Sunday, February 21, 2016

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas Razorbacks
2015 Record: 8-5 (5-3, SEC West)
2015 Bowl: Liberty Bowl, Defeated Kansas State 45-23

What Went Right: For starters, the second half of the season was much stronger than the beginning. Arkansas won six of their final seven games to get to the Liberty bowl, and finished third in the SEC West, which nobody saw as a possibility with the way the played in the first half of the season.
Brandon Allen ended up passing for 3440 yards and 30 TDs, and averaged 264.6 yards per game on the season. Once the Razorbacks started leaning on him more, the team started winning around him.
Alex Collins was a machine, rushing for 20 scores on the season to go with his 5.82 yards per carry and 1577 rushing yards. The combo of Allen's passing and Collins' rush attack gave the Hogs something to build on during their run.
Drew Morgan became a star of sorts, catching 10 TD passes at WR, while TE Hunter Henry lived up to his billing by hauling in 51 passes for 759 yards.
Defensively, Arkansas held opponents to 24 points or less six times, and during those six games, they looked like a solid unit. Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw were tackling machines with 102 and 95 tackles respectively at LB. Deatrich Wise was a force on the line, picking up 10.5 TFLs, 8 of which were sacks. Greenlaw forced a pair of fumbles as well, while DB Jared Collins defended 9 passes. Henre' Tolliver added 8 pass defenses.
Punter Toby Baker averaged over 41 yards per punt on the season to be the star of the kicking game.
What Went Wrong: Ugly early season losses to Toledo and Texas Tech nearly derailed the Razorbacks in 2015. Arkansas was a team that, on paper, looked like they should have been able to compete for the SEC West title, but those early losses crumbled faith, and it seemed like the Razorbacks never truly believed in their ability until the season was half over, and that is when they finally turned on the jets. The offense stumbled early on, even when the defense was playing well, and that didn't help either.
The defense was largely hit and miss, and was one of the more frustrating parts of the season. Arkansas ended up in too many shootouts, and even though they won some big games that way, that's still not Arkansas football. In wins over Auburn and Ole Miss, Arkansas scored 54 and 53 points, but gave up 46 and 52. They also scored 51 against Mississippi State, but gave up 50. Luckily, Arkansas won all three of those games, but it was all luck in the end, and luck never lasts forever.
Special teams had their own nightmare in the PK game, as Cole Hedlund connected on just 9 of 15 attempts. True, he was just a freshman, but that number has to severely improve in 2016.
Looking Ahead: The Hogs may have missed their window. Allen and Collins are both gone, as is Hunter Henry on offense. There is little to no experience coming back at QB, and Both Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams III combined for 146 carries in 2015. Morgan returns as a senior at WR, but who will get him the ball, and who will step up to take over the load the Henry carried? Other than Morgan, no other receiver caught more than 28 passes last season.
Defensively, the unpredictable performances have to be a thing of the past. Nobody finished with more than 2 picks last season, and only Wise finished with more than 10 TFLs. Those numbers are concerning heading into 2016, as the defense will likely have to make up for an offense that may be trying to find its way early on.
Special teams are a mess on the PK side, and that is concerning as well with an inexperienced offense coming back.
The non con schedule has some trickiness to it early with games against Louisiana Tech and TCU, but wraps with games against Alcorn State and Texas State.
2016 Projection: 5-7, No Bowl

Sunday, February 14, 2016

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Arizona State

Arizona State Sun Devils
2015 Record: 6-7 (4-5 PAC-12 South)
Bowl: Cactus Bowl, Lost to West Virginia 43-42

