Tag Archives: Dalvin Cook

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

Top 10 Teams Take Tough Tests in Week 3

Just like in school, college football’s first week saw a couple casualties.  There’s always that kid in class you can tell isn’t going to make it.

Week two, despite not a single matchup of ranked teams, was entertaining enough.  Generally speaking, this is the easiest part of the semester.  There aren’t many serious assignments.  You nod in-and-out of consciousness during class and, for the most part, you’re still all good.  Sorry, Cowpokes.

Before you realize it, we’re in the third week already.  By now, professors have stopped caring if you like them.  Seemingly, they’re out for blood and here comes that first exam.  Chances are it’s going to make you wish you’d paid better attention and taken higher quality notes.

Six of the top 10 teams in college football are playing what I consider “real games” this week.  These are the tough tests in week three:

#6 Houston at Cincinnati

Thursday night on ESPN

By no means is Cincinnati a great team, but playing your first true road game against a conference foe in primetime on a Thursday is certainly a challenge.  Account for the way the Bearcats and the record-breaking Nippert Stadium crowd showed up, and this game qualifies as a tough test.

It was good to see Houston follow up its solid win over Oklahoma two weeks ago.  No, the Cougars did not dominate an inferior opponent until late.  Still, Houston is a legitimate national title contender.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Houston gave up a touchdown, opening up a 16-12 deficit, Cincinnati failing a two-point try.  The Cougars answered with an efficient 10-play, 61-yard drive, going up 19-16.

Then they intercepted a pass on the following drive and Greg Ward Jr. led them 60 yards down the field, using 11 plays for a second consecutive touchdown drive.  Cincinnati’s next drive was another interception, this one a house call.  The first play of the next drive was a second consecutive pick six.

All of a sudden it was 40-16 with 3:40 left.  I bring this up because those who didn’t watch will look at the score and laugh, not knowing it took the Cougars’ best to finally dispose of the Bearcats.

This was a great game, but the most interesting part is that it’ll be a Big 12 matchup next year.  That’s right, keep that expansion mumbo jumbo rolling.

It’s no secret Houston is the prize pig for the weakest of the Power 5.  Interestingly, the Cincinnati Bearcats stepped up to the occasion and gave us an unusually exciting Thursday night game.  I think that scores them major points with the Big 12 big wigs.

Anyway, the Houston Cougars came away with a win similar to the one they’ll need every week the rest of the season to keep the Power-5-Playoff-busting dream alive.

#2 Florida State at #10 Louisville

Saturday noon on ABC

It’s really a shame that these two, along with Clemson, are all in the Atlantic division, while the Coastal can’t boast one team legitimately on the same level.  Essentially, this is an ACC semi-final.  The early season aspect makes it all the more interesting.

Lamar Jackson needs to do his thing if he’s going to be a serious Heisman contender this fall.  He’s wowed us with big numbers and flashy plays against inferior teams, thus far.  As Famous Jameis reminded them against Ole Miss two weeks ago, the Seminoles ain’t no puppies.

Winston goes on to say, “We got the best running back in the whole damn league,” referring to the best college running back in the whole damn country, Dalvin Cook.  Watch Cook feast on the Cardinals.

#1 Alabama at #19 Ole Miss

Saturday 3:30 p.m. on CBS

The Tide have lost but thrice in the past two seasons.  Two of those losses have come at the hands of the Rebels.  Recent history is telling us this is the toughest test for Nick Saban and the big, bad Bama boys.  I believe in superstitious stuff like that.

This’ll be closer than the experts think.  Break out your best bowties and slickest seersuckers.  It’s a game day at the Grove with Verne and Gary.

#3 Oh*o State at #14 Oklahoma

Saturday 7:30 p.m. on FOX

Incredibly, Oh*o State still hasn’t lost a true road game under Urban Meyer.  That includes one game in a ranked opponent’s barn in each of his four seasons as Head Buckeye.

You all know I have no love for Oh*o State, but I think it’s absolutely awesome it’s playing this game in Norman, Oklahoma.

The kicker is: Oklahoma cannot afford to take another loss, even if it is a non-conference contest.  I’m curious how, if, that motivates the Fighting Covered Wagons.

I’ll be focusing on the quarterback play.  We’ve got two of the most electric QBs in the nation, J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield, going head-to-head.  Expect a flurry of points late as these two go back-and-forth, after they get warmed up.

USC at #7 Stanford

Saturday 8 p.m. on ABC

USC could well have yet another average team that’ll live on unwarranted hype.  Still, this is a real rivalry game that Stanford will not be looking past.

