Tag Archives: Leonard Fournette

2017 AFC South Draft Grades

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Houston Texans

First-Round Pick: Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson

Best Pick: Deshaun Watson

Grade: A

Each of the last two years has seen the Houston Texans with the AFC South, and their productivity at the 2017 National Football League Draft could make them the team to beat in this division for years to come. In a bold move the Texans moved up 13 spots in the first round in order to select Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Deshaun Watson

The Texans made a trade with the Cleveland Browns in order to move up to select Watson and it could be well worth it. Watson’s record as a starter in college was 32-3 which included leading Clemson to the national championship last year. And that ability to win games caught the eye of the Texans who may have found their franchise quarterback.

In the second round the Texans got a steal when they drafted Vanderbilt Commodores outside linebacker Zach Cunningham. Cunningham had the potential to be a mid first-round selection, but surprisingly he fell to the second round and he is going into a great situation. At Vanderbilt, Cunningham tackled everything that moved as he led the team in tackles last year with 125. Now Cunningham will join an already strong linebacking core where he can learn from the likes of outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney and inside linebacker Brian Cushing.

D’Onta Foreman

Last year the Texans were eighth in the National Football League in rushing and that trend should continue after drafting Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman in the third round. Foreman was a workhorse for the Longhorns as he carried the football 323 times last year for 2,208 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns to earn the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back. The Texans already had plenty of talent in their backfield which features Lamar Miller, but now the addition of Foreman will allow head coach Bill O’Brien to keep fresh tailbacks throughout the season.

The Texans would then beef up in the trenches as they pegged Bucknell Bison offensive tackle Julien Davenport and Clemson Tigers defensive tackle Carlos Watkins in the fourth round, while nabbing Baylor Bears center Kyle Fuller in the seventh.

Of the coaches who have worked under New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, O’Brien probably possesses the best pedigree of knowing how to put a quality team together as this draft illustrated that.

Tennessee Titans

First-Round Pick: Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan, Adoree’ Jackson-Cornerback-USC

Best Pick: Adoree’ Jackson

Grade: C

The Tennessee Titans had a solid showing at the 2017 National Football League Draft, but things could have been much better for them. Last year the Titans traded the first overall pick to the Los Angeles Rams with part of their compensation seeing them receive an additional first round pick this year. The Titans entered this year’s draft with the fifth as well 18th overall selections, and instead of hitting home runs, they reached with their choices.

First, the Titans would select Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis who was a lock to go in the first round, but if Tennessee was that focused on him, they could’ve traded down a little bit and still gotten him. Davis does fill a hole for the Titans who need a presence at the wide receiver position to off-set their power running game, but the pressure will be on him to live up to the expectations as far as where he was drafted.

Adoree Jackson

Later on in the first round the Titans would peg USC Trojans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. And like Davis, Jackson can come in and have an impact for the Titans; it’s just that it was a reach to select him where they did. Jackson’s initial impact with the Titans could come on special teams where they need a play maker, and don’t be surprised to see Titans head coach Mike Mularkey implement some plays for him on offense.

After the first round the Titans would add seven more players in the draft. But with none of those players showing the ability to stand out, Tennessee missed a golden opportunity to load up on impact players in the draft.

Indianapolis Colts

First-Round Pick: Malik Hooker-Safety-Ohio State

Best Pick: Malik Hooker

Grade: D

After quarterback Andrew Luck helped the Indianapolis Colts reach the AFC Championship Game during the 2014 National Football League season, he has taken a football beating. In each of the last two years the Colts have gone 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs. A big reason for the Colts struggles is that the team has failed to put talent around Luck which begins with their inability at the draft. The Colts have a new general manager in Chris Ballard, but his first draft with the Colts wasn’t be a memorable one.

The Colts entered the 2017 National Football League Draft with multiple needs on both sides of the football. In the first round the Colts selected Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker whom they are hopeful can solve some of their coverage issues. The second round would see the Colts select Florida Gators cornerback Quincy Wilson, but I am not sure if either he or Hooker will be able to come in an have an immediate impact in Indianapolis.

In Luck’s last 22 games he has been sacked 56 times, but the Colts only used one draft pick on an offensive lineman in the fourth round when they selected USC Trojans offensive tackle Zach Banner. The Colts were 23rd last year in rushing which saw them use another fourth-round selection on South Florida Bulls running back Marlon Mack, but with their issues on the offensive line who is going to block for him?

The Colts also needed to improve the wide receiver position, but in failing to do so this could be a very long season in Indianapolis for Luck and Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

Jacksonville Jaguars

First-Round Pick: Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

Best Pick: Round Two-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama

Grade: B+

It’s been ten years since the Jacksonville Jaguars had a winning record or made the playoffs which can be traced back to their inability to find and develop talent in the first round of the National Football League Draft. But with former Jaguars and New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin now as the executive vice president of football operations in Jacksonville, there may finally be some law and order there.

The Jags have let it be known that they are committed to Blake Bortles as their franchise quarterback. And since that is the case it means that Jacksonville must put more talent around Bortles.

Coughlin attended Syracuse University as a running back which saw him in the same backfield with Hall of Fame running backs Larry Csonka and Floyd Little. Coughlin’s dedication to the run followed him throughout his head coaching career in the National Football League and he has brought that same game plan with him to the Jaguars front office.

Leonard Fournette

The first round of the draft saw the Jags select LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette. At 6’1″, 235 lbs., Fournette can be like a runaway freight train with the football in his possession and he will have every opportunity to have an impact in Jacksonville. And if you want to run the football while also protecting Bortles, why not select a proven offensive tackle early which is what the Jaguars did.

With the second pick of the second round Jacksonville selected Alabama Crimson Tide offensive tackle Cam Robinson. Robinson has the potential to be a solid player for the Jaguars and the fact that he slipped to the second round could mean that he’ll be extra motivated when he puts the pads on.

The fourth round saw the Jags select Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook who despite the baggage that he brings due to his off-the-field issues while in college, he could add to an already talented receiving unit in Jacksonville. Westbrook could be a very valuable slot receiver; especially on third down which will be important for a Jaguars team that is seeking to not get lost in the shuffle in the AFC South.

We’ve heard this before, but things appear to be finally turning around in Jacksonville.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 4.0

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1. Cleveland Browns-Myles Garrett-Defensive End-Texas A&M

It will be very hard to mess up this selection, but nothing is impossible when it comes to futility for the Cleveland Browns.

2. San Francisco 49ers-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

Offense sells tickets and wins games, but defense wins championships. New 49ers general manager John Lynch is a defensive minded guy and where better for him to find his first draft selection than right up the road at his alma mater.

3. Chicago Bears-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

There are several directions in which the Bears can go here, but they need an enforcer in their secondary.

Leonard Fournette

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

The best way for the Jaguars to protect quarterback Blake Bortles is to put more play makers around him, and it starts by improving the running game.

5. Tennessee Titans (via the Los Angeles Rams)-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

With a pair of first round picks at the Tennessee Titans disposal, this is a golden opportunity for them to stockpile play makers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

There are several directions in which the Jets can go here which includes making a trade. However the Jets do need help in their secondary.

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

Quarterback Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger and the Chargers must do everything in their power to protect him.

Christian McCaffrey

8. Carolina Panthers-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

For the Carolina Panthers to get back to being a playoff team, they must go back to the basics which means concentrating on their rushing attack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

If ever there a was a team who would take a first-round flyer on a guy who failed a drug test, it is the Bengals.

