Tag Archives: Nick Chubb

Picking Up the Pieces of the 2016 SEC Football Season

The championship games are now in the book as well as a few straggling regular season games. Army-Navy remains. That being said, let’s do some housekeeping and tidy up a few odds and ends concerning the SEC.

First, we’ll saunter back to SEC Media Days and review how the scribes’ picks turned out.

As you see in this article, Alabama was picked to win the SEC West and Tennessee was the choice to represent the SEC East in Atlanta. Alabama, obviously, held up their end of the deal but the Vols did not. The Florida Gators managed to take the division by default. The Crimson Tide steamrolled the West in dominant fashion. They won their division by three games over who? The Auburn Tigers.

Auburn was picked not second, or third, of fourth, or fifth. They were picked sixth in the West behind LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, and Arkansas.

Bravo for the Tigers! And they were rewarded with a trip to the Big Easy and the Sugar Bowl. They will take on Big 12 champion, Oklahoma. It could be one of the better games of the entire bowl season. More on that, and other bowls, in later columns.

What about the cellar dwellers? South Carolina was the choice to bring up the rear in the East, but the Gamecocks, modestly exceeded expectations and came in fourth. Missouri had the distinction of finishing last in the “Easy.”One of the Mississippi teams was tagged by the media to sink to the bottom in the grueling West. But it was the Bulldogs of Mississippi State that was chosen for that “honor.” Ole Miss, much to the surprise of most every football fan in the country, plummeted to the number seven spot while predicted to come in third.

Here is a complete look at how the standings shook down in 2016.

Here is how the media sized up the All-SEC selections.

And here are the coaches’ choices (the only one we have when this article was composed) for All-SEC.

Glaring discrepancies on the first team offense? Chad Kelly at quarterback, Leonard Fournette at running back, Nick Chubb at running back, Calvin Ridley at wide receiver, and O.J. Howard at tight end.

Jalen Hurts, Kamryn Pettway, Derrius Guice, ArDarius Stewart, and Evan Engram took those slots.

Defense? As you peruse the lists you will note that things went pretty much as expected. Good job media!

The coaches individual award winners on offense, defense, and coach went to Jalen Hurts, Jonathan Allen, and Nick Saban. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!”But, in all fairness, who’d a thunk Jalen Hurts would walk off with the offensive player of the year? No one could have seen that coming.

In this interim, between the regular season and bowl season, and beyond, there are some questions we look forward to seeing answered.

What will the NCAA decide in the way of punishment for Ole Miss?

Will Nick Saban retire? (Wishful thinking)

What underclassmen might surprise us by succumbing to the lure of dollars and the NFL?

How hot is Butch Jones’ fanny?

Kevin Sumlin’s?

Will Lane Kiffin take a head coaching position? (More wishful thinking)

How about Rhett Lashlee?

Will Jim McElwain ever find a quarterback?

Will Gus Malzahn?

Will Kirby Smart be a bust?

Will Barry Odom?

Who might be the next Jalen Hurts or Kamryn Pettway?

Is anyone capable of bridging the gap between Alabama and everybody else?

And… is the SEC still the top of the heap in the world of college football.

The bowl games are upon us and, with their conclusion, the season of 2016 will be but a memory.

What does 2017 hold for us as college football fans?

In the words of a wise man… we shall see.

 

E-mail Bird at bird [dot] lecroy [at] campuspressbox [dot] com or follow him on Twitter @Autull.

 

Georgia Bulldogs Should Brace for Brutal Beatdown

Earlier this week, I called Ole Miss a fraudulent contender.  No, the Rebels are not making the Playoff but, that doesn’t mean they can’t muck things up in the Hog-eat-Dawg SEC.  Man, do I wish I’d saved that one for week seven when Georgia heads to Arkansas.

Anyway, someone call the other SEC because we’ve got another fraud alert.

See, the thing is, while Ole Miss is committing rather harmless mail fraud, Georgia is credit card scamming folks out here.

The Georgia Bulldogs are the third best team in the SEC East this year and that’s only because four of their division mates have already proven they don’t deserve to even be mentioned by name.

Kirby Smart is surely smart for parlaying his eight-year stint as Alabama’s defensive coordinator into his dream job.

Smart is now the head man at his alma mater.  It doesn’t get much better than that.  Other than being the man heading the most consistently dominant unit in all of college football, that is.

By the way, props to Jeremy Pruitt for playing the Lester Holt to Smart’s Brian Williams.  Remember kids, patience is a virtue and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a big promotion when one of the higher-ups does something stupid.  Don’t worry, they always do.

I’m sure you’ve heard this one, too.  You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.  Kirby might have to learn that one the hard way.

Then again, Smart could be on the fast track to emerging as the Crimson Tide’s new nemesis.  Time will tell.

I emphasize the capital T on Time.  This is not Kirby Smart and Georgia’s time.  Ole Miss is Alabama’s current kryptonite, despite the result in the matchup of the mirrored states.

The point is that the Rebels show up for big games and now that they’ve lost, they’ve become an even more dangerous opponent.

Even if that weren’t true, the Bulldogs would still be an overrated mix of mangy mutts.

In the past two weeks, Georgia has beaten Nicholls and one of those SEC East unmentionables, by a combined three points.

The Dawgs’ one quality win came against my Tar Heels, who prefer to lose the first game to make their season more interesting.

