Pre-season polls. We love them. We hate them. On one hand, they’re the light at the end of the tunnel indicating the new season is almost upon us. On the other hand it seems a little crazy to rank teams without seeing them play even a pre-season game. These feelings seem to fester deeper and longer after one counts the number of SEC teams near the top. Not helping matters is the fact that the rankings partially impact the playoff committee rankings towards the end of the season. It’s clearly an advantage to be ranked higher before the season even starts and a disadvantage if expectations are low and you find yourself outside of them (just ask any Iowa fan).
Well if we have reservations about rankings coming out in August before the season starts, how are we supposed to feel about ones that come out 7+ months before it starts? That’s what we find with sites coming out with their “Way Too Early” Top 25 lists, which usually come out shortly after the championship game. It’s a little ridiculous, but these rankings tend to be pretty close to what we’re going to see in August once the actual pre-season polls come out. All the information pre-season polls are based on is, for the most part, known by the end of January. How a team did in its bowl game and its number of returning starters is generally going to remain unchanged from January to August.
I have some thoughts about Mark Schlabach’s Way Too Early Top 25, but let’s first take a look back at his 2015 edition and see how things ended up. He had TCU and Ohio State 1 and 2 which was consistent with popular opinion heading into last season. It’s hard to really argue with those either considering the Buckeyes went 12-1 and TCU went 11-2 even with their injuries on defense and to offensive stars Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson towards the end of the year. USC, UCLA, and Georgia at 4, 7, and 8 respectively stand out as the big flops of the Top 10. It’s hard to hold these against Schlabach considering USC and UCLA in particular were popular playoff picks nationwide before the year started. Overall however, there’s a strong case that seven of his top ten were actually seven of the best ten teams throughout the 2015 season. And as usual, trying to be ahead of the curve in predicting big seasons for USC and Georgia will have you feeling uneasy halfway through the season, if you’re lucky.
So, assuming these rankings are a decent indicator of which teams will be good in the upcoming season, let’s take a look at the 2016 Way Too Early Top 25. The two title game participants both fall in the Top 5 with Alabama at the top and Clemson coming in at five. It’s hard to argue with the Crimson Tide at the top considering Nick Saban is leading maybe the most impressive stretch in the sport’s history. Clemson would have likely been two if not for the entire defense leaving early for the NFL Draft. Okay, it wasn’t quite the entire defense, but it’s going to be hard to replace that type of talent two years in a row. On the other hand, Deshaun Watson could lead the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff by himself.
Florida State sitting at two is a bit of a surprise but with every starter back on offense and a favorable schedule it wouldn’t be the biggest shock to see them in the playoff. That ranking certainly isn’t as surprising as the team sitting at three, the Michigan Wolverines. What?! Why? I understand Jim Harbaugh is a great coach but here were the teams Michigan beat in 2015: Oregon State, UNLV, BYU, Maryland, Northwestern, Minnesota, Rutgers, Indiana, Penn State, and Florida. I don’t think Michigan will finish outside of the Top 25 or anything, but this feels like that USC ranking from 2015. I’m just not sure Harbaugh has the talent yet to field a top three team in the country.
The rest of the top 10 is filled with some of the usual suspects such as Baylor, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. At this point the Sooners look like the other team that would make these rankings look ridiculous come end of season considering they do well when expectations are low and flame out when their ranked highly to start a year. LSU at six seems a little aggressive since you can expect them to get virtually nothing from their passing game. Then again Leonard Fournette might actually be capable of breaking three tackles on every play and carrying the offense. Another SEC team ranked too high is Tennessee at 12. Apparently people didn’t learn their lesson after last year but hey, if we keep ranking them high to start the year and predicting their “We’re Back” season eventually it’ll happen and everyone will look smart.
Nothing really stood out as being that crazy in the back half of the Top 25 and in reality it doesn’t matter that much. 17-25 seems to be a rotating crapshoot of mediocre to above average teams whose positioning changes week-to-week based on who defeated an inferior opponent and they’re all bound to end up with three or four losses.
As always, there will be teams ranked in the top 10 that end up a disaster and usually they are the teams with too much unwarranted hype. In the end, it’s nearly impossible to predict what ten teams will be the best 7-10 months from now but hitting on 70% gives a pretty good indication of what we can expect to see this upcoming season. I generally don’t have the disdain for these “Way Too Early” rankings as I do pre-season polls, and I think that stems from the college football fan in me trying to hang on to any part of the season I can before a long, eight month off-season. And as ridiculous as it may be to put out rankings months before the year starts, I will be right here eagerly awaiting college football writers’ Post-Spring Top 25 rankings in May and reading every word once they arrive.
This year’s Valero Alamo Bowl has the potential to set all types of offensive records as the Big 12 representative #11 TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) face the #15 Oregon Ducks (9-3) of the Pac-12.
TCU Horned Frogs:
Coming into the season, TCU was arguably one of the most prolific teams in the Big 12, let alone, the nation. Unfortunately, injuries to key players down the stretch dashed those hopes. However, with a healthy Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson , TCU is poised to have a dynamite ending to a season once filled with College Football Playoff hopes.
Very few college football players have been able to make the transition from one impact position to another like TCU’s Trevone Boykin. Boykin started off his career as a wide receiver. After TCU’s lost its original starter to personal issues, Boykin stepped in and has led one of the most potent spread offenses ever seen in the last 5 years. With Boykin and his number one target, receiver Josh Doctson back and healthy, they’re sure to cause havoc for any defense they face.
Injuries to Boykin and Doctson have cost TCU a chance at a College Football Playoff berth. This scenario is a prime example of what might have been if both were to remain healthy throughout the season.
After the departure of Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, few thought that the Oregon Ducks would have the type of success as they have experienced in seasons past. Enter FCS transfer, Vernon Adams Jr. The former Eastern Washington quarterback stepped in and gave the folks of Eugene, Oregon something to cheer for. After a sluggish start, the Ducks have kicked in to overdrive and run amuck over the competition. After beginning the season 3-3, Oregon has regained their swag and have ripped of six straight wins to close out the season. All that’s left is to finish on a high note to remind the nation that Duck football is still to be respected.
To complement Vernon Adams in the back field, running back Royce Freeman has had a stellar season. Freeman was a force, rushing for 1,706 yards and 14 touchdowns. Oregon has had a reputation of having speedy, elusive backs. Freeman is a hybrid of the two, and you can kick in uncanny size (5’11” 230 lbs.) to boot. Though Oregon’s record has not compared to seasons past, one shining moment came in a thrilling 38-36 victory over favorite, Stanford. That victory, although it was in the midst of a three-game win streak, gave the Ducks the utmost in confidence that they had regained their place among the Pac-12 elite.
Two moments stick out to me as low lights for the Oregon Ducks. First, the 62-20 pummeling to the then-undefeated Utah Utes. Yes they are good, but that loss is completely unacceptable. The second was a 45-38 loss to the surprising Cougars of Washington State. Of course, Oregon wasn’t the only victim of the upstart Cougars, but this game was not written in the script. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Ducks haven’t lost since then.
Both teams are incredibly explosive and can score in a second’s notice. It comes down to rhythm. Whichever team can play with and maintain offensive rhythm, will more than likely be the victor. Vernon Adams is more comfortable in the offense and with comfort comes confidence.
Looks like all the stars will be out for the Alamo Bowl. Though Boykin and Doctson are back in the lineup, Vernon Adams and the Ducks are on a roll right now. Ducks over Frogs, 42-37.
The Oklahoma Sooners exorcising demons against anyone, let alone Baylor, would have been an insane thought to anyone back in 2010. And exorcising demons might be taking it a bit far, but Baylor had won three out of four against the Sooners after not having beaten them in, um, ever. In typical Oklahoma fashion, the Sooners have played their best in a year where less was expected of them. Even after their upset loss to Texas, they had still put enough of a beat-down on their last few opponents that they were clawing themselves back into playoff consideration. Another loss to Baylor, after already having been upset by Texas earlier in the year, would’ve been tough for even the staunchest Bob Stoops supporters to defend.
