Tag Archives: Roberto Aguayo

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

Turning Points of FSU’s season; ACC Wrap Up

This is the period of time in the college football season when you really get to reflect on your team’s season, assess what went right and wrong, and see what could have been. For the Seminoles, they were only a couple of plays from being undefeated, and a couple of plays from being 8-4. The Seminoles went through a couple quarterback changes and injuries on both sides of the ball that altered their season, but instead of running down a list of things that affected their season, I’m going to point out the pivotal moments of the Seminole’s season, positive and negative, in chronological order.

1. Seminoles stop Miami at midfield on 4th and 4 with 53 seconds left

This was one of the moments that could potentially have derailed the Seminoles’ entire season. With Miami down 29-24, they got the ball at their own 19-yard line with two minutes left with a chance to win the game. After getting a first down, the Hurricanes ultimately found themselves in a 4th and 4 situation at their own 42-yard line. With how well Brad Kaaya had been playing in the game, Seminole fans weren’t too confident in the defense’s ability to stop the Hurricanes, and were afraid they were about to watch Kaaya drive down the field and hand the ‘Noles their first loss of the season. Alas, the pass Kaaya attempted was incomplete, and the Seminoles were able to get into victory formation, and end the week at 5-0.

2. Aguayo gets his kick blocked, and returned for a touchdown against GT

This obviously had a huge impact on the Seminole’s season, and the loss had a couple trickle down effects for the team. First of all, the decision to go for a 56-yard field goal, although long, had to have been a no-brainer for Jimbo Fisher considering he had one of the best kickers in the country in Roberto Aguayo, so let’s not argue with the decision itself. The team set up for the field goal, and knowing it needed to be a low-angle kick, a Georgia Tech defender managed to get a hand on it, and that’s when everything hit the fan for the Seminoles. It didn’t look too harmful when GT picked up the loose ball, but after reversing the field and getting to the sideline, Seminole fans started to realize what was about to happen. Two terrible missed tackles by Cason Beatty and Roberto Aguayo later and the clock had struck zero with the Yellow Jackets leading 22-16. This game not only was the first loss of the season, but it also brought up the first real questions about who should be starting at quarterback for the Seminoles.

3. Sean Maguire starts for the Seminoles against Syracuse

After losing to Georgia Tech, Fisher decided to switch out quarterback Everett Golson, in favor of Sean Maguire. Maguire was the quarterback everyone expected to be the starter in the spring, but after Golson transferred in during the summer, the quarterback battle was neck and neck going into the season with Golson slightly ahead of Maguire. A slip up by Golson gave Fisher enough of a reason to see what Maguire could do. Maguire proceeded to pass for 348 yards and 3 TD’s in a 45-21 win, and supplanted Golson as the starter going into playing #1 Clemson. This game brought up questions about whether Maguire should have been starting all along, and what might have happened in the Georgia Tech game had Maguire been starting.

4. Seminoles turn the ball over on downs with 6 minutes left against Clemson

This was the part of the game that decided the outcome of the game for the Seminoles. Down 16-13, the Seminoles had the chance to drive down the field and take a 4-point lead. At midfield, the Seminoles had two opportunities to gain one yard for a first down, but Cook couldn’t gain the yard in either of his two attempts. Clemson would take possession of the ball, and score a touchdown to go up 23-13 with 2:34 remaining. Getting that first down and potentially scoring a touchdown could have changed the entire landscape of college football. With a win, the Seminoles would have had the lead in the Atlantic divisional race with a head to head win over Clemson, and with a win in that game could have overcome the loss to Georgia Tech and found themselves playing in a playoff game. Clemson however rose to the challenge, stopped Cook and preserved their undefeated season. The game gave the Seminoles their second loss of the season, and ended any dreams of grandeur for the Seminoles.

5. The Seminoles defeat Florida 27-2

At 9-2, the outlook of the 2015 season for the Seminoles had a lot riding on the outcome of this game against Florida, that was the highest profile Florida vs. Florida State game in recent years. The Gators had a chance to make a run to the playoffs if they entered the SEC Championship with only one loss, and the Seminoles had a chance to extend their 10-win season streak. The game kind of went the way people had expected early, with both defenses playing well, allowing only 13 points going into the 4th quarter. In the 4th, Dalvin Cook ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Seminoles to a victory over the hated Florida Gators. The game gave the Seminoles a 10-2 record at the end of the season, and put an exclamation point at the end of the season, after losing a couple of tough games earlier in the year.

