The Obstructed NCAA Top 5-Week 2

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

Maryland dominated against ACC’s #2 team

(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

Any loss for Washington especially a loss at home to an unranked team is devastating for the Huskies playoff chances

(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

LSU shredded Texas on defense and now looks to be that offensive juggernaut Tiger fans have been hoping for

(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.

That’s it for this week.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed NCAA Playoff (& New Year’s Six) Predictions-2019

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.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed ACC (& Notre Dame) Preview-2019

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.

ACC ATLANTIC

Lawrence is widely regardesd as the Heisman favorite

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.

Robinson and Syracuse are really chasing after Clemson in 2019

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 Demon Deacons defensive back Essang Bassey (21) on defense during first half action against the Boston College Eagles at BB&T Field on September 13, 2018 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Eagles defeated the Demon Deacons 41-34. (Brian Westerholt/Sports On Film)

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

Akers will need an offensive line to make a major impact

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.

Dillon needs to stay healthy if the Eagles are to be a legit threat

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.

If Smith-Williams is a dominant force at NC State, the Wolfpack could surprise a few people.

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.

Hassan Hall should be a bright spot for Louisville

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.

ACC COASTAL

Williams figures to be a huge improvement at quarterback in Miami

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.

Perkins play may decide how big of a year the Cavaliers have

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.

More pressure is on Dax Hollifield and the Hokies defense than the offense in 2019

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.

Jackson will be a major focal point for Duke in 2019

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.

Rashad Weaver will be counted on to pressure the quarterback

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.

Mason will be in a very different offensive system at Georgia Tech

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.

Hopes are high for North Carolina in the future with Mack Brown and Sam Howell

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.

Etienne could have a big day in the ACC Championship

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

Okwara will be a nightmare for opposing offenses

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.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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The Obstructed SEC Preview-2019

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.

SEC EAST

Fromm is the guy to lead Georgia to the promised land.

(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.

Franks confidence is running high heading into the 2019 season

(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.

Nov 3, 2018; Gainesville, FL, USA; Missouri Tigers running back Larry Rountree III (34) runs with the ball against the Florida Gators during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

(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.

Guarantano needs to have better protection if Tennessee wants to progress in the SEC

(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.

Terry Wilson will need to be more of a passer without Snell in 2019

(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.

Bentley will have to be Superman for the Gamecocks to compete.

(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.

Vaughn is going to make things on opposing defenses

(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.

SEC WEST

Tua’s play-making ability has made Alabama an offensvie juggernaut

(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.

Delpit will be a force to be rckoned with for the Tigers

(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.

Mond’s progression at quarterback could be a reason why the Aggies will be a tough out for the powers.

(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.

Coe will be a nightmare for opposing linemen.

(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.

Dantzler could be a budding star at Mississippi State

(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.

Phillips can play a vital part in Ole Miss’s offensive dominance

(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.

TJ Smith is a quality DT for Arkansas to really build around and learn from

(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

TOP QUESTIONS

It’s been the same thing: can Smart ever beat SAban?

(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.

Aggies are still chasing Alabama in the SEC

(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.

Malzahn remains under the scope at Auburn

(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.

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The Obstructed Big 12 Preview-2019

The Big 12 for years has been widely regarded as the weakest Power 5 Conference in college football. Last year didn’t necessarily change much though a Texas win against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl did help (as well as the PAC-12 falling back in a big way). The conference for the longest time has been dominated by the Sooners, who for the second straight year made the Playoff. But for the third time in the Playoff, the Sooners have gone one-and-done as teams have been able to gash up Oklahoma’s “optional” defense. Will it continue in 2019 or will the Sooners defense find ways to improve their defense and make the Playoff a 4th straight year? Texas under Tom Herman has made strides and the hope is the Longhorns are back as a top ten college program, but will have to answer questions. Baylor seems to have recovered from the Art Briles fiasco while Oklahoma State and TCU still look to be a thorn in the powers that be. Iowa State has plenty of hope in 2019 to surprise again. But there are going to be questions abound at West Virginia and Kansas State with new coaches and Kansas hopes to start a new era under Les Miles. So the Big 12 will have a lot of storylines in 2019.

Hurts will lead the way for Oklahoma in 2019

(1) OKLAHOMA: Two things dominate the landscape in Norman: 1. Jalen Hurts is a Sooner and hopes are he follows in the footsteps of Mayfield and Murray of winning a Heisman and making the Playoff and 2. Can the defense show any life? With or without Hurts, Oklahoma can put up points galore and will (48 points per game last year-most in college). They can beat you in any way possible on that side (run, pass, doesn’t matter). They have a bevvy of running backs who can break one to the house at any given time and they will with Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks (who combined for 2,000 yards in 2018). And they have receivers who can do it all the time. So Hurts will have some fun with his receivers who can also dominate like CeeDee Lamb. However, if there is one concern on the offense, it may be on the line and Hurts at times could get rattled at Alabama at times when he got hit. But if I am a Sooner fan, I wouldn’t be worried too much on that. On defense however, yes, they return nine but is it really a good thing? Oklahoma finished dead last against the pass and 114th overall on defense. Alex Grinch takes over as coordinator from Ohio State. They just got ran ragged by teams and Alabama royally exposed them in the Playoff badly. But while he has a leader and a linebacking stud in Kenneth Murray the rest have to be more aggressive, up front and in the secondary. The secondary has been a major albatross though so if they can’t stop teams in the air, they will remain a team that is an afterthought in the National Championship talk. Oklahoma has a very favorable schedule in 2019 as the road games at UCLA, Kansas, and Kansas State are very winnable and teams that are practically in rebuilds. The games to look at are Texas, Baylor, and Oklahoma State but the talent level the Sooners have are greatly wider than the latter two while they still probably hold an edge on the Longhorns. BEST CASE PREDICTION: 12-0 WORST CASE PREDICTION: 9-3 Oklahoma will improve under Grinch (by how much is the question) on defense and Hurts will be in the mix for the Heisman and get a plane ticket to New York for that. And yes, Oklahoma will be in the Playoff again.

Ehlinger is pointing Texas in the right direction

(2) TEXAS: The excitement is back in Austin. The Longhorns finished 2018 with a Sugar Bowl win against Georgia which gives fans plenty of hope for the future. Some hope it is NOW but it may be another year as at least on defense there will be some adjustments. Only the safeties return on that side though they are tough notably Brandon Jones. Texas likes their defensive line depth but will have questions with linebacker as they are young and inexperienced. They may have issues there as it will be a learning process with youngsters all on the depth chart. So the progress will be eyed very carefully in Austin and if they can make a splash early. But it will be tough given those offenses. However, Texas has a solid quarterback in Sam Ehlinger and have Collin Johnson returning at receiver. If Parker Braun plays like he did on the line at Georgia Tech, the Longhorns have a formidable line to protect Ehlinger. The hopes are high for incoming freshman Jordan Whittington at running back who could be the next in line as one of the great Texas backs. Texas will have a pretty tough front end with seeing LSU and both Oklahoma schools in the first half of the year. LSU and Oklahoma thankfully have to come to Austin and the Sooners game is always in Dallas. The rest of the schedule eases up a little bit after the Red River Shootout though a late road trip to Iowa State and Baylor could prove challenging. But all of it is manageable. Just is it time this year for Texas? BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Texas will have a war with LSU but I think they will come up a bit short on that one and not sold on the Red River Shootout while I feel like Iowa State will be a trap one.

Oklahoma State’s Tylan Wallace (2) catches a touchdown pass between Oklahoma’s Brendan Radley-Hiles (44), Kenneth Murray (9) and Justin Broiles (25) late in the forth quarter of a Bedlam college football game between the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) and the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Okla., Nov. 10, 2018. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

(3) OKLAHOMA STATE: Mike Gundy doesn’t get enough credit of being a stellar offensive head coach and getting the most out of his quarterbacks and receivers. But he does need to shoulder some responsibility for the defensive woes that plagued the Cowboys from being a national force in the college football world. Gundy will have a new offensive coordinator in Sean Gleeson which will keep the spread going in Stillwater. Also, Gundy will have to tackle who will be the starter at quarterback, freshman Spencer Sanders or Dru Brown. Sanders is a dual threat QB and many think he will come out as the starter. If the Cowboys start with Sanders, he will have an assortment of receivers to throw at headed by Tylan Wallace, who had nearly 1,500 receiving yards and with him will be Dillon Stoner. Another good piece of help is the Cowboys return three linemen which will be great and get a back who is primed to make a splash in Chuba Hubbard and the Cowboys offense will be surging again. Defense is obviously the question. The secondary will be better as pretty much they bring back all their starters including AJ Green, but the Cowboys have to replace a defensive line that netted three sacks per game in 2018. Linebacker is always a question it seems in Stillwater and this year is no different. Will there be anybody that can stop opposing offenses on third down? The Cowboys have a good start to the season with three wins before they travel to Texas from all likelihoods. But, can they win games away from Stillwater and not have a trip up at home as well? The schedule is favorable with Texas Tech, Iowa State, and West Virginia on the road. But it seems like they always have that horrendous loss at home that isn’t to a team named Oklahoma. So potentially they could have a monster season in 2019 if all goes well. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. Road games at Texas, Iowa State, and West Virginia just too much and until proven otherwise, they still have that dragon in Norman they can’t slay.

