Fantasy Gunslinger

Football with an Emphasis on Fantasy & Gambling

2018 AFC SOUTH PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

The AFC South accomplished a first last season when Jacksonville won the division as the Jaguars had never won an AFC South division title since the 8-division format was introduced in 2002! The Jaguars just didn’t make a splash in their own division, they went on to win 2 playoff games which included a win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh culminating in a disappointing 24-20 loss to the Patriots in New England for the right to play in the Super Bowl! A couple of themes really standout in the South heading into 2018.

The first is the play of the QBs. There is an issue surrounding every single QB in the division and that is different than every other division in the NFL. In Jacksonville, Blake Bortles had a solid year and acquitted himself well in the playoffs. There is some thought that last year’s postseason could have been a turning point for Bortles and the former UCF player can build upon that success. Others believe that Bortles will keep on being Blake Bortles and that Jacksonville will never realize their Super Bowl dreams with such a weak link under center even though the Jaguars have arguably the most talented team in the NFL. Tennessee is battling the same issues with Marcus  Mariota. The Titans as constructed are a team that is built to go deep into the playoffs and potentially win the AFC Championship, but Mariota posted a TD:INT ratio last season of 13:15! Can a team in this day & age really win a Super Bowl with a QB who throws more picks than TDs? Houston is hoping 2nd year QB Deshaun Watson can return from an ACL injury and be the player he was before that injury. The Texans averaged 30+PPG with Watson under center & looked like the most explosive team in the NFL. In Indianapolis, Hoosiers are waiting with bated breath to see if Andrew Luck can return after 2-years of injuries plaguing his ability & re-establish the franchise as the kings of the AFC South in much the same way Peyton Manning did.

Luck’s injury underscores the 2nd theme of the South. There is quite a bit of thought that Colts owner Jim Irsay squandered Peyton Manning’s career with his coaching hires/GM moves. It’s hard to argue that Tony Dungy wasn’t a good coach or that Bill Polian wasn’t a good GM, but Manning winning just one Super Bowl? That’s criminal at the very least. Things seems to be repeating themselves with the career of Andrew Luck. Luck led the Colts to 3 straight playoff appearances in his first 3 seasons, but the Colts have yet to return. If Luck’s new baseline ability is his 2016 season then he immediately puts himself into the equation for best QB in the NFL, but can the Colts surround him with enough talent to capitalize on that? The AFC South is the best division in the AFC and you can make an argument it’s the best division in the NFL. Luck is 29 years old this season and I can’t see the Colts competing. At best Indianapolis can make a playoff push in 2019 when Luck is 30, but if the rebuild takes 2-3 years then the next time Luck could make a run at a Super Bowl is when he’s 31-32. That’s certainly not the end of the road, but you have to wonder if Indianapolis is squandering the career of yet another historically great QB? Has a franchise ever did this to two QBs????

The South should have 3 teams making a big push for a playoff spot & I’d say there is a greater chance of that happening than it not. That will make for an exciting year in what I believe will be the best division in the NFL.

# TEAM AFC SOUTH
1 Computer Hope Jacksonville completed the “worst to first” last season by going 3-13 in 2016 & following it up with a 10-6 division title in 2017. The Jags then put 40+ on the Steelers in Pittsburgh & can argue they should have beaten the Patriots in the AFC Championship game! Figuring out how to win was huge for the Jaguars & they’ll get even better in 2018. Grabbing Taven Bryan & Ronnie Harrison in the draft only makes arguably the best defense in the NFL even better. A lot of people are expecting Blake Bortles to take a step back from his 2017 season which could spell disaster but I think his playoff success will carry over. Jacksonville wins BIG!
2 Computer Hope There is quite a bit of hype surrounding the Texans this year & for good reason. QB Deshaun Watson was 3-3 as a starter with Houston averaging 34.7PPG with Watson starting. The defense gets a healthy JJ Watt back so you have to think a Texans offense scoring 35PPG is going to be nearly unbeatable! Watson & Watt weren’t the only ones with injuries either. WR Will Fuller missed time & rookie WR Keke Coutee should make an immediate impact. Houston still has issues with their O-Line & secondary, but a healthy Watson & effective Lamar Miller should help the O-Line & Watt should help the DBs. A weak schedule will really help!
3 Computer Hope Tennessee is ready to make significant noise with a solid NFL roster that is more than capable of not only making the playoffs, but winning a couple of games. I love what the Titans did in the draft picking up DE Harold Landry & LB Rashaan Evans to fortify the defense. Those were excellent picks. I also love adding Dion Lewis to the mix as he was an extremely skilled back for the Patriots. However, everyone knows the Titans are going to go as far as QB Marcus Mariota takes them. Mariota is coming off a terrible year, but looked good in the playoffs when he was able to run around a bit. Will new HC Mike Vrabel let Mariota be Mariota?
4 Computer Hope The Colts will be an interesting case study this season as to the value of Andrew Luck. Indianapolis was 4-12 last season & the roster hasn’t improved all that much. Does Luck put them at 8-9 wins by himself? One thing a lot of people talk about regarding the ’17 Colts is how many halftime & 4th quarter leads the team gave up. That’s true for sure. Chuck Pagano & his staff were arguably the worst coaches in the NFL last season, but looking at ’17 in a vacuum is a mistake. It’s impossible to know how many wins Indy will rack up this year, but it’s also impossible to see them better than last place in a brutal AFC South. Can they win 5-6?
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August 12, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 AFC WEST PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

It’s difficult to come up with a theme for the AFC West because there has been so much change associated with the division when you really dive in. As the starting QB for the Kansas Chiefs, Alex Smith compiled a 53-27 record including back-to-back division titles, but KC went 1-4 in the playoffs and Patrick Mahomes was drafted & now Smith is playing for the Redskins!

John Fox won 4 straight division titles as HC of the Broncos compiling a 58-22 record, but Denver didn’t think he could win them a Super Bowl so Fox was out and Gary Kubiak (who had a less than stellar track record as the HC of the Houston Texans) was in. Denver would go on to win the 2015 Super Bowl & Kubiak would leave after the 2016 season.

Jack Del Rio went 12-4 in 2016, but injuries hit Oakland hard in 2017 and the Silver & Black fell to 6-10. Del Rio was out and Jon Gruden returned to the Oakland sideline after a significant coaching hiatus.

Mike McCoy had some terrible luck both on the field in close games along with injuries which lead the Chargers to go 9-23 in 2015 & 2016 and McCoy was let go even after going 9-7 in each of his first two years. Anthony Lynn was brought in to replace McCoy and the Chargers get a bit more lucky and stave off an abundance of injuries & the Bolts go……9-7!

Staying the the Chargers, Norv Turner had a great first three years in San Diego going 32-16 and winning the West in all three seasons, but his next 3 years produced a 24-24 record & Turner was sent packing.

Possibly the most egregious change in the AFC West happened after the 2006 season when the Chargers let HC Marty Schottenheimer despite San Diego going 14-2 which was the best record in the NFL! San Diego would lose their divisional game 24-21 to the New England Patriots and that was all she wrote for Schottenheimer!

I think 2018 belongs to the Chargers. Regression can sometimes work in your favor if bad luck has followed you around like the plague. That should be the case for LA as Lady Luck is past overdue to shine on the Bolts. The entire division should be interesting as Denver tries to bounce back, Jon Gruden returns to the sidelines & Kansas City break in a new QB, but the Chargers should finally cash in on their immense potential.

What can be for certain in the AFC West is regardless of outcome, we should see some changes next off-season!

