Tag Archives: Mike Williams

Proof We Aren’t Always Right About College Football

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.

April 2016:

“SEC East Sleeper: Remember the Gators” This was a title for one of my articles early in the year.

May 2016:

“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.

August 2016:

“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.

September 2016:

“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.

October 2016:

“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.

December 2016:

“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.

May 2016:

“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.

August 2016:

“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.

September 2016:

“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.

October 2016:

“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.

November 2016:

“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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: LSU Tigers 38 – Miami Hurricanes 20

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Michigan Wolverines 41 – Houston Cougars 38

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Stanford Cardinal 31 – Iowa Hawkeyes 6

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Tennessee Volunteers 24 – TCU Horned Frogs 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 45 – Alabama Crimson Tide 24

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

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

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

Final Score: Clemson Tigers 48 – Florida State 35

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

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Image Courtesy of Counse – Flickr

ACC Links: Rivalries, Replays, and Deshaun Watson

Rivalry Games

Rivalry Week is always one of my favorite parts of the season. Of course, the worst part about it is that it signifies the end of the regular season. But the best part about it is that I always know which teams my favorite teams will be playing year after year. I can plan accordingly months in advance…more than months in advance, actually. While Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher admittedly has a pretty great Rivalry Week game with the Florida Gators on the schedule every season, apparently that set rivalry game isn’t quite enough for him. Fisher lobbies time and time again to try to get other coaches on board with set weekends for ACC football rivalries as well. What if Clemson and Florida State played on the same weekend every season? How would that affect the ACC? While the consistency is good in certain respects, it could also just make scheduling more difficult for other teams when you start adding in more games like that. So maybe Fisher isn’t going to get any immediate results, but it seems pretty clear that he won’t let go of this idea.

Instant Replay Officials

As football fans, we all experience it: that moment when it seems like we can see something so much clearer on television than the officials who are reviewing it at the stadium can. Or what about that moment when one play gets called a certain way in one game but gets called the opposite way in another game? The ACC has made a move to try to make those problems a thing of the past. It’s all about consistency. To achieve this consistency, they’ll be using instant-replay officials in the conference’s Greensboro, NC office to participate in every review discussion during home games at ACC football venues, as well as during Notre Dame’s home games. While this move is not a permanent one at the time, after testing it out this season, we can expect the NCAA Football Rules Committee to make its judgment about off-site replay officials after the end of the 2016 season. The SEC has recently opted to follow suit, and will be testing its own version of this system during the 2016 season as well.

Deshaun Watson and Clemson’s Offense

On Tuesday, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson officially accepted the Manning Award for his performance as the top-performing quarterback throughout the 2015 college football season. Watson had a phenomenal season last year, posting incredible numbers. He finished with 4,104 yards passing, 35 passing touchdowns, 1,105 yard rushing, and 12 additional scores. Watson actually nearly single-handedly led the Clemson Tigers in an incredible comeback against the Alabama Crimson Tide during that National Championship Game last season.

But what does this mean for Clemson’s offense looking ahead? Fortunately for the Tigers, Watson was only a sophomore last season and is therefore returning as their starting quarterback this season. Although Clemson wasn’t particularly strong when it came to rushing the ball, Watson’s talent as a passer and while scrambling gave them plenty of options to try. Last season, the Tigers threw mostly quick passes. This season, there’s hope that they’ll be able to burn teams on some deep pass plays as well. With the return of Mike Williams from injury, Watson should have a great target downfield for those longer plays. But the offensive line needs to execute better, too, if they want to give Watson enough time to get off those passes accurately. Either way, Watson returning is huge for the Tigers. Whether or not the rest of the team steps up to play closer to his level remains to be seen.

 

Picture courtesy of Ken Lund.

College Football’s Next Stars

The 2016 NFL Draft has now come and gone. While the draft has exploded into a huge event for NFL fans, it’s also fun for college football fans to look back on the best players from the previous year or two. With each pick, highlights are shown that take you back to those explosive plays that show the skills that went into first-round picks terrorizing opponents. Now that the draft is over, it’s a good time to look toward next year. Which players will we be talking about during the 2017 NFL Draft? Here are some players who may not be household names yet, but could dominate the college gridiron this fall on their way to becoming a first-round pick in next year’s draft.