Nick Chubb is going to get some Heisman love as he works his way through what has to be his final college campaign.  Right now though, he’s trending down.

After rushing for 222 yards in the opener, Chubb has fallen short in each of the past two games.  Again, those were against a relatively unknown FCS squad and an SEC bottom-feeder that will continue to remain nameless.

But, but, but, Ole Miss has gotten killed on the ground, you say.  Yeah, that was against two teams with quarterbacks who could take off whenever they needed, hell, whenever they wanted.  Georgia does not have that luxury weapon.  Jacob Eason ain’t going anywhere quickly.

Do you expect that pocket-passing freshman to be able to pick apart this secondary with a focused pass rush pressing in on him?  I don’t.

Interestingly enough, Eason will be the third freshman QB the Rebels will face this fall.  Let’s keep the clichés coming.  That’s right; the third time’s the charm.

Though the numbers aren’t large, there’s significance to Georgia’s defense giving up positive rushing yardage to every quarterback it’s chased around this season.  Chad Kelly can tuck it and chuck it, though I’d certainly not call great at either one.  Still, Kelly’s dual-threat ability will present problems for the Bulldogs this weekend.

In the first real test for Georgia, Chubb’ll struggle; Eason will see the reason why true freshman don’t lead SEC championship-caliber teams; and Chad Kelly will do rad cellys in the endzone.

The Rebels are going to give the Bulldogs one quarter to brace for a brutal beatdown that should put them, and your expectations, back in their proper place.

So, Smart puppies, go crawl back into the SEC East division doghouse.  We’ll call you when it’s your time to entertain us.

 

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikipedia

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Put Everyone on Alert: ACC Football Deserves Some Respect

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.

The Right Thing for Leonard Fournette is to Play Football at LSU in 2016

Leonard Fournette needs to play football for LSU this fall. He understands this, as does his Head Coach Les Miles. I know it and you should too. Blue chip athletes, like Fournette, for example, lose their blue chip status when they expose their passive side. Sitting out a season to protect draft status is sailing into uncharted waters, an act that I might classify as cowardice, and there is no precedent.

To hear the suggestion, the noise that Kirk Herbstreit wished to quickly silence last October, is nothing new. They wanted Jadeveon Clowney to do it. They said Ezekiel Elliott should do it. Supporters of Todd Gurley probably wish he would have done it. It’s a fun conversation, nothing more. If you’re healthy and you’re eligible to play, you take every opportunity to demonstrate to your future employer why you’re special.

Rest assured, any player that brings this conversation to the forefront is anything but a nobody. With the obvious knock on a player’s competitive desire out there, Mike Mayock told Rich Eisen,

”… I think there would be another core group of individuals and teams that say, ‘Wait a minute, not only can we draft a kid that might be a once-in-a-lifetime type talent, but there’s less tread (wear) on the tires. He didn’t take the beating of 12, 13, 14 games in the SEC. I think it would be a mixed opinion. I think the more vocal opinion would be negative. But I think there would be a lot of teams throughout the league that would say ‘Hey, that’s OK with me.’ They’re just not going to say that publicly.”

With Fournette seen in a walking boot, a precautionary measure after an injury at practice, this discussion has been given new life. After, was it an injury scare that prompted this line of thinking in the first place? I checked; it wasn’t.

The media decided just how special Leonard Fournette was, in the days after LSU’s 34-24 victory at Syracuse. He torched the Orange defense for 244 yards and two touchdowns, in a game that was very competitive most of the way. It was not because anyone feared him getting hurt necessarily, it was just that everyone believed the then-20-year-old was physically gifted enough to play in the NFL.

I don’t know. Maybe no one feared Willis McGahee or Marcus Lattimore absorbing devastating injuries either. McGahee recovered from his injuries suffered in his final College Football game and salvaged an NFL career. Lattimore’s fate, following a knee injury suffered in 2012, was much more devastating. Fortunately, both had the safety net of insurance, just in case they met the fate they were destined to encounter. Those policies were worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.7-$2.5 million.

Fournette’s family has multiple $10 million policies on the junior running back. It protects his draft stock, as well as some financial protection against injury. Frankly, the game has come a long way from the inevitable doomsday that the Alvin Mack character faced at the end of The Program. Now, I’m not saying that getting paid makes the opportunity they miss out on worth it, but the story doesn’t end with complete and utter ruin under any circumstance.

Now, you’re going to hear the likes of Nick Wright say these guys have nothing to gain by playing another down, but if you allow me to play the role of scout or NFL front office person, I’m insulted that I’m intentionally being denied a larger sample size. I don’t really even agree with the crux of the message, that it isn’t worth taking the risk, but I’m most hung up on the “nothing to gain” sentiment.

Call me foolish, but I still believe that young men are still learning to play the game and mastering how to be football players at the collegiate level. In contrast, the NFL expects everyone to know how to play, so they can move on to working on how it’s applied in their professional system. Cam Cameron and Les Miles are probably fairly decent at teaching the game at an advanced level, and Fournette will certainly benefit from that.

There’s a featured quote from an early episode of The Wire that’s always bothered me, and it’s Marla Daniels, “You cannot lose if you do not play”. She asked her cop husband not to rock the boat by pursuing a crime syndicate full of murderers. In that case, they decided to play and the right thing had happened.