# TEAM AFC WEST
1 Computer Hope The Chargers were arguably the hottest team in the NFL down the stretch last year going 6-1 in their last 7 games. If not for their horrible 0-4 start, LA would have won the West & would have been the team NOBODY wanted to play in January. The AFC won’t get the benefit of a Chargers slow start this year. The offense is going to be even better adding Mike Pouncy & DeForest Lamp to the O-Line. I think WR Mike Williams also has a big year. The defense is outstanding & it’s hard to believe S Derwin James fell into their lap in the draft. Losing Hunter Henry hurts, but the Chargers should be the AFC favorites to get to the Super Bowl.
2 Computer Hope The Broncos should be in line for a huge bounce back season after a rough 5-11 campaign in 2017. Denver essentially played without a QB last year & if Case Keenum can come close to replicating his ’17 season with the Vikings, Denver’s offense will improve dramatically. Royce Freeman should be a big addition & WRs Courtland Sutton & DaeSean Hamilton will give the Broncos plenty of weapons at the skill positions. The defense got a HUGE upgrade with drafting DE Bradley Chubb, but I think LB Josey Jewell will also make an impact going forward. The defense is championship ready. If the offense follows, they’ll be playoff threats.
3 Computer Hope CHUCKY’S BACK!!!! The Raiders aren’t coming off a great season at 6-10, but they’ll need some younger players to really step up. Amari Cooper had an off year last season & the Raiders are hoping the additions of Jordy Nelson & Martavis Bryant can jump start the passing attack & give Derek Carr some weapons. The Raiders also doubled down on their defense by drafting Arden Key, Maurice Hurst & PJ Hill. Even Gareon Conley is basically a rookie after only playing in 2 games last year. The Raiders should be about balance. They need their secondary to get better defending the pass & they need to get better passing. Will they?
4 Computer Hope During his time in Kansas City, HC Andy Reid has won the AFC West twice and finished 2nd three times. His record with the Chiefs is 53-27 over those 5 seasons & he’s won double-digit games in four of those years. Unfortunately for Coach Reid, the Chiefs are going to regress a bit. The Chiefs have gone all in on QB Patrick Mahomes, but I think most people don’t realize what an advantage KC had with Alex Smith’s ability to not turn the ball over. Mahomes is going to make his share of mistakes & while KC’s skill players are ridiculously good, the defense might not be good enough to overcome new QB errors. It’ll be fun, but wins will be few.

August 7, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 NFC EAST PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

The NFC East has been arguably the most volatile division in the NFL for quite some time. Seemingly every year we have a worst to first occurrence, which is an amazing contrast to some of the dominance we’ve seen in recent seasons by New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, New Orleans, Atlanta & Seattle. While every division has been owned to a degree by a particular team (especially the Patriots owning the AFC East!), the NFC East is a stark contrast in that every team seemingly has a chance to win the division.

The 2004 Eagles finished 1st & then last in 2005. The 2006 Eagles finished first and then finished last against in 2007!
The 2011 Redskins finished last in 2011, 1st in 2012, then last in 2013 & 2014 before finishing 1st in 2015!
The Cowboys finished 1st in 2014 and then bottomed out in 2015 before finishing 1st again in 2016!
The Eagles finished last in 2012 before winning the division in 2013.
The Eagles also finished last in 2016 before winning the division and the Super Bowl in 2017!

Since the beginning of the 8-division format in 2002, the only time the NFC East has seen a repeat division winner was from 2002-2004 when the Donovan McNabb/Andy Reid Eagles won the East three consecutive years. Unfortunately for Dallas, New York and Washington, the Eagles look poised to go on another dominant run atop the division. I don’t think there is a chance for the Giants to make a “worst to first” comeback in 2018 as Philadelphia once again easily has the best roster of any team in the division and possibly any team in all of football. The conventional wisdom is that Super Bowl winners sometimes have a let down the season after because they are the hunted rather than the hunter, but I don’t see that happening.

That leaves the rest of the division in limbo. The Cowboys are entering a new phase of their passing offense without Dez Bryant & Jason Witten.  Can Sean Lee stay healthy for an entire season to fortify the defense? What plagues the Cowboys most of all could very well be distractions either on the field or off the field. The Giants are banking on one last hurrah from Eli Manning by getting healthy at receiver & drafting Saquon Barkley. The Redskins made a change at QB going from Kirk Cousins to Alex Smith, but they also hopefully improved their running game through the draft with Derrius Guice. Can the defense stay healthy & effective? I like the Redskins the most between them, Dallas and New York, but there are certainly avenues for each team to compete for the Wild Card. While the Eagles are the hands down favorites to win the division, the other 3 teams should be in the Wild Card hunt.

# TEAM NFC EAST
1 Computer Hope I’m not sure there has been a recent team outside of New England more likely to repeat as Super Bowl champions than the Eagles. There wasn’t a weakness to this team last season except possibly the secondary but with Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones 100% this season, Philly looks to make their only weakness a strength. You might believe there could be a Super Bowl hangover for the Eagles, but listening to Jason Kelce’s parade speech or realizing that Carson Wentz did play in the Super Bowl should put that notion to rest. The Eagles might actually be the first Super Bowl champion with a huge chip on their shoulders.
2 Computer Hope Alex Smith has been an underrated QB his entire career and this Redskins team is flying a little too below the radar. Derrius Guice gives the Redskins their first true 3-down back since Clinton Portis left town. He’ll immediately make the offense better. Smith doesn’t turn the ball over so the Skins can look forward to winning the TO battle. Adding Paul Richardson is going to help things at receiver as well. Defensively Ryan Kerrigan is the biggest defensive superstar you’ve never heard of. I think pairing 1st round pick Da’Ron Payne with a healthy Jonathan Allen is going to improve the interior D-line significantly. The Hogs are back!
3 Computer Hope The Cowboys have the feel of a team that needs to be blown up. There is simply too much drama surrounding the team. Whether it’s Dez Bryant being let go, or Ezekiel Elliott missing time, or Jason Garrett being on the hot seat or questions regarding whether or not Dak Prescott can lead the Cowboys to the promised land, are they going to trade for Earl Thomas, there are questions lurking around every corner. It’s impossible to understand where Jerry Jones is going with this team, but whether or not Jerry or Jimmy Johnson deserves credit, Jimmy built 3 Super Bowl teams & Jerry hasn’t. He hasn’t built one either in 2018.
4 Computer Hope The Giants don’t deserve to finish in last, but they play the toughest schedule by far of any other team in the NFC East, and the other teams are far too good to imagine New York going from 3-13 in 2017 to being exceptionally competitive in 2018. The Giants went all in on Saquon Barkley, drafting the Penn St. RB with the #2 overall pick & forgoing an opportunity to grab their QB of the future. New York is hoping that Eli Manning still has some magic with Barkley, an improved O-Line and receivers that are actually healthy this season! The Giants will be MUCH BETTER this year, but so is the division & that makes all the difference.

August 7, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 NFC NORTH PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

Since the implementation of the current 8-division format in 2002, the NFC North has never had a season in which all four franchises were capable of making the playoffs with very good football teams. The closest the division came might have been 2007 when Green Bay won the division at 13-3 with Minnesota finishing 8-8 while the Bears & Lions brought up the rear at 7-9. A better example might be 2012 when Green Bay won the division at 11-5 while the Vikings & Bears finished a game behind at 10-6, but Detroit was dreadful in 2012 finishing 4-12. In either case, while there was hint of competitiveness between all the teams in the division, all 4 teams weren’t equally relevant.

