Absolute Units: a college football preview


I want you to take a good, long look at the greatest hockey player on the planet and the reigning Stanley Cup champion.

Related image

Alexander Ovechkin. Sheeeeeeeeesh.

That’s not a man, that’s a machine. Bulls bred for clashes with matadors aren’t that hefty. 99 percent of his build isn’t muscle, it’s solid cement.

Four syllables making up two words do all the describing you need to do about this man. You know them well, so say it with me, kids:

Ab-so-lute unit.

In the same way that “fake news” has become a popular buzzword in political arenas, college football has developed a new catchphrase, almost in unwitting fashion. Yes, we still play the greatest hits like #collegekickers and #surrendercobra, but the lexicon of the sport is evolving just as much as the play on the field. “Clemsoning” has given way to “Auburn’s gonna win the football game” in 5 short years, and coaches are less likely to be meme’d over letting you know “I’m a man, I’m 40!” than if they would restrict your consumption of chicken on account of it being a “nervous bird (And yes, that really happened).”

There was a time when college football, like the NFL now, was all about quarterbacks. Vince Young’s legendary performance in the Rose Bowl to dethrone mighty USC didn’t just inspire a generation of future players, it convinced a corps of up-and-coming coaches that if you found the right guy at QB, you do anything and beat anybody.

We are living in a golden age of professional quarterbacking, but that’s only because we once bathed in the sunlight of (not-really-all-that) amateur signal-calling. Brad Smith, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, RG3, Andrew Luck, Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Lamar Jackson are just the guys who won or contended for Heisman Trophies in VY’s vein. The list of great college quarterbacks over the last decade-and-a-half could go on and on.

But then, as that list continued to grow, something happened. Coaches were getting star QBs but not winning star-studded games. The Vince Young’s of the world weren’t toppling empires on their way to championships. Instead, a new dynasty emerged in USC’s place, and the rare times the new Evil Emperor wasn’t on top, a lieutenant with an eerily similar plan of attack would seize power.

Forget just the College Football Playoff era’s short-live history, and forget even the incredible, dynastic run that Nick Saban and Alabama extended last January. Going back to Urban Meyer’s first BCS title at Florida in 2006, the national champion of the highest level of college football has looked at the formula that Young and Texas laid out on that epic night in the Rose Bowl and instead offered the alternative: why waste my energy on finding a great QB when I can build a great team with any average QB?

Chris Leak, Matt Flynn, Greg McElroy, Derron Thomas, Everett Golson, Cardale Jones and Jake Coker are names you recognize but not immediately. That’s because these men, while not becoming the next Vince Young, did become eventual champions. Saban, Meyer and (for one wacky season) Les Miles all built outstanding teams around the quarterback position with the belief that loading up on all 21 other positions meant whoever took the field and commanded the huddle was poised to do anything but fail.

Even Dabo Swinney, the man who bucked the trend by reaching back-to-back title games and toppling ‘Bama 2 years ago behind a great team and a great QB, seems to have gone along with the crowd by building a roster brimming with 5-star talent everywhere except one particular spot, where career backup Kelly Bryant got his chance last season and, while being predictably solid as a season-long starter, was not nearly ready for the challenge of staring down Saban and Dante’s Football Infero.

Jake Browning wasn’t ready for it, but Chris Petersen built a brawny-enough team around him to reach the playoff. Coaches like Mark Dantonio and David Shaw entrust their offenses to kids named Brian Lewerke and KJ Costello. Good players? Sure. Great? “We don’t need them to be great, we just need to trust our system.”

Trust in the system, or perhaps even a Process, comes from the results that have borne fruit for Saban. Consider that down 2 scores in last season’s penultimate title game, Saban turned to a true freshman with only mop-up duty experience, and Tua Tagovailoa was the second bright-eyed gunslinger to see the field. Jake Fromm played all year for Saban protegee Kirby Smart, another coach building his program in the image of his former boss.

