After a season for the ages that brought a boost in TV ratings, what will be instore for this upcoming season? Well the first week of the season will stay just as exciting as the last, maybe even more. Alabama which will most likely be the number 1 team in the nation goes up against the young talented team in Florida State. Michigan will take on Florida in a ranked vs ranked game in Jerry World, better known as the Dallas Cowboys Stadium. The biggest hire of the offseason was the Energizer bunny that is P.J Fleck going to Minnesota. Willie Taggert was also hired at Oregon and will need a quarterback like the one he had back at South Florida to even be relevant in the PAC 12. Alabama showed that they are still the top dogs, bringing in all the top talent in the nation. Alabama was ranked #1 for the 2017 Recruiting class, but USC made more than just a splash. It was more like a cannonball. USC signed 6 of the country’s top players on Signing day, which helped boost their class ranking all the way to 5th in the nation. The biggest question for the upcoming season, will the SEC take back the throne for the best conference or will they be mediocre for their standards?
1. Most Anticipated Games:
Florida State vs. Alabama – This game has the making of being another game for the ages. It’s another #1 vs. #2, but also the future NFL talent on these two teams are ridiculous. Both QB’s are Sophomores, while Deondre (Florida St.) has a cannon for an arm, Hurts (Alabama) can run the ball like a running back which makes him an Elite Dual Threat QB. Florida State’s offense could possibly be the best in the Nation and they are going against arguably the best defense in the nation. This game will be just as exciting as last year’s national title game. My prediction will be Alabama 27-23. This could possibly be a preview of a CFP matchup even though one of these teams will lose.
Source: The Bull Gator
Florida vs. Michigan – This game will feature two ranked teams and a rematch of the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl from 2 years ago. Michigan dominated the previous match up and Florida is out for revenge. Florida loses only one player on the offensive side of the ball. Florida’s offense can possibly take the next step that they have been hoping for if they can find a QB this offseason. Defensively Florida lost a lot of talent to the draft, so replacing that talent could possibly be hard considering last year they were a top 5 defense. Michigan loses their whole defense to graduation and the draft with the biggest loss being junior Jabril Peppers. Offensively they were very young last year, but they did lose Jake Butt who was one of the Top TE’s in the nation. This game you can ultimately expect a slug it out low scoring game with two of the top defenses in the nation. Both defenses brought in top recruits and Florida who was injury plagued last year, brings back a bunch of young guys who received quality game reps in place of those injuries. Florida wins 20-13.
Alabama vs. LSU – LSU has a new leader at the helm in Coach O, so will they finally get Alabama? Probably not but if there is any team in the nation that matches up with Alabama talent vs. talent, it would be LSU. Coach O has brought a little more creativity to LSU’s offense but this game will be played in Tuscaloosa, so the odds are against the new coach in purple and gold. Derrius Guice (LSU Running Back) is a future NFL Pro Bowler with his speed and strength, but in the past we have seen Fournette get shut down by this dominant Alabama Defense. Alabama looses top players on the defense like Reuben Foster and Jonathon Allen, but with a Top ranked recruiting class, it seems like Alabama’s defense will pick up where it left off. On the otherside, their offense was very young and their skill players like Calvin Ridley and Bo Scarborough should come back with more of an edge to get back to the National Championship. Alabama will win 27-13 in a game that they will have the lead from start to finish.
2. Who are the favorites to make a run for the National Title?
Source: Campus Insiders
Alabama – Obviously, you must start with the team who has gone to the past two national championship games. They won the title in 2016, but failed to repeat this past season. Their loss came to the hands of a last second TD pass by Heisman runner up Deshaun Watson. Since Nick Saban took over 10 years ago, he is 101-19 and has claimed 4 national titles. He has 3 since 2011, so even though they may have lost some key parts on the defensive side of the ball, they bring in once again the number 1 rated recruiting class with a bunch of talented players. Not to mention that Jalen Hurts should grow into an even better pocket passer and with the defense taking over where they left off they should be the heavy favorites.
USC – USC is a team riding heavy momentum. They closed winning their last nine games and capped it off with an amazing come from behind win over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. They rode the momentum that was on the football field into the recruiting rankings. They added a top 5 recruiting class to an already talented team. USC brings back their star quarterback in Sam Darnold who threw for over 3000 yards passing with a 67-completion percentage. Since Darnold took over the consensus has been that USC has been a different team. Even though the loss of Adoree Jackson is big, I expect them to be even better than last year and win the easier PAC 12.
