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College Football 2016 Preview: Group of 5

American Athletic Conference

Prediction: University of Houston (11-1) vs. Temple (9-3)

I think almost everyone expects to see UH come out of the west in the AAC, as it is both coming off a tremendous year, and in the weaker division in the American. They biggest competition in the West is probably Navy, but it won’t be nearly as big of a challenge now that Keenan Reynolds is gone to the NFL.

Houston will be working hard this season to try and earn a spot in the Big 12, so it will be working for a repeat of the amazing season it had last year. I only have them losing a late season game to Louisville, but the Cougars are definitely the team to beat in the AAC.

In the East Division, the competition is much more of a toss-up, as realistically any of the five teams could take the division. However, the two most likely division champs are USF and Temple. USF’s schedule could pose large problems, however, as it will have to go through the likes of Northern Illinois and FSU early on. With an easier non-conference schedule, I think Temple will be able to win the East by a game. They will only be the last obstacle in UH’s way to a conference championship.

Conference Champion: University of Houston Cougars

Mid-American Conference

Prediction: Ohio University (7-5) vs. Western Michigan University (10-2)

The conference champion will definitely come out of the West division in 2016. The top four teams in the West are all currently ranked above the top ranked East team, Ohio.

Ohio will be able to get enough wins to take the East over the likes of Bowling Green and Akron. The West should be an interesting competition, but I see a breakout season coming from WMU. Their hardest non-conference games are Northwestern and Illinois, two beatable teams for the Broncos. Though they may drop a game against another team in the West, I think they will take at least the Northwestern game and win the West.

Conference Champion: Western Michigan University Broncos

Mountain West

Prediction: Boise State (10-2) vs. San Diego State (11-1)

The Mountain West really looks like a two-team race this year. Except for maybe Air Force, Boise St and SDSU seem like the only two real competitors for the Mountain West crown.

Both should be able to easily win their division, but Boise’s non-conference is much harder than SDSU’s, as it has to face the likes of Oregon State and Washington State. SDSU only really needs to overcome Cal. However, I see them dropping a matchup against NIU the week following, as they will have to travel all the way across the country. SDSU’s lack of difficult out of conference will make them slightly weaker than Boise, despite the better record.

Conference Champion: Boise State University Broncos

Sun Belt

Prediction: Appalachian State (9-3)

In the only of the Group of 5 conference without a title game, Appalachian State will have to battle off the likes of Arkansas State and Georgia Southern for the Sun Belt title. I see this conference really coming down to Appalachian and Arkansas State. Arkansas State has two guaranteed loses in my eyes, to Auburn and a much closer game to Toledo, and maybe even a third loss to Utah State.

Meanwhile, Appalachian State will lose to Tennessee. They have a possible upset against Miami (FL) and then a game against Akron. If Appalachian State manages to come out of its non-conference schedule having only lost to Tennessee and Miami, it will win the Sun Belt.

Conference Champion: Appalachian State Mountaineers

Conference USA

Prediction: Southern Miss (10-2) vs. Marshall (8-4)

Conference USA is very lopsided this year, as Southern Miss is the easy pick out of the West division. The East division, however, is much more up for grabs. Middle Tennessee, Marshall or Western Kentucky could all be the one to face off against Southern Miss, but I think Marshall’s non-conference schedule gives it the edge.

Marshall’s hardest non-conference games are Louisville and Pitt, which are both preferable to WKU’s game against Alabama. None of the non-conference games for MTSU jump off the page, but they are all decent. Vanderbilt, Bowling Green and Missouri are all difficult opponents. For this reason, I have Marshall coming out of the East.

Conference Champion: Southern Miss Golden Eagles

Featured Image courtesy of Giovanni Gallucci – Flickr

What We'll Be Talking About on Sunday

After a flurry of big games to start the college football season in weeks one and two, there’s a bit of a break this week with only one matchup between Top 25 teams. The action picks up again in Week 4, but let’s takes a look at some of the key points the college football world will be talking about on Sunday.

