This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week starting with this article. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).
25. Appalachian State will win the Sun Belt – We start with a team that has done very well since moving up from FCS to FBS. The Mountaineers went 4-8 in 2013 (their final FCS season), however, their three seasons in the FBS have resulted in winning records. 2014 saw them go 7-5, they went 11-2 in 2015, and went 10-3 in 2016. App State tied for the Sun Belt title last year with Arkansas State after both teams went 7-1 in conference.
This year, the Mountaineers return 7 starters on both offense (scored 29.2 points per game) and defense (allowed 17.8 points per game). The real key is their schedule: no Arkansas State, no Troy, and no South Alabama. Their biggest test is at home versus Louisiana in the final week of season.
24. (Sun Belt) New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 57 years – We made the same prediction last year and sure enough the Aggies did not disappoint going 3-9. There are some positives with 7 starters back on offense and 9 back on defense, which makes them the 12th most experienced team in the FBS.
The real reason for putting this prediction here is the brutal schedule New Mexico State faces. In the non-conference slate, the Aggies play Arizona State, New Mexico, and Arkansas on the road and also take on UTEP at home. In the Sun Belt, NMSU has App State (away), Georgia Southern (away), Arkansas State (home), Louisiana (away), and South Alabama (home). If the Aggies manage to get to 6 wins, it will be a well deserved bowl appearance.
23. (C-USA) The four teams wearing green will not win 25 games combined – Here we have an out of the box prediction. The four teams that wear green are Marshall,Charlotte, North Texas, and UAB. UAB is back to playing football after a 2 year hiatus. The other three teams went a combined 12-25. So this is a slam dunk, right? Not so fast, though we are confident the four teams will not average over 6 wins per team.
Marshall went 3-9 last year in their first losing season since 2010 when Doc Holliday was in his first season. The Herd are one of the favorites in the C-USA East division and could manage hit 10 wins in 2017. Charlotte is an intriguing team because they are in their third full season of FBS football. They went 2-10 and 4-8 the first two years while returning 6 starters on both offense and defense. A similar pattern of progression might move them close to the 6 win mark, but that will take a big improvement on defense (allowed 34.6 points and 453 yards per game).
Over in the West division we have North Texas and UAB. North Texas went 5-8 last year and, thanks to an oversupply of bowl games, they were able to play a 13th game despite being 5-7. 2016 was the first year of Seth Littrell and year two has 6 starters back on offense and defense. The Mean Green could contend for a bowl game if they can pull a few in-conference upsets.
For UAB, they have the uphill battle of assembling a competitive team. As one would expect, they have very few starters still around with only 4 returning and all of them on defense. Their most winnable games will be versus AlabamaA&M, Ball State, and Coastal Carolina. Beyond that, with no competitive games in three years, it is tough to envision them getting close to 6 wins.
We think the four teams mentioned about will end up with roughly 20 wins. With a few upsets, or a big surprise from a team not named Marshall, all four teams they might come close to 25 wins,
22. (C-USA) Both FAU and FIU will make a bowl game – The two Florida schools in C-USA welcome new coaches though both men have previous head coaching experience. Lane Kiffin is now leading Florida Atlantic while Florida International welcomes Butch Davis to the helm. What both teams have going for them is a bevy of returning starters.
FAU has 9 starters back on offense and 8 back on defense. Despite returning their 2016 starting quarterback, the Owls have former Florida State player De’Andre Johnson. He should do well in the Kendal Briles system as should the rest of the offense. Defense is a bit more of question mark as they return 8 starters off a squad that allowed 39.8 points and 514 yards per game. Having a lot of starters back on a porous defense is not always a good thing. If they can improve 10 points and 100 yards per game then they have a decent chance of making a bowl game assuming the offense takes a big step forward in the new system.
FIU has 7 starters back on offense and 8 on defense. All the skill players return on offense except for the #2 receiver, but there is more than enough depth to replace him. The defense has 8 starters back after allowing 34.8 points and 434 yards per game (5 starters back). They should improve on those numbers even with a new defensive coordinator.
Both squads will probably need an upset to reach 6 wins, but both are more than capable of doing so. C-USA East looks very competitive, which means the potential for both teams to exceed (or miss) the expectations.
21. (Independent) Army will reach a second straight bowl game – Last year we liked Army to beat Navy and win at least 6 games. They did both as they defeated Navy for the first time in 15 years while finishing 8-5 with a bowl win over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The schedule sets up pretty well again for Army to reach a second straight bowl. The open with Fordham and Buffalo before back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Tulane. Their next four games are versus UTEP, Rice, Eastern Michigan, and Temple with only the Rice contest taking place on the road. The first 8 games will take place without a bye week.
The final four games will be completed over 6 weeks starting with a road game at Air Force on November 4. Duke goes to West Point the following week before another road game at North Texas. The final game is, of course, the annual title versus Navy on December.