10. Buffalo Bills-Haason Reddick-Outside Linebacker-Temple

The Bills are looking up at the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins in the AFC East who are both loaded at the skill positions on offense which means that they must get more athletic on defense.

11. New Orleans Saints-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

If the Saints take care of their business at the draft which means fixing their defense, they could be a playoff team for the upcoming season.

12. Cleveland Browns (via the Philadelphia Eagles)-Mitch Trubisky-Quarterback-North Carolina

Quarterback Deshaun Watson makes more sense here, but the Browns like Mitch Trubisky.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

With wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald getting up their in age and the Cardinals second leading pass catcher last season being running back David Johnson, they must improve their vertical offense.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (via the Minnesota Vikings)-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

Last  year the Eagles got their franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz and this off-season has seen them stockpiling play makers for him to get the football to.

O.J. Howard

15. Indianapolis Colts-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Colts have already traded tight end Dwayne Allen this off-season to the Patriots and they need to get some help on offense for quarterback Andrew Luck.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

Jonathan Allen has the talent to be a top-five pick, but if he falls this far it would be a steal for the Baltimore Ravens.

17. Washington Redskins-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

For the second consecutive year the Redskins slapped the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins. But after the Redskins let their two top wide receivers leave in free agency, they need to keep Cousins happy.

18. Tennessee Titans-T.J. Watt-Outside Linebacker-Wisconsin

If T.J. Watt is half as good as his older brother in Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the Titans will be a force to be reckoned with for the upcoming NFL season.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

If the Buccaneers want to be legitimate threat to win the NFC South here in 2017, they are going to have to upgrade their pass rush in a division that is littered with Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks.

20. Denver Broncos-David Njoku-Tight End-Miami

It’s still unsure whether it will be Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch that will be under center for the Broncos when the season begins, but they need to upgrade the tight end position where they hardly got any production from last year.

21. Detroit Lions-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Lions only managed to get 26 sacks in 2016 and they still managed to be a playoff team. But that won’t cut it once again.

22. Miami Dolphins-Kevin King-Cornerback-Washington

If the Dolphins want to overtake the Patriots for the top spot in the AFC East, they need to find a way to neutralize all of their talent at the skill positions.

Malik McDowell

23. New York Giants-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle-Michigan State

After the Giants lost defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins in free agency to the Colts, this is a no-brainer here.

24. Oakland Raiders-Chidobe Awuzie-Cornerback-Colorado

The Raiders secondary was exposed last season when quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula. And if this organization wants to be a legit Super Bowl contender, they are going to have to find a way to slow down opposing offenses via the pass.

25. Houston Texans-Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson

If the Browns screw it up and pass on Deshaun Watson, the Texans won’t be as foolish.

Garett Bolles

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

Over the last two years Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 86 times which isn’t going to cut it if they want to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

27- Kansas City Chiefs-John Ross-Wide Receiver-Washington

After hardly getting any production from their wide receivers in 2016, the Chiefs need to get more speed on the outside.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

The Cowboys currently possess a Super Bowl offense, but they are lacking play makers on the defensive side of the football.

29. Green Bay Packers-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

In the Packers playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, their secondary had it handed to them which is all that you need to know.

30-Pittsburgh Steelers-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

Zach Cunningham fits the mold of a Steelers linebacker as he possesses size, athleticism, toughness, speed, and a knack for making big plays.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Forrest Lamp-Guard-Western Kentucky

Forrest Lamp gives the Falcons a versatile presence on their offensive line and he’ll be a starter from his first day.

Adoree Jackson

32. New Orleans Saints (via the New England Patriots)-Adoree jackson-Cornerback-USC

A few years from now we could be looking at the trade which sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots as the deal that got the Saints back to the Super Bowl if Adoree Jackson pans out here.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

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1. Cleveland Browns Myles Garrett-Defensive End-Texas A&M

The Cleveland Browns have a ton of needs heading into the National Football League Draft, and a good place to start is to pick the best player that will be available.

 

Mitch Trubisky

2. San Francisco 49ers- Mitch Trubisky-Quarterback-North Carolina

The San Francisco 49ers are set to begin life with a new general manager in John Lynch, and a new head coach in Kyle Shanahan as it only makes sense for them to find a new franchise quarterback as well.

3. Chicago Bears-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

In order for the Chicago Bears to once again be a player in the NFC North, they are going to have to get tougher in the trenches.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

In 2016, the Jacksonville Jaguars leading rusher was running back T.J. Yeldon with just 465 which is all that you’ll need to know why they must select a running back here.

5. Tennessee Titans-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

The Tennessee Titans are on the cusp of being the team to beat in the AFC South. And with Dick LeBeau as the Titans defensive coordinator, it’s time to stockpile up on versatile edge rushers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

There are numerous ways that the New York Jets can go with this selection. But with an aging Darrelle Revis at cornerback, the Jets must get younger in the secondary.

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

2016 saw the Los Angeles Chargers go out of their way to lose games, and a turnaround begins with solidifying the secondary.

 

Leonard Fournette

8. Carolina Panthers- Leonard Fourtnette-Running Back-LSU

The Carolina Panthers love to run the football which is something that they got away from last year. But it won’t take the Panthers that long to get back to what won them the NFC Championship in 2015.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

Injuries have taken away from the effectiveness of wide receiver A.J. Green, and it’s time for the Cincinnati Bengals to add some depth at the position.

10. Buffalo Bills-DeShone Kizer-Quarterback-Notre Dame

This selection will signal the end of Tyrod Taylor’s time with the Buffalo Bills.

11. New Orleans Saints-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

The NFC South is littered with quality quarterbacks, and if the New Orleans Saints are going to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, they are going to need more pass rushers.

12. Cleveland Browns-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

Browns head coach Hue Jackson is looking to change the culture within his locker room. And what a better way to begin that process than by bringing in a player such as Reuben Foster who is a winner.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked 40 times last year. And if the Cardinals are going to entertain any chances of making the Super Bowl, they must protect Palmer.

14. Indianapolis Colts-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama

For too long the Indianapolis Colts organization has asked quarterback Andrew Luck to do too much by himself. Luck is one of the better play makers in the NFL, but he needs protection in front of him.

15. Philadelphia Eagles-Teez Tabor-Cornerback-Florida

In a division with wide receivers such as Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles need as many athletes as possible in their secondary.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

When the Baltimore Ravens are at their best, they are rushing the passer.

17. Washington Redskins-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

Last season the Washington Redskins were 25th in the NFL in pass defense as they need a play maker in their secondary.

 

Jabril Peppers

18. Tennessee Titans-Jabril Peppers-Strong Safety-Michigan

Don’t expect the Titans to be pushed around defensively in 2017.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their franchise quarterback as they are continuing the process of putting quality players around him at the skill positions.

20. Denver Broncos-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

For many years wide receiver Ed McCaffrey was one of the go-to guys for quarterback John Elway with the Denver Broncos. And with Elway now serving as the Broncos executive vice president of football operations, he’ll find another play maker from Stanford who’ll make a huge impact in Denver.

21. Detroit Lions-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

Last year the Detroit Lions only managed to register 26 sacks, and if they’re going to overtake the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, they must find a way to get to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

22. Miami Dolphins-David Njoku-Tight End-Miami

David Njoku won’t spend that much money on moving expenses as he’ll just move to another locker room at Hard Rock Stadium.

