Blockbuster: A College Football Preview

Preparing for an outstanding season of college football that promises to have a Hollywood ending

It might be the start of the semester, but there is already one course we are up until 2 a.m. studying for. College football is a final exam for an honors course on the history of Newtonian physics, and the last month has been finals week. Despite all the studying, all the research, all the bibliographies that you have cited and re-cited credible sources like Football Outsiders or Fake Bo Pelini (“You may not believe this but Taylor Swift has a new song about how some people don’t like her but she doesn’t care”), you are going to fail. Binge watch replays of last year’s games on ESPNU and the newly minted SEC Network like they’re Adderall. It will do you no good. Come January 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in North Texas, we will all get a big fat F.

And that’s just great.

Division I FBS college football is a lot like a James Cameron movie. The high-profile names of both the driector and his cast is what gets you into the theater. Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Todd Gurley, Ameer Abdullah, Nick Marshall and a cast of well-known thousands return to make the NFL scouts salivate and wonder why they thought drafting that Manziel guy was a good idea. Enigmatic coaches like Steve Spurrier, Dabo Swinney, Kliff Kingsbury, and (of course) Les “Mad Hatter” Miles provide the right dashes of hard-headedness, bravado, and insanity to fit the bill of comedic lead. Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio do their best Russell Crowe impressions as impassioned, dramatic leaders of men.

Once the movie starts, you begin to the notice the immense granduer of the visual spectacle you are witnessing. Admit it, there is no party like a fall Saturday at one of the hallowed tailgating grounds across the country that have become the stuff of bucket lists, like the Grove in Oxford, Mississippi, between the hedges in Athens, Georgia, or at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The color and pageantry of college football is undeniable and often breath-taking, whether it’s touching Howard’s Rock, jumping around at Camp-Randall, hitting your mark on every yell you practiced at midnight at Kyle Field, dotting the “i” at the Horseshoe, letting Ralphie lead the Buffs on the field, chomping like a Gator, chopping like a Seminole, screaming “Roll Damn Tide” or “War Damn Eagle” at the other guys, or just having your ears flat out blown off by the supersonic boom of a night in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, AKA Death Valley

But Michael Bay makes big, visually stunning films with superstar casts that have all the hype Paramount Pictures’ marketing department can buy. So why do we constantly go the cinema expecting him to throw acidic poison on our favorite Hasbro toys or ’80’s cartoons and are sadly correct (just because he produced it doesn’t mean Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t look like they took the Transformers “blow everything up” mantra and substituted Autobots for weird, Shrek-looking things with the hots for Megan Fox)?

Michael Bay can’t write a screenplay to save his life. The story a great film tells is far more important than whether or not ILM will be doing the special effects. James Cameron has found ways to bring captivating stories to the silver screen, like a peasant boy in love with a wealthy girl on a doomed ship, or a primitive culture defeating a more technologically advanced civilization to save their home (Star Wars fans wish Avatar had been around when George Lucas was coming up with Ewoks).

College football’s “Power 5” conferences may have been given the power this offseason to change rules like ticket prices, but the grand epic that will play out over the next 4 plus months is always worth the price of admission. The struggle to achieve perfection, the senior taking one last shot at glory, the freshman coming out of nowhere to become a star, the intensity of the most meaningful and the best regular season in sports, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the upsets that blow your mind, the miracles that leave your jaw sore from the cartoonish drop it just suffered, the…well, whatever the hell you call this:

This madness, this perfect script, this magic story, this never-ending maze of plot twists and turns, is why we keep coming back.

And yet, the script always seemed to be missing one element, barred from enhancing the story by a brick wall of greed, producer rights, and sheer stupidity. The presidents of major universities are like Hollywood producers. They may not make the movie, but they put the production together, and their lone concern is how much the box office sales profit. The Bowl Championship Series was doing a fine job of making mega-millions and holding massive audiences captive while a facade of what could be played out. But the audiences did not stay quiet for long. An arbitrary system that used computer polls and the opinions of often uninterested voting coaches provided a unsatisfying result to the question of who was king of college football. The BCS became M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. It all seemed headed towards a spectacular ending, until it swiped the rug from under your feet to try and make you feel inferior, but only left you feeling betrayed and ripped off.

