BEVO BEAT

Pick Six: Previewing the best of the 2017 college football season

Posted August 29th, 2017

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Previewing the 2017 college football season:

NATIONAL CONTENDERS

(Las Vegas odds in parentheses):

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Alabama (5½-2): The Crimson Tide have rolled to 17 straight SEC victories by an average of 21 points and are a massive favorite to claim a fourth consecutive league title despite losing four NFL first-round draft picks. The roster includes 17 five-star recruits, more than anyone else. “We’re Bama,” linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said. “We just reload.”

Ohio State (6½-1): Only Saban recruits better than Urban Meyer. The Buckeyes were the youngest major power in the country last year and made the final four. They return 15 starters; the other seven were drafted, six among the top 70 picks. “I thought last year we were a year away,” Meyer said. Don’t say we weren’t warned.

Ohio State fans should have a lot to cheer for this season. (Getty Images)

USC (7-1): It’s always good to have the presumptive No. 1 pick in the next NFL draft, QB Sam Darnold. Yet the Trojans own far more than that. Early mock drafts also have CB Iman Marshall and LB Cameron Smith in round one and RB Ronald Jones II and OLB Porter Gustin in round two. Can you say “loaded?”

Florida State (8-1): Officially the Seminoles have nine returning defensive starters. But all 11 who ended the season in the lineup are back. On offense QB Deondre Francois will be handing off and throwing to an inexperienced group, and the line underwent a rebuild job.

Oklahoma (15-1): QB Baker Mayfield lost his running backs and wideouts, yet the Sooners are being afforded a ton of respect by oddsmakers. Probably because they remain the single dominant force in the Big 12 and boast one of the best offensive lines in the country.

Penn State (16-1): If ever a team proved itself in defeat, the Nittany Lions did in a 52-49 Rose Bowl thriller against USC. Sixteen starters return to defend their Big Ten title. James Franklin’s team won’t sneak up on anyone this year, though.

STOCK MARKET RISING

Georgia: It’s time to win the SEC East with 10 returning defensive starters, including LB Roquan Smith, a one-two RB combo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and a more polished QB Jacob Eason.

South Florida: With a soft schedule and a loaded roster, the Bulls should be favored in every game. Charlie Strong was terrific at Louisville and terrible at Texas, so this is the rubber match for him.

Texas: Funny to see USF and UT linked together, but both are set up to surge. All that four-star talent will be better utilized, and look for a defense more suited to slow down Big 12 spreads.

TCU: Bet on a major bounce-back from the experienced Horned Frogs, who just need to uncover a pass rusher or two. They didn’t start in the Top 25, but they’ll probably finish in it.

North Carolina State: Seventeen returning starters, including preseason AP All-Americans DE Bradley Chubb and APB Jaylen Samuels, have the Wolfpack set up to make a jump from 7-6.

Northwestern: Typically, people are sleeping on the Cats. Mistake. RB Justin Jackson is vastly underrated, the secondary might be second to Ohio State in the Big Ten and the lineup solid throughout.

STOCK MARKET FALLING

Ole Miss: Hugh Freeze is out, many of his prized recruits are gone, and it just feels like it’s crumbling in Oxford, where NCAA sanctions are bound to be next.

Michigan: It’s not like the Wolverines will fall off the cliff, but a top-10 ranking for a team that returns the fewest starters (5) in the FBS seems quite a leap of faith. Still waiting for Jim Harbaugh to finish higher than third in his division.

Colorado: The Buffs followed up a 10-year losing run (33-78) with last year’s 10-4 surprise. That team was largely gutted by graduation and the NFL draft.

West Virginia: Hard to believe the Mountaineers are ranked 20th by the coaches, 22nd by the media. They were 10-3 last year but cashed in their chips and lost 14 starters. The defense is particularly vulnerable.

North Carolina: Even with the NFL’s No. 2 overall draft pick Mitch Trubisky and an old cast, the Tar Heels won only eight times. Now it feels like they’re starting over at too many key spots.

Air Force: The Falcons were one of the quietest 10-game winners in 2016, but slippage is inevitable with only one defense starter back (and seven overall).

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season. (Getty Images)

HEISMAN GUYS

(With Las Vegas odds in parentheses):

Sam Darnold (4½-1): Granted, the Hollywood hype machine is cranked up. The 6-4 sophomore USC QB is impressive. He didn’t start until week 4 yet threw for 3,086 yards with 31 TDs, 9 INTs and a 67.2 completion percentage.

