Posts by Sean Berger

Deshaun Watson’s Performance Will Make Or Break Clemson In National Championship

Defense wins championships. It's a phrase that's been said millions of times by analysts, coaches, and players alike. However, when Clemson takes on Alabama tonight in the national championship, the Tigers will need their offense to win them the game. 

Alabama has one of the most fearsome front sevens that has ever stepped foot onto the

Defense wins championships. It’s a phrase that’s been said millions of times by analysts, coaches, and players alike. However, when Clemson takes on Alabama tonight in the national championship, the Tigers will need their offense to win them the game. 

Alabama has one of the most fearsome front sevens that has ever stepped foot onto the college gridiron, and not too many teams can say they’ve had success against them. But there has been a proven weakness that flusters the Crimson Tide defense: a mobile quarterback. With Deshaun Watson at the helm of the offense, Clemson stands as good a shot as anyone in taking down Goliath. 

Only one team, Ole Miss, has been able to beat Alabama this season, and Clemson hopes to use their same strategy. Ole Miss used the play-making ability of Chad Kelly, along with an uptempo approach to stifle the effectiveness of the ‘Bama defense. It gave Nick Saban and Kirby Smart headaches all game trying to figure out a way to slow down Kelly and the Rebels, but they just couldn’t do it.

Ole Miss put up 43 points on an Alabama defense that hadn’t given that many points in its last five games. Kelly threw for 341 yards, which is the most any QB has thrown against the Tide this season, also accounting for three scores through the air. But it was the offensive scheme that led to Kelly’s success that day. They spread out players all over the field and were able to hit big passes when needed (seven pass plays of 20+ yards).

In an interview with the New York Post, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner put it perfectly:

“If you try to line up and play smash mouth, nobody can be successful against them [doing that]. You have to spread them out, use a little trickery. … In crucial situations, when we really need it, we’re going to call a quarterback run, and Clemson has the same philosophy.”

Deshaun Watson is the type of quarterback who Alabama hates to play against because he has so many dimensions to his game. Utilizing the spread scheme on offense puts more pressure on Alabama’s defense to make plays in space while making Watson more effective not only as a passer but also as a runner, as well.

Watson’s abilities make him difficult to defend because he gives any defense a lot to worry about. For example, against Alabama, Watson can use his legs as a diversion. Running play-action fakes and designed draws are both types of plays that give Watson the advantage against the Tide.

Be that as it may, Watson still needs to be successful on early downs. Getting good yardage on first and second down can help avoid third-and-longs, making it easier to keep the play calling varied. If Alabama gets Clemson in a predictable situation, the defensive line will not hesitate to pounce on Watson.

The pace of play can also determine how successful Watson can be as well. Playing fast can work to his advantage because it will deter Alabama from using the talented depth it has across its defensive front. Getting to the line quick and calling audibles, can have a big impact against a defense that leads the nation in sacks (50).

For Clemson to win this game, Watson is going to have to play great. This is not a game where he can just settle for good. If Watson can keep the tempo up, make smart decisions, and have just enough luck, Clemson could beat the almighty Alabama. It won’t be easy, but it’s sure going to be a heck of a fight.

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SQ Citrus Bowl Preview

The Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines were on the downtrend of college football the past couple of seasons, but thanks to new coaching staffs, both of these teams have changed direction rather quickly. Jim McElwain (Florida) and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) have done more than what was expected in their first seasons, and these two coaches will

The Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines were on the downtrend of college football the past couple of seasons, but thanks to new coaching staffs, both of these teams have changed direction rather quickly. Jim McElwain (Florida) and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) have done more than what was expected in their first seasons, and these two coaches will meet on New Year’s Day in the Citrus Bowl. This matchup was a great surprise, and will certainly be one of the bowls to watch. Here’s what you need to know:

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Florida’s Offense Continues to Ride the Struggle Bus: Ever since Will Grier tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, Florida’s offense hasn’t been the same. Treon Harris has struggled as the team’s starting QB, and just hasn’t looked comfortable at all under center. The offense hit an all-time low in SEC Championship when it put up just 180 total yards. For the Gators to have any sort of chance against Michigan they’ve got to get Harris going early with short, quick passes.

McElwain and Harbaugh Surpassing First Year Expectations: It’s not really a surprise to see both of these programs doing well with their new coaches, but both have certainly exceeded year-one expectations. McElwain took Florida all the way to the SEC Championship when the team was picked to finish near the bottom in preseason polls. Meanwhile, Harbaugh brought Michigan back to relevancy by winning nine games and making them one of the toughest teams to score on.

A Battle of Two Great Defenses: If you love a good defensive duel, then you’re in luck because this game features two of the nation’s best. Florida and Michigan each rank in the top-10 in total defense, with each also ranking in the top-15 in scoring defense. Needless to say, neither of these offenses are looking forward to playing against their opponent’s defense. Whoever can limit mistakes on defense and win the turnover battle will come out on top of this game.

Key Stats

43 – The Florida Gators are tied for 126th in the nation with 43 sacks allowed this season. While young and inexperienced, the Gators’ O-Line held up decently in the first five games, surrendering 10 sacks. But it was downhill from there, and the Treon Harris has felt the brunt of the hits. The O-Line must do a better job of protecting Harris if he’s going to have any shot of being productive this game.

93.88% – Michigan may not have one of the best offenses in the country, but when it comes to redzone efficiency, the Wolverines are money. Michigan has scored 46 out of 49 times when in the redzone, and they’re going to need to take advantage of any trips inside the 20 against this defense. 

45.29 – Florida punter Johnny Townsend has averaged 45.29 yards per punt over the last three games. Field position is going to be a key in this game, and Townsend can be a game-changer for the Gators by pinning the Wolverines deep in their own territory. With Townsend’s ability to pin opponents back behind their own 20, it makes Florida’s job on defense a lot easier.

Key Players

Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida – With the way Florida’s offense has underwhelmed, Kelvin Taylor really hasn’t gotten the recognition he has deserved. Taylor has run for at least 100 yards in three of his last four games, and is the key for Florida to be successful in this game. Taylor is going to get plenty of carries in this game as Michigan has had trouble stopping the run as of late (746 rush yards surrendered in last three games). If Taylor can find holes early, it will go a long way in helping the passing game for Harris.

Jake Butt, TE, Michigan – Butt was named the best tight end this year after winning the Mackey Award, and he is the key to Michigan’s offense in this game. The Wolverines like to go to Butt early and often, as 30 of his 48 receptions have come in the first half this season. Going up against one of the best secondaries in the country, Butt is going to be QB Jake Rudock’s go-to target early on to gain some confidence.

Why Florida Will Win

Florida will win this game if it can squeeze enough points out of its offense. The offensive line is without a doubt the key component to offensive success for the Gators. A more stable O-Line will give Harris more confidence and he won’t feel like he has to run out of the pocket every time he feels pressure.

Florida is going to show up on defense, that much we know. The good thing for the Gators is that Michigan doesn’t have a great run game or a premiere running back. In all three of the Gators’ losses, each team had a feature back that ran for at least 180 yards. Containing Rudock and Butt are what the Gators should focus on in this game.

Why Michigan Will Win

On offense, Michigan has the upper hand in this one. Rudock improved greatly over the course of the season, and has become one of the better signal callers in the Big Ten. However, the shoulder injury he suffered against Ohio State could cause concern in this game. Facing a strong secondary tandem in Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor is going to make it that much more important for Rudock to make smart decisions.

Michigan’s defense could end up making New Year’s Day a mess for Florida. The Wolverines have a strong enough pass rush that will cause Harris to get of the ball quicker than he wants to. The one question Michigan faces on defense is if All-American Jabrill Peppers will be able to play or not. If he’s not able to go that’s a big blow to the team, leaving them not only without a standout safety, but one of their better running backs. 


This game is going to be an all-out defensive war. What it’s going to come down to is who can hold on to the ball, and make the least amount of mistakes. Contrary to popular belief, Florida will not look as bad on offense as it has in the past few games, but that isn’t saying much. But for the Gators to win, Taylor and Harris each have to have good games in a combined effort. In the end, if Florida can muster up three touchdowns, Jim McElwain should notch his first bowl victory with the team.

Final Score: Florida 21 – Michigan 17

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SQ Cotton Bowl Preview

It's come down to this. The matchups are set, now it's time to find out who's the best of the best. On New Year's Eve the nation will be one step closer to crowning a national champion when Alabama and Michigan State square off in the Cotton Bowl. Easily one of the most anticipated games

It’s come down to this. The matchups are set, now it’s time to find out who’s the best of the best. On New Year’s Eve the nation will be one step closer to crowning a national champion when Alabama and Michigan State square off in the Cotton Bowl. Easily one of the most anticipated games the College Football Playoff has to offer, it pits the Big Ten against the SEC in a contest that is sure to be remembered. Here’s what you need to know:

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Derrick Henry Carrying the Tide Offense: Derrick Henry became the second player in Alabama history to win the Heisman, and deservedly so after literally carrying the team’s offense the whole season. Henry averaged the second most amount of carries in the nation (26.08), while picking up almost six yards each carry. Don’t expect to see a change in the gameplan; Henry got the Tide this far and he’s going to factor into this game as well, even with the Spartans keying in on him.

Is the Big Ten on Par with the SEC?: Two years ago, fans were laughing at the Big Ten, saying it didn’t have a snowball’s chance at competing for a national championship. Last year proved the Big Ten was back and in a big way. Not only did Ohio State win the national championship, but the conference beat two of the SEC giants (Alabama and Auburn). If Michigan State can send the Crimson Tide packing with a loss in its second straight Playoff appearance, it certainly makes the Big Ten’s argument a lot stronger.

Alabama Trying to Avoid Postseason Disappointment for Third Straight Season: The postseason has not been kind to Alabama the past two seasons, and the Tide are hoping to reverse that trend against the Spartans. Let’s just say that Nick Saban is probably happy that his team isn’t playing in the Sugar Bowl this season. Having lost to Oklahoma and Ohio State in consecutive seasons has left a sour taste in the mouth of ‘Bama fans. It’s certainly not what Nick Saban is used to after winning back-to-back national titles.

Key Stats

90 – In the past two games he’s played, Derrick Henry has carried the ball 90 times. That’s something to take note of considering that he carried the ball a total of 97 times in the four games prior to that. Will Henry get the 45 carries he’s been averaging through that span? If Henry is getting good yardage, and doing a good job of getting into the second level, then expect Lane Kiffin to keep feeding him the ball.

111 – The combined amount of rushing yards that Michigan State gave up to Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State) and Jordan Howard (Indiana), two of the top three rushers in the Big Ten. They may not be Derrick Henry, but they’re two of the best running backs that the Big Ten has to offer. Michigan State doesn’t care who they play, they’re ready for the challenge.

38.98% – Against Top 25 teams this season, Michigan State has converted just 38.98% of third down opportunities. It’s sort of ironic, given that the Spartans are ranked fourth in the nation in third down conversion rate (50.53%). Michigan State is going up against one of the best defenses in the country, and the Tide are great at making third down stops (27.92% opponent conversion rate). This is an area the Spartans have to do well in if they’re going to play for a national championship.

Key Players

Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State – Cook has had a relatively quiet year for the Spartans after being hyped up to have a big 2015. However, there was a four game stretch where he threw for 1,428 yards and 11 touchdowns, looking like the highly touted NFL prospect he was believed to be. When Cook is on he’s hard to beat. If his shoulder is healthy, he’ll be able to make NFL-caliber throws all over the field. The key for Cook in this game is to make quick decisions and get the ball out early. He’ll have to be on his toes with the way this Alabama front seven can get into the backfield.

Jake Coker, QB, Alabama – All Jake Coker has had to do up until this point in the season is protect the ball and make throws when needed. And to his credit, Coker hasn’t done a bad job of being a game manager for the Tide offense while Henry tears apart the ground game. But Coker will have to be a little more than a game manager in this game since the Spartans are one of the top teams at defending against the run (113.08 opponent rush yards per game).

He’ll need to take advantage of a vulnerable Spartans pass defense that ranks 96th in the country in giving up pass plays of 15+ yards (72). If Coker can hit medium range passes like that throughout the game, then it will make it that much easier for Henry to be successful. 

Why Michigan State Will Win

Michigan State is a solid all-around team that makes you beat them. The Spartans are +16 in turnover margin on the year, and they don’t commit penalties that would drag them down. Mark Dantonio is one of the best coaches in the game, and he’s going to have his team ready to win this football game. If Cook can make quick decisions with the ball and be successful on third down, the Michigan State offense should score enough points that will cover its defense.

On the defensive side, it’s stopping Derrick Henry at the point of attack. When Henry gets to the second level, it’s too late. The Spartans need to meet him at the line of scrimmage head on if they’re going to limit the damage he does. Arkansas did a good job of this, holding Henry to 95 yards on 27 carries. Limiting Henry coupled with getting pressure on Jake Coker is the key to beating Alabama, and the Spartans have the defense that can do just that.

Why Alabama Will Win

Alabama will win this game because it won’t make the same mistake that Urban Meyer made against the Spartans. The Tide will continue to give the ball to Henry even when he gets stuffed by this Michigan State defense. Henry is the workhorse that won’t quit, averaging 6.13 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. He gets stronger as the game goes on, and the team feeds off of his energy. If Henry can get it going and Coker can hit a couple of big passes early on, this game could really play up to the 10 point spread that Alabama is favored by.

The Crimson Tide defense is going to show up and do what it has done all season: wreak havoc. Wracking up 46 sacks this season, the Tide are going to force Connor Cook to make throws before he’s ready. What that will do is create a chance for the secondary to make interceptions or at least bat the ball down. Michigan State has yet to face a defense as strong as this one, and this game might not be pretty for them.


This game is going to be a grinder. It’s hard to imagine one team really running away with this one, unless it’s Alabama late in the game. Both teams are going to have success, but both teams are also going to get stuffed. Henry and Cook are going to have good games because this is the kind of environment that each thrive in. It’s really going to come down to which team makes the least amount of mistakes and who can take advantage of their opponents miscues. Michigan State has had a great season up to this point, but Alabama’s defense will just be too strong to overcome in the end. 

Final Score: Alabama 27 – Michigan State 20

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SQ Birmingham Bowl Preview

As bowl mania hits its final stretch this week, some of the more interesting matchups are starting to appear the slate. One game to watch is the Birmingham Bowl, which features Memphis and Auburn. And while both teams haven't had the season they expected, this game offers the chance to end the season on a high

As bowl mania hits its final stretch this week, some of the more interesting matchups are starting to appear the slate. One game to watch is the Birmingham Bowl, which features Memphis and Auburn. And while both teams haven’t had the season they expected, this game offers the chance to end the season on a high note. Here’s what you need to know for the game:

Storylines Heading Into The Game

Justin Fuente Heads to the Power Five: Just one year after guiding Memphis to a share of the American Athletic Conference title, head coach Justin Fuente used his success to land the job at Virginia Tech. Fuente has coached the Tigers to a 19-6 record the past two seasons and garnered the team’s highest ranking in school history. Unfortunately for Memphis, they will be without him as he has already taken post in Blacksburg to begin the rebuilding of the Hokies.

Auburn’s Expectations Washed Down the Drain: Auburn wasn’t supposed to be playing in the Birmingham Bowl, well at least not according to experts at the beginning of the season. The addition of Will Muschamp was supposed to solidify the defense and make the Tigers contenders for a national title. Those hopes quickly died as Auburn struggled to find consistency on either side of the ball. The result was a 6-6 season, including a 2-6 mark in the SEC. Clearly, it was not the season that Gus Malzahn had intended.

Will Muschamp Out After One Season: Bringing on Muschamp was predicted to be one of the best marriages between an offensive guru (Malzahn) and a defensive whiz. And although the results on the field weren’t what Auburn hoped for, there was reason to believe that things could turn around in 2016.

Tigers fans will never know what could have been with a second chance now that Muschamp will be taking over at South Carolina. It was a move that caught most off guard, given Muschamp’s lack of success as the head man in Florida, but nonetheless, he will be given another opportunity in the SEC East.

Key Stats

670 – The amount of rushing yards that Memphis gave up during its three-game losing streak. Prior to that collapse, Memphis gave up just 118.75 yards per game. Navy and Temple really took advantage of the undersized front seven that Memphis has, and Auburn can do the same with Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. 

2,786 – The amount of passing yards that Auburn has given up this season. Auburn was one of the worst in the SEC at defending the pass, coming in at 12th in this category. When Auburn goes up against Memphis, they’ll be facing the best QB they’ve seen all year, Paxton Lynch. Lynch has already dismantled the Ole Miss defense through the air (384 yards, three touchdowns); it seems likely that Auburn could suffer the same fate.

49 – Auburn’s total amount of tackles for loss this season. Auburn has done a miserable job at getting in their opponent’s backfield this season, and that’s going to be a problem if it can’t get a good pass rush going against Lynch. The Tigers have struggled to get off their blocks, no thanks to DE Carl Lawson’s injury. With Lawson back, hopefully Auburn can at least make Lynch uncomfortable in the pocket.

Key Players

Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis – NFL scouts have been drooling over the potential they see when they look at Lynch. His 6’7 frame coupled with a rocket attached to his right arm make him a lethal weapon with the ball in his hands. Lynch’s great season is also the product of an offensive line that has done a great job of protecting him (just 15 sacks allowed this season). With the protection the line provides, Lynch can carve up the secondary, finding his trio of receiving threats (Mose Frazier, Anthony Miller, and Phil Mayhue) that each average over 11 yards per catch.

Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn – It’s been noted above how much Auburn’s pass rush has suffered this season, and with Lawson out for the first half of the season. things weren’t looking up. When Lawson is at full strength, he can be one of the best edge rushers in college football. And while he hasn’t recorded a sack since returning from his injury, he has accounted for seven QB hurries over the final five games. The Tigers will need him to get into Lynch’s face throughout the game and get him to use his legs more than he would like. 

Why Memphis Wins

Memphis can win this game from the standpoint that it has the most offensive fire power. The Tigers have one of the best QBs in the country in Lynch and have a solid running game that averages over 180 yards per game. The sheer ability this offense has to keep drives alive (49.47% third down conversion rate) could propel them to a victory. And while the defense was exposed against Temple and Navy, it just needs to bend enough to keep the offense ahead.

Why Auburn Wins

Auburn has the ground-and-pound attack that can limit the amount of opportunities that Lynch and the Memphis offense get. The Tigers average 191.75 yards per game on the ground and both Barber and Robinson have a size advantage against the front seven of Memphis. If Auburn can control the clock with the run game, it could be the difference in deciding the game. One thing Auburn’s defense must do to win the game is to get Lynch out of the pocket more than he wants to be. Lynch may be a good runner, but he’s more dangerous as a passer.


This game could very well turn into a shootout. Memphis possesses one of the best offenses in the country, scoring 42.7 points per game, but Auburn possesses a run game that could give the Memphis defense plenty of fits. All in all, it’s going to come down to which team controls the possession battle. If Lynch has ample opportunity to score, then Memphis will hand Auburn another loss and cap a disappointing season for the more southern of the Tigers. 

Final Score: Memphis 30 – Auburn 27

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SQ Marmot Boca Raton Bowl Preview

It may be the week of Christmas, but it sure won't feel like it when Toledo and Temple face off in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl today. Both teams are coming off impressive seasons and this will undoubtedly make for one of the more interesting bowl matchups this season. Before the game kicks off today,

It may be the week of Christmas, but it sure won’t feel like it when Toledo and Temple face off in the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl today. Both teams are coming off impressive seasons and this will undoubtedly make for one of the more interesting bowl matchups this season. Before the game kicks off today, here are the things you need to know:

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Late Season Disappointment: No matter which way you look at it, both teams might’ve had great seasons, but it doesn’t take away the late sting that each team felt. Temple started off hot, going 8-1, but a three-score defeat at the hands of South Florida and falling to Houston in the American Athletic Conference Championship ultimately crushed the hopes of the Owls.

Conversely, Toledo got off to a similar start with an impressive victory over Arkansas, but fell off late with losses to Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. However, it was the loss to Western Michigan that really hurt the Rockets as it cost the team a shot at playing for the MAC Championship.

A Big Win for Either School: After such disappointing ends to both of their seasons, the Boca Raton Bowl still offers each team a chance for a big win. For Toledo, a win here would push their win total up to 10, which would be the first time the team has notched a double digit victory total since 2001. Temple, on the other hand, would set a school record with their 11th win of the season if they can manage to defeat the Rockets. And while a win here may not seem like it means much, it could be the spark that gets the ball rolling for a successful 2016 campaign.

Another MAC Coach Heads to the Power-Five: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that another successful MAC coach is heading to a Power-Five program; Dino Babers (Bowling Green) will become the head man at Syracuse, while Dave Clawson (Bowling Green) and Dave Doeren (Northern Illinois) have already started their tenure at a pair of ACC schools.

Now former Toledo head coach Matt Campbell will join the ranks as the latest head coach at Iowa State, taking multiple assistants with him. In his place, the Rockets have hired offensive coordinator Jason Candle, which should provide continuity within the program.

Key Stats

83.64% – The percentage that Toledo scored when it reached the redzone this season. It’s a stat that ranks 72nd in the nation, and could be vital in this game. Temple has one of the most formidable defenses in college football, so Toledo will have to capitalize on all of its chances when it gets inside the 20.

481 – The amount of tackles that Temple LB Tyler Matakevich has amassed over his now storied career. Matakevich, still one of the lesser-known defenders in the game, is now the active career leader in tackles. He also became the seventh player in FBS history to register at least 100 tackles in each of his four seasons. Needless to say, Toledo RB Kareem Hunt and QB Phillip Ely better keep an eye out for this tackling machine.

91 – The amount of tackles for loss that Temple has surrendered this season. Temple doesn’t have a high-powered offense like Toledo does, so it’s extremely important to keep the Rockets out of the backfield. The Rockets average seven tackles for loss per game which was the top mark in the MAC, and a pair of their defensive linemen (Orion Jones and Allen Covington) that have combined for 22.5 this season. For the Owls to have any success on offense in this game, they’ll have to limit the negative plays on the field.

Key Players

Jahad Thomas, RB, Temple – Thomas is the feature back for Temple, and he will be one of the most dynamic runners (1,257 yards, 17 touchdowns) that Toledo has seen all year. The Rockets may be one of the best in the nation at defending the run (115.55 rush yards allowed per game), but Thomas won’t be slowed down that easy. He’s got plenty of speed to get past defenders, and he can also be receiving threat out of the backfield (22 receptions, 216 yards), making him one of the most versatile weapons on offense. If the offensive line can open up some holes for him, he should have a productive day and be the key to the Owls’ offense.

Phillip Ely, QB, Toledo – Ely, a transfer from Alabama, has come in and done a pretty good job as the starting QB for the Rockets. However, Ely has struggled to be consistent at times this season. In four of the team’s 11 games this season he failed to complete at least 50% of his passes, including both losses.

Temple has one of the better pass rushes in the game, accounting for 32 sacks and 101 tackles for loss, so Ely is going to have to be on his toes in this game. And while the Rockets will rely heavily on RBs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson, when the team faces passing downs, Ely needs to be on his game. The Rockets can’t afford an inconsistent performance against one of the better defenses in the nation.

Why Temple Wins

The offense may not be anything special, but the defense certainly is. With Matakevich leading this unit, the Owls are difficult to move the ball against. Toledo is a team that likes to use explosive runs to set the tone on offense, but that won’t work against the Owls who only allow 3.7 yards per carry. It’s simple, if Temple can stick to the formula it’s used all year (play unbeatable defense and muster enough offense) then they’re going to beat Toledo.

