A 2017 college football preview extravaganza, featuring Rick and Morty

COLLEGE FOOTBALL BYKE.

LEEEEGOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

I’m not going waste time with some flowery introduction to the pomp and pageantry of college football, because if you’re here, you already know that and love it as much as I do. I’ll instead say that this offseason suuuuuuucked.

It felt like forever ago that Deshaun Watson hooked up with Hunter Renfroe to stun Alabama in the final seconds of the national championship game. The only thing that sustained me through the longest winter and summer ever was muting political buzzwords on Twitter; getting knee-deep into Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s twisted masterpiece Rick and Morty; and rewatching games from a typically crazy 2016 college football season.

Now, we’re hours away from the start of the 2017 season, so we must once again venture into the unknown. Almost like traveling into another dimension. Preferably not one with hamsters stuck in people’s butts.

If you haven’t guessed (it was in the title, you blind fool), this preview will be centered around Rick and Morty, so if you’ve got a problem with that,

Let’s get to it.

 

The Pressing Questions

Is Alabama really that much better than everyone else? Kinda. There’s no denying as long as Nick Saban coaches the Crimson Tide, they will be as talented as any team in the country. And while there’s already a wealth of talent returning from a team that was seconds away from repeating as national champs, the new pieces could be just as exciting. Jalen Hurts is extremely gifted and can only improve on his freshman campaign, but then Saban recruited Tua Taigovailoa. Bo Scarborough shined down the stretch and is a legit Heisman Trophy candidate, but then Saban recruited Najee Harris. Calvin Ridley gives the Tide a big play weapon in the passing game, but then Saban recruited Jeury Judy. And that’s before we talk about the defense. The point is, Alabama constantly reloads to where you can’t say they got worse.

So, who got better enough to compete with ‘Bama? The list is longer than you might think. Penn State, Florida State and USC were red-hot at the end of last season and will look to carry that momentum over into 2017. Ohio State should be great again if they figure out how to get their offense on track from last season’s miserable finish. Washington and Michigan will be contenders once again. Heck, within their own conference, Alabama will have to deal with an improved Auburn squad, LSU, Georgia and Florida. Oh, and there’s that Clemson team. How’d they do last year?

Wait, Oklahoma wasn’t on that list of title contenders. What about the Sooners? Alright, so here’s the thing about Oklahoma. Let’s pretend Bob Stoops didn’t suddenly retire within the last month and hand the program over to offensive coordinator Lincoln Reilly. Even if Stoops is still coaching this team, can you name one player on the roster outside of quarterback Baker Mayfield? You can only do that if you’re a hardcore fan or you Googled their roster to spite me. Oklahoma lost a lot and has a first-year head coach. Plus, as we’ll discuss a little bit later, the Big 12 is a lot deeper than many have given it credit for.

Should Lamar Jackson really be this much of an underdog to repeat as the Heisman winnerHell. No. Did we just forget how electrifying Jackson was after the rest of Louisville’s squad collapsed in the final 3 games last season. Sure, Mayfield joins USC’s Sam Darnold and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley in a loaded field of contenders, but Jackson is the most exciting and impactful player in the nation when he plays up to his potential. If he does that, he’s joining Archie Griffin as the only two-time winner.

Who’s this year’s Washington? Chris Petersen fast-tracked his building of the Huskies into a powerhouse program with a Pac-12 title and a trip to the College Football Playoff after many pegged U-Dub as a darkhorse team in the preseason. If we use Washington as the model for a surprise CFP team, you need a young but experienced quarterback, a solid run game and a ferocious defense. Louisville and Georgia jump to mind, but if Tom Herman works his magic right away and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando can orchestrate a big-time turnaround in Austin, the Texas Longhorns seem like a prime candidate. And yes, I know I made this prediction last season, so yes, it’ll probably be wrong.

…These predictions are terrible. Why do you keep writing these? 

 

The Conferences

ACC

Who’s Hot: Clemson Outside of losing the best quarterback in school history and a dozen or so other offensive weapons, the Tigers are in pretty good shape. No, I’m not being sarcastic. Dabo Swinney has his team more than primed for a repeat run. The defense will be nasty led by lineman Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Clelin Ferrell. If Kelly Bryant does a serviceable job at QB and CJ Fuller and Tavien Feaster emerge as weapons in the running game, the Tigers will be right in the thick of the ACC race all year long.

Who’s Not: Virginia 2 wins last season in Bronco Mendenhall’s first year leading the Cavaliers. It won’t stay like this forever, but it’s also getting better right away.

Lukewarm: Miami (FL) Mark Richt is a real good coach who also always seem to finish 8-4. No reason the Hurricanes do any better or any worse than that again.

Best Player: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson In a league loaded with D-line talent like North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb and Boston College’s Harold Landry, Wilkins is the guy that can slide out to end at 310 lbs and not blink. He’ll be one of many first-round picks the ACC produces in the trenches this coming spring.

Champion: Clemson If they don’t knock off Alabama in Week One, presumptive favorite Florida State will have to run the table from that point out to get to win their own league, let alone get to the playoff. Even though I think Louisville can knock them off on the road in Week Three, home victories over Auburn and the ‘Noles should be enough to get the Tigers back on top.

American Athletic Conference

Who’s Hot: Memphis Mike Norvell’s first season leading the Tigers was a smashing success, but the bowl loss to Western Kentucky left a sour taste in their mouths. If Riley Ferguson improves on nearly 3,700 yards passing and 32 touchdowns, there might be something cooking on Beale Street besides barbecue.

Who’s Not: UConn I mean, at least a lot of players return? Ehhhhhhhhhh

Lukewarm: Temple They won’t achieve the 10 wins last year, but there shouldn’t be a major drop-off in Geoff Collins’ first season with the return of running back Ryquell Armstead and wide receiver Ventell Bryant.

Best Player: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston He could easily be the top prospect in the upcoming draft class if he was eligible. As a freshman, Oliver picked up 23 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, so if the logic follows that they can get better, look out.

Champion: South Florida Charlie Strong inherits a program that Willie Taggert was already building into a mid-major force. QB Quinton Flowers is one of the most dangerous dual threats in the country.

Big 12

Who’s Hot: Oklahoma State Mason Rudolph is a trendy Heisman candidate largely because of the ridiculous talent around him. Receivers James Washington, Jalen McCleskey, Marcell Ateman and Chris Lacy team with Freshman All-American running back Justice Hill to give the Cowboys arguably the most explosive offense in America.

Who’s Not: Iowa State They’re not even enjoyably bad like Kansas, which leads to fun moments like the win over Texas. They’re just…bad.

