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.
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.
Below are some thoughts from each game that a Big Ten team participated in from the opening week of College Football. One thing to keep in mind is that was only week one, which means there is plenty of room for improvement for both winners and losers in the game.
Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes
Result: Utah Win 24-17 (Thursday, September 3)
The most visible thing about Michigan’s opening week loss and Jim Harbaugh’s debut to Utah was the three interceptions by quarterback Jake Rudock. His most egregious was the pick 6 he threw midway through the fourth quarter that gave Utah a 24-10 lead.
Outside of the interceptions, Rudock played solidly. He missed some wide open throws, but his touchdown pass to Jake Butt late in the third quarter (into triple coverage) showed he has the ability to make good. Speaking of Butt, he had a good game by making 8 receptions for 93 yards. Also playing well was AmaraDarboh, who had 8 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Another concern for Michigan was the running game and offensive line. The Wolverines gained just 76 yards on 29 carries as a team for only a 2.6 yards per carry average. The offensive line also has issues getting a good push, especially in short yardage situation.
Overall, it was not the worst start for Michigan. There were positives and they have three consecutive home games versus Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU.
#2 TCU Horned Frogs at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Result: TCU Win 23-17 (Thursday, September 3)
There is a lot to take out of this game for Minnesota. They played a top ranked offense from 2014 and held them to 23 points and forced two turnovers.
The Gophers were able to get a solid game from Rodney Smith, who ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. That was good considering their opponent and they lost David Cobb from last year’s squad. Mitch Leidner played well with 197 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, but he also lost a fumble midway through the first quarter that led to a TCU touchdown. One final note is that Rodrick Williams had a fumble as he was about to score that cost the Gophers points.
Then there was the Gophers’ defense that played a bend, but do not break style. They gave up 449 yards to TCU’s offense and were able to get an interception off Trevone Boykin that stopped a scoring threat. They also forced a fumble inside their own red zone to save more points. It was a really good performance for Minnesota given how many yards they allowed.
Minnesota will be on the road next week to play Colorado State.
#5 Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos
Result: Michigan State Win 37-24 (Friday, September 4)
Michigan State had a tricky game to open the season against a talented Western Michigan squad. ConnorCook looked good throwing for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns, but completed only 15 of 31 passes. The running game for the Spartans looked really good between freshman LJ Scott (13 carries for 77 yards), Madre London (13 carries for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Gerald Holmes (9 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown). Aaron Burbridge had an excellent showing at wide receiver catching 4 passes for 117 yards.
There will probably be some worry about Michigan State giving up 24 points to Western Michigan, but the duo of quarterback Zach Terrell and running back Jarvion Franklin are good. The Spartans were solid in the running game holding Franklin to just 23 yards on 8 carries before he left midway through the third quarter with a head injury. Overall, the Spartans allowed only 18 yards on 23 carries. The Spartans did give up over 100 yards to the receiving couple of Corey Davis (10 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown) and Daniel Braverman (13 catches for 109 yards). However, the Spartans played well on the road and shut down the running game forcing the Broncos to play catch up.
Michigan State has a massive game next weekend against Oregon at home.
#21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats
Result: Northwestern Win 16-6 (Saturday, September 5)
The high point for the Big Ten was right around 2 PM Central Time on Saturday with Northwestern’s 16-6 victory over Stanford. It was a dominating performance from the Wildcats in a statement game for a team that is coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons.
The Wildcats decided to let freshman Clayton Thorson handle the quarterback duties and he played mistake-free in his first start. He threw for 105 yards on 12 of 24 passing, but was impressive with a 42 yard dash for the lone touchdown of the game. He finished with 8 carries for 68 yards and that touchdown. Also helping Thorson out was running back Justin Jackson, who had 28 carries for 134 yards.
On both sides of the ball, Northwestern was the more physical and dominant team. The Wildcats rushed for 225 yards as a team compared to just 85 for Stanford. The defense for Northwestern had a rough first drive giving up 64 yards and a field goal, but were clearly best after that. The defense was led by AnthonyWalker’s impressive performance. He finished with 10 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and 2 pass breakups.
