Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 12
Week 11 saw the numbers two, three, and four all lose to shake up College Football Playoff rankings. Week 12 has some big games with #3 Louisville at Houston, #20 Washington State at #12 Colorado, #13 Oklahoma State at TCU, #21 Florida at #16 LSU, and #8 Oklahoma at #10 West Virginia.
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. Kansas State at Baylor (11/19 at 12 PM) – This game is a tale of two teams going in opposite directions. Kansas State has gone 2-1 since their crushing defeat to Oklahoma including a 6 point loss to Oklahoma State on November 5. At 5-4, a win for Kansas State will put them in a bowl game.
Baylor is 6-3 and have been thoroughly dismantled the last two weeks by a combined score of 46 to 107. They have lost three in a row and also lost Seth Russell to a gruesome injury against the Sooners. They do not have to worry about missing a bowl game, but this is a game where they can try to stem the terrible streak they are currently on.
2. Duke at Pittsburgh (11/19 at 3 PM) – Two teams enter this contest off of massive and surprising victories. Duke defeated then #17 North Carolina at home 28-27 to keep their bowl hopes alive. The Blue Devils are 4-6 overall and need to defeat both Pitt and Miami (FL) to reach a bowl.
Pittsburgh comes off the last second shock victory over #2 Clemson. The win put them at 6 victories to reach bowl eligibility, but this was a team that just struggled closing out games, especially on the road. They got it done versus the Tigers and this game will be interesting to see how each team plays off their big upset.
3. San Diego State at Wyoming (11/19 at 3:30 PM) – The Mountain West has two division leaders meeting here. San Diego State has already clinched the West Division and now just awaits to see which team from the Mountain Division they will play.
Wyoming was in the perfect spot to win the Mountain Division until last week’s triple overtime loss to UNLV 69-66 on the road. They had defeated Boise State 30-28 on October 29, but the loss erases their cushion. They are tied at 5-1 in MWC play with both Boise State and New Mexico. The Cowboys do control their own destiny as long as they win out against the Aztecs and New Mexico.
4. Northwestern at Minnesota (11/19 at 3:30 PM) – Northwestern’s season has been strange to say the least. They started 1-3 including losses to Western Michigan and Illinois State. They responded with three straight wins before losing to both highly ranked Ohio State and Wisconsin. They crushed Purdue last week to move to 5-5 and the Wildcats have a chance to secure a winning season with wins over Minnesota and Illinois to end the season. That did not seem remotely possible after September.
Minnesota has been quietly good this year. They sit at 7-3 overall and their 3 losses have all been by 7 points or less. The Gophers have an outside chance of winning 10 games but must defeat both Northwestern (home) and Wisconsin (road) as well as win their bowl game. That is a tall order, but this team will be a nuisance to end the year.
5. South Florida at SMU (11/19 at 7 PM) – South Florida is still in contention to win the AAC East Division, but they need another loss from Temple to do so. The Bulls lost 46-30 to the Owls on October 21. Their final two games are against SMU and Central Florida (home). They will certainly have a legitimate chance to go 7-1 in AAC play, but that may not be enough.
SMU is still alive for a bowl game at 5-5 overall, but their final two games are not easy. They play both South Florida and Navy at home, but those are two of the best teams in the conference. Should they win a game, the Mustangs would play in their first bowl game since the 2012 season.
6. Ole Miss at Vanderbilt (11/19 at 8 PM) – This is a big game for both teams. Ole Miss is coming off their surprising win at Texas A&M last week without Chad Kelly. The Rebels are 5-5 overall and still need to win one of their final two games to make a bowl game (the face Mississippi State next week at home).
Vanderbilt has a faint hope of making a bowl game, but will need a lot to go their way. They need to defeat both Ole Miss this week and Tennessee next week. Vandy’s defense will keep them in this game, but it is the offense that will need to come through to give the Commodores the shot at upsetting Tennessee and making a bowl game.
7. Tulsa at Central Florida (11/19 at 8 PM) – Both teams have already hit the 6 win mark and thus will be in a bowl game this year. Tulsa is not likely to win the AAC West (would need both Navy and Houston to lose out in conference play), but at 7-3 could win 10 games for the first time since 2012. Tulsa needs to win out against UCF and Cincinnati along with the bowl game to reach 10 wins.
