Friday, June 23, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Nebraska Cornhuskers (Updated)



Nebraska Cornhuskers
The Huskers seemed to be hurtling towards a Big 10 West title in 2016 before a late season stumble pushed them off the grid and into disappointment. Nebraska finished the season 2-4 after a 7-0 start, and one has to wonder why Bo Pelini was really fired, because Mike Riley has done worse than Pelini did overall, and has received none of the hate. Truth is, if Riley does not start to produce, and soon, he could go the way of several coaches since the departure of Tom Osborne over 20 years ago.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Nebraska has always prided itself on the line, and five players with starting experience will return this fall to lead the way. Cole Conrad (OT), Tanner Farmer (OG), Jerald Foster (OG), Nick Gates (OT), and David Knevel (OT) all return this fall. Michael Decker, a sophomore, will get first shot at the open Center job.
Stanley Morgan, Jr. and De'Mornay Pierson-El both return at WR, but Morgan may have some off-field stuff to deal with as he received a violation for marijuana possession in Florida during the off-season. It was bumped down from a felony, but that is something to be concerned about, which we will talk about shortly. They combined for 53 receptions last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
We start at QB, where both Tommy Armstrong and Ryker Fife are gone. That leaves the job currently in the hands of junior Zack Darlington, a converted WR who attempted all of six passes last fall. The Huskers have to hope that someone can step in from somewhere and win the job, but there are zero lettermen returning at the position, and Riley failed to land anyone in the last class.
Update: Nebraska spring rosters did not include Tanner Lee, who has been handed the starting job. He will be a junior in 2017, but has never completed more than 55.1% of his passes. He has thrown 23 TD passes and 21 INTs as the QB at Tulane. 
Devin Ozigbo will have to be the lead I-Back this fall, but in limited duty last season, he failed to blow the roof off the proverbial building. Tre' Bryant and Mikale Wilbon will also be in the hunt for carries, but again, this is not the best group of backs that the Huskers have ever had. Luke McNitt is back at FB.
The receivers are not what Nebraska is used to having as well. Stanley Morgan's legal problems are still in limbo in some degrees, and Nebraska has not responded as to what they intend to do about his issues. Jordan Westerkamp is gone, leaving a hole at the top of the food chain at receiver. Bryan Reimers and Gabe Rahn are the best backups available, and caught a combined six passes last fall.
Drew Brown will be back at PK after finishing with 12 made FGs in 14 attempts last fall.
What To be Excited About: Defense
Freedom Akinmoladun will be back at DE, and Mick Stoltenberg will be back at DT for the Huskers this fall. They combined for 6.5 TFLs last fall, and will provide a base to build upon for leadership up front.
Dedrick Young will return at the WILL LB spot this fall, and finished with 60 tackles last season. He will be expected to step up into a leadership position in the middle of the defense this fall.
The secondary returns three starters and another who has nine career starts. Joshua Kalu and Chris Jones will return at CB, while Kieron Williams is back at Safety. Kalu and Jones combined for 21 PBUs last fall, and form a lock down tandem outside. Williams is the enforcer, and finished with 69 tackles on the season.
Update: Kalu is likely now to move to Safety this fall.
Aaron Williams has a career nine starts at in the secondary as well, and returns. He finished with seven PBUs last fall, and had three picks, while Kieron Williams led the team with five INTs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The Huskers need half of a rebuild on the line, and need to find some pressure that was lost off of the edge. Look for Alex Davis or DaiShon Neal to win the open DE job, and both are sophomores. Khalil Davis and Peyton Newell are in a battle heading into fall camp for the open DT spot.
Two new LBs need to be found to start at OLB and MLB. Marcus Newby and Luke Gifford are in a fight at the SAM spot, while Chris Weber, a senior, could step in at MIKE.
With all of this open work up front, the front seven which was a strength last season at times, could be significantly weakened while they figure things out.
Caleb Lightbourn is back at Punter, but struggled last season, averaging just 39.66 yards per punt.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Arkansas State, 9/9 at Oregon, 9/16 Northern Illinois, 9/23 Rutgers, 9/29 at Illinois, 10/7 Wisconsin, 10/14 Ohio State, 10/28 at Purdue, 11/4 Northwestern, 11/11 at Minnesota, 11/18 at Penn State, 11/24 Iowa
Final Overview
I was never a fan of the Mike Riley hiring for Nebraska based on the fact that he literally ran Oregon State into the ground and was very likely to be fired there. What I see on this spring roster certainly, for me, verifies why I was no fan of the hire. The talent level under Riley has dipped massively for the last two years, and I really only see the Husker as a fourth place finisher in the Big 10 West because I do not believe in Iowa, and Illinois and Purdue are just hideous. I do not see Nebraska getting back to nine wins this season, and this could end up being a team that finishes behind at least Iowa in the division, and could struggle to get back to a bowl game, which would be the second time in three seasons under Riley where that would have happened. Are you missing Pelini yet, Husker fans?
Update: I do not consider the Foster Farms Bowl after 2015 as a legitimate bowl bid. With the team finishing 5-7 during the regular season, and then beating a UCLA team that did not want to be there, was hardly what I consider to be a major accomplishment. 

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Illinois Fighting Illini



Illinois Fighting Illini
The Lovie Smith era did not exactly get off to a red hot start at Illinois, and it went so badly last fall that there were rumors that he was already looking for a way out. It may get worse before it gets better for the Illini and Smith, as this version of Illini football could actually finish in last place in the Big 10 West.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
There is a strength at RB for the Illini in 2017, with the return of Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin. The two combined for 1223 yards last fall in what was largely a lost season. Foster averaged 5.71 yards per carry, and Corbin averaged 6.08 yards per carry. They combined for nine scores, and if the Illini have a shot at finshing out of last place in the West, they will have to carry the day.
Malik Turner was the leading receiver last season, and finished with 48 receptions for 712 yards and six scores. He averaged 14.83 yards per catch. He will be the top receiver, and a necessary component in helping the new QB develop.
The line will return three starters from the season finale in Gabe Megginson (OG), Nick Allegretti (OG), and Christian DiLauro (OT). This should also be helpful in putting together a decent run on offense.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Wes Lunt is gone at QB, and only played in eight games as it was last fall. Jeff George, Jr. played a good deal in his place, but was fairly unimpressive. He completed just 40.4% of his passes, and averaged just 94 yards per game. He will be in a fight with Chayce Crouch, a dual threat QB who did not fair much better than George, and RS Freshman Cam Miller.
Turner is the only key receiver returning that had any real production. Sam Mays has a shot to start, but caught just 13 passes last season. With only five receivers on the spring roster, the Illini are not exactly enjoying a wealth of depth in the passing game either at QB or at receiver.
Two new starters must be found at C and at OT, with the Center spot effecting work with the new QB.
The PK job is back in the hands of Chase McLaughlan. He was not perfect last season, hitting just 12/17 FG attempts in 11 games last fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Two of three starting LBs from last season return in Tre' Watson and Julian Jones. Both started on the outside last fall. Watson finished with 102 tackles, which was good for second on the team last season. Jones finished with 32 tackles as he worked his way into more playing time as the season progressed. Justice Williams will be back as a sophomore, and saw time at LB as well.
Jaylen Dunlap and Stanley Green are both back in the secondary. Dunlap finished with 63 tackles last fall, and also finished with 11 PBUs. Green finished with 62 tackles, forced three fumbles, and will be the enforcer in the deep secondary.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The entire starting defensive line from the season finale must be replaced. Chunky Clements and Dawuane Smoot were both major stars who were drafted during the spring. This was a defense that already was giving away 31 points per game last fall, and also allowed 219.17 yards rushing per game. Having to replace the entire unit, and the two biggest stars on the team, arguably, will be a difficult task to perform.
Hardy Nickerson, the third member of the defensive star trinity, is also gone, and was the leading tackle on the team from his MLB spot.
Both Ryan Frain and David Reisner, both Punters, are gone. With a defense that will be missing their biggest stars from last season, finding a new Punter that can gain real estate will be a much needed find.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Ball State, 9/9 Western Kentucky, 9/15 at USF, 9/29 Nebraska, 10/7 at Iowa, 10/14 Rutgers, 10/21 at Minnesota, 10/28 Wisconsin, 11/4 at Purdue, 11/11 Indiana, 11/18 at Ohio State, 11/25 Northwestern
Final Overview
The current coaching staff would love to have a chance to advance out of the dark ages in Illinois football, but it is seriously not looking good for them this fall. The offense has questions at QB, and big ones at that, and at receiver. The defense is missing it's biggest stars from a year ago, and has to replace the entire line. These are items that are most difficult to overlook, and could very well dictate another very long year for Lovie Smith and company.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Northwestern Wildcats



Northwestern Wildcats
Folks in Evanston were pleased with last season's finish, including the bowl win over Pittsburgh to end the year. They should not be as pleased as they are. This team is far better on paper than a 7-6 record would indicate, and I found their season to be lacking in a ton of areas, and most of it was because of an absolutely horrid start that saw this team lose three of their first four games, including an absolute embarrassment to Illinois State where the Wildcats scored just seven points in a 9-7 loss. Northwestern won three of four at the end, but that trend has got to continue once again to start the 2017 season, or else the wheels will come off again.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Clayton Thorson made major strides as a sophomore last fall, passing for 22 TDs, and 3182 yards. He averaged 244.8 yards per game, and will be one of the better QBs in the Big 10 to start out the 2017 season. He needs to settle down more in the pocket and become a more efficient and accurate passer, but he is developing nicely at this point.
Justin Jackson is back at RB, and will be one of the best in the nation this fall after rushing for 1524 yards and 15 TDs, while averaging 5.11 yards per carry. He carried the ball over 22 times per game last fall, and will be a work horse back for the Cats. John Moten IV will be back as well, and should start to see a bit more work as he should be the starter in 2018. He rushed for 340 yards off of 57 carries last season, but averaged a solid 5.96 yards per carry.
Austin Carr is gone at WR, but Flynn Nagel returns after catching 40 passes last season. Macan Wilson returns as well after finishing with 222 receptions last fall.
Four starters return on the line in LT Blake Hance, LG JB Butler, C Brad North, and RG Tommy Doles.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Losing Carr is a huge hit at WR, as he was one of the most exciting receivers in Northwestern football history. Replacing his 90 receptions and 1247 yards will be a massive undertaking in fall camp, and will be imperative to the success of Thorson in the passing game.
Solomon Gault and Garrett Dickerson are candidates to step up, but they have yet to on a high level. Three key reserves return to give them some other options, but again, experience and production are in short supply.
The Wildcats also need to find a replacement at RT for Eric Olson. Ben Oxley, a junior, gets first crack.
The PK game is also in need of a replacement and upgrade, as the departed Jack Mitchell hit only 8/12 FG attempts last fall. Backup Matt Micucci is gone as well.
The Wildcats also need to avoid another slow start on offense, as they just 41 points combined in losses to Western Michigan, Illinois State, and Nebraska to start last season.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Three starters return up front in DTs Jordan Thompson and Tyler Lancaster, and RE Xavier Washington. Washington finished with 7.5 TFLs, while Thompson and Lancaster combined for 5.5 up the middle. Sophomore Joe Gaziano could be in turn to take over at LE.
The Cats are all set at the outside backer spots, as both Brett Walsh (WILL) and Nate Hall (SAM) both return. Hall finished third on the team with 73 tackles, while Walsh finished with 37.Nathan Fox got limited playing time as a freshman, and could be in line to replace Anthony Walker at the MIKE spot.
The secondary will return in full this fall, which is a huge thing for this football team. Montre Hartage and Trae Williams will be back at CB, while Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro will be back at the Safety spots. Hartage and Williams combined for 16 PBUs last fall, and Hartage led the team with five INTs. Williams added 42 tackles. Igwebuike led the team with 108 tackles and finished with seven PBUs, while Queiro finished with six PBUs and 53 tackles. The two safeties combined for another four picks as well. All four backups return as well.
Hunter Niswander is back at Punter after averaging 41.3 yards per punt on the season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
I really like the makeup of this defense this fall, but I cannot turn a blind eye to what was lost, and there were two major losses in DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (12 TFLs, 10 sacks) and LB Anthony Walker (105 tackles, 10 TFLs, five PBUs, six QB hurries, four forced fumbles). These numbers will be tough to replicate, and finding replacements for both should take some time in fall camp.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Nevada, 9/9 at Duke, 9/16 Bowling Green, 9/30 at Wisconsin, 10/7 Penn State, 10/14 at Maryland, 10/21 Iowa, 10/28 Michigan State, 11/4 at Nebraska, 11/11 Purdue, 11/18 Minnesota, 11/25 at Illinois
Final Overview
The Wildcats get challenged with this schedule in conference play rather early on. Wisconsin and Penn State are the first two conference opponents on the docket, and that could set the tone for the rest for the conference slate. A strong finish is possible, and will be necessary if the Cats can stay in the race early. The roster is still loaded on defense, despite huge losses, but the offense will need to find some weapons at receiver to stay in the game. Jackson and Thorson will be depending on it. In short, I think that Northwestern can at least be good enough to finish third in the Big 10 West, and could push Minnesota for second. 