That is going to change in 2018. The Vikings finished 13-3 last season and look to be even tougher with a new QB, a healthy Dalvin Cook and a couple of new faces on defense. Green Bay will be in the thick of things because of a healthy offensive line and a healthy Aaron Rodgers. But where the division gets interesting is in the back end with Detroit & Chicago. The Lions shouldn’t be too surprising as they finished the year 9-7 going 6-3 in their last 9, but that type of improvement didn’t save Jim Caldwell his job & the Lions made a change by hiring former Patriots DC Matt Patricia. Patricia should improve the defense & Detroit wasn’t lacking for explosiveness on offense. Even more dramatic changes occurred in Chicago! The Bears let go of HC John Fox in favor of former Chiefs OC Matt Nagy & began to completely revamp the receiving corps.

All things considered, Chicago & Detroit are still a bit further behind Minnesota & Green Bay, but the distance isn’t as much as it appears especially if Mitch Trubisky improves in Year 2. Gone are the 3-13 Bears or the 0-16 Lions. While Chicago and Detroit won’t challenge the Vikings for NFC North supremacy, there won’t be any blowouts either. All 4 teams are going to bring heat every week which sets up 2018 as the best year ever for the NFC North.

# TEAM NFC NORTH
1 Computer Hope Regardless of how good of a year Case Keenum had last season, Kirk Cousins is an upgrade at QB for the Vikings. And yes, Minnesota was decent at running the football last season, but a full season of Dalvin Cook will completely transform the offense. The Vikings already had the #1 defense in the NFL according to points allowed & they added DT Sheldon Richardson & used their 1st round pick from the ’18 draft on CB Mike Hughes. The Vikings are a SCARY good team with no weaknesses save possibly the O-Line. The 38-7 beating in the NFC Championship proves Mike Zimmer & his staff need to do a better job, but this team is loaded.
2 Computer Hope We saw last year just how much Aaron Rodgers means to the Packers. With him back 100% healthy, Green Bay is back in the playoff hunt. The Packers offense should be better as well at the other positions. Grabbing TE Jimmy Graham gives Rodgers an incredible red zone threat & I’m high on Ty Montgomery being the answer at RB with plenty of depth. The loss of Jake Ryan hurts a bit, but the defense should be better with Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Dean Lowry & Muhammad Wilkerson clogging up the middle. GB’s secondary needs to get better, but has some potential. An easier schedule should have Green Bay in the wild card hunt.
3 Computer Hope It’s amazing the transformation the Bears offense has undergone this offseason! Last year the Bears had nothing for Mitch Trubisky to throw to & now the receiving corps features Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton & Anthony Miller not to mention Jordan Howard & Tariq Cohen coming back at RB. The O-Line is underrated & Trubisky seems poised for solid improvement in his 2nd year. HC Matt Nagy made it a priority to keep DC Vic Fangio & then gave Fangio a new toy in LB Roquan Smith. The Bears also signed DE Aaron Lynch who Fangio will get the most out of. An improved offense & defense make for an exciting season.
4 Computer Hope The problem with the NFC North is that you have to pick a team to finish in last place and unfortunately the Lions drew the short straw. Detroit plays the toughest schedule of anyone in the North with arguably one of the 5 most difficult schedules in the NFL. There isn’t much not to like. New HC Matt Patricia should help a defense that finished 21st a year ago in points allowed. Offensively, Patricia retained OC Jim Bob Cooter who led an offense that ranked 7th! There is a lot to be excited about in Detroit. The D should get better & I think the O-Line & running game will improve as well. If not for the schedule this could be a 2nd place team.

August 5, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PRE-SEASON COACHES POLL Q&A

ESPN did a pretty cool feature asking questions about the pre-season coaches poll. I thought I would replicate it with my own answers.

WHICH TEAM IS RANKED TOO HIGH?

This question implies looking at the top-10 or higher so I’m going to go with Oklahoma. The Sooners are going to be a solid team for sure and I’m not betting against a running attack centered around Rodney Anderson, but something tells me that Oklahoma is going to miss Baker Mayfield MUCH MORE than even Sooners fans expect. It feels as if Kyler Murray has one foot out the door given his opportunities in baseball and either he won’t be as committed to the process as he could be or he uses this as a last hurrah for college football. The other side is that Oklahoma’s schedule is a tough one and I think they finish 3rd in the Big XII behind Texas & TCU with the way their schedule works out. Oklahoma has a great chance to get to double digit wins this season, but being ranked #5 in the pre-season seems too high with where I think they’ll end up.

WHICH TEAM OUTSIDE THE TOP-15 IS MOST LIKELY TO MAKE THE CFP?

Texas. The Longhorns are ranked 21st to open the season, but I have them winning the Big XII. If the Longhorns can get through the season at 13-0, it’ll be impossible for them not to be included in the college football playoff because of name recognition alone. That is probably true as well if Texas finishes 12-1 and Big XII champs although they would be left out if you had undefeated Big 10, SEC, Pac 12 & ACC teams. Given how the schedules stack up, I think Clemson, Washington and the SEC Champion are locks to get into the playoffs because I think Clemson & Washington have schedules that point towards 13-0 seasons. If Texas can get to 13-0/12-1 while a Big 10 team wins their league with a couple of losses, then the Longhorns get in.

WHICH TOP-10 TEAM IS MOST LIKELY TO FINISH THE SEASON UNRANKED?

It has to be Auburn. War Eagle could easily have a top-10 squad but their schedule is nasty. The open the season in Atlanta against Washington and also get road games against Alabama, Georgia & Mississippi State. If you consider those are losses then Auburn at best is 8-4. They also get home games against LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M. One slip up at home could cause Auburn to fall to 7-5 which would assuredly leave them unranked. I’m not as down on Auburn as some of the national pundits seem to be. They need to figure out their offensive line, but the defense looks great and Jarrett Stidham is an excellent quarterback. I think scheduling is what causes Auburn to potentially drop out of the top-25 by season’s end.

WHICH UNRANKED TEAM WILL FINISH THE YEAR IN THE TOP-10?

I think this is a toss-up between Boston College and Utah. I think Utah wins the Pac 12 South by virtue of getting USC in Salt Lake City. The Utes do play Washington out of the North but get them at home. They get Stanford on the road. If Utah can defend home turf then they could finish the season with just one loss, the road game against Stanford. Beating Washington & USC anywhere is no easy task, and Utah hasn’t been that great at home over the last 7 seasons, but Utah needs to make a move this year. Clay Helton is on the verge of putting USC in the top-5 on an annual basis and Chip Kelly is going to make UCLA a national power. If there is a time to put it all on the line, it’s this year for Utah.

Boston College has also has an excellent chance to be a top-10 team by season’s end. Every game on their schedule is winnable except for maybe their home data against Clemson, but the Tigers showed last season they can fall flat on the road with their inexplicable loss to Syracuse. If Clemson comes in to Chestnut Hill not motivated to play, AJ Dillon the Eagles are going to make them pay. BC has road games against Wake Forest, Purdue, NC State, Virginia Tech & Florida State. None of those games will be easy walks, but BC’s running game should dominate the trenches & shorten those games considerably. Everything is there for the Eagles to have an extremely special season.

