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2018 Preseason Rankings

College football season is right around the corner! You can almost feel the excitement in college towns across the country. Of course, my hometown school does not have a football team which allows me to proclaim myself as the most neutral, unbiased college football expert there is.

Looking back on my 2017 preseason predictions, 16 teams finished in the final AP Top 25. That is an improvement from the 14 teams I had in my 2016 preseason Top 25 that ended the year still ranked. It’s easy to get caught up in the preseason hype and tempting to try to pick a team the national media isn’t focused on. However, after much analysis and speculation, I am confident this preseason ranking will be my best thus far….hopefully.

Below is my 2018 Preseason Top 25. These rankings have been submitted to the College Football Researchers Association Poll. Please check back on August 21st for the national release of those rankings.

  1. Alabama: Even with a QB controversy brewing this team is headed towards Nick Saban’s sixth national title in the past ten years at Alabama.
  2. Clemson: Incoming quarterback Trevor Lawrence will push Kelly Bryant for the starting role. Expect a little more downfield passing this year from the Tigers.
  3. Georgia: Kirby Smart will keep the Dawgs rolling in his third year in Athens. It’s possible we will have another championship rematch this year.
  4. Washington: Chris Petersen is a great coach and Jake Browning is geared up for a great senior campaign. Time will tell if the defense can carry their weight.
  5. Ohio State: The Urban Meyer scandal will likely be over by the time the season rolls around. A week 3 trip to Texas to play TCU will be a good test for the Buckeyes.
  6. Wisconsin: Jonathan Taylor will have another great year and Alex Hornibrook is back, as well. The Badgers schedule is a bit more difficult than last year, but still manageable.
  7. Auburn: Jarrett Stidham is back after a solid first year in Auburn. The Tigers will have another solid defense that can impose its will on anyone.
  8. Oklahoma: I’m not quite as sold on Kyler Murray as everyone else. We’ll see how he handles the spotlight after Baker Mayfield led this team to the CFP in 2017.
  9. Penn State: Trace McSorely can carry this Penn State team, even with the loss of Saquon Barkley. The Big Ten East is still tough, but McSorely can lead this team to the Playoff.
  10. Mississippi State: Nick Fitzgerald is a stud coming off a serious injury. If he can return to form and keep the offense rolling, the Bulldogs will be just fine without Dan Mullen.
  11. Michigan State: After a rebound season last year, the young Spartans are now ready to battle for the Big Ten title.
  12. West Virginia: Will Grier and David Sills will again light up the pass happy Big 12. The question is whether or not the defense can stop anyone else.
  13. Miami: The Canes had a great season last year but won a lot of close games. They will need to take a big step forward to get back into national championship contention.
  14. Michigan: Shea Patterson is an impact transfer who will likely have great numbers. The defense will be good again. Harbaugh just needs to put it all together for once.
  15. TCU: Gary Patterson has the Horned Frogs ready to compete for another Big 12 title after OU ran them out of the building in last year’s title game.
  16. Stanford: Bryce Love alone is enough to win a lot of games. If the passing attack can pick up steam this team could be dangerous.
  17. Virginia Tech: The Hokies have been a bit depleted in the secondary after several players were dismissed from the team. Bud Foster will find the right pieces, though.
  18. USC: It will be interesting to see if J.T. Daniels can win the starting job at USC. The Trojans are deep at the skill positions so the QB will have plenty of options.
  19. Notre Dame: I’m not as high on the Irish as the national media. The Irish are strong in the trenches, but lack known playmakers at skill positions.
  20. South Carolina: Jake Bentley is back at QB and the Gamecocks will always have a tough defense as long as Will Muschamp is around.
  21. Boise State: The Broncos bring back a lot of talent and will have a good shot at earning the Group of 5 bid to a New Year’s Six bowl.
  22. UCF: Even after the departure of Scott Frost, this team is good. Quarterback McKenzie Milton will likely set more records again this year.
  23. Florida State: There’s still plenty of talent in Tallahassee. With two quality quarterbacks vying for touches, Willie Taggert will have multiple options for running his offense.
  24. Oregon: The Ducks have a strong quarterback in Justin Herbert along with first year coach Mario Cristobal. The Ducks may be a surprise is the PAC-12.
  25. Arizona: Preseason Heisman long-shot Khalil Tate is back, and Kevin Sumlin is rejuvenated after leaving College Station.

