Tag Archives: Jalen Hurd

The Tennessee Vols Will Keep Snatching Souls on their Way to Being SEC East Champs

Last Friday, I picked the Tennessee Vols to beat Florida…well, actually I said they would “WTFA.” That turned out to be true. Over a month ago, three of us here at Campus Pressbox (including myself), picked the Vols to win the SEC East. And before that, I even wrote an article listing some pretty major reasons why the Vols would win the SEC East this year. Four games into the season, I’m sticking with it all.

The truth is that it really isn’t over until it’s actually over. But if I had money to bet I’d be putting it all on the Tennessee Vols to win the SEC East right now.

That’s not to say the Florida Gators can’t win out in SEC play and somehow end up beating out the Vols. With the way LSU football has been going, Florida’s schedule is starting to look a bit easier. It’s also not to say the Georgia Bulldogs can’t bounce back from that ugly loss at Ole Miss. They can, but they would still have to get through both the Vols and the Gators.

What I am saying is that I believe that the Tennessee Vols will win the SEC East just as much as I believed it before the season started. I actually may believe it even more than that. Butch Jones has finally gotten just the win he needed. And this team is something special. There’s no denying that.

People will always have something to say about Josh Dobbs because he isn’t a traditional passing quarterback. But he is at the heart of why this team is so successful. He is exactly the kind of leader you want on your side when you come into the second half down 21-3. He’s relentless and he isn’t afraid. He’ll take some hard hits from a blitz as long as it means he got a chance to fire off that pass. He won’t let the pressure get to his head. He will go out there and prove every single person who doubts him wrong. And you have to love that about Josh Dobbs.

Beyond Dobbs, there are so many other players who make this team special. Because of all of Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor’s trash talk, nobody will forget that Jauan Jennings catch that really opened up the lead for the Vols in the second half. Jalen Hurd was a workhorse as usual, with 26 carries for 95 yards. Josh Malone had another good game for the Vols, putting up 91 yards receiving and a touchdown. Todd Kelly, Jr. had a great interception for the Vols. Evan Berry finally was able to show how explosive he can be on kick returns. Alvin Kamara even helped with field position for the Vols on punt returns. All in all, it was a true team effort that won this game for the Vols.

This team showed that when they are firing on all cylinders, they could be nearly unstoppable. That was something I hadn’t yet seen from the Tennessee Vols this year. They also showed just how resilient they are by coming back from an 18-point deficit to win by 10 points. Even when some of their own fans had turned on them, they never let up. They kept playing the game the way they knew they could and they were eventually rewarded for it.

Now, back to reality. That game opened up a really tough stretch for the Tennessee Vols. This coming weekend, they’ll be visiting the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. The weekend after that they’ll go to College Station to face the Texas A&M Aggies. And after that game, they come back home to host the Alabama Crimson Tide. The road to the SEC Championship Game definitely won’t be easy, but this team seems as capable as any to power through.

Maybe I’m biased because this is my hometown team, but nobody can deny that the Tennessee Vols looked downright scary in that second half on Saturday. They snatched the souls right out of the Florida players’ bodies. Now they just need to bring that same intensity for the entire game these next few weeks. Remember: #WGWTFA.

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

Photo by Kristen Botica.

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The Tennessee Vols Will End Florida’s Streak and “WTFA” While They’re at It

It’s that time of the year. It’s time for one of the most important games all year for me as a fan of the Tennessee Vols. It’s time for the Volunteers to finally start a streak of their own and show Gator fans why this is a true rivalry.

Beyond just Tennessee, we have to win this game for the good of the American people. Why? Florida’s usual starting quarterback Luke Del Rio is out with an injury. That means that Florida is starting their transfer quarterback from Purdue, Austin Appleby. And apparently Austin Appleby is a fan of Osama Bin Laden. Well, maybe not a fan, but he still dressed up like him. There’s actually photo evidence.

Don’t even get me started about that trash-talking delinquent Jalen Tabor. Apparently he thinks it’s pretty obvious that Florida will beat Tennessee. I’m sure it’ll shut him up (at least for a bit) when he finds out just how wrong he is. Maybe he’ll even disappear from Twitter again.

I know what Florida fans are thinking: The Vols have lost eleven years in a row, so what has changed? Well, I can tell you what hasn’t changed. Florida’s offense is still nothing special. And it’ll be even worse with Appleby having to start at quarterback this week. Appleby, by the way, threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns in his time at Purdue. He’s pretty much nothing for the Vols to worry about.

