Yesterday, I told you there are a lot of big games in Week 1. Today, we keep it rolling. Here are some notes on three more games you’ll be watching this holiday weekend: Continue reading Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 2)
At the end of any given football season, I always love going back through my articles and checking out all the brilliant things I said throughout the year. Then, when I come across all the completely dumb things I said, I enjoy that part even more. Laughter is good for the soul.
So, first of all, let me brag to you about the things I said that have turned out to be absolutely brilliant in retrospect. I don’t get to brag about being right about football too often, so let me have my moment.
“SEC East Sleeper: Remember the Gators” This was a title for one of my articles early in the year.
“This year, I am still cautious about all the optimism surrounding the Tennessee football program.” Good call here, even if my dad was convinced otherwise.
“With the return of Mike Williams from injury, Watson should have a great target downfield for those longer plays.” Deshaun Watson proved to be a huge asset in Clemson’s championship game, but so did Mike Williams.
“I would not be surprised to see a Heisman winner from an ACC football program this year.” It may not have been Deshaun Watson, but the Heisman winner was from the ACC.
“And as much as I ride for SEC football, I have to admit I do expect the Seminoles to come out victorious.” This was the one SEC game I really wanted to see during week one, even if I did expect Ole Miss to drop this game.
“Do I expect Ole Miss to get its third victory in a row in this series? No, but I do anticipate a very interesting football game.” This came from that same article and was referring to watching Alabama’s trip Ole Miss. I was right about this year, even though Ole Miss had given Alabama trouble lately.
“They’ve actually won eleven in a row in this rivalry…but who’s counting? This year I truly do expect that winning streak to come to an end.” This is yet another gem from that same article about watching only one SEC football game each week. Tennessee had been hitting a huge mental roadblock in the Florida game–until this year.
“ACC football is not to be taken lightly this season.” Early in the season, I warned everyone to give ACC football some respect this year. After the conference’s bowl season performance, it was definitely earned.
“To be totally honest, at this point the regular season is just Alabama getting warmed up for its playoff appearance.” This came from my Alabama-Ole Miss smackdown piece, but really was not an exaggeration at all.
“Florida’s offense is still nothing special.” Although this was from my smackdown piece before the Florida-Tennessee game, it turned out to be very true. No surprise there.
“I know the Auburn Tigers are ranked a little below the Arkansas Razorbacks, but they’re going to beat them anyways.” Yet another smackdown piece that proved to be correct.
“It will be funny to see Great Value DBU shut down the Heisman winner though. I must say…” This was a personal tweet referring to LSU shutting down Lamar Jackson, which did eventually happen.
So I was right, at least to some extent, pretty often. But what I hope you’ll find much more amusing is all those really stupid things I said. Maybe my sense of humor is strange, but I thought some of these were pretty hilarious.
“If Mark Richt can do that, they could have a very impressive non-conference win in his first season as head coach.” I really thought Miami’s trip to South Bend would be a noteworthy non-conference game this season. Unfortunately, beating Notre Dame wasn’t exactly an impressive feat.
“But if the Vols do get that win then it’s safe to say they are national contenders and Alabama better watch out for them in a couple weeks.” Remember when everyone thought the Vols were potential national contenders before the season even started? I bought into that hype when discussing how I wanted to watch the Vols play at Georgia in Week 5 of SEC football.
“I don’t know that I’m right about this but I think the Vols will have a good chance to win at home over the Crimson Tide.” I wanted to watch the Alabama-Tennessee game in Week 7 if I could only watch one SEC game. Poor choice there.
“Labor Day is just a welcomed day off from both work and school for most people. But for Ole Miss this year, it’s the day [it takes] down the Florida State Seminoles.” From a Smackdown Friday piece so I didn’t really mean it. But still hilarious. Plus, that whole article was hilarious if you like hating on Florida State.
“…if I had money to bet I’d be putting it all on the Tennessee Vols to win the SEC East right now.” It’s a good thing I was broke. I would’ve wasted a lot of money thinking that the Vols were really going to win the SEC East.