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Iowa Hawkeyes



Iowa Hawkeyes
The luster has been wearing off of Kirk Ferentz at Iowa for some time now, and with the resignation of Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, he is now the longest serving FBS head football coach in the nation at one school currently. Of course, Ferenta has never had the success that Stoops had at Oklahoma, so I am hard pressed to understand why he has been there so long, other than the fact that he has one hell of a rdiculous contract buyout clause, and that has handcuffed the school for far too long.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Last season, Iowa had two 1000 yard rushers, and one of them, Akrum Woodley, returns. He rushed for 1081 yards and 10 scores last fall, and scored 10 times, while averaging 6.43 yards per carry. He was the better of the two highly productive backs all around, so he should be the center piece of the offense this season.
He should be running behind one of the best lines in the Big 10 this fall, as every starter returns from last season. Boone Myers (LT), Keegan Render (LG), James Daniels (C), Sean Welsh (RG), and Ike Boettger (RT) will all pave the way this fall.
Keith Duncan will be back at PK, and he hit 9/11 FG attempts last fall as a freshman. Look for him to get a few more opportunities this season as the offense goes through some changes.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
You cannot win in college football without a solid, proven QB, and Iowa has not had one of those in some time. They still don't. CJ Betheard is gone, and Nathan Stanley will enter camp in a battle with Tyler Wiegers for the job. Sophomore Drew Cook could also get a look in the right situation.
There is absolutely no depth at RB after Woodley, and that could be a problem if Woodley were to go down to injury. Toks Akinribade is the most experienced returning reserve, and e carried all of 16 times last fall.
The receiver corps is not in much better shape.Woodley, as a RB, was the second leading receiver last fall. The top WR was Riley McCarron, and he is gone. The two candidates for the open SE job, Devonte Young and Adrian Falconer, did not catch a pass between them last fall. Jerminic Smith and Nick Easley, the candidates at WR, caught 23 passes combined, and that was all Smith. The Hawkeyes even have an issue at TE, where George Kittle has moved on to the NFL.
What To be Excited About: Defense
Iowa has lived and died on defense for quite some time now, and that should continue to be the trend in 2017.
Anthony and Matt Nelson both battled last season at LDE, and both return once again to rotate at the spot. They combined for 14.5 TFLs last fall, and should be a primary force off of the edge. Parker Hesse returns to his starting job at RDE this fall as well. He finished with eight TFLs on his own last season. Brady Reiff was the backup at RDE last fall, but will move into a battle for the starting job at DT in camp.
The starting LBs are all back in OLB Ben Niemmann, MLB Josey Jewell, and WLB Bo Bower. Jewell is the jewel of the defense, as he led the team with 124 tackles last season. He added six TFLs for good measure, and also added nine PBUs and five QB hurries. Niemann finished with 69 tackles, while Bower added 91, which was good for second on the team.
Miles Taylor and Brendan Snyder both return at SS and FS this fall, while Joshua Jackson is back at CB. Snyder finished with 85 tackles, while Taylor was good for another 45. Snyder also broke up four passes and forced three fumbles. Jackson broke up four passes last fall, and played in 12 games.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
There are holes up the middle at both DT spots, and Brady reiff may be trying to move inside from DE to take one of those jobs. Cedrick Lattimore is battling him at LDT, while Nathan Bazata and Jake Hulett started a battle at RDT in spring camp.
The CB position looks to be a spot that must see some concern as well. Jackson was not the most productive corner in the conference by far, and losing Desmond King is painful at the other CB spot. If there are two positions where the Hawkeyes are especially vulnerable, it is at CB and DT this fall, and those will be focus areas in fall camp.
The Hawkeyes also need to find a replacement for Ron Coluzzi at Punter. He aveaged 41.07 yards per punt last fall. Colton Rastetter will try his hand in camp, and had one punt for 42 yards last season as a freshman.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Wyoming, 9/9 at Iowa State, 9/16 North Texas, 9/23 Penn State, 9/30 at Michigan State, 10/7 Illinois, 10/21 at Northwestern, 10/28 Minnesota, 11/4 Ohio State, 11/11 at Wisconsin, 11/18 Purdue, 11/24 at Nebraska
Final Overview
The Hawkeyes are in for a long run this fall, especially if they cannot finally find answers at QB and WR, as well as at DT and CB on defense. Iowa has struggled mightily to score on offense for a long while, and if that trend continues, they will eventually get left behind in the college football world. Defense is great, but it is not everything, and there are some cracks in the defensive foundation this season to worry about. Ferentz has been a round a long time, but in my book, he has become stale at Iowa. With a really tough schedule in late October and early November, and with a brutal opener against Penn State in conference play, Iowa could be out of this race fairly early.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Northwestern Wildcats



Northwestern Wildcats
Folks in Evanston were pleased with last season's finish, including the bowl win over Pittsburgh to end the year. They should not be as pleased as they are. This team is far better on paper than a 7-6 record would indicate, and I found their season to be lacking in a ton of areas, and most of it was because of an absolutely horrid start that saw this team lose three of their first four games, including an absolute embarrassment to Illinois State where the Wildcats scored just seven points in a 9-7 loss. Northwestern won three of four at the end, but that trend has got to continue once again to start the 2017 season, or else the wheels will come off again.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Clayton Thorson made major strides as a sophomore last fall, passing for 22 TDs, and 3182 yards. He averaged 244.8 yards per game, and will be one of the better QBs in the Big 10 to start out the 2017 season. He needs to settle down more in the pocket and become a more efficient and accurate passer, but he is developing nicely at this point.
Justin Jackson is back at RB, and will be one of the best in the nation this fall after rushing for 1524 yards and 15 TDs, while averaging 5.11 yards per carry. He carried the ball over 22 times per game last fall, and will be a work horse back for the Cats. John Moten IV will be back as well, and should start to see a bit more work as he should be the starter in 2018. He rushed for 340 yards off of 57 carries last season, but averaged a solid 5.96 yards per carry.
Austin Carr is gone at WR, but Flynn Nagel returns after catching 40 passes last season. Macan Wilson returns as well after finishing with 222 receptions last fall.
Four starters return on the line in LT Blake Hance, LG JB Butler, C Brad North, and RG Tommy Doles.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Losing Carr is a huge hit at WR, as he was one of the most exciting receivers in Northwestern football history. Replacing his 90 receptions and 1247 yards will be a massive undertaking in fall camp, and will be imperative to the success of Thorson in the passing game.
Solomon Gault and Garrett Dickerson are candidates to step up, but they have yet to on a high level. Three key reserves return to give them some other options, but again, experience and production are in short supply.
The Wildcats also need to find a replacement at RT for Eric Olson. Ben Oxley, a junior, gets first crack.
The PK game is also in need of a replacement and upgrade, as the departed Jack Mitchell hit only 8/12 FG attempts last fall. Backup Matt Micucci is gone as well.
The Wildcats also need to avoid another slow start on offense, as they just 41 points combined in losses to Western Michigan, Illinois State, and Nebraska to start last season.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Three starters return up front in DTs Jordan Thompson and Tyler Lancaster, and RE Xavier Washington. Washington finished with 7.5 TFLs, while Thompson and Lancaster combined for 5.5 up the middle. Sophomore Joe Gaziano could be in turn to take over at LE.
The Cats are all set at the outside backer spots, as both Brett Walsh (WILL) and Nate Hall (SAM) both return. Hall finished third on the team with 73 tackles, while Walsh finished with 37.Nathan Fox got limited playing time as a freshman, and could be in line to replace Anthony Walker at the MIKE spot.
The secondary will return in full this fall, which is a huge thing for this football team. Montre Hartage and Trae Williams will be back at CB, while Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Queiro will be back at the Safety spots. Hartage and Williams combined for 16 PBUs last fall, and Hartage led the team with five INTs. Williams added 42 tackles. Igwebuike led the team with 108 tackles and finished with seven PBUs, while Queiro finished with six PBUs and 53 tackles. The two safeties combined for another four picks as well. All four backups return as well.
Hunter Niswander is back at Punter after averaging 41.3 yards per punt on the season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
I really like the makeup of this defense this fall, but I cannot turn a blind eye to what was lost, and there were two major losses in DE Ifeadi Odenigbo (12 TFLs, 10 sacks) and LB Anthony Walker (105 tackles, 10 TFLs, five PBUs, six QB hurries, four forced fumbles). These numbers will be tough to replicate, and finding replacements for both should take some time in fall camp.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Nevada, 9/9 at Duke, 9/16 Bowling Green, 9/30 at Wisconsin, 10/7 Penn State, 10/14 at Maryland, 10/21 Iowa, 10/28 Michigan State, 11/4 at Nebraska, 11/11 Purdue, 11/18 Minnesota, 11/25 at Illinois
Final Overview
The Wildcats get challenged with this schedule in conference play rather early on. Wisconsin and Penn State are the first two conference opponents on the docket, and that could set the tone for the rest for the conference slate. A strong finish is possible, and will be necessary if the Cats can stay in the race early. The roster is still loaded on defense, despite huge losses, but the offense will need to find some weapons at receiver to stay in the game. Jackson and Thorson will be depending on it. In short, I think that Northwestern can at least be good enough to finish third in the Big 10 West, and could push Minnesota for second. 

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Wisconsin Badgers



Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin has become the program that basically can run itself no matter who is running things. Paul Chryst is the current coach, but he inherited a program that is amazingly self sufficient, and has the benefit of playing in the incredibly weak Big 10 West. The good thing is that Wisconsin is basically dominating the West, and that looks to continue into 2017.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The Badgers are built around old school Big 10 football philosophies, meaning that they believe in run first on offense. The Badgers may have lost their top two rushers from last season, but that open s the door for talented sophomore Bradrick Shaw, who averaged 5.19 yards per carry on 88 carries as a freshman. He is one of theplayers in this conference looking to explode onto the scene as a full time starter in the fall. He scored five times last fall while rushing for 457 yards, making the most of every opportunity. Austin Ramesh will be back at FB providing a first rate road pave in front of Shaw.
Jazz Peavy, the leading receiver from last season, returns. He caught 43 passes for 635 yards and a team leading five scores. TE Troy Fumagalli also returns after catching 47 balls for 580 yards last fall.
Four starters on the line are slated to return in LG John Dietzen, C Michael Dieter, RG Beau Benschwazel, and RT David Edwards. All five key reserves on the line (all sophomores last season) will return, including Brett Connors, who could be taking over for the departed Ryan Ramczyk at LT.
Rafael Gaglianone will be back at PK after hitting 7/8 FG attempts in limited opportunities last fall. He should be a rock solid addition as a full time starter.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The passing game, in short, falls short. Alex Hornibrook was a decent game manager as a freshman last fall, but he lacks the big time passing skills of former QB Russell Wilson, and will need a good push to get the best out of him, and Bart Houston will not be here to push him. A pair of freshmen, Jack Coan and Kare Lyles are the only guys on the roster to provide that push, so Hornibrook could be safe, for now.
Other than Peavy, there are not very many experienced targets to throw to at WR. George Rushing is the next best receiver returning, and he caught all of 12 passes last fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
One thing you can always bank on is that Wisconsin will run out a first rate defense, and that should be the case once again. The Badgers allowed just 15.7 points per game last fall.
All three starters return from the bowl game win over Western Michigan on the line. Alec James and Chkwe Obasih are back at DE, while Connor Sheehy was the starter at NT, and returns. Sheehy was listed at DE this spring, and could be in the process of moving outside. If that is the case, Olive Sogapolu returns and will start at NT. Sheey and James combined for 7.5 TFLs last fall, while Obasih played in all 14 games on a rotation basis. Sogapalu played in nine game last fall.
Billy Hirschfield backed up both DE spots, and will return up front as well.
The ILB spots are already spoken for as we head to fall camp. Ryan Connelly and TJ Edwards, both juniors, return. Edwards led the team with 89 tackles last fall, while Connelly finished with 59 stops. They combined for 15.5 TFLs as well. Leon Jacobs and Griffin Grady both return, but Grady could be moving outside in fall camp, as he did during spring ball. He could replace either TJ Watt or Vince Biegel as a starter this fall. Garrett Dooley and Zack Baun are also contenders at the outside spots.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The OLB spots are sure to be filled with solid prospects this fall, but losing both Beigel and Watt is a huge hit to take off the edge. They combined for 21.5 TFLs last fall, and were a major intimidation factor coming off of the edge.
The secondary is in a bit of a rebuild as well, with only two starters returning in CB Derrick Tindal and SS D'Cota Dixon return. Tindal finished with 11 PBUs and three picks, while Dixon finished with four INTs and four PBUs to go with four QB hurries. Dixon also added 60 tackles,while Tindal added 34. Sophomore Patrick Johnson is in line to take over for team leader Lee Musso at FS, while Luborn Figaro could be taking over for another huge loss in Sojourn Shelton at CB.
The Punting game was a mess last season and neither Anthony Lotti nor PJ Rosowski made a difference there. Lotti averaged just 37.71 yards per punt, while Rosowski averaged just 36.67 yards per try.
2017 Schedule: 9/1 Utah State, 9/9 Florida Atlantic, 9/16 at BYU, 9/30 Northwestern, 10/7 at Nebraska, 10/14 Purdue, 10/21 Maryland, 10/28 at Illinois, 11/4 at Indiana, 11/11 Iowa, 11/18 Michigan, 11/25 at Minnesota
Final Overview
The Badgers certainly got a break in the scheduling department early, as the toughest non con gme is a road trip to BYU, which is no LSU battle. They get every major West division foe beside Minnesota at home, and they don't play Penn State or Ohio State at all. That is all a huge bonus. The roster is solid, but they have to get batter at QB if they are to avoid the close losses that plagued them a year ago. If Wisconsin gets a first rate QB in Madison, they are competing for national titles. Right now, they are probably the third best team, maybe the fourth, in the Big 10 without one. They still win the West, but they don't have the guns on offense to run with Ohio State or Penn State in the East should they get one or the other in the Big 10 title game this December. Still, I like the Badgers to breeze through the West and lock it down once again.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Rutgers Scarlet Knights



Rutgers Scarlet Knights
It has been a long time since I have seen a team in a power conference have as bad a season as Rutgers had in 2016, and is likely to have in 2017. The Big 10 has had it leak that the leadership of the conference has regretted letting the Scarlet Knights into the conference almost from the day that the invitation was given. There have been disastrous issues on and off the field and court in football and men's basketball, and the team has not competed worth anything in either sport. The TV revenue from the New York City market has been negligible, at best, and the market largely does not care about college football in any capacity. Chris Ash was bought in from Ohio State to turn this football program around, but is that even possible under the current conditions?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
You really have to pick everything apart with this offense and hunt down anything to be excited about in the most remote way. With that being done, you can look at the line and see that three starters return, and they have to have improved, right? Tariq Cole is back at LT, Dorian Miller is back at LG, and and Kamaal Seymour is back at RT.
Robert Martin is back at RB, and he averaged 5.17 yards per carry. One would hope that the current staff would take the leash off of him and just let him be the focus on the offense, which was something they were unwilling or unable to do last season. He scored only two times all last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Everything, basically. This football team scored just 15.7 points per game last fall, and nobody really stood out except for Martin in flashes. There needs to be a massive talent infusion at QB, because not one player on the current roster at the position can win. Not one.
The run game, after Martin, is devoid of talent and depth, and there are no big play threats to be found that you can look to for a big break it loose moment.
The receivers are largely pedestrian, and have not helped the QB position blossom at all.
The line is largely a flat mess,but has the only thing coming back that you can look to for hope, and that is youth and some depth.
David Bonagura, the PK, is back, but never seemed to make the most out of every limited opportunity last fall, making just 10/14 FG attempts.
What To be Excited About: Defense
Again, this is difficult pickings with a unit that allowed 37.5 points per game. DE Darnell Davis does return after finishing second on the team with eight TFLs last fall, and Sebastian Joseph was reasonably able at NT, and will return for his senior season.
Jimmy Hogan also returns at DE, and should provide some relief in a rotation role. Kevin Wilkins provides the same at NT.
The LB corps, which was dreadfully young last fall, returns intact with the starters. Trevor Morris (WLB), Deonte Roberts (MLB), and Tyreek Maddox-Williams (SLB) will all return to action this fall. Morris led the team with 102 tackles, Roberts finished second with 95, and Maddox-Williams finished with 47. The key reserves outside, Eric Margolis and Ronnie James, both return.
Three starters will return to the secondary this season. Isaiah Wharton and Blessuan Austin will be back at CB, while Saquan Hampton is back at FS. Austin was a big hit last fall, as he finished with 14 PBUs and 41 tackles. Wharton finished with five PBUs and 46 tackles. Hampton played in just seven games, and finished with 46 tackles. Every key reserve will return to action behind this group, with sophomore Lawrence Stevens looking to take over at SS for the departed Anthony Cioffi.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
I suspect that there will be plenty of improvements across the board from the defense in 2017, as several young players got plenty of time on the field and took their lumps last fall. That said, this unit needs to gel in a giant hurry to show what they are made of, and the offense had to find a way to keep this unit from getting killed by spending way too much time on the field. I am not confident in that part of the equation. The key will be to show how much this group learned last fall, and how much they have developed in the off-season as a group.
One concern that is glaring is at Punter. Michael Cintron is scheduled to return as the starter, but averaged just 37.89 yards per attempt on 7.9 attempts per game. When your offense is killing you, you need all of the real estate you can get to work with as a defense, and Cintron is not giving them that.
2017 Schedule: 9/1 Washington, 9/9 Eastern Michigan, 9/16 Morgan State, 9/23 at Nebraska, 9/30 Ohio State, 10/14 at Illinois, 10/21 Purdue, 10/28 at Michigan, 11/4 Maryland, 11/11 at Penn State, 11/18 at Indiana, 11/25 Michigan State
Final Overview
I do not see more than two games where Rutgers could be considered a remote favorite, and those are games against Eastern Michigan and Morgan State, and I am not fully sold on them as a favorite against Eastern Michigan just yet. This roster is still far from being one that can compete in the Big 10, and may not even be all that competitive in the Group of Five leagues. Ash took on a major dumpster fire job from Kyle Flood, and this roster, as good as it was a decade ago, is in complete collapse as far as the talent level is concerned. This is a long term project, to say the least, and we could see much of what was evident last season this fall. This is simply a bad team right now.



Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Michigan State Spartans



Michigan State Spartans
After years of success under Mark Dantonio, the wheels fell completely off of the wagon last fall, as the Spartans started to suffer losses they were not seemingly prepared to take on. The Spartans proceeded to finish 1-8 in Big 10 play, and just 3-9 overall, and there were signs that the 2016 version of Michigan State football was in trouble right from game one. After all of that, there was an assistant released basically for trying to obstruct an investigation into a team related sexual assault case, and three more players have been charged with felonies since that time. Dantonio is handling everything in typical upstanding Dantonio fashion, but is he losing his grip on this once proud program? Can he and his current staff right the course?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The RB duo of LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes will return intact this fall, as the two backs combined for 1425 yards and 11 scores. Scott is the work horse of the two, as he carried the football 184 times last season as compared to 91 carries by Holmes, but they create a nice one-two punch out of the backfield when needed.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Spartans have holes to fill everywhere, and that is a terrible issue to deal with on top of the off-field drama that is playing out in East Lansing these days.
The first major issue is at QB, where Tyler O'Connor largely failed to live up to Connor Cook, and really struggled most of last season. O'Connor will not get another crack at running the team, as he has graduated and moved on. Sophomore Brian Lewerke and senior Damian Terry will battle it out for the starting job, but neither has a ton of experience or success as Spartans under their collective belts. Lewerke adds a solid dimension in that he is a dual threat capable QB, while Terry does not fit that bill nearly as well. Lewerke averaged over seven yards per carry when pressed into duty last season. With that in mind, neither impressed as passers in limited duty.
Once the staff figures out the QB issue, they have to figure out who to throw the football to. Monty Madaris and RJ Shelton are gone, as is TE Josiah Price, who was effective at times. Donnie Corley, a sophomore, was the most experienced receiver slated to return, but he is now gone. Felton Davis III is now the most experienced returning receiver, and he had all of 12 receptions last fall.
There are issues on the line as well, as only the left side returns intact with LT Cole Chewins, a sophomore, and LG Brian Allen, a senior, slated to return as starters. The entire line needs to be rebuilt from Center to Right Tackle.
There is also a void at PK, as Michael Geiger is gone after hitting 15/19 FG attempts last season. Brett Scanlon, who was the third strong PK last fall, is the only player left from last season's depth chart that can compete for the job.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
There is some good news to be had for the Spartans on the line, where all four starters from the season finale will return this fall. Demetrius Cooper and Robert Bowers will both be back to start at DE. Cooper finished with six TFLs while Bowers played in seven games last season, and is just getting ready to become a full time starter, if he holds the job in fall camp. Mike Panasiuk is back at DT, while Raequan Williams will return at the NT spot. Williams finished with five TFLs last fall, while Panasiuk rotated in and out as a freshman. Expect this group to be solid from day one, and finally have a chance to gel together. Dillon Alexander will be back to add some depth at the DE spot. Kyonta Stallworth and Devyn Salmon will be around to push for some time at DT, while senior Gerlad Owens will rotate at NT.
Andrew Dowell and Chris Frey will be back at the OLB spots this fall. Dowell will start at STAR, while Frey will man the SAM spot. Frey led the team with 96 tackles last season, while Dowell finished with 67. Tyriq THompson will return as a sophomore to try and get some time in behind either spot.
Jake Hartbarger will be back at Punter after averaging 40.94 yards per punt, with the hope being that further development will bring his numbers up this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The middle man in  the defense, and the overall leader, Riley Bullough, is gone at MLB, and Malik McDowell, the sometimes star on the line who showed up when he wanted to, is also gone. Those were two players who were heavily depended upon last fall, but the Spartans have some talent both up fron and in the middle to come forward to take up leadership mantles and roles. The main issue on both the line and at LB will be depth, because there just is not much coming back at either spot. Joe Bachie, a sophomore, will likely step into the starting role at MIKE backer, but he should expect some push from Shane Jones. The outside backer spots are thin on the bench, and that could create cause for concern.
The secondary is largely being rebuilt, as two seniors departed in FS Demetrius Cox and CB Darian Hicks. They combined for 13 PBUs last fall, and that is some serious production to recreate. CB Justin Layne is also gone from the roster, leaving a third starter from the season finale being gone. There could be some major slippage against the pass this season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Bowling Green, 9/9 Western Michigan, 9/23 Notre Dame, 9/30 Iowa, 10/7 at Michigan, 10/14 at Minnesota, 10/21 Indiana, 10/28 at Northwestern, 11/4 Penn State, 11/11 at Ohio State, 11/18 Maryland, 11/25 at Rutgers
Final Overview
The Spartans are in for another rough ride this fall, unfortunately. As the roster stands now, and looking at the overall schedule in Big 10 play, I believe that any dreams of the Spartans returning to a bowl game are probably misplaced hope, at best. There are just far too many issues on offense to overcome in one season, and the defense has some serious lack of production issues off of the edge, and in the secondary, to allow me to think that Dantonio can turn this mess around this season. What is more concerning is that he could be on the hot seat for a multitude of reasons after this season ends, and he is too good a coach to find himself here. Get ready, because it will be a bumpy ride in East Lansing this fall.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Indiana Hoosiers



Indiana Hoosiers
The Hoosiers finally turned a corner under Kevin Wilson last season by getting to a bowl game (they lost) after five seasons, but Indiana parted company with a very vague issue regarding player abuse that was never completely clarified. The firing was quick and planned out, and now Tom Allen, the DC from last year, was promoted to head coach. This was a highly questionable move nationally speaking, and the Hoosiers will have to prove that they have enough to get back to a bowl this fall with a new coach, or any progress from last season will be for naught.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Three linemen will be back, and will form a foundation for an offense that struggled last season to score just over 25 points per game. Coy Cronk, Brandon Knight, and Wes Martin all return up front to help build up this unit.
Nick Westbrook is back at WR after leading the team in receiving last fall with 54 receptions for 995 yards and six scores. He averaged 18.43 yards per reception last fall, and is one of the better deep threats in the nation.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Are more concerns, or questions, than certainties heading into the new season. It all starts with QB Richard Legow. Legow has never really stepped into the role with full confidence at QB, and last season was a prime example. He tossed 19 TD passes, but also tossed 17 INTs on the season, and only completed 57.8% of his attempts. He averaged 258.6 yards per game, but he was all over the place otherwise.
Devine Redding was slated to be back as the starting back, but he is gone, and now the Hoosiers are left with no clear answers across the board in the run game. Finding a prime candidate to carry the load, or even identifying a solid committee, would be a huge look up in camp.
The receivers are also questionable, other than Westbrook, which is another issue holding back the development of Legow at QB.
Finding new starters that are missing on the line will be a huge task as well, as finding any consistency may very well start there.
The PK position is back in the hands of Griffin Oakes, but he only converted on 16/26 FG attempts last season, and finding someone to push him may be a good thing.
What To Be Excited About Defense
Allen was in charge of this unit, and now he is in charge of the football team. Will his guys respond to this move this fall?
Three members of the line will return in Greg Gooch, Nate Hoff, and Jacob Robinson will all return. These three players combined for 14.5 TFLs last fall, and Nile Sykes also returns after finishing with seven TFLs of his own. Mike Barwick, Jr. and Robert McCray III will both return to add some depth as well.
Tegray Scales likely should have left for the NFL at LB after last season, as he led the team with 23 TFLs at LB. Instead, he returns, and will be the heart of this defensive unit. He finished with seven sacks, and led the team with 126 tackles overall.
Five DBs return who all had starting experience last fall. Marcelino Ball, Jonathon Crawford, Rashard Fant, Tony Fields, and A'Shon Riggins will all be back patrolling the secondary this season, and this unit may be the key to holding everything together. Ball finished with eight PBUs, Crawford with seven PBUs. Fant was among the national leaders with 17 PBUs on the year, and tied with Crawford for the team lead in INTs with three. Fields broke up seven passes, and Riggins knocked away nine passes. Indiana was one of the best teams in the nation when it came to breaking up passes.
Joseph Gedeon was solid last fall at Punter, and averaged 40.28 yards per punt, and will be back to try to improve.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Other than Scales, there is little coming back at LB in 2017. Marcus Oliver left after his junior season, leaving 96 tackles of productivity off of the grid. Chris Covington is the most experienced returning LB, and he finished with 29 tackles last season. This is by far the biggest concern for a defense that should be vastly improved over last season.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 Ohio State, 9/9 at Virginia, 9/16 FIU, 9/23 Georgia Southern, 9/30 at Penn State, 10/14 Michigan, 10/21 at Michigan State, 10/28 at Maryland, 11/4 Wisconsin, 11/11 at Illinois, 11/18 Rutgers, 11/25 at Purdue
Final Overview
The tables may very well turn this fall, as the defense could be far better than the offense. That may also be a very bad problem for Tom Allen to have in his first season as head coach. For me, the offense is just too loaded with issues for this team to go back to a bowl game this fall. The schedule is another problem, as the reality starts right away with a home game with Ohio State. The Hoosiers also play Penn State, Michigan, and Wisconsin, which will likely have Indiana losing four games in conference play right away. They could also lose, potentially, to Maryland, which would be a fifth loss in conference play. The chips are stacked highly against the Hoosiers, and it will be a major battle to get overt that mountain.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Maryland Terrapins



Maryland Terrapins
The Terps showed some major signs of improvement in year one under former Michigan and Jim Harbaugh assistant DJ Durkin, who may be one of the faster rising stars in college football. Of course, they also finished the season rather roughly, losing seven of their last nine games, including a bowl loss to Boston College. Still, getting to a bowl in year one of the Durkin era proved that exciting times may very well be ahead for this program, but only if they can start getting more competitive against the hierarchy of the Big 10. They lost to every team that finished 3rd or above by double digits. Fixing that is the next step in rebuilding Maryland football.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Maryland returns three full time starters on the line, and a fourth who made three starts last fall. The line could show major improvement across the board this fall. Damian Prince (RT), Brendan Moore (C), and Terrance Davis (RG) all return this fall, and Derwin Gray, who started three games last fall, is the likely LT as we get into fall camp.
Ty Johnson broke the 1000 yard mark at RB last fall, and will return as well. He did so while averaging just 8.46 carries per game. He averaged a whopping 9.13 yards per carry, and scored six times. Lorenzo Harrison also returns after rushing for 633 yards and five scores. He averaged 7.19 yards per carry, and gives the Terps two home run capable backs.
DJ Moore returns at WR, and led the team last fall with 637 yards receiving on 41 receptions. He averaged 15.54 yards per reception, and gives the QB group a downfield threat.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The passing game could be in a bit of trouble, even with the return of Moore at WR. There will be a battle at the QB position between two rather inexperienced players in Tyrrell Pigrome, a sophomore, and North Carolina transfer Caleb Henderson. Neither has any real experience to speak of, but Pigrome does have one start under his belt.
At WR, there is another void of returning starting experience, but Jacquille Veii has appeared in 24 games at Maryland, but sat out last season after he transferred back to the program after leaving to play at Towson in FCS football for a short time. Taivon Jacobs is coming back as well after missing all of last season due to injury. He started four games in 2015.
The Terps also have a worry at PK, as Adam Greene returns after hitting just 9/14 FG attempts last season.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Maryland returns four players on the line that all had starting experience last season, but nobody started all 13 games. Despite that, there were some solid breakout moments. Jessie Aniebonnam is back at DE after finishing with 14 TFLs and Nine sacks. Kingsley Opara is back at NT, and had a very nice season in 2016. He finished with 41 tackles, and 11.5 TFLs. Cavon Walker is back at DT, and was also solid last fall, as he finished with 30 tackles and 8.5 TFLs, providing pressure up the middle. Brett Kulka will be the second starting DT, and started five times last season.
There are three LBs returning to the lineup this season. Jermaine Carter, Shane Cockerille, and Jalen Brooks all return. Carter is a two time All-Big 10 selection, and has startd 25 consecutive games He finished with 110 tackles last fall, and has 23 career TFLs. Cockerille had a huge season in 2016, as he finished with 108 tackles, and added eight TFLs. He averaged nine tackles per game last season. Brooks is a three time All-Big 10 academic selection, and started in four games last fall. He has been very productive over his career, with 100 total tackles during his time with the Terps.
Chandler Burkett is back at the BUCK position, and was quite productive, finishing with 32 tackles, four TFLs, three PBUs, and two blocked PATs on special teams. Ravon Davis started four games at NB last fall, and finished with four PBUs, with 24 tackles. JC Jackson is back at CB, and started 11 games last fall. He finshed with 40 tackles, six PBUs, and a pick. Darnell Savange exceled at Saftey last fall after moving over from CB. He finished with 59 tackles and four INTs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Maryland needs to grow as a unit as a whole. They allowed over 29 points per game last season, and the offense never caught up with that, which was a huge problem the second half of the season and in Big 10 play. The script has got to flip this fall if Maryland is to make a push to get closer to the top three in the division.
The major glaring problem is at Punter, where Wade Lees struggled at times as a freshman last season. He finished by averaging 39.83 yards per punt last fall, and that needs to improve this fall.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 at Texas, 9/9 Towson, 9/23 UCF, 9/30 at Minnesota, 10/7 at Ohio State, 10/14 Northwestern, 10/21 at Wisconsin, 10/28 Indiana, 11/4 at Rutgers, 11/11 Michigan, 11/18 at Michigan State, 11/25 Penn State
Final Overview
Maryland had a long way to go when Durkin took over last fall, and he made major strides in year one. Maryland made a bowl game in year one, and that is a good step, but they have to push a little harder in year two, and so they will work on both sides of the football to get there, because there is still work to do. Maryland started out strong last fall, but really fell off sharply after the midpoint. I don't see that Maryland has enough tools to push into the top three in the East, but they have enough tools to scare some people, and maybe even pull off an upset here and there.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