What really helps Army this year is the plethora of returning starters with 9 on offense and 7 on defense. The offense put up 29.9 points and 414 yards per game with the points being the most since 1996. The defense allowed 19.8 points and 291 yards per game and part of that was due to the easier schedule. However, the confidence should be high on both sides of the ball in their fourth year under Jeff Monken.
With the combination of experience and a manageable schedule, Army looks poised to reach a second straight bowl game. That would mark only the second time in school history that Army reached back-to-back bowl games (1984-85).
That concludes the first five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 20-16.
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.
The 2016 College Football season is right around the corner and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Conference USA for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful by the end of the season.
There are no changes to the teams in 2016 as all thirteen teams will be the same from 2015 with seven teams in East Division and six in the West Division. The seven East teams are Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Marshall, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, and WesternKentucky. The six West teams are Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Southern Mississippi, Rice, UTEP, and UT-San Antonio.
Here are five predictions for Conference USA in 2016:
1. Rice will win the West Division – This will be either a spectacular pick or “what was I thinking pick?”. Rice has a total of 16 starters returning (7 on offense and 9 on defense), but will have to break in a new quarterback. The defense gave up 35.8 and 447 yards per game in 2015, but that was with only three starters back and that number triples this year, which should provide a vast improvement.
Rice will have to navigate a tough conference schedule of Western Kentucky (on the road in week one), at Southern Miss, and at Louisiana Tech. Each team in the West has questions surrounding them going into 2016 and Rice has a solid chance of taking the division this season.
2. Old Dominion will make a bowl game – Should this prediction come true, it would be the first bowl in school history for Old Dominion. ODU played in the FCS between 2009 and 2013 while taking the step up to the FBS and C-USA in 2014. They went 6-6 in 2014 (were not bowl eligible) and then 5-7 last year. Last year’s team lost a lot of experience and had 7 starters back on offense with 5 on defense while the quarterback position lost both experience and time due to injury.
2016 should produce better numbers on both sides staring with offense. 9 are back on that side including the both quarterbacks, the top three running backs, and the top five receivers. They had 24.3 points and 371 yards per game in 2015 while those numbers should go up. The defense gave up 35.8 points and 437 yards per game, but will return 8 starters from last year while those numbers should go down.
The schedule will be tricky with non conference games against Appalachian State and North Carolina State with those two both away from home. In conference, they have to deal with Western Kentucky (away), Marshall (home), Southern Miss (home), and Florida Atlantic (away). They can certainly reach six wins with games against Hampton, UTSA, Charlotte, UMass, UTEP, Florida International and a possible upset against the previously mentioned teams will go a long way to securing their first bowl bid.
3. Charlotte’s offense will top 25 points per game in 2016 – Charlotte is entering their fourth season of football with the first two played against weaker teams (FCS, DII, and DIII). 2015 was their first full season against the FBS and they had a rough time. They went 2-10, scored only 17.5 points per game, and gave up 36.3 points per game. This year, the 49ers return a total of 16 starters with nine on offense and seven on defense.
The offense will add in the very talented quarterback Kevin Olsen from Miami (FL) and Robert Washington (originally committed to Syracuse) at running back while also returning the top four receivers from 2015. Speedy receiver Austin Duke led the team with 53 catches for 534 yards and 5 touchdowns. There are few reasons for this offensive unit to not hit 25 points per game in 2016 with the combination of talent and experience.
4. North Texas will finish with double digit losses – The North Texas program went south in a hurry. After going a school record 9-4 in 2013, the Mean Green fell to 4-8 in 2014 and even further in 2015 to 1-11. Dan McCarney was fired after Portland State laid a 66-7 beat down on North Texas in Denton. The offense sputtered averaging only 15.2 points and 320 yards per game while the defense was shredded giving up 41.3 points and 503 yards per game.
The schedule is not kind to North Texas in 2016. They face SMU, Bethune-Cookman, Florida (away), and Army (away). It is not hard to envision a 1-3 non-conference finish for the Mean Green. In conference, their one winnable game in conference on paper looks to be Texas-San Antonio, but that game is away and UTSA should win it. I could be another 1-11 year or 2-10 if North Texas can pull an upset.
5. Middle Tennessee will finish no worse than 2nd in the East – The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee have a very good offense coming back in 2016. Brent Stockstill (pictured above and also the coach’s son) returns after throwing for 4,005 yards (66.7%) with 30 touchdowns and 9 interceptions as a freshman. Also returning are the two of the top three receivers for Stockstill. Richie James (108 catches for 1,346 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Terry Pettis (29 catches for 612 yards and 4 touchdowns) are those two receivers while three offensive linemen return. Coming into the mix is I’Tavius Mathers from Ole Miss at running back. For a unit that put up 34 points and 457 yards per contest in 2015, there should be no issues reaching those numbers again barring injuries.
