Category Archives: NCAA Football

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 10 Through 6

Lamar Jackson won the coveted Heisman Trophy in 2016. Will he do so again in 2017? (Michael Reaves/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 10 Through 6

The 2017 College Football season is starting in less than two weeks and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This is the fourth edition and we will continue predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 10 Through 6

10. (Pac-12) Washington will win the Pac-12 – Last year we said Washington would not win the Pac-12. Well, we were way wrong and felt like the 2017 would be the breakout season for Washington. The Huskies arrived a year earlier than we expected, but we still like them in 2017.

The offense has seven starters back led by Jake Browning (43 touchdowns against 9 interceptions) and running backs Myles Gaskin (1,371 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Lavon Coleman (852 yards and 7 TDs). The offense loses John Ross (leading receiver with 1,150 yards and 17 TDs), but there are a ton of weapons on offense to ease the burden. After putting up 41.8 points and 457 yards per game in 2016, the offense should be just as powerful.

The defense has done very well the past two seasons. 2015 saw the unit allow 18.8 points and 352 yards per game with four starters back. In 2016, the defense did even better allowing 17.7 points and 317 yards per game. Six starters are back including four in the front six and four of the top five tacklers. They may not match last season’s numbers, but they will still be one of best in the Pac-12.

The Huskies have a very favorable schedule to make a second straight Pac-12 Championship game. They have road games at Colorado, Oregon State, and Arizona State in the front half of their conference schedule. Their final five games include four at home with their one road game at Stanford. They also avoid USC out of the South, a team they could easily face for the Pac-12 title. The Huskies are primed for another big season.

9. (ACC) Lamar Jackson will not win the Heisman – Let’s start by saying this: Lamar Jackson is more than capable of winning a second straight Heisman. He is an electrifying athlete, but he lost a lot of pieces around him and the expectations are sky high.

Louisville’s offense averaged 42.5 points and 533 yards per game in 2016, but loses its top three receivers and top running back. Jackson was easily the top rusher with 1,571 yards and 21 touchdowns. The loses along the offensive line (three starters) will hurt as well. Overall, the offense will be potent, but will be hard-pressed to equal their output in 2017.

The other part of the equation is expectations. Archie Griffin is the only two time winner of the Heisman (1974-75) and the 9 returning Heisman winners since have largely seen a drop off in stats. The link here shows the stats for each returning Heisman winner going back to 1945. That is probably the biggest hurdle to winning a second straight Heisman and the supporting cast does not look as strong this year (though still very good).

8. (ACC) North Carolina State will win at least 10 games – 2017 is the best season to date for Dave Doeren to breakthrough with North Carolina State. The Wolfpack have 17 starters back and their opponents have some serious concerns.

On offense, the Wolfpack return nine starters led by Ryan Finley at quarterback (3,059 yards with 18 TDs and 8 interceptions). The biggest question is at running back after the loss of Matthew Dayes (1,155 yards and 10 TDs). The offensive line returns four starters, which should help cushion the loss of Dayes. The top four receivers return and this unit should eclipse the 2016 numbers of 27 points and 417 yards per game.

The defense returns 8 starters from a group that allowed 22.8 points and 353 yards per game. Three of the top five and six of the top eight tacklers are back including the front six that allowed just 109 rushing yards per game. That group will need to be just as good and the defense overall should put up similar numbers to 2016.

The schedule starts with South Carolina in Charlotte followed by back-to-back home games against Marshall and Furman. The next four games are all against ACC foes: Florida State (away), Syracuse (home), Louisville (home), and Pittsburgh (away).

The season closes out against Notre Dame (away), Clemson (home), Boston College (away), Wake Forest (away), and North Carolina (home). It will not be easy to reach 10 wins, but with both Louisville and Clemson at home, they might sneak in an upset to give them confidence and put 10 wins in reach.

7. (ACC) Florida State will win the ACC – The Seminoles look like the standout team in 2017. The offense has six starters back from a unit that put up 35.1 points and 466 yards per game. They lost Dalvin Cook (1,765 yard and 19 TDs) as well as the top two receivers. However, they return quarterback Deondre Francois and three starters on the line. The running back spot will be key to develop, but the talent is immense on depth chart for that position.

The defense took a step back in 2016 giving up 25 points and 349 yards per game. Compare that to 2015 when they allowed 17.5 points and 337 yards per game. Nine starters are back including eight of the top nine tacklers. This group should get closer to 2015 numbers and will be the key to how far the Seminoles go.

Florida State opens with the massive game against Alabama in Atlanta. Their ACC schedule is very kind as they face Miami, NC State, and Louisville at home. They face Clemson away in their last conference game of the season. Florida State looks set for another big season, which we think will culminate in an ACC Championship at the very least.

6. (SEC) Missouri will have the SEC’s highest scoring offense – This prediction will be based on the points per game over the entire season. Missouri made a gigantic improvement from 2015 to 2016 on offense. The Tigers put up a horrid 13.6 points and 281 yards per game in 2015, which ended up being Gary Pinkel’s final season in Columbia.  2016 saw them go up to 31.4 points and 501 yards per game and that happened with a new head coach (Barry Odom) and only three returning starters.

2017 will see 10 starters return on offense and their lone loss was at tight end. Drew Lock is back to lead the offense after throwing for 3,399 yards with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Damarea Crockett (1,062 yards and 10 TDs) and Ish Witter (750 yards and 6 TDs) are also returning in the backfield with Lock. The top four receivers also return: J’Mon Moore (1,012 yards and 8 TDs), Dimetrios Mason (587 and 3 TDs), Johnathon Johnson (435 and 2 TDs), and Emanuel Hall (307 and 2 TDs).

The offense looks wonderful on paper and they open with four straight home games versus Missouri State, South Carolina, Purdue, and Auburn. The offense may need to be even better because the defense was very porous last year (31.5 points and 480 yards per game). In addition, the Tigers averaged only 22.6 points per game in SEC play, a mark that will need to go up if the Tigers want to contend for a bowl game.

Teams like Alabama (38.8 PPG in 2016), Texas A&M (34.8), Auburn (31.2), Arkansas (30.3), and even Kentucky (30) pose a threat to score more (especially the Tide with their main pieces returning). However, Missouri’s offense returns nearly intact and should fare even better in the second year under Odom.

That concludes the fourth set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for the final five predictions, which will include two predictions for the SEC and three for the Big 10.

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 15 Through 11

Colorado had a great season in 2016 going 10-4 and played in the Pac-12 Championship. How will they fare in 2017? (Ronald Cortes/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 15 Through 11

The 2017 College Football season is starting later this month and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This edition is the third and we will start predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 15 Through 11

15. (Big 12) Oklahoma State will lead the Big 12 in points scored – The Cowboys have 7 starters back on offense including the key skill positions. Quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for 4,091 yards (63.4%) with 28 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Three of his top four targets from 2016 return led by James Washington. Washington had 71 catches for 1,380 yards with 10 touchdowns while Jalen McCleskey had 73 receptions for 812 yards and 7 touchdowns. There is also the threat of Justice Hill in the backfield with Rudolph as he had 1,142 yards and 6 touchdowns. With three starters back on the line, this team should eclipse 2016’s numbers of 38.6 points and 495 yards per game.

The Big 12 is full of potent offenses starting with Oklahoma. The Sooners had 43.9 points per game in 2016 and lost four big names: head coach Bob Stoops, receiver Dede Westbrook, and running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Even with Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield back, the Sooners could see a slight step back on offense.

Another potent team is TCU who returns 10 starters from a group that underachieved in 2016 when only 2 starters returned. Every top skill position player returns for the Horned Frogs and they will easily eclipse the 31 points per game they averaged in 2016.

Both Texas and Baylor welcome new coaches. Texas has Tom Herman and his offense though there will probably be a few hiccups as it is installed. Baylor is typically one of the highest scoring offenses (over 44 points per game from 2011 through 2015) but Matt Rhule has a more pro-style system.

The other big threat to the scoring title is Texas Tech under Kliff Kingsbury’s high flying offense. The Red Raiders lose quarterback Patrick Mahomes and top receiver Jonathan Giles, but most other key pieces return. They will still put up points, but with a new starter might lead to a drop off in points (43.7 per game in 2016).

14. (Big 12) TCU will win the Big 12 Championship – 2017 sees the return of the Big 12 Championship Game ostensibly to help the conference from getting left out of the College Football Playoffs. We will see if the re-introduction has the intended effect. As for the return of the game, we like TCU to win the 2017 edition.

There is no doubt that 2016 was a subpar season for the Horned Frogs when they finished 6-7. The offense had only 2 starters back and averaged just 31 points per game (down 11 points per game from 2015). The biggest disappointment was defense, which actually got worse with 8 starters back. In 2016, they allowed 28 points and 427 yards per game (about 1 point and 30 yards per game worse than 2015).

2017 sees a much more experienced offense with 10 starters back. Kenny Hill had an up and down season with 17 touchdowns and 13 picks, but he returns all of the key position players. After putting up 31 points and 463 yards per game in 2016, they should get close or even go beyond 40 points per contest.

On defense, 7 starters are back including 5 of the top 6 tacklers. Travin Howard (130 tackles) and Ty Summers (121 tackles) will command the secondary and linebackers respectively. Even in a high scoring league like the Big 12, the defense should improve from the 28 points and 427 yards per game they allowed in 2016.

The Horned Frogs have five Big 12 road games including some tough ones at Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and even a potentially tricky game at Iowa State. The Oklahoma State game is in week four and could end up deciding one of the participants for the Big 12 Championship Game. TCU is flying under the radar and this team is in a very good position to win the Big 12.

13. (Big 12) Iowa State will reach a bowl game – The Cyclones have not been to a bowl game since 2012 when they played in the Liberty Bowl, but lost to Tulsa 31-17. Matt Campbell was hired in late 2015, just a day after former coach Paul Rhoads coached his final game. Iowa State went 3-9 in 2016 and the biggest highlight was their dismantling of Texas Tech 66-10 in the penultimate game of the year.

The second year should see improvements on both sides of the ball. The offense had a respectable 27.7 points per game in 2016 with just three starters back, a new coach, and constant quarterback shuffling. Jacob Park is the man now after throwing for 1,791 yards with 12 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The top two receivers and running backs return including Allen Lazard. Lazard had 69 catches for 1,118 yards with 7 touchdowns and needs 678 yards to become the school’s all-time leading receiver. The offense should top 30 points per game with more quarterback stability and more experience and knowledge of the offense.

The defense did okay in 2016 with a new coach and 7 starters back. They allowed 31.3 points and 453 yards per game, which was actually 1.4 points per game less. Six starters are back and a slight improvement would go along way for this team.

The schedule starts with Northern Iowa and Iowa at home before a road trip to Akron. The Cyclones need a 2-1 at worst to give them any shot of reaching a bowl. They only get four home games in the Big 12 (Texas, Kansas, TCU, and Oklahoma State) and will probably need to win at least two of those. The five road games are at Oklahoma, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Baylor, and Kansas State. There is no margin for error given their schedule, but the Cyclones have the pieces to get 6 wins in Matt Campbell’s second year.

12. (Pac-12) Washington State will reach double digit wins – We are very bullish on the Cougars this year thanks to 16 returning starters (7 on offense and 9 on defense) and schedule(not easy, but manageable).

Mike Leach will be in year 6 at Wazzu with a very experienced Luke Falk. Falk is a senior in 2017 and he loses two of his top three wideouts (Gabe Marks and River Cracraft). Despite those two, Falk distributing the ball will help absorb the losses. Also returning are the top three running backs who averaged 120 yards per game in 2016. That was the highest amount for the offense under Leach at Washington State.

One of the bigger surprises the last two seasons has been the defense. In 2015 they allowed 27.7 points and 417 yards per game while 2016 was small improvements to 26.4 points and 406 yards per game. Those have been the best numbers under Leach and coincides with the hiring of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. With 9 starters back in 2017, there could be even more improvement in the numbers.

The schedule is not easy, but the Cougars do not play a road game until October. They open with five straight at home against Montana State, Boise State, Oregon State, Nevada, and USC. The Broncos and Trojans will be tough contests, but being in Pullman will give them a better chance to win both games.

October is road stretch with Oregon (away), California (away), Colorado (home), and Arizona (away). All four are winnable though a resurgent Oregon team might be the trickiest. The schedule closes with Stanford (home), Utah (away), and Washington (away) after a bye week.

The Pac-12 North looks very competitive, but the Cougars are set up for success on offense and defense. Washington State is a dark horse to win the North so long as they take care of USC and Washington, but those would both be big upsets.

11. (Pac-12) Colorado will reach a second straight bowl game – Colorado surprised many in 2016 when they made the Pac-12 Championship Game as the South division winners. A repeat of that in 2017 would be just as surprising, but they still have a great chance at reaching a second straight bowl.

The offense returns mostly intact with 9 starters back, however, they lose quarterback Sefo Liufau. His replacement is Steven Montez and he did get some playing time in 2016 when Liufau was injured so the drop off may not be as severe. All the top receivers return as does running back Phillip Lindsay (1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns). The offense put up 31.1 points and 437 yards per game in 2016 and should get close or top those numbers again this season.

Defense is a major concern with only three starters back from a group that allowed 21.7 points and 343 yards per game. Three of the top five tacklers are back with two of those in the secondary. There are quite a few upperclassmen as projected starters, but the numbers will still get worse.

The Buffs will start with four games within the state of Colorado: Colorado State (in Denver), Texas State, Northern Colorado, and Washington with the latter three at home. The CSU game may not be the walk in the park as expected because the Rams will have already played one game and look like a contender in the Mountain West.

Three of the next four are away: UCLA, Arizona (home), Oregon State, and Washington State. The season concludes with California (home), Arizona State (away), USC (home), and Utah (away). There are enough wins on the schedule (both home and away) for the Buffs to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2004-05.

That concludes the third set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 10 through 6, which will be one more prediction for the Pac-12, three for the ACC, and one for the SEC.