Two non-Power 5 conference teams to keep an eye on are Florida Atlantic & Boise State. FAU opens up the season in Norman to take on Oklahoma, but the Owls could pull off a stunner if Oklahoma takes them lightly. Florida Atlantic would then have tricky road games against Central Florida and Marshall, but if FAU somehow manages to start the season 7-0, then 13-0 is likely. FAU isn’t going to crash the playoff party even with an unbeaten record, but it could get a New Year’s 6 Bowl and a 13-0 finish would likely see them sneak into that #8-#10 spot. The Owls were 11-3 in 2017 and HC Lane Kiffin believes the 2018 team is better.

Boise St. also has an excellent shot to get to 13-0 if they can find a way to beat Oklahoma St. in Stillwater on September 15th. The Broncos road games after taking on Oklahoma St. come against Nevada, Wyoming, Air Force & New Mexico. Those 4 teams are though to be non-factors in the Mountain West & Boise St. has a home record of 58-5 over the last 10 years! Boise St. went 11-3 last season and they are better this year. QB Brett Rypien & RB Alex Mattison return along with a solid O-Line. The defense returns 10 starters! They do lose LB Leighton Vander Esch who was a 1st Round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in this past NFL Draft, the the unit should be stronger overall with practically the entire unit returning. Boise has a chance at fielding an offense that scores 40PPG and a defense that gives up less than 20. Like any other non-Power 5 school, Boise has almost non chance of getting into the playoffs, but a 13-0 season would certainly get them into the top-10.

POWER 5 CONFERENCE MOST LIKELY TO MISS THE PLAYOFFS?

This wasn’t an original question in the ESPN article, but I think it’s a good one because I think the Big 10 is the answer and the Big 10 will be the best football conference in the nation again this season. The Big 10 East is the best division in college football surpassing the SEC West and that might be part of the problem. A quick look at the road games by the 4 contenders show:

Ohio St.: at Penn St.; at Michigan St.; neutral site against TCU
Michigan: at Notre Dame, at Northwestern, at Michigan St., at Ohio St.
Penn St.: at Michigan
Michigan St.: at Penn St.; at Nebraska
Wisconsin: at Iowa, at Michigan, at Northwestern, at Penn St.
Iowa: at Penn St.

It’s easy to forget that Ohio St. also plays Nebraska. Michigan St. plays Northwestern and also travels to Arizona State. Iowa has to play Iowa St, Northwestern & Nebraska That’s all leaving aside that the conference will take on improving Maryland, Indiana, Purdue & Minnesota squads!

The Big 10 has the best chance of being the conference that has a 2-loss champion much the same way Ohio St. finished 11-2 last year and missed out on the playoffs. Penn St. has the best opportunity but the Nittany Lions are dealing with significant losses on both sides of the football. The talent is certainly there in State College, but that team needs to grow up fast in 4 weeks before Ohio St. comes calling on September 29th.

 

August 5, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 NFC SOUTH PREVIEW & PREDICITIONS

The NFC South is arguably the most competitive division in the NFL. Last season the Saints won the division with an 11-5 record, but both wild card spots also came out of the division with the Panthers grabbing the first wild card spot with an 11-5 record while the Falcons got the sixth seed with a 10-6 mark. Atlanta even went to Los Angeles and defeated the Rams in the Wild Card round before losing at Philadelphia in the divisional round.

Things don’t stand to change much in 2018 with the Falcons and Saints leading the way. The Saints were a fluke TD away from beating the Vikings in the divisional round and the Falcons were leading the Eagles 10-9 at the half of their divisional game. If New Orleans & Atlanta had held on, we could have seen an all NFC South NFC Championship game. In fact, that possibility might be even greater this season than it was in 2017! There is no question that the Saints & Falcons are going to dominate. New Orleans got better this offseason with their acquisitions and draft. The Falcons are going to get much better offensively in Steve Sarkisian’s 2nd year as OC. I don’t think you can go wrong picking either to win the division. This might be a season where the 2nd place South team winds up winning 11-12 games!

The Panthers & Bucs also present interesting narratives. Nobody really wants to admit this about Cam Newton & Jameis Winston, but both players look like decent NFL QBs, but QBs that won’t win Super Bowls. That’s a tough spot to be in because it forces the franchises into somewhat of a QB purgatory. In Carolina’s case, the Panthers haven’t surrounded Newton with enough talent to overcome his own deficiencies. Christian McCaffrey had a great rookie season, but the defense outside of Luke Kuechly & Thomas Davis is below average at best. The O-Line is a mess as is the receiving corps. That’s a lot for Cam Newton to overcome. In Tampa Bay, the Buccaneers have done a good job this offseason upgrading multiple positions, but the Jameis Winston saga is somewhat of a disaster as his career spirals out of control. The NFL is a QB driven league and while Carolina could flirt with a playoff spot this year, I think they miss and decisions will have to be made in both Tampa & Carolina. Some very difficult questions will have to be answered because right now New Orleans & Atlanta are pulling away.

# TEAM NFC SOUTH
1 Computer Hope By some accounts the Falcons didn’t have a great season coming off a Super Bowl loss. On the other hand the team still went 10-6, beat the Rams in the playoffs & should have beaten the Eagles. I think the offense will resemble what it looked like in 2016 under Steve Sarkisian in Year 2. Calvin Ridley is an outstanding addition to the offense & the young defensive players are going to keep getting better and better. There is no noticeably weakness to this team so it’ll be up to the coaching staff to push the right buttons to keep this team motivated. Atlanta has an excellent opportunity to finish what they started in ’16 & win a Lombardi!
2 Computer Hope You can’t really go wrong picking either New Orleans or Atlanta to win the South. The Falcons play an easier schedule so I’m going with the Falcons to win the division, but the Saints are going to be right there & if they don’t win the South they’ll easily be the #5 seed in the NFC. It’s scary to think the Saints got better, but adding in guys like Ben Watson, Patrick Robinson & Marcus Davenport do just that. We all know the window is closing on Drew Brees given his age, but given how deep & talented this roster is, the Saints’ window with Brees is at least 2-3 more years. I don’t think they miss Mark Ingram either. Brees can win his 2nd Lombardi.
3 Computer Hope The Panthers are widely considered to be a potential playoff team, but I can’t see it. I get that people are in love with Cam Newton’s play making ability, but this is a QB who can’t complete 60% of his passes & throws far too many interceptions. Christian McCaffrey had a solid rookie season to be sure, but Newton will need A LOT more & the Panthers neither have a solid O-Line nor a good receiving corps. Defensively Carolina’s pass rush isn’t great and their secondary could turn into a problem. Yes Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly are great players, but they can’t make up for everything. Carolina seems like a fringe playoff team at best in 2018.
4 Computer Hope In some ways you have to like what Tampa Bay has done this offseason. They drafted Ronald Jones who could be a fantastic running back to go with an explosive receiving corps. They drafted Vita Vea to go with Gerald McCoy on the interior D-Line & went out and grabbed Jason Pierre-Paul & Vinny Curry to bolster the pass rush. The secondary is still a complete disaster, but everything else looks ready to go. Except for QB Jameis Winston. Winston is going to start the year missing games due to a suspension & Nike dropped him from sponsorship. He can’t get out of his own way & as a result he & HC Dirk Koetter are goners after ’18.

August 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 NFC WEST PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

There is an awful lot of juice coming out of the NFC West this season. The Rams and 49ers look like a rivalry that could last for the next 10 years featuring Sean McVay & Jared Goff going to war every year against Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo. The Rams pushed all in for this season with their free agent acquisitions while the 49ers are flying as high as any team in the NFL except the Eagles based on how last season ended.