What Went Right: Offense has never been a problem under Todd Graham at ASU, as the Sun Devils scored 34.6 points per game. ASU picked up 305 1st downs, compared to 271 that they gave up, and averaged 4.33 yards per carry in the run game. The passing game flourished on TD/INT ratio, as they tossed 30 TDs on the season to 9 picks. The punting game was strong, averaging 42.77 yards per try, 
One also needs to take these numbers with somewhat of a grain of salt. In an age where Sirius College Sports Nation personalities try to sell us on teams like Oklahoma State playing great defense (they don't), offensive numbers are bloated like a corpse being dragged out of a river. Offenses like we see today were a blip on the radar 20 to 30 years ago, and were limited to leagues like the old WAC, where defense was a mere suggestion in the days of Steve Young at BYU. 
What Went Wrong: Lack of defense was ultimately the downfall of the 2015 Arizona State season, as they gave up 30 or more points 8 times, including 43 to West Virginia in a one point bowl loss. You simply should never have to score 40 points per game just to secure a win, and that was largely a major issue in Tempe. ASU did come up with big plays here and there, as evidenced by having 15 picks to just giving up 9 on the season, but these plays were not enough to ensure that they did not give up over 6000 yards in 13 games, a staggering number. Because so many games were incredibly tight, ASU was never able to develop a QB behind senior Mike Bercovici, and therefore enters 2016 without much of a developed option at all. ASU also failed to have a defender eclipse 100 tackles for the year. I do give credit to LBs Salamo Fiso and Antonio Longino, as they were forces off the edge with more than 20 TFLs each, but there wasn't much else going on. 
Top Stars: QB Mike Bercovici, RB Demario Richard, WR Devin Lucien, WR Tim White, P Matt Haack, DB Kareem Orr, LB Salamo Fiso, LB Antonio Longino
Look Ahead: There are problems on the horizon. ASU loses a boatload of productivity on offense, starting at QB, where not one backup got credible playing time last season. They are starting over from nothing. Three of the top four WRs are departing as well, leaving the passing game in a state of flux. The running game could use some depth as well, as only two backs received more than 100 carries on the season, but both return. On Special teams, Haack returns at Punter, which is important, but Zane Gonzalez was a bit of a mess in 2015, hitting on only 76.5% of his tries. 
Defensively, ASU has got to shore themselves up, because if they give up 33.5 points per game once again, they will be no better, and could actually be worse than 6-7. Three of their top five tacklers are gone, and Longino is one of them, leaving Fiso on his own moving forward. If you thought this season was uneven, at best, next season could be a bit of a train wreck if some young players don't step up big.
The good news is that the Devils have a soft non con schedule, with games against Northern Arizona, Texas Tech, and UTSA on the slate. The conference schedule, however, will be unforgiving. 
2016 Prediction: 5-7. No Bowl

Sunday, February 7, 2016

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Arizona Wildcats

Arizona Wildcats
2015 Record: 7-6 (3-6 PAC-12 South)
Bowl: New Mexico Bowl, Defeated New Mexico 45-37

