College football preseason 2017 top 25: 15-11

We are down to only a couple weeks before college football starts again. For teams in the top 15 their goal is to make it to the College Football Playoff. This installment features teams that want to get back to their winning ways and have not made it to the College Football Playoff since its inception.

For the last installment of the top 25, click here.

15. Florida Gators

College football top 25

Martez Ivey (photo by gridironnow.com)

Jim McElwain is entering year three as the head man in Gainesville and would rather focus on football than the viral picture of his doppelganger naked with a shark. Last season Florida went 9-4 with losses on the road and in the SEC Championship Game with Alabama. They capped off the season with a win in the Outback Bowl against Iowa. The Gators have 13 returning starters and will be looking to make yet another SEC Championship Game.

The offensive line is the strength of the offense and returns four starters, including the very talented left tackle Martez Ivey. Unfortunately the offense has lacked the playmakers in the past and will need players to step up this season. Jordan Scarlett is the leading returning rusher and averaged 5 yards per carry, but the team ranked 113th in rushing yards last season.

Feliepe Franks will likely take over at quarterback after a solid spring. The redshirt freshman is big and has a strong arm, but still has a lot to prove. The best receiver on the team is Antonio Callaway, who is capable of doing great things, but has some off the field issues going on right now. If he is on the field he is a difference maker and one of the few the Gators have.

Defensively, Florida loses a lot, but they are stocked with talent. The defensive backfield does have depth issues, but their starters are solid. Corner Duke Dawson will be relied upon to have a great season and safeties Marcell Harris and Nick Washington will as well.

There is a lot of inexperience at linebacker, but David Reese was a Freshman All-American playing in place of the injured Jarrad Davis last season. The front four features one returning starter, but a lot of the players have gotten a significant amount of playing time in years past. Cece Jefferson has to step up and get after the quarterback, while Jabari Zuniga needs to add to his sack total of five in 2016. The defense will take a small step back and need the offense to get a little better.

Florida starts their season with a game against Michigan before taking on Northern Colorado, UAB and Florida State in the rest of the non-conference. Challenges in conference will be games against Tennessee, LSU and Georgia. The Gators will bottom out at 7-5, but will likely end up at 8-4 with their challenging schedule.

14. Louisville Cardinals

College football top 25

Lamar Jackson (Photo by sportingnews.com)

Louisville got off to a hot start before losing their last three games to finish 9-4. They lost to LSU in the Citrus Bowl. Bobby Petrino will have his team in the thick of the ACC Atlantic race this season. They have 11 returning starters, but a lot of them provide a lot of value.

The Heisman Trophy winner from last season, Lamar Jackson, returns to lead the offense. He is a very good runner, but needs to prove he can pass better. Even so, he led the Cardinals to the sixth best scoring offense in the country. Jackson led the team in rushing, but will have help this season from Jeremy Smith, who averaged 6.7 yards per carry in 2016.

Former quarterback Reggie Bonnafon and wide receivers Jaylen Smith and Dez Fitzpatrick will need to make plays in the passing game for Louisville. Fitzpatrick and Smith have tremendous talent and will get a chance to make a huge impact this year. Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil are the only returning starters on the offensive line, that will be expected to protect Lamar Jackson.

Seven starters return on defense, including three of four starters in the secondary. Corner Jaire Alexander had the most interceptions last year out of the returnees with five and will be asked to cover well similarly in 2017. James Hearns returns at linebacker after recording 8 sacks in 2016. Drew Bailey has experience at defensive end and recorded two sacks last season in the Cardinals’ 3-4 scheme.

There are only a few tough games for the Cardinals. They have a game at home against Clemson, on the road at Florida State and a rivalry game at Kentucky to end the season, a team they lost to last season. Due to their easy schedule and the brilliance of Jackson, Louisville will at least finish 9-3, but likely finish 10-2 with a shot at a New Year’s Six Bowl Game.

