Tag Archives: Bobby Petrino

Wake Forest Leak Was Dumb, But Wouldn’t Even Rank as a Top Scandal in the ACC

If we are at the point of the year where we’re discussing the Wake Forest football team, one of two things has happened. It’s either A) The Demon Deacons have done the impossible and have snatched away the ACC crown and are heading to one of the CFP games this New Year’s Eve or B) Wake Forest is caught up in something so incredibly stupid it’s almost too hilarious to even be considered a scandal.

Since Option A obviously didn’t happen (nor will it ever, if Clemson and Dabo Swinney have anything to say about it, among others), it’s clearly B.

Former Deacons assistant coach and radio announcer Tommy Elrod was caught leaking Wake Forest game plans in the run-up to its game against Louisville. It’s not really as if the Cardinals needed any additional help since they hammered the Deacons, 44-12, but Elrod obviously lost his radio gig and has, all of a sudden, raised questions about what else he might have divulged. That includes the recent news out of Virginia Tech that he passed along info to Hokie assistants in 2014.

On the surface, though, when you look how Louisville overcame some early miscues in that game and beat the brakes off of Wake Forest, does anyone outside of Wake really think that it was the result of some chicanery?

Since the story is building and taking on a life of its own, you can go ahead and come up with whatever theory you like as far as Elrod’s motivation. Was this an intricate plot to seek out revenge on his alma mater for firing him from the coaching staff in 2013? At this point, though, it reads less like a James Bond novel and more like he was playing the role of The Mole from one of the Austin Powers movies.

And, no, we’re not supposed to talk about the bloody mole!

No matter how things shake out, in terms of mind-boggling scandals, the Wake Forest revelations aren’t even close to being the biggest of the year. The Baylor football team won that crown walking away a long time ago.

And since the Cardinals are involved, particularly Bobby Petrino, does this even rank in their list of biggest scandals? Petrino had to do a press conference because he got into a motorcycle crash while he was stepping out on his wife (Yes, he was at Arkansas at the time, but still).

Let’s also not forget that Louisville just got over everybody paying attention to the men’s basketball team and the escort scandal, although the school is still dealing with the NCAA regarding the violations that came out of that mess.

So yes, while it’s probably true that the Cardinals, in some way, ran afoul of the NCAA regarding Wake Forest, they’ve got a little bit more on their plate.

Speaking of plates and scandals in the ACC, the Wake scandal isn’t exactly Jameis Winston and the crab legs kerfuffle, even though both would rank up there in terms of sheer ridiculousness. In terms of far-reaching and flagrant violations, North Carolina and its ongoing academic integrity scandal is worse than anything that Elrod could have given Louisville.

And let’s not forget that Miami is in the ACC. Sure, Coral Gables has been pretty quiet recently, but you never know with the Hurricanes. Who knows when another Nevin Shapiro will magically appear?

Impressively, it’s Clemson that seems to be the most scandal-free of all the ACC teams in recent years (though that 1985 steroid scandal is still pretty high on the all-time scandals list). The worst thing that Swinney has done in his tenure is accidentally butt-dial a recruit on Facetime.

If there’s any good news for Wake Forest, at least there will be a little bit more intrigue for its December 27th match-up against Temple in the Military Bowl in Annapolis. Realistically, with the Demon Deacons sitting at 6-6, most of the publicity was going to be centered around the 24th-ranked Owls. That tends to happen when you win the American Athletic Conference championship game in an upset over Navy.

Now the intrigue will shift over to Wake Forest. An otherwise mundane pre-New Year’s bowl game (in which Temple is heavily favored) might be worth looking into, all of a sudden. The questions about where the Demon Deacons might have been, win-wise, if not for the spiteful actions of their radio guy could serve as a better narrative.

That is, unless you were okay with the one about the Owls coming to serve notice that they’re the best team in the AAC and laying waste to their bowl opponent as further proof of that. Nobody would blame if you if you’re still sticking with that storyline, though.

Ultimately, while Wake Forest is really in the weeds with Elrod and his shenanigans, the scandal itself will most likely turn out like most football seasons do for the Demon Deacons: middling and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

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Teams Poised to Improve in 2016

Every year there are teams that under- or over-perform compared to expectations. Sometimes teams are just bad. Whether it’s injuries, a bad record in close games, or an unusually tough schedule, some fan bases find themselves thinking it’s just not their team’s year. It often sets up for that team to exceed expectations the following year. The following teams are ones which I think should improve their win-loss record drastically from last year’s finish.

Maryland Terrapins

The Terrapins were about as bad as any Power 5 team this side of Kansas last year. They only left the field victorious three times and one of those was against Richmond. There are reasons for hope entering 2016 however, and by hope I mean they should at least be competitive in most games. Maryland only returns 12 starters, but one of them is the starting quarterback. Perry Hills isn’t going to be confused for Peyton Manning (ok, pre-2015 Peyton Manning), but he rushed for over 90 yards in four games and gives the offense a dual-threat quarterback that can keep defenses off-balance. Then there’s the schedule. The Terps played Bowling Green and West Virginia in the non-conference last year, two offenses they didn’t have a chance of keeping up with. The 2016 non-conference slate consists of Howard, Florida International, and Central Florida and crossover games against Wisconsin and Iowa have been replaced with much more manageable foes in Purdue and Nebraska. Maryland won’t be battling for a conference championship anytime soon, but with any luck it can find its way to a bowl game this fall.

LSU Tigers

LSU certainly isn’t going to surprise anybody this upcoming season, especially when you consider they are likely to find themselves in the top ten of the pre-season polls. I still think they are a team that could be much better than they were last year. I don’t think the Tigers were as good as their 9-3 regular season record would indicate and to increase their win total by even two games in 2016 would be a significant improvement over the 2015 squad. LSU only has four true road games and most importantly, none of those are in Tuscaloosa. If Brandon Harris can hold onto the starting job, he should improve on a season where he threw only six interceptions. Part of the reason was he spent most of his time handing off to Leonard Fournette, but if Harris can be even an average passer it will make the LSU offense exponentially better. Then there’s the defense, one which looked nothing like the Tigers’ stop unit we’ve come to expect. The Tigers’ run defense was gashed in their three losses. That should change this year with the arrival of new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Aranda led a Wisconsin Badgers defense that has been near the top statistically each of the past few seasons. With 18 starters returning, it’s no wonder the Bayou Bengals are on the short list of title favorites in 2016.

Louisville Cardinals

The Cardinals finished a disappointing 7-5 last year after some had pegged them as an ACC sleeper. That was shot down early as the ‘Ville started off 0-3 before rattling off some wins through the easier part of its schedule. The opening game loss against Auburn looks bad, but they only lost by a field goal to both Houston and Clemson, who each finished as top ten teams. The Cardinals could never really get consistent QB play, and that will be the key to a turnaround. Lamar Jackson is dynamic, if not the passer Bobby Petrino is accustomed to. Petrino will lead a 2016 team that returns 18 starters, tied for most in the country. Jackson’s dual-threat ability combined with a defense that should be one of the best in the country provide a team that has the talent to hang with almost anyone on a given Saturday. But the passing game will need to show more consistency if that improvement is going to show up in the win column. With a schedule that will have them favored in at least nine of their games, there are no excuses.

SMU Mustangs

Chad Morris had plenty of success as the offensive coordinator for Clemson, but after leaving to become SMU’s head coach. He had to watch the Tigers march all the way to the title game while enduring a 2-10 2015 season in Dallas. The Mustangs have a lot of things working in their favor heading into this season however. It usually takes time for a new coach to get things going, so the team should see improvement across the board just from being in Morris’ system for the second year. This is especially the case for an offense that returns nine starters, including quarterback Matt Davis. Davis won’t be throwing for 500 yards a game anytime soon, but after the opener against Baylor, he didn’t have a single game with multiple interceptions the rest of the year. The offense should keep the team in games in 2016, when the schedule lightens up quite a bit. Not only did the Mustangs face Baylor and TCU in the non-conference last year, they also had conference games against Houston, Temple, Navy, and Memphis, all teams who were much better than anyone could have anticipated. All six of those teams are on the schedule again this year but Temple, Navy, Memphis, and TCU will all likely be worse than their 2015 editions. With improvements for the Mustangs and the rest of the conference falling back to the pack, we may see Chad Morris’ squad bowling in just his second year on the job.