Lukewarm: West Virginia Will Grier gives them stability at quarterback, and Justin Crawford returns as one of the best backs in the conference, but they just never win the big games to truly break through to the top of the league.

Best Player: James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State He averaged 19.4 yards per catch in 2016 and has 26 career touchdown catches. If the best is yet to come, you’re looking at the best receiver in the country.

Champion: Texas THAT’S RIGHT, WE’RE DOING THIS AGAIN. 

I will preface this by saying I think Oklahoma State is a close second. However, if Herman gets Shane Buechele to another level; the run game of Chris Warren and Kyle Porter pounds out the yards; and Orlando turns the defense into a force, the ‘Horns can win almost every game on their schedule, especially the Red River Rivalry with Boomer Sooner.

Big Ten

Who’s Hot: Penn State Other than Okie State, it’s hard to find a more stacked offense than the Nittany Lions. Barkley is a Heisman stud, Trace McSorley has a penchant for the big play, and DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki provide plenty of weapons on the perimeter.

Who’s Not: Rutgers WATCH AT YOUR OWN RISK (although Janarion Grant is a fun player)

Lukewarm: Iowa Kirk Ferentz’s absurd contract extension means an unending cycle of 7-8 win seasons until Iowa City finally burns to the ground.

Best Player: All the Ohio State defensive ends Jalyn Holmes and Nick Bosa would start anywhere else in the country and be All-Americans. Instead, they team up with Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard to form the most formidable defensive line in the land.

Champion: Penn State The conference crown will again come down to the showdown between the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions. My bet is James Franklin has just enough to get past Urban Meyer one more time.

Conference USA

Who’s Hot: Louisiana Tech Skip Holtz really has done a great job making the Bulldogs a scoring machine every year. It doesn’t hurt to recruit studs like do-everything back Jarred Craft.

Who’s Not: Rice The only thing that came out of Week Zero was learning that the Owls are terrible. Alternative uses for Rice Stadium?

Lukewarm: Middle Tennessee Probably gonna win a few games, pull one big upset. Brent Stockstill should again be solid at quarterback. Nothing real special here.

Best Player: Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky Threw for 4,363 yards and 37 TDs last year and could get even better.

Champion: Western Kentucky Even with new head coach Mike Sanford taking over for Jeff Brohm, weapons like D’Andre Ferby and Mik’Quan Deane won’t let the Hilltoppers slow down.

MAC

Who’s Hot: Miami (OH) Chuck Martin’s squad made a bowl game and only lost by a point to Mississippi State. A defense that was top-40 in the country in the major categories should make the Redhawks tough again.

Who’s Not: Buffalo or Kent State Take your pick, it’s ugly either way.

Lukewarm: Western Michigan PJ Fleck’s departure means they won’t be the best Group of 5 team in the land, but Tim Lester should stabilize things enough to stay in the hunt for the conference title.

Best Player: Logan Woodside, QB, Toledo The senior can flat sling it, leading the Rockets to the tenth-best scoring and seventh-best passing offense in the country.

Champion: Toledo Jason Candle’s first full season showed the Rockets wouldn’t slow down, and now that WMU is taking a step back, the league crown should be theirs.

Mountain West

Who’s Hot: Wyoming Craig Bohl is working magic, guiding the Cowboys to 8 wins and a bowl game, both unheard things around Laramie. Josh Allen might be the best NFL draft quarterback prospect.

Who’s Not: Fresno State Yuck.

Lukewarm: Hawai’i Probably a bowl team that will score a lot of points but will play waayyyy too late at night for you to watch.

Best Player: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State He can sling it, but he was actually better as a freshman than he was last season. Plenty of time to impress NFL scouts this fall.

Champion: Boise State San Diego State will again make a push for the league crown, but there are just too many weapons around Rypien for Bryan Harsin’s team to be held down for long.

Pac-12

Who’s Hot: USC I can actually prove that hotness, as Darnold’s arrival into the starting lineup resulted in a 9-game win streak to finish last season, currently the longest active one in the country.

Who’s Not: Arizona Things have gone south for Rich Rodriguez really fast. Remember 2 years ago, when many thought they were a playoff contender? Never trust a preseason prediction.

Lukewarm: Stanford David Shaw will have a good team, and Bryce Love is going to be a star behind that massive offensive line, but their standard is a conference championship these days, so if they fall short, they just did OK.

Best Player: Ronald Jones II, RB, USC Darnold isn’t the only reason everyone’s so high on the Trojans. Jones had his best games down the stretch when Southern Cal got hot, and he’ll have help from highly touted freshman Stephen Carr.

Champion: USC Jake Browning and Dante Pettis give Washington a fighting chance, and UCLA should be much better, but the Trojans are back to being one of the best teams in the nation. Rasheem Greene will give the defense a premier pass-rusher, and the linebackers are deep with Porter Gustin and Cameron Smith leading the way.

SEC

Who’s Hot: Georgia Kirby Smart is a mad genius defensively and has all 12 starters returning to that side of the ball. Combine that with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel running the dang ball (love you, Mike Bobo, and Jacob Eason’s potential to be a star quarterback, and the Dawgs should finally live up to expectations, or even exceed them.

Who’s Not: Kentucky No waaayyyy they duplicate last season if everybody in the league is better. Only Ole Miss will have it worse because of their bowl ban.

Lukewarm: Auburn Yes, Gus Mahlzahn should string together back-to-back solid seasons with the addition of Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham at QB, and the run game will again be solid with Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, but 9 wins still probably doesn’t win this league.

Best Player: Derrius Guice, LSU Leonard Fournette getting hurt didn’t completely lsow down the Tigers. Ed Orgeron is gonna run the ball a lot, and Guice will have a chance to ascend into the Heisman conversation because of it.

Champion: Alabama While Auburn, LSU and Florida can all pose threats, and Georgia will make the SEC Championship game mean something, I’m not falling into the trap of doubting Nick Saban again, especially when his team has ample motivation.

Sun Belt

Who’s Hot: do you even care

Who’s Not: ’cause I sure don’t

Lukewarm: Can we wrap this up

Best Player: Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State Ok, we’ll take this semi-seriously. He’s the best player on the best team in the league and will try to build on his 1,400 yards from a year ago.

Champion: Appalachian State Troy will make a push, but the Mountaineers are a solid football team, good enough to throw a scare into Georgia in Week One.

The Rankings

25. South Florida We’ll sneak them in here because they should be the Group of 5 representative in the New Year’s Six.

24. Tennessee We’ll sneak the Vawls in here too because Butch Jones certainly has recruited the talent to be a top-25 team.

