Week 8 brought a few teams back into playoff consideration (Lions & Eagles) but it also may have ended some other teams’ hopes (Bears & Panthers). With 9 weeks remaining, there are still many things that can happen, but right now the conference looks like a three team race between the Saints, Packers, and 49ers. Power Rankings are posted below, as well as predicted playoff matchups new this week.
1. Green Bay Packers (7-1)
Aaron Rodgers has found his groove in 2019. After a lackluster 2018 with a few injuries and the firing of his old head coach, the fans in Green Bay were uncertain how this season would play out. Fortunately for them, Aaron Rodgers is playing like an MVP candidate right now (16 Touchdowns, 2 Interceptions). With a four game win streak, including a Week 8 win over the Chiefs in Arrowhead, the Packers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now and are looking to continue that into Week 9 against the Chargers in L.A.
2. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
The Vikings have rattled off four in a row since their Week 4 embarrassment in Chicago. Kirk Cousins has led this charge, and Dalvin Cook continues to dominate on the ground. With a top ten defense complimenting their offense, Minnesota looks to have a playoff spot locked down. Whether it be a wildcard position or the division crown remains to be seen. Week 9 starts a tough 4 game stretch in which the Vikings have 3 road games against the Chiefs, Cowboys, and Seahawks.
3. Detroit Lions (3-3-1)
The Lions are a sneaky team in the NFC. With a win against the Giants in Week 8, Detroit has moved back to .500. Matthew Stafford is having another solid season and the Lions are averaging 25.7 points per game. The Lions have a tough road test in Oakland for Week 9. With the division crown seemingly out of reach, the Lions need almost every game in this second half to keep pace with other teams competing for the wildcard in the NFC.
4. Chicago Bears (3-4)
Things can’t get much worse for the Bears. Mitchell Trubisky has continued to struggle and put his team (and his defense) in horrible situations. Matt Nagy has also received heavy criticism after taking a knee and settling for a 41-yard field goal instead of trying to gain a few more yards. Eddie Pineiro ended up missing the potential game winning kick and now the Bear’s season is all but derailed. With such promise coming into this season, Chicago has fallen flat on their faces. Week 9 takes the Bears to Philadelphia for a tough matchup.
1. San Francisco 49ers (7-0)
In Week 8, the 49ers proved that they are the team to beat in the NFC. With a 51-13 rout of the Panthers, the ‘Niners dominated on all sides of the ball. The defense is probably the best in the conference, and the offense is playing mistake free football and making the most of their redzone opportunities. As Week 9 approaches, San Francisco heads to Arizona for a Thursday Night matchup against the Cardinals. The 49ers have one of the tougher schedules in the league for the second half, so winning the games against “non-playoff caliber teams” is important going forward.
2. Seattle Seahawks (6-2)
Although the Seahawks rebounded with a win against the Falcons in Week 8, the last few games for Seattle have been shaky. With a home game against the Buccaneers in Week 9, the Seahawks can prove themselves as one of the “Elites” in the conference. Seattle has a difficult second half schedule, so the Seahawks need to be careful not to look past any teams.
3. Los Angeles Rams (5-3)
The Rams have won two in a row after losing three straight and are now 5-3. Although the wins came against bad teams, it was refreshing to see the Rams look dominant again. This week L.A. travels to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers who have won three out of four. The Rams need to continue winning to stay close to the 49ers and leave a chance to still win the West. A wildcard is the likely playoff route for the Rams.
4. Arizona Cardinals (3-4-1)
The Cardinals lost to the Saints in Week 8 and now have the 49ers coming to Arizona in Week 9. Facing two of the best teams in the conference in back-to-back weeks will most likely derail any faint playoff hopes left in Arizona. The Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake this week who looks to be taking over the running duties in Arizona. Kyler Murray is continuing to develop which is a good sign as well. 2020 could be special for the Cardinals.
1.Dallas Cowboys (4-3)
The Cowboys come off of their bye with a half game lead over the Eagles. At 4-3 the Cowboys still have some things to prove to show that they are the best team in this division. Although they handled the Eagles rather easily in Week 7, the Cowboys have games against the Vikings and Patriots in the coming weeks which will show the true colors of this team. For week 9, Dallas heads to New York to face the Giants in an NFC East tilt on Monday Night football
2. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
The Eagles beat the Bills in Week 8 and improved to 4-4. Despite the win, the Eagles are the most inconsistent team in the NFC. You just never know what team you’re going to get each week. With a home game against the Bears in Week 9, this is seemingly an elimination game for playoff contention. Considering the high expectations for both of these teams heading into the year, it’s a shame that there isn’t more riding on it.
3. New York Giants (2-6)
The Giants have lost four straight but Daniel Jones is developing nicely. Jones had four touchdowns in a losing effort against the Lions. At 2-6, the Giants are simply looking to developing their young team for the 2020 season. Up next is the Cowboys at home on Monday night.
4. Washington Redskins (1-7)
The Redskins lost a sloppy game to the Vikings last Thursday and fell to 1-7. The rumors are stirring in Washington that Dwayne Haskins may make his first start in Week 9 against the Bills. This could be the turn for the Redskins’ Franchise that puts them back on the map.
1.New Orleans Saints (7-1)
Drew Brees made his return in Week 8 and it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. A win against the Cardinals isn’t all that impressive, but it was the perfect game for Brees to jump back into things for the Saints. Week 9 is the bye week for New Orleans as they will get two weeks to prepare for the Falcons at home a week from Sunday. With Brees ,the Saints have this division locked up.
2. Carolina Panthers (4-3)
The Panthers got embarrassed in San Francisco in Week 8. Cam Newton will be out again for Week 9 but he may start practicing later this week. With the Titans coming into town this Sunday, the Panthers can reinsert themselves into the NFC playoff picture with a win.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-5)
The Buccaneers have lost three in a row and their season is all but over. The the Jameis Winston experiment is over and the Bucs should move on and draft another quarterback this year. Week 9 brings a tough road game for the Bucs who have to travel to Seattle to face the Seahawks.
5. Atlanta Falcons (1-7)
Six straight losses for the Falcons has destroyed the morale in Atlanta. With the Saints up next after the bye, the Falcons should focus on securing a top five draft pick to tighten up their defense. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are still in their primes and the Falcons need to make moves to salvage the offense productivity still remaining in the team.
The Super Bowl contenders are separating themselves in the Conference. The Saints, Packers, and 49ers all proved once again that they have what it takes to represent the NFC in February. The second tier, headlined by the Seahawks, is still a bit murky, but the Vikings, Rams, and Cowboys are rebounding after some question marks earlier this year. See how each division stands and the updated power rankings for this week below.
1. Green Bay Packers (6-1)
Aaron Rodgers had a historic day on Sunday. He had a perfect passer rating (first time in Packers’ history) and accounted for 6 touchdowns (5 passing/1 rushing). The Packers are firing on all cylinders right now, and a huge road test against the Chiefs awaits in Week 8. The Chiefs will be without Patrick Mahomes, and Davante Adams should be back for the Packers.
2. Minnesota Vikings (5-2)
The Vikings were tested by the Lions, but ultimately pulled away to secure their first divisional victory. Despite a 1-2 divisional record, the Vikings still have 3 home games against the NFC North ( where they are 3-0 this year). Kirk Cousins is playing some of the best football of his career lately and the Vikings remain just a game back of the Packers. With the Redskins coming to Minnesota this week, a (likely) victory could put them even with the Packers who may lose in Kansas City.
3. Chicago Bears (3-3)
The Bears’ season is at a breaking point. Putting on one of the most embarrassing performances of the season this season, the Bears offense failed to get anything going, committing 2 turnovers and 6 three-and-outs. Mitchell Trubisky continued to struggle and Matt Nagy received harsh criticism for only calling 7 run plays, amounting to 17 rush yards. With the Chargers coming to Soldier Field in Week 8, the Bears have a favorable chance to get back on track. A loss may end any playoff hopes and waste another season with a top 10 defense.
4. Detroit Lions (2-3-1)
Detroit played another very tough game against the Vikings, but weren’t able to pull off the upset. This Lions team is very talented, but their record juts doesn’t match it. I’m not ready to write them off as a playoff team, but they need to start stringing together a few wins if they want to make a push. The first step would be to take care of the Giants at home this week.
1. San Francisco 49ers (6-0)
The 49ers won an ugly game in Washington 9-0 this past week. The rain had a huge impact on the game so it is tough to take away much of anything from this game except for the road victory for the ‘Niners. Although the hot start is refreshing in San Francisco, the second half of the season doesn’t have many weak opponents. This week the 49ers play host to the Panthers who are 4-2 and fresh off of their bye week. After a gritty win in Week 7, a letdown wouldn’t be that surprising.
2. Seattle Seahawks (5-2)
The Seahawks got roughed up on Sunday against the Ravens, and Russell Wilson finally looked human again. Even with this tough loss, the Seahawks are still a dangerous team and have plenty of opportunities to win this division. The best news for Seattle is getting to play the Falcons this week to secure a bounce back win.
3. Los Angeles Rams (4-3)
The Rams embarrassed the Falcons in Atlanta last Sunday, and looked similar to the Rams we have become used to seeing each week. At 4-3, the Rams can still find a way to win the division, although a wildcard seems like the probable playoff route for L.A. For Week 8, the Rams host the winless Bengals as they look to start a much needed win streak.
4. Arizona Cardinals (3-3-1)
At the bottom of the division is the Cardinals who have won 3 straight and look dangerous. Kliff Kingsbury is utilizing Kyler Murray well, and the young quarterback is playing within himself and making the plays he was brought in to make. Although nobody really considered the Cardinals a playoff team with a new head coach and rookie quarterback at the beginning of the year, they have an opportunity to sneak in. Every victory is precious at this point, but a visit to New Orleans this week makes that a tough task.
1.Dallas Cowboys (4-3)
The Cowboys looked very good on Sunday night and made easy work of the Eagles. With the conference having so many teams (10) at .500 or better, it looks like the only payoff team from the NFC East will be the division winner. Dak Prescott bounced back in Week 7 and needs to continue to build on this against the Giants in Week 8 if the Cowboys really want to prove that they are the best team in the division.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
The Eagles are sliding fast. The season is looking all but over after their Sunday Night performance. Carson Wentz looked horrible and the defense came nowhere close to stopping the Cowboys’ offense. If the Eagles want any hope restored in their playoff chances they MUST WIN in Buffalo this week.
3. New York Giants (2-5)
The Giants lost to the Cardinals this past week in the battle of rookie quarterbacks. Daniel Jones needs to continue his positive development and Saquon Barkley returning will certainly help that. If this offense can stay healthy and make strides towards the end of this season, the Giants will be one wide receiver away from being a dangerous offense next year. In Week 8 New York travels to Detroit where both teams are still searching for their third win of the year.
4. Washington Redskins (1-6)
The Redskins lost again at home. The Redskins have nothing to lose and should start playing Haskins now. If he begins to play well, fans will have some hope heading into next season. If he doesn’t get any more experience this year, the 2020 season could be another year of growing pains in Washington.
1.New Orleans Saints (6-1)
The Saints dominated the Bears in Week 7 and this team is running like a well-oiled machine right now. After Drew Brees’ injury many people wrote off the Saints, but now 5 straight wins have kept them near the top of the conference and Drew Brees is almost ready to return. There are rumors of him practicing this week, and has not been ruled out for their game against the Cardinals this week, but it seems more likely he will return in Week 10 after the Saints’ bye week. Nonetheless, Teddy Bridgwater and Sean Payton deserve all the credit for keeping this team from falling apart after losing Brees in week 2.
2. Carolina Panthers (4-2)
The Panthers come out of their bye with a big game awaiting in Week 8 against the 49ers. A win would put the Panthers on everyone radar as a serious playoff team. A loss would continue the Panthers’ season on this path of mediocrity it is seemingly already on. Cam Newton is rumored to start practicing again, but will not play in Week 8. With Kyle Allen still undefeated as the starter, who knows if this job still belongs to Newton when he is finally healthy.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)
The Bucs enjoyed their bye in Week 7 and now travel to Nashville to play the Titans. This is definitely a winnable game, but thats assuming Jameis Winston avoids another 5 interception game. A few weeks ago, this game looked like the awaited the rematch of Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, but with Mariota on the bench, we will have to settle for Winston v Tannehill.
4. Atlanta Falcons (1-6)
The Falcons lost yet again to the Rams in Week 7, making it 5 in a row. Wide Receiver Mohamed Sanu was traded this week, and it may be the start of a larger unload in Atlanta. This team needs to fix its defense, as they rank 27th in total defense. Hosting the Seahawks this week will likely be another loss, especially if Matt Ryan remains on the sidelines.
The NFC playoff picture is beginning to clear up as teams are becoming more predictable. With 10 teams at .500 or better, it looks like even the Wildcard teams will have 10 or 11 wins. Here is how each division stand after the sixth week of action, followed by the conference power rankings at the end.
1. Green Bay Packers (5-1)
The Packers came out slow on Monday night and looked rather sloppy for most of the game. On the final drive two very questionable “Hands to the Face” calls against the Lions helped extend the drive to set up the game-winning field goal. The Packers won but looked outplayed. At the end of the day, a win is a win and a division win is even sweeter for the Packers. Next week Green Bay welcomes the Raiders to Lambeau field.
2. Minnesota Vikings (3-2)
The Vikings exploded on offense against the Eagles. Stefon Diggs caught 3 touchdowns and the Eagles couldn’t overcome the poor defensive performance. Right now the Vikings are looking like a playoff team, just two weeks removed from their dismal loss in Chicago where they scored 6 points. A huge divisional game in Detroit awaits this Sunday.
3. Chicago Bears (3-2)
The Bears took Week 6 off and got plenty of injury updates. Wide Receiver Taylor Gabriel and Defensive Lineman Bilal Nichols are healthy. Lineman Kyle Long went on the IR and Akiem Hicks looks to be out for a few weeks. Mitchell Trubisky returned to practice and looks like he will play. With the Saints coming to town, it is a big opportunity for the Bears to reassert themselves in the elite conversation. A loss would hurt the Bear’s playoff hopes tremendously in a cluttered NFC.
4. Detroit Lions (2-2-1)
Detroit came out firing against the Packers, going up 13-0 in the first half. At some junctures of the game, the Lions looked a bit stagnant and complacent kicking field goals. That being said, they played a pretty good game Monday night and if not for some “iffy” calls on the last drive, they would have three victories. Bouncing back won’t come easy though as the Vikings come into Ford Field after an impressive win in Week 6.
1. San Francisco 49ers (5-0)
The 49ers continued their dominate start to the season by easily handling the Rams on the road. The ‘Niner’s defense looks dominant and the offense has many weapons. The return of Tevin Coleman has been noticed and Nick Bosa is making his presence felt every game. This week the 49ers head across the country to Washington D.C. to play the Redskins. Although Washington earned its first victory this past week, the 49ers look like an unstoppable force right now.
2. Seattle Seahawks (5-1)
The Seahawks put together an impressive comeback win against the Browns in Week 6. This team is looking more and more capable of representing the NFC in the Super Bowl with each game they play. A tricky home game against the Ravens is up next in Week 8. Even with a playoff spot likely locked down, the Seahawks would much rather win the division and (most likely) get a first round bye in the playoffs, so every game is important to keep up with the 49ers.
3. Los Angeles Rams (3-3)
The Rams have lost three in a row, matching their loss total from last year. The team looks completely out of sync, and securing a playoff spot seems more and more unlikely with each week. the Rams made headlines this week trading two first round picks to receive Jalen Ramsey from the Jaguars. Ramsey will add even more star power to the Rams’ defense, but they have not looked as dominant as advertised lately. Maybe Week 7 will be the turning point for L.A. as they travel to Atlanta.
4. Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1)
The Cardinals have put together two in a row, and Kyler Murray is no longer looking like a rookie quarterback. A trip to play the Giants and fellow rookie quarterback, Daniel Jones, is up next for Murray and the Cardinals. A win would bring the Cardinals to .500 just under halfway through the season. Although a playoff appearance seems like a reach, crazier things have happened.
1.Dallas Cowboys (3-3)
The Cowboys have dropped three straight and do not look playoff worthy. A road loss against the winless Jets is definitely an eye opener, and now Jason Garrett’s seat has warmed up a bit. Failing to make the playoffs would almost certainly be the end of Garrett’s time in Dallas. The first step to avoiding this letdown is this Sunday at home against the Eagles.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
The Eagles performed rather poorly in Minnesota last week coming off of two consecutive wins. Although the Vikings played very well themselves, some fans still consider the Eagles Super Bowl contenders and playing like they did this past week isn’t going to get the job done. Week 7 brings us the long awaited matchup in Dallas. With both the Cowboys and Eagles sitting at 3-3, it looks like the division winner may be the only playoff team from the NFC East. Expect a tight one in Dallas with playoff like atmosphere.
3. New York Giants (2-4)
The Patriots were too much to handle for this young Giants’ team in Week 6. Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley are the future in New York and getting back to the winning tradition may be closer than we think in New York. With the Cardinals coming to town in Week 7, getting to 3-4 would leave the Giants just a game out of first place. Even with the early season struggles, the lack of dominance in the NFC East will leave the door open for the Giants for quite a few weeks; it will be their job to seize the opportunity.
4. Washington Redskins (1-5)
The Redskins won the tank bowl against the Dolphins 17-16. The team is still without a (permanent) head coach, and Case Keenum is starting over Dwayne Haskins. The Redskins’ organization is in shambles, and trading away players for draft picks would be the ideal approach to rebuilding this historic franchise.
1.New Orleans Saints (5-1)
The Saints won an ugly game in Jacksonville, 13-6. Teddy Bridgewater didn’t look very sharp, but the defense led them to a road victory which is never easy in the NFL. This week the Saints head to Chicago where Khalil Mack and the Bears’ defense awaits. With both defenses playing well, it looks like a big turnover or special teams play could be the deciding factor. This is a big game for the Saints as the Panthers are just a game back.
2. Carolina Panthers (4-2)
Kyle Allen has led the Panthers to four straight wins as the starter and the murmurs are beginning to spread that even with a healthy Cam Newton, the Panthers should go with Allen at quarterback. With a bye in Week 7, the Panthers are expecting Newton to be healthy for their Week 8 matchup in San Francisco, but that does not mean he will be the starter. Whatever the Panthers decide, they will have Christian McCaffrey running the ball out of the backfield, building on his MVP type season.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4)
The Bucs are trending in the wrong direction. Jameis Winston threw FIVE interceptions against the Panthers in London this past week and the Bucs may have now lost any playoff hopes they had heading into Week 6. Tampa Bay will take Week 7 off to rest up and prepare for a trip to Tennessee in Week 8 looking to get things back on track.
4. Atlanta Falcons (1-5)
The Falcons’ Week 6 loss summed up their whole season. There is nothing more frustrating than missing a potential game-tying extra point in the final few seconds. For a team that was expected to be competitive, these losses prove why the Falcons have lost four straight. This week the Falcons host the Rams who have been on a losing streak themselves, in a battle of hungry teams dying to get back in the win column.
After three weeks of football, I think it is finally appropriate to analyze each team’s progress and future path with three performances to critique. The NFC is shaking out to be a very competitive conference with many teams sitting at 2-1 or better. Read below to find out how I see each division playing out, as well as a preview for Week 4. Finally, in the end, I will provide a power ranking for each team in the conference.
I think it is only fitting, to begin with the NFC North because of its combined record of 9-2-1. Every team looks like it could make a run for the playoffs. Although some teams may have executed and performed better in some games, I think we can get a true sense of each team’s identity heading into Week 4.
1. Green Bay Packers (3-0)
Heading into the season, Green Bay was holding its breath as new coach Matt LaFleur was beginning his tenure as the leader of one of the NFL’s most coveted franchises. Of course, there has been some drama regarding Aaron Rodgers in the past few seasons on his coachability, but thus far that doesn’t seem to be an issue. After three games, the Packers are undefeated and their defense is leading the way. The offense has had some forgettable moments (The ugly win in Week 1 at Chicago) but it seems to be trending in the right direction. Being 2-0 in the division is certainly an added bonus to this unbeaten start, and they will look to improve to 4-0 on Thursday Night Football as the Packers will host the Eagles who have gotten off to a rocky start themselves. I predict the Packers to win against a beat-up Eagles squad who is having difficulty on the defensive side of the ball. Look for the Packers to get an early lead and coast.
2. Detroit Lions (2-0-1)
WOW! What a start for the Lions. Coming into the year I don’t think many people expected much from this team, but they have proven everyone wrong. At times, they have looked sloppy (4th Quarter against the Cardinals Week 1, and Most of the game against the Chargers) but at the end of the day, they have beaten two playoff teams from a year ago, and have been able to withstand late-game pressures. Matthew Stafford looks solid again this year, and the team is playing well in the early parts of the game, which was often a problem in recent seasons. This week the Lions host the Chiefs. Although it seems like a daunting task, I think the Lions are a pesky team that could hang around for a little in this game. In the end, I expect the Chiefs to remain undefeated and the Lions to fall to 2-1-1, which is by no means a failure considering their early-season opponents.
3. Minnesota Vikings (2-1)
The Vikings look like a playoff team. They have dominated the Falcons and Raiders at home, but in between, they fell to the Packers at Lambeau. Although they need to improve their ability to play on the road, the Vikings defense is once again looking dangerous, and Dalvin Cook has returned to his rookie form. Kirk Cousins, however, still leaves questions about his ability to be a reliable quarterback each week in the NFL. Upcoming, the Vikings travel to Chicago where a very important road divisional game awaits. As good as the Vikings may seem, if they fail to win road games, especially in the division, they could be a team that misses out on a playoff spot with a seemingly worthy record. All that said, I don’t think the Vikings will be able to pull out a victory against the Bears this week. The game being at 3:25 pm will only add more pressure to Kirk Cousins who can simply look overwhelmed when he faces pressure, and I expect the Bears to be very hungry to win at home after their Week 1 letdown.
4. Chicago Bears (2-1)
The Bears came into this season with Super Bowl aspirations. After adding pieces to an already stellar defense (HaHa Clinton-Dix) the Bears seemed like they might be on their way to just that. Although being 2-1 isn’t bad, the Bears have certainly left room for improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Third-year quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky showed some signs of development and growth last season but hasn’t been able to put together a complete performance. His play on Monday Night Football against the Redskins was the best it has been, but he still threw a poor interception in the endzone and missed some rather simple throws. I like the Bears to win this week against the Vikings, but the only way for them to accomplish that is with a good performance from Trubisky.
The NFC West is another strong division with a combined record of 8-3-1. The Rams look like they are definitely capable of returning to the Super bowl. The Seahawks and 49ers have good records but haven’t beaten any team with a winning record yet. Although the Cardinals have a poor record, they have shown positive signs with a rookie quarterback.
1. Los Angeles Rams (3-0)
The Rams are coming off a solid win in Cleveland on Sunday night. The most promising part of the Ram’s performances up to this point is the fact that Todd Gurley hasn’t gotten going. He still has much more to offer in this fire-powered offense, which is benefitting immensely from the return of Cooper Kupp. The defense looks solid yet again, and I expect them to handle the Buccaneers rather easily this Sunday before a tough Thursday Night Football matchup with the Seahawks in Seattle. A return to the Super Bowl certainly seems possible if things continue this way.
2. San Francisco 49ers (3-0)
The 49ers look like the team everyone expected last season before Jimmy Garoppolo got injured. The offense is producing very well even with injuries and uncertainty in who the top receiver is. The biggest concern at this point is the quality of the opponents they have faced. Combined, the Buccaneers, Bengals, and Steelers are 1-8. This Monday the 49ers host the Browns who are still trying to find themselves as well. Nonetheless, a Monday night win at home to improve to 4-0 will surely boost their stock and put them into serious playoff talks.
3. Seattle Seahawks (2-1)
The Seahawks hosted the New Orleans Saints last Sunday who were without Drew Brees. Even so, the Saints dominated that game. Although the final score was 33-27, the game was over halfway through the third quarter. With their two wins coming against winless opponents, (By slim margins) I still cannot tell if the seahawks will be true playoff contenders. They have a divisional game at Arizona this Sunday which they most likely will win, but I think the Seahawks’ true colors will show next Thursday against the Rams.
