This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week starting with this article. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).
25. Appalachian State will win the Sun Belt – We start with a team that has done very well since moving up from FCS to FBS. The Mountaineers went 4-8 in 2013 (their final FCS season), however, their three seasons in the FBS have resulted in winning records. 2014 saw them go 7-5, they went 11-2 in 2015, and went 10-3 in 2016. App State tied for the Sun Belt title last year with Arkansas State after both teams went 7-1 in conference.
This year, the Mountaineers return 7 starters on both offense (scored 29.2 points per game) and defense (allowed 17.8 points per game). The real key is their schedule: no Arkansas State, no Troy, and no South Alabama. Their biggest test is at home versus Louisiana in the final week of season.
24. (Sun Belt) New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 57 years – We made the same prediction last year and sure enough the Aggies did not disappoint going 3-9. There are some positives with 7 starters back on offense and 9 back on defense, which makes them the 12th most experienced team in the FBS.
The real reason for putting this prediction here is the brutal schedule New Mexico State faces. In the non-conference slate, the Aggies play Arizona State, New Mexico, and Arkansas on the road and also take on UTEP at home. In the Sun Belt, NMSU has App State (away), Georgia Southern (away), Arkansas State (home), Louisiana (away), and South Alabama (home). If the Aggies manage to get to 6 wins, it will be a well deserved bowl appearance.
23. (C-USA) The four teams wearing green will not win 25 games combined – Here we have an out of the box prediction. The four teams that wear green are Marshall,Charlotte, North Texas, and UAB. UAB is back to playing football after a 2 year hiatus. The other three teams went a combined 12-25. So this is a slam dunk, right? Not so fast, though we are confident the four teams will not average over 6 wins per team.
Marshall went 3-9 last year in their first losing season since 2010 when Doc Holliday was in his first season. The Herd are one of the favorites in the C-USA East division and could manage hit 10 wins in 2017. Charlotte is an intriguing team because they are in their third full season of FBS football. They went 2-10 and 4-8 the first two years while returning 6 starters on both offense and defense. A similar pattern of progression might move them close to the 6 win mark, but that will take a big improvement on defense (allowed 34.6 points and 453 yards per game).
Over in the West division we have North Texas and UAB. North Texas went 5-8 last year and, thanks to an oversupply of bowl games, they were able to play a 13th game despite being 5-7. 2016 was the first year of Seth Littrell and year two has 6 starters back on offense and defense. The Mean Green could contend for a bowl game if they can pull a few in-conference upsets.
For UAB, they have the uphill battle of assembling a competitive team. As one would expect, they have very few starters still around with only 4 returning and all of them on defense. Their most winnable games will be versus AlabamaA&M, Ball State, and Coastal Carolina. Beyond that, with no competitive games in three years, it is tough to envision them getting close to 6 wins.
We think the four teams mentioned about will end up with roughly 20 wins. With a few upsets, or a big surprise from a team not named Marshall, all four teams they might come close to 25 wins,
22. (C-USA) Both FAU and FIU will make a bowl game – The two Florida schools in C-USA welcome new coaches though both men have previous head coaching experience. Lane Kiffin is now leading Florida Atlantic while Florida International welcomes Butch Davis to the helm. What both teams have going for them is a bevy of returning starters.
FAU has 9 starters back on offense and 8 back on defense. Despite returning their 2016 starting quarterback, the Owls have former Florida State player De’Andre Johnson. He should do well in the Kendal Briles system as should the rest of the offense. Defense is a bit more of question mark as they return 8 starters off a squad that allowed 39.8 points and 514 yards per game. Having a lot of starters back on a porous defense is not always a good thing. If they can improve 10 points and 100 yards per game then they have a decent chance of making a bowl game assuming the offense takes a big step forward in the new system.
FIU has 7 starters back on offense and 8 on defense. All the skill players return on offense except for the #2 receiver, but there is more than enough depth to replace him. The defense has 8 starters back after allowing 34.8 points and 434 yards per game (5 starters back). They should improve on those numbers even with a new defensive coordinator.
Both squads will probably need an upset to reach 6 wins, but both are more than capable of doing so. C-USA East looks very competitive, which means the potential for both teams to exceed (or miss) the expectations.
21. (Independent) Army will reach a second straight bowl game – Last year we liked Army to beat Navy and win at least 6 games. They did both as they defeated Navy for the first time in 15 years while finishing 8-5 with a bowl win over North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The schedule sets up pretty well again for Army to reach a second straight bowl. The open with Fordham and Buffalo before back-to-back road games at Ohio State and Tulane. Their next four games are versus UTEP, Rice, Eastern Michigan, and Temple with only the Rice contest taking place on the road. The first 8 games will take place without a bye week.
The final four games will be completed over 6 weeks starting with a road game at Air Force on November 4. Duke goes to West Point the following week before another road game at North Texas. The final game is, of course, the annual title versus Navy on December.
What really helps Army this year is the plethora of returning starters with 9 on offense and 7 on defense. The offense put up 29.9 points and 414 yards per game with the points being the most since 1996. The defense allowed 19.8 points and 291 yards per game and part of that was due to the easier schedule. However, the confidence should be high on both sides of the ball in their fourth year under Jeff Monken.
With the combination of experience and a manageable schedule, Army looks poised to reach a second straight bowl game. That would mark only the second time in school history that Army reached back-to-back bowl games (1984-85).
That concludes the first five predictions for the 2017 college football season. Check back next week for predictions 20-16.
1. Army will beat Navy in 2016 – This was correct as Army defeated Navy 21-17. This was Army’s first win against Navy since 2001.
2. Army will reach 6 wins in 2016 – Army reached the 6 win plateau and went beyond as they finished 8-5 overall with a win in Heart of Dallas Bowl versus North Texas.
3. UMass will not top 3 wins in 2016 – Another one that proved correct. Massachusetts slumped to 2-10 in 2016, which was their first year as an Independent.
4. BYU will pull at least 3 upsets in the regular season – We missed on this one. Going by Vegas Insider’s lines, the Cougars pulled only one outright upset. BYU did cover all five games in which they were underdogs, but lost four outright.
5. Notre Dame will lose at least 3 regular season games – Perhaps we were too kind. The Irish lost 8 games and reached our magic mark of three losses by the end of September.
Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct.
1. Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida will lead the Sun Belt in rushing – This was a risky prediction and it did not come close at all. Breida finished with 646 yards on the season while Appalachian State’s Jalin Mooreled the conference with 1,402 yards.
2. Arkansas State or Appalachian State will win the Conference – This was correctly predicted. This required a Troy loss on the final day of the regular season. Both Arkansas State and Appalachian State tied for the title.
3. Texas State will not win more than 3 games in 2016 – We called this correctly, but early in the season it looked iffy. Texas State started the season with a 2-2 record, but lost all their Sun Belt games to drop to 2-10 in Everett Withers’ first season.
4. New Mexico State’s bowl drought will extend to 56 years – This seemed like an easy call and it was. The Aggies went 3-9 on the season though they did have some entertaining games throughout the season.
5. Idaho will make a bowl game –This was another correct prediction. Idaho started 2-3, but won 7 of their last 8 games including the bowl versus Colorado State. It is a shame Paul Petrino and Idaho will be in the FCS by 2018.
Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 8 correct out of 10.
1. Rice will win the West Division – This pick was not even close. The Owls started 0-6 and even though they went .500 the final six games, they never really had a chance to win the division.
2. Old Dominion will make a bowl game – The Monarchs proved this one right. Old Dominion went 7-1 in C-USA and 10-3 overall. Their loss to Western Kentucky prevented them from competing for the C-USA Championship.
3. Charlotte’s offense will top 25 points per game in 2016 – This was correct, but barely as Charlotte scored 25.2 points per game. The 49ers had 6 games were they scored less than 25 points and went 4-8 overall.
