Unmasking contenders and pretenders of college basketball

As college basketball enters the final week of regular season play, teams on the bubble are scrambling to enhance their resumes and prove to the selection committee that they are worthy of a Tournament bid. Meanwhile, teams at the top of their respective conference are simply focused on winning out and capturing a Conference Tournament championship title.

Conference tournament week is simply a preview to the utter madness of the NCAA Tournament, but how reliable is it in showing the fans which teams are real contenders and pretenders?

Let’s look at last year for example. Heading into the Tournament, no team in the nation was as hot as Duke. The Blue Devils steamrolled their way to an ACC Conference Tournament title and were viewed as heavy favorites by fans to make a Final Four. However, Coach K’s squad bowed out of the Tournament after a shocking upset at the hands of a South Carolina team that looked dead in the water after losing its first game in the SEC Tournament against Alabama.

The moral of story is that while Conference Tournaments create a lot of headlines before the NCAA Tournament, it is not a fool proof way to understand which teams are true contenders heading into the the big dance. Let’s unmask the real contenders and pretenders of the college basketball universe as the regular season comes to a conclusion.

CONTENDER: VILLANOVA

Coach Jay Wright’s crew silenced the doubters in their 95-79 demolition of Big East rival Xavier. Xavier Coach Chris Mack assigned his best defender in Naji Marshall to shadow Jalen Brunson from start to finish. He dared other Wildcats to step up and beat them instead. The end result was the best team in the Big East flexing its offensive muscle power.

Projected lottery pick Mikal Bridges burned the Musketeer defense all night, loading the box score with 25 points on 66.67 percent shooting. Sophomore Donte DiVincenzo stepped up and showcased his ability to run the offense. DiVincenzo nearly recorded a triple double with 21 points, nine rebounds and nine assists.

While Brunson is the unquestioned star of this team, DiVincenzo’s consistent offensive production may be the X-factor for Villanova in their quest to return to the Final Four. In Villanova’s 76-71 loss to Providence, DiVincenzo struggled from the field, only connecting on 30 percent of his shots, scoring six points and turning the ball over three times.

After Phil Booth fractured his right hand earlier in the season, Wright had to force freshman Collin Gillespie into more game action earlier than he would have preferred. Gillespie’s production and efficiency have seen exceptional improvement over the past week. In Villanova’s past four games, Gillespie has averaged 9.25 points while shooting 65 percent.

If Villanova can limit turnovers, they accumulated 19 in their loss to Providence, and receive consistent scoring production from DiVincenzo and Gillespie, expect to see the Wildcats make some noise come mid-March.

PRETENDER: XAVIER

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Trevon Blueitt and Xavier have encountered a number of lucky breaks this season (Logan Bowles/USA Today Sports).

Xavier has accumulated numerous victories over quadrant one and two opponents throughout the season. However, their play has been incredibly inconsistent throughout the season as they have struggled against lower quality opponents throughout the season. In Xavier’s 96-91 overtime victory over Georgetown, the Musketeers required a four-point play with under 20 seconds to play to send the game into overtime.

Coach Chris Mack’s squad required help from the officials in their 72-71 win at Creighton. Sophomore point guard Quentin Goodin was fouled attempting a shot with 0.3 seconds remaining. There was contact on the play, but the call was questionable given the context of the play.

To add to this, KenPom ranks Xavier as the fourth luckiest team in the nation with a score of +.129.

Xavier’s offense has been synonymous of a roller coaster ride all season. The Musketeers are heavily reliant on senior forward Trevon Blueitt to provide consistent, high volume production. However, Blueitt has been prone to shooting slumps and inefficiencies. In their 72-71 victory over Creighton, Blueitt was shut down all game, only scoring six points on 33.3 percent shooting. This was a game Creighton should have won and they provided a blueprint to take down Mack’s team.

Xavier’s porous defense could prove to be their downfall come March though. In their biggest game of the season, Xavier allowed Villanova to shoot 60.3 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from three point range. This stems from poor defensive close-outs and communication on switching.