But the Sooners looked every bit the team that finished the year on fire while beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl two years ago, and every bit the team they have been in every 2015 game save the Red River Shootout. The Sooners were dominant in almost every facet. Holding Baylor to 34 points in Waco is, after all, quite the accomplishment. And if it weren’t for a couple ill-advised penalties, the ten point margin of victory may have been even greater. Oklahoma showed off a physical, attacking defense. QB Baker Mayfield made play after play in the passing game. Watching this contest, you would have thought that Sooners wideout Sterling Shepard was the pass-catcher in the Heisman race, not Baylor’s Corey Coleman. The Bears had no answer for Shepard and if they tried, Oklahoma just pounded away on the ground with Samaje Perine, who merely had 166 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
It’s that balanced offense that should have Oklahoma’s remaining opponents (TCU and Oklahoma State) scared as hell. If the Sooners can find their way into the College Football Playoff, the other three teams should be just as worried. But just like 2014, the same question persists. Not just with the Sooners but the Big 12 in general. Will they be left out of the playoff once again? At this point it’s hard to think otherwise.
Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State seem like locks if they win out, so there are multiple teams fighting for that fourth spot. For whatever reason the committee is enamored with Notre Dame, slotting them at four. We’ll see if that changes when the new rankings come out tonight. If an undefeated Big 12 team didn’t rank ahead of the Irish last week, it’s hard to imagine Oklahoma State’s close win over Iowa State being enough to jump them this week. The Big 12 will just have to hope that the Sooners have been impressive enough to move them up to around six in the rankings for now.
Another thing to look for in the committee’s rankings tonight is how far Baylor and TCU fall. That will be a key indicator as to what the committee’s overall thoughts on the Big 12 are. In my opinion Baylor shouldn’t fall that far, at least not yet. Baylor may have been overrated, but I don’t think you can definitively determine that just because they lost to what now will be one of the top six/seven teams in the country. And it’s hard to say they were overrated when we have no idea how they would have done had their starting quarterback not been lost for the year.
Moving along in the state of Texas, TCU had a down-to-the-wire win against Kansas. That would have been great, if this were basketball. But the Horned Frogs deserve some benefit of the doubt here as well. They were up 10-3 in the first quarter when QB Trevone Boykin got injured, and for all we know could have been well on their way to another blowout. After losing their undefeated season the week before, it would have been easy for TCU to fold once their Heisman contending quarterback was lost for the game. Instead they found a way to win, as ugly as it may have been.
So what is the best case scenario for the Big 12? A loss by Notre Dame against Stanford in two weeks would be right at the top. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will also need to secure wins this week before playing each other on the final week of the regular season. If a 10-1 Sooners team travels to Stillwater to face an 11-0 Cowboys team, I actually think a win by the Sooners would be the Big 12’s best chance.
It’s hard to argue against a possible undefeated, but it’s already clear the committee doesn’t respect Oklahoma State as much as most undefeateds. The committee switches between “eye test” and resumes whenever they feel like it, and the Cowboys are on the wrong end of that perception. An Oklahoma team that has been steam-rolling people for the last month, that knocked off Baylor on the road, then knocked off an undefeated rival on the road on the last weekend of the season? That should be enough to get the Sooners in the playoff. Having Oklahoma in the playoff will certainly have a better ring to it than Oklahoma St. Even better for college football if it gives the committee a chance to pit the Sooners against the Crimson Tide, where Alabama would have the chance to exorcise some of their own demons.
If you believe in Time and its limitations, all weeks are significant. But this week was significantly significant, on and off the field formed for football.
The University of Missouri’s movement motivated a monumental potential power-shift in college football and served as the weekly CFB news nerve-center as oh-by-the-way their head coach Gary Pinkel surprisingly announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season.
But in a matter of greater importance, this week brought an increased-decreasing of the amount of people we’re surrounded by. Terrorist attacks in Paris attracted the nation’s attention and removed a significant amount of humans from the Earth, along with their 5 senses, their appreciations of whatever they liked in life, their disdain for whatever annoyed or terrified them in daily duties, and their warmth for whatever they were able to exude to other humans in this life. I’m aware people die every day, but as this week also brought a difficult development in my cousin’s battle with cancer I’m a little more focused on what it means to just be. Here. The train chiming and rattling over the highway’s roar outside my friend’s door, the way citric acid predictably destroys the inside of my mouth yet-I-still keep fixing myself those “healthy” vodka-cranberry-lime drinks to get somewhere else. Somewhere else, in apartments and houses and closets around the world, there are shirts that’ll never be worn by their previous owner, shoes that’ll never protect their familiarly friendly feet from harsh paths no matter how aimless, instruments that’ll never again be illuminated by their previous player, partners that’ll rely on those close or learn to find new connections or remain lonely for their remainders, families that’ll lean on prayer or faith that’s barely there or the gift of a passing touch’s share. Apparently, we’re still there.
Yet, we’re forced to continue marching on in a world where The Big Bang Theory is once again TV’s #1 comedy, where somehow people have enough money for luxury car companies to run commercials touting Christmas deals enticing people with enough money to buy LUXURY CARS as gifts, where Carrot Top’s probably rich and laughing on a beach somewhere, where certain celebrated traditions take place every weekend no matter what havoc the previous week wrought, so we can grab the Mahogany Handrail that is football season allowing us to turn on, tune in, and drop the fuck out, until we can’t or we’re no longer. Thankfully, on to the games….
#6 Baylor vs. #12 Oklahoma
This was the clear game of the week, as it’d show if Baylor would keep storming through the Big 12 enroute to the CFB Playoff, or if Stoops’ Sooners had enough to keep rebounding from their surprising loss to Texas enroute to a potential Big 12 title.
As it turns out, Oklahoma’s got a pretty good QB and offense, with a stout defense to boot, which led the Sooners to a somewhat-unsurprising upset win, beating Baylor and sending the Big 12 title race into chaos. Oklahoma 43 – Baylor 33
Power of Three Points:
Oklahoma shut down Combustible Corey Coleman: Whether it was a combination of Baylor’s frosh-QB struggling to get Coleman the ball, or the Sooners focusing on clamping down on Heisman-candidate Coleman, Oklahoma got the job done. Their D limited Coleman to just 3 catches for 51 yards, and did just enough to slow Baylor’s high-octane offense in getting the win.
Where’s Shawn Oakman?: For all the hype Baylor DL Oakman got in the offseason, and honestly, we know Oakman gets most attention due to his ridiculous physique, but for someone so physically imposing he sure doesn’t produce much. He was basically non-existent in this game, registering 3 total tackles and a .5 sack. Oakman’s draft stock drops week by week.
Non-Norman Big 12 fans would’ve preferred Oklahoma lose this game: It’s true, as it would’ve set up a winner-take-all Baylor-OKST matchup next week in Cowboy-ville. But that’s now how this world works, so now the playoff committee must consider a shaky OKST team against a Sooner team trending upward, and a Baylor team that’s only loss is to the aforementioned buzzsawing-Cowboys. Big 12 fans just hope this doesn’t keep their conference out of the playoff for the second year in a row, mirroring last year’s Baylor/TCU debacle.
Who Capitalized, Who Lowercased this Week?
