Keys to CFB Week 9 and Score Predictions

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Keys to CFB Week 9 and Score Predictions

Although this weekend doesn’t possess a tremendous slate of games, it’s definitely a weekend for some former dregs of the CFB world to make a statement. Take for instance, Memphis and Temple, two of the three undefeated teams in the AAC. In 2013, Temple had two wins, one of them being over Memphis, while the Tigers had three wins. I’ll do the math for you, that’s five wins, combined, just two seasons ago. How have things changed?

 

Each team is 7-0 entering this weekend. It hasn’t been an overnight change, but Memphis head coach Justin Fuente and Temple head coach Matt Rhule have transformed formerly bottom feeder programs and made them viable yet again.

Case in point, ESPN College Gameday will be in Philly this weekend to celebrate...Temple football. It’s not the first time that Gameday has been in Philly, but the only other time that I remember was for a Penn-Princeton game. That’s right, Gameday went to Franklin Field for an Ivy League game before it ever was on-site for a Temple game.

That changes on Saturday. Each of the three undefeateds in the AAC have home games as Houston faces Vanderbilt and Memphis tangles with Tulane, but Temple gets the most stern test of the bunch as the 6-1 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame roll into Philly.

On the other coast, Washington State faces one of the hottest teams in the country - the Stanford Cardinal. Gameday considered going to Pullman, but settled for cheesesteaks and Owls on Saturday.

How about some more on those two games? Thanks for asking. Here are my thoughts on those two games.

Notre Dame at Temple

When Notre Dame has the ball...keep an eye on Temple LB Tyler Matakevich. He’s a ball magnet and will be charged with tracking Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise throughout the game. One of the most underrated/underappreciated aspects in this game is the speed and quickness of the Temple defensive front. Unfortunately, other than DT Matt Ioannidis, it doesn’t have a ton of size. Expect Notre Dame to pound the rock early to get the safeties and linebackers to bite on play action, leaving Irish star WR Will Fuller open deep down the field later in the game.

When Temple has the ball...if you haven’t seen Temple RB Jahad Thomas run the football, you’ve missed out. He’s not a big fella at only 180 lb., but he runs hard, behind his pads and can make you miss in space. The Irish defensive front has the capability to dominate the action but one matchup that I’m excited to see is veteran Owl center Kyle Friend against the Irish interior Jerry Tillery, Daniel Cage and Sheldon Day. The Irish safeties have been hit or miss this season but they’ll need to be factors in run support, which puts the Irish DBs on an island against some big receivers.

Key Matchups

Temple WR No. 19 Robby Anderson v. Notre Dame CB No. 6 KeiVarae Russell

Notre Dame C No. 72 Nick Martin v. Temple DT No. 9 Matt Ioannidis

Conclusion

This Temple team won’t back down from anyone and has taken on the tough natured identity of its head coach Matt Rhule. But, Notre Dame has found ways to get all of its weapons involved in the offense and that’ll be too much for the Owl defense to handle. Temple needs Thomas to get revved up early and put Notre Dame back on its heels. Even if he does do that, I think Temple will have a hard time stopping Notre Dame’s full array of weapons. Irish QB DeShone Kizer will lead the Irish to another victory.

Notre Dame - 31 vs. Temple - 19

Stanford at Washington State

Can Stanford effectively control and frustrate WSU star QB Luke Falk? Not entirely but enough.

Can Stanford run the ball to its heart’s content? Yes.

Can Washington State provide any balance to the offense to keep Christian McCaffrey off the field? Nope.

 

Is River Cracraft the best name in college football? Pretty close.

Is he the best WR in the Pac-12? Pretty close

How does Washington State win the game? In a shootout.

How does Stanford win the game? Every other way.

 

Key Matchup

Stanford G No. 51 Joshua Garnett v. WSU DT No. 97 Destiny Vaeao and DT No. 50 Hercules Mata'afa

Conclusion

Stanford is the perhaps the hottest team in the nation and although Washington State has cranked up the offensive machine lately, the defense has yielded 37 points per game in last three Pac-12 contests. The Cardinal offense will crank up that diesel yet again in Pullman.

Stanford - 45 vs. Washington State - 31

Friday October 30, 2015 - Home team in Bold

Louisville - 22 vs. Wake Forest - 13

East Carolina - 28 vs. U Conn - 17

La. Tech - 38 vs. Rice - 23

Utah State - 29 vs. Wyoming - 13

Saturday October 31, 2015 - Home team in Bold

Western Kentucky - 45 vs. Old Dominion - 21

Cincinnati - 38 vs. UCF - 14

Navy - 31 vs. South Florida - 20

Penn State - 20 vs. Illinois - 18

Wisconsin - 29 vs. Rutgers - 16

Auburn - 31 vs. Ole Miss - 29 (Upset special)

Texas A&M - 29 vs. South Carolina - 21

Florida State - 37 vs. Syracuse - 17

Virginia Tech - 19 vs. Boston College - 16

Ball State - 27 vs. U Mass - 21

Akron - 29 vs. Central Michigan - 24

Southern Miss - 45 vs. UTEP - 21

Georgia Tech - 28 vs. Virginia - 23

USC - 41 vs. Cal - 37

UCLA - 38 vs. Colorado - 21

Clemson - 34 vs. NC State - 26

Florida - 23 vs. Georgia - 17 (Jacksonville)

Marshall - 45 vs. Charlotte - 14

FIU - 27 vs. FAU - 25

Oklahoma - 51 vs. Kansas - 19

Texas Tech - 49 vs. Oklahoma State - 43

Iowa - 27 vs. Maryland - 17

Boise State - 35 vs. UNLV - 17

San Diego State - 38 vs. Colorado State - 29

Appalachian State - 34 vs. Troy - 17

Tulsa - 49 vs. SMU - 39

Arkansas - 56 vs. UT-Martin - 13

ULL - 34 vs. ULM - 21

Arkansas State - 41 vs. Georgia State - 14

Memphis - 48 vs. Tulane - 21

Utah - 29 vs. Oregon State - 12

Houston - 26 vs. Vanderbilt - 17

Duke - 31 vs. Miami - 26

Michigan - 26 vs. Minnesota - 18

Texas - 29 vs. Iowa State - 16

UTSA - 38 vs. UNT - 34

Tennessee - 34 vs. Kentucky - 31

Idaho - 35 vs. NMSU - 20

Air Force - 31 vs. Hawai’i - 30

Washington - 27 vs. Arizona - 24

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Keys to CFB Week 8 & Game Predictions

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Keys to CFB Week 8 & Game Predictions

Man, I sneezed and we’re already at week eight in the CFB regular season. This season has been sort of like my non-existent golf game - all over the place, lost balls and a few curse words to go right along with the action. Well, all of that, and the fact that like my drives off the tee, there’s no telling what will happen each and every weekend. I’ve been absent with my picks lately and I apologize profusely for that being the case. So, let’s dive in with some quick thoughts on this week’s action, one of the sketchiest looking weekends on paper, yet what have I’ve said for a while - that’s when the magic truly happens.

 

Let’s take a look at a few games this way…(home team’s name is bold)

Game of the Weekend, Part I

Tennessee at Alabama - Talk about sandwich games. Alabama just traveled to College Station and will go to Baton Rouge on November 7th for a titanic struggle with LSU. All that stands between the Crimson Tide and a monumental Saturday Night in Death Valley is a talented Tennessee squad that can disrupt the entire season. Unfortunately, the injuries in Knoxville have essentially crippled the Vols’ firepower, so to speak. Tennessee RB Jalen Hurd is probable for the Saturday tilt and he’s one of a few still able to go. On the other hand, Alabama could be without C Ryan Kelly who suffered a concussion in the win at Texas A&M. When Kelly was out of the game, the Crimson Tide struggled to run the ball against A&M, so that could slow Derrick Henry and the Tide run game.

Buuuuuut, that won’t be enough as the Tide defense has become one of the best in the nation at creating turnovers and winning on special teams. Consequently, it’s not that surprising to be honest. S Eddie Jackson is the key in the middle of the field, but ILB Reggie Ragland will truly be in the spotlight v. QB Josh Dobbs and Hurd in the run game.

Alabama - 34 vs. Tennessee - 24

Game of the Weekend, Part II

Texas A&M at Ole Miss - A potential championship opportunity is on the line for both of these teams. Both have one loss in the SEC - Ole Miss lost at Florida, while A&M lost last week to Alabama at home. Both still have LSU on the docket as well (Ole Miss plays LSU at home, while A&M goes to Baton Rouge in the season finale), so a loss here pretty much ends Championship Dreams for one of these teams. Most eyes in Vaught-Hemingway will be on Ole Miss LT Laremy Tunsil as he returns from a half-season suspension and his matchup with Texas A&M star DE Myles Garrett is worth the price of admission alone.

Ole Miss’ speed mystified the Aggies in College Station last year and that worried me when I thought about this game at the outset of the season. But the Rebels’ injuries nearly mitigate the home field advantage they have in this one and it’s not like the loss last week to Memphis gave anyone any more confidence that Ole Miss can get it right this week. But, injuries and all, I’ll give the slight edge to Ole Miss to win in desperation fashion. What do they call it - winning ugly? That’s what it’ll be, without question, and it won’t matter to Hugh Freeze in the slightest.

Ole Miss - 33 vs. Texas A&M - 29

West Coast Chaos?

Utah at USC

Nah. Not happening. The Utes are better in just about every single way right now than the Trojans.

Utah - 31 vs. USC - 19

Potential upset special?

Memphis at Tulsa - the Tigers are coming off of a truly dominant win over an SEC power last week, have to travel to Tulsa on a short week and rain is a 50% possibility on Friday night. Ultimately, I don’t think Tulsa has enough firepower to pull off the win, but I’ll take the ten points Vegas laid down as the spread.

Memphis - 38 vs. Tulsa - 31

Game most expected to follow the script

Iowa State at Baylor - The Cyclones have been valiant in defeat the pass few weeks...okay, that’s me trying to be nice. In losses to Texas Tech in Lubbock and in Ames v. TCU, the Cyclones gave up 111 points. What awaits them this week? A trip to McLane Stadium to face the most explosive offense in college football. Yeah, this one is about to get ugly and Baylor will go medieval on Iowa State. The biggest question is whether Baylor gets to 60 for sixth consecutive game. I say yes.

Baylor - 64 vs. Iowa State - 24

Top 25 most certain to go down in defeat

Florida State at Georgia Tech - I just can’t see FSU losing but stopping the option, on the road against a desperate Yellow Jacket squad isn’t going to be easy. At all. I don’t ultimately think that Georgia Tech wins this game, but you know what, why not? I’m rolling the dice on an upset to knock FSU from the ranks of the unbeaten.

Georgia Tech - 28 vs. Florida State - 24

Huge game, flying under the radar

Western Kentucky at LSU - WKU HBC Jeff Brohm has done a whale of a job with this Hilltopper program. Outside of a loss to Indiana in Bloomington, the Hilltoppers have run the table with wins over Vanderbilt and Louisiana Tech. LSU? That’s a whole different ball game, but considering the fact that LSU has Alabama up next, there’s a good chance that the Tigers will look well past WKU and forward to the trip to Tuscaloosa in two weeks. That’s music to Brohm’s ears, especially with QB Brandon Doughty slinging the rock all over Baton Rouge. Then again, WKU yields over 172 yards per game on the ground, so stopping Leonard Fournette and company is not going to happen. Expect Fournette to hit 200 by the third quarter and Doughty to go well over 400. But, in the end, LSU will outlast the Hilltoppers in the last 15 minutes.

LSU - 49 vs. WKU - 31

Game Predictions for Friday October 23, 2015 - Home team is Bold

Utah State - 37 vs. San Diego State - 17

Game Predictions for Saturday October 24, 2015 - Home team is Bold

Houston - 45 vs. UCF - 20

Southern Mississippi - 42 vs. Charlotte - 24

Texas - 27 vs. Kansas State - 26

NC State - 20 vs. Wake Forest - 12

Pitt - 22 vs. Syracuse - 16

Rice - 27 vs. Army - 14

Arkansas - 30 vs. Auburn - 28

Clemson - 31 vs. Miami - 19

Louisville - 20 vs. Boston College - 16

Navy - 35 vs. Tulane - 13

Bowling Green - 49 vs. Kent State - 31

Air Force - 45 vs. Fresno State - 23

Western Michigan - 42 vs. Miami (OH) - 13

Toledo - 45 vs. UMass - 21

BYU - 56 vs. Wagner - 3

Central Michigan - 30 vs. Ball State - 20

Northern Illinois - 51 vs. Eastern Michigan - 16

North Carolina - 42 vs. Virginia - 24

Ohio - 34 vs. Buffalo - 17

La. Tech - 34 vs. MTSU - 21

Marshall - 54 vs. North Texas - 6

Wisconsin - 24 vs. Illinois - 20

Penn State - 20 vs. Maryland - 16

Michigan State - 38 vs. Indiana - 29

Duke - 23 vs. Virginia Tech - 19

Oklahoma - 51 vs. Texas Tech - 40

Oklahoma State - 59 vs. Kansas - 17

Arizona - 41 vs. Washington State - 35

Missouri - 20 vs. Vanderbilt - 9

USF - 36 vs. SMU - 20

Nevada - 29 vs. Hawai’i - 17

Cincinnati - 35 vs. U Conn - 24

ULM - 27 vs. Idaho - 24

FIU - 31 vs. Old Dominion - 20

UTEP - 39 vs. FAU - 37

South Alabama - 26 vs. Texas State - 21

San Jose State - 31 vs. New Mexico - 29

Mississippi State - 30 vs. Kentucky - 26

Ohio State - 49 vs. Rutgers - 17

New Mexico State - 7 vs. Troy - 6

Boise State - 48 vs. Wyoming - 24

Oregon State - 25 vs. Colorado - 21

Stanford - 35 vs. Washington - 14

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Revered, reviled...retired? Say it ain't so, HBC

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Revered, reviled...retired? Say it ain't so, HBC

Following my graduation from Brown University in 1994, I was convinced that I wanted nothing to do with football or coaching, in particular the coaching part. I had just concluded my college football career and was a bit butt-hurt about losing so often, sitting the bench when I wanted to compete and thinking that politics played too much of a role as to who played, traveled and ultimately succeeded.

Yeah, being young and dumb was real but I digress.

When a cushy engineering gig fell through in the spring of 1994, I was left scrambling for a job and decided until I figured it out, I could teach and coach at a private secondary school. Do that for a couple of years, go back to school, find a multi-million dollar job and make mad cash for the next three decades. Okay, that certainly didn't happen but I did find myself in Jacksonville, Florida at Episcopal High School as the school's head junior high football coach and math teacher. I didn't expect to be stung by the coaching bug, yet there I was after day two of my coaching career wanting nothing more than to coach on a daily basis.

