Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Southern Miss Golden Eagles


Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Southern Miss completely underachieved in year one under Jay Hopson, and even found a way to lose to Charlotte. What happened last fall should be enough to push this team in 2017 to not slide back again. If they can use that as motivation, the West Division is wide open for the Eagles to grab. Is there enough in the tank to get it done?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Ito Smith may be the most important returning player in CUSA in 2017. He is absolutely a pre-season CUSA player of the year candidate after rushing for 1459 yards last fall. He scored 17 rushing TDs, and avereaged 5.51 yards per carry. George Payne and Tez Parks both will return as the primary backups as well, so the run game should not be a major issue. Smith also added 43 receptions.
Isaiah Jones and Korey Robertson will be back to settle their battle for one of the starting WR jobs, and combined for 57 receptions. Allenzae Staggers is also back, and led the team in receiving last fall with 62 receptions for 1157 yards and seven scores.
Parker Shanfield is back at PK, and was almost automatic last fall, as he hit 12/14 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
QB Nick Mullins is gone, and that is a problem. Keon Howard was the primary backup last season, and is back, but his play was erratic, at best, as he completed just 44% of his passing attempts in limited duty. That is not going to be good enough. Three other QBs on the roster are freshmen, and nobody on the roster, other than Howard, have any experience at all, so the Eagles are hitting the reboot button here.
The offensive line is being rebuilt as well, and that is another major problem for the Eagles. Will Freeman and Jacob Fleming were fighting it out to start in the bowl at LT, and now both are gone. The same could be said for Brandon Farmer and Oliver Bates at LG. Cameron Tom is also gone at C, but Tyler Stutzman is back, and should take over. Devin Farrier was in a battle to start at RG, but the job seems to be all his as we head into fall camp. Ty Pollard, a RS sophomore, should be starting again at RT. All in all, the entire left side of the line is somewhat in flux, and so battles need to ensue in camp to figure it out.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The defense slid by almost four points per game last fall, to give up over 29 points per game. Southern Miss will be back running the 3-3-5 again, and the unit will be led up front by DE Xavier Thigpen, who finished with 12.5 TFLs last season. LaDarius Harris and Draper Riley battled for the DT job last fall, and combined for 8.5 TFLs. They will likely both get plenty of time on the field this fall. Rod Crayton is a little bit undersized for NT, but he should be stepping into the starting role there this fall. Derrick Dixon returns as the backup at DE as well.
Three starters return in the nickle defense secondary. Picasso Nelson, Jr. is back at NB, Cornell Armstrong is back at CB, and Curtis Mickell is back at the other CB position. Nelson finished with 48 tackles, Armstrong finished with eight PBUs, and Curtis Mikell finished with four PBUs. Tarvarius Moore is also back at FS this fall, and should step up to the starting role.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Southern Miss has some issues at LB this fall, as they lose both CJ Perry and Elijah Parker. Jeremy Sangster has a shot to replace Perry, while Sherrod Ruff has a shot to replace Parker. Ruff finished with 37 tackles last fall, but Sangster finished with just seven, and is an unknown quantity, and may very well lose the job in fall camp.
Tyler Sarrazin is also gone at Punter, and he was a valuable piece to the puzzle last fall. He averaged 44.74 yards per punt last season.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Kentucky, 9/9 Southern, 9/16 at UL-Monroe, 9/30 North Texas, 10/7 at UTSA, 10/14 UTEP. 10/21 at Louisiana Tech, 10/28 UAB, 11/4 at Tennessee, 11/11 at Rice, 11/18 Charlotte, 11/25 at Marshall
Final Overview
Southern Miss managed to win seven games last season, but nothing about it was easy. There is an opportunity this season for Jay Hopson's team, as the West is totally winnable in CUSA. If the Eagles can find a QB, they may have the advantage, but that is going to be a tough go, as there is so little measurable experience there to go on, and that they do have is not great. What they do have is one of the best backs in the conference, and they need to ride him until they get the QB situation straight. The schedule sets up for a fast start, but Southern Miss fell in games that nobody saw coming last season, and that cannot happen again. It's a flip of the coin this fall for this team.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Preview: North Texas Mean Green


North Texas Mean Green
Seth Littrell has given some new life to the North Texas football program, but getting to a bowl game with a 5-7 record is no cause for celebration just yet, especially when UNT lost the bowl game to Army to finish 5-8 last season. Still, it is a development step for this program, and just maybe a sign of things to come as Littrell builds this program back up.
What To be Excited About: Offense
UNT has always been a better program when they effectively ran the football. That has been the case for the better part of the last two decades. Luckily, they have a solid back in Jeffery Wilson, who rushed for 936 yards in 11 games and scored 14 times. He needs to have the leash taken off of him a bit, and he needs increased carries to get UNT to the next level, and could be a breakout candidate in 2017.
Four starters return on the line in Creighton Barr, TJ Henson, Jordan Murray, and Elex Woodworth, and that may be the best news yet.
