Thursday, June 27, 2013

Coaches on the Hot Seat

Certain programs are more tolerant of mediocrity than others. Others demand results every single year. All it can take is two bad seasons and a reputable coach can be canned. A program like Florida or Michigan is not willing to suffer several years of average records and bowl appearances. Below are the coaches that I think will be fired after this year if they don't show signs of improvement. I'll be posting one a day.

Lane Kiffin, Southern California
Holy Hell, did USC’s hopes and dreams implode last year or what? With all the weapons on offense, a fourth year starting quarterback, and a solid defense on paper, it was championship or bust for the Trojans. Last year wasn’t just a bust, it was pathetic. They started off 6-1, but had really only beaten Utah and Colorado to start the season. They then dropped five of their last six games, including a laughable 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in their bowl game. USC has been hampered by the NCAA sanctions which Kiffin can thank Pete Carroll for, but Kiffin hasn’t been able to get the Trojans back into the national spotlight despite recruiting very well (since 2010: eight 5* recruits; eighteen 4*). So USC has been able to bring in talent, but has not been able to put it all together and that falls on the head coach. There really is no excuse as to why they weren’t at least in the PAC-12 Championship last year with the amount of pure talent they had. Kiffin is in a tough situation this year with Barkley graduating and Robert Woods leaving for the draft. While they do retain several key playmakers, they will be breaking in a new quarterback and will probably be relying on quite a few underclassmen to play early and often. This year’s schedule isn’t much easier , so USC will probably be around .500 by the time it’s over. Kiffin isn’t the most likeable guy anyways, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Trojans dumped the pint sized Daniel Tosh if they have another average season.

Can you tell who is who?

Mack Brown, Texas
Things haven’t been the same in Austin since Colt McCoy moved on to a legendary career with the Browns. Since 2009, Brown has started both Case McCoy, Colt’s younger brother, and David Ash at quarterback, often replacing one with the other if the first is struggling. No quarterback can operate under that kind of strain but Brown seems to have chosen Ash to move forward. Brown continues to recruit well in state, but his teams have not had the ability to get back to the national stage. SEC schools like LSU, Arkansas, and now Texas A&M have been able to lure some of the better recruits away from Austin due to the higher level of competition. Much like Lane Kiffin at USC, Brown has been able to bring in talent but hasn’t been able to put it all together like he used to. The program is only 22-16 since getting blown out of the water by Alabama in the 2009 title game. That’s an average of only seven wins and five losses per year (compared to 11 wins and 1.5 losses under Vince Young and Colt McCoy). The offense can score, but Brown needs to tighten up the defense which was the cause of their losses last year (gave up 43 PPG in losses). The BIG 12 is not a conference known for defensive prowess, so I think Brown’s offense will be able to continue putting up five to six touchdowns a game. Yet he must do something on defense or Texas will be forced to play shootouts all year. Getting to ten wins may help save his job, but if he surrenders 63 points to Bob Stoops again he’ll be kicked to the curb.

Leslie Miles, LSU
I must be insane, right? Programs don’t exactly just boot one of the most successful coaches in the nation, especially one who was just given an extension two seasons ago. Yet this might not be as farfetched as you initially suspect. Since winning the National Title in 2007, LSU has not had a great amount of success in bowl games. They are a modest 2-3, but that includes an embarrassing loss to Nick Saban and Alabama in the 2011 Championship Game. LSU has gone into slumps after both championship appearances in recent memory, and that is sure to upset Tigers faithful. At a school like LSU that plays in the SEC, winning ten games a year is not enough. They demand that LSU is at the very least representing the SEC West with a shot for the title. As if that wasn’t already hard enough with Alabama in conference, now Texas A&M is crashing the party and has the make up to challenge for the West every year while Ole Miss has really begun to rebuild a strong program. Remember, Leslie Miles was killed by local media after their loss to Alabama in the championship game. Miles is 2-3 against Saban since 2009, which would appear great on paper, but always loses when it matters most. Saban is truly Miles’s arch nemesis at this point as he shut out LSU in the Championship Game and put a dagger in their heart this past year at LSU. LSU looks like it will be in another down year with how much pure talent left for the NFL, and that could spell trouble with their schedule. If LSU wins only 8-9 games this year, expect the torches to be lit and people calling for change in Baton Rouge.
Maybe he should have tried smoking it if he was looking for clairvoyance.

