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 Three

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This is a weekly series of five lists of essential information for the coming college football weekend. This week, the conference games are here and booooooy are they good.

Five Reasons Lamar Jackson Can Keep Putting Up Ridiculous Numbers

He’s a better runner than passer The numbers that matter most to the Louisville quarterback’s torrid start: 318, 9.9 and six. That’s the rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns Jackson has amassed in the first two games, fresh off a freshman season where he ran for 980 yards and 11 touchdowns in part-time duty. Jackson’s still learning how to beat defenses with his arm, so the fact that no one has slowed his legs down is a good sign.

He catches defense sleeping on early downs On first downs with an average distance of eight to 10 yards or more, Jackson has completed 21 of 30 passes (an even 70%) for 468 yards and five touchdowns while also rushing for 210 yards and an average of just over 13 yards per carry. Defenders have to be aware that the playbook is wide open for Jackson on first down, and the ball could end up anywhere with big-play results.

He has two of the most underrated tackles in the nation Florida State proved against Ole Miss it has more than enough athletes to attack a mobile quarterback, led by pass-rushing menace Demarcus Walker. But Jackson will have left tackle Geron Christian to protect his blind side. The 6’6″, 314-pound sophomore has started all 15 games of his college career and has proven to be much better than anyone could have expected, earning All-ACC honorable mention after having just two years of high school ball under his belt. Throw in 6’6″, 316-lb redshirt sophomore Lukayus McNeil at right tackle, and pass rushers will have an even tougher time catching the already-elusive Jackson (read this great profile of McNeil by ESPN.com’s Jared Shanker here).

ACC defenses look a little suspect Only two teams-Boston College and Miami-are allowing less than 200 yards per game, and the conference as a whole is surrendering an average of 306 yards per game. Jackson will only see one or two truly elite defenses like the Seminoles the rest of the season, so he has a chance to put up bigger numbers as he progresses throughout the year.

He doesn’t make costly decisions Jackson’s completion percentage is on the rise, up five points from last year, and he’s only thrown nine interceptions in 14 college games and 309 career pass attempts. He also doesn’t fumble much as a runner, so game-changing turnovers will be hard to come by for opposing defenses.

Five Things Oklahoma Has to Do to Beat Ohio State

Don’t turn the ball over Ohio State leads the nation with seven interceptions and a +7 turnover margin through the first two games. Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker have proven to be feisty ball hawks for the Buckeyes, so QB Baker Mayfield has to be careful with where he puts the ball.

Get Joe Mixon more involved One safe way to avoid turnovers is to hand the ball off, and one Sooner who needs to see the ball more often is the 6’1″, 226-lb sophomore. He does lead OU in rushing yards with 157 and is averaging 15 yards per reception, but most of those touches came in the first half of the loss to Houston. If offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley wants to beat the Buckeye defense, he needs to use Mixon’s potential to the fullest.

Know where Curtis Samuel is at all times The versatile junior not only leads Ohio State in receiving with 239 yards (17 yards per catch), but he’s also rushed for 162 yards and is averaging just under 8 yards a carry. Urban Meyer has used dynamic players with world-class speed all over the field before, going back to his Florida days with Percy Harvin and more recently with Braxton Miller and Jalin Marshall, and Samuel is the next X-factor defenses have to find if they don’t want to get burned.

Watch out for the pass over the top Of J.T. Barrett’s six touchdown passes, five have traveled at least 25 yards. Barrett is averaging just over nine yards per pass attempt, so the Bucks are more than capable of going deep off of play action.

Make the game come down to a field goal kick Senior Tyler Durbin is a first-time kicker who’s yet to attempt a field goal from outside of 29 yards. Forcing him to take his first long kick on the road in a hostile environment with the game on the line heavily favors the Sooners.

Five Teams that Need to Play Better This Week

Clemson You can excuse the lack of fireworks to open the season on the road against an improved Auburn defense, but Troy? Really, Tigers? Deshaun Watson issued a public apology for the team’s performance through the first two weeks, which might be a bit too much, but the offense does need to pick it up, especially rushing the ball, where their 136.5-yards-per-game average is tied for 92nd in the country.

Tennessee The Volunteers spotted Virginia Tech a 14-0 lead one week after escaping Appalachian State in overtime. If Ohio gives them trouble, you might want to think about putting some money on Florida making it 12 in a row.

LSU The defense has been quietly solid, but the offense’s woes for the last year finally reached a breaking point for Les Miles, as quarterback Brandon Harris was benched for Purdue transfer Danny Etling last week against Jacksonville State. Leonard Fournette is back, and Derrius Guice had a stellar game in his place a week ago, but unless Etling can help the passing game take the next step, even this week’s home date with Mississippi State might be a tall task.

Georgia Kirby Smart can’t pick a quarterback heading into the first true road game of the season. Not great. Whether it’s Jacob Eason or Greyson Lambert under center, the Bulldogs have to do better than only beating Nicholls State  by two if they want to come out of Missouri unscathed.

Arizona An opening-week loss at the horn to BYU was followed up by a lackluster effort against Grambling State. If Hawaii comes to Tuscon and makes some noise, Rich Rodriguez might want to start looking over his shoulder.

Five Players That Will Be Crucial to Their Team’s Success This Week

Matt VandeBerg, WR, Iowa North Dakota State remains the class of the FCS, so the Hawkeyes don’t have it easy this week. C.J. Beathard needs to continue to play smart, which means continuing to find his security blanket VandeBerg, whose 11 catches is five more than any other Iowa receiver.

A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss The 6’1″ freshman has big-play potential, exactly what Chad Kelly and the Rebels need to if they want to make it three straight against Alabama.

