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25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

Wisconsin and Penn State met in the 2016 Big Ten Championship game. Could they meet again in 2017? (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

25 Predictions for the 2017 College Football Season: 5 Through 1

The 2017 College Football season is starting this weekend and that means it is time to finish up predictions for the upcoming season. Despite what Nick Saban says about predictions, they are fun to make and see how they play out over an entire season. We will do something different than last year. In 2016, we made 5 predictions for each conference for a total of 55 predictions. The final total was 30.5 predictions correct for 55.5% hit rate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictions 5 Through 1

5. (SEC) A 2nd year head coach will win the SEC East – To be clear, this prediction is referring to a coach in his second year at his current school. Three coaches actually fall under this one with Kirby Smart at Georgia, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, and Barry Odom at Missouri. We mentioned Missouri in our last article (we really like their offense going into 2017) so our main focus will be on Georgia and South Carolina.

Georgia went 8-5 last year in Smart’s first season. This year he is armed with seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. One would expect improvements on both sides of the ball, but more so on defense given Smart’s background. The Bulldogs gave up 24 points and 327 yards per game, which is respectable, but another step forward would make them an even tougher opponent. It is very difficult to see this group getting worse.

On offense, Georgia has Jacob Eason (2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) back at quarterback. Also returning are Nick Chubb (1,130 yards and 8 TDs) and Sony Michel (840 yards and 4 TDs) to form a formidable backfield duo. The offense put up 24.5 points and 385 yards per game in 2016 and those numbers are likely to climb this season.

The key is the schedule and Georgia’s toughest games are versus Tennessee (away), Florida (in Jacksonville), South Carolina (home), and Auburn (away). Yes, three games are away from home, but this team can win all of those and claim the East.

South Carolina is interesting heading into 2017. Muschamp has been around the SEC a long time and his second season in charge at Florida resulted in his best result with the Gators. They went 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC as Florida tied Georgia for the SEC East crown, but lost the head-to-head matchup to the Bulldogs. Things went downhill quickly for the Gators after that season, but one thing that remained was a very good defense.

Like Smart at Georgia, Muschamp has a strong defensive background. South Carolina allowed 26.5 points and 412 yards per game in his first season. Six starters return on that side of the ball and a step forward is expected from this unit.

On offense, the Gamecocks put up 20.8 points and 348 yards per game in 2016 with a quarterback carousel. 2017 sees 10 starters return including sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley (1,420 yards with 9 TDs and 4 interceptions after playing only 7 games). The top two running backs and top five receivers return, which should mean a vast improve in the performance of the offense. Of course, the big concern is if the offense does improve given some of the struggles Muschamp had at times in Gainesville.

South Carolina’s toughest SEC games are against Texas A&M (away), Arkansas (home), Tennessee (away), Georgia (away), and Florida (home). They too can win both games versus West opponents and a 2-1 split of the other games would go a long way to being the surprise in the East.

Both Georgia and South Carolina are set up for big moves in 2017 though Georgia looks a bit more ready to make the jump thanks to their offense. However, sometimes an excellent defense can carry a team, which may be what South Carolina needs in 2017.

4. (SEC) Auburn will win the SEC West – Let’s start by saying that Alabama is the team to beat in the West and entire SEC, but why make a prediction like that? We take a shot with the Auburn Tigers.

On offense, Auburn returns 8 starters though one of them will not be at quarterback. That will go to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham who won the starting role earlier this month. He will have the luxury of Kamryn Pettway (1,224 yards and 7 TDs) and Kerryon Johnson (895 yards and 11 TDs) to run the ball. The passing attack should improve on the numbers of the last two seasons of 169 yards per game in 2016 and 174 yards per game in 2015. Stidham give this offense a boost and makes them even more potent.

The defense returns 7 starters from a unit that allowed 17.1 points and 362 yards per game. The top three tacklers and six of the top seven tacklers return to lead the defense. Keep in mind that 2016 was only the first year under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. In theory, the second season should be even better if the schemes are truly cemented into the players’ heads. Overall, this unit should allow similar numbers to the 2016 squad.

As usual in the SEC West, the schedule is tough with three straight road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. There is a bye between the Razorbacks and Aggies, but that is still a brutal stretch when you consider that Georgia comes to town after the game versus Texas A&M. The final game is the Iron Bowl against Alabama and that comes at home, which should help the Tigers. It will be difficult for Auburn to defeat Alabama as well as win the West, but the Tigers are more than capable of doing both.

3. (Big 10) Northwestern will win at least 9 games – 2017 will mark the 12th season of Pat Fitzgerald in charge at Northwestern. In that time he has posted three seasons of nine or more wins (two of those were 10 win seasons). This year’s squad is loaded to give the Wildcats a shot at one of their big 9+ win seasons.

The offense will rely heavily on Justin Jackson and rightfully so. Jackson has 4,129 yards rushing in his career, which is already second best in Northwestern history. A 1,500 yard season would put Jackson at #2 all time in the Big 10. Also returning with Jackson are 7 other starters including quarterback Clayton Thorson (3,182 yards with 22 TDs and 9 interceptions). Thorson has come a long way since his 2015 season when he struggled at times. He will be missing his top target from last year in Austin Carr (90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs). The one to watch out for in 2017 is Jalen Brown, a former Oregon Duck.

The defense also returns 8 starters and this group did well in 2016 as they allowed 22.2 points and 404 yards per game. The front four and secondary return seven of the eight starters, which makes for a weaker linebacking group. Good thing they have a head coach in Fitzgerald who knows a thing or two about that position. In 2015 when Northwestern had 8 starters back they allowed 18.6 points and 319 yards per game. An improvement to those numbers in 2017 would make this team very dangerous.

Northwestern opens with three games they should win: Nevada (home), Duke (away), and Bowling Green (home). After a bye week, the Cats face Wisconsin (away) and Penn State (home) to start Big 10 play. The rest of the Big 10 schedule could result in wins: Maryland (away), Iowa (home), Michigan State (home), Nebraska (away), Purdue (home), Minnesota (home), and Illinois (away). Nebraska is the toughest of those games especially away from home, but 9 or 10 wins is definitely realistic.

2. (Big 10) Michigan State will miss a second straight bowl game – Between 2013 and 2015, the Spartans won the Rose Bowl and played in two Cotton Bowls, winning one. Then 2016 happened when they slumped to 3-9 winning just one game in the Big 10. The defense allowed 27.8 points per game, the most under Mark Dantonio. 

2017 sees four starters return on each side of the ball. Th offense loses quarterback Tyler O’Connor and top receiver RJ Shelton. LJ Scott does return after rushing for 994 yards and 6 TDs last year. Scott may burden a big load early in the season as new starters all over the field go through the learning curve. In 2016, the offense also had four returning starters and put up 24.1 points and 395 yards per game.

The defense has four starters back from a group that allowed 27.8 points and 365 yards per game. The biggest concern is the defensive line that allowed 159 yards rushing per game in 2016 and have just one returning starter after off the field issues saw two others dismissed. Similar numbers are expected, but with Dantonio the defense could surprise to the good side.

The schedule for the Spartans is filled with tough games. After a bye on September 16, they will face Notre Dame (home), Iowa (home), and Michigan (away) in three straight games. The end of October and beginning of November is another brutal stretch: Northwestern (away), Penn State (home), and Ohio State (away). The margin for error is small this year for Michigan State especially with the inexperience and off-season turmoil.

We will be honest, 2018 looks like it could be an exceptional season for Michigan State. Assuming that all the 2017 non-senior starters return, there would be 20 starters back in 2018 (10 on each side of the ball). That could be a team to watch next season.