Bo Pelini, Nebraska
Winning an average of ten games a year over the last five years would be enough to satisfy most fans and alumni, but not when it comes to Nebraska. The glory days of Tommy Frazier and the Blackshirts are a distant memory for Huskers fans. Bo Pelini has done a great job since leaving Les Miles’s side at LSU, but he has yet to get Nebraska back to the national stage or even a BCS Bowl game. They should have gone to the Fiesta Bowl in ’09 but didn’t thanks to a bogus call against Texas in the BIG 12 Championship, and had a chance to go to the Rose Bowl last year but decided to leave their defense in Lincoln. Nebraska has made a pretty smooth transition to the BIG 10, but as was the case in the BIG 12, hasn’t been able to overcome the upper echelon of conference teams. Pelini has been able to get his team to the edge, but has never been able to take his team over the summit. His contract expires in 2016, but I really am not sure if he will make it to that date. The BIG 10 is down this year, so Pelini will be expected to battle Michigan to represent the Legends again. The players are there who fit in his system and can thrive, but that has been the case in the past. I feel bad for Pelini, who would be getting praise all around if he was this consistent at a different school, but I think that he may be getting the axe after this year if Nebraska can’t show definitive signs of improvement.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Immediate Impact Freshman

It seems like with every passing year, the talent that passes on to each level of the game is getting better. You can see it in the NFL with the way quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, RG3, and Russell Wilson were able to go to the playoffs in their first year. The same thing is happening for kids passing on from high school to college. Twenty years ago, only truly special freshman ever saw snaps. Now, kids as young as 18 or 19 are arriving at major programs and dominating. Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper made an incredible game winning catch in the SEC Championship game to send the Tide to the National Championship Game. Marquise Lee caught 77 passes and 11 touchdowns in 2011 when  USC was close to back on top. Every year, freshman are relied more and more upon to make meaningful contributions immediately. Below are the incoming freshman who I think have a chance to really shine in their first years.

Note: The rankings that I have for these players are the aggregate score from three sources: ESPN's recruiting page, 24/7 Sports, and

Thomas Tyner, RB, Oregon (National: 30; Position: 3)
Tyner, an Oregon native and consensus five star running back, will be asked to produce from Day 1. Oregon has had a lot of success with running backs during Kelly’s time as head coach and new head coach Mark Helfrich looks to continue that trend. Keeping Tyner in state will prove incredibly helpful for the head coach transition. Tyner has been clocked running under a 4.40 40-yard dash (he claims 4.28 which I don’t buy. That’s .04 seconds slower than Chris Johnson ran at the Combine) and is a more complete running back than fellow back De’Anthony Thomas. Thomas has an elusiveness that Tyner may not possess, but his small frame has caused his coaches to design plays for him where he won’t get killed immediately after getting the ball in his hands. Tyner will be able to line up in a more traditional fashion and will add an extra element to the Duck’s offense. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran for over 1000 yards and scored 6-8 touchdowns this year.

Max Browne, QB, Southern California (National: 13; Position: 1)
Five years ago, no freshman had ever started for the Trojans. Then highly touted recruit Matt Barkley came in and took advantage of a weak quarterback competition and won the starting job. I expect history to repeat itself with Max Browne as he challenges incumbent Max Wittek. Wittek took over the last two games after Barkley was hurt and didn’t show anything to give Lane Kiffin any real hope. Browne, who has drawn comparisons to Peyton Manning for his size, football intelligence and work ethic, put up the numbers in high school that Kiffin wanted to see. He has a huge frame and threw for 4000 yards and an eye-popping 45 TDs against 7 INT. Browne can flat out sling the ball and is capable of delivering to all levels of the field. He’ll benefit greatly from the electrifying tandem of Marquise Lee and Nelson Agholor and won’t have to do it all with senior running back Silas Redd in the mix. He’s already drawn praise from USC’s coaching staff, so look for him to at least get some reps in the opener against Hawaii and eventually take over the starting role.

