A big week took place in college football with numerous teams having big resume-filling wins. Now, does that mean things changed in the landscape of the college football world in the top ten? Let’s take a look. I was unable to make one last week, but this week we are back in the saddle.
(1) CLEMSON: The Tigers beat Charlotte 52-10 last night. Ho-hum. Right now Clemson has the smoothest sails among anybody in college football. They may see Virginia in the ACC Championship and then that could be their toughest game all season. But the rest, I’d be surprised if there were any issues for the Tigers.
(2) OHIO STATE: The Buckeyes obliterated Miami 76-5. People want to talk about Justin Fields and rightfully so, but it has been the defense who has rolled to this point. The next two weeks are going to be tough with a trip to Nebraska and then a home tilt with Michigan State, which is always a tough battle.
(3) ALABAMA: The Tide rolled all over Southern Miss 49-7. While the run game looked far sharper this weekend, they still have questions if it is consistent (my answer is it can be with Najee carrying the ball) and the defense.
(4) OKLAHOMA: The Sooners had a bye week after beating up UCLA 48-14. And after seeing the fact that the Bruins put up 67 points in Pullman this past weekend, you have to think Oklahoma’s defense feels pretty good right now moving forward. But Texas Tech is coming to town and we know those scores will be basketball-esque.
(5) LSU: While all the talk and love has been for Joe Burrow and the LSU offense, there should be a lot of concerns out in Baton Rouge on the defense. In the next 5 games the Tigers will face Florida, Auburn, and Alabama in that span. Many think it will be a shootout, but I wonder if LSU will have any answers stopping Alabama’s passing game, Auburn’s running game, and if they can put up big points on those defenses.
(6) AUBURN: Auburn had a quality win over Texas A&M in College Station Saturday 28-20. It marked the 4th straight time they won there. Whenever Auburn’s running game is on the spot, that is when they are very lethal. They did nearly everything right Saturday against the Aggies and were well prepared and well-coached.
(7) GEORGIA: Georgia unsurprisingly beat Notre Dame 23-17. From a TALENT STANDPOINT, Georgia should be #1 or #2. They should not be this far down especially after beating Notre Dame. But the guy that will decide whether or not Georgia solves their near 40-year drought is Kirby Smart. He has a quality QB in Jake Fromm but he won’t let Fromm air it out to put games away. He has great runners and an offensive line but can’t let his impact players do their things. He’s too conservative of a guy to honestly beat the teams in front of him right now. And he keeps letting teams get back in the games (see Alabama and Notre Dame last night). They got away with it last night, but with Florida and Auburn still looming, that is a problem. Adding on, Georgia didn’t look fully prepared or well-coached last night either.
(8) FLORIDA: The SEC run continues with the Gators who smacked Tennessee 34-3. Who knows what Kyle Trask can bring to the table for the Florida offense, but he is already a far better option than Feleipe Franks ever was. If the defense gets stronger and the offense keeps making those steps, Florida could legitimately have a shot against Georgia.
(9) WISCONSIN: Throttled Michigan 35-14. The Badgers dominated Michigan in all sides of the ball and continues to play stellar defense while having a quarterback that can make passes. Probably the lone team that can truly challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten is Wisconsin.
(10) NOTRE DAME: Lost to Georgia 23-17. The Irish did prove they can hang with the big boys last night and they came pretty well prepared. They still have some gaping holes to figure out but overall they still could go 11-1 the rest of the way.
NEXT 5: Texas, Virginia, Penn State, California, Michigan State
Another week down and some big games took place. Did we start to identify the contenders to the pretenders? Are we overvaluing some of these early games (like we mostly do) or are some of these games a sign of things to come?
I think we are sensing a lot that 7 teams right now, maybe 8 have a legit shot to be the National Champion. Two teams right now really just look flawless. But as we turn the page to mostly in-conference games, time will tell if anything will be what they seem.
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) WISCONSIN: The Badgers dominated a Michigan team that has major issue right now on really both sides of the ball. Is Michigan overrated? Yes. But to dominate Michigan like they did and now have a quarterback in the process, I applaud the Badgers for a job well done. Of course, time will tell if or when they play Ohio State.
(2) AUBURN: I very nice, decisive win on the road at Texas A&M. Whenever the Tigers have those magical seasons, it is when they run the ball effectively. They did that Saturday to a T and gave Kellen Mond fits. And it shows that when the pressure is on Gus Malzahn, he can deliver. And just some food for thought: assuming if Auburn can go to Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and win (and in Gainesville), they would probably be #1 in the Playoff committee polls to begin with given their big wins already.
(3) CALIFORNIA: For the PAC-12’s sake Golden Bears: DO. NOT. LOSE. ANY. GAME! The losses for Utah, Arizona State, and Washington State means Cal is the last undefeated. And of course it means, the PAC-12 is likely going ot miss the Playoff for the third straight year and the fourth time in five years. Nice win against an SEC school against Ole Miss. But I don’t know if they could handle the top dogs in the Nation. But they can play some defense.
(4) FLORIDA: Yeah, beating Tennessee doesn’t say much, but given how the Gators played and dominated the Vols and actually have a quarterback in Trask who knows what he is doing back in the pocket, it really does add a dimension to the team they haven’t seen in a very long time. All of a sudden that Georgia game on November 2 looms large.
(5) THE SEC, ACC, BIG TEN, AND BIG 12: Largely because it means the PAC-12 is no longer in the running (sorry Cal) and Notre Dame took the L at Georgia last night means if the conference champions can hold serve, there will be one representative in there come December/January.
Honorable Mention: Georgia (I’ll explain why they didn’t fall into my top 5 later)
TOP 5 LOSERS:
(1) WASHINGTON STATE: How how how??????? You were up 32 in the second half to a team who hadn’t won a game all year-at home! Everything I said about Mike Leach over the years of being a coach who does the Air Raid but also could adapt to the times of running/playing defense went out the window last night. You don’t do things like that and expect to be an actual contender to…anything.
(2) MICHIGAN: You think the bye week would give the Wolverines some time to improve the anemic offense. And, nope. And now the defense has some things to figure out. And Jim Harbaugh is really under fire for the mess that took place in Madison. They were poorly prepared, poorly coached, and they played poorly. Not the hope that Michigan fans had in year 5 of the Harbaugh era.
(3) UCF: The 29-game regular season winning streak is over for the Knights. And they couldn’t have done it in a worse way. Blowing a lead against a team that isn’t as strong as you are and showing some holes on the defense that still plagued this team even when they were winning is a major problem. Props to Pitt but how UCF blew that game, well, I think we can go chill about the Knights crashing any Playoff.
(4) TEXAS A&M: The Aggies flatlined at home to Auburn and probably played worse than they did at Clemson. I got the schedule wasn’t going to be a fun one for the Aggies, but having a home game to Auburn was a needed W. And they failed. They also haven’t won a game to the Tigers at College Station since joining the SEC. Jimbo Fisher is only in year #2 but so far this year’s results haven’t been too impressive for Aggies fans.
(5) NOTRE DAME: Only reason why I’m putting them here is because they did take an actual L. So when December rolls around and the Irish are 11-1, do we do the same thing for them as we did for Georgia when they played Alabama in the SEC Championship and think they “won by losing?” They lost. Simple as that.
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: Utah, Arizona State, BYU, North Carolina
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) YOU DIDN’T PUT GEORGIA AS ONE OF THE TOP 5 WINNERS. WHY? To be fair, I think Notre Dame showed they weren’t as weak as people (especially in Georgia) made them out to be. Of course we will hear what I’m calling the “Tyler Simmons Excuse” (“onsides vs. Bama” and now “muffed punt/dropped TD catch vs. Notre Dame”) but Simmons was NOT the reason why that game was closer than what many thought. Kirby Smart had a poorly prepared gameplan and it showed in the first half. Then he started to get aggressive in the second half and let Jake Fromm air it out a little bit only to dial it back time after time. It is the same problem that haunted the Bulldogs against Alabama the last two years and it nearly bit them with Notre Dame. He can’t do that with Auburn and Florida in November. He has to decide whether he wants to be more aggressive on offense or stay conservative. Right now if Georgia ends up failing to get to the National Championship OR the Playoff, it is on him. He still hasn’t adapted to the times.
(2) DOES THE ACC NOT HAVING ANY QUALITY TEAM (SAVE MAYBE FOR VIRGINIA) HURT CLEMSON’S CHANCES AT A REPEAT? I don’t think so. We know they will likely run the table until the Playoff which will put them at a 28-game winning streak. They should be all right and I think what helps them out is they take every game like it’s the big game of their schedule. Now the question will be how will they respond to a team in the Playoff if they throw the first punch on the Tigers? But honestly, they are good enough to beat any team.
(3) IS OHIO STATE AT LEAST THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE NATION? It looks that way, but again, who have they played? Cincinnati was an impressive win obviously and really it’s the defense. My biggest concern is they are trying to showcase Justin Fields way too much. I don’t get why but if something happens to Fields, it may not bode well. But what I’m more impressed with has been the Buckeyes defense. They have dominated since the Florida Atlantic game. But given how LSU and Alabama have gone to being offensive minded schools now, you have to say they may be better than those teams and Georgia.
(4) WILL JIM HARBAUGH BE FIRED AFTER THE SEASON AT MICHIGAN? Depends on the record. A 9-3 or an 8-4 season probably doesn’t. Anything less will. And all of a sudden those games with Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State, and Penn State loom way larger now as does Notre Dame. But the question would be “who would take over?” As much grief and flak (and possibly rightfully so) as Harbaugh gets, who would be the guy to replace him? Do you try to find any way for Bob Stoops to listen? Do you bring in Charlie Strong, Josh Heupel, Butch Jones, Lane Kiffin, Bill Clark? Aside from Stoops, none of those sound all that exciting for a Michigan fan. So here’s the thing: Harbaugh may stay at Michigan largely because there is nothing out there and Michigan would want a home run hire
(5) ASSUMING CALIFORNIA LOSES, IS THERE ANY ONE-LOSS PAC-12 TEAM THAT COULD SNEAK IN THE PLAYOFF? Right now Oregon is probably the lone team that could take one loss as it was to Auburn. The rest at this point have played themselves out. Washington with a very far outside chance.
This week in college football started out like nothing really going on. No games between two top 25 opponents. But we had some interesting games and games that at least the top 10 were doing everything they can to flex their muscle. So let’s begin.
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) CLEMSON: I don’t want to hear anything about Trevor Lawrence’s issues. He will be fine come November/December. Plus, how often do we see Clemson “scuffle” in the first half of the season only to go on a massive tear the rest of the way? The defense looks as good as it did last year even with replacing the entire defensive line and the team still remains hungry. And Lawrence WILL get better. Adding on, thumping a team gives you nightmares the last few years is a big thing. Nice win, and a win that Clemson showed their defense is atop of their game.
