Wednesday, August 27, 2014

10 College Football Random Thoughts

As the last week of August has arrived so has the start of the college football season.  Here are ten quick thoughts.

1.)    PLAYOFFS?!-  This is what everyone was waiting for.  But the question remains if the four-team playoff will quell the college football postseason debates which the BCS always seemed to spark.  Fans probably would like to see it expand to eight but is it fair to teams to make the break in between conference championship games and the start of the playoff shorter or extend the season close to February?  This year most FBS conference championships will be played on December 6, with the playoff semifinals on New Year’s Day, followed by the National title on January 12.  It’s worth monitoring how this pans out as there will surely still be postseason debates about teams left out of the playoff which will prompt discussions about revisions.

                                                 Getty Images
Jameis Winston could be in line for a
second straight Heisman Trophy this year.
2.)    Time’s yours, Jameis- Noted crab leg enthusiast, reigning Heisman trophy winner, and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has made the headlines a lot both on and off the field during and after his Heisman season.  With defending champion Florida State at the top of polls as the season gets underway nothing short of a repeat is expected and Winston will have to perform similarly to the way he did a year ago.

3.)    Quack Quack- Oregon is once again in the top five to start the year.  The Ducks missed out on a BCS bowl game last season but won the Fiesta Bowl two years ago and the Rose Bowl in 2011.  Quarterback Marcus Mariota is receiving early Heisman trophy recognition.  In an improved Pac 12 can the Ducks remain at the top come December?

4.)    Boomer Sooner- I like this Oklahoma team.  They had a very impressive 45-31 victory in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama to close out 2013 in which quarterback Trevor Knight looked crisp throwing for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns against a stout Alabama defense.  Can Knight have success over the course of a full season?  Oklahoma will be tested on November 8 against Baylor but other than that could realistically go undefeated this season en route to the Big 12 title game.

                                                 Getty Images
Don't be surprised if Nick Saban and
Alabama are one of four teams left on
New Year's Day.
            5.)    Crimson Tide the top dogs in the SEC- There’s some new faces in Tuscaloosa this year but Alabama still figures to be a national powerhouse.  Jacob Coker and Blake Sims were both listed as starting quarterbacks on Alabama’s first depth chart but Alabama remains strong defensively and has the playmakers in the backfield and in the passing game to allow for a feeling out period for the coaching staff and these two

             6.)    Auburn…lucky last year?- How many times have the chaos of last year’s iron bowl shown on Sportscenter? Or how about the Hail Mary to win the game against Georgia?  Yes, Auburn was a late-game drive by Florida State away from hoisting the Coaches Trophy but there are plenty of skeptics as to the legitimacy of Auburn’s run to the National Championship last year.  Auburn will have plenty of chances to prove themselves this year with games against LSU, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama in conference this year.

       7.)    What’s going on in the Big Ten?- Things certainly opened up when Ohio State lost Braxton Miller for the year.  I think it’s Michigan State, Wisconsin, and then everybody else but if a team can upset one of those two and get hot in what looks to be a weak conference who knows?

8.)    Can the Pac 12 rival the SEC as the nation’s best conference?- The SEC has eight teams in the AP top 25 and the Pac 12 has six.  Oregon and UCLA are in the top ten for the Pac 12 while Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina are for the SEC.  Perhaps two of these five teams could meet in the playoff.  It will be interesting to see how strong the Pac 12 is from top to bottom compared to the SEC which has obviously dominated college football in recent years.

                                              Getty Images
Expect to see a lot of this guy on your
television screens on Saturday afternoons.
9.)    Quarterback preview- A Jameis Winston-Marcus Mariota showdown in the National Championship would be fun.  But Bryce Petty of Baylor, Brett Hundley of UCLA are two guys to keep an eye on as well as aforementioned Trevor Knight in Oklahoma and don’t forget about Nick Marshall at Auburn who will have a more important role in that offense with Tre Mason gone.

10.) Why Melvin Gordon will win the Heisman- Save the best for last.  I believe Melvin Gordon flashes the pose in New York this year.  He’ll be aided by what looks like a weak Big 10.  In addition the Badgers are set to start junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy who is relatively unproven so I expect a heavy dosage of runs in their offense and with James White gone to the NFL that means a lot of Gordon.  Gordon is an explosive playmaker who I think can overcome the fact that defenses should be game planning around him.  Sooner or later the running back Heisman drought had to come to an end right?