L: I understand Under Armour’s trying to make Maryland the equivalent of Nike’s hometown, design-lab Oregon Ducks with their money-splash uniforms, but this week’s Terp outfits/helmets look less sleek and more like Kevin Plank puked nightmarish bad ideas all over them. C: Florida’s CB Jalen Tabor, with a pick vs. South Carolina. He plays differently (better) than everyone else on the field. C: The casual spin-move TCU’s KaVontae Turpin pulls off in the middle of this beautiful punt return TD L: Injuries. FSU’s electric RB Dalvin Cook and TCU’s dynamite QB Trevone Boyking both with down with lower-leg injuries, though the severity of each still unknown. L: Sluggish-ass FSU getting pushed around by longtime nemesis NC State in the first half. Down 17-7, Jimbo Fisher pulled the plug on QB Golson for the day, inserting Sean McGuire who sparks ‘Noles to tie it up at half, 17-17. C: Any chance Clemson caught sleeping in Syracuse? Nope. Two-play, 80 yard, TD drive and then a quick fumble recover on D to start the game for the Tigers.. C: ‘Bama with a huge goal-line stand early in the MSU game, when momentum still being established. C: Navy’s K. Reynolds sets the all-time CFB rushing touchdown mark against SMU with 3 total TD’s, surpassing WISC’s Montee Ball with 80 (and counting) C: ‘Bama WR Cal Ridley is ridiculous, proven in the past and present with this shake ‘n ankle-break TD catch/run
At the End of the Day: CFB’s Top 25 Went this Way (All Rankings from Official College Football Playoff Poll)
#1 Clemson @ Syracuse
Tigers start fast and sustain, Carrier-ing the Orange to another disappointing defeat
#2 Alabama @ #17 Mississippi St.
Saban’s Satan Train keeps righteously rolling, causing Bulldogs pain
#3 Ohio State @ Illinois
J.T. Barrett returns from his OVI arrest and reasserts why he’s a BMF, as the Buck’s truck Illini
#4 Notre Dame vs. Wake Forest
Brian Kelly’s Irish remain boring, unbeaten, predictably decleat Demon Deacons
#5 Iowa vs. Minnesota
Hawkeyes barely keep CFB playoff hopes corning along, shyly-shucking the faux-Golden Gophers
#6 Baylor vs. #12 Oklahoma
Big-game Bob beats Baylor’s butts, as the Sooners slow down and upset Waco’s Bears
#7 Stanford vs. Oregon
Ducks use Nike luck and speed to stop last-gasp 2-point attempt, upset Stanford in Palo Alto, derailing Pac-12 dreams
#8 Oklahoma State @ Iowa State
Cyclones rattlesnake OSU early but fall late, as OK State survives & keeps playoff hopes alive
#9 LSU vs. Arkansas
Razorbacks set Tigers SEC chances and Fournette’s Heisman hopes back
#10 Utah @ Arizona
Rich Rod’s Cats shock Utes while most of the nation slept, sending Pac-12 to Playoff tailspin
#11 Florida @ South Carolina
Florida’s bo-re-da facing ‘Cocks with no Game, UF puts Spurrier’s ghosts to shame
#13 Michigan State vs. Maryland
Shaky Sparty pulls away vs. ugly-ass Terp uniforms on grass. On hardcourt? We excited to see
#14 Michigan @ Indiana
MGoBlue survives double-OT test from IU, as The Harbaughs survive
#15 TCU vs. Kansas
TCU loses Heisman-ish Trevone Boykin to early-game leg injury, still wins vs. mock ‘Hawks
#16 Florida State vs. NC State
FSU pulls QB Golson as McGuire hot-sauces Noles’ holes, sparking team past State
#18 Northwestern vs. Purdue
Pat’s ‘Cats hang on against the Popular Miner Drinks
#19 UCLA vs. Washington St.
Wazzu’s Mike Leach is a pirate and a wizard, as his Cougars upset Mora’s borahs, keep rollin’
#20 Navy vs. SMU
Midshipmen roll Horse-haired-Hoes as Navy smokes SMU
#21 Memphis @ #24 Houston
Tom Herman has Houston humming, handing Tigers 2nd straight loss & winning battle of the cats
#22 Temple @ South Florida
South Florida asks “Who are these Owls” in upsetting the David Lynchian, Philly upstarts
#23 North Carolina vs. Miami
Tarheels keep ACC momentum rolling, increase Canes’ interim pain in route
Patriots vs. Giants
Touted by many as a rematch of the helmet-catch Super Bowl 42 win by the Giants. Touted by me as another opportunity for the Patriots to show the NFL how much better they are than every other team out there and end their 3-game losing streak to the G-men. Post-Deflategate, New England’s been rolling through their schedule with reckless abandon, and this game would seem to be no exception. The most interesting thing to watch, other than the Brady/Gronk/Edelman beauty and the effectiveness of Giant’s DE Jason Pierre-Paul’s fireworks’-altered-now-three-fingered-hand, would be how the Patriots try to handle NYG’s transcendent WR Odell Beckahm Jr. and his Polamalu-ey famous hair with their Shakey Graves corners.
The Patriots O Looked Bad Post-Edelman Injury: Julian Edelman went out of the game at the end of the 1st quarter with an injury that might end his season early. After his exit, the Giants D largely neutralized Mr. Brady and the Pats, attacking their re-shuffled O-line, constantly getting pressure during passes, and stuffing the run. If it wasn’t already clear before, it is now; Edelman is a huge part of making the Patriot machine hum.
Stephen Gostowski is Gold: Much ado was made way back when Belicheck let former Patriot hero Adam Vinaitieri walk to the Indianapolis Colts in free agency rather than signing him to a bigger deal. In Adam’s stead, the Pats drafted Stephen Gostowski in the 4th round of the 2006 draft, and haven’t looked back since. That other Polish Patriot has been steady-as-she-goes for his entire career, and proved his own late-game mettle once more, nailing the game-winning, 54-yard field goal (after a potential Giants INT was ruled incomplete) with 6 seconds on the clock. Clutch kickers in NE remain a thing.
Pats’ D just good enough FTW: I was very interested to see how the questions NE secondary would handle next-level talent Odell Beckham Jr. With ODB’s early-game 87-yard catch and TD torch I thought the Patriots D could be in for a long evening of chasing the stud NYG receiver all night. While ODB got his on the stat sheet (104 yards, 1 TD) he was largely shut down by Deon Butler and crew after that huge catch, keeping the Pats in the hunt to eventually finish off their New York nemesis. It’ll be interesting to see if their defense can continue to hold the fort well enough on New England’s march to perfection.
NFL Caps and Lowercases of the Week
C: Nobody’s “Hangin’ with Amari F’ing Cooper”! First off, if this doesn’t become Amari’s nickname or a catch phrase thrown around during his career, then we’re not free (here’s the old show that nickname references, btw). Already proven as a stud rookie WR this year, only a few plays after getting blasted over the middle on a “hang my WR out to dry” throw by Derek Carr, Cooper made an incredible WTF!? catch, leading to an OAK TD.
C & L: Peyton Manning deserves huge applause, breaking the all-time record for passing yards vs. the Chiefs. He also deserves huge boos for getting picked 4 TIMES against 5 COMPLETIONS in this game before being replaced by backup Bronc’s QB Brock Osweiler
L: I applaud the development and great play of Carolina’s QB Cam Newton but, while I’ve never met him, he reeks of the kinda athlete that’s always been bigger and better than those around him, only he never hit that level of opponent that could put him in his place. There are many examples of Cam’s punkiness, the latest being his excessive dancing post-TD vs. the Titans, causing a few Titan defenders to come barking at him.
L: This perfect hit by Miami CB Jamar Taylor on Philly WR Jordan Matthews exemplifies the inherent violence problem with the sport of football. I love watching football but I’m also a human being that struggles when I see people smash to injury. Sanchez leaves Jordan out to dry and might not get invited to the Matthews’ family Thanksgiving this year.
L: I love Titans’ rookie QB Marcus Mariota. BUT, I encourage him,and every other male-not-Burt-Reynolds to adopt this slogan and “Stash the ‘stache.”
C: Panthers’ TE Greg Olsen with a nasty one-handed catch along the sideline late in Carolina’s win against Tampa. Though they all play so differently, Newton-to-Olsen is second-fiddle only to the Brady-to-Gronkowski QB/TE connection
L: Great hit by Rolando McClain, but terrible seeing Philly QB Sam Bradford go out with an apparent shoulder injury as a result of the sack/fumble
C: Chicago RB Jeremy Langford eating up 83-yards in a beautiful catch-and-run TD late in the 2nd Q against the Rams.
