The #9 Florida State Seminoles and #18 Houston Cougars will face off in the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl December 31st, in a game that features a few marquee personnel matchups on either side of the ball. Both teams present challenges for the other team, and the way that these individual matchups play out will go a long way towards determining the outcome of the game.
TERRANCE SMITH vs GREG WARD JR
One of the biggest player matchups of the game will be between Florida State linebacker Terrance Smith, and Houston’s leading rusher, quarterback Greg Ward Jr. Houston’s leading rusher is their quarterback, which has proven to be a difficult thing for Seminole defenses to defend over the past few years. With Houston’s offensive success hinging on the effectiveness of Ward running the ball, I expect Seminole coach Jimbo Fisher to have a spy on Ward for most of the game. The player most likely responsible for containing Ward, will be senior linebacker Terrance Smith. Smith, one of the defensive leaders for the Seminoles, has the athletic tools necessary to contain Ward, but Ward at the same time hasn’t been able to be stopped
by nearly everyone he’s faced. Of course read-option plays by Houston’s offense will require the entire Seminole defensive front to stay disciplined, but on designed throwing plays, it will be up to Smith to keep Ward from breaking out of the pocket and into open space where he does the most damage.
JALEN RAMSEY vs DEMARCUS AYERS
Another matchup to watch will be Seminole cornerback Jalen Ramsey, versus Houston’s leading receiver Demarcus Ayers. Many people already know about 2nd team All-American Ramsey, but less is known about Ayers. Ayers is the first receiving option for the Cougars, caught 89 passes for 1,140 yards this season, and made the first-team All-AAC team as a receiver and as a return specialist. Ayers has almost twice as many receiving yards as the next closest receiver on the team. Whoever wins this matchup initially will go a long way to determining how much attention the Seminole defense will be able to give to Greg Ward’s rushing attack. If Ayers can prove to be a threat from the beginning, the Seminole defense will have to sag back and give more attention to the receivers, which would allow Ward more space to run once he drops back. On the other hand, if Ramsey can prove he can cover Ayers one-on-one early, the Seminole defense will be able to focus more on keeping Ward from using his legs, which would most likely mean using safety Derwin James more as a pass rusher, instead of dropping him back in coverage.
DALVIN COOK vs ELANDON ROBERTS
Probably one of the most determining matchups of the game will be between Seminoles star running back Dalvin Cook, and Houston’s All-AAC first-team linebacker Elandon Roberts. Cook is probably the best player on the Seminoles roster, and Roberts is the best player on Houston’s defense. Roberts is simply a monster, with double digit tackles in six games this year, Roberts will be the head man in charge of keeping Cook from getting to the second level of their defense. With the way that Florida State’s offense relies on Cook, it will be up to Roberts to keep Cook from turning short gains into long touchdowns. The only team the Seminoles have faced this year that gave Cook a lot of trouble was Boston College, and I expect Houston to use their defense as a template to keep Cook in check, utilizing Roberts the way that Boston College deployed linebacker Steven Daniels. For Houston’s defense to have success, they will have to contain Cook, and if Roberts can keep him from having multiple field-changing runs, that would be a big indicator that the game is close by the end.
The Browns are now 2-9 and officially done with the playoffs, many fans have thrown in the
towel and are hoping we tank for a number one pick. I for one think tanking for a better draft pick is disrespectful to the leaders and veterans on the team.
Plus a lot of the teams that look to be a top the draft board, (Tennessee, Dallas, San Diego, Baltimore) are not in the market for QBs. It seems very likely a QB like Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff could be available to us at the 3rd to 5th pick. So now with tanking out of the question here is my plan for the rest of the season.
1. Start Duke Johnson at running back! Isaiah Crowell has been an absolute disaster as a RB. Right now he is last in the NFL among qualified runners in with 2.9 yards per attempt. The advanced stats do not treat him in any better as he last in the NFL in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defense-adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) stats from Football Outsiders. Johnson has done better than Crow in all ares and he deserves to keep moving forward as our starter.
2. Play Austin Davis now but do not be reluctant to hand the keys to Johnny Manziel. Manziel had the job and lost it by lying about his partying. As a twenty year old college kid I sympathize with him a bit. Partying, getting drunk, and listening to Future at the club is quite fun honestly. The only difference is I’m not getting paid 1.8 million dollars to lead a professional football team.
This is the reason that I’d keep Manziel on the bench until Davis shows that he is not the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win. And perhaps Davis is a good quarterback, he seems to have a great attitude and has starting experience with the Rams. Perhaps he can bud into a decent QB with us.
3. Fire Jim O’Neill! We have the highest paid defense in terms of percent of team salary, yet we are the worst at stopping the run and second worst at keeping teams out of the end-zone. After this I would try to get younger guys like Nate Orchard and Ibraheim Campbell into the rotation more to see what kind of value they’ll hold in the future.
In the off-season my main goal would be to figure out if the Browns have a chance to go to the playoffs with either Manziel, Davis, or even McCown. If I don’t think these guys are capable of doing that I’d take a QB in the first round.
