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Old 07-13-2017, 10:19 AM
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ACC Atlantic Preview
July 11, 2017

It’s hard to look at Florida State (2016 SUR 10-3; PSR 8-5; O/U 6-5-1) and not notice the Seminoles’ schedule for 2017. Games vs. Alabama, Clemson, and Florida, all away from Tallahassee, provide quite a gauntlet to run. The opener vs. the Crimson Tide, the college christening of the spectacular new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, across the street from the old Georgia Dome in Atlanta, might be the best opening-weekend match we can recall. Add in Miami and Louisville, and the schedule begins to look like some of those that Bobby Bowden used to put together early in his tenure with the Noles (then in their independent days) to get national notice, in particular a five-game stretch in 1981 at Nebraska, followed by an “Octoberfest” at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Pitt with Dan Marino, and LSU. Whew!

Bowden’s FSU lived to tell about such adventures and we suspect Jimbo Fisher will be able to do the same this fall. Whether the Noles can emerge relatively unscathed and stay in the national title hunt into November likely depends upon RS soph QB Deondre Francois taking the next steps after passing for 3350 yards and 20 TDs in his debut season.

Impressive as those stats look in retrospect, however, they were a bit of a letdown after Francois debuted like gangbusters in the opener at Orlando vs. Ole Miss, throwing for 419 yards and a couple of TDs and running for another 59 yards in a wild 45-34 comeback win on Labor Day night. At that moment, Francois appeared to be the early Heisman frontrunner, ready to provide the Noles with their second winner of the award in three years after Jameis Winston won it in his RS frosh campaign of 2013. But Francois never got close to 400 yards passing in another game last season, and by the middle of September had become a Heisman afterthought following a 63-20 loss vs. Louisville and QB Lamar Jackson, who effectively sewed up the Heisman then and there. And only against one FBS defense (Boston College) did Francois throw 3 TDs all season. The natural comparisons to Winston, which were running rampant over the Ole Miss win, quieted considerably as the season progressed.

Still, Francois is regarded as a livewire, and Fisher, a noted QB tutor, continues to work with Francois to process reads quicker and get the ball out of his hands earlier. And when Jimbo talks to his QBs, they listen...after all, Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel, and Winston are past Fisher students who went on to become NFL first-round picks.

Though only five starters return on offense, ACC sources insist that star potential is everywhere. As usual, there is speed galore, especially on the edges, where jr. WR Nyqwan Murray looks on the verge of a breakout after scoring twice against Michigan in a thrilling Orange Bowl win. Ballyhooed frosh RB Cam Akers enrolled early and was the star of the spring game. Punishing 231-lb. RB Jacques Patrick has gained better than 5 ypc in his career and has been awaiting his chance behind Dalvin Cook, who gained 1765 YR in 2016 but left a year early for the NFL and was drafted by the Vikings.

There are some questions on a rebuilt OL that allowed 36 sacks a season ago, though better pocket awareness by Francois should alleviate some of that concern. A rising star could be LT Josh Bell, but LT Roderick Johnson left early for the NFL and was drafted by the Browns, and G Wilson Bell transferred to Auburn. Fisher could have used both this season. Meanwhile, PK Ricky Aguayo tried not be distracted by brother Roberto’s kicking troubles as a rookie with the NFL Bucs and hit all 12 of his FG tries inside of 40 yards, but was only 7 of 14 from beyond.

Whatever questions on the offensive side are negated by what might be a top five defense that returns nine starters. That doesn’t include star FS Darwin Jones, who went down with a knee injury in Week 2 vs. Charleston Southern and didn’t return. But like they used to say long ago with the Winston cigarette commercials on TV, it’s what’s up front that counts. And the Noles might have one of the nation’s most-robust DLs and certainly one of its deepest rotations. FSU’s 51 sacks ranked second nationally a year ago, and while there is a void left by graduated DE DeMarcus Walker (Broncos’ 2nd-round pick) and his 16 sacks, this year’s bookend DEs Josh Sweat and Brian Burns combined for 16.5 sacks of their own last season when Walker usually just beat them to the opposing QBs. Jimbo and d.c Charles Kelly also believe the Noles go three deep at all four spots along the line and can wear out the opposition. Meanwhile, all starters return at the LB spots.

The Noles play with five DBs in their base formation, and the return of the aforementioned FS Darwin James from injury adds a playmaker deluxe to the mix. At CB, jr. Tavarus McFadden developed into an A-A last season with eight picks.

As mentioned, the schedule is daunting to say the least, and the Noles won’t necessarily be out of the Final Four picture if they lose the opener to Bama. But FSU probably becomes number one and the team to beat in the nation if it can beat the Tide, as Jimbo matches wits with former mentor Nick Saban. Another circled game on the calendar will be the October 21 revenge battle vs. Louisville, this year played in Tallahassee. Tough schedules, however, have always been part of the fabric of the Seminoles, and they have often been up to the challenge.

Spread-wise, the Noles have been mostly overpriced since the national title team of 2013 covered almost every number, no matter how high the oddsmakers priced the games. But Jimbo has recorded 8-5 spread marks each of the past two seasons and has covered 9 of the past 12 at Doak Campbell Stadium, often carrying some hefty numbers in the process.

How do you replace the irreplaceable? We’ll find out this fall at Clemson (2016 SUR 14-1; PSR 7-7; O/U 8-6), which attempts an encore after a couple of glorious seasons that resulted in a pair of title game classics vs. Alabama and a last-second win over the Crimson Tide last January in Tampa. All engineered by QB Deshaun Watson, who did everything humanly possible for the Tigers except win a Heisman Trophy, which he probably would have won, too, had the vote been held after the pulsating win over Bama that gave Clemson its first national title since the Danny Ford team of 1981.

That 35-31 success vs. the Tide was merely the latest in a series of big-game wins by HC Dabo Swnney, who started recording some of those well before Watson set foot on campus in 2014. “Big Game Dabo” has now beaten LSU, Oklahoma (twice), Ohio State (twice), and Bama in bowl/playoff games the past five seasons. Not to mention winning the last three ACC title games in which the Tigers have participated. Those who wonder if Clemson will suddenly stop winning because of Watson’s departure have not been paying attention to what Swinney has built in “Death Valley.”

No matter, it is fair to ask if the Tigers can continue to play at a championship level post-Watson, especially since Deshaun made the difference in almost every close Clemson win over the past two seasons. Watson, however, will be taking snaps for the Houston Texans this fall, and he wasn’t the only key Tiger to move into the NFL after last season, with record-setting WR Mike Williams a first-round pick of the Chargers, 1000-yard rusher Wayne Gallman taken by the Giants, and key TE Jordan Leggett tabbed by the Jets.

That’s a lot of firepower to replace, though filling the gap created by Watson’s departure is something different entirely. Especially considering that he passed for more than 4000 yards each of the past two seasons and tossed a total of 76 TD passes, while rushing for 1734 yards and accounting for another 21 TDs on the ground.

Junior Kelly Bryant isn’t expected to be the next Watson, but Swinney moved quickly to position him as the likely heir apparent early in the post-Deshaun process. That is unless true frosh QB Hunter Johnson, who enrolled early and impressed in spring, proves too good to redshirt or keep on the bench this fall. Eventually, Johnson might win the job, though for the time being Bryant is expected to get the snaps in the opener vs. Kent State and thereafter in 2017. Both Bryant and Johnson are mobile passers in the Watson mold, but we’ll have to see about their intangibles. The fact both can run is important, as QBs on the move is part of the design of the Clemson attack as directed by co o.c.’s Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott.

To replace Gallman, Clemson likely uses a RB-by-committee approach at the outset until one runner emerges; at the start, it’s likely sturdy jr. C.J. Fuller, though soph Tavien Feaster ran with considerable flair in spot duty as a frosh when gaining a healthy 6 ypc. Meanwhile, junior wideouts Ray-Ray McCloud (49 catches LY) and Deon Cain (another 38 receptions in 2016) have been patiently awaiting their chances to become featured post-Williams targets and could provide dangerous downfield options for Bryant, Johnson, or whomever is throwing passes. Former walk-on Hunter Renfrow is also back after catching 44 LY including the last-second game-winner vs. Bama.

Fortunately, a veteran OL that returns four starters looks like the cornerstone of the platoon, led by All-ACC LT Mitch Hyatt and All-ACC RG Tyrone Crowder. Swinney is also well set at PK with jr. Greg Heugel one of the ACC’s most reliable after hitting 14 of 19 FG tries last season.

A bit unsung in the recent success has been the stellar work of Brent Venables’ defense, which has ranked among the nation’s leaders the past three seasons despite annually losing an assembly-line of talent to the NFL. The Tigers were a top ten scoring and total “D” stop unit a year ago and could do the same this season, anchored by seven returning starters and a nasty defensive line as the foundation.

It will be tough to move the middle of the Clemson “D” with tackles jr. Christian Williams and soph Dexter Lawrence, the latter looking ready for the NFL as a frosh last season. Meanwhile, soph Clelin Ferrell looks to be the Tigers’ next great DE after chasing Alabama QB Jalen Hurts all night in the title game last January.

What might be hard to replace is the emotional leadership of voacl LB Ben Boulware, spending this summer in the training camp of the Carolina Panthers, but jr. Kendall Joseph, off of a 124-tackle season, looks a capable replacement in the middle. The secondary has leadership at the corners with srs. Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond, though soph Trayvon Mullen moved ahead of Edmond on the post-spring depth chart.

We’ll get an idea early on if Clemson is up for another title run, as by mid-September the Tigers will have already hosted Auburn and traveled to Louisville, games that Swinney might wish were a bit later in the schedule, given all of the personnel changes on offense. A tough trip to Virginia Tech also awaits at the end of the month. If Clemson remains unscathed, it will likely be full steam ahead to a showdown vs. Florida State on November 11, this time at Death Valley. No surprise if major playoff implications rest on that outcome.

Spread-wise, what immediately jumps out from recent years is Dabo’s aforementioned success in the postseason; Clemson is 7-0 vs. the line in bowl/playoff games since 2012. Dabo is also 7-1 in rare underdog roles over the past three seasons. But the Tigers have not routinely handled the biggest of spreads, only 3-8 their last 11 laying 20 or more.

We haven’t had a repeat Heisman Trophy winner in 42 years; indeed, when Ohio State’s Archie Griffin turned the trick in 1974 & ‘75, he was the only player ever to do so. But we get another chance this season with Louisville (2016 SUR 9-4; PSR 6-7; O/U 8-4-1) jr. QB Lamar Jackson, who might have sewn up the Heisman earlier than any winner in recent memory after the Cards dismembered Florida State, 63-20, last September 17. Jackson’s four rush TDs and 363 yards of total offense vs. the Noles left a nation breathless. By the end of September, Jackson was the toast of college football and the ‘Ville had scored a staggering 59 points or more in each of its four opening wins. Thereafter, Jackson was in control of the Heisman race, though a win akin to Seretariat’s romp in the 1973 Belmont never quite materialized as Jackson endured a rough November, his stats declining noticeably as he completed barely 50% of his passes in those games, which narrowed his eventual win margin over Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.

It’s also a good thing for Jackson that the Heisman vote came before the bowls, and prior to the Cards’ one-sided Citrus Bowl loss to Ed Orgeron’s LSU, when Jackson completed an un-Heisman-like 10 of 27 throws and was held to 1.3 ypc on 26 rush attempts. Meanwhile, all Watson did was steer Clemson to the national title. Recent precedent suggests the odds are against a repeat; the last to try was FSU’s Jameis Winston in 2014, and he fell considerably short, finishing sixth, far behind winner Marcus Mariota.

When the dust settled last season, the long-legged speedster Jackson had passed for 3543 yards and 30 TDs and rushed for another 1571 yards and a whopping 21 TDs, but there was nonetheless a hollow feeling after the Cards lost their last three games, blasted by Houston and LSU (in the bowl) in games where Jackson was neutralized, sandwiched around a painful 41-38 loss at Papa John’s Stadium vs. in-state Kentucky, the ‘Ville’s first loss to the Cats since 2010. In that game, Jackson tossed three picks and coughed up a fumble that UK would convert into a game-winning FG in the final seconds. The Cards had risen as high as fifth in the College Football Playoff poll before the Houston loss and still had realistic hopes of making the Final Four. Instead, three losses in a row would ensue, taking much of the luster off of what had once looked like a brilliant campaign for HC Bobby Petrino.

It wasn’t that the Cards lost those last three games, it’s how they did so, in a hail of sloppy mistakes, turnovers, and missed tackles, not to mention Jackson’s reduced effectiveness. After the season, Petrino and d.c. Todd Grantham parted ways in what turned out to be a coordinator swap with Mississippi State, which ended up with Grantham while last year’s Bulldog d.c., Peter Sirmon, has moved to the ‘Ville. More on the “D” in a moment.

In the meantime, Jackson begins the defense of his Heisman without his top three receiving targets from last season, though there is hope that former QB Reggie Bonnafon might emerge as a dangerous downfield target after further adjusting to his new position and catching 13 passes a year ago. There is still some experience in the wideout ranks, with jr. Jaylen Smith gaining better than 22 yards per catch on his 27 receptions last season, and soph Seth Dawkins was one of the breakout performers of spring.

Though Jackson is a unique running threat, it will be up to bruising jr. RB Jeremy Smith (282 YR LY) to handle the traditional carries after the graduation of Brandon Radcliff (903 YR LY).

Petrino was also so concerned about his OL that allowed a staggering 47 sacks (more staggering considering how well QB Jackson usually escapes tackles) that he made another staff switch, hiring former Florida asst. Mike Summers to oversee an OL that returns only two starters.

Oh, yes, about the defense with new coordinator Sirmon, who has spent only one season as a d.c. in his career and will be assisted by secondary coach Lorenzo Ward, who first worked with Petrino at Arkansas. Seven starters return, but the platoon has lost a lot of front-line talent to the NFL in recent years. The next draftee might be sr. OLB James Hearnes (8 sacks LY) or sr. DE Drew Bailey. Hearnes, however, missed the bowl game vs. LSU along with LB Henry Famurewa after suffering gunshot wounds at an off-campus party. The Louisville season really did end about a month too late last year.

The strength of the stop unit should be in the secondary, where all four starters return, though the Cards did allow an ACC-high 29 TD passes a year ago. That can partly be attributed to the big leads the Cards piled up in many games and foes throwing incessantly in order to play catch-up. The best of the bunch is probably jr. CB Jaire Alexander, with five picks last season.

As a year ago, the ‘Ville is going to get tested in September, this time at North Carolina and then home to defending national champ Clemson. If the Cards exit unscathed, the stage could be set for a big year and another Heisman run by Jackson. A mid-October date at revenge-minded Florida State looks like the only game beyond September when the Cards might be an underdog. The Louisville from the first half of last season might be able to deal with these obstacles; the post-October version, however, probably not. We’ll see if Petrino regains control of a team which faded badly as the last campaign concluded.

Spread-wise, the tale of two seasons at the ‘Ville in 2016 can also be summed up by the spread performance, which declined sharply after those four ultra-impressive wins and covers out of the chute. Thereafter, the Cards were just 2-7 vs. the line. Not surprisingly, the ‘Ville is “over” 12-5-1 its last 18 dating to mid 2015. The Cards also have covers in their last five openers, back to the Charlie Strong years, but will be laying a mountain of points to Purdue and its new HC, former Petrino disciple Jeff Brohm, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on September 2.

We’re usually on top of coaching hot seat news, but were a bit surprised when our ACC sources let us know, after the fact, that NC State (2016 SUR 7-6; PSR 9-4; O/U 6-7) AD Debbie Yow might have pulled the plug on HC Dave Doeren had the Wolfpack not won its regular-season finale vs. Tobacco Road rival North Carolina last November. A win was far from assured vs. the Tar Heels; NCS was a 10-point underdog. But the Wolfpack was up to the task in Chapel Hill and pulled a 28-21 upset, climbing to 6-6 and bowl eligibility. Missing out on the postseason would have given Yow and NCS administrators a better excuse to hit the eject button on their coach, who proceeded to temporarily solidify his position a bit more in a 41-17 Independence Bowl romp past Vanderbilt.

Anyone who doubted Yow had an itchy trigger finger need only to recall what happened last March, when long-serving hoops HC Mark Gottfried walked the plank. Yow, who has an announced retirement date of 2019, would like her legacy set in Raleigh for at least a few years beyond her bon voyage, and whether Doeren is part of that legacy remains to be seen. Doeren can thus consider himself on notice again this fall, and another 6-6 regular-season mark might not be enough. Even though the Wolfpack isn’t expecting to compete for a national title every year, it would like to fare better than the 25-26 SU mark Doeren has recorded since hired away from Northern Illinois after the 2012 season.

Doeren, however, might have a chance to take off some of the pressure this season with a squad that returns 16 starters from a year ago, with several honors candidates on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The schedule, while challenging, provides an opportunity for Doeren to secure his footing a bit more...or slip off of the ledge entirely.

Eight starters are back on offense led by former Boise State transfer QB Ryan Finley, who proved a godsend last season following the graduation of the previous Wolfpack transfer QB, Jacoby Brissett (via Florida), who ended up starting a couple of games for the Super Bowl champion Patriots a year ago. Finley had familiarity with first-year o.c. Eliah Drinkwitz from days together at Boise, though Finley was a bit cautious with his downfield throws for much of the season. Finely did, however, save one of his best efforts for the bowl win over Vandy, firing a sesson-best 3 TDP. If he stays healthy this fall, he ought to improve upon the 3059 YP and 18 TDP he recorded in 2016.

Experienced weaponry is at his disposal, including the unique threat of slotback Jaylen Samuels, the leading returning receiver after catching 55 passes a year ago for 7 TDs as well as carrying the ball 33 times on a variety of reverses and jet sweeps. Samuels has scored 29 TDs via pass and run the past two years, or one score every 7.2 time she touches the ball.

Samuels might be in the backfield more this fall as Doeren looks to replace graduated 1000-yard rusher Matt Dayes, a draft pick of the Cleveland Browns. Drinkwitz believes a pair of juniors who have been patiently waiting for their shots, Reggie Gallaspy and Nyheim Hines, could effectively fill Dayes’ shoes by committee. Finley’s top four receiving targets are also back from last season, including Samuels and deep threat Stephen Louis, who gained almost 20 yards per catch on his 35 receptions. The vet OL returns four starters, including sr. RG Tony Adams, a three-year starter and potential honors candidate.

Like offensive counterpart Drinkwitz, Pack d.c. Dave Huxtable also returns eight starters in his 4-2-5 alignment, including the entirety of a robust defensive front that ranked eighth nationally in rush defense and allowed only 3.3 ypc. The DL might be one of the best in the ACC, if not the country, with four senior starters in the fold including All-ACC DE Bradley Chubb, who racked up 21.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks last fall. Because of the strength of the interior of the line, foes usually can’t double-up on Chubb, a projected first-round NFL pick who dominates most man-to-man situations. The LBs are all seniors as well, with Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore having essentially started together since their frosh years.

If there is a concern on the stop end, it’s in the secondary, where three starters need to be replaced, and filling the shoes of S Josh Jones, who led the team with 109 tackles a year ago before being taken in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, might be a chore. Projected starters soph CB Nick McCloud and jr. nickel back Freddie Phillips have played little in the past and must grow up quickly.

All of the games this season loom as pivotal ones for Doeren, especially the opener vs. South Carolina in Charlotte. A win there, and the Pack can expect to be 3-0 for the trip to Florida State on September 23. Keep in mind that NCS almost beat the Noles (a 24-20 nailbiter) and eventual national title winner Clemson (which survived an OT scare) a season ago, but also lost to a subpar East Carolina and Boston College. A bit more consistency, along with another win or two, will go a long way to helping Doeren’s job security. We know he’s working for an impatient and impulsive AD.

Spread-wise, Doeren has become a pretty good bully the past couple of years, with NCS 6-2 as chalk each of the last two seasons. The Pack is also 11-2 vs. the line its last 13 vs. non-ACC foes. Doeren also recovered to a 3-2 mark as a dog last season after dropping all five getting points in 2015.

Just about when the fan base at Wake Forest (2016 SUR 7-6; PSR 8-5; O/U 6-6-1) was wondering if HC Dave Clawson was ever going to forge a turnaround at Winston-Salem, the Deacs displayd a pulse for the first time in several years. On the grand scale, it wasn’t much, barely getting postseason eligible and qualifying for the Military Bowl. But once there, Wake, as an 11 1/2-point dog, did knock off a well-regarded Temple, and it all signaled real progress that was hard to identify in the first two years of the regime of Clawson, who in the past had experienced success in his head coaching stints at I-AA (Richmond) and the MAC (Bowling Green).

After all, Wake supporters don’t have to have an especially long memory to know of the good times. Remember, the Deacs actually won the ACC in 2006 and qualified for the BCS Orange Bowl under Clawson predecessor Jim Grobe, who took Wake to bowls four times in a six-season span between 2006-11. Though Clawson does not have to get to the Orange Bowl to keep the Wake fan base from beating the war drums, he needs the occasional bowl visit, which the Deacs recorded for the first time since 2011 a year ago, and a somewhat entertaining product (which Wake might not have been last season) to reach a rather low bar of keeping the supporters satisfied.

Unfortunately for the Deacs, a return to 2006 seems unlikely, with the old order in the ACC restored the past few years, augmented by brash newcomer Louisville, which happens to play in Wake’s divison. So Deac upside is probably limited in the short-term, though Clawson can keep the customers satisfied by winning just enough....which should be within reach again this fall.

Clawson got bowl-eligible by the first week of November last fall even without the luxury of his first-string QB for most of the campaign. Shortly after wresting the job from jr. John Wolford in early September, and winning at Duke, soph Kendall Hinton went down with a knee injury in Game Three vs. Delaware. More mobile than Wolford, Hinton is the favorite to win the job before the August 31 opener vs. the Presbyterian Blue Hose, but Clawson has uncommon depth at the QB spot with a pair of pilots who have starting experience. Now he has to worry about keeping Hinton and Wolford upright after both have also dealt with injuries the past two seasons (Wolford also missing portions of 2015); Wake has allowed at least 39 sacks in each of the last three seasons, and ranked a poor 113th in that category a year ago.

Not counting the QBs, eight other starters are back on offense for Clawson, including three rising juniors along the OL with a combined 62 career starts. “Those guys (T Justin Herron, G Paul Haynes, & C Ryan Anderson) are now legitimate ACC offensive linemen,” says Clawson, though the Deacs barely gained 3.5 ypc in 2016, and QBs Wolford and Hinton (when healthy early in the season) were often running for their lives. Wake did have three different 500-yard rushers last season for the first time since Cal Stoll’s 6-5 team in 1971, and top rushers Matt Colburn (626 YR LY) and Cade Carney (589 YR in 2016) both return. But Deac backs were stopped at or behind the line fo scrimmage on 21% of their carries last season, and less than 9% of their runs carried 10 yards or more. It is safe to wonder if the same collection of runners and blockers can improve much this season, though, perhaps, a livewire such as Hinton at QB could change the dynamics. We’ll see.

Unfortunately, the wideout corps failed to produce many explosive plays last season, either, as Wake scored only 9 TDs via the air, though every Deac who caught a pass in 2016 returns, including slotback Tabari Hines (team-best 38 receptions). Senior TE Cam Seigne battled injuries last season but did catch a combined 100 passes in 2014-15; keeping him healthy would be a plus. A couple of RS frosh, Arkeem Byrd and Greg Dortch, could provide the deep threats that Hinton needs.