Brad Kaaya – QB, Miami (Fl)

Kaaya has been a good quarterback for the Hurricanes since starting as a true freshman in 2014. Though his touchdowns decreased in his sophomore year, he improved his accuracy to 61% and threw just five interceptions in 389 attempts. With prototypical size (6’4’’, 210 lbs) and Mark Richt there to help develop him, Kaaya could have his name called early in 2017.

Jamal Adams – S, LSU

Adams has been terrorizing the SEC since stepping on the field as a freshman. At 6’1’’, 210 pounds, he packs a punch and makes receivers think twice about going over the middle. On a Tigers team that is loaded this fall, Adams might be the best pro prospect of the bunch.

Justin Davis – RB, USC

Next year’s NFL draft may see an influx of RB talent that we haven’t seen in years, so Davis will be flying under the radar. He didn’t become the Trojans primary ball-carrier until halfway through 2015, but finished the year by averaging at least 5.2 yards per carry in his last five regular season games. After earning now-permanent head coach Clay Helton’s trust and behind an elite offensive line, Davis is primed to burst onto the national scene in 2016.

Mike Williams – WR, Clemson

The Clemson wideout could have heard his name called early this year if not for a neck injury suffered in the first game of the Tigers’ season last year. That injury cause Williams to miss the entire season but if he’s back to 100 percent, it won’t take long for everyone to remember his name. Using his great size, Williams had over 1,000 yards on 18 yards per catch in his sophomore year, and if he had been healthy in 2015, likely would have been the first WR off the board in last week’s draft.

Roderick Johnson – OT, Florida State

A lot was made about Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson’s play as a freshman in 2014, but over in Tallahassee Johnson was having a similar impact. He was so good that Cameron Irving was moved to center and later ended up a first-round pick himself. At 6’7” and 300+ pounds, Johnson has the size and athleticism NFL teams look for in a franchise tackle.

Derek Barnett – DE, Tennessee

Barnett isn’t exactly flying under the radar after notching double-digit sacks a year ago, but when it comes to collegiate pass-rushers, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett gets all the hype. With the SEC not exactly churning out high level quarterbacks lately, Barnett will wreak havoc on the conference once again.

Eddie Vanderdoes – DT, UCLA

A five star recruit coming out of high school, Vanderdoes has had a rocky college career, transferring to UCLA and then suffering a season-ending injury in the 2015 opener. He was having an excellent game before the injury and looked to live up to his hype. If he can do that for a full season in 2016, Pac-12 offensive coordinators will pray that he leaves for the NFL.

Raekwon McMillan – LB, Ohio State

McMillan was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and hasn’t disappointed to this point. He’s produced on a defense that had plenty of veteran NFL talent in front of him. With much of that talent now in the NFL after last Thursday, it’s McMillan’s time to shine. There is little doubt he will be one of the Big Ten’s best players this fall, if not the country.

TreDavious White – CB, LSU

White could have entered this year’s draft and went on the second day but decided to stay with the Tigers to be part of a loaded defense. He doesn’t have the type of size most first round defensive backs have, but his speed and quickness can help him succeed in a football world that is more wide open than ever.

Desmond King – CB, Iowa

It’s hard to say the Jim Thrope Award winner isn’t a household name, but that’s what happens when you play for Iowa. King was the best player on a defense that helped lead Iowa to its surprise season in 2015 and will look to do so again after returning to school. King had eight interceptions this past year and would have been a first round pick already this year.

Quin Blanding – S, Virginia

Quin Blanding has size, Quin Blanding has speed. What Blanding doesn’t have is a team that’s good enough to get him national recognition, after the five-star recruit decided to pass up on offers from schools like Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan. He was first-team all-ACC last year and if he continues to develop and takes that next step it wouldn’t matter if he played for a Group of Five school, everyone will know his name.

Feature image courtesy

2016 ACC Football: The Struggle is Real

Last week I took a look at the 2015 year that was in the ACC, some good and bad for each school. This week we’re going to put the past behind us and take a look at what 2016 may hold for ACC football.