Ohio State – Even after a brutal way to end the season, there are still many positives for Ohio State. They bring back a majority of their starters on defense and don’t lose anybody but Samuel and Noah Brown on the offensive side of the ball. Their defense was arguably one of the best in the nation last year, so they should be just as sound as last year. The only thing that worries me about Ohio State is the quarterback position. J.T Barret’s struggles to throw the ball down field is a big problem. The offense struggled to move the ball the last two games of the season against Michigan and Clemson. If J.T Barrett develops his downfield attack and becomes more consistent, then Ohio State will be one of the teams to beat next year.
Oklahoma – Finally we have Oklahoma, coming off a disappointing year relative to the hype they went into the season with. Oklahoma lost two early games against Ohio State and Houston, but they steadied the ship and finished the season 11-2. The thing that Oklahoma has going for them is Baker Mayfield. Baker Mayfield was a Heisman finalist last year and led one of the most explosive offenses in the country. He finished the season just shy of 4000 yards and completed more than 70-percent of his passes. Oklahoma plays in a weak Big 12 which won’t have many teams to contend with. If Oklahoma can get past Ohio State early, they should be able to ride that momentum into the College Football playoff.
3. Who are the Sleepers?
LSU – When you think of a team with a lot of talent, but rarely seems to get over the hump, it would be the LSU Tigers. LSU always seems to have one of the best defenses, but the quarterback position has held them back for years. They seem to have found one in Danny Etling, who showed the ability to take care of the football this past season. Even with the loss of Leonard Fournette, it doesn’t seem very big when the replacement is Derrius Guice. Guice rushed for 1387 yards on just 183 carries. That’s an impressive 7.6 yards per carry. They bring back a talented wide receiving core with Malachi Dupre and D.J Chark. The only problem they will run up against is the fact that they have to play Alabama and that they are in the same division as them as well.
Washington – Even though Washington this past year made it to the College Football Playoff, many times throughout the season they were overlooked. Many believed they were overrated. However, the defense held their own against Alabama, so why aren’t they a favorite? They lost both of their cornerbacks to the draft and an interior defensive lineman. They also lost John Ross (Wide Receiver), who was an explosive playmaker for them. On the otherhand they do bring back Myles Gaskin who rushed for over 1300 yards and added ten touchdowns. Washington also brings back Jake Browning who had 43 TD’s to only 9 interceptions. They bring back an explosive offense and are also competing in a weaker PAC 12. Washington doesn’t have a very hard non-conference schedule, so the only way they make the playoff would be to go undefeated or with one loss. Even though the odds are probably against them, we cannot count out the defending PAC 12 Champs.
4. Will we see our first CFP with 2 teams from the same conference?
That will probably not be the case because if that were to happen then the conversation for an 8-team playoff will be brought up. The CFP committee respects the SEC but most of the time the teams in that conference tend to beat each other up. This year the Big 10 will most likely be represented and the SEC will be represented. Those two I can say with a 100% Guarantee that they will have a team in the College Football Playoff. The other two conferences that have a good chance will be PAC 12 with USC and Washington; the ACC with the defending champs (Clemson) and Florida State. There is a bunch of teams that are wild cards that could make a run and crash the party without winning their conference. This past year showed the possibility of two teams from one conference, but the chances of that repeating are minimal.
5. Heisman Hopefuls
Lamar Jackson (Louisville) – Lamar put on an explosive season tallying over 3500 yards with 30 TD’s to only 9 interceptions. He also added over 1500 yards on the ground with 21 TD’s to add to that. Lamar might be the most explosive quarterback since Michael Vick. He is a complete game changer and defenses have a tough time preparing for a guy like him. He is only a true sophomore with a lot of things that he can improve in the passing game. I truly believe that he has a great chance to repeat as the Heisman trophy winner, if he can stay healthy.
Source: For the Win- USA Today
Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)– Baker is coming off an impressive season which earned him a trip to New York as a Heisman Finalist. The problem last year was his partner in crime, Dede Westbrook, was so good that he took some votes away from him. In a league that doesn’t play much defense, Baker should have no problem putting up numbers as good or even better than last year. Oklahoma is supposed to be a title contender, so that will help his case even more. He is going into the season with all eyes on him, so it should be an entertaining season.
Derrius Guice (LSU) – Derrius split carries with Fournette this past season, so he didn’t get many touches, but when he did he showed why NFL scouts rave about him. He totaled 1387 yards on the ground on just 183 yards. In the past LSU has been a heavy running game, and I expect that to stay the same. With the emergence of Danny Etling, it should prevent the safeties from dropping into the box, which will allow holes for the running game. NFL scouts have raved about Guices quickness and strength, while one scout said that it looks like he runs angry. Expect a huge season from Guice.