4. North Texas will finish with double digit losses – This was wrong and in a big way. The Mean Green went 5-8 overall this year and made an appearance in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in Seth Littrell’s first season as coach.
5. Middle Tennessee will finish no worse than 2nd in the East – Another incorrect prediction. The Blue Raiders started the C-USA season well, but losses to Western Kentucky, UT-San Antonio, and Marshall saw them finish 3rd in the East Division.
Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 10 correct out of 15.
1. Northern Illinois will make it 7 straight MAC Title Game Appearances – This never came to fruition as the Huskies lost three MAC games and did not even reach a bowl game.
2. Western Michigan will defeat at least one Big Ten opponent in 2016 – This one was correct. They defeated Northwestern in the opening game 22-21 and then blew the doors off Illinois two weeks later in 34-10 win. They had a chance for the rare Big 10 trifecta in the Cotton Bowl against Wisconsin, but lost 24-16.
3. The East will be mayhem – This is a very hard prediction to quantify. Ohio ended up as the MAC East winner at 6-2 in conference play, but Miami (OH) came back from an 0-6 start to win out and reach a bowl game. Miami finished 6-2 in the conference as well. We will call this a draw and award half a point.
4. Kent State will reach six wins – This prediction was incorrect. The Flashes lost to North Carolina A&T in week two and then bounced back the next week to defeat FCS foe Monmouth. Kent State never threatened to get to 6 wins and finished at 3-9.
5. Eastern Michigan will end their four straight years of double digit losses (and not finish last in the West) – This was correct. The Eagles got off to a flying start at 4-1 and then sealed their winning season with two wins in the final three games. They finished 7-6 overall and fourth in the MAC West.
Final Result: 2.5 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 12.5 correct out of 20.
1. SMU will win at least four games in 2016 – This was correct. SMU could not get on a roll in a choppy season as they went 5-7 overall. They did upset Houston at home with a resounding 38-16 win.
2. South Florida will win the East Division – This one was close, but was incorrect. The Bulls had a great 11-2 season and went 7-1 in AAC play. Their lone conference loss was to Temple (7-1 AAC), the AAC Champions, thus preventing them from winning the East.
3. Houston will win the West Division and Conference title – This one was incorrect. Houston started 5-0, but finished 4-4 and placed fourth in the AAC West.
4. Connecticut will have winning season –This one ended up as incorrect. The Huskies started 3-3, but lost their last six games to fall to 3-9. The lack of offense cost them and it also cost Bob Diaco his job.
5. The Three “T” teams (Tulsa, Tulane, and Temple) will win at least 20 games combined – This was correct due to Tulsa and Temple. Temple went 10-4 overall (won the AAC Championship), Tulsa went 10-3 overall, and Tulane came in at 4-8 overall to make it 24 wins combined.
Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 14.5 correct out of 25.
1. Air Force will win the Commander-in-Chief Trophyand win 10 games – This prediction was correct on both accounts. The Falcons started 4-0, then lost 3 in a row, and finished the season on a 6 game winning streak. They also defeated Navy and Army.
2. San Diego State will win the West Division – An obvious call before the season, this one was correct. The Aztecs won the West Division going away and finished 11-3 as the only team in the West with a winning record.
3. Boise State will lead the MWC in points scored and Thomas Sperbeck will lead the MWC in receiving yardage – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. Boise State’s offense never reached the expected heights as they finished sixth in the conference at 33.8 points per game. Thomas Sperbeck ended up tied for second in the conference with 1,272 yards receiving behind Tanner Gentry of Wyoming (1,326 yards receiving).
4. UNLV will make a bowl game in 2016 – This was incorrect as the Rebels could never find a good flow. They finished 4-8 overall with wins against Jackson State, Fresno State, Hawaii, and Wyoming.
5. New Mexico will make their second straight bowl game in 2016 – This prediction was correct. The Lobos started 2-3 with losses to New Mexico State, Rutgers, and Boise State, but finished with 7 wins in their last 8 games. They played, and won, in the New Mexico Bowl.
Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 17.5 correct out of 30.
1. Kansas State will make a seventh straight bowl game – This was correct. The Wildcats had a sneaky good season going 9-4 overall and finished it off with a 33-28 win in the Texas Bowl over former conference foe Texas A&M.
2. Oklahoma will lose at least one game they are favored in – This prediction was correct after the first weekend of games. Oklahoma was favored by 13.5 against Houston, but lost 33-23. The Sooners finished 11-2 overall.
3. West Virginia will not win more than 7 games – This prediction was wrong. West Virginia started 6-0 to put this prediction to shame. They went on to finish 10-3 with losses to Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Miami (FL) as they finished 3rd in the Big 12.
4. TCU and Baylor will win 20 games or lesscombined – This prediction was correct. TCU underachieved going 6-7 overall while Baylor went 7-6 with Jim Grobe at the helm.
5. Texas and Texas Tech will both make a bowl game – This prediction was doubly wrong. Neither Texas nor Texas Tech had a winning record, much less made to a bowl game. Both teams finished 5-7 overall.
Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 20.5 correct out of 35.
1. Georgia Tech will get back to a bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Yellow Jackets went 9-4 overall on the season with losses to Clemson, Miami (FL), Pittsburgh, and North Carolina. Georgia Tech defeated Kentucky 33-18 in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
2. The ACC Champion will make the National Championship – This one was correct. Clemson won the ACC over Virginia Tech and then defeated Ohio State in the College Football Playoffs Semifinal 31-0. They reached the National Championship game to face Alabama for a second straight seeason and won 35-31.
3. Pittsburgh will have a double digit win season – This prediction was close, but incorrect. Pittsburgh went 8-5 with losses to Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami (FL), and Northwestern. Only the game against Miami (51-28) was decided by more than a touchdown.
4. Boston College will average at least 25 points per game on offense and give up less than 20 points per game on defense – This prediction was wrong on both accounts. In fact, if the numbers were flipped, this would have been on point. Boston College put up 20.4 points per game on offense and allowed 25 points per game on defense. They finished 7-6 overall.
5. Duke’s bowl streak will end at four – This was correct. The schedule set up against Duke finishing with 6 wins and that is how it turned out. They defeated North Carolina Central, Notre Dame, Army, and North Carolina to finish 4-8.
Final Result: 3 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 23.5 correct out of 40.
1. California and Oregon State will both miss a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Surprisingly, neither of these teams finished last in the Pac-12 North as that distinction went to Oregon. California went 5-7 while Oregon State finished 4-8.
2. Colorado will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct and undersold. Colorado had a great season going 10-4 overall and playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game. They unfortunately had to face some tough opponents in 2016 with losses to Michigan, USC, Washington, and Oklahoma State. Still, it was a superb season.
3. The duo of Christian McCaffrey and Royce Freeman will rush for a combined 4,000 yards – This prediction was wrong and was not even close to being right. After stellar 2015 seasons, these two seemed big campaigns again. Christian McCaffrey finished with 1,603 yards rushing while Royce Freeman had 945 yards rushing in 2016 with both getting injured during the year.
4. Washington will not win the Pac-12 – This one was way wrong. The Huskies were never really challenged in the Pac-12 North and they easily dispatched Colorado in the Pac-12 Championship Game. We probably will not make this prediction again any time soon.
5. The Pac-12 will not make the College Football Playoffs –Another one that was wrong. This prediction was predicated on the idea that Washington would not win the Pac-12. Well, the Huskies DID win the Pac-12 and were a contender for the College Football Playoff all season long.
Final Result: 2 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 25.5 correct out of 45.
1. Indiana will play in their second consecutive bowl game – This prediction was correct. The Hoosiers needed to beat Purdue in the season finale to reach 6 wins and they did in a close 26-24 contest. Head coach Kevin Wilson resigned before the bowl game, which they lost 26-24.
2. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson will lead the conference in rushing – This prediction was correct. Justin Jackson had a very good season leading the Big 10 with 1,524 yards on the ground. He beat out guys like Saquon Barkley, Corey Clement, Rodney Smith, Devine Redding, Mike Weber, and Akrum Wadley for the conference rushing title.
3. Wisconsin will not win 10 games – This prediction was incorrect and happily so. As a Wisconsin fan and someone who attended the school, this is one prediction we are more than happy to eat crow on. The Badgers had what looked like a daunting schedule in the pre-season, but some teams were not as good. However, the Badgers still had to navigate their schedule after back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers finished 11-3 overall with a victory in the Cotton Bowl over Western Michigan.
4. The winner of The Game will make the College Football Playoffs – This prediction was right on the money. Despite a mid-season loss to Penn State, the Buckeyes were selected for the College Football Playoffs after defeating Michigan 30-27 in overtime despite not playing in the Big 10 Championship Game. The Buckeyes were crushed 31-0 in the Playoffs versus Clemson.
5. Iowa will be pushed to the brink by North Dakota State – This prediction was perfectly called. North Dakota State took their patented blueprint to Iowa City and defeated the Hawkeyes 23-21. Iowa finished 8-5 overall on the season.
Final Result: 4 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total is 29.5 correct out of 50.
1. Every SEC West team will make a bowl game – This was close, but incorrect. 6 of the 7 teams made it to a bowl game with only Ole Miss not participating in the post-season. That is interesting because most had Ole Miss as a team contending for the top of the SEC West, not the bottom.
2. Kentucky will not reach that elusive bowl game – This prediction was wrong. Kentucky started 5-3 and had Austin Peay near the end of regular season to make it 6 wins. They did one better as they upset Louisville 41-38 on the road to reach 7-5 and the TaxSlayer Bowl. They lost that game 33-18 to Georgia Tech.
3. Vanderbilt will make a bowl game – This prediction was correct. Vanderbilt needed two late season upsets to reach six wins. They defeated both Ole Miss and Tennessee at home to reach the Independence Bowl, but were thrashed by NC State 41-17.
4. The Arkansas-Mississippi State game will determine the last place finisher in the SEC West – Another one that was close, but ultimately incorrect. Arkansas and Mississippi State played a 58-42 thriller in Starkville late in the season, but it was the Egg Bowl a week later that determined the final team in the SEC West. Ole Miss lost that day 55-20 to finish in the basement after a season of high expectations.
5. Missouri will win the SEC East – It is fitting we round this article out with the worst prediction. Before the season, we thought Missouri’s defense would carry the team, but it ended up being the offense that was key. The Tigers started 2-2 with a 26-11 loss at West Virginia and a 28-27 loss at home to Georgia. It was all downhill from there as they lost five in a row. They won 2 of their final 3 games (Vanderbilt and Arkansas) to finish 4-8 overall. Perhaps this prediction is better suited for 2018 or later.
Final Result: 1 out of 5 predictions were correct. The running total finishes at 30.5 correct out of 55 (55.5%).
Hopefully we can do better in 2017 with our predictions.
Wisconsin Badgers 2016-17 Football Season Report Card
The Wisconsin Badgers have finished the 2016-17 season with a 24-16 win over the Western Michigan Broncos to end at 11-3 overall. It was another double digit win season for the Badgers as 2016 marked the sixth time in the last 8 years they have won at least 10 games.
We will give a grade to each unit on the team as well as an overall team grade and a grade for head coach Paul Chryst. For a measuring stick, here is the midseason report card and we will include the midseason grade for each unit below. Let’s start with a quick glance at the results of each game for the Badgers.
2016 was not an easy year for Paul Chryst in his second season. He had to juggle two quarterbacks, a new defensive coordinator, and what looked like a daunting schedule. Looking at the entire season, he did well switching between Bart Houston (began the season as the starter) and Alex Hornibrook.
The hire of Justin Wilcox as the defensive coordinator already looks like a steal. The Badgers allowed 13.7 points per game in 2015 and saw that increase only marginally to 15.6. The yardage allowed per game do go up from from 268.5 in 2015 to 301.4 yards per game. Still, the defense played well this year, but Wilcox has departed for the California Golden Bears’ head coaching vacancy. The Badgers will have their third defensive coordinator in three years for the 2017 season.
The schedule before the season looked imposing. They had LSU, Michigan State (away), Michigan (away), Ohio State, Nebraska, and the potential for a Big 10 Championship Game. The Badgers ended up facing 7 teams that were ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game for the 2016-17 and went 4-3 in those games. Granted, some of those teams were far from being top 25 material by season’s end, but the Badgers navigated the season well under Chryst.
Final Grade: B+
Midseason Grade: C-
Bart Houston began the season as starter, but was replaced in the Georgia State contest by Hornibrook. After that game, the duo split time behind center though Hornibrook was injured versus Minnesota and subsequently missed the Big 10 Championship game. Many pundits lament the two quarterback system, but these two actually worked pretty well though they were far from game changers.
We noted that on the midseason report card that Hornibrook had looked like the better of the two quarterbacks after five games. By the end of the season it was far more even as Houston gained confidence and was more efficient. Houston finished the year with 1,245 yards (68.1%) with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. After being benched versus Georgia State and not playing the next three games, Houston threw 70 passes and completing 52 of those (74%) for 718 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 pick.
Hornibrook finished the season with 1,262 yards (58.6%) with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In the Badgers’ final eight games, he went 52 of 85 (61%) with 4 touchdowns against 1 interception (remember he missed the Big 10 Championship). He has some things to work on like his reads, throwing the ball into coverage, etc., but he has a bright future as long as he continues to improve.
Final Grade: C+
Midseason Grade: B
It is not hard to see how the running game changed over the Badgers’ season. Over the first five games Wisconsin averaged 161.6 yards per game on the ground. In the final 9 games the Badgers averaged 226.1 yards rushing per game. Corey Clement easily led the team in rushing with 1,375 yards (4.4 yards per carry) with 15 touchdowns. In addition, the final 9 games saw Clement have at least 100 yard performances 7 times.
Dare Ogunbowale had a few big games against Nebraska (120 yards and a touchdown) and Illinois (103 yards) to finish with 506 yards (5.6 YPC) and five touchdowns. He also played a big role in the passing game with 24 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown, but it felt like he was a go to receiver on third down for much of the year.
Both Clement and Ogunbowale are seniors, which means that freshman Bradrick Shaw could feature prominently in the future. He had 457 yards and 5 touchdowns on 88 carries (5.2 YPC). He did have some fumble issues, but his strength, power, and quickness could make for a scary sight in the next few seasons. He could be in a backfield with Taiwan Deal (164 yards rushing) and Pittsburgh transfer Chris James (690 yards rushing in two seasons) in 2017.
Wide receiver Jazz Peavy had a big impact in the rushing game as well. He was used almost exclusively on the end around to finish the season with 318 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 21 carries (15.1 YPC). He came up big throughout the season when called upon and he could see a familiar role in 2017.
Final Grade: A-
Midseason Grade: B-
As with any run-heavy Badger offense, the wide receivers are not likely to put up big numbers. There were some stars that emerged in Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli. Peavy finished as the leading receiver with 43 catches for 635 yards and 5 touchdowns (along with the aforementioned rushing impact). Fumagalli had 47 catches for 580 yards and 2 touchdowns, but bookended his season with very good performances against LSU (7 catches for 100 yards) and Western Michigan (6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown). Both players are juniors and if either of them leave for the NFL, that would create a big void in the passing attack.