With an offense ranking in triple digits nationally in almost every meaningful stat category, it might seem a surprise that Wake could win 7 games last fall, but credit has to go to a much-upgraded defense that finished a highly-respectable 23rd in scoring (22.2 ppg) and 40th overall, impressive considering the various big-time arsenals the Deacs faced last fall. That success, however, got d.c. Mike Elko noticed, and he was snatched up by Brian Kelly at Notre Dame in the offseason. Clawson, however, caught a break when former Minnesota d.c. Jay Sawvel was looking for work after the Gophers made a late coaching change to Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck. Now Sawvel is Wake’s d.c. after his Minnesota “D” ranked 21st in the nation a year ago.

Sawvel must replace four of the top six tacklers from a year ago, but does retain sr. DE Duke Ejiofor, whose 10.5 sacks last fall keyed a a Wake pass rush that ranked 11th nationally with 41 sacks. He also welcomes back sr. OLB Jaboree Williams from a very opportunistic platoon that forced 27 TOs, ranking 10th nationally. Depth is a bit of a issue in the secondary, but the arrival of grad transfer CB Cedric Jiles from Mississippi State, where he started eight games last fall, alleviates some of those concerns.

Clawson is also looking for improvements from his return units that ranked at the bottom of the ACC, prompting a change of his special teams coach. But nothing to worry about with sr. PK Mike Weaver, whose namesake was once Heavyweight Champion of the World; the PK Weaver made 21 of 27 FGs last season to earn All-ACC honors.

Wake started fast last season with four wins out of the chute and the schedule sets up favorably again in the first month, though the Deacs will have to avenge a close loss to Boston College if they want to be 4-0 again when entertaining Florida State on September 30. That begins a difficult middle-of-the-season stretch that also includes Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Notre Dame before the load lightens in November. It might take Wake a while longer to get bowl eligible this fall, but we suspect the Deacs get there, keeping the fan base satisfied and Clawson safe until further notice.

Spread-wise, what jumps out is Clawson’s recent success as a double-digit dog, a role in which Wake was 4-0 last season and now 13-4 its last 17 for Clawson. Refining that further, getting 19 points or more, the Deacs have covered 8 of their last 9. Wake has also covered 8 of its last 9 away from BB&T Field.

Not all 7-6 records and bowl successes are alike. Take Boston College (2016 SUR 7-6; PSR 7-6; O/U 5-8), which managed enough wins to qualify for the postseason in 2016 by beating the likes of UMass, Wagner, Buffalo, and a wretched UConn to reach the mandatory six wins for bowl eligibility, then gifted a suspect Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl, for which the Terps became eligible only because of their own win over a downtrodden Rutgers in their regular-season finale. BC then beat the Big Ten version of itself in Detroit to finish above .500, and anyone who recalls the days when the Big Ten and old Pac-8/10 would deny several high-quality non-champions to play in bowls, or legendary postseason subs like a 9-1, Top Ten LSU in 1969, simply had to shake their heads.

It was a narrow escape for HC Steve Addazio, who might not have been invited back for 2017 had the Eagles not beaten aforementioned UConn, and then a modest Wake Forest by a narrow 17-14 margin, in the last two games of the regular season to get to 6-6, plus drawing a weak bowl foe in Maryland. ACC sources suggest Addazio enters this fall very much in the gunsight of new AD Martin Jarmond, who can be expected to conduct a full review of the football program after this season. Never mind that Addazio has squeezed into minor bowls in three of his four campaigns at Chestnut Hill; with an offense that has arguably been the worst in the country over the past two seasons (BC ranking 125th and 127th, respectively, the last two years), Addazio is not scoring any style points, and has little room for error this fall.

Perhaps that 36-30 bowl win over Maryland offered some encouragement, however, when o.c. Scott Loeffler showed some uptempo looks and creativity, both about as scarce in recent years as Republicans members of Congress from the Bay State. Last year’s catalyst, however, has departed, as grad transfer QB Patrick Towles (via Kentucky) was merely a one-season stop-gap. As was Tyler Murphy (via Florida), the QB for Addazio’s preceding bowl entry in 2014.

Hoping to finally lend some stability to the QB position this fall will be RS frosh Anthony Brown, a dual-threat who looked better than Towles at times in practices last season and whose spring work suggested he will beat out jr. holdover Darius Wade (who has started a handful of games the past two seasons). Still, we’re not sure how dynamic the Eagles can be after scoring just 20 ppg (ranking 118th a year ago) and with plays being called by Loeffler, whose last real success as a coordinator came with Addazio at Temple back in 2011. Since then, Loeffler helped get Gene Chizik fired at Auburn and might have hastened the retirement of Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech with dull-edged play-calling. Let’s just say we’ll believe it when we see it regarding any BC offensive upgrades.

The Loeffler/Addazio offense still figures to be run-first, but the Eagles are a ways off from gaining better than 5 yards per pop as they did in the year Murphy was at QB in 2014; last season, BC gained just 3.4 ypc, which makes it hard to play ball control. When healthy, punishing RB Jon Hilliman has been relatively effective, but gained only 2.9 ypc in 2016. A couple of true frosh, AJ Dillon (who de-committed from Michigan to ink with BC) from nearby New London, CT, and Travis Levy from Olney, MD could take carries away from Hilliman. Four starters return along on OL that was subpar a year ago. A former QB, jr. Jeff Smith, has emerged as a potential downfield threat at WR after gaining nearly 15 yp catch in 2016. The top four pass-catchers return from a year ago, including Smith and fellow wideout Michael Walker, who caught 33 passes last term.

That BC has been able to win ten games over the past two seasons can be mostly attributed to a rock-ribbed defense that ranked first nationally in 2015 and maintained its top ten status a year ago. Addazio lost d.c Don Brown to Michigan after 2015, but vet Jim Reid, hired off of the staff of Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, retained much of the scheme and mixed-and-matched his personnel effectively.

As in recent years, BC finished among the nation’s leaders in rush defense (108 ypg was best in the ACC and 7th nationally), and the front seven should again be ornery, especially with sr. DE Harold Landry having skipped a chance to leave early for the NFL (where he might have been a first-round pick last April) after leading the nation with 16.5 sacks a year ago. Another sr., MLB Connor Strachan, was a terror both against the run and as a blitzer a year ago when he led BC in tackles.

Three starters are also back in the secondary, though the Eagles were a bit leakier than usual vs. the pass a year ago, often having trouble matching up with the top-level speed in the ACC. Seniors Isaac Yiadom and Kamrin Moore are back at the corners, but the best friend of the DBs will likely once again be one of the top pass rushes in the ACC.

Unfortunately for Addazio, the schedule does not look as if it will provide as many gimmes this season, especially in September, when the Eagles will have to face both Notre Dame and Clemson. Though BC’s rugged defense kept many of the lesser foes in check a year ago, the Eagles were outscored a combined 202-24 by Louisville, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Clemson, and they’re all on the slate again this season. Thus, with a new AD on the scene, Addazio is advised to find some offense in a hurry before his seat gets really, really warm by November.

Spread-wise, Addazio has lately not been able to parlay home edge into much of an advantage; the Eagles are 3-10 vs. the line at Alumni Stadium the past two seasons. BC is, however, 8-3-1 vs. the line away from Chestnut Hill the past two years. And, as might be expected with such a suspect offense and bruising defense, the Eagles are “under” 18-6 since 2015.

It was a bit hard to tell when football season ended and basketball season began last November for Syracuse (2016 SUR 4-8; PSR 5-7; O/U 5-7). Four times the Orange conceded 50 points or more, and the season concluded with a ridiculous 76-61 loss at Pitt...the most points ever allowed by a Syracuse team!.

At times, that sure didn’t look like football that the ’Cuse was playing last year under first-year HC Dino Babers, whose extreme, uptempo, hurry-up, spread often plays at a faster pace than Jim Boeheim’s hoopsters. To think this was the same school that mastered the art of overpowering the opposition in the ‘50s and ‘60s under revered HC Ben Schwartzwalder, when the then-called Orangemen would instead physically punish foes and incessantly slam the center of the line with fullbacks like Jim Brown, Jim Nance, or Larry Csonka, and disdained the forward pass more than CNN does Donald Trump. On five different occasions last season, Cuse QBs completed more passes than Schwartzwalder’s starting QBs Dave Sarette in 1960, and Wally Mahle in 1962 and ‘64, did in their entire seasons. In every Cuse game last season, the Orange completed more passes than QB Chuck Zimmerman did for the entirety of Jim Brown’s senior year in 1956 (Zimmerman completed 16 passes!).

The ghost of Schwartzwalder would also not be able to recognize the sort of defense played last term by the ‘Cuse, which was constantly overpowered at the point of attack and ranked among the nation’s worst in almost every relevant stat category, including scoring (38.6 ppg ranked 120th) and total defense (501 ypg ranked 122nd). This from the same Syracuse that allowed 193 yards rushing for an entire season in Schwartzwalder’s national title year of 1959!

While Babers was able to succeed at the FCS level at Eastern Illinois, and in the MAC at Bowling Green with the same sort of volleyball offense, it was only scoring 16 ppg in the ACC until that wild finale vs. Pitt. Note too that the Cuse’s average loss margin in league play last season was a whopping 28 ppg. All suggesting that this style of extreme video football is not going to work to any great effect in the ACC until Babers either substantially upgrades the Orange recruiting or makes some adjustments, particularly on the offensive end. But Boeheim is more likely to junk his zone defense than Babers is planning on doing things much differently on the attack end this fall.

In all, no team in the country is returning more than 19 starters as is the Cuse, but we’re not convinced an upgrade is imminent. Expect more pitch-and-catch with the strike force featuring jr. QB Eric Dungey, who is a prototypical spread pilot and passed for 2679 yards a season ago while battling through injuries and conceding significant snaps to backup Zack Mahoney, who was the one firing all of those missiles in the season-ending shootout at Pitt and passed for 943 yards of his own last fall.

Always from the spread, Dungey (or Mahoney) constantly look to exploit one-on-one situations on the edges, often with quick, short throws, many of those last season to sr. WR Ervin Phillips (90 catches last year from his inside slot but only for 822 yards, highlighting the dink nature of the offense). The deep threat provided last year by the graduated Amba Etta-Tawo (who gained better than 16 yards per catch on his 94 receptions) is likely to be assumed by sr. Steve Ishmael, who caught 48 passes in 2016. There is also a thought among some ACC insiders that the Cuse is also set up to run better than it did last season, almost always on draws or counters, and that RS frosh Markenzy Pierre might be the best back to enroll at Cuse in years, and could be doing a lot of downhill running in this offense. Five starters also return along the OL, and Babers might be willing to use a TE on occasion (as opposed to his normal four wideouts) with juco A-A TU Ravian Pierce one of this year’s top recruits.

The “D” is back almost en masse with ten returning starters, but we’re not sure that is a good thing after the platoon was ravaged a year ago. One of the problems was getting back on the field too quickly after so many quick-three-and-outs by the offense, so, in a sense, the offense could help the defense greatly by just maintaining a bit better ball possession (the Cuse ranked third from bottom in ACC time of possession last season).

The Orange, however, struggled so badly in pass coverage in 2016 that Babers and d.c. Brian Ward had to ditch man coverage entirely in their Tampa 2 scheme. Perhaps the return of sr. FS Antwan Cordy from a broken arm that kept him out of nearly every game a year ago will help. So might grad transfer CBs Devin Butler (via Notre Dame) and Jordan Martin (Toledo), plus juco safety Mykelti Williams.

The front seven has plenty of experience, though the status of jr. DT Steven Clark is up in the air due to a blood clotting issue discovered in the offseason. The all-senior LB corps featured the first 100-tackle pair at the school in over a decade last fall in MLB Zaire Franklin and weakside backer Paris Bennett. But this is basically the same platoon that also allowed over 5.4 ypc last season. Questions abound.

Fortunately for Babers, he has once again been gifted three straight games at the Carrier Dome to open the season. More fortunately, Louisville and South Florida (which combined to outscore the Orange 107-48) aren’t among them as last year. Since Central Connecticut. Middle Tennessee, and Central Michigan all appear beatable, it’s possible the Cuse be 3-0 heading into LSU on Sept. 23. That’s when the going could get bumpy, with ACC action following. A three-game stretch vs. Clemson, Miami, and Florida State at midseason might smash whatever is left of the Orange’s bowl hopes. But the occasional high-profile foes could certainly find the Babers style confounding, as was the case last season with Virginia Tech, which never could figure out what the Cuse was trying to do, losing outright as a 21-point favorite!

Spread-wise, Babers found the ACC a lot tougher than the MAC, where he recorded a 9-3-1 spread mark at Bowling Green in 2015; the Cuse was only 4-7 vs. the line against FBS opposition last season. The only game in which the Orange was favored in 2016 was the opener vs. FCS Colgate. Curiously, the Cuse was “under” 9-3 last season, partly because “totals” were adjusted sky-high following an early 62-28 loss to Louisville.
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ACC Coastal Preview
July 11, 2017

Following is ar preview of the ACC, beginning with a look at the Coastal half of the loop; the Atlantic Dision will be covered in our next update. As always, teams are listed in order of predicted finish, with 2016 straight-up, spread, and "Over/Under" results included.

Talk about finishing a year on a high note! Meet Virginia Tech (2016 SU 10-4; PSR 8-6; O/U 8-6), which appeared to be left for dead when spotting Arkansas a 24-0 halftime lead in the Belk Bowl last December 29. But in a second-half surge that reminded some of USC’s long-ago comeback in 1974 vs. Notre Dame, the Hokies proceeded to score 35 unanswered points in the second half to win going away in Charlotte. Now, that’s how to hit an offseason!

The apparent revival of the VPI program has thus coincided with last year’s hire of HC Justin Fuente, which came just in time in Blacksburg after the end of the Frank Beamer era was more drawn out than decline in health of Generalissimo Francisco Franco four decades earlier. Though Beamer’s marks in Hokie history, and college football, were safe long before VPI lost momentum in recent years, it was time for change when Beamer finally hung ‘em up after 29 seasons in charge following the 2015 campaign. Indeed, the Hokies hit some heretofore unthinkable heights at the peak of the Beamer era, but after recording double-digit wins in eight straight seasons, Beamer’s last four teams ended 7-6, 8-5, 7-6, and 7-6, barely keeping alive a bowl streak that reached 23 straight at the end of his tenure. Still, things had obviously gone stale, and no one bothered to talk Beamer out of retirement, which at least he entered in style in a wild Independence Bowl win over Tulsa.

Hired away from Memphis, where he resurrected a long-dormant Memphis program, Fuente, who first came to prominence as o.c. on Gary Patterson’s TCU staff, immediate proved the shot of adrenaline that the Hokies needed. Discarding the out-of-date Beamer offense, while keeping Beamer’s longtime d.c. Bud Foster, the Hokies would record their best record in five years and allayed the fears of many of the VPI faithful who didn’t know of a world in which Beamer was not their coach. Fuente, however, seems ready for a long and prosperous run in Blacksburg, now one of the better jobs in the country with a rabid regional fan base and easy access to fertile recruiting grounds such as the Tidewater area (spawning ground of Michael Vick and various other Hokie stars), which Beamer mined to great benefit over the course of his career.

Fuente quickly put his stamp on the program last year by implementing the sort of uptempo spread that had made QB Paxton Lynch a first-round NFL draft pick out of Memphis the previous year. The Fuente offense proved a perfect fit for livewire juco QB Jerod Evans, who put together a school record-setting season when passing for 3552 yards and 29 TDs while rushing for another 846 yards and 12 TDs. Unfortunately, Evans received some of the worst advice since Hillary Clinton on her presidential campaign when deciding to leave early for last April’s NFL Draft. Evans would go undrafted before signing a FA deal with the Eagles, leaving behind what would seem a crater to fill at QB in Blacksburg.

But, as Lee Corso might say, not so fast, my friend, as Fuente believes he has ample talent ready to step into the breach. There is palpable excitement in Blacksburg about true frosh Hendon Hooker, who enrolled early to participate in spring drills and wowed observers enough to believe he might get the start when the Hokies open the season at the Redskins’ FedEx Field on September 3 vs. West Virginia. Hooker has Evans’ dual-threat skill set and then some, but at 6'4 and a spindly 190 pounds, durability could be an issue. Which is why Fuente has yet to name a starter into fall camp, where RS frosh Josh Jackson, another livewire, will continue to compete for the job along with juco A.J. Bush, who started his career at Nebraska. We’ll take Fuente at his word that there is nothing to worry about at the QB position for VPI, while expecting Hooker to be the man sooner rather than later, though he’ll have to hit the ground running for the Hokies to come close to the 35 ppg they scored last season.

The QB Evans was not the only Hokie to leave early for the NFL, as key targets WR Isaiah Ford (drafted by the Dolphins) and TE Bucky Hodges (drafted by the Vikings), who combined for 127 catches and 14 TDs in 2016, also left a year early. Again, Fuente will be relying upon talented youngsters, such as soph Eric Kumah and RS frosh Phil Patterson and Kalil Pimpleton, emerging as complementary targets to supplement sr. Cam Phillips, who caught 76 passes as a junior and will likely leave VPI as the school’s all-time leading receiver.

Fuente would rather not one of his QBs lead the team in rushing again, however, and jr. Travon McMillian, whose yardage dropped from 1042 in 2015 to 671 last year because Evans kept the ball so often for himself, likely reassumes a featured role in the fall, though he will be pushed by several frisky runners. The right side of the OL is looking for a couple of new starters, but the left side looks rock solid with sr. G Wyatt Teller already on Mel Kiper, Jr.’s radar for next April’s NFL Draft.

Maybe Fuente’s best move when hired was deciding to keep d.c. Foster, Beaner’s longtime sidekick, in the same role. One of the nation’s most accomplished defensive strategists, Foster’s past defenses have thrived with the sort of experience at his disposal this fall. Seven starters return from a platoon that again ranked in the top 20% of all relevant defensive stats a year ago.

Foster is replacing three starters along his line, but his platoons have always had an abundance of speed and playmakers, and several past rotation pieces have always been itching at their chance to shine, such as jr. DT Ricky Walker, who moves into a starting role this fall. Soph Trevon Hill looks like another Foster playmaker and is a potential breakout candidate at DE. The LBs loom as the strength of the platoon, as all starters return, led by ILB Andrew Motopuaka (114 tackles LY, 5th in ACC), a favorite Hokie of retired Hawaii play-by-play man Jim Leahey, and hybrid Mook Reynolds, with superb pass cover abilities, on the outside.

Foster’s defense also intercepted 16 passes in 2016, second in the ACC, and returns three starters, with last year’s rover back Terrell Edmunds, off of a breakout year, sliding over to the vacated FS spot in spring. The secondary is stacked, with srs. Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman back as starters at the corners, but Foster is going to find some place to stick decorated true frosh Devon Hunter, VPI’s top recruit this year who has drawn comparisons to a young Kam Chancellor.

There is already rumbling in Blacksburg about the visit of defending national champ Clemson on September 30; remember, the Hokies gave the Tigers a run in last December’s ACC title game, and Dabo Swinney no longer has QB Deshaun Watson to save the day. If VPI can get past West Virginia in the aforementioned opener, it should hit the Clemson game unbeaten, and with one of the new QBs having had a month to work out some of the kinks. The fate of the Coastal Division is likely decided by back-to-back November road games at Miami and Georgia Tech, but by that time, the Gobblers might resemble a very well-oiled machine.

Spread-wise, the Hokies recorded their first winning mark a year ago since 2010, a further reminder of how stale things had become toward the end of the Beamer era. Lane Stadium once again became something of a fortress, where the Hokies covered 4 of their 5 ACC games. Dating back to his Memphis years, Fuente is also now 7-2 his last 9 as a dog, and he continued VPI’s dominance over Virginia, as the Hokies beat the Cavs for a 13th straight time last fall.

They haven’t been this excited in South Beach since before LeBron James left the Heat. That’s because HC Mark Richt seems to have his alma mater Miami (2016 SU 9-4; PSR 9-4; O/U 6-7) poised for at least a return to national relevance after a disappointing decade that included the end of the Larry Coker era, and the subsequent Randy Shannon and Al Golden regimes that never really achieved lift-off. That old Hurricane bugaboo, NCAA violations, and the threats thereof, plagued the program for some of those years, resulting in occasional bowl bans. But Miami is now beyond those latest transgressions and ready to scale the heights once again under its second-year coach.

Easier said than done, perhaps, as approaching the successes of the Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson, and even the early Coker years is going to be a difficult slog. But in Richt, the Canes seem to have their best chance to make some noise, at least since Coker’s first couple of seasons. Especially since Richt is very familiar with the region in which he was raised and went to college as a QB for Schnellenberger in the early ‘80s.

As for Richt, his hire last year is looking like something of a coup for the Canes, who would be thrilled if Richt delivered the consistent stream of contenders as he did at Georgia. For some reason, that wasn’t enough in Athens, where the power brokers decided that Alabama d.c. Kirby Smart would be a better choice moving forward. After Smart’s first UGa team had to scramble to merely get bowl-eligible, however, plenty of Bulldog backers are now wondering if their program really is any better off with Smart than with Richt, who was 145-51 in 15 seasons ‘tween the hedges. Georgia’s loss really does look as if it is Miami’s gain.

The pieces seem in place for Richt to improve upon last year’s 9-4 mark that included a 31-14 Russell Athletic Bowl cruise past West Virginia in Orlando. Richt returns 7 starters on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and the schedule is favorable. Richt, however, will be breaking in a new QB this fall, though it depends upon the source how much the Canes might miss the departed Brad Kaaya, who left early for the NFL and was drafted by the Lions in the sixth round.

While Kaaya did post good stats last season, including 3532 YP, 27 TDs and only seven picks, in his career he tended to pile up a lot of big numbers vs. lesser foes and was seldom at his best when Miami needed him to be in the big games. For example, another play or two by Kaaya and the Canes might have beaten Florida State in early October instead of a bitter loss that began a 4-game skid. Kaaya was also 0-4 vs. the Noles and Clemson. By us, we suspect replacing Kaaya might not be all that difficult, though we admit to perhaps being in the minority with that viewpoint.

Richt is delaying a decision on who will start the opener vs. Bethune-Cookman until fall camp, though his options might not be as limited as some believe. Junior Malik Rosier is a dual-threat who started a game in 2015 when Kaaya was hurt and appeared to be slightly in the lead coming out of spring. Redshirt soph Evan Shirreffs was a top recruit in the last Al Golden crop of newcomers in 2015. But ballyhooed true frosh N’Kosi Perry, from upstate in Ocala, is regarded as an elite talent and is expected to be the next big thing at what was once called “Quarterback U” when the likes of Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, and Vinny Testaverde were local rock stars in the ‘80s.

Making things easier for Rosier or Perry or whichever QB Richt chooses will be slashing TB Mark Walton, who gained 1117 YR and scored 15 TDs in 2016. Soph wideout Ahmmon Richards (49 catches for 934 yards LY) is off a season in which he broke Michael Irvin’s 31-year-old- program record for receiving yards by a frosh. Like fellow frosh QB N’Kosi Perry, WR Jeff Thomas enters with much hype and is expected to make immediate contributions. Four starters are back along the OL paced by RG Kc (you’re reading that right, a big “K” and a little “c”) McDermott, a potential All-America candidate.