So, here I was in Florida at a time when Bobby Bowden had just won a national championship in 1993. The Miami Hurricanes had just won a fourth national championship in 1991. But, the Florida Gators were the program that had my attention, to be honest.

Why? Simple.

Steve Spurrier.

I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to coach with his bravado. I wanted to put up 50 points with regularity. I wanted Fun. I wanted Gun I wanted a Shane Matthews to lead my offense. I wanted to run his offense...with seventh and eighth graders. I had found my coaching muse. I wore the sweater vest. I couldn't wear the visor but I tried.

It was Steve Spurrier.

I coached with a few buddies that once worked for Spurrier that told Spurrier stories all day and I couldn't get enough.

 

I tried to explain Spurrier to my wife and I couldn’t really do it, then I remembered a simple spring scrimmage from 20 years ago.

After two years of traveling to games in Gainesville, I went down with a friend of mine for a scrimmage in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the spring of 1996. Spurrier had hired a new defensive coordinator that I loved and I was curious to see him at work. Bob Stoops wasn't a well known commodity in the area, but I had followed his work at Kansas State and was thrilled that Spurrier finally had his leading man on defense. So, we walked in the Stadium, with our Burrito Brothers grub, and it just so happened that the Gators defense was dominating the action. A couple of picks. A hard tackle. Threes and out for about 20 minutes.

All the while, Spurrier stood off to the side, ripping his visor off at times, while he rubbed his head and tucked his hands under his arms. It was clear he had finally seen enough. He looked over at his soon-to-be Heisman Trophy quarterback Danny Wuerffel and called him over. Spurrier spoke to Wuerffel for about ten seconds and then let the destruction commence.

Wuerffel completed about five or six passes in a row, the last one for a touchdown. Spurrier walked by Stoops without saying anything and whistled Wuerffel back over to take a knee next to him.

Mission accomplished.

Spurrier was the most competitive coach I had seen and losing drove him so over the edge, even in a spring scrimmage to a hot-shot, young coaching star. He and Stoops became close and their relationship as head ball coach and defensive coordinator led to Florida’s first national championship that following fall.

At a noon press conference on Tuesday, he decided it was time to hang ‘em up. He didn't belabor the point. He didn't get emotional. He didn't stay beyond his welcome. He certainly did it his way and went out his way.

Some find fault in him "quitting" early but the flip side is that he knew he couldn't give that team what it needed and he knew someone else could. I'm conflicted on the timing but not the man himself. The memories hit in waves.

In the 1994 SEC Championship on the game’s penultimate drive, he had a QB fake an injury to set up a long completion, called for a double pass a few plays later and empowered his QB to audible to a slant route for the game winning TD from the two yard line.

He nearly ruined the SEC's grand championship plan in 1992.

He beat Peyton Manning four straight years.

He once beat Auburn with a QB nicknamed "Fat Dog".

He knocked Florida State out of the national championship game/beat them in the national championship for three straight years.

He put his rain gear on late in the win over Florida State in the 1997 Sugar Bowl to avoid getting wet after the Gatorade dousing.

I'll never forget his 1999 team beating Tennessee.

I never saw a team more dominant than his 1996 team in a win over LSU. I left at halftime.

He was a stickler for the rules and never broke them.

And, he certainly never missed a tee time.

Now that it's over, there are no words to say other than...

Thanks, Coach.

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Keys to CFB Week 5 & All Game Predictions

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Keys to CFB Week 5 & All Game Predictions

I love October perhaps more than any other month on the calendar. Why? Weather typically turns cooler. Fall flavors and comfort. But, mostly, it’s because football is in full swing. Teams are hitting their stride. Ballers are stepping away from the pack. The cream rises to the top and we start to get a much better picture of the college football landscape. That said, the first weekend of October kicks off with a ton of conference play, mixed with only a handful non-conference games on the calendar (some odd ones too - LSU v. Eastern Michigan??)

Either way, let’s breakdown the biggest games of the weekend, starting in Athens

Alabama at Georgia

When Alabama has the ball...Play slower. I know that OC Lane Kiffin wants to run more hurry-up, NASCAR type up-tempo. But, he can help the Alabama defense out by playing a much more controlled game, i.e Sloooooower game. Keep the snap count down and rely on RB Derrick Henry to pound the rock. I want Kiffin to utilize RB Kenyan Drake more in this game to put pressure on the Georgia perimeter. Drake is really the one weapon that can thrive in space in this game for Alabama.

Georgia doesn’t need to get exotic, but if it can vary the looks for whatever Alabama quarterback that plays, the better off the Dawg defense will be. Unleash OLB Leonard Floyd and when he lines up at ILB, bring him in the A gaps to get early pressure in the face of Jake Coker/Cooper Bateman/Alec Morris/Whomever.

Alabama Offensive Players to Watch

LT No. 74 Cam Robinson

RB No. 2 Derrick Henry

Alabama Offensive X-Factor

C No. 70 Ryan Kelly

Georgia Defensive Players to Watch

OLB/ILB No. 84 Leonard Floyd

OLB No. 59 Jordan Jenkins

Georgia Defensive X-Factor

S No. 24 Dominick Sanders

When Georgia has the ball...OC Brian Schottenheimer hasn’t been tested all season long, to be honest. Perhaps, that’s because the Georgia offense is just flat outstanding, but Alabama will provide some looks QB Greyson Lambert hasn’t seen this year. Either way, Schottenheimer needs to spread the wealth early in the game and then settle in with RB Nick Chubb in the second half. RB/ATH Sony Michel needs at least a dozen touches in this one as well, whether that’s carries or receptions. Alabama doesn’t really have a player to match up with him in space.

Defensively, Alabama isn’t truly fast so the space game that Georgia can play with Michel and bounce runs/screens/draws with Chubb is a killer. Tackling well is a must, so expect a bunch of Alabama defensive backs on the field to counteract Georgia’s advantage out in the open.

Georgia Offensive Players to Watch

G No. 73 Greg Pyke

RB No. 27 Nick Chubb

 

Georgia Offensive X-Factor

TE No. 83 Jeb Blazevich

 

Alabama Defensive Players to Watch

ILB No. 19 Reggie Ragland

S No. 4 Eddie Jackson

 

Alabama Defensive X-Factor

DEs No. 90 Jarran Reed & No. 86 A’Shawn Robinson

 

Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

Alabama

Offense

RB No. 2 Derrick Henry

C No. 70 Ryan Kelly

TE No. 88 O.J. Howard

 

Defense

DE No. 93 Jonathan Allen (questionable to play)

NT No. 86 A’Shawn Robinson

DE No. 90 Jarran Reed

OLB No. 30 Denzel Devall

MLB No. 19 Reggie Ragland

CB No. 5 Cyrus Jones

 

Georgia

Offense

WR No. 26 Malcolm Mitchell

G No. 73 Greg Pyke

T No. 71 John Theus

 

Defense

OLB No. 84 Leonard Floyd

OLB No. 59 Jordan Jenkins

S No. 20 Quincy Mauger

 

Conclusion

A few weeks ago, I picked Alabama to beat Ole Miss, thinking that it would be a game played between the tackles at some point. Ole Miss made it a space game and that’s honestly not a game this Alabama team is built to handle. Georgia will run the ball between the tackles and that’s Alabama’s game. Chubb will have to work for everything he gets in this one but Michel on the perimeter could have a fantastic afternoon against the Alabama defensive perimeter. Lambert has been hot lately and as long as he takes what the ‘Bama secondary gives him and doesn’t get greedy, the Dawgs should win and stay undefeated.

 

Georgia - 34 vs. Alabama - 29

 

Notre Dame at Clemson

When Notre Dame has the ball...QB DeShone Kizer has thrived throwing the ball outside the numbers. He’s been effective throwing it, in general, but he’s really destroyed opponents down the field near the sideline. That means Fuller, who should get a healthy dose of Alexander in his kitchen. But, Prosise can break the game wide open in this run game as the loss of Tarean Folston really hasn’t set them back in the run game at all. In fact, the run game may be more dangerous with the additional touches for Prosise, Josh Adams and Amir Carlisle.

Clemson may have the biggest front the Irish have faced this season. On the road at Virginia, the Irish OL struggled a bit with UVa’s front seven so this facing this Clemson front will be a chore. DC Brent Venables’ defense must force the ball to bounce to the outside to allow 2nd and 3rd level speed to run it down. Then, it’s up to the Tigers to tackle consistently enough to keep the big plays in check.

Notre Dame Offensive Players to Watch

WR No. 7 Will Fuller

RB No. 20 C.J. Prosise

 

Notre Dame Offensive X-Factor

C No. 72 Nick Martin

 

Clemson Defensive Players to Watch

DE No. 90 Shaq Lawson

S No. 1 Jayron Kearse

 

Clemson Defensive X-Factor

CB No. 2 Mackensie Alexander

 

When Clemson has the ball...The loss of WR Mike Williams has left a void that the offense seems to not have replaced. But, the difference in this whole game is the presence of Deshaun Watson under center. Playmaker. Calm. Poised. Smooth. Leader. The backbone of this offense. I don’t want to see him running the ball much, but a few scheduled runs will keep Notre Dame honest.

I’m not a fan of using spy technique a ton but with two excellent linebackers at the second level - Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt - I wouldn’t be surprised to see DC Brian Van Gorder spy one of them on Watson at various times in this game to keep scrambles and off-scheduled plays to a minimum.

Clemson Offensive Players to Watch

QB No. 4 Deshaun Watson

RB No. 9 Wayne Gallman II

 

Clemson Offensive X-Factor

TE No. 16 Jordan Leggett/No. 81 Stanton Seckinger

 

Notre Dame Defensive Players to Watch

ILB No. 9 Jaylon Smith

DE No. 91 Sheldon Day

 

Notre Dame Defensive X-Factor

CB/Nickel No. 6 KeiVarae Russell

 

Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch

Notre Dame

Offense

LT No. 78 Ronnie Stanley

C/G No. 72 Nick Martin

WR No. 7 Will Fuller

WR No. 2 Chris Brown

RB No. 20 C.J. Prosise

 

Defense

DE No. 91 Sheldon Day

ILB No. 9 Jaylon Smith

ILB No. 38 Joe Schmidt

S No. 22 Elijah Shumate

 

Clemson

Offense

RB No. 9 Wayne Gallman

 

Defense

DE No. 90 Shaq Lawson

CB No. 2 Mackensie Alexander

S No. 1 Jayron Kearse

 

Conclusion

Ultimately, I think this one comes down to the fact that Clemson has its main weapon pulling the trigger - Watson, while two of ND’s three most dangerous offensive threats - Folston & QB Malik Zaire. This is the weekend that the losses of Zaire, Falston and Jarron Jones finally rear their ugly head. I don’t know if Clemson is beyond Clemson-ing one at home, but I get the feeling with Watson at the helm, those days are few and far between. The silky smooth sophomore will make special plays at the right times in a Tiger win.

 

Clemson - 29 vs. Notre Dame- 22

 

Other Games of Note

Mississippi State at Texas A&M

Can anyone stop Christian Kirk? The Aggie true freshman dynamo has set the world on fire and might be the most electric player in the SEC, not named Fournette or Chubb. Last year, Mississippi State embarrassed the undisciplined/poor tackling Aggie defense and it didn’t help matters that the A&M offense turned the ball over repeatedly in Starkville. Although the Aggies are again undefeated, coming off of an overtime win over Arkansas, this time feels different. However, the Aggie defense is going to have to take away the middle of the field in the passing game or QB Dak Prescott will put 50 on the board again. I don’t think he does and I believe that this, ultimately, could be the most exciting game of the weekend.

 

Texas A&M - 30 vs. Mississippi State - 26

 

Arizona State at UCLA

Did we...or better put, did I oversell Mike Bercovici at quarterback for Arizona State? Well, I think the guy can still play, but I certainly didn’t fall as hard for the Sun Devils as some that picked ASU to be in the playoff at the end of the season. In fact, I said UCLA was my darkhorse to be the fourth team in the playoff but it’s going to be tough without defensive starsMyles Jack, Fabien Moreau and Eddie Vanderdoes, all out for the season. But, true freshman QB Josh Rosen has been all he was hyped to be, although he’s just gotten the ball to his weapons to let them make the plays. Either way you slice it, it’s working. And that will continue in a win over ASU in the Rose Bowl.

 

UCLA - 42 vs. Arizona State - 30

 

Arizona at Stanford

Two-Star Scoob is out. QB Anu Solomon is still experiencing the effects of a concussion in last week’s beatdown at the hands of UCLA. Arizona has no shot, right? Well, yeah, that’s probably about right, to be honest. Stanford lost its opener to Northwestern and then immediately turned it around the following week and hasn’t looked back. 31-7 over UCF. 41-31 over USC in the Coliseum and 42-24 over Oregon State in Corvallis. With that offensive blip v. Northwestern behind it, don’t expect the Cardinal offense to falter in that way again this season.

 

Stanford - 41 vs. Arizona - 20

 

Thursday October 1, 2015 - Home team in Bold

Miami (FL) - 31 vs. Cincinnati - 29

 

Friday October 2, 2015 - Home Team is Bold

Memphis - 48 vs. USF - 30

Temple - 23 vs. Charlotte - 14

BYU - 24 vs. U Conn - 12

 

Saturday October 3, 2015 - Home Team is Bold

Tulane - 25 vs. UCF - 23

Houston - 45 vs. Tulsa - 39

Missouri - 27 vs. South Carolina - 20

Virginia Tech - 19 vs. Pitt - 15

Penn State - 31 vs. Army - 10

Iowa State - 21 vs. Kansas - 18

Oklahoma - 23 vs. West Virginia - 21

TCU - 51 vs. Texas - 30

Michigan - 34 vs. Maryland - 9

Michigan State - 35 vs. Purdue - 10

Northwestern - 23 vs. Minnesota - 16

Iowa - 30 vs. Wisconsin - 26

NC State - 29 vs. Louisville - 24

Akron - 29 vs. Ohio - 28

U Mass - 38 vs. FIU - 27

Toledo - 35 vs. Ball State - 20

Northern Illinois - 31 vs. Central Michigan - 26

Appalachian State - 27 vs. Wyoming - 23

Liberty - 28 vs. Georgia State - 24

Duke - 24 vs. Boston College - 19

Georgia Tech - 42 vs. North Carolina - 27

Ohio State - 41 vs. Indiana - 23

Florida State - 29 vs. Wake Forest - 9

Rice - 38 vs. Western Kentucky - 35

Bowling Green - 37 vs. Buffalo - 26

Kent State - 34 vs. Miami (OH) - 17

Marshall - 46 vs. Old Dominion - 23

Navy - 29 vs. Air Force - 27

Baylor - 63 vs. Texas Tech - 49 (Arlington - AT&T Stadium)

East Carolina - 39 vs. SMU - 31

Auburn - 42 vs. San Jose State - 24

Nebraska - 28 vs. Illinois - 23

Oklahoma State - 38 vs. Kansas State - 27

Cal - 49 vs. Washington State - 30

Arkansas State - 45 vs. Idaho - 20

Nevada - 41 vs. UNLV - 29

Troy - 34 vs. South Alabama - 23

Utah State - 31 vs. Colorado State - 24

Ole Miss - 26 vs. Florida - 17

Tennessee - 31 vs. Arkansas - 27

LSU - 54 vs. Eastern Michigan - 10

Southern Miss - 38 vs. North Texas - 17

La. Tech - 35 vs. ULL - 24

Georgia Southern - 32 vs. ULM - 20

MTSU - 23 vs. Vanderbilt - 21

Kentucky - 49 vs. Eastern Kentucky - 24

New Mexico - 41 vs. NMSU - 18

UTEP - 41 vs. UTSA - 29

Oregon - 37 vs. Colorado - 34

Boise State - 35 vs. Hawai’i - 13

San Diego State - 54 vs. Fresno State - 34

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Keys to CFB Week 3 & All Score Predictions

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Keys to CFB Week 3 & All Score Predictions

I don’t like to tell you that I told you so, buuuuut I told you so. Remember when I said that when the weekend looked like a hot pile of garbage that there was a more than likely chance for the college football world to turn in a few gems? Well, you should’ve remembered that because that’s exactly what happened.