(2) WASHINGTON STATE: A road trip to Houston and against a team that was really going after them is still impressive. The Cougars still remain a slim chance at a Playoff, but they still have a shot. Already sad to think we are talking about Playoff hopes for the PAC-12 in Week 3 though, but the Cougars still have to be considered a favorite in the North.
(3) OHIO STATE: If you’re a team going against Ohio State, what is worrisome isn’t the Buckeyes offense, but the defense. Ohio State’s defense has dominated for the first part of the season. Yes, not a lot of competition either, but doing it to a team that fought with the Buckeyes last year in Columbus is a major bonus. This will be a huge step moving forward for the Buckeyes.
(4) VIRGINIA: It’s not like they were overly impressive with their win against Florida State, but the Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal already. North Carolina showed they have some growing pains to go through, Georgia Tech is bad, Duke has issues, Miami has yet to beat a quality opponent, Cavs hold a W over Pitt, and Virginia Tech is not impressive at all. All the Cavaliers need to do is hold serve and be in Charlotte in December.
(5) ARIZONA STATE: The Sun Devils are off to another good start under Herm Edwards. What’s odd is that Arizona State isn’t winning it by offense but by defense. They did a great job stopping Michigan State (though Michigan State continued to have self-inflicted wounds too). They remain as one of the two undefeated teams in the PAC-12 South. The offense does need to generate some points however. Odd to say that too, but at least Herm is giving hope for Sun Devil fans, something that went missing under Todd Graham in his final years there.
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) MARYLAND: And with that…..the Terps bandwagon has emptied. After scoring 142 points in their first two games including to Syracuse, Maryland could only muster 15 points on offense (+2 by safety) and had some questionable play-calls. Mike Locksley probably failed to prevent Maryland from drinking their rat poison. That said, they are a young team AND they will have their own growing pains a la North Carolina. An upset of a team is still possible in the cards for the Terps.
(2) MICHIGAN STATE: New year, same mess. Michigan State’s offense went AWOL again despite an impressive performance by the defense, where many think it is the tops in the nation. It doesn’t matter however if there is no offense to go with it a la 2012 when Michigan State had the same issues. Adding on, Mark Dantonio is starting to get roasted by Spartans fans for his inability to make coaching moves on that side of the ball. They have a great shot at winning some games they shouldn’t with their defense, but it gets nullified by that display called an offense.
(3) USC: Not like it was an unexpected loss, but the Trojans still had more talent than BYU and just really got outplayed in Provo. USC is still a threat in the PAC-12 but a threat to get into the Playoff? No way.
(4) STANFORD: For some reason this blowout loss to UCF just feels like the days of Stanford being super competitive are gone. They just don’t have that feel like they will make you work for 4 quarters anymore. Time will tell as it is early, but not liking on what I’m seeing from the Cardinal.
(5) MISSISSIPPI STATE: I don’t think many had the Bulldogs to be a super competitive squad but strong enough to to get in the faces of teams in the SEC West and they have historically given Alabama fits in recent memory. But a loss to a Kansas State team in the land of the Cowbell is not good. Granted we don’t know what team Kansas State is going to be in 2019 as the schedule wasn’t too strong to start with, but the Bulldogs still have more talent compared to Kansas State, or so we think.
TOP 5 QUESTIONS:
(1) TIM TEBOW IS GETTING ROASTED FOR HIS COMMENTS ABOUT COLLEGE PLAYERS GETTING PAID. IS HE RIGHT OR RIGHTFULLY DESERVED TO GET ROASTED? Rightfully deserved. Tebow was a well-to-do guy in college where his parents had money. He also was treated like a god down in Gainesville when he was a Gator. He didn’t need to do anything. He didn’t have an issue. But he’s not a large portion of athletes either. My take is that maybe give these kids “bonds” or something of that sort and figure out how much to give them pending on what they are bringing in for the schools. I mean colleges are making money off these kids. It’s simple as that. But Tebow to say that is selfish in his own right. Just my take.
(2) IT FEELS LIKE THERE IS A VIBE OF 6, MAYBE 7 TEAMS THAT HAVE A REAL SHOT FOR THE PLAYOFF (LOOK AT THE TOP 7). WILL THERE BE A TEAM THAT COULD SHAKE IT ALL UP? Yep. Auburn if the quarterback play is consistent enough. Of course they are #8 but get Alabama, Georgia, and LSU this year (first two teams at home). But outside of Auburn, I don’t think so. Florida has too many issues as does Michigan for right now. And I’m always going to be in the “I’ll believe it when I see it” category with Wisconsin.
(3) COULD MARK DANTONIO BE ON THE HOT SEAT AT MICHIGAN STATE? I don’t think so just yet. He’s earned a lot of frequent flyer miles since he arrived at East Lansing in 2007 including a few Big Ten Championships (where it had been Ohio State and Wisconsin dominating that landscape forever), a Rose Bowl win, a Cotton Bowl win, and a Playoff. However, since the Playoff berth Michigan State has only been 22-19 and the last few years the Spartans have been the butt of jokes with their offense. He really hasn’t changed the offensive mentality in the last couple of years and how the Spartans loss really infuriated the Sparty crew. IF Michigan State doesn’t figure out to get that offense going he may end up in the hot seat by the end of the year just as much as Jim Harbaugh is if Harbaugh can’t beat Ohio State.
(4) WILL THERE BE ANY TEAM TO SERIOUSLY GIVE CLEMSON A RUN IN THE ACC? Nope. The only team who could try to stand up to the Tigers may be of all teams North Carolina. But even then, I would expect a 3-TD W at the least and that game is in Chapel Hill. So I don’t see anybody really scaring Clemson from their winning streak. If they see Virginia in the ACC Championship, it may be interesting, but until then, the Tigers are going 12-0 this year.
(5) WHAT WOULD BE THE WEAKNESSES OF THE TOP 8 (MAY AS WELL INCLUDE AUBURN) MOVING FORWARD? Clemson (?-currently people are pointing to Lawrence), Alabama (defensive line is getting pushed around right now), Georgia (coaching decisions), Ohio State (?-Fields has done great but when the competition spikes, how will he respond?), LSU (DBU ), Oklahoma (defense), Notre Dame (size), Auburn (streaky QB play)
Honestly, it is way too early to do power rankings. As I said before, we can have awesome teams to start in September (Texas A&M 2014 anybody?) only to be useless by late October. And Clemson always seems to be sluggish to begin the year. It’s really where you are at in the end. Now my Rankings I am even taking with a grain of salt. It’s still too early but…..why not?
(1) CLEMSON: Clemson may have made out like a bandit this week, handling Texas A&M with relative ease and seeing Syracuse get obliterated by Maryland before their tilt. But the Tigers two near mistakes last year were to the Aggies and the Orange. They were zeroed in on Texas A&M and won. Now they will focus their attention to really go after Syracuse. Until the champs can be beat, they may remain atop of my standings for a while.
(2) ALABAMA: Alabama’s offense is well, sick. They just dominated every aspect of the game and the biggest concern is that they are more passing-oriented than they ever have been. But then again, this is the best WR crew the Tide have ever put out in Tuscaloosa. Defense wasn’t really challenged again. Next week is a trip to South Carolina where the last time Alabama played there, they lost. But that was nearly 10 years ago.
(3) LSU: LSU’s offense is ROLLING. You cannot be unimpressed with how the Tigers offense has clicked. Now, the secondary did get shredded up a bit with Texas but still, the defense went after Ehlinger time after time so you have to be impressed with that as well. So that Alabama game instead of being a 17-13 game or one of those smash-mouth may take more of a game you might familiarize with a Big 12 game.
(4) OHIO STATE: You have to be impressed with how Ohio State dominated Cincinnati, especially on the defensive side. Justin Fields did much better this week and is really solidifying his position of the guy running the show in Columbus.
(5) OKLAHOMA: Much ado remains about the Sooners defense and if they are up to snuff and so far the jury is still out on that one (let’s face it, Houston can put up points), but they have an offense that may be (gasp) BETTER than last year with Murray and even the year before with Mayfield. And Jalen Hurts looks NOTHING like he did at Alabama. He has a bit of a swag to him that wasn’t really seen with the Tide.
(6) GEORGIA: Don’t for those who are my Georgia Bulldog friends. The Bulldogs have the same amount of talent as the five teams ahead of them. But Georgia while still dominating has been playing very sloppy. It may be nothing when the Bulldogs are playing Vanderbilt and Murray State, but the minute they see the talent level on the other side spike, those issues cannot happen.
(7) MARYLAND: The Terps make a huge jump for how they rolled against Syracuse. Yes, probably too high and I’m overrating them, but they just look like a team that has been zeroed in and focused, like Mike Locksley has been. Road game at Temple shouldn’t be an issue but a late September Friday game against Penn State is going to be the first big test.
(8) NOTRE DAME: The Irish have a bye after their somewhat “not so impressive” win against Louisville. They get a “tune-up” against New Mexico before a huge tilt against Georgia in Athens in 2 weeks.
(9) AUBURN: They did a great comeback win against Oregon in Week 1. But they really did struggle against Tulane on offense. If Bo Nix is going to struggle like he did this, make it early in the season. Auburn does have a tendency to play to other teams levels as well. They’ll probably be fine once Georgia and Alabama come to the Plains in November
(10) WISCONSIN: Well, so far, they are showing they can do a lot on offense AND defense. But again, what is the trend for the Badgers when they are good? “Who have you beaten?????” But so far, they have never looked THIS sharp in a long time.
The second week is in the books, and it was a very interesting and fascinating week in college football. We had two games that were top quality games. A few upsets took place, and perhaps one conference is already out of the Playoff race. Yes, PAC-12 that’s you. But let’s look at the week that was.
TOP 5 WINNERS
(1) MARYLAND: Wait, Maryland over LSU????? Are you bleeping kidding me? I flip-flopped on this one myself. But while LSU’s offense has just been a monster, Maryland’s offense has been much better AND they scored 63 points on a defense that may have been better than Texas. And they are just doing things at will. Now, can they do that against the likes of the Big Ten East powers? But Mike Locksley used his time under Nick Saban at Alabama and really has taken a page out of his book in preparation. Well done Terps.
(2) LSU: I should kind of put this as a 1A, but the edge I gave to Maryland was that Texas did shred DBU pretty nicely in the game last night. Which gave me the nod to the Terps. Yes, Texas is/was a Top 10 team, but they did have a lot of turnover on defense (and being in the Big 12). However, the wait is over for LSU fans who have been begging to have an offense similar to Alabama where it would just light the scoreboard up at will. Now, will they take down Alabama in Tuscaloosa? Way too early to tell, but the early results are in and the Tigers look very legit on offense.
