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College Football Conference Previews

College Football Conference Previews 3 months 2 weeks ago #443879

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American Athletic Conference Football Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Coach Me Up

Entering its fourth year of existence, the American Athletic Conference remains the top Group of 5 League heading into the 2017 football season.

While the loop has struggled in bowl games, going 6-14 SU and 7-13 ATS, it has become a breeding ground for up-and-coming head coaches.

Tulsa’s Phillip Montgomery, SMU’s Chad Morris, and Memphis’ Mike Norvell are three promising young coaches on the rise, and we didn’t even mention Tulane’s Willie Fritz. Meanwhile, the 23 wins by Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo over Power Five or BCS Conference foes is the most of all Group of Five schools.

The AAC has five new coaches for 2017: Cincinnati's Luke Fickell, Connecticut’s Randy Edsall, Houston's Major Applewhite, Temple's Geoff Collins, and USF’s Charlie Strong.

And rest assured, East Carolina’s Scottie Montgomery is fully aware that the Pirates have missed out on bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004-05. Beware of the AAC. Its coaches take a back seat to no one.

Talking Points

Average attendance at American Athletic Conference home stadiums was 31,611, clearly No. 1 for Group of Five conferences, and right on the heels of 2015 when it averaged 31,842 in 2015, after an average of 21,193 in 2014. USF was up 41% in 2016 with a 10-2 record and a home game vs. Florida State. On the flip side, Temple fell 38% without facing Notre Dame. Other than BYU, East Carolina (44.113) had the largest average attendance outside the Power Five.

Danger ahead: since the AAC formation in 2014 the conference has struggled mightily in non-conference games following a SUATS loss, going just 4-26-1 ATS. And if they are not taking at least 7 points in these games they fall off the face of the earth, going 0-13-1 ATS. Gulp.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


CINCINNATI (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 6/3, 42 Lettermen)


A 3-1 start last season turned into a 1-7 disastrous finish and an absolute P.R. nightmare when head coach Timmy Tuberville went off on a disgruntled fan in front of cameras. As a result of the implosion, the Bearcats brought in longtime Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell to right the program and polish its image. Fickell also served as the Buckeyes’ interim coach in 2011 following the Jim Tressel fallout while guiding OSU to its first losing season since 1988. The good news is Fickell has defensive DNA in his blood and the strength of this Bearcats team appears to be its defense. Behind an experienced Power 5 coaching staff, cool hand Luke looks right at home in Cincinnati.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Fickell was 1-5 ATS in games following a win as a head coach with Ohio State.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. UCF (10/27)

CONNECTICUT (Offense – *7/3, Defense –5/3, 57 Lettermen)


Like a stray dog returning home, former head coach Randy Edsall is back at UConn. With the Bob Diaco experiment officially history, Edsall returns to Connecticut for a second tour, this time trying to ignite an offense that was virtually non-existent in three seasons under Diaco. The 20 touchdowns they scored was lowest tally of any team in the nation in 2016. Edsall turns to former Auburn OC Rhett Lashlee – a Gus Malzahn protégé – and Villanova DC Billy Crocker for his new coordinators. The good news is five OL with starting experience are back. And remember: Huskies’ sophomores made a total of 127 starts in 2015, the most in the nation. Those young pups are now seniors.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies scored a total of nine first-quarter points (three field goals in two games) last season.

PLAY ON: vs. UCF (11/11)

EAST CAROLINA (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 7/3, 53 Lettermen)


Year One under head coach Scottie Montgomery was expected to be productive. After all, 51 upper classmen dotted the Pirates’ roster, including star WR Zay Jones and transfer QB Phillip Nelson. Neither disappointed with Jones leading the nation in receiving while Nelson, a protégé of quarterback specialist coach Terry Shea, finished 7th in completion percentage (67.9). Through it all the offense improved 53 YPG, but the defense – horse-collared with injuries – slipped 51 YPG. It didn’t help that ECU was also the worst team in the nation in turnovers gained (8 ) last season. The question is with Jones and Nelson gone, what can they to improve on last year’s three wins?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Pirates are 2-16 SU and 0-18 ATS versus conference foes with a winning record since 2010.


TEMPLE (Offense - 5/3, Defense – 4/1, 42 Lettermen)


When Florida DC Geoff Collins replaced Matt Rhule as the Owls coach this season, he almost immediately began using social media hashtags to show his footprint on the program. The one that has gotten most of the attention from the players is #the STANDARD, as they quickly learned that the standard expected from every player has been raised even higher this year. After fighting thru a 2-10 seaosn in 2013, Temple concluded the final two years of the Rhule regime with a pair of 10-win seasons. But because 50% of the starts made for the Owls last season were by seniors, Collins realizes everone must step up in 2017. The ranks are thin but the spirit is high.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: New Temple coach Collins is the only coach to be a Broyles award nominee – the nation’s best assistant coach - at three schools.


UCF (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 4/3, 43 Lettermen)


After taking over a program that failed to win a game in 2015 and leading them to a bowl game, the big question is what does Scott Frost do for an encore? He was 24-2 as a quarterback at Nebraska. As a DC at Northern Iowa the Panthers went from 7-4 to 12-1. And while an assistant at Oregon, the Ducks went 79-15. So yes, the man knows how to win. It’s also no coincidence that the UCF freshmen made the 2nd most starts in the nation in 2015. After coming up big as sophomores last season, they are now juniors. With added improvement in store this year behind a powerful front seven, the question has been answered.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: UCF was the No. 2 team in the nation in red zone defense in 2016.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. East Carolina (10/14) - *KEY

USF (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 9/4, 49 Lettermen)


One of 11 teams to win 11 games last season, USF set nearly 40 team records in 2016, including total yards (6,650), rushing yards (3,714), touchdowns (77), and scoring (569) in its best season ever. JR QB Quinton Flowers was named AAC Offensive POY while leading a school-record 10 players named to the all-conference team. While those are some mighty big shoes to fill, six of those players - including Flowers - return in 2017. Among the missing, though, is head coach Willie Taggart who moves on to Oregon. Enter controversial Charlie Strong, whose first task will be to rebuild a defense that actually regressed over 100 YPG last season. Just the way he likes it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: USF was the No. 1 team in the nation in 4th down conversion percentage last season.



HOUSTON (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 8/2, 37 Lettermen)


It’s been said that Major Applewhite likes big challenges. In succeeding Tom Herman as the Cougars’ new head coach he has taken on a gargantuan task. On the heels of its best two-season effort (22 wins) in school history, Applewhite inherits two terrifically talented recruiting classes left behind by Herman, including 2016 Defensive Freshmen All-American of the Year, DT Ed Oliver, the most decorated recruit in Cougar history. Dynamo QB Greg Ward Jr. is gone, creating a big hole behind center. The hope is Texas A&M transfer QB Kevin Allen can live up to his blue-chip recruit hype. If new DC Mark D’Onofrio (Miami and Temple) can continue to plug holes, gargantuan just may turn to tiny.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Former Utah OC and Mississippi State QB coach Brian Johnson is Houston new offensive coordinator.


MEMPHIS (Offense – *9/4, Defense – 8/3, 43 Lettermen)


When Memphis won 8 games in Mike Norvell’s first year after replacing Justin Fuente in 2015, he set the bar high. Real high, considering it was the most wins by a first-year coach in school history. He was also the first coach to lead the Tigers to a bowl game in his first season, plus the first rookie head coach at Memphis to defeat a ranked team since 1975. Now, after 27 wins in three seasons, and with a boatload of starters returning, the upside for this fledgling program has never been higher. A quick glance of the schedule confirms that Memphis could be favored in as many as 10 games this campaign. Beware of the Tiger.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Memphis is 12-0 ATS as an underdog in regular season road finales.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (10/19)

NAVY (Offense - 4/2, Defense – 7/1, 47 Lettermen)


We could write a book about the Navy program every year, but due to space limitations, we’ll go with the Cliff Notes version. Ready? Since Ken Niumatalolo became head coach Navy in 2008, the well-disciplined Middies have never finished lower than 2nd in penalties per game. They also know how to win, going 144-92 in Coach N’s 19 seasons on the Navy sidelines. Last year they saw 102 games missed by key starters or contributors due to injury – and the Midshipmen still won 9 games! You can do that when you’re the No. 1 team in the land in 3rd down conversion percentage, and when you’ve got the horses to topple your first AP Top 10 team since 1984. And beware: Navy will enter the 2017 season on a three-game losing streak. It is Navy’s longest losing streak since 2014. Navy won 26 of their next 31 games after the previous three-game losing streak. Forewarned is forearmed.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Navy played nine FBS teams in 2016 that finished with eight or more wins (tied with North Carolina for the most in the country).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (11/24)

SMU (Offense - *9/4, Defense – 5/3, 40 Lettermen)


The Mustangs continued their upward ascent last season under head coach Chad Morris. Noteworthy in the Ponies’ annual improvement run last season was its first win over a Top 15 team since 1986. Morris’ non-stop triple option attack is loaded with returning starters, including exciting SO QB Ben Hicks and last year’s top eight targets, along with four-star LSU transfer Trey Quinn, who starred during spring camp. Defensively, depth and attrition became issues down the stretch in 2016. Five starters from that unit are gone, but no less than 16 contributors are back. Like we said last year, if the defense can hold the fort, the Mustangs should be ordering up bowl shirts by season’s end.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Freshmen have started a total of 101 games for the Mustangs last two seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (10/7)

TULANE (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 7/2, 49 Lettermen)


Perhaps no other coach in college football hits a groove like Willie Fritz does when it comes to his second-year with a program. According to Bill Connelly of SBNation.com, in his second year at Blinn College his team won the NJCAA title. In his second year at Central Missouri, the Mules went from 5-6 to 8-3. In his second year at Sam Houston State, the Bearkats went from 6-5 to 14-1. And in his second year at Georgia Southern, the Eagles secured their first bowl bid. Better yet, because Fritz played a ton of underclassmen last year, that youth turns to experience this year. Sure, they were the worst team in the nation in team passing, and 3rd down conversion percentage, last season. But rest assured, Willie is right where he wants to be this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Willie Fritz is 14-0 SU and 11-1 ATS versus .333 or less opponents.

PLAY ON: vs. Houston (11/18)

TULSA (Offense – 7/4, Defense – 6/2, 49 Lettermen)


Tulsa’s high octane offense hit on all cylinders under head coach Phillip Montgomery - remember that name – when it became the first team in FBS history to have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers, and two 1,000-yard WRs in the same season. Even more satisfying for Montgomery, though, was the fact that the Hurricane defense actually improved over 100 YPG over the previous season. Throughout it all, an offense going full-speed for 60 minutes continued to percolate with its second straight Category 5 effort under Monty when its 527 YPG effort topped the 507 YPG posted in his first year with Tulsa. And oh yeah, Tulsa has scored 30-plus points in each of its last 11 games. Yikes.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Tulsa is 29-7 SU and 28-8 ATS in conference games in which it scores 30 or more points.

PLAY ON: vs. Navy (9/30)
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College Football Conference Previews 3 months 2 weeks ago #443880

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Atlantic Coast Conference Football Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Two By Fours

The Atlantic Coast Conference is the only conference in the nation to have two football national champions in the past four years. Florida State took the final BCS National Championship after the 2013 season and Clemson claimed the 2016 National College Football Playoff title last year.

In addition, the ACC returns the Heisman Trophy winner for second time in four years with junior QB Lamar Jackson returning to lead Louisville in 2017. Florida State's Jameis Winston did so in 2014 after winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy. Jackson is the youngest athlete (19 years, 337 days) to win the Heisman Trophy, while Winston (19 years, 342 days) is the second youngest.

ACC Powering Up

ACC teams will play more games (22) against Power Five non-conference teams in 2017 than any of its peer conferences. The ACC will also have a higher percentage (.393) of its non-conference games against Power Five opponents than any other league.

In addition, the ACC will play more games against 2016 AP-ranked teams than any other conference. ACC teams will play more games in 2017 against non-conference teams (7) that were ranked in last year’s final Associated Press Top 25 than any other Power Five conference.

Including the 11 ACC teams that went to bowl games, no ACC team will face fewer than seven opponents that went to bowls in 2016, while eight teams will face eight or more opponents that played in the postseason. Through it all, a total of 11 ACC teams ended 2016 with winning records, the most of any FBS league and the most in ACC history. The next highest total by a conference was eight teams.

Orange Bowl Roll

The ACC has won the last five Orange Bowl games, the longest winning streak for a conference in the Orange Bowl in 72 years. The SEC won seven straight from 1938 through 1944.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


BOSTON COLLEGE (Offense – 9/3, Defense – 7/2, 47 Lettermen)


Last year, for the second straight season, the Eagles’ overall defense ranked in the nation’s Top 10. In fact, BC's 'D' finished No. 2 in team sacks (ahead of Alabama and Michigan). Unfortunately, as good as Yin was, Yang was simply deplorable. Steve Addazio’s squad averaged less than 300 YPG for the second straight year when it gained just 110 PYPG in conference play, while completing only 46.5% of its passes for a mere 4 TDs. The good news – or is it? - is that nine starters are back on offense, sans QB Patrick Towles. Better news is that star pass rusher Harold Landry (16.5 sacks) decided to forgo the NFL draft and returns in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Home field disadvantage? The Eagles are 0-6 SUATS as home underdogs since 2014.


CLEMSON (Offense – 5/4, Defense – 7/3, 53 Lettermen)


Reigning National Champion Clemson will have a tough row to hoe in 2017, as it will be the only FBS school to replace a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard running back, and a 1,000-yard wide receiver. That’s a LOT of production to supplant, especially while also carrying the biggest bulls-eye of all on its back in 2017. And don’t forget that the Tigers won seven games by a TD or less last season (tops in the nation). On top of it all, 10 Clemson players were either drafted or signed free agent contracts, making the Tigers one of only four programs that have had at least one 1st-round selection for five consecutive years. Good luck, Dabo!

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers have the nation’s third-longest current streak (71 games) without losing back-to-back games.

PLAY AGAINST: at Louisville (9/16)

FLORIDA STATE (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 10/3, 48 Lettermen)


Talk about a loaded team: the Seminoles will likely need to take breathalyzers onto the field with them in 2017. FSU is one of only two teams (along with Bama) to have appeared in five straight BCS/New Year’s Six bowl games, while Jimbo Fisher’s 11.14 average wins per season leads all current head coaches. Meanwhile, QB Deondre Francois passed for more yards than any freshman in the nation last year (3,350) while guiding FSU’s top-ranked red zone offense. And the FSU defense has 186 career starts, including 15 players who have started a game! Remember, only 18.4 % of starts by Florida State last year were made by seniors. Yep. They’re rolling in it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Noles have the longest current streak (76 games) without losing back-to-back games, dating back to the 2011 season.

PLAY ON: vs. Louisville (10/21) - *KEY

LOUISVILLE (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 7/1, 45 Lettermen)


2016 Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson returns after becoming the first player in FBS history to pass for more than 3,500 yards and rush for over 1,500 yards in a season. As powerful as the offense once again promises to be in 2017, it’s the defense that will be the linchpin of the team. The stop-unit returns 12 players who recorded 20 or more tackles last season, including star LB Stacy Thomas with 85. In addition, Trevon Young, a senior LB who missed the entire season last year with a hip injury, is back. He was an all ACC performer in 2015. A major concern – only three teams tallied more giveaways (32) than the Cardinals last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Bobby the Louse is 0-15 SU away versus AP Top 15 ranked opponents.

PLAY ON: at Kentucky (11/25)

N.C. STATE (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/4, 47 Lettermen)


With 22 seniors on the roster – 11 of who are returning starters, including the entire DL – NCSU will field their most experienced team in school history. In addition, two seniors who sat out last season, but have started multiple games in their careers, join the fray. The defense, which owned the second best 1st-down defense and the 8th best rush unit, returns the entire starting front six. On the flip side, the veteran offense is keyed by H-back Jaylen Samuels, who has averaged 6.25 YPR and a TD every 5.9 carries the last two seasons, and Boise State graduate transfer QB Ryan Finley, who tossed for 3,059 yards and 18 TDS for the Pack in 2016.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolfpack is 23-3 SU and 18-5 ATS in games where they outgain their opponent under head coach Dave Doeren.

PLAY ON: at Florida State (9/23)

SYRACUSE (Offense – *9/5, Defense – 10/4, 42 Lettermen)


This from our crack fact-finding research department: Syracuse seniors started the 2nd fewest amount of games in the nation last season. As a result, head coach Dino Babers welcomes back a bevy of experienced, young talent in 2017 as 53.4 % of all Syracuse starts made last season were by underclassmen. As you know by now, we’ve come to expect good things from teams fitting this M.O. The hurdle this year, though, is that no less than 11 foes on the schedule appeared in a bowl game last season. Despite the salty slate, and last year’s season-ending crash, Dino is aching to lead this team to a bowl game. Don’t bet against him.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Syracuse amassed 5,290 yards under Dino Babers in 2016, the 2nd-highest total in the 127-year history of the program.

PLAY ON: vs. Pittsburgh (10/7)

WAKE FOREST (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 6/3, 42 Lettermen)


If patience is a virtue, then Wake Forest should be a very advantaged team in 2017. Freshmen made a total of 71 starts in 2015, the 3rd most in the land. Then last year underclassmen accounted for 45.8 % of the team’s starts (10th most in the nation). A pronounced increase in the ground game finally emerged in 2016 when the Deacs gained 40 YPG more on the ground than in 2015, but that was largely attributable to the fact that Wake Forest was the only FBS school in the nation in 2015 whose top three rushers were all true freshmen. It's time for this suddenly experienced team to step up in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Demon Deacons have ranked 12th or worse in the ACC in scoring the last five consecutive seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: at Boston College (9/9)


DUKE (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 5/1, 43 Lettermen)


Talk about a tough nut to crack. Not only will the Blue Devils face only ONE foe this year that owned a losing record last year, but also 11 of whom that were in a postseason game! Fortunately, QB Daniel Jones finished with the 5th-most passing yards of all freshmen in 2016. He was named the team’s MVP after matching or establishing 23 school records, including most offensive yards by a freshman (3,322). Head coach David Cutcliffe is widely recognized as a quarterback whisperer, having coached nine QBs who either earned all-conference honors or led their school to a bowl victory. In a ‘mission year’ this season, expect Cutcliffe to crack the code.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Duke is 4-5 SU versus ranked opponents under HC Cutcliffe. They were 0-47 SU versus the same prior to his arrival.

PLAY ON: at Virginia (10/7)

GEORGIA TECH (Offense – 8/3, Defense – 8/2, 43 Lettermen)


As we alluded to on this page last year, Paul Johnson stands tall within the NCAA coaching ranks. He averages 8.85 wins per season, which ranks No. 9 among all current head coaches, and in his previous 19 years as a head coach, Johnson led his teams to either FCS playoffs or FBS bowl games 18 times. That’s impressive, to say the least. The key to his success is simple – run the ball down your opponent’s throat until they succumb. Four of the top five running backs return in 2017, but a new quarterback will be at the helm. Its Achilles' heel is a defense that allowed a .492 conversion rate on third down (3rd worst in the land) last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In his 15 years as a FBS head coach, Paul Johnson’s teams have each averaged at least 5 Yards Per Rush per season.

PLAY AGAINST: at Virginia (11/4)

MIAMI, FL (Offense – 8/4, Defense – 8/4, 40 Lettermen


For the first time since 2009, the Hurricanes finished the 2016 season ranked in the Top 25. With it, the return of head coach Mark Richt to his alma mater was met with cheers and applause in Miami. Richt is 90-43 in conference games in his career, while averaging 9.63 wins per season, which ranks No. 7 among all current head coaches. Sixteen starters are back from last year, including WR Ahmmon Richards, a 4.3 sprinter who pulled in 46 receptions for 866 yards to smash Michael Irvin’s single-season yards mark for a freshman last year. Yes, it’s safe to say the Canes are back on a winning path. STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Miami tied with Old Dominion for the 2nd best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (10).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia Tech (10/12)

NORTH CAROLINA (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 7/2, 35 Lettermen)


As UNC head coach Larry Fedora likely reminds himself each night, it was nice while it lasted. It started after losing a star quarterback (after one year) to the NFL when Mitchell Trubisky was selected as the second player in this year’s NFL Draft. Also gone are workhorse RBs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, along with three key WRs. But the biggest loss of all is not a player. It’s DC Gene Chizik, who decided to retire after two highly productive seasons in which the Tar Heels' defense improved 90 YPG after his arrival. Here’s hoping LSU transfer QB Brandon Harris lasts longer than Trubisky. Otherwise, it will be back to square one again for Fedora.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Larry Fedora is 12-0 SU and 11-1 ATS in regular season games vs. foes who were upset as a favorite in their previous game.


PITTSBURGH (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 4/1, 36 Lettermen)


It’s hard to imagine that Pat Narduzzi’s defense was the No. 119 team in the nation in red zone defense in 2016. To top it off, the architect and former DC from Michigan State’s most recent glory days, was also hit hard in the NFL Draft when he lost five starters, including QB Nathan Peterman (Bills), and RB James Conner (Steelers) among others. In all, over 50 % of the starts made for the Panthers last season were by seniors. Despite it all, Pitt was the only team to defeat two opponents ranked in the Top 5 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. With no back-to-back road games, expect that to be enough to build on.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: All of Pitt’s 10 losses under Narduzzi have occurred versus bowl teams that went 98-37 combined on the season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Virginia (10/28)

VIRGINIA (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 8/2, 37 Lettermen)


As we outlined here last year, new Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s hands were tied when he inherited a team that had recorded the largest decline in recruiting talent the previous five years of all Power 5 teams. And it showed up as expected last year like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. A super soft defense (6th worst team in the nation in red zone defense) and an anemic rush offense (8th weakest in the land) left the Cavs little or no chance of succeeding. UVA did, however, manage to snap a 17-game road-losing skid, while Mendenhall improved to 4-0 ATS in his career as a dog of 20 or more points… numbers worth remembering.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cavaliers are 2-18 SU in their final two games of the season the last ten years.

PLAY ON: vs. Connecticut (9/16)

VIRGINIA TECH (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 8/1, 37 Lettermen)


Justin Fuente knew coming in that he had some mighty big shoes to fill as Virginia Tech’s new head coach last season. Replacing a legend like Frank Beamer is never easy. But to his credit Fuente delivered, leading the Hokies to their first double-digit win season in five years. Along the way, Virginia Tech not only improved all of its numbers convincingly on both sides of the ball, they took the College Football Playoff champion Clemson Tigers right down to the wire in the ACC title game as well. Thus, the question begs: What can Fuente do for an encore? Having defensive guru Bud Foster on his sideline makes it a moot point.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hokies' current 24-game bowl streak is the longest in the nation.

PLAY ON: at Georgia Tech (11/11)
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College Football Conference Previews 3 months 6 days ago #444517

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Big Ten Preview
By Marc Lawrence

We’re Back

The 2017 campaign will feature 33 All-Big Ten players (seven first-team, 12 second-team, 14 third-team) and 46 honorable mention selections from last season.

The Big Ten had 35 draft choices. That total ranked fourth among the Power Five conferences, as the SEC led the way with 54, followed by the ACC 43 and the Pac-12 with 36. Michigan led the nation with 11 players selected in the draft, while Ohio State had seven players heard their name called in Philadelphia.

And once again the Big Ten has not had a QB taken in the 1st round since Penn State’s Kerry Collins in 1995.

Welcome Aboard

Just like last year, the Big Ten welcomes three new head coaches in Indiana’s Tom Allen, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm.

Allen joined the Indiana staff as an associate coach last season. He’s a 25-year coaching veteran who led a dramatic defensive turnaround for the Hoosiers, just as the he done at Ole Miss and South Florida... Fleck’s was 1-11 in his first year with Western Michigan before going 13-1 last season... Brohm comes from Western Kentucky where his Hilltoppers went 30-10, including 19-5 in conference games.

Five current Big Ten mentors have been college head coaches for 10 years or more – Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (20 seasons), Nebraska’s Mike Riley (15), Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (14), Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (12) and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (10).

Bowled Over

Eleven Big Ten teams will square off against at least one non-conference team that played in a bowl game last season, with 17 total games against squads coming off bowl trips. Indiana is the only school to not make the list. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers will each face two non-conference bowl teams in 2017.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


INDIANA (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 9/3, 62 Lettermen)


Indiana engineered one of the top defensive turnarounds in the country last year when, despite taking on four Top 10 opponents, the Hoosiers managed to improve 11 PPG and 130 YPG. It was good enough to land defensive associate coach Tom Allen his first college head coaching position. The good news is, thanks to former coach Kevin Wilson, Allen inherits the highest-rated recruiting classes in school history over the past five seasons. Mike DeBord, OC at Tennessee the past two seasons, joins Allen’s staff. Back in the day, DeBord tutored Tom Brady at Michigan, and will work with talented 6’ 6” SR QB Richard Lagow, who aired it out for 3,362 yards and 19 TDs for IU last year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Over the last 22 years, the teams for which Allen has been a member of the coaching staff have posted a combined 222-69 record (.763).

PLAY ON: at Penn State (9/30)

MARYLAND (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 8/2, 53 Lettermen)


Regarded as one of the brightest young coaching minds in college football, DJ Durkin quickly changed the culture and brought instant energy to the Maryland program last season when the Terps doubled their win total and earned a bowl bid in his first year on the sidelines. Durkin also showed his recruiting prowess by signing a consensus Top 20 class in 2017. The class, which included eleven 4-star signees, and five members of the ESPN 300, ranked among the best in program history. A former star LB at Bowling Green where he captained the team and led it in tackles, this DJ is a star in the making. And the Terps are on the rise.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Terps are 0-8 SUATS following a win from Game Seven out the last four years.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. UCF (9/23)

MICHIGAN (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 1/0, 55 Lettermen)


A team that started the season 8-0 last year before closing out 1-3, UM could be in a world of hurt in 2017. That’s because Wolverine seniors accounted for the highest percentage of starts of all FBS teams last season (76.6%). It’s a wickedly high number and it means that Jim Harbaugh will need to rely on a bevy of underclassmen to compensate this season. Gone are 138 receptions, more than 1,900 yards and 13 touchdowns just between two senior WRs and TE Jake Butt. That said, Harbaugh has now brought in consecutive Top-10 recruiting classes. Remember, we saw this same pattern last season when Ohio State returned barefoot with only 6 total starters returning – and all they did was land a spot in the College Football Playoffs. And don’t forget, the SU winner ‘In The Stats’ is 24-2 in UM games with Harbaugh as its head coach. After an offseason trip to visit the Pope in Roma, they'll lean on any sanctification they can get.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The 11 UM players selected in this year's NFL Draft were the most in school history, and the most of any team in the Draft.


MICHIGAN STATE (Offense – 4/1, Defense – 4/1, 43 Lettermen)


As we outlined on this page last season, a fortuitous band of Spartans won 7 one-possession games in 2015 – the best in the nation. They went 0-3 in those same games last season. It came back to bite them when Mark Dantonio suffered his first losing season with MSU, falling from 12 wins to 3 in 2016. The epitome of a ‘Mission Team’ this season, Sparty should be in a nasty mood. The bad news is over 50% of the starts made for the Spartans last season were by seniors. Thus, improvement from a defense that had just 11 quarterback sacks and 13 forced turnovers last year (as opposed to 37 and 28 respectively in 2015) is mandatory. Beware: with an impending NCAA investigation swirling over sexual abuse by players (including 10 four-star recruits) this program might suddenly have “Baylor” written all over it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Spartans dropped from fourth in the nation in turnover margin in 2015 to 101st – at -0.42 – in 2016.

PLAY ON: vs. Notre Dame (9/23) - *KEY as a dog

OHIO STATE (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/4, 48 Lettermen)


That the Buckeyes again returned to the CFB Playoffs last year despite a staggering lack of experience was truly remarkable. 1,000-yard RB Mike Weber was one of two first-team, two second-team and one honorable mention Freshman All-American starters on Urban Meyer’s squad last season, one that played 29 freshmen. Not so shockingly, only 5.6% of the starts made by the baby Buckeyes last season were by seniors – the fewest in the land (compare that to 76.6% for Michigan – the most). With that, this season finds 40 upper classmen dotting the roster for new OC Kevin Wilson, the former Indiana head coach and offensive guru, led by All-American QB J.T. Barrett. Beware of this ready-for-prime-time group.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buckeyes will play no back-to-back road games in 2017.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Michigan State (11/11)

PENN STATE (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 7/2, 45 Lettermen)


Penn State earned eight Big Ten wins in 2016 for just the second time in program history, and the Lions celebrated their first Big Ten title since 2008. A whopping 31 school records were eclipsed or tied during the Big Ten Championship season, one being four double-digit comebacks – which included rallying from a 21-point deficit in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin. Both QB Trace McSorley and/or RB Saquon Barkley set a majority of the aforementioned records, and both return in 2017. Also back is PK Tyler ‘Automatic’ Davis who has nailed 30-of-32 career field goals, with both misses being blocks. He's also made all 73 of his PAT attempts.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Penn State and Wisconsin are the only Big Ten teams that have posted winning seasons the last 12 consecutive years.

PLAY AGAINST: at Ohio State (10/28) - *KEY

RUTGERS (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 8/2, 44 Lettermen)


It’s hard to imagine there was an offense worse than Boston College’s popgun attack last season, but Rutgers actually ranked dead last in the NCAA in total offense (including red zone offense). And it’s difficult envisaging a worse effort than what the Knights delivered in 2015 when they lost by 20.5 points and 167 yards per game in Big Ten play. But, hey, when you’re outclassed from head to toe by every team in your conference, there's always room for more. Rutgers was so pitiful in Chris Ash’s first season in New Brunswick they were actually dismantled by 30.5 PPG and 230 YPG while losing all nine Big Ten battles. Talk about being charred.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rutgers suffered the worst two-game scoring span last year (to Michigan and Ohio State) by an FBS school since 1939.