No more. Go ruin Avatar: The Last Airbender again, Shyamalan-a-ding-dong. James Cameron is making the movie this time around, and the script’s climax has just what we’ve all been yearning for: settling the debate of national champion on the field. Behold, the College Football Playoff:

Does the inaugural CFP have its flaws? It surely will. We don’t much about how the 13-person selection committee will determine the best teams in the land. The system’s ownership of historical bowls as the “New Year’s Six” seems to suggest that the main motive continues to be cash flow, and not determining a true champion. No one continues to question the absurdity of having a month to prepare for a semifinal, but only 12 days after for a national title tilt. And I still believe that more than four teams should be included in a championship tournament.

But complaining will get us nowhere, as the current system is under contract for 12 years and no discussion of changes can really be had until we actually kick off games and play this drama out. So enough about student-athlete unions, lawsuits from Ed O’Bannon, arrests and suspensions to potential essentials, or even what really happened to Josh Shaw’s ankles. Let’s put aside the debates, the questions, the concerns, and let’s instead to look the hopes, the dreams, and the promise that another Labor Day weekend brings.

Get your ticket, get to the theater, and, as a wise man once said, “Get ‘cho popcorn ready.” The show’s about to start.


Conference by Conference

American

On The Rise: East Carolina

New member will bring one of the nation’s most potent passing attacks led by QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy (328.1 YPG was good for 12th in the country, 40.2 PPG was 9th).

Cruisin’ For a Brusin’: South Florida

Tempting to pick SMU, but it’s been just so bad at USF since Jim Leavitt was fired January 2010, highlighted by Willie Taggart’s inaugural 2-10 campaign.

Player to Watch: William Stanback, RB, Central Florida

The 6-1, 225 lbs sophomore will have his work cut out trying to replace Storm Johnson, but he showed flashes of potential last season in spot duty, rushing for 443 yards and 6 TDs. Plus, He almost broke Rutgers’ Anthony Cioffi:

Champ: Cincinnati

UCF has the talent returning defensively to repeat, but I like what Tommy Tubberville has put together in just a year’s time. Gunner Kiel will step in under center and could end up being the league’s best quarterback. A September 27th showdown at Ohio State recently became a lot more winnable with the season-ending shoulder surgery for Buckeyes All-Everything QB Braxton Miller. How the Bearcats perform in Columbus will be indicative of whether or not they’ll take the non-Power 5 spot in the New Year’s Six bowls.

ACC

On The Rise: North Carolina

Before DeVante Parker’s foot surgery, I would have said Louisville. But it’s hard to ignore the Tar Heels’ 7-1 finish to last year and their tissue-soft schedule for this year. Junior QB Marquise Williams has not yet been named the starter, which would be a huge blow because the potential dual threat he could be. We’ll learn more about UNC after a September 27th visit to…

Cruisin’ For a Bruisin’: Clemson

Last year, 4-8 Florida proved that having a top-flite defense means nothing when the offense is gutted of its talent. Dabo Swinney can recruit, but not even he can replace virtually every top offensive weapon that the Tigers had during last year’s Orange Bowl championship campaign, especially now that tailback Zac Brooks is out for the year. Vic Beasley & Co. will be worth the watch, but this still feels like a 8-win team at best. Of course, they could beat Georgia and make the rest of this article pretty obsolete.

Player to Watch: Ryan Switzer, WR/PR, North Carolina

Being a Kansas City Chiefs fan, I have a soft spot in my heart for great punt returners like Dante Hall and Dexter McCluster. If you are of sound mind and body, YOU WILL NOT KICK TO RYAN SWITZER IN ANY CIRUCMSTANCE:

Coastal Division Champ: UNC

Hey, you really think DUKE  is gonna win this thing again? Well let me tell you…you might not be wrong. Yeesh.

Atlantic Division: Florida State

After FSU and Clemson, even more yeesh.

ACC Champ: Florida State

They will be clunkier on defense than you would think, with much of the leadership from last year gone to the pros, but the absurdity of returning riches on offense (Rashad Greene, Nick O’Leary, Karlos Williams to name a few) will keep them at an elite level that no one else in the conference seems ready to attain. Oh, and that Jameis Winston guy is back to play QB. I heard he won some big award last year. Must have been a big deal, because now he thinks he can just take crab legs whenever he wants (SHOTS FIRED!!!!!).