What’s pretty interesting about a Rams/49ers rivalry is that we haven’t really seen it. Since the 8-division era started in 2002, the Rams & 49ers have never really been in a battle for NFC West supremacy. The closest we actually came to the Rams & 49ers battling it out in the West was in 2002 when the 49ers won the division with a 10-6 record while the Rams finished 2nd at 7-9. I’d expect a lot closer battles beginning this season!

The other half of the West is going through transitions. The Cardinals are saying good bye to the Bruce Arians/Carson Palmer era and are welcoming in new HC Steve Wilks and also drafting their QB of the future in Josh Rosen. Sam Bradford could keep the seat warm for Rosen in 2018, but given Bradford’s injury history, it seems likely that Rosen will take the reigns for Arizona sooner rather than later. In Seattle, the Seahawks aren’t exactly in rebuilding mode because Russell Wilson is still suiting up at QB, but they are dealing with quite a bit of roster turnover while Pete Carroll figures out a way to keep the team competitive or risk misusing the prime of Wilson’s career.

Life moves pretty fast in the NFL. That’s a certainty, but if last year is a harbinger for things to come, the Rams/49ers rivalry might be the best rivalry in the NFL for the next 8-10 years. That’s putting a lot of expectations on Goff & Garoppolo, but all signs point towards them being for real. The NFC is absolutely loaded so while the 49ers/Rams feud is going to be outstanding, it’ll also be interesting to see if either team can get over the hump and get to the Super Bowl against a very formidable field. Seattle still has the Carroll/Wilson tandem while the Cardinals have a solid defense. Even with SF & LA being the marquee names in the division for 2018, the ride is going to be a fun for all involved teams.

# TEAM NFC WEST
1 Computer Hope The Rams went 11-5 last season & added in players like Brandin Cooks, Ndamukong Suh, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. HC Sean McVay took a Rams that went 4-12 in 2016 to a 7-win improvement & an NFC West title. Jared Goff & Todd Gurley made huge improvements while Wade Phillips did wonders for the defense. Given the talent acquisition this offseason, the Rams are going all in. Goff could be more efficient & the O-Line could get even better. Defensively LA should be one of the very best units in the NFL making this the team to beat in the NFC. McVay did an excellent job last year. I’d expect a repeat from both McVay & the Rams.
2 Computer Hope You can’t get any better young coaches than Kyle Shanahan & Sean McVay! It’s amazing these two guys ended up in the same division & it’s exciting to think about the 49ers/Rams wars we are going to have moving forward. The 49ers are one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, but they haven’t been good the last 4 years & have come in last place in each of the past 3. It’ll be interesting to see if QB Jimmy Garoppolo can build off the fantastic 5 games he started last year for SF. I really like Jerick McKinnon & George Kittle on offense. I think the D can get better with their pass rush as well. SF should push for a wild card berth.
3 Computer Hope Seattle has lost a lot over the years & the team looks like they are heading towards a bottoming out period. QB Russell Wilson is a solid QB, but the organization hasn’t given him much to work with. Seattle drafted Rashaad Penny with their 1st pick in the ’18 NFL Draft, but it’s an odd pick given his pass catching ability along with Chris Carson’s lack of pass catching. Taking pass catching backs away from the offense seems disastrous. Defensively Seattle is a shell of its former self now with Richard Sherman in SF & Kam Chancellor calling it a career. Pete Carroll loves the underdog role so maybe Seattle beats expectations, but no playoffs.
4 Computer Hope I like Arizona more than Seattle and I think RB David Johnson has enough skill to put a team on his back and carry it to victories, but the Cardinals play the NFL’s toughest schedule, they are welcoming in a new coaching staff and Sam Bradford is likely to get injured which means rookie Josh Rosen could be seeing the majority of the snaps under center! It’s worth noting that the Cardinals were 6-2 in close games & posted a TO margin of -4. Some of that is luck, but a lot of that was due to the coaching greatness of HC Bruce Arians. Steve Wilks might be a solid HC, but Arians was without a doubt outstanding. He’ll be hard to replace.

August 4, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

URBAN MEYER & OHIO STATE: THE FALLOUT

The Urban Meyer scandal at Ohio St. has to be the biggest college football story since the Jerry Sandusky tragedy at Penn State. It’s simply incredible in nature, but what is even more fascinating is the skeletons being dug out of Meyer’s closet. Things that happened at Florida are beginning to come to even more light than ever before & it illustrates a coach who may have been a bit out of control for the last 10 years at two of the most historic programs in college football history, Florida & Ohio State! I don’t want to get into the nuts & bolts of what Meyer has or hasn’t done. You can read about that from the following links that I found relevant:

Ohio State Must Get Ahead of Scandal, Fire Urban Meyer Immediately by Matt Hayes
Brett McMurphy’s Facebook Report of the Scandal
From Champs to Chomped: How Urban Meyer Broke Florida Football by Matt Hayes
As Society has Evolved, Urban Meyer Hasn’t by Andrea Adelson
An Unfair Game: Urban Meyer, A History of Abuse by Stephen Gordon

The articles are downright INSANE especially Brett McMurphy’s reporting. If you have time to read just one of the articles, read McMurphy’s. It’s incredible.

I don’t want to focus on the articles themselves or the Meyer’s scandal specifically. The evidence is convincing and it is reasonable to believe that Meyer knew about assistant coach Zach Smith’s behavior for almost ten years. My wife & I have friends that we are pretty close with and something like this would have certainly been discussed ad nauseam. I can’t imagine the sort of closeness between coaches families at an institution at Ohio State or Florida. Meyer knew and he knew for an extremely long time. Instead, let’s focus on the immediate fall out from an on-field perspective.

WHAT HAPPENS AT OHIO STATE IN 2018?

It doesn’t help that this comes out a month before the season begins! I thought it interesting that neither Kevin Wilson nor Greg Schiano were named interim head coaches for the Buckeyes after Meyer was put on leave. As everyone knows, Wilson faced allegations of player abuse while HC at Indiana and Schiano has been called into question in regards to knowing about the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State in the early 1990s. It’s somewhat amazing, given what Meyer knew about Smith, that he would even take the risk of hiring guys like Wilson & Schiano in the first place.

It’s tough to say how this affects the Buckeyes except as a distraction, but that could be enough to derail a season many thought could end with Ohio St. in the playoffs. A neutral game against TCU along with road games against Penn St. and Michigan St. look extremely daunting know if Meyer isn’t on the sidelines and the distractions growing and growing as Ohio St. drags this out. Not only that, but we still don’t know which coaches will be dragged into this Meyer. Maybe none of them, but you can be sure the coaches will be jumping ship soon enough as well as the players & recruits. It’ll be tough for a program of Ohio St.’s stature to keep momentum going if the coaches have one foot out the door, players are interested in transferring to other schools, and recruits keep either rescinding their commitments to Ohio St., or they pick other schools to attend in the first place when they probably would have chosen Columbus to further their football careers.

Even home games against Michigan, Nebraska, Minnesota & Indiana don’t look like easy lay ups if things get extremely bad on campus. The talent is too good not to think Ohio State will win a lot of games this season, but without Meyer and all the distractions that come with that, it seems impossible to consider Ohio St. legitimate national title contenders. A 10-win season? Possibly. A bowl win? Potentially. A national championship? Very unlikely.

WHAT HAPPENS AT OHIO STATE AFTER 2018?