Jacksonville State took Auburn to the final gun in a tete-a-tete no one saw coming.

Toledo, without stud RB Kareem Hunt, upset Arkansas in Little Rock, a scant few days after head coach Bret Bielema threw jabs at Ohio State as it pertained to its supposed weak schedule. He should have worried more about the other Ohio team on HIS schedule.

Notre Dame woke up the echoes with a stirring last second win when backup QB DeShone Kizer launched a moon rocket to WR Will Fuller for the game winner over Virginia on the road.

There were no Hail Mary passes to win games last weekend but it was a wonderful weekend, as they all are in the college football atmosphere. Here are some keys to the biggest games of week three and of course, my predictions for all games in FBS this weekend.

Ole Miss at Alabama

When Ole Miss has the ball…Alabama’s defense must keep it out of Laquon Treadwell’s hands, no matter what. It must force someone other than Treadwell to beat them and that could lead to a hugely important game for TE/Joker Evan Engram. Now healthy, he’s a rough matchup for S Eddie Jackson and company. If Engram is detached from the tackle, I’d think about putting my nickel corner on him the majority of the time in the passing game. If he’s attached, I might use Jackson, a former cornerback, but NEVER a linebacker in the passing game. Ole Miss put the Crimson Tide challenged the Tide secondary down the field, especially so by putting its backs out in the pass routes. Alabama’s front has power but little quickness off the edge, so QB Chad Kelly should get ample time to test the Tide downfield.

Ole Miss Offensive Player to Watch

LT No. 74 Fahn Cooper (if Laremy Tunsil is held out again) (Sr., 6'5", 306 lb.)

Alabama Defensive Player to Watch

ILB No. 19 Reggie Ragland (Sr. 6'2", 252 lb.)

When Alabama has the ball…play action, draws, screens, misdirection…anything that Alabama can use to slow Ole Miss down, it must use. Alabama OC Lane Kiffin used some run-pass option packages last week and that wrinkle, along with using screens to RB Derrick Henry, can be enough to slow the Ole Miss defense’s charge. Similarly to Ole Miss using Engram, Kiffin must involve O.J. Howard even more in the passing game. Force Ole Miss safety Tony Conner into coverage instead of floating near the box and making plays v. the run game. The Ole Miss defense won’t sit back, but it must be responsibility sound, especially so on first down. Put Alabama in second/third and long repeatedly and see if QB Jake Coker can beat them throwing to intermediate/deep areas of the field.

Alabama Offensive Player to Watch

TE No. 88 O.J. Howard (Jr., 6'6", 242 lb.)

Ole Miss Defensive Player to Watch

DE No. 27 Marquis Haynes (Soph., 6'3", 220 lb.)

2016 NFL Draft Player Matchup to Watch

Ole Miss WR No. 1 Laquon Treadwell v. Alabama CB No. 5 Cyrus Jones

Alabama C No. 70 Ryan Kelly v. Ole Miss DT No. 5 Robert Nkemdiche

Alabama TE No. 88 O.J. Howard v. Ole Miss S/Bandit No. 12 Tony Conner

Alabama RB No. 2 Derrick Henry v. Ole Miss ILB No. 10 C.J. Johnson

Conclusion

Many people that I’ve read or listened to have put their chips all in on Ole Miss winning this one. If Ole Miss is going to win in Tuscaloosa, this seems like this is THAT year, but I’m sorry, I just have a hard time going against Nick Saban at home, one year after a loss. The only team to beat Alabama in consecutive years was LSU in 2010 & 2011. They haven’t lost much in Saban’s tenure at Alabama and when the Crimson Tide have lost, they haven’t repeated that the following season. I don’t think the Alabama offense is where it’s going to be by the end of the season, but it does have some layers and it does have Derrick Henry. This could be a showcase game pounding on the Ole Miss front seven. I’m rolling Crimson Tide dice on the percentages, Saban, Tuscaloosa and Henry.

Alabama – 26 v. Ole Miss – 21

Other Key Games

Auburn v. LSU – The Plainsmen escaped while the Bayou Bengals survived last week. Regardless, both teams won last week to set up a battle of 2-0 teams in Baton Rouge. Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson needs to find consistency and he seems to be battling a confidence problem at the moment. But, RB Peyton Barber was magnificent in the narrow OT win over Jacksonville State. LSU’s Tigers held on for a 21-19 win over Mississippi State in Starkville. Similar to prior years, LSU handed, tossed or pitched the ball to its star running back who ran for a ton of yards and it bludgeoned an opponent to death. Same sentence I’ve written for years; it’s just that it’s Leonard Fournette’s year to be That Guy. Although watching LSU’s offense is a little like watching paint dry, I just don’t think Auburn is playing well enough to beat them in Baton Rouge.

LSU – 23 vs. Auburn – 20

Georgia Tech at Notre Dame – I love this game for a number of different reasons. First, I love option football and seeing how Notre Dame’s athletic and talented defense handles Paul Johnson’s option scheme is worth the price of admission. Second, I can’t wait to see how Mr. Calm DeShone Kizer handles the spotlight in this one. In case you missed it, here’s my breakdown for the Washington Post on Kizer and the loss of Malik Zaire

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/sports/wp/2015/09/16/the-most-pivotal-factor-in-notre-dames-quest-for-a-nationl-title/

Third, I could really see either of these teams being a thorn in the side of the playoff committee and being a real tough out in a playoff situation. Both coaches have experience in playoff settings, but it won’t matter much if they leave this one with an L. The key is going to be Notre Dame RB/Ath C.J. Prosise. I’d imagine Georgia Tech will work to take away WR Will Fuller, but Prosise can line up anywhere on the field. His offensive duality may be enough to put Notre Dame over the top at home against the pesky Yellow Jackets.

Notre Dame – 30 vs. Georgia Tech – 28

BYU at UCLA – The Bruins were my surprise pick to make the College Football Playoff and after the debut of true freshman QB Josh Rosen to start the season, I feel even better about that proclamation. That probably means BYU upsets the Bruins in the Rose Bowl, but I like what Jim Mora Jr. has done with this program, even if I’m not a huge fan of his. BYU has been tested, lost QB Taysom Hill and still survived. They have some speed on defense and the pass rush, led by OLB/DE Bronson Kaufusi, but opponents, Nebraska and Boise State, have scored 52 points on them over the past two weeks. UCLA’s offense is better than either one of those two teams and its defense will make QB Tanner Mangum’s life miserable for those three and a half hours.

UCLA – 35 vs. BYU – 20

Predictions for All Games involving FCS teams (Home team in bold)

Friday September 18, 2015

Florida State – 26 vs. Boston College – 22

Boise State – 49 vs. Idaho State – 13

Arizona State – 56 vs. New Mexico - 17

 

Saturday September 19, 2015

Akron – 54 vs. Savannah State – 6

Maryland – 23 vs. USF – 21

Michigan – 31 vs. UNLV – 17

Michigan State – 34 vs. Air Force – 19

Minnesota – 35 vs. Kent State - 10

FAU – 26 vs. Buffalo – 21

Texas A&M – 49 vs. Nevada – 17

North Carolina – 35 vs. Illinois – 31

Missouri – 41 vs. U Conn – 10

Wake Forest – 23 vs. Army – 20

Oklahoma – 42 vs. Tulsa – 16

Syracuse – 24 vs. Central Michigan – 19

Duke – 28 vs. Northwestern – 23

Oregon – 73 vs. Georgia State – 21

Ohio – 49 vs. SELA – 14

Rice – 29 vs. North Texas – 17

Temple – 24 vs. U Mass – 17

Eastern Michigan – 31 vs. Ball State – 28

Memphis – 47 vs. Bowling Green – 41

Kansas State – 34 vs. La. Tech – 17

Wisconsin – 42 vs. Troy – 20

Ohio State – 56 vs. No. Illinois – 17

Cincinnati – 38 vs. Miami (OH) – 24

Navy – 29 vs. East Carolina – 27

Marshall – 63 vs. Norfolk State – 13

Oklahoma State – 45 vs. UTSA – 20

Virginia – 38 vs. William & Mary – 16

Virginia Tech – 27 vs. Purdue – 13

Miami (FL) – 28 vs. Nebraska – 27

Mississippi State – 56 vs. Northwestern State – 7

Vanderbilt – 41 vs. Austin Peay – 16

Western Kentucky – 38 vs. Indiana – 31

Wofford – 29 vs. Idaho – 27

Washington – 26 vs. Utah State – 21

Georgia – 35 vs. South Carolina – 20

Georgia Southern – 41 vs. The Citadel – 17

UCF – 27 vs. Furman – 13

FIU – 49 vs. NC Central – 14

MTSU – 34 vs. Charlotte – 17

Texas State – 31 vs. Southern Miss – 30

Western Michigan – 42 vs. Murray State – 13

Arkansas State – 34 vs. Missouri State – 17

Arkansas – 41 vs. Texas Tech – 29

Tennessee – 56 vs. Western Carolina – 12

NC State – 41 vs. Old Dominion – 27

Colorado State – 24 vs. Colorado – 22 (Denver)

Kentucky – 23 vs. Florida – 21

Texas – 35 vs. Cal – 34

Penn State – 23 vs. Rutgers – 21

New Mexico State – 23 vs. UTEP – 20

Tulane – 51 vs. Maine – 21

San Diego State – 34 vs. South Alabama – 19

Iowa – 25 vs. Pitt – 23

USC – 29 vs. Stanford – 20

Oregon State – 26 vs. San Jose State – 20

TCU – 56 vs. SMU – 24

Toledo – 30 vs. Iowa State – 27

Washington State – 38 vs. Wyoming – 13

Utah – 37 vs. Fresno State - 20

Arizona – 45 vs. Northern Arizona – 17

Hawai’i – 41 vs. UC Davis - 20

 

 

 

 

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Keys to the Game - CFB Week 2

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Keys to the Game - CFB Week 2

The routine is back…

Thursday night - NFL and College games

Friday night - High school games

Saturday - College games

Sunday - NFL games

Monday - NFL Monday Night Football

Tuesday - Wait for MACtion later in the year

Wednesday - Watch Real Housewives.

That last one is sort of true...dammit, okay, I’ll watch the occasional RH episode with Paige. I need a break from football at some point, right? Maybe not, but it’s a dadgum good guilty pleasure. Now that the college season is in full swing, it’s time to lock in on Saturday afternoon and veg out on college games all day/night long.

Alright, I’m with you on this - it’s not a great slate on paper, but when that’s typically the case, we get a weekend to remember. Is that the case on Friday/Saturday? Let’s hope so. It seemingly begins and ends with this one in East Lansing.

Keys to the Game - Oregon at Michigan State

When Oregon has the ball…Oregon RB Royce Freeman doesn’t get the attention that other running backs do nationally, but he’s the key to this offense. Last year, he averaged nearly seven yards per carry and scored the final two touchdowns in the Ducks win over MSU. Duck QB Vernon Adams Jr. is a true dual threat, but facing this Spartans defense is a whole different dimension for the former FCS star. He’s going to have to rely on Freeman for 20-25 carries to keep the chain moving. Michigan State must get a rush on Adams, but a controlled one that contains him in the pocket.

Oregon Offensive Players to Watch

QB No. 3 Vernon Adams, Jr. (Sr. 6’1”, 200 lb.)

RB No. 21 Royce Freeman (Soph. 6’1”, 230 lb.)

WR No. 2 Bralon Addison (Jr., 5’10”, 190 lb.)

LT No. 64 Tyler Johnstone (Sr. 6’6”, 295 l

Michigan State Players to Watch

DE No. 89 Shilique Calhoun (Sr., 6’5”, 250 lb.)

NT No. 4 Malik McDowell (Soph. 6’6”, 275 lb.)

S No. 26 R.J. Williamson (Sr. 6’, 216 lb.)

When Michigan State has the ball…Run the ball. With one of the most experienced offensive lines in all of college football, MSU must put the onus of the offense on that quintet's shoulders. It may sound weird, in some sense, that I'm advocating pounding the rock with three year starter Connor Cook under center. I’m just not convinced that the Ducks can handle a physical, B1G beating up front. Remember the last time this Ducks defense saw a B1G offense? Yeah, it didn’t go well against Ohio State in the national championship game and that was with Arik Armstead at defensive tackle. Oregon can’t sit still. It’s got to move, slant and run blitz to disrupt the offensive run blocking scheme. If it doesn’t, it’ll get mauled.

Michigan State Offensive Players to Watch

QB No. 18 Connor Cook (Sr., 6’4”, 220 lb.)

LT No. 74 Jack Conklin (Jr. 6’6”, 325 lb.)

WR No. 16 Aaron Burbridge (Sr. 6’1”, 208 lb.)

Oregon Defensive Players to Watch

DE/DT No. 44 DeForest Buckner (Sr. 6’7”, 290 lb.)

ILB No. 35 Joe Walker (Sr. 6’2”, 240 lb.)

S No. 8 Reggie Daniels (Jr. 6’1”, 205 lb.)

