Five things to watch for in the first week of college football

The college football season is officially under way. Five games are in the book from the opening weekend, but now comes the official first weekend of college football. As we look to a great Labor Day weekend of football, here are five things to watch:

1. Derwin James’ return

Five things to watch in the first week of college football

Derwin James (Photo by zimbio.com)

The biggest matchup of the weekend is Florida State and Alabama in Atlanta. College Football Playoff implications are already on the line in this game.

James missed most of last season with injury, but might be the best player in all of college football, if healthy.Not only will he have to play big for Florida State, but he will have to be at 100%. He could be the X-factor in this monumental event.

Nick Saban has said he regrets not letting Jalen Hurts air it out more last season and feels like that may have cost them the National Championship. That means Saban will try to get the ball rolling early with Hurts. Hurts isn’t the greatest thrower, so James needs to step in and make plays when passes go awry. He will also have to show up in run support, as Alabama will likely control the line of scrimmage.

If Florida State has any chance to beat Alabama, James has to prove he is the best player in the country. Even if he does it may not be enough. No matter the result, both teams could be destined to meet again in the College Football Playoff.

2. Danny Etling against BYU

Five things to watch in week one of college football

Danny Etling (Photo by tigerrag.com)

LSU has a big game against BYU this weekend. It may not be as big as many thought after the Cougars struggled to show their supremacy against Portland State. Even so, they are a decent test for an LSU team that needs to find out if their offense is improved from the past few years.

Coach Orgeron named Danny Etling the starting quarterback after finding a little success with him last year. Etling is not a game changing player, but did help LSU finish the season out strong.

With playmakers Malachi Dupre, Travin Dural and Leonard Fournette gone, Etling will need to step up this season to make the LSU offense good. He will have help from running back Derrius Guice and wide receiver D.J. Chark.

While he hasn’t been the best quarterback in the past, Etling is getting his first chance at a full season as a starter. Ultimately this game can give everyone a clue on how well Etling and the Tigers will play this season and if they can compete for a playoff spot. If Etling does not show proficiency at the quarterback position, LSU will top out at eight wins for the season.

3. How will Florida deal with suspensions?

Five things to watch for in college football week 1

Antonio Callaway (Photo by seccountry.com)

Michigan and Florida open the season against one another in Arlington. Both teams have a lot of players to break into their line ups the game should show us how talented (or not) these teams are.

Ten players have been suspended for Florida for this game. This includes top-notch offensive players in wide receiver Antonio Callaway and running back Jordan Scarlett. The Gators are really going to be relying on one of their quarterbacks to step up in this game. Florida will also be without a lot of their depth in this game, meaning that the players need to stay fresh and uninjured.

This game has shifted from one that was supposed to be a toss up, to now being in Michigan’s favor, even though they return just five starters from last year. Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting will be tested, but not as much as if Florida players had stayed out of trouble.

4. Can Virginia Tech find a quarterback?

Five things to watch in college football week 1

Josh Jackson and Justin Fuente (Photo by virginiatech.sportswar.com)

The Hokies play against West Virginia on Sunday this weekend and have a lot of returning talent. They expected to have more coming back, but Jerod Evans decided to go pro early. He went undrafted and probably should still be leading the Hokies.

If Virginia Tech wants to be successful this season they need to find a quarterback. They have a quality team that is capable of making the ACC Championship Game, but need that one void in their roster filled in order to do so. There has been a three man quarterback race between Josh Jackson, Hendon Hooker and A.J. Bush.

Freshman Josh Jackson looks to be the front-runner to take over the job, but A.J. Bush, the Nebraska transfer, also could be the guy. Both players have the potential to be dynamic playmakers and both will get their shots to take the reins.

Justin Fuente did a good job of getting Evans ready to play last season, so if he can do the same with these quarterbacks, the sky is the limit for the Hokies.

5. Butch Jones on the hot seat

Five things to watch in college football week 1

Butch Jones (Photo by rockytopinsider.com)

It’s no secret that Jones will be fired if Tennessee has a sub-par season. Last year they were hyped up to have a great team, but ended up disappointing with a 9-4 record. If quarterback Josh Dobbs was’t there to bail the Volunteers out of a few games, they could have been eerily close to .500.

Now the Volunteers must move on without Dobbs. The offense also lost Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone. Defensively Derek Barnett is gone along with a few other key players from last year’s team.

While Jones won’t be fired after the first week of the college football season, this could be the start of the season that results in his termination. Tennessee plays Georgia Tech on Monday and better be ready for a fight in Atlanta. The Vols will be without Darrin Kirkland Jr. most likely who suffered a knee injury in practice last week.

Georgia Tech have kicked Dedrick Mills off the team. He was the leading returning rusher this season. This will have some impact on the game, but overall the triple option attack of the Yellow Jackets will still be strong.

If Jones can’t find a way to win this game, it could be a long season in the SEC for the Volunteer fans.

 

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Ten best non-conference games for college football in 2017

The college football season is just about to start and most teams will start with non-conference games to start their seasons. There are some great non-conference games this season that not only feature matchups of teams with a lot of history, but also games that will impact the College Football Playoff. Here are the ten best non-conference games for the 2017 college football season:

10. 22 West Virginia vs. 21 Virginia Tech (Landover,MD), Sep. 3

Best Non-conference games

(Photo by manhattanhokies.com)

This is on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to help kick off the college football season. There will be no NFL games to compete against, so this game will have a lot of viewers.

Both teams came out in the AP Top 25 poll that was recently released. This game may be a little overshadowed by some other big games in the opening weekend, but it will have a huge impact on the college football season.

West Virginia finished last season with a 10-3 record and get new life at the quarterback position in Will Grier. In the first year of the new Big 12 Championship Game, the Mountaineers could beat out Oklahoma or Oklahoma State for a spot. With a win in the non-conference against a good team like Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers can catapult their way to the College Football Playoff if a lot of things go their way.

Virginia Tech won the ACC Coastal Division last season and will likely do so again this season. They have a great back seven of the defense, which will be challenged by Grier. The offense will give us the first view of Josh Jackson who will be a good dual-threat quarterback for the Hokies.

9. Notre Dame at 14 Stanford, nov. 25

Best Non-conference games

One of many close games in the Stanford-ND rivalry happened two season ago. (Photo by youtube.com)

Notre Dame may have missed out on the AP Poll for the Preseason, but have a lot of intriguing games considering their history and talent. They still received 65 votes, which means if they win in week one they will be in the top 25. This rivalry game happens on the last weekend of the regular season, so Notre Dame will have to win some games to help earn this spot on the list.

It is a make it or break it year for Brian Kelly. If the season is going poorly this could be his last game at Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish can play up to their potential and only have two or so losses heading into this game, a win in this game could get them into a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. For Stanford they could be in a position where they have won the Pac-12 North and this game comes before the Pac-12 Championship game, or they could be trying to make their resume look better because they lost the Pac-12 North.

This game features a good offensive line at Notre Dame against a very good Stanford defense, that ranked 18th in the country in scoring last season. If all goes as planned for both schools, some of the bigger names on the team could be fighting for draft position or for postseason awards. Mike McGlinchey can cement his status as a top tackle in the NFL Draft, while Bryce Love of Stanford can rack up more rushing yards.

8. 15 Georgia at Notre Dame, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Notre Dame Stadium will be packed for the Georgia game. (Photo by und.com)

SEC teams don’t often play Notre Dame, but two staffers met at a seminar and now we have two historic teams playing once this year and once in 2019 in Athens. If both teams win in week one, this will be a game between ranked opponents, making it even bigger.

Georgia is on a quest to win the SEC East and doing so is very possible. If they get to the SEC Championship with only a loss or two they could be in a “win and you are in” situation for the College Football Playoff. That is easier said than done, but a win at Notre Dame would be a nice feather in their caps. Jacob Eason, Nick Chubb and the Georgia offense will have a chance to light up a Notre Dame defense that struggled last season. The defense can help set the tone on what could be a great season.

The Fighting Irish will likely be in the AP poll in the second week and be tested with a very good Georgia team. Brandon Wimbush will be thrown into the fire against a Bulldog defense that returns 10 starters. The matchups to watch in this game are endless for a variety of different reasons: How many yards can the Georgia offense get? How will Wimbush fair against a good Georgia defense? How will the NFL talent on the Notre Dame offensive line do against the NFL talent in the Georgia front seven?

Even if this game becomes a blowout for one side or another, it will give fans a good idea of where each program is headed this season.

7. 4 USC at Notre Dame, oct. 21

best non-conference games

No matter what side you root for, everyone remembers the “Bush Push”. (photo by insidesocal.com)

USC will take a break from their Pac-12 schedule to play this rivalry game with Notre Dame. Yes, Notre Dame is in a third straight game on this list, but they do play a great non-conference schedule with their 12 games to fill.

The Trojans want to make the College Football Playoff this season, that is for sure. Sam Darnold could be the next in a long line of Heisman Trophy winners out of USC. He has a chance to light up the scoreboard at Notre Dame Stadium and do it in front of a national audience.

After the Georgia game, the Fighting Irish have a chance to go on a win streak. They play Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (OH) and North Carolina before their two weeks to prepare for USC. Optimally they would be 6-0 at that point, but they have more talent than everyone, but Georgia. If they are 5-1 with a loss to Georgia this game would have huge implications. If their record is anything less than 4-2 at this point of the season, Kelly is likely looking at a new job.

One interesting battle to watch from this game is Iman Marshall and Jack Jones covering Equanimeous St. Brown of Notre Dame. All will be playing on Sundays in a few years and will like the challenge of playing against one another.

6. 23 Texas at 4 USC, Sep. 16

USC certainly didn’t take it easy in the non-conference schedule. They get a rematch of the BCS National Championship Game, arguably the greatest one of all time, when Vince Young ran in the game-winning touchdown and unofficially ended the USC dynasty under Pete Carroll.

The Trojans are a little bit ahead of the Longhorns right now in terms of getting back to a National Championship, but this game will be big nonetheless. With their aspirations to make it to the College Football Playoff, USC needs to take care of business out of conference. A key to this game is that they play Texas a week after Stanford and will likely be banged up from a physical game.

Texas has hired Tom Herman to get them back to their winning ways. They have the talent on the roster, but needed a man in charge to get them where they want to go. Shane Buechele will get a chance to show his improvement against a USC defense that should be pretty solid. Malik Jefferson is a star at linebacker for the Longhorns and will want to play well against a good offensive unit like USC to improve his NFL Draft stock.

5. 17 Florida vs. 11 Michigan (Arlington, Texas), Sep. 2

Best non-conference games

Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain will square off in week one. (photo by youtube.com)

The second best game of the opening weekend features two teams that finished with nine wins last season and two teams that struggled on offense. Both will try to have their defenses lead them to victory again in 2017.

Florida made the SEC Championship Game last year and have the capability to do it this year as well. They have talented players on their defense, but only four returning starters, so new stars will get their chance in a big game. The offensive line returns four starters, but the thing that they have lacked is a quarterback as Feleipe Franks tries to give them one. They will have to deal with seven players being suspended for the misuse of financial aid, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway.

The Wolverines have problems of their own to worry about. They only have one returning starter on defense and four on offense, which struggled against good competition last year anyways. Their hope is that Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting pans out. Wilton Speight needs to take a step forward on offense, while the defense needs star recruits like Rashan Gary to step up.

This game will provide the chance to get to know a lot of the new faces on both of these teams and also allow fans to see if these teams have what it takes to win their divisions.

4. 3 Florida State at 17 Florida, Nov. 25

Best non-conference games

Florida State celebrating after a victory over Florida (Photo by cbssports.com)

At this point in the season, Florida State may be trying to stay in contention for the College Football Playoff, while Florida may be getting ready as the SEC East representative in the SEC Championship Game. Whether this rivalry game has as much riding on it as we expect is unknown, but it will be a good way to cap off the regular season for both teams.

The Seminoles may have one or two losses at this point in the season, but could still make the College Football Playoff. Deondre Francois will have already been tested by the defenses of Alabama, Clemson and Louisville, so this will provide him with another opportunity to see what he can do.

Florida lost to Florida State last year in this game and then had to prepare for the SEC Championship the next week. They will have a good defense again, but will need Franks to step up in this game especially. The Gators will need him to have a career day against the likes of Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James.

This game will likely have a lot riding on it, as it did last season and will also feature a lot of talented players going up against each other once again.

3. 12 Auburn at 5 Clemson, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Gus Malzahn and Dabo Swinney will square off again. (Photo by seccountry.com)

Clemson’s first big test as reigning champs is taking on Auburn, a team that has a lot of high expectations themselves. Auburn is looking to get back in the National Championship picture and can use this game to show people that they are for real.

The Clemson defense will likely be very good again with seven returning starters and a lot of good recruits waiting to fill in. Offensively Deshaun Watson will be replaced by Kelly Bryant (or Hunter Johnson), an this will be the first time to shine for a new quarterback. It won’t be an easy task for the new quarterback because Auburn was seventh best scoring defense in the country in 2016 and returns eight starters.

Auburn looks to Jarrett Stidham to get them back to their high-scoring ways on offense. He was successful at Baylor before transferring. With six starters on offense back, he should have a lot of the tools he needs to make things happen. The defense will be good again and will be trying to force an inexperience quarterback into turnovers.

The fun part of this game to watch is Stidham and the Auburn offense against the talented Clemson defense. If Stidham can live up to the hype, it could be a great game.

2. 7 Oklahoma at 2 Ohio State, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett will go head to head a second time. (Photo by thefootballbraniacs.com)

This game last year featured a lot of trash talk leading up to it, but Ohio State escaped Norman victorious, 45-24. With both teams having legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations, it makes it easy to call it one of the top two non-conference games of 2017. This will give fans a chance to see how Lincoln Reilly does in his first big game as head coach of the Sooners.

Ohio State lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but returns 15 starters and a lot of talent. J.T. Barrett will try to get back on track with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. He had a great game against the Sooners last year and will likely do so again in 2017. The defense has an inexperienced secondary that will be tested by Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield should put up points, but needs new weapons to step it up after losing a lot of key players to the NFL and graduation. His offensive line returns to protect him, which is a huge factor in this game. Defensively, Oklahoma isn’t great and needs that to improve for this game in particular. They have talented players, but because they can’t stop that many teams, they need to force turnovers.

The players to watch in this game are the ones in the trenches. Oklahoma features a good offensive line, including Orlando Brown. Ohio State has a good defensive line with Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. A lot of NFL talent will be going at it in this game.

While this game doesn’t rule a team out of College Football Playoff contention, Ohio State’s margin for error would be less and Oklahoma would have a lot of help needed with a loss.

1. 3. Florida State vs. 1 Alabama (Atlanta,GA), Sep. 2

Best non-conference games

Deondre Francois and Jalen Hurts. (photo by sbnation.com)

This is a game that we could be seeing again in the College Football Playoff. Both teams are that good. It is the perfect way to kick-off the season and both teams will be trying to make a statement.

Alabama is coming off of a loss to an ACC team in the National Championship Game. Nick Saban is going to try to make the ACC pay in this one. Jalen Hurts is back, but won’t be able to run as much on this very athletic Florida State defense. He will have to use his arm, which was average at best last year. He will have help from Calvin Ridley on the outside. The defense will continue to plug in players like they do every season and will once again be elite.

Florida State has a lot of tough games this season, so winning this one would be a huge relief and give them a chance to make a mistake later on in the season. The offensive line will be tested by the good Alabama defense. They have to protect Deondre Francois long enough for him to make good throws. On defense the Seminoles will try to make Hurts beat them with his arm, which will be tough with McFadden and James in the secondary.

Watching Calvin Ridley and the Alabama receivers try to get separation from the Florida State secondary will be fun to watch in this game.

Thank the football gods for this game. It is a great game in week one and should get everyone hyped for a great season.

 

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College football preseason 2017 top 25: 5-1

The college football season is about a week away and even the things that most fans take for granted can’t come soon enough. Good guard play, a gunslinger quarterback, hook and ladders and craziness are all things that need to happen sooner rather than later. The rest of the rankings are out and we are down to the top five teams, who will all be trying to make the college football playoff.

For the last installment of the rankings: click here.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions

College football top 25

Saquon Barkley (Photo by youtube.com)

Penn State surprised everyone by going 11-3 and making the Rose Bowl in James Franklin’s third season as the head coach. The good news for the Nittany lions is that they return 16 starters from that team and should be a force in the Big Ten again this season.

Saquon Barkley is one of the best players in college football and returns at running back. He totaled 1,496 rushing yards last year and will produce again this season. Four of his offensive linemen return to help pave the way for him. With that, Barkley should be in the thick of the Heisman race if he can have some big games against good competition.

The quarterback position is filled by Trace McSorley, who was a catalyst to taking their team to the Rose Bowl last season. He threw for 3,614 yards, 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2016, but will need to improve his efficiency. He also provides an extra running threat for Penn State. He has plenty of good targets returning in DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall and Mike Gesicki. Gesicki is one of the best tight ends in the country.

On defense, Penn State returns seven starters and brings a little experience back at every level of the defense. Two new starters will be needed at defensive end, but Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran return at defensive tackle. They will be tasked with stopping the run, which they did at an average rate last season.

Jason Cabinda thought about leaving for the NFL draft, but elected to return for his senior season. He is a great linebacker, who will lead the defense this season. Marcus Allen, a safety, also considered leaving early for the NFL, but came back and is the leading returning tackler. With Grant Haley and John Reid returning at the corners, Penn State’s defense should improve this season.

Penn State plays in one of the toughest divisions in all of college football, the Big Ten East, which results in a tough schedule. In all, their tough games will be against Pittsburgh, Iowa, Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska. While the schedule does have some tough opponents on it, the Nittany Lions should be able to get through the regular season with only a loss or two and put themselves in the conversation for the College Football Playoff.

4. Washington Huskies

College football top 25

Jake Browning (photo by si.com)

The third year at a school must provide some magic, because Chris Petersen took Washington to the College Football Playoff in just his third season as the head coach. Although they lost to Alabama, they have a lot of talent returning this season, which could result in them getting back to the College Football Playoff this season.

Jake Browning is back at quarterback and should have gotten more consideration for the Heisman last season. He threw for 3,430 yards and 43 touchdowns. While John Ross is on to the NFL, Dante Pettis is a good receiver in his own right and will step up. The speedster Chico MClatcher also returns to provide a unique weapon for Browning.

Three offensive line starters return from last year’s team and should be a good unit. Behind them, Myles Gaskin was able to rush for 1,373 yards and 10 touchdowns. He will produce again this season, making Washington’s offense multi-faceted and dynamic.

Only five starters return on defense, but a lot of these players have experience. Greg Gaines returns on the defensive front, while Vita Vea has the potential to be a star at nose tackle and had five sacks last season. Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria are both talented linebackers who are returning.

The “Death Row” secondary needs to be revamped with the departures of Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker. JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp both have experience at safety, while Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller will need to play well at corner. Murphy was redshirted last season after being a solid recruit and should have the tools to be a lock-down corner.

