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Old 05-29-2017, 01:42 AM
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2017 FCS draft class review
April 29, 2017


(STATS) - For the FCS, Friday night lights basically shined brighter than the sunlight did Saturday afternoon during the 2017 NFL Draft.

While this year's outdoor draft was held on the same Philadelphia Art Museum steps that Rocky made famous for underdogs, the FCS produced only 15 selections. That was down from an annual average of about 18 picks and from the 20 last year, led by the Philadelphia Eagles' selection of former North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall.

The last year with only 15 FCS picks was 2012.

The final total was a bit surprising because there were five FCS selections made Friday night - a strong number for the subdivision on the middle day of the draft. Still, the majority of FCS draft selections occur on the third and final day, and there were just 10 added to the second- and third-rounders.

But there were terrific finds as NFL teams continue to look to the FCS for impact players. This year's haul came on the heels of recent drafts producing the likes of Wentz, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson (2015, third round), New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (2014, second round), New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead (2013, third round) and Carolina Panthers cornerback Josh Norman (2012, fifth round).

The FCS can be a haven for players who fell through the cracks in FBS-level recruiting or were late-bloomers. Second-round pick Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova (Kansas City Chiefs) and third-rounders Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington (Los Angeles Rams) and Derek Rivers of Youngstown State (New England Patriots) helped bring the FCS star power to this year's draft.

---=

FCS SELECTIONS IN THE 2017 NFL DRAFT=

Day 2 - Friday, April 28 (Rounds 2 and 3)


Kansas City Chiefs (2nd round, 59th overall selection) - Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova: Five-technique D-end has freakish athleticism for his size (6-foot-7, 289 pounds). The last defensive player drafted from Villanova was Pro Football Hall of Famer Howie Long (1981). CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Los Angeles Rams (3rd, 69) - Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington: Four-time FCS first-team All-American holds Division I records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and touchdown catches (73) in a career. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B+

New England Patriots (3rd, 83) - Derek Rivers, DE/OLB, Youngstown State: Super Bowl champs' first pick of the draft was a pass rusher (41 career sacks) with the versatility favored by coach Bill Belichick. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B+

Arizona Cardinals (3rd, 98) - Chad Williams, WR, Grambling State: A 13-catch, 152-yard performance against Arizona as a senior stood out for Grambling's first draft selection since 2006. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Denver Broncos (3rd, 101) - Brendan Langley, CB, Lamar: At the NFL Combine, press corner flashed speed with a 4.43-second time in the 40-yard dash and showed off power with 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press (most among cornerbacks). CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C

Day 3 - Saturday, April 28 (Rounds 4 through 7)

Chicago Bears (4th, 119) - Tarik Cohen, RB, North Carolina A&T: The MEAC's all-time rushing leader (5,619 yards) figures to make the most of touches with the Bears as a runner, receiver and returner. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: D+

Los Angeles Rams (4th, 125) - Samson Ebukam, OLB, Eastern Washington: Terrific athleticism allows Nigerian-born Ebukam to make an impact in different ways. College teammate Kupp was a Rams' pick just 16 hours earlier. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: D

Houston Texans (4th, 130) - Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell: Four-year starting left tackle - Bucknell's first draft pick since 1969 - hopes to fill a role on a Texans team in need of help up front. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B+

Detroit Lions (5th, 165) - Jamal Agnew, CB, San Diego: Despite lack of height (5-9, 180), Agnew plays with confidence and sizes up with quickness and a fluid style. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C

New York Giants (5th, 167) - Avery Moss, DE, Youngstown State: Former Nebraska Cornhusker didn't take a secondary role to Rivers at Youngstown State, totaling 17½ tackles for loss and 10½ sacks with four forced fumbles as a senior. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Atlanta Falcons (5th, 174) - Eric Saubert, TE, Drake: Developed into an excellent red-zone threat at Drake, catching 21 touchdowns, including 10 as a senior. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B-

Denver Broncos (6th, 203) - De'Angelo Henderson, RB, Coastal Carolina: The teal turf at Coastal was great, but "Hop" was found in the end zone - he scored a touchdown in a Division I-record 35 straight games. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C-

Tennessee Titans (6th, 217) - Corey Levin, OG, Chattanooga: Titans stayed in-state for a four-year starter who is excellent on the move. Versatile enough to gain a potential role at center. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Oakland Raiders (7th, 231) - Jylan Ware, OT, Alabama State: Displays good movement for his 6-7½, 317-pound size and is considered to have quick-advancing skills for a developmental prospect. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: B

Tennessee Titans (7th, 236) - Brad Seaton, OT, Villanova. His run-blocking movement must encourage the Titans, but he needs to get stronger for pass sets. Good length at 6-7, 310. CBSSports.com Pick Grade: C+

---=

PICKS BY CONFERENCE=

It was particularly odd that the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, which had two all-time draft picks prior to this year, had more selections than some of the larger conferences of the FCS.

Five conferences tied for the FCS high with two selections each.

The breakdown by conference: CAA, Big Sky, Missouri Valley, Pioneer League and SWAC - 2 selections each; MEAC, Patriot League, Southern, Southland and FCS Independent - 1 selection each; and Big South, Ivy League, Northeast and Ohio Valley - no selections.

---=

NOTABLE=

Talk about a stacked playing field: When Youngstown State and Eastern Washington met in a memorable national semifinal last December, there were four 2017 draft picks on the field: Rivers and Moss for Youngstown State, which won 40-38 on a last-second touchdown, and Kupp and Ebukam for Eastern Washington. ? The most-drafted FCS position was defensive end. Kpassagnon, the first FCS selection, Rivers, Ebukam and Moss were dominant pass rushers in college. Ebukam is moving to outside linebacker in the NFL and Rivers might do the same. ? No position has been drafted more often from the FCS this decade than cornerback. Lamar's Langley and San Diego's Agnew increased the total to 28. ? With the CAA getting one more selection than the SoCon, those two conferences share the FCS lead with 22 selections each in the 2010s. The Big Sky is third with 20 and the Missouri Valley fourth with 18. ? Incredibly, the seven active FCS programs that had the most draft selections from 2010-16 - Montana (seven), South Carolina State (five), William & Mary (five), Central Arkansas (four), North Dakota State (four), Samford (four) and Tennessee State (four) - were shut out this year.

---=

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS=


Going undrafted can allow a player with multiple free agent offers the chance to pick a favorable situation. A number of coveted free agents would have potential offers late in the draft and then come to terms in the hours following it.

Josh Buchanan, an NFLPA Collegiate Bowl scout and perhaps the nation's leading evaluator of small school draft talent, had the following 10 undrafted FCS players as his highest-rated:

Tennessee State offensive guard Jessamen Dunker (fourth-round projection); Chattanooga defensive end Keionta Davis; Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole; Tennessee State cornerback Ezra Robinson; Saint Francis safety Lorenzo Jerome; South Carolina State offensive tackle Javarius Leamon; Illinois State offensive guard Cam Lee; Richmond free safety David Jones; William & Mary offensive tackle Jerry Ugokwe; and Maine defensive tackle Patrick Ricard.

---=

SNEAK PEEK TO NEXT YEAR=

The 2018 draft class coming from the FCS appears particularly deep.

Included are Sam Houston quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, the 2016 STATS FCS Walter Payton Award winner, and defensive end P.J. Hall, the runner-up for last year's STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award. As a pro, Hall projects to move inside to defensive tackle.

Speaking of teammates, there's the dynamite receiving duo from South Dakota State, tight end Dallas Goedert and wide receiver Jake Wieneke, who as juniors combined for 170 receptions, 2,609 receiving yards and 27 touchdown catches.

Other draft prospects include North Dakota State inside linebacker Nick DeLuca, Fordham running back Chase Edmonds (who's on pace to become the all-time rushing leader in the FCS), North Dakota cornerback Deion Harris and strong safety Cole Reyes, Illinois State cornerback Davontae Harris, Tennessee State defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko and North Carolina A&T offensive tackle Brandon Parker.
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Old 05-31-2017, 11:04 AM
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Headgear rules: Lee Corso, 81, signs extension with ESPN
May 31, 2017


ESPN has agreed to a multiyear contract extension with Lee Corso, the 81-year-old star of ''College GameDay.''

Corso joined ESPN in 1987 and has been part of the popular college football Saturday pregame show ever since. His head-gear game predictions, off-the-cuff analysis and signature line - ''Not so fast, my friend'' - have endeared him to generations of college football fans.

The head-gear picks started in 1996 when Corso donned the head of Ohio State's Brutus Buckeye before a game in Columbus with Penn State. He is on target to make his 300th head-gear pick during week six of the upcoming season.

In the spring of 2009, Corso suffered a stroke at his home in Florida, but returned to be part of the first ''College GameDay'' that season.
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Old 05-31-2017, 11:07 AM
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Wednesday’s six-pack

Pac-12 basketball records, over the last four seasons:

Arizona: 59-13 Pac-12, 8-4 NCAA

Oregon: 53-19, 9-4

Utah: 46-26: 3-2

UCLA: 44-28, 6-3

California: 39-33, 0-1

Colorado: 35-37, 0-2

Stanford: 33-39, 2-1

Arizona State: 31-41, 0-1

Oregon State: 26-46, 0-1

Washington: 25-47, 0-0

USC: 24-48, 2-2

Washington State: 17-55, 0-0

*****************************

Wednesday’s List of 13: Mid-week musings…….

13) Best part of the Strickland/Harper shenanigans Monday night was Buster Posey totally declining to get involved. Usually, the catcher tries to keep the angry batter away from the pitcher, but Posey made no such attempt.

Harper hit two very long home runs off Strickland in the ’14 playoffs (thats 2.5 years ago!!!) in their only two previous meetings. Guess something Harper did/said ticked Strickland off.

12) I like watching baseball when they have the strike zone on the right side of the screen, so we can see if the umps miss any pitches. To me, it makes the broadcast a little better.

11) Is Nick Markakis the best active player who has never been an All-Star? He has 1,945 hits, is a solid defender, has a .358 career OB%. You’d think he would’ve made one All-Star team.

10) Jeb Bush is out as part of the group trying to buy the Miami Marlins; apparently he had “only $20M” of his own money involved in the project, not enough to make him a controlling partner, which is what he wanted.

9) 10 of the 64 teams in the NCAA college baseball tournament are located in Texas.

8) Nike stock fell 19% last year, is up only 4% this year; with the NBA Finals starting this week, Nike didn’t need Cavs-Warriors being overshadowed by Eldrick Woods’ DUI arrest. Nike does not sell golf equipment anymore, but they still sell golf clothes, which Woods endorses.

7) Houston Astros are almost definitely going to be in the playoffs; I’m curious how they’ll deal with Josh Reddick playing against lefties (Price? Sale? Lester?) in playoffs/World Series.

Reddick is a career .270 hitter vs righties, .220 vs lefties (.282 OB%). A’s once pinch-hit for him in the 4th inning of a big game because the opponent put a lefty in. So far this year he is 7-25 (.280) vs lefties; maybe the change of scenery has helped him. We’ll see.

6) Kansas Jayhawks will have six transfers amongst their 13 scholarship players next winter; only three of them will be eligible next season. Makes team chemistry a little dicey.

5) David Blatt went 83-40 as coach of the Cavaliers in the regular season, went 14-6 in playoff games and got fired. Now he coaches overseas; I think he had just enough ego to have been a really good college coach, but we’ll probably never know.

Fact of the matter is, if Lebron James wakes up one day in August and wants Tyronn Lue fired, the man is as good as gone. Probably won’t happen, but it could.

4) Not a big fan of playing the infield in; just doesn’t seem necessary, unless the runner on third is really fast. Playing fielders in opens up too many cheap hits that wouldn’t happen with a more traditional defense.

3) Joe Niekro pitched in the major leagues for 22 seasons, had 973 career at-bats with a .156 BA and hit one home run— off his brother, Hall of Fame Phil Niekro.

2) A Saudi prince lost $359M in six hours playing poker at a casino in Egypt; he also sold off five of his nine wives as a way to reduce his debt.

I knew cats had nine lives; had no idea Saudi princes had nine wives.

1) I don’t care what anyone says, Bob Uecker should’ve won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role as Indians’ announcer Harry Doyle in Major League.
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Old 05-31-2017, 11:08 AM
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ESPN re-signs Howard for "GameDay"
May 30, 2017


ESPN has re-signed Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard to continue his role on ''College GameDay.''

The network announced Tuesday a multiyear agreement with Howard.

The former Michigan receiver has been part of ''College GameDay'' since joining ESPN in 2005. He will also continue to be a regular on ''College Football Live'' and call some mid-week games during the season. Howard is usually assigned to Mid-American Conference games in November.

Howard won the Heisman in 1991 and went to become a first-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins. He won MVP of Super Bowl 31 while playing with the Green Bay Packers. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
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Old 05-31-2017, 11:10 AM
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SEC considers easing grad transfer rules
May 30, 2017


DESTIN, Fla. (AP) Former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire could have another potential landing spot by the end of the week.

The Southeastern Conference is expected to ease graduate transfer rules during its annual spring meetings, clearing the way for Zaire to potentially end up at Florida.

Several coaches and Commissioner Greg Sankey said Tuesday they expect the SEC will tweak its policy, which penalizes teams if graduate transfers fail to meet academic standards during their time on campus. No other Power Five conference has a similarly restrictive clause.

''I don't think we should penalize ourselves as a league and allow people to transfer other places, but they can't transfer to our league,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ''So if there's some balance we can come up with on that, that's what I would be for.''

Added South Carolina coach Will Muschamp: ''I think we need to have the same rule as everybody else in college football. ... It is a little bit unfair for us as a league to have a different set of rules than the competition at other places.''

The Gators are currently unable to add Zaire because two previous graduate transfers - linebacker Anthony Harrell and offensive lineman Mason Halter - failed to meet academic requirements after transferring to Florida in 2016. That put coach Jim McElwain's program on probation, unable to add another graduate transfer for a three-year period.

The SEC is proposing to change the rule to a one-year ban, which still would be more than other Power Five conferences.

''If we have rules in the Southeastern Conference that are different than the other conferences that we're playing against and competing against ... I don't know what we're trying to prove there,'' McElwain said.

Zaire has reportedly chosen Florida over Texas and Harvard. He delayed an announcement earlier this month, assumedly to see if the Gators would become an option. For that to happen, the SEC would have to relax its policy.

Coaches discussed the issue Tuesday, and school presidents and chancellors are expected to vote on proposed rules changes Friday.

If Zaire lands in Gainesville, he would compete for the starting job with redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask as well as Luke Del Rio, who started six games last season. Zaire had 816 passing yards and six touchdowns in limited action in three seasons in South Bend, Indiana.

''Competition is what breeds quality,'' McElwain said. ''So whether it's that one or whatever one, I'm kind of all for it. I was the guy they always tried to replace every year at Eastern Washington, so I get it.''

Saban would like to see another change to the league's graduate transfer rules.

The SEC allows players to transfer from one conference team to another and be eligible immediately but only with a waiver, like Alabama defensive back Maurice Smith did last year. Smith wanted to transfer to Georgia, but Saban initially blocked the move. The SEC ultimately ruled Smith should be allowed to transfer and Saban reluctantly released him.

''I've never been in favor of free agency in our league,'' Saban said. ''I don't think that's a good thing. I wasn't for it last year. I don't think I'll ever be for it. I mean, why should guys leave your team and go play for somebody else and you have to play against them? I don't think that's fair.''

The league also will consider a third piece of legislation regarding graduate transfers. It is considering eliminating APR requirements for student-athletes considering a transfer, so anyone who graduates would be eligible to move to the league and play right away.

Arkansas coach Brett Bielema, who previously coached at Wisconsin, saw firsthand what a graduate transfer can do for a program and thinks the SEC should be on a level playing field with other leagues.

''A guy named Russell Wilson changed our season and was a very, very special player in a very special situation,'' Bielema said. ''I needed immediate help just for depth. I didn't know he was going to walk through the door and do what he did.''

There's no guarantee Zaire would do anything at Florida. But McElwain would like the help.

''What's good for our conference and what's good for college football is what I'm all about,'' he said. ''They may say, `Look, I don't want them to go there so I'm going to vote against it.' Then we've got issues, if that's it. You know what? Those people better check their hole card on that because that isn't what it's about. It's what's good for these kids.''
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Old 06-01-2017, 01:00 AM
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SEC Betting Outlook
May 31, 2017


Sportsbook.ag predictably has Alabama listed as a -180 favorite to win the SEC Championship Game for the fourth straight year and the fifth time in six seasons. Obviously, from a gambling perspective, that expensive price offers zero for bettors.

If one wanted to win $500 on Alabama to get crowned in the first weekend of December in Atlanta yet again, he or she would have to put $900 at risk and wait for the payout for at least four months. Is that slice of your season bankroll really what you want unavailable to wager on individual games and adjusted future numbers throughout the year? I doubt it.

The next-shortest odds belong to LSU (+550, risk $100 to win $550). The Tigers aren’t the team to be interested in, either. I say this because they have question marks at quarterback, wide receiver and head coach. Also, and perhaps most important, the schedule doesn’t work at all in 2017.

Due to AD Joe Alleva’s utter arrogance and incompetence (remember his insistence on playing Florida in Baton Rouge even though the game had no major championship implications?), LSU has to play five SEC road games. Those contests include trips to Starkville, Gainesville, Oxford, Tuscaloosa and Knoxville. The draw from the SEC East is as tough as it gets with trips to The Swamp and Neyland Stadium. The home game are vs. Auburn (sandwiched between at Florida and at Ole Miss), vs. Arkansas (after at Alabama and before at UT) and vs. Texas A&M.

LSU does bring back Derrius Guice, the SEC’s best running back who will no longer have to share touches with Leonard Fournette. Athlon’s preseason magazine ranks LSU’s offensive line as the third-best in the SEC and the fifth-best in the nation. However, the Tigers return only nine total starters (five offense, four defense), and senior QB Danny Etling isn’t exactly installing fear in opposing defensive coordinators, especially with big-play threats Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural gone.

It says here that Auburn (7/1) is the best option to wager on to win the SEC. Why? This conversation centers around new starting QB Jarrett Stidham, who has the look of a future NFL signal caller. As a true freshman in 2015, Stidham was thrust into the starting lineup for Baylor midway through the season.

At the time, the Bears were unbeaten and ranked second in the nation. Considering the chaotic environment and individuals in that locker room run by Art Briles, the pressure on Stidham, a five-star recruit, as such a youngster was immense. So how did he respond?

Well, in his first career start at Kansas State, he threw for 419 yards and three touchdowns without an interception to lead Baylor to a 31-24 road victory. The next game was played at home in the rain versus 12th-ranked Oklahoma. The Sooners would prevail by a 44-34 count, but the blame for that defeat had to fall on the defense more than the offense.

Stidham responded well the following game, helping the Bears to a 45-35 win at Oklahoma State. However, he was injured in the second half. Stidham would return and split time with Chris Johnson under center in a 49-38 win over North Carolina in the bowl game. His season numbers included a 68.8 percent completion percentage, 1,265 passing yards and a 12/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

With Briles fired going into the 2016 campaign, Stidham opted to transfer. But he didn’t spend all of last year on the sidelines, as he played in the juco ranks and then enrolled at AU in January. With all of spring practice to learn Gus Malzahn’s offense, Stidham appears poised to thrive.

Although this will be Malzahn’s first time coaching a true passer as head coach at AU, Stidham still moves well. The Tigers return 14 total starters with seven on each side of the ball.