1. (Big 10) The Big 10 will win the National Championship – There are three main contenders to win the Big 10: Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. And as we saw in 2016, you do not need to win your conference to make the Playoffs.

Ohio State had just 6 starters back in 2016 yet went 11-2 and made the Playoffs. Now they have 15 starters back and once again are the Big 10 favorites with all the firepower returning on offense an defense. Ohio State has three tough games in 2017: Oklahoma at in week two, Penn State at home at the end of October, and at Michigan to end the regular season. Expect the Buckeyes to be favored in all their games in 2017 barring some serious trouble.

Penn State is another contender to win the Big 10 after their awesome 2016 season. They went 11-3 while winning the Big 10 and made numerous comebacks in the second half of games throughout the season. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley make a dangerous backfield combination that is up there with any other backfield QB/RB duo in the country. Just imagine how good the Nittany Lions might be if they decide to not spot their opponents points in the first half.

Penn State has a brutal four game stretch over a five week span: Northwestern (away), Michigan (home), Ohio State (away), and Michigan State (away). The Spartans should not pose a serious threat, but given the game is after back-to-back games against the Wolverines and Buckeyes, there is the slight chance for a let down.

The third top contender is Wisconsin, who has an incredibly friendly Big 10 schedule. They do face BYU on the road September 16 before a bye week. The Big 10 schedules opens with Northwestern at home and Nebraska on the road. In November, they welcome both Iowa and Michigan to Madison while playing Minnesota in the finale. The Badgers have a good shot of going undefeated where they will probably meet up with either Ohio State or Penn State.

There are two dark horse contenders in Michigan and Northwestern. We discussed the Wildcats two predictions above and concede that they are a very long shot to even reach the Big 10 title game. Michigan will be in year three under Jim Harbaugh, but the losses are severe. Just four starters are back on offense and only one starter returns on defense. They have a brutal schedule of Florida (in Arlington, Texas), Penn State (away), Wisconsin (away), and Ohio State (home). The Wolverines are capable of getting to the Big 10 Championship and even the Playoffs, but it does not look likely in 2017.

It it tough to project the four teams in the College Football due to the multitude of matchup possibilities. Ohio State is probably the best of the trio mentioned above and loom as the Big 10’s best chance to win the National Championship. However, do not underestimate Penn State or Wisconsin from reaching the Playoffs where anything can happen.

That concludes our 25 predictions for the 2017 season, however, we will give one bonus prediction below.

Bonus: At least 10 FCS teams will defeat FBS teams – Does it seem like FCS teams upsetting FBS teams is happening more often? If so, that is because it is happening more often. Between 2004 and 2009, FCS teams averaged 4.3 wins per year against FBS teams with a high of 9 in 2007. Since 2010, that average has more than doubled to an average of 9.6 wins per season. 2013 saw the most FCS upsets with 16 and each of the last five seasons have produced at least 8 FCS wins against the FBS.

Here is a link to all the FCS versus FBS matchups in 2017. There are 98 matchups featuring FCS against FBS teams, which means roughly 10% of the games will require an upset for this prediction to be correct. With FCS teams becoming more and more competitive, it makes sense they would defeat FBS teams more often. Let’s hope that is the case in 2017 as well.

You have reached the end of our predictions. We hope you enjoyed reading them and hope you follow along  to see how they turn out for the 2017 season. Enjoy the start of the 2017 season!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictions 10 Through 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

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

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Week 7

Week 8

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 7

Jamaal Williams had another big game against Michigan State. He and BYU face Mississippi State at home on Friday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)
Jamaal Williams had another big game against Michigan State. He and BYU face Mississippi State at home on Friday night. (Leon Halip/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 7

Week six has come and gone (along with nuisance of Hurricane Matthew we hope). Week seven has some big games including NC State at #3 Clemson, Kansas State at #19 Oklahoma, #20 West Virginia at Texas Tech, North Carolina at #16 Miami (FL), #12 Ole Miss at #22 Arkansas, and #2 Ohio State at #8 Wisconsin.

We will take a look at some of the games not listed above for week seven. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.

1. Mississippi State at BYU (10/14 at 10:15 PM) – The Bulldogs enter this game off a horrendous performance against Auburn at home. They were run off the field in the first half after giving up 35 points. They played better in the second half, but that is not a consolation after the first 30 minutes they played.

BYU comes in at the opposite end of the spectrum. The went into East Lansing and won 31-14. They were close with the Spartans through three quarters, but really wore them down in the final frame scoring 21 points to Michigan State’s 7. It was a familiar scene with Jamaal Williams toting the rock quite a bit in the final quarter.

In the Bulldogs’ last two losses to LSU and Auburn, they allowed 177 yards rushing and 228 yards rushing, respectively. Williams has put up four games of at least 160 yards rushing this year and BYU is 3-1 in those games. Mississippi State will need to stop Williams if they want to have a chance of winning. Even then, though, they will have to deal with Taysom Hill.

The Bulldogs will need their A+ game in this one, but will also need Nick Fitzgerald to play better. In their two wins, he has put up at least 110 yards (305 total) and 5 touchdowns against 1 interception. In their three losses, he has managed just 85 yards total on 32 carries and just 2 touchdowns against 1 interception. If the Bulldogs get Fitzgerald going, they can stay in striking distance.

BYU sits and 3-3 while Mississippi State is 2-3 so far in 2016. A win for either team will help their bowl chances, but more so for the Bulldogs.

2. Illinois at Rutgers (10/15 at 12 PM) – This game is way under the radar and has no impact on the rest of the season. So why is it on this list? Because both teams are trending in a bad direction under first year head coaches and this is the kind of game that give a team something to build on if they win. Plus, one of these teams can say they did not go winless in conference play at the end of the year.

Illinois (1-4) is on a four game losing streak and last week’s game against Purdue was there for the taking. They had a chance to defeat Purdue, but Chase McLaughlin’s 41 yard kick at the end of the game hit the right upright and Purdue won 34-31 in overtime.

Rutgers (2-4) is well known for their past two performances. They were crushed 58-0 on the road at Ohio State, but last week’s game put them on the map. They were drubbed 78-0 at home to Michigan, who basically ran the ball the final 20 minutes and still ended up with 481 yards on the ground and 9 rushing touchdowns. The duo of Chris Laviano and Zach Allen combined to go 2 for 18 for 5 yards passing for the Scarlet Knights in the passing game. Rutgers managed 34 yards rushing on 36 carries.

One of these teams has to win this game and while it may not get either one to a bowl game, at least they can build off of this game. Hopefully.

3. Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech (10/15 at 12:30 PM) – This is the battle of which Georgia Triple Option offense is better. Both teams have about 67% of their offense from the ground game while both enter on losing streaks with Georgia Southern at two and Georgia Tech at three.

Georgia Southern will have the benefit of an extra three days of preparation due to playing Arkansas State on Wednesday. The Eagles will spread the ball around to their backs. Five players have at least 200 yards and another one has over 100 yards: Matt Breida (279 yards and 1 touchdown), Wesley Fields (279 and 3 TDs), Favian Upshaw (254 and 2 TDs), Kevin Ellison (252 yards and 3 TDs), L.A. Ramsby (208 and 3 TDs), and Demarcus Godfrey (124 yards).