23. New York Giants-Carl Lawson-Defensive End-Auburn

Just in case that the New York Giants don’t re-sign defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, they’ll get themselves some insurance.

24. Oakland Raiders-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

The Oakland Raiders issues in their secondary were exposed when quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula. And if the Raiders are going to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they must improve the secondary.

25. Houston Texans-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

If the Houston Texans can get themselves a quality veteran quarterback, they’ll have a championship caliber defense to pair him with.

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garrett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

The Seattle Seahawks don’t resemble the team that won the Super Bowl in 2013. And for the Seahawks to get back to being a championship team, they are going to have to run the football more effectively, while also protecting quarterback Russell Wilson which begins with better play on the offensive line.

27. Kansas City Chiefs-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

There is a huge drop off in the passing offense of the Kansas City Chiefs once you eliminate tight end Travis Kelce from the equation as they need some more production from the wide receiver position.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Dallas Cowboys were 14th in the NFL last year in total defense, but through injuries and suspensions, they lacked a game changing edge rusher.

 

Desmond King

29. Green Bay Packers-Desmond King-Cornerback-Iowa

With the issues that the Green Bay Packers had in their secondary last season, they could use a tough minded player in the unit who can also contribute on special teams if asked to.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers-Tim Williams-Outside Linebacker-Alabama

Bud Dupree has begun to show flashes as a quality edge rusher for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but this team needs a versatile enforcer for the unit.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Evan engram-Tight End-Ole Miss

As good as the Atlanta Falcons offense is, they still need a tight end who can take some pressure off of wide receiver Julio Jones.

32. New England Patriots- Dan Feeney-Guard-Indiana

The rich get richer as the defending Super Bowl Champions will continue to add depth on the offensive line in front of quarterback Tom Brady.

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To Play, Or Not To Play

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Like it or not, you are going to see more college football players skip their bowl games in favor of the National Football League Draft. And you cannot blame them.

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2016 Heisman Preview

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Christian McCaffrey is just one of several talented players to look at in this year’s Heisman race.

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2016 College Football Top 25

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1. Clemson Tigers

2015 was indeed a magical year for Clemson Tigers Football. Clemson won 14 games which was a single-season school record, but they were just short of winning their first national championship since 1981. And as good as 2015 was for the Tigers, 2016 can actually be better.

Deshaun Watson

Last year as a sophomore, quarterback Deshaun Watson was healthy and he showed his ability as an impact player by passing for 4,104 yards while also rushing for 1,105 yards. And as a junior, Watson will be one of the early favorites to win the Heisman Trophy while National Football League scouts are also drooling at his play making ability.

 

Running back Wayne Gallman had the opportunity to leave school last year for the NFL Draft, but he decided to return to Clemson and the combination of him and Watson will be tough on defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Led by junior wide receiver Artavis Scott and redshirt sophomore Hunter Renfrow, Watson has an array of talented wide receivers to throw the football to while he’ll be protected by an offensive line that will be returning three starters from last season.

Defensively the Tigers were ranked tenth nationally last year and they will return six starters. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has changed the culture on that side of the ball at Clemson as they are now consistently sending players to the National Football League. And led by senior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, the Tigers have a defensive unit that can set the tone for their team.

Clemson has a non-conference that’ll see them dip into the Southeastern Conference as they will be on the road against the Auburn Tigers, while finishing up their regular season slate at home against the South Carolina Gamecocks. As for Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, their road meeting with the Florida State Seminoles on October 29 will more than likely determine who will get to the conference title game, while also having an impact on the College Football Playoff scene. But for Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney, his team should be up for the challenge.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

After surviving the gauntlet that is the Big 12 Conference schedule last year, the Oklahoma Sooners took their place in the College Football Playoff. But in the Orange Bowl, the team speed of the Clemson Tigers was too much for Oklahoma too deal with. The Sooners will come into the 2016 college football season with some unfinished business that they are hopeful to attend to. And luckily for Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops, he has a team that will once again be in contention to win the national championship.

Baker Mayfield

In his first season as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback, Baker Mayfield displayed a solid blend of running and passing ability that made him one of the most dynamic play makers in the country. As a senior, Mayfield comes into 2016 as the reigning Big 12 Conference Player of the Year, and after finishing fourth in the Heisman voting last year, he’ll once again be in the conversation.

But the engine that makes the Sooners offense go is junior running back Semaje Perine. In two years at Oklahoma, Perine has gained 3,062 yards on the ground. And barring an injury, Perine is in line to surpass Adrian Peterson this year as Oklahoma’s all-time leading rusher. At 5’11”, 237 lbs., Perine has a very thick lower body that it makes it tough for defenders to tackle him.

Led by senior wide receiver Dede Westbrook, Mayfield will be throwing to experienced receivers while also being protected by a offensive line that has three returning starters as they’ll be led by sophomore left tackle Orlando Brown. Led by senior middle linebacker Jordan Evans, the Sooners are returning seven defensive starters as they will once again look to contain the high octane offenses in the Big 12.

The upcoming schedule won’t be an easy one for the Sooners as they’ll begin the campaign against the Houston Cougars who are the defending American Athletic Conference Champions. Also in non-conference play, the Sooners will welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes out of the Big Ten Conference to Norman for a game that could go a very long way in determining who’ll make the College Football Playoff. Most of Oklahoma’s toughest conference games will be at home while they’ll also have to worry about their annual tilt with the Texas Longhorns at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. But the Sooners could be one of the final teams standing come January.

3. LSU Tigers

With all of the controversy that swirled around the LSU Tigers in 2015, you would have thought that they had a bad season. But the Tigers did manage to go 9-3. At the beginning of November, LSU was 7-0 with an eye on the College Football Playoff. However the Bayou Bengals would suffer three consecutive losses, including a 14-point defeat to the eventual national champion in the Alabama Crimson Tide which put head football coach Les Miles on the hot seat. LSU appeared headed to firing Miles, until they began to see the negative backlash that they were facing and thus Miles is returning to Baton Rogue for 2016.

Leonard Fournette

Led by junior running back Leonard Fournette, the Tigers will return 10 starters on the offensive side of the ball as they look to build some cohesion. And barring injury, Fournette should be in the running to win the Heisman Trophy.

The Tigers were ranked 25th in the nation last season in total defense and with six starters returning on that side of the ball, led by on all four starters on the defensive line, the Bayou Bengals will be a force to be reckoned with in the Southeastern Conference.

The schedule in 2016 won’t be an easy one for LSU as they have road games against the Wisconsin Badgers, Auburn Tigers, and Florida Gators. But the Tigers season will be defined by what they’ll be able to do on November 5 when they host Alabama whom they have not defeated since 2011.

4. Tennessee Volunteers

After finishing the 2015 college football season with a record of 9-4, it appears that the Tennessee Volunteers are back. In three years at Tennessee, head football coach Butch Jones has been in the process of building something special as the folks in Knoxville believe that this team is once again ready to contend for the Southeastern Conference Title. Whereas the better teams in the SEC typically have to worry abut players leaving school early for the National Football League, the Vols didn’t have to concern themselves with this as they’ll have nine starters returning on offense and eight on defense.