Trevor Moore hit 9/13 FG attempts last season, and could be in for an increased work load as the offense improves around him.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Mason Fine is back to start at QB, but his overall performance was highly uneven last season as a freshman, which is par for the course. He passed for 157.2 yards per game, and completed 59.4% of his passes. If the North Texas offense is to clear the bar this season, they have to get more from Fine, and he has to grow into the position more than he already has. There is potential here, but he has to live up to it now. Look out for young freshman Cade Pearson. If Fine struggles, he may earn a look, and was an early enrollee.
Turner Smiley is the lone starting WR returning in 2017, and caught just 33 passes last fall for 389 yards, and averaged just three receptions per game. As a while, UNT receivers caught just 15 receiving TDs as a unit last fall. Look for JC transfer Jaylen Guyton to take a crack at grabbing some catches.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Brandon Garner and Joshua Wheeler are both back at LB in the 3-3-5 defense. Wheeler led the team with 7.5 TFLs last fall, while Garner finished with 50 tackles. Wheeler can kick down to DE in certain situations as well.
The secondary will return intact. All five starters return in Dee Baulkman, Nate Brooks, Eric Jenkins, Kishawn McClain, and Ashton Preston. Brooks finished with four PBUs and two forced fumbles. Jenkins was the team leader with 10 PBUs, McClain forced two fumbles, Preston finished with 40 tackles, and Baulkman finished with 35 tackles.
What To be concerned About: Defense
The line is missing two major pieces as only Roderick Young returns as a full time starter, and he finished with just 3.5 TFLs and 0.5 sacks last fall. He will need some big time support from whomever will earn the two open jobs up front.
One new LB will also need to be found to provide support to a beleaguered group in the front seven, as UNT allowed just a shade under 240 yards rushing per game last season.
The Punter will also be new this fall, as highly successful Eric Keena departs after averaging 44.34 yards per punt.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Lamar, 9/9 at SMU, 9/16 at Iowa, 9/23 UAB, 9/30 at Southern Miss, 10/14 UTSA, 10/21 at FAU, 10/28 Old Dominion, 11/4 at Louisiana Tech, 11/11 UTEP, 11/18 Army, 11/25 at Rice
Final Overview
The Mean Green are advancing towards respectability under Seth Littrell, but the movement needs to continue forward. I can see this team progressing to getting to a bowl game this fall based on actual merit, and not just the fact that there are too many bowls to place winning teams this season. If UNT plays all of their cards right, and they continue to grow, I can see seven wins on the schedule, but there is little room for losing trap games. I like the rising talent on this roster, and with the West being down in CUSA play, there are opportunities for this football team.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs


Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
The Bulldogs are back in the saddle as the favorite in CUSA West play in 2017, despite tihs being the first time in four years that the Bulldogs do not have a senior starting QB in play. Still, the Bulldogs should have enough talent to move forward and into the CUSA title game under head coach Skip Holtz, as there should still be plenty of talent around to carry the day.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Because of uncertainty at QB, which I will get into, RB Jarred Craft may have just become one of the most important pieces to the offense this fall. He rushed for 1074 yards and nine scores last fall while averaging 5.62 yards per carry. He will likely see an increase from his 13.64 carries per game last fall, as running the ball effectively is the best way to break in an inexperienced QB. Backup Boston Scott returns after averaging 7.36 yards per carry last fall.
PK Jonathon Barnes is back at PK after hitting 22/27 FG attempts last season, and may be even more important this fall.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The QB situation is in jumbles right now as we head into fall camp. J'Mar Smith is the one likely candidate to win the job as a RS sophomore, but that is no sure thing. Price Wilson, a RS junior, and a pair of freshmen in Jack Abraham and Jon Randall Belton will all be around in fall camp to push Smith for the job. This is not a common problem for the Bulldogs to have, so it will be interesting to see the staff approach the situation as we head into the early season.
The Bulldogs got hammered at WR as well, as they lose two major stars in Carlos Henderson and Trent Taylor, and they combined for 218 receptions last season alone. Kam McKnight, Alfred Smith, and DeJuawn Robinson, by comparison, combined for 45 receptions for 738 yards. Henderson and Taylor combined for 3338 yards and 31 scores.
The line loses two all CUSA players in Darrell Brown and Joseph Brunson.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Bulldogs may have one of the deepest line rotations in the CUSA this fall. Jaylen Ferguson and Deldrick Canty should be starting at DE after combining for 21.5 TFLs last fall, 15.5 of which belonged to Ferguson, who is a pre-season all CUSA pick. Jordan Bradford and Cedric Johnson are both back at DT. Eric Kendzior and Matthew Ydarraga will both backup at DE, while Keonatye Garner can shift inside or out depending on need.