Richt’s first defense a year ago looked as good as any under his watch in previous years at Georgia. Credit goes to d.c. Manny Diaz., himself with an SEC background and whose schemes resonated a year ago when the Canes’ national rankings improved from 106th to fifth in tackles for loss (8.5 pg), 115th in yards per rush to 17th (3.4 ypc), and 77th in points allowed to 12th (18.5 ppg).

There’s good news, too, as every major contributor from a physical front seven returns, including bookend DEs Chad Thomas and Joe (Joseph!) Jackson, who combined for 22.5 TFL and 12.5 sacks in 2016. Meanwhile, sophs Zach McCloud, Shaq Quarterman, and Michael Pinckney were also the only trio of true frosh in the country to start at LB last season (and the first in Miami history).

But of the seven returning starters on the stop end, none is a DB, and Diaz will be rebuilding his entire secondary this fall. An FCS A-A transfer from The Citadel, Dee Delaney, brings some experience to one of the corners, and among Richt’s top recruits is touted DB Trajan Bundy, a local product. All-name true frosh DB DeeJay Dallas is a highlight reel two-way threat who could play any position in the secondary or take snaps at WR the other way. Whatever, given the high-caliber recruits and transfers in the fold, most ACC sources do not expect the secondary to be a significant issue in the fall.

Oh yes, about that schedule. It’s made for Miami to contend in the Coastal and maybe make a move in the national rankings. Top Coastal contenders Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech both visit Hard Rock Stadium, as does Notre Dame in November, and only Florida State among the “big three” from the Atlantic half of the loop is on the slate (though that one is in Tallahassee). Arkansas State and Toledo are the most-challenging non-ACC dates. If Richt finds his answer at QB, the Canes are going to make plenty of noise this fall.

Spread-wise under Richt, the “U” continued its recent successes at Hard Rock, whe the Canes are 8-3-1 vs. the line the past two seasons. With Richt covering 9 of 13 last season, Miami also enters 2017 on a 17-8-1 spread uptick. But the Canes, who once upon a time owned Florida State, haven’t beaten the Noles since 2009. Richt, who at Georgia had several run-ins with Georgia Tech, did continue the Canes’ recent ownership of that series with a 35-21 win at Atlanta last October 1, Miami’s seventh win and cover in its last eight vs. the Yellow Jackets.

Okay, breathe easier, Yellow Jackets everywhere, as now we can say with some assuredness that 2015 was a one-off. We’re talking about the slip of Georgia Tech (2016 SU 9-4; PSR 7-5; O/U 7-5) to a 3-9 mark two years ago, prompting many in the ACC to begin writing the coaching epitaph of HC Paul Johnson. Which of course proved premature. Last year’s quick recovery suggested that the 2015 Ramblin’ Wreck was merely victimized by the new reality of college football, in which perennial contenders can experience quick drop-offs without really dropping off much at all. Last season, sorts such as Oregon, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and UCLA all fell beneath .500, and quick recoveries by any of those this fall, as did Tech a year ago, would come as no surprise.

After all, this the same Johnson-coached Georgia Tech that finished in the Top Ten in 2014 and concluded that season with a rousing Orange Bowl romp past Dak Prescott and Mississippi State. It’s also the same Johnson who has taken eight of his first nine Jacket entries to bowls, and put Navy back on the map prior, taking his last five Midshipmen editions to bowls. Johnson is a proven commodity and remains one of the shrewdest game managers in the land, as he reminded all a year ago.

Perhaps the fact Johnson’s teams still utilize an option offense is another reason why much of the media was quick to bury the Jackets after 2015. The thought among many ACC observers was that the conference had finally figured out how to defend the Johnson offense, which appears archaic in this age of Air Raids and Pistols. But Johnson has won for years with the option, and a quick look at ACC coaching ranks suggests that maybe it’s the others around the league who should be drawing such scrutiny. Along with David Cutcliffe at Duke, Johnson is now the loop’s longest serving coach.

Johnson reminded all not to write him off too soon when something clicked midway through last season, as Tech would close with six wins in its last seven, including a 33-18 romp past SEC Kentucky in the Taxslayer (nee Gator) Bowl. The Jackets’ confidence was fully restored before then with nervy road wins at Virginia Tech and Georgia in November. And with several Coastal reps all losing key players after last season, Johnson looks in good shape to capitalize.

No ACC Coastal team will return as many starters as the 17 that are back this fall at Tech. Now all Johnson has to do is find a QB with longtime option pilot Justin Thomas having finally graduated after serving as starter for most of the past four seasons. The top candidate is Thomas’ recent caddy, jr. Matthew Jordan, who often handled short-yardage situations a year ago and is well-versed in the nuances of the triple-option. But Jordan suffered a foot injury in spring, allowing jr. Taquon Marshall, a more explosive runner who started his career on the “flats” as an A-back, to move into the picture. Redshirt frosh Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones also impressed enough in spring to keep the QB derby open entering fall camp.

Aside from the graduated Thomas, most everyone else is back on the offensive side from a year ago when the Jackets once again would field a top ten rushing team (258 ypg good for 9th nationally). The OL jelled as last season progressed and returns four starters. B-back Dedrick Mills is a straight-ahead blaster who ran for a team-best 771 yards in just nine games last fall. All of the three key A-backs, or slot backs, from 2016 return, led by homerun threat Clinton Lynch (11.2 ypc last season!). Senior Ricky Jeune could be the next in a line of NFL receivers (including Calvin Johnson and Demayius Thomas) from Tech after gaining better than 17 yards per catch on his 25 receptions last season.

Johnson’s defense has usually ranged from average to good during his tenure in Atlanta and was more toward the latter a year ago under vet d.c. Ted Roof, a onetime Duke HC. Last season, Roof achieved better results by simplifying the number of calls and schemes that allowed his unit to play faster. Eight starers return to the platoon including the entirety of the secondary.

Still, improvements up front, specifically generating a better pass rush, will be crucial this fall if Tech is to really forge another 2014-like breakthrough. The Jackets recorded only 18 sacks last season, ranking a poor 114th nationally, and last year’s leading sacker, DE Pat Gamble, has graduated. Roof is hellbent to get sr. DE KeShun Freeman to harness the pass-rush ability that he has flashed on occasion in the past. One of the stars of spring was jr. MLB Brant Mitchell, a returning starter who appears ready to assume a leadership role in the platoon.

The recipe for a Johnson defense has always been to force just enough negative plays and turnovers to get the ball back into the hands of the clock-gobbling option, and Tech did a decent job of that last season, such as the Virginia Tech game when nickel back Lawrence Austin recorded two picks and a fumble recovery, keying a 30-20 upset at Blacksburg in mid-November. Austin is one of aforementioned returnees in a secondary that returns intact and that also includes his twin brother Lance at one of the corners.

A pivotal game looms in the opener about a mile or so from campus at the hometown Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Labor Day night against Tennessee, which appears in semi-rebuild mode. Win that one and the September 16 game at UCF and Tech should hit the ACC part of the schedule at 3-0 (Jacksonville State is sandwiched between the Vols and Knights). Tough dates await at Miami and Clemson in October, and while some Jacket backers might still be spooked by what happened in 2015, we suspect Tech looks more like it did a year ago and stays in the Coastal mix all of the way, especially if one of the new QBs can emerge. Which almost all of Johnson’s QBs have done since his days at Annapolis.

Spread-wise, remember that Johnson has often delivered big success in the past, with 10-4 and 9-4 efforts vs. the number in two of the last three seasons. A recurring problem has been Miami, which has won and covered seven of the past eight. No series spread trend, however, has been more curious than the one vs. rival Georgia in the annual reg.-season ender, as the road team is a staggering 16-2-1 vs. the line in those games since 1998. Unfortunately for Tech, it hosts the Bulldogs on November 25, and hasn’t covered a spread at home vs. Georgia since...1997!

It wasn’t quite the joy ride of 1976, when Johnny Majors’ troops won the national title and Tony Dorsett claimed the Heisman Trophy, but 2016 was nonetheless pretty thrill-packed for Pittsburgh (2016 SU 8-5; PSR 5-8; O/U 11-2). All a bit unexpectedly so for the Panthers, who would claim the scalps of eventual national title winner Clemson (in a 43-42 thriller) and Big Ten champ Penn State (in a 42-39 shootout) in the regular season while scoring almost as many points as Kevin Stallings’ Panther hoopsters down the stretch when tallying nearly a point-per-minute to close the regular season vs. Dabo Swinney’s Tigers, Duke, and Syracuse, the latter in a 76-61 shootout that even made Jim Boeheim take notice.

Though the 31-24 bowl loss vs. Northwestern at cold Yankee Stadium was a bit of a downer, the Panthers authored one of the more intriguing storylines in the nation last fall under second-year HC Pat Narduzzi, previously a longtime sidekick to Mark Dantonio at both Michigan State and Cincinnati.

Still, Narduzzi would probably rather not have to go the video football route again this fall as Panther games in 2016 often had more back-and-forth than a Rafa Nadal match at Wimbledon. Especially that aforementioned regular-season ender vs. the ’Cuse, when the proceedings really did more resemble basketball, with the ghosts of Jock Sutherland and Ben Schwartzwalder hardly able to recognize what was transpiring on the field. "I've never been in a game like that," Narduzzi said. "I don't ever want to be in a game like that again. But I'll go back and say there's no such thing as a bad win." The 76 points were an all-time record allowed by the Orangemen.

If it were up to Narduzzi, improvement from his defense (a speciality from his years alongside Dantonio) would preclude those sorts of shenanigans recurring this fall, though in truth it is going to be asking a lot of the offense to put up the same sorts of numbers and score another 41 ppg as it did a year ago. First, offensive architect Matt Canada, who had become a hot commodity by the end of last season, moved to LSU in a similar role. Second, former Tennessee transfer QB Nathan Peterman, who emerged as the ACC pass-efficiency leader last season (nothing to sneeze at, considering NFL first-round picks Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson played in the same league), is now with the Buffalo Bills, who tabbed him in last spring’s NFL Draft. Third, while inspirational RB James Conner will still be playing at Heinz Field this fall, he’ll be doing so as a member of the NFL Steelers, who made him a third-round draft pick in spring. After recovering from his cancer scare, Conner rushed for 1092 yards and 16 TDs in 2016, and provided an emotional lift for the program.

Pitt shouldn’t regress back to its offensive eclipse of the mid-to-late ’60s, when the Panthers were once shut out in three consecutive games in 1966, and scored in double digits just three times in the entirety of the ’67 season. But the Panthers will need some new faces to deliver. One of those is Southern Cal grad transfer QB Max Browne, once considered the highest-rated QB in the country when coming out of high school in 2013, but now down to his last chance after sitting for a couple of seasons behind Cody Kessler and then being beaten out by Sam Darnold a year ago. Not that playing second-string behind Darnold, one of this year’s Heisman favorites, is a negative, but Browne did not exactly light it up when finally getting his chance to pilot the Trojans last season, looking overwhelmed in losses to Alabama and Stanford before Clay Helton made the switch to Darnold.

Veteran aide Shawn Watson becomes Narduzzi’s third o.c. in as many seasons and will not alter much of the scheme from Matt Canada’s pro-style looks. Hired from Indiana, Watson has a long pedigree as a QB coach and o.c., including stops at Colorado, Nebraska, and Louisville, plus the Hoosiers, as well as three years as HC at Southern Illinois. It would help Watson if Browne is as successful on first downs as was Peterman a year ago, when the Panthers would gain a whopping 7.4 yards per play, ranking 7th nationally.

Conner’s departure might be more of a psychological blow since jr. RB Qadree Ollison has already stepped in for Conner once in his career and gained 1221 YR doing so in 2015. The wideouts are electric; sr. Jester Weah gained over 24 yards per catch (ranking second nationally) on his 36 receptions last season, 10 of those for TDs while Quadree Henderson (yes, Pitt features both a Qadree and a Quadree on its offense) caught 60 passes in 2016 while gaining better than 160 all-purpose yards pg, helped by his liberal use on reverses and jet sweeps that accounted for 631 rush yards. Quadree also returned four kicks for scores and pinch-hit for the Pirates last year (we’re just joking on the latter, but you get the idea...the kid is versatile!). Three starters return along a big line that goes 300-lbs.-plus all the way across the front, though two All-ACC performers must be replaced.

Narduzzi’s defense was a bit schizophrenic last season, ranking tied for 8th nationally in sacks and 16th against the run, but was porous nonetheless, allowing more than 35 ppg (ranking 106th) and over 333 ypg in the air (whew!), ranking 127th, or second-to-last nationally. Thus the departure of seven starters from that platoon might be a bit of addition by subtraction.

The leaky pass defense, however, should get an immediate boost from the return of jr. SS Jordan Whitehead, who was the 2015 ACC Rookie of the Year before missing a good part of last season with a broken arm. Look for the instinctive Whitehead to be used occasionally on the offensive side as well. Narduzzi, who has recruited heavily on defense in his first three classes, might see one of those challenge sr. boundary corner Avonte Maddox. True frosh CB Paris Ford, a local product, was Pitt’s top-rated recruit.

Narduzzi and d.c. Josh Conklin will also have to replace the disruptive DE Ejuan Price, who recorded 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss last season before being taken by the Rams in the draft. Indeed, five new starters must be plugged in across the front seven. Price’s role could be filled by Tennessee transfer Dewayne Hendrix, expected to bookend the lone returning starter on the line, sr. DE Ron Blair.

Overall, the loss of 12 starters, including key cogs Peterman and Conner, plus o.c. Matt Canada, will make it a challenge for Pitt to match last year’s 8 wins, especially considering a tough September slate beyond the Youngstown State opener, which precedes a trip to revenge-minded Penn State, a Heinz Field date with Big 12 contender Oklahoma State, and the ACC opener at Georgia Tech, off of a 9-4 season. Narduzzi and Pitt fans will also be hoping QB Browne takes better advantage of his last college opportunity than he did a year ago at SC. Stay tuned for further developments.

Spread-wise, the Panthers’ many ping-pong matches a year ago made them one of the nation’s premier “over” teams in 2016 (11-1 “over” in the regular season before the frigid bowl “under” vs. Northwestern). Meanwhile, for all of the excitement last season, Pitt was only 5-8 vs. the line, and hasn’t recorded a winning spread mark since 2012. Narduzzi is also just 2-8 vs. the number as Heinz Field chalk the past two years. The Panthers haven’t won or covered in their last three bowl trips, either.

To the casual observer, things might look as if they are going swimmingly at North Carolina (2016 SUR 8-5; PSR 8-5; O/U 4-8-1). After all, HC Larry Fedora has propped up what was a slumbering program before his arrival from Southern Miss in 2012. The Heels produced the second overall pick in the most-recent NFL Draft in QB Mitch Trubisky, so coveted by the Bears that they traded up to select him. And no talk about the Tar Heels would be complete without mentioning Roy Williams’ ever-powerful men’s hoop program, off of back-to-back Final Four visits and another national championship in April.

Don’t be fooled by all of the confetti in Chapel Hill, however, as UNC’s highest-profile programs (read football and basketball) also might be whistling past the graveyard. The NCAA has reopened an investigation into academic fraud, a matter (as former AG Loretta Lynch might refer to it) many felt was behind the Tar Heels’ big sports when the NCAA had earlier levied some minor penalties against lower-profile programs at the school. That “ruling” by the NCAA, however, was condemned as much as some of former FBI Director James Comey’s investigations over the past few years. The tail, it seemed, was once again wagging the dog at the NCAA offices.

Since the allegations were first made public, UNC’s athletic department has maintained this was an academic matter and out of its purview, but inquiring minds have always known better. After all, an independent investigator appointed by North Carolina found that, for 18 years, more than 3,000 students, almost half of whom were athletes, got bogus grades for classes that didn’t exist. Some of those grades allowed athletes to stay eligible. Some helped them graduate.

This was largely the work of two former employees, but it was hardly a covert operation. Academic advisers steered athletes to the fraudulent classes, and “this steering was most prevalent among the counselors for the revenue sports of football and men’s basketball.” That quote is from none other than Kenneth Wainstein, the former U.S. assistant attorney general asked by North Carolina to investigate the fraud.

What makes the Tar Heel scandal so egregious, so infuriating, is the lengths to which the school has gone to excuse it and avoid responsibility for it. Had North Carolina accepted the NCAA’s second Notice of Allegations, a watered-down version that didn’t mention football or men’s basketball, all of this probably would have been resolved already. But the Tar Heel administration had to fight it, claiming that the NCAA had already adjudicated the violations and, besides, it wasn’t its business, anyway.

To its credit, the NCAA didn’t take kindly to that and responded by slapping North Carolina with a third NOA (Notice of Allegations) in December. This one restored the references to football and men’s basketball, and still includes the dreaded “lack of institutional control.” Because it was a new notice, however, it reset the clock, and guaranteed that the Tar Heels would be able to play in the NCAA tournament again this year. All the while, those at UNC and many of their sycophants in the national media continue to try and pass the violations off as much ado about nothing.

We’re going to pick this up in greater detail at the start of our TGS publishing season, with more in-depth commentary in one of our earlier issues. Before we depart the topic, however, the one coach at Chapel Hill who appears in the clear is probably Fedora, as these alleged infractions took place before he arrived. (The same might not apply to Roy Williams.) Stay tuned.

But since we’re talking about football in this space, we might as well get around to what might be expected at Kenan Stadium this fall, where Fedora and his high-powered offense seek a fifth straight bowl visit. Fedora’s progressive attacks have been producing yards and points in bunches for years, but to do so again this fall requires significant personnel changes; the Heels lost 99% of their rushing yards, 98% of their passing yards, 71% of their receiving yards, and 86% of their scoring from last season.

Fedora’s offense, which scored better than 32 ppg with the departed Trubisky at the helm a year ago, is not without experience however, with a veteran OL and a QB who has been through the wars...in the SEC. That would be Brandon Harris, a grad transfer from LSU who started most of the 2015 season in Baton Rouge and is the only player on the roster who has thrown a college pass. Harris’ skill set seems well suited for Fedora’s spread attack, and expect him to provide a stop-gap for Fedora while a new QB is developed to take over in 2018.

Another transfer, RB Stanton Truitt, arrives from Auburn and likely gets the bulk of the carries along with highly-touted true frosh Michael Carter after the Heel infantry bogged down (ranked 100th) a year ago. Senior WR Austin Proehl (43 catches LY) is the lone accomplished returnee at the receiver spots, where Fedora will lean heavily upon newcomers to replace departed Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard, who combined for 149 catches and nearly 2000 yards a year ago. (Switzer’s considerable prowess as a kick returner will also be missed.) Three starters do return along an OL that has been able to add a couple of other grad transfers, C Cam Dillard (via Florida) and G Khaliel Rodgers (via Southern Cal), both likely in the lineup for the opener vs. Cal.

Meanwhile, the UNC defense hopes to take a few more steps forward this fall after it showed improvement the past two seasons under then-d.c. Gene Chizik, who has moved on from Chapel Hill to spend more time with his family. The stop unit scheme will remain the same under new d.c. John Papuchis, promoted from LB coach. The first task of Papuchis is to improve performance against the run, where the Heels were lacking a season ago when allowing an ACC-worst 227 ypg (ranking 109th). The top five LBs from last season return, including LY’s top tacklers Cole Holcomb and Andre Smith, which should help, and 11 of the top 13 rotation pieces along the DL are back for 2017, including sack leader DE Malik Carney.

There is experience in the secondary, where S Donnie Miles and CB M.J. Stewart are All-ACC candidates, but the Heels only recorded a hard-to-believe one interception last season, a mark that must improve. Four DBs who played extensively as frosh are expected to be in the rotation, including projected starters CB Patrice Rene and FS Myles Dorn, a pair of sophs with playmaking bents.

Many in the ACC inner-circle believe that Fedora has recruited at a higher level than the preceding Butch Davis/Everett Withers regime, but that will be tested this season with so many main contributors having departed. The schedule is manageable, but only a Nov. 18 date vs. Western Carolina looks like a sure win, with no other gimmes on the slate. Fedora will be doing well to reach last year’s 8 wins, but the Heels should at least do enough to reach a fifth straight bowl. The worrying about any pending NCAA penalties can probably wait until 2018, or 2019. As we know, the NCAA often takes its time in such matters.

Spread-wise, Fedora’s best role the past couple of seasons has been on the ACC road, where the Heels stand 6-2 vs. the line their last eight. In openers, however, UNC has failed to cover its last four. Within the ACC Coastal, note covers in 6 of the last 7 vs. Virginia, which the road team has covered four straight vs. nearby Tobacco Road rival NC State.

You know that old saying about the “grass always being greener on the other side?” And of course that it always doesn’t turn out to be so. Which is what Virginia (2016 SUR 2-10; PSR 5-7; O/U 4-7-1) HC Bronco Mendenhall found out a year ago in his first trip around the track at Charlottesville, when expectations were realistically low (last summer, Mendenhall advised supporters everywhere not to make bowl plans).

But no one in Cavalier Nation was expecting a fall to 2-10; the Wahoos had not had a worse mark since 1981, when a 1-10 finish got HC Dick Bestwick fired (and preceded the inspired hire of George Welsh from Navy). Mendenhall predecessor Mike London never recovered from his own 2-10 mark in 2013, but at least UVa was covering pointspreads consistently (16-7-1) in his last two years before getting the boot. Mendenhall couldn’t even achieve much spread success in a season that started with some promise but would end with seven straight defeats. Welcome, Bronco, to the ACC, a lot tougher neighborhood than it used to be, and much more of a challenge that the Indie slates Mendenhall was dealing with in his last few years at BYU.

Still, no outward signs of regret from the ultra-organized Mendenhall, a class act whose corporate demeanor has played well with Brit Hume, Fred Barnes, and various other Cav alumni. Bronco had called BYU’s bluff after the 2015 campaign when the Cougar administrators were playing hardball on a new contract, and parlayed BYU’s dawdling into a hefty pay raise in Charlottesville. Still, 2016 was a cold dose of the reality for Mendenhall, who took all eleven of his BYU teams to bowl games.

It looked for a while as if Bronco might continue that streak with his first Cav edition, especially after impressive back-to-back wins over Central Michigan and Duke, when UVa scored 83 points in the process, into early October. But the offense gradually lost traction as work along the line began to deteriorate, with nagging injuries and lack of depth the main culprits, and the 'Hoos didn't win another game. Mendenhall sought a quick fix in the offseason with the addition of three grad transfers to provide immediate relief; ex-Oklahoma State G Brandon Pertile looks the best of that bunch and could become the new anchor of the OL that returns only two starters.

Given a bit more time to throw, and with a proper infantry diversion, former East Carolina transfer QB Kurt Benkert could flourish, as he did early last season when passing for 5 TDs and a school-record 421 yards in the win over the Chippewas. Like the rest of the offense, Benkert’s effectiveness waned down the stretch, when he was also slowed by a nagging knee injury dating to 2015. This past spring, however, Benkert was finally able to shed his knee brace, and, 15 pounds lighter, looked more mobile. Just in case Benkert falters, another of Mendenhall’s transfers, dual-threat Marvin Zanders from Missouri, looms as an alternative.