Baker Mayfield (8-1): Seems like Oklahoma’s QB been around as long as Sammy Baugh. Gotta love that he’s improved his accuracy, yards and TD tosses three years in a row. Leadership is undeniable, as well, for former Lake Travis Cavalier.

Lamar Jackson (9-1): Can the defending Heisman winner from Louisville make a run at Archie Griffin? Only if his passing gets more precise. He completed just 49 percent over the last four games.

J.T. Barrett (10-1): The only three-time captain in Ohio State history is 26-4 as a starter. However, his other numbers have been trending downward. New OC Kevin Wilson should help.

Saquon Barkley (12-1): NFL scouts say the Penn State RB is a first-rounder because of his power, patience and vision. Rambled for 18 TDs and 1,496 yards last year, including 194 in the Rose Bowl.

Jake Browning (14-1): The Washington QB’s 43-to-9 TD/INT ratio was stunning as a sophomore, though he was stifled in the Pac-12 title game and CFP semifinal. Also dealing with new wideouts.

DEFENSIVE STOPPERS

Harold Landry: The Boston College DE tops our list and is a bonafide 2018 NFL top-15 pick. Led the nation with 16½ sacks in 2016 and was fourth with 22 tackles for loss.

Ed Oliver: As a freshman, the Houston DT accumulated 22 tackles for loss, five sacks and 11 QB pressures. Think Tom Herman wouldn’t have enjoyed bringing him along to Austin?

Derwin James: The Florida State safety missed most of 2016 with a knee injury, yet his position versatility and superb skill set have scouts speculating he’ll be the first defender drafted in ‘18.

Minkah Fitzpatrick: The Alabama CB plays all over the secondary, already has proven he can drape top receivers and aggressively pushes forward in run support.

Arden Key: The LSU edge rusher rang up 12 sacks last year and is a first-team preseason All-American even though he is recovering from shoulder surgery and will miss time.

Tyquan Lewis: The Ohio State DE has piled up 27 QB pressures, 25 tackles for loss, 16 sacks and four forced fumbles over the last past two seasons.

MOST DOMINANT UNITS

Clemson DL: You thought the defending national champs were reloading? Guess again. The D-line is completely stacked with tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and end Clelin Ferrell. They were each all-ACC in 2016.

Ohio State DL: And if Clemson doesn’t have the premier D-line, the Buckeyes do. Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard are the nation’s best bookends, backed up by Joey Bosa’s little brother Nick. Dre’Mont Jones and the tackles are stout, too.

Florida State DBs: The Seminoles start with perhaps the NFL’s top safety (Derwin James) and cornerback (Tarvarus McFadden) prospects and go from there with depth and talent.

Oklahoma State WRs: James Washington is the Biletnikoff favorite. He’s got all kinds of company with Jalen McCleskey, Marcell Ateman, Chris Lacy and four-star LSU transfer Tyron Johnson.

Alabama RBs: Bo Scarbrough is the headliner but 1,000-yard rusher Damien Harris, Najee Harris (unrelated) and Brian Robinson each are worthy. Too bad there’s only one ball to go around.

Notre Dame OL: Oh, yeah, the Irish. We haven’t forgotten about them. LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quenton Nelson are both preseason All-Americans, so we’re sure ND has a killer left side.

UNDER THE RADAR TEAMS

Wyoming: Start with Josh Allen, a future NFL QB who threw for 3,203 yards and 28 TDs and ran for 523 yards and seven TDs. Add FS Andrew Wingard, the Mountain West defensive player of the year. The Cowboys could win a lot.

San Diego State: The Aztecs have posted back-to-back 11-3 seasons with bowl victories and MWC titles. Rashaad Penny is the new featured back with record-setting Donnell Pumphrey off to the Eagles.

Appalachian State: The Mountaineers are 21-5 over the last two seasons with two bowl wins. They welcome back efficient QB Taylor Lamb and RB Jalin Moore, the Sun Belt offensive player of the year.

Memphis: How about this for a pitch-and-catch? Riley Ferguson threw a school-record 32 TD passes and Anthony Miller caught 95 balls for 1,434 yards. The Tigers, 12-48 from 2009-13, are 27-12 over the past three years.

Toledo: When you have a terrific quarterback, many things are possible. Logan Woodside led all FBS slingers with 45 touchdown passes last fall. The Rockets could be 2016’s Western Michigan.

