Monday, August 15, 2016

Most Underrated FBS and FCS College Football Teams 2016

I will now take the reverse track from my previous article based on who I believed to be the most overrated programs heading into 2016 by taking a look at who is not getting enough props heading into camp and the season. Here is my conference by conference look at which team in each conference is being under valued heading into the 2016 season.

American Athletic Conference
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Tulsa is picked 4th in the west by a majority of pollsters, but I am not certain that they are not being completely under valued here. Tulsa is a team on the rise, while Memphis is certain to take a step back without both Paxton Lynch and Justin Fuente as coach. Navy loses all everything QB Keenan Reynolds, who was the heart of the 11 win Middies last fall. With Tulsa rising, they could very well sneak past both in the division.

Atlantic Coast Conference
Duke Blue Devils
I know that the Devils took a few losses, but to pick them at 6th in the Coastal is just a joke. Duke will likely far exceed that pick, and could finish as high as 2nd or 3rd in the division. Duke is absolutely better than Georgia Tech and Pitt, and could be better than Virginia Tech in year one of the Justin Fuente era. That last part won't last, but Duke certainly is no 6th place team in this horrible division.

Big 10 Conference
Northwestern Wildcats
Not that I entirely trust Northwestern to live up to expectations on any give year, but I feel that they could be the most under valued team in the West. Nebraska really needs to get a grip, and Wisconsin looks to be overrated, so seeing Northwestern as a 4th place team seems low to me with what they are capable of doing if they get themselves together. That is always the big if with them, but if I have to pick someone in the Big 10, Northwestern is it.

Big 12 Conference
TCU Horned Frogs
I have seen TCU as low as 5th in the Big 12, and that is extreme low value for Gary Patterson and the Frogs. TCU will be going with Kenny Hill at QB, the same Kenny Hill who transferred out at Texas A&M (who hasn't, am I right?). The same Kenny Hill who blew up for a while before being totally buried and dissed by Kevin Sumlin (again, who hasn't?). TCU has become a staple in the top sphere of Big 12 football, and they certainly are not dropping to 5th this season.

Conference USA
Marshall Thundering Herd
So, second in the East isn't an awful thing, right? Marshall is in position to take the division from Western Kentucky, as the Toppers will be trying to find a fit at QB to replace Brandon Doughty. The time is ripe for Marshall to make a strong move here, so having them under Western Kentucky could be a smoke screen if the Herd can make a run.

Mid American Conference
Northern Illinois Huskies
The Huskies are being tabbed for 3rd in the West, and I am not a fan of that concept. Maybe it happens, as the West is just loaded in sots one through four, but I always have a hard time underestimating the Huskies on any level in college football. They are simply one of the most consistent programs in the game, and They could outright win the division over both Toledo and Western Michigan, or they could finish 3rd. It's that hard to call. A close second in the MAC is Ohio, who should beat out Bowling Green in the East.

Mountain West Conference
New Mexico Lobos
The Lobos are tabbed for 4th in the Mountain, a division that they could finish as high as 2nd in, and in a perfect storm, they could win. In a conference where nobody overwhelmed in 2015, New Mexico was a pleasant surprise in a season where Bob Davie absolutely needed to win. The Lobos look like they could be on the edge of doing something solid in 2016.

PAC-12 Conference
Washington State Cougars
Not only are the Cougs underrated in the conference, they are nationally as well. This is a Mike Leach football team that almost won the North last season. They have the best college QB in the game, and their defense was looking solid by the end of the season as well. The wrong Washington team is getting all the love for all the wrong reasons in 2016.

Southeastern Conference
Florida Gators
The Gators beat both Tennessee and Georgia without a solid QB last fall, and they may just have the QB they need in either Austin Appleby or Luke Del Rio this season. If either guy pans out, look for the Gators to make their case for winning the SEC East by beating both again, and by winning the division more easily than they did a year ago.

Sun Belt Conference
South Alabama Jaguars
The Jags are tabbed to finish 8th in the Sun Belt this fall, and I just don't buy that Joey Jones has seen his program take that big a hit heading into the season. They may not be good enough to challenge the upper tier programs in the league, but they may be good enough to sneak into a bowl, and maybe edge out Troy, Louisiana, and Georgia State, and they certainly are stronger than Idaho. 8th is just a farce.

