All posts by Matthew Dixon

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 2: Potential Teams

North Dakota State has been the absolute best team at the FCS level since 2010. The Bison are natural candidates for the FBS but does it truly make sense? (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 2: Potential Teams

Welcome to second portion of our two-part series examining the transition from the FCS to FBS. In part one we looked at how teams have fared in the past. In this second part, we look at the teams best suited for the transition and also look at a few other teams.

To recap part one briefly, we looked at the schools that transitioned from FCS to FBS since 1987. The teams that performed the best were teams that had multiple playoff appearances in the final five FCS seasons. The second best group was the new programs followed by teams that had one or no playoff appearances in the final five FCS seasons.

We will make some assumptions about each team below that may or may not hold true if these scenarios in reality. For one, we look at each team separately and do not take into account all the dominoes from a potential realignment with our other teams. That would be far too time consuming to consider.

Secondly, geography and travel are big components of the analysis. We look first at which geographical area would be best and then look at the additional travel required if they were to move conferences.

Finally, keep in mind that while these teams would see increased revenues after they moved, they would also see increased costs in the form of stadium upgrades and travel for other sports would increase among other factors.

Now we can look at potential jumpers and new programs with the criteria we laid out in the first part.

North Dakota State (Jump Up)

North Dakota State is the first team discussed any time FCS to FBS transitions are explored. The Bison have only won six of the last seven FCS National Championship and have clearly been the best team of the decade at the FCS level. There is one issue that really hurts the Bison and that is location.

NDSU is currently the most northern member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference until 2020 when North Dakota joins. NDSU is geographically awkward if they were to move up to the FBS. The best fit would be the Big 10 especially in terms of their location and style of play. However, the Bison would probably have to prove themselves at the FBS level first which would put them in the Mountain West. Again, this is not exactly ideal.

Also consider the Fargodome, which has a capacity of 19,000 for football. They would have to upgrade the stadium to accommodate the increased number of fans. That would take money, which the Bison would recoup over time, but what about the additional travel costs not just for football, but also the other sports?

Verdict: We would love to see North Dakota State make the transition, but it does not seem likely given the logistical constraints.

Sam Houston State (Jump Up)

Here is another FCS powerhouse each year. The Bearkats have made seven straight playoff appearances with two National Championship losses to North Dakota State (those pesky Bison). Sam Houston State has one of the best offenses each season in the FCS and play in the Southland Conference.

The Southland Conference is a wonderful geographical set up for the teams. All members are from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, which is more than convenient. So where would they land if they went to the FBS? There are three conferences: The American Athletic Conference,  Conference USA, and Sun Belt.

The American Athletic Conference would place the Bearkats in the West along with Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, Tulsa, and Navy. Navy is a horrendous fit for the West Division, which means that the AAC could balance the divisions by getting a second West team and moving Navy to the far more natural East. In this case, they would face six west opponents and two east opponents each season.

Conference USA currently has 14 teams with seven from the West Division located in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. If C-USA expanded to 16 teams that would leave only one game per season they would face an East Division opponent (based on an 8 game conference schedule). They would also face that East opponent on the road once every other year. Not a bad move based on assumptions above.

The Sun Belt is the final option and teams leaving the Southland Conference frequently find the Sun Belt as their FBS destination. The conference has been split into East and West Divisions among its 10 members. The West Division has teams from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. Based on an 8 game schedule, they would have to face two East opponents each year with one at home and one on the road.

Finally, Sam Houston State would have to increase the size of the stadium from the current size of roughly 12,500.

Verdict: The Southland Conference is a wonderful spot for Sam Houston State right now. If they were dead set on the FBS, then Conference USA would be the best option.

James Madison (Jump Up)

James Madison is a recent addition to the top level of the FCS. The Dukes have made the playoffs four straight seasons, but the last two put them up with the best. In 2016, they upset the Bison for the National Championship and then followed that up in 2017 with a loss to Bison in the title game. To be fair, this is not the same sustained success as the previous two entrants, but strong enough for consideration.

The Dukes currently play in the Colonial Athletic Association, which stretches from Maine to South Carolina. JMU sits at the southern edge of the conference, which might make travel costly depending on the scheduling rotation.

JMU, like Sam Houston State, has several options. They could go to the American Athletic, Conference USA, or Sun Belt. James Madison would face the opposite of SHSU’s possibilities for all three.

The Dukes would be in the East for the AAC though that would make it unbalanced in terms of natural East and West programs. For C-USA, they would be a natural fit for the East Division while the same would be true for the Sun Belt.

James Madison has a solid stadium size already at 25,000, which will make the costs relatively less expensive for expansion.

Verdict: James Madison sits in an awkward geographical position for the three conferences above. Conference USA would be the best fit for costs and travel as they would only face a West opponent on the road once every other year.

Jacksonville State (Jump Up)

The Jacksonville State Gamecocks have dominated the Ohio Valley Conference with four straight titles. They have made the FCS playoffs five straight seasons with a title game appearance in 2015 (yes, they lost to NDSU).

As part of the OVC, Jacksonville State is the southern most member, but it is a comfortable distance to northern most team, Eastern Illinois. The team furthest to the west is Southeast Missouri State on the Missouri-Illinois border, which again, is not too bad.

If the Gamecocks were to go to the FBS they too have the options of the AAC, C-USA, and Sun Belt. However, one fits better than the other two and that is the Sun Belt.

JSU’s location in northeast Alabama puts them right in the middle of the conference in terms of location. That would make them ideal to be put in either division as needed. Or the Sun Belt could flip the division from east and west to the north and south while also adding another team to have an even number of teams.

The JSU stadium can hold 24,000, which will help limit the amount they need to spend on expanding the stadium.

Verdict: The Ohio Valley is a decent fit for them, but if they are looking for the FBS, the Sun Belt makes sense. While the AAC and Conference USA are both plausible, the Sun Belt felt most natural.

Eastern Washington (Jump Up)

Eastern Washington has also been a mainstay in the FCS Playoffs. Since their National Championship in 2010, they have made the playoffs five times and progressed to at least the quarterfinals on each occasion. Four of the five appearances resulted in a semifinal appearance.

The Eagles play in the Big Sky Conference which stretches from Washington all the way to the middle of Arizona and out to the eastern border of North Dakota. As mentioned above, the University of North Dakota will be moving to the Missouri Valley Football Conference and it is not hard to see why when their closest in conference opponent is Northern Colorado.

There are two natural destinations for EWU with the Pac-12 and Mountain West. The Pac-12 is a long shot considering they would probably want to see how they perform in the FBS before having them join. So that leaves the Mountain West.