“I hate to break it to Clemson fans, but Lamar Jackson is about the shatter your hopes and dreams.” This Smackdown was off. Lamar Jackson did take Deshaun Watson’s Heisman trophy. But Clemson still lived out its dream of winning a national championship again.
“Coastal Division Is Worse for ACC Football than East Is for SEC Football” Even just the title of this article is off. After bowl season, there’s not much that can be said for the SEC East, aside from Florida and Tennessee.
“It’s not that the Razorbacks can’t beat the Gators. It’s just that they won’t.” Another Smackdown Friday article gone wrong. The Razorbacks could and did beat the Gators–in convincing fashion.
E-mail Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.
Photo from Public Domain Pictures.
It seems like there are always coaching rumors out there. Between angry fan bases tired of their current coaches and fan bases hoping to hire a top candidate, coaches are always a hot topic. But what can coaches do in their current jobs to keep fans happy? More specifically, how can SEC coaches keep their fans happy?
We’ve said goodbye to a couple long-time coaches over the past year, Georgia’s Mark Richt and LSU’s Les Miles. Now, fans in the SEC East are displeased with a couple of coaches that really haven’t done anything except be pretty darn successful. The two coaches that come to mind are Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Florida’s Jim McElwain.
Using these four coaches, I’m going to set forth some simple guidelines that should help keep these finicky SEC fans happy.
1. Get top recruiting classes.
Butch Jones has done well recruiting while at Tennessee, with fans (like my dad) excited over many of the players he’s brought in. Jim McElwain has only brought in two classes, but has gained a name amongst fans because of all the three-star recruits he brings. Both Georgia and LSU averaged top ten classes over the past five years, but both Richt and Miles were fired. Okay, so maybe recruiting won’t save your job. But as McElwain knows, not recruiting the best players will make people mad at you even if you are successful.
2. Hire and/or fire the right coaches.
This one is big. McElwain brought in Doug Nussmeier to be his offensive coordinator at Florida. This hire has drawn all sorts of criticism from Gator fans since the Gator offense still looks pretty miserable. Even many of those who want to keep McElwain (and fans should want to keep him) are calling for him to get rid of Nussmeier. Jones, who is also drawing criticism from the fans, is getting heat for some of his coaching hires. After the way the defense has played this season, it seems like Bob Shoop as defensive coordinator may not have been the best hire for Jones even though he was touted as a “great get” for the Vols.
3. Keep your players out of trouble.
In some instances, this may not actually be a priority. Just look at all the Baylor fans that want former coach Art Briles back. But overall, keeping players out of trouble is important. If your team is making headlines because of the crimes the players commit off the field, then nobody is going to be able to pay attention to what the team does on the field. Keeping these young men out of trouble also gives them a much better shot of succeeding at the next level. As we’ve all seen with Johnny Manziel, bad behavior in college can turn into bad behavior once you’re a professional. And if things get bad enough, you can lose your job.
4. Don’t just win your division.
This is where I’m really looking at you, Gator fans. Jim McElwain came in to a pretty decent program with a solid defense but an abysmal offense. In both of his first two years at Florida, he has managed to navigate the Gators to the SEC Championship Game as the East Division Champions. In his first year, the Gators actually swept SEC East play. But apparently for some spoiled and/or delusional fans, just winning the division isn’t enough. And maybe it isn’t enough in the grand scheme of things, but in the first two years that kind of success is unprecedented. Literally.
5. Beat your rivals.
I cannot say this enough. Beating your rivals is possibly the most important goal to keep in mind as a head coach, aside from those big rings. But we’ll get to those. One thing Les Miles was struggling with lately was beating LSU’s biggest SEC West rival, Alabama. And maybe there isn’t a coach out there who could really beat Nick Saban. But fans were willing to try to find one. On the other hand, Jones finally beat two of Tennessee’s three biggest rivals this year. The Vols claimed their first victory over the Gators since 2004. The Vols also beat the Bulldogs for the second year in a row. So even with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, Jones did accomplish some goals this season. Beating Florida and Georgia may not have gotten them the SEC East Championship, but it did get the fans some bragging rights. And that is really Coach Jones’ saving grace after an otherwise disappointing season.