Big Sky Conference
Portland State Vikings
Portland State won games over FBS teams Washington State and North Texas last season on the way to nine wins. They are in position to push a little bit further this fall, but are somehow picked fourth in the conference heading into the season. That doesn't seem like a good landing spot, but the Big Sky is tough. I still see them being better overall than Northern Arizona, and I see them pushing Montana for second.

Big South Conference
Kennesaw State Owls
The Owls were solid last fall, and are still a program in their infancy. That being said, They won six games last fall, and are tabbed at 4th in the six team league. They get back almost everyone, and could be a better program this fall than last. Look for the Owls to be a huge surprise, and push for second in the conference.

Colonial Athletic Association
James Madison Dukes
JMU loses coach Everett Withers, but gains Mike Houston, who made The Citadel relevant. That is a huge statement. JMU loaded up on FBS transfers, including a pair of four star guys from South Carolina, including QB Connor Mitch. Vlad Lee may be gone, but JMU is loaded on offense, and may be good enough to push for a CAA title.

The Ivy League
Dartmouth Big Green
Dartmouth loses seven starters on defense, but they proved last season that this team can no longer go under valued as they came out of nowhere to win nine games. Losses may eventually make me wrong on this, but I believe that Dartmouth is deep enough, and strong enough, to push the top three in the league this fall.

Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
The Wildcats won the league title last fall for the 5th time in 6 seasons, but are tabbed to finish 3rd this season, with the primary reason falling on a rebuilding secondary on defense. The issue here is that the depth in this program has really built up in recent seasons, and the train is nowhere near the cliff. North Carolina A&T is a solid choice to win the conference, but never count out the Wildcats to push both A&T and NC Central to the brink.

Missouri Valley Conference
South Dakota State Jackrabbits
SDSU is picked 4th in the league, but I believe them to be a better pick than Northern Iowa at second. SDSU has four straight playoff births, and they should reach a 5th in 2016, as they have plenty of experience back, including one of the two top receivers in FCS football in Jake Wieneke. One thing is for certain, and that is that SDSU is under valued, and that is a dangerous thing.

Northeast Conference
Duquesne Dukes
Nobody has told me that Duquesne is ready to give up their spot on the NEC perch this season, and I don't believe that to be true. St. Francis has emerged in this league, but Duquesne is boss, and it should stay that way until otherwise noted. Duquesne has one of the best LBs in FCS football as well in Christian Kuntz.

Ohio Valley Conference
Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks
UTM won 7 games in 2015, and looks primed to make a run at a playoff birth this fall. The Hawks took some losses, but they have plenty of talent to make up for those losses. Eastern Illinois was hardly better than UTM last fall, and Eastern Kentucky is a perpetual underachiever, so look for UTM to make a move this season in conference play. Remember, UTM barely lost to eventual national runner up Jacksonville State last season.

Patriot League
Georgetown Hoyas
The Hoyas lost three games by one point last fall in a 7 loss season. They were that close to turning the boat around. They have some losses, but plenty of experience returns to work that out, and the Hoyas may have the best LB unit in the conference. If they can find some fillers for their holes, Georgetown may surprise.

Pioneer Football League
Morehead State Eagles
The Eagles were one loss away from a playoff birth last season, and return a solid nucleus that could push past their 4th place expected finish this season. QB Austin Gehafer may be one of the most talented QBs in FCS football, and he could push the Eagles past the top three gridlock of San Diego, Dayton, and Jacksonville in league play.

Southern Conference
The Citadel
Mike Houston has moved on as coach, but Brent Thompson, the OC, stayed behind to continue to resurrection of the program from the abyss. Citadel won nine games last fall, their best mark in 23 years, and the key components on offense all return. Citadel could be in a position to not only move ahead of their third place projection, but could be a dark horse to win the SoCon this fall.

Southland Conference
Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks
It is hard for me to think that Clint Conque, one of the more talented coaches in FCS football, will allow the Jacks to fall to just 4 wins again in 2016. SFA is picked to finish 5th in the conference, but I see them as being better than Central Arkansas and Northwestern State, who are both picked ahead of them. Zach Conque is a true talent at QB, and should lead a revival.

Southwestern Athletic Conference
Jackson State Tigers
JSU is starting over with Tony Hughes as head coach, but he is bringing in a ton of fresh talent to freshen things up with the once proud program. With uncertainty at Alcorn State, and inconsistency at Alabama State, JSU is picked to finish 3rd in the East, but could far outpace those expectations. They are the true wild card in the SWAC for 2016.

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