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

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.

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 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?

Image result for kliff kingsbury dance off gif

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.

Image result for dalvin cook gif

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

Image result for college football playoff

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

Image result for greg ward jr

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

Image result for dalvin cook

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

Image result for chris wormley michigan

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

Image result for shane buechele texas

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

Image result for nick mullens

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.

Image result for eastern michigan football wall gif

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.

Image result for central michigan football row the boat gif

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

Image result for myles gaskin

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

Image result for calvin ridley

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).

Image result for will muschamp angry

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-

Image result for leonard fournette gif

Image result for leonard fournette gif

Image result for leonard fournette gif

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.

Image result for leonard fournette texas a&m gif

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

Independents

Image result for taysom hill

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.

Image result for tanner mangum gif

Image result for tanner mangum gif

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.

Star-Studded: The Correct MLB All-Star Ballot

1280x720_SDP_ASG16_29svcjsc_d62389x8

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

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

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

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

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

American League

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

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

jose-altuve-tri

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch-David-Ortiz-and-David-Price-embrace-to-start-Red-Sox-camp

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

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

National League

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

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

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

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

50b13808984e4095596fbefda66b5d42_crop_north

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

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

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

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

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

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