6. Win rings.
Miles and Richt are great examples of why this guideline matters. In his entire time at Georgia, Richt only had less than eight wins in one season. He won the SEC East and the SEC multiple times. But one big thing Richt could never do was taking home a big championship. As I’ve previously said of him, he’s always the bridesmaid but never the bride. Close but no cigar. Miles did bring a National Championship home to Baton Rouge once. And I’m sure Tiger fans will always be grateful for that. But he struggled to make it back to the big game once Saban emerged as the best coach in all of college football. And for the LSU football program, this was unforgivable. Miles was a consistently good coach, but the school let him go to try to find a coach great enough to give Saban a run for his money. Then LSU hired Ed Orgeron… Interesting choice given exactly why Miles was let go, but that’s another story for another day.
7. Don’t use clichés as staples in your pressers.
This last one is something that may not seem important to everyone, but the way a coach presents himself and represents the program at press conferences is extremely important. Most recently, Jones completely violated this guideline. And consequently, #VolTwitter exploded. Talking about his team a little over a week ago he said, “They’ve won the biggest championship—and that’s the championship of life.” Is he a motivational speaker or a head football coach? I get it—the young men did well for themselves. Amen! But you can’t use lines like this to avoid taking ownership of the fact that you have failed to bring a National Championship, SEC Championship or even SEC East Championship to the program. If you don’t accomplish your goals, acknowledge it instead of sugar-coating it. Show the players, fans and recruits that you still want to win actual championships.
Bonus: Beat Nick Saban.
This one needs no explanation. Just beat Nick Saban. Somebody, please do it.
This list is obviously not comprehensive, but in using two former and two current SEC coaches as examples, I would like to think I’ve pin-pointed some important guidelines for keeping fans happy. Some fans (Hi, Gators) may never be satisfied, but that doesn’t mean a coach can’t do everything in his power to try to appease them. Coaches Miles and Richt: I’m sorry the fans gave up on you because good wasn’t good enough. Coaches Jones and McElwain: I’m rooting for you. We’re all rooting for you.
You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.
Photo: Sean Davis, Flickr
Welcome back to the 5th hebdomadal publication of the Campus Pressbox 2016 Playoff Rankings. As always, the previous rankings can be found here.
Alabama Crimson Tide (1)
Week five brought what may have been the least impressive victory thus far for the Crimson Tide. Alabama only managed to beat Kentucky by 28 points…so yeah, that’s its worst win this season. ‘Bama still remains the top team in the country, but with three top 20 teams on the docket (plus LSU) before the end of the month, Paul Finebaum’s analysis may be spot on.
Ohio State Buckeyes (2)
Honestly, I wish I could have titled Ohio State’s No. 2 Ranking as No. 1B, as the Buckeyes are not quite at the level of the Crimson Tide, Ohio State’s season up until now has been worthy of more than the No. 2 spot that the Buckeyes continue to hold. This weekend, the Buckeyes host Indiana, who continues to improve, culminating with a home upset of Michigan State last week. Ohio State cannot afford to be caught off-guard, as the Hoosiers will certainly be looking for the upset.
Clemson Tigers (4)
This was the college football world’s reaction to Clemson’s victory over Louisville Saturday night. Though it wasn’t a flawless victory, it was the one the Tigers needed. The team that so many of us had picked to do well finally came back to full form. Clemson may finally be the team we all expected it to be, and I am predicting Clemson to come out and drub Boston College this weekend. The path is now clear for the Tigers to waltz into the College Football Playoffs.
Washington Huskies (10)
The King is dead, long live the King! Washington dethroned Stanford (and especially Christian McCaffrey) on Saturday. The Huskies proved how dominant its defense is when it shut down the single most impressive player in the NCAA. If Washington keeps up its winning ways, and doesn’t lose more than a single game, it would be hard for anyone else to nab the 4th spot in the CFP. That is, of course, if the Huskies can survive staring at these for three hours on Saturday
Michigan Wolverines (6)
And somehow, despite a win over a top 10 Wisconsin Badgers team, Michigan is still on the outside looking in at the rest of the Playoff teams. Most of this has to do with the fact that the Wolverines have been playing second fiddle all season in the Big Ten, as Ohio State has refused to give up the reigns. It’s very safe to say, unless chaos ensues, since Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa have all been seemingly eliminated from contention, that the Wolverines and Buckeyes clash the last week of the season will determine which Big Ten school makes it to the Playoff. Terrell, you can handle this one.