Jeff Gladney is becoming a great cornerback in college

(4) TCU: Year in and year out the Horned Frogs will put up fight after fight after fight. They don’t look pretty (alongside K-State they are pretty ugly on how they play offense), but they fight. It may be a similar case in 2019 where the Frogs resorted to defense (allowed 14 points or fewer in 6 of their wins). It may be a small adjustment there but the style of play remains the same and bring back star tackle Ross Blacklock. The secondary will have Jeff Gladney who is one of the best in the nation and will continue that this year too while Innis Gaines could also be a key factor. Questions will be up front as Ochaun Mathis could be a monster alongside Blacklock and could be one of the best defenses if not the best defense in the conference. But even as good as TCU’s defense is, the offense has to step up. It has been a work in progress since Trevone Boykin was the quarterback. since then the QB position has been a mess. Kansas State transfer Alex Delton is the favorite to be the next QB for TCU before Justin Rogers takes over. But Delton’s numbers were uninspiring at K-State (granted, different scheme) and there will be questions early if Delton struggles when Justin Rogers comes in. So the one guy who could be huge for the Frogs will be receiver Jalen Reagor (who had over 1,000 yards receiving in 2018) TCU will have a “thunder and lightning” approach at running back with Sweo Olonilua (thunder) and Darius Anderson (lightning). If Delton struggles they will also be counted on to shoulder the offense which has been going backwards. The offensive line may also play a factor in Delton’s success as four linemen return and quality linemen at that. TCU’s schedule is one that’s manageable ad even the road games not at Oklahoma can be attained including a non-conference trip to Purdue. But it will be a massive stretch where it is tough from mid-October onward. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. I think Delton struggles to the point where TCU gets stunned at Purdue and again at Iowa State and you see the Frogs go to Rogers. He will take over and far pretty well but will have hiccups along the way.

Brewer has helped Baylor rebound from the doldrums

(5) BAYLOR: Baylor is ridding themselves of the Art Briles stench and Matt Rhule has the compass pointing North on the program that was upper tier just 5 years ago. They have a good quarterback in Charlie Brewer who could have big numbers in 2019 and will bring back two starters at WR that can create havoc in the conference. The run game is a back by committee style but Trestan Ebner may be the guy getting most of the carries in 2019 which will balance the offensive attack. Defense has always been an issue under Briles and now Rhule where the Bears normally find themselves near the bottom of the nation. They bring back six including four of their front seven which helps and James Lynch could have a nice year as he will be alongside Bravvion Roy at tackle and James Lockhart on the other end. They could really be an improved unit. The secondary will be a major question if they can stop passing attacks. Injuries plagued the group last year, but what will help is the linebacking corps who could fly all over the place and one reason why I think the Bears are going to be a sleeper in the Big 12. Baylor’s season will be defined by two games in two weeks in November: Oklahoma and Texas. It is feasible to see the Bears in this conference going 9-0 heading into the game (they *can* win at Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and rival TCU) but it will be a great litmus test to see where they stack with the two powers. My guess: they are probably a year off from them but they will put up a fight either way. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 They could actually be 6-0 going into Oklahoma State, 7-1 going to TCU, and then seeing the Sooners and Longhorns after. Make your deduction on which four teams will beat them. TCU will have a better conference record hence why Baylor sits behind TCU.

Getting the ball to Simms will be key for West Virginia in 2019

(6) WEST VIRGINIA: Not often do you see a head coach from a power 5 program leave for a “Group of 5” program but Dana Holgorsen had enough in Morgantown as he was pretty much a polarizing figure. When they won, he was praised. When they lost, he was vilified. But despite having a “friendly schedule” in 2018 when they saw the Sooners late at home, fans were ready to see a change. And Holgorsen gave it to them. Neal Brown comes in from Troy to take over as head coach. The good news is Brown brings excitement at Morgantown and what feels like hope on the defensive side of the ball. Despite only bringing back 5, the Mountaineers are in a new, better scheme than the Holgorsen era had. But there will be an adjustment. Can they get a pass rush to help their corners? Can they find ways to stop key third downs? The scheme of a 4-3 (or close to it) should help with linebackers making more plays and take less pressure off of them. But the linebackers are all new so it will be interesting to see what the defense brings. On the offense, questions abound as Will Grier is gone. David Sills is gone and the line returns only two starters. Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall will have something to prove so that helps, but will he be protected and will he have an assortment of weapons like Grier had? Those are key questions. The one guy he will have help from is Marcus Simms, West Virginia’s everyman (receiver, returner). He could play large in West Virginia’s season in 2019. The Mountaineers schedule as a rough road schedule with trips to Missouri, Oklahoma, and Baylor while finishing at TCU. They also have a game against Power 5 foe NC State at Morgantown while seeing Texas (whom they did beat last year in Austin). It will be interesting as they will just have really a young team in 2019 but a talented one. Playing in Milan Puskar Stadium is an underrated homefield advantage so that helps. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. I think they lose road games at Missouri, Oklahoma, Baylor, and TCU while get stung by the Longhorns at home.

Purdy is the future for the Cycolnes football team

(7) IOWA STATE: The Cyclones are the Big 12’s most resilient team. After a 1-3 start, Iowa State strung 7 wins in their final 8 games. Some of it has to do with the defense as the Cyclones took over as being the top defense in the conference and bringing 7 starters back including JaQuan Bailey at end. Bailey had 8 sacks in 2018 and figures to be a bigger disruption in 2019. The front really stays the same which is great to stop the run especially against squads who can run the ball. But cornerbacks will be the key issue here is if anyone can step up and defend these receivers the conference has. If the Cyclones can get quality cornerback play from what is a young group of corners (notably Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young. Offense could be the surprise here if Brock Purdy continues his progression. And to think he is only a sophomore. He could be a key reason why if the Cyclones get to be a dark horse in 2019. But the run game has to be far better and I am not sure if it will especially that David Montgomery isn’t there. However, the good news for Purdy and whatever running back is featured will have an incredibly experienced line up front as all five starters return. Purdy will also miss Hakeem Butler and receivers are pretty much new. Deshaunte Jones returns but will have to be more of a playmaker. Tarique Milton will also be counted on in a big way at receiver now that he replaces Butler. The Cyclones will have their early tilt at home with rival Iowa. If they can start 3-0 in conference play, they could start a run where they could go 7-1 or 8-0 heading into Norman at Oklahoma in November. And remember the last time they went to Norman… BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 Cyclones stun Texas as their big upset but road trips to West Virginia, Baylor, and Oklahoma may be too much to overcome.

Walker could be a disruptive force for the Wildcats

(8) KANSAS STATE: Kansas State is going to be a very interesting case in 2019. Bill Snyder has finally retired and Chris Klieman from North Dakota State takes over. Klieman won 4 FCS national titles at ND State and a few wins against FBS schools (including 13th ranked Iowa in 2016). So his ability to coach shouldn’t be in question. The question is, how far can he take his offense which was a massive disaster in 2018. Skylar Thompson is more of a scrambling quarterback than anything and shouldn’t fully be relied on his arm. However, the Wildcat staff is really high on him with his arm and legs. He will have an assortment of receivers that can make plays when given the ball. But the biggest question is at running back as they have a whole new crew taking the rock as the four top backs are gone. If they can’t solve the question of “who replaces Alex Barnes” in the system where it is focused on running the football, the Wildcats could have a long year. The good news however is the defense returns 8 and will emphasize on a lot of blitzes and aggressive play that has always been solid. The key guy to keep an eye on is end Reggie Walker, who can get to the quarterback as good as anyone. But it will be the secondary that will need to step up in a conference known for their passing offenses which was rough. Kansas State has a schedule that doesn’t give them much breathing room from mid-September (road trip to Mississippi State and then at Oklahoma State before a run of games against Baylor, TCU, and Oklahoma). Somehow, just somehow if the Wildcats can find a way to go 3-2 in that stretch they have a nice shot at a bowl game. But it feels like the talent level at K-State has dropped over the years where they can seriously compete. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. I think the hire of Klieman is a good one, but the talent level isn’t there and I do think Thompson isn’t any answer at quarterback.

Pooka Williams needs to stay on the field and avoid off-the-field troubles at Kansas

(9) KANSAS: Let the Les Miles era commence in Lawrence. Is it a good fit? Time will tell on that, but at least Miles will recruit at a higher level for Kansas than what they have seen in the past decade. But in any case, the Jayhawks will not see the benefits of it in Miles first year. Last year Kansas went 3-9, which is normally about one or two wins higher than some expect (disclaimer: not trying to sound pompous in this assessment, but it feels like they are often 1-11 most years as of late). At times they showed they can compete including a W against TCU and being competitive with not just Oklahoma but Texas as well. So Miles will have that “heart” issue for the Jayhawks working. He will have an experienced secondary that actually ranked in the top half of the Big 12 (take it for what that’s worth) and having a +16 turnover margin which ranked tops in the conference and second in the nation. Now what it will be the concern is up front. A lot of seniors up front but Miles likes who he has recruited on defense that really has more talent than they’ve had in a very long time. On offense, Miles will rely on Pooka Williams Jr. like he had on Leonard Fournette at LSU. And he has good reason why. Williams is scary good. He’ll be suspended for the first game of the season due to a domestic battery charge. But Miles will go with a run game that is not too bad. Miles will go with his LSU recruit Thomas MacVittie at quarterback to lead the way. Miles, who is always faithful in his players, will put a lot of that into MacVittie this year, but will have questions abound at receiver so already the concerns of the passing game under Miles will come back. Kansas schedule has two FCS opponents to go along with a trip to Boston College. They travel to TCU, Texas, Oklahoma State, and Iowa State this year. I wouldn’t say they don’t have a fighting chance outside of that, but it will be impossible to win away from Lawrence. But there are a few home games that could be very interesting for the Jayhawks and could net them maybe two victories. BEST CASE RECORD: 5-7 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. I’m thinking the talent level is still way behind the majority of the conference, but I think they get past Texas Tech and could take down rival Kansas State. I also think they could give Oklahoma a run to the point where it will be a 4th quarter game given the Sooners D’s woes (remember Kansas put 40 in Norman).

TJ Vasher could have a monster year with the Red Raiders

(10) TEXAS TECH: Kliff Kingsbury is gone. But the Air Raid will stay in play with Matt Wells as the head coach. And he will bring offensive coordinator David Yost with him. The one thing to expect is more of a balance of an offense as the Red Raiders had been more of a one dimensional squad with Kingsbury (i.e. just passing the ball around). Alan Bowman will return at quarterback and will continue his accuracy prowess. Ta’Zhawn Henry will have more of a role at tailback as Texas Tech installs some more running. But questions will be at receiver of who can step up there. TJ Vasher returns but it is a new crew altogether including Oregon State transfer Seth Collins (who was a starting QB for the Beavers). The offensive line is strong with four starters and plenty of depth with it. Of course it isn’t the offense that will be the issue. It always comes back on the defense. After hopes that the defense turned the corner under Kingsbury in 2018, the passing defense collapsed again being dead last against the pass. Eli Howard is the guy up front to really get after the quarterback, but there will be a need to pressure the quarterback as the secondary will be new with only one starter returning and a secondary in question. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks could have a good year as he will be the leader of that defense that needs a leader. Texas Tech does not figure to be in the mix with any Big 12 title run and the schedule isn’t fun with road trips to Oklahoma, Baylor, and Texas notably. But if that defense can find a way to improve and the offense doesn’t have any setbacks, a bowl game is definitely in the realm, but an early tilt Arizona will be an early gauge of where the Red Raiders stand when conference play begins. BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. I’m in the “I’ll believe it when I see it with the Red Raiders defense” category.

Another go at it with the Sooners and Horns in Dallas.

BIG 12 CHAMPIONSHIP: OKLAHOMA VS. TEXAS: We might just see this being the standard norm in the Big 12 in the foreseeable future. The talent pool for these two teams are deep and has been for a while and miles ahead of the rest of the conference. Oklahoma has utilized it and Texas is beginning to consistently utilize theirs. So depending on what happens in the Red River Shootout the game could be one of a revenge factor. I think by this time, the Longhorns will gel better and be a tougher out for Oklahoma than the first go around and it could spell trouble for Hurts and the Sooners offense. That said, I don’t know if Sam Ehlinger is the right guy to lead the Longhorns to a big W against the Sooners in a championship match. Hurts may just be too much for Texas to handle as well. OKLAHOMA 41, TEXAS 34

TOP 3 QUESTIONS

Oklahoma has been 0-3 in the College Football Playoff and teams have scored at will on them

(1) IS OKLAHOMA’S DEFENSE ENOUGH TO STAND UP TO THE NATIONAL POWERHOUSES? Right now, no. Right now I think some of it is that the Air Raid system (i.e. quick strike) really wears out Oklahoma’s defense more than anything else. If you look at the three playoff games they’ve had, the Sooners have given up 37 or more points to Clemson, Georgia, and Alabama. The former two they were pretty close with before being unable to do anything in second halves while Alabama obliterated the defense start to finish. Yes, the Sooners can put up points against all those teams, but cannot get that “needed stop.” I mean it’s one thing to get that “needed stop” against the likes of Texas Tech, West Virginia, and Oklahoma State because none of them can stop a turtle climbing a mountain. It’s another when you have to go against teams who can dominate a game through defense. Alex Grinch has to develop a defense that can pretty much be dominant and not give up 40 to Kansas late in a season.

The Longhorns made astatement with their Sugar Bowl win over Georgia

(2) COULD TEXAS BE A MAJOR THREAT TO THE PLAYOFF? I don’t know about this year so I’m leaning towards no. However, even when Texas has been on a “weaker” level, they always give Oklahoma massive fits in the Red River Shootout, but there’s a lot of turnover to the team in 2019. That said, Tom Herman is becoming one of the top coaches in college football. If the Longhorns can upset SEC power LSU like they had Georgia in the Sugar Bowl last year, all bets should be off on Texas. But I think there will be a small adjustment. I do think they are going to be in a New Year’s Six game though.

Miles brings hoe to Kansas for the first time in a long time, but will they be at the forefront with him ever?

(3) HOW MUCH TIME WILL LES MILES NEED AT KANSAS TO BE A THREAT? Miles will recruit and recruit well and with those Louisiana ties could help getting a few stars from the Bayou. So that shouldn’t be a problem. However, what pretty much ended Miles tenure at LSU was his in-game strategies which were very dumbfounding at times. That and his inability to have a strong quarterback (and unable to beat Alabama since 2012). If Miles doesn’t do the stupid stuff that got him out of a job in Baton Rouge, the Jayhawks could find a way into a bowl game perhaps in 2021. But while Miles does have a national championship to his credit, many feel like his coaching ability has dwindled over the years. They will be competitive down the road but I don’t see any Big 12 championship under Miles.

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The Obstructed Big Ten Preview-2019

The Big Ten. It has been the most polarizing conference in the last few years. Ever since the Buckeyes won the National Championship in 2014, the Big Ten has laid a goose egg. First their 2015 appearance by Michigan State where they were shut out by Alabama and 2016 when Ohio State got shut out by Clemson. Then the last two years the Big Ten hasn’t represented as their best chance in the Buckeyes came up short behind Alabama in 2017 for the last spot and then thanks to their blowout loss at Purdue and slipping by a few games, were 6th in the vote, even behind two-loss Georgia. So the Big Ten is trying to find a way to get back in the Playoff. The question is, will they?

Ohio State will have a new coach in 2019 as Urban Meyer retired. But they still have talent all over the place. Michigan many feel like will have their moment in the sun this year with a returning quarterback and a stout defense. Penn State and Michigan State can’t be taken for granted either. In the West, it may be very competitive with Nebraska making strides under Scott Frost. However, Iowa looks to be a formidable challenger themselves and the likes of Purdue, Northwestern, and Minnesota will put up fights. Wisconsin wants to show last year was a fluke when they went 7-5 too so that could be a fight in the west. It could be very interesting on what happens in the Big Ten this year.

BIG TEN EAST

Donovan Peoples-Jones is poised for a breakout year at Michigan.

(1) MICHIGAN WOLVERINES: Jim Harbaugh will be under the scope for one game in 2019: Ohio State. Yes, the Wolverines will field another dangerous team under Harbaugh especially on defense. But the offense is in question of “can they take that next step?” Michigan brought over Alabama co-OC Josh Gattis to run things and develop a spread offense. That will help Shea Patterson at quarterback to go along with a stout offensive line to protect him. He will have Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins. If those guys can stay healthy, watch out. The running game will be interesting as Karan Higdon and Chris Evans are not on the team. It leaves Tru Wilson as the main guy. He rushed for 344 yards last year but 5 yards per carry so it could be a secret in the making. The defense has been strong but will miss three studs in Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, and Rashan Gary. However, the Wolverines are pretty deep and fast up front and bring back sack leader Josh Uche. The secondary is strong with Lavert Hill at corner and Josh Metellus at safety. Michigan’s schedule is a “thankfully we have our rivals come to Ann Arbor” schedule as Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State are all coming up to the Big House (in between those teams are Maryland and Indiana on the road). The two tough battles away will be Wisconsin and Penn State. It’s manageable and they can go 12-0 as the Badgers and Nittany Lions aren’t as strong as they’ve been the past few years and maybe just maybe, Harbaugh can silence critics. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 11-1. A hair uneasy with the road tilt at Penn State as it is a nightmare place to play. However, the rest of the schedule bounces in their favor including I think a big W against their rivals in Columbus.

Dobbins will show why he’s a Heisman candidate

(2) OHIO STATE BUCKEYES: Urban Meyer is gone after last season’s controversy. Enter Ryan Day. Obviously he doesn’t have the prestige of a star head coach but that may not be too bad. AND he is running one of the elite programs in college football. He will also have a new quarterback in Georgia transfer Justin Fields. Fields, who expected to get plenty of playing time at Georgia, didn’t get that much at all (and when he did it was “hand the ball off” mostly) and opted to transfer and play important minutes. He’ll get his shot at Ohio State. The major issue is that Fields will have an offensive line that is very new and if last year at Georgia showed anything, he was still wet behind the ears when he was there. At least Fields will have a stud in JK Dobbins at tailback. Dobbins and Mike Weber split time last year but it seems like he will get a bulk of the carries. If he takes pressure off of Fields, Fields will have KJ Hill, who could have a huge year in Columbus. On defense, the Buckeyes hope to improve from last year where they were less than stellar, especially against the pass. In fact, the Buckeyes ranked at the bottom half of the conference in all major categories. This year that can’t be the case or else Ohio State will struggle. However there is hope with Chase Young at end (9.5 sacks last year) and Tyreke Smith. The linebackers at Ohio State are experienced, but haven’t been as dominant or intimidating like we would think of Buckeye linebackers in the past. The secondary is solid with Jordan Fuller and Isaish Pryor being great safeties and Jeffrey Okudah could be a shutdown guy. But if Damon Arnette can’t get things cooking, even the average passing squads of the Big Ten will have field days on the Buckeyes. Ohio State has a a schedule seeing key rivals of Penn State and Michigan State at home but three games on the road could be interesting: at Nebraska, at Northwestern, and of course at Michigan. We’ve seen the last few years going to a Big Ten West school has been Ohio State’s death for the playoff. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 I am not overly sold on Fields just yet and I think the Nebraska game will be like Iowa and Purdue for the Buckeyes. And Michigan gets them this year.