What To be Concerned About: Defense
This unit allowed 33.6 points per game last fall, and it would seem that the back seven could be a major problem preventing them from improving on that number this fall. Russell Farris and Brandon Durman are both back at LB, with Farris being the better of the two after racking up 75 tackles last season. Durman finished with 44 tackles. Leading tackler Jordan Harris and Dalton Santos are both gone, and there was very little depth last season at LB to begin with production wise. Finding contributors at LB will be a huge concern in fall camp.
Production was an issue in the secondary as well last season, and the returning talent, again, is not deep by the numbers. Secdrick Cooper is back after finishing second on the team with seven PBUs, but none of the other major returnees had more than four (Ephraim Kitchen). Ronald and Darryl Lewis must both prove that they belong. Tech gave up 274.7 yards passing per game last fall, which was a major hindrance.
The Punting game will be something that has to be targeted in fall camp as well, as Gerlad Shouse is gone after a rock solid season. Davan Deyer or Will Parker will likely win the job in fall camp, unless one of the many PKs makes a switch over.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Northwestern State, 9/9 Mississippi State, 9/16 at Western Kentucky, 9/32 at South Carolina, 9/30 South Alabama, 10/7 UAB, 10/21 Southern Miss, 10/28 at Rice, 11/4 North Texas, 11/11 Florida Atlantic, 11/18 at UTEP, 11/25 UTSA
Final Overview
Tech has always been able to maintain talent, and it is not that there is not talent in areas where there are holes, but there sure are a ton of holes at some very important positions. The Bulldogs lost a ton of talent off of their team last fall, but there has to be a next man up system in place. The season, overall, will be won or lost early in the schedule with a very tough early slate. If they can hold on until early October, the Bulldogs will be in the race. If they fall apart early, we could see a different story. The good news is that the CUSA West is fairly weak overall, so that is in their favor.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Charlotte 49ers


Charlotte 49ers
Charlotte is still very much a building program in the stages of infancy, so any expectations above and beyond being competitive would be incredibly over the top. That said, the 49ers won four games last fall, including wins over Southern Miss and Marshall, and another in CUSA play over FAU. Brad Lambert is bringing this team along nicely, and the talent is building at a solid clip. How much can this team develop in 2017?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Hasaan Klugh is back at QB, and showed a few signs of development last fall. Klugh  passed for 1356 yards and tossed 10 TDs and just three picks. He added another eight scores as a runner, and became highly efficient in several ways. He now has to break through as a passer for the 49ers to move forward, but he is a work in progress.
Robert Washington showed some signs of hope as a RB last fall, as he finished second on the team in rushing with 489 yards and five scores. He averaged 5.04 yards per carry, and could be a breakthrough candidate. He will have to get passed Benny Lemay before he can breakout, however, as he entered spring ball behind Lemay on the depth chart.
TL Ford and Workpeh Kofa are both back from last season, and they caught a combined 63 passes last fall.
The line will finally consist of all upperclassmen in the starting lineup. Chris Brown (LT) is a RS junior, Wolfgang Zacherl (LG) is a RS senior, Darren Drake (C) is a junior, Nate Davis (RG) is a RS junior, and Eugene German (RT) is a RS senior. This is a huge development for this young football team.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
It's really difficult to be too concerned about much with a young, developing program. The 49ers still have a ton to grow across the board, but they are getting there, and winning three CUSA games last fall was a huge step in the right direction, especially with what was such a young offense.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
There are plenty of things to be worried about when it comes to this defense, many more than to be excited about, and that is for certain. The 49ers have holes across the board, but let's look at who is coming back.
Nick Carroll is back at DE after making 22 total tackles last fall, Karrington King is back at ILB after finishing second on the team with 73 tackles, and Ben DeLuca is back at FS after finishing with 68 tackles last fall.
That's where the decent things end.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The biggest loss was at NT, where Larry Ogunjobi was the first major defensive star for the 49ers, and he is now gone to the NFL. Charlotte will turn to Tyler Fain to try to replace him.Randy Suydem is expected to win the RDE job.
There are three openings for starters at LB, including both OLB spots. Jeff Gemmell and Tyriq Harris are in the lead for the OLB spots, and Anthony Butler is in the lead at ILB.
The secondary also needs three new starters, as both CB spots are open and the SS spot is open as well. Robert Cheatem and Marquavis Gibbs are expected to be the new CBs, while AJ McDonald is expected to win the SS job.
Arthur Hunt is back at Punter, but averaged just 39.18 yards per punt.
