Tag Archives: Duke

For Villanova, A Champion’s Hangover

It’s happened in consecutive years now, the media overrates the defending national champion heading into the following men’s basketball season. We saw it with Duke after its 2014-15 championship– the Blue Devils were picked to win the ACC and return to the Final Four in 2015-16 by most major publications.

Now it’s happening with Villanova.

The Wildcats return talent, most notably Josh Hart and Big Shot Kris Jenkins. Jalen Brunson returns with a full year of play under his belt, expect him to take a leap.

There’s a lot to be excited about.

Talent, experience, a proven head coach who now has a national championship to solidify his place in the upper echelon of NCAA head coaches. How could the 2016-17 Villanova Wildcats possibly be overrated?

Ryan Arcidiacono is gone.

Arcidiacono led Villanova in assists, three point percentage, steals and minutes. The stats don’t begin to define his importance to the 2015-16 Wildcats. Not only was he their leader on the floor, he was their leader off it. A man Jay Wright could trust to get everyone in position both offensively and defensively.

Coming off of its 2014-15 national championship, Duke lost Quinn Cook. While his fellow departing teammates Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow would grab the headlines, Cook is who the Blue Devils turned to when they were out of sync during that season.

His departure left the Duke with a leadership void (and along with the departure of Tyus Jones) one true point guard on the roster in incoming Freshman Derryck Thornton. It didn’t work out for Duke and Thornton, and the Blue Devils would finish with seven conference losses and a Sweet 16 loss to Oregon.

It’s easy to point out Duke competed in a tougher ACC, and lost more talent coming off of their national championship than Villanova has coming off last year’s title. The Wildcats should be able to compete for a regular season Big East title, with safe money going on them finishing anywhere between first and third in the conference.

The issue is not with where they will finish in conference, it’s where people have them placed nationally. Many have the Wildcats as a top-five team nationally in their preseason polls, which is puzzling.

The same media members who refused to take Villanova and the Big East seriously throughout the 2015-16 are now stating the Wildcats have a good chance to repeat as national champions. A team which got hot, playing their best ball down the stretch, is expected to continue to play at such a high level without the man who enabled it all the come together.

I’m not buying it, and neither should you.

Josh Hart should be better, Kris Jenkins should be better, Jalen Brunson should be better– Villanova will not be better.

Arcidiacono, their leader, is gone. Daniel Ochefu, their main interior presence from last season is gone. Omari Spellman, who many media members touted would replace the play of Ochefu, is ineligible.

The Wildcats has returning talent, and one heck of a head coach, but believing they’re a top-five team heading into the 2016-17 season is an insult to what Ryan Arcidiacono brought to the 2015-16 Villanova Wildcats.

Email Zak at [email protected] or follow him @playorbplayd.

Image courtesy of justinknabb, Flickr

Way-Too-Early Schedule Game: Notre Dame Edition

Well, it’s that time of the year. Summer is upon us and it’s almost okay to start dreaming of the college football season. Yes, it is only June, and still way too early for a legitimate top 25 and too early to count anyone out – or in, for that matter – of the national championship race.

Where does that leave us, you ask? I think it puts us in the perfect place to play everyone’s favorite game, the schedule game.

Over the course of this column I’m going to take a look at each of the 12 opponents Notre Dame will be facing during the 2016 regular season, give a quick breakdown and background information, and make a “way-too-early” pick on the game. Sound simple enough? Good!

Week 1 at Texas – Sunday, September 4 – Austin, TX

In a rematch of last season’s opener, Notre Dame will travel to the University of Texas to take on the Longhorns to begin the season. Last year, the Irish smoked Charlie Strong’s squad 38-3 in South Bend. Just as there was last year for Texas, there is a quarterback competition heading into camp. The difference between Notre Dame’s QB battle and Texas’ is the talent level. The pressure is building on Strong at Texas, and I don’t expect the Notre Dame game to help ease any of it.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Texas 17

Week 2 vs Nevada – Saturday, September 10 – South Bend, IN

Unlike last year, the Irish won’t open up the home portion of their schedule with a marquee opponent. While that isn’t meant to be a knock on the Wolf Pack, it’s the truth. Nevada projects to be a borderline bowl team this season and Notre Dame has higher aspirations than that level. The strength of the Wolf Pack will be their offense, specifically the backfield made up of Penn State transfer Akeel Lynch and James Butler. Nevada very may well have a nice season, but I doubt that this game is one of their highlights.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 42 – Nevada 20