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

NFL 2014 Season Predictions

With the NFL preseason underway, there’s no better time to go through each division and predict the playoff teams and super bowl outcome.

*Numbers in parentheses are teams’ playoff seeds

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles (4): 10-6
New York Giants: 9-7
Washington Redskins: 8-8
Dallas Cowboys: 6-10

Analysis: The Eagles upgraded their secondary in the offseason with several acquisitions most notably the signing of former New Orleans Saints safety Malcom Jenkins.  Another problem on defense for the Eagles last season was their pass rush.  This remains questionable as first-round draft pick Marcus Smith’s implementation into the defense may not yield an immediate impact.  Despite the release of DeSean Jackson I expect the Eagles to again be one of the NFL’s best offensive teams and this should be enough for them to defend their division title.  The Giants are the biggest challengers.  If Eli Manning does a better job taking care of the ball they should improve on their 7-9 record from a year ago.  The Redskins are interesting.  Like the Eagles, they shouldn’t have a problem scoring points with an abundance of weapons on offense.  But their defense will hold them back from contending for a playoff spot.  If the Redskins defense will hold them back, then the Cowboys ought to not bother playing this season.  While they too have weapons on offense, the loss of Sean Lee for the year to what was already a below average defense could find the Cowboys last in lots of defensive categories.

NFC North
Green Bay Packers (3): 11-5
Chicago Bears (6): 10-6
Detroit Lions: 7-9
Minnesota Vikings: 4-12

Analysis: The Packers won the division last year and Aaron Rodgers missed close to half the season.  They’ll be a Super Bowl contender with their top-notch signal caller back healthy.  The Bears probably should have won the division last year but got blown out by the Eagles week 16 and choked away the winner-take-all division game week 17 at home against the Packers.  They’ll have to improve on defense against the run but offensively Jay Cutler and company should score a lot and win enough to be a playoff team.  The Lions are another team, like Washington and Dallas in the NFC East, whose offense will score but defense will let them down preventing them from competing for the playoffs. Minnesota just isn’t ready to win yet and will likely use the year to see what they have in rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

NFC South
New Orleans Saints (1): 13-3
Atlanta Falcons: 9-7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 8-8
Carolina Panthers: 7-9

Analysis: The Saints are another prolific offense led by Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham so it may be easy to overlook the job Rob Ryan did with their defense last year.  The Saints were fourth in total defense a year ago. They lost Malcolm Jenkins but they replaced him with Jairus Byrd in free agency to play alongside Kenny Vaccaro in the secondary.  Pass rushers Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette tallied 12.5 and 12 sacks respectively last season and both figure to wreak havoc for quarterbacks in 2014 as well.  The Falcons lost a lot of close games last year and also lost their best wide receiver Julio Jones in the first half of the season.  Steven Jackson also missed time last year as well for Atlanta.  So I think they’re better than their 4-12 record from last year indicates but their defense isn’t good enough to get them into the playoffs.  Tampa Bay will be improved with the addition of Josh McCown, Doug Martin back healthy, and Lovie Smith calling the shots on the sideline.   It’s weird seeing a team go from first to last but I think the other three teams in this division will be better and the Panthers won’t be able to score enough points to get back into the playoffs.

NFC West
San Francisco 49ers (2): 12-4
Seattle Seahawks (5): 11-5
Arizona Cardinals: 10-6
St. Louis Rams: 8-8
Analysis: Despite NaVorro Bowman’s injury, I think the 49ers have enough defensive depth, and will be able to score more points this year with Michael Crabtree healthy at the beginning of the year unlike last season, to win the division.  Seattle plays a tough schedule and while their defense is still phenomenal, I think the lack of offensive firepower catches up to them a little bit during the regular season, enough to have to settle for a wild card.  Arizona is another team with a strong defense but has too many question marks on offense for me to see them as a playoff team.  The Rams should be better this season, but to make the playoffs out of the NFC West you’ll have to be better than 8-8 and St. Louis isn't that good just yet.

AFC East
New England Patriots (1): 13-3
New York Jets (6): 9-7
Buffalo Bills: 8-8
Miami Dolphins: 7-9

Analysis: New England is the cream of the crop in this division and it’s hard to see any other team getting in their way this season.  That said, don’t sleep on the Jets.  They won eight games last year with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.  They added Chris Johnson and Eric Decker in the offseason.  Whether their quarterback is Geno Smith or Michael Vick this season, expect the Jets to run the ball a lot and ask the starter to manage the game and take care of the ball.  Rex Ryan always has his defenses ready to go and I expect the Jets defense to keep them in enough games to sneak into the playoffs.  Buffalo moved up in the draft to grab explosive playmaker Sammy Watkins to go with their explosive running back CJ Spiller.  However they’ve had some injuries on their defense, most notably linebacker Kiko Alonso and so it’s hard to see them elevating themselves into the playoffs this season.  The Dolphins lack the weapons on both sides of the ball and will probably finish below .500 this season.

AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers (4): 10-6
Baltimore Ravens: 9-7
Cincinnati Bengals: 9-7
Cleveland Browns: 5-11

Analysis: This division is a three-team race but I like Pittsburgh.  I think they’ll play a smash mouth style this year with a lot of Le’Veon Bell on the ground and Antonio Brown figures to be explosive in the passing game.  Baltimore regressed last year as defending Super Bowl champions and maybe Gary Kubiak helps their offense become a little more explosive.  The Ravens were 29th in the NFL in total offense and 25th in points scored.  Cincinnati will be good but not good enough as I think Pittsburgh and Baltimore will be improved preventing Cincinnati from another division title.  Cleveland will spend the year hoping they’ve found their quarterback of the future as the battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel has started in training camp.

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts (2): 12-4
Houston Texans: 6-10
Jacksonville Jaguars: 4-12
Tennessee Titans: 2-14

Analysis: The worst division in football.  But Indianapolis is legit.  Andrew Luck and company should win the division with ease and I expect a bounce back year from Trent Richardson as I look for the Colts to earn one of the first-round playoff byes in the AFC.  Houston is still looking for a quarterback and outside of Arian Foster and an aging Andre Johnson has limited weapons on offense.  But expect their defense to show promise and obviously keep an eye on rookie pass rusher and first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney.  Jacksonville appears to want to groom Blake Bortles under Chad Henne this season and added wide receivers Marquise Lee and Allen Robinson in the draft to aid Henne in the passing game.  Gus Bradley is a defensive guy and they should be respectable on defense like Houston.  Tennessee might be the worst team in football this season.  I don’t think Jake Locker is the quarterback they should move forward with and the Titans are just a team devoid of talent at the skill positions.

AFC West
Denver Broncos (3): 12-4
Kansas City Chiefs (5): 11-5
San Diego Chargers: 8-8
Oakland Raiders: 3-13

Analysis: Denver is back and should win this division for the fourth straight season with their high-powered offense and improved defense after adding DeMarcus Ware and TJ Ward in the offseason. Kansas City again will be in the mix in this division but I can’t see enough offensive firepower outside of Jamaal Charles for Kansas City to move past Denver.  I think San Diego takes a step back this season.  Philip Rivers had a very good year last season posting a single season career high in completion percentage and throwing for the second most yards he has in his career in any one season.   I don’t see Rivers duplicating that nor do I see San Diego’s defense carrying them back into the playoffs.  Oakland will challenge Tennessee for the number one overall pick in 2015.


Wild Card Round
(6) Chicago over (3) Green Bay
(5) Seattle over (4) Philadelphia
(3) Denver over (6) New York (A)
(5) Kansas City over (4) Pittsburgh

Divisional Round
(1) New Orleans over (6) Chicago
(2) San Francisco over (5) Seattle
(3) Denver over (2) Indianapolis
(1) New England over (5) Kansas City

Conference Championship Round
(2) San Francisco over (1) New Orleans
(1) New England over (3) Denver

Super Bowl XLIX
(2) San Francisco over (1) New England

Analysis: My gut feeling is that San Francisco is on a mission after falling just shy of the Super Bowl two years ago against Baltimore and just short of appearing in another Super Bowl after falling to division rival Seattle in the NFC Championship game last year.  They’ll win the division this year which will pay dividends come playoff time when I expect them to see Seattle again except this time in San Francisco.  New England and Tom Brady will make a push for another Super Bowl but run into a hot defense yet again and be stymied by the 49ers in the Super Bowl.  Happy football season!