Kamryn Pettway was leading the SEC in rushing and Auburn was on a six-game winning streak when he injured his hamstring vs. Vanderbilt in early November (what a brutal Bad Beat ‘over’ backers absorbed when Pettway pulled up lame 20 yards shy of paydirt with no defender in his way against the Commodores). Nevertheless, he still ran for 1,224 yards and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

I wasn’t a fan of the Kevin Steele DC hire going into 2016, but it certainly worked. Auburn finished seventh in the nation in scoring defense (17.1 points per game). This unit returns standout players like DL Marlon Davidson, CB Carlton Davis and LB Tre’ Williams.

Auburn’s draw from the East isn’t bad with a trip to Missouri for the league opener and a home date with Georgia in what will be a revenge game. The three other road games come in succession at LSU, at Arkansas and at Texas A&M, but the trip to College Station comes after an open date.

Even if AU loses at LSU, it will have an excellent shot at being 6-1 in SEC play going into the regular-season finale at home against Alabama. In other words, even if Alabama is unbeaten in league action, the Tigers will be alive to win the West going into the Iron Bowl. My thought process here is Auburn +700 on the money line at home against the Crimson Tide sounds decent.

The next-shortest odds belong to SEC East schools – Georgia (+750), Florida (10/1) and Tennessee (15/1). The Volunteers lost talent galore, will be breaking in a new QB and dealing with Butch Jones’s hot-seat status. My point is that they aren’t even in the conversation, so we’ll focus on UGA and UF.

UF has just three SEC road assignments and it will likely be favored in all three – at Kentucky, at Missouri and at South Carolina. The draw from the West is a pair of home games vs. LSU and Texas A&M, which will be making its first visit to The Swamp since joining the conference.

The Gators return nine starters on offense and three on defense. They will have their most talent on offense in a long time, but the question remains at the QB position that’s been an issue since 2009. There’s reason for optimism, however. UF just added Notre Dame grad transfer Malik Zaire to the mix along with Feleipe Franks, who had a solid spring and was a four-star recruit who redshirted in ’16. Even the third-stringer, Luke Del Rio, has starting experience.

Despite just three starters returning, the defense will be fine. Most of the non-returning starters have seen playing time galore, including veterans like DE CeCe Jefferson, DT Taven Bryan and NT Khairi Clark. Sophomore CB Chauncey Gardner was MVP of the Outback Bowl and sophomore DE Zabari Zuniga was leading the SEC in sacks in early October of last season. Also, sophomore LBs Kylan Johnson and David Reese were starting as true freshmen in November after Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone went down with injuries.

Georgia has the QB with the best NFL potential in Jacob Eason, but I’m certainly not sold on Kirby Smart as a head coach yet. UGA went 8-5 in his first season, but it lost three home games to Georgia Tech, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The Bulldogs were slaughtered 45-14 at Ole Miss and also lost by double digits to UF.

UGA returns all 11 starters on defense and five on offense. The Bulldogs have a pair of big-time RBs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but they finished 11th in the SEC and 102nd in the nation in scoring last year (24.5 PPG).

Like UF, UGA has only three SEC road tilts – at UT, at Vandy and at Auburn. The other West foe is Mississippi State in the season opener at Sanford Stadium.

Odds to win the SEC East aren’t out yet. UGA will be the short favorite when those numbers are released. I recommended the Gators at +400 odds last year and they’ll likely be my pick to win the East again. However, I don’t give UF or UGA much of a chance to win the SEC Championship Game this year.

The longshots – Texas A&M (40/1), Arkansas (50/1), Mississippi State (60/1), Kentucky (80/1), South Carolina (80/1), Missouri (150/1) and Vanderbilt (150/1) – don’t appeal to me. Mississippi State and USC could be in the mix in late October if their talented QBs (Nick Fitzgerald and Jake Bentley) have monster seasons, but bettors are best off looking ‘over’ at their season win totals.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- Jim McElwain certainly isn’t on the hot seat after leading UF to back-to-back trips to Atlanta in his first two seasons. With that said, his work on the recruiting trail hasn’t been overly impressive. Yes, UF has finished strong on Signing Day to salvage a pair of classes, including the 2017 haul that was ranked 11th nationally by most publications. But to give you an idea of the ho-hum evaluation of this 2017 class, it includes just ONE of the SEC’s Top-40 signees according to Athlon’s rankings.

-- McElwain has yet to announce any punishment for star WR Antonio Callaway, who was cited for marijuana possession a few weeks ago. In his first public statement earlier this week, McElwain said, “Look, it’s not something I’m happy about. And yet, you know what? I am going to help this guy and I’m going to continually try as I will all my players.” A suspension for the season opener vs Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX., would be costly.

-- Several offshore books had Michigan listed as a six or 6.5-point favorite against the Gators over the last several weeks. However, when the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas opened the Wolverines as 3.5-point ‘chalk’ last week, those offshores adjusted their numbers. 5dimes.eu currently has Michigan favored by four, while Sportsbook.ag has taken the game off the board due to the uncertain status of Callaway.

-- Arkansas took a big blow when RB Rawleigh Williams decided to retire in early May due to multiple back injuries. Williams rushed for 1,360 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 5.6 YPC in ’16.

-- South Point has the following lines for Week 1 SEC games: Alabama -5.5 vs. FSU (Atlanta), Georgia -14 vs. Appalachian State, Tennessee -4 vs. Georgia Tech (Atlanta), UCLA -3.5 vs. Texas A&M, Auburn -36 vs. Georgia Southern and LSU -11 vs. BYU (Houston).
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South Point Win Totals - Part 2
June 4, 2017


2017 South Point College Football Win Totals

Alphabetical Order

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

School Win Total Money


Central Florida 7.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Cincinnati 5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Connecticut 4 Over (+110) Under (-130)
East Carolina 2.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Houston 8.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Memphis 8.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Navy 7 Over (+105) Under (-125)
South Florida 10 Over (-110) Under (-110)
SMU 5 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Temple 7 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Tulane 4.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Tulsa 7.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE

School Win Total Money


Boston College 4 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Clemson 9.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Duke 4.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Florida State 9.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Georgia Tech 6 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Louisville 9.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Miami, Fl. 9 Over (-120) Under (Even)
North Carolina State 6.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
North Carolina 7 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Pittsburgh 6.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Syracuse 4 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Virginia 5.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Virginia Tech 8.5 Over (-115) Under (-105)
Wake Forest 5.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)

BIG 12

School Win Total Money


Baylor 8 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Iowa State 5.5 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Kansas 2.5 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Kansas State 7.5 Over (-130) Under (+110)
Oklahoma 10 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Oklahoma State 9 Over (+105) Under (-125)
TCU 8 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Texas 7.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Texas Tech 4.5 Over (-130) Under (+110)
West Virginia 6 Over (-130) Under (+110)

BIG TEN

School Win Total Money


Illinois 3.5 (Even) Under (-120)
Indiana 6.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Iowa 7 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Maryland 3 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Michigan 8.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Michigan State 5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Minnesota 7.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Nebraska 7 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Northwestern 8.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Ohio State 10.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Penn State 10 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Purdue 2.5 Over (-125) Under (+105)
Rutgers 3 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Wisconsin 10.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)

CONFERENCE USA

School Win Total Money


Florida International 4.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Florida Atlantic 4 Over (-105) Under (-115)
Louisiana Tech 9 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Marshall 5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Middle Tennessee State 7.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
North Texas 4 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Old Dominion 6.5 Over (-115) Under (-105)
Rice 3.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Southern Miss 7.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
UAB 2.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
UTEP 2.5 Over (+120) Under (-140)
Texas San Antonio 6.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Charlotte 4 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Western Kentucky 9.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)

INDEPENDENTS

School Win Total Money


Army 8 Over (-110) Under (-110)
BYU 10 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Massachusetts 2.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Notre Dame 7.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)

MID-AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

School Win Total Money

Akron 5.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Ball State 4 Over (-115) Under (-105)
Bowling Green 4 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Buffalo 3.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Central Michigan 7 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Eastern Michigan 4.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Kent State 3.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Miami Ohio 8 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Northern Illinois 6 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Ohio 7.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Toledo 8.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Western Michigan 9 Over (+110) Under (-130)

MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERENCE

School Win Total Money


Air Force 5 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Boise State 8 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Colorado State 7.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Fresno State 4 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Hawaii 4 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Nevada 3.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
New Mexico 5.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
San Diego State 9.5 Over (-125) Under (+105)
San Jose State 3.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
UNLV 5.5 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Utah State 4.5 Over (+105) Under (-125)
Wyoming 8 Over (-105) Under (-115)

PAC-12

School Win Total Money


Arizona 4.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Arizona State 5 Over (+105) Under (-125)
California 3.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Colorado 7.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Oregon 7.5 Over (-125) Under (+105)
Oregon State 5.5 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Stanford 9 Over (-115) Under (-105)
UCLA 7 Over (-125) Under (+105)
USC 10 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Utah 5.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Washington 10 Over (-130) Under (+110)
Washington State 7 Over (-130) Under (+110)

SEC


School Win Total Money

Alabama 10.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Arkansas 6 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Auburn 9 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Florida 8 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Georgia 9 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Kentucky 7 Over (Even) Under (-120)
LSU 9 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Mississippi 5.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Mississippi State 5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Missouri 6 Over (-110) Under (-110)
South Carolina 5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Tennessee 7.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Texas A&M 7.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Vanderbilt 6 Over (-130) Under (+110)

SUN BELT

School Win Total Money

Appalachian State 9.5 Over (-130) Under (+110)
Arkansas State 7.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Georgia Southern 5 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Georgia State 6 Over (Even) Under (-120)
Idaho 4.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
Louisiana-Lafayette 5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Louisiana-Monroe 3.5 Over (Even) Under (-120)
New Mexico State 3.5 Over (-110) Under (-110)
South Alabama 4 Over (+110) Under (-130)
Texas State 2.5 Over (-120) Under (Even)
Troy 8.5 Over (-125) Under (+105)

Odds Subject to Change - Opened 6.2.17
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Former ND QB Zaire transferring to Florida
June 4, 2017


Former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire plans to transfer to Florida and join the Gators as a graduate transfer.

Zaire told Fox Sports and 247Sports late Saturday night of his plans and confirmed to ESPN on Sunday that he will visit Florida's campus on Wednesday to finalize the graduate transfer process.

"The visit Wednesday is just making sure we dot our I's and cross our T's, so it's just everything really solidifying things," Zaire told ESPN. "Making sure it feels how I know it would be of making it a home. If everything goes as planned, I'm a Gator, but of course the visit is important to take everything in."

Zaire will be eligible to play this season.

At Notre Dame, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound left-handed quarterback completed 58 of 98 passes for 816 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in his Fighting Irish career. He also rushed 72 times for 324 yards and two scores.

"I am going to embrace that challenge and I'm very eager to get down there," Zaire told Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman.

Zaire said earlier in the week that he was considering multiple schools, including Florida, Texas, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

"You just want to be able to be a part of something special," Zaire told 247Sports. "You're playing in basically like a minor league from The League. For me, I didn't want the challenge to dissipate at the end of the day.

"Coming from Notre Dame, you're playing top games every week, and I wanted to continue that trend. I didn't want to run from the challenge, I wanted to embrace the challenge."

On Friday, SEC school presidents and chancellors tweaked the conference's graduate transfer policy, easing restrictions and reducing penalties for programs whose graduate transfers fail to meet academic requirements.

The Gators had been unable to add Zaire because two previous graduate transfers -- linebacker Anthony Harrell and offensive lineman Mason Halter -- failed to meet academic requirements after transferring to Florida in 2015, putting coach Jim McElwain's program on probation.

The conference's graduate transfer rule previously prevented schools that had graduate transfers who did not meet the academic requirements from accepting more transfers for a three-year period.

Friday's vote reduced the ban to one year, a proposal by the athletic directors at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla. The SEC had been the only Power 5 conference with that kind of punitive system.

Zaire is expected to compete with Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Luke Del Rio for the Gators' starting job.

"I'm going in there to be a part of the team and do what I can to help the team win and win the team's respect," Zaire told 247Sports. "There's other guys out there on the field, too. So being a good teammate is first and foremost. Being a good teammate and letting the other things happen when they happen and continue to work hard. I think I bring some value and good things to the team, so I'm excited to be a part of that."

Zaire decided to leave Notre Dame after the Irish's disappointing 4-8 season in 2016.
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Beamer, Brown debut on College Football Hall of Fame ballot
June 1, 2017


IRVING, Texas (AP) Longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and former Texas coach Mack Brown, along with former players Charles Woodson, Ed Reed and Calvin Johnson, are among those making their first appearance on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot this year.

The ballot released Thursday by the National Football Foundation includes 75 players and six coaches who competed in the Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA. An additional 98 players and 31 coaches from lower divisions and NAIA are also up for consideration.

Beamer coached Virginia Tech from 1987-2015 and won 238 games. Brown won 158 games in 15 seasons with Texas, including a national title in 2005.

The newest Hall of Fame class will be announced Jan. 8 in Atlanta, the site of the College Football Playoff championship game.

Woodson played defensive back and returned punts for Michigan, winning the Heisman Trophy in 1997. Reed was a star safety on Miami's 2001 national championship team. Johnson was an All-America receiver for Georgia Tech.

Notable players who have been up for consideration previously are Miami stars Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis, Eric Dickerson of SMU and Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, who won the 2001 Heisman Trophy.
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2017 AAC Preview
June 5, 2017


2017 AMERICAN ATHLETIC PREVIEW


Coach Me Up

Entering its fourth year of existence, the American Athletic Conference remains the top Group of 5 League heading into the 2017 football season.

While the loop has struggled in bowl games, going 6-14 SU and 7-13 ATS, it has become a breeding ground for up-and-coming head coaches.

Tulsa’s Phillip Montgomery, SMU’s Chad Morris, and Memphis’ Mike Norvell are three promising young coaches on the rise, and we didn’t even mention Tulane’s Willie Fritz. Meanwhile, the 23 wins by Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo over Power Five or BCS Conference foes is the most of all Group of Five schools.

The AAC has five new coaches for 2017: Cincinnati's Luke Fickell, Connecticut’s Randy Edsall, Houston's Major Applewhite, Temple's Geoff Collins, and USF’s Charlie Strong.


And rest assured, East Carolina’s Scottie Montgomery is fully aware that the Pirates have missed out on bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2004-05. Beware of the AAC. Its coaches take a back seat to no one.

Talking Points

-- Average attendance at American Athletic Conference home stadiums was 31,611, clearly No. 1 for Group of Five conferences, and right on the heels of 2015 when it averaged 31,842 in 2015, after an average of 21,193 in 2014. USF was up 41% in 2016 with a 10-2 record and a home game vs. Florida State. On the flip side, Temple fell 38% without facing Notre Dame. Other than BYU, East Carolina (44.113) had the largest average attendance outside the Power Five.

-- Danger ahead: since the AAC formation in 2014 the conference has struggled mightily in non-conference games following a SUATS loss, going just 4-26-1 ATS. And if they are not taking at least 7 points in these games they fall off the face of the earth, going 0-13-1 ATS. Gulp.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.

EAST PREVIEW:

CINCINNATI (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 6/3, 42 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: BEING FICKELL

A 3-1 start last season turned into a 1-7 disastrous finish and an absolute P.R. nightmare when head coach Timmy Tuberville went off on a disgruntled fan in front of cameras. As a result of the implosion, the Bearcats brought in longtime Ohio State assistant Luke Fickell to right the program and polish its image. Fickell also served as the Buckeyes’ interim coach in 2011 following the Jim Tressel fallout while guiding OSU to its first losing season since 1988. The good news is Fickell has defensive DNA in his blood and the strength of this Bearcats team appears to be its defense. Behind an experienced Power 5 coaching staff, cool hand Luke looks right at home in Cincinnati.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Fickell was 1-5 ATS in games following a win as a head coach with Ohio State.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. UCF (10/27)

CONNECTICUT (Offense – *7/3, Defense –5/3, 57 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: OLD DOGS...NEW TRICKS

Like a stray dog returning home, former head coach Randy Edsall is back at UConn. With the Bob Diaco experiment officially history, Edsall returns to Connecticut for a second tour, this time trying to ignite an offense that was virtually non-existent in three seasons under Diaco. The 20 touchdowns they scored was lowest tally of any team in the nation in 2016. Edsall turns to former Auburn OC Rhett Lashlee – a Gus Malzahn protg – and Villanova DC Billy Crocker for his new coordinators. The good news is five OL with starting experience are back. And remember: Huskies’ sophomores made a total of 127 starts in 2015, the most in the nation. Those young pups are now seniors.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies scored a total of nine first-quarter points (three field goals in two games) last season.

PLAY ON: vs. UCF (11/11)

EAST CAROLINA (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 7/3, 53 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: WHERE’S THE BOUNTY?

Year One under head coach Scottie Montgomery was expected to be productive. After all, 51 upper classmen dotted the Pirates’ roster, including star WR Zay Jones and transfer QB Phillip Nelson. Neither disappointed with Jones leading the nation in receiving while Nelson, a protg of quarterback specialist coach Terry Shea, finished 7th in completion percentage (67.9). Through it all the offense improved 53 YPG, but the defense – horse-collared with injuries – slipped 51 YPG. It didn’t help that ECU was also the worst team in the nation in turnovers gained (8) last season. The question is with Jones and Nelson gone, what can they to improve on last year’s three wins?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Pirates are 2-16 SU and 0-18 ATS versus conference foes with a winning record since 2010.

PASS

TEMPLE (Offense - 5/3, Defense – 4/1, 42 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: #GREAT HIRE

When Florida DC Geoff Collins replaced Matt Rhule as the Owls coach this season, he almost immediately began using social media hashtags to show his footprint on the program. The one that has gotten most of the attention from the players is #the STANDARD, as they quickly learned that the standard expected from every player has been raised even higher this year. After fighting thru a 2-10 seaosn in 2013, Temple concluded the final two years of the Rhule regime with a pair of 10-win seasons. But because 50% of the starts made for the Owls last season were by seniors, Collins realizes everone must step up in 2017. The ranks are thin but the spirit is high.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: New Temple coach Collins is the only coach to be a Broyles award nominee – the nation’s best assistant coach - at three schools.

PASS

UCF (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 4/3, 43 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: COOLNESS AT ITS BEST

After taking over a program that failed to win a game in 2015 and leading them to a bowl game, the big question is what does Scott Frost do for an encore? He was 24-2 as a quarterback at Nebraska. As a DC at Northern Iowa the Panthers went from 7-4 to 12-1. And while an assistant at Oregon, the Ducks went 79-15. So yes, the man knows how to win. It’s also no coincidence that the UCF freshmen made the 2nd most starts in the nation in 2015. After coming up big as sophomores last season, they are now juniors. With added improvement in store this year behind a powerful front seven, the question has been answered.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: UCF was the No. 2 team in the nation in red zone defense in 2016.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. East Carolina (10/14) - *KEY

USF (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 9/4, 49 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: STRONG ARMED

One of 11 teams to win 11 games last season, USF set nearly 40 team records in 2016, including total yards (6,650), rushing yards (3,714), touchdowns (77), and scoring (569) in its best season ever. JR QB Quinton Flowers was named AAC Offensive POY while leading a school-record 10 players named to the all-conference team. While those are some mighty big shoes to fill, six of those players - including Flowers - return in 2017. Among the missing, though, is head coach Willie Taggart who moves on to Oregon. Enter controversial Charlie Strong, whose first task will be to rebuild a defense that actually regressed over 100 YPG last season. Just the way he likes it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: USF was the No. 1 team in the nation in 4th down conversion percentage last season.