Ricky Seals-Jones, ATH, Texas A&M (National: 42; Position: 5)
While technically listed as “Athlete”, Seals-Jones will most likely fill the void at wide receiver that was left by Ryan Swope. Swope was the second best receiver behind Mike Evans by an almost fifty catch margin, so there is a big hole at the number two receiver position. Evans returns but head coach Kevin Sumlin must find a capable starter across from him, and Seals-Jones will most likely be asked to step in from the start. A four star commit out of Sealy, Texas, he has a large frame similar to NFL star Calvin Johnson and has an incredible amount of raw athleticism. He only played one year as a receiver in high school, but had 11 TDs on only 31 catches.  He also has the luxury of having a Heisman winning quarterback throwing to him. A&M was a dangerous team before the addition of Seals-Jones, but bringing him on board with two other freshman wide receivers and the talent that was already there, Seals-Jones can really make his presence felt in the SEC this year. Look for him to make an immediate impact much like Julio Jones or AJ Green in their freshman years in the SEC.

Eli Apple and Vonn Bell, DBs, Ohio State (Apple, National: 49; Position 5) (Bell, National: 35; Position, 3)
Eli Apple
A two for one special. Both of these defensive backs have played on both sides of the ball in high school and fit the mold of successful DBs to play for Urban Meyer. They are physical, athletic, and have a knack for making plays even when the ball is not in their hands. It is not as if the Buckeyes need help at secondary, but these two should be able to rotate in and make plays as true freshman. Vonn Bell is a five star recruit from Georgia who should learn a lot from senior safeties CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant but should also be able to work into the lineup with them. Bradley Roby already has one half of the field shut down at the cornerback position, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple push Doran Grant from the other starting position. These two freshmen could be the key ingredient to shoring up a secondary that was shaky at the start of the season but began to improve in the latter half.
Vonn Bell

Derrick Green, RB, Michigan (National: 24; Position: 3)
One of the top ranked running back in the nation could be a starter from the first snap for Brady Hoke this year. Fitzgerald Toussaint returns for his senior year but wasn’t that stellar before an injury ended his season. Green has the size and the speed to make a case for the starting role while he will undoubtedly split carries with Toussaint in the beginning of the season. Yet Hoke has finally been able to find all the pieces to fit his offense and Green is going to play a pivotal role in how far Michigan can go this year. David Garner fits in Hoke’s system better than Shoelaces did, but his numbers were pretty pedestrian last year. Hoke is going to look to run the ball hard and often to take the pressure off of Gardner and open up the field for him. Green is too talented to sit on the bench for his first year, and I anticipate Hoke giving him more and more carries as his talent becomes evident as the year progresses.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

On the Outside Looking In

These are my three dark horse candidates to win the Heisman.

Aaron Murry, Sr. QB, Georgia
Another stud quarterback who puts up big numbers in the SEC. Murray threw for 36 touchdowns and 3800 yards against only 10 interceptions in a conference that is a pipeline to the NFL on the defensive side of the ball. Murray came 4 yards short of leading Georgia to the national championship game last year. If he can continue to play at the level he has the past three years and take advantage of the favorable schedule, Murray can slip into the Heisman race.

Lache Seastrunk, Jr. RB, Baylor
I’m not sure if Seastrunk would have made my list if he hadn’t guaranteed that he would win the Heisman in the offseason. However, that doesn’t mean he lacks talent. Seastrunk ran for over 1000 yards on 7.7 YPC and 7 touchdowns. While he benefits from Baylor’s up-tempo style, you have to wonder if he’ll get the carries to put up the video game numbers running backs need these days to win the Heisman. If he can improve and is getting more than 10 touches a game, expect Seastrunk to shred those non-existent Big 12 defenses and get voters’ attention.

