week three DFS don'ts

Week three DFS don’ts: Tight ends

As most DFS players know, tight end can be an incredibly volatile position. Sometimes the tight end lock of the week fails (I’m looking at you, Jimmy Graham). I can’t tell you which guys will score this week, but, I can tell you who to stay away from moving forward. Let’s see which tight ends end up on my week three DFS don’ts list.

Delanie Walker: FanDuel Price $6,500

Delanie Walker is a DFS darling. It’s clear he is Marcus Mariota’s safety net and the coaching staff is finding ways to get him more involved. Sadly, I don’t think he’ll reach ten points for the third week straight given his matchup.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have established themselves as a good pass defense. As a result, Walker only received four targets last week. That’s five less than in week one vs. the Oakland Raiders, but thankfully, he caught all four of those targets and turned them into 61 yards.

The Seattle Seahawks are similar to the Jaguars in terms of scheme. Both teams run a base 4-3 and their primary coverage strategy is cover 3.

Seattle is still more talented than Jacksonville from personnel perspective. The cover 3 scheme makes it hard for receivers to get behind the secondary. Therefore, Walker will have to do most of his damage in the short and intermediate parts of the field.

This will limit his yardage upside, and Seattle is perennially good at limiting yards after the catch. I don’t care about their performance against the San Francisco tight ends, as they are young and unproven.

However, I will consider their performance against Green Bay and Martellus Bennett. They held Bennett, a comparable talent to Walker, to three catches on six targets for 43 yards. Considering they did this against Aaron Rodgers on the road, I’m not optimistic about Delanie Walker this Sunday. Thus, he’s firmly on my week three DFS don’ts.

Coby Fleener: FanDuel Price $5,700

week three DFS don'ts: tight ends

Coby Fleener is one of the few tight ends to find the end zone in the first two games of the year (Courtesy of; Fox Sports).

Coby Fleener was wildly popular last weekend. He projected as one of the most popular tight ends on FanDuel entering their contest against New England. If you were able to take advantage of him in DFS last week like me, then congratulations. But, it’s time to move off Fleener this week.

In a game where the Saints were trailing from the opening kick, Fleener was on the field for less than 50 percent of the snaps. That’s awful for a starting tight end in this pass-heavy offense. Currently, Fleener possesses a 12 percent target market share.

This on paper is not bad. However, it is likely to decrease as the Saints showed they are willing to play multiple running backs at the same time, instead of featuring a tight end.

There is potential for this trend to change. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Fleener’s usage at Carolina this weekend. But, there’s one other reason I’m off Fleener: his price increase.

I know, he’s scored touchdowns in each of his first two games. FanDuel is rightfully increasing his price. That doesn’t mean I have to play him. I like other players below that price who are getting more opportunities like Jack Doyle.


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week two DFS Dont's

Week two DFS don’ts: Tight ends

Week one reinforced our belief in the volatility at the tight end position. The top five scoring tight ends on FanDuel were all less than $5,500 and Jason Witten was the most expensive. The most notable players at this position disappointed in a big way. This means you need to pay attention to match up and opportunity, not the name on the jersey. With that being said, one of the highest scoring tight ends of week one has found himself on my list of week two DFS don’ts.

Austin Hooper: FanDuel Price $5,500

What? How is the highest scoring tight end in week one DFS don’ts? The opportunity is not and will not be there for Austin Hooper this week. When selecting a tight end, you normally want to follow this checklist. Is his team a heavy favorite? Is his team playing at home? Does he command between eight percent and 15 percent of his team’s targets?

First, the opening line on the Atlanta and Green Bay game started with Atlanta as a one point favorite. Currently on BOVADA, the line has moved to Atlanta -3. This is a good sign for Hooper. If the line becomes Atlanta -5, then you can start to consider Hooper as your DFS tight end. However, there is more to examine.

Second, the Falcons are playing at home, on Sunday night, in their new stadium. Even I can’t deny that narrative. I was at the NFC Championship last year and the atmosphere was incredible. Everyone is going to remember how the Packers got dismantled by this team, including Aaron Rodgers. This game will likely shoot out given these two offenses and the already high over/under of 54.