Central Florida is a great story this year. After going 0-12 in 2015, they brought in Scott Frost and he paid immediate dividends by getting them back to a bowl game (UCF is currently 6-4). They could guarantee a winning season with a win against Tulsa or South Florida next week.
Check back next week for the week 13 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
Under The Radar Games For College Football Week 10
We have now entered the final full month of regular season action the 2016 college football season. Week 10 offers us #8 Wisconsin at Northwestern, #22 Oklahoma State at Kansas State, TCU at #13 Baylor, #10 Florida at Arkansas, Iowa at #20 Penn State, and the two biggest games on Saturday night: #1 Alabama at #15 LSU and #9 Nebraska at #6 Ohio 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. Louisville at Boston College (11/5 at 12 PM) – Ever since Louisville lost at Clemson they have not looked like the same team. They struggled against Duke at home, took care of NC State at home, but then struggled at Virginia. They needed a late touchdown to defeat the Cavaliers on the road and now they go to Chestnut Hill to face Boston College.
The Eagles sit at 4-4 overall and still have a solid chance at making a bowl game even with a loss. However, they can give Louisville fits if their defense is playing at their very best.
This game is bigger for Louisville because they have struggled since the loss at Clemson. They still have an outside shot of making the College Football Playoff, but how will the Committee view them if they continue to squeak by teams? A big win would help Louisville here.
2. Air Force at Army (11/5 at 12 PM) – The Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy is at stake in this game for Air Force. Both teams are 5-3 and win puts Air Force in a bowl while Army would still need another victory due to their schedule containing two FCS schools.
Air Force started 4-0 including a 28-14 win at home against Navy. They then lost the next three games before needing a rally against Fresno State to reach 5-3. Army started 3-0 before back-to-back close losses to Buffalo and Duke on the road. They crushed Lafayette before North Texas soundly defeated the Black Knights. Army was able to get a big win last week against Wake Forest on the road to reach 5-3.
Army can also win the CIC Trophy by defeating Air Force this week and Navy to end the regular reason. This will be a fun game to watch the old school triple option offense from both teams.
3. Georgia Southern at Ole Miss (11/5 at 12 PM) – No conference implications here, but there are bowl implications for both teams. Georgia Southern is 4-4 overall with their final three games consisting of Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia State (away), and Troy. They will probably be favored in two of those games and a bowl game still looks likely even with a loss here.
The same cannot be said for Ole Miss and they must treat every game as a must win. They are currently 3-5 with Texas A&M (away), Vanderbilt (away), and Mississippi State after this game. They can lose only one game the rest of the way and still make a bowl. Given their schedule (read as: Texas A&M), this is not the one to drop.
4. Texas at Texas Tech (11/5 at 12 PM) – Neither of these squads will be winning the Big 12, but the bowl implications are huge. Both teams sit at 4-4 overall and their schedules to end the season require little margin for error.
Texas will face West Virginia, Kansas (away), and TCU after this contest. Texas Tech will play Oklahoma State (away), Iowa State (away), and Baylor. Now we can see why the winner of this game will be in much better position to make a bowl.
Looking beyond this game and season, could either or both coaches be fired if they fail to make a bowl game? Some outlets already have marked Charlie Strong as a lame duck. What about Kliff Kingsbury? That would make it two of four years that Texas Tech did not reach a bowl under Kingsbury, assuming they do not win two of their final four games in 2016. He probably will not be fired if the Red Raiders fail to make a bowl game, but his seat will undoubtedly be warmer.
5. Pittsburgh at Miami (FL) (11/5 at 12:30 PM) – What a difference a month makes for both teams. Pittsburgh was 2-2 going into October, but have come out ahead with a 3-1 record last month to make them 5-3.
Miami was 3-0 after September and it was 4-0 after defeating Georgia Tech, but it has been all downhill since. The Canes have lost four in a row with three games determined by a touchdown or less. Miami has a forgiving schedule the final month with games against Pitt, Virginia (away), NC State (away), and Duke, but nothing can be taken for granted with the slide they are currently on.
Pittsburgh has Miami (away), Clemson (away), Duke, and Syracuse to end the season. Both teams look likely to make a bowl game based on the schedules, but this game will be worth watching to see how they respond to losses last week.