Robert Windsor will create problems for opposing offenses.

(3) PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS: To say Penn State is going to have an interesting year is an understatement. Trace McSorley…gone. Miles Sanders…gone. The offense will probably take a step back as a new quarterback takes charge in Sean Clifford. The good news is he will have a seasoned targets at receiver in KJ Hamler and a tight end in Pat Freiermuth. Three linemen return which will be helpful, but again, it will be a young crew up front outside of that. The youthfulness extends to the backfield as Ricky Slade takes over. He did well in the times he was in last year but the question will be can he be the feature guy like Sanders was and Barkley before that? So questions abound on Penn State’s offense. Defensively Penn State should be the force and an improved one. Yetur Gross-Matos had 8 sacks last year and Robert Windsor had 7.5 and the line is pretty deep with young underclassmen. Linebackers also will pose a problem with offenses as Micah Parsons and Jan Johnson come back alongside Cam Brown. The secondary is solid and only going to be better with that pass rush up front too. If Penn State can stop the run (which they struggled a bit in 2018) and I think they will, they could be a sleeper in the Big Ten. Largely I think that is because the schedule starts out pretty good for the Lions until mid-October when the teeth of the schedule comes in at Iowa, then Michigan, and at Michigan State in three consecutive weeks. And they nearly finish off at Ohio State. By then, hopefully for Penn State, they answered their questions on offense. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Penn State could go 5-0 heading to Iowa which will test their physicality. I feel like they can sting Michigan in Happy Valley but Michigan State has been their albatross the last few seasons and that late tilt in Columbus won’t be fun either.

Willekes leads a Michigan State unit that is one of the nation’s best.

(4) MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS: For the first time since starting at Michigan State, Mark Dantonio is feeling it from the Spartan faithful. After a year where the Spartans could have netted maybe a New Year’s Six game with their defense and a quality offense, it has gone south. The Spartans were dreadful on offense and many blamed the coaching staff for its inability to adjust. So Brad Salem takes over at coordinator and will try to use more of an up-tempo offense. The line returns four guys hopefully that have improved in the off-season that can protect Brian Lewerke. Lewerke was injured midway through the season but tried to play through it which really was a bad idea (and also something Dantonio got ripped for, by keeping him in games). If he is healthy, Michigan State should have a solid passing attack especially having the top two targets in Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr (assuming both can stay healthy-notice a trend here?). The running game is a big question mark. Connor Heyward starts but he isn’t a game breaking RB. So a lot of ifs on offense. Defensively, Michigan State remains a strong squad. They ranked first overall against the run and bring back six of their front seven starters. The pass rush is going to be strong with Kenny Willekes at end. Joe Bachie is the next of great Michigan State LB’s and will have a seasoned group to captain. It will be can they get stronger in the secondary with Josiah Scott leading the way. If history shows, then yes as David Dowell and Xavier Henderson at safeties can reignite the No Fly Zone that dominated Big Ten foes from 2012-2015. Michigan State’s schedule is a typical schedule but having to see Michigan and Ohio State on the road this year while having trips to Northwestern and Wisconsin (both of whom have given Michigan State nightmares) so any chances of a dark horse run is slim in 2019. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. The road games will doom Michigan State, but it could all depend on consistency on offense.

Anthony McFarland Jr. could be the face of Maryland’s turnaround in the Big Ten

(5) MARYLAND TERRAPINS: Mike Locksley returns after going to the Nick Saban School of Coaching and installing an offense at Alabama that just obliterated opponents all season long. Of course, being in the Big Ten East, he will have his work cut out. He is really going to have a clean slate as three starters return on offense, notably Anthony McFarland Jr, who could be a sleeper at RB in the conference. And he will get Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson to quarterback the offense. But the question will be especially in the division is can they protect Jackson from the likes of what they see out of the Big Four in the Big Ten East? On defense, the Terrapins will also have a clean slate as the defense returns four which is a middle-of-the road crew but with high hopes down the road with their recruiting. They will need to get to quarterbacks better (which they didn’t last year) to help out a decent secondary. But the front guys need to step up everything that pretty much gashed them in 2018. Maryland’s schedule is intriguing with a home game against the vastly improved Syracuse team and open up with Penn State at home and they get a fun run of seeing Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks late in the season which may decide if they see a bowl game in 2019. BEST CASE RECORD: 5-7 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Maryland is very young and will be better in the years to come, but it isn’t this year.

Ramsey will need to be on his A+ game in order to keep Indiana in the bowl conversation….and to keep his job.

(6) INDIANA HOOSIERS: You have to give credit to Tom Allen’s teams for putting up fights against the big boys. There is hope with bringing 15 starters back to put up some fights again in 2019. Peyton Ramsey looks to start but the depth at Indiana is pretty impressive and could give secondaries fits with Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hale on the other end. Add on Stevie Scott who ran for 1,100 yards and you have a very formidable offense. Some questions abound if the Hoosiers line can protect the backs as they only return two starters up front. On defense, the Hoosiers struggled last year in nearly everything. They got to get better without question. Returning 8 can be good but the upperclassmen all have to make bigger contributions or else it will be another long season in Bloomington. James Head and Jerome Johnson could be keys to the Hoosiers pass rush. Indiana’s schedule has an easy non-conference one but plenty of road games on the conference one that will doom them and they have Ohio State and Michigan in Bloomington but I wouldn’t expect upsets there. The talent isn’t there like it is with the rest of the Division. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8 IF they can find a way to win at Maryland the Purdue game will be huge and to see if they can get into a bowl game. But I don’t see it happening. Beating Rutgers may be their lone conference W.

Blackshear is one of the few bright spots Rutgers has in the program.

(7) RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS: A debate can be made Rutgers is now the worst power 5 squad in the nation. Hopes of Chris Ash turning the program around have disappeared and the Scarlet Knights don’t have any kind of depth even on the levels of Indiana and Maryland. The offense is brutal with Artur Sitkowski at quarterback (bad decisions and poor accuracy) and that’s where it ends on Rutgers offense honestly. Raheem Blackshear and Isaih Pacheco are good running backs but won’t amount to much if the Scarlet Knights are behind all the time. Defensively Rutgers can’t give up that many yards on the ground (215 per game last year). Questions abound if they can stop the run and so far it hasn’t been the case. The passing defense is not too bad and they have guys who can get to the QB (Elorm Lumor, Mike Tverdov) and Damon Hayes and Avery Young are solid corners. Rutgers schedule, well…doesn’t have too many wins on there. They are probably the least talented bunch in the conference and just don’t have the horses to compete with the rest. Wins vs. UMass and Liberty are pretty likely but I don’t see them taking anyone else down. Maybe Illinois? They gave Michigan State a run last year but I doubt it happens again. BEST CASE RECORD: 3-9 WORST CASE RECORD: 1-11 MY PREDICTION: 2-10. The Chris Ash Era has run its course at Rutgers but the buyout is $8 million. It could be another year of misery in Jersey.

BIG TEN WEST

Under Frost, Martinez could lead Nebraska back to glory.

(1) NEBRASKA CORNHUSKERS: Still too soon to pick the Huskers to win the Big Ten West? Last year Nebraska started off 0-6, a nightmare for Frost in his first season. However, the minute they started winning, they were an entirel different team. The Huskers had a near miss at Ohio State and then a W against Michigan State and another near miss at Iowa showed they were ready to compete with the big boys of the Big Ten and the stride begins this year. Adrian Martinez is a budding star at quarterback and only got better as the season progressed. He will miss Stanley Morgan but will have JD Spielman and Maurice Washington as complimentary targets. Washington will be the feature guy in the backfield and could have a big year. The line returns two starters but high hopes are with Trent Hixson and freshman Center Cam Jurgens. On defense will be a different thing which was a giant mess last year. They return 5 starters and questions will have to be on the line (if they can get pressure on quarterbacks) and linebackers on the outside to add more of a rush. The secondary is inexperienced as well, but hopes of a young crew behind the upperclassmen gives Nebraska hope. In other words, Nebraska is hoping to outscore their opponents to cover up some defensive woes and make the needed stops to win games a la Oklahoma does. Nebraska’s schedule is pretty nicely laid out for them in 2019. They get Ohio State at home and avoid Michigan and Penn State too. Road trips to Colorado, Purdue, and Minnesota aren’t the end of the world. Could the Huskers actually run the table? Possible, but only if the defense makes strides which may not be the case. But regardless, Nebraska is a sleeping giant ready to wake up. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 They get Ohio State at home, but I wonder if the inexperience nails them at Minnesota and Purdue.

Oct 6, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley (4) drops back for a pass in the first half against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

(2) IOWA HAWKEYES: Iowa is always known as the “stale, vanilla” program of the college football world. Honestly, I think that changes at least for this year. Nate Stanley is a quality quarterback who can get the job done and is accurate. Now if he can move it downfield more instead of relying on the tight ends (which his top two targets at end are in the NFL now) he could be a Heisman dark horse. He will have a few guys to throw at receiver in Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette but they need to be more involved. The running game could be solid if the line improves in between the stout tackles as Iowa has a bevvy of experienced runners (Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young, Ivory Kelly-Martin). But the defense is where they will be vicious. AJ Epensa had 10.5 sacks last year for the Hawkeyes. Chauncey Golston is also a beast in his own right. The linebacking corps may not be dominating like they’ve had in the past but they are deep and seasoned. The secondary will miss Amani Hooker but they are also seasoned and we have always seen Iowa put up quality defenses that keeps them in games. With a pass rush that Iowa has, the secondary’s loss of Hooker won’t be as impactful. Iowa’s schedule is rough to say the least. They see their annual improved rival in Iowa State on the road early on, but that may be the “easiest” road game all year with trips to Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Nebraska to end the year. Stealing a win or two is a must if the Hawkeyes want to play in Indianapolis in early December. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Iowa will take down their in-state rivals and edge out Wisconsin in Madison. But Northwestern is always an issue as will be Michigan and Nebraska.

