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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.

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West's Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)
Brett Rypien (#14 above) and the Boise State Broncos have a big clash against the Wyoming Cowboys in Week 9. The winner of this game will be in control of the Mountain West’s Mountain Division. (Loren Orr/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

We are entering the final weekend in October and there are some huge games on the horizon this week and beyond. For week nine the big games are #10 West Virginia at Oklahoma State, #14 Florida at Georgia, #4 Washington at #17 Utah, #7 Nebraska at #11 Wisconsin, and #3 Clemson at #12 Florida State.

We will focus on games that may not appear to offer much at first glance. These games might not have a national impact, but they could affect a team’s bowl chances or a conference title race. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Appalachian State at Georgia Southern (10/27 at 7:30 PM) –  This is a massive game for both teams as well as the Sun Belt title picture. Appalachian State sits at 5-2 overall and 3-0 in conference while Georgia Southern is 4-3 overall, but 3-1 in the Sun Belt.

Georgia Southern started the year 3-0 before three straight losses including a 27-26 loss to Arkansas State on the road. They rebounded to defeat New Mexico State last week 22-19 in what was their fourth straight road game.

Appalachian State had that excellent defensive game versus Tennessee to start the season and have only had one stumble and one hiccup since then. They were crushed at home by Miami (FL) 45-10 and played a thrilling 45-38  game at Akron, which they won. Their defense will have a test against the Georgia Southern triple option.

Both teams still have to face fellow Sun Belt contender Troy later this year. Appalachian State travels to play them on 11/12 while Georgia Southern faces them at home on 12/3. This game could make the Appalachian State-Troy game the Sun Belt decider if Georgia Southern cannot get the win.

2. Connecticut at East Carolina (10/29 at 12 PM) – This game will probably determine which team finishes at the bottom of the AAC East. Currently, Connecticut is at 1-4 in AAC play and East Carolina is 0-3.

Connecticut has been a tough customer this year in almost every game. However, they only have a 3-5 record to show for it with five of their games determined 8 points or less (2-3 record). East Carolina has not been so tough with just a 2-5 record overall and five straight losses. Only the loss at South Carolina (20-15) has been less than a touchdown with the other four losses all by 12 points or more.

This game also has potential bowl implications. A win for Connecticut would still keep their hopes alive with three difficult, but winnable games to end the season. A win for East Carolina would keep their bowl hopes alive, but still leave them a lot of work to do with Tulsa, SMU, Navy, and Temple to end the season. A loss for either team leaves zero margin for error the rest of the season.

3. Duke at Georgia Tech (10/29 at 12 PM) – Neither of these two squads will win the ACC Coastal, but they both have legitimate hopes for reaching a bowl game. And both teams need to win this game when looking at their final four games.

Let’s start with Duke’s final five games: Georgia Tech (away), Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Pittsburgh (away), and Miami (FL) (away). For Georgia Tech it is Duke, North Carolina (away), Virginia Tech (away), Virginia, and Georgia (away).

With Duke currently at 3-4, this win would put them at .500 and the Blue Devils would need two wins. Given their last four games, they would have to be two upsets, which are possible with this team, but would also be a very tall order. Georgia Tech would move to 5-3 with a win and they would need one win to reach a bowl game with Virginia their best chance to win.

4. Kentucky at Missouri (10/29 at 12 PM) – Here is a contest that could elicit quite a bit of offense. Missouri’s decent start to the season has completely dissipated with the defense giving up 44.3 points and 580 yards per game over their last three games. Kentucky’s offense put up 554 yards on Mississippi State in their 40-38 win last week.

Kentucky is in much better shape to make a bowl game with their 4-3 record. After Missouri, they will face Georgia, Tennessee (away), FCS Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). A win here and they are very likely to hit 6 wins this year at minimum. Missouri needs a lot of help sitting at 2-5, but a win here helps somewhat. They finish with South Carolina (away), Vanderbilt, Tennessee (away), and Arkansas.

5. Army at Wake Forest (10/29 at 3:30 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications. Army started 2016 quite well going 3-0 before losing back-to-back games on the road to Buffalo and Duke by a combined 10 points. They crushed Lafayette before last week’s blowout loss to North Texas at home 35-18. At 4-3 there are plenty of chances let for this team to get to 6 or 7 wins and this could be a game they can steal.

Wake Forest has been a surprise team this year and are currently at 5-2. Their losses have been to North Carolina State and Florida State on the road, but this defense has been good. Their hands will be full as their defense allows 119.3 rushing yards per game and will face Army’s top ranked rushing attack that averages 366.8 yards per game.