Featured image courtesy John McStravick

2016 ACC Football: The Struggle is Real

Last week I took a look at the 2015 year that was in the ACC, some good and bad for each school. This week we’re going to put the past behind us and take a look at what 2016 may hold for ACC football.

Boston College

What needs to get better – The passing game and 3rd down conversions. The two go a bit hand in hand. BC had one of the worst passing games in the nation, ranking 125th in yards per game. None of their quarterbacks threw for more than 464 yards on the season. Yes, you read that correctly. The quarterbacks combined to complete 44.6% of their passes. This all lead to an offense that was 126th out of 127 in 3rd down conversion rate, getting a first down on just 26.7% of their third down attempts. If the offense wants improvement in 2016, it’ll need to start here.

What will go well – The run game. Part of the inability to throw the ball has been due to the dual-threat nature of the quarterbacks that the Eagles trot out there. This obviously helps the ground game. After five games of not getting double digit carries, junior RB Tyler Rouse had 24 for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the final game against Syracuse. Hopefully that leads to a big senior year for him. Helping will be the offensive line, which returns three starters that were only underclassmen last year.

What will be a struggle – Passing game. Once again. There really isn’t much hope here. Even if there is moderate improvement it’s hard to see a team jumping from the bottom five in the country to anywhere near average. Last year BC’s leading receiver had 17 catches for 233 yards. If someone approaches 500 yards in 2016 it would be a miracle.

Clemson

What needs to get better – Big plays allowed. Clemson had a great season, but they gave up some big plays in the ACC Championship to North Carolina which allowed the Tar Heels to hang around and stay in the game. Those big plays basically cost them the title, with multiple breakdowns in the secondary resulting in long touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.

What will go well – The offense. I know, I’m a such a genius, but this is about as obvious as it gets. Deshaun Watson was coming off a knee injury and still was a Heisman finalist this season. Now he’ll be further removed from that injury and back with him will play explosive playmakers Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, and Mike Williams, who would have been the Tigers’ best WR but was lost for the year in the season opener.

What will be a struggle – The defense. Clemson is going to be in a lot of shootouts in 2016. Brent Venables was able to rebound from losses to the NFL draft going into 2015 to lead one of the nation’s best defenses yet again. It’s hard to overcome that multiple years in a row however, just ask LSU. This time the Tigers lose both starting DEs (who just happened to be numbers 1 and 2 in the country in tackles for loss) as well as 3/4ths of the secondary. They lose seven defensive starters in total, an astonishing five of them early entrants to the NFL draft.

Duke

What needs to get better – The defense. It gave up almost 31 points per game, including 40+ to the explosive offenses that were Virginia and Virginia Tech. They pass defense in particular was a sieve, finishing 73rd in yards allowed, but there is hope. All five secondary starters return in their 4-2-5 alignment.

What will go well – The running game. Duke’s ground attack was pretty versatile in 2015, led by QB Thomas Sirk. Sirk led the team with 803 yards rushing, but they also had three different running backs all rush for over 400. In total the Blue Devils ran for over 2500 yards on the season on almost five yards per rush.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. It’s not all Sirk’s fault, he just doesn’t have much to work with. A measley 6.15 yards per attempt won’t put fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators, and Duke will not see much improvement unless someone steps up and produces some of the play-making that vanished when Jamison Crowder took his talents to the NFL after the 2014 season.

Florida State

What needs to get better – The passing game. You couldn’t expect FSU’s passing to be as good when Jameis Winston left for the NFL. Outside of a couple nice efforts, the it couldn’t be counted on consistently, and certainly not against the better teams on the schedule. Whether Sean Maguire retains the starting job going into 2016 or a younger, more talented signal caller takes the spot, there’s no reason for this area not to improve with the talent the Seminoles have at receiver.

What will go well – Handing the ball off. FSU could probably just do that every play in 2016 and win double digit games. Dalvin Cook averaged 7.4 ypc last year and he’ll be back. He’ll also be running behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. I already feel bad for the rest of the ACC.

What will be a struggle – Kicking game. The Seminoles have been spoiled the last few years with Roberto Aguayo, one of the best college kickers in years. Aguayo never missed an extra point and was almost as automatic on field goals, converting over 90% of them (64-70) from under 50 yards. With Aguayo off to the pros, Seminoles fans will have to hope their kicking situation doesn’t turn into the one present in Gainesville.

Georgia Tech

What needs to get better – Ball security. It might be expected that a team that runs the triple option would have more chances at fumbling. But you’d also think that they’d preach protecting the ball even more. Whatever they do didn’t work in 2015 as the Yellow Jackets lost 14 fumbles (only three teams lost more). Navy, another triple option team, only lost six. Add the Yellow Jackets’ 10 interceptions, another astonishing number considering how little they throw it, and the result is finishing 105th in turnover margin.

What will go well – The run game. Georgia Tech wasn’t able to stay in games with their rush attack like in previous years, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism. The line was extremely young (they had a freshman at center and both tackles spots by the end of the year) so it should improve. Add that to QB Justin Thomas and their stable of running backs returning and the offense should rebound.

What will be a struggle – Pass defense. It wasn’t bad in 2015, ranking 37th in pass yards allowed, but the Yellow Jackets were also 120th in sacks. They now lose all four starters from the secondary. If the front seven can’t find a way to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, the defense could get burnt through the air with a less experienced defensive back corps.

Louisville

What needs to get better – The offense. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Bobby Petrino team but the offense was pretty disappointing. The quarterbacks were average, finishing 61st in QBR. That is a little more understandable with Lamar Jackson getting so much playing time, but with a dual-threat guy like himself, the Cardinals should have been able to finish better than 81st in rushing.

What will go well – Defense. The Cardinals defense could be one of the best in the country in 2016. They were T-10th in sacks last year and return stud Devonte Fields who was T-10th in individual sacks. As if a ferocious pass rush wasn’t enough, the ‘Ville will also get all their secondary starters back, including NFL prospects Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. Bobby Petrino can work whatever magic and QB voodoo he wants, I just don’t think he’s going to be able to do what he traditionally has with Lamar Jackson. It doesn’t mean Jackson won’t improve, I just don’t think there will be any game to game consistency, which will frustrate the coaching staff as well as Cardinals fans.

Miami

What needs to get better – 3rd downs. I talked about how bad Boston College was on third downs, but that’s a little more understandable considering their quarterback situation and well, because of the fact that they’re Boston College. But Miami was almost as bad, finishing 107th at 35%. Considering the talent at the skill positions and at quarterback, there’s no excuse for that and Miami needs to see drastic improvement in this area if they want any shot at competing for the division in 2016.

What will go well – Pass attack. The offensive line was extremely young last year, with four underclassmen starters at year’s end. With improvement Kaaya should have time to throw. With talent at WR in Stacy Coley and Braxton Berrios and at TE in Standish Dobard and David Njoku, Kaaya will have plenty of options at his disposal.

What will be a struggle – Pass defense. Miami was 70th last year in sacks, and they have had a non-existent pass rush for years. Last year the pass defense was able to survive because of how good the secondary was. That won’t be the case this year. Miami loses both starting safeties as well as CB Artie Burns, who led the ACC with six interceptions. In 2016, no lead will be safe.

NC State

What needs to get better – Explosive passing plays. Jacoby Brissett had a mediocre yards per attempt, and it showed when you look at the receivers. The Wolfpack’s leading WR averaged under 10 ypc (9.2). That’s embarrassing. And their second leading receiver had just 34 catches. Not the ideal way to keep a defense honest.

What will go well – Run game. At least NC State has this going for them. They have their top three running backs return, and all three averaged over six yards per rush in 2015. But the biggest reason will be the return of Matthew Dayes. Dayes was averaging over 100 yards per game on 6.5 ypc and had 12 touchdowns through just 7+ games. He ended up missing the last five games due to a foot injury but will be back next season.