What Went Right: We will start with that, because the 2015 season went wrong in many different ways for the Wildcats. Offensively, the Cats still managed to score plenty by averaging 37.4 points per game. Anu Solomon, while not being entirely himself, still managed to pass for 2667 yards and 20 TDs, while limiting himself to just 5 INTs on the year. He missed time because of a head injury, and sometimes looked like that was still affecting him later in the year. He still compiled 242.5 yards per game in what can still be considered an off season for him. While nobody in the receiving corps had a fantastic season, the top four receivers had good years in Cayleb Jones, Johnny Jackson, Nate Phillips, and David Richards, as they combined for 20 TD receptions as a group. Phillips was especially effective on punt returns, where he averaged 17.29 yards per return on the season. Tyrell Johnson is also a developing star in the kick return game, averaging over 25 yards per return. Drew Riggleman closed out his career as perhaps the best punter in Arizona history, averaging over 45 yards per punt. Casey Skowron was also good on 18/22 FGs to give the Wildcats one of  the better kicking tandems in the league.
Will Parks finished with 7 pass breakups on the season, and that's where the good news on defense starts and ends.
What Went Wrong: The defense imploded in 2015, and what should have been one of the better teams in Arizona history on paper became a complete disaster in a real hurry, starting with a shocking 42-32 narrow win over a bottoming out UTSA club to start the season. UA gave up just over 35 points per game and gave up 30 or more points 8 times during the season, including giving up over 40 three times, and they even surrendered 37 points to New Mexico in the bowl win. Scooby Wright was hurt early on, and when he returned he was dreadfully out of shape, and even resembled some guy who ate Scooby Wright at some points. He was miserably out of shape, and when he returned early against UCLA, he just looked like a shell of himself. Arizona gave up 300 1st downs, allowed 28 TD passes, gave up 30 rushing scores, and allowed over 6000 yards of offense. The also allowed 10/18 conversions on 4th downs. and opposing teams had a 93.1% success rate in red zone scoring against them. The defense lacked play makers, and it was completely obvious on defense.
Offensively, what has always been a potent run game failed to secure a 1000 yard rusher, or even anything resembling one, which really put too much pressure on Solomon when he wasn't at his best.
Stars: QB Anu Solomon, WR Cayleb Jones, WR/PR Cayleb Jones, P Drew Riggleman, PK Casey Skowron
Best Win: Utah, 37-30
Worst Loss: Washington, 49-3
Look Ahead: Solomon is back at QB, and he should be better as a junior in 2016. Jared Baker is gone at RB, and Nick Wilson should step up to replace him next fall after playing in just 9 games in 2015. Cayleb Jones should return, as should Nate Phillips and Samajie Grant, but Dave Richards and Johnny Jackson depart. Trey Griffey and Tyrell Johnson both return, but combined for just 16 receptions. They will need more production to give the corps some depth.
Reggie Gilbert is gone on the D line, and so Jack Banda and Sani Fuimanoa are the most experienced linemen returning on defense. Luca Bruno should join them, but there is little depth to mention up front. Scooby Wright is gone after a horrible season, and that may be a huge mistake on his part. Deandre Miller is back, however, and is in line for a big season in 2016. Jake Matthews also returns at LB, but after him, it's a huge gap in experience and productivity. The secondary should be loaded with potential talent in Paul Magliore, Jr., DaVonte Neal, Tellas Jones, Cam Denson, and Jarvis McCall, Jr. Again, if injuries should occur, depth may be a problem.
Both kickers need to be replaced as well, and replacing Riggleman may be a huge issue.
The non-con schedule does provide the Wildcats a break, as Arizona gets BYU in Glendale, and they also play Grambling and Hawaii.
Rich Rodriguez played Arizona for a contract extension after he flirted hard with South Carolina during the winter, and that may have been a mistake for Arizona to play into that. Rodriguez has made Arizona viable to a point, but they may be back peddling into some dark times ahead, and Rodriguez getting an extension after what was largely a train wreck of a season may prove to be a bane in the end.
Projection: 6-6, minor bowl

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Appalachian State Mountaineers