Week 3 vs Michigan State – Saturday, September 17 – South Bend, IN

The third week of the season may be Notre Dame’s first real test. Michigan State is coming off of a College Football Playoff appearance and the Spartans have won two out of the last three Big Ten titles. Yes, last year took a lucky bounce at the Big House and a sick Zeke Elliott at The Shoe to get their two biggest wins, they were wins nonetheless. Sparty should be heading into 2016 ranked in the top 25. It will certainly be interesting to see who replaces Connor Cook under center for the Spartans. MSU will open the season with Furman at home followed by a bye week before their trip to South Bend. A night game at Notre Dame Stadium will be the first real test for this young team.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 27 – Michigan State 20

Week 4 vs Duke – Saturday, September 24 – South Bend, IN

While the Blue Devils are traditionally known for their success on the hardwood, they have been much improved on the gridiron lately as well. The Blue Devils are coming off a win in last year’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl, however their team is not without its share of question marks. The biggest one of these may be the quarterback position. Last year the offense was driven by Thomas Sirk. Sirk was due to return to the helm this season, however he ruptured his Achilles for the second time during offseason conditioning drills in February. It is unknown if Sirk will be back and how effective he will be. If he is unable to play look for Parker Boehme to fill in. Just like their brothers on the hardwood, I think the Blue Devils will struggle with Notre Dame on the gridiron.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 38 – Duke 17

Week 5 at Syracuse – Saturday, October 1 – East Rutherford, NJ (MetLife Stadium)

Syracuse is entering a new era with Dino Babers taking over as head coach of the Orangemen. This season looks as if it is going to be a rebuilding year for Cuse, and a win against Notre Dame is highly unlikely. It would be surprising to see Syracuse in a bowl game, with many schedule predictions having them at or around four total wins. Notre Dame certainly shouldn’t be one of them.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 35 – Syracuse 3

Week 6 at North Carolina State – Saturday, October 8 – Raleigh, NC

For the second time in the first six weeks the Irish will be taking on the Wolfpack, although this breed is based in Raleigh, NC. NC State has the task of replacing Jacoby Brissett who graduated last year. Last season, the Wolfpack scored 33.2 points per game with Brissett in control. I would look for that number to drop a little bit, although I do think new offensive coordinatior Eliah Drinkwitz will do a good job keeping that number around 30. This is a tough spot for Notre Dame. The Irish haven’t recently played that well on the road (cough Virginia 2015 cough) and the Irish could be caught looking ahead to Stanford. I think this game is much closer and tougher than people think.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 31 – NC State 28

Week 7 vs Stanford – Saturday, October 15 – South Bend, IN

Stanford-Notre Dame has quickly become one of my favorite rivalry games in college football. Since the rain-soaked overtime classic in 2012 this series has produced some extremely memorable games, including last year’s Stanford victory at the end of the regular season on a last second field goal. I think this game could certainly be another classic in this rivalry. If Stanford figures out how to replace departed QB Kevin Hogan in the first six weeks, then I see no reason why this shouldn’t be a great game.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Stanford 17

Week 8 – BYE

They won’t win, they won’t lose. Not much to see here.

Week 9 vs Miami – Saturday, October 29 – South Bend, IN

This game hasn’t gotten much run yet, but I definitely think that this will be one of the best games on Notre Dame’s schedule. I think Miami is set to return to a product similar to their glory years, with Mark Richt at the helm. This is a tremendous opportunity to not only kick-start that resurgence for the Canes, but also to reignite the rivalry between Notre Dame and The U. Junior QB Brad Kaaya is one of the more underrated signal callers in the country. This is a game Notre Dame very well could lose. The biggest thing I think they have in their favor is that they are coming off the bye week. Truthfully, I think this one could go either way, and is a start to bringing back one of college football’s most missed rivalries.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 21 – Miami 20

Week 10 at Navy – Saturday, November 5 – Jacksonville, FL (EverBank Field)

Going from one rivalry that college football misses to one of my absolute favorites. Obviously the reasoning for this rivalry are more for off-the-field traditions rather than the competitive play on the field, but the respect shown between Notre Dame and Navy is one of my favorite things to witness. This year the game shouldn’t be as close as it has been in recent years. Navy lost Keenan Reynolds to graduation and he will arguably be the program’s biggest loss since Roger Staubach. Notre Dame shouldn’t have any problem with the Midshipmen.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 34 – Navy 14