Army finishes the season with the trio of Air Force, Notre Dame, and Morgan State at home before the finale against Navy. If Army can steal a win here, they will be in solid shape. On the flip side, a win here for Wake Forest will put them in their first bowl game since 2011 when they lost the Music City Bowl to Mississippi State 23-17.

6. SMU at Tulane (10/29 at 4 PM) – Here is another potential basement battle (in the AAC West), but both teams still have a shot at making a bowl game despite identical 3-4 records.

SMU is coming off their blowout win at home over #11 Houston 38-16 and a close loss the week before on the road at Tulsa (43-40). SMU will be facing Memphis, East Carolina (away), South Florida, and Navy to end the season so a win against Tulane would still require an upset or two in order to become bowl eligible.

Tulane has lost two in a row against Memphis (24-14 at home) and Tulsa last week (50-27). Their final four games are Central Florida (away), Houston (away), Temple, and Connecticut (away). A win here and they would have a decent chance of beating both Central Florida and Connecticut to become bowl eligible, but those are both away games.

7. Boise State at Wyoming (10/29 at 7 PM) – The Mountain West’s Mountain division title could be on the line here. Both Boise State and Wyoming sit at 3-0 in conference play though a win could be far more important for the Broncos.

Boise State is 7-0 overall, but their last two games have not been easy. Two weeks ago they led Colorado State 28-3 with 5 minutes left in the game and held on for a 28-23 win. Last week’s game against BYU saw the Broncos commit 5 turnovers including two interceptions returned for touchdowns, but a fourth quarter rally and strong defense in the final 15 minutes saw them eke out a 28-27 win.

Wyoming is currently 5-2 overall and there is a distinct pattern to their wins: they score a lot of points. In each of their 5 victories they have put up at least 35 points while in their two losses they have averaged just 20.5 points. They may have to score 35 or more points if they want to win this game and take control of the Mountain Division.

A win here for Boise State would likely wrap up the division for them with four games to play. The Broncos face San José State, Hawaii (away), UNLV, and Air Force (away) in the final four games and it is difficult to see them losing more than one game, if they even lose any at all. The Broncos can still overcome a loss but would need help from Wyoming’s final four opponents: Utah State, UNLV (away), San Diego State, and New Mexico (away). That is possible, but the Broncos have their sights set on a possible big bowl game and they can only do that by winning out.

8. Middle Tennessee at Florida International (7 PM) – Both of these squads are part of the wide open C-USA East division race. Middle Tennessee stepped out of conference play to defeat the SEC East’s Missouri Tigers. Florida International lost their first conference game last week to Louisiana Tech at home 44-24.

Middle Tennessee looks like the better team on paper, but that is not where games are played. Their two losses are to Vanderbilt on the road (47-24) and Western Kentucky at home in double overtime (44-43). That loss to WKU has already put them a bit behind the Hilltoppers and MTSU still has to play UT-San Antonio, Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic. The UTSA game is clearly the most difficult, but they cannot overlook their road games.

FIU started 0-4 before winning three straight against Florida Atlantic, UTEP, and Charlotte. As previously mentioned, they lost to Louisiana Tech and the competition becomes harder with MTSU this week followed by Western Kentucky (away), Marshall, and Old Dominion (away) to end the season. FIU still has a chance to win this division, but it will not be easy and they must win this game.

Check back next week for the week ten edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 4

P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan had a great start to the 2016 season. Will it continue in week four against Georgia Southern? ( Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)
P.J. Fleck and Western Michigan had a great start to the 2016 season. Will it continue in week four against Georgia Southern? ( Michael Hickey/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 4

Week four of the college football season will see some non-conference games drop off and big conference tilts become the focus. The big games this week are #12 Georgia at #23 Ole Miss, #11 Wisconsin at #8 Michigan State, #19 Florida at #14 Tennessee, Oklahoma State at #16 Baylor, and #17 Arkansas at #10 Texas A&M.

We like to focus on the games off the national radar keeping an eye on both this week and possibly down the road with their impact on the season. Let’s take a look at some of the under the radar games for week four. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.

1. Central Michigan at Virginia (9/24 at 12:30 PM EST) – Normally there is not much to a 3-0 versus 0-3 matchup, but this would be another big win for Central Michigan and the MAC if it happens. The MAC already owns wins over two Big 12 opponents (CMU over Oklahoma State and Ohio over Kansas) as well as two wins over Big 10 opponents (Western Michigan over both Northwestern and Illinois). A fifth win over a Power 5 opponent would be great for the MAC. The Chips are 3-0 thanks to wins over Presbyterian, Oklahoma State, and UNLV.