Teddy Bridgewater, Jr. QB, Louisville
Last we saw Bridgewater, he was tearing apart Will Muschamp’s vaunted Gator defense. He threw for 266 yards and 2 TDs (and 1 INT on a tipped pass) against a defense that had NFL scouts salivating. Many scouts believe that he will be the first signal caller off the board if he declares for the draft after this year. He showed tremendous strides forward after his freshman year and should be able to improve with another offseason with head coach Charlie Strong. His numbers were impressive last year, but he may need to elevate his game even further if he wants people to overlook that fact that he plays in a conference that is scarcely above the WAC.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Heisman Favorites

It has become almost near impossible to determine who will be winning the Heisman these days. If you say you had either Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel on your radar before the season started, you're a liar. No one could have predicted those. In the prior two years, most people pegged Tebow as the first to win the trophy twice in thirty years. Yet Sam Bradford and Mark Ingram, who had been afterthoughts, put up great numbers and stole it from Tebow. But here it is, my stab at who will be the winner of the Heisman after the 2013 season is almost over. Just for fun, I'll post in descending order and do one a day.

1. Braxton Miller, Jr. QB, Ohio State
This is the age of quarterbacks winning the Heisman, yet every quarterback to win the Heisman since Sam Bradford in 2008 has been a duel threat quarterback. Miller is just that. He was impressive in his first season under Urban Meyer’s spread offense, throwing for 15 touchdowns against 6 interceptions and completing 58% of his passes and rushing for a whopping 13 touchdowns and racking up over 100 yards per game on the ground. Miller should take massive steps forward this year in Meyer’s second year at Ohio State who was able to work miracles with Tim Tebow and Chris Leak while at Florida and winning two national championships. With Miller’s two primary receivers coming back this year, Corey “Philly” Brown and Devin Smith, returning, Miller should be more confident throwing the ball. The field should also open up more thanks to the return of power running back Carlos Hyde can take some of the pressure off of Braxton. Braxton was leading Ohio State to almost 37 PPG, so this year could really be something special for the Ohio State offense. Factoring in the possibility of Ohio State running the table against the embarrassingly down Big 10 (now with 14 teams!), Miller could be vaulted to the top of the pack by mid-season.

2. Tajh Boyd, Sr. QB, Clemson
I find it hard to believe that Boyd was not one of the finalists last year for the Heisman. He tossed 36 touchdowns and almost 4000 yards while adding another 10 and 500 on the ground. However, Boyd should be considered an early favorite for college’s most coveted trophy. Despite losing DeAndre Hopkins to this past year’s draft, Boyd will still be throwing to stud wide receiver Sammy Watkins who has the ability to score on any play when the ball is in his hands. Boyd should be able to rack up more impressive numbers this year playing in the weakened ACC, but this could also work against him as voters may see his stats as inflated due to inferior competition. An impressive outing in Week 1 against Georgia would definitely grab voters’ attention. No real threats from the ACC will challenge Clemson, save maybe a visit from Florida State on October 19th, but the regular season will end for Clemson as it usually does against South Carolina. If Boyd can travel to Columbia, have a solid game, and end South Carolina’s 4 game win streak against the Tigers, it will be impossible for voters to ignore him for a second straight season.

3. Johnny “Football” Manziel, So. QB, Texas A&M
Many readers and talking heads will argue that Manziel shouldn’t be lower than 2, but consider this: No one has won the Heisman Trophy twice since Archie Griffin did in 1974 and 1975. Many thought that Tim Tebow would be the one to break that streak, but he only finished third and fifth in his last two years at Florida. Matt Leinart lost out to Reggie Bush and Vince Young in 2005. My point is, voters have an inclination to pass on handing out the trophy to a player twice. Yet Manziel could be the first two time winner since Griffin. It will be incredibly hard, maybe even impossible, for him to duplicate the numbers he put up last year (3706 Passing; 1410 Rushing; 5116 Total) which broke Cam Newton’s SEC record (2854 Passing; 1473 Rushing; 4327 Total). Any player that can put up numbers like that and dominate the SEC like he did, as a redshirt freshman, has to be a favorite. While he did lose veteran wide receiver Ryan Swope to the NFL draft, Manziel has the skill set and poise to put up more big numbers through the air while everybody knows that he has the athleticism to make huge plays with his legs. If A&M can survive the arrival of Alabama on a quest for vengeance in the third week of the season, they stand a good chance of running the table until a November 23 visit to Death Valley to take on LSU. If A&M can survive the SEC gauntlet relatively unscathed and he is putting up the numbers he is capable of, Johnny Football will be taking another trip to New York.