Alabama not only played for but won another national title, beating similar-looking programs in Clemson and Georgia in the CFP along the way, because they embody the new college football mantra. Quarterbacking doesn’t matter the way it did when Vince Young beat mighty USC. Transcendent stars like Young and Deshaun Watson are once-in-a-generation, and therefore far too hard to recruit. But top-tier talent at every other position has and still does grow in bunches. It’s basic farming: one crop that is rare and valuable is too hard to grow, so why not just harvest crops that come bountiful?

And so we have reached the pinnacle of this philosophy, the height of a new age in college football that looks a lot like the origins of the game. Welcome to the era of the Absolute Unit.

The best quarterback in the country in 2018 once left Florida for Morgantown, West Virginia, because he thought it was a more nuanced place. The second-best quarterback in the country is a former lacrosse player. And the guy who might earn the highest draft position of any QB has played in a bowl game once. Programs are not built on the QB, they are built around him. Alabama and Georgia reached the title game last year because Fromm could step in for the injured Jacob Eason and be joined by All-Americans at every position, but especially on the offensive line and the defensive front seven. The same beefy building plan for a program has reaped great rewards for Wisconsin, TCU and others on their path to elite ascension.

College football’s superstars don’t play QB, even if we still try to give the Heisman to one every year. The preeminent stars in the game play with their hands in the dirt or on their knees. Lineman, linebackers and running backs who don’t mind either a good truck stick or a foot race for the end zone are the crown jewels of recruiting classes amongst the sport’s blue-bloods. If you happen to come across a generational talent at QB, good for you. But you better hope there’s a defensive tackle on your squad who’s just as likely to be a top-10 draft pick.

As we embark on the start of the 2018 season, it worth revisiting the Clemson Tigers, the team joining Alabama as consensus playoff-berth holders and easy preseason top-5 rankings. Clemson had a historically good QB in Watson that guided them to back-to-back national championship games, a feat only Saban had been able to pull off in the modern era. But Deshaun wasn’t the only star on those Clemson teams. Christian Wilkins emerged as a force to be reckoned with playing both tackle and end on the D-line right away as a freshman. Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd combined to be the best pass-rushing duo in the country 3 years ago, and the additions of Clelin Ferrell and Dexter Lawrence since have not missed a beat. Clemson built wildly talented teams in the trenches to go with their start quarterback, so much so that they returned to the playoff post-Watson and likely will do so again this season, where Alabama could be waiting for a fourth straight year. The reason QBs play second fiddle in college football is because the rest of the country is simply following suit.

Let’s go to work.

The Conferences

Who’s Hot, who’s not and the stars of the season


Image result for mckenzie milton

Who’s Hot: Navy Losing 6 of your final 7 regular-season games doesn’t really count as great momentum, but consider that the Midshipmen started 5-0 and cracked the AP rankings before a 3-point loss to AAC runner-up Memphis started their slide. Plus, the Academy capped off the season by thrashing Virginia in the Military Bowl. The top 2 rushers from last season are back, and considering Zach Abey and Malcolm Perry have both played quarterback, backfield stability will not be a problem.

Who’s Not: Connecticut Randy Edsall’s return means they’ll score a few more points. After that, good luck trying to watch them without having everything invested in the punter, sophomore Brett Graham (he averaged just about 38 yards per kick, that’s quality puntin’).

Mild Sauce: UCF Don’t get me twisted, the Knights are still probably the best team in the conference and one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country. But do you really trust Josh Heupel in his first head-coaching job to get to the same level as Scott Frost, a guy who appears to be able to make programs as good as SEC division champions with a snap of his fing(laughs at movie reference, doesn’t feel so good, fades away to ash).

Best Future Pro: Ed Oliver, DT, Houston Run. Whether it’s trying to draft him or you’re a South Florida back who somehow ended up getting the carry on a power counter right towards the best future Cougar alumni since Case Keenum, just run. Run very fast.

Best Player: McKenzie Milton, QB, UCF The stats might not reflect it, but he’ll be better than he was in 2017 with a year of experience and more responsibility to shoulder. And this kid threw for 4,000 yards and accounted for 45 total touchdowns.