If Meyer is let go by the university then maybe Florida isn’t a bad place to start looking. After Meyer’s departure, the Gators have finished like this in the following years:

2011: 7-6
2012: 11-2
2013: 4-8
2014: 7-5
2015: 10-4
2016: 9-4
2017: 4-7
TOTAL: 52-36 (.591 or on average a 7-5 season)

RIVALS TEAM RECRUITING RANKINGS

2011: 12th
2012: 3rd
2013: 4th
2014: 8th
2015: 23rd
2016: 14th
2017: 9th
2018: 17th

Will Muschamp kept the good times going from 2012-2014 when it came to recruiting, but Jim McElwain had a more difficult time getting elite level recruits to Gainesville. What should be pointed out is that the situations are similar with Ohio State in that the Buckeyes routinely compete against teams from the SEC for players from Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina and Tennessee, but they also have to compete against Penn St., Michigan St., Michigan and Notre Dame for home grown players in the Midwest. In Florida, the Gators have to compete with Miami-FL, Florida St., Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Tennessee for elite level talent so the situations are similar. There are LOTS of options for regional players both at Florida and in Ohio. This is somewhat true wherever you go in the nation, but I think it especially true in Florida’s and Ohio St.’s cases given the renowned history their competitors possess (see Michigan/Notre Dame for Ohio St.; see Alabama/Georgia/Tennessee/Miami-FL/Florida St. for Florida).

If you are looking at how Florida has fared in the post-Urban Meyer environment then Ohio St. can expect 7-5 seasons with recruiting classes ranked in the 10-20 range. That simply WILL NOT FLY in Columbus! In fact, to find a 7-year span that looks like what Florida has just passed through, Buckeyes fans would have to go back to 1987-1993 when Ohio St. posted a 7-year mark of 51-26-5 (.652 or an 8-4 season) and even then that STILL ISN’T AS BAD AS FLORIDA THE PAST 7 YEARS!!!!

Hiring the right coach could certainly alleviate some of the pressures of losing Meyer, but that sometimes doesn’t go the right way that teams would hope. Even Jim Harbaugh hasn’t been incredible at Michigan yet. Oregon still hasn’t found a replacement for Chip Kelly. USC failed with Lane Kiffin & Steve Sarkisian after Pete Carroll left town. Texas missed after Mack Brown left. LSU hasn’t been happy since Nick Saban was winning title for the Tigers. Florida hasn’t found a replacement for Meyer. Tennessee STILL HASN’T hit after Phil Fulmer left town. Replacing dominant head coaches at marquee programs has never been easy and chances are they won’t be as easy this time around for the Buckeyes who basically went from Jim Tressel to Urban Meyer. You can certainly point to Kirby Smart taking over for Georgia after Mark Richt, but the Bulldogs are the exception and not the rule.

Complicating things further for the Buckeyes could be the sea change at HC after the 2018 season. If Notre Dame goes 7-5 or 6-6, then it’s difficult to imagine the Irish bringing back Brian Kelly for a 10th season of mediocrity. LSU’s Ed Orgeron is also on the hot seat and seeing the Bayou Bengals go 7-5 while Nick Saban racks up another 12-0/11-1 season is going to be hard to stomach and Orgeron might be let go. If Ohio St. is the only big time program needing a HC, the Buckeyes will have their pick of any young and upcoming ambitious coach. If Notre Dame & LSU join the mix, then that changes things for Ohio St. as a new HC could either enter the morass that will be the Ohio St. program or start anew at very respectable programs not marred by scandal in LSU & Notre Dame. And who knows? What if Jim Harbaugh decides he needs to return to the NFL? You could very well wind up having Michigan join this list potentially making the Buckeyes a 4th choice among potential suitors.

Some are already speculating that Iowa St. HC Matt Campbell could succeed Meyer at Ohio State. Campbell was born in Ohio and had done all of his coaching within the state (Bowling Green, Mt. Union & Toledo) until he took the gig with the Cyclones. It would be an incredible coup for the Buckeyes to snag a coach of Campbell’s caliber and if it happens then Ohio St.’s turnaround might not be as dramatic as Florida (assuming the Gators turn it around), but Campbell is likely to have more than one suitor. The pull of home will be huge, but the stink of controversy can also be fairly acrid. Of course other names will be thrown around, but the point is these guys are likely to have other big time programs calling their agents.

Regardless of what happens with other programs/coaches, history would suggest that Ohio St. is in store for some 7-5/8-4 seasons with not as much talent coming through the program.

WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BIG TEN!?

You can’t help but think Michigan St. & Penn St. are celebrating. They both get Ohio St. at home so those games become a lot more winnable this season which puts both the Spartans & Nittany Lions that much closer to a potential Big 10 title and a possible playoff berth. I think Wisconsin benefits as well because it’s unlikely the Badgers face the Buckeyes in the Big 10 championship game. Jim Harbaugh has to feel fairly good as well. Even though the Wolverines travel to Columbus this season, Harbaugh has a better chance at avoiding an 0-4 start against the Buckeyes. Of course, if the Buckeyes do go into the wilderness, the Big 10 East teams stand to benefit greatly by not having a 100% Ohio St. team. The East certainly opens up for Michigan St., Penn St., and Michigan.

Everything also got a lot easier for teams on the recruiting trail. SEC/ACC teams won’t have to worry as much about Ohio St. coming into the their backyard and taking prized recruits. Michigan, Penn St., Michigan & Notre Dame also benefit greatly by having a weakened Ohio St. program recruiting against them for Midwest players. We saw this happen with the rise at Colorado under HC Bill McCartney. The Buffaloes were outstanding during Coach McCartney’s run, but it also must be noted that Texas & USC were going through relatively down periods. With those programs a notch or two down from historical standards, Colorado was able to attract recruits that otherwise might have been in Los Angeles or Austin. The same goes for the situation in the Midwest although it could even be more magnified as programs like Notre Dame, Michigan St., and Michigan are on an entirely different playing level than Colorado.

It’s unclear what the fallout will be for Ohio St., but one thing is clear. Big change is coming and that doesn’t bode well for Buckeyes Nation.

 

August 3, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 NOTRE DAME PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

Notre Dame has two big storylines this season. The first is the fate of HC Chip Kelly. After a 4-8 campaign in 2016, Kelly’s seat was smoking hot yet he returned for 2017 & led the Irish to a 10-3 season which included a 21-17 bowl win over LSU. That was nice, but the last time Kelly led Notre Dame to a 10-3 season, he followed it with a 4-8 year! Sure Kelly got the Irish to a national championship game in 2012, but nobody thought the Irish would put up much of a fight & Alabama showed just how far Notre Dame was from competing with the big boys by destroying the Irish 42-14 on college football’s biggest stage. Ohio St. did much the same in 2015 when they hammered Notre Dame 44-28 in the Fiesta Bowl. Another criticism of Kelly is coaching down the stretch. Since 2013, in their final 4 regular season games, Notre Dame has a record of 8-12. In 2014, the Irish were 7-1 and ranked #6 before losing their last 4 games. In 2015, the Irish were 10-1 before losing their season finale against Stanford & then getting hammered by Ohio State. Last year Notre Dame was 8-1 and ranked #3 before losing 2 of their last 3 games to Miami-FL & Stanford by a combined score of 79-28! Kelly can’t even catch breaks in close games. In games decided by 8 points or less, Kelly’s record the last 2 seasons sets at 3-8 including a 1-7 mark in 2016! With superior coaching, it would seem like 2016’s 4-8 year could have just as easily been 10-2. Kelly did a remarkable job at Grand Valley St., Central Michigan & Cincinnati before taking the head coaching job at Notre Dame, but I’m not sure he’s done enough in South Bend to justify his continuing. I understand that stability has merit and that a coaching change is likely to lead to a couple of down years, but you have to wonder if the Irish have hit their ceiling and the best they can get to is 10-3? The schedule for 2018 is tough because ND’s schedule is always tough, but if the Irish win their home games & play to potential, the only really tough game they’ll encounter is the season finale at USC. Another 10-3 season simply isn’t good enough.

