Posts by Nate Wallace

SQ Rose Bowl Preview

After enjoying three of the six bowl games on Thursday, you better buckle up for an exciting slate of games on New Year's Day. One of those games is the Rose Bowl between Stanford and Iowa, which can be seen on ESPN at 5 p.m. EST.

Storylines Heading Into the Game 

Very Similar Offenses

When this matchup was

After enjoying three of the six bowl games on Thursday, you better buckle up for an exciting slate of games on New Year’s Day. One of those games is the Rose Bowl between Stanford and Iowa, which can be seen on ESPN at 5 p.m. EST.

Storylines Heading Into the Game 

Very Similar Offenses

When this matchup was first announced, one of the many things that came to mind was the similar offensive strategy of both squads. Nowadays, fewer and fewer offenses are using fullbacks, but Iowa and Stanford are arguably two of the most recognized teams for their use of a fullback. However, don’t think for one second that this game will be boring, because both offenses average over 30 points a game.

Can Iowa Complete a Dream Season?

Besides Iowa fans, it is fair to say that nobody really expected the Hawkeyes to have a 12-win season and play in the Rose Bowl, but they absolutely deserve it. Although Iowa’s schedule was a bit on the easier side, there is no denying what they were able to do against teams like Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Michigan State.

Kevin Hogan’s Last Game

Trying to follow up what Andrew Luck was able to do at Stanford would be a tall task for anyone, but Kevin Hogan stepped up and did a fantastic job. Totaling 9,215 passing yards and 35 wins over his four years in Palo Alto, Hogan led the Cardinal to three Rose Bowls, and is seeking his second Rose Bowl victory on Jan. 1 against Iowa. Now the question is: who will follow up Andrew Luck AND Kevin Hogan?

Key Stats

146- The average amount of rush yards that the Stanford defense allowed per game this season. Playing against a Hawkeye team that revolves their game plan around establishing the run, Stanford cannot let Iowa control the line of scrimmage if they want a shot at winning the Rose Bowl. In Stanford’s two losses (Northwestern and Oregon), their defense allowed over 220 rushing yards, so that will be something to watch as the game unfolds.

334- The average amount of total yards that the Iowa defense allowed per game this season. In a game that will feature Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, who finished second in the Heisman voting, it will be difficult to keep the Cardinal from racking up yards, but the 21st-ranked defense in the nation is capable of slowing down McCaffrey and company.

268- The amount of all-purpose yards that Christian McCaffrey averaged per game this season. In addition to his production in the run game, McCaffrey also returns kicks and is a very effective pass catcher. Basically, whenever the ball is in his hands, good things happen for the Cardinal.

Key Players

C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa

With the departure of Jake Rudock, Beathard was able to take over the starting job for the Hawkeyes and he didn’t disappoint. Throwing 15 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, Beathard efficiently ran Kirk Ferentz’s run-heavy offense to near perfection. If the Hawkeyes want to beat Stanford, Beathard will have to make sure his first few throws are on target so that the Stanford linebackers begin to back up, allowing some openings in the run game.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

The Heisman runner-up will be the main focus in Iowa’s defensive game plan, but preparing for him is one thing, lining up across from him in a game is a totally different monster. Moreover, McCaffrey has been the key to Stanford’s offense all season long and it will not be changing in the biggest game of the year. If you still need convincing, check out the highlight video above. 

Why Iowa Wins

Iowa can win the Rose Bowl if they are able to limit the big plays generated by Christian McCaffrey and win the line of scrimmage battle on both sides of the ball. Also, the Hawkeyes have the ability to put up points, and taking a few chances on some deep throws will open up the rest of Kirk Ferentz’s playbook. Iowa was kind of a “Cinderella” type of team this season, so it’s safe to say a Rose Bowl victory would be a great end to an awesome season.

Why Stanford Wins

Stanford can win the Rose Bowl if they play very disciplined on defense and win the turnover battle in a game where possessions will come at a premium. The Cardinal have the edge on offense and they have a chance to display it on a national stage, so there is no reason to hold back. Additionally, Stanford can help their chances if they are able to get a big play or two from McCaffrey on special teams.

Prediction

First of all, this is a must-watch game and if you don’t tune in for at least part of it, you better have a good excuse. Yes, it features two offenses that still use a fullback, but it also features two consistent quarterbacks, two solid defenses, and Christian McCaffrey. All in all, I think this game will come down to the last possession. Iowa will find enough success in the running game to open up the play-action pass that Beathard is quite good at, while Stanford will be playing against the best defense they’ve seen all year. My prediction is that the wild ride of a season for Iowa will end in a victory at the Rose Bowl.

Final Score: Iowa 24 – Stanford 21

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SQ Holiday Bowl Preview

With a highly anticipated slate of New Year's Six bowl games nearing closer, there are many other games still worth watching. One of those games is the Holiday Bowl featuring two teams with first-year head coaches: the Wisconsin Badgers and the USC Trojans. This matchup can be seen December 30th at 10:30 p.m. EST on ESPN.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

One Last Game for Senior

With a highly anticipated slate of New Year’s Six bowl games nearing closer, there are many other games still worth watching. One of those games is the Holiday Bowl featuring two teams with first-year head coaches: the Wisconsin Badgers and the USC Trojans. This matchup can be seen December 30th at 10:30 p.m. EST on ESPN.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

One Last Game for Senior Quarterbacks: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave has had quite an interesting career, from getting benched, struggling mentally, and losing confidence to having a chance to put his name in the Wisconsin record books. With a win over USC, Stave would become the all-time wins leader in Badger quarterback history. 

On the other hand, Trojan QB Cody Kessler has had many head coaches over his career at USC, including Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron, Steve Sarkisian, and Clay Helton. The Trojans have been ranked as high as No. 6 since Kessler became a starter but have never finished a season with less than four losses. The quarterback battle between these seniors will definitely be something to watch.

