Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Farewell to 2016: Conference USA

It was not a stellar season in CUSA football in 2016, as only 5 teams out of 13 finished with a record of .500 or better. Western Kentucky was , as usual, a central power with 11 wins on the season, while, in a shocking development, Old Dominion ran up right behind them with 10 wins on the year. Louisiana Tech won 9 total games and, once again, won the West. The biggest disappointments in the conference had to be Southern Miss and Marshall. The Golden Eagles were expected to be an odds on favorite in the west, and stumbled badly to a 7-6 record, with just a 4-4 mark in conference play. Marshall, on the other hand, fell like a stone, finishing just 3-9, and finished tied for last in the east. Both teams have soul searching to do moving forward. Here is an overall look at how everyone in CUSA finished in 2016...

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
11-3 (7-1)

2016 Schedule
Beat Rice 46-14
Lost to Alabama 38-10
Beat Miami (Ohio) 31-24
Lost to Vanderbilt 31-30
Beat Houston Baptist 50-3
Lost to Louisiana Tech 55-52
Beat Middle Tennessee 44-43
Beat Old Dominion 59-24
Beat FAU 52-3
Beat FIU 49-21
Beat North Texas 45-7
Beat Marshall 60-6
Beat Louisiana Tech 58-44 (CUSA Title Game)
Beat Memphis 51-31 (Boca Raton Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Eastern Kentucky, 9/9 at Illinois, 9/23 Ball State, 11/4 at Vanderbilt
MVP Offense: Mike White, QB; Anthony Wales, RB; Taywan Taylor, WR; Nicholas Norris, WR
MVP Defense: Keith Brown, LB
Best Win: Louisiana Tech 58-44
Worst Loss: Vanderbilt 31-30

The Breakdown: One thing that has become a constant is the WKU, formerly a doormat program, has become a major winner, and they managed another 11 wins this season that included a CUSA title and a bowl game win over Memphis. After losing to Louisiana Tech during the season, the Hilltoppers rolled off 8 straight wins, including a victory in the rematch with the Bulldogs in the conference championship game.
The offense was just loaded with talent in 2016. Mike White stepped in at QB and exploded on the scene with 4363 yards passing and 37 TDs as a junior. He had serious targets in the passing game, as both Taywan Taylor (98-1730-17) and Nicholas Norris (76-1318-14) went over 1000 yards receiving as seniors. What is just as impressive was the WKU run game, as Anthony Wales chipped in with 1621 yards rushing and 17 scores, as WKU averaged 186.36 rushing yards per game, not bad for a passing team.
The defense has gotten better each of the past 3 seasons, and this unit was the best in the last 4 years, allowing just 24.6 points per game. LB Keith Brown was a big contributor to the success on defense, as he recorded 131 tackles, 13 TFLs, 6 sacks, 9 PBUs, and 3 QB hurries.
Moving Forward: Jeff Brohm is gone as coach, as he has moved on to Purdue. Mike Sanford, Jr. is the new man in charge fresh off of a stint as OC at Notre Dame. His main challenge will to be to refrain from fixing what is not broken at WKU. His philosophy on offense is very similar to what Brohm did, so I would expect very minimal differences, at least in year one. White and Wales return in 2017, but Taylor and Norris are both gone at receiver, so that will be an area of concern in the off season. The good news is that in this system, receivers are able to develop quickly, so it may just be a matter of identifying the new starters, but we are talking about replacing 3000 yards of receiving. That is a huge hole.
Keith Brown is gone on defense, so the Hilltoppers need to find another leader, and second ranked tackler Brandon Leston is gone as well. There should still be enough talent leftover to Keep the defense in line, but again, the loss of Brown is too large to ignore.
I still believe that the Toppers have enough talent on this roster to make a run at yet another CUSA title in 2017, if the new staff does not tinker too much.

Old Dominion Monarchs
10-3 (7-1)

2016 Schedule
Beat Hampton 54-21
Lost to Appalachian State 31-7
Lost to NC State 49-22
Beat UTSA 33-19
Beat Charlotte 52-17
Beat U Mass 36-16
Lost to Western Kentucky 59-24
Beat UTEP 31-21
Beat Marshall 38-14
Beat Southern Miss 51-35
Beat FAU 42-24
Beat FIU 42-28
Beat Eastern Michigan 24-20 (Bahamas Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Albany, 9/9 at U Mass. 9/16 North Carolina, 9/23 at Virginia Tech
MVP Offense: David Washington, QB; Ray Lawry, RB
MVP Defense: Oshaen Ximines, DL
Best Win: Eastern Michigan 24-20
Worst Loss: Western Kentucky 59-24

The Breakdown: Few people saw the Monarchs blowing up to win 10 games in 2016, but then again, one needs to pay attention to who they beat in those 10 wins, because only 2 of those wins came against teams with winning records, and just barely. Still, this was a highly successful season for the Monarchs, it's just too bad they had to play in a bowl game in front of an empty stadium in the freaking Bahamas.
David Washington became a star at QB for the Monarchs, passing for 2836 yards and 31 TDs against just 5 INTs. He finished with a QBR of 156.62, and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt. The Monarch offense was highly balanced with a run game that averaged 196.85 yards per game behind the rushing of star back Ray Lawry. Lawry, a staple for ODU, was his usual beastly self in 2016, rushing for 1255 yards and 11 scores on the season, and even missed a game, stunting his output somewhat. In all, the Monarchs averaged 35.1 points per game, an improvement of over 10 points per game from a year ago.
Oshean Ximines was the MVP choice for me on defense. He finished with 11.5 TFLs, 42 tackles, and also led the team with 7.5 sacks. He forced 3 fumbles, and picked up 4 QB hurries while he was at it. The defense as a whole struggled at times, gave up 27 points per game, but it was still 8.6 points per game better than a year ago. The unit is still a work in progress.
Moving Forward: Ray Lawry will return, and could go back to being a focal point of the offense next season as David Washington is moving on at QB. Blake LaRussa could get first crack at winning the job, but Shuler Bentley could be in the mix as well. Jeremy Cox, who rushed for 13 scores, also returns. Leading receiver Zach Pascal is leaving, but a bulk of the rest of the receiving corps returns.
Defensively, Ximines returns, but TJ Ricks and Anthony Wilson, who combined for 201 tackles at the LB position, are both gone. That is a ton of production to replace in the middle of the field, and finding replacements will be paramount.
The back end of the non con schedule is grueling with North Carolina and Virginia Tech, but if replacements can be found at QB and at LB, ODU can still make a run for the top of the East, but winning it may be a stretch.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
8-5 (5-3)

2016 Schedule
Beat Alabama A&M 55-0
Lost to Vanderbilt 47-24
Beat Bowling Green 41-21
Beat Louisiana Tech 38-34
Beat North Texas 30-13
Lost to Western Kentucky 45-44
Beat Missouri 51-45
Beat FIU 42-35
Lost to UTSA 45-25
Lost to Marshall 42-17
Beat Charlotte 38-31
Beat FAU 77-56

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Vanderbilt, 9/9 at Syracuse, 9/16 at Minnesota, 9/23 Bowling Green
MVP Offense: Brent Stockstill, QB; I'Tavius Mathers, RB; Richie James, WR
MVP Defense: Chris Melton, LB
Best Win: Beat Louisiana Tech 38-34
Worst Loss: Marshall 42-17

The Breakdown: A 2 game bump in the road to start the final month of the season kept the Blue Raiders from tying for the East title, and the losses were tough to take (UTSA, Marshall). QB Brent Stockstill was injured during the UTSA loss, and missed the next 3 games, forcing to Blue Raiders offense to find answers. It was that injury that stalled their run for a CUSA East title.
Stockstill was still a strong player despite the missed games, passing for 3233 yards and 31 scores against 7 INTs. Richie James was the star of a loaded receiver corps, posting a line of 105-1625-12. He caught 8.1 passes per game for an average of 125 yards per contest. I'Tavius Mathers was a beast at RB as well, rushing for 1561 yards and 17 scores, while he also caught 66 passes for 633 yards and another 3 scores. He was the most versatile back in FBS football in 2016.
Defensively, Chris Melton gets my MVP nod at LB for the Blue Raiders after recording 102 tackles on the year. He recorded 6.5 TFLs and averaged 7.85 tackles per game. The defense as a whole, however, was one of the worst units in the nation, allowing over 35 points per game. Nobody can blame that on the Stockstill injury. They actually got worse by 8.2 points per game from 2015.
Moving Forward: I'Tavius Mathers is gone in 2017, and there is no clear answer at RB, so that is an area of concern heading into camp. His numbers will be tough to replace. Stockstill will return, as will James, and Ty Lee, who caught 63 passes on the season. Stockstill will need to be healthy for the entire season in 2017 if the Blue Raiders are to push WKU for the East title. Defensively, scoring has to come down, and with 9 of the top 11 tacklers returning, a year of experience could make the difference for what was a young unit. Melton will return to lead the group once again.

Florida International Panthers
4-8 (4-4)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Indiana 34-13
Lost to Maryland 41-14
Lost to U Mass 21-13
Lost to UCF 53-14
Beat FAU 33-31
Beat UTEP 35-21
Beat Charlotte 27-26
Lost to Louisiana Tech 44-24
Lost to Middle Tenessee 42-35
Lost to Western Kentucky 49-21
Beat Marshall 31-14
Lost to Old Dominion 42-28

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 UCF, 9/9 Alcorn State, 9/16 at Indiana, TBA Tulane
MVP Offense: Alex Gardner, RB
MVP Defense: Treyvon Williams, LB
Best Win: FAU 33-31
Worst Loss: U Mass 21-13

The Breakdown: The Panthers lost their first 4 games of the season to set the tone in what would largely be a lost year in the program's still relatively young history. Making matters worse, they lost 4 of the final 5 games, with each loss coming by double figures. In the end, Ron Turner was let go mid season, leading to a quick upswing of a 3 game winning streak, but the energy would not last for interim coach Ron Cooper.
In an offense that largely lacked star power, RB Alex Gardner was my MVP, rushing for 960 yards and 6 scores on the season. He averaged 5.14 yards per carry, giving the Panthers a little bit of punch.
Defensively, the Panthers were not great, giving up 34.8 points per game, which sabotaged their overall season on several levels. LB Treyvon Williams was a bright spot, leading the team with 109 tackles, and 6.5 TFLs. Anthony Wint was right behind Williams with 108 tackles on the season, but this LB group got little help from the guys up front.
Moving Forward: Turner is finally gone, as it felt like his regime carried on a bit long. The Panthers started a splash and flash war with rival FAU by hiring Butch Davis to replace him. Davis has been out of the game and in a broadcast studio for a bit, so he may be a little bit rusty coming back, but this was still a high profile hire that nobody thought would happen here.
Alex McGough is back at QB, but he needs a breakthrough, and he has not had one yet. He will be a senior. Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones are both back at RB, so there are opportunities there. Other than losing Jonnu Smith at TE, the entire receiving corps returns.
12 of the top 13 tacklers all return on defense, so expect improvements after a learning year. They can only get better after a season loaded with failures. With some improvements, FIU could push for a bowl, but it's best not to have high expectations.

Charlotte 49ers
4-8 (3-5)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Louisville 70-14
Beat Elon 47-14
Lost to Eastern Michigan 37-19
Lost to Temple 48-20
Lost to Old Dominion 52-17
Beat FAU 28-23
Lost to FIU 27-26
Beat Marshall 27-24
Beat Southern Miss 38-27
Lost to Rice 22-21
Lost to Middle Tennessee 38-31
Lost to UTSA 33-14

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Eastern Michigan, 9/9 at Kansas State, 9/16 North Carolina A&T, 9/23 Georgia State
MVP Offense: Kalif Phillips, RB
MVP Defense: Larry Ogunjobi, DL
Best Win: Southern Miss 38-27
Worst Loss: Rice 22-21

The Breakdown: Four wins in 2016 was a major surprise for the 49ers, who are still a program in their infantile stages. Brad Lambert did a seriously good job of moving the needle, including picking up 3 wins in CUSA play, one of which being against pre-season conference favorite Southern Miss.
Kalif Phillips was solid at RB for the 49ers in 2016, rushing for 907 yards and 4 TDs. Had he been a junior, he would be someone I would be looking at in 2017 as a potential breakout player, but he was a senior, and will not have that chance. Charlotte averaged 25.2 points per game on offense, a 7.7 point per game improvement over 2015, their first full season in FBS football.
DL Larry Ogunjobi was a star on defense, collecting 13.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 65 tackles, and 10 QB hurries. The defense as a while still has a ton of work to do, but having Ogunjobi coming in of the edge was a real boost for what could have otherwise been a very sloppy defensive unit up front. Charlotte allowed 34.6 points per game, a slight 1.7 point per game improvement. They intercepted 16 passes as a team, and LB Nick Cook added 108 tackles.
Moving Forward: Hasaan Klugh should be given the job full time at QB in 2017, after he passed for 10 TDs to just 3 picks in 11 games. If he falters, Kevin Olson should be there to push him after passing for 140.3 yards per game in 6 appearances. Phillips will need to be replaced at RB, and that could be a huge problem. Sophomore to be Robert Washington should be the first in line to become the featured back. Leading receiver Austin Duke is also gone after catching 59 passes in 2016.
Defensively, Nick Cook departs at LB, as does Ogunjobi, and that will leave a massive gap in production to fill in spring and fall camps. If the defense slides backwards, it could be a long year in 2017 for this young program.