CONTENDER: Texas Tech

Coach Chris Beard has Red Raider nation buzzing with optimism. Texas Tech as the opportunity to not only capture its first Big 12 regular season title in school history, but also make some noise once mid-March comes around.

Tech sports one of the most dominant defenses in the nation. Ranked third in adjusted defense by KenPom, Beard has completely altered the culture and playing style of this Red Raider team. Beard prefers to utilize a pack line defense, but also focuses on crisp player rotation and communication. This forces opponents into poor shot selection and passing decisions.

Their offense runs through star point guard Keenan Evans. Evans is averaging 18.2 points on 48.4 percent shooting, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game. In Tech’s 59-57 loss to Baylor, Evans was sidelined the entire second half with a toe injury. The Red Raiders’ defense kept them in the game, but they had no offensive flow at the end of the game without Evans to handle the rock. Evans is listed as day-to-day, which should be a relief for Tech fans as their match-up with Kansas is on the horizon.

Evans has the defense and the team make-up in place to take on a role similar Kemba Walker this March and lead the surprising Red Raiders to the promised land.

PRETENDER: KANSAS

Unmasking Contenders and Pretenders of College Basketball

Kansas needs Devonte’ Graham to stay hot if they want to go far in March (Nick Krug/Lawrence Journal-World).

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has moved Kansas back up to a No. 1 seed after the Jayhawks defeated West Virginia 77-69 at Allen Fieldhouse. However, Coach Bill Self’s crew required a 19-3 run to end the game to take down West Virginia. There were times during this game where Kansas did not look like they belonged on the same court as their Big 12 counterpart, as West Virginia dictated pace and dominated the offensive end of the court.

This Kansas team lacks the explosive offensive firepower that Coach Bill Self is used to having. The senior tandem of Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk lead the Jayhawks in scoring this season with 17.4 and 15.3 per game respectively. However, much of this scoring is reliant upon outside shooting, in particular the three ball. This ability allows Kansas to pick apart a zone defense, as shown by their 76-60 win over Syracuse.

However, when the three ball is not falling, the Jayhawks’ offense can fall prone to stagnation. Mykhailiuk struggles in taking defenders off the dribble, Graham is a volume scorer who only shoots at 39.8 percent and Udoka Azubuike has difficulty handling double teams down low.

If Kansas falls into a shooting slump against a team that plays strong defense, they could find themselves packing up and heading home early in March.

 

Featured image by Charles Fox/Philly Inquirer).

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NCAA tournament upset teams

2018 NCAA tournament mens basketball giant killers

A giant killer is a team that can knock off a top dog. A giant killer is a team like Western Kentucky, Florida Gulf Coast or the George Mason. They are teams that can cause problems in the NCAA tournament, but the average spectator might not necessarily pick them because they are a small school.

The following teams will most likely be ranked as No. 8-16 seeds in the 2018 NCAA tournament. These are teams that might not be from a power conference, but have all the makings to win at least one game come March.

Missouri Tigers

NCAA tournament upset teams

Michael Porter Jr. (Photo from scoopnest.com)

Most killers don’t come from a power conference. Missouri has been a great team all season. As we creep closer and closer to March, Missouri is waiting on Michael Porter Jr., who is one of the top five freshmen in the country. Getting Porter back come tournament time means that a good team that could fall to a No. 7-10 seed could be extremely dangerous.

The Tigers are 18-8 and have won their last five games. They are 3-2 against the top 25 this season and are the No. 3 team in a very loaded SEC. Porter has missed every single game this season, and adding a top five player can only improve a team that is one of the biggest surprises in the SEC this season.

Nevada Wolf Pack

Even though Nevada is a ranked team, they are still going to slide on selection Sunday. Nevada’s strength of schedule is 109th in the country, and that will lose them some respect from the committee. They are 22-5 and first in the Mountain West Conference.

One of their best wins is against Rhode Island, a team that is coming on strong as of late. They lost by six and four respectively to Texas Tech and TCU. They are 14-3 in their last 17 and don’t seem to be slowing down.