Boston College

What needs to get better – The passing game and 3rd down conversions. The two go a bit hand in hand. BC had one of the worst passing games in the nation, ranking 125th in yards per game. None of their quarterbacks threw for more than 464 yards on the season. Yes, you read that correctly. The quarterbacks combined to complete 44.6% of their passes. This all lead to an offense that was 126th out of 127 in 3rd down conversion rate, getting a first down on just 26.7% of their third down attempts. If the offense wants improvement in 2016, it’ll need to start here.

What will go well – The run game. Part of the inability to throw the ball has been due to the dual-threat nature of the quarterbacks that the Eagles trot out there. This obviously helps the ground game. After five games of not getting double digit carries, junior RB Tyler Rouse had 24 for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the final game against Syracuse. Hopefully that leads to a big senior year for him. Helping will be the offensive line, which returns three starters that were only underclassmen last year.

What will be a struggle – Passing game. Once again. There really isn’t much hope here. Even if there is moderate improvement it’s hard to see a team jumping from the bottom five in the country to anywhere near average. Last year BC’s leading receiver had 17 catches for 233 yards. If someone approaches 500 yards in 2016 it would be a miracle.

Clemson

What needs to get better – Big plays allowed. Clemson had a great season, but they gave up some big plays in the ACC Championship to North Carolina which allowed the Tar Heels to hang around and stay in the game. Those big plays basically cost them the title, with multiple breakdowns in the secondary resulting in long touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.

What will go well – The offense. I know, I’m a such a genius, but this is about as obvious as it gets. Deshaun Watson was coming off a knee injury and still was a Heisman finalist this season. Now he’ll be further removed from that injury and back with him will play explosive playmakers Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, and Mike Williams, who would have been the Tigers’ best WR but was lost for the year in the season opener.

What will be a struggle – The defense. Clemson is going to be in a lot of shootouts in 2016. Brent Venables was able to rebound from losses to the NFL draft going into 2015 to lead one of the nation’s best defenses yet again. It’s hard to overcome that multiple years in a row however, just ask LSU. This time the Tigers lose both starting DEs (who just happened to be numbers 1 and 2 in the country in tackles for loss) as well as 3/4ths of the secondary. They lose seven defensive starters in total, an astonishing five of them early entrants to the NFL draft.

Duke

What needs to get better – The defense. It gave up almost 31 points per game, including 40+ to the explosive offenses that were Virginia and Virginia Tech. They pass defense in particular was a sieve, finishing 73rd in yards allowed, but there is hope. All five secondary starters return in their 4-2-5 alignment.

What will go well – The running game. Duke’s ground attack was pretty versatile in 2015, led by QB Thomas Sirk. Sirk led the team with 803 yards rushing, but they also had three different running backs all rush for over 400. In total the Blue Devils ran for over 2500 yards on the season on almost five yards per rush.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. It’s not all Sirk’s fault, he just doesn’t have much to work with. A measley 6.15 yards per attempt won’t put fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators, and Duke will not see much improvement unless someone steps up and produces some of the play-making that vanished when Jamison Crowder took his talents to the NFL after the 2014 season.

Florida State

What needs to get better – The passing game. You couldn’t expect FSU’s passing to be as good when Jameis Winston left for the NFL. Outside of a couple nice efforts, the it couldn’t be counted on consistently, and certainly not against the better teams on the schedule. Whether Sean Maguire retains the starting job going into 2016 or a younger, more talented signal caller takes the spot, there’s no reason for this area not to improve with the talent the Seminoles have at receiver.

What will go well – Handing the ball off. FSU could probably just do that every play in 2016 and win double digit games. Dalvin Cook averaged 7.4 ypc last year and he’ll be back. He’ll also be running behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. I already feel bad for the rest of the ACC.

What will be a struggle – Kicking game. The Seminoles have been spoiled the last few years with Roberto Aguayo, one of the best college kickers in years. Aguayo never missed an extra point and was almost as automatic on field goals, converting over 90% of them (64-70) from under 50 yards. With Aguayo off to the pros, Seminoles fans will have to hope their kicking situation doesn’t turn into the one present in Gainesville.