Florida Atlantic Owls
3-9 (2-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat Southern Illinois 38-30
Lost to Miami 38-10
Lost to Kansas State 63-7
Lost to Ball State 31-27
Lost to FIU 33-31
Lost to Charlotte 28-23
Lost to Marshall 27-21
Lost to Western Kentucky 52-3
Beat Rice 42-35
Beat UTEP 35-31
Lost to Old Dominion 42-24
Lost to Middle Tennessee 77-56

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Navy, 9/9 at Wisconsin, 9/16 Bethune-Cookman, 9/23 at Buffalo
MVP Offense: Devin Singletary, RB; Gregory Howell, Jr., RB
MVP Defense: Trey Hendrickson, DL
Best Win: None
Worst Loss: Kansas State 63-7

The Breakdown: It was an abysmal season for the Owls in 2016, as FAU started just 1-7, leading to the eventual firing of Charlie Partridge, who was always in over his head with this job. The Owls did pick up a couple of wins against bad teams in Rice and UTEP in the final month, but closed out on yet another losing streak, this time 2 games. In short, with basically zero quality wins, this was a completely lost season in Boca Raton.
If not for the running combo of Devin Singletary and Gregory Howell, Jr., the offense would have been completely void of production and real talent. Singletary rushed for 1016 yards and 12 scores, while Howell rushed for 833 yards and another 13 scores. They combined for 25 of the 38 TDs that the Owls scored all season.
Jason Driskell passed for more picks (11) than scores (9) on the season as a sophomore, and while Kalib Woods caught 68 passes, nobody else caught more than 26.
Defensively, the Owls were one of the worst units in the nation, allowing 39.8 points per game. Trey Hendrickson and Azeez Al-Shaair were the bright spots, combining for 26 TFLs, and Hendrickson, my pick for MVP of Defense, finished with 9.5 sacks. Al-Shaair led the team in tackles with 112 from his LB spot, while Jalen Young finished with 100.
Moving Forward: With Partridge fired, FAU was only willing to pay around $600,000 per season for a new coach. When FIU moved on Butch Davis, that shot that plan straight to hell. FAU had to make a major splash, and went out and hired Alabama OC Lane Kiffin after every other job he sought out had turned him down. It will cost them $900,000 per season in the first year, and will get more expensive with time to have Kiffin around.
Kiffin is going to have to find a way to bleed some offense out of this group, but the good news is that Sngleatry and Howell are both coming back in 2017, so the run game will not be a problem, and the line is not horrible. Working Driskell, who also returns, into a serviceable passer will be more of a challenge, as will finding anyone outside of Woods to step up as a receiver.
Defensively, this is a massive rebuild job. Hendrickson is gone, but Al-Shaair will return in 2017. Jalen Young will also be back in the secondary as a junior. 19 underclassmen saw time on the field on defense in 2016, so Kiffin's staff will have to mold that youth into experience and depth.

Marshall Thundering Herd
3-9 (2-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat Morgan State 62-0
Lost to Akron 65-38
Lost to Louisville 59-28
Lost to Pittsburgh 43-27
Lost to North Texas 38-21
Beat FAU 27-21
Lost to Charlotte 27-24
Lost to Southern Miss 24-14
Lost to Old Dominion 38-14
Beat Middle Tennessee 42-17
Lost to FIU 31-14
Lost to Western Kentucky 60-6

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Miami (Ohio), 9/9 at NC State, 9/16 Kent State, 9/30 at Cincinnati
MVP Offense: Chase Litton, QB
MVP Defense: Rodney Allen, DB
Best Win: Middle Tennessee 42-17
Worst Loss: Western Kentucky 60-6

The Breakdown: If there is one program who completely imploded in 2016, it was Marshall. After beating Morgan State to open the season, the Herd rolled off 4 straight losses, 3 of which by 16 points or more. After beating FAU narrowly, the Herd then ran off 5 losses in their final 6 games, with a surprising 25 point win over injury riddled Middle Tennessee breaking up the mess. This was one of the worst seasons in recent Marshall history, and was shocking in that I had projected this team to win 8 games in 2016.
Chase Litton is still a strong candidate at QB for the Herd, as he passed for 2612 yards and 24 TDs to 9 picks. He was not always near perfect, but he got the job done more so than anyone else on offense, averaging 261 yards passing per game. The run game was anemic, averaging just over 108 yards per contest.
The defense allowed 35.3 points per game, which was an almost 18 point per game worsening from year to year. Rodney Allen was the best player on a bad unit, finishing with 76 tackles, 2 INTs, 12 PBUs, and 4 forced fumbles on the season. The Herd allowed 253 yards passing per game, and another 201 yards per game rushing on the season. In short, they couldn't stop anyone, including Western Kentucky, who beat them 60-6 in their worst loss of the year.
Moving Forward: Litton is back at QB, which is the good news. He has some talent, but needs some weapons around him to develop, specifically in the run game, where nobody showed up in 2016. The receiving corps will need some help as well, as there really is not a whole lot coming back of note.
Defensively, this season was a disaster. Doc Holliday has some work to do to get this program back on track, as right now, the defense is in need of serious rebuilding, and if that does not get fixed, this could be the beginning of a very bad run. 10 of the top 13 tacklers do return, but someone needs to start tackling.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
9-5 (6-2)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Arkansas 21-20
Beat South Carolina State 52-34
Lost to Texas Tech 59-45
Lost to Middle Tennessee 38-34
Beat UTEP 28-7
Beat Western Kentucky 55-52
Beat U Mass 56-28
Beat FIU 44-24
Beat Rice 61-6
Beat North Texas 45-24
Beat UTSA 63-35
Lost to Southern Miss 39-24
Lost to Western Kentucky 58-44 (CUSA Title Game)
Beat Navy 48-45 (Armed Forces Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Northwestern State, 9/9 Mississippi State, 9/23 South Carolina, 9/30 South Alabama
MVP Offense: Ryan Higgins, QB; Trent Taylor, WR; Carlos Henderson, WR
MVP Defense: Jaylon Ferguson, DL; Xavier Woods, DB
Best Win: Western Kentucky 55-52
Worst Loss: Southern Miss 39-24

The Breakdown: The Bulldogs were one of a handful of teams in the nation that survived a slow start to end up a major player in their conference race by the end of the season. They started the season just 1-3 before rebounding to win 7 straight, but the Bulldogs ended the year poorly, losing 2 of their final 3 games, with the lone win coming in the bowl game over Navy in a shootout. After beating Western Kentucky in the regular season Louisiana Tech met them once again in the conference title game, and fell short in a 58-44 loss.
The offense was loaded in the passing game, which is how this offense has always been. Ryan Higgins had a huge senior season, passing for 4617 yards and 41 TDs to just 8 picks on the year. He passed for 400 or more yards in 6 different games, and managed all of this despite missing the opener against Arkansas, a game that the Bulldogs nearly won. He averaged 355.2 yards per game on 38.2 pass attempts per game, and completed 66.3% of his passes. Trent Taylor caught 136 passes this season for 1803 yards and 12 scores, while Carlos Henderson, the higher touted of the two, caught 8 passes for 1535 yards and an incredible 19 scores.
The Buldogs were no joke in the run game either at times, as Jarred Craft rushed for 1074 yards and 9 TDs on the season. The Bulldogs passed for an average of 363.4 yards per game, while they added 151.36 yards rushing per game, finishing with over 500 yards per game of offense, while averaging 44.3 points per game. Tech finished 2nd nationally in scoring (to Western Kentucky), and 9th nationally in total offense. The Bulldogs finished 2nd nationally in passing offense, right behind Texas Tech.
The Bulldogs needed to score up, because the defense gave up plenty of points as well, allowing 33.6 points per game. Jaylon Ferguson blew up as a sophomore on the line, racking up 16 TFLs for the season, while adding 14.5 sacks, 49 tackles, and 4 forced fumbles. The defense also got a big performance out of DB Xavier Woods, as he finished with 89 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 5 INTs, and 6 PBUs. Despite those efforts, teams still passed for 274 yards per game against the Bulldogs.
Moving Forward: There will be questions in 2017 for the Bulldogs, as they lose a huge chunk of offense with the departures of Higgins, Taylor, and Henderson. It is possible, that the offense may need to become a bit more run oriented, as only Craft returns from the core of play makers in this offense. QBs and receivers always pop up at Tech, so I am sure that they will find talent in camp, but it may take some time to gel in game time situations for the new group in the passing game.
Defensively, Tech will certainly have to tighten up from where they were this season, but that may also be a tall order, as 5 of the top 9 tacklers are all gone, and that includes Woods. Ferguson does return, so coach Skip Holtz will have to find a way to build around him as a foundation. If there was a season where Tech could slip from atop the West, 2017 could be it.

UTSA Roadrunners
6-7 (5-3)

2016 Schedule
Beat Alabama State 26-13
Lost to Colorado State 23-14
Lost to Arizona State 32-28
Lost to Old Dominion 33-19
Beat Southern Miss 55-32
Beat Rice 14-13
Lost to UTEP 42-39
Beat North Texas 31-17
Beat Middle Tennessee 45-25
Lost to Louisiana Tech 63-35
Lost to Texas A&M 23-10
Beat Charlotte 33-14
Lost to New Mexico 23-20 (New Mexico Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Houston, 9/9 at Baylor, 9/16 Southern, 9/23 at Texas State
MVP Offense: Dalton Sturm, QB
MVP Defense: Josiah Tauaefa, DB
Best Win: Middle Tennessee 42-25
Worst Loss: UTEP 42-39

The Breakdown: Frank Wilson did a solid job in year one, but the Roadrunners still fell short of a winning record, and he has not recruited many of his own kids just yet. Of UTSA's 6 wins, only 2 came against teams that finished with "winning records". Those wins came against Southern Miss, and Middle Tennessee. Making it to a bowl was big this season, but there is still much work to be done.
The offense was solid, even if lacking star power. The Roadrunners averaged over 29 points per game on the year, and Dalton Sturm, to me, was the MVP of the offense. Sturm passed for 2170 yards and 20 scores, with just 6 picks, but did only manage to pass for 166 yards per game as a junior. He completed just 56.5% of his passes, and finished with a QBR of just 135.55.
Jarveon Williams and Jalen Rhodes had a decent season in the run game. While neither back broke 1000 yards, they did combine to rush for 17 scores on the season, and also combined for over 1700 yards. In short, UTSA averaged 161 yards rushing per game.
No one receiver caught more than 36 passes for the entire season, making this a weaker area of concern.
Defensively, the Roadrunners improved by almost 6 points per game allowed, giving up 27.9 points per game. Again, there was not a ton of star power here, but a team approach worked reasonably well. LB Josiah Tauaefa was my MVP on defense, and did manage to become a star of sorts after compiling 115 tackles, 9 TFLs, 6 sacks, and 7 QB hurries.
UTSA sill allowed 162 yards rushing per game in 2016, which will be an area that I am sure the staff will work on.
Moving Forward: Sturm returns as a senior in 2017, and he will likely be more of a game manager than a game changer at QB. He will get 5 of his top 6 receivers or TEs back, so improvements seem realistic. Williams is gone at RB, but Rhdes will return in more of a feature back role, with a relatively unknown cast behind him, so finding depth at RB will be a primary concern. Improvements must also come from a line that allowed 43 sacks on the year, along with 100 total TFLs against.
11 of the top 15 tacklers return on defense, including Tauaefa, who was just a freshman in 2016. I would expect continued improvements from this unit if a decent crop of newcomers can be found. I am not certain that UTSA has the weapons to win the west in 2017, but anything is possible if Louisiana Tech slides.