The other significant question surrounding Notre Dame is the play of QB Brandon Wimbush. Wimbush is an exceptional running QB & can make tons of plays with his feet. His decision making isn’t terrible either as evidenced by his 14TD passes last season to just 4INT. The problem is accuracy as Wimbush completed just 49.5% of his passes. In limited time, backup QB Ian Book completed 61.3% and incoming freshman Phil Jurkovec has a lot of hype surrounding his eventually succession to the starting QB position. Wimbush will get an exceptional test in the season opener when Notre Dame welcomes in Michigan and if he doesn’t play well, then the Irish could be looking at a QB controversy for the entire season that might end up costing Brian Kelly is job. Even Charlie Weis at the very end posted a 2-year record of 13-12. Can Kelly survive 2 losing seasons out of his last 3? Accuracy isn’t something that miraculously improves overnight so patience is key for the Irish when it comes to handling Wimbush. Regardless, ND should have beaten Georgia last season if Kelly had coached to win that game and that would have had Notre Dame likely ranked #1 and 9-0 going into Miami-FL last season. That’s with Wimbush completing 49% of his passes. Let Wimbush be Wimbush and hope for the best. The running game & D should be more than good enough to win. Can Wimbush get better & will Kelly leave him alone are huge questions facing the Irish.

As you can see, this is a pivotal year for the Irish. Maybe Kelly stays no matter what happens, but it feels as if something is on the horizon in South Bend. Either Kelly gets Notre Dame over the hump & the Irish crash the playoff party, or maybe a new era begins in 2019.

# TEAM NOTRE DAME
1 Computer Hope The Irish took on some losses last season, but I think the biggest losses Notre Dame are going to have to overcome are the losses of O-Line coach Harry Hiestand & DC Mike Elko. Elko improved ND’s defense by a huge amount last year & the Irish should have an OUTSTANDING D returning 9 starters from that unit. Can new DC Clark Lea keep it going? Hiestand was BELOVED by players so his loss is HUGE although maybe not as apparent in the boxscore. Notre Dame can get to 12-0 if they win their home games. Brian Kelly is in his 9th year in South Bend & the 10 wins last year were nice, but is he ever going to get them over the top?

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

2018 PAC 12 PREVIEW & PREDICTIONS

Maybe it’s because I’m from the Midwest in the eastern timezone, but the Pac 12 sometimes feels like an afterthought to me, even from a national media standpoint. The SEC is so dominant and the rise of Clemson makes the ACC paramount in people’s minds. I’m in Big 10 country so that conference is always on display 24/7, but the Pac 12 seems almost distant at times. I wonder if some of it is the void left by the coaching changes at USC & Oregon? When Pete Carroll was at USC, it was hard not to notice the Trojans! And when Carroll left for the Seattle Seahawks, Chip Kelly’s reign at Oregon began and it was hard to ignore the Ducks. Those coaches were replaced with guys that couldn’t replicate that success. At USC, the Trojans tried with Lane Kiffin & Steve Sarkisian, two former Carroll lieutenants, but neither could  replicate the success of their mentor. Up in Eugene Mark Helfrich couldn’t keep the good times rolling and went 4-8 in 2016 before being fired. The Ducks snagged Willie Taggart, but Taggart bolted to Florida St. after one season. It’s interesting to note that Pete Carroll was at USC from 2001-2009. Chip Kelly was at Oregon from 2009-2012, but then something dramatic was taking place in the Pac 12.

Chris Petersen left Boise St. to take over Washington in 2014
David Shaw replaced Jim Harbaugh at Stanford in 2011
Mike Leach found a new home at Washington St. in 2012
Clay Helton was found to be the heir apparent at USC in 2016
Kevin Sumlin was out at Texas A&M but in at Arizona in 2018
Chip Kelly returns to collegiate football at UCLA in 2018

Of course I didn’t mention what a great coach Kyle Whittingham is at Utah or that Mike MacIntyre took a lowly Colorado team to the Pac 12 South title in 2016! Justin Wilcox did a fantastic job in his first year at California with significant improvements to the Bears defense. Jonathan Smith looks like a good hire at this point in trying to revive a depressed Oregon State program. A conference that was basically the Pete Carroll and Chip Kelly show has turned into a conference boasting A TON of great coaching talent & that is going to be reflected in the standings. The Pac 12 non-conference games are going to be exciting as we get Washington/Auburn, Stanford/Notre Dame, California/North Carolina, USC/Texas, USC/Notre Dame, Arizona/Houston, Colorado/Nebraska, Arizona St./Michigan St., and UCLA/Oklahoma. The bowl games will obviously be important to overall conference perception, but these non-conference games early in the year could set the tone for a banner year in the Pac 12.

And that’s good because it could be short lived. The Pac 12 is getting a lot better as a conference overall, but there are danger signs for the lesser teams. Clay Helton has it figured out at USC. He’s only entering his 3rd season, but Helton in his first two years is 21-6 with a Pac 12 title and a Rose Bowl win! If Chip Kelly even comes close to replicating what he did with Oregon at UCLA, then the Pac 12 becomes a war between USC & UCLA with the other teams playing a distant 3rd fiddle. Kyle Whittingham, Kevin Sumlin & Mike MacIntyre might be great head football coaches, but consistent 4th & 5th place finishes won’t reflect that & you could see a lot of turnover within the division itself even though it might not be justified.

The same could be said of the Pac 12 North. David Shaw & Stanford aren’t going anywhere, but Chris Petersen & the Washington Huskies could very well make that division a moot point. It took Petersen a couple of years to figure things out in Seattle, but he’s proving to be unlike other former Boise St. head coaches in that he’s dominating at a Power 5 school. In his last 2 years with the Huskies, Petersen is 22-5 with a Pac 12 title and a playoff berth. Washington was 3 close losses away from 13-0 last year & the Huskies are LOADED this season. Washington is likely to finish 13-0 and get back to the playoffs with a 2nd Pac 12 title in 3 years. Justin Wilcox did a good job. Jonathan Smith looks like a solid hire. We all love Mike Leach, but Petersen is building a powerhouse that potentially only USC & UCLA can contend with.

Parity should be fairly high this year in the Pac 12, but will it be the last year we see that? It’s an interesting question going forward. The coaching acumen of the conference is getting significantly better, but USC, UCLA & Washington stand head and shoulders above the crowd. It’ll be interesting to see how these things play out. How much improvement will see with UCLA this season? Does USC not miss a beat & dominate the Pac 12 South even with the losses they’ve taken on? Does anyone come close to Washington? The other Pac 12 teams need to take advantage fast, because Helton, Kelly & Petersen are ready to put the league on complete lock down.