College Football Hall of Fame 2018 Final Ballot

I have officially cast my ballot with the National Football Foundation for the College Football Hall of Fame class of 2018. As I have said since receiving my ballot, I wanted to make this process a transparent process, and take you, the reader, with me through the process of making my picks. There were 75 eligible candidates for the FBS Player selections, of which I had to narrow to 12 total votes. I was able to identify 10 players very quickly.  I then had to narrow a list of 18 players down to the final two selections. I was finally able to process those 18 players to 11, and from 11 to six. I finally selected the final two votes this evening, giving me 12 FBS votes. They are as follows:

Warren Sapp, DT, Miami
Lomas Brown, OT, Florida
Eric Dickerson, RB, SMU
Jumbo Elliott, OT, Michigan
Craig "Iron Head" Heyward, RB, Pittsburgh
Raghib "Rocket" Ismael, Notre Dame
Ray Lewis, LB, Miami
Ken Norton, Jr., LB, UCLA
Leslie O'Neal, DT, Oklahoma State
Troy Vincent, CB, Wisconsin
Steve Wisniewski, OG, Penn State
Charles Woodson, CB, Michigan

For FBS Coaches, there were six eligible candidates, of which I could select two. The candidate list, in my eyes, was one of the weaker overall classes I have seen in some time. In the end, there were only two legitimate candidates, and I selected the following:

Mack Brown, Texas
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

There were more divisional players eligible this year than FBS players. In all, there were 98 total eligible players from the ranks of FCS, Division 2, and Division 3 players. Of this group, I was allowed to select only four of these players. I immediately narrowed this group down to 10, and then finally to the four eligible players that I was allowed to select. They are as follows:

Bill Borchert, QB, Mount Union
John Fitzgerald, OG, Central Oklahoma
Dave Dickenson, QB, Montana
Ashley Ambrose, CB, Mississippi Valley State

There were 31 coaches eligible for entry into the Hall of Fame on the Divisional Coaches level. I had to narrow those selections to two votes. I have done so, and my votes have gone to the following:

Andy Talley, Villanova
Mel Tjeerdsma, Northwest Missouri State

There you have it, my completed ballot for the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame as was submitted today, June 17th, 2017.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Michigan Wolverines



Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines were very close to winning the Big 10 East last fall, but a late loss to Iowa also lost them the services of Wilton Speight at QB, and that loss to Iowa, and the later loss to Ohio State, let the division slipped away, and then the Wolverines imploded in their bowl loss to Florida State. 2016 felt like a lost opportunity, one they are sure to rectify in 2017.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Speight only missed one game at QB last season after his injury against Iowa, but he was certainly never the same after being hurt, and the offense suffered for it. Speight is back this fall, and should be entirely healthy, which is great news for Michigan. Speight did manage to pass for  2538 yards and 18 TDs to seven picks, a number that one would expect to improve this fall.
De'Veon Smith's loss will be a big hit, but it is time for Chris Evans and Karan Higdon to shine. Evans managed to average 6.98 yards per carry, and Higdon averaged 5.9 yards per carry. They combined for 1039 yards rushing and 10 scores.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Unlike Ohio State and Penn State, the Wolverines do have some issues on this side of the football. The most important issue will be on the line, where four starters must be replaced this fall. Michigan has recruited heavily in this area, but experience will be severely limited.
The receiving corps also has been massively depleted as we head into fall camp. The top three receivers, Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, and Jehu Chesson, are all gone. Grant Perry, with all of 13 receptions last fall, is the most experienced receiver coming back.
PK Kenny Allen hit 19/23 FG attempts last fall, and is also gone.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Wolverines have severe losses on defense, and will have to depend solely on new starters and recruits across the board. Michigan had their best defense in years last fall, allowing just over 14 points per game, but now, they lose 10 of the top 12 tacklers from last season, and those issues could cost Michigan a run at the Big 10 East title.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
DL Chase Winovich is the most experienced tackler returning this fall, and he finished last fall with just 34 tackles on the season. Rashan Gary, who came in with geat fanfare, finished with 24 tackles as a freshman, and it will be his time to break out this fall. Not one other returning tackler finished with as many as 20 tackles last fall.
Kenny Allen was also the team's punter last fall, and the Wolverines are now trying to replace his 43.33 yards per punt average.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Florida, 9/9 Cincinnati, 9/16 Air Force, 9/23 at Purdue, 10/7 Michigan State, 10/14 at Indiana, 10/21 at Penn State, 10/28 Rutgers, 11/4 Minnesota, 11/11 at Maryland, 11/18 at Wisconsin, 11/25 Ohio State
Final Overview
The Wolverines ranks of talent have been decimated. They have plenty of young talent, but that talent now has to translate to production and winning. It remains to be seen how good this team can be, but there are far too many questions to be able to believe that the Wolverines are in the class of Ohio State or Penn State in 2017. Still, the division below them is fairly watered down and weak, so Michigan still has enough gas in the tank to at least finish third in the division and find themselves in a decent bowl, if everything comes together. It's hard to bet against Jim Harbaugh, but this may be his toughest assignment to date.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Penn State Nittany Lions



Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State certainly did not look like a football team that would win the Big 10 early on in the 2016 season, but they did just that. They turned their season around in conference play after a bad loss to Michigan, and they never lost again in a miracle run that saw the Nittany Lions fall just short of winning the Rose Bowl in what was an all-time classic in the longest running bowl game ever. This fall, targets will be squarely on the backs of this football team, as they will surprise no one. James Franklin has plenty of weapons coming back to make another run, but can Penn State move past Ohio State in the East and make a national title run in 2017?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
There is always a great deal of importance with an offensive line, especially with this particular team. Four starters return to the fold in 2017, including Ryan Bates, Brendan Mahon, Connor McGovern, and Andrew Nelson. This is important because of the talent that will be lining up behind this group and around them as we head into fall camp.
Penn State will certainly boast one of the more talented backfields in the Big 10, if not the nation this season. Trace McSorley completely evolved last season as the year wore on, and became a star at QB. He passed for 3614 yards and 28 TDs to just nine INTs, and was just a different player at the end of the season than he was at the start. He also managed to rush for seven more scores and averaged 258.1 yards passing per game. If he can get a full season of big time production under him, he could be on that Heisman  list by the end of the season.
Joining McSorley in potential Heisman talk is RB Saquon Barkley. Barkley exploded last fall for 1496 yards and 18 TDs, while averaging 5.5 yards per carry on 19.43 carries per game. He could very well be one of the best RBs in the game this season if he stays healthy, and has an incredible line to run behind.
Not many teams still implement a true TE in the offense, but Penn State is old school that way, and they have one of the best returning TEs in the nation in Mike Gesicki. He caught 48 passes last fall for 689 yards and five scores, while averaging 14.15 yards per grab, and is the leading returning receiver. DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Tompkins will both be back after combining for 61 receptions for 946 yards and two scores. Tomkins has serious big play ability, as he averaged 16.3 yards per reception. They will have to step up to replace the production of last fall's leader Curtis Godwin, who has moved on to the NFL. Saeed Blacknall is also back to give the Lions a decent third receiver option.
Tyler Davis also returns as one of the better PKs nationally after hitting 22/24 attempts last season. An added bonus is that he also made all 62 of his PAT tries.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
There is not a glaring concern anywhere on offense, but if I had to pick one, it would be a concern for depth at WR. After the initial top three receivers in Hamilton, Tompkins, and Blacknall, experience is scarce. Finding depth in fall camp among a group of freshmen and sophomores will be a big project.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The middle of the line should be a major strength this fall for Penn State as both DTs return in Parker Cothran and Curtis Cothran. They combined for 10 TFLs last fall, and also combined for 47 tackles while clearing space for a talented LB corps.
Jason Cabinda and Manny Bowen will both be back at LB. Bowen finished the season with 8.5 TFLs, while Cabinda finished with 81 tackles. Bowen finished with 68 total tackles, and it looks as if Koa Farmer will get first crack at replacing Brandon Bell after finishing with 29 tackles last season.
Three starters return in the secondary, including both CBs in John Reid and Grant Haley. Redi finished with eight PBUs last fall, and Haley finished with four, and they combined for 75 tackles. The third starter to return will be S Marcus Allen. Allen led the team with 110 tackles, and added six for loss, and may be the heart of the defense this fall.
Torrance Brown will compete for an open DE spot and has starting experience. Others who return with starting experience at various positions on defense will be: S Troy Apke, LB Cam Brown, CB Christian Campbell, LB Jake Cooper, DT Kevin Givens, S Nick Scott, LB Brandon Smith, and DT Robert Windsor.
Blake Gillikin is back at Punter after a huge freshman season. He averaged 42.8 yards per punt, and was one of the best freshman special teamers in the nation.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Again, there is not much to be concerned about. The Lions have some losses, but they have a ton of experience coming back, and as one can see, plenty of depth with players returning with some starting experience.
There are two holes at DE, and the loss of Evan Schwan is a big hit. Brandon Bell being gone at LB is a huge hit as well, as he was a defensive star of the Rose Bowl until he was injured. USC took big advantage of his absence on their final drive.
Finding key replacements up front should not be tough for this staff, especially with the talent that has been amassed, but some the less experienced players have to step up and show what they have.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Akron, 9/9 Pittsburgh, 9/16 Georgia State, 9/23 at Iowa, 9/30 Indiana, 10/7 at Northwestern, 10/21 Michigan, 10/28 at Ohio State, 11/4 at Michigan State, 11/11 Rutgers, 11/18 Nebraska, 11/25 at Maryland
Final Overview
Penn State is one of my top ten teams by far, and may be top five or six as we enter the season. James Franklin picked up the torch from Bill O'Brien in getting this program back on the rails after the darkest of times almost destroyed it. Penn State has enough weapons, specifically on offense, to push themselves back into the Big 10 title game, but there are a couple of road blocks, and Penn State must get past those trap games, but they have a punchers chance at getting back to the conference title game, and into a national semi-final.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Ohio State Buckeyes



Ohio State Buckeyes
One thing has become apparent at Ohio State, and that is you never bet against Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes. Of course, that was not the case when the Buckeyes fell to Penn State last season, and could not shake them in the East Division after that, but even the masters hit a bump in the road every now and then. Ohio State has a roster loaded with talent despite draft losses, and Urban Meyer can coach anyone up to make a run at titles, but will this edition overcome the Penn State problem and get back to the playoffs?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The line will once again be one of the strongest in the Big 10, as four starters return from last fall. Billy Price at C is the leader with his 41 career starts at Ohio State. Jamarco Jones and Isaiah Prince are both back to anchor the tackle positions, and should be two of the best at OT in the nation. Michael Jordan will also be back at OG, and started 13 games last fall, the first freshman at Ohio State to do that since Orlando Pace in 1994.
JT Barrett is simply one of the more versatile QBs in the nation playing on a championship caliber team. He has 30 starts under his belt as a Buckeye, and passed for 2555 yards last fall, while rushing for 845 more. He totaled 33 TDs last fall, and will be a featured weapon across the board once more.
Mike Weber returns after cracking the 1000 yard mark last fall as a RS freshman. He finished the season with 1096 yards rushing, and averaged 6.02 yards per carry. Demario McCall is back after his freshman season, and will be the primary backup. He has big play ability, as he averaged 5.51 yards per carry in limited duty. One thing is for certain, and that is that the Buckeyes will figure out a way to effectively run the football behind this line.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin are the only two receivers with starting experience coming back, and they have a grand total of 13 starts between them, and combined for just 24 receptions last fall. They will have to step up into much larger roles in 2017, but even the Ohio State spring guide identified this group as their most worrisome.
The Buckeyes also have to replace PK Tyler Durbin, who hit 17/21 FG attempts in 2016. Sean Nuernberger is the most likely candidate to take his place in camp.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Buckeyes will have one of the most active and deepest lines in the nation this season, as every starter from last fall returns to the lineup. Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard are back at DE this fall, and they combine for 39 career starts. Lewis led the team with 10.5 TFLs, while Hubbard finished with eight. Michael Hill and Dre'Mont Jones will be back at DT. Jones finished with 52 tackles last season, while Hill was the pile mover, and finished with three TFLs. Jalyn Holmes will rotate in at DE, and the staff is high on him. Tracy Sprinkle started the first game of last season, and was injured and lost for the season, but returns to add depth up the middle. Nick Bosa is another rotational player at DE, and was named as a freshman All-American last fall.
Chris Worley and Jerome Baker both return at LB, and Dante Booker, who was injured in game one last season, also returns to give the Buckeyes a massively talented LB corps. Baker was a beast for a kid that was not supposed to start last fall, finishing second on the team with 83 tackles, and 9.5 TFLs. Worley finished with 69 tackles. Look for Malik Harrison to see more time as well after showing a few flashes as a freshman last fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The secondary will be bringing back just one starter this fall in Safety Damon Webb. He finished with 57 tackles last fall, three PBUs, and one pick, which are hardly Earth shattering numbers. The Buckeyes will have to replace Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley at CB, and Malik Hooker at Safety. That is a load of talent and production to replace, and although the Buckeyes always have talent, that group will be very green, especially early in the season against a seasoned passer like Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.
Cameron Johnston is also gone at Punter for the Buckeyes after averaging 46.68 yards per punt last fall. Yet again, his will be very large shoes to fill, and word on who will be handling that job likely will not come down until the season opener.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 at Indiana, 9/9 Oklahoma, 9/16 Army, 9/23 UNLV, 9/30 at Rutgers, 10/7 Maryland, 10/14 at Nebraska, 10/28 Penn State11/4 at Iowa, 11/11 Michigan State, 11/18 Illinois, 11/25 at Michigan. 
Final Overview
There are only three games that I suspect will make the Buckeyes sweat in 2017, and they get two of those games at home against Oklahoma and a huge revenge match against Penn State. The only road game to worry about is the trip to play arch rival Michigan. I strongly suspect that the Buckeyes will be favored in every game they play, and could very well overcome the loss to Penn State last season and win back the East, and make a run at a national title in the process. Look for the Buckeyes to ride the wave on offense, especially if they can resolve their issues at receiver, which I believe they can, and the front seven should create enough chaos in give the secondary time to grow. In short, there is absolutely no reason to suspect that Ohio State won't be very much in the playoff conversation come November.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Oklahoma Sooners