PASS


WEST PREVIEW:

HOUSTON (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 8/2, 37 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: APPLE SEEDS

It’s been said that Major Applewhite likes big challenges. In succeeding Tom Herman as the Cougars’ new head coach he has taken on a gargantuan task. On the heels of its best two-season effort (22 wins) in school history, Applewhite inherits two terrifically talented recruiting classes left behind by Herman, including 2016 Defensive Freshmen All-American of the Year, DT Ed Oliver, the most decorated recruit in Cougar history. Dynamo QB Greg Ward Jr. is gone, creating a big hole behind center. The hope is Texas A&M transfer QB Kevin Allen can live up to his blue-chip recruit hype. If new DC Mark D’Onofrio (Miami and Temple) can continue to plug holes, gargantuan just may turn to tiny.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Former Utah OC and Mississippi State QB coach Brian Johnson is Houston new offensive coordinator.

PASS


MEMPHIS (Offense – *9/4, Defense – 8/3, 43 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: FUENTE, WHO?

When Memphis won 8 games in Mike Norvell’s first year after replacing Justin Fuente in 2015, he set the bar high. Real high, considering it was the most wins by a first-year coach in school history. He was also the first coach to lead the Tigers to a bowl game in his first season, plus the first rookie head coach at Memphis to defeat a ranked team since 1975. Now, after 27 wins in three seasons, and with a boatload of starters returning, the upside for this fledgling program has never been higher. A quick glance of the schedule confirms that Memphis could be favored in as many as 10 games this campaign. Beware of the Tiger.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Memphis is 12-0 ATS as an underdog in regular season road finales.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (10/19)

NAVY (Offense - 4/2, Defense – 7/1, 47 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: NIUMATALOLO SPELLS SUCCESS

We could write a book about the Navy program every year, but due to space limitations, we’ll go with the Cliff Notes version. Ready? Since Ken Niumatalolo became head coach Navy in 2008, the well-disciplined Middies have never finished lower than 2nd in penalties per game. They also know how to win, going 144-92 in Coach N’s 19 seasons on the Navy sidelines. Last year they saw 102 games missed by key starters or contributors due to injury – and the Midshipmen still won 9 games! You can do that when you’re the No. 1 team in the land in 3rd down conversion percentage, and when you’ve got the horses to topple your first AP Top 10 team since 1984. And beware: Navy will enter the 2017 season on a three-game losing streak. It is Navy’s longest losing streak since 2014. Navy won 26 of their next 31 games after the previous three-game losing streak. Forewarned is forearmed.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Navy played nine FBS teams in 2016 that finished with eight or more wins (tied with North Carolina for the most in the country).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (11/24)

SMU (Offense - *9/4, Defense – 5/3, 40 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: GROWING UP LIGHTNING FAST

The Mustangs continued their upward ascent last season under head coach Chad Morris. Noteworthy in the Ponies’ annual improvement run last season was its first win over a Top 15 team since 1986. Morris’ non-stop triple option attack is loaded with returning starters, including exciting SO QB Ben Hicks and last year’s top eight targets, along with four-star LSU transfer Trey Quinn, who starred during spring camp. Defensively, depth and attrition became issues down the stretch in 2016. Five starters from that unit are gone, but no less than 16 contributors are back. Like we said last year, if the defense can hold the fort, the Mustangs should be ordering up bowl shirts by season’s end.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Freshmen have started a total of 101 games for the Mustangs last two seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Houston (10/7)

TULANE (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 7/2, 49 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: HITTING THE RESET BUTTON

Perhaps no other coach in college football hits a groove like Willie Fritz does when it comes to his second-year with a program. According to Bill Connelly of SBNation.com, in his second year at Blinn College his team won the NJCAA title. In his second year at Central Missouri, the Mules went from 5-6 to 8-3. In his second year at Sam Houston State, the Bearkats went from 6-5 to 14-1. And in his second year at Georgia Southern, the Eagles secured their first bowl bid. Better yet, because Fritz played a ton of underclassmen last year, that youth turns to experience this year. Sure, they were the worst team in the nation in team passing, and 3rd down conversion percentage, last season. But rest assured, Willie is right where he wants to be this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Willie Fritz is 14-0 SU and 11-1 ATS versus .333 or less opponents.

PLAY ON: vs. Houston (11/18)

TULSA (Offense – 7/4, Defense – 6/2, 49 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: CATEGORY 5 WARNING

Tulsa’s high octane offense hit on all cylinders under head coach Phillip Montgomery - remember that name – when it became the first team in FBS history to have a 3,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard rushers, and two 1,000-yard WRs in the same season. Even more satisfying for Montgomery, though, was the fact that the Hurricane defense actually improved over 100 YPG over the previous season. Throughout it all, an offense going full-speed for 60 minutes continued to percolate with its second straight Category 5 effort under Monty when its 527 YPG effort topped the 507 YPG posted in his first year with Tulsa. And oh yeah, Tulsa has scored 30-plus points in each of its last 11 games. Yikes.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Tulsa is 29-7 SU and 28-8 ATS in conference games in which it scores 30 or more points.

PLAY ON: vs. Navy (9/30)
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Stoops: From 'Big Game Bob' to Sooners' winningest coach
June 7, 2017


Big Game Bob leaves behind quite a legacy at Oklahoma.

Bob Stoops shocked college football Wednesday with his surprise announcement that he is retiring immediately as the Sooners' coach, handing the program over to 33-year-old assistant Lincoln Riley with less than two months before preseason practice starts.

It's a question of when - not if - the 56-year-old Stoops earns his invitation to the College Football Hall of Fame. Here's a look back at how the former assistant to Steve Spurrier at Florida and Bill Snyder at Kansas State wound up becoming the winningest coach in Oklahoma history:

THE EARLY YEARS


After four stops as an assistant, Stoops arrived at Oklahoma in 1999 to replace John Blake and immediately made the Sooners winners again, taking them to their first bowl game since 1994 - the first of 18 in a row for him. In Year 2, he led them to the national championship, beating Florida State in the Orange Bowl. That year also included the first of his 10 Big 12 championships and earned the nickname ''Big Game Bob'' for his knack for beating Top 25 opponents and winning three of his first four bowl games. From his second season through his last, Stoops never won fewer than eight games in a season.

THE MID-2000s

Stoops' Sooners kept rolling along during the regular seasons, but that nickname took on a sarcastic spin when his teams lost five of six bowl games from 2003-08 - including three losses in BCS national championship games in 2003, '04 and `08. Oklahoma won at least 11 games five times during that six-year span but was foiled in title games by LSU, Southern California and Florida. Also in that stretch: an unforgettable loss in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl in which Boise State converted a hook-and-ladder play on fourth-and-18 in the final seconds of regulation and won it in overtime on a Statue of Liberty two-point conversion.

THE LATER YEARS

The bowl wins returned for Stoops after 2009, and he led Oklahoma to a No. 1 ranking for the final time in 2011 and broke Barry Switzer's school record of 157 victories two years later. Stoops won five of his final eight postseason games, knocking off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl four years ago. He claimed Big 12 titles in each of the past two seasons, led Oklahoma to the College Football Playoff in 2015 and, in what would become Stoops' final game, the Sooners beat Auburn 35-19 in the Sugar Bowl in January.

THE FINAL RESUME

Stoops coached two Heisman Trophy winners (Jason White in 2003, Sam Bradford in 2008), two more runners-up (Josh Heupel in 2000, Adrian Peterson in 2004) and seven total finalists, including two last year (QB Baker Mayfield and WR Dede Westbrook). The six-time Big 12 coach of the year and AP coach of the year in 2000 went 11-7 against Texas and 14-4 against Oklahoma State. He would have reached the 200-win mark with an average season in 2017 - but instead his career ends with a record of 190-48.


*****************************


Lincoln Riley, 33, takes over at Oklahoma
June 8, 2017


NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Just three years ago, Lincoln Riley was the offensive coordinator at East Carolina.

Now, he'll take the reins at Oklahoma, one of the most powerful programs in college football.

The 33-year-old Riley is being promoted to replace the retiring Bob Stoops. He becomes the youngest head coach in the Bowl Subdivision.

''As a young guy, as a coach, when you decide you're going to do this, these are things you just dream about,'' Riley said at a joint press conference with Stoops on Wednesday. ''I feel like I'm honestly living a dream right now.''

Though he is young, he is experienced and has had remarkable success with his offenses. His teams set numerous records at East Carolina, and his success continued as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator. In 2015, he helped the Sooners rank fourth nationally in scoring and seventh in total offense. Quarterback Baker Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman balloting, Riley won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach and the Sooners reached the College Football Playoff.

Last season, Oklahoma set an FBS record for passing efficiency and ranked second in total offense and third in scoring. Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook finished third and fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, respectively, and Westbrook won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's outstanding receiver.

''In Lincoln's case, he's far more prepared than maybe some that are 43, just by the nature of the special opportunities that came to him very early, at a very early age,'' Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said.

Riley was considered a top coaching prospect nationally. Just last month, Oklahoma gave him a three-year contract extension worth $1.3 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country. The transition to head coach happened so abruptly that Riley's parents weren't able to make it to the press conference on Wednesday.

''Right person at the right time,'' Castiglione said. ''Maybe the good fortune of the stars aligning for him being a person that we had attracted to the University of Oklahoma through Coach Stoops.''

Riley has massive shoes to fill. The 56-year-old Stoops was the longest-tenured active coach in major college football, taking the job at Oklahoma a day before Kirk Ferentz started at Iowa. He went 190-48 (.798) at Oklahoma in his only college head coaching job, giving him more victories than Sooners greats Barry Switzer (157) and Bud Wilkinson (145).

In just two years, Riley showed Stoops enough to make the coach feel comfortable that the right successor was in place. Stoops said he wouldn't have retired if he didn't believe the program would be in good hands. The list of reasons he gave explaining why Riley was prepared to take over was lengthy.

''All the things he really shows and demonstrates on a daily basis,'' Stoops said. ''All the characteristics necessary to be a great leader and to be a successful head coach. He's a motivator, he's detailed, incredibly bright in putting together his game plans and his schemes, his play calling, his feel for the game, and I think probably the biggest thing I've noticed from day one is his ability to relate to the players.''

Still, there will be an adjustment period since the Sooners had the same coach in place for 18 + years.

''Well, it's certainly going to be different,'' said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, Bob's brother. ''Change is tough sometimes, but this, it seems - if you're going to have transition for us, this is as good as it can get with a guy like Lincoln. Just his unique way of doing things and confidence and style that he brings is good, and it's going to be good for our players. They're going to embrace it.''

Riley's first game will be at home against UTEP on Sept. 2. His second game will be at Ohio State. The players are ready to win for him.

''He's going to be a great coach,'' Oklahoma defensive back Will Johnson said. ''I think coach Stoops is very comfortable with handing him the job. I don't think he would have done it without being confident in Lincoln Riley. So, great coach to the next one.''
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Hot Seat Coaches
June 6, 2017


The conversation about Coaches on the Hot Seat has to start in College Station going into the 2017 college football season. Also, the elephant in the room goes by the name of Chip Kelly, the former Oregon coach who saw his show-cause sanctions for NCAA violations expire while coaching for the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers over the last four years.

Kelly’s last two years in the NFL were a disaster, as he tasted a pair of pink slips and combined for an abysmal 8-35 record. Therefore, college ADs need not fear that an NFL team is going to come calling even if Kelly duplicates the success he had in Eugene.

Remember, Kelly produced an offensive juggernaut at Oregon and went 46-7 overall, 33-3 in Pac-12 play. After getting fired by the 49ers, Kelly chose to take an ESPN job as a college football analyst. Not only is he on the radar of ADs galore, but he might also prompt those individuals to make a move early in order to start recruiting Kelly before others.

LSU AD Joe Alleva, a frequent and easy punching bag for this space, thought he’d do the same last season when he ousted Les Miles after a loss at Auburn before the calendar hit October. Alleva essentially found himself in the same place as the year before, however, contemplating keeping Ed Orgeron (rather than Miles) up until the regular-season finale. Of course, Kelly wasn’t available and Alleva had the audacity to think he could lure Jimbo Fisher from FSU.

He failed with Fisher and Tom Herman wanted the Texas gig ahead of LSU's, so Alleva settled for Orgeron.

Any AD using a similar ploy this season probably won’t bomb like Alleva did thanks to Kelly’s presence. And he’s not the only hot coaching name waiting for the right offer. This next-tier of coaches starts with Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who has been on the receiving end of glowing reviews from this scribe for many years.

Before helping OU’s Baker Mayfield become one of the nation’s premier quarterbacks, Riley was the OC at East Carolina and directed its Air-Raid offense. This unit had QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy shredding ECU’s record books, as Carden broke all of former Jacksonville Jaguar QB David Garrard’s collegiate accomplishments.

Other coaches who could be on the move (upward) after the 2017 season include LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, Memphis HC Mike Norvell, Troy HC Neal Brown and Appalachian State HC Scott Satterfield.

Enough about potential replacements…let’s get to those coaches who better produce in 2017.

**Note: We’re keeping it to Power Five coaches here, hence the absence of Kent State’s Paul Haynes, Rice’s David Bailiff, UTEP’s Sean Kugler, etc.

1 - Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) – As if his status wasn’t common knowledge already, AD Scott Woodward went on “The Paul Finebaum Show” while in Destin, Fla., at the SEC Spring Meetings last week and pulled zero punches whatsoever. When asked about Sumlin’s status, Woodward said, “Coach knows he has to win and he has to win this year.” Sumlin is 44-21 in five seasons with the Aggies, who began his tenure as SEC rookies. Year 1 was a roaring success, with A&M finishing 11-2 with a win at Alabama and a blowout win over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Some dude named Johnny Football won the Heisman Trophy, prompting boosters to donate $485 million to expand Kyle Field to 105,000. Year 2 had the Aggies at 8-2 with a pair of one-possession losses to top-ranked Alabama and 24th-ranked Auburn before back-to-back losses closed the regular season.

Nevertheless, Sumlin was fielding calls from NFL clubs and turning down elite programs like Southern Cal. His salary was upped into the rarified air of the nation’s top coaches but since then, Sumlin’s teams have finished 8-5 in three straight years. Making matters worse, those teams raced out to 6-0, 5-0 and 5-0 starts only to fall apart down the stretch. Also, the school reached deep into its pockets to snag veteran SEC DC John Chavis from LSU to fix that side of the ball. Sumlin’s recruiting has not been the issue, but the exit of a pair of five-star QBs (Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray) following the ’15 campaign certainly raised eyebrows. Although Woodward wouldn’t put a number on how many wins Sumlin needs in ’17, it seems that 9-3 in the regular season might get him retained. Looking at the schedule, 9-3 also looks like the Aggies’ ceiling in a best-case scenario. They’ll be underdogs at UCLA, vs. Alabama, at Florida and at LSU. Other potential ‘dog spots include a date with Arkansas in Arlington, a home game vs. Auburn and maybe even a Nov. 18 trip to Oxford to face Ole Miss. Sumlin clearly has his work cut out for him.

2 - Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech) - Since starting his tenure 7-0, Kingsbury’s teams have limped to a 17-26 record. The Red Raiders have gone bowling twice in his four-year tenure. They’ve produced touchdowns galore while averaging 35.8, 30.5, 45.1 and 43.7 points per game. On the flip side, they’ve been deplorable on defense, giving up 41.3, 43.6 and 43.5 PPG over the last three seasons. In ’17, Kingsbury won’t have QB Patrick Mahomes, who led the dynamic offense the last two years before turning pro early and getting selected 12th overall in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Kingsbury kept DC David Gibbs around for a third consecutive season, which might not have been the best call on his part. More than anything, the defense must show improvement. Kingsbury might get another year if he wins seven games and the five defeats are competitive games. But he better aim for eight wins because his status as the school’s second all-time leading passer during his playing career (1999-2002) isn’t going to help him much at this point.

3 - Brian Kelly (Notre Dame)
- Kelly is 59-31 and took the Fighting Irish to the BCS Championship Game in 2012. However, his team endured a nightmare 4-8 season in ’16. Kelly isn’t exactly the most affable character and has had his share of controversies over his seven-year run in South Bend. His attitude and arrogance is certainly starting to rub Notre Dame supporters wrong, but he has an excellent chance to get back in the good graces of those people with a 10-win season this year. He’d better go at least 9-3 and steer clear of negative moments with the media.

4 - Jim Mora Jr. (UCLA) - Mora’s tenure was off to a blazing start when he went 29-11 in his first three seasons. He had the Bruins racking up highly-ranked recruiting classes and there were concerns that the NFL might come calling for him. Since then, however, the Bruins have gone just 12-13 and 7-11 in conference play. Granted, the injury bug has been brutal the last two years (think Myles Jack and Josh Rosen, among others) and UCLA was struggling mightily for many years prior to Mora’s arrival. Also, four of last year’s defeats came in one-possession games and losses at Colorado (20-10) and vs. Stanford (22-13) were competitive. With Rosen expected to be healthy after season-ending shoulder surgery last year, the Bruins could be poised for a nice bounce-back year. If not, Mora’s act, which is a bit similar to that of Kelly’s at N-Dame, could lead to his dismissal.

5 - Butch Jones (Tennessee)
- This clown is living on borrowed time already. If not for a fortunate season-opening victory in overtime over Appalachian St. thanks to a missed extra point and fourth-quarter field goal from the Mountaineers’ kicker, in addition to a win at Georgia on a Hail-Mary pass as time expired, Jones would’ve been gone last season. Where do we even start with his ineptitude during his four seasons so far? There were the pregame built-in excuses to lose early in his tenure when he relentlessly pointed out his team’s youth and inexperience to the media at every opportunity. There was his lack of stones for owning his egregious mistake at The Swamp two years ago when he didn’t go for two after going up 12 midway through the fourth quarter. Instead, he claimed he went for one by following his “standard two-point chart” that was obviously written by a moron. He hasn’t brought any championships to Knoxville, but he enraged his fan base by calling his first group of graduating seniors “champions of life.”

Jones has a 14-18 record in SEC play at UT despite the fact that nearly every school in the East has been down. In fairness, his ’16 club did deal with a lot of injuries, but you can’t get embarrassed by double digits at Vandy. When you have two weeks to prepare to play at South Carolina and its freshman QB (who should’ve been a senior in high school) is making his second career start while UT is in control of its destiny to win the division for the first time in a decade, you can’t lose that game. With the season coming off the rails in November, Jones was seemingly losing his composure regularly. After one particular presser in Knoxville, he felt inclined to go after a female reporter whose questions weren’t to his liking. Then after the debacle against the Commodores in Music City, he conveniently avoided the media onslaught by showing up to his presser early and leaving before most of the journalists arrived. The heat is on Mr. Jones at UT this year and it says here that he could be gone by early November.

6 - Rich Rodriguez (Arizona) - Rodriguez probably should’ve taken the South Carolina job before the school moved on to Will Muschamp. Like Sumlin, Kelly and Mora, Rodriguez was the toast of the town early in his reign. R-Rod won 10 games in 2014 for only the third time in school history and had the Wildcats in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Since then, however, UA is 4-14 in league play and R-Rod now has a new AD after Greg Byrne, the man who hired him, left to take the Alabama job.

7 - Todd Graham (Arizona State) - Yet again, we have another coach who did well early on. Graham had a pair of 10-win seasons in his first three years. ASU finished ’16 on a six-game losing streak with five defeats coming by margins of 19 points or more, including a 56-35 setback at Arizona.