4.  Jadeveon Clowney, Jr. DE, South Carolina
 Has anyone not seen the hit that Clowney put on Michigan RB Vincent Smith that sent Smith’s helmet into orbit around Earth? Clowney is an absolute freak of nature who was known throughout the college football world well before arriving in Columbia three years ago. He has dominated the SEC over the past two years, racking up 21 sacks and 90 tackles. While everyone remembers his decapitation of Smith, Clowney had arguably his best performance against Clemson when he sacked QB Tajh Boyd 4.5 times in the game. While several scouts have stated that he can improve his strength, there is no denying that he has an unprecedented blend of size, speed, and technique. He is impossible to block one on one and is the stuff of nightmares for quarterbacks and offensive line coaches. The biggest factor working against Clowney is the position that he plays. No defensive player has brought home the trophy since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997. Woodson also was a fantastic returner which helped him gain the favor of voters. Still, if Clowney can continue to look like a man amongst boys and South Carolina makes a push towards a BSC Bowl or even the National Championship game, expect to see him sitting with the plethora of quarterbacks in the Big Apple.

5.  Sammy Watkins, Jr. WR, Clemson
Personally, I don’t think that Watkins is the best receiver in college. That would go to USC receiver Marquise Lee. However, Watkins has something that Lee doesn’t have: a competent, proven quarterback who can get him the ball. Tajh Boyd will be able to put the ball into Watkins hands often, but that could hurt Watkins chances as he may be overlooked for Boyd. Still, there is no denying the electric play making abilities that he possesses. Watkins made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2011 when he caught 82 passes, 1217 yards, and an astounding 12 touchdowns. He is capable of lining up as a tailback and has the speed and elusiveness to score anytime the ball is in his hand. A suspension at the beginning of the 2012 season cost him several games and injuries during the remainder of the season limited his effectiveness. He should benefit from regaining his status as the number one receiver, which was handed over to DeAndre Hopkins last year. If Watkins can return to the same level he played at freshman year and Clemson is in the title hunt, expect to see him receiving a lot of hype.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tommy Rees Named Starter

Meh, not the biggest news but considering where Notre Dame was listed in polls before the depature of Everett Golson, it has its implications. If you saw my article from a few days ago, you'd see that I'm not really thrilled with the options Notre Dame has after Golson left. Rees has been with the team since 2010 and has seen the field, but this isn't the kind of news that is going to excite the fan base. He is only 12-7 as a starter, can be a turnover machine, and is really a symbol of Notre Dame's ineptitude in their first few years paired with Brian Kelly. His experience with the team will help, but I still stand by my prediction that Notre Dame will lose between three and five games this year.

Don't Overlook

Miami (7-5; no bowl due to sanctions)
NCAA sanctions due to the Nevin Shapiro scandal overshadowed the solid season that the Hurricanes put together last year. Three of their five losses came against a
team that made it to a BCS Bowl game (Kansas State, Notre Dame, Florida State). Quarterback Stephen Morris had a very productive season and should only improve in his third year as a starter and with his top three receivers coming back. Duke Johnson was an absolute phenomenon last year at running back as a true freshman (947 yards, 6.8 YPC, 10 TD) and averaged less than 12 carries a game. He’ll be looking to handle more carries and put himself in the discussion of The U’s great running backs like Willis MacGahee, Frank Gore, and Clinton Portis. Yet the Hurricanes must improve on defense if they want to make splashes this year. They surrendered 30 PPG and over 400 YPG last year. Al Golden has been putting together solid recruiting classes since arriving in Miami, and if some freshman can be productive, Miami will challenge for the ACC coastal. Tough road games include Florida State and UNC, but getting Florida and Virginia Tech at home will give them a chance to even out. Don’t be surprised if Miami hits double digit wins this year.

 Nebraska (10-4; Lost to Georgia 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl)
 It is tough to get a reading on Nebraska. On the one hand, they win about nine or ten games every year. But they always seem to disappoint and never take that next
step. Such was the case last year when they won ten games but lost four, three of them in spectacular fashion. This is a real make or break year for Bo Pelini. Their quarterback will yet again be Taylor Martinez, who has been under center for three years but never achieved everything he is capable of. He improved through the air last year (23 TD, 10 INT) and is a capable runner (1000 yards, 10 TD) and will take Nebraska as far as he goes. Questions still loom on defense, which was embarrassed in several games last year (Ohio State scored 63, Wisconsin scored 70). The Huskers don’t have to play Ohio State or Wisconsin this year but will travel to Happy Valley and the Big House for pivotal games. Nebraska is looking at another ten win season and to represent the Legends division of the BIG 10 again.