C: Aaron Donald with back to back brilliant plays against the Bears, out-quicking the OL each time and making the tackles
L: Rams LT Greg Robinson with 3 holding penalties through 3 quarters, one negating a crucial 1st down
C: Electrifying Detroit RB Ameer Abdullah taking the 2nd half kickoff 104-yards before barely getting tripped up at the 1, ultimately leading to a Lions (Pettigrew) TD
L: Rex Ryan, in his return with the Bills to face the Jets team he coached just last year, chose to remain in the locker room while his team warmed up pre-game, because the game was “not about him”. Of course, the head coach staying in the locker room during warm-ups is kinda noteworthy, especially in this game, so the media’s narrative focused on…you guessed it, Rex Ryan.
NFL Winners/Losers Roundup
Bills vs. Jets (Thursday)
Edible Rex returns as Bills give New York rug burns, beat Jets
Jags vs. Ravens
The United Kingdom Jags Jag-on, beat Baltimore late in the Terrible Teams Bowl as the Brothers Harbaugh’s stock triple-lindy-flip-flops
Panthers vs. Titans
Cam keeps Carolina roaring finah, despite being an asshole, as Panthers punk Mariotas
Saints vs. ‘Skins
Payton/Ryan’s NOLA cards get closer to revocation as Washington sins n’ skins Saints behind Kirk Cousin’s PERFECT QB RATING
Bears vs. Rams
Chicago averts Rams’ Deadly Slip Ring surrounding the EJ Dome, ride Langford home to big win
Cowboys vs. Buccaneers
‘Boys continue to look like booty w/out “their quarterback, man, their quarterback” Romo, Winston’s Buc’s love booty in beating Jerry’s Kids
Lions vs. Packers
Aaron Rodgers human at home, Mason Crosby shanks last second FG as Detroit upsets Green Bay in Favre’s House
Dolphins vs. Eagles
‘Fins knock out Bradford, forcing Sanchez into (in)action as Miami welcomes Philly to defeat
Browns vs. Steelers
Pittsburgh sends Cleveland deeper down the well of despair, stealing hope without care
Vikings vs. Raiders
Teddy’s Vikes spike those Men from the Land of Oak, as “All Day” Peterson rushes for 203 yards
Chiefs vs. Broncos
Peyton gets all-time passing record, looks awful otherwise as KC busts Denver to 2nd straight L
Patriots vs. Giants
Pats shake Giants curse late with Gostowski game-winning FG, Eli Face Remains Bitterly Burned
Cardinals vs. Seahawks
‘Zona hangs on late to send Seattle skidding, Palmer throws 3 TD’s doing aerial beauty’s bidding
Texans vs. Bengals (Monday Night Football Prediction)
I believe the Texans surprise the Road House Andy’s (Dalton), relieve Cincinnati from the unbeaten tree, defeat Bengals but still stay sucky
The Big 12 and Pac-12 have the bulk of the big games, but the best matchup this weekend is in the Big Ten. Here are the five games you must see in week six:
Washington at #17 USC, Thursday 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
This game makes the list mostly because it’s a bit of a light weekend and it’s being played on Thursday night. Don’t be fooled though, Washington is a capable team that could give USC some trouble. We should learn a lot by seeing how the Trojans play off of their bye week. Last time out they spanked Arizona State. We’ll see how they treat the Huskies.
#13 Northwestern at #18 Michigan, Saturday 3:30 p.m. ET on Big Ten Network
This game seems like a battle between the third and fourth teams in a two-horse race. Even so, it’ll end up as the most impressive win in the Big Ten so far, no matter who gets it. Northwestern hasn’t beaten Michigan since 2008, but the last three meetings have been close. It took overtime in 2012, triple OT in 2013, and the Wolverines won by just one point last year. This will be Michigan’s first game against a good team since Utah. Tune in to see which defense gets the job done in this low-scoring struggle.
#21 Oklahoma State at West Virginia, Saturday 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN 2
Here we have two evenly matched middle-of-the-road Big 12 teams. If you enjoy watching shootouts then look no further, this is your game. Oklahoma State is ranked, but that has more to do with a lack of other teams impressing the pollsters than anything the Cowboys have done. The most intriguing part is West Virginia’s established pedigree as an upset specialist, especially at home. If this is your feature presentation, be leery of changing the channel even for just a minute to see what else is going on. You’re liable to miss some points being scored.
#2 TCU at Kansas State, Saturday 7:30 p.m. ET on Fox
If any Big 12 team is going to shut down TCU (or Baylor, for that matter) it’s going to be Kansas State. Bill Snyder’s teams are just about the same every year. The only real differences are the names on the back of the jerseys. The Wildcats play defense, dominate special teams, and win games when the score is in the 20s. TCU has put up 50+ in the first two weeks of Big 12 play. Needless to say, a high-scoring game favors them. As a potential playoff team, we’ve got to see how Trevone Boykin and the Horned Frogs deal with such defensive pressure on the road.
#23 Cal at #5 Utah, Saturday 10:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
Both of these teams are much better than we’re used to. The Bears, who’ve normally been written off by this time of the year, are still undefeated and earning some respect. The Utes made their intentions quite clear a couple weeks ago at Oregon, ensuring they will not be taken lightly by anyone the rest of the season. Utah is a well-rounded, experienced team that has a proven winning recipe, something like K-State. They run the ball with Devontae Booker. Their ferocious front seven don’t allow you to run. And they can beat you in just about any type of game you want to play. It’s good to see Cal quarterback Jared Goff in primetime (sorta) finally. He’s been impressive thus far. If the Bears have a chance to win at the end of this game it’ll be because Goff has outperformed everyone else on the field. We’ll either have a playoff contender solidifying itself, or another crazy upset. Either way, you should be watching.
The “Better as a Basketball Game” of the Week
Maryland at #1 Ohio State
This is simply a better matchup in basketball. A meeting on the hardwood is a battle between two teams near (or at) the top of the Big Ten. This football game should be little more than a formality. Then again, the Buckeyes haven’t looked at all like the number one team in the nation of late. The Terps are making their second appearance in the “Better as a Basketball Game,” tying them with Kansas for the lead in a category no one would dare brag about. Don’t waste your time with this game unless somehow Maryland is up two touchdowns in the fourth.
First off, I have to apologize for exposing you to what may be the worst TV viewing out there. Listening to those two is the worst, and I think I’d rather root for my team’s most hated rival than watch 10 minutes of those two blowhards go on and on to defend their steadfast biases. But the topic is fitting considering the weekend we just had in college football. After the bowl season most of the nation wondered if the daunted SEC West of 2014 was overrated. The same question isn’t even a question two weeks into the 2015 season. It’s already been proven that the SEC West was overrated to start this year.
Where to begin? The Tennessee Volunteers rolled into 2015 with as much momentum as anyone who finished the year 7-6 under the premise, are they about to be back? For 3+ quarters it looked that way as the Vols led Oklahoma 17-3 in the 4th quarter at home. After all the talk through the week about the Sooners disrespecting vaunted Neyland Stadium, surely the Vols could close out a two touchdown 4th quarter lead at home right? They proceeded to give up both touchdowns, then lose the game in overtime, ultimately seeing their bandwagon ran off the road by the Sooner Schooner. But losing to a Top 15 team in OT shouldn’t darken the Vols fans’ spirits as much as it has, and Tennessee still has as good a chance as anyone to make it to the SEC Title game out of the East.