6. UT-San Antonio at Middle Tennessee (11/5 at 2:30 PM) – Both teams are alive in their respective Division races in Conference USA. UTSA is 3-2 in the West and sit a game out of first place. Middle Tennessee is 3-1 in the East and are a half-game behind Western Kentucky in the win column, but the Hilltoppers own the head-to-head victory.
A loss for either team will probably end their hopes of making the Conference USA Championship Game. Middle Tennessee faces Marshall (away), Charlotte (away), and Florida Atlantic to end the season. They will probably be favored in all three of those, but would still need a loss or two from Western Kentucky to make the Championship Game.
UTSA faces Louisiana Tech (away), Texas A&M (away), and Charlotte to end the season. A loss here and they would be 4-5, out of the West Division race, and facing the real possibility of missing a bowl game. The Roadrunners are also 1-2 on the road this year. Their win was over lowly Rice by a score of 14-13. This game is very big for the Roadrunners.
7. Hawaii at San Diego State (11/5 at 7 PM) – San Diego State can put a hammerlock on the West Division of the Mountain West with a win. The Aztecs sit 4-0 in conference while Hawaii is 3-2. Hawaii is currently the only other team in the West Division that has not lost at least 3 conference games.
The Aztecs are also still in the race for the Group of 5 bid to one of the New Year’s Six Bowls. They need some help with Western Michigan still undefeated as well as Boise State having only one loss. Those two may also face in the Mountain West Championship Game.
As for Hawaii, they are currently 4-5 overall and will need to reach 7 wins to make a bowl game. They wrap up with Boise State, Fresno State (away), and Massachusetts. This is basically a must win game for Hawaii to reach those 7 wins.
8. Georgia at Kentucky (11/5 at 7:30 PM) – This is weird to fathom, but Kentucky is currently the second placed team in the SEC East and also have a better overall record (5-3) than Georgia (4-4).
Georgia really has not looked good since their opening win against North Carolina. They struggled against Nicholls State and Missouri to reach 3-0, but are just 1-4 their last five games including devastating late game losses to Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home.
Kentucky started 2-3 this year, but have reeled off three straight wins to reach 5-3. Kentucky has not finished ahead of Georgia in the SEC East since 2006 when both teams finished 4-4 in the SEC and Kentucky defeated the Bulldogs that year.
With a win Kentucky will be in a bowl, but probably would make one even with a loss against Georgia. They face Tennessee (away), Austin Peay, and Louisville (away). For Georgia, they face Auburn, UL-Lafayette, and Georgia Tech all at home to end the season. A loss is not crushing for the Bulldogs, but it will make things far easier for this inconsistent and underachieving team.
Check back next week for the week 11 edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
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
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.
With the SEC predictions above, predictions have been made for every conference. Links to all the predictions for each conference are provided below.
We have reached our final preview in the 2015 College Football Preview series here at Sports Enthusiasts. The SEC West, along with the SEC Championship, are in the crosshairs and what a final division we have to look at. Below are all the previews done to this point, so please feel free to check those out.
Let’s take a look at the one of the toughest divisions in college football, the SEC West.
1. LSU Tigers
Les Miles has been wonderful at LSU. In his 10 years, he has won at ten games 7 times and his “worst” year has been an 8-5 recorded in both 2008 and 2014. LSU lost the 2011 BCS Championship to Alabama 21-0 and followed that with back-to-back 10-3 seasons. 2014 was plagued by inconsistency at quarterback and both return in 2015.
The offense will have nine starters returning from a group that put 27.6 points and 387 yards per game. Brandon Harris is expected to win the starting quarterback job after throwing for 452 yards with 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He will have Anthony Jennings (1,611 yards with 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions) behind him if he cannot handle those duties. Leonard Fournette was hyped as the next-coming in 2014 and he finished the year with a solid 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns while better production is expected of him in 2015. The top four receivers all return, however, their numbers are hardly overwhelming. Travin Dural had 37 catches for 758 yards and 7 touchdowns, Malachi Dupre had 14 receptions for 318 yards and 5 touchdowns, John Diarse caught 15 passes for 275 yards and 3 touchdowns, and Trey Quinn finished with 17 catches for 193 yards. With three starters back on the offensive line as well as better quarterback play in 2015, the offense should produce better numbers than they did last year.