(3) CLEMSON: It wasn’t awe inspiring, but Clemson in the early weeks of the season under Dabo have never been awe-inspiring with their games. But they also never felt like they would lose that game at any point. Offense is still solid, defense is way better than imagined, especially up front. Next stop is a road tilt with Syracuse, which will be interesting to say the least.
(4) USC: The Trojans (along with Utah) may be the last chances for the PAC-12 to have an argument for the playoff. A giant blowout win where they took over in the second half against Stanford should give notice to the rest of the conference.
(5) CALIFORNIA: The Bears got a big win in Washington. Adding on, Stanford lost to USC. Now if the Bears find a way to beat the Ducks next month, watch out for the Bears to try to crash the playoff party. They have a defense now and that is going to be scary.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Ohio State, North Carolina, Colorado
TOP 5 LOSERS
(1) WASHINGTON: No excuse. I get Cal has a good defense, but the mistakes made last night (mostly dropped passes) and the fact it was a two hour rain delay still doesn’t give you a reason why you played poorly. The Huskies under Chris Petersen are better than the mess they were before they got there, but these games they have, especially at home are just dumbfounding losses. They could easily have dominated the PAC-12 for the past 5 seasons and get in the Playoff for at least 3 of them, but poor play keeps them from doing that. If the window of making the playoff is on Washington in this span is there, it’s closing.
(2) SYRACUSE: Many such as myself projected the Orange to be a sleeper in the ACC especially with getting Clemson at the Carrier Dome next week. Whoops. They got shredded on defense badly. And Tommy DeVito has not been consistent at all. As much as I disliked Eric Dungey for his losing his cool on the field at times, he was at least a consistent quarterback and knew his offense.
(3) STANFORD: I think the days of the Cardinal defense being the face that runs the place of the PAC-12 are long gone. They had no answers really starting in the second quarter. And now it is back to the drawing board. If Cal gets it going, the Bears are just going to have some fun in 2019 and be the sleeper team.
(4) NEBRASKA: You pretty much take the entire fan base on the road in Colorado, beat them for about 3 quarters an then implode. The Huskers showed they are still far away from really being a major threat in the national picture and even in the Big Ten picture. It’s going to be a learning process but there was no way the Huskers should have lost that game. At all.
(5) TEXAS A&M: I don’t think the Aggies were expected to win at Clemson, but they looked very poor and Kellen Mond looked like 2017 Kellen Mond where he was in over his head. Yes, I get Clemson’s defense is a beast but the mistakes Mond made were more self-inflicted. And while the defense played solid, the Aggies just could not break Clemson’s momentum on either side of the ball. And worse, the Aggies are still going “oh boy, Alabama, Georgia, and LSU?” Have fun
Dishonorable mention: Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Cincinnati
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) IS LSU GOING TO BE A MAJOR THREAT FOR THE PLAYOFF AND NOTABLY, ALABAMA? Yes to both parts. The two things I wonder are that has LSU’s offense been that good or the defenses they’ve played against that bad? Either way, even against bad defenses in the past LSU struggled with. They are very aggressive than I remember in the past as well. Now, the other part was LSU’s secondary. They refer themselves as DBU, but Texas shredded DBU pretty easy last night and in a year where Alabama looks to be a passing monster, it could sting them badly in that game in November. But they are one of the few teams that can match the talent with Alabama. So that really does help them out.
(2) IS MICHIGAN VASTLY OVERRATED? Hard to say. People want to jump off the Khaki Bandwagon because of their struggles against Army. You know who also struggled against Army last year and had to win in OT? Oklahoma. They turned out okay. I think we try to give teams national championships in September for how great they start out. Clemson has always been a slow starter in September. Auburn struggles early (such as against Tulane last night). People forget Ohio State looked awful against Virginia Tech in 2014 and then still ended up winning the National Championship. Alabama even had their woes against Ole Miss in 2014-15 and people thought Bama’s run was over. So really if there is a point to this, is that you can take a L or struggle early on in September and make your adjustments before you just up the ante. It’s better to do it in the first month than the last month when you are trying to make a case for the Playoff Committee. So honestly, I will abstain from answering that.
(3) IS THE PAC-12 IN BIG TROUBLE ALREADY FOR THE PLAYOFF? Yes. USC, Cal, and Utah are really the best and only chances (Arizona State has struggled early on and has a fun trip to East Lansing next week against Michigan State). Utah and USC play each other so that will eliminate one team and the Trojans have trips to Washington and Notre Dame in consecutive games (bye week in between) and then a trip to Cal late in the year. Utah has trips to USC and Washington. Cal’s major speedbump will be Oregon at this point (I honestly think the Bears will beat Stanford right now). As for Washington State, they always have that one game they trip themselves up on (and they play at Cal). So honestly, it may be three straight years now for the PAC-12 failing to get to a playoff.
(4) CAN MARYLAND CRASH THE BIG TEN EAST PARTY? The division since the Big Ten re-aligned it to East and West have been decided by 4 teams: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Penn State (12 New Year’s Six games among them). The other three of Maryland, Indiana, and Rutgers have been just food for the four. Now Maryland has shown so far they can score at will and they will need to show some of that with the defenses all four teams can possess. Maryland does have home tilts with Penn State in 2 weeks and Michigan in early November before having to go out a week after Michigan to play at Ohio State. And then they have to see Michigan State to end the season. IF they can find a way to win TWO of those games, Maryland has an excellent chance to get to a New Year’s Six game and infuriate a fan base or two either in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, or Happy Valley
(5) IS TEXAS OVERRATED AFTER LAST NIGHT? Honestly, I will say no. They can compete with the top teams. It’s just they lost a lot on defense last year. They will get better as the season goes along and really is firmly the second best team in the Big 12. It’s just LSU is on a different level than the Longhorns are right now.
Yes, another post or comment about Antonio Brown and the saga that has just become stranger, stranger, and stranger. Ever since the last week of the 2018 season when Brown was suspended from his former team the Steelers, it has been a whirlwind of silliness honestly. People blamed the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger for Brown’s actions. He then gets traded to Oakland for a 3rd and 5th round pick. Things were semi-subdued to start as there wasn’t much drama. But when the football helmet issue came to play, that’s when everything began.
Needless to say, Antonio Brown is probably done as a Raider before Week 1 ever gets here.
Or is he?
The one guy that has been front & center of the whole thing aside from Antonio Brown has been Jon Gruden. When word passed on Thursday that Brown was going to be suspended by GM Mike Mayock after “conduct detrimental to the team” (let’s just say that to avoid any major details), Gruden did not come out and really support the idea that Brown was going to be suspended.
For me, at that minute, I figured Brown would not be suspended or at least get it overturned.
Friday arrives and the “breaking” came up on my phone: “Jon Gruden says Antonio Brown will play Week 1.”
Brown apologized to his team “with tears in his eyes” and then apologized in front of cameras. Okay, fine. The team captains said they “would back whatever Gruden wants to do with Brown.”
Then the video of Brown talking to Gruden on the phone on what felt was like his own Nike ad. Gruden found it amusing and loved it. Okay…..(personal note: if I was being secretly recorded on a phone about a matter like this, it’s probably not something I’d find amusing.)
Wake up this morning and now Brown wants his release and that is “no way he will play for the Raiders” after Oakland voided his guarantees. Now the rumor is already going around that Gruden still expects Brown to play and still planning it like Brown will play.
Now, I want to hit on a few things here, notably about the team captains. Nobody has really come out in public and defended the embattled wide receiver and if the message was “whatever you think is best, coach” towards Gruden, that to me is a tell-tale message that the players don’t want Brown to be back there. But Gruden is already insistent of keeping Brown in Oakland, no matter what the issues are with the Raiders.
And that’s the problem.
Brown apologists and Gruden apologists alike will say that Gruden is giving Brown a second chance. Fine. But he’s blown that already when he bucked up to the boss. He blew that when he did a holdout for his helmet. So now we are on the 4th or 5th chance at it. Another thing has been somebody erroneously said how Gruden won a Super Bowl with another diva prima donna receiver in Keyshawn Johnson and having Warren Sapp. To those arguments, Gruden and Johnson hated each other and by the second season Gruden was with the Bucs he suspended Johnson for the second half of the season. And Sapp was not an issue. PS-Gruden won a Super Bowl with Dungy guys on defense. Just saying. After that, he was just an “average” head coach with the Bucs as the Dungy guys started to leave or retire.
Secondly Gruden has already undermined his GM Mike Mayock for all of this. From the moment when Mayock told Brown you’re “all in or all out” to even now, Gruden has been what from the outside has been the opposite of Mayock. It looks bad from that perspective that the head coach (who has an insane deal to stay) and the new GM there are not on the same page. That is a key issue.
We have already seen Gruden have his issues with the Raiders since he came back, notably with his prior GM Reggie McKenzie. The trades of Khalil Mack (which is the most dumbfounding of all of the moves until Brown arrived) and Amari Cooper are just unexplainable. If anything they came to work and did their jobs. But if Gruden has total control of the team over the GM, then why does Oakland have a GM at all when he keeps undermining the decisions Mayock makes?
Again, we know Antonio Brown has baggage. We saw that in full force last year in Pittsburgh. But what Jon Gruden is doing is enabling his behavior time after time to the point that it may just plague the team in what looks to be the Raiders final season in Oakland. It doesn’t set a good precedent for the other players and it is very harming if you are a teammate that is watching this on the side going “how many chances will Brown get from this guy?” or “if it was me, I’m out of a job!” or “well, Khalil Mack was pretty much kicked out of here because he wanted a new contract though he’s a stand-up guy and wants to play here.” Just because somebody may be very talented and have a strong practice regiment does not necessarily mean it off-sets all the issues. Gruden fails to see it right now that it is killing his team.
Maybe the guy that needs to miss the first week of the regular season and the entire season is Jon Gruden. All he’s doing is taking the Raiders into a black hole of futility. And trying to fight to keep Antonio Brown on the team is just another example. And the question is, what is the next example for Gruden and the Raiders? Or better yet how many examples will it take before the Raiders figure out Gruden is not any answer at all? Maybe Gruden is the one that has the issues destroying the team, not Brown.
It’s back. The week that we all get excited about arrived. Now, nothing against Oklahoma, Houston, Notre Dame, and Louisville, but Saturdays are where it is at. So I will enjoy doing this today as it was an interesting, yet not a bombshell-worthy week in Week 1. So let’s hit it.