8 - Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss) - I’ve discussed Freeze’s situation at length on guest radio spots and on my Games Galore podcast. I can’t figure out if Ole Miss is waiting for the NCAA to issue its penalties, at which point the Rebels could fire Freeze with cause and not be on the hook for his huge contract. Or are they really behind this guy no matter the consequences? Listen, nobody has survived this much NCAA trouble in modern college football history. Sure, basketball coaches like Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun have, but they were/are icons at their respective schools with national titles on their resumes. Not even Pat Dye at Auburn could get through a similar scandal in the early 1990s. If Ole Miss retains Freeze, it can’t expect much (if any) leniency from the NCAA. The Rebels have already issued a one-year self-imposed ban from going bowling in 2017, but there’s plenty more sanctions on the way. There’s no doubt Freeze is a helluva coach and he’s beyond loyal to this University, so I can understand the initial notion to stand by him. But if doing so brings a four-year bowl ban rather than one of the two-year variety and if the scholarship reductions are much greater with Freeze still on board, will it really be worth it?

Other situations to watch include Steve Addazio at Boston College, David Beaty at Kansas and Mike Riley at Nebraska. Dana Holgersen appears safe at West Virginia after winning 10 games last season, but that could always change. I believe Auburn is poised for a big year, but that’s exactly why monitoring what’s going on with Gus Malzahn would be wise because, as I’ve noted ad nauseam through the years, Auburn has the quickest pink-slip trigger than any school in the country.

One other coach that shouldn’t be (but might be) on the hot seat is Arkansas’ Bret Bielema. I think the school is fortunate to have him, but a loss at Missouri in the regular-season finale and blowing a 24-0 lead to Va. Tech in the Belk Bowl certainly didn't help his cause.
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2017 ACC Preview
June 11, 2017


2017 ATLANTIC COAST PREVIEW

Two By Fours


The Atlantic Coast Conference is the only conference in the nation to have two football national champions in the past four years. Florida State took the final BCS National Championship after the 2013 season and Clemson claimed the 2016 National College Football Playoff title last year.

In addition, the ACC returns the Heisman Trophy winner for second time in four years with junior QB Lamar Jackson returning to lead Louisville in 2017. Florida State's Jameis Winston did so in 2014 after winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy. Jackson is the youngest athlete (19 years, 337 days) to win the Heisman Trophy, while Winston (19 years, 342 days) is the second youngest.

ACC Powering Up

ACC teams will play more games (22) against Power Five non-conference teams in 2017 than any of its peer conferences. The ACC will also have a higher percentage (.393) of its non-conference games against Power Five opponents than any other league.

In addition, the ACC will play more games against 2016 AP-ranked teams than any other conference. ACC teams will play more games in 2017 against non-conference teams (7) that were ranked in last year’s final Associated Press Top 25 than any other Power Five conference.

Including the 11 ACC teams that went to bowl games, no ACC team will face fewer than seven opponents that went to bowls in 2016, while eight teams will face eight or more opponents that played in the postseason. Through it all, a total of 11 ACC teams ended 2016 with winning records, the most of any FBS league and the most in ACC history. The next highest total by a conference was eight teams.

Orange Bowl Roll


The ACC has won the last five Orange Bowl games, the longest winning streak for a conference in the Orange Bowl in 72 years. The SEC won seven straight from 1938 through 1944.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.

ATLANTIC PREVIEW

BOSTON COLLEGE (Offense – 9/3, Defense – 7/2, 47 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: WHERE’S THE BEEF?

Last year, for the second straight season, the Eagles’ overall defense ranked in the nation’s Top 10. In fact, BC's 'D' finished No. 2 in team sacks (ahead of Alabama and Michigan). Unfortunately, as good as Yin was, Yang was simply deplorable. Steve Addazio’s squad averaged less than 300 YPG for the second straight year when it gained just 110 PYPG in conference play, while completing only 46.5% of its passes for a mere 4 TDs. The good news – or is it? - is that nine starters are back on offense, sans QB Patrick Towles. Better news is that star pass rusher Harold Landry (16.5 sacks) decided to forgo the NFL draft and returns in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Home field disadvantage? The Eagles are 0-6 SUATS as home underdogs since 2014.

PASS

CLEMSON (Offense – 5/4, Defense – 7/3, 53 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: A BIG DAB TO FILL

Reigning National Champion Clemson will have a tough row to hoe in 2017, as it will be the only FBS school to replace a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard running back, and a 1,000-yard wide receiver. That’s a LOT of production to supplant, especially while also carrying the biggest bulls-eye of all on its back in 2017. And don’t forget that the Tigers won seven games by a TD or less last season (tops in the nation). On top of it all, 10 Clemson players were either drafted or signed free agent contracts, making the Tigers one of only four programs that have had at least one 1st-round selection for five consecutive years. Good luck, Dabo!

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Tigers have the nation’s third-longest current streak (71 games) without losing back-to-back games.

PLAY AGAINST: at Louisville (9/16)

FLORIDA STATE (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 10/3, 48 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: ROLLING IN IT

Talk about a loaded team: the Seminoles will likely need to take breathalyzers onto the field with them in 2017. FSU is one of only two teams (along with Bama) to have appeared in five straight BCS/New Year’s Six bowl games, while Jimbo Fisher’s 11.14 average wins per season leads all current head coaches. Meanwhile, QB Deondre Francois passed for more yards than any freshman in the nation last year (3,350) while guiding FSU’s top-ranked red zone offense. And the FSU defense has 186 career starts, including 15 players who have started a game! Remember, only 18.4 % of starts by Florida State last year were made by seniors. Yep. They’re rolling in it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Noles have the longest current streak (76 games) without losing back-to-back games, dating back to the 2011 season.

PLAY ON: vs. Louisville (10/21) - *KEY

LOUISVILLE (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 7/1, 45 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: TURNING THE PAGE

2016 Heisman Trophy winning QB Lamar Jackson returns after becoming the first player in FBS history to pass for more than 3,500 yards and rush for over 1,500 yards in a season. As powerful as the offense once again promises to be in 2017, it’s the defense that will be the linchpin of the team. The stop-unit returns 12 players who recorded 20 or more tackles last season, including star LB Stacy Thomas with 85. In addition, Trevon Young, a senior LB who missed the entire season last year with a hip injury, is back. He was an all ACC performer in 2015. A major concern – only three teams tallied more giveaways (32) than the Cardinals last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Bobby the Louse is 0-15 SU away versus AP Top 15 ranked opponents.

PLAY ON: at Kentucky (11/25)

N.C. STATE (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/4, 47 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: THE PACK IS BACK

With 22 seniors on the roster – 11 of who are returning starters, including the entire DL – NCSU will field their most experienced team in school history. In addition, two seniors who sat out last season, but have started multiple games in their careers, join the fray. The defense, which owned the second best 1st-down defense and the 8th best rush unit, returns the entire starting front six. On the flip side, the veteran offense is keyed by H-back Jaylen Samuels, who has averaged 6.25 YPR and a TD every 5.9 carries the last two seasons, and Boise State graduate transfer QB Ryan Finley, who tossed for 3,059 yards and 18 TDS for the Pack in 2016.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolfpack is 23-3 SU and 18-5 ATS in games where they outgain their opponent under head coach Dave Doeren.

PLAY ON: at Florida State (9/23)

SYRACUSE (Offense – *9/5, Defense – 10/4, 42 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: GETTING THERE, FAST

This from our crack fact-finding research department: Syracuse seniors started the 2nd fewest amount of games in the nation last season. As a result, head coach Dino Babers welcomes back a bevy of experienced, young talent in 2017 as 53.4 % of all Syracuse starts made last season were by underclassmen. As you know by now, we’ve come to expect good things from teams fitting this M.O. The hurdle this year, though, is that no less than 11 foes on the schedule appeared in a bowl game last season. Despite the salty slate, and last year’s season-ending crash, Dino is aching to lead this team to a bowl game. Don’t bet against him.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Syracuse amassed 5,290 yards under Dino Babers in 2016, the 2nd-highest total in the 127-year history of the program.

PLAY ON: vs. Pittsburgh (10/7)

WAKE FOREST (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 6/3, 42 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: WAKE UP CALL

If patience is a virtue, then Wake Forest should be a very advantaged team in 2017. Freshmen made a total of 71 starts in 2015, the 3rd most in the land. Then last year underclassmen accounted for 45.8 % of the team’s starts (10th most in the nation). A pronounced increase in the ground game finally emerged in 2016 when the Deacs gained 40 YPG more on the ground than in 2015, but that was largely attributable to the fact that Wake Forest was the only FBS school in the nation in 2015 whose top three rushers were all true freshmen. It's time for this suddenly experienced team to step up in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Demon Deacons have ranked 12th or worse in the ACC in scoring the last five consecutive seasons.

PLAY AGAINST: at Boston College (9/9)

COASTAL PREVIEW

DUKE (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 5/1, 43 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: THE NUTCRACKER

Talk about a tough nut to crack. Not only will the Blue Devils face only ONE foe this year that owned a losing record last year, but also 11 of whom that were in a postseason game! Fortunately, QB Daniel Jones finished with the 5th-most passing yards of all freshmen in 2016. He was named the team’s MVP after matching or establishing 23 school records, including most offensive yards by a freshman (3,322). Head coach David Cutcliffe is widely recognized as a quarterback whisperer, having coached nine QBs who either earned all-conference honors or led their school to a bowl victory. In a ‘mission year’ this season, expect Cutcliffe to crack the code.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Duke is 4-5 SU versus ranked opponents under HC Cutcliffe. They were 0-47 SU versus the same prior to his arrival.

PLAY ON: at Virginia (10/7)

GEORGIA TECH (Offense – 8/3, Defense – 8/2, 43 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: TALL PAUL

As we alluded to on this page last year, Paul Johnson stands tall within the NCAA coaching ranks. He averages 8.85 wins per season, which ranks No. 9 among all current head coaches, and in his previous 19 years as a head coach, Johnson led his teams to either FCS playoffs or FBS bowl games 18 times. That’s impressive, to say the least. The key to his success is simple – run the ball down your opponent’s throat until they succumb. Four of the top five running backs return in 2017, but a new quarterback will be at the helm. Its Achilles' heel is a defense that allowed a .492 conversion rate on third down (3rd worst in the land) last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In his 15 years as a FBS head coach, Paul Johnson’s teams have each averaged at least 5 Yards Per Rush per season.

PLAY AGAINST: at Virginia (11/4)

MIAMI, FL (Offense – 8/4, Defense – 8/4, 40 Lettermen


TEAM THEME: A HURRICANE WARNING IN EFFECT

For the first time since 2009, the Hurricanes finished the 2016 season ranked in the Top 25. With it, the return of head coach Mark Richt to his alma mater was met with cheers and applause in Miami. Richt is 90-43 in conference games in his career, while averaging 9.63 wins per season, which ranks No. 7 among all current head coaches. Sixteen starters are back from last year, including WR Ahmmon Richards, a 4.3 sprinter who pulled in 46 receptions for 866 yards to smash Michael Irvin’s single-season yards mark for a freshman last year. Yes, it’s safe to say the Canes are back on a winning path. STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Miami tied with Old Dominion for the 2nd best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (10).

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Georgia Tech (10/12)

NORTH CAROLINA (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 7/2, 35 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: BACK TO SQUARE ONE

As UNC head coach Larry Fedora likely reminds himself each night, it was nice while it lasted. It started after losing a star quarterback (after one year) to the NFL when Mitchell Trubisky was selected as the second player in this year’s NFL Draft. Also gone are workhorse RBs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, along with three key WRs. But the biggest loss of all is not a player. It’s DC Gene Chizik, who decided to retire after two highly productive seasons in which the Tar Heels' defense improved 90 YPG after his arrival. Here’s hoping LSU transfer QB Brandon Harris lasts longer than Trubisky. Otherwise, it will be back to square one again for Fedora.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Larry Fedora is 12-0 SU and 11-1 ATS in regular season games vs. foes who were upset as a favorite in their previous game.

PASS

PITTSBURGH (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 4/1, 36 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: A DOOZEY SURPRISE

It’s hard to imagine that Pat Narduzzi’s defense was the No. 119 team in the nation in red zone defense in 2016. To top it off, the architect and former DC from Michigan State’s most recent glory days, was also hit hard in the NFL Draft when he lost five starters, including QB Nathan Peterman (Bills), and RB James Conner (Steelers) among others. In all, over 50 % of the starts made for the Panthers last season were by seniors. Despite it all, Pitt was the only team to defeat two opponents ranked in the Top 5 of the final College Football Playoff rankings. With no back-to-back road games, expect that to be enough to build on.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: All of Pitt’s 10 losses under Narduzzi have occurred versus bowl teams that went 98-37 combined on the season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Virginia (10/28)

VIRGINIA (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 8/2, 37 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: HOG-TIED

As we outlined here last year, new Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s hands were tied when he inherited a team that had recorded the largest decline in recruiting talent the previous five years of all Power 5 teams. And it showed up as expected last year like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day. A super soft defense (6th worst team in the nation in red zone defense) and an anemic rush offense (8th weakest in the land) left the Cavs little or no chance of succeeding. UVA did, however, manage to snap a 17-game road-losing skid, while Mendenhall improved to 4-0 ATS in his career as a dog of 20 or more points… numbers worth remembering.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cavaliers are 2-18 SU in their final two games of the season the last ten years.

PLAY ON: vs. Connecticut (9/16)

VIRGINIA TECH (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 8/1, 37 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: BIG FOOT

Justin Fuente knew coming in that he had some mighty big shoes to fill as Virginia Tech’s new head coach last season. Replacing a legend like Frank Beamer is never easy. But to his credit Fuente delivered, leading the Hokies to their first double-digit win season in five years. Along the way, Virginia Tech not only improved all of its numbers convincingly on both sides of the ball, they took the College Football Playoff champion Clemson Tigers right down to the wire in the ACC title game as well. Thus, the question begs: What can Fuente do for an encore? Having defensive guru Bud Foster on his sideline makes it a moot point.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hokies' current 24-game bowl streak is the longest in the nation.

PLAY ON: at Georgia Tech (11/11)
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Gundy signs new deal at Oklahoma State
June 13, 2017


Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy signed a new contract which includes a raise to $4.2 million annually.

Gundy's previous contract was set to expire in 2019. That deal was extended in 2016 when the Cowboys' coach landed a two-year, $8.3 million pact.

"Today is a good day for Oklahoma State football," OSU athletic director Mike Holder said. "The new contract recognizes Coach Gundy's success at building and sustaining a premier college football program and reflects our appreciation and our long-term commitment to Coach Gundy. Not only is he one of the best coaches in the country, he also does things the right way.

"His players love playing for him because he is the consummate players' coach. While I believe his achievements are often overlooked nationally, he's certainly appreciated by those of us at Oklahoma State."

Gundy is the longest-tenured and winningest coach in Oklahoma State history with a career record of 104-50. OSU won the Big 12 championship in 2011 and a Big 12 South co-championship in 2010. Only three other coaches have more than Gundy's 63 Big 12 wins.

As recently as May, Gundy did not sound certain he was long for Stillwater based on the terms of his contract and rising salary demands he made on behalf of his assistant coaches. Gundy acknowledged on the record that he was feeling vulnerable at his alma mater.

Gundy also told The Oklahoman last month that he was ready to sign a deal that would not require any additional short-term maintenance to his own contract or that of his assistants, who were among the lower-paid football staff in the Big 12.

"I don't want to just sign something that a year from now, I'm going to say I don't like," Gundy said. "I have no interest in that. I don't know how long I'm going to coach. But I do know this. I want to have every opportunity for these guys ... to do what we want to do. I feel we've earned that now."

His new five-year deal includes automatic salary escalators of $125,000 per year.

************************

Michigan State hoping to repair image
June 13, 2017


EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) The Michigan State football team has been in the news this offseason for all the wrong reasons, and as the program dealt with sexual assault allegations against four players, the rest of the Spartans generally stayed out of the public eye.

That changed Tuesday when a handful of players were made available to the media - and had a chance to talk about what they can do to improve the program's image.

''We represent Michigan State,'' quarterback Damion Terry said. ''There's going to be eyes on us, no matter where we go.''

Michigan State dismissed three players from the team last week after criminal sexual conduct charges were brought against them, and another player was dismissed after a separate criminal sexual conduct charge against him in April .

The team largely stayed quiet while investigations loomed over the program, and although the charged athletes are no longer on the team, there's no telling how much damage has been done to the Spartans' reputation.

Terry said community involvement has become a point of emphasis lately. Michigan State has been teaming up with Lansing Promise, a program aimed at helping young people in the area have access to education and career training following high school.

Terry and safety Khari Willis both talked a bit about visiting schools and interacting with kids.

''That goes a long way - just seeing all those kids and how much we can impact them,'' Terry said. ''We just want to keep being that light and spreading that light among the football program, during a horrible offseason.''

''I dunked on a couple kids,'' Willis joked. ''Nah, it was good. They've got a few programs with the Lansing Promise, and I feel like that's a real good avenue for me in the future as well.''

In addition to the criminal allegations currently in the court system, the Spartans are also clearly dealing with some internal issues that may have affected the team's performance last season, when Michigan State went 3-9 after winning the Big Ten the previous year. Running back Gerald Holmes was asked bluntly if leadership was lacking in 2016.

''Yes, it did. I think this year that will change,'' said Holmes, who will be a fifth-year senior. ''As bad as last year was, it definitely helps you now. It was still a lesson, at the end of the day.''

Holmes said he's helped start player-led meetings that he hopes can enable players to grow closer.

''It's still growing in how we're going to do things, but it kind of started off first, just bringing up guys who normally don't talk, just to share something,'' he said. ''Just kind of get guys to open up, and have guys that are sitting down watching, kind of feel that person. I feel like the main thing is that we don't communicate enough on the team.''

NOTES: Dantonio spoke before the players were made available, and he said DB Vayante Copeland is no longer part of the program. He was vague as to why. ''There are certain things you've got to be able to make as you process yourself through from junior to senior and things of that nature,'' Dantonio said. ''Vayante's done a great job here. He was not thrown off this football team. We wish him the best.'' ... The Spartans announced that they have promoted Sheldon White to be the football team's director of player personnel, and that offensive line coach Mark Staten has been promoted to assistant head coach and will serve as recruiting coordinator.
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Pick 6: With Riley moving up, which coordinators are next?
June 14, 2017


By promoting Lincoln Riley to head coach at age 33, Oklahoma locked up one of the most promising coordinators in college football and took a likely hot candidate off the job market.

Riley replacing Bob Stoops makes 11 former assistant coaches who will be making their head coaching debuts in 2017, including Justin Wilcox at California, Luke Fickell at Cincinnati and Tom Allen at Indiana.

Which coordinators who have never been FBS head coaches are likely to draw interest when the coaching carousel cranks up later this year? (in alphabetical order):

Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator, LSU


Since 2012 when Aranda was defensive coordinator at Utah State, his defenses have never ranked worse than 15th overall in the country. The cerebral 40-year-old begins his second season at LSU after three with Wisconsin as the highest paid assistant coach in college football at $1.8 million this year.

Manny Diaz, defensive coordinator, Miami

Diaz is numbers guy whose career went off course when he landed in Texas at the end of Mack Brown's tenure and the defense fell apart. Otherwise he has had successful stints at Mississippi State, Louisiana Tech and now Miami, where the Hurricanes went from awful to excellent defensively in their first year under Diaz. The 43-year-old is once again an up-and-comer in the business.