4. Arizona Cardinals (0-2-1)
The Cardinals will not make the playoffs this year. The focus is all on developing Kyler Murray and preparing him for important games in November and December for seasons to come. Coach Kliff Kingsbury was criticized for not exploring enough with Murray in the first few weeks. In week three Murray looked overwhelmed at times in the second half against the Panthers, and turnovers killed any chance of pulling out the victory at home. As disappointing as it may be for a Cardinals fan, every young quarterback needs games where they perform poorly because it motivates them for weeks to come. I am excited for this team’s future with Murray at the helm.
1.Dallas Cowboys (3-0)
The Cowboys look unbeatable right now. Dak Prescott has shown up this season. The move for Amari Cooper gets better with each game he plays, and Zeke is…being Zeke. The defense is strong, and the Cowboys have cruised to every win easily. The strong start is nice, but this Sunday night they will travel to play the Saints in New Orleans. This is the most intriguing matchup this week, but I am leaning slightly towards the Saints at home. Even still, the Cowboys look to be on their way to winning the NFC East again.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2)
The Eagles are in a tough spot. after three games they are 1-2 and have a difficult road game in Green Bay on Thursday. Starting out 1-3 was not on the agenda for anyone in Philadelphia, but maybe this game could turn everything around. They haven’t looked particularly sharp in any game. The offense is banged up and the defense can’t keep teams out of the endzone. If a 1-3 start is the case, the panic meter will be tapped out.
3. New York Giants (1-2)
The Giants have entered the Daniel Jones era. Week 3 marked Jones’s first start in a Giants uniform and boy did he show up. Although a missed field goal from the Bucs ultimately decided the game, it would be hard to imagine the Giants in that position with Eli Manning under center. No disrespect to Eli, I believe he will be in the hall of fame someday. For now, he should either find a team who needs another quarterback or just retire. This week I think they will easily handle the redskins and be 2-2. As for the Giants season, I don’t expect them to make the playoffs but they should be much more fun to watch and be competitive each week.
4. Washington Redskins (0-3)
Jay Gruden should be sweating after Monday night. The Redksins did not show up at all, Case Keenum turned the ball over 5 times, and the “boos” were out early and often. Dwayne Haskins should be ready at any moment because at this point they have nothing to lose. The lone bright spot has been rookie receiver Terry McLaurin. He has made an instant impact and scored a touchdown in each game. Things only get worse as the ‘Skins travel to New York to face Daniel Jones in his first home game.
1.New Orleans Saints (2-1)
The Saints got robbed last year in the NFC Championship. With most of the team returning, reaching the Super Bowl is almost the expectation in New Orleans. Everything was on course until Drew Brees broke his thumb and needed surgery which sidelined him for 4-6 weeks. The game against the Rams wasn’t pretty and losing Brees just added insult to injury. The bounceback against the Seahawks was impressive, but another tough test against the Cowboys awaits this Sunday. Although Brees is crucial to the Saints’ success, I think they will stay afloat and then capture the division after his return.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2)
The Bucs do look improved under Bruce Aryans. Jameis Winston looks more like himself and although they had a tough loss to the Giants Sunday, I wouldn’t be surprised if they won 7 or 8 games this season. The winning, however, might have to wait a few weeks as road games against the Rams and Saints are up next.
3. Atlanta Falcons (1-2)
The Falcons are a tough team to figure out. After a poor performance week 1 against the Vikings, they responded with a hard-fought, dramatic victory against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. Week 3 however, they could not secure a road victory against the Colts on the road and are now at 1-2. This week they travel to Houston to play a tough Texans’ defense and Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins. I truly think the Falcons are better than their record, but that doesn’t mean much in this league. Each week is a crapshoot and you have to execute to earn victories.
4. Carolina Panthers (1-2)
I have lost all faith in Cam Newton. Even before his injury in week 2 he looked awful. Kyle Allen, on the other hand, seized his opportunity, and after an impressive win in Arizona, some people are saying there could be a quarterback competition in Carolina. I know it seems impossible that a former MVP could have his job at stake, but this is an unforgiving league and winning is the most important. If that isn’t being done, then changes will be made. Carolina hosts the Jaguars this Sunday and has a good chance to get back to .500.
It’s back. The week that we all get excited about arrived. Now, nothing against Oklahoma, Houston, Notre Dame, and Louisville, but Saturdays are where it is at. So I will enjoy doing this today as it was an interesting, yet not a bombshell-worthy week in Week 1. So let’s hit it.
TOP 5 WINNERS:
(1) AUBURN: We’ve seen this story from the Tigers in those magical years in 2010, 2013, and 2017. You get a break here and there. You keep it close in games you probably don’t deserve to be in. You win late. You have a quarterback that is a dual threat and brings some arrogance and cockiness. And just a friendly reminder to Alabama and Georgia: you have to go down to the Plains this year (and Georgia, you better not sit on any lead). And LSU & Florida: you better have your A games even though you are at home. This could be “that year.”
(2) TOP TEN TEAMS: Oklahoma aside because they play on Sunday and Notre Dame on Monday (they play Louisville), the top ten squads played in a DOMINANT fashion. While there were issues for most of the teams at some point (either slow starts or just sat on leads), the games were never really in doubt. Next week will change a few things though (LSU/Texas, Texas A&M/Clemson)
(3) UTAH: Utah isn’t as “exciting” as some want them to be. But they have a great defense, a great run game, and a quarterback who makes the needed passes. Are they a sleeper in the PAC-12? You bet. They went into BYU and really handled them well. And that is NOT an easy place to win at.
(4) BOISE STATE: You go across country for what you expect to be a “neutral site game” and then get pushed to the opponents home, get down big at halftime, and then come back and win. Feels like only Boise State can do that. And the talk of Hank Bachmeier being the next great Broncos QB has begun just like that.
(5) BIG TEN EAST: 7-0 this week. We expected all of them to win, well, most of them. Rutgers even won and put up 40. And we had a bit of that 70’s show feel to it as well. Maryland and Penn State ran up the scores (79 points for both of them in their wins) and Michigan State’s defense gave up -79 rushing yards to Tulsa. And Indiana didn’t fall into that trap of losing to a MAC school. Of course, I don’t genuinely think Rutgers, Maryland, or Indiana will be a major threat to the division, but it was a nice start.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: North Carolina, Virginia, Boston College
TOP 5 LOSERS:
(1) OREGON: A few things here: the turnover deep in Auburn’s territory was reminiscent of the Stanford game which really doomed the Ducks from playoff contention. They sat on their lead once they got up 21-6, something Oregon NEVER does. And they gave the PAC-12 another black eye for the conference as a whole of not being able to compete with the other conferences. Sad because for the first three quarters Oregon really dominated Auburn. So in our annual “do we think Oregon is a legit program that can go up with the other powers in the nation” question, the answer is the same: no.
(2) TENNESSEE: And just like that the honeymoon period for the Volunteers and Jeremy Pruitt is over and looking more like a divorce is impending. How do you give up 38 to Georgia State? Props to Georgia State for wanting it. Tennessee was just expecting the Panthers to hand them a W. Pruitt will have to do some serious damage control.
(3) FLORIDA STATE: If not for Oregon blowing a lead and giving them their own black eye and knocking them out of National Championship hopes, and Tennessee for losing to the bottom of the barrel Sun Belt team, the Seminoles probably had the worst weekend out of anybody. First they get the Boise State game home instead of Jacksonville which meant it was a big jolt for the Noles and a major adjustment for Boise, and then you build a huge halftime lead only to choke it away. Willie Taggart in already his second season cannot afford any more bad losses because he will end up being fired very soon. Is it fair? No, but Florida State fans expect to be a yearly top five team. Right now, they may not even be top 5 in the ACC Atlantic. Think that one carefully.
(4) SOUTH CAROLINA: North Carolina played tough. That was the one thing I got out of that. But even then, South Carolina made silly mistakes, turned the ball over and Jake Bentley was terrible. This feels like 2013 Florida a bit with Will Muschamp around (the year where Florida went 4-8 and lost to Georgia Southern at home). It may be very ugly out in Columbia in 2019.
(5) VIRGINIA TECH: 35 to Boston College? That should not happen. Yes, they “stopped” AJ Dillon (3.5 yds per carry but 83 yards) but giving up 400 yards to them? And the Hokies Bud Foster Farewell tour couldn’t start off to a worse situation. Adding on top of it, Virginia Tech is now in the hole in the ACC Coastal with road trips to Miami and Virginia this year. Adding on, they see Old Dominion next week, which was the beginning of the end for them last year.
HONORABLE MENTION: Missouri, UCLA, Ole Miss
TOP 5 QUESTIONS
(1) ASIDE FROM THE LIKES OF WILLIE TAGGART, WHICH POWER 5 HEAD COACH IS IN MAJOR TROUBLE AFTER THIS WEEKEND? While Jeremy Pruitt has now become public enemy #1 in Knoxville for losing to Georgia State, I’m going with Will Muschamp. South Carolina isn’t really expected to contend in the SEC East this year (at least to me) but beating North Carolina should have happened. Just some decisions made and again, they failed to put the throat on the Tar Heels and let them in the game. And it’s more feasible to see the Gamecocks go 4-8 than 8-4 now. So he is probably in the biggest trouble.
(2) WHICH HEAD COACH IS NOW HAVING A WARM SEAT? Justin Fuente. The Hokies have been atop the ACC until last year and losing to Boston College (the Eagles aren’t bad at all but giving up 35 to them?) the way they did is very concerning. A 6-6 record for the second year in a row won’t cut it in Blacksburg especially now if Virginia is starting to be the power in that state.
(3) THE SEC HAD HIGHS AND LOWS THIS WEEKEND. ARE THEY THE BEST OVERALL CONFERENCE? Yes, only because of their top 5. Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, and LSU are without question the cream of the crop. Texas A&M is also on the verge of cracking it, assuming if they can take down Clemson next week in Death Valley. However, once you get past them, they may have some of the weaker programs in the nation. I somewhat liken it to if you align the football programs like planets in order of the sun (just imagine we have 14 planets here), the 5 teams I mentioned would be the inner solar system, very close to one another. Then you have Texas A&M somewhere in the asteroid belt. And then you have the next 8 where Pluto is. It’s just a massive gap, and that bottom half could get beaten by any bottom half in the Power 5.
(4) WHICH TOP 10 TEAM LOOKED THE STRONGEST? LSU obviously. And a team like Georgia Southern gives everyone fits with the option. Not tonight. Adding on top of it the Tigers did something we are not accustomed to: passing. Granted we don’t know what kind of team Georgia Southern will be and it may be a bit different when LSU has to face the likes of Auburn, Alabama, and Florida. But if you are a Tigers fan, you still have to feel good on what you saw last night down in Baton Rouge.
(5) WHICH TOP 10 TEAM LOOKED SHAKY? It is very hard to say because all of them outside of LSU had their woes in some manner yet somehow dominated. Georgia and Ohio State got off to roaring starts only to sit on the lead and lose all their rhythm after the first quarter. Alabama struggled early on before looking like Alabama. Clemson played sloppy notably in the first half against Georgia Tech. Michigan did allow 21 to Middle Tennessee. Texas did “fine.” If I count Florida from their win last week against Miami, it would be the Gators largely because of poor play at quarterback and Feleipe Franks is a massive question mark moving forward. But I won’t, so I will probably say Michigan at this point. Do they have enough offense to win? Can they do better on defense than what they showed? It’s just the teams that haven’t been proven to win those big games will the the ones scrutinized. And right now, Michigan is that.
The ACC was and up-and-down conference last year. Clemson won another national championship while Syracuse and Virginia rose through the ranks. However, the likes of Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Louisville pretty much imploded early on and got knocked on its rear end the rest of the way. Adding on top of it with them, Duke, Georgia Tech, NC State, Pitt, Wake Forest, and Boston College could not generate any consistency to their seasons while North Carolina was just awful. So it is one extreme or the other in the ACC last year. Will it change this year?
Clemson is the king of the mountain while there really isn’t much of a viable contender right now. Syracuse has given them fits the last two seasons including a win in 2017. Will the Orange give Clemson a legitimate shot in the standings? Can Florida State rebound? Can the ACC Coastal have a shot of being a legitimate threat?
I’m going to try a different format so I don’t kill myself on the weekends from now on. Instead of giving a team capsule (which takes forever for me) I’m going to put out a key question for each team and then give my projected record. So let’s try it and see how it goes.