Who will look the best? UCLA

UCLA has been flying a bit under the radar this season, because they haven’t been living up to expectations. Many had them as Pac-12 champion and a playoff team, but they have yet to look the part. The first game saw the defense steal the show with three touchdowns while the offense struggled. Then last week QB Brett Hundley finally played closer to his potential, but the defense struggled in the win over Memphis. This is the week the Bruins remind everyone why they were a pre-season Top 10 team. Part of it is because of what Texas isn’t. With David Ash out and Jaxon Shipley questionable, the Bruins defense will be able to focus on shutting down the Longhorns run game. With the Texas offense unable to get anything going, there will be too much pressure on the defense once again. The Bruins will take this one handily, just like BYU did against the Horns last week.

What team will get too much credit? Oklahoma

If the Sooners, about three touchdown favorites against the Volunteers, perform like they should on Saturday, the hype train is going to get more out of control than it already is. After two weeks some are calling the Sooners the most complete team in the country and one of the favorites to make the playoff. While their current rank is understandable, I feel that if they win handily against Tennessee people will start to overrate them, if they haven’t already. Tennessee has been getting some buzz the first couple weeks, but they’re a team that didn’t have a single starter returning on their offensive or defensive line. As a team who has maybe the best combination of lines in the country, Oklahoma should handle Tennessee. The more interesting game will come next week when the Sooners visit Morgantown and play a West Virginia team that caused people to significantly question Alabama this year.

Can South Carolina save their season? Yes

South Carolina is right there with Ohio State as maybe the two most disappointing teams of the season so far. Unlike the Buckeyes, South Carolina doesn’t have a good excuse. After getting rolled in the season opener against Texas A&M, public perception seems to be that Georgia should win fairly easily. I’m not quite as troubled by South Carolina’s performance last week against East Carolina however. East Carolina isn’t a terrible team and it’s not surprising that the Gamecocks would struggle the game after getting housed at home on a national stage and the game before their only chance to salvage the season against Georgia. The possibility is there that South Carolina will simply struggle with spread offenses like A&M’s and be better against traditional ones, similar to what has been the case with Alabama the last few years. Hutson Mason didn’t exactly play lights out in Georgia’s win over Clemson, so if South Carolina can slow the Bulldogs’ rushing attack and use home field advantage to pull out a victory, they’ll be right back in the driver seat for where they want to go this season.

What team gets exposed? Missouri

Missouri has been cruising along the first couple weeks of the season, parlaying wins against San Diego State and Toledo to a #20 ranking. But I don’t think they’re the 20th best team in the country. Maty Mauk has played well for the most part, but he threw 2 interceptions last week and now faces what should be a stout UCF defense. The Knights have up a ton of yards to Penn State the first week in Ireland, but State threw the ball a ton, and I think the Knight defense plays more like the D they were last year than how they performed in the opener. The Tigers gave up over 5 ypc to Toledo last week on run plays which will allow the Knights to shorten the game and keep Mauk off the field. When the Missouri offense is on the field, they will struggle compared to the first couple weeks against a defense that has had an extra week to prepare. UCF wins in an upset.

Will there be continued uproar over Pat Haden running onto the field? No

I didn’t think the Pat Haden situation was a big deal when I saw it, so I was surprised when it was made into a huge ordeal to begin with. Then people started saying he shouldn’t be allowed to be a part of the playoff selection committee. Talk about blowing things out of proportion. Was it stupid for Pat Haden to run on the field during a game and scream at the officials? Yes. Did it look ridiculous and childish? Yes. But who cares? I would expect anyone with such strong ties to a program to be that invested in his school. Now all of a sudden he shouldn’t be on the selection committee; that’s an opinion that makes no sense to me. So if he never ran on the field last week people would assume that he wasn’t going to try and make a case for USC/the Pac-12 during playoff selection committee deliberation? In the end, basically every one of the committee members will have a bias towards some school, and that is why they have the recusal policy. If Pat Haden isn’t going to be allowed in the room when the committee discusses USC, it doesn’t matter if Haden runs on the field every week. Frankly, the type of passion Haden showed last Saturday is exactly the type of person we should want on the selection committee.