LSU’s defense is usually pretty good. 2014 was no exception with the team yielding 17.5 points and 317 yards per game. In 2015, there will be six starters back with two on the defensive line. Those two will be Christian LaCouture (40 tackles and 2.5 sacks) and Davon Godchaux (42 tackles). LSU loses linebacker Kwon Alexander (90 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss), but does have Kendall Beckwith (77 tackles, 2 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for loss) and Lamar Louis (29 tackles) returning. The secondary has two starters back as well with Jalen Mills leading the way (62 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception), but he will miss at least the first four weeks due to leg surgery. The other returning starter is Tre’Davious White, who had 33 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions while Jamal Adams was integral in 2014 with 66 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss. The defense will be stingy again in 2015, especially when Mills returns.
LSU has a non-conference schedule of McNeese State (home), Syracuse (road), Eastern Michigan (home), and Western Kentucky (home), which makes them very likely to go 4-0 in those games. In their division, they will face Mississippi State, Alabama, and Ole Miss on the road in three very tough games while playing Auburn, Arkansas, and Texas A&M at home. From the East, they will play South Carolina (road) and Florida (home) in two winnable games. The games against Alabama on November 7, Arkansas on November 14, and Mississippi on November 21 are sure to determine whether LSU wins the SEC West.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
We all know that Nick Saban has been great at Alabama. After a 7-6 record in his first year during the 2007 season, Alabama has won at least 10 games every year since 2008. He has won three SEC Championships as well as three National Titles for the Crimson Tide. The one concern (if you can call it that) is the defense has given up 45 points and 42 points, respectively, in the past two years during the Sugar Bowl. Alabama lost both of those games including last year when they were eliminated the College Football Playoff Semifinals by eventual national champion Ohio State.
The offense put up 36.9 points and 485 yards per game in 2014 with Lane Kiffin at the helm, but 2015 will be interesting with only three starters returning. Jake Coker will be at quarterback after throwing for 403 yards with 4 touchdowns and no interceptions last year, but has plenty of talent after battling JameisWinston when he was at Florida State. Derrick Henry was the top running back in 2014 with 990 yards and 11 touchdowns in a deep backfield while Kenyan Drake (112 yards and 4 touchdowns) is back after a broken leg last year. The biggest loss was at wide receiver with Amari Cooper (124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns) going on to the NFL. There is a lot of talent here (Robert Foster, Calvin Ridley, Daylon Charlot) and a bit of experience in OJ Howard (17 catches for 260 yards), Chris Black (15 catches for 188 yards), and ArDarius Stewart (12 catches for 149 yards), but that production will be impossible to replace. There will also be only two starters back on the line so the work will be cut out for Saban and Kiffin. It is hard to see the offense producing the same numbers in 2015 as they did in 2014.
The defense is almost always spectacular under Saban. Their worst year since 2008 was actually last year when they allowed 18.4 points and 328 yards per game, which is still a very good season. Seven starters are back in 2015 including all three on the defensive line. Jonathan Allen had 33 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 6 tackles for loss, A’Shawn Robinson had 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss, and Jarran Reed had 55 tackles, 1 sack, and 5.5 tackles for loss. Returning at linebacker will be the duo of ReggieRagland (95 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9 tackles for loss) and Denzel Devall (11 tackles) who made seven starters and was out with injury for six games. The secondary is led by Cyrus Jones, who had 46 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. Also returning in the secondary is Eddie Jackson (41 tackles, 6 pass breakups, and an interception). Look for another big year from the defense that could have even better numbers than they had in 2014.
Alabama opens the year with the tough neutral site game against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. They will also face the trio of Middle Tennessee, Louisiana-Monroe, and Charleston Southern at home to close out their non-conference schedule. They will have to play Ole Miss, Arkansas, and LSU at home while facing Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn on the road. From the East, Alabama will play Georgia (road) and Tennessee (home). The offense is the obvious concern for Alabama, but their defense should be good enough to keep them in every game while the offense finds its feet.
3. Mississippi Rebels
Ole Miss went 4-8 in 2010 and 2-10 in 2011 in Houston Nutt’s last two years. They decided to bring in Hugh Freeze, who has steadily turned around the Rebels. He paid immediate dividends by taking the Rebels to a bowl game in his first season and then went 8-5 in 2013. 2014 was a really good season for them with a 9-4 record including a 23-17 victory over #4 Alabama at home, but were blown out by an excellent (and angry) TCU squad in the Peach Bowl.
The offense has been good under Freeze in all three seasons. In 2013, they put up 30 points and 473 yards per game while those numbers dropped a bit in 2014 to 28.3 points and 419 yards per game. There will be nine starters back for Ole Miss this year, but quarterback Bo Wallace is gone. The good news for the Rebels is they have Clemson transfer Chad Kelly ready to take over immediately after a year in the junior college ranks. They will also have the top two running backs from last year in Jaylen Walton (586 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Jordan Wilkins (361 yards and a touchdown). The receiving unit looks to be in good shape even without their top man from 2014. Evan Engram (38 catches for 662 yards and 2 touchdowns), Cody Core (41 receptions for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns, and, of course, the return of LaQuon Treadwell (48 catches for 632 yards and 5 touchdowns). The entire offensive line returns and despite the loss of Wallace, the offense should be able to put up good numbers again in 2015.
The defense was very good in 2014 by giving up only 16 points and 329 yards per game. Seven starters will be back from that defense led by the trio of Robert Nkemdiche (35 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss), Isaac Gross (37 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss), and Marquis Haynes (31 tackles and 7.5 sacks) on the line. Also in the mix on the line are junior college transfer DJ Jones, redshirt freshman Breeland Speaks, and senior Channing Ward (30 tackles and 2.5 sacks). CJ Johnson is back at linebacker (38 tackles, 4 sacks, and 4 tackles for loss) and will be joined by Denzel Nkemdiche (28 tackles and 1 sack), who missed the final five games of the year due to a broken ankle. The secondary will have three starters back led by Tony Conner (69 tackles, 1 sack, 8 tackles for loss, and an interception), Mike Hilton (71 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions), and Trae Elston (59 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception). The defense will be good again in 2015, but may not match the same numbers from 2014.
Ole Miss has an easy non-conference schedule with Tennessee-Martin, Fresno State, and New Mexico State at home and a single road game at Memphis. In division, they face Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State on the road and Texas A&M, Arkansas, and LSU at home. From the East, Ole Miss will take on Florida (road) and Vanderbilt (home). The Rebels will have a really good shot at a double digit win season and are in contention for the SEC West title.
4. Arkansas Razorbacks
Bret Bielema came to Arkansas in 2013 and the Razorbacks had a rough first year under him. They went 3-0 to start the season, but lost the final nine games. However, the final three games saw an improved Arkansas team that nearly upset #15 LSU on the road as a 26 point underdog. 2014 was better with Arkansas going 6-6 in the regular season including back-to-back upset shutouts of LSU (17-0) and Ole Miss (30-0). They also nearly upset Alabama at home and lost by a touchdown to the trio of Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Missouri.
The offense for Bielema will have nine starters back. In 2013, they averaged only 20.7 points and 357 yards per game while 2014 saw the numbers improve to 31.9 points and 406 yards per game. Brandon Allen is back after throwing for 2,285 yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, but the focus will be on the running game. There are four starters back on the offensive line to pave the way for the Alex Collins. Collins had 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2014, which was second the team. The top rusher was Jonathan Williams, who had 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns, but will miss all of 2015 due to surgery on his foot. The top two receivers are back in Keon Hatcher (43 catches for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns) and Hunter Henry (37 catches for 513 yards and 2 touchdowns). If a viable second back can be developed behind Collins, the Arkansas offense could be really dangerous, but at the least they should be able to match year’s numbers.
The defense took a major step forward in 2014 when compared to 2013. In 2013, the defense gave up 30.8 points and 413 yards per game while the numbers plummeted to 19.2 points and 323 yards per game last year. There will be six starters back with two on the line in JaMichael Winston (26 tackles) and TaiwanJohnson (26 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss). The line gave up only 115 yards rushing per game and 3.5 yards per carry. The linebackers will have only Brooks Ellis back, but he was second the team in tackles with 72 while also recording 5 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. The secondary returns mostly intact with three starters back with the trio of Jared Collins (53 tackles and 13 pass breakups), DJ Dean (29 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions), and Rohan Gaines (59 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 1 interception). The defense should be stout again in 2015.