Week 11 vs Army – Saturday, November 12 – San Antonio, TX (Alamodome) SHAMROCK SERIES

I don’t think that this game will be very competitive. Truthfully, I think that the most interesting part of this will be seeing how Notre Dame looks in their yet-to-be-released alternate uniforms. The Irish have yet to lose a Shamrock Series game, and I would be stunned if this is the first.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION – Notre Dame 41 – Army 9

Week 12 vs Virginia Tech – Saturday, November 19 – South Bend, IN

What does life after Frank Beamer look like for the Hokies? By this point in the season we will know the answer to that. Justin Fuente is in to replace Beamer as head coach. Fresh off coaching first round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch at Memphis, Fuente will have his work cut out for him in deciding between Brenden Motley, Jerod Evans, and Dwayne Lawson to run the offense. Evans is a junior college transfer and many expect him to win the job. I think this is a game that Notre Dame should win, but it is one I could see them looking past with the date with USC the following week.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Notre Dame 28 – VT 27

Week 13 at Southern Cal – Saturday, November 26 – Los Angeles, CA

If all goes according to my predictions (it likely won’t), Notre Dame will be entering this showdown in LA unbeaten, just like in 2012. That being said, I don’t think that this matchup turns out the same as it did in Brian Kelly’s third year on campus. In my opinion, USC is one of the most underrated teams in the country and this game will ultimately decide which of these teams heads to the final four and which doesn’t. I give a slight edge to Southern Cal at home, but I feel as if this one truly is a toss up.

WAY-TOO-EARLY-PREDICTION Southern Cal 24 – Notre Dame 21

I think Notre Dame will be very good this year and on the cusp of playoff contention once again. There are obviously a few games I think could be trap games as well as a few games I think are going to be toss ups. I could be right, I could be wrong, I guess we will find out in November how I did.

Seminole’s Lose Again

The Florida State Seminoles were defeated 23-13 by #1 Clemson, who clinched the Atlantic division title with the victory.

It was a tied game going into the fourth quarter, but ultimately the Clemson offense exposed the Seminoles defense late with a couple seam passes and screens, which proved to be too much for defense to handle. Combine that with poor quarterback play from Sean Maguire and you have a recipe for a loss. Besides a 75-yard touchdown from Dalvin Cook on the second play of the game, the ‘Noles offense only scored six points. The loss can’t be entirely blamed on the quarterback, but one has to wonder if starting Maguire was the correct decision by coach Jimbo Fisher.

The Seminoles had a couple chances to step on Clemson’s throat early and seize all of the momentum, but failed to rise to the occasion. The first mishap was the inexplicable interception by Maguire at the 5-yard-line, in which Maguire decided to throw the ball off his back foot up to 5’7” WR Kermit Whitfield, the interception kept the game from being potentially 14-0. Once the Tigers got the ball, the Seminoles would have forced a three and out, if not for a dumb late hit penalty from cornerback Jalen Ramsey that extended Clemson’s drive.

Surprisingly Clemson never pulled away in this game, as their quarterback Deshaun Watson missed a few throws and had a few costly errors of his own. The most obvious being him spiking the ball on third down inside the Seminoles’ 20-yard-line with thirty seconds left in the first half. The Seminoles’ defense played very well, but one of the biggest takeaways from this game might be that Clemson looked very beatable.

The pivotal point of the game was obviously Clemson turning the ‘Noles over on downs after two failed rushing attempts by Dalvin Cook to get a single yard. Clemson would go on to score the game-clinching touchdown seven plays later.

What it means:

The Seminoles are now 7-2, and National Title hopes are officially dead. The hopes were already clinging to life before the loss, but now there isn’t a possible way to get to the playoff. It’s still a good season by most standards, but after winning the National Championship and making the playoffs in the past two years, two losses in a season is unfamiliar ground in recent history for Seminole fans. The success of this season for ‘Noles fans will be decided on the last game of the season by the outcome of their game against the #11 Florida Gators. A win over a contending Florida team would help people forget about the tough losses as well as give Seminole fans bragging rights, while a loss would help declare the season a failure (any season with a loss to Florida is a failure for Seminole fans.)

The biggest question for the Seminoles is who will be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. With an eye already looking towards next season, you would think that Fisher would opt towards Maguire starting the rest of the year, as he will be back on the team next season, and Golson won’t. Whoever ultimately does end up starting won’t really affect the team much, as both are mediocre, but I do think that Maguire starting would be most beneficial going forward because at least Maguire can open up the offense and help younger players grow in the system.