The Volunteers are still in a much better spot than that SEC West I referenced in the intro. After running his mouth about the lack of ranked opponents on Ohio State’s schedule, Bret Bielema managed to lead his team to a stunning home loss to Toledo. Arkansas, the SEC West version of Tennessee, basically ran their hype train into a brick wall on Saturday in losing to a team that was probably the 3rd easiest on its schedule. But that loss might not even be looked upon as bad as what popular playoff pick Auburn managed to accomplish. Winning in OT against an FCS team not named North Dakota State is nothing to be proud of. It would be tough for most contenders to allow Jacksonville State to take them to OT if they were trying to lose. Normally early in the season you say ‘a win’s a win’ and move on, but the Tigers have to be worried about what they’ve seen out of quarterback Jeremy Johnson. It’s not just the number of interceptions he’s thrown, but the types of interceptions. Badly misreading coverages and making terrible throws outnumber the positive plays he’s made. Or at least that’s how it has felt. But don’t worry, all Johnson has to face this Saturday are the LSU Tigers, who merely went on the road last week and defeated 2014 Heisman contender Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
All in all we’ll probably be wondering if (or how much) the SEC is overrated until a team steps up and gets on a roll against quality competition. That could start this Saturday when Ole Miss travels to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. The Rebels have been doing their best Oregon Ducks impersonation, scoring more points in consecutive games than they have in school history. Don’t think you’ll see this ole’ guy doing pushups after every score anytime soon though. Another team that scored at will Saturday was TCU, who bounced back from an ugly early season win against Minnesota to put up 70+. Granted it was against Stephen F. Austin, but it’s nice to see them start to get that offensive magic going that they had rolling last year. They’ll need it down the stretch against the likes of Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas. Ok not Texas, but definitely the other two. In the Horned Frogs win, Trevone Boykin steadied his spot as a Heisman contender.
One quarterback who won’t have a chance to be in New York anymore is Notre Dame Quarterback Malik Zaire, who is out for the season after breaking his ankle. This is obviously incredibly disappointing not just for Zaire, but for an Irish team that had playoff aspirations. They should still have a quality season because of the overall team strength, but it’s hard to see them surviving a schedule that includes Georgia Tech, Clemson, and USC, with a backup quarterback. Both Georgia Tech and Clemson are teams that have rolled against soft schedules the first couple weeks, but get a chance to prove themselves a little more this week with the Yellow Jackets facing Notre Dame and Clemson hosting Louisville. Because of the Zaire injury and Louisville’s loss to Houston on Saturday, neither Georgia Tech nor Clemson will get the respect they hoped to get from these games when the season began. I’m guessing no ACC team will get much national respect or recognition unless one starts at least 9-0.
The Michigan State Spartans are a team that certainly doesn’t have to worry about respect after defeating the Oregon Ducks in a nail-biter on Saturday night. In a matchup that will definitely be looked back on when the playoff field is announced, the Spartans were able to hold off the Ducks for a 3 point victory and held Oregon’s offense to 21 points, an impressive feat in this day and age. Michigan State should be able to coast for the next 9 weeks, which is how long it is until they face Ohio State. That game is likely to decide a playoff spot.
The playoff race is wide open. While that seems obvious seeing that we’re only two weeks into the season, normally there are a couple teams who are at least viewed as a step ahead of the pack. Not so this year. Any of the Top 12 teams could be viewed on the same level as each other, which will make it interesting to see which of these teams begins to separate from the rest over the next few weeks. Matchups that will give teams a chance to do just that on Saturday? Georgia Tech at Notre Dame and Ole Miss at Alabama.
It only took five days, but our first weekend of College Football is in the books. We had a lot of chalk and some disappointment, but it was the “Wow!” moments that really jumped off the page. The bar was really set high for the individuals that the consensus expects to be in the running for that big heavy trophy, and for the schools interested in playing in that little tournament, well, they just had to win.
From the home of the Belk Bowl to the campus of the last program to slay the dragon that Urban Meyer built in Central Ohio, it was an extended weekend of debuts, vengeance, and perhaps an introduction to some new contenders. We’ll start in Blacksburg, where the first unanimous Preseason AP #1 team in the country took on Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies, seeking their pound of flesh for what took place in Columbus a year ago.
Ohio State 42 Virginia Tech 24
The story has been told, time and time again. Cardale Jones has never started a game in his own stadium for Ohio State, and on Monday night, he earned his first regular season victory, so it’s long past the time we stop referring to him as the Buckeye’s 3rd-string quarterback. In case you felt his previous three performances were some type of sorcery on the part of Meyer last December and January, the junior from Cleveland showed the magic is still there on Ohio State’s first possession, hitting Curtis Samuel on the money with a throw off of his back foot, good for a 24-yard touchdown. The next time the Buckeyes snapped the ball, Ezekiel Elliott went 80 yards to make it 14-0 in favor of the defending champs, perhaps making fans in Tuscaloosa feel better about things, but likely not.
It appeared the Buckeyes were going to roll, but misfortune, the type that goes beyond taking the field at Lane Stadium without Joey Bosa or Jalin Marshall on the field, struck, and the Hokies ripped off 17 unanswered, taking a 17-14 lead into the break. A missed Ohio State field goal gave the home team some momentum towards the end of the first quarter, but all of the credit in the world goes to Virginia Tech for designing a wheel route to full back Sam Rogers, who was all by himself on the left sideline. The big man had to hustle, but Eli Apple stood between him and the goal line and he shook the Buckeyes’ the third-year corner out of his shoes to cut the early advantage in half. Without the services of Marshall, Meyer had Elliott back returning punts, and call it inexperience or whatever, but the All-World running back struggled to field AJ Hughes second punt of the night, and four plays later, another nicely designed throwback to Ryan Malleck on third down gave the Hokies the lead.
Anyone remember Braxton Miller, the forgotten head on the three-headed monster of Ohio State’s open competition for the starting role last spring? They gave him a new number and a new position, and it only took him about a half of football to get his sea-legs beneath him. He did have a couple of rushing attempts and a nice diving 24-yard catch in the first half, which I think showed us he’s still a legitimate player, even when not behind center. On the third play of the second half, he took a pass from Jones and tip-toed by the Hokie defender, down the right sideline for 54 yards and the score. On the Bucks next offensive play from scrimmage, he gave the Scarlet and Gray their first Wow Moment of the season with a spin move that you can, yeah, only do on video games. From there, the rout was on.
Give Beamer and company some credit; they nearly made Mark May look smart. While the final score really was indicative of the game we watched, they did some really good things to take the straight-up running game away from Ohio State, despite big plays from Elliott and Miller, and they found enough vulnerabilities in the defense to put some points on the board and make this prime time affair interesting into the late night hours of Labor Day. The game really didn’t get out of hand until Brenden Motley had to spell starting quarterback Michael Brewer.
Unfortunately for Brewer, we live in a world where what you say with a certain expectation of privacy is subject to “going viral”. He was caught on camera, and yes, it’s likely he knew it was in his face, spouting off some one-liner about how it’s going to take a lot more than a fairly brutal hit he took on the Hokies last drive of the half to knock him out of the game. You can’t blame the kid; he was talking to his teammates in the locker room, more so than the national television audience through the lens of ESPN’s camera, but people are going to talk about karma. To that, I say “whatever”.
It’s widely believed that this is Ohio State’s last real test before Michigan State visits Columbus in November, and it’s hard to disagree. Up next, the Buckeyes get Hawaii, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan at home, and then a relatively simple conference slate, though I’m not ready to overlook Minnesota’s visit to the ‘Shoe on November 7th. For the Hokies, don’t expect the season to instantly go down the toilet after this acceptable performance. Last year, East Carolina beat Virginia Tech on their home field a week after they stunned Ohio State. Don’t expect Furman to follow suit; in fact, I’d say you can expect the Hokies to get their own pound of flesh from ECU on the road in a couple of weeks, and for them to be competitive in the ACC.
Marshall 41 Purdue 31
It was tough sledding for Darrell Hazell and Purdue in the only game on the slate for this pre-NFL Sunday. If Hazell and his signal-caller Austin Appleby never see Tiquan Lang again, it will be too soon for the both of them. Though, I’m very open to the possibility that Appleby never saw Lang at all, yeilding two pick-sixes to the Thundering Herd’s junior safety, which were good for the first and last scores of the game.