Virginia is 0-3 with losses to Richmond at home along with Oregon and Connecticut on the road. This is their last game before opening ACC play in October and the last eight games do not offer many apparent wins. Can Central Michigan keep their great start going against another power five team?

2. Syracuse at Connecticut (9/24 at 1 PM EST) – Is this game getting confused for the hardwood? Nope, but this matchup would be great to see on an annual basis in basketball. The Orange were on this list last week to see how they would handle South Florida after getting trounced 62-28 against Louisville. The answer: Great for 15 minutes, terrible that last 45. Syracuse led 17-0 after the first quarter and lost 45-20.

Connecticut likes to keep their games close (no game decided by more than 4 points), but are still 2-1 on the year. This test will be interesting because the Syracuse offense has shown explosiveness averaging over 500 yards per game. Unfortunately, the defense has nearly yielded that same amount (481 per contest thus far). The Huskies’ defense gives up 355 yards a game while the offense puts up 310.3 yards per game. Both teams need this win if they want to have a hope of making a bowl game this season.

3. Appalachian State at Akron (9/24 at 3:30 PM EST) – Appalachian State (1-2) started with that great defensive effort against Tennessee in the 20-13 overtime loss, but were blitzed last week in a 45-10 loss at home to Miami (FL). Akron is 2-1, but what really put them on this list was their 65-38 win over Marshall last week. The Zips trailed 21-7 after 15 minutes, but a 34 point outburst by the offense in the second quarter made it 41-21 at half.

Prior to the 2015 season, Akron had not been competitive in the MAC since their 2005 Championship winning year. This game, against what is expected to be a solid defense, is a great test going into conference schedule. For Appalachian State, this game is a chance to get their confidence back and possibly prepare for some of the passing offenses they will see in the Sun Belt.

4. Wake Forest at Indiana (9/24 at 3:30 PM EST) – How many people had these two teams coming into this contest undefeated? Wake Forest is 3-0 and they have played solid defense giving up just 12.7 points per game. Indiana is 2-0 and they too appear to have gotten better on defense (16.5 points per game). Not many will probably think much of this undefeated matchup given the teams, but there are implications.

Let’s look at what a win would mean for each team. Wake Forest would be 4-0 with games left against Army, Virginia, and Boston College all at home. A win for Indiana would make them 3-0 with games against Northwestern (away), Maryland (home), Rutgers (away), and Purdue (home). Will Wake Forest be able to score enough points and hold Indiana’s offense in check?

5. Colorado at Oregon (9/24 at 5:30 PM EST) – Colorado opened the season with two blowout wins against Colorado State and Idaho State. They had an amazing start to their game at Michigan taking a 21-7 lead after the opening quarter. The Buffaloes did take a 28-24 lead very early in the third quarter on Sefo Liufau’s 70 yard pass to Shay Fields, but it was all Michigan after that in the 45-28 loss.

Oregon started with two wins against UC Davis and Virginia at home before a road contest against Nebraska. They lost 35-32 despite playing without Royce Freeman for most of the contest and going 1 of 5 on their two point conversion attempts. The defense has looked suspect in the first three weeks of the season as well.

If Colorado has Sefo Liufau for this game and Oregon is missing Royce Freeman it could be a close game. If the reverse is true, then this may not be a game to keep an eye. As of this writing, Liufau will be a game-time decision while Freeman’s participation is up in the air.

6. Georgia Southern at Western Michigan (9/24 at 7 PM EST) – Two top mid-major teams in 2016 collide here with both teams at 3-0. Georgia Southern has a perfect record on the heels of their defense, which has allowed only 10 points per game this season. They needed a late field goal block to defeat Louisiana-Monroe to get the win.

Western Michigan is undefeated with two victories over Big 10 opponents Northwestern and Illinois on the road. They did not have much trouble with the Illini as they went out to a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and cruised from there.

This will be a fun game to watch two really good mid-major teams. Western Michigan is a longshot to make one of the big bowl games, but they need to win all of their games to even be considered.

Check back next week for the week five edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Five Predictions For The American Athletic Conference In 2016

SMU head coach Chad Morris (right) talks with TCU head coach Gary Patterson. Morris has SMU going the right way. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images North America)
SMU head coach Chad Morris (right) talks with TCU head coach Gary Patterson. Morris has SMU going the right way. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For The American Athletic Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for American Athletic Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the American Athletic Conference as the twelve teams remain the same. The East division is composed of Central Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, East Carolina, South Florida, and Temple. The West division is made up of Houston, Memphis, Navy, SMU, Tulane, and Tulsa.

Here are five predictions for the American Athletic Conference in 2016:

1. SMU will win at least four games in 2016 – The Mustangs were hit hard in 2014 when they tumbled to 1-11 while losing June Jones early in the season as he left the programChad Morris came in for 2015 and he worked wonders with an offense that put up only 11.1 points and 269 yards per game in 2014. Last year, the offense went up to 27.8 points and 383 yards per contest. There are nine starters back from that side of the ball and there is no reason that the offense cannot continue the upward trend.

The defense needs a lot of work as they gave up 45.7 points and 502 yards per game last year. They have seven starters back, but the second year of schemes should improve those numbers. SMU will face the duo of North Texas and Liberty in the first three weeks. They also have toss-up games (but still winnable) against Tulane, Tulsa, and East Carolina with all three of those on the road. Any type of improvement on defense in 2016 should result in more than two wins for the Mustangs.

2. South Florida will win the East Division – This will not be an easy task for USF, but they can certainly do it. They have seven starters back on both offense and defense that saw solid gains from 2014 to 2015. The offense went from 17.2 points and 305 yards per game to 33.6 and 442 in 2015. The defense went from 27 points and 403 yards per game in 2014 to 22.9 and 380 yards in 2015. Both sides of the ball will be tested early in the season as the Bulls face Northern Illinois at home, Syracuse on the road, and Florida State at home in weeks two through four.

In conference, they also have a tough schedule as they will play Cincinnati, Temple, and Memphis all on the road. The return of their dual quarterback Quinton Flowers (2,296 yards passing and 991 yards rushing), running back Marlon Mack (1,381 yards and 8 touchdowns), the top receiver Rodney Adams (45 catches for 822 yards and 9 touchdowns), and five of their top 6 tacklers from 2015 will help navigate the team through their tough schedule.

3. Houston will win the West Division and Conference title – This is not going out on much of a limb. The Cougars exploded last year under the first year of Tom Herman’s offensive schemes to the tune of 40.4 points and 484 yards per game. The defense was just as impressive giving up 20.7 points and 384 yards per game. In 2016, the offense returns six starters including Greg Ward at quarterback, which is good news because he led the team in rushing with 1,108 yards and 21 touchdowns.

The defense will have five starters back and the biggest concern has to be the back five in this nickel scheme. There is only one starter returning from the secondary that allowed 275 yards passing per game and 55.6% completions. Luckily, the front six allowed just 109 yards per game and four starters are back.

Houston will have to contend with games on the road against Cincinnati, Navy, and Memphis a year after being the duo of Cincinnati and Memphis by a total of four points at home. It will not be easy to repeat, but this Houston team looks very capable of having another excellent season.

4. Connecticut will have winning season – The Huskies have quite a bit going for them in 2016. They will be in year three of Bob Diaco’s tenure, have ten starters returning on offense, six starters back on defense, and a very manageable schedule. The defense improved dramatically from 2014 to 2015. They allowed 29.8 points and 379 yards in 2014 and then 19.5 points and 355 yards in 2015. The six starters returning this year are joined by the talented Florida State transfer EJ Levenberry at linebacker.

The offense made a tiny improvement from 15.5 points and 276 yards per game in 2014 to 17.2 points and 310 yards in 2015. The team managed to improve to the record from 2-10 to 6-7 (including a bowl loss to Marshall). The offense will have to continue to improve in 2016, but having 10 starters back and the third year of recruits leaves no room for excuses.

The schedule is ripe for the Huskies to have their first winning season since 2010. They open with Maine, but also face ACC opponents Virginia, Syracuse, and Boston College through the season all of whom finished 4-8 or worse. In conference, they have games against Central Florida, East Carolina, and Tulane that are winnable. They face Navy, Houston, Cincinnati, South Florida, and Temple, but the defense should be solid enough to keep them in most games and an upset or two is definitely plausible (see their 20-17 win over Houston last year).

5. The Three “T” teams (Tulsa, Tulane, and Temple) will win at least 20 games combined – The idea that each team has to win at least 7 games (including bowls) seems pretty straight forward, but Tulsa and Tulane both play in the very strong West division. Tulsa will be in their second year under Philip Montgomery with seven starters back on offense and defense. Tulane went 3-9 in 2015, but now have a new head coach in Willie Fritz and he is changing offensive schemes (check out his Sam Houston State teams from 2010 through 2013). The defense for Tulane will be solid with eight starters back, but the offensive change is worrisome in regards to the win column.

Temple is the best of these three teams and went 10-4 last year, but had 19 starters back. There will be six starters back on both offense and defense including quarterback PJ Walker an running back Jahad Thomas. The defense will be very solid again under Matt Rhule and they have an easy schedule to open the season outside of Penn State on the road (they did win against the Nittany Lions at home in 2015) with Army, Stony Brook, and Charlotte all at home. 9 wins are probably needed by Temple to be correct. They have the defense to do it. This one will be close especially if Tulsa (or Temple) under-performs.

The Prediction Schedule

With the AAC predictions above, there are now predictions for five conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

The Good And Bad From The Opening Round Of March Madness 2016

Bronson Koenig's buzzer beating three pointer defeated Xavier to cap an incredible opening four days of the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

The Good And Bad From The Opening Round Of March Madness 2016

The 2016 version of March Madness has been just that: Madness. Brackets were busted early and then completely blown up by the end of the first round. For as much fun as the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament has been, there have been some bad parts of it as well. Below we will take a look at the good and bad from the first four days of the 2016 NCAA Basketball Tournament

The Good

  1. Upsets Galore – #15 Middle Tennessee defeated one of the National Title favorites and #2 seed Michigan State in the first round. Double digit seeds won left and right (#13 Hawaii over #4 Cal, #11 Wichita State over #6 Arizona, #12 Yale over #5 Baylor, #11 Northern Iowa over #6 Texas, #10 VCU over #7 Oregon State, #10 Syracuse over #7 Dayton, #11 Gonzaga over #6 Seton Hall, #12 Arkansas-Little Rock over #5 Purdue, and #14 Stephen F. Austin over #3 West Virginia). That all made for some great action, particularly on Friday.
  2. The ACC – The Atlantic Coast Conference has put a record 6 teams through to the Sweet 16 (Miami (FL), North Carolina, Notre Dame, Duke, Syracuse, and Virginia). That is incredible to have 38% of the remaining field, but it also came down to some favorable matchups like Syracuse against Middle Tennessee. However, that is no fault of the ACC as their teams delivered.
  3. “Mid-Majors” – This was a good tournament for the upsets (see above), but the “Mid-Majors” got plenty of support in close games and some great stories. Stephen F. Austin got 33 points from Thomas Walkup, who played incredibly against West Virginia and had a solid game against Notre Dame. Yale won their first ever Tournament game against Baylor. Hawaii defeated Cal. Northern Iowa captivated the nation not once, but twice against teams from the state of Texas. First it was Texas and this buzzer beater, but then it was their collapse against Texas A&M. Saint Joseph’s played a great second round game against top seeded Oregon. Finally, Middle Tennessee going toe-to-toe with Michigan State was easily the biggest story of the first round. Mid-Majors should not be discounted in the future when picking brackets.
  4. The #1 Seeds – The top four seeds in the Tournament all looked good on the first weekend, but also faced some competition at times. Kansas took a big lead against UConn before that dwindled, but the Jayhawks fended off that challenge. North Carolina had a close first half against Florida Gulf Coast and Providence, but dominated the second half of those games to pull away. Virginia and Oregon had tough second round games against Butler and Saint Joseph’s, respectively. However, they were able to get through those games and move to the Sweet 16. The top seeds look mighty tough, but this is March Madness afterall and we have seen that anything is possible.

The Bad

  1. Brackets – Michigan State was picked to win a lot of brackets and their upset loss ended any hopes of a prefect bracket on CBS Sports. The Spartans’ loss did other damage to Final Four picks as well according to CBS Sports. Here is my 2017 New Year’s Resolution: Do not fill out a bracket.
  2. The Referees – The inconsistency of the officials calling the Tournament made it frustrating to watch at times. Between Duke and UNC-Wilmington, the referees called every soft foul imaginable while other games would let them play. Constant foul calling stems the flow of the game for TV viewers, but how frustrating must that be for a player on the floor? One thing that needs to be looked at is how much contact to allow. It does come down to each referee, but how can one game have a foul called 80 feet from the basket for putting a hand on a player’s hip and another not call a push off?
  3. Game Management – You can call this the Northern Iowa Special. The Panthers blew a 12 point lead with 35 seconds left in the game and then lost in double overtime to Texas A&M. They are not the only team to make questionable calls though. Xavier was up three in the final 10 seconds, but opted not to foul the Badgers’ shooters. Wisconsin subsequently tied the game and then Bronson Koenig hit a three at the buzzer to end Xavier’s season. Purdue deserves mention as well for letting Little Rock comeback late in the game and losing in double OT. There was also near comebacks by Wichita State (trailed 27-6 to Miami) and Yale (down as much as 27 to Duke), but those two were not able to complete the miracle comebacks.
  4. Seeding/Selection Committee – The NCAA Basketball Selection Committee did a bad job selecting teams last Sunday. It turns out they did a bad job of seeding the teams as well. Stephen F. Austin deserved better than a 14 seed as did Middle Tennessee at 15. And this was before the games were played. It is easy to pile on the Committee after the fact, but some of the seeding was questionable beforehand. In addition, the scheduling for Wichita State was brutal. The Shockers had a late game on Tuesday, late game on Thursday, and an early game on Saturday, which may have contributed to them starting as flat as they did.
  5. Wisconsin versus Pittsburgh – This was about as ugly a game to watch in recent tournament memory. The Badgers won 47-43 after scoring only 16 points in the first half. The teams combined to go 35 of 101 from the field and 7 of 30 from beyond the arc. The 90 total points were the fewest since 2000 in the NCAA Tournament. The game was wretched, but Badger fans felt greatest about the result and were lifted in the second round too.