Cavaliers Draft Prospect Profile: Joel Embiid

A lot has been circulating around the Cavs this past week, ranging from possible coaching hires to veterans they could be targeting via trade. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowksi had a busy day on Monday breaking somewhat (unsettling) Cavs news (that has since been refuted). But one thing remains constant: they still have to figure out who they will take number one in the draft later in the month.

Last week, I took a look at Duke freshman Jabari Parker as a possibility for the Cavs top choice. This week, I’ll be going over the first of two Kansas freshman: center Joel Embiid. I’m going to do things a little different this week, with more clips from actual games to highlight his strengths and weaknesses. With that said, let’s get into it.

Kansas center Joel Embiid
Kansas center Joel Embiid

2013-14 stat line: 23.1 Min., 63% FG, 20% (1-5) 3PT, 11.2 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 3.4 PFPG, 2.4 TOPG

The one thing that almost always came up when watching Kansas play last year was the story of how Joel Embiid came to play basketball.

Until about the 18 minute mark, you’ll hear ESPN’s crew talk about how Embiid was integrated into the sport of basketball.

 

Offense:

The comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon have been constant ever since, and for good reason. Starting basketball at such a relatively old age, he’s been able to limit the amount of bad habits one could pick up from playing a lifetime of basketball since middle school. Here’s a big reason why Embiid draws some Olajuwon comparisons:

Hakeem Olajuwon explains his patented “Dream Shake” (goes until about the 1-minute mark)

http://youtu.be/5Irvvb7Y4-w?t=3s

Embiid fakes twice and gets his man to hesitate (watch the defender’s head turn every which way). Embiid finishes him with his smooth, quick feet and his length allows him to under the rim and finish on the other side. Another thing I noticed on this, and other plays, was Embiid’s awareness of the rim, no matter where he was at – which is crucial for someone who does his scoring in the paint. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a good jumper, because he does.

 

http://youtu.be/lvx20ZejUyU?t=39s

He shot a respectable 69% from the free throw line, and could get better. He has a sweet stroke and showed off his soft touch wherever he shot from on the court – including the three-point line.

In the 4 games I delved into this past week (v. San Diego State, v. Oklahoma State, v. Baylor, and at Baylor), Embiid got doubled, if not most of the time, then every time. He usually did a good job of dribbling out of it and was able to show off his great court vision in distribution ability. Sometimes though he wasn’t convictive enough and would turn it over or get called for a foul.

 

Embiid gets doubled and dribbles to the outside to force one of the defenders to cover his original man. From there, he takes advantage of his quickness and destroys his man, drawing the foul.

 

This is downright impressive. Embiid gets doubled and as he dribbles out, he takes a peak across court to point guard #10 Naadir Tharpe. He takes another dribble to clear space and fires an accurate pass across court to set up Tharpe for the three and an assist for himself.

 

Embiid is too far outside to dribble any further, especially while being trapped in the corner like that. In this instance, he should’ve quickly passed it to #31 Jamari Traylor on the post but instead commits an offensive foul.

 

Embiid has to know with three guys on him to get the ball out. He had #1 Wayne Seldon next to him on the 3-point line or #34 Perry Ellis across the court from him – a difficult pass, yes, but one he’s made before. Instead, he tried to dribble out of it and gets it stripped.

Embiid committed a lot of turnovers even though he just averaged 23 minutes per game. Something that will help him is that if the Cavs were to pick him, he wouldn’t see as many doubles. Even still, at times he needs to be more decisive on what to do with the ball and utilize his great court vision.

Embiid is an athletic freak – not an understatement – for his position. He runs in transition exceptionally well and can dunk over just about anyone and catch just about anything.