Texas (9-4; Beat Oregon State 31-27 in the Alamo Bowl)
Mack Brown is coaching for his job this year. Ever since Colt McCoy graduated in 2009, Texas has struggled mightily to regain its status as one of college football’s
elite. Inconsistent quarterback play and an uncharacteristically weak defense has caused Texas to slip in the last three years. Last year offered a glimmer of hope for the Longhorns however. While they did get annihilated in three of their four losses, they also had impressive victories in Stillwater, Oxford, and Lubbock and capped it off with a strong finish against Oregon State. Brown has benefitted from recruiting in the most talent-laden state in the Union, and you have to figure that they eventually get their act together. Quarterback David Ash had a good season last year to build on while both running backs (So. Jonathon Gray, Jr. Malcolm Brown) were five  star recruits in their respective classes. Look for the Longhorns to capitalize on a wide open Big 12 race and possibly work their way into the Fiesta Bowl.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Don't Believe the Hype

1.       Notre Dame (12-1; Lost to Alabama 42-14 in the National Championship Game)
                                                                                             i.      The loss of Everett Golson hurts, sure, but I wasn’t high on ND even before he left the team. They lost their top two running backs and Theo
Riddick was also one of their top wide receivers, as well as losing stud TE Tyler Eiffert. I’ve heard some pundits say “It’s Notre Dame, they’ll be able to plug someone else in and move on”. That may be true for running back or even tight end, but I don’t think it is that simple at quarterback. Next in line is Tommy Rees who was dismal during his time as a starter. Gunner Kiel transferred to Cincy while Andrew Hendrix is unproven. The defense should again be ranked as one of the best fifteen or so in college football, but I have the feeling that they will be relied upon too much this year. Notre Dame benefited last year from an easy schedule and still had too many close calls (Pitt in OT, home against Purdue, blind referees missing a Stanford touchdown). I don’t see them surviving road trips to Michigan and Stanford this year and wouldn't be surprised if they dropped another game or two (@ Arizona St. or Purdue; home against Oklahoma).

2.       Florida (11-2; Lost to Louisville 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl)
                                                                                             i.      I’m not sold on Florida this year and I expect them to take a step back. Now, that doesn’t mean that they won’t win nine or ten games this year,
but I don’t think they will be ranked #3 heading into their bowl game. Head coach Will Muschamp will make sure the defense doesn’t lapse, but there is no denying how much talent just left for the NFL (5 starters drafted). I just don’t believe that their offense will be able to keep them in games against another powerful offense. Jeff Driskel struggled last year, throwing for just 1600 yards and 12 touchdowns. They relied heavily on his ability to make plays with his feet, which he is capable of, and on Mike Gillislee to carry the burden, but now Gillislee is gone and the running backs are unproven. Florida will go as far as Jeff Driskel can. With tough road games at LSU, South Carolina, and up and coming Miami (Georgia is a neutral site) I can see a tough year ahead for the Gators.

3.       LSU (10-3; Lost to Clemson 25-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl)

                                                                                             i.      Much like Florida, LSU lost a ton of talent on defense and has some questions at quarterback. Freakishly athletic defensive ends Sam
Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are gone, and starters from all levels of the defense have moved on (DBs Eric Reid and Tharold Simon; LB Kevin Minter). Les Miles’s has always recruited great defensive players, so they are all hoping that those guys can step up and make an immediate impact. The running game will be strong after the surprisingly good season that Jeremy Hill had last year as he will also be complemented by senior back Alfred Blue. However, I’m not sure if quarterback Zach Mettenberger will be able to keep games close against the tougher opponents LSU will face this year. He showed some flashes, but struggled at other times (look at his stats against Florida, Texas A&M, Ole Miss). They luck out getting A&M and Florida at home, but have to go on to road to face Alabama, Georgia, and Ole Miss. Another trip to the Chick-fil-A bowl will be the most likely destination for the Bayou Bengals this year.