It’s still too early to tell which QB would be worth taking as every top guy has some key weaknesses but I’m sure some one will emerge as a top 5 pick. If I feel that one of these guys can take me to the playoffs my number one target is Joey Bosa. Now keep in mind I am not an OSU fan by any means, but I know that Joey Bosa has the capability to boost our run defense and our pass rush. Other options include upgrading our secondary by taking CB/S Jalen Ramsey of FSU or CB Vernon Hargreaves out of Florida. If I don’t feel that Josh Gordon is focused on football Laquon Treadwell would be a great option to help bolster the receiving corps which has been our weakness since Braylon Edwards decided to stink.
After watching and analyzing Florida State’s first few games it has become clear that while the offense has received most of the attention from people, the Seminole defense is what the team wants their identity to be.
Between the transferring in of quarterback Everett Golson, and running back Dalvin Cook entering his sophomore season, the offense garnered a lot of attention based on the skilled position players and the potential that the offense had. All while the defense has been a bit of an afterthought. Through three games, the Seminole defense quietly ranks in the top-10 in points allowed, and yards allowed.
I am as guilty as anybody of overlooking the Florida State defense. I was caught up in the Golson and Cook hype and was imagining an offense that was unstoppable and I thought the Noles could outscore anybody they played. It’s safe to say I got a little ahead of myself.
The most recent game against Boston College displayed what the identity of this Seminoles team is and what the recipe for success should be going forward. The offense struggled mightily against a good defense in Boston College who currently rank as the 2nd best defense in the nation in points allowed. Aside from the first drive of the game – one that was probably scripted before the game – the Seminoles’ offense couldn’t get anything going, literally anything. While the offense was searching for answers, the defense took control of the game by not allowing Boston College to score a single point during the entire game, and contributed by scoring the game-sealing touchdown on a fumble return forced by vocal leader Terrance Smith, and returned for a score by the best player on the defense, Jalen Ramsey.
For people that aren’t Florida State fans, the game against BC was probably boring and unimpressive, but what happened during the game was indicative of what will bring the Seminoles success this season. As a result of the game the Seminoles’ defense will be brought to the forefront, and will help shift offensive concerns away from Golson. All of the sudden, the offense has become a concern for the Seminoles, while the defense has done nothing but prove that they are the unit the team should rely on going forward.
With a couple of high-flying offenses on the Seminoles’ schedule coming up against Clemson and Georgia Tech in the future, it is reassuring that the defense has already had a game that they can hang their hats on.
The Seminoles are on the road after their bye week to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at 3:30pm on Saturday.
Miami – Miami managed to escape Nebraska this weekend with an interception in overtime that essentially ended the game. Miami looked like they had the game wrapped up with a 23-point lead in the 4th quarter, when Nebraska rallied to force overtime. Losing a 23-point lead is never a good thing, but as QB Brad Kaaya said, “We won the game, that’s all that matters.” Miami heads into their bye week at 3-0.
Georgia Tech – Georgia Tech suffered a tough 30-22 defeat to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Even though they ended up losing by eight points, the score doesn’t really reflect the outcome of the game. Notre Dame and their front-seven controlled Georgia Tech’s triple-option run game for the whole game, and Notre Dame’s new quarterback played a pretty good game against the Yellow Jackets. This game represented something that is the downfall of a run based team, once you get down early it is hard to comeback. Georgia Tech faces Duke on the road this weekend.
Duke – Duke lost 19-10 in their first real test this year against a surprisingly good Northwestern team. This game was decided by a couple long touchdowns for Northwestern that Duke could never overcome as they only scored 10 points in the contest. Now 2-1, Duke has a big test in Georgia Tech coming into town. With a victory Duke is right back in conference contention, a loss could be detrimental to the team’s season outlook.
North Carolina – QB Marquise Williams led the Tarheels to victory behind his 3 touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards, beating Illinois handily 48-14. A lot of the Tarheels success this season will depend on how well Williams plays, and if he plays as well as he did this weekend the future is bright for this team. North Carloina faces Delaware this weekend with a tough matchup against Georgia Tech looming in two weeks.
Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Iowa Hawkeyes. After a game-tying touchdown with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Iowa traveled down the field and scored on a 57-yard field goal as time expired. After going down 10-0 to start the game, Pittsburgh came back to tie the game after a five minute 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended up not being enough for the Panthers. Heading into their bye week 2-1, the team looks to rebound before they travel to Virginia Tech next weekend.
Virginia Tech – Virginia Tech pulled away from Purdue in the second half, ultimately cruising to a 51-24 victory. Brenden Motley played well for the Hokies passing for 220 yards and 2 TD’s while also having a rushing TD and no turnovers. Hokie fans hope Motley can continue his play from this game into the future after replacing the injured Michael Brewer. Virginia Tech plays against East Carolina on the road this Saturday.
Virginia – Virginia won their first game of the season after a brutal schedule to start, defeating William and Mary 35-29. Heading into the fourth leading 35-20, Virginia was unable to score again as William and Mary mounted their comeback. William and Mary got to Virginia’s 30 yard line with a minute left, but turned the ball over on downs to give Virginia their first win. Virginia plays another tough opponent in Boise State this weekend.
Clemson – Clemson managed to hold onto a game that they probably should have lost last Thursday. Louisville failed to score at the end of the fourth after Clemson allowed them a couple of chances to grab the lead. At 3-0, Clemson heads into their bye week getting ready for their tough test against the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a game that features #11 Clemson and #6 Notre Dame.