Corresponding to the OL and pass-protection issues (the Cavs ranked a way-too-high 113th in sacks allowed with 36), the ground game was suspect last season, ranking a distant 121st in national rush starts at a disappointing 114 ypg, and must replace top two runners Taquan Mizzell (who ran with some flair when gaining 940 YR) and Albert Reid. A couple of understudies from last season, jr. Jordan Eliis and sr. Daniel Hamm (also Mendenhall’s best kick return threat), impressed in spring, so there is some hope the infantry could revive with better work up front. Starting wideouts Olamiode Zaccheaus and Doni Dowling both return after combining for 101 catches last season. An X-factor is RS frosh Da’Vante Cross, a potential “slash” contributor at WR and with direct snaps in possible Wildcat sets. There is also hope the place-kicking improves with frosh Brian Delaney, a Parade All-American, after Cav PKs could make only 5 of 10 FG tries in 2016.

Given the defensive credentials of the braintrust (Mendenhall is a Rocky Long disciple who was a respected “D” tactician well before he became BYU’s HC, while d.c. Ruffin McNeill held that same role at Texas Tech before six seasons as East Carolina’s HC), the stop unit ought to improve upon last year’s allowance of nearly 34 ppg, ranking 99th in the country. The adjustment to Mendenhall’s 3-4 looks, however, should be in the rear-view mirror, and eight starters return to the platoon led by the top tackling tandem in the ACC, LB Micah Kiser (team-best 134 tackles LY; 4th nationally) and FS Quin Blanding (another 120 tackles in 2016; 10th nationally). Both flirted with making themselves available for last April’s NFL Draft before deciding to return for their senior seasons, and they provide leadership for a platoon that also has a potential elite pass rusher in sr. DE Andrew Brown, who record 6.5 sacks last season. Pass coverage should tighten with the return of three starters in the secondary, and CBs Myles Robinson (only 4 games LY) and Darius Latimore (out all of 2016) returning from injuries. The Cavs could also help themselves by forcing more than the 17 TOs they recorded a year ago.

Mendenhall ought to be able to improve upon last year’s two wins, especially with seven games at home this fall, and could break 3-0 from the gate with winnable dates vs. William & Mary, Indiana, and UConn all at Scott Stadium before a trip to Boise State in territory familiar to Mendenhall. Things get tougher afterward in the ACC, but only Louisville among the “big three” (including Clemson & Florida State) from the Atlantic side appears on the 2017 slate. Still, November looks especially ominous, as Mendenhall gets Georgia Tech-Louisivlle-Miami-Virginia Tech down the stretch, likely keeping UVa out of a bowl for the sixth straight season.

Spread-wise, Cav fortunes also plummeted as 2016 progressed, but worth noting that Mendenhall was 12-7 his last 19 as a dog at BYU, and covered his first four in that role a year ago before UVa dipped to a 1-6 mark vs. the line (all as a dog) to close the season. The infuriating drought vs. Virginia Tech also continues, as the ‘Hoos haven’t beaten the Hokies in 13 straight (dating to 2004) after getting blasted 52-10 in Blacksburg last November.

Before dumping too much on Duke (2016 SUR 4-8; PSR 7-5; O/IU 4-8) for its lackluster showing a year ago, a bit of perspective is suggested. Unlike on the hoops side, Durham has never been a destination for gridiron recruits, and the program David Cutcliffe inherited from Ted Roof in 2008 had endured four winless campaigns in the preceding dozen years, and had won all of ten games in the new millennium in the eight seasons prior to his arrival.

In that context, maybe Cutcliffe deserves to be canonized alongside the Jimbo Fishers and Dabo Swinneys of the ACC after steering the Blue Devils to four straight bowl visits from 2012-15. Perhaps even more so after so many Duke backers felt disappointment last term when Blue Devils didn’t go bowling. Imagine that a decade ago, when Duke supporters weren’t sure their team would even win a game, much less qualify for a bowl? Suddenly, a sub-.500 season felt out of character at Duke.

All of that a credit to Cutcliffe, who has not only steered the Blue Devils to respectability over the past decade, but whose success made some overdue facility upgrades possible. Duke now has a legit, modern football training center and has expanded and renovated historic Wallace Wade Stadium, which once upon a time hosted a Rose Bowl (1942) that required a temporary home away from Pasadena due to fears after the Pearl Harbor attack. True story and one we might expand upon at some other time on these pages.

After the injuries, bad breaks, and head-scratching losses of 2016, a bounce-back to bowl eligibility is certainly possible at Duke, though a tough non-league slate and the tricky ACC Coastal might make that easier said than done.

Cutcliffe’s considerable offensive nous (honed in the past as a decorated o.c. at Tennessee and HC at Ole Miss, while mentoring both Peyton and Eli Manning) and reputation as a QB guru was tested a year when 6'5 RS frosh Daniel Jones was force-fed into the lineup after projected starter Thomas Sirk tore an Achilles tendon in fall practice. In a necessary sink-or-swim move, Cutcliffe threw the entire playbook at the multi-talented Jones, who became more comfy as the season progressed and ended with no picks in his last 173 pass attempts, while also running for 486 yards, and engineered an upset win over down-the-street Tobacco Road rival North Carolina in November. Thanks to roster moves elsewhere, the RS soph Jones enters 2017 as the most experienced signal-caller in the Coastal half of the ACC.

(After the emergence of Jones, Sirk has moved as a grad transfer to East Carolina, where he is the projected starter this fall.)

While Cutcliffe’s Duke has never run the ball like Air Force or Navy, it had usually fared better than a year ago when the Devil runners gained fewer than 4 ypc for the first time since 2012. Up front, Ohio State grad transfer RT Evan Lisle has already moved into the starting unit alongside three other returning starters, who will try to open holes for top returning rusher Shaun Wilson (623 YR LY), who split time as the featured back with now-graduated Jela Duncan in 2016. Wilson, however, does not have a durable look at a mere 185 pounds, so expect Cutcliffe and o.c. Zac Roper to make use of promising RS frosh Brittain Brown, who opened some eyes in spring. Three of the top four receivers are back, led by the 70 catches of jr. T.J. Rahmin.

Under Cutcliffe, Duke has also upgraded its recruiting on the defensive side, with better athletes in the mix since the Roof years, all reflective in the Blue Devils’ move toward the middle of national stats (66th in points allowed and 67th in total “D” a year ago) after a succession of triple-digit rankings. Still, there is some concern up front with only one starter (sr. DT Mike Ramsay) back in the fold, and sophs Tre Hornbuckle and Terrell Lucas are now being tasked with first-string roles at the DE spots after being thrown into the fire as true frosh a year ago.

The strength of the platoon is probably at the LB spots in Duke’s 4-2-5, where soph Joe Giles-Harris and jr. Ben Humphreys led the team in tackles a year (as the defensive design would encourage). During spring, co-d.c.’s Ben Albert and Jim Knowles juggled the secondary, moving jr. Jeremy McDuffie from a corner to a safety spot. Missed could be graduated CB Devon Edwards, who also took six kicks back for TDs in his college career.

Oh yes, about that schedule. Though NC Central should once again be a lay-up in the opener, Northwestern and Baylor the next two weeks certainly aren’t, though both will have to travel to Durham. If the Devils can come out of their non-league portion at 3-1 (including a mid-November date at Army, which is no gimme anymore, either), they ought to have a shot at a bowl return. The ACC, however, is a tougher neighborhood these days, and while Cutcliffe had QB Jones waiting in the wings after Sirk went down last August, he does not appear to have that same sort of cover behind Jones. Keeping his QB healthy will be crucial for Cutcliffe this fall.

Spread-wise, Cutcliffe has been a featured performer in recent years and enters with a 33-18-1 spread mark since 2013, though the numbers are not quite as impressive (14-11) the past two seasons. Cutcliffe is also 17-8 as an underdog since 2013.
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Ole Miss, Auburn, South Carolina up next at SEC media days
July 13, 2017

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Mississippi, Auburn and South Carolina will be the final three teams at SEC media days on Thursday.

The Rebels figure to be the main attraction in Hoover - mostly because of off-the-field issues. The Rebels are in the midst of an NCAA investigation that's lasted nearly five years, and now there are 21 alleged violations that include academic, booster and recruiting misconduct.

Adding to the off-the-field misery, former Mississippi coach Houston Nutt filed a civil lawsuit on Wednesday against the university and its athletics foundation, alleging a breach of his severance agreement because of false statements he says school officials made during the ongoing NCAA investigation.

Nutt was the Rebels' coach from 2008 to '11. Current coach Hugh Freeze is entering his sixth season.

Freeze's job status is somewhat tenuous because of the NCAA investigation and last year's 5-7 record. He did win 19 games over the 2015 and 2016 seasons, including two victories over mighty Alabama.

Auburn coach Gus Malzhan also enters the season with questionable job security. The Tigers finished 8-5 last season, including 5-3 in the SEC, but are just 11-13 in the league over the past three seasons.

Auburn does return a big chunk of its offense, and Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham appears to represent an upgrade at quarterback.

South Carolina coach Will Muschamp is preparing for his second season in Columbia. The Gamecocks were 6-7 last season, 3-5 in the SEC. Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley returns after throwing for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions in his first college season.
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SEC coaches face job security questions
July 12, 2017

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin got their Southeastern Conference head coaching tenures off to blazing starts.

They're both facing a different kind of heat now.

Auburn's Malzahn and Texas A&M's Sumlin enter this season on likely needing to show some improvement to ensure their job security. Mississippi's Hugh Freeze could find his job on the line for a different reason, depending on the outcome of an NCAA investigation into his program .

Texas A&M followed a familiar trajectory last season, starting fast and then slumping in November. The Aggies won their first six games and rose to No. 6 in the rankings before falling to 8-5 for the third straight season.

''For me, my job, nothing changes for me,'' Sumlin said Wednesday at SEC media days. ''Nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself and nobody wants to win more than I want to.''

His boss, athletic director Scott Woodward, has already made his mandate public leading up to Sumlin's sixth season.

''Coach knows he has to win,'' Woodward said in May. ''And he has to win this year. And we have to do better than we've done in the past.''

Sumlin said he'd keep conversations between himself and Woodward private.

Aggies receiver Christian Kirk said talk about Sumlin's job security ''just kind of goes out the window'' for players.

''We don't really worry about that,'' Kirk said. ''As players, we focus on what we have to focus on. Coach Sumlin's not the one who's going out there playing. It's us. It's on us, those second-half slumps at the end of the season.''

Other coaches are facing some job security questions, though not with the urgency facing Malzahn, Sumlin and perhaps Freeze have to deal with.

The scrutiny is increasing for Tennessee's Butch Jones and Bret Bielema of Arkansas, even if their jobs probably aren't on the line going into this season.

If Freeze's job comes into jeopardy any time soon, it won't be because of on-the-field performance. The Rebels were 10-3 two years ago and are the only SEC team to beat Alabama over the past three seasons, doing it twice.

The NCAA case involves alleged academic, booster, and recruiting misconduct. Ole Miss has disputed some of the NCAA's charges, including lack of institutional control and failure to monitor by Freeze.

Both Sumlin and Malzahn have both found themselves trying to reclaim the magic of their first years, when they had dual-threat quarterbacks. Both have since been desperately seeking another QB to run their up-tempo offenses nearly as well.

Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel helped the Aggies to an 11-2 season in 2012, their first season in the SEC. He became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Since then, Texas A&M has routinely gotten off to fast starts only to struggle late.

At Auburn, Malzahn debuted a year later with a junior college transfer Nick Marshall. The Tigers won an SEC title and made it to the national championship game while leading the nation in rushing. They've lost 16 games in the three seasons since and are 11-13 in the league.

Even more damaging, Auburn is 0-6 the past three seasons against top rivals Georgia and Alabama.

''To me, Sumlin is a little bit of an outlier,'' SEC Network analyst and talk radio host Paul Finebaum said. ''You can't do this but if you take Johnny Manziel off of his resume, he's got a pretty average record at A&M. He was really good at Houston.

''Malzahn, if you take 2013 off of his resume, who is he? What is he?'' Finebaum said. ''I think that's what people have to examine.''

Finebaum isn't sure Malzahn would have survived last season if Auburn hadn't edged out LSU, which had the apparent game-winning touchdown waved off because time had run out. Instead, LSU fired coach Les Miles the next day in the season's lone SEC head coaching change.

''I was talking to prominent Auburn people who were ready to fire Gus Malzahn'' before the LSU game, Finebaum said. ''He wins that game on a controversial, last-second ending. If that LSU pass had been completed with a second left as opposed to no time, I don't think we'd be having this conversation.''
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It's Saban & Sumlin's turns at the podium
July 12, 2017

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Missouri coach Barry Odom was surprised at the buzz he was feeling around Southeastern Conference media days on Wednesday morning as he made the rounds among reporters.

Then, the second-year coach realized what was happening: ''Nick (Saban) was before me.''

The contingent from the Crimson Tide, who are widely expected to win a fourth straight SEC title, made the short trip from Tuscaloosa and was greeted by a large group of fans in the hotel lobby. Coach Saban was the rock star of the road show, explaining how he hoped his program would improve after losing to Clemson in last year's national championship game.

''When you lose the mind-set is much more, I'm willing to change,'' Saban said. ''I want to learn. I don't want to waste a failure. What could we have done better?''

Alabama certainly hasn't had much failure lately as it relates to SEC competition - Saban and company have won 17 straight games in SEC play. The Tide must replace four first-round NFL draft picks, but returns stars like quarterback Jalen Hurts, receiver Calvin Ridley, tailbacks Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough and defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Alabama has a major challenge in its opener, facing ACC heavyweight Florida State.

''There's a lot of really good football teams in college football,'' Saban said. ''And we have a lot of guys on our team that have tremendous challenges to be able to replace some of the good players that we lost.''

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin took the podium as one of the league's coaches on the hot seat. The Aggies have started fast the past three seasons before slumping to an 8-5 record each time.

Aggies athletic director Scott Woodward has already said that Sumlin ''knows he has to win.'' Sumlin said on Wednedsay that ''nobody puts more pressure on me than me.''

The sixth-year coach expressed optimism despite having to replace talented players like No. 1 overall NFL draft pick defensive end Myles Garrett and quarterback Trevor Knight.

Missouri and Kentucky are both hoping to improve this season after ups and downs in 2016.

The Tigers finished with a 4-8 record last season, including a 2-6 mark in the SEC. Odom was blunt when describing his team's struggles, saying the setback ''hurts your soul.''

But there's reason to believe Missouri could be better this season. The Tigers played well down the stretch in 2016 - beating Vanderbilt and Arkansas - and return 10 starters on offense, including junior quarterback Drew Lock.

Kentucky's Mark Stoops is returning for a fifth season after leading the Wildcats to a 7-6 record last season, including a 4-4 mark in the SEC. The Wildcats hope to build off their bowl appearance in 2016, returning eight players on offense and nine on defense.

Kentucky's four wins in SEC play last season were the most for the program since 2006, but Stoops said that's no guarantee for future success.

''I know this about the league, the league's not backing up, Stoops said. ''Nobody we're playing is backing up. We're certainly not backing up. We're worried about us getting better to put us in a position to contend each and every week.''
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SEC out to stay college football's top dog
July 11, 2017

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) When LSU's Ed Orgeron matter of factly declared the SEC as ''the best conference in the United States,'' he was mostly preaching to the choir in the league's backyard.

But the Southeastern Conference's once-undisputed status as college football's top league is facing strong challenges from both the ACC and Big Ten despite Alabama's best efforts.

The Crimson Tide certainly remains formidable as ever, if not invincible, at the top. Beyond that, there's plenty of uncertainty - and in some cases mediocrity - in a league that won seven straight national titles from 2006-12.

''If you're trying to hit a moving target on this date and say, `Is the SEC the best league right now?', the answer is no,'' SEC Network analyst and talk show host Paul Finebaum said Tuesday at media days. ''I think it's probably the ACC. It's marginal and you can come back and say, `Yeah but...'

''Results matter, and the SEC has lost two times in the last four years to the ACC.''

Clemson toppled the Tide on a last-second touchdown at the national championship game in January. Florida State claimed the title with a win over Auburn four years earlier.

The ACC isn't the only league mounting a challenge to the league's supremacy.

The Big Ten finished with four teams ranked in the Top 10 in the final AP poll. The league did go 3-7 in bowl games.

The ACC enjoyed an 8-3 postseason romp while the SEC's 12 bowl teams managed just a .500 postseason record.

The SEC sent a four-loss Auburn team to the Sugar Bowl, its most prominent non-playoff game. The Tigers lost 35-19 to Oklahoma.

Still, SEC teams are faring well on the recruiting trail, with half of the top 12 signing classes in the 247Sports composite rankings this year. Alabama was No. 1 and Georgia only two spots back.

For Finebaum, the difference comes down to the head coaches.

The ACC has national championship coaches in Clemson's Dabo Swinney and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, along with ex-SEC head men Mark Richt (Miami) and Bobby Petrino (Louisville).

The Big Ten starts with Ohio State's Urban Meyer, who led Florida to a pair of national titles, and Michigan's Jim Harbaugh topping the pecking order. The days of a Steve Spurrier-Saban-Meyer SEC coaching Mount Rushmore are past.

''What do you have now in the SEC? I mean, after Saban, who's next?'' Finebaum said. ''There's no clear second-best coach. And even if you come up with that answer, it's not concrete.''

What is concrete: The ACC held the upper hand last season. That league went 10-4 against SEC teams and won four of five postseason games.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey gets philosophical when asked whether the league has slipped, even quoting a longtime manager of Manchester United.

''That's the nature of competitive endeavors - they're very close,'' Sankey said. ''There's a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson that I read that says in a fiercely competitive endeavor things aren't decided until the bitter end. So you accept that. But I don't at all think that's a representation of slippage.

''Our commitment is high, but you're in a competitive endeavor. You want to win them all, but sometimes you don't.''

There does seem to be a wider disparity between `Bama and the rest of the league than among the top conferences.

Alabama has won 17 consecutive SEC games, all but three by double-digit margins. A 54-16 dismantling of Florida in the SEC championship game would indicate a sizable distance between the Tide and the rest of the league, though rival coaches are mostly unwilling to measure that gap.

''I don't know the gap itself,'' said Gators coach Jim McElwain, a former Alabama offensive coordinator. ''I do understand this, they're right now at the top. It's up to the rest of us to go get `em.''

It's clear the rest of the league - like the vast majority of programs - has been lagging well behind Alabama.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart, a former Tide defensive coordinator, said the key to closing that gap will be not just recruiting top players but developing them once they arrive on campus.

''When you do both, that's when you got something special,'' Smart said. ''And I think every team in this conference is trying to play catch-up in regards to that.

''I think each one's getting closer, and we'd like to see that gap closed through recruiting.''

And maybe, as a result, once again widen the gap between the SEC and other conferences.
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Pac-12 Schedule Breakdown
July 15, 2017

Southern California: USC doesn’t have an open date and plays all 12 of its games in as many weeks. The only bright side of that scenario is that if the Trojans win the Pac-12 South, they will have two weeks to prepare for the Pac-12 Championship Game. The non-conference slate consists of a pair of home games vs. Western Michigan and Texas, in addition to a cross-country road trip to South Bend to face Notre Dame. The games against the Pac-12 North are vs. Stanford, at California, at Washington State and vs. Oregon State. USC has to go to Pullman for a Friday night game to face the Cougars on a short week. There are two sets of back-to-back road assignments – at Cal (9/23) and at Washington State (9/29) before at Notre Dame (10/21) and at Arizona State (10/28). The trip to Boulder to face the defending Pac-12 South champs will come in mid-November, meaning Colorado will have a cold-weather home game against the Trojans. The Buffaloes will be looking to avenge a 21-17 loss at The Coliseum last season.

ATS Note:
USC has won five in a row at Washington State by average margins of 33.0 points per game (hat tip to Phil Steele magazine). Also, the Trojans have been cashing tickets galore as home favorites recently, going 5-1 against the spread last season and 23-12 since 2011.

Jim Mora Jr.’s team won at least eight games in his first four years and posted a pair of double-digit win seasons. However, the Bruins endured a nightmare 4-8 campaign in 2016 with star quarterback Josh Rosen missing the last six games with a shoulder injury. UCLA will be in revenge mode in its opener at home on a Sunday vs. Texas A&M. The Aggies beat the Bruins 31-24 in overtime in College Station last year. UCLA’s two other non-conference games are vs. Hawaii and at Memphis. Two tough situational spots due to travel will be at Stanford the week after flying across the country to Memphis, and the other is at Utah on a Friday one week after playing at Washington. The Bruins get their bye after hosting Colorado, giving them two weeks to prep for a game at Arizona. They host Cal on a Friday in the regular-season finale.

ATS Note:
UCLA is 0-5 both straight up and ATS in its last five games as a home underdog.

Utah: Utah’s non-conference games are vs. North Dakota, at BYU and vs. San Jose State. The opener vs. North Dakota is on a Thursday, giving the Utes a few extra days of rest and preparation for the Week 2 trip to Provo to face the Cougars. BYU will be playing its third game in as many weeks (it opens on Aug. 26) and will be coming off a game against LSU in Houston the previous week. The Utes’ league opener in Week 4 is at Arizona on a short week (Friday). Then they get their open date ahead of a home game vs. Stanford on Oct. 7. There are no back-to-back road contests. When Utah hosts Colorado in its regular-season finale on Nov. 25, the Buffaloes will have two weeks to prepare. On the bright side, Utah gets UCLA in Salt Lake City on a short week (Friday). The Utes’ draw from the Pac-12 North includes games vs. Stanford, at Oregon, vs. Washington State and at Washington. I feel like those are the four best teams from the other side of the conference, so that’s a rough scenario for Kyle Whittingham’s squad.

ATS Note:
Utah owns an incredible 13-2 spread record with six outright victories in its last 15 games as an underdog of 6.5 points or more.

: Colorado’s non-conference slate looks like this: vs. Colorado State (on a Friday in Denver), vs. Texas State and vs. Northern Colorado. For its non-divisional games, CU plays vs. Washington, at Oregon State, at Washington State and vs. California. Considering the Buffaloes get OSU and Cal, they can’t complain about that draw. With that said, the trips to Corvallis and Pullman do come in consecutive weeks in mid-October. As noted above, CU has a bye before playing at Utah. When Mike MacIntyre’s team hosts Arizona on Oct. 7, the Wildcats will have two week to prep for their trip to Boulder.

ATS Note:
Since MacIntyre arrived at CU in 2013, the Buffs have compiled a stellar 10-2 ATS record in 12 games as home favorites. Also, we should point out that Colorado went 4-0 ATS as a road underdog last year and is 7-1 in its last eight such situations.

Arizona State:
A crucial season for Todd Graham's ASU program gets started with its three non-conference tilts: vs. New Mexico State, vs. San Diego State and at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders will be looking for revenge after dropping a 68-55 decision in Tempe last year. The opener against the Aggies is on a Thursday, thus giving the Sun Devils two extra days to prepare for the Aztecs, who are 0-10-1 (SU) in 11 head-to-head meetings with ASU. Arizona State’s slate against the Pac-12 North includes games vs. Oregon, at Stanford, vs. Washington and at Oregon State. That’s a tough draw to be certain, but we should note that ASU gets two weeks to get ready for the Huskies, who will be playing their seventh game in seven weeks. ASU has one set of back-to-back road games: at UCLA and at Oregon State on Nov. 11 and 18, respectively. We should also point out that the trip to Corvallis will be a cold-weather matchup, but the only other potential cold-weather game is at Utah on Oct. 21. Texas Tech is ASU’s only opponent that gets two weeks to prepare for it.