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
7-6 (4-4)

2016 Schedule
Beat Kentucky 44-35
Beat Savannah State 56-0
Lost to Troy 37-31
Beat UTEP 34-7
Beat Rice 44-28
Lost to UTSA55-32
Lost to LSU 45-10
Beat Marshall 24-14
Lost to Charlotte 38-27
Lost to Old Dominion 51-35
Lost to North Texas 29-23
Beat Louisiana Tech 39-24
Beat UL-Lafayette 28-21 (New Orleans Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Kentucky, 9/9 Southern, 9/16 at UL-Monroe, 11/4 at Tennessee
MVP Offense: Ito Smith, RB; Allenzae Staggers, WR
MVP Defense: Dylan Bradley, DL
Best Win: Louisiana Tech 39-24
Worst Loss: Charlotte 38-27

The Breakdown: 2016 was a seriously disappointing season for USM, who was widely expected to win the West when the season started. The Eagles did manage to win 4 of 5 out of the gate, but then they lost 5 of 6 in the middle of the season, ruining their chances at making a CUSA title run. Losses to UTSA, Charlotte, Old Dominion, and North Texas were killers, because on paper, the Eagles should have had more talent.
Nick Mullins did manage to miss 2 games this season, but this all cannot be laid at his feet. He still managed to pass for 3272 yards and 24 scores to 11 picks. Ito Smith was his usual self, as he rushed for 1459 yards and 17 TDs, while averaging 112.23 yards per game. He also managed to gain 5.51 yards per carry, and added 43 receptions in the passing game for 459 yards.
Allenzae Staggers was my Co-MVP on offense for the Eagles, as he caught 62 passes for 1157 yards and 7 scores, while averaging 89 yards per game and 18.66 yards per reception.
The defense worsened by almost 4 points per game allowed, finishing by giving up 29.5 [points per game.The Eagles were tough against the pass, only allowing 174 yards per game, and were not terrible against the run either, but inconsistencies throughout the season just buried the campaign. Senior DL Dylan Bradley had a solid season, racking up 15.5 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. He finished second on the team with 64 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, and blocked a pair of kicks.
Moving Forward: Southern Miss has some face to save, but they have to do it without their big gun at QB in Mullins. Smith and Staggers are both returning, so there is some good news there. Keon Howard and Parker Adamson should get first crack at the QB job, but neither looked promising in 2016.
An issue that must be resolved is penalties, as USM was one of the more penalized teams in the nation, especially at home, where they were dinged 8.2 times per game. They averaged 8 penalties in each of their losses, 7 in wins.
Defensively, USM showed how they can dominate at times, and just look lost in others. They have to find an identity in 2017, and stick with it. Bradley is gone, but Xavier Thigpen and Sherrod Ruff are both back, and they combined for 23.5 TFLs in 2016. That being said, 4 of the top 7 tacklers are gone, so someone needs to step up and make plays next fall. With the division being weak overall, USM could have enough to make a run, but winning the CUSA title in 2017 may not be in the cards.

North Texas Mean Green
5-8 (3-5)

2016 Schedule
Lost to SMU 34-21
Beat Bethune-Cookman 41-20
Lost to Florida 32-0
Beat Rice 42-35
Lost to Middle Tennessee 30-13
Beat Marshall 38-21
Beat Army 35-18
Lost to UTSA 31-17
Lost to Louisiana Tech 45-24
Lost to Western Kentucky 45-7
Beat Southern Miss 27-26
Lost to UTEP 52-24
Lost to Army 38-31 (Heart of Dallas Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Lamar, 9/9 at SMU, 9/16 at Iowa, 11/18 Army
MVP Offense: Jeffry Wilson, RB
MVP Defense: Kishawn McClain, DB
Best Win: Army 35-18
Worst Loss: UTEP 52-24

The Breakdown: For North Texas, you have to celebrate the fact that the Green returned to a bowl, but in reality, going to a bowl as a 5 win team pretty much means absolutely nothing. Despite losing 4 of their final 5 games of the regular season to finish 5-7, UNT received that silly bowl waiver to attend the Heart of Dallas Bowl, because frankly, there are not enough teams to fill the glut of bowls we have without extending offers to losing programs. That, like it or hate it (really hate it) is the world we now live in.
UNT got to the Heart of Dallas Bowl for the second time this decade, and this time, it ended not so well. The Mean Green went up against Army for the second time in 2016, and after handing Army a 17 point loss the first time, the Cadets returned the favor in the bowl with a 38-31 loss for UNT.
Jeffery Wilson is my MVP on offense after rushing for 14 TDs on the season on the back of 936 yards rushing. He played in 11 of 13 games as a junior, and was by far a driving force for an offense that largely struggled at times. Freshman Mason Fine played in 10 games, passing for 1572 yards, but just 6 TDs to 5 INTs. Senior Alec Morris missed the entire middle of the season, passing for 1126 yards and 9 TDs to 7 INTs.
The team stumbled to a 24.8 points per game average, and as bad as that was, it was still an increase of 9.6 points per game over last season.
Defensively, UNT had it tough all season. This unit allowed 32.6 points per game, but that was also an almost 9 point swing to the better from 2015. Kishawn McClain finished the season as the leader in tackles with 91, had 3 picks, and forced 2 fumbles on the season. There was a major weakness against the run, however, and UNT allowed 239.54 yards rushing on the season, as well as 200 yards passing per game.
Moving Forward: There were gains made in year one under Seth Litrell. Scoring is on the upswing, and scoring against is coming down. Wilson is slated to return, and could have a breakout season, but he will need the passing game to pick up steam to keep defenses honest against him. The line also has to do a better job, as they allowed 43 sacks in 13 games, and an average of 7.15 TFLs per game. If Wilson is to break through as a star, that all needs to change. Mason Fine is in the lead early to become the full time starting QB as a sophomore after 10 games in relief this season.
Defensively, the needle is moving in the right direction, but there is still plenty of work to do. The Mean Green needs to get more pressure up front, as they did not do a very good job of that in 2016. They lose 2 of their top 3 tacklers, so talent needs to be found in a big way, because UNT was not exactly deep with it anywhere on defense last fall. If some things come together during camps, and a few balls bounce the right way, we could see another set of improvements in 2017, and this division looks winnable.

Rice Owls
3-9 (2-6)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Western Kentucky 46-14
Lost to Army 31-14
Lost to Baylor 38-10
Lost to North Texas 42-35
Lost to Southern Miss 44-28
Lost to UTSA 14-13
Beat Prairie View 65-44
Lost to Louisiana Tech 61-16
Lost to FAU 42-25
Beat Charlotte 22-21
Beat UTEP 44-24
Lost to Stanford 41-17

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Stanford, 9/16 at Houston, 9/30 at Pittsburgh, 10/7 Army
MVP Offense: Tyler Stehling, QB
MVP Defense: Emmanuel Ellerby, LB
Best Win: None
Worst Loss: Louisiana Tech 61-16

The Breakdown: The Owls lost 8 of their first 9 games in 2016, and their 2 wins in CUSA play were against teams that finished a combined 8-16. The third win was against FCS member Prairie View, and the Owls still allowed 44 points to them in the win. It was 6 weeks in before Rice was finally able to keep a game within single digits in a one point loss to UTSA. It was the only time that the Owls would be able to stay inside of single digits in any loss this year.
Tyler Stehling was, almost by default, my MVP on offense for Rice in 2016. He passed for just 12 TDs, but managed to only toss 7 picks, so that was something. He finshed the season with 2049 yards passing. The staff could not pick one or two backs, so they ran as many as 4 backs as much as 68 carries, but none of those backs ever made it to 100 carries.
Defensively, Rice was a mess all season long. Emmanuel Ellerby was a busy LB on the season, finishing with 118 tackles to lead the team, the only Rice defender to go to triple digits. He finished with 8 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and 3 QB hurries. In all, Rice allowed 287.7 yards passing per game, and 216.83 yards rushing per game. Teams rushed for 30 TDs against this defense.
Moving Forward: I am not sure as to how, but David Bailiff kept his job...again. No coach in the nation has been able to stay at any school with a losing record as long as he has, and it seemed certain in the final month that he was gone before something strange happened in that nothing happened at all after the administration had been sending up smoke signals that this job was opening up. This has to be it for Bailiff if Rice cannot rebound in 2017, and quite frankly, with this roster, I am not sure how they could. The stadium was under water this week, and so, it would seem, is the entire football program.

UTEP Miners
4-8 (2-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat New Mexico State 38-22
Lost to Texas 41-7
Lost to Army 66-14
Lost to Southern Miss 34-7
Lost to Louisiana Tech 28-7
Lost to FIU 35-21
Beat UTSA 52-49
Lost to Old Dominion 31-21
Beat Houston Baptist 42-10
Lost to FAU 35-31
Lost to Rice 44-24
Beat North Texas 52-24

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Oklahoma, 9/16 Arizona, 9/23 at New Mexico State, 9/30 at Army
MVP Offense: Will Martinez, LG; Aaron Jones, RB; Ryan Metz, QB
MVP Defense: Alvin Jones, LB
Best Win: UTSA 52-49
Worst Loss: Rice 44-24

The Breakdown: After a season opening win against rival New Mexico State, UTEP went on to lose their next 6 of 7 games on the season, including a terrible loss to reeling FIU at the time. The Miners did finish 2-2 in the final month, but one of those wins came against a bottom feeder FCS program in Houston Baptist. The Miners managed to lose to both FAU and Rice in that final month, and that sucked all of the respect out the window.
With Zach Greenlee's injury and poor play issues, that opened the door at QB for Ryan Metz, who was effective during his time on the field, as he passed for 1375 yards and 14 TDs to 4 picks. He completed 64.7% of his passes, and averaged 18.3 attempts per game.
The MVP of this offense was RB Aaron Jones. Jones rushed for 1773 yards as a junior, and scored 17 times. He averaged 7.74 yards per carry and 147.75 yards per game. He added 28 receptions and another 3 TDs in the passing game. He rushed for over 200 yards 3 times on the season.
LG Willie Martinez was rock solid at LG for UTEP as well, as he never allowed a sack or a QB hurry all season long.
On defense, the Miners had a rough go of it. They allowed 34.9 points per game, 210.33 yards rushing per game, and another 209 yards per game through the air. LB Alvin Jones led the team with 93 tackles, and finished with TFLs, and 2.5 sacks.
Moving Forward: Sean Kugler is on the hot seat heading into 2017. He had the program moving in the right direction in 2015, and then the bottom fell out, and the Miners are right back in the basement again. Jones will not be around to save their bacon again at RB, as he is heading off early to the NFL Draft, so Metz will have a ton of pressure on him, if he wins the job over Greenlee in camp. There was little depth behind Jones at RB, so that job is wide open, but Jones was a special player for the Miners, and it is doubtful any one player will be able to replicate his output.
Defensively, the Miners need play makers everywhere on the field. Alvin Jones is back at LB and as the defensive leader, but there are losses on the front line, and in the secondary, where Nick Needham is one of only two starters returning after picking up 11 PBUs. It could be another long season in El Paso, and that is not good news for Kugler.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Farewell to 2016: Big 10

The 2016 season was clearly a mixed bag for the Big 10, and was the recipient of a dangerous precedent by the NCAA playoff committee by advancing an Ohio State team that did not even win a division, forget about the conference title, to the national semifinal. Michigan fell short of expectations late in the season, Ohio State managed to somehow wiggle out of not winning the East to get a playoff bid anyway, and Penn State was an amazing surprise. The rest of the East, in my opinion, was basically garbage.
The West had some surprises as well, as Wisconsin was dominant on defense, and won in double figures despite never having a credible QB. Minnesota survived an early sexual assault scandal to win 9 games, only to be brought down by the very same scandal at the end of the season, costing Tracy Claeys his job. Nebraska won 9 games under Mike Riley, but is it not that win total on average that forced them to fire Bo Polini, and has Riley not just averaged 7 wins per season in 2 years? And don't forget the mess that was the Iowa offense, yet somehow they still hung on in the division race until the very end. The rest of the division, again, was pure garbage.