Joe Moorhead, offensive coordinator, Penn State

Moorhead was a successful FCS head coach at Fordham before being lured to Happy Valley by James Franklin. His first season with Penn State was a rousing success. By the end of the season the Nittany Lions had one of the best offenses in the country. He drew interest from Minnesota and Purdue, but another season like last and the 43-year-old could have even more appealing options.

Todd Orlando, defensive coordinator, Texas

The 44-year-old Orlando replaced Aranda at Utah State and then joined Tom Herman at Houston. His defenses tended to get overshadowed by Herman's high-powered offenses, but Orlando was considered the front-runner to replace Herman with the Cougars. Instead, Houston went with Major Applewhite and Orlando followed Herman to Texas, where he gets another year to pad his resume.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Alabama

The Nick Saban seal of approval goes a long way. Pruitt was coaching in high school when he got his first big break from Saban. He then did stints as defensive coordinator at Florida State and Georgia before returning to Tuscaloosa last season to replace Kirby Smart. As was the case with Smart, it seems like just a matter of time before the 43-year-old Pruitt gets a chance to run his own program.

Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson


That Venables is still waiting for his first opportunity to be a head coach is a little surprising. No matter how much personnel turnover, Venables keeps putting top-notch defenses on the field for the Tigers. But he has found a perfect match at Clemson with Dabo Swinney, and he is making $1.7 million this year. He can afford to be patient.

---

EXTRA POINT

Six more coordinators who have could be in demand:


Lance Anderson, defensive coordinator, Stanford

Matt Canada, offensive coordinator, LSU

Sonny Cumbie, offensive coordinator, TCU

Tim Drevno, offensive coordinator, Michigan

Pete Kwiatkowski, defensive coordinator, Washington

Doug Meacham, offensive coordinator, Kansas
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Michigan's Rome trip to cost up to $800K
June 14, 2017


The Michigan football team's recent trip to Rome will end up costing between $750,000 and $800,000.

Wolverines athletic director Warde Manuel said Tuesday he is still waiting for the final numbers to come in from the late April trip, which the school previously said was paid for by a private, anonymous donor who put no restrictions on the cost.

"It's going to come in around $750,000, $800,000," Manuel told the Detroit News at Egypt Valley Country Club, where he participated in the Meijer LPGA Classic celebrity Pro-Am. "Waiting on a few numbers, so we don't have it final, final. ...

"It will be about $5,000 to $6,000 a person, so it was a great investment. It was just terrific. We pay them through an educational experience like Michigan does all the time. I don't think about it in terms of paying our athletes but if people want to say we should give something to our students of value, I can't think of a better way to invest in them for their lifetime and their experience."

Head coach Jim Harbaugh took the Wolverines to Rome after finals for a week of sightseeing and team bonding, in addition to three spring practices.

"Still got a glow about it," Harbaugh said recently of the trip.

Harbaugh, who got to meet the Pope, said he was thrilled with the entire trip for his players.

"It was an incredible trip," Harbaugh said Monday on the Rich Eisen radio show. "The best thing I've ever been a part of on a football team."

Harbaugh said 25-28 players did a study abroad program after the trip, five did overseas internships and 10 traveled abroad.
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2017 Big Ten Preview
June 19, 2017


2017 BIG TEN PREVIEW

We’re Back


The 2017 campaign will feature 33 All-Big Ten players (seven first-team, 12 second-team, 14 third-team) and 46 honorable mention selections from last season.

The Big Ten had 35 draft choices. That total ranked fourth among the Power Five conferences, as the SEC led the way with 54, followed by the ACC 43 and the Pac-12 with 36. Michigan led the nation with 11 players selected in the draft, while Ohio State had seven players heard their name called in Philadelphia.

And once again the Big Ten has not had a QB taken in the 1st round since Penn State’s Kerry Collins in 1995.

Welcome Aboard

Just like last year, the Big Ten welcomes three new head coaches in Indiana’s Tom Allen, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm.

Allen joined the Indiana staff as an associate coach last season. He’s a 25-year coaching veteran who led a dramatic defensive turnaround for the Hoosiers, just as the he done at Ole Miss and South Florida... Fleck’s was 1-11 in his first year with Western Michigan before going 13-1 last season... Brohm comes from Western Kentucky where his Hilltoppers went 30-10, including 19-5 in conference games.

Five current Big Ten mentors have been college head coaches for 10 years or more – Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (20 seasons), Nebraska’s Mike Riley (15), Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (14), Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (12) and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (10).

Bowled Over


Eleven Big Ten teams will square off against at least one non-conference team that played in a bowl game last season, with 17 total games against squads coming off bowl trips. Indiana is the only school to not make the list. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue and Rutgers will each face two non-conference bowl teams in 2017.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.

EAST PREVIEW

INDIANA (Offense – *7/3, Defense – 9/3, 62 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: A COMFORTABLE PAIR OF NEW SHOES

Indiana engineered one of the top defensive turnarounds in the country last year when, despite taking on four Top 10 opponents, the Hoosiers managed to improve 11 PPG and 130 YPG. It was good enough to land defensive associate coach Tom Allen his first college head coaching position. The good news is, thanks to former coach Kevin Wilson, Allen inherits the highest-rated recruiting classes in school history over the past five seasons. Mike DeBord, OC at Tennessee the past two seasons, joins Allen’s staff. Back in the day, DeBord tutored Tom Brady at Michigan, and will work with talented 6’ 6” SR QB Richard Lagow, who aired it out for 3,362 yards and 19 TDs for IU last year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Over the last 22 years, the teams for which Allen has been a member of the coaching staff have posted a combined 222-69 record (.763).

PLAY ON: at Penn State (9/30)

MARYLAND (Offense – 6/3, Defense – 8/2, 53 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: SPINNING A NEW TUNE

Regarded as one of the brightest young coaching minds in college football, DJ Durkin quickly changed the culture and brought instant energy to the Maryland program last season when the Terps doubled their win total and earned a bowl bid in his first year on the sidelines. Durkin also showed his recruiting prowess by signing a consensus Top 20 class in 2017. The class, which included eleven 4-star signees, and five members of the ESPN 300, ranked among the best in program history. A former star LB at Bowling Green where he captained the team and led it in tackles, this DJ is a star in the making. And the Terps are on the rise.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Terps are 0-8 SUATS following a win from Game Seven out the last four years.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. UCF (9/23)

MICHIGAN (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 1/0, 55 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER, THE SON AND…

A team that started the season 8-0 last year before closing out 1-3, UM could be in a world of hurt in 2017. That’s because Wolverine seniors accounted for the highest percentage of starts of all FBS teams last season (76.6%). It’s a wickedly high number and it means that Jim Harbaugh will need to rely on a bevy of underclassmen to compensate this season. Gone are 138 receptions, more than 1,900 yards and 13 touchdowns just between two senior WRs and TE Jake Butt. That said, Harbaugh has now brought in consecutive Top-10 recruiting classes. Remember, we saw this same pattern last season when Ohio State returned barefoot with only 6 total starters returning – and all they did was land a spot in the College Football Playoffs. And don’t forget, the SU winner ‘In The Stats’ is 24-2 in UM games with Harbaugh as its head coach. After an offseason trip to visit the Pope in Roma, they'll lean on any sanctification they can get.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The 11 UM players selected in this year's NFL Draft were the most in school history, and the most of any team in the Draft.

PASS

MICHIGAN STATE (Offense – 4/1, Defense – 4/1, 43 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: WHO’S GONNA FILL THEIR SHOES?

As we outlined on this page last season, a fortuitous band of Spartans won 7 one-possession games in 2015 – the best in the nation. They went 0-3 in those same games last season. It came back to bite them when Mark Dantonio suffered his first losing season with MSU, falling from 12 wins to 3 in 2016. The epitome of a ‘Mission Team’ this season, Sparty should be in a nasty mood. The bad news is over 50% of the starts made for the Spartans last season were by seniors. Thus, improvement from a defense that had just 11 quarterback sacks and 13 forced turnovers last year (as opposed to 37 and 28 respectively in 2015) is mandatory. Beware: with an impending NCAA investigation swirling over sexual abuse by players (including 10 four-star recruits) this program might suddenly have “Baylor” written all over it.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Spartans dropped from fourth in the nation in turnover margin in 2015 to 101st – at -0.42 – in 2016.

PLAY ON: vs. Notre Dame (9/23) - *KEY as a dog

OHIO STATE (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/4, 48 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: URBAN’S NEW MODERN DEVELOPMENT

That the Buckeyes again returned to the CFB Playoffs last year despite a staggering lack of experience was truly remarkable. 1,000-yard RB Mike Weber was one of two first-team, two second-team and one honorable mention Freshman All-American starters on Urban Meyer’s squad last season, one that played 29 freshmen. Not so shockingly, only 5.6% of the starts made by the baby Buckeyes last season were by seniors – the fewest in the land (compare that to 76.6% for Michigan – the most). With that, this season finds 40 upper classmen dotting the roster for new OC Kevin Wilson, the former Indiana head coach and offensive guru, led by All-American QB J.T. Barrett. Beware of this ready-for-prime-time group.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buckeyes will play no back-to-back road games in 2017.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Michigan State (11/11)

PENN STATE (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 7/2, 45 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: WINNING BIG

Penn State earned eight Big Ten wins in 2016 for just the second time in program history, and the Lions celebrated their first Big Ten title since 2008. A whopping 31 school records were eclipsed or tied during the Big Ten Championship season, one being four double-digit comebacks – which included rallying from a 21-point deficit in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin. Both QB Trace McSorley and/or RB Saquon Barkley set a majority of the aforementioned records, and both return in 2017. Also back is PK Tyler ‘Automatic’ Davis who has nailed 30-of-32 career field goals, with both misses being blocks. He's also made all 73 of his PAT attempts.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Penn State and Wisconsin are the only Big Ten teams that have posted winning seasons the last 12 consecutive years.

PLAY AGAINST: at Ohio State (10/28) - *KEY

RUTGERS (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 8/2, 44 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: BURNT BEYOND RECOGNITION

It’s hard to imagine there was an offense worse than Boston College’s popgun attack last season, but Rutgers actually ranked dead last in the NCAA in total offense (including red zone offense). And it’s difficult envisaging a worse effort than what the Knights delivered in 2015 when they lost by 20.5 points and 167 yards per game in Big Ten play. But, hey, when you’re outclassed from head to toe by every team in your conference, there's always room for more. Rutgers was so pitiful in Chris Ash’s first season in New Brunswick they were actually dismantled by 30.5 PPG and 230 YPG while losing all nine Big Ten battles. Talk about being charred.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rutgers suffered the worst two-game scoring span last year (to Michigan and Ohio State) by an FBS school since 1939.

PLAY ON: at Illinois (10/14)



WEST PREVIEW


ILLINOIS (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 4/0, 32 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: LOVE, THE SECOND TIME AROUND

There was little love in the air at the conclusion of the 2016 Illinois football season, Lovie Smith’s 1st year with the program. Because of his decision to start the second-most amount of freshmen in the country last year (29.2 percent of players that started games for the Illini), his troops were ranked No. 127 (2nd last) in the nation in first down offense, and also No. 127 in 3rd down conversion percentage. Five players with significant experience return up front. If star WR Mike Dudek, former Big Ten Freshman POY, can fight his way back from a gruesome knee injury suffered in 2015, the underclassmen just might come to Lovie’s rescue in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Illinois is 3-31 SU and 11-23 ATS in its last 34 Big Ten games versus .500 or greater opponents.

PLAY ON: at Purdue (11/4)

IOWA (Offense – 7/4, Defense – 8/3, 48 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: LET’S GO BOWLING

After just missing a berth in the 2015 College Football Playoffs, the Hawkeyes ‘regressed’ to 8-5 last season. It marked the 14th bowl appearance in 18 seasons for the Hawkeyes under Kirk Ferentz. Unfortunately, Captain Kirk loses star QB C.J. Beathard – 20-5 SU as a starter during the regular season – to the NFL. However, SR RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa’s leading rusher with 1,081 yards and 10 TDs a year ago, returns. The best news, though, is that four starters from an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award – given to the best OL in the nation – are back. With eight starters back on defense, Ferentz is well positioned to land another bowl berth in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Kirk Ferentz shares the distinction of being the longest-tenured head coach in the nation.

PLAY ON: at Northwestern (10/21)

MINNESOTA (Offense – 7/2, Defense – 6/1, 43 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: ROWING A NEW BOAT

Minnesota is located in the land of lakes and captaining one of the new boats in the Big Ten football waters this season will be P.J. Fleck, named as the new skipper of the Gophers. The former Western Michigan head coach makes the transition from the MAC to the Big Ten with a core team that won nine games last season. Fleck went 1-11 in his first year with the Broncos, and 13-1 in his final season. The biggest loss, though, is the Ekpe brothers from the defensive line. Thankfully, the first seven games on the schedule include only one winning team from last season. The remaining five contests are all against bowl teams from 2016. Hopefully by then, the Gophers will have learned how to row the boat.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Golden Gophers are 17-2-1 ATS as conference underdogs since 2012.

PLAY AGAINST: at Northwestern (11/18)

NEBRASKA (Offense – 7/5, Defense – 7/2, 49 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: COACH ME UP

With Nebraska owning 385 victories over the past 40 seasons (tops in the land), HC Mike Riley is always feeling the heat. As a result, he made key hires in the offseason, bringing in Bob Diaco from UConn as his defensive coordinator, and Bob Elliott from Notre Dame as his secondary coach. They served together on the 2012 Fighting Irish defense that was 12-0 and played in the BCS Title Game. Diaco won the 2012 Broyles Award and is recognized as one of the college game's top defensive minds. Meanwhile, Riley owns 16 wins over ranked foes in 16 seasons as a college head coach. It all makes Tulane transfer QB Tanner Lee’s job that much easier.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Mike Riley has 43 overall years of coaching experience, the second-most among any active FBS head coach.

PLAY AGAINST: at Oregon (9/9)

NORTHWESTERN (Offense – *9/4, Defense – 8/3, 50 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: IN GOOD HANDS

When Indianapolis selected LB Anthony Walker in this year’s NFL Draft, history was made: Walker became the first Wildcat drafted after leaving school early. The junior amassed 227 tackles, including 30.5 for a loss, at NU. The message is that Northwestern is an academically focused institution that is now getting top athletes. It’s not HC Pat Fitzgerald’s job to prepare players for the NFL. His job is to build the best football team he can to represent Northwestern. And because he’s exceeded expectations, Fitzgerald signed an extension to remain NU’s coach through 2026. With 17 starters returning from a bowl-winning team, the school is in good hands.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Pat Fitzgerald has not had a player selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since taking over at NU 11 years ago.

PLAY AGAINST: at Illinois (11/25)

PURDUE (Offense – *5/2, Defense – 8/2, 51 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: LOVE POTION NO. 9

New head coach Jeff Brohm was needed in West Lafayette like a transfusion for a dying vampire. Purdue fell to 9-39 in four years behind Darrell Hazell. To which we wonder: how did he last four years? Check these rancid numbers: despite having the most returning starters in the Big Ten last year, Purdue won one conference game. They finished last in the nation in turnover margin (-17) and averaged 96.2 rushing YPG in conference play last season – dead last. Hence, it's no surprise to learn from Ralph Michaels of Cal Sports that the Boilermakers have played UNDER their season win total each of the last five years. Good luck, Jeff.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Purdue was 1-8 SU in one-possession games versus FBS foes under former head coach Darrell Hazell.

PASS

WISCONSIN (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/3, 52 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: NO PRESSURE HERE

To say Badgers head coach Paul Chryst was up against it when he replaced Gary Andersen in Madison two years ago would be an understatement. After all, Andersen won 20 games in two seasons. That was after Bret Bielema averaged nearly 10 wins a season in his seven years with the Badgers before Andersen’s arrival. So how has Chryst responded to the self-imposed pressure? By averaging more wins per season than both Andersen and Bielema. With no Ohio State sighting, and only six foes on this year’s itinerary with a winning record in 2016, it would be nothing short of disappointing should Chryst win less than his usual 10 games this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Badgers' 15 consecutive bowl appearances is tops in the Big Ten.

PASS
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Monday’s six-pack

— Mookie Betts knocked in 8 runs Sunday, tied for most-ever in one game by a leadoff hitter.

— Houston Rockets will have three players making $20M+ next season.

— Kyle Schwarber at AAA Iowa: 10-26 with four homers. He’ll be back soon.

— Detroit 103, New York 78— Knicks are terrible, even in summer league.

— Vince Carter was a TV analyst yesterday on NBA TV; he had zero idea that Canyon Barry shoots his foul shots underhanded. Way to be prepared.

— Arizona State got a commitment from the best basketball-playing 9th grader in the country. Not sure why a kid would commit that early, but Kyree Walker did.

************************

Monday’s List of 13: Wrapping up a sports weekend…….


13) Colorado Rockies lost eight games in a row recently and the bandwagon was quickly emptying. Baseball season is very long, though; here is what I mean…….

2012 Giants went 2-7 from June 29-July 8; they won the World Series
2013 Cardinals went 0-7 from July 26-31; they lost the World Series.
2014 Giants went 2-9 from June 23-July 4; they won the World Series.
2015 Mets went 0-7 from June 17-24; they lost the World Series.
2016 Cubs went 1-9 from June 30-July 9; they won the World Series.

Every team hits a rough patch during the season, even the really good ones.

12) Major league teams are 76-228 this season when they score two runs in a game; Cardinals are 7-2 at home when they score two runs.

11) Miami Marlins said Brewers’ PH Jonathan Villar had too much pine tar on his bat, so when Marcell Ozuna batted for the Marlins, Milwaukee returned the favor and had two of his bats taken out of play for the same reason. Ozuna then used one of Giancarlo Stanton’s bats and hit a homer to give the Marlins a 7-3 lead. Weird gamesmanship.

10) Odd Fact of the Day: In the last 40 years, only twice has a team broken a losing streak of 8+ games on its manager’s birthday. Both times, in 2008 and 2017, the manager was Bud Black.

9) Brewers’ pitcher Zach Davies got 30 called strikes from plate umpire Joe West Saturday, which is really unusual; only third time this season a pitcher got 30 called strikes in one game. Dallas Keuchel, Alex Cobb were the other two pitchers.

8) Odd to see the Michigan Wolverines’ football team ranked #127 out of 130 I-A team in terms of experience this season- they only have one starter back on defense.

7) Random All-Star Game fact: Rosters have been reduced from 34 to 32 players this year and every team has be represented.

6) Alex Rodriguez hit six home runs on his birthday, more than any major leaguer hit on their birthday.

5) Chris Paul talked free agent PJ Tucker into choosing Houston over Toronto; he took $32M for four years from the Rockets, turned down $33M for three years from Toronto.

You do the math. Tucker must like hanging around with Chris Paul..

4) Padres called up reliever Kevin Quackenbush from AAA Sunday, the 5th time they’ve called him up this season. Unfortunately, he’s also been sent out five times.

3) Mets-Nationals have an 11am game on the 4th of July (Tuesday). Lot of stuff going on in the nation’s capital, so they play the game earlier in the day.

2) NBA happenings:
— Andre Iguodala gets three years, $48M to stay with the Warriors
— Kyle Korner gets three years, $22M to keep shooting jumpers in Cleveland.
— Jodie Meeks gets $7M for two years from Washington
— Taj Gibson gets two years, $28M from Minnesota
— Serge Ibaka gets three years, $65M to stay in Toronto; Kyle Lowry gets three years, $100M to stay with the Raptors.
— Denver Nuggets sign Paul Millsap; three years, $90M. Good day for the Millsaps.