Georgia Tech has lost three in a row, but they have faced some tough opponents in Clemson, Miami (FL), and Pittsburgh with only Pittsburgh on the road. The ball will usually go into the hands of Dedrick Mills (82 carries for 357 yards and 7 TDs) or quarterback Justin Thomas (64 carries for 206 yards and 1 TD). Another one to watch out for is Clinton Lynch. He only has 19 carries, but has gone for 254 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He also has 6 catches for 134 yards and another touchdown. If he breaks one, it might be the difference.

This game will be old school triple option offense with a lot of running and sporadic amounts passing. Georgia Southern sits at 3-2 and while a loss here does not crush their bowl hopes, a win would give them a confidence boost going back into Sun Belt play. A win here would be bigger for Georgia Tech because their run in consists of Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Georgia. There is no margin for error with a loss here.

4. New Mexico at Air Force (10/15 at 3:30 PM) – A Mountain West battle ensues as the Lobos will travel to face Air Force. New Mexico comes off a big loss to Boise State at home where the offense racked up a ton of yards on the ground, but not much on the scoreboard. They got crushed 49-21 with two late scores flattering the scoreline.

Air Force lost their first game of the season last week to Wyoming on the road 35-26. The Falcons were forced to rely on the passing attack, which ended badly as Nate Romine went 6 of 19 for 188 yards with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. They may be facing a poor pass defense in New Mexico, but Air Force football is a triple option first with some passing sprinkled in.

This game should feature a lot of running. Air Force only managed 149 yards on 39 carries against Wyoming, but they like to pass the ball closer to 15 times a game instead of 20. New Mexico averages 354 rushing yards per game from their version of the triple option between Teriyon Gipson (399 yards and 5 TDs on 31 carries in only 3 games), Tyrone Owens (390 yards and 2 TDs on 63 carries), Lamar Jordan (287 yards and 1 TD on 50 carries in basically 3 games), and Richard McQuarley (242 yards and 7 TDs on 47 carries). Gipson missed the game versus Boise State due to hamstring. He is expected to be back for this game and it will be worth watching to see how effective he is against Air Force.

Both teams have a loss in conference play, but Air Force has not played Boise State yet this season. New Mexico could use a win going into the back half of their schedule while Air Force could use this game to get the run game back on track (last two games have seen the offense finish with more passing yards than rushing yards).

5. Northwestern at Michigan St (10/15 at 3:30 PM) – This game will feature both teams at 2-3, which was not expected before the season. Northwestern got a big win before their bye week with a 38-31 win on the road over Iowa. The offense easily looked the best they have all year against Iowa with Justin Jackson getting 171 yards on 26 carries and Austin Carr catching 3 touchdown passes (6 catches for 73 yards total) from Clayton Thorson (164 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions).

Michigan State has not looked anything like the Spartans of the past 5 years during their three game losing streak. Against Wisconsin and BYU they were physically dominated. BYU ran wild on the Spartans in the fourth quarter while Indiana put up 437 yards of offense on them.

The loser of this game drops to 2-4, which will be very difficult to navigate the final half of the year. Northwestern will face Indiana, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois. Michigan State plays Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Rutgers, Ohio State, and Penn State. This is a big game for both teams.

6. Missouri at Florida (10/15 at 4 PM) – Missouri is 2-3 on the season alternating between losses and wins to start the campaign. They most recently lost to LSU 42-7 on the road and they were dominated in that game. Florida comes in off a win against Vanderbilt, but it was an ugly win. They also had to deal with the postponement of their contest against LSU due to Hurricane Matthew.

Florida’s defense has been very good against every team except Tennessee. They have given up a total of 20 points in their four wins and only 163.5 total yards per game in those four as well. Meanwhile, Missouri’s offense put up a lot yards prior to the LSU game and that will be an interesting matchup for them against the Florida defense. Drew Lock has thrown for 1,675 yards with 14 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He will find this group to be a big step up compared to some of his other opponents.

This game could help shape the SEC East. Florida has just one loss and can still win the division with some help. Missouri already has two losses in conference play and is now looking to make a bowl game. A win here would help and really put a dent in Florida’s SEC East hopes.

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

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Week 6

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 5

Drew Lock leads the Missouri Tigers' high powered offense will face the LSU Tigers and interim head coach Ed Orgeron. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)
Drew Lock leads the Missouri Tigers’ high powered offense will face the LSU Tigers and interim head coach Ed Orgeron. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 5

Week five will encompass both the end of September and the start of October. September will end with a bang as #7 Stanford travels to play #10 Washington Friday evening while October will be ushered in with National Title and conference implications as well. #11 Tennessee is at #25 Georgia, #8 Wisconsin is at #4 Michigan, Oklahoma is at #21 TCU, and of course the biggest game: #3 Louisville at #5 Clemson.

Those games are definitely worth the coverage they garner, but we like to focus on the smaller games that may have an impact on the season for the teams playing. Let’s take a look at some of the under the radar games for week five. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.

1. Virginia at Duke (10/1 at 12:30 PM EST) – This game looks a lot better than it did a week ago at this time. Virginia got their first win last week against Central Michigan 49-35 at home with Kurt Benkert throwing for 421 yards and 5 touchdowns. Duke had a massive win on the road at Notre Dame 38-35 in which the managed to get nearly 500 total yards of offense.

While Duke is the favorite to win, the confidence gained by the Cavaliers could go a long way especially against a Duke passing defense that gave up 381 yards to DeShone Kizer (albeit against much better competition). If both offenses are in form, this could be a high scoring affair. Last week’s win against Notre Dame will help Duke’s chances of making a bowl game, but if they want to keep that hope they need to win against Virginia this week.

2. Eastern Michigan at Bowling Green (10/1 at 3 PM EST) – It is always nice to have some MACtion on this list, but this one is probably not the one most people would expect to see. Eastern Michigan has been a putrid program in recent years with four straight years of double digit losses. That will not happen this year as the Eagles already have 3 wins (most since 2011 when they went 6-6).

Bowling Green has been a constant MAC Title contender with two MAC Championships in the last three years. However, they have been terrible this year with a 1-3 record and are the only team in the FBS to have allowed 70 points or more TWICE this year and no other team has even allowed 60 or more points twice this season.

That gives some recent historical perspective as to why this contest is on the list. This game is a chance for Eastern Michigan to beat one of the MAC big boys even if they are down. Bowling Green could use this game to restart their season and the conference slate is the time to get back on track.

3. Navy at Air Force (10/1 at 3:30 PM EST) – This game usually is the deciding factor in which team ends up winning the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy. The last time Army won the CIC Trophy was in 1996, but there is a chance that could change this year with a much improved Black Knights squad.

Both teams come into this game 3-0 and both have been tested. Navy needed touchdown in the last four minutes against both Connecticut and Tulane to get the win while Utah State hung around against Air Force last week. Even if you are not a fan of the triple option, it is always a great spectacle to see the Service Academies square off on the football field.

4.  Western Michigan at Central Michigan (10/1 at 7 PM EST) – More MACtion! Western Michigan is a perfect 4-0 coming into this game with victories over Northwestern and Illinois on the road and against Georgia Southern at home last week 49-35. Central Michigan has opened 3-1 and lost for the first time last week to Virginia on the road 49-35.

Western Michigan’s Jamauri Bogan has run for at least 100 yards in all four games while Central Michigan has been led by Cooper Rush’s arm (1,359 yards, 62.6% completions with 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions). The Chippewas will be boosted by being at home, but Western Michigan will not be bothered given their two road wins over Big Ten opponents this year.

The bottom line to this game is the winner will be in the driver’s seat to the MAC West Title and an appearance in the MAC Championship Game. This is especially true since 0-4 Northern Illinois looks nothing like the team that was expected to be in the hunt to be the MAC West Champion.