New Head Coaches: In his first year as head coach of Wisconsin, Paul Chryst was able to lead the Badgers to a 9-3 record, only losing games to teams who are currently ranked above them (Alabama, Iowa, and Northwestern). Essentially, Chryst’s squad beat whom they should’ve beat, but were unable to pull off any upsets, which is understandable with star running back Corey Clement missing most of this season due to injury. 

USC coach Clay Helton took over for Steve Sarkisian on an interim basis on October 11th, and the Trojans went on to finish 5-2 in their next seven games, which was good enough for Sarkisian to get the permanent job on November 30th. There is no question that a win in the Holiday Bowl would give both of these coaches a load of confidence heading into their second season.

Conference Supremacy: The PAC-12 conference is 4-1 in bowl games this year, while the Big Ten is 1-1. With the PAC-12 getting left out of the playoff and the Big Ten coming off a great regular season, an impressive bowl season could be in the cards for either conference. As for the USC Trojans, they have a chance to get revenge on the Big Ten after Nebraska beat UCLA in the Foster Farms Bowl.

Key Stats

13.1- The average points allowed by the Wisconsin defense this season and the lowest in the nation. This is important because the USC offense averages 34.9 points per game, so something has to give when they meet up in Qualcomm Stadium.

147.2- The average amount of rushing yards conceded by the USC defense this season. In each of Wisconsin’s three losses, the Badgers have been held to under 100 yards rushing, so if the Trojans want to have success on defense, it starts with stopping the run.

2- The number of consecutive years that USC has played in the Holiday Bowl. Last season, the Trojans beat Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, so they will be accustomed to all of the bowl week festivities and be able to focus on the game. It has also been two years since someone not named Barry Alvarez coached the Badgers in a bowl game.  

Key Players

Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin- As mentioned earlier, Stave has gone through some ups-and-downs in his career at Wisconsin, but he has an opportunity to leave the Badger fans with a smile. It is no secret that the Badgers want to run the football, but there will be a handful of plays in this game where Stave will have an opportunity to impact the game with his arm. And what he does with those throws could decide the game. Stave has 10 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions on the year, so the result will depend on which Joel Stave shows up.

Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC- With a lot of time to prepare for this game, expect the do-it-all athlete to be included in every facet of the game, perhaps even some trick plays on offense. Jackson is second on the team in receiving yards with 382, but most importantly he has the ability to completely change the game in one play.

Why Wisconsin Wins

Wisconsin can win this game if they are able to control the clock and run their offense without being in a hurry. Known for their running game, the Badgers could find success against an average Trojan defense, and Joel Stave has shown the ability to make big-time throws when needed. Also, in order to win the game, the Wisconsin defense will have to limit big plays against an explosive USC offense, which is possible because of the way that the Badger defense has performed this season.

Why USC Wins

USC can win this game if they’re able to spread out the Wisconsin defense and let their athletes (like JuJu Smith-Schuster and Adoree’ Jackson) make plays. With 1,389 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, Smith-Schuster and his quarterback Cody Kessler are never out of a game. If the Trojan defense can cause a few Badger turnovers by forcing Stave into bad throws, USC can win this game by a couple scores.

Prediction

This game will be interesting to watch because two contrasting offensive styles are matching up against each other. If Wisconsin running back Corey Clement was completely healthy, the outcome might be different, but he isn’t completely healthy, so it may be a long night for the Badgers. It will be close for a half, but I don’t think Wisconsin has enough firepower to stick with the Trojans for four quarters. On the other side of the ball, I think the USC defense is good enough to give Stave some trouble in the pocket and hold the Badger rushing attack to around 130 yards.

Final Score: USC 35 – Wisconsin 21

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SQ American Athletic Conference Championship Preview

Now that rivalry week is behind us, it’s time to follow up with our second-favorite week: conference championship week. This week SQ will be bringing you coverage of the numerous conference championships to be played out on Friday and Saturday. We continue our coverage with the earliest game played on Saturday (Noon EST); the AAC Championship, featuring Houston and Temple.

Storylines

Now that rivalry week is behind us, it’s time to follow up with our second-favorite week: conference championship week. This week SQ will be bringing you coverage of the numerous conference championships to be played out on Friday and Saturday. We continue our coverage with the earliest game played on Saturday (Noon EST); the AAC Championship, featuring Houston and Temple.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

New Year’s Six bowl appearance awaits the winner — If winning their conference wasn’t enough motivation for both teams, there is another huge incentive for the conference champion. With the two highest ranked non-Power Five teams facing off in No. 19 Houston and No. 22 Temple, it is basically guaranteed that the winner will receive a bid to a New Year’s Six bowl. In what will likely be the Fiesta or Peach Bowl, the AAC champion will have a chance to show the nation how good they truly are, when they face off against a Power Five squad or Notre Dame.

Whichever team draws the Houston/Temple winner shouldn’t take them lightly because of what has happened in the past. Last year, the Group of Five representative, Boise State, beat Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl 38-30. And the year before that, AAC champ UCF, led by Blake Bortles, defeated Baylor, also in the Fiesta Bowl.

Both head coaches getting interest from bigger programs — Due to their impressive seasons, Tom Herman and Matt Rhule have had to answer questions about coaching vacancies at schools like South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and Southern California. Both coaches have said that answering questions about other coaching jobs is nothing but a distraction to to their players. Herman, in front of his players, ended the rumor that he was going to be the new coach at South Carolina, and recently agreed in principle on a contract that would keep him at Houston.

Because this is something that both teams have dealt with all season, I’m sure that both teams will be completely focused on the game, but it could be in the back of the players’ minds.

Temple looking for first conference championship since 1967 — Two seasons ago, in Matt Rhule’s first season, Temple finished with a 2-10 record. Needless to say, things didn’t look great for Rhule. Fast forward to present day and Rhule has his squad primed for a big-time game and a chance to win the school’s first conference championship in 48 years.