Penn State Nittany Lions
11-3 (8-1)

2016 Schedule
Kent State 33-13
Lost to Pittsburgh 42-39
Beat Temple 34-27
Lost to Michigan 49-10
Beat Minnesota 29-26
Beat Maryland 38-14
Beat Ohio State 24-21
Beat Purdue 62-24
Beat Iowa 41-14
Beat Indiana 45-31
Beat Rutgers 39-0
Beat Michigan State 45-12
Beat Wisconsin 38-31 (Big 10 Title Game)
Lost to USC 52-49 (Rose Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Opponents: 9/2 Akron, 9/9 Pittsburgh, 9/16 Georgia State
2016 MVP Offense: QB Trace McSorley, RB Saquon Barkley
2016 MVP Defense: LB Brandon Bell
Best Win: Ohio State, 24-21
Worst Loss: Michigan 49-10

The Breakdown: After starting just 2-2, and after a whopping 49-10 loss to Michigan, nobody would have called Penn State winning the East, but that is exactly whet they did after rolling off 9 straight wins, including a Big 10 title game shocker when they beat Wisconsin. If not for two straight bone headed pass calls in the closing minute of the Rose Bowl, Penn State likely beats USC in the Rose Bowl, but the second straight pass attempt is picked off, and USC closes the game with a buzzer beater FG to pull out the win.
McSorley and Barkley, who both return in 2017, were a fundamental part of the Nittany Lion turn around. McSorley made everyone finally forget about the much overrated Christian Hackenberg at QB, passing for 3614 yards and 29 TDs, while he rushed for another 365 yards and 7 scores. Barkley was also a beast at RB, rushing for 18 TDs on 1496 yard rushing. Barkley averaged 5.5 yards per carry, and nobody could stack up in any one direction against what turned out to be the most explosive Penn State offense in years.
Brandon Bell was the heart and sole of the defense for Penn State, as was evident after he went down with an injury in the Rose Bowl. USC came back from 14 down to win that game, and his presence in the middle of the field was highly missed as USC rolled off 17 unanswered points to win the game.
Moving Forward: OC Joe Morrhead was retained, and both McSorley and Barkley return in 2017. Penn State should have no trouble with a very weak non conference slate, but they have to go to Ohio State this season, which could be tricky for them. That being said, I really like what I see in this football team coming back next fall.

Ohio State Buckeyes
11-2 (8-1)

2016 Schedule
Beat Bowling Green 77-10
Beat Tulsa 48-3
Beat Oklahoma 45-24
Beat Rutgers 58-0
Beat Indiana 38-17
Beat Wisconsin 30-23
Lost to Penn State 24-21
Beat Northwestern 24-20
Beat Nebraska 62-3
Beat Maryland 62-3
Beat Michigan State 17-16
Beat Michigan 30-27
Lost to Clemson 31-0 (Fiesta Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Opponents: 9/9 Oklahoma, 9/16 Army, 9/23 UNLV
MVP Offense: QB JT Barrett
MVP Defense: CB Malik Hooker
Best Win: Wisconsin 30-23
Worst Loss: Clemson 31-0

The Breakdown: The Buckeyes basically cruised through their first 6 games of the season, including their first 2 games where they outscored Bowling Green and Tulsa by a combined 125-13. The Buckeyes only gave up more than 24 points once all season, and that was in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State. A late blocked kick against Penn State knocked the Buckeyes out of the division title, and out of the Big 10 title game, but somehow, in a very controversial way, they still found themselves playing in a national semifinal game.
JT Barrett was his usual self for most of the season, passing for 2555 yards and 24 TDs to 7 picks. He added 845 yards rushing and 9 more scores. In short, for the Buckeyes, as Barrett goes, so does the team. In the two losses, he was held to 26 yards rushing (against Penn State), and -2 yards rushing (against Clemson). His QBR was dipping heading into the Fiesta Bowl, so perhaps the final result there should not have been a shock.
Malik Hooker was a huge defensive leader in that he returned 3 of his 7 INTs for scores in 2016. He also finished with 4 PBUs, and finished 3rd on the team with 74 tackles, including 14 in the win over Northwestern, which was a very narrow win for the Buckeyes.
Moving Forward: Barrett is returning, but there is serious turnover on the staff. Kevin Wilson is in as OC, a change that Barrett said was necessary. The Buckeyes will look to be their old selves again in 2017, and they should win their season and conference opener against Indiana with relative ease. The game the following week against Oklahoma will tell the tale as to whether or not the Buckeyes get another shot to compete for a national title.

Michigan Wolverines
10-3 (7-2)

2016 Schedule
Beat Hawaii 63-3
Beat UCF 51-14
Beat Colorado 45-28
Beat Penn State 49-10
Beat Wisconsin 14-7
Beat Rutgers 78-0
Beat Illinois 41-8
Beat Michigan State 32-23
Beat Maryland 59-3
Lost to Iowa 14-13
Beat Indiana 20-10
Lost to Ohio State 30-27
Lost to Florida State 33-32 (Orange Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Florida @ Arlington, TX, 9/9 Cincinnati, 9/16 Air Force
MVP Offense: QB Wilton Speight
MVP Defense: LB Ben Gedeon, DB Channing Stribling
Best Win: Penn State 49-10
Worst Loss: Iowa 14-7

The Breakdown: Michigan lost 3 of their final 4 games, and much of that can be attributed to a late season injury to QB Wilton Speight in the Iowa loss. After Speight went down, the Wolverines offense tanked. He returned for the Ohio State game after missing the ugly win over Indiana, but was clearly bothered by his injury, as he tossed 3 of his 7 INTs in those 2 games, both losses. When Speight was healthy, the offense was fully charges most games.
With all the press that Jabrill Peppers got at Michigan in 2016, Ben Gedeon and Channing Stribling actually played a bit better by the numbers. Gedeon was a beast off the edge, piling up 15.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, and 100 total tackles on the season. He finished with double digits in tackles 5 times, with a season high 12 in both wins over Colorado and Indiana. Stribling led the team with 4 INTs on the season and 13 PBUs.
Michigan was streaking for a semifinal birth, but the Speight injury slowed the roll, and the Wolverines collapsed in the final month of the season, including the bowl loss.
Moving Forward: Plenty of talent returns on offense, but there are serious losses on defense. In fact, the top 8 tacklers from the 2016 unit are now gone, all of them having graduated, or in the case of Jabrill Peppers, declared early. Stribling, and Jourdan Lewis, the 2 top performers in the secondary, are also now gone. That could be a huge hindrance on Michigan making another run in the Big 10 East. Games against Florida in the opener, and Air Force, could both be challenging in non con play.

Indiana Hoosiers 
6-7 (4-5)

2016 Schedule
Beat FIU 34-13
Beat Ball State 30-20
Lost to Wake Forest 33-28
Beat Michigan State 24-21
Lost to Ohio State 38-17
Lost to Nebraska 27-22
Lost to Northwestern 24-14
Beat Maryland 42-36
Beat Rutgers 33-27
Lost to Penn State 45-31
Lost to Michigan 20-10
Beat Purdue 26-24
Lost to Utah 26-24 (Foster Farms Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/9 at Virginia, 9/16 FIU, 9/23 Georgia Southern
MVP Offense: Devine Redding, RB
MVP Defense: Tegray Scales, LB
Best Win: Purdue 26-24
Worst Loss: Wake Forest 33-28

The Breakdown: Indiana is a middling Big 10 program, at best, and that seems to work for the Hoosiers. The team skated into a bowl with a narrow 2 point win over a horrible Purdue team, only to run into Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl to lose their 7th game. That is not a good season by any metrics.
What made matters worse is that IU was forced to fire Kevin Wilson, although "forced" maybe too strong a word, as an investigation was launched into player mistreatment, which is the modern day story of "coach yelled at me too much" in most cases.
The loss to Wake Forest early (week 3) was telling, because Indiana, specifically under Wilson, has had a habit of strong starts followed by very slow finishes, and that loss designated the Hoosiers as a team not to be taken too seriously as Big 10 play got under way, and once that was identified, those of us who noticed that trend were rewarded with being absolutely correct. Indiana finished the season by losing 3 of 4, including the bowl loss, and the Wake Forest loss started a run of the Hoosiers losing 4 of 5 before a mid season 2 game win streak over abysmal Rutgers and Maryland. The win of the year ended up being the one game they won in the final month, the win over rival Purdue, as it made IU mediocre enough to get into a  lower tier bowl.
Devine Redding was the offensive MVP after rushing for 1122 yards on an offense that was mostly lacking any real stars. Redding was important, as when he rushed for 100 yards or more, IU was 4-2 in those six games. In games he went for under 100 yards, the Hoosiers were just 3-5.
Tegray Scales was a beast on defense, as he finished with 23.5 TFLs, led the team in tackles with 126, 93 of which were solo jobs, and collected 7 sacks. He also collected 4 QB hurries, and forced one fumble.
Moving Forward: Defensive Coordinator Tom Allen was given the head coaching job not because IU really thinks that he was the perfect candidate for the job, but because they did not want to lose him as DC to another school. He has done a decent job for the Hoosiers on defense, but there is little to no indication that he will succeed as head coach of the Hoosiers, and this reeked as a desperate and crazy knee jerk hire. The Hoosiers have enough in the tank to win all three non con games in 2017, but I feel that they will do what they always do, and falter in Big 10 play, and there may not be enough talent on hand to make another bowl run next season, as they barely made it into a bowl in 2016 at the last hour.

Maryland Terrapins
6-7 (3-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat Howard 52-13
Beat FIU 41-14
Beat UCF 30-24
Beat Purdue 50-7
Lost to Penn State 38-14
Lost to Minnesota 31-10
Beat Michigan State 28-17
Lost to Indiana 42-36
Lost to Michigan 59-3
Lost to Ohio State 62-3
Lost to Nebraska 28-7
Beat Rutgers 31-13
Lost to Boston College 36-30 (Quicklane Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 at Texas, 9/9 Towson, 9/23 UCF
MVP Offense: Ty Johnson, RB
MVP Defense: Jesse Aniebonam, DL
Best Win: Beat Rutgers 31-13

The Breakdown: Even though the Terps returned to a bowl game, this was not a stellar season by any means, as merely getting to a bowl is not nearly as meaningful as it once was. After a 4 game winning streak against mostly bad competition, the wheels really fell off of the wagon for Maryland, as they finished just 2-7 on the season, only beating Michigan State and Rutgers, who combined for 5 total wins and just one win in Big 10 play. That is absolutely terrible. At the end of the season, Maryland had not beaten a single team that finished with a winning record.
RB Ty Johnson ends up being the MVP for offense, even with limited carries (he averaged just 8.46 carries per game). He averaged 9.13 yards per carry and finished with 1004 yards and 6 scores on the year. On a team lacking overall talent on both sides of the football, Johnson seems like a player with a very bright future, but he needs to be used more often.
Jesse Aniebonam was a monster on defense, finishing with 14 TFLs and 9 sacks. He added 46 tackles overall, one PBU, 3 QB hurries, and a forced fumble.
Moving Forward: Just managing to push the Terps over the limit to get into the bowl game (on the back of a win or die win over Rutgers) was huge for DJ Durkin in his first season as head coach at Maryland. This program that he inherited was a mess, and he has a ton of cleaning to do. Finding a QB who can get the ball up field will be a key, and establishing a balanced, solid offense will be another overall. Durkin is a defensive specialist, so lowering the point total allowed once again (the defense showed a 5 point improvement on points allowed in 2016) will also be critical. The needle is moving in the right direction, but this will still be a process.