Why Toledo Wins

Toledo wins this game because it has something that Temple does not; an explosive offense. The Rockets paced the MAC in rushing yards per game (213.18), thanks to Hunt and Swanson who combined for 1,764 yards and 17 touchdowns. And what gives these backs the edge in this game is the outstanding help they get from the offensive line. The big boys up front have only allowed just 38 tackles for loss (1st in the nation) and just four sacks (2nd in the nation). With the offensive line playing like that, it’s no wonder this offense can score 35 points per game. 


This game is going to be fought hard between the trenches with each team trying to get their offenses rolling with a strong ground game. Temple will use the familiar combo of Thomas and QB P.J. Walker to put together enough productive drives, while Toledo is going to rely on its two-headed rushing attack. But, expect to see plenty of plays where Matakevich’s name is called, bringing down either Hunt or Swanson. 

The edge here goes to Temple simply because its defense is something that Toledo hasn’t seen this season. Although Toledo may have one of the better offensive lines in the nation, Temple’s front seven will still be able to stop Toledo short of the first down marker enough times to make an impact.

Final Score: Temple 27 – Toledo 24

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SQ Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl Preview

It's time to go bowling! College football's bowl season promises to bring some of the most interesting and entertaining match ups we've seen all year. The first weekend of bowl games pits BYU against Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on December 19th at 3:30 p.m. EST.

Storylines Heading Into the

It’s time to go bowling! College football’s bowl season promises to bring some of the most interesting and entertaining match ups we’ve seen all year. The first weekend of bowl games pits BYU against Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on December 19th at 3:30 p.m. EST.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Bronco Mendenhall’s Last Holy War: Mendenhall has done a great job since taking over the BYU program in 2005. Since becoming head coach of the Cougars, Mendenhall has led the team to a record of 99-42 overall with two Mountain West titles to his credit. It’s been a great ride for him thus far, and BYU would love nothing more than to send him on to Virginia with career win No. 100 and his first win over Utah since 2009. This storied rivalry hasn’t been kind to Mendenhall in the past, as he’s just 3-6 in his career against the Utes.

Tanner Mangum, Freshman Sensation: When Taysom Hill went down with a season-ending injury in the first game of the season, no one knew what to expect from Mangum who had just returned from serving his two year religious mission. As time expired in that first game against Nebraska, Mangum threw a Hail Mary that was magically caught in the endzone to win the game. Mangum wasn’t a one-game wonder, and has impressed all season long, being named Freshman of the Year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus. His 21 touchdown passes were a freshman record for the Cougars this year.

Rivalry Renewed: As alluded to in the aforementioned section on Mendenhall, this matchup is a rebirth of a rivalry that hasn’t seen the gridiron since 2013. The rivalry came to a halt when Utah AD Chris Hill decided it was necessary to take a two-year hiatus. Although the Holy War was scheduled to resume again in 2016, this bowl game kickstarts the rivalry once again. While Utah has won the past four meetings, three of those have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Key Stats

3,062 – The number of passing yards that BYU signal caller Tanner Mangum has thrown for this season. Not only does that number rank second in the nation among true freshmen, it’s also a BYU freshman record. Mangum was rated as four-star recruit coming out of high school, and he’s only starting to scratch the surface of the talent that he possesses. You can definitely expect him to be airing it out this game.

0 – Utah’s turnover margin over the past four games. This stat may be a little bittersweet though. While on one hand the Utes have done a great job of forcing 10 turnovers in that span, they’ve turned it over just as many times. Looking at this from the optimist’s point of view, Utah has only surrendered six points off of those turnovers. However, the Utes shouldn’t continue to play dangerously like that.

5 – The number of sacks that BYU has allowed over the past three games. BYU’s offensive line struggled mightily early on in the season and allowed 12 sacks in its first three games. Utah has one of the better pass rushes in the country and has notched 33 sacks this season. In order for Mangum to do well in this game the offensive line needs to continue to improve.

Key Players

Kylie Fitts, DE, Utah – Fitts is a dynamic pass rusher who has caused nightmares for opposing QBs all season long. He’s explosive off the edge and is on top of the QB before he even has a chance to get rid of the ball. But even when they do have a chance to get rid of the ball, he can still use his long arms to deflect it, as evidenced by the 10 pass breakups he has. Fitts may have just six sacks and seven tackles for loss, but his presence alone is enough to get opposing QBs off their game. 

Tanner Mangum, QB, BYU – BYU cannot win this game if Tanner Mangum doesn’t have a good game. Utah has one of the best rush defenses in the nation (allow just 111.75 rush yards per game), so the Cougars are going to need Mangum’s arm to account for most of the yardage. Mangum has big play ability (61 completions of 15+ yards), and can also make plays when he’s flushed out of the pocket. He may find himself on the run a little more in this game due to Utah’s potent pass rush. If he can avoid the sacks and hit his receivers in stride, Mangum could pull out the win for the Cougars.

Why Utah Wins

Utah can win this game with their defensive line wreaking havoc in the backfield. If Kylie Fitts isn’t contained, it could be a long game for Mangum and the BYU offense. BYU’s lack of a run game makes Utah’s pass rush all the more effective since they can pretty much key in on the pass a majority of the time. Utah has a knack for forcing turnovers, 29 this season, and if they can get the right amount of pressure on Mangum, it may be enough to get him to make some mistakes.

Why BYU Wins

BYU can win this game in a combined effort from its defense and offense. Mangum has done a great job as a freshman signal caller and has pulled a few rabbits out of his hat already this year. He’s got a multitude of weapons to throw to, and each of his top five targets this year is averaging at least 13 yards per catch. On the defensive side of the ball, BYU has quietly had one of the best pass rushes in the nation with 37 sacks and 90 tackles for loss. Utah QB Travis Wilson has only completed 44% of his passes over the past two games, and if BYU can make him feel uncomfortable, then they can force the Utes to run the ball more than they’d like.


This has the makings to be the best game to watch in the first week of bowl games, after all it is a rivalry. It’s Bronco Mendenhall’s last game with BYU before he departs for a gig in the Power Five, and he’s looking to go out with a bang. The Cougars are just 1-3 against Power Five teams this season, but that goes out the window when you play in a rivalry game.

Keep your eye on Utah QB Travis Wilson, as he will be the x-factor for the offense since Devontae Booker is sidelined with a torn meniscus. Wilson hasn’t played great as of late, but he has the potential to be lethal when he’s on. BYU’s solid pass rush should challenge him throughout the game, and don’t be surprised if Bronson Kaufusi knocks him down a couple times (has recorded 10.5 sacks so far).

This game is going to come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes, and which QB can step up to the challenge. Expect this game to be hard-fought and close throughout its duration.  

Final Score: Utah 24 – BYU 21

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SQ SEC Championship Preview

The SEC, you either love it or hate it. Even if you fall into the latter part of that statement, there's still a part of you that has to know about what's going on in the conference that has been labeled as the gold standard for college football. We're giving you the rundown on what

The SEC, you either love it or hate it. Even if you fall into the latter part of that statement, there’s still a part of you that has to know about what’s going on in the conference that has been labeled as the gold standard for college football. We’re giving you the rundown on what you need to know heading into this weekend’s title bout between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Florida Gators.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Florida’s offense continues to struggle — Whether it’s the offensive line finally playing down to expectations or the lackluster play of QB Treon Harris, the Gators offensive woes are back. The pass protection has broken down more times than not, and Harris is either left scrambling or making an erratic throw.

Harris has completed just 50.9 percent of his passes and thrown four interceptions since he took over as the permanent starter. Jim McElwain and his staff need to have a different gameplan going into this matchup or else they won’t even score the two points they were lucky to get against FSU.

Alabama DC Kirby Smart to become Georgia’s next Head Coach — Every year it seems like we’re talking about which one of Nick Saban’s assistants is next in line to land a job fronting his own program. After being one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel, Kirby Smart will have the chance to be the next head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. Smart is one of the brightest defensive minds in all of college football, and is more than deserving of this opportunity. 

Derrick Henry’s final push for the Heisman — While much of the season was devoted to gawking at the numbers Leonard Fournette was putting up, Henry was stockpiling stats of his own and building his case for the Heisman. There’s no question now that Henry is the front runner after compiling 1,797 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns.

He’s two rushing scores away from becoming the single-season record holder for rushing touchdowns in the SEC, which coincidentally was set by former Florida QB Tim Tebow. Fournette and Dalvin Cook have each rushed for at least 180 yards and two scores against the Gators this season, so it’s not far-fetched to think that Henry could do the same.

Key Stats

4 — Florida RB Kelvin Taylor has rushed for over 100 yards in four of his last five games, and should eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark this week against Alabama. This stat will probably surprise most fans as Taylor’s success on the ground has been overshadowed by the lack of production from the rest of the offense. During this stretch, Taylor has rushed for 514 yards, which is a little more than double of what he produced through his first four games this season.

8 — This meeting marks the eighth time that the Gators and Crimson Tide have met in the SEC Championship. It might seem a little hard to believe since the two teams haven’t faced off in the title game since 2009 when Nick Saban crushed the hopes of Tim Tebow winning his third national title in four years. Oddly enough, the Gators hold a 4-3 advantage in the championship matchup. However, most seem to think Alabama will even up the series on Saturday.

15 — Gator fans will feel a sense of irony when reading this. Not only is 15 the number of beloved QB Tim Tebow, but it just so happens that Treon Harris was sacked that many times in the month of November. Eight of those sacks have come in the last two games against FAU and Florida State. If Florida is going to have any hope of scoring against Alabama, Harris cannot take more than a couple sacks.

Key Players

Treon Harris, QB, Florida Gators — We all know the Florida defense will show up, but will its offense? Yes, the offensive line has to play better, but so does Harris. Too often these past couple weeks has Harris looked lost after the ball is snapped. He’s not seeing open receivers out of their breaks and is taking off way too soon. There has to be a different gameplan for Harris going into this game because he can’t run the same offense that Will Grier could.

Alabama’s Defensive Line — If Alabama is going to squash any hopes of Florida even thinking it has a chance at winning this game, it starts with the defensive line. This defensive front is the strongest that Florida has faced all season, and will no doubt give the offensive line fits all game. Florida has given up 37 sacks this season, and as mentioned above, 15 of those were given up in November. If Alabama can get to Treon Harris early, Florida will virtually stand no chance against the Crimson Tide.


College Football is a funny sport. Just when you think one team is far superior than its competition, it gets upset by an opponent that may have been perceived as inferior. The David and Goliath subplot in sports is one that almost every fan loves to see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely that will happen in this year’s SEC Championship.

Alabama is a runaway train that is nearly impossible to stop right now, and Florida is directly in its path. The Crimson Tide play big boy football with an elite defense and a power run game that just crushes its opponents. Derrick Henry will continue the trend of elite running backs having big games against the Gators, while Alabama’s defense won’t even give Treon Harris a chance to think clearly after the ball is snapped. Don’t expect this game to be a nail-biter.

Final Score: Alabama 35 – Florida 7

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SQ MAC 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 between Friday and Saturday. We start our coverage with the very first of the conference title bouts to fought

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 between Friday and Saturday. We start our coverage with the very first of the conference title bouts to fought this week; the MAC Championship, featuring Northern Illinois and Bowling Green.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Bowling Green HC Dino Babers isn’t going anywhere – Babers has done wonders since taking over for Bowling Green prior to the 2014 season. In just his second season as the head ball coach for the Falcons, Babers has led the team to back-to-back division crowns. His high-powered offenses have been his calling card (44.2 ppg, leads MAC), and is just another recent success story from Art Briles’ coaching tree.

Due to this success, Babers has received numerous offers to take head coaching positions elsewhere. Most of these reports have turned out to be false, however, and Babers is adamant about continuing to win at Bowling Green.

Northern Illinois will play for the MAC Championship for the sixth time in six years – The Huskies are nothing short of a dynasty in the MAC, racking up three of the past five conference titles. Despite not looking the part this season, Northern Illinois is heading back to Detroit thanks to a Toledo loss at the hands of Western Michigan. This may not be the same Huskies team that put Northern Illinois on the map, but this bunch has looked tough all season.

Third Time’s the Charm – Friday will mark the third straight season in which these two teams have squared off for the MAC Championship. So far, the series is knotted up at one title apiece, with both teams claiming blowout wins. Will 2015 see the third straight season in which the conference champion is at least a 20-point victor?

Key Stats

566 – the total yards per game that Bowling Green averages on offense. Led by the nation’s leading passer, Matt Johnson (4,465 passing yards, 41 touchdowns), the Falcons are third in the nation in this stat. There’s only been one game this year in which Babers’ squad hasn’t gained at least 500 yards of offense.

98 – the combined score of this game’s winners from the past two seasons. As noted above, this game has been a high-scoring affair for the winners the past two years, and it seems like 2015 could continue the trend. Bowling Green currently paces the MAC and is tied for fourth in the nation averaging 44.2 points per game. If Matt Johnson and co. are on, this could turn into another blowout match.

4,486 – the record for passing yards set in a single season in the MAC set by Ben Roethlisberger. The record is sure to be broken in this game by Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson. He’s only 21 yards away from tying the record, and he averages 372.1 yards per game, so by the end of the game we’ll see just how far ahead Johnson is.

Key Players

Travis Greene, RB, Bowling Green – Northern Illinois is going to be keying in on Johnson this whole game, so it’s important that Bowling Green’s rushing attack takes the pressure off. That’s where Greene comes in. In the past two MAC title games, Greene has rushed for 238 yards and two touchdowns, while averaging 5.41 yards per carry. If he can continue to be a force on the ground against the Huskies, then Johnson should have no problem providing air support.

Tommy Fiedler, QB, Northern Illinois – With backup QB Ryan Graham suffering an injury last Tuesday in the regular season finale against Ohio, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey has announced that Tommy Fiedler will be the team’s starter for the conference title. Fiedler had a decent game against Ohio, after he came in relief of Graham, going 9-17 with 113 yards and a touchdown that brought the Huskies within a single score of Ohio. In the one scoring drive that he had, Fiedler was six of eight for 76 yards. However, he’ll need to show more consistency if the Huskies will have a chance of beating the Falcons.


The title bout to settle the score between Bowling Green and Northern Illinois will more than likely be a one-sided affair. Bowling Green is coming in looking like the odds-on favorites to win the title. Although Northern Illinois will put up a good fight on the ground with running back Joel Bouagnon, the Falcons’ passing attack will be too much to handle.

When facing conference opponents who like to air it out, Northern Illinois hasn’t done too well. Against Ball State, Buffalo and Western Michigan, the Huskies gave up more than 350 passing yards in each game. Granted, they were able to come away with victories in each of those contests, that probably wouldn’t happen against a team as dynamic as Bowling Green. In the end, Bowling Green will win this one handily by at least 10 points, sending Dino Babers down to Orlando with a conference title to add to his resume.

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SQ College Football Playoff Panel: Did The College Football Playoff Selection Committee Get It Right?

It took until Week 10, but the first rankings that actually matter are finally in. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its first top 25 rankings of 2015 yesterday (Tuesday), and there were quite a few surprises to say the least. We know you have questions about the rankings, and we're here to discuss

It took until Week 10, but the first rankings that actually matter are finally in. The College Football Playoff Selection Committee released its first top 25 rankings of 2015 yesterday (Tuesday), and there were quite a few surprises to say the least. We know you have questions about the rankings, and we’re here to discuss the issues at hand. So here’s our reaction to the initial rankings.

Who was the biggest snub to not be included in the top four?

Brian Peel: For me, it has to be TCU. The Horned Frogs have looked great the past few weeks after struggling a little bit early in the season and maybe, just maybe, their defense is starting to figure things out. The truth is, TCU will almost certainly make a CFP appearance if they win out considering in their final four games they play three teams ranked 15th or higher, including road games against the two Oklahoma schools and closing out the season against a Baylor team knocking on the top four as well. The fact TCU is ranked 8th currently is rather shocking. Come on people, do we really want to keep Trevone Boykin out of the Playoff?

Sean Berger: Baylor has to be the biggest snub. While Brian brings up a great argument for TCU, Baylor should be the team that feels the most jaded. The Bears have done everything asked of them and then more. They far and away lead the nation in scoring offense (61.1 points per game), total offense (686.1 yards per game) and plays from scrimmage of more than 30 yards (39). Although the team’s strength of schedule is lacking, there is no question that Baylor has dominated its competition. 

Is there a team you felt should’ve been ranked higher or lower?

Brian: Besides TCU being higher, I would have Michigan State above Baylor and Oklahoma State at least a few spots above their current No. 14 ranking considering they are undefeated. Michigan State has simply played a better schedule than Baylor and I’m personally not someone who puts a ton of stock in margin of victory because I feel the way teams run their offenses often dictates how a badly a game can get out of hand. The Spartans have had several close games this year, but they don’t run an up-tempo, spread attack that can often lead to blowouts like you have seen in Baylor’s games this year. 

Clemson at the No. 1 doesn’t feel right to me as I just don’t see the ACC as a quality conference this year and Alabama being No. 4 despite the loss means the committee is still convinced the SEC is the best conference in the country. 

Sean: I definitely feel like the three undefeated teams from the Big 12 (Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State) all deserved to be ranked higher. I already gave my reasoning for Baylor above while Brian stated his case for TCU. Additionally, Oklahoma State really should be higher than 14th. If the Committee is truly basing their rankings on each team’s recent performance then how is Oklahoma State not at least in the top 12? I get that’s not a big jump, but after scoring 128 total points in your past two games, that’s better than what most teams are doing in a three or four game stretch.

However, the team that I really think deserves to be ranked higher is Houston. Coming in at No. 25 in the initial poll, the Cougars are worthy of being in the top 20, or maybe even the top 15 with the way they’ve played this season. Tom Herman has turned this team around and has them dominating everyone that gets in their way. If Memphis is ranked 13th, then there’s no way that Houston should be ranked this low. 

Do you think the committee got the rankings right?

Brian: The Committee got three of the four teams right; Alabama probably shouldn’t be in the top three with their one loss coming to an Ole Miss team that hasn’t looked great this year. Of course, the fact that both Alabama and LSU are in the top four right now means a spot will open up, considering the two are playing essentially an elimination game this weekend. It will be very tough for the loser of that game to climb back into the top four with the competition in the country this year.

Sean: I mostly fall in line with Brian. I find it hard to place Alabama in the same company with Clemson, LSU and Ohio State right now after losing to Ole Miss earlier in the season. Overall though, I feel like the Committee did a decent job given the way that teams have performed this season. The AP Poll and Coaches Poll didn’t really agree with each other so why should the College Football Playoff ranking be any different? You could make a case as to why each of these teams should be ranked in the top four, but you could also argue why each shouldn’t be.

Do you think the top four will be the final four that play in the College Football Playoff?

Brian: Clemson has the easiest road of the current top four and I don’t see anyone knocking them off, especially if they get past Florida State on Saturday. Ohio State has a couple of difficult matchups left on their schedule including Michigan State, Michigan, and potentially an undefeated Iowa team in the Big Ten Championship but their is no doubt they will be favored in all three of those games.

Given that they play each other this weekend, the loser of Alabama-LSU will probably not make the CFP which likely leaves one spot open for either Notre Dame, Baylor, or TCU. Who knows though, it is college football after all and everything can change on just one Saturday.

Sean: As we saw in 2014, only one team that was ranked in the initial top four made it to the College Football Playoff, and that was Florida State. The others that eventually made the Playoff (Oregon, Alabama and Ohio State) were ranked outside and had to climb in later on in the season. So, I think it’s safe to say that these rankings will definitely change.

Clemson has a tough bout against Florida State on Saturday as well; don’t be too surprised if you don’t see either of these teams in the top four by the time the final rankings are revealed.

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SQ College Football Power Rankings: Week 9

The ACC was the main focus of the college football world last week with Clemson handing Miami its worst loss ever, and Georgia Tech pulling off an improbable miracle to beat undefeated Florida State. Needless to say, the rankings have been shook up as a result. Before today's games kickoff, check out where these teams

The ACC was the main focus of the college football world last week with Clemson handing Miami its worst loss ever, and Georgia Tech pulling off an improbable miracle to beat undefeated Florida State. Needless to say, the rankings have been shook up as a result. Before today’s games kickoff, check out where these teams rank in our Top 25.