CLEMSON: Can the Tigers repeat another undefeated season? Despite the ACC powers being really down, there is one game that still is going to be watched: Syracuse. And this may be a huge game September 14 in the Carrier Dome because both teams have very favorable schedules. However, Trevor Lawrence is the quarterback and 6 other starters return including 4 linemen and very underrated running back Travis Etienne. Add in the receivers who just can dominate at any point, and you may have the best offense in the nation. It’s going to be the defense in question early up front. That’s why I think that game in Syracuse might pose a problem. They got a great secondary, but can they push up on the line? That will be the key issue. But aside from that, Clemson should pretty much dominate most if not all their games in 2019. Maybe keep an eye on their rival game in South Carolina given how the Gamecocks did throw it around pretty well on them, but even then I don’t see Clemson losing that. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 10-2. MY PREDICTION: 12-0. That game will be a fight in the Carrier Dome I believe.
SYRACUSE: Can Syracuse be the sleeper in the Playoff picture? Only if they can beat Clemson. But they do bring a lot of starters back and a quarterback in Tommy DeVito who has experience, but yet to gain consistency. However, he will have a different offense to go with since Eric Dungey’s mobility will not be there. He will throw to experienced receivers and have Moe Neal in the backfield. But the question needs to be can they make huge strides on defense? The Orange struggled in the passing game in 2018 (116th) but bring back their entire secondary and they do have great pass-rushers in Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson, which will be interesting if they can get to Lawrence in their Clemson match. So I expect Syracuse’s defense to play a huge role this year and if they do upset Clemson, that will be the reason why. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 9-3 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 IF Syracuse beats Clemson, I can see them running the table or at least going 11-1 (don’t know if they can beat Florida State in Tallahassee though). Either way a New Year’s Six Bowl is a likely with a record like that.
WAKE FOREST: Can the Deacons continue stability in the program? Interesting is that Wake Forest has strung together a decent run under Dave Clawson in the last few years. Clawson has turned a program around that was vying with Virginia as the worst program in the ACC. Granted 6-7 wins every year isn’t like wowing, but better than where they were. Wake Forest has some uphill challenges to build off of their run. Do they use Jamie Newman who played well down the stretch or incumbent starter Sam Hartman who injured his leg? Both played well last year though it seems like Newman is more of a playmaker. More questions are abound with the defense however as it has been a mess the last few seasons. They only bring back 4 starters which is a problem. However, two of the starters are at corners and there are hopes that Essang Bassey is the guy there and one of the best in the ACC. But given consistency issues and not much upgrade on defense, don’t figure the Deacons to be in the race for an ACC Championship game appearance (not with Clemson there obviously). That said, they could take another step up in the right direction. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. Deacons will continue to push upwards, but only if that defense makes progress
FLORIDA STATE: Will Willie Taggart survive the 2019 season? It all depends on how they play. The Noles last year failed to make a bowl game for the first time in 36 years. Even a berth to a bowl is not necessarily a life saver to Taggart. The biggest issue is that the offensive line was putrid. Deondre Francois is still alive, but I wondered at times if he would be during the season. But a new quarterback will take over whether it is James Blackman or Alex Hornibrook. Blackman has the inside track and played well for the Noles when he was in. Cam Akers. much like Francois, was pretty much unable to do what he could have done thanks to the line. So it will all depend on the line, which may be a problem in the ACC. Offensive coordinator Kendall Briles hopes the offensive line can improve so he can install the systems he wants. The other thing is going to be can the defense step up as they were pretty weak there as well too. But they like the linebacking crew to really get things going. However, it will have to take major jumps on both sides of the ball to really feel like Florida State is legit again. The good news is they have the talent. They just need to utilize it. So a 7-5 season and possible blowout losses to Clemson and Florida may not keep Taggart around. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. I don’t think it will be enough for Taggart to survive the high demand of winning in Tallahassee.
BOSTON COLLEGE: Will the Eagles ever get out of the rut of being a 6-7 win team? Hard to say. Boston College in recent memory was known as being a run-first, run-often and play physical defense in the process. They have AJ Dillon at running back and when healthy is one of the best backs in the nation. Anthony Brown can be a quality quarterback if he continues to step up. But the defense kinda went backwards in a big way as they were pretty much middle-of-the-pack to bottom-half in the college world. Not good when right now the Eagles offense has been relatively one-dimensional. The defense and Brown needs to step up and if Dillon is not in the game either due to injury or because they’re down, Boston College will keep struggling if they can’t get the defense worked out or if Brown doesn’t improve. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 6-6. The Eagles could get off to a nice start being 6-1 before the second half is doomsday (Clemson/Syracuse/Florida State/Notre Dame in four straight games) By then, they may just run out of gas at Pittsburgh.
NC STATE: How far will the Wolfpack take a step back with the exits of Ryan Finley, Jakobi Meyers, and Kelvin Harmon on offense? I think it is a nice drop and when you add in losing Bradley Chubb the year before, you really get hit a lot. The Wolfpack will have to rely on their defense a bit more. Good if it means stopping the run, but if the passing defense continues its mishaps you could see NC State near the bottom of the ACC in 2019 It is hard to replace a guy like Finley at Raleigh. But when the key weapons on offense are also gone with Finley and the running game on top of it is gone too, problems will occur. But if the defense improves especially against the pass, look no further than James Smith-Williams on the line going after quarterbacks. But it may not be a fun year in Raleigh if you are a Wolfpack fan. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 6-6 NC State will have a few games they should win, but they will fall behind a good chunk of the ACC for at least this year.
LOUISVILLE: How long will it take Scott Satterfield to get the Cardinals back to respectability? Hard to say, but don’t expect a massive rebound in Louisville in 2019. Yeah, the Cardinals couldn’t really do anything last year and Bobby Petrino was kicked out of the door (which was a nice thing given how he ups and leaves programs). It’s really hard to figure out where Louisville will be, though I don’t know if the talent is there on either side of the ball at this point. It will be a nice long rebuild if there isn’t a quarterback to go for. Seems like there isn’t a cut favorite and just woes all over the place. Hassan Hall may be the focal point of the offense at running back. They do have a group of linebackers who have a lot of seasoning, but nobody stands out, save maybe CJ Avery. So what you will see in Louisville will not be an about-face. And worse, the teams they see are more talented the Cardinals. BEST CASE RECORD: 4-8 WORST CASE RECORD 1-11 MY PREDICTION: 2-10. They may put up a stronger fight with Satterfield, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and Louisville’s program isn’t going to be rebuilt in a year.
MIAMI: Can the Hurricanes get that needed quarterback to compete? Well, the hope WAS that Ohio State transfer Tate Martell would be the guy to get Miami in that direction, but Jarren Williams will take over when the Hurricanes play Florida to start the season. So you already have that as a bit of an issue. And that is why probably the Hurricanes collapse late in 2017 and not really be a serious threat in 2018 because of the poor play of Malik Rosier. It is also why Mark Richt (who was pressured to fire his son who was coaching the offense) had enough and retired. So Manny Diaz takes over in what kinda feels like of a messy situation despite the talent pool in Miami. Williams will have Dan Enos as his offensive coordinator so that may be very helpful, though the offensive line is going to be a major question mark in 2019. DeeJay Dallas could be a star in the making but if the line can’t block for him, it may be pointless. So Miami once again will rely on the defense, which ranked #1 against the pass and looks to be aggressive as ever and the linebacking corps may be the best around. So again, Miami may end up winning some games on defense until the offense figures things out. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 (Disclaimer: I did put this prediction up before the Florida game and said Florida would win so nothing really changes here) Miami may end up winning it through defense once again and has both Virginia schools coming down to Hard Rock Stadium. That’s a huge advantage.
VIRGINIA: Can Bronco Mendenhall get the Cavaliers to that next step? It’s hard to think that at one time Virginia was a legit football program after years and years of futility in the ACC. Yeah, probably not a national contender, but in the 90’s they had some excellent teams. But Mendenhall provides stability and he’s a proven coach with how well he did out at BYU. But right now the “biggest thing” Virginia fans want from Mendenhall is a win over rival Virginia Tech who have just slapped the Cavaliers silly for so long now. A win over the Hokies for the Cavaliers may be what the Cavaliers need to really up the program. Virginia has a defense that has been improving and could only get better in 2019 with linebackers who are strong and Jordan Mack at linebacker may be a name to watch. So if that upgrades and the offense moves up from being a mediocre one. High hopes are set on Bryce Perkins, a true dual-threat quarterback and could have a monster year again. But they need a run game to replace Jordan Ellis. If the Cavaliers can upgrade both sides, which they should as the talent level is rising in Charlottesville, Virginia could be a tough out, even perhaps for Clemson should they see each other in the ACC Championship game. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 10-2. Virginia may be the biggest sleeper in college football in 2019, assuming the run game improves.
VIRGINIA TECH: Can the Hokies recover from last year’s disaster of a season? My answer is yes. The Hokies do return everybody back from last year on defense, which will be Bud Foster’s last season running that group. But last year on defense was an absolute nightmare for the Hokies. They should be much better on defense if they stay healthy. The experience is there, but what got them was the injury as they were depleted. But the offense also has questions notably in the run game and blocking. Ryan Willis played admirably at quarterback last year after Josh Jackson got injured, but the line has to improve but with questions with experience, it could be hit or miss. So, Virginia Tech, if the defense led by Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield at linebackers can get back to what we know at Blacksburg about Bud Foster’s defense, could be a threat once again in the ACC. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. It may come down to Virginia in the last week of the season but I just am concerned the shift of talent may fall in Charlottesville.
DUKE: Can Duke compete without Daniel Jones? Whether you think Daniel Jones will be an adequate NFL quarterback or not one thing will be true: Duke will miss him. Quentin Harris will take over for Jones this year and Duke brings back 4 starters on the line to protect him and a running back in Deon Jackson to take pressure off of him. But the issue will be at receiver where they are vastly inexperienced. So Harris has his work cut out for him, especially to open the year against Alabama in Atlanta. If Duke is to win, it will be on defense….somewhat. The Blue Devils are solid against the pass, but they are also thin outside of their starters, where 9 return so any key injuries will be a major issue on defense for Duke, especially up front where they could get obliterated by the better blocking teams in the ACC with the offensive line. So to answer the Jones question, yes. But even if Jones was there for another year, he’d struggle with what he has to work with in Durham. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Duke doesn’t have the same talent as the others in the conference. They will get the weaker squads like Pitt and Georgia Tech, but the after that run will be murder and possibly looking at an 0-6 second half.
PITTSBURGH: Is Pat Narduzzi in trouble at Pitt? I’d say yes. Questions are all over with the offense starting with replacing starters on the line and two running backs tallying over 1,000 yards and Kenny Pickett who was inconsistent as inconsistent could get out. Can Pickett do well? Can the line protect Pickett? Can AJ Davis be a feature back? The defense isn’t much better. Narduzzi was a stout defensive coordinator at Michigan State before getting the Panthers job. They played strong down the stretch last year but only return five. The linebacker play will have to massively improve but will be hard to do so with missing two guys. The secondary is solid with Damar Hamlin at safety who is very underrated. And if Rashad Weaver & company get to that quarterback like he did last year (6.5 sacks in 2018), the Panthers may have something cooking and could keep Narduzzi around a little bit longer. BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8. Just too many questions on offense to make me seriously think the Panthers have much of a shot, if any in 2019.
GEORGIA TECH:How long of an adjustment will it take for Geoff Collins to get the offense in rhythm? That’s the million dollar question in Atlanta. We’ve seen Georgia Tech play in the triple-option offense for the past decade with mixed results. But now that Johnson has retired, the new coach will put in a more modern offense. But any program that has used the triple option and then go more modern has taken a very long time to get going. Nebraska is at the top of that list while Georgia Southern (Johnson’s old school) opted to try the modern one for a while and was just a disaster. The likely starter is Tobias Oliver, but didn’t throw much and when he did was streaky (under 50%). Oliver does have a dynamic playmaking ability though. Jordan Mason should be the feature back though teams will zero in on him more instead with no option. The defense will be a work in process as the Jackets bring back only three guys so if you expect the Jackets to rely on defense this year, it may not be the year to do so. The offense I think will have major issues all season and it will be a long season in Atlanta in 2019. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 4-8 If the Jackets can find a way to get any rhythm down the stretch, the record won’t speak for itself, but I don’t see Georgia Tech flipping the script on offense.
