Sandy’s Spiel’s Super Sleepers (Football)

Every year in every sport there is that one team that comes out of nowhere to surprise people. In the NBA it was our Atlanta Hawks. Last year in the MLB it was the Kansas City Royals. But who are some potential sleepers for this upcoming high school football season? It’s not as easy to predict with stats and info not being readily available for every school, but taking a stab in the dark can still be fun. I’ll try to run down some teams who I think have a chance to surprise people this year, picking a team from each classification. Also, I’ll try to avoid notoriously strong programs that just had a down year.

Class AAAAAA

North_Paulding_Logo_smallA team that took its lumps after moving up to 6A is North Paulding (4-7). The Wolfpack won a record 11 games in 2013 in their final season at the 5A level, but found out that playing with the “big boys” was a whole other animal. Scott Jones is a strong coach with experience coaching at the highest classification after a 10-year run at Kennesaw Mountain. The Wolfpack return an experienced group ready to take the next step. Senior quarterback Kyle Banks (MTSU) threw for 3,498 yards and 32 touchdowns in his first year starting last season. His two favorite targets also return with seniors D.J. Owens (67 receptions, 1,157 yards, 12 TD’s) and NC State-commit, tight end Dylan Autenrieth (468 yards), back to make big plays. Another reason I like North Paulding is the fact that linebacker Javier Williams returns after totaling 97 tackles. A big loss however is William Craig, who has transfered to Buford after notching over 100 tackles in 2014.

Class AAAAA

9856363Paulding County (5-5) took a momentous step forward last season and coach Scott Hamilton has the team believing a playoff berth is within their grasp.The Patriots recorded their first winning season since 2003 and have nearly everybody returning on offense. Senior Bailey Johnson and junior Marquis Tre’von Lewis split time at quarterback last year and combined for 2,069 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Lewis added 500 yards rushing and 10 scores as well. Caleb Sailor returns to the backfield after a broken collarbone ended his season after four games. He and Dondre Ledford will see the bulk of the carries. Ledford did most of his damage at receiver in 2014, catching 42 balls for 413 yards, but the top option will remain Antonio Gandy-Golden, who comes off a 54-catch, 891-yard season.

Class AAAA

Under head coach Sean Gray, Southeast Whitfield (6-5) captured its first winning season since 1986. Screen-Shot-2012-07-26-at-5.42.32-PM1That is 28 years! The Raiders return their top running back Tyler Brown along with dual-threat quarterback Will Swantic. Linebacker/running back Devin Fields brings back a two-way talent that could help spark the Raiders back into the playoffs. Pickens County should fall back to the pack with the graduation of Shannon Brooks (Minnesota) and Northwest Whitfield loses star quarterback Caleb Shiflett which gives reason to believe that Southeast Whitfield could find itself in the playoff picture again.


Class AAA

Coaching is critical in high school football and one of the best in the business to never win a state title brings his 20 years of head coaching experience to the Dawson County Tigers (2-8). DTigerSid Maxwell has compiled a 128-83 record and has only suffered five losing seasons as a head coach – three coming in his first three seasons at Sequoyah back in the mid-90’s. Maxwell runs a Wing-T offense and spent his first 15 years coaching at Sequoyah before moving to Lambert for five years to coach his son. He took off last season, but Dawson County should see success under the strong leader.

Class AA

Wesleyan 1247866013_wesleyan_wolves(6-5) was extremely young last year and started freshman Banks Ramsey at quarterback. The Wolves’ top two running backs return along with top receiver, junior Harrison Cook. Drew Aspinwall led the team in tackles as a junior at linebacker with 99 stops. Jordan Mack is a Virginia-commit and plays both offense and defense for the Wolves. Coach Franklin Pridgen’s group played teams tough last season. They lost to quarterfinal participants Pace Academy 23-17 in overtime, Lovett 30-24 and Heard County 28-21. These young pups look to become full-grown wolves this season with some bite.

Class A

Stratford Academy imgres(6-5) and its dominant rushing attack (293.6 yards per game) can steam roll opponents. Dual sport standout Quintez Cephus controls the offense from under center while senior O’Showen Williams is coming off a 1,060-yard, 21-touchdown season. The Eagles lost close games to strong programs Aquinas 28-27 and to Lincoln County 21-20.

The Curious Case of Krysten Hammon

Coach Trent Miles and staff thought they had a winner last season. Krysten Hammon, a Dickinson, Texas, product looked to be the running back of the future for the Panthers. The freshman ran for 74 yards on 13 carries in a 38-37 win over Abilene Christian in week one and followed it up with a 123-yard, two-touchdown game against New Mexico State. It seemed like quarterback Nick Arbuckle would have a reliable running game to balance his passing attack. Wrong. Hammon would get dismissed from the team, but still his total of 197 yards would rank him as Georgia State’s third-leading rusher in 2014, highlighting the fact that in his absence the Panthers could not move the ball on the ground.