The Eagles would probably be put in the Mountain Division, which would require travel to Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The travel is not horrendous outside of the trip to New Mexico every other year. The west division would be very similar to New Mexico and would also have to be done every other year.

The stadium capacity of Roos Field is a paltry 8,600, which means a huge outlay to expand the size. At least their red turf would go along nicely with Boise State’s blue turf.

Verdict: The current travel arrangements do not differ much as if they were to play in the Mountain West. The stadium expenditure would probably be another point of concern. The reality is go for Pac-12 money (though unlikely) or stay put in the Big Sky.

Virginia Commonwealth (New Program)

VCU, currently in the Atlantic 10 for all other sports, would make a wonderful addition to Conference USA. They are located in Richmond, which is the capital of Virginia. That provides a great fan base for any potential team. VCU has not fielded more than a club team for football. In addition, a stadium would be required for the football team making the likelihood of this happening slim.

What VCU does have in terms of location also applies to the student body. The Rams have the second highest enrollment in the state (not counting Liberty’s online degree numbers). That provides a solid footing if they choose to pursue adding a football program.

There have been some worries expressed by current Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin. He feels that the costs would exceed the revenue generated as noted here. It appears that as long as McLaughlin is at VCU, the Rams will not have a football team without someone donating what is needed.

Verdict: Highly unlikely given the current AD and all the startup costs for the program.

University of Texas Arlington (New Program)

UT Arlington previously had a football program until 1985 when the constant financial losses caused the school to stop sponsoring the sport. It may be time for the Mavericks to make a comeback to the field. UTA is the fourth largest school in Texas with an enrollment of 42,000 in the football crazed state.

Back in 2004, students voted to increase tuition by $2 per semester hour if football was brought back. All good then, right? Well, not quite. The costs would be enormous especially if the ultimate goal is the FBS. The stadium, which currently holds 12,500, would need a massive upgrade to host FBS football games. To pay for the new sport, the cost would most likely go to students in the form of higher tuition as noted above.

One area that UTA would not have to worry about is finding a FBS conference. They are part of the Sun Belt in the other sports offered by the school. That is one piece of the puzzle they will not have to worry about if they bring back football. UTA would have good knowledge about the travel costs if they were to play in the Sun Belt.

Verdict: Viable but UTA needs to be prudent about the costs and expected revenue so they do not make the same mistake from 1985.

That concludes the second part of our series on the FCS to FBS transition. We hope you enjoyed the analysis!

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 1: Past History

Liberty upset Baylor to open the 2017 and Now the Flames will be in the FBS. Is there anything from the FCS jumpers that may indicate how Liberty will perform in 2018? (Cooper Neill/Getty Images North America)

Transitioning From FCS To FBS Part 1: Past History

Welcome to a two part series where we take a look at how teams perform when they move from the FCS to FBS. We went all the way back to 1987 when Akron made the jump from the the then named Division 1AA (now FCS) to Division 1A (now FBS).

Part one will look at the past with how previous teams performed when they transitioned. Part two will focus on which teams could make the jump from FCS to FBS or start a football program.

We logged each team’s five seasons prior to the transition as well as the first five seasons in the FBS. We looked at how many seasons it took for each program to reach the postseason in the FBS. 28 teams have made the jump from FCS to FBS since 1987 and Liberty will become number 29 in 2018.

After combing through the data, we found some obvious trends and perhaps a surprising trend. Let’s take a closer look at the three groups of teams.

Perennial FCS Playoff Teams

We will start with an obvious trend: teams that had multiple playoff appearances in their final five FCS seasons were more successful than those that did not make multiple appearances. This makes sense because good teams in the FCS will naturally be more prepared to compete in the FBS.

Multiple Playoff Appearances
Team 1st FBS Year Years
Nevada 1992 1
Louisiana-Monroe 1994 19
Marshall 1994 1
Troy 2001 4
Western Kentucky 2008 5
Massachusetts 2012 Haven’t reached bowl
Georgia Southern 2014 2
Appalachian State 2014 2
Coastal Carolina 2017 Haven’t reached bowl
9 4.9
Teams Avg. Years

The table above shows that teams to make multiple playoff appearances in their final five FCS seasons have, on average, made a bowl game by their fifth season of FBS football. Three notes on this:

  1. Both Massachusetts and Coastal Carolina have yet to reach the FBS postseason since making the jump. Coastal Carolina will only be in their second year of FBS in 2018.
  2. Some observers may note that UNLV became part of the FBS in 1978, however, they went from Division 2 straight to FBS and are not included in the calculations above.
  3. Both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State had more than six wins their first season in 2014  but thanks to draconian NCAA rules both teams were ineligible for a bowl game.

Now let’s look at how these teams perform in their five final seasons of FCS football followed by their first five FBS season.

Pre Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year -5 8.8 4.1
Year -4 9.0 4.0
Year -3 8.7 3.6
Year -2 9.3 3.6
Year -1 8.9 3.3
All 5 Years Avg 8.9 3.7
Post Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year 1 5.4 6.4
Year 2 5.8 6.4
Year 3 6.6 5.4
Year 4 6.3 6.0
Year 5 6.3 5.7
All 5 Years Avg 6.1 6.0

Two notes on the post FBS transition:

  1. Both Georgia Southern and Appalachian State have not yet completed their 5th season in the FBS. The numbers above may change after 2018, but probably not too drastically.
  2. Coastal Carolina is only included in Year 1 of the post transition averages. Like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, the inclusion of CCU’s results may slightly alter the numbers.

As expected, teams that are good before leaving the FCS would be the most likely to make the jump. Once in the FBS, they struggle a bit compared to their time in the FCS, but going roughly 5-6 in year one is pretty impressive. As will be shown later, these teams show the least amount of fall off when completing the transition.

Next up, we turn our attention to the teams that have little playoff experience before making the transition.

FCS Teams Lacking Playoff Experience 

It stands to reason that good FCS teams would perform better moving up to the FBS, but how about FCS teams that are not as good? We have some evidence of this category and we use the criteria of a team that had one or no FCS playoff appearances in their final five seasons.

1 or No Playoff Appearances
Team 1st FBS Year Years
Akron 1987 19
Louisiana Tech 1989 2
Arkansas State 1992 14
North Texas 1995 7
Central Florida 1996 10
Boise State 1996 4
UAB 1996 9
Middle Tennessee 1999 8
Buffalo 1999 10
Connecticut 2000 5
Texas State 2012 Haven’t reached bowl
11 8.8
Teams Avg. Years

One note on North Texas:

  1. North Texas was in the FBS from 1975 to 1982 as an Independent. However, financial issues forced them to drop back to the FCS level for a decade (1983-1994). Due to that length of time at the FCS level, we include them in this group.