2017 Schedule: 9/1 Eastern Michigan, 9/9 at Kansas State, 9/16 North Carolina A&T, 9/23 Georgia State, 9/30 at FIU, 10/7 Marshall, 10/14 at Western Kentucky, 10/21 UAB, 11/4 at Old Dominion, 11/11 Middle Tennessee, 11/18 at Southern Miss, 11/25 FAU
Final Overview
The 49ers came a long way last season, but there is still along way to go in developing this still fairly new program. I can see Charlotte winning four games once again, but there is little room for error to get there. The big key will be how eight new starters on defense will come together in fall camp, and how much depth can be developed behind them. The team also needs Klugh to take the next logical step in his development at QB. The schedule is tough, but parts are manageable. Don't expect too much, and you could be mildly surprised.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Florida Atlantic Owls


Florida Atlantic Owls
FAU made some major waves when they hired controversial coach Lane Kiffin this off-season, and he has gotten to work doing what Kiffin does, as he has already offered a scholarship to at least one kid that is not yet in high school. Hiring Kiffin was a slippery slope for FAU, but they needed a big name with the hire of Butch Davis at FIU. This hire will create attention, if nothing more, but will it be enough to move the Owls up in the CUSA East?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The run game is in solid hands with the return of both Devin Singletary and Gregory Howell, Jr. They combined for 1849 yards and 25 scores last fall, and will be one of the better combo sets at RB in the nation this fall. Expect the offense to center around the run game early, even if that is not what Kiffin normally would do.
Kalib Woods is back for his senior season at WR, and was the lone bright spot at receiver last fall, when he caught 68 passes for 934 yards and a score while averaging 5.7 receptions per game. Tavaris Harrison also returns, and caught 18 passes for 304 yards last fall, and he could be a big play threat if he can break through this fall. He averaged 16.89 yards per catch last season. Henry Bussey caught 24 passes last fall, and could be in a fight at the slot with Kamrin Solomon, who caught just 12 passes last fall.
The line should be a better unit this fall, as four starters return. Antonyo Woods made a switch from LT to C in spring ball, with Reggie Bain stepping into the LT job. Ramon Fernandez will be back at LG, Brandon Walton moves from backup LT to starting at RG, and Matt Weiner is back at RT. Jakobi Smith, who started at RG, will fight it out for the starting job at RG with Walton.
PK Greg Joseph was not perfect last fall, but he was solid enough when needed, as he hit 10/14 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Jason Driskell is back at QB, but he was hardly an All-Star last fall, as he passed for just nine scores in 12 games, while tossing 11 INTs. De'Andre Johnson, a sophomore, is in the lead for the primary backup spot, but has no experience.
The line is making a bunch of changes, despite so much talent returning. If the changes don't take, it could disrupt anything that is going good for the Owls as they head into a rather tough schedule, such as the run game.
The Owls also need to find more consistency at WR, and also must find a new starter at TE, if the passing game is to develop better than it has.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The Owls have two of three starters returning at LB this fall in Ocie Rose and Azeez Al-Shaair. Al-Shaair is the star of the defense, as he led the team with 112 tackles last fall. Rose finished with 48 on the season. Al-Shaair also added 11 TFLs, two sacks, and two QB hurries.
The secondary will return intact in 2017. Shelton Lewis and Raekwon Williams will return at CB, while Andrew Soroh and Jalen Young will be back at Safety. Williams led the team with nine PBUs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Losing Trey Hendrickson at DE is a tough loss, and would be for any team in the nation. He finished with 15 TFLs and 9.5 sacks last season, and it may take more than one player to replace that production. Shalom Ogbondo is also gone at DT. Haiden Nagel is back at DE, as is Steven Leggett at DT.
Dalton Schomp had a rock solid season at Punter last fall, but he is now gone, and a replacement must be found in fall camp. RS senior Ryan Rickel is the likely candidate for the job.
The biggest concern is overall production across the board, as the Owls allowed 39.8 points per game, 245.42 yards rushing per game, and 268 yards passing. That is about the worst total combo you can have.
2017 Schedule: 9/1 Navy, 9/9 at Wisconsin, 9/16 Bethune-Cookman, 9/23 at Buffalo, 9/30 at Middle Tennessee, 10/7 at Old Dominion, 10/21 North Texas, 10/28 at Western Kentucky, 11/3 Marshall, 11/11 at Louisiana Tech, 11/18 FIU, 11/25 at Charlotte
Final Overview
I am sure that everyone around this program is excited about the Kiffin hire, but he has largely not succeeded anywhere he has ever been before, and he will have far fewer resources at this job than he has ever had. I don't care about the buzz around him, this season will largely be a feeling out session for this football team to see where they are. I see the Owls as a four win team, and that is absolutely a best case scenario.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Florida International Panthers


Florida International Panthers
The Panthers made a big splash, high profile hire this off-season when they brought in Butch Davis, formerly of Miami, North Carolina, and the Cleveland Browns, to be the next head coach. Davis will automatically raise the profile at FIU, but the major issue with him is that if they are going for name recognition alone, none of the kids being recruited today know much about him or his better days early in his career, as they simply are not old enough to remember, and that is a problem. If they buy into him, that certainly would change some fortunes around, and maybe, just maybe, FIU can start to climb the ladder in the CUSA East.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Leading rusher Alex Gardner will return at RB for the Panthers this fall, and if the Panthers want to succeed early, they will have to turn him more into a workhorse back than he was allowed to be in 2016. He rushed for 930 yards last season, and averaged 5.14 yards per carry, and also ran for six scores. Anthony Jones ran for 562 yards as the backup, and also returns.
Thomas Owens and Shug Oyegunle are both back to start at WR, and Oyegunle was just coming on at the end of last season. Owens led the team with 47 receptions last fall, and should be a primary target once again. Stanley Thomas is also back after catching 35 passes last fall, and should start over Oyegunle in two receiver sets, Mark Hutchinson and Austin Maloney will both return as key reserves.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
QB Alex McGough is back at QB, but he had a rough year in 2016, passing for 1891 yards with 13 TDs and 11 INTs. He missed three games last fall, which opened the door for Maurice and Christian Alexander, both sophomores this season. Christian had the better numbers, but had less playing time. Butch Davis will likely make it a high priority to fix McGough early, or move on from him.
The line returns just two starters in 2017. Kai Absheer will be back at LG, and Daquane Wilkie will be back at RT. Dallas Connell will get a crack at starting at LT, Neal Mars could be up for either Center or OG, and James Cruise, a senior, could be up for RG.
Austin Taylor is gone at PK, and hit 12/16 FG attempts last season. He was as close to automatic scoring as anyone else on the roster last fall, and is a big loss.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The DE spots up front should be locked down for fall camp, as both Fermin Silva and Newton Salisbury both return as starters. John Broome was pushing Salisbury for the starting job at RE last fall when the season came to a close, and will get the chance to push him again.
Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint will return at LB. They tied for the team lead in TFLs with 6.5 a piece last fall, and combined for 217 tackles. Sage Lewis and Fred Russ, the backups to Williams and Wint, both return as well.
Three starters return in the secondary in CB Emmanuel Lubin and Safeties Xavier Hines and Niko Gonzalez. Hines may move to CB this fall, or could stay at Safety. Lubin finished last season with five PBUs, as did Hines. Gonzalez finished with four total PBUs. If Hines stays at Safety, Andrew Brown steps into a starting CB role, where he was a key backup last season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The front line is missing both starters at the DT position as we head into fall camp. Imarjaye Albury and Leonard Washington have moved on. Milord Juste will have a shot at one spot, while Jermaine Sherriff will get a shot at the other open spot, but depth is thin.
The OLB spot opposite Williams was never really settled and is open for competition as we head into the fall once again. Lewis may get a chance to move over, but there is, again, little in the way of depth.
The Punter position is back in the hands of Stone Wilson, but he averaged an abysmal 37.59 yards per punt average last season, and finding someone to push him would be valuable.
2017 Schedule: 8/31 at UCF, 9/9 Alcorn State, 9/16 at Indiana, 9/23 at Rice, 9/30 Charlotte, 10/7 at Middle Tennessee, 10/14 Tulane, 10/28 at Marshall, 11/4 UTSA, 11/11 Old Dominion, 11/18 at FAU, 11/24 Western Kentucky
Final Overview
Butch Davis has some building to do at FIU. Depth is not great across the board, and the same can be said for the overall talent level. Davis has never had to take on a job of this magnitude before, and he has some rust built up from some time sitting in radio and TV studios instead of walking the sidelines, and the North Carolina baggage is still hanging over him as well. The schedule is brutal early, with three of their first four games coming on the road. Expect nothing in 2017 from this club, and you will be OK.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Marshall Thundering Herd


Marshall Thundering Herd
What a difference a year makes for the Thundering Herd, as the team plummeted to a 3-9 record which included a 60-6 loss to Western Kentucky in the season finale. There is a huge part of me that feels as if last season was a blip on the radar, but how far can this program go in 2017 to make sure that the dark season is behind them?
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Chase Litton is back at QB, and was one of the dew bright spots on the football team as a sophomore last fall, as he passed for 24 TDs and just nine INTs. He completed 62.3% of his passes, but there is no reason to expect that he will not improve upon that mark this fall. He averaged 261.2 yards passing per game last season.
The line should be rock solid this fall, as four starter return up front. Sandley Jean-Felix (LT), Jordan Dowrey (LG), Levi Brown (C), and Nate Devars (RG) all return. AJ Addison, the backup at LT last fall, shifted over to the right side this spring, and is in the lead to be the starter there.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Herd rushed for a pitiful 108 yards per game last season, one of the worst marks in the nation. Trey Rodriguez has transferred from FAU, and left spring ball with the lead at RB, ahead of Keion Davis, who led the team in rushing last fall with just 469 yards. Rodriguez will be expected to infuse a jolt into the run game, which is much needed.
The Herd also seems to be starting over at WR. Willie Johnson is the only holdover from the starters or the bench players that caught a pass last season to leave spring camp with a lock on a starting job, but he caught all of six passes last fall. RS Freshman Darian Owens is in the lead for a job, as is Miami transfer Tyre Brady.
