The Sports Quotient

The Sports Quotient

How Howie Roseman Is Returning The Eagles To Form

When the NFL free agency tampering window opened at noon on March 7th, the DeChippification of the Philadelphia Eagles became the top priority for General Manager Howie Roseman. Since the start of free agency, Roseman has shipped out the "Kelly guys" and attempted to reload to compete next season in the weak NFC East.

Ever since Chip Kelly

When the NFL free agency tampering window opened at noon on March 7th, the DeChippification of the Philadelphia Eagles became the top priority for General Manager Howie Roseman. Since the start of free agency, Roseman has shipped out the “Kelly guys” and attempted to reload to compete next season in the weak NFC East.

Ever since Chip Kelly won the power struggle prior to the 2015 season, Roseman has been pushed to the back seat of football operations. News broke that Kelly had even moved Roseman’s office to the business side of the organization and away from all things football. Now, with Kelly in San Francisco, Roseman is back in charge and taking a swing at the team formerly run by Kelly.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

More importantly, Roseman is returning to pre-Kelly traditions by rewarding guys already on the team and plugging holes without breaking the bank through free agency. Before free agency began, Roseman made his name by doling out contracts to current players such as Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Lane Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins, Vinny Curry, Najee Goode and Sam Bradford. In addition, he has made it a point to rid the locker room of guys brought in by Kelly, especially those who are overpaid and/or a problem in the locker room. See: DeMarco Murray.

Roseman wasted no time in taking care of business, starting with the trade of cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Miami Dolphins. Roseman was able to dump the $63 million salary of Maxwell, rid the team of two disappointing players and jump five spots in the first round of this year’s draft. Most characterize this deal and the DeMarco Murray trade as great moves for the Eagles.

Little time passed before the next overpaid Kelly signing was packing his bags. Later that same day, Murray was shipped to Tennessee for a swap of fourth round picks. The 2014 rushing champion was traded for virtually nothing, amplifying the severity of his locker room issues and horrible contract. Still, many see this deal as a win for the Eagles, as ridding the team of that kind of baggage was huge for the organization to take the next step towards success. 

The next step started with the small signing of cornerback Leodis McKelvin, but didn’t stop there. Roseman flexed his muscles by reaching agreements with Rodney McLeod, Brandon Brooks, Chase Daniel, Ron Brooks and Nigel Bradham. These signings signaled not only a return to the old way of doing things, but a change in philosophy for the organization: collaboration.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Before Kelly’s power revolution, Roseman had a clear method for free agency. After the disaster that was the 2011 offseason, Roseman resorted to signing mid-tier free agents to reasonable contracts. The signing of Malcolm Jenkins in 2014 is a prime example of what I mean by this. Big name safeties such as TJ Ward, Jarius Byrd and Donte Whitner were on the market looking for big pay days and the Eagles were in dire need of a safety. 

Instead of writing a huge check to a top-tier free agent, Roseman gave Jenkins a safe three year deal. In 2015, that same “mid-tier safety” was Pro Football Focus’ top ranked safety. If Jenkins hadn’t performed as hoped, the team would only have one year at a low cost before being freed from that contract. Roseman is hoping to replicate that same success this offseason.

With the likes of Eric Weddle and George Iloka on the market this year, the Eagles went for a young, rising safety named Rodney McLeod. Although Roseman gave McLeod a nice pay day, it still resembles a “Roseman move”. Unlike last season, when Kelly lured Maxwell to he Eagles with $63 million, Roseman is going after the productive, less expensive options to fill holes throughout the team. So far, the fans seem to love this way of doing things.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Roseman has recovered his office and all of his power, he hasn’t let it go to his head like Kelly did. Whereas Kelly was a dictator, Roseman’s rule more closely resembles a democracy. This is evident by the new presence of collaboration around the NovaCare Complex. In the introductory press conference of the recent free agent signings, head coach Doug Pederson addressed the communication between him and Roseman.

“Our offices are about four doors away, so we have to yell a lot down the hall. But no, the communication has been me walking to his office, him walking to my office, going over our roster,” said Pederson. 

“So that communication has been very well received over the past month and really since I’ve been here. That’s something that will continue now on through this draft process.”

Roseman and Pederson are in constant communication with one another, evident by the signings this offseason. Daniel and Brooks are two guys that Pederson has targeted since day one. Daniel was with Pederson in Kansas City while Brooks is the type of big, athletic guard Pederson prefers on his offensive line. But the communication doesn’t stop there.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has clearly had his fair share of input in the free agent signings. Three former Buffalo Bills have been signed this season, all having played under Schwartz in 2014. Bradham, Brooks and McKelvin have all alluded to Schwartz being a reason for signing with the Eagles, citing his coaching style and scheme as reasons for following him. All four, including McLeod, possess the physical, athletic style Schwartz looks for in his defenders. Clearly, Roseman is communicating and collaborating with Pederson and his staff to field the best product on Sundays.

Roseman has taken steps to eliminate the issues created by Kelly. He has traded seemingly untradeable contracts, collaborated with Pederson and his staff, and signed players, old and new, without breaking the bank. Roseman’s execution has been near perfect so far, but his kryptonite is fast approaching. This offseason has been characterized as a success for the Eagles around the league, but if he wants the full approval of Philly fans, he has to strike gold on draft day, which is something he hasn’t been able to do in the past.

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Breaking Down Brock Osweiler’s Departure From Denver

Moving on from a legendary quarterback and finding his replacement without skipping a beat is one of the toughest tasks for any GM. In the last eight years, it has been done twice, with the Packers' transitioning from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and then the Colts' transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Before that however,

Moving on from a legendary quarterback and finding his replacement without skipping a beat is one of the toughest tasks for any GM. In the last eight years, it has been done twice, with the Packers’ transitioning from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and then the Colts’ transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Before that however, it had been done only once in the history of the NFL when the 49ers transitioned from Joe Montana to Steve Young. 

Many other teams with legendary quarterbacks failed to replace them with another franchise signal caller. This includes the Dolphins’ moving from Dan Marino to Jay Fiedler, the Steelers’ moving from Terry Bradshaw to Mark Malone, the Cowboys’ moving from Troy Aikman to Quincy Carter, the Broncos’ moving from John Elway to Brian Griese, and the list goes on. 

The Broncos looked like they were in perfect position to transition from Peyton Manning to Brock Osweiler. When Manning got hurt in week 10 vs Kansas City, Osweiler took over in the fourth quarter and then started every game for the rest of the regular season. Osweiler looked like he was a clear upgrade over Manning: 

Stats: completion % TDS INTS yards passing per game passer rating Pro football focus 
ranking and grade (0-100 scale)
Points per game when playing  
Brock Osweiler 61.8% 10 6 246 86.4 Ranked 20th with grade of 71.3 In 6 3/4 games: 20.2
Peyton Manning 59.8% 9 17 225 67.9 Ranked 32nd with grade of 56.8 In 9 1/4 games: 18.9

Now, I know that Osweiler is no Young or Luck, but he had the advantage in pretty much every statistical category over Manning, and it looked like he was going to be Denver’s starting quarterback heading into the playoffs. However, in the final regular season game against San Diego, the offense struggled in the first half under Osweiler, and he was benched for Manning. Manning was able to give the Broncos a spark and help Denver secure a win. 

This spark led the Broncos to choose Manning as the starting quarterback for their playoff run, but this was a bad decision. This move sent a message to Brock Osweiler that the Broncos didn’t believe in him, even though he was clearly a better quarterback than Peyton Manning at the time. Osweiler clearly held a grudge against the Broncos for this decision as evidenced by this tweet from Mike Klis of the Denver Post:

Osweiler ended up signing a deal with Houston that will pay him $18 million per year with $37 million guaranteed, while Denver was in the range of offering $16 million per year with $30 million guaranteed. This was terribly mismanaged by Denver. The Broncos had the heir apparent to Peyton Manning lined up and already playing well in their system. Instead of handing over the reins, they damaged the relationship between themselves and Osweiler, and now he’s gone. 

The contrary argument is that Denver ended up winning the Super Bowl with Manning at quarterback, so was it really a bad decision? And to that I would say yes, it absolutely was, for all the aforementioned reasons about Osweiler and because Manning did nothing in the playoffs. In three  games, Manning put up a bad stat line: 180 yards passing per game, 55.4% completion, two touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 75.4. Manning did very little aside from riding the coattails of his dominant defense, something Brock Osweiler could have easily done just as well or probably better. 

So with their young, promising quarterback of the future now in Houston, the Broncos have traded for former Jets and Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is primarily known for being part of one of the most embarrassing plays in NFL history: the “butt fumble” against the Patriots on Thanksgiving four years ago. 

Sanchez is already 29 years old, and he has a career 56.7% completion rating, 86 touchdowns, 84 interceptions, and a passer rating of 74.3. Statistically he is a bad quarterback, and it’s not likely he will get any better in eighth year in the league. Now without Osweiler, the Broncos look like they are in no-man’s land at quarterback, with an uninspiring Sanchez filling in for now. 

The only promising option the Broncos could possibly have is chasing Andrew Luck in next year’s free agent class. Sanchez is currently on a one-year deal, so his money will be coming off the books next year, giving the Broncos another opportunity to look for a franchise quarterback. The Colts have done a very bad job surrounding Luck with talent since they drafted him, and if things go badly for them next year, Luck could look to test the market in free agency. Denver would absolutely look to sign Luck if those circumstances came about.  

If those plans don’t work out, though, and the Broncos are stuck with Sanchez or looking desperately for another quarterback, this will make John Elway and company look foolish. The Broncos had their next quarterback already in their organization, in a prime position to keep him, to make a smooth transition from Manning to the future, and they blew it. This is something that may really hurt Denver for time to come, because history shows us that it is very hard to transition from a great quarterback directly to another good one. While Osweiler was still unproven, he certainly displayed a solid skillset that and a winning mentalitiy. And with that unfavorable history, we have no idea when or where Denver will have the chance to get a good quarterback again.  

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Jaylon Smith

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Jaylon Smith out of The University of Notre Dame.

College Career

Jaylon Smith arrived in South Bend

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Jaylon Smith out of The University of Notre Dame.

College Career

Jaylon Smith arrived in South Bend with a lot of hype surrounding him. He won the High School Butkus award and was considered the top linebacker recruit in the country in 2013 by many different media outlets. After three years, we can all agree that Smith was definitely as good as advertised. A starter for all three years at Notre Dame, Smith really began to flourish in his sophomore season when he was moved to the middle linebacker position. 

Since being moved inside, Jaylon Smith has been one of the best defensive players in the country. He was in on over 110 tackles each of the last two seasons. His sophomore season ended in a Second Team All-American selection. His junior season resulted in him being a First Team All-American selection, and the recipient of the collegiate Butkus Award. Smith and fellow former Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o are the only two players to win the award at both the high school and college level.

Smith had many highlights in his amazing college career at Notre Dame, but unfortunately, he had one huge lowlight to end his career when he tore his ACL and MCL against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Pros

When you watch Jaylon Smith on film, you’re watching a player who jumps off the screen. He’s extremely athletic, and has good height and arm length for the position. Although his injury prevented him from running an official 40-yard dash during the draft process, he was an excellent sprinter in high school and his film shows a player who has the speed of an NFL linebacker. This athleticism, size, and speed allow him to make plays all over the field.

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Jaylon Smith’s greatest strength is his versatility. He’s a Swiss Army Knife at the linebacker position who can play any of the linebacker positions in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. His versatility should make the defensive coordinator that gets his hands on him salivate about the thought of playing him all over the field.

While at Notre Dame, Jaylon Smith also demonstrated a valuable ability to play solid man coverage. With the NFL moving to more and more of a passing league, being able to cover is critical for any linebacker who wants to stay on the field for all three downs.

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Also, while he was not asked to rush the passer much at Notre Dame, he has all of the physical tools to be a good pass rusher, and recently put out a video compilation of himself as a pass rusher that shows that he does have some natural pass rushing ability.

Cons

Before we discuss any of his on-field weaknesses, we have to bring up the elephant in the room. Every discussion about Jaylon Smith’s cons as a draft prospect start with the health of his knee. He tore his ACL and MCL in the last game of the season. Although, all indications are that his surgery was successful, that knee is a huge red flag. Some NFL scouts believe that he won’t be able to play in the 2016 season, and are unsure how this injury will impact his game going forward.

Besides the knee, Jaylon Smith needs to improve his ability to diagnose plays. He sometimes would let his athleticism get the best of him and play his way out of position, especially on misdirection plays.

Jaylon Smith also needs to get stronger, and learn how to fight off blocks better in order to succeed in the NFL. With his arm length, he should never let blockers get into his body and take him out of the play. If he can learn to shed blockers quicker, he can be an even more dangerous playmaker than he already is.

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Verdict

I really like Jaylon Smith. He has the potential to be one of the best linebackers for years to come. I love his athleticism, versatility, and ability to make plays all over the field. However, he does need to work on diagnosing plays. Whatever defensive coach gets his hands on Smith would be wise to have him spend his “time off” in the film room to correct some of these issues in his game.

Although I believe Jaylon Smith can play all over the field, his best position is probably an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. His game reminds me a lot of Navarro Bowman; both players are athletic linebackers who make plays from sideline to sideline.

Projecting where Smith will go is incredibly tough. If it wasn’t for the knee injury, he’d be a potential top five pick. Now, I’m not a doctor and I can’t even pretend like I play one on TV, so I don’t know when that knee is going to be fully healed and I don’t know how it’ll affect his play going forward.

I’ve only heard good things about how Smith’s recovery is going, and (I think) he should be able to make a full recovery. However, I can understand why teams would be wary and not willing to take a gamble on him. I think he’ll still probably go somewhere in the first round, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he falls into Day 2.

Best Fit

Whoever drafts Jaylon Smith has to be willing to be patient with him. Teams that are in win now mode or have coaches/GMs on the hot seat may not be willing to wait a year to get one of their top picks on the field. However, the team that takes him could be getting a game-changing defensive player to anchor their defense for the next decade.

That being said, two teams that would be a good fit for Smith are the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons. Neither team is a serious contender this upcoming season and both teams could use a defensive playmaker, which a healthy Smith can become.

Both teams also have defensive minded head coaches (John Fox and Dan Quinn) who I think would take the time to help Smith tweak the issues in his game and reach his full potential. I think Fox and Quinn would also be able to use his versatility well and unleash his sideline to sideline playmaking ability.

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Doug Martin: The Most Uncertain Running Back in Football

Tampa Bay's re-signing of Doug Martin almost appears to be a no-brainer considering that he was one of the top running backs in the league last year: The 27-year-old rushed for over 1,400 yards and six touchdowns. Granted, most would argue that his five-year and 35.75 million dollar contract was a bit

Tampa Bay’s re-signing of Doug Martin almost appears to be a no-brainer considering that he was one of the top running backs in the league last year: The 27-year-old rushed for over 1,400 yards and six touchdowns. Granted, most would argue that his five-year and 35.75 million dollar contract was a bit much, yet the Bucs had to ensure that their top running back stayed in Tampa. The signing does circulate questions, however, about truly how effective Martin will be moving forward.

For most of his career, Doug Martin was an enigma. He burst onto the scene as a rookie and rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns, which included a 251-yard game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9. In addition, he averaged 4.6 yards a carry and had over 400 receiving yards. He appeared to be one of the most promising running backs in the NFL.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The following year resulted in disappointment for Martin. After an outstanding first year, the Tampa Bay running back rushed for a mere 456 yards and one touchdown before tearing his labrum. It wasn’t just the injury that set off alarm bells, it was the fact that Martin’s average yards per carry dropped from 4.6 to 3.6 and he gained only 66 receiving yards.

His third year in the league resulted in yet another disappointing season. After being riddled with injuries week in and week out, Martin rushed for only 494 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, the former Boise State running back averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. After such a promising rookie season and breaking four franchise records, including most touchdowns in a game (four) and most rushing yards in a single game (251), the young running back appeared to be another bright player who would be forever plagued with injuries. 

After back-to-back disappointing seasons and getting bit by the injury bug multiple times, Doug Martin’s name appeared to fade into the background for most NFL fans. The Bucs running back was looking to have a comeback year, but the NFL appeared skeptical and questioned if he could stay healthy for an entire year. The first three games of the season started off disappointing, as he averaged less than 80 yards in each game and didn’t have any rushing touchdowns, and the casual fan began to wonder if this was simply Martin’s swan song. He didn’t let that discouraged him, however, and over the next three games, the running back ran for a total of 365 yards and three touchdowns.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Martin finished the season with stellar numbers and looked a lot like his rookie self. He tallied 1,402 rushing yards and six touchdowns, including a stellar performance against Philadelphia where he ran for 235 yards. In addition, Martin broke nearly 70 tackles last season, which is 10 more than any other running back in the league according to Pro Football Focus. His receiving yards did take a plunge, which is primarily due to Charles Sims taking responsibility for that role where he finished the season with 561 yards receiving. Aside from being relieved from his receiving duties, it would appear that Martin is back to his old ways where he is destined for another solid year, but there is room for skepticism moving forward.

Although the Tampa Bay running back did have a stellar season, it is still a mystery as to whether or not he can stay healthy moving forward.  In two years he has run for over 1,400 yards and averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the other two years he ran for fewer than 500 yards and averaged about 3.65 yards per carry. Keep in mind that he scored nine rushing touchdowns in three seasons compared to 11 in his rookie year. There is little doubt that Martin is an extremely talented running back, however, you never know what you’re going to get from him going from season to season. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: Myles Jack

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA's Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA’s Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an early impact at UCLA, scoring seven rushing touchdowns as a spot starter at running back in his first season. On defense, Jack finished fourth on the Bruins with 75 tackles and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on offense and defense.

After moving to linebacker full time as a sophomore, Jack recorded 88 tackles and earned Second Team All-Pac 12 honors. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL three games into his junior year. Shortly after sustaining the injury, Jack announced he would forego his senior season to enter the draft.

Pros

What makes Jack a consensus top-10 pick is his ability in the open field. A common issue with linebackers is their inability to perform on passing downs. Jack has no such concerns.

Athletically, few linebackers compare to Jack. His 40 inch vertical at UCLA’s Pro Day would have been tied for the highest at the combine, if he had participated. His 124 inch broad jump would have slated him in the top-5 of combine participating linebackers. Jack has some freakishly long arms, useful for gaining leverage in blocking and reaching to knock down passes.

Jack shows the speed, fluidity, and quickness to cover all offensive skill positions. Here Jack lined up across from a wide receiver (normally a matchup advantage for the receiver), flipped his hips and ran with the receiver step for step in a sequence normally executed by a cornerback.

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The former Bruin linebacker also pairs his man-to-man skills with good instincts as a zone defender, displaying a good closing burst and instincts to track the ball. On the play below, off the snap, Jack locked onto the quarterback’s eyes, mirrored the quarterback when the play broke down, targeted the receiver coming into his zone and located the pass for a game-clinching interception.

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Jack also possesses the type of range that makes him ideal for tracking down ball carriers. On this snap, Jack bit too hard on the play fake and took a few false steps out of position, but still had the speed to reach the receiver on the other side of the field for the tackle.

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There is also mean streak to Jack’s game. He delivers some pop when he engages lineman or hits a ball carrier.

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Some of Jack’s power as a blocker and tackler comes from his short area burst which is outstanding. That burst comes in handy when rushing the passer, or like in the play below, for blowing up the play for a tackle for loss, accumulating 15 in his time with the Bruins. Jack was so fast on the play that he burst past the offensive lineman trying to get set and brought down the ball carrier.

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Cons

Health will be the primary concern for Jack. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine and only did some of the drills at the UCLA Pro Day. The fact that Jack can do the drills is a good sign of his recovery, but some teams might be scared off considering the severity of the injury.

While Jack excels in the open field, he struggles when confined to small spaces. Jack isn’t great when it comes to dealing with offensive linemen, and struggles to take good angles when he doesn’t have a clear path to the ball. On this play, Jack had the range to get to the running back but instead of taking a better angle to the play, got caught up navigating through the players between him and the ball carrier and got cut-blocked before he could make the tackle.

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Although Jack plays with an edge, his aggressive style can sometimes put him out of position. Below, Jack is opted to make a big hit rather than the sure tackle, whiffed on the running back, and consequently allowed the back to fall forward for an extra yards.

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Physically Jack has the range and physicality to be an effective run defender, but lacks great instincts to be a great run defender. In this snap, Jack confused the hole opening up near the bottom of the offensive line as the rush lane, when in fact the play went to the opposite direction.

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Verdict

ESPN, CBS Sports, and other draft sites have Jack as one of the top-10 players in this draft. That would be fine if Jack were as complete a run defender as he is a pass defender. Jack is still a first round pick, but should be valued as a mid-first round pick. Jack is certainly one of the best players in this draft with his outstanding athleticism and ability in passing situations, but concerns about his knee and his lack of refinement in the run game hurt his value.

Best Fit

Jack might not be great against the run, but he certainly won’t be a liability either. The team which drafts Jack is getting, if healthy, a player who has the potential to be an impact player on all three downs in a plethora of packages and situations.

It’d be very surprising for any team with a need at linebacker, like the Giants, Falcons and Lions, to pass on the UCLA linebacker.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OLB Darron Lee

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Darron Lee from the Ohio State University.

College Career

A medical redshirt in

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Darron Lee from the Ohio State University.

College Career

A medical redshirt in his freshman season, Lee only played two years of ball for Coach Urban Meyer, starting in 28 of his 30 games. While Darron Lee’s time at Ohio State was  short lived, it certainly was not short on accomplishments. In 2014 following his redshirt year, Lee started in all 15 games and was a major contributor in helping OSU capture a national championship. As a result, the outside linebacker received national freshman All-American honors. Lee would continue his success this past fall as a sophomore to comprise career numbers of 147 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. Only one player has had more tackles for losses and sacks on the team the past two seasons, and that player was Joey Bosa. Maybe you have heard of him. Lee was also an AP second-team All-American selection in 2015.

Pros

Lee is an extremely intriguing prospect, and it will be interesting to see how a team plans to utilize him once he is drafted. If you know any preliminary info about this kid, you know that he can flat out fly. At the scouting combine about a month ago, Lee put on a show when he posted a 4.47 40 time that is just unheard of at the linebacker position. On the football field, it is no mystery he can do it in pads as well, and he allows this athleticism to mold into multiple parts of his game. 

Rushing the passer is in my opinion the best attribute Lee possesses, and he can do it off the edge or through interior gaps thanks to the explosion and power he brings. As you can see below, he also excels at eating up space and closing gaps between him and a ballcarrier. This is a testament to the tremendous range and the relentless pursuit he shows on gamedays. An every down, versatile linebacker, Lee logged plenty of coverage snaps (specifically zone ones) as he was on the field a lot on third downs. 

Significantly for a linebacker, the former Buckeye is a solid tackler who can pack a punch if he meets up with you the right way. Setting the edge against the run in his two years was also a plus on tape. A last notable is that he had a knack for forcing fumbles in college, which is not a bad one to have at all. What I can really see this kid being asked to do often at the next level is spy an opposing quarterback. His freakish ways make him a prime candidate to mirror the likes of mobile signal callers like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Tyrod Taylor.

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Cons

Despite all the talent that Darron Lee brings to the table, there are some questions as to how he will translate to the pro level. For an outside linebacker in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense (expect him to play in a 4-3 like at OSU), Lee is undersized. His frame more resembles that of a safety’s, and that is why he can get lost from time to time when he has to sort through inside traffic. Often, Lee was easily pushed around by offensive lineman and had a hard time moving them off of their blocks. For a guy who is already at a disadvantage because of his size, this is something that needs to change quick. 

He also needs to work on harnessing his explosion and energy into making smart, consistent football plays. Examples are Lee’s tendencies of biting up on play action passes and overshooting tackles by not breaking down first. A lot of the success he had in college was thanks to his athleticism (as is the case for most). With a small sample size at OSU, general managers and executives have to ask themselves if Darron Lee is more than a workout warrior. To cap it off, Lee needs to work on getting more depth when he is in zone coverage. That can come in time.

Verdict

Lee is a tough prospect to decipher; this is one of the toughest calls I’ve had to make on a player. There is no denying what his ceiling can be; he has clear-cut first round talent with tools that coaching staffs drool over. With that being said, I am not sure Lee is as polished as he should be for the time being. His size is also a real concern for the pros. It should be very compelling to see what role this young man plays on Sundays. To me, he is very similar to Shaq Thompson out of Washington a year ago. Nobody knew how Thompson would be utilized in the NFL, but what makes these two so alike is that they are both very dynamic players at smaller sizes. Lee looks like more of a second round pick in my eyes with perhaps more bust potential than some may anticipate. Yet, it is what Lee may become that can make him a first round pick and have teams excited come April. 

Best Fit

A few places I like for Lee toward the end of the first round are Buffalo and Minnesota. Both of them could use some LB help, specifically on the outside, and both of them have tremendous defensive units and coaches. Head coach Mike Zimmer has done a fine job for the Vikings thus far, and there are not many guys who run a defense like him. He could find a niche for Lee early on and allow him to get comfortable with all the young talent Minnesota has added on that side of the ball. The situation would be exactly the same in Buffalo with Rex Ryan. His defenses are always exotic and Lee would be just another unique chess piece he could deploy to startle offenses. Again, no pressure to perform right from the start, although the Buckeye certainly has the ability to do so if necessary. 

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The NFL Draft Combine is the SAT of the Football World

About halfway through the three-and-a-half hour SAT I took with about 20 other kids in 2012, one girl asked to be excused. She never came back. Most of us test-taking students noticed the minor disruption, and after the time for a verbal section and a writing section was over, we realized she had fled the cramped public high

About halfway through the three-and-a-half hour SAT I took with about 20 other kids in 2012, one girl asked to be excused. She never came back. Most of us test-taking students noticed the minor disruption, and after the time for a verbal section and a writing section was over, we realized she had fled the cramped public high school classroom that College Board wanted us to think would determine our futures.

I’m not sure if an NFL-hopeful has ever ran out of Lucas Oil Stadium in the middle of his Wonderlic, but like the SATs, the annual week-long showcase consists of various mini-tests that fail to efficiently gauge the skills that will lead to professional success.

Just as it’s impossible to conclude that students who know the definition of the words “pellucid” or “obstreperous” or “calumny” are more equipped than their peers to handle a college setting, players’ 40-yard dash times, wingspans, and Cybex scores are insufficient measurements of football intelligence. 

There are countless Word of the Day services and test prep books that high school juniors pore over in Barnes and Nobles all over the country in the months and even years leading up to the SATs. Similarly, athletes can train over time to produce longer jumps and improve their agility to master the three-cone drill (yes, that is a thing). 

But in a reflex-driven sport that necessitates quick thinking, the entire combine system is somewhat paradoxical. One of the most well-known pieces of evidence supporting the fact that combine stats and pro success are not correlated is Mike Mamula‘s NFL career.

Mamula had a legendary combine. The 6’4″, 248-pound defensive end from Boston College trained specifically for each of the included drills, and ended up scoring 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic, the second-highest score ever recorded by an NFL player, and had a 4.58 second 40-yard dash (the average at the DE position is 4.88 seconds).

This stellar showing led the Philadelphia Eagles to select Mamula seventh overall in the 1995 NFL Draft, trading up from 12th overall in order to secure the player they hoped would replace Hall of Famer Reggie White.  

Mamula ended up having the decently average five-season career that was predicted by his game tapes, recording 209 total tackles and 31.5 sacks across 77 games. 

But while mediocre athletes can have amazing combines, elite players can do poorly. Prior to the 2003 NFL Draft, Florida State’s Anquan Boldin, who was converted into a wide receiver from a quarterback, had a 4.7 40-yard dash time, the lowest out of all of the wide receivers that year. Despite catching 1,780 yards and 21 touchdowns in just 23 games at WR, Boldin fell to the second round of the draft, selected 54th overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

Almost immediately, Boldin showed that on-field performance should outweigh combine performance. In his rookie year, Boldin had 101 receptions for 1,301 yards and eight touchdowns, was the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and was the lone rookie in the Pro Bowl. He later went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII as a Baltimore Raven, and is considered a future Hall of Famer.

Doing well on the SAT is ultimately something to be proud of, as is having an exceptional combine showing. But considering the copious amount of evidence out there emphasizing the general uselessness of “testing” players and students in a controlled environment, you have to wonder if there is something more nefarious going on.

College applications have a variety of components, including letters of recommendation, transcripts, and personal essays. Evidently, schools are aware that students are more than their standardized test scores. 

Yet the SATs still have enhanced significance in the collective psyches of high school students, and though it may be due to an inherent human desire to live up to arbitrary bench marks (2100 is good, 1800 and below is awful), it has to have some roots in College Board’s own machinations. The abundance of bundled practice tests College Board puts up for sale and the $70 fee required to take the actual test indicate that the company is the one that perpetuates its tests’ importance. 

The NFL is the College Board of the football world. By now, coaches and owners know better than to draft a player based on how fast they run in one 40-yard instance. There are behavioral red flags to pay attention to, medical histories to take note of, and most importantly, lots of film to watch. Yet athletes can only attend if they receive an invitation, which undoubtedly adds to the pressure they already feel to perform well. 

Take into account that the entire week is broadcast on NFL Network and that it takes place only a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl, when withdrawal symptoms are beginning to emerge, it appears that the NFL is actually completely aware of how people perceive the combine. 

But the entertainment value–and thus financial value–of watching talented athletes try their hardest to jump their highest and run their fastest is what maintains the existence of this week of tests. As long as the NFL is able to generate a buzz for the showcase, and as long as fans remain insatiable for all things football-related, especially in the face of a long offseason, the combine will stay. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Joshua Perry

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a fairly productive career. He assumed a starting linebacker role during his sophomore season in 2013, and since then #37 has started 37 games. He has put up 283 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and eight pass deflections over those three seasons. This past year was his best year when he put up 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and four pass deflections while playing inside and outside linebacker. He is well respected as a leader by both his teammates and his coaching staff.

Pros

Perry won’t wow you when you look at the tape, but he does present a skill set that can be very useful for a football team. Partially due to his size, 6’4″ and 254 lbs., Perry is very good at setting the edge and playing his gap well in the run game. He knows where he is supposed to go and makes sure that running backs can’t get outside of him. He forces them back towards help, and his strength makes it so that he can engage with offensive linemen without getting pushed around.

In the passing game, Perry has good instincts and is always looking to make a play, allowing him to be more than competent in a zone defense. This one play best summarizes what Perry can bring to a team in terms of coverage.

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Perry drops back initially, keeps his eyes in the backfield and diagnoses the screen pass. He is able to move laterally, avoid a would-be blocker, cut up down the field, and make a solid tackle on a good running back. These instincts and his ability to tackle will make him an asset to some team.

Cons

Although you can see Perry shed a block in the play above, it’s important to note that he did so against a wide receiver. When Perry gets matched up against offensive linemen and good blocking tight ends, he may not get pushed around, but he also doesn’t shed blocks very often. That means that while he will give others around him an opportunity to make a play, he’s not exhibiting much game changing talent.

Perry, who plays an aggressive and instinctual style of ball, has a tendency to play too aggressively, sometimes taking him out of plays. Here is an example from the same game where Perry bites on a fake and finds himself out of position.

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He should learn to avoid these obvious mistakes as he gains more experience, but the underlying tendency may always be there.

Lastly, Perry is below average in man coverage. He will need to be limited to zone defense and pass rushing on most occasions.

The Verdict

Overall, Perry is a solid backer that should have success depending on what his coaching staff asks him to do. It is still unclear whether he will be listed primarily as an inside or outside linebacker. It depends on who you ask. His limitations in coverage and his setting the edge in the run game makes him look more like an OLB. But his pass rush skills are a bit limited and his instincts would be a bigger asset at the ILB postion. Regardless, he is a good mid-round talent that should probably go sometime between the late second and the middle of the thir round.

Best Fit

A good fit for Perry would be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a team with good defensive players that would play around him and a great defensive coaching staff that could best utilize his skill set. In addition, they just lost a player who is very similar to Perry in Bruce Irvin. Irvin played the OLB role for Seattle and just signed a deal with the Oakland Raiders this off-season.

He had some bitter words for his ex-team, saying “I honestly felt if I stayed in [Seattle’s] system, I don’t think I would ever be the player I think I can be in this league, being a pass rusher. SAM outside linebacker is cool, but you can do your job the whole game at SAM linebacker and you have two tackles. I just want to be utilized more and get put in position more to make plays.”

Perry is a perfect player to fill this void. He does the dirty work and sets up his teammates. He is fine rushing or dropping back into coverage. Both parties will be fortunate if Perry falls to them.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Reggie Ragland

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes to join CJ Mosley, Rolando McClain, and Dont’a Hightower as Nick Saban coached linebackers drafted in the first round. Like the three aforementioned players, Ragland ended his Crimson Tide career with at least one SEC Championship, National Championship, All-American Team appearance.

Ragland spent his first two years at Alabama on special teams before starting at linebacker as a junior. He would excel as Alabama’s starting middle linebacker for the next two seasons, being named a Butkus award semifinalist in 2014 and 2015 (The Butkus award honors college football’s best linebacker).

Pros

Not only did Ragland play on special teams, but he also played defensive end in Alabama’s nickel and dime defenses.

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Ragland has great instincts at the middle linebacker position. He seldom takes a false step and quickly sees the play develop him. On the first snap against Clemson, Ragland was not distracted by the ball fake, located the ball carrier, and would have made the tackle had he avoided the Clemson blocker.

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At 247 pounds, Ragland is sound when it comes to dealing with bigger, stronger offensive lineman. Where a smaller linebacker might get washed out of a play, Ragland uses his bulk to prevent the lineman from getting push and then effectively disengages. Notice how quickly Ragland engaged, then disengaged, the lineman on the play below.

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Unlike some bigger linebackers, Ragland is not a slow footed athlete. He has an explosive first few steps that give him great burst to get behind the line and blow up a play. In the snap below, Ragland shows his acceleration in chasing down Deshaun Watson from the backside.

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In the passing game, Ragland has enough range and fluidity to be effective when dropped into coverage. In this play, Ragland didn’t do a great job at preventing the tight end from picking up additional yardage, but still had enough range to reach the tight end and limit the damage.

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Cons

Not only did the previous play highlight that Ragland is only adequate in coverage, it also highlighted a problem with his tackling; he didn’t use good form to bring down the tight end. Although Ragland is generally a good tackler, he can be inconsistent. On the snap below, instead of driving his hips through the running back, Ragland lets the back get into his body and push him backwards for an extra yard.

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To be fair, Ragland went from missing ten tackles in 2014 to three this past season, so it’s an area he is improving in.

Even though Ragland is a solid athlete on tape, supported by how many different positions he played in college, he isn’t a workout warrior. He only had 13 reps on the bench press at Alabama’s Pro Day, a number which would have put him outside the top-15 performers at the combine had he participated in the drill. Of the drills Ragland did perform at the combine, he was only a top-5 performer in the 20-yard shuttle.

Verdict

Ragland has all the makings of an excellent middle linebacker. His instincts, bulk, and burst make him ideal for hunting down running backs between the tackles. He also shows enough ability in the passing game to be able to play all three, or even four, downs (considering his experience as a special teamer).

Baring something unforeseen, Ragland seems like a first round lock. He has very few weaknesses and has the versatility to be deployed at defensive end or on special teams. He might not have the crazy athletic upside of Myles Jack, but Ragland certainly looks the part of a high-caliber, starting middle linebacker.

Best Fit

Ragland would be used best as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 base defense, but could play middle linebacker in a 4-3 if needed. Alabama primarily uses a 3-4 defense and while Ragland could adjust to a 4-3, it’d be foolish to take Ragland out of a system he has already excelled in.

The Ravens, Bears, Saints, Colts and Jets standout as teams which both run a 3-4 defense and are in the need of another middle linebacker.

All video content was provided by DraftBreakdown.com.

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The Best Defensive Free Agents Left This Offseason

The 2016 NFL free agency period has been in full force for over a week now. With many signings already happening, most of the best free agents are already off the board. However, there is still a substantial amount of talent left for teams to sign before the start of the 2016 season. Going through these

The 2016 NFL free agency period has been in full force for over a week now. With many signings already happening, most of the best free agents are already off the board. However, there is still a substantial amount of talent left for teams to sign before the start of the 2016 season. Going through these players, position by position, we can uncover some of the hidden gems left in the free agent market.

Defensive Lineman: 

Possibly the deepest position at the beginning of free agency, the defensive linemen were quick to get signed. Some, such as Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon, were able to cash in on monumental contracts, while others, like Nick Fairley, are still waiting for the right offer to come their way. While Fairley is a very solid option at defensive tackle, he isn’t the only good option left because there is also Terrance Knighton. Both of these players are very good run stuffers who also possess the ability to go after the quarterback. While Fairley is younger, 28, compared to Knighton, 29, you can count on both of these players to stay healthy for a full season, as they have both shown over the course of their careers. 

As far as defensive ends are concerned, there are not many left that are worth signing in free agency. The only remaining impact player is Greg Hardy and he comes with the baggage of his off-field problems. While he has top ten talent as far as purely physical ability is concerned, he comes with past issues which makes it hard for teams to see him worth the investment and trouble. 

Linebackers: 

Based purely on talent, the best player in free agency that is still unsigned is Aldon Smith. As one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, Smith has shown he is capable of being one of the best in the league at rushing the quarterback. However, he is also a player that comes with a lot of off-field issues, especially considering his suspension since mid-November. With all of the issues he has off the field, it will be interesting to see if any team is willing to take a risk on him, knowing what he is capable of once he gets onto the field. Another expert in the pass rushing game in free agency is Dwight Freeney. While he is 36 years old, he has proven he is capable of making plays with eight sacks in just eleven games last year with the Cardinals. Although teams are taking a risk in signing a player who has played 15 seasons, there is great potential for Freeney to produce eight or more sacks again in 2016.

Also left for free agent linebackers are specialty options Mike Neal and Courtney Upshaw. While Neal is a highly versatile linebacker who can play any position from an outside linebacker to a defensive tackle, he isn’t the best playmaker, only recording one interception and a career high of just five sacks. That being said, Neal is a solid option for teams in need of a versatile linebacker who they can count on to be out there for 16 games. Another specialty option linebacker available is Courtney Upshaw, a run-stuffing specialist. While he has all the talent in the world, he has not reached his anticipated potential in the NFL, with a career high of just two sacks and 55 tackles. Upshaw is reliable as he has never missed a game in his four year career. He is a player, like Mike Neal, that will be signed by a team simply looking for a linebacker that they can count on being on the field for 16 games.

Cornerbacks: 

Another area of free agency that has yet to be depleted is cornerback, where there are still many talented players yet to be signed. The best two cornerbacks remaining in the free agency market are Patrick Robinson and Brandon Boykin. While Robinson had a resurgence in his career last year in San Diego due to his move to full-time slot corner, Boykin has made a career out of slot corner for the past four seasons. Both of these players deserve to be paid similar to at least the top-30 cornerbacks in the NFL, as they have proven to be over last few seasons. Another solid cornerback left in free agency is Leon Hall. Unlike Robinson and Boykin, Hall has played basic outside cornerback in his nine seasons in the NFL. At 31 years old, Hall is on the downside of his career and could be a risk for teams looking to sign a corner this offseason, not knowing if this will be the year that his production drops off. However, Hall will still be signed in the 2016 season based on his ability to still play top-50 corner and be reliable for the full 16 game season.

Safeties: 

When it comes to playmaking ability left in free agency, safety is definitely the deepest position left. With multiple players who had three or more interceptions last year, this position has a lot of talent left. This class is highlighted by the NFL leader in interceptions a year ago, Reggie Nelson. Along with Nelson, Rashad Johnson is also a ball hawk, tied for sixth in interceptions last year. Both of these players are some of the best playmakers in the secondary in the NFL, both getting at least four interceptions for the past two seasons. While Nelson may be demanding a larger contract, Johnson may be one of the best deals left on the market. One more solid option left at the safety position is recently converted cornerback, Walter Thurmond. In one season of playing at the safety position, Thurmond was able to be very productive, recording three interceptions, two sacks, and two forced fumbles in 16 games. With this impressive ability to make plays, Thurmond will surely be paid by a team looking for a playmaker in the secondary.

While free agency is an essential part of forming any team, overspending during free agency can lead to years of regret for most teams. So, while every player on this list deserves to be on someone’s NFL roster, it takes time for both the players and the teams to come to terms with what each player values. However, in the 2016 season, barring injury, retirement, or suspension, every one of these players will be suited up and ready to play come kick off.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Ronnie Stanley

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.


Collegiate Career

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.


Collegiate Career

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame over Miami, Oklahoma, Florida State, and several other notable programs. He was named the starting right tackle for his sophomore season, and then moved to left tackle the following year after the departure of first-round pick Zack Martin. A model of consistency, Stanley started 39 consecutive games for the Irish since 2013.

Pros

Standing at 6’5” and weighing 312 pounds, Stanley has the prototypical height and weight to play offensive tackle. More importantly, his 35 and 5/8th inch wingspan is above the combine average of 34 and 2/10th inches. Arm length is particularly important for offensive linemen because it gives them a leverage advantage over incoming defenders, allowing them to control the defender without him getting into the body of the offensive lineman. On the snap below, the defender attempted to convert his speed rush to a power rush, only to have Stanley (No.78) extend his arms and prevent the defender from getting a hand in his torso.

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While some linemen have minimal mobility due to their massive size, Stanley has no such issues. He is incredibly light on his feet with the ability to quickly get set in pass protection and then move with the oncoming defender. In this snap, Stanley was matched up against Clemson defensive end and likely first round pick Shaq Lawson. Not only did Stanley quickly get himself in position to defend a wide rush, he also was quick enough to stone Lawson at the point of attack when he tried a spin move.

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The above play also highlights another positive: intelligence. Earlier in that game Lawson had successfully executed a similar move against Stanley, resulting in a sack. Stanley would not be fooled again, as he anticipated the spin move when Lawson tried it again. In general, Stanley has good awareness for the position, and seldom misses on his blocking assignment. Here, the defense ran a stunt where the defensive end and defensive tackle switch positions after the snap. Stanley quickly picked up the stunt and properly switched his blocking assignment to the tackle, allowing the guard to pick up the defensive end.

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Stanley knows how to use his mobility to his advantage in the run game. He can effortlessly move from the line of scrimmage to the second level of the defense, and does a good job at sealing off defenders attempting to get in the backfield. On the snap below, Stanley locked onto a defender trying to shoot the gap, and kept his legs moving to create some running room for the back.

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Cons

Although Stanley is a good run defender, he doesn’t consistently display the push needed to be a great run defender. On this play, Stanley and the guard double-teamed the defensive lineman off the snap, but once the guard peeled off to take on another defender, Stanley couldn’t move the initial defender further downfield.

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Occasionally, Stanley will rely too much on his movement skills instead of being physical, which can lead to some wasted motion and energy on his part. In this snap, instead of delivering a counterpunch to the lineman’s bull rush, Stanley kept his feet mobile, making it easier for the defender to push him back, almost right into the quarterback. 

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Verdict

Stanley has the makings of a top-10 selection. As a pass protector, Stanley might be the most refined in his class with his combination of athleticism, smarts, and technique. He might not be as accomplished as a run blocker, but it’s certainly not an area he struggles in, and if he can get bigger without losing his mobility he would be an asset in the run game.

Best Fit

Usually teams picking in the top-10 of the draft have issues on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Even though Stanley projects as a left tackle long term, a team might consider playing him at right tackle as a rookie, where he would be matched up against lesser pass rushers, which would his transition into the league.

The Charges, 49ers, Jaguars, and Giants are all teams picking in the top-10 with needs at tackle, and will likely be in consideration for Stanley’s services.


Gifs were made through Giphy.com. All video content was provided by
draftbreakdown.com.

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How Will The New NFL Rule Changes Affect The Game?

Wednesday morning, the NFL Competition Committee announced their rule changes for the 2016-17 season. There were some interesting ones, all of which can be read here:

Wednesday morning, the NFL Competition Committee announced their rule changes for the 2016-17 season. There were some interesting ones, all of which can be read here:

But, how will these rules impact the game this season?

The first rule change is not a change per se, but rather making permanent the rule change implemented last year that moved extra point attempts back to the 15-yard line. This change had a significant impact last year, with record numbers of missed extra point attempts, including a few crucial misses in the playoffs. Expect this rule to continue to impact the game the way it did last season. 

It’s obvious that player safety was a point of major emphasis in this new set of rules. Touchbacks on kickoffs and punts will now result in teams getting the ball at the 25-yard line. This could be a double-edged sword, as many teams will opt to take more touchbacks if they are available, but many kicking teams will attempt to avoid the touchback more so than ever before. This potential problem for this rule could have an ultimately negative impact, as a rule designed to increase the number of touchbacks (which would decrease the number of potentially dangerous kickoff returns) could ultimately increase the returns they are trying to limit. 