Houston Cougars (5)
Ahh, the poor Houston Cougars. The now forgotten child of the Playoff race. After gaining everyone’s attention in week one, monster win after monster win hasn’t been enough to stop everyone from ignoring the sixth-ranked Cougars once again. If Houston wants to side step its way into the Playoff, a lot needs to happen. The Cougars also cannot afford to be fighting one another. For now, Houston continues to be a long shot.
Texas A&M Aggies (8)
The Aggies suffered slightly from “September Sumlin” on the first day of October, as A&M struggled a bit more than it should have against South Carolina. In a crowded SEC West, it is still hard to see anyone other than Alabama winning. The Aggies also need to do its best to fight off the injury bug that has started to plague the team. However, a strong win against Tennessee this week would certainly improve the morale going into the make or break game for the Aggies, a visit to Tuscaloosa.
Louisville Cardinals (3)
I’m going to be honest. I’m still sitting here yelling at my screen anytime I try to re-watch the final play (courtesy of SB Nation) of the Cardinals loss at Clemson. I don’t necessarily blame James Quick, but come on, really? JUST TAKE ANOTHER STEP, FOR GOODNESS SAKE. …sorry about that. Anyway, Louisville still honestly has a chance at the Playoffs. Just like a lot of teams on this list, the Cardinals do need a good number of breaks, but if Louisville can win in Houston week 11, there may still be a chance for (still) Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson and his Cardinals.
So the Volunteers are officially this years version of the 2013 Auburn Tigers, right? If that’s true, and the wacky ending to the Georgia game seems to suggest that’s the case, the Volunteers may have an actual chance of getting out of the Alabama game in two weeks without a loss. Though that certainly would seem a miracle, after the Georgia game, I feel that I’ve lost my right to doubt the Vols.
The U is back!…pending the next three weeks of football. Many, including myself, certainly want to believe that the Mark Richt lead Hurricanes are finally back to full force, but until its matchups against Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, it is not a sure thing for the ‘Canes. This next stretch is certainly the most important of Mark Richt’s young tenure at the U. Right now, Miami is a growing tropical disturbance, time will tell if this one will become a hurricane.
Drop Outs & Honorable Mentions
Wisconsin and Stanford unsurprisingly and unceremoniously dropped off this weeks list following losses to Michigan and Washington respectively. Miami fought off the aforementioned Badgers, as well as Nebraska and Baylor, in order to grab the No. 10 spot this week. All four teams, including the Hurricanes, are volatile, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a new team in at No. 10 next week.
E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.
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The title says it all. I think it’s finally time to show ACC football some respect. Listen, I know it’s a bit early in the season to make a statement as bold as this one, but I have my reasons.
At the end of last season, I could’ve argued the same thing. If it weren’t for Florida State’s bowl loss to the Houston Cougars, I probably would’ve argued the same thing actually. About eight months later I’m finally ready to convince people that the ACC may be more than just a basketball conference now.
Let’s start with its overall record during the opening weekend of this college football season, 11-3. That looks really impressive at first glance, but we do still have to keep in mind that the opposition they faced was nothing worth celebrating.
ACC teams played Charlotte, Tulane, William & Mary, Colgate, Liberty, Villanova, Richmond, Georgia, NC Central, Florida A&M, Auburn, and Ole Miss. They lost two of these games and there was also one conference matchup. Surprisingly, the two games lost were not both against SEC teams. While North Carolina did lose to Georgia in Atlanta, Virginia managed to lose to Richmond in Charlottesville.
The ACC went 2-1 against the SEC in Week 1. Yes, Clemson was favored over Auburn and FSU was favored over Ole Miss, but both of those still count as big wins for ACC football in my book. So how did they fare so well in the first weekend?