The OK game was a mess last fall, as Amoreto Curraj hit just 4/10 FG attempts on the season. He will need to be pushed this fall, but left spring camp with the job still in his hands.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
UCF transfer Blake Kellar has moved from backup to starting DE this fall after finishing with four TFLs as a rotation player last fall. Davon Durant, and Arizona State and Butler CC transfer will start opposite him after playing as a key reserve last fall. Ryan Bee returns at DT after posting 6.5 TFLs, while Channing Hames showed some flashes as a freshman last fall at NT.
Three starters will return in the secondary. CBs Rodney Allen and Chris Jackson are both back, while Kendall Gant is back at Safety. Allen broke up 12 passes and forced four fumbles last fall, while Jackson broke up nine passes. They combined for four INTs as well. Gant finished with 77 tackles, and broke up three passes. CJ Reaves, a Virginia Tech and East Mississippi transfer, will start at the open CB spot, while sophomore George Davis moves up to play NB when needed.
Kaare Vedvik returns at Punter after averaging 40 yards per punt.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
While the changes on the line are exciting, they are still uncertain, and that is the bad part about rebuilds and mixing and matching. The line was victimized last season, and needed a rebuild, so the hope is that any improvement at all is a good thing.
The rebuild has bled into the LB corps as well. Omari Cobb and Chase Hancock, both starters last fall, left spring camp as second stringers to transfers Donyae Moody and Artis Johnson. RS junior Juwon Young fills the other spot.
Marshall allowed a whopping 35.3 points per game last fall, and allowed over 201 yards rushing per game, Something has got to change if Marshall is going to get back into the business of competing for CUSA titles.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Miami (Ohio), 9/9 at NC State, 9/16 Kent State, 9/30 at Cincinnati, 10/7 at Charlotte, 10/14 Old Dominion, 10/20 at Middle Tennessee, 10/28 FIU, 11/3 at FAU, 11/11 Western Kentucky, 11/18 at UTSA, 11/25 Southern Miss
Final Overview
Marshall and head coach Doc Holliday are getting hip deep in the transfer business in trying to rebuild the roster, but that rarely ever works to any major degree. Recruiting has got to pick up, but they are playing with what they have, and that may be a tough hand to play. I see an opportunity for the Herd to get back to six wins, but they are riding a thin line on a fence to get there. If they fall in any trap games, returning to a bowl is a story for 2018 rather than 2017, and Holliday will start hearing about it. It was a fast fall, but now there has to be a quick rising.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Old Dominion Monarchs


Old Dominion Monarchs
Old Dominion had their best season to date in FBS football last fall when they finished 10-3, and beat Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. Bobby Wilder has built a solid program, and the future looks bright indeed for the Monarchs, but there are changes coming up this season, and the time is now to prove just how deep this team can be.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
The Monarchs will return one of the most potent one-two punches in the run game in the nation this fall when Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox both return. Either could be a starter anywhere, and they combined for 1987 yards last season with 24 TDs. ODU averaged over 196 yards per game last fall on the ground, and there is no reason to doubt that they would repeat that mark this fall.
Jonathon Duhart returns this fall, and will step into the top receiver spot on the roster. He caught 48 passes for 735 yards last season, and averaged 15.31 yards per reception. He scored nine times, tying for the team lead in receiving TDs. Travis Fulgham, who was the third receiver a year ago, steps up one spot, and caught 29 passes last season, while scoring eight times. Almost every single reserve from last fall will return, giving the Monarchs one of the deepest receiving corps in CUSA football.
The offensive line is loaded as well, as four starters return. LT Chad Hendricks, LG Tony Barnett, C Nick Clarke, and RT Devin Hannan all return, and nine linemen from the depth chart in the bowl game all return with them as reserves. Manny Matiarena, a Pasadena City College transfer, may shift from left to right for a crack at the RG job.
Brad Davis returns as a sophomore after a solid debut season where he hit 10/12 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
Replacing David Washington at QB will be a major task this fall. He passed for 31 TDs and just five INTs last season, and took all of that production off of the grid. The most likely starting candidate would be Blake LaRussa, who played in 10 games last fall as a freshman.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
The line should be solid this fall for ODU, as three starters return. Bunmi Rotimi is back at DE< while Oshane Ximines returns at the hybrid BUCK position. They combined for 21.5 TFLs last fall, and should be one of the better edge combos in the conference in 2017. Miles Fox also returns at DT, He finished with 27 tackles and 4.5 TFLs. Pat Toal and Mufu Taiwo will battle it out at NT in fall camp.
Three starters are back in the secondary as well. Brandon Addison is back at CB, while the Safeties return intact with Justice Davila (FS) and Sean Carter (SS) both in the fold. Addison finished with 10 PBUs last season and picked off two passes. Davila broke up seven passes, and racked up 47 tackles, while Carter totaled 60 tackles. Sophomore Jelani Carter could have first shot at starting in the open CB spot replacing Aaron Young, who has moved on.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
There is a gaping void in the middle of the defense, as OLB Anthony Wilson and MLB TJ Ricks have both moved on. They combined for 201 tackles last season, and an additional 15.5 TFLs. Zach Latman and Demetrius Stitman, a pair of RS freshmen, are in line to replace Ricks, while a quartet of sophomores could be battling it out in fall camp at the open OLB spot.