In a rare player safety rule directed towards protecting defensive players, chop blocks are now illegal in the NFL. While chop blocks don’t lead to injury epidemics the way hits to the head do, they can create many potential lower-body injuries for defensive players, and eliminating these dangerous blocks will hopefully limit those injuries. Along those lines, horse-collar tackle penalties have now been expanded to include tackles where the defender grabs the jersey at the name plate. These common sense rules indicate the NFL is thinking smartly about subtle ways to improve player safety, even if they lack the big picture safety initiative. 

The most controversial rule, however, is the rule that automatically ejects players after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. This rule was instituted by the competition committee for only the 2016-17 season, and if it proves to have a positive impact on the game, they can vote to keep it next season. While I think it is likely this rule will be kept, I do not think this will have the intended impact.

This is not a rule about player safety as Roger Goodell proposed it at the Super Bowl, but rather a rule about sportsmanship. This automatic ejection rule, by virtue of being for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and not for unnecessary roughness penalties, does not necessarily protect the players themselves. 

Instead, this rule is intended to protect the image of the league. By trying to limit taunting penalties and other unsportsmanlike penalties, the league is trying to protect its image. If the league really wants to protect players, then it should reconsider the committee’s proposal to eject players after two personal fouls.

The league gets a lot out of this rule, however, because it gets people thinking that the NFL is in it for the player safety, without realizing that unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are not personal fouls. A hit to the head of a defenseless receiver, roughing the passer, facemask, horse-collar tackles, and many of the other penalties that truly affect player safety will not be impacted by this ejection rule. Under this rule, only one player would have been ejected last season (Brian Orakpo was given two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for arguing with a referee). Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman would not have been ejected even in their melee under this rule. Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones would not have been ejected under this rule for their conduct at the end of the Steelers-Bengals playoff matchup last season. So this rule, despite appearances, has no actual positive impact on the game. 

By imposing rules like this, the league forgets that fans come to the game for the entertainment value, and not necessarily for impeccable sportsmanship. Roger Goodell and the conference committee may dislike excessive celebrations or arguing with referees, but fans absolutely love that kind of stuff. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a technically excessive celebration?

So, in conclusion, most of the new rules make sense for both the league and the players. The new rules designed to help improve player safety are a step in the right direction, and should definitely help players avoid injury. However, don’t be fooled by this new automatic ejection rule. This is just another in a long line of rules designed to limit the excitement on the field between plays. So, will the ejection rule have an effect on the field? No, but it might negatively impact the fans.

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Chronicling The Rise And Fall Of Aldon Smith

The Rise and Fall of Aldon Smith

Arguably the most talented player left in free agency today is outside linebacker Aldon Smith. At just 26 years old, Smith still has time for improvement and carries one of the highest ceilings for pass-rushers in the NFL. Despite

The Rise and Fall of Aldon Smith

Arguably the most talented player left in free agency today is outside linebacker Aldon Smith. At just 26 years old, Smith still has time for improvement and carries one of the highest ceilings for pass-rushers in the NFL. Despite these factors, Smith remains unsigned by any team because of a string of off-the-field issues, especially issues related to drug and substance abuse. He is currently serving a one-year suspension for the violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and is eligible to be reinstated in November of this year.

One of the most exciting pass-rushers in the modern era has fallen from the precipice: I want to take a look at his journey.

High School

Coming out of Raytown High School in, who-woulda-guessed-it, Raytown, Missouri, Aldon was rated just a three-star recruit by most scouting sites, including Rivals. In high school, Smith was a defensive playmaker, recording numerous turnovers in a variety of ways. After graduation, Smith decided to stay in-state and attend the University of Missouri.

College

At Missouri, Smith redshirted as a freshman, and played his first games for the team in 2009; a season in which he finished with 60 tackles and 11 sacks. That season, Smith earned a number of honors including First-team Freshman All-American and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. The following season we only saw Smith play nine games and though his statistics dropped a little, he declared for the 2011 NFL Draft.

The Draft

Evaluated as what we would call today an EDGE rusher, Smith was, on average, coming off of mock draft boards near the middle of the first round. For someone who saw a light dip in performance in his last season of college play, this was actually very strong evaluation once you consider the talent that was in this draft. 

For perspective, every player drafted ahead of Aldon would go on to be an All-Pro. Further, notable players drafted after him include Tyron Smith, J.J.Watt, Robert Quinn, Muhammad Wilkerson, among others. Despite this amount of talent available in the first round, Aldon Smith was picked seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers. 

Before he was drafted, scouts had questions regarding his initial burst, frame, and stoutness against an NFL rushing attack. However, this was not what was most worrisome for Smith. Even before entering the NFL, there were questions about Smith’s character and his off-field behavior. According to a scouting service for certain NFL subscribers, Aldon had “some past experience with getting into trouble and is a higher-than-average risk for this sort of behavior in the future.”

And perhaps even more importantly, the service’s report indicated that “He [Aldon Smith] does not consistently show the kind of passion and commitment to the game that we see in successful players.” There were clearly early signs of risk available to teams, but perhaps the upside and raw potential of Smith was too much to pass on.

The Early Years

Though Smith did not make any starts for the 49ers his rookie season, largely thanks to the team’s established defensive depth, he managed to surpass Hall of Famer Charles Haley’s single-season rookie sack record. By the end of the season, Smith had racked up four pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and a whopping 14 sacks. 

This was enough to put him in second place for defensive rookie of the year behind close friend and future Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller. Unfortunately, Smith capped off his rookie season by being arrested in Miami Beach for DUI in January. This was just the beginning of a series of missteps.

His sophomore year, Smith had a somewhat meteoric rise as he became a starter for the 49ers. After passing legendary pass rusher Reggie White for the fastest to 30 career sacks, Smith was on the verge of tying or even breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. However the hype fizzled after Smith recorded zero sacks in his final three games of the season, leaving him at a career high 19.5 sacks.

Yet, even with a rather disappointing end to the season and lackluster performance in the playoffs, people were intrigued by the potential in the then 22-year-old. He, J.J. Watt, and Von Miller were all the rage of young pass-rushers in the NFL. But Aldon slipped up again.

Let the Spiral Begin

After starting his third season with 3.5 sacks in just two games, the linebacker proceeded to be arrested for another DUI and drug possession in September of 2013. Shortly afterwards, Smith was hit with three charges of possession of an assault weapon stemming from a party back in the summer of 2012. 

Following a crushing defeat by the Indianapolis Colts, Aldon checked into a rehabilitation center, missed five games, and finished the season with strong performances; in fact, despite starting in just seven games that season, Smith graded out to be the third best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league according to Bleacher Report. Further, it seemed as though he had improved through the years, not only being a force in the pass rush, but also an excellent run defender. Clearly, the talent was still there for Smith, but was the focus?

In April of 2014, Smith was charged with making a false bomb threat at LAX and shortly held in jail. Though he was not convicted in the end, his pattern of unintelligent and rash off-field behavior had become a stumbling block for his place in the NFL. During the summer of 2014, after Smith’s assault weapon charges were coming to a close in court, the NFL suspended him for nine games of 2014 season: four for substance abuse and five for personal conduct.

Regardless of how talented you are, how can you help your team if you’re suspended for the majority of the season? What’s worse is that Aldon had a chance to reduce the suspension through good behavior, but did not do so after failing to complete counseling. After logging another season with missed games and just two sacks, Smith was in a position to pick himself back up and try to fulfill his potential. Sadly for all us Aldon Smith supporters, he had other things in mind…

Soon after 49ers GM Trent Baalke had said Aldon Smith was going to “work hard to make sure…[Aldon Smith] remains here,” Smith got himself arrested yet again in August of 2015 for DUI, hit-and-run, and vandalism. At news of this arrest, the 49ers had no choice but to release the young talent. The following month, Smith decided to join the Oakland Raiders for a fresh start, but in November, he was suspended for a year because of his August DUI incident. 

And Now..?

After a quiet few months from Aldon Smith, this brings us to the present. He is a 26-year-old unsigned free agent who is not eligible to play football in the NFL until mid-November. He’s a former three-star recruit out of high school who was drafted seventh overall in one of the most talented drafts in recent memory, and rose up in just two years to become one of the most feared pass-rushers in football.  

On the other hand, he’s also a young man with maturity issues, a string of arrests, and a pattern of misbehaving off the field. He has been suspended several times for several games by the NFL, and another violation of the substance abuse or personal conduct policy could land him an even more substantial suspension than the one he is currently serving.  

I still believe Smith has value in the NFL. Despite his image and the reputation he has built up, his talent is unquestionably immense, and his ceiling is incredibly high. Most of his missteps came during the offseason, when he is not engaged in the set structure of a football team. If someone can take the time to mentor Smith and build a strong structure for his behavior, I believe Aldon Smith still can become what many of us envisioned him to be: an unstoppable pass-rushing monster with more speed, strength, and length a man of his size should have. The question now is, will anyone invest in him?

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Taylor Decker

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we look at into the offensive line. Today we look at Taylor Decker out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Taylor Decker was a cornerstone

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we look at into the offensive line. Today we look at Taylor Decker out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Taylor Decker was a cornerstone for the Ohio State offensive line during his time there. In his four years at the university, Decker started 42 consecutive games, 28 of which were at the left tackle spot. He became the full time starter his sophomore year and made 14 starts at right tackle, and moved to the other side of the line the following year and started 15 games. This past season he was voted a team captain, selected for the All-Big Ten team, and won the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year award.

Pros

Decker is a big body, even as far as offensive linemen go. He is 6’7″ and 310 lbs (for comparison, the average NFL lineman is around 6’5″). He has the size that you want, and he knows how to use it in order to overpower rushers. Often when you have big, tall offensive linemen, they don’t bend their knees enough, but when you look at the tape, Decker shows consistent bend in his knees.

He plays best against the run. Decker can get up into defenders, and has good hands which allows him to drive them, while also making it difficult for them to shed the block. He plays smart, and is not often fooled by opposing schemes or the moves.

Cons

One thing, you’ll inevitably see if you read up on Decker is that scouts love his long body, and the measurables just don’t seem to support that. Decker has an arm length of 33.75″ which just so happens to the NFL average for offensive linemen. And, given that Decker is a bit taller than average, his arms are shorter than you would hope. Maybe standing next to a 6’7″ behemoth in person makes you a little less objective. This isn’t a death sentence by any means, but it’s not ideal, and is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Decker also struggles against defenders who consistently play with lower pad level. This is basically Physics 101: leverage is helpful, but his lack of athleticism hurts him here. It also leads to him being a bit slow when moving horizontally (he finished outside the top-15 in the three cone drill).

The Verdict

Although he played LT his last several years in school, Decker will most likely end up being switched to RT, where he is probably a better fit. Traditionally the LT is more of a pass blocker, and the right tackle is more of a run blocker. In addition to that, Decker probably does not have the skill set to go against a team’s best pass rusher unassisted for the majority of a game.

That being said, Decker has the skill set and size that will result in him being a reliable fixture on a team’s offensive line for the next several years. He is a late first round/early second round talent.

Best Fit

Tackles don’t often slip too far in the NFL Draft, for that reason I see Decker going late in the first round, and not falling to the top of the second round where many teams like the Browns, Chargers, 49ers, and Eagles could use his talents. Of the teams that will be picking at the end of the draft, the Green Bay Packers at pick number 27 make a lot of sense.

As you saw this past season, Aaron Rodgers needs a lot of offensive line help. The Packers could really afford to strengthen both their LT and RT spots, so getting a player like Decker who can play a bit of both would be a big plus for them. It would also help for Decker’s development to play with such a player like Rodgers. There are probably not many better spots for a rookie to land.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Laremy Tunsil

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss.

College Career

Tunsil entered the college football

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss.

College Career

Tunsil entered the college football landscape as a five-star recruit and the top offensive tackle prospect in the nation. He was the real deal from the get-go; as a freshman, the left tackle was named All-SEC second team and a first team Freshman All-American. In both his sophomore and junior seasons in 2014 and 2015, Tunsil was elected both a second team All-American and All-SEC first team. However, this past fall, the top prospect served a seven game suspension for “receiving impermissible extra benefits” (olemisssports.com). He was also involved in a physical altercation about the matter with his mother’s alienated husband. But in 29 career games over three years at left tackle, Tunsil only surrendered two sacks. 

Pros

No rocket scientist is necessary to help understand why Laremy Tunsil is being considered as the consensus number one pick at this point. A road grader in the running game and a brick wall in the passing game, Tunsil is as complete of a left tackle prospect as they come at 6’5″ and 310 pounds. Sound technique is what drives this young man’s game, and it is truly remarkable to watch him mirror pass rushers and stick to them like glue. Tunsil does a tremendous job of steering his opponents in the passing game; he comprehends how to anchor his base into the ground and gives a great punch with his hands. Texas A&M’s fine, young defensive lineman Myles Garrett, who will likely be a first round pick in 2017, found out the hard way how good Tunsil was after he was shut down in consecutive seasons. 

This is a left tackle with superb athleticism and specifically great feet. Tunsil has a great kick step when pass blocking that he uses to slide and transition smoothly into his pass set. That athletic ability is also showcased in the ground game as he can reach the second level of the defense with ease. Keep your eye on number 78 below and watch how he finishes his block following the bubble screen. There is not much this guy cannot do. Tunsil is always in control, and everything he does looks so effortless and clean. He can cut block, execute double teams, and provide a great push off the line of scrimmage. What people will really love about this young man’s game is that he is a mean, violent finisher who plays smart and is aware of what is going on around him. This is one of those cornerstone left tackles all the guys on TV talk about. The hype is real.

via GIPHY

Cons

There really is not much to be critical of when it comes to Tunsil, and so there should be no surprises when he starts to play on Sundays. With that being said, perhaps the biggest concern is the suspension he was sentenced to this past fall. Although the situation with Tunsil receiving benefits certainly sets off a red flag, the NCAA was investigating Ole Miss as a whole in years prior for suspicion of violations. The physical dispute the left tackle was also involved in was a direct result of the investigation that was taking place at the time. The argument started with his mother’s estranged husband instructing Tunsil not to screw up a golden opportunity. I dont think NFL scouts and general managers believe Tunsil’s character will be an issue as a face of an organization. 

As far as the football field’s concerned, the Ole Miss alum did get beat inside from time to time, specifically on passing plays. False starts where Tunsil was seen rocking in his stance did appear a couple of times, but this is just a matter of mental toughness that should not be an issue going forward. There were also a couple of plays where I would have liked to seen more of an effort out of Tunsil.

Verdict

Laremy Tunsil is arguably the safest pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He is the next great franchise left tackle to emerge from the college ranks, and the next Orlando Pace, Jason Peters, and Joe Thomas only come around so often. The situation at Ole Miss should not be taken out of context; Tunsil made a mistake and was just trying to take advantage of his talent to get by as a college kid. He was obviously in the wrong for accepting those benefits, but he is among a long list of former players who were bribed with a variety of items while playing college ball. Nobody is worried and I am not either. Tunsil is the next stud LT in the NFL, flawless in just about anything he does in cleats. I’m not sure there is anybody who should be taken before him when the draft opens up a month from now.

Best Fit

Unless the Tennessee Titans remove themselves from that number one slot, there really isn’t another direction to go in besides from Tunsil. Tennessee needs another tackle to pair with Taylor Lewan, and it just so happens probably the best player in this year’s draft is a left tackle. The side designation of both Tunsil and Lewan would come down to head coach Mike Mularkey, but with those two guys capping off the ends of your offensive line, does it really even matter at that point? One thing is for sure: Marcus Mariota would be sleeping pretty sound.  

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Does A Quarterback’s Hand Size Really Predict Success?

As we enter the month of April, we also creep closer toward everyone's favorite part of the NFL offseason: the draft. College players work tirelessly once their season is over to improve their draft stock through private team workouts, training programs, and the NFL combine. What they can't necessarily train for however, is their height, arm length, and

As we enter the month of April, we also creep closer toward everyone’s favorite part of the NFL offseason: the draft. College players work tirelessly once their season is over to improve their draft stock through private team workouts, training programs, and the NFL combine. What they can’t necessarily train for however, is their height, arm length, and of course, hand size. 

Hand size has recently become one of the most polarizing topics of discussion when it comes to comparing draft prospects, as well as presidential candidates. 

This measurement is often discussed, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. Common sense tells us that the bigger your hand, the better you can grip the football and the more control you have when throwing it. This becomes increasingly important in poor weather situations. If someone with small hands went out in a blizzard and tried to throw the ball fifty yards down the field, he would probably run across some problems. 

As new Cleveland Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson put it, “I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations and so we’ll look for a guy that fits what we’re looking for in a quarterback and, is hand size important? Yes it is.”

It seems safe to assume that hand size is a relatively important aspect of choosing a quarterback in the draft. But just how much? 

Here are the hand measurements,  for each quarterback at the NFL combine:

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According to ESPN‘s famed Todd McShay, NFL teams like to see a QB with hands near 9.50 inches, and the closer to 10.00 inches the better. Looking at these numbers and with that guideline in place, scouts may prefer North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz (10 inches) over Cal’s Jared Goff (9 inches) when comparing the top two quarterback prospects. 

Goff, of course, disagrees with this notion. “I’ve been told I have pretty big hands my whole life. I heard I have small hands yesterday [at the NFL Combine], apparently. No, I’ve never had a problem with that or expect it to be a problem at all.”

So does hand size truly matter when looking at today’s NFL quarterbacks? Let’s look at that too. Here are the top 20 quarterbacks statistically from the NFL last season with their measured hand size: 

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Note: neither Tom Brady nor Ryan Fitzpatrick have their hand size registered anywhere other than former Patriots general manager Scott Pioli claiming that Brady’s hands are “enormous.” So rather than estimate, let’s add a trio of quarterbacks who we know are pretty darn good but had their season cut short due to injury: Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, and Tony Romo. We’ll also add the Super Bowl winner himself: Peyton Manning. Even though he had arguably his worst season statistically as a pro, his stellar reputation cannot be ignored. 

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(While some reports state that Romo has small hands, his combine results say otherwise. The link above also gives us a cool look at what NFL.com looked like in the old days.)  

So with all of these measurements, lets compile them together into a better visual to analyze. We’ll separate the measurements into three ranges:

    Image title                                                     Image title

Of the 22 quarterbacks we looked at, a resounding 50% of them have hands measured greater than or equal to 9.75 inches, and closer to the maximum desired size of 10 inches. Meanwhile, only 13.6% of the top quarterbacks have hands that would be considered “small” or “less than ideal”. 

Even with some outliers, there appears to be a significantly better chance for a quarterback with large hands to succeed in the NFL. 

Although Jared Goff is an exceptional prospect and definitely has the potential to be one of the few outliers with smaller hands, the current trend shows that he might have a lot of extra hard work ahead of him. Information like this might come in handy for Hue Jackson and other coaches who are on the lookout for potential quarterbacks. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OL Jason Spriggs

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This fifth week, the focus is on offensive linemen. Our first O-line prospect is Jason Spriggs out of Indiana.

College

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This fifth week, the focus is on offensive linemen. Our first O-line prospect is Jason Spriggs out of Indiana.

College Career

Jason Spriggs began his college career with a bang. In 2012 he started all 12 games for Indiana at left tackle, a true freshman record for an offensive lineman. Spriggs also led the team with 80 knockdowns and gave up just two sacks in 961 snaps.

Spriggs continued to impress through 2013 and 2014, his sophomore and junior seasons. He started 22 of 24 games at left tackle, only missing two starts his junior season because of a head-to-head collision that sent Spriggs to the hospital during a loss to Michigan State.

During his senior season Spriggs moved from left tackle to right guard. He started all 13 games for Indiana, recorded a team-high 79 knockdowns, and allowed just one sack in 475 pass attempts. Spriggs also earned All-American honors and was the first Outland Trophy semifinalist in Indiana University history.

Pros

At 6’7” 307lbs Spriggs has the build of an NFL lineman plus a long reach. Durability is perhaps his best asset, as Spriggs started all but two games during his four-year career at Indiana. Moreover, Spriggs shows the following strengths according to his draft profile on NFL.com: has elite lateral movement, adjusts well in open space, shows patience, is athletic, has strong tools to slow pass rushers, and carries out efficient backside cutoff blocks.

Cons

The largest concern surrounding Spriggs is his strength. As mentioned earlier, he has the build of an NFL lineman, but Spriggs’ height takes weight away from the inner half of his frame. As a result, he can be moved off his spot and struggles against power rushers on the defensive line. This being said, Spriggs performed very well in the bench press at the scouting combine. His 31 repetitions currently ranks fourth best among linemen prospects.

Grade

During early player evaluations, Spriggs was projected as a late first-round or early second-round selection. However, due to his strong performance at scouting combine, the offensive lineman looks to have secured a first-round pick. Among all linemen prospects, Spriggs was a top 4 performer in the bench press, 40-yard dash, broad jump, and 20 yard shuttle. He ranks first in the 40-yard dash and broad jump, and perhaps more important: Spriggs showed exceptional footwork during lineman drills.

Best Fit

It is hard to project where players will fall in the NFL draft, especially offensive linemen who are always a need for NFL teams. I see Spriggs being drafted in the late first round by a team with a struggling front five. Certain organizations come to mind: Green Bay at No. 27, Kansas City at No. 28, or Cleveland at No. 32. The Browns recently lost tackle Mitchell Schwartz and center Alex Mack during free agency. If Cleveland selects a quarterback at No. 2 overall, which is heavily expected, it would be prudent to fill vacancies at the offensive line in order for a young quarterback to succeed. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Jack Conklin

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Jack Conklin from Michigan State.

Collegiate Career

A preferred walk-on at

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Jack Conklin from Michigan State.

Collegiate Career

A preferred walk-on at Michigan State in 2012, offensive tackle Jack Conklin was almost an afterthought, even to the Spartans. After redshirting his freshman year, Conklin was put on scholarship, named a starter, and played well enough to earn Freshman All-American status. Conklin’s play continued to improve, and, by the time he had completed his final season in East Lansing, he was a consensus All-American.