Finally, the most important part of the checklist is his target market share. For those who don’t know, target market share is the percentage of targets a player gets. Against the Bears, Hooper received a whopping six percent of Matt Ryan’s targets. The only reason he produced was because of a coverage lapse by the Bears. If you want to count on a guy who needs a complete coverage breakdown to produce, at an incredibly inflated price, be my guest.

Jack Doyle: FanDuel Price $5,200

week two DFS Dont's: tight ends

Jack Doyle (Photo: SI.com)

It’s obvious, I know. However, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t talk about how awful this matchup is for Doyle. First, he might have the worst quarterback in the NFL. Scott Tolzien is unwatchable. Even with such a game flow that dictated the Colts to throw the ball, Doyle only saw three targets. Maybe the situation improves if Jacoby Brissett gets to start. But, that may not help given their lack of chemistry.

Not only does Doyle have an awful quarterback, he has potentially the worst matchup in the NFL. In my DFS don’ts tight end piece last week, I talked about how good the Cardinals defense is against tight ends. They only surrendered two touchdowns in 2016 to tight ends, and they never allowed more than 53 receiving yards in a single game to the opposition. Predictably, Eric Ebron was awful against the Cardinals.

If the Cardinals are going to be this good going forward, I may have to place any tight end playing against them in this series. Maybe I would consider Doyle as a “punt” play at the tight end position, but his price of $5,200 doesn’t even allow me to do that. There are plenty of other options with better matchups and prices in this week’s main slate.


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week one DFS Dont's

Week One DFS Dont’s: Tight Ends

Now that the Kicker and Defense is out of the way, let’s start looking at real Football players. Tight end is one of the most volatile positions in NFL DFS. The drop off from top tier players like Rob Gronkowski, Jordan Reed and Travis Kelce to the next is dramatic. I look for value at this position. Specifically, I want players with medium/low salaries that can produce double digit points. Without further delay, let’s examine which tight ends are part of my week one DFS dont’s.

Eric Ebron – Fanduel Price $5,500

2016 could not have been more frustrating for season-long owners of Eric Ebron. Yet again, he failed to reach one thousand yards receiving. And, he had one more touchdown reception than I did last year. Not to mention, Ebron has a propensity for getting and staying injured.

On the other hand, there will be a plethora of red zone targets up for grabs with Anquan Boldin’s departure. I think he will no doubt have more than one touchdown this season and more than 711 yards receiving. However, his match up with the vaunted Cardinals secondary is a huge problem.

In 2016, the Cardinals secondary was elite against tight ends. Through their first eight games, the Cardinals never surrendered more than five catches and 53 yards receiving. Not to mention, they allowed zero receiving touchdowns to tight ends. They even pitched a complete game shutout against the Jets in week six. Meaning, they didn’t allow a single tight end to register a stat.

week one DFS Dont's

Will the Cardinals’ defense shut down Eric Ebron and justify his placement on my week one DFS Dont’s list?

I know Ebron is talented. I know he plays in an offense that throws the ball at least 30 times a game. But, I have no confidence that he will produce against this elite unit, or, that he’ll even be healthy enough to play the whole game. There are plenty more attractive options at tight end this week. Given his situation, Eric Ebron was the easiest member of my week one DFS Dont’s among any position.

OJ Howard – Fanduel Price $5,400

The hype around OJ Howard astounds me. Have we already forgotten that Cameron Brate, the Buccaneers starting tight end, tied for leading the NFL in receiving touchdowns among tight ends? Yes, I know that Hunter Henry, a backup rookie tight end, was who he tied with. However, this situation is different.

week one DFS Dont's

There’s no denying OJ Howard’s talent, but will the opportunities be there in week one for him to make a DFS impact? (Photo Courtesy of; Bucs Report)

Antonio Gates has clearly lost a step or two. This gave Henry the opportunity to get on the field and demand targets. Brate on the other hand is a young player at his position and has a tremendous red zone chemistry with Jameis Winston. I do believe at some point this year Howard overtakes Brate, but not the first week of the season.