ATS Note: After 6-7 and 5-7 campaigns that were preceded by a pair of 10-win seasons, ASU is looking to avoid a third straight losing year for the first time since the mid-1940s. The Sun Devils are 17-9 ATS in 26 games as home favorites during Graham’s first five seasons at the helm. They have taken the cash in five consecutive home ‘chalk’ spots.

Rich Rodriguez’s team plays vs. Northern Arizona, vs. Houston and at UTEP to complete non-conference action in its first three games. The trip to El Paso comes on a short week for a Friday game. While that’s a disadvantage to the Wildcats, they host Utah on Friday the following week. That gives Arizona an extra day of rest compared to the Utes. UA has its open date next, giving it 15 days to prepare for an Oct. 7 game at Colorado. There’s one set of back-to-back road assignments to close the regular season: at Oregon (11/18) and at Arizona State (11/25). The games against the other side of the conference include at Cal, vs. Washington State, vs. Oregon State and at Oregon. Speaking of the Ducks, they join UCLA in having their bye weeks ahead of facing the Wildcats.

ATS Note
: Arizona owns a 7-4 spread record in 11 games as a home underdog during Rodriguez’s tenure. On the flip side, the Wildcats have limped to a 3-11 ATS mark in their 14 games as road underdogs since 2013.

Washington: Washington’s non-conference slate consists of games at Rutgers, vs. Montana and vs. Fresno State. The only set of back-to-back road games comes next, as the Huskies open league play at Colorado and at Oregon State. The games versus the Pac-12 South are at CU, at Arizona State, vs. UCLA and vs. Utah. Chris Petersen’s team has an open date ahead of its home game vs. UCLA. When UW goes to Palo Alto on Nov. 10, it will face Stanford on the road on a Friday. That’s advantageous to the Cardinal on the short week since it won’t have to travel. Also, Stanford will be in major revenge mode after getting smashed 44-6 by the Huskies last year. Arizona State and Washington State will both get two weeks to prepare for UW.

ATS Note: Washington has posted a 6-3 spread record in nine games as a road ‘chalk’ during Petersen’s tenure.

Stanford: We just noted the advantages Stanford has (being at home on short week & revenge) for its crucial showdown vs. Washington that many believe will determine the Pac-12 North. David Shaw’s team opens against Rice in Sydney, Australia. After that long flight down under, Stanford gets its first of two open dates ahead of a game at Southern Cal. The Cardinal are at San Diego State next in the first of two back-to-back sets of road games. The other falls with games at Oregon State and at Washington State. The game in Corvallis is on a Thursday, but this mid-week road game actually works in favor of Shaw’s team. That’s because the Cardinal and the Beavers both have an open date ahead of their matchup. The advantage lies in getting two extra days to prepare for the trip to Pullman to face Luke Falk and Co. Cal and Utah both get two weeks to prepare for Stanford. The Cardinal’s draw from the Pac-12 South includes contests at USC, vs. UCLA, vs. Arizona State and at Utah.

ATS Note: Stanford has an 8-3-1 spread record in 12 games as an underdog on Shaw’s watch.

Oregon: Oregon plays its first 10 games in succession before getting a bye ahead of a home game vs. Arizona. The Ducks have two sets of back-to-back road games – at Wyoming (9/16) and at ASU (9/23), in addition to at Stanford (10/14) and at UCLA (10/21). Willie Taggart’s squad plays vs. Southern Utah, vs. Nebraska and at Wyoming in non-conference action. Oregon will be seeking revenge after giving up a late lead in a 35-32 loss to the Cornhuskers in Lincoln last year. The trip to Laramie to face the Cowboys could be dangerous with their talented QB Josh Allen, who many draftniks have pegged as a potential Top-10 pick in next spring’s NFL Draft. The draw from the other side of the league features games at ASU, at UCLA, vs. Utah and vs. Arizona. Zero foes get an open date before facing the Ducks.

ATS Note: Oregon is 6-2-1 ATS in its last nine games as a road underdog. The Ducks will likely be ‘dogs at Stanford and at Washington and potentially at UCLA.

Washington State: Mike Leach’s team gets its open date before the regular-season finale at home vs. Washington for the Apple Cup. The Cougars open the season with five home games, including non-conference contests vs. Montana State, vs. Boise State and vs. Nevada. They will be in revenge mode against the Broncos, who won a 31-28 decision over WSU last season even though Leach’s club enjoyed a 100-yard advantage in total offense on the smurf turf. When Washington State hosts USC, it will be a quality spot at home on the short week for the Friday night game. This also provides the Cougars with an extra day of rest for the following week’s road opener at Oregon. After the trip to Eugene, WSU is in a difficult spot at Cal because it’s a second straight road contest and the game in Berkeley is on a Friday night. The non-division games are vs. USC, vs. Colorado, at Arizona and at Utah.

ATS Note: Washington State owns a 14-4 spread record in its last 18 games as a road underdog.

Oregon State: Gary Andersen’s third year at the helm starts with all three non-conference games – at Colorado State, vs. Portland State and vs. Minnesota. Oregon State’s draw from the Pac-12 South includes showdowns at USC, vs. Colorado, at Arizona and vs. ASU. The Beavers have two open dates, but the one before hosting Stanford on Thursday is a wash. The other provides a nice situational spot for OSU, as it gets two weeks to prep for Washington, which will be on the road for a second straight week. With the Thursday game against Stanford, the Beavers will get two days of extra prep time for a Nov. 4 trip to Berkeley to face Cal. The only back-to-back road spot is the following weekend at Arizona.

ATS Note: Oregon State went 4-1 ATS as a home underdog last season. The lone non-cover was by merely one-half point in a 38-24 loss to Boise State as a 13.5-point ‘dog. The Beavers covered the number in each of their last five home games last year, winning outright three times.

Cal’s non-conference schedule consists of games at North Carolina, vs. Weber State and vs. Ole Miss. The Golden Bears have the following games against the Pac-12 South: vs. USC, vs. Arizona, at Colorado and at UCLA. The regular-season finale against the Bruins is a tough spot, as it falls on a Friday one week after playing at Stanford. Justin Wilcox’s first team gets its open date before the short trip to Palo Alto to face the Cardinal. If there’s an advantageous spot for Cal, it’s when Washington State comes to town on a Friday one week after the Cougars on an airplane to play at Oregon.

ATS Note: Cal has thrived as a home ‘chalk’ since 2008, compiling a 23-12 spread record. However, the Golden Bears have been atrocious over the last decade as both home underdogs (6-16 ATS) and road favorites (5-15 ATS).
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Big 12 has 3 new coaches, new media venue
July 16, 2017

FRISCO, Texas (AP) When the Big 12 kicks off its football media days on Monday, commissioner Bob Bowlsby will be able to tout a winning record in bowl games last season and the still-growing revenue for the league's 10 schools.

Three new head coaches will take the podium at a new venue for the annual two-day midsummer gathering, which will be held about 4 1/2 months before the Big 12 plays its first conference championship game since 2010.

What the league really needs this season is to get a team into the College Football Playoff.

There are still many outsiders with negative perceptions of the smallest Power Five league, which hasn't won a national championship since Texas with Vince Young a dozen seasons ago and has had only one playoff team in the first three years of that final-four format.

''We had a pretty good postseason despite not being in the CFP playoff. Obviously, that's where we want to be,'' said Bowlsby, who recently marked his five-year anniversary leading the league. ''It's a high-stakes game of musical chairs. There are at least five suitors and only four seats. ... We know we need to be in more. It's as simple as that.''

Bowlsby still doesn't agree with those lingering perceptions from outside the league - and says there are no questions that the Big 12 has good teams, players and coaches - but he did acknowledge feeling ''a sense of urgency'' in regards to the playoff.

Oklahoma's David Boren, the only one of the Big 12 presidents who has been in his position since the league's inception two decades ago, was asked during the spring meetings the importance of the CFP when judging the league's success.

''It would be foolish to say it's not important,'' said Boren, whose Sooners made it to the playoff two years ago.

TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said a league championship game provides another positive factor for the CFP selection committee to consider when determining the top four teams.

The Big 12 had been the only of the Power Five leagues without a championship game last season. But it also is the only of the five leagues that plays a round-robin schedule - something that hasn't changed, guaranteeing a rematch from the regular season the first weekend in December.


After coach Bob Stoops' sudden and surprise retirement from Oklahoma last month, 33-year-old offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley was promoted and became the youngest FBS head coach. Riley and the Sooners, the preseason favorite to win their third straight Big 12 title and record 11th overall, will participate Monday with Iowa State, Kansas, Texas Tech and TCU. Tuesday's lineup has Texas with new coach Tom Herman, Baylor with new coach Matt Rhule, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia.


Instead of a downtown or airport hotel like in the past, media days this year will be held on the field at the Ford Center. That is part of The Star, the nearly year-old complex in suburban Frisco where the Dallas Cowboys have their headquarters and practice facilities. The Big 12 will hold its championship game at the NFL team's home stadium in Arlington, Texas.


The league was 4-2 in bowl games last season, the first time since 2011 with a winning record in the postseason. ... Big 12 schools split a record $348 million in revenue, or $34.8 million per school, for the 2016-17 academic year. That number will grow again next year, including a boost of up to $30 million from the championship game.
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2017 MAC Preview
July 17, 2017


The West Is Still Best

Entering its 71st year of gridiron competition, the MAC welcomes 12 teams as it settles into a balanced format for the second consecutive season.

According to 5dimes.eu, these are the odds to win the 2017 conference championship:

East – Miami Ohio +500, Ohio U +500, Akron +1300, Bowling Green +3000, Kent State +8000, Buffalo +10000

West – Toledo +250, Western Michigan +250, Northern Illinois +1000, Central Michigan +1200, Eastern Michigan +1400, Ball State +5000

By doing the math it appears the power in the MAC resides in the West, which is noting new as the West has won the title 7 of the last 11 years.

Ballin’ Outside the Conference

As lightweight a reputation as the MAC has they have surprisingly managed to hold their own when installed as favorites outside the conference, especially as invaders.

That’s confirmed by the MAC’s sterling 24-7 SU and 19-11-1 ATS mark as non-conference road chalk since 2004 – including 11-1 SUATS from Game Four out.

Bowl Fodder

And speaking of non-conference opposition, the MAC has been little more than feedstuff for opponents in bowl games dating back to 2007, as they are just 14-38 SU and 18-32-2 ATS in post season play in that span.

Worse, when facing a bowl opponent off a season ending loss, the MAC lacks any kind of attack going a paltry 3-21 SU and 5-18-1 ATS in these games. It should be noted, though, they have picked up the slack of late, managing to go 3-4 SU and 4-2-1 ATS in these same games the past three seasons.

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.


AKRON (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/2, 57 Lettermen)


Head coach Terry Bowden is the dean of MAC coaches with the most career wins (164). Nationally, Bowden ranks sixth among active coaches in career wins. Meanwhile, the Zips welcome two-year SR starting QB Thomas Woodson behind center, along with former Pitt quarterback transfer turned WR Tre’Von Chapman. In addition, the NCAA granted RB Warren Ball a 6th year of eligibility. Good news also returns on both the offensive (4 starters) and defensive lines (2) in 2017. After losing 188 starts to graduated seniors in 2015 (tied for the most in the nation), Akron was forced to suck it up last year. The benefits should begin to surface in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Zips head coach Bowden is 2-16 SU and 3-14-1 ATS as a home dog against .500 or greater opponents.

PLAY ON: at Bowling Green (9/30)

BOWLING GREEN (Offense – 6/2, Defense – 6/2, 43 Lettermen)


The Mike Jinks era at Bowling Green got off to a really rough start last season. After winning 36 games the previous four years, the Falcons fell like birds without wings en route to a 4-win campaign, thanks mainly to an offense that ranked dead last in passing efficiency defense last season. Things were so bad that only lowly Kansas had more lost turnovers (36) in 2016. Yes, BGSU's offense slipped 140 yards and the defense dipped 40 yards under Jinks, but the Falcons were one of just 20 FBS teams to conclude the season on a winning streak of at least three games, rushing for 984 yards in those contests.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons went 36-3 SU in games where they won the stats, and 4-22 SU when they lost the stats over the last five years.

PLAY ON: at Miami Ohio (10/7)

BUFFALO (Offense – *6/4, Defense – 8/2, 46 Lettermen)


The baby Bulls football team struggled through some growing pains in 2016 as Buffalo had 42 new players on the roster. Now with a more experienced group, 3rd-year head coach Lance Leipold is hoping the program can turn the corner. Last season UB’s defense was last in the MAC and 124th out of 126 in the nation against the run. Big plays were the problem: Buffalo gave up 10 runs of 40-or-more yards (only seven teams allowed more). UB returns a lot of experience on defense, but the influx of speed on display during the spring game is the most encouraging sign. “We’re trying to find more athleticism, more speed,” insists DC Brian Borland.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Since joining the MAC in 1999, the Bulls are 6-54 SU and 21-38-1 ATS versus winning opponents.

PLAY ON: at Miami Ohio (10/21)

KENT STATE (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 6/2, 52 Lettermen)


Talk about a bizarre season. Per Bill Connelly of SBNation.com, you know it was a bad year when you cycle through five quarterbacks, one of whom ended up with 868 passing yards, 1,038 rushing yards, and 135 receiving yards (you read that right). And how about a true freshman walk-on running back that led the team in receptions! If all that wasn’t weird enough, the Flashes were ranked No. 128 – last – in the nation in first down offense last season… that on the heels of finishing No. 127 in 2015! Is it any wonder that through it all the offense actually improved 8 points and 36 YPG last season? Go figure.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Flashes are 3-30 SU and 8-24 ATS in games in which they score less than 24 points under Paul Haynes.

PLAY AGAINST: at Akron (11/21)

MIAMI, OHIO (Offense – *9/4, Defense – 8/2, 54 Lettermen)


After opening the season with six straight losses in 2016, Miami made NCAA history by winning its final six games. In the process they landed a bid in the St. Petersburg Bowl where they went toe-to-toe with an SEC team. And while a letdown would normally be in order the following season, we can’t knee-jerk to that assumption with this suddenly experienced squad. For openers, a super-soft schedule in 2017, with only two winning teams from 2016, dots their itinerary. In addition, the Hawks welcome back 17 starters, including all three linebackers and three members of the secondary from a unit that finished first in total defense in the MAC. Whew.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After losing 15 consecutive games to winning opponents the previous five years, Miami went 2-2 last season.

PLAY ON: at Ohio (10/31)

OHIO (Offense – *8/3, Defense – 6/2, 39 Lettermen)


In Frank Solich’s 72 years on this earth, including 12 with Ohio, the Bobcats have managed to win four MAC division titles, including one last season. Solich is certainly battle tested. The former head coach and running back at Nebraska has lifted OU from the depths of despair to a competitive program, one that seems to play an abundance of close games (nine decided by a TD or less last season). The difference between Solich and the revolving door of coaches in this league is he knows how to win them with (9 wins in the last three seasons coming in close call games). And it’s a primary reason the Bobcats have been bowling 8 of the last nine years. Furthermore, the Bobcats kicking game figures to be rock solid for the next few years with PK Louie Zervos and P Michael Farkas. Each earned Campus Insiders Freshman All-American honors last season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: OU will face only two teams this year that owned a winning record last season.

PLAY ON: vs. Central Michigan (10/7)


BALL STATE (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 4/2, 34 Lettermen)


Head coach Mike Neu – one of the Cardinals’ very own, the MAC Offensive Player of the Year as a quarterback with BSU in 1993 and former QB coach with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints – returns for his second season on the sidelines in Muncie. His Cardinals were ranked No. 3 in the nation in 4th down percentage defense last season, which helped contribute to a 47 YPG improvement on defense to go along with a 78 YPG upgrade on offense. Unlike 2015 when Ball State was outyarded -172 YPG in conference play (worst in the MAC), the Redbirds cut that deficit to -69 YPG last year. Safe to say a new era is underway at Ball State. FYI: the Cardinals averaged the fewest fans in attendance among all FBS teams last season, drawing just 7,789 per game. Big brother Michigan led the nation with 110,648. The average FBS attendance was 46,731.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The stats winner is 44-5 SU in Ball State games the last four seasons, including 12-0 last year.

PLAY ON: at Eastern Michigan (11/2)

CENTRAL MICHIGAN (Offense – 9/3, Defense – 6/2, 47 Lettermen)


Talk about a consistent sort: CMU’s record over the last five years is 7-6, 6-6, 7-6, 7-6 and 6-7. Thus, in two seasons with the Chippewas, head coach John Bonamego has not only taken his team to two bowl games, but also battled tonsil cancer in the process. And it looks as if his run is not about to end anytime soon. “I plan to win, win now and be here for a very, very, very, very, very long time,” the coach said. The 2017 Chips return a 3,800-yard passer and his top five wideouts, plus most of the defensive two-deep. With that, we’ll safely pencil them in for another 6-or 7-win season… because we’re big Bonamego fans.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Chippewas are 12-5 SU and 13-4 ATS away from Game Six out the last five years.

PLAY ON: at Kent State (11/14)

EASTERN MICHIGAN (Offense – *8/2, Defense – 8/2, 53 Lettermen)


As predicted on this page last year, Eastern Michigan benefitted mightily from a sudden wealth of experience – and a young coach in Chris Creighton, who is on his way to bigger things in the near future. Back this season are 16 starters from last year’s bowl squad led by QB Brogan Roback, who threw for 2,694 yards in 10 games. Creighton’s “E Tough” philosophy was never more apparent than last season when the Eagles won games against Wyoming and Ohio U. Like Creighton says, his team will compete against “anyone, anytime and anywhere… even on a parking lot covered with broken glass.” Now that’s one tough team!

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Eastern Michigan enjoyed its first winning season last year since 1995.


NORTHERN ILLINOIS (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 9/2, 55 Lettermen)


Following a disappointing 5-win season in 2016, Northern Illinois becomes a certified ‘Mission Team’ this season. Looking deeper into their fait di accompli, the Huskies opened the campaign with 6 losses in their first seven games – including a pair of gut-wrenching triple OT defeats – before going on to win three of their final four contests. In the end, a skein of 6 straight MAC West titles vanished into thin air, but we’re not about to nail the coffin just yet. After all, how does one expect a team beset with quarterback injuries (five in the past 18 games) to compete? They may be just 5-10 SU in their last fifteen games overall, but no one is sleeping on these Huskies.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Huskies are 27-7 SU and 25-8-1 ATS in their last thirty-four road games.

PLAY ON: at Toledo (11/2)

TOLEDO (Offense – *6/3, Defense – 7/2, 44 Lettermen)


There is a lot to like about the Rockets this season. Head coach Jason Candle won 9 games in his debut last year and can’t wait to see what the future holds for this team. “We have a great group of senior leaders, and plenty of talent on both sides of the ball,” said Candle. It starts with SR QB Logan Woodside who led the nation with 45 TD passes last season. He’s the reason UT was the 2nd best squad in the land in team passing efficiency in 2016. In addition, RB Terry Swanson, who gained 923 yards last season, returns. With the OL returning five players that either started or saw significant action in 2016, look for a lift-off from Toledo this year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Four of Toledo’s 7 losing records over the last 36 years came in 2006-09 immediately following a point-shaving scandal.

PLAY ON: at Ohio (11/8)

WESTERN MICHIGAN (Offense – 5/3, Defense – 8/2, 25 Lettermen)


After winning its first championship in 27 years, and playing in its first title game in 16 seasons, new WMU head coach Tim Lester has big shoes to fill. But the WMU alum has big feet. Lester, who takes over for departed P.J. Fleck, resides in the Western Michigan Hall of Fame after passing for more than 11,000 yards for the Broncos in the late ‘90’s. After losing stud QB Zach Terrell to the NFL, Lester inherits Tom Flacco (brother of NFL Joe) as his quarterback. The biggest loss, though, is that of superstar WR Corey Davis, a 1st round pick in this year’s NFL Draft. It’s a good thing Lester has his footprint on this transitioning program.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos led the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (8).

PLAY AGAINST: at Toledo (11/24)
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Old 07-24-2017, 10:41 AM
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Best Bet - South Carolina
July 18, 2017

If you’ve heard any of my guest radio segments this summer or listened to any episodes of my Games Galore podcast on BrianEdwardsSports.com, then you’ve known for months how bullish I am on the 2017 South Carolina Gamecocks.

Do I think Will Muschamp’s team is going to win the SEC East? No, probably not. But that’s of zero consequence when we can back South Carolina to go ‘over’ 5.5 wins for its season win total.

As of July 18, different books had varying odds. The best price I could find was at 5dimes.eu, where the offshore betting shop had the price of the ‘over’ at just -105. On the flip side, Sportsbook.ag had the Gamecocks at an expensive -145 price for the ‘over’ on 5.5 victories.

The first season of Muschamp’s tenure in his second head-coaching gig exceeded expectations and then some. The Gamecocks were coming off a 3-9 campaign, had zero experience at the quarterback position and were going to be without their All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore, who led South Carolina in tackles in each of his first three seasons before undergoing neck surgery last summer. This caused Moore to use his redshirt season, but he is poised to return in 2017 as a fifth-year senior.

Coming off a 28-14 home loss to Georgia that left South Carolina 2-4 going into its open date, Muschamp decided to make a bold move. In an attempt to spark the offense, he decided to take the redshirt off of true freshman quarterback Jake Bentley and insert him into the starting lineup vs. UMass.

Bentley, who was supposed to be a senior in high school in 2016 but went to college a year early after Muschamp hired his father as part of his staff, immediately provided some punch to an offense filled with youth. With Bentley under center, South Carolina promptly ripped off three consecutive victories over UMass, Tennessee and Missouri. The win over the Vols, one that improved Muschamp to 5-0 in his career against UT, for the Gamecocks came as 13.5-point home underdogs.

All of a sudden, South Carolina was 5-4 with a game at Florida on deck. Bentley, who had yet to throw an interception in his first three games, didn’t fare as well against UF’s stout defense. The Gators won a 20-7 decision, but the Gamecocks beat Western Carolina the next week to get bowl eligible.

The regular-season finale was an unmitigated disaster at Death Valley, where the soon-to-be national champions destroyed USC by a 56-7 count. Nevertheless, Muschamp’s team was going bowling with a 6-6 record, defying even the most optimistic forecasts for a team that was picked to finish last in the SEC East.

South Carolina dropped a 46-39 decision to South Florida in overtime at the Birmingham Bowl. The Gamecocks, who nevertheless covered the spread as 10-point underdogs against the 25th-ranked Bulls, were done in by a minus-3 margin in the turnover department. They had a small advantage over USF in total offense (481-469), but the Bulls won outright to finish 11-2 for the year.

Now we move to 2017 with USC returning 10 starters on offense and six on defense. Remember, during Muschamp’s second season at Florida in 2012, the Gators finished the regular season with an 11-1 record. In fact, if USC’s Matt Barkley had not gone down with a shoulder injury against UCLA, UF would have almost certainly been playing in the BCS Championship Game against Alabama that year.

The shoulder injury left Barkley unable to play the following week at home in the regular-season finale against unbeaten Notre Dame. Even without Barkley, USC squandered scoring chances galore, including a first-and-goal opportunity from the one yard line in the fourth quarter. If the Trojans had punched in a TD there, they would’ve been in the lead at crunch time.