It was a case of doing the right thing versus doing the easy thing. For Miles and Fournette, it was never a question, and we’ll see “the right thing” on display at Lambeau Field on the afternoon of September 3rd.

E-mail Jeff at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

Featured photo credit: Wikipedia

Watching Only One SEC Football Game Each Week: Part Two

A little over a week ago, I introduced this idea. What if, for some terrible reason, I could only watch one SEC football game each weekend this season? Which games would I watch? Part one featured my picks for weeks one through six of the SEC football season. Here are my picks for the remainder of the season.

Week 7: #1 Alabama @ #10 Tennessee

This is probably the one game I’m most excited to watch all season. The Crimson Tide may have lost some key pieces to their championship team but they have plenty of recruits from their past few classes that can fill in those gaps. They also have Bo Scarbrough to replace Derrick Henry, and he definitely cannot be ignored. On the other hand, Butch Jones and Tennessee didn’t really lose important pieces to their puzzle at all. They return experienced players on both sides of the ball. The defense will be solid, and the offense has the potential to be explosive. If Josh Dobbs can pass for more than ten yards this season, the Volunteer offense will be hard to stop.

This game was a close one in Tuscaloosa last year, with Alabama obviously being the eventual victor. This year the two teams meet in Knoxville and I’m sure Neyland will be rocking. I don’t know that I’m right about this but I think the Vols will have a good chance to get a win at home over the Crimson Tide. And I’d be laughing at Lane Kiffin the whole time. He might have to block me on Twitter if they lose.

Week 8: #12 Ole Miss @ #6 LSU

There are a few Ole Miss games that will definitely have my attention this season. This game in Death Valley is liable to be one of the most exciting SEC West games we’ll get to watch all season. I’ve talked about him plenty in Part One of this duo of lists, but Chad Kelly will be huge for Ole Miss this season.

The Rebels lost Laquon Treadwell to the NFL at the end of last season, but Damore’ea Stringfellow has the potential to be just as important to their offense. Playing opposite Treadwell last year, he already put up some pretty impressive stats (36 catches, 503 yds., 5 TDs) for the Rebels. LSU returns Fournette who was mostly a force to be reckoned with last season. More importantly, their quarterback Brandon Harris now has more experience and can hopefully help balance Fournette’s rushing attack with his passing attack.

These two offensive powerhouses meeting in Baton Rouge should make for a fantastic, explosive football game. The winner? Whichever team has fewer turnovers.

Week 9: #25 Florida vs. #16 Georgia (at EverBank Field)

The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will always draw my attention as a Gator. Heading into this season, both teams are expected to be strong but both have some pretty big question marks. The Gators need to actually move the ball on offense and they need to choose a quarterback to do that…again. Their defense will be as solid as ever as they retain the title “DBU.”

Georgia will have running back Nick Chubb again and an exciting new coach in Kirby Smart. That combination could prove to be very dangerous. As far as SEC defenses go, theirs may be pretty average. But an average Bulldog defense might overpower a below average Gator offense. At the end of the day, I’d give this one to the Gators. But I don’t say that with much confidence.

Week 10: #1 Alabama @ #6 LSU

Alabama and LSU are the two highest-ranked SEC West teams in the preseason coaches poll, making this game an easy choice. Last season, the Alabama defense shut down Heisman hopeful running back Leonard Fournette in this matchup. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to repeat that feat now that LSU has a more experienced quarterback with Brandon Harris returning.

For LSU, containing the Alabama offense will be a must. Last season, they allowed them to outgain the Tiger offense by about 250 yards. If they allow Alabama to gain over 400 yards again, they’ll be hard-pressed to win this game. Fournette and Harris will be a destructive duo, but I expect the Alabama defense to be able to contain them pretty well. And for this reason, I anticipate Alabama winning this game, despite LSU’s home field advantage.

Week 11: Auburn @ #16 Georgia

I honestly have no idea what to make of Auburn at this point. Last season I expected them to be solid but I would consider their 6-6 regular season record anything but solid. Surprisingly, they only lost to Georgia by a touchdown. That team they played a close game with was not the same team that Georgia has this season. Mark Richt was replaced with a shiny new head coach straight from Alabama, Kirby Smart. And since running back Nick Chubb is returning from his injury, the Georgia offense will undoubtedly be more difficult to stop.

The Auburn defense under Will Muschamp’s replacement, Kevin Steele, will be what decides this game. Steele has worked with a number of impressive programs: Alabama, Clemson, and LSU, to name a few. Whether or not he’ll be able to resurrect a defense that struggled during most games last year remains to be seen. Because of my doubts for Auburn’s defense and my faith in Georgia’s offense, I give them the clear advantage in this game. But I don’t expect a blowout.

Week 12: Arkansas @ Mississippi St.

Arkansas is in a similar position to Tennessee this season, even though their outlook isn’t quite as favorable as that of the Volunteers. Head Coach Bret Bielema is entering his fourth year here after a decent season last year. In theory, he should finally have his players and his system in place.

Meanwhile, Dan Mullen has had to return to the drawing board for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs lived and died by quarterback Dak Prescott the past two years. Last year, they had pretty much no offensive production unless Prescott was involved. Now that Prescott is gone, Mullen is going to have to completely revamp their offense if he wants any chance of surviving in the SEC West. Since Arkansas seems to be on more of an upward trend here, I see them winning this game at Mississippi State.