One has to wonder what could have been for the Seminoles had they managed to win the game against Clemson, however I’m sure there are a lot of teams thinking the same thing. In all, it was a good season for the Seminoles. Although fans have become accustomed to winning more, you can’t complain too much with a ten-win season, especially when one of the losses was to the #1 team in the country who remain undefeated.

The Seminoles have a chance to end the season 11-2, when they play #18 Houston in the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl December 31st at noon.

Here’s what’s happening around the ACC:

ACC HAS FOUR FIRST TEAM ALL AMERICANS

The AP All American teams were announced a couple days ago, and the ACC had four players placed on the first team. Two were named from Clemson between quarterback Deshaun Watson, and defensive end Shaq Lawson. Guard Landon Turner from North Carolina and safety Jeremy Cash from Duke were the other two. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and runningback Dalvin Cook from Florida State were both named second team All-Americans, and the third team consists of guard Joe Thurney of NC State and cornerback Mackensie Alexander from Clemson. This is a pretty good showing for the ACC when you consider the depth of the conference. With four first teamers, the ACC placed the third most players on the first team, behind the SEC with six, and the Big Ten with five.

DESHAUN WATSON AND DALVIN COOK FINISH 3RD AND 7TH IN HEISMAN RACE

Deshaun Watson of Clemson finished in third place in the Heisman race, receiving 1,165 total votes, 831 more than the fourth place finisher. The Heisman race turned out as expected with Derrick Henry winning the trophy, and Christian McCaffrey coming in second. Beyond the top three, Dalvin Cook of Florida State finished seventh in the race, receiving 79 total votes. Of the power-5 conferences, the Big 10, Big 12, the SEC and the ACC each had two players in the top ten.

What FSU’s Loss Means

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple days, you’ve probably seen the Seminoles’ blocked field goal attempt that Georgia Tech subsequently returned for a touchdown to give the Yellow Jackets the lead and win the game as time expired. At 6-1, the Seminoles are now ranked 17th, and trail Clemson by a game in the Atlantic division of the ACC.

I’m not here to talk about why the Seminoles lost, or what they could have done, or how bad their kick coverage was once the field goal got blocked, I’m just going to focus on what the loss means for Florida State going forward.

First and foremost, National Title hopes are most likely over for the ‘Noles. Of course there is always a chance for the Seminoles to go undefeated the rest of the way and slide into the fourth playoff spot, but based off of what we saw on Saturday night, going undefeated the rest of the season doesn’t seem very likely. Sure the Seminoles could defeat #3 Clemson in two weeks, but Clemson just defeated Miami 58-0, and Miami took the ‘Noles to the last drive of the game. Oh yea, and the Seminoles finish the season at #11 Florida. Florida State fans can still hold on to the glimmer of hope that remains, but all signs point to this loss forcing them out of the playoff picture.

Surprisingly the loss actually doesn’t do a whole lot to diminish ACC title hopes for the Seminoles. With only one loss, and due to the way the Atlantic division is shaping up, a win at Clemson would put the ‘Noles in the driver seat to win the Atlantic division and advance to the ACC Championship. Unfortunately Clemson might be the best team in the country and defeating them will be a very tall task for the ‘Noles. The result of the game against Clemson will either definitively end the Seminoles title chances, or catapult them back up the rankings.

Although Dalvin Cook’s Heisman chances were slim before the loss, this loss basically signals the end of those dreams for Cook. Realistically the only way that Cook could have won the Heisman was if the Noles went undefeated, finished with a higher ranking than LSU, and LSU’s Leonard Fournette would have to have had a slump at some point in the season. Alas, Florida State has lost, LSU hasn’t, and Cook didn’t have a “Cook-like” performance in the loss to Georgia Tech.

For Florida State fans, the loss was a brutal reminder that Everett Golson is not Jameis Winston. With Winston, Seminole fans had become accustomed to winning every game that they played in the past couple of seasons, having ridden one of the best college quarterbacks in recent history. The loss bring with it the realization that maybe expectations for this team were a little too high, assuming that a new quarterback would be able to jump in and bring the Seminoles to another playoff. It also served as a much needed reality check to Seminole fans that National Title runs are hard to come by and shouldn’t define the success of a season. In a vacuum, a team that loses the #1 overall draft pick to the NFL, has a new quarterback, and loses key players on defense forcing the team to rely on less-experiences players would most likely result in a few more losses. That’s exactly what is happening for the 2015-16 Seminoles.

The Seminoles will look to get back on track this weekend at home with Syracuse coming into town, before heading to Death Valley to take on #3 Clemson.

