Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Full Circle: Recapping the Preseason Predictions

Don't Believe the Hype

At the beginning of the season, I listed three teams that I thought were overrated and would struggle throughout the year. Here is how the predictions went.

Notre Dame Fightin' Irish
Record: 9-4
Bowl Game: Beat Rutgers Scarlet Knights 29-16 in the Pinstripe Bowl

I didn't think that Notre Dame was going to go defeated this year, but I knew for a fact that there was no way they make it through the regular season undefeated. They simply had too many close calls last year that justified that kind of expectation this year. I wrote this article before Everett Golson was kicked off of the team, but I am surprised by how Tommy Rees played after being so mediocre when he had started. That did hurt them however as they did not have the same dynamic factor at quarterback that Golson provided them while having only decent players at receiver and tight end. TJ Jones had the best season of the receivers, hauling in 70 passes and nine touchdowns, but after that there was a significant drop off in production. Defensively, this team was not able to have the kind of year like it did in 2012. They were relied on heavily and their "bend, don't break" mentality couldn't hold up this year when the offense had struggles getting moving. While they still ranked 29th overall, it was nowhere near where they had previously ranked, giving up an average of almost 23 points a game. In their losses, they were only able to score more than 21 once and gave up at least four touchdowns in all but one of those losses. As I had predicted, they were not able to go on the road and beat either Michigan or Stanford, while they also lost at home to Oklahoma. Teams caught up to them this year, and the Irish undoubtedly played much tougher opponents than they did on their way to a championship berth. Golson could be reinstated to the university and team next year, but they also lose two very talented defensive linemen. Next year will be a bit of a mystery for Notre Dame.

Florida Gators
Record: 4-8 (3-5 in SEC)
Bowl Game: None

I actually kind of feel bad about this being correct. I know that the Gators were going to struggle this year, but good god. Florida was historically bad this year, missing out on a winning season for the first time in almost forty years and missing a bowl game for the first time in almost twenty years. A lot of it can be attributed to the sheer amount of injuries that they sustained on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Jeff Driskel was never stellar, but his season ending injury forced in untested sophomore Tyler Murphy who played a few games before getting hurt himself. But even before Driskel was injured, this team never looked like it belonged in the top ten. Their defense ranked 15th in points against at just over 21, but they didn't have the same viciousness recent Florida defenses have had. They gave up 36 to Mizzou, 34 to Vanderbilt, 37 to the Seminoles, and most embarrassingly, 26 to Georgia Southern, an FCS team, at home. The offense simply gave the defense no relief as both the rush and passing attacks ranked worse than 80th. It is honestly amazing that Muschamp was able to keep his job after how awful this year went. He had to can his offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, but unless he can recruit and develop high end talent, the Gators are going to struggle to be competitive in the SEC which saw an offensive explosion this year across the conference. 

LSU Tigers
Record: 10-3 (5-3 in SEC)
Bowl Game: Beat Iowa Hawkeyes 21-14 in the Outback Bowl

I'll admit that this one was definitely a bit more of a reach than the other two, but most of what I had predicted actually came to fruition with this team. Zach Mettenberger really impressed me this year by picking up his play under new coordinator Cam Cameron, and he was really the difference in this team. He completed a much higher percentage of his passes and threw for 22 touchdowns and over 3000 yards. Where this team really struggled was on defense, which had lost a ton of players with starting experience to the draft. The defense still allowed only an average of 22 points per game, but they gave up a lot of points to some of the more quality opponents they played. They were fortunate that their offense did a 180 from last year and averaged 35 points a game, or this team could have lost another two games or so. However, they did struggle against the three teams that I had mentioned they had to play on the road: Ole Miss, Georgia, and Alabama. Its never easy to win a road game in the SEC, but if they had kept even half the talent that fled for the pros, LSU probably beats Ole Miss and Georgia. And this year won't get any easier with at least the same amount of players already declaring for the draft.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hey readers. Thank you for making it through the college football season and the inaugural season of my blog with me. As always, this year provided us with tons of incredible moments ranging from insane individual performances to teams doing a complete 180 from last season. It was actually a pretty seamless transition to the next era of college football as this year didn't have any sort of BCS drama after the conference championship game. America would have shit their collective pants if Ohio State had managed to beat Michigan State, but the Buckeyes fell and everyone knew that Auburn was the deserving opponent to play Florida State. As painful and soul crushing as the Ohio State losses were personally, I hope your team did well. Unless you root for Michigan or Alabama. If not, there's always next year (Cleveland's official motto. no, it really is).