Week 13: Rivalry Week

Sorry guys, but I really can’t pick just one this week. There are far too many interesting rivalry matchups.

All rankings listed are according to the Preseason Amway Coaches Poll, released on August 4th, 2016. Featured photo courtesy of wikimedia via user Neomrbungle.

E-Mail Kristen at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Watching Only One SEC Football Game Each Week: Part One

The Amway Preseason Coaches poll was just released and it inspired me to look forward to some of the best games that lay ahead. In all honesty, I would gladly watch college football, even just SEC football, all day each Saturday starting next month. But unfortunately that isn’t always possible, because let’s face it, not all people are the as awesome as us die-hard college football fans.

And for that reason I decided to create a list of the SEC football games I would watch this season if for some terrible reason I could only watch one game per week. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to this, but if it does at least I have you (and myself) covered.

Week 1: #12 Ole Miss vs. #4 Florida State

While I could’ve easily picked #1 Alabama vs. #17 USC or #6 LSU vs. Wisconsin, but the Ole Miss-Florida State matchup takes the cake here. I fully expect Alabama to be able to handle the Trojans and although Wisconsin wasn’t bad last year, LSU should be able to handle them between Leonard Fournette and a much-improved Brandon Harris. Ole Miss and Florida State is most intriguing of these matchups to me because I expect it to be the closest game. Ole Miss is returning a fantastic quarterback in Chad Kelly and while Florida State may not have quite the same kind of weapon at quarterback, they do have one of the best offensive lines in the country. Usually I watch games for the defense, but this time I’ll definitely be watching for the offense. And as much as I ride for SEC football, I have to admit I do expect the Seminoles to come out victorious.

Week 2: Arkansas @ #14 TCU

Arkansas may not be a team picked by too many to have a great season this year, but I do think they’re a team to watch early in the season. If the Razorbacks can get off to a good start with what Coach Bret Bielema might call a “borderline erotic” (no, I’m not letting that one go yet) victory over TCU, then the sky’s the limit. Arkansas may have an inexperienced quarterback, but they make up for that lack of experience elsewhere. They return numerous starts on the defensive side of the ball and they have plenty of options for offensive production when you look at potential running backs. The TCU Horned Frogs will undoubtedly be a formidable opponent, but I’d definitely put this game on “upset alert” right now. And who wouldn’t want to watch a good upset?

Week 3: #1 Alabama @ #12 Ole Miss

This game needs very little explanation. Both were great teams last year, both are expected to be about equally great again this year. Ole Miss has proven to be somewhat of a stumbling block for the Crimson Tide lately, so Alabama needs to find a way to overcome whatever the issue is and get off to a better start this season. While Chad Kelly is going to be a fantastic quarterback for the Rebels, I’d put my money on Alabama’s suffocating defense just about any day. 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.

Week 4: #25 Florida @ #10 Tennessee

For me, this is the hardest game to watch every single season. I was raised a Volunteer but became a Gator when it was time to go to college. Since I’ve been a Gator, Florida has yet to lose to Tennessee. 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. The game may ultimately come down quarterbacks. Josh Dobbs is reliable as a threat on the ground, but will he become a real passing threat this season? The Gators are likely to start Luke Del Rio this season, but he may not be the answer to all their offensive woes. I will say that the Gators aren’t going to be a pushover in the SEC East this season but the Vols return too much talent, both offensively and defensively, for the Gators to be able to handle them once again. I could be wrong about that, but again this one is bound to be another really good game to watch.

Week 5: #10 Tennessee @ #16 Georgia

I’m just going to throw this out there but the last time Tennessee was ranked #10 in the preseason poll was in 1998. The last time Tennessee won a National Championship was also in 1998. So, there’s obviously something to be said for their preseason ranking. Georgia is still a bit more of an unknown heading into the season. Nick Chubb returns this season after he was injured on the first play of the Tennessee game last year and that could be big. Not to mention, Georgia did one of the smartest things you can do when hiring a new head coach. They sought out a former Alabama coach to lead their team, Kirby Smart. Florida will tell you what a great idea that type of hiring decision can be. Since the game is in Athens, this could be a tough one for the Vols to win. 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.

Week 6: #6 LSU @ #25 Florida

The hype heading into this game last season was incredible and I expect the same kind of energy this year. While LSU returns Leonard Fournette at running back and now has a more experienced Brandon Harris at quarterback, Florida has made some adjustments. Like previously mentioned, quarterback transfer Luke Del Rio is expected to start for the Gators. If they had him at the helm of their offense last year, they might have even been able to get a win in Death Valley. On top of that, the Gators can still claim the title of being the “Real DBU” with Jalen “Teez” Tabor picking up right where Hargreaves left off last season. And let’s not forget that Florida might actually have a kicker in Eddy Pineiro to help them out in those tight games this year. With the Tigers traveling to the Swamp, I give a slight edge to the Gators here. This is another one of those games that will be highly entertaining, regardless of the outcome.

Be on the lookout for part two of this article, coming next week!

 

All the rankings listed above are according to the Preseason Amway Coaches Poll, released on August 4th, 2016.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Tate Nations

If you feel the need to debate my picks for each week, feel free to interact with me on Twitter, @OGKristenB.