On average, it took until roughly the ninth season at the FBS level for the teams above to reach the postseason. Why would these teams make the jump if they have not been overly successful against FCS competition?

Some of these decisions were made several years in advance and their crystal ball probably did not foresee a relative downturn for the football program. If these administrators thought their football teams would not be as good perhaps they would reconsider their move.

Another reason is geographical fit to cut down on travel costs. Speaking of money, that is always a consideration in the form of more TV revenue as well as the exposure to a wider audience due to the TV contracts. More exposure on TV leads to more people being aware of the college’s presence and potentially more students.

Moreover, the facilities are already mostly there. There may be some stadium upgrades needed, but the structures are already in place so the cost is not nearly has high as if they were starting from scratch.

Whatever the reasoning behind the move, we cannot deny these teams struggle. Let’s look at the final five years in the FCS compared to the first five years in the FBS.

Pre Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year -5 6.6 4.8
Year -4 6.4 4.8
Year -3 5.6 5.3
Year -2 5.7 5.6
Year -1 5.6 5.5
All 5 Years Avg 6.0 5.2
Post Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year 1 3.2 7.8
Year 2 4.5 6.5
Year 3 5.5 5.5
Year 4 4.8 6.6
Year 5 4.7 6.7
All 5 Years Avg 4.6 6.6

The teams lacking FCS playoff experience average two wins less than teams with multiple FCS playoff appearances. In fact, the worst season for perennial playoff teams (5.4 wins in the first season) is nearly identical to the BEST average of the low playoff experience teams (5.5 in the third year).

As previously stated, this is logical. Better FCS teams are better prepared for the FBS, will be more likely to succeed, and have less catching up to do.

One final group to look at is new programs. All these schools played at least one season at the FCS level before embarking on their journey to the FBS.

New Schools

This concluding group of teams started from scratch before joining the FBS.

New Programs
Teams 1st FBS Year Years
South Florida 2001 5
Florida Atlantic 2004 4
Florida International 2004 7
UT-San Antonio 2012 5
South Alabama 2012 3
Georgia State 2013 3
Old Dominion 2014 3
Charlotte 2015 Haven’t reached bowl
8 4.3
Teams Avg. Years

Four notes on this group of teams:

  1. Like Georgia Southern and Appalachian State, Old Dominion had more than six wins in 2014 but those pesky NCAA rules kept them out of a bowl game.
  2. Old Dominion previously had a football program in the early and mid 20th century. 2009 was the first season since 1940 and given the length of time, they were reasonably considered a new program.
  3. Old Dominion made the FCS Playoffs in both 2011 and 2012 and thus qualify as a playoff perennial as well. We chose to make them a new program given how recently they restarted the program.
  4. South Florida, Florida Atlantic, and UT-San Antonio all had winning records in their first season, but once more the NCAA rules prevented these teams from being selected for a bowl.

Note the average seasons it has taken new programs (4.3) compared to playoff perennials (4.9) and the playoff lacking teams (8.8). That is impressive considering they are going from no football competition whatsoever to FBS. Outside of Charlotte, every team listed above went from zero to a bowl appearance within a decade of their first season.

Post Transition Single Year Average
Season Wins Losses
Year 1 4.8 7.0
Year 2 4.9 6.8
Year 3 4.9 7.4
Year 4 4.1 7.9
Year 5 6.2 6.3
All 5 Years Avg 4.9 7.1

The new shooters also have a respectable average win total for all five years given the infancy of the programs. The question then becomes how are these teams able to compete relatively early in their school’s history? Take another look at the list of teams:

Teams
South Florida
Florida Atlantic
Florida International
UT-San Antonio
South Alabama
Georgia State
Old Dominion
Charlotte

Where are the majority of teams located? In the southeast, the most popular area for college football. Here is a link to the New York Times‘ article that provides a graphical representation of how popular college football is around the nation. Even UT-San Antonio, while not in the southeast, is in another football crazed part of the US: Texas. While not nearly the same caliber as their SEC counterparts, the fact these teams are in top recruiting states certainly helps.

The location does not explain everything as there are major costs and considerations of starting a new program. Will there be funding from outside sources? Will fans continue to show up if the team is not doing well on the field? Will the additional exposure make up for the initial outlay of costs? What are the burdens to the additional students and surrounding areas? These are just some of questions to consider when starting a football program with the intent of making it to the FBS.

Clearly these programs thought it was worth the effort and expenses to make it to the FBS. So far, these programs have seen success in the form of reaching the postseason early in their history.

Wrapping Up

After looking at the three sets of teams it is clear that you want to be a team with multiple FCS playoff appearances before heading to the FBS. To be fair, this involves some luck in the way of scheduling, injuries, and coaching changes to name a few.

For teams that have little FCS playoff experience, the best idea would be to wait until the program has shown consistent success against the best teams. This is not always practical as they window to join the FBS may be small or their football program may just have been sub-par for several seasons before the transition.

If an administration is intent on going to the FBS, then they will have to be patient and hope for some luck along the way. Consider Louisiana Tech, a team that made the Independence Bowl in their second FBS season. In addition, Connecticut was a team that went from Independent status to the Big East (albeit watered down) within 5 years of joining the FBS. Finally, there is Boise State. The Broncos went to a bowl game in their fourth FBS season, but are now one of the best Group of 5 schools every season.

That leads us to the 2018 debut of Liberty as a FBS team. The Flames have posted a winning record each season since 2007. However, they only went to one FCS playoff in their final five seasons at that division. Facing a majority of FBS teams (Idaho State and Norfolk State are the two FCS opponents), they will probably struggle this season.

Finally, we have the new programs. They do surprisingly well at the FBS level reaching the postseason in their fourth of fifth year, on average. Location is important along with some luck to help them become successful.

One closing note to make is that the above analysis looks solely at the on field performance. The decision to make the move from FCS to FBS is far more involved and nuanced. We will touch on some of those factors in our second part.

Join us for part two where we take a look at which schools would best fit to make the jump from FCS to FBS or start a new program.

FBS And FCS Changes For The 2018 Season

The Idaho Vandals will drop down from the FBS level to the FCS starting with 2018. ( Ed Zurga/Getty Images North America)

FBS And FCS Changes For The 2018 Season

August is here, which means college football is right around the corner. Below we detail the conference changes in Division 1 football (FBS and FCS) from last season.

FBS Changes

Idaho will move from the Sun Belt Conference to the much more suitable geographical conference of the Big Sky. This also means going from the FBS to the FCS, which makes them the first team to make that move. The Vandals are familiar with the Big Sky as they were part of that conference from 1965 to 1995.