Obviously now that the season is over, there is a bit less to talk about. To start the offseason, I'm just going to be recapping a bunch of predictions and whatnot that I made before the season and seeing how it stacked up against the true outcomes. While doing that, I am going to be working on an ambitious goal of preparing a lot of information for the upcoming draft. Since its a lot to handle, I'm going to be working with a friend of mine. We will most likely work on bringing info and analysis on the top five or six players at each position, and then come out with a mock draft based off of team needs. The NFL draft isn't for a few months, so expect a lot of stuff to come in between now and that time. Thanks again for all of your support.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Postseason Top 8

Incredible that it is already over. And what a way to send out the BCS system, with arguably the greatest set of bowl games that has been played in its fifteen year existence. In the end, Florida State prevailed over the invincible SEC while in all four of the other games, the underdog beat the favorite. So here is the final top ten ranking for the season with with the most recent polls being the biggest factor, not the season overall.

1) Florida State Seminoles (beat No. 2 Auburn Tigers 34-31 to win National Championship)
Florida State could have beaten any team in the country this year, and that includes Alabama. It all starts with their star freshman quarterback, Jameis Winston who won the Heisman en route to leading the Seminoles to their first national title in what seems like forever. Winston had arguably the greatest season by a freshman, setting records in passing yards and touchdowns. He also had a future first round receiver in Kelvin Benjamin, a 6'5 phenom who turned 54 catches into over 1000 yards and a whopping 15 touchdowns, the biggest of which won the national championship game with 13 seconds left. Winston was surrounded by other veteran receivers in Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw who combined for 2000 yards and another 15 touchdowns. Factor in a rush attack that produced 2800 yards on the ground over 14 games, good for 200 a game which helped take pressure off of Jameis to make his transition easier. Defensively, Florida State ranked in the top ten in almost every category. Their game against Auburn was only the second time all season that they had given up more than 20 points per game. The entire defense is riddled with NFL caliber players, and it showed when they limited teams like Miami and Clemson to 17 points and 14 points, respectively. All in all, everything just fell into place perfectly for this team that capitalized on so many opportunities to win the final championship game of the BCS era.

2) Michigan State Spartans (beat No. 5 Stanford Cardinal 24-20 to win the Rose Bowl)
Even though they won the Rose Bowl, I still feel like Michigan State is still underrated. A lone early season loss to Notre Dame is really all that stood between this team and a shot at the national championship game. They still got to play in Pasadena for the first time in 25 years, and they won in great, old school fashion. Stanford came into the game as more than a touchdown favorite, but after the first drive the Spartans completely dominated the game. Michigan State's defense was the focal point of the team all year, a unit that ranked in the top three in all defensive statistics this year. They had relentless pass rushers and a secondary that earned the nickname "No Fly Zone" because of their ability to shutdown opposing receivers. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan only completed 10 of his 18 passes against their secondary with one throw ending up as an interception. Offensively, this team struggled out of the gate as they had some difficulty scoring on some of their early, non-conference foes. But sophomore Connor Cook took on more responsibilities as the year progressed and became a strength on offense as opposed to a liability. What really helped was the emergence of Jeremy Langford as a true successor to Leveon Bell. Langford ran for 1400 yards and 18 touchdowns this year, often taking the pressure off of Cook and allowing the passing game to open up even more. Michigan State returns a ton of talent on both sides that should put them in top ten consideration next year.

3) Auburn Tigers (lost to No. 1 Florida State Seminoles 31-34 in National Championship Game)
Auburn's magical season came to a disappointing end in the championship game that they lost with less than fifteen seconds left. In reality, Auburn really should have won this game with the way they dominated the first half. They posted a total of 449 yards, well above what Florida State was used to giving up this season, and were able to get their yards both through the air and on the ground. Tre Mason had another great game against the ferocious front seven of the Seminoles, gaining 195 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. He was able to have the same success that he had had in the previous two games, often not getting touched until he was at the next level of the defense. What hurt Auburn in this game was the lack of rushing yards from their quarterback, Nick Marshall, who only gained 45 yards on the ground after averaged almost 125 in the regular season. He made some good plays through the air, but also threw an interception that allowed Florida State to creep back into the game. The defense played much better than I expected, but they could not stop Famous Jameis in the most crucial situation of the game. I don't blame them for not being able to stop the Kelvin Benjamin touchdown as that was a huge mismatch from the get-go (Benjamin is 6'5; CB Chris Davis is 5'11). But they let up a couple of big plays on the last drive that allowed the Seminoles to take the lead for good.