The trouble will be on defense and the schedule. Defensively, MTSU returns five starters from the 2015 unit that allowed 26.6 points and 406 yards per game. With some high powered offenses that are in C-USA, that side of the ball will have to perform better. The schedule is not easy for MTSU as they face Western Kentucky (home), Marshall (away), and the potentially dangerous regular season finale against Florida Atlantic (home). Their benefit is they pulled North Texas and UT-San Antonio from the West, which should be two wins for the Blue Raiders. Going 2-1 against the three tough East teams should see MTSU finish second (or better if they go 3-0) in the East.
The Prediction Schedule
With the C-USA predictions above, there are now predictions for three conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.
The Big Ten went 8-6 in the opening week of the college football season, but overall it was not a good weekend for them. Week two was a good chance for the Big Ten to redeem themselves. A closer look at each of the Big Ten’s teams is below.
Oregon State Beavers at Michigan Wolverines
Result: Michigan Win 35-7 (Saturday, September 12)
Jim Harbaugh’s first game in the Big House did not get off to a good start. The Beavers took the opening drive and marched right down the field to take a 7-0 lead. It got worse when quarterback Jake Rudock lost a fumble on the Wolverines’ first possession and put Oregon State in position to add to their lead. The Michigan defense stepped up to force and recover a fumble two plays later while the offense turned it into a field goal.
Michigan looked more like Michigan after that first drive by not allowing another point the rest of the game. De’Veon Smith was effective at rushing the ball and was more decisive as well. He finished with 126 yards and 3 touchdowns on 23 carries. Rudock went 18 of 26 for 180 yards, but did not have a touchdown pass and threw an interception.
The Michigan defense allowed a total of 138 yards the entire game and 79 of those yards came on Oregon State’s opening drive. They were disruptive and all over the field for nearly all of the game. The defense gave up only one third down conversion to the Oregon State offense out of 11 attempts.
The Wolverines face UNLV next week at home with a chance to continue improving on both sides of the ball.
Western Illinois Leathernecks at Illinois Fighting Illini
Result: Illinois Win 44-0 (Saturday, September 12)
The departure of Tim Beckman had no effect in week two as the offense continued to shine. Wes Lunt went 33 of 46 for 316 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His top target was Geronimo Allison who had 8 receptions for 124 yards. Marchie Murdock had a solid game with 6 catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.
One area that the offense struggled in was holding on to the ball. They had four turnovers in total with three of those coming on lost fumbles. Obviously it did not hurt this week, but a similar performance against better competition will have disastrous consequences. The Illini also had 147 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 40 carries as a team, which does not even average to 4 yards a carry. That will also need to improve.
The defense pitched a shut out and gave up only 141 yards of offense to Western Illinois. They allowed just 43 yards through the air and intercepted two passes. It was a suffocating performance that bodes well for them.
Illinois looked good for two weeks, but the waters get very deep next week on the road at North Carolina. That will be a great test for Illinois on both sides of the ball against their highest quality opponent to date.
Bowling Green Falcons at Maryland Terrapins
Result: Bowling Green Win 48-27 (Saturday, September 12)
Maryland had a second half surge to beat Richmond last week and it looked like they were going to do well against Bowling Green this week. The Terps led 13-6 at halftime, but struggled mightily in the final 30 minutes.
The defense for Maryland was the biggest culprit as they gave up 42 second half points. They allowed 491 yards and 6 touchdowns through the air while giving up another 201 yards on the ground. They managed just one turnover and allowed 10 of 22 on third and fourth down conversions.
Perry Hills did not have a good game going 15 of 30 with 168 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air. He threw three interceptions, but did run for 94 yards on 8 carries. William Likely was a bright spot again with an 85 yard touchdown return on a punt.
Maryland has a third home game in a row next week against South Florida, but that will not be easy if they continue to struggle.
Buffalo Bulls at Penn State Nittany Lions
Result: Penn State Win 27-14 (Saturday, September 12)
Penn State was atrocious in week one against Temple, but rebounded to beat Buffalo at home this week. However, it was not always pretty as they continued to struggle on offense.
Christian Hackenberg went 14 of 27 with 128 yards and a touchdown. He and the offense would not score until midway through the second quarter, but built a familiar 10-0 score. Buffalo made it 10-7 on their second drive of the second half, but the offense was able to do enough to put the game out of reach. Hackenberg was not sacked at all against Buffalo after being sacked 10 times in week one.
Saquon Barkley had a good game with 115 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries while Akeel Lynch was stifled at times gaining only 46 yards on 19 carries. This duo was able to move the ball at times while the passing game was ineffective under Hackenberg.
The Nittany Lions’ defense was solid allowing only 274 yards of offense to Buffalo and only 69 yards on the ground. They did not force a turnover, but were solid for most of the game.