What will be a struggle – Passing attack. NC State might be able to get some plays off play-action thanks to their run game, but a standard passing game will not be forte. They have limited wide receivers and with Jacoby Brissett no longer around, will have a new starting quarterback as well.

North Carolina

What needs to get better – The defense. It was abysmal the second half of the year. They gave up at least 31 points in 4 of 6 games. The two that they didn’t were against Miami and Virginia Tech, not exactly the Marcus Mariota-led Oregon Ducks.

What will go well – Offense. The Tar Heels’ offense was explosive in 2015 and have most of it returning in tact for next year. 4/5 offensive linemen return along with the top two receivers and stud running back Elijah Hood. While starting quarterback Marquise Williams departs, he’ll be replaced by Mitch Trubisky, who fans have been high on.

What will be a struggle – The defense. It’s hard to see much improvement from a unit that allowed over 400 yards per game. It was 110th in run defense, stamped off by their embarrassing showing in the bowl game when the allowed a bowl record 645 rushing yards to Baylor. Now they lose a DT and MLB who were defensive captains.

Pittsburgh

What needs to get better – Their “passing attack”. It wasn’t Boston College level putrid, but it left a lot to be desired. Pitt can run the ball, so mild improvement in the passing game is all they need to have a competitive offense.

What will go well – The run game. James Conner was an ACC player of the year candidate before missing basically the whole season. In his place was Qadree Ollison who ran his way to a nice little 1,100 yard, 11 touchdown season in Conner’s place. Both will be back in 2016 to run behind an offensive line that returns 4/5 starters.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. The Panthers need their passing game to be competent, but I don’t see how it improves from last year. It wasn’t good to begin with and now the Panthers are losing WR Tyler Boyd early to the NFL draft. Boyd accounted for 91 of the team’s 212 receptions in 2015.

Syracuse

What needs to get better – The whole offense. They were 119th in yards per game. Brutal to watch and not able to move the ball consistently as evidenced by their 100 ranking in red zone opportunities. But the Orangemen were actually pretty good once they got there, ranking 8th in red zone scoring percentage. If the offense can move the ball a little more, they can put their red zone efficiency to better use.

What will go well – Defense. It wasn’t exactly good this past year, but it was young. They return seven starters so with the experience they should be better just from that. Additionally, the defense played better at home in 2015, not surprising for a young unit. A year older and they should be able to carry some of that success on the road more frequently.

What will be a struggle – Getting to a bowl game. It’s hard as a fan to go into a year knowing your team probably won’t make a bowl. What’s more difficult is seeing how Syracuse gets to one. Along with divisional home games against FSU and Louisville, they have to go on the road in conference to play BC, Pitt and Clemson. Add in non-conference games at Connecticut and with Notre Dame and this year will be about building for 2017.

Virginia

What needs to get better – Performance in close games. Virginia had their chances last year. They had a halftime lead against Notre Dame and a second half lead against Miami, neither of which they could hold. They were also tied at half with North Carolina and tied in the 4th quarter with Louisville. An ability to finish games and the Cavaliers may have not been looking for a new coach.

What will go well – Off-season. If nothing else there will be positive vibes around the Cavaliers before the season starts. Tiquan Mizzell is a player fans can be excited about watching. There’s always hope when a new head coach comes in, which is what Virginia has in Bronco Mendenhall. Throw that in with a senior quarterback and fans may talk themselves into a sneaky good season.

What will be a struggle – The offense. An experienced quarterback returns, yes, but also a limited one. He’ll be looking for new targets as well since the offenses loses its top two receivers from last year. Just like 2015, it appears 2016 will be the Mizzell show.

Virginia Tech

What needs to get better – The running game. As bad as Virginia Tech’s offense has been, you could usually count on a decent running game if nothing else. Last year the Hokies didn’t even have that, ranking 112th in yards per carry. If you’re going to win games by keeping them close and playing good defense, you need a good running game to take pressure off the quarterback.

What will go well – Pass defense. This is one thing you can count on with the Hokies. They were 17th in passing yards allowed per game and return everyone in the secondary besides Kendall Fuller. He can be adequately replaced by Brandon Facyson, the next in line for NFL-caliber Hokie corners.

What will be a struggle – The passing offense. It’s going to be a shock for new coach Justin Fuente going from possible 1st rounder Paxton Lynch to new Hokies starter Brenden Motley. Motley got his feet wet last year when Michael Brewer got hurt and I don’t think fans liked what they saw. He had success in his first couple starts against against Furman and Purdue (congratulations), but the rest of the way was mostly a disaster.

Wake Forest

What needs to get better – Pass protection. Wake Forest is Wake Forest, so they’re going to be playing from behind a lot. Because of this it would be nice if the quarterback wasn’t running for his life every other play. That’s probably what it felt like for Demon Deacons quarterbacks last year, when they were sacked on 8.94% of drop-backs, 113th in the country.

What will go well – “Offensive fireworks”. OK fireworks might be a strong word. But Wake’s offensive should be vastly improved from a unit that was almost last (125th) in scoring at 17.4 ppg. The offense only loses two seniors, one at WR and one at guard, and 7/11 starters last year were freshmen or sophomores. On top of that, QB John Wolford improved his accuracy from 58.3% to 60.9% while also increasing his yards per attempt by over two full yards (5.55 to 7.69). Why do I feel like I’m talking myself into Wake Forest? I can’t wait to look back on this in November when Wake is eliminated from bowl contention and the offense is still a disaster.

What will be a struggle – Speaking of bowl games, making one will be tough for Wake Forest next year. The first month of the season is manageable but with a road slate that includes games against Florida State, Louisville, NC State, and Duke, it’s going to be a nail-biter for fans the second half of the season.

E-mail Jason at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JLindy87.

Featured image courtesy of Thomson20192

2015 ACC Football: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2015 was a typical year for the ACC. By typical of course, I mean one team outclassing the rest and trying to remove itself as far as possible from the negative connotations that “ACC football team” brings. The ACC has long been considered the worst of the Power 5 football conferences and did little to dispel that notion this season. Clemson did its best by not only reaching the playoff, but dispatching Oklahoma and going toe-to-toe with Alabama in what may have been one of the three best title games of all time. Florida State and North Carolina each won double-digit games but I think many, myself included, would say that was more a byproduct of the conference’s weakness than the strength of those two football teams.

Today we’ll take a look at the Good, the Bad, and the downright Ugly for each ACC team in 2015. As far as the Atlantic Coast Conference itself? The good could really only come from the aforementioned Clemson. The bad was harder to choose if only because there were so many more options, but we’ll go with defense, something that will be a common theme throughout this piece. Ten of the conference’s fourteen teams ranked 43rd or worse in scoring defense. The ACC misery saved its best (the Ugly) for last. That would be bowl season, where ACC teams not named Clemson went 3-5. Even those wins weren’t a lot to hang their hat on. Duke defeated Indiana who had one of the worst defenses on college football. Virginia Tech beat Tulsa, giving up 52 points in the process. Then there’s Louisville, who scored a 27-21 victory over a Texas A&M team that had just seen its top two quarterbacks transfer.

This article would have been much easier if it was just “The Bad and the Ugly”. Can we find some good from the 2015 season for each team? I gave it my best shot.

Boston College Eagles

Good – I mentioned defense in the intro. Well Boston College was one of the four ACC teams not abysmal on that side of the ball. BC ranked fourth in the country, allowing just 15.3 points per game. This included giving up just 34 to Clemson, 14 to Florida State, and 19 to Notre Dame. Sure they shortened games by running the ball a ton on offense, but only three times all year did they give up more than 20 points in a game.

Bad – As stellar as the defense was, the offense was the complete opposite. After the first two games of the season against non-D1 schools, Boston College didn’t top 17 points even once the rest of the year. Spearheading this vaunted offense was a leading passer that only had 464 yards on the season.

Ugly – We’re staying with the offense here. In a time when offenses are upping the tempo and putting up 40s and 50s left and right, the Eagles would struggle to outscore the Red Sox. BC put up 76 points against Howard the second week of the season. They then proceeded to score just 73 points COMBINED in their eight conference games. The cherry on top of this offensive ineptitude sundae was an October contest where they ran the ball 54 times and didn’t even get to 200 yards, getting shut out at home by Wake Forest.