Key Stats

33 — The number of touchdowns that Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. has accounted for this season. It is no secret that the Cougar offense revolves around the dual-threat QB who has rushed for 17 touchdowns and thrown for 16 more, all while only throwing 5 interceptions.

24 — The point total that Temple has reached or exceeded in all of their wins. In their two losses against Notre Dame and USF, the Owls, who average 32 points per game, failed to reach 24 points. Similarly, Houston has scored more than 24 points in every game except for their lone loss of the season against Connecticut, when they only scored 17 points. This game won’t be a defensive battle, but if one offense struggles in the first half, they may be in trouble.

117 — The number of rushing yards that both teams have allowed on average this season. Whichever team can stop the opposing team’s rushing attack will most likely win this game because the ground game is a huge aspect of both offenses.

Key Players

Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston- Greg Ward Jr.’s go-to receiver has had a spectacular season with 1140 yards, six touchdowns, and one ridiculous one-handed catch. 

If Temple wants to slow down the explosive Cougar offense, it will be extremely difficult to shut down Ward Jr. completely, so they might want to center their focus on Ayers. It wouldn’t be the first time that the Owls focused on shutting down a receiver; Temple nearly upset Notre Dame earlier in the season when they limited Fighting Irish star wide receiver Will Fuller to 46 yards and a touchdown. On the other hand, if Ward Jr. can consistently find Ayers through the air, it may be a long day for the Owl defense.

Jahad Thomas, RB, Temple — Put simply, the key to offensive success for Temple revolves around Jahad Thomas. The junior running back is 26th in the nation in rushing with 1188 yards and 17 touchdowns, while also being a dangerous kick returner. Unfortunately for Thomas, Houston ranks 13th in the nation in rush defense, so it will be a tall task for not only Thomas but the Owl offensive line as well. If Temple can establish the run against the Cougars, Thomas will draw extra defenders, which will open up the passing game for Temple QB P.J. Walker.

Projection- The American Athletic Conference Championship game will come down to which team can create points off of turnovers. Everybody knows both teams can put up plenty of points, but which team can take advantage of the other team’s mistakes? Under Tom Herman, Houston ranks third in the nation in turnover margin, while the Houston offense has been a well-oiled machine, averaging 500 yards a game. 

Temple will fight to the end, but Houston has too much offensive firepower, and remember: the game is being played in the Cougars’ stadium, so it is essentially a home game for Tom Herman’s squad. Houston wins 38-28.

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Is Iowa For Real?

For a few years now, many people, myself included, have harped on The University of Iowa football's weak schedule and inability to push their win total past eight games. Well, it finally seems as though Iowa is responding to the criticism. 

Kirk Ferentz has his squad playing great football, as they sit atop the Big Ten West standings undefeated at 9-0 (5-0

For a few years now, many people, myself included, have harped on The University of Iowa football’s weak schedule and inability to push their win total past eight games. Well, it finally seems as though Iowa is responding to the criticism. 

Kirk Ferentz has his squad playing great football, as they sit atop the Big Ten West standings undefeated at 9-0 (5-0 in Big Ten). The offense has looked great at times, and the defense is playing like the tough Iowa defenses of old. This Hawkeye team looks like a squad that is capable of earning a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl.  Let’s take a look at why Iowa is a legitimate contender.

1. Balanced Offense- The Hawkeyes have thrown on 38% of plays this season and this doesn’t include the called pass plays that resulted in a run by the QB. Why is this important? Well last year, The Ohio State Buckeyes ran a balanced offense, throwing on 37% of plays and they happened to have quite a season. While the rushing/passing splits don’t mean much if the offense isn’t effective, Iowa has been consistent and has shown that they have the chops to throw the ball when needed, despite having an impressive rushing attack. 

Running back Jordan Canzeri carried this Hawkeye offense in the first half of the season with 698 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. Against Illinois, Canzeri had 256 yards on 43 carries, but against Northwestern, he suffered a high ankle sprain which has ultimately sidelined him for a few weeks. In his place, Akrum Wadley has 426 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, including a four touchdown performance against the Wildcats. This week, Canzeri is probable to return against Minnesota, so it will be intriguing to see how Ferentz uses Wadley in the offense.

2. Limited Turnovers on Offense- It’s simple: if you don’t turn the ball over, you win football games. But seriously, a lot of credit needs to be given to the offensive line, which has paved the way for the ground game of the Hawkeyes and gives QB C.J. Beathard time in the pocket. With the departure of QB Jake Rudock -who is now the starter at Michigan- the job fell to Beathard, and he hasn’t disappointed. He hasn’t blown anyone away, but he has played within the offense and most importantly, avoided turnovers (only three interceptions), which is exactly what Kirk Ferentz wants out of his quarterback.

Overall, this year’s Iowa offense has been a breath of fresh air for Hawkeye fans who have suffered through seasons of predictable and inefficient play on the offensive side of the ball. However, critics wonder how the Iowa offense would do against a Michigan or Ohio State defense, and to that I say, we’ll find out in the Big Ten Championship game.

3. Ability to Create Turnovers on Defense- Cornerback Desmond King has been an absolute beast and definitely the MVP of the Hawkeye defense so far this season with eight interceptions, ranking first in the nation. 

As a whole, the Iowa defense ranks 12th in the nation in total defense, allowing just above 300 yards per game. No other game this year describes the dominance of the Hawkeye defense more than their game against a solid Wisconsin team, when they forced four Badger turnovers and held Paul Chryst’s squad to 86 rushing yards.