5.  Missouri at LSU (10/1 at 7:30 PM EST) – This may not be a truly under the radar game after Les Miles’ firing on Sunday. All eyes will be on Ed Orgeron to see if he can truly deliver a different looking offense (read: much improved). Results may not happen in a week, but there should be some things that are different under Orgeron.

This will also be Missouri’s first trip to Death Valley as well as the first SEC meeting between the two schools (they played in 1978 with Missouri winning 20-15). Missouri is led by quarterback Drew Lock and the offense has been impressive this year. Their averages per game are 44.5 points, 569.5 total yards, 391 yards passing, and 178 yards rushing. LSU allows 16.8 points, 341.2 total yards, 225.2 passing yards, and 116 rushing yards per game. This is the type of offense versus defense showdown we want to see.

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

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 3

Nick Chubb and Georgia will be facing Missouri on the road this week. Can the rushing attack explode as they did in week one against North Carolina? (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America)
Nick Chubb and Georgia will be facing Missouri on the road this week. Can the rushing attack explode as they did in week one against North Carolina? (Scott Cunningham/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 3

After a great opening week there was a lull in the big games during week two, but that gives way to some top games in the third week. #2 Florida State at #10 Louisville, #1 Alabama at #19 Ole Miss, and #3 Ohio State at #14 Oklahoma are the headliners this week. There are also other good contests like #25 Miami (FL) at Appalachian State, #22 Oregon at Nebraska, Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State, and USC at #7 Stanford.

We look for those small headliners that are worth keeping an eye on both this week and possibly down the road with their impact on the season. Let’s take a look at some of the under the radar games for week three. Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.

1. Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech (9/17 at 12:30 PM EST) – This game is big for both schools in regards to making a bowl game this year. Georgia Tech can improve to 3-0 with a win heading into their ACC schedule and would need just three wins in their final 9 games to reach a bowl game. As for Vanderbilt, they are 1-1 after seeing their opening week game slip away to South Carolina. They rebounded on offense to put up 47 points against Middle Tennessee with Ralph Webb running wild to the tune of 211 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 carries.

The key for both teams will be third down. For the season, the Vanderbilt offense is 8 of 27 on third down and they are facing a Georgia Tech defense that has allowed 16 of 32 on third down. It could also be a low scoring affair given the amount of carries both offenses will feature.

2. South Florida at Syracuse (9/17 at 3:30 PM EST)South Florida made an appearance on this last week with their game against Northern Illinois. They crushed the Huskies 48-17 just as they did Towson in week one, 56-20. Syracuse opened with a 33-7 win over Colgate before getting dominated 62-28 by Lamar Jackson and Louisville at home.

The Orange will not have to worry about facing a guy like Jackson this week, but they do have to contend with Quinton Flowers. Flowers threw for 350 yards with 4 touchdowns and ran for another 53 yards on the ground against NIU. South Florida also held that NIU offense to 318 total yards as well as 5 of 18 on third down. The Orange did move the ball well against Louisville, but will need to have the defense step up if they are to keep this game close and have a chance at winning.

3. Western Michigan at Illinois (9/17 at 4 PM EST) – Welcome back, Western Michigan. They were featured in this season’s opening column and did not disappoint with a 22-21 win over Northwestern. They decimated North Carolina Central in week two 70-21 to move to 2-0. Illinois started with a 52-3 win over Murray State in week one and then lost 48-23 to North Carolina in week two. They hung close with the Tar Heels for most of the game, but gave up the final 17 points in the fourth quarter.

The Broncos are actually favored in this game (by 3 points as of this writing). They will not have to worry about facing a tough defense like Northwestern in week one. However, they are facing a better offense this time around than they did in the opening week. Wes Lunt can sling the ball, but he did not look too solid against North Carolina throwing for only 127 yards and 2 touchdown on 17 of 35 passing. Like opening week, this should be a good game to watch and Western Michigan could make it 2-0 against the Big 10 this year.

4. Georgia at Missouri (9/17 at 7:30 PM EST) – Georgia has looked underwhelming this year with a 33-24 win over North Carolina in week one and then squeaking past FCS Nicholls State 26-24 last week. Missouri struggled against West Virginia in their 26-11 loss on the road, but bounced back to trounce Eastern Michigan 61-21 at home last week.

This will be the fifth meeting of these two teams since Missouri joined the SEC in 2012. Georgia is 3-1 in those games and they have beaten Missouri handily in both games at Missouri. They won 41-20 in 2012 and 34-0 in 2014. It is difficult to call any game in the SEC a trap game, but this could be it. Georgia faces Ole Miss on the road next week while Missouri faces Delaware State.

Will Georgia get the running attack going like they did against North Carolina when Nick Chubb ran for 222 yards and 2 touchdowns? How will the defense handle Missouri’s Drew Lock who happens to be the SEC’s leading passer after two weeks? This game could be pivotal in what appears to be another wide open SEC East race.

5. Duke at Northwestern (9/17 at 8 PM EST) – This is a game of what could have been. Duke lost quarterback Thomas Sirk before the season and then lost by 10 points to Wake Forest in week two as they sit at 1-1. Northwestern has been even worse. They lost to both Western Michigan and Illinois State with the offense looking particularly bad against ISU. They lost running back Justin Jackson to a “lower-body injury” in the ISU game, but he is expected to play in this game. The Northwestern offense looked bad against Illinois State and are just 9 of 28 on third down this year.

This game could be ugly especially on the offensive side of the ball. If Jackson is not able to make an impact and the Duke running game cannot get going, it could be even worse. This is a big game at this point in the season for both teams given their schedules the rest of the season.

6. FCS Teams versus FBS Teams – Getting sick of seeing this one yet? Well, it will stick around for at least this week. After four wins in the opening week, there were three more FCS victories over FBS opponents in week two. This week features a total of 12 FCS versus FBS teams and there are some games that look like possible victories for the FCS. The most likely upsets are Eastern Kentucky at Ball State, Monmouth at Kent State, and Delaware at Wake Forest. In addition, North Dakota State (winners of five straight games versus FBS opponents) face Iowa on the road. Will a team have their name added to the list below?

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

Week 1

Week 2

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 1

Christian McCaffrey is in action on Friday night against Kansas State (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)
Christian McCaffrey is in action on Friday night against Kansas State (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images North America)

Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 1

College Football began on August 26 with Hawaii and California playing in Sydney, Australia. That game was followed up by the five time defending FCS Champions North Dakota State surviving an overtime game against Charleston Southern. The season begins in full force on Thursday, September 1 with sixteen games.

Many of the top matchups are getting most of the press and rightfully so. LSU versus Wisconsin, USC versus Alabama, Notre Dame at Texas, Ole Miss versus Florida State, Georgia versus North Carolina, Clemson at Auburn, and Oklahoma versus Houston are all tantalizing on paper. All of those games will be fun to watch, but let’s take at some of the games that may not be on the radar.

Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.

1. South Carolina at Vanderbilt (9/1 at 8 PM EST) – This probably does not strike as much, but it could be a game that determines if one of these schools reaches a bowl game in 2016. This will be Will Muschamp’s first game at South Carolina and he inherits just nine returning starters (four on offense and five on defense). It will be interesting to see if Vanderbilt’s offense can improve from 2015 and the impact Muschamp has on the South Carolina team.

2. Kansas State at Stanford (9/2 at 9 PM EST) – A Friday night game at the Farm featuring Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey against a formidable Bill Snyder coached Kansas State defense is worth watching. Heck, just a chance to see McCaffrey in action is a game worth watching. Can the K-State defense keep McCaffrey somewhat in check? How will Stanford’s new quarterback play? Can K-State keep the game close and provide some worry to the Stanford fans? There are a lot of things that will be interesting to keep track of in this one.