2013 Preseason Top 10

"Who Faces Alabama" should really be the title of this. I think we all know who will be number one here. Alabama is in a prime position to make it four in five years, but there are a few teams out there who might have something to say about that. It is going to take a special team to knock Nick, Saban, off his perch of righteousness but Alabama has lost at least one game in the last three years, so it is possible.

1) Alabama (13-1; Beat Notre Dame 42-14 in the BCS National Championship Game)
Anyone who doesn’t have the Crimson Tide ranked first is either delusional, in denial, or both. Nick Saban is easily the best coach in college football and recruits like no other. With another great recruiting class to add to what he has brought in over the past 2 years, Saban can reload along the offensive line and linebackers. Throw in an experienced quarterback (AJ McCarron), two sophomore phenoms (WR Amari Cooper; RB TJ Yeldon), and another impregnable defense and the Tide stand a great chance of making it four titles in five years. Alabama doesn’t really have a murderous schedule this year either. They open up with against Virginia Tech in Atlanta and then travel to College Station to try and avenge their one loss last year against Texas A&M. The winner of that game will be in the driver’s seat for the SEC West and even a nation title game berth. 

2) Ohio State (12-0; no postseason due to NCAA sanctions)
Let’s see what the Buckeyes can do with a bit of pressure placed on them. Urban Meyer’s debut in Columbus was certainly memorable, leading the Bucks to an undefeated season behind the leadership of quarterback Braxton Miller. Despite losing some key defensive linemen, Urban is confident that sophomores Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence will quickly fill the void while the back seven remains mostly intact. Miller should flourish with another year in Meyer’s system as well as retention of key offensive playmakers
like Corey Brown, Devin Smith, and Carlos Hyde. Miller was often sensational last year, racking up 3300 total yards and 28 total touchdowns and should be able to improve by leaps and bounds. Factor in a favorable schedule with two road tests (@ Northwestern; @ Michigan) and the Buckeyes could be back in the title hunt.

3) Stanford (12-2; Beat Wisconsin 20-14 in the Rose Bowl)
The Cardinal are in a prime position to be in Pasadena on January 6th. Stanford is bringing back a stifling defense that surrendered only 17 PPG and 330 YPG. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan took over last year for Josh Nunes after a loss at Notre Dame and guided Stanford to eight straight wins, including a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. His numbers were pretty good for a freshman, but head coach David Shaw won’t have him throw more than he needs to this year. Stanford has an offensive line that mauls opponents. They’ll have two seniors running the ball initially, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shaw unleash sophomore running back Barry Sanders Jr. They have an incredibly favorable schedule (home against UCLA, Oregon, and Notre Dame) and if they can avoid another stupid loss (last year @ Washington) they should be ranked in the top three by the end of the year.

4) Clemson (11-2; Beat LSU 25-24 in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl)
I’ll be the first to admit that this is a huge gamble, but there is some merit in ranking Clemson in the top five. Despite losing DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington to the NFL, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be back as well as a defense that is expected to start up to ten upperclassmen on defense. Both Boyd and Watkins are in my preseason Heisman list and are likely each first round selections in 2014. Clemson will have a chance to prove they deserve to be talked about amongst the elite when Georgia visits in the first game of the year. If they can capitalize on Florida State having to travel to Death Valley and avoid any trap games (@ NCSU; @ Syracuse), they should be sitting pretty for their November 30th showdown with South Carolina in Columbia. I have no doubt that Clemson can win the Coastal division and then beat Miami for the ACC championship. Any loss after Georgia in Week 1 puts them out of title hopes, but at the very least they will make it to the Orange Bowl this year.

5) Texas A&M (11-2; Beat Oklahoma 42-13 in the Cotton Bowl)
That didn’t take long. While fellow Big 12 abdicator Missouri was trampled by the SEC, Kevin Sumlin guided A&M to an improbable 11-2 record and a 6-2 conference record (both home losses against Florida and LSU). Johnny Manziel stepped into the spot light and stole the show last year with impressive outings against almost every type of defense he saw. He did the unthinkable and beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa and then made a fool out of Bob Stoops in the Cotton Bowl. He shattered SEC records on his way to a Heisman, as, oh yeah, a redshirt freshman. A good recruiting class should allow Sumlin to imbue some young talent on the defensive side of the ball and at wide receiver (let’s see if any can fill the voids of DE Damontre Moore and WR Ryan Swope). If the Aggies can survive the wrath Nick Saban will bring to College Station on September 14th, they may well run the table until their November 23rd date in Baton Rouge. One loss for them could be the difference between a date in Pasadena or another trip to the Cotton Bowl.

