X-BYU Cougars 9-4
After the departure of longtime head football coach Bronco Mendenhall who moved on to become the head football coach of the Virginia Cavaliers, the BYU Cougars were expected to take a step backwards in 2016. But in typical BYU fashion they were able to rise to the occasion and prove their detractors wrong. After beginning the season with a record of 1-3, the Cougars would rally to finish 9-4 which included their first bowl victory since 2012. Brigham Young’s four losses came by a combined eight points as a break here or there could have placed them in a New Year’s Six bowl game. This all went down on the watch of Kalani Sitake who after playing at BYU came back to be the head football coach at his alma mater. And after Sitake was able to lead the Cougars to a strong season in 2016, what will he be able to do for an encore here in 2017?
After quarterback Tanner Mangum had a stellar 2015 campaign that saw him pass for 3,377 yards, he spent the majority of 2016 as a backup. Mangum was able to burst onto the scene in 2015 after an injury to Taysom Hill made him the starter. But when Hill returned from injury last season, Mangum took a backseat. However Hill has graduated and as Mangum is set to begin his junior season, it is his time. Mangum is a solid passer, but he brings intangibles to the table which includes moxie and that should result in some victories for the Cougars.
The Cougars should have a solid offensive line as they will be anchored by senior center Tejan Koroma, while the defense has play makers such as outside linebacker Fred Warner and junior outside linebacker Francis Bernard who can cover plenty of ground in the pursuit to make plays.
The Cougars cannot be accused of playing a cupcake schedule as they will meet teams from the Power Five Conferences in the LSU Tigers, Utah Utes, and Wisconsin Badgers, along with facing the Boise State Broncos of the Mountain West Conference. BYU will be battle tested and they’ll will be a difficult team to deal with each time that they take the field.
X-Army Black Knights 8-4
2016 was a banner year on the gridiron for the Army Black Knights. The Black Knights were able to record their first winning season since 2010, and in the process they were able to snap a 14-game losing streak to the Navy Midshipmen. Army’s success made head football coach Jeff Monken the man of the hour in West Point. And as a new college football season is set to begin, will the Black Knights be able to do something that they have not accomplished since 1985 which is to have consecutive winning seasons?
For opposing defenses to find a way to stop Army’s offense, they must find a way to slow down their rushing attack. Army averaged 339 yards on the ground last season which was second in the nation, and you can expect more of the same this time around. With senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw and junior fullback Andrew Davidson leading the way, the triple option attack of the Black Knights will once again test the patience of opposing defenses.
Senior outside linebacker Alex Aukerman and sophomore defensive back Elijah Riley lead an undersized unit that plays with tremendous heart and passion. And that heart and passion should lead to more wins this year for the Black Knights.
Just like last year Army will enter this season playing with house money. And just like last year the regular season should end with the Black Knights heading to a bowl game.
X-Notre Dame Fighting Irish 6-6
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will enter the 2017 college football season fresh off of their first losing season under head football coach Brian Kelly. Things never got started on the right foot for the Irish as the began the season with a record of 1-3, and they would go on to lose four home games. For Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly, he came under fire as after finishing three of the last four years ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll, his team took a huge step backwards. And as Notre Dame is seeking to return to being one of college football’s elite programs, do they have enough to turn things around in 2017?
Inconsistency for the Fighting Irish at the quarterback position and it could be the same again early on this season. Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush could be the guy under center in Week 1 for Notre Dame and he did not see any playing time last year. Kelly has been notorious in regards to not being patient with his quarterbacks, and he along with first year offensive coordinator Chip Long must find a way to get Wimbush comfortable early, while also showing patience with him.
The Irish lacked huge productivity from the skill positions last year as the onus will be on junior running back Josh Adams and junior wide receiver Equanimeous Brown to improve their productivity; especially as they play alongside a quarterback who did not play last season.
One saving grace for the Notre Dame offense will be that the unit will have four seniors starting on the offensive line. Left tackle Mike McGlinchey and center Alex Bars have the ability to be the best of the bunch as they hold any potential success for Notre Dame’s offense in their hands.
Defensively the Irish are also looking to bounce back after surrendered at least 30 points in a game six times last season. Mike Elko is set to begin his first year as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator. Elko comes to South Bend after he was the defensive coordinator of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and they possessed one of the top units in the nation as he now has the opportunity to help the Irish get back to respectability.
The Fighting Irish will be using a base 4-2-5 defense in order to combat the spread offenses that they’ll face. Senior middle linebacker Nyles Morgan could be an impact player for the Irish on defense. But overall Notre Dame needs to force more turnovers on defense, while they must find a way to create more pressure as they only tallied 14 sacks last season.
Notre Dame faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation as they’ll host the Georgia Bulldogs of the Southeastern Conference and the USC Trojans of the Pac-12 Conference as both of these teams could be in the mix to win the national title. The Irish also have road games against the Michigan State Spartans, North Carolina Tar Heels, Miami Hurricanes, and Stanford Cardinal as you have to wonder if another subpar season will signal the end of Kelly’s time in South Bend.
Massachusetts Minutemen 4-8
Since the Massachusetts Minutemen returned to competing at the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2012, they have had a tough go at things. The Minutemen have only won 10 games since 2012, and they have never won more than three games in a year. But 2017 could be a year in which the Minutemen are able to show some progress.
A pair of juniors in quarterback Andrew Ford and running back Marquis Young, along with senior tight end Andrew Breneman will need to have big seasons for UMass to have a shot at making a bowl game. But the Massachusetts offense is going to have to do it behind a young offensive line that has four sophomores starting which includes left tackle Raquan Thomas. And the offensive line must for the Minutemen must find a way to improve as they allowed 45 sacks last season which is not going to cut it in 2017.
Ed Pinkham is set to begin his first year as the defensive coordinator at Massachusetts and he must find a way to improve a unit which was 99th in the nation in total defense last season. Senior outside linebacker Steve Casali is a tremendous tackler, but his ability alone won’t be enough to make Massachusetts bowl eligible as it must be a group effort on defense.
Massachusetts is still attempting to solidify themselves at the Football Bowl Subdivision and 2017 will simply be another building block for them.
Sources: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com, Ourlads.com