Eight Noteworthy Non-Conference Games for ACC Football

One of my favorite things to do when looking ahead at a football season is to pick out big non-conference matchups and take a closer look at them. In this case, I’m only going to go through eight games, which will include just over half of the conference. But these eight games could all go a long way in convincing the rest of the country that the ACC as a whole isn’t only good at basketball. It may be early, but it’s definitely not too early to get a quick look at the games you should make your schedule around this fall if you’re an ACC football fan.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Georgia Bulldogs

September 3rd at 5:30 PM EST

North Carolina was ranked at number 15 in last season’s final AP poll. While Georgia was not ranked, they finished last season at 10-2 and beat the Penn State Nittany Lions in their bowl game. The Tar Heels had an even better season last year, only losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks during their opening game. With a healthy Nick Chubb and coach Kirby Smart leading the Bulldogs, the Tar Heels may drop another season opener if they don’t come ready to play.

Clemson Tigers @ Auburn Tigers

September 3rd at 9:00 PM EST

Clemson finished second in last season’s final AP poll, with only the Alabama Crimson Tide ahead of them. Clemson had an impressive undefeated season, won the ACC Championship, and fell just short in the National Championship game. Auburn admittedly had a down season last year, but they could be a dangerous team for Clemson to overlook. With Clemson returning many key players from last year’s team, I expect them to be able to handle Auburn with ease.

Florida State Seminoles vs. Ole Miss Rebels

September 5th at 8:00 PM EST

The Florida State Seminoles finished at number 14 last season and Ole Miss finished ranked tenth. The Seminoles may have lost one heck of a kicker, but they’ll be returning plenty of talent this season. Ole Miss lost their star receiver, a key offensive tackle, and a strong defensive tackle. Although the Rebels will have quarterback Chad Kelly, the Seminoles should be able to overpower their defense.

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Tennessee Volunteers

September 10th, time TBA

The Tennessee Volunteers finished at number 22 last season, while the Viginia Tech Hokies were unranked. These two teams look like a lop-sided matchup from the start, but this game has a huge unknown factor that may play a role in its outcome. This is the game that will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway in front of about 150,000 fans. The layout will be different, the crowd will be ridiculous, and the hype is already out of control. With most of their important players returning, the Vols should beat Virginia Tech relatively easily, but the Hokies may not go down without a fight in this exhilarating environment.

Duke Blue Devils @ Northwestern Wildcats

September 17th at 8:00 PM EST

The Northwestern Wildcats finished ranked at number 23 last season after losing in embarrassing fashion to the Tennessee Volunteers during their bowl game. The Duke Blue Devils, on the other hand, won their bowl game. But the Blue Devils had a little less impressive of a season than the Wildcats did. This looks to be a good matchup for the Blue Devils and a great opportunity to get a quality win over a Big Ten opponent early in the season.

Pittsburgh Panthers @ Oklahoma State Cowboys

September 17th, time TBA

The Oklahoma State Cowboys finished last season at number 20, but the Pittsburgh Panthers were unranked. Although Pittsburgh lost their bowl game and had a quiet season last year, they did post a good conference record. Oklahoma State ended regular season play with two devastating losses and went on to lose to the Ole Miss Rebels in their bowl game. When you hear this matchup, you might be inclined to pick the Cowboys but the Panthers shouldn’t be overlooked this year.

Miami Hurricanes @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish

October 29th at 3:30 PM EST

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished ranked eleventh and the Miami Hurricanes were nowhere near being ranked. Notre Dame is nearly always a formidable opponent in recent years, but Miami is definitely not out of this game, by any means. The Hurricanes return a good amount of talent and will be playing under a very experienced coach in Mark Richt. The biggest key for the Hurricanes in this game will be taking advantage of Notre Dame’s defensive weaknesses that came to light at the end of the 2015 season. If Mark Richt can do that, they could have a very impressive non-conference win in his first season as head coach.

Louisville Cardinals @ Houston Cougars

November 17th, time TBA

The Houston Cougars finished surprisingly high last season, ranked eighth in the final AP poll and the Louisville Cardinals were unranked. The two played during the second weekend of the season last year, with Louisville just barely edging out Houston. Houston finished out the season with a somewhat surprising bowl victory over the Florida State Seminoles. While the Cardinals clearly have a chance to win this game, they need to play with urgency from the beginning, knowing that the Cougars are formidable opponents.

There are, of course, other noteworthy non-conference games in ACC football this season. But wins in these games would be key in gaining some respect for the conference as a whole when it comes to football. They would also give ACC teams quality wins that could help when it comes time for bowl games and even the playoffs.

Photo of Kenan Memorial Stadium courtesy of Yeungb.

Tennesse Vols: A Tale of Two Jalens

The Tennessee Volunteers were easily the most hyped-up team of the South Eastern Conference in the 2015 pre-season… and not without reason.

From Coleman Thomas, the center who can read blocks as good as any offensive lineman in the FBS, to Jalen Hurd, the most underrated running back in the SEC, the Volunteers’ consistent recruiting of real athletes with high football IQ is finally penetrating some conversation space.

Like a fine wine, Tennessee might need one more year before they can hit all the fine notes than put them into a more coveted position. In a conference where juniors and seniors are dominating in every position, the team is flooded with sophomore talent, and are redshirting freshmen that were poised to start yesterday.