The Punting game could use some help as well. Bailey Cate averaged just 37.84 yards per punt last season, and that will need some fixing with a new group of LBs getting plastered together.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Albany, 9/9 U Mass, 9/16 North Carolina, 9/23 at Virginia Tech, 10/7 FAU, 10/14 at Marshall, 10/20 Western Kentucky, 10/28 at North Texas, 11/4 Charlotte, 11/11 at FIU, 11/18 Rice, 11/25 at Middle Tennessee
Final Overview
This could be another solid season for the Monarchs, and a trip to their second consecutive (and ever) bowl game could be in store. ODU defeated Eastern Michigan in the Bahamas last fall, but should shoot for a better locale this season. Eight wins are definite for this club, but with a couple of steals, getting back to 10 wins may yet be in the cards. An early home date with North Carolina is a huge shot to prove that this program is ready to run with the big boys after an easy two win setup to start the season.

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers


Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
A new era has begun in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as the Brian Brohm era has ended, and that of Mike Sanford, Jr. has begun. One bit advise that I would give to Sanford is to not change a thing. Do not fix what is not broken, and do not tweak what does not need tweaking for the sake of personal ego. If that advise is taken, there is no reason to expect WKU to not compete for yet another CUSA East and conference title in 2017.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Mike White Returns for his senior season at QB, and he broke through last fall and took the leadership reins of the offense in an effortless transition. He passed for 4363 yards and 37 TDs to just seven INTs, and completed a very respectable 67.3% of his passes, while averaging 311.6 yards passing per game. He will be one of the top ten QBs in FBS football in 2017.
I will talk about the loss at RB in a moment, but there is good news there as well. Quinton Baker is back to try to win the starting job, and averaged 5.47 yards per carry last fall while rushing for 542 yards and four scores in a backup role. Look for him to be a CUSA and WKU breakout candidate this season. Leon Allen also returns, and has 14 starts under his belt and could share time with Baker.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The receiving corps was decimated by the loss of Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris, who combined for 31 receiving TDs and over 3000 receiving yards last season. Nacarius Fant and Lucky Wilson are both back, but by comparison, caught a combined 55 passes to the 174 combined catches of Taylor and Norris. With White at QB, the developing receiving corps should pick up the ball quickly, but the group still has to gel as a unit, and that can take time.
Anthony Wales was a major factor in the run game, and even though Baker is back and has big potential, losing over 1600 yards rushiung and 27 total rushing scores from last year's production is a ton to replace.
While 15 lettermen return on the line, only four are upperclassmen, so Sanford will have to put together a unit that is coming back without their best player in NFL draft pick Forrest Lamp.
PK Skyler Simcox is back, but hit on only 72% of his FG tries last season, and will need to show some improvement as a junior. Brandon Ray and Dennis Edwards return to start at the OG spots, but both Tackles and the Center need to be replaced.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Chris Johnson returns up front after finishing last season with 12.5 TFLs. He will be one of the main leaders of the defense at the point of attack. Derrick Overstreet also returns, giving the Hilltoppers two major factors to contend with in the trenches.
The secondary should be the strength of this defense in 2017, as three starters return. Marcus Ward, DeAndre Simmons, and Joe Brown will all return for fall camp. Joe Brown finished last season with ten PBUs, while Simmons added eight. Ward started just two games last fall, but should be ready to go full-time for the opener.
Jake Collins is back at Punter and averaged 42.72 yards per punt last season.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
Half of the defensive line needs to be rebuilt for a team that only allowed 97 yards rushing per game last season. It would be safe to assume that replacing a DT and a DE would make repeating that difficult, but the entire starting LB group is gone as well save for Joel Iyiegbuniwe. He finished with 64 tackles last season, and is now forced to become the anchor in the middle of the field. The architect of that defense, DC Nick Holt, is also gone, as he left with Brohm to go to Purdue. The loss of Keith Brown at LB will be felt.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Eastern Kentucky, 9/9 at Illinois, 9/16 Louisiana Tech, 9/23 Ball State, 10/7 at UTEP, 10/14 Charlotte, 10/20 at Old Dominion, 10/28 FAU, 11/4 at Vanderbilt, 11/11 at Marshall, 11/17 Middle Tennessee, 11/24 at FIU
Final Overview
With a new era, changes often come, but as I said to open, change must not be overwhelming at WKU, where there is not a ton of fixes that are needed. Sanford must follow the blueprint left for him, and if he does, WKU will be competing for another CUSA title. The defense has a ton of holes in place, and the offense has questions at receiver and on the line, but the Hilltoppers have gotten to a place where people step up and run with the jobs given, and talent here has never been better. I do see a bit of a slip on the horizon this fall, but I do see eight or nine wins being more than possible against this schedule.