Northwestern already looks like a handful after one game, but it is useful to remember that is has been only one game. The Wildcats have Eastern Illinois at home next weekend.
Illinois State Redbirds at Iowa Hawkeyes
Result: Iowa Win 31-14 (Saturday, September 5)
Most games against FCS competition do not yield much in the way of impressions, but this is different. Illinois State made the FCS National Championship in 2014, but lost narrowly to North Dakota State 29-27. They have a high powered offense, but were held to just 14 points and 231 yards.
C.J. Beathard looked good for Iowa going 15 of 24 for 211 yards and 1 touchdown. His top two targets were Jordan Canzeri (4 catches for 80 yards) and Matt VandeBerg (6 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown). The nice surprise was LeShun Daniels‘ 123 rushing yards on 26 carries.
The defense was very good for Iowa until the final quarter. They gave up 152 yards in the fourth quarter as well as the 14 points that Illinois State scored. However, they were able shut down Tre Roberson, who had just 49 yards on 5 of 12 passing before leaving with cramps. Marshaun Coprich had only 32 on 13 carries.
Yes, it was only the FCS Illinois State Redbirds, but this was a good start. Iowa has an in-state rivalry game next week on the road at Iowa State.
Richmond Spiders at Maryland Terrapins
Result: Maryland Win 50-21 (Saturday, September 5)
Maryland took a while to get going against Richmond, but eventually all phases of the games got in gear. Quarterback Perry Hills had an okay game going 12 of 21 for 138 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The running game was excellent for the Terps by gaining 341 yards on 45 carries and scored 3 touchdowns. Brandon Ross led the team 150 yards and a touchdown, Ty Johnson had 83 yards and 1 touchdown, and Wes Brown ran for 74 yards and a touchdown.
The star on Saturday for Maryland was return man William Likely. He had 2 kickoff returns for 63 yards, but did his damage on punt returns. He had 8 returns for 233 yards including a 67 yard return for a touchdown.
The defense is a bit of a concern having given up a lot of yards in the first half, but they settled down nicely in the final 30 minutes. The Terps will be playing Bowling Green next week at home.
Norfolk State Spartans at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Result: Rutgers Win 63-13 (Saturday, September 5)
Of all the games this weekend, this was the hardest to decipher if anything significant happened. Rutgers demolished a sub par Norfolk State team, but they looked good doing it. Both quarterbacks were excellent with Chris Laviano going a perfect 4 for 4 with 138 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hayden Rettig threw for 110 yards and a touchdown on 9 of 11 passing. Neither passer hurt their chances of winning the job against Norfolk State.
Josh Hicks ran the ball well with 118 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries while Paul James had 15 carries for 82 yards. Leonte Carroo had a field day by catching 3 passes for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The defense was pretty solid after giving up 75 yards and a touchdown to start the game. For the game, Rutgers allowed only 196 yards and actually held Norfolk State to -3 yards rushing.
Kent State Golden Flashes at Illinois Fighting Illini
Result: Illinois Win 52-3 (Saturday, September 5)
Another Big Ten team that was in turmoil to start the season was Illinois. They were originally scheduled to play on Friday night, but constant lightning forced the game to Saturday afternoon. That proved to be no issues as the Illini crushed Kent State.
Wes Lunt was efficient by throwing for 162 yards and 4 touchdowns on 11 of 19 passing. The offense scored touchdowns on both of the first 2 drives courtesy of Lunt’s arm. Josh Ferguson ran for 76 yards and a touchdown to lead the Illini while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 43 yards and a score. 10 different receivers caught a pass with the most catches by one player being 2 (four different receivers had two catches). Geronimo Allison led the team in receiver with 57 yards and a touchdown on 2 catches.