Hammon was suspended at first, but then was granted his release from his scholarship as he tried to transfer. Eventually Hammon enrolled at Blinn Community College and then at Kansas, but he only took one one-hour class and paid his way. According to Doug Roberson of the AJC, “Despite his absence, he was frequently in contact with coach Trent Miles. Miles had steadfastly refused to allow him to return until a few days ago when he was meeting with everyone involved with the program.”2937150

This was August 5 when Hammon apparently re-joined the team. Just three days later, the reunion ended as quickly and as out-of-the-blue as it occurred. Less than a week into camp, the coaching staff had had enough. “We tried to give Krysten a second chance, but he did not live up to the standards necessary to be a part of our program,” Miles said. “We wish him the best.”

So what is next for Hammon? Clearly he is a talented back but cannot seem to see eye-to-eye with coaches. Even though there is depth at running back, quality always trumps quantity and the Panthers have just lost their best running back yet again.

Hopefully Hammon can find peace at his next stop if he so chooses to continue to play football. College is a time for growing and understanding who one really is. Right now Hammon’s reputation is being called into question for his struggles to stick with a school. It will be interesting to see where this mercurial talent resurfaces and when.

Sandy’s Spiel’s NCAA Football Preseason Top 25

Preseason Top 25

  1. TCU (12-1)
  2. Ohio State (14-1)
  3. USC (9-4)
  4. Oregon (13-2)
  5. Baylor (11-2)
  6. Alabama (12-2)
  7. Florida State (13-1)
  8. LSU (8-5)
  9. Stanford (8-5)
  10. Michigan State (11-2)
  11. Auburn (8-5)
  12. Wisconsin (11-3)
  13. Georgia (10-3)
  14. Oklahoma (8-5)
  15. Ole Miss (9-4)
  16. UCLA (10-3)
  17. Clemson (10-3)
  18. Virginia Tech (7-6)
  19. Notre Dame (8-5)
  20. Utah (9-4)
  21. Oklahoma State (7-6)
  22. Georgia Tech (11-3)
  23. Miami (FL) (6-7)
  24. Boise State (12-2)
  25. Louisville (9-4)

NCAAFB: Take The SEC or Take The Field?

The 2015 college football season begins in a month and the USA Today Coaches Poll has come out with a Top-Five of: 1. Ohio State, 2. TCU, 3. Alabama, 4. Baylor, 5. Oregon. In total there are eight SEC schools in the Top 25, six Pac-12 schools and three apiece from the Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC.

So who is the best conference? Do you pick a team from the SEC or do you take the field? Last season’s implementation of the College Football Playoff was a great success and left controversy on who should be the final team in. Ohio State stunned Alabama with its third-string quarterback and then thumped Oregon in the title game 42-20.

Late last season marked a shift of power from the once mighty SEC to the rest of the nation. The ‘Bucks stunned the Tide, but at least it was a close game, 42-35. Georgia Tech from the SEC’s “little brother” conference the ACC, stomped Mississippi State 49-34 in the Orange Bowl on New Years Eve. The Peach Bowl was even more embarrassing with TCU humiliating Ole Miss 42-3. Elsewhere, Florida squeeked past East Carolina 28-20, LSU fell to Notre Dame 31-28 and Wisconsin edged Auburn in overtime 34-31. The SEC did pick up wins in the lesser bowls, but the conference’s marquee programs struggling with teams from perceivably “weaker” conferences was eye opening.

So here we are, 2015, in a brave new world with an even playing field. Once again SEC teams load the polls, but who will be the top dog when it’s all said an done? Alabama is always a favorite and opens up at No. 3. Gone is Amari Cooper, gone is T.J. Yeldon, gone is Blake Sims, gone is Landon Collins, the list goes on and on. Last season Alabama had a one-dimensional passing game. Every single target was going to Cooper. Now that he is gone, will it open up more of the offense and also allow the Tide to run the ball more with Derrick Henry as the lead back? Time will tell. Alabama goes into the season with an inexperienced quarterback; a problem many SEC teams will have yet again this year.

Auburn enters at No. 7 in the polls but also has question marks under center. Jeremy Johnson threw just 37 passes last season but already is being compared to Cam Newton. Leading rusher Cameron Artis-Payne is gone after a 1,608 yard season and the top returning rusher is wide receiver Ricardo Louis who gained 226 yards on the ground. Jovon Robinson steps in as the lead back after being ruled ineligible coming out of Junior College last season. In 2013 at Georgia Military College, the current day junior ran for a NJCAA single-season record 2,387 yards. If Johnson can get a grip of the offense at quarterback and Robinson can stay on the field, Auburn has a chance to make a playoff push.