23. Virginia Tech Justin Fuente made the Hokies an immediate winner. A chance to put up a spectacular season rests on freshman quarterback Josh Jackson.

22. UCLA Josh Rosen is back, and there’s way too much talent for Jim Mora Jr. to not make some type of run. Which is why, naturally, they won’t live up to this prediction.

21. Oklahoma Yep, we’re putting them all the way down here. Mayfield gets them to 9 wins, but with a road trip to Ohio State and Bedlam looming, that’s it.

20. West Virginia Grier gives the offense enough of a boost to be the fourth-best team in the Big 12, but that’s it.

19. Miami (FL) Mark Walton runs the ball a lot, just not enough to make this team like the ‘Canes of old.

18. Kansas State Jesse Ertz leads a veteran bunch, which always seems to spell success with Bill Snyder at the helm.

17. Florida Jim McElwain has loaded the Gators up at every position except the most important one. Either Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire or redshirt freshman Felippe Franks needs to step right away against Michigan.

16. Wisconsin Paul Chryst has built a consistent winner, but the Badgers aren’t quite ready to ascend past “best 3-loss team in the nation” status.

15. LSU They have all the talent in the world, but like Florida, they’ve struggled for so long to find the right guy at quarterback. Danny Etling doesn’t exactly scream upgrade, but new offensive coordinator Matt Canada worked wonders at Pitt.

14. Stanford Here’s hoping Keller Chryst takes a step forward at QB, otherwise the ceiling in 9 wins.

13. Michigan Jim Harbaugh will not struggle to recruit and coach talent, but only having Wilton Speight back as a significant player is a lot of talent to replace.

12. Florida State Yes, they are loaded for bear, and yes, this will probably the most wrong prediction on this stupid thing, but having to start with Alabama and still have to go to Clemson later in the year is a tall task, even for Jimbo Fisher and highly-touted freshman running back Cam Akers.

11. Auburn Stidham provides a spark at quarterback, but visiting Clemson Week Two is a trick task. Oh, and they have this little game called the Iron Bowl they have to play.

10. Oklahoma State Only suffer 2 losses, but one is in the resurrected Big 12 championship game with a playoff spot on the line.

9. Clemson They win them all but Lousiville, which just denies them a third straight ACC crown.

8. Washington Browning and the Huskies can absolutely make it back to the Pac-12 title game again, but they’d also have to take down USC. They just barely miss out on a repeat.

7. Ohio State They’ll just miss out this year after sneaking in last season.

6. Georgia What the heck, let’s make a bold, ill-advised prediction and say the Dawgs make it to the SEC title game unbeaten.

5. Louisville We’re in literal toss-up mode here for the last playoff spot. Jackson is even better in winning his second straight Heisman, guiding the Cardinals past Clemson but not avoiding the road date against Florida State. If they go unbeaten, they obviously get in. If not, the committee will have a decision to make, and I think they choose…

The Playoff

4. Texas Yeah, we’re doing this again. PLEASE STOP LAUGHING.

Buechele is better than last year’s pretty solid freshman campaign; Chris Warren and Kyle Porter are a force running the ball; and Malik Jefferson, Chris Nelson and Poona Ford lead a defensive turnaround. They just miss out on knocking off to USC in Week Three, but the Longhorns do beat Oklahoma, knock off Oklahoma State twice and force the committee’s hand by having a victory over a team securely in the playoff.

3. USC Darnold plays his way to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Jones and Carr run the ball well enough to give the Trojans a diverse offense that goes 13-0 and gets back to the Rose Bowl. This time around, however, it doesn’t work out as well as last season’s epic.

2. Alabama HAHAHAHAHAHAHA YOU THOUGHT I FINALLY PICKED THEM TO WIN IT ALL IN YOUR DREAMS. In all seriousness, the Crimson Tide should get back to the national title game, but not without major hurdles of facing Florida State in the opener, Auburn on the road, Georgia in a huge SEC Championship game and Texas in the Sugar Bowl. However, they have way too much talent in place to not overcome those. Just not enough to beat…

1. Penn State McSorley and Co. light up scoreboards, and Barkley just misses out on the Heisman behind Jackson. The defense takes a step forward behind defensive end Shareef Miller and All-American safety Marcus Allen. The Nittany Lions don’t lose a game, but even if they do, they don’t drop the important ones, like at Ohio State, another Big Ten title clash with Wisconsin, a Rose Bowl rematch with USC and an epic national championship game with Alabama.

Don’t like it? Too bad these are the facts. Peace oot.

 

Five for Five: Week Five

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This is a weekly series of five lists of essential information for the coming college football weekend. This week, we talk Louisville-Clemson, freshman running backs and the best of Les Miles.

Five Reasons Why Miami (FL) Is For Real

The defense is crushing opponents The ‘Canes have give up just 23 points total, best in the nation, and are second allowing only 217 total yards per game. They’ve only given up one touchdown pass and less than two yards per rushing attempt, numbers that will surely go up but are certainly a noteworthy start.

The pass rush makes quarterbacks uncomfortable 13 sacks in three games is another good pace to be on, led by Chad Thomas’ 2.5 QB take-downs.

Mark Walton is tearing up defenses The sophomore has emerged out of nowhere to be the lead back for a Hurricane rushing attack that is averaging 272 yards per game and just under eight yards per carry. Walton himself averages eight yards a pop and is coming off a great performance on the road against a good Appalachian State defense (16 carries, 130 yards, two TDs).

The deep ball is a strength The top three receivers-Ahmmon Richards, Stacey Coley and David Njoku-have all caught a touchdown pass of at least 54 yards and are averaging at least 12 yards a catch. Richards and Njoku are each averging 19 yards per completion, so with the run game staying strong, big plays over the top will be there.

Brad Kaaya can get better The junior quarterback is completing 66 percent of his passes and averaging nine yards per attempt, but he’s also thrown three interceptions and just now had his best game and broke the 200-yard mark, completing 21 of 27 passes for 368 yards and three TDs against App State.

Five Fabulous Freshmen Running Backs

Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin can still recruit speed, with Williams the latest example of Ricky Bobby’s mantra “I like to go fast.” Williams has piled up 280 yards and 14 yards per carry in the last two weeks alone, a pair of SEC wins for the Aggies away from home.

Chris Evans, Michigan The diminutive runner is a ball of energy that defenses can only hope to contain. Evans has piled up 213 yards and seven yards per carry in part-time work alongside De’Veon Smith, and he could be an X-factor versus Wisconsin’s stingy defense.