13. LSU Tigers

College football top 25

Derrius Guice (photo by theadvocate.com)

Ed Orgeron is now the main man for the Tigers and helped lead them to an 8-4 finish last season. They lost only twice after he took over, to Alabama and Florida. He now gets 12 returning starters to help him out in his first year.

The problem for LSU over the years has been the offense and quarterback play. Danny Etling played better as last season went on and will need to be a steady hand in Matt Canada’s offense. Helping him in the backfield is the leading rusher in the SEC from last season Derrius Guice. With Leonard Fournette injured he amassed 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.

A lot of talent left the receiving core this offseason, but D.J. Chark has the chance to blossom if the quarterback play is decent. The offensive line took a hit when Maea Teuema was granted his realease from the program. They still return two starters, including center Will Clapp.

LSU returns one of the best players in the country in Arden Key. The pass rushing star finished last season with 12 sacks. Christian LaCouture will need to transition to a 3-4 defensive end, but will likely do well. At linebacker the team will be as thin as they have been in years and will need players to step up.

The Tiger secondary has been a strength of the team fro years and this year should be no different. Kevin Tolliver and Donte Jackson are both good corners and John Battle also returns at safety. They helped LSU finish fifth as a scoring defense in the country and should help them be very good once again.

There are a number of difficult games in the LSU schedule in 2017. They have tough games against: BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee. If the defense plays up to par, LSU should be able to finish 9-3 in a very difficult SEC West.

12. Wisconsin badgers

college football top 25

Jack Cichy (photo by uwbadgers.com)

The Badgers had a tough schedule and did well in 2016, only losing to the top teams in the Big Ten East and winning the Cotton Bowl against Western Michigan. Paul Chryst has only lost six games in his first two seasons as head coach and will be able to keep the losses minimal this year. There are 15 returning starters that will make this team successful in 2017.

Alex Hornibrook shared quarterback duties with Bart Houston last season, but now brings some experience in his sophomore season. His numbers will need to improve, but he showed flashes of being a good college quarterback. The running back duties will be split between Pittsburgh transfer Chris James and sophomore Bradrick Shaw. Both of them haven’t proven much in their young careers, but have potential.

The wide receiving core is anchored by Jazz Peavy and one of the best tight ends in the country Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli will be an early draft pick and really exploded in the Badgers’ win over Western Michigan with some great catches. The offensive line will be a strength of the team, as they return a lot of experience with four starters.

Wisconsin had the fourth best scoring defense in the country last season and return six starters. Their rush defense will be good once again with Chikwe Obasih and Conor Sheehy returning on the defensive line. Jack Cichy was lost for the season with a torn ACL, but the other linebackers returning are talented. T.J. Edwards had 89 tackles last year, which is the most out of anyone on the team coming back for this year.

The secondary didn’t perform as well as the front seven, but that was hard to do. They were still good enough to rank 30th against the pass last season. D’Cota Dixon and Derrick Tindal bring back a ton of experience. Dixon recorded four interceptions for the Badgers last season and will need to help them get turnovers again this year. In 2016 they had a turnover margin of +16.

The schedule sets up very favorably for the Badgers this season. They only play one of the three Big Ten East powers in Michigan and their next toughest games are against Northwestern, BYU and Iowa. There is a possibility they run the table, but they will likely end the season with a loss or two before heading to the Big Ten Championship Game.

11. Auburn Tigers

college football top 25

Jarrett Stidham (photo by oanow.com)

New life has been found for the Auburn Tigers after finishing last season 8-5. They lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but return 16 starters from that team. Gus Malzahn was on the hot seat, but made it through the season and now has a chance to make some noise with this year’s squad.

Jarrett Stidham will likely be taking the vast majority of the snaps at quarterback for the Tigers after finding some success at Baylor. He will be asked to have a high completion percentage like he did when he was in Waco. Auburn found a running back last year in Kamryn Pettway. Pettway is a bruising running back that showed his power with 1,224 yards and nine touchdowns in 2016.

The offensive line returns three starters and should help make the rushing attack dynamic like they were last year when they ranked sixth in the country. While they don’t have a good go-to-guy at receiver, they have a lot of young talent that is capable of stepping up with Stidham at quarterback this season.

The defense ranked seventh in the country in scoring last year and returns eight starters. Carlton Davis leads the secondary from his corner position. Behind him are two senior safeties in Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts that have a lot of experience and will make for a good unit.

Rushing the passer has to be an emphasis this season, as their returning leader is Andrew Williams who had three. There are plenty of good pass rushers on the team who will need to step up, including former highly-touted prospect Byron Cowart. The linebackers have experience as well as speed to make them a great unit.

The schedule is pretty difficult to manage, but that hasn’t hampered the high expectations for this team. They have tough matchups with Clemson, LSU, Georgia and Alabama, along with some other tricky games along the way. Auburn has enough talent to win 10 games, but may fall to 8-4 with the very tough schedule they face.

Featured image by nola.com

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Running Backs

Running backs are a position that aren’t usually highly sought after in the NFL Draft, but in the 2017 NFL Draft eight were selected in the first three rounds. This upcoming class may not have as many stars as last year, but there are still some good NFL prospects who will be rushing through college defenses this fall.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State

There is a lot of hype around Penn State after last year’s great run to the Rose Bowl and it is in large part thanks to their best player, Saquon Barkley.

Barkley rushed for 1,496 yards in the Nittany Lions’ 14 games last season. He had a nose for the end zone as he scored 18 touchdowns on the ground. Not only did he do damage as a rusher, but also did well as a receiver, finishing the season with 402 yards receiving and four touchdowns.

He put up an impressive performance in the Rose Bowl and will look to carry that momentum into this upcoming season. Barkley has games against Pitt, Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan to help increase his stock. He is an early front-runner to be the first running back selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Nick Chubb, Georgia

Nick Chubb (Photo by: macon.com)

Georgia seemingly always reloads at the running back position. Chubb is now a senior after an up and down career because of a major injury in 2015 against Tennessee. When healthy and 100%, Chubb is a dynamic playmaker. He played all 13 games last season and is looking to have an improved senior season to get his draft stock up.

Last season was Chubb’s worst in terms of yards per carry, as he finished with just 5.0 after having years of 7.1 and 8.1 in the previous two seasons. He still finished with 1,130 rushing yards to bring his career total up to 3,424. He isn’t a threat as a receiver, but when Jacob Eason hands him the rock this season, watch out.

The Bulldogs are trying to regain SEC East supremacy this season under Kirby Smart. Chubb has a chance to lead them to these heights and improve his draft stock. The key games for Chubb to show it all to NFL scouts are: at Notre Dame, at Tennessee, vs. Florida, at Auburn and at Georgia Tech.

Royce Freeman, Oregon

Freeman could have easily declared for the 2017 NFL Draft and been selected in the top three rounds. He dealt with knee injuries last year and is looking to have a healthy season in 2017.

The stats for Freeman are eye-popping with 4,148 rushing yards and 44 rushing touchdowns in his career. He has added 650 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. Last year was his worst in terms of production, but that was due to his injury.

Oregon is under new leadership in Willie Taggart, who will be looking to keep up the numbers of a traditionally good offense. Freeman will be the key in this and will have these key games to impress NFL Scouts: Nebraska, Stanford, UCLA, Utah and Washington.

Derrius Guice, LSU

Derrius Guice (Photo by: theadvocate.com)

Last year Leonard Fournette was injured and couldn’t play in every game, but this let the world see the potential that Guice had. He filled in well and is looking to have a great season as a featured back.

In his limited time behind Fournette, Guice finished with 1,387 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on 7.6 yards per carry. His best game of last season was at Texas A&M, where he rushed for 285 yards and four touchdowns. He has a great combination of power, speed and vision that he used to his advantage and will continue to do so.

Teams will likely stack the box against Guice, with no quarterback threat on LSU’s roster. The Tigers will play big games against BYU, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee.