3. Western Michigan at Northwestern (9/3 at 12 PM EST) – Western Michigan is a team that could make some serious noise in the MAC West in 2016. A game against a team like Northwestern will be a very good measuring stick. The Broncos have offensive weapons like quarterback Zach Terrell (3,510 yards with 67% completions as well as 29 touchdowns and 9 interceptions), Jamauri Bogan (1,051 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns), Jarvion Franklin (735 yards rushing and five touchdowns), and receiver Corey Davis (90 catches for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns). Meanwhile, how Clayton Thorson progressed for the Northwestern offense is a big question because they cannot rely solely on Justin Jackson (1,418 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns).

4. Missouri at West Virginia (9/3 at 12 PM EST) – Missouri had one of the top defenses from last year (gave up 16.2 points and 302 yards per game) while West Virginia averaged 34 points and 480 yards per game. The contrasting styles and how each team can effectively make adjustments will be exciting to see.

5. UCLA at Texas A&M (9/3 at 3:30 PM EST) – UCLA is coming off an 8-5 season and is considered one of the favorites for the Pac-12 and Pac-12 Title. They are led by sophomore Josh Rosen (3,668 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) and have nine starters back on defense. Kevin Sumlin may be under the microscope more than usual this year after back-to-back 8-5 seasons. Two former Sooners will be in the back for the Aggies as Trevor Knight and Keith Ford. The Aggies will also have back the top five receivers from 2015 and this could be a fun game to watch if the offenses explode.

6. BYU versus Arizona (9/3 at 10:30 PM EST) – BYU may appear on this list quite often given their schedule. Taysom Hill is back for yet another season and he goes up against an Arizona team that went 7-6 last year and returns 15 starters. This game will also be Kalani Sitake’s first game in charge of BYU after 11 years of Bronco Mendenhall. This game will be a fun one to watch between Arizona’s Anu Solomon and Hill.

7. FCS Teams versus FBS Teams – These matchups are always worth keeping an eye on because they can produce some shocking results (see Portland State winning not once, but twice in 2015 against FCS teams). It is always great to see the FCS teams holding a late lead and see if they can complete the upset.

Check back next week for under the radar games for week two.

Five Predictions For Southeastern Conference In 2016

Nick Saban has led Alabama to four National Championships in his time at the school. (ean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)
Nick Saban has led Alabama to four National Championships in his time at the school. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For Southeastern Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season began last night with California defeating Hawaii 51-31 in Sydney, Australia. Below are five predictions for Southeastern Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the teams for the Southeastern Conference as the fourteen teams remain the same and are split into East and West Divisions. The seven teams in the East Division are Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. The seven teams in the West Division are Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M.

Here are five predictions for the Southeastern Conference in 2016:

1. Every SEC West team will make a bowl game – The SEC West has done this two years in a row already with every team going to a bowl in both 2014 and 2015. In both of those years, every team finished with a winning record as well. The SEC West sets up well again for it to be three straight years with every team making a bowl game. No time needs to be spent on Alabama, LSU, or Ole Miss as they should easily reach six wins.

Arkansas – They play Louisiana Tech, Texas State, and Alcorn State in the state of Arkansas (the Alcorn State game is played in Little Rock), and TCU on the road for their non-conference schedule. From the East, they draw Florida at home and Missouri on the road. They may need two or three wins against SEC West opponents to reach six wins.

Auburn – They face Clemson, Arkansas State, Louisiana Monroe, and Alabama A&M at home in their non-conference schedule. They also draw Vanderbilt out of the East, which means they only need two wins against fellow SEC West opponents if they go 4-1 against the aforementioned opponents.

Mississippi State – Their non-conference schedule consists of South Alabama and Samford at home while facing Massachusetts and BYU on the road. A 3-1 record looks like the worst case scenario for the Bulldogs and they draw South Carolina (home) and Kentucky (road) from the East.

Texas A&M – They have to face UCLA, Prairie View, New Mexico State, and UT-San Antonio out of conference all at home. They will play South Carolina (away) and Tennessee from the East. Like Auburn, if they go 4-2 in those games, they will only need two wins against the SEC West.

It looks likely the SEC West will make it three straight seasons with every team making a bowl if each of the teams above only require two wins to reach six wins. Every team is capable of grabbing a couple of wins against fellow SEC West teams.

2. Kentucky will not reach that elusive bowl game – Kentucky has not been to a bowl game since 2010 when they lost to Pittsburgh 27-10 in the Compass Bowl. This will be Mark Stoops’ fourth year and the seat will be a lot hotter if the season unravels as it has the past two years.

In 2014, Kentucky opened with a 5-1 record that included a triple overtime loss to Florida on the road. The final six games featured five losses by double digits and a close loss on the road to rival Louisville (44-40). In 2015, Kentucky had another strong start going 4-1 with another close loss to Florida. They went 1-6 in their final seven games with a victory over Charlotte and two close losses to Auburn (30-27) and Vanderbilt (21-17).

There are nine starters back on the offensive unit after putting up 24.7 points and 372 yards per game last year (both down from 2014). One of those two starters being replaced is at quarterback where Drew Barker is expected to take over. He only threw for 364 yards with a touchdown and two picks in just two starts last season. He has the top four running backs as well as the top ten receivers from 2015 returning. The offense should be more efficient and there are plenty of reasons for Barker to succeed.

The defense returns just five starters from their unit that allowed 27.4 points and 394 yards per game in 2015. That was an improvement of nearly four points and 13 yards per game over 2014’s defense. However, this year the losses are heavy as seven of the top eight tacklers have left. This is the area of concern for the Wildcats and may prevent them from getting to six wins.

2016 starts with Southern Miss at home and then Florida on the road before back-to-back home games against New Mexico State and South Carolina. A 3-1 record is mandatory for Kentucky to have a chance at making a bowl. Alabama (road) and Vanderbilt (home) are the next two games before a bye. The final half of the season only gets harder. They finish with Mississippi State (home), Missouri (away), Georgia (home), Tennessee (away), Austin Peay (home), and Louisville (away). The Wildcats are going to need a few upsets (and avoid that second half of the season swoon) if they are to end the bowl drought.

3. Vanderbilt will make a bowl game – 2016 will be Derek Mason’s third year and it is clear that the team is heading in the right direction. They went 3-9 in 2014 and 4-8 in 2015 with a huge improvement on defense. After allowing 33.3 points per game in 2014, they only allowed 21 points per game last year. The offense needs improvement after putting up just 15.2 points and 327 yards per game. That side of the ball will have running back Ralph Webb again after rushing for 1,152 yards and 5 touchdowns. The quarterback play will be better regardless of who wins after throwing for just 172 yards per game in 2015. There are eight starters back on offense and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig is in his second year.

The defense will have seven starters back with Mason running the unit again. Four of the top five tacklers are back while nearly all of the secondary returns. It would not be surprising to see the Commodores have another very good season on defense and it will need to be if they are to make a bowl appearance.

The schedule is challenging for Vanderbilt, but not overwhelming to start the season. They have South Carolina and Middle Tennessee at home before back-to-back road games at Georgia Tech and Western Kentucky. Up next are Florida (home), Kentucky (road), Georgia (road), and Tennessee State (home) before their final four games in November. They take on Auburn and Missouri on the road while facing Ole Miss and Tennessee at home. Vandy can start no worse than 3-1 if they are to have a shot at making a bowl game, but that start is very doable.