Not only is Howard not the starting tight end, he would at best be the third receiving option if he was. Mike Evans led the NFL in targets last season and DeSean Jackson wasn’t brought in to be a decoy on half the snaps.

Apart from Howard’s current situation, rookie tight ends historically don’t start strong and rarely score 100 non-PPR points in a season. By non-PPR standards, the three best rookie seasons in NFL history by tight ends are Rob Gronkowski in 2010 (114 points), Cam Cleeland in 1998 (104 points), and Jeremy Shockey in 2002 (102 points).

Two of those three players will go to the Hall of Fame at their positions and for the record, only Cleeland, who I know you’ve never heard of before, scored double digit points in his rookie debut. If you want to compete in GPP’s or large tournaments, you’ll need your tight end to score double digit points.

If I haven’t made a strong enough case yet, this is sure to convince you. OJ Howard, the backup tight end, is $200 more expensive than the starter Cameron Brate! You are literally throwing away money for less production if you decide to roster OJ Howard. It only makes sense that Howard will go off now that I’ve taken such a strong stance, but the evidence suggests he belongs on my week one DFS Dont’s.


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Tight End Roulette

Every Thursday, I turn on my favorite DFS podcast and begin selecting my lineup. I become fully engrossed in all the different combinations and match ups available to me. Nothing could be more fun, I think to myself. This feeling of happiness and hope quickly fades to black as I get to my least favorite position, Tight End. Seeing the eye-popping price of Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed makes me reel, as they could easily score less than 10 points. There’s no debate, Tight End has been the most volatile and frustrating position to select this season.

Paying Up

Conventional DFS wisdom says to avoid inconsistency at a position, pay for the most expensive players. It seems to work for the Running Back position, where you can build a lineup around David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliot, or LeSean McCoy. Why these players specifically? Because between these four players, only 10 times did one of these players score less than 15 points this season in any given game. Let me repeat, out of 44 total games played, only 10 times did any of these players score less than 15 points and LeSean McCoy alone accounts for four of those 10 instances. This is the kind of consistency a DFS player expects with such a large price tag. Sadly, the Tight End position hasn’t come close to this kind of consistency.

The four most expensive Tight Ends this season have been Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed and Delanie Walker. Among their 40 games played, 20 times one of these players failed to score 10 points. If the point threshold is increased to 15, that number rises to 26. This lack of production and availability, as only one of these four players hasn’t missed a game due to injury, is inexcusable given their price.

While they may not be consistent, these Tight Ends have the ability to produce big numbers. While the lows are low, the highs are high as each of these players has had at least one 20 point game. Reed leads the group with three games of at least 20 points.

Playing The Matchup

Given that nothing at the Tight End position is guaranteed, regardless of price, you decided to find the most favorable match ups for the position. According to Pro Football Reference, the five worst defenses against Tight Ends this season are: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Carolina, Atlanta and Detroit in terms of total points.

Earlier this year I highlighted Detroit’s inability to cover a Tight End previewing their first game vs. Minnesota. In that game Kyle Rudolph did score a touchdown, but failed to do much else. For DFS success, we wouldn’t roster a Wide Receiver whose upside is a touchdown with five catches for 60 yards, but we do for Tight Ends because the position has been so brutal this year.

Of the previously mentioned defenses, Cleveland and Carolina have given up nine touchdowns to Tight Ends this season. Then comes Detroit with eight touchdowns given up, and finally Cincinnati and Atlanta have both surrendered seven touchdowns to Tight Ends thus far. Many players have exploited these match ups; however, they are incredibly inconsistent from week to week. Thus, players keep the mid and lower-level Tight Ends out of their lineups.


Tyler Eifert looks to bounce back after only seeing two targets versus Philadelphia. (Courtesy of; Sporting News)

For example, Jason Witten had his best performance against Cleveland (23.4 points). But what has he done since? He’s failed to score at least 10 points in every single game, including a zero against Minnesota. On the other hand, Tyler Eifert only recorded 1.4 fantasy points in his first match up versus Cleveland. This was his first game back from injury. He also proceeded to score over 20 points the next week versus Washington, but, the fact remains, even the most reliable players won’t always take advantage of good match ups. This is the reality when it comes to Fantasy Football, but it’s incredibly frustrating and costly when you invest in a Tight End that checks all the boxes, and only scores three points.

Week 14 Tight Ends

So, I will be going through my normal DFS routine and I will still dread selecting two or three Tight Ends for my lineups. However, there are some promising options this week. Here are the five players at the Tight End position I like the most this week.

5. Greg Olsen ($6,400)

  • Olsen faces a bottom five pass defense this Sunday against the Chargers.
  • San Diego allowed Cameron Brate, a less talented player, to record six catches for 86 yards and one score.
  • Olsen’s struggles are related to his Quarterback whose continued lack of footwork causes passes to sail over the heads of his receivers, otherwise he’d be higher on this list.

4. C.J Fiedorowicz ($5,100)

  • It’s becoming clear that Fiedorowicz is the second option in this anemic passing attack, as he led the team with nine targets last week.
  • Since week 3, he’s seen at least seven targets in six of the last nine games, including his best game against Indianapolis, who he sees again this weekend.
  • Fiedorowicz’s price allows for the flexibility to pay up for players like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, who prove to be the backbone of DFS lineups this year.

3. Zach Ertz ($5,700)

Zach Ertz will continue to be targeted this week as the high scoring Redskins visit Philadelphia. (Courtesy of; Bleacher Report)

Zach Ertz will continue to produce this week to keep pace with the high scoring Redskins. (Courtesy of; Bleacher Report)

  • Ertz was targeted a ridiculous 15 times last week against the Bengals, a game in which they were playing from behind. It’s likely they’ll be in a similar situation as the Redskins come to town this Sunday.
  • Overall, it’s not a good or bad match up. Washington has been average against Tight Ends this season, allowing only five touchdowns.
  • Including last week, Ertz has been targeted a minimum of six times the last five weeks and has scored double digit fantasy points in three of the last five weeks.

2. Jimmy Graham ($6,600)

  • Graham proved to be a dangerous threat in the Red Zone this season, receiving two Red Zone targets last week and converting one into six points.
  • Graham has scored four times in his last five games and has seen five or more targets in four of those five games.
  • This game has the potential to be a shootout, as injuries in Seattle’s secondary will allow Aaron Rodgers and company to move the ball downfield.

1. Tyler Eifert ($6,700)

  • Eifert has a great match up this week versus the worst defense against the Tight End position, Cleveland.
  • Last week was only the second time all season Eifert saw less than five targets. After only recording two targets versus Cleveland, he had his best game of the season against Washington (20.7 points).
  • The AJ Green injury will prove to help Eifert down the stretch of this season, as there are more targets to go around. I fully expect Eifert to record at least six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.


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What Do These Offensive Football Terms Mean?

Football is a sport that surprisingly involves a lot of wording and terminology that may confuse avid fans.  The game is much more mental than people give it credit.  Here is an explanation for just some of the most perplexing offensive football terms.

Number one receiver: This may mean the most frequently targeted receiver on a team but it also means the most outside receiver from a defensive perspective. Whenever a coach says “Cover number one” he is referring to the widest receiver. Number two is the next receiver from the sideline, otherwise known as the slot receiver. Number three is usually a tight end, or whoever is lineed up next, after the slot receiver.

Bubble screen: A screen pass to the wide receiver. This can be a quick pass to the slot receiver so he’s able to run to the outside, or to the wide receiver so he can cut back inside. Both kinds of bubble screens require precise blocking schemes in order for it to be successful.

Wing tight end/Wing back: A two tight end formation in which one of the tight ends is on the line of scrimmage and the other tight end is behind him in more of a running back position. This second tight end is the wing back who goes in motion a lot.

Smash: A two route concept in which the inside receiver runs a corner route and the outside receiver runs a hitch. There are some variations of the routes but the idea is to use a smash play against a cover 2 defense so that the cornerback bites or “smashes” on the hitch to leave the corner open.

football terms

Juke: A ball-carrier move to avoid defenders, the juke is essentially a sidestep or quick cut to the runner’s left or right.  Watch Barry Sanders for an example.

