After a tough couple months of moving apartments, changing jobs, and adjusting my lifestyle, I am now settled in and ready to provide you with:
– Bowl game previews, including the Top Prospects to watch in every game. Learn the names and watch the players with your own eyes before they get drafted to your favorite NFL teams in April.
– NFL Draft prospect rankings. Does your team need a QB? Stay tuned for my comprehensive write ups on Matt Barkley, Geno Smith, AJ McCarron, and many more. Wide Receivers will also be profiled. Click here to see my November WR write up.
The 2012 College Football season has reached November, which means it’s time to start zeroing in on the top performers. Most teams have at least three games left (plus conference championship games, plus bowl games) so you still have plenty of time to scout these players for yourself before NFL Draft season gets here. It’s easy to watch highlight reels and get excited; it’s another to watch games as they’re unfolding to see who stands out in the moment.
You’ve probably heard the saying “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Simply, it’s better to know what we’ve got, than to get googly-eyed about the possibilities. When looking for college prospects that could dominate in the NFL, you should first look for players that HAVE ALREADY DOMINATED in college football. Why would you suspect that a ‘toolsy’ player could all the sudden figure it out when the competition is better and the stakes are higher?
The first thing you must understand is that college offenses are very diverse. Some will throw for 40 touchdowns over a season, some will throw for 20. We must keep things in perspective relative to the offense in which the player exists.
In evaluating college wide receivers, we need to see which players achieve a ‘hurdle rate’ of production within the context of their offense. This is the minimum requirement for MAAAYBE sitting at the big boy table. For us, we want them to have accounted for about 30% of their teams receiving yards and about 30% of their teams touchdowns. Add them together, that gives you 60%, or just 60, for the sake of simple numbers. We’ll call this their ‘productivity grade.’ 60 is the hurdle. Higher numbers are better.
Next, we want to see a player that has continually gotten better within the context over their offense across two season, but preferably three. THIS is where ‘upside’ is relevant. To see a players production level off over their final two college seasons is so assume they’ve hit their ceiling. To see their numbers continue to grow means that they’re evolving. Evolution is good.
Finally, we will check player’s performance within the context of their program and their conference. If a player meets the above requirements and is also historically dominant within the context of his school or his conference, we might be onto something.
Stay tuned as these rankings evolve over the last month of the season and into combine season, where my model gets even stronger with combine data. Now, for the rankings:
Williams might be the most dominant wide out in college football this year. He has at least 130 receiving yards in every game but one. Consider his averages: 8.9 catches–167 yards–1.25 TDs. To find some historical big12 comparisons, one would have to look at Dez Bryant, Danario Alexander, and Justin Blackmon. Don’t believe me? See for yourself when Baylor faces Oklahoma and then Kansas State in the next two weeks.
2) Jordan Matthews, JR, Vanderbilt (6’3” 205lbs)
Draftability Comparison: Jordy Nelson, Leonard Hankerson
95 productivity grade
#1 in last decade of Vanderbilt
#5 in last decade of SEC
improved in 7 of 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
Matthews is on pace to post the fifth highest productive grade in my SEC database, coming in ahead of SEC greats Robert Meachem, Alshon Jeffery, and AJ Green. Against the best competition is when JM really shines, posting an average stat line of 8 catches–139 yards–1TD against Florida and South Carolina. Consistent too, Matthews has posted seven of nine games with at least 75 receiving yards. Keep an eye on him in the bowl game, because he might be off to the NFL after this season.
3) DeAndre Hopkins, JR, Clemson (6’1” 200lbs)
Draftability Comparison: Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace
82 productivity grade
#1 in last decade of Clemson
#17 in last decade of ACC
improved in all 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
Hopkins’ 1.44 TDs/game is insane. That ratio trails only Torry Holt’s Junior season (1.45) for most prodigious scoring season from an ACC wide receiver. He has scored at least one touchdown in every game except Furman (go figure?). His catches/TD ratio is better than Calvin Johnson’s final season at Georgia Tech. Hopkins stock is through the roof.
Allen is on pace to finish with the fifth highest productivity grade of any Pac12 wide receiver of the past decade. In 2011 Allen posted the most productive season in Cal’s recent history, topping the likes of Desean Jackson and Lavelle Hawkins. In 2012, Allen has become an even BIGGER focus within the Cal offense. Unfortunately he injured his PCL a few weeks ago and looks likely to miss the rest of this season before declaring for the NFL draft.
5) Cobi Hamilton, SR, Arkansas (6’3” 209lbs)
Draftability Comparison: Robert Meachem, Kenny Britt
61 productivity grade
#4 in last decade of Arkansas
#49 in last decade of SEC
Improved in 7 of 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
Hamilton is the first balancing act of these rankings. He has the prototypical #1 wide receiver size, but his production leaves something to be desired, with a barely-passing grade of 61. In his last 13 SEC conference games he has just 2 receiving touchdowns, which is lowlighted by ZERO receiving TDs in 2012 conference play. When looking for a number one guy, you want the size and speed, but you also want the nose for the endzone, which is why Hamilton has slid down the list.
Austin is tough to project to the next level. Although his production has trended upward during his time in Morgantown, it has been very subtle, as to suggest that he is near his ceiling. Given his small stature, you’d like to see him be a burner and make big plays, but that would be discredited by his three year downward trend in yards/catch. His shiftiness can be helpful in the NFL, but across the middle, he probably has a short shelf life and wouldn’t be worth selecting too high.