# TEAM PAC 12 NORTH
1 Computer Hope Given that the Huskies have gone 22-5 in the last 2 seasons, it’s amazing to think Chris Petersen has this best squad since arriving in Seattle! Myles Gaskin, Jake Browning, Hunter Bryant, Trey Adams & Kaleb McGary return on offense & UW has an excellent chance at scoring 40+PPG! Browning in particular has as lot to prove after dealing with injuries last season. He’s a Heisman darkhorse! Defensively the Huskies bring back 9 starters from a unit that allowed just 16.1PPG! Replacing Vita Vea in the interior won’t be easy but I think Greg Gaines can pull it off. The schedule is great & I think the Huskies get back to 13-0 & the playoffs.
2 Computer Hope Stanford is a lot like Wisconsin in that they have a dominant RB in Bryce Love with 4 returning starters on the O-Line! The Cardinal are going to be able to grind games down because Love is so dominant, but the problem is scheduling. Stanford draws both USC & Utah out of the South (both home games) but get road dates against Washington, Oregon, Notre Dame, Cal & UCLA. Something else to keep in mind is that Stanford was +16 in TO margin last season. Regression could be harsh. Defensively, Stanford returns 6 starters, but the losses were big including Harrison Phillips. Stanford will win games, but can’t keep up with Washington.
3 Computer Hope The Ducks are a team to keep a close eye on. Not many people are picking them to win the North (me included) but the schedule is set up well with home dates against Washington & Oregon & they avoid USC out of the South. QB Justin Herbert is the real deal. He’ll have a TON of weapons to use if he can stay healthy for 13 games. I think Tony Brooks-James also does a good job of replacing Royce Freeman in the backfield. Defensively, Oregon brings back 7 starters including Troy Dye, Justin Hollins, Jalen Jelks and La’Mar Winston. There is talent here, but they welcome in their 2nd head coach in as many years. Not good.
4 Computer Hope The Golden Bears are in for a huge increase in offensive production this season. QB Ross Bowers was pretty good as a first time starter last year & he’ll have 9 other guys as returning starters on offense from a unit that scored 27.8PPG last year. Losing WR Demetris Robertson stings a bit, HC Justin Wilcox will have a solid offense. Wilcox’s bread & butter is defense & that was on display last year as he improved the Cal D by 88 yards & 14.2PPG! The unit returns 8 starters & should be even better now that they are in Year 2 of Wilcox’s systems. The schedule isn’t necessarily brutal but it isn’t easy either. They should be in the bowl hunt.
5 Computer Hope The Cougars had opportunities to win the Pac 12 North in each of the past 2 seasons, but couldn’t convert and now Mike Leach & his staff are in full rebuild mode. Wazzou returns just 10 starters from a 9-4 squad with SIGNIFICANT losses on the D-Line (Frankie Luvu & Hercules Mata’afa) along with QB Luke Falk (school’s all time leading passer) and WRs Tavares Martin & Isaiah Johnson-Mack. Leach is a helluva coach, but the experience on this team is slight to say the least so they’ll have to grow up fast. If Leach pulls off a miracle, the schedule helped. If the Cougars defend Martin Stadium, they could be a huge surprise in the Pac 12.
6 Computer Hope The Beavers are coming off a horrific 1-11 season that saw HC Gary Andersen bolt Corvallis after Game 6 with a 1-5 record. It was the worst year for Oregon St. since 1980 when the team finished 0-11! More than anything I believe Oregon St. needs to reestablish the culture. Bringing in former decorated Beaver QB Jonathan Smith is a solid move. Smith was Chris Petersen’s OC in Washington so there is a good track record there. New DC is Tim Tibesar has been a LB coach at Wisconsin and we’ve seen what a great job Jim Leonhard has done at DC. OC is Brian Lindgren who’s been with Coach MacIntyre at Colorado. Great hire.

 

# TEAM PAC 12 SOUTH
1 Computer Hope This has to be year for HC Kyle Whittingham to get the Utes to the Pac 12 title game! USC is replacing quite a bit of NFL talent & Utah draws the Trojans at home on Homecoming weekend! Whittingham should enjoy Utah’s best offense since joining the Pac 12. QB Tyler Huntley & RB Zack Moss return along with 4 O-Linemen & should be able to score 33-37PPG! The D returns just 6 starters & there are some holes along the D-Line, but Utah’s back-7 should be scary good & it’ll be enough to give the offense a chance to win. Utah draws Stanford on the road but gets USC & UW at home. Defend their backyard & win the Pac 12 South.
2 Computer Hope Almost impossible to pick against USC when you look at how ridiculously talented the roster is, but as with Oklahoma & Ohio St., losing players like Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones, Deontay Burnett, Rasheem Green & Uchenna Nwosu has to mean something! USC went 11-3 last year & won the Pac 12, but the 24-7 loss to Ohio St. proved they were still a step away from Pete Carroll’s glory days. That could change this season. The D should be downright NASTY & could be the best D in the nation! If QB Matt Fink can play well, the D should do the rest. Getting Utah on the road is tough but win that game & the Trojans could get to 12-0.
3 Computer Hope Arizona should be one of the more interesting teams in the nation led by QB Khalil Tate who is a dynamic runner & led Arizona in rushing last year with 1,411 yards! Tate could also be the Wildcats undoing as teams adjusted to him and Arizona finished the season on a 1-4 binge with their only win coming against Oregon State. Kevin Sumlin is the new HC after getting axed by Texas A&M & he’ll have a lot to work with as 7 starters return on O and 9 return on D including 8 of their top-9 tacklers. Arizona has an interesting schedule that could lead to 10 wins, but Sumlin will have to be creative enough so teams can’t focus on Tate 100%.
4 Computer Hope The Buffaloes followed up a 10-4 season that included a Pac 12 South title in 2016 with a disappointing 5-7 season last year. A close home loss to Arizona was probably the deciding factor in Colorado not reaching a bowl. Last year Colorado returned just 3 starters on D and it showed as the D gave up almost 7 more PPG! That figure doesn’t look to get better this year as UC returns 6 starters on D but only 4 on offense. I’m a big believer in Coach MacIntyre so he’ll get as much out of his players as he possibly can. Returning QB Steven Montez should help as well. The Buffaloes should be fighting for a bowl game this season, but that’s it.
5 Computer Hope Will the Herm Edwards experiment actually work? It should be an interesting year to watch QB Manny Wilkins. Wilkins is a solid leader which is a good thing considering that ASU returns just 4 starters on a D that allowed 32.8PPG in 2017. Arizona St. should find themselves down in games early & often meaning it’ll be up to Wilkins’s arm to somehow pass them back into games. The Sun Devils definitely have the receivers to get the job done so I’d expect a ton of fireworks this season that will at least be entertaining to watch. Watch the D though. New DC Danny Gonzales loves a 3-3-5 attack D. If the scheme can overcome inexperience……
6 Computer Hope Get your licks in now. UCLA plays the most difficult schedule of anyone in the nation. They draw a non-conference road game against Oklahoma & get other home games against Fresno St., Washington, Utah, Arizona, USC & Stanford! Their road games include Colorado, Cal, Arizona St. & Oregon. There isn’t a lot of experience returning & Chip Kelly is entering his first year as HC for the Bruins. It’s entirely possible that UCLA finishes 2-10/1-11. It won’t last. Kelly was 46-7 at Oregon during his 4 years in Eugene. He’s a monster as a college HC & the Bruins will spare no expense. The Bruins will be down this year, but not next year.

PAC 12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

NORTH PAC 12 CHAMPIONSHIP SOUTH
Computer Hope I love the potential story with Utah this season & it’ll be interesting to see the Utes in the playoff discussion, but the fairy tale ends in the Pac 12 Championship game because the Huskies are simply too strong & dynamic. If Washington has a bad game & Utah can take advantage of the Huskies run D with Zack Moss then maybe Utah could have a puncher’s chance, but I don’t see it. Petersen is out to finish the job he started in 2016 when Washington got to the playoffs before falling to Alabama. They want a rematch! Computer Hope

August 1, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment