defense. 11 Michigan alumni heard their name called during this April’s NFL Draft. Simply put, Jim Harbaugh lost a lot of quality players heading into 2017. But the cupboard is far from bare. QB Wilton Speight is back after a solid year one, sophomore RB Chris Evans leads a great running back group, and the roster, as a whole, is loaded with five-star talent.
10. Auburn (AP Rank 12)
Former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham will be given the keys on offense and he’s got a lot to work with. Sophomore WR Nate Craig-Myers and RB Kamryn Pettway should keep the points and yards flowing. The defense returns a lot of big-time playmakers and should be stout once again. The Tigers have a crucial early match up on September 9 when they go on the road to face Clemson.
Did we miss someone? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @Eastbay. No matter how things shake out, one thing is certain: it’s going to be an amazing season.
We got a chance to chat with some of football’s top draft prospects as they went through their workouts and testing in Indy. Here are some of the highlights:
Evan Engram, Mississippi TE
His Time At Ole Miss
“It helped me grow a lot. I came in as part of a great recruiting class, and we really pushed each other. The guys and the coaches set a standard for us, and we just got better each and every day. Without all of them, I wouldn’t be in the position I am today.”
Advice To High School Athletes
“The biggest thing I learned right out of high school was to not get caught up in every recruit’s ranking. You hear about all these 5-star, 4-star guys, but none of that matters when you step on campus. A 2-star recruit will have the same opportunity that a 5-star does. So, just block all that noise out. Find a part of your game every day that you can get better at, outwork your competition, and surround yourself with good people.”
Marcus Maye, Florida S
The Florida DB Brotherhood
“Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal, Brian Poole: I talk to those guys all the time. They all just had their rookie seasons, so they’ve been giving me a lot of tips and advice. We’ve been good friends since high school, and to this day, we can call each other up and still talk about whatever.”
What Type Of Player He Is
“A competitor. A guy who is willing to do whatever needs to get done. I’ll be a great locker room guy. I’m ready to play ball and listen and learn.”
Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin OT
Biggest Difference Between DIII (UW-Stevens Point) and DI Football (Wisconsin)
“Probably the speed of the game. When I first got to Wisconsin, the first snap I took, I was like, ‘Whoa, everything is moving so fast and the play is already over.’ It took a couple of weeks to catch up, settle down, and get used to it. You really had to settle your brain down and not try to take in everything that’s going on at once.”
Eating Regimen At Madison
“I was on a program where I tried to get about 7000 calories a day, especially during practice because it just takes it right out of you. It’s hard to eat that much, but they guided us on what to eat, and it was really helpful.”
Ethan Cooper, Indiana (PA) OL
From Indiana Penn To The Pros
“Being from a small school, I just always played my hardest. I made sure I dominated every game as much as I possibly could so I could separate myself and make my dream of playing in the pros become possible.”
Favorite Team Growing Up
“I’m a Philly fan but my entire family is Dallas fans. When those two play each other, it’s me vs. everybody back home! But obviously, I’ll be happy playing for any team.”
If you ever drive through my hometown of Iola, WI, you’ll notice a few things: there aren’t any stoplights, there are no fast food restaurants, and it only takes about 3 minutes get through the whole town. So how does a kid who had only 250-something students in his whole high school make it to the NFL?
Ever since I scored my first touchdown in third grade, I loved the game of football. I knew I wanted to play it as long as possible, but I didn’t have an end goal in mind. During my high school years, I had a dream of getting a full ride and playing football at the collegiate level. Although I had a very productive high school career, the Division I colleges weren’t giving me any respect because I supposedly didn’t “play against good competition.” This gave me a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong — a chip that I still have to this day. It seemed like my dream was lost until a week before signing period, when Murray State University offered me a full scholarship. With that being my only full ride offer, I took it without hesitation and ironically being the only school that wanted me to play defensive end. My first two years were mediocre at best. I started every game except for one, but my numbers were far from expectations. It was my sophomore exit interview with the defensive line coach that set the path to where I am today. My coach told me that he was disappointed in me and that he saw something in me that I had to believe in. I took those words to heart. It was having the burden of letting my coach down that gave me a new found fire that helped take my training to the next level. It paid dividends during my next two seasons.
Going into my senior year, I was receiving ten different calls a night from agents and financial advisors. This started to become overwhelming until I took a piece of my mom’s advice that proved to be one of the most important decisions I have ever made. I turned my phone off. She told me, “You deserve to enjoy your senior year, just have fun with your team while you can.” I didn’t pay any attention to all the draft experts or what people were saying. Instead, I just focused on my teammates and doing everything possible to try to win a championship. I knew if I took care of business on the field, then the rest of the NFL distraction would be there when my season was done. After a late Senior Bowl invite and a good Combine showing, I became the highest drafted player in Murray State history. I was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars as the 158th pick in the fifth round.
As I write this bio, I am currently going into my second NFL season. The purpose of me writing this wasn’t to brag of my high school or college stats, hence why I didn’t share them. My stats didn’t get me to where I am today. My work ethic, passion, the great people in my life, and having a little faith got me to where I am. There is no trick or scheme, I am simply a product of my environment. It doesn’t matter where you come from, so much as where you’re going, but once you get to where you want to go I promise you will have a new appreciation for where you came from.
Last weekend (June 19-20) Gus Macker came through the city where Eastbay is based, Wausau, Wisconsin. For those of you that don’t know, Gus Macker is a 3-on-3 basketball tournament that tours the nation. Teams come from all over and are made up of men, women and children of all different ages. Keep reading to see what goes down at a Gus Macker.
The portable hoops feature the Gus Macker and Eastbay logos.
Most games are played on the paved courts with taped lines.
The Top Men’s division plays on a different surface court.
The Top Women’s division plays on the same surface.
Along with the 3-on-3 tournament, there is also a Slam Dunk Contest at every Gus Macker. The Macker tournaments always draw a big crowd and competitive athletes from all over.
Growing up playing football in a small Northern Wisconsin town, Austen Lane has defied the odds since high school.
Austen is undoubtedly a big guy. At 6′ 5″, 274 pounds, he has the build of a pro athlete, but it seems that not everyone has always believed in him on his way to the National Football League.
Growing up in Iola, Wisconsin Lane attended Iola-Scandinavia High School, where he had less than 60 people in his graduating class. As a senior, he had 14.5 sacks, 134 tackles, forced four fumbles and blocked five kicks. He also showed his athleticism by catching 31 passes for 717 yards and 13 Touchdowns on the offensive end of the ball. He was named All-Conference and All-Region as a Defensive End and as a Tight End. To top it off he was also All-Conference in Hoops in 2004 and 2005. No one doubted he was athletic and could do damage against smaller schools, but the question was could he compete against higher level competition?
As his senior year wrapped up Austen was working on landing a scholarship to play football. He dreamed of playing for his home state Wisconsin Badgers, but instead was only being offered half-scholarships by a bunch of Division II schools. At the eleventh hour Murray State University took a chance on Austen, offering him a full ride to go play football for the Racers. Without even visiting the school, he signed with Murray State, accomplishing a goal he had since grade school, getting his education paid for.
Austen’s hard work, self-motivation and dedication paid off as he finished his career at Murray State as the all-time sack leader with 29. He was also named the top Defensive Player in the Ohio Valley Conference last year. Austen has proved to the doubters that he could play at the college level. On the field his motor is constantly running which plays a big role in why he is so successful. He has no quit in him. Off the field his personality and positive attitude also play a big role in his success.
I visited Austen in his hometown of Iola on Wednesday, April 28th and after being around him for just a few minutes I could tell he is a fun, energetic, easy-going, humble guy that doesn’t take anything for granted. He says “I haven’t made it yet. Who’s saying I’m gonna make this team yet? There’s no telling what will happen in the future. I’m going to hope for the best and work my butt off but there’s no telling what’s gonna happen.” Although he doesn’t feel like he’s completely made it yet, the people in Iola, Wisconsin would beg to differ. After Lane rode in on the local fire truck, I could tell the crowd at the fitness center in his hometown are all proud and super supportive of him. People lined up to get autographs and pictures taken with him which just shows how far this kid from the small town has come.
Before the event I sat down with Austen to ask him a few questions.
Jordan Hagedorn: We’re in your home town of Iola, Wisconsin. Can you talk a little bit about growing up here and what it was like playing football in a small town?
Austen Lane: Yeah, absolutely. I was actually born in Chicago, moved here when I was 2 or 3 so I don’t really remember Chicago too much. Iola is a great community to live in. There’s not a lot of violence or any trouble to get into. As a kid, Iola was a very sports oriented town so I was playing soccer, football and basketball. As far as things to do, we always just rode our bikes around town because we didn’t have facebook, twitter or anything like that yet. We didn’t have any fast food places and we don’t even have a stop light in Iola. My sophomore year of high school we got a Subway and that was pretty much the greatest day in Iola history (laughs). But growing up with the support in the community has been awesome. Even in college when I first started out they gave me a lot of support and now being in the NFL it’s gotten even more intense. Iola is a great place to live.