Joshua Dobbs

Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs is entering his fourth year as Tennessee’s starting quarterback and he has plenty of expectations that will be heaped onto his shoulders. Dobbs is more of a dual-threat quarterback, but if he is able to become a more consistent passer, the Vols offense will be difficult to deal with.

The Volunteers offense will lean heavily on Dobbs and junior running back Jalen Hurd who at 6’4″, 240 lbs. is in the mode of former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs.

Derek Barnett

Tennessee has eight returning starters on defense and there is plenty of pro talent on this unit. Junior defensive end Derek Barnett has the ability to be one of the best pass rushers in the Southeastern Conference, while senior linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin has what it takes to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. And the Vols also have a ton of experience in their secondary that features senior cornerback Cameron Sutton, junior cornerback Justin Martin, junior strong safety Todd Kelly, along with junior free safety Evan Berry.

 

 

 

The Volunteers season will be defined four-week stretch that begins in late September where they’ll host the Florida Gators, which will be followed by road games against the Georgia Bulldogs, and Texas A&M Aggies before returning home to face the defending national champions in the Alabama Crimson Tide on October 15.

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

It might be a new college football season, but that hasn’t prevented the Ohio State Buckeyes from being one of the top teams in the nation. After last year’s 12-1 campaign, Ohio State lost a ton of talent to the National Football League with 9 underclassmen declaring early. But if you’re Ohio State head football coach Urban  Meyer, you need not worry as the cupboard is never bare in Columbus.

J.T. Barrett

Coming into 2016, redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett won’t have to look over his shoulder as he is entrenched as the Buckeyes starting signal caller with Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller now pursuing careers in the National Football League. Barrett gives Meyer that dual-threat of a passer and runner that he covets at the quarterback position and more will be put upon his shoulders this year. With the departure of running back Ezekiel Elliot, you can expect seniors Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball to split the carries while Barrett could have a more active role in the Buckeyes running game.

The Buckeyes must replaces six starters on defense, but junior middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan is a play maker that could find himself in the discussion as far as being the Big Ten Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Ohio State can’t be accused of lining up the cupcakes in their non-conference schedule as they will travel to face the Oklahoma Sooners out of the Big 12 Conference on September 17 which will be a tune-up for Big Ten Conference play as the Buckeyes will have road games against the Wisconsin Badgers, Penn State Nittany Lions, and Michigan State Spartans, before finishing the regular season at home versus the Michigan Wolverines.

6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Brian Kelly

Since Brian Kelly took over as the head football coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, he has succeeded in what the school wanted him to do and that was to make Notre Dame Football consistently relevant. In six years at Notre Dame, Kelly has a record of 55-23 with three of the last four seasons seeing the Irish ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press’ Poll. And after flirting with reaching the College Football Playoff last season, Kelly and Notre Dame will be thinking about bigger things in 2016.

Last year as a true freshman, DeShone Kizer was thrust into the role of starting quarterback after an early season injury to Malik Zaire. Zaire will be back for his senior season and Kelly has a difficult decision to make as Zaire is the better athlete, but Kizer has the better arm.

Josh Adams

Like Kizer, Notre Dame relied on another true freshman last year in the backfield in running back Josh Adams. With C.j. Prosise having graduated and moving on to the National Football League, Adams is expected to be the feature back as Kelly will lean on him and Kizer due to the fact that Notre Dame will be a little green in the passing game.

Defensively the Irish must replace six starters from last season, but with defensive coordinator Brain VanGorder entering his second year in South Bend, Indiana, he now has more of a feel of what Kelly wants done.

With an early season road meeting against the Texas Longhorns, the rest of Notre Dame’s most difficult games will be at home, and if they are able to handle their business, they could be College Football Playoff bound come January.

7. Alabama Crimson Tide

Although that the Alabama Crimson Tide will enter the 2016 college football season as the defending national champions, they won’t be the top team in the land due to the many defections that they had. Alabama must replace eight defensive starters from a unit that was tied for second in the nation last year in total defense.

The Crimson Tide must also replace quarterback Jake Coker who they lost to graduation and running back Derrick Henry who won the Heisman Trophy. But the Tide still have Nick Saban as their head football coach which is the right person to be in charge as under him, it’s about reloading at Alabama, and not rebuilding.

Cooper Bateman

It will be Cooper Bateman’s opportunity to be the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide. Bateman spent his first two years at Alabama primarily serving as a backup quarterback, and now as a junior it will be his job to lose. Sophomore running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough will be splitting time this fall in the Alabama backfield as they will be running behind an offensive line that is returning three starters with junior offensive tackle Cam Robinson potentially being a first-team, All-Southeastern Conference member.

Defensively Alabama will be very green while they will also miss the leadership of former defensive coordinator Kirby Smart who is now the head football coach for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Right out of the chute we’ll see how good that this Alabama team will be as they’ll begin the season on September 3 against the USC Trojans out the Pac-12 Conference at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Tide also have road games in the Southeastern Conference against the Ole Miss Rebels, Arkansas Razorbacks, Tennessee Volunteers, and LSU Tigers. But Saban always knows how to get the best out of his teams.

8. Florida State Seminoles 

Jimbo Fisher

Under head football coach Jimbo Fisher, the Florida State Seminoles have returned to being one of premier college football programs in the nation. In each of Fisher’s six years at Tallahassee, the Seminoles have finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll along with playing in a top-tier bowl game in each of the last five years. With the ‘Noles back on the national scene, it also means that they are once again sending talent to the National Football League, and when talent is headed to the pro ranks, it also means that there are consistent voids to fill on the roster which Florida State must do this year.

After spending the last three years as a backup quarterback, senior Sean Maguire is ready for the spotlight at Florida State. At 6’3″, 224 lbs., Maguire has a solid frame for a quarterback, but it won’t be a situation where he will have to do it by himself. National Football League scouts are drooling over the play making ability of junior running back Dalvin Cook. With two years as the Seminoles starting running back, Cook has gained 2,699 yards on the ground as he has become the heart and soul of this team. And in 2016, you can expect Cook to be a favorite to be the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of the Year. Led by junior wide receiver Travis Rudolph, the ‘Noles have their top three wide receivers returning from last year’s team while all five of the big uglies up front are back.

The Seminoles also have six starters returning from a defense in 2015 that was 19th in the nation and under defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, they will look to wreak havoc on the offenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

You can’t accuse Florida State of ducking anybody as their non-conference schedule includes games against the Ole Miss Rebels and the Florida Gators of the Southeastern Conference. But the Seminoles Atlantic Coast Conference slate will be defined by their home game against the Clemson Tigers on October 29 as that contest will more than likely determine who will win the Atlantic Division and get to the conference title game and be a potential player in the College Football Playoff.

9. Iowa Hawkeyes

The college football season 2015 saw the Iowa Hawkeyes fly under the radar, and before you knew it, this team was 12-0. But as good as Iowa’s season was, they will still enter the 2016 college football season with a bad taste in their mouths after losing their last two games from the previous season which were the Big Ten Championship Game to the Michigan State Spartans and the Rose Bowl to the Stanford Cardinal.

Kirk Ferentz

The workman like approach that was so effective for Iowa in 2015 will once again be at the forefront for head football coach Kirk Ferentz and his crew as they look to win the Big Ten. What helped Iowa in 2015 was their ability to not defeat themselves as they were 11th in the nation in turnover margin. The Hawkeyes have a senior quarterback C.J. Beathard who stays within the realm of the offense which means him not trying to do everything himself, while relying on Iowa’s solid running attack and stingy defense.