Let’s hope the final two weekends give us as much entertainment as the first weekend provided.

2015 College Football Preview: AAC East

Tommy Tuberville has finish third and first in his first two years with Cincinnati. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)
Tommy Tuberville has finish third and first in his first two years with Cincinnati. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: AAC East

Part seven of the Sports Enthusiasts’ College Football Preview delves into The American with a specific look at the East Division. Below is a schedule of the 2015 College Football Preview.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

Sun Belt – July 28

FBS Independents – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at the AAC’s East Division.

1. Temple Owls

It has been a wild ride for the Temple football program. They have gone from the Big East in 2004 to Independent status in 2005 to the MAC from 2007 through 2011. They then went back to the Big East for the 2012 season before the name change to The American beginning in 2013. Matt Rhule is in his third season and led Temple to a 2-10 record in 2013 before improving them to 6-6 last year.

2015 will easily be Rhule’s most experienced team. He has nine starters back on offense and the biggest loss was top wide receiver Jalen Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick had 53 catches for 730 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2014. Quarterback PJ Walker returns after putting up 2,317 yards with 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last year. Walker was more inconsistent last year than in 2013 and he will need to develop some receivers to have a better season. Running back Jahad Thomas ran for 384 yards as the top rusher in 2014, which will need to be improved upon drastically. He could be replaced by freshman TJ Simmons or sophomore Zaire Williams. With all five starters back on the offensive line, there should be no reason the offense cannot produce the highest output under Rhule.

In 2014, the defense made the biggest strides under Rhule. They gave up 17.5 points and 347 yards per game last year after giving up 29.8 points and 474 yards in 2013. 2015 could be even better with 10 starters back. There is not much to say about the defense other than their only loss was at strong safety, but the replacement, Will Hayes, started seven games in 2014 at three different positions. Linebacker Tyler Matakevich was easily the team’s leading tackler after recording 117 stops, 1.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups, and an interception. The defense will be excellent again in 2015.

Temple opens the season with a home game against Penn State (Rhule’s alma mater) before back-to-back road games against Cincinnati and Massachusetts. They face Charlotte on the road after a bye week and also have Notre Dame coming to town on Halloween to complete their non-conference schedule. They have to play Memphis from the West, but get them at home and also get SMU (road) and Tulane (home) from the West Division. As for the East opponents, they will face Cincinnati and East Carolina on the road while facing Central Florida at home. It is weird to say this, but Temple looks like the team to beat in the East with their defense.

2. Central Florida Knights

George O’Leary has been magnificent at Central Florida including leading the Knights to the 2013 Fiesta Bowl victory over Baylor. 2014 was a step back for UCF, but 2015 could go either way.

The offense returns five starters, but the big losses were at wide receiver where the top four from 2014 are gone. The biggest loss is Breshad Perriman after his 50 catches for 1,044 yards and 9 touchdowns. UCF does return quarterback Justin Holman and he threw for 2,952 yards with 23 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Also returning are running backs William Stanback (697 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Dontravious Wilson (347 yards and 3 touchdowns). Three linemen also return and the offense could do well this year if a few receivers are developed.

The defense has only four starters back in 2015 after giving up 19.2 points and 299 yards per game last year. The strength this year will be on the defensive line with three starters returning after giving up only 104 yards rushing and 3.2 yards per carry in 2014. Thomas Niles will be one of the ends after recording 49 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss last year. They will need to be solid because the back seven return only one starter in linebacker Chequan Burkett. He recorded 40 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss last year. The secondary losses 148 career starts as well as all four starters, which is going to hurt the Knights. It will be tough to produce the same overall numbers in 2015 as they did in 2014.

Central Florida opens with Florida International (home), Stanford (road), Furman (home), and South Carolina (road) to start the season before beginning AAC play. From the West, they will play Tulane and Tulsa on the road while getting Houston at home. In division play, they will have Temple and Cincinnati at home and play East Carolina at home. O’Leary has stout defenses even when there are not a lot of starters returning (i.e. 2011 with 4 starters returning UCF allowed 18.3 points and 303 yards per game). That makes UCF dangerous to contend for the division title.