PLAY ON: at Illinois (10/14)


ILLINOIS (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 4/0, 32 Lettermen)


There was little love in the air at the conclusion of the 2016 Illinois football season, Lovie Smith’s 1st year with the program. Because of his decision to start the second-most amount of freshmen in the country last year (29.2 percent of players that started games for the Illini), his troops were ranked No. 127 (2nd last) in the nation in first down offense, and also No. 127 in 3rd down conversion percentage. Five players with significant experience return up front. If star WR Mike Dudek, former Big Ten Freshman POY, can fight his way back from a gruesome knee injury suffered in 2015, the underclassmen just might come to Lovie’s rescue in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Illinois is 3-31 SU and 11-23 ATS in its last 34 Big Ten games versus .500 or greater opponents.

PLAY ON: at Purdue (11/4)

IOWA (Offense – 7/4, Defense – 8/3, 48 Lettermen)


After just missing a berth in the 2015 College Football Playoffs, the Hawkeyes ‘regressed’ to 8-5 last season. It marked the 14th bowl appearance in 18 seasons for the Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz. Unfortunately, Captain Kirk loses star QB C.J. Beathard – 20-5 SU as a starter during the regular season – to the NFL. However, SR RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa’s leading rusher with 1,081 yards and 10 TDs a year ago, returns. The best news, though, is that four starters from an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award – given to the best OL in the nation – are back. With eight starters back on defense, Ferentz is well positioned to land another bowl berth in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kirk Ferentz shares the distinction of being the longest-tenured head coach in the nation.

PLAY ON: at Northwestern (10/21)

MINNESOTA (Offense – 7/2, Defense – 6/1, 43 Lettermen)


Minnesota is located in the land of lakes and captaining one of the new boats in the Big Ten football waters this season will be P.J. Fleck, named as the new skipper of the Gophers. The former Western Michigan head coach makes the transition from the MAC to the Big Ten with a core team that won nine games last season. Fleck went 1-11 in his first year with the Broncos, and 13-1 in his final season. The biggest loss, though, is the Ekpe brothers from the defensive line. Thankfully, the first seven games on the schedule include only one winning team from last season. The remaining five contests are all against bowl teams from 2016. Hopefully by then, the Gophers will have learned how to row the boat.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Golden Gophers are 17-2-1 ATS as conference underdogs since 2012.

PLAY AGAINST: at Northwestern (11/18)

NEBRASKA (Offense – 7/5, Defense – 7/2, 49 Lettermen)


With Nebraska owning 385 victories over the past 40 seasons (tops in the land), HC Mike Riley is always feeling the heat. As a result, he made key hires in the offseason, bringing in Bob Diaco from UConn as his defensive coordinator, and Bob Elliott from Notre Dame as his secondary coach. They served together on the 2012 Fighting Irish defense that was 12-0 and played in the BCS Title Game. Diaco won the 2012 Broyles Award and is recognized as one of the college game's top defensive minds. Meanwhile, Riley owns 16 wins over ranked foes in 16 seasons as a college head coach. It all makes Tulane transfer QB Tanner Lee’s job that much easier.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Mike Riley has 43 overall years of coaching experience, the second-most among any active FBS head coach.

PLAY AGAINST: at Oregon (9/9)

NORTHWESTERN (Offense – *9/4, Defense – 8/3, 50 Lettermen)


When Indianapolis selected LB Anthony Walker in this year’s NFL Draft, history was made: Walker became the first Wildcat drafted after leaving school early. The junior amassed 227 tackles, including 30.5 for a loss, at NU. The message is that Northwestern is an academically focused institution that is now getting top athletes. It’s not HC Pat Fitzgerald’s job to prepare players for the NFL. His job is to build the best football team he can to represent Northwestern. And because he’s exceeded expectations, Fitzgerald signed an extension to remain NU’s coach through 2026. With 17 starters returning from a bowl-winning team, the school is in good hands.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Pat Fitzgerald has not had a player selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since taking over at NU 11 years ago.

PLAY AGAINST: at Illinois (11/25)

PURDUE (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 8/2, 51 Lettermen)


New head coach Jeff Brohm was needed in West Lafayette like a transfusion for a dying vampire. Purdue fell to 9-39 in four years behind Darrell Hazell. To which we wonder: how did he last four years? Check these rancid numbers: despite having the most returning starters in the Big Ten last year, Purdue won one conference game. They finished last in the nation in turnover margin (-17) and averaged 96.2 rushing YPG in conference play last season – dead last. Hence, it's no surprise to learn from Ralph Michaels of Cal Sports that the Boilermakers have played UNDER their season win total each of the last five years. Good luck, Jeff.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Purdue was 1-8 SU in one-possession games versus FBS foes under former head coach Darrell Hazell.


WISCONSIN (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/3, 52 Lettermen)


To say Badgers head coach Paul Chryst was up against it when he replaced Gary Andersen in Madison two years ago would be an understatement. After all, Andersen won 20 games in two seasons. That was after Bret Bielema averaged nearly 10 wins a season in his seven years with the Badgers before Andersen’s arrival. So how has Chryst responded to the self-imposed pressure? By averaging more wins per season than both Andersen and Bielema. With no Ohio State sighting, and only six foes on this year’s itinerary with a winning record in 2016, it would be nothing short of disappointing should Chryst win less than his usual 10 games this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Badgers' 15 consecutive bowl appearances is tops in the Big Ten.

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College Football Conference Previews 3 months 5 days ago #444572

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Blade, It would great if you could post this football conference preview just before the season begins or the week it does start..Would appreciate it.. Thanks
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College Football Conference Previews 3 months 5 days ago #444598

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armyranger wrote:
Blade, It would great if you could post this football conference preview just before the season begins or the week it does start..Would appreciate it.. Thanks

A conference comes out once a week and if I waited till start of season it would take to much time to dig through all the other articles to find each conference. This thread will be pinned up top.
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College Football Conference Previews 2 months 4 weeks ago #445169

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Big Twelve Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Title Time

At long last the Big 12 will have a conference championship game this season. The Big 12 title game will be December 2 at AT&T Stadium (Jerry’s World) in Arlington, Texas, a move that should increase the chances for a playoff team. Oklahoma went undefeated in Big 12 play last season and didn’t make the playoff.

Over the last eight seasons, the Big 12 football conference has had six different teams win a conference trophy. No other Power 5 conference has had as many different champions since 2009.

Bowl Me Over

The Big 12 concluded postseason games with a .667 winning percentage, the second-highest among all conferences. In addition, Big 12 defenses were the nation’s best in bowl games as they surrendered an average of 21.5 points, holding five of six opponents below their season average.

Plus, Big 12 offenses had the second-highest scoring average in postseason among the Power Five leagues at 29.0 ppg. Oklahoma’s current 10-year bowl skein is the longest in the nation.

No Cupcakes Allowed

After years of devouring non-conference cupcakes, the Big 12 is manning up in 2017. Nine of 10 teams (save Kansas) have dates with Power Five teams on the docket, including the likes of Ohio State, USC and Virginia Tech.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.

BAYLOR (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 7/4, 66 Lettermen)


The first step in torching any traces of the Art Briles era – a coach who was 50-15 SU during his final five years with BU – was the immediate hire of squeaky-clean, hard-nosed Matt Rhule, former Temple head coach. The first thing he’ll clean up was the fact that the Bears led the nation in most penalty yards per game in 2016, and were the 3rd most penalized team in 2015. FYI: Rhule’s Owls ranked 21st in the land in fewest penalty yards per game last year. Baylor was rocked by player defections following the end of last season, but Rhule signed 27 recruits and a number of them will likely find playing time in 2017. Rhule’s troops were grinders at Temple, averaging 69 plays per game the last two years. Conversely, the Bears' up-tempo offense tallied 85 plays per game over the same span. Our guess is we’ll hardly recognize the players in Bears uniforms… just the way the brass wants it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bears are 30-0 SU in their first six games of the season the last five years.


IOWA STATE (Offense – *5/1, Defense – 7/1, 44 Lettermen)


Sophomore coach Matt Campbell’s work with the Cyclones in his inaugural season last year proved he's the right man for the job. Inheriting a program with depleted numbers on both sides of the ball, the Cyclones displayed gradual improvement throughout the season. Iowa State played the 2016 campaign with 38 combined starts from true or redshirt freshman (only 20 teams had more). On defense, the Cyclones also improved, holding five of their final seven opponents to under their season scoring average. FYI: For the second year in a row, the Cyclones boasted a freshman running back who led the team in rushing as Mike Warren and David Montgomery bring talent and experience aplenty. Once Campbell is able to knock down a ranked foe (Cyclones 0-21 SU against the same) it will be safe to say he is ‘the man’ in Ames.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cyclones suffered four losses by a TD or less in 2016.

PLAY ON: at Kansas State (11/25)

KANSAS (Offense – 7/3, Defense – 5/3, 47 Lettermen)


Despite the usual mix of expected blowout losses and close-call defeats in 2016, Kansas finally managed to crack the win column in head coach David Beaty's 2nd season in Lawrence. KU’s first 8 losses last year were against schools that were 62-9 combined in 2015. The big news? Beaty is making inroads on the recruiting trail landing a consensus Top 20 2018 Class, while even extending offers to the Classes of 2019 and 2020. Beaty understands that Kansas is a school that has to do this sort of thing, build relationships with kids early on so they can have a chance at signing them before the “power schools” come calling. They also have to begin to learn to win conference games, where they are 5-65 SU since 2009. Beaty’s rebuild is on.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ball security? Hah! Kansas was the worst team in the nation in most turnovers lost last season (36).

PLAY ON: at TCU (10/21)

KANSAS STATE (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 6/3, 44 Lettermen)


As we alluded to last year on this page, Bill Snyder is on a youth kick. A total of 47 redshirt or true freshmen combined to make their first start in 2015. To top it off, the 2016 team was the youngest in Snyder’s 25-year career at KSU, with a combined 135 starts coming from freshmen (42) or sophomores (93), including DE Reggie Walker – the Big 12 Freshman Player of the Year. And lest we forget, the Wildcats are the best team in the nation in non-offensive TDs with 106 since 1999 – plus they’ve scored on 42 kickoffs and punt returns since 2005, 14 more than any other FBS school. Yeah… Gramps can coach.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wildcats are the only team to rank in the Top 15 nationally in red zone offense each of the last three seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: at Texas Tech (11/4) - *KEY

OKLAHOMA (Offense – *9/5, Defense – 7/1, 49 Lettermen)


No, not Keyser Soze from 'The Usual Suspects.' We're talking about Big Game Bob Stoops, who shockingly resigned as Oklahoma's head coach on June 7th. In Stoops' 18 years at the helm, OU won a national championship and had more Big 12 titles (10) than home losses, while averaging 10.5 wins per season. Lincoln Riley, 33, takes over after two seasons as the Sooners' OC. Under his direction, OU led the country in team passing efficiency in 2016, and returns 99.4% of last year’s passing yards (read: QB Baker Mayfield), plus all five starting OL. Lincoln, though, has never been a head coach, so this will be a huge test. With Oklahoma entering 2017 riding a nation's-best 10-game win streak, perhaps Stoops is right to say, "Now is the ideal time to make this transition." We'll see.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: OU is the highest scoring football program of all-time, and its 7.5 yards per play in 2016 rank as 2nd most in school history.

PLAY ON: as a dog at Ohio State (9/9)

OKLAHOMA STATE (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 5/2, 39 Lettermen)


When a baseball team possesses three home run hitters at the No. 3, 4, and 5 spots in the order, they are considered offensively threatening. When a college football team owns three similar caliber players at its QB, RB, and WR positions, they are lethal. In Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill, and James Washington, OSU has the best quarterback-running back-wide receiver trio in the Big 12 – and perhaps the nation – heading into 2017. Collectively, they played together for one of only two schools in the nation with a 4,000-yard passer, and 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver (Clemson was the other). Watch out for the Cowboys!

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cowboys are 11-0 SU and 10-1 ATS off back-to-back wins versus a foe off back-to-back losses under Mike Gundy.

PLAY AGAINST: at Texas (10/21)

TCU (Offense – *10/4, Defense – 7/1, 55 Lettermen)


It’s safe to say the Frogs were hopping mad (sorry about that) after falling from 11 wins in 2015 to 6 last season when the offense slipped 11 points and 100 yards per game. As a result, TCU suffered only its second losing season in 16 years behind head coach Gary Patterson. Patterson went to work, hiring Sonny Dykes, the former California head coach, and son of longtime Texas Tech head football coach Spike Dykes, as his offensive analyst/consultant. After winning six one-possession games in 2015 (2nd most in the nation), and then reverting to 1-3 in the same games last year, look for Patterson’s squad to revert back to their winning ways in 2017. STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In the two losing seasons Gary Patterson has endured at TCU, his troops went 11-1 and 12-1 the following years.

PLAY ON: at Arkansas (9/9) - *KEY

TEXAS (Offense – *7/4, Defense – 10/4, 46 Lettermen)


After starting 3-4 each of the last three years – all losing seasons – Charlie Strong was dispatched and Tom Herman was hired to turn the tables in Austin. The glowing look on new head coach Herman’s face is hard to dismiss. That’s because only 16.3% of the starts made by the Longhorns last year were by seniors – the 5th fewest in the nation. The reason being is underclassmen accounted for 54.4% of all teams starts by the Horns in 2016, the 2nd most in the nation. In fact, UT freshmen have now started 109 games the past two seasons, tops in the nation. Five losses by a TD or less in 2016 made the difference between 2017 being Charlie Strong’s 4th season on the 40 Acres versus Herman’s first. Thus, you can understand Herman’s desire to get this party started.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Longhorns haven’t suffered four consecutive losing seasons since 1938.

PLAY AGAINST: at Baylor (10/28)

TEXAS TECH (Offense – 9/4, Defense – 7/1, 48 Lettermen)


The Red Raiders were the nation’s No. 1 ranked team in total offense in 2016. They were also ranked last (No. 128) in total defense, which made TTRR an ‘Over’ machine all by themselves. Unfortunately, they lose the cannon-like arm of star QB Patrick Mahomes, who left early for the NFL (1st round, Kansas City Chiefs). More important, though, is Kliff Kingsbury’s ridiculous disguise of a defense, one that has surrendered over 500 YPG in three straight seasons. How bad is it? It’s so bad, opponents rushed the ball for 40 or more attempts in 29 of 37 games in that span. The good news is freshmen played in a total of 104 games. That should help this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: SR QB Nick Shimonek has served as a backup to four QBs in the NFL: Jake Ruddock, C.J. Beathard, Davis Webb, and Patrick Mahomes.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Baylor (11/11)

WEST VIRGINIA (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 3/0, 36 Lettermen)


With the 3rd highest percentage of starts by seniors of all FBS teams last season (60.1%), HC Dana Holgersen will be forced to re-tool his troops in 2017. Helping out will be Jake Spavital, who begins his first year as OC, returning to WVU after stints at Texas A&M and California. He’ll be operating without QB Skyler Howard who graduated with 7,302 yards and 60 TDs in his career. Howard’s replacement is Will Grier, who transfers from Florida where he started six games as a redshirt freshman. The good news is the Mounties return three of their top four running backs, led by Justin Crawford (1,100 yards), the returning rushing leader in the Big 12.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Mountaineers from Morgantown are 9-1 ATS as conference underdogs from Game Ten out.

PLAY ON: as a dog at Oklahoma (11/25)
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College Football Conference Previews 2 months 3 weeks ago #445785

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Conference USA Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Lineup Tweak

With UAB back in the Conference USA this season, the loop will now operate with 14 teams. Each school will play every team in its division once for six games, while playing two crossover opponents from the opposite division.

We Won’t Back Down

Conference USA teams refuse to shy away from playing challenging non-conference competition, and this season is no exception. Among the teams on this year’s schedule are Arizona, Baylor, Florida, Iowa, Kansas State, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Stanford, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin.

A total of 28 games are scheduled against teams that played in a bowl game last season.

We’ll Bowl You Over, Too

Last season, Conference USA sent a record seven teams to bowl games. In the process, Conference USA posted its sixth consecutive winning season in bowl play and two programs - Louisiana Tech and WKU - are among nine schools that have won a bowl game in each of the past three seasons, joined by Clemson, Georgia, Stanford, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.

C-USA is 22-11 SU and 20-12-1 ATS over the last six years in bowl games. No other FBS conference owns a higher bowl SU and ATS win percentage than the C-USA the last six years.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


CHARLOTTE (Offense - *6/3, Defense - 6/1, 44 Lettermen)


The youthful 49ers were FBS’ newest spring chickens in 2015 when they debuted and won two games. They doubled that output last season. Better yet, six of their eight CUSA titles were either wins (3) or one-possession losses (3). On the surface it appears Brad Lambert’s veteran staff (over 150 years of experience) has this squad fast-tracked, but before they continue an expected uptick they will need to address a defense slipped from 94th to 108th last season. Gone are 22 members from a senior class that was part of the Niners’ first team in 2013. Now a young core of sophomores and juniors are set to take over. A soft schedule figures to help.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since becoming an FBS school, Charlotte is 0-6 SU and 0-5-1 ATS in its final six games of the season.

PLAY ON: at Florida International (9/30)

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (Offense - *9/4, Defense - 8/2, 63 Lettermen)


Like their cross county rivals, FIU, FAU made a celebrity hire in controversial Lane Kiffin as its new mentor. The former Tennessee, USC, and Oakland Raiders head coach, Kiffin inherits a pair of strong recruiting classes from his predecessor, Charlie Partridge. In fact, this year’s junior class led the nation with 16 true freshmen starters two seasons ago while last year’s squad featured 68 underclassmen. And speaking of last year’s team, through the first seven games last season the Owls started a different OL all seven games. Meanwhile, RB Devin “Motor” Singletary became the first freshman in Owl history to break the 1,000 yard plateau last year when he rushed for 721 yards, 8.1 Yards Per Rush, and 10 TDs over the final 4 games of the 2016 season. With no back-to-back road games and with the addition of FSU stud transfer WR De’Andre Johnson, the experienced Owls are perched for success.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Owls are 6-18 SU in one-possession games since Howard Schnellenberger resigned, including 2-8 the last two seasons

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Middle Tennessee (9/30)

FLORIDA INT’L (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 9/3, 57 Lettermen)


Celebrated head coach Butch Davis takes over the FIU football program, and he couldn’t be happier. The 65-year old Davis has compiled a 79-43 overall record in 10 years as a college head coach, including three Big East Championships while coaching the University of Miami. What Davis knows is that the FIU campus is within 40 miles of 15 south Florida high schools that have produced numerous state champions. Meanwhile, SR QB Alex McGough leads a deeply experienced team that ranks No. 1 in the nation by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s metrics – one that returns 85% production on both sides of the ball. It’s no wonder Butch is beaming.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: FIU is 11-1 SU and 10-2 ATS versus sub .333 conference foes without Ron Turner since 2010.

PLAY ON: at Rice (9/23)

MARSHALL (Offense - *7/4, Defense - 4/2, 52 Lettermen)


After being the only Group of 5 program to record a third straight 10-win season in 2015, the Herd went from a thundering 33 wins in three seasons to a blundering 3 victories last year. Safe to say, Doc Holliday is walking around campus these days looking over his shoulder. Strangely, Marshall committed only 16 turnovers in 2016, the fewest for the program since it entered FBS waters in 1997. They also led the conference in 4th-down conversions (66.7%) as well. JR QB Chase Litton ranks on MU’s all-time Top 10 quarterback list. It remains to be seen, though, if the confidence can be restored to a team that may still be shell-shocked. We do know this, though: Marshall is 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS as a home favorite with conference revenge.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Herd are 10-1-2 ATS as home dogs of more than 6 points.

PLAY AGAINST: at Florida Atlantic (11/3)

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (Offense - *6/32, Defense - 6/0, 40 Lettermen)


SBNation.com’s Bill Connelly contends MTSU may field the two best offensive players in the conference in quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James. After a promising 6-2 start last season, Stockstill (head coach Rick’s son) was lost to a broken collarbone and the Blue Raiders responded by losing three of their final five games. The super sharp southpaw (threw for a school record 3,233 yards and 33 TDs) and his go-to target, WR Richie James, are back but the biggest question mark surrounding this year’s squad is the rush defense, one that surrendered more than 200 RYPG in 2016. If that same rebuilt unit comes around, the blue smurfs could be deadly.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: MTSU has been bowl eligible eight times in 11 years under Rick Stockstill and competed in six bowl games.

PLAY ON: vs. Vanderbilt (9/2) – KEY as a dog

OLD DOMINION (Offense - 8/4, Defense - 6/3, 46 Lettermen)


Spurred by a six-game season-ending win skein, the Monarchs capitalized on force-feeding freshmen in 2015 (their first ever losing season under head coach Bobby Wilder) to win 10 games last year. Through it all, Old Dominion tied for 1st place in the East Division and made its first bowl appearance when it defeated Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. ODU became the youngest program (eight years) to win 10 games in a season since the NCAA formed Division I in 1978. Not only did Wilder’s crew set a single-season team rushing record with 2,595 yards last year, they also tied Miami Florida for the 2nd best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost (10). Wow. This year, though, it will be a major surprise to find them sniffing 10 wins again as they must replace their starting QB and all three starting linebackers. And in a scheduling quirk, ODU has no back-to-back home or back-to-back road games this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Monarchs have sold out all 54 home games in school history and own a 41-13 SU record in those games.


UAB (Offense - 0/0, Defense - 0/0, 0 Lettermen)


They’re back. No thanks to bunked up claims from its president of losing money, the Blazers shut down the football program and missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons. But UAB and the city of Birmingham raised over $43 million for the reinstatement of its football program, and as a result they are back as full Division 1 FBS and Conference USA members in 2017. Bill Clark is back, too. In Clark’s first season as head coach of the Blazers in 2014, he turned around a program that was 2-10 the year before into a team that finished 6-6 and earned bowl eligibility for the first time since 2004. Yes, they are the feel good story for 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Per 247Sports, Clark has inked 18 three-star prospects in the last two classes.


WESTERN KENTUCKY (Offense - *4/2, Defense - 6/2, 52 Lettermen)


Considered one of college football’s brightest offensive minds (and a former Hilltopper assistant), Mike Sanford was named the 20th head football coach at WKU. Sanford spent the previous two seasons as the OC/QB coach at Notre Dame and replaces Jeff Brohm who, after 30 wins in three seasons, took the money and bolted to Purdue. The good news for Sanford is that after leading the nation’s top scoring offense and securing WKU’s 2nd consecutive C-USA title, SR QB Mike White returns to The Hill as the nation’s No. 2 returning passer behind Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. The Toppers also owned the nation’s No. 2 ranked rush defense last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hilltoppers have gone OVER their season win total each of the last five years.

PLAY ON: at Vanderbilt (11/4) - *KEY


LOUISIANA TECH (Offense - 5/3, Defense - 5/3, 27 Lettermen)

In a year of foremost accomplishment last season, the Bulldogs won the CUSA West and the Armed Forces Bowl, recording their third straight bowl win (a first in school history). In the process, Louisiana Tech has won 19 of its last 24 conference games and is tied with WKU for the best winning percentage in games over that span. Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for all of that success as the Bulldogs enter the 2017 season with only one start at the collegiate level from the entire group of quarterbacks (this from a team that had a senior starting signal-caller each of the last three seasons). Uh oh. Nonetheless, in the watered-down West, the Bulldogs are still the favorite to capture division honors. Don’t be surprised if they are not nip-and-tuck with Southern Miss, though.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bulldogs will face 7 bowl foes this season, but only 2 that owned winning records overall.


NORTH TEXAS (Offense - *7/4, Defense - 8/1, 49 Lettermen)


You know you’re in trouble when you run a pass-first offense that can’t pass. Sure, UNT won five times as many games, and improved its numbers on both sides of the ball last season under first year head coach Scott Littrell. All feel-good numbers, for sure. The question is did they show dramatic improvement, or were they simply that bad in 2015 (the roster featured 36 non-scholarship players)? We do know that the 37-year old Littrell was considered one of the brightest offensive minds in college football when he was hired from North Carolina (served as assistant head coach of the offense). The bottom line is the Green are now in good hands with Littrell.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lean Green have gone 2-17 SU and 4-15 ATS away the last three years, outyarded by 175 YPG.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Army (11/18) - *Key if favored

RICE (Offense - 5/5, Defense - 8/3, 54 Lettermen)


After winning 30 games the previous four years, and being just 6 wins shy of matching a school record for 36 victories over a five-year span, the 16 returning starter Owls stalled on their perch in 2016 as they managed just three wins, the fewest since 2009. It should be noted that after a stretch of five different lineups over its first eight games of the season, Rice started the same offensive line for the last four games of the season in 2016. It’s relevant considering all five of the OL represent the entire returning starter component of the 2017 offense. And don’t look now but somehow David Bailiff owns the 2nd most wins in school history.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rice is just one of two FBS teams that will face 2016 bowl teams in each of its four non-conference games this season.

PLAY ON: at UTSA (10/21)

SOUTHERN MISS (Offense - 6/2, Defense - 5/2, 40 Lettermen)


When 1st-year head coach Jay Hopson witnessed his team go on a 34-0 run to turn a 35-10 deficit into a 44-35 victory over Kentucky in his debut game with the Eagles last season, he knew this squad had finally turned the corner for good. Yes, the powerful forward moving offense, led by RB Ito Smith – just the fourth Golden Eagle to gain more than 1,000 yards in multiple seasons – and WR Allenzae Staggers, was almost unstoppable. But their real success came from an unsung defense that not only improved 50 YPG in 2016, the stop-unit ranked No. 2 in the land in 3rd down conversion percentage defense. And they did it all despite recording a -17 turnover margin. Pretty impressive, to say the least. Remember that moving forward this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Golden Eagles have gone bowling 20 of the last 23 years.

PLAY ON: vs. Charlotte (11/18) - *KEY

UTEP (Offense - *5/3, Defense - 7/1, 44 Lettermen)


Sean Kugler’s fifth year with the Miners will likely decide his future in El Paso. While production was up on both sides of the ball last season, the win tally slipped, and with just one winning season (7-6) to show for his effort, Kugler is suddenly feeling the burn. The building blocks are there, but a strong core of freshmen last year will need to mature in 2017. All-American SR Will Hernandez, who has started all 37 games in his career at the left guard position, anchors the OL. Meanwhile, JR QB Ryan Metz completed 64.7 percent of his passes last year, the 2nd-best completion percentage during a single season in program history. Stay tuned.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Miners are 9-54-1 SU and 15-45-2 ATS in the last 64 games in which they have been outgained in the stats.

PLAY AGAINST: at UAB (11/25) - *KEY if favored

UTSA (Offense - *6/3, Defense - 7/2, 45 Lettermen)


Head coach Frank Wilson guided Texas-San Antonio to six wins and its first-ever bowl game in his initial year at the helm last season. In the process, the Roadrunners tied an NCAA modern startup program record by playing in a bowl game in just their sixth season. And to top it off, UTSA returns four All-Conference performers from a year ago, including LB Josiah Tauefa, the CUSA Freshman of the Year. Better yet, living up to his moniker as one of the nation’s best recruiters, Wilson reeled in what was considered the top recruiting class in program history and the No. 1-ranked class in Conference USA, when he signed 23 highly decorated players (12 offense/11 defense) this offseason. Backers hope his squad can continue 2016's torrid 5-1 ATS season-ending skein.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Roadrunners are 2-14 ATS in SU conference losses.

PLAY ON: at UTEP (10/28)
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College Football Conference Previews 2 months 2 weeks ago #446355

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Independents Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Fearsome Foursome

Roll call among FBS Independent college football teams has quietly inched up to four teams currently competing among the ranks of Independents.

While the look and feel of this autonomous affiliation might appear small in size, its impact is substantial on the outcome in the chase the College Football Playoffs. Just ask the foes that will be taking on a super focused group of Fighting Irish, or the chancy Cougars from BYU this campaign.

Pushing The Needle

According to our well-oiled machine, since 2000 Independent teams that score 16 or fewer points in a contest are just 15-152 SU and 33-130-4 ATS in lined games – including 5-28 ATS as favorites.

On the flip side, they are 205-52 SU and 172-81-4 ATS in games in which they put more than 28 points in the scoreboard – including 68-21-2 ATS as dogs of 8 or more points.

Proceed accordingly.

Big Ugly Bowl Dogs

Each year one or two Independent teams find themselves earning bowl bids. And when they do they become attractive plays when taking more than 7 points during the post season.

That’s confirmed by the fact that Independent bowl dogs of 7.5 or more points are 13-6 ATS in these games since 1980, including 12-3 ATS when facing a foe that allows more than 12.5 PPG on the season.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.

ARMY (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/2, 66 Lettermen)


Something was in the air last year when the Cadets opened the season with three consecutive wins, including a pair on the road. This from a program that was a deplorable 1-24 SU and 4-20 ATS in its previous 25 true road games. The cherry on the cake came when Army ended a 14-year losing drought to Navy, and then went on to win its first bowl game since 2010 (the Cadets' last winning season). While QB Ahmad Bradshaw returns to run the offense, and 11 of the top 14 tacklers return to a unit that ranked No. 2 in first downs defense last season, our concern is that anything less than another bowl will considered a setback. Then again, only once in its history has Amy defeated Navy and won a bowl game the same year. They went 9-3 the following season. Unfortunately, our ‘Stat You Will Like’ below says otherwise...