Devonte Fields, OLB, Louisville Last time the junior pass rusher saw a young pocket passer like Deondre Francois, he had three sacks in the Music City Bowl versus Texas A&M. The Cardinals need the pass rush to rattle Francois the way it did in the first half of FSU’s win over Ole Miss.

Torii Hunter Jr., WR, Notre Dame The most experienced target for the Fighting Irish is back from a concussion suffered versus Texas and will need to get open if Deshone Kizer wants to move the ball against the always-stingy defense of Michigan State.

Darreus Rogers, WR, USC JuJu Smith-Schuster gets all the attention at receiver for the Trojans, and rightfully so, but Rogers proved last week against Utah State he can be an excellent second option. He will need to get loose to help the Men of Troy sling it around The Farm against Stanford.

Five (or More) Stone-Cold Locks

Record on the Season: 17-5

Houston (-7.5) at Cincinnati Greg Ward Jr.’s back, which means the Cougars will be running at full speed. Hayden Moore will sling it enough for the Bearcats to score some points and make this fun for a while, but Tom Herman has too good a team this year for a let down. Houston 45, Cincinnati 24

North Dakota State at Iowa The Bison always come to play for their annual FBS road trip, but the Hawkeyes have looked better than many expected to start the year. Iowa 27, North Dakota St 17

Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (-6) The last-second loss that never should have been against Central Michigan was a just a precursor of things to come. The Cowboys don’t have what it takes to slow down James Conner and the Panthers’ multifaceted run game Pitt 31, Oklahoma St 17

Miami FL (-3.5) at Appalachian State The Hurricanes have blown away their first two opponents, led by RB Mark Walton’s five TDs. But this is easily the biggest home game in program history for the Mountaineers. Kidd Brewer Stadium, AKA “The Rock,” will be rocking, and App State will get the upset they missed out on against Tennessee. App St 31, Miami 28

Florida State (-2) at Louisville Jackson will put on a show, but the ‘Noles are just too talented. It was enough to get out of a 22-point hole in Week One, and it will be just enough here, with Dalvin Cook having his first big game of the year to remind you he’s still a legitimate Heisman candidate. Florida St 34, Louisville 31

Alabama (-10.5) at Ole Miss Jalen Hurts’ first career road game is something to ponder, as is Hugh Freeze’s success against Nick Saban. The Crimson Tide are also stacked with the best roster in the country, which is a thing you should ponder more. Alabama 38, Ole Miss 21

Oregon at Nebraska (-3) That the Ducks are road ‘dogs according to Vegas is a little surprising. Dakota Prukop has looked solid leading the high-powered offense in Eugene to 97 points in the first two games. What’s not surprising is the development of Huskers signal-caller Tommy Armstrong, who looks much more comfortable as a passer this year and should have enough tricks up his sleeve to win a shootout. Nebraska 41, Oregon 34

Texas A&M vs Auburn (-3) The Tigers look improved, but the big challenge now comes when Myles Garrett and a ferocious Aggie defense roll into town. Throw in a good start to the year for QB Trevor Knight, and Kevin Sumlin has a team that can make some noise in the SEC West. Texas A&M 35, Auburn 21

Mississippi State at LSU (-14) The Bulldogs so far have lost to South Alabama and hung on at the end to beat South Carolina. Relief is on the way, Bayou Bengals. LSU 31, Miss St 7

UCLA (-3) at BYU Josh Rosen has already faced one tough road test this year and come up short. A second would seriously damage any playoff hopes the Bruins still hold to. Sadly, Taysom Hill has a flair for making that sort of damage occur. BYU 28, UCLA 24

Georgia (-6.5) at Missouri Tigers QB Drew Lock absolutetly torched Eastern Michigan last week, but he’ll need some help in the trenches. Mizzou has to run the ball better and stop the run if they want to knock off UGA, and that’s something Nick Chubb won’t let happen easily…unless Lock goes off again 😉 Mizzou 31, Georgia 24

Texas (-8) at California Texas road games matter again! Davis Webb can sure spin that magic bean, but the Golden Bears’ defense is bad enough to lose a shootout with grind-it-out San Diego State. Why can’t Shane Buechele and the Longhorns come to Berkeley and light it up as well? Texas 45, Cal 31

USC at Stanford (-8.5) Clay Helton needs a statement win to prove the Trojans are a program to be reckoned with again. It’s not coming against Christian McCaffrey, especially when he’s looking to do better than his 206 all-purpose yards against Kansas State. Stanford 31, USC 14

Michigan State at Notre Dame (-8) The Irish look right again with Kizer taking the snaps, and Sparty looked mighty suspect in a close home win against Furman Notre Dame 34, Michigan St 17

Ohio State (-1.5) at Oklahoma The closest line of the week should also provide the best game. Mayfield and Barrett will duel in a heck of a matchup, but the Buckeyes have a more talented defense, which will get just enough stops to earn a win. Ohio State 31, Oklahoma 28

Five for Five: Week Two

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This is a weekly series of five lists of essential information for the coming college football weekend. This week, we try as hard as possible to not talk about Week Two.

Five Things We Learned from Week One

Alabama is still the best Let the warmth of the joys of the best first opening weekend in college football history wash over you, because the largest takeaway from Week One was the soul-crushing inevitability of the Crimson Tide beating everyone in their path with extreme prejudice. You can argue USC was unprepared, undisciplined and unmotivated Saturday night, and you might be right. But you can’t say the Trojans aren’t a talented veteran team that would have given any other opponent fits. When the Tide come calling, you not only have to be ready, you have to acknowledge that they are straight up better in every facet of the game than anybody else. That includes breaking in new quarterback Jalen Hurts, who could be the best signal caller Nick Saban has ever had, and running back Damien Harris. ‘Bama’s only getting warmed up, and Saban wasn’t wrong when expressed disappointment in his team’s performance in a game they won by 46 points. Be very afraid.