One of the toughest things for a snub in the seeding is seeing just how hot a team is come tournament time. The Wolf Pack are one of the hottest teams in the country and believe they can play with anyone. Nevada will probably get placed as a very strong No. 9 seed coming into March. They will be a tough second round matchup for almost any No. 1 seed.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

NCAA tournament upset teams

Middle Tennessee in their 2017 run. (Photo from athlonsports.com)

Well well well, welcome back to the Blue Raiders. The Blue Raiders are 13-1 in their last 14 games, have an RPI of 29 and have a 11-1 road record. For most teams come March, road records wouldn’t matter. But depending on how low the seeding comes for the Raiders, an NCAA tournament game could seem like a road game.

They have lost only five games all season. Three of those games are to USC, Miami and Auburn, teams that are inside the RPI top 50. They have also lost those three games by 14 total points.

If Middle Tennessee falls to the same No. 11 or 12 seed that they did last season, they should be a nightmare of a first-round matchup.

Vermont Catamounts

Speaking of hot teams, the Catamounts have won their last 15 games. They are 22-5 overall and don’t have a single loss outside of the top 95 in RPI. Their worst loss was to Bucknell by four points on the road. In all five of their losses, they have lost by 10 or less, and four of the five losses have come on the road or on neutral sites.

The team does lack good wins, being that their best win is probably a one-point home win against Bradley. The Catamounts have a fair amount of NCAA tournament experience and are led by Anthony Lamb and Trae Bell-Haynes, who make up 42.5 percent of the team’s scoring.

Vermont locks down on defense and can score pretty well also. The Catamounts could be a team advancing to the second weekend in the NCAA tournament.

No. 14-16 seed

Well there’s always one team that comes out of no where to surprise. Here’s an attempt to pick the No. 14-16 seed, if there is one, that can pull off a major upset.

Montana Grizzlies

The Big Sky’s regular season leader gets a shout out. Montana is 20-6 this season and 13-1 in their last 14. Notable loses include a three-point loss at Washington and a 13-point loss at Penn State. They have beaten Pitt and Northern Colorado (probably their best win) and are 8-5 in road games this season.

Montana’s strength of schedule is 329th in the country which isn’t bad, it’s really bad. They lack wins over any possible tournament teams, but have performed well against the nation’s top RPIs. It only takes one top seed to struggle for a lower seed to have a chance.

If we are taking a shot here, Montana and their 68th ranked defense could shut down a top dog and get the Cinderellas dancing.

 

Featured image from College Sports Madness.

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NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.

WINNER: THE BIG EAST

While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.

LOSER: THE PAC-12

Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.

 

Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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The life of the home underdog

This college basketball season it is nearly impossible to win on the road. Ranked teams and unranked teams a like, it is tough to go out and grab a win on the road. 36 mens college basketball teams are undefeated at home this season. In the last week, there have been over 35 home underdogs across college basketball that have won games. Many of which have knocked off ranked teams in that time. Just last Saturday, January 20th, five ranked teams lost to unranked teams on the road.

Being an underdog isn’t necessarily a bad thing anymore and during this college basketball season it almost seems like a compliment. Teams are rallying and finding a way to win in their home building.

Newly ranked Nevada fell victim to the home underdog Wednesday night in a one point, double overtime loss. What we’ve learned so far is that it is a nightmare to win on the road in college basketball. Home crowds and the comfort of your own gym propel teams that maybe shouldn’t win and cash it into the win column for the home team.

The Best Home Dogs:

Last season, at this point, only seven teams were undefeated at home and only two of those teams were from the power five conference (Oregon and Florida State). This season the home underdog has been dominant. The most impressive home underdog has been the North Carolina State Wolfpack. They are 3-0 as a home underdog and have knocked off Duke, Clemson and Penn State on their own court.

The other 3-0 home underdog this season is Wyoming, the team who beat Nevada Wednesday night. They are 12-8 this season and have played well in their own building. Of their loses, they have lost to two ranked teams as well as South Carolina but all of those games were road or neutral sites.