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In the three seasons following a victory over Navy, the Black Knights have gone 1-11, 3-8, and 4-7 the next year.

PLAY ON: vs. Buffalo (9/9) - *KEY

BYU (Offense – 6/4, Defense – 6/3, 59 Lettermen)


One of only 10 programs to earn a bowl invitation every season since 2005, the Cougars will face 13 foes in 2017, but only four that owned a winning record last season. Three of them, though, finished in the nation’s Top 25. Gone this year are two of the most dynamic offensive players in school history – all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams and dual-threat QB Taysom Hill, both of whom accounted for over 6,700 career rushing yards. The good news is JR QB Tanner Mangum will step back into his familiar starting role (13 starts last two years). Meanwhile, rookie head coach Kalani Sitake won nine games, including a bowl, last season. He fits like a glove.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars were the 2nd best team in turnovers gained (31), and the #3 team in red zone offense in 2016.

PLAY AGAINST: at Mississippi State (10/14)

NOTRE DAME (Offense – 8/4, Defense – 7/2, 39 Lettermen)


Rest assured, losing seven players to the 2016 NFL Draft – all in the first 4 rounds – took a toll on the Irish last season. Seven of eight losses came by just 8 points or less, and as improbable as it seems, the Fighting Irish are now a sister-kissing 15-15 SU in their last 30 games thanks to their 2nd worst season in 50 years in 2016. It was only the second time since 1963 the Irish finished with fewer than five victories. Brian Kelly even suffered his first loss with a Top 10 team against a non-ranked foe last season (Texas in the season opener). And it doesn’t get any easier as Kelly’s troops will face a murderer’s row schedule, taking on 11 bowl teams from 2016. All of which means Touchdown Jesus will likely need to bless new starting QB Brandon Wimbush… pronto.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last six times the Irish failed to deliver a winning season, they went bowling the next year all six times.

PLAY ON: vs. Navy (11/18)

UMASS (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 9/2, 51 Lettermen)


After being tossed about in the turbulent FCS, then discovering significantly calmer FBS waters in 2012 as a member of the Mid-American Conference, the Minutemen were feeling giddy. A 10-40 record and two head coaches later, UMass is suddenly swimming in murky waters, terribly close to being an extinct FBS program. Along the way they managed to lose to Miami Ohio, a team that was on a 21-game losing streak. Gone are three senior offensive linemen, but that may be a good thing considering they allowed 45 sacks and were one of only five FBS teams that rushed for less than 100 YPG last season. Like Chubby Checker wanted to know… how low can you go?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Minutemen are 1-12 SU in one-possession games under head coach Mark Whipple.

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College Football Conference Previews 2 months 1 week ago #446743

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MAC Preview
By Marc Lawrence

The West Is Still Best

Entering its 71st year of gridiron competition, the MAC welcomes 12 teams as it settles into a balanced format for the second consecutive season.

According to 5Dimes.eu, these are the odds to win the 2017 conference championship:

East – Miami Ohio +500, Ohio U +500, Akron +1300, Bowling Green +3000, Kent State +8000, Buffalo +10000

West – Toledo +250, Western Michigan +250, Northern Illinois +1000, Central Michigan +1200, Eastern Michigan +1400, Ball State +5000

By doing the math it appears the power in the MAC resides in the West, which is noting new as the West has won the title 7 of the last 11 years.

Ballin’ Outside the Conference

As lightweight a reputation as the MAC has they have surprisingly managed to hold their own when installed as favorites outside the conference, especially as invaders.

That’s confirmed by the MAC’s sterling 24-7 SU and 19-11-1 ATS mark as non-conference road chalk since 2004 – including 11-1 SUATS from Game Four out.

Bowl Fodder

And speaking of non-conference opposition, the MAC has been little more than feedstuff for opponents in bowl games dating back to 2007, as they are just 14-38 SU and 18-32-2 ATS in post season play in that span.

Worse, when facing a bowl opponent off a season ending loss, the MAC lacks any kind of attack going a paltry 3-21 SU and 5-18-1 ATS in these games. It should be noted, though, they have picked up the slack of late, managing to go 3-4 SU and 4-2-1 ATS in these same games the past three seasons.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


AKRON (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/2, 57 Lettermen)


Head coach Terry Bowden is the dean of MAC coaches with the most career wins (164). Nationally, Bowden ranks sixth among active coaches in career wins. Meanwhile, the Zips welcome two-year SR starting QB Thomas Woodson behind center, along with former Pitt quarterback transfer turned WR Tre’Von Chapman. In addition, the NCAA granted RB Warren Ball a 6th year of eligibility. Good news also returns on both the offensive (4 starters) and defensive lines (2) in 2017. After losing 188 starts to graduated seniors in 2015 (tied for the most in the nation), Akron was forced to suck it up last year. The benefits should begin to surface in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Zips head coach Bowden is 2-16 SU and 3-14-1 ATS as a home dog against .500 or greater opponents.

PLAY ON: at Bowling Green (9/30)

BOWLING GREEN (Offense – 6/2, Defense – 6/2, 43 Lettermen)


The Mike Jinks era at Bowling Green got off to a really rough start last season. After winning 36 games the previous four years, the Falcons fell like birds without wings en route to a 4-win campaign, thanks mainly to an offense that ranked dead last in passing efficiency defense last season. Things were so bad that only lowly Kansas had more lost turnovers (36) in 2016. Yes, BGSU's offense slipped 140 yards and the defense dipped 40 yards under Jinks, but the Falcons were one of just 20 FBS teams to conclude the season on a winning streak of at least three games, rushing for 984 yards in those contests.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons went 36-3 SU in games where they won the stats, and 4-22 SU when they lost the stats over the last five years.

PLAY ON: at Miami Ohio (10/7)

BUFFALO (Offense – *6/4, Defense – 8/2, 46 Lettermen)


The baby Bulls football team struggled through some growing pains in 2016 as Buffalo had 42 new players on the roster. Now with a more experienced group, 3rd-year head coach Lance Leipold is hoping the program can turn the corner. Last season UB’s defense was last in the MAC and 124th out of 126 in the nation against the run. Big plays were the problem: Buffalo gave up 10 runs of 40-or-more yards (only seven teams allowed more). UB returns a lot of experience on defense, but the influx of speed on display during the spring game is the most encouraging sign. “We’re trying to find more athleticism, more speed,” insists DC Brian Borland.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since joining the MAC in 1999, the Bulls are 6-54 SU and 21-38-1 ATS versus winning opponents.

PLAY ON: at Miami Ohio (10/21)

KENT STATE (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 6/2, 52 Lettermen)


Talk about a bizarre season. Per Bill Connelly of SBNation.com, you know it was a bad year when you cycle through five quarterbacks, one of whom ended up with 868 passing yards, 1,038 rushing yards, and 135 receiving yards (you read that right). And how about a true freshman walk-on running back that led the team in receptions! If all that wasn’t weird enough, the Flashes were ranked No. 128 – last – in the nation in first down offense last season… that on the heels of finishing No. 127 in 2015! Is it any wonder that through it all the offense actually improved 8 points and 36 YPG last season? Go figure.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Flashes are 3-30 SU and 8-24 ATS in games in which they score less than 24 points under Paul Haynes.

PLAY AGAINST: at Akron (11/21)

MIAMI, OHIO (Offense – *9/4, Defense – 8/2, 54 Lettermen)


After opening the season with six straight losses in 2016, Miami made NCAA history by winning its final six games. In the process they landed a bid in the St. Petersburg Bowl where they went toe-to-toe with an SEC team. And while a letdown would normally be in order the following season, we can’t knee-jerk to that assumption with this suddenly experienced squad. For openers, a super-soft schedule in 2017, with only two winning teams from 2016, dots their itinerary. In addition, the Hawks welcome back 17 starters, including all three linebackers and three members of the secondary from a unit that finished first in total defense in the MAC. Whew.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After losing 15 consecutive games to winning opponents the previous five years, Miami went 2-2 last season.

PLAY ON: at Ohio (10/31)

OHIO (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 6/2, 39 Lettermen)


In Frank Solich’s 72 years on this earth, including 12 with Ohio, the Bobcats have managed to win four MAC division titles, including one last season. Solich is certainly battle tested. The former head coach and running back at Nebraska has lifted OU from the depths of despair to a competitive program, one that seems to play an abundance of close games (nine decided by a TD or less last season). The difference between Solich and the revolving door of coaches in this league is he knows how to win them with (9 wins in the last three seasons coming in close call games). And it’s a primary reason the Bobcats have been bowling 8 of the last nine years. Furthermore, the Bobcats kicking game figures to be rock solid for the next few years with PK Louie Zervos and P Michael Farkas. Each earned Campus Insiders Freshman All-American honors last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: OU will face only two teams this year that owned a winning record last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Central Michigan (10/7)


BALL STATE (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 4/2, 34 Lettermen)


Head coach Mike Neu – one of the Cardinals’ very own, the MAC Offensive Player of the Year as a quarterback with BSU in 1993 and former QB coach with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints – returns for his second season on the sidelines in Muncie. His Cardinals were ranked No. 3 in the nation in 4th down percentage defense last season, which helped contribute to a 47 YPG improvement on defense to go along with a 78 YPG upgrade on offense. Unlike 2015 when Ball State was outyarded -172 YPG in conference play (worst in the MAC), the Redbirds cut that deficit to -69 YPG last year. Safe to say a new era is underway at Ball State. FYI: the Cardinals averaged the fewest fans in attendance among all FBS teams last season, drawing just 7,789 per game. Big brother Michigan led the nation with 110,648. The average FBS attendance was 46,731.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The stats winner is 44-5 SU in Ball State games the last four seasons, including 12-0 last year.

PLAY ON: at Eastern Michigan (11/2)

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (Offense – 9/3, Defense – 6/2, 47 Lettermen)


Talk about a consistent sort: CMU’s record over the last five years is 7-6, 6-6, 7-6, 7-6 and 6-7. Thus, in two seasons with the Chippewas, head coach John Bonamego has not only taken his team to two bowl games, but also battled tonsil cancer in the process. And it looks as if his run is not about to end anytime soon. “I plan to win, win now and be here for a very, very, very, very, very long time,” the coach said. The 2017 Chips return a 3,800-yard passer and his top five wideouts, plus most of the defensive two-deep. With that, we’ll safely pencil them in for another 6-or 7-win season… because we’re big Bonamego fans.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chippewas are 12-5 SU and 13-4 ATS away from Game Six out the last five years.

PLAY ON: at Kent State (11/14)

EASTERN MICHIGAN (Offense – *8/2, Defense – 8/2, 53 Lettermen)


As predicted on this page last year, Eastern Michigan benefitted mightily from a sudden wealth of experience – and a young coach in Chris Creighton, who is on his way to bigger things in the near future. Back this season are 16 starters from last year’s bowl squad led by QB Brogan Roback, who threw for 2,694 yards in 10 games. Creighton’s “E Tough” philosophy was never more apparent than last season when the Eagles won games against Wyoming and Ohio U. Like Creighton says, his team will compete against “anyone, anytime and anywhere… even on a parking lot covered with broken glass.” Now that’s one tough team!

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Eastern Michigan enjoyed its first winning season last year since 1995.


NORTHERN ILLINOIS (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 9/2, 55 Lettermen)


Following a disappointing 5-win season in 2016, Northern Illinois becomes a certified ‘Mission Team’ this season. Looking deeper into their fait di accompli, the Huskies opened the campaign with 6 losses in their first seven games – including a pair of gut-wrenching triple OT defeats – before going on to win three of their final four contests. In the end, a skein of 6 straight MAC West titles vanished into thin air, but we’re not about to nail the coffin just yet. After all, how does one expect a team beset with quarterback injuries (five in the past 18 games) to compete? They may be just 5-10 SU in their last fifteen games overall, but no one is sleeping on these Huskies.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies are 27-7 SU and 25-8-1 ATS in their last thirty-four road games.

PLAY ON: at Toledo (11/2)

TOLEDO (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 7/2, 44 Lettermen)


There is a lot to like about the Rockets this season. Head coach Jason Candle won 9 games in his debut last year and can’t wait to see what the future holds for this team. “We have a great group of senior leaders, and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball,” said Candle. It starts with SR QB Logan Woodside who led the nation with 45 TD passes last season. He’s the reason UT was the 2nd best squad in the land in team passing efficiency in 2016. In addition, RB Terry Swanson, who gained 923 yards last season, returns. With the OL returning five players that either started or saw significant action in 2016, look for a lift-off from Toledo this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Four of Toledo’s 7 losing records over the last 36 years came in 2006-09 immediately following a point-shaving scandal.

PLAY ON: at Ohio (11/8 )

WESTERN MICHIGAN (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 8/2, 25 Lettermen)


After winning its first championship in 27 years, and playing in its first title game in 16 seasons, new WMU head coach Tim Lester has big shoes to fill. But the WMU alum has big feet. Lester, who takes over for departed P.J. Fleck, resides in the Western Michigan Hall of Fame after passing for more than 11,000 yards for the Broncos in the late ‘90’s. After losing stud QB Zach Terrell to the NFL, Lester inherits Tom Flacco (brother of NFL Joe) as his quarterback. The biggest loss, though, is that of superstar WR Corey Davis, a 1st round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. It’s a good thing Lester has his footprint on this transitioning program.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos led the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (8 ).

PLAY AGAINST: at Toledo (11/24)
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 weeks ago #447336

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Mountain West Conference Preview
By Marc Lawrence

We’re Back, Again

For the tenth consecutive year, the Mountain West sent at least five teams into postseason bowl games when seven participants hit the alleys last season. The MWC has earned 84 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 46-38 (.548) all-time record in those contests.

More important, for the first time in six years the Mountain West finished the bowls with a winning campaign last season.


The Mountain West has welcomed 29 new head coaches over the last 18 seasons, twelve of which played in a bowl game in their rookie year. Three new head coaches debut this season: Brent Brennan (San Jose State), Jay Norvell (Nevada), and oldie but goodie Jeff Tedford (Fresno State). The bad news is all three of the new coaches will face uphill battles with squads that all figure to battle to stay out of the cellar in their respective divisions.

Way Up There

The Mountain West Conference is appropriately named with all 6 teams in the MWC Mountain Division more than 2,000 feet above sea level.

Wyoming’s War Memorial stadium scales the highest at 7,215 feet, with Air Force’s Falcon Stadium also better than a mile high at 6,621 feet.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


AIR FORCE (Offense - *5/2, Defense - 1/0, 80 Lettermen)


It’s a good thing the Air Force Academy is always heavy on upper classmen. That’s because this year’s squadron has plenty of holes to fill as AFA seniors accounted for the 2nd highest percentage of starts of all FBS teams last season (69.0%). The good news is former starting QB Nate Romine returns, along with his heir apparent Arion Worthman, who is undefeated (6-0) as a starter for the Falcons. Lost however are six of seven defensive linemen, four of five linebackers and six of seven defensive backs. Furthermore, the Flyboys will most likely need to win out at home as five of six road games are slated against bowl teams.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons are 2-12 ATS in games after facing Army and Navy since 2010.

PLAY AGAINST: at Colorado State (10/28)

BOISE STATE (Offense - *5/2, Defense - 4/2, 38 Lettermen)


You have to go back to 1998 to find the last time a Boise State football team failed to win 8 games in a season. And were it not for the fact that the Broncos finished the 2016 season with the 2nd fewest amount of turnovers gained (9), they likely would have topped the 10 wins they recorded last season. In fact, the most consistent mid-major in the nation has knocked off five of their last six Power Five foes. We’re not certain what happened in their bowl loss to Baylor, but the last four times the Broncos lost a bowl game, they bounced back to go 51-3 combined the following season. Thought you’d like to know.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 61-2 SU in games against .500 or less foes with Bryan Harsin on the sidelines (as OC 2006-2010 and since 2014).

PLAY ON: vs. Air Force (11/18)

COLORADO STATE (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 8/3, 43 Lettermen)


Starting QB Nick Stevens leads a stacked backfield speared by the three-headed attack of Dalyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kinsey, Jr., who combined for 2,199 rushing yards last season. (Note: the Rams were 6-0 SU in game in which they rushed for 200 yards last season; 0-6 when they did not). After being demoted, and then reclaiming his starting position October 22nd, Stevens posted the nation’s best pass efficiency from that point forward when the Rams finished as the No. 4 team in the nation in red zone offense in 2016. Defensively, nine starters return, most of who were thrown into the fire due to a lack of proficiency. Meanwhile, Mike Bobo is one of only two Group of Five coaches hired in 2015 to post winning records each of the last two years. Color them dangerous.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams are 0-20 SU all-time versus ranked opponents.

PLAY ON: at Wyoming (11/4)

NEW MEXICO (Offense - *7/3, Defense - 2/1, 41 Lettermen)


The Lobos won their first NCAA rushing title last season (after finishing second in 1970 and 1971) when they tallied 4,550 yards, edging Army by 86 yards. The question is was New Mexico good last season, or were they good and lucky? Five of its wins were by a TD or less in 2016 (only Clemson owned more). With over 50% of the starts made for the Lobos last season coming by seniors, we’ll see what Bob Davie has left in his recruit war chest. We do know this: the Lobos committed just 14 giveaways last season. In four of Davie’s five seasons at the helm, the Lobos have ranked in the top five in fewest giveaways.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lobos have been outscored by 2.8 PPG under Davie, after being outscored by 26 PPG in the 3 years prior to his arrival.

PLAY ON: vs. New Mexico State (9/9)

UTAH STATE (Offense - *7/2, Defense - 8/1, 40 Lettermen)


It’s not a good sign when your team wins 3 games in a season in which over 50% of the starts were made by seniors – especially when six players that earned various MWC honors are gone this year. Granted, four losses last season by a TD or less were discouraging but signs of progress are evident in 2017 with the return of starting QB Kent Myers (2,389 passing yards and 10 TDs), RB Tonny Lindsey, Jr. (763 rushing yards and 6 TDs), and WR Ron’quavion Tarver (46 receptions for 602 yards) from last season. Also good news is the fact that 20 players made their first start last season. Collectively, they can only get better.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies own a 19-13 SU record in conference games under Wells. They were 24-42 SU the previous nine seasons.

PLAY ON: at Air Force (11/25)

WYOMING (Offense - *6/4, Defense - 8/3, 51 Lettermen)


Meet the FBS team that started the most underclassmen in the nation in 2016 (56.2%). And for the first time in four seasons at Wyoming, head coach Craig Bohl will have a returning starter quarterback in JT Josh Allen – a mighty damn good one at that. Allen burst onto the college football scene in 2016, leading the MWC, and ranking 20th in the nation in passing touchdowns (28). Some thought he might enter the NFL Draft early this year but he didn’t. As a result, Allen should be one of the top returning QBs in the nation. Bohl’s force-feeding of youngsters two seasons ago paid major dividends last year. Could he hit the jackpot in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Last year’s win over Boise State was the first over a ranked opponent for the Cowboys since 2002.

PLAY ON: vs. New Mexico (10/28)


FRESNO STATE (Offense - *10/5, Defense - 6/3, 42 Lettermen)


What is the last thing a team that ranked dead last in in the nation in first down defense – and also ranked in the bottom 10 in the land in rush offense – would want to face during the first month of a new season with a new coach this year? If you said consecutive road trips to Alabama and to Washington, you’re spot on. The new coach is actually an old one recycled, former California boss Jeff Tedford. He was brought in after the Bulldogs fell from 11 wins to 11 losses in three years under Tim DeRuyter, who ironically moves to Cal as it new defensive coordinator. Remember this team suffered four losses by a touchdown or less last season. The only direction this program can go is up.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After a 19-4 start with the Bulldogs, former Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter went 11-30 in his final 41 games.

PLAY ON: at Hawaii (11/11)

HAWAII (Offense - *8/3, Defense - 6/2, 54 Lettermen)


If you thought the 10,000 miles Hawaii flew before playing its first home game last season was dizzying, wait until you get a load of this year’s passenger manifest. By the end of September 2017, the Warriors will have journeyed to Massachusetts, Los Angeles, and Wyoming. Troubling? No way. Not after 1st year coach and former Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich used last season's 10,000-mile journey to discover an exciting QB in Dru Brown and an explosive RB in Diocemy Saint Juste, pairing them to form one of the MWC’s more frightening backfields. With most of last year’s starting cast back, plus 9 of the top 11 receivers, another bowl looks likely.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hawaii is 1-7 SU in Eastern Time zones since 1959, with losses by a combined margin of 286-30.

PLAY AGAINST: at Massachusetts (8/26)

NEVADA (Offense - *5/2, Defense - 9/3, 40 Lettermen)


Though it seems like eons ago now, three stints of Chris Ault and his altered shotgun offense are a faded memory following four non-descript seasons under Brian Polian. Replacing Polian is offense-maker Jay Norvell, a wide receivers coach at Arizona State last season, and a former OC with Nebraska, Oklahoma, and UCLA. To help kick-start the offense, Norvell hired Matt Mumme (Hal’s son), a former HC at Division III LaGrange as his OC. With air raid in Mumme’s blood, expect the pig to fly in Reno in 2017. Norvell’s DC is Jeff Casteel who brings almost 25 years of coordinator experience, including stints at West Virginia and Arizona. The rebuild is in place.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolf Pack were the 4th best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (11).

PLAY AGAINST: at Fresno State (9/30)

SAN DIEGO STATE (Offense - *5/1, Defense - 6/1, 34 Lettermen)


A monster in the Mountain West has emerged. Over the past two seasons Rocky Long’s Aztecs have won two MWC titles while outscoring conference foes by 24 PPG, while going 16-2 SU in conference games in the process. The problem now facing Long’s troops is that over 50% of the starts made for the Aztecs in 2016 were by seniors. Obviously, they will need to be replaced. The good news is super-pest South Alabama is no longer on the schedule. The Aztecs went 0-2 SUATS versus the Jaguars in 2015-16, and 22-4 against everyone else! Last year SDSU started the same OL in all 14 games, a group that combined for 114 starts. Now 130 of those starts are gone – along with record-setting RB Donnel Pumphrey.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After bowling twice in 22 years between 1987 and 2009, the Aztecs have bowled six straight years under Rocky Long.


SAN JOSE STATE (Offense - 7/5, Defense - 8/2, 35 Lettermen)


First the bad news: The Spartans were the worst team in the land in sacks allowed (50) last year. They were also the 2nd worst team in the nation in 4th down conversion percentage defense. Throughout it all, after collaring Top 60 recruiting classes each of his last three years, promising young head coach Ron Caragher was canned. The good news is his replacement is Brent Brennan, a 44-year old former UCLA wide receiver, known for his infectious personality. He inherits major experience on the OL with six linemen owning 125 combined career starts. Even better news: Brennan also inherits a deeply experienced defense that could be the backbone of the team.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The SU winner in Spartans’ games is 33-4 the last three seasons, including 12-0 in 2016.


UNLV (Offense - *9/4 Defense - 2/2, 48 Lettermen)


Bit by the injury bug last year, HC Tony Sanchez’s troops fell short of .500 – but still improved their record, point production, and overall defense. The Rebels return two starting QBs and four WRs, plus a high upside of youthful experience is back as Sanchez’s recruiting skills are beginning to surface. For it to happen, though, veteran DC Kent Baer (45th year of coaching) needs his troops to show continued improvement. This is a program that's been to only four bowl games in four decades and, as a result, head coaches have struggled in Vegas (USC’s John Robinson was 28-42 here). Sanchez is determined to set a new norm. Don’t discount his chances as UNLV returns one of the Mountain West’s best backfields and top offensive lines this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rebels have enjoyed just one winning season over the last 16 years.

PLAY ON: at Idaho (9/9) - *KEY
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Pacific-12 Conference Preview
By Marc Lawrence

It’s Getting Warm Around Here

If it appears that things are warming up in the desert these days it’s because they are. Global warming aside, Arizona and Arizona State are just 20-19 and 21-17 respectively since 2014.

That puts head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham squarely on the hot seat this season. Behind defenses that allowed an average 38 (Wildcats) and 40 (Sun Devils) points per game last season its no surprise new defensive coordinators were hired in the off season.

Quarterback Checklist

Like most football conferences, the Pac-12 is a quarterback driven league. And 2017 will be no different, with USC Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Washington’s Jake Browning and Washington State’s Luke Falk leading the charge.

Each will be in the Heisman Trophy talk in 2017. And rest assured, by the time the final dust settles backers of these teams will have air miles aplenty.

Bowl Shorts

For a Power 5 conference, the Pac-12 landed only six bowl berths in 2016. Not only did they manage a waffling 3-3 SU mark, they lost the money in all six contests when they went 0-6 ATS.

After a blasé 6-4 bowl effort in 2015, it’s time for the surfer dudes to stand and deliver in 2017.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


CALIFORNIA (Offense – 5/2, Defense – 8/3, 56 Lettermen)


The bad news Bears fielded the 4th worst overall stop-unit in the nation last season, owning the worst rush defense AND worst 4th down conversion percentage defense as well. Hopefully, those days are now in the rear-view mirror. The dismissal of HC Sonny yikes (no D) and the hire of Justin Wilcox bring a new look to Berkeley. As a DC, Wilcox’s stuffing defenses at Boise State, Tennessee, USC, Washington and Wisconsin guarantees a defensive turnaround at Cal. And for good measure, he brings in hard-nosed former HC Tim DeRuyter as his new DC, and former Eastern Washington HC Beau Baldwin as his OC. The Bears look ready to strap on the ‘D’.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Dykes, the Bears were 2-14 SU and 4-12 ATS versus Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, losing by over 20 PPG... and 1-11 SU in Games Six thru Eight.


OREGON (Offense – *7/4, Defense – 9/0, 48 Lettermen)


New HC Willie Taggart inherits a decidedly desirable situation, and not just because he’s taking over a top-level program. It’s the fact that Oregon hit a chuckhole in 2016 when its 4 wins (the fewest since 1983) snapped a 12-year win skein. Thus, a winning season of any sort will be looked upon as improvement. But more than that, the Ducks started more freshmen that any FBS team (29.1% of all starts). In addition, 46.7% of all starts were made by underclassmen (8th most in the land). That goes hand-in-hand with our take on young teams translating ambitious experience into success (see Washington in 2016). Fear these dangerous Ducks.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Ducks were held to under 300 yards of total offense for the first time in 89 games in a loss to USC last season.


OREGON STATE (Offense – *8/2, Defense – 7/3, 51 Lettermen)


After being beaten to a pulp in Gary Andersen’s first year with OSU in 2015 (they were outscored and outyarded by conference foes, -24.6 and -208 YPG ), things improved across the board in 2016 – to the point that they handily outperformed the oddsmaker, going 9-2 ATS. Hence, promise is the optimal word in Corvallis these days. 22-year old OT Gus Lavaka spent two years as an LDS missionary in Tonga and returned to land a spot on Campus Insiders’ 2016 Freshmen All-American First Team for the Beavers last season. He joins CB Xavier Crawford as another 2016 Freshmen All-American First Teamer, so the building blocks are in place.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Beavers were ranked No. 127 (2nd worst) in 4th down conversion percentage in 2016.


STANFORD (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/2, 82 Lettermen)


Perpetuating their lofty standing as a premier team in the Pac-12, Stanford ranks at the top of its division and third in the conference in the number of 4-or 5-star (41) and ESPN 300 (32) recruits signed over the past five seasons. It’s a primary reason that, since he arrived at Stanford in 2011, head coach David Shaw has averaged 10.7 wins per season. However, the loss of two 1st-rounders in this year’s NFL Draft cannot be overstated. RB Christian McCaffrey’s 3,360 rushing yards against Power 5 foes was tops in the land (nearly 700 yards more than runner-up D’Onta Foreman of Texas). And DL Solomon Thomas was the 3rd overall pick in the draft. Be careful here.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cardinal’s offense slipped 12 points and 68 yards per game last season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Notre Dame (11/25)

WASHINGTON (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/2, 53 Lettermen)


Last year we proclaimed the fact that the 2015 Huskies were ”young as hell, and back for more in 2016.” That force-feeding paid off in spades when they earned a trip to the CFB Playoffs. And because only 17.5% of all starts last year were made by seniors (the 6th fewest in the nation), they are still hungry, led by QB Jake Browning and TB Myles Gaskin. Still, three members of UDub’s starting secondary were scooped up in the first 11 picks in the 2nd round of this year’s NFL Draft. Remember, the Huskies led the nation in turnovers gained last season (33). What happens to the defending Pac-12 champs if they don’t this year?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Chris Petersen averages 10.82 wins per season, which ranks No. 3 among all current head coaches.

PLAY AGAINST: at Colorado (9/23)

WASHINGTON STATE (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 7/2, 44 Lettermen)


After seeing his best squad ever at WSU last season open up 0-2 and then stall down the stretch, one can only imagine the numbers on Mike Leach’s Fit Bit this offseason. We know this for sure: we’re betting QB Luke Falk will be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentations this year. The 6’4” SR started all 13 games in 2016 while completing 443-of-633 passes for 4,468 yards (third most in the nation) and 38 TDs. And those numbers were actually DOWN from two years ago when he completed 448-of-645 passes for 4,566 yards and 38 TDs. A wealth of receivers also return, making this a team no one will want to line up against in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars are 10-1 ATS as conference road dogs versus winning foes under head coach Mike Leach.

