Go Back   Sports Handicapping at cappersmall > >

College Football CFB Handicapping - Post your CFB picks, talk CFB betting, anything CFB.

Likes Likes:  1
Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #51  
Old 07-13-2017, 10:19 AM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.
Reply With Quote
  #52  
Old 07-13-2017, 10:22 AM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.
Reply With Quote
  #53  
Old 07-13-2017, 10:25 AM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.
Reply With Quote
  #54  
Old 07-13-2017, 10:27 AM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.''
Reply With Quote
  #55  
Old 07-13-2017, 10:28 AM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.''
Reply With Quote
  #56  
Old 07-13-2017, 10:30 AM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.
Reply With Quote
  #57  
Old 07-16-2017, 11:56 PM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.

UCLA:
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
: 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.

Arizona:
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.

California:
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).
Reply With Quote
  #58  
Old 07-16-2017, 11:58 PM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
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.

NEW COACHES


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.

NEW VENUE


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.

GOOD NUMBERS


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.
Reply With Quote
  #59  
Old 07-17-2017, 11:13 AM
CNOTES53 CNOTES53 is offline
Registered User
 
Join Date: Aug 2014
Posts: 37,759
Rewards: 62,820
Post Thanks / Like
Likes (Given): 0
Likes (Received): 211
2017 MAC Preview
July 17, 2017


2017 MID-AMERICAN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

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.

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.

MAC EAST PREVIEW

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


TEAM THEME: BEEN THERE, DONE THAT

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)


TEAM THEME: LO JINKS ERA OFF TO ROUGH START

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)

TEAM THEME: SPEEDY D

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)

TEAM THEME: EERIE FLASHES

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)


TEAM THEME: CHARMIN-SOFT SCHEDULE

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)


TEAM THEME: STEADY AS A ROCK

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)

MAC WEST PREVIEW


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


TEAM THEME: A NEU ERA UNFOLDS IN MUNCIE

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)

TEAM THEME: BIG, BIG JOHN

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)

TEAM THEME: E-TOUGH IS GOOD-ENOUGH

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.

PASS

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

TEAM THEME: BEWARE OF THE SLEEPING DOG

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)

TEAM THEME: READY TO RE-IGNITE

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)

TEAM THEME: NEW FOOTPRINT

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)
Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:53 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.11
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, vBulletin Solutions Inc.
Resources saved on this page: MySQL 15.79%