Pros

Whichever team gets Conklin will be getting a very tough player. Conklin plays through the whistle and shows little regard for the well-being of the defender while the play is live. His tape is littered with him pancaking defenders or driving the defender out of bounds entirely, as in the clip below.

via GIPHY

Conklin’s best physical asset is his strength. He really shows off his effort as a run blocker as he combines his strength and nastiness to create openings. On this snap, Conklin plowed over the defensive end then quickly located and locked onto the linebacker at the second level.

via GIPHY

When asked to make more than one block on a play, like the one above, Conklin is adept at handling multiple assignments. Where some offensive lineman struggle if they have to make blocks further downfield, Conklin looks comfortable making blocks past the line of scrimmage. Notice in the play below how Conklin came off the initial block then properly located and locked onto the defender at the second level of the defense.

via GIPHY

As a pass blocker, Conklin is strong enough to sustain blocks for a relatively long period of time. He also has the ability to absorb and redirect incoming pass rushers. In the clip below, the blitzer tried to convert his wide speed move into a bull rush, but Conklin was strong enough to stone the defender and prevent him from collapsing the pocket.

via GIPHY

Cons

The concerns with Conklin usually deal with his feet. While he is strong, Conklin is not the fleetest of foot. This really hurts Conklin in pass protection, where speed rushers can put him out of position. In this snap, the blitzer timed the snap count and effortlessly beat Conklin to the outside, although he does recover a bit. Had this been a longer developing pass play, the pass rusher probably would have beaten Conklin for the sack.

via GIPHY

Aside from just adequate foot quickness, Conklin will sometimes abandon his footwork altogether, putting him off-balance and making his blocks ineffective. In the clip below, instead of continuing to mirror the rusher, Conklin lunged forward, dropped his head, and made it easy for the defender to avoid the block.

via GIPHY

Verdict

Conklin might not be the ultra-athletic left tackle teams look for in in the top of the first round, but he certainly deserves to be a first round pick. Conklin has a very complete skill set for a tackle. He is an outstanding run blocker and an adequate pass protector, and brings a nasty edge to both elements of his game.

Schematically, Conklin would be best served in an offense that runs a more power-blocking scheme where he can use his strength to win individual matchups against specific defenders. He does have the intelligence and enough mobility to be an adequate blocker in a zone-blocking system, but it wouldn’t play to his strengths.

Best Fit

The former Spartan has a chance to be a really good right tackle, where his skills as a run blocker would be more valuable than his pass protection. Conklin does have a long wingspan, so some team might consider him as a potential contributor at left tackle, but it’s probably not his best fit long-term.

The Seahawks, Jets, Steelers, and Chiefs are all teams potentially in the market for a left tackle and all are picking in latter half of the first-round, where Conklin is best suited to be drafted.

All GIF content courtesy of draftbreakdown.com. GIFs were made using giphy.com.

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Five Draft Options For The Eagles

The Eagles still have plenty of positions to fill this offseason even after Howie Roseman's masterful free agency in which he signed 7 players. The best opportunity to fill in some of those needs is the NFL Draft. After moving up from 13 to eight, thanks to the Alonso and Maxwell trade, Roseman has opened up

The Eagles still have plenty of positions to fill this offseason even after Howie Roseman’s masterful free agency in which he signed 7 players. The best opportunity to fill in some of those needs is the NFL Draft. After moving up from 13 to eight, thanks to the Alonso and Maxwell trade, Roseman has opened up many more possibilities for that first round selection. Here are five players the Eagles should target with the eighth overall pick.

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB Florida

Hargreaves is an elite talent at the cornerback position and is expected to be available when the Eagles are on the clock. At 5’10” and 204 lbs., Hargreaves is a bit undersized for the position, but makes up for it with his quickness and athleticism. Over the course of three seasons at Florida, he recorded 38 passes defensed and 10 interceptions, according to NFL.com. He projects to be a great starting cornerback in the NFL, something the Eagles have been looking for.

With the trade of Byron Maxwell to the Dolphins, there is an opening at cornerback. Although depth is not an issue at the position, a lack of talent certainly is. The Eagles could greatly benefit from having a shutdown corner to cover dominant NFC East receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. Hargreaves could be the guy to solve the secondary woes the team has experienced for quite some time.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB Ohio State

Elliott is the best running back in the draft this year and has garnered looks from teams at the top of the draft. Last season, Elliott ran for 1,821 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 12-1 record, according to NFL.com. At 6’0″ and 225 lbs., the OSU star has the size to run over a corner while still maintaining his elusiveness on the outside. Elliott is a well-rounded back who can run, catch and block at any given time. Rarely do running backs get taken in the top 10 of the draft, but Elliott could very well be the exception.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

After trading DeMarco Murray to the Titans, the Eagles are left with an injury prone starter and an aging backup. While both Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles have had success, it’s hard to see them carrying the load by themselves next season. The hole created by Murray’s absence can easily be filled by Elliott for years to come. Even Roseman believes taking a running back early is still an option. 

“When you find a special talent at that position, that guy who can run the ball, pass protect, can catch the ball out of the backfield, that’s a unique weapon,” said Roseman. “I don’t think the position is devalued.”

Elliott fits the bill of what Roseman alluded to when asked about the position. It’ll be hard for the Eagles to pass on a talented player like Elliott who can be a superstar at the position for years to come.

Ronnie Stanley, OT Notre Dame

Stanley is a monster standing 6’6″ and weighing 312 lbs. He is arguably the second best offensive lineman in this draft behind Laremy Tunsil out of Ole Miss. Stanley is a versatile tackle who can dominate his opponent. He started at right tackle his redshirt freshman year and left tackle the past two seasons. His versatility is key to having success at the next level. He has earned All-American honors and has been a durable member of Notre Dame’s offensive line for four seasons.

Stanley could fill a hole for the Eagles and help to solidify the offensive line for the future. One issue could be Stanley’s lack of experience at guard, a necessary position for the Eagles to fill. If he can transition well to left guard, the team could once again field one of the top lines in the league. And once left tackle Jason Peters is ready to call it quits, Lane Johnson and Stanley will be primed to hold down the tackle positions. With the offensive line being what the Eagles need the most, Stanley would be a great pick.

Jared Goff, QB California

Before the combine, Goff was perceived as the best quarterback in this year’s draft. He has a rocket arm, pinpoint accuracy and accurate delivery of the ball when he is under pressure. He turned a 1-11 team into a bowl-game winner. At 6’4″ and 215 lbs., Goff has the measurables to be a successful NFL quarterback, and has posted the numbers to go along with them. In his final season, he threw for 4,719 yards and 43 touchdowns, including 6 of them in the bowl game win over Air Force, according to NFL.com. Goff is the quarterback most ready to become an immediate starter, but a little time on the bench never hurt anyone. If he’s there at eight, the Eagles could have the steal of the draft.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There was speculation that Bradford would not return after a roller coaster season in which he went 7-7 and missed the playoffs with a team expected to win the division. The regime change has opened new holes, filled others and certainly created some question marks to think about. With no real commitment to Bradford as the quarterback of the future, Goff could be the selection. It was reported that the Eagles held a private workout with Goff recently, further proving their interest. Philadelphia fans have been waiting for a franchise quarterback since Donovan McNabb was traded, and the Cal product could be that guy. Don’t be surprised if the Eagles take a quarterback early, especially if his name is Jared Goff.

Jack Conklin, OT Michigan State

If Stanley is off the board at eight and the Eagles are looking for an offensive lineman, Conklin could be the pick. The 6’6″ and 308 pound All-American tackle is even more versatile than Stanley, something the Eagles will need. Conklin has played both tackle positions and has the ability to transition well to either guard position. He is a durable lineman who could help bolster a weak line for the Eagles.

Guard was arguably the worst position group for the team last season after coach Chip Kelly cut both Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, without first finding their replacements. Kelly also did not draft an offensive lineman that year, leaving the position in a weak state. Conklin has the ability to fill the left guard position to solidify the line. Similar to Stanley, once Peters retires, Conklin could slide to right tackle to pair with Johnson for the future.

It’s hard to see the Eagles messing up this pick. Any of these five players would be a huge addition to the team. The Eagles will most likely target the offensive line in this draft, but don’t be surprised if the position isn’t addressed on day one of the draft. That pick could very well be Hargreaves or Elliott. We won’t know for sure until April 28th rolls around and the Eagles are on the clock.

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Teddy Bridgewater Key To Vikings’ 2016 Playoff Hopes

The Minnesota Vikings had an extremely successful 2015 season. Led by nine-year veteran running back Adrian Peterson and sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on offense and fourth-year safety Harrison Smith, sophomore linebacker Anthony Barr, and sixth-year defensive end Everson Griffen on defense, the Vikings went 11-5 and won the NFC North for the first time since 2009. 

Considering that this was,

The Minnesota Vikings had an extremely successful 2015 season. Led by nine-year veteran running back Adrian Peterson and sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater on offense and fourth-year safety Harrison Smith, sophomore linebacker Anthony Barr, and sixth-year defensive end Everson Griffen on defense, the Vikings went 11-5 and won the NFC North for the first time since 2009. 

Considering that this was, by all accounts, the second year of a three-year rebuilding plan, Vikings fans have to be feeling good about the progress shown under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer.

With a division championship and a hard-fought playoff game loss under their belts and in their minds, the Vikings will enter the 2016 season fighting to return to the playoffs for their fifth shot at winning a title. This offseason has centered around the Vikings’ commitment to improving what was by far one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in the NFL last year. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings offensive line had the second-worst pass blocking efficiency (71.4), ahead of only the lowly San Diego Chargers (67.6) and their injury-decimated line. Furthermore, Bridgewater was pressured on 46.9% of his dropbacks, nearly 4.5% more than the second-most pressured quarterback, Russell Wilson.

The Vikings have succeeded despite the struggles of their offensive line, due in no small part due to the ability of Teddy Bridgewater to escape sacks with near-Aaron Rodgers ability. This heightened pressure has come at the cost of Teddy often lacking the necessary time to attack defenses downfield and being limited to checkdowns and routes being run under 30 yards from the line of scrimmage. 

This limitation, if one is to call it that, has brought Bridgewater under scrutiny from Vikings fans desperate for Teddy to show that he can throw the deep ball like fellow 2014 quarterbacks Blake Bortles and Derek Carr. Despite the clear discrepancies in wide receiver talent and offensive line skill, Vikings fans are begging for more out of Teddy.

What is most confounding about Teddy thus far in his NFL career, is the success of the Vikings even when Teddy isn’t breaking records with his game-to-game statistics. In the 29 games he has started since taking over as the starter, Teddy is 9-5 when throwing for 200 yards or less and 8-7 when throwing for over 200 yards. The difference becomes even more stark when taking only 2015 into account, as Teddy was 8-2 when he threw for less than 200 yards and 3-4 when he threw for more than 200 yards. The biggest difference in the Vikings’ offense between the two years? The addition of Adrian Peterson to the 2015 offense.

Peterson’s 1485 yards were both helpful and harmful to the Vikings in 2015. According to Pro Football Reference, the Vikings ran the ball on first down nearly 66% of the time, an almost unbelievable percentage and one that is just begging to be exploited. This focus on running often left the Vikings in tough second and third down situations, as the Vikings averaged 8.1 yards on 2nd down and 7.6 yards on 3rd down. By comparison, the Carolina Panthers averaged 7.9 yards on 2nd down and 7.3 yards on 3rd down. What this all means is that Norv Turner, offensive coordinator for the Vikings, mortgaged first-down opportunities for later down success.

With the signings of offensive linemen Alex Boone, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers, and Andre Smith of the Bengals, the Vikings appear to have brought in plenty of new talent to try and fill the two biggest holes on their offensive line last year, left guard and right tackle. If the Vikings can also return center John Sullivan and right tackle Phil Loadholt to full health after their season-long injuries last year, they’ll also be much better.

All these if’s and maybe’s of course lead back to Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings asked him to do far less in 2015 than they did in 2014, and considering the talented running back lining up behind him, that’s not entirely surprising. Above all else, the Vikings still need to have Teddy prove once and for all that he is the starting quarterback of the future for their franchise. 

With the Vikings’ ground-and-pound offense, Teddy was really only asked to let loose in games where the Vikings were losing and those limited moments of responsibility alone are enough for Vikings fans to drool over what Teddy could be for them. From throwing darts while being tackled from behind to putting the ball where he needed to for his wide receiver to make a great play, Teddy has shown the potential to be one of the best rhythm passers in the NFL when he’s actually given a chance to get into a rhythm and his wide receivers attempt to make a catch.

In a recent interview at the NFL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla., Mike Zimmer said that he texted Teddy after signing Boone and Smith that “there were no more excuses and it’s time to go.” If they truly want Teddy to “go,” the Vikings need to let the offense flow through him, not an aging 31-year old running back—even if the running back is Adrian Peterson.

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2016 CFP National Championship Roundtable

Greetings, sports fans! The moment has finally arrived. We have the two best teams going at it, Alabama and Clemson, in what should hopefully be an exciting matchup. Below, writers Christopher Paschal, Brian Peel, Peter Rosston, Geoffrey Hammersley and I discuss various topics surrounding this game and give our predictions. Enjoy!

1. Is this the championship

Greetings, sports fans! The moment has finally arrived. We have the two best teams going at it, Alabama and Clemson, in what should hopefully be an exciting matchup. Below, writers Christopher Paschal, Brian Peel, Peter Rosston, Geoffrey Hammersley and I discuss various topics surrounding this game and give our predictions. Enjoy!

1. Is this the championship game that you predicted before the season began?

Christopher: I never made any official predictions, but I was pretty confident Clemson would be here. My other pick was Ohio State. I thought that the Buckeyes had an easy enough schedule and enough talent to make it. Their loss to Michigan State was a surprise to me. And honestly, I believe Ohio State would have played a much better game against Alabama than the Spartans did. It certainly would have been tough to play a worse one. That being said, I’m not at all surprised that Alabama made it. The loss against Ole Miss made things interesting, but an early loss is always better than a late one.

Brian: I don’t think anyone really predicted an Alabama-Clemson National Championship in the preseason mostly because Clemson came into the year ranked 12th in both the AP and coaches polls. Clemson has defied almost everyone’s expectations all year such as last week when they were an underdog to Oklahoma according to Las Vegas, and we know how that turned out. Alabama of course is always a popular pick to go all the way and even after their early season hiccup against Ole Miss, there was very little doubt they would be playing for their third championship in five seasons. So no, I certainly didn’t predict this would be the National Championship matchup, but I think few can argue against this being the best game we could have gotten.   

Peter: My short answer is no, this is not the game I predicted, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who saw this game coming. On the other hand, if you had told me at the beginning of the season that these two teams would be playing for the National Championship, I would not have called you crazy. Coming into the season, Alabama and Ohio State were the popular picks to make it, and honestly, I’m a little shocked that Ohio State didn’t even end up in the Playoff given the immense amount of talent they had. Coaching goes a long way in college football, and Saban and Swinney are two of the best out there, so with the teams they have, it’s not a surprise that they are coaching on Monday for a National Championship

Geoffrey: I thought Alabama was going to make it back to the championship game, but I didn’t expect Clemson to be joining the Crimson Tide in Phoenix. If anything, Ohio State was my viable candidate to be in the championship game against Alabama. However, after watching the Buckeyes go through the motions for 10 weeks, and then get upended by Michigan State in late November, I’m not surprised they didn’t get to the playoff. I thought Oklahoma and Michigan State were playoff teams – but didn’t expect both of them to get rolled in their respective games.

2. Has Clemson earned enough respect to be taken seriously as a national contender for now and in the future?

Christopher: I still can’t figure out why no one believes in Clemson. Being undefeated is no small feat. They have possibly the best athlete in the country under center in Deshaun Watson, along with great playmakers around him on offense and a solid defense. What is it going to take for people to take Clemson seriously? They have wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina, and a thrashing of Oklahoma (who was the favorite in that game). There’s not much more you can do to prove your case. To me, they should be among the most feared programs in the country by now.

Brian: All year long Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been making it clear that the idea of “Clemsoning” or the Tigers choking in a big game is a thing of the past. Well Clemson will be playing for the National Championship on Monday, they are undefeated, and have beaten some of the most storied programs in college football in 2015…yeah I think they have earned enough respect. The most important thing Swinney has done to take Clemson to the next level is recruit. The Tigers are now built like an SEC team on both lines and with a seemingly endless supply of skill players combined with maybe the best player in the country in Deshaun Watson, Clemson is here to stay for the long haul.

Peter: Clemson is absolutely set up to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Although this is really their first time on the national stage, they have won at least 10 games in every season since 2011. During that time, they were playing second-fiddle to Florida State, so no one ever really paid attention to them. Early this season, people were complaining that the only reason they were undefeated was their level of competition was low and many thought they would end up like last year’s Florida State. However, wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina and most recently Oklahoma, the Football Power Index favorite to win it all, have appeared to change people’s opinions of Clemson. As for the future, Clemson has a Top 10 recruiting class coming in next year. Don’t sleep on the Tigers, they are for real.

Geoffrey: That’s a good question. They beat Notre Dame in a hurricane-esque rain, and cruised their way past the ACC. On a seriousness scale, I would put them at a solid 7/10 – with 10 being most serious. I feel as if the Clemson debate this year is a lot like the Florida State debate held last year. Beat ‘Bama and I’ll take them seriously from here on out. If anything, they have to hang with Alabama if they want to stay in the national title conversation for next year.

David: I believe that they have. One of the biggest criticisms that the Clemson Tigers had faced in the past was that they lost games they absolutely had no business losing. For example, in 2013, they were the third-ranked team and were playing the fifth-ranked Florida State Seminoles. The game was played in Clemson’s home stadium, Memorial Stadium. Not only did Clemson lose, they got destroyed in their own house by a score of 51-14. Now with that said, that is in the past and Clemson is a completely different team now. They beat four Top 10 teams this year and have not lost to an unranked team since 2011. Clemson has earned my respect and I hope that they have earned everybody else’s as well.

3. Do you believe that there’s a chance Nick Saban moves on from Alabama if his team wins?

Christopher: In short, no. Nick Saban is Alabama and Alabama is Nick Saban. He already tried moving to the NFL and it didn’t go very well. He’s better suited for college football, and I don’t see him wanting to move to another school. He is firmly rooted at Alabama, always in national title contention. There’s not another school out there with an open position where he could immediately have the same success. He’s living the good life right now, why change things?

Brian: This conversation comes up every year and every year it is the same result. No, I don’t think there is any chance Nick Saban will move on to the NFL despite how immensely successful he has been at the college level. Saban recently said how making a move to another team, be that NFL or college, is not just about him but about his family as well. Now I know coaches say stuff like this all the time, but Saban isn’t exactly a young, up-and-coming coach anymore. He will be 65 in October and has laid his roots down in Tuscaloosa probably for the rest of his career. Not to mention, Saban’s dictatorship style of coaching doesn’t really fly in the NFL when you are dealing with adults that have been playing the game for almost their entire lives. Just look at what has happened with Chip Kelly.  

Peter: I would be shocked if Nick Saban left for the NFL. In two seasons with the Dolphins, Saban finished with a 15-17 record before returning to college football to coach in Tuscaloosa. If Saban chose to go, many NFL teams would clamor for his help, but there would still be uncertainty. He would take over a subpar team and be forced to rebuild, a process that he has never really been forced to go through. By staying in Alabama, Saban knows he will have strong job security and top recruits will still come filing in to load his roster with talent. Remember, Saban did not get fired from the Dolphins, he chose college football over the NFL, and I don’t see him changing his mind given his three (potentially four) titles in seven years.

Geoffrey: The Nick Saban leaving window was shut after the annihilation of Michigan State. If he would’ve lost that game, then I could see the delusion of the fan base wanting him out. Now, Saban controls when he leaves. What he has done for Alabama is nothing short of remarkable, and I can’t see him leaving a place where he has helped lead to four championship games in a decade.

David: I do not think there is. I know that’s widely speculated, but let’s face it; Nick Saban is Alabama football. He is everything that epitomizes the culture of that football team. Let’s not forget the fact that his first stint in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins did not turn out so well. Obviously, there are coaches who get another chance in the NFL and make the most of it, like Pete Carroll. However, Nick Saban is a much better fit for college because he is a control freak. Everything has to be done his way. That is the thing about college sports. You do not have to worry about star players calling the shots. Because of that, you have a lot of free reign over your team when it comes to decision making, who makes the roster, and who has to sit out a game.

4. What are the keys to victory for each team?

Christopher: For Clemson, the obvious answer is to stop Derrick Henry. Bama’s gameplan revolves around feeding Henry the ball. By stopping him, they can force Jake Coker to win the game with his arm, something I’m not sure he’s fully comfortable doing. Clemson also has the 5th ranked passing defense in the country, so they should be able to keep Coker in check.

For Alabama, its holding Wayne Gallman. Gallman isn’t a premier back, but he creates the change of pace from Deshaun Watson. If Gallman has a good game, it allows Watson to play more freely and be more aggressive in the passing game. If Alabama were to stop him, it forces Watson to do more. Watson is at his best when he is playing freely and not under a lot of pressure. By stopping Gallman, Alabama can put the pressure on him. 

Brian: In order for Clemson to win the game, there are a few things they need to take care of. On offense they need to establish enough of a run game to keep the Alabama front-seven from pinning their ears back and getting after Watson on every second-and-long or third down. Against Oklahoma, Watson was used on a ton of designed runs, and I don’t think that will be successful against Alabama, so they need to be able to use running back Wayne Gallman effectively or establish their short passing game. Defensively, it will probably come down to slowing down Derrick Henry. That being said, Michigan State held Henry to only 75 yards rushing and still lost 38-0 because of how well Jake Coker played. 

How has Alabama lost football games in the past 3-4 seasons? It has been against athletic quarterbacks that have spread them out and made plays in open space. Watson might be the best quarterback the Crimson Tide have faced since Johnny Manziel, so in order to win their first title since 2012, they need to contain Watson in the pocket and make plays in the secondary. On the other side of the ball, it will all fall on Coker’s shoulders again, but really that might not be such a bad thing anymore. After an up-and-down start to the year, Coker has been very good down the stretch, throwing seven touchdowns with no interceptions and hitting on 74% of his passes in the Tide’s last four games.     

Peter: For Clemson to win, they need to come in with the mindset that if Alabama wins, it will be because of Jacob Coker and not Derrick Henry. I know this sounds a little ridiculous considering Coker is coming off a game against Michigan State where he went 25-of-30 for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. However, Coker has only thrown more than 35 passes in a game once this season–during Alabama’s only loss of the season to Ole Miss. He threw fewer than 20 passes in 10 of Alabama’s 13 regular season games. It is clear that Alabama prefers to win using the ground and pound of Derrick Henry, so if Clemson wants to win this game, they need to force Alabama to resort to Plan B and then hope Coker does not have a repeat performance of the Cotton Bowl.