Penn State kicks off their Big Ten schedule with a home game against Rutgers next week.
Miami (OH) Redhawks at Wisconsin Badgers
Result: Wisconsin Win 58-0 (Saturday, September 12)
Wisconsin was in fine form in week two after their tough opening week game against Alabama. Week two provided Miami (OH), which was a welcome relief as the Badgers crushed them.
Corey Clement did not play this week due to a lingering injury, but it did not matter with Joel Stave slinging the ball around. The running game struggled early on, but eventually got on track as the Redhawks wore down. Dare Ogunbowale ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while Taiwan Deal had 45 yards and 2 touchdowns on 14 carries.
Stave looked sharp again this week going 19 of 30 for 236 yards with 3 touchdown and an interception. His best target was surprising with Robert Wheelwright leading the team. He had 6 catches for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns with the bulk of the catches coming late in the second quarter. Alex Erickson had 5 catches for 73 yards, but was also effective on punt returns with 72 yards on 4 returns.
The defense, as expected, was dominant. They held Miami to -3 yards rushing and a total of 157 yards. They forced four turnovers including two picks Leo Musso and one interception by Tanner McEvoy. McEvoy got snaps at wide receiver as well in this game catching 3 passes for 29 yards.
It was a much better performance, but the run game will need to find its feet quicker and not rely on Stave too much to get the offense going. The Badgers will have Troy in town next week.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Result: Ohio State Win 38-0 (Saturday, September 12)
Ohio State had a quick turnaround from Monday night’s win over Virginia Tech and it may have played a part in their lackadaisical effort at times.
Cardale Jones started the game, but struggled for the first quarter and a half. He was pulled in the second quarter with J.T. Barrett taking over. Neither quarterback was overly impressive with Jones going 12 of 18 for 111 yards and Barrett going 8 of 15 for 70 yards. Neither threw a touchdown or interception.
Ezekiel Elliott was relied on more heavily this game going for 101 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 carries. Braxton Miller, to no surprise, was used as well with 8 carries for 57 yards, but was held to 2 catches for 16 yards. Curtis Samuel finished as the leading receiver with 7 catches for 53 yards and Michael Thomas had 52 yards on 5 catches.
The defense was very good by allowing only 165 total yards with 85 of those coming through the air and 80 on the ground. They forced four turnovers (2 interceptions and 2 fumbles) and returned one of those fumbles to the house courtesy of Vonn Bell from 14 yards out.
The Buckeyes will certainly be looking to get more a rhythm next week at home against Northern Illinois.
Washington State Cougars at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Result: Washington State Win 37-34 (Saturday, September 12)
It looked like Rutgers was going to pull one out for the Big Ten, but a wild fourth quarter saw these two teams combine for 39 points including touchdowns from each team in the final 1:31.
Kyle Flood opted to play Chris Laviano against the Cougars and he was decent. He finished 23 of 29 for 204 yards with a touchdown, but threw an interception that led to a field goal. He was able to spread the ball around finding 10 different receivers with Janarion Grant leading the way with 5 catches for 65 yards. Josh Hicks led the team in rushing with 91 yards on 16 carries while Robert Martin ran for 61 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries.
The obvious weakness this week was the defense that was shredded by Washington State’s air raid offense. Luke Falk went 47 of 66 for 478 yards with 4 touchdowns. Gabe Marks caught 14 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown while River Cracraft had 8 catches for 121 yards and a score. The Rutgers defense was not able to force a turnover and the critical drive that led to the loss. The defense will need to improve if Rutgers wants to make a bowl game this year.
The Scarlet Knights face Penn State on the road next week.
Minnesota Golden Gophers at Colorado State Rams
Result: Minnesota Win 23-20 in 1 Overtime (Saturday, September 12)
Minnesota played well in week one and did so again in week two on the road at Colorado State. The Gophers needed overtime to get the win, but they were able to force an interception and then kick a field goal to give them the three point victory.
Mitch Leidner’s stats are not overwhelming, but he played well when he had to for the most part. He went 23 of 45 for 233 yards with 2 touchdowns, but no interceptions. He did lose two fumbles with the first one occurring inside the Rams’ 20 yard line on fourth and one. The other happened inside his own red zone that led to a field goal. Still, his ability to lead the offense down the field late in the fourth quarter for a go ahead touchdown was impressive.
Rodney Smith ran for 108 yards on 21 carries while Leidner was the second leading rusher with 47 yards on 11 carries. Drew Wolitarsky was a big target for Leidner with 9 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. KJ Maye made the biggest catch in the fourth quarter for a touchdown and finished with 6 catches for 54 yards.
The defense played well, especially when it counted the most in overtime. They finished with four turnovers forced and also held the Colorado State offense to 314 yards. The defense got lucky that Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins was out, but still did well overall.
Minnesota’s strong start will look to be continued next week back at home against Kent State.