PLAY ON: vs. Boise State (9/9)


ARIZONA (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/3, 45 Lettermen)


It was a collapse of major proportions. Last year’s awful 3-9 season, after four consecutive bowl campaigns, dropped the Wildcats to 10-15 since winning the Pac-12 South Division in 2014. Last year’s 82-yard slippage on offense can be attributed to a depleted attack unit being forced to play three different quarterbacks, and a wide receiver at running back. Only in this case it was a lack of talent – not injuries – that handcuffed the team. “Part of the problem we had last year was mistakes in recruiting or bad luck in recruiting,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It falls on me.” It's fair to say he won’t be long for Tucson with another 3-9 season. Safe to say Rich Rod will need stud RB Nick Wilson, who’s missed 14 games the past two seasons with injuries, to stand and deliver.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: For the third time in the last five years, Arizona has had zero players selected in the NFL Draft.

PLAY ON: vs. Utah (9/22)

ARIZONA STATE (Offense – *7/2, Defense – 7/3, 57 Lettermen)


After a second straight losing campaign in 2016, head coach Todd Graham’s staff underwent more change for the second straight year, losing passing game coordinator Jay Norvell (new HC at Nevada). Also gone is OC Chip Lindsey, who accepted the same position at Auburn. Graham then added former Baylor DC Phil Bennett to the mix. But you know things are going bad when Youngstown State and West Georgia each had more players drafted (2) this year than you did (1). The good news is new OC Billy Napier, Alabama’s WR coach, will work with former Alabama QB Blake Barnett, who transferred out with automatic eligibility.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Arizona State ranked dead last (No. 128) in passing yards allowed for the second consecutive season.

PLAY AGAINST: at UCLA (11/11) - *KEY

COLORADO (Offense – 9/4, Defense – 3/1, 53 Lettermen)


The Buffaloes improved from 3-33 in conference play the previous four seasons to 8-1 in 2016. And the expectation is that Colorado will likely remain a Top 25-caliber team for the foreseeable future. The Pac-12’s best scoring defense will need to overhaul its unit, though, with 8 starters gone. On the flip side, the Buffaloes have one of the best groups of receivers in the conference, and also return 2nd-team All-Pac-12 RB Phillip Lindsay. They should be in good shape with Steven Montez replacing Sefo Liufau at QB, and four starters back on the OL, including OT Tim Lynott, a Freshmen All-American First Teamer who started every game last year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buffaloes have forced a turnover in each of their last 25 home games – the longest skein in the nation.


UCLA (Offense – *7/4, Defense – 6/2, 49 Lettermen)


Where does a team go that loses its franchise quarterback at the midway point of the season behind an offense that ranked No. 127 (2nd worst in the land) in rushing offense? Not far, or as Dwight Yoakam might say, “A thousand miles from nowhere.” Thus, this year’s team will be all about having the “Chosen Rosen” back behind center. The ‘mission team’ Bruins will also be looking to improve on last year’s 1-5 mark in true road games (as opposed to going 17-6 the prior four seasons). UCLA’s defense actually improved in 2016 when it held six straight opponents to under 400 yards of total offense in a season for the first time since 2010.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Josh Rosen was sacked 13 times in 6 games last season, as opposed to 15 times in 13 games in 2015.

PLAY ON: vs. Texas A&M (9/3)

USC (Offense – *6/2, Defense – 7/1, 48 Lettermen)


After starting the season 1-2 for the first time since 2001, USC handed the keys over to phenom QB Sam Darnold, who lost his first start and then led the Trojans to nine straight wins – winning the stats in all ten games. Darnold finished with the 2nd-most passing yards (3,086) of all freshmen in 2016, and he projects as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft (should he decide to enter). Hence, the 2017 Trojans are well equipped, returning 81 squad men from last year’s Rose Bowl champion team. A consensus national Top 5 recruiting class of 23 newcomers will join them. That likely tells you all you need to know. What is concerning is the fact that the Trojans averaged 68,459 fans in home attendance in 2016. They drew 91,480 fans a game under Pete Carroll.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: USC beat both teams that played in the Pac-12 Championship Game last season.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Notre Dame (10/21)

UTAH (Offense – *6/1, Defense – 6/2, 50 Lettermen)


Former Washington Huskies and JCU transfer QB Troy Williams stepped in and filled Travis Wilson’s shoes with aplomb last season when he threw for 2,757 yards and 15 TDs. The Utes tied with BYU for the 2nd best team in the land in turnovers gained (31), and was also the No. 1 ranked team in net punting in 2016. However, Kyle Whittingham’s team took a big hit in the NFL Draft when eight players were selected this year. Fortunately, there are no back-to-back road games this season for the first time since 2003, when they went 10-2. The bad news, though, is they will face the top four teams from the North division in 2017. FYI: Utah has appeared in every College Football Playoff ranking since its inception in 2014.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Utes head coach Whittingham owns the best bowl winning percentage (.910) of any coach in NCAA history.

PLAY AGAINST: at USC (10/14)
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SEC Conference Preview
By Marc Lawrence

Rolling With The Tide

Alabama finished one second shy of winning its fifth national championship in eight years in a heart-breaking loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff title game last season.

The SEC has won the National Championship eight times in the last 11 years, while appearing in the title game 10 times - with the Crimson Tide claiming four crowns.

A Long Time Between Drinks Of Water

Since the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators defeated Alabama in 2008 in the SEC title game en route to winning the national championship, teams from the West division have reeled off 8 straight victories against East division foes in SEC titles games, including Alabama’s 54-16 victory over Florida in last season.

Take Your Choice

In Las Vegas, Alabama leads the 2017 season win totals brigade at 11, followed by Ohio State at 10.5.

According to odds to win the SEC at 5Dimes.com, the 2017 SEC East pecking order finds: Alabama -160, LSU +675, Auburn +700, Texas A&M +5000, Arkansas +8000, Mississippi State +12000.

In the SEC East its Georgia +1000, Florida +1100, Tennessee +2200, Kentucky +12000, South Carolina +12000, Missouri +23000 and Vanderbilt +23000.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


FLORIDA (Offense – 9/4, Defense – 6/3, 49 Lettermen)


Here’s a sobering thought: since Tim Tebow left in 2009, the Gators have had 10 different starting quarterbacks, none of whom passed for 2,500 yards or 12 TDs in a single season. Feleipe Franks appears to be the next in line this season. A concern is eight Florida players were selected in this year’s NFL Draft, including three members of a secondary that were selected in the 2nd round (UF owned the No. 1 passing efficiency defense in 2016). Nonetheless, Florida qualifies as a ‘play on’ squad in 2017 that improved its stats on both sides of the ball last year, yet slipped SU and ATS. We’re expecting big things from the Gators.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Only 15.4 % of starts made by the Gators last year were by seniors – the 3rd fewest in the nation.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia (10/28)

GEORGIA (Offense – *8/2, Defense – 10/2, 53 Lettermen)


In 2015 a total of 22 true freshmen, which led the nation, played for the Bulldogs. Then last year the Bulldogs ended the season by playing a total of 20 freshmen. Thus, it’s no surprise to learn that only 19.3% of all starts for Georgia in 2016 were made by seniors (the 9th fewest in the nation). Most important, though, Georgia’s top three rushers are back, including Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The All-Star seniors – the best 1-2 combo in college football – have rushed for 5,835 yards and 48 TDs in their careers. But the big news is the return of 10 starters on defense. Meanwhile, 2nd-year babysitter Kirby Smart is lovin’ it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: West Georgia had more players drafted (2) this year by the NFL than did Georgia (1).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Missouri (10/14) -*KEY

KENTUCKY (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 9/3, 49 Lettermen)


After just completing a new mind-boggling 100,000 square foot, $45 million training facility in 2016 – a year after a $120 million “re-imagining” of Commonwealth Stadium in 2015 – it’s time for the Wildcats to git 'er done. It starts with a team that features the nation’s 7th largest amount of returning production, keyed by 17 returning starters. That’s because just 16.2 % of starts by the 'Cats last year were made by seniors, the 4th fewest in the nation. Anchoring this year’s attack, the OL returns 47 starts from 2016, a line that paved the way for the 2nd-most rushing yards in school history (3,044) and a school-record 30 TDs. Okay, now get to work.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kentucky was the No. 3 team in the nation in 4th down conversion percentage last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Tennessee (10/28)

MISSOURI (Offense – *10/5, Defense – 6/2, 42 Lettermen)


Things went from bad to worse for the Tigers in 2016. After winning 23 games and going 14-4 in SEC play in 2013-14, Mizzou has won just 9 games the past two seasons while going 3-13 in conference contests. The good news, though, is a marshmallow offense came alive in 2016 when the Tigers improved 17 points and 219 yards per game. However, the bad news is the defense fell apart at the seams under 1st year head coach Barry Odom when it regressed 15 points and 177 yards. OC Josh Heupel did his job, and welcomes 10 starters back in 2017. In order to move the program back in the right direction, defensive improvement is a must. A bigger problem is slipping attendance, as the Tigers 52,236 average attendance was the biggest dip off all FBS schools, down 20% from 71,165 the previous season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers are 26-5 SU and 20-8 ATS the last four years in games where they outgain their opponent.

PLAY ON: vs. Tennessee (11/11) - *KEY as a dog

SOUTH CAROLINA (Offense – *10/4, Defense – 6/2, 43 Lettermen)


When SC faced USF in the Birmingham Bowl last season, 76 of the 113-man bowl roster (67.3%) were comprised of either freshmen (52) or sophomores (24) – compared to just 18 juniors and 19 seniors. By season’s end, 13 true freshmen saw game action in 2016, matching Maryland, Ole Miss and Texas for the most true freshmen starters in the country. In fact, the Gamecocks were the only squad in the nation to have freshmen lead the team in rushing and passing yards. Second-year head coach Will Muschamp is thrilled to welcome back the youngsters, but the Gamecocks will face a brutal schedule with 11 bowl teams from 2016. Yuk.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Gamecocks were 0-7 SU against ranked opponents until they defeated Tennessee last season.

PLAY AGAINST: at Missouri (9/9)

TENNESSEE (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 8/1, 53 Lettermen)


The Vols’ resurgence all started in 2014 after Tennessee played 23 true freshmen – the most in the nation – the year prior, and then followed it up with 240 total returning starts in 2015. It resulted in a pair of 9-win seasons the past two years. UT has some mighty big shoes to fill in 2017, though. Granted, they're still a young team that is rapidly maturing. But the loss of QB Joshua Dobbs (23-12 as a starter, the Vols' career leader in rushing yards and TDs) and RB Alvin Kamara (1,188 all-purpose yards and 13 TDs in 2016) leaves crater-size holes to fill at the two most important skill positions. Things could get a bit rocky in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Vols ranked No. 126 (3rd worst) in 2016 in 4th down conversion percentage.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia (9/30)

VANDERBILT (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 7/2, 43 Lettermen)


We really liked the makeup of last year’s Vanderbilt squad as a preponderance of youth in 2015 (123 overall starts by underclassmen) led to a vastly experienced band of Commies in 2016. In fact, only 20% of the starts made last season were by seniors, the 10th fewest in the nation. And it paid off in spades as Vandy finished 2016 as the top team in the land in red zone defense – as well as the No. 5 unit in red zone offense. Together that’s a pretty powerful tandem. It resulted in the 'Dores landing their 4th bowl bid in the last six years. Safe to say, head coach Derek Mason has this team on the rise.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Commodores are 0-16 SU and 2-14 ATS in Game Six of the season over the last 16 years.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia (10/7) - *KEY


ALABAMA (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 6/1, 52 Lettermen)


For the second straight season the powerhouse Tide return 6 starters on each side of the ball. The difference this year, though, is QB Jalen Hurts is now a sophomore and explosive WR Calvin Ridley is now a junior. After 17 years of coaching experience in the NFL, new co-OC Brain Dabol was lured ($1.2M) to Tuscaloosa. Along with DC Jeremy Pruitt’s $1.3M annual salary, the Tide’s 10 full-time assistant coaches will earn a combined $6.5M… or $5M collectively less than Nick Saban’s $11.5M haul. Sheesh. Meanwhile, like last year’s national champion, Clemson, the Tide will face no back-to-back away games, playing only 4 true road games the entire season. FYI: The Tide has won 17 consecutive SEC games by an average of 21 points.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Nick Saban is an incredible 119-19 SU at Alabama, including 40-1 versus .500 or less opponents.


ARKANSAS (Offense – *7/4, Defense – 5/0, 54 Lettermen)


Devastating news hit the Razorback program this offseason when star RB Rawleigh Williams III announced his retirement after suffering a second major neck injury in as many years. “He might be the most complete running back I’ve ever signed," said head coach Bret Bielema. "He’s serious.” The good news is Austin Allen is one of the top three returning quarterbacks in the SEC. The problem is his top two targets have departed. That and a gaping hole on the DL where none of the starters are anywhere to be found. After blowing some really big halftime leads last season, Bielema shook up his defensive coaching staff to make amends for a plethora of failures.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hogs have played UNDER their season win total in three of four seasons under Bret Bielema.

PLAY ON: vs. Missouri (11/25)

AUBURN (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 8/2, 57 Lettermen)


There's an army of supporters who feel that Auburn is rapidly closing the door on Alabama. With former 5-star Baylor recruit QB Jarrett Stidham taking over the controls for Gus Malzahn’s offense this season, the door is shutting fast. Consider: Auburn QBs had 12 TD passes in 2016. Stidham had 12 TD passes as a backup with Baylor in 2015. Our 4 Year Statistical Review above confirms the suspicion as it notes the Tigers improved their numbers on both sides of the ball last year (+13 net PPG, +71 net OYPG, and +43 net DYPG). RB Kamryn Pettway averaged 122 RYPG in 2016, the highest mark among all returning FBS running backs. Here come the Tigers.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers are 30-1 SU at home in non-conference games since 2007. The loss occurred last year against Clemson.

PLAY ON: at Clemson (9/9)

LSU (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 5/2, 47 Lettermen)


Here’s a bar bet you’ll win every time this year – the Tigers were ranked dead last in 4th down conversion percentage in 2016. It’s numbers like those that ran Les Miles out of town. What backfired last season was a master plan that called for an experienced squad of underclassmen who made 41.9% of all starts last season. Amid rumors of insubordination, they opened the 2016 campaign at 2-2 last year, and Miles was shown the door. Fixer Ed Orgeron steps in as the full-time coach but has a long way to go to mirror Miles’ numbers. There will come a time when he’ll need to win games against quality conference teams… or else.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Ed Orgeron is 2-18 SU as a head coach against winning SEC foes in his career.

PLAY ON: at Florida (10/7) - *KEY as a dog

MISSISSIPPI (Offense – *5/4, Defense – 6/1, 60 Lettermen)


The Rebels have somehow managed to crack the 60 returning lettermen barrier once again. In fact, going back from 2017 to Hugh Freeze’s first year with the program in 2012, the Rebels returning lettermen have numbered 60, 61, 58, 60, 58, and 61. What it means is his recruiting skills have been exceptional, thus the reason his teams are 49-27 SU and 44-25-1 ATS throughout his FBS career. And he did it in the ultra-competitive grounds of the SEC. Freeze is gone but the young Rebels started the 5th most freshmen in FBS last season (20.1%), and will be a qualified ‘Mission Team’ in 2017, suffering their first losing season last year under Freeze.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Freeze was 15-1 SU and 14-2 ATS as a favorite vs. non-conference opponents.

PLAY ON: at California (9/16)

MISSISSIPPI STATE (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 7/0, 49 Lettermen)


After losing a quarterback that put up some of the most impressive numbers in SEC history, Mississippi State looked to be in a pinch last season. That was until SO QB Nick Fitzgerald surfaced – at just the right time. All Fitzgerald did in his first year as a starter was shatter nine school records. He also broke the SEC single-season record for 100-yard rushing games by a QB (8 ) and average yards per rush by a QB (7.1). Fitzgerald is joined in the backfield by late-bloomer RB Aeris Williams, who changed the complexion of MSU’s rushing attack late last year. The “A-Train” averaged 102.8 YPG in the last five contests of 2016. All aboard!

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Dan Mullen, the Bulldogs are 27-12 SU in seasons after losing 6 or more games the previous year.


TEXAS A&M (Offense – 6/2, Defense – 6/2, 50 Lettermen)


On the heels of its third consecutive 8-5 season, it would appear things are hunky-dory in College Station. We beg to disagree. According to our database, the Aggies have suffered four consecutive ATS losing seasons, going 16-32 ATS. What it means is that Kevin Sumlin’s crew has underachieved, as the Las Vegas oddsmakers had them pegged for better results. Along the way A&M is 15-0 SU during the first three games of the season the last three years, but only 9-15 SU and 3-20 ATS out. The good news is RB Trayveon Williams was a 2016 Freshmen All-American First Team selection when he rushed for 1,024 yards on only 147 carries (7.0 YPR) last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin is 1-13 ATS in games following a loss since 2013.

PLAY ON: vs. Mississippi State (10/28)
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Sun Belt Conference Preview
By Marc Lawrence

On the surface the Sun Belt appears to be a three-horse race in 2017, according to 5Dimes.eu. Here are their odds to win the conference title this season:

Appalachian State +130
Arkansas State +325
Troy +340
Georgia Southern +1400
UL Lafayette +1400
Idaho +1700
New Mexico State +2000
South Alabama +2000
Georgia State +4500
UL Monroe +4500
Coastal Carolina +11500
Texas State +17500

We’re Getting There

The Sun Belt Conference will hold its first ever football championship game beginning in 2018.

“This championship will be a first-class experience – and we look forward to it being a launching-pad for a team to reach the College Football Playoff’s ‘New Year’s Six’ bowl games,” said Commissioner Karl Benson.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.

APPALACHIAN STATE (Offense - *6/3, Defense - 7/3, 45 Lettermen)


After an injury-marred 4-8 mark in 2013, and then going 1-5 to start the following season, ASU head coach Scott Satterfield was simmering on the hot seat. But suddenly, when it mattered the most, his Mountaineers went on a mission, winning 27 of their next 32 games while going 20-2 SU against fellow Group of 5 opponents. And just like that, they were back. Now with only ONE losing season under their belt since 1993 – the aforementioned 2013 campaign – and falling in overtime at Tennessee last season, App State is primed to win its first game against a Power 5 opponent (read: Wake Forest) behind star QB Taylor Lamb (27-9 as a starter – second to Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield in total wins) and RB Jalin Moore. Remember, the Mountaineers were ranked No. 2 in the nation in 4th down percentage defense last season. Be there.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Mountaineers have won three FCS national championships since 2005.

PLAY ON: vs. Wake Forest (9/23)

ARKANSAS STATE (Offense - *5/0, Defense - 4/1, 50 Lettermen)


To no one’s surprise, an 8-win effort in 2016 (after a 0-4 start) was in keeping with the Red Wolves’ 44 victories over the previous five seasons. What is surprising is the fact they managed to scale such heights behind four different head coaches. The good news is Blake Anderson has been at the helm with each of the last three ASU teams which, if you read in between the lines, like his predecessors he could be flying the coop with another bowl effort this campaign. According to Bill Connelly of SBNation.com, the Wolves have won or shared five of the last six Sun Belt titles, and are 20-4 in conference play under Anderson. Having arguably the best quarterback in the league in Justice Hansen, along with talented RBs and WRs, makes the Red Wolves a contender for conference honors in 2017. They were also the top team in the land in team tackles for a loss last season. Very impressive, to say the least.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Red Wolves are 38-9 SU and 33-14 ATS from Game Six out the last six years.

PLAY ON: vs. UL-Lafayette (10/19) *KEY

COASTAL CAROLINA (Offense - *3/1, Defense - 6/3, 57 Lettermen)


Meet wildly successful head coach Joe Moglia and the Chanticleers. Moglia has gone 51-15 in five years at Coastal Carolina with four trips to the FCS playoffs, including 10-2 last year, with both losses by one-point each despite a cavalcade of quarterback injuries (5). A Vince Lombardi Hall of Fame award winner, he also won the 2015 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year honor. The much-accomplished Moglia has gone from the Ivy League (DC at Dartmouth) to CEO and Chairman of the Board of Ameritrade, to an unpaid assistant at Nebraska, to head coach of the Chanticleers. He also brings an FCS all-star coaching staff with him. Granted, they were hit hard by injuries last season and graduation losses this season, but Syracuse transfer QB Austin Wilson, and Boston College RB Marcus Outlow will help spur the attack. Yes, you can say they are ready for the next level.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chanticleers offense has averaged at least 34 PPG every season under Moglia.

PLAY ON: vs. Massachusetts (9/2)

GEORGIA SOUTHERN (Offense - 5/4, Defense - 5/2, 23 Lettermen)


New head coach Tyson Summers knew that replacing Willie Fritz was not going to be an easy task. Little did he realize that following a 3-0 start, his Bald Eagles would be running on bald tires the rest of the way. A 2-7 blowout finish to the season would leave the Georgia Power Company on a season-ending energy outage. The fact of the matter is Summers is a non-option guy coaching an option-first offense and the regression was swift. Sensing a need to change gears immediately, Summers canned his co-offensive coordinators and brought in Paul Johnson disciple Bryan Cook to run the show. He’ll need all the drive he can get.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Before last season’s 3-2 effort, the Eagles had gone 29-4 SU at home the previous five years.


GEORGIA STATE (Offense - 9/4, Defense - 7/2, 52 Lettermen)


Behind former South Carolina offensive line coach – and interim head coach – Shawn Elliott, the Panthers move into a (sort of) new stadium in their next FBS phase. Elliott – the only new face among Sun Belt head coaches in 2017 - replaces Trent Miles who was vanquished after a 10-39 mark in four years with GSU. The Panthers will call revamped Turner Field (former home of the Atlanta Braves) home, and with it they welcome a cast of experienced players led by QB Conner Manning, a former Utah transfer. Also back is star WR Penny Hart who missed most of last season with a foot injury. Because it doesn’t take much to make yourself a bowl-caliber team in the Sun Belt, Elliott’s first full year at the helm should prove successful.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Despite going 1-3 SU, the Panthers won the stats in each of their final four games last season.

PLAY ON: at UL-Monroe (10/14)

IDAHO (Offense - *9/3, Defense - 6/1, 31 Lettermen)


With a tear in its eye, Idaho is FCS bound next season. After twenty-one seasons at the FBS level, the Vandals will take their 76-166 (a .301 win percentage) record to a lower echelon next year. During 18 years playing on the FCS stage, Idaho went 134-79 (a .629 win percentage), including 15 winning seasons and 11 postseason appearances. So while the move will likely generate new excitement in Moscow, the fact of the matter is they will be hell-bent to build on last season’s 7-1 SU and 8-0 ATS finish. Behind a Paul Petrino offense that has improved it’s scoring each and every year on his watch, don’t count them out for one last bowl.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After losing 30 of its previous 32 away games, Idaho went 5-3 away last season, including a 61-50 bowl win.

PLAY AGAINST: at South Alabama (9/23)

NEW MEXICO STATE (Offense - 8/3, Defense - 9/3, 44 Lettermen)


In four years under current head coach Doug Martin, the Aggies have averaged 2.5 wins per season. From 2005-2012, NMSU averaged 2.6 wins per season. Like a goldfish swimming in circles, some things remain constant. And because his contract expires at the end of this year, Martin resorted to signing an abundance of JUCOs, including 13 of the team’s 25 new signees this season according to SBNation.com. After largely ignoring the JUCO route, it’s apparent Martin is in all-out mode to save his rear end. With a ton of experience returning on both sides of the ball, including star RB Larry Rose III, we say if not this year… then when?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies have allowed 500 or more yards 26 times in 48 games under Martin, including ten 600+ yards games.

PLAY ON: at Ga Southern (10/14)

SOUTH ALABAMA (Offense - *5/3, Defense - 6/3, 41 Lettermen)


Respectability. With three 6-win FBS seasons since jumping in with the sharks in 2012 – none fewer than five – they’ve also won three games as underdogs of more than 17 points. The problem is they have also laid some golden goose-size eggs, too. More importantly, while knocking on the door, they’ve yet to taste a winning season at this level. They did, however, knock off Mississippi State and San Diego State last year to earn a coveted bowl berth. After closing out the 2016 season with stat-wins in each of their final five games, USA opens the 2017 campaign against a murderer’s row schedule in September with three games against top-tier FBS foes that have collectively won 13 of their last 17 bowl games this decade.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Jaguars are 0-4 SUATS following a SU underdog win the past two seasons by an average loss margin of 23.3 PPG.

PLAY ON: vs. UL-Monroe (10/21)

TEXAS STATE (Offense - 8/3, Defense - 7/3, 45 Lettermen)


Simply put, Year One under the Everett Withers coaching regime last season was not up to scratch, as the Bobcats owned the puniest rush offense in the nation. They were also the worst team in red zone defense in 2016. It was all largely due to the fact that Texas State freshmen were involved in 30% of all starts made by the Bobcats in 2016 – the most in the land. Withers is hoping Mississippi State transfer QB Damian Williams can come in and lead a suddenly experienced squad to a higher level of performance (read: more wins). Coupled with the best recruiting class in the Sun Belt this offseason, a reversal of fortune should be in order sooner rather than later.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bobcats are 2-20 In The Stats versus FBS foes the last two seasons.


TROY (Offense - *10/2, Defense - 6/2, 54 Lettermen)


Get ready, Alabama. The Trojans are one of three FBS schools in the state – and they might not be the weakest. We realize it’s a daunting statement, what with the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers each residing in the same territory, but Troy will field its best team this century in 2017. Led this season by 4th year starting quarterback Brandon Silvers, the Trojans won 10 games last year behind a bevy of sophomores and juniors – who are now juniors and seniors. In addition, every rushing and pass-receiving yard returns. Stern September road trips to Boise State and LSU should shape them into a powerhouse in the Sun Belt this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Trojans are 9-0 ATS in regular season games following a SU favorite loss.

PLAY AGAINST: at New Mexico State (9/16)

UL-LAFAYETTE (Offense - 6/4, Defense - 7/3, 52 Lettermen)


There is an unraveling situation going on in Lafayette. In the last two years, ULL barely won more games (10) than it averaged under head coach Mark Hudspeth in the four years previous. It’s one of the reasons ULL has played UNDER its season win total each of the last four years. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why. A quick scan of their stat-logs atop this page tells it all. The culprit is an offense that has regressed each and every year since 2012. Through it all, ULL has managed to hit the alleys in five of six seasons under Hudspeth. An ultra tough road slate puts that streak in jeopardy this season. That and the loss of QB Anthony Jennings and star RB Elijah McGuire to eligibility.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hudspeth is 13-3 ATS as a dog vs. winning opponents, including 8-0 SUATS as a single-digit underdog.


UL-MONROE (Offense - 7/3, Defense - 8/3, 53 Lettermen)


It’s a good thing 2nd year head coach Matt Viator is on the scene. When your rush defense ranks No. 125, there is generally trouble looming. A 10-year head coach at McNeese Sate where he led the Geaux Pokes to the FCS playoffs five times, Viator rolled up his sleeves and went to work hitting the recruiting trail hard this offseason. Word is he might have landed the school’s best class ever. Unfortunately, it may take a year or two for the results to show, as the Warhawks will face no less than 10 bowl teams from last season. The good news is ULM beefed up its offense 62 YPG in 2016. Now it’s the defense’s turn.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Warhawks have been shut out in at least one game in 7 of the last 8 seasons – all versus Power Five conferences.

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SEC East Predictions
By Brian Edwards

1-Florida Gators

Best Players: OT Martez Ivey, WR Antonio Callaway, CB Duke Dawson, DE CeCe Jefferson, CB Chauncey Gardner & PK Eddy Pineiro.

Toughest Games: vs. Michigan (Arlington, TX.), vs. LSU, vs. Georgia (Jacksonville) and vs. FSU.

Danger Spots: at Missouri on Nov. 4 & at South Carolina on Nov. 11.

UF will be looking for its third consecutive trip to Atlanta on Jim McElwain’s watch. McElwain is the first coach in SEC history to win division titles in the first two seasons of his tenure at a school. The Gators probably won’t be quite as salty on defense in 2017, especially after last season’s leading tackler, senior safety Marcell Harris, went down with a torn Achilles in late July. However, the Gators finally appear poised to field an offense that can score.

In McElwain’s first two seasons, UF averaged 23.2 and 23.9 points per game. But the offensive woes at Florida date all the way back to Tim Tebow’s exit in 2009. Since then, the Gators have averaged more than 30.0 PPG just once (30.3 PPG in 2015). Furthermore, every QB that has made a start was either a player that eventually transferred out or transferred in. Those QBs include Jeff Driskel, Jacoby Brissett, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg, Treon Harris and Will Grier. Two others – Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby – came to UF from other schools, and now Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire is wearing orange and blue.

The reason for optimism on offense extends well beyond the QB position, but even the most talented unit can’t function well without adequate QB play. The thinking in Gainesville is that the arrival of Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire and the presence of four-star redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks will cure an illness that’s engulfed the program for seven seasons. Whoever earns the starting job will have weapons galore at his disposal. Callaway, the true junior WR and special-teams ace, is the only player in school history to score five different ways – passing, rushing, receiving, kick return and punt return. He had 54 receptions for 721 yards and three touchdowns in 2016, but his status for the opener against Michigan was in question after his arrest in June for misdemeanor possession of marijuana. Now it seems he’ll play, however, after McElwain addressed the media on Aug. 2. When asked if there will be in any Week 1 suspensions, he said “not at this time as long as some obligations are met.” Senior WR Brandon Powell is a three-year starter who’s joined by Tyrie Cleveland, the true sophomore who has NFL size and speed and made the huge play (a 99-yard TD reception) to trigger last year’s division-clinching victory at LSU.

