Earlier this week, I was a guest on the Triple Threat, the top ranked sports radio show in the city of Houston. Ted Johnson, a three time Super Bowl winner with the Patriots and an All-American linebacker with the Colorado Buffaloes, asked me a question that really stumped me.
“John, is Penn State’s Saquon Barkley the best running back since Barry Sanders?”
My mind started racing. Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in 1988 after the greatest rushing season in college football history, but that was nearly 30 years ago. There have been some great college running backs in that time, but were any of them at the level of Sanders? More importantly, were any of them in the class of Barkley?
Barkley strung together one highlight reel play after another on Saturday night in Iowa City against the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Nittany Lions came from behind to win the game on the final play of the game, but they would’ve been upset had it not been for Barkley’s performance. He finished with 211 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown and recorded 12 receptions for 94 yards in addition. Tack on 53 yards on kick returns and he finished with a Sanders-like 358 all-purpose yards. On national television. On the road. In a must win conference game situation.
40 touches. FORTY is just phenomenal, but every single time he touched the rock, he produced a “did you see that kind of moment?”. Penn State blew out its first three opponents, so he had plenty of time to stock up for the matchup with Iowa.
He faces Indiana on Saturday in Happy Valley with another opportunity to show the nation that he’s not only the best back in the nation, but the best player in the nation. Perhaps the best since Barry Sanders too.
By: John Harris
Back in the 1980s, fans around professional sports started a movement called the Wave. You’ve seen it. Fans standing intermittently throughout a Stadium; lo and behold, it looks like a wave of humans moving, hence the name.
Well, the good people of Iowa have started a new version of the wave and this one, oh, this one is special. It started on September 2 when the Hawkeyes took on the Wyoming Cowboys in the opening game of the season. During the first quarter, the Iowa fans, in unison turned their backs to the field and waved.
Yes, they turned and waved. Why? Kids.
Construction on the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital was completed in February 2017 and the upper floors overlook Kinnick Stadium. Kids of all ages, dealing with numerous complications and illnesses, occupy the rooms on the floors of the Children’s Hospital and the Hawkeye fans decided, all 67,000+ in unison, to pay their respects and wave hello to the kids watching from above in their rooms. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been one of the Hospital’s champions, donating over a $1M to the Hospital, so the tone from the top has consistently been one of generosity, support and, most importantly, love.
So, how did the Wave, Iowa style, come to be? Well, through social media, of course. Back in the spring, on the popular Facebook page Hawkeye Heaven, a follower named Krista Young suggested that that fans should wave to the kids in the hospital during a game at Kinnick Stadium. Levi Thompson, who runs Hawkeye Heaven, took the idea and ran with it and the smiles haven’t stopped coming from those kids at the hospital and the waves will never stop from the fans in black and gold…and the tears haven’t stopped coming from the parents sitting by the kid’s bed side.
The Hawkeyes are 3-0 and will face one of the best teams in the country, Penn State on Saturday night. They may take an L against a tough Nittany Lion team, but right now, the Hawkeyes are number one in a lot of kids’ minds and that’s all that really matters.
By: John Harris
There hasn’t been a Heisman Trophy repeat winner since 1975. For you Millennials, that’s a long time ago, so long ago in fact, that it’s before cable TV was invented. You know, that cable TV that they’re seemingly cutting out of their lives going forward. But, I digress. The history of no repeat winner is so stark, and true, that heading into the 2017 season, no one gave Louisville mega-weapon quarterback Lamar Jackson a chance in Hades of winning this prestigious award again. Heck, analysts and national media didn’t even name him the 2016 Heisman winner a Preseason All-American at the position.
Yet after two weeks of the 2017 season, Jackson has everyone’s attention…again. He’s accounted for eight touchdowns and 1,010 yards of total offense. Oh, and he’s not thrown an interception, either. He led Louisville to wins over much improved Purdue and conference foe North Carolina in the process. Similar to the way that he started 2016, Jackson has strung together highlight reel plays and prodigious numbers as no other player has to start the 2017 season.
But, Clemson is up next. The defending champs just held Auburn to six points and sacked Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham ELEVEN times. That’s no misprint. ELEVEN. Last year in Death Valley, Jackson won the battle, but his Cardinals lost the war. He put up 295 yards through the air and 162 on the ground in one of the best games of the 2016 season, yet the Cardinals lost. This week, the Tigers come to Louisville and Jackson has a chance to ruin their visit and win over even more non-believers.
If he does, maybe the repeat Heisman bandwagon will start to fill up with converts.
By: John Harris
The 2017 NFL Draft concluded Saturday after 253 picks, but it took just one pick for the Texas Bowl to be represented in Philadelphia. Texas A&M star Myles Garrett, who played in the 2015 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff and the 2016 Texas Bowl, got the first call of the draft from the Cleveland Browns. The 6-4, 272 lb. star was the consensus all the way throughout after playing his last game in Houston against the Kansas State Wildcats.
Along with Garrett, there were four other Aggies that played in both the 2015 Kickoff and 2016 Bowl game – wide receiver Josh Reynolds, guard Jermaine Eluemunor, safety Justin Evans and fellow defensive end Daeshon Hall, who opened the 2015 season in grand style with four sacks.
The four teams that played in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff and the Texas Bowl in 2016 accounted for 14 draft selections.
Houston had outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, cornerbacks Howard Wilson and Brandon Wilson. Oklahoma saw RBs Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, receiver DeDe Westbrook and linebacker. Kansas State had two players taken – Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jordan Willis and linebacker Elijah Lee. Texas A&M had five players selected, noted above. All in all, 14 future NFL draft picks came through NRG Stadium in the two bookend games in Houston in 2016.
Of those 14, three were taken in the first two rounds – Garrett, Evans and Mixon. All in all, six of the 14 were selected on the first two days, within the first three rounds.