Arkansas opens the season with games against UTEP, Toledo, and Texas Tech with all those games in the state of Arkansas. They also face Tennesssee-Martin at home in October. They will face Texas A&M in Arlington as well as Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU on the road. They will play at home against Auburn and Mississippi State and take on Tennessee (road) and Missouri (home) from the East. Arkansas’ games against Alabama and LSU both fall on the road, but they are dangerous team in the West.
5. Auburn Tigers
Auburn won the BCS National Championship in 2010, but quickly fell to 8-5 in 2011 and then 3-9 in 2012. 2013 saw Gus Malzahn come in and nearly win another National Championship for Auburn, but they lose to Florida State in the BCS Championship 34-31. They went to 8-5 last year and are hoping to bounce back to another double digit win season in 2015.
The offense has only four starters back from a group that put up 35.5 points and 485 yards per game in 2014. Of course, Gus Malzahn is known for his offenses and he will have Jeremy Johnson slinging the ball around. Johnson threw for 436 yards and 3 touchdowns while starting the first half of the opener against Arkansas. He will have three of the top five receivers from 2014 led by Duke Williams, who had 45 catches for 730 yards and 5 touchdowns. Also back are Ricardo Louis (21 catches for 261 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Melvin Ray (8 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown). The top running back in 2014 was Cameron Artis-Payne (1,608 yards and 13 touchdowns), but he has moved on to the NFL. He will be replaced by Jovon Robinson and Roc Thomas (214 yards and 2 touchdowns). There are three starters back on the offensive line to give Johnson some time as well as create lanes for Robinson and Thomas. The offense will be just fine in 2015 despite only four starters back.
The defense will have eight starters back from a unit that allowed 26.7 points and 399 yards per game. The defensive line will have DaVonte Lambert (24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss) and MontraviusAdams (43 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) back. The Buck position will be handled by Carl Lawson (out for 2014) and Gimel President (30 tackles, 1 sack, and 4 tackles for loss). At linebacker, the duo of Cassanova McKinzy (91 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss) and Kris Frost (87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss) returning. The secondary will have three starters returning led by Johnathan Ford, who had 93 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. Also returning is Jonathan Jones, who was a ball hawk in 2014 with 11 pass breakups and 6 interceptions to go along with 36 tackles. The defense should be very solid in 2015.
Auburn opens the season with a neutral site game in Atlanta, Georgia against Louisville. They will also face Jacksonville State, San José State, and Idaho at home for their other non-conference games. Auburn will have to play LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M on the road while taking on Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama at home. From the East, the Tigers play Kentucky (road) and Georgia (home). While it is hard to pick the Tigers this low, they are not without a chance to win the West.
6. Texas A&M Aggies
Kevin Sumlin came to Texas A&M in 2012 with two things against him: his first year in charge and the Aggies’ first year in the SEC. He did quite well by going 11-2 overall including the marvelous 29-24 upset of #1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. 2013 saw them slip slightly to 9-4 while they went 8-5 in 2014. 2015 will be Sumlin’s fourth year and he has some serious quarterback prospects in his stable.
The offense was a bit underwhelming in 2014 by Sumlin’s standards. They averaged 35.2 points and 455 yards per game, which is great for most teams, but it was nearly 10 points and 100 yards per game than in 2013. Kyle Allen will be at quarterback after getting some playing time in 2014 when he threw for 1,322 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He will be throwing to Josh Reynolds (52 catches for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns), Speedy Noil (46 catches for 583 yards and 5 touchdowns), Ricky Seals-Jones (49 catches for 465 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Edward Pope (30 catches for 454 yards and 4 touchdowns). Tra Carson was the top running back in 2014 with 581 yards and 5 touchdowns and returns alongside Brandon Williams (379 yards and 3 touchdowns). Three starters are back on the offensive line and the numbers should go up for the offense in 2015.
The defense will have eight starters back in 2015 from a group that allowed 28.1 points and 451 yards per game. The trio of Daeshon Hall (29 tackles and 4.5 sacks), Hardreck Walker (35 tackles), and AlonzoWilliams (57 tackles and 4.5 sacks) will be returning on the line. The linebackers were hit hard, but the hybrid spot, Rush, will be manned by Myles Garrett, who had 53 tackles and 11.5 sacks. Only ShaanWashington returns at one of the traditional linebacker spots after recording 64 tackles, 2 sacks, and 2 tackles for loss last year. The secondary has De’Vante Harris (53 tackles and 1 interception) and ArmaniWatts (59 tackles, 8 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions) back. It is hard to imagine the defense not improving in 2015 with the amount of experience returning.