Clemson Tigers

Good – Does the whole season count? Clemson had its best season in recent memory, finding itself at the top spot every week of the playoff committee’s rankings. After losing most of the starters off college football’s top defense of 2014, the Tigers managed to have one of the best defenses again. DeShaun Watson, coming off a torn ACL, was a Heisman finalist in just his sophomore season and led the Tigers to the national title game. Though falling just short against the Alabama empire, Watson had a scintillating performance against the Tide defense that will propel him to be the Heisman favorite going into 2016.

Bad – It’s hard to find the bad for a team that started the year 14-0. In this spot we have to look at the defense, which might have to do more re-tooling for next year. Brent Venables did an incredible job in 2015 but it may take more next year. That’s because the Tigers may lose DE Shaq Lawson and CB Mackensie Alexander to the NFL draft, both of whom were stars of the Clemson defense. It always hurts to lose players early to the NFL, it hurts even worse when those players are just redshirt sophomores.

Ugly – The Tigers had every opportunity to win the championship on Monday night, but big plays allowed Alabama to stay in the game. They gave up a 50 yard touchdown run to Derrick Henry. Besides that long run, they held the Heisman winner to just 108 yards on 35 carries, barely over three yards per carry. The defense was also smothering QB Jacob Coker, but mental breakdowns allowed him to have a big second half. Blown coverages accounted for two 50+ yard touchdowns to OJ Howard, which also accounted for almost 1/3 of Coker’s passing yards. Then there was the back-breaking kickoff-return touchdown by Kenyan Drake. While Clemson’s offense consistently moved the ball on Alabama throughout the game, it felt the opposite for the Tide’s offense. Clemson shut down Alabama for longer stretches, but the coverage breakdowns allowed the Crimson Tide to not just stay in the game, but ultimately win it.

Duke Blue Devils

Good – While 2015 saw the fewest wins from the Duke football team in the last three years, it’s hard not to consider an 8-5 season a success for a basketball school. To top it off, they had the aforementioned bowl win against Indiana, a 44-41 OT thriller. It just so happened to be the first bowl win in 55 years.

Bad – The Blue Devils were riding high at one point, sitting at a stellar 6-1. Then the Miami game happened. And the last play lateral controversy happened. Duke didn’t handle the outcome of that ending well and it showed. They went on a slide that saw them lose three more games with the defense getting torched in all three.

Ugly – Duke had the unfortunate position of having to face a rival following that Miami game. Normally heading to Chapel Hill for a football game isn’t something you’d worry too much about, but this year happened to be the one wear Larry Fedora had the Tar Heels’ offense humming. The Blue Devils had their worst defensive performance in a year that was full of bad ones, giving up 66 points and over 700 yards in a game that was 38-10 at halftime.

Florida State Seminoles

Good – There are never really lowered expectations at Florida State, but after losing Jameis Winston and a plethora of defensive talent to the NFL, it’s hard not to consider the Seminole’s season a success considering the drop-off in QB play. Winning ten games in a down year tells you your program is in a good place. The brightest spot of the season had to be Dalvin Cook. Cook dazzled every time he was on the field and if not for a hamstring injury may have been a Heisman finalist.

Bad – Injuries. Cook’s injury was the biggest bummer for Seminoles fans. He only had 229 carries on the year (about 5 games for Alabama’s Derrick Henry) and basically missed two full games, robbing him of a shot at 2,000 yards. QB Sean Maguire’s injury in the bowl game was another tough one. While Maguire didn’t take over until the second half of the season and didn’t play all that great once he did, he was a reshirt junior who had waited a while for his chance. After waiting around another half of a season thanks to Everett Golson showing up, he was able to lead the Seminoles to a New Year’s Six bowl game but got hurt early on. He was able to finish the game but his play was clearly impacted by the injury.

Ugly – That bowl game. Maguire may have played injured, but that wasn’t the reason Florida State lost. Other aspects of the team were abysmal and it was clear Florida State was not nearly as amped up to be there as Houston. FSU rushed for just 16 yards and had five turnovers which were only partially to blame for giving up 38 points to an offense that had Greg Ward Jr. and not much else.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Good – Ugh..Umm. Can anybody help here? The Yellow Jackets had a dismal season from the start. One bright spot however was that Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack still resulted in the 7th most rushing yards per game in the country.

Bad – Here’s another team that more than struggled on the defensive side of the ball. The Yellow Jackets couldn’t put pressure on the quarterback (121st in sacks) or create turnovers (T-92nd in interceptions). The defense was at its worst during a five game mid-season stretch that saw them allow over 30 points in each game.

Ugly – This whole year couldn’t get over soon enough. Tech started the year in the Top 25 and after beating two doormats by a combined 134-16 to start the year it was hard to tell anything was wrong. After being ranked 14th heading into Week 3, the Yellow Jackets went 1-9 in their last ten games with their only win coming in improbable fashion, scoring a touchdown off a blocked field goal as time expired.

Louisville Cardinals

Good – The Cardinals began the year on some sleeper lists but that was quickly vanquished after starting 0-3. Though the opening season loss to Auburn isn’t exactly one to put on the resume, looking back the three-point losses to Houston and Clemson don’t look so bad. It would have been easy to fold after that start, but the Cardinals bounced back by finishing strong and winning eight of their last ten games.

Bad – You would expect teams to play worse on the road, but Louisville definitely underwhelmed away from home considering the talent level on the team. A couple of single-digit wins over NC State and Wake Forest hardly make up for getting crushed at Florida State and losing by 11 against Pitt.

Ugly – For a Bobby Petrino-led team, the offense was awfully hard to watch at times. Petrino couldn’t settle on a quarterback and it seemed like no matter if Lamar Jackson or Kyle Bolin were behind center, the offense could never find consistency. Jackson often dazzled as a runner, but was nowhere near good enough as a passer to provide the type of threat we’ve come accustomed to seeing out of Petrino passing attacks.

Miami Hurricanes

Good – The improvement of young offensive players. The Hurricanes started an incredibly young offensive line in its bowl game. Though the team lost, the line wasn’t a disaster and bodes well heading into next season. Sophomore RB Joe Yearby quietly surpassed 1,000 yards on almost five yards per carry and should grow with the offensive line. The brightest sign however was the improvement of sophomore QB Brad Kaaya. Kaaya improved his completion percentage and threw one less interception on 11 more throws.

Bad – Head Coach Al Golden was fired. While in the long run this was probably needed for the program, it’s a definite sign that things aren’t going well if the coach is getting fired.

Ugly – Part of the reason Golden got fired? How about a 58-0 loss to Clemson. At home. I don’t care who you’re playing, if you are a Power 5 conference team you shouldn’t lose by this much, especially at home. This game was embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing was Miami giving up 59 in a 38 point loss to North Carolina. Those two games put a dark cloud over an otherwise solid 8-4 regular season.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Good – The Tar Heels had one of the best seasons in school history, going 11-3 and not losing a conference game until the ACC Championship against title runner-up Clemson. It was led by a balanced and explosive offense that finished 11th in the country in scoring at 41 points per game.

Bad – Thanks to UNC’s loss to Clemson in the conference championship game, their opening season loss to South Carolina didn’t cost them an undefeated season and shot at the playoff. But man was that a bad loss. South Carolina went on to be a dumpster fire, with Steve Spurrier quitting in the middle of the year. Somehow that high-scoring Tar Heel offense was held to just 13 points by a team that’s only other wins on the year came against UCF and Vandy.

Ugly – UNC managed to one-up its opening season loss with its bowl performance, bookending its season with an equally embarrassing loss to Baylor. As good as the offense had been all year, the defense was just as bad if not worse in the bowl game. Going up against a team that had seemingly every offensive playmakers out and wasn’t a threat to pass, the Tar Heels allowed the Bears to rush for a bowl record 645 yards.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Good – NC State was a mediocre team, just as their 7-6 record would have you believe. But unlike other undermanned squads (ahem, Miami) the Wolfpack didn’t roll over against superior competition. NC State brought their A game when they had to, losing by a respectable 17 at Doak Campbell against Florida State, by 15 to Clemson, and just 11 to North Carolina after giving their rival a scare for much of that game.