Let’s not forget all the assets that the Vols have on their side. Offensively, they boast an impressive trio of guys who can all provide substantial rushing yardage. Quarterback Josh Dobbs is great on his feet and so are running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Now, if the Vols could only get the ball to Kamara in space…

One other very obvious thing that Tennessee has working in their favor is their attitude. And I mean that #WGWTFA attitude. (WARNING: The video features strong language.)

But really, can you beat an attitude like that? Virginia Tech couldn’t at that game in Bristol. Now it’s Florida’s turn to give it a try. We’ll see how well that “try” goes in front of over 100,000 rambunctious fans in Neyland stadium tomorrow.

I know there’s been some talk of a supposed curse from certain things. Apparently checkering Neyland is a bad sign. And the grey uniforms don’t have a stellar record…yet. AND College Gameday is going to be in town. Basically, things don’t look good for the Vols when you consider those circumstances.

There are other circumstances that matter infinitely more. Like Derek Barnett putting a beating on Appleby and Justin Martin, adding to Appleby’s interception count. When (not if) the Vols do those things, there will be thousands of happy Vol fans singing “Rocky Top” as loud as they can on Saturday. So loud that it will almost definitely haunt Florida’s players in their dreams later. This has been eleven years coming, so it will absolutely not disappoint.

In summary, if you ask me how Saturday will go I’ll tell you one thing: #WGWTFA.

 

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

Photo by Kristen Botica.

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The Battle at Bristol Lived up to the Hype

I am one of the crazy fans that had been excited about the Battle at Bristol ever since the day it was first announced that this game would actually be happening. That was three years ago. Those three years left a lot of time for the hype around this game to build to astronomical heights. Let me tell you, using my experience on Saturday and the football game itself, why this game was not a letdown.

Battle at Bristol

Look at that. It is a sight to see. That many people are all in one stadium for a college football game. In case you missed the official number, the attendance ended up being a whopping 156,990 people. No venue in college football could accomplish that feat, but Bristol Motor Speedway did. Every single person at that game is now a part of college football history.

I’ve seen fans from pretty much every other team I know saying how terrible this venue was and how they’d never want to go to a game like this. Right. If this were your team you would be just as excited to make history as all those Virginia Tech Hokies and Tennessee Volunteers fans were. And this may be hard to believe, but I actually could see the game just fine from my seats. I only used the Collosus TV board to watch replays. I didn’t even bring binoculars. There was actually no need for them. So no, it wasn’t just like watching the game at home on a big screen TV. Plus, there’s that electric atmosphere that was absolutely unbeatable.

Josh Dobbs

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a “Vol Walk” this absolutely packed before. Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs almost blends in with the mass of fans in this picture I took. But that wasn’t all.

Since the Battle at Bristol took place on the eve of the 15th anniversary of September 11, 2011, the event was designed to be especially patriotic. During the National anthem, the fans took part in a “stadium stunt,” creating probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of, as far as this kind of stuff goes. I literally had goosebumps.

Battle at Bristol

Even beyond all the pomp and circumstance that came with the event, it was quite the football game to watch live. I’m sure that the Hokie fans in attendance aren’t quite as happy as I am today, but nobody will deny what an incredible experience it was.

In the first quarter, Virginia Tech jumped out to a 14-0 lead and its offense seemed unstoppable. At the same time, Tennessee’s offense behind Josh Dobbs seemed pretty pitiful. The hearts of Vol fans were breaking as some of them began murmuring things in the stands about Head Coach Butch Jones. It started to seem almost hopeless.

In the second quarter, Tennessee put its foot on the gas and never looked back. The Vols went into the half with a 24-14 lead after two fumble recoveries, three touchdowns, and a field goal all in the second quarter. I have never seen so many fans deliriously happy while singing “Rocky Top” at the top of their lungs. And everybody loved Butch Jones again.

In the second half, Tennessee did allow a Virginia Tech field goal but that was about it until a late touchdown. The Vols, on the other hand, had three more touchdowns in that half. The final score made the game look like more of a blowout than it truly was, but as a Vol fan I won’t sit here and complain. I’ve learned to take whatever I can get.

Battle at Bristol

That final scoreboard was a thing of beauty for Vol fans, but there are still many questions for the Vols. Next week, they host the Ohio Bobcats at Neyland. The week after that, they open up SEC play at home against the Florida Gators. While they can expect to win that Ohio game regardless (even if Ohio is better than you might think), I won’t say the same for the Florida game.