New Mexico State is another team that is leaving the Sun Belt Conference, but they will remain in the FBS as an independent team. They have a scheduling quirk this year as they face Liberty twice in 2018. The first game will be October 6 at home and the matchup will be November 24 at Liberty.

Speaking of Liberty, they made the jump from the FCS’ Big South Conference to be an independent in FBS. The Flames will be a full FBS member in 2019, which will allow them to become bowl eligible. Liberty is an interesting team because they had to petition the NCAA to have the move approved.

One final note about the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference is they split the remaining 10 teams into two divisions. The East Division has Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, and Troy. The West Division has Arkansas State, Louisiana, Louisiana-Monroe, South Alabama, and Texas State. 

The Sun Belt will also hold a championship game for the first time in 2018 with the winners of the East and West Divisions meeting at the home of the higher-ranked team to decide the Sun Belt Champion.

FCS Changes

Liberty was already mentioned above going from the Big South to being a FBS Independent.

Idaho was discussed earlier under the FBS changes going to the Big Sky Conference. There is another change involving the Big Sky, which is North Dakota becoming an FCS Independent for 2018 and 2019. North Dakota will ultimately become a member of the Missouri Valley Conference in 2020. North Dakota’s games will still count in the Big Sky standings for UND’s opponents.

Campbell has moved from the Pioneer Football League to the Big South Conference. Campbell was part of the Pioneer Football League from 2008 through 2017 after they had no team from 1951 to 2007.

Hampton is moving from the Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference to become a FCS Independent. They will end up in the Big South Conference starting in 2019. North Alabama is moving up from Division 2  and they will also end up as a member of the Big South Conference in 2019 . They will compete as a FCS Independent member this season.

10 Winners And Losers From The 2018 Group Stage

Russia were big winners during the group stage of the 2018 World Cup (Matthias Hangst/Getty Images Europe)

10 Winners And Losers From The 2018 Group Stage

48 matches have been played thus far at the 2018 World Cup and there have been plenty of winners and losers. We take a look below at ten winners and losers from the group stage.

1. Winner: The viewers – Anyone who has followed the 2018 World Cup, even from afar, can see there has been quite the amount of drama. Late goals, spectacular performances, shocking upsets, this tournament really seems to have had it all. There was only one scoreless draw (France and Denmark) and every team scored at least two goals in the group stage. What could the knockout stages hold for us?

2. Loser: Pre-tournament favoritesSpain, France, Argentina, Germany, and Poland (at least to get through Group H) all had some hype around them. Instead, Germany and Poland were eliminated in the group with Germany being so for the first time. Argentina needed a late Marcos Rojo goal to finish second. Spain and France have not looked convincing even if they did both win the group. That does make for good drama worth tuning in to.

3. Winner: Peru – Peru were very unlucky to have failed to qualify for the Round of 16. The missed PK against Denmark will haunt them as had that been converted and ended as a draw they would have gone through. Nevertheless, they won a lot of fans for their exciting style of play and would have been deserving of progressing.

4. Loser: Germany – Not to pile on, but this really was a disaster. The 2014 World Cup Winners were eliminated in the group stage, which has happened to four of the last five World Cup Winners. However, this was the first time Germany failed to make it out of the group stage and they did it spectacularly by finishing last.

The only real inclination of possible problems was the lead up to the tournament. The Germans stumbled in their friendlies and looked terrible, but those were just tune up games. They made the semis of Euro 2016 and won the 2017 Confederations Cup, which built up their hype to potentially repeat in 2018.

5. Winner: Russia – The lowest ranked team entering the World Cup started with back-to-back crushing wins to book their place in the Round of 16. Russia had a chance to win Group A had they at least drew with Uruguay, they were outmatched and finished second. Their reward is playing Spain, but the Spaniards have not looked dominant, Russia will have the crowd behind them, and this tournament has produced a few shockers.

6. Loser: Referees – While this author thinks that VAR has been solid, the real issue with its use is down to the referees and length of review.  Whenever VAR is used, it has seemed to take far too long to make a determination. In addition, there are some clear cut calls that could be made on the field, yet referees defer to VAR to bail them out. While VAR is well intentioned and has worked decently, the human aspect needs a bit more fine tuning.

7. Winner: Fox’s commentators and analysts – Everyone has their preferred commentators when they watch sports, but Fox’s roster has been very solid. Anchored by JP Dellacamera and Derek Rae, all the commentators have done a good job calling the games and the analysts have been fantastic to listen to as they break down plays. Stuart Holden has been a bright spot from the viewpoint with his specific breakdowns for the viewers.

8. Loser: United States – Watching Panama and Costa Rica crash out after two games must be bothersome. Seeing Mexico move on to the Round of 16 must hurt more. But the worst part has to be the chaos that has erupted with the upsets and lack of a dominant team. Had they just drawn Trinidad & Tobago, they could be part of this carnage. Then again, who says the US would have advanced to the knockout stages? Overall, the US will be better down the road even if this is tough to watch now.

9. Winner: The last 16 teams – In most years this would be a cliché of “anything can happen.” Well, in 2018, this really is true for the last 16 teams left in the World Cup. There has not been a truly dominant team or any group of teams that have separated themselves. The favorites look vulnerable and upsets that few envisioned are actually happening (see South Korea v Germany). If a 16 can beat a 1 in the NCAA Basketball tournament during 2018, why not a surprise WC winner?

10. Winner: Asian Confederation – Four years ago, the four teams from AFC combined to play 12 games and finished with three draws and nine losses. They scored nine goals, gave up 25 goals, and all four teams finished last in their group.

Flash forward to this year and it has been a different outcome. Five teams qualified with Saudi Arabia, Iran, South Korea, and Japan all recording victories. Only Australia failed to win a game as they finished last in their group. Japan qualified for the Round of 16 as second place finishers in Group H. It has been a much better performance all around from the AFC.

Bonus: Own Goals/Penalties – This could go as a winner or loser depending on your point of view. There have been 9 own goals in Russia, 24 penalties given, and 18 of those penalties have been converted, which are all World Cup records. Some may complain too many penalties have been given, while others may say they were correctly given.

Let’s hope the last two weeks are as entertaining as the first two weeks have been. Enjoy the knockout stages!

10 Predictions For The 2018 World Cup Group Stage

Lionel Messi leads Argentina into the 2018 World Cup. How will the magician continue his majestic ways this summer? (Paul Gilham/Getty Images South America)

10 Predictions For The 2018 World Cup Group Stage

The FIFA World Cup begins on Thursday, June 14 when Russia takes on Saudi Arabia in Moscow to open the month long tournament. We will take a stab at some predictions for the tournament starting with the group stage.

Below, we will make a prediction for each of the eight groups (A to H) and then also make two general predictions for the group stage.