Alabama will win if they can control the pace of the game. The one thing Alabama does not want to do is get involved in a shootout. The fewer possessions that they have to stop Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman and the fewer possessions Watson and Gallman have to try and crack the exotic schemes Kirby Smart will throw their way, the better off Alabama will be. Alabama needs to establish the passing game early so Clemson cannot stack the box against Henry, and then feed Henry to keep the clock rolling. Alabama has the better all-around athletes, so as long as they play a mistake free game at the rate they want, they should be fine.  

Geoffrey: For Alabama, the game plan is to feed Derrick Henry. If he gets over 150 on the ground, you might as well start inscribing “Crimson Tide” on the trophy. He wears defenses down, and helps open up the passing game. 

For Clemson, they have two keys to the game. First, they need to stop Henry. Doing that, they have a better chance of walking out of University of Phoenix Stadium with their first title since 1981. Second, they can’t play conservative; the way you beat Alabama is by taking risks. Four down territory starts at midfield, and they need to convert on fourth down when the time comes. Much like what Ohio State did last year in the Sugar Bowl against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers have to throw everything they got, or risk getting trampled in the national spotlight.

David: For Clemson to win this game, they have to be able to figure out how they’re going to use their running game against Alabama’s uber-talented front seven. I know the obvious answer should be to stop Derrick Henry. But, you know, that Jake Coker guy is a pretty good quarterback. Derrick Henry did not play poorly in the game against Michigan State. He just didn’t have the typical game that we’re used to seeing from him. Coker proved that he could win a game with his arm if needed. Alabama’s front seven is by far the best in the nation and it really isn’t close. They have shut down numerous 1,000-yard rushers. If Clemson wants to have a chance in this game, co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott are going to have to find a way to expose the front seven’s weakness and exploit it through an in-your-face rushing attack. 

For Alabama, they are going to have to figure out how to contain Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. With how dominant Alabama’s defense has been in recent years, they are not without weaknesses. Alabama has a tendency to struggle against mobile quarterbacks. Last year, against Ohio State in the playoffs, they had no answer for quarterback Cardale Jones who was able to utilize both his arms and legs to lead the Buckeyes to an upset victory. Deshaun Watson was a lethal weapon for Clemson this year. He was the only player to have 3,500+ yards passing and 800+ yards rushing. In Alabama’s recent three championship wins, they have not faced a quarterback with nearly the same caliber as Watson. This is going to be by far their toughest test.


5. Who do you think is going to win?

Christopher: This game centers around the Alabama defense against the Clemson offense, and I think Clemson just has too much firepower. Sure the ‘Bama defense is fantastic, but they haven’t faced a player like Watson yet. The Crimson Tide is only the 17th best passing defense, which means that Watson should get his looks in the passing game. I think it stays close for three quarters, but Clemson pulls away a little when ‘Bama starts having to throw the ball more. 

Final Score: Clemson 34, Alabama 24

Brian: Ten years ago, maybe the best National Championship in college football history was played when Vince Young led Texas to an improbable 41-38 victory over a USC team that had won 34 straight games. To me, this Alabama-Clemson matchup has a chance to be just as good. Both teams are playing such great football right now and in many ways their styles seem to contrast, but if you look closer, they really aren’t that different. Both teams have explosive playmakers and bring a nasty, physical, and aggressive defense to the table.

My guess is this game will all come down to the play of Watson, a player that has combined to score 43 touchdowns and accumulated 4,731 total yards this season. If Watson goes off for 400 plus yards and scores three touchdowns, I don’t see any way Clemson loses the game because Alabama is not a team that can really win in a shootout. Well, all that being said, I think Alabama wins because they are going to make it very hard on Watson to find any space to make plays. Alabama’s front-seven will be too much for the Tigers to handle and the Tide’s offense will make just enough plays to come away with the close win. 

Final Score: Alabama 27, Clemson 24

Peter: Alabama is the favorite in this game, and they come in expecting to win. On the other hand, Clemson will relish the underdog role. They have gotten used to tuning out all of the naysayers. The elite matchup in this game is the offense of Clemson against the defense of Alabama. Both of those units are incredibly good, and they will both play well.

Therefore, I think this game will come down to the Alabama offense against the Clemson defense, specifically the Alabama passing game versus the Clemson secondary. The Crimson Tide have a freshman phenom in Calvin Ridley as well as reliable receivers in ArDarius Stewart and Richard Mullaney. Clemson has been fantastic against the pass, ranking fifth in passing yards against per game. But arguably the best quarterback they have faced all season is DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame. Coker will be a big step up from that.

Finally, special teams tend to get overlooked in game previews, but you cannot ignore the effect of Cyrus Jones, who has four punt return touchdowns on the season and had a potential fifth called back for a penalty. Both teams have had amazing seasons and both deserve to be playing for the National Championship, but I just have a feeling Nick Saban’s experience coaching in the big game will lead Alabama to a close come-from-behind victory.

Final Score: Alabama 31, Clemson 30

Geoffrey: Dabo Swinney knows what it takes to stop Alabama. However, do they have the means of doing it. Stopping Henry is easier said than done, and converting big plays will come down to progressions made in the moment, not something you can study for. I think Alabama is too much to handle at this juncture, and they showcased what they are made of against Michigan State. Clemson will hang for a quarter, or maybe a half, but they will ultimately get the doors blown off the proverbial hinges by Saban, Henry and the rest of the Crimson Tide.

Final Score: Alabama 41, Clemson 16

David: These are both fantastic teams. They are the best teams in the nation and one of them will earn bragging rights afterwards. Deshaun Watson and Derrick Henry are both fantastic athletes and will likely be the best players for their respective teams. Now it’s time for my prediction. I do think this is going to be a good game for the most part. But, I think Alabama will pull ahead in the end. I believe Alabama’s front seven will pressure Watson all game by forcing him to make unnecessary throws. Derrick Henry rushes for 155 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Crimson Tide to their fourth national championship in seven years.

Final Score: Alabama 35, Clemson 22


Do you agree with our predictions? Give us your predictions in the comment section below!

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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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ACC Bowl Recap

It was an all-around lackluster bowl season showing from the ACC as the conference went 4-5 in its bowl contests. Clemson was the only team that really looked impressive considering the other three wins were by a combined margin of just 12 points. Here’s a look back at how each ACC team fared in their

It was an all-around lackluster bowl season showing from the ACC as the conference went 4-5 in its bowl contests. Clemson was the only team that really looked impressive considering the other three wins were by a combined margin of just 12 points. Here’s a look back at how each ACC team fared in their bowl.

Sun Bowl, Miami 14: Washington State 20

Four turnovers and a poor rushing attack doomed Miami in this one. Two of those turnovers were in the first half, allowing Washington State to take a 20-7 lead. Miami had to punt on all four of its third quarter possessions, and two late-game turnovers gave Washington State all they needed to hold off a Hurricane comeback. Brad Kaaya looked very average in this game, throwing for 219 yards with one touchdown and one interception. As a team, Miami was only able to rush for 114 yards on 3.9 yards-per-carry. 

Pinstripe Bowl: Indiana 41, Duke 44

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

This was another game for Duke that involved a late-game controversy, but this time they were on the winning side. After Duke kicked a field goal in overtime, Indiana apparently missed their attempt over the right upright. Although many protested and said it was good, the play could not be reviewed and Duke began their celebrations. Overall, this was a great back-and-forth game. Duke won it on the ground, with 373 total rushing yards. Thomas Sirk ran for 155 and two scores, and both Jela Duncan and Shaun Wilson rushed for over 100 yards. It was a great finale after Duke staggered to the finish of the regular season. 

Independence Bowl: Tulsa 52, Virginia Tech 55

The Hokies were able to send off Frank Beamer with a thrilling victory over Tulsa. This game was all about offense, as both teams combined for 1161 total yards. Michael Brewer threw for 344 yards, 227 of them to Isaiah Ford alone, but it was the rush game that scored the majority of Tech’s points. Four different players combined for five total rushing touchdowns. 

Military Bowl: Pittsburgh 28, Navy 44

The Navy ground game proved to be too much for Pitt as Navy rushed for 417 yards and ate up 42 minutes of clock, led by Kenan Reynolds who ran for 144 yards and four total touchdowns. Turnovers were an issue for Pitt with Nathan Peterman throwing three interceptions. Their offense appeared to stall often, only gaining 335 total yards. At one point, Pitt was down 31-7, and the offense just wasn’t potent enough to mount a comeback. Star wide receiver Tyler Boyd was held to just 53 yards on six catches. 

Russell Athletic Bowl: North Carolina 38, Baylor 49

In a fun-to-watch shootout, UNC failed to cope with a powerful Baylor ground game. Playing with their third string quarterback, Baylor resolved to pass the ball just 18 times and rush a whopping 84 times. It sure worked. The Bears racked up an incredible 645 rushing yards, often times running the same play over and over again. The Tar Heel defense looked completely lost in how to stop them. Baylor’s Johnny Jefferson ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns by himself. The defense completely let UNC down in this one. 

On offense, North Carolina had another strong showing. Marquise Williams was prolific in the passing game, throwing for 243 yards and three touchdowns while adding 81 yards on the ground. Elijah Hood ran for 118 yards but was kept out of the end zone.

Belk Bowl: NC State 28, Mississippi State 51

In the biggest loss for an ACC team, NC State was completely out-played by Mississippi State. Dak Prescott had a career day with 380 passing yards and four touchdowns. He and the rest of the Bulldog offense were completely unstoppable. Offensively, it wasn’t a terrible day for NC State. Their run game was the focal point, racking up 210 yards and three touchdowns. Jacoby Brissett had a disappointing outing, throwing for 214 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Both interceptions led to Bulldog touchdowns. The defense gave up 569 total yards, and only Clemson was able to score more than 51 points on the Wolfpack.

Music City Bowl: Texas A&M 21, Louisville 27

Louisville relied on 20 first quarter points and a strong second half defense to seal a victory against the Aggies. Lamar Jackson was brilliant as he threw for 227 yards, rushed for 226 more, and scored four total times. No one else on the field came close to matching that kind of individual performance. The Cardinals certainly have a lot to look forward to in 2016.

Orange Bowl: Oklahoma 17, Clemson 37

The lone ACC bright spot, Clemson looked absolutely dominant in this game. The first half was close, with Oklahoma taking a one point lead into the locker room. In the second half however, it was all Clemson. The defense shut out a prolific Sooner offense and Deshaun Watson put together another stellar performance. Watson threw for 187 yards and one touchdown while rushing for 145 yards and another score. Wayne Gallman also had a fantastic game, rushing for 150 yards and two scores on 26 carries. 

Peach Bowl: Houston 38, Florida State 24

The word that comes to mind when describing FSU’s performance against Houston is “sloppy”. They started sluggishly, allowing Houston to take a 21-3 halftime lead. FSU scored plenty more points in the second half but conceded 17 fourth quarter points, thus sealing their fate. 

All aspects of the Seminoles looked awful in this game. Sean Maguire threw four interceptions. Dalvin Cook finished with just 33 yards rushing (his lowest total all season) with one touchdown and one lost fumble. The defense allowed the most points they’ve given up all season. Roberto Aguayo missed a field goal. This game should have been easy for the Noles, but they finished an otherwise great season on an extremely disappointing and sour note.

Overall, the ACC had a pretty poor bowl season. There were many winnable games that teams just couldn’t pull out. North Carolina and Florida State especially could have given the conference a huge boost, but fell short. It’s a fitting end to a season that had so much potential. Of course a Clemson national title is still a possibility, and that alone can give the conference a great image. Until that happens however, ACC fans will have to contend with mediocrity.

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UFC 195 Preview

Main Event: (C ) “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler vs. #4 Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit for the welterweight championship.

Last time anyone saw Lawler he was bloodied, but victorious in his UFC 189 title defense over Rory MacDonald by TKO, in what many view as the best fight of 2015.

Lawler has been described

Main Event: (C ) “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler vs. #4 Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit for the welterweight championship.

Last time anyone saw Lawler he was bloodied, but victorious in his UFC 189 title defense over Rory MacDonald by TKO, in what many view as the best fight of 2015.

Lawler has been described more of a brawler than a fighter due to very heavy hands and an aggressive style. In his fight against Josh Koscheck two years ago, Lawler was still able to win by 1st round TKO, despite most of the fight occurring with the two fighters on the ground and grappling against the wall, not typically great striking position. With the end of the first drawing near, Lawler’s heavy hands were on display when he used one strong punch to stun Koscheck, dislodge himself and then land several blows on Koscheck before the ref stopped the fight.

Even though Lawler does not look for much offense via submission or wrestling, he is solid at defending both. His 67% takedown defense is still out of the top-10 amongst active UFC welterweights (number ten on the list, Sean Spencer, is 72%). Where Lawler struggles is his striking defense where he averages almost the same numbers of significant strikes landed per round as significant strikes absorbed per round.

Another KO artist, Carlos Condit had his last win, a Fight Night victory over Thiago Alves, end in a knockout and has 15 of his 30 career wins come by knockout. Where the two differ is in versatility in striking. Where Lawler primarily use his punches, Condit is very good when it comes to mixing up his moves as far as punches, kicks, knees and looks more to use his strikes as a counter-attack. Against Alves, Condit showed punch to set up a kick, kicked to set up punches, and punched to set up elbows.

Defensively, Condit is a bit deceptive. On paper, Condit’s 58% total strike avoidance rate looks bad compared to Lawler’s 62%, but Condit’s significant strikes absorbed per round rate is significantly better than Lawler. Additionally, where Lawler once again has the advantage in takedown defense rate, Condit has 11 submissions in his career to just one by Lawler.

Ultimately, if Condit can find a way to avoid and then counter Lawler’s punches, he can take the title. Though, Lawler’s devastating power means he can change the direction of a fight with just one punch.

Three other bouts to watch

Heavyweight bout: #3 Stipe Miocic vs. #2 Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski

The winner of this match will probably have a date with the winner of Cain Velasquez-Fabricio Werdum title match next month.

Arlovski is going through a bit of a career revival at 36. Now in his second stint with the UFC, he has won his last four fights including two knockouts. In his first round knockout of Travis Browne earlier in 2015, Arlovski does a good job of mixing up his striking combinations, but tends to favor his punches. Those punches pack lots of power, as he was able to stun Browne numerous times in that one round. At one point during the fight Arlovski got a little to aggressive in his attempts to KO Browne, and Arlovski took a big punch. It’s not the first time in his career Arlovski’s aggressive KO attempts has backfired.

To counter, Miocic has a three inch reach advantage and is already pretty accomplished defending strikes, ranking third amongst active UFC heavyweights in significant strikes defended rate at 62.8% (Arlovski is 2nd on the list). Miocic also has an advantage in takedowns, landing 2.16 takedowns per 15 minutes and ranks in the top-10 amongst active heavyweights in total takedowns and takedown accuracy. Once on the ground, Miocic’s ground n’ pound is exceptional.

Welterweight bout: Lorenz “The Monsoon” Larkin vs. Albert “Einstein” Tumenov

The UFC may have something in the 24-year old Tumenov. He already has 16 wins at a very young age, and has only two losses, both by decision, and just one of those was a unanimous decision. Meanwhile he has won 10 of his last 12 bouts by knockout. In his only loss in the UFC,  the split-loss decision in what was his first UFC fight, Tumenov looked great at striking from the ground, but also looked very susceptible to takedowns.

Larkin’s resume includes a victory over current UFC welterweight champion Lawler, back when both fighters were part of the Strikeforce promotion. Larkin is primarily a striker who likes to mix in some flying front kicks. Defensively, Larkin holds an advantage over Tumenov, absorbing fewer significant strikes per minute (3.54 to 2.45) while also sporting better a total strikes defended rate (64% to 59%).

Lightweight bout: Scott “Hot Sauce” Holtzman vs Drew Dober

Holtzman enters this fight, just his second in the UFC, with a 9-0 record, but at 32, isn’t a youngster like Tumenov. In standup, Holtzman deploys some very good head kicks, but also has the ability to score a takedown to deploy some ground n’ pound punches. Defensively, Holtzman looks pretty comfortable at escaping or reversing when an opponent takes a dominant position in a clinch or on the ground.

Since joining the UFC, Dober has struggled, with one win in four bouts. Dober is a striker, but not a very accurate one, landing just 31% of his punches. Additionally, he takes a ton of big shots, averaging 4.57 significant strikes absorbed per minute. Dober is solid at takedown defense, stopping 69% of all takedown attempt by opponents.

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SQ Fiesta Bowl Preview

Ten years ago, The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame met in Tempe, Arizona for the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Fast forward 10 years to present day, and here we are. Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl again. The game is slated to kickoff at 1pm eastern time, and

Ten years ago, The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame met in Tempe, Arizona for the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. Fast forward 10 years to present day, and here we are. Ohio State and Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl again. The game is slated to kickoff at 1pm eastern time, and is one of the more anticipated games of the day. 

Major Story Lines

Kelly wants to validate the Irish

In the 10 years since Ohio State and Notre Dame have last met, Notre Dame has only one appearance in a BCS/New Years Six bowl game. That game was the 2007 Sugar Bowl, in which they got trounced by the LSU Tigers. It’s been mostly a bumpy ride for Irish fans since then, with the lone bright spot being a 12-1 season in 2012-13, resulting in an appearance in the BCS championship game. Of course, that game also ended in a rout, ND getting crushed 42-14.

Head Coach Brian Kelly has won eight games in each of his first six seasons with the team, yet still sees this game as a chance to validate his football program. “We need to play well, and we need to win the game to validate where we are as a football program,” Kelly said. With a rich history of tradition, many feel Kelly is spot on with this, and you can bet the team will be fired up.

Can Meyer keep the Buckeyes Focused?

In a season in which Ohio State was the hands down favorite to win the CFP National Championship, the Buckeyes failed to even make the Playoff. As consolation, Ohio State will face off against a very formidable opponent in a classic bowl game. However, will the Buckeyes keep focused on the task at hand? This is not the most attractive game for the team; players, coaches, and fans included. The game kicks off at 11am local time, on the day after the two Playoff games.

Yes, the fiesta bowl is a good game to be in, but it’s severely overshadowed by the Playoff, which Ohio State expected to be in. It could be very easy for them to give up, but there are a slew of seniors, such as Braxton Miller, who deserve to go out with a bang.

Key Stats

369: The number of rushing yards the Buckeyes put up in their last contest against a Top 10 ranked Michigan. Ohio State looked dominant on the ground in that game, and it did not look like they had any plans to slow down. Very, very rarely do teams who amass more than 350 yards on the ground lose a game. Notre Dame will have to really buckle down on the defensive side of the rock if they want to have a chance here.

1,145: Receiving yards accumulated by Irish junior WR Will Fuller. This guy has been killing secondaries all season, and has 13 touchdowns to boot. The Buckeyes secondary has been pretty good this year, but many have said its not in the same realm as the Buckeyes front seven. If Fuller goes off, it could be a long day for the Buckeyes.

0: The number of pass attempts that Ohio State senior HB/WR Braxton Miller has thrown this season. During the offseason, many expected Miller to be the Buckeyes’ quarterback. He has been the Big Ten offensive player of the year twice, and we’ve seen him do just as much damage with his legs as his arm. But for many, a Miller pass this season is long overdue. Will we finally see it this year, in his last game for the Buckeyes?

Key Players

Will Fuller: As mentioned before, he has over 1,100 receiving yards this year…that is no easy accomplishment. He averages more than a touchdown per game, and if Ohio State wants to win, they are going to have to keep him in check. 

For Ohio State, the most important player on the field will be Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott, a Heisman candidate for much of the year, has amassed at least 100 yards in 11 of 12 games this season for the Buckeyes, and has been the most consistent player on their roster. In their sole loss, Zeke got the ball only 12 times. We all saw how that ended up, and it proved how valuable Elliott really is to this football team.

Why Notre Dame wins

Notre Dame wins if Ohio State’s pass defense fails to contain Fuller and the Irish offense. Notre Dame has some wild talent, and if they can capitalize on some big plays, or a turnover or two, the game is theirs.

Why Ohio State wins

Ohio State wins if they take a lead and feed Elliot. “Feed Zeke” as many of their fans say. Winning the Fiesta Bowl is not winning the National Championship, but 12 wins and a Fiesta Bowl victory isn’t a lost season.

Prediction

Much like the last time these teams met, Ohio State will strike for some big touchdown plays. Long, exciting plays. We’ll see plenty of offense, and while Notre Dame could definitely come out of here with a win, Ohio State has too many weapons not to control the tempo.

Ohio State wins 42-27. 

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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. 

Prediction

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 Rose Bowl Preview

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

Storylines Heading Into the Game 

Very Similar Offenses

When this matchup was

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

Storylines Heading Into the Game 

Very Similar Offenses

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

Can Iowa Complete a Dream Season?

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

Kevin Hogan’s Last Game

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

Key Stats

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

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

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

Key Players

C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa

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

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford

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

Why Iowa Wins

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

Why Stanford Wins

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

Prediction

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

Final Score: Iowa 24 – Stanford 21

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Cotton Bowl 2015: Who has the Edge?

Alabama's formidable defense will shut down Michigan State on the ground, so can Connor Cook and the Spartans' aerial attack get the job done? This year's Cotton Bowl matchup of two preseason titans could be the bowl game of the year.

Alabama’s formidable defense will shut down Michigan State on the ground, so can Connor Cook and the Spartans’ aerial attack get the job done? This year’s Cotton Bowl matchup of two preseason titans could be the bowl game of the year.

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SQ Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Preview

In a game that will be mostly overshadowed by the two CFP games being played the same day, the Peach Bowl should be a terrific matchup. Florida State and Houston play each other for the 17th time in their history, but the first since 1978. Houston is riding high after winning the American Athletic Conference, but

In a game that will be mostly overshadowed by the two CFP games being played the same day, the Peach Bowl should be a terrific matchup. Florida State and Houston play each other for the 17th time in their history, but the first since 1978. Houston is riding high after winning the American Athletic Conference, but FSU has to be disappointed after having a lackluster year by their standards. Here’s what to expect from this year’s matchup: 

Major Storylines 

No Everett Golson: Upon his arrival at Florida State, quarterback Everett Golson was supposed to be the bridge between former star Jameis Winston and the future. However, Golson wasn’t able to duplicate the success he had from Notre Dame, and due to personal reasons, he will not play in the Peach Bowl. 