JaMycal Hasty, Baylor Forgive the trend, but before being held in check against Oklahoma State, Hasty had averaged nine yards a pop and provided a home run threat to counter the power running of Terence Williams and give the Bears some relief while Shock Linwood continues to round into form.

Mike Weber, Ohio State Despite being maybe the third-or-fourth most interesting part of the Buckeyes’ wildly entertaining offense, Weber’s still pounded out 351 yards and 6.5 yards per tote.

Joshua Jacobs, Alabama Nick Saban’s still searching for a lead dog in the backfield, and Jacobs made his case against his coach’s alma mater, rushing for 97 yards and two touchdowns against Kent State.

Five Keys to Louisville-Clemson

How does Louisville handle the moment? We’re not talking about the national stage-Florida State proved they can more than handle the spotlight-but the pressure of playing what should be a four-quarter, down-to-the-wire affair at night in Death Valley. The Cardinals are beating opponents by an average of 41 points a game. Will cooler heads prevail for Bobby Petrino’s team when they absolutely have to make a play?

The performance of each team’s best cornerback We know receivers James Quick and Mike Williams have been studs for the Cardinals and Tigers, respectively. So the men tasked with shutting them down have a lot of work ahead of them. Clemson will ask Cordera Tankersley to keep up with the, well, quick Quick (I apologize), while Louisville will likely use Shaq Wiggins to try and play physical at the line of scrimmage with Williams and make up for a vast height difference.

Turnovers The element you can’t predict, and the one that often proves to be the difference. Clemson’s +3 in the TO differential, but the Tigers have given it away six times. Louisville’s at +2, but the Cardinals may have a case of the fumbles, with four of their six total lost.

The punt return game This week’s highlight matchup quietly pits two of the best punt returners in the ACC. Jaire Alexander averages 17 yards per return and took one to the house against FSu, while Ray Ray McCloud has arguably been better on the same number of returns with 18 yards per runback.

Tackling It sounds basic, but these are two absurdly good spread offenses with the best athletes in America, so wrapping up in space is important, especially in the backfield either disrupting the zone option game or getting a pass rush on the quarterback. Per SportSource Analytics, both teams are averaging at least 8.5 tackles for loss, so the defenses don’t lack for athleticism either.

Five Reasons You’ll Miss Les Miles

He killed the BCS Not only did he lead a two-loss team to a national championship, Miles also sunk title game ratings to an all-time low with 2011’s rematch with Alabama, leaving corporate sponsors fuming and college presidents scrambling for money so desperately that they actually listened to the general public and made a playoff a possibility.

The Mad Hatter Whether it was 5/5 on fourth down in ’07 against Florida, or the multiple fake field goals that left special teams coaches looking slack-jawed and fulfilled every kicker’s dream, Les was Riverboat Ron long before it was cool.

He’s a Michigan Man That’s supposed to be important, I guess. It also should have made us more prepared for Jim Harbaugh. We really should have seen it coming.

His 2007 SEC Championship pregame press conference Quite a few gems, but this was the one that introduced me to Les, and I’ll never forget “my DAMN STRONG football team:”

Eating grass 

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Godspeed, old friend.

Five (or More) Stone-Cold Locks

Record on the Year: 35-21

Record Last Week: 11-8

Houston (-29.5) at Connecticut One of the more absurd lines you’ll ever see. It’s also pretty accurate. Houston 42, UConn 7

Stanford at Washington (-3.5) The Huskies had been stellar up until last week when they barely escaped Arizona with a win. David Shaw keeps finding ways to win these types of games, no matter how much he wants to punt them away. Chris Petersen’s team is still a little too young to take the next step against the Cardinal. Stanford 27, Washington 24

Texas at Oklahoma State (-2.5) This becomes one of the real barometers on how much Charlie Strong’s team has matured, as the Longhorns will try to regroup from the loss to California. Shane Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes will move the ball, but can the defense get some stops this weeks against Mason Rudolph and James Washington? I’ll take a swing and say just enough. Texas 45, Oklahoma State 35

Navy at Air Force (-7) Nothing like a battle of undefeated service academies. Always wise to take the home team in this type of game, especially when the Falcons have six different runners over 100 yards on the season. Air Force 28, Navy 24

Miami (FL) (-7) at Georgia Tech The Yellow Jackets have had more than a week to get the, erm, sting (again, I apologize) of the loss to Clemson out of their mouths, and they will come to play. Kaaya and the ‘Canes’ defense will really have to make its mark in Atlanta, and I was impressed enough by the win at App State to say they will do so. Miami 31, Georgia Tech 14

North Carolina at Florida State (-10) The Seminoles are fine. At least, their offense is, thanks to the return to form of Dalvin Cook. But defensive coordinator Charles Kelly still has some work to do, especially with Mitch Trubisky and the high-flying Tar Heel passing attack coming to Tallahassee. ‘Noles in a shootout. Florida St 49, North Carolina 42

Wisconsin at Michigan (-10.5) It will be physical, it will be hard-hitting, and the Badgers will come to play. A game worthy of a great weekend of college football likely comes down to which power-run offense can make a few more plays passing the ball. Wilton Spieght has Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson for targets, which I favor over Alex Hornibrook’s second career start and tight end Troy Fumagali. Michigan 24, Wisconsin 17

Tennessee (-3.5) at Georgia Hey, the Volunteers beat Florida! Everything’s fixed now, right? Well, kinda. Saturday’s second half versus the Gators was the best Tennessee has looked all year, and if that level of play carries over into Athens, they should come out on top. In the mean time, Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs are smarting from the whuppin’ they got from Ole Miss. Jacob Eason and Nick Chubb will have enough of an impact to make it entertaining, but the Vols may have finally turned the corner. Tennessee 31, Georgia 28

Oklahoma (-3.5) at TCU Are we sure the Sooners aren’t just the product of playing two really good teams early in the season? Maybe, but this is another tough one on the road. Take the home side in a close shootout, and for goodness’ sake take the over. TCU 48, Oklahoma 45

Utah at California (-1.5) The win versus Texas at home and the ridiculous numbers Davis Webb is putting up make the Golden Bears a threat and a slight home favorite in Vegas. This is also the matchup Kyle Wittingham inexplicably wins every year by having the better offense. Not sure about that this time around. Cal 44, Utah 31

Missouri at LSU (-13) One of the best passing teams in the country takes on a team terrified of the forward pass. In the midst of a wild week in Baton Rouge, remember that Ed Orgeron takes over as interim coach with Miles’ departure. Interim Coach O is the sole reason that line is not ridiculous, because Interim Coach O is the only thing in college football you can absolutely count on. LSU 31, Mizzou 21