4) Missouri Tigers (beat No. 13 Oklahoma State Cowboys 41-31 to win the Cotton Bowl)
Everyone talked about the turn around that Auburn made, but Missouri also went from a very dismal season (5-7; 2-6 in the SEC) before turning it around this year. It only took them one year to get acclimated to the way the SEC plays, and it showed in how they beat their former Big 12 rival. James Franklin struggled mightily to throw the ball, completing only 15 of his 40 passes, but he still made enough plays through the air to keep the defenses on their heels. The biggest contributor on offense was Henry Josey, who turned 12 carries into three touchdowns and 92 yards. Head coach Gary Pinkel has to be a little concerned that Josey has decided to enter the NFL draft this year. Defensively, Missouri did a fantastic job of limiting the Cowboy's air raid offense. Clint Chelf was forced into two interceptions while a fumble at the end of the game was taken to the house by the Tigers defense that helped seal the victory. With Florida down and Georgia and South Carolina losing their starting quarterbacks, next year could be a repeat year for Missouri as SEC East champs.

5) Oklahoma Sooners (beat No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl)
This was probably the most impressive win of the entire bowl season. Alabama hadn't given up more than 40 points in any game in over a decade, and they got plastered by Bob Stoops who had been taking jabs at the SEC defenses this offseason. That is a hell of a statistic, but you should be even more impressed by the defense that forced a jaw dropping five turnovers against a Nick Saban coached team. The defensive backs intercepted AJ McCarron twice, one of which was almost taken to the house. They also forced three fumbles, the biggest of which came on Alabama's last drive and helped clinch the Sugar Bowl for Oklahoma. Despite giving up over 500 yards, the Sooners' defense was just more physical and surprisingly faster off the whistle than the Alabama offense. Oklahoma has found their quarterback for the next several years in Trevor Knight, who got the nod to start just minutes before the game began. He had the most successful day in the air of any quarterback I've ever seen against Alabama. While he did throw a pick, he more than made up for it with four touchdown passes and 350 passing yards. He made pinpoint passes to all areas of the field, including some incredible deep passes that landed perfectly in the hands of the receiver in stride. Stoops put this game into his quarterback's hands, and it definitely paid off in one of the biggest wins of his career.

6) South Carolina Gamecocks (beat No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers 34-24 in the Capital One Bowl)
This is a little bit further back in the rankings than other polls have, but knock against this win is that Wisconsin lost their starting quarterback during the game which forced in Curt Phillips, a senior who has barely played in his career and threw two picks in the second half. Still, Wisconsin probably wouldn't have won this game considering the fact that they couldn't do anything about Connor Shaw, who tore them apart for 312 yards and three touchdowns on 88% passing. Wide receiver Bruce Ellington was a monster in the passing game, catching 6 balls for 140 yards and two touchdowns while Shaq Roland caught another 6 passes for 112 yards. The Gamecocks barely had to run the ball with how well they were moving it with the pass attack. They are a little bit lucky that Joel Stave went down with an injury as he had thrown for two touchdowns on only 12 pass attempts, but they were also having a huge issue with stopping the Wisconsin rush attack. Melvin Gordon and James White had their typical productive days, but it is hard to come back from a deficit with the running game. South Carolina had a great year, but it is going to be hard for them to repeat their success of the last three years with all the talent leaving for the NFL.

7) Alabama Crimson Tide (lost to No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners 31-45 in the Sugar Bowl)
I understand the notion that Alabama didn't want to be here as they were seeking a third straight title, but it doesn't even begin to explain what happened in this game. I buy that argument, but only for a fraction of what occurred during the course of the game. You can't tell me that those seniors like AJ McCarron and CJ Mosley wanted to go out losing two in a row on the national stage. They simply got outplayed in this game despite outgaining the Sooners by 90 yards. The offensive line did not hold up very well against the speed rush of Oklahoma's front four, and it showed as McCarron was uncomfortable in the pocket all night and threw two costly picks that Oklahoma was able to take advantage of. McCarron was still able to throw fro 380 yards, but it was clear that he was not used the speed of the defensive line, as he was sacked five times in addition to his three turnovers. Alabama still made enough plays on offense to keep this competitive however. They have a fantastic young running back in Derrick Henry, who accounted for two touchdowns and 161 yards on nine touches. The problem as you can tell by the score was on defense, where a major liability that had existed all year was again exposed. The secondary could not do anything against the freshman, Trevor Knight. He picked them apart seemingly at will while the receivers all had great separation and made a lot of Tide players miss when in open space. This game was a very ugly way to end such a promising season.