Iowa’s was 22nd in the nation last year in total defense, and led by junior linebacker Jewell Josey, this band of brothers will once again pack their lunch pales every Saturday afternoon in the Big Ten.

The fact that the Hawkeyes play in the Big Ten West will see them once again have a favorable schedule and they could fly under the radar just like they did in 2015.

10. Michigan Wolverines

Jim Harbaugh

It hasn’t taken Michigan Wolverines head football coach Jim Harbaugh that long to once again create a buzz around his football program. In just one year, Harbaugh has put Michigan back onto the national scene and after a 10-3 record in 2015, the Wolverines are eyeing bigger and better things this year. Last year Michigan benefited from a transfer at quarterback in Jake Rudock. And this year the Wolverines will lean on another transfer quarterback in John O’Korn.

O’Korn began his collegiate career at the University of Houston where he was the 2013 American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year as passed for 3,117 and 28 touchdowns. But injuries and the emergence of Greg Ward at quarterback made O’Korn expendable as he found a new home in Ann Arbor. Now O’Korn will play for a head coach in Harbaugh that wants him while also showcasing his live right arm. With four returning starters on the offensive line, senior running back De’Veon Smith should have plenty of running room to work with as Harbaugh is returning Michigan to the days of smash-mouth football of Bo Schembechler.

Jabril Peppers

Last year the Wolverines were fourth in the nation in total defense which included three consecutive shutouts. And with hard hitting, redshirt sophomore Jabril Peppers making the move strong safety to linebacker, Michigan will have a physical presence once more.

Outside of road games against the Michigan State Spartans, Iowa Hawkeyes, and Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan has a very favorable schedule which bodes well as far as their chances of winning the Big Ten Conference.

11. UCLA Bruins 

Jim Mora

Make no mistake about that the expectations have changed for the UCLA Bruins ever since Jim Mora became their head football coach in 2012. The Bruins have been in contention in the Pac-12 Conference while also re-emerging on the national scene. And after an 8-5 campaign in 2015, is UCLA ready to win the Pac-12 and make the College Football Playoff?

If sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen can cut down on the turnovers in 2016, he has what it takes to be the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year. Rosen started all 13 games for the Bruins last year and he has the potential to be a very special player. Senior outside linebacker Jayon Brown is a solid tackler and the Bruins defense as a whole can get after opponents as they registered 28 sacks in 2015.

Under Mora, the Bruins don’t shy away from playing big teams from power conferences as they will begin the season on the road against the Texas A&M Aggies, while their Pac-12 slate includes road games against the Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington State Cougars.

12. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Although that the 2015 college football season didn’t end in the fashion that the Oklahoma State Cowboys would have liked, this a team that still has high hopes. The Cowboys won their first 10 games in 2015 before things fell apart as they lost their final three contests. Defense has never been Oklahoma State’s calling card as they surrendered 151 points in those three losses. But even with that Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy has a squad that will be capable of winning the Big 12 Conference.

Mason Rudolph

Junior quarterback Mason Rudolph has proven that he can sling the football around in Gundy’s wide-open, spread-offense attack. The Cowboys offense doesn’t focus on pounding you with a running attack, but more with a passing game that can spread out opposing defenses and exploit weaknesses. Junior wide receiver James Washington and senior wide receiver Marcell Ateman were first and third respectively in receiving yards last year for the Cowboys and defenses in the Big 12 Conference will once again have their hands full with this duo. All five starting offensive linemen from last year’s team are back for the Cowboys and that continuity up front should give Rudolph ample time to pick apart defenses.

Defensively Oklahoma State was ranked 100th in the nation in total defense last year, and even though that they are returning eight starters on that side of the football, the unit will still be a work in progress.

The Cowboys season will be defined the Bedlam Game on December 3 against the Oklahoma Sooners as the winner of this contest will more than likely not only win the Big 12, but get to the College Football Playoff.

13. Ole Miss Rebels

Don’t look now, but there is a certain buzz around the Mississippi Rebels football program that hasn’t been in Oxford, Mississippi for quite some time. Hugh Freeze is set to begin his fifth season as the Mississippi head football coach and in each year there, the team’s win total has increased. And after showing that they can compete in the Southeastern Conference, the Rebels are ready to show that they have what it takes to be a contender for the College Football Playoff.

Chad Kelly

There’s a growing consensus that senior quarterback Chad Kelly could be the Southeastern Conference’s Player of the Year. If the last name sounds familiar it is that the Rebels quarterback is the nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. But the younger Kelly is writing his own legacy as he might be the finest pocket passer that currently calls the SEC home. Kelly will have to carry the Ole Miss offense this year due to the fact the team lost so much production from last year’s squad which included four offensive linemen and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.

Ole Miss will face one of the toughest schedules in the nation which features games against the Florida State Seminoles of the Atlantic Coast Conference along with conference affairs against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Arkansas Razorbacks, and LSU Tigers.

14. Houston Cougars 

Tom Herman

For Houston Cougars head football coach Tom Herman and his squad, they are out to prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke. The Cougars went 13-1 last season and only a three-point road loss to the Connecticut Huskies prevented them from having an undefeated season. But the Cougars return a ton of talent on both sides of the football as they are seeking to qualify for the College Football Playoff, while also impress the on lookers of the Big 12 Conference for a potential bid to join.

The Cougars have a dynamic play maker at quarterback in senior Greg Ward Jr. Last year Ward accounted for 3,936 yards of total offense for Houston and his name could be thrown around in the Heisman discussion this season. At 6’2″, 200 lbs., senior wide receiver Chance Allen has solid size and he has shown that he can be a go-to-guy for Ward in the red zone during jump ball situations. The Cougars have a young, but experienced offensive line that will be running the show as there are four returning starters from 2015, but none of them are seniors.

Senior outside linebacker Steven Taylor will look to cushion the loss of middle linebacker Elandon Roberts whom Houston lost to graduation as he leads a unit that forced 21 interceptions and had 36 sacks in 2015.

The Cougars will be in the mix to once again win the American Athletic Conference, but they can make a huge statement when they take on the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12 Conference to begin the season as they look to repeat as AAC Champs and potentially get to the College Football Playoff.

15. Baylor Bears 

Hands down the past few years have been the golden era of Baylor Bears football. Four of the last five years have seen Baylor win at least 10 games as they’ve garnered national attention under head football coach Art Briles. But all good things must come to an end as Baylor parted with Briles due to numerous off-the-field situations involving his players with the most notable issue being sexual assault. Briles has been replaced by former Wake Forest Demon Deacons head football coach Jim Grobe who will try to maintain Baylor’s recent success on the football field.

The Bears must replace a ton of production on the offensive side of the football as they lost seven starters from last last year’s team including four starters on the offensive line. Senior quarterback Seth Russell is returning from a neck injury that ended his 2015 college football season abruptly and his right arm along the ability to find junior wide receiver KD Cannon will be important for Baylor’s chances as far as staying in the Big 12 Title hunt.

Baylor was 61st last year in total defense, but they are returning seven starters as defensive coordinator Phil Bennett hopes that his unit will be able to do enough to offset the Bears high-powered offense.