Ogunbowale was instrumental in the passing game, but he will move on as a senior. Robert Wheelwright caught 34 passes for 448 yards and 1 touchdown, but is a senior. George Rushing had just 12 catches for 136 yards and was spotty throughout the season. With more consistency he could be a possible #2 opposite of Peavy, but he has a ways to go to fill that void.
Three freshmen who saw some playing time in 2016 and worth keeping an eye on in their development were Kyle Penniston (6 catches for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns), Quintez Cephus (135 total offensive yards), and A.J. Taylor (72 total offensive yards).
Final Grade: B-
Midseason Grade: C+
The offensive line had a slow start this season. Injuries and new quarterbacks hurt them. It took until after the Michigan game for the line to assert itself. The first five games saw the Badgers average just 3.8 yards per carry while that number shot up to 4.6 yards per carry over the final nine games. For the season, the Badgers averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which was better than 2015’s number of 3.8, but still less than the lowest output between 2009 and 2014 of 4.6. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk was named as a first team All-American. Ramczyk will move on to the NFL creating a massive void to refill.
The offensive line had allowed 8 sacks in the first five games, but gave up another 16 the final 9 games to make it 24 on the season. To be fair, the sacks are not always the fault of the line and both Houston and Hornibrook had a tendency to hold on to the ball too long from time to time. In 2015, the Badgers allowed 23 sacks. The offensive line did make good progress over the course of the season particularly in the running game.
Final Grade: B
Overall Offensive Grade
Midseason Grade: C+
There was a clear change in the offense between the Michigan and Ohio State games. It is worth mentioning that between those games was the Wisconsin bye week, which probably allowed them to re-focus the offense. The running game came alive after the bye week while Houston looked more efficient. The Badgers averaged 28.4 points, 382.1 yards, 203.1 rushing yards, and 179.1 passing yards per game. The total yardage was similar to 2015 (378.6 per game), but the emphasis was more on the run (150.3 yards rushing per game), which was not surprising given a new quarterback.
The offense will need to work on being far more efficient in the red zone. They had 58 red zone trips and converted 49 of those into points (84.4%), which ranked 63rd in the country. However, only 37 of those trips resulted in a touchdown (63.8%). This is a big area of improvement for the Badgers in 2017.
Final Grade: B
Midseason Grade: A+
The linebackers had a great year in 2016 led by the T.J. duo. T.J. Watt led the team in sacks (11.5) and tackles-for-loss (15.5). His partner T.J. Edwards led the team in total tackles with 89 while also recording 3 sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-loss. Jack Cichy was on his way to a stellar year after 7 games before a torn pectoral ruled him out the rest of the season. Cichy recorded 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Ryan Connelly (59 tackles and 7 TFL), GarretDooley (40 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 TFL), and VinceBiegel (44 tackles, 4 sacks, and 6 TFL) were big contributors to an incredible linebacker group.
Only Biegel is a senior though Watt (a second team All-American) or Edwards could bolt for the NFL after stellar campaigns. Chris Orr will also return after missing 2016 with a torn ACL.
Defensive ends Connor Sheehy and Alec James, both juniors, had similar seasons on the stat line. Sheehy had 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4 tackles-for-loss while James finished with 23 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Also returning on the defensive line are Chikwe Obasih (31 career starts along with 22 tackles in 2016), and Olive Sagapolu (14 tackles and 1 sack).
The possibility of everyone outside of Biegel returning is tantalizing, but the NFL is a loud call this time of year. Still, the front seven should be a deep and talented group for the Badgers next season.
Final Grade: A+
Midseason Grade: A-
One clear area of regression as the season went on was in the secondary. Perhaps the Georgia State game was a sign of things to come for the final few games, particularly the Big 10 Championship. The Panthers were able to put up 269 yards through the air that day and a few other teams had some success as well. Northwestern threw for 277 (they played from behind the whole game), Purdue had going deep, and then Penn State gashed the back four with ease in the second half.
Sojourn Shelton had 4 picks and 12 pass breakups (most on the team) while Leo Musso recorded 74 tackles and 5 interceptions (led the team). Derrick Tindal had 3 picks and 11 pass breakups and Lubern Figaro finished with 7 pass breakups.
Tindall and Figaro will both be seniors in 2017 as will D’Cota Dixon (60 tackles and 4 interceptions) and Natrell Jamerson (mainly a return guy, but he did have 19 tackles and 4 pass breakups). Those four, along with others, will need to step up to replace Shelton and Musso. This group faltered down the stretch and in the pivotal second half of the Big 10 Championship Game versus Penn State. Look out to see if the secondary plays with a chip on their shoulder in the next year after how they finished the season.
Final Grade: B
Overall Defensive Grade
Midseason Grade: A
The defense did play very well for most of the season. The secondary had documented struggles, but they did play well for stretches of the season. The linebackers led the way for this side of the ball and there were some stars we hope return in 2017 to make this another top defense in the nation.
Final Grade: A-
Special Teams Grade
Midseason Grade: B
The loss of Rafael Gaglianone in late September really hurt then, but after seeing the season play out, that is even more evident now. Gaglianone went 7 of 8 on his field goals and was a perfect 10 for 10 on extra points. Andrew Endicott replaced him and from the start was uneasy. He finished the season 13 of 19 with a long of 46 yards. He made 35 of 37 extra points, but even a few of those were barely inside the uprights. Gaglianone will be back in 2017, which will be a boost to the kicking game.
The punting game left some room for improvement. Anthony Lotti averaged 37.7 yards per punt and put 25 punts inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, but he had a few games where he struggled (see the Michigan game). P.J. Rosowski averaged 36.7 yards per punt and also handled kickoff duties. He had 79 kickoffs with 51 touchbacks and just one kick go out of bounds. Lotti was only a freshman in 2016 so he will have a few seasons left as Badgers to get better.
Natrell Jamerson had 12 kick returns for an average of 21.1 yards per return while Dare Ogunbowale had 10 returns for an average of 21.3 yards per return. Jamerson had a long of 39 and Ogunbowale had a long of 41 and neither had a touchdown. Jazz Peavy returned punts for the Badgers and averaged a paltry 5.8 yards per return on 17 returns. The Badgers can afford to work on the return game going into the 2017 season.
Final Grade: C+
Overall Team Grade
Midseason Grade: B+
2016 was a very good year for the Wisconsin Badgers. Expectations were subdued with the loss of Joel Stave, Alex Erickson, MichaelCaputo, and Tanner McEvoy among others. A new starting quarterback turned into two new starters at that position and both players handled it well.
The running game got off to a slow start, but turned it on after the bye week. In turn, the quarterbacks performed more efficiently and the team was able to shake off back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State to claim the Big 10 West. The defense had breakout stars in T.J. Watt and T.J. Edwards under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox while Corey Clement remained healthy to have a solid season.
Overall, it is hard to argue with the results produced by the Badgers. Many (including this author) thought 10 wins were out of the question, but the Badgers did one better than that and won their first Cotton Bowl.
The Dukes were playing without star linebacker Brandon Hereforddue to suspension and then lost fellow linebackers Dimitri Holloway and David Ezeagwu midway through the first quarter. That makes their performance even more impressive.
The Dukes were able to get going with their special teams blocking a punt to give them a short field. Two plays later, Bryan Schor hit Jonathan Kloosterman for a 14 yard score and a 7-0 James Madison lead. The Penguins had a poor punt on their next drive and the Dukes made them pay again with Schor hitting Rashard Davis for an 18 yard touchdown on a controversial call.
💯 TOE TAP 💯
Rashard Davis makes an INCREDIBLE snag for another JMU TD!
Trailing 14-0, Youngstown State had a decent drive going that resulted in a 45 yard field goal attempt, but the kick never got off as the snap was fumbled. Two drives later, James Madison got big back-to-back pass plays from Schor to Davis (33 yards) and Domo Taylor (31 yards). The drive resulted in Khalid Abdullah punching it in for a 21-0 lead.