Appalachian State Mountaineers
2015 Record: 11-2 (7-1 Sun Belt)
Bowl: Camellia, Defeated Ohio 31-29
What Went Right: The offense was clicking very nicely in 2015, as the Mountaineers averaged 36.7 points per game, while the defense gave up just 19.1 points per game. With both sides of the ball performing, ASU won 11 games based on a very balanced approach, including a late bowl win. ASU ran the ball very effectively, gaining 5.83 yards per carry, while allowing 3.44. Marcus Cox was a star, rushing for 1423 yards and 9 TDs on 20.25 carries per game. He averaged 5.86 yards every time he ran the ball. Sophomore Taylor Lamb was a star as well at QB, as he passed for 2387 yards and 31 TDs to just 9 picks on the year. He only attempted 21.8 passes per game, so expect him to get more action as next season opens up.
Senior Ronald Blair was a beast up front, recording 19 TFLs in 2015 to go with 7.5 sacks and 71 tackles. Sophomore Latrell Gibbs was a star in the secondary, recording seven INTs, and should be a center piece in 2016.Sophomore LB Eric Boggs led the team with 104 tackles, and junior LB John Law recorded another 72.
What Went Wrong: ASU was in a tight race in the Sun Belt, but when the big opportunity came, they folded against Arkansas State, a loss that essentially handed the Red Wolves the SBC crown for 2015. While the receiving corps was plenty balanced when it came to production, nobody ever stepped up to be the guy in the passing game for Lamb. That would need to change for Lamb to develop more effectively. Otherwise, very little went wrong in 2015.
Stars: QB Taylor Lamb, RB Marcus Cox, RB Jalin Moore, P Bentlee Critcher, PK Zach Matics, DB Latrell Gibbs, LB Eric Boggs, DL Ronald Blair, TE Barrett Burns
Best Win: Georgia Southern 31-13
Worst Loss: Arkansas State 40-27
Look Ahead: Lamb is a junior in 2016, and so should have more liberty to operate in the system. He will have to focus on improving upon a 60% completion rate. Both Cox and Moore are back to RB, giving ASU an interesting one-two punch out of the backfield. The WR corps is somewhat decimated, with three of the top four WRs departing. Only Shaedon Meadors and TE Barrett Burns return, and they combined for 36 grabs last fall. Burns did grab 8 TDs last fall, however, so he should be more potent in the passing game.
Blairs loss on defense to graduation is huge. He was a major force, and it may take more than one player to fill his shoes in 2016. Nate Norwood, Olawale Dada, Tyson Fernandez, Antonious Sims, Tashion Singleton, and Darian Small will all get time next fall. John Law, Eric Boggs, and Devan Stringer all are slotted to return at LB, giving the Mountaineers one of the best LB groups in the Sun Belt. Caleb Fuller and Kennan Gilchrist add depth. ASU picked off 18 passes in 2015, and every major contributor returns in Latrell Gibbs, Mondo Williams, Alex Gray, and Tae Hayes. Doug Middleton departs, but AJ Howard returns. as do Josh Thomas and Junior Sigalo.
All in all, ASU looks like they could be an odds on early favorite in the Sun Belt in 2016, and I see no reason to fear a drop off, especially if they can find some production on defense to replace the loss of Blair. The future looks bright. The non-con schedule could be a little tough, as they travel to take on Tennessee and Akron on the road, but they get Miami and Old Dominion at home.
2016 Projection: 9-3, bowl bid

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Alabama Crimson Tide

Alabama Crimson Tide
2015 Record: 14-1 (7-1 SEC West)
2015 Bowl: National Title Game, Defeated Clemson 45-40; Cotton Bowl, Defeated Michigan State 38-0