7) Alex Amidon, JR, Boston College (5’11” 186lbs)
Draftability Comparison: Randall Cobb, Golden Tate
77 productivity grade
#1 in last decade of BC
#21 in last decade of ACC
improved in all 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
If you would have asked me this morning “Who is Alex Amidon?” I probably would have guessed that he’s the host of a TV show that I don’t watch. In reality, he’s the ultra-productive wide receiver from Boston College who you should watch VERY closely on Saturday night when the Eagles host Notre Dame. Amidon has gone for 85+ yards in every game but one. His 7.44 catches/game is outrageously good but, unlike Campanaro (see below), he is connecting downfield at more than 16 yards per catch. While he is not dominant within ACC history, they are respectable and compare favorably with Chris Givens, who was selected by the St Louis Rams last year and is the 4th leading receiver among rookies.
8) Stedman Bailey, JR, West Virginia (5’10” 188lbs)
Draftability Comparison: Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin
80 productivity grade
#2 in last decade of WVU
#16 in last decade of Big12
improved in 8 of 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
As if Geno Smith weren’t already amazing enough, he has two of the ten best wide receiver prospects to work with. Bailey’s average stat line for the year goes something like: 7.6 catches–103 yards–1.8TDs. Yes, he’s short, but he’s got a good frame on him. And with production to rival Big 12 greats like Michael Crabtree, Ryan Broyles, and Jordy Nelson, you should be keeping an eye on him. Watch for Stedman when West Virginia hosts Oklahoma November 17.
9) Michael Campanaro, JR, Wake Forest (5’11” 195lbs)
Draftability Comparison: Steve Breaston, Anthony Gonazlez (Ohio St)
97 productivity grade
#1 in last decade of WF
#8 in last decade of ACC
improved in 8 of 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
Campanero is a curious case. He profiles to be more of a possession receiver, with around 10 yards per reception and 8.5 catches per game. For comparison sake, Torry Holt’s Senior season is the only other ACC player I have in my database who is above 8 catches/game. In four of his seven games this year, he notched at least nine receptions. However, those ‘possession indicators’ betray his nose for the endzone. He gets in the endzone at rates similar to Hakeem Nicks and Torrey Smith, with just under 1TD per game. It will be interesting to watch him face Notre Dame’s elite defense on November 17 in South Bend.
10) Marcus Davis, SR, Virginia Tech (6’4” 232lbs)
Draftability Comparison: Greg Little, Jonathan Baldwin
63 productivity grade
#3 in last decade of Virginia Tech
#46 in last decade of ACC
Improved in 8 of 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
Davis has the 6’4” 230 frame that you love to see out of an upside draft pick. The problem is that his productivity is barely serviceable. He SHOULD BE dominating college cornerbacks, but instead the results are mixed; he’s gone over 80 yards in just four of teams nine games. While he has #1 WR size, why would you think he could consistently push 100 yards per game in the NFL if he never did it in college?
11) Emory Blake, SR, Auburn
12 ) AJ Barker, JR, Minnesota
13) Markus Wheaton, SR, Oregon State
Draftability Comparison: Mario Manningham, Stevie Johnson
85 productivity grade
#2 in last decade of Oregon St
#6 in last decade of Pac12
improved in all 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
Wheaton is on pace for the sixth most productive season in my pac12 database. His average statline: 6.75 catches–98 yards–1TD rivals former USC beasts Dwayne Jarrett and Mike Williams. Proof that he comes through when his team needs him most: five touchdown catches in the team’s four road games. See if that trend will continue as the Beavers play at Stanford this weekend.
14) Kenny Stills, JR, Oklahoma
15) Jared Abbrederis, JR, Wisconsin
Draftablity Comparison: Harry Douglass, Greg Salas
102 productivity grade
#2 in last decade of Wisconsin
#4 in last decade of B1G Ten
improved in 8 of 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
What if I told you that Jared Abbrederis is on pace to have the 4th most productive season of the past decade of B1G Ten wide receivers.
Lee Evans 115
AJ Jenkins 110
Braylon Edwards 108
Jared Abbrederis 102
Santonio Holmes 97
I kid you not. After missing most of two games earlier in the season Abbrederis rebounded to post three straight games with at least 6 catches, 100 yards, and one TD. He is the star of the Wisconsin passing game with productivity that is a blend of Lee Evans and Eric Decker. Not sexy pick, but a productive pick.
#2 in last decade of La Tech, #1 in school in 2011
#13 in last decade of WAC, #5 in WAC in 2011
improved in 5 of 9 metrics from 2011 to 2012
I always love the underdog story. I always root for the little guy. Coming from this school and this conference, Quinton Patton is the underdog. He has posted the two most dominant seasons in La Tech’s recent history and is widely regarded as a solid prospect. Here’s the snag. The WAC has an atrocious track record of producing NFL talent: James Jones? Devone Bess? Titus Young? I want to like Patton, and he does compare favorably to Jones and Bess, but the conference factor is working against him, and his numbers are already regressing from 2011 instead of improving like you’d want to see. If there is one silver lining it’s that in La Tech’s three games against BCS conference teams (@Ill, @UVA, TAMU) Patton has hauled in 35 catches for 494 yards and 6TDs.