Champion: Navy While UCF will win the Eastern division again, the Knights lack the talent on defense after losing stars like Mike Hughes and Shaquem Griffin. The Midshipmen just win under Ken Niumatalolo, and they’ll dethrone Memphis in the West before beating Central Florida on their way to making a case for a New Year’s Six appearance.

Atlantic Coastal (and Notre Dame)

Image result for christian wilkins

Why’s Notre Dame here? No other FBS independents will be worth talking about this season, so let’s get the Irish out of the way in the conference that they are already quasi-members of and won’t completely join because they are COWAAAAAAAAAAAAARDS. They’ll be really good. The defense will fly around and make some plays. But Brian Kelly isn’t returning to a NY6 bowl with a QB the caliber of incumbent Brandon Wimbush. We said you need average quarterbacks to win these days, and Wimbush has struggled to do even that.

Who’s Hot: Miami Mark Richt wins football games, something Georgia weirdly grew sick of and, weirder still, was vindicated for. Nonetheless, going home to South Beach has worked out pretty dang well, as Richt got the Hurricanes to 11-0 last year and has them not only the clear-cut favorites in the Coastal division, but also poised to truly get back to being “The U.”

Who’s Not: North Carolina Larry Fedora’s yelling about how scientists are working on an evil plan to destroy football. Sounds like a man trying to avoid all discussion about how the Heels will be dead-last in the league.

Mild Sauce: North Carolina State Louisville’s on the wrong side of being just okay, while Boston College trends upward, so let’s talk about how Dave Doeren’s done such a tremendous job building the Wolfpack over the last few years that when Bradley Chubb and Friends finally became draft-eligible, Doeren was left to look around and hope top QB prospect Ryan Finley can pull off some magic and somehow make the Pack again good enough to push Clemson and Notre Dame to the brink.

Best Future Pro: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson We really should have seen all this coming when Wilkins was out-running other lineman during the Tigers’ fake punt 3 years ago in an Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma. Dudes at 6’4″ and 300 pounds shouldn’t move like that.

Best Player: A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College Steve Addazio loves him some guys being dudes, and Dillon proved to be a dude beyond his years after rushing for almost 1,600 yards as a true freshman. 4 of 5 starters return to the Golden Eagles’ offensive line to pave the way for a huge second act.

Champion: Clemson Come on. You think you can stop Wilkins, Ferrell, Lawrence and Austin Bryant? And then stop 5-star recruits Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry when those guys sit down? Coastal champ Miami might have the goods to be a little more competitive this time around, but the Tigers are just too much.

Big Ten

Image result for trace mcsorley home run

Who’s Hot: Michigan State You may have forgotten that the Spartans won 10 games last season, which is totally fine because junior QB Brian Lewerke is on the rise and has All-American senior running back LJ Scott and top senior receiver Felton Davis to go with a stingy defense only replacing 2 starters, so you’ll know all about them real soon.


Image result for rutgers vs kansas

Mild Sauce: Penn State & Wisconsin 2 teams harboring playoff dreams have really the same problem, just inverted. The Badgers are loaded across the board but still have a question mark at quarterback in senior Alex Hornibrook. Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have to replace almost all of QB Trace McSorley’s supporting cast. Either way, somebody else is going to have just a little bit more in the tank.

Best Future Pros: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State & Rashan Gary, DE, Michigan Hated rivals each boast impressive defensive lines and a potential top-10 draft pick. Bosa is just older brother Joey all over again, while Gary’s size means he can kick inside on occasion and help stuff the run, something he does extremely well for an edge rusher.

Best Player: Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin Running behind the best offensive line in America helps you out, but Taylor had to be pretty talented already to fall just 23 yards short of 2,000. The rest of the B1G West is terrified of what his Act II will look like.

Champion: Michigan Congrats to the Wolverines, this year’s recipient of my Traditional Power that I Stupidly Think Will be a National Title Contender Award (it’s worked out great for Texas the last 2 years, just ask). The addition of Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson means Jim Harbaugh finally has a guy at QB who’s proved he can be a game-changer. As long as Patterson makes a couple of big throws every game and Karan Higdon runs wild again, the defense is going to be nasty enough that this is the year Harbaugh topples rivals Michigan State and Ohio State and knocks off Wisconsin for the conference crown.