Outside of road games against the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners, the Bears, Big 12 Conference schedule is a favorable one. But a weak non-conference schedule could once again impact Baylor’s chances of making the College Football Playoff.

16. Northwestern Wildcats 

The Northwestern Wildcats will enter the 2016 college football season looking to build off of their surprising success in 2015. Northwestern was able to win 10 games last year, but they are looking to avoid taking a huge step backwards. The Wildcats would also win 10 games in 2012, but they won a combined 10 games over the next two seasons. However this time around Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald could have a team that can contend in the Big Ten West. Fitzgerald doesn’t attempt to mask his philosophy which consists of a solid defense and a strong running game as they are a throwback to old school, smash mouth football in the Big Ten.

Justin Jackson

Last year Northwestern running back Justin Jackson was a menace for opposing defenses to deal with as he gained 1,418 yards on the ground. And this year as a junior, Jackson and his elusiveness will once again be difficult to deal with. The Wildcats have four starters returning on their offensive line which is led by senior center Ian Park who could be an All-Big Ten performer.

Last year Northwestern had the 13th ranked defense in the nation, and with five starters returning on that side of the football, the Wildcats will once again be difficult to deal with. Junior middle linebacker Anthony Walker will be in the conversation to win the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker, while senior cornerback Matthew Harris will be in consideration to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.

The month of October won’t be easy for Fitzgerald and the Wildcats as they’ll have three road games against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, and Ohio State Buckeyes, but they should be hang around in the Big Ten Title conversation.

17. Washington State Cougars 

Mike Leach

As Mike Leach is set to embark on his fifth season as the head football coach of the Washington State Cougars, he is looking to put it together in consecutive years. Under Leach, the Cougars are coming off of their first winning season since 2003 and they are now looking to become a player in the Pac-12 North.

Junior quarterback Luke Falk is coming off of one of the finest seasons in Washington State history as he passed for 4,561 and 38 touchdowns in Leach’s pass happy system. It has taken Leach some time, but he has found the right signal caller in Falk to operate his offense. Along with Falk, the Cougars have senior wide receiver Gabe Marks who could be an All-Pac-12 player this season while also becoming the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards. Washington State also returns three starters on the offensive line as they look to provide blanket protection around Falk and the skill players.

Hercules Mata’afa

Defensively the Cougars have six returning starters from 2015 and they have some play makers in the form of junior middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer, sophomore defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa, and free safety Shalom Luani that can positively impact the game for the Cougars.

The Cougars have to travel to face the Stanford Cardinal, but they get both the Oregon Ducks and Washington Huskies in Pullman which could help them with the Pac-12 North.

18. Oregon Ducks

The Oregon Ducks are hopeful that their strong finish to the 2015 college football season will carry over to this year. The Ducks were able to win seven of their last nine games as head football Mark Helfrich is emerging from the shadow of his predecessor Chip Kelly.

Jeff Lockie

Senior quarterback Jeff Lockie has been real patient as he has been the understudy to both Marcus Mariota and Vernon Adams. But now Lockie can finally show what he can do under center for the Ducks. The Ducks have a player to look out for in the Heisman Trophy race in junior running back Royce Freeman. Last year Freeman rushed for 1,836 yards to go along with 17 touchdowns, and in 2016, he still be one of the fastest players in the nation. If Lockie is able to get the Ducks offense going, he has an array of receivers to get the football to in Oregon’s spread attack which includes senior wide receiver Bralon Addison and junior wide receiver Darren Carrington.

On defense, the Ducks must replace six starters in their front seven, but they will have a ton of experience in the secondary where led by junior Arrion Springs, all four starters will be returning.

As the season progresses, Oregon’s schedule will get tougher which includes road games against the Southern California Trojans and Utah Utes, but the Ducks do have enough firepower to win the the Pac-12 Conference.

19. Michigan State Spartans

The Michigan State Spartans are coming off of their best three-year stretch in school history. The Spartans have won 36 games over the last three seasons to go along with a top ten finish in the Associated Press Poll in each year as well. And although that there has been some talent that has left East Lansing, Michigan State head football coach Mark Dantonio still has a team to be reckoned with.

Tyler O’Connor

Quarterback Tyler O’Connor has bided his time on the bench behind Connor Cook who is now in the National Football League. And as a senior, O’Connor will get his chance to be the starting quarterback for the Spartans. You can expect Dantonio to lean heavily on the running game which will feature sophomore running back LJ Scott who could become a very punishing runner in the mode of former Michigan State running backs Lorenzo White and T.J. Duckett.

The Spartans must replace some talent on the defensive side of the football as they lost six starters from last year’s unit, but led by senior safety Demetrious Cox, the defense should be able to take shape as the season progresses.

Michigan State won’t be able to steamroll through the season like they did when they reached the College Football Playoff last year, but under Dantonio they will once again be a tough out.

20. Pittsburgh Panthers

Pat Narduzzi

Last year the Pittsburgh Panthers overachieved under first-year head football coach Pat Narduzzi as they won eight games for the first time since 2010. But it will be interesting to see if this program will be able to take the next step that has alluded them for more than 30 years.

Narduzzi likes to keep it simple on offense which means ball control and not turning the football over. Last year as a junior, quarterback Nathan Peterman made the most of his chance to be Pitt’s starting quarterback as he threw 20 touchdown passes to just 8 interceptions. As a team the Panthers also averaged 4.8 yards on the ground and you can expect more of the same from them in 2016.

James Conner

After being the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Player of The Year in 2014, running back James Conner was limited to being a spectator for the majority of the 2015 college football season as he underwent cancer treatment. But now Conner is healthy and his return to competition alone should be inspiring to the Panthers program. In Conner’s absence, running back Qadree Ollison stepped up to gain more than 1,200 yards rushing, and going forward this duo should be problems for opposing defenses in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Narduzzi has built his reputation on the defensive side of the football and with an experienced unit which includes eight seniors which is highlighted by senior middle linebacker Matt Galambos, the Pitt defense could resemble some of Narduzzi’s defenses during his time as the defensive coordinator of the Michigan State Spartans.

Pitt’s non-conference schedule won’t be a cakewalk as it includes games against the Penn State Nittany Lions of the Big Ten Conference and the Oklahoma State Cowboys of the Big 12 Conference. But when Atlantic Coast Conference plays begins, the Panthers will be staring down the barrel of some daunting road affairs against the North Carolina Tar Heels, Miami Hurricanes, and Clemson Tigers as all three teams with be in the hunt to take the conference’s crown.

21. Georgia Bulldogs

This college football season will have a different feel for the Georgia Bulldogs as for the first time since 2000, Mark Richt will not be the head football coach in Athens. Kirby Smart has spent the last eight years as the defensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide where he helped the school win four national titles while also sending a bevy of talent on that side of the football to the National Football League. Now Smart is returning to his alma mater in the hopes of adding to what Richt has accomplished by taking Georgia’s program to the next level.

Nick Chubb

I expect Georgia to continue pounding the football which means that you can expect a healthy dose of a pair of junior running backs in Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. Both Chubb and Michel are explosive running backs that are always one play away from going the distance. In front of Chubb and Michel, the Bulldogs will only have two starters returning on the offensive line, but one of those is junior left tackle Isaiah Wynn who will look to anchor the offensive line.

On defense for Georgia, there will be some inexperience in the front seven, but there is a very experienced secondary in Athens which includes junior safety Dominick Sanders who will be in the mix to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.