1) If you watch Ray Donovan on Showtime, the new season starts August 6, and Susan Sarandon is joining the cast, which is excellent news.
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Big Ten Schedule Breakdown
June 29, 2017


Ohio State: Urban Meyer’s team draws a pair of road games from the Big Ten West – at Nebraska and at Iowa – and a home game vs. Illinois. The game in Iowa City comes one week after a crucial home game against Penn State. The spot vs. PSU is advantageous, though, as the Buckeyes have two weeks to prepare, while the Nittany Lions have to host Michigan the prior weekend. Since Ohio State opens at Indiana on a Thursday night, it will have extra time to prep for a critical Week 2 showdown vs. Oklahoma at The ‘Shoe. The Sooners will be looking for revenge after getting blasted by OSU in Norman by a 45-24 count last season. The non-conference games after OU are layups at home vs. Army and UNLV. The Rebels are the only opponent that gets an open date before facing the Buckeyes, who don’t have any back-to-back road assignments on their schedule.

Penn State: We noted how James Franklin’s club has to play Michigan the week before going to Ohio State. The Buckeyes will have the revenge angle, extra preparation time and home-field advantage. Also, we should note that since 2010, OSU is 10-0 in revenge games from the previous campaign. On the bright side for Penn State, it gets two weeks to prep for Michigan. The Wolverines come to Happy Valley for a second consecutive road contest after playing at Indiana the week before. After playing at Ohio State, PSU has a second straight road assignment at Michigan State, which will be looking to get even after being trounced 45-12 at Beaver Stadium in 2016. The non-conference slate consists of three home games vs. Akron, Pittsburgh and Georgia State. The Nittany Lions will be looking to make amends for a 42-39 Week 2 loss at Heinz Field last year. The three games against the Big Ten West are at Iowa, at Northwestern and vs. Nebraska. PSU doesn’t draw any other foes besides Ohio State that will have two weeks to prepare for it.

Michigan:
The Wolverines have a pair of home games (vs. Cincinnati and vs. Air Force) and its opener against Florida at Jerry World (Arlington, TX) in non-conference action. Jim Harbaugh’s bunch might catch a break against the Gators, who could be without their best player Antonio Callaway. The rising junior WR, who is the only player in school history to score in five different ways (passing, rushing, receiving, punt return and kick return), might be facing a suspension following a marijuana arrest in May. The Wolverines get their bye week before hosting in-state rival Sparty. They have the misfortune of playing two different sets of back-to-back road games. Michigan is at Indiana and at Penn State on Oct 14 and 21, respectively. Also, Harbaugh’s club plays at Maryland (11/11) and at Wisconsin (11/18). From a situational standpoint, the trip to Camp Randall is a brutal spot for the Wolverines. Not only are they facing a team with revenge in mind after a 14-7 loss at The Big House in ’16, but they are traveling for a second straight week and fall into a classic look-ahead scenario with arch-rival Ohio State on deck. Furthermore, while Michigan is slugging it out with the Badgers, Ohio State will be heavily favored at home against Illinois. With a blowout likely, the Buckeyes will be able to rest starters in the second half while the Wolverines are in for a 60-minute war in Madison. The non-divisional Big Ten games are at Purdue, vs. Minnesota and at Wisconsin. Indiana and Penn State both get two weeks to prepare for Michigan.

Indiana: The non-conference slate looks like this: at Virginia, vs. FIU and vs. Georgia Southern. As mentioned, the Hoosiers catch their bye before hosting Michigan. The draw from the other division works extremely well even though it does feature Wisconsin, the -125 ‘chalk’ to win the Big Ten West. IU gets the Badgers at home one week after UW has another road assignment at Illinois. The other games against West foes are road contests at Illinois and at Purdue. IU should sweep its last three games: at Illinois, vs. Rutgers and at Purdue.

Michigan State: Mark Dantonio’s team went from the College Football Playoff to a dismal 3-9 record that also included off-the-field issues that resulted in several player being dismissed from the program. Sparty’s only wins came over Notre Dame, Furman and Rutgers, a trio that combined to compile an atrocious 9-27 record. Only three of MSU’s losses came in one-possession games, and just eight starters (4 offensive, 4 defense) return from that squad. Remember, the Spartans had double-digit season win totals five of the previous six years and had endured only one losing season on Dantonio’s watch (6-7 in ’09, his third year at the helm). Michigan State has three non-conference games at home against Bowling Green, Western Michigan and Notre Dame. The Spartans get two weeks to prepare for the Fighting Irish. They have to play consecutive road games at Michigan (10/7) and at Minnesota (10/14). The games against the Big Ten West are vs. Iowa, at Minnesota and at Northwestern. As previously mentioned, in-state adversary Michigan has two weeks to prep for its home game against Sparty.

Maryland: D.J. Durkin’s club gets its open date in Week 3 to give it two weeks to prep for Central Florida, which will be seeking revenge for a 30-24 home loss in overtime to Maryland last season. The other non-conference games are at Texas and vs. Towson. The Terrapins draw these three games against the West: at Minnesota, vs. Northwestern and and at Wisconsin. There’s one set of back-to-back road games when they go to Minnesota and Ohio State on Sept. 30 and Oct. 7, respectively. This is a brutal schedule, which is why a team that went 6-7 last year and brings back 13 of 22 starters has a low win total set at 3.5 flat (-110 either way).

Rutgers: Chris Ash’s second season starts with a daunting task with his team hosting one of the nation’s premier teams in Washington. The Huskies routed the Scarlet Knights 48-13 in last year’s opener. The other non-conference contests are at home vs. Eastern Michigan and Morgan State in Weeks 2 and 3. RU does have a good draw from the other division even though two of the games are on the road. The Scarlet Knights play at Nebraska, at Illinois and vs. Purdue. They get two weeks to prep for the Illini. RU will face Maryland in the Bronx at Yankee Stadium.

Wisconsin: The non-conference schedule has the Badgers at home vs. Utah State (Friday) and Florida Atlantic, in addition to a trip to Provo to take on BYU. The Cougars were 10-point home underdogs in the Golden Nugget’s Games of the Year opening lines. Paul Chryst’s team then gets its bye before heading into Big Ten play and a home game against Northwestern, which will likely be its main competitor to win the West. Pat Fitzgerald’s team does have to go on the road in this spot, but the Wildcats will have two weeks to get ready for this pivotal showdown against the Badgers. Wisconsin’s games against the East are vs. Maryland, at Indiana and vs. Michigan. As mentioned above, the Wolverines will be in look-ahead mode for their trip to Camp Randall with arch-rival Ohio State’s visit to the Big House looming the next weekend.

Northwestern:
Fitzgerald’s bunch plays vs. Nevada, at Duke and vs. Bowling Green in non-con action. The Blue Devils will be hoping to avenge a 24-13 loss to Northwestern in Durham in ’16. The Wildcats draw these three games from the West: vs. Penn State (homecoming), at Maryland and vs. Michigan State. With Sparty down, PSU at home and Ohio State and Michigan missing, Northwestern has to be happy with that plight. The Wildcats should also be happy about the fact that there are no back-to-back road situations. The only downer about this slate is that Iowa joins Wisconsin in having an open date prior to facing Northwestern.

Nebraska: Oregon will be out for redemption at home in Week 2 when it hosts Nebraska. The Cornhuskers rallied to capture a 35-32 win over the Ducks in Lincoln last year. The two other non-conference tilts are home games vs. Arkansas State and Northern Illinois. Mike Riley’s team gets its open date after playing back-to-back home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State. This bye week falls before a road trip to Purdue. Nebraska has one set of consecutive road contests at Minnesota and at Penn State in November. The Cornhuskers play a pair of Friday games, which are always advantageous to the home team since it doesn’t have to travel during a short week of preparation. They are at Illinois after hosting Rutgers, but they are at home in the regular-season finale vs. Iowa. The game at Illinois is even more tricky since the Illini are off the previous week and play at South Florida on a Friday two weeks before.

Minnesota: I feel like P.J. Fleck should’ve been more patient and waited for a better job. No disrespect to the University of Minnesota or its fans, but it’s is the seventh-best job in the Big Ten (at best!). Whatever the case, the Gophers scored big with this hire and are hoping for big results right away. After all, they went 9-4 in ’16 and bring back seven starters on offense and five on defense. The non-conference slate looks like this: vs. Buffalo (Thursday), at Oregon State and vs. Middle Tennessee. The Thursday date for the opener against the Bulls give Minnesota a couple of more days to prep for its trek west to Corvallis, where the Beavers will be looking to avenge a 30-23 loss last year at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota gets an open date in Week 4 ahead of its home game against Maryland. The draw from the West calls for games vs. Maryland, vs. Michigan State and at Michigan. The spot at The Big House is especially difficult since the Gophers play at Iowa the week beforehand. If Fleck’s team is in the race to win the Big Ten East in November, it’ll come down to its last three games vs. Nebraska, at Northwestern and vs. Wisconsin. Those last three opponents are expected to be the top three teams in the East loop.

Iowa:
Kirk Ferentz’s squad hosts Wyoming in its opener before facing in-state rival Iowa State in Ames. The final non-con contest is at home vs. North Texas. The Hawkeyes have these three games against the West: vs. Penn State, at Michigan State and vs. Ohio State. Tough draw, right? No doubt about it. However, Iowa has had amazingly easy schedules over the last three years. In fact, this will be the first time it has faced Ohio State since ’13. As previously noted, the Hawkeyes get two weeks to prep for an Oct. 21 date at Northwestern. There aren’t any back-to-back road games on the schedule. The Hawks are young in the secondary, which could be an issue in the opener vs. Wyoming. The Cowboys have a QB in Josh Allen who many NFL scouts are extremely bullish on.

Purdue: Jeff Brohm takes over and that’s an excellent hire by Purdue. Brohm’s first game will be against his alma mater, Louisville. These teams will square off in Indianapolis. Brohm replaced U of L head coach Bobby Petrino at Western Kentucky, where he compiled a 30-10 record in three seasons. Brohm, who was U of L’s QB from 1989-1993, worked under Petrino as QB coach and Associate HC at U of L so neither staff will be surprising the other with any schemes. Purdue gets Ohio at home on a Friday in Week 2 before playing at Missouri in Week 3. After hosting Michigan, the Boilermakers get their bye week before a home game vs. Minnesota. Next, Purdue plays the first set of two back-to-back road situations. On Oct. 14 and 21, the Boilers are at Wisconsin and at Rutgers, respectively. Then they play at Northwestern and at Iowa in consecutive weeks in November.

Illinois:
The Fighting Illini start the season at home with games vs. Ball State and Western Kentucky. Then in Week 3, it has to go on the road on a short week for a Friday date at South Florida. This game will also be impacted by weather, as the mid-September heat in Tampa is unbearable. The Illini gets a week off after USF leading into a Friday home game vs. Nebraska. There aren’t any back-to-back road games on the slate. The draw from the West includes games vs. Rutgers, vs. Indiana and at Ohio State.
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2017 CUSA Preview
July 2, 2017



2017 CONFERENCE USA PREVIEW

Lineup Tweak

With UAB back in the Conference USA this season, the loop will now operate with 14 teams. Each school will play every team in its division once for six games, while playing two crossover opponents from the opposite division.

We Won’t Back Down

Conference USA teams refuse to shy away from playing challenging non-conference competition, and this season is no exception. Among the teams on this year’s schedule are Arizona, Baylor, Florida, Iowa, Kansas State, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Stanford, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Wisconsin.

A total of 28 games are scheduled against teams that played in a bowl game last season.

We’ll Bowl You Over, Too


Last season, Conference USA sent a record seven teams to bowl games. In the process, Conference USA posted its sixth consecutive winning season in bowl play and two programs - Louisiana Tech and WKU - are among nine schools that have won a bowl game in each of the past three seasons, joined by Clemson, Georgia, Stanford, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia Tech and Wisconsin.

C-USA is 22-11 SU and 20-12-1 ATS over the last six years in bowl games. No other FBS conference owns a higher bowl SU and ATS win percentage than the C-USA the last six years.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.


EAST PREVIEW

CHARLOTTE (Offense - *6/3, Defense - 6/1, 44 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE

The youthful 49ers were FBS’ newest spring chickens in 2015 when they debuted and won two games. They doubled that output last season. Better yet, six of their eight CUSA titles were either wins (3) or one-possession losses (3). On the surface it appears Brad Lambert’s veteran staff (over 150 years of experience) has this squad fast-tracked, but before they continue an expected uptick they will need to address a defense slipped from 94th to 108th last season. Gone are 22 members from a senior class that was part of the Niners’ first team in 2013. Now a young core of sophomores and juniors are set to take over. A soft schedule figures to help.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since becoming an FBS school, Charlotte is 0-6 SU and 0-5-1 ATS in its final six games of the season.

PLAY ON: at Florida International (9/30)

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (Offense - *9/4, Defense - 8/2, 63 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: TRAVELING A NEW LANE

Like their cross county rivals, FIU, FAU made a celebrity hire in controversial Lane Kiffin as its new mentor. The former Tennessee, USC, and Oakland Raiders head coach, Kiffin inherits a pair of strong recruiting classes from his predecessor, Charlie Partridge. In fact, this year’s junior class led the nation with 16 true freshmen starters two seasons ago while last year’s squad featured 68 underclassmen. And speaking of last year’s team, through the first seven games last season the Owls started a different OL all seven games. Meanwhile, RB Devin “Motor” Singletary became the first freshman in Owl history to break the 1,000 yard plateau last year when he rushed for 721 yards, 8.1 Yards Per Rush, and 10 TDs over the final 4 games of the 2016 season. With no back-to-back road games and with the addition of FSU stud transfer WR De’Andre Johnson, the experienced Owls are perched for success.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Owls are 6-18 SU in one-possession games since Howard Schnellenberger resigned, including 2-8 the last two seasons

PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Middle Tennessee (9/30)

FLORIDA INT’L (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 9/3, 57 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: BEAMING BUTCH IS BACK

Celebrated head coach Butch Davis takes over the FIU football program, and he couldn’t be happier. The 65-year old Davis has compiled a 79-43 overall record in 10 years as a college head coach, including three Big East Championships while coaching the University of Miami. What Davis knows is that the FIU campus is within 40 miles of 15 south Florida high schools that have produced numerous state champions. Meanwhile, SR QB Alex McGough leads a deeply experienced team that ranks No. 1 in the nation by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s metrics – one that returns 85% production on both sides of the ball. It’s no wonder Butch is beaming.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: FIU is 11-1 SU and 10-2 ATS versus sub .333 conference foes without Ron Turner since 2010.

PLAY ON: at Rice (9/23)

MARSHALL (Offense - *7/4, Defense - 4/2, 52 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: MORE BLUNDERING THAN THUNDERING

After being the only Group of 5 program to record a third straight 10-win season in 2015, the Herd went from a thundering 33 wins in three seasons to a blundering 3 victories last year. Safe to say, Doc Holliday is walking around campus these days looking over his shoulder. Strangely, Marshall committed only 16 turnovers in 2016, the fewest for the program since it entered FBS waters in 1997. They also led the conference in 4th-down conversions (66.7%) as well. JR QB Chase Litton ranks on MU’s all-time Top 10 quarterback list. It remains to be seen, though, if the confidence can be restored to a team that may still be shell-shocked. We do know this, though: Marshall is 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS as a home favorite with conference revenge.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Herd are 10-1-2 ATS as home dogs of more than 6 points.

PLAY AGAINST: at Florida Atlantic (11/3)

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (Offense - *6/32, Defense - 6/0, 40 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: STILL WELL-STOCKED

SBNation.com’s Bill Connelly contends MTSU may field the two best offensive players in the conference in quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James. After a promising 6-2 start last season, Stockstill (head coach Rick’s son) was lost to a broken collarbone and the Blue Raiders responded by losing three of their final five games. The super sharp southpaw (threw for a school record 3,233 yards and 33 TDs) and his go-to target, WR Richie James, are back but the biggest question mark surrounding this year’s squad is the rush defense, one that surrendered more than 200 RYPG in 2016. If that same rebuilt unit comes around, the blue smurfs could be deadly.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: MTSU has been bowl eligible eight times in 11 years under Rick Stockstill and competed in six bowl games.

PLAY ON: vs. Vanderbilt (9/2) – KEY as a dog

OLD DOMINION (Offense - 8/4, Defense - 6/3, 46 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: BEYOND THEIR WILDEST DREAMS

Spurred by a six-game season-ending win skein, the Monarchs capitalized on force-feeding freshmen in 2015 (their first ever losing season under head coach Bobby Wilder) to win 10 games last year. Through it all, Old Dominion tied for 1st place in the East Division and made its first bowl appearance when it defeated Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. ODU became the youngest program (eight years) to win 10 games in a season since the NCAA formed Division I in 1978. Not only did Wilder’s crew set a single-season team rushing record with 2,595 yards last year, they also tied Miami Florida for the 2nd best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost (10). Wow. This year, though, it will be a major surprise to find them sniffing 10 wins again as they must replace their starting QB and all three starting linebackers. And in a scheduling quirk, ODU has no back-to-back home or back-to-back road games this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Monarchs have sold out all 54 home games in school history and own a 41-13 SU record in those games.

PASS

UAB (Offense - 0/0, Defense - 0/0, 0 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: #FREE UAB

They’re back. No thanks to bunked up claims from its president of losing money, the Blazers shut down the football program and missed the 2015 and 2016 seasons. But UAB and the city of Birmingham raised over $43 million for the reinstatement of its football program, and as a result they are back as full Division 1 FBS and Conference USA members in 2017. Bill Clark is back, too. In Clark’s first season as head coach of the Blazers in 2014, he turned around a program that was 2-10 the year before into a team that finished 6-6 and earned bowl eligibility for the first time since 2004. Yes, they are the feel good story for 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Per 247Sports, Clark has inked 18 three-star prospects in the last two classes.

PASS

WESTERN KENTUCKY (Offense - *4/2, Defense - 6/2, 52 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: HILL STREET WOOS

Considered one of college football’s brightest offensive minds (and a former Hilltopper assistant), Mike Sanford was named the 20th head football coach at WKU. Sanford spent the previous two seasons as the OC/QB coach at Notre Dame and replaces Jeff Brohm who, after 30 wins in three seasons, took the money and bolted to Purdue. The good news for Sanford is that after leading the nation’s top scoring offense and securing WKU’s 2nd consecutive C-USA title, SR QB Mike White returns to The Hill as the nation’s No. 2 returning passer behind Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield. The Toppers also owned the nation’s No. 2 ranked rush defense last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Hilltoppers have gone OVER their season win total each of the last five years.

PLAY ON: at Vanderbilt (11/4) - *KEY

WEST PREVIEW

LOUISIANA TECH (Offense - 5/3, Defense - 5/3, 27 Lettermen)


In a year of foremost accomplishment last season, the Bulldogs won the CUSA West and the Armed Forces Bowl, recording their third straight bowl win (a first in school history). In the process, Louisiana Tech has won 19 of its last 24 conference games and is tied with WKU for the best winning percentage in games over that span. Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for all of that success as the Bulldogs enter the 2017 season with only one start at the collegiate level from the entire group of quarterbacks (this from a team that had a senior starting signal-caller each of the last three seasons). Uh oh. Nonetheless, in the watered-down West, the Bulldogs are still the favorite to capture division honors. Don’t be surprised if they are not nip-and-tuck with Southern Miss, though.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Bulldogs will face 7 bowl foes this season, but only 2 that owned winning records overall.