Best 2016 NFL Draft Prospect Matchup

Oregon LT No. 64 Tyler Johnstone v. Michigan State DE No. 89 Shilique Calhoun

Michigan State OT No. 74 Jack Conklin v. Oregon DE No. 44 DeForest Buckner

Conclusion

ESPN’s College GameDay will be on hand as it was last year in Eugene for the 2014 meeting between these two. Michigan State’s offense had Oregon on the ropes after a 2nd/3rd quarter run that put them up 27-18 early in the second half. But, then the dam broke open. Wide open. 28 unanswered Duck points sent Sparty back to East Lansing with its first loss in months. Adams is a dynamo with the ball in his hands and makes the Oregon offense nearly as dangerous as last season when it had Marcus Mariota in charge. But, that 28-point run left a stain on the Spartans’ 2014 season, so don’t expect Sparty to allow the Ducks offense to roll in and dominate.

Michigan State - 38 vs. Oregon - 29

 

Saturday Games - Home Team in Bold

Florida State - 41 vs. USF - 20

Auburn - 51 vs. Jacksonville State - 10

Michigan - 24 vs. Oregon State - 21

U Conn - 29 vs. Army - 17

Kansas State - 38 vs. UTSA - 17

Illinois - 34 vs. Western Illinois - 21

Maryland - 42 vs. Bowling Green - 34

Louisville - 35 vs. Houston - 31

Penn State - 28 vs. Buffalo - 13

Purdue - 41 vs. Indiana State - 17

Wisconsin - 34 vs. Miami (OH) - 16

Charlotte - 45 vs. Presbyterian - 17

Wake Forest - 23 vs. Syracuse - 21

Clemson - 38 vs. Appalachian State - 14

Boston College - 54 vs. Howard - 9

Colorado - 42 vs. U Mass - 31

Washington - 41 vs. Sacramento State - 12

Texas Tech - 49 vs. UTEP - 35

West Virginia - 56 vs. Liberty - 17

Central Michigan - 48 vs. Monmouth - 10

Northern Illinois - 37 vs. Murray State - 16

Ohio State - 63 vs. Hawai’i - 12

Southern Mississippi - 41 vs. Austin Peay - 13

Minnesota - 27 vs. Colorado State - 26

TCU - 49 vs. Stephen F. Austin - 16

Rutgers - 36 vs. Washington State - 31

Georgia Tech - 49 vs. Tulane - 21

Notre Dame - 34 vs. Virginia - 13

Virginia Tech - 35 vs. Furman - 7

Georgia - 38 vs. Vanderbilt - 13

Ole Miss - 42 vs. Fresno State - 14

Alabama - 35 vs. MTSU - 14

Arkansas - 51 vs. Toledo - 28

Northwestern - 42 vs. Eastern Illinois - 6

Wyoming - 24 vs. Eastern Michigan - 14

Iowa - 26 vs. Iowa State - 24

Cal - 40 vs. San Diego State - 28

Tennessee - 31 vs. Oklahoma - 27

Duke - 49 vs. NC Central - 10

North Carolina - 56 vs. NC A&T - 13

NC State - 41 vs. Eastern Kentucky - 14

Pitt - 28 vs. Akron - 21

Kent State - 42 vs. Delaware State - 10

Georgia Southern - 29 vs. Western Michigan - 24

ULL - 41 vs. Northwestern State - 21

ULM - 38 vs. Nicholls State - 17

Texas State - 54 vs. Prairie View A&M - 9

Troy - 34 vs. Charleston Southern - 17

Marshall - 38 vs. Ohio - 35

Old Dominion - 49 vs. Norfolk State - 13

SMU - 35 vs. North Texas - 27

Arizona - 42 vs. Nevada - 31

Texas A&M - 51 vs. Ball State - 16

Missouri - 34 vs. Arkansas State - 17

Florida - 28 vs. East Carolina - 14

Memphis - 35 vs. Kansas - 34

Oklahoma State - 54 vs. Central Arkansas - 16

Baylor - 69 vs. Lamar - 21

South Carolina - 31 vs. Kentucky - 29

USC - 109 vs. Idaho - 2

Nebraska - 49 vs. South Alabama - 21

Texas - 23 vs. Rice - 20

Indiana - 27 vs. FIU - 20

New Mexico State - 34 vs. Georgia State - 23

Cincinnati - 29 vs. Temple - 24

Tulsa - 41 vs. New Mexico - 34

Mississippi State - 27 vs. LSU - 23

Air Force - 38 vs. San Jose State - 23

Boise State - 27 vs. BYU - 19

UCLA - 42 vs. UNLV - 17

Stanford - 28 vs. UCF - 10

Arizona State - 49 vs. Cal Poly - 2

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Keys to the Game - Ohio State at Virginia Tech

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Keys to the Game - Ohio State at Virginia Tech

The annual College Football Labor Day game has provided CFB fans with some memorable moments the past few seasons. Two years ago, a Florida State redshirt freshman named Jameis Winston lit up Pittsburgh to kick off a Heisman campaign. In 2010, Boise State and Virginia Tech went down the wire in one of the season’s great games.

Tonight, Virginia Tech is featured again, but this time the game’s in Blacksburg.

And, the Number one team in the nation has arrived.

Here come the Buckeyes. 

It’s not news that the Buckeyes are coming off a national championship season and a 13 game winning streak. More important to consider is that Ohio State’s last loss was to these same Hokies in Game two of the 2014 season. A two touchdown L to Virginia Tech, mind you.

So, it’s the rare game where the favorite wants revenge and the home underdog has nothing to lose. Could make for one heck of an interesting night in the great state of Virginia.

Here are my Keys to the Game

When Virginia Tech has the ball...the VT OL must give QB Michael Brewer adequate time to throw...OSU All-World DE Joey Bosa won’t play so that should help, but the OL must quell inside pressure from DT Adolphus Washington...Ohio State’s secondary just needs to keep it in front...nothing exotic but don’t let Brewer and company steal a touchdown by blowing a coverage down the field...make VT’s offense drive the rock the length of the field to beat them.

Virginia Tech Offensive Players to Watch

QB No. 12 Michael Brewer (Sr)

RB No. 4 J.C. Coleman (Sr.)

Ohio State Defensive Players to Watch

DT No. 92 Adolphus Washington (Sr.)

MLB No. 5 Raekwon McMillan (Soph.)

SLB No. 43 Darron Lee (Soph.)

S No. 11 Vonn Bell (Jr.)

When Ohio State has the ball...the Buckeyes have to counter the speed of the Hokies defensive front...screens or run/pass options should keep DEs Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem from sprinting after Ezekiel Elliott in the run game...the Hokies used a ton of Bear 46/Double Eagle last year v. the Buckeyes so expect that early and to counter, look for the Buckeyes to use the quick passing game and plenty of jet sweep out of gun to spread the defense back out.

Ohio State Offensive Players to Watch

QB No. 16 J.T Barrett (Soph.)/No. 12 Cardale Jones (Jr.)

RB No. 15 Ezekiel Elliott (Jr.)

WR No. 3 Michael Thomas (Sr.)

LT No. 68 Taylor Decker (Sr.)

RG No. 65 Pat Elflein (Jr.)

Virginia Tech Defensive Players to Watch

DE No. 4 Ken Ekanem (Jr.)

DE No. 90 Dadi Nicolas (Sr.)

DT No. 92 Luther Maddy (Sr.)

CB No. 11 Kendall Fuller (Jr.)

 

2016 NFL Draft Player Prospect matchups

Ohio State LT No. 68 Taylor Decker v. Virginia Tech DE No. 90 Dadi Nicolas

Ohio State G No. 65 Pat Elflein v. Virginia Tech DT No. 92 Luther Maddy

Ohio State WR No. 3 Michael Thomas v. Virginia Tech CB No. 11 Kendall Fuller

 

Conclusion

The Buckeyes are a two score favorite on the road, in a hostile environment. I don’t like double digit road favorites, especially at night in Blacksburg, VA. That said, I hate even more the lack of any true Virginia Tech offensive weapon. I don’t see Virginia Tech scoring on Ohio State, unless, like last year, the Hokies turn the Buckeyes over as they did last year. I don’t have any intel on the Ohio State quarterback situation but I’m not ultimately worried about it. Both guys can play and they’ll eventually find success on an aggressive Hokie defense. Nicolas and company will play off the crowd and the emotion of the moment in the first half, but the reality will set in during the second half that the Buckeyes are for real.

 

Ohio State - 29 vs. Virginia Tech - 14

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The Weekend that was- CFB Week 1

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The Weekend that was- CFB Week 1

It felt like we had to wait years for the college football season to begin, but once it did, it just felt right. Well for those of us that aren’t Texas, Penn State, Nebraska or Arizona State fans. Here are some thoughts on the Weekend that Was - Week one - in college football.

Malik the Freak

In a couple of years, this moniker will apply to Texas LB Malik Jefferson, but his counterpart last night Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire had a whale of a debut to get Irish eyes smiling. He was 19 of 22 for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over. The left-handed gunslinger also displayed some wiggle that helped him avoiding the rush.

In the first quarter, the Longhorn defense brought six on a blitz and the Irish OL slid the protection to the right to account for the heat. But, UT brought one more than the Irish could protect so Zaire was responsible for the UT linebacker on the blitz. He froze him then sprinted around him and completed a throw on the run for a first down. I don’t expect 19 of 22 every week, but consistency and lack of turnovers give that offense a chance to put up 30+ points each and every week. Georgia Tech looms in what could be one of the sneakiest hot games of the year.

Scheme versatility

Notre Dame ILB Jaylon Smith lined up with his hand in the ground in pass rush/sub-package situations on Saturday night. That’s scary, I’ll be honest. I just wanted to write that sentence to assure myself that it’s real. Add that to his skill set and NFL teams will be coveting him early in whenever he declares himself eligible for the NFL Draft.

Hack-ed

When I finished my 2016 NFL Draft Prospect Preview, I gave Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg a first round grade and I’m not alone. But, he’s a polarizing player within the draft community. Let’s be clear, he’s got first round tools and it’s not even close. But, he’s getting the sam hell beat out of him. He was sacked ten times in a loss to Temple and he’s playing in an offense that doesn’t suit him in the slightest. His receivers can’t get open. His OL has legitimately one guy worth a flip in front of him (C Angelo Mangiro). Not to mention, his confidence seems to be in the toilet.

I heard rumors that he wanted to transfer somewhere else in the off-season. Now, how accurate those rumors were in reality will never be answered, but something’s broken at Penn State and Hackenberg’s draft hopes/grade are dying a slow death as well.

Is it all his fault? No. But, then again, take the pick he threw to Sharif Finch. He stared down the receiver the entire way and never took his eyes off the receiver as Finch dropped out at the snap. Now, Fince made a whale of a catch, but why on 2nd and 2 is PSU running quick hitch with a guy who can throw it a mile? Either way, there are so many things wrong with this situation, I don’t even know where to begin.

Try this play...the first play of the third quarter, it’s third and 15 and Hackenberg was in the gun. He had an H back and his five OL - that’s six in total - to protect against a TWO man rush. Yet, DE Nate D. Smith split the right guard and right tackle, then a weak attempt at protection by the H back, to sack Hackenberg. Six on two and the six couldn’t keep Smith from a sack.

At that point, though, congratulations to Temple head coach and former Penn State player Matt Rhule. He’s got a lot more talent than people know and a defense that’ll knock your lights out. They knocked out Hackenberg’s for certain.

KNOCK. IT. DOWN

Another Hail Mary and another opportunity to remind players...KNOCK IT THE F--- DOWN! Sorry, I know it’s easier said than done, apparently, but Nebraska DBs had a chance to knock one down against backup BYU QB Tanner Mangum, but didn’t. They’re now 0-1.

It’s not the only reason, but Nebraska safety Nate Gerry was the biggest culprit. He seemed to be trying to catch the ball not knock it down. I’ve watched that thing a hundred times and BYU WR Mitch Mathews boxed out a Nebraska DB and shielded Gerry. But, the Husker safety needed to go right through Mathews and swat that thing to the ground. He played deep enough and started to make his break to the goal line but just...I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t know what he was doing.

Excellent catch by Mathews and one hell of an effort for the BYU Cougars.

Ode to Taysom

He might be the toughest and the most unlucky player in all of college football. BYU QB Taysom Hill made his first start since missing much of 2014 with a broken leg. He was injured in 2013 as well. He accounted for 340 total yards in the win over Nebraska. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in the second quarter and played on into the fourth quarter when his season ended for good after taking a hit early in the final period. The Tanner Mangum era began earlier than anyone expected and anyone wanted. We all wanted to see T. Hill work some magic one final season, but his body never allowed him to do that. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall broke down in tears talking about him in the locker room and for good reason. We’ll never see him in college football again and that’s as sad a thing as I’ve had to write recently.

The Wrecking Crew...Redux??

Each and every time that I go to a Texas A&M game or flip it on the TV, I wonder whether this will be the day that the Wrecking Crew comes back. I know I’m not alone. It’s tough in this college football world of offensive fireworks that we’ll ever see a defense dominate the way that the A&M Wrecking Crew did for so many seasons.

In my wildest dreams, I never saw THAT happening on Saturday night. Here’s the scary thing, in some sense, the two most dominant players on the field were already in the fold when Chavis got here.

It seems he just unlocked the cheat codes for Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall.

Up on the deck, doing pre-game updates in NRG Stadium on the big video board, I mentioned how Hall was a major key to the game for me. Garrett was going to get all the attention, I surmised, so Hall had to take over on his side.

At halftime, I said with absolute belief that Garrett is the best player in the nation bar none.

At the end of the night, lucky for me, I was right on both accounts.

On Sunday morning, I read a piece by Stewart Mandel lauding Garrett and he noted that he was double and triple teamed all night. That struck me as odd because I didn’t really think so and that seemed to mute what Hall did on the other side. So, I went back to the film to see how much validity there was to that statement.

Mandel was right, to a degree. Garrett was double teamed, but it wasn’t all night long. He was double teamed or got TE or RB help eight times on 37 pass rushes. He created a pressure on one of those eight. On the night, he finished with seven pass pressures and three tackles for a loss (on runs).

Hall rushed the quarterback 37 times as well and he was doubled, chipped or RB/TE help seven times, only one fewer than Garrett. He registered one of his four sacks on one of those double teams and finished the night with four sacks and two forced fumbles.

I didn’t even measure the pass rush reps for Qualen Cunningham and Jarrett Johnson, focusing only on the two starters and they both played well in secondary roles.

But it was Mandel’s comment that got under my skin a bit. And, I like Stewart, it was just wrong.

“Oh, the star player got double and triple teamed all night long.” It’s just not right because it seems to take away from the production of the guy on the other side. That guy was Hall.

Hall was magnificent all night long. Sometimes the stats belie the true story, but the four sacks speak to his dominance on Saturday night off the edge. He consistently whipped RT William McGehee, sacks or no.