Sunday, June 25, 2017

Bilo's 2017 College Football Previews: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders


Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee ran into injury issues at the wrong time last fall, as the Blue Raiders went 2-3 to finish the year 8-5 overall, with a 52-35 loss to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Considering that the Blue Raiders lost QB Brent Stockstill for the final three regular season games, it's a strong indication of the talent that he had around him that the team was able to win two of those three games that they had won. He should be healthy and ready to go, but keeping him on the field all season will be a key in winning the CUSA East.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Stockstill is the leader of this offense, and returns holding the school record for TD passes (61), 300 yards games (14), and passing yards per game (303.3). He passed for 3233 yards and 31 scores to just seven INTs last season, while averaging 323.3 yards per game.
Stockstill's top target, and one of the best receivers in the nation, Richie James is back for more this fall as well, as he has over 200 receptions the last two seasons for almost 3000 total yards during that time period. One of the most exciting players in the nation, he also flies under the radar nationally more than most. He caught 105 passes last fall for 1625 yards and 12 scores, and averaged 15.48 yards per catch. Ty Lee is back as a sophomore, and was voted as a freshman All-America, and scored nine times on 63 receptions last fall. Patrick Smith rounds out the receiving group returning as starters, and caught 28 passes as a walk-on last season.
Chandler Brewer returns on the line, and was in for 980 snaps last season, while Carlos Johnson started 10 games, and was in on 756 snaps.
PK Canon Rooker returns after hitting 84.2% of his attempts last fall (16/19).
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Blue Raiders lost a huge chunk of offense when I'Tavius Mathers moved on. He rushed for 1561 yards last season, and scored 17 times, and finished third on the team in receiving with 66 receptions. He was the first player in NCAA history to finish a season with 1500 yards rushing and 60 receptions (in one full season). Maurice Gordon comes in now to win the job and take over at RB.
While Carlos Johnson and Chandler Brewer are both All-CUSA candidates at LT and RG, the Blue Raiders will need to find three new starters up front. RS junior Angelo Owens is set to take over at LG, RS freshman Luke Harris is leading at C, and RS Robert Behanon is in the lead heading into fall camp at RT.
What To Be Excited About: Defense
Darius Harris, Chris Melton, and DJ Sanders all return at LB this fall. Melton is an All-CUSA player who led the team with 102 tackles last fall, and he also finished with 6.5 TFLs. Harris finished with 74 tackles, and tied for the team lead with eight TFLs. Sanders finished fourth on the team with 66 tackles. This should be one of the better starting LB units in Conference USA in 2017.
The secondary is in strong shape as well, with three returning starters. Alex Dale and Jovante Moffatt are both back at the Safety spots. Dale hit a career high in tackles last fall with 61, and finished with five PBUs. Moffatt finished with 76 tackles and three PBUs. Michael Minter is back to start at CB, and finished with 10 PBUs and two INTs.
What To Be Concerned About: Defense
The main concern is up front, where every starter must be replaced on the defensive line, with two of those lost being honorable mention All-CUSA picks. That is a ton of production to replace on a team that allowed 35.8 points per game as it was last fall, and also allowed over 198 yards rushing per game. Much is expected of RS junior Walter Brady at LE, while the RE spot looks to be in the hands of Tyshun Render, a RS sophomore. Justin Akins and Malik Manciel have the lead for the DT spots.
Darryl Randolph, a RS junior, is expected to step in at the open CB position, and played a bench role last fall. It's time to see if he can step up to the main job.
The Punting situation is also a concern, as Matt Bonadies, a junior, only averaged 38.76 yards per punt last fall.
2017 Schedule: 9/2 Vanderbilt, 9/9 at Syracuse, 9/16 at Minnesota, 9/23 Bowling Green, 9/30 at FAU, 10/7 FIU, 10/14 at UAB, 10/20 Marshall, 11/4 UTEP, 11/11 at Charlotte, 11/17 at Western Kentucky, 11/25 Old Dominion
Final Overview
Middle Tennessee has a solid roster on offense, and some nice pieces on defense, but if the Blue Raiders want to improve on an 8-5 mark in 2017, a few things have to happen. Stockstill has to stay healthy, the defense has to improve immensely, and thy need to avoid some trap games on the schedule, and probably steal win against Power Five opponents Vanderbilt and Syracuse, which are both highly winnable games for this team. The conference schedule lines up nicely, with the only two games that should be considerably worrisome come at the end of the year with a trip to Western Kentucky, and a home date with Old Dominion. If Middle Tennessee can do what I have layed out, they win the CUSA East, and likely win nine or even ten games this fall.

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.
Drew Brown will be back at PK after finishing with 12 made FGs in 14 attempts 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.
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.