Eastern Illinois Panthers at Northwestern Wildcats
Result: Northwestern Win 41-0 (Saturday, September 12)
If there was any worry that Northwestern would be too full of themselves after last week’s win over Stanford, it was not apparent in week two.
The offense was far from overwhelming, but was efficient led by Clayton Thorson who went 11 of 16 for 152 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown and only attempted two runs. Justin Jackson had 22 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown while WarrenLong saw action and finished with 12 rushers for 72 yards and a score.
Austin Carr had 2 catches for 61 yards and a long touchdown of 44 yards. Dan Vitale had 4 catches for 40 yards. The offense was not spectacular, but the defense was even if it was versus a FCS team.
Matthew Harris had a big game this week with two interceptions including one returned 71 yards for a touchdown. The defense allowed only 138 yards of offense to Eastern Illinois and did not allow a third down conversion (0 for 11). It was another dominant performance that bodes incredibly well for the Wildcats.
Northwestern will take on Duke next week on the road in another early season test for the Wildcats.
Iowa Hawkeyes at Iowa State Cyclones
Result: Iowa Win 31-17 (Saturday, September 12)
Iowa had to battle against their in-state rival Iowa State, but they got the job done thanks to a balanced offense. Quarterback C.J. Beathard threw for 215 yards and 3 touchdowns on 15 of 25 passing. He also showed some wheels by running for 77 yards on 10 carries including long runs of 44 yards and 57 yards.
Jordan Canzeri pounded the ball 24 times for 124 yards and a touchdown, but did lose a fumble inside the Iowa State red zone with the game tied at 17. Matt VandeBerg was a safety blanket catching 9 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The defense was not great in the first half allowing all 17 points, but they played well in the final two quarters. With the game still in the balance and Iowa leading 24-17, Desmond King intercepted a pass at the Iowa State 36 and put the offense in great position to salt the game away.
One drive worth noting was Iowa’s final drive of the first half. They started from their own 2, moved the ball down to the Iowa State 22, and were in a great spot to kick a field goal. The game was a 17-10 Iowa State lead at the time, but Kirk Ferentz decided to try a trick play and let Marshall Koehn run the ball on a fake field goal, but he was stopped at the five. It was a bizarre play call that had no effect in the end, but the timing was very curious.
Iowa has another good game next week with Pittsburgh going to Iowa City.
#7 Oregon Ducks at #5 Michigan State Wolverines
Result: Michigan State Win 31-28 (Saturday, September 12)
The Big Ten’s biggest game of the week turned out to be a good one that went their way with a nice performance out of the Michigan State Spartans.
Connor Cook had a decent game going 20 of 32 for 192 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Madre London had a good game running the ball with 103 yards on 18 carries while LJ Scott pounded the ball in for two touchdowns and 76 yards on 11 carries. Aaron Burbridge had a great game catching 8 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
The Michigan State defense was not great, but they played well considering their opponent. They forced two interceptions in the first half with the first one leading to a touchdown for the offense. They also had a huge goal line stop in the second quarter.
In the fourth quarter, they allowed a touchdown with a 31-21 lead, but were able to force a turnover on downs on the following drive (thanks in large part to a sack by Chris Frey and Lawrence Thomas).
Michigan State will be back at home next week with Air Force coming to town.
South Alabama Jaguars at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Result: Nebraska Win 48-9 (Saturday, September 12)
Nebraska rebounded from week one’s crushing Hail Mary loss to decimate South Alabama. TommyArmstrong went 21 of 30 for 270 yards and 2 touchdowns to lead the Huskers. Terrell Newby had a monster game rushing for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns on 28 carries. Newby also had 2 catches for 38 yards and a score while Brandon Reilly caught 5 passes for 71 yards to lead the team.
The defense was clearly angered by last week’s performance and did well with the starters in. They did not allow a point in the first half and when the Jaguars did get into scoring position, they stopped them both times.
Nebraska faces the Miami Hurricanes next week on the road in another big game for them.
Florida International Panthers at Indiana Hoosiers
Result: Indiana Win 36-22 (Saturday, September 12)
Indiana escaped an upset last week against FCS Southern Illinois while this week’s game was not as dramatic at the end. However, Indiana did struggle early on with FIU. The Hoosiers trailed 22-19 early in the fourth quarter before putting up the final 17 points to make the finish comfortable.
Jordan Howard had another very good game with 27 carries for 159 yards. The defense struggled at times, but sealed the game with a pick six for 96 yards by Jameel Cook. That happened to be on fourth and goal with just over 4 minutes left.
Indiana’s defense will be tested again next week with the high-powered Western Kentucky offense going into Bloomington.
That concludes a look at the second week of the Big Ten football roundup. Look out for the week three edition next week.
The 2015 College Football Preview has covered both the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West Conference Preview. Now, we are up to Conference USA and this section will look specifically at the East Division. Below is a schedule for each conference and division in the 2015 College Football Preview.