Georgia Tech

What needs to get better – Ball security. It might be expected that a team that runs the triple option would have more chances at fumbling. But you’d also think that they’d preach protecting the ball even more. Whatever they do didn’t work in 2015 as the Yellow Jackets lost 14 fumbles (only three teams lost more). Navy, another triple option team, only lost six. Add the Yellow Jackets’ 10 interceptions, another astonishing number considering how little they throw it, and the result is finishing 105th in turnover margin.

What will go well – The run game. Georgia Tech wasn’t able to stay in games with their rush attack like in previous years, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism. The line was extremely young (they had a freshman at center and both tackles spots by the end of the year) so it should improve. Add that to QB Justin Thomas and their stable of running backs returning and the offense should rebound.

What will be a struggle – Pass defense. It wasn’t bad in 2015, ranking 37th in pass yards allowed, but the Yellow Jackets were also 120th in sacks. They now lose all four starters from the secondary. If the front seven can’t find a way to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, the defense could get burnt through the air with a less experienced defensive back corps.

Louisville

What needs to get better – The offense. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Bobby Petrino team but the offense was pretty disappointing. The quarterbacks were average, finishing 61st in QBR. That is a little more understandable with Lamar Jackson getting so much playing time, but with a dual-threat guy like himself, the Cardinals should have been able to finish better than 81st in rushing.

What will go well – Defense. The Cardinals defense could be one of the best in the country in 2016. They were T-10th in sacks last year and return stud Devonte Fields who was T-10th in individual sacks. As if a ferocious pass rush wasn’t enough, the ‘Ville will also get all their secondary starters back, including NFL prospects Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. Bobby Petrino can work whatever magic and QB voodoo he wants, I just don’t think he’s going to be able to do what he traditionally has with Lamar Jackson. It doesn’t mean Jackson won’t improve, I just don’t think there will be any game to game consistency, which will frustrate the coaching staff as well as Cardinals fans.

Miami

What needs to get better – 3rd downs. I talked about how bad Boston College was on third downs, but that’s a little more understandable considering their quarterback situation and well, because of the fact that they’re Boston College. But Miami was almost as bad, finishing 107th at 35%. Considering the talent at the skill positions and at quarterback, there’s no excuse for that and Miami needs to see drastic improvement in this area if they want any shot at competing for the division in 2016.

What will go well – Pass attack. The offensive line was extremely young last year, with four underclassmen starters at year’s end. With improvement Kaaya should have time to throw. With talent at WR in Stacy Coley and Braxton Berrios and at TE in Standish Dobard and David Njoku, Kaaya will have plenty of options at his disposal.

What will be a struggle – Pass defense. Miami was 70th last year in sacks, and they have had a non-existent pass rush for years. Last year the pass defense was able to survive because of how good the secondary was. That won’t be the case this year. Miami loses both starting safeties as well as CB Artie Burns, who led the ACC with six interceptions. In 2016, no lead will be safe.

NC State

What needs to get better – Explosive passing plays. Jacoby Brissett had a mediocre yards per attempt, and it showed when you look at the receivers. The Wolfpack’s leading WR averaged under 10 ypc (9.2). That’s embarrassing. And their second leading receiver had just 34 catches. Not the ideal way to keep a defense honest.

What will go well – Run game. At least NC State has this going for them. They have their top three running backs return, and all three averaged over six yards per rush in 2015. But the biggest reason will be the return of Matthew Dayes. Dayes was averaging over 100 yards per game on 6.5 ypc and had 12 touchdowns through just 7+ games. He ended up missing the last five games due to a foot injury but will be back next season.

What will be a struggle – Passing attack. NC State might be able to get some plays off play-action thanks to their run game, but a standard passing game will not be forte. They have limited wide receivers and with Jacoby Brissett no longer around, will have a new starting quarterback as well.

North Carolina

What needs to get better – The defense. It was abysmal the second half of the year. They gave up at least 31 points in 4 of 6 games. The two that they didn’t were against Miami and Virginia Tech, not exactly the Marcus Mariota-led Oregon Ducks.