Granted, this dunk is over 6’3 guard Marcus Smart, but it was heavily contested and he slams it home like there’s no one in front of him.

 

Defense:

Embiid also has the potential to be a great defender as well as offensive player. His athletic ability alone enables him to do a lot of things that some big men struggle to do. This includes things like hedging on pick-and-rolls, recovering to his man, and leaping to block shots. While he still has some polish left to be done on this side of the court – i.e. better positioning, timing on blocks – his athletic ability is good enough to where at worst he’ll be a solid defender.

 

Embiid’s ball denial in the backcourt is astounding here. No matter where his man goes, Embiid is there to prevent him from getting the ball. He shows off his athleticism, quickness, and intensity.

 

Here’s Embiid covering ground on an inbounding play underneath the basket. As soon as he sees the guard cutting free to the basket, he’s right behind him and his able to use his length to block the shot. It’s an impressive play that Embiid makes look easy.

 

For all the great plays Embiid makes, he makes some fixable mistakes as well. A lot of his mistakes are due to either cheating inside the paint/on a hedge or jumping on a pump fake, allowing an easy bucket.

 

Embiid’s man fakes a screen and Embiid cheats to hedge Oklahoma State’s guard. Embiid’s man cuts to the basket and Embiid is caught out of position, giving his guy an open lane for a dunk.

 

Embiid comes off his man, who cuts to the post, to cover another Aztec cutting to the paint and getting the ball. Ellis comes to help, but Embiid jumps on #22 Josh Davis’s pump fake, leaving his original man open for a dunk.

 

Embiid is also a good rebounder. You would think I wouldn’t have to say that since he’s a 7-footer, but Ryan Hollins played for the Cavs so I feel like I should say it just to make sure. Sure, Embiid gets a lot of these rebounds because of his length, but he also puts effort into boxing out as well, something many NBA players don’t pay enough attention to.

 

Embiid is alone in the paint when the shot goes up. Some guys just feel around for the opposition when the shot goes up, but Embiid goes and searches for someone to put a body on. While he didn’t get the rebound, he prevented his man from possibly cutting into the paint and getting it.

 

Embiid powers through three San Diego State players to get the rebound and has the strength to go right back up and fish through contact to get the and-1.

 

Bottom line: One last thing I noticed about watching Embiid with Kansas is he set a lot of screens, both off the ball and on the ball. When he would set a screen for the ball handler, he would rarely be passed to.

 

Embiid is ready for the ball after he sets the pick, but Tharpe drives into 3 defenders and gets swatted.

 

The problem with Kansas’ offense was a lack of a consistent distributor. Tharpe was more interested in making a game-breaking play than setting up his teammates. This limited the amount of time Embiid got to see the ball, especially outside of the paint. With the Cavs, I would image whoever is brought in to coach would capitalize on Embiid athleticism and shooting promise, letting him star as a pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop player, along with being a lethal threat on the post. Embiid would also give the Cavs a legitimate rim protector, something they haven’t had in a long time.

If the Cavs pick him, the fan base will have to be patient with his progression. While he’s one of the more advanced big men to come out of the draft, it still takes time for his position to find their place in the league. Also, Embiid was in foul trouble quite a bit and will more than likely have to go through a growing period in this area. He only averaged a bit more than 23 minutes per game at KU, so don’t look for him to get more than that as a rookie.

The big issue with Embiid is his health. In early March, he suffered a stress fracture in his back that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament. There’s been huge speculation and argumentation about how serious this will be with Embiid in the future, but only the Cavs will truly know (insiders only) how serious or not serious it is. If they think it’s 100% sure it will be a problem going forward, then they can’t pick him. Anything less than that, he has to be heavily considered to be the pick for the Cavs at number one with Andrew Wiggins. Speaking of Wiggins, I will dive into why he could be the top pick next week.

The Campus Corner: The FCS Problem

This weekend, Twitter was set ablaze with constant trash talk concerning the scheduling of FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) opponents by some of the beasts of the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision).