6) Oregon (12-1; Beat Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl)
The departure of Chip Kelly to the Eagles is the biggest question mark for Oregon this year. Mark Helfrich takes over in his first year as a head coach but was an understudy to Kelly for the past four years. His transition to head coach should be smooth, especially considering the talent the Ducks have. Marcus Mariota was fantastic in his first season at quarterback and there is no denying the speed Oregon possesses at every skill position. Although Kenyon Barner left, Oregon native and freshman running back Thomas Tyner should make an immediate impact when paired speedster De’Anthony Thomas. I expect Helfrich to continue to use an up tempo attack and find ways to get favorable matchups with all the speed at his disposal. If Oregon can survive a trip to Palo Alto, they should be ready to represent the PAC-12 North and reach a BCS Bowl.

7) Georgia (12-2; Beat Nebraska 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl)
Four yards is all it took to halt Georgia from their march towards the National Championship game and relegated them to a mid tier bowl. Aaron Murray has led the Bulldogs for the last 3 years, but has never been able to elevate Georgia to a BCS Bowl berth. He should be motivated to turn that streak around for his senior campaign and will be helped by two equally capable runners in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall (over 2000 combined rushing yards). Questions remain on defense after the departure of key players like Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones, and Bacarri Rambo. Yet Mark Richt has always recruited well, so players will emerge to fill those holes. Georgia faces a gauntlet of a schedule this year (@ Clemson and Florida; Home against South Carolina and LSU), but if they can survive that with even one loss, they could be representing the SEC East for the second straight year.

8) South Carolina (11-2; Beat Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl)
It is going to be interesting to see how the SEC East plays out this year the top three teams all capable of making a strong push towards the Crystal Trophy. The fate of who gets to represent the East could be decided within the first few weeks. The Gamecocks visit Georgia the second week of the season which will put one of them in the driver’s seat. With South Carolina getting a visit from Florida and Clemson in last quarter of the season, it’s all about defending their home field. The defense will be brutal once again led by the inhuman Jadeveon Clowney. If Connor Shaw can stay healthy and a worthy replacement to Marcus Lattimore is found, expect South Carolina to represent the East for the second time in four years.

9) Louisville (11-2; Beat Florida 33-23 in the Sugar Bowl)
A perfect season lies within reach for the Cardinals. In their last season in what remains of the Big East, Louisville is poised to at least return to a BCS Bowl game. Teddy Bridgewater should be able to improve on his impressive season last year in what will be his third year as the starter. He will have talented receivers to throw to, but it might be up to the running game to grow and the defense to tighten up so that Bridgewater doesn’t feel the need to win games every week. If Louisville can avoid a road loss against an inferior team like Cincinnati or UConn, they could be making their way to the Orange Bowl or possibly another Sugar Bowl.

10) Michigan (8-5; Lost to South Carolina 28-33 in the Outback Bowl)
Although Michigan had a bit of a sophomore slump in Brady Hoke’s second season, they are in a prime position for a great season in 2013. Hoke has a quarterback more suitable for his system with Devin Gardner than Denard Robinson was. They are going to rely on a strong running game led by senior Fitzgerald Toussaint and consensus five star freshman Derrick Green to compliment Gardner throwing to a pair of senior receivers. The defense was solid, giving up only 20 PPG, but had some lapses that led to loses. However, the defense will be mostly experienced upperclassmen which should give them an advantage this year. If Michigan wants to be taken seriously this year, they need to win against ranked teams when given the challenge (1-3 last year, 1-4 if you count that OSU was ranked in USA Today Poll). The road games could be risky (@ Penn State, @Northwestern, @ Michigan State) but getting Ohio State and Nebraska at home will be huge in securing them for a conference championship berth.