A road game against the Mississippi Rebels along with their annual meeting in Jacksonville against the Florida Gators will be the determining factor into whether or not that Smart will be able to get the Dawgs to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

22. Temple Owls

It’s a new day for Temple Owls football as they are being at looked as a team that can win the American Athletic Conference while finishing the season ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 1979. Matt Rhule is in his fourth year as Temple’s head football coach, and he is steadily developing a program that will make the folks in Philadelphia very proud.

P.J. Walker

Senior quarterback P.J. Walker has been Temple’s starting quarterback in each of the last three seasons and he has developing into one of the better quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference. Senior running back Jahad Thomas is a work horse for Rhule who only gets stronger as the game goes on. Temple has a ton of experience on their offensive line which includes four returning starters from 2015. Of those four starters, the Owls have a pair of senior in left tackle Dion Dawkins and center Brendan McGowan who’s experience should pay dividends for Temple’s offense.

Last year Temple was ranked 20th in the nation in total defense and with seven starters returning on the side of the ball, they can once again be stingy. Senior middle linebacker Jarred Alwan has solid range and he has the potential to carry the Owls defense while being one of the best linebackers in the American Athletic Conference.

Temple is no longer Philadelphia’s little secret and they could be in line to win their first conference title since 1967.

23. Arizona Wildcats

In 2015, the Arizona Wildcats were unable to live up to their preseason expectations as they stumbled to a record of 7-6, which included losing four out of their last six contests. But for Arizona head football coach Rich Rodriguez, you can expect his team to take a turn for the better this year in Tucson.

Anu Solomon

After a stellar freshman campaign in 2014, quarterback Anu Solomon took a step backwards last year which was a microcosm of the Wildcats team. But there is a ton of talent returning on the offensive side of the football around Solomon which includes three starters on the offensive line, and junior running back Nick Wilson.

For the Wildcats to have a legitimate shot to win the Pac-12 Conference in 2016, they will need a much more spirited effort on defense. Last year the Wildcats were 115th in the nation in total defense as they had ten games in which they surrendered at least 30 points. Arizona does return six defensive starters, but for first-year defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, he is hopeful to find some impact players.

Arizona has a favorable non-conference schedule, but things will get tougher in October with consecutive road games against the UCLA Bruins and Utah Utes as the Wildcats will have their hands full as far as winning the Pac-12 South for the second time in the last three years.

24. Stanford Cardinal

The Stanford Cardinal might not get the respect that they deserve nationally, but this is a program that has become the class of the Pac-12 Conference. Five of the last six college football seasons have ended with Stanford finishing no lower than 11th in the final Associated Press Poll which included being third last year after their dominating Rose Bowl victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

But it won’t be as easy for Stanford to win the Pac-12 this time around as they have to replace a plethora of talent. The Cardinal lost eight starters on offensive line which includes four offensive linemen and quarterback Kevin Hogan who was a four-year starter. However the Cardinals still have Mr. Versatility in junior running back Christian McCaffrey. Last year McCaffrey set an NCAA single-season record with 3,864 all-purpose yards as he was named the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Year. McCaffrey is an early favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and if he is able to keep Stanford among the upper echelon teams in the nation, he could put to bed the “East Coast bias” that has been a stigma with the Heisman voting.

Like their offense, the Cardinal defense must replace a wealth of talent as five starters from last year’s unit graduated. But the cupboard hasn’t been bare for some time at Palo Alto as senior linebackers Kevin Palma and Peter Kalambayi will look to step up and fill voids.

David Shaw

Under head football coach David Shaw, Stanford never has a cupcake schedule which is once again the case this year as their non-conference schedule includes games against the Kansas State Wildcats of the Big 12 Conference and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish along with a brutal conference slate that will see them get it on with the USC Trojans, UCLA Bruins, Washington Huskies, and Oregon Ducks.

25. North Carolina Tar Heels

Larry Fedora

In just four years as the head football coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, Larry Fedora has built his program into a power within the Atlantic Coast Conference. Last year Fedora led North Carolina to 11 wins which tied a school record. The Tar Heels won the Coastal Division of the ACC for the first time in school history, and as the 2016 college football season is set to begin, Fedora is looking to build off of that success.

 

After spending the last two years as the understudy to quarterback Marquise Williams, junior Mitch Trubisky is ready for his opportunity to be North Carolina’s starting quarterback. But whereas Trubisky might be inexperienced as Carolina’s starting quarterback, he has plenty of talent around him. The Heels have three returning starters on the offensive line which included both offensive tackles in seniors Bentley Spain and Jon Heck. The Tar Heels have two senior wide receivers in Bug Howard and Ryan Switzer that Trubisky can lean on to make plays. However the engine for North Carolina’s offense is junior running back Elijah Hood.

Elijah Hood

Last year Hood rushed for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he was overshadowed in the Atlantic Coast Conference by the play of Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson and Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook. But make no mistake about it that Hood is a play maker who will be in the running to be the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year.

The Tar Heels have seven starters returning on defense as their pass rush will be anchored by senior defensive end Mikey Bart. The Heels also have experience in their secondary with no player being more vital to their success than junior cornerback M.J. Stewart who is one of the top corners in the nation.

As Fedora is attempting to build North Carolina’s brand, he and his program will have a golden opportunity to win a showcase game to begin the season when they travel to face the Georgia Bulldogs of the Southeastern Conference at the Georgia Dome on September 3, while they also have road games within the Atlantic Coast Conference against the Florida State Seminoles, Miami Hurricanes, and Duke Blue Devils.

In the mix-Western Michigan Broncos, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Northern Illinois Huskies, Boise State Broncos

Sources: Sports-reference.com, Ourlads.com, Cfbstats.com

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The Return Of The Running Back?

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It’s safe to say that the National Football League has diminished the value of having a quality running back. This decade has only see nine running backs selected in the first round of the NFL Draft while this past season only produced seven running backs that gained at least 1,000 yards on the ground. The NFL has become more of a passing league where teams have diminished the role of the running back. More teams are going to running back tandems in order to keep their backs fresh as the physical riggers of the game can be grueling on the position. This off-season has already seen running back Marshawn Lynch retire. Lynch is only 29-years of age, but he apparently had enough of the physical pounding that comes with playing the position. But as Lynch decided to retire, the running back position in the NFL is still defined by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson who is the current gold standard for the position and Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley who is the reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year. But there could be some help on the way from the collegiate ranks to make the running back position once again the glamour position in the NFL.

The past college football season saw 66 players gain at least 1,000 yards rushing at the Football Bowl Subdivision level and some of these guys are expected to be headliners once again in 2016. Last year saw Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry win the Heisman Trophy and for the first time since 1999, we could see a running back win the Heisman in consecutive years.

Christian McCaffrey-Stanford

This past season saw Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey finish second to Henry in the Heisman voting. McCaffrey gained 2,019 yards on the ground while setting a new NCAA single-season record for all-purpose yards with 3,864. There was a growing consensus about the “West Coast” bias when it came to McCaffrey not winning the award, and he gave the nation an opportunity to see what he was about in last month’s Rose Bowl victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes where he set a Rose Bowl record for total offense with 368 yards. McCaffrey will return to Stanford for his junior year, and if it were not for the National Football League rules which require a player to be out of high school for at least three in order to get drafted, he would be a first-round pick this April. But McCafrrey’s loss in college football’s gain as he will be displaying his skills for free for another year.