As it turned out, Notre Dame won a 22-13 decision thanks to two interceptions thrown by inexperienced QB Max Wittek. UF went to the Sugar Bowl instead and took a beatdown from Louisville. The rest of Muschamp’s tenure at UF was filled with injuries, tough luck and narrow defeats that led to his dismissal after his fourth season.

USC’s offense should be vastly improved this year. In Bentley’s seven starts that saw USC go 4-3, the Gamecocks averaged 26.6 points per game. That was with a true freshman at QB and a pair of true freshmen getting most of the carries in the running game.

Bentley completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards with a 9/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. We should note that all four picks were thrown at Florida and at Clemson, and those two teams sported two of the nation’s top defenses.

Bentley’s top five pass catchers return, including All-American candidate Deebo Samuel. As a true sophomore in 2016, Samuel hauled in 59 receptions for 783 yards and one TD. He rushed 15 times for 102 yards and six TDs while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Obviously, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper likes to get the ball to Samuel on reverses and misdirection plays down in the red zone. Samuel also returned 16 kicks for 431 yards and one TD.

Another true freshman skill player had a major impact last year. The dude has a great name, too, although his mother spelled it wrong. I’m talking about Bryan Edwards, who had 44 catches for 590 yards and four TDs. Edwards (6’3”) is a big target for Bentley who demonstrated the ability to go up in traffic and make plays, drawing comparisons to former Gamecock Alshon Jeffrey.

Hayden Hurst, a junior tight end who will turn 24 years of age in late August, is poised to have a monster campaign. Hurst is older because he initially spent two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization playing minor-league ball before deciding to give up the sport in favor of football. Hurst caught 48 balls for 616 yards and one TD last season. He is an absolute beast, listed at 6’5”, 253 pounds. Don’t be shocked if he has a banner season that leads him to go pro early and get drafted in the first 2-3 rounds.

Roper uses a lot of two-TE sets and has another good one in junior K.C. Crosby, who had 23 receptions for 217 yards and four TDs last season.

Rico Dowdle and A.J. Turner were USC’s two leading rushers in ’16 and are back for their true sophomore campaigns. Dowdle ran for a team-best 764 yards and six TDs while averaging 5.7 YPC. Turner rushed for 497 yards and three TDs, averaging 4.3 YPC. He also had 21 catches for 143 yards and one TD.

Muschamp’s defense gave up lots of yards last season, but it was excellent at forcing turnovers. This unit allowed just 26.5 PPG. No SEC opponents scored more than 28 points and Georgia needed a kick return for a TD off of an onside kick in the final minute to get to that number.

Six starters are back but that number should really be seven to reflect Moore’s return. Eight seniors are expected to start on this side of the ball, including a pair of All-SEC candidates in DT Taylor Stallworth and LB Bryson Allen-Williams, who had 75 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions and 6.5 tackles for loss last season.

The starting CBs have plenty of experience and the prize of the 2017 recruiting class is CB Jamyest Williams, who will see plenty of playing time. Chris Lammons and Jamarcus King had three interceptions apiece last year and combined to break up 15 passes and make six TFL’s.

2017 South Carolina Schedule
Saturday, Sept. 2 vs. North Carolina State
Saturday, Sept. 9 at Missouri
Saturday, Sept. 16 vs. Kentucky
Saturday, Sept. 23 vs. Louisiana Tech
Saturday, Sept. 30 at Texas A&M
Saturday, Oct. 7 vs. Arkansas
Saturday, Oct. 14 at Tennessee
Saturday, Oct. 28 vs. Vanderbilt
Saturday, Nov. 4 at Georgia
Saturday, Nov. 11 vs. Florida
Saturday, Nov. 18 vs. Wofford
Saturday, Nov. 25 vs. Clemson

Before breaking down the 2017 schedule, let’s point out that only one of USC’s seven defeats last year came by a lopsided margin (at Clemson). No other foe ran away from the Gamecocks, who suffered their next-biggest loss to UGA (28-14).

I don’t think there are any guaranteed losses on USC’s schedule, but there’s only one guaranteed win (vs. Wofford). I’m confident the Gamecocks will also win at home vs. Kentucky, Louisina Tech and Vanderbilt. There are three other home games – vs. Arkansas, vs. Florida and vs. Clemson.

I think USC will win at least one of those and if so, that would bring the win total to five. Although I feel like the best chance at a win among those three is vs. Arkansas, the situational factors favor Muschamp’s squad when the Gators come to town. UF will be coming off its huge rivalry game against UGA that’s followed by a trip to Missouri before coming to Williams-Brice Stadium.

For the purpose of this conversation, we’ll say USC goes 5-2 straight up at home. (By the way, the Gamecocks went 5-2 SU at home last year as well.) This leaves us needing only one win on the road or in the opener vs. North Carolina State in Charlotte.

N.C. State is currently favored by five at most books, but that’s certainly a game that can go either way. Likewise, a Week 2 trip to Missouri is undoubtedly a game the Gamecocks can win. Is it a stretch to imply USC can win in College Station on Sept. 30? “Hell no,” it says here.

For starters, Texas A&M goes into the season knowing its head coach Kevin Sumlin is on a sizzling hot seat. The spot is advantageous to USC as well because the Aggies play a rivalry game against Arkansas at Jerry World the week before. In addition, a home game vs. Alabama is on deck for A&M.

When Texas A&M and USC met in Columbia last season, the Aggies won 24-13 but only had 44 more yards of total offense. Let’s also note that this was before Bentley was playing. And with Bentley presumably healthy for this game, I believe South Carolina will have the QB advantage against the Aggies.

The two other road games are at Tennessee and at Georgia. USC will be an underdog in both contests, and UT will have revenge on its mind and has two weeks to prepare. Nevertheless, I think we’ll comfortably be ‘over’ 5.5 wins regardless of the results in Knoxville and Athens.

I have South Carolina finishing 7-5 but if it catches a few breaks and keeps its main players healthy, 8-4 wouldn’t surprise me in the least. USC ‘over’ 5.5 wins is my favorite season win total among SEC teams.
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Freeze resigns as Ole Miss football coach after 5 seasons
July 20, 2017

Mississippi football coach Hugh Freeze resigned Thursday after university officials found a ''pattern of personal misconduct'' that started with the school's investigation into a call to an escort service.

Freeze's resignation brings a stunning end to a five-year tenure that saw a Sugar Bowl victory, but also a wide-ranging NCAA investigation into rules violations. His ultimate downfall came after school officials investigated Freeze's phone records and found misconduct.

''In our analysis, we discovered a pattern of conduct that is not consistent with our expectations as the leader of our football program,'' athletic director Ross Bjork said. ''As of yesterday, there appeared to be a concerning pattern.''

Bjork said the school's investigation started last week after an outside Freedom of Information request revealed a concerning phone call that lasted less than a minute. The school then looked into the rest of his phone records and found more problems.

Bjork said Freeze ''admitted the conduct'' and that the coach offered his resignation Thursday afternoon. When pressed to explain Freeze's conduct, Bjork said the school needed to ''protect that information.''

''His privacy is important,'' Bjork said. ''The conduct was just not something we could continue with as our head coach.''

Freeze's university cell phone records obtained by The Associated Press show a 1-minute call made on Jan. 19, 2016, to a Detroit-based number. An internet search shows the number linked to a site that offers various escort services.

''I've got no idea, to be honest,'' Freeze told Yahoo Sports, which first reported the nature of the call. ''I was in an 813 area code and that was a 313 number, I think that might have been a misdial. I don't think there was even a conversation. There's nothing to it.''

Co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke has been named the interim coach.

''This is a sad day for the University of Mississippi,'' Ole Miss Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said.

Vitter and Bjork both said Freeze's resignation is strictly because of his personal conduct and not because of the ongoing NCAA investigation.

The Rebels had a quick rise under Freeze, recruiting at a high level and reaching an apex with a Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State following the 2015 season.

But an NCAA investigation - alleging 21 charges of academic, booster, and recruiting misconduct - has overshadowed much of that success, especially over the past year. The school has already self-imposed several penalties, including a one-year postseason ban for the upcoming season.

Freeze - who was making more than $5 million per year - had a 39-25 record over five seasons, including a 19-21 mark in the Southeastern Conference. Bjork said that Freeze will receive no buyout on his contract.

The 47-year-old Freeze's shocking exit - just a few weeks before preseason camp begins - completes a stunning fall for a coach considered one of the profession's rising stars a few years ago.

Freeze took over after Houston Nutt was fired during a miserable 2011 season that ended with a 2-10 record. Ole Miss immediately improved under Freeze, finishing 7-6 in 2012 and winning the Birmingham Bowl.

The Rebels continued to surge on the field and on the recruiting trail over the next several seasons. They signed some of the nation's top recruits in 2013, including defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, receiver Laquon Treadwell and offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil. They helped push the program to eight wins in 2013, nine in `14 and a 10-3 record in `15.

But Ole Miss' newfound ability to recruit at a high level drew the attention of the NCAA, which was already investigating the school for a handful of violations that occurred during Nutt's tenure.

The school has received two Notice of Allegations letters from the NCAA over the past two years. The first alleged 13 rules violations, including nine that were classified as Level I, which the governing body deems the most serious.

But the case expanded in April 2016 after Tunsil became the story of the NFL draft after a bizarre video of him smoking from a gas mask-bong contraption was posted on his Twitter account just before the selections began.

There was also a post on Tunsil's Instagram account showing an alleged text conversation with a football staff member about arranging payment for bills.

Though the NCAA didn't appear to find much from that particular exchange, the governing body did reopen its investigation, sending a second NOA earlier this year that expanded the case to 21 allegations, including 17 that are Level I.

Freeze, a north Mississippi native, had an unlikely rise to major college coaching, spending about a decade as a successful high school coach in Memphis, Tennessee, before landing a job at Ole Miss in the mid-2000s under Ed Orgeron. After Orgeron was fired in 2007, Freeze became the head coach at Lambuth, a tiny NAIA school in western Tennessee.

He became Arkansas State's offensive coordinator in 2010 and was promoted to head coach in 2011, leading the Red Wolves to a Sun Belt Conference title before being hired at Ole Miss.

Freeze's specialty was on offense and the Rebels were especially efficient on that side of the ball. Behind quarterbacks like Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly, Ole Miss was consistently one of the best schools in the SEC through the air.
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Scandals have led to sorry seasons
July 21, 2017

Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze resigned instead of being fired Thursday for what Ole Miss called a pattern of personal misconduct.

Preseason practice is set to open in Oxford, Mississippi, in weeks. The Rebels are a month and a half away from starting the season against South Alabama.

This is no time for a coaching change, but offensive line coach Matt Luke is being thrown into an interim position. He will try to save a season that already had been scarred by a self-imposed bowl ban for NCAA violations that Ole Miss said had nothing to do with Freeze being forced out.

These types of scandal-driven offseason coaching changes have become somewhat common in college football. History shows teams that endure unusual upheaval do not fare well.

Here are some notable offseason changes and how those seasons turned out.

Art Briles, Baylor. After an external investigation found the school mishandled sexual assault claims, some against football players, Baylor's board of trustees began the process to fire Briles on May 26, 2016.

Temporary replacement: Jim Grobe.

Result: The Bears opened the season ranked No. 23 and started 6-0, and then lost six straight. They won their bowl game to finish 7-6.

Tim Beckman, Illinois. Fired on Aug. 28, 2015, after an external investigation found he mishandled player injuries.

Temporary replacement: Bill Cubit.

Result: The Illini had shown some progress in the previous season under Beckman and started 4-1, but dropped six of their final seven games to finish 5-7.

Jim Tressel, Ohio State. Resigned on May 30, 2011, after it was revealed he lied about NCAA violations, involving players trading equipment and memorabilia for cash and tattoos.

Temporary replacement: Luke Fickell.

Result: The Buckeyes went 6-6 and 3-5 in the Big Ten. The administration did not self-impose a bowl ban when it had the opportunity and the Buckeyes lost the Gator Bowl to Florida to finish with a losing record. The next year Ohio State had to serve an NCAA-handed-down postseason ban when Urban Meyer's first team went 12-0.

Bobby Petrino, Arkansas. Fired on April 11, 2012, for lying to school officials about his relationship with a woman who was involved in a motorcycle accident with him.

Temporary replacement: John L. Smith.

Result: The Razorbacks had high hopes coming off an 11-win season, but they tanked, going 4-8.

Butch Davis, North Carolina. Fired on July 27, 2011, amid an NCAA investigation about players receiving improper benefits and academic misconduct.

Temporary replacement: Everett Withers.

Result: The Tar Heels started 5-1 before losing four of six to finish the regular season. They completed a lackluster year by losing to Missouri in the Independence Bowl and ended up 7-6.
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Freeze's fall partially traced to Nutt
July 21, 2017

The man whom Hugh Freeze replaced as Mississippi's football coach was at least partially responsible for Freeze's stunning downfall.

It was a recently filed civil lawsuit from Houston Nutt - who coached Ole Miss from 2008 to '11 - against the university that unearthed the phone records that eventually revealed Freeze's school-issued cellphone had dialed an escort service on at least one occasion in 2016.

Freeze resigned Thursday after university officials found that the coach engaged in a ''pattern of personal misconduct'' that was unacceptable. The 47-year-old - who was making more than $5 million per year - will receive no buyout, according to Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork.

Freeze's phone records might never have been researched if Nutt hadn't sued the university earlier this month. The lawsuit claims a breach of his severance agreement because of false statements he says school officials made to try to pin blame for the NCAA investigation on Nutt.

There are 21 allegations in the NCAA's case against Ole Miss. Four of them occurred in relation to Nutt's tenure while 17 happened under Freeze.

Ole Miss strongly defended Freeze in its latest response to the NCAA's allegations, saying the coach emphasized NCAA rules compliance during his tenure. Now the school will go forward in its case without him.

In researching the civil suit, Nutt's lawyers made a Freedom of Information filing asking for Freeze's phone records covering several days in January 2016. The aim - which is detailed in the suit - was to try to show that Ole Miss officials conspired to spread misinformation to media and form a ''smear campaign'' against Nutt.

It found much more.

In those records, which were obtained by The Associated Press and several other media outlets, was a one-minute call to a Detroit-based number. An internet search shows the number linked to a site that offers various escort services. Subsequent research by Ole Miss officials into Freeze's phone records found more misconduct.

One of Nutt's attorneys, Walter Morrison, said late Thursday that Freeze's attempt to pin blame for the NCAA investigation on Nutt backfired in a huge way.

''It's sad the university did not deal with this in the manner of which they should have,'' Morrison said. ''And if they had dealt with Houston Nutt appropriately to begin with, he would not have been besmirched, he would have been treated appropriately and fairly, consistent with the severance agreement that all of us signed.

''And interestingly enough, Hugh Freeze would probably still have his job.''

Bjork said Freeze would have been fired if he hadn't offered his resignation. He added that Freeze's resignation occurred strictly because of his personal conduct and not because of the current NCAA investigation.

''In our analysis, we discovered a pattern of conduct that is not consistent with our expectations as the leader of our football program,'' Bjork said. ''As of (Wednesday), there appeared to be a concerning pattern.''

Co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke has been named the interim coach for the coming season. Freeze finished with a 39-25 record, including a 19-21 mark in the Southeastern Conference, over five seasons.

The Freeze era produced some huge highs for the Ole Miss program, including a Sugar Bowl win over Oklahoma State following the 2015 season. But the victories have been largely overshadowed by a long-running NCAA investigation that includes charges of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct.
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Matt Luke tries to pull together Ole Miss
July 21, 2017

The task of pulling together Mississippi's shattered football program is now in the hands of interim coach Matt Luke.

The 40-year-old was promoted from co-offensive coordinator on Thursday night in the stunning aftermath of coach Hugh Freeze's resignation for a ''pattern of personal misconduct'' that started with the school's investigation into a call to an escort service .

It's just the latest issue facing the embattled Rebels.

While Luke has been an assistant at Ole Miss during Freeze's entire five-plus year tenure, his name has not been linked to the ongoing NCAA investigation of the program. Luke also has deep family ties to the university and north Mississippi, playing offensive line for the Rebels from 1995-98.

Now he has a 12-game audition for the full-time job.

It's not an ideal situation , but it's not completely bleak either.

''Matt is a great coach,'' Bjork said when announcing Thursday the school was turning the program over to Luke . ''He's a leader. He's a rock. He's an Ole Miss Rebel. And I'm confident - and especially even more confident after watching him address the team - that he will lead this team and program through this difficult time.''

Bjork also noted that Wesley McGriff, the team's defensive coordinator, has been promoted to associate head coach. Luke was not immediately available for interviews in the aftermath of Freeze's resignation.

Luke is now in charge of a program that still has a talented roster - especially on offense - but is in the midst of long-running NCAA investigation that's already caused the school to impose a one-year bowl ban for the upcoming season.

The offense features several promising young players, including sophomores like quarterback Shea Patterson, left tackle Greg Little and receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.

Luke needs to hold on to them to have success. But it is unclear if any players on the current roster will transfer in the wake of Freeze bombshell.

Bjork said ''it's hard to say'' if there will be any roster changes. He said players are currently in summer workouts and several are in summer school. They'll also have a few days off before preseason camp on Aug. 2.

''We will give them space. We will listen,'' Bjork said. ''And whatever they decide to do, we will support them.''

The Ole Miss program was under a lot of stress even before Freeze's resignation. The Rebels are in the middle of an NCAA rules infractions case that includes 21 charges of academic, booster, and recruiting misconduct. Fifteen of those allegations are currently classified as Level I, which the NCAA deems most serious.

The school has already self-imposed several sanctions, including the postseason ban, scholarship restrictions and recruiting restrictions. More penalties could be coming after an NCAA decision in the case, which is expected later this year.

It remains to be seen if Freeze's resignation will hurt or help Ole Miss when it argues its case in front of the NCAA infractions committee. The school has staunchly defended Freeze in the past, saying the coach emphasized rules compliance during his tenure.

Bjork indicated on Thursday that view hadn't changed. He added that Freeze's resignation is strictly because of personal conduct and not related to the NCAA investigation.

''He has an established record that's well documented in terms of how he ran the program around compliance,'' Bjork said. ''And we still believe in that.''

One small silver lining for Ole Miss is that the program should be on solid financial footing whenever officials hire a full-time coach - whether that's Luke or someone else.

Freeze had multiple years remaining on a contract that paid him more than $5 million annually. Bjork said that if Freeze had not resigned, he would have been fired with cause under a morals clause in the contract.

Because of that, the AD said there is ''no buyout, no settlement'' moving forward.

But money can't fix the Rebels in the immediate future.

Freeze was allowed to address coaches and players after he announced his resignation and Bjork said the meeting was tough.

''I saw some heads go down, as you might expect, but I thought (the players) handled it very maturely,'' Bjork said. ''Several of them came up and hugged me and Matt Luke and the coaches and from what I could tell initially, they're ready to move forward.''
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Freeze ousted at Ole Miss
July 25, 2017

All Houston Nutt wanted was an apology. Hugh Freeze, the Bible-totin’, scripture spittin’ head coach who replaced Nutt at Ole Miss, was unwilling to provide one.

Therefore, 10 years after Nutt’s demise at his dream job in his native Arkansas started with an open-records request for his phone records, an identical move by Nutt’s lawyer Thomas Mars to attain Freeze’s phone records has resulted in the latter losing his dream job in Oxford.

(Quick Note: The depth of the irony involved in this situation isn’t lost on this space, but we’ll save the 2005-2007 trials and tribulations of Nutt, Gus Malzahn, Mitch Mustain, Damian Williams and Ben Cleveland in Fayetteville for another day.)

Only 45 days before Freeze was to begin his sixth season at Ole Miss, he agreed to resign his post last Thursday afternoon in order to avoid being fired with cause. The cover of Friday’s Oxford Eagle had a picture of Freeze and the following headline: “Escorted Out.”

When Nutt’s request for a public apology from Freeze, AD Ross Bjork and Ole Miss was turned down, he decided to file a lawsuit. With Freeze poised to face relentless scrutiny at SEC Media Days two weeks ago for the NCAA violations on his watch that have already resulted in self-imposed recruiting restrictions and a postseason ban in 2017, why not drop the lawsuit the day before Freeze was scheduled to appear in Hoover?

The context of the lawsuit was based upon the false narrative Freeze and Bjork created in the weeks leading up to Signing Day in 2016. A not-yet-public Notice of Allegations had already been sent to the school, engulfing the program with rumors of serious NCAA violations that would result in severe punishment in the not-too-distant future.

In order to deflect this notion and keep his highly-ranked 2016 recruiting class together, Freeze made a series of phone calls to national reporters to conduct off-the-record conversations. In the following days, multiple media members reported via twitter and various newspapers and magazines that anonymous sources (Freeze) were indicating that most of the issues contained in the NOA were from Nutt’s tenure rather than Freeze’s.

As it turned out this past spring when the NCAA’s charges became public, the implications of vast wrongdoing on Nutt’s watch was completely inaccurate. And Nutt was justifiably pissed and deserving of a public apology from Freeze, who was cited for the dreaded charge of “lack of institutional control.”

Despite all the turmoil around Freeze since his breakout 2013 recruiting haul shocked the nation (since when did the nation’s top-ranked wide receiver from the Chicago area consider Ole Miss, much less end up signing with it?!), Ole Miss had never once wavered in its support of the coach who seemed to play the religion card a bit too much, especially for someone constantly under fire for running a dirty program.

I’ve been saying for months that when you’re guilty of NCAA violations (and clearly Ole Miss was; hence the punishment it self-imposed several months ago), you basically have no choice but to clean house. This is because if you expect to get any leniency from the NCAA, you better come before them with fresh faces and a new staff after ousting the perpetrators of breaking the rules.

If you don’t, you’re just asking for the NCAA to drop the hammer on you. Seriously, who in college football history has survived this sort of scandal? Nobody. Not even Pat Dye in the early 1990s. And let’s not pull any punches here: There’s no institution in America that cares less about what those on the periphery – whether it be the national media, conference rivals, other coaches, etc. – think, write or say about the school that sits on The Plains. And yet it still fired Dye.

In fact, the only coaches that have dodged pink slips amid the sort of serious violations at Ole Miss have come in the form of basketball coaches. And Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Rick Pitino have all won national championships, while Freeze has never even won a division title.

Nevertheless, Bjork and the Ole Miss administration had inexplicably stood behind Freeze, choosing a preposterous path destined to fail miserably when they face the NCAA music later this year.

As Mars was working on the lawsuit earlier this month, he found a helper of sorts in a dude named Steve Robertson that works for a Mississippi St. website under the Scout network banner and is researching an upcoming book he’s writing. As Robertson examined Freeze’s phone records over a three-day period in late January of ’16, he came upon a strange number with a 313 area code. Freeze made The Call at 8:34 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 21.

The number turned out to be an escort service. When Robertson informed Mars of this, the lawyer told Yahoo Sports, “For at least 90 seconds I didn’t say anything. I was speechless.” He informed Ole Miss via e-mail that a phone number found in Freeze’s records would be embarrassing to the school, setting off an investigation by Ole Miss into more than 39,000 of Freeze’s calls over more than a five-year period.

Mars also tipped off Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, who confronted Freeze about the call. Freeze dubbed it a "misdial and there was nothing to it" because he was in Tampa that day. There's an 813 area code in the Tampa area.