Most of that hatred was spewed at the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have a weak schedule already and thrashed the Florida A&M Rattlers by a final score of 76-0, but other schools were the targets of scrutiny as well.

Florida State and Jameis Winston smacked around FAMU’s archival, Bethune Cookman, by a score of 54-6 while the Miami Hurricanes defeated the Savannah State Tigers by a final score of 77-7 and agreed to play for just 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.

In addition to Saturday’s match-ups, Alabama, the winners of three of the past four National Championships, has an FCS opponent (Chattanooga) scheduled later in the season and Oregon, the number two team in the country, beat up the FCS Nicholls State Colonels earlier this year by a final score of 66-3.

While these couple of games are nothing but laughable, the FCS has made their mark this season against many FBS opponents.

In the first week of the 2013 season, eight (EIGHT!) FCS teams beat FBS opponents, including Samford over Georgia State, Northern Iowa over Iowa State, North Dakota State over Kansas State, Eastern Washington over Oregon State, Eastern Illinois over San Diego State, Southern Utah over South Alabama, Towson over UConn and McNeese State over South Florida.

This record-breaking weekend for the former Division I-AA squads brings up the question, how does the FBS handle the FCS problem?

If FCS teams can beat FBS teams, does that exonerate Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Miami for beating up on FCS opponents?

Of course, about six years ago, this question was all but answered when the Appalachian State Mountaineers strolled into the Big House and became the first FCS team to beat a ranked FBS team in the history of college football.

Now, however, with 76-0 victories abounding for top 10 teams against FCS squads, the question lingers on.

Obviously, when breaking down this topic, there are positives and negatives and each is pretty clearly stated.

For the FCS teams, the positives include a massive financial gain- normally in the six-figure range- and the opportunity to play in some of college football’s most historic venues. Of course, they stand almost no chance in the game, but experience it nonetheless and take home the massive paycheck.

The FCS has a win, win, win, scenario. They get the money, the opportunity to play in The Big House, the Shoe, Death Valley, etc. and there are no expectations for them on the field, so any sort of fight they put up would be considered a massive success.

The FCS isn’t really a part of this problem, however.

The problem is the effect it has on the FBS schools.

The FBS has almost the opposite problem.

When an FBS school schedules an FCS opponent, they lose a lot of money and they play a game in which nothing they do goes unnoticed. If they run up the score and win 76-0, it’s looked upon as unfair and unsportsmanlike, but if they lose or play a close game, it’s looked upon as an embarrassment.

College Football Round TableFCS vs. FBS and Penn State Reductions

On top of it all, it’s not fun for the fans. They come for a half an hour, watch a beat down and leave, looking forward to next week’s matchup.

Nothing good comes from an FCS opponent taking on an FBS opponent. Nothing.

So why do some of the best teams in the FBS continue to schedule the FAMU’s and Chattanooga’s of the world?

It’s a question not many of us are able to answer.

I guess the idea of a “tune-up” game is a sufficient reply to the question at hand, but why not make that into a preseason game that doesn’t count on the regular season schedule?

Make it into a “fall game”- essentially, a spring game that doesn’t count against an FCS opponent and happens just before the season. That would make much more sense for the FBS teams.

Teams could work out the kinks before the regular season begins in a game against an FCS team, pay them just as handsomely as they would during a regular season game and let them leave without humiliation of a 70-point loss on their schedule.

Play it like a normal football game, but just don’t make it count.

Heck, they have four preseason games in the NFL, why not have at least one in college football?

To say Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Miami or Florida State should be embarrassed for scheduling an FCS opponent is a little silly. There are so many scheduling conflicts and issues that force most of the teams in the FBS to schedule an FCS opponent here or there.

It happens and it’s understandable.

In the future, however, straying away from FCS teams or creating the preseason “tune-up” game against an FCS opponent would certainly be the path better served for the FBS.

Until then, however, we’ll just have to endure the wrath or avoid the inevitable during the annual FBS vs. FCS match ups.