4. The Arkansas-Mississippi State game will determine the last place finisher in the SEC West – These two teams appear to be the weakest on paper, but that is why they play the games. Both teams lost their quarterback from last year (Dak Prescott for MSU and Brandon Allen for Arkansas). Both teams also lost their leading rusher (Prescott for MSU and Alex Collins for Arkansas). However, both teams return their top receiver from a year ago (Fred Ross for MSU and Drew Morgan for Arkansas).

The key for this prediction is how well the teams have come together and there will be plenty of time for that as Arkansas travels to Starkville on November 19 (the tenth game of the year for both teams). The Bulldogs having won four straight in the series, but the last three have been decided by a touchdown or less. While both teams have rivalry games the next week (MSU in the Egg Bowl vs Ole Miss and Arkansas versus Missouri), no game in the SEC West can be classified as a trap game this year.

5. Missouri will win the SEC East – This seems preposterous with the amount of hype around Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, but let’s take a look outside the box. Missouri lost long time head coach Gary Pinkel as he retired after 15 years at the helm. Taking over is defensive coordinator Barry Odom who was with the team in 2015 and also played as a linebacker the school from 1995 to 1999.

The offense returns just five starters, but last year’s unit was abysmal averaging just 13.6 points (only Kent State’s 13.1 points per game were worse in the FBS) and 281 yards of offense per game. Former Oklahoma Sooner quarterback Josh Heupel is the offensive coordinator and a fellow Sooner is in the backfield in Alex Ross to give the rushing attack a spark. Drew Lock is back at quarterback after throwing for 1,322 yards with 4 touchdowns and 8 interceptions (49%) while starting the last eight games. The top receivers are back as well and the only place this offense can go is up.

The real crux of this team is the defense, which a large part of the reason the team did not end up worse than 5-7 last year. They gave up just 16.2 points and 302 yards per game in 2015 and now have eight starters back. Six of the top seven tacklers return as well as the entire defensive line and two of the three linebackers from last year. The defense has given up 133 and 134 yards rushing per game the last two years and they should duplicate that again in 2016.

Missouri does not have the friendliest SEC schedule. They start with Georgia at home on September 17 before a road game at LSU on October 1. Up next are the Gators on the road again October 15, but at least they have a bye week to prepare for that contest. Middle Tennessee (home), Kentucky (home), South Carolina (road), and Vanderbilt (home) all lead up to their final pair of games: on the road at Tennessee and home to Arkansas.

Since joining the SEC, Missouri is 2-2 against Florida, 1-3 against Georgia, and 3-1 against Tennessee. Perhaps the biggest test is not their penultimate game (Tenn), but the third game of the season against Georgia. If the offense improves by a touchdown or ten points a game along with the defense that should be very tough and keep them in every game, then these Tigers could surprise some teams this year.

The Predictions

With the SEC predictions above, predictions have been made for every conference. Links to all the predictions for each conference are provided below.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC

2015 College Football Preview: SEC East

Maty Mauk has been an integral part of Missouri making back-to-back SEC Championship games in 2013 and 2014. Will it be a third in a row for the Tigers? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)
Maty Mauk has been an integral part of Missouri making back-to-back SEC Championship games in 2013 and 2014. Will it be a third in a row for the Tigers? (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

2015 College Football Preview: SEC East

Part 18 of Sports Enthusiasts’ 2015 College Football preview looks at the SEC East in the penultimate preview. As usual, the SEC East is wide open with talented teams and an up and coming team all in the mix. Below are the previews completed and the SEC West preview scheduled for Friday, August 28.

MAC East Division – July 1

MAC West Division – July 3

Mountain West, Mountain Division – July 7

Mountain West, West Division – July 10

C-USA East Division – July 14

C-USA West Division – July 17

The American East Division – July 21

The American West Division – July 24

FBS Independents – July 28

Sun Belt – July 28

Big 12 – July 31

ACC Coastal Division – August 4

ACC Atlantic Division – August 7

Big 10 West Division – August 11

Big 10 East Division – August 14

Pac-12 North Division – August 18

Pac-12 South Division – August 21

SEC East Division – August 25

SEC West Division – August 28

Let’s take a closer look at how the SEC East will shake out.

1. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee has fallen on hard times in recent years. Between 2008 and 2012, the Volunteers had four losing seasons with only two bowl appearances and they lost both of those games. Butch Jones came in for the 2013 season after three years at Central Michigan (2007 through 2009) and Cincinnati (2010 through 2012). Tennessee went 5-7 in his first year (2013) and improved to 7-6 in 2014 with smashing 45-28 victory in the TaxSlayer Bowl against Iowa. 2015 provides Jones with his most experienced team.

The offense will have 10 starters back, which is double the number from both 2013 and 2014. In 2013, the offense put up 23.8 points and 353 yards per game while that number went up to 28.9 points and 371 yards per game in 2014. The quarterback position was hampered by injuries in 2014 with Joshua Dobbs the top returning guy after throwing for 1,209 yards with 9 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. At running back will be Jalen Hurd (899 yards and 5 touchdowns) and former Alabama commit Alvin Kamara. Dobbs also has some wheels after rushing for 469 yards and 8 touchdowns. The entire receiving unit is back with Pig Howard (54 catches for 618 yards and a touchdown), Von Pearson (38 catches for 393 yards and 5 touchdowns), Marquez North (30 catches for 320 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Jason Croom (21 catches for 305 yards and 4 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starter back and the offense should be able to easily produce the highest numbers under Jones.

The defense will have eight starters back from a unit that allowed 24.2 points and 365 yards per game. The defensive line will have two starters back led by Derek Barnett, who was a monster in 2014 with 72 tackles, 10 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss. Three linebackers return in Jalen Reeves-Maybin (101 tackles, 2 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss), Curt Maggitt (48 tackles, 11 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss), and Corey Vereen (24 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The secondary will also have three starters back including both safeties in Brian Randolph (88 tackles and 2 interceptions) and LaDarrell McNeil (76 tackles and 2 interceptions). Cameron Sutton will be at cornerback after recording 37 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 13 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions. The defense should be even better in 2015, which is a scary thought.

Tennessee opens the year with Bowling Green in Nashville before a big game against Oklahoma at home. They will also face Western Carolina and North Texas at home to close out their non-conference schedule. In conference, the Vols will play Florida, Kentucky, and Missouri on the road while staying home to face Georgia, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt. From the West, Tennessee has Arkansas at home and will face their rival Alabama on the road. Despite the tough draw from the West, Tennessee has the ability to win those games and have a great chance against the biggest contenders in the East. Tennessee is the pick to win the East in a surely contentious and open division.

2. Missouri Tigers

Missouri was in the Big 12 Championship in the 2007 season with a chance to make the National Championship, but were demolished 38-17 and ended up being left out of the BCS altogether. The Tigers still had really good seasons in 2008 (10-4) and 2010 (10-3), but began their SEC life with a 5-7 record. That changed in a hurry as the Tigers have been to back-to-back SEC Championship games under Gary Pinkel.

The offense took a big step back in 2014 with only 27.8 points and 367 yards per game of output. Compared to 2013, when they put up 39.1 points and 491 yards, it was tough year even with four starters back. In 2015, there will be six starters back led by quarterback Maty Mauk, who had 2,648 yards with 25 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Russell Hansbrough returns after rushing for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns and Mauk can run the ball if needed as well (373 yards and 2 touchdowns). Wide receiver is a concern with the top four gone. The top returning receiver is tight end Sean Culkin, who had 20 catches for 187 yards and 1 touchdown. Others who may have an impact are J’Mon Moore (2 catches for 33 yards), Nate Brown (5 catches for 45 yards), and Wesley Leftwich (3 catches for 36 yards), but are light on experience. The offensive line will have four starters back, which will create plenty of protection for Mauk and running lanes. The concern is the receivers, but Missouri has the ability to produce higher totals this year despite that.