1. Ohio State

Previous SQ Rank: 1

Coaches Poll Rank: 1

“For the first time this season, the Ohio State Buckeyes finally lived up to their first-in-the-country billing. The Buckeyes were excellent in their Week 8 49-7 rout of Rutgers. Most importantly, the decision to start sophomore quarterback J.T. Barrett over Cardale Jones turned out to be a great one for Head Coach Urban Myer. Barrett completed an efficient 14 of 18 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran 13 times for 101 yards and two scores. This is the kind of quarterback play that will instill fear in the hearts of opposing defenses for the Buckeyes.” – Ray Boone

2. Baylor

Previous SQ Rank: 2

Coaches Poll Rank: 2

“Everyone wants to know, can the Bears keep rolling without Seth Russell? Baylor’s defense still leaves plenty to be desired as teams are averaging 25 points per game against them.” – Brian Peel

3. Clemson

Previous SQ Rank: 6

Coaches Poll Rank: 6

“Clemson’s 58-0 thrashing of Miami was exactly what this team needed to put them atop the higher echelon of teams this season. The most impressive stat of the week for Clemson was forcing three interceptions from a Miami team that had only thrown one in the six games prior.” – Sean Berger

4. LSU

Previous SQ Rank: 5

Coaches Poll Rank: 4

“Another week, another win for the LSU Tigers. This team is rolling behind Heisman hopeful RB Leonard Fournette and QB Brandon Harris, whose performance has been encouraging over the past three games (716 yards passing, 62.7% completion percentage and seven touchdowns).” – Sean Berger

5. TCU

Previous SQ Rank: 4

Coaches Poll Rank: 3

“TCU’s 40-10 win against West Virginia has this team yet again looking strong this week. Trevonne Boykin made some incredible plays against the Mountaineers as well as his case to add yet another QB to the list of Heisman Trophy winners (currently second in the nation in total offense with 431.4 yards per game).” – Sean Berger

6. Alabama

Previous SQ Rank: 10

Coaches Poll Rank: 7

“Alabama probably has the best talent in the country, but their offensive inconsistency could spell doom. They’re the kind of team that could either be National Champs or lose three games.” – Brian Peel

7. Michigan State

Previous SQ Rank: 7

Coaches Poll Rank: 5

“Michigan State struggled with Indiana much more than the final score indicated. The Hoosiers only trailed by five points with under five minutes left to play before the Spartans scored three late touchdowns. That’s not surprising considering MSU seems to save their best for the best.” – Brian Peel

8. Stanford

Previous SQ Rank: 15

Coaches Poll Rank: 8

“Stanford continued their roll over Pac-12 competition by dominating Washington 31-14 at home last week. The Cardinal should get a big test in the Palouse on Saturday against a Washington State team averaging 415 passing yards per game.” – Brian Peel

9. Notre Dame

Previous SQ Rank: 14

Coaches Poll Rank: 9

“The Fighting Irish had a BYE week in Week 8, so there’s not much to say. However, I will say that they should probably fix their defense — specifically their pass defense. The Irish gave up 440 passing yards and three touchdowns to USC in the Irish’s 41-31 victory. Overall, Notre Dame has an 80th ranked rushing defense and a 34th ranked passing defense.” – Ray Boone

10. Florida

Previous SQ Rank: 9

Coaches Poll Rank: 12

“Florida is in control of its own destiny when it takes on SEC East rival and foe Georgia this week. A win likely puts the Gators in the SEC title game for the first time since Tim Tebow was under center for the team. Florida’s favored in this game, so far, but expect Georgia to put up a strong fight as they’ve won three of the last four meetings.” – Sean Berger

11. Iowa

Previous SQ Rank: 18

Coaches Poll Rank: 11

“The Hawkeyes are looking to build off a really solid Week 7 performance of crushing the previously highly-ranked Northwestern squad, winning the game 40-10. Defense was always the handicap with this team, but their performance against the Wildcats provided some hope. If this team is to be taken seriously, they need to have similar performances against the quality teams on their schedule.” – Ray Boone

12. Oklahoma State

Previous SQ Rank: 16

Coaches Poll Rank: 10

“Oklahoma State has been a pleasant surprise, starting off the season 7-0. However, they’ve mostly been unchallenged beating teams like Kansas, Texas and Central Michigan. This week offers an interesting challenge against a Texas Tech team that has averaged 46.6 points per game this season.” – Sean Berger

13. Oklahoma

Previous SQ Rank: 20

Coaches Poll Rank: 13

“The 6-1 Oklahoma Sooners took care of Texas Tech in Week 8 with a dominating 63-27 win. However, the play of outstanding quarterback Baker Mayfield was not the reason for the huge win. The Sooners racked up a whopping 405 yards and seven scores on the ground. Running back Samaje Perine pounded Tech’s defense to the tune of 201 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries.” – Ray Boone

14. Utah

Previous SQ Rank: 3

Coaches Poll Rank: 14

“The perfect season is no more after being thrashed by USC but Utah is still fighting for a Pac-12 South title. QB Travis Wilson, who threw four interceptions against the Trojans, needs to play better for that to be a reality.” – Brian Peel

15. Michigan

Previous SQ Rank: 11

Coaches Poll Rank: 17

“The Michigan Wolverines are coming off a Week 8 BYE — and boy, did they need one. The Wolverines suffered one of the most painful losses in College Football history in Week 7, losing to Michigan State in the final seconds of the game. Michigan’s punter fumbled the snap, which was then recovered by the Spartans and returned for a touchdown for a walk-off 27-23 victory. However, I believe in this Michigan team. Their No. 1 ranked defense is legit, and they were only seconds away from beating a Top-10 team. Look out Ohio State, the Wolverines are hungry.” – Ray Boone

16. Memphis

Previous SQ Rank: Not Ranked

Coaches Poll Rank: 16

“Memphis is one of the most underrated teams in the country, but is finally starting to get the recognition that it deserves. After all, the Tigers are tied for second in the nation in scoring (48.9 points per game) and is sixth in total offense (557.3 yards per game).” – Sean Berger

17. Houston

Previous SQ Rank: 24

Coaches Poll Rank: 19

“Houston has been one of the most productive offensive teams in the country under Tom Herman’s leadership (561.1 yards per game). And even though they’re taking on a lowly Vanderbilt squad, don’t underestimate the Commodores defense. The ‘Dores have held opponents to 16.3 points per game, good for 13th in the country.” – Sean Berger

18. Florida State

Previous SQ Rank: 12

Coaches Poll Rank: 15

“Can you really blame Roberto Aguayo for being such a poor tackler? The guy is so accurate at 89% for his career that he probably doesn’t even watch the ball after he kicks it anymore.” – Brian Peel 

19. Ole Miss

Previous SQ Rank: 13

Coaches Poll Rank: 21

“Lots of talent, lots of inconsistency. No, I’m not talking about Meryl Streep, I’m talking about Ole Miss. I could see them blowing out a struggling Auburn, but could also see them choking against a down Auburn team.” – Brian Peel

20. Toledo

Previous SQ Rank: 23

Coaches Poll Rank: 20

“If you’re scheduled to play football on three straight Tuesday nights, you probably aren’t one of the 25 best teams in the country. But give it up to the Rockets, who are undefeated and in the Top 25 in offensive points per game and defensive points allowed per game.” – Brian Peel

21. Duke

Previous SQ Rank: 25

Coaches Poll Rank: 18

“David Cutcliffe really has this team playing well again, and people are now more aware that Duke actually has a football team. Thanks to a stellar defense (has allowed 281.3 yards per game and 14.1 points per game), the Blue Devils have a great shot to get to the ACC title game.” – Sean Berger

22. Temple

Previous SQ Rank: Not Ranked

Coaches Poll Rank: 22

“It’s Week 8, and the Temple Owls are still undefeated. Quarterback P.J. Walker continued with his steady season, throwing for 250 yards and one touchdown. He has thrown nine touchdowns to only three interceptions all year. Temple’s 14th ranked defense has also continued with its spectacular ways, coming up with an interception in the win.” – Ray Boone

23. Pittsburgh

Previous SQ Rank: Not Ranked

Coaches Poll Rank: 24

“First-year head coach Pat Narduzzi has Pitt rolling at 6-1. The Panthers are 16th in the country in total defense, allowing only 308 yards a game to their opponents. No real surprise considering the Nard Dog was Michigan State’s defensive coordinator for eight seasons.” – Brian Peel

24. UCLA

Previous SQ Rank: 17

Coaches Poll Rank: 25

“Josh Rosen continues to impress with three more touchdowns and 399 yards against Cal. The Bruins could have been a playoff contender, if not for several defensive injuries early in the year.” – Brian Peel

25. Mississippi State

Previous SQ Rank: Not Ranked

Coaches Poll Rank: 27

“The Bulldogs’ offense has been great as of late, averaging 44 points over their last three games. Dak Prescott has been a major reason why, picking up 846 yards of total offense over the past two weeks.” – Sean Berger

Others Receiving Votes: Texas A&M

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Paxton Lynch and Greg Ward Jr.: Two QBs To Watch

Why are Paxton Lynch and Greg Ward Jr. playing so well? Is it because they play in the American Athletic Conference or because they play for Houston and Memphis? Either way, Lynch and Ward have gotten off to hot starts to begin the season and both have barely been noticed. So, what gives? Each of these players has a shot to be

Why are Paxton Lynch and Greg Ward Jr. playing so well? Is it because they play in the American Athletic Conference or because they play for Houston and Memphis? Either way, Lynch and Ward have gotten off to hot starts to begin the season and both have barely been noticed. So, what gives? Each of these players has a shot to be dark horse choices for the Heisman this season so you should know who they are.

Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While Memphis took home a share of the American Athletic Conference title last season, they will be looking to claim the title for themselves this season, with Lynch leading the way. Memphis isn’t known for being a traditional football power, but Lynch has done a good job of changing the way people think about the Tigers.

Last season was a bit of a coming out party for the signal caller, who ranked in the top-5 in nearly every passing category in the American. However, 2015 could be the year where he catches the eye of more than just his conference peers.

Lynch, who stands at 6’7″ and weighs 240 pounds, looks the part of a future NFL QB. The best part is he plays like it too; his arm alone is enough to make him a Heisman candidate. In three of his last four games this season, he has thrown for over 350 yards and has a total of 1,230 yards (11th in FBS). 

But what stands out is the touch and accuracy he displays in his passing game. Lynch ranks second in passing among quarterbacks with at least 100 passing attempts, completing 73.5% of his attempts, and his 188.24 passer efficiency rating currently has him fifth in the nation. Yet, what is most impressive is his TD/INT ratio, which currently is eight to zero. He has really improved upon this stat since his freshman season when he threw only nine touchdowns, but 10 interceptions.

The lanky junior can run the ball too. He’s not going to burn the defense, but he does have enough speed to get around the edge and pick up big yards when he must. Last season, he found the end zone 13 times on the ground (2nd in AAC). What his running ability also gives him is more time to make plays when blocking breaks down; his maneuverability around the pocket and ability to make throws outside the pocket give him an added advantage. 

While Lynch already finds himself all over the Memphis school record book, this season could be the one where he gets more national recognition. His ability to command and excel in this Memphis offense had ESPN’s Joe Tessitore calling him a Heisman candidate last week against Cincinnati. It may be early to say that, but Tessitore had good reason as Lynch threw for a career high 412 yards against a team that was projected to be the cream of the crop in the conference.

Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most dynamic QBs this season, Greg Ward Jr., has certainly gotten off to a hot start. This is the first season in which Ward has played exclusively at QB after starting off last season as a wide receiver before making the switch in the team’s fifth game against UCF. 

Last season, Ward showed a lot of potential as a dual-threat QB, but left a lot to be desired. Now that he has former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman as his head coach, Ward has excelled right out of the gates.

Herman has mentored both Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, both of whom were Heisman candidates, and looked brilliant running his offense. You can tell that Herman’s tutelage has paid off for Ward so far this season. During Houston’s 59-14 win over Texas State this season, the junior led the offense to gain 82.5% of its available yards in non-garbage time. To put that into perspective, the highest percentage of available yards gained by Houston’s offense last season was 69.8 against Tulsa.

Ward is more of a traditional dual-threat QB, where his legs are a big part of the game and not just used as an escape mechanism. Through three games this season, the speedster has already gained 290 yards on the ground, which is already more than half of the 573 yards he totaled last season. The fact that he averages 6.44 yards per carry is more impressive, as it is the top mark in the conference for runners that have had 25 or more carries.

But Ward isn’t all about the run, he can sling the pigskin around pretty well too. So far this season he has completed 75.3% of his passes, topping Lynch for the top mark in the conference and also ranking him third nationally. He’s tallied 785 passing yards in the first three games, averaging 261.7 yards per game. Herman seems to have instilled a better sense of taking care of the ball and not making bad decisions, as Ward has only thrown one interception thus far. He can give you the playmaking ability of Johnny Manziel, but doesn’t send the ball up with a hope and a prayer.

With the way that Ward can run Herman’s offense, he is going to put up some nice numbers this season. He is a flat out play maker, and if the Cougars can keep winning, don’t be surprised to see his name come up for postseason awards. 

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SQ College Football Power Rankings Week 2

The first week of the college football season was nothing short of exhilarating, and it has fans looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring. Teams revealed just how over or underrated they truly are, so here is some perspective as to where that should leave teams heading into the second week of

The first week of the college football season was nothing short of exhilarating, and it has fans looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring. Teams revealed just how over or underrated they truly are, so here is some perspective as to where that should leave teams heading into the second week of the season with our power rankings.

1. Ohio State

Preseason SQ Rank: 1

Coaches Poll Rank: 1

Ohio State showed just how dominant it can be in 2015, even when it’s missing four players. The Buckeyes’ explosive offensive attack, led by Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller, put up a combined 572 yards of total offense against a Virginia Tech team that was supposed to have one of the better defenses in 2015. There’s no doubt OSU stays No. 1 this week.

2. Alabama

Preseason SQ Rank: 2

Coaches Poll Rank: 2

The Crimson Tide will always have a top-5 team as long as Nick Saban is around. Jake Coker finally took the reins of the starting QB job, commanding an offense that looked just as powerful as its ever been. Derek Henry bulldozed his way to 147 yards rushing, while the defense allowed just 268 total yards. 

3. TCU

Preseason SQ Rank: 3

Coaches Poll Rank: 3

TCU didn’t look as explosive as it did when last season ended, but that was because of a stingy Minnesota defense that kept fighting. Trevone Boykin looked good under center (26/42, 246 yards passing and one touchdown), but he still has plenty of room for improvement in the passing game. However, that should be fixed this week as the Horned Frogs take on Stephen F. Austin.

4. Michigan State

Preseason SQ Rank: 4

Coaches Poll Rank: 6

The Spartans faced a decent mid-major non-conference opponent last week in Western Michigan, coming away with a 37-24 victory, but will get a real test this week against Oregon. The defense looked a little shaky against the pass, giving up 365 yards, and needs to improve this week against the high-flying Ducks offense.

5. Baylor

Preseason SQ Rank: 5

Coaches Poll Rank: 4

It doesn’t matter who Art Briles inserts at quarterback; the Bears will have plenty of production. Seth Russell is now the signal caller of the Baylor offense and looked exceptional against SMU (376 passing yards, five touchdowns), but needs to improve on his accuracy after he completed just 50% of his passes.

6. Auburn

Preseason SQ Rank: 6

Coaches Poll Rank: 7

Jeremy Johnson really struggled against Louisville, throwing for just 137 yards and three interceptions. However, the ground game was able to do enough, with the team rushing for 190 yards and two scores. The defense is still improving under Will Muschamp, doing better against the pass as opposed to the run – the team gave up 167 passing yards and 238 rushing yards. This team still needs to improve before its SEC slate begins next week at LSU.

7. Oregon

Preseason SQ Rank: 7

Coaches Poll Rank: 5

There was definitely a noticeable difference without Marcus Mariota as the Oregon quarterback in the first week of the season, but Vernon Adams held his own against Eastern Washington. Oregon’s defense needs to shape up after giving up 42 points and 438 passing yards last weekend if it’s going to stand a chance against Michigan State this week.

8. Ole Miss

Preseason SQ Rank: 8

Coaches Poll Rank: 14

Coming into the season, it was expected that the Ole Miss defense would be one of the best in the country, but nobody expected the offense to come out flying. The Rebels put up a stunning 76 points, while giving up just three to Tennessee-Martin. Of course, that was an insignificant FCS opponent, but it’s still impressive nonetheless.

9. USC

Preseason SQ Rank: 9

Coaches Poll Rank: 10

USC was able to put up an impressive offensive performance, putting up 55 points. However, the offensive line needs immediate improvement after giving up five sacks against Arkansas State. Cody Kessler is the key to this offense, but he can’t help the Trojans if he’s constantly pressured or sacked.

10. Georgia

Preseason SQ Rank: 10

Coaches Poll Rank: 9

As expected, Georgia leaned heavily on its run game, with the three-headed monster of Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall and Sony Michel combining for 234 yards. Even though the Bulldogs put up 51 points, there’s a stat that shows that Georgia’s offense could need some improvement. According to, Georgia’s offense only gained 54.5% of its available yards, compared to Tennessee who gained 71.8% of its available yards against a similar opponent in Bowling Green.

11. Florida State

Preseason SQ Rank: 11

Coaches Poll Rank: 8

Everett Golson looked phenomenal in his Florida State debut, completing 76% of his passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns. Dalvin Cook also contributed 156 yards on the ground for the Seminoles as they blew past Texas State, 59-16. Look for the Seminoles to continue its offensive dominance against USF this weekend.

12. UCLA

Preseason SQ Rank: 23

Coaches Poll Rank: 13

Our biggest mover in the SQ Poll, UCLA looked fantastic in its season-opener against Virginia. Josh Rosen, didn’t look like a freshman at all, and could be a possible Heisman contender if can put up 300-yards passing on a weekly basis.

13. Notre Dame

Preseason SQ Rank: 15

Coaches Poll Rank: 11

Notre Dame made a lot of noise when it beat up Texas 38-3 in the first week of the season. Malik Zaire passed the eye-test in this game (313 passing yards, three touchdowns) and the defense looked as lockdown as it did in the 2012 season, giving up a total of just 163 total yards. This is definitely a team that could hop into the top-5 very soon.

14. Georgia Tech

Preseason SQ Rank: 14

Coaches Poll Rank: 16

Georgia Tech’s option offense just ran right through helpless Alcorn State, putting up 476 rushing yards. Running back Marcus Marshall stole the show with 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only eight carries. Putting up 69 points in the first game of the season is always a good way to start off hot.

15. Clemson

Preseason SQ Rank: 12

Coaches Poll Rank: 12

Clemson completely out-matched Wofford last week, winning 49-10. The offense combined for 533 total yards, while the defense gave up just 213 yards. Clemson will look to do much of the same against Appalachian State this week.

16. LSU

Preseason SQ Rank: 13

Coaches Poll Rank: 15

It’s a shame that LSU’s first game was rained out because the Tigers really could’ve used a warm-up game before they hit the road against Mississippi State this week. LSU really needs to come out of the gates strong to win this game.

17. Arkansas

Preseason SQ Rank: 20

Coaches Poll Rank: 18

Arkansas may have had the most impressive offensive performance of all last week, gaining 96.2% of its available yards (according to QB Brandon Allen was outstanding, completing 14 of 18 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns. The defense was just as good, allowing UTEP to gain just 25.6% of its available yards.

18. Mississippi State

Preseason SQ Rank: 18

Coaches Poll Rank: Not Ranked

Mississippi State’s defense has to improve if it’s going to compete for the SEC title this season. The Bulldogs were almost out-gained by Southern Miss, allowing 413 yards on defense. Facing LSU this weekend should show where Mississippi State stands in the pack.

19. Oklahoma

Preseason SQ Rank: 19

Coaches Poll Rank: 17

Oklahoma looked like a much different team than it did a year ago in its first game against Akron. The offense looked a lot better with Baker Mayfield under center (388 passing yards, three touchdowns), while the defense thwarted nearly every drive Akron had, allowing the Zips to score just three points and gain 226 yards. This week’s matchup against Tennessee is definitely one to watch.

20. Texas A&M

Preseason SQ Rank: 21

Coaches Poll Rank: 19

After coming into the season unranked in both the AP and Coaches Poll, the Aggies upset Arizona State in a big way. Texas A&M showed all of those who doubted it why it should be a top-20 team, defeating the Sun Devils, 38-17. The defense showed a lot of improvement in its first game under new defensive coordinator John Chavis, allowing under 200 yards passing and just 92 yards rushing.

21. Tennessee

Preseason SQ Rank: 22

Coaches Poll Rank: 23

There’s a lot of hype surrounding the Butch Jones-led squad this season, and Tennessee answered nicely with a 59-30 win over Bowling Green. Running the ball looks like it will be a real strength for the Vols this season as Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara combined for 267 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

22. Missouri

Preseason SQ Rank: Not Ranked

Coaches Poll Rank: 21

Missouri wasn’t overly impressive in its 34-3 win over Southeast Missouri State, but after getting to back-to-back SEC title games, it’s hard to doubt this team. The offense isn’t going to wow you, but the defense will do enough to keep the Tigers in the game.

23. Boise State

Preseason SQ Rank: 25

Coaches Poll Rank: 22

What a way to start the season by beating former coach Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies 16-13. Boise State has another interesting matchup this weekend against BYU, and if the Broncos can get past the Cougars with a win, they could win-out the rest of the season.

24. Arizona

Preseason SQ Rank: Not Ranked

Coaches Poll Rank: 20

Arizona won a closer than expected contest against UTSA, 42-32, last weekend. The Wildcats’ defense has to improve against the run if it hopes to beat Nevada this week after they gave up 193 rushing yards to UTSA. Losing Scooby Wright III on defense certainly hurts and could hinder the team the next couple weeks.

25. Wisconsin

Preseason SQ Rank: 17

Coaches Poll Rank: 24

Losing to Alabama isn’t really a bad loss, especially to start the season. Wisconsin still has plenty of time to improve its record and ranking when it plays against a weaker Big Ten conference. Expect to see Wisconsin back in the top-20 soon.

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Best College Football Games to Watch in Week Two

A handful of upsets and many great games highlighted Week 1 of the college football season. Now, Week 2 is showing a lot of promise, with three top-25 matchups. Here are just a few of the games you should turn your attention to this Saturday.

14 LSU @  25 Mississippi StateIn 2014, this was the first

A handful of upsets and many great games highlighted Week 1 of the college football season. Now, Week 2 is showing a lot of promise, with three top-25 matchups. Here are just a few of the games you should turn your attention to this Saturday.

14 LSU @  25 Mississippi State – In 2014, this was the first signature win for Mississippi State; a win that announced that the Bulldogs were a serious contender, not just in the SEC, but for a Playoff spot as well. This early matchup serves not just as a road test for LSU, but its first test all season, as the Tigers’ first game of the season was cancelled due to weather. 

LSU’s defense didn’t have an answer for Dak Prescott — he finished with 268 passing yards, 105 rushing yards and three total touchdowns — in Death Valley last season, but this isn’t the same Mississippi State offense from a year ago. Combining Mississippi State’s unimpressive 34-16 win over Southern Miss and LSU’s cancellation, this game could be one of the more interesting ones to watch this weekend.

20 Boise State @ BYU – Both of these teams came away with close wins in their season openers. Not to take anything away from Boise’s 16-13 win over former head coach Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies, but BYU’s 42-yard Hail Mary as time expired is clearly more eye-popping. Boise State took this one handily last season, winning by 25, but I’m not so sure that will be the case this year.

Last week, BYU freshman QB Tanner Mangum looked great in relief after starter Taysom Hill suffered a season-ending injury. Mangum completed seven of 11 passes for 111 yards, threw the game-winning touchdown and added 26 yards on the ground over five carries. If he can show that same consistency this week, Boise State could be next on the upset list for BYU.

7 Oregon @ 5 Michigan State – Looking at this weekend’s slate of games, this is arguably the best game to watch. Any top-10 matchup this early in the season is surely a must-watch game. Michigan State is looking for some revenge after getting beaten badly by the Ducks last season, and they want a signature win to hang their hats on. 

A win for the Spartans here would look great on their resume for the College Football Playoff. The quarterback play will be fun to watch in this game, as Oregon QB Vernon Adams looked comfortable in his first FBS game while Michigan State QB Connor Cook is ready to shine in his final season.

19 Oklahoma @ 23 Tennessee – With so much hype surrounding Tennessee, this game will give Butch Jones and co. their first real test and will be a good measuring stick to see where both teams stand this season. If Tennessee comes out on top, the rest of the SEC should take notice and be a little wary. However, if Oklahoma is the victor, the Big 12 race could involve more than just two teams, as was originally predicted.

Both offenses got to beat up on inferior MAC defenses last week, but this week will really show how effective each team can be. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield looked like a stud against Akron, throwing for 388 yards and three touchdowns. Tennessee’s ground game was absurd against Bowling Green, with Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd combining for 267 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Don’t expect these numbers on Saturday, but there should be some fireworks from each team.

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2015 College Football Season Preview: What You Need to Know

Tailgate grills are firing up, students are getting all decked out in the best gear and the players and coaches are itching to get back on the field. It's the time of year when the leaves begin to change and the air begins to cool; it's college football season. The FBS season officially starts

Tailgate grills are firing up, students are getting all decked out in the best gear and the players and coaches are itching to get back on the field. It’s the time of year when the leaves begin to change and the air begins to cool; it’s college football season. The FBS season officially starts today, and we here at SQ are beyond pumped for what 2015 will bring. So we’ve created this roundtable preview to give you the rundown on what to expect this season.

Which QB should start for Ohio State?

Ray Boone: J.T. Barrett

Geoff Hammersley: J.T. Barrett. He was named team captain last week.

Erik Weiss: As good as J.T. Barrett is, when your first three career starts result in a Big Ten Championship, a Sugar Bowl victory and a National Championship, you deserve to be the starter.

Sean Berger: J.T. Barrett should get the nod in week one. He deserves it after leading the team all the way to the Big Ten title game. I understand what Cardale Jones did in the three games he played was nothing short of spectacular, but Barrett should at least get to start the first week.

Is moving Braxton Miller to WR from QB a good move for Ohio State?

Ray: Yes. He was considered a Heisman candidate a few years ago.

Geoff: Yes. Braxton’s speed is something straight out of a cartoon. Give him an inch of space, and he’s gone.

Erik: It’s a good move for both parties, actually. Let’s be real here, Braxton is the worst of the three quarterbacks position-wise, but he is clearly the best athlete. It would do both him, and the team, no good to keep him as a backup QB.