That was just from the 2016 game. The Texas Bowl and/or the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff were represented by two of the top four picks (Garrett and Leonard Fournette, LSU – 2015 Texas Bowl) and three of the top ten (Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech – 2015 Texas Bowl). Tre’Davious White, LSU was the other Texas Bowl representative in the first round as Buffalo selected him at pick No. 27 after their trade with the Chiefs.
Who did the Chiefs trade up to get?
That’s right Mahomes. So, the Chiefs and Bills made that trade and the two players selected were Texas Bowl alums.
LSU led the way with former Texas Bowl teams with eight selections, led by Fournette at number four to Jacksonville, Jamal Adams number six to the Jets and White to the Bills at number 27.
It was a tremendous weekend for alums of one of the best bowl and kickoff games in the nation.
By: John Harris
Mother nature might have played as big a role as any player or coach on Saturday in Baton Rouge for LSU’s annual spring game. Before the storm hit, though, the purple and gold assemblage got a chance to see what SEC defenses will learn in due time.
Matt Canada’s offense is no joke.
Shift, motions, tackle over, shovel pass RPOs, tackle eligible passes and numerous other wrinkles had some LSU fans wondering what, in fact, they were watching. And, as it’s only the spring game, LSU’s new energetic offensive coordinator has plenty in his back pocket for the regular season.
The days of true two back, 21 and 22, I-formation personnel are all but gone on the Bayou. The Tigers will throw a litany of formations and play schemes that SEC defenses have NEVER seen from LSU. There are split plays where one side of the formation runs one play and the other side runs another. Canada’s innovation will have heads spinning for a while and it may take a while for it to completely click.
When it does, though, whooo boy, look out.
Oh, did I mention that LSU has arguably the best running back in the nation? I didn’t? Where are my manners? When defenses focus completely on star back Derrius Guice, there will be lanes and openings for a myriad of other offensive stars, including receiver/slot/speed sweeper D.J. Chark, now donning Leonard Fournette’s number seven. Guice, though, stands to gain the most, in some sense, because he won’t spend his entire day ramming his 5-11, 212 lb. body into eight or nine man stacked boxes. He’s going to have as much space to exploit as any back in the country and that’s not a good thing for SEC foes. He’s also going to get more involved in the passing game as he did on the first drive of the game, catching a flat route well ahead of coverage, down to the half yard line. A false start penalty cost LSU’s gold team the touchdown, but it was a sign of things to come with Guice, like Pitt’s James Conner last year, as a key receiver in this scheme.
And, no, your TV wasn’t play fast forward either; the Tigers now play as fast as any team in the conference, sprinting up to the line of scrimmage after first downs and nearly every other play. Now, there’s a difference in playing fast and playing fast effectively. A team can’t just focus on the speed of play, but the efficiency and execution while playing fast. Canada learned that he can combine the innovation of his playbook with pace of play and make it dangerous combination for SEC defenses.
It’s going to be fun in Baton Rouge this season, that’s for sure, and it starts at NRG Stadium September 2nd, 2017.
By: John Harris
One of the great parts about college football is its constant change. Players have to wait three years between graduating high school and declaring for the NFL draft, which creates enough time for stars to develop while also leaving a regular cycle of talent moving in and out of college lineups. Combined with graduation and transfers, college rosters have a significant level of turnover.
This can be good for fans, at least those who are open to new, exciting things. The movement gives new talent an opportunity to emerge on a yearly basis. Some might be expected, but some are more surprising. Here’s a list of 10 players who’ll emerge this fall and show significant improvement, shocking college football with their improved production.
The toughest part of consistent success at Alabama? It might be cracking the starting lineup. Nick Saban and his staff regularly pull in ultra-stacked recruiting classes, which creates depth but can make it difficult for players who’d star elsewhere to make an impact.
Consider Rashaan Evans. The senior linebacker is athletic and a big hitter, but the presence of other stars like 2016 Butkus Award winner Reuben Foster has made it hard for him to shine regularly. He made his first career start in the 2016 Peach Bowl and stood out vs. Clemson in the national title game, making 11 tackles. He finished the season with 53 tackles, four sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Evans is firmly in line for a full-time starting role in 2017, which means he could approach Foster’s numbers (115 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and five sacks) from last season. Better late than never, right?
Two years ago, Jarrett Stidham looked like one of college football’s up-and-coming quarterbacks. Following Seth Russell’s season-ending neck injury, Stidham stepped into Baylor’s starting lineup and excelled before suffering his own season-ending leg injury. He threw for 1,265 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. But after allegations of sexual assault rocked Baylor’s program, Stidham transferred and didn’t play football in 2016.
He found the perfect landing spot at Auburn, where coach Gus Malzahn needs a steady passer after watching Sean White, Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III combine for 2,195 yards and 11 touchdowns against five interceptions last fall.
Stidham has a big arm and mobility, and while he’ll battle White for the job this spring, it’d be a big surprise if he didn’t win it and excel in Auburn’s fast-paced hurry-up, no-huddle offense.
Clemson broke through to win its first national title in 35 years last fall, but repeating brings significant challenges. The Tigers lost do-everything quarterback and two-time Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson, leading rusher Wayne Gallman, top tight end Jordan Leggett and their top two receivers in Mike Williams, who caught 98 passes for 1,361 yards and 11 scores last season, and Artavis Scott (76 catches, 614 yards, five scores) to the NFL draft.
However, plenty of talent remains in Death Valley. Junior receiver Deon Cain will be relied on heavily; he has had moments of inconsistency and discipline issues in his first two seasons, but he still had 38 catches for 724 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore.
He’ll be the clear No. 1 receiver as a junior, and with Williams and Scott gone, the door is open for him to pile up over 1,000 yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns, no matter who’s throwing him the ball.
Cain’s size, speed and deep-threat ability make him a strong candidate to emerge as one of the nation’s top wideouts and carry a big load for the Tigers offense.
When Rashan Gary arrived on Michigan’s campus last summer, significant hype followed him. Gary thrilled fans by signing with the Wolverines as the nation’s consensus top recruit in the class of 2016, but Michigan’s experienced defense allowed him to get his feet wet as a true freshman last fall.