Here’s what else happened in the ACC:

CLEMSON IS ATLANTIC DIVISION CHAMPS

With Clemson’s victory over Florida State they have clinched the Atlantic division within the ACC and will set their sights on the ACC Championship. Clemson’s remaining opponents until then have a combined record of 9-18, with none seemingly having any chance of beating them. What a year for Clemson. Deshaun Watson has been everything Clemson fans could have hoped for, leading Clemson’s fifteenth ranked offense in points per game. Combine that with their fourth ranked defense in terms of yards, and it doesn’t seem like this team has a weakness. The only thing this team may have to worry about until bowl season is the underrated Tarheels who they are poised to play in the ACC Championship.

UNC CAN CLINCH COASTAL DIVISION

Can someone please tell me why everyone is overlooking the Tarheels? Since the first game of the season, a game they shouldn’t have lost, the Tarheels have won every game, culminating in their two best wins of the season in the past two weeks against Pittsburgh and Duke. At 8-1, UNC is only four games a way from a possible playoff birth, the fourth of which would assumedly be against a #1 Clemson team. Quarterback Marquise Williams has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country this season, making the Tarheel offense the sixth most efficient offense in the country. Granted they haven’t had a very tough schedule, but if they can close out the season, a matchup against #1 Clemson would allow North Carolina to make up for their lack of a tough schedule. North Carolina can clinch the Coastal division with a victory and a Pittsburgh loss this weekend.

DUKE AND PITT UNRAVEL

Pittsburgh and Duke both got shredded on defense this weekend giving up a combined 108 points to UNC and Notre Dame. Both teams have now lost two games in a row when they each had a chance to win the Coastal division. Duke’s past two games have been brutal between Miami’s illegal kick return and a 35-point loss to the Tarheels. Pittsburgh has to be wondering how their season would have went if they had a bit of an easier schedule. The Panthers have lost to #4 Notre Dame, #5 Iowa, and an under ranked #23 North Carolina. These are two teams that the ACC was hoping could step up and provide some depth in the ACC after Clemson, UNC and Florida State, but it hasn’t worked out that way. One of these teams will add another loss to their record when Duke hosts Pittsburgh this weekend at noon.

ACC Weekend Wrap Up 10/28

What a week in the ACC. Clemson defeated Miami 58-0, which brought them up to #3 in the country. Florida State lost to Georgia Tech just when it looked like Georgia Tech had nothing else to play for. Duke won a four-overtime thriller against Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh hit a late field goal to escape Syracuse, North Carolina handled business against Virginia, and Boston College’s defense still can’t score points for their offense.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from this weekend in the ACC:

 MIAMI FIRES AL GOLDEN

After suffering the worst defeat in Miami history, 58-0 to #3 Clemson, Miami decided to fire head coach Al Golden after four and a half seasons. We all knew that it wouldn’t take much for Miami to pull the plug on their coach, and a 58-0 loss to an ACC opponent was what finally did Al Golden in. Admittedly Golden was put into a tough spot having joined Miami during NCAA investigations, however no matter of circumstances will save a Miami coach who goes 17-18 in the ACC and 0-5 versus interstate rival Florida State. Perhaps the most disappointing part about the past couple seasons at Miami was the fact that Miami was able to produce good players that are in the NFL and will be in the future, Golden just could never get the best out of them on the field, culminating in a 32-25 record. Who the next coach at Miami will be is still very much up in the air at this point, but the season goes on. Miami faces a tough task in #23 Duke on the road this weekend.

 FLORIDA STATE LOSES

Florida State suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Georgia Tech after they blocked Florida State’s last-second field goal attempt, and returned it for a touchdown as time expired. The loss all but ends the Seminoles chances at returning to the college football playoff for the second straight year and puts them behind the eight ball in the ACC. This game always had the feel of a typical Seminole game where they would struggle during it’s entirety but pull the win out at the end, and that’s what looked like was about to happen when kicker Roberto Aguayo walked on the field to attempt a 56-yard field to take the lead. But a blocked kick, and a run to the end zone later and Florida State had suffered their first loss of the season.