Golson started eight of the first ten games this season, throwing for 1,778 yards and 11 touchdowns. After starting off well, key turnovers and a head injury hindered Golson’s play. Incumbent backup Sean Maguire took over starting duties late in the season due to poor performances from Golson and will start against Houston.  

The Cougars Are Looking for National Respect: Houston is having the best season for an American Athletic team since UCF won the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. That might not sound like an accomplishment, but the American Athletic Conference was much improved this year with three teams winning at least ten games, up from only one the previous season. Houston is also the best Group of 5 team, ranked 18th in the CFP rankings. The Cougars are looking at this game as a shot to show everyone how good they are. With a win over Florida State, Houston can also put themselves in position to be considered as the Group of 5’s best chance at making the next College Playoff.  

Key Stats 

40.6 – Points per game scored by Houston this season. The Cougars have one of the nation’s top offenses, and not many know about it. Ranked 11th nationally in scoring offense, Houston has scored over 50 points four times while being held to 24 or less on only two occasions, one being their lone loss to Connecticut. If the Cougars offense is running on all cylinders, they can compete with practically anyone, especially FSU.  

15.8 – Average number of points given up by Florida State’s defense. This game will come down to the matchup between Houston’s high-octance offense and Florida State’s stout defense. Talk all year focused on FSU’s offense, especially Golson and running back Dalvin Cook, but their defense is where they shined and the main reason that they’ve been successful. While they don’t force many turnovers, only 14 on the year, they definitely stop their opponents from scoring. Ranked fifth in least points allowed per game, the Seminoles are anchored by a NFL-caliber defensive back in Jalen Ramsey, who should be matched up with Houston’s best receiver Demarcus Ayers. This game will be a classic bout of power offense verses power defense. 

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

31– Total rushing touchdowns for Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (19) and running-back Kenneth Farrow (12). Houston’s offense has already been mentioned, but special attention should be put on the Cougars’ rushing attack. While Ward Jr. leads the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, he’ll be glad to have Farrow in the backfield. Farrow is second on Houston with 949 yards and 12 touchdowns, but missed the final two games of the season with an injury. Farrow is expected to return for the Peach Bowl and the running game will be relied on to exploit the Seminoles’ weakness on defense. FSU gives up 180.9 rushing yards a game, 53rd in the nation.  

Key Players 

Greg Ward Jr., QB, Houston: After being recruited to Houston as a defensive back and starting his career at wide receiver, Ward Jr. has turned into one of the most exciting players in college football as a quarterback. His unique style of play has only been seen by this FSU team last season when going up against Marcus Mariota in the Rose Bowl. Ward Jr. has 19 rushing touchdowns, 16 through the air and is the only quarterback to both run and pass for over 1,000 yards. The Seminoles will need to be on their toes to try and defend both aspects of Ward Jr’s game. 

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU: Cook is one of the best running backs in the country, and some would even argue that he is the best. Many thought it was a joke that Cook wasn’t in the top five of Heisman voting, especially when looking at his stats. Rushing for 1,658 yards with a 7.9 yards per carry average and 18 touchdowns, Cook was in the top ten among running backs in all these statistics. Cook accounted for almost 37% of the Seminoles’ total offense and almost 40% of their touchdowns. It’s safe to say that Cook makes the Seminole offense move.

Prediction 

Houston has the advantage on offense and FSU has the advantage on defense. The real deciding factor will be the Cougars’ defense against the Seminoles’ offense, where there’s a distinct advantage for FSU. Neither should be able to pull away enough to make this game a blowout. Betting against Greg Ward Jr. is hard, but the old adage of defense wins championships could apply here in the end.

FSU def. Houston 24-21

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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.

Prediction

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 Orange Bowl Preview

The playoffs are nearing. The Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl will decide who participates in the National Championship. And today, I will be previewing the Orange Bowl between the Clemson Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners. Clemson has had its most successful season since 1981 when it last won a championship, while Oklahoma has bounced back from a

The playoffs are nearing. The Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl will decide who participates in the National Championship. And today, I will be previewing the Orange Bowl between the Clemson Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners. Clemson has had its most successful season since 1981 when it last won a championship, while Oklahoma has bounced back from a disappointing 8-5 season last year to win the Big 12 title.

Storylines Heading Into The Game

Deshaun Watson lives up to the hype: Going into the season, Deshaun Watson had high expectations and he has lived up to them. He was the most electrifying dual-threat quarterback in the nation, as he was the only player to pass for 3500+ yards and rush for 800+ yards. He passed for 30 touchdowns and added 11 touchdowns on the ground. His arms and legs are a big reason why Clemson is 13-0 and one game away from playing in the National Championship.

Lincoln Riley proves to be a genius hire: In 2014, the Sooners were 24th in total offense (465 YDS/G) and20th in scoring offense (36.2 PTS/G). Although are neither of those stats are bad per se, Bob Stoops knew his offense could be better. So he went and snatched offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley from East Carolina and made transfer Baker Mayfield the starter. The results proved to be effective. Under Riley, the Sooners experienced a surge in offense, as they ranked 6th in total offense (543YDS/G) and 3rd in scoring offense (45.8 PTS/G). Mayfield was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, as he passed for 3389 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 420 yards and adding seven touchdowns on the ground. Although he didn’t have the same season that he had last year, running back Samaje Perinewas still very productive, as he rushed for almost 1300 yards and 15 touchdowns.  

Is Clemsoning officially dead? Clemsoning, the notion that Clemson loses football games it absolutely should not lose, seems to be an afterthought now. In perhaps the most epic rant of the 2015 college football season,Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made sure that “Clemsoning” would never be mentioned again. He was right. Clemson is undefeated for the first time since 1981. It has not lost to an unranked opponent since 2011 and has defeated three top ten teams this year (Notre Dame,FSU and UNC). 

Key Stats  

122.5: In his last two games, Watson is averaging 122.5 rushing yards per game. He has rushed for over 100 yards in four of his last five games and has added seven rushing touchdowns during that span. Oklahoma’s rushing defense is one of theteam’s weak points, allowing 149.2 rushing yards per game. If Watson can take advantage of that, it will be a long game for the Sooners.  

19: Oklahoma has 19 interceptions this season, which is the 8th most in the nation. Cornerback Jordan Thomas had a provided key production for the Sooners’ secondary with five interceptions and 153 returned yards. He will likely be lined up against Artavis Scott, Clemson’s top receiver. If Thomas and the rest of the Oklahoma secondary are able to contain Clemson’s receiving unit, the Sooners should be able to come out on top.

166.9: Clemson has given up an average of 166.9 passing yards per game in 13 games this season. That ranks 5th best in the nation. Overall, Clemson has one of the best passing defenses in college football. In addition to ranking 5th in passing yards given up per game, it also ranks 1st in opposing completion percentage (46.1%), 14th in yards per pass attempt givenup (5.9) and 7th in opposing quarterback rating (102.2). The one area that it needs to work on is passing touchdowns given up. Clemson has allowed 16 passing touchdowns, which is tied for 40th in the nation. If the Tigers can contain Baker Mayfield and make things difficult for him, they should be able to limit his touchdown throws.   

Key Players  

ShaqLawson, DE, Clemson: Lawson was an absolute monster for the Tigers this season. The junior had 10 sacks and 22.5 tackles for losses, which was the best in thenation. He was one of three players in the nation to have 10+ sacks and 20+tackles for losses. His explosiveness on defense is a key reason for Clemson’s undefeated season. 

 

SterlingShepard, WR, Oklahoma: Shepard was Mayfield’s favorite target. He had 1,201 receiving yards and caught 11 touchdown passes this season. In his last five games, Shepard is averaging 130.4 receiving yards per game and has caught six touchdown passes. He is not Oklahoma’s best player, but his receiving abilities have contributed to Mayfield’s fantastic season.   

Why Clemson Wins  

The Tigers are the most balanced team in the nation. They are the only team to average over 500 yards per game and give up an average of less than 300 yards per game. Watson can take over a game with his arms and his legs. He’s also playing behind a stout offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked only 12 more times. If the line can provide Watson the protection he needs, Clemson should be able to punch its ticket to the national championship      

Why Oklahoma Wins  

Oklahoma can win this game because its offense is as good as it gets. Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine are one of the best quarterback-running back duos in the nation while Sterling Shepard provides a spark at wide receiver. It has also beaten opponents by an average of 25 points, the best mark in college football. When it comes to running away from the competition, there is no better team in college football than Oklahoma.   

Prediction 

This was extremely tough for me to decide. I do believe that this is going to be the best matchup in the playoffs. Both teams are extremely talented and well-coached. Mayfield is one of the best quarterbacks in the country but he’sfacing one of the best secondary units in college football. At the same time,Clemson has given up quite a few touchdowns and Mayfield could take advantage of that. 

This being said, I’m going to have to go with Oklahoma. I do think Clemson is the better overall team but Oklahoma has been a different animal since its ugly loss to Texas, beating its last seven opponents by an average of 32.6 points. They also got destroyed by Clemson last year by a score of 40-6, so they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. This game could go either way, but my gut tells me to go with the Sooners here.

FinalScore: Oklahoma 49 – Clemson 40 

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SQ Holiday Bowl Preview

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

Storylines Heading Into the Game

One Last Game for Senior

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

Storylines Heading Into the Game

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

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

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

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

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

Key Stats

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

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

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

Key Players

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

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

Why Wisconsin Wins

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

Why USC Wins

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

Prediction

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

Final Score: USC 35 – Wisconsin 21

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SQ Music City Bowl Preview

In another matchup that features two teams trending in opposite directions, the 2015 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl will see Texas A&M (SEC, 8-4) take on Louisville (ACC, 7-5). The game will be broadcast on ESPN Wednesday December 30th at 7:00 pm EST. Both teams will be looking to finish underwhelming seasons with a

In another matchup that features two teams trending in opposite directions, the 2015 Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl will see Texas A&M (SEC, 8-4) take on Louisville (ACC, 7-5). The game will be broadcast on ESPN Wednesday December 30th at 7:00 pm EST. Both teams will be looking to finish underwhelming seasons with a quality win.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Disappointing seasons for different reasons – Both of these teams entered the 2015 season with high expectations. After a final CFP ranking of 21st last season, Louisville proceeded to lose their first three games, and four of their first six. The Cardinals managed to go 5-1 to finish, but a 7-5 season was still very underwhelming. Texas A&M on the other hand won their first five, achieving a season-high ranking of 9th in the AP Poll. From there, they went 3-4 to finish the season. Instead of challenging for the SEC West crown, they fell to fifth. 

A&M Quarterback woes – It has been a bad couple of weeks for the Aggies. Just a few days after starting QB Kyle Allen announced he would transfer, backup Kyler Murray announced he was leaving for Oklahoma. Both players appeared to be concerned with the direction A&M was trending, and felt that they would have better chances at another university. No matter what it is definitely embarrassing to have your first and second string quarterbacks opt out, and these events certainly don’t help coach Kevin Sumlin’s seat get any colder. This leaves sophomore Jake Hubenak earning his first career start in this bowl. 

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Devonte Fields turnaround – After earning BIG 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker at TCU, Devonte Fields was dismissed from the school for allegedly hitting his ex-girlfriend in 2014. He spent a year at community college, and then was looked at by Louisville. Coach Bobby Petrino was blasted for allowing Fields to join the team, but Fields has absolutely shown that he belongs. He finished the regular season with 7.5 sacks (all in the last six games), and his 19 tackles for loss put him at second in the country. His coaches have praised him for his work ethic and growth as a person.

Key Stats

323 – total yards per game allowed by the Louisville defense. The Cardinals have the 14th ranked total defense in the country, and it has been their strong point all season. This is great news against a mediocre A&M offense, especially with a new starting quarterback. Look for Louisville’s defense to make Hubenak uncomfortable and try to control the pace of the game. 

206 – rushing yards per game allowed by A&M. That number puts them at a dismal 104th in the country at what has been a huge weakness all season. They allowed Heisman-winner Derrick Henry to have one of his best games with 236 yards and two scores. Louisville’s offensive plan centers around the run, a fact that should make A&M fans nervous. The Aggie defense is going to have to play better than their average in order to come out of this game with a victory. 

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

27 – season passing attempts by new A&M starter Jake Hubenak. Hubenak is a huge question mark right now for the Aggies as he makes his first career start. He has only attempted 27 passes this season, completing just 12 of them for 92 yards. He has also thrown one touchdown and no interceptions. A&M’s offensive performance is going to depend a lot on whether or not Hubenak can play well in his debut. If he ends up being a bust, it could be a long night for he and his teammates as they would be forced to play the run one-dimensionally. On the other hand, a strong showing from Hubenak could give them a win and tons of confidence heading into next season. 

Key Players

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville – Louisville’s offense lives and dies by Jackson. He is both the main passing quarterback and the leading rusher. Most of A&M’s defensive efforts will be focused around containing Jackson and limiting his explosiveness. In the passing game he has been pretty average, completing almost 56% of his passes for 1613 yards and just 10 touchdowns. On the ground he has totaled 734 yards with a per-rush average of 5.2 yards. He has also added nine rushing scores. 

He has improved as a passer, but is a much greater threat on the ground with his lightning speed. A&M will need to keep him in the pocket and force him to throw the ball in order to slow him down. They certainly can’t afford to let him dictate offensive drives with his legs. 

Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M – Garrett is A&M’s best chance at being able to contain Jackson. He has totaled 12 sacks this season, good for sixth in the country. He also has one interception and one forced fumble. Garrett has the ability to wreak complete havoc in the backfield, someone that Louisville can’t afford to let happen. If Garrett is allowed to have his way with a pitiful Cardinal offensive line, he could single-handedly contain Jackson and slow the Louisville offense.

Why Louisville Wins

Simply put, the Aggies are known for a poor offense while the Cardinals are known for a great defense. A&M has struggled all season to score points against quality teams, and this game won’t be any different. They are also know for giving up turnovers, which can afford Louisville a few extra chances on offense. Making matters worse for the Aggies, they will be starting a new quarterback in this game. Barring a miracle, the Louisville defense should be able to all but shut down the A&M passing attack. 

On offense Louisville favors the run game, and the A&M run defense is a disaster. If Louisville can get the duo of Jackson and Brandon Radcliff going early, there won’t be much that A&M can do to stop them. Louisville will be able to dictate the pace of the game with their rushing attack. 

Why Texas A&M Wins

The A&M offense may be poor, but Louisville isn’t exactly stellar with the ball either. They too have struggled to score points, and an offensive line that allowed 43 sacks this season won’t magically get better. Garrett and Daeshon Hall will be able to wreak havoc in the backfield and cause problems for Louisville all night. It will make it very tough for Louisville to comfortably run the plays they want to. 

A better offensive line for A&M should also allow them to get looks in the running game. In addition, rookie QB Hubenak could benefit greatly from solid protection. If they can give him that for most of the night, he should be able to make the easy throws and play game-manager effectively.

Prediction

This game will absolutely be about the defenses. And as mediocre as the Louisville offense is, A&M’s is in worse shape. They haven’t been good all season, and now they are forced to play with an untested quarterback. Thats a recipe for disaster against a all-star defense like Louisville’s. Ultimately, I think this game will come down to one more explosive play from Louisville. 

Final Score: Louisville 27, Texas A&M 23

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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.

Prediction

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 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Preview

The 2015 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is a rematch of the 2007 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in which a Kevin Riley led California Golden Bears team defeated the Air Force Falcons 42-36 in one of the more exciting Armed Forces Bowl games in recent memory. The game is on Dec. 29 at 2:00 p.m. EST

The 2015 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is a rematch of the 2007 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in which a Kevin Riley led California Golden Bears team defeated the Air Force Falcons 42-36 in one of the more exciting Armed Forces Bowl games in recent memory. The game is on Dec. 29 at 2:00 p.m. EST and can be seen on ESPN. 

Key Storylines


Armed Forces Rematch: Cal and Air Force have not faced each other since the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl in which a star-laden Cal roster containing the likes of Desean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Thomas DeCoud, and Justin Forsett emerged victorious. Air Force has been back to the Armed Forces Bowl twice since 2007 and lost both times, so they will be out for revenge and a little bit of redemption in 2015.

The Last We See Of Goff?: If Jared Goff declares for the NFL draft, and it looks like he will, he is projected to be a top-five pick, according to Todd McShay. Goff has had an illustrious career at Cal and owns many of the passing records, surpassing the numbers of even the great Aaron Rodgers. 

However, this season, there have been some doubts about how ready he is for the NFL after Cal tanked following a 5-0 start. Goff will be looking to leave a statement for NFL scouts if this is indeed the final game of his collegiate career.

Who Can Find Motivation?: Cal comes into this game at 7-5, looking for their first eight-win season since 2009. With the exception of some fifth-year seniors, no one on this Cal roster has played in a postseason bowl game.

That being said, there is no doubt that after a flying start to the season, Cal has fallen flat, going 2-5 to end the year, and they may still be ruing what could have been. 

Similarly, Air Force is coming off a tough to swallow defeat at the hands of San Diego State. Down three late in the game, Air Force squandered multiple chances to tie or take the lead, and a victory in that game would have given them the Mountain West Title. With the taste of defeat still fresh, Air Force should be fired up for this one.


Key Stats

5 – All five of Air Force’s losses came on the road. The Armed Forces bowl will be played at a neutral site in Fort Worth, Texas–not close to either Air Force or Cal. However, Cal fans tend to travel well and should fill up Amon G. Carter stadium. Air Force will need to overcome their road travel woes and find some home cooking so they can emulate Fort Worth.

368.8 – Passing yards per game for the Cal offense. This number puts them at fifth in the nation in passing yards per game. Their running game pales in comparison; they only average 155.7 yards per game, placing 88th in the nation. While a lot of the credit goes to gunslinger Goff, Cal had six different receivers with over 35 catches, including Kenny Lawler, who has a penchant for the spectacular, especially around the end zone.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blyI4HjwBxA

42 – Number of rushing touchdowns for Air Force this season, compared to only 13 passing touchdowns. Air Force had 10 players punch the ball into the end zone this season via the ground. Led by Jacobi Owens and Karson Roberts, the Falcons’ running game carried the offense, accounting for 4,138 of the offense’s 5,836 total yards. 

Key Players

Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal – Although it would be very easy to put Goff here, Kenny Lawler needs to have a good game for Cal to win. Lawler started the season off incredibly hot with eight touchdowns and over 400 yards receiving in Cal’s first five games, all of which were victories. 

In Cal’s five losses, Lawler has been held to 180 yards and only one score. He is a big-time player and Goff’s favorite target, but big-time players need to show up in big-time moments, and now is the time for Lawler to shine.

Weston Steelhammer, DB, Air Force – Aptly named, Steelhammer does it all for the Falcons, including bringing the boom on defense. He leads the team with 80 tackles, 10.5 of which were for a loss. Air Force will rely on him to read Goff’s eyes all day and be wherever the ball is. He has five interceptions on the season and seven pass breakups and will need to have a major impact on the game to keep Air Force in it. 

Why California Wins

Cal is the better team–it’s as simple as that. All five of their losses came to a team that was ranked in the AP Top 15 at some point this season. When they played teams at their level or worse, they took care of business. They have the best player on the field in Goff, and he recently showed against Arizona State that if the game is on the line late, you want the ball in his hands. 

This season, Cal has been able to maintain a relative balance between running and passing, only throwing 55% of the time. If they can establish the ground game early and prevent Air Force from dropping seven or eight guys into coverage, they will win this game.

Why Air Force Wins

Air Force brings an offense in the triple option that Cal rarely faces. No Pac-12 team operates using this offense, and even with the extra weeks to prepare, there is nothing quite like seeing the triple option live for the first time. Cal’s already porous defense, which ranked 103rd in the nation against the run, giving up 203 yards per game, will have its hands full with the well-oiled machine that is the Air Force ground attack. 

Even though they play in the Mountain West, Air Force is battle-tested, having faced Michigan State, Navy, and Boise State this season. They will be playing with a chip on their shoulder after just missing out on a conference title and should come out guns blazing from the opening kickoff. 

Prediction

If you’re a fan of good defense, shield your eyes–this is probably not the bowl game for you. However, if you are like the majority of college football fans, this one should be a doozy with plenty of fireworks. Goff and Co. will be putting up points just as fast as their defense gives them up. The balanced triple option attack of Air Force should wear down the Cal defense and keep pace.

This game will come down to whether or not Daniel Lasco and Khalfani Muhammad can find enough holes to force Air Force to respect the Cal running game and open up the aerial attack for Goff and his arsenal of receivers. In the end, in what is likely his last game, expect Goff to will his team to victory. 

Final Score: California 45 – Air Force 31

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Orange Bowl Clemson vs. Oklahoma Preview

Baker Mayfield and the Sooners offense are capable of game-changing plays, but they will have their hands full keeping up with a quarterback on the level of Clemson's Deshaun Watson. SQ analyst Sonya Egoian explains why Clemson has the edge despite being considered underdogs in the 2015 Orange Bowl. 

Baker Mayfield and the Sooners offense are capable of game-changing plays, but they will have their hands full keeping up with a quarterback on the level of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. SQ analyst Sonya Egoian explains why Clemson has the edge despite being considered underdogs in the 2015 Orange Bowl. 

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SQ Foster Farms Bowl Preview

In what will be their third matchup in four seasons, UCLA and Nebraska will do battle at the Foster Farms bowl in Santa Clara, California on Saturday night. Neither team is where they thought they would be at the beginning of the season, as both have suffered unforeseen setbacks. UCLA (8-4, Pac-12) enters the game

In what will be their third matchup in four seasons, UCLA and Nebraska will do battle at the Foster Farms bowl in Santa Clara, California on Saturday night. Neither team is where they thought they would be at the beginning of the season, as both have suffered unforeseen setbacks. UCLA (8-4, Pac-12) enters the game off a disappointing loss to rival USC that knocked it out of the conference championship, while Nebraska (5-7, Big Ten) is one of only a few bowl teams that have more losses than wins. 

Storylines

   

UCLA’s Attrition: After a hot start to the season that saw the Bruins go 4-0 and ranked as high as No. 7 in the country, UCLA’s injuries finally caught up to the team. The losses of superstar linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes were the most notable injuries as the Bruins struggled the final two-thirds of the season, going 4-4 down the stretch. For the first time in his UCLA coaching career, Jim Mora lost to rival USC and despite strong play from true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, the Bruins never felt like a CFB Playoff contender. 