The Cardinal took both the regular season square-off and the Pac-12 Championship Game last year.  The Trojans won the two matchups previous to that, including the last time this rivalry was played at Stanford, in 2014.

Five Progress Reports Pending

We learned a good deal about Houston on Thursday night.  You don’t have to go out on a limb to say that we’ll know much more about five other top ten teams after this weekend.

Good luck on your exams.  Hope you did a little studying in-between beers.

 

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Flickr user – Ken Lund

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Campus Pressbox 58: Lamar Jackson for Heisman

Kristen Botica (@OGKristenB) and Damon Del Rosario (@DamoKnowsSports) revisit some of the action from last weekend’s games, discussing what surprised them most during the first weekend of college football. They also discuss some of the early Heisman candidates after getting a taste for what this season may hold for the best athletes. And looking ahead to this weekend with less marquis matchups, they discuss a few of the games that are most intriguing to them.

Smackdown Friday: “Swag” Kelly and Ole Miss will Teach Florida State What Strong Looks Like

Labor Day is just a welcomed day off from both work and school for most people. But for Ole Miss this year, it’s the day they take down the Florida State Seminoles. It will definitely feel like a holiday for the Rebels on Monday night.

Let’s just revisit how both teams ended the year last season…

Ole Miss was selected to play the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Sugar Bowl. Florida State got the opportunity to play the Houston Cougars in the Peach Bowl. The Rebels won the Sugar Bowl against the #16 Cowboys by 28 points. Crazy, right? What a blowout! The Seminoles lost the Peach Bowl to the #14 Cougars by 14. Not quite a blowout, but also not a good showing for the Seminoles against a non Power Five opponent. I bet that one still hurts a little bit in Tallahassee.

Heading into this season, I didn’t get the chance to ask Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois how he and his teammates got psyched up for this first game. But thanks to Florida State’s most infamous rhetorician, Jameis Winston, I do have an idea of how he might reply. It would probably go a little something like this…

“And those men looked me in the eye and they said ‘We got this, Deondre.’ And I said…we said…I said, ‘Are you scrong?’ They said, ‘I’m scrong if you scrong.’ And I said ‘we scrong then.’”

So now I have a question… Are we talking ACC “scrong” or SEC strong? Because those are two entirely different things when it comes to college football. Florida State can be ACC “scrong” all they want, but when you’re enjoying cakewalks in most of your conference play, then you clearly have no idea what strong means to a conference like the SEC. Ole Miss beat the eventual National Champion last season. Florida State, on the other hand, lost to the eventual Runner-Up last year. Clearly there are two different standards for strength/”scrength” here.

And I have another question about being “scrong.” How do you really consider a game in Orlando to be a neutral site game? Are you that scared to leave the state and play a formidable opponent? Tallahassee is practically on the way to Orlando for Ole Miss fans. But of course the Seminoles think this is a great matchup, many of them citing the neutral setting making it an even harder matchup for them. A neutral setting being exponentially closer to your fan base doesn’t sound so “scrong” to me. But I guess Seminole fans can just keep saying whatever helps them sleep at night now that Bobby Bowden is gone.

Do you know what actually sounds strong? Ole Miss quarterback Chad “Swag” Kelly. If Francois pays close attention on the sidelines while the Ole Miss offense dominates the game, he might be able to learn a thing or two about being a quarterback. Swag Kelly has been vocal in saying he’s the best quarterback not just in the SEC, but also in the entire country. He’s not just saying he’s strong if his teammates are strong. He’s saying he’s stronger than anyone else regardless. I can’t wait to see that confidence in action versus a non-SEC defense. I mean, talk about swag. Running up the scoreboard on a top five program sounds right up Kelly’s alley.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Ole Miss has proven to be pretty clever leading up to this game. Clever is a word I don’t imagine many Florida State players would understand. It came to light that Florida State running back Dalvin Cook actually has ties to Ole Miss. His brother, Deandre Burnett, plays on their basketball team. Because of this connection, Ole Miss and Mr. Swag Kelly himself chose to make a nice little parody video to get the season going.

As much as I clearly love the Seminoles I love the SEC more. No team in the ACC will ever compare in my heart. And while Ole Miss may have their own issues to resolve with the NCAA, at least their star players aren’t stupid enough to walk out of a grocery store without paying for $32 worth of crab legs or yell obscene things in the middle of the school union. And their fans seem to understand the concept of reflective surfaces, unlike my favorite Seminoles fan. You do you, Tallahassee. But you stay classy, Oxford!

The featured picture is my rendition of my favorite Florida State fan and of course, my favorite fan herself. Yes, I did actually wear that to a Halloween party in Gainesville, Florida last year.