The All-SEC Championship Game Paradox (And Other Bowl Season Notes)

Depending on who you ask, or more likely, where the person you ask is from, the national championship game will either be the Game of the Century, Part 47 or a regional rivalry that will not attract the attention of college football fans outside the South.

As the SEC continues to claim dominance over the college football landscape, it is important to mention that the Big 10 had the best conference record during bowl season (7-1) and the American Athletic Conference is home to the real 2017 National Champion.

The SEC paradox lies in the fact that the conference is actually in a state of turmoil. As great as Alabama and Georgia have been this year, the conference as a whole has experienced a season of embarrassment. Six schools named new head coaches (including Ole Miss). The University of Tennessee made a national mockery of themselves in an attempt to hire a new coach (No link necessary), Ole Miss was hit hard with NCAA sanctions for several recruiting violations, and Texas A&M has committed a sinful amount of money to becoming a national power. On top of the coaching carousel, the 4-5 bowl record is an indication of the conference’s regression.

The following are my accolades for the 2017 bowl season:

Best Game – Belk Bowl, Wake Forest 55 – Texas A&M 52. This game didn’t get the same attention as Georgia’s victory in the Rose Bowl, but it was just as exciting. The Demon Deacons rallied from an early deficit to match the Aggies score for score. Wake Forest is one of the smallest schools in the FBS and has been labeled one of the toughest schools to recruit for. And they just beat a team that has committed $75 million to their next coach…

Best Player – Rashaad Penny, SDSU. In the 42-35 loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl, Penny rushed for 221 yards and scored 4 touchdowns! Still having a hard time getting over the fact he wasn’t a serious contender for the Heisman.

Worst Game – Independence Bowl, FSU 42 – Southern Miss 13. The fact that FSU had to prove they didn’t cut corners to make this bowl is pretty bad. The Seminoles seemed fairly inspired, which is surprising considering what they’ve been through this year. From a fans perspective, complete snoozefest.

Worst Celebration – Texas Bowl. Tom Herman had an awkward celebration after Texas sealed the 33-16 victory over Missouri. Dude, come on! You’re the head coach, have some couth.

Best Football State – North Carolina. Maybe I’m biased, but the Old North State was 4-0 in bowl games with one national champion. That’s right, North Carolina A&T won the 2017 HBCU National Title. Wake Forest beat Texas A&M, NC State beat Arizona State, and Duke beat Northern Illinois. #NCStrong

The Case for Central Florida (and other Group of 5 teams)

Let me set the scene: It’s early August in Orlando. Reigning AAC Defensive Player of the Year Shaquem Griffin and the Central Florida Knights football team are finishing up another practice in the punishing Florida heat. Head coach Scott Frost huddles the team and says “Gentleman, we have a lot to accomplish this season. And with each and every one of you giving your heart and soul for this team, we can win every game on our schedule. But guys, no matter what you do, we will not play for a national championship.”

Now, I’m sure Frost didn’t actually say that, but we all know it crossed his mind at some point. How could it not? He’s asking his team to go play their hearts out in hopes of a…New Year’s Six Bowl. In what other sport can a team go undefeated and not even have an opportunity to play for a championship.

In college basketball, home to the purest form of championship format that exists, every single team has the chance to win a national championship when the season starts. Sure, a mid-major rarely takes home the hardware, but that doesn’t mean all mid-majors should be barred from the NCAA Tournament. Butler was a half court heave away from beating Duke in 2010. In 2011, VCU and Butler were in the Final Four. Miracles do happen! Who’s to say Central Florida isn’t a Hail Mary away from knocking off Clemson this year? Unfortunately, we will never know as Central Florida has been relegated to the Peach Bowl.

With this rant, I am not arguing that UCF is one of the best four teams in the country. I am, however, arguing that it’s unsportsmanlike for a team to start the season knowing they have a 0% chance of winning a national championship.

Mid-Season Top 25

Well that went by fast! We are quickly approaching week 8 of the 2017 college football season. So, what have we learned? Alabama is still the best team in the country. Kenny Trill and the Horned Frogs are doing big things in Fort Worth and Bryce Love would be the Heisman front-runner if the voters stayed up to watch the PAC-12 games. Those are just a few of the headlines of the first half of the 2017 college football season. Below is my mid-season Top 25 with a brief analysis.

1. Alabama – Jalen Hurts and the Tide are rolling. This team is not unbeatable, though. Look for a close game against Auburn in the Iron Bowl.

2. Georgia – The Bulldogs have a solid road win over Notre Dame and have crushed everyone else they have faced since. The defense looks strong and Kirby Smart has the offense rolling, too.

3. TCU – The Horned Frogs have quality wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia. The Big 12 is top heavy, though. The conference title will come down to TCU and Oklahoma.

4. Penn State – Heisman frontrunner Saquon Barkley is having a monster season, but it’s the defense that has been a difference maker. They’ll be tested in the next couple weeks, though.

5. Clemson – The loss to Syracuse was a bit baffling, but this team has the talent to return to the CFP. If Kelly Bryant is sidelined long-term, the Tigers could drop another close game.

6. Wisconsin – The Badgers have won every game thus far against lesser competition. The true test will come on November 18th when they face Michigan.

7. Ohio State – The Buckeyes have the talent to win the Big 10. Even though J.T. Barrett has yet to impress me in his fifth season in Columbus. The defense will need to carry this team.

8. Washington – A shocking loss to Arizona State may have cost the Huskies a shot at their return bid to the CFP. Jake Browning and Chris Pederson are too good to give up on, though. 

9. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys offense is prolific. A home loss to TCU looks better and better each week, but there is no more room for error out of this team.

10. Oklahoma – The Sooners looked indestructible until the mighty Cyclones of Iowa State came to Norman. Bedlam on November 4th will essentially be a playoff elimination game.

11. Miami – There is a lot of hype around the Hurricanes, but I am not sold just yet. Their schedule has been fairly weak up to this point and they’ve pulled out a couple close wins. We’ll see if they can maintain this pace.

12. Virginia Tech – The Hokies are getting better each week. Besides being outclassed by Clemson early on in the season, this team has a high ceiling.

13. Southern Cal – Sam Darnold has not lived up to the hype this season. He turns the ball over at a high rate and almost saw the Trojans fall to Utah at home a week ago.

14. NC State – The Wolfpack have overcome their season opening loss to South Carolina by beating Florida State and Louisville. The November 4th date with Clemson will be a must win for Nyheim Hines and the Pack.

15. Notre Dame – A close home loss to UGA is the only blemish on the Irish’s record. I like them at home against USC this week.

16. South Florida – The Bulls have continued to win big with each passing week, but the schedule does not have any challenges, which hinder their ranking.

17. Washington State – Mike Leach had Wazzou rolling until an ugly trip to Cal. The Bears steamrolled the Luke Falk and the Cougars, who turned the ball over seven times.

18. Stanford – Back to back losses to USC and SDSU ruined any chance of spoiling the CFP for the Cardinal. Bryce Love is worth staying up late to watch, though.

19. West Virginia – Will Grier and David Sills have been a really good combination. Two losses to top 15 teams don’t look bad, but the Mountaineers need to prove they can win big games.

20. Michigan – The offense has certainly taken a step back with the injury to Wilton Speight. Don’t count out Jim Harbaugh to make some noise before the season is over.

21. Kentucky – The Wildcats are looking like the top challenger to Georgia in the SEC East. That close loss to Florida looks worse and worse each week.

22. San Diego State – A big win over Stanford allowed the Aztecs to gain some momentum, but that was quickly halted by the Broncos of Boise State.

23. Texas A&M – Kellen Mond is a really good quarterback. I think he may have saved Kevin Sumlin’s job and will continue to get better as the season progresses.

24. Auburn – I had high hopes for the Tigers this season. Jarrett Stidham was going to be the answer for Gus Malzahn’s offense. Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

25. Utah – The Utes have looked really solid. I loved Kyle Whittingham’s decision to go for the win against USC with the two point conversion attempt, even though it failed.

Preseason Top 25

I tend to think that preseason rankings are overvalued, media driven tools that are used to generate content for the talking heads to discuss on the 24 hour sports news cycle. If there is one thing that anyone who does a preseason poll can guarantee, it’s that Alabama will most likely remain in the top 5 for the entire season and the Tide should start the year ranked #1.