Big 12

On The Rise: Kansas State

I almost said Texas, but the recent round of suspensions by Charlie Strong makes me wonder if 8 wins isn’t enough to be a solid year. Meanwhile, Bill Synder just keeps winning. K-State is in the same class as North Carolina and Washington, those hot teams at the end of last year that carry over much of their talent to this season. Having Jake Waters throwing to Tyler Lockett for a full season and Ryan Mueller terrorizing opposing QBs will be a welcome sight for the Wildcats, whose schedule sets up for a potentially special year if they take out Auburn on a Thursday night in September

Cruisin’ For a Bruisin’: Oklahoma

Yes, the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama was impressive. And yes, this team should probably still win 9-10 games. But no team was more overrated this offseason than the trendy-national-title-pick Sooners. Trevor Knight played the game of his life against ‘Bama, but he didn’t show that ability to throw the ball in games beforehand. Who’s to say he’ll develop into a Heisman Trophy winner in his first full season as the starter? The defense will be the best in the Big 12, but the WR corps is depleted, and the backfield took a major hit with the suspension of highly-touted frosh Joe Mixon.

Oklahoma looks primed to lose at least one of the tough home games they have (Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Tennessee) and maybe even a game away from Norman (at TCU, at West Virgina, vs Texas in Dallas), which would be enough to spell doom for their national title dreams in a weakly-scheduled Big 12.

Player To Watch: Shock Linwood, RB, Baylor

When Lache Seastrunk got hurt last year, Art Briles made the 5-9 true freshman his feature back and kept his Ferrari offense humming, highlighted by back-to-back games with 180+ yards rushing against Oklahoma and Texas Tech. After posting 881 yards and 8 TDs as the second fiddle, Linwood could emerge as one of the nation’s top backs that nobody’s talking about.

Champ: Baylor

I’m not saying this just because I want to eat BBQ while sailing on the Brazos River to the palace that is McLane Stadium (hint, hint @RoepIce22). There is no better returning offense statistically in the history of the universe. The Bears won’t duplicate their nearly 619 YPG and 52.4 PPG, mostly because they could surpass it. Bryce Petty has Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood back to sling the rock to, and a veteran group that was the most improved defense in the land last year is also back, which could mean the Bears come through where they haven’t yet proven themselves under Briles: Winning on the road when the national spotlight is on (see: at Ok St, 2011, 2013).

Big Ten

On The Rise: Iowa

The schedule is paper thin until the end of the year, when the Hawkeyes host Wisconsin and Nebraska in back-to-back weeks. Jake Rudock should be solid in year two as a starter, especially when throwing to Kevante Martin-Manley. Plus, head coach Krik Ferentz’s strength continues to be building brick wall defenses (9th in scoring last year). Don’t be surprised to see Iowa in Indianapolis the first weekend in December.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Ohio State

It would be easy to say Maryland and Rutgers here, but you knew how bad their introductory season to the conference would be. Ohio State’s fortunes changed literally in seconds when Miller, a senior and Heisman Trophy favorite, tore his labrum in practice. The Buckeye offense lives and breathes because the quarterback is the heart pumping the blood, especially when it’s an athlete as dynamic as Miller.

Urban Meyer’s recruiting prowess will need to show up in a hurry, now that Ohio State must replace last year’s top 4 rushers, top passer, top receiver, top offensive lineman, top three tacklers, most of their secondary, and their starting place kicker. Suddenly, the opener with Navy in Baltimore has serious intrigue.

Player to Watch: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

He went from being the game manager who avoided the mistakes that Andrew Maxwell was making to suddenly being the key to upset victories over stingy defenses from Ohio State and Stanford (combined 636 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs). Having a full offseason under his belt and the return of 1,000-yard rusher Jeremy Langford means Cook will not feel the pressure to play like an All-American. But if he improves on last year and scores high-profile wins like September 6th at Oregon, he could very well earn a trip to New York in December.

East Champ: Wisconsin

It’s hard to not go with Iowas as a sleeper, but the power running game Gary Andersen brings to the the table is the same-old, same-old in Madison, as is elite backs like Melvin Gordon and 10 wins.