Big 12

Image result for rodney anderson

Who’s Hot: TCU Take out of the equation that QB Kenny Hill and All-American LB Travin Howard are gone, and this is the same team that won 11 games last season. Defensive end Ben Banogu will cause nightmares for quarterbacks in a pass-happy league, and as long as new starting QB Shawn Robinson isn’t a disaster, there are playmakers a-plenty in Forth Worth for the Horned Frogs to work with.

Who’s Not: Kansas Again, YEAAAAAA BOOOOOOOIIIIIIIIIIImage result for rutgers vs kansas

Mild Sauce: West Virginia QB Will Grier and touchdown-machine WR David Sills V give the Mountaineers a chance to score a gazillion points, but until such time as I witness a Dana Holgorsen defense not give up those same gazillion points, I’m gonna be a bit skeptical.

Best Future Pro: Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma Lost in Baker Mayfield’s march to the Heisman last season was the Sooners discovering a breakout star in the backfield. Anderson can do everything and translated that into almost 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He could have Le’Veon Bell-type ability to go with similar physical build and athleticism.

Best Player: KaVontae Turpin, WR/KR, TCU Criminally underused in his college career, Gary Patterson needs to break the all-purpose threat loose. Turpin is the fastest guy on the field every week, and his game-breaking ability as a return man can be applied on offense if co-coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Curtis Luper just give him more touches.

Champion: TCU Kyler Murray should step in and help Oklahoma not miss a beat, but the Horned Frogs will reign supreme in the Big 12 this year. A Week Three win versus Ohio State in Arlington will send the message loud and clear: these Frogs are championship ready.

Conference USA

Image result for devin singletary

Who’s Hot: Florida Atlantic The Owls were arguably the hottest team in the country to wrap up 2017, winning their last 10 games to score a whopping 568 points, finish 11-3 and claim the league title. And just who is guiding the ship of what might be the best Group of 5 program in the country? JOOOEEEEEEEEEEEEY FRRRRRRRESHWATERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Who’s Not: Rice I didn’t need “walk-off field goal to beat Prairie View A&M in Week Zero” to tell you these Owls would be bad, but it does save me some writing.

Mild Sauce: Florida International Butch Davis won 8 games last year and has a potentially entertaining offense, but he’s only got 3 people on the planet saying Paws Up because he’s coaching in the same state and division as JOOOOEEEEEEEEEEEY FRRRRRESHWATERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

Best Future Pro: Azeez Al-Shaair, LB, FAU Somebody would have looked like a genius if they snagged the senior in the late parts of the first round last year, but he came back to school to seek even better draft stock. He’ll probably earn it.

Best Player: Devin Singletary, RB, FAU His sophomore season just meant more explosive plays for a guy with almost 2,950 career rushing yards. Junior season means building a big-time draft reel and maybe making a sneaky Heisman run.

Champion: Florida Atlantic Florida State castoff De’Andre Johnson only makes them more explosive. Circle 2 dates: a Labor Day weekend opener at Oklahoma and a September 21 trip to UCF. Win both, and the Owls are going to talk about more than just a NY6 bowl. JOEEEEEEEEY FRRRRESHWATERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR.


Image result for tyree jackson

Who’s Hot: Buffalo QB Tyree Jackson is the best player you’ve never heard of. The junior finished last season averaging 341 yards passing and tossed 9 TDs in the final 4 games of 2017. His mobility gives the Bulls a dynamic star in the making, and a guy you might mistakenly call Lamar a few times in the process.

Who’s Not: Kent State Fresh off 2-10 and breaking in first-time head coach Sean Lewis, the Golden Flashes might be tops on the Bet Against Every Week List

Mild Sauce: Western Michigan PJ Fleck’s departure meant the Broncos don’t #rowtheboat anymore, but Tim Lester and running back’s Jamauri Bogan’s presence meant they still swam steadily upstream at 6-6 and will likely do so again.