Let’s take a closer look at the C-USA East Division.
1. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Western Kentucky finished 4-4 in C-USA play in 2014 while finishing in a three way tie for third. They also were the only team to beat Marshall in 2014 with the crazy 67-66 win in overtime. Will 2015 be even better for WKU in Jeff Brohm’s second season?
There will be 7 starters back for a potent WKU offense that average 44.4 points and 535 yards per game in 2014. That number includes the quarterback, running back, and top two receivers. Brandon Doughty threw it all over the field in 2014 with 4,830 yards with 49 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 67.9% of his passes. He will have his top targets in Jared Dangerfield (69 catches for 825 yards and 11 touchdowns) and Taywan Taylor (45 catches for 767 yards and touchdowns) to throw to. At running back will be Leon Allen, who ran for 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns while also grabbing 51 catches for 476 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offense will be high-flying once again for the Hilltoppers.
Defensively, WKU gave up 39.9 points and 510 yards per game in 2014 with only four starters back. That number more than doubles in 2015 to nine starters back as well as the top four tacklers. The two losses are at outside linebacker and cornerback, but the replacements have plenty of experience including WonderfulTerry (yes that is his name) at CB. He was 2nd Team-C-USA in 2014 after playing in 12 games and recording 43 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions.
The entire defensive line returns, but they will need to do better than the 221 rushing yards per game they yielding last year. They will also be backed up by two returning linebackers that were #1 (Nick Holt) and #2 (Dejon Brown) in tackles. The previously mentioned secondary returns three starters and the entire defense should perform better this year than in 2014.
The schedule is not as kind to WKU as they would have hoped. They face a road game at Vanderbilt in the opening before the conference opener at home against a tough Louisiana Tech team. Next up is a road game at Indiana before a home game against Miami (OH). They also have a road game against Rice from the West Division, road game at LSU near the end of October, but get Marshall at home to end the regular season. That game should determine the winner of the East Division and we will call WKU as that winner.
2. Marshall Thundering Herd
Marshall nearly had a magical season in 2014 with a chance to make a New Year’s Six game. However, they lost to Western Kentucky in the regular season finale before bouncing back to win the C-USA Championship and crushing Northern Illinois in the bowl game.
In 2015, Marshall will be hit heavily on offense with the losses being Rakeem Cato at quarterback and Tommy Shuler as the top receiver in 2014 with six starters turning. Replacing Cato will be either Michael Birdsong or GunnarHolcombe, but they will not be putting up the same stats at Cato. Devon Johnson will be returning in the backfield to help out the new QB and he ran for 1,767 yards with 17 touchdowns in 2014. The Thundering Herd will miss their top receiver, but have the #2 (Davonte Allen), #3 (Angelo Jean-Louis), and #4 (Deon-Tay McManus) receivers as well as three offensive lineman. The offensive will not be nearly as potent (45.6 points and 559 yards per game) as it was with Cato leading the show.
Marshall has only five starters back on defense from a unit that allowed 21 points and 357 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line was hit hardest with three starters gone and Jarquez Samuel as the only returning starter (30 tackles, 1 sack, 4 tackles for loss). Linebacker was also hit hard with the top two tacklers from 2014 gone and the only starter back is DJ Hunter. Hunter, originally at Tennessee, recorded 80 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2014 and should have a big season again. The strength for Marshall on defense will be the secondary that returns three starters from a unit that only allowed 197 yards passing and 54.5% completions last year. They will be key to helping the front seven gel early in the season. Overall, the defense will take some steps back with the loses.
Marshall has a pretty easy out of conference schedule with a home game against Purdue, road trip to Ohio, home game against FCS Norfolk State, and road trip to Kent State. A 3-1 record is probable in that stretch. In C-USA play, they draw North Texas and Southern Miss from the West with both of those games at home. The do have to travel to Western Kentucky in the regular season finale and it would not be surprising to see them end up in the C-USA Championship Game.
3. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
2015 will mark head coach Rick Stockstill‘s 10th season in charge of Middle Tennessee. He has seen them progress from the Sun Belt to C-USA. He has also been in charge for all four of Middle Tennessee’s four bowl appearances (1-3 record). Will 2015 be the fifth bowl game for Middle Tennessee and Rick Stockstill?
The offense will return eight starters from 2014 including quarterback Austin Grammer, who threw for 2,557 yards (65.4%) with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Brent Stockstill (son of Rick) could also see playing time. The top running back is gone for the Blue Raiders, but the second, third, fourth, and fifth leading rushers are back, which should soften the blow. The top and third leading receiver are also gone, but the offense was spread out evenly in regards to passing so the losses are not as detrimental while four starters return on the line. After averaging 31.6 points and 431 yards per game in 2014, a similar output can be expected in 2015.