He played in all 13 games but started none, making 24 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack.
This next season will be different. Michigan returns only one defensive starter, and Gary is a lock to start at defensive end. He has a ready-made body at 6’5″, 287 pounds and can slide between end and defensive tackle. With full-time snaps and excellent athleticism, Gary’s numbers will take a big leap upward as a sophomore.
2016 didn’t end the way Louisville or Lamar Jackson had hoped it would. The Cardinals finished the season on a three-game losing streak, going from College Football Playoff contention to a 9-4 final record. However, the dynamic Heisman Trophy winner returns for his junior season, and he’ll need to establish receiving targets following the graduation of James Quick and Jamari Staples.
The clear leading candidate? Junior Jaylen Smith. He had 27 catches for 599 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore and has game-breaking speed and ability. Now, he has playing time as Jackson’s expected No. 1 receiver and will see his numbers rise significantly as a result.
Tanner Lee’s transfer from Tulane to Nebraska following the 2015 season flew a little under the radar, and that’s understandable. Lee had a very average sophomore season starting for the Green Wave, throwing for 1,639 yards with 11 touchdowns against seven interceptions and completing 51.8 percent of his passes.
But Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s graduation creates opportunity in Nebraska’s pro-style offense, and Lee is poised to take advantage of it. Lee stands 6’4″, 205 pounds and has a very capable arm.
Assuming he beats out Patrick O’Brien for the job, he’ll have several speedy, effective receivers such as Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El as targets and a much better offensive line to protect him.
Lee should have better numbers under center for Nebraska than he did with Tulane as a solid fit in Mike Riley’s system.
Ohio State had a productive 2016 season, although it certainly didn’t end the way the Buckeyes had hoped. Ohio State made the College Football Playoff despite losing to Penn State and missing the Big Ten title game, but it suffered the most humbling defeat of Urban Meyer‘s tenure in a 31-0 Fiesta Bowl blanking at Clemson’s hands.
The Buckeyes return senior quarterback J.T. Barrett but must replace plenty of wide receiver talent with Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown and Dontre Wilson (who combined for 133 catches, 1,619 yards and 19 touchdowns) all gone.
While backups K.J. Hill and Parris Campbell return, one of the most intriguing prospects is sophomore Binjimen Victor. Victor had just four catches for 64 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown, but he will have the opportunity to shine in his second season in Columbus. He stands 6’4″ and blends speed and an athletic frame, which will give Victor an excellent opportunity to break out as one of Barrett’s favorite targets.
Following Chad Kelly’s season-ending knee injury, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze made a surprising decision in mid-November 2016, pulling a redshirt off true freshman quarterback Shea Patterson with just three games left in the regular season.
Patterson was regarded as one of the top recruits in the class of 2016 but was being groomed to start following Kelly’s graduation. Instead, he went 1-2 as the Rebels starter, throwing for 880 yards with six touchdowns against three interceptions while completing 54.5 percent of his passes.
Ole Miss won’t go to a bowl game as part of its response to an ongoing NCAA investigation, but the Rebels will give SEC defenses trouble with a wide receiver corps that will include Van Jefferson, A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge, all capable of making game-breaking plays. And Patterson should be more comfortable in the starting role and put up big passing numbers surrounded by that talent.
Stanford has a major void in its offense this fall following the departure of Christian McCaffrey. The 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up set the NCAA single-season all-purpose yardage mark as a sophomore, and even after battling through leg injuries and playing in 11 games, he still piled up 1,603 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior.
The Cardinal have a very capable replacement in junior Bryce Love, though. Love averaged 7.1 yards per carry and rushed for 783 yards and three scores in 2016, finishing the season with consecutive 100-yard rushing games. With consistent first-string carries, he has the potential to double his yardage and touchdown numbers and emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top backs this fall.
It might be hard to believe, but Will Grier was once considered one of the top quarterbacks in the class of 2014. He has traveled a long road from that status to becoming West Virginia’s expected starter this fall. Grier redshirted at Florida in 2014 and emerged as the Gators starter the following fall.
He led Florida to a 6-0 start while throwing for 1,204 yards with 10 touchdowns. Then he was hit with a one-year NCAA suspension following a positive test for performance-enhancing substances and subsequently transferred to West Virginia.
Following a transfer season, he’s expected to be eligible to start in the fall, and he should be a perfect fit in Dana Holgorsen’s fast-paced offense. With a full season to show his skills, Grier will make a big impact in the Big 12 and show major improvement in 2017-18.
It’s the middle of NFL Combine and March Madness season right now, but before you know it, college football will be back. As the best former college players are showing off for NFL teams and the best basketball teams are preparing for post-season runs, lets take a look at who some of the best college football players could be next season.
William Hill US released a futures 2017 Heisman Trophy odds recently to give an idea of who are the leading candidates at this point. Here’s a look at the players with 100-1 odds or better:
|J.T. Barrett||Ohio State||QB||10-1|
|Deondre Francois||Florida State||QB||12-1|
|Saquon Barkley||Penn State||RB||15-1|
|Mason Rudolph||Oklahoma State||QB||15-1|
|Trace McSorley||Penn State||QB||20-1|
|Luke Falk||Washington State||QB||30-1|
|Nick Fitzgerald||Mississippi St.||QB||40-1|
|Mike Weber||Ohio State||RB||50-1|
|James Washington||Oklahoma State||WR||60-1|
|Derwin James||Florida State||S||75-1|
|Christian Kirk||Texas A&M||WR||75-1|
|Brandon Wimbush||Notre Dame||QB||75-1|
|Shea Patterson||Ole Miss||QB||100-1|
|Brett Rypien||Boise State||QB||100-1|
It will come as no surprise to anyone to see quarterbacks dominate this list. The top six current favorites and 23 of the 38 players with 100-1 odds or better are QBs. The group is led by a few experienced returning quarterbacks, including 2016 Heisman Trophy-winner Lamar Jackson.
Second in terms of position rankings are eight running backs, led by Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Rounding out the offensive players are a group of three wide receivers.