Best Future Pro: Max Scharping, LT, Northern Illinois The 6’6″, 320-lbs senior looks like a cornerstone prospect at a position where that prototype gets you drafted high and paid big.

Best Player: Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo Being 6’2″ and 207 lbs while still be able to sprint with the best of them makes you big-play capable, and Johnson is one of the nation’s underrated gems. He posted over 1,300 receiving yards and 14 TDs as a junior and should do better with the improvement of his starting QB.

Champion: Buffalo Having the most explosive offense in the league and one of the best in the country means Lance Leipold is ready not just for his first winning season-the Bulls are good enough to take on the likes of Ohio, Northern Illinois and Toledo and win the MAC.

Mountain West

Image result for brett rypien

Who’s Hot: Fresno State Jeff Tedford reminded us all how good he is at this football thing when his first season back in the saddle yielded 10 wins and a division title for the Bulldogs. The combo of senior QB Marcus McMaryion and senior wideout KeeSean Johnson will yield lots of points and a chance for Fresno to get back in the NY6 conversation.

Who’s Not: New Mexico Just like Urban Meyer, Bob Davie still managed to keep his job after reporting uncovered serious off-field issues within the program. Unlike Urban Meyer, Davie doesn’t win football games, so your guess is as good as mine as to why he’s still employed.

Mild Sauce: Wyoming The belief NFL scouts had that Josh Allen is a star seemed to seep into the Cowboy coaching staff, who decided to stop running their program like a normal team and just put all the responsibility on Allen. Craig Bohl’s too good a coach for that to continue, and they’ll be better without Allen, but not enough to finally win the league.

Best Future Pro: Andrew Wingard, S, Wyoming Scouts who came to Cowboy tape looking at Allen probably had their eyes caught by the veteran safety who proved to be a consistent playmaker. Wingard has over 360 career tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss and 8 interceptions already on his resume.

Best Player: Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State If there were ever a season for Mark Rypien’s nephew to break through and become a full-fledged star, this would be the one. The offense is loaded, and a career with 9,876 yards passing should not go so unnoticed.

Champion: Boise State The Broncos and Fresno State should meet again in the conference title game, this time with a NY6 spot at stake.


Image result for jake browning

Who’s Hot: Stanford If the defense finds a way to get a consistent pass rush against a league full of talented quarterbacks, all the pieces are in place for another title run. Bryce Love might be the Heisman favorite, the secondary will be stiff, and KJ Costello has lots of big targets to throw to.

Who’s Not: Oregon State Beavers aren’t going to be good, but they will have most of America rooting for them in Week One when they visit Ohio State (please somehow win please somehow win).

Mild Sauce: Washington They will be right there in the thick of things with USC and Stanford for the conference crown, but even when they won the league title with a ferocious and star-studded defense, their playoff matchup with Alabama went lopsided. This team isn’t that talented.

Best Future Pro: Bryce Love, RB, Stanford His one big concern for the next level will be the tremendous level of tread that’s already on the tires. He had 269 touches last season alone.

Best Player: Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona The Lamar Jackson comparison has been used most, but the junior is not quite as polished a passer as Jackson was this time last year. If he can develop under new head coach Kevin Sumlin, he’s already won quite a few games for the Cats just with his legs.

Champion: Stanford The September schedule is brutal, but it may prime the Cardinal for their late-season showdown with Washington. If they have just one conference loss by that time, they can knock off the Huskies and beat USC in a title-game rematch.

Sun Belt (and Army)

Image result for army football

Why’s Army here? Jeff Monken went from wheeling and dealing at Georgia Southern in their FCS days to helping the Cadets finally sing second and beat Navy. The Black Knights won 10 games and were quietly one of the best stories of 2017, meaning there are other FBS independent besides South Bend worth keeping an eye on. Losing starting QB Ahmad Bradshaw hurts, but the defense is experienced and backs Darnell Woolfolk and Keil Walker return to give West Point a solid chance at a bowl game again.