When it comes to Garrett, I can’t help but think of JJ Watt’s performance against the Buffalo Bills in 2014. In that game, Watt didn’t register one sack, but he hit Bills QB E.J. Manuel nine times. NINE. I feel like the principal in Ferris Bueller. Not one sack, but he was so incredibly forceful getting after Manuel that the lack of sacks didn’t matter.

That was the case for Garrett, in my opinion. Now, again, he didn’t get doubled or tripled regularly, only eight of 37 pass rushes, but LT Evan Goodman will have nightmares about him for a while. The Arizona State game plan was for QB Mike Bercovici to get rid of the ball in a hurry, short quick throws, mix in some run-pass option throws and move the chain. So, the ball was already out of Bercovici’s hand quickly and often when Garrett had destroyed Goodman. Had it been a more traditional, Pro Style offense, Bercovici may have gotten killed.

Regardless, it’s always good to go back to the film when something doesn’t smell right. Garrett wasn’t double and/or tripled all night long, but still dominated. Hall did see some additional help and it didn’t matter because he was on fire all night.

In the end, four sacks, seven pressures, three tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. It’s not the Wrecking Crew...yet, but it’s the closest thing we’ve seen in years because 10 and 15 wear maroon and white.

I’ll have another piece later in the week taking a more in-depth look at the different wrinkles Chavis threw at the Sun Devils, so be on the lookout a few days down the road.

Quick Hits

I feel real good about Georgia being a playoff candidate. Unfortunately, I just know, as many others do, that the Bulldogs are prone to giving one away during the season that they shouldn’t. But, I’m going to be in Atlanta on October 3rd, perhaps...just maybe...oh, I badly want to see Bama v. UGA.

That said, Nick Chubb. Keith Marshall. Sony Michel. Malcolm Mitchell. There aren’t a ton of teams that have THAT sort of skill player stable. If Grayson Lambert just limits the mistakes, this offense is scary explosive. Oh, and I forgot one of my favorite TEs in the nation Jeb Blazevich.

Not sure how Kevin Sumlin handles the A&M QB back and forth but maybe he actually needs both of them this year - Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray.

Regardless, true freshman WR Christian Kirk is electric and if Speedy Noil doesn’t want to do things the right way, the Sumlin way, well, see ya. I hope he gets it turned around, but if he doesn’t, it’s cool - Kirk’s got this.

Washington State lost to Portland State and that’s not good news for Mike Leach, in the slightest. He’s the best coach WSU’s had since Mike Price, but the returns just have been there for the investment.

Speaking of Washington State and the Pac-12...two ranked teams lost on Saturday and both were in the Pac-12. Stanford lost at Northwestern. ASU lost to Texas A&M. Wazzu lost to Portland State. Last Thursday night, I was in Dallas getting ready for the Texans game when Fox Sports 1’s panel was discussing the Pac-12 South v. the SEC West. It was a heavily slanted group toward the Pac-12. Guess which side they took? Yeah, the Pac-12 South. The Pac-12 had the worst weekend of all Power Five conference...okay, maybe the B1G wants in on that claim too (Wisconsin and Penn State). Fortunately for our midwest brethren, it was far from as detrimental as the Pac-12’s three days.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again and I might be out on a limb on this one, but I like Alabama RB Derrick Henry as a next level back. Call me crazy, but I’m in his corner, and it’s a lonely one amongst the draft analysts out there.

K State’s band?!? The ultimate troll. A D in the Jayhawks’ mouth? The band director apologized but the damage was done. Is damage the right word to use there? It was funny to me.

Oregon QB Vernon Adams Jr. showed he’s for real, lighting up his former squad Eastern Washington. Then, one of them lit him up. Sad, really. He did say he’ll be ready for Michigan State, which will be Adams most difficult test of his career. Can he adjust to the speed of that game? We’ll find out on Saturday.

Pitt’s James Conner and Arizona’s Scooby Wright were two of 2014’s big-time stars, but injuries suffered in each game kept them from re-entering. Wright will apparently miss up to a month, while Conner should return soon. Pitt RB Qadree Ollison made the most of his opportunity rushing for 207 yards and a TD on 16 carries. Conner did have 77 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns, but missed the rest of the day after his minor knee injury.

Football Takeover Honor Roll

Texas A&M DE No. 15 Myles Garrett

Texas A&M DE No. 10 Daeshon Hall

TCU WR No. 9 Josh Doctson

Notre Dame QB No. 8 Malik Zaire

Ole Miss DT/RB No. 5 Robert Nkemdiche

Wisconsin OLB No. 58 Joe Schobert

Texas A&M WR/Ret No. 3 Christian Kirk - true freshman

Temple LB No. 8 Tyler Matakevich

Texas A&M S No. 6 Donovan Wilson

Texas LB No. 46 Malik Jefferson - true freshman

Notre Dame RB/WR No. 20 C.J. Prosise

Thanks for reading - I’ll have some film and draft breakdown the rest of the week on the site, so hustle back throughout the week.

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Keys to the College Football Weekend 9/4

Each and every weekend, I’ll attempt to give you a little flavor of the college football weekend. What are the key matchups? Which draft prospects will I have my eye on and why? And, of course, I’ll have predictions for you every single week. I’ll split them up into Thursday night games and then Friday/Saturday games as the season rolls on. I aim to put together podcasts to go a little further with some key games and draft information, but I’m working at that technology as we speak. So, let’s GO!

 

Selected 2016 Draft Eligible Prospects to Watch - Saturday unless noted

 

Michigan State at Western Michigan (Friday)

Michigan State QB No. 18 Connor Cook (Sr., 6’4”, 220 lb.)

Western Michigan WR No. 84 Corey Davis (Jr., 6’3”, 205 lb.)

 

Baylor at SMU (Friday)

Baylor DT No. 75 Andrew Billings (Jr., 6’3”, 300 lb.)

Baylor WR Corey ‘CoCo’ Coleman (Jr., 5’11”, 190 lb.)

 

Washington at Boise State (Friday)

Washington RB No. 12 Dwayne Washington (Jr., 6’2”, 226 lb.)

Boise State DE/OLB No. 8 Kamalei Correa (Jr., 6’3”, 248 lb.)

 

ULM at Georgia

Georgia OLB/ILB No. 84 Leonard Floyd (Jr., 6’4”, 231 lb.)

Georgia G No. 73 Greg Pyke (Jr., 6’6”, 313 lb.)

 

Wisconsin v. Alabama (AT&T Stadium in Arlington)

Wisconsin OLB No. 47 Vince Biegel (Jr., 6’4”, 246 lb.)

Alabama’s entire DL - No. 86 A’Shawn Robinson, No. 95 Darren Lake, No. 90 Jarran Reed

 

Louisville v. Auburn (Georgia Dome in Atlanta)

Louisville ILB No. 55 Keith Kelsey (Jr., 6’1”, 236 lb.)

Auburn DE No. 55 Carl Lawson (Jr., 6’2”, 257 lb.)

 

Texas A&M v. Arizona State (NRG Stadium in Houston)

Texas A&M No. 11 WR Josh Reynolds (Jr., 6’4”, 195 lb.)

Arizona State G duo - No. 55 Christian Westerman & No. 73 Vi Teofilo

 

Draft Eligible Prospect Matchups to Watch

Texas S No. 21 Duke Thomas v. Notre Dame’s cadre of draft eligible receivers

Wisconsin OLB No. 47 Vince Biegel v. Alabama LT No. 74 Cam Robinson (a year early, sorry)

Texas A&M WR No. 11 Josh Reynolds v. Arizona State CB No. 8 Lloyd Carrington

ULL RB No. 15 Elijah McGuire v. Kentucky ILB No. 45 Josh Forrest

 

Non-Power Five players to Watch v. Power Five competition

Akron ILB/OLB No. 1 Jatavius Brown v. Oklahoma

Georgia Southern RB No. 36 Matt Breida v. West Virginia

ULL RB No. 15 Elijah McGuire v. Kentucky

Temple DE/DT No. 9 Matt Ioannidis v. Penn State

BYU QB No. 4 Taysom Hill v. Nebraska

 

Keys to the Game of the Weekend

**Arizona State v. Texas A&M (Houston)

 

When Arizona State has the ball...

Arizona State Offensive Players to Watch

RB/WR No. 8 D.J. Foster - one of the most dynamic players in the nation with the ball in his hands.

QB No. 2 Mike Bercovici - started three games last year, but is the unquestioned leader of this offense.

TE No. 81 Kody Kohl - could be featured in this offense more than in prior seasons.

G No. 73 Vi Teofilo & No. 55 Christian Westerman - perhaps the best guard duo in the country, west of Arkansas.

 

Texas A&M Defensive Players to Watch

DE No. 15 Myles Garrett - arguably, the best defensive player in the nation.

DE No. 10 Daeshon Hall - added 15 pounds in the off-season and could star opposite Garrett

S No. 23 Armani Watts - playmaker now in his second season as a starter.

CB No. 1 De’Vante Harris - lithe, but fast and has tons of experience.

 

Can Arizona State’s two tackles handle Garrett on the edge? They’re going to need some help and Bercovici must be under certain orders to get rid of the ball quickly. Good luck with that.

 

When Texas A&M has the ball...

Texas A&M Offensive Players to Watch

QB No. 10 - Kyle Allen - the former Arizona HS star faces his former home state school

WR No. 11 - Josh Reynolds - in my opinion, he’s one of the most underrated receivers in the country, minus the drops that plagued him to start last season.

C No. 56 Mike Matthews - gritty, tough and finally healthy - three year starter in the middle.

RT No. 74 Germain Ifedi - should be a top draft pick whenever his college career is over.

 

Arizona State Defensive Players to Watch

S No. 38 Jordan Simone - earned a starting position in 2014, captain honors in 2015.

CB No. 8 Lloyd Carrington - one of the top NFL prospects on this defense.

NT No. 94 Demetrius Cherry - odd dimensions for a nose tackle but can be disruptive up the field.

OLB No. 28 Laiu Moeakiola - 72 tackles, 5th on the team last season.

 

We know Arizona State head coach and defensive play caller Todd Graham loves to blitz and mix up his looks. He takes an aggressive stance on defense but, in so doing, he puts his secondary in peril on occasion. He doesn’t sit back and let the opposing quarterbacks get comfortable at any point. As such, Texas A&M QB Allen must get some time to throw. It might mean extra protection with backs and tight ends and only three in the route or more than likely, it’ll mean 3-step game and a variety of screens.

 

Conclusion

I’m not sure that I see the love that the nation is giving Arizona State. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Bercovici and Foster, but 2014’s two most dynamic defenders (Marcus Hardison & Damarious Randall) are in the NFL. Texas A&M is young and that could set them back at some point, but the young fellas are talented. Allen will pick apart the Arizona State secondary and the top four Aggie receivers should have big days.

 

Texas A&M - 41 vs. Arizona State - 34

 

Other BIG games to Watch

**Louisville v. Auburn (Atlanta)

 

When Louisville has the ball…

Cardinals’ OL must protect, protect, protect its QB, no matter who it is lining up under center. Auburn DE Carl Lawson has been nearly unblockable off the edge in training camp, so Louisville’s inexperienced OL is in for a long day against Lawson and company.

 

When Auburn has the ball…

Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson must take what Louisville gives him. It’s a fairly explosive defense with NFL talent as each and every level. In the passing game, he needs to attack the side opposite Georgia transfer Shaq Wiggins, who has experience playing Georgia.

 

Louisville Player to Watch

DT No. 98 Sheldon Rankins - he’s a stout, fire hydrant that’s hard as all get out to move. He’s active and good with his hands.

 

Auburn Player to Watch

RB No. 9 Roc Thomas - lightning quick in space but he faces an extremely tough Louisville interior run defense.

 

Conclusion

I just don’t see Louisville moving the ball on Auburn’s defense, now led by former Florida head coach Will Muschamp. Johnson will get time to throw and pick on a defense with a number of different faces in the secondary.

 

Auburn - 34 vs. Louisville - 20

 

**Wisconsin v. Alabama (Arlington)

 

When Wisconsin has the ball…

Can the Badgers get any movement up front against the Alabama defensive front? RB Corey Clement will only go as the Badgers’ front goes in this one and it may not go well.

 

When Alabama has the ball…

RB/WR No. 17 Kenyan Drake can be an X-factor on offense for the Crimson Tide last year. He was on the verge of breaking through last year before his season-ending injury v. Ole Miss. Watch for him to move out to the perimeter in the passing game and win v. Wisconsin linebackers.

 

Wisconsin Player to Watch

QB No. 2 Joel Stave - he doesn’t have weapons in the passing game, so he’s going to have to take some short, simple stuff and get it out of his hand quickly.

 

Alabama Player to Watch

WR No. 16 Richard Mullaney - the Oregon State transfer could be the possession type receiver that wins on third down for this Lane Kiffin-led ‘Bama offense.

 

Conclusion

Alabama doesn’t have to put up 31 in this one to win, but it will. I just don’t see Wisconsin moving the ball well at all in head coach Paul Chryst’s inaugural game as the Badgers leader.