Wildcat: A bizarre looking offensive formation in which a skill player, usually a receiver or running back, takes the snap instead of the quarterback. The wildcat is filled with numerous razzle-dazzle possibilities. This skill player can immediately run with the ball, run the option or a reverse, or even throw it back to the quarterback who can then pass it deep downfield. It’s really a trick play formation that few offenses utilize once in a blue moon.

Option: What it sounds like, the “option” is under the quarterback’s discretion to tuck and keep the ball or pitch it off to a nearby running back located behind him. If you played in High School, say my alma mater Bethesda-Chevy Chase, you may have played under a triple option in which the quarterback can hand the ball off to the fullback, keep it, or pitch it to a running back.

Read man: The defender who the quarterback “reads” in order to determine if he should keep or pitch the ball when running the option. This defender is usually a defensive end or outside linebacker. If this player crashes on the quarterback then the read is a pitch to the running back. If this player flows out to cover the running back then the read is a quarterback keeper.

Empty formation: An offensive formation in which there are five wide receivers and no one in the backfield, leaving the quarterback with an “empty” backfield. However, some teams with valuable pass-catching tailbacks will line up in a receiver stance in place of a fifth wide receiver. This formation almost always tells the defense that a complex passing play is up next. Having said that, the empty formation also works well on the goal line because it spreads the defense out, leaving a more open path for a quarterback draw.

football terms

I-formation: The most simplified and traditional football offensive formation. There are five lineman, a quarterback behind the center, a fullback behind the quarterback, and a running back behind the fullback. There is a tight end next to either one of the tackles and two wide receivers spread out, one on each side. When every player is lined up as such, the formation looks like the letter “I” from a bird’s eye view.

Omaha: Something that Peyton Manning used to yell 30-40 times a game before every snap.


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Five Non-Power Five Teams to Watch for this Season

Everyone loves an underdog story, a David slaying a Goliath. Yet, there’s few non-power 5 teams that make it to a prestigious bowl, even with a solid record. And it seems that every year, there is at least one team from a non-power five conference that dominates their schedule with one loss or no losses, wins their conference title, and enters an esteemed bowl game with more to prove than any number of District Attorneys.

Cutting to the chase, here are, in my opinion the top five non-power five teams in terms of what they bring to the table — excluding Notre Dame, who is normally the quality of a power five school.

5. Marshall (Conference USA)

non power 5 college football teams

Chase Litton comes out of a stellar freshman season to lead the charge for the Thundering Herd. Thanks to tbo.com for the photo.

Marshall lost a lot and kept a lot from a team that finished 10-3 with a win in the St. Petersburg Bowl last year. Sophomore quarterback Chase Litton, pictured above, comes off a season where he threw for 2,608 yards and 24 touchdowns. Marshall has been a pass-based offense as of late (no one rushed for 600 yards or more for them last year) and they have their gunslinger to continue the aerial attack.

The question is who he will throw the ball to.

Marshall lost their top two receivers in Devonta Allen and Deandre Reaves, who reeled in 715 and 705 yards worth of catches, respectively.

Of course, those two don’t compare to the graduation of stud linebacker Evan McKelvey, who led the team with 121 tackles and was second with 9.0 tackles for loss. Also gone defensively is third leading tackler and starting safety Taj Letman (80 of them) who intercepted three passes. And the starter next to Letman and second leading tackler last year Tiquan Lang (91) faces a possible suspension after being arrested in late April.

Seems like quite a bit to overcome, doesn’t it? Until you hear that four of five starting offensive linemen for Marshall are returning from last year, and the one that isn’t a returning starter missed last year with injury and was first-team all-conference in 2014, Clint Van Horn. Litton will have a lot of time to find an open man.

And on defense stud defensive end Gary Thompson is back, who led the team in two categories defensively in 2015: sacks with 9.0 and tackles for loss with 12.5. At cornerback returning is Corey Tindal, who defended thirteen passes and intercepted two more.

