It’s the most wonderful time of the year… At least for college football fans. As the non conference pre lims finish up and the power 5 conferences start conference play, it truly is the best time for the few of us who find college football to be the most exciting brand of football. And as we start the conference play, we have all have some thoughts or feelings on the top teams. From the undisputed champs to that team up north, roll tide to war eagle, and everywhere else, we have our thoughts, feelings, and predictions for the meat of the CFB season
OHIO STATE, DEFENDING CHAMPS STRUGGLING
They’re the undisputed defending champs. They were the unanimous AP #1 overall, the first team ever to start the season. They had three quarterbacks with Heisman trophy type talent and weapons all around to back them up, and they had one of the strongest defenses in the country with most of their top players returning. So, why have the Buckeyes looked so bad? It started at Virginia Tech, where they jumped out to a 17-0 lead and promptly gave up 21 unanswered. Then Michael Brewer, the Hokies quarterback, went down with an injury, and things opened up. Braxton Miller hit the spin move of the century, and everyone thought this team was legit. Then it all was downhill. Cardale Jones looked bad against Hawaii, and then it looked even worse when the Buckeyes almost dropped a game in the horseshoe against MAC opponent Northern Illinois, where it took a pick six on a terrible screen pass to beat the Huskies. So what gives? Where is the team that beat Alabama and Oregon? Where is Cardale Jones, the 3rd string who won three of the Buckeyes biggest games in his first three games he started? Or even JT Barrett, who broke the big ten record for single season touchdowns? What’s wrong with the Buckeyes?
The easy answer is Devin Smith was just too hard to replace. A deep threat that was a favorite target of every Buckeye quarterback. Smith averaged 28.2 yards per catch in 2014. This years leading yards per catch receiver? Braxton Miller. The converted quarterback is averaging 17.4 yards per catch this year, and a lot of this is made up of yards after catch. The Buckeyes haven’t found that deep threat to replace Smith yet, and their offense is struggling because of it. Defenses are playing up, and because there’s no way to take the top off the defense, it’s making things easy for opposing defenses. Ezekiel Elliot has no lanes to run, and all passes short are covered up easily. But with guys like Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, Braxton Miller, etc. you would think they could’ve taught someone to step up into that role. So what’s the real problem?
Cardale Jones has also struggled after a dazzling finish to the 2014 season when he was forced into action when JT Barrett went down in the Michigan game. In those games, from the end of the Michigan game to the National Championship, Jones had 7 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. In four games this year? 4 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. Maybe he’s becoming cocky after all he heard about him being an NFL prospect. Maybe, but more than likely he is struggling in a two quarterback system. Time and time again teams have shown two quarterbacks equals no quarterback, and Cardale is struggling to get into his rhythm because he knows he can be bench at any time. Meyer has gone away from that moving forward, and you can argue that isn’t the true reason.
So what is it? What has taken the team that everyone was 100% sure would win the title to being on upset alert a few times already?
My opinion is an unpopular one, but I think I have enough evidence to back it up.
Urban Meyer isn’t perfect. *gasp* Yes, the man who led a non bowl eligible team out of their worst season in recent memory to a 12-0 season. The man who took his team to a national title over Alabama and Oregon in the first year of the College Football Playoff. How can this guy not be perfect? Here’s my case, hear me out. After his first title at Florida, the gators had Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow at the helm with guys like Percy Harvin and Maurkice Pouncey. That team? 9-3 in the regular season, and a loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl. So much talent, not enough results. Now fast forward to now. Meyer lost probably his greatest assistant coach in Tom Herman, who took the head coaching position at Houston. Now we’re looking at an offense that’s struggling in Columbus, and, weapons galore, they can’t find one of their talented guys to fill a necessary role. The quarterback controversy looked like a great problem to have going into the season. Now it looks like it’s a real problem. Cardale is struggling with turnovers, and JT Barret has been ineffective. So maybe, just maybe, Urban isn’t perfect. Still great, either the best or second best coach in the country depending how you feel about Nick Saban. But the struggling Buckeyes have to give some of their blame to their head coach.