TOP 5 WINNERS:
(1) AUBURN: We’ve seen this story from the Tigers in those magical years in 2010, 2013, and 2017. You get a break here and there. You keep it close in games you probably don’t deserve to be in. You win late. You have a quarterback that is a dual threat and brings some arrogance and cockiness. And just a friendly reminder to Alabama and Georgia: you have to go down to the Plains this year (and Georgia, you better not sit on any lead). And LSU & Florida: you better have your A games even though you are at home. This could be “that year.”
(2) TOP TEN TEAMS: Oklahoma aside because they play on Sunday and Notre Dame on Monday (they play Louisville), the top ten squads played in a DOMINANT fashion. While there were issues for most of the teams at some point (either slow starts or just sat on leads), the games were never really in doubt. Next week will change a few things though (LSU/Texas, Texas A&M/Clemson)
(3) UTAH: Utah isn’t as “exciting” as some want them to be. But they have a great defense, a great run game, and a quarterback who makes the needed passes. Are they a sleeper in the PAC-12? You bet. They went into BYU and really handled them well. And that is NOT an easy place to win at.
(4) BOISE STATE: You go across country for what you expect to be a “neutral site game” and then get pushed to the opponents home, get down big at halftime, and then come back and win. Feels like only Boise State can do that. And the talk of Hank Bachmeier being the next great Broncos QB has begun just like that.
(5) BIG TEN EAST: 7-0 this week. We expected all of them to win, well, most of them. Rutgers even won and put up 40. And we had a bit of that 70’s show feel to it as well. Maryland and Penn State ran up the scores (79 points for both of them in their wins) and Michigan State’s defense gave up -79 rushing yards to Tulsa. And Indiana didn’t fall into that trap of losing to a MAC school. Of course, I don’t genuinely think Rutgers, Maryland, or Indiana will be a major threat to the division, but it was a nice start.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: North Carolina, Virginia, Boston College
TOP 5 LOSERS:
(1) OREGON: A few things here: the turnover deep in Auburn’s territory was reminiscent of the Stanford game which really doomed the Ducks from playoff contention. They sat on their lead once they got up 21-6, something Oregon NEVER does. And they gave the PAC-12 another black eye for the conference as a whole of not being able to compete with the other conferences. Sad because for the first three quarters Oregon really dominated Auburn. So in our annual “do we think Oregon is a legit program that can go up with the other powers in the nation” question, the answer is the same: no.
(2) TENNESSEE: And just like that the honeymoon period for the Volunteers and Jeremy Pruitt is over and looking more like a divorce is impending. How do you give up 38 to Georgia State? Props to Georgia State for wanting it. Tennessee was just expecting the Panthers to hand them a W. Pruitt will have to do some serious damage control.
(3) FLORIDA STATE: If not for Oregon blowing a lead and giving them their own black eye and knocking them out of National Championship hopes, and Tennessee for losing to the bottom of the barrel Sun Belt team, the Seminoles probably had the worst weekend out of anybody. First they get the Boise State game home instead of Jacksonville which meant it was a big jolt for the Noles and a major adjustment for Boise, and then you build a huge halftime lead only to choke it away. Willie Taggart in already his second season cannot afford any more bad losses because he will end up being fired very soon. Is it fair? No, but Florida State fans expect to be a yearly top five team. Right now, they may not even be top 5 in the ACC Atlantic. Think that one carefully.
(4) SOUTH CAROLINA: North Carolina played tough. That was the one thing I got out of that. But even then, South Carolina made silly mistakes, turned the ball over and Jake Bentley was terrible. This feels like 2013 Florida a bit with Will Muschamp around (the year where Florida went 4-8 and lost to Georgia Southern at home). It may be very ugly out in Columbia in 2019.
(5) VIRGINIA TECH: 35 to Boston College? That should not happen. Yes, they “stopped” AJ Dillon (3.5 yds per carry but 83 yards) but giving up 400 yards to them? And the Hokies Bud Foster Farewell tour couldn’t start off to a worse situation. Adding on top of it, Virginia Tech is now in the hole in the ACC Coastal with road trips to Miami and Virginia this year. Adding on, they see Old Dominion next week, which was the beginning of the end for them last year.
HONORABLE MENTION: Missouri, UCLA, Ole Miss
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) ASIDE FROM THE LIKES OF WILLIE TAGGART, WHICH POWER 5 HEAD COACH IS IN MAJOR TROUBLE AFTER THIS WEEKEND? While Jeremy Pruitt has now become public enemy #1 in Knoxville for losing to Georgia State, I’m going with Will Muschamp. South Carolina isn’t really expected to contend in the SEC East this year (at least to me) but beating North Carolina should have happened. Just some decisions made and again, they failed to put the throat on the Tar Heels and let them in the game. And it’s more feasible to see the Gamecocks go 4-8 than 8-4 now. So he is probably in the biggest trouble.
(2) WHICH HEAD COACH IS NOW HAVING A WARM SEAT? Justin Fuente. The Hokies have been atop the ACC until last year and losing to Boston College (the Eagles aren’t bad at all but giving up 35 to them?) the way they did is very concerning. A 6-6 record for the second year in a row won’t cut it in Blacksburg especially now if Virginia is starting to be the power in that state.
(3) THE SEC HAD HIGHS AND LOWS THIS WEEKEND. ARE THEY THE BEST OVERALL CONFERENCE? Yes, only because of their top 5. Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and LSU are without question the cream of the crop. Texas A&M is also on the verge of cracking it, assuming if they can take down Clemson next week in Death Valley. However, once you get past them, they may have some of the weaker programs in the nation. I somewhat liken it to if you align the football programs like planets in order of the sun (just imagine we have 14 planets here), the 5 teams I mentioned would be the inner solar system, very close to one another. Then you have Texas A&M somewhere in the asteroid belt. And then you have the next 8 where Pluto is. It’s just a massive gap, and that bottom half could get beaten by any bottom half in the Power 5.
(4) WHICH TOP 10 TEAM LOOKED THE STRONGEST? LSU obviously. And a team like Georgia Southern gives everyone fits with the option. Not tonight. Adding on top of it the Tigers did something we are not accustomed to: passing. Granted we don’t know what kind of team Georgia Southern will be and it may be a bit different when LSU has to face the likes of Auburn, Alabama, and Florida. But if you are a Tigers fan, you still have to feel good on what you saw last night down in Baton Rouge.
(5) WHICH TOP 10 TEAM LOOKED SHAKY? It is very hard to say because all of them outside of LSU had their woes in some manner yet somehow dominated. Georgia and Ohio State got off to roaring starts only to sit on the lead and lose all their rhythm after the first quarter. Alabama struggled early on before looking like Alabama. Clemson played sloppy notably in the first half against Georgia Tech. Michigan did allow 21 to Middle Tennessee. Texas did “fine.” If I count Florida from their win last week against Miami, it would be the Gators largely because of poor play at quarterback and Feleipe Franks is a massive question mark moving forward. But I won’t, so I will probably say Michigan at this point. Do they have enough offense to win? Can they do better on defense than what they showed? It’s just the teams that haven’t been proven to win those big games will the the ones scrutinized. And right now, Michigan is that.
While college football Week 0 has started, it is time to look at the crystal ball and see who will hold that crystal football at the end of the year. Looking at my predictions of the conferences, there may be plenty of controversy if all goes to as planned (in other words, it will not) in my predictions. But let’s see how far off I will be in 2019 shall we?
The Power 5 could end up with 12-1 or 13-0 champions from each conference which means somebody may get hosed in the end from a conference. I had Washington (12-1), Michigan (12-1) Oklahoma (13-0), Georgia (12-1), and Clemson (13-0) to win their conferences and pray that they end up being one of the top 4 selected by the playoff committee. So who do I think gets in?
Not much of a debate if the Sooners and the Tigers go in the Playoff assuming they go undefeated. Clemson stays at #1 overall. But Georgia will get in if they defeat Alabama and have wins against Florida, Texas A&M, and Notre Dame to bump their resume to #2 over Oklahoma. Regardless, Clemson takes the first spot and plays their game in Atlanta while Georgia and Oklahoma go out to the Phoenix area to play another playoff game against each other for the second time in three years. So who gets #4?
Looking at the contenders for that at-large spot: Michigan, Washington, LSU, and Alabama could all vie for it. However, if Alabama loses two games (something they haven’t done in a regular season + SEC Championship since 2010) and both of them being their toughest games, it is hard to see them break the top 4 (see Georgia last year). LSU could be 11-1 but probably won’t get to the SEC Championship and it could hurt the Tigers there with two teams also having 1 loss and a conference title. So, down to Michigan and Washington. The Wolverines if they go 11-1 + a Big Ten title may trump the Huskies in part because of resumes again. Michigan would net wins against Notre Dame and Ohio State to sneak in and face Clemson down at the Peach Bowl, a place where they got ran off the field to Florida the year before.
So my top 4: Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan; Clemson vs. Michigan in the Peach Bowl and Georgia vs. Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl
The New Year’s Six games will be as follows:
Cotton Bowl: LSU vs. Boise State
Orange Bowl: Syracuse vs. Florida
Rose Bowl: Ohio State vs. Washington
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Nebraska
I won’t do a prediction of those games because honestly I wouldn’t know where to begin. LSU vs. Boise State would be tempting to see and I’d be interested in the Buckeyes/Huskies rematch with the two Georgia transfers in Justin Fields (Ohio State) and Jacob Eason (Washington dueling it out). Nebraska would be bent on showing they are back while Alabama could be in a hangover from not making the Playoff for the first time since its inception (though I’d pick Alabama in a close one). Syracuse vs. Florida would be…..okay I guess.