The defense has been very solid the last two years. In 2013, the defense gave up 23.1 points and 418 yards per game while those numbers went down to 21.1 points and 346 yards per game in 2014 (only 4 starters back). There will six starters back in 2015 including the top two tackles. On the line, only Harold Brantley returns after recording 54 tackles, 5 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 3 pass breakups. The top tacklers from 2015 reside in the linebacking unit. Kentrell Brothers had 122 tackles, 1 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss while Michael Scherer had 114 tackles and 3 tackles for loss. The secondary has three starters back from a unit that allowed 213 passing yards per game and 60.8% completions. Aarion Penton (36 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions), Kenya Dennis (61 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and an interception), and Ian Simon (54 tackles and 1 interception) are the returners. The defensive line is the obvious worry, but the Tigers could match last year’s numbers and possibly improve them.

The Tigers have only one real test on the non-conference slate. They will face Southeast Missouri State (home), Arkansas State (road), Connecticut (home), and BYU (in Kansas City, Missouri). Within their division, Missouri will face Kentucky, Georgia, and Vanderbilt on the road while playing South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee at home. They have to play Mississippi State (home) and Arkansas (road) from the West, but they can win both of those games. The schedule sets up well for Missouri to have a serious shot at winning a third straight East Division title and another big bowl game.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia is consistently one of the better teams in the SEC under Mark Richt. The Bulldogs have made a bowl game in all 14 years under Richt and have only one losing season in 2010 when they went 6-7. More impressively, Georgia has won at last 10 games nine times with Richt at the helm. The Bulldogs have also won 2 SEC Championship under Richt, however, the last one came in 2005. The Bulldogs went 10-3 in 2014 without Aaron Murray and will look to do the same without their starter from last year.

The offense has seven starters back, but as alluded to earlier, Hutson Mason (2,168 yards with 21 touchdowns and 4 interceptions) is not one of them. Brice Ramsey seems to be in line to start (333 yards with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions), but he will have competition from Faton Bauta and Greyson Lambert. Nick Chubb will be the top running back after rushing for 1,547 yards with 14 touchdowns while Todd Gurley (911 yards and 9 touchdowns) was hampered by an NCAA investigation and eventually a torn ACL. The top two receivers are gone as well, but Jeb Blazevich (18 catches for 269 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Malcolm Mitchell (31 catches for 248 yards and 3 touchdowns) are set to step up. The offensive line has four starters back, but the losses at quarterback and receiver are worrisome. The Bulldogs put up 41.3 points and 458 yards per game in 2014 and will probably not match that in 2015.

The defense was stout last year by giving up only 20.7 points and 337 yards per game with eight starters back. There will be six starters back in 2015 with one starter back on the line in Jordan Jenkins from linebacker. Jenkins had 70 tackles, 5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss. Two linebackers return in Lorenzo Carter (41 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss) and Leonard Floyd (55 tackles, 6 sacks, and 2.5 tackles for loss). The secondary will have three starters back from a group that allowed only 170 passing yards per game and 53.8% completions. The trio returning are Aaron Davis (40 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and an interception), Quincy Mauger (51 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions), and Dominick Sanders (34 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). The defense should be solid again and while they may not match or top last year’s numbers, they could come close.

Georgia faces Louisiana-Monroe, Southern, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech in non-conference action with the only road game against the Yellow Jackets. In conference, Georgia has to face Vanderbilt and Tennessee on the road while playing Florida in Jacksonville, as usual. They will also face South Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky at home. From the West, Georgia will take on Alabama (home) and Auburn (road) to give them another tough draw. Georgia has the talent to win the East and the division is certainly there for the taking.

4. Florida Gators

Since Urban Meyer’s departure after the 2010 season, there have been more bad times than good for the Florida Gators. They went 7-6 in 2011 before a slight resurgence to 11-2 and a Sugar Bowl appearances, but they were crushed in that game and it was all downhill after that. They missed a bowl game entire in 2013 with a terrible 4-8 record and went 7-5 last year. Will Muschamp was in charge for the last four seasons, but he was let go. Jim McElwain has been installed as the head coach after three seasons at Colorado State where he went 22-16.

The offense in 2013 for Florida was atrocious. They put up a paltry 18.8 points and 317 yards per game while the numbers improved drastically in 2014 with 30.3 points and 368 yards per game. Enter McElwain, who nearly 35 points and 500 yards per game in his final two years at Colorado State. The quarterback position was unsettled last year due to injuries, suspensions, and ineffectiveness. Treon Harris threw for 1,019 yards with 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, but will be competing with Will Grier for the QB duties. The running back position is led by Kelvin Taylor, who had 565 yards and 6 touchdowns, but the loss of Adam Lane (181 yards and 1 touchdown) will hurt the depth. Demarcus Robinson (53 catches for 810 yards and 7 touchdowns) was the top receiver last year and returns for 2015 along with Ahmad Fulwood (12 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown), Latroy Pittman (15 catches for 164 yards), and Brandon Powell (15 catches for 147 yards and a touchdown). There is only one offensive lineman returning and the offense is also learning new schemes. With all that in mind, it is tough to see the Gators putting up a high amount of points, but there is serious talent left over from Muschamp’s tenure.

The defense was very good to excellent under Muschamp, which is no surprise. In 2012, the defense allowed 14.5 points and 287 yards per game in their 11-2 season. The numbers rose to 21.1 points per game in both 2013 and 2014 while the yards per game were 314 in 2013 and 330 in 2014. This year, there will be seven starters back with two on the line in Bryan Cox (29 tackles and 4 sacks) and Jonathan Bullard (52 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss) while highly rated freshman Cece JeffersonAntonio Morrison is the lone linebacker returning, but he is a good one after leading team in tackles with 101. The secondary is clearly the strength of the defense with all four starters back led by Vernon Hargreaves (50 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions). Brian Poole (45 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions), Keanu Neal (45 tackles and 3 interceptions), and Marcus Maye (62 tackles) all return as well. The secondary should be one of the best, if not the top, secondaries in the nation. Overall, the defense should be stout again with that back four leading the way.

Florida faces New Mexico State, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, and Florida State as part of their non-conference schedule and all four of those games are at home. Within their division, Florida faces Kentucky, Missouri, and South Carolina on the road while playing both Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home. The Gators also face Georgia in their annual clash in Jacksonville. From the West, Florida will play Ole Miss (home) and LSU (road) in two tough games. The talent is there for the Gators to win the East, but a new coach and some losses on the offense leave some worries about actually getting it done.

5. South Carolina Gamecocks

It is hard to believe that Steve Spurrier will be entering his 11th year at South Carolina. He has led South Carolina to an overall record of 84-45 and has not had a losing season. However, the Gamecocks have not won the SEC Championship and have only played in the SEC Championship game once in 2010 when they were lit up 56-17. Still, South Carolina had three straight years of 11-2 records from 2011 through 2013 and Spurrier looks to get them back to those heights after a 7-6 record in 2014.