Army: The Black Knights of the Hudson bring back 16 starters from a team that appeared in a bowl game for the first time in six years (and only second in 20 years). Dare we say they are the favorites to win their first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1996?

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. (Getty Images)

THE COACHING HOT SEATS

Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech): After a promising debut (8-5) in 2013, the Ryan Gosling lookalike is 4-8, 7-6 and 5-7. A ‘16 team that led the nation in scoring (45.5) couldn’t even play .500 ball. There’s no defense for that.

Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M): Ol’ 8-5 probably needs to get off that mark (three years running) to stick around. Trouble is, Sumlin could have trouble reaching eight wins, especially if the Aggies lose their opener at UCLA.

Brian Kelly (Notre Dame): At Cincinnati, Kelly posted 10 or more wins his last three years. At South Bend he’s only done it twice in seven years and is coming off a 4-8 disaster. Prone to making excuses, Kelly is running out of them.

Gus Malzahn (Auburn): Hasn’t beaten rival Alabama or Georgia in three years. That’s wearing thin. Perhaps Baylor transfer QB Jarrett Stidham can do a Cam Newton imitation and lead the Tigers to glory. If not …

Butch Jones (Tennessee): The recruiting has been excellent. But the 30-21 record on the field leaves something to be desired, especially the inability to even reach a single SEC title game at a time when the East is there for the taking.

Rich Rodriguez (Arizona): Since a 10-4 campaign in 2014, it’s been all downhill — 7-6 and then a 3-9 stinker (1-8 Pac-12). And if Rich Rod isn’t in trouble, then Grand Canyon state rival coach Todd Graham is after back-to-back losers in Tempe.

Oklahoma wide receiver Mark Andrews breaks upfield against UT in the third quarter at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas Saturday October 8, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

CAN’T-MISS GAMES

Alabama vs. Florida State (Saturday, in Atlanta): Only Ohio State-Alabama could put as much or more talent on the field. It’s no stretch to think the season could begin — and end — with the Crimson Tide vs. Seminoles.

Oklahoma at Ohio State (Sept. 9): Baker Mayfield vs. J.T. Barrett, and the Sooners vaunted offensive line vs. the Buckeyes’ defensive front. Lincoln Riley, welcome to the show.

Stanford at USC (Sept. 9): No time will be wasted finding out who’s king of the Pac-12. The Cardinal are the one West Coast team that can physically maul with the Trojans.

Penn State at Ohio State (Oct. 28): Even though the Nittany Lions beat the Buckeyes and won the Big Ten last year, they want payback for the playoff snub at the expense of OSU.

Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 11): Sorry, SEC, but this ACC mega-match has replaced anything your league has to offer as the best of the Deep South. And maybe even the nation.

Alabama at Auburn (Nov. 25): Lot of choices for this last pick. Could go Ohio State at Michigan on the same day. Or early in the month, Washington at Stanford (Nov. 10) or LSU at Bama (Nov. 4). Iron Bowl, it is.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • UAB is back on the field after a 1,007-day hiatus while raising money to resurrect the program. The Blazers opened camp with three dozen junior-college transfers, a whole bunch of freshmen an a few patient holdovers from 2014. They’ll do well to win a couple C-USA games.
  • Butch Davis, 65, is back in coaching six years after being fired by North Carolina. The ex-Miami Hurricanes and Cleveland Browns head coach and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator is leading Florida International. His Golden Panthers are picked sixth of seven C-USA East teams.
  • Lane Kiffin, previously head coach at Tennessee and USC and offensive coordinator at Alabama, has taken over the Florida Atlantic program. He hired Baylor’s Kendal Briles as his OC, and Briles recently said he consults frequently with his father Art. The Owls are coming off three straight 3-9 seasons.
  • Think LSU will miss Leonard Fournette? Think again. His backup, Derrius Guice, not only won the SEC rushing title but averaged 7.6 yards per carry to the banged-up Fournette’s 6.5.
  • Move over, Tim Tebow. South Florida’s Quinton Flowers is the first player from a Florida state program to have 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 rushing in the same season.
  • Ohio State safety Jordan Fuller’s mother, Cindy Mizelle, has been a backup singer for Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, Barbra Streisand and the Rolling Stones, among others. Her other son, Devin Fuller, is a wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons.

The post Pick Six: Previewing the best of the 2017 college football season appeared first on HookEm.

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