PEACH BOWL: #1 CLEMSON VS. #4 MICHIGAN: While Michigan will possess a strong defense like always, it is always going to come back to speed. The Wolverines struggled tremendously against Ohio State in part for that (and Florida State a few years prior). And it is going to be the downfall here with Clemson, who plays physical and fast. I don’t think Michigan has the speed to compete with the Tigers and honestly I think it could be over around halftime. So Harbaugh’s detractors will go “yeah, you beat Ohio State, but you can’t beat the big boys outside of the Big Ten.” Harbaugh is 1-3 in Bowl games at Michigan. 1-4 after this one. CLEMSON 45, MICHIGAN 17
FIESTA BOWL: #2 GEORGIA VS. #3 OKLAHOMA: We get a few rematches here. First the classic Rose Bowl war with the Bulldogs and Sooners where Georgia won in OT. And Georgia vs. Jalen Hurts, pt. 3. Now, from a defensive standpoint Georgia dominates and I’m forever a believer in defense wins championships so in this case I’d like to lean towards Georgia. However, the one issue that Kirby Smart’s teams has (whether as head coach at Georgia or coordinator at Alabama) is the inability to match-up against bigger, faster wide receivers to go along with a dual threat QB like Hurts (Georgia fans still remember the nightmares he caused in the SEC Championship last year). Now the game will be decided on the line, notably Oklahoma’s offensive line which is going to be very inexperienced while Georgia’s defensive line who struggles to create any form of a pass rush (so far a Smart staple in Athens) to prevent a big running play. If Oklahoma protects Hurts and gives him time to create, the Bulldogs are in SERIOUS trouble despite having one of the best defenses around. If Georgia pressures Hurts and makes him look more like 2017 Hurts in the National Title game, where they rattled him beautifully, then Georgia will be in their second national championship game in 3 years. But given each other’s history, I have to think Oklahoma controls the line and Georgia has little-to-no-answers for Hurts. OKLAHOMA 42, GEORGIA 38
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: #1 CLEMSON VS. #3 OKLAHOMA: If the Sooners have an albatross opponent in college football, it has been the Tigers. Dabo Swinney has found a formula to really stop Oklahoma’s offense dead in their tracks in the few times they’ve played since 2013. Again, it will come back to the offensive line for Oklahoma against Clemson’s defensive line which will be young, but I think both sides will have their games elevated by then. But where it will be is if the Tigers can get after Hurts (they can), and if Oklahoma can stop Lawrence from rocking and rolling like he did last year vs. Alabama. I just think Clemson on offense is just too much to handle for a Sooners defense that is still not up to snuff all that much. The Sooners will keep it close but I think Clemson is just on another level at this point, even moreso than Alabama. Tigers repeat and will be the new dynasty. CLEMSON 44, OKLAHOMA 31
My Pick for the Heisman Trophy? Jalen Hurts. He’s going to be in a system that he could just shatter records.
The ACC was and up-and-down conference last year. Clemson won another national championship while Syracuse and Virginia rose through the ranks. However, the likes of Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Louisville pretty much imploded early on and got knocked on its rear end the rest of the way. Adding on top of it with them, Duke, Georgia Tech, NC State, Pitt, Wake Forest, and Boston College could not generate any consistency to their seasons while North Carolina was just awful. So it is one extreme or the other in the ACC last year. Will it change this year?
Clemson is the king of the mountain while there really isn’t much of a viable contender right now. Syracuse has given them fits the last two seasons including a win in 2017. Will the Orange give Clemson a legitimate shot in the standings? Can Florida State rebound? Can the ACC Coastal have a shot of being a legitimate threat?
I’m going to try a different format so I don’t kill myself on the weekends from now on. Instead of giving a team capsule (which takes forever for me) I’m going to put out a key question for each team and then give my projected record. So let’s try it and see how it goes.
CLEMSON: Can the Tigers repeat another undefeated season? Despite the ACC powers being really down, there is one game that still is going to be watched: Syracuse. And this may be a huge game September 14 in the Carrier Dome because both teams have very favorable schedules. However, Trevor Lawrence is the quarterback and 6 other starters return including 4 linemen and very underrated running back Travis Etienne. Add in the receivers who just can dominate at any point, and you may have the best offense in the nation. It’s going to be the defense in question early up front. That’s why I think that game in Syracuse might pose a problem. They got a great secondary, but can they push up on the line? That will be the key issue. But aside from that, Clemson should pretty much dominate most if not all their games in 2019. Maybe keep an eye on their rival game in South Carolina given how the Gamecocks did throw it around pretty well on them, but even then I don’t see Clemson losing that. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 10-2. MY PREDICTION: 12-0. That game will be a fight in the Carrier Dome I believe.
SYRACUSE: Can Syracuse be the sleeper in the Playoff picture? Only if they can beat Clemson. But they do bring a lot of starters back and a quarterback in Tommy DeVito who has experience, but yet to gain consistency. However, he will have a different offense to go with since Eric Dungey’s mobility will not be there. He will throw to experienced receivers and have Moe Neal in the backfield. But the question needs to be can they make huge strides on defense? The Orange struggled in the passing game in 2018 (116th) but bring back their entire secondary and they do have great pass-rushers in Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson, which will be interesting if they can get to Lawrence in their Clemson match. So I expect Syracuse’s defense to play a huge role this year and if they do upset Clemson, that will be the reason why. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 9-3 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 IF Syracuse beats Clemson, I can see them running the table or at least going 11-1 (don’t know if they can beat Florida State in Tallahassee though). Either way a New Year’s Six Bowl is a likely with a record like that.
WAKE FOREST: Can the Deacons continue stability in the program? Interesting is that Wake Forest has strung together a decent run under Dave Clawson in the last few years. Clawson has turned a program around that was vying with Virginia as the worst program in the ACC. Granted 6-7 wins every year isn’t like wowing, but better than where they were. Wake Forest has some uphill challenges to build off of their run. Do they use Jamie Newman who played well down the stretch or incumbent starter Sam Hartman who injured his leg? Both played well last year though it seems like Newman is more of a playmaker. More questions are abound with the defense however as it has been a mess the last few seasons. They only bring back 4 starters which is a problem. However, two of the starters are at corners and there are hopes that Essang Bassey is the guy there and one of the best in the ACC. But given consistency issues and not much upgrade on defense, don’t figure the Deacons to be in the race for an ACC Championship game appearance (not with Clemson there obviously). That said, they could take another step up in the right direction. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. Deacons will continue to push upwards, but only if that defense makes progress
FLORIDA STATE: Will Willie Taggart survive the 2019 season? It all depends on how they play. The Noles last year failed to make a bowl game for the first time in 36 years. Even a berth to a bowl is not necessarily a life saver to Taggart. The biggest issue is that the offensive line was putrid. Deondre Francois is still alive, but I wondered at times if he would be during the season. But a new quarterback will take over whether it is James Blackman or Alex Hornibrook. Blackman has the inside track and played well for the Noles when he was in. Cam Akers. much like Francois, was pretty much unable to do what he could have done thanks to the line. So it will all depend on the line, which may be a problem in the ACC. Offensive coordinator Kendall Briles hopes the offensive line can improve so he can install the systems he wants. The other thing is going to be can the defense step up as they were pretty weak there as well too. But they like the linebacking crew to really get things going. However, it will have to take major jumps on both sides of the ball to really feel like Florida State is legit again. The good news is they have the talent. They just need to utilize it. So a 7-5 season and possible blowout losses to Clemson and Florida may not keep Taggart around. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. I don’t think it will be enough for Taggart to survive the high demand of winning in Tallahassee.
BOSTON COLLEGE: Will the Eagles ever get out of the rut of being a 6-7 win team? Hard to say. Boston College in recent memory was known as being a run-first, run-often and play physical defense in the process. They have AJ Dillon at running back and when healthy is one of the best backs in the nation. Anthony Brown can be a quality quarterback if he continues to step up. But the defense kinda went backwards in a big way as they were pretty much middle-of-the-pack to bottom-half in the college world. Not good when right now the Eagles offense has been relatively one-dimensional. The defense and Brown needs to step up and if Dillon is not in the game either due to injury or because they’re down, Boston College will keep struggling if they can’t get the defense worked out or if Brown doesn’t improve. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 6-6. The Eagles could get off to a nice start being 6-1 before the second half is doomsday (Clemson/Syracuse/Florida State/Notre Dame in four straight games) By then, they may just run out of gas at Pittsburgh.
NC STATE: How far will the Wolfpack take a step back with the exits of Ryan Finley, Jakobi Meyers, and Kelvin Harmon on offense? I think it is a nice drop and when you add in losing Bradley Chubb the year before, you really get hit a lot. The Wolfpack will have to rely on their defense a bit more. Good if it means stopping the run, but if the passing defense continues its mishaps you could see NC State near the bottom of the ACC in 2019 It is hard to replace a guy like Finley at Raleigh. But when the key weapons on offense are also gone with Finley and the running game on top of it is gone too, problems will occur. But if the defense improves especially against the pass, look no further than James Smith-Williams on the line going after quarterbacks. But it may not be a fun year in Raleigh if you are a Wolfpack fan. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 6-6 NC State will have a few games they should win, but they will fall behind a good chunk of the ACC for at least this year.
LOUISVILLE: How long will it take Scott Satterfield to get the Cardinals back to respectability? Hard to say, but don’t expect a massive rebound in Louisville in 2019. Yeah, the Cardinals couldn’t really do anything last year and Bobby Petrino was kicked out of the door (which was a nice thing given how he ups and leaves programs). It’s really hard to figure out where Louisville will be, though I don’t know if the talent is there on either side of the ball at this point. It will be a nice long rebuild if there isn’t a quarterback to go for. Seems like there isn’t a cut favorite and just woes all over the place. Hassan Hall may be the focal point of the offense at running back. They do have a group of linebackers who have a lot of seasoning, but nobody stands out, save maybe CJ Avery. So what you will see in Louisville will not be an about-face. And worse, the teams they see are more talented the Cardinals. BEST CASE RECORD: 4-8 WORST CASE RECORD 1-11 MY PREDICTION: 2-10. They may put up a stronger fight with Satterfield, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and Louisville’s program isn’t going to be rebuilt in a year.
MIAMI: Can the Hurricanes get that needed quarterback to compete? Well, the hope WAS that Ohio State transfer Tate Martell would be the guy to get Miami in that direction, but Jarren Williams will take over when the Hurricanes play Florida to start the season. So you already have that as a bit of an issue. And that is why probably the Hurricanes collapse late in 2017 and not really be a serious threat in 2018 because of the poor play of Malik Rosier. It is also why Mark Richt (who was pressured to fire his son who was coaching the offense) had enough and retired. So Manny Diaz takes over in what kinda feels like of a messy situation despite the talent pool in Miami. Williams will have Dan Enos as his offensive coordinator so that may be very helpful, though the offensive line is going to be a major question mark in 2019. DeeJay Dallas could be a star in the making but if the line can’t block for him, it may be pointless. So Miami once again will rely on the defense, which ranked #1 against the pass and looks to be aggressive as ever and the linebacking corps may be the best around. So again, Miami may end up winning some games on defense until the offense figures things out. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 (Disclaimer: I did put this prediction up before the Florida game and said Florida would win so nothing really changes here) Miami may end up winning it through defense once again and has both Virginia schools coming down to Hard Rock Stadium. That’s a huge advantage.