19) Marcus Sales, SR, Syracuse
20) Da’Rick Rogers, JR, Tennessee Tech (formerly of Tennessee)
***Were you looking for?***
The Underclassmen who WOULD BE the #1 Wide Receiver on my board, if eligible:
Marqise Lee, SO, USC (6’1” 195lbs)
Draftability Comparisons: Dez Bryant, Julio Jones
84 productivity grade
#1 in last decade of USC
#7 in last decade of Pac12
improved in 7 of 9 from 2011 to 2012
Okay, so he’s just a sophomore and won’t be draft eligible for another year, but Lee is a stud. In fact, in trying to convey his prowess to you, there’s almost nobody to compare him to in Pac12 history. In my Pac12 database, Marquise Lee’s 2012 season ranks #1 in catches/game, yards/game, and TDs/game. HUH?!? Read that again. #1 in every per game category. Expect Lee to contend for a Heisman this year and next, before being a round 1 pick in the 2014 draft.
We’re 25% of the way through the season, so let’s take a look at some interesting early stories.
Most teams have their out-of-conference schedules completed and are embarking on conference play. For fun I thought I’d look at the combined records against non-conference BCS foes + ND, BYU:
Big 12 (5-1) 83%
Pac 12 (7-4) 64%
Big East (5-4) 56%
SEC (4-5) 44%
B1G Ten (5-9) 36%
ACC (3-9) 25%
I wrote before the season started about how the Big 12 could emerge as the second best conference. Early returns on that theory look good. What might surprise you is how well the Pac 12 has fared. USC and Oregon are the flag bearers but teams like Oregon State, Arizona, and UCLA have picked up nice out-of-conference wins.
The B1G Ten has been heavily criticized early this season and rightfully so. It hasn’t been so much about their 5-9 record against out-of-conference foes as much as it has been about their lackluster performances against MAC, CUSA, and other lower level programs.
What REALLY surprised me about this was the ACC’s putrid start (3-9). This has dubious implications for Florida State and Clemson, who play Florida and South Carolina respectively in their season finale’s. Here’s guessing that any top-ranked ACC team will meet late season misery, whether that be in game 12 or in the bowl season.
Speaking of the ACC
Shhhhh!!! The Miami Hurricanes have quickly and quietly jumped out to a 2-0 conference record, with both wins coming on the road. They now get their NEXT 4 ACC games at home (sandwiched around a trip to Chicago to play ND). Year 2 of a new coaching regime is usually when things start to take off. Despite the early debacle at Kansas State, the Hurricanes could start to build some momentum and make a run at the ACC crown. Keep an eye on their game against NC State this week to see where this program really is.
And just for fun, how about the Duke Blue Devils? They’re out to a 3-1 record and stand just three wins away from their first bowl games since the `94-95 season. Their next two games are @ Wake Forest, home vs Virginia. If the Blue Devils are going to get to 6 wins, they would do well to win both these games.
27 teams remain undefeated
23 teams from BCS conferences
4 teams from non BCS conferences (Notre Dame, Ohio, Louisiana Tech, UTSA)
This week’s battles of the undefeateds:
Baylor (3-0) @ WVU (3-0)
Texas Tech (3-0) @ Iowa State (3-0)
The state of Oregon has two undefeateds
This is why you should be terrified of the Oregon Ducks. Over the past few years, Chip Kelly has earned a reputation as one of the best 2nd half coaches in America. Despite their up-tempo offense, the Ducks have started slow at times, only to hit the turbo-boost coming out of the break and leave their opponents in the dust. This year the Ducks have been mauling teams in the first half, leaving them to just coast in the second half. Check out these halftime scores from Oregon’s first four games.
50-10 arkansas st (10 wins in 2011)
35-6 fresno (annual bowl team)
35-7 tenn tech (ok, laugh)
13-0 arizona (off to a great start under Rich Rod)
133- 23 in the first half… and I would consider Chip Kelly the best halftime coach in America. Good luck, everybody.
Meanwhile, the Oregon State Beavers have re-emerged from 2011’s ashes to claim a 2-0 start. They pulled the upset against Wisconsin and then soundly beat UCLA on the road. This week they play at Arizona in what should be an interesting clash of styles. The Beavers are efficient on offense, nearly always keeping on schedule and keeping their defense rested. If they’re for real, they will show their stripes in the next three games @ Arizona, Wazzu, @ BYU.
The next time you see the Florida Gators…
When you’re Florida a 4-0 start usually gets you national love and all sorts of hype. Instead, this year, they are 4-0 and are the fifth highest ranked team in the SEC. I perceive that people think they’re a nice story but nobody is truly taking them seriously yet. Well, this week they are off as they get ready for THIS October slate: #3 LSU, @Vandy, #6 South Carolina, #5 Georgia in Jacksonville. In my humble opinion, they’re perfectly capable of beating LSU and South Carolina because of their outstanding defensive play. Neither of those teams will run and hide. Georgia will be tough, but is do-able.
The Big 12 Game of the Year
As promised (by me at least) Casey Pachall and Geno Smith have been outstanding this year, claiming the top two spots in the national QB Passer rankings. Because of this, I am declaring the November 3rd showdown between TCU @ West Virginia, the Big 12 game of the year. Merry Christmas prospect-lovers everywhere!
In his first two games of the 2012 season, Geno’s stat line is 66-75, 734 yards, 9TD, 0 INT. Yes, those two games were against James Madison and Marshall, but before you totally disregard those numbers, consider that Marshall is consistently a bowl team and that JMU is one of the better FCS programs. By all accounts Geno has progressed in every aspect of his game. Among returning quarterbacks, I have Geno’s 2011 graded the highest, making him my #1 QB prospect in America.
West Virginia’s foe, Maryland, has faced three anemic passing offenses thus far. On Saturday, expect them to get smoked by the high flying Mountaineers. As one friend likes to say “College Football is a video game for Geno Smith.”