The Penguins did get a late first half score thanks in large part to a partially blocked punt that set up Hunter Wells hitting Shane Kuhn for a 17 yard touchdown. That made it 21-7 at halftime with the Dukes holding a commanding yardage edge of 208-88 after 30 minutes.
The Penguins started the second half with the ball, but a fluke interception (video below) gave the ball back to James Madison.
YSU committed two defensive pass interference penalties on the drive and Abdullah ran it in from 2 yards out to extend the lead to 28-7. The Penguins mounted another solid drive, but a snap over the head of Nathan Mays was recovered by JMU’s DarriousCarter. The Penguins next drive required a fourth and 12 conversion, but the potential touchdown was broken up and the Dukes took over.
James Madison controlled the contest for the remainder of the game with Youngstown State scoring a garbage time touchdown. Wells found Jermiah Braswell for a 7 yard score to close the game out 28-14.
The Penguins were led by Wells who threw for 271 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception, but he was harassed for most of the game. Jody Webb had 41 yards rushing on 17 carries to go with 10 catches for 63 yards while Alvin Bailey finished with 7 receptions for 68 yards.
It was not a spectacular offensive performance from the Dukes, but it did not have to be. They were efficient with Schor going 7 of 12 passing for 112 yards with 2 touchdowns and no picks along with 36 yards on the ground. Abdullah, who was named Most Outstanding Player, had 101 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing on 26 carries. The Dukes committed no turnovers.
James Madison won their first title back in 2004 when they defeated Montana 31-21 with Mickey Matthews as head coach. This time it was Mike Houston in his first season leading the Dukes to a national title and a 14-1 overall record for the 2016 season.
Note: This is the National Championship preview following the 2016 FCS Season.
2017 FCS National Championship Preview
The FCS season has just one game left and it is the National Championship between the Youngstown State Penguins (12-3) and James Madison Dukes (13-1). Both teams have had tough roads to get here and are deserving of their spot in the National Championship.
The FCS National Championship will be played on Saturday, January 7 at Toyota Stadium from Frisco, Texas. The game will be shown on ESPN2 with a kickoff time of 12 PM Eastern.
Through four rounds, our predictions have gone 19-3. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.
Below is the 2017 FCS National Championship game preview and we will also provide a prediction for this matchup.
Youngstown State Road To The National Championship
First Round: Defeated Samford 38-24 at home
Second Round: Defeated #3 Jacksonville State 40-24 on the road
Quarterfinals: Defeated Wofford 30-23 at home in 2 overtimes
Semifinals: Defeated #2 Eastern Washington 40-38 on the road
Youngstown State Penguins Preview
The Penguins opened the playoffs with a comfortable 38-24 win over Samford and then had a great game plan against Jacksonville State (force Eli Jenkins to throw) and won 40-24 to reach the Quarterfinals. They won a hard-fought game at home versus Wofford 30-23 in double overtime and then played a wild contest out west at Eastern Washington. Kevin Rader’s catch against the defender’s back gave YSU the 40-38 win and the berth in the title game.
The Penguins average 28.5 points (37 in the playoffs), 431.6 yards, 257.5 yards rushing, and 174.1 yards passing per game on offense. Quarterback Hunter Wells has gone 7-1 since taking over the starting spot from Ricky Davis. Wells has thrown for 1,453 yards (63.5%) with 9 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Wells will be boosted by a strong backfield combination of JodyWebb (1,301 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 6.1 yards per carry) and Tevin McCaster (616 yards with 11 touchdowns and 4.9 YPC). Webb has six straight 100 yard rushing performance and is averaging 157 yards per game in the playoffs. McCaster had a breakout game against Eastern Washington with 154 yards and 3 rushing touchdowns on 29 carries. This duo will be leaned on to get the offense going.
It is worth noting that the team’s second leading rusher, Martin Ruiz, will not play in this game. He had 1,153 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, but was arrested on a weapon charge.
The receivers are not overwhelming with Alvin Bailey the leader in both receptions (40) and touchdowns (5). Bailey is third on the team in yards at 443. Darien Townsend has 32 catches for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns while Webb has caught 26 passes for 328 yards and no touchdowns. Damoun Patterson is worth keeping an eye on because he is the big play guy. He has only 18 catches, but has 461 yards (25.6 yards per catch) and 2 touchdowns. If the running game struggles, this group will have to step up.
The Youngstown State defense allows 19.4 points, 324.4 total yards, 128.1 yards rushing, and 196.3 yards passing per game. The points allowed per game in the playoffs are at 27.3, which is a concern, but they have come up with big stops when needed.
Defensive ends Derek Rivers and Avery Moss have been a menacing duo all season. Rivers had 13 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss on the year while Moss has recorded 9.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Armand Dellovade has 11.5 tackles for loss and leads the team in total tackles at 98. These three as well as the other players in the front seven will have their hands full with James Madison’s rushing attack. The Penguins have intercepted only 12 passes all season, but LeRoy Alexander has accounted for a third of those. Kenny Bishop leads the team with 11 pass breakups.
The kicking duties fall to Zak Kennedy and he has not been great this season. He has converted only 13 of 19 field goal attempts with a long of 46 yards. He has also made 37 of 38 extra points. MarkSchuler has done very well punting the ball with an average of 42.4 yards with 26 landing inside the opponent’s 20.
Jody Webb leads the team in kick returns averaging 23.9 yards per return, but has not recorded a touchdown. Darien Townsend has a 19.4 yards per average return on kickoffs, but can be dangerous on punts. He has averaged 11.9 yards per return on punts and returned one for a touchdown.
James Madison Road To The National Championship
First Round: Bye
Second Round: Defeated New Hampshire 55-22 at home
Quarterfinals: Defeated #5 Sam Houston State 65-7 at home
Semifinals: Defeated #1 North Dakota State 27-17 on the road
James Madison Dukes Preview
James Madison opened the playoffs with a bye before back-to-back blowouts. They decimated New Hampshire 55-22 with quarterback BryanSchor throwing for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns. In the Quarterfinal versus Sam Houston State, the Dukes obliterated the Bearkats 65-7 with 144 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground from Trai Sharp and 141 yards and 3 touchdowns rushing from Khalid Abdullah. The defense held the prolific passing of Jeremiah Briscoe to just 143 yards on 13 of 44 passing with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The Semifinal was on the road against the 5 time defending National Champions North Dakota State. Abdullah ran for 180 yards on 23 carries while Schor threw for 242 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception. The defense held the Bison to 132 yards rushing and a 3.4 yards per carry average.
The offense for James Madison averages 48 points, 525.6 yards of offense, 284.6 yards rushing, and 241.1 yards passing per game. Bryan Schor leads the team as the quarterback and has thrown for 2,890 yards with 27 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. More impressively, he has completed 73.7% of his passes.
Schor is complimented in the backfield by Khalid Abdullah, who has rushed for 1,708 yards with 20 touchdowns and averages 6.3 yards per carry. Schor is third on the team in rushing with 543 yards and has 10 rushing touchdowns so he can also get the offense moving with his legs. Trai Sharp had big games versus New Hampshire and Sam Houston State, but was held to just 14 yards on 4 carries against North Dakota State. He has the potential for big runs if he can get some touches in the Championship game.
The receiving group is pretty balanced with many contributors. Brandon Ravenel leads the team with 45 catches for 720 yards and 5 touchdowns. Domo Taylor has 34 catches for 547 yards and 3 touchdowns and Rashard Davis has 39 catches for 478 yards and 2 touchdowns. Terrence Alls has 39 catches for 575 yards and 5 touchdowns on the season, but he will miss the National Championship along with 6 other players.