On the game’s very first play from scrimmage, Lang stepped in front of the intended receiver, and went 30 yards untouched to give Marshall the early lead, but there was still a good 59 minutes and change of football to be played. Purdue was able to recover on a DJ Knox touchdown run, on his way too a 100-yard day on the ground, but the game went back and forth all afternoon. The visiting Boilermakers led for most of the first half, until Devon Johnson put Marshall back up 34-31 with a 6-yard score, but Appleby had one more chance. After timeouts by both teams, it appeared the Purdue junior had too much time to think about it once again. And once again, an ill-fated pass attempt fell into the hands of Lang, who had to work harder on his second return, cutting across the field for a 55-yard score to put it to bed.
You've had nine months to come up with a first play.
Given their early success in making the jump from Division I to Division I-AA with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss nearly twenty years ago, it’s difficult to believe Sunday’s win, in front of a home crowd of nearly 39,000 in Huntington, was the school’s first win over a Big Ten program, but the Boilermakers seem to be giving a few mid-Majors that milestone in recent years.
Alabama 35 Wisconsin 17
Hey Badger fans, I think Derrick Henry just scored again! Okay, maybe not, but the Alabama junior running back averaged 11.3 yards per carry, en route to three touchdowns on the ground at “The House That Jerry Built” in North Texas on Saturday. It probably would have been more, but the end zone kept stopping him. If there’s honestly a debate about the quarterback position at Alabama, and I don’t think there is, we gained no clarity about it on Saturday night. My gut tells me Nick Saban will let Jake Coker assume the role, unless his poor play forces his hand or Cooper Bateman takes things to a new level in the time he’s getting.
So, I know Gene Chizik was 5-19 at Iowa State before being awarded the Auburn job, where he landed the services of Cam Newton and won a title in his second season, so maybe I don’t read too much into Paul Chryst’s 19-19 mark at Pittsburgh. Seriously though, in Chryst’s debut with the Badgers, he wasn’t just behind the curve with the X’s and O’s, that Big Ten size and strength, which is supposed to be their finest asset in Madison, it’s not there. I’ve long thought that Barry Alvarez was the reason Gary Andersen chose a new gig in Corvalis over what he’s built in Madison, but he might have just seen the writing on the wall with what he wasn’t able to recruit. Sorry, but 16 yards on 8 carries for Corey Clement just isn’t getting it done; Melvin Gordon III isn’t walking back through that door and head coaches will dare Joel Stave to beat them all season.
Texas A&M 38 Arizona State 17
Is it possible to lose a game by more than just the numbers on the scoreboard? In being picked apart by Scottsdale, Arizona’s Kyle Allen and Christian Kirk, the very successful head coach of the Sun Devils, Todd Graham, was exposed for losses to the state of Texas in the recruiting game. Allen, the sophomore quarterback fighting off highly touted freshman Kyler Murray, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, but Kirk was the star of the show. You get sick of hearing about video games when you’re discussing actual human athletes, but between his 79-yard punt return that put the Aggies up 14-0 early and his 66-yard touchdown catch and run, that status quo had cheat codes on their mind. I’d reference the Game Genie here, but it would be lost on everyone not born between 1975 and 1985.
After A&M’s season went downhill after their big win in the opener against South Carolina a year ago, Aggie fans can only be cautiously optimistic about Kevin Sumlin’s squad’s chances in the SEC. On the other hand, after watching how hapless the ASU offense was in Houston, there has to be some concern about senior quarterback Mike Berovici, a guy that wasn’t spectacular in his understudy role in 2014, despite the team’s success in games he started.
This neutral site game was the only game of any sort on the 2015 schedule that paired a Pac-12 school against a team from the Southeastern Conference. If you’re an SEC honk, you want the Sun Devils to dominate their conference. If you support a Pac-12 contender that isn’t Arizona State, you’re probably hoping your program isn’t basically a coin flip for that fourth playoff spot with a member of the SEC in December.
Northwestern 16 Stanford 6
We should probably acknowledge this battle of Academia that took place in Evanston, the most watchable matinee of the day on Saturday. Was this more about Kevin Hogan and Stanford being inept on offense, or does Pat Fitzgerald have a great defense at Northwestern? I fear David Shaw may be on the decline, the more we see time separate this program from the days of Jim Harbaugh.
One thing I’m hearing and I don’t agree with is that Stanford is suddenly too slow. Sure Hogan isn’t a runner on the level that Andrew Luck was, and Ty Montgomery is gone from the offense and special teams, but Michael Rector isn’t slow and we should see more of Christian McCaffrey in both the running and passing games. My guess is the offense works it out, but I don’t know if the glass is less than half-full when I look at that defense. The departing talent hasn’t been replaced, or the newbies haven’t been developed, but Northwestern owned the line of scrimmage when they had the ball. That’s going to be a problem for the Cardinal all year.
The victory in the trenches translated to a good game for running back Justin Jackson, who ran for 134 yards. However, it was quarterback Clayton Thorson’s 42 yard run, on what looked like a designed draw play, that represented the only touchdown of the day. The Wildcats will host an FCS team next week, and visit Duke in a few weeks, but expect them to finish non-conference play 4-0, setting up a big match up with Minnesota, on October 2nd at Ryan Field.
Ole Miss 76 Tennessee-Martin 3
Yuck, just yuck. Hugh Freeze, you’re in the SEC, and I know you want the home game at whatever price, but playing FCS foes is totally beneath you. Indiana got lucky doing this, but Wyoming, Washington State, and Kansas were not. Shame on everyone who partakes in this practice, even you Arizona State, where I’ll watch you rebound against cal-Poly, but still, Yuck!
Michigan State 37 Western Michigan 24
Kudos to the AD’s in East Lansing and Kalamazoo for making this happen, with the mid-major hosting the high major. PJ Fleck, your Western Michigan program isn’t quite there yet, but they didn’t look out of their element with a big boy from the Big Ten in town.
Michigan State might want to work on kick coverage this week, while the Broncos shouldn’t change a thing. Row your boat, fellas.
Charlotte 23 Georgia State 20
This game kicked off at 12:30 PM, during my work day on Friday. I caught the end on the ESPN app in my office. It was fourth College Football game I’d watched with some interest in a 24-hour span; yeah, I need help.
For the 49ers, it was their first game as an FBS program, and obviously also their first victory, but the Panthers of Georgia State made it interesting in the end.
TCU 23 Minnesota 17
I don’t know if I just don’t like the idea of B being a Heisman candidate, or if I have the bar set too high for him and, really, the rest of the Horned Frogs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think TCU is phenomenal when they have the ball, and that’s where the expectation comes from, but they just didn’t seem to have it, despite a nice victory over an underlooked Minnesota team on Thursday night at TCF Stadium.
He’s got weapons all around him, most notably Josh Doctson, and 246 passing on a day he rushed for 92 is far from underwhelming, but in real-time, I didn’t think he was anything special. That just tells me we haven’t seen anything yet from the offense. Based on what SMU was able to do to Baylor for 30 minutes on Friday, they might make for an interesting opponent for Gary Patterson’s defense, still a question mark for me after Minnesota had many opportunities Thursday.
Jerry Kill has a nice little team in Minnesota. They hung around the entire game, even if TCU did adjust better at the half. Rodney Smith seems like a good find; the freshman had 88 yards on 16 carries, but a lot of it that offensive line. Junior quarterback Mitch Leidner needs to be more efficient or throw the ball less, but I don’t know how much less he can throw it, considering he was sacked 20 times a year ago.
That Ref Deserves a Hug
Sometimes, I just can’t get over how the universe can even itself out. Two years ago, going left to right across the Big Red “N” at midfield in Lincoln, a backup quarterback heaves up a prayer. You know the rest, Jordan Westerkamp is on the receiving end for the touchdown and the win against Nebraska. Redemption is spelled R-O-N (Kellog).