The defense was determined for Illinois as they forced 4 turnovers and allowed only 245 yards. MasonMonheim, Eaton Spence, and Taylor Barton were the trio that picked off passes. V’Angelo Bentley looked dangerous in the return game with 3 punt returns for 85 yards with a long of 48.
The Illini showed no effects of losing Tim Beckman as their head coach and Bill Cubit had them ready. They will take on Western Illinois at home next week.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Temple Owls
Result: Temple Win 27-10 (Saturday, September 5)
This game marked a negative turning point for the Big Ten for the opening weekend. Penn State was out of sorts against Temple as they suffered a bad defeat.
By now, most people know how this went. The offensive line was horrendous by giving up 10 sacks. Christian Hackenberg had no time to throw and it showed by his stat line of 11 completions on 25 attempts for 103 yards and an interception. That interception was a terrible throw by Hackenberg that nearly resulted in a pick 6. The Owls did score a touchdown as a result.
Akeel Lynch was decent for Penn State by gaining 78 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Brandon Polk was electric on his two carries with a total of 50 yards including a 33 yarder. The Nittany Lions finished the game with 77 yards rushing and only 180 yards of total offense.
Penn State’s defense was not terrible early on was they forced 4 punts and a fumble to start the game. They did give up a 93 yard drive that ended in a touchdown for Temple in the second quarter. The second half was much worse as they were constantly on the field.
Penn State has a chance to fix their issues next week at home with Buffalo going to Happy Valley.
BYU Cougars at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Result: BYU Win 33-28 (Saturday, September 5)
The Penn State game was bad for the Big Ten, but the ending to this game was brutal. A Hail Mary by BYU’s Tanner Mangum fell into the waiting arms of Mitch Mathews for the 33-28 win and a crushing blow to Nebraska in Mike Riley’s Nebraska debut.
Nebraska’s offense was pretty good especially Tommy Armstrong. He threw for 319 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception on 24 of 41 passing. The Cornhuskers ran for 126 yards as a team, but Terrell Newby was the high mark at 43 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Jordan Westerkamp was all over the field with 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. BrandonReilly also had 5 catches for 70 yards.
The real issue for Nebraska, as it has been for many years now, was the defense. They allowed 511 yards to BYU and that includes a stretch when the Cougars were without Taysom Hill. It has to be disconcerting to see Nebraska’s defense constantly be unable to finish a game. Another worrisome issue has to be kicker Drew Brown, who missed both of his field goals on Saturday.
Nebraska welcomes South Alabama to Lincoln next week.
Southern Illinois Salukis at Indiana Hoosiers
Result: Indiana Win 48-47 (Saturday, September 5)
Indiana did everything they could to not win against Southern Illinois, but managed to win 48-47 thanks to stopping a 2 point conversion in the final minute of the game.
The Indiana offense was scoring at will with Nate Sudfeld throwing for 349 yards and a touchdown. UAB transfer Jordan Howard ran for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns and wide receiver Ricky Jones caught 6 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.
As usual, the worry is all about the defense for Indiana. They allowed a whopping 659 yards off offense including 411 through the air. Mark Iannotti threw for all 411 of those yards as well as 4 touchdowns on 24 of 31 passing. He also led the Salukis in rushing with 106 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries bringing his offensive yardage total up to 517 for the game.
#20 Wisconsin Badgers versus #3 Alabama Crimson Tide
Result: Alabama Win 35-17 (Saturday, September 5)
The main showcase for the Big Ten on Saturday was Wisconsin and Alabama squaring off in Arlington, Texas. It was not a good showing for Wisconsin as they wilted in the second half.
The Badgers were crushed in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They managed just 40 yards rushing on 21 carries for the entire game with Alex Erickson’s 25 yard rush making him the leading rusher. Corey Clement had 16 yards on 8 carries, but was hampered by injuries that caused him to miss significant playing time.
Despite the poor rushing performance, the Badgers got to see a pretty good game out of Joel Stave. He went 26 of 39 for 228 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception (which came late in the fourth quarter with the outcome determined). He still has a good target in Alex Erickson, who also led the team in receiving with 73 yards and a touchdown on 6 grabs.