Who’s Hot: Appalachian State Even the loss of 4-year starting QB Taylor Lamb isn’t slowing the Mountaineers down.

Who’s Not: Texas State They’re bad and they’re from the Sun Belt, the deadliest of combinations for ever being on TV.

Mild Sauce: Your opinions on the league I mean, it is called the Fun Belt for a reason, but how much will you honestly watch?

Best Future Pro: Blace Brown, CB, Troy You don’t come up with 11 interceptions in a 2-year span unless you can make plays, because teams generally don’t throw at lockdown corners.

Best Player: Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State Rushing for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons has boosted the senior’s draft stock.

Champion: Troy The Trojans have one of the nation’s most underrated defenses. If they can prove stingy against Boise State in Week One, they will start to make some noise in the Group of 5.


Image result for tua tagovailoa

Who’s Hot: Mississippi State The hire of Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead as head coach to replace Dan Mullen got rave reviews, and considering Clanga has a star QB in Nick Fitzgerald and a top running back in Aeris Williams, the Bulldogs might do all sorts of clanga-ing this season.

Who’s Not: LSU It does not look great on the offensive side of the ball, where the transfer of Ohio State backup QB Joe Burrow counts as adding some explosiveness to the offense. Not even top defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is going to be able to work around their scoring woes.

Mild Sauce: Missouri & South Carolina Let’s slow our roll on saying that Georgia has legitimate challengers in the East. Drew Lock and Jake Bentley give the Tigers and Gamecocks a chance to score plenty of points, but Mizzou will need to prove it can stop anybody, and Cocky has to actually show it will consistently move the ball.

Best Future Pro: A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss While the quarterbacking class of Lock, Bentley, Fitzgerald, Jake Fromm and Jarrett  Stidham is tempting to pick from, Brown looks like a game-changing, Larry Fitzgerald-type receiver when he’s at his best. Like Fitz, he’s worth the price of admission alone, no matter how good his team is.

Best Player: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State If we’re talking about Absolute Units, Simmons and his senior end partner Montez Sweat have to be part of the conversation. They each have pro ability, but Simmons looks like a first-round lock.

Champion: Alabama The Tide will collide with Georgia again, this time in the SEC championship game. Letting Tua Tagovailoa run the offense gives ‘Bama a better chance at being explosive, and while both defenses will be doing some notable reloading, the ‘Dawgs won’t quite have enough in the tank this year to get over the Saban hump.

The Rankings

Image result for college football playoff

Not how they’ll start, but how they will finish

The Rest

Honorable Mentions: Florida State, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern, Texas, Kansas State, Buffalo, Arizona, Missouri

25. Fresno State Tedford and the Bulldogs scored points in bunches but don’t have enough to avenge last year’s Mountain West title-game loss.

24. Central Florida Milton is a legit Heisman contender if he’s better than last season, but getting stops consistently will be a problem

23. Navy The new big dogs of the American will be a dominant rushing force paired with an ever-improving defense

22. Penn State Not only does McSorely need playmakers to step up and replace Saquon Barkley, DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki, but who joins edge rusher Shareef Miller as game-changers on defense?

21. South Carolina Deebo Samuel is one of the most electrifying playmakers in the nation and the top reason that this will be the best offensive team Will Muschamp has ever had.

20. Oregon Justin Herbert is a top-flight QB prospect and will lead a top-flight offense, but first-year head coach Mario Cristobal needs defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt’s unit to break out in a big way.

19. Auburn How in the world does Gus Malzahn replace all those carries for All-American back Kerryon Johnson? The defensive front 7 is stout, but Malzahn has yet to show us he’s willing to run a pass-first offense.

18. West Virginia Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons joins Sills, Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms to make the Mountaineers the deepest receiving corps in the country. The key is if transfers on defense prove to be big-time as well.

17. Florida Atlantic While they’ll be the second-best Group of 5 team in the country, the Owls are going to throw scares into the big boys on their schedule and boat-race the rest of C-USA. JOOEEEEEEEEEEY FRRRRRRRRRESHWATERRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

16. Notre Dame Until the Irish prove they can be balanced on offense, they’ll be forced to play a lot of ugly games where their defense looks solid but they can’t move the ball running behind a new-look offensive line.