Oklahoma Sooners
The bombshell retirement of Bob Stoops last week certainly has not helped public confidence in the upcoming season for the Sooners, but the immediate move to elevate OC Lincoln Riley to the position was a good, and much needed move for this football program. Riley is one of the smartest and best young minds in the college game, and at 33, will be the youngest coach in FBS football this coming season. The good news is that Riley still has a top five caliber team that can contend for a Big 12 title, and could contend for a national playoff birth at the end of the season. Let's see if he has the drive to get them there after this late upheaval.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Despite his off-season shenanigans, the Sooners will have their Heisman candidate back at QB in Baker Mayfield. With Mayfield back, all other losses seem to be mitigated just a bit. He passed for 3965 yards last season, completed over 70% of his passes, and tossed 40 TDs to just eight picks, all while averaging 305 yards passing per game. Mayfield also added six more scores running the football, and will be a major contender for the award given to the best player in the nation this season if all things hold together.
Mayfield will be playing behind one of the best lines in the nation as well, and all five starters return there. Orlando Brown, Bobby Evans, Ben Powers, Dru Samia, and Erick Wren all return, and that is the kind of line that you need to win a national title.
Mark Andrews scored seven times as a receiver last fall, and averaged over 15 yards per reception, while Jeffrey Mead will be cast into a larger role this fall after also averaging 15 yards per grab last season. There are several others in the fight for more playing time this season at receiver, including Nick Basquine, AD Miller, Mykel Jones, Dahu Green, and Jordan Smallwood, and there are three freshmen or RS freshmen joining the group as well.
FB Dmitri Flowers averaged over five yards per carry last season, and is the lone returning starter in the RB corp.

Update 6/15/17: I have been informed that Dahu Green has left the program. I have also been informed that Jeff Badet, a grad transfer from Kentucky has made an impact in camp, and may push for a starting role. These notes were not available in Oklahoma's official spring notes that I receive. Thanks to Twitter follower @MMA_Boom for the update!

What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The departures of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine at RB will really take a big bite out of the offense this fall. Mixon rushed for 1274 yards and 10 scores, while Perine added 1060 yards and 12 scores. Both were major components of the passing game as well, with Mixon being the second best receiver on the team. Mixon's departure, however, may have been more of a PR boost than most players with all of the off-field baggage that he brought to the table, whether behind him or not. Still, that kind of production loss will be difficult for the Sooners to overcome, at least early on. Look for Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson to get all of the attention early in camp, but others could give them some push. Freshmen Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, and Marcellus Sutton are all highly heralded freshmen recruits in the Sooner class of 2017, and will all eventually see the field and will make an impact.
There is talent at receiver returning, but this receiver corps needs to gel early on. Losing DeDe Westbrook, again, another potential addition by subtraction due to PR issues, and the loss of Mixon and Perine, will leave a huge production gap. The Lincoln Riley offense always seems to find receivers, so this may be less of a stress than the run game, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Austin Seibert was largely hit and miss at PK last season, as he made just 11/16 FG attempts on the season as a sophomore. He could use a good push in fall camp.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Oklahoma is changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3 set this season, and that will mean some major changes across the board. There will be one less spot to fill at LB, but luckily, three starters return from last season, and the depth is solid. Emmanuel Beal is back after finishing second in tackles last fall with 81. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is also back at OLB, and led the team with 12 TFLs, and added 71 tackles, good for third on the team. Caleb Kelly will also be at the outside spot, and finished with 36 tackles as a freshman last fall. Kelly also added three TFLs. Beal could be pushed, but more on that shortly.
Three starters return in the secondary, including both CBs in Jordan Parker and Jordan Thomas. Thomas was a beast last season with 17 PBUs, while Evans led the team with four INTs. Steven Parker is the third returnee, and finished with 63 tackles at Safety, and added four PBUs and a pair of INTs.
Austin Seibert handled Punting duties as well as being the PK. He averaged over 41 yards per punt, and it would probably good if he could handle one job or the other this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
With the change over to the 4-3 set, only one returning starter is back on the line, leaving three open jobs this fall. Matt Romar is back, and he played in just nine games last season due to injury, he could give the Sooners a second starting caliber lineman to go along with Neville Gallimore, who finished with four TFLs last fall. Both are playing DT this season, but Gallimore could be pushed by Du'Vonta Lampkin and Marqise Overton. DJ Ward, Kenneth Mann, and Mark Jackson, Jr. will all be vying for time at DE, and the Sooners also added four incoming freshman to the lot in their latest recruiting haul, with Isaiah Thomas looking to make the most impact of the lot this fall.
Beal is solid returning at LB, but is much too small to play as a traditional MLB at 214 lbs. He could get pushed for time and the job by Ricky DeBerry, who more traditionally fills the role at 244 lbs. Curtis Bolton and Jon-Michael Terry could also be smelling blood in the water, and will be pushing for time there as well.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 UTEP, 9/9 at Ohio State, 9/16 Tulane, 9/23 at Baylor, 10/7 Iowa State, 10/14 Texas at Dallas, 10/21 at Kansas State, 10/28 Texas Tech, 11/4 at Oklahoma State, 11/11 TCU, 11/18 at Kansas, 11/25 West Virginia
Final Overview
Oklahoma is loaded with talent, but the defense has some questions, and that may be the issue that holds the Sooners back if they do not play up to potential this season, which will be the unexpected first under Lincoln Riley. It has been rumored that Stoops was pushed out infavor of Riley, specifically because of Stoops' acceptance of PR nightmare players such as Mixon, Westbrook, Frank Shannon, and Dorrel Beckham-Green (Beckham-Green never played a down at Oklahoma after transferring from Missouri after allegedly pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs). Stoops' willingness to turn a blind eye to certain things may have become an albatross to the Sooners administration, specifically after what has happened at Baylor, Minnesota, and even now at Michigan State, among others. Riley was going to be a coach someday, so now is the time, and he should have gotten the job at East Carolina when Ruffin McNeil was fired. Riley now has the keys to a massive sports car that is ready to go at top speed, but will he have the acumen to drive it? Time will tell.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Conference Previews: Big 12

Projected Order of Finish
1. Oklahoma
2. Oklahoma State
3. West Virginia
4. TCU
5. Texas
6. Kansas State
7. Iowa State
8. Baylor
9. Texas Tech
10. Kansas

Oklahoma Sooners
The bombshell retirement of Bob Stoops last week certainly has not helped public confidence in the upcoming season for the Sooners, but the immediate move to elevate OC Lincoln Riley to the position was a good, and much needed move for this football program. Riley is one of the smartest and best young minds in the college game, and at 33, will be the youngest coach in FBS football this coming season. The good news is that Riley still has a top five caliber team that can contend for a Big 12 title, and could contend for a national playoff birth at the end of the season. Let's see if he has the drive to get them there after this late upheaval.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Despite his off-season shenanigans, the Sooners will have their Heisman candidate back at QB in Baker Mayfield. With Mayfield back, all other losses seem to be mitigated just a bit. He passed for 3965 yards last season, completed over 70% of his passes, and tossed 40 TDs to just eight picks, all while averaging 305 yards passing per game. Mayfield also added six more scores running the football, and will be a major contender for the award given to the best player in the nation this season if all things hold together.
Mayfield will be playing behind one of the best lines in the nation as well, and all five starters return there. Orlando Brown, Bobby Evans, Ben Powers, Dru Samia, and Erick Wren all return, and that is the kind of line that you need to win a national title.
Mark Andrews scored seven times as a receiver last fall, and averaged over 15 yards per reception, while Jeffrey Mead will be cast into a larger role this fall after also averaging 15 yards per grab last season. There are several others in the fight for more playing time this season at receiver, including Nick Basquine, AD Miller, Mykel Jones, Dahu Green, and Jordan Smallwood, and there are three freshmen or RS freshmen joining the group as well.
FB Dmitri Flowers averaged over five yards per carry last season, and is the lone returning starter in the RB corps.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The departures of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine at RB will really take a big bite out of the offense this fall. Mixon rushed for 1274 yards and 10 scores, while Perine added 1060 yards and 12 scores. Both were major components of the passing game as well, with Mixon being the second best receiver on the team. Mixon's departure, however, may have been more of a PR boost than most players with all of the off-field baggage that he brought to the table, whether behind him or not. Still, that kind of production loss will be difficult for the Sooners to overcome, at least early on. Look for Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson to get all of the attention early in camp, but others could give them some push. Freshmen Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, and Marcellus Sutton are all highly heralded freshmen recruits in the Sooner class of 2017, and will all eventually see the field and will make an impact.
There is talent at receiver returning, but this receiver corps needs to gel early on. Losing DeDe Westbrook, again, another potential addition by subtraction due to PR issues, and the loss of Mixon and Perine, will leave a huge production gap. The Lincoln Riley offense always seems to find receivers, so this may be less of a stress than the run game, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Austin Seibert was largely hit and miss at PK last season, as he made just 11/16 FG attempts on the season as a sophomore. He could use a good push in fall camp.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Oklahoma is changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3 set this season, and that will mean some major changes across the board. There will be one less spot to fill at LB, but luckily, three starters return from last season, and the depth is solid. Emmanuel Beal is back after finishing second in tackles last fall with 81. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is also back at OLB, and led the team with 12 TFLs, and added 71 tackles, good for third on the team. Caleb Kelly will also be at the outside spot, and finished with 36 tackles as a freshman last fall. Kelly also added three TFLs. Beal could be pushed, but more on that shortly.
Three starters return in the secondary, including both CBs in Jordan Parker and Jordan Thomas. Thomas was a beast last season with 17 PBUs, while Evans led the team with four INTs. Steven Parker is the third returnee, and finished with 63 tackles at Safety, and added four PBUs and a pair of INTs.
Austin Seibert handled Punting duties as well as being the PK. He averaged over 41 yards per punt, and it would probably good if he could handle one job or the other this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
With the change over to the 4-3 set, only one returning starter is back on the line, leaving three open jobs this fall. Matt Romar is back, and he played in just nine games last season due to injury, he could give the Sooners a second starting caliber lineman to go along with Neville Gallimore, who finished with four TFLs last fall. Both are playing DT this season, but Gallimore could be pushed by Du'Vonta Lampkin and Marqise Overton. DJ Ward, Kenneth Mann, and Mark Jackson, Jr. will all be vying for time at DE, and the Sooners also added four incoming freshman to the lot in their latest recruiting haul, with Isaiah Thomas looking to make the most impact of the lot this fall.
Beal is solid returning at LB, but is much too small to play as a traditional MLB at 214 lbs. He could get pushed for time and the job by Ricky DeBerry, who more traditionally fills the role at 244 lbs. Curtis Bolton and Jon-Michael Terry could also be smelling blood in the water, and will be pushing for time there as well.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 UTEP, 9/9 at Ohio State, 9/16 Tulane, 9/23 at Baylor, 10/7 Iowa State, 10/14 Texas at Dallas, 10/21 at Kansas State, 10/28 Texas Tech, 11/4 at Oklahoma State, 11/11 TCU, 11/18 at Kansas, 11/25 West Virginia
Final Overview
Oklahoma is loaded with talent, but the defense has some questions, and that may be the issue that holds the Sooners back if they do not play up to potential this season, which will be the unexpected first under Lincoln Riley. It has been rumored that Stoops was pushed out infavor of Riley, specifically because of Stoops' acceptance of PR nightmare players such as Mixon, Westbrook, Frank Shannon, and Dorrel Beckham-Green (Beckham-Green never played a down at Oklahoma after transferring from Missouri after allegedly pushing his girlfriend down a flight of stairs). Stoops' willingness to turn a blind eye to certain things may have become an albatross to the Sooners administration, specifically after what has happened at Baylor, Minnesota, and even now at Michigan State, among others. Riley was going to be a coach someday, so now is the time, and he should have gotten the job at East Carolina when Ruffin McNeil was fired. Riley now has the keys to a massive sports car that is ready to go at top speed, but will he have the acumen to drive it? Time will tell.