Florida State – Florida State shutout Boston College 14-0, relying on their defense the whole game. With the Seminoles’ offense sputtering and only scoring seven points, defensive standout Jalen Ramsey picked up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown that ended up sealing the game. Running back Dalvin Cook was injured in the game, but says that he is fine going forward. The Seminoles head into their by week 3-0, with their next game being Wake Forest on the road.
Syracuse – Syracuse defeated Central Michigan in overtime 30-27 with Jordan Frederick’s touchdown to seal it. At 3-0 Syracuse is in control of their destiny in the Atlantic division. Syracuse faces Leonard Fournette and #8 LSU at home this weekend.
NC State – NC State cruised to a 38-14 victory over Old Dominion and are now sitting at 3-0 after a pretty easy schedule to start the season. Jacoby Brissett has started the season without a turnover, and running back Matthew Dayes has had three straight 100-yard rushing games to start the season. NC State faces Southern Alabama before their first real test against Louisville in two weeks.
Boston College – Boston College lost 14-0 to the Seminoles in a game where their starting quarterback Darius Wade broke his ankle, forcing him out for the remainder of the season. This is a tough blow for the Eagles as they had a team that could surprise a few people, centered around their tough defense. It is uncertain who will be the starter for Boston College when they take on a Northern Illinois team that took Ohio State to the finish last weekend.
Wake Forest – Wake Forest defeated Army with a 47-yard field goal as the game expired. Wake Forest scored all of their points in the second half behind quarterback Kendall Hinton’s two rushing touchdowns. It wasn’t a good game for Hinton passing the ball as he threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, but he made up for it with his 101 yards on the ground. Wake Forest takes on Indiana this weekend leading up to their matchup against #10 FSU in two weeks.
Louisville – Louisville lost a tough game against Clemson after having a few chances in the fourth to tie the game. Louisville missed a game-tying field goal with two minutes left and threw an interception with time expiring. At 0-3, it has been a tough start to the season for Louisville, losing all of their games by only one score. They look to get their first victory at home against Samford this weekend.
We’ve just entered the dead zone for most sports fans. Save for the Super Bowl this Sunday, football is over at both the college and professional levels and it will be six months before pre-season coverage really starts to kick into high gear. I’d consider myself a fairly big NBA fan, and though it’s enough to get me by until the start of baseball and summer, nothing is the same as football weekends. And if you are like me and live in the Midwest or another northern state, you’re dealing with weather that makes you not want to leave the house for weeks at a time AND no football. Sometimes you wonder if it’s worth getting up in the morning (ok, slight exaggeration). Reading absurdly premature 2015 college football articles helps me get my football fix, and here is a list of players that I can’t wait to watch play this coming fall.
Deshaun Watson – QB Clemson (featured image)
It was unknown if Watson would play much in 2014 with Senior QB Cole Stoudt on the roster, but it didn’t take long to tell who was the far superior player. By the third week Watson was getting the majority of the snaps and provided a three game taste of what the future would be like for the Clemson offense. Unfortunately it was mostly a tease since the quarterback’s season was disrupted and ultimately ended by injuries. Still, Watson completed 68% of his passes to go along with 19 total touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.
Joe Yearby – RB Miami (Fl.)
This is somewhat of a homer pick, but it’s not exactly unwarranted. Yearby did a fine job as a freshman rushing for 500+ yards and 5.9 ypc while backing up Duke Johnson. With Duke Johnson now gone there are plenty of carries available in the Hurricane backfield. With Brad Kaaya keeping defenses honest, I’m excited to see what Yearby can do with 200 carries.
DJ Foster – RB Arizona State
It may be because of a lack of consistency, but Foster’s season seemed like somewhat of a disappointment. Then you look up and realize he had 1,700 yards of offense and 12 touchdowns. His four 100-yard rushing games came in the Sun Devils’ three non-conference games and Colorado (who might as well be a non-conference doormat) but only topped 59 yards two other times. On the flip side he was used quite a bit in the passing game, especially with the emergence of fellow RB Demario Richard. That athleticism and versatility is what makes Foster fun to watch and he will be leaned on just as much with the departure of WR Jaelen Strong.
Artavis Scott – WR Clemson
Scott burst onto the scene as a freshman last year and helped ease the minds of Tigers fans mourning the departure of Sammy Watkins, one of the best players in school history. Scott racked up 965 yards and 8 scores and finished the year strong with 7 for 185 and two scores and 8 for 114 and one score in the Tigers final two games. Scott and DeShaun Watson will be lighting up defenses for at least the next two years.
Adoree Jackson – Everywhere USC
Jackson did it all for the Trojans in his 2014 freshman campaign, playing WR, CB, and returning kicks. His full repertoire was on display in USC’s bowl game as Jackson had a 98 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a 71 yard touchdown catch, and 7 tackles on defense. No matter what position Jackson is playing this fall, he’s the only reason you need to tune into USC games.
Jeremy Johnson – QB Auburn
Though Auburn’s offense was pretty dynamic with Nick Marshall at the helm, many feel it could be even better in 2015 with Jeremy Johnson. Johnson’s size (6’5’’ 230 pounds) will remind you of Cam Newton, but he’s a much better passer than Newton or Marshall and not near the runner as either of them. Johnson has only seen limited action in the last two years, but he’s completed better than 70% of his passes with a 4.5/1 TD/INT ratio and has shown enough to make me think he’s a dark horse Heisman contender for 2015.