Gaziano can get after the quarterback as well as anybody.

(3) NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS: Say what you will about Northwestern but they are probably the most resilient team in the conference. After two embarrassing home losses to Duke and Akron, the Wildcats nearly stunned the Wolverines before decisively beating Michigan State and kick-started their run to the Big Ten Championship game. That said, there are some gaping holes on offense notably. Clayton Thorson and his inconsistency is gone. But hopes of Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson giving that needed jolt on offense. Isaiah Bowser will ease pressure off Johnson in the run game as he was rolling down the stretch for the Wildcats and their success. But Johnson will enjoy the receiving corps that helped the Wildcats get there in Ben Skowronek and Riley Lees. But Northwestern needs that deep threat to really make them have a strong shot. Defensively Northwestern is quietly underrated. Linebackers are their strength as Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher being mentioned as some of the best in the nation. The Wildcats have a defensive line that can get after the quarterback led by Joe Gazaiano (7.5 sacks last year) and can stop the run. However, what the Wildcats struggled in was the secondary (109th in the nation against the pass). Some of it was injuries but still, they were beat a lot last year. It may make or break the Wildcats chances at a Big Ten championship game return. Northwestern has an early road schedule that is rough with a start at Stanford before a 3-game stretch against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska (with the latter two being at home) and then a home tilt with the Buckeyes. If they can find a way to be 4-2 midway through the season, the Wildcats have a great chance at Indianapolis again. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. Front side is too problematic and may be 2-4 with Iowa coming in. But they will continue to fight.

Wisconsin needs more help for Taylor

(4) WISCONSIN BADGERS: Many people seemingly banked Wisconsin due to their recent history under Paul Chryst and a strong running back in Jonathan Taylor to make the College Football Playoff (I wasn’t one of them). However, the defense fell back big time against the run and teams could make key passes as well. Adding on with more inconsistencies under quarterback Alex Hornibrook and a tougher schedule, the Badgers fell to 7-5 and was pretty much done from the Big Ten Championship race by November. The main target of Wisconsin’s struggles, Hornibrook, is gone as a transfer to Florida State. Enter either Jack Coan or Graham Mertz. Mertz is highly touted and gives Badgers fans hope. He may start the season but there isn’t much in the way of a lot of help on offense aside from Taylor. Receivers over the time have also been maligned for being unable to make big plays. AJ Taylor may be the best guy in that group. The line will also be in question after the losses of key guys but has an established center in Tyler Biadasz. But of course the offense will be centered around Jonathan Taylor who is a front-runner for the Heisman. The questions seem to be more an more for Wisconsin on defense the last few years. The defensive line is thin and on the secondary nobody has stepped up being that guy yet (though three starters return). Linebacker may be a strength but also a question of depth there as well. The Badgers schedule starts off pretty nice with five straight home games after their trip to South Florida, but one of them includes Michigan. The back end is interesting with trips to Ohio State, Nebraska, and Minnesota (with a home game against Iowa sandwiched between the former two). It’s possible they can upset the Huskers and Gophers, but a lot of things need to pan out. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. I don’t see Wisconsin doing much early on to Michigan and forget Ohio State. Nebraska may decide Wisconsin’s fate of a Big Ten Championship run.

Moore and Purdue embarrassed Ohio State last year

(5) PURDUE BOILERMAKERS: Northwestern is probably the most resilient Big Ten team, but Purdue is right there too. After an 0-3 start including a home loss to Eastern Michigan, Purdue rolled off 4 wins including a 49-20 beatdown of Ohio State. The Boilermakers will probably have one quarterback instead of a dual tandem as Elijah Sindelar takes over. He is a pocket-style QB which will be huge as Rondale Moore (who could be the best receiver in college football) is his primary target. Tight end Brycen Hopkins and Jared Sparks also look to factor as key targets for Sindelar. The questions will be is if can the run game can get going and the line can protect Sindelar long enough to get the ball out to Moore. Purdue’s defense returns 9 starters. They were gashed last year on really both the pass and the run (mostly pass), but the linebacking squad could be a force with Markus Bailey and Western Kentucky transfer Ben Holt. Purdue’s line hoping that experience helps will be under the scope a bit if they can pressure quarterbacks and stop the run. However, hopes are high on the secondary where they are fast and will get after it and may have some depth back there with the recruits they have brought in under Jeff Brohm. Purdue’s schedule is one that if they can handle the home portion of it (3-4 at West Lafayette) could set up a really interesting go for the Big Ten West in 2019 as they avoid Michigan and Ohio State. If they can take down Vanderbilt and TCU, they could go into Penn State 5-0. But the monster is the end run at Northwestern and Wisconsin, two teams that really give Purdue nightmares. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 I like what Brohm is doing up there and I think they will make significant progress to the point they still have a shot at the Big Ten West title in November.

Coughlin is a monster for Minnesota.

(6) MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS: When he’s winning, PJ Fleck is that coach that can do no wrong for a college football program and he has “charisma.” When he’s losing, it is “enough with the antics and just win.” Fleck will have to answer the question of “who leads the offense,” Zack Annexstad or Tanner Morgan. Annexstad was injured and the Gophers went 3-4 while Morgan went 4-2. Whatever quarterback starts needs to be consistent. At least the parts around them should be fine. Tyler Johnson had an excellent year of having over 1,000 yards and looks to be a force regardless of QB and Rashod Bateman also is a great secondary receiver. If both can make big plays, it will go a long way. Minnesota’s running game is going to be a bully to opposing defenses. Mohamed Ibrahim rushed for over 1,000 while Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith come back from injury and could give fits as well. The defense returns seven including star end Carter Coughlin (9.5 sacks in 2018). Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin will lead the way at LB while safety Antoine Winfield Jr looks to stabilize a young but effective secondary. But they will need to find a way to stop the run, which really got them good last year. Minnesota’s schedule avoids the monsters of the East save Penn State and a fairly easy out of conference run while road trips at Purdue, Rutgers, and Northwestern are attainable. If they can take care of business at home and steal a win or two on the road, they also have a shot at Indianapolis. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. Minnesota continues to make strides under Fleck, but I am not sure if they can take down Nebraska even at home. Purdue, Iowa, and Northwestern may be too much as well.

Corbin will be a focal point of the Illini offense.

(7) ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI: Lovie Smith has been in a nightmarish situation in Champaign. They have not been close to a bowl game in his tenure (last year was close when they were 4-5 but then dropped their final 3 games including an embarrassing 63-0 home loss to Iowa). At least the running game is a bonus with Reggie Corbin getting a large bulk and Mike Epstein backing him up. However, they need anything….ANYTHING to keep a balance as the passing game was dreadful. MJ Rivers is likely the QB for Illinois but he will have competition. But the receivers will have to step their game up too which has been a problem. The offensive line returns four so whoever the quarterback is, will need to not worry too much save for his receivers making plays. Defensively, Smith will take over a group that was horrible on all aspects. Bobby Roundtree is likely not going to play but they do have returning starters and a USC transfer in Oluwole Betiku. It should help a seasoned secondary as well. The question will be can the linebackers step up and play stronger? Illinois schedule is one that if they can sneak an upset here or there, could net them a bowl game. It will be hard, but the non-conference schedule should be 3 wins and they host Rutgers, but if they can steal two wins somewhere (Northwestern, at Purdue?) it could go a long way for Smith. BEST CASE RECORD: 5-7 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Despite the record, Illinois will be a tougher out to teams especially in the West.

BIG TEN CHAMPIONSHIP: NEBRASKA VS. MICHIGAN: Michigan finally gets their shot after seeing rivals Ohio State and Michigan State primarily dominating the show in Indianapolis while Nebraska could get there with a young group and a stout offense. It would be more of an offense vs defense war I think. However, I am always in line of the “Defense wins championships moniker” and Michigan has that. Nebraska, not as much. Wolverines pull away in a close battle for three quarters. MICHIGAN 38, NEBRASKA 28

TOP QUESTIONS

Patterson leads Michigan to their best chance at a Playoff spot in 2019

(1) WILL MICHIGAN GET TO THE PLAYOFF WITH ONE LOSS? Yes. If Notre Dame and Ohio State are a top 10-15 program (which I think at least Ohio State will be) and if Penn State is a top program still, then Michigan should have no issue getting in.

Minnesota linebacker Julian Huff (20) tackles Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) behind the line of scrimmage during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 24, 2018, in Madison, Wis. Minnesota won 37-15. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

(2) HAS WISCONSIN’S WINDOW CLOSED? Temporarily, yes. But if Graham Mertz is any indication what he can be, the badgers will have an adequate quarterback for the first time in a very long time. We know their run game will always be near the top of the college football world. But the defense took a step back and now the Badgers are in a division where the competition is much stronger than in years past where their primary rival was Iowa. But Paul Chryst will have to adjust accordingly on offense to get the Badgers atop the Big Ten West again.