Whatever was uncovered in the investigation into Freeze's phone calls by Ole Miss, it has been kept secret to this point. At the presser announcing his resignation, Bjork made several things clear. First, “a troubling pattern” of phone calls was enough to get him fired with cause. Secondly, Bjork felt that any conversation beyond that would be a violation of Freeze’s privacy.

So after all that had transpired with the NCAA, including a live-on-ESPN admission during the NFL Draft that Laremy Tunsil “would have to say yes” to the question as to whether or not he’d been paid by Ole Miss while he was playing, Freeze’s forced departure had zero to do with any rules violations.

One week to the day after Freeze took the podium at SEC Media Days and had the unfathomable audacity to opine about being forced to “re-define the word integrity” and quoted multiple Bible verses while implying that attacks on his character were similar to the persecution Jesus faced before being hung on the cross, Freeze was exposed as the holier-than-though hypocrite that he’s always been.

Nope, not even The Good Lord could help Freeze out of this mess. With his double life exposed, his nearly $5 million per year job gone without a penny of a buyout and his players and supporters left to answer questions galore, Freeze has remained silent. He’s presumably digging his way out of the doghouse with the four biggest victims of this only-in-the-SEC plot: his wife and three teenage daughters.

If and when he’s able to do that, he’ll meet with public-relations gurus about how on earth he goes about repairing his shattered image. We’ve seen it happen before and like Bobby Petrino, he’ll probably be able to coach again. The difference here, however, is that unlike Petrino, Freeze still faces the wrath of the NCAA and a show-cause penalty that could last up to 5-10 years.

As for Ole Miss, it looks like a fool that’s been hustled by a sanctimonious fraud. Its defense to the NCAA has been that Freeze was always been compliant to the rules and was merely blindsided by violations committed by a rogue assistant and various boosters. Good luck with that strategy moving forward!

Bjork’s reputation had been one of an intelligent young AD on the rise until he hitched his wagon with that of Freeze’s. He’s fortunate to still have his job and is surely on the hot seat at this point.

Assuming he indeed is the one that hires the next coach later this year, he’ll have a huge task in convincing one to accept such a challenging rebuild. With that said, the school will have plenty of cash available after wiggling out of what it would have owed Freeze in the future. In addition, this is still an SEC job and each one of those is coveted by coaches across the country.

Matt Luke has been named the interim head coach and could coach himself into the full-time gig if he’s able to produce a successful 2017 campaign under these circumstances. But we should point out that he’s never even been a coordinator, much less a head coach.

The next coach certainly won’t be Chip Kelly, who will have way too many options to consider a job with so many question marks and challenges ahead of it. Plus, he received a two-year show-cause penalty as he left Oregon for the NFL. More realistic possibilities are Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, Troy HC Neal Brown, Memphis HC Mike Norvell and Colorado HC Mike MacIntyre.

You might see names like Charlie Strong and Lane Kiffin mentioned. However, Strong already made one wrong decision regarding “fit” when he bolted Louisville for Texas. I just don’t see him pulling a one-and-done act at South Florida. As for Kiffin, I’m not sure his personality fits at a school looking to clean up a scandal and presumably avoid another one in the near future.

For now, it’s just a big Ole Mess in Oxford, one that the school could’ve avoided – at least to some extent -- had it cut bait with an individual who Bjork and his bosses ignorantly stood behind for far too long.
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Old 07-25-2017, 11:15 PM
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2017 MWC Preview
July 24, 2017

2017 Mountain West Conference Football Betting Preview

We’re Back, Again

For the tenth consecutive year, the Mountain West sent at least five teams into postseason bowl games when seven participants hit the alleys last season. The MWC has earned 84 bowl bids since 1999 and holds a 46-38 (.548) all-time record in those contests.

More important, for the first time in six years the Mountain West finished the bowls with a winning campaign last season.


The Mountain West has welcomed 29 new head coaches over the last 18 seasons, twelve of which played in a bowl game in their rookie year. Three new head coaches debut this season: Brent Brennan (San Jose State), Jay Norvell (Nevada), and oldie but goodie Jeff Tedford (Fresno State). The bad news is all three of the new coaches will face uphill battles with squads that all figure to battle to stay out of the cellar in their respective divisions.

Way Up There

The Mountain West Conference is appropriately named with all 6 teams in the MWC Mountain Division more than 2,000 feet above sea level.

Wyoming’s War Memorial stadium scales the highest at 7,215 feet, with Air Force’s Falcon Stadium also better than a mile high at 6,621 feet.

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.


AIR FORCE (Offense - *5/2, Defense - 1/0, 80 Lettermen)


It’s a good thing the Air Force Academy is always heavy on upper classmen. That’s because this year’s squadron has plenty of holes to fill as AFA seniors accounted for the 2nd highest percentage of starts of all FBS teams last season (69.0%). The good news is former starting QB Nate Romine returns, along with his heir apparent Arion Worthman, who is undefeated (6-0) as a starter for the Falcons. Lost however are six of seven defensive linemen, four of five linebackers and six of seven defensive backs. Furthermore, the Flyboys will most likely need to win out at home as five of six road games are slated against bowl teams.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Falcons are 2-12 ATS in games after facing Army and Navy since 2010.

PLAY AGAINST: at Colorado State (10/28)

BOISE STATE (Offense - *5/2, Defense - 4/2, 38 Lettermen)


You have to go back to 1998 to find the last time a Boise State football team failed to win 8 games in a season. And were it not for the fact that the Broncos finished the 2016 season with the 2nd fewest amount of turnovers gained (9), they likely would have topped the 10 wins they recorded last season. In fact, the most consistent mid-major in the nation has knocked off five of their last six Power Five foes. We’re not certain what happened in their bowl loss to Baylor, but the last four times the Broncos lost a bowl game, they bounced back to go 51-3 combined the following season. Thought you’d like to know.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Broncos are 61-2 SU in games against .500 or less foes with Bryan Harsin on the sidelines (as OC 2006-2010 and since 2014).

PLAY ON: vs. Air Force (11/18)

COLORADO STATE (Offense - *6/2, Defense - 8/3, 43 Lettermen)


Starting QB Nick Stevens leads a stacked backfield speared by the three-headed attack of Dalyn Dawkins, Izzy Matthews and Marvin Kinsey, Jr., who combined for 2,199 rushing yards last season. (Note: the Rams were 6-0 SU in game in which they rushed for 200 yards last season; 0-6 when they did not). After being demoted, and then reclaiming his starting position October 22nd, Stevens posted the nation’s best pass efficiency from that point forward when the Rams finished as the No. 4 team in the nation in red zone offense in 2016. Defensively, nine starters return, most of who were thrown into the fire due to a lack of proficiency. Meanwhile, Mike Bobo is one of only two Group of Five coaches hired in 2015 to post winning records each of the last two years. Color them dangerous.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rams are 0-20 SU all-time versus ranked opponents.

PLAY ON: at Wyoming (11/4)

NEW MEXICO (Offense - *7/3, Defense - 2/1, 41 Lettermen)


The Lobos won their first NCAA rushing title last season (after finishing second in 1970 and 1971) when they tallied 4,550 yards, edging Army by 86 yards. The question is was New Mexico good last season, or were they good and lucky? Five of its wins were by a TD or less in 2016 (only Clemson owned more). With over 50% of the starts made for the Lobos last season coming by seniors, we’ll see what Bob Davie has left in his recruit war chest. We do know this: the Lobos committed just 14 giveaways last season. In four of Davie’s five seasons at the helm, the Lobos have ranked in the top five in fewest giveaways.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Lobos have been outscored by 2.8 PPG under Davie, after being outscored by 26 PPG in the 3 years prior to his arrival.

PLAY ON: vs. New Mexico State (9/9)

UTAH STATE (Offense - *7/2, Defense - 8/1, 40 Lettermen)


It’s not a good sign when your team wins 3 games in a season in which over 50% of the starts were made by seniors – especially when six players that earned various MWC honors are gone this year. Granted, four losses last season by a TD or less were discouraging but signs of progress are evident in 2017 with the return of starting QB Kent Myers (2,389 passing yards and 10 TDs), RB Tonny Lindsey, Jr. (763 rushing yards and 6 TDs), and WR Ron’quavion Tarver (46 receptions for 602 yards) from last season. Also good news is the fact that 20 players made their first start last season. Collectively, they can only get better.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Aggies own a 19-13 SU record in conference games under Wells. They were 24-42 SU the previous nine seasons.

PLAY ON: at Air Force (11/25)

WYOMING (Offense - *6/4, Defense - 8/3, 51 Lettermen)


Meet the FBS team that started the most underclassmen in the nation in 2016 (56.2%). And for the first time in four seasons at Wyoming, head coach Craig Bohl will have a returning starter quarterback in JT Josh Allen – a mighty damn good one at that. Allen burst onto the college football scene in 2016, leading the MWC, and ranking 20th in the nation in passing touchdowns (28). Some thought he might enter the NFL Draft early this year but he didn’t. As a result, Allen should be one of the top returning QBs in the nation. Bohl’s force-feeding of youngsters two seasons ago paid major dividends last year. Could he hit the jackpot in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Last year’s win over Boise State was the first over a ranked opponent for the Cowboys since 2002.

PLAY ON: vs. New Mexico (10/28)


FRESNO STATE (Offense - *10/5, Defense - 6/3, 42 Lettermen)


What is the last thing a team that ranked dead last in in the nation in first down defense – and also ranked in the bottom 10 in the land in rush offense – would want to face during the first month of a new season with a new coach this year? If you said consecutive road trips to Alabama and to Washington, you’re spot on. The new coach is actually an old one recycled, former California boss Jeff Tedford. He was brought in after the Bulldogs fell from 11 wins to 11 losses in three years under Tim DeRuyter, who ironically moves to Cal as it new defensive coordinator. Remember this team suffered four losses by a touchdown or less last season. The only direction this program can go is up.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After a 19-4 start with the Bulldogs, former Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter went 11-30 in his final 41 games.

PLAY ON: at Hawaii (11/11)

HAWAII (Offense - *8/3, Defense - 6/2, 54 Lettermen)


If you thought the 10,000 miles Hawaii flew before playing its first home game last season was dizzying, wait until you get a load of this year’s passenger manifest. By the end of September 2017, the Warriors will have journeyed to Massachusetts, Los Angeles, and Wyoming. Troubling? No way. Not after 1st year coach and former Hawaii quarterback Nick Rolovich used last season's 10,000-mile journey to discover an exciting QB in Dru Brown and an explosive RB in Diocemy Saint Juste, pairing them to form one of the MWC’s more frightening backfields. With most of last year’s starting cast back, plus 9 of the top 11 receivers, another bowl looks likely.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Hawaii is 1-7 SU in Eastern Time zones since 1959, with losses by a combined margin of 286-30.

PLAY AGAINST: at Massachusetts (8/26)

NEVADA (Offense - *5/2, Defense - 9/3, 40 Lettermen)


Though it seems like eons ago now, three stints of Chris Ault and his altered shotgun offense are a faded memory following four non-descript seasons under Brian Polian. Replacing Polian is offense-maker Jay Norvell, a wide receivers coach at Arizona State last season, and a former OC with Nebraska, Oklahoma, and UCLA. To help kick-start the offense, Norvell hired Matt Mumme (Hal’s son), a former HC at Division III LaGrange as his OC. With air raid in Mumme’s blood, expect the pig to fly in Reno in 2017. Norvell’s DC is Jeff Casteel who brings almost 25 years of coordinator experience, including stints at West Virginia and Arizona. The rebuild is in place.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Wolf Pack were the 4th best team in the nation in fewest turnovers lost last season (11).

PLAY AGAINST: at Fresno State (9/30)

SAN DIEGO STATE (Offense - *5/1, Defense - 6/1, 34 Lettermen)


A monster in the Mountain West has emerged. Over the past two seasons Rocky Long’s Aztecs have won two MWC titles while outscoring conference foes by 24 PPG, while going 16-2 SU in conference games in the process. The problem now facing Long’s troops is that over 50% of the starts made for the Aztecs in 2016 were by seniors. Obviously, they will need to be replaced. The good news is super-pest South Alabama is no longer on the schedule. The Aztecs went 0-2 SUATS versus the Jaguars in 2015-16, and 22-4 against everyone else! Last year SDSU started the same OL in all 14 games, a group that combined for 114 starts. Now 130 of those starts are gone – along with record-setting RB Donnel Pumphrey.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: After bowling twice in 22 years between 1987 and 2009, the Aztecs have bowled six straight years under Rocky Long.


SAN JOSE STATE (Offense - 7/5, Defense - 8/2, 35 Lettermen)


First the bad news: The Spartans were the worst team in the land in sacks allowed (50) last year. They were also the 2nd worst team in the nation in 4th down conversion percentage defense. Throughout it all, after collaring Top 60 recruiting classes each of his last three years, promising young head coach Ron Caragher was canned. The good news is his replacement is Brent Brennan, a 44-year old former UCLA wide receiver, known for his infectious personality. He inherits major experience on the OL with six linemen owning 125 combined career starts. Even better news: Brennan also inherits a deeply experienced defense that could be the backbone of the team.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The SU winner in Spartans’ games is 33-4 the last three seasons, including 12-0 in 2016.


UNLV (Offense - *9/4 Defense - 2/2, 48 Lettermen)


Bit by the injury bug last year, HC Tony Sanchez’s troops fell short of .500 – but still improved their record, point production, and overall defense. The Rebels return two starting QBs and four WRs, plus a high upside of youthful experience is back as Sanchez’s recruiting skills are beginning to surface. For it to happen, though, veteran DC Kent Baer (45th year of coaching) needs his troops to show continued improvement. This is a program that's been to only four bowl games in four decades and, as a result, head coaches have struggled in Vegas (USC’s John Robinson was 28-42 here). Sanchez is determined to set a new norm. Don’t discount his chances as UNLV returns one of the Mountain West’s best backfields and top offensive lines this season.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Rebels have enjoyed just one winning season over the last 16 years.

PLAY ON: at Idaho (9/9) - *KEY
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Big 10: 'Stay put. Sideline isn't a stage.'
July 25, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) Watch your step, Jim Harbaugh.

The rest of you Big Ten coaches, too.

Conference officials are tired of coaches who treat the sideline like a stage and rage like Hamlet over calls they don't like - and they're prepared, finally, to do something about it.

Of the several rules changes in store for the 2017 season, stricter enforcement of the coach's box may have the greatest impact of all. Violators are subject to a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

''We wouldn't take a tenth of what some coaches do and say from a player, and this is the adult in the game setting the example,'' coordinator of officials Bill Carollo said Tuesday at Big Ten media days.

''That's kind of our thinking - `Know what? We should enforce this, but we have to do it consistently,''' he added. ''Big games, coaches, I don't care who they are. It doesn't matter.''

The consensus was that coaches literally crossed the line to make their points too often last season.

''It has gotten to the point that (coaches) are holding court outside the numbers,'' Carollo said. ''If they do get a flag, they stay out there and say `What's the call?' We were too easy on the rule. Across the country, it got really bad.''

The subject came to light most notably in the Michigan-Ohio State game last November, when an irate Harbaugh slammed his headset to the ground and threw a play sheet so far it ended up in the middle of the field. He accused the sideline official of being too preoccupied with his whereabouts on the field, among his critical postgame comments that drew a $10,000 fine.

''If we do it right, the most significant difference will be the coach on the field,'' Carollo said. ''I was really clear to our guys, `I'm just telling you, we've pledged to each other that we're going to call this consistently.' They have the marching orders. They're going to flag this. It will clean up the game a little bit. That's good.
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Old 07-25-2017, 11:19 PM
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Funny thing happened to Harbaugh on the way to the Forum
July 25, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) Presenting the pope with a Michigan football helmet and a pair of Air Jordans wasn't the only highlight in Jim Harbaugh 's trip to Rome this spring.

The jaunt went so well that you half-expected the Wolverines coach to pull out a map and show slides of his young squad sampling historical sites instead of answering the usual questions during his appearance at the Big Ten media days event Tuesday.

''The best thing I've ever done personally as a part of a football team,'' Harbaugh said.

''We're at the Colosseum, at the Forum, and you learn so many things along the way,'' he marveled a moment later. ''The Colosseum has been around for 600 years, it's been active for 600 years. Around here, 30, 40 years as a stadium and they tear it down. Amazing, really.''

Whether Harbaugh asked the pontiff to bless Michigan's fortunes this season wasn't known. But it would be hard to blame him for asking.

After starting last season with nine straight wins, the Wolverines staggered home by losing three of their last four, including a heart-breaking, double-overtime clunker to Ohio State in Columbus and then a 33-32 loss to Florida State at the Orange Bowl.

On top of that, Harbaugh lost more starters than any major college team - 17, assuming Wilton Speight returns at quarterback - and all but one on what was the top-ranked defense in America. He'll also be fielding one of the youngest teams in the game.

On the flip side, after adapting to players brought in by predecessor Brady Hoke, Harbaugh finally will have a majority of his recruits in the lineup. Several members of last year's highly touted class - Rashan Gary, Chris Evans, Michael Onwenu and Devin Bush Jr. - could be on the verge of breakout years.

''The amount of growth that you can have from doing something for the first time and then doing it the next time or the second time, can be the biggest leap they have their entire college year, going from freshman year to sophomore year,'' Harbaugh said. ''So I'm excited for that class.''

It remains to be seen whether Harbaugh's sometimes-wacky bonding experiments will pay dividends soon enough to get past rival Ohio State and end Michigan's 13-year title drought. But it should be evident whether the trip to Rome was a success in terms of team-building, since Michigan opens the season Sept. 2 with a stern test against Florida in Arlington, Texas.

''Ninety percent of us had never been out the country before,'' junior center Mason Cole said. ''To go to a foreign country, play football and experience their culture, that really cannot be matched. The only way you're going to learn stuff like that is by doing it.''

No one is more eager to find out how much the Wolverines have learned than Harbaugh himself. He won't have to wait long.

''Probably a good factor in giving us motivation and to get ready because we know just how good they are,'' he said about the Gators. ''And college football has always been unique.

''It's the only sport that I can think of that doesn't have a preseason or exhibition season. No spring training, no preseason game. So you go right into your first game,'' he said, breaking into a wide smile, ''and that counts.''

But even if Michigan winds up on the wrong side of the opener, Harbaugh has already announced next season's team-building trip. He's taking the Wolverines to Paris, with stops at the Versailles Palace and beaches at Dunkirk.

''Lot to do there,'' Harbaugh cracked.
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No 2-a-days means early start for Mississippi State practice
July 25, 2017

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald isn't mourning the death of two-a-day practices, even if it means an earlier start to preseason practice.

The Bulldogs opened camp Tuesday with several days left in July, which is much earlier than in previous years. One major reason for the early start is a new NCAA rule limiting teams to just one contact practice per day.

For Mississippi State, the lack of two-a-days likely means less time at ''The Farm,'' a field located across campus from the practice facilities that usually is the site of the preseason's hardest workouts.

Fitzgerald won't miss the long, hot days of two straight physical practices in the Mississippi sun and humidity. He believes there will be benefits to players being in better health during the August grind.

''If that means we have to spread it out over a week more, that's perfectly fine,'' Fitzgerald said. ''Having a few days where you just come in, lift weights and watch film instead of practicing every day, I think that's going to help out a lot.''

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his ninth season with the program, has a mixed opinion about the new schedule.

He said it's good that they're able to structure camp around player safety. In making the schedule, Mullen said he asked the team's athletic trainers and strength coaches to put together an ideal schedule to allow for rest and recovery. Then he worked that plan around the ideas of assistant coaches and summer school class schedules for the final version.

His major worry is the down time it creates.

''There are concerns,'' Mullen said. ''In the middle of training camp, there's no school, no anything and the players have whole days off. They don't do any football - we can't even do a life skills presentation. Nothing.

''So I hope they're well-behaved that day.''

Mississippi State enters camp hoping to improve on last year's 6-7 record. The Bulldogs had a 5-7 record in the regular season but made the St. Petersburg Bowl because there weren't enough bowl-eligible teams. The extra spots were given to the 5-7 programs with the highest Academic Progress Rate scores.

Fitzgerald's return should give Mississippi State a good foundation this season. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder was one of the breakout stars of the Southeastern Conference a year ago, throwing for 2,423 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 1,375 yards and 16 touchdowns.

He is joined by running back Aeris Williams, who ran for 720 yards in 2016, and Donald Gray, who caught 41 passes for 709 yards and five touchdowns.

Last season at this time, Fitzgerald was in the middle of a four-man competition for the starting quarterback job. Now, he's the unquestioned starter and gets to concentrate on making himself better instead of worrying about the other quarterbacks.

''Going into this camp, my main goal is focusing on myself and fix what I need to fix to make myself better so we can have a good season,'' Fitzgerald said.
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Pitt, that hurts the Penn St & Ok St games

Pitt suspends Jordan Whitehead, two others; Rori Blair dismissed from team | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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2017 Pac-12 Preview
July 31, 2017

2017 Pacific-12 Conference Football Betting Preview

It’s Getting Warm Around Here

If it appears that things are warming up in the desert these days it’s because they are. Global warming aside, Arizona and Arizona State are just 20-19 and 21-17 respectively since 2014.

That puts head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham squarely on the hot seat this season. Behind defenses that allowed an average 38 (Wildcats) and 40 (Sun Devils) points per game last season its no surprise new defensive coordinators were hired in the off season.

Quarterback Checklist

Like most football conferences, the Pac-12 is a quarterback driven league. And 2017 will be no different, with USC Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Washington’s Jake Browning and Washington State’s Luke Falk leading the charge.

Each will be in the Heisman Trophy talk in 2017. And rest assured, by the time the final dust settles backers of these teams will have air miles aplenty.

Bowl Shorts

For a Power 5 conference, the Pac-12 landed only six bowl berths in 2016. Not only did they manage a waffling 3-3 SU mark, they lost the money in all six contests when they went 0-6 ATS.

After a blasť 6-4 bowl effort in 2015, it’s time for the surfer dudes to stand and deliver 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.


CALIFORNIA (Offense – 5/2, Defense – 8/3, 56 Lettermen)


The bad news Bears fielded the 4th worst overall stop-unit in the nation last season, owning the worst rush defense AND worst 4th down conversion percentage defense as well. Hopefully, those days are now in the rear-view mirror. The dismissal of HC Sonny yikes (no D) and the hire of Justin Wilcox bring a new look to Berkeley. As a DC, Wilcox’s stuffing defenses at Boise State, Tennessee, USC, Washington and Wisconsin guarantees a defensive turnaround at Cal. And for good measure, he brings in hard-nosed former HC Tim DeRuyter as his new DC, and former Eastern Washington HC Beau Baldwin as his OC. The Bears look ready to strap on the ‘D’.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Under Dykes, the Bears were 2-14 SU and 4-12 ATS versus Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, and USC, losing by over 20 PPG... and 1-11 SU in Games Six thru Eight.


OREGON (Offense – *7/4, Defense – 9/0, 48 Lettermen)


New HC Willie Taggart inherits a decidedly desirable situation, and not just because he’s taking over a top-level program. It’s the fact that Oregon hit a chuckhole in 2016 when its 4 wins (the fewest since 1983) snapped a 12-year win skein. Thus, a winning season of any sort will be looked upon as improvement. But more than that, the Ducks started more freshmen that any FBS team (29.1% of all starts). In addition, 46.7% of all starts were made by underclassmen (8th most in the land). That goes hand-in-hand with our take on young teams translating ambitious experience into success (see Washington in 2016). Fear these dangerous Ducks.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Ducks were held to under 300 yards of total offense for the first time in 89 games in a loss to USC last season.