In the video below, watch how his feet constantly reset as he goes through his reads. Also, his right foot almost always finishes off the ground, indicating a powerful follow through.
Landry Jones (#12), Senior QB, Oklahoma
7:50pm vs Kansas State. FOX.
Rumors of Landry Jones’ demise are premature. Last you heard, Landry was the downfall of humanity, a wrench in the Sooners program, and completely to blame for their 2-2 finish to the 2011 season. So far this season, the Sooners have been off the radar after two wins over UTEP and Florida A&M, before taking a bye last week. Things are just getting started though.
The Sooners are a top 6 team in the country, folks. Landry Jones is a top NFL prospect. Bob Stoops hasn’t forgotten how to coach football. In their first big-time game of 2012, expect them to play with a chip on their shoulder and to run up the score against the Kansas State Wildcats. They will make a statement on Saturday night and Landry will be exclamation point.
Sammy Watkins (#2), Sophomore WR, Clemson
8pm @ Florida State. ABC.
In 2011, as a freshman, Sammy Watkins put on an otherworldly display. Looking at just his receiving stats, he put up the third most dominant performance of any Clemson WR in my database. His average stat line was 6.3 catches, 94 yards, and .9 TDs per game. Holy Smokes! From an all-purpose perspective, Watkins touched the ball 153 times for 2297 total yards and 13 touchdowns.
Clemson broke through last season and finally made it to a BCS game (before getting destroyed by the aforementioned Geno Smith). Ultimately, the swing game that got them to the ACC title game was their early season victory over an EJ Manuel-less Florida State team. This year, if they are going to defend their ACC crown, they’re going to have to knock of FSU in Tallahassee. If they’re going to do that, Sammy Watkins must play a big role.
After being suspended for weeks 1 and 2, Watkins returned last week against Furman to the tune of 6 touches for 119 total yards and one touchdown. Will this week against the Seminoles be such easy sledding? Doubtful. Tune in on Saturday night to see if Sammy can avoid a sophomore slump and make a game changing play, like he did so many times in 2011.
WTF, major networks?
As every major network scrambles to out-do one another, the only thing they’re accomplishing is to ruin my viewer experience as a college football fan. I want ONE awesome game at noon, one awesome game at 3:30pm, one awesome game at 8pm, and (if I’m feeling frisky) one awesome PAC-12 game at 10:30pm. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is. This week, three marquee games are going to cannibalize viewership as NBC airs ND-MICH in primetime, while ABC airs FSU-Clemson, and FOX airs Oklahoma-Kansas St. This might be good for the networks, but it’s terrible for the fans.
Speaking of 10:30pm games
The amazing Oregon Ducks host the Arizona Wildcats at 10:30pm on ESPN. This game should be high scoring and wildly entertaining. It will be the first ‘real test’ (psh) for the Ducks after playing Arkansas State, Fresno State, and Tennessee Tech. This Oregon team is sooo under the radar and so damn good, they’re worth tuning in to see. If you thought that Oregon was going to slow down, fade out, or exit stage left after their recent run of BCS appearances, you’re dead wrong. Chip Kelly is cranking everything up even further. See for yourself.
At the end of last season Arkansas was a hot team with an emerging star QB and the potential to contend for an SEC and National Title in 2012. Then, John L. Smith happened. In the wake of former coach Bobby Petrino’s motor cycle accident and discovery of an extramarital affair, Smith was promoted to head coach as the Razorbacks had few other options in April. Long time college football fans will remember Smith as the Michigan State head coach from 2003-2006. His teams were notorious for their late season collapses and after three straight losing seasons, Smith was dismissed in 2006.
So what was my first clue that he IS NOT made to coach in big games and pressure filled environments? Check out his teams’ records in games played after November 1:
On Saturday night the #8 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks lost AT HOME to Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in overtime 34-31. In the last two seasons, Arkansas won 21 games compared to only 5 losses, one of the best records in America. By comparison, ULM has gone 9-15 in the past two seasons. Before pulling this upset, ULM had the following results against BCS teams in Coach Berry’s two seasons:
2010: 24 pt loss to Arkansas
2010: 49 pt loss to Auburn
2010: 51 pt loss to LSU
2011: 34 pt loss to FSU
2011: 21 pt loss to TCU*
2011: 28 pt loss to Iowa
POOF! Out of nowhere, after having not been within three touchdowns of a BCS conference team before, they pull the outright upset. Is Bobby Petrino that amazing of a coach? Maybe. Probably. But, on this night, the story was about a national champion hopeful losing a game, losing their edge, and further proving the incompetence of John L. Smith.
The Florida Gators would like your attention
Some years the national champion is a team that is highly regarded from week 1 and dominates throughout the season en route to their title. Other years the eventual champion strings together wins, has timely clutch plays, and seems to have a magical way of getting the job done. (See: 2010 Auburn. 2002 Ohio St.) I get the sense that this 2012 Florida Gators team just might fall into that category of teams that find a way to win.
Last weekend in College Station the Gators crashed Texas A&M’s SEC-welcome-party. After falling behind 17-7 in the first half, Florida grinded their way to a 20-17 win, playing excellent defense and making pointed half time adjustments. They have settled on a quarterback and will be able to rely on their defense to keep them in games. If they can get past an emerging Tennessee team on Rocky Top this weekend, the Gators have only one true road game between games 4-11. This is an early story to keep an eye on.