NORTH CAROLINA: How quick can Mack Brown get the Tar Heels back? Maybe not this season as there is going to be a lot of turnover for the Heels, especially on offense with a freshman at quarterback in Sam Howell. But the hopes that UNC’s offense won’t slowing down from Larry Fedora to Brown is high as Brown wants to keep that up-tempo, quick strike offense going on. Where they will be hoping good things to happen is with the running game as a lot of the backs return so there is depth. But the issue will be can they get better on defense? That is the problem and up-tempo style offenses when they aren’t doing well leaves defenses out high and dry (see Oregon and Texas Tech). So if you are all hoping for UNC to get rolling and improving to a bowl game this year, it may not be it. There are questions on that defense, though I do believe if there is a strength it has to be the secondary with starters in three spots, but the depth is a concern. So Brown’s return to UNC will probably not be gumdrops and lollipops in the first year, but if the Heels can keep their high school stand-outs in the state and in Chapel Hill, they will be well enough to get back to “normal.” BEST CASE RECORD: 4-8 WORST CASE RECORD: 1-11 MY PREDICTION: 3-9 Heels could get a W against rival Duke and FCS Mercer, but it will take another year before North Carolina sees a bowl game at least. Just too high of a turnover for the Heels.
ACC CHAMPIONSHIP: CLEMSON VS. MIAMI: I’m going to sum it up nicely on this one: Miami needs turnovers from its defense to win. That is how they are built. They are good at doing so especially wearing the gold turnover chain, but Clemson is on another level overall. They do not make silly mistakes on offense and/or defense. I cannot see a way this game is super-competitive though Jarren Williams is a far better option than Malik Rosier ever was. Clemson should claim their 5th straight ACC title. CLEMSON 45, MIAMI 21
NOTRE DAME: Can the Irish repeat last year’s performance of a Playoff? Hard to say. They return 9 starters on offense including quarterback Ian Book and four offensive linemen. So that shouldn’t be an issue They bring six back on defense which was pretty good at keeping teams out of the end zone (until Clemson), but the issue isn’t who they have, don’t have, miss. It’s the issue of who they face on the road, which is Michigan and Georgia. Both teams have high hopes in 2019 for the Playoff. That is not going to be easy and the Irish didn’t have a team on the road last year that could legitimately stop them until Clemson, who slapped them silly. So it is going to be a task. If the Irish defense keeps up the pace under Chuck Lea like they had with Mike Elko, then they have a shot at at least stealing one in Ann Arbor or Athens, especially if Julian Okwara can create havoc on the end and get after quarterbacks. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 9-3 . I don’t see the Irish winning at Georgia at all. I don’t see Michigan losing to them either but that game may be closer. And that game in Stanford isn’t going to be a fun one. But no Playoff for Notre Dame.
Is the SEC about to return to dominating glory with multiple teams and not just Alabama? The Tide will always figure in the chase for a national championship and have hopes for that this year. Georgia has taken Alabama’s “business style” approach and has used it to near-perfection. Oddly, the main teams (Florida, LSU) right behind them have a different approach and that’s “we know they are the kings of the mountain but we don’t have to respect either one of them.” It is a cocky attitude to have but it works for those programs. Hope is rising big time in Tennessee and Texas A&M that their time is now and ready to take down their rivals while Auburn looks to play spoiler to everybody and spoil themselves into Playoff contention. The rest however? Missouri is really at the hands of the NCAA right now while you may have some step-backs in Kentucky, Mississippi State, and South Carolina while Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt just hopes to fight. So in other words, the conference is top-heavy but it will always be a fun one in the world of the SEC.
(1) GEORGIA: Is it “The Year?” Georgia fans seem to think so after putting up top three recruiting classes the last three seasons. They are also going “we must beat Alabama” to get atop of the mountain. And everything is laid out for them beautifully. A quarterback who is accurate and smooth in Jake Fromm. A running back in D’Andre Swift who can break a touchdown at any point of a game, deep in receivers, deep in offensive linemen, deep everywhere. Defensively linebackers may be the best in the nation. However, concerns may be are they able to create any pass rush and were at times sketchy on stopping the run. The secondary also has concerns at corner where in the past Kirby Smart’s defense whether at Georgia or Alabama have issues going against the better and more physical receivers and yes, play-calling by Smart, which many questioned in his loss to Alabama and LSU last year. That said, the talent level is insane at Georgia not to be a National Championship contender. Georgia has a great schedule albeit a challenging one. They see Notre Dame and Texas A&M heading there while having intriguing road trips at Tennessee and Auburn while Florida will be for the marbles in the division in November. They can win all their games and head to Atlanta in the SEC Championship where it is likely Alabama and that is where their ultimate challenge awaits. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 11-1 Georgia should handle their home schedule as I don’t see the Irish or Aggies having the same caliber players yet and I think they escape Tennessee and Florida but I think after their little antic against Auburn may bite them on the butt down at Jordan Hare Stadium. Probably not a bad thing to get that loss out of the way.
(2) FLORIDA: What a difference a win streak makes. Florida’s back-to-back losses against Georgia and Missouri in the Swamp had Florida fans screaming for Feleipe Franks head. 4 wins later including the Gators offense rolling in all of them and all of a sudden Franks has Gators fans talking about another Heisman trophy winner. Of course it is Florida fans but still…it is another praise for Dan Mullen as he is becoming that guy who grooms quarterbacks. If Franks IS consistent and keeps cool, the Gators are a sleeper in the SEC and the playoff. If he isn’t, well, we know what will happen to that with Florida fans. Franks will have weapons at his disposal in Lamical Perine (800 yards) and a receiver tandem that is solid throughout. It will be the question of can they protect Franks on the line where it is very inexperienced. Florida’s defense is up-and-down, unable to stop the run but tough on the pass. If they continue the aggressiveness in the passing game that will help them a lot and need to given Jachai Polite has moved on. But it will be tough to replace him and a pass rush will be needed and the linebackers will have to really step up to halt the run especially. David Reese can be a monster for the Gators there. If Florida shows growth on stopping the run, the Georgia game will be very very intense. Speaking of, Florida’s schedule is now currently zeroed in on Georgia, though a game in LSU is always tough and hated. Florida players and the fans have talked a lot about reclaiming their SEC East throne over Georgia but so far, the last few years it has all been Georgia. The Gators will have to deal with an interesting run leading up to it with Auburn, LSU, and South Carolina right before it so if they can muster a run of 4-0 or 3-1 going into Jacksonville that day, all bets may be off. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 10-2 Florida is still a year away against the Bulldogs and I don’t see Franks beating Georgia’s defense at all. I also don’t see the Gators winning in Baton Rouge either.
(3) MISSOURI: Ouch. The Tigers season was over in January as Missouri lost their shot at any kind of postseason when the NCAA put sanctions on them due to “academic fraud.” Many feel like the sanctions were too harsh and such. Missouri has appealed and we won’t know if the Tigers will be in a bowl game or not in 2019 but currently, the answer is “no.” Perhaps the biggest change at Missouri will be the quarterback as former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant takes over. The quarterback has been accurate in his time at Clemson and is a mobile guy, but will have a good tandem at receiver with Jalen Knox, Jonathan Johnson, and Albert Okwuegbunam at tight end. He will also have a line to protect him very well, but it will be Larry Rountree who could make things special in Missouri especially if the ban gets lifted. Rountree rushed for 1,200 yards in 2018 and could have more in 2019 with the line that the Tigers have. Defensively Missouri will. have to get better in a big way. The Tigers can stop the run as good as anybody especially with Jordan Elliott, but what has killed them is the inability to stop anybody in the air, as they were dead last in the SEC and 112th in the nation. As good as the line is, they are woeful in the passing game which puts too much pressure on the secondary, which isn’t too bad if anybody could get to the quarterbacks. Missouri has an interesting start with a trip to Wyoming (huh?) and come back to play West Virginia. By then we will now their fate if they can be eligible. But they can string a run of going 8-0 when they meet Georgia November 9th with a very favorable schedule and maybe some hope in Columbia assuming they get the ban lifted. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3 Missouri rolls but gets tripped up in Lexington before Georgia which will spiral outward after that. I do think the Tigers will get their ban lifted and hope they do.
(4) TENNESSEE: Jeremy Pruitt has re-installed hope for Volunteers fans despite Tennessee failing to make a bowl game for the second straight year. However, it seems like the nonsense the Vols had under Butch Jones is gone and discipline and stability is back. Jarrett Guarantano is the main guy at quarterback and the Vols need to make sure he is upright in 2019 because there is nothing behind him. It may be tricky given the Volunteers have to deal with only one returning starter in Jahmir Johnson but also have high hopes for freshman tackles Darnell Wright and Wanya Morris. If they can protect Guarantano and running back Ty Chandler who could have a 1,000 yards easy, then Tennessee will be in great shape and that’s not including talking about what kind of year Marquez Callaway could have at receiver. Defensively the Volunteers will need to answer questions especially replacing their key starters notably on the line in Kyle Phillips and Shy Tuttle. A new group of players play up on the line in Savion Williams and Emmit Golden, but just major depth and experience issues dominate Tennessee here. Linebackers will have to up their game more but have some major stars in the making notably Darrell Taylor (8 sacks) and Daniel Bituli. The linebackers will make everybody else on the team better while the secondary’s youth, talent, and depth could have the potential to be the best in the SEC including star corner Bryce Thompson. Tennessee has the unfortunate privilege to see Georgia and Alabama yearly and this year get them in a three week span. It will be very interesting to see where they stand against those two teams when they face off. Georgia is at Rocky Top while the Vols visit T-Town. It is feasible that the Volunteers could make it a close and uncomfortable game against the Bulldogs, but will be interesting how they stack up in Alabama. The rest of the schedule is fairly tough yet manageable including a trip to Florida before the Georgia game. So October will see where the Vols stand in year #2 under Pruitt. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 8-4 I don’t see Pruitt getting Florida, Georgia, or Alabama but think that Bulldogs game in Knoxville could be a fight.
(5) KENTUCKY: The good news is that Kentucky enjoyed the most memorable season they’ve had in a very long time, winning 10 games and finally beating Florida while having two star players on the squad. The bad news? The stars are gone and the Wildcats have to somewhat start over. AJ Rose will replace Bennie Snell but it will be hard to duplicate Snell’s numbers. So that means quarterback Terry Wilson will be the focal point, hoping to get consistent play out of him and his wide receivers, which is a problem as they were dreadful in the passing game last year. But questions are abound with passing, running, and blocking on the line (outside of Logan Stenberg), which will be very problematic. On the defensive side, Kentucky is silently consistent but again will have to replace another stud in Josh Allen and his 17 sacks. But the linebacking squad is very deep without Allen and could factor into the Wildcats success in 2019. The defensive line hopes to improve if Josh Paschal is healthy and goes along well with Quinton Bohanna and Calvin Taylor. Secondary will be a monster question with major experience issues there and that could be Kentucky’s major downfall in the defense in 2019. Kentucky’s schedule is relatively favorable outside of seeing Florida and Georgia so if this is a year to rebuild, a schedule works great for that. But finding 10 wins will be far more difficult in 2019 with or without an “easy” schedule. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 7-5 Kentucky will probably improve as the season goes on, but the season will be dictated on how well the offense plays out.
(6) SOUTH CAROLINA: Will Muschamp is probably going to have some heat to his seat especially after seeing his signature defense start to implode on him a bit. The Gamecocks finished 95th nationally against the run. Not good given what they see in the SEC. The passing isn’t much better either. What you ended up with was a 7-6 record and really nothing much in the way of being super competitive in the SEC East. The good news? Jake Bentley returns and put up strong numbers last year (has to cut down on the turnovers himself though). South Carolina’s run game has also fallen flat under Muschamp as while Rico Dowdle has been steady but also more committed to the run. At least the line will be solid as three starters return. Defense will be under the scope as last year they had imploded a bit in allowing yards and points. That can’t happen again. But they do have solidity in the line with Javon Kinlaw and DJ Wonnum though probably not as deep as the other top teams. Seocndary has high hopes in Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu some hope as well. But if the LB’s can’t play well like they did last year, the Gamecocks will continue their freefall on defense, which needs to step up due to a streaky offense. South Carolina has a nightmare schedule of seeing the Georgia/Alabama/Clemson trio in 2019 worse, they visit Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Missouri, all tough foes. Any win against those teams will be huge. I just don’t see it happening, and it may cost South Carolina a bowl game. BEST CASE RECORD: 7-5 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 5-7 South Carolina’s schedule is a nightmare most years anyway but this is really bordering the line of being unfair.