College basketball is getting pretty even these days. Being a home team is the great equalizer. It takes a strong team to win conference games on the road and an even stronger team to be a Vegas favorite going into a road conference game.

Predicting this weeks upsets:

Underdogs

Chris Silva, (Thestate.com).

Saturday:

Well here is a chance to take two home underdogs. Iowa State is at home against Tennessee who is number 22 in the country. Iowa State plays good defense and rebounds at a better clip then Tennessee does. To beat Tennessee you have to hit them inside and get close to the basket.

Iowa State has lost just three games at home this season and two of those were two red hot Kansas State and the Kansas Jayhawks. Iowa State is coming off a disappointing road loss to Texas where they lost by 16 and they are due for a good home showing.

The second choice could be an easy one. South Carolina has been playing great basketball as of late. They are much better on offense which had been somewhat of a struggle to start the season. On the other side number 14 Texas Tech is going through the offensive struggles. They just scored 58 in a loss at Texas and scored 52 in a loss at Iowa State. They are struggling to score which opens up doors for a thriving home underdog.

Both teams are extremely good defensively. South Carolina has come on strong offensively but Texas Tech is trending the wrong way. South Carolina is coming off great shooting performances in their last couple games. They went 11-21 from three in their win against Florida and went 10-23 in their loss to Tennessee.

These two teams seem to be trending the wrong way. South Carolina has won three of their last four and have played some of their best basketball as of late. Texas Tech has won two of their last five and is slowly regressing offensively. If South Carolina can get both Chris Silva working as well as their outside shooting game they will beat the Red Raiders.

NCAA Tournament:

Winning in the NCAA tournament means that you can win in hostile environments. The teams that go into hostile environments late in January and throughout February and grab wins are the teams that will be hanging around come April.

South Carolina is starting to turn their season in that direction as well as other teams, but for right now it will be interesting to see how the end of the college basketball season turns out. With all the parody and all the big time wins for teams there is no telling what will happen on any given week.

 

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NCAA Baseball: Super Regionals Preview

Regional Picks: 10 for 16

Gainesville Super Regional: Florida St Seminoles at Florida Gators

For the second consecutive year, these bitter rivals will meet with a spot in Omaha on the line. The Gators have had the edge lately, eliminating the Seminoles last season and sweeping a three game series this year. They also have plenty of momentum after blowing out Georgia Tech in the regional final. In case this team didn’t look dangerous enough, they are now fully healthy as first baseman Peter Alonso returned from a broken hand to hit 8-14 with three home runs in the regional. Florida St rolled through the Tallahassee Regional, capping it off with an 18-6 blowout of South Alabama. The Noles have one of the hottest, most dynamic offenses in the country, led by Dylan Busby who is batting .500 with 6 home runs in the last 7 games. This certainly has the potential to be a great series with two elite offenses, but I think Logan Shore and AJ Puk on the mound will be the difference, and the Gators will prevail.

Louisville Super Regional: UC Santa Barbara Gauchos at Louisville Cardinals

Louisville has been a complete juggernaut at home, now with a 36-1 record after three easy wins over Western Michigan, Ohio St. and Wright St. They head into their fourth consecutive super regional with tons of confidence, especially in starting pitchers Kyle Funkhouser and Brendan McKay, who only gave up a combined one run in the regional. They will be a tough test for the young Gauchos, who appear to have put it all together after a rocky finish to the regular season. UCSB will need a strong start from ace Shane Bieber, who shut out Washington in game 1 to have a shot against Louisville’s top 10 offense. The Gauchos pitching should give them a chance, but Louisville has a much better offense, and when you add in the home field advantage, the Cardinals should advance.