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

All Aboard the Tar Heel Bandwagon

Down the stretch last fall, a good buddy of mine hopped on the North Carolina Tar Heels’ bandwagon.  He’s a big fan of this guy, Ryan Switzer.  Why exactly, I couldn’t tell you.

Now, contrary to popular belief, being a bandwagon fan is not a bad thing.  If your hometown team sucks, or if you lack one altogether, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking up an alternate rooting interest.

Doing so can revitalize your love for the game.  Believe me, as a Michigan fan that spent his high school and college years watching Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke coached teams, I know.  If you have a true love for the game, you’ll be able to pick up that side team no problem.

Anyway, I had been watching last year’s Heels somewhat closely ever since they’d proven me wrong, winning at Georgia Tech in early October.  Then, when they popped Pitt on the road at the end of the month, I was ready to ride the Fighting Michael Jordans all the way to a surprise playoff appearance.

I called for the upset in the ACC Championship Game, but the Heels and I can’t get no (dunh nuh nuh) satis-faction.  So, I’m here now to double down.

ACC Ripe for Picking

The Tar Heels are the team to beat on the East Coast this fall.

A quick aside: UNC’s athletic director’s name is Bubba Cunningham.  Without knowing anything about him personally, that’s a man I want to see succeed, if only because we’ll get to hear the name Bubba Cunningham more often.

Clemson is good, yes.  DeShaun Watson will likely be the best quarterback in the draft class.  Florida State is also good.  Dalvin Cook will be a top pick, too.  The Tigers and the Seminoles will come up short this season, though.

What Clemson did last year was captivating.  We all wanted that team to succeed so we could watch Dabo Swinney act a fool after big wins.  Realistically, a repeat performance will be tremendously difficult.

Say goodbye to seven key members of last year’s defense, including ends Shaw Lawson and Kevin Dodd, corner Mackensie Alexander, and safety T.J. Green, who all went in the first two rounds of the draft.

Overwhelming firepower only takes you so far when you lack proper fortifications.  I’ll err on the side of Clemson’s replacements not being as sturdy as the now pros they’re taking over for.

Florida State is the new USC.  That 2013 national championship was supposed to be a springboard for FSU, not the pinnacle.

We keep hearing about how loaded Jimbo Fisher’s group is but we’ve not seen enough supporting evidence the past two years to legitimize the hype.  The Seminoles have lost the benefit of the doubt.  They’ve got a lot to prove in order to earn it back.

Closing Statement

North Carolina wins the ACC this year because it replaces its gamebreaker with a steady hand that can utilize all the returning talent around him.  Mitch Trubisky is taking over for Marquise Williams and with a name like that he’s got to be good.

Five All-ACC selections return on the offensive side.  Switzer, along with running back Elijah Hood, receiver Mack Hollins, guard Caleb Peterson, and tackle Jon Heck will all be reliable cogs in the UNC machine.  Receiver Bug Howard, tackle Bentley Spain, and center Lucas Crowley are all back as well.

Interestingly enough, former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman is now a volunteer coach for the Tar Heels.  Beckman, who was fired almost a year ago to the day for mistreatment of players, will help scout and evaluate film.

This is an excellent move by head coach Larry Fedora, who’s familiar with Beckman from their time together on the 2007 Oklahoma State staff.  Basically, Fedora is getting a major bargain, adding a veteran defensive-minded coach with plenty of incentive to get his act together at no cost.

Normally, having to replace a quarterback, particularly one of Williams’ stature, is a great way for me to not pick you to do much.  However, the progress report on Trubisky and the supporting cast he’ll be able to lean on have me sipping the Carolina blue kool-aid.

No, it won’t be either one of the usual suspects representing the ACC in this season’s playoff.  It’ll be the team whose bandwagon is about to pick up many more interested travelers along the way.

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Predicted: New Year’s Six and the College Football Playoff National Championship

This is the third and final part of my 2016 College Football Preview. The picks in this article directly reflect my first and second article, so check those out before reading this one.

Orange Bowl (ACC vs. Big Ten/SEC/ND) 12/31/16

Miami (9-4) vs. LSU (10-2)

The Matchup: Miami will get the automatic ACC bid, as the Hurricanes are the best ACC team not in the CFP. LSU squeezes its way into the New Year’s Six over the likes of Notre Dame, the second team in line who just misses the New Year’s Six due to their indecisiveness at the QB position early in the season, which cost a few games. Other teams who are in the hunt for the Tigers’ Orange Bowl spot are Michigan State, Ole Miss and Arkansas, but none of them finish over 9-3.