 DUKE, PITT AND UNC AT PIVITOL POINT OF SCHEDULE

In the next three weeks, Duke, Pittsburgh and UNC will all play each other, in what will most likely decide who will come out of the Coastal division in the ACC. With all three of them sitting at 6-1, the head to head matchups will determine which of the three will emerge from the pack. The first of these matchups is Thursday night when UNC faces #23 Pittsburgh. UNC then faces #22 Duke in two weeks, with the final matchup of #23 Pittsburgh and #22 Duke occurring in three weeks. I’m not going to sit here and act like I have any idea who will ultimately come out of the division, as all three of these teams seem pretty even. All have a competent quarterback, a run game they can rely on and solid defenses. If I had to pick one though I’m going to say Duke emerges as the winner, as they seem to have better coaching over the past couple seasons. Nonetheless the games between these teams in the next few weeks will have a lot on the line.

NCAA Tournament: South Region

The flu bug hit The Campus Pressbox so i’ll get you caught up on the South Region in one article. Highlights included Iowa St, UCLA, and Utah.

Iowa St. is that team that gives off a vibe. That vibe is that they are better than they really are. Don’t get me wrong, I like ISU and I like Hoiberg, but they play to much on the edge of their seat. This weekend was not the exception. The Cyclones went up against UAB in round 1 and not only had their hands full, the got beat by UAB. Hoiberg put the pieces back together at his alma mater and has most of a talented team coming back next year. Reports always indicated that an NBA coaching job was his ultimate goal. Does The Mayor return to Ames or does he finally get the call he’s been waiting for?

UCLA is perhaps the polarizing team in the field. Some believe they didn’t belong in the tournament. The fact that they have won 2 games is not relevant retroactive support for their presence. The Bruins have certainly made the most of their opportunity in an environment that comes down to individual matchups.

Utah is a team that I slept on. I watched just enough of their games this year to see they were good, but not so good that they impressed me. They beat a Stephen F. Austin team that has an up and coming coach in Brad Underwood and then followed that up with a victory over Georgetown. Their reward is a Sweet 16 matchup against Duke.

The South Region teams marching on are Duke, Utah, UCLA and Gonzaga. Of those teams, Duke has impressed me the most. However, at this point everyone should be considered a quality, worthy opponent.

The Pipeline: Driskel seeks transfer

It has been reported by the Raleigh News Observer that Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel could be taking his talents (or lack there of) to Durham, to play at Duke University .

The redshirt junior will have a year of eligibility left to finish his football career. If he does choose to make the move up north he would be able to step in and play immediately.

More Gators>> Jim McElwain’s 5 keys to early success 

Driskel’s tenure in Gainesville has been filled with ups and downs. He came to Florida as a blue chip consensus #1 pocket passing qb. In 2012 he led the Gators to a 11-1 regular season record. That season he broke Tim Tebow’s single game rushing yards by a quarterback in a victory over Vanderbilt. His 2013 season was ended early by a broken leg, and 2014 was filled with turnovers and inconsistent play which led to him being benched in favor of true freshman Treon Harris.

Duke would be a perfect fit for Driskel. Head coach David Cutcliff has a great reputation for molding quarterbacks. The Blue Devils will be losing senior quarterback Anthony Boone. Sophomore Thomas Sirk and freshman Parker Boehme both have limited experience.

Bowl Time for The Sun Devils

It’s quickly approaching. Sun Devil fans are eagerly anticipating their beloved team in action one more time in 2014. What do the Sun Devils need to do to win the Sun Bowl? Execute. I know it’s that is a pretty obvious answer, but the Devils really have not executed that well at the end of this season.

Even though it’s probably not going to happen, the Sun Devils need to switch up the quarterback for this game. They need to start Mike Bercovici instead of Taylor Kelly. For me, Bercovici is much better passer and leader of the offense. Bercovici and his complete quarterback skills, in terms of footwork, stronger arm, and his intensity as a leader is a much more positive influence on the offense. I think the offense just moves better with Bercovici calling the signals behind center.

The other area that the Devils have to get better at is on defense. They have allowed close to 28 points a game and when you allow that many points a game, that puts a lot of pressure on the offense to score every time out. They are playing a Duke team that averages 32 points a game and that is something that the defensive coaches at ASU have been trying to figure out how to stop. The defense has been progressively better since they were destroyed by UCLA back in September at Sun Devil Stadium. The defense has been playing with greater “attitude” during 2014. They had to replace nine starters from the 2013 squad and that was a major concern coming into this year, but has turned into a positive for the Devils. Let’s hope that the defense for the Sun Devils has a positive outcome against Duke.