What will go well – Offense. The Tar Heels’ offense was explosive in 2015 and have most of it returning in tact for next year. 4/5 offensive linemen return along with the top two receivers and stud running back Elijah Hood. While starting quarterback Marquise Williams departs, he’ll be replaced by Mitch Trubisky, who fans have been high on.

What will be a struggle – The defense. It’s hard to see much improvement from a unit that allowed over 400 yards per game. It was 110th in run defense, stamped off by their embarrassing showing in the bowl game when the allowed a bowl record 645 rushing yards to Baylor. Now they lose a DT and MLB who were defensive captains.

Pittsburgh

What needs to get better – Their “passing attack”. It wasn’t Boston College level putrid, but it left a lot to be desired. Pitt can run the ball, so mild improvement in the passing game is all they need to have a competitive offense.

What will go well – The run game. James Conner was an ACC player of the year candidate before missing basically the whole season. In his place was Qadree Ollison who ran his way to a nice little 1,100 yard, 11 touchdown season in Conner’s place. Both will be back in 2016 to run behind an offensive line that returns 4/5 starters.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. The Panthers need their passing game to be competent, but I don’t see how it improves from last year. It wasn’t good to begin with and now the Panthers are losing WR Tyler Boyd early to the NFL draft. Boyd accounted for 91 of the team’s 212 receptions in 2015.

Syracuse

What needs to get better – The whole offense. They were 119th in yards per game. Brutal to watch and not able to move the ball consistently as evidenced by their 100 ranking in red zone opportunities. But the Orangemen were actually pretty good once they got there, ranking 8th in red zone scoring percentage. If the offense can move the ball a little more, they can put their red zone efficiency to better use.

What will go well – Defense. It wasn’t exactly good this past year, but it was young. They return seven starters so with the experience they should be better just from that. Additionally, the defense played better at home in 2015, not surprising for a young unit. A year older and they should be able to carry some of that success on the road more frequently.

What will be a struggle – Getting to a bowl game. It’s hard as a fan to go into a year knowing your team probably won’t make a bowl. What’s more difficult is seeing how Syracuse gets to one. Along with divisional home games against FSU and Louisville, they have to go on the road in conference to play BC, Pitt and Clemson. Add in non-conference games at Connecticut and with Notre Dame and this year will be about building for 2017.

Virginia

What needs to get better – Performance in close games. Virginia had their chances last year. They had a halftime lead against Notre Dame and a second half lead against Miami, neither of which they could hold. They were also tied at half with North Carolina and tied in the 4th quarter with Louisville. An ability to finish games and the Cavaliers may have not been looking for a new coach.

What will go well – Off-season. If nothing else there will be positive vibes around the Cavaliers before the season starts. Tiquan Mizzell is a player fans can be excited about watching. There’s always hope when a new head coach comes in, which is what Virginia has in Bronco Mendenhall. Throw that in with a senior quarterback and fans may talk themselves into a sneaky good season.

What will be a struggle – The offense. An experienced quarterback returns, yes, but also a limited one. He’ll be looking for new targets as well since the offenses loses its top two receivers from last year. Just like 2015, it appears 2016 will be the Mizzell show.

Virginia Tech

What needs to get better – The running game. As bad as Virginia Tech’s offense has been, you could usually count on a decent running game if nothing else. Last year the Hokies didn’t even have that, ranking 112th in yards per carry. If you’re going to win games by keeping them close and playing good defense, you need a good running game to take pressure off the quarterback.

What will go well – Pass defense. This is one thing you can count on with the Hokies. They were 17th in passing yards allowed per game and return everyone in the secondary besides Kendall Fuller. He can be adequately replaced by Brandon Facyson, the next in line for NFL-caliber Hokie corners.

What will be a struggle – The passing offense. It’s going to be a shock for new coach Justin Fuente going from possible 1st rounder Paxton Lynch to new Hokies starter Brenden Motley. Motley got his feet wet last year when Michael Brewer got hurt and I don’t think fans liked what they saw. He had success in his first couple starts against against Furman and Purdue (congratulations), but the rest of the way was mostly a disaster.