Recruiting success is considered pretty unmeasurable, despite all of the computable statistics that go into the evaluation of each player. Even when a program is determined to have obtained a top recruiting class, it’s as useful as having a Maserati without gas in the tank if you don’t have the coaching staff to develop and utilize the sought-after talent that graces your program. Tennessee’s strength in development strategy is evident in players like outside linebacker, Jalen Reeves-Maybin.

Reeves-Maybin is a Tennessee native, who started his recruiting process having had most of his experience as a successful high school quarterback and tailback. He passed for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns in his junior year, and rushed for an additional 1,468 yards and 31 touchdowns. While he clocks a 4.82 second 40-yard-dash time, which is consistent with the average speed of a quarterback by the time they get to the NFL Scouting Combine, Reeves-Maybin’s ability to avoid tackles and keep his balance as a running back has largely contributed to his success in timing, vision and overall execution as a linebacker.

As a result, Jalen Reeves-Maybin is 5th in tackles per game in the SEC, has the most tackles for loss of any linebacker in the conference, and leads his own team in tackles with 67. Additionally, his role on special teams will make him highly sought-after in the NFL.

With this kind of resume, the question needs to be asked: How could an athlete of this caliber have been considered just a 3-star recruit? Do you attribute the success to the Tennessee Volunteers’ coaching staff, or the individual athletes hunger to improve and win?

Before all credibility is thrown out on the rating system, it’s worth getting schooled on a five-star recruit: Volunteers running back, Jalen Hurd. Despite his physical composition (6’4, 240lbs), his speed is consistent with your average running back. As a much leaner recruit, Hurd clocked a 4.38 40-time, but after spending a season filling out, he’s still running a desirable 4.58.

Hurd came in as a vertical, straight route runner, and is now breaking tackles and picking up double digit yards after contact. However, it seems his recognition has been minimal. In a conference where there is so much success at the position, it’s easy to seem standard, even when you’re out performing 85% of running backs in the country. He shares the stage with Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Louisiana State’s Leonard Fournette, Arkansas’ Alex Collins, and even Auburn’s Peyton Barber.

In fact, until last week, the word association game in your head would respond to “Tennessee, running back” with headlines of Georgia running back, Nick Chubb, injuring his knee in the first play of the game against Tennessee. Make no mistake, Jalen Hurd made a big defensive splash last week against Kentucky, when he spotted a linebacker going in for the blitz on his quarterback, Joshua Dobbs. While Hurd made the block, Dobbs launched the longest pass career: a 75-yard, game winning touchdown to wide receiver, Josh Malone.

You can catch Jalen Hurd and Jalen Reeves-Mavis taking on the South Carolina gamecocks in Knoxville this Saturday, November 7th.

SEC Football Power Rankings: Week 8

Well, this is a first for me as a writer here. I try to shy away from ranking teams because of the upset fans that will inevitably tell me their team shouldn’t be wherever they are on my list of rankings. Every fan thinks that way about their team. Sometimes I think that way about my teams. When ESPN’s SEC Power Rankings for Week 7 had 1-4 as LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M, then Florida, I felt like they were wrong. Florida deserved to be third, NOT Texas A&M. Luckily for me, Florida is third this week…because even though I’m a biased fan, I was right. So there …HA! Now I’m sure at least one person will read this and have similar sentiments about whatever I rank their team, but at this point in the season I really couldn’t care much less. So here we go, my inaugural SEC Power rankings and the explanations of my choices are all below.