JH: So being in a small town can you talk about the recruiting process and then what factored into the decision to go to Murray State?
AL: Being from Wisconsin I wanted to go play for the Badgers. That’s pretty much every kid’s dream in the state. I visited them a couple times, thought there was a good shot of me getting picked up by them but unfortunately it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but if anything it kind of gave me a chip on my shoulder to try to prove people wrong. So then I was getting recruited by a bunch of Division II schools, mostly half scholarships but I wanted to get a full scholarship to get my education paid for. That was my goal since grade school. So about a week before signing date the University of Massachusetts got a hold of me and wanted me to come visit but unfortunately they ran out of scholarships. So they contacted the head coach at Murray State and said “we got this kid on tape, we don’t want to go against him, check him out.” So Murray State called me with about two days before the signing period ended and I basically signed without even visiting the place just because it was a full scholarship and it turned out to be a match made in heaven.
JH: So after a solid career at Murray State, you left there as the all-time sack leader with 29, you were the first player to be drafted out of Murray State since 1997, talk about Murray State and what it means to you.
AL: Murray State is everything. Coach Griff (Former MSU coach Matt Griffin), that staff and the whole community gave me a chance to get a full scholarship and prove myself there. At first I had some problems with the heat because I wasn’t used to two-a-days in 100 degree heat in full pads. It’s nothing like Wisconsin in that sense (laughs). Plus I had my dreads so that didn’t help with the heat. As far as the community down there was concerned, they have really nice people. It’s kind of a smaller city but a really great place to live. They made fun of my accent a lot when I first started out there but all around it was a great place to play.
JH: At the end of the year you were selected to the Senior Bowl where you had a fumble recovery for a touchdown. What was it like competing against some of the best players in college football?
AL: It was awesome. That really helped me out because a lot of people were questioning if I could play with the bigger talent. So when I was in practice holding my own and dominating some guys, that really made my stock rise because it proved a kid from Murray State could make it to the NFL and play against high caliber guys. So if anything that got my name out there more and when I scored that touchdown it was a great experience. I probably had 25 phone calls that night. The funny thing about that story is the guy that kind of picked me up and pushed me in the end zone is actually on the Jaguars too. He got drafted in the third round and Tyson Alualu from California got drafted by the Jaguars in the first round. He was my teammate at the Senior Bowl too. We all stayed in contact after the Senior Bowl and now we’re going to Jacksonville together so that’s pretty cool.
JH: At the Senior Bowl you worked with the Detroit Lions’ coaching staff. Head Coach Jim Schwartz and Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham who have a ton of NFL experience. What tips or insight did they give you for the NFL?
AL: They gave me a lot of things. First of all the intensity of practices. We kind of got a taste of what an NFL practice is going to be like. I was used to it where at Murray State we had practice at 5:30 in the mornings. It was pretty intense practice at Murray State so going to the Senior Bowl I felt like I was ready to compete there too. As far as my techniques, they preached on everything from the first step to the use of my hands. They said that moving my hands over just an inch can make a big difference. I learned a lot of techniques I’m still using now to become a better football player.
JH: So you went to the Jaguars in the 5th round, 153rd overall. You’ll be playing in a division with some NFL stars. Who do you look forward to facing most?
AL: I get that question all the time. I think all the Jacksonville fans on my twitter page say “Sack Manning, Sack Manning!” and then I got asked the question on Jacksonville radio “What’s it gonna feel like to go against Peyton Manning? Is it gonna be kinda surreal?” I said I’m excited to go against Peyton Manning because then I don’t have to play him in Madden all the time because when you play the computer in Madden he’s always calling an audible and it takes 30 minutes for him to even get a snap off so it’s going to be good playing him in real life. It’s going to be a little faster than playing him in Madden and I’m just excited for that, especially since Aaron Kampman is in Jacksonville now. Growing up in Wisconsin I watched him a lot. He’s a blue collar guy, a hard worker, one of the best defensive ends in the league still and I’m looking forward to learning what he has to teach me.
JH: What is a typical day like for you? What is your work out schedule and who do you train with?
AL: When I’m back home, basically I train every day at 2 o’clock. I usually train by myself. I consider myself self-motivated. Sometimes the kids from the high school football team will be in the weight room spotting me and then I’ll get in their head a little bit getting them jacked up. I remember being their age looking up to the older kids. But besides lifting, running and conditioning I’m basically just at home hanging out with friends and family just keeping it really low key.