Well, I know they say that defense wins championships, but the ACC has something else that also proves to be instrumental in winning football games. The ACC easily has the best quarterbacks in college football right now. The Clemson Tigers have Deshaun Watson; the Florida State Seminoles have Deondre Francois. The Louisville Cardinals have Lamar Jackson; the Miami Hurricanes have Brad Kaaya. I rest my case.
Okay, I don’t rest my case. Some people probably don’t get just how good these quarterbacks I listed really are. Let me give you a crash course in the nation’s best quarterbacks.
On Thursday night, Lamar Jackson led the Louisville Cardinals to a 70-14 victory over Charlotte. In that game, Jackson accounted for eight touchdowns and 405 yards of offense. He was unstoppable. Now we have to wait and see if he will be just as unstoppable against more formidable opponents.
On Saturday night, Brad Kaaya led the Miami Hurricanes as they demolished the Florida A&M Rattlers 70-3. Kaaya didn’t have the same stat lines as Jackson, but he did have four touchdowns and did complete two-thirds of his passes. Miami won’t really be tested until October. We already know from last season that Kaaya is a solid quarterback.
Also on Saturday night, Deshaun Watson led his team to victory over the Tigers at Auburn, 19-13. Auburn’s defense did a good job containing Watson, but he still completed over half his passes, threw for 248 yards, and had a touchdown pass. That may not sound particularly impressive, but we already know what a great dual-threat quarterback Watson is.
On Monday night, Deondre Francois helped the Florida State Seminoles dig out of a 22-point hole to beat the Ole Miss Rebels, 45-34. Francois completed 33 of 52 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 59 yards on the ground. And unlike Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly, he didn’t throw any costly interceptions. That’s not bad for his first start in this offense against a swarming Ole Miss defense.
There are plenty of other bright spots around ACC football if you’re willing to look for them. At this point, most of us aren’t willing to look for them because the ACC has been mostly irrelevant to college football over the past decade. I’m not going to jump to crazy conclusions after one week and say this is their year…but this might be the ACC’s year.
Clemson is still Clemson, even if they did struggle against Auburn. Florida State is still Florida State, even if they did have to overcome a huge deficit to beat Ole Miss. And as for the rest of the teams, many are on their way up. Louisville moved up in the Top 25 after a strong showing against Charlotte. Miami made it into the AP Top 25 this week, as expectations soar for Mark Richt and Brad Kaaya. And even though North Carolina dropped in the polls, they put up a good fight against Georgia. Not to mention this is a Georgia team that might have the eventual Heisman trophy winner in running back Nick Chubb.
I know it’s early, but it isn’t too early to put everyone on alert. ACC football is not to be taken lightly this season. Its quarterbacks are some of the best in the country and its programs are on the rise. I admittedly haven’t always been the biggest ACC football fan, but it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Perthsider.
While editing Damien Bowman’s I Hate All of Your Team’s Except for These 6 last night, I was inspired. I started to think about which teams I will not be supporting this fall.
It didn’t take long for me to come up with these five:
That Baptist School in Waco, Texas
This school shouldn’t even be allowed to field a football team this season. I’m serious. Let all the players transfer out without having to sit for a year, if they’d like. Put a pause on the entire program for a season.
Come back next spring with brand new everybody, top to down. Then you’ll get football back. Unfortunately, the time for this punishment to be imposed has passed and this school will likely remain relatively unpunished.
It’s often a joke that the state of Texas treats its football as a religion. So, how ironic is it that a Baptist institution of higher learning knowingly prioritized the well-being of 58 percent of its student body underneath its desire to watch the boys play ball?
This is a systemic issue. Forget chopping the head off of the snake. Throw it into a wood chipper and see what emerges. The gooey byproduct would probably resemble this school’s color scheme.
I don’t get the hype at all. This is a program that routinely underachieves. A new head coach comes in and the Dawgs are supposed to be off the chain? I don’t buy it.
Kirby Smart has never been a head coach before. Of course, he was an outstanding defensive coordinator the last eight years at Alabama. Life gets much more difficult when you’re no longer a part of Nick Saban’s rolling Tide.
Smart will be forced into wisening up if he can somehow get his team to the SEC championship. That’ll be real tough to do with three conference losses.