Nebraska’s Bad Luck: Under new coach Mike Riley, Nebraska has been painfully close in coming away with a win in five of its seven losses. By now, everyone knows about the team’s opening game loss to BYU on the “Hail Joseph Smith,” but Nebraska has also suffered losses by three points, one point, and twice by two points. That being said, the team did win in mostly improbable fashion against undefeated Michigan State, so maybe things even out in the long run. 

Key Stats

16: While Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong has thrown 21 touchdowns this season for the Cornhuskers, he has also tossed 16 interceptions. Sixteen is an alarming number for any quarterback in 12 games played, but what makes it even worse is the fact that Armstrong is a veteran in his third season as a starter. UCLA’s Rosen, on the other hand, has thrown only nine interceptions in 2015 and he is a true freshman. If Nebraska has any shot at pulling off the upset, the team will need to limit its turnovers against a Bruins team that has picked off 12 balls this season.  

2-0: Since the 2012 season, UCLA is 2-0 against Nebraska. In two non-conference games, the Bruins won 36-30 in Pasadena in 2012 and 41-21 in Lincoln in 2013. UCLA out-gained Nebraska in total yards in those games by a combined 1157 to 770, but a key player is missing from those two Bruin victories: quarterback Brett Hundley. Hundley is now backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, which is wonderful news for Cornhusker fans, considering he threw seven touchdowns in those two matchups. 

31: That is the combined number of points Nebraska has lost by in its seven defeats this season. Plenty of fans will likely criticize Mike Riley for the team’s disappointing overall record, but the truth is Nebraska has been just a play or two away from a very special season. Nebraska really seemed to figure some things out late in the season with its victory over Michigan State and close loss to an undefeated Iowa team. Riley was highly successful at Oregon State and if he is given enough time, the same should happen in Lincoln. 

Key Players

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: After three stellar seasons in Los Angeles, UCLA’s Paul Perkins will have to decide if he is ready for the NFL or wants to come back for his senior season. In 2015, Perkins has run for 1,275 yards and 13 touchdowns to go along with his 27 catches and 234 receiving yards. In a conference that is full of outstanding running backs, Perkins is always near the top of the list and he will need to play well again for UCLA to come away victorious. Nebraska has been excellent against the run this year, ranking eighth in the country in rush yards allowed, so look for them to put the pressure on Rosen to make plays down the field. 

Jordan Westerkamp, WR, Nebraska: Only four players for Nebraska made the first or second team All-Big Ten Football and three of the four were a kicker, punter, and defensive tackle. Jordan Westerkamp was the sole offensive player to make the postseason list and it was certainly deserved, considering the Cornhuskers have struggled at the quarterback position this season. Westerkamp has 63 catches, 874 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns including the game-winner against Michigan State. UCLA has some future NFL players in its defensive backfield and ranks 41st in the country in passing defensive, so it is up to Westerkamp to help stretch the field for Nebraska’s inconsistent passing game. 

Why UCLA Wins

Since Jim Mora took over as head coach in 2012, UCLA has become a different program. No longer is UCLA the school that lives in USC’s shadow or just a sleeping giant that always underachieves; rather, UCLA is one of the country’s best programs right now. At 8-4, the Bruins did not end the season the way they wanted to, but considering the injuries that piled up on the defensive side of the ball and the growing pains of a true freshman quarterback, UCLA is not in such a bad spot. UCLA will be one of the best teams in the country next year and winning a bowl game in convincing fashion against a Big Ten team could help set the tone for 2016. 

Why Nebraska Wins

The odds makers in Vegas are pretty smart guys, so when you see that a 5-7 team is less than a touchdown underdog to a team that was in the top-25 for most of the season, you become a little suspicious. Looking at the stats, Nebraska is not far behind UCLA in things like total offense, total defense, and points per game. As pointed out earlier, the Cornhuskers have been a pretty unfortunate team for most of the year, so if they put together a solid, mostly mistake-free game, and force the true freshman quarterback into making a few mistakes; they have a shot at pulling off the upset. 

Prediction


This is the kind of bowl that could go either way because the fact of the matter is, neither team is probably all that motivated to play in it. The Foster Farms Bowl is not exactly a New Year’s Six Bowl and both teams could be playing in a game that is worth a little more nationally. Nebraska might be playing for pride because of its poor record, but UCLA will certainly want to end 2015 on a good note after USC ended its season for all intents and purposes.   

Right now, UCLA just looks like the more put together team both offensively and defensively. Despite how good they are against the run, the Cornhuskers are 69th in the country in total defense, so expect the Bruins to move the ball fairly well throughout the game, especially through the air. Rosen is not really a true freshman at this point anymore and Nebraska will have to make a lot of plays offensively to try and keep up. I don’t see that happening.  

Final Score:

UCLA 34, Nebraska 24

    

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SQ Military Bowl Preview

This year’s Military Bowl will feature two physical, run-heavy teams as Pittsburgh (ACC, 8-4) faces off against #21 Navy (AAC, 10-2). The game will be held on Monday, December 28th at 3:30 pm EST and will be broadcast on ESPN. Both teams have had incredible breakout season, and each will be looking to cap off

This year’s Military Bowl will feature two physical, run-heavy teams as Pittsburgh (ACC, 8-4) faces off against #21 Navy (AAC, 10-2). The game will be held on Monday, December 28th at 3:30 pm EST and will be broadcast on ESPN. Both teams have had incredible breakout season, and each will be looking to cap off their year with an impressive bowl win.

Storylines Heading Into the Game

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Keenan Reynold’s Heisman campaign – Navy QB Keenan Reynolds’ stellar season has been well documented. His 85 career touchdowns were the most all time, until Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon recently scored his 87th in the New Orleans Bowl. With one game left to go in Reynold’s career, he’s got a great shot at getting that record back. 

Reynolds has enjoyed a spotlight this year that is focused on military academy players. During Heisman voting time, he made waves as the fan vote leader with 47% (Derrick Henry was far behind with 29%). In the actual Heisman voting, Reynolds finished fifth, ahead of big name players like Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Ezekiel Elliot. For a player on a low-profile team, that is certainly a huge achievement. 

Pitt’s success without James Conner – When James Conner went down in the season opener with an injury, it looked like Pitt’s season was over. Instead, they’ve gone 8-4, finished second in the Coastal Division, and have all around had a very successful year. Three of their losses have come against highly ranked opponents in Iowa, North Carolina, and Notre Dame. 

Pitt has faired well without Conner, with their run game being their strongest asset. Qadree Ollison has filled in nicely as the featured back, rushing for just over 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns. In the passing game, Nathan Peterman has played very consistently, completing 61.4% of his passes for 2150 yards and 19 scores with just five interceptions. Pitt hasn’t blown anyone away with talent but they’ve played consistent good football all season, and thats how they’ve managed such a great season. 

Pat Narduzzi’s first Bowl game – Narduzzi has had a pretty good season in his first year at Pittsburgh. To finish it off, he’d love to get a win in his first bowl game as a head coach. He enjoyed great success as defensive coordinator at Michigan State, and he has given Pitt’s defense new life as head coach. He will surely be leading Pitt in many more bowl games to come.

Key Stats

319.2 – rushing yards per game by Navy. Its no secret that Navy’s rushing attack is one of the best in the nation. They run an option offense, and they run it well. In this game they will look to establish dominance with their ground game early. One other huge benefit of the option offense is the ability to control the clock and pace of the game. When its working well, the option offense has the power to completely take over games.

126.1 – rushing yards per game allowed by Pitt. That number is good for 20th in the nation. Against an elite rushing attack from Navy, Pitt’s run defense is going to have to play perfectly in order to have any chance of stopping the Midshipmen. In the last game against an option team (Georgia Tech) however, Pitt gave up 376 yards rushing and three scores on the ground. Hopefully they know what to expect this time, and can perform better. 

9 – games won by Navy by double digits. To be fair, Navy doesn’t exactly face top-notch talent every Saturday, but still this many double digit wins are impressive. Those nine games also include a 25 point domination of then-ranked No. 13 Memphis. Navy has not only played very well all season, but they’ve also been firmly control. This is the result of a fully-functioning option offense and a surprising solid defense.

Key Players

Keenan Reynolds, QB, Navy – The powerful Navy run game operates exclusively through Reynolds, and his performance is the key to a Midshipmen victory. He’s has seven 100 yard rushing games this season, and six multiple rushing touchdown games. If he can have a big day, it will be a long game for Pitt. On the other hand if he is contained, Navy doesn’t have a lot of other options offensively. Reynolds is absolutely the crutch of Navy’s potential victory. 

Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt – Boyd has had a pretty average season so far, but that doesn’t take away from his immense talent. This matchup seems centered around the teams’ running games, so a breakout game from Boyd could give Pitt a great advantage. If Boyd can get in the end zone at least once, Pitt’s chances will skyrocket. If, however, the Navy defense can shut down Boyd and the quick, deep score threat he provides, they can make Pitt’s offense one-dimensional. Simply put, Pitt needs Boyd to perform well in this game to give their offense some much needed depth. 

Why Navy Wins

As is common with option teams, Navy will win if Pitt allows them to stick to their gameplan. If they can keep pass attempts to a minimum and the rushing game racks up the yards its designed to, Navy will be hard to stop. It is almost a guarantee that Keenan Reynolds will get in the end zone, and a strong likelihood that he will do it multiple times. In the end, the option offense has a great ability to suffocate opponents, and that’s exactly what Navy wants to do here. 

Why Pittsburgh Wins

Pitt has a more well-rounded attack than Navy, even though their passing game sometimes leaves something to be desired. The Panthers’ rushing attack has been great all year, and Tyler Boyd is always a threat through the air. With more offensive options Pitt has breathing room to adjust their gameplan if needed, a luxury that Navy doesn’t really possess. Pitt can pound the ball if they are ahead, and can also throw the ball if they need to come from behind. 

Prediction

This game will be close, and it will be physical. Both teams love running the ball and both teams play very solid defense. Ultimately, I think Navy’s option attack will be too much for Pitt to handle. Navy will stay ahead all game, and force Pitt to throw the ball more than they’d like to. One or two bad possessions or turnovers will doom Pitt. 

Final Score: Navy 31, Pittsburgh 24

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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. 


Prediction

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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SEC Coaching Tradition

Tradition and the SEC are synonymous. However, as awesome as tradition is and can be, it can clash with change, even if that change is ideally for the better.

Where the tradition-change clash is perhaps most apparent this offseason is in the SEC head coaching hirings. A case can be made that while the new

Tradition and the SEC are synonymous. However, as awesome as tradition is and can be, it can clash with change, even if that change is ideally for the better.

Where the tradition-change clash is perhaps most apparent this offseason is in the SEC head coaching hirings. A case can be made that while the new hires reflect the SEC tradition, that familiarity with SEC tradition may not be as important as many consider.

It’s easy to see why former SEC coaches would work well as SEC head coaches. An assistant with years of SEC experience can enter with good knowledge of the conference landscape along with key recruiting insights.

A quick review of the coaches hired shows very apparent connections to the SEC. Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina Will Muschamp both played their college football at UGA (at different times) and both have held coaching positions for at least three different SEC schools.

Slightly the odd man out, Missouri’s new head coach Barry Odom does not have the same SEC resume as Smart or Muschamp, having just one season with Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC. Still, Odom has had multiple stints in Columbia and, similar to those of Smart and Muschamp, Odom’s hiring likely is based somewhat on his familiarity to the current landscape of the program, which includes experience in the conference.

Recent history shows that hiring ex-SEC coaches to SEC head coaching gigs does not provide as much of an advantage as one may think. This analysis does not include hiring of coaches who only served as head coach for one season. For instance, Robbie Caldwell, John L. Smith, and Lane Kiffin do not make the list, since one year is too small a sample size. Same goes for Jim McElwain, since he has only coached one season.

Coach Previous SEC ties Record 
Houston Nutt Arkansas 24-26 at Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze* Ole Miss 33-18 at Ole Miss
Dan Mullen Florida 54-35 at Mississippi State
Derek Dooley Georgia, LSU 15-21 at Tennessee
Nick Saban* LSU 98-18 at Alabama
Bobby Petrino Auburn 34-17 at Arkansas
Joker Phillips South Carolina 13-24 at Kentucky
Guz Malzahn* Auburn, Arkansas 26-13 at Auburn
Gene Chizik Auburn 33-19 at Auburn
Steve Spurrier Florida 86-49 at Florida
Will Muschamp LSU, Auburn, Florida 28-21 at Florida
444-261 (.630 winning percentage)

*Denotes current SEC head coach

A .630 winning percentage factored over a 12-game season equals seven and a half wins per season.

This might sit well with a South Carolina team coming off of three-win season or a Missouri team which won just five games the year prior. But for a team like Georgia that fired Mark Richt, who won at least eight games in every season but one under his tenure, having a coach that would average seven and a half wins a season could be considered a slight drop.

72% of the coaches on this list have a winning record over their tenure, so it is still possible to find a quality coach from SEC assistants and seven wins a season is usually considered a solid season.

By comparison, coaches without SEC ties have actually fared about the same as coaches with SEC connections.

Coach  Record
Les Miles* 111-32 at LSU
Urban Meyer 65-15 at Florida
James Franklin 24-15 at Vanderbilt
Butch Jones* 20-17 at Tennessee
Mark Stoops* 12-24 at Kentucky
Bret Bielema* 17-20 at Arkansas
249-123 (.669 winning percentage)

A .669 winning percentage over a 12 game season equals about eight wins a season.

Statistically, the difference between a former SEC coach and a non-SEC coach is rather insignificant with recent history showing that both should average at or close to eight wins a season.

If one were to blindly look at the average win-loss records of head coaches with SEC ties and without SEC ties, the numbers would look very similar.

Still, in a sport where one win could equal bowl eligibility or a major win over a rival, one win is significant. An eight-win team can crack a Top 25 ranking, while a seven-win team probably does not. So on a season-to-season basis, the difference between seven and eight wins could be substantial, but not when looking at a larger sample.

Of the six coaches, just 66% have winning records. However, of the SEC head coaches hired since 2005 without SEC ties, 66% are still employed with their respective school, where just 36% of those with SEC ties are still employed by their SEC school.

In fairness, three of the coaches (Jones, Bielema, and Stoops) currently employed started in 2013 and with all three of their records close to or below .500, might be out of a job if this study was conducted five years in the future should their records not improve or remain the same.

Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect formula for projecting how well a coach will perform at his new job. The fact that the majority of the coaches on both lists have winning records does not seal the fate of the most recent hires, or any future hires. 

Still, those in a position to hire should not assume that a coach with SEC ties is going to fare significantly better than one without SEC ties.

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SQ’s Outback Bowl Preview

Despite their long and storied histories, Northwestern and Tennessee have only met on the gridiron once, in the 1997 Citrus Bowl. A Peyton Manning-led Volunteers team secured a convincing 48-28 victory over the Wildcats, who featured their current head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, at linebacker. This time, Fitzgerald and the twelfth-ranked Wildcats (10-2) look to even the score against the resurgent No.

Despite their long and storied histories, Northwestern and Tennessee have only met on the gridiron once, in the 1997 Citrus Bowl. A Peyton Manning-led Volunteers team secured a convincing 48-28 victory over the Wildcats, who featured their current head coach, Pat Fitzgerald, at linebacker. This time, Fitzgerald and the twelfth-ranked Wildcats (10-2) look to even the score against the resurgent No. 23 Volunteers (8-4). 

Storylines

Vols finish strong – Tennessee got off to a slow start this season, suffering tough losses to Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas, and Alabama. However, they were able to rebound and win their last five games of the season. Their late season resurgence is what helped them secure an invite to the Outback Bowl.

Wildcats rebound under Fitzgerald Head coach Pat Fitzgerald saw success earlier in his tenure, when the Wildcats posted a 10-3 record in 2012. Fitzgerald followed that with 5-7 records in 2013 and 2014, until turning it around again this year. Their successful season was blemished only by back-to-back losses to strong Iowa and Michigan teams.

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Key Players

Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee – Though it rings true for most teams, the success of Tennessee as a team relies heavily on the play of quarterback Joshua Dobbs. Dobbs has had up-and-down performances all year long. The main struggle for the junior signal-caller has been his inconsistency with the receiving corps. He was unable to find a go-to target for much of the season. Dobbs has struggled with accuracy, finishing the regular season with a mediocre 59% completion rate. 

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Despite his shortcomings in the passing game, Dobbs has had an excellent season running the ball. With 623 rushing yards on the season, Dobbs’ ability to make plays with his feet may prove to be a crucial factor in this game.

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern – The sophomore All-American has had a stellar year. Walker has 85.5 tackles on the season, with 19.5 of those tackles happening in the backfield. By comparison, the player with the second-most tackles on the team has 58.

Walker will have a handful in dealing with the three-headed backfield of Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara. Walker’s ability to slow at least one of these players down should prove instrumental to Northwestern’s success.

Why Tennessee Wins

Right now, Tennessee looks like a team that refuses to be beaten. After some tough losses to open up their season, the Volunteers have learned how to finish out a game. This goes for the players, but also the coaching staff, who were often criticized for crucial mistakes in their close losses.

Defensively, Tennessee needs big games from linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive end Derek Barnett. Reeves-Maybin leads the team in tackles, and Barnett has had 6 sacks in Tennessee’s last 5 games.

Offensively, the three biggest play makers for Tennessee are all in the backfield. If Dobbs, Hurd and Kamara all play like they have been playing the past few games, the Volunteers will certainly be hard to stop.

Why Northwestern Wins

Northwestern has one of the best scoring defenses in the country. They’ve allowed an average of just 16.4 points per game, making them the seventh-best in the nation. Additionally, they allow just 118 yards per game on the ground. This rush defense will need to step up against Tennessee’s backfield talent.

On offense, Northwestern will need to find a way to open up their passing attack. Tennessee’s secondary has shown that they often give up big plays through the air. The Wildcats feature a freshman quarterback in Clayton Thorson who has managed just a 51% completion rate. Thorson will need to find a way to connect with his receivers downfield to exploit Tennessee’s weaknesses.

Prediction

These two teams match up very well. They possess weaknesses in the same places. Ultimately, I think Tennessee has more talent on both sides of the ball. Northwestern will have to find a way to shut down Tennessee’s running game and force them to throw the ball. If the Wildcats are unable to do that, the Volunteers should be able to come away with a solid victory.

Final Score: Tennessee 37, Northwestern 20

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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.

Prediction

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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Best of the Rest: A Look At The Best Non-CFP Bowl Games

Bowl season is here once again, and all eyes are on the semi-final match-ups. However, dismissing the other bowl games would a disservice to those teams involved. While not all games are going to be nail-biters, some of the other major bowl games feature teams that were close to playing on New Years.  

Though the Cotton Bowl

Bowl season is here once again, and all eyes are on the semi-final match-ups. However, dismissing the other bowl games would a disservice to those teams involved. While not all games are going to be nail-biters, some of the other major bowl games feature teams that were close to playing on New Years.  

Though the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl are perennially the best bowl games to watch, here are a few others for your viewing pleasure:

BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl  

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (10-2) vs Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)

Facing against each other for the first time since the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, Notre Dame and Ohio State play in a bowl that seems to be a consolation prize for those that just missed out on glory. The Buckeyes had visions of a repeat visit to the CFP while the Irish blew their chance at a berth by losing to Stanford in their final game.  

The biggest matchup in this game will be the two juggernaut offenses against their respective opposing defenses. Both Ohio State and Notre Dame average over 34 points a game, but Ohio State has the definite edge on defense. The Buckeyes will most likely rely heavily on running back Ezekiel Elliott, especially since the Irish give up just over 166 rushing yards on the ground per game.  

Notre Dame will have a tough time moving the ball on Ohio State, who ranks in the Top 25 in both rushing and passing yards given up per game. Deshone Kizer has played very well at quarterback since Malik Zaire went down with an injury earlier in the season, but the Buckeyes will be the best defense Kizer will face all year. The Irish offense will have to have their best game of the year to have a shot at taking down the former champs.  

Valero Alamo Bowl  

Oregon Ducks (9-3) vs TCU Horned Frogs (10-2) 

Oregon and TCU have similar philosophies, which feature high octane offenses while sacrificing defense. TCU Quarterback Trevone Boykin started the season as the country’s best QB and a Heisman front-runner, but fell off near the end due to injury and a tough Big 12 schedule. For the Ducks, Vernon Adams was the complete opposite. Injuring his thumb early in the season and struggling to win games raised the question if Adams was in over his head jumping from FCS Eastern Washington. However, Adams and the Ducks regrouped and finished the season strong at 9-3, a record which included a big win over conference champion Stanford.  

This match-up has all the signs of being a shootout. The Horned Frogs rank fourth in total offense with 6,772 yards and the Ducks are ninth with 6,578. Both squads also average over 40 points a game. As good as their offenses are, their defenses are equally as bad. Oregon gave up the 14th most yards at 5764. TCU on the other hand has given up 4,760 total yards, 66th most in the country. 

This game could be what TCU-Baylor was last season, and has all the potential of being one of the most exciting bowl games of the year.  

Russell Athletic Bowl  

Baylor Bears (9-3) vs UNC Tar Heels (11-2)

Talk about two teams that had completely different journeys on the way to their bowl game. Baylor was seen as a CFP contender from the start of the season. UNC on the other hand, fought their way to an 11-2 record and an appearance in the ACC Championship Game.  

All year, everyone expected Baylor to compete for a playoff spot. Quarterback Seth Russell was leading one of the best offenses in the country before he went down with a neck injury. Freshman Jarrett Stidham stepped in, but he also went down with an ankle injury. Chris Johnson then filled in, but in the final game against Texas, he left with a concussion. Despite this, Jake Trotter of ESPN announced earlier this week that Johnson will be the starter for the Athletic Bowl. We’ll have to see how Johnson leads such a high profile offense against a mediocre UNC defense.  

North Carolina has a stellar offense, ranked 11th with 6,330 yards, lead by quarterback Marquise Williams. The Tar Heels had won 11 games in a  row before a close loss to No. 1 ranked Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. That finale showed off the skill that the Tar Heels have and showed the rest of the country that UNC isn’t just a basketball school. UNC has the skills on offense to compete with any team in the country, but their 100th ranked defense holds them back from being a dominant team. 

If Stidham were playing, this game could come out differently, but like fellow SQ writer Christopher Pashal wrote in his preview, a lot of Baylor’s success hinges on which quarterback in under center. Expect this game, like the Oregon-TCU match-up, to be a shootout. 