On defense, only four college football players are given 100-1 odds or better to win the 2017 Heisman Trophy, led by Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Florida State safety Derwin James (75-1 odds).
Another interesting angle of these odds are the number of players who are incoming freshmen or transfer players with little game experience. Many players later on in the odds have yet to take a college football field.
Heisman odds are constantly being updated, but it’s always fun to look back and see who was pegged a leader long before the season began.
Heading into the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, much of the talk centered around the four potential first round quarterbacks, including Texas Tech star Patrick Mahomes, and top overall pick candidate Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. The Aggie star’s last game was the Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium and this would be the first time we’d seen him, publicly, since.
Yet, it was the defensive end wearing purple on the other sideline that night that may have been the revelation of the Combine. Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, but he received about 0.10% of the hype that Garrett did heading to Indianapolis. On Sunday in Indianapolis, Willis was extraordinary. The 6-4, 255 lb. Wildcat ran 4.53 in the 40 yard dash, jumped 39” in the vertical jump, 10’+ on the broad jump and a sub-7 second 3-cone drill that was one of the best for any defensive linemen. Although he was a decorated player in Manhattan and had a tremendous showing in the Texas Bowl, not many scouts looked at Willis as a top three round selection. His Combine performance may force them to think otherwise.
Garrett, though, was the national star of the show. He measured 6-4 and 272 lb. with 35”+ arms. That was impressive enough; then, he took the field on Sunday afternoon. Wow! He ran 4.64 in the 40 and posted a 41” vertical jump. FORTY ONE INCHES…at 272 lb!! That’s ridiculous. He won’t have to do much at his Pro Day, although he did say he wasn’t completely satisfied with his 4.64. Perhaps, he has Jadeveon Clowney’s 4.53 mark on his brain.
When LSU’s Leonard Fournette walked to the podium for his press session on Thursday, he was one of the main attractions of the weekend. He had weighed in at 240 lb. the day before and the media were ready to know why, amongst other things. He told the assembled press not to worry about it; he’d crush it when he got on the Lucas Oil turf. The next day, he ran 4.51 in the 40 yard dash at 240 lb., one of the most impressive 40-times for any Combine participant.
The Texas Bowl participants over the past couple of years put on quite the display, like they did at NRG Stadium over the past few seasons.
By: John Harris
What defines a great college football offense?
Just because a team scores a bucketload of points or piles up yards doesn’t make it elite. It depends on the competition, it depends on the players and it depends on the ability to make key plays at key moments.
The kind of offensive firepower that can carry teams to conference and national prominence and compete at the highest level separates the strong teams from the best ones. All of that is taken into consideration as Bleacher Report attempts to predict college football’s top offenses in 2017.
That’s why prolific scoring teams on lower levels that are no-brainer stat-padders such as Troy and Middle Tennessee won’t be found on this list. Yes, those teams have great offenses, but would they be great on the highest levels of competition?
It’s hard to say. But the schedules those teams play leave the question unanswered. Instead, teams that have proven they can score in big-time games, such as USC, Clemson, Alabama and Ohio State, made the list.
Others with offensive masterminds at the helm, like Tom Herman’s Texas Longhorns, Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines and Dana Holgorsen’s West Virginia Mountaineers, did too.
Let’s take a look at the top 20 offenses for the upcoming season.
Michigan lost plenty off a team that was blessed with a massive senior class left behind by former coach Brady Hoke, sending an eye-popping 14 players to the NFL combine.
But there’s a reason why the Wolverines pay Jim Harbaugh megabucks to be the head football coach.
Offense is his specialty, and with the miracles he has worked with quarterbacks seemingly left for the scrap heap the past two years, it should be exciting news in Ann Arbor that Wilton Speight is back and ready for another season at the helm of UM’s offense.
Speight completed 62 percent of his passes a year ago for 2,538 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He’ll likely improve on that in his second year as the starter under Harbaugh’s tutelage. Pairing him with offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and new assistant Pep Hamilton will be big.
Chris Evans needs to be a workhorse at running back, especially since Michigan’s offensive line will be light on experience, and there are still concerns about Grant Newsome.
The loss of star tight end Jake Butt will hurt, but the Wolverines have talent at the position. At receiver, they lose Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh, but neither was an explosive game-changer. UM will add one of those in true freshman Donovan Peoples-Jones, who is good enough to star early.
This could be a transition year for Harbaugh before the Wolverines are consistently good, but don’t bet on it. Michigan has all the elements in place to have a good offense, even with such a difficult schedule.
Perhaps the most surprising team on this list may be head coach Bill Snyder’s Kansas State Wildcats. After all, those purple jerseys haven’t screamed “offensive firepower” since the days of Michael Bishop and Darren Sproles.
But the Wildcats could make a gigantic leap in 2017. They quietly finished 9-4 a year ago, and though they finished a measly 83rd in total offense, they still scored 32.2 points per game. In a Big 12 that won’t be as strong in 2017, those numbers should improve.
Kansas State returns quarterback Jesse Ertz and star sophomore running back Alex Barnes, and those two helped aid a ground game that averaged nearly 232 yards per game a season ago. Barnes experienced his breakout game in a four-touchdown performance against Baylor.
“He was a monster,” K-State senior receiver Deante Burton told the Wichita Eagle‘s Kellis Robinett after that game. “That kid is a beast, very hard to tackle. I loved his intensity. He knew we were going to lean on him, and a lot of guys with his age would have folded under that pressure, but he grabbed the opportunity and handled it like a fifth-year senior. He went out there and made big plays for us.”
The top two receivers (Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath) are back, and the Wildcats have experience on the line, too.
All of those things should add up to a strong offense to go along with perhaps the best defense in the league.
Some of the past few Auburn offenses have been grumble-worthy on the Plains, especially considering head coach Gus Malzahn is considered a guru.
For instance, there is little excuse for the egg the Tigers laid in Athens, Georgia, last year with so much on the line in a late-season loss. AU’s defense played well enough to finish the season with a much better record than 8-5.