Brandon Harris is still that bad All the LSU quarterback had to do was be marginally improved in the offseason and the Tigers could contend for a playoff berth. Not too hard, right?

C/ATT YDS AVG TD INT QBR
Brandon Harris 12/21 131 6.2 1 2 6.9

[Hurls]

That LSU title pick was soooo good, right? 

What an unbelievable mess. As talented as the Tigers appear, Harris managed to hold them down enough to fall versus Wisconsin, and he’s not getting replaced anytime soon. Good luck, Bayou Bengal fans.

Florida State is fine, better than fine actually Take away the porous start that allowed Ole Miss to grab a 22-point lead, and you have a 39-6 Seminoles victory that mostly came in the span of one quarter. Not too shabby. Once Deondre Francois settled in at QB and the defensive front seven started making Chad Kelly’s life miserable, the ‘Noles looked like the title contender they are.

Houston is for real It’s not just that Saturday’s win over Oklahoma makes for back-to-back double-digit wins over Power 5 programs, but the Cougars showed out a roster stacked with talent that could compete with any team in the country. Lance Dunbar, Steven Taylor, Brandon Wilson and, of course, Greg Ward Jr. all could play at the next level, but they’re just fine with winning now and making the CFP committee sweat out what to do if the Cougs can get to 13-0.

JoeTess miiight be right that Texas is back Few things make as loud a noise as knocking off a top-10 opponent in double overtime after finishing below .500 the last two seasons. The offense looks to have shifted into another gear under new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert; Charlie Strong is wielding a dual-quarterback system like it’s the sword Excalibur; and the defense has potential to get better later this year led by DE Naashon Hughes and LB Malik Jefferson. It’s important to note that the Longhorns blew a 17-point lead to Notre Dame, but they way they got back up after getting knocked to the mat was an impressive potential sign of things to come.

Five (or More) Players Who Dominated Week One that You Should Watch in Week Two

All the freshman quarterbacks Francois, Texas’ Shane Buechele and Georgia’s Jacob Eason all made plays ranging from impressive to extraordinary in big wins and will be starting later this year in games that mean even more. How they respond from last week against mostly lesser opponents is going to be a big indicator of their maturity

James Conner and Saquon Barkley Conner’s return to the field from thyroid cancer and knee injury was one of the most inspiring moments from last weekend, and he scored two touchdowns. Getting a chance to watch the Pitt star square up against the emerging sophomore from Penn State is going to be an absolute treat.

Nick Chubb Talk about announcing your presence. Chubb also came back in Week One after suffering a devastating knee injury, a game coaches were unsure he would be totally healthy for. Chubb responded with 32 carries for 222 yards. I think he’s fine, and I think Nicholls is in a lot of trouble.

Mike Williams  One more welcome back is in order for the towering Clemson receiver, who suffered a head injury in Week One last year when he ran into the goal post catching a touchdown. Williams made mincemeat of an improved Auburn defense with nine catches for 174 yards, and he should dice up Troy as well.

Chris Evans The 5’11” freshman ran for 112 yards and 2 TD’s on just eight carries against Hawai’i, and the Wolverines have yet to really unleash the sprightly running back as a receiver or on special teams. Jabril Peppers might have some competition for best athlete on the team

Five Images of Tyrone Swoopes’ Triumphant Sunday Night That Will Warm Your Soul

 

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Five Things You Could Do Instead of Watch The Terrible Games This Week

Mow the grass Gonna be getting to fall weather soon, which means the last few precious hours spent riding on the zero-turn jamming out to Meghan Trainor are slipping away. You guys do that too, right?

Complain about the AP Top 25 poll Wisconsin all the way up to 10? LSU all the way down to 21? USC and North Carolina banished from the polls for losing to good SEC teams? No, I’m sure these decisions won’t look foolish in three weeks (Synchronizes watch).

If you are of age, drink Might as well get a jumpstart, right Tennessee fans? I’m kidding (kind of). My recommendation would be Milwaukee’ Best Ice, of which I found out I can buy two 30-ounce cans for $3.50 at my local gas station. I say this because I am a poor white man without any taste or culture.

Watch a movie There’s apparently animated films depicting the sinking of the Titantic. They are supposedly terrible. Like, painfully terrible. You might want to take suggestion number 3 beforehand. Or you could just go buy Captain America: Civil War like a sane person.

Just watch the games Don’t kid yourself, you’re a degenerate who cares about Kentucky-Florida with every ounce of your being just like I do. We are all ill, and the only prescription is to feed the beast and bet the under on Tulsa-Ohio State.

Five (or More) Milwaukee’s Best Ice-Cold Locks 

Record on the Season So Far: 8-1

Louisville (-14.5) at Syracuse Lamar Jackson is legit, in case his eight total touchdowns didn’t make that clear. At least this conference game doesn’t feature South Carolina. Louisville 42, Syracuse 14

Penn State at Pittsburgh (-5) I have the Panthers as my pick to win the ACC Coastal divison (because my preseason predictions are going soooo well), so I’ll stick by Conner and Quadree Ollison. Pitt 28, Penn St 17

Central Michigan at Oklahoma State (-20.5) Most of the picks made the list this week just because I think they’ll be closer games than people think. The Chippewas are a veteran team that won’t be daunted. Oklahoma St 48, Central Michigan 35

UCF at Michigan (-35.5) Ok, I said most of the picks. Godspeed, Scott Frost. If you don’t give up the spread, you did good. Michigan 45, UCF 3