My first pretender out of the top five SEC schools is Georgia who ranks No. 9. Year-in and year-out the Bulldogs enter the season overrated and are nothing more than a second tier team in the SEC. No quarterback and a one-dimensional offense will sink the Dawgs again. Either Brice Ramsey or Greyson Lambert will start at quarterback. Ramsey threw 39 passes last season as coach Richt and staff refused to get the potential future of the team some much needed snaps in blow out games last year. Greyson Lambert joins the program after starting at Virginia in 2014. Picturing the former Wayne County star in the SEC is a scary thought. Lambert routinely made bad decisions with the Cavs and was a turnover machine. Multiple games he would split time with Matt Johns under center and failed to make a convincing statement that he was the true QB1. He threw 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and failed to make easy throws. If he starts for UGA, expect the Bulldogs’ running backs to have to carry the load 45-60 times a game. It doesn’t matter how good Nick Chubb is, if the quarterback can’t alleviate pressure on the run game and keep defenses honest, eight men in the box will be zoned in on No. 27 every play.

LSU at No. 13 is primed to emerge from the SEC if Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings can put together a consistent season at quarterback. Nine offensive starters return including sophomore Leonard Fournette, who ran for 1,034 yards and 10 scores his freshman campaign. All of coach Les Miles’ top receivers return and enough is back on defense to be another Top-10 unit.

The mercurial play of Bo Wallace will not be an issue for No. 15 Ole Miss, but they still will be inserting an inexperienced SEC quarterback with whoever gets the job. JUCO-transfer Chad Kelly should have the inside track on the job after throwing for 3,906 yards and 47 touchdowns last season. The defense will carry the Rebels this year as they search for their first double-digit win season in 12 years.

So with all that said, the SEC should be a lock to have a team win the National Championship, right? Sadly, I have to go against the grain in the south and pick against the beloved conference yet again.

Defending champ Ohio State returns all three quarterbacks with Braxton Miller making the switch to wide receiver. Coach Urban Meyer has been drooling about Miller’s athleticism and will surely find a way for the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year to make a massive impact outside. J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones both continue to battle for the starting job, giving Ohio State an embarrassment of riches and three guys (including Miller) that would instantly become the best quarterback in the SEC if they had transferred.  Ezekiel Elliot burst onto the scene after rushing for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore and will continue to terrorize defenses. If the Buckeyes can survive an early suspension of First-Team All-American defensive end Joey Bosa (13.5 sacks) and others during their rematch with Virginia Tech in the first game of the season, Ohio State could easily roll to another College Football Playoff.

My personal No. 1 ranked team, who slides in at No. 2 in the Coaches Poll is TCU. A whopping 10 offensive starters return to a Horned Frogs offense that averaged 46.5 points per game in 2014 — second-best in the entire nation only to Baylor who stunned the Frogs and kept them out of the Playoffs with a 61-58 victory. Trevone Boykin enters his senior season as a Heisman front-runner. He threw for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns while gaining 707 yards and eight scores on the ground. Josh Doctson is Boykin’s favorite target after snagging 1,018 yards worth of passes and 11 touchdowns. Senior back Aaron Green also returns to the backfield after gaining 922 yards and nine scores on a 7.1 yard per carry average. The defense takes a hit with the loss of Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet but the Horned Frogs still have free safety Derrick Kindred (80 tkls, 4 ints) and defensive end James McFarland (7 sacks) and are reloaded for another run. Last year’s Playoff picture and results could have been very different if TCU has somehow snuck in.

Nov. 27 will decide the Big 12 and will determine who makes the College Playoff with No. 4 Baylor visiting TCU. Seth Russell is the favorite to replace Bryce Petty at quarterback. Petty is a massive blow, but nine starters return on both offense and defense. Shock Linwood ran for 1,252 yards and 16 scores as a sophomore and will be asked to carry the load again while Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon seek back-to-back 1,000-plus yards receiving. The defense will be anchored by the massive Shawn Oakman, who stands 6-foot-9, 280 pounds. Oakman will continue his meteoric rise up draft boards after collecting 11 sacks last season.

Two teams I am high on come out of the Pac-12 and will likely knock one of themselves out of contention on Nov. 21. USC ranks No. 10 and Oregon slots in at No. 5, although I place USC at No. 3 and Oregon at No. 4. The sanctions have lifted off of USC and the program finally looks ready to not disappoint. Seven starters return on both offense and defense led by Cody Kessler. The senior threw for 3,826 yards, 39 touchdowns and just five picks as a junior. He will have new running back behind him in Justin Davis and plenty of new faces at receiver after the loss of Nelson Agholor, but Kessler is good enough to make inexperienced players around him better. The defense will need to hold up its end of the bargain after allowing 25.2 points per game last season. Leonard Williams is gone from the defensive line, but Rasheem Green is a highly touted prospect and Iman Marshall is one of the best defensive backs in this year’s class.