ACC Weekend Wrap Up 10/28

What a week in the ACC. Clemson defeated Miami 58-0, which brought them up to #3 in the country. Florida State lost to Georgia Tech just when it looked like Georgia Tech had nothing else to play for. Duke won a four-overtime thriller against Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh hit a late field goal to escape Syracuse, North Carolina handled business against Virginia, and Boston College’s defense still can’t score points for their offense.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from this weekend in the ACC:

 MIAMI FIRES AL GOLDEN

After suffering the worst defeat in Miami history, 58-0 to #3 Clemson, Miami decided to fire head coach Al Golden after four and a half seasons. We all knew that it wouldn’t take much for Miami to pull the plug on their coach, and a 58-0 loss to an ACC opponent was what finally did Al Golden in. Admittedly Golden was put into a tough spot having joined Miami during NCAA investigations, however no matter of circumstances will save a Miami coach who goes 17-18 in the ACC and 0-5 versus interstate rival Florida State. Perhaps the most disappointing part about the past couple seasons at Miami was the fact that Miami was able to produce good players that are in the NFL and will be in the future, Golden just could never get the best out of them on the field, culminating in a 32-25 record. Who the next coach at Miami will be is still very much up in the air at this point, but the season goes on. Miami faces a tough task in #23 Duke on the road this weekend.

 FLORIDA STATE LOSES

Florida State suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Georgia Tech after they blocked Florida State’s last-second field goal attempt, and returned it for a touchdown as time expired. The loss all but ends the Seminoles chances at returning to the college football playoff for the second straight year and puts them behind the eight ball in the ACC. This game always had the feel of a typical Seminole game where they would struggle during it’s entirety but pull the win out at the end, and that’s what looked like was about to happen when kicker Roberto Aguayo walked on the field to attempt a 56-yard field to take the lead. But a blocked kick, and a run to the end zone later and Florida State had suffered their first loss of the season.

 DUKE, PITT AND UNC AT PIVITOL POINT OF SCHEDULE

In the next three weeks, Duke, Pittsburgh and UNC will all play each other, in what will most likely decide who will come out of the Coastal division in the ACC. With all three of them sitting at 6-1, the head to head matchups will determine which of the three will emerge from the pack. The first of these matchups is Thursday night when UNC faces #23 Pittsburgh. UNC then faces #22 Duke in two weeks, with the final matchup of #23 Pittsburgh and #22 Duke occurring in three weeks. I’m not going to sit here and act like I have any idea who will ultimately come out of the division, as all three of these teams seem pretty even. All have a competent quarterback, a run game they can rely on and solid defenses. If I had to pick one though I’m going to say Duke emerges as the winner, as they seem to have better coaching over the past couple seasons. Nonetheless the games between these teams in the next few weeks will have a lot on the line.

Pre-Season Top 25: 1-5

With only a week and a half until the season finally gets underway, it’s time to unveil the year’s heavy hitters. These are the best teams heading into the season. Schedules, avoiding upsets, and dealing with expectations will determine if these squads will be successful in navigating their way to a college football playoff berth. My thinking is that only two of these five will likely make it. Check back next Monday when I tell you which two teams those will be and who from outside the Top 5 will be joining them.
 