Fields has a lot of pressure at Ohio State

(3) IS JUSTIN FIELDS THE ANSWER AT OHIO STATE? Honestly, I don’t really see it. I get that he was a top blue chip prospect coming out of Georgia and he is the ultimate dual threat QB. However I do wonder how mentally tough he is. He went to Athens thinking he was “the guy” over incumbent QB Jake Fromm and instead rode the bench and played garbage minutes where he really didn’t show his skills nor did he play that great when he was in. Now, the Fields camp said Georgia promised him things that didn’t deliver. So either Fields will A. Try to show Georgia made a mistake; B. Try to overdo it in Columbus and make many mistakes; C. Make mistakes and lose what I think is a shaken confidence and the Buckeyes struggle. Or D. All of the above. He’s got to focus on playing football. And something about him doesn’t make me think he will.

That’s it for this week.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Is This Season “Do or Die” for Jim Harbaugh?

If we rewind the time back to the end of the 2014 season, Michigan had seen enough of Brady Hoke and wanted to make a change. The Wolverines had fallen into the middle tier of the Big Ten Conference. Worse, their two chief rivals, Ohio State and Michigan State had become the powerhouses of the conference and had religiously beat down the maize and blue on a consistent basis. Ohio State was going to the College Football Playoff and Michigan State was seeing a New Year’s Six game. It had become a Wolverines fan’s nightmare.

However, Michigan finally made their big hire that had eluded them for so long in bringing in one of their own in Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh helped put the San Francisco 49ers back on the map and after what seemed to be a marriage that went south and fast in San Francisco. Harbaugh, who had probably preferred an NFL coaching job, opted to go home and rebuild the once proud Wolverines squad. In year one, Michigan made leaps and bounds. After a nailbiting loss in Utah, Michigan dominated their opponents until the Michigan State game where a muffed-snap-on-the-punt-recovered-turned-to-touchdown gave the Spartans. People shrugged it at the time as a fluke. After some closer, not-as-dominating wins, Michigan got smacked by Ohio State once more.

“Okay,” fans said “it was his first year and we have to rid ourselves of the Brady Hoke era.”

The next year was great as the Wolverines went 10-0 and Harbaugh was considered as elite as Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Urban Meyer, etc. However, Michigan couldn’t do anything in Iowa City, losing to the Hawkeyes on a field goal to end the game (and some questionable play-calling down the stretch). After a surprisingly struggle win against Indiana, Michigan went to Ohio State and for about three quarters dominated. However, the Wolverines couldn’t finish the drill and went to overtime with Ohio State converting a 4th and 1 where many felt Ohio State DIDN’T get the conversion and then the Buckeyes won. Michigan also lost in their Orange Bowl appearance to Florida State, but the damage was done and the concerns of Harbaugh not getting them past Ohio State or win the Big Ten East crept in.

Michigan had high hopes in 2017 with seeing their enemies of Michigan State and Ohio State in Ann Arbor. Michigan State, who had been reeling from the year before (3-9 in 2016), stunned Michigan in a defensive, ugly, rain-soaked game. Worse, Penn State, who had been making noise since 2016 and actually won the Big Ten title, curb-stomped the Wolverines in Happy Valley and then Wisconsin nailed them the week before the Ohio State game (to which Ohio State won again). With the cherry on top, Michigan was the lone Big Ten squad not to win their bowl game.

The honeymoon was over for Harbaugh and the Wolverine fans. A 1-5 record vs. the Buckeyes and Spartans (to which Michigan fans have ripped Harbaugh for the muffed punt as he should have played it better) and non-competitive games they lost to Penn State and Wisconsin. Harbaugh needed a big year in 2018 in some manner.

Things got off slow when Notre Dame (another historic rival) edged Michigan in South Bend. However, it inspired the Wolverines as they dominated on defense, winning ten straight and ready to face off with Ohio State, who had turmoil with Urban Meyer and some near-misses (and an inexplicable beatdown loss to Purdue earlier in the season). Michigan had been favored by many (myself too) to win that game and keep Ohio State’s stellar offense grounded. And….nope. Ohio State put up 62 on Michigan’s defense. And with one dooming loss, Harbaugh’s future at Michigan was brought into question again.

Michigan will be considered by many as a top 5 team and favored to win the Big Ten. Ohio State is without Urban Meyer who stepped down and many feel like the Buckeyes due to graduation/draft, will take a big enough step back to have the Wolverines be in position for a Big Ten title and their first playoff spot since 2016. They do have a couple of tough road games at Wisconsin and Penn State, but neither team at this point is considered a monster threat. If they do have a hiccup somewhere along that line, Michigan could probably be okay if it is one hiccup. But November 30 is where it will count the most when Ohio State rolls into Ann Arbor again. That is where Michigan-and Harbaugh’s season is going to be.

If anybody knows about the Michigan/Ohio State rivalry, they know that the head coach on either side is really defined by it. Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer are both probably praised (more than they should be) by the Buckeye faithful if nothing more then by dominating Michigan in their times as head coach. John Cooper on the other hand, despite having a dominant run notably from 1993-1998, could never beat Michigan and his career at Ohio State pretty much defined (2-10-1) by his inability to beat the Wolverines. Lloyd Carr for Michigan was on both sides of that of being a Michigan great, winning games against Ohio State, but also criticized as being unable to beat the Buckeyes once Tressel took over. So far, Harbaugh has been heavily criticized by Michigan fans and ridiculed by Ohio State fans for his 0-4 record against the Buckeyes.

Harbaugh will continue to have top 10 recruiting classes come up through Ann Arbor and will have Shea Patterson once more to take the snaps at quarterback. Patterson, while he hasn’t put up monster numbers (newsflash: he won’t in that system at Michigan), has been solid, but had moments of struggles against some of the better defenses in the Big Ten. But he will have quality receivers and a upper-classmen strong offensive line. Defense, for as strong as they were, will have to answer from the exits of Rashan Gary and Devin Bush. But the defense should be strong enough to make up for it.

It’s hard to think a 10-2 season with both losses being conference losses could end up stinging Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. Wolverines fans hoped he was the answer to the Ohio State problem and instead he’s been not much different than Brady Hoke to this point. Harbaugh needs to win the Big Ten East and obviously beat Ohio State to at least be taken seriously at Ann Arbor. If he can’t, well, Michigan will be continuing to ride neutral in the Big Ten with really no end in sight.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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What’s Wrong With the PAC-12?

If we rewind the time period in college football in the last 5-10 years, things were obviously different (save Alabama it seems). The college football world was somewhat on a relatively level playing surface, and I don’t mean any polls, committees, systems, or any of that sort.

What I mean is you had conferences that had a top heavy contender (Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon) and some other viable threats running around. But the thing is, all conferences had an argument of why their conference was best, or at least the best team in the conference deserved a shot in the national championship hunt.

When the Playoff format occurred, we thought we could finally get those conference bragging rights answered and the power 5 conferences would up the ante on how great they were.

Fast forward to the last two years. It has really been the SEC, ACC, and Oklahoma (do we really want to say they are fully representing the Big 12 at this point? Yes, I know, Texas beat Georgia…moving on…) Big Ten? Close, but no cigar. But compared to the PAC-12, they are still at least a threat to the Playoff.

Fans of the PAC-12 have constantly griped over the years that there has been the whole “East Coast bias” thing going on. And while I don’t dispute that as most of the media goes shut-eye on the PAC-12 games at 10-11 o’clock at night thus waking up to see “oh, what happened to Arizona?” the conference has no legging. In fact, in the past 4 years, the PAC-12 has really been irrelevant to the college football world.

Prior to this, it was interesting as the fans of the conference really barked about how there wasn’t much respect given to them. Oregon fans took note of it as the Ducks had a high-powered offense that many thought would beat anybody, including the likes of the mighty Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, etc. And would troll those schools saying that those big boys were too afraid to face off against the uniform kings. While it wasn’t escalated to what Oregon fans did, fans from the other teams also did their share of saying “us against the world” or “we are better than many think” (USC, Arizona State, Stanford, etc.)

In the inaugural football playoff, Oregon got the second seed of it, facing off against defending national champion Florida State. The Ducks faced off against a Noles team who won more than a few games by the skin of their teeth during the regular season to teams lucky to make a bowl game, not the team that steamrolled through everyone like they had in 2013. After the first half where the game was close, Oregon pulled away in the second half as Florida State made offensive miscue after offensive miscue to a blowout win.

The Ducks faced Ohio State. Duck fans enjoyed this partly because they trolled Alabama for losing to the Buckeyes but also thinking they got the lesser of the powers. And……………

Ohio State BULLIED Oregon in the National Championship. Oregon had no answers for the physically superior Buckeyes squad on either side of the ball. Marcus Mariota was pretty much a pancake by the fourth quarter thanks to Joey Bosa. And the Ducks were humiliated on the grandest stage in college football.

After that game? It seemed like it was an omen to the PAC-12.

The Ducks lost Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota to the NFL Draft after that and hoped Eastern Washington standout Vernon Adams would be the guy. Adams did well, but nothing compared to Mariota as the Ducks also took one on the chin to then Big Ten power Michigan State, and many felt like the Ducks would regress as it wasn’t the same Oregon team the year before. But still, the rest of the conference also had their issues.

Arizona, who actually took a New Year’s Six bowl the same year Oregon went to the Playoff, lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl and proceeded to fall flat on their face. Arizona State under Todd Graham, couldn’t comprehend what a defense was, and most years could win 6 or 7 games at the most. Washington under Chris Patterson was trying to figure things out. USC and UCLA couldn’t get things going either. Stanford, the outlier as they played a unique style compared to the rest of the PAC-12, was competitive as always, but something kept them from being on that next level. In 2015, the PAC-12 wasn’t even remotely considered for a Playoff (well, it was really a foregone conclusion in 2015 which 4 teams were in even before the championship games were played).