Coral Gables Super Regional: Boston College Eagles at Miami Hurricanes

This is a matchup of ACC schools, but that’s about all they have in common. The Hurricanes are amongst the baseball blue bloods, with a four National Titles and an NCAA Tournament streak that dates back to 1973, while the Eagles haven’t been to Omaha since 1967, and before this season hadn’t had a winning record since 2010. Miami got a test in their regional, but defeated Long Beach St in an 8-7 walk off win. Miami didn’t get their usual production from star Zack Collins, who had more strikeouts than hits in the regional, but saw Willie Abreu and Jacob Heyward (Jason’s brother) step up. Boston College is probably the closest thing to a Cinderella in this year’s tournament, but after beating Utah and Tulane twice, are done flying under the radar. They’ll need their pitching to stay hot, as the Eagles only gave up eight runs in three games. However, Miami is on another level from the teams BC eliminated, and will likely have too much offensive firepower.

College Station Super Regional: TCU Horned Frogs at Texas A&M Aggies

An in-state battle between the past and the present in the Big 12, TCU is looking to make it back to back super regional wins over the Aggies. However, this time, the road to Omaha will have to go through College Station, where A&M is coming off of an easy regional win, having blown out Binghamton, Minnesota and Wake Forest. They scored 30 runs in the last two games, in large part because of Boomer White, a TCU transfer, who is batting .398 on the year. His old team is also high on confidence, entering their third consecutive super regional. Coach Jim Schlossnagle has this team playing as well as anyone in the country, after three wins over Oral Roberts, Arizona St and Gonzaga. The Frogs dominated all three aspects of the game, hitting .318, posting a 1.33 ERA and not committing a single error in the regional. Texas A&M can get hot at the plate, especially at home, but I like TCU’s well-rounded and experienced team to advance.

Lubbock Super Regional: East Carolina Pirates at Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech survived a scare against Dallas Baptist in the regional final, largely due to Hayden Howard’s work out of the bullpen, and three clutch RBIs from Orlando Garcia. The bullpen also pitched four shutout innings earlier in the weekend, which allowed Tech to come back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat New Mexico. They will meet the East Carolina Pirates, the last remaining team from North Carolina, who are arguably the most surprising team still in the field. The Pirates stunned defending National Champs Virginia on a walk off in the second game, before taking care of William & Mary to advance. The Pirates offense was on full display, as they scored at least eight runs in all three wins. The Pirates proved that they can play with anyone in the country, but I think Texas Tech in Lubbock will be too much for them.

Starkville Super Regional: Arizona Wildcats at Mississippi St Bulldogs

Mississippi St. may have come from nowhere to win the SEC title, but they are certainly in the national spotlight now. Their improved pitching was on full display in the regional final win over Louisiana Tech, where State shut out the other Bulldogs, allowing only two hits while striking out 14. They also have the advantage of playing at one of the most hostile venues, where they boast the biggest crowd in the country, and the cowbells don’t stop all game. The lone representatives of the Pac 12, Arizona came out of the losers bracket to knock off Lafayette twice and advance. The Wildcats showed off their pitching, particularly their bullpen, which the Cajuns had no success against. This pitching should be enough to keep things interesting, but the Bulldogs are a better team, and should take it at home.

Columbia Super Regional: Oklahoma St Cowboys at South Carolina Gamecocks

It was a great weekend for Gamecocks fans, as the team advanced through the Columbia Regional, and watched archrival Clemson get knocked out, opening the door to host a super regional. Carolina had a rough start, losing to Rhode Island and winning ugly against Duke, but turned it around to outscore their final three opponents by a combined 43-8. Oklahoma St. was the only team to knock off a national seed, and absolutely dominated Clemson twice to advance. The Cowboys hit .385 in the regional, and never trailed at any point. They come in hot, and also have the advantage of staying in South Carolina for an additional week, cutting out much of the travel. This is probably the most even match-up of the round, but I think Oklahoma St will score just enough to get it done.

Baton Rouge Super Regional: Coastal Carolina Chanticleers at LSU Tigers

After a series of rain delays, on Tuesday LSU became the fifth SEC team to qualify for super regionals. The Tigers got a great performance from Jared Poche, who threw six scoreless innings out of the bullpen just three days after starting against Utah Valley. The bats came alive, spurred by a go ahead home run from Greg Deichmann, and LSU was able to knock off Rice. This weekend, they will get a visit from Coastal Carolina, fresh off upsetting NC State in the Raleigh Regional. The Chants loaded the bases with one out in the ninth down by two, but because of a bizarre rain delay, had to finish off the game the next day. Coastal eventually took the lead, and held on thanks to All-American closer Mike Morrison. The Chanticleers are a team that simply finds ways to win, and has some of the best pitching in the country. However, LSU has pitching to match and should advance at home.