The defense, like the offense, returns eight starters with the losses spread out evenly (one loss on the line, at linebacker, and in the secondary). The defense will be led by Will linebacker TT Barber, who had 72 tackles, 1 sack, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions while being named to C-USA’s 2nd Team. The defensive line allowed 183 rushing yards per game and a 4.3 yards per carry average with the number expected to improve with nearly all of their major players back. The secondary is headed by strong safety Kevin Byard, who was named to the 1st Team All-C-USA squad after putting up 66 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and intercepting 6 passes last year. The defense should be solid for Middle Tennessee.
Middle Tennessee will face three Power 5 conference members in the opening five weeks with games at Alabama and Illinois before Vanderbilt comes to town. They also have Jackson State in the opening week and a home game against Charlotte in Week 3. From the West division they draw Louisiana Tech (road), North Texas (home), and Texas-San Antonio (road) while facing East contender Western Kentucky on the road and Marshall at home. Middle Tennessee can expect another bowl appearance in year 10 under Stockstill.
4. Florida International Golden Panthers
Florida International has improved in the first two years under Ron Turner going from 1-11 in 2013 to 4-8 in 2014. The offense and defense both improved as well. The offense went from averaging 9.8 points per game in 2013 to 23 points per game in 2014 while the defense went from surrendering 37 points per game in 2013 to 24.8 points per game allowed in 2014. Year three should continue that trend.
The offense will be returning seven starters from a year ago including Alex McGough at quarterback. As a true freshman in 2014, McGough threw for 1,680 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing only 50.4% of his passes. Those numbers are far from overwhelming, but he should improve in year two of this offense. McGough will also benefit from the top three rushers returning led by the duo of Anthon Samuel and Alex Gardner. Both rushed for exactly 582 yards on the ground while Samuel had 5 touchdowns and Gardner scored only once. That duo should also improve. Jonnu Smith, the top receiver in 2014, is back as well after grabbing 61 passes for 710 yards and 8 scores. If McGough and the offense can find consistent second and third receivers, they will put up even better numbers in 2015.
The defense returns eight starters including the second, third, and fourth leading tacklers as well as eight of the top ten tacklers from 2014. Six of the front seven return including C-USA Freshman Team member Anthony Wint (48 tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss). The defense gave up only 160 yards rushing per game including 4.1 yards per carry. That should be the case again in 2015. The secondary loses two players at the safety spots so it will be on the corners, Richard Leonard (1st Team C-USA) and Jeremiah McKinnon, to shut down the top opposing receivers. It should be another solid year, if not better, for FIU on defense.
FIU has a somewhat difficult out of conference schedule with back-to-back road games at Central Florida and Indiana before a home game against FCS North Carolina Central. They have a tough draw after that with back-to-back road games again, this time against Louisiana Tech from the West Division and Massachusetts from the MAC. They also draw UTEP out of the West division and will have the duo of Marshall (road) and Western Kentucky (home) to end the regular season. FIU looks poised to reach bowl eligibility and get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011.
5. Old Dominion Monarchs
2014 marked the first season of Old Dominion in Conference USA and it is hard to call it anything but a success. They played 11 FBS teams and finished 6-6 including some incredibly entertaining games against North Carolina State, Rice, UTEP, Western Kentucky, and Vanderbilt. Old Dominion is now no longer the newcomer to the conference in 2015 thanks to the addition of Charlotte.
Eight starters are back on offense for ODU, but two of them are key losses. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke (3,476 yards with 30 touchdowns and 16 interceptions) and wide receiver Antonio Vaughn (63 catches for 1,019 yards and 12 touchdowns) have both departed. Quarterback duties will ended up being handled by redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley, true freshman Blake LaRussa, junior Colin McElroy, or Greyson Lambert. The quarterback may put up solid numbers, but it will be hard to replace Heinicke.
Running back Ray Lawry returns after a successful freshman campaign in which he ran for 947 yards and 16 touchdowns on only 134 attempts (7.1 yards per carry average). He will have four of the same offensive lineman from last year to help pave the way. The loss of Vaughn at wide receiver will hurt, but there are plenty of experienced players to help soften the loss. Zach Pascal had 59 catches for 743 yards and 7 touchdowns while David Washington caught 47 passes for 599 yards and 4 touchdowns. Overall, the offense could produce similar numbers of 32.7 points and 442 yards per game if the quarterback grasps the offense quickly.
2014 saw 10 starters return on defense, but they still gave up 38 points and 452 yards per game against a mostly FBS schedule. That is to be expected, but now the returning starters is halved to five. The defensive line was hit hard with only one returning starter in Poncho Barnwell, who had 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3 tackles for loss. Linebacker loses two starters as well with middle linebacker TJ Ricks returning to anchor the unit. Ricks had 80 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss last year. The secondary allowed 230 passing yards and 68.6% completions and returns two starters at the safety spots. The defense may improve on the numbers a bit in 2015, but are still in the process of trying to make the entire roster full of FBS players.