The next year, hope was built up as Washington rolled in the PAC-12 thanks in part to Jake Browning’s stellar play at quarterback, until College GameDay went to Seattle for the Washington/USC game. Of course, it was Washington’s fans turn to chant for “we want Bama!” And then the Huskies got beaten somewhat decisively to USC and a young budding quarterback Sam Darnold. It was the same USC team who got thumped 52-6 by Alabama to start the year. Washington did win out and get to the playoff and faced Alabama.

Of course, Washington and PAC-12 fans loved the idea of seeing their team/conference duke it out with the kings of the college football mountain and talked about how Alabama hasn’t seen a team like Washington yet. While the Huskies played tough and more physical than Alabama had expected probably, Alabama still defeated the Huskies decisively, 24-7. Many thought perhaps the Huskies would rule the PAC-12 after that.

And, nope. Browning struggled big time (many attribute his receivers being injured/doing to the draft) and Washington failed to get to the Playoff (despite a Fiesta Bowl appearance, where they lost to Penn State). And the PAC-12 champion, USC, had two stinging losses, losing to two ranked teams in Washington State and Notre Dame (the Trojans only played 3 ranked teams in the regular season and they beat Stanford twice). And then the Trojans got embarrassed by Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl.

In 2018….well, the PAC 12 was not a factor at all in the Playoff. Washington was really the lone hope for the conference, but an early season loss to Auburn and Browning’s inconsistencies put the Huskies pretty much out of the race after their loss at Oregon.

So, why has the PAC-12 gone ker-plunk in the college football world?

Graham’s days at Arizona State were indicative of the PAC-12: score as many points as you can quickly and then try not to give up more to your opponent. Probably why Arizona State didn’t win more than 7 games in his final three seasons.

#1 COACHING STYLES: For the longest time the PAC-12 was built on quick-strike, spread offenses. Arizona under Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State under Todd Graham and Oregon loved to spread the ball out and let their skill guys go nuts. You have Mike Leach and the air raid in Washington State, Sonny Dykes at Cal, etc. (Washington runs a spread but also does some things that keeps them from being an all-out offense) Those offenses are great and exciting, but they do not keep their defenses rested and those schools also had major vulnerabilities on defense. Save for Oregon because they were able to create a lot of turnovers, the rest have not sniffed a PAC-12 title. It is also interesting that Stanford and Utah, both of whom are not really spread-style but more of a traditional way, were more competitive than those schools. What also stung was coaches like Graham, would be so stubborn not to implement a new style that it really cost them their jobs.

Elliott’s game against Oregon still gives Ducks fans nightmares

#2 LACK OF PHYSICALITY: We saw it with Oregon vs. Ohio State. We have seen it with USC against Alabama. We saw it against with USC and Ohio State. Pretty much any time the PAC-12 faces off against a legit power 5 team outside the conference, they get pushed around pretty good. Now, again, Washington and Stanford are outliers here because they do play that physical style which in the past has given Oregon at their height fits and would keep the Ducks from a national championship. Washington State is trying to do the same thing, but as we saw in the Apple Cup last year, if the conditions are bad and you can’t pass, it doesn’t matter what the defense does. UCLA when they’ve done well, the defense had some physicality to them. But really, those teams just can’t match up to the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan, etc. They just can’t do it. The good news is that you are seeing some of the schools (Arizona State, USC, Cal) trying to beef up.

Darnold had a very good career at USC, but wasn’t as great in his final season

#3 INCONSISTENT QUARTERBACK PLAY: Oregon got to the Playoff with Marcus Mariota. Mariota did a lot of things for the Ducks including hide offensive line woes (until Ohio State). You really have to appreciate what he did in Eugene when he was there. “But what about Darnold, Rosen, and others?” Darnold and Rosen came in with a bang and then fizzled out in their last season at the school. People can yell at me and go “Darnold couldn’t do as well with a sketchy offensive line” and “Rosen was great and if not for the concussion issues, he’d be a stud!” But they were still at times struggling, badly with or without an offensive line or injuries. And Browning, well, there’s no excuse after last year. But if you want to know why Washington wasn’t in the Playoff discussion the last two years and should have been? That’s why. Khalil Tate I thought could have been a great move under Kevin Sumlin, but it went south fast. Justin Herbert is in line to be the next great quarterback at Oregon so there is hope (and if Oregon’s defense can keep improving, who knows?)

Helton doesn’t have that aura of being a championship coach

#4 COACHING? If you look at the make-up of the PAC-12 coaches, there are some good coaches who get a lot out of their players (Peterson, David Shaw, Kyle Whittingham, and even Mike Leach). But others have been plagued in the past such as Chip Kelly and his disaster in the NFL (yes, he did guide the Ducks to a national title appearance in 2010-only to get pushed around by Auburn on the lines) and Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M. Arizona State went outside the box and got Herm Edwards, which many (myself included thought it was a joke) but he held his own in 2018 but time will tell. But questions will be abound for the likes of Clay Helton at USC, Justin Wilcox at Cal, and Mario Cristobal at Oregon. Jonathan Smith and Mel Tucker are still getting their feet wet in their respective schools (both of whom haven’t endured a lot of success in the past 15 years). But really, there isn’t a coach out there that people will go “I want to play for that guy!” like you have at Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, etc. Kelly does have name recognition, but how much of it has waned since he last coached in college (while his NFL stint was less than stellar to say the least)? Kevin Sumlin recruited well when he was in College Station, but will he be enough to get kids wanting to go to the desert? So there are questions with these coaches even now.

Overall, the PAC-12 still has more questions than answers. Their brand of football is overlooked largely because they haven’t put on a good showing in the big games like they needed to. And from the looks of it, not much has been changing in the way the conference is overall. Every year is a different year, and we never know if Kelly’s UCLA team stuns everybody and goes 12-0 or if Oregon returns with a bang. But until one of these programs makes the right moves, the PAC-12 will still keep at the bottom of the Power 5.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Why Clemson Could Have a Stronger Dynasty Than Alabama

Alabama-Clemson. Clemson-Alabama.

Regardless of how you cut it up, the college football world for the past four years has really been ruled by these two teams.

Or co-ruled. Or taking turns being ruled. Either way, Alabama and Clemson have dominated the college football landscape. And have dominated to the point of the fans are getting sick and tired of seeing these two teams.

Maybe because I am a giant Alabama fan and like Clemson, I am in the other camp where I just love seeing them face off on the biggest stages on a yearly basis. My take is people who gripe about Clemson-Alabama better not be griping about seeing Golden State and the LeBron-Cavaliers. Or the Lakers-Celtics back in the 80’s. It’s fun and it is must-see TV.

However when both Alabama and Clemson get mentioned, most people somewhat go “well, Alabama is Alabama; they can get anyone and anything to improve their program especially under Nick Saban” Clemson on the other hand, the take is different. “Yes, Clemson has been the one school that can beat the brakes off of Alabama and expose everything about them, but sooner or later the Tigers run will end and Alabama will remain atop.”

People who say things similar to Clemson need to be careful in what they say.

In fact, if I had to choose which program will have a stronger run and to win more national titles in the next five seasons, I would pick Clemson over Alabama. So let’s look at why.

Jan 7, 2019; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) looks to pass during the second quarter in the 2019 College Football Playoff Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

#1. THE GEORGIA FACTOR: I am taking it from a few angles when I mean Georgia. I mean Georgia as the university and Georgia as the recruiting playground. Georgia in the sense of the university will be barking (no pun intended) at Alabama given their recruiting prowess, but also the last two yeas had Alabama on the ropes before inexplicably letting them off the ropes (two straight years of double-digit leads in the second half blown). Georgia with their recruits are not going anywhere and will be a thorn in Alabama’s side for a good while (I like to think Georgia as the Pistons to Alabama’s Celtics right now) and could upend Alabama at some point soon. Also, Kirby Smart has mad a strong attempt of keeping Georgia high school players from going to Tuscaloosa by any means. Speaking of Georgia and high school recruits, what Clemson is also doing is sneaking those Georgia recruits that the Bulldogs aren’t as high on and having them cross the Savannah River to South Carolina. Bulldog fans are still irritated by the fact that Georgia didn’t keep Deshaun Watson in-state and won a national title at Clemson while Trevor Lawrence may end up doing the same thing to Georgia fans (to some it already has). It also may be a huge albatross for Smart if Georgia cannot get over that hump (especially when he took Justin Fields over him and now Fields transferred to Ohio State).

Clemson has had their issues with Syracuse as of late, but that has been one of the few instances of the Tigers struggling in the ACC.

#2. CONFERENCE PLAY: For what Alabama has done in the past decade has been nothing short of incredible. When we look back on this run when the Saban Era is over, Alabama fans (hopefully) including myself will appreciate what they have seen. The Tide had to deal with programs like LSU, Auburn, the Tebow-Florida years, Georgia, Johnny Manziel Texas A&M, Ole Miss in the mid part of this decade, Dak Mississippi State, etc. And given how things are rolling in College Station, Gainesville, Athens, and always threats in Baton Rouge and Auburn, the Tide will continuously have to deal with those programs on a yearly basis. Clemson does not have it in the ACC really. The Tigers have had issues with Syracuse the past few years, but overall, the conference is fairly weak top to bottom. The football powerhouses of the conference aside from the Tigers historically are Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech, and those three have a lot of questions to answer moving forward. The rest of the conference? You could have a big year from another school in the conference but that momentum will not be carried over for a long period of time and then fall back (see Louisville, North Carolina, and probably coming to you next year: NC State). Clemson barring injury could dominate a conference that doesn’t have a major contender to them like Alabama does.