In the end, Marshall needs contributors from two position groups to step forward: receivers and linebackers. Two starters are gone from both groups. The receiving corps gets some help from returning 400 yard receiving tight end Ryan Yurachek, but will need wideout production from a group that contains no one ever to have a season of at least 350 at that specific position. Justin Hunt, who has progressed steadily each year at Marshall and enters as a senior in 2016, and converted former tight end Deon-Tay McManus could look to try and get some production. And at linebacker the names appear to be Devontre’a Tyler and Shawn Petty.

My prediction: Marshall gets cake games against Morgan State and Akron, then wins one of their two tougher non-conferences either against Louisville or at Pitt. I see them tripping up against Western Kentucky and missing out on the conference championship, coming out mad in their bowl game and finishing 11-2 with a win in the New Mexico Bowl.

4. Appalachian State (Sun Belt)

non power 5 college football teams

The Mountaineers return the talent to climb to the top of the Sun Belt conference. Photo courtesy of 247sports.com.

Appalachian State used a balanced offensive attack and solid defense to earn an 11-2 record and a victory in the Camellia Bowl with a Sun Belt title. They bring back a lot of impact players from a team that was top-25 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

Those impact players include 2,300 yard passer Taylor Lamb, 1,400 yard rusher Marcus Cox, three starting offensive linemen, their top two tacklers on defense Eric Boggs and John Law with 104 and 72 tackles last year, respectively, and interception leader Latrell Gibbs who picked off seven passes — returning two of them for touchdowns.


The only detrimental loss seems to be stud defensive end Ronald Blair, who led the team in TFLs and sacks while coming in third for total tackles.

One spot of bother for the Mountaineers could be the tough opening to their schedule, they head to Tennessee in the opening week and then have to host Miami (FL) following their week two match-up with Old Dominion. Get out of those two brawls healthy, and it could turn into another ten win season with a bowl win for the Mountaineers.

My prediction: Someone important goes down in either the Tennessee or Miami game, and Appalachian State drops one during their conference play. They manage to get out with title in the Sun Belt though, or at least a share of one, as no team runs the table in the conference. The finish is 9-4, the aforementioned Sun Belt title, and a loss in the New Orleans Bowl.

3. Western Kentucky (Conference USA)

non power 5 college football teams

Taywan Taylor is the featured player in this year’s Western Kentucky attack. Photo courtesy of youtube.com.

Losing a 5,000 yard passer (that number led the nation) is never going to be easy. But when you have two receivers who were both over 950 yards last season back, one of which is 1,400 yard man Taywan Taylor, it makes the adaptation for your knew starter a bit less demanding. That replacement will likely be one of three players: Junior USF transfer Mike White, who threw for 1,639 yards and 8 touchdowns with the Bulls last year, senior Nelson Fishback, who has attempted 8 passes in his Hilltopper career, or senior Louisville transfer Tyler Ferguson.

The rushing attack will have no issue complementing whomever is under center, however. Anthony Wales returns off a 1,000 yard season, behind an offensive line totalling 130 combined starts of experience. That line includes first-team all-conference left tackle Forrest Lamp. New O-line coach Dale Williams has been given the keys to a Porsche and told not to crash it.

A mid-tier defense last year for Western Kentucky will look to improve for this season, as they return leading tackler and backfield plug in linebacker T.J. McCollum (106 tackles, 12.0 TFLs) and second leading tackler Branden Leston (96). Top defensive lineman Derik Overstreet also returns.

But if that defense wants to make the necessary jump, and in turn bring this team from a conference leader to potential contender for a New Year’s Six bowl, they will need a boost in the secondary, specifically at corner. Both starters are gone, including the only player with more than three interceptions for that Hilltopper defensive backfield in Prince Iworah.

The most experienced pair are juniors Joe Brown and De’andre Simmons. Both intercepted one pass last year, and Brown may have asserted his role as the primary cornerback with 9 PBUs. Both will have assistance from senior safeties, the aforementioned Branden Leston and Marcus Ward. The pair combine for 291 tackles and four interceptions on their respective careers.