West Champ: Michigan State

The division comes down to Ohio State’s visit to East Lansing on November 8th.

Big Ten Champ: Michigan State

The defense will be nasty as long as Mark Dantonio  and Pat Narduzzi coach ’em up, and that’s with the return of potential All-Americans Shilique Calhoun, Trae Waynes, Kurits Drummond, and RJ Williamson. Cook can continue to utilize the deep ball off of play action to Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphrey. If the Spartans win their monster showdown with the Oregon Ducks in Autzen Stadium, the door is open to a shot at perfection and a CFP bid.

Conference USA

On the Rise: Western Kentucky

Bobby Petrino got a team 8+ wins and then left them high and dry for another job…What else is new? Former offensive coordinator and new head coach Jeff Brohm should keep the offense rolling along with the return of senior QB Brandon Doughty, who needs to build off of performances like the season finale win against Arkansas State (255 yds, 3 TDs). This team has the best chance of anyone in C-USA of ending Marshall’s dreams of perfection when they travel to Huntington, West Virginia for the final game of the regular season.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’:  Middle Tennessee

A huge amount of luck (+12 turnover margin) led the Blue Raiders to 8 wins. That reliance on good fortune was exposed by Navy in a 24-6 thrashing at the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Lucky breaks will be harder to come by with three-year starting quarterback Logan Kilgore gone.

Player to Watch: Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall

Yes, this a cop-out, but it’s also the top reason you should watch the Thundering Herd (and, honestly, C-USA in general). Cato’s career numbers make the Heisman exploits of guys named Manziel, Winston, and Griffin look cute. Cato will need to not only duplicate his 3,916 yards and 39 TDs from last year, but he’ll need to (gulp) improve on those marks and go undefeated to have a shot at becoming a Heisman finalist

East Champ: Marshall

Playing Louisville would have been the only impediment to perfection.

West Champ: UT-San Antonio

Head coach Larry Coach made games against divisions foes his priority last year (5-1)

C-USA Champ: Marshall

Even on paper, this seems far too easy, which is why, regardless of perfection, Marshall won’t end up representing non-Power 5 schools in the New Year’s Six bowls.

Independents

On the Rise: BYU

When was the last time Bronco Mendenhall didn’t field a quality team? Nine years ago, apparently, also known as the last time the Cougars didn’t go bowling. Prepare to be dazzled by one of the nation’s most potent rushing attacks, powered by Heisman darkhorse QB Taysom Hill (1,344 yds, 10 TDs rushing to go with 2,938 yds, 19 TDs passing), tailback Jamaal Williams (1,233 yds, 7 TDs), and the entire starting offensive line from last year. The schedule affords some spotlight wins with road games at UCF, Boise State, California, and (in the MACK BROWN SMACK DOWN!!!!!!) Texas. An undefeated campaign is not out of the question, but (in the first major flaw of the CFP) the Cougs have to steal a bid from a Power 5 team to play in the New Year’s Six bowls.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Notre Dame 

The suspensions handed out this last week to DaVaris Daniels, Ishaq Williams, KeiVarae Russell and Kendall Moore are devastating. The Fighting Irish lose their top receiver, top corner and two key role players in the defensive front seven. Even with Everett Golson’s return, this schedule is too demanding to expect a return to gunning at a national title.

Players to Watch: Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy & Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

Roger Staubach, the guy who won a Heisman Trophy and is considered the greatest quarterback in the history of the United States Naval Academy, has said he thinks Keenan Reynolds will end up as the greatest quarterback in the history of the United States Naval Academy.

Woah. Heavy.

Ricky Dobbs might stand up and argue, but Roger the Dodger may not be wrong. Reynolds lead the nation with 29 rushing scores last year, and he should post yet another 1,000+ yards rushing this season. The recent pitfalls for Ohio State and Notre Dame suggest Navy is poised to join BYU in the hunt for perfection, which Reynolds would need if he has any chance of joining Mr. Staubach at the Heisman ceremony.