That’s the sound of Texas and Iowa State off to solid (and eerily quiet) 2-0 starts. For the Longhorns, the early success is expected and yawned about. However, after going a combined 13-12 in the last two seasons, it’s encouraging to see them win like their supposed to against two respectable mountain west foes. In eight quarters of football played, Texas has pitched a shutout in six of them. They’ve turned the ball over only once and have run the ball well. This week they play @ Ole Miss (9:15pm ESPN) in what should be a solid opportunity for them to truly demonstrate their progress.
Iowa State on the other hand… (wait, seriously am I writing about Iowa State?) The Cyclones are off to a 2-0 start with solid wins over Tulsa and Iowa. Yes, those two programs might not be up to past performance, but they are two teams that I think Iowa State would have been thrilled to beat in recent years. With those two wins under their belt, they get Western Illinois and Texas Tech at home (sandwiched around a bye week) to close out September, meaning that the Cyclones could enter October at 4-0. The strong start coupled with two bowl games in the past three seasons and last year’s upset of OK State leads me to believe that Coach Rhoads has this program quietly going in the right direction.
The B1G Ten’s black eye
Penn State loses at Virginia… and boy did they ever LOSE that one
Iowa loses at home to Iowa State
Purdue loses at Notre Dame
Wisconsin loses at Oregon State
Nebraska loses at UCLA
Illinois loses at Arizona State
Ohio State lets Central Florida hang around
Michigan darn near loses to Air Force
Pretty brutal weekend for the B1G Ten, I’d say… But, hey, at least Northwestern beat Vanderbilt! The conference isn’t doing itself any favors to shake the perception that the B1G Ten is behind the times.
PAC12 up and PAC12 down
HOORAY! Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA, and Oregon State all pulled off big time wins against strong non-conference foes! The PAC12 is king! Call your friends! Post to your facebook! The PAC12 is back!!!!
Actually… hold on a second… what’s that?… everything isn’t peachy in the Pacific?
The Colorado Buffaloes got beat at home by Sacramento State. (The same Sac. State team that lost by 30 at NEW MEXICO STATE in week 1. NEW MEXICO STATE!) How?
The Utah Utes saw their 12 game win streak against Utah State come to an end over the weekend.
The Cal Bears held a measly 20-17 lead over FCS Southern Utah entering the fourth quarter of their game. Hey, Bears, good luck with that noon EST kickoff next week against Ohio State.
Finally, the Washington Huskies got annihilated by 38 against LSU. No shame in losing on the bayou. Lots of shame in losing by more points than North Texas did in week 1.
That void in your college football weekend?
Geno Smith had a bye week. Don’t worry. When he plays, you will hear about it.
That’s what caught my eye in week 2! What about you?
Part 1 of my 2012 preview focused on three of the most interesting story lines for the 2012 season. In this article, I’ll dig into the bandwagons I’m driving for the 2012 season.
Georgia Tech will be sneaky good
In eight of the last nine seasons Paul Johnson teams have won 8+ games. Last year the Ramblin Wreck jumped out to a 6-0 start before losing five games down the stretch, including two games by a field goal. The good news about 2011 is that their offense was the best of the Paul Johnson era, averaging 34.3 points and 459 yards per game. In 2012, things should only be better with 4/5 offensive lineman, their quarterback, and their top two running backs all returning. The defense has been headed in the right direction the last two seasons under DC Al Groh and if year 3 can show another improvement, the Yellow Jackets could contend. The keys to the season will be Sep-3 @ VT and Nov-10 @ UNC. Win one of those games and they’ll likely be playing for the ACC crown. LOVE THE TRIPLE OPTION!
The Florida Gators are underrated
From 2005 to 2009 the Florida Gators had this pretty nifty guy coach their team. I think he won two national championships with quarterbacks like Chris Leak and…. what’s his name? That guy that prayed a lot… at the helm. Gosh, whatever happened to that coach? You know, the one with the two last names? In any case, whoever he was, he was a good recruiter. From 2007 to 2010, the Gators recruiting classes were ranked 2nd, 5th, 6th, and 3rd. Translation: the Gators have talent! But what else? Second year coach Will Muschamp was at one time so highly regarded as to be named the heir to the Mack Brown/Texas throne. Instead, he ended up with the head coaching gig at Florida. Year 1 was a mess of turnovers and a revolving door of quarterbacks. Meanwhile, the defense was fifth best in the conference and returns nearly their entire 2-deep. If newly acquired offensive coordinator (Brent Pease who was at Boise State last year) can develop one of their two excellent QB prospects, the Gators have the upside to win the SEC East and contend for the national title.
The Ohio Bobcats could go 13-0
The Fighting Frank Solichs have won at least 8 games in each of the last three seasons. Last season they broke through two meaningful ceilings; winning their first bowl game and winning 10 games. Looking at this year’s squad, they’re led by JR QB Tyler Tettleton whose stature, athleticism, and passing ability will remind you of Russell Wilson. He graded out very highly in my system.
(pardon the idiotic voiceover, but there are a few nice clips to show his style of play)
On defense they get 10 of their top 12 tacklers back. Keep a close eye as this team travels to Happy Valley to take on Penn State on September 1st. If they can pull the upset there, the next biggest road block would be their October 27th in Oxford, Ohio against the Miami Redhawks and….
Zac Dysert, Senior QB, Miami University, will become a hot NFL prospect
Dysert, who is just 2,300 yards from becoming Miami’s all-time passing leader, has great potential. In 2011, he carried the Redhawks in their toughest games, averaging more than 40 pass attempts per game while maintaining a lofty 91.6 rating in my system (a 95 rating would indicate an elite NFL prospect). Through a historical lens, the small group of players who threw ~40 passes per games in their toughest games and posted a rating in the 90+ range would include Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and, you guessed it, Zac Dysert. Yea… I went there. The last few years the Miami offensive line has been a disaster, allowing 47 sacks per season. The offensive line returns 4/5 starters this year and we should see Dysert’s star continue to rise if they can give him more time to operate. He will face Ohio State right out of the gate, so it will be interesting to see what he’s got.