PASS

NORTH TEXAS (Offense - *7/4, Defense - 8/1, 49 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: FEELING GOOD AND MEAN AGAIN

You know you’re in trouble when you run a pass-first offense that can’t pass. Sure, UNT won five times as many games, and improved its numbers on both sides of the ball last season under first year head coach Scott Littrell. All feel-good numbers, for sure. The question is did they show dramatic improvement, or were they simply that bad in 2015 (the roster featured 36 non-scholarship players)? We do know that the 37-year old Littrell was considered one of the brightest offensive minds in college football when he was hired from North Carolina (served as assistant head coach of the offense). The bottom line is the Green are now in good hands with Littrell.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lean Green have gone 2-17 SU and 4-15 ATS away the last three years, outyarded by 175 YPG.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Army (11/18) - *Key if favored

RICE (Offense - 5/5, Defense - 8/3, 54 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: BAIL UP, OR BAIL OUT

After winning 30 games the previous four years, and being just 6 wins shy of matching a school record for 36 victories over a five-year span, the 16 returning starter Owls stalled on their perch in 2016 as they managed just three wins, the fewest since 2009. It should be noted that after a stretch of five different lineups over its first eight games of the season, Rice started the same offensive line for the last four games of the season in 2016. It’s relevant considering all five of the OL represent the entire returning starter component of the 2017 offense. And don’t look now but somehow David Bailiff owns the 2nd most wins in school history.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Rice is just one of two FBS teams that will face 2016 bowl teams in each of its four non-conference games this season.

PLAY ON: at UTSA (10/21)

SOUTHERN MISS (Offense - 6/2, Defense - 5/2, 40 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: FORWARD THINKING

When 1st-year head coach Jay Hopson witnessed his team go on a 34-0 run to turn a 35-10 deficit into a 44-35 victory over Kentucky in his debut game with the Eagles last season, he knew this squad had finally turned the corner for good. Yes, the powerful forward moving offense, led by RB Ito Smith – just the fourth Golden Eagle to gain more than 1,000 yards in multiple seasons – and WR Allenzae Staggers, was almost unstoppable. But their real success came from an unsung defense that not only improved 50 YPG in 2016, the stop-unit ranked No. 2 in the land in 3rd down conversion percentage defense. And they did it all despite recording a -17 turnover margin. Pretty impressive, to say the least. Remember that moving forward this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Golden Eagles have gone bowling 20 of the last 23 years.

PLAY ON: vs. Charlotte (11/18) - *KEY

UTEP (Offense - *5/3, Defense - 7/1, 44 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: TURNING UP THE HEAT

Sean Kugler’s fifth year with the Miners will likely decide his future in El Paso. While production was up on both sides of the ball last season, the win tally slipped, and with just one winning season (7-6) to show for his effort, Kugler is suddenly feeling the burn. The building blocks are there, but a strong core of freshmen last year will need to mature in 2017. All-American SR Will Hernandez, who has started all 37 games in his career at the left guard position, anchors the OL. Meanwhile, JR QB Ryan Metz completed 64.7 percent of his passes last year, the 2nd-best completion percentage during a single season in program history. Stay tuned.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Miners are 9-54-1 SU and 15-45-2 ATS in the last 64 games in which they have been outgained in the stats.

PLAY AGAINST: at UAB (11/25) - *KEY if favored

UTSA (Offense - *6/3, Defense - 7/2, 45 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: A JOB WELL DONE

Head coach Frank Wilson guided Texas-San Antonio to six wins and its first-ever bowl game in his initial year at the helm last season. In the process, the Roadrunners tied an NCAA modern startup program record by playing in a bowl game in just their sixth season. And to top it off, UTSA returns four All-Conference performers from a year ago, including LB Josiah Tauefa, the CUSA Freshman of the Year. Better yet, living up to his moniker as one of the nation’s best recruiters, Wilson reeled in what was considered the top recruiting class in program history and the No. 1-ranked class in Conference USA, when he signed 23 highly decorated players (12 offense/11 defense) this offseason. Backers hope his squad can continue 2016's torrid 5-1 ATS season-ending skein.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Roadrunners are 2-14 ATS in SU conference losses.

PLAY ON: at UTEP (10/28)
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Quarterback Rankings
July 1, 2017


Note: My rankings are based on how I feel these players are going to perform at the collegiate level this year; NOT how they’re rated in terms of NFL potential.

1-Lamar Jackson (Louisville) – Even though U of L lost a slew of talented skill players, Bobby Petrino’s offense will thrive once against with the dynamic Jackson. He’ll have a difficult time producing the Heisman-winning stats he had last season, but his numbers will still be spectacular. As a true junior, I expect Jackson to be a better passer, and his running skills might already be on the level of Michael Vick’s in his prime. Jackson rushed for 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2016. He also threw for 3,543 yards with a 30/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If the Cardinals can win 8-9 games and their young wide receivers perform well, Jackson should be a candidate to become only the second player in college football history to win multiple Heisman Trophies (Ohio State RB Archie Griffin is the other).

2-Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) - Since now head coach Lincoln Riley arrived as OU’s offensive coordinator in 2015, Mayfield has a 76/15 TD-INT ratio. In 2016, Mayfield threw 40 TD passes compared to only eight interceptions. He led the nation in completion percentage (70.9%) and set a new NCAA FBS record in passing efficiency (196.4). Mayfield and OU’s offense lost some pivotal parts like WR Dede Westbrook, RB Joe Mixon and RB Samaje Perine, a trio that accounted for 2,435 rushing yards and 2,168 receiving yards last year. However, nine starters are back, including the entire offensive line. Mayfield is a threat with his legs also, rushing for 582 yards and 13 TDs over the last two seasons.

3-Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) - Rudolph was sensational last year, throwing for 4,091 yards with a 28/4 TD-INT ratio. He also ran for six TDs while leading the Cowboys to its fifth 10-win season (or better) in the last seven years. While Mayfield lost his top three weapons, Rudolph returns his in RB Justice Hill, WR Jalen McCleskey and WR James Washington. With 8,714 career passing yards, Rudolph is already the school’s second all-time leading passer. He will likely surpass Brandon Weeden in the history books during a Week 2 trip to Mobile to face South Alabama.

4-Luke Falk (Washington State)
- The senior QB has 10,888 career passing yards and will become the school’s all-time leader as quickly as Rudolph does at OSU in 2017. Since Washington State limped to a 3-9 record in 2014, Falk has led the Cougars to an 18-7 record in his 25 starts (he missed a loss at Washington in the ’15 regular-season finale due to a concussion). He’ll miss favorite target Gabe Marks, but there’s plenty of returning talent at the WR position that’s ranked 22nd in the nation according to Athlon’s preseason magazine. Falk completed 70.0 percent of his passes for 4,468 yards with a 38/11 TD-INT ratio last season. His career TD-INT ratio is 89/26.

5-Sam Darnold (Southern Cal) - Many think Darnold will be the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. As a redshirt freshman last year, Darnold completed 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,086 yards and a 31/9 TD-INT ratio. USC went 9-1 in his 10 starts and capped a nine-game winning streak with a thrilling 52-49 win over Penn State at the Rose Bowl. Darnold’s offense brings back just four starters, but the third-year sophomore will have this unit thriving nonetheless.

6-Jake Browning (Washington) - The true junior has started 26 games since arriving on campus, missing only one outing. Browning enjoyed a breakout sophomore campaign, leading UW to a 12-2 record and a spot in the College Football Playoff. He threw for 3,430 yards with a 43/9 TD-INT ratio. Browning also ran for four TDs. The Cougars bring back seven starters on offense, including star WR Dane Pettis and RB Myles Gaskin, and this is a unit that finished tops in the Pac-12 and eighth in the country in scoring (41.8 PPG) last year.

7-J.T. Barrett (Ohio State)
- My issue with Barrett has always been that he’s not a productive passer from the pocket, which can be a big-time issue when a team is trying to rally from a significant deficit. But obviously, if you rarely find yourself losing like Ohio St. in recent years, you’re in good shape with Barrett under center thanks to his dynamic scrambling skills. Despite missing the last three games of his freshman season and only starting five of 13 games in his sophomore year, Barrett’s career numbers are amazing: 26-4 record in 30 starts, a 69/21 TD-INT ratio, 6,381 passing yards, 2,465 rushing yards and 31 rushing TDs. He’s already the school’s third all-time leading passer and will pass Art Schlichter, the career convict/felon/con-man/scumbag who might be the worst gambler ever, atop the school’s record books with 1,167 more passing yards. Like his predecessor Braxton Miller, Barrett might have to change positions in the NFL but before doing so, he’s poised for another banner campaign running the show for the Buckeyes.

8-Nick Fitzgerald (Mississippi State) – Dan Mullen knows how to find and develop a QB. And yes, Fitzgerald is a better athlete than Dak Prescott. Hell, he might be more athletic than Lamar Jackson, who certainly moves quicker laterally but might not quite have Fitzgerald’s take-it-to-the-house speed thanks to the long strides on his tall frame. If Fitzgerald has a step on a defender in the open field, he’s not going to be tracked down. Fitzgerald finished second in the SEC in rushing yards with 1,375 last year. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry while rushing for 16 TDs and producing eight games with 100-plus rushing yards. Fitzgerald’s completion percentage (54.3%) clearly needs to improve, but he still threw for 2,423 yards in his first 13 starts as a true sophomore in ’16. He has a 24/10 career TD-INT ratio. I’m not sure Mississippi St. will be good enough to win nine games but if it does, here’s your sleeper Heisman candidate who currently has 100/1 odds at 5dimes.eu.

9-Quinton Flowers (South Florida) – USF returns seven starters from an offense that finished fourth in the nation in scoring (43.8 PPG) last season. The Bulls, who finished 11-2 to earn their coach Willie Taggart a new gig at Oregon, scored 35 points vs. Florida St. and 46 vs. South Carolina. As a junior, Flowers connected on 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,812 yards with a 24/7 TD-INT ratio. Most notably, he rushed for 1,530 yards and 18 TDs while averaging an eye-opening 7.7 YPC. His 1,530 rushing yards were the fourth-most in a season by a QB in FBS history. Flowers threw for 2,290 yards with a 22/8 TD-INT ratio in ’15, when he also ran for 991 yards and 12 TDs while averaging 5.2 YPC. RB Marlon Mack, the school’s all-time leading rusher, opted to skip his senior season and go pro a year early. Nevertheless, D’Ernest Johnson is ready to fill Mack’s role and the WR corps is talented and deep. With FSU off the schedule in favor of Illinois (at home) and AAC foes Temple, Cincinnati, Tulsa and Houston coming to Tampa, Charlie Strong’s team could be a real dark horse to crash the CFP. 5dimes has Flowers with 75/1 odds to win the Heisman.

10-Jalen Hurts (Alabama) – I found it extremely difficult to rank Hurts, who led Alabama to a 14-1 record as a true freshman. On one hand, it was evident the coaching staff didn’t completely trust Hurts not to make mistakes in the passing game. He also had great players everywhere around him and was only asked not to screw things up. Furthermore, Hurts had six games where he threw for 138 yards or fewer. And finally, he completed only 13-of-31 passes (41.9%) for 131 yards in the loss to Clemson. On the flip side, Hurts’s passing yards can be misleading because of how many lopsided games Alabama played. And guess what? He didn’t screw it up unless you’re going to blame the Clemson loss on him, but isn’t 31 points enough to get a victory with an elite defense? Hurts completed 62.8 percent of his (mostly high-percentage) passes for 2,780 yards with a 23/9 TD-INT ratio. His biggest asset is his elusiveness in the pocket and ability to turn a potentially negative play into a positive. Hurts rushed for 954 yards and 13 TDs, averaging 4.9 YPC.

Just missed: Tanner Mangum (BYU), Deondre Francois (FSU), Trace McSorley (Penn State), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn), Riley Ferguson (Memphis) and Shea Patterson (Ole Miss).

Overrated: Josh Allen (Wyoming), Jacob Eason (Georgia) and Josh Rosen (UCLA).

Underrated: Logan Woodside (Toledo), Austin Allen (Arkansas), Ryan Finley (N.C. State) and Brandon Silvers (Troy).

Transfers to Watch: Brandon Harris (North Carolina via LSU), Thomas Sirk (East Carolina via Duke and Fresno State), Max Browne (Pittsburgh via Southern Cal), Kyle Allen (Houston via Texas A&M), Tanner Lee (Nebraska via Tulane), Jacob Park (Iowa State via Georgia) and Will Grier (West Virginia via Florida).

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- Why do I call Wyoming’s Allen overrated even though many 2018 mock drafts have him poised to be a top-five selection? That’s easy. In a 52-17 loss at Nebraska last year, he was intercepted five times. For the ’16 season, he completed only 56.0 percent of his passes. Allen had an 8/10 TD-INT ratio in the Cowboys’ five defeats. In a stunning loss at UNLV, Allen completed just 14-of-31 throws (45.2%) and was intercepted twice. Those were his numbers when had an elite RB in Brian Hill, who won’t be around this year after getting drafted by the Atlanta Falcons.

-- What about UCLA’s Rosen? Well, there have been whispers that he isn’t exactly the most popular player in the locker room. Also, he’s coming off a serious shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of last year. He has all the tools and many NFL scouts are high on him, but let’s see if he can produce for his head coach who is on the hot seat.

-- And UGA’s Eason? With this rising true sophomore, his lack of commitment and passion for the game is more than just whispers in SEC circles. Some might call that unfair, especially for a kid his age, but he’s known to hit the town and knock down a few beverages in Athens. Without a doubt, he has great height (and I’ll refrain from using the word “size” because dropping a few pounds would help his quickness) and perhaps the best arm in the country. Yes, he came through in the clutch in huge games at Missouri and vs. Tennessee, but he was mostly inconsistent in ’16. In fairness, that’s not abnormal for any freshman QB, but Eason’s reputation was so high that it isn’t unfair to say he didn’t quite live up to expectations.

-- Quick Side Note regarding Eason: I’m not judging him for enjoying his social life! Athens might be the best college town in America, one I’ve enjoyed while smashing Budweisers galore on many occasions. The eye candy is off the charts as well, so all males 18-21 (and beyond) are understandably tempted to constantly go out in Athens. But the QB for UGA has to be held to a different standard, especially one that’s on the radar of all NFL scouts for a contract worth many millions of dollars. Finally, he can easily change any negative connotations associated with his name by lighting it up this year and in ’18.

-- I didn’t put Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook in my list of overrated because he isn’t thought of highly enough by many pundits. However, if there’s one team (other than Florida with redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks) poised for a big season that can’t trust their signal caller, I think it’s the Badgers.

-- As I mentioned UF’s Franks above, I’m obligated to note the Gators’ recent addition of Malik Zaire, the grad transfer from Notre Dame who looked outstanding in leading the Fighting Irish to wins over LSU (’14 bowl game) and Texas (’15 season opener) in two of his three career starts. Zaire will compete with Franks for the starting job and whether or not he wins the job, the Gators add least add some depth. Redshirt freshman Kyle Trask and veteran Luke Del Rio are still around, but both are coming off of offseason surgeries.

-- WVU’s Grier still hasn’t been cleared to play in the Mountaineers’ first six games stemming from his one-year suspension dating back to ’15 when he led the Gators to a 6-0 start. WVU is optimistic about its chances on appeal, however.

-- QBs on the rise not previously mentioned: South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson, Missouri’s Drew Lock and Western Kentucky’s Mike White.

-- Another transfer to watch that I didn’t mention is former Texas A&M QB Kyler Murray. I left out the former five-star recruit because unless Mayfield gets injured, he’s only going to see mop-up duty this year. But he’s more than capable of performing at a very high level if Mayfield does go down.
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Group of Five Contenders
June 27, 2017


After the Power Five conferences, we have the Group of Five consisting of the AAC, Mountain West, C-USA, MAC and Sun Belt. These schools have one spot available in the marquee bowls on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but it’s rare that one of these teams has a legitimate shot at getting to the College Football Playoff (and in the past, to the BCS Championship Game).

There are exceptions to this, however. When quarterback Kellen Moore had his dynamic four-year run under Chris Petersen at Boise State, there were several times when BSU might’ve received the nod to play for the national title if not for late-season losses.

In particular, there was the 2010 campaign. Boise State opened the season against Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland, in what was undoubtedly a road game even though it wasn’t played in Blacksburg. The Broncos beat the Hokies, who would go on to win 10 straight games before reaching the 11-win mark with a 44-33 win over Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.

BSU would spank all of its opponents by double-digit margins, including another win over a Pac-12 school (37-24 win over Oregon State), going into a home game against Colin Kaepernick’s Nevada team that would eventually finish the year with a 13-1 record. The Broncos had a chance to win outright late in regulation, only for their kicker to miss a short field goal. Then after the Wolf Pack scored a field goal in overtime, BSU’s kicker once again missed a chip shot to force a second extra session. Therefore, Nevada won a 34-31 decision.

If BSU wins that game, would it have made the BCS Championship Game? You could’ve made a great argument for it. The Broncos would have been undefeated just like Auburn and Oregon, who did square off for the title. Why, you ask?

Well, Boise State had played the Ducks in the two previous seasons. And the Broncos absolutely dominated them in each contest. In 2009 at Oregon, Boise State raced out to a 37-13 lead by late in the third quarter and held on for a 37-32 victory. This was a misleading final score, however, just like it was in 2010 on the smurf turf.

In Chip Kelly’s debut as head coach in 2010, Boise State won a 19-8 decision but the game wasn’t even competitive. BSU enjoyed an advantage in total yards by a 361-152 margin and produced 22 first downs compared to six for the Ducks, who didn’t get on the scoreboard until there was 4:21 remaining in the fourth quarter. The only reason the Broncos didn’t score more is because they failed to convert on a pair of fourth-and-short plays and coughed up three fumbles.

At this time last summer, I was hyping Houston’s legit chances to make the CFP. Not only was the AAC going to be a strong league with quality teams like Navy, South Florida and Memphis, the Cougars had non-conference opportunities against highly-ranked teams like Oklahoma and Louisville. Furthermore, they were going to be playing Navy and Memphis on the road, making those potential victories even more impressive to the Selection Committee, and the games against OU and U of L were more winnable at home (the OU game was in Houston, albeit at NRG Stadium).

As it turned out, Houston faced OU and U of L when both were ranked third in the nation. In other words, if the Cougars had stayed undefeated, they would’ve undoubtedly been in the CFP. However, UH lost at Navy (when the Cougars were ranked sixth) and would lose two other AAC games.

I’m not sure that the schedule works for any Group of Five school to get to the CFP this year. Unlike last season when it had a home game against FSU, South Florida’s top non-conference games are at UConn and at home vs. Illinois. I mention USF because I feel it has the best chance of going unbeaten, but wins over the Huskies and Illini aren’t going to impress anyone.

Let’s rank and discuss my top-seven Group of Five teams and mention a few other schools and players to watch.

Group of Five Top 7

1) South Florida:
Charlie Strong takes over at USF after Willie Taggart accepting the head-coaching job at Oregon. Strong, who had an outstanding run at Louisville before a three-year stretch at Texas didn’t work out, walks into a great situation. Although the school’s all-time leading rusher Marlon Mack turned pro a year early, the Bulls still bring back 16 of 22 starters (7 offense, 9 defense) from an 11-2 squad. Senior quarterback Quinton Flowers is the best of the bunch. In fact, if he duplicates his rushing numbers from 2016, he’ll surpass Mack’s record for career rushing yards. Flowers is already third on the all-time list. He ran for 1,530 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 7.7 yards per carry last year. Flowers also connected on 62.5 percent of his passes for 2,812 yards with a 24/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Barring a rash of injuries, USF will most likely be favored in every game with one potential exception – the regular-season finale at UCF. The Bulls get their toughest games – vs. Illinois, Houston, Cincinnati and Tulsa – at home and the Illini and Owls have to come to Tampa on a short week of preparation. Plus, Memphis is not on the regular-season slate. Finally, we should note the return of All-American candidate Auggie Sanchez, the senior LB who recorded 120 tackles, six sacks and one interception in ’16.