Oklahoma State Cowboys
Oklahoma State won ten games last season, and likely should have won 11 if not for a badly officiated ending to their loss at home against Central Michigan. The Cowboys look, on paper, like a team with enough offensive firepower to run sprint for sprint with Oklahoma in the Big 12, and quietly, at least offensively, may be one of the best teams in the nation this season. I have them as an early top ten program this fall, but will they live up to it?
What To Be Excited: Offense
The biggest reason to be pumped is that the triad returned intact this season in QB Mason Rudolph, RB Justice Hill, and WR James Washington. This may be one of the best trios in the nation at the offensive skill positions in college football.
Rudolph returns as the top trigger man after passing for 4091 yards, 28 TDs, and just four INTs last fall. He averaged 314.7 yards passing per game while attempting 34.5 passes per contest. He is a quiet Heisman contender in a crowded field in 2017.
Washington was a beast last season at WR, as he collected 71 receptions for 1380 yards and ten TDs. Washington is a big play machine, and averaged over 19 yards per catch, and averaged 106.2 yards per game. Other good news comes in the form of the return of fellow starting WR Jalen McCleskey, who finished second on the team with 73 receptions for 812 yards and seven scores. Chris Lacy, who caught 31 passes, moves up one spot on the depth chart this fall, and may start in three receiver sets. Marcell Ateman came on late last fall, and could be a viable fourth receiver option. Dillon Stoner, Terry Tillmon, and Obi Obialo, all sophomores this fall, should add depth to the unit as well.
Hill returns after a 206 carry season that saw him rack up 1142 yards rushing as a freshman. He could be a major star in this offense in 2017, but does not have to be the primary weapon, and that will help his overall game and development. He averaged 5.54 yards per carry last fall, and could hit a home run on just about any carry.
The line should also be in decent shape, as three starters return in Zach Crabtree, Brad Lundblade, and Marcus Keyes.
Ben Grogan returns as the PK, and he hit 19/25 FGs last fall, and hit 60/61 PAT tries as well.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
There is not a ton that I would find concerning, except that they Cowboys will have to find two new starters on the line, and that could throw off chemistry just a bit if the new starters are not gelling with the old by the time the team breaks camp. Larry Williams has prior starting experience, but was injured last fall. If healthy, he will reclaim his old job at RG. Arlington Hambright, a JC transfer, is in a four way battle with Dylan Galloway, Teven Jenkins, and Shane Richards for the RT job.
Another area of concern is at RB, where there is very little depth behind Hill, should he become injured at any point. Hill will definitely be the primary back, and there is no other plan, but he will need some relief behind him, and the most experienced back returning other than Hill is Jeff Carr, who carried all of 12 times last season.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
21 letter winners return on the Cowboy defense, seven more than the offense, but this side of the football has more questions than answers as we enter fall camp.
Both DEs return in Cole Walterscheid and Jarrell Owens. They combined for 11 TFLs last fall, and the team will also get DE Tralund Webber back as well. Webber should push for one of those starting spots after finishing with nine TFLs last fall. DeQuinton Osborne also returns at DT, and has experience. He finished with 5.5 TFLs as well. Trey Carter also returns to add some depth at DE.
Chad Whitener also returns at LB after finishing with 7.5 TFLS last fall. He totaled 71 tackles on the season and steps into a major leadership roled as the lone returning starting LB from last fall. Look for Justin Phillips, who finished with 42 tackles, to step into a major role as well.
The secondary returns just two starters from last fall in CB Ramon Richards and Safety Tre Flowers. Flowers finished with seven PBUs and two forced fumbles, while Richards finished with six PBUs, three INTs, and 64 tackles.
Zach Sinor, who averaged 42.77 yards per punt as a sophomore last fall, returns once again to handle punting duties, and will give the defense real estate to work with.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The Cowboys have got to figure out what to do with the middle of their line. Depth will not be plentiful. Osborne is back to help plug the gap, but there are only two other lettermen returning at DT in Vili Levani and Darrion Daniels. Levani played in nine games last season, and Daniels appeared in all 13 games, but had very little productivity in his time on the field.
The LB unit will need some help as well. Whitener is a two time All-Big 12 selection, and Phillips looks ready to play, but the third starting job is open and up for grabs in fall camp. JC transfer Patrick Macon may get a look, with Kevin Henry and Gyasi Akem joining the fray. Kenneth Edison-McGruder is moving from Safety to compete at the STAR LB position, but is in a fight with Kirk Tucker and Calvin Bundage.
Half of the secondary is also up for grabs as we head towards fall camp. AJ Green, Madre Harper, and Rodarius Williams are all looking for the first major playing time of their careers at CB. Ramon Richards, who is listed above as a CB, and is an exciting returning player for the Cowboys, may eventually end up at Safety, leaving both CB spots open. Malik Kearse and Bryce Balous are others who may see some action at the corner as well.
Richards could come back to CB if the Cowboys feel that Jerel Morrow and Chance Cook are ready to make some bigger contributions other than special teams play.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 Tulsa, 8/8 at South Alabama, 8/16 at Pittsburgh, 9/23 TCU, 9/30 at Texas Tech, 10/14 Baylor, 10/21 at Texas, 10/28 at West Virginia, 11/4 Oklahoma, 11/11 at Iowa State, 11/18 Kansas State, 11/25 Kansas
Final Overview
Oklahoma State may be a dark horse player for a national playoff bid in 2017. They are in a chase with Oklahoma and West Virginia for the conference title, and if the Cowboys can avoid any trap games or potential bumbles, that could very well be the result. The Cowboys have a ton of talent on offense, and the defense, although under construction in certain areas, could hold together enough to get by in this defense lacking conference known as the Big 12. Don't be surprised if some major award winners come out of this football team, and the sky could be the limit overall.

West Virginia Mountaineers
Some folks were really starting to have doubts about whether or not West Virginia could succeed in the Big 12, that maybe the program was in over their heads. Last season dispelled much of that doubt, and Dana Holgorsen saved his job by winning 10 games, and finished 7-2 in conference play. There is no reason to think that a replay of last season could not be in store, and it could even get a little bit better if the right chips fall.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Will Grier transferred over from Florida to be able to start this season with the departure of Skyler Howard, and it could not have worked out more perfectly. Grier was a star in the WVU spring game, and his potential in this offense is through the roof. Any kind of negativity with Grier was left behind at Florida, and the clean break and reboot will work wonders for him, so expect big things from the passing game with Grier at the trigger.
Justin Crawford was a major find last fall as a junior, and returns for his senior season at RB after finishing with 1184 yards rushing and four scores. He could blow up even bigger this fall, as he has massive home run potential after averaging 7.26 yards per carry last season. Sophomore Kennedy McCoy also adds some big play ability after averaging 6.47 yards per carry in relief duty in 2016. Martell Pettaway also returns, and averaged well over five yards per carry as well.
Ka'Raun White gives WVU something to be excited about in the receiving corps, despite the loss of the top two receivers from last season. White still managed to catch 48 passes as the third leading receiver from the team last fall. Jovon Durante also moves up the depth chart, and caught 35 passes last fall. Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms also return. The Mountaineers added some depth via the JC routes as well at WR, with Dominique Maiden (Riverside CC) and David Sills V, (El Camino College), who has already played at WVU before.
Kyle Bosch will return at LG, while Yodny Cajuste will return at LT after losing the season in 2016 to an opening game knee injury. Marcell Lazard is in the hunt for a job at Tackle as well. Grant Lingafelter will return to start at RG, while sophomore Matt Jones and JC transfer Kelby Wickline will battle it out at center, but more on that later.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Even though there is more than enough talent coming back and entering the fray at WR, the Mountaineers still do lose some serious talent with the losses of Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts. That was a combined 106 receptions in productivity lost, and that is a ton to ask from a relatively inexperienced, but talented crop coming back.
The Mountaineers also have a couple of considerable losses on the line as well, as All-American Center Tyler Orlosky has moved on, as has OG/OT Adam Pankey, who was a massive presence on the left side at both positions. Finding immediate replacements to gel with the returning starters will be paramount to getting this offense running early in the season.
The PK game could use some help as well, as Mike Molina connected on just 15/22 FGs last fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The defense as a whole made major improvements last fall, and allowed just 24 points per game in a league that could be scoring happy at times. That is a huge development for the Mountaineers to be carried on into the 2017 season.
The Mountaineers best look in the front seven will be at ILB, where both Al-Rasheed Benton and David Long return. Benton finished second on the team with 80 tackles last fall, while Long returns after recording 65 tackles and 4.5 TFLs.
Dravon Askew-Henry will return after missing last season at FS. He was the starter in 2015, and was injured during the preseason last fall. Kyzir White returns at the SPUR position, and will help to lead a decimated secondary into the new season. Toyous Avery will be back at the BANDIT position after collecting four PBUs last fall. Look for early enrollee Derek Pitts to get some looks at Safety as well after being named the best safety in West Virginia High Schools last fall.
Bill Kinney returns at Punter after averaging over 41 yards per boot last fall, and they may need him now more than ever to give this mostly new defensive unit a break from time to time.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
There is a ton to be worried about on defense. There may be enough talent to go around, but there are some major holes to be filled on this side of the football.
The entire defensive line needs to be replaced, for starters. Adam Shuler II got plenty of playing time last season, and fills in at one spot, while Reese Donahue got a ton of playing time as a freshman last season. Jon Lewis figurs in at some point, while Jaleel Fields looks to have an edge on the NT job after spring ball. He sustained a knee injury before ever playing a game last fall. Xavier Pegues is figuring his way in as well after missing all of last season with an injury.
Both OLBs need to be replaced as well. Look for Xavier Preston to win the SAM job, Brendan Ferns looks to come back from injury to claim a spot on the other side. Hodari Christian and Adam Hensley are in the mix for depth as well.
Three starting spots from the end of last season were unfilled heading into spring ball, and even though some good answers were found  as we head into the Summer, there are still plenty of questions, especially at CB. Rasul Douglas led the nation in picks last fall with eight, and is gone, Elijah Battle is the only returning CB on the roster with any starting experience, and he has all of three starts under his belt.
2017 Schedule
9/3 Virginia Tech at Landover, Md, 9/9 East Carolina, 9/16 Delaware State, 9/23 at Kansas, 10/7 at TCU, 10/14 Texas Tech, 10/21 at Baylor, 10/28 Oklahoma State, 11/4 Iowa State, 11/11 at Kansas State, 11/18 Texas, 11/25 at Oklahoma
Final Overview
Even with some of the gaping holes on defense, West Virginia should have enough on hand on offense to keep the ball rolling in the right direction in 2017. They are definitely a top three team in the Big 12, and with a couple of decent ball bounces, they could have a shot to steal the conference title if they really get it together and get into a rhythm early. The addition of Grier at QB is huge, and there is enough JC talent coming in to fill some holes immediately. The schedule is easy enough early on to get a good head of steam running before hitting the meat of the schedule late. I like the Mountaineers' chances of really making some noise in this conference, especially if they find the answers they need on defense early.

TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs have taken a bit of  a step back from the elite clubs in the Big 12 as of late, and they may be just on the outside of elite status once again in 2017. Gary Patterson is too good a coach to allow the Frogs to sit out of the conference title chase for too long, and we could see the blocks to building back up emerge in certain areas this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Kenny Hill returns at QB after an up and down season in 2016. Hill did manage to pass for 3208 yards and 17 TDs, but still tossed 13 INTs. We have seen Hill at his best in the past when he was still at Texas A&M, and you have to believe that some of that swagger is in there somewhere, but he has lost confidence. If he can get it back, he could be one of the better play makers in the nation. He just has to flip that switch. Hill did manage to score ten more times on his feet, and that aspect of his game cannot be ignored.
Kyle Hicks should get a bigger load to carry in 2017 to take some pressure off of Hill at QB. Hicks was very good at times last fall, as he rushed for 1042 yards and 12 TDs, while averaging 5.13 yards per carry. He needs to increase his carries from just over 15 per game to around 20 per game to become more effective in keeping the offense on the rails.
Darius Anderson had limited experience as a freshman last season, but has some serious big play ability, as he averaged 8.48 yards per carry on just 27 touches. He should start to see more time as a sophomore. Sewo Olonilua, and Trevorris Johnson both return as well to add depth.
Taj Williams,KaVaontae Turpin, Ty Slanina, and Emanuel Porter all return to start at WR from the bowl game, as does John Giarse, who finished second in receiving last fall. Williams racked up 702 yards on 39 catches, and is a big time deep threat who averaged 19 yards per catch. Hicks is a big time threat as a receiver out of the backfield as well, catching 47 balls a last fall. In total, six different Frogs caught at least 20 passes a year ago, and the top seven receivers in total all return.
The line returns four senior starters this fall as well in LT Joseph Noteboom, LG Patrick Morris, C Austin Schlotmann, and RG Matt Pryor.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
With Kenny Hill at QB, you just do not know what to expect. He has been a hot starter during his career who fades as the season wears on, and you just don't know where his confidence level is from week to week. I believe that he has the tools to succeed at the position and in this offense, but he has to believe that as well. Foster Sawyer did not impress last fall in limited backup duty, so if Hill cannot go, there is really nobody proven with any experience behind him.
The RT spot is open, and the primary candidate for the job will by far be the kid on the block. Lucas Niang, a sophomore, was the understudy last fall, and is in line for first crack at the spot.
The PK job may be a battle in camp as well. Brandon Hatfield was not exactly getting it done last fall, as he only hit 13/19 FG attempts. That opened the door for Ryan Graf, who hit 5/6 attempts. Graf may have the inside track to win the job in camp this fall as a sophomore.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
TCU normally has had the trademark of being a defensively staunch team, but this unit has suffered much like defenses across the Big 12 in recent times. TCU allowed 28 points per game last fall, which is something that needs to be shored up this season.
Improvement will have to start with the LBs in the 4-2-5 set that TCU employs. Both backers return in 2017 in Montrel Wilson at MLB, and Travin Howard at SLB. Howard led the team with a whopping 130 tackles last fall, as the defensive front got worn down and allowed plays to continue onto the second level. Howard finished with three TFLs on the year, and 72 of his tackles were solo jobs. Ty Summers, who was not listed as a starter, and likely will be when camp role around, finished second on the team with 121 tackles. Sammy Douglas will also be heard from after a 60 tackle effort last fall. Alec Dunham and Paul Whitmill, return to add depth as well.
The five member secondary returns four starters this fall, and should have one of their stronger units in some time. Niko Small is back at FS, while Nick Orr is back at WS. Orr finshed with 86 tackles last fall, good for third on the team, while Small finished with 83 tackles. They also combined for 15 PBUs on the season to go with six combined INTs. Ranthony Texada and Julius Lewis also both return at CB. Texada finished with seven PBUs, while Lewis played in just six games, collecting 16 tackles. Texada added 46 tackles as well. Five key reserves will return in the secondary as well, giving the Frogs one of the deepest defensive backfields in the nation.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The defensive line wore down plenty last fall, and that unit is an area of concern once again, as only one of four starters returns this fall. Joseph Broadnax, a DT, is the lone returning starter. He finished with just 23 tackles last season, and was not much of a force in the backfield. Tipa Galeai and Brandon Bowen are in a battle at one DE spot, while Mat Boesan and Isaiah Chanbers are battling at the other. With Aaron Curry gone at DT, look for the battle to rage in camp between Chris Bradley, Ross Blacklock, and LJ Collier to replace him.
Adam Nunez was the starting Punter as a freshman last season, but did not blow the doors off of Amon Carter Stadium with his work. He averaged just over 39 yards per punt, and will need to show more success this fall if the defense has the ability to wear down once again. They will need all of the real estate that they can get their hands on.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Jackson State, 9/9 at Arkansas, 9/16 SMU, 9/23 at Oklahoma State, 10/7 West Virginia, 10/14 at Kansas State, 10/21 Kansas, 10/28 at Iowa State, 11/4 Texas, 11/11 at Oklahoma, 11/18 at Texas Tech, 11/24 Baylor
Final Overview
TCU has enough on offense to make some noise in Big 12 play this fall, but the schedule is rather brutal. A three game stretch with Arkansas, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia, with the first two being on the road, will help define what kind of team this will be, and that SMU game in the middle may be no joke as well. If TCU can get to the midpoint of the season in one piece, and not too much worse for wear, they could really be a dark horse, but giving up 28 points per game, or more, will not get it done, nor will an erratic Kenny Hill at QB. This season can either go very well, or quite poorly, depending on those two major areas of concern.