1. (Group A) Uruguay will win all three matches – The first group is a favorable draw for Uruguay against Russia, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Uruguay is favored to win the group, but this calls for them to sweep their way to nine points. The biggest threats are Russia and Egypt who will presumably be battling for second.

For Uruguay, they will have to deal with combination of Mohamed Salah and the awesome story of Essam El-Hadary, the 45 year old goalkeeper for Egypt. Salah is nursing an injury going into opening game for the Egyptians, which is against Uruguay. Even without Salah, the challenge is going to be difficult. Then there is Russia playing at home which will give them a boost. Still, Uruguay is in position to not only win Group A, but win all three matches.

2. (Group B) Spain defeats Portugal and wins Group B – Barring a 2014-like collapse, this group is down to Spain and Portugal. No offense to Morocco and Iran for not giving them a chance, but they were dealt a horrendous draw.

This game is on match day one, which means the winner of this game will have one foot in the knockout stage. This matchup between the two neighboring countries will go to Spain as they roll into the tournament looking to avenge the disastrous campaign four years ago.

3. (Group C) France does not win the group – This French team is getting a lot of hype to win the World Cup. They have the talent with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, and N’Golo Kante among many others.

What is worrying about France is their desire and ability to finish games. The Euro 2016 Final against Portugal is exhibit A while poor results against Colombia (lost 3-2 after holding a 2-0 lead) and the United States have not looked good. The latter was particularly striking as the French towered over a young squad and yet only came away with a 1-1 draw.

Les Bleus take on Australia, Peru, and Denmark in this group, which seems like it would be favorable to them winning the group. However, Denmark will be a tough test and the longer France lets Australia and Peru hang around, the more confidence the underdogs get.

France can surely quell the unease with statement wins against all three, but there is something about this team that lingers. We still think France reaches the knockout stages in the end (and probably makes a deep run), but we predict they do not win the group.

4. (Group D) Group D will feature the most entertaining matches – Lionel Messi and Argentina lead this group, but that is not the only reason for this prediction. Nigeria has an odd way of testing Argentina. The Super Eagles have split the last four games against them and all four games featured at least four goals including the 2014 World Cup match Argentina won 3-2.

Then there is Iceland. Iceland has given up at least two goals in their last four international friendlies. This team can also score goals to provide some more excitement including at the end of games (see Euro 2016 against Austria).

Croatia, who got hammered 3-1 against both Brazil and Mexico at the 2014 World Cup, has two players embroiled in a scandal going into the 2018 Finals. One of them is Luka Modric, a man heavily relied upon for the team. Will that negatively affect their play? We shall see, but overall, this group should be fun to watch each match day.

5. (Group E) Costa Rica will get back to the Knockout Stages – Now this would be a surprise. Then again, what they did in 2014 was also a surprise. The Ticos not only made the knockout stages four years ago, but they won Group D by defeating both Uruguay and Italy while drawing with England. 

This year features a group of Brazil, Switzerland, and Serbia. Getting past Brazil will be tough, but the Ticos can get past the duo of Switzerland and Serbia. Keylor Navas will be in the net, but also returning are the four players who scored for Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup: Bryan Ruiz, Joel Campbell, Oscar Duarte, and Marcos Urena.

This group already knows how to defy the expectations placed upon them. They also know how to handle the pressure of being at the World Cup. We like Costa Rica to get past the group stage once again.

6. (Group F) Germany drops a point – The reigning World Cup winners tower over this group. Mexico, Sweden, and South Korea will be fighting for second. They key for all three is if they can steal a point (or more) from the Germans. On paper, this seems like a stretch. However, if we go back to 1998, only once has Germany won all three games in the group stage. That came in 2006 when they hosted the World Cup. Below is a look back at each game Germany has failed to win at the World Cup since 1998.

2014 – 2-2 draw vs Ghana

2010 – 0-1 loss vs Serbia

2006 – Won all three games; WC played in Germany

2002 – 1-1 draw vs Republic of Ireland

1998 – 2-2 draw vs Yugoslavia

Another reason for this prediction is the lackluster performances from Germany leading up to the World Cup. They survived 2-1 against Saudi Arabia, lost 2-1 to Austria, lost 1-0 to Brazil, and drew 1-1 with Spain. Germany has their weird way of turning it on once they hit the field, but not without a bump in the road. Expect one of those in Group F though the Germans will still cruise into the knockout stages.

7. (Group G) Belgium score at least 10 goals – We really find Belgium’s Group G matchups favorable, aside from the England game. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Dries Mertens, and Kevin De Bruyne should create plenty of chances against Tunisia and especially Panama.

This team looks ready to pour in the goals and they finish the group stage against England with the winner of the game most likely to take top billing. A couple goals against England could put this prediction over the top.

8. (Group H) Senegal Finishes Top Two – This group features Poland, Colombia, and Japan so the work is cut out for Senegal to advance. It is crucial they take points from Poland and Colombia (a win against either and a win against Japan should suffice). Sadio Mane will be the focus for them as the Liverpool man is coming of a 20 goal campaign.

Outside of Mane, they have the talent to compete and move past the group stage. Kalidou Koulibaly will be worth keeping on eye on as well. The last game is against Colombia is likely decide which team goes through and which team goes home.

9. (General Prediction) The group stage will see at least 125 goals scored – Let’s be honest: We want to see goals. And a lot of them. That does not mean a 0-0 contest is boring or not entertaining. They most certainly can be, but we are going based on what has historically happened.

Since the World Cup expanded in 1998, there has been an average of 122 goals scored in the group stage. Three have featured more than 125 goals and we look for the same. This is not guaranteed though. Back in 2010, only 101 goals were scored in the group stage thanks to an abnormally low 25 goals on match day one. 2014 saw that total nearly double to 49 for match day one. 2014 was also the highest scoring group stage at 136 since 1998. Let’s hope this continues at the 2018 World Cup.

10. (General Prediction) Asia and Africa have a 2014 repeat – Let’s clarify what we mean here. In 2014, Africa had two teams to make the knockout stages while Asian teams were shutout. In fact, no Asian team recorded a win in 2014. We are predicting that two teams from Africa will go to the Round of 16 while no Asian team will advance to that point.

Let’s start with Africa: We have already called for Senegal to make the knockout stages, but there are other opportunities for the continent. Egypt could slip through Group A with Salah; Morocco has a tough Group B draw; Nigeria might also sneak through if results against Iceland and Croatia break their way; Tunisia faces a daunting task against Belgium and England.

That gives Africa three plausible knockout choices in Egypt, Nigeria, and Senegal. The same cannot be said for Asia. Saudi Arabia is in group A, but considered a serious longshot. Iran is in Group B with Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. Australia has a chance though they need results against European sides France and Denmark. They also face Peru, which will not be easy.