But the Jeremy Johnson experiment failed over the past couple of years, and quarterback Sean White wasn’t dynamic enough to carry the Tigers offense in important moments. When he and stud running back Kamryn Pettway got hurt, Malzahn had no answers.
With Pettway returning along with Kerryon Johnson in 2017, the Tigers will be much improved with better quarterback play. Throw Baylor transfer signal-caller Jarrett Stidham into the mix along with redshirt freshman Woody Barrett, and you’d think AU will find an able quarterback.
The money here is on Stidham, who has a cannon for an arm, enough running ability to run Malzahn’s scheme and the swagger an athlete needs to play quarterback at a high level. The best thing for the Tigers is he’s got three years of eligibility remaining.
It’s going to be a fun quarterback battle to watch, and if the Tigers find one to go along with a more experienced offensive line and a bunch of young, talented receivers, AU should have a breakout season.
All of the ingredients are there to put up big-time numbers.
How can Texas lose one of the best running backs in the nation in D’Onta Foreman and actually improve on offense?
The short answer is new head coach Tom Herman.
A little bit of the luster may have worn off Herman during a midseason swoon at Houston last year after a breakout 2015, but it had to be difficult for the Cougars to play through all those coaching rumors swirling around their head man and the LSU and Texas jobs.
As it turned out, the Longhorns got their man, and he’ll pay big dividends in the future.
The cupboard Herman inherited from former coach Charlie Strong isn’t bare. Quarterback Shane Buechele started all 12 games as a freshman, and that means stability at the offense’s most important spot.
Throw in the fact Texas has seven scholarship running backs to fill Foreman’s shoes, led by Chris Warren, and there are enough playmakers to run Herman’s pro-spread attack.
“It will help Herman and his offensive staff that Strong opted for a wholesale move to a spread-based offensive system before last season,” wrote USA Today‘s Paul Myerberg. “Though the move didn’t save Strong’s job—and though the offense wasn’t nearly as productive as needed—the shift will pay dividends as Herman installs his potent scheme during the offseason.”
There’s a lot to like about the situation in Austin, and Texas recruited some strong players in Strong’s past two classes. The Longhorns just need the right man to make it all click.
The list now moves on from the team that fired Charlie Strong to the one that hired him. The situation in South Florida actually sets up nicely for the head coach who never really could escape negative headlines in Austin.
Now, Strong is back to his old stomping grounds of the Sunshine State where he excelled as the Gators’ defensive coordinator for so many years. He has proven he can recruit the state with the best of them while at Louisville, and the Bulls are thrilled to have him.
Strong will have one of college football’s most electric weapons around which to build in quarterback Quinton Flowers.
The 6’0″, 210-pound rising senior is the defending American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, and he will lead a prolific offense that was fourth nationally in scoring and 11th in total offense a season ago.
USA Today Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling called Flowers the “best college football player you don’t know about.”
Considering Strong inherited 15 starters, there’s no reason the Bulls can’t finish as the highest Group of Five team and be a threat for a major bowl game.
The loss of back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher Marlon Mack, who declared early for the NFL Draft, will be tough, but D’Ernest Johnson is ready to take over full-time. While USF lost leading receiver Rodney Adams, the next four leading receivers are back.
Yes, the loss of left tackle Kofi Amichia is a blow, but three other offensive line starters are back for what could be a memorable season.
The team with the most offensive firepower ranked low on this list due to the previous season is Georgia.
A lot of the untapped potential rests with rising sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason, who had all of the clout of a star coming out of high school but experienced his fair share of growing pains as a full-time freshman starter in the SEC.
There were flashes of brilliance but nothing close to resembling any consistency.
Eason will get a major boost in 2017 thanks to the return of a duo of senior running backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel who battled injuries in 2016 and never quite were themselves. Chubb especially returned from his gruesome knee injury and wasn’t 100 percent. A year removed from it, he should shine.
Those two should make the Bulldogs the favorite in a wide-open SEC East division that is there for the taking.
The loss of speedster Isaiah McKenzie at wide receiver hurts, but Terry Godwin and sophomore tight end Isaac Nauta should be emerging stars, and there are a lot of other young, talented players at skill positions, too.
With all the struggles the offensive line faced in 2016, that group will have a year to jell and also have an infusion of talent that will help it improve dramatically under assistant Sam Pittman in Year 2.
That’s why SEC Country’s Alec Shirkey noted he thinks offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is the SEC assistant facing the most pressure in 2017. If he doesn’t do it with all this talent, when will he?
The Dawgs should be very good on offense.
The biggest reason for a ranking this high for Washington State, of course, is an offensive mastermind at head coach in Mike Leach. But he just happens to have the perfect maestro to lead his unit in quarterback Luke Falk.
The NFL prospect elected to return for his senior season in Pullman, and that’s big news for the Cougars, who will need his experience and expertise, especially considering top-two receivers River Cracraft and Gabe Marks are gone to graduation.
Falk will run the “Air Raid” as well as it can be run next season, but he needs weapons around him. Junior Tavares Martin is a safe bet to break out and get a lot of those catches that left with the departures of Cracraft and Marks.
The numbers were gaudy for the Cougars in 2016, as they finished 18th in scoring offense and total offense. But the season was largely a disappointment because of all the midseason promise that fell flat toward the end.
“It was a mixed bag,” Falk said of the season to ESPN.com’s Ted Miller. “At times, we could have played a lot better, and at times, we played at a real high level. I wish we could have finished the season off right, but we’re fixing some things that need to be fixed. We’re getting our chemistry right.”
That’s why it’s so big that Falk returned.
James Williams is back after a 584-yard freshman campaign, and even though the Cougars will never be a run-oriented team under Leach, it’s good to have a productive runner like Williams.
If WSU can strike a little balance, 2017 could be a big year.
A team doesn’t just replace a generational talent in star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who took the Tigers on his shoulders to a national championship.
In addition to him, head coach Dabo Swinney must find a way to account for the losses of running back Wayne Gallman and targets Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett.