The Game: This is Leonard Fournette’s final game in an LSU jersey. He will eat up the Miami defense, which will have to deal with a bit of Les Miles madness. LSU will come out passing early and often, as the Miami defense gets weaker the further away from the line of scrimmage you go. Once the Tigers expose Miami’s pass defense, LSU will catch the Hurricanes on their heels by simply letting Fournette run over the competition. Fournette’s early season injury may keep him out of the Heisman Race, but he will sure look like a Heisman winner after this game is all said and done. LSU will simply put up too many points for the Hurricanes to keep up with.

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

Cotton Bowl (At-Large vs. At-Large) 1/2/17

Michigan (11-1) vs. UH (12-1)

The Matchup: Michigan is not happy to be here. The Wolverines believe that it belongs in the CFP. However, it ends up playing in Dallas facing off against a Houston Cougars squad whose excitement to be in this spotlight inversely mirrors the Wolverines.

The Game: The team’s respective enthusiasm for this particular game reflects into the matchup’s first half to a large degree. Michigan comes out uninterested and sluggish, which a Greg Ward, AAC player of the Year, powered Cougar offense heavily exploits. The First Half ends with the Cougars up 14-10. The Wolverines swing back in the second half, and take a three-point lead over UH with just over a minute left in the game. Greg Ward leads a final charge down the field into the red zone with time winding down. However, after two incomplete passes, Jabrill Peppers fools Ward, after Peppers fakes a blitz before dropping back into coverage. The strong Wolverine defensive line forces Ward to rush a decision, and he overlooks Peppers before throwing a pass which Peppers intercepts.

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) 1/2/17

Iowa (9-4) vs. Stanford (11-2)

The Matchup: Iowa, who lost the Big Ten championship to Ohio State, gets the automatic Rose Bowl bid. Stanford, meanwhile, wins the Pac-12 and because no Pac-12 team gets into the CFP, are the other automatic bid, which makes the 2017 Rose Bowl an identical matchup to the 2016 game.

The Game:  This game will have a similar outcome as the matchup the previous year. Stanford will let Christian McCaffrey run free, and he will single-handedly slaughter Iowa. Iowa, in all honesty, does not belong in the Rose Bowl, and once again, the game’s result shows that. This one is not even close.

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

Sugar Bowl (Big 12 vs. SEC) 1/2/17

TCU (10-2) vs. Tennessee (10-3)

The Matchup: I’m going to be honest. Even though I picked them to be here, I would be surprised if Tennessee can win the SEC East and get the automatic bowl berth. The Volunteers’ inconsistency over the last several years makes I hard to believe that it can string together a solid season and take the East over Georgia and Florida. But, that’s what my mind believed when I wrote last week’s prediction article, so here we are. If the Volunteers manage to make it to the Sugar Bowl, it will face off against TCU, winners of the lackluster Big 12.

The Game: Despite the fact that I don’t think it will make it to this game, I think the SEC will prove too much for TCU. Tennessee, behind powerhouse running back Jalen Hurd and a Joshua Dobbs who develops into a great passer throughout the season, are able to out muster the Horned Frogs offensively. Tennessee’ defense, which nine starters, will shut down the Horned Frogs’ offense. This will be a defensive battle between these two teams, but the Volunteers prevail.

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

Peach Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal)  12/31/16

#1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 FSU (11-1)

The Matchup: Ohio State, still riding off “The Game of the Century” Part 2, in which the Buckeyes beat #2 ranked Michigan, gets the #1 overall seed for the third annual College Football Playoff. FSU, meanwhile, campaigns hard for its spot, which the Seminoles fight Michigan, Stanford, TCU and Houston for. However, dominating wins late in the season after a close defeat to Clemson allow FSU to squeeze into its second College Football Playoff appearance.

The Game: Lead by recently crowned Heisman Trophy winner, J.T. Barrett, the Buckeyes get off to a quick start, scoring quickly on a pass over the middle against the weakest part of the Seminole defense. However, the Buckeyes’ inexperienced defense will struggle to do anything to stop the Dalvin Cook Seminole offense, and FSU goes up by 10 heading into halftime. Coming out of the half, Dontre Wilson brings the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown, making the Buckeyes deficit only three. Both defenses then hunker down, with the likes of Raekwon McMillan and DeMarcus Walker dominating for the Buckeyes and Seminoles respectively. Late in the 4th, J.T. Barrett leads Ohio State down the field, but Urban Meyer has to settle for a field goal. However, with two minutes to work with, Dalvin Cook is able to take his time and rush the Seminoles into Field Goal position with only a few ticks left. Ricky Aguayo gets a perfect hold ad knocks home a 52-yard field goal as time expires to allow the Seminoles to win.