The defense returns just four starters, but that’s a misleading number. When LBs Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone went down with injuries at Arkansas in ’16, true freshmen David Reese and Kylan Johnson were inserted into the starting lineup. Both played well, earned starting experience and will be better for it as full-time starters this year. Also, Jefferson and Jordan Sherit weren’t considered starters, but both took snaps galore and made many big plays in ’15 and ’16. The Harris injury is costly, especially with less depth in the secondary this year. With that said, though, CBs Gardner (MVP of Outback Bowl) and Dawson are All-SEC candidates.

Gambling Numbers: 8/1 odds to win the SEC, 50/1 odds to win nat’l title & a season win total of 8.5 (‘over’ -115).

Prediction: With every prediction I make in August, you go by the presumption that most key players stay healthy. The reality of college football (or pigskin at any level) is that teams will indeed lose key players to injuries or even suspensions in some case. So with that said pertaining to this prediction and the rest of them below, I’m confident in seven wins for UF and then there are five crucial swing games – vs. Michigan, vs. LSU, vs UGA, at South Carolina and vs. FSU. You notice how only one of those five are on the road? (Thanks, Joe Alleva!) In fact, the Gators play only three true road games all year and are likely to be favored in each – at Kentucky, at Missouri and at USC. If things fall into place, this could be a monster season for UF. Then again, the depth on defense isn’t what it has been and if injuries are anywhere near the level of last season (UF won at LSU with seven defensive starters back in Gainesville), things could go south in a hurry. And, as always, until a Florida QB has a big year, that position remains a question mark. Regardless though, I think the Gators are a given to win eight games. I feel it’s more likely they go 9-3 or 10-2. I’ll call for UF to win the SEC East but lose again to Alabama in Atlanta.

Bets: Florida pick ‘em vs. Georgia in Games of the Year (three units). Why? UF’s defensive line eats UGA’s o-line for breakfast, lunch and dinner annually.

2-Georgia Bulldogs

Best Players: RB Nick Chubb, QB Jacob Eason, RB Sony Michel, DT Trenton Thompson & LB Roquan Smith.

Toughest Games: at Notre Dame, at Tennessee, vs. UF, at Auburn & at Ga. Tech.

Danger Spots: vs. Appalachian St. in Week 1 & at Vanderbilt on Oct. 7.

Georgia went 8-5 straight up and 6-7 against the spread in the first season of the Kirby Smart Era. In fairness, the Bulldogs lost three games by five combined points and one of those defeats came on a Hail Mary on the game’s final play. But they also stole one at Missouri on a fourth-and-10 TD pass in the final minute of a 28-27 triumph. Also, UGA’s 13-7 win over Auburn came when Gus Malzahn’s team had its two best offensive players (QB Sean White and RB Kamryn Pettway) injured, and a victory at South Carolina came before Jake Bentley was inserted into USC’s starting lineup.

Smart’s second squad has seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. Eason was predictably inconsistent as a true freshman, displaying his NFL arm on plays like the game-winning pass at Missouri and especially on his ridiculous go-ahead TD throw against Tennessee with 10 ticks left. He completed only 55.1 percent of his passes, throwing 16 TD passes compared to eight interceptions. Five of his top six pass catchers return, but his top target Isaiah McKenzie has departed. Chubb and Michel provide UGA with the best 1-2 punch of RBs in the country, but will the offensive line show improvement? This unit, which is ranked just 46th nationally by Phil Steele in his preseason magazine, was dominated by the defensive fronts for Missouri (2.7 yards per carry), Vanderbilt (2.1 YPC), Florida (1.1 YPC) and Auburn (3.1 YPC).

Fourteen of UGA’s top 15 tacklers are back from a defense that gave up 24.0 PPG. This unit is filled with veterans. In fact, only juniors and seniors were listed as starters coming out of spring practice. Thompson, Smith, FS Dominick Sanders and Lorenzo Carter are the leaders on this side of the ball. Smart, who cut his teeth as an excellent defensive coordinator for nearly a decade at Alabama under Nick Saban, should have this side of the ball playing at a elite level in 2017.

Gambling Numbers: UGA has 6/1 odds to win the SEC and 25/1 odds to win the College Football Playoff at Sportsbook.ag. Depending on if you like the ‘over’ or ‘under,’ you probably need to shop around. I’ve seen the Bulldogs’ win total at 8.5 with the juice as high as -135 (Sportsbook.ag as of 8/2), but they can also be found at nine with a price in the -140 neighborhood.

Prediction: The first two games are crucial and it would be ignorant for anyone to think Appalachian St. doesn’t have a chance between the hedges. UGA is currently favored by 14 over the Mountaineers, while most shops with Games of the Year have it installed as a short underdog (I’ve seen it from +1 to +3) for the trip to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish. If Smart’s club wins at UT on Sept. 30, that will make the ensuing trip to Nashville even more challenging. I see Georgia finishing second in the East. I have the Dawgs going 8-4 or 9-3, depending on how their trip to The Flats for the regular-season finale works out.

Bets: I have nothing here.

3-Tennessee Volunteers

Best Players: WR Jauan Jennings, SS Todd Kelly, LB Darrin Kirkland, KR Evan Berry & TE Ethan Wolf.

Toughest Games: vs. Ga Tech in Atlanta (Mercedes-Benz Dome, not Bobby Dodd Stadium), at Florida, vs. Georgia, at Alabama & vs. LSU.

Danger Spots: at Kentucky on Oct. 28 & at Missouri (11/11).

Tennessee finished 9-4 SU and 5-7-1 ATS in 2016. The Volunteers went 2-2 in four one-possession games, beating Appalachian St. in overtime and winning at Georgia on a Hail Mary pass on the game’s final play. They lost in double overtime at Texas A&M and dropped a 24-21 decision at South Carolina.

Jones enters his fifth season with a 30-21 record at UT, guiding his team to a 3-0 record in bowl games since limping to a 5-7 record in his first season in Knoxville. He is only 2-2 against Vanderbilt and remains winless against Will Muschamp’s teams in three head-to-head meetings. Many in the media seem to think Jones is on steady footing in terms of job security, but those members of the press have absolutely zero clue.

Jones is a relentless excuse maker who constantly ruffles the feathers of his fan base with asinine remarks like last year’s senior class being “champions of life” (rather than SEC East champs in a division UT was favored to win and was in the driver’s seat of after rallying from 21 points down to beat Florida and stealing its game in Athens). Jones lacked the stones to own his kindergarten-level mistake of note going for two at UF two years ago after his team took a 12-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. In short, he’s a clown who is on the hot seat and will remain there until he takes this program back to Atlanta (in early December).

Gambling Numbers: UT has 20/1 odds to win the SEC and 85/1 odds to win the CFP. The Vols have a win total of 7.5 with the juice toward the ‘over’ in the -130 range. They are +7 at UF, pick ‘em vs. UGA, +24.5 at ‘Bama, -1 at UK, +7.5 vs. LSU & -8.5 vs. Vandy.

Prediction: UT has seven starters back on each side of the ball, but offensive playmakers like Josh Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Josh Malone are gone. On the flip side, the Vols have their top five and eight of their top nine tacklers returning. With that said, Derek Barnett and key secondary players like Cam Sutton and Malik Foreman have moved on. The QB position is a question mark, making it difficult for pundits to peg this squad in August. I look at the schedule and see a likely 5-2 record with five games I’m uncertain about. Those contests are vs. Ga. Tech, vs. UGA, vs. South Carolina, at Missouri and vs. LSU. The Vols have two weeks to prep for the Gamecocks and will be in revenge mode, but arch-rival Alabama will be on deck to potentially provide a look-ahead scenario. If UT gets quality QB play, I think it can finish 8-4. If the QB play is poor, 6-6 is a possibility. I’ll hedge and say 7-5.

Bets: I want to say fade UT as a seven-point ‘dog at The Swamp. However, I’d like to see who gets both starting jobs at QB (and then see how they play in Weeks 1 and 2) for those division rivals before committing to that wager. I’ll pass on the win total.

4-South Carolina

Best Players: TE Hayden Hurst, WR Deebo Samuel, LB Skai Moore, LB Bryson Allen-Williams & QB Jake Bentley.

Toughest Games: vs. N.C. St. in Charlotte, at UT, at UGA, vs. UF & vs. Clemson.

Danger Spots: vs. La. Tech on Sept. 23 & vs. Arkansas on Oct. 7.

I went in-depth on my take on the ’17 Gamecocks and why I love their win total ‘over’ 5.5 victories. They have 85/1 odds to win the SEC.

5-Vanderbilt Commodores

Best Players: RB Ralph Webb, LB Oren Burks, NG Nifae Lealao, SS Ryan White & WR Trent Sherfield.
Toughest Games: vs. Kansas St., vs. Alabama, at UT, vs. UGA, at South Carolina & at Tennessee.

Danger Spots: at Middle Tennessee in Week 1 & vs. Western Ky. on Nov. 4.

Derek Mason’s fourth team should be his best but, according to Phil Steele, it has the fourth-toughest schedule in the SEC and the 15th-toughest in the nation. After 2.5 years of inept QB play on Mason’s watch, Kyle Shurmur caught fire in November and led the Commodores to consecutive home wins over Ole Miss (38-17 as 9.5-point ‘dogs) and Tennessee (45-34 as 7.5-point ‘dogs) to close the regular season and become bowl eligible. Vandy also won at Georgia and at Western Ky., which won Conference USA and finished with an 11-3 record, in addition to a 47-24 blowout victory over Middle Tennessee when Brent Stockstill was healthy. The Commodores, who finished 6-7 SU and 7-6 ATS in ’16, return nine starters on offense and seven on defense. Ralph Webb is already the school’s all-time leading rusher and appears poised for a banner senior campaign. The Gainesville, Fla., product ran for 1,283 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 5.1 YPC last year. Khari Blasingame had a strong ’16 as well in a reserve role, rushing for 449 yards and 10 TDs with a 4.6 YPC average. The top eight pass catchers are back, including Sherfield and C.J. Duncan.

After struggling on defense in Mason’s first season (33.3 PPG), he fired his defensive coordinator to take over that position himself. The results have been great and can’t even really be told in the stats. Vandy gave up just 21.0 PPG in ’15, but that was with an abysmal offense that averaged only 15.2 PPG. Then last season, the Commodores allowed 24.0 PPG while slightly improving on offense with a 23.0 PPG average.

Thirteen of 22 starters, including eight on defense, will be seniors for Vandy. The ‘Dores only lost 19 lettermen, but they lost their best player in LB Zach Cunningham, who went pro a year early after recording 125 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, three passes broken up, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, one QB Hurry and one blocked field goal. He should’ve had another forced fumble and fumble recovery at Auburn, but his strip and recovery of the ball on Kamryn Pettway early in third quarter was inexplicably reversed on replay (that clearly didn’t have any evidence to overturn the call on the field).

Gambling Numbers: Vandy has 225/1 odds to win the SEC. The win total varies from six (‘under’ -170 at Sportsbook) to five (‘over’ -135 at South Point).

Prediction: The only victory that’s a given is a Week 2 home game vs. Alabama A&M and the only guaranteed defeat is a Week 4 home game vs. the Crimson Tide. Every other game on the schedule can be won or lost. Vandy lost four of six one-possession games last season. If the veteran-laden ‘Dores can flip that stat, they’ll be bowling again for a second straight year. I’m taking the optimistic view on this team that I thought really turned the corner in November of last year. With 18 career starts now under his belt, I think Shurmur will look closer to the signal caller we saw in November rather than the first two months of ’16. If that’s the case, I see five wins (at Middle Tennessee and at home vs. Alabama A&M, Western Ky., UK and Missouri) and three losses (vs. ‘Bama, at UF & at UT). That leaves four swing games vs. Kansas St., vs. UGA, at Ole Miss and at South Carolina. I’m thinking Vandy goes 2-2 or 1-3 in those four contests, leaving it with a 6-6 or 7-5 mark.

Bets: I lean slightly to the ‘over,’ but I’d keep it at just one unit and wouldn’t play ‘over’ five wins if the price is north of -135.

6-Kentucky Wildcats

Best Players:
RB Benny Snell, LB Jordan Jones, SS Mike Edwards, WR Garrett Johnson, DE Denzil Ware & PK Austin MacGinnis.

Toughest Games: at USC, vs. UF, vs. UT, at UGA & vs. Louisville.

Danger Spots: at Southern Miss in Week 1 & at Vandy on Nov. 11.

Mark Stoops was on the hot seat early in his fourth year at the helm, especially after blowing a 25-point lead at home in the opener vs. So. Miss before getting blasted at UF the following week by a 45-7 count. From there, however, the ‘Cats won five of their next six games with the only loss coming at Alabama. They would finish 7-6 both SU and ATS, losing 33-18 to Ga. Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. But UK went to the postseason for the first time since 2010 and broke a series-high five-game losing streak to its bitter in-state rival Louisville.

Kentucky returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense. The leading rusher (‘Boom’ Williams) and leader in receiving yards (Jeff Badet, grad transfer to Oklahoma) are gone, but the best players on defense are back. Junior LB Jordan Jones is an All-American candidate who had 109 tackles, four sacks, 11.5 TFL’s, four PBU and nine QB hurries in ’16.

Gambling Numbers: UK has 120/1 odds to win the SEC and 1,000/1 odds to win the CFP. The Wildcats’ win tally is 6.5 (-110 either way at South Point).

Prediction: Stephen Johnson did an adequate job at QB (13/6 TD-INT) after Drew Barker was injured in September. This duo will battle throughout August for the starting gig. The offense averaged 30.0 PPG with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Williams is gone, but Freshman All-American Snell is back for his sophomore campaign. Snell rushed for 1,091 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 5.9 YPC as a freshman. I initially marked UK with a 4-6 record with two swing games: vs. Ole Miss and vs. Louisville. I now think the ‘Cats will beat the Rebels, but I’m undecided on the U of L game in Lexington. I think it’s 5-7 or 6-6 for UK depending on the regular-season finale.

Bets: I’ll pass.

7-Missouri Tigers

Best Players:
QB Drew Lock, DT Terry Beckner, WR J’Mon Moore, RB Damarea Crockett & DE Marcell Frazier.

Toughest Games: vs. Auburn, at UGA, vs. UF, vs. UT & at Arkansas.

Danger Spots: vs. South Carolina & at Vandy.

Missouri limped to a 4-8 SU record and a 5-7 ATS mark in Barry Odom’s first season as head coach. The offense was vastly improved, going from an anemic 13.6 PPG average in ’15 to scoring at a 31.4 PPG clip last year. The opposite was true on the other side of the ball. The Tigers had one of the nation’s top defenses in ’15, allowing only 16.2 PPG despite having one of the worst offenses in the country. But in ’16, this unit lost Beckner to a season-ending injury last summer and gave up 31.5 PPG.

The offense improved because Lock settled in as a true sophomore, throwing for 3,399 yards with a 23/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Moore enjoyed a breakout campaign, catching 62 balls for 1,012 yards and eight TDs. Lock has his top four pass catchers back in the mix and a pair of excellent RBs in Crockett and Ish Witter (750 yards LY).

The offense returns 10 starters, while five starters are back on defense (really six, though, with Beckner’s return). The non-conference games should be a breeze and Missouri could steal a couple of home games out of four vs USC, Auburn, UF and UT.

Gambling Numbers: Missouri has 225/1 odds to win the SEC and its win total is 6.5 (‘under’ -145) at Sportsbook. Some spots in Vegas have the number at six with similarly expensive odds for the ‘over.’

Prediction: I have the Tigers going 5-7 or 6-6, so I have no bets on the win total. Many of their games could go either way, especially the ones at home vs. USC and UT, in addition to a road game at Vandy.
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449492

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SEC West Predictions
By Brian Edwards

1-Alabama Crimson Tide

Best Players:
WR Calvin Ridley, SS Minkah Fitzpatrick, FS Ronnie Harrison, QB Jalen Hurts, RB Bo Scarbrough & LB Rashaan Evans.

Toughest Games: vs. FSU in Atlanta, vs. LSU & at Auburn.

Danger Spots: at Texas A&M & at Mississippi State

Alabama has won 36 of its last 39 games after finishing 14-1 and just one play shy of another national championship. Other than a pair of losses to Ole Miss in 2014 and ’15, Nick Saban’s teams have dropped just two regular-season contests in the last five years. Those defeats came at Auburn in ’13 on the remarkable kick-six return on the game’s final play and the 29-24 home loss to Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel back in ’12.

The Crimson Tide return six starters on offense and five on defense. They’re literally five deep at running back and probably have the nation’s best WR in Calvin Ridley. As a true freshman last season, Jalen Hurts had a 24/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio with 954 rushing yards and 13 more TDs. He’ll face competition from true freshman and five-star recruit, Tua Tagovailoa, who is from Hawaii and came to school early for spring practice.

Another five-star recruit and true freshman is RB Najee Harris, who was also in for the spring. He joins the nation’s premier backfield along with Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Josh Jacobs and B.J. Emmons. The defense is led by Minkah Fitzpatrick, a future-first-round pick who had 66 tackles and six interceptions last year. Other standouts on this unit include DB Ronnie Harrison, LB Rashaan Evans, DE Da’Shawn Hand, DT Da’Ron Payne and LB Shaun Dion Hamilton.

Gambling Numbers: The Westgate has Alabama’s win total at 11 (‘under’ -125, ‘over’ +105). The Tide is the +250 ‘chalk’ to win the College Football Playoff at the Las Vegas betting shop. They have -150 odds to win the SEC Championship Game.

Prediction: There’s a strong chance Alabama will be a double-digit favorite in 10 of its 12 games, with the lone exceptions being the opener vs. FSU and regular-season finale at Auburn. You never know what will happen at the Iron Bowl but even if Alabama loses in that spot, it will probably remain on solid footing for a CFP berth if it finishes 11-1. I have Alabama winning the SEC by beating Florida for a third straight season in Atlanta and getting back to the CFP for the fourth consecutive campaign.

Bets: I’m on the sidelines here.

2-Auburn Tigers

Best Players:
QB Jarrett Stidham, RB Kamryn Pettway, PK Daniel Carlson, CB Carlton Davis & OT Braden Smith.

Toughest Games: at Clemson, at LSU, vs. Georgia & vs. Alabama.

Danger Spots: at Missouri & at Arkansas.

Auburn returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. The 2016 Tigers finished 8-5 straight up and 7-6 against the spread, but they were 7-2 before injuries to starting QB Sean White and workhorse RB Kamryn Pettway derailed the season. They lost three of their last four, mustering only 19 combined points in losses at Georgia (13-7) and at Alabama (30-12). The ’16 defense was outstanding under new coordinator Kevin Steele. This unit gave up just 17.1 points per game and returns nine of its top 11 tacklers.

Although White played well before getting injured last year (9/3 TD-INT), I’m confident Jarrett Stidham will be an upgrade at QB. He was a 5-star recruit in Baylor’s 2015 class. When Seth Russell sustained a season-ending injury, the Bears were undefeated and ranked second in the nation. As a true freshman in his first start the following week, all Stidham did was guide Baylor to a 31-24 win at Kansas State by throwing for 410 yards and three TDs without an interception. In a rain game at home next, Art Briles’s club dropped a 44-34 decision to Oklahoma (but 34 points should be enough to win). Stidham would get injured in a 45-35 victory at unbeaten and No. 4 Oklahoma State during his third start. He left Baylor when Briles was fired, did not play while in junior college last year and arrived on The Plains for spring football.

Gambling Numbers: Auburn is a 34-point home favorite vs. Ga. Southern in Week 1. The Tigers are an abysmal 1-7 ATS in their last eight outings as favorites of 23 points or more, while the Eagles are 7-1 ATS in eight games against SEC or ACC foes dating back to 2011. AU has 30/1 odds to win the CFP at The Westgate. The Tigers have the second-shortest odds to win the SEC (+450, risk $100 to win $450), while their season win total is 8.5 (‘over’ -140, ‘under’ +120).

Prediction: I believe Stidham is going to be outstanding and Auburn has a pair of excellent RBs in Pettway and Kerryon Johnson. The offensive line will be led by third-team All-American Braden Smith, who turned down the NFL to stick around for his senior season. Three starters return on an o-line that’ll be bolstered by a pair of grad transfers. Wilson Bell is expected to start at guard after making 18 starts at FSU, while Jacksonville State transfer Casey Dunn will provide quality depth. Dunn was an FCS All-American in ’16. Gus Malzahn has brought in a new offensive coordinator in Chip Lindsey, who should work well with Stidham in an offense more suited for a pro-style passer. Even if Auburn loses at Clemson in Week 2 and at LSU in October, it will be able to win the SEC West if it takes a 6-1 conference record into the regular-season finale at home vs. ‘Bama. I think that’s what happens, but I have the Tide prevailing at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Therefore, I think Auburn finishes 9-3.

Bets: I like to have a 1.5-game cushion to play a season win total, so I’m not interested in betting ‘over’ 8.5 wins, especially with the -140 price tag. I’m leaning Ga. Southern catching the huge number in Week 1.

3-LSU Tigers

Best Players:
OLB Arden Key, RB Derrius Guice, C Will Clapp, WR DJ Chark, CB Kevin Toliver & CB Donte Jackson

Toughest Games: vs. BYU in Houston, at Florida, vs. Auburn, at Tennessee & at Alabama.

Danger Spots: at Mississippi State & vs. Arkansas.

LSU went 8-4 SU and 6-6 ATS in a season that saw Les Miles fired after an 18-13 loss at Auburn in Week 4. The Tigers lost three games by eight combined points at Wisconsin (16-14 at Lambeau in Green Bay), at Auburn (18-13) and vs. Florida (17-16), and they dropped a 10-0 decision vs. Alabama in a game that was a one-possession contest for nearly 60 minutes. Ed Orgeron earned the head-coaching gig thanks to a 6-2 record that included wins at Texas A&M (54-39 in the regular-season finale) and vs. Louisville (29-9 at Citrus Bowl).

However, AD Joe Alleva struck out on Tom Herman and Jimbo Fisher before choosing Orgeron. Also, he insisted on the Gators coming to Baton Rouge after the originally-scheduled game in Gainesville was postponed due to Hurricane Matthew. As it turned out, the game decided UF’s SEC East fate but didn’t have major implications for the Tigers after they had lost to Alabama and were eliminated from the SEC West race. Not only did Florida win at Tiger Stadium to clinch the East with an epic goal-line stand in the final seconds, but now the Gators get to play LSU at The Swamp in 2017 and ’18. Therefore, LSU plays five SEC road games this year and has just three league tilts at home.

LSU brings back six starters on offense and five on defense. Derrius Guice is a legit Heisman Trophy candidate after rushing for 1,387 yards and 15 TDs while averaging 7.6 YPC despite sharing touches with first-round draft pick Leonard Fournette last year. Guice is poised for a monster campaign behind one of the nation’s premier offensive lines, albeit one that just lost junior OG Maea Teuhema (21 starts as a freshman and sophomore) to a transfer. Nevertheless, the QB position remains a question mark. Danny Etling was adequate in ’16 and is the likely starter again, but he doesn’t scare opposing DCs. He threw for 2,123 yards with an 11/5 TD-INT ratio, but he won’t have talented WRs Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural around anymore. DJ Chark will be his favorite target after hauling in 26 catches for 466 yards and three TDs last season.

LSU’s defense lost its top five tacklers. Key, who is projected as a potential top-five pick in next spring’s NFL Draft after recording 12 sacks last year, had offseason shoulder surgery and hasn’t been cleared for full contact yet. His status for early September remains a question mark. Dave Aranda is one of the country’s top DCs, directing a unit that gave up just 15.8 PPG in ’16.

Gambling Numbers: LSU’s win total is nine flat (-110 either way) at The Westgate, which has its odds to win the CFP at 20/1. The Tigers have the third-shortest odds (5/1) to win the SEC. They are favored by 12.5 or 13 points vs. BYU in Week 1.

Prediction: I have LSU going 9-3, losing at Florida and at Alabama. The third loss could come in a number of different spots, perhaps at Mississippi State or at Tennessee and Auburn at home certainly won’t be easy, either.

Bets: I’ll pass.

4-Arkansas Razorbacks

Best Players:
C Frank Ragnow, QB Austin Allen, WR Jared Cornelius, DE McTelvin Agim & OG Hjalte Froholdt.

Toughest Games: vs. TCU, vs. Texas A&M at Jerry World in Arlington, vs. Auburn, at Alabama & at LSU.

Danger Spots: at South Carolina & at Ole Miss.

Arkansas finished 7-6 SU and 5-8 ATS in 2016 after blowing leads at Missouri in the regular-season finale and vs. Va. Tech at the Belk Bowl. The Razorbacks raced out to a 24-0 halftime lead over the Hokies in Charlotte, only to see that advantage evaporate when Justin Fuente’s team scored 35 unanswered points to not only win outright, but to also crush the wallets of Arky backers (like me!!) who lost as a seven-point underdog despite being ahead of the number by 31 points at intermission.

Some pundits have suggested Bret Bielema’s seat could be warming in Fayetteville going into the fifth season of his tenure, but I believe that’s a joke and Arkansas is fortunate to have one of the league’s best coaches (3rd or 4th-best in my opinion). Arkansas had three wins over ranked teams last year, winning at TCU (No. 15 at the time) in double overtime, in addition to home scalps of 12th-ranked Ole Miss and 10th-ranked Florida.

The Hogs, who are 7-1 ATS in their last eight games as road underdogs, return 12 total starters (six on each side of the ball). The defense lost three of its top four tacklers, including Brooks Ellis, Jeremiah Ledbetter and Deatrich Wise. Furthermore, the offense lost its best playmakers in RB Rawleigh Williams (1,360 rushing yards, 12 TDs & 5.6 YPC), WR Keon Hatcher (44 catches, 743 yards, 8 TDs), WR Drew Morgan (65/739 & 3 TDs) and TE Jeremy Sprinkle (33/380 & 4 TDs). On the bright side, Jared Cornelius returns after hauling in 32 receptions for 515 yards and four TDs. Plus, juco transfer WR Brandon Martin, who started his career at LSU, is expected to start right away and be a key contributor.

Williams had a breakout 2016 campaign, only to sustain another neck injury during spring practice that prompted him to retire from football. Devwah Whaley rushed for 602 yards and three TDs while averaging 5.5 YPC as a true freshman last season. Also, Bielema has two talented true freshmen backs who will be in the mix and Arkansas was fortunate to land South Carolina grad transfer David Williams, who brings plenty of experience with him.

Austin Allen enjoyed an excellent first season as a starter. He completed 61.1 percent of his throws for 3,430 yards and 25 TDs. The negative stat was his 15 interceptions, but we should point out that he was often under heavy pressure and took a plethora of big hits (although there was ZERO excuse for the pick he threw in the red zone with a 24-14 lead at Missouri). Nevertheless, he jumped back up each time and demonstrated toughness and leadership throughout the year.

Gambling Numbers: Arky’s season win total is 6.5 flat (-110 either way) at The Westgate. Sportsbook.ag has the Hogs with 65/1 odds to win the SEC and 300/1 odds to win the CFP.

Prediction: I initially marked Arkansas with a 4-3 record and five swing games: vs. TCU, vs. Texas A&M, vs. Auburn, at Ole Miss and vs. Mississippi State. For those wondering about the third loss I was confident about (outside of at Alabama & at LSU, obviously), it was at South Carolina, which is certainly a game the Hogs can win. I’m going to call it 7-5 for Arkansas, but eight or nine wins is undoubtedly within reach, especially if they can run the table at home. The key will be the offensive line, a unit that’s always strong under Bielema with the exception of last season. If the o-line is elite and Arkansas can avoid more injuries at the RB position, it’ll be a solid season in Fayetteville.

Bets: I like Arkansas +4.5 vs. Texas A&M (8/12 spread at Sportsbook.ag).

5-Texas A&M Aggies

Best Players:
RB Trayveon Williams, SS Armani Watts, DB Donovan Wilson, WR Christian Kirk & DT Zaycoven Henderson.

Toughest Games: at UCLA, vs. Arkansas (Arlington), vs. Alabama, at Florida, vs. Auburn & at LSU.

Danger Spots: vs. South Carolina (9/30) & at Ole Miss (11/18).

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin is on a boiling hot seat going into his sixth season at the helm. The Aggies have finished 8-5 for three straight years, limping down the stretch in each of those campaigns. Sumlin’s squad started 6-0 last year and held a 14-13 lead at Alabama early in the third quarter. However, the Tide would score 20 unanswered points to win a 33-14 decision. A&M lost four of its last five contests with the lone victory coming at home vs. UTSA.

Texas A&M returns five starters on offense and seven on defense, but QB Trevor Knight is gone along with three elite WRs (Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones & Speedy Noil), the NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick (Myles Garrett), two-time third-team All-SEC DE Daeshon Hall and the defense’s two leading tacklers (Shaan Washington & Justin Evans).

Let’s hit on some positives now. Kirk is one of the nation’s top WRs and might be the country’s most dangerous return player on special teams. There are three veteran seniors in the secondary, including All-SEC candidates Armani Watts and Donovan Wilson. John Chavis is one of the nation’s top DCs and has some talent in the trenches with players such as Zaycoven Henderson, Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke.

The biggest question mark is at QB. Jake Hubenak has the most experience, starting three games over the last two years while posting a 9/3 TD-INT ratio. He’ll face stiff competition to earn the starting job from redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman 4-star recruit Kellen Mond.

Gambling Numbers: The Westgate has A&M’s win total at seven (‘under’ -130, ‘over’ +110), while the Aggies have 40/1 odds to win the SEC and 100/1 odds to win the CFP.

Prediction: Just like with Arkansas, my first look at A&M’s schedule resulted in a 4-3 record with five swing games. Those include at UCLA, vs. Arky, vs. South Carolina, vs. Auburn and at Ole Miss. I think the Aggies will go 3-2 or 2-3 in those matchups. I’ll say they finish 7-5 or 6-6 depending on how the trip to Oxford goes. The opener at UCLA is obviously pivotal. If A&M loses to the Bruins, it will be 4-1 (at best) going into games vs. Alabama and at Florida. I think the Aggies lose both of those before their open date and wouldn’t be shocked if Sumlin got fired after they get back to College Station from Gainesville. My main reasoning for that possibility is to get an early start on putting an offer on Chip Kelly’s plate that will be tough to pass up.

Bets: Another pass here.

6-Mississippi State Bulldogs

Best Players:
QB Nick Fitzgerald, WR Donald Gray, LB Leo Lewis, DT Jeffery Simmons & OT Martinas Rankin.

Toughest Games: vs. LSU, at UGA, at Auburn, vs. Alabama & at Arkansas.

Danger Spots: at La. Tech in Week 2 & vs. BYU.

Mississippi State finished last year with a 6-7 SU record and a 5-8 ATS mark. The Bulldogs dropped four one-possession games, including three defeats by six combined points. They lost the opener vs. South Alabama after missing a chip-shot field goal off the crossbar on the game’s final play, fell in double OT at BYU and went home from Lexington a loser after Kentucky hit a walk-off game-winning FG. Dan Mullen’s team did win outright as a double-digit underdog twice, defeating seventh-ranked Texas A&M in Starkville and blasting Ole Miss 55-20 in Oxford for the Egg Bowl. The victory allowed MSU to go bowling despite a 5-7 record. The Bulldogs blocked a Miami (OH.) FG attempt on the game’s final play to preserve a 17-16 triumph.

There’s plenty of optimism for ’17 based on the return of QB Nick Fitzgerald, who threw for 2,423 yards with a 21/10 TD-INT ratio in his first year as a starter after replacing Dak Prescott. Fitzgerald also rushed for 1,375 yards and 16 TDs with a 7.1 YPC average. Donald Gray will be his favorite target after the senior WR brought down 41 balls for 709 yards and five TDs last season.

The defense will be led by Todd Grantham, the new DC who led the units at Louisville and Georgia over the last seven years. This was considered a big-time hire by Mullen, who has taken Mississippi State to seven bowl games in his eight seasons at the school. Leo Lewis, a sophomore LB, enjoyed a banner freshman campaign in ’16. Lewis recorded 79 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

MSU has seven starters back on offense and six on defense. Phil Steele lists the Bulldogs’ schedule as the fifth-toughest in the nation.

Gambling Numbers: MSU has a season win total of 5.5 (‘over’ -150, ‘under’ +120). Sportsbook.ag has the Bulldogs with 75/1 and 300/1 odds to win the SEC and CFP, respectively.

Prediction: Mullen is one of the better coaches in the SEC and Fitzgerald is an elite talent who can be the difference in a number of games. Looking at the schedule, I see five wins, three losses and four swing games: at La. Tech, vs. LSU, at Texas A&M and at Arkansas. MSU lost outright in Ruston to a different set of Bulldogs in 2008. Nevertheless, I see MSU knocking off La. Tech this year and winning another one of the swing games to finish 7-5.

Bets: The expensive price on the ‘over’ makes me less interested. I lean to the ‘over’ clearly but I’d keep the play really small due to the juice.

7-Ole Miss Rebels

Best Players:
DE Marquis Haynes, QB Shea Patterson, WR Van Jefferson, LB DeMarquis Gates & OT Greg Little.

Toughest Games: at Alabama, at Auburn, vs. LSU, vs. Arkansas & at Mississippi State

Danger Spots: vs. Vandy (10/14) & vs. Texas A&M (11/18).

Ole Miss self-imposed a bowl ban and isn’t eligible for the SEC Championship Game due to NCAA violations committed on Hugh Freeze’s watch. Freeze resigned before being fired with cause in late July, ending a tumultuous tenure filled with the highest of highs (two wins over Alabama and a blowout win over Oklahoma State in the school’s first trip to the Sugar Bowl in decades) and the lowest of lows (all the lies & NCAA violations, the excruciating losses at home to Auburn in ’14 and to Arkansas in overtime in ’15 & the assbeating taken in last year’s Egg Bowl). More penalties will be levied by the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in November, including a likely ban from postseason play in ’18 and maybe even ’19.

Ole Miss finished ’16 with a 5-7 SU record and a 4-8 ATS ledger. The Rebels led at halftime in four of their losses and blew leads of 22 and 21 points in setbacks against FSU and Alabama. The Rebels return five starters on offense and six on defense. Shea Patterson started the last three games of ’16 after Chad Kelly was sidelined with an injury. The five-star recruit, who is now a rising sophomore, threw for 880 yards with a 6/3 TD-INT ratio. He has a pair of extremely talented sophomore WRs in Van Jefferson and AJ Brown.

The defense will be led by senior DE Marquis Haynes, who is one of the country’s top pass rushers. Haynes had 53 tackles, seven sacks, four TFL’s, eight QB hurries, three PBU and one interception last season. Five of the top seven tacklers return, including leading tackler DeMarquis Gates (79 tackles & 4 sacks), and a lot of young players earned valuable playing time in ’16.

Gambling Numbers: Ole Miss has a win total of 5.5 flat (-110 either way). The Rebels are ineligible for the SEC and CFP.

Prediction: Interim head coach Matt Luke has never even been a coordinator before, much less a head coach. Freeze was an outstanding game coach, so he’ll be missed in that department as well. It’s difficult to gauge the morale of this club that’s been mired in the issues created by its former coach for well over a year. I think it’s a 4-8 or 5-7 finish, and then a major rebuild under crippling sanctions for the next head coach.

Bets: I liked South Alabama +26 at Ole Miss in the opener even before Freeze was escorted out (hat tip to the Oxford Eagle). Even with it down to 24 or 24.5 at quite a few books, I still like the Jaguars.
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449493

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Best Bet - South Carolina
By Brian Edwards

If you’ve heard any of my guest radio segments this summer or listened to any episodes of my Games Galore podcast on BrianEdwardsSports.com, then you’ve known for months how bullish I am on the 2017 South Carolina Gamecocks.

Do I think Will Muschamp’s team is going to win the SEC East? No, probably not. But that’s of zero consequence when we can back South Carolina to go ‘over’ 5.5 wins for its season win total.

As of July 18, different books had varying odds. The best price I could find was at 5Dimes.eu, where the offshore betting shop had the price of the ‘over’ at just -105. On the flip side, Sportsbook.ag had the Gamecocks at an expensive -145 price for the ‘over’ on 5.5 victories.

The first season of Muschamp’s tenure in his second head-coaching gig exceeded expectations and then some. The Gamecocks were coming off a 3-9 campaign, had zero experience at the quarterback position and were going to be without their All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore, who led South Carolina in tackles in each of his first three seasons before undergoing neck surgery last summer. This caused Moore to use his redshirt season, but he is poised to return in 2017 as a fifth-year senior.

Coming off a 28-14 home loss to Georgia that left South Carolina 2-4 going into its open date, Muschamp decided to make a bold move. In an attempt to spark the offense, he decided to take the redshirt off of true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley and insert him into the starting lineup vs. UMass.

Bentley, who was supposed to be a senior in high school in 2016 but went to college a year early after Muschamp hired his father as part of his staff, immediately provided some punch to an offense filled with youth. With Bentley under center, South Carolina promptly ripped off three consecutive victories over UMass, Tennessee and Missouri. The win over the Vols, one that improved Muschamp to 5-0 in his career against UT, for the Gamecocks came as 13.5-point home underdogs.

All of a sudden, South Carolina was 5-4 with a game at Florida on deck. Bentley, who had yet to throw an interception in his first three games, didn’t fare as well against UF’s stout defense. The Gators won a 20-7 decision, but the Gamecocks beat Western Carolina the next week to get bowl eligible.

The regular-season finale was an unmitigated disaster at Death Valley, where the soon-to-be national champions destroyed USC by a 56-7 count. Nevertheless, Muschamp’s team was going bowling with a 6-6 record, defying even the most optimistic forecasts for a team that was picked to finish last in the SEC East.

South Carolina dropped a 46-39 decision to South Florida in overtime at the Birmingham Bowl. The Gamecocks, who nevertheless covered the spread as 10-point underdogs against the 25th-ranked Bulls, were done in by a minus-3 margin in the turnover department. They had a small advantage over USF in total offense (481-469), but the Bulls won outright to finish 11-2 for the year.

Now we move to 2017 with USC returning 10 starters on offense and six on defense. Remember, during Muschamp’s second season at Florida in 2012, the Gators finished the regular season with an 11-1 record. In fact, if USC’s Matt Barkley had not gone down with a shoulder injury against UCLA, UF would have almost certainly been playing in the BCS Championship Game against Alabama that year.

The shoulder injury left Barkley unable to play the following week at home in the regular-season finale against unbeaten Notre Dame. Even without Barkley, USC squandered scoring chances galore, including a first-and-goal opportunity from the one yard line in the fourth quarter. If the Trojans had punched in a TD there, they would’ve been in the lead at crunch time.

As it turned out, Notre Dame won a 22-13 decision thanks to two interceptions thrown by inexperienced QB Max Wittek. UF went to the Sugar Bowl instead and took a beatdown from Louisville. The rest of Muschamp’s tenure at UF was filled with injuries, tough luck and narrow defeats that led to his dismissal after his fourth season.

USC’s offense should be vastly improved this year. In Bentley’s seven starts that saw USC go 4-3, the Gamecocks averaged 26.6 points per game. That was with a true freshman at QB and a pair of true freshmen getting most of the carries in the running game.

Bentley completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards with a 9/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. We should note that all four picks were thrown at Florida and at Clemson, and those two teams sported two of the nation’s top defenses.

Bentley’s top five pass catchers return, including All-American candidate Deebo Samuel. As a true sophomore in 2016, Samuel hauled in 59 receptions for 783 yards and one TD. He rushed 15 times for 102 yards and six TDs while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Obviously, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper likes to get the ball to Samuel on reverses and misdirection plays down in the red zone. Samuel also returned 16 kicks for 431 yards and one TD.

Another true freshman skill player had a major impact last year. The dude has a great name, too, although his mother spelled it wrong. I’m talking about Bryan Edwards, who had 44 catches for 590 yards and four TDs. Edwards (6’3”) is a big target for Bentley who demonstrated the ability to go up in traffic and make plays, drawing comparisons to former Gamecock Alshon Jeffrey.

Hayden Hurst, a junior tight end who will turn 24 years of age in late August, is poised to have a monster campaign. Hurst is older because he initially spent two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization playing minor-league ball before deciding to give up the sport in favor of football. Hurst caught 48 balls for 616 yards and one TD last season. He is an absolute beast, listed at 6’5”, 253 pounds. Don’t be shocked if he has a banner season that leads him to go pro early and get drafted in the first 2-3 rounds.

Roper uses a lot of two-TE sets and has another good one in junior K.C. Crosby, who had 23 receptions for 217 yards and four TDs last season.

Rico Dowdle and A.J. Turner were USC’s two leading rushers in ’16 and are back for their true sophomore campaigns. Dowdle ran for a team-best 764 yards and six TDs while averaging 5.7 YPC. Turner rushed for 497 yards and three TDs, averaging 4.3 YPC. He also had 21 catches for 143 yards and one TD.

Muschamp’s defense gave up lots of yards last season, but it was excellent at forcing turnovers. This unit allowed just 26.5 PPG. No SEC opponents scored more than 28 points and Georgia needed a kick return for a TD off of an onside kick in the final minute to get to that number.

Six starters are back but that number should really be seven to reflect Moore’s return. Eight seniors are expected to start on this side of the ball, including a pair of All-SEC candidates in DT Taylor Stallworth and LB Bryson Allen-Williams, who had 75 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and 6.5 tackles for loss last season.

The starting CBs have plenty of experience and the prize of the 2017 recruiting class is CB Jamyest Williams, who will see plenty of playing time. Chris Lammons and Jamarcus King had three interceptions apiece last year and combined to break up 15 passes and make six TFL’s.

2017 South Carolina Schedule

Saturday, Sept. 2 vs. North Carolina State
Saturday, Sept. 9 at Missouri
Saturday, Sept. 16 vs. Kentucky
Saturday, Sept. 23 vs. Louisiana Tech
Saturday, Sept. 30 at Texas A&M
Saturday, Oct. 7 vs. Arkansas
Saturday, Oct. 14 at Tennessee
Saturday, Oct. 28 vs. Vanderbilt
Saturday, Nov. 4 at Georgia
Saturday, Nov. 11 vs. Florida
Saturday, Nov. 18 vs. Wofford
Saturday, Nov. 25 vs. Clemson

Before breaking down the 2017 schedule, let’s point out that only one of USC’s seven defeats last year came by a lopsided margin (at Clemson). No other foe ran away from the Gamecocks, who suffered their next-biggest loss to UGA (28-14).

I don’t think there are any guaranteed losses on USC’s schedule, but there’s only one guaranteed win (vs. Wofford). I’m confident the Gamecocks will also win at home vs. Kentucky, Louisina Tech and Vanderbilt. There are three other home games – vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida and vs. Clemson.

I think USC will win at least one of those and if so, that would bring the win total to five. Although I feel like the best chance at a win among those three is vs. Arkansas, the situational factors favor Muschamp’s squad when the Gators come to town. UF will be coming off its huge rivalry game against UGA that’s followed by a trip to Missouri before coming to Williams-Brice Stadium.

For the purpose of this conversation, we’ll say USC goes 5-2 straight up at home. (By the way, the Gamecocks went 5-2 SU at home last year as well.) This leaves us needing only one win on the road or in the opener vs. North Carolina State in Charlotte.

N.C. State is currently favored by five at most books, but that’s certainly a game that can go either way. Likewise, a Week 2 trip to Missouri is undoubtedly a game the Gamecocks can win. Is it a stretch to imply USC can win in College Station on Sept. 30? “Hell no,” it says here.

For starters, Texas A&M goes into the season knowing its head coach Kevin Sumlin is on a sizzling hot seat. The spot is advantageous to USC as well because the Aggies play a rivalry game against Arkansas at Jerry World the week before. In addition, a home game vs. Alabama is on deck for A&M.

When Texas A&M and USC met in Columbia last season, the Aggies won 24-13 but only had 44 more yards of total offense. Let’s also note that this was before Bentley was playing. And with Bentley presumably healthy for this game, I believe South Carolina will have the QB advantage against the Aggies.

The two other road games are at Tennessee and at Georgia. USC will be an underdog in both contests, and UT will have revenge on its mind and has two weeks to prepare. Nevertheless, I think we’ll comfortably be ‘over’ 5.5 wins regardless of the results in Knoxville and Athens.

I have South Carolina finishing 7-5 but if it catches a few breaks and keeps its main players healthy, 8-4 wouldn’t surprise me in the least. USC ‘over’ 5.5 wins is my favorite season win total among SEC teams.
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449495

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Big 12 Betting Preview
By Teddy Covers

Oklahoma Sooners (2016: 11-2 SU, 7-6 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +110
Season Win Total: 9.5

Why To Bet on the Sooners: Lincoln Riley walks into an optimal spot for a first year, first time head coach. The Sooners averaged 555 yards and 44 points per game last season on offense. Despite some skill position losses, Oklahoma returns their Heisman contending quarterback Baker Mayfield and all five offensive line starters; a team that appears capable of, quite simply, outscoring opponents week after week.

Why to Bet Against the Sooners: From a value standpoint, Oklahoma is the prohibitive favorite to win their third consecutive Big 12 title. With inexperience across their front seven on defense and a challenging road slate, the Sooners aren’t ‘bargain priced’ in the markets and they’ll need to get stops in order to cover consistently inflated pointspreads.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 9.5

Oklahoma State Cowboys (2016: 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +325
Season Win Total: 9

Why To Bet on the Cowboys: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield gets all the hype, but it’s Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph who wins my "Preseason QB of the Year" award in the Big 12. Rudolph had a 28-4 TD-INT ratio as a junior and he enters the season as the No. 2 active leader in career passing yards in the country. Wide receiver James Washington averaged more than 19 yards per catch last year, which was tops in the country.

Why to Bet Against the Cowboys: In a conference loaded with strong quarterbacks and potent offenses, the Cowboys biggest defensive question mark is in their secondary, where both starters at cornerback last year must be replaced. Mike Gundy’s squad has struggled to get over the hump against their in-state rivals, finishing second behind the Sooners in each of the last two years.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 9

Texas Longhorns (2016: 5-7 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +400
Season Win Total: 8

Why To Bet on the Longhorns: Tom Herman walks into a "the cupboard is full" situation in Austin, as Charlie Strong left a loaded roster, capable of contending for Big 12 supremacy. Herman’s track record is nothing short of outstanding. Dating back to his tenure as the Ohio State offensive coordinator and including his time as the Houston Cougars head coach, Herman’s teams are 48-8 SU including a ridiculous 11-0 SU mark as underdogs.

Why to Bet Against the Longhorns: This program has fallen a long way from the National Championship contending teams of the Mack Brown era, and they’ve shown no signs that they’re ready to compete at the highest levels in any recent season. Coming off a third consecutive losing campaign and another coaching change, with new systems on both sides of the football, expecting a major turnaround in Herman’s first year on the job may be too much to ask.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 8

Kansas State Wildcats (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +800
Season Win Total: 8

Why To Bet on the Wildcats: Fade 26-year-head coaching veteran Bill Snyder at your own risk. Last year, Kansas State was an underdog or pick ‘em in more than half of their games, yet they finished with a 9-4 record. This year, Snyder has a returning senior starter at quarterback in Zack Ertz; exactly the type of dual threat QB that he’s had in seasons where the Wildcats have contended for a Big 12 title.

Why to Bet Against the Wildcats: It’ll be hard for the Wildcats to match their +13 turnover margin from last year, as well as the 22 points per game that the defense allowed in 2016, a nine point improvement from their 2015 defense. Despite their 9-4 record, K-State was outgained by more than 50 yards per game in Big 12 play, and their defense suffered major graduation losses; a pair of signs that point downwards.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 8

TCU Horned Frogs (2016: 6-7 SU, 3-10 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +850
Season Win Total: 8

Why To Bet on the Horned Frogs: Gary Patterson’s squad went 23-3 SU in 2014 and 2015 before taking a major step backwards in what was expected to be a rebuilding season last year. New play caller Sonny Cumbie has 10 starters back on offense to work with, including senior signal caller Kenny Hill. Hill was victimized by a whopping 38 dropped passes last year, a number that should decline precipitously in 2017

Why to Bet Against the Horned Frogs: Kenny Hill wasn’t very good at Texas A&M and he didn’t come close to matching Trevone Boykin’s production in his first year as the starter at TCU last year. He threw more interceptions than any other full time starter in the Big 12 and he was pulled from games twice for ineffective play. A hyped quarterback who doesn’t play well can be a pointspread disaster just waiting to happen.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 8

West Virginia Mountaineers (2016 10-3 SU, 5-8 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +1500
Season Win Total: 7

Why To Bet on the Mountaineers: Dana Holgorsen hired Jake Spavital to call the plays on offense this year; fresh off successful tenures running uptempo attacks at Texas A&M and Cal. Plus, with former Florida transfer Will Grier ready to assume the starting quarterback position, a Mountaineers offense that has averaged at least 31 points per game in each of the last three years is primed to do it again in 2017.

Why to Bet Against the Mountaineers: West Virginia finished tied for second place in the Big 12 last year in large part due to the best defense in the conference, particularly in the secondary. But most of those defenders graduated in the offseason, leaving coordinator Tony Gibson a tall task – replacing his entire starting defensive line and both starting cornerbacks; bad news in an ‘offense first’ conference like this one.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 7

Baylor Bears (2016: 7-6 SU, 4-9 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +2800
Season Win Total: 7

Why To Bet on the Bears: After winning at least 10 games in the three previous seasons, Baylor opened up last year with a 6-0 mark before things fell apart, as the Bears lost their final six regular season games. Now that the coaching situation is settled, with Matt Rhule (Temple last year) firmly in charge, there’s no reason to expect a second half collapse in 2017, especially with the skill position talent and depth on this roster.

Why to Bet Against the Bears: Rhule is installing a new ‘blended’ offense, using his power running schemes from Temple as well as the spread option attack that Baylor has been running (and recruiting for) in recent seasons. That doesn’t sound like an ideal gameplan on paper, especially with the holes on defense from a squad that has suffered MAJOR attrition on the roster and with recruiting since former head coach Art Briles was forced out of town.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 7

Texas Tech Red Raiders (2016: 5-7 SU, 8-4 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: +5000
Season Win Total: 4.5

Why To Bet on the Red Raiders: In his fifth season on the job, Red Raiders head coach Kliff Kingsbury is in "win now or get fired" mode. This offense is loaded with talented receivers and the defense added a handful of highly regarded freshmen and JUCO transfers who are expected to get playing time right away. Despite a losing record last year, the Red Raiders were undervalued in the betting marketplace, cashing at a 67 percent clip for the season.

Why to Bet Against the Red Raiders: Texas Tech is replacing the best QB in school history, Patrick Mahomes, a first round draft choice by the Kansas City Chiefs. Iowa transfer Nic Shimonek doesn’t have that level of upside, and the offensive line protecting him is loaded with question marks. That’s bad news for an ugly looking defense that has allowed more than 40 points per game in each of the last three seasons.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 4.5

Iowa State Cyclones (2016: 3-9 SU, 7-5 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: 150/1
Season Win Total: 4.5

Why To Bet on the Cyclones: Matt Campbell guided Iowa State to only three victories last season, his first on the job. But Iowa State was competitive in defeat, week after week, hanging tough with the likes of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State. Georgia transfer Jacob Park looked impressive down the stretch, primed for continued success as the full time starter in 2017.

Why to Bet Against the Cyclones: Iowa State is lined at O/U 4.5 wins despite the fact that they haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2012; not exactly a program on the rise. The Cyclones lack depth just about everywhere, and their front seven on defense suffered significant graduation losses; a unit that lacks size, speed and returning talent.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 4.5

Kansas Jayhawks (2016: 2-10 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Odds To Win Big 12: 300/1
Season Win Total: 3

Why To Bet on the Jayhawks: Well, you’ll probably be the only guy doing it – from a "value" standpoint, Kansas is loaded, because there’s no bandwagon of Jayhawks supporters. Incredibly, this squad hasn’t put together a single winning season ATS since 2008, the year before Mark Mangino was forced out of town. If the Jayhawks improve incrementally in David Beaty’s third year on the job, it’ll take a while before the betting markets start to adjust in any significant way.

Why to Bet Against the Jayhawks: Kansas hasn’t been the worst team in the Big 12 for the past decade by accident. They are behind the curve at nearly every position; unable to recruit well enough to compete with even the middling teams from this conference. They were outscored by 17 points per game last year; better than the 31 ppg they were outscored by in 2015 but still a long, long way from respectability.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 3
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449496

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Mountain West Betting Preview
By Teddy Covers

Air Force Falcons (2016 10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 25/1
Season Win Total: 5

Why TO bet Air Force: The Falcons unique style makes them difficult to prepare for, even for MWC teams that see them every year. And very quietly, under the radar, Air Force has won 28 games over the past three seasons. After injuries forced Troy Calhoun to start four different quarterbacks last year, the Falcons are loaded with quality depth at the position heading into 2017.

Why NOT bet Air Force: The Falcons defense is going to have their work cut out for them after graduating 12 of their top 13 tacklers from last year, a completely decimated stop unit. As recently as 2013, the Air Force stop unit allowed 40 points per game after replacing most of their defense. They went 2-10 SU, 3-9 ATS that year.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 5

Boise State Broncos (2016 10-3 SU, 3-10 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: +150
Season Win Total: 8.5

Why TO bet Boise State: The Broncos led the Mountain West in total yardage on offense last year, but only finished sixth in the conference in scoring thanks to a -9 turnover margin. That was the first time this decade that the Broncos finished with a negative margin; so there’s ample reason to expect improvement. Plus, Boise has had the best defense in the MWC since they joined the conference, which hasn’t changed heading into 2017.

Why to NOT bet Boise State: The Broncos won ten games last year, but covered only three pointspreads, a clear illustration of how the betting markets have overvalued this squad. They just 2-10 ATS at home over the past two seasons, no longer one of the strongest home fields in college football and the Broncos created only nine turnovers all season last year – this D might not have the type of playmakers that we’re used to seeing at Boise.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 8.5

Colorado State Rams (2016 7-6 SU, 10-3 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: +375
Season Win Total: 8

Why TO bet Colorado State: After starting the season 0-2 ATS last year, Mike Bobo’s squad proceeded to cover the spread at a 10-1 clip in their final eleven ballgames, consistently undervalued by the betting markets. With a returning senior QB n Nick Stevens and a defense primed for improvement with eight starters back, the Rams are poised to make a run at the conference title if Boise State has a hiccup or two.

Why to NOT bet Colorado State: This defense was not good down the stretch, allowing 31+ in each of their last four games; no sure thing to be improved just because they have eight starters back. And don’t underestimate the graduation loss of Hayden Hunt, one of the best punters in the country last year. He’ll likely be replaced by a true freshman; bad news for a team that has been consistently winning the field position battle.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 8

Fresno State Bulldogs (2016 1-11 SU, 7-4-1 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 250/1
Season Win Total: 3.5

Why TO bet Fresno State: There’s nowhere to go for the Fresno State program but up, after last year’s complete debacle. This program went 20-6 SU as recently as 2012-2013, and went bowling as recently as 2014 – this isn’t one of the ‘hopeless’ programs in the Mountain West. First year head coach Jeff Tedford did a remarkable job at Cal, turning a ‘bottom feeder’ program into a PAC-12 contending squad.

Why to NOT bet Fresno State: The Tim DeRuyter era at Fresno did not end well, a squad that has ranked in the bottom half of the conference in recruit ratings in recent seasons. In other words, the reason this program has declined so quickly is because the talent on hand isn’t very good. Expect Tedford to get his recruits on the field rather quickly, which means ample playing time for the youngsters on this rebuilding squad.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 3.5

Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2016: 7-7 SU, 6-7-1 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 45/1
Season Win Total: 4.5

Why TO bet Hawaii: After five straight years of uncertainty at the QB position, the Warriors have a returning starter at QB in Dru Brown this season. While Brown may not be able to match the elite numbers posted by former Warriors QB’s Colt Brennan or Timmy Chang (both of whom went on to the NFL), he is most assuredly primed for a breakout sophomore season, with solid skill position talent surrounding him.

Why to NOT bet Hawaii: The Rainbow Warriors enters fall camp with a major special teams problem after graduating Kody Kroening, who handled kickoffs, punts and field goals for the last four years. Hawaii’s defense has allowed more than 35 points per game four times in the last five seasons, and their rebuilt secondary, in particular, looks very vulnerable again this year.
Season Win Total Pick: Over 4.5

Nevada Wolfpack (2016: 5-7 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 100/1
Season Win Total: 3.5

Why TO bet Nevada: The Mountain West Conference doesn’t end up with much SEC level talent, but Nevada has Alabama transfer David Cornwell -- a Top 10 recruit nationally coming out of high school -- locked in as the starting quarterback for the upcoming campaign. First year head coach Jay Norvell has designed numerous potent offenses before in coordinator stints at Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State.

Why to NOT bet Nevada: The Wolfpack is changing defensive schemes from a 3-3-5 to a 4-3. They’re changing offensive systems too, moving from a run first attack with star back James Butler to a more passer friendly offense – Norvell has been running an ‘Air Raid’ type offense for the better part of the last decade. Nevada’s current pieces don’t seem to fit what the coach wants to implement.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 3.5

New Mexico Lobos (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 25/1
Season Win Total: 5.5

Why TO Bet New Mexico: When Bob Davie got fired at Notre Dame and went into the broadcast booth for a decade, few pundits expected him to ever get back into coaching, let alone at a second tier program like New Mexico. But Davie has succeeded against the odds, turning a squad that went 3-33 SU in the three years before he arrived into a bowl team in both 2015 and 2016. Returning senior QB Lamar Jordan is quite capable of getting them back to a bowl again this year.

Why to NOT bet New Mexico: A lot of things broke right for the Lobos last year; their best season in more than a decade. They were the most experienced team in the conference and they had only three true road games in MWC play. Those factors were paramount as the Lobos went 5-1 SU in games decided by a TD or less. Matching that mark in close games this year won’t be easy, and they’re not the most experienced team this year, not even close.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 5.5

San Diego State Aztecs (2016: 11-3 SU, 7-6-1 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: +140
Season Win Total: 9

Why TO bet San Diego State: The Aztecs have been the class of the conference, fresh off their second consecutive victory in the MWC Championship Game. Their division – the West – is by far the weaker of the two – this team has a very clear path to a third straight appearance in the MWC Title Game. Rocky Long ran a consistent winning program at New Mexico and he’s doing it again in San Diego.

Why to NOT bet San Diego State: The Aztecs aren’t built to win games by big margins, a team that tends to play conservatively on offense and relies on their strong stop unit to win games. That’s why, despite back-to-back conference titles, they’ve only gone 13-13 ATS in those two seasons (not counting bowls). And all three units on defense lost their best player to graduation in the offseason; a stop unit that might not be quite as good as it was in 2016.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 9

San Jose State Spartans (2016: 4-8 SU, 5-6-1 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 100/1
Season Win Total: 3.5

Why TO bet San Jose State: If the concept is ‘buy low, sell high’ than San Jose is certainly a ‘value’ team – there’s not much market support for the Spartans in Vegas (or anywhere else for that matter). First year, first time head coach Brent Brennan was an assistant coach on the Spartans 2012 team that came out of nowhere to finish 11-2, so he knows that it’s possible to overachieve in a conference with relatively few top notch programs.