Geno Smith will win the Heisman trophy.
My admiration for Geno Smith is well documented by now. To use a baseball analogy, Geno has five ‘tools’ or factors working for him. He has great pocket presence. He completes a lot of passes. He can throw it deep. He can run. And, finally, he has media upside. Here’s what I mean. With West Virginia moving the the Big 12, Geno will have a much bigger stage on which to display his talents. To that same end, the quality of the Big 12 will lend itself to WVU playing in high scoring back-and-forth games. Unlike the Big East where the Mountaineers can run and hide from teams, the Big 12 will bring out his best every week. Another bright spot is the fact that Geno is in year two of Dana Holgorsen’s air raid offense, which means that last season was only a sneak preview. If things can be better than they were in 2011, Geno will be the star of the 2012 season and walk away with the Heisman.
Year 3 of the Derek Dooley era
It’s strange to think that TENNESSEE has won 5, 7, 6, and 5 games in the past four seasons. Don’t they realize that… they’re TENNESSEE. So here we are in 2012, which is year three of the Derek Dooley era. I’m expecting that this is the year that either cements Dooley as the long term head coach of the future for Tennessee, or makes people around Knoxville do some major soul searching. Here’s why I’ll count on the Vols having success. 1) Tyler Bray, when healthy, was great in his first two seasons. As a junior, Bray should continue his ascent toward top NFL QB Prospect. His chances of staying healthy and productive are dramatically improved considering that the O-Line has 105 career starts and returns intact. The defense, which ranked 7th in the SEC last season, returns 13/15 top tacklers. The two games to watch will be when Tennessee hosts Florida (Sep-15) and Alabama (Oct-20). Look for the Vols to return to relevance, if not prominence, in 2012.
Casey Pachall is really good…. and straight out of a 90s football movie
In 2010 the TCU Horned Frogs won the Rose Bowl behind great play from Andy Dalton. Dalton, one of the ten best QB prospects in the past 15 years according to my system, was going to be really hard to replace, right? Not so fast my friend. In stepped Casey Pachall, who led TCU to an 11-2 season with their two losses coming by a combined 9 points. Pachall’s 2011 season graded at 107.7 (a score above 95 indicates an elite QB prospect) which places him a fraction above Matt Barkley in my system. So the guy can pass, no doubt. But here’s where things get interesting.
Pachall seems like a character straight out of the 1990’s college football movie “The Program.” Over the offseason, Pachall failed a drug test and admitted to trying ecstasy and cocaine. He has tattoos covering his body. His hair hangs out the back of his helmet. He seems like something straight off a Hollywood set. Because of his transgressions, his image has been taken off everything associated with TCU’s athletic department advertising. Here’s the thing, though, if Pachall can keep his demons under wraps, and use this embarrassment as motivation to succeed, he literally could be the best QB in the country and a new star of the Big 12 conference. Either way, he will be an interesting story to follow.
(pardon the first 30 seconds. He lights up Boise for 473 yards after the ugly start)
Oklahoma State is an elite program
Honestly, I don’t care that Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon graduated. Yes, they were quite good, but it’s time for us to collectively realize that OK State deserves a seat at the big boy table. After going 23-3 in the last two seasons, do you really think they’re just going to snooze through the season? They return 17 of their top 20 tacklers and, strangely, should be carried by their defense in the early going. The schedule sets up nicely for true freshman QB Wes Lunt to get acclimated before Big 12 play starts on Sep-29. To make matters better, the run game should be strong behind 1200 yard- 24 TD man Joseph Randle. Ultimately, as long as Mike Gundy is at the helm, I believe the OK State program will be a fixture in the national top 20. Don’t be surprised if another 10 win season is in the offering.
Texas Tech is going to get somebody.
Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Texas all play in Lubbock this year. At least one of them will be upset. You’ve been warned.
Shhhh. Be quiet. Everybody is sleeping (on Nebraska).
If I asked you about the most significant newsworthy events in the B1G 10 over the last year, you might say: Russell Wilson stole the show in Madison. Urban Meyer was hired by Ohio State. Penn State went up in smoke. Michigan is back under Brady Hoke. Michigan State won the two of the most exciting games of the 2011 college football season. And, honestly, you would have every right to bring up these things because they really DID matter. So if those are all the reasons why nobody is talking about Nebraska, here are the reasons why they should be… For starters, they’re Nebraska, you know, one of the greatest programs of all time. They won nine games in their first year in a tough conference and have won at least nine in all four seasons under Pelini. Everyone of note returns on offense. The defense is senior laden and should fare better after seeing so many schemes for the first time last season. Their special teams are annually among the best in the country. Oh, and they should be ultra-motivated by the fact that two of their last three games were blowout losses. The schedule is tough, but doable and if things break I could see them going 11-1 in the regular season.
Pac-12 cannibalism will prevent either frontrunner from playing in the National Championship.
USC, of the Pac-12 South, starts the season ranked #1. Oregon, of the Pac-12 North, starts the season ranked #5. Got it? K, good.