Leonard Fournette-LSU

Whereas McCaffrey stepped onto the college football scene as a relative unknown, the same could not be said about LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette came to LSU as a highly touted recruit. Last year Fournette had three consecutive games in which he rushed for at least 200 yards which paved the way for him gaining 1,953 rushing yards to go along with 22 touchdowns on the ground. Like McCaffrey, Fournette has been done in by the rules of the National Football League as he must return to college for his junior year before becoming eligible to be drafted next year. At 6’1″, 230 lbs., Fournette is a load and I feel sorry for any defenders that have to tackle him.

Dalvin Cook-Florida State

Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook is another back that has his sights set on the National Football League in 2017. Like McCaffrey, and Fournette, Cook will be a junior heading into the 2016 college football season and he is the real deal. Cook was a product of Miami Central High School which has produced NFL talent such as Bruce Armstrong and Willis McGahee. As a freshman at Florida State, Cook ran for 1,008 yards and he was also the MVP of the Atlantic Coast Conference Title Game. This past season Cook rushed for 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns and heading into 2016, he will look to reach the 2000-yard mark in rushing.

Semaje Perine-Oklahoma

As a true freshman in 2014, it didn’t take running back Samaje Perine that long to make an impact for the Oklahoma Sooners. In Perine’s first collegiate game, he rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries and he was just getting warmed up. Before 2014 ended, Perine set a new single-game Football Bowl Subdivision record with 427 rushing yards against the Kansas Jayhawks as he was named as the Big 12 Conference’s Rookie of the Year. This past season, Perine ran for 1,713 yards in helping Oklahoma win the Big 12 and advance to the College Football Playoff.

Perine’s running ability will translate to the next level due to the fact that at 5’11”, he runs very low to the ground and he has very thick legs as he tips the scales at 237 lbs.

Royce Freeman-Oregon

Another potential junior that will garner interest from the National Football League next year is Oregon Ducks running back Royce Freeman. Make no mistake about it that Freeman is a burner and he is tailor-made for the spread-offense attack of the Ducks. Freeman will be an early favorite to be the Pac-12 Conference’s Player of the Year as there are not that many defenders around in the nation that can catch him when he gets a full head of steam.

Wayne Gallman-Clemson

Unlike the other running backs so far, Clemson Tigers running back Wayne Gallman had the opportunity to leave school this year. Heading into the 2016 college football season, Gallman will be a redshirt junior, but he is returning to school as he is looking to help Clemson win their first national title since 1981.

Last year Gallman exploded for 1,527 rushing yards as he was intrical in helping the Tigers play for the national championship. This year all eyes in the Atlantic Coast Conference will be on Gallman and Clemson, but another strong performance will have the scouts of the National Football League focused on him.

Elijah Hood-North Carolina

Last year saw the North Carolina Tar Heels win 11 games for the first time since 1997 along with making their first trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference Title Game with a big part of the team’s success being running back Elijah Hood. As a sophomore in 2015, Hood ran for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns, but he was overshadowed within the ACC by Cook and Gallman. However if Hood can lead the Tar Heels to the ACC Title in 2016, everyone will know who he is.

The Tennessee Volunteers are coming off of their best season since 2007 and heading into the 2016 college football season, they will be a trendy pick to win the Southeastern Conference. A big part of the Volunteers re-emergence can be traced to running back Jalen Hurd. At 6’4″, 240 lbs., it is safe to say that Hurd is a load as he gained 1,288 on the ground last year. And as a junior in 2016, a 1,500-yard season by Hurd should symbolize a solid season for the Vols. Due to Hurd’s size, defenders tend to tackle him low, but he is agile, and he can be a solid short yardage back at the next level.

And once you factor in the talent of New Mexico State Aggies sophomore Larry Rose III , Wyoming Cowboys sophomore Brian Hill, Georgia Southern Panthers junior Matt Brieda, Northwestern Wildcats sophomore Justin Jackson, and South Florida Bulls sophomore Marlon Mack, the running back position will be loaded heading into the 2016 college football season with all of these players expected to make National Football League rosters in 2017 as we could see a return to the ground attack as opposed to doing everything by air.

Source: Sports-reference.com

 

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Fournette And Everyone Else

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Leonard Fournette

Coming out of high school, running back Leonard Fournette had his choice of the top college football programs in the nation to be a part of. Fournette is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana and he decided on playing football for the LSU Tigers in nearby Baton Rogue, Louisiana as he spurned offers from the likes of the Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fournette came to LSU in 2014 as the top recruit in the nation and with him he brought big expectations. It is typically tough for highly touted recruits to come in and live up to the hype that has been thrust upon them; especially in this era that has been dominated by social media. But fortunately for LSU, Fournette hasn’t fallen into that category.

Last year in Fournette’s collegiate debut, he was held to just 18 yards on 8 carries by the Wisconsin Badgers. But in Fournette’s second collegiate game, he was able to rush for 92 yards against a lesser opponent in the Sam Houston State Bearkats. And by the time that LSU was ready to begin conference play in the Southeastern Conference, Fournette was ready for it when he made his presence felt in the Tigers 30-27 victory over the Florida Gators as he rushed for 140 and a pair of touchdowns. Fournette was putting together big games here and there, but he was finally able to put it altogether as he gained 146 yards on the ground in the regular season finale against the Texas A&M Aggies and he followed it up with 143 more against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Music City Bowl as in just a matter of months, he had become a household name.

Fournette came into 2015 on the Southeastern Conference’s all-conference team and he has not disappointed so far. In three games this year, Fournette has gained 661 yards on the ground with 8 touchdowns and he is doing this against defenses that are geared to stop him. On September 12, Fournette went for 159 yards and 3 touchdowns in LSU’s victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The following week Fournette would torch Auburn for 228 yards and a trio of touchdowns. And this past Saturday against the Syracuse Orange, Fournette was once again a runaway freight train as he totaled 244 yards on the ground to go along with a pair of touchdowns. And Fournette is doing all of this in an LSU offense that doesn’t have the much help from their passing game as they are 124th in the nation in that category.

At 6’1″, 230 lbs., Fournette is a powerful runner and what makes it worse is that he has the speed of a sprinter. Fournette is extremely powerful and it takes a committee of defenders to bring him down. Fournette is a very imposing runner as he is drawing comparison’s to current Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as during his time at the University of Oklahoma which has carried over into the National Football League, he possesses some of the same skills that we are currently seeing from Fournette.

The only thing that is slowing Fournette down right about now is the National Football League as their rules require that a player must be out of high school for at least three years in order to become eligible for the draft and he clearly has the skills to play on Sunday. Fournette has another year to go in order to become eligible for the NFL Draft as he is only a sophomore and for the youngster’s sake, you hope that he’ll be able to stay healthy until then.

But for LSU head football coach Les Miles, he is an old-school coach that believes in running the football and playing a physical and aggressive game which fits Fournette’s style to a tee. And Fournette is the best feature back that Miles has ever had in Baton Rogue which makes it a marriage made in heaven. Fournette will look to continue surviving the riggers of the SEC this fall and at the rate that he is going in 2015, he’ll look to become the first LSU player since Billy Cannon in 1959 to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top football player.

Source: Cfbstats.com

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