Nevertheless, it is fun to look back on how your preseason projections played out. Last year only 14 of my preseason picks finished the year in the AP Top 25. Let’s see if I can do a little better this time around. Below is my Preseason College Football Top 25 with a brief analysis of each team.
1. Alabama – As long as Nick Saban is the coach this team isn’t going anywhere. They have a good quarterback returning in Jalen Hurts and a defense that is stocked with talent. Sound familiar?
2. Florida State – This Noles team has a lot of talent back and should contend for a National Championship. Can do-it-all DB Derwin James stay healthy? Can anyone replace the production of Dalvin Cook? This team is talented enough to answer those questions with a resounding yes.
3. Ohio State – Urban Meyer has J.T. Barrett back for his super senior season. The D-Line could be playing in the NFL right now and the schedule is favorable for a return to the CFP.
4. Penn State – Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley are both garnering Heisman buzz. Will the defense be able to keep opponents out of the end zone, though?
5. Clemson – Dabo Sweeney is building a dynasty at Clemson and this team could make it back to the CFP. The defense will be better than last year, but the offense will certainly take a step back.
6. Southern Cal – Sam Darnold might be the best QB in the country and the offense should be prolific this season. The defense has plenty of talent, but can they put it all together?
7. Washington – Jake Browning is a great pocket passer and Chris Peterson might be the best coach in the country. There’s a lot of talent to replace, but the Huskies will not drop off much.
8. Oklahoma State – This could be the year the Big 12 makes some noise on the national scene. Oklahoma State’s defense will need to keep up with the offense for this team to be a CFP contender.
9. Auburn – Jarret Stidham is exactly what Guz Malzahn has missed the past few years. A strong-armed QB who can make quality reads. I’ve got Auburn winning the SEC West in a shocker.
10. Oklahoma – New coach Lincoln Riley has plenty of talent back. Baker Mayfield will compete for the Heisman again. A week 2 trip to Ohio State will show how good this team actually is.
11. Wisconsin – The Badgers have a schedule that lines up perfectly for an undefeated conference season and a shot at the Big 10 title. Can they maintain composure and not make any mistakes?
12. Louisville – Reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is back and apparently better than ever. If he’s just as good as last year, this is a top 15 team.
13. Georgia – Year two under Kirby Smart begins with lofty expectations. Can Jacob Eason develop in to the prolific QB many saw him as in high school? The defense will be strong with 11 guys back.
14. Florida – The Gators lost a lot of talent on defense from last year’s squad but don’t expect the production to drop off. The offense will struggle though as Zaire isn’t much of an upgrade at QB.
15. Michigan – The fightin’ Jim Harbaughs should be good again this year, but way too much talent departed Ann Arbor for them to be a top 10 team in 2017.
16. Texas – Charlie Strong left plenty of talent behind in Austin for Tom Herman. The offense should be better under Herman as QB Shane Buechele will continue to develop.
17. LSU – The Ed Orgeron hire was a mistake. There will always be talent at LSU, but Ed O is not the guy to take them back to the promised land.
18. West Virginia – The Mountaineers are always solid and this year’s squad is no different. Transfer QB Will Grier has plenty of options on the outside in Ka’Run White and Shelton Gibson.
19. Stanford – Look for RB Bryce Love to have a big season as a dark horse Heisman candidate. He will get plenty of touches as the Stanford passing attack may struggle.
20. Pitt – Pat Narduzzi is one of the best coaches in the country and will get the most out of his players. USC transfer QB Max Browne has the potential to be good and Narduzzi is great with QB’s.
21. South Florida – Charlie Strong has plenty of talent on the roster for his first season in Tampa. Quinton Flowers will put up big numbers against a terribly weak schedule.
22. Kansas State – Jesse Ertz leads a potent offense that has plenty of big play potential. The defense has to replace Big 12 Defensive POY Jordan Willis but the D-Line should remain a strength.
23. TCU – This is the year Kenny Hill will finally fulfill the prophecy of being the next great dual-threat QB. Gary Patterson is too good of a coach to be mediocre two years in a row.
24. Oregon – Willie Taggart has his hands full in Eugene, but don’t feel sorry for him just yet. The Ducks return RB Royce Freeman and QB Justin Herbert along with plenty of offensive talent.
25. NC State – The Wolfpack have high expectations and will be tested early. The defensive line is the best in the ACC and could make some serious noise in the tightly contested Atlantic division.