The most points that the Hawkeyes have allowed this season is 27 at Indiana, but holding Northwestern and Wisconsin to ten points each are worthy accomplishments. Iowa has the makings of a bend-but-don’t-break defense; teams may put together a solid drive, but the Hawkeyes will eventually force a turnover or hold them to a field goal. History has proven that defenses who can force turnovers and hold teams to field goals find themselves in contention for a national championship at the end of the year (example: Florida State in the 2013 season). 

4. On the Committee’s ‘Good Side’- The Hawkeyes control their own destiny in regards to winning the Big Ten West. Not to mention, the College Football Playoff Committee just ranked Iowa fifth in their new poll that came out on Tuesday night. They essentially have a one game (or more) cushion on everyone below them in the standings because of the tiebreak win over Wisconsin, which has only one conference loss. It is Iowa’s division to lose and with their remaining games (Minnesota, Purdue, and at Nebraska), I would be shocked if the Hawkeyes weren’t playing in Indianapolis on December 5th. As we saw last year with Ohio State, nothing bad can come from having one more game against a ranked opponent in order to impress the committee (unless you lose, obviously), while other teams (looking at you, Big 12 squads) aren’t playing.

So, are the Hawkeyes for real? Yes, they definitely are, and no team should take them lightly. A 12-1 record heading into bowl season would be a huge accomplishment and that is the record that most people (including myself) are projecting for Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ success is huge for the Big Ten and a win from them in (what should be) a New Year’s Six bowl game, would give the Big Ten some added respect, maybe even from a certain coach in the SEC who isn’t a fan of the “weak” schedules in the Big Ten.

Enjoy the last few weeks of the regular season!

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Overrated/Underrated: A Look at Which Teams Have Underperformed or Surprised in 2015 So Far

Throughout every college football season, there are teams which are expected to do great things but they end up losing five games but also teams which nobody expect to be good and they wind up being special. Let's take a mid-season look at the teams that have both surprised and underperformed.

Surprise Teams

Northwestern Wildcats- Beginning

Throughout every college football season, there are teams which are expected to do great things but they end up losing five games but also teams which nobody expect to be good and they wind up being special. Let’s take a mid-season look at the teams that have both surprised and underperformed.

Surprise Teams

Northwestern Wildcats– Beginning the season unranked, the Wildcats were only expected to win six or seven games, barely making a bowl game. Now, after a 5-0 start, they are all the way up to No. 13 in the AP poll, with a huge game against Michigan in Ann Arbor this coming week.  It would be a shock and a big disappointment if the Wildcats ended the season with anything less than 8 wins because they are playing great on both sides of the ball right now. Their defense is 5th in the nation in total defense and freshman QB Clayton Thorson has been fairly consistent.

Last week I wrote an article about Northwestern’s fantastic start this season and their chances to win the Big Ten West so I will leave this segment a little shorter than others. It goes much further into detail about each remaining game for the Wildcats and compliments the overall theme of this article very well.

Texas A&M Aggies– At the start of the season, A&M was sitting right outside the Top 25 and after five straight wins, they find themselves in the Top 10. In the season opener against Arizona State, not many people gave the Aggies a chance, as the Sun Devils were a hot pick for a New Years Six Bowl or even the Playoff, but the Aggies outplayed them.

Kevin Sumlin’s squad is led by QB Kyle Allen (1,274 yards and 13 touchdowns) and speedy freshman WR Christian Kirk (519 yards and 4 touchdowns). Kirk has not only impacted games on offense but also special teams, where he has flipped field position with his punt returns.


Defensive coordinator John Chavis has his defense playing much better than they have in past seasons. The Aggies are tied for 5th in the country in sacks and DL Myles Garrett (7.5 sacks and 25 tackles) is starting to get some Heisman consideration. So far, Texas A&M has surprised the country and they can do it again when they play Alabama in two weeks.

Florida Gators– After a frustrating 7-5 campaign last season which resulted in the firing of Will Muschamp, the Gators weren’t expected to be good for a few years. Everybody knew the Florida defense would be talented, but the offense had plenty of question marks. New head coach Jim McElwain has seemed to solve the offensive problems and now the Gators are No. 11 in the nation.

The country really took notice of Florida last week, after they handed No. 3 Ole Miss a 38-10 shellacking in Gainesville. In that game, freshman QB Will Grier (996 yards and 10 touchdowns) threw 4 touchdown passes in the first half!

As expected, the Florida defense has been playing great, but one of the big factors for the Gators this season is that they are forcing turnovers on defense and are not turning the ball over on offense (tied for 20th in the country for turnover margin). Almost midway through the season, it seems as if Florida and Georgia may battle it out for the SEC-East title. 

Utah Utes– The Utes were expected to compete for a PAC-12 title this season but they weren’t the favorites. Now they are, especially after they destroyed Oregon and shot up the polls to No. 5.


In addition to the victory in Eugene, Utah’s season opening win against Michigan is looking better each week, as the Wolverines haven’t lost since. Part of the Utes’ success is due to the fact that they aren’t hurting themselves, only being called for 18 penalties (5th in the nation).

RB Devontae Booker has contributed not only in the rushing game (443 yards and 4 touchdowns), but also the receiving game (15 receptions for 149 yards) and even the passing game (25-yard TD pass). It is still yet to be determined if the Utes are championship contenders, but they are definitely one of the surprise teams so far this season.

Underperforming Teams

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets– After finishing last year with a New Years Six Bowl win over Mississippi State, the Yellow Jackets began the season ranked No. 16 overall and have completely fallen apart. Playing a complete game has been a problem for Paul Johnson’s crew in the last three contests. For a much more in depth look at Georgia Tech’s tough start to the season, check out Christopher Paschal’s excellent article.

Auburn Tigers– Ranked No. 6 in the preseason, the Tigers have struggled since the season began. Against Louisville, QB Jeremy Johnson made some questionable throws that resulted in interceptions, but the Tigers found a way to win. Auburn was further exposed the next week, when it took them until overtime to beat FCS Jacksonville State, and even more the week after that, when Auburn traveled to LSU and Gus Malzahn’s team was dominated in every aspect.