3. Cincinnati Bearcats

Tommy Tuberville left Texas Tech after the 2012 season to come to Cincinnati. 2015 will be his third year and he has led the Bearcats to a record of 9-4 in each of this first two seasons. 2015 is also a season of change for The American Conference, as they are now divided into two divisions. How will Tuberville do in the inaugural season of the East?

On offense, there are eight starter back this year led by quarterback Gunner Kiel. Kiel threw for 3,254 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions despite some injury issues and he will have seven of his top eight receivers back from 2014. The top threats are Shaq Washington, who had 66 catches for 761 yards and 4 touchdowns and MeKale McKay, who had 44 catches for 725 yards and 8 touchdowns. Mike Boone returns at running after running for 650 yards with 9 touchdowns as a freshman despite being the #2 guy. The offense will be explosive again in 2015.

The defensive side of the ball sees only five starters return with the bulk of the losses coming in the front seven. Only Silverberry Mouhon returns on the line after recording 45 tackles, 4 sacks, and 1 tackle for loss. It is a similar story with the linebackers as only Leviticus Payne is back and he recorded 57 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 1 interception last year. The secondary is undoubtedly the strength going into the season with three starters back led by Zach Edwards. Edwards was second on the team in tackles with 121 and also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The defense have up 27.2 points and 439 yards per game in 2014 and it looks like that might happen again this year.

It will be an interesting start to the season for Cincinnati with two conference games in the first four weeks. They open with Alabama A&M and Temple at home before a road trip to Miami (OH). They have a quick turnaround of five days to face Memphis on the road and then get Miami (FL) at home on October 1. They have another road trip to BYU two weeks later after a bye. They also have to face Houston on the road out of the West. It will be another winning season for Tuberville, but the games against Central Florida (home), Temple, and East Carolina (road) as well as if the offense can outscore the opponents will decide where they finish.

4. East Carolina Pirates

A simple look at the 8-5 record for East Carolina in 2014 would suggest it was a slightly above average season for them. However, it was much bigger than the record indicates with wins over then #17 Virginia Tech on the road 28-21 and at home to North Carolina 70-41 in back-to-back weeks. Ruffin McNeill enters his sixth year in charge of his alma mater after compiling a 37-27 record. Let’s see what is in store for the Pirates.

The offense brings back six starters, but the losses are big at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Shane Carden threw for over 4,700 yards in 2014 and his main targets were Justin Hardy (121 catches for 1,494 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Cam Worthy (55 catches for 1,106 yards and 4 touchdowns). Kurt Benkert will take over at QB, but he has only throw 10 passes in his collegiate career. While the losses of the top two receivers will hurt, Isaiah Jones put up some good numbers in 2014 with 81 catches for 830 yards and 5 touchdowns. Running back is probably the easiest of the skill positions to replace for ECU with Chris Hairston running for 528 yards and 2 touchdowns on only 79 carries last year. The offensive line does return four starters, which should provide good running lanes and ample time to the QB. However, the offense will not be as potent this season as it was in 2014.

The defense will have five starters back from a unit that allowed 25.8 points and 367 yards per game last year. That was done with only three returning starters for the 2014 season. Defensive line returns only one starter from last year, but Terrell Stanley is back after starting 12 games in 2013 and then missing all of 2014. Linebacker has two starters returning led by Zeek Bigger. Bigger had an astounding 140 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary will have two starters back including 2014 1st Team ACC cornerback Josh Hawkins. Hawkins had 44 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 11 pass breakups, and 5 interceptions. The defense should produce similar numbers as they did in 2014.

East Carolina has FCS Towson to start the season before a road trip to Florida and another road trip to Navy to start conference play. They face Virginia Tech at home before back-to-back road games again with SMU and BYU on the schedule. The other team from the West, in addition to Navy and SMU, is Tulsa on October 17 at home. ECU faces fellow East contenders Temple and Cincinnati at home while getting Central Florida on the road. The final two weekends consist of UCF and Cincinnati. East Carolina will need to get their offense going right away if they are to challenge for the East, but look very good to reach another bowl game in 2014.

5. South Florida Bulls

2015 will be year three of Willie Taggart’s reign at South Florida. He has gone a combined 6-18 in his first two seasons, but the offense and defense have both improved in those two seasons.