 

Alabama - 31 vs. Wisconsin - 13

 

Predictions on all games Friday & Saturday - Home team in bold

(I’ll post a special Keys to the Game for Ohio State v. Virginia Tech on Sunday)

 

Friday September 4, 2015

Georgia State - 27 vs. Charlotte - 10

Michigan State - 34 vs. Western Michigan - 14

Baylor - 58 vs. SMU - 20

Syracuse - 23 vs. URI - 17

Army - 21 vs. Fordham - 16

Oregon State - 34 vs. Weber State - 20

Illinois - 26 vs. Kent State - 21

Boise State - 38 vs. Washington - 27

 

Saturday September 5, 2015

Georgia - 42 vs. ULM - 14

Ole Miss - 35 vs. UT-Martin - 3

Stanford - 29 vs. Northwestern - 14

Navy - 38 vs. Colgate - 10

Rutgers - 51 vs. Norfolk State - 14

Iowa - 24 vs. Illinois State - 23

Maryland - 27 vs. Richmond - 21

Kansas - 28 vs. South Dakota State - 17

Clemson - 54 vs. Wofford - 9

Pitt - 27 vs. Youngstown State - 17

Boston College - 31 vs. Maine - 16

Washington State - 35 vs. Portland State - 17

Arkansas - 41 vs. UTEP - 17

UCLA - 37 vs. Virginia - 14

Texas Tech - 42 vs. Sam Houston State - 28

Nebraska - 27 vs. BYU - 25

Eastern Michigan - 36 vs. Old Dominion - 31

Penn State - 27 vs. Temple - 16

Rice - 63 vs. Wagner - 10

Tulsa - 29 vs. FAU - 24

Air Force - 42 vs. Morgan State - 12

Buffalo - 38 vs. Albany - 13

Miami OH - 45 vs. Presbyterian - 7

Appalachian State - 49 vs. Howard - 6

Colorado State - 54 vs. Savannah State - 3

Wyoming - 30 vs. North Dakota - 9

Tennessee - 49 vs. Bowling Green - 23

Indiana - 37 vs. Southern Illinois - 16

Missouri - 45 vs. SEMO - 20

Cal - 63 vs. Grambling - 21

Miami, FL - 54 vs. Bethune Cookman - 14

NC State - 34 vs. Troy - 21

East Carolina - 41 vs. Towson - 23

South Alabama - 42 vs. Gardner Webb - 17

New Mexico - 51 vs. Mississippi Valley State - 13

USF - 31 vs. FAMU - 14

Memphis - 36 vs. Missouri State - 20

Cincinnati - 63 vs. Alabama A&M - 13

La. Tech - 42 vs. Southern - 17

MTSU - 38 vs. Jackson State - 17

Oklahoma - 35 vs. Akron - 17

Kentucky - 35 vs. ULL - 24

Kansas State - 48 vs. South Dakota - 16

Notre Dame - 31 vs. Texas - 20

West Virginia - 38 vs. Georgia Southern - 21

LSU - 34 vs. McNeese State - 14

Florida - 31 vs. New Mexico State - 3

Northern Illinois - 37 vs. UNLV - 23

San Diego State - 31 vs. San Diego - 24

Florida State - 41 vs. Texas State - 16

Oregon - 51 vs. Eastern Washington - 17

Iowa State - 29 vs. Northern Iowa - 27

Houston - 63 vs. Tennessee Tech - 17

Mississippi State - 41 vs. Southern Miss - 13

USC - 45 vs. Arkansas State - 10

Marshall - 34 vs. Purdue - 21

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KEYS TO THURSDAY NIGHT CFB & SCORE PREDICTIONS

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KEYS TO THURSDAY NIGHT CFB & SCORE PREDICTIONS

Oh, man, it’s finally HERE! We’ve waited long enough and the college football season will finally kickoff in a few hours. There are only three ranked teams taking the field on Thursday evening but none playing each other. But, college football’s back! So, revel in that a little bit as I give you some Keys to the the Thursday night games and some score predictions.

North Carolina v. South Carolina (Charlotte)

When North Carolina has the ball...WR Ryan Switzer is the biggest thorn in the side for the Gamecocks. Quick as a hiccup in space and a whale of a returner, he could be THE major problem for new defensive coordinator Jon Hoke

When South Carolina has the ball...likewise, WR/ATH Pharoh Cooper is one of the most versatile and dynamic players in the nation. Give him the rock and let him go. I’d expect the ‘ol head ball coach will find a multitude of ways to get him the ball.

Pro Prospect Matchup - North Carolina G Landon Turner v. South Carolina DT Gerald Dixon Jr. - I think Turner is a bit overrated, although he hits with heavy hands. Dixon isn’t a draftable prospect at this point, in my opinion. With a solid performance against Turner, that could help move him up boards into the draftable category.

Conclusion - I’m just not a believer in the North Carolina defense at all, even with former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik leading that unit. Then again, the South Carolina defense is a mystery, now under the leadership of Hoke. North Carolina is more complete offensively, but the Gamecocks will eventually get a few stops in a high scoring game.

Prediction - South Carolina - 41 vs. North Carolina - 35

TCU v. Minnesota

When TCU has the ball...it’s clear that Minnesota must find a way to contain TCU QB Trevone Boykin. A huge key in that task will be Minnesota DE Theiren Cockran and OLB De’Vondre Campbell. Other than Minnesota’s talented secondary, those are the team’s two best athletes and the only two that can handle such a job on Boykin.

When Minnesota has the ball...the hopes of the Gopher offense rests in the hands (and arm) of QB Mitch Leidner. He doesn’t have David Cobb in the backfield this year so expect senior RB Rodrick Williams Jr. to shoulder some of the offensive load. If he doesn’t and offensive success is solely reliant on Leidner...uh oh. TCU’s two inside linebackers are “rookies” so expect the Gophers to attack them early and often.

Pro Prospect Matchup - TCU WR Josh Doctson v. Minnesota CB Eric Murray - I don’t think the talented Gopher cover corner gets enough acclaim, but facing Doctson and company is as stern a test as could be to start the season.

Conclusion - TCU is the number two team in the nation for a reason. Well, a few different reasons, to be honest. Boykin is the major one, but keep an eye on the impact of RB Aaron Green. The Gophers run defense will be on major alert when he’s in the backfield, but it’s his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, matched up on linebackers, that could really blow this one wide open.

Prediction - TCU - 37 vs. Minnesota - 23

Other Thursday Score Predictions (Home team in Bold)

UCF - 34 v. FIU - 14

Oklahoma State - 28 v. Central Michigan - 20

Wake Forest - 24 v. Elon - 16

Ball State - 30 vs. VMI - 10

Toledo - 54 vs. Stony Brook - 21

Georgia Tech - 51 vs. Alcorn State - 7

Villanova - 37 vs. U Conn - 29

Vanderbilt - 24 vs. Western Kentucky - 20

Utah - 31 vs. Michigan - 21

Ohio - 35 vs. Idaho - 20

Utah State - 38 vs. Southern Utah - 13

Duke - 29 vs. Tulane - 23

Arizona - 41 vs. UTSA - 21

Nevada - 26 vs. UC Davis - 23

San Jose State - 31 vs. New Hampshire - 30

Fresno State - 49 vs. Abilene Christian - 14

Colorado - 42 vs. Hawai’i - 34

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SEC MADNESS

Madness mistaken for passion?

Passion mistaken for madness?

Whatever it is, it is the SEC. I lived in Jacksonville where the blue and orange of the University of Florida reign supreme. I’ve been to Athens on a fall Saturday. I’ve been to Texas A&M for numerous games, including the first one Johnny Manziel engineered in 2012.

So, what is it?

Is it madness?

Is it passion?

This being my first time down in Birmingham, or Hoover to be exact, for SEC Media Days, I’ve confirmed what I’ve known for a long time.

Yes and, well, yes. It's both.

It's seemingly hard to describe either but you know it when you see it. I've seen it and see it consistently.

I went for my early morning run, oh about 6:30 am on Wednesday outside the Hyatt Regency - The Wynfrey Hotel. The hotel is connected to the Riverchase Galleria, so it makes a nice mile or so loop. So, I’ve run a few laps each morning to prep for the day’s activities. There were more cars on Wednesday than any other day thus far and it's not even close. As I ran past the Sears and the Belk, I realized the cars were pulling into the parking lot but not near the doors of the stores. They parked all the way at the back. See, the Wynfrey Hotel won’t let fans park in the hotel’s parking lot and the veterans knew where to park to be in the lobby for The Arrival.

Nick Saban was here. It was Alabama day.

Saban’s presence has a full-on rock star feel to it and seeing that in the state of Alabama was eye-opening. After I finished my run, I had walked past radio row around 7:30 am to the Galleria Mall but forgot something back in our work room. So, as I reversed course, I ran into a logjam worse than anything I’ve seen on 290 or the 610 loop. Why? Coach Saban sat down to do a radio interview with a Birmingham radio station and it was a circus.

I finally made it through the throng of people and saw a dog stroll in with a handler of some sort (I have a feeling I know whose dog that was) and thought that the elephants (see Crimson Tide, get it?), the lions and the tigers were next.

Coach Saban got up to leave and then I heard someone say “oh, Bear is here.”

Well, yeah, a bear is a definite circus attraction so I wasn’t surprised.

But, he meant Bear Bryant. No joke. I swear to you a spitting image of Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant strolled right on past and I did a complete double take.

Not every day is like that but whatever does take place at SEC Media days has blogs, internet sites, radio shows and TV shows a buzz.

Dan Mullen’s Yeezy Adidas shoes.

Steve Spurrier’s verbal grenades.

Butch Jones’ retorts.

Bowties.

Daddy warbuck shoes.

Autograph hounds.

You name it, it’s happening in Birmingham, or Hoover. Either way your map spins, it’s SEC Media Days and everyone is watching the Circus.

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The All-SEC NFL Team

There’s nothing I like more than to put together, well, let’s call them all-star teams for lack of a better way of saying it. From the time I moved to Texas in 1983, I essentially lived with three “brothers” who would sit and play Strat-o-matic or Pursue the Pennant or any game we created. Since then, I’ve loved the idea of mixing and matching teams, drafts and the sort.

Combining two of my favorite things, I thought I’d put together a series of All-Conference NFL teams - the best 22 NFL players from a particular conference. So, instead of THIS All-SEC team having Dak Prescott and Nick Chubb on it, it’ll feature Peyton Manning and Randall Cobb. Now, CFB realignment has made this sort of tricky to be honest, but my rule of thumb is sort of like international sports - a player needed citizenship in that conference for at least one year to be considered. As such, former Texas A&M star Jake Matthews can be considered for both Big 12 and SEC status, as he spent two years as a starter in the Big 12 and two years as a starter in the SEC. Current Miami Dolphin Ndamukong Suh can only be considered for the Big 12 as his entire career was spent in that conference.

The SEC doesn’t have a huge problem in that area to be honest so let’s fire on the All-SEC NFL team heading into 2015.

Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Tennessee (1994 - 1997) - No brainer but there really aren’t a ton of QBs to choose from outside of Cam Newton & Matt Stafford.

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster, Tennessee (2005 - 2008) - Undrafted but one of the best, if not the best, all-around backs in the NFL. Four time Pro Bowler and the Texans’ All-Time Career leading in rushing attempts, yards, rushing TDs.

Green Bay Packers RB Eddie Lacy, Alabama (2009 - 2012) - The best of Nick Saban’s crew of Alabama running backs to come into the league. Just spinning his way through the league, no?

Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green, Georgia (2008 - 2010) - This is where it starts getting tough but Green has been dominant from the day he entered the league. He caught 12 passes v. Houston last season and was talking trash after every one of them. I watched in awe.

Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones, Alabama (2008 - 2010) - Joining the league the same year as Green, Jones has been to two Pro Bowls and led the NFL in receiving yards in 2014 (1,593)

Green Bay Packers ATH Randall Cobb, Kentucky (2007 - 2010) - The 2011 NFL Draft was good to the SEC and the NFL. Cobb was a Pro Bowler for the first time in 2014, then signed a massive deal to stay in Green Bay. The former Wildcat star is a consummate jack-of-all-trades, where will he line up next perimeter star.

Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten, Tennessee (2000 - 2002) - The gray beard of the bunch is still one of the most productive pass catchers in the entire NFL. He’s been to ten Pro Bowls, named All-Pro six times and has 943 receptions, 10,502 yards and 57 TD in his career. That’ll do.

Pittsburgh Steelers C Maurkice Pouncey, Florida (2007 - 2009) - The former Gator All-American has been to the Pro Bowl four of his five seasons and was named first or second team All-Pro in those same four seasons.

Miami Dolphins G Mike Pouncey, Florida (2007 - 2010) - It is possible to have one Pouncey without the other but not in this case. Mike was an All-Rookie team honoree in 2011 and has been to the last two Pro Bowls.

Detroit Lions G Larry Warford, Kentucky (2009 - 2012) - Although Warford went into the off-season with a knee injury, he’s become one of the better young guards in the league when healthy.

Cincinnati Bengals T Andrew Whitworth, LSU (2002 - 2005) - Another 30-something to make the list, Whitworth had a tremendous 2014 season, allowing a single hit on the quarterback and no sacks. He earned 2nd Team All-Pro honors after getting a Pro Bowl snub.

Philadelphia Eagles T Jason Peters, Arkansas (2001 - 2003) - Peters was a TE at Arkansas, but moved over to LT when he arrived in Buffalo after going undrafted. He’s racked up seven Pro Bowl trips, two first team All-Pro honors and four second team All-Pro honors in his career.

**Honorary member of the OL - Evan Mathis, Alabama (2001 - 2004) - Although he has no team currently, it’s worth mentioning the elder statesman of the group. Mathis has gone to the last two Pro Bowls and was first team All-Pro in 2013.

Honorable Mention:

Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton, Auburn

Detroit Lions QB Matt Stafford, Georgia

Cincinnati Bengals RB Jeremy Hill, LSU

New Orleans Saints RB Mark Ingram, Alabama

New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Miami Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry, LSU

Chicago Bears WR Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina

Atlanta Falcons TE Jacob Tamme, Kentucky

St. Louis Rams TE/WR Jared Cook, South Carolina

San Diego Chargers T D.J. Fluker, Alabama

San Diego Chargers T King Dunlap, Auburn

Cincinnati Bengals T Andre Smith, Alabama

Kansas City Chiefs G Ben Grubbs, Auburn

Defense

Buffalo Bills DE/DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama (2008 - 2010) - You going to tell Mr. Big Stuff he’s not on my list? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I’m not doing it, but luckily his play will keep me from having to tell him. One of the most difficult interior guys to block consistently, been to two straight Pro Bowls and was 1st Team All-Pro in 2014 as well.

Buffalo Bills DT Kyle Williams, LSU (2002 - 2005) - He’s always been productive but lately he’s been getting a ton more attention. He’s gone to four Pro Bowls in the last five years and has been All-Pro three times.

Bengals DT Geno Atkins, Georgia (2006 - 2009) - The former fourth round pick was completely manhandling interior linemen before his ACL injury in 2013. He returned in 2014 and even though he wasn’t near as dominant as he had been prior to the injury, he still was voted to his third Pro Bowl.

New York Jets DE Sheldon Richardson, Missouri (2011 - 2012) - Two years in the league and some think he’s the best 3-4 DE not named JJ Watt in the NFL. He was 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2014.

Chicago Bears DE/OLB Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State (2009 - 2010) - He didn’t get much acclaim for the season he had in 2014; that’s a shame. But, the Bears recognized what he could do and signed him to big money. He had 7.5 sacks in 2014 for the Baltimore Ravens and was one of the hottest free agents on the market in 2015.

Baltimore Ravens ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama (2010 - 2013) - What didn’t the former Alabama do in 2014? He became the leader of the Ravens defense nearly overnight, earned a Pro Bowl berth as a rookie, 2nd Team All-Pro honors and was AFC North Rookie of the Year.

New England Patriots ILB Dont’a Hightower, Alabama (2008 - 2011) - One of my all-time favorites interviews is also one of the most versatile linebackers in the game. He made a game saving tackle on Marshawn Lynch at the goal line in last year’s Super Bowl one play before The Interception Heard Around the World.