Just those four players, sans Watson, accounted for 65 percent of Clemson’s offensive touchdowns in 2016.
But there’s still a lot of experience coming back in the receiving corps thanks to Watson spraying the ball around the field, led by Ray-Ray McCloud, Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow. Tavien Feaster and C.J. Fuller have more than enough talent to excel at running back.
With a lot of strength coming back in the offensive front, that leaves the biggest question of quarterback.
It’s ludicrous the amount of talent the Tigers have at the position, even without Watson. Zerrick Cooper and stud incoming freshman Hunter Johnson are the two most talked-about candidates, and then there’s Kelly Bryant, Chase Brice and Tucker Israel.
Between those five, somebody will emerge.
That’s why it’s hard to see the Tigers taking a major step backward. An early-season out-of-conference test against Auburn will set the stage, and then the difficult ACC schedule follows. But with the way Swinney has recruited in recent years, he’s built what looks like a potential dynasty at Clemson.
This won’t be a national championship team, but it will still put up impressive numbers.
The TCU Horned Frogs, on paper, are loaded on offense in 2017.
According to SBNation’s Bill Connelly, the Frogs return 92 percent of their offensive production in 2017 from a team that finished 29th in total offense and averaged 31 points per game. That doesn’t mean they’re without fault.
TCU must get better in third-down conversions, as ESPN.com’s Max Olson wrote, and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of quarterback Kenny Hill. The days when he dubbed himself “the Thrill” at Texas A&M are over. Now, the Frogs just want him to be a steady player.
He must improve on an uneven 2016 season, and if he does, he’ll make up a nice duo with running back Kyle Hicks. Also, five of the team’s top eight receivers are seniors, so those veterans need to step up and prove they can be difference-makers.
Not only is co-offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie returning along with Curtis Luper, but the Frogs added a major coaching piece in former California head coach Sonny Dykes, who joined the staff as an offensive quality control assistant.
He gives head coach Gary Patterson an all-star staff on that side of the ball, and with the dearth of defense in the Big 12 along with Oklahoma having to replace a lot on that side of the ball, the conference is wide-open for some big offensive stats.
if TCU can get over that Sooner-sized hump, the conference is there for the taking.
Ohio State has become an NFL draft factory, much the way Alabama is in the South. That’s why head coach Urban Meyer must replace playmakers on both sides of the ball every year.
That’s no different in 2017 as receiver Noah Brown and running back Curtis Samuel left early. Offensive lineman Pat Elflein won’t be back, either. That’s just to name a few stars the Buckeyes must replace.
Thankfully, new Buckeyes offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will have a talented—if inconsistent—quarterback returning in J.T. Barrett to run the show. Wilson was a coup as the former Indiana head coach replaces the maligned Tim Beck, who was ousted following an uneven season calling plays.
Barrett didn’t help matters much most of the time, going from Heisman Trophy candidate to struggling to throw the ball downfield.
“We will become a good passing team, we will,” Meyer declared after the 31-0 College Football Playoff loss to Clemson, according to Land-Grant Holy Land’s E.L. Speyer. “Next year.”
If that’s going to happen, Wilson needs to get some of the talented players involved such as K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor and Austin Mack, along with incoming recruits Trevon Grimes and Jaylen Harris to go along with Jalin Marshall.
Depth at running back is an issue behind stud Mike Weber. Cleveland.com’s Ari Wasserman speculated DeMario McCall may be moved to H-Back, and he said a big question is whether JK Dobbins and Antonio Williams can push for playing time.
There are plenty of concerns for the Buckeyes on the offensive side in 2017, but Meyer and Wilson are a formidable duo with a ton of glowing pieces. They’ll find a way to put them all together.
Last season’s late collapse by Louisville could go one of two ways: First, it could mean college defenses around the country are learning how to scheme star quarterback Lamar Jackson. Or, it could mean Jackson spent this offseason working on diversifying his skill set to improve.
If it’s option B, the rest of the college football world should be scared.
The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is far and away the sport’s most dynamic player on this level, especially now that Deshaun Watson is gone to the NFL. But the onus is now on head coach Bobby Petrino and the rest of the Cardinals coaching staff to not put so much on his shoulders.
They’ve got to build a better team around him.
Jaylen Smith is a star receiver in the making, but Jackson must have more time to throw the ball. That’s why Petrino brought in former Florida offensive line coach Mike Summers to help solidify that unit.
At running back, Colin Wilson was a big signee who could come in and help a group that needs a proven playmaker with Brandon Radcliff gone. Jeremy Smith and Malik Williams return, as well as Trey Smith and Dae Williams, who redshirted this past year.
But Jackson’s top three receivers are gone from the team, and there are still plenty of reasons about which to be concerned. If the Cardinals can’t answer those questions, Jackson has proven he’s elite. But is he enough to win the biggest games without much help?
The final two games of 2016 answered that.
Dana Holgorsen may just have his muse in 2017 to run the type of offense he’d love to run.
Florida transfer Will Grier will be eligible following his exit from the Gators after his suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs. The last time he was on the field, he was flinging darts and looking like he’d be the next big thing in the Swamp.
All of that spiraled down the drain, but now, he’s got a golden opportunity for a memorable second chance.
That opportunity is even more impressive thanks to all the talent around him.
At receiver, Grier will be throwing to Ka’Run White and Shelton Gibson, who are dynamic playmakers with the ball in their hands. Behind him, there is Justin Crawford, who is returning from a 1,184-yard season. Sophomores Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway have talent, too.
With Holgorsen calling plays, that’s a group that can put up some Xbox numbers.
Even with the talent, there are some questions up front.
“There’s reason to feel positive about the right side of the line, where both starters return, and some optimism about overall tackle play, with two fairly experienced options at the staff’s disposal,” USA Today‘s Paul Myerberg wrote. “But there’s no sugarcoating the holes up front: WVU is going to struggle attempting to replace center Tyler Orlosky, for one. And as a unit, this line must improve its performance in the red zone.”