15. Mississippi State They truly look like a team just on the outside looking in with the talent at the top of the SEC, so in many ways the Bulldogs might be the best team on this list not in the NY6 part of the rankings.

14. Miami (FL) Malik Rosier and Travis Homer mean they will do just enough on offense to pair with athletes like Shaq Quarterman and Joe Jackson on defense that will make the  Turnover Chain prominent again, but it won’t be enough to avoid at least 2 losses pre-ACC championship game.

13. Ohio State Yes, I have them undervalued, and yes, Dwayne Haskins should be a fine replacement for J.T. Barrett, but let me ask you: do you really want to see this program as a playoff favorite right now?

The New Year’s Six Teams

12. Boise State The Broncos can be more than just the best Group of 5 team in the land if they roll through their scheduled without a hiccup-their name brand can give them a chance to be in the playoff discussion.

11. Washington Find me some big-time playmakers out wide for Browning in the vein of John Ross and Dante Pettis, and I’ll tell you the Huskies are the Pac-12 favorites.

10. Michigan State Sparty’s going to pound some teams into submission, and a favorable schedule including a home date with Ohio State makes this a potential big-time season.

9. USC Highly-touted freshman JT Daniels should step in and pull a Sam Darnold, meaning the Trojans will be in the thick of the playoff race all season long.

8. Oklahoma Murray taking over for Mayfield isn’t the concern-it’s a defense that was just barely in the top half of the nation last season and has some significant reloading to do.

7. Wisconsin Badger Bully Ball will yield all but one or two key wins down the stretch.

6. TCU The Frogs become the Power 5 champion left on the outside looking in, but just barely thanks to a strong schedule.

5. Georgia A winner-take-all SEC championship game ruins an otherwise perfect season for the ‘Dawgs, but the Sugar Bowl and a chance to angrily stomp TCU isn’t really that bad a consolation prize.

The Playoff

4. Michigan Patterson has weapons on the perimeter like Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones to pair with a fierce rushing attack of Higdon and Chris Evans. The defense stays in the top 5 in the country on their way to Harbaugh finally overcoming his rivals and claiming the Big Ten.

3. Stanford If you’re fully aware that the Cardinal are coming downhill with Love and over 1,000 pounds of offensive lineman and tight ends but you couldn’t stop it before, why will it work now? The defense proves to be tough as well as David Shaw reclaims the Pac-12 throne.

2. Alabama While I’d never be so boring as to actually pick the Tide to win it all (because there’s nothing satisfying about being right when the sun comes up), I will get them back to the title game for the second straight year because this has a chance to be the best offense under Saban. Title-game hero DeVonta Smith joins Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy out wide to give Tagovailoa plenty of options to sling it with, even if Saban wants a run-first attack powered by Damien and Najee’ Harris (no relation). Still, there’s concern about the youth on the back end. JUCO transfer Saivion Smith needs to be an instant-impact corner for the secondary to coalesce.

1. Clemson Excluding the large men on the defensive front, Mitch Hyatt and Justin Falcinelli power one of the nation’s best offensive line, paving huge holes for Tavien Feaster and star-in-the-making Travis Etienne to run wild. What will prove to be the difference for the Tigers is once again beating ‘Bama is if Dabo Swinney is willing to go from a good option at QB in Bryant to a potentially great one. Sophomore Hunter Johnson and freshman Trevor Lawrence looked the part of downfield passer in offseason workouts that Bryant hasn’t, so if Swinney puts the trigger and makes a change at signal-caller, not even Saban and the Tide is stopping the Absolute Units from Death Valley.

Five for Five: Week Five

Image result for trayveon williams

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 

Image result for les miles eating grass gif

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

Image result for noah brown catch

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:

Image result for curtis samuel gif

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!

Image result for noah brown catch gif


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.

Image result for sad notre dame fans

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.

Image result for leonard fournette vs auburn gif

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

Image result for lamar jackson hurdle

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