Why to NOT bet San Jose State: The Spartans entered fall camp still looking for a starting quarterback. Their skill position talent is as weak as any in the conference and their defense is changing schemes and short on impact players. Non-conference games against USF, Texas and Utah are likely to leave this team battered and bruised before conference play even starts.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 3.5

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (2016: 4-8 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 50/1
Season Win Total: 5

WhyTO bet UNLV: If you’re looking for a deep sleeper in the Mountain West, the Rebels have that potential upside. Head coach Tony Sanchez is now in his third season on the job trying to build this long moribund program. Sanchez has his recruits in place to make a move, with nine returning starters on offense and a redshirt frosh QB in Armani Rodgers who has been turning heads in practice.

Why to NOT bet UNLV: The Rebels haven’t exactly been printing money for their backers, without a winning season ATS in the Sanchez era. And while the offense might be capable of putting up points in bunches this year, UNLV’s defense returns only two starters; a bottom tier stop unit in terms of both experience and talent level.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 5

Utah State Aggies (2016: 3-9 SU, 3-9 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: 30/1
Season Win Total: 4.5

Why TO bet Utah State: It’s a ‘win now or face the chopping block’ type season for fifth year head coach Matt Wells, coming off back to back losing campaigns – there’s no shortage of motivation or urgency in Logan this year. Wells has a senior QB in Kent Myers, with enough veteran skill position talent surrounding him to win some shootouts.

Why to NOT bet Utah State: None of that offensive skill position talent will excel unless the offensive line can block. Yes, the Aggies brought in four JUCO transfers for the OL, but they return only one starter, a unit with big holes to fill. It’s a similar story on the defensive line, replacing all three starters from last year without a ‘sure thing’ recruit to help fill the void.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 4.5

Wyoming Cowboys (2016: 8-6 SU, 9-5 ATS)

Odds to Win MWC: +800
Season Win Total: 7.5

Why TO bet Wyoming: When Craig Bohl got hired in Laramie prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, I had several good sources tell me to ‘watch out for the Cowboys, they’re going to win for this guy’. And, after two mediocre seasons, that’s exactly what Wyoming did last year, making it all the way to the MWC Championship Game. Their QB, Josh Allen, is solid, and their offensive line is loaded with four quality returning starters.

Why to NOT bet Wyoming: This team lost to Eastern Michigan and UNLV last year, not an easy squad to back as a favorite – they’ve covered only four pointspreads as chalk in the first three years of the Bohl era. And the Cowboys basically lost every impact skill position player they had in the offseason – QB Josh Allen is going to have to develop some chemistry with a whole new group.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 7.5
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AAC Betting Preview
By Will Rogers

East Division

USF Bulls (2016: 11-2 SU, 7-5-1 ATS)

Odds to Win The AAC: 8/5
Season Win Total: 10.0

Why to bet the Bulls: They enter 2017 as the overwhelming favorite, not just to win the East Division, but the entire AAC as well. They return 16 starters from what was arguably the best team in the conference last year and figure to be favored in every game. Despite a coaching change, this team has a very legitimate shot at finishing the regular season undefeated and playing in a “New Year’s Six” Bowl Game.

Why not to be the Bulls: With expectations, the marketplace will adjust accordingly and thus it’s quite likely we’ll find USF “overvalued” on a game-by-game basis. Furthermore, the architect of the program (Willie Taggart) departed for Oregon. The cupboard is by no means bare for 1st year head man Charlie Strong, but there is a learning curve with a first year coach. Also, Strong’s track record as a head coach isn’t all that great. USF should win the AAC, but don’t be surprised if they break their backers along the way.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 10.0

Temple Owls: (2016: 10-4 SU, 12-2 ATS)

Odds to Win the AAC: 15/1
Season Win Total: 6.5

Why to bet the Owls: It was this team, not USF, that represented the East Division in last year’s AAC Title Game (they won it). For the first time in program history, the Owls are coming off back to back 10+ win seasons where they also won a bowl. Last year, they were by far and away the most dominant team in AAC play, outgaining their foes by almost 209 yards per game in conference play.

Why not to bet the Owls: Most, if not all, signs are pointing down in 2017. They have some similarities with USF in that they’ll find it difficult to manage expectations under a 1st year coach. Matt Rhule left for Baylor and his replacement, Geoff Collins, steps into a far more challenging situation. Not only does Temple have to travel to USF this season, but they are the far less experienced of the two teams. In fact, with only 10 starters back, this is the least experienced team in the conference. On offense, they lose a four-year starter at QB and will go with a freshman as his replacement. On defense, they lost five of the six top tacklers from 2016.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 6.5

UCF Golden Knights (2016: 6-7 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 9/2
Season Win Total: 7.5

Why to bet the Knights: In his first year as a head coach, Scott Frost did an incredible job last season. He inherited a team that won ZERO games in 2015 and got them to a bowl. Frost will have nine starters back on offense this year. The program is on a 25-8 SU run in conference home games, which obviously pre-dates Frost’s tenure here. The record could have been even better last season were it not for an 0-3 record in games decided by seven points or less.

Why not to bet the Knights: I hate to sound like a broken record here, but the prospect of dealing with increased expectations should prove difficult for the top three teams in the AAC East. Also, when a team makes a jump like the Knights did last year, you typically see regression in the win column the following year. They will have to play Temple (road) and USF (home) in the final two games of the regular season, in a six-day span.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 7.5

UConn Huskies (2016: 3-9 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 100/1
Season Win Total: 3.5

Why to bet the Huskies: Well, it can’t go much worse than it did last season, right? Randy Edsall, who guided the program to a Fiesta Bowl appearance back in 2010, returns to Storrs after a failed experience at Maryland. They will be a home dog quite a bit as the likes of USF, Memphis, Tulsa and Missouri all come calling to Rentschler Field. The offense was actually quite a bit better than its paltry 14.8 PPG scoring average last year and with Edsall installing a faster pace scheme, the Huskies will score plenty more in 2017.

Why not to bet the Huskies: New head coaches seem to the rule and not the exception in the AAC East. At least this one is a familiar face to the alumni. But still, there will be a learning curve and that can mean some growing pains. Just because the offense will improve its scoring average doesn’t mean it will necessarily be “good” as last year they ranked 128th out of 128 FBS teams. The faster pace on offense may also adversely affect the defense, which will now be on the field more often.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 3.5

Cincinnati Bearcats (2016: 4-8 SU, 3-9 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 30/1
Season Win Total: 5.5

Why to bet the Bearcats: This team was a massive disappointment in 2016, which led to the ousting of Tommy Tuberville. So that makes it FOUR first year head coaches in this division! Luke Fickell (former DC at Ohio State) may not be walking into the most stocked cupboard, but he’s also coached against far more elite talent than what he’ll see on a weekly basis here in the AAC. The schedule is also somewhat friendly as the top three teams in the West are not on it. I have this team improving far more than most might think.

Why not to bet the Bearcats: Like the majority of their division rivals, they’ll be learning new schemes on both sides of the ball. The offense has only five returning starters back from a squad that once went 13 quarters without a TD and cycled through three quarterbacks. The three top tacklers on defense are all gone.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 5.5

East Carolina Pirates (2016: 3-9 SU, 3-8-1 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 80/1
Season Win Total: 3.5

Why to bet the Pirates: Incredibly, Scottie Montgomery joins UCF’s Scott Frost as elder statesmen of the AAC East Coaching fraternity. That means all six head coaches are either in their first or second seasons at the current job. So why can’t the Pirates compete? Yes, there was a sizable gap between the top and bottom three a year ago, but I look for that gap to close here in 2017. The ECU offense put up at least 400 total yards in every game but the final one. Last year’s horrid turnover margin of -16 should be improved upon. Before falling apart, ECU actually beat NC State last year (at home).

Why not to bet the Pirates: It was an ugly 1-9 SU finish to last season with the lone win coming over UConn at home. While the offense might be good, the defense will continue to struggle after giving up 36.1 points and 453 yards per game last year. The non-conference schedule includes both West Virginia and Virginia Tech. By the time the most “winnable” games on the schedule come around, the Pirates may already be out of bowl contention.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 3.5

West Division

Houston Cougars (2016: 9-4 SU, 4-8-1 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 9/2
Season Win Total:8.0

Why to bet the Cougars: Last year’s team was “this year’s USF” in the sense that they were expected to blow through the AAC and possibly play in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. Neither of those things happened, so with expectations somewhat “down” for 2017, we may be able to take advantage. There are two Power 5 teams on the non-conference schedule (Arizona, Texas Tech), but both are winnable, leaving a late season visit to USF as the only remaining question mark. Greg Ward Jr, a two year starter at QB, may be gone. But Kyle Allen, a transfer from Texas A&M is ready to take over the starting gig,

Why not to bet the Cougars: Guess what? We have another first year head coach here! Although, here it’s a promotion from within at Major Applewhite goes from offensive coordinator under Tom Herman the last two seasons, to the guy in charge. So the learning curve will not be as steep. Another issue is that like USF, the Cougars figure to face some pretty substantial spreads on a game by game basis, at least in league play.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 8.0

Navy Midshipmen (2016: 9-5 SU, 9-5 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 5/1
Season Win Total: 7.0

Why to bet the Midshipmen: In his 10th year on the job, head coach Ken Niumatalolo is by far and away the most experienced coach in the conference. He’s the only one with more than three years logged at his current school. That kind of continuity is huge. The Middies are 10-4 ATS the last four seasons as underdogs and upset Notre Dame, at home, last season. The team is more experienced than last year, although only four starters are back on offense.

Why not to bet the Midshipmen: While they won the AAC West last year, there’s a case to be made that both Houston and Tulsa were better teams and that could show in the standings this year. They’ll have to travel to Notre Dame this time and don’t forget that last year saw the long win streak over Army come to an end. Sandwiched in between the dates with Notre Dame and Army is a game at Houston. It could be an ugly finish in November, so if the Middies start the season well, look to fade them down the stretch.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 7.0

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2016: 10-3 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 10/1
Season Win Total: 7.5

Why to bet on the Golden Hurricane: They have gone 6-1 ATS as a road dog under Scottie Montgomery and will have numerous opportunities to continue cashing in that role, including early season games at Oklahoma State and Toledo. They also play at USF late in the year. This program has been to a bowl 10 of the previous 14 seasons.

Why not to bet on the Golden Hurricane: This team was a surprise last year and will probably regress. They lose an insane amount of talent, including the all-time leader in passing yardage, two 1,000 yard receivers and RB James Flanders (1629 yards). After watching them go 8-5 against the spread in back to back seasons, you have to figure they’ll give some back this year, but that also depends on how quick the market is to react.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 7.5

Memphis Tigers (2016: 8-5 SU, 5-8 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 5/1
Season Win Total: 8.5

Why to bet the Tigers: Two years ago, the Tigers started 8-0 and were ranked in the top 15 (beat Ole Miss). But they didn’t finish well and after having to replace both the coach and QB, last year’s group struggled a bit. But still, they finished only a game worse and now figure to be better in the second season under Mike Norvell. They are the most experienced team in the AAC and should have the best offense.

Why not to bet the Tigers: Well, they do have to travel to play both Houston and Tulsa. UCLA is on the non-conference schedule, though a home game and thus there could be some value there. The defense has to find a way to improve after allowing 40 or more points six times in the final 10 games.

Season Win Total Pick: Over 8.5

SMU Mustangs (2016: 5-7 SU, 8-4 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 25/1
Season Win Total: 5.0

Why to bet the Mustangs: Chad Morris is doing a good job here. He hasn’t been to a bowl yet, but last year’s team had two chances. While they failed, it was because they drew USF and Navy. There’s no USF on the schedule this year, though all four AAC road games look tough. But that means they’ll probably be a dog in all of them, so look to potentially fire away there.

Why not to bet the Mustangs: There’s a good chance they start 4-1 straight up and that could take away some value down the stretch. The defense is still pretty bad as allowing 453 yards and 36.3 points per game last year actually marked a three-year LOW! Let’s not forget that with a bowl berth hanging in the balance in the regular season finale last year, they gave up 75 points to Navy – at home!

Season Win Total Pick: Under 5.0

Tulane Green Wave (2016: 4-8 SU, 6-6 ATS)

Odds to win the AAC: 60/1
Season Win Total: 5.0

Why to bet the Green Wave: Suffice to say, I think everyone has them rated as the weakest team in the conference. That can work both ways. Looking at things from a positive standpoint, they’re likely to be a dog often and many times undervalued. There were three times last year when they lost, yet outgained the opponent. This year’s team is more experienced than the 2016 squad. The option that coach Willie Fritz runs is difficult to prepare for.

Why not to bet the Green Wave: Well, they are the worst team in the conference. They have won just twice on the AAC road in their last 12 tries. Looking at last year’s four wins, one was against a FCS foe (Southern) while another required four overtimes. This team is probably not as close to getting to a bowl as it might think.

Season Win Total Pick: Under 5.0
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449500

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SEC East Football Preview
By Spartan

1. GEORGIA: Much like here at Mizzou with head coach Barry Odom, Bulldog faithful are hopeful second year head coach Kirby Smart can kick it up a notch this season. I think he, and they, will. I don't think it is exactly breaking news that much of the Georgia success will lie with how the O line develops. Enough incentive with as good a two headed monster as I can recall at running back with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Both of those guys should be impact players on sundays. If the line does it's work this Georgia running attack could be just lethal. QB Jacob Eason showed promise in his first year and from my view has all the tools to successfully take the Bulldogs to the eastern title. If he slips up he is backed up more than capably by young Jake Fromm. Fromm is a big kid who was highly recruited out of Warner Robins and from what I hear the upside with Fromm is equal if not better than Eason. Losing McKenzie as a receiver did not help the cause but there is no shortage of promising wide outs in the wings ready to stake their claim. Riley Ridley, Terry Godwin and Javon Wims, a senior should get the most looks. But once again, the obvious key here is the ability of the offensive line to effectively do their job. This Georgia running game could be very, very special. Combined with what should be a monster defense and Georgia fans should be licking their chops. They return most of their top tacklers from last year and the defensive line is typical, upper tier SEC caliber, big mean and athletic. DE Jonothan Ledbetter is a future pro and I also like JR Trenton Thompson on the nose. The linebackers are Bama quality and there cannot be a higher compliment. The secondary is very good and Sanders is another kid at safety who could possibly be cashing some big checks in his future. He is going into his senior season and has a lot at stake. Look for a big year from Sanders. The bottom line here is this should be one of the better teams in the country, let alone the conference. One guy I almost forgot to mention was Jr Linebacker Roquan Smith, shame on me. He could easily end up being the best player on the field when the Bulldogs defense is one the field. The expectations for this team down in Georgia are pretty lofty but frankly they are justified. It is now up to Smart to put it all together. Mark Richt fielded many very good teams in his tenure there but could not kick down that door and in the end departed. Good football coach but Georgia fans want more. This team can deliver if they put it all together. I will predict they win the east. I am not going to predict a victory over Bama in the league title game. But I am very, very high on this football team.

FLORIDA: The Gators were a mirror image last year to the Missouri Tigers of a couple of years ago when they fielded one of the best defenses around but an offense that was downright painful to watch. This year the Gators return much of the offense and that has seemed to be a cause for optimism with many Gator fans. Won't take long to find out when they kick off the season against Michigan. Might as well get into a good alley fight right off and forego easing in against softies. I respect that, much as I did last year when the Tide opened up with a legit heavyweight like USC and they kicked the crap out of them. Harbaugh and the Wolverines will present a golden opportunity to get the season off to a roaring start. I do expect the offense to be better, but that is not saying much. I am not as high on Zaire as some are coming in under center. But as skeptical as I am with this Gators offense I do like the defense, a lot. I remember a time when it was the polar opposite. I remember when a neighbor of mine, Jon Hoke was recruited and hired by Steve Spurrier to take over as defensive coordinator. Back then the defense was treated like second class citizens as Spurrier played with his fun and gun offense. Jon got frustrated, understandably. But Spurrier knew Jon could coach defense, that is why he hired him again when he returned to coaching at Sout Carolina. Now Jon is back in the NFL where I think he belongs. Anyway, I digress. This is a defense that only allowed a meager 16 points per game last season. Typical, salty SEC defense. They did have some issue with consistent play and of course, injuries. The Gators lost more guys on the defense than I think most realize. They are just too good to shade much but I cannot take them to win the east over Georgia. I think the Gator team in november will be much better overall than the one who squares off in Arlington against the Wolverines. Gators are a trendy pick in that game but frankly I am still looking at it from my view on the fence.

KENTUCKY: Yes, I am placing the Wildcats in the number three slot. Higher than most. I think Mark Stoops is doing a fine, under the radar job in basketball heaven building a football program. I was skeptical that anyone short of Saban could ever pull it off. And he hasn't yet but I think he has the program pointed in the right direction. Stoops has seventeen starters back from last season and I do not think there should be any real question that this will be a solid football team capable of pulling off some upsets this fall. Yes, they will go to a bowl but that whole thing is so watered down now being a bowl team just has nowhere the allure it used to. Yes, I remember when it was the Rose, Orange, Cotton and Sugar bowl. It was a big deal going to a bowl game. Losing Boom Williams at running back is not good but no reason Benny Snell cannot carry the bulk of the load there. They are in capable hands under center with senior QB Stephen Johnson. On the defensive side the Wildcats return nine starters highlighted by nasty linebackers Courtney Love and Jordan Jones. They have a very capable and underrated secondary that is also young without a senior in the starting unit. Safety Mike Edwards is the leader back there and I also like JR Chris Westry, a tall corner recruited heavily out of florida. Here is the deal, the Wildcats need to beat one of the big bullies of the league. They do get both Florida and Tennessee on their home field but have to make the tough trip down between the hedges in Athens to tangle with the Bulldogs. That could be where the rubber meets the road for this Wildcats team. They also have an road game in the early going at Columbia against the Cocks in a game that could be pivotal for both teams. I think more highly of this Wildcats team than most of the talking head do. I think they take a step forward this season and claim a 3rd place finish in the east.

TENNESSEE: It seems like year after year the expectations in Knoxville are lofty. And the Vol's fall short of meeting them. I like Butch Jones, fine football coach and man as I gather. But I am picking the Vol's to finish the season 4th in the east. Dobbs is now property of the Steelers and so there will be new blood under center Sounding like JR Quinten Dormady is the front runner to step into the role but could get pushed by red shirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. Key thing for them is they will be lining up behind a good, veteran line. Jones has to love the fact he has four starters back on that unit. With a little uncertainty at QB its key. They seem thin to me at receiver and frankly that is one of the reasons I have them a tick below what most might. I think they could have some trouble stretching defenses. And considering the defenses they will be squaring off against in league play that does not bode well. The defense loses 20 sacks from last year and that is hard to replace. Overall I thought the defense for Tennessee under performed. Or were they over rated to begin with? Once again, expectations and reality clash with the Vol's. Looking at the upcoming schedule I see tough games on the road against the Gators and Tide, ouch. They do get both Georgia and LSU at home in what are key games for Jones club. Bottom line is I see a good team and that likely won't be enough to pacify to Tennessee faithful. Most like them higher in the standings than I do. I will slot them in here at 4th but would not be shocked if they slip to 5th behind Missouri. Nothing personal Tennessee fans, just my opinion.

MISSOURI: Some people have the Tigers bringing up the basement. I think they will be better this season in Odom's second year. Odom came into a rough spot. I could go on and on because I know some particulars about how things went down at the end with Pinkel. But I will take the high road here and just let that be water down the river. Odom is a solid football coach and very respected by his players. Missouri has seen some very good times in their time thus far with the SEC and some really bad times as well. I think they will be stronger this fall than most suspect. Of course it all starts with Drew Lock at QB. The kid has a cannon but was playing with limited options and behind a line that was terribly overrated. The Tigers were hampered last fall by a lot of injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball which figured to be a strength. Hopefully this year they can keep most the key guys on the field. If so, the defense should be more like what folks have come to expect from Mizzou defenses the last few years. I like Ish Witter a lot at running back but he is not anything remotely resembling a powerful back and he tends to be a little bit of a dancer as the tries to find his hole Give him a sliver of daylight and he can make some exciting runs. I see him look incredibly good at times and terribly slow hitting the holes at other times and he is not strong enough to shake up a good stick. He does tend to go down a little too easily at times. On the bright side the line is all returning and so they have a chance to redeem themselves. I think they will, to a degree. A wild card here is the other featured RB Crockett. The defense desperately needs a healthy Terry Beckner who has struggled with injuries all along. Makes you a little skeptical about him staying upright this fall. Hope he can because he is a potentially dominant force sorely needed on that unit. Odom's strength as a head coach is on the defensive side. I think they will be better. I still have some real issues with the tackling out of the secondary. Too many times they have a real issue wrapping up and finishing tackles. That has to improve and what is maddening is that has been an issue with the Tigers secondary for awhile now. I think they will edge into a lower tier bowl game when all is said and done. Interesting game comes on the back end when they travel down to Arkansas. The Hogs will be hell bent on revenge after blowing one here in Columbia last fall.

SOUTH CAROLINA: I will openly admit to having a tough time getting a handle on this years Gamecocks. Will Muschamp is a good football coach and he did manage to lead this program to a bowl game last season. But as I mentioned earlier, a bowl appearance does not quite have the cache it used to. I can see this team doing quite a bit better than 6th in the east as much of this division is a scramble between pretty close teams. Seemed to me once Muschamp settled on Bentley at QB the team settled down and performed at a higher level. With the snaps he got last year he should be in line for a strong season. He also has the luxury of working behind a line that returns all but one starter from last fall. Rico Dowdle is a good back and Bentley has the benefit of most the receiving corps back. On paper there is no valid reason this offense should not be functional, even in the SEC. Nothing flashy but if they can keep from turning the ball over this should be a team capable of placing anywhere from third in the division to where I have them. On the defensive side they will have to step up their game when it comes to stuffing the run. They allowed an average of over a couple hundred yards per game last season, not good. They get most the unit back and hard to imagine a Muschamp defense not being formidable. I look at this team and I just cannot declare them real good, or bad. They appear to me to be the poster child for middle of the pack. I would not be shocked at anything this club does unless they sprung to the top. That would shock me. They are facing a pretty salty schedule and although many over play the importance of a opener I think this teams season opener against NC State could go a long ways to setting a tone for this club, positive or negative. As I type this they are labeled a 6 point dog to the Wolfpack. Should be a better game than many suspect.

VANDERBILT: Well hell, someone had to bring up the rear. This is going to sound weird but I told a buddy the other night I considered Vanderbilt one of the best bad teams in the nation. What the hell does that mean? Simpy put, if Derek Mason's club played in another league they would be viewed in a different light. This is not a bad football team in reality. But in the world they happen to exist in, the SEC, they are perceived as a bottom feeder. They should win their first two games and then they have a very, very interesting match up with Kansas State from the Big 12. It is a big nighttime home game and I sure hope Vandy fans know what they are getting into. Kansas State will be very good AND are capable of winning the Big 12 this season if the Sooners or Cowboys slip up in the least. I cannot wait for this game and to see where the number is. IF Vandy can knock off Snyder's Wildcats they would be 3-0 with a lot of momentum. Here is the rub of it. Their next their next four games are against Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss. So you can see winning that home game against a pretty high profile program like Kansas State would go a long ways toward clinching a bowl spot down the road. I personally don't think they do it. Sorry, in another league, like I stated, this team would be perceived entirely differently. BUT, they are not a club anyone should take lightly. They are capable of shocking some folks on that schedule.
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449501

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SEC West Preview
By Spartan

ALABAMA: Yes, I am picking the Tide to win the west again. Nick Saban is the best coach in the game today in my view and arguably the best college football coach ever. Bold statement but I do believe it. Hard to argue with the results. He has created a college football dynasty. A machine. Even those who loathe Bama must acknowledge that they are very, very good. Year after year under the direction of Saban. A lot of folks who take shots at Saban would trade their left nut to have him coaching their program. Maybe both of them. Major props to Clemson for taking them down in the title game last year. Well deserved props. And now we have the Tide taking the field this season having lost ten players to the league. What a shock, lol. They manufacture NFL football players at Bama. And they replace them like parts in a factory. Saban does not have to recruit as hard as some, he can pick and choose the blue chippers. Not to say he and his staff don't work it, but lets just say they have a leg up on the competition. When a kid gets a call from Bama, his listens. The thought of Jalen Hurts now with a full years experience under his belt is scary. No, he is not perfect. He has all the tools of the mobile QB but his passing accuracy could stand some improvement. There were times last season, more than should have been, when Hurts did miss some wide open guys with some errant throws. I am sure he has been working on that and although he won't be mistaken for a Rodgers or Tom Brady at winging it I am confident he will be improved. And that is a scary proposition for opponents. Of course there is a new OC in town with Brian Daboll taking over for Kiffin. No secret his first option will be Calvin Ridley who certainly will be playing on sundays. Ridley will get a lot of attention from defenses. But being the Tide they have recruited others that have been biding their time and their names will be common soon. You will be seeing a lot of Robert Foster and Cam Sims. Of course they will miss Howard at tight end but not to worry. Miller Forristall is a more than capable guy to step into the position. Highly recruited kid that Georgia let get away to the enemy. Ouch. At running back take your pick of the poison to kill you with juniors Damien Harris or Bo Scarbrough. Oh and yes, Hurts will tuck it and scoot as well. As usual the offensive line is big, quick and athletic. And what is scary down the road is only starting center Bradley Bozeman is a senior. He is a big homegrown 320 pound stud. I am curious to see how the defense comes out in the huge opener against Florida State. I was talking about just basically plugging in new parts and that will need to be the case as the defense lost some big time players. Nothing for Bama fans to lose any sleep over though. Seven of the starters are now in the NFL, just think about that. Kind of scary. I like junior nose tackle DaRon Payne a ton. Another home grown kid from Birmingham he will be a force in the trenches, to say the least. And he won't be alone. The senior linebacker Hamilton is coming off an ACL procedure so his coming back sound is pretty huge. I hope he does because I think he also has a future with a lot of $$$ in it. Love the secondary, as usual. There is no weak link on the back end. Just leave it at that. Now, the one thing that has always been a bit of a head scratcher for yours truly is how Bama can struggle at times, well often, with place kicking. You would think Saban would have to pick of the cream of the crop with kickers around the country but it seems to be a weaker link with many of his teams. No problem with the punting game with veteran Scott back. The place kicking will come down to a couple of kids vying for it. One being a true freshman. The bottom line is not complicated here. This will be yet another very, very strong Alabama football team that should progress as the season does. How the defense jells is key. Not too concerned. Interesting that they open with a opponent like the Seminoles. Keep in mind there are no preseason games like the NFL. They take the field and start firing live ammunition right out of the gate. Last year the Tide opened up with a powerful program in USC and they blew them off the field. Florida State has their own questions making this must see football for college football fans. A loss won't knock the loser out of the national hunt but won't help while a win would be a tremendous spring board to build on.

AUBURN: Now we get to Auburn. Depending on who you listen to this Tigers team will either push Bama for the division or be more like the club last year that went 8-5 when all was said and done. There are even some who say if Gus Malzahn has another year short of expectations he could be on the hot seat. Thus the pressure of coaching in the SEC west and dealing with the Tide year after year. I think Auburn will be very good. Very good. Do I think they will unseat the Tide, no. I will have to see it. But, this is a well coached and extremely talented team. Not kissing ass, I really respect them. Of course there is the interesting angle of Chip Lindsay coming over from Arizona State. I can't quite get my brain around what it must be like being an OC under Malzahn who seems like a pretty ****, hands on guy when it comes to his offense. And with Gus feeling at least a little heat, well I'd want to see the interaction on game day when things are tight against a good team in a close game. Will Gus let Lindsay do his job or will be interject. Sometimes there can be some friction develop. I remember when my friend Larry Smith was coaching at Mizzou and he would have some testy exchanges with his OC. Jerry Berndt was a very capable coordinator and one of the most patient men I've ever met. But fans don't always realize the intensity of some of these exchanges. Lindsay is stepping into a tough spot, imo. Of course how Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham steps in and takes in the system is beyond crucial. Lindsay is prone to letting his quarterbacks chuck it around and he comes from a air it out culture in Waco but with running backs like Pettway and Johnson I think he had better learn to lean on his ground attack. I see a good offensive line. Not one of the best in the nation but certainly upper tier. Among the wide outs I like Kyle Davis a lot, same for Ryan Davis, a fast kid with good hands recruited out of florida. Nobody that jumps off the screen at you like a Ridley at Bama but a good group and they do have a guy who can deliver the package. Offense has the potential to be very good. But like I said, I want to see how it goes with the head man and Lindsay. That second game against Clemson will tell us a lot. I want to see this group up against that Clemson defense. The defense was better than most realized last season. They only allowed 17 points per game. They lost some key guys but are getting back six of the top seven tacklers from that unit. The linebackers are top shelf, all across. I like one kid in the back end particularly in Tray Matthews. He is a senior who is a smart, steady presence in the secondary. From what I saw last year watching the Tigers secondary they could tackle better. They seemed okay in run support but in the open field they often seemed to allow to may yards after the catch. But once again, all in all, a stout SEC defense that will be very good and give Clemson and their new young QB all they can handle in week two. One HUGE aspect is they get Alabama at home this year so expect a knock down drag out alley brawl in that one. IF they can prevail in that one maybe a division title could be at hand. Just so hard to say with the death march that schedule shapes up to be. They play at Mizzou on september 23rd so I am looking forward to that, sort of. Of course we are hoping the week before that mighty Mercer beats them up some, lol.