VIRGINIA: Can Bronco Mendenhall get the Cavaliers to that next step? It’s hard to think that at one time Virginia was a legit football program after years and years of futility in the ACC. Yeah, probably not a national contender, but in the 90’s they had some excellent teams. But Mendenhall provides stability and he’s a proven coach with how well he did out at BYU. But right now the “biggest thing” Virginia fans want from Mendenhall is a win over rival Virginia Tech who have just slapped the Cavaliers silly for so long now. A win over the Hokies for the Cavaliers may be what the Cavaliers need to really up the program. Virginia has a defense that has been improving and could only get better in 2019 with linebackers who are strong and Jordan Mack at linebacker may be a name to watch. So if that upgrades and the offense moves up from being a mediocre one. High hopes are set on Bryce Perkins, a true dual-threat quarterback and could have a monster year again. But they need a run game to replace Jordan Ellis. If the Cavaliers can upgrade both sides, which they should as the talent level is rising in Charlottesville, Virginia could be a tough out, even perhaps for Clemson should they see each other in the ACC Championship game. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 10-2. Virginia may be the biggest sleeper in college football in 2019, assuming the run game improves.
VIRGINIA TECH: Can the Hokies recover from last year’s disaster of a season? My answer is yes. The Hokies do return everybody back from last year on defense, which will be Bud Foster’s last season running that group. But last year on defense was an absolute nightmare for the Hokies. They should be much better on defense if they stay healthy. The experience is there, but what got them was the injury as they were depleted. But the offense also has questions notably in the run game and blocking. Ryan Willis played admirably at quarterback last year after Josh Jackson got injured, but the line has to improve but with questions with experience, it could be hit or miss. So, Virginia Tech, if the defense led by Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield at linebackers can get back to what we know at Blacksburg about Bud Foster’s defense, could be a threat once again in the ACC. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. It may come down to Virginia in the last week of the season but I just am concerned the shift of talent may fall in Charlottesville.
DUKE: Can Duke compete without Daniel Jones? Whether you think Daniel Jones will be an adequate NFL quarterback or not one thing will be true: Duke will miss him. Quentin Harris will take over for Jones this year and Duke brings back 4 starters on the line to protect him and a running back in Deon Jackson to take pressure off of him. But the issue will be at receiver where they are vastly inexperienced. So Harris has his work cut out for him, especially to open the year against Alabama in Atlanta. If Duke is to win, it will be on defense….somewhat. The Blue Devils are solid against the pass, but they are also thin outside of their starters, where 9 return so any key injuries will be a major issue on defense for Duke, especially up front where they could get obliterated by the better blocking teams in the ACC with the offensive line. So to answer the Jones question, yes. But even if Jones was there for another year, he’d struggle with what he has to work with in Durham. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Duke doesn’t have the same talent as the others in the conference. They will get the weaker squads like Pitt and Georgia Tech, but the after that run will be murder and possibly looking at an 0-6 second half.
PITTSBURGH: Is Pat Narduzzi in trouble at Pitt? I’d say yes. Questions are all over with the offense starting with replacing starters on the line and two running backs tallying over 1,000 yards and Kenny Pickett who was inconsistent as inconsistent could get out. Can Pickett do well? Can the line protect Pickett? Can AJ Davis be a feature back? The defense isn’t much better. Narduzzi was a stout defensive coordinator at Michigan State before getting the Panthers job. They played strong down the stretch last year but only return five. The linebacker play will have to massively improve but will be hard to do so with missing two guys. The secondary is solid with Damar Hamlin at safety who is very underrated. And if Rashad Weaver & company get to that quarterback like he did last year (6.5 sacks in 2018), the Panthers may have something cooking and could keep Narduzzi around a little bit longer. BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Just too many questions on offense to make me seriously think the Panthers have much of a shot, if any in 2019.
GEORGIA TECH:How long of an adjustment will it take for Geoff Collins to get the offense in rhythm? That’s the million dollar question in Atlanta. We’ve seen Georgia Tech play in the triple-option offense for the past decade with mixed results. But now that Johnson has retired, the new coach will put in a more modern offense. But any program that has used the triple option and then go more modern has taken a very long time to get going. Nebraska is at the top of that list while Georgia Southern (Johnson’s old school) opted to try the modern one for a while and was just a disaster. The likely starter is Tobias Oliver, but didn’t throw much and when he did was streaky (under 50%). Oliver does have a dynamic playmaking ability though. Jordan Mason should be the feature back though teams will zero in on him more instead with no option. The defense will be a work in process as the Jackets bring back only three guys so if you expect the Jackets to rely on defense this year, it may not be the year to do so. The offense I think will have major issues all season and it will be a long season in Atlanta in 2019. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8 If the Jackets can find a way to get any rhythm down the stretch, the record won’t speak for itself, but I don’t see Georgia Tech flipping the script on offense.
NORTH CAROLINA: How quick can Mack Brown get the Tar Heels back? Maybe not this season as there is going to be a lot of turnover for the Heels, especially on offense with a freshman at quarterback in Sam Howell. But the hopes that UNC’s offense won’t slowing down from Larry Fedora to Brown is high as Brown wants to keep that up-tempo, quick strike offense going on. Where they will be hoping good things to happen is with the running game as a lot of the backs return so there is depth. But the issue will be can they get better on defense? That is the problem and up-tempo style offenses when they aren’t doing well leaves defenses out high and dry (see Oregon and Texas Tech). So if you are all hoping for UNC to get rolling and improving to a bowl game this year, it may not be it. There are questions on that defense, though I do believe if there is a strength it has to be the secondary with starters in three spots, but the depth is a concern. So Brown’s return to UNC will probably not be gumdrops and lollipops in the first year, but if the Heels can keep their high school stand-outs in the state and in Chapel Hill, they will be well enough to get back to “normal.” BEST CASE RECORD: 4-8 WORST CASE RECORD: 1-11 MY PREDICTION: 3-9 Heels could get a W against rival Duke and FCS Mercer, but it will take another year before North Carolina sees a bowl game at least. Just too high of a turnover for the Heels.
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP: CLEMSON VS. MIAMI: I’m going to sum it up nicely on this one: Miami needs turnovers from its defense to win. That is how they are built. They are good at doing so especially wearing the gold turnover chain, but Clemson is on another level overall. They do not make silly mistakes on offense and/or defense. I cannot see a way this game is super-competitive though Jarren Williams is a far better option than Malik Rosier ever was. Clemson should claim their 5th straight ACC title. CLEMSON 45, MIAMI 21
NOTRE DAME: Can the Irish repeat last year’s performance of a Playoff? Hard to say. They return 9 starters on offense including quarterback Ian Book and four offensive linemen. So that shouldn’t be an issue They bring six back on defense which was pretty good at keeping teams out of the end zone (until Clemson), but the issue isn’t who they have, don’t have, miss. It’s the issue of who they face on the road, which is Michigan and Georgia. Both teams have high hopes in 2019 for the Playoff. That is not going to be easy and the Irish didn’t have a team on the road last year that could legitimately stop them until Clemson, who slapped them silly. So it is going to be a task. If the Irish defense keeps up the pace under Chuck Lea like they had with Mike Elko, then they have a shot at at least stealing one in Ann Arbor or Athens, especially if Julian Okwara can create havoc on the end and get after quarterbacks. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 9-3 . I don’t see the Irish winning at Georgia at all. I don’t see Michigan losing to them either but that game may be closer. And that game in Stanford isn’t going to be a fun one. But no Playoff for Notre Dame.
Is the SEC about to return to dominating glory with multiple teams and not just Alabama? The Tide will always figure in the chase for a national championship and have hopes for that this year. Georgia has taken Alabama’s “business style” approach and has used it to near-perfection. Oddly, the main teams (Florida, LSU) right behind them have a different approach and that’s “we know they are the kings of the mountain but we don’t have to respect either one of them.” It is a cocky attitude to have but it works for those programs. Hope is rising big time in Tennessee and Texas A&M that their time is now and ready to take down their rivals while Auburn looks to play spoiler to everybody and spoil themselves into Playoff contention. The rest however? Missouri is really at the hands of the NCAA right now while you may have some step-backs in Kentucky, Mississippi State, and South Carolina while Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt just hopes to fight. So in other words, the conference is top-heavy but it will always be a fun one in the world of the SEC.
(1) GEORGIA: Is it “The Year?” Georgia fans seem to think so after putting up top three recruiting classes the last three seasons. They are also going “we must beat Alabama” to get atop of the mountain. And everything is laid out for them beautifully. A quarterback who is accurate and smooth in Jake Fromm. A running back in D’Andre Swift who can break a touchdown at any point of a game, deep in receivers, deep in offensive linemen, deep everywhere. Defensively linebackers may be the best in the nation. However, concerns may be are they able to create any pass rush and were at times sketchy on stopping the run. The secondary also has concerns at corner where in the past Kirby Smart’s defense whether at Georgia or Alabama have issues going against the better and more physical receivers and yes, play-calling by Smart, which many questioned in his loss to Alabama and LSU last year. That said, the talent level is insane at Georgia not to be a National Championship contender. Georgia has a great schedule albeit a challenging one. They see Notre Dame and Texas A&M heading there while having intriguing road trips at Tennessee and Auburn while Florida will be for the marbles in the division in November. They can win all their games and head to Atlanta in the SEC Championship where it is likely Alabama and that is where their ultimate challenge awaits. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 11-1 Georgia should handle their home schedule as I don’t see the Irish or Aggies having the same caliber players yet and I think they escape Tennessee and Florida but I think after their little antic against Auburn may bite them on the butt down at Jordan Hare Stadium. Probably not a bad thing to get that loss out of the way.
(2) FLORIDA: What a difference a win streak makes. Florida’s back-to-back losses against Georgia and Missouri in the Swamp had Florida fans screaming for Feleipe Franks head. 4 wins later including the Gators offense rolling in all of them and all of a sudden Franks has Gators fans talking about another Heisman trophy winner. Of course it is Florida fans but still…it is another praise for Dan Mullen as he is becoming that guy who grooms quarterbacks. If Franks IS consistent and keeps cool, the Gators are a sleeper in the SEC and the playoff. If he isn’t, well, we know what will happen to that with Florida fans. Franks will have weapons at his disposal in Lamical Perine (800 yards) and a receiver tandem that is solid throughout. It will be the question of can they protect Franks on the line where it is very inexperienced. Florida’s defense is up-and-down, unable to stop the run but tough on the pass. If they continue the aggressiveness in the passing game that will help them a lot and need to given Jachai Polite has moved on. But it will be tough to replace him and a pass rush will be needed and the linebackers will have to really step up to halt the run especially. David Reese can be a monster for the Gators there. If Florida shows growth on stopping the run, the Georgia game will be very very intense. Speaking of, Florida’s schedule is now currently zeroed in on Georgia, though a game in LSU is always tough and hated. Florida players and the fans have talked a lot about reclaiming their SEC East throne over Georgia but so far, the last few years it has all been Georgia. The Gators will have to deal with an interesting run leading up to it with Auburn, LSU, and South Carolina right before it so if they can muster a run of 4-0 or 3-1 going into Jacksonville that day, all bets may be off. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 Florida is still a year away against the Bulldogs and I don’t see Franks beating Georgia’s defense at all. I also don’t see the Gators winning in Baton Rouge either.