DJ Foster. He needs to get going in this game. Period. He is a very good runner in space and is a great target as a receiver because of his speed. Foster is a player that is thinking of leaving early for the NFL and for him to be taken somewhat early in the draft he needs to have a special game against Duke. He rushed for 1,002 yards and caught 59 passes for 646 yards, but if you look at his rushing stats, more than half of his yards came in the first three games. Since then Foster has been held in check on the ground. He’s been missed used in my humble opinion. He’s a guy that needs to be used in the slot and in space and not trying to punch him in between the tackles where he can’t utilize his amazing speed. Fly sweeps, slants, regular sweeps are what you need to use DJ Foster properly. Anything that puts him in space will be a positive for Arizona State. I am hoping this happens and that Foster realizes he needs to stay for his final year in Tempe.

Jaelen Strong is the man for the Devils. He’s everything you want in a receiver. He’s big, strong, athletic, and has tremendous hands. He’s gained a lot more notoriety nationally since he rescued the Devils against USC with the “Jael-Mary” pass that won the game for the Devils. He’s going to be doubled team for sure, so the Coach Norvell is going to have to figure out a way to get him the ball. They may have to spread the ball around at first to soften up the defense and keep the double team off of him and then hit him with some post or fly routes down the field. However, he’s big and physical and may be able to create some spacing on his own because I have a feeling that Duke will try and jam him at the point of attack, so he doesn’t get downfield with the timing routes that ASU likes to use in their offense. The other receivers for the Sun Devils need to step up their game to help Strong get his in this game.

The match up that will intrigue me the most is the Sun Devil defense against the Blue Devil offense. ASU has more weapons on offense than Duke has, so I think the Sun Devils will be able to score, but can their defense make enough stops? I believe that they can, but it will still be the thing I will be looking at during this game.

When the final gun goes off, I think Arizona State will be the winner in a very entertaining game for fans. ASU wins this game by about 10 points and heads into the 2015 season on a high note with two 10 win seasons behind them and can work on getting a Pac-12 South division title and possibly more. Fear the Fork Duke.image

Top 5 Contenders Outside the Top 10

Tomorrow we finally get what we’ve all been waiting for, a look into the playoff committee’s minds. They’ll release their initial rankings which will certainly be cause for drama and ridicule. More importantly, it’ll give us a better idea of where conferences stand and which individual teams need to do more or need more help to get selected. The Top 5-10 teams clearly still have a lot of hope and would likely make the playoff if they take care of business. I’m concerned with the teams outside the Top 10.
When looking at the new polls yesterday, I tried to think of any teams that would be able to make a run at a playoff spot that are currently not in the Top 10. The teams have to have a schedule that works in their favor as well as good individual team or conference perception. Here are my top five candidates.
1. Baylor
The Bears were in clear control a couple weeks ago before being upset in Morgantown. After having a bye last Saturday, they now find themselves just outside the Top 10. They are still in a great position though. They have a huge game on the road against Oklahoma, but the rest of their games are at home. The season finale could be a de facto Big 12 championship game against Kansas State if TCU slips up.
2. Arizona
The Wildcats already have a big win this year, winning at Eugene. That win looks better and better with each win that the Ducks tally. Arizona has a more difficult schedule than Baylor, but they still have three ranked teams on the schedule, opportunities to impress the committee. Winning a potential Pac 12 championship game against Oregon would prove the first was not a fluke.
3. Kansas State
Kansas State is in a better position than Baylor currently because they have yet to lose a conference game. As mentioned before they also have the season finale against the Bears which could decide which Big 12 team, if any, makes the playoff. Going forward however, Kansas State has a much more difficult schedule, with road trips at TCU and West Virginia before that season finale.
4. Oklahoma
The running theme is how wide open the Big 12 is. Whoever wins the Big 12 is going to have a pretty good shot at making the playoff. Things look bleak now, but the Sooners should have their opportunity. They would need losses from TCU and Kansas State, but they schedule is more than manageable. Outside of the matchup with Baylor, their toughest remaining game is Oklahoma State coming to town on the last weekend.
5. LSU
LSU is coming on strong the last few weeks, and their upset win over previously undefeated Ole Miss certainly gives them a resume builder. Shockingly LSU only has three regular season games left. That could be good and bad. If they can upset the Crimson Tide in two weeks, their only remaining games are against Arkansas and Texas A&M. The SEC champ will certainly make the playoff, but LSU needs more than their share of help to make that happen. Even if they win out, they’ll need Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Auburn to lose two conference games.
Top 25 (Last Week’s Rank in Parenthesis)
1. Mississippi State (1)
2. Michigan State (3)
3. Florida State (4)
4. Ole Miss (2)
5. Alabama (6)
6. Auburn (5)
7. Oregon (7)
8. TCU (9)
9. Baylor (8)
10. Georgia (10)
11. Kansas State (11)
12. Notre Dame (12)
13. Ohio State (13)
14. Nebraska (14)
15. Arizona State (15)
16. Arizona (16)
17. West Virginia (22)
18. Utah (21)
19. Clemson (17)
20. Oklahoma (18)
21. LSU (UR)
22. East Carolina (19)
23. Duke (24)
24. UCLA (25)
25. Marshall (UR)