Wake Forest

What needs to get better – Pass protection. Wake Forest is Wake Forest, so they’re going to be playing from behind a lot. Because of this it would be nice if the quarterback wasn’t running for his life every other play. That’s probably what it felt like for Demon Deacons quarterbacks last year, when they were sacked on 8.94% of drop-backs, 113th in the country.

What will go well – “Offensive fireworks”. OK fireworks might be a strong word. But Wake’s offensive should be vastly improved from a unit that was almost last (125th) in scoring at 17.4 ppg. The offense only loses two seniors, one at WR and one at guard, and 7/11 starters last year were freshmen or sophomores. On top of that, QB John Wolford improved his accuracy from 58.3% to 60.9% while also increasing his yards per attempt by over two full yards (5.55 to 7.69). Why do I feel like I’m talking myself into Wake Forest? I can’t wait to look back on this in November when Wake is eliminated from bowl contention and the offense is still a disaster.

What will be a struggle – Speaking of bowl games, making one will be tough for Wake Forest next year. The first month of the season is manageable but with a road slate that includes games against Florida State, Louisville, NC State, and Duke, it’s going to be a nail-biter for fans the second half of the season.

E-mail Jason at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JLindy87.

Featured image courtesy of Thomson20192

A Golden Ending?

After an improbable finish to the regular season that gave the Golden Bears their first winning season under coach Sonny Dykes, there seems to be a little uncertainty sprinkled about in the aftermath of victory. The uncertainty lies in the status of coach Dykes ongoing contract extension with the University of California. Will he stay or won’t he? That seems to be what’s on the minds of the players and fans alike. Of course, California Athletic Director Mike Williams is saying all the right things with regard to keeping the head coach around. But, is this merely lip service to delay the inevitable?

This season’s California Golden Bears football team had lofty expectations in the wild, wild west that is the Pac-12. They returned a top tier offensive team that ranked in the top ten in several statistical categories and a revamped defensive unit that opened some eyes. Cal stormed out the gate, winning their first five games and attaining a top 25 ranking (#24) for the first time since 2010. Offensively, Cal was firing on all cylinders. Defensively, the unit more than upheld their share of the load-and briefly led the nation in interceptions. It was all coming together. Or so we thought.

What followed after a stellar start was catastrophic downward spiral that led to four consecutive defeats; which put the program dangerously close to bowl elimination. At (5-4), Cal needed a boost of confidence; a ray of sunshine. Something to salvage a year once thought to be the statement season for coach Sonny Dykes and company. Fortunately, Cal was able to muster a couple of wins down the stretch to secure a winning record and a bowl berth; Cal’s first since 2011. Not the ending Cal fans had in mind, but we’ll take it- Cal will face the Air Force Academy in the Armed Forces Bowl December 29th.

With the fate of Coach Sonny Dykes in the air (pun intended), it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out for the players. It’s widely speculated that this season may very well be the last for junior quarterback Jared Goff. Goff has set and or shattered a slew of Cal passing records. On the outside, there doesn’t seem to be much more Goff could gain by staying an additional year. If Coach Dykes does in fact leave, Goff would more than likely have to learn a new offensive system; also it would put him at greater risk of injury, affecting his draft status should he decide to turn pro; which is foregone conclusion. Goff’s supporting cast may have also played their last season for the Golden Bears. Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, Trevor Davis, and the rest of the receiving corps are either seniors or will take their shot at the NFL early. In which case, Goff really has no reason to stick around.

All said, that really begs the question; can coach Sonny Dykes’ Bear Raid offense be as effective without a slinger like Jared Goff? Or a stellar receiving corps currently in place for that matter?  I’m assuming those thoughts are circling around the mind of the athletic director. Should Cal extend coach Sonny Dykes’ contract without proven players moving forward? This past season was Dykes’ first winning season in three years. Is this pattern destined to repeat itself? Folks are going to hate me for this, but it will repeat itself; but much worse. If Cal elects to keep Coach Dykes with all the departing talent, who knows how challenging things may get for the Bears. It’s not like there’s an heir apparent for Goff. He took the majority of the snaps throughout the season-which is as testament to Goff’s durability, but also leaves a huge question mark as to who the replacement will be. Not to mention, Cal’s most explosive players will be long gone. Yes, we’ll be privy to Cal’s next batch of possible stars, but like Goff and company, they’re going to have to learn how to win-and who knows if Coach Dykes will be around long enough to see that come to fruition.