Tennessee’s defensive line wasn’t containing the Hokies at all in the first quarter, but beyond that the defense did very well. The turnovers say it all.

Unfortunately, Tennessee’s offense was still not too impressive behind the dynamic duo of running backs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, as well as quarterback Josh Dobbs. Dobbs did his part and so did Hurd and Kamara, but without all the short fields from Virginia Tech’s mistakes, the scoreboard may have looked very different.

Now that the offensive line problems seem to be settled, it will be up to the coaching staff to find a way to really turn on the jets against Ohio next week. Tennessee really needs to find a way to get consistent offensive production before they start a brutal stretch of conference play.

The Vols definitely can’t rely on good field position when it comes to the Florida game on the 24th. Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio protects the ball infinitely better than former Gator Treon Harris ever did. Not to mention, the Gators actually intercepted more passes than the Kentucky Wildcats completed in their game on Saturday.

At the end of the day, I do have to say that the Battle at Bristol was a huge success. And hey, I was right about it ultimately not being too much of a battle. As you can tell, I was very happy about that!

Battle at Bristol

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

Photos: Kristen Botica

Sorry Hokies, the Battle at Bristol Won’t Be Much of a Battle

I have waited two long years for this game—the Battle at Bristol. And now that it’s here I’m just ready to watch my Tennessee Volunteers run circles around the Virginia Tech Hokies. Run circles…at a NASCAR track…get it?!

I’ve been waiting for a while to get this off my chest. I hate to break it to you, Virginia Tech, but having Justin Fuente won’t just magically turn you into last year’s Memphis Tigers team. And no, Jerod Evans is not the next Cam Newton. Calm down.

Virginia Tech seems like just another wannabe SEC team to me. You hire Justin Fuente after a 37-24 upset over SEC West power Ole Miss. You bring in a junior college quarterback who is most often compared to Cam Newton. I see what you’re doing, but it’s not going to work. You’re like the cheap knockoff version of an SEC team that you’ll find being sold on a street corner in New York City. You look good from a distance, but once you get close enough you’re just another mediocre ACC football team.

And speaking of being a mediocre ACC team, when was the last time you won a championship trophy? No, the ACC Conference Championship doesn’t count. I’m talking about a national title. Spoiler alert: the answer is never. Another acceptable answer would be: in your dreams.

See, I just can’t relate to that. I was raised in East Tennessee in the heart of Vol Country. I may have been too young to know what was happening, but the Vols did win a championship—a national one—in my lifetime. While life as a Volunteers fan has been a little turbulent since then, I can rest easy knowing I’m lucky enough to not be a Hokie fan.

But enough about history, let’s talk about now. I’m sure Virginia Tech fans were licking their lips watching the Vols struggle against Appalachian State last weekend. But if you ask the experts at CBS, they’ll tell you that the Mountaineers are actually ranked ahead of the Hokies. No, I’m not joking. They have Appalachian State ranked 39th and Virginia Tech ranked 50th.

So now you might be resorting to something like, “Well the Vols looked awful and they’re lucky they won that game anyway.” I don’t want to hear it. The Hokies played a mediocre FCS team last weekend and struggled in the first quarter and even the beginning of the second quarter. Virginia Tech only won 36-13. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to beat an unheard of FCS team by a lot more than 23 points. There is absolutely no room to talk about last weekend’s football game for the Vols against a tough FBS team. At the end of the day, Tennessee got a win that was at least as good as Virginia Tech’s win, when you consider the opponents.

As a Vol fan, part of me is honestly glad that last week was a real struggle for Tennessee. There have been ridiculously high expectations for the Vols this offseason and with good reason. But if Tennessee hadn’t been humbled prior to this matchup in the Battle at Bristol, I think the Hokies could’ve taken them by surprise. Now that Tennessee knows its weaknesses, has seen them on game film, and can address them, there will be no element of surprise for the Hokies on Saturday.

Saturday is going to be about just one thing: the talent playing out on that football field. Virginia Tech may have their own knock-off Cam Newton and some good targets for him on offense, but the Vols have more. Tennessee returns 17 starters from last year’s team, a team that finished at No. 22 in last year’s final AP poll. Head coach Butch Jones has a loaded offense behind Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara. And unlike the Hokies, they also have a loaded defense. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Derek Barnett, and Cam Sutton are just a few of the players that come to mind when I think of that good ole SEC defense.