Based on their performance so far this season, and their remaining games on the schedule, it seems unlikely that the Tigers will win more than seven games.

Arkansas Razorbacks– A popular preseason pick to reach a New Years Six Bowl, the Razorbacks had all the makings of a great team: a consistent QB, solid running game, and complete defense. However, when RB Jonathan Williams went down with an injury, it didn’t seem like Arkansas was even close to the same team. Losing to Toledo was the first of a three-game losing streak for the Razorbacks, but they were able to respond and beat Tennessee last week.

Bret Bielema and company probably won’t win more than six games, but perhaps they can gain momentum off of last week’s solid win.

Tennessee Volunteers– The Volunteers were a sneaky pick to win the SEC-East because of their successful finish to last season and the talent that they have recruited, but it won’t happen this year. Right now, Tennessee is struggling to finish games, and as a result, they are facing a possible 2-5 record with losses to Alabama and Georgia.

QB Josh Dobbs hasn’t played badly and the defense has played decently, but they need to break through and find a way to win games in the 4th quarter (which they couldn’t do against Florida).

Most importantly, remember that this is college football, and anything can happen. Some of these ‘surprise’ teams could find themselves at 6-6 at the end of the season, making their impressive starts very easy to forget. Time will tell — watch on!

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Does Northwestern Have a Realistic Shot to Win the Big Ten West?

The Northwestern Wildcats are one of the pleasant surprises so far this season, not only for the Big Ten but for college football as a whole. They opened the season with a bang, beating a very well-coached Stanford team that beat a talented USC squad on the road in Week 3. From there, the Wildcats have quietly taken care of business,

The Northwestern Wildcats are one of the pleasant surprises so far this season, not only for the Big Ten but for college football as a whole. They opened the season with a bang, beating a very well-coached Stanford team that beat a talented USC squad on the road in Week 3. From there, the Wildcats have quietly taken care of business, picking up a quality road victory against Duke along the way.

Entering the season, the Big Ten was expected to have two top tier teams (Ohio State and Michigan State) and a few middle tier teams (Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska) with Northwestern somewhere in the middle-to-low tier with the likes of Maryland and Iowa.

Four weeks into the season and things have shifted around a little bit. The #16 Wildcats are the third-highest ranked Big Ten team behind #1 Ohio State and #2 Michigan State. This surprising question now arises: Can Fitzgerald’s bunch can win the Big Ten West.

The answer is yes, but it won’t be easy by any stretch of the imagination. 

The Wildcats have been consistent on offense with QB Clayton Thorson throwing for 543 yards and 4 touchdowns, while RB Justin Jackson has totaled 516 rushing yards. Defensively, Northwestern has been great as well, ranking 11th in the country in total defense and tied for 5th in red zone defense. To see whether the Wildcats can win the Big Ten West, though, you must look at the Wildcats’ remaining schedule. Northwestern is fortunate that Michigan State and Ohio State do not make an appearance on their slate, but there are still some tricky games that could trip them up. 

Minnesota– October 3rd

This game could really inform the country that Northwestern is a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly, or on the other hand, they are a team that had a fluky start to the season and are finally coming down to earth. The Golden Gophers gave TCU a scare in the first game of the season but they have looked very shaky as of late, winning each of their last three games by only 3 points. Prediction: Minnesota continues to struggle and Northwestern takes advantage of turnovers.

Prediction: Northwestern wins 28-17. (1-0 Big Ten record)

At Michigan– October 10th

Pat Fitzgerald vs. Jim Harbaugh is quite the intriguing matchup. The Wolverines dominated BYU 31-0 in Week 4 and looked solid in every aspect, especially on defense, holding the Cougars to 105 total yards. This win  would solidify the Wildcats as a top-15 team, but the moment might be a little too big for freshman QB Clayton Thorson.

Prediction: Michigan wins 24-14. (1-1 Big Ten record)

Iowa– October 17th

This will be a low-scoring affair, but the Wildcats will find a way to win at home.

Prediction: Northwestern wins 14-10. (2-1 Big Ten record)

At Nebraska– October 24th

Two weeks after playing in the Big House, Northwestern travels to Lincoln to face the Cornhuskers in what could be a season-defining game. A loss wouldn’t completely take them out of the Big Ten West picture but it could seriously hurt their chances.

Prediction: Northwestern plays mistake-free football and escapes Lincoln with a 31-24 victory. (3-1 Big Ten record)

Penn State– November 7th

The Nittany Lions have struggled at times this season, but most of their problems are fixable. Christian Hackenberg and Penn State get revenge from last year and win by a field goal. 

Prediction: Penn State wins 31-28. (3-2 Big Ten record)

Purdue– November 14th

The score in this one won’t even be close.

Prediction: Wildcats win 42-14. (4-2 Big Ten record)


At Wisconsin– November 21st

You never know what to expect with college football, but most likely, the Badgers will be undefeated or have one loss in Big Ten play when Northwestern comes to town. Last season, the Wildcats upset Wisconsin but the Badgers still ended up in Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship game. This season, Pat Fitzgerald and company want to take Wisconsin’s spot.

Prediction: Northwestern wins 24-21. (5-2 Big Ten record)

Illinois– November 28th

After a huge victory against Wisconsin, the Wildcats will have a slight hangover against the Illini, but still hold on for the victory.

Prediction: Northwestern wins 28-24. (6-2 Big Ten record)

With my predictions, Northwestern finishes the season at 6-2 in the Big Ten, winning the West division. Wisconsin also finishes 6-2, but the Wildcats would win the head-to-head tiebreaker. 

What I just laid out is probably the best case scenario for the Wildcats, because I don’t see them going undefeated in Big Ten play. Could Northwestern lose three conference games and still win the West? Sure, but it would be very difficult. I think all eyes will be on their matchup with Wisconsin on November 21st, where the winner will most likely win the West division.