Corey Clement – RB Wisconsin
The Badgers have had no shortage of quality running backs in the last decade and a half and the pattern seems to be: RB excels in a backup role, RB puts up ridiculous stats in a full-time role, RB leaves for NFL. Clement will be on the second leg of that cycle after rushing for just under 1,000 yards backing up Melvin Gordon last year. Clement averaged 6.5 ypc and could easily double that as the lead back in 2015.
Dalvin Cook – RB Florida State
Dalvin Cook started the year slow and didn’t really contribute fully until halfway through the season. Once he did, the rest of the country wished Florida State hadn’t taken the reins off him. Cook tore it up, rushing for just over 1,000 yards even though he received more than 15 carries in only three games. Cook saved the Seminoles’ season in multiple games and will be relied upon even more now with Jameis Winston headed to the NFL.
KD Cannon – WR Baylor
Cannon was the 4th highest rated 2014 WR recruit and he didn’t disappoint in his freshman season. He took off from the get-go with star WR Antwan Goodley banged up, before slowing down upon Goodley’s return. He still managed to put up 1,030 yards and 8 touchdowns due to an explosive 17.8 yards per catch. Cannon capped off 2014 with 8 catches for 197 and 2 touchdowns in Baylor’s bowl game and could be one of the nation’s top receivers this fall with Goodley playing on Sundays.
Jamal Adams – S LSU
In the time since the national championship, I’ve read a few articles talking about breakout players for 2015. Every one of them has listed Adams on it, so that’s reason enough for me to get excited about his potential this fall. Adams is 6 feet and over 200 pounds and managed to make a significant impact as a freshman in an LSU secondary already full of NFL talent. Plus I’m a sucker for safeties with size.
Leonard Fournette – RB LSU
Another LSU Tiger, but this one’s just a little bit more known nationally. Fournette came into last season with about as much hype as possible, but started the year slow before taking off in the middle of the year. Fournette’s stat line looks impressive, but he needs to be more consistent going forward, especially in conference play. He did finish the year with back to back 140 yard games, giving Tiger fans reason to believe he will live up to the hype.
Jabrill Peppers – DB Michigan
Peppers was another highly touted recruit coming into the season but unlike Fournette, injuries robbed him of the ability to show off that potential. On the bright side, Peppers was able to get a medical redshirt, saving all of his eligibility while getting a few games of experience at the college level which will help this year. Whether Peppers plays corner or safety, he’s a ball hawk who you’ll want to keep your eye on.
Kenyan Drake – RB Alabama
Even in a crowded backfield Drake was supposed to have a breakout season last year after averaging 7.5 ypc in 2013. He was having that type of season until a gruesome injury ended his season in the Tide’s fifth game. Most of the focus will be on fellow running back Derrick Henry, but a healthy Kenyan Drake could throw his name into the list of best SEC running backs in a league stacked with good ones.
Wayne Gallman – RB Clemson
You should probably just watch any time Clemson is on offense because they have a handful of players who can turn heads. Gallman didn’t receive consistent carries until the Tigers’ 7th game but once he did he took off. The freshman rushed for over 500 yards on just under 5.5 ypc in the team’s last five games and should shoulder a similar load over the whole season in 2015.
Jalen Ramsey – DB Florida State
I’m not totally sure what to say about Ramsey other than he’s just fun to watch and you won’t regret it. Ramsey has the size to play up close and the athleticism to cover guys in the open field. One of those prototypical guys who always seems to be around the ball.
Joshua Dobbs – QB Tennessee
Dobbs was thrown into a tough situation as a sophomore on a young Vols team but performed admirably. He threw only 9 touchdowns to 6 interceptions in the half year he played but added 469 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. His versatility should make Tennessee’s offense interesting to watch in a backfield that already has stud RB Jalen Hurd.
George Campbell – ATH Florida State
Campbell is one of the top recruits in the country and could line up at WR for the Seminoles. It might be a little crazy to put someone on this list who has yet to suit up for his school but if Campbell gets playing time it could be warranted. Campbell has rare size and speed being listed at 6’4’’, 190 pounds, with a 4.35 forty yard dash and 38” vertical to boot. On a team that just lost its top two receiving threats, Campbell could make an immediate impact.
Yesterday, the Oregon Ducks defeated the Florida State Seminoles 59-20 in the Rose Bowl game. The Oregon Ducks will play the Ohio State Buckeyes in the National Championship on January 12th.
For those watching the Seminoles versus the Ducks, the first half was not exactly what everyone was expecting coming into the game. The game began in a sloppy fashion, Mariota wasn’t hitting the throws that Duck fans are accustomed to, and the Seminoles offense stalled out in the red-zone three times. One critical play that shaped the way that the first half went was when Jameis Winston, on 4th down and goal, was brought down at the half-yard line on a failed option play. Marcus Mariota would quickly come back down the field and give the Ducks an 11-3 lead. Even with the score of the game, Mariota wasn’t looking in top form. Luckily for Mariota, Seminole defensive back Jalen Ramsey dropped an easy interception inside the Seminoles own 20-yard line, that would eventually turn into a touchdown for the Ducks.
Ramsey’s drop, and Winston’s failed 4th down conversion defined the first half for the Seminoles. However even with these missed opportunities, the Seminoles only went into halftime down 18-13, and having deferred the coin toss, were set up to receive the ball in the 2nd half.