Michigan State Spartans 
3-9 (1-8)

2016 Schedule
Beat Furman 28-13
Beat Notre Dame 36-28
Lost to Wisconsin 30-6
Lost to Indiana 24-21
Lost to BYU 31-14
Lost to Northwestern 54-40
Lost to Maryland 28-17
Lost to Michigan 32-23
Lost to Illinois 31-27
Beat Rutgers 49-0
Lost to Ohio State 17-16
Lost to Penn State 45-12

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Bowling Green, 9/9 Western Michigan, 9/23 Notre Dame
MVP Offense: LJ Scott, RB
MVP Defense: Chris Frey, LB
Best Win: Rutgers 49-0
Worst Loss: Illinois 31-27

The Breakdown: 2016 was a blood letting at Michigan State, and the Spartans were doing all of the bleeding. This was by far the worst season in years in East Lansing, and one has to wonder if the window has completely slammed shut on this program and the Spartans are returning to the dark ages of their recent history, or one has to wonder if this was merely a blip.
After a 2-0 start, the Spartans finished 1-9, beating only Rutgers in Big 10 play, and Rutgers went winless in conference action. Trouble was certainly on the horizon when Michigan State seemed lifeless in their opener against Furman, and did not even put the FCS Paladins away until the 4th quarter. Furman is not even a rock solid FCS team, so it was evident that trouble was brewing, specifically on offense. As it played out, the Spartans averaged just 24.1 points per game on the season offensively, and the defense did not fair much better, as a once dominant side of this program flopped to allow 27.8 points per game, or a full 6.1 point per game increase over 2015, or a full 14 point increase from 2013.
LJ Scott, almost by default, had to be the offensive MVP, as he managed to rush for 994 yards and 6 TDs. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry on just over 15 carries per game. His best effort was a 19 carry, 160 yard game in a one point loss to Ohio State.
Chris Frey had to be the MVP on defense, as he led the team with with 96 tackles (8 per game), and added 4 TFLs, and 7 QB hurries.
Moving Forward: Mark Dantonio needs to find some answers, because Michigan, Ohio State, and now Penn State are all blowing by them in the East. There was an obvious lack of talent at receiver, and Tyler O'Connor largely struggled as a senior in his only year of being a starter. Brian Lewerke will get a long look in spring ball, but managed to complete only 54% of his pass attempts in limited duty. LJ Scott returns as a junior, and is due for a serious breakout in 2017.
The once dominant defense was a doormat in 2016, and that problem has got to get fixed. With 7 of the top 10 tacklers returning, the unit can only go up. The non conference schedule is not entirely daunting, so a quick start will tell the tale as to how far the Spartans could go towards returning to the top of the heap.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 
2-10 (0-9)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Washington 48-13
Beat Howard 52-14
Beat New Mexico 37-28
Lost to Iowa 14-7
Lost to Ohio State 58-0
Lost to Michigan 78-0
Lost to Illinois 24-7
Lost to Minnesota 34-32
Lost to Indiana 33-27
Lost to Michigan State 49-0
Lost to Penn State 39-0
Lost to Maryland 31-13

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/1 Washington, 9/9 Eastern Michigan, 9/16 Morgan State
MVP Offense: None
MVP Defense: Blessuan Austin, DB
Best Win: New Mexico 37-28
Worst Loss: Michigan State 49-0

The Breakdown: The days of Rutgers being ranked in the top 25 and being a threat in the old Big East seem to be from a day long ago. Let me be frank here, the Scarlet Knights simply do not belong in the Big 10 for any reason whatsoever. The Big 10 wanted this school for the New York metro market share, but that market couldn't care less about college football. Rutgers provides nothing but a toxic waste dump on the conference dossier.
A toxic waste dump is a perfect way to describe the 2016 season that was for Rutgers. They were shut out 4 times this season by a combined margin of 226-0. They gave up 78 points to Michigan, breaking a Big 10 margin of victory record that went back to 1912. The margin of defeat stayed under 10 points just 3 times in conference play. The win over New Mexico was squarely a fluke, and was before the Lobos eventually found themselves later in the season. Had that game been played in Novemeber, Rutgers does not win.
I could not name an offensive MVP on this football team, because nobody deserved to be named to that spot. The offense was putrid. Rutgers averaged just 15.7 points per game, and nobody played up to ability on this side of the football team. Not one player.
Defensively, I had to name Blessuan Austin, as he finished the season with 14 PBUs. At least someone got off the bus every week.
Moving Forward: I can generally find something to concentrate on moving forward for almost any team, but not this one. There is literally no talent on this current roster that can carry the day forward for this mess to improve. Chris Ash was a brave man to take this job, or he was the biggest fool on Earth. I am not very much sure which. All I know is that Kyle Flood should never coach anywhere, ever again after the mess he made here.

Wisconsin Badgers
11-3 (7-2)

2016 Schedule
Beat LSU 16-14
Beat Akron 54-10
Beat Georgia State 23-17
Beat Michigan State 30-6
Lost to Michigan 14-7
Lost to Ohio State 30-23
Beat Iowa 17-9
Beat Nebraska 23-17
Beat Northwestern 21-7
Beat Illinois 48-3
Beat Purdue 49-20
Beat Minnesota 31-17
Lost to Penn State 38-31 (Big 10 Title Game)
Beat Western Michigan 24-16 (Cotton Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/1 Utah State, 9/9 Florida Atlantic, 9/16 at BYU
MVP Offense: Corey Clement, RB
MVP Defense: TJ Watt, LB
Best Win: Minnesota 31-17
Worst Loss: Ohio State 30-23

The Breakdown: Wisconsin's regular season over Minnesota broke the Badgers free from a crowded group on top of the West Division, and the Badgers plowed their way to the Big 10 title game, where the defense could not contain Penn State in a 38-31 loss. The Badgers found themselves in the Cotton Bowl against America's sweetheart team in Western Michigan, and the Badgers found enough in the tank to take down the previously unbeaten Broncos 24-16 n a game that really was not that close.
For the Badgers, if they could get one game back, it had to have been the loss to Ohio State in OT, 30-23. Wisconsin gave up the final 10 points in that game after leading in the 4th quarter to lose, and that made the rest of the season more difficult than it had to be, as that loss made every game a must win for Wisconsin. As it was, the Badgers certainly did not look like an eventual division winner when they struggled mightily to rally to beat Georgia State in September.
Corey Clement carried the day at RB, as the Badgers have a history of RBs that have had to do the same due to not so great QB play. Clement busted his way for 1375 yards rushing and 15 scores on the season. He rushed for 100 yards or more in 5 of the last 6 games of the season.
TJ Watt was a force in the family tradition after recording 15.5 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, 63 total tackles, 4 PBUs, 13 QB hurries, and 2 forced fumbles. He even picked off a pass, which he promptly returned for a TD.
In short, it had to be considered a wildly successful season for the Badgers, even if they fell just shy of winning the Big 10 title.
Moving Forward: Clement is gone, as is Dare Ogunbowale, so the RB job will likely go to Bradrick Shaw, unless someone else steps up. For the new backs to be successful, the Badgers need better play from Alex Hornibrook, who will likely be the full time starter at QB, unless he fails early or in camp. Only 2 of the top 5 receivers return, so that could be a tall order.
On defense, TJ Watt declared early for the draft, leaving a huge hole at LB. That being said, 7 of the top 10 tacklers do return to a unit that allowed just 15.6 points per game, so what you saw in 2016 overall, should be much of what you see in 2017, with a run game and the defense carrying the team as a whole.

Iowa Hawkeyes
8-5 (6-3)

2016 Schedule
Beat Miami (Ohio) 45-21
Beat Iowa State 42-3
Lost to North Dakota State 23-21
Beat Rutgers 14-7
Lost to Northwestern 38-31
Beat Minnesota 14-7
Beat Purdue 49-35
Lost to Wisconsin 17-9
Lost to Penn State 41-14
Beat Michigan 14-13
Beat Illinois 28-0
Beat Nebraska 40-10
Lost to Florida 30-3 (Outback Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Wyoming, 9/9 at Iowa State, 9/16 North Texas
MVP Offense: Akrum Wadley, LeShun Daniels, both RBs
MVP Defense: Josey Jewell, LB
Best Win: Michigan 14-13
Worst Loss: North Dakota State 23-21

The Breakdown: If not for a top flight defense and run game, the 2016 season would likely have been a disaster of massive proportions for this Hawkeyes team. CJ Beathard returned as QB, but averaged just 141yards passing per game, and so it was up to RBs Wadley and Woods to carry the day with the run game, and they did their jobs, with both going over 1000 yards on the season. Wadley led the team with 1081 yards and 10 scores, while Daniels was right behind him with 1058 yards and another 10 scores. In all, Iowa averaged 171 yards rushing per game, which kept them afloat, as they only averaged 24.1 points per game.
The defense was the other side of the coin for the Hawkeyes, as Iowa allowed just 15 points per game. Jewell was a star at LB, recording a team leading 124 tackles, and added 6 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 9 PBUs, and 5 QB hurries. He also added 1 forced fumble and a blocked kick.
After a 2 game losing streak to Wisconsin and Penn State, Iowa finished strong, winning 3 straight with wins over Michigan, Illinois, and Nebraska before the bowl loss to Florida ended the season on a sour note.
Moving Forward: Daniels is gone, but Wadley returns. Iowa will need to find someone in the backfield to replicate the output of Daniels, because the Hawkeyes are also breaking in a new starter at QB, with Nathan Stanley being the early favorite to win the job in spring ball. Iowa will need to find someone in the receiving corps, or multiple someones, to help take pressure off the run game. That will be a tough task, as 3 of the top 5 receivers are all gone.
Defense should still be a staple here, as Josey Jewell chose to return for his senior season at LB to lead the way. 7 of the top 10 tacklers all return, and promising DB Brandon Snyder also returns to anchor the secondary.
Iowa may not have enough to crack the top 3 in the West, but the West is not good at all outside of Wisconsin and Minnesota heading into 2017, so there is a chance to finish as high as 3rd.

Nebraska Cornhuskers
9-4 (6-3)

2016 Schedule
Beat Fresno State 43-10
Beat Wyoming 52-17
Beat Oregon 35-32
Beat Northwestern 24-13
Beat Illinois 30-10
Beat Indiana 27-22
Beat Purdue 27-14
Lost to Wisconsin 23-17
Lost to Ohio State 62-3
Beat Minnesota 24-17
Beat Maryland 28-7
Lost to Iowa 40-10
Lost to Tennessee 38-24 (Music City Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Arkansas State, 9/9 at Oregon, 9/16 Northern Illinois
MVP Offense: Terrell Newby, RB
MVP Defense: Joshua Kalu, DB
Best Win: Minnesota 24-17
Worst Loss: Iowa 40-10

The Breakdown: If Husker fans were not excited about Bo Pelini and his 9 wins on average per season, I am not sure that they are loving this Mike Riley era all that much more. Nebraska won exactly 9 games again in 2016, which was a 3 game increase over 2015, but that is not why the Huskers brought Riley in. He was supposed to be much better than this.
It was difficult for me to select an MVP on offense, as so many players under performed all season, but I settled on Terrell Newby, as he rushed for 879 yards and 7 TDs despite not being relied on as much as he should have been. The offense, as a whole, was not great, averaging 26.5 points per game. There were no verifiable stars, and Tommy Armstrong was down right terrible at times as the QB. In Nebraska's 4 losses, the Huskers averaged just 13 points per game, and the Huskers scored over 30 points just 4 times all season in a high scoring era. That s not getting it done.
Defensively, the Huskers were somewhat better, allowing just over 23 points per game. Joshua Kalu finished with 11 PBUs, 3 TFLs, and 66 tackles on the year. There were defenders with higher tackle totals, but they did little else.
In short, the Huskers seem to need a complete energy transfusion, as I am certain this was not what people were hoping for when Pelini was fired.
Moving Forward: The uskers are going to get very young at QB all at once, as Armstrong and backup Ryker Fife are both gone. Newby has moved on as well, leaving Devine Ozigbo and Tre Bryant as the next backs in line to win the job in spring and fall camps. 4 of the top 6 receivers are also leaving, which means that the Huskers situation on offense is hardly stable.
Defensively, 5 of the top 10 tacklers are gone, leaving massive holes all over the defensive unit. One of those holes is huge, with DL Ross Dzuris parting after an 11 TFL season. The only spot where all is certain is at PK, where Drew Brown returns. I can see the Huskers dropping all the way to 4th in the West, maybe worse.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
9-4 (5-4)

2016 Schedule
Beat Oregon State 30-23
Beat Indiana State 58-28
Beat Colorado State 31-24
Lost to Penn State 29-26
Lost to Iowa 14-7
Beat Maryland 31-10
Beat Rutgers 34-32
Beat Illinois 40-17
Beat Purdue 44-31
Lost to Nebraska 24-17
Beat Northwestern 29-12
Lost to Wisconsin 31-17
Beat Washington State 17-12 (Holiday Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 8/31 Buffalo, 9/9 at Oregon State, 9/16 Middle Tennessee
MVP Offense: Rodney Smith, RB
MVP Defense: Jonathon Celestin, LB
Best Win: Washington State 17-12
Worst Loss: Nebraska 24-17

The Breakdown: The 2016 season was one of the best seasons the Gophers have had in years, but yet was full of controversy and doubt based on a sexual assault scandal that rocked the program back in September, and the effects of that scandal came back to haunt this program in December, costing Tracy Claeys his job coming off a 9 win season. Claeys sided with his players publicly while siding with the administration privately when several players were suspended by the administration after new information came about from the scandal itself. That is not how you keep your job.
The Gophers were in the West race until the last game of the season, but could not get any help to win the division, and finished with 4 losses before a surprising win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
Rodney Smith was the star on offense after Mitch Leidner played what was probably his worst season as Gophers QB, tossing just 8 TDs to 12 picks. Smith rushed for 1158 yards and 16 scores, showing major flashes of speed from time to time. He led a rushing attack that ran for 183.62 yards per game. He is headed for a major break out season as a junior in 2017.
LB Jonathon Celestin was rock solid as well on defense, finishing with 80 tackles, 53 of which were solo tackles. He finished with 7 TFLs, and 4 PBUs on the season as well.
Moving Forward: Conor Rhoda will get first crack at replacing Mitch Leidner, who has moved on. The Gophers have to hope that he can throw the ball better than Leidner, but nothing has been proven yet. Smith will be back as a junior next season, and hitting for 1000 yards should be well within expectations. Shannon Brooks also returns, giving the Gophers backfield depth. Drew Wolitarsky, the leading receiver is gone, and that is a big blow. The next 9 receivers, not counting backs, all return, however, so the receiving group should have enough talent left to make up for the loss.
The defense should be fine, with 8 of the top 11 tacklers returning in 2017. Both Steven Richardson and Blake Cashman, who combined for 21.5 TFLs, are slated to return up front, and Celestin is back as well. Minnesota could have the best defense this side of Wisconsin in the conference next season.