Sean: This is definitely a great move for the Buckeyes. If Urban Meyer isn’t going to start Miller at QB, he might as well use his explosive athletic ability somewhere else on the field. Miller could definitely be the secret weapon on Meyer’s offense this season.

Which coach is in most danger of losing his job heading into the season?

Ray: Al Golden, Miami

Geoff: Art Briles, Baylor

Erik: Al Golden, Miami

Sean: Al Golden, Miami

Well it looks as though Al Golden’s seat is really starting to heat up down at the “U,” and while Art Briles has seen a string of success on the field, the recent mess with Sam Ukwuachu has landed him in some hot water.

Which player has the best shot to win the Heisman?

Ray: J.T. Barrett, QB Ohio State

Geoff: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Erik: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

Sean: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

Both J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott are solid choices here; Barrett had a phenomenal freshman season (2,834 passing yards, 34 touchdowns), while Elliott put on stellar performances in the Big Ten Championship, Sugar Bowl and National Championship (696 total rushing yards, eight touchdowns). However, Trevone Boykin will put up the production that could put him over the top. Boykin threw for 3,901 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2014, leaving many to think he could surpass those totals in 2015.

Which team will have a breakout season?

Ray: Arkansas

Geoff: Tennessee

Erik: Tennessee

Sean: Tennessee

It seems our writers at least agree on the fact that this season’s breakout team will come from the SEC, there’s just a little debate on which program it will be. Arkansas had a strong finish to 2014 by winning three of its last four games, including a pair of wins over teams ranked in the top-20 (LSU and Ole Miss) in consecutive weeks. Tennessee, on the other hand, is looking to make a lot of noise in the SEC East after finding a spark when Josh Dobbs was inserted under center. The Vols may have the edge here based on a weaker division.

Which player will have a breakout season in 2015?

Ray: A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

Geoff: Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

Erik: Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn

Sean: Seth Russell, QB, Baylor

A lot of division here between our writers, as they each think a different player will have a breakout season in 2015. A’Shawn Robinson, a former five-star recruit, had a solid season recording 49 tackles (6.5 of which were for a loss) and was named as an All-SEC Honorable Mention selection by the Associated Press. Corey Clement looks to replace the almighty Melvin Gordon, who ran past pretty much everyone last season.

Jeremy Johnson has a lot of hype surrounding him, despite playing just a single half of football last season. Be that as it may, Johnson gives a better passing element to an already explosive Gus Malzahn offense, giving experts the justification to praise him so highly. Then there’s Seth Russell, who may be unknown, but could be one of the most talked about quarterbacks by the end of the season. Art Briles has a quarterback factory at Baylor, and Russell is latest to come off one of the most productive assembly lines.

What team that will bounce back in 2015?

Ray: Florida

Geoff: Michigan

Erik: LSU

Sean: Michigan

Both Michigan and Florida will begin a new era with Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain taking over the helm for each respective program. Harbaugh returns to his roots in Ann Arbor, hoping to bring back glory to the maize and blue, while McElwain hopes to revive a Florida team that has been anemic on offense the last few seasons. Les Miles and LSU had a rare off-year in 2014, but 2015 looks to be filled with more promise, just as long as quarterback play improves.

Which current top-25 team will finish the season unranked?

Ray: Missouri. Lost a lot of talent on defense/offense.

Geoff: Baylor. I think all the stuff happening off the field will get to them. It’ll be a snowball effect: lose one game, and then it turns into three in a row. 

Erik: I’m not that high on UCLA. Their quarterback situation is up in the air and with teams like USC, California and Arizona State on the rise, the Bruins may have a down year.

Sean: Missouri will be the team to fall out of the Top-25 by the end of the season. Losing a lot of talent on defense, coupled with the inconsistent play of QB Maty Mauk, could be what does the Tigers in.

Which unranked team has the chance to finish the season in the top-25?

Ray: Florida! No particular reason why.

Geoff: Michigan. I don’t think they will be top-10, but certainly will be in the ranking when all is said and done.

Erik: Mississippi State can definitely finish the season ranked. Let’s not forget they were the top team in the country for quite some time last year. There’s no way Dak Prescott leaves this school without a successful year.

Sean: There’s not a lot of talk surrounding Oklahoma State, but the Mike Gundy-coached squad has a shot to make some real noise this season. It found its offensive leader in QB Mason Rudolph last season, and the sophomore could do a lot of damage in 2015.

In your opinion, what game will be the best to watch this season, and why?

Ray: Florida vs FSU. Because I’m a diehard gator fan, and I hate the Seminoles.

Geoff: Ohio State vs. Michigan State. The game will essentially be for the Big Ten Championship, and will have playoff implications if both teams walk into Columbus unbeaten. 

Erik: Baylor vs TCU, easily. Who doesn’t want to watch a game that ends in a score of 82-80? Also considering how vital the outcome could be for playoff implications, this game is a no-brainer.

Sean: This is such a tough question, but I’m going with the Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama. Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin going up against Gus Malzahn and Will Muschamp, there are sure to be fireworks flying in this one. Not to mention, there could be conference title or College Football Playoff implications on the line.

Who will be the most exciting player to watch in 2015?

Ray: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Geoff: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

Erik: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

Sean: Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

In the nation’s toughest conference, Nick Chubb looked like a seasoned pro with the way he tore up the field as a freshman. Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and scored 14 touchdowns, while averaging 7.01 yards per carry (first in SEC). Barrett is a phenomenal athlete who we already talked about a little, but the versatility he brings to the offense is so invaluable. There’s also Boykin, who seems to put together a highlight reel every time he steps onto the field; often using his legs to escape pressure, then launching a bomb to an open receiver.

Is the SEC still the “best” conference in college football? If not, give the conference you think has surpassed it.

Ray: Yes

Geoff: Big Ten

Erik: Yes

Sean: Yes

The SEC has failed to produce a national champion the past two seasons after crowning seven straight from 2006-2012. However, the conference has a lot of quality football teams coming out of it year-in and year-out, and they consistently show up in the top-25. The Big Ten showed some life last season, and with Ohio State looking like a juggernaut under Urban Meyer, the conference makes a quality case. But it’s not nearly as deep as the SEC, or even the PAC-12.

Which new head coach will have the most success in his first season?

Ray: Jim McElwain, Florida

Geoff: Tom Herman, Houston

Erik: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin

Sean: Tom Herman, Houston

There are a plethora of questions surrounding the Gators’ offense heading into 2015, but there’s optimism that if this team can show some semblance of life on that side of the ball, it can compete for a division title. Herman is the latest apple to fall from the Urban Meyer coaching tree, and there’s reason to believe he can turn an underachieving Houston team into a conference contender immediately. Paul Chryst will head up his alma mater, taking over for a Wisconsin program that has the pieces to contend for a second straight division title.

Which offense will be the most explosive in 2015?

Ray: Oregon. It always is. 

Geoff: Ohio State. Putting Braxton Miller at H-back alone makes the Buckeyes the most dangerous offensive team in the country. Throw in J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott, and it’s just unfair.

Erik: I’m going with TCU here. They return 10 of 11 starters from 2014, including the leading passer, rusher and both leading receivers. They have the talent, and now chemistry, to produce electrifying numbers. 

Sean: Baylor will again be the nation’s most explosive offense. The quarterback may have changed, but much of the supporting cast remains. Running back Shock Linwood and receivers K.D. Cannon and Corey Coleman all return, giving new signal caller Seth Russell plenty of weapons.

Which team will have the most lockdown defense in 2015?

Ray: Alabama. Too much talent across the board.

Geoff: Alabama. I feel as if Nick Saban is looking for retribution after last season’s Sugar Bowl loss. Whatever went wrong last season, expect it to be fixed by the time conference play begins.

Erik: I don’t really have one team in mind, but the SEC will most definitely boast some of the country’s best defense in teams like Alabama, LSU and Florida.

Sean: Alabama is going to win a lot of games this season, and they’re going to do it with a lot of help from the defense. This defense has plenty of talent returning, and has a chip on its shoulder after giving up 42 points and 537 total yards against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl last year.

Which Power 5 Conference will get left out of the College Football Playoff?

Ray: Big 12

Geoff: ACC

Erik: ACC

Sean: ACC

The Big 12 was snubbed from the College Football Playoff last season, after both Baylor and TCU were left, with many speculating that the failure to have a “true” conference champion being the reason. Could the same thing happen again in 2015? Meanwhile, the ACC doesn’t seem to have a true contender to make it back to the Playoff. Sure, Florida State and Clemson have a shot, but can they put up the type of season that warrants a selection?

Which conference stands the best chance to get two teams into the Playoff?

Ray: SEC

Geoff: Big Ten

Erik: SEC

Sean: Big Ten

Both the Big Ten and SEC have a couple teams that could crack the top-4 and make the College Football Playoff, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either one of these conferences get two teams in. The SEC is always loaded, but if two teams get into the Playoff, they’ll likely come from the SEC West. It’s a packed division, with Auburn and Alabama currently the two favorites at the top.

Similarly, the Big Ten would have two division foes crack the top as Ohio State and Michigan State both look very strong. Plus, there’s the chance that the only loss either of these two teams sustains could come from the other one.

Which four teams will make it to the College Football Playoff?

Ray: Ohio State, Alabama, Florida State, Georgia

Geoff: Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan State, Oklahoma

Erik: Ohio State, TCU, Auburn, LSU

Sean: Ohio State, TCU, Auburn, USC

If there’s one thing the writers can agree on here, it’s that Ohio State will again be playing in the Playoff. The defending national champs don’t have a particularly difficult schedule, and with what the team did last season, there are a lot of people who are betting on the Buckeyes to repeat. There’s also a representative from the SEC in each writer’s choice, presuming each one is the conference champion. Auburn and Alabama were picked as the top two teams in the SEC, and either one could very well reach the Playoff. 

It’s not surprising to see Michigan State on the list, especially after the discussion above. What is surprising to see is the uniqueness of our writers’ fourth and final choice. Georgia hasn’t drawn a lot of Playoff talk, although the ‘Dawgs could pull off a surprise run to the Playoff, especially if they win the SEC. Oklahoma is definitely a dark horse choice, due in large part to the fact that it would have to beat both TCU and Baylor. USC is another team that’s on the rise for 2015, and QB Cody Kessler has quietly made a name for himself in the PAC-12. Don’t be surprised if the Trojans turn a lot of heads this year.

Which team will win the national championship?

Ray: Alabama. A lot of talent.

Geoff: I want to believe Ohio State. This team is too good to not win it again. With that being said, if they run into a rematch with Michigan State in the playoffs, or even Alabama, all bets are off at what happens.

Erik: I have TCU over Ohio State in a close one. The Horned Frogs just have too much offensive firepower to be stopped, and they always seem to perform 200% better during bowl games.

Sean: TCU has a great shot to win the national title, provided it doesn’t get snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee again. The offense will undoubtedly be one of the best in the nation, while the defense is sure to be superb under Gary Patterson.

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SQ SEC Football Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. Just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Big Ten, and today we

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. Just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Big Ten, and today we will take a look at the SEC.

What Happened in 2014:

Conference Champion: Alabama

Coach of the Year: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

In just three years as part of the conference, Missouri has won back-to-back SEC East titles under Gary Pinkel. Pinkel led the Tigers to a 7-1 record in conference play last season, and the second straight SEC title game appearance for the team. The 2014 divisional title was the team’s fifth since 2007, tying Alabama and Florida State for the most in that span.

Offensive Player of the Year: WR Amari Cooper, Alabama

Cooper set a school and SEC record by catching 124 passes last season, while also leading the conference in receiving yards (1,727), receiving yards per game (123.4) and touchdown receptions (16). The stellar receiver was also named a Heisman finalist, finishing third in the final balloting. However, Cooper managed to take home the Fred Biletnikoff Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top receiver.

Defensive Player of the Year: DE Shane Ray, Missouri

Ray was one of the nation’s most dynamic pass rushers in 2014. In just his first season as a starter, Ray racked up 13 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss; both were tops in the SEC. The defensive end also forced three fumbles and recorded five QB hurries. Clearly on the radar for every NFL scout, Ray was a first round draft choice by the Denver Broncos in 2015.

Three Memorable Games:

1. Auburn 44 vs. Alabama 55, Nov. 30th – Every season, fans of the SEC, and college football in general, look forward to this game; 2014 was no different. Just by looking at the combined score of 99 points, you can tell the action was nonstop, with both teams trading blows back and forth. Auburn held a 33-21 lead early in the third quarter, but it was not to be as the Crimson Tide would stage a huge comeback. Alabama’s offense went on an all-out air assault, scoring 34 points over a 23 minute span, giving the team the Iron Bowl victory.

2. Alabama 20 vs. LSU 13 (OT), Nov. 9th – Facing LSU down in Death Valley never makes for an easy matchup, and this game held true to that. It was a defensive battle throughout the game, with Alabama clinging to a 10-7 lead at the end of the first half. After tying the game in the third quarter, kicker Colby Delahoussaye
nailed a field goal to put the Tigers up 13-10 with just 50 seconds remaining.

It wasn’t over though, as Blake Sims
would march the ‘Bama offense down the field completing four of seven passes for 50 yards, putting the team in field goal range. The Tide tied the game and went on to score on its first OT possession, and stopped LSU on the ensuing drive to win the game.

3. Ole Miss 7 vs. LSU 10, Oct. 25th – LSU shouldn’t have been anywhere close to winning this game after turning the ball over four times. But thanks to the inability of the Ole Miss offense to really get anything going on offense, the Tigers were able to hang in long enough. The Rebels even held a 7-3 lead midway through the fourth, but LSU’s offense put together a heck of a drive when it went 95 yards on 13 plays.

A three-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Jennings
put the Tigers up 10-7, capping the drive. Ole Miss had a chance to tie the game with nine seconds remaining, but Bo Wallace
would throw a costly interception, effectively ending the game.

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Conference Favorite: Auburn

While the SEC media had a hard time deciding on who the true conference favorite should be, we find it a little easier to pick Auburn heading into the year. How can you go wrong picking a Gus Malzahn offense coupled with a Will Muschamp defense? And while it’s easier said than done, Auburn has the pieces to once again be crowned conference champions.

Jeremy Johnson will make Auburn a true threat in the passing game, while running back Roc Johnson (214 yards, 4.98 yards per carry) and receiver D’haquille Williams (45 catches, 730 yards) are poised to have breakout seasons. And with Carl Lawson returning, the Tigers should have a better pass rush than it did last season, garnering just 10 sacks in eight SEC games.

Conference Dark Horse: Georgia

The past few seasons Georgia has been that team that shows so much promise, but slips up just enough to cost itself a shot at the title. Head coach Mark Richt is a winning coach, but never seems to win the big game. That could change in 2015 though. Georgia is again picked to win the SEC East, the second time in the past three seasons it’s been chosen as the divisional favorite.

The offense again will be dominated by the ground and pound attack of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall. Under center, the ‘Dawgs recently named transfer Greyson Lambert the starter, whose main priority will be to hold on to the football and avoid costly mistakes. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt should continue to see his defense improve over the course of the season after giving up just 20.7 points per game in 2014.

Most Improved Team: Tennessee

Hurry up, the bandwagon is almost full for the Vols’ 2015 season. Butch Jones has a lot of people believing in Tennessee this season, and there’s quite a few reasons to like his squad this year. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs
seemed to ignite a spark in the offense last season after being injected as the starter. Dobbs went 4-2 as the team’s starter over the final six games, throwing for 1,206 yards and nine touchdowns. Jalen Hurd is a budding star at running back and should rush for around 1,000 yards this season.

The Tennessee defense has taken great strides over the past three seasons, improving its scoring offense by 11.5 points per game (35.7 in 2012, 24.2 in 2014). And with one of the nation’s premier pass rush duos in Curt Maggitt
and Derek Barnett (combined for 21 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss in 2014), opponents will undoubtedly hate facing this attack.

Freshmen to Watch:

1. Byron Cowart, DE, AuburnESPN ranked this guy as their No. 1 overall recruit for a reason. Cowart is a beast off the edge that registered 24 sacks and 36 tackles for loss over the final two seasons of his high school career. He chose to follow Muschamp to Auburn, believing he can be the next great defensive end under the coach. There’s no doubt he’ll get plenty of playing time this season as getting to the quarterback was an issue for the Tigers last season.

2. Martez Ivey, OT, FloridaFlorida desperately needs help rebuilding its offensive line after it was depleted following the 2014 season, and Ivey is expected to contribute immediately. Although he recently just had his knee scoped, the big fellow hasn’t been ruled out of the season opener against New Mexico State. Ivey is slotted as the backup left tackle, which will be a good spot to get his feet wet.

3. Trent Thompson, DT, GeorgiaThompson is expected to be a contributor off the bat for the Bulldogs in 2015. The No. 1 overall recruit, according to 247Sports, is an explosive athlete that has been showing glimpses of greatness in practice. The defensive tackle came up with an eye-popping 74 tackles for loss over his final two seasons as a prep standout. 

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

The SEC will be dominated by the running back in 2015, and there’s no better player to pick to win the Offensive Player of the Year Award than Nick Chubb. Chubb was the SEC’s Freshman of the Year in 2014 after rushing for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns. The stellar freshman led the SEC with an average of 7.01 yards per carry as well. He’s an explosive runner that is nearly impossible to stop, and can single-handedly take control of the offense.

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

It’s quite easy to pick Barnett in this spot after the season he put up last season. Barnett accounted for 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss in 2014, making it look effortless to get into the backfield time and time again. He’s one of the keys that could make this a very interesting season for Tennessee. Barnett was a second-team All-SEC media pick prior to this upcoming season.

Three Games to Watch:

1. Tennessee at Florida, Sept. 26th – This could be Tennessee’s most important game of the season. The Vols have lost 10 straight to the Gators, and if they’re going to get on the right track, marching out of Gainesville with a victory would make a pretty powerful statement. For the Gators, this is chance for Jim McElwain to make a name for himself early and for him keep the fanbase at bay. Gators fans have become accustomed to beating Tennessee over the years, and a loss now might stir some the wrong way.

2. Alabama at Georgia, Oct. 3rd – This is one of the best cross-divisional matchups the conference will see in 2015. Georgia’s got a great shot to compete for a conference title this season, and a win against the Crimson Tide will go a long way to make the team believe it can do that. The last time these two teams met was the 2012 SEC title game that ended in heart break for the Bulldogs.

3. Alabama at Auburn, Nov. 28th – Saving the best for last, the 2015 Iron Bowl will be one of the most anticipated games all season. This rivalry has gone to new heights over the past few years and could reach a new peak this season. Now that Gus Malzahn has paired up with Will Muschamp and Nick Saban with Lane Kiffin, this will be the most epic battle between coach and coordinator duos. If Muschamp can improve the Auburn defense just enough, that could very well be the difference in this game.

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #5 Baylor

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. Auburn came in at #6, but today’s focus is on #5 Baylor.

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. Auburn came in at #6, but today’s focus is on #5 Baylor.

Team: Baylor

SQ Ranking: 5

2014 Record: 11-2

Finish in AP Poll: 7th

Head Coach: Art Briles (8th year)

Key Arrivals: QB Jarrett Stidham, WR Blake Lynch, DB J.W. Ketchum III

Key Departures: QB Bryce Petty, ILB Bryce Hager, WR Antwan Goodley, WR Levi Norwood, P Spencer Roth

Previewing the Baylor Offense: Art Briles is an offensive guru, and has done wonders since taking over the Baylor program. Over the past four seasons, Baylor’s offense has consistently been ranked in the top-5 in scoring, with the Bears leading the nation in 2013 and 2014.

Baylor will be transitioning to a new quarterback in 2015, but that’s not a problem as the offense has withstood that test with ease before. It survived the departure of RG3, Nick Florence and now it’ll move forward without Bryce Petty.

Seth Russell will take over under center for the Bears in 2015, and in limited time the last two seasons, he’s shown he can handle the job. Between 2013 and 2014, Russell threw for 1,231 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. Russell can also run a little bit, rushing for 332 yards over the past two years.

What’s important though, is the fact that Russell won’t have too much pressure on him given the weapons at his disposal. The Bears have a stellar offensive line led by All-American left tackle Spencer Drango, who will probably be Russell’s new best friend, protecting him from blind-sided hits. Baylor also returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Shock Linwood (1,252 yards, 16 touchdowns) and the top returning receiving duo in K.D. Cannon and Corey Coleman. The duo combined for 2,149 yards and 19 touchdowns last season.

However, Baylor may have one of the “biggest” secret weapons on offense come 2015. The Bears will be trotting out 6’7″, 410-pound LaQuan McGowan as a tight end when the season begins, and don’t let his size fool you as he has great athletic ability. He surprised everyone when he caught a pass during last year’s Cotton Bowl, but that wasn’t the end of his time as a receiving threat as he’ll be used plenty this season.

Even with a new quarterback, Baylor shouldn’t experience too much if any drop off from its offensive production in 2014. With the talent and amount of weapons Art Briles has, he’ll find a way to score a ton of points again.

Previewing the Baylor Defense: Looking at the Baylor defense, there are a couple things the Bears need to improve on as 2015 rolls around. One of those things is limiting the big play. The Bears gave up 62 plays that measured between 30 and 50 yards last season, which was the worst in the Big 12. Then there’s the fact that Baylor ranked 101st in the nation in opponent redzone scoring percentage (86.84%). But fear not, Baylor has the pieces that can make this defense one of the better units in the conference. 

It starts up front on the line with the monster defensive end, Shawn Oakman. Oakman, whose jacked physique nearly broke the internet, set the school single-season record in sacks (11) and was close to breaking the school record for tackles for loss in a season with 19.5. Along with the star defensive end, Baylor has All-Big 12 nose tackle Andrew Billings (11.5 tackles for loss, nine QB hurries) and freshman All-American K.J. Smith (five sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss) returning to help anchor the line.

Moving to the middle of the defense, the Bears found a surprising leader in Taylor Young who finished the season second on the team with 92 tackles, tallying 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks along the way. Former JUCO transfer Grant Campbell is set to take over for three-time All-Big 12 linebacker Bryce Hager up the middle. Travon Blanchard will be the team’s starting nickelback, which will be an improvement due to his ability to cover ground quickly.

The secondary is where it gets a little rocky. To be fair though, all four of Baylor’s starters last season were inexperienced first-year starters. With more experience and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett being able to create a more effective rotation with healthy bodies, this secondary should take a step forward.

Three Key Games:

1. Baylor vs. Texas Tech (Played at AT&T Stadium), Oct. 3rd – Last year’s matchup was one that Texas Tech wish it could have back, allowing Baylor to escape with a 48-46 victory. This season, the contest serves as the opening conference bout for both teams and the introduction of Seth Russell to the Big 12. By this game Russell should have a groove going with the offense, but Baylor’s defense could hinder it in this one. Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes torched the Bears secondary for 598 yards and six touchdowns.

2. Baylor at Oklahoma State, Nov. 21st – Baylor does not fare well when traveling to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State. In fact, the Bears are 0-11 when visiting the Cowboys, dating back to 1972. Oklahoma State could be one of the best surprises in 2015 with new QB Mason Rudolph ready to do just as much damage as he did when he started the team’s three remaining games last season.

3. Baylor at TCU, Nov. 27th – Every game in the regular season will be building up to this matchup between these two Big 12 giants. Splitting the conference title with TCU didn’t sit well with Baylor last season, especially after beating the Horned Frogs during the regular season. When these two teams meet again in 2015, there is sure to be an explosion of offense as last year’s meeting produced 119 total points.

Final Analysis: The post-Bryce Petty era is now looming over Waco, but Baylor just shrugs and points to the next man up. Seth Russell will command the offense, but he will have plenty of help from playmakers like K.D. Cannon, Corey Coleman and Shock Linwood. The combination of those players will make Baylor’s offense deadly once more in 2015.

The defense should be good enough in the front seven to hold off opposing offenses, while the secondary works out the issues that made it look atrocious at times last season. If the secondary can get it together and the defense can stop opponents in the redzone, Baylor will have one of the most complete teams in the country. 

Baylor has enough talent offensively to roll through the Big 12 and emerge with an 11-1 record. Heck, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Bears finished the regular season undefeated and wound up playing in the College Football Playoff. After all, that’s pretty much the only way Baylor will make it to the big dance.

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SQ PAC-12 Football Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. Just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Big 12, and today we

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. Just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Big 12, and today we will take a look at the PAC-12.

What Happened in 2014:

Conference Champion: Oregon 13-2 (8-1); Won conference title game 51-13 over Arizona

Coach of the Year: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona

After a pair of 8-5 seasons, Rodriguez broke through the mold and cracked a double-digit win total, the first time Arizona has done that since 1998. Rodriguez also led the Wildcats to their first AP top-10 ranking since 2010, reaching as high as eighth in 2014. Arizona stunned the world when it beat #2 Oregon to start the season 5-0, and finished the regular season 10-2 with a berth in the PAC-12 title game.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Mariota was the darling of the college football world of 2014. He put up numbers that made NFL scouts drool over him: he threw for 4,454 yards, produced a 181.75 passer rating and completed 68.3% of his passes. On top of that, he managed to throw 42 touchdown passes with just four interceptions. And in Oregon’s spread-option attack Mariota showed great mobility, rushing for 770 yards and 15 touchdowns and averaging 5.7 yards per carry. It’s easy to see why he won the Heisman and was selected as the second-overall pick by the Tennessee Titans.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Scooby Wright III, Arizona

Arizona clearly saw something in Scooby Wright III that a lot of others missed, being the only FBS school to offer him a scholarship. It sure paid off last season after Wright brought home enough awards to fill a trophy case. The inside linebacker won the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Lombardi Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Jack Lambert Trophy. Wright’s versatility was the key to his success, as he was able to be effective in the pass rush (14 sacks, 29 tackles for loss) and was able to bring down ball carriers with ease (163 tackles).

Three Memorable Games:

1. Oregon 24 vs. Arizona 31, Oct. 2nd – Two years, two upsets. Arizona has played the spoiler for Oregon two straight seasons, and 2014 was especially sweet. Oregon and quarterback Marcus Mariota had the game in their hands, for what was supposed to be another shining moment for the eventual Heisman winner. However, with 2:20 remaining in the fourth quarter Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III wrapped up Mariota and stripped the ball out of his possession. The Wildcats put the first black mark to the Ducks’ name and let the world know that they were a PAC-12 contender.

2. USC 34 vs. Arizona State 38, Oct. 4th – At the end of this game, USC fans were saying: “Who is Mike Bercovici?” That’s because the Arizona State backup threw for 510 yards and four touchdowns after coming in for injured starter Taylor Kelly. Oh, and he also threw up a last second, 46-yard Hail Mary that somehow landed in the arms of receiver Jaelen Strong.

3. Oregon State 35 vs. Arizona State 27, Nov. 15th – Trailing 27-21 early in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Oregon State would lose its fifth straight game. But Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion had other ideas, tossing a 67-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Villamin. The pass put Oregon State on top 28-27 after the extra point. To put the icing on the cake, Michael Doctor intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to put the Beavers up 35-27 with just a 1:38 remaining.  

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Conference Favorite: USC

Despite still not being up to the full allotment of 85 scholarships, USC has a roster built to win. It starts on the offense with QB Cody Kessler who is one of the most underrated signal callers in all of college football. Kessler’s rise to one of the top QB’s in the game makes it really easy to like USC this year. Add to that he’s got one of the top offensive lines in the game to protect him as well as a corp of talented receivers. USC put up an average of 35.8 ppg and 457.5 yards per game last season, but this season the Trojans could top that.

When you look at the Trojans defense, you see a unit that lost a couple key components (All-American Leonard Williams and leading tackler Hayes Pullard), but looks to have enough existing parts and shiny new incoming parts that can fill the gaps. Hybrid linebacker/safety Su’a Cravens is the next star out of the storied Trojans defense; Cravens led the team in interceptions (3) and finished fourth in the PAC-12 with 17 tackles for loss. With Adoree’ Jackson leading the secondary, the Trojans have one of the best shutdown cover corners. 

Overall, there’s a lot to like about this team. The offense is sure to be one of the best in the country, while the defense should improve with experience. USC has three tough road tests against Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon, and all three could mean the life or death for the Trojans’ playoff hopes. But, if coach Steve Sarkisian can win two of those games, USC will have an impressive resume at the end of the season.

Conference Dark Horse: Arizona State

Todd Graham has turned Arizona State around since taking over the team in 2012. Over the last couple seasons, the Sun Devils have emerged as a serious contender for the PAC-12 title. Graham’s crew has won 10 games in each of the past two seasons while winning the PAC-12 South in 2013. But there’s reason to believe that 2015 is the year Arizona State will put it all together.

Mike Bercovici will take the reigns off the offense after showing glimpses of brilliance when stepping in for Taylor Kelly last season. Bercovici threw for 1,445 yards and had two games in which he threw for at least 488 yards. He clearly has the talent to be a star, but there are questions about the tools that surround him, namely at receiver, which was decimated with the departure of Jaelen Strong and the loss of Cameron Smith. 

The Sun Devils have a daunting schedule ahead, facing a gauntlet of Texas A&M, USC and UCLA in three of their first five games. However, the schedule is a little more favorable after that, facing Oregon and Arizona at home this season. Arizona State has been a nice surprise in the PAC-12 the past two seasons, but now the Sun Devils are ready to make their mark.

Most Improved Team: California

The Cal Golden Bears were so close to reaching a bowl game last season; a two point loss to UCLA and a four point loss to Arizona each could’ve gone the other way and sent the team to the postseason. And with one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Jared Goff, returning to lead the offense, there’s no reason to believe that Cal won’t get to a bowl.

In his sophomore season, Goff led the Cal offense to the 11th best scoring offense in the country, putting up 38.3 ppg. Goff finished fifth in the nation in passing yards (3,973), fifth in passing touchdowns (35) and fifth in passing yards per game (331.1). However, he has poised himself to have an even bigger year with the improvement of the weapons around him. The Bears have running back Daniel Lasco returning who ran for 1,115 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Cal also returns a deep receiving group that features Kenny Lawler (54 catches, 701 yards) and Stephen Anderson (46 catches, 661 yards).

On defense, the Bears must improve against the pass after finishing dead last in the nation, giving up 367.2 yards per game and 12.37 yards per completion. The PAC-12 is a pass-happy league and with a defense that is atrocious when the ball is in the air, there’s no way it can be successful. 

Freshmen to Watch:

1. Josh Rosen, QB, UCLAThere is a very strong possibility that Rosen could lead the UCLA offense from the get-go. The No. 1 ranked pro-style QB, according to 247Sports, comes in with a lot of hype surrounding him. Rosen is a strong passer, throwing for 3,186 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior. And although he isn’t the dual threat that Brett Hundley was, Rosen has good enough footwork to navigate through the pocket and escape the pass rush. Rosen is a star in the making at UCLA.

2. Iman Marshall, CB, USCIman Marshall could be the next great defensive back to play for USC. Coming out of high school, Marshall was the top-rated corner as well as the top-ranked player in the state of California. Marshall broke up 16 passes during his senior season, which will definitely come in handy in the pass-heavy PAC-12. He’s a physical guy that has a nose for the ball, registering 79 tackles last season. Marshall could see early playing time if Adoree’ Jackson moves over to the offensive side of the ball.

3. Keisean Lucier-South, OLB, UCLALucier-South has been seeing more time with the first team defense recently and hasn’t really looked out of place. Lucier-South has great size, standing at 6’4″ and weighing in at 215 pounds. His great athleticism and first step help him to be an effective rusher. He may have been clocked at 4.7 in the 40, but he has great closing speed and can zero in on the ball carrier. Ranked as the No. 2 weakside defensive end by 247Sports, Lucier-South recorded 44 tackles and seven sacks during his senior season.

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction – Cody Kessler, QB, USC

It’s amazing how Cody Kessler flew under the radar last season, despite putting up some incredible numbers. Kessler totaled 3,826 passing yards, 39 touchdown passes and completed 69.7 percent of his passes. He could have easily passed up his senior season to head to the NFL, but opted instead to finish his career at USC. There really is no telling what heights Kessler will reach in 2015. Kessler could very well be a frontrunner for the Heisman trophy by the end of the season.

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction – Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona

After winning the award last season and putting up such gaudy numbers, how can you not pick Scooby Wright III to win it again in 2015? Don’t be surprised if Wright doesn’t put up exactly the same kind of stats as he did last year, although that would be pretty impressive. Nonetheless, Wright will still have another phenomenal year as he finishes up his career in Tucson. His passing coverage was the weakest part of his game last season so look for him to improve that part of his game in the coming year.

Three Games to Watch:

1. Stanford vs. Oregon, Nov. 14th – The PAC-12 has been owned by these two teams the past six seasons with Stanford winning the conference title twice and Oregon winning four times. And while neither of these teams are the favorites to win the title this season, both of them are predicted to finish atop the PAC-12 North. The rivalry has seen a pair of highly drafted quarterbacks go through and now will look for the next offensive breakthrough player.

2. Arizona State vs. Arizona, Nov. 21st – These two teams will no doubt be in the thick of the race for the PAC-12 South title which makes the Duel in the Desert all the more a must-win game. The 2014 version of this rivalry saw Arizona secure its berth in the PAC-12 title game with a 42-35 victory. 

3. USC vs. UCLA, Nov. 28th – One of the best rivalries in the sport is showing a lot promise to be one of the must-watch games of 2015. Both teams are primed to have big seasons, competing not just for a conference title, but for a spot in the College Football Playoff as well. UCLA has dominated the rivalry the past two seasons, winning both games by a combined score of 73-34.

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SQ Big 12 Football Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the ACC, and today we

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the ACC, and today we will take a look at the Big 12.

What Happened in 2014:

Conference Co-Champions: Baylor 11-2 (8-1) and TCU 12-1 (8-1)

Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU

Patterson’s quick turnaround effort was nothing short of spectacular and the best of last season. After going 4-8 and missing a bowl in 2013, Patterson turned TCU into a national title contender in 2014. Switching to a spread offense made this unit almost unstoppable. The only loss the Horned Frogs endured was to the team it shared the Big 12 title with, Baylor. Unfortunately, TCU was spurned by the selection committee and not chosen as one of the four teams to play in the first ever College Football Playoff.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Trevone Boykin, TCU

Boykin was the leader of an offense that finished the season second in scoring (46.5 ppg), seventh in passing offense (326.2 yards per game) and tied for fifth in total offense (533 yards per game). The junior led the conference in passing yards (3,901), passing touchdowns (33) and completions (301). Boykin also proved to be a dual threat, rushing for 707 yards and eight touchdowns. These gaudy numbers ultimately led the signal caller to finish fourth in the Heisman voting.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Paul Dawson, TCU

A consensus All-American, Dawson deserved every bit of recognition he received in 2014. The linebacker topped the conference in tackles (136) and tackles for loss (20), while adding six sacks and four interceptions. Dawson excelled in pass coverage, allowing just 35.7 percent of passes to be completed in his direction. One of the best linebackers in the country last season, Dawson was a steal in the third round of the NFL Draft for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Three Memorable Games:

1. Baylor 61 vs. TCU 58, Oct. 11th – This was clearly the best game in the conference last season. The top-two teams in scoring offense showed off their strength in this shootout, combining for 119 points. After TCU led 58-37 with 11:38 left in the game, QB Bryce Petty and RB Shock Linwood led a remarkable comeback. In that span, Petty threw for 113 yards and two touchdowns, while Linwood picked up 106 yards on the ground. Those performances led to a game-winning 28-yard field goal by Baylor kicker Chris Callahan as time expired.

2. Oklahoma 44 vs. Kansas 7, Nov. 22nd – Normally a blowout wouldn’t be a memorable game, but this one has historical significance. Just a week after Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon broke the single-game rushing yards record, Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine topped that by setting a new record. Perine rushed for 427 yards on 34 carries, adding five touchdowns in the process. It was certainly one of the most memorable performances in 2014, and will live on for decades after this.

3. Oklahoma 35 vs. Oklahoma St. 38, Dec. 6th – Oklahoma State needed a little bit of magic to come back in this one. The Cowboys turned a 14 point deficit in the fourth quarter down to a seven point one after a 43-yard touchdown pass from QB Mason Rudolph. When the Sooners were forced to punt late in the quarter, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill returned the kick 92 yards to tie the game at 35. The amazing return sent the game into overtime, where Oklahoma State kicker Ben Grogan won the game on a 21-yard field goal after a 44-yard attempt that was missed by Oklahoma’s kicker to open the period.

Looking Ahead to 2015: 

Conference Favorite: TCU

This season, the Big 12 will have “One True Champion,” and the popular pick is TCU. The Horned Frogs’ offense is arguably the most lethal in the country, and they have one of the top signal callers to command it. With Boykin returning to lead the offense once more, you can expect there to be plenty of points scored to keep TCU ahead of its opponents. Boykin will have plenty of help from receiver Josh Doctson (set single-season school records in receiving yards and touchdowns) and running back Aaron Green (averaged 7.15 yards per carry in 2015).

On defense, the Horned Frogs will have to reload, but that is never a far stretch for a Gary Patterson-coached team. The TCU defense finished atop the Big 12 and eighth nationally in scoring defense (19 ppg) in 2014, but have a glaring weakness in the secondary that could change that this season. But, with an offense that scored 58 points in its only loss, the defense would have to really go downhill in order for the team to suffer.

Conference Dark Horse: Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State had a peak-and-valley season in 2014 after starting off 5-1 in the first six games, and then going 2-5 the rest of the way. There was a lot to like about the Cowboys in 2014 but also a lot that made people shake their head; however, looking ahead to 2015, Mike Gundy and co. have an outside shot at taking the Big 12 title. 

In quarterback Mason Rudolph, the Cowboys have found their gunslinger. After having his redshirt pulled in mid-November, Rudolph provided the spark the offense needed by throwing for 853 yards and six touchdowns in three starts. Getting a full season under his belt, Rudolph could find himself in the talks for postseason awards if he can perform like he did to end 2014. 

There’s no question that the defense has to improve after giving up 31.2 ppg last season, but with a bevy of returning starters, it’s not hard to picture this defense being better than it was. Oklahoma State houses one of the best kept defensive secrets in defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who recorded 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss (both ranked in the top-three in the Big 12). Of course, the fact that Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU all come to visit the Cowboys in Stillwater makes the team’s toughest games a little easier.

Most Improved Team: Texas

Charlie Strong enters his second year in command of one the nation’s premier programs after a forgettable first season. The good news is that Texas is heading in the right direction. Figuring out the quarterback situation is a priority for Strong; incumbent Tyrone Swoopes seems to have the edge right now. Returning running back Johnathan Gray (636 yards, seven touchdowns) should help an offense that’s short on receiving options.

The Texas defense should be strong again in 2015, no pun intended. In 2014, the Longhorns had one of the best passing defenses in the country, allowing just 184.2 yards per game. This season, the defensive line will likely be the strength of this defense with tackle Desmond Jackson, who is returning from a foot injury, and Hassan Ridgeway (six sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss) leading the way. Of course, there’s stand out freshman linebacker, Malik Jefferson, awaiting to make his presence known on the big stage.

Looking at the schedule, it’s not impossible to see Texas pulling together an eight- or nine-win season; however, road tests against West Virginia, Baylor and TCU all look to be tough for the Longhorns to pull out. If the Longhorns can pull wins against non-conference opponent Cal and either one of the three teams above, then Texas will have improved greatly from a season ago.

Freshmen to Watch:

1. Malik Jefferson, LB, TexasFor Longhorns coach Charlie Strong to land a recruit as highly touted as Jefferson was a necessity. The 5-star freshman was one of the most sought after talents in the nation, having been ranked by 247Sports as the best outside linebacker and the best player from the state of Texas. Jefferson has the talent to come in right away and be a force for Texas’ defense. He’s got the speed to be a great pass rusher, clocking in a 4.57 40 time, and had the numbers to show for it during his junior year of high school, recording 14 sacks. Jefferson is the can’t-miss-player in the Big 12 in 2015.

2. Jarrett Stidham, QB, BaylorThe talent that Stidham possesses is the exact blueprint that Art Briles uses for successful quarterbacks. Coming in as the No. 2 ranked dual-threat QB prospect, Stidham could slot right in as the backup, right behind starter Seth Russell. And while he doesn’t have RG3’s quickness, Stidham’s long strides allow him to avoid pressure and get away from would-be tacklers. His arm is lethal, and his quick trigger is exactly what Art Briles covets in his signal callers.

3. Breiden Fehoko, DT, Texas TechFehoko was the No. 2 player from the state of Hawaii but was the eighth ranked defensive tackle in the 2015 recruiting class. So far, he’s been turning a lot of heads since he’s moved to the Lone Star State. He’s already practicing with the first-team defense and is right smack in the middle of a battle for a starting job. Even as a true freshman, Fehoko’s size is that of an already established lineman, measuring at 6’3″ and weighing in at 287. His strength alone is enough to make you think he’s a future All-Big 12 stud.

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction – Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

In Boykin’s second year in the TCU spread attack, there’s no telling how high his ceiling is. After his coming out party in 2014, it’ll be interesting to see what he does for his encore performance. The senior is already being talked about as a front-runner to win the Heisman, and there’s no reason to believe he can’t win it. Boykin possesses a rocket arm that can make most, if not all, of the possible throws on the field, the type of speed that can break a defense and the ability to keep his eyes up and look for an open target while on the move. 

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction – Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

In case you missed the Cotton Bowl last season, Shawn Oakman’s jacked physique blew up the internet. Standing at 6’9″ and weighing 280 pounds, Oakman’s appearance is intimidating. And while Baylor’s offense gets a ton of recognition, Oakman deserves a lot of face time. In 2014, the standout defensive end racked up 19.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks. Oakman still has a lot of room for growth and has the potential to be a high draft choice in 2016.

Three Games to Watch:

1. Oklahoma vs. Texas (Played in Dallas, Texas), Oct. 10th – The annual Red River Showdown, among its other monikers, is always a can’t-miss affair. It’s Charlie Strong’s second year at the helm in Austin, and the Longhorns are sure to be improved a year after going 6-7 (the second time the team has finished with a record below .500 since 2010). Meanwhile, Bob Stoops has brought in Lincoln Reilly to be the new offensive coordinator for the Sooners after showing off a high-powered offense at East Carolina. This mid-season match-up surely won’t disappoint.

2. Oklahoma vs. TCU, Nov. 21st – By winning last season’s match-up 37-33, TCU made it known it wasn’t the slouch it was in 2013. The win over the Sooners marked the team’s first conference win of the season, and the Horned Frogs would go on to win eight of their next nine games. This time, the two play each other late in the season. If TCU is going to have any shot at breaking through into the College Football Playoff, it has to beat Oklahoma.

3. TCU vs. Baylor, Nov. 27th – As a late-season matchup, this could very well serve as the conference championship bout. Last season, this game went down to the wire with Baylor mastering a 24-point comeback in the final quarter to pull out the victory. This season sets up with these two being the cream of the crop in the Big 12 again, with TCU having revenge on its mind. Grab your popcorn for this contest, this is the one game you’ll definitely want to watch this season.

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SQ American Athletic Conference Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Mountain West, and today

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the Mountain West, and today we will take a look at the American Athletic Conference.

What Happened in 2014:

Conference Co-Champions: UCF 9-4 (7-1), Cincinnati 9-4 (7-1) and Memphis 10-3 (7-1)

Coach of the Year: Justin Fuente, Memphis

After going a dismal 3-9 in 2013, Fuente and Memphis flipped the script and finished atop the American Athletic Conference as opposed to the cellar, where many experts predicted the team would finish. Although Memphis shared the conference title with both UCF and Cincinnati last season, it was the first conference crown the Tigers held since 1971 when the team was a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Tigers even found themselves in the top-25 at season’s end.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Shane Carden, East Carolina

Carden’s senior season was nothing short of spectacular, especially statistically speaking. The East Carolina signal caller finished second in the nation in passing yards (4,736) and third in passing yards per game (364.3). Carden led the Pirates to an early top-20 ranking after racing out to a 6-1 start, throwing for 2,574 yards during that span.

Co-Defensive Players of the Year: CB Jacoby Glenn, UCF / LB Tank Jakes, Memphis

Jacoby Glenn was one of the best shutdown corners in college football last season, leading the conference in both interceptions (7) and passes defended (18). He helped lead UCF to the 11th best pass efficiency defense (107.76) in the nation. Glenn was also named to the American Athletic Conference First Team for the second consecutive season.

Tank Jakes, on the other hand, was one of best pass rushers in the conference. Jakes tallied 15.5 tackles for loss (1st in AAC) along with six sacks, proving to be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. One of the key components to a defense that finished first in the AAC in turnover margin (+11), Jakes forced four fumbles to lead the team.

Three Memorable Games:

1. East Carolina 30 vs. UCF 32, Dec. 4th – In case you missed it, this game had arguably the best finish of all season. Entering the final quarter, East Carolina trailed UCF, 26-9, but scored 21 unanswered points to take a 30-26 lead. With only time for one final play, UCF QB Justin Holman chucked a Hail Mary 51 yards down the field that miraculously landed in the hands of receiver Breshad Perriman, leaving ECU fans silent and stunned.

2. Tulsa 38 vs. Tulane 31 2OT, Aug. 28th – This game was surely one of the best to watch during the first week of play last season. Tulsa QB Dane Evans threw for four touchdowns, and the final one went eight yards to Conner Floyd in the second overtime period. Just two plays after that, Demarco Nelson sealed the game for the Golden Hurricane by intercepting a pass from Tanner Lee.

3. Cincinnati 54 vs. East Carolina 46, Nov. 13th – East Carolina’s Shane Carden’s comeback attempt wasn’t enough in this one. Carden put the team on his back, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another to put East Carolina up 46-45 with a minute left. However, the defense couldn’t hold up as Cincinnati signal caller, Gunner Kiel, led a 35-yard drive to put freshman kicker Andrew Gantz in position for a 47-yard field goal. Gantz sank the career-long kick and Cincinnati escaped with the victory.

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Conference Favorite: Cincinnati

Claiming just a share of the American Athletic Conference title last season, Cincinnati is now the favorite to claim the prize for itself in 2015. With the now expanded AAC, Cincinnati will have to win the East Division in order to get a shot at the conference title game. That shouldn’t be too difficult seeing as how the only real competition in the division this season will be Temple and UCF. 

Gunslinger QB Gunner Kiel returns to the helm of the Cincinnati offense, and is the key to the team’s success in 2015. How Kiel performs will determine how far the Bearcats go this season. In his first season as the starter, Kiel threw for 3,254 yards and tied a Cincinnati single-season record for passing touchdowns with 31.