My prediction: In the end, I think it could really come together for the Hilltoppers, one of three teams on this list (the top three, of couse) that I think finishes ranked nationally. They open with a win over Florida International before falling by no more than 20 to Alabama, a moral victory that will allow them to run the table… including wins over Vanderbilt, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, their opponent in the Conference USA title game, and their opponent in the Boca Raton bowl.

That’s 13-1, for those of you counting at home.

2. San Diego State (Mountain West Conference)

non power 5 college football teams

The Aztecs’ defense makes them a force to be reckoned with in 2016. Photo form sandiegouniontribune.com.

San Diego State is going to defend their conference title from 2015.


The biggest loss from a defense that was top ten nationally last year in scoring is fifth leading tackler Jake Fely (75, 8.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks). They return stud linebacker Calvin Munson, who led the team in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks (98, 15.0, 10.5). Damontae Kazee (pictured above), returns and brings 8 interceptions with him. Defensive end Kyle Kelley, who had 7.5 sacks last year, will lead the defensive line. They return third leading tackler and second leading interceptor safety Malik Smith. And they return the centerpiece of their 3-3-5 defense, all-conference nose guard Alex Barrett. In other words, the offense won’t have to score all that much.

But they bring back the firepower to score a lot.

Sure they lost their leading passer. But when that quarterback barely cleared 1,500 yards, it doesn’t matter that much. Why? Because San Diego State is a running offense. And you know what they do return? A rusher of 1,653 yards and 17 touchdowns named Donnel Pumphrey. He runs behind three returning starters on his line, including all-conference offensive guard Nico Siragusa.

Needless to say, the Aztecs look incredible entering this season.

My prediction: SDSU upsets Cal early in the season and goes on a rampage. It is tough to go undefeated, but easier with a Mountain West schedule. They do it, win the conference title game, and head to the Cotton Bowl as the “group of five” representative. From there I can’t tell, depends on who faces them there.

So either 14-0 or 13-1 is what I predict dependant on who they play in that bowl game.

1. Houston (American Athletic)

non power 5 college football teams

Second-year coach Tom Herman looks to repeat the success of 2015. Photo from al.com.

Notice I put above that I believe San Diego State becomes the “group of five” representative that receives a berth into the Cotton Bowl. I think Houston is the better team, but they run into Oklahoma week one… a game I don’t see them winning. Hence, number one team but not the number one finish.

Why is Houston the number one team? They come off a Peach Bowl win and return their star player, leading passer and rusher (he and Deshaun Watson are the only two quarterbacks ever to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000) Greg Ward. While his favorite target in Demarcus Ayers left early for the NFL, man number, two Chance Allen, does return off a season of over 750 yards. The ground game will have to replace second leading rusher and top running back Kenneth Farrow, which they were looking to do with junior Javin Webb.

Until he was dismissed from the team in February.

With that and the graduation of Ryan Jackson, Houston has lost its next three rushers after Ward. No other running back posted even 100 yards last season, the only one even to gain positive yardage being upcoming sophomore Kaliq Kokuma, who ran 18 times for 92 yards. He should compete with fellow sophomore Tyreik Gray.

At the very least they do have four returning starters up front to pave the way for the inexperienced backs.

Flipping the coin to the defensive side, Houston’s 3-4 defense returns all-conference nose guard B.J. Singleton, backed by linebacker Steven Taylor who had 92 tackles with 18.5 TFLs and 10.0 sacks.

Houston should be able to cope fine with the loss of their leading takedown getter Elandon Roberts, as Taylor returns with fellow linebackers Tyus Bowser (35 games experience) and Matthew Adams (49 tackles in 2015). The real worry is the departures at safety, where the Cougars lost both starters in 2016. That includes Adrian Mcdonald, who intercepted 17 passes in a career that also included 299 tackles. The most senior player remaining is junior Khalil Williams, who registered 18 tackles and intercepted a pass last year.

The rest are a group of inexperienced sophomores including Garrett Davis, Michael Eke, and Darius Gilbert. One of them needs to fill some shoes.

As said at the beginning, Houston loses week one in a moderately close bout with Oklahoma, but wins out and goes to dominate the conference championship game and a dominating win in either the Hawaii Bowl or Armed Forces Bowl.


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