Both the Trojans and the Oregon Ducks will need to survive Stanford who is ready to compete for the Pac-12 Title again. Oregon loses 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota but Vernon Adams has been a star for years with FCS Eastern Washington and has mind boggling totals of 8,477 yards passing and 90 touchdowns over his past two seasons. Head coach Mark Helfrich has refused to speak about the transfer recently though, as apparently he has yet to officially enroll. If that is the case, it will be a huge blow for the Ducks and Jeff Lockie will be pegged as the starter. Oregon’s top five receivers return as well as running back Royce Freeman, so weapons will be aplenty for whoever takes over.

With a rundown of all the top teams in the nation in my opinion, I feel like the balance of power and the playing field has become level and no longer shifts in the favor of the SEC. I like TCU going into the season and the quarterback concerns with every single SEC school will come back to haunt them once they play the best-of-the-best from other power conferences. It’s tough to accept in the south, but there has been a changing of the guard and the race for the National Championship is wide open with the roads most likely running through the Big 12 and the Big Ten, no longer the SEC.

Was Fantasy Football Founded In Atlanta?

Fantasy football has grown into a billion dollar industry since its humble inception. Bragging rights, cash and pride are at stake when each new fantasy football season rolls around. So who exactly were the founding fathers that created the first rudimentary fantasy football league? No one knows for sure, but there is a strong hunch that the first league began in Georgia’s own backyard in 1983.

A group of eight high schoolers ranging from 16 to 17 years old may be the creators of the first ever documented rotisserie fantasy football league. Marist students Scott Frank, Frankie Doherty, Chris Decherd, Mark Wesley, Glenn Gilbertti, Jay Dowlen, Gil Markham and Chris Daniel all collaborated to concoct the first known fantasy football league which they named “The Fantasy Football League” or the FFL. The idea of creating a league first emerged after Scott Frank and his friends read a Sports Illustrated article discussing rotisserie baseball and how one might go about creating a rotisserie fantasy football league. The group decided to go forward and create a league of their own.

The first rosters included a lineup of one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one kicker and one team defense. The scoring system was much different from what you would find online in today’s game.  The quarterback got five points for a touchdown (run or pass) under 40 yards and 10 points for 40+ yards. Running backs and receivers got seven and 12 points, respectively. Kickers received five points for 35 yards or less, seven points for 36-45 yards, and 10 points for 46 or more yards, plus two-point for PATs. Defense got 10 points for a touchdown, eight points for a safety and 15 points for a shutout.

Each season’s draft was held at one of the participants’ house. The first inaugural FFL draft was highlighted by Glenn Gilbertti selecting Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts first overall, while Scott Frank selected kicker Rolf Benirschke second. Selecting a number out of a hat randomized the order of the draft. Whoever had the last pick in the round would have the first pick in the following round creating a “snake” order.

After setting the teams, the true work would begin. Access to complete game stats in the early 1980s was not readily available like they are today. ESPN had been founded in 1979 and was still working its way into households across America and the age of Internet was over a decade away. The FFL would not be able to score its games until the following morning when the newspaper would be delivered and the league owners would tally up the points.

To avoid waiting until the next morning, the group would call local news stations for scores and stats. It would be a fellow Marist graduate who worked at Channel 2 on the weekends who would end up helping the league the most by answering their weekly phone calls– Ernie Johnson, who has risen to fame as a part of Turner Sports.

Frank cherishes the early years and says what he remembers most is “Spending Sunday afternoons with my friends at their houses and cheering for players we had never heard of and plays that seemed meaningless to our parents.”

The first two seasons of the FFL would be dominated by Scott Frank, who took the first two championships. Instead of a shiny trophy, league commissioner Chris Decherd sent out hand written letters labeled from “The Commissioner’s Office” to the winning team, congratulating them on a great season.

In year two, other high school friends Dan Perez, Sean McDonald, Chris Burns and Billy Gazdik joined as it grew into a 10-man league over the first ten years. To this day, The Fantasy Football League is still going strong but with plenty of new faces. Two original owners still participate, Doherty and Gilbertti. Many of the original core stay in touch and remain close friends.

“Putting in the time and effort often makes all the difference in winning the FFL and in life,” explained Frank. “Whether you or your friend is winning, always value the relationships and there is always another season.”

As pioneers to one of the biggest revenue streams in sports gaming now, the group never thought of themselves as being the firsts until they began to try and track down history dated earlier than their league. As a self-proclaimed packrat, Scott Frank has notebooks upon notebooks loaded with box scores and standings from the FFL. With their hard evidence, The Fantasy Football League is able to prove they played rotisserie fantasy football in 1983.

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