South Korea is in Group F with Germany, Mexico, and Sweden. With the Germans, that realistically leaves one spot open and the Koreans will need results from the other two games. Japan faces a similar dilemma against Poland, Colombia, and Senegal. All five Asian sides are considered the longest shot in their respective group to win.

We expect a good fight from all five Asian countries. However, given their draws, this looks like another World Cup without an Asian side making the last 16.

That concludes our 10 predictions for the 2018 World Cup Group stage. Enjoy the start of the 2018 World Cup!

Florida State Captures First NCAA Softball Title

The Florida State Seminoles won their first softball championship after defeating the Washington Huskies 8-3 on Tuesday night. (Photo courtesy of NCAA Softball on Twitter).

Florida State Captures First NCAA Softball Title

The Florida State Seminoles won their first NCAA Softball Championship after sweeping the Washington Huskies in the Women’s College World Series Championship Series.

For the Seminoles, Tuesday night capped off an incredible WCWS run by winning six straight games following their opening day loss. By doing so, Florida State became the first division 1 team to accomplish the feat of winning the title after losing their opening WCWS game.

Florida State also became the first Atlantic Coast Conference team to win the championship. It was well deserved for a team making their 10th WCWS appearance. FSU was on the cusp of the title following Monday night’s 1-0 game one win via Meghan King’s complete game shutout. That game also included this defensive gem from Jessica Warren.

Game two started much differently as the Huskies took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first. The nervy beginning by Seminoles aided the Huskies, but the bottom of the first saw them cut the deficit to 3-2 via Anna Shelnutt’s two run homer.

The Seminoles then put themselves in front for good with a three run second inning. Elizabeth Mason’s single to right field and fielding error by the Huskies gave FSU the 4-3 lead. Jessica Warren made it 5-3 with an RBI single after two innings.

The Huskies had a big chance in the top of the 4th inning as they loaded the bases with 2 outs, but a grounder ended their threat. The Seminoles made them pay for not capitalizing with two home runs. Mason hit a two run blast followed by Warren’s solo shot and the Seminoles were on their way to the coveted championship.

The final three innings saw Washington only put 1 runner on base. Meghan King once again went the distance with 7 innings pitched, allowing 5 hits, no walks, and striking out 4. King threw 34 1/3 innings, allowed one earned run, and recorded 4 wins and one save at the WCWS. She also set a new ERA record of 0.20 in the WCWS with at least 10 innings pitched. The Seminoles ended the season with a record of 58-12.

The drought continues for the Pac-12 in softball after dominating the early landscape of the sport. Arizona State remains the last team from the conference to win a national title as they did so back in 2011. Washington, who won their only title in 2009, finished the season at 52-10.

2018 Women’s College World Series Schedule

Oklahoma is back to go for their third straight national title in 2018 (Sue Ogrocki – AP)

2018 Women’s College World Series Schedule

The 2018 NCAA Division 1 Softball season is down to the final 8 teams who will be playing for the chance to win the Women’s College World Series. An updated bracket can be found here. Each game of the 2018 Women’s College World Series will take place from ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The 8 teams will compete in a double elimination format until only two teams are left. The last two teams will then play in a best of three championship series to determine the 2018 National Champion.

The Oklahoma Sooners are the two-time defending National Champions after winning in 2016 and 2017. Should the Sooners complete the trifecta, they will join the UCLA Bruins from 1988 to 1990 as the only teams to win three straight National Titles since 1982. Speaking of UCLA, they too are in this year’s WCWS for the 28th time in school history.

All eight schools in the Women’s College World Series have previously made an appearance in Oklahoma City. Of the eight teams, Arizona State has had the longest absence since their last appearance in 2013. The below table shows the eight teams taking part in the WCWS along with their last appearance, record, conference affiliation, and all-time WCWS appearances.

SeedTeamLast WCWSRecordConf.WCWS
Appearances
1Oregon201752-8Pac-126th
2Florida201755-9SEC9th
3UCLA201755-5Pac-1228th
4Oklahoma201755-3Big 1212th
5Washington201749-8Pac-1213th
6Florida
State
201652-11ACC10th
7Georgia201648-11SEC4th
8Arizona
State
201348-11Pac-1212th

The Women’s College World Series will get underway on Thursday, May 31 with four games scheduled for the opening day. The entire schedule can be found in the table below with the Championship Series located in a separate table.

The tables below will be updated with final scores as the games go final each day. Please note all times listed below are Eastern.

DateGameTime (EST)
TV
Team #1Team #2ScoreNotes
5/31/18Game 112 PM
ESPN
#8 ASU#1 Oregon6-11
5/31/18Game 22:30 PM
ESPN
# 5 Wash.#4 Okla.2-0
5/31/18Game 37 PM
ESPN2
#7 Georgia#2 Florida3-115 Innings
5/31/18Game 49:30 PM
ESPN2
#6 FSU#3 UCLA4-7
6/1/18Game 57 PM
ESPN
#1 Oregon#5 Wash.2-6
6/1/18Game 69:30 PM
ESPN
#3 UCLA#2 Florida6-5
6/2/18Game 712 PM
ESPN
#4 Okla.#8 ASU2-0ASU
Elim.
6/2/18Game 82:30 PM
ESPN
#7 Georgia#6 FSU2-7Georgia
Elim.
6/2/18Game 97 PM
ESPN
#2 Florida#4 Okla.0-2Florida
Elim.
6/2/18Game 109:30 PM
ESPN
#6 FSU#1 Oregon4-1Oregon
Elim.
6/3/18Game 111 PM
ESPN
#4 Okla.#5 Wash.0-3Okla.
Elim
6/3/18Game 123:30 PM
ESPN
#3 UCLA#6 FSU1-3Possible
Elim
Game
6/3/18Game 137 PM
ESPN
Game 11 WinnerGame 11 LoserElim
Game
6/3/18Game 137 PM
ESPN2
#6 FSU#3 UCLA12-6UCLA
Elim.

The schedule for Championship Series is shown below.

2018 Women’s College World Series Championship Series

DateGameTime (EST)
TV
Team #1Team #2Score
6/4/18Game 17 PM
ESPN
#6 FSU#5 Wash.1-0
6/5/18Game 28 PM
ESPN
#5 Wash.#6 FSU3-8
6/6/18Game 3
(If Necessary)
8 PM
ESPN
#6 FSU#5 Wash.

Reviewing Our 2017 College Football Predictions

Tua Tagovalloa led Alabama to a second half comeback to win the 2018 National Championship. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

Reviewing Our 2017 College Football Predictions

Prior to the start of the 2017 College Football season, we made 26 predictions for the season. Those can all be found here. Below we will list and then review how each prediction turned out.