Bad – Overall it was a disappointing year, but particularly for Jacoby Brissett. Brissett came out of high school as a somewhat highly regarded prospect and after transferring to NC State following two years at Florida, he put up 23 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions for the Wolfpack in 2014 while adding over 500 yards on the ground. Because of this, he came into 2015 with some deep sleeper Heisman buzz and high hopes for his team. It never came together for either as the senior QB saw a regression in almost every passing category.

Ugly – The kicking game. Teams like Florida have gotten more national attention for their kicking woes, but NC State was right there with them, resulting in the team attempting the 7th most 4th down conversions in the country. Nothing outside of 30 yards was a gimme, as just 6/9 field goals from 30-39 yards were converted and a grand total of zero field goals made from beyond 37 yards.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Good – The run game for the Panthers showed that it isn’t just a one-man show. Lead back James Conner went down in the first game after running for 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns last year. With an iffy passing attack, it was fare to wonder how Pitt would score. But Qadre Ollison stepped in and was a nice surprise, leading the Panthers ground attack finishing with a more than respectable 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns on 5.3 ypc.

Bad – Pitt had a good regular season, going 8-4 and hovering around the fringe of the Top 25 for much of the year. That’s what made the team’s bowl performance so disappointing. Even with extra weeks to prepare for Navy’s triple option offense, the Panthers defense was trampled, giving up four touchdowns to Keenan Reynolds.

Ugly – As nice of a surprise as the running game was post-Conner, the passing “attack” was not a surprise. It was awful. Pitt finished 95th in passing yards per game, a number you’d expect to see from a team like Georgia Tech or Navy. Further illustrating how ineffective the passing game was, the Panthers threw for less than 200 yards in 8 of the team’s 13 games.

Syracuse Orangemen

Good – They say you need to defend home turf. Well as limited as Syracuse was talent wise, they did everything they could to give the hometown faithful something to cheer about. ‘Cuse went 4-3 at home with those three losses coming to Pittsburgh by just three, Clemson by just ten and LSU by just ten as well. That’s how you keep the Carrier Dome rockin’.

Bad – Ok maybe “rockin” wasn’t the right term for Syracuse home games. Though the Orangemen kept things close against good teams, it certainly wasn’t keeping the fans awake with an exciting offense. They struggled to score points and even though they ran the ball 139 more times than they passed it, they still only finished 76th in rushing yards per game.

Ugly – They must have spent all of their energy during home games, because Syracuse road games usually weren’t close. They lost all five contests away from home by an average of 18 points.

Virginia Cavaliers

Good – There wasn’t much to cheer about for Cavaliers fans in a season that resulted in the team hiring a new coach, but Taquan Mizzell was a lone bright spot. Mizzell showed play-making abilities that at least gave fans hopes of a big play when the ball was in his hands. A running back, Mizzell actually had more yards receiving (721) than rushing (671) but scored four times each via both methods.

Bad – Like most bad teams, they can usual salvage something at the end of a bad season by beating a rival. Virginia had that opportunity in the season finale against Virginia Tech in a game they had control of in the fourth quarter. A defensive meltdown and turnovers allowed the Hokies to take it to over time and get the comeback win. On top of it, it gave Frank Beamer the opportunity to do this.

Ugly – Usually for bad Power 5 teams, the offense or defense is at least average. This was not the case for Virginia, where there was little hope no matter what side of the ball was on the field. Their scoring offense finished 93rd in the nation. Not to be outdone, the defense was 96th.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Good – Virginia Tech has slid from ACC powerhouse to mediocrity for the last few years and 2015 was no different. Considering Frank Beamer basically built the program, it was nice for the Hokies to not only get that comeback win against rival Virginia, but also send Beamer into retirement with a win, notching a 55-52 victory in their bowl game.

Bad – Even though the Hokies haven’t been relevant on the national scene in a while, folks in Blacksburg could still always rely on the defense to be nasty and make difficult for even the best of the opponents. But even that slipped in Beamer’s final year where the Hokies had just the 47th best scoring defense.

UglyBeamer dabbing, again. And I’m not just one of those people who hates what “the kids are doing these days” but I can’t stand the Dab to begin with and Beamer’s rendition frankly makes me cringe.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Good – Wake Forest was probably the toughest team to find something good for. I think QB John Wolford did enough to give Demon Deacon fans some hope for the future. Given that he was just a sophomore, he did about as reasonably well as you could expect in a five-game stretch that included games at North Carolina, home to Louisville, at Notre Dame, and at Clemson.

Bad – Believe it or not, Wake was actually 3-3 at one point with their eyes on a potential bowl bid. Their wins weren’t anything to write home about but they also played tough against Indiana and Florida State. And then reality hit and the team lost their last six, most in ugly fashion.

Ugly – 120th in scoring, as a Power 5 team, is unacceptable. Oh and 33 PLAYERS had more rushing yards than Wake Forest had as a team all season.

 

 

Featured Image courtesy of Lauren Nelson

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Texas A&M vs. Louisville

Of the bowl games that are essentially meaningless, this is one that I would like to go to simply because it’s in Nashville. Nashville is a place that I’ve always wanted to go because of the music. It is home to the Grand Ole Opry and, if that weren’t enough, legendary live performances and studio recordings in Music City included the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel.

Simon and Garfunkel recorded part of Bridge Over Troubled Water in Nashville. That title describes Texas A&M and Kevin Sumlin perfectly. The 2015 season had a “same song, different verse” type of feel for Kevin Sumlin. Just as the Aggies did in 2014, they started out 2015 at 5-0 and then they hit the skids. The second half of their 2015 included a 3-4 record. The second half of their 2014 season included a record of 2-5.

If their poor showings down the stretch weren’t enough, each season has included quarterback controversy. Kenny Hill made headlines in 2014 before ultimately transferring to TCU. As for 2015, the soap opera from 2014 just continued for Sumlin as both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray have decided to transfer.

It’s anybody’s guess as to who will play quarterback for the Aggies in this bowl game.

And what about Louisville?

To be honest, I expected more from Louisville this year. This was a team that I expected to challenge for the ACC title. Instead they finished at 7-5. Bobby Petrino really only had one loss that could be considered somewhat embarrassing and that was Louisville’s loss to Auburn.

Who would have thought going into the season that a loss to Auburn would be considered embarrassing?

Unlike Texas A&M, there is no soap opera surrounding Bobby Petrino and Louisville. There have been no backwoods motorcycle rides, volleyball players or neck braces.

Keep up the solid season coach Petrino. In comparison to Sumlin, you’re actually #winning.

As for what to expect out of this game, that’s a roll of the dice. Texas A&M has both on- and off-the-field problems to deal with. Sumlin’s bridge over troubled water starts with the quarterback controversy and extends to his own job security. Texas A&M administrators may be in the process of making a pitch to Tom Herman.

So the question for the Aggies is this: how many players and coaches are truly invested in this game?

On the flip side of this conversation, Petrino and Louisville are a calm, cool and collected team of players and coaches. As is the case with most Petrino teams, Louisville has an offense that can score. Defensively they do enough to be in most games, but aren’t going to put the clamps down on most teams.

I’m inclined to pick Louisville in this game. They aren’t dealing with controversy and they can score. Texas A&M has controversy which includes uncertainty at the quarterback position, so I don’t trust the A&M’s ability to keep up against a Petrino offense.

Prediction: Louisville 35 Texas A&M 17

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Photo: Anne Swoboda/Flickr

ACC Football: 8 Crazy Nights of Hanukkah

You know what they say, “‘Tis the season.” And for many, the “season” includes both Christmas and Hanukkah. Earlier in the week, I offered everyone a Christmas themed SEC article and would like to offer the ACC a Hanukkah based gift.

Night 1…

The ACC Coastal hired 3 seasoned head coaches. While the SEC East opted for lackluster hires, the ACC Coastal was attracted to candidates that had successful head coaching experience. Justin Fuente, Mark Richt and Bronco Mendenhall all join the ACC Coastal next season. Welcome to the family guys.