(7) VANDERBILT: It is hard to really project Vanderbilt on a yearly basis. Yes, they won’t be a major threat in the SEC East but they are bound to always put up a fight with the teams that are favorites. But this year it seems like they have their work cut out for them. Questions at QB whether it is transfer Riley Neal or Deuce Wallace and that is alarming because nobody is seeing them replace Kyle Shurmur. At least Ke’Shawn Vaughn is in the backfield and if he has another year like last year he could be on of the top rushers in college football. The receivers are coming back and are stout, but if they are unable to get the ball from the quarterback it isn’t going to matter much. The defense returns four starters but the Commodores has gone backwards on defense for a while now. And in a conference where rushing is focused, Vanderbilt’s run defense is in major trouble if that doesn’t improve. The Commodores hope they have enough size and depth now up front (jury is out) which has been the hope for a while that they have depth. But in a conference where most years the Commodores are outmatched with talent, it may not mean much. Vanderbilt has a horrid schedule with Georgia to start the year and then Purdue on the road and LSU back at home. If they can find ways to be competitive in any of those games then they will be a team to watch down the stretch to sneak in the bowl game and maybe surprise someone, but they have to travel to Florida and Tennessee which will not be fun this year. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 3-9 MY PREDICTION: 3-9 I think the talent at Vanderbilt is outmatched in the SEC. They will take their home non-conference games but lose at Purdue as well.
(1) ALABAMA: After an uncharacteristic blowout loss in a big game to Clemson has led Alabama to uncharacteristically get visibly angry. Could be good, but could be bad if they let it at at them. The offense should be ready to roll in 2019 with Tua Tagovailoa 100% healthy and hopefully not taking any unnecessary risks running the ball. Najee Harris is in line to have a year similar to what prior Alabama backs have had for Heisman trophies or considerations (Ingram, Richardson, Henry, etc.). Backing him up will be Brian Robinson after trey Sanders is likely lost for the season with a foot injury. The line returns only two, but they like the depth there in Tuscaloosa. But Alabama’s receivers are the bread and butter right now. Finding ways to get it to Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, and DeVonta Smith isn’t an issue. Defensively dare I say it is where the questions are. They struggled on the line last year and questions with experience and depth at linebacker as well but Anfernee Jennings could have a big year. While the secondary got lit up last year at times, they bring back the experience and Patrick Surtain Jr could be the next best defensive back in Alabama football. Alabama’s schedule is always interesting and the road run isn’t too fun seeing the likes of South Carolina (Gamecocks last beat Alabama in Columbia in 2010), Texas A&M (Aggies have played Alabama tough in recent memory), Mississippi State (Bulldogs love playing physical against Alabama) and Auburn. However, despite weaknesses, the talent is far higher than most of those places, even that of Auburn. And after having what transpired last year in the National Championship a ticked off Alabama squad won’t be fun for anyone else. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 10-2 MY PREDICTION: 11-1. Alabama’s defense feels shaky right now compared to years past and how the final stretch of games last year (Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson) didn’t ease Tide fans and that Texas A&M game feels very bothersome.
(2) LSU: The story has always been the same for the last 7-8 years at Baton Rouge and that is A. Do they have enough at quarterback to be a serious threat and B. Can they find a way to beat Alabama? Joe Burrow has been solid at quarterback since joining the Tigers from Ohio State. But he really has yet to show he can be that guy who can take over when needed. And to be “that guy” he has to beat Alabama. He will have a line that will protect him pretty well which means you can see a strong connection with Justin Jefferson who could be the next great LSU receiver. At back, the Tigers could have something similar to what they had a few years back with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice with Clyde Edwards-Helaire and freshman John Emery Jr. So if LSU’s offense can play strong it will go a long way. LSU’s defense still starts with the secondary and it starts this year at safety with probably the best one in college football in Grant Delpit. Adding on, the defense returns 8 including some underrated linebackers in Michael Divinity Jr. and Jacob Phillips. If LSU’s line (which maybe the biggest question they have) can stay healthy and stand up to the others in the SEC, this is going to be a feared defense like they used to have in their heyday when they were near the top of the nation. The Tigers schedule has some tricks to it with roadies at Texas and Alabama. And Mississippi State is always a rivalry game that anything is possible. But it is pretty favorable aside from that. And they can get into the Playoff via backdoor a la Alabama in 2017. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 11-1. I like LSU to be the dark horse candidate for the national title this year. If their lone loss is to Alabama (which it will be I think) and they avoid the SEC Championship, then they can sneak in being one of the four teams playing for a national championship.
(3) TEXAS A&M: The good news is Jimbo Fisher has recruited well since coming to College Station. The bad news is have you seen their schedule this year? Holy smokes! Even with the talent they have compiled, seeing four teams that have Playoff expectations and three of them being on the road, that is a nightmare for anyone. IF Kellen Mond continues his progression, the Aggies could have a very special year. He will have a strong offensive line to work with and two of his top targets return in 2019. The only question will be at running back is if Jashaun Corbin can take over on a permanent basis (all signs point to yes). So the Aggies will be a tough out for even the Playoff-minded opponents as well. But the defense will have questions as only one starter returns up front and linebackers are a major question mark. Linebacker has lack of experience and consistency there which spells doom if they cannot improve there. The secondary also has questions though three backs return there though consistency plagued them. The Aggies schedule, as I said, is tough as nails. However, if there is one silver lining, the home schedule is very favorable (Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina, UTSA, Texas State) and they have a winnable run until they see Georgia and LSU to end the year. IF they stun Clemson in Death Valley (possible) there may be a shot the Aggies can go to Athens 10-0. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. I think they sting Alabama at Kyle Field (they played the Tide Tough last year despite the score), but those three road games are nearly impossible though I can see them being in all three. I also think they will be more consistent on defense as the year goes on.
(4) AUBURN: It seems like Gus Malzahn is always under fire when Auburn had a disappointing run the previous year. And then the Tigers find a way to A. Beat Georgia. B. Beat Alabama. C. Make themselves as a national championship contender. D. Play in a big bowl game. Also it seems like there’s always a question at quarterback as well. But this year is a big one with either Bo Nix or Joey Gatewood, either a true or redshirt freshman respectively. Depending on how you look at it through practices, Auburn is either going to struggle immensely with either one or the defense is just THAT good, especially up front. Auburn’s D-line can stand up to either Georgia’s or Alabama’s which this year they see on the Plains could play big and with Nick Coe there, watch out! Adding on, you have a dangerous tandem with Derrick Brown and Tyrone Truesdell at tackle which means you will have problems getting past them in the run game. Linebackers may be “inexperienced” but high hopes are with KJ Britt and Owen Pappoe. Safeties are also a huge strength with two seniors in Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson who are as strong as anybody. So it is probably not necessarily Nix or Gatewood that struggles but how improved the defense is from last year. Which is also concerning about the line given they are all seniors/returning starters and getting dominated up front. But again, is it Auburn’s defense being THAT good? IF Seth Williams can get the ball from the quarterback he could be a huge gamebreaker for the Tigers offense and give secondaries nightmares. But who will step up at running back? Every year Auburn has great success, they have that beast in the backfield. Will JaTarvious Whitlow be THAT guy? Auburn’s scheudle much like their SEC West foes, is always murder. And starting in late September, the gauntlet begins for them at Texas A&M and doesn’t end until really until the Iron Bowl (well, save for Samford). Road trips to the Aggies, Florida, and LSU is just unreal. The “good news” is they have Georgia and Alabama at home and if they can find a way to that Georgia game at being 7-2 or even 8-1, oh boy. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. I’m going to say this: they’ll get Georgia and this may be the one year where Georgia may be the bigger game than Alabama largely because how the Bulldogs tried to run up the score on Auburn. I don’t see the Tigers winning their three tough road games and I do think that Alabama game is close but with the Tide edging to win the Iron Bowl. May not be enough for Malzahn to keep Auburn fans off his back.
(5) MISSISSIPPI STATE: Joe Moorhead was supposed to be the guy that continued the Bulldogs offensive ways after Mullen left for Florida. However, he relied on the defense that was actually probably the #1 defense in all of football in 2018. However, it was the offense that was woeful (at least the passing game) and was lost in their 4 SEC losses (they scored 7 or less points in those games). Nick Fitzgerald took a major step back at quarterback but is not there to call the shots. It will likely fall on Keytaon Thompson but Thompson will have to impress early to keep the job. He, like Fitzgerald, had accuracy issues and in a conference that has the defenses that are top notch, you need to be accurate. But regardless of who is at QB, the line should be pretty good returning three quality starters and running back should be strong with Kylin Hill there. But the biggest wonder is going to be on defense where only three starters return. Nobody up front is back as a starter, but the Bulldogs depth has been deep in previous years and continues this year. The secondary is in a similar spot with Cameron Dantzler returning at corner. But if the line can’t get a pass rush going the secondary will have to be the ones stepping up. Lastly the linebacker crew is headed by Erroll Thompson, so there shouldn’t be a major regression. The Bulldogs schedule every year should be a fun one but have a buzzsaw in the middle of it with four of six games away from Starkville and the two games at home are LSU and Alabama. Yikes. If Mississippi State shows improvement under Moorhead notably on offense it may not be seen in the standings. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 7-5 September schedule should be 4 wins there but then the roadies at Auburn, Tennessee and Texas A&M may just be too much to handle and I don’t see them beating LSU or Alabama at home in 2019.
(6) OLE MISS: The Rebels had entered last year’s game with Alabama hoping for a big upset as they have played the Tide very tough out in Oxford and questions of Bama’s D against the pass mixed with the beastly receivers. And after the first offensive play for Ole Miss it seemed like it would be a war. And 62 unanswered points later by Alabama, the Rebels showed they were nowhere on the same field as their foes from Tuscaloosa, or other teams in the SEC West. And Ole Miss is going to see the consequences of the penalties levied by the NCAA over Hugh Freeze as the talent level is going to dip. Matt Corral is a bright spot at QB, but will have new receivers all over the place as the top receivers from last year’s #1 passing attack are gone. Scottie Phillips could have a nice year if healthy and could be a 1,000 yard rusher which will only help their offense and with Rich Rodriguez calling the shots on offense. Defense, is where they were doomed last year, not even cracking the top 100, but former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre is running the D where he had success in Boulder with. However, it will be a new world from the PAC-12 where the competition wasn’t as strong. They should get better with improved schemes and more aggression, but they will be miles away from being like LSU or Alabama on defense. Ole Miss has returned to being bowl eligible in 2019 after their sanctions are over. However, the Rebels will be hard pressed to be qualified for one with the schedule as is. Seeing the SEC West foes including trips at Alabama, Auburn, and hated Mississippi State is VERY problematic and LSU is not going to be easy at all. If they want, they have got to find a way to win against California, Missouri, or stun Texas A&M. Not sure if they will do it. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 5-7. The games they have that I pick the Rebs to win are winnable with what they have. But the gap with Ole Miss and the SEC West powers is too much and Mississippi State is in Starkville.