 

Dark Horses of the 2016 College Football Seasons

Team 1: This team is a pretty obvious pick but a team most people still overlooking. Rocky Top Tennessee Volunteers. They were a really good team in 2015 and is a team that is trending up. Tennessee has a pretty great backfield of Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd. Those two players combined to find the end zone 40 times on offense. Their defense will return pretty much intake if juniors don’t leave early.  This is still the same Tennessee team that almost beat the SEC and National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide and on October 15, 2016 Bama will travel to Knoxville to revisit their rivalry.

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

As far as scheduling goes on paper Tennessee’s only real test is Bama. They play in the weakened SEC East with the departure of former Florida QB Will Grier and former Georgia head coach Mark Richt. But they do have to go to Athens to play the Bulldogs, so that could be a trap game. After the Oct. 15th game against Bama they will have a well deserved bye week and finish the season with Carolina at Williams-Brice, home to Tennessee Tech, Kentucky, and Missouri. They will finish the regular season in Nashville against Vandy on Nov. 29th.

As of January 13th, ESPN has the Vols ranked as the 17th ranked recruiting class for 2016.

The 2016 Vols are posed for great things, most likely a 11-1 regular season. It is very possible that the Vols could end the regular season undefeated. Because after the National Championship, Clemson, in a losing effort, showed the nation Nick Saban can not stop a good spread offense from scoring a bunch a points on his defenses. And with Dobbs and Hurd in the backfield they qualify as a good spread offense.

Team 2: This team was 8-5 in the 2015 season, but they are only remembered for a hellacious beating they took to the hands of Clemson. The 2015 Miami Hurricanes were actually a good team. They have one of the nation’s best signal callers in Brad Kaaya. He threw for 3238 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. Miami also brings back their top rusher, Joseph Yearby, who ran for 1002 yards. Also Stacy Coley, their top receiving threat, just announced he is staying in school. Miami’s 2016 defense will be anchored by the linebacker crew that was blessed by fire in 2015. So Miami is returning their top three offensive weapons, all of their linebackers, and bring in new head coach Mark Richt. All Mark Richt needs is a good backfield and a weapon on the edge and he has that here in Miami

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

And as far as scheduling goes they have their toughest ACC game is at home against bitter rival Florida State. And they draw the short end of the straw having to go to Notre Dame on Oct. 29th, but they might have a bye week the week before that game since it looks like the school’s fall break is on the week of the 22nd. Just like Tennessee, Miami is trending up in the ACC Coastal, a division that is slowly trending down. They play the ACC’s three traditional road trap teams NC State, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech, but I really think this Miami team and this Miami coach wants to bring Miami back. And if he does not Warren Sapp will blast him on twitter. Here are some the tweets.

As of January 13th, ESPN has the Canes ranked as the 16th ranked recruiting class for 2016. And they are always on the radar to shake up National Signing Day.

This 2016 Miami seems different. It is very likely Miami can go through the regular season 11-1 or 10-2 but both records resulting in a trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship against either Clemson or rival, Florida State.

Team 3: This team is really really a dark horse. Now unlike the other two teams this team is not championship ready, but this team will definitely get a great bowl game in 2016. They had a losing record but went out with a bang with a win over a rival on the road. The Texas Longhorns were a sub .500 team in 2016; they went 5-7. At one point in the season, Charlie Strong was on the verge of losing his job but with a season-ending win over Baylor he got to keep his job as HC. They return their dual-QB system of Jerrod Heard and Tyrone Swoopes. D’Onta Freeman, their top back is going to be in the backfield for them. On the outside, they are returning freshman John Hurt, their top receiver. The Texas defense is expected to bring back 8 starters on defense and will be lead by their strong defensive line.