In conclusion, nobody truly knows what will happen weeks from now, but based on what Northwestern has done so far this season, a trip to the Big Ten Championship game is definitely in the cards.

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #8 Ole Miss

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #8 Ole Miss.

Team: Ole Miss Rebels

SQ Ranking: 8

2014 Record: 9-4

Finish

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #8 Ole Miss.

Team: Ole Miss Rebels

SQ Ranking: 8

2014 Record: 9-4

Finish in AP Poll: 17

Head Coach: Hugh Freeze (4th year)

Key Arrivals: WR DaMarkus Lodge, OL Javon Patterson, WR Van Jefferson, DL D.J. Jones

Key Departures: QB Bo Wallace, CB Senquez Golson, S Cody Prewitt, OLB Serderius Bryant

Previewing the Ole Miss Offense: For the first time in 3 years, the Rebels will have a new quarterback leading the offense. Bo Wallace graduated from Ole Miss with almost 10,000 passing yards, 81 total touchdowns, and one memorable victory against #1 Alabama at home. Last season, the Rebels started 7-0 before losing four of their last six games. 

One of the main reasons for Ole Miss’ struggles down the stretch was the injury to star receiver Laquon Treadwell. With 90 seconds remaining against Auburn, Treadwell was battling towards the end zone when he was dragged down from behind by Auburn linebacker Kris Frost. Treadwell’s left ankle got rolled up underneath Frost; he broke his fibula and dislocated his ankle, fumbling on the play as well, adding insult to injury. Treadwell was on his way to having a great year, with 632 yards and 5 touchdowns, but had to sit out the rest of the year. Having Treadwell back in the offense will certainly boost the Rebels’ firepower and and output, perhaps brining back the success they had to start 2014.

At the moment there are three quarterbacks vying for the starting job, all of them with an equal shot entering fall practices. Junior transfer Chad Kelly (nephew of Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly), sophomore Ryan Buchanan, or DeVante Kincade, also a sophomore, will have to prove to Hugh Freeze that they are capable of replacing Bo Wallace. 

Whoever ends up winning the quarterback battle will have plenty of talented receivers at his disposal. Besides Treadwell, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo, Damore’ea Stringfellow, DeMarkus Lodge, Markell Pack, and others will help to ease the transition for the QB. All-SEC tight end Evan Engram is also returning and could prove to be a security blanket for the starting QB.

Previewing the Ole Miss Defense:  

The Rebel defense lost a handful of talent from last season, but, led by the Nkemdiche brothers, they are still capable of being one of the best defenses in the SEC. After breaking his ankle against LSU, Denzel Nkemdiche missed the remainder of last season while brother Robert went on to have be a second-team All-American.

Hugh Freeze has recruited well on both sides of the ball and there should be plenty of young talent ready to make an impact. Last season, the Rebels “landshark” defense ranked 13th in the nation in total defense and 8th in tackles for loss. Expect to see more of the same this season from what should be a stout unit.

Now more than ever, the defense will need to help out an offense who will have a new starting quarterback under center (but mostly in shotgun). The Rebel defense won’t need to force a bunch of turnovers, but getting off the field on third down will be key this season.

Three Key Games:

1. Ole Miss at Alabama, September 19th

This will be the first true test of the season for the Rebels and, no doubt, beating Bama for the second year in a row will be a tall task. Both teams have questions at the quarterback position, so this seems like a game that will come down to the defenses, with the Rebels trying to match a Crimson Tide unit that will undoubtedly be once again incredibly strong. Then again, that didn’t seem to phase Laquon Treadwell and company last season.

2. Ole Miss at Auburn, October 31st

This game is definitely marked on the Rebels’ calendar after a disappointing and heartbreaking loss to the Tigers in 2014. Auburn is talented as ever, and offensive guru Gus Malzahn may have a few tricks up his sleeve against the tough Ole Miss defense. About halfway through the conference schedule, this matchup could prove to have major implications, not only in the SEC, but on the national level as well.

3. Ole Miss at Mississippi State, November 28th

The most important game of the season for the Rebels will be against Mississippi State in the “Egg Bowl.” This game will be a crucial SEC-West matchup at the end of the regular season, but more than that, it’s against an in-state rival. Both Mississippi schools had special seasons in 2014, but just like in any heated rivalry, a loss could render the Rebels’ whole season a disappointment. 

Final Analysis: The non-conference schedule for Ole Miss isn’t very challenging but  playing in the SEC-West means their in-conference schedule is. Whoever the starting quarterback for Ole Miss is, opposing defenses will try to test him by loading the box and making the QB beat them with his arm. Hugh Freeze will try to help by creating an effective game plan and establishing the run, but in a loaded half of a loaded conference, that might not be enough. 

While road games against Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State could prove to be too much for an inexperienced starting quarterback, with a talented offense and a stalwart defense, Ole Miss at least has a shot. If the Rebels stay healthy they have a chance to win 10 games and make a great bowl game, but winning 8 or 9 games seems more reasonable for them this season. 


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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #13 LSU

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today's focus is on #13 LSU.

Team: LSU Tigers

SQ Ranking: 13

2014 Record: 8-5

Finish

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #13 LSU.

Team: LSU Tigers

SQ Ranking: 13

2014 Record: 8-5

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: Les Miles (11th year)

Key Arrivals: CB Kevin Toliver II, WR Tyron Johnson, OL Maea Teuhema, ATH Donte Jackson, RB Derrius Guice

Key Departures: LB Kwon Alexander, DL Danielle Hunter, CB Jalen Collins, RB Kenny Hilliard, RB Terrence Magee, OL La’el Collins 

Previewing the LSU Offense: The Tigers are returning most of their offensive firepower from last season, including Heisman candidate RB Leonard Fournette. In 2014, Fournette rushed for 1034 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards per carry; and don’t forget this memorable 22 yard run against Texas A&M:

 

While Fournette will definitely be a huge part of the LSU offense this season, Les Miles will need to decide who will lead his 2015 version of LSU football. At the quarterback position, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris will have a very competitive battle throughout fall camp. Jennings was arrested at the beginning of the summer and was suspended indefinitely, which gave Harris all of the 1st team reps in summer practices. The charges were not filed against Jennings and he was reinstated, launching him back into the QB battle.