Predictions 25 Through 21

25. Appalachian State will win the Sun Belt – This was correct as App State went 7-1 and tied with Troy for the Sun Belt.

24. (Sun Belt) New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 57 years – We were wrong on this and NMSU not only got back to a bowl, they also won it. Congrats Aggies!

23. (C-USA) The four teams wearing green will not win 25 games combined – Marshall won 8 games, North Texas won 9, UAB won 8, and Charlotte won 1. The biggest surprise was UAB who made a big statement after not playing football for 2 years. Bill Clark did a phenomenal job of getting UAB ready for football.

22. (C-USA) Both FAU and FIU will make a bowl game – Both teams did make a bowl game and FAU really made noise with Lane Kiffin at the helm. The Owls went 11-3 and won the C-USA Title while FIU went 8-5.

21. (Independent) Army will reach a second straight bowl game – Army not only reached a bowl game for the second straight year, they defeated Navy again, and also won a bowl game again. The Black Knights made it back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1984-85 when they also won both bowls.

Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct.

Predictions 20 Through 16

20. (MAC) Akron will win the MAC East – This was correct as Akron went 6-2 in the MAC. The Zips did not fare well to end the season as they lost to Toledo in the MAC Championship and FAU in their bowl game. They finished 7-7 on the season.

19. (MWC) Boise State will lose at least three games – This was correct, but it looked bad for most of the season. A regular season finale loss to Fresno State got this over the top, but the Broncos exacted revenge on the Bulldogs with a victory a week later in the MWC Championship. Boise State went 11-3.

18. (MWC) Air Force will reach a bowl game – The Falcons were unable to overcome a 1-4 start and three straight losses to Army, Wyoming, and Boise State made this an incorrect prediction.

17. (AAC) 9 teams will make a bowl game – This was short by 2 teams as only Tulane came up a game short of bowl eligibility.

16. (AAC) – South Florida and Memphis will play in the AAC Championship Game – This was half-right. Memphis took care of business in the West while South Florida’s instant classic against UCF saw them come up just short. UCF went on to win the AAC Title along with the Peach Bowl over Auburn in a great year for them.

Result: 2.5 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 5.5 correct out of 10.

Predictions 15 Through 11

15. (Big 12) Oklahoma State will lead the Big 12 in points scored – Oh was this a close one. The Cowboys averaged 45 points a game. Their rival Oklahoma outscored them by 0.1 points per game. So close.

14. (Big 12) TCU will win the Big 12 Championship – TCU made the game, but failed to seriously threaten Oklahoma in either the regular season or Big 12 Championship matchup.

13. (Big 12) Iowa State will reach a bowl game – The Cyclones really hit the map with wins over Oklahoma (on the road) and TCU (at home) in the span of three weeks. Iowa State went on to make the Liberty Bowl and win it 21-20 over Memphis.

12. (Pac-12) Washington State will reach double digit wins – Another prediction that was close, but ultimately wrong. The Cougars listlessly played against Washington and Michigan State to end the season with back-to-back losses and finish at 9-4.

11. (Pac-12) Colorado will reach a second straight bowl game – The Buffs went 3-0 to start the season and then subsequently went 2-7 in Pac-12 to miss a bowl by a victory.

Result: 1 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 6.5 correct out of 15.

Predictions 10 Through 6

10. (Pac-12) Washington will win the Pac-12 – The Huskies went 7-2 in the Pac-12, but losses to Arizona State and Stanford prevented them from competing in the Pac-12 Championship.

9. (ACC) Lamar Jackson will not win the Heisman – This was likely due to the sky high expectations and in the end it was Baker Mayfield who won the 2017 Heisman Trophy.

8. (ACC) North Carolina State will win at least 10 games – This was yet another close call that ended on the wrong side. NC State had 9 wins with their losses to South Carolina, Notre Dame, and Clemson.

7. (ACC) Florida State will win the ACC – This was over before the Alabama game even finished. The Seminoles struggled all season after Deondre Francois went down against the Tide. FSU finished 7-6.

6. (SEC) Missouri will have the SEC’s highest scoring offense – This one came through thanks to Alabama’s last 2 games in the College Football Playoff. Missouri ended the season with 37.5 points per game and Alabama finished with 37.1. Of course, the Tide do not care about stats because they won the National Championship.

Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 8.5 correct out of 20.

Predictions 5 Through 1

5. (SEC) A 2nd year head coach will win the SEC East – This was spot on as Kirby Smart led Georgia to the SEC East and SEC Championship. The Bulldogs made the National Championship game, but lost a 26-23 thriller in OT to Alabama.

4. (SEC) Auburn will win the SEC West – Another correct call as Auburn upset Alabama in the season finale to win the SEC West. The Tigers ended the season with losses to Georgia in the SEC Championship and Central Florida in the Peach Bowl.

3. (Big 10) Northwestern will win at least 9 games –Northwestern did one better winning 10 games in a very good season for the Wildcats. Their losses were to Duke, Wisconsin, and Penn State as they went 10-3.

2. (Big 10) Michigan State will miss a second straight bowl game – The Spartans made this look awful as they went 10-3. We still like the Spartans to be a Big 10 and College Football Playoff contender for the 2018 season.

1. (Big 10) The Big 10 will win the National Championship – No Big Ten team even made the College Football Playoff to give this one a shot. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin were on the outside looking in. The SEC monopolized the National Championship with Alabama winning over Georgia.

Bonus: At least 10 FCS teams will defeat FBS teams – It is fitting the bonus prediction was like a lot of other incorrect predictions: just missed. 9 FCS teams upset FBS opponents as no late season FCS surprises could see this one come true. As an aside, congrats to North Dakota State on their 6th title in 7 seasons after beating James Madison in the FCS Title game.

Result: 3 out of 6 predictions were correct. The final total is 11.5 correct out of 26 for 44.2%. In 2016, we correctly made 30.5 out of 55 predictions for 55.5%.

We look forward to the 2018 season!

Badger Thoughts 2017: Game Two Victory Versus Florida Atlantic

Jonathan Taylor had an excellent rushing game against Florida Atlantic with 223 yards and 3 touchdowns. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America)

Badger Thoughts 2017: Game Two      Victory Versus Florida Atlantic

The Wisconsin Badgers have opened the season 2-0 after a 31-14 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday afternoon. Like the opening game versus Utah State, there were bright spots and some concerns. We provide our notes and takes on both this game and the 2017 season.