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

Quinton Flowers (#9 above) and South Florida might run away with the AAC East Division. (Jason Behnken/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 20 Through 16

The 2017 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

This edition is the second and we once again will focus on the mid-majors conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 20 Through 16

20. (MAC) Akron will win the MAC EastTerry Bowden will be in his 6th year at Akron and this team looks poised for a big season. 8 starters are back from an offense that put up 27.4 points and 387 yards per game. The 2016 offense had only 3 starters back and now the top quarterback and running backs return. The offense has to contend with the loss of the top 2 receivers, but do have talent to replace them.

The defense has 7 starters back from a group that allowed 33.6 points and 466 yards per game. The 2016 version had four starters back while 2017 will see much more experience and add in Miami (FL) transfer James King. The defense should be closer to 2014 numbers of 23.1 points and 371 yards per game allowed.

Akron has a potentially difficult conference schedule with all 8 games packed into 8 weeks. They start with Bowling Green (away) and Ball State (home) before back-to-back road games at MAC West contenders Western Michigan and Toledo. Even a split of those two games would be huge for the Zips. Akron ends the conference season Buffalo (home), Miami (away), Ohio (home), and Kent State (home). The run in is favorable for them to steal the MAC East from Miami and Ohio.

19. (MWC) Boise State will lose at least three games – This does not seem like much of a prediction, but let’s provide some historical context. Since the Broncos have moved from the FCS to FBS, they have only 1 stretch of three or more seasons when they lost at least three games: 1996-1999. That coincided with their move to the top level of collegiate football. Boise State has shown a great pattern of bouncing back when they have a multi-loss season.

The 2017 Boise State team has five starters back on offense and four on defense, which will hurt the Broncos. The duo of Jeremy McNichols (RB) and Thomas Sperbeck (WR) depart for veteran quarterback Brett Rypien, but Rypien still has a lot of talent around him. They will need to step up to help him and the team. The defense loses the top four tacklers and six of the top seven from 2016. Again, there is talent on both sides of the ball to help absorb some of the departures, but that lone does not mean success.

The schedule is difficult for Boise State. They take on Troy (home), Washington State (away), Virginia (home), and BYU (away) in the non-conference portion. In the Mountain West, they have to play San Diego State (away), Wyoming (home), Nevada (home), Colorado State (away), and pesky Air Force (home). The Falcons have beaten Boise State three straight seasons although they look weaker this season.

There is no doubt Boise State is talented enough to win double digit games and even the Mountain West, but it looks like they will see a third straight 3+ loss season for the first time in nearly two decades. That is still impressive given their relatively short history in the FBS.

18. (MWC) Air Force will reach a bowl game – In 10 seasons under Troy Calhoun, the Falcons have only failed to reach a bowl game once. The non-bowl season was in 2013 when they went 2-10 going winless in conference play.

A 10th bowl game in 11 seasons is not a slam dunk for Air Force. They have six starters back on offense led by experienced quarterbacks Arion Worthman and Nate Romine. Top receiver Jalen Robinette has moved on, which may lead to more rushing plays. That will put extra pressure on Worthman and Romine as well as Tim McVey, who is the top returning running back by a wide margin. The pieces are there for Air Force to do well on offense.

The real worry on paper is the defense, which returns just one starter and loses 12 of the top 13 tacklers. Grant Ross is back at linebacker and he was the third leading tackler in 2016. The defense allowed 26.2 points and 365 yards per game in 2016 with 9 starters back so on paper it looks like they will take sizable a step back. The last time Air Force had only a few starters back on defense was in 2012 when they had 2. That group did well enough to allow only 29 points and 409 yards per game, which represented marginal increases of .6 points and 23 yards from the 2011 numbers.

Air Force will need a few upsets to reach 6 wins and a bowl game, but the path is there. Air Force takes on VMI (home), Michigan (away), Navy (away), and Army (home) in a non-conference schedule sprinkled throughout the first 9 weeks. From the West division they will play San Diego State (home), UNLV (home), and Nevada (away). Their best chances are the latter two though a porous defense will hurt their opportunity to reach 6 wins.

The Falcons have to deal with a contentious Mountain division of New Mexico (away), Colorado State (away), Wyoming (home), Boise State (away), and Utah State (home). The Falcons could win 3 of those games, which would give them a great chance to get to a bowl.

17. (AAC) 9 teams will make a bowl game – The American Athletic Conference has been on an upward swing since the start of the chaotic conference realignment that began 7 years ago. 2013 was the first season of AAC football and they sent 5 of their 10 members to a bowl game.

2014 saw 5 of 11 teams go to bowl game followed by their best season when 8 of 12 teams went to a bowl game. 2016 finished with 7 teams going to a bowl game and a lot of preseason hype around Houston.

This year looks like a great opportunity for the AAC to put 75% of its members into a bowl game. The AAC has 7 bowl tie ins and the oversupply of bowl games make it easier for teams to participate than ever before. (Side note: there is actually one less bowl game than 2016 with the cessation of the Poinsettia Bowl).

In 2017, South Florida is the clear favorite for the East division, but Temple (10-4 in 2016, but a new coach this year) and Central Florida (6-7 in 2016) also look likely to get back to a bowl game. The bottom half of the East looks like a conundrum between Cincinnati, Connecticut, and East Carolina. The Bearcats underachieved in 2016 and now have Luke Fickell in his first season. They could improve enough to get a bowl bid.

Connecticut welcomes Randy Edsall back to Storrs after a six year absence. Edsall made a bowl game in each of his last four seasons and has 7 starters on both offense and defense to work with. He could steal a bowl bid though the offense will need a lot more than 14.8 points per game. East Carolina is the weakest team in the East and they will be in year two of Scottie Montgomery’s reign. They have a tough schedule out of conference (West Virginia, Virginia Tech, BYU) and will probably struggle to top the 3 win total they put up in 2016.

The West looks very competitive between Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, and Navy. Any of those four could win the division and even SMU and Tulane look capable of getting a bowl bid.

SMU will be in year three with Chad Morris and he has 9 starters back on offense and 5 on defense. They should open 4-1 to give them great confidence to grab the last 2 needed wins. Tulane has a bit more work to do in the second season of Willie Fritz. He has 8 starters on both offense and defense, which looks like a good thing. The offense improved 4.4 points on offense and 8.6 on defense in his first season. Another improvement like that in 2017 and Tulane will be bowling.

To summarize, we like South Florida, Temple, Central Florida, and Cincinnati from the East division to make a bowl game. From the West, we like Houston, Tulsa, Memphis, Navy, and SMU to make a bowl game. Those are the 9 we like to make a bowl, but any 9 will do for this prediction.

16. (AAC) – South Florida and Memphis will play in the AAC Championship GameSouth Florida is in year one under Charlie Strong and has a great situation on his hands. He walks into 7 returning starters on offense and 9 on defense. Quinton Flowers will lead the offense that put up 43.8 points. Flowers led the team in both passing and rushing last year and could have an even better year.

The 2016 defense actually allowed quite a few points at 31.6 per game and 482 yards per game. Now 9 starters are back for Charlie Strong, which should mean a big improvement on that side of the ball. Their toughest games all come at home against Temple, Houston, and Tulsa.

The West division is wide open and we will go with Memphis to win it. All the pieces are back on offense for Mike Norvell between quarterback Riley Ferguson, running back Doroland Dorceus, and receivers Phil Mayhue and Anthony Miller. An offense that put up 38.8 points per game in 2016 now has 9 starters back and looks set to put up over 40 points per game.

The defense for Memphis has 6 starters back from a group that allowed 28.8 points and 455 yards per game. The top two tacklers, Jonathan Cook (88) and Genard Avery (81), are both back as are 5 of the front 7. The main concern is the secondary, but they do have 2 Oklahoma transfers in the mix.

Memphis will have tough road games at Central Florida, Houston, and Tulsa, but winning two of those games would put them in a great position to make their first AAC Championship Game.

That concludes the second set of five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 15 through 11.

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 25 Through 21

Army broke a 15 year drought against Navy. What will they do for an encore in 2017? (Rob Carr/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 25 Through 21

The 2017 College Football season is right around the corner and that means it is prediction season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week starting with this article. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).

Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.

Predictions 25-21: July 26 (Sun Belt, C-USA, Independents)

Predictions 20-16: August 2 (MAC, MWC, AAC)

Predictions 15-11: August 9 (Big 12, Pac-12)

Predictions 10-6: August 16 (Pac-12, ACC, SEC)

Predictions 5-1: August 23 (SEC, Big 10)

Predictions 25 Through 21

25. Appalachian State will win the Sun Belt – We start with  a team that has done very well since moving up from FCS to FBS. The Mountaineers went 4-8 in 2013 (their final FCS season), however, their three seasons in the FBS have resulted in winning records. 2014 saw them go 7-5, they went 11-2 in 2015, and went 10-3 in 2016. App State tied for the Sun Belt title last year with Arkansas State after both teams went 7-1 in conference.

This year, the Mountaineers return 7 starters on both offense (scored 29.2 points per game) and defense (allowed 17.8 points per game). The real key is their schedule: no Arkansas State, no Troy, and no South Alabama. Their biggest test is at home versus Louisiana in the final week of season.

24. (Sun Belt) New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 57 years – We made the same prediction last year and sure enough the Aggies did not disappoint going 3-9. There are some positives with 7 starters back on offense and 9 back on defense, which makes them the 12th most experienced team in the FBS.

The real reason for putting this prediction here is the brutal schedule New Mexico State faces. In the non-conference slate, the Aggies play Arizona State, New Mexico, and Arkansas on the road and also take on UTEP at home. In the Sun Belt, NMSU has App State (away), Georgia Southern (away), Arkansas State (home), Louisiana (away), and South Alabama (home). If the Aggies manage to get to 6 wins, it will be a well deserved bowl appearance.

23. (C-USA) The four teams wearing green will not win 25 games combined – Here we have an out of the box prediction. The four teams that wear green are Marshall, Charlotte, North Texas, and UAB. UAB is back to playing football after a 2 year hiatus. The other three teams went a combined 12-25. So this is a slam dunk, right? Not so fast, though we are confident the four teams will not average over 6 wins per team.

Marshall went 3-9 last year in their first losing season since 2010 when Doc Holliday was in his first season. The Herd are one of the favorites in the C-USA East division and could manage hit 10 wins in 2017. Charlotte is an intriguing team because they are in their third full season of FBS football. They went 2-10 and 4-8 the first two years while returning 6 starters on both offense and defense. A similar pattern of progression might move them close to the 6 win mark, but that will take a big improvement on defense (allowed 34.6 points and 453 yards per game).

Over in the West division we have North Texas and UAB. North Texas went 5-8 last year and, thanks to an oversupply of bowl games, they were able to play a 13th game despite being 5-7. 2016 was the first year of Seth Littrell and year two has 6 starters back on offense and defense. The Mean Green could contend for a bowl game if they can pull a few in-conference upsets.

For UAB, they have the uphill battle of assembling a competitive team. As one would expect, they have very few starters still around with only 4 returning and all of them on defense. Their most winnable games will be versus Alabama A&M, Ball State, and Coastal Carolina. Beyond that, with no competitive games in three years, it is tough to envision them getting close to 6 wins.

We think the four teams mentioned about will end up with roughly 20 wins. With a few upsets, or a big surprise from a team not named Marshall, all four teams they might come close to 25 wins,

22. (C-USA) Both FAU and FIU will make a bowl game – The two Florida schools in C-USA welcome new coaches though both men have previous head coaching experience. Lane Kiffin is now leading Florida Atlantic while Florida International welcomes Butch Davis to the helm. What both teams have going for them is a bevy of returning starters.

FAU has 9 starters back on offense and 8 back on defense. Despite returning their 2016 starting quarterback, the Owls have former Florida State player De’Andre Johnson. He should do well in the Kendal Briles system as should the rest of the offense. Defense is a bit more of question mark as they return 8 starters off a squad that allowed 39.8 points and 514 yards per game. Having a lot of starters back on a porous defense is not always a good thing. If they can improve 10 points and 100 yards per game then they have a decent chance of making a bowl game assuming the offense takes a big step forward in the new system.

FIU has 7 starters back on offense and 8 on defense. All the skill players return on offense except for the #2 receiver, but there is more than enough depth to replace him. The defense has 8 starters back after allowing 34.8 points and 434 yards per game (5 starters back). They should improve on those numbers even with a new defensive coordinator.

Both squads will probably need an upset to reach 6 wins, but both are more than capable of doing so. C-USA East looks very competitive, which means the potential for both teams to exceed (or miss) the expectations.

21. (Independent) Army will reach a second straight bowl game – Last year we liked Army to beat Navy and win at least 6 games. They did both as they defeated Navy for the first time in 15 years while finishing 8-5 with a bowl win over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

The schedule sets up pretty well again for Army to reach a second straight bowl. The open with Fordham and Buffalo before back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Tulane. Their next four games are versus UTEP, Rice, Eastern Michigan, and Temple with only the Rice contest taking place on the road. The first 8 games will take place without a bye week.

The final four games will be completed over 6 weeks starting with a road game at Air Force on November 4. Duke goes to West Point the following week before another road game at North Texas. The final game is, of course, the annual title versus Navy on December.

What really helps Army this year is the plethora of returning starters with 9 on offense and 7 on defense. The offense put up 29.9 points and 414 yards per game with the points being the most since 1996. The defense allowed 19.8 points and 291 yards per game and part of that was due to the easier schedule. However, the confidence should be high on both sides of the ball in their fourth year under Jeff Monken.

With the combination of experience and a manageable schedule, Army looks poised to reach a second straight bowl game. That would mark only the second time in school history that Army reached back-to-back bowl games (1984-85).

That concludes the first five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 20-16.

Reviewing Our 2016 College Football Predictions

Deshaun Watson and Clemson won the 2017 College Football Playoff versus Alabama. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

Reviewing Our 2016 College Football Predictions

Prior to the start of the 2016 College Football season, we made five predictions for each conference. Those can all be found here. Below we will list and then review how each prediction turned out.

FBS Independents

1. Army will beat Navy in 2016 – This was correct as Army defeated Navy 21-17. This was Army’s first win against Navy since 2001.

2. Army will reach 6 wins in 2016 – Army reached the 6 win plateau and went beyond as they finished 8-5 overall with a win in Heart of Dallas Bowl versus North Texas.

3. UMass will not top 3 wins in 2016 – Another one that proved correct. Massachusetts slumped to 2-10 in 2016, which was their first year as an Independent.

4. BYU will pull at least 3 upsets in the regular season – We missed on this one. Going by Vegas Insider’s lines, the Cougars pulled only one outright upset. BYU did cover all five games in which they were underdogs, but lost four outright.

5. Notre Dame will lose at least 3 regular season games – Perhaps we were too kind. The Irish lost 8 games and reached our magic mark of three losses by the end of September.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct.

Sun Belt

1. Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida will lead the Sun Belt in rushing – This was a risky prediction and it did not come close at all. Breida finished with 646 yards on the season while Appalachian State’s Jalin Moore led the conference with 1,402 yards.

2. Arkansas State or Appalachian State will win the Conference – This was correctly predicted. This required a Troy loss on the final day of the regular season. Both Arkansas State and Appalachian State tied for the title.

3. Texas State will not win more than 3 games in 2016 – We called this correctly, but early in the season it looked iffy. Texas State started the season with a 2-2 record, but lost all their Sun Belt games to drop to 2-10 in Everett Withers’ first season.

4. New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 56 years – This seemed like an easy call and it was. The Aggies went 3-9 on the season though they did have some entertaining games throughout the season.

5. Idaho will make a bowl game –This was another correct prediction. Idaho started 2-3, but won 7 of their last 8 games including the bowl versus Colorado State. It is a shame Paul Petrino and Idaho will be in the FCS by 2018.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 8 correct out of 10.

Conference USA

1. Rice will win the West Division – This pick was not even close. The Owls started 0-6 and even though they went .500 the final six games, they never really had a chance to win the division.

2. Old Dominion will make a bowl game – The Monarchs proved this one right. Old Dominion went 7-1 in C-USA and 10-3 overall. Their loss to Western Kentucky prevented them from competing for the C-USA Championship.

3. Charlotte’s offense will top 25 points per game in 2016 – This was correct, but barely as Charlotte scored 25.2 points per game. The 49ers had 6 games were they scored less than 25 points and went 4-8 overall.

4. North Texas will finish with double digit losses – This was wrong and in a big way. The Mean Green went 5-8 overall this year and made an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in Seth Littrell’s first season as coach.

5. Middle Tennessee will finish no worse than 2nd in the East – Another incorrect prediction. The Blue Raiders started the C-USA season well, but losses to Western Kentucky, UT-San Antonio, and Marshall saw them finish 3rd in the East Division.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 10 correct out of 15.

MAC

1. Northern Illinois will make it 7 straight MAC Title Game Appearances – This never came to fruition as the Huskies lost three MAC games and did not even reach a bowl game.

2. Western Michigan will defeat at least one Big Ten opponent in 2016 – This one was correct. They defeated Northwestern in the opening game 22-21 and then blew the doors off Illinois two weeks later in 34-10 win. They had a chance for the rare Big 10 trifecta in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin, but lost 24-16.

3. The East will be mayhem – This is a very hard prediction to quantify. Ohio ended up as the MAC East winner at 6-2 in conference play, but Miami (OH) came back from an 0-6 start to win out and reach a bowl game. Miami finished 6-2 in the conference as well. We will call this a draw and award half a point.

4. Kent State will reach six wins – This prediction was incorrect. The Flashes lost to North Carolina A&T in week two and then bounced back the next week to defeat FCS foe Monmouth. Kent State never threatened to get to 6 wins and finished at 3-9.

5. Eastern Michigan will end their four straight years of double digit losses (and not finish last in the West) – This was correct. The Eagles got off to a flying start at 4-1 and then sealed their winning season with two wins in the final three games. They finished 7-6 overall and fourth in the MAC West.

Final Result: 2.5 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 12.5 correct out of 20.

American Athletic

1. SMU will win at least four games in 2016 – This was correct. SMU could not get on a roll in a choppy season as they went 5-7 overall. They did upset Houston at home with a resounding 38-16 win.

2. South Florida will win the East Division – This one was close, but was incorrect. The Bulls had a great 11-2 season and went 7-1 in AAC play. Their lone conference loss was to Temple (7-1 AAC), the AAC Champions, thus preventing them from winning the East.

3. Houston will win the West Division and Conference title – This one was incorrect. Houston started 5-0, but finished 4-4 and placed fourth in the AAC West.

4. Connecticut will have winning season –This one ended up as incorrect. The Huskies started 3-3, but lost their last six games to fall to 3-9. The lack of offense cost them and it also cost Bob Diaco his job.

5. The Three “T” teams (Tulsa, Tulane, and Temple) will win at least 20 games combined – This was correct due to Tulsa and Temple. Temple went 10-4 overall (won the AAC Championship), Tulsa went 10-3 overall, and Tulane came in at 4-8 overall to make it 24 wins combined.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 14.5 correct out of 25.

Mountain West

1. Air Force will win the Commander-in-Chief Trophy and win 10 games – This prediction was correct on both accounts. The Falcons started 4-0, then lost 3 in a row, and finished the season on a 6 game winning streak. They also defeated Navy and Army.

2. San Diego State will win the West Division – An obvious call before the season, this one was correct. The Aztecs won the West Division going away and finished 11-3 as the only team in the West with a winning record.

3. Boise State will lead the MWC in points scored and Thomas Sperbeck will lead the MWC in receiving yardage – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. Boise State’s offense never reached the expected heights as they finished sixth in the conference at 33.8 points per game. Thomas Sperbeck ended up tied for second in the conference with 1,272 yards receiving behind Tanner Gentry of Wyoming (1,326 yards receiving).

4. UNLV will make a bowl game in 2016 – This was incorrect as the Rebels could never find a good flow. They finished 4-8 overall with wins against Jackson State, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Wyoming.

5. New Mexico will make their second straight bowl game in 2016 – This prediction was correct. The Lobos started 2-3 with losses to New Mexico State, Rutgers, and Boise State, but finished with 7 wins in their last 8 games. They played, and won, in the New Mexico Bowl.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 17.5 correct out of 30.

Big 12

1. Kansas State will make a seventh straight bowl game – This was correct. The Wildcats had a sneaky good season going 9-4 overall and finished it off with a 33-28 win in the Texas Bowl over former conference foe Texas A&M.

2. Oklahoma will lose at least one game they are favored in – This prediction was correct after the first weekend of games. Oklahoma was favored by 13.5 against Houston, but lost 33-23. The Sooners finished 11-2 overall.

3. West Virginia will not win more than 7 games – This prediction was wrong. West Virginia started 6-0 to put this prediction to shame. They went on to finish 10-3 with losses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Miami (FL) as they finished 3rd in the Big 12.

4. TCU and Baylor will win 20 games or less combined – This prediction was correct. TCU underachieved going 6-7 overall while Baylor went 7-6 with Jim Grobe at the helm.

5. Texas and Texas Tech will both make a bowl game – This prediction was doubly wrong. Neither Texas nor Texas Tech had a winning record, much less made to a bowl game. Both teams finished 5-7 overall.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 20.5 correct out of 35.

ACC

1. Georgia Tech will get back to a bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Yellow Jackets went 9-4 overall on the season with losses to Clemson, Miami (FL), Pittsburgh, and North Carolina. Georgia Tech defeated Kentucky 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

2. The ACC Champion will make the National Championship – This one was correct. Clemson won the ACC over Virginia Tech and then defeated Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs Semifinal 31-0. They reached the National Championship game to face Alabama for a second straight seeason and won 35-31.

3. Pittsburgh will have a double digit win season – This prediction was close, but incorrect. Pittsburgh went 8-5 with losses to Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), and Northwestern. Only the game against Miami (51-28) was decided by more than a touchdown.

4. Boston College will average at least 25 points per game on offense and give up less than 20 points per game on defense – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. In fact, if the numbers were flipped, this would have been on point. Boston College put up 20.4 points per game on offense and allowed 25 points per game on defense. They finished 7-6 overall.

5. Duke’s bowl streak will end at four – This was correct. The schedule set up against Duke finishing with 6 wins and that is how it turned out. They defeated North Carolina Central, Notre Dame, Army, and North Carolina to finish 4-8.

Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 23.5 correct out of 40.

Pac-12

1. California and Oregon State will both miss a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Surprisingly, neither of these teams finished last in the Pac-12 North as that distinction went to Oregon. California went 5-7 while Oregon State finished 4-8.

2. Colorado will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct and undersold. Colorado had a great season going 10-4 overall and playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. They unfortunately had to face some tough opponents in 2016 with losses to Michigan, USC, Washington, and Oklahoma State. Still, it was a superb season.

3. The duo of Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman will rush for a combined 4,000 yards – This prediction was wrong and was not even close to being right. After stellar 2015 seasons, these two seemed big campaigns again. Christian McCaffrey finished with 1,603 yards rushing while Royce Freeman had 945 yards rushing in 2016 with both getting injured during the year.

4. Washington will not win the Pac-12 – This one was way wrong. The Huskies were never really challenged in the Pac-12 North and they easily dispatched Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game. We probably will not make this prediction again any time soon.

5. The Pac-12 will not make the College Football Playoffs –Another one that was wrong. This prediction was predicated on the idea that Washington would not win the Pac-12. Well, the Huskies DID win the Pac-12 and were a contender for the College Football Playoff all season long.

Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 25.5 correct out of 45.

Big 10

1. Indiana will play in their second consecutive bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Hoosiers needed to beat Purdue in the season finale to reach 6 wins and they did in a close 26-24 contest. Head coach Kevin Wilson resigned before the bowl game, which they lost 26-24.

2. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson will lead the conference in rushing – This prediction was correct. Justin Jackson had a very good season leading the Big 10 with 1,524 yards on the ground. He beat out guys like Saquon Barkley, Corey Clement, Rodney Smith, Devine Redding, Mike Weber, and Akrum Wadley for the conference rushing title.

3. Wisconsin will not win 10 games – This prediction was incorrect and happily so. As a Wisconsin fan and someone who attended the school, this is one prediction we are more than happy to eat crow on. The Badgers had what looked like a daunting schedule in the pre-season, but some teams were not as good. However, the Badgers still had to navigate their schedule after back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers finished 11-3 overall with a victory in the Cotton Bowl over Western Michigan.

4. The winner of The Game will make the College Football Playoffs – This prediction was right on the money. Despite a mid-season loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes were selected for the College Football Playoffs after defeating Michigan 30-27 in overtime despite not playing in the Big 10 Championship Game. The Buckeyes were crushed 31-0 in the Playoffs versus Clemson.

5. Iowa will be pushed to the brink by North Dakota State – This prediction was perfectly called. North Dakota State took their patented blueprint to Iowa City and defeated the Hawkeyes 23-21. Iowa finished 8-5 overall on the season.

Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 29.5 correct out of 50.

SEC

1. Every SEC West team will make a bowl game – This was close, but incorrect. 6 of the 7 teams made it to a bowl game with only Ole Miss not participating in the post-season. That is interesting because most had Ole Miss as a team contending for the top of the SEC West, not the bottom.

2. Kentucky will not reach that elusive bowl game – This prediction was wrong. Kentucky started 5-3 and had Austin Peay near the end of regular season to make it 6 wins. They did one better as they upset Louisville 41-38 on the road to reach 7-5 and the TaxSlayer Bowl. They lost that game 33-18 to Georgia Tech.

3. Vanderbilt will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Vanderbilt needed two late season upsets to reach six wins. They defeated both Ole Miss and Tennessee at home to reach the Independence Bowl, but were thrashed by NC State 41-17.

4. The Arkansas-Mississippi State game will determine the last place finisher in the SEC West – Another one that was close, but ultimately incorrect. Arkansas and Mississippi State played a 58-42 thriller in Starkville late in the season, but it was the Egg Bowl a week later that determined the final team in the SEC West. Ole Miss lost that day 55-20 to finish in the basement after a season of high expectations.

5. Missouri will win the SEC East – It is fitting we round this article out with the worst prediction. Before the season, we thought Missouri’s defense would carry the team, but it ended up being the offense that was key. The Tigers started 2-2 with a 26-11 loss at West Virginia and a 28-27 loss at home to Georgia. It was all downhill from there as they lost five in a row. They won 2 of their final 3 games (Vanderbilt and Arkansas) to finish 4-8 overall. Perhaps this prediction is better suited for 2018 or later.

Final Result: 1 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total finishes at 30.5 correct out of 55 (55.5%).

Hopefully we can do better in 2017 with our predictions.

Wisconsin Badgers 2016-17 Football Season Report Card

T.J. Watt had a big 2017 finishing with a double digit sack total. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America)

Wisconsin Badgers 2016-17 Football Season Report Card

The Wisconsin Badgers have finished the 2016-17 season with a 24-16 win over the Western Michigan Broncos to end at 11-3 overall. It was another double digit win season for the Badgers as 2016 marked the sixth time in the last 8 years they have won at least 10 games.

We will give a grade to each unit on the team as well as an overall team grade and a grade for head coach Paul Chryst. For a measuring stick, here is the midseason report card and we will include the midseason grade for each unit below. Let’s start with a quick glance at the results of each game for the Badgers.

Wisconsin Results

Week 1 (9/3) – Defeated #5 LSU 16-14 (Green Bay, Wisconsin)

Week 2 (9/10) – Defeated Akron 54-10 (Home)

Week 3 (9/17) – Defeated Georgia State 23-17 (Home)

Week 4 (9/24) – Defeated Michigan State 30-6 (Away)

Week 5 (10/1) – Lost to Michigan 14-7 (Away)

Week 6 (10/8) – Bye

Week 7 (10/15) – Lost to Ohio State 30-23 in 1 OT (Home)

Week 8 (10/22) – Defeated Iowa 17-9 (Away)

Week 9 (10/29) – Defeated Nebraska 23-17 in 1 OT (Home)

Week 10 (11/5) – Defeated Northwestern 21-7 (Away)

Week 11 (11/12) – Defeated Illinois 48-3 (Home)

Week 12 (11/19) – Defeated Purdue 49-20 (Away)

Week 13 (11/26) – Defeated Minnesota 31-17 (Home)

Week 14 (12/3) – Lost to Penn State 38-31 (Big 10 Championship)

Bowl (1/2/17) – Defeated Western Michigan 24-16 (Cotton Bowl)

Head Coach Paul Chryst

Midseason Grade: B+

2016 was not an easy year for Paul Chryst in his second season. He had to juggle two quarterbacks, a new defensive coordinator, and what looked like a daunting schedule. Looking at the entire season, he did well switching between Bart Houston (began the season as the starter) and Alex Hornibrook.

The hire of Justin Wilcox as the defensive coordinator already looks like a steal. The Badgers allowed 13.7 points per game in 2015 and saw that increase only marginally to 15.6. The yardage allowed per game do go up from from 268.5 in 2015 to 301.4 yards per game. Still, the defense played well this year, but Wilcox has departed for the California Golden Bears’ head coaching vacancy. The Badgers will have their third defensive coordinator in three years for the 2017 season.

The schedule before the season looked imposing. They had LSU, Michigan State (away), Michigan (away), Ohio State, Nebraska, and the potential for a Big 10 Championship Game. The Badgers ended up facing 7 teams that were ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game for the 2016-17 and went 4-3 in those games. Granted, some of those teams were far from being top 25 material by season’s end, but the Badgers navigated the season well under Chryst.

Final Grade: B+

Quarterbacks

Midseason Grade: C-

Bart Houston began the season as starter, but was replaced in the Georgia State contest by Hornibrook. After that game, the duo split time behind center though Hornibrook was injured versus Minnesota and subsequently missed the Big 10 Championship game. Many pundits lament the two quarterback system, but these two actually worked pretty well though they were far from game changers.

We noted that on the midseason report card that Hornibrook had looked like the better of the two quarterbacks after five games. By the end of the season it was far more even as Houston gained confidence and was more efficient. Houston finished the year with 1,245 yards (68.1%) with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. After being benched versus Georgia State and not playing the next three games, Houston threw 70 passes and completing 52 of those (74%) for 718 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 pick.

Hornibrook finished the season with 1,262 yards (58.6%) with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In the Badgers’ final eight games, he went 52 of 85 (61%) with 4 touchdowns against 1 interception (remember he missed the Big 10 Championship). He has some things to work on like his reads, throwing the ball into coverage, etc., but he has a bright future as long as he continues to improve.

Final Grade: C+

Running Backs

Midseason Grade: B

It is not hard to see how the running game changed over the Badgers’ season. Over the first five games Wisconsin averaged 161.6 yards per game on the ground. In the final 9 games the Badgers averaged 226.1 yards rushing per game. Corey Clement easily led the team in rushing with 1,375 yards (4.4 yards per carry) with 15 touchdowns. In addition, the final 9 games saw Clement have at least 100 yard performances 7 times.

Dare Ogunbowale had a few big games against Nebraska (120 yards and a touchdown) and Illinois (103 yards) to finish with 506 yards (5.6 YPC) and five touchdowns. He also played a big role in the passing game with 24 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown, but it felt like he was a go to receiver on third down for much of the year.

Both Clement and Ogunbowale are seniors, which means that freshman Bradrick Shaw could feature prominently in the future. He had 457 yards and 5 touchdowns on 88 carries (5.2 YPC). He did have some fumble issues, but his strength, power, and quickness could make for a scary sight in the next few seasons. He could be in a backfield with Taiwan Deal (164 yards rushing) and Pittsburgh transfer Chris James (690 yards rushing in two seasons) in 2017.

Wide receiver Jazz Peavy had a big impact in the rushing game as well. He was used almost exclusively on the end around to finish the season with 318 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 21 carries (15.1 YPC). He came up big throughout the season when called upon and he could see a familiar role in 2017.

Final Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

Midseason Grade: B-

As with any run-heavy Badger offense, the wide receivers are not likely to put up big numbers. There were some stars that emerged in Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli. Peavy finished as the leading receiver with 43 catches for 635 yards and 5 touchdowns (along with the aforementioned rushing impact). Fumagalli had 47 catches for 580 yards and 2 touchdowns, but bookended his season with very good performances against LSU (7 catches for 100 yards) and Western Michigan (6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown). Both players are juniors and if either of them leave for the NFL, that would create a big void in the passing attack.

Ogunbowale was instrumental in the passing game, but he will move on as a senior. Robert Wheelwright caught 34 passes for 448 yards and 1 touchdown, but is a senior. George Rushing had just 12 catches for 136 yards and was spotty throughout the season. With more consistency he could be a possible #2 opposite of Peavy, but he has a ways to go to fill that void.

Three freshmen who saw some playing time in 2016 and worth keeping an eye on in their development were Kyle Penniston (6 catches for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns), Quintez Cephus (135 total offensive yards), and A.J. Taylor (72 total offensive yards).

Final Grade: B-

Offensive Line

Midseason Grade: C+

The offensive line had a slow start this season. Injuries and new quarterbacks hurt them. It took until after the Michigan game for the line to assert itself. The first five games saw the Badgers average just 3.8 yards per carry while that number shot up to 4.6 yards per carry over the final nine games. For the season, the Badgers averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which was better than 2015’s number of 3.8, but still less than the lowest output between 2009 and 2014 of 4.6. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk was named as a first team All-American. Ramczyk will move on to the NFL creating a massive void to refill.

The offensive line had allowed 8 sacks in the first five games, but gave up another 16 the final 9 games to make it 24 on the season. To be fair, the sacks are not always the fault of the line and both Houston and Hornibrook had a tendency to hold on to the ball too long from time to time. In 2015, the Badgers allowed 23 sacks. The offensive line did make good progress over the course of the season particularly in the running game.

Final Grade: B

Overall Offensive Grade

Midseason Grade: C+

There was a clear change in the offense between the Michigan and Ohio State games. It is worth mentioning that between those games was the Wisconsin bye week, which probably allowed them to re-focus the offense. The running game came alive after the bye week while Houston looked more efficient. The Badgers averaged 28.4 points, 382.1 yards, 203.1 rushing yards, and 179.1 passing yards per game. The total yardage was similar to 2015 (378.6 per game), but the emphasis was more on the run (150.3 yards rushing per game), which was not surprising given a new quarterback.

The offense will need to work on being far more efficient in the red zone. They had 58 red zone trips and converted 49 of those into points (84.4%), which ranked 63rd in the country. However, only 37 of those trips resulted in a touchdown (63.8%). This is a big area of improvement for the Badgers in 2017.

Final Grade: B

Defensive Line/Linebackers

Midseason Grade: A+

The linebackers had a great year in 2016 led by the T.J. duo. T.J. Watt led the team in sacks (11.5) and tackles-for-loss (15.5). His partner T.J. Edwards led the team in total tackles with 89 while also recording 3 sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-loss. Jack Cichy was on his way to a stellar year after 7 games before a torn pectoral ruled him out the rest of the season. Cichy recorded 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Ryan Connelly (59 tackles and 7 TFL), Garret Dooley (40 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 TFL), and Vince Biegel (44 tackles, 4 sacks, and 6 TFL) were big contributors to an incredible linebacker group.