It’s not nitpicking to call out issues on the front; if a team doesn’t have an offensive line, it doesn’t have an offense. But if the Mountaineers can answer those questions, it could be a very nice season in Morgantown.
Get ready for the Ducks to soar again in 2017.
New head coach Willie Taggart is at the helm, and he has the coaching chops and the talent in place to succeed right away where former coach Mark Helfrich couldn’t.
The fall from grace for Oregon has been quick, but it isn’t like the Ducks have a dearth of talent. They should be one of the nation’s most improved teams this year and rebound from last season’s 4-8 debacle.
Quarterback Justin Herbert was a bright spot last season on a bad team, throwing for 1,936 yards and 19 touchdowns. The biggest recruiting coup for Taggart came when he convinced star running back Royce Freeman to return for his senior season after a junior year plagued by injuries.
“The prospect of playing for Coach Taggart my final year here was certainly a factor in my return,” Freeman said according to the Associated Press’ Anne M. Peterson. “His enthusiasm and vision for this program are contagious. I am certainly excited to be coached by him and enhance my development.”
With receivers Darren Carrington and Charles Nelson back, all of the elements are there for Taggart to come in and exceed expectations. Toss in four freshmen offensive linemen who will be a year more seasoned, and there is belief the Ducks could improve dramatically.
Perhaps the best news for Oregon is it doesn’t have to play USC in the regular season, which bodes well for putting up big offensive numbers. If the defense can improve under Jim Leavitt, the Ducks will win a lot more games.
Washington star quarterback Jake Browning threw up some gaudy numbers in 2016, but when the Huskies lined up against elite teams such as USC and Alabama, they fell flat.
The junior quarterback will be a year more seasoned, and that will show this college football season.
He’s going to have two star running backs behind him in Myles Gaskin (1,373 yards, 10 TDs) and Lavon Coleman (852 yards, 7 TDs), who will be as good as any returning tandem in the country.
There’s no way for head coach Chris Petersen to replace John Ross, who caught 81 passes for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns while running for a score and returning a kick for another one. But Washington has a group of players who could by committee.
Dante Pettis will be the bell cow of the group, and he is an electric player with the ball in his hands. If Ross’ production can be replaced, the Huskies will return to the College Football Playoff.
Receivers like Aaron Fuller, Andre Baccellia, Quinten Pounds and Brayden Lenius could combine for those numbers, and if they all emerge, it will mean more weapons for Browning. The offensive line is stout, too.
Washington’s schedule is pretty light, and the Huskies should take advantage of that. Without Southern Cal on the regular-season schedule, that’s a reason to think Petersen’s team will again be in contention for important games at meaningful times.
There’s simply too much returning firepower and too few obstacles on Washington’s slate to believe the Huskies will take a dip in 2017. The numbers will be there, and so will the wins.
For all of its defensive prowess in 2016, it’s easy to forget just how potent Alabama’s offensive attack was at times under Lane Kiffin.
Now that he’s gone to take over his own program at Florida Atlantic, the caretaker of all that talent on the offensive side of the ball will be handed over to former Patriots tight ends coach Brian Daboll. It’s safe to say the Alabama fans’ refrains of, “Run the dang ball!” will be inherited, too.
Daboll would be wise to listen.
With running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough returning, along with star prospect Najee Harris, the Crimson Tide will have an embarrassment of riches behind quarterback Jalen Hurts. That’s not even mentioning Joshua Jacobs.
At receiver, Calvin Ridley returns as one of the best pass-catchers in the nation. While ArDarius Stewart’s loss will sting, the Tide have a lot of other options, too.
The way head coach Nick Saban reloads the pantry with 5-star recruit after 5-star recruit each year, Alabama will have its share of jewels to choose from along the offensive front, and that will begin with rising star tackle Jonah Williams, who was elite as a freshman in 2016.
The biggest question for the Tide remains with Hurts, who was bad at times in key moments down the stretch. If he falters, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to see freshman Tua Tagovailoa get a shot.
Daboll has a wealth of options to throw a balanced attack out there that can still impose its will on teams with its running depth. In an SEC that is still on the mend, the Tide should be the elite team again, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if they were carried by their offense for a change.
Much like Clemson, Oklahoma must find a way to replace a bevy of talent from a prolific offense that torched scoreboards in 2016.
Unlike the Tigers, the Sooners get their leader back in senior quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield is a magician, extending plays with his feet, making things happen with his arm and turning dead-end plays into touchdowns. He’s a wizard when plays break down.
That may bode well in 2017.
The Sooners are going to be throwing Mayfield into life without running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon as well as Mayfield’s fellow Heisman Trophy finalist Dede Westbrook.
There will be plenty of time to find playmaking options thanks to what could be the nation’s top returning offensive line. That’s a relief for Mayfield, who has a lot of unproven weapons but a lot of options around him.
At running back, Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson return, but the most excitement perhaps revolves around incoming freshman Trey Sermon and JUCO transfer speed-burner Marcelias Sutton.
It’s Mark Andrews’ time to step up as Mayfield’s top target, but Jeff Mead and A.D. Miller have potential, too. JUCO transfer Marquise Brown has a lot of potential.
“Like the RBs, it’s not fair to assume there won’t be a small drop off for the Sooners in 2017 after replacing Westbrook, but Oklahoma will end up OK,” Brady Vardeman of SportsDay wrote. “OC Lincoln Riley has recruited well at the position during his time in Norman and there are plenty of athletes waiting in the wings.”
Head coach Bob Stoops has recruited well enough to load back up on future stars. The biggest question is how long will it take them to familiarize themselves with college football’s top returning quarterback?
Penn State is hardly ever known for its offense, but that changed in 2016 when head coach James Franklin found his key quarterback cog in Trace McSorley, and all of his recruiting victories began to fall in place in Happy Valley.
Though the Nittany Lions took Franklin from the edge of the hot seat to a Big Ten title, PSU’s season ended with a disappointing Rose Bowl collapse that enabled USC to come back and win. Still, it was a very successful season, and PSU has reason for excitement in 2017, too.