The 2nd half, was when everything started to go downhill for the Seminoles. Having received the kickoff, the Seminoles were driving down the field, up until when freshmen running back Dalvin Cook fumbled the ball at Oregon’s 31-yard line. It would only take Oregon six plays to reach the end zone and take a 25-13 lead. The Seminoles however would respond on the next drive, that culminated with an 18-yard TD pass to wide receiver Travis Rudolph, and would bring the Seminole deficit back to 5. This was the last time that the Seminoles offense would score for the rest of the game.
On Oregon’s next drive, wide receiver Darren Carrington would beat his corner, catch the ball, cut inside the safety and end up walking into the end zone for a 56-yard touchdown pass. This was when the wheels started to fall off for the Seminoles. The next four Florida State drives would end in Dalvin Cook’s second fumble, a horrendous fumble by James Winston that would be returned for a touchdown, an interception from Winston, and a fumble from WR Jesus Wilson. Oregon would turn all four of the turnovers into touchdowns, and took a 59-20 lead that would end up being the final score of the game.
Even though Oregon’s offense looked very good and their defense forced numerous turnovers, this game was lost by Florida State. There is just simply no way you can win a game against the #2 ranked team in the country when you turn the ball over in four of your first five drives in the second half. Especially when the Florida State defense couldn’t slow the Oregon offense at all, as they simply couldn’t keep up with the speed of Oregon’s offense and the tempo at which they played with. The Seminole defense was plainly overmatched against Mariota and the Ducks offense.
It was a dismal end to the Seminoles season, and possibly Jameis Winston’s career at Florida State, as he would be a high draft pick in the next NFL Draft. As bad as this loss was, it’s hard not to look back at what these Seminoles have accomplished in the past two seasons, this game was the end of a great run. A 29-game winning streak, a Heisman Trophy winner and a National Championship. Not a bad career for Jameis Winston if he does decide to leave for the NFL.
With only a week and a half until the season finally gets underway, it’s time to unveil the year’s heavy hitters. These are the best teams heading into the season. Schedules, avoiding upsets, and dealing with expectations will determine if these squads will be successful in navigating their way to a college football playoff berth. My thinking is that only two of these five will likely make it. Check back next Monday when I tell you which two teams those will be and who from outside the Top 5 will be joining them.
5. South Carolina
South Carolina has become one of the most consistent programs under Steve Spurrier. With eight offensive starters back this year they should find similar success. Though they will head into the year with a new starter at quarterback, Dylan Thompson has plenty of game experience in the last few years and is in his fifth year in the program. Playmaker Bruce Ellington will now be playing WR on Sundays, but Thompson will have the Gamecocks’ next nine top pass catchers back from a year ago. He won’t need to do much throwing though with an offense that will rely heavily on stud RB Mike Davis and an experienced offensive line, one that is one of the ten best in the country. The other side of the ball is a little more bleak. South Carolina will break in new starters at both DE and CB spots. Having both safeties back will make sure the pass defense doesn’t fall to sieve levels. Additionally, year after year the defense has been solid, giving up more than 20 ppg only once in the last half decade. The Gamecocks have won double digit games each of the last three seasons and are a good bet to make it four.
For the Ducks, it all starts with Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota. The offense was rolling last year until he got injured, and who knows if they would’ve stayed undefeated had he not gotten hurt. Mariota will have to hope new receivers step up as the Ducks will not have four of the top five guys from a year ago. Regardless, Oregon should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard as usual with the help of a dynamite run game. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner form a running back duo that will continue the success Oregon’s backs have had the previous half decade. Paving the way will be an offensive line that returns four starters and should be dominant, even with the recent loss of starting LT Tyler Johnstone. As far as stopping the other team, it will be interesting to see how the Duck defense performs. They have elite players in returning leading tackler Derrick Malone and potential Top 10 pick Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at corner, but it will be how the others on the unit perform that will determine if Mariota needs to continue putting up points or if he gets to watch from the sidelines most fourth quarters. While it seems like Stanford has Oregon’s number after winning the last couple matchups, the Ducks actually beat the Cardinal by 20+ in the previous two games when both teams were in the Top 10. They have to play fellow Top 10 team in UCLA on the road, but avoiding USC and Arizona State means Oregon will be in the thick of the playoff race until the end of the season.