The Tigers are talented at the wide receiver position, returning their four most productive pass-catchers from last season. Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse, and Trey Quinn headline a receiving core that totaled 1544 yards and 15 touchdowns combined; Dural led the way with 758 yards and 7 touchdowns.

The winner of the starting quarterback job will need to be accurate in the passing game because teams will load the box to stop Fournette, which forces the QB to beat them, something the Tigers were unsuccessful with at times last season.

Previewing the LSU Defense:  

The loss of CB Jalen Collins and LB Kwon Alexander hurts the Tigers defensively but if one thing is certain in college football, a LSU defense knows how to reload. One of the bigger question marks entering this season is how the Tiger defense will perform without defensive coordinator John Chavis, who left after last season to take the same job at Texas A&M. With the additions of Kevin Steele (defensive coordinator) and Ed Orgeron (defensive line coach) coupled with the immense amount of talent, the LSU defense should have no trouble being one of the best defenses in the SEC and maybe even the country.

In 2014, LSU held five opponents to 7 points or less, including Kentucky and (at the time) #3 Ole Miss. Expect more of the same from the Tiger defense this season led by junior linebacker Kendell Beckwith and senior safety Jalen Mills. Beckwith was second on the team with 77 tackles last season and Mills had 62 tackles with an interception.

Kevin Toliver II, a 5-star cornerback from Jacksonville, is expected to challenge for some playing time in a talented secondary. However, WR Travin Dural taught the skilled freshman a lesson in a 1 on 1 drill during a spring practice. 

Overall, look for the LSU defense to force plenty of turnovers and be efficient in every aspect. 

Three Key Games:

1. LSU at Mississippi State, September 12th

In only the second week of the season, the Tigers will travel to Starkville looking to start strong in the SEC. Last season, the Bulldogs beat LSU for the first time since 1999 as the Tiger defense allowed 570 total yards of offense. QB Dak Prescott scored 3 touchdowns (2 passing, 1 rushing), threw for 268 yards, and rushed for 105 yards. The game is set for an 8:15 p.m. kickoff, and the winner will have the upper leg early on in the SEC-West.

2. LSU vs. Arkansas, November 14th

Entering the final stretch of games, the Tigers will look to get revenge on Arkansas and their two-headed rushing attack. Last season, the Razorbacks shutout LSU 17-0 in Fayetteville, so the Tigers will be ready when Brandon Allen and company come to Death Valley in a pivotal SEC-West matchup.

3. LSU at Ole Miss, November 21st

The last road game of the season for LSU is one that the Tigers cannot afford to overlook. In 2014, the Rebels’ perfect season was ruined by the purple and gold in a defensive battle, 10-7. 

Ole Miss lost QB Bo Wallace to graduation, which means this is definitely a game where the LSU defense can takeover.


Final Analysis: The 2015 schedule for the Tigers is quite interesting. After the season opener against McNeese State, the next two games are against SEC opponents Mississippi State and Auburn. Les Miles will have to make sure his quarterback, whether it’s Brandon Harris or Anthony Jennings, is ready for two big-time games right off the bat. If LSU can beat Mississippi State and Auburn, there is a good chance they could be 8-0 heading to Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

LSU can win 10 games and reach a New Year’s Six Bowl if the Tigers get a Heisman type effort from Fournette and consistent quarterback play. Every game in the SEC-West is difficult and there will be plenty of games decided in the 4th quarter, which is where the LSU defense can step up and secure some victories.

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Coaches On The Hot Seat Entering The 2015 Season

With conference media days wrapping up in the next week or so, this seems like the perfect opportunity to check out some coaches that'll definitely be watching their words. Here are three coaches trying to save their jobs this season:

Tim Beckman (Illinois)

In three seasons as the head coach of the Fighting Illini, Beckman has posted a 12-25

With conference media days wrapping up in the next week or so, this seems like the perfect opportunity to check out some coaches that’ll definitely be watching their words. Here are three coaches trying to save their jobs this season:

Tim Beckman (Illinois)

In three seasons as the head coach of the Fighting Illini, Beckman has posted a 12-25 overall record with a disappointing 4-20 record in the Big Ten. Three of those four wins were against a lowly Purdue team, a very inconsistent Penn State team, and an underperforming Northwestern squad. 

Entering the fourth year of Beckman’s tenure, Illini fans have plenty of reasons to be upset, but a few reasons to be optimistic. Under Beckman, Illinois has improved their conference record each season, going 0-8 in 2012, 1-7 in 2013, and 3-5 in 2014. Last season, the Fighting Illini also made a bowl game for the first time with Beckman at the helm, losing 35-18 to Louisiana Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Looking at the schedule in 2015, Illinois has a difficult non-conference game on the road against North Carolina before the Big Ten games begin. In order for Beckman to keep his job for another year, the Illini would have to win seven or eight games and go at least 4-4 in the Big Ten. There is no doubt that Beckman and the Fighting Illini will have to pull off a few upsets to reach the seven win mark, but with college football you never know what will happen. 

Mike London (Virginia)

Let’s begin with one of the few positive highlights of Virginia’s season in 2014, a 30-13 dominating win over Miami (FL).  Also, what a catch by Canaan Severin at the :30 second mark in the video.