Old Dominion has quite a few home non-conference games. They start with Eastern Michigan on the road before getting Norfolk State, North Carolina State, and Appalachian State on the road. A 2-2 or 3-1 record will put them in good position because they open C-USA play on the road at Marshall. From the West Division they get Texas-San Antonio, UTEP, and Southern Miss while games against Charlotte (home), FIU (road), and Florida Atlantic (home) will decide if they have at least six wins in 2015.
6. Florida Atlantic Owls
Florida Atlantic thought they had found their man in Carl Pelini until some rather unsavory allegations led to his departure from FAU during the 2013 season. FAU hired Charlie Partridge prior to the 2014 season he guided the Owls to a 3-9 record with only 11 starters returning.
In 2015, there will be six starters returning on offense led by quarterback Jaquez Johnson. Johnson threw for 2,215 yards (57.8%) with 17 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. He also ran for 513 yards and 7 touchdowns as the second leading rusher on the team. The top rusher, Jay Warren, also returns after running for 571 yards and 2 scores. Out of the top four receivers from 2014, only Jenson Stoshak returns. Stoshak was the second leading receiver with 37 catches for 508 yards and 2 touchdowns. After putting up 24 points and 363 yards per game in 2014, FAU should put up similar numbers, if not higher.
On defense, there are still some issues to work on after yielding 34.4 points and 461 yards per game in 2014. Six starters return, the same number that returned in 2014, but the back seven has been decimated with only two returning starters. The entire defensive line returns as well as Rutgers transfer NickInternicola. The front four should improve vastly on the 222 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry average they gave up last year.
The linebackers have only one returning starter in Robert Relf, but he was the #4 tackler in 2014 after making 65 stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. The secondary has Cre’Von LeBlanc and Sharrod Neasman back, which will help shore up some of the inexperience issues. The defense will probably have a few struggles throughout the season.
FAU opens the season on the road at Tulsa before a home game against Miami (FL). They have another home game against Buffalo before a road trip to Charlotte. Their final non-conference game is at Florida on November 21. In conference, FAU has to face Rice (home) and UTEP (road) from the West. FAU will get close to bowl eligibility, but is probably a year away from getting back to a bowl game.
7. Charlotte 49ers
Charlotte has only been playing football since 2013 and have racked up a pair of 5-6 seasons against FCS, Division 2, and Division 3 opponents. 2015 will mark their first time against an FBS opponent and they will have 11 of them. Brad Lambert is in charge of the 49ers and has been with the program since its inception.
Charlotte will have 9 starters back on offense from a team that scored 38.8 points per game and put up an average of 487 yards a game. Matt Johnson threw for 1,941 yards with 13 touchdowns and 8 interceptions before an injury against James Madison knocked him out for the season. His top two targets are back including Austin Duke, who had 79 catches for 1,373 yards and 9 touchdowns. Added into the mix is former Georgia Bulldog Uriah LeMay. Kalif Phillips ran for 1,436 yards and 20 touchdowns behind an offensive line that returns four starters. The offense will not put up the same numbers it did in 2014 thanks to tougher opponents.
The defense returns 8 starters from a unit that allowed 31.6 points and 477 yards per game in 2014. The front three will be back after allowing 193 rushing yards and 4.2 yards per carry in 2014. The linebacking unit has two losses and two returning starters, which will hurt them against FBS competition. Three of the four starters from 2014 return in the secondary including Branden Dozier, who had 86 tackles, 11 pass breakups, and 1 interception in 2014. Despite the experience coming back, the defense will probably see worse numbers this year.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, there will be 11 FBS opponents this year for Charlotte to face. They start with a game at Georgia State before playing at home against FCS Presbyterian. They face back-to-back C-USA opponents in weeks three and four before a home game against Temple. Their last non-conference game is against Kentucky in the penultimate weekend in November. Things will be tough for Charlotte in their first C-USA season with their best chance to win in conference against FAU on September 26 or Texas-San Antonio on November 14. It could be a double digit loss year for Charlotte as they get acclimated to playing in the FBS.
The Conference USA East Division is headed for a showdown between Marshall and Western Kentucky to determine the division champion. It just so happens to be that those two teams meet in the regular season’s final weekend (November 27) prior to the Championship game the following week. Middle Tennessee, Florida International, and Old Dominion look to be headed towards bowl eligibility while Florida Atlantic may come up just short. Charlotte will have a tough time in their inaugural season in C-USA. Below is the predicted order of finish.
1. Western Kentucky
3. Middle Tennessee
4. Florida International
5. Old Dominion
6. Florida Atlantic
Check back on Friday, July 17 for the Conference USA West Division preview as well as the predicted winner of the C-USA Championship game.