Oregon has lost SIX games in three years under Chip Kelly. FOUR of those loses came when their opponent had significant time to prepare and/or the Ducks had significant time to acquire rust– Season Openers of 2009 and 2011 and Bowl Games in 2009 and 2010. I interpret this to mean that it is damn near impossible to beat Oregon between games 2 and 13, a feat that USC would have to accomplish in 2012 if they want to play for the national championship. Ain’t gonna happen, folks! The Ducks have a veteran offensive line and several outstanding playmakers on offense highlights by the black mamba, DeAnthony Thomas. The defense should be at least as good as last year and the special teams will be fantastic. Seeing as they are not going to lose to Arkansas St in the season opener, the Ducks should be 8-0 when the play at the Coliseum zon Nov-3.
The Trojans return everyone on offense from a squad that scored 36 points per game last season. Oh and they add 1200 yard rusher Silas Redd from Penn State. The defense returns 14 of their top 18 tacklers. This team went 10-2 last year, won @ Oregon and were one of the hottest teams in America come bowl season. One problem, NCAA sanctions kept them out of a bowl game. So in 2012 they are hungry to get back to the postseason, ready to dominate, and are capable of doing so. So what’s the problem? For starters, USC has a tradition of laying eggs in Pac 12 road games. 2011 they lost at Arizona State. 2010 they were crushed in Corvallis. 2009 they were upset in Seattle. You get the idea. This season they go on the road at Utah, at Washington, and UCLA.
(highlights from 2011 USC @ Oregon, one of the best games of the year)
So here’s how this is going to play out. The Ducks and Trojans are going to split the regular season matchup and the Pac-12 championship game, where they will almost assuredly represent their divisions. If I HAD to pick one team to win both potential matchups, I’d actually go with the Ducks. I’ll guess they offset each other and both have at least one loss, which means they’ll get passed over for the BCS Championship game by…
The Oklahoma Sooners will go undefeated and play in the National Championship.
Imagine being Landy Jones. You get thrown to the wolves in 2009 after Sam Bradford’s injury. In 2010, your first full year as a starter, you come within 3 passing yards of breaking Bradford’s passing record. In 2011, you play phenomenally for 9 games, lose your all-time-NCAA-leading WR Ryan Broyles to injury, lose two out of three games to close the regular season, get doubted, and then passed for preseason 1st team honors. If I’m Landy Jones, I have a colossal chip on my shoulder. So, besides an ultra motivated Landy Jones, what else do the Sooners have? All five of their offensive lineman returning. The top three running backs from 2011 returning. A defense that is perennially loaded with NFL talent. And most importantly, a BCS grade pedigree, having played in four BCS games in the past six seasons. Outside the annual Red River shootout, the schedule is fantastic. The November games @ WVU and @ TCU could be landmines, but both those teams will probably be running on fumes by then. Put me down for a 12-0 season for the Sooners and a trip to the BCS National Championship game.
The Georgia Bulldogs will win the National Championship.
The Bulldogs are an interesting team. In 2011 they opened with back to back losses and fell off everyone’s radar. After that, they won 10 straight games and by the time everyone realized “this Georgia team might be pretty good” they lost the SEC championship by a wide margin and then lost their bowl game. Two straight losses to end a season? Sounds like motivation to me.
The obvious story is Junior Quarterback Aaron Murray who is in his third year as a starter. Last year, the offense sped things up and led the SEC in plays run, running more than 120 more plays than the next highest team. In year two of this fast-paced system, things should be better for everyone. Murray’s 2011 season grades similarly to Matt Stafford’s final season at Georgia, which is a scary thought considering that he should only be BETTER this year.
The defense is another good indicator. Under DC Todd Grantham, the defense has made two strong improvements between 2009 & 2010 and then 2010 & 2011. Can they make another jump in 2012? They return 12/13 top tacklers from a defense that ranked in the top 10 in America last year.
(an AWESOME defensive highlight real, for a change, and a killer soundtrack)
Add it all together and you’ve got an outstanding QB leading a talented, fast-paced offense who will build leads, and a frighteningly good defense who will be more than capable of creating havoc for opposing offenses. The cherry on top? The won’t have to play LSU or Alabama until the SEC title game.
Book it: the 2012-13 College Football National Champion will be the Georgia Bulldogs.
Check back throughout the season for more CFT articles. Enjoy!
It’s been 234 days since the Alabama Crimson Tide smothered LSU in the National Championship game. 234 days of wondering, debating, and hope that THIS year will be the year and here we sit on day 1 of the 2012 season. Before things kick off tonight, it’s time to look at the story lines that will define the season.
The new conference alignments
Changing conferences isn’t easy. In 2004, three teams made the move from the Big East to the ACC: Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech. After going 11-2 in 2003, highlighted by an Orange Bowl victory, Miami had high expectations of playing Alpha Dog in the ACC. Eight seasons in the history books and Miami has never won an ACC title. Heck, they haven’t even played in an ACC Championship game. Boston College has been a middle-of-the-pack program. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech has acclimated beautifully, winning four ACC crowns in eight seasons.
Last year saw Nebraska move from the Big 12 North to the B1G 10. In 2010, the Huskers won their division and seemed poise to become a B1G Ten bully. However, year 1 of their new conference saw them finish with the fifth best record in conference play.
Similarly, the Utah Utes were coming of three straight 10+ win seasons in the Mountain West before last season’s move to the Pac-12. They too were slow to acclimate, finishing in sixth place in the conference.
So, what does it all mean? As the SEC welcomes Missouri and Texas A&M, I don’t think anyone has high expectations for either of those programs. For Missouri, a team that is accustomed to win 8+ games every year, I’m interested to see if they can even be bowl eligible this year. For a team that went 1-5 against Texas and Oklahoma over the past five seasons, what are they going to do when EVERY WEEK it feels like Texas or Oklahoma on the other side? For Texas A&M, who I think is one of the mentally weakest programs in college football, how are they going to respond in year one with a new coach, new system, new conference, and a VERY real possibility of opening the season 2-5?