Akron at Wisconsin (-24) Here’s a game worth watching to see how quickly the Badgers bounce back from a juiced atmosphere at Lambeau Field last week. Very quietly, Zips QB Thomas Woodson threw for 407 yards and six touchdowns (!!!!). Bucky has to be ready to stop the passing game that never challenged them a week ago. Wisconsin 34, Akron 28

Western Kentucky at Alabama (-28.5) The Hilltoppers can sling it, as new QB Mike White debuted last week by throwing for 517 yards (!!!!!). Still, this is ‘Bama, so even if they don’t have their best game, the Tide will still roll (boy, does that sound familiar). Alabama 45, Western Kentucky 21

Arkansas at TCU (-7.5) Both squads struggled in Week One against talented little guys, so they’ll look to shake off the rust. Kenny Hill and the Horned Frogs should have just enough, but it feels like a toss-up. TCU 31, Arkansas 24

Iowa State at Iowa (-15) The Cyclones are not very good despite having a very good receiver in Allen Lazard, so he could make a highlight play or two. Iowa 35, Iowa St 7

BYU at Utah (-3) HELL YEAH HOLY WAR LEGGGGOOOOOO. Good to see these bitter rivals enjoyed last year’s Las Vegas Bowl matchup so much that they’re duking it out again. This should be the game of the weekend. BYU 24, Utah 21

Texas Tech at Arizona State (-2.5) Ho hum, Red Raiders QB Pat Mahomes threw for 400 yards in the first half last week. If he does that again, Sparky’s getting shocked at home. Texas Tech 38, Arizona St 31

Washington State at Boise State (-11.5) Hehehehe, some of you thought the same Wazzu team that lost to an FCS team last week was going to win the Pac-12. Boise St 34, Washington St 24

Virginia at Oregon (-24.5) Why is this game a thing. Oregon 50, Virginia -14

Virginia Tech vs Tennessee (-11.5) This game holds the biggest draw of the weekend not because of the matchup, but because they’re going to play the game at a NASCAR race track. Because, you know, the South and stuff. Tennessee should win, but you’ve watched them the last three years, all bets are off. Tennessee 24, Virginia Tech 10

 

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

Your Team Sucks Unless It’s ‘Bama: A College Football Preview

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Captain America: Civil War are two of my favorite movies that I saw this offseason, largely because, even though the good guys were always going to win, the stakes were raised and the drama was still there to keep me invested and wondering if maybe things would turn out differently this time around.

College football’s a little like that, but in reverse.

Every year we dare to dream someone new will steal the show. Each fall we hope a contender will emerge from nowhere to grab the spotlight with a Crest-smile quarterback, a good-ol’-boy  head coach and a Cinderella-story finish to slay Goliath and become the unlikely champions.

There is drama. There is tension. There are certainly stakes.

And every year, the bad guys win.

The elite of college football are not evil. Corrupt, unchecked, power-hungry, profit-greedy, business-first tycoons run by megalomaniac presidents who are more concerned with the size of a person’s wallet than the content of their character? Sure, but evil’s a pretty strong word.

College football’s “Manifest Destiny programs,” a term I came up with a few years back in this preview to describe places where fans think they root for God’s predestined gridiron principal, have more money and more resources than other schools, sure, but the biggest reason these teams have earned a reputation as the new Yankees, sports’ next Evil Empire, is quite simple: they keep winning.

Teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Florida State, Oklahoma and Southern California have drawn national attention since the emergence of the sport because they also often draw national ire. We’re all sick of these teams because they keep beating the little guys and making the club for national championship contenders evermore exclusive.

And nowhere is this feeling more directed nowadays than Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Save for the 7-6 season he endured his first year as head coach at the University of Alabama in 2007, Nick Saban is more than just an “all he does is win” coach. The man has a bloody statue right next to Paul “Bear” Bryant, considered one of the best coaches in college football history and the only person who could make houndstooth fashionable. And Saban, fresh off his fourth national title with the Crimson Tide and fifth overall last season, doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

The Tide picked up the best recruiting class in the country during the offseason, they’ve only lost 12 games total in the last eight seasons, and they’ve had all this success with five different starting quarterbacks, spitting in the face of the very design of the game.

When the College Football Playoff was introduced two years ago, it came with the promise any team could now be a part of a mini-tournament to play for the national crown. This was, of course, a lie, as it simply serves as a comfy little Power 5 party, of which the Crimson Tide have become the belle of the ball.

Alabama is the bad guy. The bad guy’s been winning a lot. The bad guy’s probably gonna win again.

Any complaint you might have against Alabama can be rebutted. The secondary gave up too many big passing plays? Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey showed a lot of talent down the stretch while still learning how to play. The revolving-door-QB job landing on a lack of experience? Whoever gets the starting reps throws to potential All-Americans Calvin Ridley and OJ Howard. Games are truly won at the line of scrimmage? Meet Jonathan Allen, Da’Shawn Hand and a whole host of other large men primed to haunt the nightmares of SEC coaches.

Saban is a legendary coach that turned a city on a hill into a heavily-fortified castle on top of a mountain. ‘Bama has been so much better than everybody else and still is that if Saturdays in the fall weren’t still the best show on turf, we’d probably be taking a Golden State approach to this and wondering if we should call the season off.

Of course…

Stranger things (Awesome show) have happened.

Let’s do this.

 

The Conferences – The who, what, when, where and why

American

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Who’s Hot: South Florida Yes, you read that correctly. Most people would think of Temple’s P.J. Walker and Jahad Thomas as the best QB-running back duo in the league, but the Bulls beg to differ. Quinton Flowers nearly joined the 3,000 yards passing-1,000 rushing club while accounting for 34 touchdowns in 2015, and Marlon Mack has a chance to be the first running back off the board in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Who’s Not: Central Florida Former Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost is a solid hire to replace longtime head coach George O’Leary, but the Knights went winless last year, so that’s not going to show up any time soon.