Taysom Hill, meanwhile, seems headed for greatness of his own. Nobody has a better shot of joining the Johnny Football club (3,000+ yds passing, 1,000+ yds rushing), considering he nearly pulled the feat off last year WHEN HE WAS STILL LEARNING THE OFFENSE. BYU should play in the CFP if they run the table, but they probably won’t. And that’s just stupid. Because there will be very little television as entertaining as Hill. I mean, if he’s only supposed to get better…IS THERE EVEN SUCH A REALM OF POSSIBILITY AS BETTER THAN THIS?!?!?

Mid-American

On the Rise: Akron

Terry Bowden’s revival job has been outstanding, as veteran presence on both sides of the ball mean this could be the first winning Zips team since 2005.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: UMass

I wanted to say Northern Illinois because of the loss of Jordan Lynch, but you can’t ignore what is easily the worst FBS program in the country. You know what their combined turnover margin is the last 6 years? Minus 45. Forget what I said earlier about TO margin and luck. It takes skill to reek this bad. When does hoops start in Springfield?

Player to Watch: Matt Johnson, QB, Bowling Green

Not a bad debut. Johnson threw for 3,467 yards and 25 TDs in his first year as the Falcons’ starter. But that was in the wildy successful system implemented by head coach Dave Clawson, who is now at Wake Forest. How Johnson fares with new head man Dino Babers, who brings an up-tempo attack similar to Baylor’s, will be the key to BGU’s hopes at repeating as MAC champs

East Champ: Bowling Green

Akron makes a push, but the return of Johnson and stud back Travis Greene (1,594 yds, 11 TDs) are too much

West Champ: Toledo

Normally, losing players the caliber of T.O. Owens and David Fluellen would be a killer, but Darrell Hazell keeps building winners behind a potent rushing attack and returning burners like Kareem Hunt and Alonzo Russell.

MAC Champ: Bowling Green

Aha! You thought the picture indicated the conference champ and you wouldn’t have to read this worthless pile of opinionated crap (your words cut me deep).

Bowling Green brings back more talent on offense and could actually be more explosive in Babers’s system. Plus (in the “Wow, what a stat” department), the Falcons were 9th in the country last year in scoring D (15.9 PPG). If it wasn’t for their September 20th trip to Wisconsin, they’d have a good shot at an undefeated season.

Mountain West

On the Rise: Utah State

So what if the offensive line is brand new and 1,000+ yard rusher Joey DeMartino is gone? Chuckie Keaton is back at QB, and the Heisman darkhorse talk is already buzzing. Opening the season with a road win against Tennessee would be the statement needed to prove the Aggies are not messing around.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Fresno State

Welcome to life after Derek Carr (5,082 yds, 50 TDs…ouch). The nation’s best passing offense a season ago will take a massive hit with the absence of Carr and top target Davante Adams (1,718 yds, 24 TDs…OUCH). Duke transfer Brandon Connette must prove he can run the show or the Bulldogs’ tough schedule will eat them alive (road trips to USC and Nebraska…SO MUCH PAIN).

Player to Watch: Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State

The ultimate workhorse back, Ajayi will most likely have to build on his 2013 numbers (1,425 yds, 18 TDs) to help the Broncos win a conference title with a new starting quarterback. If he gets off to the right start tonight against Ole Miss, he could start thinking about winning the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top back

Mountain Champ: Boise State

That new starting quarterback is Grant Hedrick, who actually filled in halfway through last year when Joe Southwick got hurt. Hedrick stepped in and didn’t miss a beat, completing 69% of his passes and capping off the year with standout performance in a Hawaii Bowl loss to Oregon State (73% completion, 382 yds, TD). He should pick up where he left off.

West Champ: Nevada

No one else seems primed to win this division, so I’ll take senior QB Cody Fajardo to lead a turnaround from last year’s 4-8 anomaly.

Mountain West Champ: Boise State

Bryan Harsin is a Chris Petersen disciple, so not much is expected to change around Boise. Bringing back leading receiver Matt Miller (1,140 yds, 12 TDs) completes a potentially lethal offense that could be enough to get by the Broncos’ toughest opponents (Ole Miss in Atlanta, home vs BYU) and make 13-0 seem like a reachable goal.