3. Ohio State
I don’t think Ohio State is as complete of a team as the others in the Top 5, but when you have the impact players they do it makes up for a lot. Like Oregon, the Buckeyes season hopes start and end with a Heisman candidate QB. Braxton Miller has improved every year at OSU and comes into the year after accounting for 36 touchdowns last season and over 1,000 yards rushing. Miller will need to help out on the ground game early in the year as the Buckeyes find a consistent replacement for Carlos Hyde, but I think Urban Meyer would feel better if Miller decreased his rushing attempts drastically over the course of the whole year to make sure he stays healthy. Playmaker Dontre Wilson should be a bigger part of the offense this year and take some of that pressure off of Braxton Miller. The only worry might be an offensive line that breaks in four new starters. There shouldn’t be a ton to worry about on the defensive side. The pass defense could be a concern, but with a front seven that should be dominant that won’t be as big of an issue. The Buckeyes will roll out the best defensive line in the country, even with Noah Spence starting the year serving a three game suspension. And though they did lose first round pick Ryan Shazier, when was the last time Ohio State didn’t have another NFL caliber linebacker to replace the most recently departed one? Even with back to back losses to end last year, the Buckeyes have found themselves ranked in the Top 10 for 20 consecutive weeks, and will continue to add to that total for most, if not the whole season
Alabama seems to be the most consistently top ranked team after consensus #1 Florida State, so I tried to think of reasons not to follow that trend. Clearly I didn’t find enough. I can understand the argument about Bama breaking in a new quarterback; I just don’t think it matters. Whether Jacob Coker or Blake Sims wins the job, the Crimson Tide have so much talent on offense that even a “Blaine Gabbert on the Jaguars” type of performance can’t stop them from scoring points. Arguably the best group of running backs in the country (TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake would all be Heisman contenders if given 250 carries) will run behind an offensive line that returns three starters along with 5 star T Cameron Robinson. All the QBs have to do is get the ball to a talented group of pass catchers that includes future pros in Amari Cooper and OJ Howard. There are a few more question marks on defense. A’Shawn Robinson, Trey DePriest, and Landon Collins give the Tide an elite player at each level, but will that translate to a great defense overall? I lean towards yes. No matter who Alabama has lost to the NFL, Nick Saban has trotted out a defense that hasn’t given up more than 14 ppg since Tim Tebow won the Heisman (2007). The pass defense may not be up to Saban’s standards but fortunately for the Tide, they won’t play anyone in the regular season whose offense is led by a dynamic passing attack.
1. Florida State
The defense loses some of their top tacklers, a team with a great corner could shut down the Seminoles passing attack which has only one standout wide receiver (Rashad Greene), and the running game is relying on a player who didn’t start last year at running back and had only 91 carries. Those are the only potential reasons Florida State could struggle this year, and even those seem far-fetched. That running back, Karlos Williams, will likely do just fine after averaging over 8 ypc carry and 11 TDs last year. Any worries about workload are mitigated by Williams’ history (came to FSU as a hard-hitting safety) and the impact incoming 5 star RB Dalvin Cook could have. As far as the passing game, history has told us that Heisman winning, number one pick caliber quarterbacks can keep an offense humming no matter who’s catching passes. Jameis Winston will have all day to throw behind an offensive line that returns four starters back including two All-Americans. And the defense? Though it does lose some key leadership from last year, they have talent on D that would make SEC coaches drool. Mario Edwards Jr and Eddie Goldman are just two of many five star talents, both on the defensive line. The back seven is lead by Ronald Darby, PJ Williams, and Jalen Ramsey who help form maybe the best defensive backfield in the nation. The Seminoles even return Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo to knock home field goals. Florida State may fall short of winning back to back championships, but they are the clear favorite heading into the season.
If there is a cornerback duo that strikes fear into an opposing quarterback, it is the Florida State Seminoles’ cornerbacks. This secondary boasts arguably the best cornerback duo in the nation, including preseason All-ACC selection and defensive MVP of the 2013 BCS National Championship game PJ Williams, and shutdown corner Ronald Darby. Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN has both of these two cornerbacks ranked in his top five underclassmen cornerback prospects, with both projected to be first round picks in next year’s NFL draft.
PJ Williams might be the best cornerback in the country, and he has the statistics to back it up. With 4.46 speed, he has the ability to cover any wide receiver in the country, and couple that with his NFL sized frame (6’, 196 pounds) he has the ability to make a play anywhere on the field. Williams was a safety coming out of high school, and with that he isn’t afraid to make a huge hit across the middle and has the knowledge and defensive intelligence to diagnose plays before they happen. Williams can step up and nail a running back out of the backfield, and has the power to shed blocks and continue to pursue the ball, all while ensuring that the runner doesn’t get past him. Williams was named to the preseason Thorpe, Bednarik and Nagurski award watch lists entering this season, with the first two awards given to the nation’s best defensive back, and the ladder of which is given to the best defensive player in the nation. Williams is simply a player that changes the way you game plan your offense.
As a sophomore last season, Ronald Darby led the Seminoles in pass breakups, with teams believing it would be a good idea to test him in coverage opposed to throwing it PJ Williams’ way. As teams found out the hard way, Ronald Darby can cover with the best of them. With 4.31 speed (!) he is unbeatable in deep coverage, and has the athleticism to make a play on the ball no matter what his body positioning is, or the size of the wide receiver he is covering. Darby also is not a one-trick pony when it comes to his playmaking ability. He can engage a ball carrier coming his direction and make a ball-jarring hit that will make anybody think twice about trying to run over his slightly smaller frame. Darby is the definition of a lock-down cornerback, in that he can latch on to any wide receiver and make them invisible for an entire game.
With these two amazing cornerbacks, the jobs of the interior players of Florida State defense is made much easier as they have much more time to get to the quarterback since Williams and Darby never give a wide receiver any room to breath. When you add in safety Jalen Ramsey to this secondary, this secondary unit is one of the best in the country. Ramsey was a Thorpe award semifinalist last season, and anchors the defense as a hard-hitting, playmaking safety. Holding down the other safety spot is the Nate Andrews, who led the Seminoles in interceptions last season. As you can see, the secondary that Florida State brings to the table is NFL caliber, and is sure to cause every quarterback that it faces some serious problems, not to mention interceptions.