Truthfully, I would love to see the U stage a real comeback. I think Mark Richt might actually be the coach to put dream that within reach. I just know it won’t happen this season.
Also, that monstrosity they play in is now going by Hard Rock Stadium. I cannot support that.
Richt’s experience earns him more trust than I can afford Smart. That won’t be enough, though. I’ve still got that 58-0 ass whoopin’ the Canes took from Clemson vividly replaying in my mind.
It’ll take more than the U has to give us this season for me to erase it.
There’s something about this perpetually putrid program that intrigues me. I find myself rooting for the Jayhawks to lose, and I think it’s only because their ineptitude is so epic.
Kansas hasn’t won more than three games in a season since 2009 when it started 5-0 and finished 5-7. The Jayhawks have won 12 games since then.
Occasionally, I’ll happen upon that repulsive Big 12 matchup they try to hide on your local Fox Sports channel. Texas Tech is in Lawrence and there I am, making sure Ryan Gosling’s Red Raiders get the job done so Kansas can continue to be awesomely awful. In a way, it’s like I’m rooting for them.
Anything more than a second consecutive 0-12 campaign would be a disappointment. Although, I would love to watch the Jayhawks rock chalk that Baptist school in Waco, Texas.
Oh*o State Chocolate and Peanut Butter Candies
I have to. It’s figuratively in my DNA. I will always hate on theee Oh*o State University. It’s just too much fun because the whole damn state roots for this team and they all get so worked up about it.
Your colors are ugly. Your stadium is missing some pieces and about 5,000 seats. Your band isn’t the best in any land I know of. Oh, and your state isn’t nearly as far south of the Mason-Dixon Line as you like to pretend it is. Before I get personal…
I am proud of you all for one thing, though. After all the repetition, I think everyone’s finally learned how to spell Oh*o.
We’ll see ya November 26. Go Blue.
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Conference media days are heating up as we venture into the heat of August. That also means that we are not only closer to summer college football camp but we are also closer to the games actually kicking off. I do not know about you, but I am ready to do this 2016 season!
As I day dream about what 2016 will bring, I find myself thinking about the College Football Playoff and who may be some of the surprise, dark-horse teams that could be in contention for one of the four coveted spots.
Here are the teams from each of the Power 5 conferences that I believe could be dark-horse contenders for the playoff.
Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks are my dark-horse pick from the SEC. Bielema has been in Fayetteville long enough that his system should be considered established. That means that he has “his” players in place to go along with his system.
His roster is littered with established players on both sides of the ball. This includes a knowledgeable and capable quarterback in Austin Allen, a beast of an offensive lineman in Dan Skipper, a stud of a running back in Kody Walker and a top tier wide receiver in Keon Hatcher.
The defensive side of the ball may not be quite on par with Bielema’s offensive depth chart but there are known commodities on the defensive line with Taiwan Johnson and Bijhon Jackson.
And let us not forget that they have an advantageous schedule. At least it is as advantageous as an SEC West team could hope for. They have a great resume building opportunity with a non-conference road game against TCU and then get Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Florida all in Fayetteville.
The ingredients are there for a surprise playoff run.
The Pac-12 could be the year of the pirate. That is right, Washington State with head coach Mike Leach is my pick for the Pac-12’s dark-horse playoff team.
Wazzu is my pick for no other reason than quarterback Luke Falk. Falk can sling the ball around in a wide open offense as he guides a Cougar offense that should outwork scoreboards across the conference. They are not one of the best teams in the conference, but with Falk and Leach, they will put enough pressure on opposing teams that they should be a threat to the conference.
The Cougars play Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, California, and Washington all in Pullman. Their toughest road game will be at Arizona State and they do not have to deal with USC.
If Leach’s Cougars play even a little defense, this team will be a handful week in and week out.
Most of my fellow writers at Campus Pressbox are probably expecting me to select Texas as my dark-horse playoff contender from the Big 12, but, not so fast, my pick here is Oklahoma State
Mike Gundy will not only have a talented roster that is led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, but he will also have a schedule that is beyond favorable. All three of the Cowboys’ non-conference games will be played in Stillwater. If this were not enough, the Cowboys also welcome Texas, West Virginia, and Texas Tech all to Stillwater. All three of those opponents could be considered dark-horse candidates and Oklahoma State gets them all in Stillwater.