Kansas City Chiefs OLB Justin Houston, Georgia (2008 - 2010) - There aren’t many in his class as a pass rusher. The man had 22 sacks last year. Yes, more than J.J. Watt. He has 48.5 career sacks and will be a rich man soon. Well, when he signs his next piece of paper, that is.

Cleveland Browns CB Joe Haden, Florida (2007 - 2009) - I remember when Haden ran at the Combine and most people jumped off his bandwagon after his rather pedestrian 4.52. I felt all alone but man, I’m glad I stayed. The former Gator corner has been voted to the past two Pro Bowls and is considered one of the top three or four all-around corners in the NFL.

Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson, LSU (2008 - 2010) - Not only has Peterson made the Pro Bowl as a corner, he’s also been named to the game as a returner. Even though he struggled with diabetes at the end of the 2014 season, he’s still one of the most physical corners in the league.

Houston Texans Nickel CB Johnathan Joseph, South Carolina (2004 - 2005) - Although he doesn’t go inside to cover in nickel, it’s my list and “J Jo” is my guy. Not to mention, he’s a stud long after plenty of young corners have seen their careers end. He didn’t get a Pro Bowl invite last season, but he had his best season since his two Pro Bowl seasons (2011 & 2012).

Kansas City Chiefs S Eric Berry, Tennessee (2007 - 2009) - Lymphoma may have sidelined him in 2014, but Berry has made a remarkable recovery. Whether he makes it back to the field or not, it doesn’t matter. Berry has been a gem for the Chiefs. A 3x Pro Bowler, Berry was also 1st Team All-Pro in 2013.

San Francisco 49ers S Eric Reid, LSU (2010 - 2012) - Reid was tremendous as a rookie, racking up 77 tackles and four interceptions on a veteran-laden defense. He earned a Pro Bowl berth after his rookie season in 2013.

Honorable Mention:

Philadelphia Eagles DE/DT Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State

Jacksonville Jaguars DT Sen’Derrick Marks, Auburn

Houston Texans CB/Nickel Kareem Jackson, Alabama

Buffalo Bills CB Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina

Baltimore Ravens OLB Courtney Upshaw, Alabama

Carolina Panthers DE Charles Johnson, Georgia

Carolina Panthers SLB Thomas Davis, Georgia

Chicago Bears CB Tim Jennings, Georgia

Cleveland Browns ILB Karlos Dansby, Auburn

Denver Broncos ILB Danny Trevathan, Kentucky

New England Patriots ILB Jerod Mayo, Tennessee

Washington Redskins ILB Perry Riley, LSU

Green Bay Packers Nickel/CB Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt

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PHONE ELLIOTt

As the 2015 season progressed, Ohio State had about as much chance of playing for a national championship as a bottom half of the Mountain West team. When the Buckeyes popped up in conversation, it always ended with a “yeah, but they lost at home to Virginia Tech.” Only one team was perfect and we all knew that Florida State was heavily flawed. Oregon lost at home to Arizona, a team it would face in the Pac-12 Championship game. Alabama lost to Ole Miss and struggled at Arkansas the next week. Yet, Ohio State’s foibles at home against Virginia Tech, many believed, essentially barred them from entry.

Until it hammered Wisconsin 59-0, there weren’t many outside the state of O-H-I-O that gave the Buckeyes any chance to be in the inaugural playoff. Well, we all know the rest of the story but how did it happen? How could Ohio State’s offense lose two quarterbacks and still win the B1G Championship 59-0, whitewash the SEC champ in New Orleans and then capture the crown in Arlington over Oregon?

Ezekiel Elliott.

Is it that simple? Not really but if I created a list of items that led to 13 straight wins, Elliott’s name would be at the top of it, without question. It took that loss to Virginia Tech for offensive coordinator Tom Herman to unleash his sophomore beast. Elliott had 27 carries in the first three games. Yes, total. After the Buckeyes rolled 66-0 over Kent State, Elliott carried the rock 28 times v. Cincinnati and the M.O of the Buckeyes offense seemingly changed for the rest of the year.

In that loss to Virginia Tech, QB J.T Barrett had 24 carries and the Hokies shut him down in the run game. Now it’s not as if Barrett didn’t run the ball the rest of the season but he never ran more than 20 times in a game the rest of the season.

v. Virginia Tech

QB run - Barrett

Gun Speed option - Elliott

Sprint left option - Short left

Gun 3 - 9 route - Deep left

Power Read - QB keep - Barrett

Gun 3 - Scramble - Barrett

Midline - QB keep - Barrett

Gun 3 - 4 verts - Deep middle

QB counter gut - Barrett

Gun 3 - Fade - Intermediate right

Inside gap - Elliott

QB Draw - Barrett

Play action - Short left

Speed option - RB pitch - Samuel

Gun 3 - 4 verts - Deep middle

I examined the first 15 plays of a number of games for the Buckeyes the rest of the year. Most teams may not script the first 15 plays, but the tenor of the game plan is evident in the first 15 plays or so. Above is the first 15 against Virginia Tech. Two touches for Elliott in the first 15 plays. TWO?!?

The following week v. Kent State, Elliott touched the ball on the first two plays and the Buckeyes scored on the fifth play.

By the seventh week of the season, it was clear v. Penn State how Herman and the offense wanted to attack. Elliott carried it seven of the first 12 plays, including a TD run at the end of the first drive.

v. Penn State

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside zone - Elliott

Power read - QB Keep - Barrett

Play action - roll right - Deep right

Play action - Short right

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside zone - Elliott - TD

Power read - QB keep - Barrett

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside zone - Elliott

Inside gap - Elliott

QB Draw (split zone) - Barrett

Play action - tunnel - Short right

Play action - scramble - Barrett

A few weeks later the Buckeyes traveled to Minnesota and the difference in that Virginia Tech game and the Buckeyes new offensive narrative, so to speak, was clear.

v. Minnesota

Inside gap - Elliott

Gun 1 - hitch - Short right

Gun 3 - scramble - Barrett

Gun flip - Marshall

QB Counter - Barrett

Play action - scramble - Barrett

Gun speed option - Elliott

Outside zone - Elliott

Play action - slants - Short middle

Gun 3 - Flat - Elliott

Gun inside zone - Elliott

Gun speed option - QB keep - Barrett

Gun 3 - crosser - Intermediate middle

Sprint right rub - Short right

Six touches for Elliott in the 31-24 in the first 15. Weeks later, after hammering Wisconsin it was playoff time for the Buckeyes.

v. Alabama

Gun inside zone - Elliott

Sprint right smash - short right

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Jet sweep - Marshall

Lead sweep - Marshall

Outside zone - Elliott

QB Sweep - Jones

Play action boot - Intermediate left

Gun 3 - throwaway - Intermediate middle

Packers sweep - Elliott

Power read - Elliott

Gun 3 - throwaway - short left

Inside zone - Elliott

Gun 3 - scramble - Jones

Fake run, gun 3 - flood - Intermediate right

Then against Oregon

v. Oregon

Inside zone - Elliott

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Inside zone - Elliott

Fake IZ, bubble - Marshall, short right

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Power read - Jones

Play action - throwaway - Deep right

Gun 3 - flood - Intermediate right

Play action - roll left - Deep left

Packers sweep - Elliott

Play action - throwaway - Deep right

Gun 3 - Scramble - Jones

Gun flip - Marshall

Play action - flood - Deep right

*Wham trap - Elliott - 33 yd. TD

I added the 16th play, of course, because it was the start of Elliott’s true domination v. Oregon in the Buckeyes win.

Each of those games that I charted, Elliott got the first touch of every game. Barrett got the first touch in the loss to Virginia Tech. In hindsight, it seemed like an easy decision to feature Elliott more in the offense, but changing that paradigm so to speak wasn’t an easy call, I can imagine. But, Herman made the change and it paid off.

Elliott is one of the special running backs in a season when the country is loaded with quality running backs. The SEC alone has a ton of great ones. The B1G graduated plenty of stars last year but Elliott returns. Teams will target him, no question, but it’s hard to think that Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon didn’t have Elliott square in their sights. He’s got great balance. The Man ran away from the Alabama secondary on his 85 yard march through the South as it’s been called. He kept pounding, 36 times worth, v. Oregon. His vision is outstanding. Even with the group of running backs around the country, he’s at the top of the list.

Last year’s OC Herman moved on to be the head coach at the University of Houston but I can imagine that the lesson was learned by the remaining Ohio State coaching staff. 15 is real good, never slight him again.

 

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NFC SOUTH DRAFT REVIEW

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NFC SOUTH DRAFT REVIEW

 

I'll break down each division's draft performance over the next few days, as such, here's the NFC South.

Tampa Bay

1st Round - QB Jameis Winston, Florida State - confidence and greed led to too many interceptions in college but he’s one of the smartest QB I’ve seen and one that had the entire offense at his disposal at FSU. Bucs get the more developed of two QBs in the first round.

Head scratcher - OT Donovan Smith, Penn State - 2nd round - has first round everything but fourth round inconsistent play. I never got comfortable with his overall game and then at the Senior Bowl, I thought he struggled.

Diamond in the rough - OLB Kwon Alexander, LSU - 4th round - not sure how he fits as he’s a poor man’s Lavonte David and now he joins David. Regardless, the Bucs have to find a way to get the athletic former LSU Tiger on the field.

Keep an eye on - WR/KR Kaelin Clay, Utah - 6th round - as long as he hangs on to the ball after he crosses the goal line and not before, he could surprise.

A solid overall draft for Jason Licht, Lovie Smith and the Bucs, but still not sure who’s going to get to the QB from the edge. However, let’s be clear, the success of this draft rests in Winston’s hands and capable arm (and off the field maturity)

Atlanta

1st round - DE/OLB Vic Beasley, Clemson - The Falcons had fewer sacks than Texans star DE JJ Watt did last year so getting a productive sack artist was a must. Beasley’s fit in this defense, though, will be an interesting watch.

Head scratcher - RB Tevin Coleman, Indiana, 3rd round - it’s not as if I don’t like Coleman, in fact, he’s one of my favorites in this draft, but Atlanta had a speedy, quick back already and needed a more powerful, true between the tackles back. That’s not entirely Coleman’s game.

Diamond in the rough - DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson, 5th round - what a weekend it was for Jarrett. His house burned down on Friday night, then on Saturday he’s selected by his father’s former team (Jessie Tuggle, longtime Falcon legend). Not to mention, Jarrett’s dad announced the pick on Saturday afternoon at the team’s draft party. The Falcons found a true gem and Jarrett could impact the defense as a rookie.

Keep an eye on - WR Justin Hardy, East Carolina, 4th round - Harry Douglas is gone and Hardy has similar size and talents, so he could fit right in, playing slot receiver early.

After a rough couple of campaigns, GM Thomas Dimitroff needed a stellar draft weekend and if Beasley can consistently get to the QB, it’ll help in a major way.

Carolina

1st round - OLB/S Shaq Thompson, Washington - Some people are incredulous to this pick but I think he’s going to be a chess piece the likes we’ll see more of in future drafts. More so than most, I like this pick for Carolina.

Head scratcher - WR Devin Funchess, Michigan, 2nd round - Funchess was often compared to current Panther Kelvin Benjamin throughout the draft process. I don’t have too much problem with Funchess or the philosophy behind having two small forwards at receiver, but passing on OL at this point until the fourth round might haunt GM David Gettleman

Diamond in the rough - RB Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn, 5th round - LOVE this guy and he’ll have opportunity to get involved in the offense perhaps early in this career.

Keep an eye on - Thompson in sub-package alignments - I can’t wait to see how DC Sean McDermott utilizes Thompson in nickel and dime and most importantly, where he plays him.

Thompson is a boom or bust pick for Gettleman, pure and simple. Quite frankly, I see more “boom/bust” picks for the Panthers in this draft as for any NFL team. If most go boom, it’ll be a draft worth remembering. But, if it goes the other way, there’ll be some hot seats in Carolina.

New Orleans

1st round - LT Andrus Peat, Stanford - I really wanted to love Peat, but I just didn’t. I think he can have success but he’ll struggle early on and it can’t erode his confidence. Even though he played at Stanford, I thought he was lacking a bit of a nasty streak. Good player, but there were other, more athletic tackles drafted later that were better overall prospects.

1st round - ILB Stephone Anthony, Clemson - I remember he lost his job at some point in the 2013 season, vowed to get it back, did and dominated for the rest of his time at Clemson. He’s going to quietly do his work in New Orleans and have a solid career. I like this for New Orleans, probably more so than Peat at No. 13.

Head scratcher - QB Garrett Grayson, Colorado State, 3rd round - Just not my flavor at all and I’d have taken Bryce Petty every day and twice on Sunday. Don’t get what they saw.

Diamond in the rough - OLB Davis Tull, UT-Chattanooga, 5th round - DC Rob Ryan will love the athleticism and relentlessness. Love it.

Keep an eye on - DE Tyeler Davison, Fresno State, 5th round - The former wrestler wins with leverage and didn’t get a ton of publicity playing out on the west coast. Don’t be surprised if he makes it into the DE rotation early in his rookie campaign.
Six of the team’s eight picks were on the defensive side of the ball and a number of those have to hit for this team to take steps forward. I didn’t care much for the Peat pick at No. 13, but he’ll be fine. But, Anthony, PJ Williams, Hau’oli Kikaha, Davison, Damian Swann and Tull must be a part of the team’s future. Must.

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The Tweener has a Home

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The Tweener has a Home

When I sat down to do my 2015 NFL Draft preview, the first thing I did was come up with the position groups as I do every year.

Quarterbacks. Easy.

Running backs. Done.

After that, though, it got a wee bit more difficult. However, I didn’t want to get too granular, of course, but a tight end isn’t quite a tight end anymore. I mean, what position does Michigan’s Devin Funchess actually play?

That’s when it hit me that accepted, traditional nomenclature may not be as important as it used to be and, along with that, the roles and functions of players have changed along the way.

At his initial press conference as the Houston Texans head coach, Bill O’Brien noted how often teams utilize sub-package personnel - nickel, dime and even seven DBs as the Texans did a few times in 2014. It hit me that day that I needed to change the way I looked at defensive personnel, in particular, in sub-packages.

There are two down linebackers now.

There are nickel/slot/third corners now. I wrote about the importance of that position last year and will reprise again at some point soon.

But, the one position that will rise in importance as we go forward is that of the “big safety” or the “nickel/dime linebacker”.

The first name that came to mind to help illustrate my point is Washington LB/S/RB Shaq Thompson. As soon as he declared for the 2015 NFL Draft, I knew Thompson would a polarizing prospect. Most asked, rightfully so, what position does he play? Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network analyst didn’t put Thompson in his top 50 prospects and when asked about it, he just said he didn’t know what position he should play.

There’s plenty of truth to that statement and the hesitancy was understandable. Thompson is a former baseball player that went to Washington as a safety, transitioned to OLB and then added RB to his duties. There aren’t many like him at the next level and that’s the worry in some sense. Who does he remind you of? No one really.