The secondary that Florida State possesses is one of the most daunting in the nation, and is led by two of the best cornerbacks in the country. When you consider the talent surrounding these two elite corners in the secondary, and the pure ability of these two cornerbacks, this year’s Florida State defense will truly be a no-fly zone.
There are many well known phrases, ideas, or thoughts in football. The idea that defense wins championships is one of the most prevalent. Even though Florida State did have Heisman winner Jameis Winston at quarterback, they also had the best defense in the country last year. The SEC’s run of titles was mainly led by the stout defenses of Alabama, LSU, and Florida. This year will likely be no different. Barring a disaster of an offense, having a championship level defense almost guarantees a nine win season with the potential for much more. Chances are a few teams from this list will find themselves in the playoff hunt until Championship Saturday, and one of them being crowned the first National Champion of the College Football Playoff Era.
10. Ohio St.
Ohio State should have a formidable defense once again this season. They return seven starters from a defense that gave up 22.6 ppg (28th in the nation). Noah Spence and Joey Bosa bookend a defensive line that is arguably the best in college football and will have Big 10 quarterbacks hitting the turf all season long.
The Horned Frogs struggled a bit on defense last year, but this year will return to the defensive dominance that they’re accustomed to under Gary Patterson. TCU returns eight defensive starters and adds back Devonte Fields, who won the Big 12 defensive player of the year as a freshman two years ago, and Kenny Iloka, a transfer safety who had 126 tackles last year. This D held Texas Tech and Baylor under 300 yards passing last year and with most of those players back, will be more consistent this year on their way to a top 10 defensive finish.
8. Virginia Tech
You can almost pencil in the Hokies defense as one of the best every year and this year should be no different. They’ve overcome losses before which this year are up front. Bud Foster will have plenty to work with though starting with one of the best defensive backfields in the country led by budding star Kendall Fuller, who had six picks last year.
The Sooners have a ton of buzz going into this year as a potential playoff team and a lot of that rides on expectations for their defense. There was some inconsistency last year, to be expected when switching to a new scheme. But this year nine starters return from that defense with a full year and offseason to get the 3-4 system under their belt. Led by pass-rushing duo Charles Tapper and Eric Striker, Oklahoma will not only have the Big 12’s best defense, but one of the best in the nation as well.
USC might be higher if it wasn’t for depth issues stemming from scholarship losses, but this defense is almost as talented in the starting unit as those that contended for championships in the last decade. Seven starters return to a unit that had the 16th best scoring defense last year. Leonard Williams is a potential top 10 pick on the defensive line, and the defense could boast a top 5 defensive line, linebacking corps, and secondary.
It will be a strange year in Clemson, having a team led by the defense. Though overshadowed by an offense with stars like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, Clemson’s defense actually was pretty good last year giving up the 24th least ppg. They return seven starters from that D and will be led by their front seven and pass rush. Vic Beasley is an All-American at DE, Stephone Anthony will lead the linebackers after having 131 tackles last year, and the Tigers return defenders who accounted for 32 of their 38 sacks last year (one of the nation’s top totals).
Alabama has been rolling out top 5 defenses year after year and this year won’t be different. They return five starters from a defense that allowed 10 points or less nine times last year, and we all know that Nick Saban has plenty of 5-star talent to replace the other starters. Landon Collins, Trey DePriest, and A’Shawn Robinson give the Crimson Tide an impact player at every level and will ensure that Bama’s D doesn’t have any significant drop-off.
Everyone in the college football realm is familiar with the number of injuries Florida encountered last year. Even with that, the defense still only gave up 314 ypg and was the 15th best scoring defense in the nation. That is pretty incredible considering how many tough spots Florida’s lackluster offense put its defense in. 9 of the top 12 tacklers return, and the defensive playbook will be wide open with stud corner Vernon Hargreaves shutting down one side of the field
2. Michigan St.
Most people have been focusing on the losses Michigan State has on defense going into this year. While those losses will hurt, the Spartans have numerous impact players that remain. DE Shilique Calhoun, CB Trae Waynes, and S Kurtis Drummond are all near the top of their respective positions in the country, and Taiwan Jones is a more than adequate replacement for Max Bullough in the middle. With a vicious pass rush from the defensive end spots and a lock-down cornerback, the Spartans defense will be near the top in points allowed just as they have been the last few years.
1. Florida St.
They say some teams reload instead of rebuild, but we might need to come up with a different word for what Florida State has done. After losing five starters from the nation’s number one defense last year (12.1 ppg), the Seminoles are still loaded. There is NFL talent at basically every position. PJ Williams, Jalen Ramsey, and Ronald Darby form the best cornerback unit in the country and will give the numerous 5-star players on the defensive line plenty of time to harass ACC quarterbacks game after game.
Heading into the upcoming 2014 College Football season, there is a lot of hype surrounding the reigning National Champions. Of course, it all begins with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who everyone in Tallahassee is praying can keep his head on straight and stay out of trouble for even a couple of months. Assuming he does, this Florida State team is loaded with talent at every position on the field.