5. South Carolina
South Carolina has become one of the most consistent programs under Steve Spurrier. With eight offensive starters back this year they should find similar success. Though they will head into the year with a new starter at quarterback, Dylan Thompson has plenty of game experience in the last few years and is in his fifth year in the program. Playmaker Bruce Ellington will now be playing WR on Sundays, but Thompson will have the Gamecocks’ next nine top pass catchers back from a year ago. He won’t need to do much throwing though with an offense that will rely heavily on stud RB Mike Davis and an experienced offensive line, one that is one of the ten best in the country. The other side of the ball is a little more bleak. South Carolina will break in new starters at both DE and CB spots. Having both safeties back will make sure the pass defense doesn’t fall to sieve levels. Additionally, year after year the defense has been solid, giving up more than 20 ppg only once in the last half decade. The Gamecocks have won double digit games each of the last three seasons and are a good bet to make it four.
4. Oregon
For the Ducks, it all starts with Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota. The offense was rolling last year until he got injured, and who knows if they would’ve stayed undefeated had he not gotten hurt. Mariota will have to hope new receivers step up as the Ducks will not have four of the top five guys from a year ago. Regardless, Oregon should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard as usual with the help of a dynamite run game. Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner form a running back duo that will continue the success Oregon’s backs have had the previous half decade. Paving the way will be an offensive line that returns four starters and should be dominant, even with the recent loss of starting LT Tyler Johnstone. As far as stopping the other team, it will be interesting to see how the Duck defense performs. They have elite players in returning leading tackler Derrick Malone and potential Top 10 pick Ifo Ekpre-Olomu at corner, but it will be how the others on the unit perform that will determine if Mariota needs to continue putting up points or if he gets to watch from the sidelines most fourth quarters. While it seems like Stanford has Oregon’s number after winning the last couple matchups, the Ducks actually beat the Cardinal by 20+ in the previous two games when both teams were in the Top 10. They have to play fellow Top 10 team in UCLA on the road, but avoiding USC and Arizona State means Oregon will be in the thick of the playoff race until the end of the season.
3. Ohio State
I don’t think Ohio State is as complete of a team as the others in the Top 5, but when you have the impact players they do it makes up for a lot. Like Oregon, the Buckeyes season hopes start and end with a Heisman candidate QB. Braxton Miller has improved every year at OSU and comes into the year after accounting for 36 touchdowns last season and over 1,000 yards rushing. Miller will need to help out on the ground game early in the year as the Buckeyes find a consistent replacement for Carlos Hyde, but I think Urban Meyer would feel better if Miller decreased his rushing attempts drastically over the course of the whole year to make sure he stays healthy. Playmaker Dontre Wilson should be a bigger part of the offense this year and take some of that pressure off of Braxton Miller. The only worry might be an offensive line that breaks in four new starters. There shouldn’t be a ton to worry about on the defensive side. The pass defense could be a concern, but with a front seven that should be dominant that won’t be as big of an issue. The Buckeyes will roll out the best defensive line in the country, even with Noah Spence starting the year serving a three game suspension. And though they did lose first round pick Ryan Shazier, when was the last time Ohio State didn’t have another NFL caliber linebacker to replace the most recently departed one? Even with back to back losses to end last year, the Buckeyes have found themselves ranked in the Top 10 for 20 consecutive weeks, and will continue to add to that total for most, if not the whole season
2. Alabama
Alabama seems to be the most consistently top ranked team after consensus #1 Florida State, so I tried to think of reasons not to follow that trend. Clearly I didn’t find enough. I can understand the argument about Bama breaking in a new quarterback; I just don’t think it matters. Whether Jacob Coker or Blake Sims wins the job, the Crimson Tide have so much talent on offense that even a “Blaine Gabbert on the Jaguars” type of performance can’t stop them from scoring points. Arguably the best group of running backs in the country (TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake would all be Heisman contenders if given 250 carries) will run behind an offensive line that returns three starters along with 5 star T Cameron Robinson. All the QBs have to do is get the ball to a talented group of pass catchers that includes future pros in Amari Cooper and OJ Howard. There are a few more question marks on defense. A’Shawn Robinson, Trey DePriest, and Landon Collins give the Tide an elite player at each level, but will that translate to a great defense overall? I lean towards yes. No matter who Alabama has lost to the NFL, Nick Saban has trotted out a defense that hasn’t given up more than 14 ppg since Tim Tebow won the Heisman (2007). The pass defense may not be up to Saban’s standards but fortunately for the Tide, they won’t play anyone in the regular season whose offense is led by a dynamic passing attack.
1. Florida State
The defense loses some of their top tacklers, a team with a great corner could shut down the Seminoles passing attack which has only one standout wide receiver (Rashad Greene), and the running game is relying on a player who didn’t start last year at running back and had only 91 carries. Those are the only potential reasons Florida State could struggle this year, and even those seem far-fetched. That running back, Karlos Williams, will likely do just fine after averaging over 8 ypc carry and 11 TDs last year. Any worries about workload are mitigated by Williams’ history (came to FSU as a hard-hitting safety) and the impact incoming 5 star RB Dalvin Cook could have. As far as the passing game, history has told us that Heisman winning, number one pick caliber quarterbacks can keep an offense humming no matter who’s catching passes. Jameis Winston will have all day to throw behind an offensive line that returns four starters back including two All-Americans. And the defense? Though it does lose some key leadership from last year, they have talent on D that would make SEC coaches drool. Mario Edwards Jr and Eddie Goldman are just two of many five star talents, both on the defensive line. The back seven is lead by Ronald Darby, PJ Williams, and Jalen Ramsey who help form maybe the best defensive backfield in the nation. The Seminoles even return Lou Groza Award winner Roberto Aguayo to knock home field goals. Florida State may fall short of winning back to back championships, but they are the clear favorite heading into the season.