It would be easy to choose Louisville simply because they play a beast of a non-conference opponent when the go on the road to play Marshall. My omission of Louisville as my ACC dark-horse playoff candidate should not be taken as a show of disrespect to the Thundering Herd.
My ACC dark-horse is Miami. Everyone seemed to pick Georgia each year to with the SEC East with Mark Richt, so it is only fitting to go with Miami here. Surely Richt will not bring his system of bitter disappointment to the ACC, will he?
Richt will have talent in Miami, because, well, it is Miami and talent was never the problem for the Hurricanes. As a first year Miami head coach, Richt should have the players and fans energized and the team will play enough of its high profile games at home as they host Florida State, North Carolina, and Duke.
It will not be easy for Miami, but it will not be easy for any team who is considered a dark-horse candidate for the playoffs.
As someone who gets labeled as “another SEC homer,” it pains me to say this, but the Big Ten is going to be Murderer’s Row this year. Each time that I wanted to make a particular team my choice as the Big Ten dark-horse, I looked at their schedule. Brutal.
So with that said, I am considering any team not named Michigan or Ohio State to be in consideration as my Big Ten dark-horse. And Michigan State is my pick.
From a personnel perspective, the Spartans may have the most questions of the teams I have chosen in this article. However, they do have LJ Scott at running back, are still coached by Mark Dantonio and have as favorable a schedule as you are likely to find in the Big Ten.
They do play both Michigan and Ohio State, but both games are in East Lansing. And if that were not enough good fortune, the Spartans also host Northwestern and Wisconsin.
It will not be easy this year in the Big Ten, but if there is a team that could turn the conference upside down, it is Sparty with Dantonio.
Oh, and do not forget, they will also face a fierce test in the second game of the season as they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.
E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.
The ACC has been at the bottom of the Power 5 conferences barrel for years now, but at least has had some respectability thanks to the power at the top. Clemson’s rise towards the top of the college football world has made the yearly Seminoles-Tigers match-ups must see TV. But there are plenty of other games that will help shape the ACC in 2016. Here are the ten best games of 2016 that will feature a team from the Athletic Coast Conference.
10. North Carolina at Miami (Saturday, October 15th)
It’s one thing to get embarrassed by the national runner-up like Miami did against Clemson last year. It’s another thing to get blown out by a basketball school. Miami will look to get some revenge from that game, and the winner will take an early lead in the Coastal Division race.
9. Miami at Virginia Tech (Thursday, October 20th)
Like most of the past few years, this year looks to be a case where whoever takes the Atlantic Division (Clemson/Florida State) will run roughshod over its Coastal champion counterpart in the conference title game. The Coastal is more wide open this year than any, and not because there are a lot of great games. This will be a pivotal game for two new head coaches and besides, Thursday night games in Blacksburg are always fun tv.
8. North Carolina at Florida State (Saturday, October 1st)
Florida State-Clemson is the leader in the clubhouse for most exciting ACC game, but this one may be number two if you like points. Florida State’s defense hasn’t been very good since its outstanding 2013 campaign and North Carolina could trot out one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses this year. And we know how good their defense is.
7. Florida State versus Florida (Saturday, November 26th)
With recent conference shifts, each rivalry that withstands those changes becomes more important. Florida may not be up to Florida State’s talent level, particularly on offense, this game could give them a chance to end their rival’s playoff hopes in the Seminoles’ own home stadium.
6. Florida State at Miami (Saturday, October 8th)
It will also be interesting to see if Mark Richt can do what Al Golden could not, beat the Seminoles. As the Canes have toiled in mediocrity, it has made this game more and more important to their fans. Miami hasn’t beaten Florida State since 2009 and a win here by the Seminoles would match the longest win streak in the rivalry’s history.