McSorley is back to lead what should be a high-octane offense. Star running back Saquon Barkley is back to anchor a potent ground game, and McSorley will have a bunch of options to throw to as well.
ESPN.com writer Brian Bennett tabbed PSU’s receiving corps/tight ends the best in the Big Ten on paper coming back in 2017, highlighted by the senior duo of DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki. That group would have been boosted even more, but Chris Godwin elected to forego his final season.
“What really puts this group over the top, however, is tight end Mike Gesicki,” Bennett wrote. “A rare big-time playmaker at his position, Gesicki is a go-to guy for Trace McSorley who is capable of making spectacular catches.”
Nobody expected PSU to come out of nowhere and be a contender in the Big Ten, yet the Nittany Lions won the league. Now, with the Wolverines and Buckeyes rebuilding somewhat, the conference is there for the taking again.
Franklin has the weapons in position to do that.
Florida State lost Dalvin Cook to the NFL, and despite one of the nation’s top playmakers being gone, the Seminoles will still be a terror to defend in 2017.
That’s because they’ve got everything on offense you could ever ask for.
At quarterback, Deondre Francois had some high and low moments in his first year starting as a redshirt freshman, but for the most part, he showed flashes of being a prolific playmaker who improved as the season wore on. In key moments late in the year, he looked good.
Many of his top targets return, even though Travis Rudolph left for the NFL. Though he and Cook will be big losses, they aren’t irreplaceable. The way Jimbo Fisher has recruited to Tallahassee, there are plenty of elite players waiting in the wings.
Perhaps the most exciting new name to watch is star running back signee Cam Akers, who may just be the best high school runner in the country. He’s the kind of player who can come in and make an immediate impact.
Akers will team with Jacques Patrick to give FSU another formidable offensive backfield.
Though the ‘Noles’ offensive line was a weak link in 2016, it won’t be this year. Landon Dickerson got experience and will be a much better player as a sophomore. Alec Eberle and Brock Ruble improved throughout the season, and they return as well.
So this may be considered a little bit high for some, but the Seminoles should be dynamic in 2017. If they are, Fisher may just have his team playing for the national championship.
There is no question the Oklahoma State Cowboys, head coach Mike Gundy and college football’s best head-coaching hairstyle have the Big 12 title in their sights for 2017.
With as much offensive firepower returning as they have, anything less would be a disappointment.
It all starts with quarterback Mason Rudolph, who will have stud receivers such as James Washington, Jalen McCleskey, Marcell Ateman and LSU transfer Tyron Johnson to fling the ball around to. Washington, especially, should have a big year after eschewing the NFL draft to return to Stillwater.
These Cowboys aren’t just a one-shot show, though. They’ve also got some running power in the form of Justice Hill, who was one of the nation’s most productive freshmen, running for 1,142 yards in his first college season.
Hill will miss spring drills after having shoulder surgery, but it doesn’t seem to be anything concerning Gundy, who told NewsOK.com’s John Helsley: “He had it fixed and now he’ll feel like new.”
That’s great news for Oklahoma State, which needs its star runner to be healthy. As good as Rudolph is, Hill is the type of player who can balance the strong passing game Gundy is known for developing and make the Cowboys a next-level team.
They’ve won 10 or more games in five of the past seven seasons, but this could be the year the Cowboys break through for bigger things. They’ve got the offensive stars in the right positions in which to do that.
Holding down the top spot as the most effective, efficient and electric offense that could carry its team to a championship level is Clay Helton’s USC Trojans.
With rising sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold at the helm, the Trojans are the emerging darlings of college football after a dismal stretch for the program over the past few years and the forgettable regimes of Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian.
USC’s rousing Rose Bowl comeback win over Penn State capped a brilliant season that started with Darnold on the bench watching the Trojans get shellacked by Alabama. That team came further than any other through the course of the season.
“USC is back in the national spotlight,” Sporting News’ Bill Bender wrote. “The question now is whether the Trojans can handle the high expectations in 2017 after a 10-3 season that culminated with a thrilling 52-49 victory against Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl Game.”
The answer is yes because of Darnold and the offense.
Yes, Juju Smith-Schuster is gone, but Deontay Burnett is capable of being a No. 1 receiver. Daniel Imatorbhebhe leads a group of players who should make up a talented stable of receiving options.
At running back, blossoming star Ronald Jones II is back following a 1,000-yard campaign, and Aca’Cedric Ware looks like he could be a playmaker, too. That’s not even mentioning the jewel of USC’s star-studded class in running back Stephen Carr.
There’s just too much talent on that side of the ball for there to be any drop-off at all. This is the year USC lights up the scoreboard and wins big.
Quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered on CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter: @Brad_Shepard.
Well, the 2016 football season ended in a pretty thrilling way when Clemson defeated Alabama 35-31 in the College Football Playoff championship thanks to a last-second touchdown. In case you already forgot — Clemson’s quarterback DeShaun Watson found wide receiver and former walk-on Hunter Renforw in the end zone to secure the victory for the Tigers. In case you want to relive the epic moment, check it out here.
But if you are ready for the 2017 season to begin, don’t worry — it’s coming soon. Stanford and Rice will kick off the football season when they face off in Sydney, Australia at Allianz Stadium.
If you’re in the United States, the season will officially begin on Saturday, Aug. 26, although it will be Sunday, Aug. 27 in Australia for the Stanford-Rice game. Also on Aug. 26, Hawaii and UMass will play at Gillette Stadium. There are then six games slated for Thursday, Aug. 31 and five games on Friday, Sept. 1, as of this writing.
On Saturday, Sept. 2, here are some other matchups that could be interesting:
Western Michigan @ USC
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (game will be played at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland)
Florida vs. Michigan (game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)
Alabama vs. Florida State (game will be played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia)
LSU vs. BYU (game will be played at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas)
Texas A&M @ UCLA
And we will have some Monday night college football action in Week 1 as well, when Tennessee takes on Georgia Tech. That game will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
We’ll be waiting for you, college football season.