Fast forward to Saturday, BYU down 28-27, 1 tick on the clock for Tanner Magnum, on in relief of the injured Taysom Hill. Mitch Matthews hauls it in for the win, but #11 Terenn Houk is the star of this Vine.
…and the rest.
These are all of the items that are too short for a capsule of their own.
Penn State, I’m glad you went to Philly to play Temple, but how did you lose that game?
Michigan, you can’t run the ball and don’t have a real answer at quarterback. Jim Harbaugh isn’t saving you right away.
Between the Cactus Bowl and Friday’s somewhat awkward return to Boise for Chris Petersen, I’ve now bailed on Washington at halftime in consecutive games, only to learn the second half was interesting, the next day. Show up in the first half, Huskies.
Nicely done, Josh Rosen. What a performance for the true freshman; he came with a lot of hype, but lived up to it. UCLA wasn’t playing an FCS school on Saturday, they were hosting a Power 5. It was Virginia, but still.
Northern Illinois, that’s two years in a row that you’ve dominated UNLV, but let them hang around. A MAC rival will take advantage at some point, just watch.
We’re so spoiled with digital options for viewing, that it was aggravating that CBS Sports didn’t have an option and I’m told didn’t regionally switch to the UNLV-NIU game in DeKalb, while overtime was played in Tulsa.
By the way, way to finish your win over Florida Atlantic, Tulsa.
So, Auburn is pretty good. Louisville might be too, but not based on their play Saturday. Either way, good to see Verne and Gary on CBS in Week 1. (They called Ohio State-Navy for CBS Sports Network to open the 2014 season)
Play-by-play announcers and color analysts, it’s okay to punt in College Football. Not every opponent is Oregon, and not every situation near or behind midfield equals four-down territory. Our game is about field position, and you win it by punting when appropriate.
Adults that paint their bodies and dedicate their lives to “me time” on camera for their favorite College Football team don’t deserve the air time.
I’d rather get neutral site games than no game at all, but there’s something about the games being played on campus. Steve Spurrier, that atmosphere sucked with all of the empty seats in Charlotte. Go to Chapel Hill or have Larry Fedora bring his team to Columbia, and stop trying to do too much.
Nice touchdown reception, Robert Nkemdiche. We’ll talk more about the two-way play of the Ole Miss pass-rusher, when they play an FBS foe.
Lastly, I think I underestimated how cool Scott Van Pelt’s midnight Sportscenter would be, because I was mostly upset about losing his radio show on my mid-day drives. I’d planned on getting straight to my writing room when the game ended, but I stuck around. It’s a shame the technical stuff had to be difficult in Virginia, I really would have loved to see him interview Braxton Miller.
Back on Sunday to discuss Week 2…61 hours until Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky kickoff.
It’s mid-July, which should mean we are preparing for all the excitement that the start of college football will bring next month. Except there’s one problem: the season doesn’t start until September. And the first Saturday of college football isn’t until September 5th. How did this happen?? And how do I make it stop? I’ll go ahead and blame the NCAA. It’s always their fault. Anyway, at this time I feel comfortable enough making some bold predictions about things that will happen this upcoming season. And by “at this time” I mean that it’s early enough that no one will remember these disastrous predictions once the season starts. Except for me. When I get one right. And constantly bring it up.
A non-QB wins the Heisman
Since 2000, 13 of the 15 Heisman winners have been quarterbacks (13 of 14 if, like the NCAA, you pretend Reggie Bush doesn’t exist). This year the heavy favorites are quarterbacks once again, with TCU signal caller Trevone Boykin at the top of that list. It will be hard to overcome him if he and TCU have a similar season as last year. But TCU’s offense may be so good this year that Boykin could be sitting out a lot of second halves. That could open the door for a couple running backs to sneak into the conversation. Ezekiel Elliott of Ohio State is the most likely running back to claim the award, according to pre-season odds, but my money would be on Georgia back Nick Chubb. Chubb rushed for over 1,500 yards last year on only 219 carries while splitting time with a sometimes-healthy Todd Gurley. Gurley has moved on to the NFL and the Bulldogs return four starting offensive linemen.
Ohio State doesn’t go back-to-back
It’s not exactly going out on the flimsiest of branches to pick the field versus one team to bring home the championship. This year however, Ohio State is the heavy favorite as they return seven starters on offense and defense from last year’s championship squad. It would be shocking if the Buckeyes misses a playoff berth, but it is really difficult to win consecutive championships, and somehow, some way I think having three great quarterbacks who all think they deserve to play will bite them. That along with the usual post-championship letdown will prevent Ohio State from really starting to form a dynasty.
Alabama and Florida State will win less than 10 games
Both Alabama and Florida State have been at the top of the college football world the last 5-10 years, with double-digit win seasons almost assured. I think both are ripe for serious regression this year however. Florida State is replacing a Heisman winning quarterback with one not nearly as talented, and they lost more players to the NFL from a defense that already wasn’t that great last year. Alabama has what should be a championship caliber defense again this year, but many of teams in the SEC have good defenses. When you can’t score and get in defensive battles, one or two little things can go the other team’s way and make the difference between winning nine games and winning 11. That will be the Crimson Tide this year since they have to replace a Senior QB, all of their starting WRs and 3 offensive linemen.
The Pac-12 gets left out of the College Football Playoff
This would be quite the headline for a conference that is on par with the SEC. Even though I think the Pac-12 might actually be better than the SEC this year, I still don’t think it gets quite the level of respect that the SEC does. A two-loss SEC champion would get the benefit of the doubt and in all likelihood get a playoff spot. I’m not sure the Pac-12 has that respect yet, and because the conference has so many good teams this year, I see their champion having at least two losses.
Michigan finishes 3rd in the Big 10
Ohio State and Michigan State should have a stranglehold on the top two spots in the conference once again, but I could be talked into almost anything for the remaining standings. Michigan’s defense returns 7 starters from a unit that was actually pretty good last year. It ranked 7th overall in yards and 27th in PPG allowed even though the offense continuously put them in bad spots. I’m not sure who the QB will be yet, but I know Jim Harbaugh can coach up quarterbacks as well as anyone and whoever starts the year under center will be protected by an offensive line that returns four starters.
For just the 2nd time since 2008, a team NOT from Alabama will win the SEC West
I’ve already covered how I feel about Alabama this year. I don’t think Arkansas is good enough quite yet to make that leap, regardless of the momentum they have from the end of 2014. LSU’s passing game resembles something you’d see at a local middle school and Texas A&M and Mississippi State don’t have the talent to make it through their brutal schedules. The other favorite besides Alabama is Auburn, and they will compete for the SEC West crown until the end. Their offense should be explosive as usual and improvements to the defense should land them in one of the New Year’s Six bowls. But they’ll come up just short in the division and that’s because….
For the 1st time since 1963, Ole Miss wins the SEC
Ole Miss is loaded with NFL talent. Not just middle round talent, but first-rounders. They have the best offensive lineman in the conference as well as arguably the best WR and TE in the country. They return 7 starters from the top scoring defense in the country last year and have experienced and/or talented players to replace the four departed starters. Almost as important, Ole Miss has a manageable schedule by SEC standards, something most of the other teams in the conference can’t say. They will have to decide on a starting quarterback, but both Ryan Buchanan and Chad Kelly were top recruits and all they have to do is take care of the ball better than Bo Wallace did, because they will have plenty of talent at their disposal.
TCU AND Baylor make the College Football Playoff
That’s right. A year after both felt snubbed after finishing 11-1, both squads will finish 11-1 once again. This time there won’t be other powerhouses for the committee to choose over them. Baylor’s lone loss will come @TCU two weeks before the season ends, but will be a close enough game to keep them in the Top 5. The Bears’ only real competition for a playoff spot will be a two loss Pac-12 champ, and the committee will vote in Baylor so they don’t have to go into witness protection for leaving them out two years in a row.