Texas Longhorns
The Charlie Strong era at Texas never fully got off the ground, nor was it ever really given the fuel to do so. Not everyone in the administration stood fully behind Strong, and it showed from day one. The new Tom Herman era begins, and the support level is a complete 180 degree turn from where it was under Strong. Everyone is all in on Herman, who was largely the hottest coaching target in the nation, which is debatable as to why he was after winning just nine games at Houston in a season in which the Cougars were largely expected to be a potential playoff buster. Herman has stormed into Austin with a ton of bluster, but he has to produce on the field now, and that may be easier said than done.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The foundation of any good offense starts with the line, and four starters return this fall in Brandon Hodges, Zach Shackleford, Patrick Vahe, and Connor Williams. In short, the Horns could have one fo the most experienced lines in the Big 12 coming back, which could be a platform to boost them higher than fifth in the league, which is where I have them spotted at.
At QB, Shane Buechele returns after a freshman season that showed occasional flashes of brilliance. He passed for 2958 yards and 21 TDs, while he rushed for another two scores. Buechele completed 60.4% of his passes, and averaged 32.6 pass attempts per game. He finished the season with 246.5 yards passing per game, and all of his numbers were what I would call completely acceptable and uplifting for any freshman.
Buechele should be a happy guy, if he keeps the job (more on that in a moment), as 10 of his top 11 receivers return to action this fall. Armanti Foreman and Dorian Leonard were listed in Spring ball as the returning starters. They combined to post 63-817-6 on the year last season. Devin Duverney, Jake Oliver, Collin Johnson, Jerrod Heard, John Burt, and Lorenzo Joe all return as well to give the Horns one of the deepest receiving groups in the nation.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
There are only three QBs on the spring roster listed, and that could be a very big problem if Buechele gets injured, but even worse, Buechele is being pushed by new head coach Tom Herman in favor of incoming freshman Sam Ehlinger, who is out of the famed Westlake area of Texas. That battle was allowed to rage in spring ball, and may continue into the fall as Herman pushes his guy, rather than the established starter.
The run game has got to improve on some levels. D'Onta Foreman was responsible for a huge chunk of yards, but he has moved on to the NFL, and the most experienced returning back is Chris Warren, who carried 62 times as the backup last fall. Kyle Porter and Tristian Houston return as well, but combined for just 49 carries as freshmen last season.
A new PK must be found as Trent Dominique moves on after a largely up and down senior season.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The defense could show the most improvement of any unit in the Big 12 this fall, as ten total starters return, as do 23 letter winners from last year's team.
Three starters return up front in Poona Ford, Chris Nelson, and Charles Omenihu. Ford finished with 54 tackles and 5.5 TFLs last fall. Nelson Finished with 45 tackles and six TFLs, while Omenihu finished with 26 tackles and 3.5 TFLs. D'Andre Christmas, Jordan Elliott, Malcolm Roach, and Geald Wilbon all return to give the Horns considerable on field rotational depth.
Three starters return at LB, but none of the three had a complete season in 2016. Naashon Hughes, Malik Jefferson, and Anthony Wheeler will all be back, but they combined for 23 starts, with Jefferson's nine being the group high. Wheeler led the team with 66 tackles, while Jefferson finished with 62. Roach collected 33 tackles on the year. Edwin Freeman, Breckyn Hager, Jeffrey McCulloch, and Cameron Townsend also return. Hager collected 64 tackles, while Freeman added 48.
Four starters will return in the secondary as well for the Longhorns in John Bonney (nine PBUs), Kris Boyd (51 tackles), Jason Hall (52 tackles, 4.5 for loss), and PJ Locke (33 tackles, two INTs). five other members of the secondary who lettered last fall also return.
Michael Dickson, one of the best punters in the nation last season, returns after gaining 47.37 yards per punt on the year. He averaged 256 yards per game on 5.4 punts per contest.
What To Be concerned About: Defense
On paper, there should not be much to worry about, as only one defensive line position is up for battle in camp. Where I am concerned is, despite returning so much depth, this is still a unit that allowed 31.5 points per game last season, and there were so many contributors that did not get in  full season due to injuries or other matters. There needs to be some serious consistency this season, which is something that has been lacking for some time. If this unit can get themselves together as a cohesive team, there should be major improvements coming about, and Texas could emerge as a dark horse early on in the season from this side of the football alone. I would expect a new energy out of this group, and if that happens, look out, but if they fail to gel collectively, this could turn into another train wreck.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Maryland, 9/9 San Jose State, 9/16 at USC, 9/28 at Iowa State, 10/7 Kansas State, 10/14 Oklahoma at Dallas, 10/21 Oklahoma State, 10/28 at Baylor, 11/4 at TCU, 11/11 at Kansas, 11/18 at West Virginia, 11/24 Texas Tech
Final Overview
The Longhorns are now in serious put up or shut up territory as they try to wrap up an era of complete incompetence all the way around their athletic department. Mack Brown left nothing in the cupboard when he was let go, and Charlie Strong was largely aloud to just flounder with limited support. Enter Tom Herman, who Texas largely put every effort into hiring, and now we are expecting to see real change. The thing, for me, is that I am not entirely a true believe in Herman as of yet. I saw him do some decent things at Houston, but let's face it it, the program was not that bad when he took it over, and he never stayed there long enough to put his own real stamp on anything, and he severely under performed in 2016, when everything was on the line, as he had an eye for the outside the minute that Houston was not given an invite into the Big 12. Herman has certainly flown onto the scene with a level of bluster that I have rarely seen, but that outs a larger target on his back right away. Recruiting is flying up the boards, but Texas is finally in the place where they need to get it done on the field. The schedule, after the opening two weeks, is fairly serious in conference play, and the USC game on the road should really give us a picture as to what we can expect come November. Herman has his dream job, now let's see how he runs with it. 

Kansas State Wildcats
Bill Snyder will one day star in a film where he plays a character called "Time Immortal". He has now been at Kansas State forever, with that short hiatus where some very foolish administrators actually believed Ron Prince to be a head coach. Health is starting to show some issues for the venerable old coach, and the end of his run may truly be coming, but is this a season where he could pull one last rabbit from his sleeve and lead a dark horse team into the trenches to steal some thunder?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
It can be said that Jesse Ertz was never 100% last season, and he underwent shoulder surgery immediately after the season ended. He is in full recovery, and Snyder has stated in recent days that he has never seen Ertz throw the ball as well as he is right now in rehab. Ertz should be ready to go full speed in fall camp, and if his shoulder is better, and he gets unleashed in the passing game, he could be one of the more interesting stories at QB in the nation. He passed for a limited 1755 yards last fall, and added over 1200 yards rushing. If he can pass for over 2000 yards this season and keep the rushing totals churning, he could be a dark horse Heisman guy when all is said and done.
Ertz should have a solid wall in front of him, as four starters return on the line. Abdul Beecham, Scott Frantz, Reid Najvar, and Dalton Risner will all anchor up front this fall, with one position left open. Six other lettermen all return.
Byron Pringle, the leading receiver and biggest deep threat on the team will return to lead the receiving corps. Pringle caught 39 passes for 631 yards and four scores last fall, and averaged 16.18 yards per grab. Five of the top six WRs from last season also return in Dominique Heath, Isaiah Zuber, Isaiah Harris, Corey Sutton, and Zach Reuter. Matthew McCrane wil return as a senior to anchor the kicking game after finishing with 11 FGs in 14 attempts last fall. He also managed to nail all 29 PAT attempts he tried.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Ertz has got to be healthy this season, because the Wildcats can really use a top notch passer to keep them in the track meets that Big 12 games can often turn into. The Wildcats did manage to score 32.2 points per game last fall, but one area of concern that can effect that to the negative is their run game. After Ertz, there is no true home run threat in the run game. Charles Jones has moved on, leaving a trio of backs in Justin Silmon, Alex Barnes, and Dalvin Warmack who combined for 163 carries as a group last fall. Someone needs to seriously step up and become a 150 carry back this fall, and 200 carries would be even better.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Kansas State is annually one of the only teams in Big 12 play that chooses to make a stand on defense, as the Wildcats allowed just 22.3 points per game last season.
Three starters return on the line in DTs Trey Dishon and Will Geary, and DE Reggie Walker. Walker was a leader in this unit last season despite playing as a freshman. He finished with 11.5 TFLs on the year from the edge. Geary and Dishon combined for 11 TFLs coming up the middle and through the gaps.
The secondary also returns three starters in Kendall Adams, DJ Reed, and Duke Shelley. Reed was one of the best coverage guys in the nation, as he finished with 16 PBUs last fall. He also tied for the team lead with three INTs. Adams picked off two passes and finished with 62 tackles. Shelley also finished with three INTs and four PBUs, and finished with 48 tackles.
Nick Walsh is back at Punter after averaging 42.78 yards per punt last fall. If he should falter, Mitch Lochbihler averaged 46.6 yards per punt on just five tries last season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The entire middle of the field is a huge void right now, as every starting LB must be replaced in fall camp. One of the most productive LB corps in the nation last year loses a massive amount of production, and the answers will have to be found quickly. Chase Johnston, Jayd Kirby, Sam Sizelove, and Elijah Sullivan are the only letter winners from 2016 that are returning, and that will not be enough for finding new starters and providing decent depth. This may be one of the deepest voids that you will find anywhere in the nation this season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Central Arkansas, 9/9 Charlotte, 9/16 at Vanderbilt, 9/30 Baylor, 10/7 at Texas, 10/14 TCU. 10/21 Oklahoma, 10/28 at Kansas, 11/4 at Texas Tech, 11/11 West Virginia, 11/18 at Oklahoma State, 11/25 Iowa State
Final Overview
Kansas State has enough on this roster on offense to make some noise in Big 12 play, but their questions, specifically on defense at LB, are too many to actually see the Wildcats being able to get close to contending for a conference title. I do see the Wildcats taking somewhat of a step back this season, but the biggest question may be at this point, after a throat cancer scare, how many of these seasons does Bill Snyder have in the tank? Kansas State likely finishes in the middle of the league, gets a bowl game, and we get to assess this question again next spring.

Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State and Matt Campbell were so close to being a very good football team last season. They lost five games by seven points or less last fall, and had they found a way to win those games, they would end up being an 8-4 football team with a bowl bid, and would have been considered one of the best programs in the conference in 2017. They lose all five of those games in 2016, and finish with three wins overall, and now they are a team that may be on the cusp of something big. Can they turn the corner and get there this fall?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Two QBs played extensively for the Cyclones in 2016, but it sure would be nice to get just one in the starting role and ride with him. Jacob Park had the best numbers last fall, and returns as a junior in 2017. He passed for 1791 yards and 12 TDs to just five picks in ten games. He completed 58.8% of his passes, a number that certainly could be improved upon.
Senior Joel Lanning also returns this fall after passing for 1290 yards and nine TDs to just three INTs. He completed just 58.6% of his passes, but where he is different than Park is that he has a dual threat part of his game, and he managed to rush for 518 yards and a team high 11 scores. Again, if one can take the reins, it is possible that the Cyclones could fly higher.
The passing game could really have a major impact this fall, as four different receivers who had starting experience last fall will return to the fol, including Allen Lazard, the leading receiver for the Cyclones in 2016. He ended with 69 receptions for 1018 yards and seven scores, and skipped the NFL draft to return to school as a senior to try and help this program turn the corner. Joining Lazard will be Carson Epps, DeShaunte Jones, and Trevor Ryen. Jones finished by posting 37-536-6 while averaging almost 14.5 yards per reception. Epps and Ryen combined for 60 receptions last fall, and give the passing game plenty of second level options.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The run game really needs a star to develop this fall. Mike Warren was the Big 12 freshman of the year in 2015, and was nowhere near the same back in 2016. Injuries were a big part of his disappearing act, but the Cyclones need him to get back to where he can be in a big way if this is the season that they are going to turn the corner and go to a bowl game. David Montgomery looks like he could take the reins if needed, and looked very strong at the end of last season, but he has a relatively small sample size in which to know if he can take the reins and be the main back or not. Kene Nwangwu specialized in kick returns last fall, and has not really factored in much as a RB, but getting him some reps would help with overall depth. Otherwise, this unit is fairly thin.
The offensive line is in tatters as we head into fall camp. Four starters departed, and a fifth with starting experience departs as well. Jake Campos returns with 32 career starts under his belt, and Julian Good -Jones will be back with 11 career starts, and he should slide into a starting role, but the other three spots will be encompassed by three players with zero starting experience.
The Cyclones will also have an issue at PK, as Cole Netten has departed after hitting 16/17 FGs last season. Peyton Paddock, a sophomore who tried and made one PAT last fall, will get the first chance at replacing him.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Three players with starting experience return on the line in DE JaQuan Bailey, DE JD Waggoner, and DT Vernell Trent. Bailey collected six TFLs as a freshman last season, while Waggoner played in just five games and could be on the verge of coming into his own as a senior f he can remain injury free. Trent is more of a gap stopper rather than a play maker, and should be able to move some bodies around. It's good to have this experience back, but this group must perform to a higher level with the loss of DT Jhaustin Thomas.
Willie Harvey will be the leader at LB with 17 career starts. He finished second on the team with 7.5 TFLs last fall, and finished tied for the team lead with 78 tackles. Reggan Northrup also returns at LB after recording 50 tackles last fall. He has seven career starts and recorded 3.5 TFLs last fall.
The secondary should be decent this fall, as four starting caliber players return. Kamari Cotton-Moya and Mike Johnson both return at Safety. Cotton-Moya collected five PBUs, while Johnsonfinished with 44 tackles overall. Evrett Edwards and Brian Peavy will both be back at CB. Edwards collected 52 tackles and three PBUs last fall, while Peavy collected 62 tackles and led the team with 11 PBUs.
Colin Downing is back as the Punter after averaging over 41 yards per punt in 2016.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Part of the problem for the Cyclones last season, and it was a major part, is that this unit gave up over 31 points per game, and the offense struggled to come up just short of 28. That has to turn around if the Cyclones are to get around that proverbial corner this fall.
The defensive line, while having some experience coming back, has got to be more productive than the trio of returning starters were last fall. A new starter at DT must be found to replace a team leader in Thomas.
The LB group also has a considerable loss in Kane Seeley. This unit is solid, but they must become more effective at the point of attack, and they need to start getting some penetration up front to make mor eplays behind the line. One new starter must be found here, and all of the hard work cannot fall squarely on Willie Harvey.
The secondary was not one of a ball hawking nature for the most part, Peavy aside. The team did manage to pick off nine passes as a unit last fall, but they can do better.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Northern Iowa, 9/9 Iowa, 9/16 at Akron, 9/28 Texas, 10/7 at Oklahoma, 10/14 Kansas, 10/21 at Texas Tech, 10/28 TCU, 11/4 at West Virginia, 11/11 Oklahoma State, 11/18 at Baylor, 11/25 at Kansas State
Final Overview
The Cyclones are showing major signs of life under Matt Campbell in one year, and year two could see some turns if they can turn some of those close losses into wins. Many people, myself included, thought that Campbell was nuts to take this job, but he may be just crazy enough to make it into something, as was evident at times last season in Big 12 play. One thing that this team cannot afford to do is lose to Northern Iowa in the opener for a second straight season, as that will set a tempo that nobody wants to duplicate again. If they can avoid that issue, then they have the first hurdle cleared. You also cannot afford another blowout loss to arch rival Iowa early on. If those two things can be changed alone, it could be a better go for the Cyclones, as they should be 2-1 heading into conference play against this schedule.