Pac-12

On the Rise: Washington

This could have easily been USC before the Josh Shaw madness became Distraction-apalooza 2014, but it’s hard not to argue with the coaching upgrade made by hiring Chris Petersen. Doing nothing but winning apparently causes you to suffer chest pains when you don’t, which is how Petersen described the losses that became more frequent during his final years at Boise in a recent interview.

Having great experience on both lines will only help ease new QB Cyler Miles into the starting role, where he could be a dynamo by year’s end and have the Huskies making noise in the North.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Oregon

Again, could have been USC, as their season feels like a toss-up, but I’ll take the other most overrated team this offseason. I love Marcus Mariota as much as the next pundit, but who in the world is he going to throw the ball to? Keanon Lowe is the only of the top four receivers returning after the injury to Bralon Addison.

Throw in the loss of left tackle Tyler Johnstone, the relative youth defensively that won’t get coached up by now-retired coordinator Nick Aliotti, and the monster schedule that gets going Week Two with a visit from Sparty, and this feels like another Duck team destined to win every preseason national title, but then come up with 10 wins and an Alamo Bowl title.

Player to Watch: Myles Jack, LB/RB(?), UCLA

The nice thing about the Pac-12 becoming maybe the best conference in college ball is all the potential stars that could light up the cosmos. USC QB Cody Kessler and WR Nelson Agholor, Washington LB Shaq Thompson, Oregon State QB Sean Mannion, Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly and RB DJ Foster, Oregon RBs Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner, Stanford WR Ty Montgomery and LB Kevin Anderson…You catch my drift? Lots of talent, and those are technically the second-tier guys.

But let’s face it, what’s more exciting (and more fueling to Heisman hype) than a two-way player? For crying out loud, Stanford’s Owen Marecic finished 10th in voting in 2010, and he played fullback on offense! Imagine what happens if UCLA not only has one of the top edge linebackers in the nation, but then he goes back on the field on offense and scampers for a 40-yard TD?

This could be potentially be the greatest display of athleticism in the history of the universe, but coach Jim Mora is saying THE Jack of All Trades will play on defense only for now. C’mon Jimmy. Call us when Jordan James doesn’t work out and Brett Hundley is running too much for your taste, and we’ll direct you to the treasure chest of YouTube glory that is Myles Jack.

North Champ: Stanford

They’ve won it the last two years, and the style that got them there is not changing any time soon. Head coach David Shaw brings in one the most highly touted offensive lines in the school’s recruiting history to protect QB Kevin Hogan and the newest group of backs that will mash opponents into tiny bits. The pass rush still has big Henry Anderson, and the corner combo of Dwayne Lyons and Alex Carter will make last year’s number 10 scoring defense fearsome again. A third straight win against Oregon gets the job done.

South Champ: UCLA

I never thought my man crush on Marcus Mariota would be matched, until I saw Brett Hundley last season. The funny thing is, Hundley’s numbers actually dropped off from his redshirt freshman season. A return to form is enough to take the division for the third time in four years.

Pac-12 Champ: UCLA

Mora is building a heyday-SEC defense with Jack, Eric Kendricks, and Eddie Vanderdoes among others. There will be no shortage of bruises and cuts when the Bruins and Cardinal play in back-to-back weeks, but having the star QB in Hundley is enough.

SEC

On the Rise: Ole Miss

Fine, I’ll drink the annual “one of the Mississippi teams will make noise in the SEC West” Kool-Aid. But the Heisman hype is in the wrong part of the state. Bo Wallace is more experienced than Dak Prescott, has more returning weapons like Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram, and has the more fearsome defense with studs like Robert Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt.

Home games against Alabama, Auburn, and Miss. State set the Rebels up nicely, but Hugh Freeze’s team has not yet learned to win consistently. Winning tonight against Boise State is the first step.

Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’: Auburn

They are more talented than last year on offense, and Elliot Johnson’s defense should slightly improve, but let’s get real. They were handed the most unthinkable combination of luck, magic, fate, divine intervention, miracles and pure coincidence. That type of lightning does not strike twice.

Even an improved Nick Marshall and a deeper receiving corps with the addition of juco transfer D’haquille Williams won’t overcome the short comings of a weak secondary. Throw in their nasty schedule chock full of revenge-fueled opponents like Georgia and Alabama, and the Tigers might even have a hard time reaching the New Year’s Six.