  1. LSU (7-0): LSU is the lone undefeated team left in the SEC and as such, there was no question in my mind when it came to their #1 ranking. Star RB (and probable Heisman trophy winner) Leonard Fournette has been unstoppable on his feet this season. And on top of that, LSU QB Brandon Harris has now had over 200 passing yards in each of their last three games. With the rest of their offense finally becoming a real threat, LSU is going to be a tough team to slow down as they head toward the end of the season. Next game: @ Alabama, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.
  2. Alabama (7-1): Alabama, as always, is a force to be reckoned with. Last week they played a dangerously close game against the visiting Volunteers in Tuscaloosa. But, the Alabama defense still asserted their dominance when it came down to crunch time. Not to mention that Alabama was coming off a brutal schedule throughout the past few weeks and Tennessee was coming off a refreshing bye weekend. What we do know about Alabama is that they’re beatable. But just how beatable can a team with such an imposing defense be even if their offense is pretty average? Next game: vs. LSU, Nov. 7, 8 p.m.
  3. Florida (6-1): We learned nothing new about the Gators last week while they had a bye. But we still know a few things from their previous games. The Gators have a dominant defense, led by one of the best secondary units in the country. They also have more playmakers on offense this year than they ever did under former coach Will Muschamp. But, their kicking game is still a huge problem. And in close games, that may just come back to bite them. Thankfully they still have a stellar 4th down conversion percentage in case they’d rather not risk kicking the ball. Go ahead and ask FSU about those risks, Gator fans. Next game: vs. UGA, Oct. 31, 3:30 p.m.
  4. Ole Miss (6-2): Ole Miss is still a very confusing team in my mind. They beat Alabama early in the season but got dominated by Florida just a couple games later. They killed New Mexico State, but then got handled by Memphis. Last week they bounced back with a big win (20-point margin) over Texas A&M. Who is this Ole Miss team? I really don’t know. I guess it depends on the week. But they’ve proven to be a tough team to beat on their good weeks and I’m predicting at least a couple more good weeks for them this season. Next game: @ Auburn, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  5. Mississippi State (6-2): Mississippi State is an interesting team. They actually have a solid defense when you look at their statistics. What they don’t have is a solid offense involving any player(s) besides their QB Dak Prescott. Dak Prescott is dominant. He obviously leads their team in passing yards with over 2,000 so far this season. But he also leads the team in rushing yards. Overall, he’s been responsible for 20 TDs this season and has only thrown one interception. The Bulldogs live and die by Prescott, but lately they’ve just been living. Next game: @ Missouri, Nov. 5, 9 p.m.
  6. Tennessee (3-4): I know that a lot of you think it’s crazy to rank a team with a losing record so high. And I’m okay with that because I know I can support this ranking. Their losses this season have only been by a combined 17 points. And three of those losses were to teams currently ranked in the Top 15 of the AP poll. The Vols really are on the verge of being a good team again. They finally managed to beat Georgia this season and maybe that will be the boost they need to be able to close other games for the rest of the season. Their biggest weakness right now is in their kicking game, but leave it to Butch Jones to find a way to straighten that one out. Next game: @ Kentucky, Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m.
  7. Texas A&M (5-2): The Aggies started out the season 5-0, but have since lost their last two games. Their first five opponents may have factored into how they made it so far into the season without losing a game. But after facing Alabama and Ole Miss, they Aggies have now lost by a collective 38 points…over double what the point differentials from Tennessee’s four losses add up to. And that’s why Texas A&M is barely in the top half of my SEC power rankings. But maybe if they switch things up at QB this week, they’ll shut me up. Next game: vs. South Carolina, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  8. Georgia (5-2): Georgia suffered more than just an L in their win-loss column when they traveled to Tennessee a few weeks ago. They lost their star RB Nick Chubb on the first snap of the game. That loss likely helped the Vols get a win over Georgia that day. But there’s still no excuse for how they fared against Alabama at home with a healthy Chubb. They also barely beat Missouri in a really ugly game a couple weeks ago. After their bye week, we know nothing new about the Bulldogs. But this weekend we should find out just about all we need to know about Mark Richt’s squad. And I don’t expect that to be a particularly positive result. Next game: vs. Florida, Oct. 31, 3:30 p.m.
  9. Arkansas (3-4): Arkansas has had four pretty bad losses…their two non-conference losses being the worst of those. They lost to Toledo and Texas Tech in non-conference play and have lost to Alabama and Texas A&M in conference play. But even two of their three wins haven’t been so pretty. They barely beat Tennessee and they also won a ridiculously high-scoring game against Auburn by only eight points. Arkansas is just an unimpressive team this season, even though they have all the potential in the world to be a solid squad. Potential doesn’t mater if you don’t play up to it, though. Next game: vs. Tennessee-Martin, Oct. 31, 4 p.m.
  10. Auburn (4-3): If Florida was the good surprise of the season in SEC football, then Auburn was the bad surprise. Although their record is still a winning one, that’s only because they’ve already played three of their non-conference games. Three of those four wins were against the likes of Louisville, Jacksonville State (in OT), and San José State. Their only conference win was over Kentucky and just by three points. They’ve already lost to LSU, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. With Muschamp’s underperforming defense and weak offense, I expect them to lose to at least three of their four remaining SEC opponents. Next game: vs. Ole Miss, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  11. Kentucky (4-3): For a team that’s used to being the perennial laughing stock of SEC football, Kentucky has had a decent season so far. They lost to Florida, Auburn, and Mississippi State. But, they beat South Carolina and Missouri. I wouldn’t call this a good team, but I would say it’s an improvement for their program. And sometimes turning a program like Kentucky’s around takes baby steps. Winning at least one of their three remaining conference games would go a long way in instilling confidence in this team that they can be relevant in the coming years. Next game: @ Tennessee, Oct. 31, 7:30 pm
  12. South Carolina (3-4): There’s not really much I can say about South Carolina this season. Now that Head Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) is gone, South Carolina is really in a tough spot. Their only conference win so far was at home against Vanderbilt. Other than that they beat UNC (by 4 points) and UCF (by 17 points). They have racked up a whole bunch of losses in the SEC so far. And their three remaining SEC games won’t be easy unless South Carolina can find a way to finally get something going on offense. And even their defense could use some work. Overall, this season has been and will continue to be a struggle for the Gamecocks. Next game: @ Texas A&M, Oct. 31, 12 p.m.
  13. Vanderbilt (3-4): With their first SEC win under coach Derek Mason, the Commodores are no longer currently the worst team in the conference. Though that isn’t saying much, because of the way their schedule works out, Vanderbilt could technically still win the SEC East. Even though they don’t have many wins going for them, the majority of their losses weren’t by huge margins. And like many other SEC teams, they have a really tough defense. They may not even win another conference game for the rest of the season, but one is better than none, right? Next game: @ Houston, Oct. 31, 7 p.m.
  14. Missouri (4-4): Missouri wouldn’t have been considered the worst team in the SEC a week ago. But after an ugly loss to Vanderbilt, they get spot #14 on my rankings. Their defense has been suffocating for the entire season, averaging holding their opponents to only 12.5 points against them. But their offense has been miserable, averaging only 14 points for the team. Not to mention they’re in the 100s as far as rankings for both passing and rushing yards go. If they don’t miraculously start creating some offense, this team is going to go down in flames even though they have one of the best defensive units in the country. Maybe having QB Maty Mauk back from his suspension can give their offense the spark it needs. Next game: vs. Mississippi State, Nov. 5, 9 p.m.