OREGON STATE (Offense – *8/2, Defense – 7/3, 51 Lettermen)


After being beaten to a pulp in Gary Andersen’s first year with OSU in 2015 (they were outscored and outyarded by conference foes, -24.6 and -208 YPG ), things improved across the board in 2016 – to the point that they handily outperformed the oddsmaker, going 9-2 ATS. Hence, promise is the optimal word in Corvallis these days. 22-year old OT Gus Lavaka spent two years as an LDS missionary in Tonga and returned to land a spot on Campus Insiders’ 2016 Freshmen All-American First Team for the Beavers last season. He joins CB Xavier Crawford as another 2016 Freshmen All-American First Teamer, so the building blocks are in place.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Beavers were ranked No. 127 (2nd worst) in 4th down conversion percentage in 2016.


STANFORD (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/2, 82 Lettermen)


Perpetuating their lofty standing as a premier team in the Pac-12, Stanford ranks at the top of its division and third in the conference in the number of 4-or 5-star (41) and ESPN 300 (32) recruits signed over the past five seasons. It’s a primary reason that, since he arrived at Stanford in 2011, head coach David Shaw has averaged 10.7 wins per season. However, the loss of two 1st-rounders in this year’s NFL Draft cannot be overstated. RB Christian McCaffrey’s 3,360 rushing yards against Power 5 foes was tops in the land (nearly 700 yards more than runner-up D’Onta Foreman of Texas). And DL Solomon Thomas was the 3rd overall pick in the draft. Be careful here.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cardinal’s offense slipped 12 points and 68 yards per game last season.

PLAY AGAINST: vs. Notre Dame (11/25)

WASHINGTON (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 7/2, 53 Lettermen)


Last year we proclaimed the fact that the 2015 Huskies were ”young as hell, and back for more in 2016.” That force-feeding paid off in spades when they earned a trip to the CFB Playoffs. And because only 17.5% of all starts last year were made by seniors (the 6th fewest in the nation), they are still hungry, led by QB Jake Browning and TB Myles Gaskin. Still, three members of UDub’s starting secondary were scooped up in the first 11 picks in the 2nd round of this year’s NFL Draft. Remember, the Huskies led the nation in turnovers gained last season (33). What happens to the defending Pac-12 champs if they don’t this year?

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Head coach Chris Petersen averages 10.82 wins per season, which ranks No. 3 among all current head coaches.

PLAY AGAINST: at Colorado (9/23)

WASHINGTON STATE (Offense – *9/3, Defense – 7/2, 44 Lettermen)


After seeing his best squad ever at WSU last season open up 0-2 and then stall down the stretch, one can only imagine the numbers on Mike Leach’s Fit Bit this offseason. We know this for sure: we’re betting QB Luke Falk will be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentations this year. The 6’4” SR started all 13 games in 2016 while completing 443-of-633 passes for 4,468 yards (third most in the nation) and 38 TDs. And those numbers were actually DOWN from two years ago when he completed 448-of-645 passes for 4,566 yards and 38 TDs. A wealth of receivers also return, making this a team no one will want to line up against in 2017.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Cougars are 10-1 ATS as conference road dogs versus winning foes under head coach Mike Leach.

PLAY ON: vs. Boise State (9/9)


ARIZONA (Offense – *8/4, Defense – 8/3, 45 Lettermen)


It was a collapse of major proportions. Last year’s awful 3-9 season, after four consecutive bowl campaigns, dropped the Wildcats to 10-15 since winning the Pac-12 South Division in 2014. Last year’s 82-yard slippage on offense can be attributed to a depleted attack unit being forced to play three different quarterbacks, and a wide receiver at running back. Only in this case it was a lack of talent – not injuries – that handcuffed the team. “Part of the problem we had last year was mistakes in recruiting or bad luck in recruiting,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It falls on me.” It's fair to say he won’t be long for Tucson with another 3-9 season. Safe to say Rich Rod will need stud RB Nick Wilson, who’s missed 14 games the past two seasons with injuries, to stand and deliver.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: For the third time in the last five years, Arizona has had zero players selected in the NFL Draft.

PLAY ON: vs. Utah (9/22)

ARIZONA STATE (Offense – *7/2, Defense – 7/3, 57 Lettermen)


After a second straight losing campaign in 2016, head coach Todd Graham’s staff underwent more change for the second straight year, losing passing game coordinator Jay Norvell (new HC at Nevada). Also gone is OC Chip Lindsey, who accepted the same position at Auburn. Graham then added former Baylor DC Phil Bennett to the mix. But you know things are going bad when Youngstown State and West Georgia each had more players drafted (2) this year than you did (1). The good news is new OC Billy Napier, Alabama’s WR coach, will work with former Alabama QB Blake Barnett, who transferred out with automatic eligibility.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Arizona State ranked dead last (No. 128) in passing yards allowed for the second consecutive season.

PLAY AGAINST: at UCLA (11/11) - *KEY

COLORADO (Offense – 9/4, Defense – 3/1, 53 Lettermen)


The Buffaloes improved from 3-33 in conference play the previous four seasons to 8-1 in 2016. And the expectation is that Colorado will likely remain a Top 25-caliber team for the foreseeable future. The Pac-12’s best scoring defense will need to overhaul its unit, though, with 8 starters gone. On the flip side, the Buffaloes have one of the best groups of receivers in the conference, and also return 2nd-team All-Pac-12 RB Phillip Lindsay. They should be in good shape with Steven Montez replacing Sefo Liufau at QB, and four starters back on the OL, including OT Tim Lynott, a Freshmen All-American First Teamer who started every game last year.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: The Buffaloes have forced a turnover in each of their last 25 home games – the longest skein in the nation.


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


Where does a team go that loses its franchise quarterback at the midway point of the season behind an offense that ranked No. 127 (2nd worst in the land) in rushing offense? Not far, or as Dwight Yoakam might say, “A thousand miles from nowhere.” Thus, this year’s team will be all about having the “Chosen Rosen” back behind center. The ‘mission team’ Bruins will also be looking to improve on last year’s 1-5 mark in true road games (as opposed to going 17-6 the prior four seasons). UCLA’s defense actually improved in 2016 when it held six straight opponents to under 400 yards of total offense in a season for the first time since 2010.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: QB Josh Rosen was sacked 13 times in 6 games last season, as opposed to 15 times in 13 games in 2015.

PLAY ON: vs. Texas A&M (9/3)

USC (Offense – *6/2, Defense – 7/1, 48 Lettermen)


After starting the season 1-2 for the first time since 2001, USC handed the keys over to phenom QB Sam Darnold, who lost his first start and then led the Trojans to nine straight wins – winning the stats in all ten games. Darnold finished with the 2nd-most passing yards (3,086) of all freshmen in 2016, and he projects as the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft (should he decide to enter). Hence, the 2017 Trojans are well equipped, returning 81 squad men from last year’s Rose Bowl champion team. A consensus national Top 5 recruiting class of 23 newcomers will join them. That likely tells you all you need to know. What is concerning is the fact that the Trojans averaged 68,459 fans in home attendance in 2016. They drew 91,480 fans a game under Pete Carroll.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: USC beat both teams that played in the Pac-12 Championship Game last season.

PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite at Notre Dame (10/21)

UTAH (Offense – *6/1, Defense – 6/2, 50 Lettermen)


Former Washington Huskies and JCU transfer QB Troy Williams stepped in and filled Travis Wilson’s shoes with aplomb last season when he threw for 2,757 yards and 15 TDs. The Utes tied with BYU for the 2nd best team in the land in turnovers gained (31), and was also the No. 1 ranked team in net punting in 2016. However, Kyle Whittingham’s team took a big hit in the NFL Draft when eight players were selected this year. Fortunately, there are no back-to-back road games this season for the first time since 2003, when they went 10-2. The bad news, though, is they will face the top four teams from the North division in 2017. FYI: Utah has appeared in every College Football Playoff ranking since its inception in 2014.

STAT YOU WILL LIKE: Utes head coach Whittingham owns the best bowl winning percentage (.910) of any coach in NCAA history.

PLAY AGAINST: at USC (10/14)
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Futures Betting Report
July 28, 2017

Saban and Company receiving EXTRA attention

Alabama, it won’t surprise you to hear, is dominating the college football futures market in Las Vegas ahead of the 2017 season. Opening at prices few would consider bargains, the Crimson Tide continue to be hammered by the betting public. And we emphasize “public” – wiseguys do not bet any team, even mighty Alabama, to win a national championship at such unattractive odds.

“There’s a lot of money and a lot of tickets on them (some in the $10,000 to $20,000 range). I wouldn’t necessarily consider it sharp,” said John Avello, director of race and sports at the Wynn, who opened Alabama at 4/1 and is down to 5/2. "I don’t think sharps are playing a 4/1 shot in college football that has to win their conference and win two games after that to win it all. Doesn’t sound like a sharp play to me.”

Oddsmaker Chris Andrews is seeing similar action at the South Point.

“Mostly public,” Andrews said of the heavy money on ‘Bama. “We may have a sharp bet in there off the opener (4/1), but it’s been almost all public. Everybody assumes they reload every year. Well, they do until they don’t. … (But) I’d be careful about those assumptions. Not that it won’t happen, you’re just not getting a very good price that it will. They still have to get to the playoffs, and there are so many quirky things that happen (during a season).”

At William Hill U.S., Alabama has accounted for 21 percent of the money bet in the college football futures pool – Ohio State and USC are next closest, each at 10 percent.

Andrews suggests a different approach for bettors high on the Tide.

“If you love ‘Bama, you’re probably better off just picking your spots during the course of the season, rather than taking 5/2 – that’s just not a very good price,” he said.

Bettors backing ‘Bama in the win total market aren’t getting much of deal, either, as that number sits between 10.5 and 11 around Vegas. With a 12-game regular season, betting ‘over’ those numbers leaves little margin for error.

Save a momentary flash to 11, the South Point has been dealing 10.5 for Alabama’s win total, the over currently priced as the -165 favorite.

“At 11, wiseguys would have to bet you 'under,' Andrews said. “They’d just have to. It’s almost like pointing a gun to their head.”

That’s exactly what happened at the Westgate SuperBook, where oddsmaker Ed Salmons said he took sharp action on Alabama under 11.

“That was based on it being 10.5 (over -140) in town,” he said.

Troll Tide

According to Andrews’ personal ratings, Alabama isn’t even the best team in the nation.

“I have Ohio State ranked as my No. 1 team in the country. I have them 1 point better than ‘Bama,” he said.

That doesn’t mean the Buckeyes, priced at 4/1 at the South Point, will be there at the end. This may not sit well with college football fans in the south, but Andrews believes Ohio State has a tougher path through the Big Ten than Alabama does in the SEC.

“Ohio State’s in a tougher division – I don’t know about conference – but they’re in a tougher division than ‘Bama is,” he said, noting they have to play Penn State and Michigan in the regular season before a likely meeting against a solid Wisconsin team in the Big Ten championship game. “’Bama, for one of the few seasons ever, has an easier road to hoe than Ohio State.”

That tough road ahead isn’t keeping Buckeyes fans from backing their team.

“Ohio State always writes a ton of money,” the Westgate’s Salmons said. “We have Ohio State at 3/1 and we’re losing money on them in the future book, which tells you all you need to know about Ohio State fans.” Professional money did show up on the Buckeyes at CG Technology, pushing their win total from 10 (o-125) to 10.5 (o -150), according to vice president of risk Jason Simbal.

Michigan’s growing number

Despite the public’s love for Michigan, the Wolverines have seen their futures odds more than double at some Vegas bet shops. Their number at the Westgate has jumped from an opener of 12/1 to 25/1.

Both Salmons and Andrews pointed out that only one of last year’s starters returns to Jim Harbaugh’s defense, and last season’s starting quarterback, Wilton Speight, is battling to keep the job this year with two others.

“I’m not sure if that means Speight is not very good or he’s just got some really good competition,” Andrews said.

Harbaugh’s squad is also looking at a daunting schedule. In conference, they play at Wisconsin, at Penn State and home against Ohio State – and that’s after facing Florida in its season opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Salmons acknowledged he doesn’t necessarily do a deep dive into each team before posting futures odds in January for the following season – hence, Michigan’s 12/1 opening price.

“When I first put up our future book odds, I’m not going through every team’s schedule at that point. I’m just putting it up essentially based on perception and what I know at that time,” Salmons said. “When you look at each team in detail and go through the individual schedules then you can really pinpoint what you believe each team is capable of. With Michigan, everything’s stacked against them this year.”

The fading of Michigan begins right off the bat, as there’s been some action against them in Week 1. At CG Technology, the Wolverines are a 4-point favorite over the Gators, after opening -5.

“There was a big move on Florida, which was pretty sharp money,” Simbal said.

Price was right on the Badgers

Sticking with our Big Ten theme, while Salmons estimates 95 percent of the national championship futures money wagered at his shop comes from public bettors, he’s taken some sharp action on Wisconsin, which opened at 40/1 and is down to 20/1.

“Wisconsin has a joke of a schedule this year. They literally have one tough game the whole year,” Salmons said “... We took some money on them, and I’m sure some of that money was so-called professional money.” At CG, Wisconsin’s win total has been bet up from 9.5 (o -125) to 10 (o-165).

A smattering of win total notes

While the public’s tendency to bet ‘over’ extends beyond game totals to season win totals, Texas (8 o-120) is one team they’ve been betting ‘under’ at the Westgate. Salmons welcomes the action. “Texas is a team I like a lot this year, so I’m liking the under money."

At CG, Auburn has been pushed from 8 wins (o-115) to 8.5 (o-150). “They’ve gotten a lot of public action,” Simbal said.

The action against Nevada also stood out to Simbal, as bettors are taking shots against their home state team. After opening at 5 (u-140), the Wolf Pack have been bet down significantly to 4.5 (u -230).

At the South Point, gamblers are going ‘over’ 8.5 wins on Florida. Said Andrews, “I’m not sure I really like that. That side of the conference (SEC East) is very even, not that it’s great.”
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Leach shares at Pac-12 media days
July 28, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) The best show at Pac-12 media days for six years running has been Washington State coach Mike Leach's news conference.

Among this year's highlights were Leach's introduction of Cougars linebacker Peyton Pelluer and his ''samurai hairdo,'' a sharp rebuke of the lack of uniformity in scheduling among Power 5 conferences, his thoughts on dealing with millennials. Then there was the closing monologue on how every other level of college football can hold a tournament featuring up to 32 teams while the FBS playoff is limited to four.

Leach even got to weigh in on whether a hot dog is a sandwich.

''I never liked hot dogs when I was a kid, and I think that some of that started with when I was a real young kid. I'd have bologna sandwich after bologna sandwich. So anything that even remotely resembled bologna, I hated. Everybody says go to the ballgame and eat a hot dog. Not me,'' he said. ''No, it's not a sandwich.''

When the conversation finally got around to Washington State football, the run game usually overshadowed in Leach's pass-heavy spread offense was singled out for praise.

Washington State rushed for 120 yards per game last season, and the Cougars had 23 rushing touchdowns after scoring only eight on the ground in 2015. Running backs Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks combined for 1,634 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. They also added 125 receptions for 1,014 yards and seven touchdowns.

''If you add up the yards, we had the most productive backs in the league. I think it went us, Oregon, Stanford. That's good company right there,'' Leach said.

Paired with the most prolific passing offense in the Pac-12, that balance - at least by the relative standards of Leach's Air Raid system - was enough to elevate Washington State to a 7-2 conference record and raise the stakes for the Apple Cup against rival Washington to where the Pac-12 North and a berth in the conference title game were at stake for both teams.

Morrow, Williams and Wicks are all back this season and will get to run behind a veteran offensive line anchored by guard Cody O'Connell.

But Morrow said the secret to the ground game's success is senior quarterback Luke Falk.

Falk will check between a run or pass play at the line of scrimmage depending on which matchup is most favorable. If the opponent doesn't put enough defenders near the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Falk will hand the ball off.

Despite being on pace to break Pac-12 records for career yards passing and touchdown passes this season, Morrow said Falk is completely unselfish in letting his running backs take over a game.

''It's all on Luke,'' Morrow said. ''If we have to run the ball, you know, 30-40 times a game because they are giving us run box, he'll do it.''

While Morrow was happy to talk about the offense, he was also asked plenty of questions about his occasionally peculiar head coach.

So too was Pelluer.

''During practice, special teams period when he is not doing anything, he'll just wander through drills, like active drills that are going on,'' Pelluer said. ''The best is when we're watching on film the next day, `Oh, there's Coach Leach just walking through a drill.' He just doesn't care.''

Whether the setting is Hollywood or Pullman, Washington, it turns out Leach can't help but be the center of attention.
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All set: QB Alex Hornibrook confident entering Badgers camp
July 28, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) There is no quarterback drama going into preseason camp this year for Wisconsin.

Coach Paul Chryst likes how Alex Hornibrook handled the offseason work and responsibilities that come with spending the summer knowing that he would be the starter. And as if the summer wasn't memorable enough for Hornibrook, the left-handed sophomore also got to meet his childhood idol, Peyton Manning, after serving as a counselor at the former NFL quarterback's summer passing camp.

The next step for Hornibrook is to take command of the offense from the first snap of the first practice on Saturday for a team that once again has high hopes in the Big Ten.

''One thing I've always been impressed with Alex is his approach. He's willing to spend a lot of time trying to improve physically, and the mental part of it,'' Chryst said Friday at Badgers media day. ''I really like where Alex is at right now yet ... there's a lot of room for growth.''

Hornibrook had a promising freshman campaign after taking over as starter for senior Bart Houston in Week 4, a 30-6 win at Michigan State. Houston had just edged out Hornibrook for the starting job out of last preseason camp.

As the 2016 season progressed, Chryst used Houston more as a change-of-pace quarterback. But Hornibrook remained the starter until having to miss the Big Ten title game with a concussion.

Hornibrook finished the 2016 season completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions, not bad for a freshman. He developed a knack for making touch passes in tight windows.

With Houston out of eligibility and two freshmen behind Hornibrook on the depth chart, there really wasn't much drama about the quarterback job. Chryst settled any questions in spring practice.

Still, after going through a quarterback competition last preseason, Hornibrook has one less thing to worry about this year.

''I think it definitely decreases all the outside distractions,'' Hornibrook said at Camp Randall Stadium. ''When that's not really a concern, you can focus more on yourself, focus on getting ready through this fall camp and game weeks.''

He has a pretty good story to tell teammates after meeting Manning. Hornibrook was one of about 40 quarterbacks who worked with kids in the morning before the counselors turned into students working with Manning and his brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, in the afternoon.

Hornibrook described the camp as one of the ''coolest experiences'' that he's had in his football career. He was especially grateful for tips from Manning about watching film.

Receiver Jazz Peavy said the confidence-building moments of the past year have carried over into the preseason for Hornibrook.

''He's gained that confidence because he knows he's established himself as that guy,'' Peavy said. ''He's supposed to be our starter, so he carries himself that way.''

NOTES: Michael Deiter, the Badgers' best offensive lineman, has been moved from center to left tackle. Presumed starting RT Jacob Maxwell is still recovering from shoulder surgery and is not on the opening training camp roster, so David Edwards is sliding from the left side to the right side. The Badgers must replace All-America LT Ryan Ramczyk, who was taken in the first round of the NFL draft by New Orleans. Deiter who has played center and guard in his career, spent three days in spring ball at tackle. ''The transition wasn't all that bad. It was just good enough to do it a little more and see if I can truly play tackle,'' Deiter said. ... The move means that freshman Tyler Biadasz will open camp as the first-string center.
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Utah hopes new offense key to title
July 28, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Utah is tired of the close calls.

Utah has gradually progressed as a program since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 and is one of five teams in the nation to be ranked in every College Football Playoffs weekly poll since it began in 2014. Still, the Utes have yet to reach the conference championship game.

Utah opened fall camp Friday with a brand new, fast-paced, pass-first offense led by first-year coordinator Troy Taylor. This is the first time coach Kyle Whittingham has stepped away from his run-heavy, grind-it-out scheme since taking over in 2005.

''We've been running the heck out of the ball for a lot of years and the last three years, in particular, haven't gotten over the hump,'' Whittingham said. ''We've got to be better throwing the football. That's (Taylor's) forte. That's his area of expertise. That and quarterback development.

''That's the two areas that really need to be bolstered and that's his cup of tea.''

The receivers feel more involved and believe they'll be put to better use. The quarterback competition is technically open, but it would be a surprise if Troy Williams wasn't named the starter for a second consecutive year. He threw for 2,757 yards, 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season while completing 53.1 percent of his passes in 2016. The 6-foot-2, 208-pound senior is more comfortable considering he's run the progression-based scheme before as a freshman at Washington before transferring. Williams is one of many on the roster who feel they let 2016 get away after losing three of the final four Pac-12 games.

''I want to put up 50 a game to show the world we're not messing around,'' Williams said.

The Carson, California, player didn't back down when asked if that was a realistic goal.

''Most definitely,'' Williams said. ''I feel like we can average a lot of points, especially with the weapons we have and the defense we have, but it's going to take a lot of hard work, especially with the competition we have in the Pac-12.''

Sophomore receiver Siasoi Wilson added, ''I feel like all eyes are on us. ... They've got a good offense now, so what're they going to do with it?''

Utah has yet to rank higher than No. 8 in scoring offense since joining the league. Whittingham said he doesn't have a set number he feels the Utes need to average, but 2016's 77.78 red-zone conversion percentage that ranked No. 11 in the Pac-12 must improve.

''Last year, we had to have 50 against UCLA,'' Whittingham said. ''Some weeks you only need 20. I think it's relative to the game. ... I think that varies week to week based on the defense you're playing and so forth.

''We've got to be better than we were last year scoring. We've got to be better throwing the football. We've got to be better in the red zone.''

The scheme alone should get more production through the air, but the Utes hope to have more talent at receiver. Former Oregon receiver Darren Carrington transferred in this week after being dismissed from the Ducks two weeks ago, soon after he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound San Diego player steps onto the Utah team as the most experienced and successful receiver on the roster. Last season as a junior, Carrington had 43 catches for 606 yards and five touchdowns. He has 112 career receptions for 1,919 yards and 15 touchdowns. He's been cleared to practice and was on the field Friday. Junior college transfer Josh Nurse is expected to contribute while junior Raelon Singleton and Wilson will have increased roles.

Taylor was pleased with where the offense was at the beginning of camp because they've been working on it since spring, but he doesn't have an expectation timeline.

''I just take it a day at a time in terms of what they're absorbing and then I'll move forward and kind of work at their speed,'' Taylor said. ''If I feel like we're progressing too slowly, I'll pick it up a little bit. It's really kind of a feel thing. Every team's different, every group's different.

''We've got some brand new guys that just showed up. You can only go as fast as your slowest guy in terms of learning.''

That's not slowing the optimism, though, within a roster that feels shortchanged after winning 28 games the last three years.

''I think we're tired of coming close every year,'' Singleton said. ''We're known as a defensive school. I feel like if we had offense these past three years with the defense we've been having, we should have been in the national championship (hunt).''
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