In 2015, the offense has only four starters back and that will make it a bit harder to continue improving the offense. 2014’s starting quarterback Mike White is gone after transferring from the program and that leaves a battle between sophomore Quinton Flowers and former Penn State player Steven Bench. White threw for only 1,639 yards with 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions last year so the new QB should be able to top those stats. Marlon Mack will be the workhorse running back after running for 1,041 yards and 9 touchdowns as a true freshman. Mack also was named to the 1st Team AAC last year. The top wide receiver is gone, but Rodney Adams is back after catching 23 passes for 323 yards and 2 touchdowns. Despite the low amount of returning starters the offense should produce more than the 17.2 points and 305 yards per game it did in 2014.

The defense is in a better situation with seven starters back including all of the top five tackles from a year ago. There is only one returning defensive lineman in Eric Lee, but both linebackers return in this 4-2-5 system. One of those linebackers, Nigel Harris, was second on the team with 77 tackles, 2 sacks, and 8.5 tackles for loss. Three of the back five starters return from a unit that gave up 220 yards passing in 2014. Jamie Byrd was the top tackler in 2014 with 95 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 3 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions and he will be expected to help out in large volume again. The defense gave up 27 points and 403 yards per game last year and should improve on that this year.

South Florida opens with Florida A&M at home before back-to-back road trips to ACC teams Florida State and Maryland. They end their non-conference schedule against a third ACC team in Syracuse on October 10. From the West, USF will face contenders in Memphis (home) and Navy (road) as well as SMU (home). The game at Connecticut on October 17 is likely to decide who finishes last in The American’s East division. USF is probably a year away from contending for a bowl game appearance.

6. Connecticut Huskies

Bob Diaco took over at Connecticut in 2014 after Paul Pasqualoni was let go just after the start of the 2013 season. He went 2-10 in 2014 with only 12 returning starters on his team and UConn has not been to a bowl game since 2010 when they faced Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl (they lost 48-20).

Six starters are back for Diaco from an offense that scored 15.5 points and gained 276 yards per game last year. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer has departed while Tim Boyle threw for 335 yards with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions last season. Boyle will most likely play second fiddle again this year as North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs is likely to win the starting job. The running game only averaged 107 yards per game in 2014 and that should improve with four of the top five backs returning. Wide receiver sees the top two guys depart while Noel Thomas (26 catches for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns) is one of the top targets. The offense should be better in 2015.

The defense gave up 29.8 points and 379 yards per game in 2014 with six starters back. In 2015, there will be eight returning starters with two on the defensive line and the top four tacklers are back as well on the line. Linebacker looks like an excellent unit for UConn with former Florida transfer Graham Stewart (94 tackles, 2 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss), Marquise Vann (105 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss), and Florida State transfer EJ Levenberry all expected to start. Byron Jones is gone from the secondary, but three starters return to help make this a solid unit. The defense looks like it will improve in 2015 as well.

UConn opens the 2015 season with home games against Villanova and Army. The travel to face Missouri before a home game against Navy and another road game against BYU. From the West, they will have the aforementioned Navy, but also Tulane (road) and Houston (home). As stated before, the game against South Florida on October 17 will most likely decide the AAC East’s bottom team. Diaco does have this team headed in the right direction.

Overview

The American Athletic Conference’s East division looks incredibly competitive. Any one of four – Temple, Cincinnati, Central Florida, or East Carolina – can win the division. South Florida and Connecticut will be battling to stay out of the cellar. Below is a recap of the predicted order of finish.

1. Temple

2. Central Florida

3. Cincinnati

4. East Carolina

5. South Florida

6. Connecticut

Check back on Friday, July 24 for The American’s West Division preview as well as the predicted winner of the conference championship game.

E.J. Levenberry Lands At Connecticut

E.J. Levenberry played 2 season at Florida State (Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America)
E.J. Levenberry played 2 season at Florida State (Tom Pennington/Getty Images North America)

E.J. Levenberry Lands At Connecticut

Former Florida State linebacker E.J. Levenberry announced that he will be transferring to play for the Connecticut Huskies. After making the announcement via Facebook, the UConn Huskies Twitter page confirmed the news.

Levenberry started his career at Florida State with a promising start in 2013. He appeared in 13 games and made one start on his way to recording 39 tackles and one tackle-for-loss. In addition to that, he had a 78 yard interception return against Idaho in FSU’s 80-14 demolition of the Vandals. In 2014, Levenberry played in 13 games while recording 21 tackles and one tackle-for-loss.

Levenberry will apply for a waiver to play immediately in 2015. If he does not receive the waiver, he will redshirt in 2015 and be back on the field in 2016. Levenberry is currently at Northern Virginia Community College and will join the Connecticut football team in June.

Levenberry was backing up starting linebacker Reggie Northrup who lead the team with 122 tackles in 2014. Northrup also recorded 4 tackles-for-loss, one sack, forced a fumble, and recovered a fumble.