Based on my 2011 passer grades, Geno Smith (WVU) and Casey Pachall (TCU) are the two best returning quarterbacks in America (more to come on those grades). For two programs unaccustomed to facing Big 12 offensive firepower every week, these defenses should be in trouble. That’s good news for us, though, as Geno and Casey will be pushed every week to put points on the board. This conference will be fun fun fun, but not as much fun as….
The Pac 12 is going to get REALLY fun this year.
Everyone knows about Oregon and USC.
For a generation intrigued by shiny objects, devoid of an attention span, and with an affinity for ‘swag,’ the Oregon Ducks have consistently put a product on the field that caters to all three needs.
Shiny objects? The Ducks have a multi-colored field, uniforms from outer-space, and playmakers named LaMichael, Jeremiah, or DeAnthony.
Short attention span? Don’t worry, their high powered, point-a-minute offense snaps the ball every 18 seconds. You don’t even have time to check the guide button without missing a play.
In short, the Oregon Ducks are the kings of college football cool.
Oh yea, and this USC program has some things going for it. Star quarterback? Check. Controversial coach? Check. 2nd biggest media market? Check. Ed Orgeron? Check. Tranfer star running back? Check. You’re smart people. You’ve seen the buzz. Now, let’s talk about the fun.
Remove: Paul Wulff. Insert: Mike Leach. (Washington St)
You’re probably wondering who Paul Wulff even is. It’s okay. He went 9-40 in four seasons as Wazzu’s head coach. You may know the name Mike Leach. He’s the former Texas Tech head coach, offensive mastermind, lover of pirates, bestselling author, shamer of Adam James by locking him in a closet, purveyor of Michael Crabtree’s fame, and all-around champion of life. He takes his quirkiness to Pullman, WA. where things should get very interesting with stud WR Marquess Wilson. (By the way, remember when those guys with the Washington State Cougars flags were at EVERY episode of College Gameday for multiple seasons?)
Remove: Mike Stoops. Insert: Rich Rodriguez. (University of Arizona)
The Mike Stoops thing was okay for a while. The program was consistently in the middle of the Pac-12 and pulled the occasional upset. But they were never anything special. (Obligatory Nick-Foles-is-awesome comment) In steps Rich Rodriguez, the man who ran Michigan’s program into the ground, but did an incredible job at West Virginia. I honestly think the stage was too big for him at Michigan with too much scrutiny for the system he wanted to implement and the amount of screaming he did at his players. But, at Arizona he gets back to an offense-happy league. He’s out of the spotlight. He inherits a lot of useful pieces. Most importantly, he brings BCS upside to Tuscon and will certainly keep things interesting.
Besides these two big additions, they add Todd Graham, who had had great success at Rice and Tulsa, before making a one year pit stop at Pitt. His teams have always put points on the board. They also get Jim More Jr. who was the former Falcons head coach before accepting the UCLA job this past offseason. Overall, you should expect a lot of points, a lot of personality, and a lot of fun out of the Pac 12 over the next few years.
The emerging coaches
They say it takes two or three seasons to really turn a program around. For the following coaches, there are question marks that need to be answered:
Brian Kelly, year 3, Notre Dame: At CMU you won 10 games in year 3. At Cincinnati you won 12 games in year 3. Show me that you can win double digits in year 3 at Notre Dame and that you have cleansed that program of its Charlie Weis-era softness.
Will Muschamp, year 2, Florida: Show me why people thought so highly as to make you coach in waiting at Texas. Show me that you can take that LOADED cupboard that Urban Meyer left for you and do something great with it.
Brady Hoke, year 2, Michigan: You were the perfect hire; Michigan roots and a strong coaching record, but enough of a question mark to have a chip on your shoulder. Show me that Michigan really is back and that your team can hang with the Alabamas of the world. Show me that you’re going to have the staying power and that the Hoke-Meyer era is going to be my generation’s Bo-Woody rivalry.
Derek Dooley, year 3, Tennessee: Prove to me that you’re going to have staying power and success at Tennessee. Show me where I can buy some of those awesome orange pants.
Jimbo Fisher, year 3, Florida State: Show me that you can contend for a national championship with a full, healthy season from EJ Manuel. Show me that the top of the ACC really can produce a National Champion for the first time since 2001. Prove to me that I was just a year early with my prediction of your return to dominance.
Lane Kiffin, year 3, USC: Show me that you can be a great front runner like Pete Carroll. Show me that this team is as good as everyone says it is.
Skip Holtz, year 3, South Florida: Show me that South Florida can be mentally and physically tough and that the programs history of mental softness is behind it after last year’s 1-6 finish to the regular season.
David Shaw, year 2, Stanford: Prove it to me that you are more than just a rider of Luck’s (and Harbaugh’s) coattails. Prove to me that the offensive scheme can work without Luck under center.
Don Treadwell, year 2, Miami University: Show me how good Zac Dysert can be. Show me that my alma mater can be an annual contender.
Al Golden, year 2, The U: Moreso than swagger, prove to me that The U still has some game. Your program has been 0-8 on ACC titles since the conference jump. Show me something, man!
Tommy Tuberville, year 3, Texas Tech: Show me that Texas Tech can stay relevant without the offensive gimmicks. Show me that, with your team returning in tact, that you can be a contender in the Big 12.