Although signs point to Cal retaining coach Dykes, there is the matter of Dykes’ interview with the University of Missouri. Not such has been said of the outcome, but if Dykes were to get an offer, would he accept? I’m certain this would definitely be all the incentive needed to for players to jump ship and forge their own paths. Which is too bad for the incoming players who expected to play for coach Dykes. That’s one thing prospective recruits need to factor in when choosing a school. With the NCAA’s guidelines tidy whitey tight, it’ll be hell for these players to seek new schools without sacrificing the most precious commodity of any athlete or any living creature on this planet, and that’s time.

Cal’s bowl game is three weeks out. And if we don’t hear anything in regard to coach Dykes’ extension, there are a couple reasons why we may not:

  1. Cal’s AD will wait to see how his team performs versus Air Force and determine whether he is the right fit moving forward.
  2. If coach Dykes does get an offer from Missouri or another attractive landing spot (of which there are many), Cal will be burdened with either matching or offering more money to retain their coach. Which if reports were true about coach Dykes feeling a little slighted that the extension process has dragged as long as is has, coach Dykes may elect to leave and begin a new with an AD that actually wants him there.

However the cookie crumbles at the end of the season, it will be an uphill climb for my Golden Bears going forward. I know there will be growing pains post Goff, post Dykes, or heaven forbid, post Goff and Dykes. It’s a crummy situation no matter how you look at it. But, before the lights go out on the 2015 season, let’s take the time to reflect on the year that was. There were records broken, comebacks for the ages, and a return to post season play. All the essential ingredients that made this Cal football season one to remember.

Pre-Season Top 25: 11-15

(Editor’s note: Jason Lindekugel will offer his personal Top 25 every Monday morning during the season.  We’ve decided to slow-roll the poll a little bit during the off-season and fall camp with five teams a week, starting with #21-#25, taking your right through to the Top 5 in the days before the 2014 season kicks off.  This week, we’re on the outside, looking in at the Top Ten, with #11-#15 -JR)
#16-#20 | #21-#25

15. Texas

Texas feels like a boom or bust team this year. As would be expected of a Texas team, there is a ton of talent. But can that talent produce on the field consistently? Health will be a key factor. Texas will have a good rushing attack with the combination of Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. The passing game will only have to be mediocre to complement the strong run game and that shouldn’t be an issue if David Ash can stay healthy after missing most of last season with a concussion. Texas will have to rely on that run game as well as a strong defense. With the talent on hand the Longhorns have no business being as bad on D as last year, and new coach Charlie Strong should help in that area. The defense has a strong foundation with a pass rush led by DE Cedric Reed and a secondary led by All-Conference corner Quandre Diggs. If Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks are healthy, the run D will improve from a disastrous 83rd ranked finish from a year ago. The Longhorns overcame some adversity last year after a rough 1-2 start to win their next six games and 17 starters return from that squad. With all that happened at Texas last year, they still went 8-4 in the regular season. A tough schedule may hide some of the team’s improvement, but their first 10 win season since 2009 is a strong possibility. If they can win two out of three against UCLA, Baylor, and Oklahoma (none of which are true road games) they will have plenty of momentum as a potential playoff team.
 