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SQ Russell Athletic Bowl Preview

Two prolific offenses will face off on December 29th at 5:30pm as #10 North Carolina (ACC, 11-2) takes on #17 Baylor (BIG 12, 9-3). The game will be broadcast on ESPN. These two teams have been going in opposite directions for the past few weeks, but this game is sure to be an exciting shoot-out to

Two prolific offenses will face off on December 29th at 5:30pm as #10 North Carolina (ACC, 11-2) takes on #17 Baylor (BIG 12, 9-3). The game will be broadcast on ESPN. These two teams have been going in opposite directions for the past few weeks, but this game is sure to be an exciting shoot-out to watch. 


Storylines Heading into the Game

Baylor’s Injury Woes – After feeling that they were snubbed from last year’s College Playoff, Baylor started this season hell-bent on being one of the top four teams. They certainly looked the part for the first six weeks as they only scored below 60 points in a game once (even then, they scored 56). 

Against Iowa State, disaster struck as star quarterback Seth Russell was knocked out of the game and had season ending surgery shortly after. A few weeks later, backup Jarrett Stidham left the Oklahoma State game with a broken ankle. Third string Chris Johnson had to then leave the Texas game with a concussion, leaving wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne to play the quarterback position. Baylor has suffered greatly from these injuries, losing three of their last four games after starting 8-0. It is still not confirmed who will start for the Bears in this game.

UNC’s Surprise Stellar Season – What a season for the Tar Heels. After being picked to finish fifth in the Coastal, they rebounded from an opening weekend loss to South Carolina by winning 11 straight games. They went toe-to-toe with #1 Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, coming up just eight points short. Hardly anyone could have predicted such success for this team that is now ranked in the Top 10. The defense carried the team through the fist half of the season, and the offense has exploded in the second half. They have quickly become one of the hottest teams in the country. 

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Larry Fedora Contract Extension – Shortly before the ACC Championship game it was announced that Fedora had agreed to a contract extension with UNC through 2022. Fedora finished second in the ACC Coach of the Year voting (behind Dabo Swinney), and has led UNC to a 32-19 record in four seasons since signing on in 2012. Three of those seasons have been winning ones, including a first place finish in the Coastal in 2012 (UNC declared themselves ineligible for postseason play that year) and a Belk Bowl win in 2013.


Key Stats

7.326, 7.248 – North Carolina’s and Baylor’s yards-per-play, respectively. Its no secret that this game will feature a ton of offense, as both teams are phenomenal with the ball. Baylor averages close to 600 yards per game, while North Carolina averages around 500. Those numbers are somewhat skewed by Baylor’s incredible start, but the potential for offensive domination is very much still present. There are sure to be many explosive plays throughout this matchup. 

22.6 – Points-per-game allowed by North Carolina’s defense. With so much talk of these two offenses, lets consider some defensive numbers. They have given up 34 and 37 points in their last two games, but prior to that they had held teams very well. In fact, they held seven of their first eight opponents to under 20 points. The Heels do give up plenty of yards, but they somehow keep those yards from turning into too many points. On the other hand, Baylor gives up 27.5 points-per-game. This game may come down to which defense can make one or two more key stops than the other, and UNC’s defense certainly has the advantage there. 

20, 0 – Touchdown passes caught by Baylor WR Corey Coleman in the first eight games, and the last four. Before all the quarterback turmoil, Coleman was poised to completely dominate all opposition at the wide receiver position. Even after not catching any touchdowns in the past four games, he still leads all other division one receivers on the season with his 20. He is also fourth in the nation in receiving yards. Still, his production has dropped off considerably in the last four games. Without a consistent quarterback, he’s hardly made an impact at all. If Baylor expects to win this game, Coleman has to be a factor and he has to get in the end zone.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Key Players

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina – In a league of phenomenal running backs like Henry, Fournette, McCaffrey and Cook, Elijah Hood is flying way under the radar. Quietly, he’s racked up 1,345 yards (averaging 6.5 yards-per-carry) and 17 touchdowns. That puts him in the top 15 in the nation in both categories. He is poised to attack a pretty mediocre Baylor rush defense. UNC would love to control the pace of this game behind strong running from Hood. 

Unknown, QB, Baylor – Nearly all of Baylor’s offensive success in this game will hinge on who starts under center. Jarrett Stidham is a much better option than Chris Johnson, however his availability is still questionable. It may be a small sample size, but Stidham’s passer rating is nearly twice as high as Johnson’s (199 to 103.6). Baylor fans should be confident if Stidham plays, but this game may be a lost cause if Johnson is forced to make another start. 

Why North Carolina Wins

UNC’s major strength is their running game. They average 222.9 yards-per-game, with Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood carrying most of the load. Unfortunately for Baylor, their rush defense is pretty weak, allowing 156.3 yards-per-game. If the Bears allow Williams and Hood to run wild, it will be tough for them to play from behind (especially if Johnson is the quarterback). 

Matters could get worse if All-ACC Second Team CB M.J. Stewart is able to lock down Corey Coleman. That combined with a possible Chris Johnson start could completely take the Baylor passing game out of the picture, forcing a very one-dimensional game plan. 

Why Baylor Wins

As good as the Tar Heel rushing attack is, Baylor’s is better, averaging just over 300 yards-per-game. And as mediocre as Baylor’s run defense is, North Carolina’s is worse. The Tar Heels give up a whopping 216.8 yards-per-game. If Baylor can get the run game going early then they can force Marquise Williams to throw the ball and press more, something he’s not fully comfortable doing. Williams is prone to making mistakes when playing from behind and trying to do to much.  

In the best case scenario, Stidham would start and Coleman would break out of his current slump. If that were to happen, those two have the potential to light up the UNC secondary. Coleman was once considered one of the most explosive players in college football, and I’m confident he’s itching to get that title back. 

Prediction

This game should largely be decided by who can control the rushing game better, and who can get off to a better start. I think that North Carolina has the advantage, having a dual threat QB like Williams and a fantastic RB in Hood. Between Williams and Hood, the Tar Heels should be able to control the pace of the game and force Baylor to throw the ball more than they want to. 

Even with Stidhman playing at quarterback, the Baylor offense isn’t the impressive machine it used to be. It will be a shootout, but North Carolina will force an early punt or turnover and never lose control of the game. Since a lot hinges on who will be playing quarterback for Baylor, I will include two final score predictions. 

Final Score (Stidham plays): North Carolina 41, Baylor 38

Final Score (Johnson plays): North Carolina 38, Baylor 26

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Mark Richt Belongs At Miami

Time finally ran out on Mark Richt.

After 15 years, the University of Georgia decided to cut ties with their head football coach.

Richt, despite being let go, had a very successful tenure in Athens. He left the Bulldogs with a 9-3 record this year. It was a record all too familiar for Georgia, and

Time finally ran out on Mark Richt.

After 15 years, the University of Georgia decided to cut ties with their head football coach.

Richt, despite being let go, had a very successful tenure in Athens. He left the Bulldogs with a 9-3 record this year. It was a record all too familiar for Georgia, and the losses weighed heavier than the wins.

Still, his 145 wins with the Bulldogs is the 5th-most among active FBS coaches. He averaged over nine wins per season.

However, Richt was never able to lead a team to college football’s biggest stage, the National Championship Game. Season after season, Richt’s teams seemed to fall just short.

Now, Richt heads to Miami for a fresh start.

On paper, it seems like a great hire for the Hurricanes. There’s little reason to believe that Richt’s coaching success at Georgia won’t translate well to Miami. His Georgia teams never reached their full potential, but they were competitive nearly every year.

Richt also brought stellar recruiting classes into Athens year after year, and will likely continue to do so given his new location in talent-rich South Florida. 

On top of that, Richt has connections with the university, as he played quarterback there from 1979-1982.

Despite all of this, it is easy to question if Richt’s personality is the right fit for the Hurricanes. The flashy style that helped put Miami on the map does not fit the profile of the modest Richt.

For years, Miami has been trying to revive its football program. The goal is to return to “The U,” the polarizing national powerhouse that once dominated the college football world. And while the program was known for winning, it was also known for the strong personalities of the players and the trouble that often followed them.

With that being said, could Mark Richt really be the face of the revival of “The U?” It is hard to imagine the two working together in the first place. Even though Richt played at Miami, his time there ended just before the Hurricanes started their journey to a national powerhouse.

For what it’s worth, Richt is clearly still hungry. He could have taken a year off, or retired after he was let go. Instead, he is already preparing to take over the reigns in South Beach. Richt is likely not happy with how things ended in Athens, and a fresh start in Miami is the perfect chance for him to prove his doubters wrong.

It will take time for Richt to recruit the kind of players that will fit his system. Until then, he will have to work with what he’s got. Luckily for Richt, Miami has one of the nation’s most promising quarterbacks in Brad Kaaya.

One of Richt’s key weaknesses this year with his Georgia team was at quarterback. With Kaaya, he has an experienced leader that he can build an offense around. 

Richt looks to have more of an influence on the development of his players, “If and when I do coach again, I’ll look forward to coaching again, being more hands on. I miss coaching quarterbacks; I miss calling plays”

For Richt’s first season in Miami, his schedule looks to be challenging, but not impossible. The toughest conference match ups will be at home against Florida State and North Carolina, with a road test against Notre Dame.

So, is “The U” that we all know and remember finally due for a return? Probably not. But, that doesn’t mean Mark Richt can’t establish a new tradition of winning.

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ACC Championship Game: By The Numbers

This year’s edition of the ACC Championship Game was an absolute classic. It featured some fantastic athletic performances, the drama of a College Football Playoff berth, and even some late game controversy. Here are some of the key stats from the game.

82: Combined Total Points

The combined 82 points scored

This year’s edition of the ACC Championship Game was an absolute classic. It featured some fantastic athletic performances, the drama of a College Football Playoff berth, and even some late game controversy. Here are some of the key stats from the game.

82: Combined Total Points

The combined 82 points scored in this game made it the highest scoring ACC Championship ever since the game’s inception in 2005. The 45 points by Clemson also tied the most points scored by one team ever (Florida State in 2013). The score was only 9-7 UNC at the end of the first quarter, but both offenses heated up from that point on. 

Starting with their final possession of the first half down 14-16, the Tigers scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives for 21 unanswered points to go up 35-16. That proved to be too much of a hole for the Tar Heels to climb out of. They would slowly bring the deficit to just eight points by the end, but there just wasn’t enough time to tie it up or take the lead. 

990: Total Combined Yards

Both offenses were incredible in this game. The mark of 990 total yards is another ACC Championship Game record. By itself, Clemson set new ACCCG records for total yards (608), plays (98), and first downs (33). Defense took a back seat in this game, as both teams looked unstoppable with the ball for large portions of the game. 

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
17:52: Time Clemson Held The Ball Longer Than UNC

Its tough to win when the time of possession is so lopsided. Clemson absolutely dominated on offense, running 98 total plays compared to North Carolina’s 69. UNC still managed to put up plenty of points, so this plays ran differential should have more to do with their defensive performance.

Offensively, UNC likes to play a very quick style. Only two of their drives went over two minutes, and none of them went for more than nine plays. At first glance this sounds bad, but it really isn’t considering that the Tar Heels managed to score 37 points. Still, three of their drives were under one minute and many more were barely over the minute mark. Too many early quick three-and-outs were a problem all night (including three straight and five total in the first half). 

Their main issue however was not being able to get Clemson’s offense off of the field. The Tigers were able to score and eat up clock on their long drives. Five of their drives were compromised of 10 or more plays, and five were over four minutes long. Only two were less than a minute.

420: Total Yards Accounted For By Deshaun Watson

Watson was pure magic in this game, accounting for 420 total yards of offense. He achieved that with 289 passing yards and 131 rushing yards. His 420 yard mark breaks Jameis Winston’s old record as the most total offense for one player in the ACC Championship Game. For comparison, as a team UNC gained just 382 total yards. Again and again Watson has proved that he is an incredible dual threat quarterback. When asked about Watson, Coach Dabo Swinney had this to say: 

“If you really sit down and watch our 13 games he’s the best player in the country and there’s no doubt about it. This guy beats you not just with his legs, he beats you with his arm, his mind, his heart, his guts, his toughness, this is a great champion of a player…”

5: Total Touchdowns Accounted For By Deshaun Watson

Watson didn’t just rack up yards in this game, he racked up points as well. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more. Inside the UNC 10-yard-line it was almost a guarantee that Watson was going to try to run it in himself, but nobody could do anything to stop him. This marks his 8th game this season in which he both threw for a touchdown and ran for one. It is also his 4th straight doing so. Watson has only had one game this year in which he didn’t score multiple touchdowns. 

33.3%: Completion Percentage For Marquise Williams

Even though he gained 305 total yards, it was a tough day for Marquise Williams as he completed just 11 of his 33 pass attempts. He somewhat made up for it with 224 yards passing and three touchdowns, but it’s tough to win when your quarterback can’t complete even 50% of his passes. UNC drives were completely halted when Williams would throw two incomplete passes in one set of downs. Those incompletions contributed heavily to North Carolina’s early three-and-out trouble. 

0: UNC Players Offsides On The Onside Kick

It can’t be an important college football game without controversy can it? After bringing it to within eight, North Carolina appeared to recover the onside kick with about 1:10 left in the game. Unfortunately, they were called for being offsides, and Clemson recovered the re-kick. Upon further investigation, no UNC player was even close to being offsides.

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2015 CFB playoff: Who’s in?

Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Iowa were ranked the top four teams in Sunday's poll, but another weekend of football could change that. SQ analyst Sonya Egoian says Michigan State has a strong chance to knock Iowa out this weekend. And if another top team is upset, who's most likely to take their place?

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SQ C-USA Championship Preview

Just because the Conference USA title game will likely not have playoff implications, does not mean it is not worth watching. This year’s C-USA title game features a juggernaut Western Kentucky team (11-2, 8-0 C-USA) looking to win its second straight conference title against an upstart Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) squad, who can reach

Just because the Conference USA title game will likely not have playoff implications, does not mean it is not worth watching. This year’s C-USA title game features a juggernaut Western Kentucky team (11-2, 8-0 C-USA) looking to win its second straight conference title against an upstart Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) squad, who can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1988.

The Offenses

Chuck Cook (USA Today)/ Tedd MonkenOne of the best passing offenses in the country resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Head coach Jeff Brohm has continued running the passing scheme brought over by predecessor Bobby Petrino. The Hilltoppers lead the nation in passing touchdowns with 44, and are the only team in the country to have a completion percentage greater than 70%.

WKU’s offense is no slouch passing the football either. They rank 4th in the nation in passing yards, and 23rd in passing attempts. However, the Golden Eagles have outgained Western Kentucky in total yards, and rank 6th in the nation with an impressive 7.12 yards per play. After two years of losing records, Todd Monken has led the Golden Eagles to it’s first winning season since 2011, led by this prolific offensive attack.

The Defenses

Western Kentucky employs a “Bend don’t break” style of defense, allowing just under 400 yards per game, while still holding them to 25 ppg.

The Golden Eagles defense is more opportunistic, looking to create more big plays. USM has more sacks, tackles for loss, and pass breakups than the Hilltoppers. Southern Miss’s Overall Havoc Rate (which looks at TFL’s and turnovers on a per play basis) is ranked 21st compared to Western Kentucky’s 46th ranking.

Key Stats

34: For all the hype about the Western Kentucky passing attack it is a bit alarming the number of bad pass defenses the Hilltoppers faced this year. Entering Championship Week their opponent with the best ranked pass defense in terms of yards per game is Marshall at 34. Even more alarming is that the Hilltoppers lost to Indiana who has the worst ranked pass defense in the country. Perhaps this makes the WKU passing attack slightly less intimidating.

10-20: Throughout the season Southern Miss had a tendency to win, and lose, big. 10 of Southern Miss’s games have been decided by 20 points or more. That includes a pair of 20-point losses to Mississippi State and later in the season Marshall. So there is a decent chance this championship game will not be decided by a field goal as time expires.

Key Players

Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty
The success of the Hilltopper offense will undoubtedly be tied to the success of the fifth-year senior passer. Doughty will probably fall short of his 2014 yardage totals and touchdown totals, which is understandable considering he threw for over 4,800 yards and 49 touchdowns. In 2015, Doughty’s passer rating and completion percentage are improved and his interception totals are down. He still leads the nation in passing touchdowns and claims a passer rating higher than Heisman contender Baker Mayfield and projected 1st round pick Jared Goff.

Southern Mississippi RB Jalen Richard

When the the Golden Eagles need a score they turn to their star senior tailback. Richard is an adept rusher who not only leads the Golden Eagles in rushing yards and touchdowns, but can also be a factor as a receiver and returner, having recorded touchdowns in both areas.

Prediction

Southern Miss is certainly capable of creating a big play, but they lack the offensive efficiency of the Hilltoppers. This may very well come down to the defenses, and in this area Western Kentucky may have the advantage. The Hilltoppers seem to be comfortable giving up yardage so long as it does not result in points. They concede five yards to prevent fifteen yards while Southern Miss thrives on the big plays to drive the offense.

Ultimately, Doughty and the rest of the Western Kentucky offense are so good at limiting turnovers that the Southern Miss defense could be in for a long day if they can’t pressure Doughty into mistakes. 

Western Kentucky 48, Southern Miss: 38

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SQ Pac-12 Championship Preview

On Saturday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California; the Pac-12 will crown its champion when the No. 20 USC Trojans (8-4, South) and the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal (10-2, North) face off for a shot at the Rose Bowl, and maybe even more, depending on who you're rooting for. If all hell breaks lose on Saturday and teams like

On Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California; the Pac-12 will crown its champion when the No. 20 USC Trojans (8-4, South) and the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal (10-2, North) face off for a shot at the Rose Bowl, and maybe even more, depending on who you’re rooting for. If all hell breaks lose on Saturday and teams like Clemson and Alabama are upset, Stanford still has a slim chance of making the College Football Playoff. But before any of that they need to take out a USC team that has been playing very good football over the last month or so. This game isn’t exactly a de facto CFP quarterfinal like the Big Ten Championship will be, but that doesn’t mean there wont be plenty on the line in this intriguing clash at the home of the 49ers. 

I mean, no matter how you look at it, it’s got to be better than watching Blaine Gabbert throwing a three-yard slant to Anquan Boldin.  

Storylines

Rematch: Saturday’s tilt will actually be the second time this season that the Cardinal and the Trojans will square off. Despite being decided underdogs and on the road, Stanford won the teams’ first contest back in mid-September, 41-31, a game that propelled the two teams in very different directions. Following the victory, Stanford won eight of their next nine games, while USC dropped two of their next three. The Trojans fired head coach Steve Sarkisian amid controversy, promoting offensive coordinator Clay Helton to interim head coach. Almost three months after their initial meeting, these two teams mostly have the same pieces in place but this still feels like a different game.  

Clay Helton’s Chance: No, it wont be Chip Kelly vs. David Shaw, or Jon Gruden vs. David Shaw, or even Pete Carroll vs. David Shaw. Just this past week, USC decided to remove Helton’s interim tag, which means he will be calling the shots for the Trojans for the foreseeable future. After the disaster and controversy to start the season, USC rebounded under Helton and went 5-2 down the stretch. It’s a bold move by the Trojans to name Helton permanent head coach, and perhaps they should have waited till after the season. After all, if previous seasons are any indication, USC players only seem motivated when they are playing for an interim coach. 

Containing McCaffrey: 216 total yards is all that stands between Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and history. Barring injury, McCaffrey is likely to break Barry Sanders’ record of 3,250 single-season all-purpose yards. McCaffrey, who gets the ball by way of the run, pass, and return game, racked up 249 total yards in the two teams’ last meeting, but was held out of the end zone. It is almost inevitable that McCaffrey will get his yards on Saturday because of the way Stanford gets him the ball, but if the Trojans have any shot at being the Pac-12 champions they will have to limit his big plays.    

Key Stats

0-4: Teams representing the South in the Pac-12 championship are winless in four tries since the conference’s inaugural championship game in 2011. North Division winner Stanford is 2-0 in previous championship games, winning in 2012 and 2013. This will be USC’s first appearance in the Pac-12 championship, with UCLA, Arizona State, and Arizona winning the South in the past four seasons. 

39:29-20:31: Stanford dominated time of possession last time out between these two despite USC not committing any turnovers. The Trojans had the ball so little compared to the Cardinal because they couldn’t get them off the field in critical situations, as Stanford was eight for twelve on third down conversions. Despite losing the game by ten points, USC was only outgained by 47 yards.  

14.4 miles: That is the distance between Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto and Levi Stadium in Santa Clara where the game will be played. That is about a 20 minute bus ride for the Cardinal while the Trojans in Los Angeles are situated approximately 350 miles away. Will Stanford be able to generate a home field advantage on Saturday? Or will USC fans make the trip to what is supposed to be a neutral field? The Trojans haven’t played great on the road this year, losing twice and playing nearly every game close besides a blowout win in Tempe against ASU.    

Key Players

Stanford: Kevin Hogan has put together a very solid senior season, with 27 total touchdowns, 2,794 total yards, and only seven interceptions. Last time around against the Trojans, Hogan hit 18-23 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, despite suffering an ankle injury in the game. Despite being overshadowed by McCaffrey, Hogan has delivered steady and productive play, and been very good in clutch situations for the Cardinal this season. Having the most wins of any quarterback all-time at Stanford is no small feat, but Hogan will still need to play lights-out on Saturday if Stanford wants a shot at the CFP.   

USC: It would be easy to pick Cody Kessler as the key player on the Trojans’ side, as this game might very well come down to which quarterback outduels the other, but USC will really need to make plays on defense in order to win this game. Freshman cornerback Iman Marshall has has been a star in the defensive backfield for USC this season; he leads the Trojans in pass breakups with seven, is tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, and is third in total tackles. The entire Trojan defensive backfield will need to play better this time around if USC wants to play in the Rose Bowl, as last time these two met, Hogan and the Cardinal receivers were easily the better side.   

   

Prediction:

Early in the second quarter of this season’s first matchup between these two, USC was winning 21-10 and looked like they were going to roll to an easy victory over Stanford. The Cardinal responded by outscoring the Trojans 34-10 the rest of the way, with Hogan making big plays with his arms and legs and the Stanford offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage. 

This time around, I think things will be different. If USC can just make a few plays on defense—whether a turnover, some third-down stops, sacks, etc.—they will win the game. Stanford’s defense is a shell of its former self and has struggled all season, ranking 50th in the country in total defense. The Trojans certainly have the weapons to expose it with Kessler, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and running back Ronald Jones, just to name a few. The Cardinal have escaped with a couple of close victories over the last month, but I don’t see it happening here. USC pulls off the upset.          

Final Score: USC 34, Stanford 27 

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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.

Prediction

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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