Richt brings his winning ways to Miami. Fuente tries to rebrand Beamer Ball at Virginia Tech and Mendenhall arrives at Virginia. Mendenhall’s former team, BYU, had a Fight Club mentality. Will the 1st rule of Virginia football be that we don’t talk about Virginia football?

Night 2…

Jimbo Fisher is staying at Florida St. LSU desperately wanted Fisher to return to Baton Rouge just as Ralpie wanted his Red Ryder BB gun. Yes, you’ll shoot your eye out!

Like a Red Ryder BB gun, hiring a top tier coach comes with a lot of responsibility and as they’ve proven with Miles, LSU wouldn’t have been able to handle it. LSU would have shot their eye out with Fisher.

Night 3…

Pizza! On the 3rd night of Hanukkah, Dabo Swinney gave Clemson pizza. Papa’s in the house as Dabo ordered 2,500 pizzas to be delivered to campus. It’s also nice to see that while the Clemson players are forbidden to use Twitter during the season, the coaches can still communicate in 140 character thoughts.

Night 4…

Bobby Petrino is sticking around for another year at Louisville. Due to his winning ways and impressive APR, he will enjoy another hefty bonus payout. Unlike Clemson, Louisville is all about KFC…you know the KFC Yum Center…and Petrino can buy a lot of chicken from the Colonel. Go for a ride in Petrino’s limo and get filled up on chicken and wins. What? You thought I was going to say motorcycle?

Night 5…

Does a Florida St. football scholarship come with a public defender? It probably should. Hell, just include it in the cost of attendance total. From the sound of it, it wouldn’t be a difficult job since the attorney would have a friend in the Tallahassee Police Department. Just go cheap. I hear this Gambini guy is available.

Night 6…

Will you have an all expense paid trip to beautiful Syracuse, NY? You will if Dino Babers considers you, “one of the good ones.” You know, on second thought, if this is the gift on night 6, you may just want to skip it. There is always that Hanukkah Harry gift that makes you say, “Oy vey!”

Night 7…

Hanukkah is not complete without spinning the dreidel and who better to do that with than Duke assistant basketball coach, Jon Scheyer. That’s right, the man known as the “Jewish Jordan” will be playing the dreidel game with you.

Night 8…

What would be better than a national championship? Nothing. Clemson is the ACC team that is in contention for the title. This would be great for both Clemson and the ACC. As a whole, the conference doesn’t get the respect that the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-12 receive. Clemson is playing for both personal and conference respect. Just imagine the pizza party that Dabo will throw for the fans if Clemson wins the entire thing.

Happy Hanukkah! Now go find a nice girl and make your Bubbe happy.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Let’s Tee It Up!

The wait is almost over. FINALLY! In just over 24 hours we will have some FBS football to feast our eyes upon, sports fans! And for those of us who reside below the Mason-Dixon line, we will have SEC and ACC football as the South Carolina Gamecocks, and their Head Ball Coach, will take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in Charlotte, NC. A nice little bonus game will pit the Vanderbilt Commodores against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.Steve-Spurrier

And… AND… TCU’s highly ranked Horned Frogs will pay a visit to the not-yet-frozen state of Minnesota to do battle with their Golden Gophers.

More? Yes! The Michigan Wolverines, now under the leadership of favorite son, Jim Harbaugh, will face the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City, UT.

There are several other games on tap Thursday, such as Duke and Tulane, but the games mentioned above are the nationwide biggies slated for Sept. 3.

September 3rd is also significant to me, for another reason, as Braxton and Edwina LeCroy, along with brother Jerry, welcomed Braxton Jr. to the world on that date in 1952. You good folks have come to know me as “Bird.” I’ll get into the origin of that nickname, that stuck HARD, later… maybe.

Bottom line? Some hootin’ and hollerin’ will take place at 116 Sundown Way in Acworth, GA on Thursday. But… BUT! That will be small potatoes compared to the noise generated  from the Georgia Dome in Hotlanta on Saturday afternoon at 3:30 PM ET. For it is at that time that the Auburn Tigers will take on the Louisville Cardinals in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic!Gus Malzahn

Let’s tee it up!

Sixth-ranked by the Associated Press voters, Auburn has been installed as a 10.5 point favorite in another battle between SEC and ACC teams.

Opening games almost always tend to generate a great deal of excitement in their fan bases and rightly so. All of us have waited, quite impatiently, for this day to arrive. And for me, it is a day to reflect back on openers past.

I have had the privilege of attending 30 opening day tilts which involved my Auburn Tigers. My record stands at 24-6 in these games. Hey! That’s an .800 winning percentage. I’ll take it!

Now I would like to provide a brief take on a few of these ‘first game of the season’ brawls.

Auburn vs. Baylor – 1965

My first one and also the first time I had seen Auburn lose at Cliff Hare Stadium. My record at home, prior to this day, was a sterling 5-0. Neither team scored until quarter number four and the Bears struck first. They went up 14-0 and Auburn scored on the last play of the game on a pass from Alex Bowden to Freddie Hyatt. They tacked on a two point conversion to make the final score 14-8, Baylor.

Auburn vs. Southern Mississippi – 1970IMG_1566_2

My first as a student, an awkward freshman from Lower Alabama. Pat Sullivan began his best statistical season, on the Plains, and the Tigers handled the Golden Eagles, 33-14. Sullivan found Terry Beasley twice for touchdowns that afternoon. The game may not have been the biggest event of the day for me. I went to the late showing of  ‘Woodstock’ that night, and the rest, as they say, is history. I found my calling. 😉

Auburn vs. TCU – 1981

This was Pat Dye’s opener as head coach of the Auburn Tigers. The field is now named after him. Ron “BBQ” O’Neal blasted in for two TD’s as the home team disposed of the Visitors from Ft. Worth, TX by a score of 24-16.

Auburn vs. Wake Forest – 1982

A true freshman running back from McAdory High School in McCalla, AL scored on runs of one and 43 yards to lead Auburn to a 28-10 win over the Demon Deacons. His name was Vincent “Bo” Jackson. You know the rest of the story.

Auburn vs. Miami – 1984

Auburn entered the game ranked number one in both polls on that balmy night in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. Miami was the defending national champion. This was an “extra” game dubbed the Kickoff Classic. Jimmy Johnson was the new head coach of the Hurricanes and his quarterback, Bernie Kozar, helped lead his team to a 20-18 “upset” of the Tigers.BCS Playoff

Auburn vs. Virginia – 1997

My son, Luke, and I made the trip to Charlottesville, VA for the christening of the 1997 campaign. It was a great road trip and a big win for the visitors. Dameyune Craig and Karsten Bailey were electric, in this Thursday night clash, as they hooked up four times for 151 yards and the Tigers downed the Cavaliers, 28-17.

Auburn vs. Appalachian State – 1999

Tommy Tuberville’s debut as head coach. Auburn had dropped Florida State from it’s schedule and replaced it with the Mountaineers, and this one turned out to be far too close for comfort. Ben Leard had replaced Gabe Gross at quarterback and it took his 33-yard pass to Ronney Daniels with 38 seconds to play to pull out the victory.

Auburn vs. Louisiana Tech – 2009

Another head coaching debut with Gene Chizik at the helm. Derek Dooley was coach of the Bulldog’s at the time and was seen as one of the young “up and comers” in the coaching ranks. Auburn had one of these  young “up and comers” as their offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn. It didn’t take long for his team’s record setting offense to get  cranked up. Chris Todd hit Terrell “T Zac” Zachary on a 93-yard pass which helped the Tigers secure the win, 37-14, and this was the longest TD pass in Auburn history at the time.

Auburn vs. Washington State – 2013

Malzahn was now the head coach at Auburn and this was his coming out party. It was a very hard fought game but the Tigers managed to hold off the Cougars, and head coach Mike Leach, 31-24. Much to the surprise of the college football world, Auburn went on to, incredibly, win the SEC Championship and play for the BCS National Championship in Pasadena, CA.Mike Leach

That brings us to the 2015 opener for the Auburn Tigers…

Auburn vs. Louisville 

Folks, I think this one is going to be a real dogfight. Bobby Petrino will bring his Cardinals to the Georgia Dome solely focused on one thing, beating Auburn. His team is not to be underestimated. They will play with great intensity for 60 minutes. Auburn had better be prepared to do the same or they will find themselves on the losing end of this matchup.