The defense allows 21.7 points, 348 yards of offense, 137.8 yards rushing, and 210.2 yards passing per game. They have been dominant and physical the entire postseason (see both Sam Houston State and North Dakota State games for some great examples). Star linebacker Brandon Hereford had 96 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss, but will miss the game along with Alls and five others.
Simeyon Robinson and Martez Stone will anchor the defensive line with Robinson recording 4 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss this year. Stone also has 4 sacks and 7 tackles for loss and both will be key to stopping the run and getting pressure on the quarterback. Gage Steele will be the main linebacker and he has 98 tackles on the season with 4.5 tackles for loss.
Leading the secondary is Raven Greene, who has a team high 6 interceptions and also is tied for second on the team with 7 pass breakups. Taylor Reynolds leads the team in pass breakups with 12 and also has 2 interceptions.
Tyler Gray will handle the field goal duties, but he is just 14 of 21 on the season with a long of 45. Gunnar Kane will be the punter and he averages 42.2 yards per punt and has landed 20 inside the opponent’s 20.
The Dukes have two dangerous kickoff returners between RobbieWalker (21.5 yard average) and Brandon Ravenel (23.9 yard average and a touchdown). The real difference could be on punt returns where top returner Rashard Davis has averaged 29.9 yards per return and taken four (!) back to the house for a touchdown.
Youngstown State is making their first appearance in the FCS National Championship since 1999 and they have won four titles in school history (1991, 1993, 1994, and 1997). Those four titles came with Jim Tressel as the head coach and Tressel is now the President of Youngstown State. As for James Madison they have only been to one National Championship and that was in 2004 when they defeated Montana 31-21.
Both teams are coming into this contest facing a slew of suspensions. They have been known for a few weeks so there should not be much surprise on either side in that regard. Both teams like to the run the ball and prefer to get their offense started that way. However, James Madison can rely on Bryan Schor’s arm if needed. Hunter Wells has played admirably since taking over the starter and has shown the ability to get the job done throwing as well.
We like the more physical team to win this game and we are going with James Madison. We are taking the Dukes to win 35-21 to claim their second FCS National Championship.
1. The Badgers get off to a hot start – Just like against Penn State, Wisconsin was able to get off to a hot start on offense with two touchdowns on their first two drives and racking up 163 yards en route to a 14 point cushion. Corey Clement started with 5 carries for 42 yards and a score on the first drive while Dare Ogunbowale ended the second drive with the final 21 yards and the touchdown. The Badgers finished the first half with an average of 7.1 yards per carry (22 carries for 156 yards).
2. The Badgers cooled off… Again – Despite hot starts the past two games, the Badgers slowed down and allowed both Penn State and Western Michigan back into the game. The Broncos went on a 16 play and 65 yard drive to cut the deficit in half and then held the Badgers to a field goal the rest of the half. A slow start by the Badgers in the second half saw the Broncos keep it at 17-10, but the Badgers stuck with their offense and trusted their defense. The Badgers finished the game with 184 yards rushing, just 28 coming in the final 30 minutes.
3. Fumagalli impresses – Troy Fumagalli, a junior, was not perfect in the Cotton Bowl, but he was, without a doubt, the star of the game for the Badgers. Yes, he dropped a sure touchdown in the first half, but he more than made up for it with acrobatic catches and one handers. He even had a big third down catch in the final few minutes to help extinguish hope for the Broncos and end a possible comeback. Fumagalli finished with 6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Below are a couple of his gems.
4. The defense does its job – Wisconsin’s defense played a good game. T.J. Watt started with two first quarter sacks and they held Western Michigan’s star receiver Corey Davis to 6 catches, 73 yards, and the incredible touchdown catch below.
The Badgers allowed 123 yards rushing on 31 carries for an average of 4 yards per carry. The Broncos never seemed in sync on offense and had 5 fumbles, but Western Michigan managed to recover all of them. The key late in the game was T.J. Edwards‘ interception at the WMU 12 yard line. That allowed the Badgers to pad their lead at 24-10.
5. The Seniors end on a high note – This senior class for the Wisconsin Badgers claimed the school’s first Cotton Bowl victory and also ended as the winningest class in Wisconsin history at 41.
Quarterback Bart Houston got the start and had a quietly effective game going 11 of 12 for 159 yards. Corey Clement had 71 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries while fellow senior running back Dare Ogunbowale had 5 carries for 22 yards and a score along with 2 catches for 28 yards.
The defensive seniors of Vince Biegel, Leo Musso, and SojournShelton helped lead a stingy defense this year. The impact of each of those players will be missed, but the Badgers are hopeful for the players behind them going forward.
The Badgers end the 2016-17 season at 11-3, which is their second 11 win season in the last three years. Wisconsin has now recorded 10 wins in six of the last eight seasons and have won three straight bowl games. Below are thoughts of each game the Badgers played in over the past season. There will be one a season long report card published in the next few weeks (midseason report card here).
2017 Cotton Bowl Preview: Western Michigan Versus Wisconsin
The final game for the 2016-17 season’s of the Wisconsin Badgers and Western Michigan is near. Both teams had fantastic campaigns with the Badgers going 10-3 overall with the heart-breaking 38-31 loss in the Big 10 Championship.
Western Michigan had a magical season in which they went 13-0 and won the MAC Championship. They defeated two Big 10 opponents on the road in Northwestern 22-21 and Illinois 34-10. Wisconsin is a clear step up in competition, but the Broncos will not be apprehensive in this contest.
The Cotton Bowl will be played on Monday, January 2, 2017 at 1 PM Eastern Time and can be seen on ESPN. The game will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is home of the Dallas Cowboys. Below is a preview of what we believe are the biggest keys to the game for both teams.
1. The Wisconsin Secondary – The Badgers’ secondary was constantly burned by Penn State in the Big 10 Championship game. However, that problem was evident prior to the Penn State tilt as noted against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. The Badgers have allowed 206.1 yards per game through the air and guys like Leo Musso, D’Cota Dixon, Derrick Tindal, Lubern Figaro, and Sojourn Shelton will need to improve.
Western Michigan is led by quarterback Zach Terrell, who is both accurate and limits his turnovers. He has thrown for 3,376 yards (70.8% completions) with 32 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions. His main target, and the main threat against the Badgers porous secondary, is Corey Davis. Davis has 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns on 91 catches while the second leading receiver, Michael Henry, has a respectable 61 catches for 760 yards and 4 touchdowns.
If the Badgers have fixed their secondary leaks, hold Davis in check, and can force a turnover or two from Terrell, they will have a great chance at winning this game comfortably.
2. The Wisconsin attitude towards playing in the Cotton Bowl – The Badgers are coming off a tough loss in the Big 10 Championship game where they held a big 28-7 lead late in the second quarter only to see it slip away. How will the team react to that loss? They have had several weeks to recover from the sting of that game and this will be their first time playing in the Cotton Bowl.
Wisconsin has also had some slow starts this year such as against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. If they start slow against an opponent like Western Michigan, who will be hyped up to play this game, the Badgers may find themselves in a close battle throughout this game.
3. Western Michigan needs to stop the Badgers’ rushing attack – We have harped on the Badgers actual and potential deficiencies coming into this game, but they have a serious advantage in the rushing attack against the Broncos defense. The Badgers average 204.5 yards per game rushing this year and since their 71 yard rushing performance against Michigan, they have averaged 231.4 yards per game. In the final 8 games, only twice did they not eclipse 200 yards rushing as a team: against Iowa (167) and Northwestern (190). They won both of those games.
Between Corey Clement (1,304 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 4.5 yards per carry), Dare Ogunbowale (484 yards, 4 TDs, 5.6 YPC), Bradrick Shaw (457 yards, 5 TDs, 5.2 YPC), and Jazz Peavy (268 yards, 1 TD, 14.9 YPC), there are plenty of rushing options for Wisconsin.