Final Score: Florida State Seminoles 23 – Ohio State Buckeyes 20

Fiesta Bowl (College Football Playoff Semifinal) 12/31/16

#2 Clemson (13-0) vs. #3 Alabama (12-1)

The Matchup: Winners of the ACC and SEC respectively, Clemson and Alabama both come off monster season to qualify as the middle seeds for the College Football Playoff. Heisman runner-up Deshaun Watson, Clemson finished undefeated, while Alabama’s only loss came to Ole Miss early in the season.

The Game: This game will ultimately come down to Clemson’s offense vs. Alabama’s defense. The Alabama offense will struggle with Cooper Bateman at the helm, but Clemson’s defense will not be nearly as dominant as years past, allowing the Crimson Tide to find holes to score both on the ground and in the air. However, the issue for Alabama is that Clemson’s offense simply has too many pieces, as if the passing game to wide outs Mike Williams and Artavis Scott struggles, Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, both of whom were 1000 yard rushers in 2015, can simply push Alabama back behind the Tigers’ O-Line. Though Alabama remains in the game in the first half, Clemson comes out firing in the second and breaks the game wide open. Alabama, though talented, won’t have an answer for Clemson, and the Tigers win the game by a fairly wide margin. The Crimson Tide’s shot at returning to the College Football National Championship is cut one game short.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

 College Football Playoff National Championship 1/9/16 (Tampa, FL)

#2 Clemson Tigers (14-0) vs. #4 Florida State Seminoles (12-1)

The Game: This game is going to be a rematch of possibly the best offensive matchup of the 2016 season. Earlier, Clemson beat out FSU in Tallahassee, and that is why the Tigers remained undefeated the entire year. The National Championship, featuring two teams less located less than 600 miles from the game’s location, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be an offensive bout the likes of which we haven’t seen in man years. While both teams have competent defenses, Clemson and FSU will look to win the National Championship with offensive firepower. This game will actually not be as much of a nail-biter as their first matchup, as Deshaun Watson, in his second straight title game, will come out firing on all cylinders. FSU will stay in the game, but the Clemson offense will prove to be too much, and keep a constant lead over the Seminoles the entire game. The Clemson Tigers will have its first National Title since 1981.

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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Image Courtesy of Counse – Flickr

Dalvin Cook will be Better than Leonard Fournette in 2016

When it comes to winning the 2016 Heisman trophy, we’ve all heard the same few names getting all of the preseason love – Deshaun Watson, Christian McCaffery and Leonard Fournette. Fournette gets so much love that if Beano Cook were alive today (yes, I’m that old), he would predict Fournette to win not two, but four Heismans.

There is one player that many seem to be sleeping on and that is Florida State running back Dalvin Cook.

Look, I know, people are aware of Cook. He isn’t some unknown commodity that is going to come out of nowhere, but when compared to the hype surrounding someone like Fournette or even McCaffery, we hear very little about Cook.

All three of these running backs had gaudy statistics last year. Fournette and McCaffery were each one-man wrecking crews as they were asked to carry their teams each week. Cook was equally capable of carrying the load but played on a team that had more around him. And for that he is penalized in the eye of the viewer.

He is also penalized for not playing in the SEC…as many players are. It is for that same reason Fournette is built up to that Beano Cook size proportion. Fournette plays in the SEC. The SEC, baby!

Cook flat out shined last season when the spotlight was the brightest. FSU lost to Clemson, 23-13, despite a 21-carry, 194-yard, one-touchdown performance from Cook. Yeah, 9.2 yards per carry wasn’t too shabby against the eventual national championship runner-up. And don’t forget that this game was played at Clemson, so that preconceived notion that a team can’t run the ball effectively on the road was laid to waste.

As was the case with Cook, Fournette’s spotlight game was a road game, as LSU lost to eventual national champion Alabama, 30-16. Fournette contributed 19 carries for 31 yards and a touchdown. Well, on second thought, maybe a team can’t run the ball on the road?

Look, I love Fournette. I believe he is a phenomenal talent who is one of the best running backs in college football, but you all need to slow down with your Fournette for Heisman, Fournette for President and Fournette for Supreme Leader of the Universe campaigns.

Cook is poised to go on an absolute tear this season. I expect him to shred defenses as Florida State barrels towards the national championship.

There is a showcase game for him on Monday, September 5 as the Seminoles open the season against Ole Miss. And they get Clemson at Doak Walker this year.

Oh, yeah, and that Ole Miss game just became even bigger for Cook now that Sean Maguire, FSU’s starting quarterback, is injured. I don’t wish an injury on any player, but this will be a golden opportunity for Cook to show the country just what he’s made of.