Virginia Tech fans, I’m glad we could get your hopes up with that mess of a football game we played last weekend. But I hope you spend the entire day in Bristol tailgating very hard so you don’t have to hold onto any painful memories of what this Tennessee team is going to do to you.

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

Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway

Congratulations 2016 Heisman Trophy Winner, Josh Dobbs

Unless you didn’t watch yesterday’s game or are an absolute Tennessee nut job, you probably understood that this article’s title is complete sarcasm. It isn’t even the first Saturday of the college football season, and it seems that we’ve already eliminated someone from the Heisman race. I mean, he’s not completely eliminated from contention, but I can say that Josh Dobbs’ performance Thursday night against Appalachian State has to be one of, if not the “worst opening game from a Heisman candidate” I’ve ever seen. So let’s talk about what the physical embodiment of Mighty Mouse‘s first game so awful, and what it means for the rest of his season.

The Game

To put it bluntly, Josh Dobbs did more to hurt his Volunteers than help them in their opening game of the season. In fact, I would more or less say that the Volunteers won Thursday night’s matchup despite the supposed Heisman candidate. To start, he completed just over 50% of his passes, with many of his incompletions being errant throws or just bad decisions. He had a horrible interception at the end of the first half, which was almost duplicated in the second half on another play. Plus, I managed more rush yard from behind my keyboard than the man many consider to be “the best dual-threat QB in the country”. His Offensive line, which looked like they forgot how to block for half the game, though didn’t do Josh any favors. Nevertheless, Dobbs is supposed to be a dual threat QB, and the fact that he got negative yards against a Sun Belt team was not great for his Heisman candidacy.

None of that, however, did as much damage to Dobbs’ Heisman hopes Thursday night than the play that actually lead to the Volunteers’ victory. Dobbs attempted an Elway-esque move as he dove towards the end zone, and to say it backfired would be an understatement. Luckily for Dobbs, Jalen Hurd was there to bail him out and prevented Dobbs from dealing with boatloads of scrutiny. Nonetheless, check back with me later, as I believe the image of Josh Dobbs having the life hit out of him may define the Volunteers season to come.

Dobbs

Okay, okay. So last night’s game wasn’t an R.E.M. level disaster for Dobbs, however, it certainly leaves him with a lot, like a non-metaphorical ton, of work to make up the rest of the season. If the Volunteers want to win half of their conference matchups, it will definitely need a lot more from Dobbs than what we saw last night. Now the Appalachian State game could be great for Dobbs, as now that he’s seemingly eliminated himself from Heisman contention, Dobbs may be able to take a deep breath and concentrate on just playing quarterback. I frankly expect him to come out and play very well next week against Virginia Tech, and I think we will see more of the 2015 version of Dobbs 1.

But, last night’s performance may also have the Roberto Aguayo effect on Dobbs, and with VT, Florida and Georgia in the next month, Tennessee fans need to pray that Dobbs won’t need to hire a psychotherapist like Aguayo did. Tennessee’s coaching staff needs to make sure that one bad game doesn’t get to their star quarterback, because as I said, they are absolutely going to need him for the rest of the season. That being said, I’m in the camp that the Volunteers should play the Mighty Mouse theme song at their practices until Dobbs gets his mojo back.

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.
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Featured Image Courtesy of University of Tennessee

  1. Editors note: 2015 Josh Dobbs is the one Seth “loves”. -dB

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

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Ranking the Power 5 Conferences for 2016

The SEC has been running college football for about a decade now. When will it end? 2020? 2030? Never? It certainly doesn’t look to be anytime soon. Though the SEC went on a two-year championship drought, it still felt like it was the best conference overall. With Alabama winning it all in 2015, it stamped another year of SEC supremacy.

Even if no conference challenges the Southeastern Conference for the top spot in 2016, it is important to look at the perceived strength of the remaining conferences since it always gets talked about once the playoff rankings roll around.

2016 could be an interesting year because of the relative strengths of the Power 5 conferences. The past two years it was somewhat easy to have four conference champs in the playoff while leaving the fifth conference champ out. Looking forward to 2016, I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the first year in the era of the college football playoff that we see two teams from the same conference make the four-team field. So with that, here is my ranking of the Power 5 conferences heading into 2016.