The Broncos rush defense allows 151.2 yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt. The Broncos front four averages 6 feet, 3 inches and 272 pounds and they are going against an offensive line that averages 6 feet, 6 inches and 314 pounds. The Badgers have a distinct advantage and just like the Big 10 Championship Game, they will probably emphasize the run game early and quite often.
4. The Red Zone – Wisconsin’s offense has struggled in the final 20 yards converting just 34 touchdowns in 53 opportunities (64%). Overall, they have come away with points 45 out of 53 trips (85%). Their defense employs a bend, but do not break mentality allowing just 15 touchdowns out of 35 chances (43%) and points 27 of 35 times (77%).
If Western Michigan is to win, they will need to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Their offense has scored 47 touchdowns out of 65 trips (72%) and come away with points 62 out of 65 times (95%). The defense has allowed only 18 touchdowns on 30 red zone chances (60%) and allowed points on 26 of 30 trips (87%). A field goal battle will suit the Broncos better (see #6 below), but the Badgers offense will eventually wear down the defense.
5. Western Michigan will need to prep for both Quarterbacks – It appears that both Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houstonwill play in the Cotton Bowl. Hornibrook did not play against Penn State after he suffered a head injury against Minnesota in the November finale.
Neither quarterback is overwhelming for the Badgers. Hornibrook has thrown 8 touchdowns against 7 interceptions while completing just 58.1% of his passes (1,243 yards on the season). Houston has thrown 5 touchdowns against 3 interceptions with a completion percentage of 65.9 (1,086 yards passing this year). The Broncos best chance will be when these two are throwing the ball. Whether it is forcing an interception, a fumble, or sack, Western Michigan has to do something to create more possessions and limit the amount of time the Badgers have the ball on offense.
6. Special Teams could be pivotal – There are many ways that special teams could impact a game. It could be a blocked field, a missed field goal, punt yards, or even return yardage. For field goals, Wisconsin has to be worried because Andrew Endicott has been shaky. He has connected on only 12 of 18 kicks with a long of 52 yards. Western Michigan feels solid about Butch Hampton and his 18 of 23, but he has a long of 47 and one kick was blocked.
The Broncos use two punters with both averaging over 40 yards per boot. James Coleman has 25 punts with 15 fair catches and 9 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. They have not had any punts blocked. The Badgers will rely on Anthony Lotti who averages 37.5 yards per punt with 12 fair catches and 24 inside the opponent’s 20 yard. Flipping the field will be important, especially if a drive stalls near midfield.
The Badgers return game is another part of the team that is not overwhelming. They average just 6.8 yards per punt return and 20 yards per kickoff return. Wisconsin will have to worry about DariusPhillips, who averages 12.3 yards per punt return and 22.7 yards per kickoff return. He has both a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown. The Badgers’ kickoff coverage has been good this year, but has had the occasional breakdown. A big part will be P.J. Rosowski who has 47 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs for Wisconsin.
Each team had a month to prepare for this game, which means plenty of things to practice that have been seen on film and off film. The Badgers will unleash their typical rushing attack and will have success against the Broncos. Western Michigan should have some success passing, but it will not be enough. We like the Badgers to win in their first Cotton Bowl appearance, 34-21.
North Alabama’s offense had some success early moving the ball, but did not threaten to score until early in the second quarter. At the five yard line, Tucker threw across his body and into traffic, which led to an interception for Jack Young to keep the game scoreless.
Kyle Zimmerman, whose health was uncertain after last week’s game, threw a pick deep in North Alabama territory a few drives later. Late in the second quarter, it was the Bearcats who struck first on a drive led by Randy Schmidt at quarterback. It ended with Schmidt on a shovel pass to Jordan Grove from 7 yards out to make it 7-0. In response, the Lions drove down the field with less than a minute to go and settled for a 21 yard field goal from Kevin Henke to close the gap to 7-3 at halftime.
The second half began well for North Alabama. They forced a fumble and recovered it at their own 40, but they ended up losing a fumble of their own to give it right back. On their next drive, Tucker was sacked and lost another fumble that set the Bearcats up in great field position. The Bearcats made them pay with Phil Jackson running for a 2 yard touchdown to make it 14-3.
After that touchdown, it was tough sledding for the North Alabama on offense. The Bearcats forced a safety on a punt midway through the fourth quarter and then added two more scores in the form of a 13 yard receiving touchdown by Shane Williams and a 10 yard run by Jackson.
North Alabama was led by Jacob Tucker, but he had a very subpar game in the snow going 15 of 41 passing for 179 yards and an interception. He was also held to 26 yards rushing on 21 carries while Ray Beasley led the team with 29 yards rushing on 4 attempts. The Lions went 4 of 18 on third down, went 0 for 3 on fourth down, and had 201 yards of total offense.
The Bearcats were led by Randy Schmidt who made some good plays. He led the team in rushing with 96 yards on 14 carries and also had a touchdown passing. However, his best play was this gem:
Kyle Zimmerman went 13 of 26 passing for 100 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception thrown. The Bearcats ran for 226 yards on 40 carries as a team. Phil Jackson finished with 76 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns. Cass Weitl had a monster game on defense for the Bearcats with 2 sacks and he was constantly in the North Alabama backfield.
Northwest Missouri State completed an undefeated season going 15-0 and winning their 30 straight game. It was Adam Dorrel’s third title as coach of the Bearcats since he started coaching the team in 2011.
In a gritty, defensive struggle for much of the game, it was Mary Hardin-Baylor’s defense that came up with the biggest play at the biggest time. Matt Cody’s interception at the UMHB 27 yard line with 35 seconds left extinguished any hope of an Oshkosh comeback.
The bulk of the scoring came in the first quarter. Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s best offensive drive of the game was on their first drive when they marched 64 yards for a touchdown. Dylan Hecker’s two yard rush put them up 7-0. The Crusaders responded with an 8 minute drive and got on the board with a 22 yard field goal from John Mowery.
The Titans had a great scoring opportunity after Blake Jackson threw an interception. They opted to go for it on fourth and ten at the UMHB 25, but failed to convert. The Crusaders responded with another good drive and it was Jackson punching it from a yard out to make it 10-7. The Titans had another chance to get points on the board, but Brett Kasper threw a pick near the end zone with his receiver well-covered. It was Jaedon Johnson who intercepted the ball and the Cru ended the half with a kneel down.
Oshkosh opened the second half with another drive deep into UMHB territory, but they failed to convert on fourth and two as Hecker was stopped for a loss. Just one play later, the Titans got the ball back after a lost fumble by Markeith Miller. The Titans only went backwards and did not threaten to score after the fumble.
Mary Hardin-Baylor had a chance to make it a double digit lead, but Jackson lost a fumble on his way to the ground at the Oshkosh 6 yard line. The Cru had a chance late in the game to force the Titans to need a touchdown for the win, but a missed 19 yard field goal by Mowery gave the Titans one final life line.
The Titans drove slowly and methodically down the field. A pass interference call against UMHB put Oshkosh at the 35 yard line. After three straight incomplete passes, it was Kasper who threw his second pick to Cody and give the title to the Cru.
Blake Jackson was a one man crew throwing for 171 yards on 16 of 27 passing along with 119 yards and a rushing touchdown on 28 carries. He did have an interception and a lost fumble, but he picked up the slack for Markeith Miller, who was held in check (11 yards on 9 carries). The Crusaders had 332 yards of total offense, 19 first downs, and converted 11 of 18 third downs.