Syracuse Aims To Turn Season Around

As we’ve all seen, the first half of the 2014 season did not go according to plan for the Syracuse football team. The Orange were supposed to start the season 3-0 and then have three cracks at pulling off an upset against a top-25 caliber team before finding a much more manageable schedule the second half of the season. Instead, Syracuse was fortunate to start the season 2-0, failed to capitalize on an opportunity to go 3-0 with a disappointing home loss to Maryland, and didn’t come close to pulling off an upset against Notre Dame, Louisville, or Florida State. That poor start has put the Orange in a difficult position with regard to reaching its fourth bowl game in five years.
However, the past two weeks there have been signs that Syracuse is starting to turn things around. Somehow, the Orange managed to play their best football of the season in a loss to Florida State, who at the time was ranked first in the country. Despite an 18-point loss, Syracuse was able to take plenty of positives out of the game, as they were far more competitive with Florida State than they were a year ago. The Orange followed that up with a convincing road win against Wake Forest to snap a four-game losing streak and give Syracuse some much-needed momentum to kickoff the second half of the season.
The biggest reason why Syracuse may be ready to turn their season around is the improved play of the offense the past two weeks. The Orange offense was erratic and unreliable the first month of the season, and they hit rock bottom with a six-point performance against Louisville, which was also the game in which Syracuse lost quarterback Terrel Hunt for several weeks to a broken leg. A third straight loss, the injury to Hunt, and a midseason change in the offensive coordinator had the Orange offense in panic mode before they finally started to show signs of life.
The renewal of life from the Orange offense has come from three true freshmen: quarterback A.J. Long, wide receiver Steve Ishmael, and running back Ervin Phillips. Long has looked mature beyond his years as the team’s new starting quarterback, showing both confidence and play-making ability the past two weeks. Ishmael had six catches the first five games of the season, but has nine the past two weeks, including two touchdowns. Ishmael is clearly the most talented wide receiver on the Orange roster, and he and Long appear to have a great chemistry in the passing game. Finally, new offensive coordinator Tim Lester appears has tried to increase Phillips’ role in the offense, as he has flashed great skills and the potential to be a game changer.
Of course, the Syracuse defense continues to play well, as the Orange attempt to turn their season around. The Orange have been much better at playing bend-but-don’t-break defense in recent weeks, which has at least kept Syracuse within striking distance had the offense been more productive. More importantly, the Orange defense has continued to create turnovers, forcing two against Florida State, while also being in position for at least two more, and then scoring two defensive touchdowns Wake Forest. If nothing else, the Syracuse defense should be able to keep the team competitive the second half of the season, and give the Orange a chance to win enough games to reach a bowl if the offense can continue to show improvement.
The schedule ahead is not quite as daunting as what Syracuse faced the first half of the season, but it’s certainly challenging. Among road trips to Clemson, Pittsburgh, and Boston College, as well as home games against N.C. State and Duke, the Orange need to find at least three wins. Based on the play of the Orange thus far, all of those games are at best a toss-up, if not games in which Syracuse will be an underdog. That’s a tall task, but Syracuse has overcome slow starts in previous years and managed to reach a bowl game. With the team’s four-game losing streak over, and the offense showing signs of life the past two weeks, there is a glimmer of hope that Syracuse can get things turned all the way around and find themselves in a bowl game in 2014.

Virginia Needs Touchdowns

fieldgoal
UVA needs more touchdowns and fewer field goals.