MICHIGAN; ARE THEY BACK?
The Wolverines landed their coach, Jim Harbaugh, in the offseason. He’s the guy they wanted, the guy they needed. A Michigan man and a proven winner, everyone saw Harbaugh as the man to turn the Michigan program around and back into a perennial big ten power. It was a forgone conclusion he would change the culture and create a winning team, but it was going to take time to get his recruits and system in to make a difference. Or would it? Fast forward to week 4, and the Wolverines welcome the 22 ranked BYU Cougars into the big house. And blew them out. A 31-0 thrashing, the Wolverines made the “battle tested” Cougars look like an FCS school. The defense held BYU to 105 yards total, and the offense put up 31 in the first half. Then later that night, Utah destroyed Oregon, and made the Wolverines only loss look almost like a positive, as the Wolverines only lost to the Utes by 7 despite three interceptions by Jake Rudock. De’veon Smith has looked like the perfect power back in Harbaughs system, and Jake Rudock, the grad transfer from Iowa, has improved his vision and decision making every week. So is this team for real? Can they win the big ten? Or even compete to be a playoff team?
Not quite. Look, they’ve looked so much better. Harbaugh has changed the culture already, and that’s very promising. But here’s the problem. They’re getting the absolute best out of the talent they have, and that talent is limited. If you have watched De’veon Smith play, you know he has some of the worst vision for a ball carrier. His biggest runs have come when the teams struggle to tackle, including the 60 yarder against BYU, where he ran into a pile of defenders that seemed to not even notice he was there and emerged on the other side with one man to beat. That won’t work against solid defensive big ten teams like Northwestern, Michigan State, and Ohio state. And if they can’t run, they can’t score. Rudocks success has come from Smiths success. Teams have had to stack the box, giving Rudock easy opportunities to hit open receivers. When he is put in a position where he has to make a play, and faces pressure from the likes of Shalique Calhoun, Adolphus Washington, and Joey Bosa, you’ll see why he lost his job at Iowa. The Wolverines are much better already; they’ll have a chance to get to 8 to 10 wins and possibly beat either MSU OR OSU. But are they back? Not quite.
Alabama: The dynasty may be over in Tuscaloosa. Their defense is very solid as always, but their offense has been average at best. With all of Nick Saban’s recruiting, quarterbacks seemingly got left off the board. With Coker at the helm, this team is in trouble. If they drop the game against the favored Georgia Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide won’t win the SEC West with LSU looking potent as ever.
LSU: Speaking of LSU, the Tigers look like the class of the SEC using the Bama team building scheme. A quarterback who doesn’t turn the ball over and can make a few great plays a season, and a dominant running back to carry the load. Insert Leonard Fournette. The heisman favorite going into conference play, the former #1 recruit is making playoff dreams in Baton Rouge a real possibility.
Ole Miss: The Bo Wallace Era is over for the Rebels, and they couldn’t be happier. Chad Kelly is everything Bo Wallace isn’t; a guy who won’t get in his teams way. Laquon Treadwell is looking like a Julio Jones esque threat for the rebels, and the Nkemdiche brothers are holding down the defense. This team looks scary good.
Michigan State: Who is this team? We saw them beat out Oregon at home and the nation fell in love. Connor Cook looked like the first round pick he was projected to be, and the defense looked just as solid as ever. Then Central Michigan put up 285 passing yards and Connor Cook looked like a game manager at best. And now that Oregon win looks almost like a moral loss that they stayed close on the road (after Utah killed the ducks in the Autzen Zoo). No one can make heads or tails of this team.
Leonard Fournette, RB LSU
Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
Nick Chubb, RB Georgia
PREDICTIONS BY CONFERENCE
It seems to be between LSU and Ole Miss for the West, with Georgia out in front for the East. Don’t sleep on A&M though, because the Aggies can sneak up on a team if they don’t have their game plan for Kyle Allen. I think LSU will win the conference and Les Miles will take his team to the playoff for the first time.