 

Bo Scarbrough, Alabama

Alabama split carries between multiple running backs, but Scarbrough came on late in the season to have some big games. He is a big physical runner, who looks like he is in the weight room 24/7.

His best performance was an 180 yard game against Washington. He finished the season with 812 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Scarbrough will likely continue to share carries with a loaded Alabama backfield. His vision as a runner has to improve if he wants to play in the NFL, as he can’t run over NFL level talent.

The Crimson Tide have plenty of big games this season for Scarbrough to prove he is more consistent. Alabama plays Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. Against these good teams and some top level defenses, Scarbrough will get his chance to prove he is a good NFL Draft prospect.

 

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2018 NFL Mock Draft May 6

The 2017 NFL draft has just concluded, but it is never too early to look to next year. Draft picks are ordered by Super Bowl Odds.

1. San Francisco 49ers- Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

Brian Hoyer isn’t the long term answer for the 49ers and they reached on C.J. Beathard in the 2017 NFL Draft. Allen may be from a small school, but he has legitimate talent. He has the prototypical size for an NFL quarterback at 6’5″ and 222 pounds. Allen will have to prove himself in his big games against Iowa, Oregon and Boise State in the 2017 season.

2. Cleveland Browns- Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

Joe Haden is aging and the Browns did a great job of addressing the rest of their defense in the 2017 NFL Draft. Fitzpatrick has started since his freshman season and is a very versatile defensive back.

3. Los Angeles Rams- Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

If Jared Goff is going to be the long term quarterback, he needs more weapons. Ridley is a good option with 1,814 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in two years at Alabama. He can be a good outside receiver for the Rams, which is not something they currently have.

4. New York Jets- Sam Darnold, QB, USC

Darnold needs to improve his mechanics and have a strong second season as USC’s starting quarterback. If he does so, he will be a first rounder with no doubts. The Jets need to get a franchise signal caller and so far, this looks like a good quarterback class coming in.

5. Chicago Bears- Derwin James, S, Florida State

Derwin James NFL

Derwin James (Photo by: si.com)

Quintin Demps has had just one good season as a pro and that shouldn’t be expected to continue. James is an elite athlete at defensive back and will likely go in the top ten in the 2018 NFL Draft if he can stay healthy.

6. Jacksonville Jaguars- Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

The USC-UCLA game will feature two great quarterbacks. Rosen has been a phenom since his freshman year at UCLA, but last year got his throwing shoulder hurt and even had some nerve damage. He needs to stay healthy and if he is able to, is capable of being the first quarterback selected. If the Jaguars are picking this high, Blake Bortles is out as the starting quarterback.

7. Buffalo Bills- Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

Wilkins is overlooked because of how many talented players were on Clemson last season, but with a lot of them gone, it is his time to shine. The Bills need to address the defensive line early in this draft. Two first round picks gives them some versatility in this draft.

8. Los Angeles Chargers- Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

The Chargers doubled up on guards in the 2017 NFL Draft, but the tackles could be improved to protect the aging Phillip Rivers. McGlinchey would have gone first round in 2017, but elected to go back to school for one more year.

9. Detroit Lions- Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Kirk might end up being the best receiver in this class, but will likely see his stock slide if he doesn’t produce this season with a new quarterback. He is a little shorter than most teams like at 5’11”, but can play on the outside and be a difference maker. The Lions need to upgrade their receiving corps to give Matthew Stafford some more weapons.

10. New Orleans Saints- Arden Key, DE/OLB, LSU

One thing that the Saints didn’t address in the 2017 NFL Draft was a pass rusher who could play opposite Cameron Jordan. Key is a great speed rusher, who elected to go back to school for another season. The Saints would love if they fell to them so they could get after Cam Newton, Jameis Winston and Matt Ryan more often.

11. Washington Redskins- Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Mason Rudolph NFL

Mason Rudolph (Photo by: ncaa.com)

The Washington front office doesn’t have a good relationship with Kirk Cousins. He will likely leave after the season due to being franchise tagged the last two seasons. Rudolph is another quarterback who has great size at 6’5″ and 235 pounds. He only threw four interceptions last season, which shows how well he protects the ball.