What Went Right: Alabama did what Alabama does in 2015. They reloaded and won another national championship under Nick Saban, the most dependable coach in college football. Saban is a coaching machine who gets the best out of every player on the roster, and recruits to win now and not later. That paid off yet again.
Jake Coker is never going to be the best player ever, but he learned and progressed under OC/QB Coach Lane Kiffin and passed for 3118 yards and 21 TDs, and learned to be an effective game manager that led the Tide to a title. Of course, he had help in Heisman winning RB Derrick Henry, who rushed for 2219 yards and 28 TDs on 5.62 yards per carry. Henry was used like a traditional workhorse back, and it paid off as he carried the ball just over 26 times per game, unlike other schools who buy into the silliness of a back by committee approach. Freshman WR Calvin Ridley also blew up, catching 89 passes for 1065 yards and seven TDs, while averaging 11.74 yards every time he touched the football. ArDarius Stewart also had a big sophomore season, catching 63 passes for 700 yards. TE OJ Howard compiled 38 grabs for 702 yards as well.
Defensively, the Tide only allowed 15.1 points per game, and was swarming as always. They allowed just 2.43 yards per rushing attempt, and picked off 19 passes while allowing just 17 TD passes. Teams managed just 4.3 yards per offensive play against the Tide. On their 19 picks, four of them went for scores. They allowed just 28.63% of 3rd down conversions last fall as well.
What Went Wrong: Not much went badly, but there were a few areas that could use some attention. The Tide, for being so adept at moving the football, only converted on 37.38% of 3rd down conversions. Things were not much better in the kicking game, as they converted on just 23/33 FGs for a success rate of just 69.7%.
Alabama also lost to Ole Miss for the second consecutive season, a trend that must not become a long term thing, but I am guessing that it won't be.
Stars: RB Derrick Henry, QB Jake Coker, WR Calvin Ridley, WR ArDarius Stewart, TE OJ Howard, DB/PR Cyrus Jones, RB/KR Kenyan Drake, P JK Scott, DB Eddie Jackson, LB Reggie Ragland, LB Reuben Foster, DB Geno Matias-Smith, DL Jonathon Allen, LB Tim Williams, LB Ryan Anderson, DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB Marlon Murphy
Best Win: Michigan State 38-0
Worst Loss: Ole Miss 43-37
Look Ahead: Alabama starts out the 2016 season looking for a QB to replace Coker, but that should not be a problem. Cooper Bateman earned the number two job last fall, and should have an edge heading into spring ball. Derrick Henry has left early and Kenyon Drake has graduated. That leaves incoming sophomores Damian Harris and Bo Scarbrough as the most experienced backs returning in the fall. They could both see most of the carries in the spring, along with Derrick Gore. Ridley and Stewart both return at WR, and TE OJ Howard announced his intent to return for his senior season. Robert Foster and Cam Sims will likely add depth after the departure of Richard Mullaney.
On defense, Jonathon Allen has announced that he will return on the line this season, which is great news. A'Shawn Robinson will not, leaving a gap in the middle of the line. De'Shawn Hand will also be back as a junior, and Dalvin Tomlinson both return, but after that, the line largely needs rebuilding. Ragland is gone at LB, but Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Reuben Foster all return to give the Tide one of the best units in the nation. Shaun Dion-Hamilton will be asked to step into Ragland's shoes this season. The secondaryis loaded with the return of Eddie Jackson, Marlon Humphery, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Ronnie Harrison. Tony Brown and Maurice Smith should provide some depth, and the rest will come from the talented recruiting class.
The non-con schedule isn't too grueling, with an opener against what should be a talented but somewhat rebuilding USC team in Arlington, Texas in the opener. That game is followed by all easily winnable games against Western Kentucky, Kent State, and a late November debacle against FCS member Chattanooga.
Projection: 12-1, SEC Title and Playoff Birth