5. Miami at Notre Dame (Saturday, October 29th)
It will be interesting to see if Mark Richt can turn Miami around and if so, how fast. He has the quarterback to do it, but he’ll need more than that if he’s going to go into South Bend (3:30 pm est, NBC) and beat a really talented Fighting Irish team. Regardless of the records, this game will be hyped up because of these programs’ histories.
4. Louisville at Clemson (Saturday, October 1st)
That aforementioned Cardinals defense better show up on this day. DeShaun Watson’s Heisman campaign will be full steam ahead by this point, and the Louisville defense will be one of the few on Clemson’s schedule that has a chance to even slow him down.
3. Florida State at Louisville (Saturday, September 17th)
Louisville was a bit of a disappointment last year, flaming out in the first month before putting together a string of wins when they were already out of contention. The Seminoles could be ranked in the top ten at this point but will have to survive a conference road game against maybe the best defense in the country (on ABCS at Noon).
2. Florida State versus Ole Miss (Monday, September 5th)
The Seminoles and Rebels each made a New Year’s Six bowl last year and return the talent to be a playoff contender in 2016. This Labor Day night (ESPN, 8:00 pm est) contest could end one of these squad’s playoff hopes after just one week of play.
1. Clemson at Florida State (Saturday, October 29th)
This has been the preeminent game in the ACC for a few years now, with the winner making it to the title game two of the last three years. Clemson’s defense lost a ton of talent to the NFL, and with every offensive starter back for the Seminoles, this could be a shootout and maybe the most exciting game of the season regardless of conference.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Boston College’s ACC Struggles
The Boston College Eagles have had a history of success in their athletic program, especially in football. This past season they managed to lose every single conference game they played. To make matters worse, the Boston College basketball team also lost every single one of its conference games. The Eagles have seemed to slowly decline since they joined the ACC in 2005. As in previous years, the ACC was clearly trying to become more of a “football conference.” And, as in previous years, the program that they chose to add only became worse after becoming a part of the conference. This raises all sorts of questions about what happens to a team when they start playing ACC football, or any ACC sport, for that matter. So is it time to vote Boston College off the ACC Island? Well, I’m just going to go ahead and vote for everybody and say yes. Boston College, you are the weakest link. Goodbye.
Heisman Potential in ACC Football
The ACC had outstanding offensive talent scattered throughout the conference last season. Much of that talent is returning this year, leaving a pretty decent list of the conference’s top five Heisman Trophy candidates. This list obviously includes Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who I discussed in last week’s ACC football links. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook was also clearly included in the list after being an integral part of the Seminole offensive attack last season. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was also included, as he had a solid season last year and is expected to grow even more under Mark Richt. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is on this list despite having a quiet season last year since he shared reps. Finishing out the list is North Carolina running back Elijah Hood, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. With players like these playing huge roles in each team’s offensive attack, I would not be surprised to see a Heisman winner from an ACC football program this year. I guess you could say that these guys are definitely not the weakest links.
Jimbo Fisher’s Toughest Schedule
Much has been said about Florida State’s strength of schedule in previous seasons. This year, the Seminoles are playing what is arguably their most difficult schedule since Jimbo Fisher took over the team in 2010. Florida State opens the season against Ole Miss and also plays Louisville, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, and Florida. The teams on their schedule actually posted a combined record of 96-61 during last season, which puts them at a win percentage of over 61 percent. If Florida State can navigate their way through this schedule and win the ACC, there should be no argument about whether or not they deserve to be included in this year’s College Football Playoff. To continue with the theme of weakest links, clearly Florida State’s competition does not fit that bill.
Pittsburgh’s James Conner is Cancer-Free
Last December, Pittsburgh running back James Conner announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma. Conner was nursing a knee injury last year after having a great sophomore season in 2014. During that season alone, he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. His fighting spirit has been an inspiration to Pittsburgh fans as well as many others throughout the country. Conner recently made an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show, only to be surprised by another football player who fought Hodgkin lymphoma, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry. Just a few days ago, he announced that his body is clean of cancer. Here’s to hoping he pulls an Eric Berry, coming back even stronger than he was before his battle with cancer. That would be scary for the rest of the ACC football teams. And James Conner, you are ACC football’s strongest link.
Image courtesy of wikimedia user Ayzmo.