The defense this year features two of the best cornerbacks in the league in Ronald Darby along withdefensive pre-season all ACC selection P.J. Williams. Anchoring that secondary is returning safety Jalen Ramsey, and Tyler Hunter who everyone is getting excited to see after he started the season last year but had to miss the last 11 games due to a neck injury. The D-Line and LB’s for Florida State are no less intimidating, as FSU is bringing back DE Mario Edwards who also is a pre-season all ACC selection, LB Terrence Smith, DT Eddie Goldman, and LB Matthew Thomas who’s season was also cut short due to an injury last year. Factor in the list of impressive names not mentioned and the highly praised incoming freshman, it seems as if the Florida State defense will pick up right where it left off last year.
Florida State’s offense will be no less of a nightmare to defenses than it was last year, as Florida State has 6 (!) offensive pre-season all ACC selections including QB Jameis Winston, his favorite target WR Rashad Greene, TE Nick O’Leary, last years breakout running back Karlos Williams, and two linemen in T Cameron Erving and G Tre’ Jackson. Seriously, is there a weakness on this team?
I would point to the question marks surrounding the wide receiving core besides Rashad Greene. Two of the Seminoles top three receivers from last year are no longer on the team as Kelvin Benjamin was picked in the 1st round of the NFL draft and Kenny Shaw has graduated. It is a great thing that Greene is here for another year because if he weren’t returning, the wide receivers would be an area of concern for the Seminoles. Not because there isn’t an immense amount of wide receiver talent on the Seminoles roster, but because every option has very limited playing experience in the NCAA. There are two seniors who have high hopes for this year, Jarred ‘Scooter’ Haggins and Christian Green. Haggins has been riddled with injuries and was forced to miss the entire 2013 season due a kneecap fracture that occurred last summer. Now healthy, Haggins is looking to prove that he can become a key contributor and has been praised by coach Jimbo Fisher so far this summer to make him say, “Scooter to me is running better than he ever has, he played a lot of ball before he got hurt. You feel good there.” However, even with this high praise from the coach, Christian Green might be the more promising of the two, considering that Green played every game last year and has been a contributor on the field every year since he has been at Florida State. Simply put, Green is due for a breakout season, and with his knowledge of the offense and playbook from playing for years, he has an advantage over most of the competing wide receivers.
Time to talk about Kermit and the other sophomores looking to impress. The now sophomore Kermit Whitfield, famously returned a kickoff 100 yards in the BCS Championship game last year with five minutes left, in which he showed off the amazing speed that he possesses. Although Kermit is only 5’7”, he has the ability to be a key playmaker on offense if he and the coaching staff can utilize his abilities, which could be as easy as throwing him a few screen passes to the weak side. Another sophomore with the ability to make an impact is 6’4”, 200lb Isaiah Jones. Isaiah is a prototypical perimeter receiver, he attacks the ball in the air and once the ball is in his hands he is a handful to get to the ground. He had a few receptions last year but also missed the 2nd half of the season with a foot injury. Sophomore receiver Jesus Wilson had a great chance to vie for a spot in the receiving rotation, but unfortunately got arrested two weeks ago and has since been suspended indefinitely.
Now we get to the wild cards. Florida State recruited three dominant wide receivers based on their high school resume, and will look for them to help catch some of Jameis’ passes. Incoming freshman Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane were both ranked as top 5 WR recruits in the nation last year, and based off of their performances at the 2014 Under Armour All-American game, they should be fun to watch for the coming years. Travis Rudolph is sort of the same mold as Rashad Greene, a very quick, agile, slot-sized receiver who looks like a running back once he gets the ball in his hands. He has the skill set to become an instant factor from day one, but based on the similarity between him and Greene, I don’t expect him to make an enormous impact this year. Ermon Lane is an interesting prospect. He’s a big receiver and uses his size to fend off defenders very well.With the ball in his hands, Lane likes to be physical because of his size advantage, but also takes advantage of defenders who overcompensate for his size by being unorthodoxly elusive for his size. He is a player that I can see making an impact simply because he is another perimeter receiver, who can free up Rashad Greene in the slot by being a constant threat to make a catch downfield and take it to the house. The third freshman receiver may actually have the highest ceiling out of these three, despite not being as highly recruited as Lane and Rudolph.
His name is Ja’Von Harrison and he is an athletic freak. He played receiver and cornerback in high school, and his agility leaps right at you whenever you watch him play. He can jump over someone for a lobbed ball, he has the vision to flip the field with the ball, and can just as easily juke you sideways, as he can go through you. The only real knock on Ja’Von is that he doesn’t have elite, breakaway speed, which is an issue, but he certainly isn’t slow. It becomes increasingly obvious that the wide receiver position at Florida State will be taken care of for the next couple years with these three freshmen, but it remains to be seen which one can translate directly to the college level and make an impact right away.
So, who will step up and seize the number two and three receiver spots for the Seminoles? As much as I like every one of the incoming freshman receivers, it is hard and almost unfair to expect one of them to become a playmaker for the offense right from the start. Hopefully one can step up after they spend some time learning and become familiar with the offense, and can make an impact mid-season. I am led to believe this is Travis Rudolph based off of his explosive playmaking ability, but I wouldn’t bank on it. To me, the two most likely people of this list to make the most impact this season are senior Christian Green, and sophomore Isaiah Jones. These two players are already familiar with the playbook, which will be invaluable with a quarterback like Jameis Winston who picks apart a defense with timing and accuracy. They both have the most experience playing at a college level, and couple that with the fact that they can both play on the outside of the field, I expect to be seeing a lot of Isaiah Jones and Christian Green this season.
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