Struggling programs don’t get well overnight. Progress is never a straight line. No one predicted that Virginia would win the ACC’s Coastal division after a winless conference campaign last year. In fact, Virginia already has exceeded the very modest expectations that most had for this year’s team. Virgina had a chance at Duke last Saturday to run its division record to 3-0 and seize control of the chaotic Coastal Division. That didn’t happen, proving once again that progress comes in fits and starts. Virginia lost 20-13 to a Duke team that seemingly now has mind control over the Cavaliers.
Despite Duke’s status as defending Coastal division champions and winner of five of the last six meeting between the two teams, Virginia had some swagger coming into this game. Duke’s turnaround under coach David Cutcliffe has been nothing short of remarkable but you have to wonder if the league’s players and football-watching public still views Duke football as…well Duke football. Perceptions can be difficult to change but Duke is a winner and demands winner’s respect. Given UVA’s futility in recent years and the importance of this game, I have to believe that Duke had Virginia’s full attention, especially given that the Hoos had two weeks to prepare.
For whatever reason, it didn’t happen for Hoos. The common theme in Virginia’s three losses this year is that the Cavaliers have won the statistical battle but lost the game. Against UCLA in the season-opener, Virginia eked out more yards and one more first down but did lose the turnover war. In the BYU game at Provo, UVA racked up a whopping (relatively speaking) 519 yards of offense and notched 35 first downs to 332/16 for the Cougars. Last weekend at Duke, Virginia went for 465 and 23 to Duke’s 334/19. Virginia’s problem is that these statistical triumphs have not translated into touchdowns. Virginia has made 29 trips into the red zone this year and has come away with points 25 times. That conversion rate is good for 47th nationally. Unfortunately, the touchdown percentage stands at just 51.72%. Virginia has scored just 15 touchdowns on those 29 trips. The Cavaliers stand 68th nationally in total offense at 407.3 yards per game and 70th in points at 29.0. These are marked improvements from recent years but if Virginia is to become a contender it needs to turn these statistical gains into points or, more specifically, touchdowns.
Having let the Duke opportunity slip from its grasp, Virginia now needs to hold serve at home this weekend against a mercurial UNC team that will present Virginia with a serious challenge. On paper, the Tarheels are Virginia’s evil twin. Virginia plays stout defense. UNC seemingly plays no defense. UNC scores in bunches. Virginia struggles to ring the bell. Virginia’s defense will be hard-pressed to keep UNC off the board, meaning that the offense is going to have to cash in on its red zone trips on Saturday.
Perhaps part of Virginia’s problem is the once-again unsettled situation at quarterback. Greyson Lambert came out of spring practice solidly entrenched as the starter. In a testament to his leadership, he was named a team captain despite being only a sophomore. His backup, Matt Johns, performed admirably in relief of Lambert early in the season and stepped into the starter’s role when Lambert sprained his ankle against BYU. Coach Mike London has stated that his policy is that no starter loses his job to injury so it was somewhat surprising when Johns got the nod last weekend after Lambert practiced all week. Either Lambert’s injury is more serious than previously thought or London has waffled. Lambert clearly proved himself in the spring but his development has been hampered by the ankle injury. Johns, despite throwing for 300 yards last weekend, lacked touch on the deep ball. He overthrew receivers on plays that would have resulted in easy touchdowns had the balls been catchable. Virginia desperately needs some continuity at quarterback. Johns has been a godsend but critics have noted that his mechanics and game management still need work. This perhaps is why Lambert was named the starter early in spring practice.
UVA fans are a downtrodden lot and the collective mindset of the fan base after last weekend’s loss is that the Duke game was an unclaimed golden ticket. The team’s execution was reminiscent of the effort put forth in the two previous seasons when Virginia won a total of six games and Mike London’s coaching skills were called into question. In a make-or-break season for London, the Cavaliers do not have much of an error margin. The UNC contest this weekend is UVA’s next-to-last home game. For Virginia to gain bowl eligibility it needs to beat UNC this weekend and Miami on November 22. That would get the team to six wins, a bowl game, and give Mike London another year at the helm. Supposedly.
Progress is not a straight line endeavor. Virginia stumbled last weekend in a game in which it was not favored but believed it could win anyway. The press noted that the players were irate in postgame interviews, no doubt frustrated by the fact that effort, desire, and preparation do not always produce the desired result. For the program to take the next step, Virginia has got to ramp up the offensive efficiency. Virginia will need better execution this weekend. Virginia needs touchdowns.