Lukewarm at Best: Cincinnati NFL scouts might drool over Gunner Kiel’s arm, but that doesn’t mean the Bearcats are going to leapfrog the tough competition in front of them.

Best Player: Greg Ward Jr, QB, Houston The largest reason you see the Cougars popping up in so many preseason polls? This senior star, who was the only quarterback other than Deshaun Watson to put up over 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. Ward will be asked to do more with the loss of a few key running backs, but there’s little doubt he can handle it.

Conference Champ: Houston USF will make a strong push as East division winners and could see some time in the rankings this year, but Ward will have former Texas RB Duke Catalon and a defense that quietly gave up only 20.7 PPG last year and never allowed more than 31. You listening, Oklahoma?

ACC

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Who’s Hot: Florida State Minus the fact that the last time the Seminoles were on a football field they got whupped by Houston in the Peach Bowl, there is plenty of reason for optimism in Tallahassee. Dalvin Cook is a Heisman Trophy contender if he stays healthy and continues to rip off long runs; DeMarcus Walker is a frightening human being that could make the case for being the league’s best defensive end; and the safety combo of Derwin James and Nate Andrews is maybe the best in all the land. Even if redshirt freshman Deondre Francois is the starting quarterback on Labor Day night against Ole Miss, the ‘Noles are still stacked.

Who’s Not: Wake Forest At some point, it has to feel like Dave Clawson is trying not to score. The Demon Deacons only broke the 30-point mark once-in the opener against Elon.

Lukewarm at Best: Miami (FL) Mark Richt’s first job as the new head coach of the Hurricanes is to make them not so predictable and boring. Yes, the ‘Canes haven’t been awful the last few years, but given the program’s history, 8-5 isn’t all that sexy. A big year from QB Brad Kaaya is a must.

Best Player: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson The days of lobbying for Watson as a breakout star are long gone. Everyone knows who the junior is, especially Saban, who does his best to avoid talking about Watson ripping his defense apart in the desert in last year’s national championship game. A dual threat who does more damage as a pure passer that can absolutely play at the next level, there’s little reason why Watson can’t duplicate or improve on last year’s production and make a run at the Heisman he fell short of last year.

Conference Champ: Florida State It will again come down to the ‘Noles and the Tigers, although North Carolina should win the Coastal Division and give one of them a run for their money in the ACC title game in Charlotte. Watson has a few more explosive weapons in WR Mike Williams and RB Wayne Gallman, and coordinator Brent Venables will help the defense adjust to the loss of Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd up front with the emergence of Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins and top recruit Dexter Lawrence. But in the tightest conference race in the land, FSU wins at home in late October to give them the slight tiebreaker over Dabo Swinney & Co.

Big Ten

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Who’s Hot: Michigan Yeah, I was one of those idiots who didn’t think hiring Jim Harbaugh was going to yield instant results. Sorry. The fact is, Harbaugh inherited a lot of talent from Brady Hoke and got the most out of that potential. Regardless of who starts at QB, Year Two should be even better, with TE Jake Butt, DE Chris Wormley and LB/S/RB/WR/Magician Jabril Peppers all primed to become superstars.

Who’s Not: Michigan State While perhaps not set up for a total flop, the Spartans will still see a downgrade on offense to where non-conference games against Notre Dame and BYU and a strong schedule in-conference could keep them from the the 10 wins Mark Dantonio has made a habit.

Lukewarm at Best: Iowa They almost shocked Michigan State in the Big Ten title game to make you wonder if their undefeated season wasn’t a fluke, then Stanford utterly dissected them in the Rose Bowl to assure it most likely was. The Hawkeyes bring back CB Desmond King, my personal favorite defensive player and a top NFL Draft Prospect, but even if they win the division, they won’t beat the East champ.

Best Player: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State When healthy the last two seasons, no one runs their offense to a higher efficiency and with more explosive results than Barrett. If he stays healthy, true freshman RB Mike Weber should fill enough of Ezekiel Elliot’s void to have the Buckeyes humming as they were at the end of last year.

Conference Champ: Michigan Harbaugh winning in Columbus after Urban Meyer’s #BEATEMDOWN in Ann Arbor last autumn followed by a Big Ten title and a playoff spot is too juicy a scenario not to dream for.

Big 12

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Who’s Hot: Texas EVERYBODY SHUT UP. STOP LAUGHING, I’M SERIOUS. Charlie Strong has gotten a lot of flack from a rabid fan base because he didn’t show up and win a national championship right away. Big shock, but that doesn’t happen, Longhorn fans. This year, however, might serve as the breakthrough. Freshman Shane Buechele might finally be the stabilizing force at quarterback the ‘Horns have been searching for. Add the Smash Brothers of D’Onta Foreman and Chris Warren at running back, rangy receivers in John Burt and Collin Johnson, and All-American linebacker Malik Jefferson leading the defense, and Strong is poised to finally push the program in the right direction.

Who’s Not: Kansas Is any team in the country worse? Short answer: Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeelllllllll no. If the Jayhawks don’t beat Rhode Island, they’ll be enjoying 0-12 again.

Lukewarm at Best: TCU Gary Patterson was expected to make the Horned Frogs a force when they relocated to the Big 12 in 2012, and he’s done just that. But the Frogs still lack a playoff appearance or an outright Big 12 title. I won’t go so far as I did last year, when I said they would fall off the map quite a bit and they responded with 11 wins (thanks, Gar-Bear), but there are a few too many good teams in front of them for this to be the year TCU gets over the championship hump.

Best Player: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma I know there’s a theme emerging here about the best players in the country, but with players like Mayfield, how can you blame me? The former walk-on threw for 3,700 yards last year in a run-first offense. Having Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon back will ease the transition into a new corps of receivers.