(7) ARKANSAS: Chad Morris could not have gotten off to a worse start with the Razorbacks. 2 non-conference losses to “group of five” teams of a mediocre Colorado State squad where they were blown out and then losing at home to North Texas pretty much signaled a disaster was waiting to happen. I think Morris’s style of offense isn’t going to work in the SEC as they just don’t have the same horses as their divisional foes. But if there is a bright spot there is a QB transfer in Ben Hicks, who knows Morris’s system from SMU and that the non-conference schedule could net them 4 wins right there. However, Arkansas receivers are not exactly a stout bunch and have issues beating defenders. That has to improve or you could throw Herbert, Tua, Fromm, and whoever else at quarterback and they would still be a disaster. The line and running backs have durability issues which brings other concerns as well. Rakeem Boyd if healthy could be a sleeper in the run-happy conference. The defense will only bring back five, but McTelvin Agim is a quality DT as is TJ Smith so there is a bright spot. But that is pretty much all that is there with depth issues and inconsistent play that will doom them agianst the skills sets of players all in the SEC West. Arkansas has a schedule where they could start out 3-1 before going to their annual match-up against the Aggies in Arlington where they always play Texas A&M tough. If they continue that trend, there could be a surprise here and there, but still ways from being super-competitive in the conference. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 5-7. I do think they will get a big conference W (for them) against Mississippi State at home. If they can play tough with the Aggies in Arlington, hope will be on the way.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP: GEORGIA VS. ALABAMA: Is this year Georgia finally nabs the Tide? Three meetings in Atlanta since 2012 and all have unfolded the same way: Alabama was favored, Georgia outplays them for most of three quarters, builds a two-score lead midway through the third then Alabama mounts a huge comeback in the 4th due to questionable play-calling and key players making big plays and Alabama wins on what is really the last play each game. Will THAT continue? Alabama’s D may have lost its luster down the stretch in 2019 after dealing with offenses of Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson, leaving many to wonder if the Bulldogs could actually out-physical Alabama now. It will come down to three things: 1. The trench wars. Both sides value those linemen and whoever wins the line, wins the game mostly. 2. Can Kirby Smart call the right plays and not take silly gambles? 3. Which QB will have a better performance? Georgia got to Tua a lot last year before Jalen hurts arrived. There is no Hurts this year for Alabama but what may be very dangerous is the Tide bring back their top receivers in Jeudy, Ruggs, and Smith. If they are in that game, it will be an interesting tilt with Georgia’s strong secondary even with Baker gone. I think there may be more of a drive for Georgia to win that game largely because of what has transpired in the last two seasons. It may be another game-ender but going Georgia’s way. GEORGIA 30, ALABAMA 27
(1) IF GEORGIA PLAYS ALABAMA AGAIN AND LOSES, WILL THERE BE MAJOR CONCERN WITH KIRBY SMART BEING UNABLE TO WIN THE BIG ONE AT ATHENS? It’s a whisper now that “can Smart do it at Georgia?” While most Georgia fans feel like the time is now and approve of what Smart has done since taking over in 2016, he has not been immune to criticism, especially during key losses, not just the Alabama games with his in-game strategy and notably his love of fake punts and FG’s (see Auburn AND Alabama). IF Georgia sees Alabama in the SEC Championship and it turns out in a similar pattern where the Bulldogs lose again there will be a huge cloud on Smart that he may never shake off. Worse it will be heavier next year when Georgia visits Bryant-Denny Stadium in September of 2020 so my answer is yes.
(2) WILL TEXAS A&M BE AMONG THE ELITE PROGRAMS IN THE NATION THIS YEAR? Well, if they are, it will be because they found a way to win two of the following games: Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and LSU. And only Alabama is at home. Athens, Clemson and Baton Rouge are travel stops for the Aggies. IF the Aggies go ahead and win at Clemson, all bets may be off. But right now, I am unsure if they can muster two. Time will tell. So if the Aggies win against Clemson or Alabama, yes.
(3) THERE WERE NO HEAD COACHING CHANGES IN THE SEC IN 2018. WILL THERE BE AFTER THE 2019 SEASON? Well, we know Gus Malzahn will always be a prime suspect if the Tigers struggle out of the gate and if they lose to Oregon to start the year (doubtful). But you somewhat wonder despite only having two years in if Chad Morris at Arkansas or Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State could have a warm seat if their programs don’t make a growth (notably Morris who went 2-10 in his first season with no conference wins). Maybe Will Muschamp if the Gamecocks continue to go backwards.
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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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).
(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.
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
(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.
(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.
(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.
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
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
(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
(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.
(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.
(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.
The season is almost here. Most years I start off with the conference the National Champion resides in (mostly SEC or ACC with Alabama and Clemson). So I figure I can give some love to start on the back end of the power 5, which is the PAC-12.
Earlier this summer, I posted about what was wrong with the PAC-12 as not only have they missed the College Football Playoff for the second consecutive year, but also not being close as a consideration for the playoff. While some PAC-12 fans scream that there’s an East Coast Bias (or more of a “Southeastern” Coast bias), they can’t really argue much as the conference has not been overly competitive as a whole in this time period.
Will that change in 2019? Anything is possible. And there is hope among that Washington will revamp and re-tool on offense with Jacob Eason replacing the inconsistent Jake Browning at QB. Oregon hopes Justin Hebert wins the Heisman and takes the Ducks back atop the division and get back to the Playoff. Stanford will always be a threat. However, the PAC-12 South will be do or die for a few programs, especially at USC where Clay Helton is probably in a “win or go home” bit. Chip Kelly suffered an embarrassing first year at UCLA. Kevin Sumlin will start to have some of his guys come in and run his style of play at Arizona while Herm Edwards tries to show last year was no fluke at Arizona State. So it should still be fun to watch the PAC-12, but will they get a Playoff spot?
(1) WASHINGTON HUSKIES: Goodbye Jake, hello Jacob. The Huskies will not have the polarizing Jake Browning at quarterback (you either loved him or hated him in Seattle) and say hello to Georgia transfer Jacob Eason. Eason was considered the best quarterback coming out in 2015. However, injuries and falling out of favor with new coach Kirby Smart made him return home to Washington. Eason has an arm and is more of a pocket style quarterback than Browning ever was. And that to me will pay dividends for the Huskies. The offensive line returns four of five starters from last year (and the 5th starter started 32 games prior before an injury). They will be a problem for opposing defensive lines both for the pass and the run. The Huskies will miss Myles Gaskin but will have Salvon Ahmed if he can improve his running lanes. Defensively, the Huskies only return 2 starters. Washington has recruited strong up front and has been one of the strengths of the defense under Chris Peterson. If the likes up front can continue the trend, Washington will be very problematic. The linebacking corps may be a weakness as nobody returns and have questions there while the secondary returns only one starter there (Myles Bryant). However, hopes are high for that corps and many feel Kyler Gordon is going to be a stud. Washington’s schedule is VERY favorable to them and one that could have the potential to easily run the table in the PAC-12 which will net them that Playoff berth for the first time since 2016. Their toughest game away from Seattle is at Stanford and then will have to travel to Arizona the week after. So if the Huskies escape those, it could be a memorable season. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 11-1. I don’t know if they escape Stanford alive, but the rest of the schedule is manageable. Will it be enough for a Playoff?
(2) STANFORD CARDINAL: Every time people shrug off Stanford that is where the Cardinal come up and make a big threat for the PAC-12. Last year however, a key reason why Stanford is not heavily considered to make noise for the upcoming year is simple: the defense. Needless to say they struggled (115th against the pass; 78th overall). The Cardinal return only 5 starters which is also a concern. But if the Cardinal’s front 7 can roll (the line should be excellent with Jovan Swann and Michael Williams), it could help the secondary which has potential though concerns at safety. However, Paulson Adebo could be another star cornerback in the making in the PAC-12. However, Stanford will have a solid quarterback leading the way in KJ Costello, who was probably only behind Justin Herbert in the conference as best quarterback. But what it will come down to is if they can keep healthy in the run game as Bryce Love is no longer there (and had a lot of injury plagued moments). Cameron Scarlett could have a big year and be more of a disciplined runner than Love was which I think is more beneficial for the Cardinal as well. Stanford’s schedule is an interesting one early on with a home tilt with Northwestern but then two road games at USC and UCF while coming back to home to face rival Oregon. If they go 3-1 in that span, keep an eye on the Cardinal the rest of the way especially hosting Washington October 5. BEST CASE SCENARIO: 11-1 WORST CASE SCENARIO: 5-7 MY PREDICTION: 10-2. I think the Cardinal stun Washington but will have a hiccup out at Washington State and they have historically struggled at USC.
(3) OREGON DUCKS: Justin Herbert is without question the best quarterback Oregon had since Marcus Mariota and also hopes of a Heisman resides with him also like Mariota. If history repeats itself, Oregon will find themselves in either Atlanta or Tempe for a Playoff game. Do they have enough talent to do it? Yes. The Ducks bring back their entire offense from last year which should not go unnoticed with a great balanced running attack with CJ Verdell and Travis Dye getting the bulk of the carries. Dillon Mitchell may be gone but the receivers will be good if not better than last year with Herbert throwing it around. Defensively, while the Ducks have never been mistaken for Alabama’s defense or Clemson’s defense, will be better than what it has been over the last few years. The line will be a question outside Jordon Scott but high hopes are with freshman Kayvon Thibodoeaux who if he can show he is a monster in his first year, watch out. The secondary will be improved from last year (which returns three starters and if the Ducks can get a strong pass rush) and with new defensive coordinator Andy Avalos bringing different attacking packages could give teams fits. Oregon’s schedule out of the gate starts in Dallas against Auburn. If the Ducks win that game, you have to think they are going to be talked about as a contender. If not, there is no margin of error (there may not be one even if they do win against the Tigers) the rest of the way and a loss at Stanford may actually deflate the sails and chances of Herbert at a Heisman. BEST CASE RECORD: 12-0 WORST CASE RECORD: 7-5 MY PREDICTION: 9-3. Oregon gets the short end where they have to run around to face Auburn, Stanford, and Washington. Road games at USC and Arizona State will be intriguing but I think Herbert will win those games to still keep him in the Heisman consideration.
(4) WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS: You always wonder when that year at Washington State the shoe will drop for Mike Leach, but he’s a quarterback whisperer. Gardner Minshew went from “who is this guy?” to a cult icon in Pullman and was figured in the Heisman race until that blizzard in the Apple Cup where he was just unable to throw. As always, Leach’s offense will rely on the quarterback play in the Air Raid. And the defense does “just enough” to hold teams at bay (most of the time). So the question will beg if Eastern Washington transfer Gage Gubrud will be that guy. From all looks of it he can, but let’s see what he has on paper. He has receivers who can catch like Davontavean Martin and playmaker Dezmon Partmon. So as a person who thinks Mike Leach is a quality head coach, I wouldn’t doubt the Cougars offense to roll, well the passing game is. On defense the Cougars will need more of a pass rush but are high on West Virginia transfer Lamonte McDougle at nose tackle. And they have a quality safety in Jalen Thompson so if the Cougars can the front on defense rolling, this could be a major sleeper not just in the PAC-12, but in college football (much like last year). Washington State has a schedule that thankfully in the PAC-12 can be very manageable including having a nice run against Stanford and Oregon. But the road games are going to test the Cougars (Houston, Utah, Arizona State, Oregon, California, and at Washington). I think Washington State is strong enough to compete with all of those teams away from Pullman, but Washington is the obvious albatross here. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 6-6 MY PREDICTION: 8-4. That road schedule is not going to be fun and with Oregon making strides and Utah being that physical monster, I don’t see the Cougars enjoying that same success as they had last year.
(5) CALIFORNIA GOLDEN BEARS: The script was flipped last year. California went from all Air Raid with the defense optional approach to a defensive, grind it out approach. The Golden Bears were tough as nails against the pass and that really helps them out in their conference (especially with Herbert and Eason there) and solid agianst the run, but the offense tanked. Chase Gerbers was turnover prone and inconsistent. Devon Modster is a UCLA transfer who could really push Gerbers. If Gerbers starts, he needs to make sure his play improves tremendously. If not, the Bears will have to rely way too much on defense. Thankfully the defense brings back 7 starters including the secondary that helped them have a top 10 defense against the pass. The linebacking corps is also another bonus with Cameron Goode coming back from injury which really helps them out more. The Bears defensive line is headlined by Luc Bequette (5 sacks last year) and if they can continue to improve against the run, they could really spoil some teams in their division. But it will all come down to the quarterback play. We’ve seen great defenses go to waste because the offense isn’t as strong. California has the unfortunate deal of a schedule of facing Oregon, Stanford, and Washington away from Berkeley as well as having to travel to Ole Miss and UCLA. If they could muster two or three wins on the road, you have to think it would be a great season for the Bears. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 6-6 Road schedule is just too tough for the Bears.
(6) OREGON STATE BEAVERS: Poor Oregon State. They have to get footing somewhere, but right now the PAC-12 North is not the most ideal place to get that footing. The good news last year was they ended a nice road losing streak with a win in Colorado and one that was pretty dramatic. Aside from that the Beavers defense was woeful at best allowing 35 or more points in 10 losses and was the second worst in the nation in most major defensive categories (scoring, rushing yards allowed, and total defense). They return seven starters (is it a good thing?) and having two transfers from Nebraska (Avery Roberts) and Oklahoma (Addison Gumbs). The secondary will be upper-classmen and safety David Morris could be underrated if Oregon State establishes any kind of pass rush. Offensively the bright spot is Jermar Jefferson, who rushed for 1,380 yards last year. The question will be who hands off to him, Jake Luton or another Nebraska transfer Tristan Gebbia. Seems like it will be Luton as the Beavers passing game wasn’t too shabby though Luton was injured at times. To keep Luton or Gebbia upright may be a problem as the Oregon State line allowed a lot of sacks last year which could repeat with only two starters returning. Oregon State’s schedule isn’t fun especially for a program trying to establish anything. They start the year hosting Oklahoma State and then a road trip at Hawaii before getting their home game against Cal Poly. And there is no Colorado either on the PAC-12 schedule so it may be another long year for Jonathan Smith. BEST CASE RECORD: 4-8 WORST CASE RECORD: 1-11 MY PREDICTION: 1-11 I could see the Beavers sting Arizona State or even UCLA, but it is very doubtful for either one.