JH: Who are some of the guys you watched growing up that you admired?
AL: Growing up in middle school it was Eddie George. In Pop Warner and Middle School football I was a running back. I always thought “he’s like 6’ 3” or 6’ 4”, if I can get to 6’ 4” in high school and get up to 225 maybe I can play running back.” Unfortunately when I got to high school I was like 6’ 5”, 180 pounds so my running back dreams were done after that (laughs). Michael Jordan was another hero of mine but nowadays guys I model myself after are two that really stand out. DeMarcus Ware from Dallas because his motor is always running, he’s just a beast and the way he moves is out of this world. Then Jared Allen. His motor is always running too. If you saw him against the Packers you saw he had a lot of success.
JH: What kind of cleat do you plan on wearing this year?
AL: It looks like I’ll be going with the Under Armour cleat. I’m really a big fan of the campaign they are doing. They like me a lot. Under Armour’s gear is top notch, probably the best in the game. Their cleats have only been around a little while but they have a wide fit which is good for my big wide feet. So overall I’m really happy with Under Armour cleats.
JH: What can you share with readers when it comes to performing at a high level? What did you work on from high school to now?
AL: Probably what I can say is working out is a big thing. You have to make time for it. The older you get the more you have to prioritize your time. You have friends, school, family, training. You have to prioritize that time to try to make everyone happy including yourself. I like to write things down and then follow that schedule. Another piece of advice would be to stay humble. The biggest thing I have learned through this whole process is to just stay humble. There’s no telling what will happen in the future but I’m just going to hope for the best and work my butt off. Also, be thankful for the people that got you there in the first place.
JH: What do you enjoy off the field?
AL: Off the field I like to hang out with my family. I play video games once in a while, Madden and Call of Duty sometimes. Going to movies, being outdoors, as long as I’m with my friends. I’m not one for reading books by myself and keeping it all quiet, I’m the kind of guy that likes to laugh and have fun and make a scene.
JH: What have the Jaguars told you about playing time?
AL: Well in order to get me they ended up trading away their left defensive end to Oakland so that shows that they have some kind of faith in me. I talked to the head coach and defensive coordinator and they said if I bring the kind of mentality I brought to Murray State they’re gonna have a spot for me. So I hope camp goes well and I think I have a spot as at least a back up and hopefully getting some reps on third down. So right now it feels like it’s my spot to lose. So I’m going into camp trying to make a name for myself.
JH: So now for the fun questions. What is on your ipod?
AL: Oh man. I have every genre you can think of. I have Country, Rap, Hip Hop, R&B, Rock, a little Pop, some Oldies, I got everything you can name.
JH: So if you could go to one or two concerts right now what would it be?
AL: Oh man. Arcade Fire, they’re like an alternative rock band. They have like 20 members in their band. Then probably Lil’ Wayne, even though he’s in jail right now (laughs).
JH: What kind of movies do you like?
AL: I’m into everything once again. I’m not really into horror movies that much just because there aren’t a lot of good ones out there. My favorite movies are The Warriors, kind of an older gangster movie, Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill 1 and 2, Boondock Saints, Any Given Sunday. Old School is a good one, Anchorman and of course the new one, the Hangover. I’m pretty much quoting that one every single day (laughs).
JH: Is there anything floating around out there that you’d like to clear up?
AL: There are a couple rumors going around that I need to clear up right now. Number one, my nickname is the “A Train”, it’s not “Big Avatar” as everybody else is calling me back at Murray State. The story behind that is Gerald McCoy from Oklahoma (who went #3 overall) started calling me “Big Avatar” at the combine and I ended up telling the kicker at Murray State that and in about two hours I had the whole town of Murray calling me “Big Avatar.” That is not my nickname. I do not have that on my back; I have “A Train” on my back tattooed. So lets stick with “A Train” not “Big Avatar.” And the other thing Sponge Bob Square Pants. My media guy thought it’d be funny to tell everybody I love Sponge Bob Square Pants which I don’t mind watching but people are making it sound like I am obsessed with it. So I’m a fan of Sponge Bob but I’m not obsessed with it and I don’t have a Sponge Bob Pillow.
After spending some time with him, I can tell Austen Lane has worked hard and stayed committed to make it to the NFL. As an underdog not being highly recruited out of high school and being taken in the fifth round I look for Austen to continue proving critics wrong.