Please check out the College Football Researchers Association Top 25 Poll.

The Offseason

Alas, the dog days of summer are almost behind us. The offseason of the sports world, outside of Major League Baseball, is beginning to wind down. And as much as I love baseball, I am way more excited about the start of college football season than watching the Braves struggle to finish the season at .500. We have one month until the pigskin reigns supreme and the (sports) world comes to a pause every Saturday. But before I get too in-depth on my preseason top 25 analysis, I want to catch everyone up on my offseason sporting adventures.
In May, a couple friends and I went up to D.C. for a long weekend and were able to catch the Nationals play the Padres. Stephen Strasburg pitched for Washington and had 15 strikeouts in seven innings. It was probably the most dominant performance I have ever seen live. Unless we’re counting high school ball when current White Sox starter Carlos Rodon mowed down the entire Sanderson Spartan lineup, myself included, with ease.
The only downside to the Nats game was we were forced to sit in the upper decks beyond the right field foul pole, in seats that were seemingly a mile from the field. We were operating under the assumption that we could buy the cheapest tickets and then move to good seats once we got inside. That was not the case. Let that be a lesson to anyone who purchases cheap tickets at Nationals Park, the stadium security will not let you sit anywhere other than your assigned seat.
In addition to the Nationals game, my sister and I checked off a bucket list sporting event in June when we flew out to Omaha and caught the latter half of the College World Series. I strongly recommend this trip to anyone who is a baseball fan. The entire city revolves around the College World Series for two weeks, which makes for an awesome experience. I was pulling for TCU, but unfortunately they were eliminated in the semi-finals by Florida. On the other side of the bracket, LSU beat consensus number one Oregon State to reach the CWS Final. We were on hand for three games as we stayed three days and two nights.

 

Omaha
The statue that sits outside the entrance to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.

We could have caught one more game, but our flight back to Atlanta was scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday the 24th. So instead of only catching part of the first game on Saturday, which started at 2, we decided to rent a car and drive to Lincoln to check out the capitol building and the University of Nebraska. This is another highly recommended experience if you ever find yourself in Nebraska with some free time on your hands.
The University of Nebraska football stadium, Memorial Stadium, sits on the edge of the expansive campus. I am partial to football stadiums that are on campus as I think they make for a better game day atmosphere. We were actually able to walk in to the stadium and do a limited self-guided tour where we learned first-hand that Memorial Stadium is pretty massive. It holds about 90,000 people, so it’s similar in size to Sanford Stadium at UGA, which I am more familiar with. An impressive side note on Nebraska’s football culture: they have sold out every home game since 1962. That is 364 consecutive sellouts, which is an NCAA record. Disclaimer: Nebraska is my new favorite Big 10 team so watch out for any biases in my rankings.
On Sunday the 25th, back in Atlanta now, my sister and I met her boyfriend at SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves. We got to meet Travis Shaw before the game (he played with my sister’s boyfriend in college) which was really cool. In his first at-bat he hit a monster home run and then proceeded to flex at us the next half-inning while jogging out to his position at third base. No big deal.
People have asked me what I think about SunTrust Park and here’s my response: a stadium is a stadium. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with Turner Field, but from what I understand the city did not keep its end of the bargain by failing to build up the infrastructure around Turner. The difference in the two parks is not the stadium itself, but the amenities that surround the stadium. There are restaurants, bars, shops and hotels all within walking distance of SunTrust in what is called The Battery. It makes for a great game day experience and should help boost attendance. And I want to give a quick shout-out to Antico Pizza. If you’re ever in Atlanta, or the state of Georgia for that matter, make it a point to go to Antico. It is the best pizza you will ever eat, bar none.
So there you have it, a quick update on my sports related ventures since I last posted an entry on the blog. I will be posting my preseason Top 25 soon, so keep an eye out for that. Also, check out the College Football Researchers Association Top 25 poll, which is officially recognized by the NCAA. Yours truly is a voter. Preseason CFRA poll will be released August 21st.