Texas A&M opens the year with Arizona State in Houston, Texas. After that, they will play Ball State, Nevada, and Western Carolina at home in their non-conference schedule. In division, they have to take on Arkansas in Arlington, Texas before playing Mississippi State, Alabama, and Auburn at home. They will play both Ole Miss and LSU on the road. From the East, they have the duo of South Carolina (home) and Vanderbilt (road) in two winnable games. The Aggies are immensely talented and will have a better offense, which makes it tough to put them this low. They do have a chance to make noise in the West and make the SEC Championship game.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Dan Mullen has been pretty consistent since taking over Mississippi State in 2009. They went 5-7 in that first year, but have made five straight bowl games since then and have also had a winning season each year since 2010. 2014 was nearly a magical season for MSU, as they opened 9-0 before losing three of their last four games. Their two regular season losses were on the road to Alabama and Ole Miss and were then walloped in the Orange Bowl, 49-34. 2015 looks like a rough year with only seven total starters returning.
The offense will have four starters back from a group that put up 36.9 points and 514 yards per game in 2014. The good news is that quarterback Dak Prescott is one of those returning after throwing for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while also rushing for 986 yards and 14 touchdowns. Prescott will be leaned on heavily all season with the top returning running backs in Brandon Holloway (294 yards and 1 touchdown) and Ashton Shumpert (274 yards and 2 touchdowns). The top two receivers also return with De’Runnya Wilson (47 catches for 680 yards and 9 touchdowns) and FredRoss (30 catches for 489 yards and 5 touchdowns) leading the way. There will be only two starters back on the line as well. Despite just four starters returning, they are in a good spot with the quarterback and top two receivers back, but it will be tough for them to match last year’s output.
The defense has only three starters back from a unit that allowed 21.7 points and 424 yards per game. RyanBrown is the lone returning starter on the line after recording 39 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss. He will be joined by Chris Jones (26 tackles and 3 sacks) and AJ Jefferson (28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4.5 tackles for loss). At linebacker, Beniquez Brown is back after recording 62 tackles (#2 on team) along with 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. Richie Brown saw playing time in every game in 2014 and recorded 50 tackles and 3 interceptions as well. The secondary has just Taveze Calhoun (53 tackles, 9 pass breakups, and 1 interception) back at starter, but Will Redmond had a solid year as well with 51 tackles, 5 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. It will be hard for the Bulldogs to have as good a year as they did in 2014 on the defensive side of the ball.
MSU will have Southern Miss on the road to start their non-conference slate, but finish up with Northwestern State, Troy, and Louisiana Tech at home. In conference, they will play Auburn, Texas A&M, and Arkansas on the road while taking on LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss at home. From the East, they will play both Kentucky (home) and Missouri (road). In a very deep SEC West, it is tough to put the Bulldogs down here with Dak Prescott returning as well as Dan Mullen at the helm. At the very worst, MSU should be back in a bowl game for 2015, but can cause some serious problems for the other teams in the West.
How difficult is it to predict the SEC West? All seven teams made a bowl game in 2014 and all seven teams have a legit chance at winning the division this year. If you are a fan of one of the teams picked at the bottom, do not fret because this was the hardest preview to write given the quality and depth of all the teams. The predicted order of finish below is sure to be wrong, but that is a testament to the SEC West.
6. Texas A&M
7. Mississippi State
For the SEC Championship, we had Tennessee winning the SEC East to set up a contest against LSU, the winner of the SEC West. If that were to be the SEC Championship, we will go with LSU to capture yet another for the West Division, which would be the 7th straight against the East.
That concludes the 2015 College Football Preview here at Sports Enthusiasts. Be sure to check back for more news and information regarding all the divisions in College Football, but also for standings and schedules.
Hilton suffered a broken thumb, which will keep him out of the remaining spring practices. Wilkins sprained his MCL and he is considered “day-to-day.” Another running back, Eugene Brazley, suffered a concussion.