Does Michigan have what it takes to be a contender in the East? No, not just yet, but they’re setting it up to be a division comparable to the SEC West for years to come. However, they could play a major role if they can knock off the Buckeyes or the Spartans. The Buckeyes are still my favorites to go undefeated and with the Big Ten, even with their recent struggles.
Who are this conferences front runners? At the beginning of the season it was USC and Oregon, with Stanford as a dark horse. Now it’s UCLA and Utah with, again, Stanford as a dark horse. Utah has been great from both sides of the ball, and with 5th year senior Travis Wilson at quarterback handing the ball to Devonte Booker, I think Utah claims its first Pac 12 title since joining the conference.
TCU barely escaped Texas Tech last week. Had that tipped ball fallen to the turf, the Red Raiders might be the surprise team of the country with the most impressive win. However, Treyvone Boykins pass was caught, so TCU remains the favorite. Watch for West Virginia though. They’re quietly putting together solid wins including a thrashing of Maryland in College Park.
Probably the weakest the conference has been in recent memory. Everett Golson isn’t Jameis Winston, so the Seminoles have taken a major step back. It looks to be the Clemson Tigers out in front, but you just never know. They have a tough game against Notre Dame this week, so we’ll have a better feel of their talent level after that.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
It’s early, but hey, why not? Just to be clear, I’m not sold on Notre Dame yet. Losing Malik Zaire was crushing to a team I thought was overrated to begin with. So here’s my thoughts and predictions going into week 4.
COTTON BOWL, #1 VS. #4
Ohio State vs. TCU
The Buckeyes will roll through Big Ten play once the offense finds its rhythm, while TCU will fight through after suffering a loss to either Oklahoma or Baylor. Ohio State crushes the Horned frogs and advances to their second straight championship game.
ORANGE BOWL, #2 VS #4
LSU vs. Utah
Utah looks very capable of running the table in the Pac 12 and, with wins over USC, UCLA, and Stanford in the Pac 12 title game, the Utes shoot to #2 in the polls. LSU may or may not suffer a set back in SEC play, but the committee will see the strength of LSU no matter what. Leonard Fournette carries LSU to a national title berth in a close one against Utah.
Ohio State vs LSU
A rematch of the 2008 BCS National Championship game, where Les Miles beat then coach Jim Tressel for the crystal football. Now Urban Meyer coaches the Buckeyes with a team similar to what he had that same year LSU won it, then the coach at Florida. A big physical quarterback and play makers all over the field and a solid defense. That year the Tigers beat Tebow and Urban Meyer 28-24, and that is very scary close similarity to what I see for this national title game. At the end of the day, Leonard Fournette proves to be too much for the Buckeyes to handle. Cardale has to play mistake free, and that just won’t happen. LSU wins it 31-21, and the Mad Hatter brings his second national title to Baton Rouge.
WEEK 5 KEY MATCHUPS
Notre Dame at Clemson
One of these teams will prove to be a playoff contender, the other will fall by the wayside. Notre Dame still has a few ranked opponents to play to strengthen their resume, but no one as big as the Clemson Tigers. Clemson can prove they’re the real deal, and not just the best in a weak conference.
West Virginia at Oklahoma
Probably the third and fourth best teams in the Big 12, and both are chasing TCU and Baylor. Could be a high scoring shootout in Norman.
Texas Tech at Baylor
Texas Tech fell just short of upsetting TCU last week, and their schedule doesn’t get any easier as they face #5 Baylor on the road. Two teams that look to put up big points; Baylor has averaged 64 points per game in three games and Texas Tech has averaged 53.75 points per game in 4 games. This game could easily see 100+ points. Baylor needs to stay focused to stay in the playoff hunt.
Alabama at Georgia
Alabama’s playoff hopes are already in jeopardy as the go to Georgia as the underdogs for the first time since 2009. Two potent running backs in Nick Chubb and Derrick Henry battle it out in a game that could make the SEC race interesting early.
Tell me your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment or emailing me directly.