1. Jonathan Taylor makes his case to be starter going forward – Taylor got the start against FAU after an injury sidelined Bradrick Shaw and Taylor showed the coaches the decision was an excellent one. Taylor showed both his power and speed on his two first half touchdown runs.

Taylor finished the game rushing for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns on 26 carries. His backup, Chris James, also showed some good rushes after a tepid first game. James finished with 101 yards on 16 carries and the Badgers averaged 6.6 yards per carry. There are plenty of positive things to say about Taylor and his touchdown runs have been great to watch over and over again.

A few things that are worth bringing up:

  • Taylor is just a freshman, which is great for the Badgers if he continues at this pace. However, solid production from a healthy Shaw and James will be key to keep Taylor fresh at the end of the season.
  • The first two games were against Utah State and Florida Atlantic, teams the Badgers should dominate and look good against. The competition the rest of the season will be much stronger.
  • Injuries and poor quarterback play could make it an uphill battle for the entire rushing attack. Taylor lost a fumble as well in the third quarter, which, at this point, appears to be more of the exception.

Based on what we have seen in two games, Taylor should be the starter at running back with Shaw and James getting plenty of touches as well. It is a long season and three different options behind the offensive line will help the entire offense.

2. Alex Hornibrook struggled to see the field – It was clear that Alex Hornibrook was not having a good day. The timing was not there as he constantly threw behind his receivers and then there was the horrendous interception. On that particular play, he was going backwards with a defender in his face and he forced a throw without even seeing the defender that made the interception. It was a throw that should not have happened and it led to a touchdown for FAU.

Late the second quarter, Hornibrook threw another pass on an out route to the sideline that was woefully short and nearly picked. Luckily for him, it was dropped, but another example of his timing and arm strength being not good enough.

Overall, Hornibrook has to get better if he wants to stay the starter. The timing, precision, arm strength, and general awareness all are a concern though he is just a sophomore. There is time for improvement, but how long does he have before Jack Coan is called on for a bigger role?

3. The secondary gets torched – Florida Atlantic had 142 yards passing, yet it felt like it was far more. FAU’s DeAndre McNeal had catches of 35 and 63 yards with the latter going for a touchdown. There was also another 35 yard pass play to McNeal in the third quarter following Taylor’s fumble, but that was negated due to a holding.

Given the memories of 2016 when Penn State moved up and down the field on the Badgers at will in the Big 10 Championship, it is worth watching this unit to see how they respond going forward.

4. Injury concerns are mounting – The defense was already short due to the losses of Jack Cichy and Zack Baun for the season. During practice on Wednesday, Chikwe Obasih suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for a few weeks.

Now, the offense has some injury worries with Shaw ruled out and then right guard Beau Benzschawel left the game in second quarter and did not return. There is currently no news on the severity of the injury, but the loss of a starter on the line does not bode well.

5. The overall performance felt mediocre – The Badgers dominated this game on offense with 564 yards compared to 248 yards for FAU. They had just one penalty and held the ball for over 38 minutes. However, it was an inefficient game.

The Badgers turned the ball over twice, were stopped three times inside the two yard line early in the second quarter, several passes were dropped, and even Rafael Gaglianone missed a 37 yard field goal. The first half against Utah State and most of this game was nothing like the Badgers we expected to see in 2017. The entire team will have to improve quickly because the non-conference schedule ends next week with a road trip to BYU.

Next week’s game at BYU will be at 3:30 PM Eastern Time and can be seen on ESPN. The Badgers will have a bye the following week before starting Big 10 play against Northwestern at home on September 30.

Badger Thoughts 2017: Game 1 Win Versus Utah State

The Wisconsin Badgers visited the end zone frequently in the second half against Utah State. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America)

Badger Thoughts 2017: Game 1 Win     Versus Utah State

The Wisconsin Badgers opened the season with an emphatic 59-10 victory over Utah State. While it was not very attractive in the first half, the ninth ranked Badgers cruised to an easy win with a suffocating second half performance. Below are some thoughts, and observations noticed in the Friday night win.

1. The offense starts slow – If you happened to read this column in 2016, one of the constant worries was the offense starting slow. Well, 2017 started no different as the offense needed nearly 2 full quarters to even get points on the board. There were fumbles, drops, penalties, sacks, and mistakes that are not typical of Wisconsin. That begs several questions:

Was this performance just first game jitters? Did the Friday night lights play a role? Is the offense too predictable in the early stage of games?

We are leaning to the fact it was the first game where timing can be an a bit off. It is unwise to make a conclusion based on a single game, but this is worth keeping an eye on to see if this trend becomes a mainstay as it did in 2016.

2. Jonathan Taylor has a breakout game – He is only a freshman, but a good one at that if this game was any indication. Taylor showed speed and the ability to keep the legs churning. He finished with 87 yards on 9 carries and a touchdown.

It was an impressive showing and it never hurts to be running behind an offensive line that the Badgers typically employ. Continue to watch the progression of Taylor as he splits carries with Bradrick Shaw (84 yards and 1 TD on 18 carries) and Chris James (5 carries for 16 yards).

3. Scoring production was evenly spread out – The Badgers had 8 touchdowns against the Aggies. And 8 different players scored a touchdown. How about that for spreading the production around? Shaw, Taylor, Garrett Groshek, and Austin Ramesh provided the rushing scores. Troy Fumagalli, Quintez Cephus, and Zander Neuville had receiving scores as Alex Hornibrook had a highly efficient passing game going 15 for 23 with 244 yards and the 3 touchdown passes.

The penultimate score was probably the most fitting. Joe Ferguson, grandson of current Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown.

4. The defense rose to the occasion – Utah State had a strong start with 88 yards on offense and a 10-0 through one quarter. After that, the Badgers defense imposed their will. While many will point to the ejection of Utah State’s Jalen Davis as the turning point, this defense was hitting their stride about the same time and it is usually devastating for opponents when that happens.

While the Badgers gave up 304 yards (219 passing and 85 rushing), nearly half of those came on the final three Utah State drives when the game was no longer in doubt. The Badgers forced 4 turnovers including interceptions on back-to-back Utah State drives to end the first half and start the second half. That led to a tie game at halftime and then a two touchdown lead early in the third.

The most noticeable part of the defense was their hunger to keep the Aggies to only 10 points. They stopped the Aggies once on downs in the third quarter, then they had the pick six midway through the fourth quarter, and finally ended the game with a pass breakup in the end zone.

This Badgers defense, despite the loss of Jack Cichy for the season, looks just as good as the defenses of the previous few seasons. Keep in mind that the Badgers are on their third defensive coordinator (Jim Leonhard) in as many seasons.

Wisconsin will play at home next Saturday against Florida Atlantic. The game is scheduled for 12 PM Eastern Time on the Big Ten Network.