LSU: This is no slight to the Tigers slotting them in here at the third position. Things certainly set up for a fast start for LSU, They open at home at night, and we know how crazy that scene will be, against BYU. Providing they navigate through that game it is entirely feasible they could be undefeated when they go to play the Gators on October 7th. Obviously a lot has to fall in place but it is possible. They made a good move bringing in Matt Canada to handle the offense. His past record with offenses is beyond reproach. Danny Etling is a sold QB who should be a steady hand under center. Much of the success with this team lies with how the offense progresses. Seems to be a lot of that going around. I don't generally rave much about centers but the Tigers have a bona fide stud in Will Clapp. He had some shoulder issues but if he returns sound he should make the move to center and be a standout. He could start just about anywhere in the nation. They lost a lot of options for Etling to throw to. That's not good. And frankly I don't know a lot about most these guys stepping up. I know senior wide out DJ Chark will have his opportunity to be a go to guy. I know a lot of folks down there are high on sophmore Drake Davis who happens to be a Baton Rouge product. No pressure there kid, lol. Another Baton Rouge kid is not going to be a concern carrying the mail. Derrius Guice steps in to be the man. I liked what I saw with him last year when he was playing in place of Fournette. I have little concern for the ground game but so much of the success on this end just lies in the end with how the air game comes around. If they cannot make defenses respect the air game they will struggle. On defense the LSU Tigers are very, very good. They lost a lot but not shocking, they have some legit guys ready to plug into the system. Senior defensive lineman Christian LaCouture is a stand out. How Nebraska let this kid get out of Lincoln is beyond me. Junior Arden Key is like a heat seeking missle. Junior corner Donte Jackson could be one of the best corners in the conference. Safety Ed Paris from Texas is one of the most underrated guys at his position in the conference. The bottom line here with LSU is I see a team capable if things break right of wreaking some havoc as they are capable of beating most anyone at anytime. The offense is just too much of a question mark for me to rate them higher than 3 right now. In this division that is no slight. Etling will have to be on top of his game but he is a smart kid who won't make many dumb decisions. I just want to see who steps up as primary receivers. Like I said, they have a opportunity to be off to a fast start but once they play at Florida in october things start to get real, real fast. Huge game november 4th at the Tide. BUT, they will have a couple of weeks off to get their game plan in place for it. It will be a good season for LSU guys. Good enough? Guess that depends on where you reside.

ARKANSAS: Oh the hogs. Last year I cussed this team like a sailor on a weekend binge. I was in hawaii with the Mrs and I had the Hogs against Missouri and they blew a nice lead and the game to a Tiger team that had been looking inept. Since the Missouri Tigers vacated the Big 12 and moved to the SEC the rivalry against Kansas has been missed, terribly. The PR departments at Mizzou and Arkansas are doing their best to create a big border war type thing but it has yet to really take. Things like that cannot be fabricated. It did help the cause some when Mike Anderson left for Arkansas. But the rivalry has no hate yet, cannot have a legit rivalry without hate. When you grew up in mid missouri you were taught to say three things as a toddler, Mama, daddy and Kansas sucks. But okay, I digress. You try and type all this up without rambling off course at times. It's not easy. Okay, the Hogs. I DO respect the game of QB Austin Allen a lot. Actually I think he is one of the more underrated guys in the land. But, with that being said he has lost a lot of weapons. Senior Jared Cornelius is legit but after him it gets just a little sketchy. Junior Kendrick Jackson seems to be the other most dangerous option for Allen. But of course when you talk about Arkansas football lately the first thing that comes to most folks minds that actually follow this stuff is big, mean, fast and nasty offensive lineman who live to pancake guys. Arkansas recruits offensive linemen very effectively. Not sure the secret, maybe a big night with a buffet and broads. Who knows. I was kind of stunned when I heard Mizzou shut down their running game as the thing progressed. But I fully expect the ground game to be a legit weapon. Hope so, that's Arkansas football. Whaley and Williams are a very solid tandem at running back. They had better be. On the defensive side it is my opinion they made a brilliant move bringing in former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. This guy can coach. He miked about all he could out of football life in Ames. Tough place to win on a consistent level. He moves in as the DC. Last season good teams could run the ball on the Hogs and they did not generate nearly enough of a pass rush. Not a good combination. I think they only had around twenty five sacks the entire season and that is kind of woeful for an SEC defense. They have some games early on against some teams that do like to wing it so they had better get it fixed or at least show marked improvement or it could be a rocky start. They have a kid from St Louis named Armon Watts who has the skill set if they can get the governor off his engine. I know that Missouri had their eyes on him and give the Tigers credit. They have recruited some outstanding defensive ends the past several years. If Watts steps up that will be huge. Another thing that drove many bettors crazy watching this Arkansas team last year was their inability to get the opposition off the field too many times on third down. That can make you sick. That has to improve. I mentioned Watts but I also have to bring up sophmore defensive lineman McTelvin Agim. Everybody I talk to down there about this team raves about this kids upside. If both he and Watts turn it on it will make all the difference for this unit. They have several key games along the way but one I might be at is the final one on November when they host Missouri. Could be a pivotal game for both teams in terms of a bow, let's hope. But after that melt down in Columbia last fall I kind of expect a game where Arkansas just might throttle ol Mizzou.

TEXAS A&M: First of all I respect and like Kevin Sumlin. You cannot coach under a guy like Bob Stoops for five years and not pick up a lot of knowledge about coaching, recruiting and well, leading a program. Say what you will about Stoops but the man could coach and had the record to back it up. With all that being said Sumlin has a lot of eyes down in College Station on him this season. He needs a good year. Does not open up easily either with the road game out in Los Angeles against UCLA and Rosen. The QB spot seems to not be a sealed deal from what I hear. Senior Jake Habenak has the inside track but not a lot of rope. Be nice if that spot was settled by opening kickoff against the Bruins but not so certain that will be the case. Running game is in more than capable hands with Williiams and Ford. But other than Junior Christian Kirk I am not sure who will be stepping up. Word is there is no shortage of capable guys. Ausbon is getting a lot of love but the stubborn fact is he is a true freshman. So with a frankly unsteady spot under center and some legit question marks at wide out I am going to have to wait and see. For Sumlin's sake I hope it all comes together sooner rather than too later. I personally think when you think about SEC football and the salty defenses the Aggies come up short. I am not impressed with the defense and Chavis has his work cut out for him. Teams were able to run almost at will on the Aggies last season as they gave up over 200 yards on the ground a half dozen times. I just have a real tough time respecting defenses that cannot stuff the run, at least occasionally. That is why I have such issues with the Big 12 in general for the most part. But that is another story for another day. I try to never place too much emphasis on opening games but I am really curious to see how Sumlin's team does in that opener out west. That would be a huge win to get things off to a positive start. The next two games are Nicholls State and Louisiana Lafayette at home so either way they should take care of business there unless they just barf it up. They do catch Bama at home with the 12th man and all that but the last two games which could be really large for this program are both on the road against Ole Miss and then LSU. Who knows what the Reb's will be at that point but at LSU won't be much fun. Like I said, I like Sumlin and I do sincerely wish him the best. But I am not overly optimistic. Just saying.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: I like Nick Fitzgerald, a lot. Not much not to like. If he can get a little more sharp with the passing game he is a special one. Lot of other teams would love to have him. Yes, there is life after Dak Prescott after all. Not sure there is any one player in the conference more vital to their teams success than this guy. He just needs help, I am sure Prescott could have a long talk with him about going through that. On defense the secondary just has to be better. Sometimes you just have to speak plainly. It was painful watching them much of the time last season. I like teams that defend and so I was not exactly enthralled with his Bulldogs defense last fall. I am not that high on the Bulldogs obviously and I think even with some softies on the schedule they will struggle to get to six wins. Their last two games are at home so that will help, Arkansas and Ole Miss. The fans in Starkville are great and I hope this club over achieves. But in the west and even with Fitzgerald it's going to be tough sledding.

MISSISSIPPI: I am not making many friends with this post in Mississippi. This team should take the field in the opening weekend with a huge question mark on their uniforms. I am not going to BS you. I can see this team going either way. They can pull together and do the us against the world thing and have success or things could do south on them and make for a long season. Great fans with a proud program, I hope they come up big. I am not going to beat up on Hugh Freeze. Evidently used some poor judgement and is dealing with the consequences. If a guy can truly recruit and coach he will land back on his feet after some time passes. Time tends to heal at least most wounds. Look at Bobby Petrino. Case closed. To me, Ole Miss needs to effectively drive the ball and actually balance out the clock and not let their defense stay on the field so much. Had that same issue in spades here at Mizzou. Even the great defenses will wear down and I don't think the Reb's defense is great to begin with. I DO like the young sophmore QB Shea Patterson, the kid can wing it. If they can give him some support with a legit ground game he can be a winning quarterback. I don't think they will miss Kelly under center as much as some seem to. So many guesses with the head games and all the off the field crap these kids had to contend with. Impossible for anyone to honestly know how these kids will respond. IMPOSSIBLE. I assure you even the staff are wondering. They do open with South Alabama and Tennessee Martin at home so that should work out okay. Should I say. Then they head west and butt heads with the Cal Bears and that is a winnable game. We'll see. Feels weird to be so skeptical about a team that was regarded as one of the best in the land such a short time ago. I remember one NFL scout raving about all the NFL caliber players the Reb's had. I hope these kids come out and attack this season with the right attitude. They can certainly foul some things up for the opponents along the way and have some fun if they do.
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449502

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Big 12 Football Thoughts & Observations
By Spartan

Well love him or hate him you have to admit Bob Stoops went out while on top. He led his Sooner's to the conference title last season and was named the conference coach of the year. It was the sixth time he took the award. Stoops seemed to piss a lot of people off. But he did restore Oklahoma football, there can be no denying that. Is he done for good? Hard to say. He clearly does not need the dough. But I have no doubt he will have many suitors come calling annually. With his record of success who can blame them. Just a matter of time before some mega schools like Notre Dame, USC, LSU etc start burning up the phones. Just saying. Now steps up young Lincoln Riley going from OC to the main man. That is a huge leap. But, he has been handed to keys to a luxury automobile. Maybe not a Ferrari but certainly an Escalade. But he is following a head coach in Stoops that did win a national title as well as a very impressive ten conference titles. That is a hard act to follow. I hear good things about Riley. Time will tell. It clearly helps to have a player like Baker Mayfield handling things under center. My respect for Mayfield has been well documented here. Until someone shows me they are capable of knocking off the Sooners I am going to project them winning the thing. Although without Stoops on the sideline it does change things. I expect the Sooners to win the thing but would not be stunned if another club stepped up.

There will always be Texas love, it's bought and paid for, lol. I think Charlie Strong was a good football coach in the wrong setting. He just never seemed to be a fit in Austin. And I was kind of shocked he never could get the defense on track. Bad defense is like a infectious disease in that league. Now Tom Herman moves up from Houston and who the hell knows how this will play out. Texas has all the makings of a Bama. They have the money, they have stellar facilities, but year after year they fail to live up to expectations. I aggravated some Horns fans the last few years because I didn't seem to show enough respect to Texas football. Sorry, but with the resources Texas has and the fertile recruiting ground they are entrenched in I see no valid reason for them to struggle so much.

My respect for Bill Snyder is deep. My late friend Larry Smith who coached Mizzou at the end of his career did not care a lot for Snyder but he really respected the mans football acumen. They had a personality conflict, it happens. But Snyder gets more out of less than any coach in the history of college football. Yes, I said that and I mean it. If you gave Bill Snyder a team with the overall talent of an Alabama forget about it. Season over and case closed. Bill Snyder is a football guru, Even in his 80's he still works harder than 95% of the coaches out there. The man knows the game inside and out. His teams execute like a machine. It always baffles some folks when they watch Kansas State battle the big boys. It does not take a rocket scientist to see his clubs usually don't have the talent the other teams do. But they win, more often than not. Wildcats teams rarely beat themselves. I think they are a viable alternative to the Sooners this fall. They have a more than capable QB in Jesse Ertz and they are very, very good along the lines with both the offensive and defensive units. Plus it should be noted they catch both Oklahoma and West Virginia at home at the little apple, Manhattan. They travel on November 18th to Stilwater to battle Mike Gundy's Cowboys in what could be a massive game for both. A lot of coaches would have hung it up after the cancer diagnosis, not Snyder. How do you not root for a man like that.

One team I just have SUCH little regard for frankly is Texas Tech. It was painful to watch their defense last year. I don't think they could have stopped anyone if they were allowed to play 14 on defense. Not trying to be over the top negative, it's just a fact that defense was horrid. I hear they will be better this year. Well hell, my softball team could suit up and do better. Yes, the offense for the Red Raiders averaged over 44 points per game. Any team that scores like that should be playing in the playoffs. Period. They didn't even sniff it. And now QB Patrick Hahomes has moved on the the Chiefs and is on the fast track to step in for Alex Smith. Kind of hard envisioning the Raiders offense being as productive as with him on the field. Kingsbury is clearly on the hot seat and how could he not be, a 5-7 record with a team that averaged over 44 points per game? Cmon man.

A lot of people love the chances for the Cowboys of Oklahoma State. As long as I have followed the league for the most part OSU has been the step son of mighty OU. Just been the natural order of things. Maybe this season behind Mason Rudolph they will take a step to knock the Sooner's off their pedestal. Rudolph is the real deal and not exactly short on weapons to use. Would not shock me in the least if he led the Cowboys to the title. Or if he went to New York for the Heisman presentation. If you are not familiar with WR James Washington, prepared to get familiar. He will be playing on sundays. With Westbrook gone from Norman it is very possible that Washington will be the elite wide out in the conference. The prospect of him and Rudolph being on the same wave length is scary. On November 4th there will be what could be an epic battle between the Cowboys and Sooners. Fact is the Sooners have won the last two games in Stillwater and four of the last five overall.

I think West Virginia is plenty strong on the offensive end but as is the case with most everyone, defense is suspect. God it gets old saying that about teams in this league. They have an interesting opener against Virginia Tech and yes, they will try to out score the Hokies. If they can play some semblance of defense they could pull it off. Matt Rhule is by all accounts a solid coach and guy, He takes over Baylor and if anyone can accurately predict what kind of team the Bears will be now I am all ears. Iowa State can always provide some surprises at home in Ames. The Cyclones have some of the most loyal, best fans in the country. They deserve better than they get. Like one coach said to me a few years back, recruiting to Ames Iowa is just a tough sell to most blue chippers. Always has been and likely always will be. But at some point this season the Cyclones will shock someone at home. I have not mentioned Kansas until now. There I mentioned them. When they do something positive on the field I promise to mention them again. Not trying to be a jerk, my old man told me if you don't have anything nice to say it is generally polite to not say anything at all. I try to abide by that philosophy. Most the time.
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449506

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Blade ,Thank you again for posting the college football conference previews. I really do appreciate it... :woohoo:
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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449515

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armyranger wrote:
Blade ,Thank you again for posting the college football conference previews. I really do appreciate it... :woohoo:

My pleasure I have more to come, have day off and just waiting for eclipse to happen.

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College Football Conference Previews 1 month 4 days ago #449517

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Big Ten Conference Betting Preview
By: Matt Fargo

Big Ten East

Ohio State Buckeyes (2016: 11-2 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: -115
Season win total: 10.5

Why to bet the Buckeyes: Motivation. Ohio St. made it to the College Football Playoff last season but was embarrassed 31-0 by eventual champion Clemson. Going 11-1 during the regular season meant nothing because of that loss to the Tigers and the Buckeyes will be out to return by going 13-0. They bring back quarterback J.T. Barrett and possess one of the best offensive lines in the country so the offense will thrive under new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Ohio St. is again strong on defense and the schedule is on its side with three of its four toughest games taking place at home.

Why not to bet the Buckeyes: There is certainly going to be a lot of pressure to make it back to the CFP for the third time in four years and the Big Ten is no pushover. The Buckeyes had some close calls last season with two overtime wins and two other wins by a combined five points and those could go the other way this season should there be close games. While the defense will have one of the best front fours in the nation, the back seven has to replace a lot of talent with the secondary taking the biggest brunt in the NFL draft. Ohio St. also has to replace its top three receivers on offense.

Season win total pick: Over 10.5

Penn St. Nittany Lions (2016: 11-3 SU, 10-3-1 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +500
Season win total: 10

Why to bet the Nittany Lions: While motivation is a common theme for the top teams in the Big Ten, Penn St. should be the most motivated. The Nittany Lions defeated Ohio St. during the regular season and then beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship but was not considered for the CFP. There is enough talent in place on both sides of the ball to repeat as Big Ten East Champions but it of course will have to get by Ohio St. for a second straight season. The offense was one of the best in the country last season and will be better in 2017 while the defense will again be tough.

Why not to bet the Nittany Lions: That trip to Ohio St. could be a season killer as a loss there could make things tougher the next week when they travel to Michigan St. The offense was great last season but they had to play catch up on numerous occasions and not because of the defense but because the Nittany Lions were one of the slowest starting teams on offense in the nation. That put pressure on the defense which this year has to replace key pass rushers so that defense could not be as strong late in games. The Nittany Lions also have other tough road games at Iowa and Northwestern.

Season win total pick: Under 10

Michigan Wolverines (2016: 10-3 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +600
Season win total: 8.5

Why to bet the Wolverines: There is plenty of motivation for the Wolverines as well after a brutal overtime loss at Ohio St. and a one-point loss to Florida St. in the Orange Bowl last season. Michigan recruited well once again and has some of the best incoming talent in the conference and already possesses an NFL caliber quarterback in Wilton Speight. The Wolverines have finished third in the Big Ten East in two seasons under Jim Harbaugh, both of which finished at 10-3, and now with this being mainly his recruits, it could be time for Michigan to take that next step.

Why not to bet the Wolverines: While the talent is there, it is very raw. Michigan is returning only five starters this season, which is the fewest in the country. Of this, only one starter is back on the defense which finished No. 1 in the nation in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense. That is a lot to replace and success will not happen overnight. The Wolverines will be tested right away with an opening game against Florida in Arlington and must take on Penn St. and Wisconsin on the road later in the season. This could be the best team in the country, but not until 2018.

Season win total pick: Under 8.5

Michigan St. Spartans (2016: 3-9 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +3300
Season win total: 5

Why to bet the Spartans: Michigan St. is coming off its worst season even under head coach Mark Dantonio and its first losing season since 2009. The three wins were the fewest since 1994 and this coming after a berth in the CFP in 2015 but all of this means we can buy low. Both offense and defense were dreadful last season as the offense had too many turnovers and the defense could not get off the field. The Spartans return only nine starters overall so this can be considered a rebuild by some but this is more of a reload as top programs do not stay down long.

Why not to bet the Spartans: With Michigan and Ohio St. dominating the recruiting, the Spartans may not be getting the talent they once were which could be putting them on the decline. Turnovers were contagious but the Spartans also committed way too many penalties and that can go back to the coaching staff. Michigan St. could not win in the trenches, allowing 27 sacks while generating only 11 of its own. They have arguably the toughest schedule in the Big Ten as they are at Ohio St. and Michigan and host Penn St. and Iowa in addition to five other games against bowl teams from last year.

Season win total pick: Over 5

Indiana Hoosiers (2016: 6-7 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +8000
Season win total: 6.5

Why to bet the Hoosiers: Head coach Kevin Wilson left for Ohio St. but he did not leave the cupboard bare. The passing attack is potent led by quarterback Richard Lagow who threw for 3.362 yards and 19 touchdowns and he gets a great receiving corps back to pass to. The defense returns nine starters, the most of any Big Ten team, and while that normally would not lead to excitement, Indiana finished No. 45 in total defense, allowing 380.1 ypg, which is the fewest it has allowed since 2001. The schedule sets up well for making it to a third straight bowl game.

Why not to bet the Hoosiers: While the pieces are in place, the loss of Wilson is big considering he was forced to resign over philosophical differences. The coaching switch should be seamless but how much improvement will there actually be? This team was very solid last season yet still finished 6-7 for a second straight year and now they are being asked to up that this season. Lagow had solid numbers but to go along with his 19 touchdowns, he also threw 17 picks. Opening the season against Ohio St. seems unfair and could put the Hoosiers in a bad place before the season has barely started.

Season win total pick: Under 6.5

Maryland Terrapins (2016: 6-7 SU, 4-9 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +10000
Season win total: 3

Why to bet the Terrapins: The rebuilding process is taking shape at Maryland as head coach D.J. Durkin got the Terrapins back into a bowl game in his first season and he brought in a loaded recruiting class for this season. 14 starters are back, seven on each side of the ball, and both units are in good position. The offense has solid playmakers and quarterback Kasim Hill comes in as one of the most highly touted recruits in a very long time. The defense has plenty of experience back even beyond the starters and they should improve upon their No. 77 total defense ranking from last season.

Why not to bet the Terrapins: Hill is a blue-chip recruit but that does not mean a thing until he starts to produce and he may still not even start. Last season, three different Terrapins started, and four quarterbacks had at least 33 passing attempts so a quarterback to emerge is vital. After allowing 25 sacks in 2015, the offensive line gave up nearly double that as they allowed 49 sacks last season. The schedule was brutal last season and while they passed the test, the schedule is even more demanding this year with four tough Big Ten road games and home games against Michigan and Penn St.

Season win total pick: Over 3

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2016: 2-10 SU, 4-8 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +25000
Season win total: 3

Why to bet the Scarlet Knights: Rutgers is coming off its worst season since 2002 as it won just two games and one of those was against Howard of the FCS. The offense was so bad within the conference as it scored seven points or less in six of nine Big Ten games including getting shutout four times. Johnathan Lewis is a four-star recruit at quarterback which is a position that has been desolate for years. He may not have success right away but paves the way for a bright future. Defensively, 10 of the top 13 tacklers are back which given them hope to slow some teams down and stay competitive.

Why not to bet the Scarlet Knights: Turning around the worst scoring offense in the country is a tall task and it will take Lewis time to get comfortable at the next level, if he even gets a chance as a true freshman. Rutgers was outscored by 127 points in the first quarter last season and playing catch up was something it was unable to do and it will be unable to do so again this season. The Scarlet Knights were unable to even compete with the big boys, losing by a combined 224-0 against Ohio St., Michigan, Michigan St. and Penn St. and all are back on the schedule this year.

Season win total pick: Over 3

Big Ten West

Wisconsin Badgers (2016: 11-3 SU, 9-4-1 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +300
Season win total: 10.5

Why to bet the Badgers: As is the case almost every year, the defense is the strength of Wisconsin and this year it has the potential to be one of the best units in recent program history. The Badgers lost only four starters on defense and while they are big losses, it is a reload and not a rebuild. They are even better off on offense with eight starters back including quarterback Alex Hornibrook who should be much better after getting thrown into the fire as a freshman. The schedule sets up great as they do not face Ohio St. and Penn St. and they get Michigan and Iowa at home.

Why not to bet the Badgers: Even though the offense returns a bulk of the starters from last season, it was a bad unit as the Badgers were No. 89 in total offense and No. 67 in scoring offense. Wisconsin scored 23 or fewer points seven times and two of those were overtime games. A year later, it will be better but how much better is the question as they relied on their defense too much. Wisconsin must replace another defense coordinator as Justin Wilcox left for the California head coaching job and in comes unproven Jim Leonhard. The defense needs some of the pressure taken off it.

Season win total pick: Under 10.5

Northwestern Wildcats (2016: 7-6 SU, 8-5 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2000
Season win total: 8.5

Why to bet the Wildcats: The Wildcats defense last season was a bend-don’t-break unit as they finished No. 24 in points allowed and did not give up more than 29 points in any game. And this was with a secondary that was decimated with injuries. Northwestern brings back eight starters so the chance for improvement is there. The offense was far from strong however as it scored 21 points or less six times, all resulting in losses. Eight starters return on this side as well including running back Justin Jackson, a 1,500-yard rusher, and quarterback Clayton Thorson.

Why not to bet the Wildcats: While the offense brings back of bunch of starters from last season, that does not necessarily mean it will be much better. A lot of this comes down to the offensive line which allowed 39 sacks and improving an offensive line does not happen right away. This will continue to put pressure on the defense to again keep games close and that may not happen a second straight season. The Wildcats lost to Western Michigan and Illinois St. to open last season and facing Nevada, Duke and Bowling Green to start this season may look encouraging but they again could be traps.

Season win total pick: Over 8.5

Nebraska Cornhuskers (2016: 9-4 SU, 6-5-2 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2000
Season win total: 7

Why to bet the Cornhuskers: Nebraska has won at least nine games in eight of the last nine years but are projected well below that this season which creates some value. Neither the offense nor the defense all great enough to carry the team but both are adequate enough to keep the Cornhuskers in games. The loss of quarterback Tommy Armstrong is a blow but transfer Tanner Lee showed he is capable to make the offense better. The defense should be more physical with the hiring of former Connecticut head coach Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator and the return of six key starters.

Why not to bet the Cornhuskers: Nebraska brings back the third fewest starters in the Big Ten and that is not a good thing in a conference that is getting stronger overall. This includes just four returnees on offense with half of those coming from the offensive line which is not a strong unit to begin with. A total of 70 percent of the rushing yards, 63 percent of the receiving yards and 62 percent of receptions from 2016 will be gone and that is a lot to replace. A road game at Oregon in Week Two could set the tone and there are only five games on the schedule that can be counted as sure wins.

Season win total pick: Over 7

Iowa Hawkeyes (2016: 8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2200
Season win total: 7

Why to bet the Hawkeyes: There in nothing flamboyant about the Hawkeyes, but there never is. Iowa succeeded last season with a solid running game and strong defense which is usually a carbon copy of every year. It is imperative for the offense to have some sort of passing game as last year, the Hawkeyes finished No. 118 in the country in passing offense but they have one of the best offensive lines around and they should also improve with a new quarterback taking over. The defense returns eight starters that finished No. 23 overall and No. 13 in points allowed.

Why not to bet the Hawkeyes: Coming up with a downfield passing attack is easier said than done. The Hawkeyes have struggled with this for years and the offense has not been able to generate much to help the defense. Iowa was on the field for only 27 minutes per game last season on offense and that will be a problem again. The schedule is not easy with crossover games against Ohio St. and Penn St. and the three toughest games from the West Division coming on the road.

Season win total pick: Under 7

Minnesota Golden Gophers (2016: 9-4 SU, 5-5-3 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +2800
Season win total: 7.5

Why to bet the Golden Gophers: Last season was a special one as Minnesota won at least nine games for only the second time since 1906. Was that just an anomaly or have the Gophers turned the corner? They have made five straight bowl appearances and bring in a great coaching prospect in P.J. Fleck that can jumpstart a pretty dormant offense. The offensive line is the biggest in the conference and opens holes for two great running backs so any sort of passing attack upgrade will do wonders. Five of nine Big Ten games are at home while three of the four road games are winnable.

Why not to bet the Golden Gophers: Minnesota has won eight or more games in consecutive seasons only twice since 1962 and it will have to do it again to surpass the Vegas win total. The defense was surprisingly good last season but there is a new defensive coordinator as well with Robb Smith so that could cause some issues. That means the offense has to get better and with two unproven quarterbacks battling for the starting spot, that may not happen for a while. The back end of the schedule is brutal with the last five games against teams that went bowling a season ago.

Season win total pick: Under 7.5

Illinois Fighting Illini (2016: 3-9 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +20000
Season win total: 3.5

Why to bet the Illini: The first year of the Lovie Smith era did not go as planned but there was not a lot to work with. The offense had regressed each of the last four years and last season was the worst yet as it finished No. 123 in total offense and No. 122 in scoring offense. There is nowhere to go but up. The same can be said for the defense that underachieved last season and allowed close to 32 ppg. The second year of a new coaching staff usually shows progress and that is the hope here. The nonconference schedule is not bad and there are some winnable home Big Ten games.

Why not to bet the Illini: The best news coming into the offseason was the signing of JUCO quarterback Dwayne Lawson which was considered a savior for the inept offense. Unfortunately, he had academic issues and he did not enroll so the Illini are stuck at the quarterback position with little talent. Defensively, the Illini lost their entire front four and that is not good considering the defense allowed over 219 ypg on the ground. It is going to be at least another year until the rebuild starts to take shape and with the lack of talent on both sides, surpassing the win total from last year will be tough.

Season win total pick: Under 3.5

Purdue Boilermakers (2016: 3-9 SU, 5-7 ATS)

Odds to win the conference: +20000
Season win total: 2.5

Why to bet the Boilermakers: Purdue has not been relevant since the Joe Tiller days as Danny Hope and Darrell Hazell could not turn things around with Hazell winning just nine games in his four years. Enter Jeff Brohm who led Western Kentucky to success and produced the top ranked scoring offense last season. Quarterback David Blough will fit well into this system and the offense will no doubt improve upon its No. 101 ranking in points scored. The Boilermakers were even worse on defense but they will improve there as well but the total rebuild will take some time.

Why not to bet the Boilermakers: Brohm may have the quarterback he wants but he is still lacking the talent to compete with the big boys so this is not going to happen overnight. Lack of receiver depth hurts and the offensive line is below average. The defense was so bad last season that even major improvement may not help. Purdue was awful at stopping the run and was one of the worst teams in the country in third down defense. Continuing to improve as the season goes along is the ultimate goal but anything more than five wins is unlikely.

Season win total pick: Over 2.5
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