Player to Watch: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

DEAR. GOD. HELP US ALL.

Remember when Adrian Peterson came to Oklahoma as a true freshman, went wild against Oregon and never stopped? But, he didn’t take home the Heisman, because the voters were old and stubborn. No freshman should be allowed to come to New York, they seemed to state, let alone win the award.

No more. Now that back-to-back redshirt froshs have seized the most coveted individual award in sports, it’s time a kid step off his high school field and into the history books. Fournette is big and strong enough to be the feature back for a Cam Cameron offense that emphasizes the power running game, but he’ll get help from Terrance Magee and Kenny Hilliard to get breathers now and again.

The ball-carrier vision is the most stunning thing about Fournette. He’s got a Gale Sayers- type ability to see everything that’s going on before it happens. Throw in outstanding speed, and you can see why coach Les Miles is already putting his new toy’s name next to Michael Jordan. Fournette will need to display greatness like His Airness if LSU wants to survive an inexperienced receiving group and an ongoing quarterback battle.

East Champ: Georgia

Don’t go feeling too bad for Huston Mason. Aaron Murray’s replacement will have plenty of time to learn the offense while handing off to Todd (CENTAUR) Gurley and Keith (Satyr?) Marshall. New D-coordinator Jeremy Pruitt must have seen something he liked in the young Bulldogs to leave national champ Florida State. Having edge rushers like Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd might have Pruitt thinking he can duplicate the Seminoles’ success in Athens.

West Champ: LSU

I know, all the great QBs are gone, and it’s really easy to pick chalk with Alabama. So why go with the most inexperienced team in college football’s toughest division?

Because it’s college football’s toughest division. NO ONE knows what’s going to happen.

LSU won’t go undefeated, but the strength of returners on defense like Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White will let the super-talented youth on offense catch up. This feels a lot like the 2011 team that knocked off ‘Bama in a close game, won the conference title and reached the BCS championship game. Regardless of whether Anthony Jennings or Branden Harris starts at QB, the talent and a lot of big games at home will get the job done.

SEC Champ: LSU

Like I said, NO ONE knows what’s going to happen in this conference. It’s a total crap shoot with all the veteran quarterbacks gone. I’m just getting the feeling Fournette will be incredibly special and the vets on defense will step up. Plus, if you’re going to take a flier on this upcoming season, last year’s SEC division winners proved this is the conference to do so.


 

How It All Plays Out

Heisman Trophy

The 5 finalists and the big winner

5. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Too many weapons for him to not at least duplicate his 2013 production. Repeating, however, just doesn’t happen.

4. Taysom Hill, QB, BYU

This will probably be Bryce Petty’s slot, but I don’t care what you think. He’s the best dual-threat QB in the game. It’s not going to happen, but, hey, Jordan Lynch got to New York last year, and somebody has to represent the small schools here (Jay Ajayi, Chuckie Keeton, Rakeem Cato, etc.)

3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Almost rushed for 1,000 yards during an injury-shortened season. The sky’s the limit for maybe the best all-around running back in the nation and the key cog to a Georgia team with very real national title hopes.

2. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Can anyone live up to this type of hype? If Fournette does, Barry Sanders, Bo Jackson, and Herschel Walker may need to watch their backs – a legend is about to be born in Baton Rouge.

1. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

I don’t know whether to be mad with Grantland’s Matt Borcas or thank him. He’s as excited about Fournette as I am, yet claims the best quarterback in the Pac-12 is “efficient to the point of being boring, and that’s not going to fly with the thrill-seeking voting panel.” SO WAS JAMEIS WINSTON LAST YEAR!!!!! Being utterly more gifted and precise than the rest of superstars around you is the very essence of the award.

Plus, Hundley plays in a better league, has national-title-or-bust goals, and allegedly (really big gulp) needs to improve these marks to win the Heisman

  • 67.2% completion, 8.32 YPA, 3,071 yds, 25 TDs, 82.3 adjusted QBR
  • 160 carries, 748 yds, 4.67 YPC, 11 TDs

How on earth does he get better? By putting up passing numbers (3,745 yds, 29 TDs) similar to 2012 to go with rushing totals near last year’s marks. Post those stats while staying in the national title hunt, and Hundley should have no problem becoming the 5th straight QB to take home college football’s highest individual honor

The Top Twelve

Who Makes It To the New Year’s Six

3rd Tier – Just getting in will be a shocker to some

12. BYU

Like I said, I don’t care what you think. I want them here because I want Taysom Hill on my TV, so the undefeated Cougs take a bid away from Oklahoma or Oregon.