(1) UTAH UTES: Utah has replaced Stanford as the PAC-12’s physical squad and have been that way for a while now. They are one of the top teams in the nation defensively and return 7 starters. They bring back two of their top linemen in Bradlee Anae and Leki Fotu. Anae recorded 8 sacks and could have a monster year so those numbers can go up. The line itself could be the best in the nation which is something to be said. They are deep as is and will create plenty of havoc. If Penn State transfer Manny Bowen comes in and does his thing, the Utes could just be a national terror on defense which could be comparable to the likes of Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia. The secondary is pretty stout and could just only get better so that 53rd ranked passing defense will be higher in 2019. The question will be can Utah get an offense to at least stand toe to toe with Washington as both games last year the Utes had numerous problems with the Huskies only scoring a total of 10 points in two games against them. The guy under the spotlight will be Tyler Huntley. He started off shaky but started to roll in October before getting injured to end his season. If Huntley can be that dual threat and remain consistent, to add on with Zack Moss, the Utes could be knocking on the door of a playoff spot themselves. But it will all depend on the passing game of Utah. Utah’s schedule is pretty manageable with two major road games at USC and Washington. If they can split those and find a way going to the PAC-12 Championship at 11-1, they have to be considered for a Playoff spot. BEST CASE RECORD: 11-1 WORST CASE RECORD: 8-4 MY PREDICTION: 9-3 I just don’t trust Utah’s offense enough to think the Utes will take down Washington at all and I do worry on that USC game too.
(2) ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS: Herm Edwards sent a few messages last year to critics. 1. He can coach in the college level. 2. The Todd Graham Era is long gone. What you got last year was an offense that emphasized heavy on the run (second in the PAC-12) thanks to Eno Benjamin who rushed for 1,642 yards and an improvement on the defense as the Sun Devils were traditionally ranked 100th or lower in most defensive categories under Graham. The defense was young on top of it and are bringing back 6 starters. If Merlin Robertson builds off his freshmen year (five sacks, 77 tackles) and Darien Butler does the same, the Sun Devils defense will only get stronger. But the question is going to be the line which struggled a lot (the rushing defense did improve under Edwards and defensive coordinator Danny Gonzales, but they were 10th in the conference against the run) and probably need George Lea and Jermayne Lole to have big years to really have a formidable defense. Offense is where the questions will rise notably in the passing game as Manny Wilkins is gone as is top receiver N’Keal Harry. Kyle Williams is a monster deep threat but who will be throwing it to him, Dillon Sterling-Cole or freshman Jayden Daniels? So for early on you will probably see plenty of Eno Benjamin running the ball before we know who the play-caller is. Whoever it is, they will have a good running game and a solid offensive line. Arizona State’s schedule will have some speed-bumps for Edwards to build off his first year with a early road trip at Michigan State who wants revenge from last season and then a stretch of 3 road games in four (at Cal, Utah, UCLA) and then two big home games to end it with Oregon and Arizona. It’s very difficult to figure out what the Sun Devils will be with questions at quarterback, but if Benjamin is healthy, that only helps the cause. BEST CASE RECORD: 10-2 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 7-5. They could have a really good year or a really rough year. Or somewhere in between. Once the quarterback is figured out the Sun Devils should be okay.
(3) ARIZONA WILDCATS: Kevin Sumlin’s first year was as up and down as you could get. Khalil Tate struggled in Sumlin’s system and that also played into the Wildcats struggles. The running game however, with or without Tate is still pretty strong with JJ Taylor (1,434 yards). But the focus will be on Tate if he can stay disciplined and be that dual threat a la Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M when Sumlin was there. But he will have an all new set of receivers as the top three guys are no longer at Arizona. The other issue that Arizona has and that has plagued Sumlin at Texas A&M was defense. The Wildcats surrendered yards both in the air (121st overall and last in the PAC-12) and on the ground (64th overall and 8th in the conference). They are undersized and not deep so we could see more of the 41-38 games in order for the Wildcats to compete. The one positive will be the linebacking group as they return all three starters led by Colin Schooler (119 tackles and 21 for loss). The issue is aside from depth is can they develop a pass rush when they see the likes of Herbert, Eason, Huntley, and others? Arizona’s schedule is tough despite an easy non-conference schedule (at Hawaii, Northern Arizona, and Texas Tech). Back to back road games at USC and Stanford right after a home game against Washington could really decide the fate of this team while ending with Oregon, Utah, and rival Arizona State (Oregon and Arizona State being road games) so getting to a bowl game will be huge in Sumlin’s second year before people start to get antsy in Tucson. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 6-6 Arizona will get off to a nice start but after their road trip to Colorado will be just murder the rest of the way save Oregon State.
(4) UCLA BRUINS: If Kevin Sumlin’s run in 2018 at Arizona was a nightmare, then Chip Kelly’s run at UCLA was an absolute disaster. UCLA started off 0-5 including home losses to Cincinnati and Fresno State and went 3-9 overall. Is there hope? Yes. UCLA returns 8 starters on offense and 9 on defense. Dorian Thompson-Robinson is that quarterback that is a dual threat and with seasoning he could be a major threat in the conference. Joshua Kelly at running back will provide a strong rushing game while Demetric Felton and Theo Howard will have bigger roles in the passing game. On defense, where they really struggled, they will have an improved secondary with Darnay Holmes at corner. The linebacker group is going to be solid with Keisean Lucier-South showing promise and Krys Barnes leading the way, but the problem is the line. They struggled tremendously and doesn’t seem like it will get better as the other units will probably have too much pressure to make big plays. UCLA’s schedule isn’t easier than last year with a road trip to Cincinnati and then home to San Diego State and then the Sooners roll into town another 0-3 start is possible before they take their conference schedule on the road to Washington State. Speaking of, road trips there, Arizona, Stanford, Utah, and rival USC won’t be fun (at least Oregon or Washington isn’t on the schedule) so again, Kelly and UCLA will have their work cut out for them. BEST CASE RECORD: 9-3 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 5-7 I fear that Kelly’s style on offense is just not going to cut it in the PAC-12 where they seem to be more reliant on defense and getting beaten on the D-line could be a major issue.
(5) USC TROJANS: My guess is that in Clay Helton’s first two years that needed two PAC-12 championships and a Rose Bowl win was enough to keep his job for 2019. However, Helton will start out 2019 as the head coach on the hottest seat in the PAC-12 and maybe the nation (a debate can be made for Gus Malzahn at Auburn). But maybe it wasn’t the Trojans that declined as much as it was some of the teams started catching up to them. Even in Sam Darnold’s last year in Los Angeles you noticed some cracks to the team as they were just not as strong and got obliterated by Ohio State. With the likes of Utah, Arizona State, and Cal getting better, the Trojans had no answers. JT Daniels was a true freshman last year so you could expect improvement especially with a solid group in Michael Pittman Jr and Tyler Vaughns. However, what has decimated the Trojans the last couple of years has been the offensive line. If they can’t get that going, the growth for Daniels is stunted. On defense, the Trojans weren’t bad, but weren’t good. That’s not great when the offense is “middle of the road” at best. But there are some bright spots especially up front with Christian Rector at end and Jay Tufele at tackle. The linebacking corps also seems solid with Jordan Iosefa, Palaie Gaoteote IV, and John Houston all expecting to have big years. However, the secondary was beat badly and the majority of the defensive backs are very inexperienced. So, the pass rush needs to be very strong to take pressure off the younger players. USC has a not-so-fun schedule as they have road games against Washington and Notre Dame in consecutive games while seeing Oregon and Stanford at home and a late road trip to Arizona State and Cal. Its schedule could be the one that dooms Helton’s tenure. BEST CASE RECORD: 8-4 WORST CASE RECORD: 4-8 MY PREDICTION: 5-7 I can see USC upsetting the likes of a Utah and/or Stanford but I think they are just going to have issues stopping anybody on the run and keeping Daniels upright.
(6) COLORADO BUFFALOES: How things have gone south for the Buffaloes since their 2016 run to the PAC-12 championship. Mike MacIntyre is gone and in comes Mel Tucker, a Nick Saban/Kirby Smart disciple that Buffaloes fans hope to bring that Alabama/Georgia attitude to Boulder. It maybe a rough start. Tucker will have a quality starting quarterback in Steven Montez. Montez will have a solid group of receivers headed by Laviska Shenault (1,011 receiving yards), and KD Nixon (636 yards). But if Tucker follows the styles of Saban and Smart, expect more of a running game, which was anemic and moreso now that Travon McMillian is gone. Alex Fontenot is going to be the featured back, but expect others to carry the load. But the question may end up being is if the Buffaloes line open up holes for those backs and that isn’t a certainty. On defense is where Tucker may have more of his fingerprints on given his strength. However, five starter return and the ones who are new are very new. He could mold them into monsters or it may take a year of adjustments. Nate Landman will anchor the defense at linebacker while Mustafa Johnson is a monster for opposing quarterbacks. However, the secondary has to make strides which they fell off after a nice run in 2016. The line will give them so much to do but it is the secondary who will need to step up big time. Colorado’s schedule has a rough non-conference run with their rivals in Colorado State, their old Big 12 foe in Nebraska, and Air Force, which runs options and has always given Tucker fits. The road trips aren’t fun seeing Oregon and Washington State in back-to-back weeks while seeing Utah in Salt Lake City to end their season. The home schedule won’t be fun either especially near the end with Stanford and Washington coming to Boulder. It may be a rough first year for Tucker in Colorado. BEST CASE RECORD: 6-6 WORST CASE RECORD: 2-10 MY PREDICTION: 3-9 Too many questions on both sides of the ball for Tucker to answer and teams are far more talented than the Buffaloes right now in the PAC-12
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP: UTAH VS WASHINGTON: This would be a rematch of last year’s title game which was exciting as watching paint dry. However, if it is that game again, I think it will be a little more fun to see with Utah’s offense being a little more polished and if Washington’s defense takes a step back. My take is that the Huskies will be playing for a playoff spot and after a second tilt, will have an improved defense when they see Utah. But I think you will see another relatively low scoring game but I think Eason makes some plays down field to set the Huskies up for scores and it will be enough to edge the Utes. But will it be enough for the committee to put them in the Playoff? WASHINGTON 24, UTAH 17
TOP 3 QUESTIONS
(1) IF OREGON WINS WEEK 1 AGAINST AUBURN, WILL THAT CHANGE THE DYNAMIC THAT THE PAC-12 CAN HANG WITH THE SEC? It will be a boost for the PAC-12 if Oregon wins that match-up. However, many fans in the SEC will say Auburn is a maligned program with a coach that can be fired midway through the season. To me, Auburn should always be considered a massive threat to any team as they’ve showed by beating Georgia and Alabama. So it will help out. It also could give Oregon that boost they haven’t seen since 2014 when they made the playoff.
(2) IF UCLA OR ARIZONA DOESN’T IMPROVE IN THE SECOND YEARS OF THE CHIP KELLY OR KEVIN SUMLIN ERAS RESPECTIVELY, COULD EITHER ONE BE FIRED? Not for Sumlin as the buyout is too high and maybe Kelly too. However, Kelly cannot afford anything worse than 4-8 in year two of his run. People project the upward trend on the Trojans. I’m not too high on that but Kelly has won in the past so there is something to be said. I just don’t think that his offense is as flashy largely because other teams especially in the PAC-12 run a similar style to his now.
(3) WHAT DOES CLAY HELTON DO TO KEEP HIS JOB AT USC? Win the PAC-12 South. A debate can be made that the PAC-12 South is the worst division among the Power 5 (between them or the ACC Coastal Division). If USC cannot overtake a division that is weak and given the talent they have over the years then a change must be needed in a big way.