If you have any comments, make sure to tweet them at me. You’ll find me as @OGKristenB on Twitter!

Five You Must See: Week Nine

North Carolina (6-1) at #23 Pittsburgh (6-1) Thursday 7:00 PM on ESPN

First place in the ACC Coastal division is on the line on Thursday night.  The biggest difference between these two teams is found in the time of possession.  Pittsburgh ranks fifteenth in the nation, holding the ball for 32 minutes and 49 seconds per game.  North Carolina, on the other hand, possesses the ball for a tick shy of 25 minutes per game.  Only Mississippi State and Hawaii rank lower.  What does that mean?  Well, clearly the Panthers like hanging onto the ball for the majority of the game, and apparently that doesn’t bother the Tarheels.

My x-factor for this close game is North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams.  If he plays well I like his team’s chances.  If not, I’m not sure they have enough around him to overcome such a formidable opponent.

USC (4-3) at Cal (5-2) Saturday 3:00 PM on Fox

College football is full of up’s and down’s.  You don’t need to tell these two teams.  The Trojans have had a puzzling season that’s been tough to predict from week to week.  They saved it last week with a big win over Utah.  The Bears’ last two times out have resulted in disappointing losses that have them in a similar position to USC last week.

UCLA exposed the Cal offensive line last Thursday.  With little time to sit in the pocket, Jared Goff was quieted relatively easily.  Look for the Trojans to blitz throughout the game in an attempt to keep Goff unsettled.  If the Cal offense isn’t scoring, they’re in trouble.  The Bear defense isn’t terrible, but I imagine they’ll have a hard time containing a USC offense that can put up points in bunches.

Georgia (5-2) at #11 Florida (6-1) Saturday 3:30 PM on CBS

As usual, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party will go a long way in deciding who will represent the East division in the SEC championship game.  Florida holds that top spot now, but a loss here would see Georgia take it over.

I want to know if these teams are for real, especially Florida who played much better at LSU than I anticipated.  After this tilt both teams have two winnable conference games, a joke of a non-conference game, and a rivalry game against an ACC foe.  This is likely our last chance to see what the Gators and Bulldogs are really about.

Both have had a bye week to prepare.  Both have lost an important playmaker.  Florida quarterback Will Grier is suspended.  Unfortunately, Georgia running back Nick Chubb has become just another in a long list of future first-round draft picks to suffer a tragic injury.  Of the last eight matchups, each team has won four.  Tune in to find out who will control their own destiny going forward.

#9 Notre Dame (6-1) at #21 Temple (7-0) Saturday 8:00 PM on ABC

This is easily the biggest game in Temple football history.  It’s funny how at the beginning of the season we looked at this game as an easy win for the Irish, and now it’s turned into one of their tougher tests.

How have the Owls ascended to #21 in the nation so inconspicuously?  They play stout defense and haven’t come across a ranked team yet.  They give up 14.6 points per game, good for eighth in the country, sandwiched between Clemson and Ohio State.  They’re one of eleven teams that allow fewer than 100 rushing yards per game.  And they rush the passer well.  Their 23 sacks tie them for eleventh in that category.

That means it’s on DeShone Kizer to keep the Owls honest.  Kizer needs to be an accurate passer and scramble effectively when no one is open.  If he can consistently move the chains the Irish should triumph.  This atmosphere will be nuts and you’ll want to say you saw this game.

#8 Stanford (6-1) at Washington State (5-2) Saturday 10:30 PM on ESPN

You probably had to do a double take to make sure you read this matchup correctly.  Yes, with a win here Wazoo will take control of the Pac-12 North.  Surely, no one saw this coming when the Cougars opened the season by losing to Portland State.

Speaking of turning it around after a week one loss, how about Stanford?  The Cardinal lost to Northwestern in a game that seems like it was ages ago.  Since then they’ve been arguably the best team in college football, scoring 31 points or more every time out.  In that time, quarterback Kevin Hogan and running back Christian McCaffrey have been a deadly combo that no team has been able to stop.

Washington State probably won’t either.  That’s not their game.  In true Mike Leach fashion, the Cougars will air it out in an attempt to roll up enough points that it won’t matter.  Luke Falk holds the keys to the nation’s second best passing attack that averages 415 yards through the air.  Falk’s numbers are mind-blowing.  He throws 55 passes per game, far more than anyone else.  That makes his FBS-leading 72.9 completion percentage that much more impressive.

The Cougars score 36.4 points per game.  The Cardinal put up 37.4.  Assuming the offenses are a wash, look for the Stanford defense to make the difference on Saturday night.

The Game of the Weak

Texas San Antonio (1-6) at North Texas (0-7) Saturday 7:00 PM

It’s the Roadrunners against the Mean Green in the battle for last place in C-USA.  This is the single greatest matchup of nicknames we’ve ever seen.  It gets no better than this.  Football wise, I’m not sure it gets worse.  Math is not my strong suit, but I believe I’m correct when saying these two have been collectively outscored 577-261 this season.  I’d go into more detail, but I think that tells you everything you need to know.  Sparingly, it doesn’t look like this game will be broadcast anywhere.