11. Cincinnati

BYU is the better team, but the Bearcats at worse will have one loss and grab the non-Power 5 spot.

10. Kansas State

There’s a weird buzz around Manhattan, just like Seattle or Chapel Hill. The difference here is that Sir Billiam Synder has done this before. They’ll knock off Auburn and stun Oklahoma in Norman to get 10 wins.

9. Wisconsin

The move to make mobile Tanner McEvoy the starting QB suggests Gary Andersen wants an offense similar to the one he ran at Utah State. That offense never had elite runners like Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement. There’s a sleeper CFP team here if they improve on defense.

2nd Tier – You are really going to begin to question my sanity…

8. Stanford

Call me when David Shaw stops winning and his defenses stop being anything but top five in the nation. Third straight win over Oregon means they get 11 wins (you: “He’s a little crazy, but that’s not unrealistic”).

7. Florida State

Last year was the exception to the modern rule that the ‘Noles will blow at least one road game in conference every year. Despite the embarrassment of riches on offense, Winston & Co. will keep tradition alive by dropping a Halloween visit to Louisville, and one loss in this weak ACC  is enough to shut you out of the CFP (you: “Maybe he just forgot to take his pills, that’s all”).

6. Georgia

If the lone tough road game is against overrated South Carolina, I’m kind of at a loss as to how the Bulldogs don’t have a shot to get to 12-0 (you: “Okay, so this is nuts, but it’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever read”). Their opener this weekend with Clemson is tricky, as is the trip to see the Gamecocks and a visit to Missouri, but winning the East should not as much of a problem with Gurshall shouldering the load.

5. Alabama

(You: “Okay, now that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. You’re frickin Looney Tunes, dude. Go see a doctor.”)

They are so close to being in it pains me to leave them out of the CFP. Top to bottom, nobody is probably more talented in the nation. TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, Amari Cooper, OJ Howard, A’Shawn Robinson, Trey DePriest, Landon Collins…the list goes on. It seems ulimately insane to leave the most decorated team in college football history out of this historic first playoff.

But history also tells us that the Crimson Tide get pushed around every time they visit Death Valley in Baton Rogue. Last time was the first regular-season meeting between Alabama and LSU since 2006 that wasn’t decided by single digits, and the last three games in Baton Rogue have been decided by a combined 13 points. LSU has ‘Bama’s number, and regardless of who starts at QB, Jake Coker and/or Blake Sims will be thrown into a hostile environment in a huge game. I’m not sure if they’ll make the plays AJ McCarron made two years ago.

If a conference champ slips up and loses 2, Alabama will swoop in and take their place. For the time being, though, I don’t see that happening. Call me crazy, but crazy has happened to Alabama before.

3rd Tier – Your inaugural College Football Playoff

4. LSU

They’ll lose one, but beating ‘Bama will be enough to win the West. Fournette goes bonkers all season, especially against Gurley and Georgia in an epic SEC championship and de-facto CFP play-in (Playoff for a playoff? If it’s inside of a playoff, I’m calling Leonardo DiCaprio).

3. Baylor

Bryce Petty may not get the individual awards he deserves, but his team is better than a season ago. The second-best defense in the Big 12 combines with its best offense to beat Oklahoma in Norman, go 12-0 and win a second straight conference title.

2. Michigan State

A statement win at Oregon propels Sparty to an elite defense, improved offense led by Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford, and a 13-0 Big Ten title. Plus, how awesome is a Baylor-Michigan State national semifinal?!?

1. UCLA

Brett Hundley’s too good, the defense is too stout, and Brett Hundley’s still to good. Pac-12 play toughens them to the point of tree bark, and they’ll go undefeated in the process. Not only do they grab the top spot, but they win the first-ever College Football Playoff with two massive games from their Heisman-winning quarterback.

Because hey, every good story needs a Hollywood ending.

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