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Akron Zips

Akron Zips
2015 Record: 8-5 (5-3 MAC)
Bowl: Beat Utah State, Idaho Potato Bowl 23-21
What Went Right: Terry Bowden finally broke through with the Zips and won 8 games in 2015, taking them to the Idaho Potato Bowl, where the Zips upset Utah State. Akron won their final four regular season games to get into bowl position, and then won their bowl to finish the seasonw ith five straight wins. That's very unlike Akron in the last 20 years, so Bowden is now making his presence felt in the MAC.
Akron won largely on a very much improved defense in 2015, giving up just 21.5 points per game. Senior LB Jatavis Brown led the team with 20 TFLs in 2015 and was a driving spearhead that led Akron out of the darkness. Jamal Marcus was a force up front , racking up 12.5 TFLs, while Dylan Evans added another 12. 12 of those 20 TFLs for Brown went for sacks, and he led the team with 116 total tackles, making him our MAC defensive player of the year. Evans added an additional 106 tackles on the season, while Darryl Monroe added another 83. Junior DeAndre Scott was also good for 6 picks, making one of the most successful ball hawks in the nation. The defense averaged giving up just under 3 yards per carry rushing.
On offense, Akron showed their most improvement when it came to the passing game, and even though it was far from perfect, the Zips showed some major effort in this area. Thomas Woodson, a sophomore, passed for 2202 yards and 16 TDs. He needs to improve on accuracy in a big way, but this area has long been lacking in the Zip offensive arsenal.
Conor Hundley rushed for 10 TDs, giving the Zips a solid effort in the run game.
What Went Wrong: Early scheduling was a nightmare for Akron, as they opened with Oklahoma and Pittsburgh, and the Zips combined to score 10 points in those two losses.
The Zips, while showing some offensive improvement, were largely a one trick pony with a defense that covered the offense most of the season. Akron averaged just 23.9 points per game, and averaged just 5.13 yards per play on the year.
The return game was almost abysmal, as the Zips averaged just 5.16 yards per punt return, and just 16.62 yards per return on kickoffs.
The passing game, while improved in some areas, was still largely not big game ready, as Woodson completed just 52% of his passes, and tossed 11 picks to just 16 TDs. Some of his issues could be that coaches kept things conservative, but they could afford to unleash him just a bit next fall.
The Zips had to win four straight just to get to a bowl game after a rough start, and they cannot afford to get so far behind the ball next fall out of the gate.
Stars: RB Conor Hundley, WR/LB Jerome Lane, P Zach Paul, DB DeAndre Scott, LB Jatavis Brown, LB Dylan Evans, LB Darryl Monroe, DL Jamal Marcus
Best Win: Buffalo 42-21
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 41-3
Looking Ahead: Woodson has got to turn a corner to get the Zips back into the postseason next year, but he loses some serious helo as Hundley has moved on at RB. Van Edwards will be the most experienced back returning in 2016, and he carried just 14 times in 2015. Jerome Lane returns at WR after leading the Zips with a 20.05 yard per catch average and 8 TDs. That being said, for Woodson to improve, he will need more receivers to step up, most namely Austin Wolf, AJ Coney, Tyrell Goodman, and Anthony Young. That group caught just 36 passes combined in 2015, while Lane caught 38 by himself.
On defense, the line returns Jamal Marcus, and that is huge. Marcus will be the new leader of the defense with the departure of Jatavis Brown at LB. Rodeny Coe is also gone from the line, but Se'Von Pittman does return. There should be a mix of experience coming back on the line as well with Brock Boxen, Daumantus Venckus-Cucchiara, Richard Dorvilus, and Brennan Williams all returning. Brown is gone at LB, and that is a huge hit for the Zips defense, as is the loss of Dylan Evans and Darryl Monroe. Ulysees Gilbert III, John Rachal, and Andrew Hauser are the next group up, and they have huge shoes to fill. Kris Givens and Bryce Cheek are both gone at DB, but there should be some decent options returning among Zach Guiser, DeAndre Scott, Jordan George, Kyron Brown, and Larry Hope.
Robert Stein is gone at PK after a largely up and down season, so the Zips are starting over there, while Zach Paul also departs after averaging more than 41 yards per punt in 2015. Both replacements will be watched carefully from spring ball into fall camp.
The Zips non-conference schedule will be mostly brutal after their opener with VMI. Akron then gets Wisconsin, Marshall, and Appalachian State, all 2015 bowl teams, to wrap up non-con play.
2016 Projection: 5-7, no bowl