Northwestern Wildcats
7-6 (5-4)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Western Michigan 22-21
Lost to Illinois State 9-7
Beat Duke 24-13
Lost to Nebraska 24-13
Beat Iowa 38-31
Beat Michigan State 54-40
Beat Indiana 24-14
Lost to Ohio State 24-20
Lost to Wisconsin 21-7
Beat Purdue 45-17
Lost to Minnesota 29-12
Beat Illinois 42-21
Beat Pittsburgh 31-24 (Pinstripe Bowl)

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Nevada, 9/9 at Duke, 9/16  Bowling Green
MVP Offense: Justin Jackson, RB
MVP Defense: Godwin Igwebuike, DB
Best Win: Iowa 38-31
Worst Loss: Illinois State 9-7

The Breakdown: Things were bleak early on as the Wildcats opened the season by losing 3 of 4, including a heartless shocker to FCS member Illinois State, in week 2. The Cats went on to win their next 3 games after starting 1-3, and got back into being alive again, and beat Iowa during that streak. The Wildcats then finished strong, winning 2 of their final 3 regular season games to get bowl eligible, before beating Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl in New York.
Justin Jackson was a major player all season for the Wildcats, rushing for 1524 yards and 15 TDs, while averaging 22.92 carries per game. He averaged just over 117 yards per game on the season, and kept the heat off of Clayton Thorson at QB, allowing him to be the best game manager that he could be.
Godwin Igwebuike wins the MVP award on defense after recording 108 tackles (78 solo), and he also added 6 TFLs, 2 picks, and 7 PBUs. Northwestern finished by allowing just 22 points per game on defense. The Wildcats allowed just 13 passing TDs all season, and picked off 16 opposing passes.
Moving Forward: Thorson is back at QB after passing for 3182 yards and 22 TDs. He should be even better as a junior if he can break 60% on completions, which he failed to do this season. Jackson will be back as well, giving the Wildcats one of the most defined backfields in the conference coming back. The Cats lose all everything receiver Austin Carr and his 1297 yards receiving, so replacing his production in camps will be crucial.
Defensively, 9 of the top 11 tacklers return, including LB Anthony Walker and his 10 TFLs, but Ifeadi Odeigbo is gone. Igwebuike is in the returnee group, which is a huge gain. Look for Northwestern to try to crack the top 3 in the West in 2017. I am not sure they can win the West, but they can make a solid push.

Illinois Fighting Illini
3-9 (2-7)

2016 Schedule
Beat Murray State 52-3
Lost to North Carolina 48-23
Lost to Western Michigan 34-10
Lost to Nebraska 31-16
Lost to Purdue 34-31
Beat Rutgers 24-7
Lost to Michigan 41-8
Lost to Minnesota 40-17
Beat Michigan State 31-27
Lost to Wisconsin 48-3
Lost to Iowa 28-0
Lost to Northwestern 42-21

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Ball State, 9/9 Western Kentucky, 9/16 at USF
MVP Offense: Malik Turner, WR
MVP Defense: Carroll Phillips, DL
Best Win: Michigan State 31-27
Worst Loss: Wisconsin 48-3

The Breakdown: Year one of the Lovie Smith era at Illinois was not great. Illinois is still a mess, and it could take years to get anywhere near fixing the damage from the last few years of controversy and chaos in this program.
The Illini lost 4 of their first 5 games, and then closed out with 5 losses in 6 games. Big 10 wins against Michigan State and Rutgers came against 2 teams that combined to go 5-19, while win number 3 was against FCS member Murray State, and this is hardly a golden era of Racer football.
Junior Malik Turner did manage to step up and provide a decent season at WR, as he caught 48 passes for 712 yards and 6 TDs on the year. Having a healthy Wes Lunt would have been helpful, but he was limited to just 8 games. The run game never did develop a front line work horse back, and was never entirely effective, and Illinois was stunted to scoring just 19.7 points per game because of erratic play across the board.
Illinois got worked over on defense, giving up 31.9 points per game. Carroll Phillips was the best of what they had to offer, as he finished with 20 TFLs. Dawuane Smoot added another 15 on the season, with Gimel President adding another 12.5 to give Illinois one of the best D lines in the conference, shockingly. Phillips added 9 sacks and 56 tackles on the season. Hardy Nickerson finished with 107 tackles as a senior.
Moving Forward: Lunt has moved on at QB, never really having much effect on the Illini offense after transferring from Oklahoma State. The top 4 RBs all return, but the Illini need to find a go to guy or two in that group. Turner returns at WR,  and could have a solid season if a decent QB can be found. The next 2 receivers behind Turner, however, are gone.
The entirety of the D line rotation will be gone. Only Rob Bain will be back, and he will be a junior after recording 3.5 TFLs in limited duty. 7 of the top 11 tacklers all depart, meaning that finding improvements will be difficult on what will be a young defense. It could be a long season in or near the basement for the Illini once again.

Purdue Boilermakers
3-9 (1-8)

2016 Schedule
Beat Eastern Kentucky 45-24
Lost to Cincinnati 38-20
Beat Nevada 24-14
Lost to Maryland 50-7
Beat Illinois 34-31
Lost to Iowa 49-35
Lost to Nebraska 27-14
Lost to Penn State 62-24
Lost to Minnesota 44-31
Lost to Northwestern 45-17
Lost to Wisconsin 49-20
Lost to Indiana 26-24

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Louisville (at Indianapolis), 9/8 Ohio, 9/16 at Missouri
MVP Offense: DeAngelo Yancey, WR
MVP Defense: Markus Bailey, DB
Best Win: Illinois 34-31
Worst Loss: Maryland 50-7

The Breakdown: The Darrell Hazell experiment died before the season ever ended, and quite frankly, it was a mistake to bring him back in 2016, as the deck was stacked against him. After a decent 3-2 start, the wheels came completely off the wagon, starting with a 50-7 loss to a barely average Maryland team, and the writing was on the wall for Hazell from then forward. The Boilermakers proceeded to lose 7 straight games to close out the year, with their only conference win coming in a 3 point win over Illinois in week 5.
David Blough was a turnover machine at QB, tossing 21 picks to 25 TDs. He was asked to do too much, but WR DeAngelo Yancey became a star in the process. Yancey caught 49 passes for 951 yards and 10 scores, averaging over 19 yards per reception. Even with his success, the Boilermakers still averaged just over 24 points per game.
Purdue was awful on defense, allowing 38.3 points per game on the season. There was promise for the future, however, in LB Markus Bailey, who, as a freshman, led the team with 97 tackles, 4 INTs, and added 6 TFLs for the season. He is a serious building block for the new defense in 2017.
Moving Forward: Jeff Brohm was hired away from Western Kentucky to replace Hazell and get the program back on track, as it has not been since the earlier part of the Joe Tiller days. The administration has guaranteed increased funding for staff and facilities, so that is a start. What should worry Purdue fans is that Brohm's teams have never been remotely good defensive units, and that could be worrisome, as high scoring, high octane offenses have never succeeded outside of the Ohio State in the league. To win in the Big 10, you have to play defense. Markus Bailey is the best player on this team moving forward, and building around him on defense would be wise.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2016 All-Bilo Positional Players of the Year: NAIA

I now finish my 2016 Awards Season Positional Player of the Year Awards with my All-Bilo NAIA selections for 2016. Here are my players of the year:

QB: Hunter Brown, Campbellsville (KY)
RB: Bryce Lidtka, Dortd (Iowa)
WR: TJ Brown, Sterling (Kansas)
Receiver: Krishawn Hogan, Marian (Indiana)
Front Seven DEFENDER: Nicholas McBeain, Valley City State (ND)
Front Seven DEFENDER: Evan Sprayberry, Tabor (Kansas)
Secondary DEFENDER: Darrain Winston, Baker (Kansas)
PK: Bradley Bates, Campbellsville (KY)
P: Derek Brush, Arizona Christian
KR: TJ Brown, Sterling (Kansas)
PR: Quincy Waldon, Bethel (Tennessee)

Coach of the Year: Kevin Donley, St. Francis (Indiana)

Congratulations to all of the winners, and to their programs!

2016 All-Bilo Positional Playersof the Year: Division 3

I now continue to wrap up the 2016 All-Bilo Awards Season, as we continue with Division 3 College Football. Here are my players of the year:

QB: Chase Burton, Franklin
RB: Sam Benger, Carnegie-Melon
WR: Koree Reed, Hartwick
TE: Garrett Weaver, Mt. St. Joseph
DL: Austin Crow, Heidelberg
LB: Donovan Hayden, Bethany (WV)
DB: Cal Lewellyn, Centre
PK: Will Gingery, Wittenberg
P: Ryan Anderson, Olivet
KR: Alex Bell, Hardin-Simmons
PR: Connor Davies Rensselaer

Coach of the Year: Pat Cerroni, Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Congratulations to all of our D3 Player of the Year recipients and their programs!

2016 All-Bilo Positional Players of the Year: Division 2

I am starting to officially put a wrap on the 2016 season that was with my Division 2 Positional Players of the Year Awards for offense, defense, and special teams. Here are my D2 Football award winners for 2016:

QB: Justin Dvorak, Colorado Mines
RB: Martayveous Carter, Grand Valley State
WR: Brody Oliver, Colorado Mines
TE: Adam Shaheen, Ashland
DL: Whitney Richardson, Lane
LB: David Smith, Morehouse
DB: Raheem Wilson, Southeastern Oklahoma
PK: Matt Pembroke, UNC-Pembroke
P: Aaron LeDeaux, Minot State
KR: Ta'Nauz Gregory, Edinboro
PR: Paul Revis, Western Oregon

Coach of the Year: Adam Dorrel, Northwest Missouri State

Congrats to all of the All-Bilo Player of the Year recipients for Division 2 football in 2016!

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Best Opening Games of 2017

We are just barely out of the 2016 season, but we can still look forward to the 2017 by looking at the best the opening week has to offer. Here are my picks for the best opening games of 2017.

Florida State vs. Alabama (at Atlanta)
This is by far the best of the openers for 2017. I have both of these teams in my final 4 at the end of next season, so this could be an incredible preview of what is to come. Florida State is in prime contention to win the ACC, and Alabama, despite their loss to Clemson in the title game, is still Alabama.

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech
It doesn't seem like a great game on paper, but if Tennessee loses this opener, the heat will be whilte hot on Butch Jones.

Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia (at Landover, MD)
West Virginia is in position to make a run for the Big 12 title in 2017, and Virginia Tech was a huge surprise who will be breaking in a new QB. Still, this is a huge challenge for the Mountaineers, and an early loss will start the doubts about how good they can be.

Temple at Notre Dame
Temple breaks in Geoff Collins as their new head coach, but the bigger story line here will be how the Irish break into a new season after one of their worst seasons in school history. Brian Kelly is on the hot seat in a big way, and a loss to Temple will be crushing.

Tulsa at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State is in a three team group making a serious run at a Big 12 title and final four birth in 2017, and Tulsa is a dangerous opponent heading in, despite needing to replace Dane Evans at QB. The Cowboys cannot afford to sleep on this one.

Michigan vs. Florida (Arlington, TX)
Michigan needs replacement parts on defense, but the offense is in great shape. The Gators have virtually no offense, but their defense is top shelf, even without Geoff Collins as DC. Both teams are looking for an early bump, and winning here will provide that.

Louisiana Tech at Arkansas
The Razorbacks have a history of losing early season games like this one. Tech should have the firepower to put up numbers here, and Bret Bielema is coming off of a nightmare bowl loss. A loss here would be awful for Arkansas, and would start up the rumor mill.

Alabama A&M at UAB
This is remarkable for the fact that UAB is returning from a two year hiatus. Welcome back Blazers!