Washington plays no one outside of the Pac-12 that is worth noting, but do play Stanford, Oregon, UCLA, Colorado and Washington State in conference. All in all that is a pretty lousy schedule, which will allow the Huskies to escape with only a loss or two before likely heading to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

College football top 25

J.T. Barrett (Photo by sportingnews.com)

The Buckeyes were good enough to get to the College Football Playoff last season, but got blown out by Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. Urban Meyer continually loses talent to the NFL, but has 15 returning starters this season. The goal for Ohio State every season should be to get to the College Football Playoff.

J.T. Barrett is back for what seems like his tenth season at Ohio State. He’s a senior now and has completed 63% of his passes over his career for 6,381 passing yards. The problem is that the people he is throwing to don’t have too much experience. Parris Campbell and Marcus Baugh return, but need to step up their production, while others will need to succeed early in their careers.

Four of five offensive linemen return and are a great unit. Billy Price is a good lineman could have gone pro, but decided to stay on for his senior season. Mike Weber will be a sophomore at running back and had a solid freshman season. He finished 2016 with 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns and will build on that this season.

The front four starters all return and features a lot of talent. Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa are all very good players and are fighting for playing time at the defensive end positions. Lewis led them in sacks with eight. Dre’Mont Jones and Michael Hill return at the tackle position.

Jerome Baker and Chris Worley both are back at linebacker. Baker had 83 tackles last season. The only returning starter in the secondary is Damon Webb at safety. The defense was the third best scoring defense in the country last season and will be great again this season.

Oklahoma, Nebraska, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan are all going to be tough games for the Buckeyes. With Urban Meyer as head coach and a talented roster returning, Ohio State should be able to get out of the regular season with at most two losses, but could go undefeated if they reach their potential.

2. Florida State Seminoles

College football top 25

Derwin James (Photo by zimbio.com)

Florida State finished last season at 10-3 and won a thrilling Orange Bowl against Michigan. Jimbo Fisher has a lot of returning talent including some of the best players in all of college football. They have a tough schedule, but should still be able to make the College Football Playoff.

Deondre Francois had a good freshman season, despite bad offensive line play in front of him. He threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns. Ryan Izzo returns as a starter at tight end, but no starters are back at wide receiver. Nyquan Murray did have 441 receiving yards and five touchdowns last year and will be the go-to-guy this season.

The offensive line only returns two starters, but that may not be such a bad thing given how poorly they played last season. The hope is that Fisher’s recruiting will pay off. Jacques Patrick and Cam Akers will split time in the backfield for the Seminoles. Patrick is a junior and Akers is one of the best freshman in the country.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Seminoles have a lot of key players that should help them improve immensely. Josh Sweat, Derrick Nnadi and Demarcus Christmas all return on the defensive line, but Brian Burns, who didn’t start last year, comes back with 9.5 sacks. Their front four will make plays all year. The linebackers aren’t as talented as in year’s past, but they do have experience with three starters back from last year’s team.

The secondary always produces NFL-level talent. Derwin James sat out most of last season with an injury, but is back this season. He not only is a great NFL Draft Prospect, but if healthy, could be the best defensive player in college football this season. Tarvarus McFadden returns at corner and will be a high draft pick himself.

Florida State should be a team that has the offense and defense take a small step forward from last season. Their schedule is brutal and will give them challenges. They have games against Alabama, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Florida. The Seminoles should be able to get out of the regular season with only a loss or two, which should put them in the ACC Championship Game, if things fall their way.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

College football top 25

Minkah Fitzpatrick (Photo by draftblaster.com)

Losing in the National Championship Game has left a sour taste in Alabama’s mouth. Nick Saban is ready to lead his team back to prominence again this season and they will have another great season.

Jalen Hurts led the team to the title game last season and will be attempting to throw the ball better this season. Saban has admitted that he should’ve let Hurts throw more last season and it may have cost them. He did manage to throw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns. O.J. Howard and ArDarius Stewart are gone, but Calvin Ridley returns. Other playmakers on the outside need to live up to their recruiting ranking this season.

The offensive line has three starters coming back and will be solid again with all the good recruiting Saban does. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough return at running back to provide an elite one-two punch. Harris is shiftier, while Scarbrough runs with power. They create a great dynamic.