Hilton should be ready to go by summer and that is good news for the Ole Miss defense. Hilton started all 13 games for Ole Miss in 2014 and was the team’s leading tackler at 71. He also had 4 tackles-for-loss and 3 interceptions. For his career Hilton has 156 tackles, 2 sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss, 3 forced fumbles, and 4 interceptions in 36 career games. He will be a senior in 2015.
Wilkins redshirted in 2013 before seeing plenty of action in 2014. He played in all 13 games while recording 361 yards and a touchdown on 52 carries as the team’s second leading rusher behind Jaylen Walton. He also had 1 catch for 6 yards.
Brazley saw limited action in 5 games, but had 128 yards on 26 carries. He also caught 2 passes for 14 yards out of the backfield.
Ole Miss wraps up spring practice on Saturday, April 11.
Bo Wallace‘s interception at the LSU two-yard line with two seconds left broke the hears of Mississippi fans, but it may call into question the decision by head coach Hugh Freeze to go for extra yards instead of trying a 47 yard field goal. The interception preserved a 10-7 LSU victory.
LSU’s first drive went well, but stalled at the Ole Miss 12 yard. Colby Delahoussaye’s 28 yard field goal was wide left and the game remained scoreless. Ole Miss faced a fourth and two at the LSU 30 yard following the miss, but Wallace’s pass fell incomplete.
LSU appeared headed for a touchdown, but Leonard Fournette fumble right as he neared the goal line and Cody Prewitt recovered in the end zone for a touchback. That turnover proved costly as the Rebels went back down the field and Wallace’s short pass to Cody Core ended up in the end zone for a 15 yard score.
LSU was moving the ball to start the second quarter, by Prewitt forced a fumble on Terrance Magee catch and run. However, the Rebels would not capitalize on the turnover and LSU would hit a field goal on their next drive to make it 7-3. That would be the score after the first 30 minutes as both offense struggled to move into the opponent’s red zone.
The third quarter featured more of the same with both offense struggling to get past midfield or deep into each other’s territory. Anthony Jennings threw an interception at the Ole Miss 49 yard line, but nothing would come of it.
Jennings threw another interception early in the fourth quarter, but the LSU defense came up big once more by forcing another punt. Following the punt, LSU would embark on a 13 play, 95 yard drive. On second and goal from the Ole Miss 3, Jennings hit Logan Stokes for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead for LSU.
Following the touchdown, Ole Miss was faced with a fourth and one on the LSU 47 yard line, but Wallace was stopped cold for no gain and LSU took over at that spot. The Ole Miss defense stopped the Tigers on the following three plays, but had to burn all of their timeouts.
The Rebels had one last chance with 1:19 left on the clock. On fourth and 8 from their own 27, Wallace hit Markell Pack for 12 yards on a check down to keep the game alive. LSU’s Jalen Mills was called for pass interference to give the Rebels the ball at the LSU 33 yard line. On third and 2 at the LSU 25 yard line, Hugh Freeze put the kicking team on the field, but a delay of game penalty backed them up.
After an LSU timeout, Freeze put the offense on the field and decided to try and pick up more yards for a better field goal. Wallace tried to go for the end zone, but the ball was underthrown and Ronald Martin was there to intercept the ball and win the game for LSU.
Overall, Bo Wallace had a rough night. He went 14 of 33 for 176 yards with a touchdown and an interception while also running for 40 yards on 12 carries to lead the Rebels. Laquon Treadwell caught 4 passes for 71 yards, Cody Core had 4 catches for 45 yards and a touchdown, and Jaylen Walton caught 4 passes for 41 yards.
Anthony Jennings also had a rough night going 8 of 16 for 142 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Leonard Fournette ran 23 times for 113 yards while Terrance Magee had 74 yards on 12 carries. Kenny Hilliard ran 12 times for 63 yards.
Magee also caught 2 passes for 45 yards to lead the Tigers in receiving. Trey Quinn had two catches for 42 yards and Fournette also had 2 catches for 41 yards.
Ole Miss (7-1, 4-1) will not have an undefeated season, but they have a big chance next Saturday to pick themselves up. They face Auburn (6-1, 3-1) at home.
LSU (7-2, 3-2) has a bye next week before a home game against Alabama (7-1, 4-1) on November 8. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Alabama has a bye next week as well.