12. Miami Dolphins- Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

Interior offensive linemen usually don’t go this high, but Nelson would’ve been a first rounder in the 2017 draft had he come out. The Dolphins were able to address a lot of their needs this offseason, but they still need to get a guard because they are moving Laremy Tunsil out to tackle.

13. Cincinnati Bengals- Connor Williams, OT, Texas

Cincinnati addressed all of their skill positions in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, but their offensive line is not good. Williams has a lot of experience at Texas and should upgrade the offensive line instantly.

14. Philadelphia Eagles- Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Barkley helped lead Penn State to a Big Ten Championship last year and was their best offensive player. He does a little bit of everything well and will be one of the first running backs off of the board. The Eagles drafted Donnell Pumphrey, but he isn’t an every down back in the NFL.

15. Tennessee Titans- Harold Landry, DE, Boston College

The Titans don’t have too many needs, but can improve the pass rush. He was a monster for the Boston College defense last year, finishing with 16.5 sacks. There were only two games were he didn’t register a sack, which bodes well for his NFL future.

16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson

Donovan Smith hasn’t gotten his career off to a great start, meaning if he struggles again he will be replaced. Protecting Winston’s blindside has to be the number one priority for the Bucs.

17. Baltimore Ravens- Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

The Ravens haven’t had an effective running back in years. Guice showed flashes of what he could do when Leonard Fournette sat out with injury last season. He should have a breakout year for LSU.

18. Carolina Panthers- Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma

The Panthers continue to not address the offensive line well. They need to clear some holes for McCaffrey and protect Cam Newton. Brown is a big prospect, who is another good tackle prospect in this draft class.

19. Arizona Cardinals- Luke Falk, QB, Washington State

Luke Falk NFL

Luke Falk (Photo by: seattletimes.com)

This year’s quarterback class is going to be loaded, if everything happens the way most think it will. That paired with the fact that there are a lot of aging quarterbacks and as usual teams that are bad and need new ones, A lot might go in the first found in the 2018 NFL Draft. Falk is a system quarterback, but Patrick Mahommes overcame that to be the second quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL Draft. He will need to have an impressive senior season where he shows he can read defenses to maintain his spot in the first round.

20. Minnesota Vikings- Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah

The Shariff Floyd injury complicates things for the Vikings. Lotulelei is a big physical defensive tackle that can really plug up the running lanes.

21. Indianapolis Colts- Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

Jefferson has all the potential in the world and it should all come together for him this season for Texas. The Colts have started to revamp their defense, but it still needs a lot more work.

22. Buffalo Bills (via KC)- Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Sutton was a fringe first rounder had he come out this year and will likely be one of the best wide receivers coming out next season. With Sammy Watkins possibly leaving in free agency, Sutton can be paired with current rookie Zay Jones.

23. New York Giants- Martinas Rankin, OT, Mississippi State

The Giants didn’t draft a tackle and now will need to get one next year. Fortunately for them, as it now stands, there are a lot of good tackles in this draft class.

24. Pittsburgh Steelers- Troy Fumagali, TE, Wisconsin

Troy Fumagali NFL

Troy Fumagali (Photo by: WXYZ.com)

If Jesse James doesn’t step up, the Steelers will need a new tight end. Fumagali made some incredible grabs in the Cotton Bowl and with a good season, will move himself into first round consideration.

25. Denver Broncos- Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

Jamal Charles was just signed, but that isn’t a long term solution. Chubb could be the selection if the Broncos lose faith in Devontae Booker. He has some injuries, but when healthy Chubb is  a great running back.

26. Oakland Raiders- Da’Shawn Hand, DL, Alabama

Hand has been burried on the depth chart at Alabama, but will get his chance this season. The Raiders have a terrible defensive line and need to start addressing it.

27. Cleveland Browns (via Hou)- Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh

Whitehead can play a variety of positions in the secondary and can fit in next to Jabrill Peppers. The Browns’ luxury of a lot of picks, gives them a lot of options.