5. Big 12

The Big 12 is used to being picked on when it comes to conference rankings. Being the only Power 5 conference with just 10 teams and without a conference championship game certainly hasn’t helped matters. This offseason hasn’t exactly seen a lot go right for it either. The conference seemingly can’t decide whether it should expand or not, and in the end will probably have to do what Oklahoma and Texas want it to do anyway.

The conference’s on-field prospects don’t exactly look great heading into this fall either. Oklahoma will be ranked highly to start the year with Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield returning under center after leading the Sooners to the playoff a year ago. Looming however is Oklahoma’s history of falling apart whenever it starts the year ranked highly. If it happens again this season, the conference may not have another team to fall back on to lead its charge.

Baylor looked to be the other contender for the conference, but with the recent off-field turmoil and dismissal of coach Art Briles it is difficult to expect much from the Bears. I wasn’t sure Baylor would make a run at a playoff spot to begin with and replacing the head coach three months before the season starts has only added to those doubts.

There are nothing but question marks among the rest of the teams. Oklahoma State had a nice season in 2015 on its way to a surprising ten wins but got blasted in its final two games against good competition. TCU has to replace Trevone Boykin at quarterback and WR Josh Doctson, who was picked in the first round. Then there’s Texas, who is in the vast group of former powerhouse programs that have to show something before we buy in again.

Being a top conference is largely based on the contenders at the top. I don’t see the Big 12 having that strength at the top or the depth to make up for it.

4. Pac-12

It certainly looks like the Pac-12’s opportunity has passed it by. A couple years ago the conference had gained enough steam where an argument could be made that it was the nation’s best. The past year and a half has seen a swift fall that culminated in the Pac-12 being left out of the college football playoff in 2015. It’s going to be tough for the conference to claw its way back up the conference rankings, at least in 2016.

There’s a decent chance the Pac-12 will be the only Power 5 conference to not have a team ranked in the pre-season Top 10. Stanford has to replace Kevin Hogan who, while not the most dynamic quarterback, has the most wins in Cardinal history. It is also hard to expect Christian McCaffrey to duplicate his historical 2015 season. They may be the favorite again, but they aren’t nearly in the same class as the Alabama/Michigan/Clemson’s of the world heading into this season.

The Cardinal’s main competition in the Pac-12 recently, the Oregon Ducks, will be trying to bounce back from their first season of under ten wins since 2007. They’ll have to do it with just five starters returning on defense and relying on another FCS transfer at quarterback.

Elsewhere in the conference you have USC which hasn’t been able to get back to national prominence, UCLA who has folded under the weight of pre-season expectations multiple times recently, and a group of average teams that were a disaster on defense a year ago (Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State).

The two teams that battle for the Apple Cup, Washington and Washington State, give the conference some hope in providing quality depth. The Huskies will be a popular sleeper pick to be the conference champion, and the Cougars Mike Leach-led offense will have a field day against Pac-12 defenses after ranking first nationally in passing a year ago.

There is a lot of uncertainty in the Pac-12 and a lot of that comes down to the unknowns behind center. The conference has just six returning starters at quarterback (all other Power 5 conferences have at least nine). The Pac-12 may not have elite level teams, but it still has some quality depth throughout the conference which is why I rank it ahead of the Big 12.

3. Big Ten

There isn’t nearly as much uncertainty in the Big Ten where Ohio State and Michigan may both be ranked in the top 10 to start the year, two teams that didn’t even play for the conference title in 2015. Michigan should challenge for a playoff spot and even with just six starters returning, anything less than double-digit wins would be a disappointment in Columbus.

Then we get to Michigan State and Iowa, the two teams that did play for the Big Ten Championship a year ago. Regardless of who they lost, the Spartans can’t be counted out after what they’ve done under Mark Dantonio. Aside from 2012, Sparty has notched at least 11 wins every year this decade. The Hawkeyes will be doubted again after being treated to much of the same throughout their surprise 2015 campaign, but I don’t think they should be. They should have one of the best defenses in the country led by future first-round cornerback Desmond King. That defense, along with a returning signal-caller and a solid running game, will keep them in each contest.

The difference when it comes to the Big Ten is that I believe the bottom of the conference is more of a disaster than the ACC, which is why I could only put it at three.

2. ACC

The ACC can thank Clemson for getting it out of the conference-rankings basement in recent years. The conference needed a team to step up to challenge Florida State on a yearly basis and the Tigers have done more than that. Clemson has reached SEC-level respect nationwide under Dabo Swinney as they are expected to be a contender every year no matter who they lose to the NFL.