Western Michigan at USC
It's the first game for the Broncos without PJ Fleck as head coach, and it begins the Tim Lester era, which could be fascinating. USC is coming off of a major run, ending with a Rose Bowl win over Penn State. USC should win this game, but the story lines should be fun.

LSU vs. BYU (at Houston)
The official Ed Orgeron era begins at LSU, and BYU turns back to Tanner Mangum at QB, as he should have been starting for the entire 2016 season. A loss here for LSU, and the Orgeron doubters get a strong start.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Farewell to 2016: Big 12

What looked like a long season brewing early in the year ended very well at the top for the Big 12, as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia all won 10 games or more for 2016. Oklahoma finished as one of the hottest teams in the nation after a horrible start. We were finally able to (mostly) put the chaos at Baylor behind us, and saw the beginnings of the crumbling foundation in Waco by the end of the season. The bottom half of the league all finished under .500, and at points, that bottom half sunk the conference in our power rankings to the point that the league was no longer in the top 5, and it is a Power 5 Conference. In short, it was all hit and miss in 2016.

Oklahoma Sooners
11-2 (9-0)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Houston 33-23
Beat UL-Monroe 59-17
Lost to Ohio State 45-24
Beat TCU 52-46
Beat Texas 45-40
Beat Kansas State 38-17
Beat Texas Tech 66-59
Beat Kansas 56-3
Beat Iowa State 34-24
Beat Baylor 45-24
Beat West Virginia 56-28
Beat Oklahoma State 38-20
Beat Auburn 35-19 (Sugar Bowl)

How It Went Down
There was no team more down in the first month than Oklahoma (OK, maybe USC). The Sooners lost to Houston and Ohio State by an average of 15.5 points per loss, and all looked bad in Norman. National attention was starting to go negative, and Bob Stoops was being grilled as to how this could happen. After the Ohio State loss, Oklahoma went on a tear, winning 10 straight games, ending with a bowl win over Auburn. OU never lost a conference game, and won their final six games by an average of 24.33 points per game.
Baker Mayfield became a Heisman candidate at QB, passing for 3965 yards and 40 TDs to just 9 picks, or slightly more than a 4:1 ratio. He averaged 305 yards per game, and added another 6 TDs rushing.
Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine both busted loose for over 1000 yards, as Mixon picked up 1274 and 10 scores, while Perine added another 12. In total, Oklahoma averaged 236.77 yards rushing per game.
DeDe Westbrook became a household name as well, catching 80 passes for 1524 yards and a whopping 17 scores. He also scored on a punt return.
Defensively, the Sooners had some flaws, as they gave up 28.8 points per game in 2016. They gave up 30 points or more 4 times, and only held opponents under 20 points 4 times. Those are not normal Oklahoma numbers.
In the end, Oklahoma ran up one of the more impressive seasons in recent memory after a very bad September almost derailed this program, and they were not very far out of the national title contention conversation at the end of the season. Remember, they finished the season with 3 of their toughest opponents in West Virginia, Oklahoma State, and Auburn.

2017 Look Ahead: The Sooners will have Mayfield back, which is great news, as he and Westbrook should make one of the best pass combos in the nation. The Sooners do, however, lose both Mixon and Perine, and with Mixon, that may not be a abd thing as he carries a ton of baggage that could have become a distraction. Defensively, I look for the Soooners to improve, and get back to playing Oklahoma football once again. The league stays tough at the top, but OU will make another run at a Big 12 title in 2017.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 UTEP, 9/9 at Ohio State, 9/16 Tulane

Oklahoma State Cowboys
10-3 (7-2)

2016 Schedule
Beat SE Louisiana 61-7
Lost to Central Michigan 30-27
Beat Pittsburgh 45-38
Lost to Baylor 35-24
Beat Texas 49-31
Beat Iowa State 38-31
Beat Kansas 44-20
Beat West Virginia 37-20
Beat Kansas State 43-37
Beat Texas Tech 45-44
Beat TCU 31-6
Lost to Oklahoma 38-20
Beat Colorado 38-8 (Alamo Bowl)

How It Went Down: I guarantee that if the Cowboys had played Central Michigan and Baylor later in the year, they win those two game by double digits. The Central Michigan game was a head scratcher as to how it was ever allowed to be that close, and the Baylor loss came before the wheels came off the wagon on Baylor's season. That being said, however, the Cowboys did beat West Virginia, and even had they won those games against CMU and Baylor, they still likelywould not have had enough to win Bedlam against Oklahoma, which is what they would have needed to do to take the Big 12 title. Still, OSU won 8 of their final 9 games and finished the season as one of the better teams in the nation.
Mason Rudolph passed for 4091 yards and 28 TDs against just 4 INTs on the season, and averaged 314.7 yards per game. He found some solid targets in the talented James Washington (71-1380-10) and Jalen McCleskey (73-812-7) as well, and the offense averaged 38.6 points per game. Freshman Justice Hill gave what the Cowboys have been lacking in recent years in the run game, and rushed for 1142 yards and 6 TDs, while averaging 5.54 yards per carry. Seniors Chris Carson and Rennie Childs added to the fun by combining for 16 rushing scores of their own. Oklahoma State rushed for 32 scores as a team and averaged 170.85 yards per game on the ground.
Vincent Taylor was strong up front on defense, finishing with 13 TFLs and 7 sacks, while Safety Jordan Sterns finished with 102 tackles. The main problem, however, with Oklahoma State in 2016, was the defense. The Cowboys allowed 252.8 yards passing per game, and allowed another 193.46 yards rushing. The Cowboys surrendered 30 or more points 7 times in 2016, and teams averaged 26.5 points against OSU for the year.

2017 Look Ahead: The Cowboys are loaded coming back in 2017. Rudolph, Hill, Washington, and McCleskey all return as do several other key components on offense. If the defense can tighten up at all, I would expect Oklahoma State to win another 10 games or more next season, and I would expect them to be in a race for the conference title and a playoff spot. This team has that much explosive potential. They just have to avoid the slip up games like they had in 2016 against CMU and Baylor.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Tulsa, 9/9 at South Alabama, 9/16 at Pittsburgh

West Virginia Mountaineers
10-3 (7-2)

2016 Schedule
Beat Missouri 26-11
Beat Youngstown State 38-21
Beat BYU 35-32
Beat Kansas State 17-16
Beat Texas Tech 48-17
Beat TCU 34-10
Lost to Oklahoma State 37-20
Beat Kansas 48-21
Beat Texas 24-20
Lost to Oklahoma 56-28
Beat Iowa State 49-19
Beat Baylor 24-21
Lost to Miami 31-14 (Russell Athletic Bowl)

How It Went Down
The Mountaineers shocked the Big 12 and the nation by winning their first 6 games of the season, 4 of those by double figures, before the lost their first game of the season against an inspired Oklahoma State team. After that, WVU won 4 of their final 5, losing only to eventual conference champ Oklahoma, and then the Mountaineers fell apart in a bowl loss to Miami to wrap up the season. Still, I would have to consider this a massively important season for the Mountaineers, as Dana Holgorsen was on a very hot seat entering the season. West Virginia ended the year by winning 10 games, and by setting a very big stage for 2017, but we will discuss that in a bit.
Skyler Howard could be a whipping boy at times for the Mountaineers, but he had a strong overall season, when he threw for 3328 yards and 26 TDs to 11 picks. He averaged 256 yards per game on 31.1 pass attempts per contest, and added 10 rushing scores to bolster his numbers.
Junior Justin Crawford rushed for 1184 yards, averaging over 7 yards per carry, and 4 scores. Rushel Shell III was solid, rushing for 514 yards as a backup, but the future appears to be freshman Kennedy McCoy, who ran for 472 yards and averaged 6.47 yards per carry.
Shelton Gibson was a star in the receiving game, catching 43 passes for 951 yards and 8 scores. He averaged 22.12 yards per catch. Daikiel Shorts posted 63-894-5, Ka'Raun White posted 48-583-5, and Jovon Durante posted 35-331-2.
Rasul Douglas was a major ball hawk for the defense in the secondary, as he finished ith 8 INTs on the season. He tied for the national lead with that number. Maurice Fleming collected 9 PBUs, and Jeremy Tyler added 8 more.
The issue, like was the case for Oklahoma State, was on defense for WVU. The Mountaineers were not great, overall, in putting pressure on opposing backfields. They gave up over 257 yards passing, and 168 yards rushing per game, which put a lot of pressure on the offense to amp up what they were doing. West Virginia did not have the guns to run with Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, and in the end, it cost them the Big 12 title.
Another area of concern were special teams, where they got very little out of the return game, and Mike Molina connected on just 68.2% of his FG tries.

2017 Look Ahead: The Mountaineers will lose Howard at QB, but Will Grier transfers in from Florida, and that will be a huge gain for this offense. Crawford and McCoy should be a nice combo pack in the backfield as well coming back. 5 of the top 6 WRs frm 2016 will all be back, giving Grier a solid shot to succeed. The defense must shore up some problem areas and put more pressure on backfields, and if they can manage that, the offense should be more than loaded enough to make another run at a Big 12 title, and with a break or two, the Mountaineers could find themselves in the playoff conversation.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Virginia Tech @ Landover, Md., 9/9 East Carolina, 9/16 Delaware State

Kansas State Wildcats
9-4 (6-3)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Stanford 26-13
Beat FAU 63-7
Beat Missouri State 35-0
Lost to West Virginia 17-16
Beat Texas Tech 44-38
Lost to Oklahoma 38-17
Beat Texas 24-21
Beat Iowa State 31-26
Lost to Oklahoma State 43-37
Beat Baylor 42-21
Beat Kansas 34-19
Beat TCU 30-6
Beat Texas A&M 33-28 (Texas Bowl)

How It Went Down
Kansas State, after a 3-3 start to the season, took off in the second half of the year, breaking off 6 wins in their final 8 games to wrap up the season with 9 total wins. This was likely one of Bill Snyder's better coaching jobs, as 9 wins were well above expectations for this version of Wildcat football.
Kansas State did not have the best passing game with JesseErtz, but he controlled a sustained run game that lifted the offense to just over 32 points per game. Ertz passed for just 1755 yards, but led the team in rushing with 1012 yards and 12 TDs. He passed for just 9 TDs on the season against only 4 picks in 13 games. The Wildcats averaged 231.77 yards rushing per game.
Jordan Willis was a monster off the edge up front defensively for the Wildcats, finishing with 17.5 TFLs on the season, while Reggie Walker finished with 11.5 TFLs. After those two, however, production went way down. Willis finished with 11.5 sacks, the only player close to double didgits in that category. As t pertains to pass defense, the Wildcats put on a team effort with 16 total picks on the season, with no one defender finishing with more than 3. DJ Reed was especially effective, as he finished with 16 PBUs on the year. Kansas State allowed just 22.3 points per game, making their defense one of the best units in the Big 12 and nationally. The Wildcats held 8 teams to 21 or fewer points in a game, and allowed just 115 yards rushing per contest.
An area of concern was that there was no depth in the run game after Ertz, as no single RB rushed for more than 596 yards. Ertz is the centerpiece for this offense, but it would be nice to have some support.

2017 Look Ahead: Ertz returns, as do 3 of the top 4 other rushers on the team, and that group was fairly young in 2016. Look for improvements and development offensively as this group matures. Willis is gone on defense, but Walker is back. If the Cats can put some production around him, this could be a very good defense once again. Overall, without some luck, K State does not have the horses to run with WVU, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma, but with a bounce here or there, the worst I can see them doing is finishing 4th or 5th in the conference next season.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Central Arkansas, 9/9 Charlotte, 9/16 at Vanderbilt

TCU Horned Frogs
6-7 (4-5)

2016 Schedule
Beat South Dakota State 59-41
Lost to Arkansas 41-38
Beat Iowa State 41-20
Beat SMU 33-3
Lost to Oklahoma 52-46
Beat Kansas 24-23
Lost to West Virginia 34-10
Lost to Texas Tech 27-24
Beat Baylor 62-22
Lost to Oklahoma State 31-6
Beat Texas 31-9
Lost to Kansas State 30-6
Lost to Georgia 31-23 (Liberty Bowl)

How It Went Down
The Frogs opened the season winning 3 of 4, but there was something apparently wrong as soon as the first game had come to a close, as TCU struggled mightily to beat FCS member South Dakota State. Concerns surfaced a week later in a loss to Arkansas, but then TCU went on to win 3 of the next 4. After that streak, TCU finished the season 2-5, and that was the story. There was a tremendous consistency issue both on offense and defense, and it seemed as if this TCU football team lacked any identity at all.
Kenny Hill was largely the mess that he had been at Texas A&M before transferring, throwing just 17 TDs to 13 INTs. He managed to averge 246.8 yards passing per game, but never found a groove where he could dominate from one game to the next. He did manage 609 yards rushing and 10 scores, but his passing game was damaging at times.
Kyle Hicks rushed for 1042 yards on the season, but averaged just 80.15 yards per game on 15.6 rushes per contest. It was not enough for TCU, as they needed someone that they could give the ball to 20 times or more per game to balance out the issues with the passing game.
Defensively, TCU allowed 28 points per game, and that is a dangerous number in the Big 12. Josh Carraway and Denzel Johnson finished with 11 TFLs per player, but nobody else broke double digits there. Carraway led the team with 8 sacks. The defense picked off only 8 passes all season, while the offense gave up 14. Niko Small, a sophomore this season, was promising, as he collected 9 PBUs.
The kicking game was a mess, as PK Brandon Hatfield connectd on just 13/19 FGs, and Punter Adam Nunez averaged just 39.6 yards per punt.
KaVontae Turpin was solid on punt returns, averaging 11.25 yards per return with one score.