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

Courtesy of, www.sports-logos-screensavers.com

The schedule is pack with some tough opponents like opening week against Notre Dame. Their notable home games are Notre Dame, TCU, and Baylor. Week 2 they have a game against UTEP, which to most is a tune-up before their trip to the West. They go to California to play the Golden Bears in week 3, have a week 4 bye, and then play Oklahoma State in Stillwater. They also have the pleasure of playing Texas Tech and Kansas State on the road. And don’t think I forgot about the Red River Rivalry against Oklahoma on October 8th. We all know Oklahoma didn’t forget the 2015 game.

As of January 13th, ESPN has the Longhorns ranked as the 33rd ranked recruiting class for 2016. And don’t expect Texas to finish outside the top 30 maybe even in the top 20.

Now I know I’m probably on a stranded island with the Texas love, but history tells us Texas can’t be down for long. Charlie Strong isn’t a loser, it is not Strong’s blood to be a loser for long. I might be a year too early on this train but I have feeling that Texas will be a team that can win 9 or 10 games.

Stats Courtesy: ESPN

*Team Schedules from FBSchedules.com

National Signing Day

Courtesy of, cantonathletics.com

                           Courtesy of, cantonathletics.com

For most college football viewers, the college football season ends after the National Championship game. Some only watch on those fall Saturday afternoons, but the real reason why teams like Alabama and Clemson were in the championship game is because they perform well on every first Wednesday in February. The day where high school athletes choose the university they will play for.

National Signing Day is the 3rd biggest day on the College Football schedule. First being the Championship Game, second being Opening Day of the season, and third is National Signing Day. This year it is on Wednesday February 3rd.

Recruiting is a 365-day, year long process. Your favorite team’s recruiting team is vital to your team’s success on Saturdays. For example, from the 2011 recruiting class to the 2015 recruiting class Alabama has an average rating on ESPN of 1.2. They have been number 1 in recruiting 4 years in a row. In that same span of time, Clemson has ranked no lower than 13 and has an average ranking of 9.4, according to ESPN. As of the January 6th, ESPN Team Recruiting ranks Alabama 6th and Clemson 10th. I chose those two teams not because they just played for the National Championship but because they are the only two teams in the past 5 seasons to have 10+ wins.

It is not just being a 4-Star or 5-Star talent that everyone knows. We all know Derrick Henry, Alabama’s star running back, was a ESPN 5-Star RB from the 2013 class. We all know Clemson’s QB Deshaun Watson was an Elite 11 QB and the nation’s top Dual Threat QB in 2014 class. Saban and his recruiting team at Alabama wanted Henry because he is the right fit for Alabama. Swinney wanted Watson because he is the QB Clemson needed to push them to be where they are now. Along with Henry and Watson’s supreme talent, they are great human beings. They are hard workers. They have great tangibles and great intangible, which set them apart. This is something that can only be known after getting to know the prospect personally and not just on the field as a football player. If Henry and Watson were not humble and coachable. Good players have talent; great players are coachable. We know those two players could not be in any better hands than Saban and Swinney, respectively.

The 3 and below star recruits, walk-ons and transfer athletes always play a part into making a good college team, because one school can only get so many 4-Star and 5-Star players.

A little under the radar Rival’s 3-star QB from Austin Texas who only had 3 offers coming out of high school. Those offers were Washington State, Rice, and Florida Atlantic, so he wasn’t highly recruited. He took none of these offers. He instead went to Texas Tech and walked on to their football team and in that same year Baker Mayfield was Texas Tech’s starting QB in 2013. He then transfers to Oklahoma in 2015 and is the starting QB for them now. And he is one of the main reason Oklahoma was in the playoffs this year. Not only is he MVP of his team he is one of the best QBs in the nation.

So go ahead and call in sick on Wednesday, February 3rd and watch your school land that recruit that can change your team in 2016.

Stats Courtesy of: Yahoo Sports, ESPN, Tigernet.com