Conference Champ: Texas AGAIN, PLEASE KINDLY STOP LAUGHING. If the Longhorns beat Notre Dame in a primetime affair on Sunday night of Week 1, the rest of the schedule sets up nicely, with home dates for TCU and Baylor, and we know what Strong can do in the Red River Rivalry with OU. Keep an eye on DE Naashon Hughes.

Conference USA

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Who’s Hot: Southern Mississippi Senior QB Nick Mullens threw for almost 4,500 yards in winning the league’s offensive player of the year. RB Ito Smith also had a big 2015 season with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage. Kentucky best be ready for the Golden Eagles in Week One.

Who’s Not: North Texas Coaching legend Hayden Fry was the last man to have a career winning record with the Mean Green. That was from 1973-78. It’s not getting better any time soon.

Lukewarm at Best: Louisiana Tech Back-to-back nine-win seasons but no conference title for the Bulldogs. (Pokes Skip Holtz with a stick) C’mon…do something.

Best Player: Trey Hendrickson, DE, Florida Atlantic Look, a non-quarterback! The 6’4″, 270-lb menace had 13.5 sacks last year, second best in the country, and a highlight reel that will make pro scouts hoot and holler more than the Internet did over the new Ghostbusters movie (was it really worth all that wasted time, YouTube commenters?)

Conference Champ: Western Kentucky Jeff Brohm shunned the shiny Power 5 offers to come back and try to somehow make the Hilltoppers better than last year’s 12 wins. RB Anthony Wales and WRs Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris might just help him do it.

MAC

Who’s Hot: Toledo RBs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson are a potential dynamite duo. The biggest challenge for first-year head coach Jason Candle is getting the defense up to speed.

Who’s Not: Eastern Michigan As long as Chris Creighton’s Eagles keep going 1-11, I’ll have to keep using this GIF. Mr. Gorbachov, TEAR DOWN. THIS WALL.

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Lukewarm at Best: Central Michigan P.J. Fleck has the Mustangs pointed in the right direction, and senior Zach Terrell is a terrific quarterback, but we’ll see if this they’re still not a year away from busting out. They can beat Northwestern to open the season, which would could be the start of the ROW THE BOAT Revolution. Or other teams could just use that motto as a way to make fun of the…whoops.

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Best Player: Corey Davis, WR, Central Michigan One thing Fleck does have is arguably the best receiver in the country. Davis grabbed 90 catches and 12 touchdowns as a junior and came back to try and get even better. He should easily surpass the 403 yards necessary for him to set the MAC’s all-time career receiving record.

Conference Champ: Toledo Having Logan Woodside return at quarterback after missing 2015 recovering from ankle surgery should give the Rockets enough stability to be the last team standing come December in Detroit.

Mountain West

Who’s Hot: San Diego State Senior RB Donnel Pumphrey (ALL-NAME TEAM) was a beast with over 1,650 yards and 17 scores last year. Corner Damontae Kazee was the conference’s defensive MVP after picking off eight passes. If the Aztecs’ defense only gives up about 16 points a game once again, 10 wins again is also a possibility – maybe even more.

Who’s Not: Wyoming Friends don’t let other friends watch Cowboys football, college OR pro.

Lukewarm at Best: Nevada If the Wolfpack wants to take a step up from back-to-back seasons of 7-6, RB James Butler will likely have to become an All-American.

Best Player: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State Pumphrey’s good, but lawdy lawdy is former Super Bowl-winning QB Mark Rypien’s nephew great. Brett threw for over 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a freshman. The return of sure-handed wideout Thomas Sperbeck and speedy back Jeremy McNichols means Rypien could be even better and emerge as one of the nation’s elite passers.

Conference Champ: Boise State This year would be as dumb as any to go against the Broncos. They might even run the table and crash the playoff party if they survive consecutive meetings with Washington State and Oregon State. Besides, picking against Boise is dumber than if a backup NFL tight end sent Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman an email asking her on a date and she said ye…(checks the Internet) WAIT WHAT

Pac-12

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Who’s Hot: Washington Chris Petersen wasn’t going to be just mediocre for long. The Huskies are a popular playoff darkhorse, and the return of QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin will do a lot to support that theory. However, the biggest reason for the U-Dub love might be the secondary, anchored by All-American safety Budda Baker, which only gave up less than 250 passing yards per game and 11 touchdowns through the air.

Who’s Not: Washington State Everyone’s also raving about the Cougars’ surprise potential fresh off nine wins last year. But don’t forget that snapped an 11-year streak of seasons at or below .500. Mike Leach’s teams give up a lot of points, and that does not bode well against the many high-powered offenses in the league. Luke Falk will keep Wazzu in a lot of games, but the defense is the one that has to win them.

Lukewarm at Best: Oregon The Ducks might win the Pac-12. They also might not. The league is so stacked with talent that not even the annual 10 wins can give college football’s most fashion-forward squad a guaranteed shot at a conference crown. Plus, despite the return of bruising RB Royce Freeman, is Brady Hoke really going to be the guy that fixes a defense that surrendered 306.5 passing yards a game?

Best Player: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford (Annoying Stanford Guy appears, starts to shout “HEISMAN” but thankfully gets squashed by an anvil)

Storytime! I went to the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, California this past January. So yes, I was there live when McCaffrey dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged his way past hapless Iowa tacklers. It was jaw-dropping. I was so blown away that I was screaming in awe smack dab in the middle of a very quiet Iowa fan section (They told me they didn’t like me and I still don’t care). McCaffrey is a once-in-a-generational talent, a tour de force of football. Put the rock in his hands and let the magic happen. There are a number of wildly gifted players across the country that will surely contend for the Heisman, but if McCaffrey ends up being better than a season in which he set a national single-season record for all-purpose yards, then that trophy race is over. And if you’re still not convinced, for your viewing pleasure…

Conference Champ: Stanford (Annoying Stanford Guy shakes anvil off, is shaped like cartoonish accordion, tries to yell “HEISMAN” again, is mercifully stampeded by rhinos)

It really isn’t going to matter too much that Ryan Burns is taking over under center for Kevin Hogan. David Shaw is still a great coach, the offensive line is still huge, and the defense will be well-coached. Minimizing the damage during a brutal stretch the first six weeks and then winning at Oregon opens the door for a playoff bid.