On Monday Night Football, Dalvin Cook will be asked to carry an additional load and it’s a game against the big, bad SEC. I guess there’s only one thing for Cook to do. Dominate.

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

Photo: Flickr.com

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The Best Football Games of 2016

It has felt like forever since Alabama knocked off Clemson for the national title. But worry not college football aficionados, it’s getting closer. Spring games are in the books and in just a couple short months, preview magazines will be hitting the shelves. Before we know it we’ll be settling in for another exciting college football season.

I recently listed the best ten games each conference has to offer in 2016, but here I’ve whittled those down to the ten best games to look forward to in 2016. Fans have been looking forward to some of these games for two or three years. Do those games look as exciting now as they did when they were scheduled? Let’s find out.

10. LSU at Wisconsin (Saturday, September 3)

We begin the Top 10 Games of 2016 with the first of four games from the opening weekend (3:30 pm est, ABC). If that doesn’t get you as riled up for college football as spring game attendance numbers do then I don’t know what will. This is the one game where the off-field storylines probably over-shadow the on-field ones. Dave Aranda just became LSU’s defensive coordinator after leaving the same position at Wisconsin. Not only is an SEC team playing north of the Mason-Dixon line a rare occurrence, it’s an SEC team playing a virtual road game, in Wisconsin. Oh, and it’s at Lambeau Field. There have been just a few classic games played there.

9. Oklahoma at Houston (Saturday, September 3)

Oklahoma is getting a lot more than it bargained for, because I’m guessing they didn’t think Houston would be a top 15-type team when this game was announced a couple years ago. A Sooner defense that replaces half of its starters, including its best pass-rushers, will get to face dynamic Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. On the other side, Houston will be starting four new defensive backs and gets to try and limit Heisman contender Baker Mayfield. Expect points, lots of them (ABC, Noon est). And the loser? They leave opening weekend not being able to afford another loss the rest of the way if they want to make the Playoff.

8. Florida State at Ole Miss (Monday, September 5)

The Seminoles and the Rebels doesn’t have quite the same ring to it that some of the other games on this list do, but it could be just as important. The Seminoles will be ranked highly to begin the year, but a loss on opening weekend would leave them no margin for error the rest of the season. The Rebels probably missed their golden opportunity a season ago, but their bid to dispel that notion can get off to a strong start with a win here. A few years of great recruiting classes mean Ole Miss can match up with Florida State talent wise. The Rebels also have a quarterback returning in Chad Kelly,who led the Rebels to wins over Alabama and LSU last year. On an opening weekend that features plenty of intriguing match-ups, this stand-alone game on Labor Day night is the perfect ending.

7. Ohio State at Oklahoma (Saturday, September 17)

These two teams have scheduled tough out-of-conference contests for years, but this one raises the bar. It’s hard to say this game has lost some of its luster when both teams could be ranked in the top 10. As it sits now however, there is a lot more uncertainty between these two programs than fans would have hoped when the game was announced. Having to replace key starters on defense, it will be difficult for Oklahoma to replicate the success it had last year, and it’s hard to know what to expect out of a Buckeye team that brings back just six starting players. All of these factors keep this game from being top five on this list. Both of these teams easily reload, and with Heisman contenders at quarterback in Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett, this match-up is still one of the best non-conferences games we’ll see all year (7:30 pm est on Fox).

6. Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, November 12)

The shift in the Big 12 has been amazing the past couple years, with Baylor vs. TCU being the game. Oklahoma took back some of that hold with its Big 12 championship last year. With TCU’s season looking much more like a rebuild, it leaves the Bears and Sooners to battle as the conference favorites. Both teams should have potent offenses, and with questionable defenses, this game should provide an entertaining four hours even if both teams aren’t still in the playoff race.

5. Stanford at Notre Dame (Saturday, October 15)

The Cardinal and Irish played an instant classic last season that Stanford won narrowly, 38-36. It was effectively a playoff elimination game and could be again this season. Stanford will have to replace Kevin Hogan, who won 36 games under center for the Cardinal. That won’t be a huge disadvantage in a 2016 Pac-12 conference that sees a lot of teams having to replace their starting signal-caller as well. Because of this, Stanford will have its sights set on another Pac-12 championship, but this mid-season non-conference game will determine if the conference title or a playoff spot is the Cardinal’s ceiling. On the other side, Notre Dame will be looking to make up for an opportunity lost last year when they came so close to making the Playoff, even after suffering a multitude of injuries at key spots. This game will be their best chance to put a statement win on their resume (7:30 pm est, NBC).