The defense for Wisconsin gave up 502 yards, but the game was all about Derrick Henry for Alabama. He ran 147 yards and 3 touchdowns on 13 carries and made the Badgers’ defenders look silly. The defense will need to get much better, especially on the line. It is also worth noting that safety Michael Caputo left after getting hit in the had making a tackle in the first half.
The Badgers get some serious competition relief with Miami (OH) going to Madison next week. The Badgers will be delighted to have them in town to work on their issues.
Purdue Boilermakers at Marshall Thundering Herd
Result: Marshall Win 41-31 (Sunday, September 6)
Purdue continued the Big Ten’s downward slide, but they had a chance to pull the upset as a touchdown underdog. A couple of interceptions thrown by Austin Appleby were returned for a pick six. The first happened on the opening play of the game and the other happened as the Boilermakers were mounting a drive to have a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Both times it was Tiquan Lang who brought the ball back to the house for Marshall.
If you take away the two pick sixes, Appleby played pretty well. He went 29 of 45 for 244 yards with 1 touchdown and he also had another touchdown on the ground on a sneak. He made smart decisions for the most part (again outside of the two pick sixes). He did throw two other interceptions with one coming late in the game after the pick 6 put the game beyond a doubt.
DeAngelo Yancey led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 78 yards while Anthony Mahoungou was second with 4 catches for 59 yards. Nine different receivers caught a pass for Purdue, which is good news for the depth.
The rushing game for Purdue was good with D.J. Knox leading the team with 102 yards and a touchdown while making himself very difficult to tackle. Markell Jones ran for 72 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries as well. Overall, the offense seemed to have a good rhythm going between the two pick sixes, but it fell apart with those turning points.
The defense was okay for Purdue. They gave up 397 yards, but were able to recover two fumbles and got an interception. However, the interception was squandered by the offense with a missed field goal. In crunch time, the defense allowed Marshall to go down the field on an 11 play, 84 yard drive to make it a 34-31 lead for Marshall. It was a decent performance that is better than the 41 points would indicate.
Purdue faces Indiana State at home next weekend.
#1 Ohio State Buckeyes at Virginia Tech Hokies
Result: Ohio State Win 42-24 (Monday, September 7)
Ohio State ended the bad run for the Big Ten, but they were not without some nervous moments. The Buckeyes rushed out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a touchdown pass from Cardale Jones and an 80 yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. After that, the offense stalled for the rest of the first half thanks to adjustments by Virginia Tech and turnovers. Virginia Tech came back to scored 17 unanswered points while the Hokies took a 17-14 lead at halftime.
Elliott finished the game with 122 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but the game plan was not conducive to him running a lot. Jones settled down after his interception and finished with 186 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 of 18 passing. He also ran the ball for 99 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
The biggest performance came from former quarterback Braxton Miller who was in the wildcat and catching passes. His first catch was an excellent diving grab for 24 yards before he caught a 54 yard touchdown pass early in the second half. Then there was his incredible spin on a rushing play that went for 53 yards and a touchdown. JT Barrett also saw action in the fourth quarter at quarterback. He had a 26 yard touchdown pass and also had a nice run of 40 yards.
The offense was solid early and in the second half, but Jones will need to cut down on the turnovers and bad decisions (his interception was tipped and intercepted on a bad decision to throw). The Buckeyes finished with 572 yards of total offense and were only 3 of 9 on third down. Nevertheless, the offense is going to be incredible the rest of the year.
The Ohio State defense was solid early on, even with the absence of Joey Bosa. They did let some receivers get free on the touchdown drives, but were pretty good outside of those. One area of concern is that Virginia Tech was 8 of 17 on third down conversions and also lost contain at times. The latter will be helped with the return of Bosa next week.
Ohio State has a quick turnaround with a home game against Hawaii in week two.
Check back next week for thoughts from the Big Ten performances in week two.
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.