Defense could be a problem for the Bearcats again this season. Cincinnati brings in its third defensive coordinator in the last three seasons, hoping he can fix a defense that ranked 87th in rushing (183.69), 100th in passing (255.4) and 98th in total defense (439.1). Losing key pieces like linebackers Jeff Luc (133 tackles) and Nick Temple (113 tackles) and defensive end Terrell Hartsfield (9 sacks, 12 tackles for loss) could really hinder Cincinnati’s front seven.

If the defense can improve just a little bit and make stops when it needs to, the offense will assuredly put enough points on the board. Expect the Bearcats to finish the season with eight or nine wins.

Conference Dark Horse: Navy

After more than a century of being an independent, Navy joined the American Athletic Conference; clearly the most fitting conference for the team to join, given the name. And even though it’s just its first season in the conference, Navy has a good shot at being crowned the champion. 

Navy’s triple-option attack is sure to give plenty of teams headaches this season, especially with the way QB Keenan Reynolds runs the offense. Reynolds already holds most of the school’s records to his name, and has rushed for the most touchdowns (64) as a QB in NCAA history. However, he is not constrained to just running the ball in this offense; he can be pretty deadly with the pass, throwing for 843 yards last season.

With the way Navy’s schedule sets up, there’s a real possibility that the Midshipmen could win ten games. At the very least, the team should be able to muster at least six conference wins. The two toughest AAC games for Navy this season will come on the road against Memphis and Houston. If the team can win at least one of those games, it will be in good shape to play in the conference title bout.

Most Improved Team: Houston

Dipping into Urban Meyer’s coaching tree usually isn’t a bad idea (see Charlie Strong, Dan Mullen or Kyle Whittingham), and it’s what Houston did when selecting former Ohio State OC Tom Herman. Herman did wonders for the Buckeyes’ offense last season and the Cougars are hoping some of the magic will rub off on them.

Houston returns a wealth of talent on both ends of the ball, bringing back 15 starters in all. The talent is most notably deep at running back, where the Cougars return the AAC’s best one-two punch in Kenneth Farrow and Ryan Jackson. A dynamic duo, Farrow and Jackson combined for 1,647 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.

The real question is who will start under center for the Cougars in 2015? Coming into fall camp, the battle is between incumbent Greg Ward and Utah transfer Adam Schluz. Ward, who started last season as a receiver, showed great ability as a quarterback after taking over the roll a third of the way through the season. As a dual threat, Ward racked up 2,010 passing yards and 573 rushing yards. Seeing what Herman did with Ohio State’s QBs last season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ward have a breakout season, if he’s named the starter.

Looking at the defense, Houston has arguably the best secondary in the conference. Corner William Jackson is drawing a lot of NFL Draft buzz after nabbing two interceptions and breaking up ten passes last season. Adrian McDonald and Trevon Stewart, a couple of ball-hawking safeties, combined for eight interceptions and 131 tackles last season. 

Freshmen to Watch: 

1. Tristan Payton, WR, UCFPayton, a 4-star recruit that flipped from USC shortly before signing day, could provide an immediate impact for the Knights in 2015. He’s an explosive athlete that will do damage when he gets into the open field. He may not run the fastest 40 (4.63 according to ESPN), but he can still make defenders miss. Payton was named the MVP in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl last year after racking up 101 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions.

2. Kareem Ali, CB, TempleJoining a Temple defense that is returning pretty much all of its starters, Ali will still be able to find opportunities for playing time. He’s got speed to match even the fastest of receivers, having been clocked at 4.40 in the 40 according to 247Sports. That speed could also be utilized in the return game for the Owls. Ali tallied 45 tackles, intercepted two passes, and played in the US Army All-American Game last year. 

3. Chad President, QB, TulsaAlthough incumbent Dane Evans is expected to retain the starter’s job, President could push for playing time if things don’t work out well for the Golden Hurricane early on. President, a former Baylor commit, ran a similar style offense that head coach Phillip Montgomery employs and shouldn’t have trouble picking up the playbook. President has dual-threat abilities and is as much of a threat with his arm as he is with his legs. President threw for 1,781 yards and ran for 865 more during his senior year of high school.

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy

Reynolds is one of the most dynamic play-makers in college football. He’s a lock to rush for over 1,000 yards due to Navy’s triple-option offense, permitted he stays healthy. On top of that, he’s only 13 rushing touchdowns away from tying the NCAA career record set by Montee Ball. There is no doubt that Reynolds will pass that record as he rushed for 23 last season and 31 the year before that. Reynolds is a game-changer, and he is the type of quarterback that teams hate to face.

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple

The Temple Owls will have one of the nation’s best defenses again in 2015, after finishing tied-for-fourth in the nation in scoring defense (17.5 ppg) last season. And coming back to lead that defense is linebacker Tyler Matakevich. Matakevich registered 117 tackles last season, and is looking to become only the seventh player in FBS history to have recorded at least 100 tackles in all four seasons of his eligibility. He may have only recorded 1.5 sacks last season, but he was in the backfield enough to garner 10.5 tackles for loss.

Three Games to Watch:

1. Cincinnati at Memphis, Sept. 24th – An early cross-divisional matchup between conference powers should be great to watch. Two of the top QB’s in the conference square off in this one: Gunner Kiel leads the Bearcats’ offense and breakout star Paxton Lynch will lead the Tigers. Memphis had one of the best defenses in the conference last season, but only returns four starters this season. Look for Kiel to exploit this inexperienced unit.

2. Cincinnati at Houston, Nov. 7th – This late season matchup could, in fact, be a preview of the American Athletic Conference title game. There’s a lot to like about Houston QB Greg Ward this year, especially playing in Tom Herman’s offense. Since the inception of the AAC, Cincinnati has won both contests against the Cougars, with a touchdown being the difference in each game.

3. Navy at Memphis, Nov. 7th – If Navy is going to get to the conference title bout, it will have to go through a strong Memphis team first. Memphis, having claimed a share of the AAC last season, is looking to take the title for itself this season, and will be sure to give Navy a heck of a fight. Navy averaged 338 rushing yards per game last season while Memphis only gave up an average of 121.54 rushing yards in 2014. With that being said, it will be interesting to see which team prevails.

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SQ Mountain West Conference Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered Conference USA, and today we’ll

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered Conference USA, and today we’ll take a look at the Mountain West.

What Happened in 2014:

Conference Champion: Boise State 12-2 (7-1); defeated Fresno State in MWC Championship game, 28-14

Coach of the Year: Jim McElwain, Colorado State

In his third season in Fort Collins, Jim McElwain turned Colorado State into a 10-win team. The Rams finished the season with a 10-2 mark, their best record since 2002 when Sonny Lubick led the team to a 10-4 finish. McElwain, known for his offensive expertise, had the second-best scoring offense in the conference, averaging 33.9 ppg. Last season was also the first time the Rams had been ranked since 2003; they climbed all the way up to 21st in both the Coaches Poll and AP Poll. McElwain’s success paid off, as he is now the head coach of the University of Florida.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Garrett Grayson, Colorado State

It’s no surprise that Grayson won the Offensive Player of the Year award for the MWC given that his mentor was McElwain, who also mentored A.J. McCarron and Greg McElroy during his time as the OC at Alabama. Grayson led the Mountain West in multiple passing categories, including passing yards (4,006), touchdowns (32), passing yards per game (308.2) and passer efficiency (166.22). He became the fourth Colorado State player to win the award and the first to win it since 2003. Grayson was a third round draft choice by the New Orleans Saints in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Zach Vigil, Utah State

Vigil was, hands down, one of the best linebackers in the country last season. He finished second in the nation in total tackles with 154, the third-most in a single season in the Mountain West. Vigil teamed up with his younger brother Nick to create a deadly pass rushing duo, and the brothers totaled 16 total sacks; Zach was responsible for nine of those. The elder Vigil also finished 11th in the nation, with 19.5 tackles for loss. He became the fourth player from Utah State to win the honor.

Three Memorable Games:

1. Air Force 28 vs. Boise State 14, Sept. 27th – This was a memorable game because Boise State literally gave the game away. The Broncos turned the ball over seven times (five interceptions and two fumbles). Heck, Boise State was almost shut out in this game, failing to score until the 10-minute mark in the fourth quarter. Boise State QB Grant Hedrick was responsible for four interceptions and left the game with a QBR of 17.7. Needless to say, this game served as the wake-up call that the Broncos needed to eventually win the conference title.

2. Air Force 45 vs. Nevada 38, Nov. 15th – After a slow start and a 7-0 lead by Air Force at the end of the first quarter, this game became a true back-and-forth affair. Each team traded blows from the second quarter on, and for a few minutes, it looked as though Air Force might be the victors. However, Nevada’s kicker, Brent Zuzo, nailed a 22-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 38. After Shayne Davern ran into the endzone to put Air Force up 45-38, the Falcons defense stopped Nevada on the ensuing possession to end the game.

3. Colorado State 16 vs. Utah State 13, Oct. 18th – There may not have been a lot of scoring in this contest, but the final two scores were the most important of the game. In the final two minutes, Colorado State kicker Jared Roberts became the MVP of the match, kicking a pair of 46-yard field goals to seal the deal. The first of the 46-yarders came with 1:50 left in the final quarter of play. Then, after getting the ball back with just under a minute left, QB Garrett Grayson threw a 46-yard pass to Rashard Higgins that put Roberts in position to put the game on ice.

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Conference Favorite: Boise State

Heading into 2015, Boise State will be looking to win its second straight Mountain West title. Although the Broncos have endured losses at two key offensive positions, quarterback and running back, there’s reason to believe that they can still run the table this season.

Ryan Finley was considered the front-runner for the starting QB job at the end of spring, but he will be pushed by Thomas Stuart and incoming 4-star recruit Brett Rypien. Finley finished 2014 with just 161 yards passing and two touchdowns after not seeing much action behind starter Grant Hedrick. Replacing Jay Ajayi might be a little easier; a host of candidates are set to take reps at running back this fall. Sophomore Jeremy McNichols is expected to start, but brothers Kelsey (a Stanford transfer) and Cory Young are each expected to push for carries as well.

Defensively, the Broncos are stacked and should have one of the better units in the conference. Boise State returns lineman Kamalei Correa, who led the conference in sacks (12), as well as safety Darian Thompson, the Mountain West interception leader (7). The Achilles heel to Boise State’s defense was giving up the big play; the Broncos gave up 50+ yards on 13 plays in 2014. With the amount of experience the defense has returning, that number should go down.

Conference Dark Horse: Utah State

Utah State has done a good job staying under the radar despite winning at least 10 games in two of the last three seasons. Head coach Matt Wells has done a great job carrying the torch from Gary Andersen, winning 19 games in his first two seasons with the Aggies. And while Boise State remains the perennial favorite to win the conference, Utah State could be the team to overthrow the Broncos.

The Aggies are deep on the offensive side of the ball, returning a triad of viable options under center. After seeing two straight seasons being cut short by injury, former Heisman candidate Chuckie Keeton returns as the front-runner to lead Utah State under center. Behind him will be last year’s New Mexico Bowl Offensive MVP, Kent Myers, and Oregon transfer Damion Hobbs. An experienced offensive line returns to provide plenty of protection to whoever may start at quarterback.

Looking at the schedule, Utah State has a couple of PAC-12 games scheduled in back-to-back weeks—the Aggies will face Utah and Washington—that could prove to be very interesting. Fortunately for the Aggies, they’ll get the majority of their toughest conference foes at home, with Colorado State, Boise State and Nevada all scheduled to visit Logan, Utah in 2015. The toughest road tests will come at San Diego State and Air Force.

Although Washington, Utah, Boise State and BYU present tough roadblocks, Utah State could realistically come away with at least two wins in that gambit, which could push the Aggies to their second straight 10-win season.

Most Improved Team: San Diego State

San Diego State enters the season as the front-runner to win the West Division of the MWC and the chosen team to go up against Boise State in the conference title bout at the end of the season. Last season, the Aztecs finished just 7-6, which could be considered a step backwards after having won at least eight games every season since 2010.

Looking forward to this season, San Diego State should get the boost in its passing game that it didn’t have in 2014. Maxwell Smith, a transfer from Kentucky, is the clear favorite to take the starting quarterback role. Smith, who hasn’t seen game action since 2013, gives the Aztecs a true passing game after throwing for 3,070 yards and 21 touchdowns during his time in Lexington.

San Diego State ranked 108th in passing offense a season ago, but there’s hope that Smith can excel after facing SEC defenses. Running back Donnel Pumphrey returns to help take the pressure off Smith after rushing for the fourth highest total (1,873 yards) in the nation last season.

With a strong defense that allowed just 19.8 ppg last season, the Aztecs will hold their own on that side of the ball. How far the Aztecs go depends on Smith and whether or not he can avoid the injuries that plagued him at Kentucky. If Smith can stay healthy, the Aztecs have a legitimate shot a capturing the Mountain West title.

Freshmen to Watch: 

1. Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State By graduating high school early and enrolling at Boise State in the spring, Rypien jumped right into the quarterback battle. The 4-star recruit is one of the highest rated prospects to join the Broncos and could pay early dividends. Rypien was a stud in high school, setting a Washington state record for career passing yards (13,044), and he threw at least 50 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons. He’s got a great arm, and he can also run a little bit, rushing for 400 yards last season.

2. Cory Young, RB, Boise StateA redshirt freshman, Young is expected to compete for first team reps against his brother Kelsey and sophomore Jeremy McNichols. Young benefited from a lot of reps in the spring while McNichols and Jack Fields were recovering from injuries. A 3-star recruit out of California, Young rushed for 2,450 yards and 22 touchdowns in his senior campaign. 

3. Kyahva Tezino, LB, San Diego StateSan Diego State had one of the top defenses in the nation last season, and it got stronger with the addition of 4-star recruit Kyahva Tezino. With Tezino, the Aztecs add depth to a position in which they lost a few players. He should get a shot to help out early in the “Mike” position for the defense. Tezino tallied over 100 tackles in each of his last three high school seasons, recording 10 tackles for loss and four interceptions his junior season.

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State

Entering his junior season, Pumphrey has high expectations resting on his shoulders. Thanks to lackluster performance at the quarterback position, Pumphrey had to take over the offense, and was one of the best players to watch in 2014. Pumphrey, the conference’s leading rusher, scampered into the endzone for 20 touchdowns while averaging 6.76 yards per carry.

He’s one of the guys that defenses still can’t stop, even when they key in on him. Even as a receiving threat out of the backfield, Pumphrey has done well, nabbing 23 passes for 160 yards last season. Look for 2015 to be another big year for the back, as he’ll be helping take the pressure off the new San Diego State QB.

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State

Following in his brother Zack’s footsteps, Nick Vigil could very well win the MWC Defensive Player of the Year Award. Last season, he finished second in the conference behind his brother, with 123 tackles of his own. The younger Vigil also added seven sacks and 17 tackles for loss (fourth in the MWC). Vigil is just a player that has a knack for making plays, forcing five fumbles in 2014, even coming up with an interception. With the type of stats this guy puts up, there’s no question he’ll be near the top of several defensive categories in 2015.

Three Games to Watch: 

1. Colorado State vs. Boise State, Oct. 10th – Jim McElwain is out, and Mike Bobo is in at Colorado State. The former left for the head job at Florida, while the latter left his OC post at Georgia to take over the Rams. Bobo gets his first conference test when Boise State comes to Fort Collins. Both the Broncos and Rams will have new quarterbacks under center, and each should have their feet wet before facing off. So far, the Rams are 0-4 in their short-lived feud against the Broncos, being outscored 184-81 in the process.

2. Utah State vs. Boise State, Oct. 17th – This game alone could decide the Mountain Division. Utah State is the underdog in this one, even though they’re playing this one at home. Although the Broncos are the popular choice, don’t bet against the Aggies, especially if Chuckie Keeton is healthy. He can be a real game-changer and will be the x-factor in this game. Also keep an eye out for Defensive Player of the Year candidate Nick Vigil, as he had 13 tackles and one sack against the Broncos last season.

3. San Diego State vs. Fresno State, Oct. 3rd – Although Fresno State and San Diego State match up early this season, it could have implications for later on in the season. Fresno State is the two-time defending West Division champ and has won three straight games against San Diego State. The Bulldogs may have finished with a record below .500 last season, but that won’t be on their mind when they face the Aztecs. Look for San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey to break out in this game, as he only rushed for 94 yards against Fresno State last season, so he’ll be looking to do much more damage in 2015.

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SQ Conference USA Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the MAC, and today we'll take a look at

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. We last covered the MAC, and today we’ll take a look at Conference USA.

What Happened in 2014:

Conference Champion: Marshall 13-1 (7-1); defeated Louisiana Tech in C-USA title game, 26-23

Coach of the Year: Doc Holliday, Marshall

After leading Marshall to its first Conference USA title, Holliday got the recognition he deserved. Holliday coached up one of the nation’s most potent offenses, one that averaged 45.6 ppg last season. The defense also wasn’t too shabby either, finishing 18th in the nation in scoring (21 ppg). Showing how dominant it truly was, the Thundering Herd constantly blew out its opponents with an average margin of victory of 26.2 points. With results like that, the award had to go to Holliday, hands down.

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Rakeem Cato, Marshall

You’d have to expect that the quarterback that led the conference’s best offense would win this award. Cato was one of the top signal callers on the national spectrum as well, throwing for 3,903 yards (7th), tossing 40 touchdown passes (3rd) and averaging 278.8 passing yards per game (14th). An explosive athlete, Cato also got it done with his legs last season, rushing for 492 yards while averaging 5.13 yards per carry. 

Defensive Player of the Year: LB Neville Hewitt, Marshall

Just like Cato, Hewitt was an obvious choice. The senior linebacker was a little slow to get going, but after a season-ending injury to LB Evan McKelvey in the fifth game of the season, Hewitt really picked up his production. From that point forward, Hewitt averaged over 11 tackles per game with a season-high 18 against Florida Atlantic. Hewitt finished the season with 123 tackles (1st in C-USA), along with five sacks and 13 tackles for loss. 

Three Memorable Games: 

1. Marshall 66 vs. Western Kentucky 67 OT, Nov. 28th – When you get two of the nation’s top scoring offenses together, you know there’s going to be fireworks. For fans that got to see this game, they weren’t disappointed. The first half alone had more points scored combined than most games total, as Western Kentucky led 49-42. Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty threw his Conference USA record eighth touchdown in OT, and followed that up with a two-point conversion to win the game.

2. Middle Tennessee 50 vs. Western Kentucky 47 3OT, Sept. 13th – Another overtime affair involving Western Kentucky, this time the Hilltoppers were on the wrong side of the battle. While not quite the shootout that fans saw in the game above, this one really got exciting when it got to overtime. Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer hooked up with receiver Ed’Marques Batties for a 25-yard game-winning dagger after Western Kentucky kicker Garrett Schwettman hit his fourth field goal to begin the third overtime.

3. Marshall 26 vs. Louisiana Tech 23, Dec. 6th – Louisiana Tech almost ruined Marshall’s season by almost taking the conference championship away from the team that had been blowing everyone out. However, the Thundering Herd’s 10-point swing in the fourth quarter put the team on top and gave it its first Conference USA title. Rakeem Cato’s five-yard pass to Deon-Tay McManus with just under two minutes put the game on ice.

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Conference Favorite: Western Kentucky

It was tough choosing between last year’s champion, Marshall, and Western Kentucky, but the edge in 2015 goes to the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky will again have a high-powered offense led by QB Brandon Doughty, who was the x-factor in this decision. To go along with Doughty, the team has a solid group of receivers and dynamic running back, Leon Allen. The duo of Doughty and Allen is one of historical proportions as they had 6,372 yards combined between passing and rushing, the highest total in FBS history.

The defense is a work in progress after finishing 120th in total defense (509.9 yards per game) and 121st in scoring defense (39.9 ppg) last season. Returning seven starters should help the unit improve, along with the addition of UAB transfer Jontavious Morris. If the defense can at least slow teams down, the offense will take care of the rest.

Conference Dark Horse: Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech is the clear favorite to win the C-USA West, but could also have a good shot at winning the conference championship as well. One of the more interesting aspects of this Louisiana Tech team is its offense. Looking to follow last year’s recipe for success, the Bulldogs have landed a fifth-year senior quarterback to lead the offense. This season it will be former Florida QB Jeff Driskel, the 2011 No. 1 rated pro-style QB who wasn’t able to live up to the billing down in Gainesville.

While Driskel had his issues facing SEC opponents, he shouldn’t have the same problems in the C-USA. He has a strong arm and can use his legs to make plays as well—Driskel broke Tim Tebow‘s record for rushing yards by a QB in a game while with the Gators. He’ll also have plenty of weapons to help take the pressure off him while he gets comfortable in the new offense. Running back Kenneth Dixon is a workhorse in the backfield, rushing for 1,299 yards and 22 touchdowns, and Driskel has a strong trio of receivers in Trent Taylor, Carlos Henderson and Paul Turner, who each had over 500 receiving yards in 2014.

Defensively, there’s little concern as to how the Bulldogs will play, especially after leading the nation in turnovers (42) and interceptions (26). Forming one of the conference’s better duos in the defensive backfield, safety Xavier Woods and corner Adairius Barnes combined for 11 interceptions last season, looking to do much of the same this season. The only issue this defense could face is with a thin linebacker group. Three new starters will make their debuts and there’s really not much behind them. 

Most Improved Team: Florida Atlantic

If there’s a team that has a good shot to turn things around in 2015 it’s the Florida Atlantic Owls. Although FAU finished just 3-9 last season, the Owls were a lot closer to bowl eligibility than what their record says. There were two games in which the Owls lost by a single point and two losses in which the difference was a field goal. 

On offense, FAU will look to run more of a read-option attack with QB Jaquez Johnson and running backs Jay Warren and Greg “Buddy” Howell. The duo of Warren and Howell combined for 824 yards last season, and will be especially counted on this season now that the team’s top receiving targets have graduated. FAU returns just two pass catchers who reeled in more than 10 passes and totaled over 200 receiving yards in Jenson Stoshak (37 receptions, 508 yards) and Kalib Woods (16 receptions, 223 yards). 

It’s going to be tough for the Owls to muster out the six wins required to become bowl-eligible this season, but they’ll have the opportunities to do so. Getting FIU and Middle Tennessee at home could make the difference this season.

Freshmen to Watch:

1. Shuler Bentley, QB, Old DominionTaking over for Taylor Heinicke under center is a tall order, especially after Heinicke was third in the conference in passing yards last season. He definitely has potential to be great, as he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of South Carolina in 2013. Nonetheless, Bentley, a redshirt freshman, will take the reigns of this high-octane offense, which is a decision that head coach Bobby Wilder felt was a no-brainer.

“Shuler’s our starter,” Wilder said. “He was clearly the best quarterback in the spring. He was consistent, he was accurate. He completed 65 percent of all of his passes.”

2. Blake Bogenschutz, QB, UTSAThere’s a lot of buzz around “Bogey” down in San Antonio as the Roadrunners will be injecting the redshirt freshman into the starting QB position. He’s a quiet leader who lets his play do the talking, and his teammates and coaches have taken notice. In the spring game he completed 15 of 23 passes for 233 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes that went for 75 and 29 yards. 

3. Trae Meadows, Safety, Middle TennesseeMeadows is a guy that could come in and make a difference right away for a team that had a knack for giving up big yards last season. He brings great speed to the defense, as he was clocked at 4.45 in the 40-yard dash. Meadows also seems to have a nose for the ball, nabbing 12 interceptions over his last two seasons in high school. 