Sam Darnold (USC)– Darnold is coming off a season where he only started 10 out of the 13 games that USC played. He showed his ability where he led USC to 9 straight wins to finish the season 10-3. He also displayed a calmness in the last game against Penn State which you don’t find often in freshman. His athleticism was the attribute that helped him a lot mixed with his ability to throw on the run. The skill players that USC brings back should help him put up superb numbers this upcoming season. He’s one of the main reasons why USC is one of the favorites to win the title next year.
Deondre Francois (Florida State) – Deondre as a freshman this past year showed off an NFL type arm. Showing he could make any throw possible. He threw for an impressive 3350 yards with 20 TD’s to only 7 INT’s. His ability to make any possible throw with the ability to run, makes him a deadly quarterback. Deondre Francois is my sleeper this upcoming year to win the Heisman. He has two great receivers who will play on Sundays in Travis Rudolph and Kyler Murray. Also with the departure of Dalvin Cook, it should make this team more of a passing offense which should improve his statistics from this past season.
6. Coaches who are on the Hot Seat
Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) – After a 3-9 season, Brian Kelly is on the hot seat. Losing is not acceptable at Notre Dame and 3-9 is beyond bad for the talent and prestige of a school like that. I don’t expect for Notre Dame to be that bad this upcoming year, but you shouldn’t expect them to be good either. Brian Kelly has had turmoil surround him this past year, so if he doesn’t improve quick then he will be out even quicker.
Butch Jones (Tennessee) – Even though Tennessee finished the season 9-4 and beat their rival Florida to snap the streak, it was a disappointing season. The hype around them at the beginning of the year was enormous and we’re supposed to be title contenders. After starting the season 6-0, they lost 4 out of their last 7 games, including one to Vanderbilt. Midway through the season his starting tailback decided to transfer. This past year he also lost many players to graduation and the draft. Tennessee should be one of the teams in the SEC that should not improve and could possibly get worse. If they have another struggle of a season, he could possibly be shown the door at Tennessee.
7. What Conference will reign supreme this upcoming season?
Throughout the regular season the Big Ten was said to be the best division, but a horrible bowl season changed that. It brought up the question if the Big Ten was overrated. The BIG 10 was a horrific 3-7 in the bowl season, so what happened. The fact is that the BIG 10 was slightly overrated. Ohio State was demolished by Clemson and was average at best on the offensive side of the ball the whole year. Michigan was a solid team, but Wisconsin couldn’t beat a good team all year. The win against LSU was not against the team that LSU was at the end of the year. Penn State was horrific to start the season and the Ohio State game helped wake them up and since that game they have been a whole different team. The rest of the teams that finished behind them, were average at best. The ACC won 9 games in the bowl season and had the National Champion, but for the whole season that conference looked mediocre at best. The SEC wasn’t very good at least to their standards this past year, but the positive thing is that they are extremely young. Every team in the conference should improve and some teams can make huge leaps to title contenders. I truly believe the SEC will take the step back on to the throne this upcoming year. Georgia was young this past year and Jacob Eason should take the next step in the developing process, while they also added a top recruiting class. Alabama should still be the top dog and their shouldn’t be any explanation needed on why. LSU with their new coach (Orgeron) and his splash of creativity to the offense, should help them become a title contender. Also Guice will be the nation’s top back this upcoming season. The teams at the bottom of the division like Vanderbilt who finally became bowl eligible in a long time should ride that momentum to keep improving. Same goes for Arkansas, Kentucky and I also expect Mississippi state to improve with the excellent play of Nick Fitzgerald. In conclusion, the SEC are in prime position to take over the top spot again for the best conference.
8. Will we see an increase in players sitting out Bowl Games?
The biggest question heading into next season is how many players will sit out bowl games. Will there be an increase from last year or was last year just an anomaly? This past year we saw Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey sit out their respective bowl games. We also saw some non-notables sit out as well. They do this to prevent an injury that could hurt their draft stock. In Leonard Fournette’s case he was injured all year and has been playing through pain for his team, so this was the right decision. We saw Jake Butt a player who is arguably the best Tight End in the nation playing his bowl game and tear his ACL. Now we don’t know if that will hurt his draft stock, it is yet to be seen, but this is why players are deciding to sit out. Now we cannot tell these players that caring about their future is wrong but we worry that more players will follow their lead and bowl games will become meaningless. I believe that this upcoming year we will start to see top players who are possible first round draft picks sit out their bowl games because of the risk of injury. It won’t be a huge increase, but we will probably see around the same number of players who decide to sit out.