Only Biegel is a senior though Watt (a second team All-American) or Edwards could bolt for the NFL after stellar campaigns. Chris Orr will also return after missing 2016 with a torn ACL.

Defensive ends Connor Sheehy and Alec James, both juniors, had similar seasons on the stat line. Sheehy had 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4 tackles-for-loss while James finished with 23 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Also returning on the defensive line are Chikwe Obasih (31 career starts along with 22 tackles in 2016), and Olive Sagapolu (14 tackles and 1 sack).

The possibility of everyone outside of Biegel returning is tantalizing, but the NFL is a loud call this time of year. Still, the front seven should be a deep and talented group for the Badgers next season.

Final Grade: A+

Defensive Backs

Midseason Grade: A-

One clear area of regression as the season went on was in the secondary. Perhaps the Georgia State game was a sign of things to come for the final few games, particularly the Big 10 Championship. The Panthers were able to put up 269 yards through the air that day and a few other teams had some success as well. Northwestern threw for 277 (they played from behind the whole game), Purdue had going deep, and then Penn State gashed the back four with ease in the second half.

Sojourn Shelton had 4 picks and 12 pass breakups (most on the team) while Leo Musso recorded 74 tackles and 5 interceptions (led the team). Derrick Tindal had 3 picks and 11 pass breakups and Lubern Figaro finished with 7 pass breakups.

Tindall and Figaro will both be seniors in 2017 as will D’Cota Dixon (60 tackles and 4 interceptions) and Natrell Jamerson (mainly a return guy, but he did have 19 tackles and 4 pass breakups). Those four, along with others, will need to step up to replace Shelton and Musso. This group faltered down the stretch and in the pivotal second half of the Big 10 Championship Game versus Penn State. Look out to see if the secondary plays with a chip on their shoulder in the next year after how they finished the season.

Final Grade: B

Overall Defensive Grade

Midseason Grade: A

The defense did play very well for most of the season. The secondary had documented struggles, but they did play well for stretches of the season. The linebackers led the way for this side of the ball and there were some stars we hope return in 2017 to make this another top defense in the nation.

Final Grade: A-

Special Teams Grade

Midseason Grade: B

The loss of Rafael Gaglianone in late September really hurt then, but after seeing the season play out, that is even more evident now. Gaglianone went 7 of 8 on his field goals and was a perfect 10 for 10 on extra points. Andrew Endicott replaced him and from the start was uneasy. He finished the season 13 of 19 with a long of 46 yards. He made 35 of 37 extra points, but even a few of those were barely inside the uprights. Gaglianone will be back in 2017, which will be a boost to the kicking game.

The punting game left some room for improvement. Anthony Lotti averaged 37.7 yards per punt and put 25 punts inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, but he had a few games where he struggled (see the Michigan game). P.J. Rosowski averaged 36.7 yards per punt and also handled kickoff duties. He had 79 kickoffs with 51 touchbacks and just one kick go out of bounds. Lotti was only a freshman in 2016 so he will have a few seasons left as Badgers to get better.

Natrell Jamerson had 12 kick returns for an average of 21.1 yards per return while Dare Ogunbowale had 10 returns for an average of 21.3 yards per return. Jamerson had a long of 39 and Ogunbowale had a long of 41 and neither had a touchdown. Jazz Peavy returned punts for the Badgers and averaged a paltry 5.8 yards per return on 17 returns. The Badgers can afford to work on the return game going into the 2017 season.

Final Grade: C+

Overall Team Grade

Midseason Grade: B+

2016 was a very good year for the Wisconsin Badgers. Expectations were subdued with the loss of Joel Stave, Alex Erickson, Michael Caputo, and Tanner McEvoy among others. A new starting quarterback turned into two new starters at that position and both players handled it well.

The running game got off to a slow start, but turned it on after the bye week. In turn, the quarterbacks performed more efficiently and the team was able to shake off back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State to claim the Big 10 West. The defense had breakout stars in T.J. Watt and T.J. Edwards under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox while Corey Clement remained healthy to have a solid season.

Overall, it is hard to argue with the results produced by the Badgers. Many (including this author) thought 10 wins were out of the question, but the Badgers did one better than that and won their first Cotton Bowl.

Final Grade: A

James Madison Cruises To 2017 FCS National Title

James Madison claimed their second FCS National Championship in school history. (Photo Courtesy of JMU via Twitter).

James Madison Cruises To 2017 FCS National Title

The James Madison Dukes won their second FCS National Championship in school history after defeating the Youngstown State Penguins 28-14. The Dukes used an impressive defensive performance in which they recorded 5 sacks, forced 3 turnovers, and held the Penguins to 21 yards rushing on 31 carries.

The Dukes were playing without star linebacker Brandon Hereford due to suspension and then lost fellow linebackers Dimitri Holloway and David Ezeagwu midway through the first quarter. That makes their performance even more impressive.

The Dukes were able to get going with their special teams blocking a punt to give them a short field. Two plays later, Bryan Schor hit Jonathan Kloosterman for a 14 yard score and a 7-0 James Madison lead. The Penguins had a poor punt on their next drive and the Dukes made them pay again with Schor hitting Rashard Davis for an 18 yard touchdown on a controversial call.

Trailing 14-0, Youngstown State had a decent drive going that resulted in a 45 yard field goal attempt, but the kick never got off as the snap was fumbled. Two drives later, James Madison got big back-to-back pass plays from Schor to Davis (33 yards) and Domo Taylor (31 yards). The drive resulted in Khalid Abdullah punching it in for a 21-0 lead.

The Penguins did get a late first half score thanks in large part to a partially blocked punt that set up Hunter Wells hitting Shane Kuhn for a 17 yard touchdown. That made it 21-7 at halftime with the Dukes holding a commanding yardage edge of 208-88 after 30 minutes.

The Penguins started the second half with the ball, but a fluke interception (video below) gave the ball back to James Madison.

YSU committed two defensive pass interference penalties on the drive and Abdullah ran it in from 2 yards out to extend the lead to 28-7. The Penguins mounted another solid drive, but a snap over the head of Nathan Mays was recovered by JMU’s Darrious Carter. The Penguins next drive required a fourth and 12 conversion, but the potential touchdown was broken up and the Dukes took over.

James Madison controlled the contest for the remainder of the game with Youngstown State scoring a garbage time touchdown. Wells found Jermiah Braswell for a 7 yard score to close the game out 28-14.

The Penguins were led by Wells who threw for 271 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception, but he was harassed for most of the game. Jody Webb had 41 yards rushing on 17 carries to go with 10 catches for 63 yards while Alvin Bailey finished with 7 receptions for 68 yards.

It was not a spectacular offensive performance from the Dukes, but it did not have to be. They were efficient with Schor going 7 of 12 passing for 112 yards with 2 touchdowns and no picks along with 36 yards on the ground. Abdullah, who was named Most Outstanding Player, had 101 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing on 26 carries. The Dukes committed no turnovers.

James Madison won their first title back in 2004 when they defeated Montana 31-21 with Mickey Matthews as head coach. This time it was Mike Houston in his first season leading the Dukes to a national title and a 14-1 overall record for the 2016 season.