But, as soon as I heard that he declared, I said “dime linebacker” immediately. So many teams are playing a safety in that spot next a three down inside linebacker when putting six DBs on the field, or as some teams call it “big nickel”. Many teams are hesitant to put a traditional linebacker in that spot because of the potential matchup with a running back, joker tight end or slot receiver in the passing game. But, some defenses are caught in between on 3rd and six, say, where the run is still a possibility and they have a safety at linebacker that doesn’t have a clue as to how to effectively play the run from that position.

There has to be a compromise in this sub-package situation, right? Well, yeah, Thompson. Or a guy like him.

He’s got safety experience but plays best as a heat seeking missile at linebacker. He knows and understands run fits but also can match up with pass catchers if necessary. Look, it won’t ever be perfect but he’ll match up better than most traditional linebackers do, that’s for sure.

Thompson is 6’, 228 lb., the perfect tweener size, and NFL teams are getting a little better at looking at tweeners as possibilities and options. There’s always a good spot for good football players and good coaching staffs will find a way to use them. As expected, Thompson’s not the only one.

Mississippi State OLB Matt Wells plays a lot like a safety but his “position” was linebacker in Starkville. He’s 6’2”, 222 lb. and ran a 4.41 at his Pro Day. He played enough on the perimeter to be comfortable in the passing game, but he has the understanding of playing the run as a linebacker.

Jacksonville Jaguars drafted former FSU LB Telvin Smith last year and there was a thought, prior to the 2014 Draft, that he needed to move to safety. But, he ended up being a versatile tool in the Jaguars defense and he never came off the field. He’s all of 220 lb. soaking wet but has linebacker skills and safety feet/speed. So, the Jags moved him out to the slot in passing situations, played him on the weakside in base sets and even rushed him from the edge.

Smith wasn’t a top 50 pick though, so am I saying that Thompson will be, just to play this specialized spot? No, not at all, but like Smith, he doesn’t have to leave the field. Sure, Thompson isn’t as fast as either Wells or Smith, but the way he plays the game, he can eventually thrive on all three downs.

I’m anxiously waiting for that day when an NFL defensive coordinator makes the switch full-time to a 4-2-Hybrid-4, a sort of 4-2-5 permanently. However, they won’t make that switch until one of the five is more linebacker than safety but has safety attributes. There are more of those guys headed to the NFL. Oklahoma OLB Eric Striker comes to mind, even though hes a pass rusher extraordinaire - he’s also only 218 lb. He won’t be able to exist at that size at OLB full-time, or any linebacker position full-time. But, he can run and learn how to cover like Smith. In this draft, Thompson and Wells were the first two names that came to mind.

Another guy that came to mind, thinking in reverse, was Landon Collins. The 6’, 228 lb. former Alabama star played that big nickel linebacker spot a bunch during his career. When I first saw him there, I thought he’d get swallowed whole, but he displayed excellent run fit instincts on top being a decent cover guy from that position. He’s a safety that can play in that role too.

Samford S Jaquiski Tartt is another guy at 6’1” and 221 pounds, nearly as big as Wells, that could move up and effectively play that spot as well. He hits like a mack truck but he’ll need to learn how to be more linebacker than safety to be truly effective.


With teams playing sub-packages more often than not, the tweener finally has a home, but it’s up to NFL teams to now realize that players of that ilk have more value than ever before.

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Future Flight Patterns

CFB's top 2016 Draft Eligible quarterbacks

 

When I sat down last February and started advance scouting the quarterback position for the 2015 Draft, I couldn’t help but think about the 2016 Draft. As I got near the end, I remember thinking, whoa, there are going to be a lot of teams looking for a quarterback that aren’t going to find it in late April 2015.

 

Jameis Winston. Marcus Mariota. That’s it.

 

Sure, Bryce Petty (Baylor), Brett Hundley (UCLA) and a handful of others will be day two or day three selections, but outside of Winston and Mariota, there won’t be much impact from this crop for a while, if ever.

 

So, once Mr. Irrelevant hears his name and the 2016 NFL Draft’s clock officially starts, will there be more than a team or two that can get excited about adding a quarterback in April/May 2016?

 

Before I answer that, we have to take a look back at recent history. The recent track record of successful next level quarterbacks early in their careers is not impressive.

 

Andrew Luck.

Teddy Bridgewater.

Russell Wilson.

Derek Carr

 

That’s it? Probably so. What do all of them have in common, well three of the four? All were in pro style offenses while a number of top 2016 NFL Draft QB prospects come out of spread attacks. Has the advance of college spread offenses slowed quarterback development for young quarterbacks? Not entirely, but I asked a high ranking NFL personnel executive at a college’s Pro Day that very question.

 

“It’s killing them.”

 

Really? I queried.

 

“No doubt.”

 

The evidence seemingly speaks to the truth in that statement. Look at the quarterbacks drafted over the past five years in the first three rounds of the draft and the offenses each guy ran in college.

 

2014

Blake Bortles - Pro Style

Johnny Manziel - Air Raid

Teddy Bridgewater - Pro Style

Derek Carr - Spread

Jimmy Garoppolo - Spread

 

2013

E.J Manuel - Pro Style

Geno Smith - Air Raid

Mike Glennon - Pro Style

 

2012

**Andrew Luck - Pro Style

**Robert Griffin III - Spread, up tempo

Ryan Tannehill - Pro Style

Brandon Weeden - Spread, Air Raid

Brock Osweiler - Pro Style

**Russell Wilson - Pro Style

**Nick Foles - Spread

 

2011

**Cam Newton - Spread

Jake Locker - Pro Style

Blaine Gabbert - Spread

Christian Ponder - Pro Style

**Andy Dalton - Pro Style

Colin Kaepernick - Spread option (pistol)

Ryan Mallett - Pro Style

 

2010

Sam Bradford - Spread, up tempo

Tim Tebow - Spread power, Meyer offense

Jimmy Clausen - Pro Style

Colt McCoy - Multiple

 

(**Pro Bowlers)

 

The ten players (out of 26 in total) in bold are locks to start the 2014 season, not good, bad or otherwise, just starters. Furthermore, there are a few teams that made multiple QB picks over those five years and still don’t have a starting quarterback. In addition, a handful of those ten are hanging on by a thread too - RG III, in particular, while Kaepernick and Dalton have taken their fair share of criticism playing for playoff contending teams. It wouldn’t appear that the 2015 NFL Draft is going to help that situation, especially immediately.

 

But, how about 2016 NFL Draft? Can a QB starved team find a top notch quarterback? It seems after studying these guys that there are a few more options in earlier rounds next year than this. In no particular order...here are some top Draft eligible QB prospects heading into the 2015 season.

 

Cody Kessler, USC

6’1”, 210 lb.

Senior

(Multiple, up tempo)

Incredibly efficient, Kessler took to new head coach Steve Sarkisian’s offense like a duck to water. He completed nearly 70% of his passes in 2014, throwing 39 TD and only five interceptions. He threw a number of screens and balls behind the line of scrimmage but still succeeded in most areas of the field. As a next level prospect, though, he’s probably behind other guys on this list. He doesn’t have a cannon arm or prototype size. He doesn’t drive the ball off his back foot/leg, so he doesn’t have the zip others do. But, accuracy is his game and coaches love those quarterbacks that just move the chains and live to see another set of downs. Then again, Kessler’s consistent accuracy led to amazing production; he had three four TD games, one five TD game, one six TD game and one seven TD game. All in one season.

 

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

6’4”, 236 lb.

Junior

(Pro Style)

There’s little question that Hackenberg had a much rougher sophomore campaign than his initial year under former Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. There was a ton of change for Hackenberg after his first season so perhaps his second season will end up being an anomaly but it definite gave some evaluators pause heading into his key third season. If there’s a guy on this list that just looks the part of a next level QB, it’s Hackenberg. He throws with such effortless motion and the ball comes out of his hand hot; however, his decision-making was subpar last year. He threw 15 interceptions to only 12 TD as he struggled throughout the season. But, if the Pinstripe Bowl is any indication of the year he’s about to have, then he’ll get back to his freshman season form and then some. Against Boston College, he threw it 50 times, completed 34 passes for 371 yards, four touchdowns and zero INT. There isn’t an NFL throw he can’t make; he just needs to show that he can consistently make those NFL throws without negative ramifications.

 

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

6’2”, 232 lb.

Senior

(Power spread)

One of the toughest players, much less quarterbacks, in all college football, Prescott is more warrior than true drop back NFL quarterback but he’s got the arm talent to make the transition. As a sophomore, in 2013, he led the Bulldogs to an Egg Bowl win as he was held together by a roll of duct tape. His NFL assessment could be difficult, given the offense he manages but he’s shown enough throwing acumen within the offense to make that analysis a little easier. The Bulldogs went 10-3 last year and went to a CFP New Year’s Six bowl game. He has a compact release with plus arm strength. However, he still plays like a fullback at quarterback, as opposed to the other way around. But, he throws the seam/sluggo/bang 8 routes like a champ, a definite NFL asset. He’s the guy that Mississippi State responds to and rallies around.

 

Cardale Jones, Ohio State

6’5”, 250 lb.

Junior

(Power spread)

“12 Gauge” started the 2014 training camp as the third quarterback on Ohio State’s depth chart and finished it holding a press conference to announce that he’d return for his redshirt junior season in Columbus. Jones’ career flipped overnight as he started, and won, three games - the B1G championship game (59-0 over Wisconsin), the Sugar Bowl semi-final Playoff game (42-35 over No. 1 Alabama) and the CFP National Championship Game (42-20 over No. 2 Oregon). After his three starts, it was clear that Jones had NFL QB tools - size, plus-plus arm strength and incredible cool and poise. He would’ve, more than likely, been the third quarterback taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. At worst. Will he get picked apart after 14 or 15 games as a starter? Shoot, will he even be the starter in 2014? Either way, he’s an NFL QB in waiting. Even if he can’t help the Buckeyes this year, he can help (insert NFL team here) in 2016.

 

Jared Goff, Cal

6’4”, 210 lb.

Junior

(Air Raid, Tony Franklin-offense)

Goff has seemingly set nearly every passing record in only two seasons on campus and is coming off of a 3,973 yard/35 TD/seven INT season as a sophomore. For being 6’4”, he doesn’t have a cannon arm and succeeds more with touch and ball placement than he does NFL-type bullet throws. But, he’s a competitor and has helped make Cal significantly better year over year. He hasn’t gotten great protection in the past so he has very happy feet in the pocket, but he has a fairly quick release on shorter throws. When he’s got to drive the ball in a tight spot or make a significantly long throw, he tends to wind up a bit to deliver the rock with some juice. Regardless, when Goff is eventually in the draft pool, there will be a staunch argument for/against “system QB” v. a “QB with NFL-traits in a passing offense”. I can’t wait (I think).

 

Connor Cook, Michigan State

6’4”, 222 lb.

Senior

(Pro Style)

Cook’s decision to return for Michigan State’s 2015 season was a bit of a shock, given the fact that he would’ve been in competition to be the third quarterback off the board in the 2015 NFL Draft. At worst. If he’s not at the top of the 2016 NFL Draft board, then something has gone horribly awry. Many will say he has “it”, in large part to his success in big games - 2013 B1G Championship, 2014 Rose Bowl and 2015 Cotton Bowl. He has prototype size and adequate arm strength. He tends to make some horrendous decisions and I’ve seen some “what the ——?” plays (and not the good kind). But, he has total command of the offense, is competitive and is a strong leader on and off the field. He’s not going to run for a ton of yards, but he’s got good enough feet to move around the pocket and keep plays alive.

 

Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati

6’4”, 208 lb.

Junior

(Multiple)

It seemed like Kiel was sort of a modern version of a quarterback runaway bride for a while. He committed to LSU, changed his commitment and signed with Notre Dame, then transferred to Cincinnati and sat out a year. When he finally got on the field in 2014, he lived up to most of the hype. He threw 31 TD but also had 13 interceptions and made some jaw dropping throws. But, he seems to be a rhythm quarterback that when he finds it, he crushes it, but when his confidence is lacking, he doesn’t belong in the CFL, much less the NFL. Tall, easy throwing motion with a plus arm and some touch, Kiel could use a bunch more snaps before he enters the NFL, but it’s going to be tough to keep him from running to the NFL after another tremendous season for the Bearcats.

 

Patrick Towles, Kentucky

6’5”, 241 lb.

Junior

(Spread system)

This is seemingly a complete projection for Towles who isn’t quite the most efficient quarterback on this list. He threw 14 TD and nine interceptions last year but has truly only scratched the surface of what he can do. He has a cannon for an arm but tends to let it get the best of him at times, making poor decisions when throwing downfield. But, when he’s in the pocket, delivering, he more than looks the part of a next level signal caller. He’d be wise to stay another two years (this and next). Then again, if he remains in a spread type offense, it may not matter because he’ll get drafted solely based on how his physical traits project and not his mastery of a spread college attack.

 

John Robertson, Villanova

6’1”, 219 lb.

Senior

(Spread system)

The 2014 FCS Offensive Player of the Year threw 35 TD and only three interceptions as a junior, in addition to 2,846 passing yards and 1,078 yards on the ground. He accounted for 46 TD in 2014, 33 in total in 2013. He runs it extremely well (nearly 1,100 last year and nearly 1,500 as a sophomore) but as we’ve seen, more and more teams refuse to utilize that asset within their offensive schemes. He’s not a statuesque pocket thrower but he’s got extremely good ball placement and throws a tight, catchable ball. He may not be a first rounder, but with another season like last year’s he’ll get Jimmy Garoppolo-type hype by April 2016.

 

Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky

6’3”, 216 lb.

Graduate Student/6th year senior

(Multiple, up tempo)

In December, Doughty got great news as he was granted a sixth season and an opportunity to build on 2014’s record setting season at WKU. He threw 49 TD and accounted for 4,830 yards through the air last season. He led the Hilltoppers to a season-defining 66-65 win over Marshall to end the Thundering Herd’s shot at an undefeated season. Over the final five games of the year, he threw 24 TDs with only two interceptions. But, it was ugly v. La. Tech when he threw four interceptions in a brutal loss to the Bulldogs. He’s a classic, over the top arm motion QB with a fairly quick release but average arm strength. He never thinks a play is over and that’s often what gets him in trouble. He must make better decisions when and where to throw the football.


There’s more talent in the above list than found in the guys about to be drafted in 2015. That said, had Cardale Jones, Dak Prescott and Connor Cook all declared last season, then the reverse would be true. Either way, the 2015 CFB QB crop is oozing with some talented next level QB ready for the 2016 NFL Draft.

 

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