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Brandon Doughty, QB, Western Kentucky

Although I think new Louisiana Tech QB Jeff Driskel could make things interesting, it’s hard to bet against Brandon Doughty. Doughty, after all, did lead the nation in passing yards (4,830) and touchdowns (49) last year. There were five games in 2014 where Doughty threw for at least five touchdowns, including that C-USA record breaking performance against Marshall in which he threw for eight scores. It’s just hard to bet against a guy that averaged 371.5 passing yards per game last season.

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Xavier Woods, Safety, Louisiana Tech

Woods had a fantastic season in 2014 and was overlooked by most people in the country because of the conference he plays in. The standout safety recorded six interceptions, two of which he took back for touchdowns. Woods ranked second in the nation in interception return yards, picking up 174 last season. He also made his way into the backfield for one sack and 3.5 tackles for loss. Woods ended the season with 71 tackles, 13 passes defended and also forced three fumbles.

Three Games to Watch:

1. Western Kentucky vs. Louisiana Tech, Sept. 10th – An early-season matchup between the two division favorites in the conference should give fans a good game to watch. This could very well be just the first time these two play each other in 2015, as this could be the billing for the title bout in December. Louisana Tech trots out a new QB in Florida transfer Jeff Driskel, while Western Kentucky returns Brandon Doughty under center, a guy who was one of the best in the country last season.

2. Western Kentucky vs. Marshall, Nov. 27th – This game could decide who represents the East in the C-USA title game. Last year’s contest was a thriller until the end, with Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty throwing his eighth touchdown pass, then completing a two-point conversion to win the game in overtime. Marshall won’t be the same offense it was a year ago without Rakeem Cato under center, but the Thundering Herd will no doubt be making itself heard in this game.

3. Rice vs. Louisiana Tech, Oct. 31st – Facing off on Halloween could make things interesting in this game between the last two C-USA West champions. Last season, Louisiana Tech put up 76 points on Rice, while forcing four turnovers in the process. If Rice is going to have any chance at reclaiming the division title this season, it has to come out on top against the Bulldogs.

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SQ MAC Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. Just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. Monday we covered the Sun Belt; today, we're focusing

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. Just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. Monday we covered the Sun Belt; today, we’re focusing on the MAC.

What Happened in 2014: 

Conference Champion: Northern Illinois 11-3 (7-1); defeated Bowling Green in MAC title game 51-17

Coach of the Year: P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan

Just a year removed from going 1-11 (1-7 MAC), Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck brought the Broncos out of the cellar and made them a contender. Fleck led the Broncos to an 8-5 record, including a 6-2 mark in conference play. The second-year head coach guided Western Michigan to its first bowl game since 2011, but was defeated by Air Force. 

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan

Franklin was a key cog in the revamped offense that Western Michigan unleashed last season. He may have finished third in the conference in rushing yards (1,551), but finished atop the MAC in rushing touchdowns (24) and total offensive yards (1,714). On top of that, Franklin set a Western Michigan freshman record for rushing yards in a season.

Defensive Player of the Year: CB Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio)

Rollins was one of the premier ball-hawking corners in the country last season, nabbing seven interceptions. That number of picks not only led the MAC, but was tied for third in the nation as well. Rollins tacked on nine pass breakups and 72 tackles to add to his resume, winding up a second-round draft choice by the Green Bay Packers in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Three Memorable Games:

1. Toledo 20 vs. Western Michigan 19 OT, Oct. 4th – The only overtime game in the MAC last season didn’t disappoint. Western Michigan thought it had the game won when they hit a 33-yard field goal with 1:11 remaining on the clock, but Toledo’s kicker, Jeremiah Detmer, hit a 37-yard field goal as time expired, sending the game to overtime. It didn’t take long for Toledo to score in OT, as Logan Woodside threw a 22-yard touchdown pass. Western Michigan was quick to answer with a 20-yard touchdown pass of its own, but the ensuing extra point attempt was missed, handing Toledo the victory.

2. Miami (Ohio) 42 vs. UMass 41, Oct. 4th – One of the highest scoring affairs in the MAC last season, Miami was able to come out on top after being down early. UMass dominated at the start, leading the game 41-21 at the end of the first half. However, Miami shutout the Minutemen in the second half which kept the game within reach. A pair of fourth quarter turnovers by UMass led to the game-tying and game-winning scores by Miami. Quarterback Andrew Hendrix was the MVP for Miami, throwing for 437 yards while tossing 4 touchdowns.

3. Kent State 27 vs. Akron 24, Nov. 28th – This contest saw Kent State and Akron trading blows until the final minute of the game. After Akron RB Jawon Chisholm scampered into the endzone on an 80-yard touchdown run, Kent State QB Colin Reardon completed a five-yard touchdown pass to Chris Humphrey to cap off a 10-play 77-yard drive. The score put the Golden Flashes up 27-24 with a just a minute remaining in the game, which is where the scoring would end.

Looking Ahead to 2015: 

Conference Favorite: Toledo

Normally this spot is reserved for Northern Illinois, especially after the Huskies have won three of the last five MAC titles, but we at SQ think that a changing of the guard is a legitimate possibility in 2015. The Rockets offense will be just as explosive as it was last season, as the team returns the conference’s leading rusher, Kareem Hunt, and gets back QB Phillip Ely, who missed most of 2014 due to injury.

On defense, the Rockets return 10 starters to the field, a unit that contains two of the conference’s best playmakers. Defensive end Trent Voss (4.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss) and defensive tackle Orion Jones (6 sacks, 10 tackles for loss) return to anchor the defensive line, a key component to the Rockets success defensively.

The only question mark for Toledo is the offensive line. Replacing the whole line, after all five starters graduated, is going to be a tall order. But if the line can find a way to hold it together, the Rockets will definitely be a title contender.

Conference Dark Horse: Western Michigan

After an impressive turnaround season in 2014, Western Michigan still has some unfinished business. Finishing third in the MAC West is nice, but capturing that elusive MAC title is the ultimate goal for this team. Doing just that isn’t that far of a stretch either, especially with the high-powered offense and a defense that ranked third in the conference in scoring (allowed 24.9 ppg).

The offense has a great one-two punch in QB Zach Terrell (3,443 passing yards, 26 TD’s) and RB Jarvion Franklin. Defensively, the Broncos are deep at linebacker with Grant DePalma (102 tackles) and Robert Spillane (4 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss) set to return. Although DT Cleveland Smith will be back up front, Western Michigan has just one other starter that joins him, leaving a couple spots up for grabs.

If there’s a roadblock to Western Michigan’s potential run at the MAC title, it’s two tough road games in back-to-back weeks. The Broncos will hit the road to face both Northern Illinois and Toledo to close out the season. Losing either one of these games could cost Western Michigan the division.

Most Improved Team: UMass

Entering its final season in the MAC, UMass should finally have a decent showing. Up until now, the Minutemen have gone just 5-31 since joining the MAC. However, 2014 showed that the team isn’t that far off from at least competing in the MAC East. 

Looking back at last season, the Minutemen lost three games that were within three points – Colorado, Vanderbilt and Miami (Ohio) – while two more within a touchdown (Bowling Green and Toledo). Star QB Blake Frohnapfel (334.5 yards per game) is entering his final season of eligibility, but looks to be the force that will propel the team into a bowl game.

The prodigal son returned, when head coach Mark Whipple, who had once coached from 1998 to 2003, came back to the team. Whipple already doubled the team’s win total in the FBS in his first year back, and some think he can do the same this season. UMass has the talent on hand this season and should be rearing to compete.

Freshmen to Watch:

1. Justin Tranquill, DB, Western MichiganTranquill is one of the more interesting freshmen to keep an eye out for this season after he missed his senior season of high school with a knee injury. The highest rated recruit in program history (rated a 4-star DB by Scout), Tranquill has the chance to push for early playing time as the Broncos have a need in the defensive backfield. A former two-way player in high school, Tranquill showed great explosiveness as a running back (1,400 yards rushing), but was also a force on defense, nabbing three interceptions and breaking up 11 passes.

2. Deontai Williams, DB, OhioWilliams finally found a home in Athens, Ohio when he committed to the Bobcats on National Signing Day. This was Williams’ third and final decision after already decommitting from Florida and Georgia earlier in his recruitment. The speedy defensive back could find some playing time at safety this year with that position being quite thin for Ohio. Williams has a nose for the ball and can snuff out plays before the ball gets back to the line of scrimmage, as evidenced by the nine tackles for loss he registered in high school.

3. Spencer Tears, WR, Northern Illinois Tears is another recruit who could’ve chosen, and in fact did at one point, to play at a power-five program. Instead, Tears ended up with the Huskies at Northern Illinois, to their delight. Northern Illinois already has depth at receiver, but Tears’ ability to be a dynamic playmaker could give him a shot at early playing time. He’s fun to watch when he has the ball in his hands, and can make a lot of guys miss with his speed.

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo

Picking a player for this sort of honor is usually tricky, but not after the guy who should’ve won the award last year was slighted. Kareem Hunt was not just one of the best running backs in the MAC last season, he was top-10 back in the country, statistically speaking. With 1,631 yards rushing, Hunt ranked 10th in the nation, while averaging 163.1 yards per game (3rd in the nation). Hunt is the driving force behind Toledo’s offense and he will carry the Rockets again this season.

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Trent Voss, LB, Toledo

It’s no coincidence that Voss and Hunt are both listed as the Players of the Year for both sides of the ball, as Toledo truly has one of the best squads in the MAC heading into 2015. Voss has a nose for getting into the backfield and making a quarterback’s day miserable. To go along with the 4.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss, Voss also added eight QB hurries to his resume last season. 

Three Games to Watch: 

1. Bowling Green vs. Toledo, Nov. 16th – This game might not be the only time these two face off in 2015. Both teams are slated as the favorite in their respective divisions and could very well play each other in Detroit for the MAC title. Last year’s game saw Kareem Hunt run for 265 yards against Bowling Green, and you can bet he’s looking to running all over the Falcons again this year.

2. Northern Illinois vs. Western Michigan, Nov. 18th – After racing out to 21-7 lead in last year’s contest, Western Michigan fell apart and gave up 24 unanswered points, losing 31-21 to Northern Illinois. The Broncos are out to prove they belong atop the MAC West and a late season win over their division rival could do it. This will be the first of two tough road games Western Michigan plays in consecutive weeks, having to play at Toledo the following week.

3. Toledo vs. Western Michigan, Nov. 26th – A Thanksgiving matchup between these two teams could have one opponent giving thanks to the other for getting the chance to play in the MAC title game. This late-season division contest should be one of the best games to watch as the winner of this game could go on to represent the MAC West in a chance to win the MAC championship. Kareem Hunt versus Jarvion Franklin is without a doubt one of the best running back matchups you will see all season.

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SQ Sun Belt Conference Preview

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. Today we start our conference preview series with the Sun Belt

The college football season is less than a month away from kicking off, and most teams have already begun their fall camps. And just in time for the regular season, our writers have cooked up previews for all of the conferences in the FBS. Today we start our conference preview series with the Sun Belt Conference.

What Happened in 2014:

Conference Champion: Georgia Southern 9-3 (8-0)

Coach of the Year: Willie Fritz, Georgia Southern 

In Georgia Southern’s first season not just in the Sun Belt, but in the FBS as well, head coach Willie Fritz led the team to a conference title. Fritz and his team became the third program to win a conference title in its first season in the FBS. However, Georgia Southern is the first team to go unbeaten in conference play in its first season in the FBS.

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Elijah McGuire, Louisiana-Lafayette

McGuire may not have led the conference in rushing with 1,264 yards, but he did lead the Sun Belt in all purpose yards (1,848), showcasing how versatile he is. Not only could McGuire run the ball effectively, but he was also a weapon in the passing game, catching a team-high of 45 passes, finishing second on the team in receiving yards (468).

Defensive Player of the Year: LB David Mayo, Texas State

Forget about being one of the best players in the conference last season, David Mayo was one of the top players in the country. The senior linebacker was tied for second in the nation with 154 total tackles, while averaging the second-most tackles per game in the nation (12.83). Mayo had a nose for the ball, also forcing three fumbles in 2014.

Three Memorable Games:

1. Louisiana-Monroe 16 @ Georgia Southern 22, Nov. 29 – This game was the crowning jewel on Georgia Southern’s season. Trailing 13-9 heading into the final quarter, Georgia Southern running backs Matt Breida and Alfred Ramsby each rushed for a touchdown to erase the deficit and give the Eagles their first Sun Belt title and an undefeated conference slate.

2. New Mexico State 34 @ Georgia State 31, Sep. 6 – On third-and-9 from the Georgia State 11, New Mexico State QB Tyler Rogers hit receiver Teldrick Morgan across the middle for a touchdown with 15 seconds remaining in the game. The victory was the Aggies’ first Sun Belt win since leaving the conference in 2004.

3. Idaho 31 @ Louisiana-Monroe 38, Sept. 6 – With nine seconds remaining and the ball on the one-yard line, Louisiana-Monroe’s Centarius Donald rushed into the endzone to give the Warhawks the lead and the win. Louisiana-Monroe QB Pete Thomas hit Kenzee Jackson for 29 yards and Tyler Cain for 36 yards with under a minute remaining to put Donald in position to score the go-ahead touchdown.

Looking Ahead to 2015:

Conference Favorite: Georgia Southern

Georgia Southern is looking to show that it’s not a one-hit wonder and still has some unfinished business to attend to. Last season the Eagles were ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA rules prohibiting recent FCS transfer programs to play in bowl games. Georgia Southern’s defense gave up only 23.4 ppg last season (first in the Sun Belt) and returns a bevy of experienced players on this side of the ball.

The Eagles’ offense should be just as potent as it was last season, but they will look to incorporate more passing into the attack. Replacing five seniors along the offensive line might raise some questions, but guards Darien Foreman and Roscoe Byrd, a UAB transfer, will anchor the line. There’s no reason to think Georgia Southern will slow down in 2015.

Conference Dark Horse: Louisiana-Lafayette

Louisiana-Lafayette is a model of consistency, finishing each of the last four seasons with a 9-4 record, while winning the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl for the fourth consecutive year, as well. Heading into 2015, the Ragin’ Cajuns are on the outside looking in. Replacing players at key positions, namely quarterback and defensive line, could be cause for some bumps early on. However, with the depth the team has at other positions, Louisiana-Lafayette is still a contender.

Reigning Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year, RB Elijah McGuire, returns to lead the offense. There’s no doubt the team will be looking to get McGuire as many touches as it can with his explosiveness. Defensively, the team is still a work in progress, with new co-defensive coordinators Charlie Harbison and Melvin Smith taking over a team that was last in the Sun Belt defending the pass last season (allowed 263.6 yards per game).

If the defense can step up, the offense should be able to continue to put up enough points for the Ragin’ Cajuns to have a shot at hoisting up the conference crown.

Most Improved Team: Arkansas State

For the first time since 2011, Arkansas State failed to at least claim a share of the Sun Belt title last season. It was also the fourth time in four years the Red Wolves had a new head coach. First-year head coach Blake Anderson had tough acts to follow after Hugh Freeze (2011), Gus Malzahn (2012) and Bryan Harsin (2013) each led Arkansas State for a season before going on to bigger jobs at Ole Miss, Auburn and Boise State, respectively. The Red Wolves finished 7-6 in Anderson’s first year, winding up tied for fourth in the Sun Belt.

Looking forward to 2015, there’s reason to believe that Arkansas State can not only compete for the Sun Belt title, but reclaim it once again. The Red Wolves return a potent offense led by senior QB Fredi Knighten, who led the conference in total yards (4,056). And although the defense was put on blast last season, a few key transfers along the defensive line look to shore up a unit that allowed 28 rushing touchdowns over its final seven games.

The offense should be one of the top units in the conference, and if the defense can improve by just a fraction of what it was last season, it’s not out of the question to see the Red Wolves winning the Sun Belt title in 2015.

Freshmen to Watch:

1. Dion Ray, QB, Louisiana-LafayetteThe Ragin’ Cajuns are in the midst of transitioning quarterbacks after Terrance Broadway’s graduation, and although there are a few more experienced players vying for the starting job, Ray could have what it takes to take the job for himself. Ray, who hails from the New Orleans area, has great quickness, as demonstrated by the 4.40 40 time he posted. He also has a strong arm that’s capable of making all the throws.

2. Mario Osborne, DL, Louisiana-LafayetteAnother member of the Louisiana-Lafayette recruiting class, Osborne could make an impact right away along a defensive line that is returning just one starter. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Osborne already has the size to go head-to-head with big offensive linemen. The way Osborne can explode through an offensive line is one of the best parts about his game.

3. Jalen Thompson, CB, South AlabamaThompson committed to South Alabama as a two-sport athlete, not only choosing to play football in Mobile, Alabama, but baseball as well. Thompson is expected to push for playing time this season in defensive backfield for the Jaguars, and could find himself on the field early. Thompson is a good cover corner, who displays good ball skills when a pass floats his way.

Offensive Player of the Year Prediction: Fredi Knighten, QB, Arkansas State

Knighten might be the most dynamic QB in the entire conference. He’s a dual threat, able to beat you with the pass or taking off on the run. In just his first year in coach Blake Anderson’s offense, Knighten finished second in the Sun Belt with 3,277 passing yards, while tallying the second-most rushing yards by a QB in the conference with 779 yards rushing. He’s a key cog to Arkansas State’s return to the top, and once he gets rolling, he’ll be hard to stop.

Defensive Player of the Year Prediction: Gerrand Johnson, DE, Louisiana-Monroe

Louisiana-Monroe knows how to get after the quarterback, and one of the best at getting into the backfield for the Warhawks is Gerrand Johnson. Johnson is one of the top defensive ends in the country and has been named to several preseason award watch lists, including those of the Nagurski, Outland and Lombardi awards.

Johnson was the first defensive lineman to lead the team in tackles (92) since 1980. His pass rushing skills are second to none, as he recorded 6.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss a season ago. Johnson looks to build upon that stat line in 2015 and will be one of the top dogs in the conference that will give opposing QBs nightmares.

Three Games to Watch:

1. Louisiana-Monroe vs. Georgia Southern, Oct. 3 – Louisiana-Monroe will get an early shot at the reigning Sun Belt champs when Georgia Southern comes to town. Last season’s loss to the Eagles was heartbreaking to watch, and the Warhawks are rearing to take out the remaining frustration on an offense that scored twice in the final quarter to clinch a perfect conference slate. Watch for the outstanding pass rush of Louisiana-Monroe duo LB Michael Johnson and DE Gerrand Johnson to make things difficult on the triple-option attack of the Eagles.

2. Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Texas State, Oct. 10 – The first conference contest of 2015 for both teams, this should be a good measuring stick to see where both teams stand after their non-conference slate. The Ragin’ Cajuns will be ushering a new signal caller, while the Bobcats will be looking to do a better job at stopping the pass–Texas State ranked 10th in the conference in pass defense last season, allowing 243.3 yards per game. 

3. Arkansas State vs. Louisiana-Lafayette, Oct. 20 – This is a great match-up between two teams that have something to prove this season. Arkansas State is looking to get back to its winning pedigree, while Louisiana-Lafayette looks to win at least nine games for a fifth straight year. Arkansas State QB Fredi Knighten could be a nightmare for a Ragin’ Cajun defense that ranked last in the Sun Belt in pass defense a season ago.

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #15 Notre Dame

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 #16 Arizona State.

Team: Notre Dame

SQ Ranking: 15

2014 Record: 8-5


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 #16 Arizona State.

Team: Notre Dame

SQ Ranking: 15

2014 Record: 8-5

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: Brian Kelly (6th year)

Key Arrivals: DL Jerry Tillery, TE Alize Jones, CB Shaun Crawford, QB Brandon Wimbush

Key Departures: QB Everett Golson, CB Cody Riggs, C Christian Lombard, TE Ben Koyack

Previewing the Notre Dame Offense: Everett Golson is gone and now begins the Malik Zaire era at the quarterback position for Notre Dame. Last season, although they saw an improvement on offense — the team averaged 32.8 ppg (first time the team has done that since 2009) and averaged 444.9 yards per game, compared to 405.8 in 2013 — Notre Dame still played with much inconsistency thanks to Golson.

Zaire doesn’t have the cannon that Golson has, but his arm is strong enough to make the throws he needs in order to move the ball effectively. He can also make plays with his legs, as was evidenced in the Music City Bowl against LSU when he rushed for 96 yards.

Even with the little experience that Zaire has, he has veterans on the offensive line that will help protect him as he continues to get comfortable under center. The line will be anchored by LT Ronnie Stanley, a guy who many think will be a first round draft pick in 2016, C Nick Martin, and RG Steve Elmer.

Returning both Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant to the backfield will help take the pressure off of Zaire as well. Folston had a respectable season, rushing for 889 yards and six touchdowns, while Bryant made his impact felt in just 54 carries, averaging 5.35 yards per carry. 

Receiver Will Fuller returns to lead the receiving corp after catching 76 passes for 1,094 yards, and tied a school-record with 15 touchdown receptions. Slot receiver C.J. Prosise is an interesting player to watch this season, especially with his versatility of sliding into the backfield, as well as averaging 17.79 yards per reception last season.

Previewing the Notre Dame Defense: Notre Dame’s defense looked stellar in their first five games last season, giving up no more than 17 points, while also shutting out Michigan. But in the team’s remaining eight games, the lowest amount of points the defense allowed was 28. Clearly, Notre Dame’s defense did a complete 180 from where it started, allowing 12 ppg in its first five games to allowing more than double through the end of the season.

The question in 2015 is “can the defense perform the way it did at the beginning of 2014?”

If Notre Dame’s defense is going to be a true threat, it has to be better up front and get more pressure on the opposing quarterback. Notching just 26 sacks as a team in 2014 won’t do the Irish any good if it wants to get to the College Football Playoff. Leading the line will be DT Sheldon Day (2 sacks, 11 QB hurries), who forwent the 2015 NFL Draft, and will be counted on in a big way this season. Pressure will come from ends Isaac Rochell (2.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries in 2014) and Romeo Okwara (3 sacks, 4 tackles for loss), both of whom will need to be better at getting in the backfield.

Linebacker is Notre Dame’s deepest position on defense with Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Jarrett Grace, Greer Martini, Nyles Morgan and James Onwualu each having starting experience. Smith led the team in tackles (111) last season after moving to the inside, but could move back to the outside to better utilize his pass rushing abilities. Schmidt was named the team’s defensive MVP despite missing the last five games of the season, but is expected to be back at full-strength come fall. 

In the secondary, Notre Dame gets a familiar face back as CB KeiVarae Russell returns after missing all of last season due to academic suspension. Russell joins fellow corner Cole Luke, who notched 4 interceptions and 48 tackles, to form one of the better duos in the game.

Safety may a bit of a concern for the Irish as Max Redfield and Elijah Schumate are likely to start again, despite being benched in last November. Redfield, a former 5-star recruit, might be considered a bust if he can’t get on track this season. Schumate can be a great player, however, if he can cut down on the mental mistakes.

Three Key Games:

1. Notre Dame at Clemson, October 3rd – Going up against Clemson on the road will be a true test for the Irish. Clemson is currently the favorite to win the ACC and would love to add a win against Notre Dame to its belt in hopes of eventually reaching the College Football Playoff. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson could prove too deadly for the Irish defense with both his arm and legs.