#3. THE RECRUITING TRAIL: I mentioned before Clemson has done a good job of sneaking in and taking Georgia players, notably at QB. But they can recruit very well. The oddity is and this is the scary part is, despite this strong run, they have not been in the top 3 like Alabama and Georgia have lately. They are a top recruiting school, but currently the Tigers have the top recruiting class for the upcoming season. Of course a lot will change, but if Clemson ends the recruiting class with being the #1 program, watch out. And if they keep getting those players from Georgia that the Bulldogs snubbed, having a guy like Dabo Swinney who is probably the best motivator in the game today as your head coach will only get them better (I like to think it’s the Mark Dantonio approach at Michigan State when he takes the recruits that Michigan or Ohio State doesn’t want and use to his advantage).

#4. DABO SWINNEY: I could probably write five pages on this guy. People will still give Nick Saban the “Best College Coach in Football” title (unless you are a FS1 Loudmouth having your own TV show). And you know what? I wouldn’t complain. However, if there is one major advantage I would give Dabo Swinney over Nick Saban is I think is the motivation factor with Swinney. Swinney is energetic, but not to the point where he’s ultra rah-rah and you somewhat see through the ineffectiveness of it (see Butch Jones/Will Muschamp/PJ Fleck). But he also lets his college players be college players. He tells them to go out there and have fun really. Saban… as much as I love him as an Alabama fan, I feel can get in that mode where it is “football is a business” approach. It works for him and works for Alabama (as really anybody who plays at Alabama goes into the NFL as it is a football factory). But the other thing is that Swinney has over Saban is the age factor. Swinney is nearly 20 years younger than Saban. There’s more of a run where Swinney can coach for a longer period of time. Of course the talk (notably by ESPN who evidently wants more drama) is with Swinney’s new contract from Clemson has a unique buyout should Alabama come calling for Saban’s replacement whenever Saban steps down. Of course, the buyout would cost 50% higher if Swinney leaves for Alabama. However, it won’t be anytime soon and I honestly don’t know if Dabo at this point would leave for the Crimson Tide given how long it has taken for him to build Clemson to the program it is.

While nothing is given in the football world, Clemson seems to be on the right track of being the team to beat on the college level for the foreseeable future. They are in the perfect conference to dominate. They are recruiting at a top-notch level. And they have a coach that knows how to press all the right buttons on his players. And what is happening at Clemson is a sign of things to come.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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Is THIS a Make-or-Break Year for Kirby Smart at Georgia?

Georgia fans have seen this played out nearly 20 years ago.

The Bulldogs hired an assistant head coach from a football team that had a coaching legend on the sidelines. The assistant coach recruited well, put the program in the top 5 for recruiting, and then came a play or two away from being in the mix for the national championship in only his second year. After that, the seasons under the coach were great for the most part, but self-inflicted wounds on the field (i.e. inexplicable losses, questionable play-calls, etc.) kept Georgia from being a legit national championship contender. The Bulldogs fired Mark Richt at the end of the 2015 season despite a 9-3 record. A blowout loss at home to Alabama, a loss in Tennessee, and an embarrassing loss against Florida sealed Richt’s tenure (Georgia had a few near disasters that season too, nearly losing to Sun Belt foe Georgia Southern).

So the Bulldogs went to the well again…this time getting former Georgia alum and long-time Saban/Alabama assistant Kirby Smart to run things. Smart’s first year at Georgia obviously did not go well at all, only going 7-5 and many wondered if he was the man for the job. However, Smart used his recruiting prowess, put the Bulldogs back in the top 5 in the nation, flipping Alabama commits to Georgia (thus possibly ending whatever buddy-buddy relationship with Saban). In 2017, Georgia rolled through the competition, save for a bad loss at Auburn (but exacting it 3 weeks later in Atlanta in the SEC Championship game), getting to the Playoff, and winning a classic against Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma. But Georgia fell short, losing to Alabama in overtime for the National Championship.

Hopes rose in Athens and in the Peach State that Georgia’s national championship drought since 1980 is and will be ending. In 2018 Georgia had expected to throttle teams given the excessive talent on all aspects of the football game thanks to recruiting by Smart. They also brought in the #1 recruiting class in the nation before the season including getting the top QB in the nation in Justin Fields, who many thought he could at least push starting QB Jake Fromm and at the very least get plenty of playing time in 4th quarters of blowouts.

However, while Georgia was winning games, it wasn’t as exciting for Bulldogs fans who had hoped to see Georgia put the teams into the woodchipper a la Alabama has or the likes of Ohio State, Clemson, and Oklahoma. Instead, while Georgia dominated in their games, the scores weren’t as indicative of what it was and Kirby kept his starting squad out there in 4th quarters. And if Justin Fields did get in, the mentality was “run the ball and let’s go home.”

The Bulldogs were winning up until their tilt at LSU where the Tigers obliterated Georgia. Many bashed Smart after the game for the poor play-calling (going for a FG fake early on when the game was only 3-0 LSU and then pretty much gave up on their bread and butter in the run game). While Georgia recovered including beating hated rival Florida, many were concerned about some of the decisions on the field that were made and also fans started to grumble with Fields not getting as many reps as hoped. In the Auburn game, you saw Smart try to rub it in more by calling a FG fake late in the game when Georgia was well ahead (probably incentive for Gus’s “we kicked the dog crap out of Georgia” comment last year) and failed. And Fields didn’t get as much playing time then either.

Then the SEC Championship came. Alabama, who was steamrolling all year (like Georgia fans hoped the Bulldogs did), couldn’t find any answer to the Bulldogs offense at all. Georgia had a 14-point lead in the 3rd, but the game changed after the oft-reliable Rodrigo Blankenship missed a relatively easy field goal. Alabama scored two unanswered TD’s when Jalen Hurts took over for the banged up Tua Tagovailoa. Georgia, not in a position to make a bold move on a 4th down tied, opted to use Fields on a fake punt. Bama knew it right away it was a fake and stuffed it. And Georgia fans know the rest of this story.

Of course after the game, Smart was hounded by the media for going for the fake and had a different reason/excuse why he did it. Of course, it did not bode well for Kirby and the media and fans somewhat were angry with him. And now Georgia fans are going back saying “here we go again!”

Well, is it a legit thought? Perhaps, yes.

Kirby Smart has been nothing short of a godsend so far for Georgia. His recruiting ability is top notch and has consistent TOP THREE classes in the nation the last three years. Georgia in the last two years has gone 24-4, getting into the National Championship Game and a Sugar Bowl with it. They also hold bragging rights down south in Florida and up north in Tennessee, east in South Carolina and slightly west in Georgia Tech. Optimists are now looking for Georgia to really wanting to hit Alabama as the Tide have given them two heartbreaking, devastating losses in Georgia’s backyard in Atlanta.

However, Smart probably lost Georgia’s most prized recruit in Justin Fields. While reports are saying that Fields was promised things at Georgia and whatever, Smart possibly failed at keeping his recruit happy. Transfers happen all the time and mostly it is playing time. Jalen Hurts transfered from Alabama to Oklahoma in part of being Tua’s backup, but given his relationship with Saban and how Saban spoke glowingly about him, it was a “best of luck!” mentality. I don’t think the love was the same with Smart and Fields. Regardless who really is at fault, it doesn’t look great for the Georgia of “maybe Smart doesn’t know how to handle top recruits like Saban does.”

The other part that will be zeroed in will be Kirby’s X’s and O’s schemes and/or certain play-calls. The fakes last year used by Smart many (myself included) felt like were dumb. I think part of it is Smart still believes he is in Saban’s shadow (after all he was the longest assistant under Saban and didn’t have any head coaching experience). I think he wants to show he is nothing like Saban and tries to show he is his own guy. And I don’t think he needs to do that. Smart needs to be Kirby Smart and not try to re-invent the wheel. Use what Saban does. It is what the likes of Jimbo Fisher and Mark Dantonio do at Texas A&M and Michigan State respectively.

Coaching in college sports in general, you need to have a big ego. Look at the coaches in there. Kirby has a big ego and I mean that as a compliment. However what separates the likes of Saban and Dabo from others, is they also know when to go “yeah, I messed up; that’s my doing.” Saban has said that on the occasions Alabama has lost and Dabo has said that as well at Clemson. Kirby Smart is still young in the sense of learning that while the media grills them on certain parts of the game, he should not really go into full-fledged defensive mode. It comes off as going “well, maybe you don’t know as much as your other counterparts.” And if he keeps that “every play I call is right, my players don’t execute” attitude, it really looks bad and it does factor in on the field later.

My take is Georgia could and should be in the Playoff in 2019 as the fruits of the recruiting finally comes into the mix. It is a great thing given how the old sleeping giants of the SEC East are waking up a bit in Florida and Tennessee (and they have the Vols in Knoxville). Adding on, Auburn, who is seething after they felt Georgia tried to run the score on them, gets their shot at revenge at Jordan-Hare (which we know anything happens bounces in Auburn’s favor there) and throw in two home tilts with Notre Dame and Texas A&M and you have a pretty challenging schedule. But really Georgia should be in line to win most if not all of them. But two losses before any early December tilt with a possible revenge match with Alabama may get Georgia fans talking if Smart is the right man for the job. It will also depend on how he handles things with the entire program himself and tires to think that he needs to be out of Saban’s shadow. If he keeps saying the stuff of “I’m doing everything right, it’s my players that aren’t executing,” it is going to wear thin in Georgia (it was wearing thin his first season when Georgia was losing).

I think Smart is a good head coach, but he has to learn and admit when things go south on him and correct it. If he can’t, then Georgia and the fans will be feeling like this is Mark Richt 2.0 all over again.

-Fan in the Obstructed Seat

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