Baylor Bears
After a brutal year of off-field issues and fired coaches and overall darkness, the Baylor football program is looking for a way back into the light under first year coach Matt Ruhle and a new staff that is largely in place die to their Texas High School connections. In many mindsm the damage has been done, and continues to happen as more and more allegations of sexual assault and wrongdoing by the former staff continue to bleed into the public eye, and it has killed recruiting in many ways. Can Ruhle eventually overcome this drama? Why did a guy with Northeast roots even want this job in the first place?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Zach Smith played in ten games at QB in 2016 due to injuries to Seth Russell. He played well enough to earn a lean on getting the starting nod this season, but a late development may have changed all of that, when former Arizona starter Anu Solomon transferred in. Solomon had a truly amazing freshman season,but the injury bug then set in and has largely derailed his career, as had terrible coaching from the current Arizona staff. Solomon has a chance to hit the reset button, and if he can hold the job through fall camp, and stay healthy, Baylor has a solid situation on their hands in the passing game.
Shock Linwood left early to prepare for an NFL draft that he had no shot of getting drafted in prior to the bowl game last fall, but that leaves the door wide open for Terrence Williams, who may be a breakout candidate in 2017. I saythat lightly, because he managed to rush for 1058 yards and 11 scores while largely splitting carries with Linwood last season, and he will likely be the primary back this fall, giving him all kinds of opportunities to explode onto the scene. JaMycal Hasty also carried the football over 100 times last season. and there should be opportunities for him as well after a 623 yard rushing season.
Four starters are set to return on the line, which is a good start for whatever kind of offense that Ruhle will be setting up in. LT Dom DeSouza, LG Ishmael Wilson, RG Blake Blackmar, and RT Patrick Lawrence are all set to come back, and every key reserve will return as well up front.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Zach Smith was good, but was not great last fall at QB, and nobody knows what Anu Solomon has left in the tank. If neither player can lift themselves up and really grab the starting job, the QB position can go from a traditional Baylor strength, to a complete and utter mess.
The receivers are not as deep and talented as they have been in recent seasons for the Bears. KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora both left early for the NFL Draft, good decision or not, and that leaves Baylor thin on experience. Chris Platt is the lone returning starter from the bowl game two deep, and he caught 35 balls last fall. Blake Lynch also returns as a sophomore, and he caught 34 passes. After those two players, nobody caught more than 13 passes last season.
The kicking game needs some juice as well. Chris Callahan is back as a senior, but hit just 10/15 FG attempts last season, which may have opened the door for sophomore Connor Martin to give him a good push in camp this fall.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
If what Ruhle did at Temple is any indication, he will put an emphasis on this side of the football, which is something that Art Briles never did.
All three starters return on the line in DEs Greg Roberts and KJ Smith, and NT Tyrone Hunt. Smith led the team last season with 12 TFLs and seven sacks, and finished with 67 tackles overall. Hunt and Roberts combined for 8.5 TFLs and combined for 57 tackles. Ira Lewis is a key returnee at NT, and may push for starting time as well after finishing with 36 total tackles. Xavier Jones, Jamie Jacobs, and Bravvion Roy will also all return.
Three starters will return in the secondary for the Bears. NB Travon Blanchard, Safety Davion Hall, and CB Grayland Arnold will all be back. Blanchard finished with five PBUs and 73 tackles on the season. Hall finished with 51 tackles, three PBUs, and a pick. Arnold, a freshman last fall, broke up four passes, and finished with 20 tackles. Four key reserves return as well in Jameson Houston, Verkedric Vaughns, Chance Waz, and Jourdan Blake.
Punter Drew Galitz will also return after finishing with an average of 41.59 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Baylor still gave up quite a few points last season, as is indicative of a team that finished the regular season on a six game skid after winning their first six games.
One area to look at is at LB this fall, as only one starter returns in Taylor Young. Young finished second on the team last season with 93 tackles, but will be exposed on either side with inexperienced starters. Young was good for nine TFLs, and 4.5 sacks as well. Thomas Cletcher, a junior this fall, will likely start at one OLB spot, with either Raaquan Davis or Clay Johnston starting at the other.
Two starters also need to be found in the secondary, a unit that gave up just shy of 3000 yards passing last season. CB Ryan Reid, and Safety Orion Stewart are both gone. They combined for 13 PBUs last season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Liberty, 9/9 UTSA, 9/16 at Duke, 9/23 Oklahoma, 9/30 at Kansas State, 10/14 at Oklahoma State, 10/21 West Virginia, 10/28 Texas, 11/4 at Kansas, 11/11 Texas Tech at Arlington, 11/18 Iowa State, 11/24 at TCU
Final Overview
Matt Ruhle is a very good football coach who took on a reclamation project at Temple and succeeded to certain degrees to make that program relevant. He has a huge mess to solve with all kinds of baggage after what has happened and what is still happening in the aftermath around the Baylor football program. To remotely hint at expecting immediate success would be just completely sweeping all of that under the rug. There is more going on in Waco than football around this program, and that is a big problem that will be used against this program in recruiting for years to come. Ruhle has got to dig in and cut out the bad seeds and continue to try to get on the right track with the players in this program, and that is going to take some time. This team could either win six games in 2017, or they could completely explode in a bad way.


Texas Tech Red Raiders
Patrick Mahomes was one of the most high profile QBs to ever start at the position for Texas Tech, and that was not enough for him to ever be a winner in Lubbock. One would imagine that the clock on Kliff Kingsbury has go to the running out as head coach of the Red Raiders short of a major miracle in 2017. The problem is that Mahomes is gone, and while anyone can basically run this system of offense, who will be the guy who will replace him, and can this football team ever be relevant in the Big 12 with the current staff in place?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Texas Tech rarely has a bad QB, and even with Mahomes out of the picture Nic Shimonek showed flashes in his time on the field to make me believe that the passing game will not miss much of a beat. He passed for 464 yards and six TDs to just one INT last fall, and completed 65.5% of his pass attempts in limited action. He truly seems as if he can step right in and lead the action on offense without a problem.
The line will return three starters this fall. LG Jack Reichel, RG Justin Murphy, and RT Terence Steele will all return this fall, and all three were underclassmen a year ago. Reichel and Murphy will be juniors this fall, and they will be juniors with a ton of experience.
Jonathon Giles is back at the Y receiver spot after leading the team with 69 receptions for 1158 yards and a team leading 13 TDs. Keke Coutee will also be back at the H receiver after catching 55 passes for 890 yards and seven scores. Both are big play threats who averaged over 16 yards per catch last fall. Dylan Cantrell is back as well after a 57 catch season, and Cameron Batson caught 61 passes, and is back as well. Ian Sadler and Derrick Willies will both return to add exceptional depth at the receiver position.
Clayton Hatfield made 13/14 FG attempts last season, and will return for his junior season.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Running the football is a mere suggestion for this staff, but you do not win if you cannot run the football, and the Red Raiders don't, can't, or won't run the football. Texas Tech finished 123rd in the nation in rushing last season at just 103.58 yards per game as a team. That will not get it done, and Deshaun Foster finally gave up and left as RB coach for the job at UCLA where he could actually try to accomplish something. Da'Leon Ward and Demarcus Felton both return, but is that all that big of a deal?
The line also needs two new starters. Madison Akamnonu was a freshman last seaosn, and may be the main candidate at LT, while replacing Tony Morales at Center is a wide open battle heading into fall camp.
Shimonek looks ready at QB, but the reality is that he only had four games in limited minutes last fall. If he falters, there is no other experience around to pick up the ball and throw it.
Hatfield being back at PK is solid, but he is an adventure at times on PAT tries, as he missed five last fall. That is a development worth watching as well.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
I will not insult my readers by even suggesting that Kingsbury knows the first thing about defense. This team has been a mess on that side of the ball ever since he took over as head coach. The Red Raiders allowed 43.5 points per game last fall, and may as well change their nickname to the Red Raided. In a total first, I find absolutely nothing about this unit to be excited about.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Be concerned that this coaching staff has no clue what they are doing defensively. It's so bad that it befuddles me that Kingsbury, probably one of the ten worst coaches in FBS football currently (and it's more like in the five worst), still has a job as a head coach. He has done a terrible job in hiring defensive staff, and he should be nowhere near the table when defensive game planning is in full effect. It is obvious that he is lost there.
The Red Raiders collected, as a team, just 47 TFLs all season long on defense, while the Red Raiders offense allowed 67 TFLs against. That is a differential of 20!
The secondary picked off just five passes all season, while the offense gave up 11. That is more than double!
Texas Tch generated just 14 sacks in 12 games, while the offense allowed 30. Again, just more than double!
It is obvious that they key areas of this unit are inherently broken, and I do not believe that the current staff has a clue in hell as to how to fix any of it.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Eastern Washington, 9/16 Arizona State, 9/23 at Houston, 9/30 Oklahoma State, 10/7 at Kansas, 10/14 at West Virginia, 10/21 Iowa State, 10/28 at Oklahoma, 11/4 Kansas State, 11/11 at Baylor, 11/18 TCU, 11/24 at Texas
Final Overview
The Red Raiders are a complete mess on defense, and now they have some questions on offense. You cannot win with an unbalanced approach to the game, and the Red Raiders all passing, no running, and no defense approach to trying to outscore every single opponent in a shoot out does not, and has never worked. This program largely wasted Mahomes and his ability at QB, and now there is legitimately not a star left on offense to carry the load that has been identified. Kingsbury should already have been fired by now, and if this team is as bad as I think it is, there is no justifiable way he should be back for a sixth season. In short, this program has become a shell of itself as it was under Mike Leach, which was still probably the dumbest firing of all time. Some messes cannot be cleaned up, they just need to get blown up and rebuilt. That is the case here.

Kansas Jayhawks
This program has largely been a train wreck for the most part of the last decade. Mark Mangino was the last coach to win with any regularity at Kansas, and he has been gone for a long while now. I was very open about the hiring of David Beaty for Kansas being the wrong move, and I still stand by that statement. If he wins just one or two games again, for the third consecutive season, will those who have stood by him finally change their tune? Will they have a choice?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Not much. This is a unit that scored just 20.3 points per game last fall, and that was in year two under Beaty. Did I see the improvement that I would expect in year two under a new head coach? Well, maybe in some ways, but not in many. The Jayhawks did manage to score five more points per game in year two than in year one, but that was not saying much.
Montell Cozart has left the program, leaving the job at QB to Carter Stanley. Stanley, a sophomore, basically took the job away in any event, and will not have to look over his shoulder much as he tries to develop into a serviceable player. That said, I am not certain as to how impactful he can be, other than the fact that he holds the job undisputed now.
Four starters return on the line, and that is where this team has to start finding an identity on offense. Hakeem Adeniji is back at LT, Jayson Rhodes at LG, Mesa Ribordy at C, and Larry Hughes at RG.
There will be some fight from the starting WRs this fall, as Steven Sims, Jr. is back along with LaQuvionte Gonzalez to lead the pack. They combined for 134 receptions last fall, and are by far the two best parts to the offense. As they go, so will the development of Stanley.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Really and truly, you have to be concerned about every aspect of this offense, as the scoring average would indicate. If this offense cannot get right in 2017, Beaty will have to be shown the door for someone who can get in there and motivate this group to find themselves and be free in the game. Right now, they cannot do that. I do know how bare the cupboard was, but you simply cannot go through three years of waning production and stick around in a conference that is fed by the fires of offense.
One area that has got to be fixed is the run game. Kansas loses their best back in Ke'aun Kinner, and there was nobody even close to his level on this football team in carries, yards per carry, or total rushing yards last season. Finding a back or a couple of backs that can get the job done in camp will be of paramount importance.
The kicking game is also a mess. Matthew Wyman is gone, and he was not great after hitting just 13/19 FGs last season. The Jayhawks need every bit of scoring they can find, and finding a competent kicker will also be a huge project in fall camp.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
I am not trying to go overtly negative, but Kansas gave up over 37 points per game last fall, 17 more than they scored each week. Losing by double digits on an average is not getting it done.
Luckily, there are building blocks for Kansas up front. Dorance Armstrong, Jr. finished last fall with 20 TFLs, 10 sacks, and 56 tackles, and is one of the best edge guys in the Big 12 conference. DT Daniel Wise is also very adept at disrupting the backfield from up the middle, as he finished with 10 TFLs from his DT spot. He finshed with 38 total tackles.
Delsaac Davis will also return at NT.
Cole Moos will be back as the Punter, and averaged 41.42 yards per punt last season on 6.1 punts per game.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The Entire back seven is in a rebuild mode right now, as only one LB, and one member of the secondary that started the season finale will return to Lawrence this fall.Keith Loneker, Jr. is that one returning starter in the 4-2-5 set. Loneker finished with just 43 tackles last season, and he is not active behind the line of scrimmage. Denzel Feaster is likely to win the open LB spot, but there is likely to be some push for him in camp from Joe Dineen, Jr.
There is only one returning starter in the entire secondary, meaning four new starters need to be found in the defensive backfield. Mike Lee, a sophomore, is that guy. Lee finished with 77 tackles, with 70 of those coming as solo jobs. Lee should be OK in run support, he lacks skills in pass coverage, and Kansas needs more in pass defense, given that they allowed 26 TD passes last fall as a team.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 SE Missouri State, 9/9 Central Michigan, 9/16 at Ohio, 9/23 West Virginia, 10/7 Texas Tech, 10/14 at Iowa State, 10/21 at TCU, 10/28 Kansas State, 11/4 Baylor, 11/11 at Texas, 11/18 Oklahoma, 11/25 at Oklahoma State
Final Overview
Kansas has won exactly one conference games in two seasons under David Beaty, and I really do not see how much better Kansas can be in 2017 than they have been over the last two seasons. The talent level is still not nearly what it needs to be, and recruiting has not exactly taken off like a rocket under the current staff. The schedule does not look bad out of conference, but I cannot say that I would favor the Jayhawks over Central Michigan or Ohio. If Kansas cannot show a major surge forward, it's hard to say how the administration can still go on about their belief in Beaty, because the record just will not be there.