2017 Look Ahead: The entire backfield returns, with Hill at QB, but it may not be the worst idea if someone came on board to push him in camp. 5 of the top 6 rushers return to the fold from a group that averaged 195 yards per game. The defense will be looking for answers, as TCU allowed 187.77 yards rushing per game, and 238.9 yards passing. If the defense keeps giving up over 400 yards per game, this slump will not get much better.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Jackson State, 9/9 at Arkansas, 9/16 SMU

Texas Longhorns
5-7 (3-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat Notre Dame 50-47
Beat UTEP 41-7
Lost to California 50-43
Lost to Oklahoma State 49-31
Lost to Oklahoma 45-40
Beat Iowa State 27-6
Lost to Kansas State 24-21
Beat Baylor 35-34
Beat Texas Tech 45-37
Lost to West Virginia 24-20
Lost to Kansas 24-21
Lost to TCU 31-9

How It Went Down
Texas was one game from bowl eligibility all of November, but the pressure of Charlie Strong's job status seemed to become a distraction that was too much to bear, and the Longhorns dropped 3 games straight to close out the season at 5-7, and Charlie Strong was fired.
The good news is that there was some serious talent on hand that got a bit eclipsed by all of the drama. Shane Buechele was a brilliant find at QB, and passed for 2958 yards, and tossed 21 TDs against 11 picks. This was a solid season for a true freshman. D'Onta Foreman blew up in 2016 at RB, rushing for 2028 yards and 15 TDs on 29.36 carries per game, making him a true power back for the Longhorns. He averaged 6.28 yards per carry, and 184.36 yards per game.
8 different receivers caught double digit passes in 2016, so Buechele learned how to distribute the football all over the field.
There was young talent to be found on defense as well, as DE Breckyn Hager recorded 13.5 TFLs, which included 6 sacks, and DB John Bonney collected 9 PBUs. Both were just sophomores.
Punter Michael Dickson won our Punter of the Year award after averaging over 47 yards per punt.
The defense, on the whole, was not good. Texas gave up 31.5 points per game this season, and other than Hager up front, the Longhorns did a bad job of applying pressure in the backfields of their opponents. They allowed 258 yards passing per game, and allowed another 189.75 yards per game on the ground. They also gave up 34 points or more 7 times.
On special teams, the kicking game was not at all on solid ground, and the return game on both punts and kicks were average, at best.

2017 Look Ahead: With Charlie Strong fired, the Longhorns moved on to Tom Herman, who they had targeted for months before moving on the hire. Strong was constantly undermined by this fact, which led to the distractions.
Call me unconvinced as to Herman being an automatic star in Austin. Looking at Houston, Herman seemed distracted at times, as the Cougars were not always the best prepared team on the field. That being said, there should be talent all over the field that he can work with, as Strong's Longhorns were close to turning a corner based on the talent he had coming in. Buechele will be a star, and while Foreman has departed early for the NFL, Texas will certainly find someone to run the ball. There is a wealth of experience coming back at receiver as well.
Texas could be a major surprise team next fall, or find another way to disappoint. It can literally go either way. Remember, this is still the team that lost to Kansas...

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Maryland, 9/9 San Jose State, 9/16 at USC

Texas Tech Red Raiders
5-7 (3-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat Stephen F Austin 69-17
Lost to Arizona State 68-55
Beat Louisiana Tech 59-45
Beat Kansas 55-19
Lost to Kansas State 44-38
Lost to West Virginia 48-17
Lost to Oklahoma 66-59
Beat TCU 27-24
Lost to Texas 45-37
Lost to Oklahoma State 45-44
Lost to Iowa State 66-10
Beat Baylor 54-35

How It Went Down
I am still befuddled that Kliff Kingsbury still has a job as head coach of the Red Raiders. This team is a mess, as they lost 6 of their final 8 games, including a 56 point blowout loss to Iowa State. Texas Tech is among a small group of football teams in the Big 12 that is basically irrelevant right now.
Patrick Mahomes passed for 5052 yards and 41 TDs to just 10 picks, but that is a basic result of the Tech system, where pass happy is an understatement. He managed to complete 65.7% of his passes on the season, but again, that is a system thing rather than an actual major accomplishment. 4 different receivers caught as many as 55 passes, with Jonathon Giles being the standout with a line of 69-1158-13.
Justis Nelson was the lone real star on defense, as he managed 12 PBUs for the year.
Clayton Hatfield was rock solid as PK, hitting 13/14 FGs on the season. He was the only member of the special teams unit that had a good year, as the rest of the unit was well below average.
The main issue with Texas Tech and Kingsbury, is that they don't even know that defense exists on any level. They allowed 315.8 yards pr game passing, and another 238.58 yards rushing per game. Texas Tech allowed 43.5 points per game, which was dead last in FBS football. The Red Raiders ranked 116th against the run, and 125th in the nation against the pass. That is absolutely horrid, and is a key reason why Texas Tech cannot win in this league with Kingsbury coaching this team, as they gave up 37 points or more 9 times.

2017 Look Ahead: It's not going to get much better. Mahomes is gone, as a misguided early entry to the NFL. The Red Raiders will still likely find a QB to pull the trigger on this pass happy dink and dunk offense, but there is no run game whatsoever, as the Red Raiders averaged just barely above 103 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 123rd in the nation. You cannot win in the Big 12 if you cannot run the football. What's even worse is that I do not believe that Kingsbury has the first clue as to how to fix this defense, and I am not even sure that he realizes that he even has a problem here. You cannot outscore every opponent every week. It's a terrible philosophy.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Eastern Washington, 9/16 Arizona State, 9/23 at Houston

Baylor Bears
7-6 (3-6)

2016 Schedule
Beat Northwestern State 55-7
Beat SMU 40-13
Beat Rice 38-10
Beat Oklahoma State 35-24
Beat Iowa State 45-42
Beat Kansas 49-7
Lost to Texas 35-34
Lost to TCU 62-22
Lost to Oklahoma 45-24
Lost to Kansas State 42-21
Lost to Texas Tech 54-35
Lost to West Virginia 24-21
Beat Boise State 31-12 (Cactus Bowl)

How It Went Down
Baylor had the most chaotic off season of any team in FBS football in 2016. Jim Grobe came out of retirement to guide the program for a year, and everything was fine for the first half of the season, as the Bears opened the season with 6 straight wins, including a win over Oklahoma State. The margin of victory in those 6 games was 26.5 points per game. Remember, of the teams that Baylor beat in that run, only on team finished with a winning record (Oklahoma State), and one of those teams was an FCS opponent (Northwestern State). After beating Big 12 doormats Iowa State and Kansas in consecutive weeks, the wheels came off of the wagon. The off field stuff could not have been an issue for any real reason any longer, except for the fact that the staff that was in place kept it burning in the media. That became a real problem, as the Bears dropped their next 6 games, with 4 of those losses coming by double digits, including a 40 point loss to TCU. In all, the average margin of loss was 17.5 points per game. What was surprising is the way the Bears came out in the Cactus Bowl, as they pounded a 10 win Boise State team that just did not seem to take the game seriously. Even Bears RB Shock Linwood, who only rushed for 751 yards, sat that game out to foolishly prepare for an NFL draft in which he may not even be selected in.
All in all, the defense was a bit of a mess, giving up 29 points per game, 200.69 yards rushing per game, and 230.2 yards passing per game.
Offensively, the Bears put up numbers, but the QB play was all over the place, with Seth Russell missing 4 games, and freshman Zach Smith being thrown to the wolves early on. Smith played well enough, but neither QB passed with much accuracy, with both failing to reach 60% completions.

2017 Look Ahead
Smith will likely be the starter at QB in 2017, but the main concern for next season is a recruiting class that had disintegrated at the time of the bowl game. Out of 15 prior commits, only one had remained, so new blood may be hard to come by for the Bears. It would make sense for this program to fall several steps back from their recent lofty heights, and the second half of 2016 was likely a preview of what to expect moving forward.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Liberty,9/9 UTSA, 9/16 at Duke

Iowa State Cyclones
3-9 (2-7)

2016 Schedule
Lost to Northern Iowa 25-20
Lost to Iowa 42-3
Lost to TCU 41-20
Beat San Jose State 44-10
Lost to Baylor 45-42
Lost to Oklahoma State 38-31
Lost to Texas 27-6
Lost to Kansas State 31-26
Lost to Oklahoma 34-24
Beat Kansas 31-24
Beat Texas Tech 66-10
Lost to West Virginia 49-19

How It Went Down
Of all the jobs that Matt Campbell could have taken for 2016, it remains a shock to me that this is the one he took. When a team wins just 3 games, you have to look for the moral victories, and losing to Northern Iowa in the season opener is by far not one of those. The Cyclones lost 8 of their first 9 games in the Campbell era, which hardly inspires anyone. That said, Iowa State was seriously in some games, and let a few of those games get away from them late, such as in the losses to Baylor and Kansas State, and also to Oklahoma State. The good news is that the Cyclones came on late, winning 2 of their final 3 games, with wins coming against Kansas and Texas tech. The Tech win was by 56 points, which is reason to be hopeful moving forward. The average margin of loss was 15.67 points per game. That was not as bad as it could have been, so there's that.

2017 Look Ahead
It is hard to recruit in Ames. It always has been. Iowa State does not have a tradition that draws football players to campus, so Matt Campbell has to generate that energy. The last few games of the season seemed to have some of that buzz, so there is reason to be optimistic. I expect Iowa State to raise the bar a bit in 2017, but I do not see them going bowling. I don't see bowl potential until at least 2018.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Northern Iowa, 9/9 Iowa, 9/23 at Akron

Kansas Jayhawks
2-10 (1-8)

2016 Schedule
Beat Rhode Island 55-6
Lost to Ohio 37-21
Lost to Memphis 43-7
Lost to Texas Tech 55-19
Lost to TCU 24-23
Lost to Baylor 49-7
Lost to Oklahoma State 44-20
Lost to Oklahoma 56-3
Lost to West Virginia 48-21
Lost to Iowa State 31-24
Beat Texas 24-21
Lost to Kansas 34-19

How It Went Down
I am still a seller on David Beaty. I have no faith that he will turn Kansas back from the depths to which they have fallen. Kansas is now just 2-22 in 2 seasons under Beaty, and they are not seemingly getting better. They did beat Texas for their only Big 12 win under Beaty, but Texas was a mess at that point with serious job distractions for Charlie Strong. Kansas averaged just 20.3 points per game, which ranked 120th. They gave up 37.3 points per game, which ranked 113th. The allowed 214 yards passing per game, and allowed another 236.42 yards rushing per game. That rush defense ranked 114th. They still have not identified a front line QB, a top flight rusher, but did find a couple of decent receivers in Steven Sims and LaQuVionte Gonzalez. The pass defense is OK, but stopping the run looked like a mere suggestion. The only other team outside of Texas that Kansas beat in 2016 was FCS bottom feeder Rhode Island. In short, I saw none of the improvements that one would expect to see in year two of any coaching staff.

2017 Look Ahead
This will be year three of Beaty having his own guys in the program, including the group he recruited when he was hired. It is hard for me to see where the improvement will come from. I am, by far, not the only commentator to recognize that this may have been a bad hire, but for some reason, Kansas fan still fails to see, as a whole, that this ship is still sinking like a rock. Year 3 wil tell the tale, but I have a feeling that it will be another horror story.

2017 Non Conference Schedule: 9/2 Southeast Missouri State, 9/9 Central Michigan, 9/16 at Ohio