2015 Look Back/2016 Look Ahead: Air Force Falcons

Air Force Falcons
8-6 (6-2)
Lost 55-26 to California in Armed Forces Bowl

Looking Back: The Falcons were a success of sorts, winning the MWC Mountain Division, but they fell short in the title game, and were eventually outclassed and hammered by Cal in their bowl loss. What Went Right: The offense was in good shape in 2015, as the Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game on the season. Air Force rushed for over double the yards that they gave up on the season, finishing with 4472 yards and 45 TDs on the year, while giving up 2026 yards and 20 TDs. The Falcons averaged 6.4 yards per offensive play, and managed to edge out opponents in red zone scoring by a margin of around two percent.
Stars: Jacobi Owens rushed for 1026 yards and seven TDs on the season, while QB Karson Roberts added 10 rushing scores on the season. Owens averaged 5.32 yards per carry. Jalen Robinette and Garrett Brown both averaged over 20 yards per reception as big play targets. Luke Strebel was a star in the kicking game, hitting 10/11 FG attempts on the season. Weston Steelhammer, one of the best DBs in the league, picked off five passes, and also led the team with 80 tackles, and 10.5 TFLs. Alex Hanson led the team with 15.5 TFLs, while DJ Dunn, Jr. recorded 12.5 TFLs, and Claude Alexander III recorded 10.5.
What Went Wrong: The Falcons did manage to lose six games this season, including a loss to Navy that cost them the Commander-In-Chief trophy in 2015. That takes some shine off the season. The Falcons did manage to beat Army 20-3, but were not in the game in a 33-11 loss to Navy. The Falcons were also outclassed in the Armed Forces Bowl loss to Cal. The Falcons were solid at home, but they were less than stellar on the road, having finished 2-6 on the road/in neutral site games. The Falcons also largely were not great on 3rd down conversions, making just 43% of them on the year. Either the Falcons made big plays, or they were a three and out kind of team. They were better on 4th downs than at 3rd down conversions. The Falcons two wins in non-conference play were against Morgan State and Army, while they were outgunned in losses to Michigan State and Navy, and we've already discussed the Cal game.
Best Win: Boise State (37-30)
Worst Loss: Colorado State (38-23)
Looking Ahead: Nate Romine returns to reclaim the QB job next fall, as Karson Roberts moves on. Owens should return as the primary back as well, giving the Falcons plenty to work with in the backfield. Timothy McVey, DJ Johnson, Bryan Driskell, Shane Davern, and Benton Washington all return as well, giving the Falcons the deepest backfield in the conference, and one of the deepest in the nation. Garrett Brown departs, however Jalen Robinette does return as the primary deep threat in the passing game. Garrett Griffin is gone at TE as well, so look for Ryan Refitt to step into the starting role. Tyler Williams, who caught just two passes, will need to step up in a big way at WR.
Seven Offensive Linemen return, so the Falcons could use some help and some depth there as well.
Defensively, the Falcons Alex Hansen and his 15.5 TFLs are gone, so someone up front needs to step up off the edge. Dunn and Alexander are joined at LB by Grant Ross and Ryan Watson at LB, Jacob Onyechi, Patrick Healy, Omar Gardea, and Matt Evans all return as well, giving the Falcons solid depth. Weston Steelhammer is the leader on defense, and he returns in the secondary, as does Roland Ladipo, Brodie Hicks, and Jesse Washington. The Falcons have experience at three more spots in the secondary, so there should be no issues there either.
Luke Strebel was almost automatic at PK last fall, and returns this fall. Short of a slump, he should provide plenty of scoring options. Steve Brosy returns at Punter, but averaged just 37 yards per punt on 33 attempts last season, and senior Brett Dunn is gone. The Falcons could use some help there.
What 2016 Holds In Store: Winning the division again is absolutely in range, but I am not sure if the Falcons have enough to win the league for the first time. Troy Calhoun is back as coach, but did flirt somewhat with Missouri during the off season. He was on the hot seat two years ago, but has rebounded nicely. He may never be the best coach going, but he has done a fine job with the Falcons. Boise State was down in 2015, and Air Force took advantage. The falcons will be pressed by the Broncos in 2016, and look for New Mexico and Utah State to press as well.
The non-conference schedule is highly manageable, as they host Abilene Christian, Georgia State, and Navy, and they visit Army in a winnable road game. Look for the Falcons to push for another division title, and maybe improve on their overall record. In short, a return to a bowl is highly probable.
Final Prediction: 8-4, bowl bound