The offense put up 32.6 points and 443 yards per game, but will only return four starters from last seasons. The quartet of Connor Mitch, Perry Orth, Lorenzo Nunez, and Michael Scarnecchia will battle it out to replace Dylan Thompson (3,564 yards with 26 touchdowns and 11 interceptions). The top returning rusher is Brandon Wilds (570 yards and 4 touchdowns) and he will be joined by David Williams (256 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Shon Carson (141 yards with 2 touchdowns). Pharoh Cooper returns at wide receiver after leading the team in 2014 with 69 catches for 1,136 yards and 9 touchdowns. Tight end Jerell Adams is the second leading returning receiver with 21 catches for 279 yards and 1 touchdown. There are three starters back on the line as well. The lack of experience is a huge concern for the offense and the last time this few of starters returned, they only put up 20.6 points and 347 yards per game.

The defense is in better shape than the offense with eight starters returning including three on the offensive line. The duo of Gerald Dixon (42 tackles and 2 sacks) and Gerald Dixon Jr. (29 tackles) will be joined by Darius English (24 tackles) and junior college transfer Marquavius Lewis. The top three linebackers return in Skai Moore (93 tackles and 3 interceptions), TJ Gurley (80 tackles), and Jonathan Walton (61 tackles). The secondary is the concern here with two starters back in Chris Lammons (21 tackles) and Chris Moody (37 tackles). The defense allowed 30.4 points and 433 yards per game in 2014, but those numbers should improve in 2015 with more experience returning.

South Carolina opens the year with a game against North Carolina in Charlotte, North Carolina. Their three other non-conference games are against Central Florida, The Citadel, and Clemson with all of those games at home. They will face Georgia, Missouri, and Tennessee on the road in three tough games while playing Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida at home. From the West, the Gamecocks have LSU (home) and Texas A&M on the road. If the offense can get its act together quickly and perform well above expectations, then South Carolina has a great chance at contending in the East.

6. Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky has been a middle of the road SEC team at best for a long while. With Joker Phillips at the helm, the Wildcats went 6-7 in year one before falling off to 5-7 and 2-10 in his final two years. Mark Stoops was brought in and produced the same 2-10 record in his first year. 2014 was a step in the right direction with a 5-1 that included a brutal triple overtime loss to Florida, 36-30. They finished the year with six straight losses preventing them from making a bowl game.

Kentucky’s offense put up 29.2 points and 384 yards per game in 2014, a step up from the 20.5 points and 341 yards per game they produced in 2013. This year, seven starters are back led by quarterback Patrick Towles, who threw for 2,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. The running game has Stanley Williams back after he ran for 486 yards and 5 touchdowns as the leading rusher, though that will need to go up in 2015. Jojo Kemp (323 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Mikel Horton (306 yards and 2 touchdowns) are also at running back. Ryan Timmons is back after leading the team with 45 receptions for 536 yards and 2 touchdowns. Also returning are Garrett Johnson (22 catches for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns), Dorian Baker (19 catches for 199 yards and 1 touchdown), and Blake Bone (14 catches for 194 yards with 2 touchdowns). The offensive line has four starters back and the offense should continue its upward trend in points and yards per game in 2015.

The defense has been consistently sub par in Stoops’ first two years. In 2013, the defense gave up 31.2 points and 427 yards per game and those numbers were nearly the same in 2014 when they allowed 31.3 points and 407 yards per game. In 2015, the number of starters returning is seven including four of the top six tacklers. On the line, Melvin Lewis is the lone returning starter after recording 37 tackles last year. The three linebackers all return in Ryan Flannigan (57 tackles), Khalid Henderson (53 tackles), and Josh Forrest (110 tackles and 7 tackles for loss). The secondary has three starters back led by Cody Quinn (35 tackles), Fred Tiller (46 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions), and AJ Stamps (56 tackles and 4 interceptions). Year three of the Stoops era should produce the best defense yet.

Kentucky has a non-conference schedule that consists of Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, Charlotte, and Louisville with all those at home. They will face South Carolina, Georgia, and Vanderbilt on the road while taking on Florida, Missouri, and Tennessee at home. From the West, Kentucky will play Auburn (home) and Mississippi State (road). Kentucky is the wild card team in the East due to their ability to completely shake up the standings.

7. Vanderbilt Commodores

Vanderbilt was undoubtedly going in the right direction under James Franklin. He led them to three straight bowls between 2011 and 2013 while going 9-4 in his final two years. Unfortunately, Derek Mason was not able to produce the same results in his first year with Vanderbilt going backward to 3-9 including 0-8 in the SEC last year.

The offense for Vandy in 2014 was poor gaining only 288 yards per game and scoring just 17.2 points per contest. There will be in starters back from that group led by quarterback Johnny McCrary, who was the leading passer in 2014 with only 985 yards with 9 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Wade Freeback threw for 365 yards with 1 touchdown and 5 interceptions. At running back will be Ralph Webb, who was a bright spot as a freshman with 912 yards and 4 touchdowns. The top three receivers are back in Steven Scheu (39 catches for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns), CJ Duncan (28 catches for 441 yards with 4 touchdowns), and Latevius Rayford (36 catches for 350 yards and a touchdown). The offensive line has four starters back and the offense should produce better in 2015.

The defense has nine starters back from a group that allowed 33.3 points and 402 yards per game. There are two back on the line led by Caleb Azubike (39 tackles and 4 sacks) and Adam Butler (35 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss). The linebackers have three returning starters in Nigel Bowden (78 tackles), Stephen Weatherly (55 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 8 tackles for loss), and Darreon Herring (45 tackles). The secondary has all four starters back with Torren McGaster leading the way with 66 tackles and 2 interceptions. The defense should improve in 2015 with the experience and depth returning.

Vanderbilt will play Western Kentucky, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, and Houston with the first two at home and the second two on the road. In their division, Vandy will take on South Carolina, Florida, and Tennessee on the road and play Georgia, Missouri, and Kentucky at home. From the West, they will play Ole Miss (road) and Texas A&M (home). Vanderbilt will be struggling for wins again in 2015, but they will be a tough out in some games this year.

Overview

The SEC East is wide open with Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina all having enough talent to win the division. Kentucky is a dangerous team that can spoil the hopes of any of the top five teams with an upset while Vanderbilt is still lagging behind. Below is the predicted order of finish.

1. Tennessee

2. Missouri

3. Georgia

4. Florida

5. South Carolina

6. Kentucky

7. Vanderbilt

Check back on Friday for the final preview of this series with the SEC West. We will also predict the winner of the SEC Championship.

Idaho Swaps SEC Opponents In 2017

Idaho at Florida was cancelled in 2014 due to inclement weather (Phil Sandlin / AP Photo)
Idaho at Florida was cancelled in 2014 due to inclement weather (Phil Sandlin / AP Photo)

Idaho Swaps SEC Opponents In 2017

The Idaho Vandals have announced that they will be playing a different SEC opponent in 2017. Instead of facing the Florida Gators in Gainesville during the 2017 season, the Vandals will now travel to Columbia, Missouri to face the Missouri Tigers.

Idaho will be paid $1.3 million for the trip to Missouri. The scheduled date of the game is October 21, 2017.

The 2017 game versus Florida was set to be a make up of last season’s game. The game in 2014 was cancelled due to bad weather and the two schools originally agreed to play the rescheduled game in 2017. Florida still paid the Vandals $975,000 per the agreement.

While the Gators and Vandals will not play in 2017, the two schools will play each other at some point in the future as agreed in the contract.

In 2017, Florida will face the Michigan Wolverines at a neutral site and also have to play Colorado State once between 2017 and 2020. The game against the Rams is due to the Gators buying out head coach Jim McElwain and becoming the head coach of Florida.