No one will complain about the committee’s Final Playoff Rankings
Though it will be hard to top the pre-season excitement of last year’s inaugural playoff, this year could come close. Besides Ohio State, there doesn’t appear to be another clear-cut team that should be a favorite to make the playoff. All the other contenders have major question marks, which should give us a year with many teams having hope for a playoff berth long into the season. Now if only the season started next month.
The championship game is somehow already two weeks behind us after capping another exciting bowl season. Now if only the off-season would go this fast. Whether it actually carries over to the next fall or not, big bowl wins seem to give teams momentum. They also seem to help boost a team’s pre-season ranking (even if that shouldn’t be the case) which is probably more important. We’ve already seen a few “too early” Top 25s rolled out since the championship game and combining that with the bowl results you can get a feel for some of the teams which have finished the year strong. Here are some teams I believe have the most momentum heading into the off-season.
This one is pretty obvious, but it’s hard to not feel good about yourself when your school is coming off a national championship. And not just a national championship, one in which you dropped the unbeatable SEC, silenced doubters, and put a conference back on the map along the way. If that wasn’t enough, the Buckeyes return a litany of important players from their championship squad. Star running back Ezekiel Elliot joins a Heisman contending quarterback (take your pick of Braxton Miller, JT Barrett, and Cardale Jones) to lead an offense that won’t be slowed often in 2015.
TCU The Horned Frogs represent the other school which will likely be in the Top 2 of many pre-season ballots. Though the team that got in the playoff at four ended up winning the championship, the Horned Frogs still have solid backing as a team that deserved a shot this year. They stamped that backing with a demolition of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. Now you have a 12-1 team with a chip on its shoulder, coming off a bowl win that returns a potential Heisman contender in Trevone Boykin at quarterback. Sounds like a recipe for a pre-season title contender even before you throw in the fact that Boykin will have nine other returning starters with him on offense.
USC has been struggling to get back to its college football front runner days that have escaped them since Pete Carroll left for the NFL. A few years here and there they have gotten some pre-season buzz as potentially being “back”. 2015 looks to be one of those years as well. The Trojans finished the year 9-4 after winning a shootout over Nebraska in their bowl game and return QB Cody Kessler who closed the year with 39 TDs and only 5 INTs all while completing just under 70% of his passes. 3 of their 4 losses were by six points or less and they’ll be battling in a Pac-12 conference that has no clear-cut favorite going into 2015.
The Sun Devils are another Pac-12 team that could take advantage of Oregon taking a step back with Marcus Mariota’s departure. Arizona State went 10-3 and returns most of its starters from a defense that nobody, save for UCLA, had fun facing. They do have to replace potential first round pick at WR Jaelen Strong, but versatile playmaker DJ Foster returns and QB Mike Bercovici played well in Taylor Kelly’s absence so there may not even be a downgrade under center.
A few others to watch:
Dominated Oklahoma in their bowl game and DeShaun Watson could lead one of the nation’s most electrifying offenses if he’s back healthy from a torn ACL by fall camp.
Coming off back to back SEC East crowns and returns four offensive lineman, RB Russell Hansbrough, and QB Maty Mauk.
The Razorbacks may not have arrived just yet, but QB Brandon Allen was improved and the Hogs return two 1,000 yard rushers after finishing the year strong.
As a college football fan, conference championship weekend is both the best and the worst weekend of the year. It usually has a handful of the best games you’ll see all year and this year that included playoff implications. On the other hand, it signals the end of regular college football action for nine months. But at least we have bowl season as a send-off, a two week flurry of action where you can find multiple games to watch almost every single day. We know the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl will be huge and exciting because they are the playoff games and you have the best teams involved. What other games are there to look forward to during bowl season? I rank the Top 10 non-playoff bowl games to watch.
1. Cotton Bowl: Michigan State vs. Baylor
This game is almost up to par with the two playoff games that will be played later on New Year’s Day. Two teams that had playoff aspirations coming into the year and had good seasons but fell just short. Both teams have NFL talent on each side of the ball. Each squad has a potent offense that can beat you through the air or on the ground. Baylor’s defense certainly wasn’t a huge strength this year and Michigan State’s defense got rolled in its two games against top competition (Oregon and Ohio State) so I expect a shootout.
2. Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU
Ole Miss spent time at number one this year and even though they faltered in the last month, ended the year on a high note by ending rival Mississippi State’s playoff chances and finishing in the Top 10. TCU thought it had a playoff spot locked up right up until the selection show. They have an exciting offense led by Trevone Boykin to go with a stout defense and will be out to prove they should have been one of the playoff committee’s selections.
3. Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson
This game loses some luster because of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson being out but there’s still plenty to look forward to. It will be a defensive battle with two of the best defenses in the country. Oklahoma’s defense didn’t always play up to its potential this year, but I have a feeling it will look more like the unit most thought we’d see this year going up against Cole Stoudt. It will also be interesting to see if Trevor Knight can have the kind of bowl game he had last year against Alabama.
4. Fiesta Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona
Boise State is no stranger to the Fiesta Bowl and comes in on an eight game win streak. Arizona comes in having been trounced in the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon after flirting with an outside chance at a playoff spot for parts of the year. The extra practice time should do wonders for Wildcat freshman QB Anu Solomon and will be opposed on the other side by one of the best running backs in the country, Boise State’s Jay Ajayi.
5. Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech
This Orange Bowl will be hard-pressed to live up to last year’s shootout between Clemson and Ohio State but it still pits a Mississippi State team which was in the playoff hunt the whole year against a Georgia Tech team that was an onside kick away from potentially knocking off Florida State. Dak Prescott was a Heisman contender the first half of the year and should find success against the Yellow Jacket defense. On the flip side, can Georgia Tech mix in enough passes to take advantage of the Bulldogs’ pass defense which was one of the worst in the nation?
6. Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois
This game has two of the best offenses many people don’t know about. Marshall was 5th in the country at 45 points per game and has a balanced attack which averaged over 200 yards on the ground and in the air each game. At 12-1, their loss against Western Kentucky two weeks ago prevented them from a potential Fiesta Bowl appearance. Northern Illinois comes in as the 11-2 MAC champion and led by their run game, 15th best in the country, should be able to put up points against a Marshall defense that gave up 67 of them in their lone loss.
7. Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Duke
This could be a shootout between two teams who both average over 30 points per game on the year but have also had their share of games getting lit up on defense. Both teams will be looking to cap off the year by getting to double digit wins and will feature two extremely talented wide receivers in Jaelen Strong and Jamison Crowder.
8. Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Colorado State
Coach Jim McElwain’s departure to Florida puts a bit of a damper on Colorado State’s 10-2 year, but I’m sure the players will be out to prove they can win without him there. Colorado State is led by their offense which finished just outside the Top 10 nationally in yards per game and will try to defeat a Utah team that finished 8-4 after a 6-1 start.
9. Liberty Bowl: West Virginia vs. Texas A&M
If this list is any indication, it appears I have a thing for high-scoring affairs. West Virginia and Texas A&M could be another one. Neither team could crack the Top 70 in scoring defense this year and we’ll get to see two different types of offense. Texas A&M’s spread air attack and West Virginia’s spread option should both have success in this game. Potential first round WR Kevin White of the Mountaineers and the young Aggie receivers who could be future high draft picks could all run wild.
10. Texas Bowl: Texas vs. Arkansas
This might be the most hyped game ever between teams 6-6 teams. Arkansas comes in riding high after scoring their first two conference wins in forever in shutouts against LSU and Ole Miss and then barely losing on the road to SEC East champ Missouri. Then there’s Texas, who won three straight Big 12 games before ending the year by losing to playoff-caliber TCU. Both teams showed improvement throughout the year and will look to continue that momentum into the off-season with a bowl victory.
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