Arizona State at USC (-10) Sneaking this one in because that line is disrespectful as all get to undefeated Sparky, and while I thought desperation would get the Trojans through last week, I’m not so sure this time around. Arizona St 35, USC 24

Louisville (-2) at Clemson What could very well prove to be the game of the year in college football will come down to the small things, but I’ll take one big thing I never thought I would say at the beginning of the year: Lamar Jackson is far and away the best player in college football and is the closest thing to Cam Newton we’ll ever get, if not possibly better. Somehow, he’ll find a way. Louisville 38, Clemson 34

Five for Five: Week Four

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This is a weekly series of five lists of essential information for the coming college football weekend. This week, we talk Heisman, Woo Pig Sooie and Jabril freakin’ Peppers

Five Heisman Contenders that can Catch Lamar Jackson

Greg Ward Jr. It feels like the player set up the best to chase down the Louisville quarterback is another quarterback who will face Jackson later in the season. One choice is the Houston signal caller, who’s been excellent in his first two games, throwing for 647 yards and scoring five total touchdowns while playing through pain. This week’s visit to Texas State might be a good chance to rest Ward Jr.the same way the Cougars did against Lamar so that their star will be ready for the conference wars.

Deshaun Watson This would be the other QB that will get a direct shot at Jackson, specifically next week in a nationally televised primetime affair. Watson has thrown for 692 yards and seven touchdowns, but Clemson’s centerpiece has also been picked off three times and rushed for less than 100 yards against lesser opponents. He’ll need to pick up his play with a tough road test at Georgia Tech looming.

Christian McCaffrey Big shock, I know, but Stanford’s Mr. Everything, like Watson, is just getting warmed up. Per ESPN Stats and Info, McCaffrey is working on an eight-game streak with at least 200 all-purpose yards, the longest in the FBS in the last decade. He’s the leader in rushing, receiving and return yards for a Cardinal team that plays the toughest schedule in the nation, so McCaffrey actually stands a chance of running away from Jackson in Heisman voting if his teams keeps winning.

J.T. Barrett The Ohio State field general looks better than he did as a redshirt freshman, when he finished fourth on the final Heisman ballot. Considering he hasn’t had a big rushing game to go along with 10 touchdown passes and a completion percentage just under 70, he too may only be getting started.

Curtis Samuel The other Buckeye in the spotlight after the thrashing of Oklahoma is Urban Meyer’s best all-around athlete ever. And yes, I’m including Percy Harvin and Braxton Miller in that group. Samuel leads the team in receiving yards, is second in rushing and averages a little less than 11 yards every time he touches the ball. Go ahead, try to win a foot race with this:

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Five Ridiculous Numbers Jabril Peppers Has Put Up this Season

25 tackles Peppers is playing linebacker at 205 pounds. And he’s better than everyone else at it.

2.5 sacks Or a humble pace of 10 for the season, which would turn Pepper into one of the best pass-rushers in the country as well.

22 yards per punt return Peppers essentially flips field position every time he goes back deep for a return. Please, special teams coaches, do the dumb thing and keep kicking to him so we get more returns like his TD against Colorado.

81 kick return yards Jim Harbaugh did the sane thing and finally put Peppers back to take kickoffs last week. He got that output on just two returns, including a 55-yard sprint that set up a score.

278 all-purpose yards Considering Peppers primarily plays defense and has just two offensive touches total on the season, he’s making big plays and putting up stats on an equivalent with McCaffrey or former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack at the heights of their do-it-all powers.

Five Reasons Arkansas can Beat Texas A&M

They can throw it Quarterback Austin Allen has quietly completed 67 percent of his passes (the same number as Barrett) for 655 yards and 7 touchdowns. Keon Hatcher is an explosive target averaging 18.5 yards a catch, Drew Morgan is a reliable slot receiver, and Jeremy Sprinkle leads a talented array of tight ends that prove the Razorbacks are not just a one-trick pig.

Their run defense is on the rise The Hogs only allow about 99 yards rushing a game so far. While the Aggies are not exactly a power-run-game type of offense, having an ability to stand up against the run on first and second downs creates a better shot at third and long.

They will get after the QB when third and long comes Jeremiah Ledbetter leads a pass rush unit that has 10 sacks already and will have its ears pinned back when Trevor Knight drops back to throw Saturday night.

The D does some scoring of its own Arkansas has two pick-sixes on the year and three total interceptions, so Knight has to play smart when the heat is on.

This is the game Kevin Sumlin always finds a way to lose Sumlin is up-and-down against Top 25 opponents with a 14-12 record. But when you consider that, sans Johnny Manziel’s 2012 Heisman season, Sumlin has gone just 5-9 against ranked teams, the noise around his job security doesn’t seem so crazy.

Five Teams that Aren’t Going to the Playoff

Oklahoma Sad Boomer Sooner! Aw, what the heck, one more run for that ridonkulous Noah Brown catch!

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Mercy.

Notre Dame I was very wrong about how good Michigan State can be, which is what the win over the Fighting Irish should be about. But, instead, it’s got to be about Sad Leprechaun.

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Missouri #SurrenderCobra LIVES

North Dakota State Well, probably not. The Bison should be a FBS team. If you disagree with this statement, you either aren’t paying attention or you are still a very hurt Iowa fan who is just now reading the details of Kirk Ferentz’s contract extension and wondering if life has any meaning left. Shhhh, it’s going be ok.

Auburn Look, War Eagle, Arkansas State is reaaaally bad. You should have known those 700 yards of offense was just a fling, a one-night stand. True love is a fickle mistress. Enjoy Leonard Fournette. It can’t get much worse than last year.

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Five (or More) North Dakota-Cold Locks

Record on the Season: 24-13

Clemson (-9.5) at Georgia Tech Fun fact, the Tigers have lost their last five road games against the Yellow Jackets. Dabo Swinney said this week his coaches had been installing game plans to face the triple option back in fall camp. That preparation should pay off this time around. Clemson 42, Georgia Tech 21

USC at Utah (-3) This is USC’s last stand if they want to at least stay in the running for a New Year’s Six bowl. Road games at Rice-Eccles Stadium are always tricky, but the Trojans are in a desperate spot. USC 28, Utah 27

Georgia at Ole Miss (-7) Ah, Rebels. So young. So naive. So convinced all three-touchdown leads hold up. Reality has hit Hugh Freeze’s young team hard with the blown chances against Florida State and Alabama. Now comes a Bulldog team that led by freshman QB Jacob Eason, who already has “game-tying touchdown pass on fourth and long in the final minutes while trailing on the road” checked off his list. If Nick Chubb gets going again, this could get ugly, but it’s also UGA we’re talking about. Georgia 31, Ole Miss 21

Florida State (-5.5) at South Florida The unbeaten Bulls have a dynamic duo in QB Quinton Flowers and RB Marlon Mack, and we’ve already seen that the Seminoles defense has holes in the run game. Don’t be shocked if FSU gets knocked off again, even on a week where redemption for the #BEATEMDOWN at Louisville will be on their minds. USF 38, Florida St 31

Wisconsin at Michigan State (-5.5) In what quietly looks like the game of the week, the Badgers and Spartans will essentially be looking into a mirror. Both teams play great defense, and both are predicated upon power run games. I think Wisconsin has the better defense, but I like the tandem of LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes from Sparty as opposed to Corey Clement. This might come down to quarterbacks Tyler O’Conner and Alex Hornibrook. For the time being, I’ll take Mark Dantonio and the home-field advantage as the slightest of edges. Michigan St 24, Wisconsin 21

Boise State (-13) at Oregon State All the mid-major love has gone to Houston, and rightfully so. But keep an eye on the Broncos and sophomore QB Brett Rypien, who leads the eighth-best passing attack in the country. Boise St 42, Oregon St 17

BYU at West Virginia (-7) A game that at least promises entertainment, Skyler Howard should lead the Mountaineers to a 3-0 start by the slimmest of margins. West Virginia 35, BYU 31

Florida at Tennessee (-6.5) C’mon, Vols. The Gators have former Purdue QB Austin Appleby stepping in for the injured Luke Del Rio. If the losing streak reaches 12 years, you’re not getting my sympathy. Tennessee 24, Florida 10

Pittsburgh at North Carolina (-7) Look, it matters in the ACC Coastal division race and I have a serious problem. If you don’t want to watch it, fine, but James Conner and Ryan Switzer on the same field is my kind of drug. Pitt 38, UNC 24

Penn State at Michigan (-18.5) God might intervene and turn this into a 60-point blowout for last week’s Joe Paterno memorial. Michigan 42, Penn St 10

Colorado at Oregon (-10.5) The Buffs are at least good enough again to throw a scare into Michigan on the road. But beating a Duck team still stinging from the loss at Nebraska in a second straight road game, however…Oregon 42, Colorado 17

LSU (-3.5) at Auburn See that spread? That’s what happens when you have transcendent players like Fournette and Arden Key but you can’t win a game unless you have a former Purdue QB starting. Danny Etling, profession fixer. LSU 28, Auburn 7

Army (-14.5) at Buffalo Big ups to the Black Knights, who have started 3-0 after so many bad years and have rallied together in the wake of the death of teammate Brandon Jackson. Army 31, Buffalo 7

Nebraska (-7.5) at Northwestern Why this line doesn’t read -infinity is one of life’s great mysteries. Nebraska 34, Northwestern 7

Oklahoma State at Baylor (-8) This week marked the first time the Big 12 didn’t have a team ranked inside the AP Poll top 15. Baylor seems like the leader in the clubhouse at the moment. The Bears and Cowboys will score a lot of points, but just like if the mascots were real, take the bear big. Baylor 52, Oklahoma St 28

Stanford (-3) at UCLA Josh Rosen will do all he can to keep the Bruins in it, but McCaffrey and a continually stout defense will be too much. Stanford 28, UCLA 17

Arkansas vs Texas A&M (-5.5) Knight really hasn’t done anything spectacular, and he doesn’t have to with the complement of weapons around him. They should be enough again to shrug off Bret Bielema and Co. Texas A&M 34, Arkansas 28

California at Arizona State (-4) OH MY GOD HOOK THIS GAME UP TO MY VEINS AND INJECT DIRECTLY INTO MY BLOOD STREAM. Soooooo many points. Quietly, the Sun Devils can start 4-0. Davis Webb and the Golden Bears won’t make it easy, but Sparky should find a way to claim the win, especially if Kalen Ballage gets a lot of touches near the goal line again. Arizona St 55, Cal 52

Washington at Arizona Nick Wilson is a talented tailback for the Wildcats, but Chris Petersen’s young Huskies have looked great to start 2016 and should continue that trend against a down Rich Rodriguez-led squad. Washington 38, Arizona 21

Five for Five: Week One

This is a weekly series of five lists of essential information for the coming college football weekend. This week, we look at the most loaded opening week ever.

Five Burning Questions

Is Alabama really that much better than everyone else? Well, kind of. It’s not going to surprise anyone if the Tide roll everybody on their way to Nick Saban’s fifth title at the school. But it is important to note that Alabama will be breaking in new players at not only quarterback, but also running back. Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris are going to be the primary ball handlers for the Crimson Tide offense, so they need to be ready to step into Derrick Henry’s shoes right away. After that, ‘Bama looks like the best team at pretty much every position, in some cases by a wide margin.

What does Houston have to do to beat Oklahoma? Other than Greg Ward Jr leading the offense down the field and scoring lots of points, since that’s sort of the objective of the game, it’s crucial that defensive coordinator Todd Orlando get the Cougars to key in on Sooner RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, who should get a lot of reps due to an inexperienced group of wide receivers. Given the performance against Dalvin Cook and Florida State in last December’s Peach Bowl, following that game plan is a smart move.

Is Tennessee really on upset alert? I love Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel, one of the best college football reporters in the country, saying the Volunteers can get beat by Appalachian State, mostly because it perfectly sums up what 2016 will mean to the Vols: Unless Butch Jones can finally get all the talent on his roster to translate to staying in the hunt for championships, this season is a total failure. Plain and simple. Plus, would you trust a team that’s lost 11 straight times to Florida?

Which conference has the most to lose from Week One? Amongst all these flashy non-conference matchups is a slew of the typcial season-opening cupcakes, but no conference seems to boast more than the Big Ten. Aside from Wisconsin taking on LSU, the next best matchup might be Bowling Green-Ohio State. Good job not getting left out in the rain, Jim Delaney.

Is Les Miles really going to make LSU players hitchike home if they do the Lambeau Leap? This is a little uncharateristic of the fun-loving Mad Hatter, and a big missed opportunity for the players in my opinion. This is the first-ever college football game at historic Lambeau Field. Why wouldn’t you take the chance to make it memorable? Where’s Kliff Kingsbury with a dance contest when I need it?

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Five Must-See-TV Players

Steven Taylor, OLB, Houston The senior pass rusher was a steady presence last season with 10 sacks. But Taylor posted six of those sacks in back-to-back weeks against SMU and Tulane, meaning there’s room for improvement. Ward Jr might be the star of the show for the Cougars, but if they really want to knock off Oklahoma, Taylor must be the main event and get in Baker Mayfield’s face all afternoon long.

Sony Michel, RB, Georgia Yes, Nick Chubb is back from a gruesome knee injury that cut a potentially dynamic 2015 season short, but we’re still not sure if he’s all the way back. And if Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart isn’t either, there’s always the 5’11”, 222-lb junior who stepped in for Chubb last season and strolled to a casual 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. He also averaged 10 yards per reception last year, so expect a lot of explosive plays from Michel against North Carolina.

Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M Hey, does your favorite NFL team stink at getting to the quarterback? Well then, meet your future superstar, a 270-lb ball of pure power that smashes offensive tackles’ dreams on the reg and has a pretty good in partner in Daeshon Hall to take the pressure off of him, thus meaning he could do better than last year’s 12.5 sacks. UCLA QB Josh Rosen may not think Kyle Field is loud, but his ears are gonna be ringing if Garrett gets a hold of him.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford Inevitable he ends up on this list almost every week, but hey, whatcha gonna do? Biggest question is if he breaks the 350-mark in all-purpose yardage.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State Another guy that could be on here every week, with the same going for Deshaun Watson and Leonard Fournette, but we’ll have plenty of time to talk about them this season. Right now, let’s talk about how the Seminoles are sending a redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois up against the veteran Land Shark defense in his first career start. Sounds like we’re gonna get a heaping helping of DAAAAAMM DALVIN. BACK AT IT AGAIN WITH THE 20-PLUS YARD RUNS.

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Five Coaches that Could Really Use a Win This Week

Jim Grobe, Baylor It’s not that the Bears won’t win, they’ll try to beat Northwestern State by a thousand, it’s that Grobe has a giantic overhaul in culture that has little to do with football ahead. Sometimes winning is the best medicine, sometimes it makes the situation worse, the point is people could use a distraction.

David Beatty, Kansas  Beatty could use a win this week, next week, any week. Kansas sucks. They need a win. Period.

Barry Odom, Missouri Speaking of schools in the middle of cultural overhaul, beating West Virginia on the road to begin Odom’s tenure would mean the Tigers are at least taking steps towards being a good football team again.

Steve Addazio, Boston College Like Mizzou, Addazio had a great defense accompianied by an offense direct from Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell. If the Golden Eagles at least score a few more points, that would probably make things much better, especiall against…conference rival Georgia Tech in Dublin, Ireland WHO PUT THIS SCHEDULE TOGETHER.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt If the Commodores don’t beat South Carolina, who will they beat? Guess I’ll find out. Yeah, I’m gonna watch this game. Yeah, I know I have a sickness.

Five Uniforms that You’ll See Worn This Weekend

Georgia and North Carolina I thouroughly endorse the use of both home jerseys whenever possible, and nothing looks sweeter than powder-blue vs red.

Tulane ANGRY CARTOON WAVE ALERT

Toledo Faded helmet pattern done right? Take notes, Jaguars

UCLA Thank God, one of the best unis in sports looks like itself again

Idaho OH GOD MY EYES (quickly searches for acid, throws at face)

Five (or More) Stone-Cold Locks

Kansas State at Stanford (-14) Three touchdowns coming for McCaffrey, who’s so good, Bill Snyder might pull a Steve Spurrier and retire right after the game. Stanford 38, Kansas St 17

Oklahoma (-11.5) vs Houston The Cougars are for real, and they will make that loud and clear to the rest of the nation in the best game of the weekend. Houston 44, Oklahoma 31

UCLA at Texas A&M (-3) The Aggies are much better than you think. Coordinator John Chavis has the defense turned around, now it’s just up to former Sooner QB Trevor Knight to stabalize a talented offense. Texas A&M 31, UCLA 21

LSU (-10) vs Wisconsin Even if Fournette isn’t fully recovered from the foot injury that nagged him in fall camp, Darius Guice is fine backup who can get some additional reps, and man, could this defense be scary. LSU 24, Wisconsin 7

Georgia (-2.5) vs North Carolina Like A&M, the Dawgs might be poised to breakout and sneak into the playoff conversation, especially with a tandem like Chubb and Michel running the damn ball (miss you, Mike Bobo). Georgia 31, North Carolina 17

USC vs Alabama (-11.5) That massive spread is being generous. The Trojans are good, but this just sucks to have to be the game you break in new starting QB Max Browne. Alabama 34, USC 14

Clemson (-7.5) vs Auburn Dangerously tempting line that you should probably ignore but maybe not. Clemson is breaking in a lot of new defensive starters against a Gus Mahlzahn, so the potential for the over is there. But Deshaun Watson’s not losing this thing. Clemson 34, Auburn 21

Notre Dame (-3.5) vs Texas Lord have mercy on my soul, but I’ll take Texas. I have a very stupid hunch this might be the year Charlie Strong gets the Horns turned around. Either that or it’s indigestion. Texas 31, Notre Dame 28

Ole Miss vs Florida State (-4) Another really small line that is being really nice. The ‘Noles are real good, and they’re gonna let everybody know come Labor Day. Florida St 38, Ole Miss 17

Star-Studded: The Correct MLB All-Star Ballot

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We are nearing the end of the first half of the Major League Baseball season, which means it’s almost time for one of my favorite sports traditions, the All-Star Game.

Long before Bud Selig soiled all over the Midsummer Classic by putting something really valuable at stake in the form of home-field advantage in the World Series, this game was still a competitive and entertaining affair that featured the best players in the world at the ultimate kids’ game very much enjoying themselves and acting like kids while also showing flashes of the brilliance that made them worthy of the selection to the National and American League squads.

The All-Star Game is the epitome of summer, baseball’s equivalent of a parade with color, spectacle and some pretty awful live music performances (apologies in advance to the Gwen Stefani stans). The NBA might do the party scene a little better for its midseason get-together of the best of the best, but that doesn’t in any way diminish the fun atmosphere that comes with the Home Run Derby, the red carpet parade and all the other great events that make up All-Star Week.

San Diego will be a fine host for the 2016 rendition, and the week will by no means be a failure without a memorable moment, but the best parts of the All-Star Game tend to happen in the actual game, and the best way to ensure that is to make sure the best players are starting the game. The deserving players will ultimately fill out the 34-man roster, but a starting spot in the game means a little extra, and since fans decied this honor, I’d thought I’d give my two cents on what I think the starting lineups should look like.

There isn’t an exact science to this, it’s a combination of stats, career accolades and personal desire to watch great players face other great players. With that in mind, here’s who should be starting at Petco Park if the fans get it right:

American League

Catcher – Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals Phew, this position stinks. It wouldn’t be close if Perez were having a down year. Throw in that last year’s World Series MVP is the best defensive catcher in the game and is having a career year at the plate that would be the best hitting year for an AL catcher since Joe Mauer’s MVP season in 2010, and it’s a blowout.

First Base – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers The Royals’ Eric Hosmer is leading the voting on the heels of a breakout year that is molding him into the superstar so many predicted he would be, so he’d be a fine choice. But this is about who I want to see, and there are few things as gripping as watching the best hitter of his generation go to work against the best pitchers in the game. Cabrera’s quietly having another exceptional year in a Hall-of-Fame career full of them. Hard not to want him out there.

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Second Base – Jose Altuve, Houston Astros This is a really tough call, as Robinson Cano has been equally impressive and remains a HOF-caliber player. But Altuve is a 5’5″ man that has added mammoth power to his all-around game. He’s good enough to be the no. 3 hitter in any lineup, and someone so small but also so athletically gifted is a joy to watch. Plus viewership will go way up with girlfriends across the country spend the rest of the game crooning over just how gosh darned cute he is with his wittle helmet and his chubby wittle cheeks.

Shortstop – Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians Another prototypical lead off hitter who hits third in the order for a good offensive team because he’s good enough to do so. Since Lindor and Carlos Santana essentially swapped places in the lineup, Cleveland is the hottest team in baseball. He generates more power than you would expect while still consistently putting up .300/.400/.850 slash lines. Add in he’s already a Gold Glove-level defender for his position, and he’s a slightly better call than the Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts. Then again, this whole discussion would be a moot point if…

Third Base – Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles …this guy was considered a shortstop on the ballot. Still listed at the hot corner because the ballot doesn’t change positions after it’s released (something that should be changed), Machado is an easy All-Star starter selection for the next decade. Effortless defensive ability has meshed with newfound power to result in a five-tool infielder we haven’t seen in orange and black since Brooks Robinson. If Machado was listed at short, I’d give this spot pretty easily to the Blue Jays’ Josh Donaldson, but them’s the breaks.

Left Field – Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Not a hard call, he’s the presumptive MVP of the league when he’s on his game, it’s just a sad reminder that the best player in the game is on a bad team. Not cool.

Center Field – Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox Betts or Jackie Bradley Jr would be fine choices to represent the best offense in baseball, but Betts has a little more power and just seems to have more fitting name. What sounds more New England than a guy named Mookie?

Right Field – George Springer, Astros No one is making a better late push to claim his 2016 performance has earned him this spot. Since moving to the leadoff spot, Springer has ignited the Astros back into the stratosphere of baseball’s best offenses. Power, hitting for average, speed and outstanding range defensively are not only All-Star skills but make for highly entertaining baseball. The Houston top of the order is must-watch TV.

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Designated Hitter – David Ortiz, Red Sox This was his spot to lose the moment he announced this would be his final season, but then Big Papi went and decided to have one of his best seasons ever. He’ll easily make a pit stop in San Diego while chasing the Triple Crown. MVP and another World Series ring.

Pitcher – Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox This is the first of a few choices on this list the managers will make, but they’re still worth discussing. The Red Sox’ Steven Wright and his befuddling knuckleball make a strong case, but the big lefty from the South Side has double-digit wins, more strikeouts and another sub-3 ERA to make his case a little stronger.

National League

Catcher – Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants I’ll always cape for Yadier Molina, unless he’s hitting less than .260. The Nationals’ Wilson Ramos might be the most deserving based on his 2016 numbers, and the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy remains a force, but Posey is still as good as gets. And the championship bling doesn’t hurt a resume either.

First Base – Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks The Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo probably won’t give this spot up in the fan voting, and that’s fine, but Goldschmidt’s been much better the past 2 months for a team that desperately needs him to be a star every game, while Rizzo plays amongst the reincarnation of the ’27 Yankees and won’t be completely missed for a day or two.

Second Base – Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals Ben Zobrist is another Cub that would make a fine choice here, but Murphy gets the nod for making the $100-million dollar contract Washington gave Murphy to coax him away from the Mets look genius.

Shortstop – Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers Addison Russell looks like he’ll win the fan vote, snubbing someone worthy of a spot on the roster and making me semi-outraged. But it’s probably worse the best rookie in baseball won’t get a chance to start the game as recognition of his brilliance. He’s become the Dodgers’ best hitter right away after having to live up to the pressure of being a high-profile prospect. Russell shouldn’t even be in the discussion, while Seager and the Rockies’ Trevor Story are easy choices.

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Third Base – Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs This could have easily been either the Rockies’ Nolan Arrenado, who might be the best player at the position since George Brett, or the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter, the coach’s prototype for all things baseball player. The only reason Bryant edges out this totally even vote for me is that it would feel really weird not having any Cubs in the starting lineup given how dominant they have been. It looks like they’ll end up with quite a few in the actual game, but Bryant is the lead singer in this rock band tour, so Sparkle Jesus takes the slim cake (shoutout @Adam_Jacobi)

Left Field – Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates Andrew McCutchen is no longer the premier Pirate outfielder. Polanco and Starling Marte have been the real driving force for the Buccos’ offense thus far, so one of them should get a starting nod over Cubs fans incessant voting for Dexter Fowler (?!?!?).

Center Field – Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets He’s become one of the best power hitters in the game who also hits for average, but that’s not the real reason he’s here. The reason is what he can’t do, which is play defense. The AL is going to try and tag every ball to center right at Cespedes, and he will misplay them all, and the ensuing adventures will be glorious.

Right Field – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals One of the few guys on this list along with Cespedes that can bring the theater and majesty of the Home Run Derby to every at-bat. Like Trout, Harper is the first choice for MVP whenever he’s on. Just please don’t walk him.

Designated Hitter – Anthony Rizzo, Cubs He’ll get paid a lot of money by an AL team in the future to do this anyways, so might as well get a head start.

Pitcher – Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers Up until Jake Arrieta’s recent stumbles, this was a very close race. In the end, the best pitcher of his generation continuing to perform like it is an easy choice for the big stage of the All-Star Game. It also makes a little bit of strategic sense, since Kershaw knows Petco Park better than any other pitcher besides Madison Bumgarner.