This ball game, as is the case in most any, will be won at the line of scrimmage. I like the way Auburn’s D line matches up with Louisville’s O line. Look for Carl Lawson, Dontavius Russell, Montravius Adams and DaVonte Lambert to win this battle of the trenches.

I really like the potential of Auburn’s linebacking corps, as well. Kris Frost, Justin Garrett, Cassanova McKinzy, Tre Williams and JaViere Mitchell should makeup the backbone of a formidable group.

Louisville hasn’t named a starting QB, yet, but I think whoever it is may be running for his life most of the afternoon.

The Cardinal’s defense was very tough last year. They lost seven starters but have three transfers coming in that are very good and will play a big role in solidifying their D.

But I LOVE Auburn’s O line! This group has a chance to be the best since the 2010 group and they were one of the best in school history. And there is quality depth here also.

The Tiger offense should be very, very explosive with Jeremy Johnson at QB and a plethora of skill position players at his disposal.Jeremy Johnson

The wide receivers are talented and deep.  They will feature all-star candidate, Duke Williams, along with Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Stanton Truitt. One guy to pay attention to here is number 4, Jason Smith. The former QB could turn out to be a true weapon for the Tigers in a variety of roles.

Running backs? LOADED! Former Alabama Mr. Football and 5 star recruit, Roc Thomas, appears to be just a nose in front of Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. Look for all three to play Saturday. Another guy to watch, here, is true freshman, and also another Alabama Mr. Football, #21 Kerryon Johnson.

Now, you can expect a Petrino coached team to score some points. He is a great game day coach. He will find a way to get his playmakers the ball and they could put up some big numbers. But Auburn defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, should find a way to limit those numbers somewhat.

The numbers that matter most are to be found on the scoreboard. I expect the first half of this one to see a change of leads and very close at the break. I also think that Auburn is more talented and deeper than Louisville and that will tell the tale in the end.

The bottom line…

Auburn 38, Louisville 24

Let’s tee it up!

Rival Strategies: How Learning from Louisville’s Past Could Help Kentucky’s Future

Last Monday University of Kentucky Head Football Coach Mark Stoops answered one of the few remaining questions concerning his team as they prepare to open the season, who would the team’s starting quarterback be?

Stoops anointed last season’s starter Patrick Towles as his signal caller after a spirited challenge from Drew Barker.

The coaching seems pleased with both quarterbacks and has indicated on multiple occasions that Barker will receive playing time this season.

When Barker will actually get to play is anyone’s guess but looking at Kentucky’s early season schedule it might be a while. The Wildcats will be in the thick of SEC play starting in week 2 and each game figures to be close. Hardly ideal circumstances for producing the mop up minutes that Barker will likely receive this season.

That could spell trouble if Towles goes down with an injury at any point this season.

Last year’s backup quarterback Reese Phillips saw significantly limited minutes and when he briefly filled in for an injured Towles during a key game at Tennessee he wilted due to nerves under the bright lights at Neyland Stadium.

Kentucky can ill afford a shaky quarterback during a season where a bowl is an absolute necessity to keep the program’s momentum trending in the right direction. Stoops and his staff need to find a way to get Barker on the field without disrupting the flow of the offense.

If they look at the history of Louisville, Kentucky’s arch rival, an excellent example exists of just how to get Barker quality in game reps.

Going into the 2004 season then and current Louisville Head Coach Bobby Petrino had an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position.

Solid incumbent starter Stefan LeFors returned to guide the Cardinal’s explosive offense but waiting in the wings was highly prized true freshmen Brian Brohm.

Petrino had a brewing quarterback controversy on his hands, the underrated LeFors vs. the player many fans believed would end up being the best in the program’s history, but he came up with a novel solution to the problem.

LeFors started all season but Brohm received valuable playing time by getting to command at least one offensive series per game.

Petrino’s gamble paid off handsomely in one of the biggest games of the season.

Against #2 ranked Miami on the road in a prime time game on ESPN the Cardinals found themselves in a tight contest with the Hurricanes. Late in the first half LeFors was injured and Brohm was inserted into the game. He piloted the offense beautifully thanks to having already played a good number of quality series early in his career.

Although the game ended in a U of L loss, it did serve as an example that the Cardinals would be just fine in the long run if LeFors was out of commission for an extended period of time.

Giving Barker a series or two per game in the same vein as Brohm would be beneficial for him and the team.

Not only would Barker get playing time but he would do so against SEC defenses in a high pressure environment very early on. That will limit Barker’s learning curve if he were pressed into early action and  it will also prevent the shock that undermined Phillips performance in Knoxville last November.

The first team offense will also have experience with him leading them, thus preventing a sharp drop off in chemistry in the case of a Towles injury and UK Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson will not have to tailor his strategy around Barker’s strengths while the freshmen catches up with the rest of the starters.

While Kentucky and Louisville fans are often at each other’s throats, one would hope that the coaching staffs are not to prideful to learn from the other, especially when it could make the difference in a pivotal season.

Five Teams that Could Crash the CFP Party on New Year’s Eve

Every year some team comes out of nowhere and establishes itself as a national title contender. In 2013 it was Florida State, who started the year outside the Top 10 and went on to win the final championship of the BCS era. Last year’s introduction of the College Football Playoff provided two additional spots for sleeper teams to shoot for, and although none ended up completing the journey, it did not disappoint. Ole Miss, TCU, Mississippi State, and Arizona State were all teams that began the year back in the rankings but found their way into the playoff committee’s Top 6 at some point. So what teams are capable of making a similar run in 2015? Here are my best bets.

Ole Miss

The list starts off with a team who is in a very similar position, having reached the Top 4 last year after starting the season outside the Top 10. Ole Miss starts the year at 15 in the Coaches Poll which puts them in a prime spot to make a run. I’ve already covered some of my thoughts on Ole Miss here. The only question mark for the Rebels is QB and while that sounds like a big deal, we’ve seen first time starters succeed more and more in college football recently and Ole Miss has two former top recruits to choose from. They do have to travel to Alabama (9/19) and Auburn (10/31), but the rest of the schedule is very manageable and the Rebels have the talent to go undefeated.

Missouri

Next up are the Missouri Tigers who are more than used to flying under the radar. Continuously doubted, Missouri has landed in the SEC championship game in each of the past two seasons. Is this the year they break through and win the SEC on their way to a playoff spot? Though the offense loses its Top 4 pass catchers, I suspect that side of the ball will be fine. That’s largely in part to returning seasoned quarterback Maty Mauk and RB Russell Hansbrough, who rushed for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Paving the way for Hansbrough is an O-Line that returns all five starters. That experience should also give Mauk the time he needs to find his new wide receivers. On the defensive side of the ball, a key will be replacing the pass rush of Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who combined for 24.5 sacks last year. Overall the D does return six starters. In the end though, Mizzou’s inclusion on this list comes down to the schedule as much as it does talent. They avoid Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, and LSU from the SEC West. Their toughest games are  at Georgia (10/17) and at Arkansas (11/27), but they should be favored in every other game.

Louisville

The Cardinals had a successful season in their first year in the ACC and in Bobby Petrino’s return to the Louisville sideline. They finished the regular season 9-3 with close losses to Virginia, Clemson, and FSU. This year they return two productive quarterbacks as well as their leading rusher. Besides that, with Petrino calling the shots you can count on Louisville putting up points. If the Cardinals are going to make a run this year it will be because of the defense. They only return four starters on that side of the ball, but three of those are the Cardinals 2nd, 3rd, and 4th leading tacklers from a year ago. The D also adds two potential high impact transfers in DeVonte Fields and Josh Harvey-Clemons. A nasty front seven should help make the young secondary’s job much easier. In the end, many expect a drop-off for the ‘Ville this year, but they could surprise if they can weather the early season schedule. They can make a statement in Week 1 where they get pre-season playoff contender Auburn. Though they are in the tougher ACC division, they get Clemson (9/17) at home and have a bye week before heading to Tallahassee (10/17), where the Seminoles will be coming off a game against rival Miami. The rest of the schedule is your typical ACC riff-raff.