The defense has five starters that are returning for this season, but Alabama always has talented replacements waiting. Da’Ron Payne returns on the defensive line and will be flanked by Da’Shawn Hand and Josh Frazier. All of which will stop the run well. Shaun Dion Hamilton is back in the middle of the defense to patrol things as the next man in line to be Alabama’s top inside linebacker. Rashaan Evans had four sacks last season from his outside linebacker position.

Minkah Fitzpatrick can do anything in the secondary, but will line up safety this year. Ronnie Harrison will be at the other safety and is the leading returning tackler with 86. Anthony Averett and Trevon Diggs will be the corners and will need to prove to Saban, a former defensive backs coach, that they are up to par with previous Alabama secondary players.

Alabama too has a very tough schedule. Their tough games are against Florida State, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. While predicting anyone to go undefeated in today’s college football is tough, Alabama should be able to get out of the season with a maximum of two losses and a minimum of none. Either way they will be in the SEC Championship Game and will be in contention for the College Football Playoff.

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Best 2018 NFL Draft prospects: Safeties

Three safeties in the 2017 NFL Draft were selected in the first round. The 2018 draft class should also produce some good safeties that are good enough to be selected early on in the NFL Draft. Here are the best safety prospects playing college football in 2017:

Derwin James, Florida State

James is an elite safety prospect, that will in no doubt be a first round pick if he can stay healthy. He was sidelined for much of the 2016 campaign with a knee injury. He has great size that NFL teams will love at 6’3″ and 211 pounds.

In 14 games played for the Seminoles, James has totaled 102 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defended, two forced fumbles and two recovered fumbles. He displays great speed and athleticism, which makes him a unique player.

The Seminoles will play Alabama, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Florida in the 2017 season. He won’t play too many pocket passing quarterbacks, but does have a chance to play a lot of good receivers this season. James can also help slow down some good rushing attacks this season.

Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

While he hasn’t hit the level of a lot of Alabama secondary players yet, Harrison is still a good NFL prospect. He too has good size at 6’3″ and 216 pounds.

Last year, Harrison had 83 tackles, seven passes defended and two interceptions. While he has the measurables to be a good NFL player, Harrison needs to back up all his potential with some good tape this season.

Alabama plays Florida State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn this season. Harrison will be tested against Auburn’s high-powered offense and good receivers on the rest of the teams.

Armani Watts, Texas A&M

Armani Watts NFL

Armani Watts (Photo by: gridironnow.com)

Watts has been a playmaker for the Aggies ever since he stepped on campus. It is fitting that he will be taken in the first few rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft. He is a bit undersized at 5’11” and 200 pounds.

In his career at Texas A&M, Watt has accrued 237 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and six interceptions. He has played in a total of 33 games and brings a lot of experience to the table. His best season was in 2015, when he played 13 games. Last year he tore his hamstring against Ole Miss and only ended up playing in eight games. He needs to stay relatively healthy this season to make teams have a vote of confidence in him.

The Aggies play a very difficult schedule in 2017 and their opponents include: UCLA, Alabama, Florida, Auburn and LSU. These teams provide a wide variety of assets for Watts to go up against and should allow him to prove himself many more times for NFL scouts.

Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh

Jordan Whitehead NFL

Jordan Whitehead (Photo by: zimbio.com)

Another safety prospect that has been starting from his freshman season, Whitehead has been a star for the Panthers. He too is a little undersized at 5’11” and 190 pounds.

As a freshman in 2015, Whitehead had 110 total tackles. He is very physical and able to come up and stop the run, but also demonstrates good range while defending passes. He was lost to the season with an arm injury last year after playing in the first nine games of the season.

The Panthers play a tough schedule that should test Whitehead. Their big games are against: Penn State, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech. The biggest games that will impact Whitehead’s draft stock are against Penn State and Oklahoma State, who should have high-scoring offenses.

 

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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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