Now to the bad news. London is 23-38 (11-29 in the ACC) in five seasons as head coach of the Cavaliers. Virginia has only one bowl appearance in those five seasons, which was a 43-24 loss to Auburn in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The Cavaliers’ 2015 schedule is very interesting. Road games against UCLA, Miami (FL), and Louisville will be tough but Florida State and Clemson aren’t even on the schedule, which is great news for Virginia fans. In order for London to keep his job, the Cavaliers will need to make a bowl game by winning at least six or seven games. Also, a win against in-state rival Virginia Tech would go a long way in helping London remain head coach.

Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)

I understand that Ferentz’s buyout is astronomical (over 10 million dollars right now), but the Hawkeyes have been in a decline for a few years. Example:

The Hawkeyes are 34-30 in the last five seasons under Ferentz, which isn’t good enough for anybody associated with the Iowa football program. In those five seasons, the Hawkeyes are 1-3 in bowl games; the lone win coming against Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl.

In 2015, Iowa doesn’t have Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State, or Michigan on the schedule. However, the Hawkeyes have two tough games on the road at Wisconsin and at Nebraska, that I don’t see them winning. Overall, Ferentz will need to get eight or nine wins and reach a .500 record or better in the Big Ten to keep his job. 

Hawkeye fans are fed up with mediocrity, they want more wins, and the recruiting (or lack thereof) hasn’t given them much hope; most of them want a fresh start. It is looking like it will be another tense year for Ferentz and the Hawkeyes.

Other coaches who may be out as head coach next year: Paul Rhoads (Iowa State), Norm Chow (Hawaii), Al Golden (Miami (FL)), Kevin Wilson (Indiana), Mike MacIntyre (Colorado)

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #20 Arkansas

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #20 Arkansas. 

Team: Arkansas

SQ Ranking: 20

2014 Record: 7-6

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: Bret Bielema (3rd year)

Key Arrivals: 

The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #20 Arkansas. 

Team: Arkansas

SQ Ranking: 20

2014 Record: 7-6

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: Bret Bielema (3rd year)

Key Arrivals: DT Hjalte Froholdt, DE Jamario Bell, TE Austin Cantrell, WR Dominique Reed, P Blake Johnson, DT Jeremiah Ledbetter, TE C.J. O’Grady

Key Departures: DE Trey Flowers, FB Patrick Arinze, TE A.J. Derby, P Sam Irwin-Hill, LB Martrell Spaight 

Previewing the Arkansas Offense: Entering QB Brandon Allen’s senior season, the Razorback offense is expected to be a well-oiled machine. Led by one of the best running back duos in the country, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins will need to build off their combined 2290 yards and 24 touchdowns from last season if Arkansas wants to be successful.

  

Another positive for the Razorbacks is that OL Sebastian Tretola is returning. If you don’t remember, Tretola was the 300 pound offensive lineman who threw a touchdown pass against UAB on a well-designed trick play. Most importantly, don’t be surprised if Bielema gives Tretola another chance to showcase his arm this season.

As for the rest of the offensive line, there should be no letdown because anywhere Bret Bielema has coached, he has stockpiled great offensive lineman. The Arkansas offense has the ability to bully opposing teams in the trenches and punish linebackers for biting on play-action.

Characteristic of a Bielema offense, two of the top three pass-catchers last season were tight ends, which isn’t a bad thing. With the confidence of QB Brandon Allen at an all-time high, I expect WR Keon Hatcher to have a great year. Outside of Hatcher, the Razorbacks will need some inexperienced wideouts to step up and take on some key run-blocking and pass-catching duties.

Previewing the Arkansas Defense: In the final game of the 2014 season, the Arkansas defense completely dominated Texas in every aspect. The Razorback defense forced two turnovers, including a fumble recovered in the end-zone for a touchdown, and held the Longhorns to 59 total yards. Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes had little time in the pocket as Arkansas controlled the line of scrimmage from the first snap.

             

The departures of defensive end Trey Flowers, defensive tackle Darius Philon, linebacker Martrell Spaight, and safety Alan Turner deal a decent-sized blow to the Razorback defense but they should be able to rebound. Arkansas has plenty of depth at the defensive line but the question going into next season will be if the secondary and linebacking core can be consistently solid.

Junior LB Brooks Ellis will need to be the leader of the defense as he returns as the most experienced linebacker, having played significantly the last two seasons. The Razorback defense might struggle in the first few games but they will find their groove at some point.

Three Key Games:

1. Arkansas at LSU, November 14th – Whenever a team travels to play in Death Valley against LSU, it is always a difficult game to win. Last season the Razorbacks shut out the Tigers in Fayetteville, so Arkansas better be ready to face Leonard Fournette and company. Late in the season, this will be a key SEC-West matchup for both teams.

2. Arkansas at Alabama, October 10th – Yet another important game for the Razorbacks is SEC-West opponent, Alabama. Arkansas lost to the Crimson Tide because of a missed PAT last season, so I would expect the Razorbacks to have plenty of confidence heading into what will be a tough battle in Tuscaloosa.    


3. Arkansas vs. Texas A&M, September 26th – Last season, the Aggies and Razorbacks played one of the more exciting games of 2014, and it was one of the many close games that Arkansas couldn’t win. The Razorbacks will want revenge in their SEC opener and will look to set the tone for the remainder of the season.

Final Analysis: Looking at Arkansas’ schedule, I see the Razorbacks going undefeated in the non-conference games against UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech, and UT Martin. Outside of those four games is the SEC schedule. Everybody knows at least two things about the SEC-West: anything can happen, and that its one of the toughest slates of games in the country.

The Arkansas offense will have another great statistical year but the overall success of the Razorbacks will depend on the defense. With only four true road games and with the number of marquee games on their schedule, Arkansas has an outside shot at a New Year’s Six Bowl game. More reasonably, the Razorbacks could get third in the SEC-West and reach 10 wins after their bowl game.

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