2) Houston: Major Applewhite takes over for Tom Herman after a two-year tenure that consisted of 22 wins compared to merely five defeats. Six wins came over ranked teams, including three scalps of top-10 teams including FSU, Oklahoma and Louisville. Houston brings back 15 starters and lost a total of only 15 lettermen from the ’16 club that finished 9-4. Star QB Greg Ward Jr. is gone, but his replacement is former Texas A&M starter and five-star recruit Kyle Allen, who sat out last year after transferring. The Cougars have one of the nation’s top wideouts in senior Linell Bonner, who had 98 receptions for 1,118 yards last year. Sophomore DT Ed Oliver might be THE BEST player in America, and that’s the furthest thing from a stretch. As a true freshman after Herman kept the hometown five-star recruit in H-Town, all he did was produce 66 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, seven QB hurries and nine passes broken up. The non-conference schedule isn’t as formidable this year, but UH does play at Arizona and hosts Texas Tech. The Cougars get both Navy and Memphis at home, and both foes have to come to Houston on a short week of preparation.

3) Boise State: Boise State finished 10-3 last season, losing a pair of heartbreakers at Wyoming (30-28) and at Air Force (27-20) before getting thumped by Baylor at The Cactus Bowl. BSU returns only five starters on offense and four on defense, but junior QB Brett Rypien is back and looking to earn first-team All-MWC honors for a third consecutive season. He has a 44/16 career TD-INT ratio and has WR Cedrick Wilson back in the mix. Wilson had 56 catches for 1,129 yards and 11 TDs while averaging 20.2 yards per catch in ’16. Junior DT David Moa is a force up front, registering 8.5 sacks as a sophomore. The Broncos play at Washington State in Week 2, host Virginia in Week 4 on a Friday night (when BSU plays at home vs. New Mexico the prior Thursday and UVA hosts UConn the previous Saturday) and travels to BYU with two weeks to prepare.

4) Appalachian State: Georgia better be on upset alert in Week 1! Let’s not pull any punches here, folks: Tennessee was lucky as hell just to force overtime against ASU at home in front of more than 100,000 of its own fans in last year’s season opener, much less get the win (on a recovered fumble in the end zone after Josh Dobbs got assaulted in mid-air as he lunged for the end zone) in the extra session. Scott Satterfield’s team finished 10-3, losing 28-24 at Troy (which also finished 10-3 and nearly won at Clemson) and falling at home to Miami. The Sun Belt’s 2016 Offensive Player of the Year, RB Jalin Moore (5.9 YPC), returns after rushing for 1,402 yards and 10 TDs. The Mountaineers bring back 14 starters, seven apiece on each side of the ball, including their veteran signal caller. Senior QB Taylor Lamb is third in school history in passing yards (7,049) already. He has a 63/26 career TD-INT ratio. Lamb will throw and Moore will run behind a veteran offensive line (76 career starts) that has a pair of offensive guards who are future pros (Colby Gossett and Beau Nunn). App State gets Wake Forest at home in a second shot at a Power Five foe. The Mountaineers don’t have to play the second and third-best teams in the Sun Belt (Troy and Arkansas State), and they get Ga. Southern at home on a Thursday night when the Eagles will be playing a third road game in 19 days.

5) Western Kentucky: Mike Sanford Jr., the son of the former UNLV head coach, takes over for Jeff Brohm, who parlayed a 23-5 record over the last two seasons to land the Purdue job. Sanford was the offensive coordinator at Notre Dame the last two years after calling plays at Boise State in ’14. The Hilltoppers lost their top three tacklers, workhorse RB (Anthony Wales: 1,621 rushing yards, 27 TDs & 6.8 YPC), head coach and top two WRs. On the bright side, senior QB Mike White is back after throwing for 4,363 yards with a 37/7 TD-INT ratio. Only 10 of 22 starters are back, but the secondary is a senior-laden group and there are capable RBs (Quinton Baker and Marquez Trigg) poised to replace Wales. The non-conference slate includes games at Illinois and at Vanderbilt. Remember, this team went 11-3 last year, won the C-USA title game by two TDs over La. Tech, won eight games by 14 points or more, won nine games by at least 20 points and thumped Memphis 51-31 at the Boca Raton Bowl. The losses came at Alabama (38-10), vs. Vanderbilt (31-30 in overtime) and at La. Tech (55-52).

6) Memphis: Memphis will have one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, returning nine starters from a unit that averaged 38.8 points per game. Senior QB Riley Ferguson threw for 3,698 yards with a 32/10 TD-INT ratio last season. He has most of his WRs back, including his favorite target Anthony Miller, who had 95 receptions for 1,434 yards and 14 TDs in ’16. The top four rushers are also back in the mix. Six starters, including three of the top four tacklers, return on the defensive side. The Tigers went 8-5 last year, losing on the road to a pair of ranked teams (Ole Miss and Navy). They beat 18th-ranked Houston as 6.5-point home underdogs.

7) San Diego State: Rocky Long’s program has won 11 games in back-to-back campaigns. The Aztecs won the MWC Championship Game at Wyoming last season. They also dusted Houston by a 34-10 count at the Las Vegas Bowl. San Diego State returns five starters on offense and six on a defense that should be the best in the MWC. Although the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher (Donnell Pumphrey) has departed, SDS will be fine at RB with the return of Rashaad Penny, who ran for 1,018 yards and 11 TDs while averaging 7.5 YPC in ’16. RB Juwan Washington (8.0 YPC) is also back after rushing for six TDs last year. QB Christian Chapman (20/6 TD-INT) has his top two throwing targets returning and the Aztecs added depth at QB with Chris Laviano, a grad transfer from Rutgers. The non-conference schedule includes a Week 2 trip to Arizona State and a Week 3 home game vs. Stanford. Boise State has to come to Qualcomm Stadium, while Colorado State is absent from the schedule.

Best of the Rest Group of Five Teams: Troy, Western Michigan, Toledo and Navy.

Next Tier: Colorado State, Tulsa, Miami (OH.), La. Tech, Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State.

Best of the Rest Group of Five Players: Troy QB Brandon Silvers, Hawaii LB Jahlani Tavai, Toledo QB Logan Woodside, Wyoming QB Josh Allen, SMU WR Courtland Sutton, Western Michigan RB Jarvion Franklin, Central Michigan CB Amari Coleman, Middle Tennessee QB Brent Stockstill, Idaho QB Matt Linehan, La. Tech DE Jaylon Ferguson, UTEP OG Will Hernandez, Middle Tennessee WR Richie James, Toledo WR Cody Thompson, Western Michigan OT Chukwuma Okorafor, Wyoming FS Andrew Wingard, UConn FS Jamar Summers, Colorado State WR Michael Gallup, UNLV WR Devonte Boyd and Miami (OH.) QB Gus Ragland.
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2017 Independents Preview
July 9, 2017


2017 INDEPENDENTS PREVIEW

Fearsome Foursome

Roll call among FBS Independent college football teams has quietly inched up to four teams currently competing among the ranks of Independents.

While the look and feel of this autonomous affiliation might appear small in size, its impact is substantial on the outcome in the chase the College Football Playoffs. Just ask the foes that will be taking on a super focused group of Fighting Irish, or the chancy Cougars from BYU this campaign.

Pushing The Needle

According to our well-oiled machine, since 2000 Independent teams that score 16 or fewer points in a contest are just 15-152 SU and 33-130-4 ATS in lined games – including 5-28 ATS as favorites.

On the flip side, they are 205-52 SU and 172-81-4 ATS in games in which they put more than 28 points in the scoreboard – including 68-21-2 ATS as dogs of 8 or more points.

Proceed accordingly.

Big Ugly Bowl Dogs


Each year one or two Independent teams find themselves earning bowl bids. And when they do they become attractive plays when taking more than 7 points during the post season.

That’s confirmed by the fact that Independent bowl dogs of 7.5 or more points are 13-6 ATS in these games since 1980, including 12-3 ATS when facing a foe that allows more than 12.5 PPG on the season.

Note: The numbers following each team name represents the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, along with the number of returning linemen, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback.

ARMY (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/2, 66 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: TODAY’S ARMY

Something was in the air last year when the Cadets opened the season with three consecutive wins, including a pair on the road. This from a program that was a deplorable 1-24 SU and 4-20 ATS in its previous 25 true road games. The cherry on the cake came when Army ended a 14-year losing drought to Navy, and then went on to win its first bowl game since 2010 (the Cadets' last winning season). While QB Ahmad Bradshaw returns to run the offense, and 11 of the top 14 tacklers return to a unit that ranked No. 2 in first downs defense last season, our concern is that anything less than another bowl will considered a setback. Then again, only once in its history has Amy defeated Navy and won a bowl game the same year. They went 9-3 the following season. Unfortunately, our ‘Stat You Will Like’ below says otherwise...

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: In the three seasons following a victory over Navy, the Black Knights have gone 1-11, 3-8, and 4-7 the next year.

PLAY ON: vs. Buffalo (9/9) - *KEY

BYU (Offense – 6/4, Defense – 6/3, 59 Lettermen)


TEAM THEME: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

One of only 10 programs to earn a bowl invitation every season since 2005, the Cougars will face 13 foes in 2017, but only four that owned a winning record last season. Three of them, though, finished in the nation’s Top 25. Gone this year are two of the most dynamic offensive players in school history – all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams and dual-threat QB Taysom Hill, both of whom accounted for over 6,700 career rushing yards. The good news is JR QB Tanner Mangum will step back into his familiar starting role (13 starts last two years). Meanwhile, rookie head coach Kalani Sitake won nine games, including a bowl, last season. He fits like a glove.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars were the 2nd best team in turnovers gained (31), and the #3 team in red zone offense in 2016.

PLAY AGAINST: at Mississippi State (10/14)

NOTRE DAME (Offense – 8/4, Defense – 7/2, 39 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON HERE?

Rest assured, losing seven players to the 2016 NFL Draft – all in the first 4 rounds – took a toll on the Irish last season. Seven of eight losses came by just 8 points or less, and as improbable as it seems, the Fighting Irish are now a sister-kissing 15-15 SU in their last 30 games thanks to their 2nd worst season in 50 years in 2016. It was only the second time since 1963 the Irish finished with fewer than five victories. Brian Kelly even suffered his first loss with a Top 10 team against a non-ranked foe last season (Texas in the season opener). And it doesn’t get any easier as Kelly’s troops will face a murderer’s row schedule, taking on 11 bowl teams from 2016. All of which means Touchdown Jesus will likely need to bless new starting QB Brandon Wimbush… pronto.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The last six times the Irish failed to deliver a winning season, they went bowling the next year all six times.

PLAY ON: vs. Navy (11/18)

UMASS (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 9/2, 51 Lettermen)

TEAM THEME: HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?

After being tossed about in the turbulent FCS, then discovering significantly calmer FBS waters in 2012 as a member of the Mid-American Conference, the Minutemen were feeling giddy. A 10-40 record and two head coaches later, UMass is suddenly swimming in murky waters, terribly close to being an extinct FBS program. Along the way they managed to lose to Miami Ohio, a team that was on a 21-game losing streak. Gone are three senior offensive linemen, but that may be a good thing considering they allowed 45 sacks and were one of only five FBS teams that rushed for less than 100 YPG last season. Like Chubby Checker wanted to know… how low can you go?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Minutemen are 1-12 SU in one-possession games under head coach Mark Whipple.

PASS
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College football notebook: LSU puts trust in Canada
July 10, 2017


LSU needs more offense. Tigers coach Ed Orgeron will trust Canada.

In an SEC chock-full of coordinator storylines -- there were 10 coordinator changes among the 28 such jobs in the league -- there might not be one more critical than the hiring of Matt Canada to run the LSU attack.

The Tigers lost four games last season. They failed to score more than 14 points in each of those defeats.

"Matt runs a very diverse offense -- a lot of shifts, motions, use of personnel, fly sweeps. He makes it difficult to defend," Orgeron said Monday on the first day of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

"The thing that I like the best about Matt is he talked about being a team player and he talked about being a balanced offense -- 50 percent run, 50 percent pass. I think he's going to do an outstanding job. I have to give credit to Matt to come in during the spring and install his offense with a brand new offensive staff, guys he had never met before. They jelled well."

--LSU junior Arden Key, who is rated as the top defensive end prospect by NFLDraftScout.com, won't be ready for the start of fall camp, Orgeron said.

Key is recovering from a shoulder injury, Orgeron said. Key missed spring practice because of undisclosed personal reasons.

"We respect that. He came back, had some work done on his shoulder," Orgeron said. "We don't know when he's going to be back, but we expect him to be back and have a great season. He's in tremendous shape right now."

Key, who is listed at 6-foot-5, is up to about 255 to 260 pounds, Orgeron said.

--Arkansas senior Frank Ragnow, arguably the top center in the country, might pull double duty this season. Ragnow could see action on the defensive line, Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said.

"Coach B and I have talked about it in certain situations, and I'm all about it," said the 6-foot-4, 319-pound Ragnow, rated the 95th-best overall draft prospect, according to NFLDraftScout.com.

"That would be cool. I played defense in high school and I loved it. It would be fun to get a different side of the ball and get after the QB."

Ragnow, who has started 26 consecutive games, is a first-team preseason All-American by Lindy's. NFLDraftScout.com rates Ragnow as the No. 3 center prospect behind Michigan's Mason Cole and UCLA's Scott Quessenberry.
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SEC East, division champ Gators take stage at media days
July 11, 2017


HOOVER, Ala. (AP) The Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division will take center stage on Tuesday at the league's annual media gathering.

Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are the four teams making the trek to SEC media days. The Gators are led by coach Jim McElwain, who has pushed the program to two Eastern Division titles in his first two seasons.

Florida appears to have a decent shot to make it three straight. The Gators return nine offensive starters, including Jordan Scarlett, who ran for 907 yards and six touchdowns last season.

Georgia enters its second season under coach Kirby Smart. The Bulldogs had an 8-5 record last year and hope to be better this fall thanks to 18 returning starters, including 10 on the defensive side. Georgia also has two stellar running backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Chubb ran for 1,130 yards and eight touchdowns last season while Michel added 840 yards and four touchdowns.

Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason has some momentum after leading the program to the Independence Bowl in 2016. The Commodores won back-to-back games over Ole Miss and Tennessee to close the regular season and become bowl eligible.

Mississippi State is the only team from the Western Division in Hoover on Tuesday. Coach Dan Mullen enters his ninth season with the program and has led the Bulldogs to seven consecutive bowl games.

*************************

New dad Bielema focuses on making Arkansas better
July 10, 2017


HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has a lot going on in his life these days.

Barely 48 hours after becoming a new father, Bielema was on the podium Monday at Southeastern Conference media days, waxing on fatherhood, embarrassing pocket dials and - of course - the upcoming football season for the Razorbacks.

Bielema, the fifth-year Arkansas coach, has quickly become one of the most quotable coaches in the league. He's spent much of the past few days responding to well-wishers who congratulated him on the birth of his daughter.

Bielema said shortly after his daughter was born, he was walking out of restaurant after getting some food for his wife Jen.

He looked at his cellphone and was surprised to see SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey's name.

Bielema thought it was great the commissioner had called him: ''This is pretty cool, the commissioner is Face Timing me, that's pretty unique!''

Sankey's response: ''Why are you calling me?''

Bielema: ''Oh, I'm sorry. I must have butt-dialed you.''

The Arkansas coach has a few more weeks to enjoy being a dad before his schedule gets a little busier. The Razorbacks are trying to improve on a 7-6 record in 2016, which was especially disappointing considering they started the season with a 5-2 record.

Arkansas returns senior quarterback Austin Allen, who threw for 3,430 yards, 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season.

The Razorbacks are especially focused on playing better in the second half. Arkansas blew big second-half leads in losses against Missouri and Virginia Tech at the end of the season.

''They've owned and embraced what we didn't do well at the end of the year,'' Bielema said. ''Focused on what we can do well. We're going to focus on winning games in the second half, not losing them, putting our best personnel on the field, no matter how that comes about, and then really trying to play and understand what it means to be at Arkansas and have that come through.''

************************

Gregarious Ed Orgeron relishes second SEC chance at LSU
July 10, 2017


HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Ed Orgeron is still an imposing figure at a podium even at 56 years old.

With his barrel chest and booming, gravelly voice, LSU's new football coach was the star attraction on Monday at Southeastern Conference media days. With his gregarious personality, Orgeron talked about the challenge of pushing the Tigers to the top of the league's loaded Western Division.

Ten years ago, it was hard to imagine he would be center stage on this platform.

It's been nearly a decade since Orgeron was fired from Ole Miss following three mostly dismal seasons as head coach. But the man called `Coach O' has slowly clawed his way back up the coaching ladder and is one of just a handful to get a second chance on the sidelines in the SEC.

Orgeron was reflective, saying he did some soul-searching following his days at Ole Miss. He called his mentors and together they tried to identify the things that led to his trouble with the Rebels. They came up with two things that had to change.

''I was going to treat the team exactly like I treat my sons - no different,'' Orgeron said. ''And then I was going to treat every coach on the coaching staff with respect and let him coach his position.''

Armed with his new philosophy, Orgeron is trying to make the most of his do-over.

It's not the first time a coach has made the rare jump from one SEC program to another.

Steve Spurrier (Florida/South Carolina) and Nick Saban (LSU/Alabama) both took their second SEC job after rough stints in the NFL. Others like Will Muschamp (Florida/South Carolina) and Houston Nutt (Arkansas/Ole Miss) had at least some success at their first school before being pushed out and grabbing another SEC job.

Orgeron's resurrection might be the most unlikely of them all.

Coach O's three-year stint at Ole Miss from 2005 to `07 was a total disaster. He finished with a 10-25 overall record, including a 3-21 mark in the SEC. After he was fired he went back to being a defensive assistant, slowly rehabbing his reputation as a defensive line expert and stellar recruiter during stops at Tennessee, USC and finally LSU.

LSU has been a natural fit for the Larose, Louisiana, native and his personality was popular immediately. When Les Miles was fired midway through last season, Orgeron was named the interim coach and guided the Tigers to a 5-2 record over the final two months of the regular season.

Two days after the regular season, LSU announced he had earned the full-time job .

''I feel like he never is tired,'' LSU running back Derrius Guice said. ''He's the same 24-7. He probably sleeps screaming. He's the same all day. There's never a day when he's having a bad day.''

He's the first Louisiana native to lead LSU since Jerry Stovall in the early 1980s. Now he's hoping to push the program back to the top of the Western Division that's been dominated by Alabama for the past several seasons.

''I understand that the head coach at LSU must beat Alabama,'' Orgeron said. ''And I think the way to beat Alabama is to recruit at their level.''

LSU might have greater resources for success than Ole Miss, but those advantages bring expectations. The Tigers will be expected to win early and often during Orgeron's tenure.

There's certainly reason to believe that could happen. Eight starters return on the offense, including quarterback Danny Etling, Guice and four offensive linemen. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Guice ran for 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns last year.

Five starters return on defense, including linebacker Arden Key, who made 56 tackles last season, including 14.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks.

LSU has a difficult schedule this season, including five of eight SEC games on the road. The imbalanced schedule happened because the Tigers had five home games last year because Florida played at LSU after their originally scheduled game in Gainesville, Florida, was postponed because of Hurricane Matthew.
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