2. Notre Dame vs. USC, October 17th – Last season, USC completely manhandled the Notre Dame defense, torching the Irish for 49 points. Even though this game will be played in South Bend, Notre Dame still isn’t looked at as the favorite, at least according to ESPN’s FPI (Football Power Index). Expect this game to be a lot closer than it was a season ago, as Malik Zaire is a year older and will have a lot more starts under him than he did when he went up against the Trojans in 2014.

3. Notre Dame at Stanford, November 28th – Stanford is the last team that Notre Dame put up a good defensive showing against last season, only allowing the Cardinal offense to score 14 points. This season should be another close battle between the two rivals. Facing Stanford late in the season usually isn’t a good idea.

The Cardinals spoiled UCLA’s chance not only to play in the PAC-12 championship game, but the College Football Playoff in the final regular season game last season. If Notre Dame goes on a run to where it has the potential to play in the College Football Playoff, Stanford could once again be the one to ruin their dream.

Final Analysis: In Brian Kelly’s sixth season as the head coach at Notre Dame, he could possibly have the deepest team he’s had yet. There’s only been one season under Kelly in which the Irish have finished the season with fewer than four losses, and that was the season in which the team was beaten by Alabama in the national championship game. However, 2015 could see a return to glory for the blue and gold.

Malik Zaire and the offense are ready to roll. The Irish have enough weapons for him to be successful this season, with a consistent ground game and reliable receivers that will help him move the ball down the field. On defense the Irish should be more like they were early on in 2014, as long as the defensive backs can keep the mental woes to a low.

If the offense can continue its improvement from last season and keep the defensive mistakes at a minimum, Notre Dame has a good shot to win between 9 and 10 games. That should put them in contention for a New Year’s Six Bowl at the least. However, I wouldn’t count a run to the College Football Playoff out of the question either.

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #16 Arizona State

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 #16 Arizona State.

Team: Arizona State

SQ Ranking: 16

2014 Record: 10-3

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 #16 Arizona State.

Team: Arizona State

SQ Ranking: 16

2014 Record: 10-3

Finish in AP Poll: 12th

Head Coach: Todd Graham (4th year)

Key Arrivals: QB Brady White, DL Jojo Wicker, RB Jaason Lewis, WR Devin Lucien

Key Departures: QB Taylor Kelly, WR Jaelen Strong, FS Damarious Randall, DE Marcus Hardison, OG Jamil Douglas

Previewing the Arizona State Offense: Arizona State offensive coordinator Mike Norvell has done wonders for the Sun Devils since he joined the program in 2012. The team has never ranked below 3rd in the PAC-12 or 16th nationally in scoring offense, with the lowest output coming last year at 36.9 points per game.

This season, Arizona State looks to continue its streak of being a deadly offensive force even after losing starting QB Taylor Kelly. Sun Devils fans shouldn’t fret, as Mike Bercovici is a proven talent under center. The fifth-year senior showed that he has big-arm potential last season when threw for 488 yards and 510 yards against UCLA and USC, respectively, in consecutive weeks. Bercovici finished the season with 1,445 passing yards and 12 touchdowns.

Seeing as how Bercovici lacks the mobility that Kelly possessed, the run-game will be leaned on a little bit more. Demario Richard, who averaged 5.69 yards per carry in 2014, will lead the rushing attack this season as opposed to last season’s leading rusher, D.J. Foster, who has converted to a full-time slot receiver.

Losing wideouts Jaelen Strong – taken in the 3rd round of this year’s NFL Draft – and Cameron Smith – sidelined for all of 2015 after season-ending knee surgery – might be a setback, but gaining UCLA transfer Devin Lucien will give Bercovici another solid target to throw to. Along the offensive line, the Sun Devils are set up the middle at guard and center, but there’s still questions at tackle.

Previewing the Arizona State Defense: The hallmark of head coach Todd Graham’s defenses at Arizona State has been to pressure opposing QBs with numerous blitz packages. Last season, the Sun Devils were again one of the best in the nation in sacks (T-13th) and tackles for loss (T-12th). And while that’s been a real strength for the team, it’s also hurt it too, leaving the defense susceptible to big plays – the Sun Devils gave up 27 passes that were 30+ yards, a mark that had them tied for 120th in the nation.

But heading into 2015, Arizona State’s strength will be its back seven. The core of this group is the linebackers, a position which the team returns all three starters from last season, making it one of the top units in the conference. Keep a look out for the sophomore tandem of Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun, each have been pushing for playing time and could make an impact early on at the SAM and WILL linebacker spots, respectively.

Although Damarious Randall will be missed, the Sun Devils have three senior starters returning to the secondary. Cornerback Kweishi Brown and safety Jordan Simone combined for five interceptions last season and return to lead the defensive backs. 

Really, if there’s anything that Arizona State’s defense could be lacking in 2015, it’s a true pass rusher. Last season it was Marcus Hardison, a fourth round draft choice this year, leaving a vacancy that could be tough to fill. Filling the Devil-backer position, a hybrid of a linebacker and defensive end that specializes in pass rushing, seems to be a tough challenge for the team so far. But no matter the circumstances or the depth, you can be sure that Graham won’t be any less aggressive, dialing up blitzes at will.

Three Key Games: 

1. Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (played at NRG Stadium in Houston), September 5th – Talk about a great opening week matchup right out of the gate, Arizona State vs. Texas A&M has must-watch written all over it. While ESPN’s Football isn’t being very kind to the Sun Devils right now, only giving the team a 34.6% chance of winning, I’d say their chances of winning are much higher. This is a big opening statement game for Arizona State and could set the table for how the rest of the season could play out.

2. Arizona State at UCLA, October 3rd – The thought of getting beat on your home field 62-27 makes you want to cringe. That’s exactly what UCLA did when it traveled to Tempe last year, when they embarrassing the Sun Devils. This year’s contest should be a lot closer and could be a game that plays a part in deciding the PAC-12 South champion later on in the season.

3. Arizona State vs. Arizona, November 21st – Last season, the Sun Devils had a chance to play spoiler to instate rival Arizona, but the team was unsuccessful, watching the Wildcats win not just the game, but the PAC-12 South as well. This game is a must-win for Arizona State if it’s going to make a run for the PAC-12 title. Both teams come into this year’s match having split the last four games.

Final Analysis: Todd Graham has won 10 games in each of the past two seasons, something the program hasn’t seen since Frank Kush led the team to four straight seasons of 10 or more wins from 1970-73. Graham has a chance to win 10 games for a third straight as long as the defense can keep the big plays to a minimum.

Arizona State will be tested early on with its opening matchup against Texas A&M and four of its first five conference games coming against USC, UCLA, Utah and Oregon. Escaping that gauntlet with just one conference loss would put the team in a good spot going forward in the race for the PAC-12 South. If it can do that, it’s not inconceivable to think that Arizona State could hoist up the PAC-12 title when it’s all said and done.

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Is Signing 2-Star QB Kyle Trask A Good Move For The Florida Gators?

When Jim McElwain was hired to be the head coach of the Florida Gators, the expectation was for him to revamp the offense, much like Urban Meyer did. And, typically to rebuild an offense, the first step is to find a quarterback to lead the team. However, a lot of Florida fans were scratching their

When Jim McElwain was hired to be the head coach of the Florida Gators, the expectation was for him to revamp the offense, much like Urban Meyer did. And, typically to rebuild an offense, the first step is to find a quarterback to lead the team. However, a lot of Florida fans were scratching their heads after it was announced the program had signed 2-star QB Kyle Trask out of Manvel, Texas.

Sure, it’s been rough down in Gainesville the past couple seasons, but was it really bad enough that they had to reach all the way down for a 2-star QB? This is a program that regularly seems to pluck four- and five-star recruits on normal basis from the fertile recruiting ground of the state of Florida. So why would the Gators take a chance on Trask? 

First off, let’s get the notion that the star rating system actually determines a player’s skill level out of our heads. That system can give you an idea of what to expect out of a player, but it’s never 100% correct. For instance, arguably the best defensive player in the NFL, J.J. Watt, was only rated a 2-star recruit when he originally signed with Central Michigan.

It seems to be a perplexing move at first, but watching film on Trask and taking into account Florida’s current situation at the position makes the move a bit more understandable.

At first glance, there’s no special skill that pops out at you. However, leading an offense doesn’t necessarily demand the strongest of arms or the quickest feet. It instead requires an ability to move the ball, and that appears to be something that Trask can do quite well.

Watching the footage, it’s clear to notice that Trask is a true pocket passer. Very rarely leaving the pocket, Trask stands tall with his upright posture, patiently watching the play develop until he finds an open receiver.

Just then as he releases the ball that you can see why the Gators would take a shot on him. Trask consistently hits his receivers time-and-time again, showing the type of accuracy that McElwain covets and demands out of his QBs. I know it is just a highlight film, and there aren’t any incomplete passes or interceptions, but looking at his stats, the footage doesn’t lie. Through 19 total varsity games, according to MaxPreps, Trask has completed 73% of his passes for 1061 yards, including seven touchdowns. 

Trask doesn’t possess a cannon for a right arm like most would hope for in a QB competing in the SEC, but his touch and placement make up for it. He has a great feel for his throws, seeming to have a knack for how hard or soft to throw it. Throughout the video there are examples of him either floating a nice deep ball that hits a receiver in stride or throwing a frozen rope into a tight window.

It’s no secret that Trask lacks mobility, but the big fellow can move when he has to. Trask has good awareness, staying on his toes in the pocket and can avoid a sack while managing to keep his eyes down the field. But even when the 6-foot-5 QB decides to pull the ball down and run he can be effective. His size makes it harder for opposing defenses to bring him down, and he can execute draws efficiently.

Seeing the headlines of the Florida Gators signing a 2-star QB may be puzzling to most fans and experts at first, as Trask was a relative unknown until his commitment. Heck, Trask has yet to even start in a game for his high school. But his recruitment has really started to heat up over the last few months as smaller schools such as Houston Baptist, McNeese State and Lamar each offered him a scholarship. There’s no telling what will happen now that he has impressed the Florida coaching staff enough to make him an offer.

Trask may be rated as a 2-star right now, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him move up to at least a 3-star recruit by the time he finishes up his senior season. Even if he doesn’t get bumped up a star, Gator fans should just take this signing for what it is, a pure depth move. Florida currently has two scholarship QBs on its roster in Will Grier and Treon Harris, so adding Trask to the mix as an insurance policy surely doesn’t hurt.

Whether Trask lives up to his billing as a 2-star QB or becomes a diamond in the rough remains to be seen, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to take a low-risk, high-reward gamble at this point. 

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Top-5 Impact Freshmen In The American Athletic Conference

As fall is slowly inching its way closer, the influx of wide-eyed freshmen is about to commence. Of course, that's one of the things that draws fans to college football; the fact that an 18-year old kid could be the x-factor for a team on the verge of winning a national championship. So here at

As fall is slowly inching its way closer, the influx of wide-eyed freshmen is about to commence. Of course, that’s one of the things that draws fans to college football; the fact that an 18-year old kid could be the x-factor for a team on the verge of winning a national championship. So here at SQ, we’ve decided to put together rankings of the top-5 impact freshmen for each conference. This week, the focus is on the American Athletic Conference.

5. Kareem Ali, CB, Temple – Following in his father’s footsteps, Ali joins a Temple defense that is returning 10 starters, but Ali could be knocking down the door and finding himself playing early on, as he’s turned heads as a standout corner.

Ali is a pure speedster who can cover all sorts of ground on the field, one of the many reasons he was able to land a plethora of offers. Quarterbacks hate to throw in his direction as he has a knack for getting his hand on the ball. During his senior season, Ali totalled 45 tackles while nabbing 2 interceptions. Temple may also take the high school track star and use him in the kick return game.

4. Tyreik Gray, RB, Houston – Gray really surprised a majority of people when he re-committed to the University of Houston. The Houston native was thought to be out of reach for the program once coach Tony Levine was fired, but the hiring of Tom Herman must have had a great impact on the running back.

Although he’s not the biggest back on the field, standing at 5’11 and weighing 187 pounds, Gray might be one of the smartest. He has great patience in waiting for his linemen to open up holes for him to burst through, a trait that only the most intelligent runners seem to possess. That ability, along with his size, has him drawing player comparisons to Frank Gore. 

Gray was able to fly under the recruiting radar this year because of his smaller stature and lack of straight-line speed. That’s certainly good news for Houston though, as Gray looks like he has the potential to be a star under Herman’s offense.

3. Jae’lon Oglesby, WR, Memphis – A year after originally committing to play for Clemson, Oglesby will instead suit up for Memphis after completing a year of prep school. Oglesby is a rare sign for the Tigers: the team’s fifth four-star signee in 13 years and first since 2010.

During his high school career, Oglesby was a dynamic running back who rushed for 2,176 yards and scored 21 touchdowns his senior year. He’ll now be making the transition to wide receiver, more than likely playing the slot position, adding to the weaponry that QB Paxton Lynch will have in his arsenal. He’s an explosive playmaker and tremendous athlete, one that Memphis is counting on to help lead it to a American Athletic Conference Championship.

2. Chad President, QB, Tulsa – After de-committing from Baylor, due to the signing of five-star QB Jarrett Stidham, President follows the coach who initially recruited him: Phillip Montgomery. Montgomery, now a head coach, was one of the brains behind Art Briles’ brilliant offense at Baylor, and got a nice surprise when he found out President would be joining him at Tulsa.

Despite what many recruiting services say about President being listed as a wide receiver, he will be playing quarterback for Tulsa. President has the potential to be something great for the Golden Hurricane if he can harness his raw ability as a passer. At times he’s shown to be inconsistent, but he’s also shown flashes of brilliance that make him look worthy of his four-star rating.

His speed and size allow for him to be a true dual-threat passer. He can create plays with his legs, while making defenders miss. And, although Tulsa has an incumbent QB in Dane Evans, don’t be surprised if Montgomery goes to President if Evans struggles early on.

1. Tristan Payton, WR, UCF – Payton finally found a home when he chose UCF, his third and final commitment, after backing off a verbal pledge to the University of Florida and later de-committing from USC. A four-star recruit, Payton is expected to be an impact performer right from the get-go for the Knights.

Using his speed to burn defensive backs, Payton can be a true home run threat. As an upperclassman, he caught 97 passes for 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns, per MaxPreps. Showing off his star potential, Payton was named the MVP of the Semper Fi All-American Game in Los Angeles, where he racked up 101 receiving yards and 2 touchdown receptions.

Payton, rated as one of the top receivers in the country, has a great chance to be one of the conference’s receiving leaders coming into 2015. He’s a consistent performer and can be explosive when he gets into the open field. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him as one of the top freshmen performers in the entire country by season’s end.

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #22 Tennessee

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 #22 Tennessee.

Team: Tennessee

SQ Ranking: 22

2014 Record: 7-6

Finish in

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 #22 Tennessee.

Team: Tennessee

SQ Ranking: 22

2014 Record: 7-6

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: Butch Jones (3rd year)

Key Arrivals: DT Kahlil McKenzie, DE Kyle Phillips, RB Alvin Kamara, DT Shy Tuttle, CB Justin Martin

Key Departures: MLB A.J. Johnson, CB Justin Coleman, RB Marlin Lane, QB Justin Worley 

Previewing the Tennessee Offense: Tennessee’s offense found a spark when Joshua Dobbs was inserted under center and will look to him again as the team tries to take back the SEC East. In six games, Dobbs threw for 1,206 yards and ran for 469, proving to be the x-factor that the Tennessee offense had been lacking. If the Volunteers are going to have any shot at reclaiming the SEC East, keeping Dobbs healthy is vital.

Jalen Hurd returns to lead a backfield that has just three scholarship rushers, including himself. Hurd, a phenomenal runner who compiled 899 yards last season, will be part of what the looks to be a dynamic duo with prized freshman RB Alvin Kamara. 

One of the deepest receiving corps in the SEC returns, giving Dobbs some great weapons. Marquez North is back after missing the last three games of last season with a shoulder injury, as is leading receiver Pig Howard who led the team with 54 receptions and 618 yards. 

However, the one position group that absolutely needs to step up is the offensive line. Last year there were only two FBS teams that were worse than Tennessee when it came to giving up sack yards – Louisville and Wake Forest. The offensive line gave up 43 sacks, which ranked T-122nd last season, and, in surrendering 101 tackles for loss, were T-125th. If the Volunteers can protect Dobbs–or just give him more time than they did last season–this offense could become one of the more deadly units in the SEC.

Previewing the Tennessee Defense: Butch Jones has come a long way in improving the Tennessee defense since his first season, and it all starts with the pass rush. In 2014, the pass rushing tandem of LB/DE Curt Maggitt and DE Derek Barnett combined for 21 sacks and were the second best tandem in the SEC (behind Missouri’s DE Shane Ray and LB/DL Markus Golden, who combined for 23). And they’ll look to build on that success; Maggitt and Barnett are the NCAA’s leading returning pass rushing duo.

Looking at the middle of the field, the Volunteers are sure to miss LB A.J. Johnson who brought invaluable leadership to an up-and-coming defense. On the bright side, OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who was T-4th in the SEC in solo tackles (63), returns after his breakout campaign to once again lead the team. There’s no question that he’ll have to step up to fill the leadership void left by Johnson.

Then there’s the defensive backfield. While Florida and LSU are arguing over who truly is D.B.U (Defensive Back University), Tennessee is quietly building one of the better position groups in the conference. They’re led by CB Cameron Sutton, who was recently named to the Preseason All-SEC Second-Team. Sutton will be joined by newcomer CB Justin Martin, the second-ranked junior college CB ranked by 247Sports. At safety, the Vols return Brian Randolph, the SEC’s leader in solo tackles (65) last season.

Three Key Games:

1. Tennessee at Florida, September 26th – This is the game for Tennessee. The rivalry game against the Gators will set the tone for how the rest of the SEC slate will go for Tennessee. If the Vols want to win the SEC East this year, they have to beat Florida. The last time they beat the Gators was in 2004, which was also the last time they won sole possession of the SEC East (Tennessee and Georgia shared the East division crown in 2007).

2. Tennessee vs. Georgia, October 10th – A fumble by the Tennessee offense that was returned for a touchdown by the Georgia defense cost the Volunteers a chance to upset the ‘Dawgs on the road last year. Tennessee gets the SEC East favorites at home this year in what is sure to be one of the best conference matchups this season. The team who makes the least mistakes will come out on top in this one.

3. Tennessee at Missouri, November 21st – Despite never getting the recognition it deserves, Missouri has claimed the SEC East crown the last two years. This year, Missouri is predicted to finish third in the division behind the favorite, Georgia, and Tennessee. There’s no question this game is going to matter, especially at the end of the season. Even if Missouri lives up to its third-place billing, it could still play spoiler to a Tennessee team looking to win the division.

Final Analysis: Going into 2015, there are pretty high expectations for a team that finished a mere 7-6 last season. But Tennessee looks far and away better heading into 2015 than it did last season. Butch Jones has done a remarkable job recruiting and developing athletes and that’s why many are jumping on the Tennessee bandwagon early.

With an invigorated offense, and a defense that could be one of the top units in the SEC, there’s reason to think that Tennessee can do a lot of damage this season. Playmakers like Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Cameron Sutton are making it hard not to put a lot of stock in this team.

Taking a look at the Volunteers schedule, it’s not farfetched to think that they could win as many as 10 games and the SEC East. Jones has done a great job improving the team over the past two seasons, but his third might be the charm.

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #23 UCLA

As the college football season draws nearer, the college football staff at SQ has 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 #23 UCLA.


As the college football season draws nearer, the college football staff at SQ has 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 #23 UCLA.

Team: UCLA

SQ Ranking: 23

2014 Record: 10-3

Finish in AP Poll: 10th

Head Coach: Jim Mora (4th year)

Key Arrivals: QB Josh Rosen, DE Keisean Lucier-South, RB Soso Jamabo

Key Departures: QB Brett Hundley, LB Eric Kendricks, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, QB Asiantii Woulard, CB Priest Willis

Previewing the UCLA Offense: Brett Hundley’s time under center for UCLA has ended as he was taken in the fifth round of this year’s NFL Draft. After having the position filled for the past three seasons, it now sits vacant, waiting for the chosen heir. But the question is, who will be UCLA’s starting QB come game one?

The answer could lie in true freshman Josh Rosen who was the No. 1 ranked pro-style QB according to 247Sports. Rosen ran a similar style of offense in high school, but will have to pick up the Bruins’ system to coach Jim Mora’s liking. But no matter if Rosen wins the job or if the coaching staff feels backup Jerry Neuheisel is more suited to take the first snap of the season, there will be an excellent supporting cast behind the chosen signal caller.

Whoever the new signal caller ends up being, he will have the benefit of a veteran offensive line–all five starting offensive linemen return for the Bruins. Of course, having the PAC-12’s leading rusher, Paul Perkins, in the backfield helps too. Perkins returns after not only leading the conference in rushing yards, but also in yards per attempt (6.27) and yards per game (121.15). If Rosen is the man chosen to go under center, he will certainly be helped by all the weapons he has at his disposal. 

Previewing the UCLA Defense: Gone is the leadership that made the 2014 UCLA defense one of the better units in the conference as LB Eric Kendricks, DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa and CB Anthony Jefferson are all getting ready to play on Sundays. However, don’t worry; there remains plenty of talent left on this Bruins roster for the defense to remain solid.

Linebacker Myles Jack returns for what could be his final season, but will shift to the inside. Next to him will be OLB Deon Hollins, who is a breakout candidate after finishing the season with six sacks in UCLA’s last four games, giving him nine on the year. Replacing Odighizuwa at defensive end will be interesting as there are a couple options new defensive coordinator Tom Bradley could slide into that spot. One of those is Takkarist McKinley, who has the second most sacks (2.5) among returning players.

If the Bruins’ pass rush can get off to a good start and find a way to stay in the face of opposing QB’s, this defense has a chance to be one of the better units in the PAC-12. The only real question mark that lingers for the UCLA defense is the secondary, and whether the team can develop a true shutdown corner. 

Three Key Games:

1. UCLA at Arizona, September 26th – This game has early division implications as Arizona won the PAC-12 South last year and is hungry to repeat in 2015. However, UCLA had perhaps its best defensive showing against the Wildcats last season. After giving up an early score, the UCLA defense shut out the Arizona offense the remaining 57-and-a-half minutes.

2. UCLA at Stanford, October 15th – UCLA has this game circled on the calendar as one it wants for revenge. Stanford ruined the Bruins’ shot at clinching the PAC-12 South, while managing to crush their dreams at a chance to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff last season. This game will no doubt be something special to watch.

3. UCLA at USC, November 28th – This could be a huge year for this rivalry. Not only could this game determine who represents the South division in the PAC-12 title game, but it could have College Football Playoff implications if both of these teams are playing as well as they are predicted to this season. UCLA looks to make it four straight against their rival in this year’s contest.

Final Analysis: This UCLA team has one big advantage over most of the competition that it’s going to face this fall, and that’s experience. Not many teams can say that they’re returning 17 of 22 starters, and the few that can weren’t nearly as good as the Bruins. There may be a few big pieces missing from last season, but thanks to the excellent job of recruiting done by Jim Mora in his time as the head coach, there’s a stockpile of talent to fill the gaps. 

On defense, UCLA will be solid, and could wind up as one of the better units in the PAC-12. And while the offense will adjust to having a new QB, having Perkins in the backfield and five returning offensive linemen will help ease the burden.

UCLA should be back in 10-win territory and could possibly play for the PAC-12 title if it can take care of business early on. Winning the PAC-12 title is not out of the question for this squad, and if it can manage to do that, there’s a chance it’ll be playing in the coveted College Football Playoff.

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