28. Atlanta Falcons- Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

The Falcons need to get some players on the interior of the defensive line. Payne, like Hand, will get his chance to shine this season.

29. Seattle Seahawks- Martez Ivey, OL, Florida

Ivey could play guard or center for the Seahawks, but they need offensive line help so badly, it doesn’t matter. Protecting Russell Wilson hasn’t been a concern in the past for Seattle (even though it should have been), but it should be going into the future.

30. Green Bay Packers- Tarvarus McFadden, CB, Florida State

McFadden is a lengthy corner that can help the Packers stop the pass. They addressed the secondary this offseason, but if it doesn’t improve, they will target more secondary help.

31. Dallas Cowboys- Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

Hubbard got to start in Joey Bosa’s place when Bosa was suspended, but made a name for himself. After a few more years of good play, he could go in round one. Dallas picked Taco Charlton in the first round in the 2017 NFL Draft, but could still use pass rushing help.

32. New England Patriots- Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State

The Patriots have a glaring need at pass rusher and Lewis might be their guy. He has a lot of experience at Ohio State and New England can turn him into a star.

 

For more mock drafts go to: DC Pro Sports Report

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2016 Citrus Bowl Preview

Louisville and LSU play in the 2016 Citrus Bowl in match-up that pits a good quarterback versus a good defense.

LSU Tigers

The Tigers awarded Ed Orgeron the head coaching position after finishing the season 5-2, bringing the LSU total record to 7-4. Their four losses were all to bowl eligible. They have four wins over bowl eligible teams, including: Texas A&M, Arkansas, Southern Mississippi and Mississippi State.

Citrus Bowl

Tre’Davious White (Photo courtesy: the advertiser)

Danny Etling took over the quarterback job midway through the season. He played decently with 1,906 passing yards, nine interceptions and four interceptions. He was a vast improvement over Brandon Harris, but is still not an ideal quarterback for the Tigers.

Wide receiver Malachi Dupre has been the most productive target. He has 454 receiving yards and three touchdowns. D.J. Chark and Travin Dural also can create separation and be viable receivers to Etling.

Leonard Fournette has decided to sit out this game due to chronic ankle injuries that have plagued him all year. Derrius Guice has been a star himself filling in for Fournette, with 1,249 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He runs as hard as any running back in the country.

The rush defense of the Tigers is great, giving up 122 yards per game. Their secondary is one of the best in the country and shows it by only 201 yards per game.

Arden Key has been the best pass rusher with 10 sacks on the season. Kendell Beckwith is a great tackler behind him with 91 total tackles. The secondary features a lot of draft prospects including Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams.

Louisville Cardinals

The Cardinals won nine of their first 10 games before losing their last two to finish at 9-3. Despite their good record Louisville only beat four bowl eligible teams: Florida State, NC State, Boston College and Wake Forest. They only lost games to bowl eligible teams.

Citrus Bowl

Lamar Jackson (Photo courtesy: Twitter)

The Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson, has elevated the level of his team’s play. He threw for 3,390, 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Jackson is also the team leader in rushing with 1,538 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns. He will go up against one of the best defenses he has ever faced in LSU. The key is protecting the football, as in his last game against Kentucky he turned the ball over four times.

Jackson has a lot of receivers to throw to. James Quick has 688 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Tight end Cole Hikutini leads the team with eight receiving touchdowns and has added 656 yards. Jaylen Smith is their big play guy with 22.2 yards per reception.

Running back Brandon Radcliff has rushed for 877 yards and six touchdowns on 6.6 yards per carry to supplement Jackson.

Louisville has an elite rush defense that allows just 110 yards per game. Their pass defense is solid giving up 206 yards per game.

Linebacker James Hearns has been a great blitzer with eight sacks on the season. Jaire Alexander has five interceptions on the season. Louisville has a load of other players who are play-makers on defense too.

Prediction

LSU will force Jackson to turn the ball over and will pound the rock with Guice to win this game.

 

LSU Tigers 28 Louisville Cardinals 24

 

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