Virginia Tech

The Hokies snuck in a winning season last year thanks to their bowl game, but things should be looking up for them in 2015. Their defense is going to be nasty. Top 5 in the country nasty. They have one of the best defensive lines AND defensive backfields in the country so it will be tough for opponents to score. The offense won’t have to do much, but it was embarrassing last year so there are no guarantees. Helping matters is that they return eight starters from that side of the ball including QB Michael Brewer and top rusher JC Coleman. With experience and improved health there is nowhere to go but up for the Hokies offense. Tech also finds themselves in the “crapshoot” division of the ACC and are the only team besides UNC and Duke (both of which the Hokies get at home) to avoid Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville on the 2015 schedule.

Utah

Allow me to take this time for a quick tangent. When I first was thinking of a Pac-12 team, I figured I would pick a team from the North division since the South is so competitive that it wouldn’t be a shock if any of the teams won it (except Colorado- sorry Buffaloes). So when I was reading up on the teams and found Utah I thought ‘Perfect!’. Stanford is a little down and Oregon lost Mariota, I could see it. Then a funny thing happened. I realized Utah is in the Pac-12 South. Wait what?! Why? Turns out Utah is much farther east and south than I thought and I could use a little brushing up on my geography skills. I still don’t get why all the California schools aren’t in the same division but that’s a topic for another day. In the end, I decided to stick to my guns with the Utes.

So what does Utah bring to the table? Can I interest you in a dynamic QB and a RB who rushed for 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns last year? How about a defense that should be one of the Top 3 in the conference? Add in maybe the best special teams in the country and a raucous home crowd and it sounds like Utah should be getting more hype. The problem for them this year is a brutal schedule. On top of being in the Pac-12 South, they have to play  at Oregon (9/26) as one of their crossover games. On the flip side, if they can go 11-2 with an upset over Oregon or USC, that schedule may just put them in the playoff.

Leave a comment below, follow Jason on Twitter @JLindy87 or e-mail him at [email protected].

Love Isn’t Always In The Air In The Sports World.

Sometimes things just don’t work out like we all had hoped for. Sometimes things start off great, but then somewhere down the road everything becomes very disfunctional and becomes very dramatic between player and coach or the organization itself. Sometimes a life without a certain player or coach can be pretty bitter and very unpleasant.

If you are one of those people that won’t be alone on Valentines day, good for you, bud. With Valentines Day coming up this Saturday, there is obviously love in the air. But there isn’t always love being exchanged throughout the sports world. If you are one of those people that are single or just recently had a breakup with your significant other and are a sports fanatic, maybe this little diddy will cheer you right up.

When there is a breakup between player and coach/organization or coach and organization, it appears to be really dramatic and bitter sweet for the most part. Breakups in the sports world tend to get ugly and escalate very quickly. A lot of these breakups tend to be very memorable and they tend to stick in the back of your mind like it happened just yesterday when it happened 10-20 years ago. Here are some of the most memorable breakups throughout the sports world.

LeBron and Cleveland: How could you not have a list like this without this being mentioned first? LeBron was loved in Cleveland from his high school years and into his professional years at Cleveland when he first graduated high school. LeBron was a dominating force in Cleveland by putting up insane numbers game in a game out. During the 2007 postseason, he led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals, but would lose to the San Antonio Spurs. When LeBron became a free agent in 2010, he held a televised show called The Decision to announce that he would leave Cleveland to join the Miami Heat. He got severe backlash from Cleveland no matter where they were by burning his jersey and Cavalier owner Dan Gilbert expressed his fustration towards LeBron via letter.

However, since this happened, LeBron and Cleveland fans have gotten back together and all is good in Cleveland as LeBron has come back to Cleveland to play for the Cavaliers once again.

Rich Rodriguez leaves WVU for Michigan: As a Mountaineer fan, this breakup sticks out the most to me. I am over this whole incident, but I can guarantee you that most of the Mountaineer nation still hates Rich Rod with a passion. Just some time after the devastating loss to Pitt back in the 2007(I’m sure most Mountaineer fans want to forget that evening), Rich Rod packed his bags and left in the middle of the night to take the opening coaching gig for the Michigan Wolverines to succeed Lloyd Carr.

His resignation from West Virginia University came just four months after renegotiating his contract which included a $4 million buyout clause. Speculation of his departure stems from a conflict of interest with new WVU president Michael Garrison. His contract states that he would have to pay his $4 million buyout if he had left the program within a year of his new contract. WVU filed a lawsuit against Rodriguez in which was later settled.

Bobby Petrino and Arkansas: Man, was this breakup ugly. Petrino had built the Arkansas football program from the ground up. Arkansas had become a force to deal with in the SEC during his tenure. However, a motorcycle crash changed all of that.

On April 1, 2012, Petrino was involved in a single motorcycle accident and hospitalized for it. He made a full recovery, and showed up to a press conference two days later. It was later revealed that he had a young female who had just been hired onto the Razorback football staff with him that night and it was later revealed that she was having an affair with Petrino. With Petrino’s rep in total shambles, he was forced to leave the program shortly after the incident.

Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers: This breakup probably still stings to Edmonton Oilers fans to this day. In a surprise move, the Oilers traded “The Great One” to the Los Angeles Kings for draft picks and cash. Gretzky delivered the Oilers 4 Stanley Cups before his departure. Gretzky never saw the success with the Kings like he had with the Oilers.

Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers: How could you replace one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time? Well, the 49ers seemed to have done that in 1993.

Joe Montana was plagued with injury after injury. Steve Young took over as quarterback over Montana and proved himself that he was now going to be the “face of the franchise”. A rift in the locker room later developed, and Montana requested a trade. The Kansas City Chiefs would eventually pick him up, but by the time he got to Kansas City, Montana’s career was pretty much over.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neill: These two had built a dynasty together out in LA by winning three titles together in the early 2000s. Eventually their egos collided, and eventually had a falling out. Shaq would eventually go on to join the Miami Heat after losing in the NBA Finals back in 2004 to the Detroit Pistons . After their falling out, both of them had no problem with publicly calling out the other.

As of right now, both of them have cleared the air, and have made up.

Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers: Favre seemed to have so much trouble handing over the reigns to now quarterback Aaron Rodgers after Rodgers pretty much kicked Favre to the bench. It seemed like Favre wanted to get back at the organization for it when he decided to sign a deal with their rival in the Minnesota Vikings. It seems as if the wounds are beginning to heal for Packers fans but this will always have a stain on Favre’s Hall Of Fame Career.

Lance Armstrong and Everybody: Lance was once loved by, pretty much, everybody throughout the world. He was the only professional bicyclist that anyone has ever heard of. Just after overcoming testicular cancer, Lance would go on to win seven straight Tour De Frances.

Eventually, allegations broke out that Lance was taking PHDs during those seven straight wins. In 2012, the USADA would investigate these claims and accused Armstrong of doping based on blood samples in 2009 and 2010.

In an interview in January 2013, Armstrong admitted to doping with Oprah Winfrey, and all seven of his titles were stripped from him and he was banned from professional cycling.

Armstrong just recently made headline news when he had done a hit-and-run on two cars, and he let his girlfriend take the fall for it. Chivalry will not die as long as there are guys like Lance around.

Jimmie Johnson and the Dallas Cowboys: Jimmie Johnson served as head coach for the Dallas Cowboys from 1989 through 1993. The reason for the departure was due to the fact that Johnson and Jerry Jones could no longer work with each other.

It all started when Jerry Jones wanted more say into controlling the football team on the field, Johnson wasn’t open arms about this idea. Just after the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl with Johnson, Jones told the media that any coach could have led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl that year. This infuriated Johnson. Another incident happened when Jimmie expressed interest in coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones told the media that he would now decide Jimmie’s future with the team. On March 28, 1994, they they agreed to part ways just after the Cowboys won their second Super Bowl under Johnson.

To this day, Johnson is not on the Dallas Cowboys “Ring Of Honor”. When asked in the summer of 2014 why Johnson was not in the ring of honor despite his two Superbowl victories as coach of the Cowboys, Jones stated: “Disloyalty … I couldn’t handle the disloyalty.”