SEC

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Who’s Hot: Tennessee Aaaaaallll the preseason hype resides in Knoxville, where the Volunteers are suddenly the most experienced team in the country and flush with talent. QB Joshua Dobbs, RBs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara, DE Derek Barnett, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin and CB Cam Sutton are all expected to be All-Americans. Plus, if this isn’t the year Butch Jones beats Florida and wins the East division, when will it be?

Who’s Not: South Carolina Outside of LB Skai Moore adding to his draft resume, Will Muschamp’s first year with the Gamecocks is going to be hard to watch (and given the faces we had to see him make at Florida, that’s saying something).

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Lukewarm at Best: Georgia The ingredients seem to be in place for Kirby Smart’s first year with the Dawgs to be special. Highly-touted recruit Jacob Eason could be the answer at signal-caller; Nick Chubb and Sony Michel make for a dynamic duo at halfback; and Smart has talented pieces like Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter and Dominick Sanders that he can turn the defense around in a hurry. But, for all we know, more Georgia potential could also easily go to waste. You never know, Uga’s a crafty dog.

Best Player: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU Boy, this is a tough call. Chubb, Ridley, Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly, Florida corner Jalen Tabor and Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett are all really good candida-

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Image result for leonard fournette gif

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH MY GAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWD

Nope, sorry, no contest. It’s not close. He had the stiff-arming statue wrapped up midseason before Saban figured out Brandon Harris can’t pass, so if Harris improves this year, and we see more of this? I don’t envy the Heisman voters this year one bit.

Conference Champ: LSU HAHAHAHAHAHAHA THAT’S RIGHT I PULLED THE WOOL OVER YOUR EYES. SERIOUSLY LOOK AT THAT MAN UP THERE WEARING NUMBER SEVEN. GIVE ME ONE GOOD REASON SOMEBODY’S BEATING A TEAM WITH HIM ON IT.

(Sees the box score from LSU-Alabama last year)

Ok, so yes, Fournette has been slowed down before. But when you consider that Derrius Guice rushed for over 400 yards in spot duty, receivers Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre have yet to fully break out, and the addition of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda from Wisconsin could make the unit even tougher to score on, the only thing standing in the way is Harris not being horrible. And he can’t be anywhere as bad as he was last year. Also, LOOK AT THIS.

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(Fans self) See that, Bielema? THAT’s borderline erotic.

Independents

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Who’s Hot: Notre Dame Deshone Kizer being back at quarterback to improve on a solid debut in 2015 plus a soft-ish schedule that has many of the biggest opponents coming to South Bend again puts the Fighting Irish in the playoff discussion. Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to be fooled again into picking them to win it all (crosses fingers, mouth widens into evil grin).

Who’s Not: Army I…I don’t have anything to say about Army. I’m really just trying to finish this so I can go watch Kubo and the Two Strings.

Lukewarm at Best: BYU Taysom Hill, if he can stay healthy, is one of the most magical playmakers in the country. RB Jamaal Williams can also become a star as a senior. But if there’s a tougher schedule in the country, you’d be hard-pressed to find it. The bright side for first-year head coach Kalani Sitake is that if the Cougars somehow navigate this schedule unbeaten, the case for the playoff will be near overwhelming.

Best Player: Taysom Hill, QB, BYU His 2013 stat line is one of the most shockingly underappreciated performances in the game over the last decade. If he can return to that form at age 26 and maybe even get better with the edition of former Heisman-winning Cougar Ty Detmer at offensive coordinator, Hill will once again be must-see TV. And if not, we always have Tanner Mangum.

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The Rankings – how they’ll finish

The Rest

25. Nebraska Hey now, don’t laugh so much just yet. The picks get weirder. For all the talk of Iowa as the class of the Big Ten West, the only team who had more games go down to the wire was the Huskers, which didn’t nearly work out as well as it did for the Hawkeyes. QB Tommy Armstrong Jr has his best year to help Big Red get back to the Big Ten title game.

24. Boise State Keep an eye on both the Broncos and BYU. They’ll play respectable schedules that, if they keep winning, will keep them in the hunt for the New Year’s Six or even more.

23. Ole Miss Chad Kelly throwing to tight end Evan Engram is about the only thing that can save the Rebels from finishing at eight wins.

22. Pittsburgh Why not have a surprise team? The Panthers have one of the most inspiring stories in the country in former ACC Offensive Player of the Year James Conner returning from his battle with cancer and last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in Qadree Ollison to run them to a Coastal division title.

21. Texas A&M Too much talent not to once again be fooled into thinking the Aggies can do something special. Christian Kirk, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones make for perhaps the best group of receivers in the nation, and Garrett will team up with Daeshon Hall to invade quarterbacks’ nightmares.

20. Oregon Dakota Prukop should settle in nicely by just handing off to Freeman as much as possible, and Darren Carrington and Charles Nelson can still be quality weapons. The defense just has to get more stops.

19. UCLA Say it with me now: Jim Mora is the most overrated coach in college football. If he doesn’t win a conference title with a stud like Josh Rosen at QB and Eddie Vanderdoes and Deon Hollins wreaking havoc on defense, when will he?