8) Clemson Tigers (beat No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes 40-35 in the Orange Bowl)
Clemson finally captured a BCS Bowl victory in the last year possible. As was expected, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins absolutely destroyed the weak Ohio State secondary. Boyd accounted for all six of Clemson's touchdowns, starting the game off with a 48 yard run up the middle of the defense to take an early lead. After that, he played a nearly flawless game by chucking it to Watkins. Watkins hauled in an astonishing 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He made every catch, most coming off of quick passes to the outside were he had room to turn up field. He also had a fantastic touchdown grab over the defensive back where he simply plucked the ball out of the air. Defensively, Clemson did a fantastic job of harassing Braxton Miller all day, as he was sacked five times and was forced into two interceptions. He still accounted for four touchdowns, but they did not come easy. Carlos Hyde did not have a great day like he was used to either. While he still averaged 4.5 yards a carry, they came at a premium and was not as successful in busting off the eight and nine yard runs on first down. Clemson totally deserved this as they completely outplayed Ohio State, and won their first, and last, BCS Bowl.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

National Championship Game

#1 Florida State Seminoles vs. #2 Auburn Tigers

It's almost weird not having Nick Saban and Alabama in the championship game, but as it stands this looks to be one of the most intriguing title game in years. Florida State rose to number one behind the arm of the phenomenal Jameis Winston while Auburn exploded onto the seen late with incredible and miraculous wins over Georgia and Alabama. Since the game was solidified, the Seminoles have have been the favorites by more than a touchdown. Neither of the these teams were on many peoples' radar prior to the season, but that has been the case quite a bit recently. While some say that Auburn is the best by virtue of the schedule that they played, others say that the sheer margin of victories for Florida State makes them the best team in the country. Has Florida State played too soft a schedule to adequately prepare them for their toughest test of the year?

That might be the case of Florida State was winning games by a rather small margin, but they have been blowing teams out of the water all season long. They have won every game by an average of six touchdowns and only one team (BC) came within two touchdowns of the Seminoles. They outscored the four ranked opponents they played 200 to 35. This isn't a team like Ohio State who stayed undefeated all year long but never completely dominated their competition in this fashion. We all know what Florida State is capable of on offense. Jameis Winston won the Heisman behind a record setting freshman year that also won him AP Player of the Year honors. He has a great trio of receivers, including redshirt sophomore Kelvin Benjamin who has come on this year and proven himself as one of the best in the country. He has great size and speed and can attack the ball in the air as good as anyone else in the country. Florida State also boasts a fantastic defense that ranks in the top three in almost every category. That is going to be the key to this game. Auburn is overly reliant on their offense to be able to win shootouts, and they could grow frustrated by Florida State's athletic defense. The Seminoles have a great run stuffer in Timmy Jernigan who is going to have to stop Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, or at least push them in the direction of star linebacker Christian Jones. Florida State also has a very aggressive secondary that has done a great job of shutting down receivers all year and coming up with interceptions. Auburn hasn't thrown the ball a lot this year, but their receivers are deceptively fast and can get open and into space very quickly.

Auburn has to go into this game with the mentality that they are going to win a shootout. Their defense has been a liability all year long and is going to have a tough day against Florida State's offense. They gave up 42 points to Missouri and 41 points to Texas A&M, each with very potent offenses with a different style than what the Seminoles run. Auburn is going to have the unenviable task of getting pressure on Jameis Winston to disrupt his rhythm. Auburn has a very good defensive line that can get pressure without blitzing, but Florida State has one of the top two offensive lines that the Tigers have seen this year. As you can tell, I'm not very confident in Auburn's chances of stopping Florida State. But if they have one thing going for them, its a ridiculously fast paced offense that can score practically at will. Tre Mason was a Heisman finalists after closing out the season with over 1600 yards and 20 touchdowns while Nick Marshall added a dual threat element that kept defenses on their heels. Auburn has a great offensive line that springs their running backs to the next level with ease, but they may be called upon the hold up more in pass protection this year. Auburn can't rely on the running game for the entire sixty minutes. The good news for them is that when Nick Marshall does throw, good results often come from it. While it isn't as impressive as Cam Newton, Marshall still threw for 12 touchdowns and only threw 5 picks. If Marshall can complete those two or three explosive plays that have carried Auburn to this point, then they have an excellent chance of staying with Florida State.

All in all, I still think that Florida State is going to win this game by double digits. Everyone wants to talk about the daunting SEC schedule that Auburn played, but Florida State was just as impressive in all of their victories this year. They have the athletes to compete with Auburn too. And overall, they are simply a better team. Auburn can barely play defense which is not going to bode well for them against a top five offense. I think that they still have a great chance of putting up points against Florida State's defense however. Florida State gave up almost 150 yards rushing to another Heisman finalist, Andre Williams, which should give a lot of confidence to Auburn and their rush attack. But in the end, Florida State has too much talent on both sides of the ball to lose this game, and the Seminoles win their first title in almost 15 years, 38-28.