4. Alabama vs. USC (Saturday, September 3)

This is one of the aforementioned games that fans have looked forward to for years, since the day it was announced. Though the Trojans haven’t exactly lived up to their end of the bargain in terms of making this a matchup of playoff contenders, the game is still reason enough to clear your schedule on the season’s opening Saturday night. Alabama may have gotten back to the top of the college football mountain, but the defense was still vulnerable against playmakers, which USC has. Both teams will have a new starting quarterback under center and what a way to break them in. Need one more reason to tune in? These storied programs haven’t played in over 30 years, so who knows when we’ll see it again (ABC at 8:00 pm est).

3. Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, October 29)

It’s the annual “which team is the ACC’s playoff contender” game. Florida State has every starter returning on offense, most important of which is electric running back Dalvin Cook. Clemson has the Heisman favorite in quarterback Deshaun Watson. Both offenses should be great, but this one will be decided by whose defense makes enough plays. The Seminoles’ stop unit has been underwhelming the last couple years considering the talent on hand, and the Tigers’ have to replace five defensive starters who left early for the NFL draft.

2. Michigan at Ohio State (Saturday, November 26)

“The Game” finally returned to national prominence thanks to Jim Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor. Harbaugh had Michigan ahead of schedule in 2015, but the Buckeyes showed they still had a ways to go, laying the smack down on the Wolverines to end each team’s regular season. This year looks to be different, however. Michigan might be ranked in the top five while Ohio State has just six starters returning. With the Wolverine’s trying to make a playoff push, will it be Urban Meyer’s squad in the spoiler role?

1. Alabama at LSU (Saturday, November 5)

For almost a decade, the winner of this game became an instant front-runner for a spot in the BCS Championship Game or College Football Playoff. This year will be no different. After answering questions about their dynasty potentially falling, the Crimson Tide will have few naysayers this season. With the cupboard as full as it always is for Nick Saban, he’ll be expected to lead Alabama to the Playoff once again. On the other side is LSU, which feels like it’s coming off a disappointing season, even after finishing 10-3. With the most starters in the nation returning (spurring a likely top 10 pre-season ranking), this is Les Miles chance to over-take Saban and get back atop the SEC.

Feature image courtesy Matt Velazquez

ACC Links: The Weakest Link Edition

Boston College’s ACC Struggles

The Boston College Eagles have had a history of success in their athletic program, especially in football. This past season they managed to lose every single conference game they played. To make matters worse, the Boston College basketball team also lost every single one of its conference games. The Eagles have seemed to slowly decline since they joined the ACC in 2005. As in previous years, the ACC was clearly trying to become more of a “football conference.” And, as in previous years, the program that they chose to add only became worse after becoming a part of the conference. This raises all sorts of questions about what happens to a team when they start playing ACC football, or any ACC sport, for that matter. So is it time to vote Boston College off the ACC Island? Well, I’m just going to go ahead and vote for everybody and say yes. Boston College, you are the weakest link. Goodbye.

Heisman Potential in ACC Football

The ACC had outstanding offensive talent scattered throughout the conference last season. Much of that talent is returning this year, leaving a pretty decent list of the conference’s top five Heisman Trophy candidates. This list obviously includes Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who I discussed in last week’s ACC football links. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook was also clearly included in the list after being an integral part of the Seminole offensive attack last season. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was also included, as he had a solid season last year and is expected to grow even more under Mark Richt. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is on this list despite having a quiet season last year since he shared reps. Finishing out the list is North Carolina running back Elijah Hood, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. With players like these playing huge roles in each team’s offensive attack, I would not be surprised to see a Heisman winner from an ACC football program this year. I guess you could say that these guys are definitely not the weakest links.

Jimbo Fisher’s Toughest Schedule

Much has been said about Florida State’s strength of schedule in previous seasons. This year, the Seminoles are playing what is arguably their most difficult schedule since Jimbo Fisher took over the team in 2010. Florida State opens the season against Ole Miss and also plays Louisville, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, and Florida. The teams on their schedule actually posted a combined record of 96-61 during last season, which puts them at a win percentage of over 61 percent. If Florida State can navigate their way through this schedule and win the ACC, there should be no argument about whether or not they deserve to be included in this year’s College Football Playoff. To continue with the theme of weakest links, clearly Florida State’s competition does not fit that bill.