(3) MISSOURI: Ouch. The Tigers season was over in January as Missouri lost their shot at any kind of postseason when the NCAA put sanctions on them due to “academic fraud.” Many feel like the sanctions were too harsh and such. Missouri has appealed and we won’t know if the Tigers will be in a bowl game or not in 2019 but currently, the answer is “no.” Perhaps the biggest change at Missouri will be the quarterback as former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant takes over. The quarterback has been accurate in his time at Clemson and is a mobile guy, but will have a good tandem at receiver with Jalen Knox, Jonathan Johnson, and Albert Okwuegbunam at tight end. He will also have a line to protect him very well, but it will be Larry Rountree who could make things special in Missouri especially if the ban gets lifted. Rountree rushed for 1,200 yards in 2018 and could have more in 2019 with the line that the Tigers have. Defensively Missouri will. have to get better in a big way. The Tigers can stop the run as good as anybody especially with Jordan Elliott, but what has killed them is the inability to stop anybody in the air, as they were dead last in the SEC and 112th in the nation. As good as the line is, they are woeful in the passing game which puts too much pressure on the secondary, which isn’t too bad if anybody could get to the quarterbacks. Missouri has an interesting start with a trip to Wyoming (huh?) and come back to play West Virginia. By then we will now their fate if they can be eligible. But they can string a run of going 8-0 when they meet Georgia November 9th with a very favorable schedule and maybe some hope in Columbia assuming they get the ban lifted. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3 Missouri rolls but gets tripped up in Lexington before Georgia which will spiral outward after that. I do think the Tigers will get their ban lifted and hope they do.
(4) TENNESSEE: Jeremy Pruitt has re-installed hope for Volunteers fans despite Tennessee failing to make a bowl game for the second straight year. However, it seems like the nonsense the Vols had under Butch Jones is gone and discipline and stability is back. Jarrett Guarantano is the main guy at quarterback and the Vols need to make sure he is upright in 2019 because there is nothing behind him. It may be tricky given the Volunteers have to deal with only one returning starter in Jahmir Johnson but also have high hopes for freshman tackles Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris. If they can protect Guarantano and running back Ty Chandler who could have a 1,000 yards easy, then Tennessee will be in great shape and that’s not including talking about what kind of year Marquez Callaway could have at receiver. Defensively the Volunteers will need to answer questions especially replacing their key starters notably on the line in Kyle Phillips and Shy Tuttle. A new group of players play up on the line in Savion Williams and Emmit Golden, but just major depth and experience issues dominate Tennessee here. Linebackers will have to up their game more but have some major stars in the making notably Darrell Taylor (8 sacks) and Daniel Bituli. The linebackers will make everybody else on the team better while the secondary’s youth, talent, and depth could have the potential to be the best in the SEC including star corner Bryce Thompson. Tennessee has the unfortunate privilege to see Georgia and Alabama yearly and this year get them in a three week span. It will be very interesting to see where they stand against those two teams when they face off. Georgia is at Rocky Top while the Vols visit T-Town. It is feasible that the Volunteers could make it a close and uncomfortable game against the Bulldogs, but will be interesting how they stack up in Alabama. The rest of the schedule is fairly tough yet manageable including a trip to Florida before the Georgia game. So October will see where the Vols stand in year #2 under Pruitt. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 I don’t see Pruitt getting Florida, Georgia, or Alabama but think that Bulldogs game in Knoxville could be a fight.
(5) KENTUCKY: The good news is that Kentucky enjoyed the most memorable season they’ve had in a very long time, winning 10 games and finally beating Florida while having two star players on the squad. The bad news? The stars are gone and the Wildcats have to somewhat start over. AJ Rose will replace Bennie Snell but it will be hard to duplicate Snell’s numbers. So that means quarterback Terry Wilson will be the focal point, hoping to get consistent play out of him and his wide receivers, which is a problem as they were dreadful in the passing game last year. But questions are abound with passing, running, and blocking on the line (outside of Logan Stenberg), which will be very problematic. On the defensive side, Kentucky is silently consistent but again will have to replace another stud in Josh Allen and his 17 sacks. But the linebacking squad is very deep without Allen and could factor into the Wildcats success in 2019. The defensive line hopes to improve if Josh Paschal is healthy and goes along well with Quinton Bohanna and Calvin Taylor. Secondary will be a monster question with major experience issues there and that could be Kentucky’s major downfall in the defense in 2019. Kentucky’s schedule is relatively favorable outside of seeing Florida and Georgia so if this is a year to rebuild, a schedule works great for that. But finding 10 wins will be far more difficult in 2019 with or without an “easy” schedule. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 7-5 Kentucky will probably improve as the season goes on, but the season will be dictated on how well the offense plays out.
(6) SOUTH CAROLINA: Will Muschamp is probably going to have some heat to his seat especially after seeing his signature defense start to implode on him a bit. The Gamecocks finished 95th nationally against the run. Not good given what they see in the SEC. The passing isn’t much better either. What you ended up with was a 7-6 record and really nothing much in the way of being super competitive in the SEC East. The good news? Jake Bentley returns and put up strong numbers last year (has to cut down on the turnovers himself though). South Carolina’s run game has also fallen flat under Muschamp as while Rico Dowdle has been steady but also more committed to the run. At least the line will be solid as three starters return. Defense will be under the scope as last year they had imploded a bit in allowing yards and points. That can’t happen again. But they do have solidity in the line with Javon Kinlaw and DJ Wonnum though probably not as deep as the other top teams. Seocndary has high hopes in Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu some hope as well. But if the LB’s can’t play well like they did last year, the Gamecocks will continue their freefall on defense, which needs to step up due to a streaky offense. South Carolina has a nightmare schedule of seeing the Georgia/Alabama/Clemson trio in 2019 worse, they visit Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Missouri, all tough foes. Any win against those teams will be huge. I just don’t see it happening, and it may cost South Carolina a bowl game. BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 5-7 South Carolina’s schedule is a nightmare most years anyway but this is really bordering the line of being unfair.
(7) VANDERBILT: It is hard to really project Vanderbilt on a yearly basis. Yes, they won’t be a major threat in the SEC East but they are bound to always put up a fight with the teams that are favorites. But this year it seems like they have their work cut out for them. Questions at QB whether it is transfer Riley Neal or Deuce Wallace and that is alarming because nobody is seeing them replace Kyle Shurmur. At least Ke’Shawn Vaughn is in the backfield and if he has another year like last year he could be on of the top rushers in college football. The receivers are coming back and are stout, but if they are unable to get the ball from the quarterback it isn’t going to matter much. The defense returns four starters but the Commodores has gone backwards on defense for a while now. And in a conference where rushing is focused, Vanderbilt’s run defense is in major trouble if that doesn’t improve. The Commodores hope they have enough size and depth now up front (jury is out) which has been the hope for a while that they have depth. But in a conference where most years the Commodores are outmatched with talent, it may not mean much. Vanderbilt has a horrid schedule with Georgia to start the year and then Purdue on the road and LSU back at home. If they can find ways to be competitive in any of those games then they will be a team to watch down the stretch to sneak in the bowl game and maybe surprise someone, but they have to travel to Florida and Tennessee which will not be fun this year. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 3-9 I think the talent at Vanderbilt is outmatched in the SEC. They will take their home non-conference games but lose at Purdue as well.
(1) ALABAMA: After an uncharacteristic blowout loss in a big game to Clemson has led Alabama to uncharacteristically get visibly angry. Could be good, but could be bad if they let it at at them. The offense should be ready to roll in 2019 with Tua Tagovailoa 100% healthy and hopefully not taking any unnecessary risks running the ball. Najee Harris is in line to have a year similar to what prior Alabama backs have had for Heisman trophies or considerations (Ingram, Richardson, Henry, etc.). Backing him up will be Brian Robinson after trey Sanders is likely lost for the season with a foot injury. The line returns only two, but they like the depth there in Tuscaloosa. But Alabama’s receivers are the bread and butter right now. Finding ways to get it to Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and DeVonta Smith isn’t an issue. Defensively dare I say it is where the questions are. They struggled on the line last year and questions with experience and depth at linebacker as well but Anfernee Jennings could have a big year. While the secondary got lit up last year at times, they bring back the experience and Patrick Surtain Jr could be the next best defensive back in Alabama football. Alabama’s schedule is always interesting and the road run isn’t too fun seeing the likes of South Carolina (Gamecocks last beat Alabama in Columbia in 2010), Texas A&M (Aggies have played Alabama tough in recent memory), Mississippi State (Bulldogs love playing physical against Alabama) and Auburn. However, despite weaknesses, the talent is far higher than most of those places, even that of Auburn. And after having what transpired last year in the National Championship a ticked off Alabama squad won’t be fun for anyone else. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 10-2 MY PREDICTION: 11-1. Alabama’s defense feels shaky right now compared to years past and how the final stretch of games last year (Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson) didn’t ease Tide fans and that Texas A&M game feels very bothersome.
(2) LSU: The story has always been the same for the last 7-8 years at Baton Rouge and that is A. Do they have enough at quarterback to be a serious threat and B. Can they find a way to beat Alabama? Joe Burrow has been solid at quarterback since joining the Tigers from Ohio State. But he really has yet to show he can be that guy who can take over when needed. And to be “that guy” he has to beat Alabama. He will have a line that will protect him pretty well which means you can see a strong connection with Justin Jefferson who could be the next great LSU receiver. At back, the Tigers could have something similar to what they had a few years back with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and freshman John Emery Jr. So if LSU’s offense can play strong it will go a long way. LSU’s defense still starts with the secondary and it starts this year at safety with probably the best one in college football in Grant Delpit. Adding on, the defense returns 8 including some underrated linebackers in Michael Divinity Jr. and Jacob Phillips. If LSU’s line (which maybe the biggest question they have) can stay healthy and stand up to the others in the SEC, this is going to be a feared defense like they used to have in their heyday when they were near the top of the nation. The Tigers schedule has some tricks to it with roadies at Texas and Alabama. And Mississippi State is always a rivalry game that anything is possible. But it is pretty favorable aside from that. And they can get into the Playoff via backdoor a la Alabama in 2017. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 11-1. I like LSU to be the dark horse candidate for the national title this year. If their lone loss is to Alabama (which it will be I think) and they avoid the SEC Championship, then they can sneak in being one of the four teams playing for a national championship.