This year they’ll have a tougher path in an Atlantic Coast Conference that may be as good as it has been in recent memory. The Seminoles have the look of a top 5 team with athletes all over the defense and every single starter returning on offense.

A large number of returning starters is a common theme among ACC teams in 2016. Eight of the conference’s 14 teams return at least 15 starters, and 11/14 have their starting quarterback returning (a nation high). While this doesn’t mean all of those teams will necessarily be good, it does mean a lot of those teams should be improved, increasing competition in the middle and bottom off the conference. Boston College, Syracuse, and Wake Forest were at the bottom of the conference a year ago, but with 15+ starters back including the quarterback, should be less of a pushover than they were in 2015.

There’s also hope for the ACC in the tier below Florida State and Clemson. Louisville has eight starters back on a defense that was 18th in the country last year. If they can get consistency from an offense with 10 starters returning, they’ll be a dark horse in the conference.

The Coastal division should be a three-team race between UNC, Pitt, and Miami. The Tar Heels will be the favorite, but it’s hard to expect them to run away with it again if they repeat a defensive performance that left them 97th in the country in 2015. The Panthers return eight starters on each side of the ball after going 6-2 in conference play a year ago. Then there’s Miami, which could see improvement with new head coach Mark Richt and a quarterback that could be taken very highly in the 2017 NFL Draft.

1. SEC

Was there any doubt? As much as I’d like to see another conference take over the top spot, it’s hard to make that argument for 2016. After last year, it’s time for anyone (myself included) who doubted Alabama to stop expecting less than an SEC championship for the Tide. It’s better to just be surprised if it doesn’t happen.

LSU could be the team to overtake them this year. After a couple of disappointing seasons, the Tigers have the look of a championship contender once again. Everyone will point to the needed improvement at quarterback, which is surely necessary. Really though, it’s the defense that needs to get back to playing the way it used to. The Tigers’ run defense imploded last year during the team’s losses, but should revert to form with nine starters back and new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda on board.

Tennessee was looked at as a bit of a disappointment last year, but still went 9-4. This year they bring 17 starters back from that team, including a dynamic backfield in Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd. Along with Tennessee, Ole Miss could help give the SEC four pre-season Top 10 teams. Say what you want about pre-season polls, but they are generally about the most talented teams, and the SEC has more talent than anyone.

The talent discrepancy shows up among the second-tier of the SEC, where teams like Tennessee, Arkansas, and Ole Miss had dominating bowl wins over other Power 5 teams. Other conferences may have a couple teams as good as the SEC’s top teams, but it’s the quality of that middle tier that keeps the SEC on top.

Feature image courtesy Ken Lund

SEC Links: Songs of the South

Lawyers, Guns, and Money

There is always a song, or two, spinning on the turntable in my head. I can’t help it. I just go with it.
It’s either a blessing or a curse, depending on the circumstances. I try to keep it in the blessing column. That old Warren Zevon song, ‘Lawyers, Guns, and Money’ was the first tune that popped into my mind when I read the Cam Robinson story on Tuesday.

Now Nick Saban has, graciously, this morning, cued another song on my internal jukebox… “One thing I always tell players — there are three bad things: Nothing good happens after midnight, nothing good happens when you’re around guns unless you’re going hunting and you don’t want to mess around with women you don’t know because a lot of times bad things happen.”

I beg to differ with Nick on a couple of those points, keep the one about guns, as does the great JJ Cale (no, Eric Clapton did not write this song)…

“After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out
After midnight, we’re gonna chug-a-lug and shout
We’re gonna cause talk and suspicion
Give an exhibition
Find out what it is all about
After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out
After midnight, gonna shake your tambourine

After midnight, it’s gonna be peaches and cream
We’re gonna cause talk and suspicion
Give an exhibition
Find out what it is all about
After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out
After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out”

I have to agree with Mr. Cale, and not with Mr. Saban, on this matter. “Let it all (well, maybe most of it) hang out. Chug-a-lug and shout?” You betcha! Shake your tambourine? Oh yeah! Gonna be peaches and cream? I’m all in! We can hash out the “talk and suspicion” part later.

Tennessee Jed

As we press on, we’re joined by the Good Ole Grateful Dead…

“Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be,
Baby won’t you carry me back to Tennessee.”

That line is taken from the Dead’s ‘Tennessee Jed’, and if you are a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers there is a great deal to be optimistic about as you look toward the 2016 season. I believe most people and pundits are penciling in the Vols to win the SEC East. Some think they will win the SEC championship.

Whatever your take is on all matters Rocky Top (see how I worked another song in there?), you can’t deny that they have a bonafide all-star candidate in running back Jalen Hurd. At least one person sees Hurd as a Heisman trophy sleeper. Sleeper is fair, I think, but I am firmly in the Fournette camp at this juncture.

Breakout

Barrett Sallee, of Bleacher Report, provides us the perfect segway in our next link. He makes a good argument for Williams, but I’m going to put on my “homer” hat and go with Jovon Robinson of Auburn. Robinson, the Birmingham Bowl MVP, rushed for 639 yards in 2015 and I believe he will more than double that number in 2016. He is poised for a monster year.

A song for the above? It belongs to the Foo Fighters.

Soulshine

Let’s conclude on a more serious note. Here is a beautiful piece on former South Carolina Gamecock running back, Marcus Lattimore. I have always really liked Lattimore and I was disappointed when he did not choose Auburn. Besides his greatness as a running back, he is an even greater human being, a bright light in the, sometimes, dark world of big time athletics.

Gov’t Mule’s ‘Soulshine’ is a perfect song for this last story in today’s SEC Links.

Grace and peace, my friends.

Why the Tennessee Volunteers Will Win the SEC East

Every time my dad calls me or I call him, we inevitably spend a huge portion of the call talking about college football. Although I was raised as a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers, I went to the dark side and became a Florida Gator fan when I went to college. Naturally, this means my dad and I tend to have differing opinions about SEC football the overwhelming majority of the time. Last year, we were both cautiously optimistic about the Vols and we both thought the Gators would be pretty bad. While the Gators proved us wrong and managed to come out of the season with a surprisingly good record, the Vols showed us exactly why we were so cautious about our optimism.

This year, I am still cautious about all the optimism surrounding the Tennessee football program. My dad, on the other hand, has told me three times now exactly why he thinks the Tennessee Volunteers will win the SEC East. In fact, he offered to hijack half of one of my articles for me. Instead of allowing that dangerous idea to play out, I decided to take it upon myself to be his voice. Maybe I will disappoint him less with this article than I did when I talked about Alabama football a couple weeks ago. Without further ado, here’s his list of reasons the Tennessee Volunteers will win the SEC East, accompanied by my explanations of his points.

Their Returning Players

If you ask my dad, he will tell you that as many as 10 players that are on their roster heading into next season could be picked by teams in the 2017 NFL Draft. While 10 may seem a bit too optimistic considering they have not had a player drafted since 2014, they could have had a player drafted this year had some of their starters not chosen to return for another shot at the elusive title. Among those returning for the Vols on offense this year are: senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs, redshirt junior running back Alvin Kamara, and junior running back Jalen Hurd. Basically, the Vols running game is going to be a very dangerous weapon. I mean, have you seen the video of Hurd running at a speed of 19.5 mph on a treadmill at an incline?

The Vols return a good number of defensive weapons too, including: junior defensive end Derek Barnett, senior cornerback Cameron Sutton, senior outside linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and junior cornerback Justin Martin. A defense full of players like that has the potential to terrorize even the best of the SEC offenses. Tennessee is also returning a huge asset on special teams in junior Evan Berry. Berry, younger brother of my favorite Vol alumnus Eric Berry, ranked first in the NCAA last season in kickoff return average and was one of only four players in the country who had three kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2015. Berry is listed as a defensive back and is sometimes used as such but he’s clearly most dangerous when he is returning kickoffs and punts.

New Defensive Coordinator, Bob Shoop

Bob Shoop was a great get for the Volunteers. Shoop was the defensive coordinator at Penn State from 2014-2015 and at Vanderbilt from 2011-2013. In each of those past five seasons he coached a top 25 defense. Last year, Penn State ranked 15th in the nation in total defense, holding opponents to an average of 324.3 yards per game. The season before that, Penn State ranked second in the nation in total defense, allowing an average of only 278.7 yards each game. And before that, Shoop saw similar success at Vanderbilt. That experience means he is no stranger to the toughness required to succeed in the SEC.

New Tight Ends Coach, Larry Scott

Larry Scott was also a good get for the Vols. The Miami Hurricanes had a pretty embarrassing season going last year when their head coach Al Golden was fired seven games into the season. The tight ends coach at the time, Larry Scott, was then selected to be the interim head coach. He inherited a team with low morale and an angry fan base but managed to make the best of it, leading the Canes to a 4-2 record while he was in charge. Between USF and Miami he has been an interim head coach, a tight ends coach, a running backs coach, and an offensive line coach. It is safe to say his experience should bring a little something extra to the Volunteers’ offense this season.

The Right Mindset

This last point cannot be stressed enough. One thing I have come to learn is that every sport is a mental challenge almost as much as a physical one. When competing in the best conference in all of college football, the team and its coaches having the right mindset can mean everything. My dad calls the attitude shown by the coaches this spring a “quiet confidence.” Former Vol Al Wilson likened the way this group of players interacts to how the ’98 Championship Vols were. He talked about the leadership shown by those players returning as well as having the attitude of being a team and playing for one another. Head Coach Butch Jones described his team as having “a great inner drive.” And if there is one thing you need to win a championship it is definitely that drive, that relentless determination to do something only one team can do any given season. This Vols team full of seasoned veterans seems to be up to that mental challenge.

Those points I borrowed from my dad are all completely valid reasons to believe that this could finally be Tennessee’s year to win the SEC East. In fact, many other analysts believe that the Vols will at least win the SEC East this season. I actually almost have myself convinced they will finally pull it off this year. But, the biggest question still remaining for the Vols is whether or not their passing game will be improved with junior college transfer Jeff George and sophomore Preston Williams as their leading receivers. If they can get their passing game going, this team could really be something special. Without a somewhat balanced attack on offense, I worry that the Vols may not be able to outlast their tougher opponents like Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, and Florida. They certainly were not able to outlast Florida and Alabama last year. Maybe this year will be their year, maybe this year all the optimism will be warranted. And if it is not their year, then Coach Jones will be sitting on a scorching hot seat up there in Rocky Top.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter to see more conversations about football that I have with my dad. Or you can see the conversations I have with myself about football because those can be equally amusing, with the Volunteer in me pitted against the Gator in me.

Outback Bowl: A Look at Tennessee

Tennessee finished 8-4 this season and their 5-3 SEC record was good enough for a second place finish in the SEC East. Their overall record and SEC record may not have lived up to the expectations of their fans, but the Vols finished strong and have given their faithful following a sense that 2016 will be their season. The 2016 season starts January 1 against Northwestern.

It’s true that I never bought into the preseason 2015 hype for Josh Dobbs or Butch Jones. Some would disagree, but I wasn’t being too hard on Tennessee, I just wasn’t drinking the orange kool aid. All of that changes beginning January 1.

Now that you’ve read Tennessee’s Rocky Road on Rocky Top, you know that 2016 is the season that I have circled for Butch Jones and his Volunteers. He not only has recruiting classes that have had time to mature, but he will also have the benefit of playing in an SEC East that is breaking in three new head coaches. Of these three new head coaches, two have no prior head coaching experience. It’s time for Tennessee to be the Beasts Of The East.

Tennessee’s Outback Bowl opponent is Northwestern. Northwestern finished 10-2 and that was a nice season. I say it was just a nice season because other than a 16-6 opening game win against Stanford, the Wildcats didn’t have any wins that really popped.

That opening weekend win against Stanford does show how tough Northwestern can be. They can and will grind out wins and that should have the attention of Tennessee. Tennessee developed the reputation of not being able to close games out and playing 60 minutes of football could be challenging for the Volunteers. To come out victorious against Northwestern, the Vols will have to play 60 minutes worth of football.

Going into this season, fans thought that this was Dobbs’ team and that was partially due to Butch Jones thinking that as well. Both Jones and the fans learned that this team was about Jalen Hurd. Run with The Hurd and win.

This is why I believe Tennessee is poised to beat Northwestern.

The Outback Bowl will not only be Tennessee’s coming out party but I also expect it to be Jalen Hurd’s coming out party. When Northwestern played a team with a true pulse, they had problems defending the run game. Michigan chewed up the Wildcat’s rush defense by committee and Iowa absolutely torched the Wildcat’s rush defense and that was with Canzeri only getting 4 touches for Iowa.

My expectation is for Tennessee to win big against Northwestern behind a huge performance by Hurd. The SEC East will be put on notice, the nation will be put on notice and Jalen Hurd will be on the entirely too early 2016 Heisman radar.

It’s 2016 and everything will be coming up Tennessee orange.

Prediction:

Tennessee 38
Northwestern 17

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