14. Auburn

Auburn’s offense was dynamite last year, and the pieces are in place to be even better this season. You can’t begin anywhere else but Heisman candidate Nick Marshall at QB. Marshall rushed for 1,000 yards and accounted for 26 touchdowns in his first season in Gus Malzahn’s offense. You can expect improvement this year while he leads an offense that could score over 40 ppg. Cameron Artis-Payne should fill in adequately for departed B Tre Mason after averaging 6.7 ypc as his backup last year. Losing OT Greg Robinson to the NFL will hurt but the other four starters along the offensive line return. The Tigers may not average 330 ypg on the ground again but that could be made up for by an improved passing attack with wideouts Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams. Ultimately Auburn’s success will be determined by if the defense can improve. Six defensive starters return but they will have to have much more success after giving up over 400 ypg last year (86th nationally). The last time Auburn made a title game appearance it saw its win total decrease by six the following year. This year’s team is too talented to experience that kind of drop off again, but 10 wins will be tough to reach with six of their final eight games consisting of LSU, @Mississippi State, South Carolina, @Ole Miss, @Georgia, and @Alabama.
 

13. Clemson

Clemson fans have to be thrilled that they’ve finally become a program that simply reloads after losing players like Tahj Boyd and Sammy Watkins. The offense though, will not fall as far as most expect. The Tigers have had five pass catchers drafted since 2010 and have NFL talent at WR currently with Charone Peake and Mike Williams. Throwing to them will likely be senior Cole Stoudt. While Stoudt certainly isn’t Boyd, he was efficient in limited playing time last year and will keep the offense humming. If not, Clemson can trot out Deshaun Watson, prized recruit who has the size and athleticism to be the next young dual-threat signal caller to take the college football world by storm. Fortunately for Clemson, they have a defense this year that can lead them while the new offensive players find their footing. The front seven will be nasty led by All-American DE Vic Beasley. Overall the D returns 32 sacks from last year and 17 of its top 21 tacklers. It is often said that some teams may improve but it won’t show up in their record because of a tough schedule. Well Clemson may be the opposite. You can’t expect to lose the talent they did and get better, but if they can upset Georgia in Week 1, you’re looking at a team ready for another 10 win season with the only losses coming to Florida State and South Carolina.
 

12. LSU

LSU continues to crank out 10 win seasons, last year their 4th in a row. There is some uncertainty with the Tigers this year after losing their starters at QB, RB, and WR. But LSU has tons of talent to fill in at those positions, and how quickly those players, particularly incoming freshmen Brandon Harris, Leonard Fournette, and Malachi Dupre step up will determine how far this team will go. Whether Harris or Anthony Jennings opens the year as starting QB, they won’t have to do much because of a run game that will be dominant as usual. The offensive line returns four starters from a group that paved the way for Jeremy Hill’s 1,400 yard season. The aforementioned Fournette is getting comparisons to Adrian Peterson and even if he doesn’t quite meet those standards, the Tigers also have Terrence Magee who averaged over 7 ypc last year. LSU will have its usual stingy defense as well. With seven starters returning to a unit that was 15th best in yards allowed, they are primed to be one of the better defenses in the country. 8 of the top 11 tacklers return and like every other year, there will be an infusion of four and five star freshman to bolster it. Behind an excellent running game and defense it would be a shock if LSU doesn’t make it five straight 10 win seasons. If they even get average QB play, a dark horse playoff run is not far-fetched.
 

11. Georgia

The Georgia Bulldogs are somewhat of a wild card this year. The talent level says they should be a contender for the playoff. That talent starts with arguably the best set of running backs in the nation with Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. However, it remains to be seen if they can stay healthy for a whole year. Similarly, the WR position has talent but was extremely injury-riddled last year and it is fair to question if they will be the same post-injury. Those skill position injuries last year make it hard to gauge how new QB Hutson Mason will do, but as a redshirt senior he does know the system. Heading to the defense, the talent and stats say that the Bulldogs should’ve been better in this area. They return 9 of the top 11 tacklers and 4 of the top 5 sack artists but overall the D must be more consistent and limit mistakes. Ramik Wilson and Jordan Jenkins lead the best group of linebackers in the country. Georgia could end up in the college football playoff or finish 8-4. I think they end closer to the former, which will be aided by a schedule which after the opening two weeks is light by SEC standards.
 
Today covered some teams with championship level talent, but who have inexperience at enough key spots to keep them from being favorites to finish in the top four. Next week will introduce teams with talent and experience, but who fell just short of being my favorites for the first college football playoff.