(3) TEXAS A&M: The good news is Jimbo Fisher has recruited well since coming to College Station. The bad news is have you seen their schedule this year? Holy smokes! Even with the talent they have compiled, seeing four teams that have Playoff expectations and three of them being on the road, that is a nightmare for anyone. IF Kellen Mond continues his progression, the Aggies could have a very special year. He will have a strong offensive line to work with and two of his top targets return in 2019. The only question will be at running back is if Jashaun Corbin can take over on a permanent basis (all signs point to yes). So the Aggies will be a tough out for even the Playoff-minded opponents as well. But the defense will have questions as only one starter returns up front and linebackers are a major question mark. Linebacker has lack of experience and consistency there which spells doom if they cannot improve there. The secondary also has questions though three backs return there though consistency plagued them. The Aggies schedule, as I said, is tough as nails. However, if there is one silver lining, the home schedule is very favorable (Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina, UTSA, Texas State) and they have a winnable run until they see Georgia and LSU to end the year. IF they stun Clemson in Death Valley (possible) there may be a shot the Aggies can go to Athens 10-0. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. I think they sting Alabama at Kyle Field (they played the Tide Tough last year despite the score), but those three road games are nearly impossible though I can see them being in all three. I also think they will be more consistent on defense as the year goes on.
(4) AUBURN: It seems like Gus Malzahn is always under fire when Auburn had a disappointing run the previous year. And then the Tigers find a way to A. Beat Georgia. B. Beat Alabama. C. Make themselves as a national championship contender. D. Play in a big bowl game. Also it seems like there’s always a question at quarterback as well. But this year is a big one with either Bo Nix or Joey Gatewood, either a true or redshirt freshman respectively. Depending on how you look at it through practices, Auburn is either going to struggle immensely with either one or the defense is just THAT good, especially up front. Auburn’s D-line can stand up to either Georgia’s or Alabama’s which this year they see on the Plains could play big and with Nick Coe there, watch out! Adding on, you have a dangerous tandem with Derrick Brown and Tyrone Truesdell at tackle which means you will have problems getting past them in the run game. Linebackers may be “inexperienced” but high hopes are with KJ Britt and Owen Pappoe. Safeties are also a huge strength with two seniors in Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson who are as strong as anybody. So it is probably not necessarily Nix or Gatewood that struggles but how improved the defense is from last year. Which is also concerning about the line given they are all seniors/returning starters and getting dominated up front. But again, is it Auburn’s defense being THAT good? IF Seth Williams can get the ball from the quarterback he could be a huge gamebreaker for the Tigers offense and give secondaries nightmares. But who will step up at running back? Every year Auburn has great success, they have that beast in the backfield. Will JaTarvious Whitlow be THAT guy? Auburn’s scheudle much like their SEC West foes, is always murder. And starting in late September, the gauntlet begins for them at Texas A&M and doesn’t end until really until the Iron Bowl (well, save for Samford). Road trips to the Aggies, Florida, and LSU is just unreal. The “good news” is they have Georgia and Alabama at home and if they can find a way to that Georgia game at being 7-2 or even 8-1, oh boy. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. I’m going to say this: they’ll get Georgia and this may be the one year where Georgia may be the bigger game than Alabama largely because how the Bulldogs tried to run up the score on Auburn. I don’t see the Tigers winning their three tough road games and I do think that Alabama game is close but with the Tide edging to win the Iron Bowl. May not be enough for Malzahn to keep Auburn fans off his back.
(5) MISSISSIPPI STATE: Joe Moorhead was supposed to be the guy that continued the Bulldogs offensive ways after Mullen left for Florida. However, he relied on the defense that was actually probably the #1 defense in all of football in 2018. However, it was the offense that was woeful (at least the passing game) and was lost in their 4 SEC losses (they scored 7 or less points in those games). Nick Fitzgerald took a major step back at quarterback but is not there to call the shots. It will likely fall on Keytaon Thompson but Thompson will have to impress early to keep the job. He, like Fitzgerald, had accuracy issues and in a conference that has the defenses that are top notch, you need to be accurate. But regardless of who is at QB, the line should be pretty good returning three quality starters and running back should be strong with Kylin Hill there. But the biggest wonder is going to be on defense where only three starters return. Nobody up front is back as a starter, but the Bulldogs depth has been deep in previous years and continues this year. The secondary is in a similar spot with Cameron Dantzler returning at corner. But if the line can’t get a pass rush going the secondary will have to be the ones stepping up. Lastly the linebacker crew is headed by Erroll Thompson, so there shouldn’t be a major regression. The Bulldogs schedule every year should be a fun one but have a buzzsaw in the middle of it with four of six games away from Starkville and the two games at home are LSU and Alabama. Yikes. If Mississippi State shows improvement under Moorhead notably on offense it may not be seen in the standings. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 7-5 September schedule should be 4 wins there but then the roadies at Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M may just be too much to handle and I don’t see them beating LSU or Alabama at home in 2019.
(6) OLE MISS: The Rebels had entered last year’s game with Alabama hoping for a big upset as they have played the Tide very tough out in Oxford and questions of Bama’s D against the pass mixed with the beastly receivers. And after the first offensive play for Ole Miss it seemed like it would be a war. And 62 unanswered points later by Alabama, the Rebels showed they were nowhere on the same field as their foes from Tuscaloosa, or other teams in the SEC West. And Ole Miss is going to see the consequences of the penalties levied by the NCAA over Hugh Freeze as the talent level is going to dip. Matt Corral is a bright spot at QB, but will have new receivers all over the place as the top receivers from last year’s #1 passing attack are gone. Scottie Phillips could have a nice year if healthy and could be a 1,000 yard rusher which will only help their offense and with Rich Rodriguez calling the shots on offense. Defense, is where they were doomed last year, not even cracking the top 100, but former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre is running the D where he had success in Boulder with. However, it will be a new world from the PAC-12 where the competition wasn’t as strong. They should get better with improved schemes and more aggression, but they will be miles away from being like LSU or Alabama on defense. Ole Miss has returned to being bowl eligible in 2019 after their sanctions are over. However, the Rebels will be hard pressed to be qualified for one with the schedule as is. Seeing the SEC West foes including trips at Alabama, Auburn, and hated Mississippi State is VERY problematic and LSU is not going to be easy at all. If they want, they have got to find a way to win against California, Missouri, or stun Texas A&M. Not sure if they will do it. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7. The games they have that I pick the Rebs to win are winnable with what they have. But the gap with Ole Miss and the SEC West powers is too much and Mississippi State is in Starkville.
(7) ARKANSAS: Chad Morris could not have gotten off to a worse start with the Razorbacks. 2 non-conference losses to “group of five” teams of a mediocre Colorado State squad where they were blown out and then losing at home to North Texas pretty much signaled a disaster was waiting to happen. I think Morris’s style of offense isn’t going to work in the SEC as they just don’t have the same horses as their divisional foes. But if there is a bright spot there is a QB transfer in Ben Hicks, who knows Morris’s system from SMU and that the non-conference schedule could net them 4 wins right there. However, Arkansas receivers are not exactly a stout bunch and have issues beating defenders. That has to improve or you could throw Herbert, Tua, Fromm, and whoever else at quarterback and they would still be a disaster. The line and running backs have durability issues which brings other concerns as well. Rakeem Boyd if healthy could be a sleeper in the run-happy conference. The defense will only bring back five, but McTelvin Agim is a quality DT as is TJ Smith so there is a bright spot. But that is pretty much all that is there with depth issues and inconsistent play that will doom them agianst the skills sets of players all in the SEC West. Arkansas has a schedule where they could start out 3-1 before going to their annual match-up against the Aggies in Arlington where they always play Texas A&M tough. If they continue that trend, there could be a surprise here and there, but still ways from being super-competitive in the conference. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 5-7. I do think they will get a big conference W (for them) against Mississippi State at home. If they can play tough with the Aggies in Arlington, hope will be on the way.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: GEORGIA VS. ALABAMA: Is this year Georgia finally nabs the Tide? Three meetings in Atlanta since 2012 and all have unfolded the same way: Alabama was favored, Georgia outplays them for most of three quarters, builds a two-score lead midway through the third then Alabama mounts a huge comeback in the 4th due to questionable play-calling and key players making big plays and Alabama wins on what is really the last play each game. Will THAT continue? Alabama’s D may have lost its luster down the stretch in 2019 after dealing with offenses of Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson, leaving many to wonder if the Bulldogs could actually out-physical Alabama now. It will come down to three things: 1. The trench wars. Both sides value those linemen and whoever wins the line, wins the game mostly. 2. Can Kirby Smart call the right plays and not take silly gambles? 3. Which QB will have a better performance? Georgia got to Tua a lot last year before Jalen hurts arrived. There is no Hurts this year for Alabama but what may be very dangerous is the Tide bring back their top receivers in Jeudy, Ruggs, and Smith. If they are in that game, it will be an interesting tilt with Georgia’s strong secondary even with Baker gone. I think there may be more of a drive for Georgia to win that game largely because of what has transpired in the last two seasons. It may be another game-ender but going Georgia’s way. GEORGIA 30, ALABAMA 27
(1) IF GEORGIA PLAYS ALABAMA AGAIN AND LOSES, WILL THERE BE MAJOR CONCERN WITH KIRBY SMART BEING UNABLE TO WIN THE BIG ONE AT ATHENS? It’s a whisper now that “can Smart do it at Georgia?” While most Georgia fans feel like the time is now and approve of what Smart has done since taking over in 2016, he has not been immune to criticism, especially during key losses, not just the Alabama games with his in-game strategy and notably his love of fake punts and FG’s (see Auburn AND Alabama). IF Georgia sees Alabama in the SEC Championship and it turns out in a similar pattern where the Bulldogs lose again there will be a huge cloud on Smart that he may never shake off. Worse it will be heavier next year when Georgia visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in September of 2020 so my answer is yes.
(2) WILL TEXAS A&M BE AMONG THE ELITE PROGRAMS IN THE NATION THIS YEAR? Well, if they are, it will be because they found a way to win two of the following games: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and LSU. And only Alabama is at home. Athens, Clemson and Baton Rouge are travel stops for the Aggies. IF the Aggies go ahead and win at Clemson, all bets may be off. But right now, I am unsure if they can muster two. Time will tell. So if the Aggies win against Clemson or Alabama, yes.
(3) THERE WERE NO HEAD COACHING CHANGES IN THE SEC IN 2018. WILL THERE BE AFTER THE 2019 SEASON? Well, we know Gus Malzahn will always be a prime suspect if the Tigers struggle out of the gate and if they lose to Oregon to start the year (doubtful). But you somewhat wonder despite only having two years in if Chad Morris at Arkansas or Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State could have a warm seat if their programs don’t make a growth (notably Morris who went 2-10 in his first season with no conference wins). Maybe Will Muschamp if the Gamecocks continue to go backwards.