18.  TCU Having Kenny Hill at quarterback does not change the fact that several skill position players will have to emerge. RB Kyle Hicks and JUCO transfer receiver Taj Williams have to become stars in a hurry.

17. Washington Browning and Gaskin will put up big numbers, but the key to winning in the Pac-12 will be stopping the run, an area the Huskies might suffer enough that they will end up only chasing nine wins.

16. Louisville Lamar Jackson has everyone buzzing as the next breakout star at quarterback. He has all of Watson’s skills and a great defense led by pass rushers Devonte Fields and Keith Kelsey to make the Cardinals a force.

15. Tennessee They will find a way to lose to Florida, because that’s what they do, and Alabama visiting is no cupcake, regardless of all the talent the Vols have.

14. USC Max Browne’s first season as a starting QB will have him throwing to JuJu Smith-Schuster, handing off to Ronald Jones and getting the ball any way possible to Adoree’ Jackson. Sweet gig for a Trojan that should win the Pac-12 South in his first year playing.

13. Baylor Seth Russell throwing to KD Cannon and handing off to either Shock Linwood or Johnny Jefferson is going to work a lot, but the defense might bend too much and end up breaking the Bears’ back.

The New Year’s Six

12. Houston Tom Herman is that dude you want as your next head coach, and with good reason. He’s made the Cougars a national power is a little more than a year. And while they might fall short of the playoff by losing at least one game, they’ll knock off Oklahoma in Week One to make a big statement and be in the conversation all year long, ending with a berth in the Cotton Bowl.

11. Georgia Kirby Smart does the logical thing and embraces Atlanta’s rap communtiy, embracing 2 Chainz as the program’s new ambassador. Coincidentally, the Dawgs win 11 games on a thinner schedule, including stomping Tennessee at home, to claim the East and set up a huge showdown in the SEC Championship Game.

10. Ohio State Love me some J.T., but Barrett can only do so much, especially when a trip to Norman, Oklahoma looms in Week Two for a team without any standout weapons at receiver. The Rose Bowl won’t be too bad a consolation prize for one of just two double-digit win teams in the Big Ten.

9. Oklahoma Mayfield, Perine and Mixon are great, but can they carry the Sooners past such a loaded schedule? It’s going to be pretty hard if the defense struggles as it did against Clemson in the Orange Bowl. Houston and Texas tag Boomer despite winning at home against Ohio State to end up with a Sugar Bowl spot.

8. Stanford That brutal six-week stretch we talked about? Brutal enough that there will be a loss mixed in there somewhere. The Pac-12 gets left out of the playoff again because of the two-loss Cardinal, but the Rose Bowl awaits again, and McCaffrey, after breaking his own all-purpose record, rightfully claims the Heisman.

7. Notre Dame Kizer and RB Tarean Folston will lead a high-powered attack that will knock off Stanford at home, but the Fighting Irish will take a tumble in Week One to the breakout team of 2016 (yep, we’re going there).

6. Clemson Watson finishes a close second in Heisman voting but can’t win in Tallahassee in an otherwise stellar season. If that game is close enough, we could be seeing a real argument for two teams from the ACC in the playoff (even though the 2011 Alabama-LSU national title rematch was supposed to be the last straw for the BCS way of doing things).

5. Alabama Just like Clemson, this will all come down to one game but could get two teams in if the game is an absolute barnburner. The reason I take LSU over the Tide is not quarterback uncertainty, but the lack of experience at running back, ‘Bama’s most important position. Will Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris be ready to be the stars of the show for the game’s biggest act? For that one night in Baton Rouge that will mean so much, I’m not quite sure they can out-shine Fournette the way Derrick Henry did.

The Playoff

4. Texas ONCE AGAIN, PLEASE STOP MOCKING ME. Buechele taking over under center helps the Longhorns gain stability and even (gasp!) break out on offense. Strong and friends stun Notre Dame on Labor Day weekend, knock off Oklahoma and go unbeaten to get the Big 12 in just ahead of the Irish, Alabama, Clemson, and Stanford. SERIOUSLY GUYS, STOP LAUGHING, THIS COULD TOTALLY HAPPEN.

3. Florida State Cook runs his way to fourth in the final Heisman ballot, and the Seminoles knock off Clemson to win the ACC behind breakout years from WR Travis Rudolph and DE Josh Sweat. Unfortunately, the committee overlooks talent ever so slightly and gives the number-3 spot to Texas and its undefeated record, which dooms FSU to a hard-fought loss in the Peach Bowl.

2. Michigan Harbaugh has a well-oiled machine already built in Ann Arbor that would have had a much more compelling case for the playoff last year if it weren’t for Sparty pulling off the most bonkers ending to a game since the Kick Six. No such shenanigans will ensue this year, with a rather easy schedule getting dispatched with, capped by knocking off the Buckeyes in Columbus, winning the Big Ten and defeating Texas with ease in a 2-3 matchup in the Fiesta Bowl.

1. LSU Fournette finishes behind McCaffrey and Watson in the tightest Heisman race ever. Harris is so much better that he actually has some games near or over 300 yards passing. The defense is even better than that, with Arden Key and Lewis Neal ripping quarterbacks to pieces, Davon Godchaux clogging up run lanes and Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams leading a top-tier secondary that shuts down all hopes of passing.

The Tigers manage their way to the night of November 5th, when Fournette is far from shut down and Harris makes enough plays to beat Alabama. After close calls at Arkansas and Texas A&M to finish the regular season, LSU edges Georgia for an SEC title and escapes Florida State on a tight-wire act as well in the Peach Bowl to reach the big game. The strength-on-strength battle with Michigan goes to the Tigers, as Fournette captures the magic of Zeke Elliot from two years ago and runs his way to a national title.