Wisconsin-Oshkosh was held to 215 yards on offense and just 30 yards rushing. Coming into the game, the Titans averaged 264 yards per game on the ground. Dylan Hecker was held to 29 yards on 13 carries (had the lone touchdown for the Titans) while DevonLinzenmeyer had 3 yards on 9 carries. They averaged 1 yard per carry (29 carries) had 12 first downs, and went 8 of 17 on third down. Brett Kasper threw for 185 yards on 20 of 33, but also had 2 interceptions.
The Mary Hardin-Baylor defense deserves a ton of credit for their performance. Holding a potent rushing attack like Wisconsin-Oshkosh to 30 yards is impressive. That is a large reason why the Cru won their first Division 3 Football National Championship.
Four teams remain in the hunt for the 2016 FCS National Championship. Three of the top four seeds, #1 North Dakota State, #2 Eastern Washington, and #4 James Madison, are alive along with unseeded Youngstown State. All four are worthy of reaching the National Championship for the right to play for the title.
The two semifinal games will be played over two days. The first game featuring the five time defending National Champions, North Dakota State, will be played on Friday, December 16. The second game featuring the #2 seed Eastern Washington will be played on Saturday, December 17. Through three rounds, our predictions have gone 18-2. Below are the links to our predictions for the previous rounds along with the record for that round.
Below are the predictions for the FCS Semifinal games. We will begin with the Friday game of James Madison at North Dakota State.
#4 James Madison (12-1) at #1 North Dakota State (12-1)
Game Time: Friday, December 16 at 7 PM Eastern (ESPN2)
James Madison has played in two playoff games and they have both been blowouts. They dismantled New Hampshire in the second round 55-22 after a slow first quarter. Bryan Schor threw for 371 yards on 30 of 37 passing for 5 touchdowns and an interception.
Their Quarterfinal game against Sam Houston State was even more impressive. They held one of the best offenses in FCS to just 7 points in 65-7 thrashing of Sam Houston State. SHSU’s Jeremiah Briscoe went a horrid 13 of 44 for 143 yards passing and 2 picks. The running game got going for the Dukes with 144 yards and 2 touchdowns from Trai Sharp and 141 yards and 3 touchdowns from Khalid Abdullah. The special teams also had a punt return for a touchdown and blocked another punt that they then returned for a touchdown.
North Dakota State opened with San Diego in the second round and they had little trouble with them in a 45-7 win. Easton Stick threw for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns while rushing for another 99 yards. The team averaged 9.6 yards per carry with 299 yards total on the ground.
The Bison’s Quarterfinal matchup was against a familiar foe in South Dakota State. The Bison lost to them 19-17 in the regular season and they had a slow start to the Quarterfinal. SDSU took a 10-0 thanks to the hidden ball trick play.
After that, the Bison were in total control. They got a 49 yard touchdown run from Lance Dunn (after a 71 yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Williams was taken off the board). Their next drive was a soul crushing 20 play possession that took off 12:09 on the clock. Stick kept the ball for a 3 yard touchdown run and the Bison took a 14-10 lead they never relinquished. The Bison won 36-10 with Stick throwing for 188 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, and rushing for another 83 yards and 2 scores. King Frazier had 101 yards rushing while Dunn finished with 91 yards and a score on the ground.
James Madison is full of playmakers on offense with Bryan Schor at quarterback and Khalid Abdullah running the ball. The emergence of Trai Sharp the last three weeks have really helped Dukes on offense. Sharp has 301 yards the last three games, which is more than half of his entire season total (593 yards). The Bison allow 99.2 yards rushing per game.
North Dakota State’s offense will probably be the key to this game. The Bison are averaging 290.6 rushing yards per game over their previous five contests. They want to use that run game to wear down the defense, salt the clock, and score touchdowns. They did that very well against South Dakota State and their key was going 10 for 13 on third down. If James Madison wants to have any chance, they need to stop the run, prevent long drives, and, most importantly, get off the field on third down. Easier said than done.
This game features two physical teams that prefer to run the ball, but can use the passing attack to beat their opponent if needed. James Madison has the better offense here, but the Bison have the better defense. Who will win that battle?
We like James Madison to win this game 31-28. To pick against the Bison, at home, as 5 time defending National Championships, and with a stellar run game, is very hard to do. They could easily make this pick look terrible, but we like the Dukes here.
Youngstown State (11-3) at #2 Eastern Washington (12-1)
Game Time: Saturday, December 17 at 6:30 PM Eastern (ESPNU)
Youngstown State is the only team remaining to have played in the first round. They faced Samford in a game they controlled throughout and won 38-24. Their second round game was against Jacksonville State and they did exactly what they needed to do. They forced Eli Jenkins to throw the ball and he went 6 of 26 passing with 140 yards, a touchdown, and 2 interceptions. The defense gave up 317 yards rushing, but they forced a run first team into a deficit and forced them to pass. Jody Webb finished with 140 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns while Hunter Wells threw for 290 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 18 passing for Youngstown State.
The Penguins had a stiff test in the Quarterfinals as well with Wofford coming to town. Wofford took a 9-0 lead after the first quarter, but YSU responded with two touchdowns to make it a 13-9 lead. After that, the teams exchanged scores until late in the game when Youngstown State hit a 32 yard field goal to tie the game at 23. Wofford attempted a 53 yard field goal at the end of regulation, but it came up short and the game went to overtime.
Overtime was full of twists and turns. Wofford decided to go for it on fourth and one from the YSU 3, but the pitch hit off LorenzoLong’s hands and went out of bounds. The Penguins had a chance to win it in the first overtime, but Zak Kennedy’s 37 yard field goal was wide right. YSU started the second overtime with a 2 yard touchdown run by Tevin McCaster and then forced an incompletion on fourth down against Wofford’s offense to seal the 30-23 win in double overtime.
Eastern Washington had a bye in the first round and then faced Central Arkansas in the second round. After giving up the first 14 points, the Eagles scored the final 31 points and held the Central Arkansas offense to 75 yards in the second half. Gage Gubrud went 47 of 64 passing with 449 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 31-14 win. He also rushed for 68 yards and a touchdown in a complete performance from him.
Eastern Washington used that strong second half defensive performance against Central Arkansas and parlayed that into a full game against Richmond. In their 38-0 shutout, they held Richmond to 205 yards of total offense including 48 yards on the ground and only 1.3 yards per carry. Gage Gubrud had a more pedestrian game going 21 of 32 for 287 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick. CooperKupp caught 6 passes for 128 yards and a score despite worries over his shoulder.
The weather for this game is expected to be bitterly cold in Cheney, Washington. That would seem to favor the running attacks, which Youngstown State has a distinct advantage in. The Penguins average 257.1 yards per game on the ground and their playoff average is at 244.7 yards per game. Jody Webb (1,200 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Martin Ruiz (1,153 and 12 touchdowns) are the leading rushers, but Ruiz may not play against an EWU defense that allows 188.4 yards rushing per game. Ruiz played little in the Wofford game after being arrested on firearm charges.
Eastern Washington only averages 131.3 yards per game on the ground. Will the weather completely shut down their pass attack? That is difficult to envision because the Eagles will still throw the ball around plenty. However, we saw cold weather shut down Sam Houston State’s offense at James Madison when the weather was cold. The difference here is that Eastern Washington is used to this weather, even if it is not ideal to play in. They know what to expect and should be prepared.
Youngstown State has a good offense to play in the cold weather. That is to run the ball, but this Eastern Washington defense has been completely different the last 90 minutes of game time. Gage Gubrud will be able to complete enough passes to the trio of Kupp, Shaq Hill, and KendrickBourne. If needed, Gubrud can use his legs to run the ball as he is the leading rusher for the Eagles with 558 yards and 5 touchdowns. We will pick Eastern Washington to win this game 28-17.
Check back the first week of the new year for a preview of the FCS National Championship game.