Pittsburgh’s James Conner is Cancer-Free

Last December, Pittsburgh running back James Conner announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma. Conner was nursing a knee injury last year after having a great sophomore season in 2014. During that season alone, he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. His fighting spirit has been an inspiration to Pittsburgh fans as well as many others throughout the country. Conner recently made an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show, only to be surprised by another football player who fought Hodgkin lymphoma, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry. Just a few days ago, he announced that his body is clean of cancer. Here’s to hoping he pulls an Eric Berry, coming back even stronger than he was before his battle with cancer. That would be scary for the rest of the ACC football teams. And James Conner, you are ACC football’s strongest link.

Image courtesy of wikimedia user Ayzmo.

My 2017 “Big Board”

Now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete, it’s time to start talking about the 2017 draft.  It’s like Christmas, every year people start getting in the holiday spirit earlier than the year before.  Well, this year we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

We don’t know which NFL teams will be drafting at the top.  We don’t know which college players will stand out in the fall.  Still, that shouldn’t stop us from having some fun.  Let’s look at some possible 2017 draftees before the 2016 rookie contracts are finalized.

Disclaimer: I’m totally playing favorites here.  This is not meant to be a serious, analytical piece examining which prospects will be taken in the top ten.  This is simply a list of ten guys I’m looking forward to watching go through the process of turning pro.

  1. Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan

This is the main reason I had to put in the disclaimer.  I haven’t seen enough of Rush to be fully comfortable saying he’ll make for a great pro one day, but I have seen enough to be interested in how he does this fall.  Last year’s stats are intriguing.  25 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, 3848 yards on 324 completions, a 66.3 completion percentage, if he improves on those numbers he’ll certainly draw someone’s interest.

  1. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Without Freeman, the Oregon Ducks might have lost six games last year, instead of four.  Whenever Vernon Adams was struggling (which was often), his saving grace was being able to hand it to Freeman.  He rushed for at least 105 yards in all but two games and scored touchdowns in bunches with six multi-score performances.

  1. Roger Lewis, WR, Bowling Green

Again, I’m never sure how anyone else is going to look at MAC football and those who play it, but this guy’s talented.  He’s got the hands, the quickness and at six-foot, 196 he’s not as small as he sometimes looks.  As a sophomore last year, Lewis won the Paul Warfield Award, the Touchdown Club of Columbus’ honor for the nation’s top collegiate receiver.  2014’s winner was Amari Cooper.  Even though his quarterback has graduated, I can’t wait to see what Lewis will do this fall.

  1. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

Another super sophomore last year, Smith-Schuster put up the fourth most receiving yards in FBS.  If you want to see blazing speed you’ve found it right here.  Get the ball in this guy’s hands and watch him run by people.  There’s no doubt he has some refining to do, but his potential is undeniable.

  1. Desmond King, DB, Iowa

With so much passing going on, corners are valuable nowadays and King is one of the best around.  Iowa went undefeated in the regular season because of its defense, which becomes much easier to play when you only have to worry about the opposing quarterback throwing to one side of the field.  King locked down the opponents’ best target all season.  Maybe last year was a fluke, but I doubt it.

  1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

Mr. Yards after the Catch, himself checks in at number five.  McCaffrey finished third in Heisman voting last season and will be back in New York as a finalist again this year.  On a team that’s lacked offensive playmakers for years, he’s what Cardinal fans have been waiting for.  Hand it to him, split him out, sneak him out into the flat and check it down to him, it doesn’t matter.  McCaffrey averages six yards a carry and 14 yards per completion.

  1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Mayfield burst onto the scene during Oklahoma’s magical run to the College Football Playoff and I want to see if he can continue playing at such a high level.  The top-notch numbers he put up were one thing, but the way he led his team by example was another.  The Sooners fed off his energy and he was able to answer the bell for them just about every time.  He’s fun to watch and I’m glad he’ll be coming back for another year.

  1. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

With Derrick Henry and McCaffrey and Leo Fournette all going off last fall, Cook got a bit overshadowed.  Still, he scored 19 touchdowns on the ground and was one of two players with 200 attempts to average north of seven yards a carry.  Don’t forget about this guy.

  1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

He’s got to be the most feared defender in college right now, which is funny because his team is terrible defensively.  Opponents plan their games around Garrett and it works because there’s no one else to help.  Garrett still gets his though.  12.5 sacks last year tied him with Shaq Lawson for fifth in the FBS.  There’s a premium on pass rushers of late and Garrett looks to be the next great one.

  1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

This guy’s unreal.  He can bully you or blow by you, depending how he’s feeling at the time.  Last fall, Fournette got off to a torrid start, rushing for 1352 yards in his first seven games.  He couldn’t keep up that frantic pace, but he still finished third in the FBS in rushing yards.  This rising junior has already proven, at least physically, he’s ready for the jump to the NFL.  Watching him takeover games should be even more of a spectacle in 2016.

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