week 7 DFS don'ts

Week 7 DFS don’ts: Wide receiver

In my opinion, this is the most important position group to predict correctly because of all the available players, and the volatility that comes with this position. To cash in almost any format, two of your three wide receivers need to hit. Let’s keep this week rolling with the wide receiver edition of week 7 DFS don’ts.

Julio Jones: FanDuel Price $8,500

Julio Jones is strictly a DFS don’ts for cash games. His production ceiling is among highest of any player; however, his floor is not worth his $8,500 price tag. On paper, Jones has a great matchup against one of the NFL’s worst defenses. The Patriots have given up 300 yards passing to every quarterback they’ve faced. But, the opposition’s number one receiver does not produce.

On the Suck My DFS Podcast, my co-host talks at length about New England’s track record this season against number one wide receivers. I won’t steal his thunder, but the results are not promising for Jones. I think New England will deploy Stephon Gilmore against Jones, and Malcolm Butler on the secondary receiving option.

Of course, Jones could overcome this individual matchup and score big. If he does, it won’t be on any of my cash lineups. Jones is great, but there’s too much risk for me this weekend.

Demaryius Thomas: FanDuel Price $7,100

week 7 DFS don'ts

Will Demaryius Thomas be able to produce at a consistent level with his matchup against Casey Hayward? (Courtesy of; SB Nation)

Yes, I was totally wrong on Demaryius Thomas last weekend. But, I’m not afraid of placing him back on my week 7 DFS don’ts. Why? Because Thomas will be seeing Casey Hayward for the majority of his routes. In week one Thomas was in Hayward’s coverage on 75 percent of his routes.

On those routes, Thomas turned six targets into four catches for 61 yards. It’s not a bad day by any means; however, that’s not enough to cash in a DFS contest from your second wide receiver. Also, Thomas will be playing without his running mate Emmanuel Sanders. This will allow the Chargers secondary to turn all of their attention to Thomas.

Given how bad the Chargers are against the run and the now shallow depth at wide receiver, I don’t think Thomas will have enough opportunities to double is value.

Rishard Matthews: FanDuel Price $5,500

Take advantage of what I’m about to tell you. After Monday night’s game and this weekend’s matchup against Cleveland, Rishard Matthews is going to be popular “pay down” play. However, you need to avoid him at all costs. Why? Because he has the toughest individual matchup in the NFL.

Matthews will face Jason McCourty. For those who don’t know, McCourty is playing the best football of his career. He is currently rated as the number one corner back by Pro Football Focus thus far. Last week, the Browns deployed McCourty in shadow coverage versus DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins was only targeted three times as a result.

There are plenty of other ways to get exposure to this game. I’m begging you to please stay away from Rishard Matthews for your own good. Matthews joins Jones and Thomas on my week 7 DFS don’ts.

 

Featured Image Courtesy of Sporting News

Like what you read? Tune into the Suck My DFS Podcast this Friday and find out who TGH fantasy experts will be playing in their DFS lineups this week. You can find the link to our podcast on the Podcast page.

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week six DFS don'ts

Week six DFS don’ts: Wide receiver

My week five was one to forget in terms of my wide receiver predictions. Yes, there were obvious calls I could have made, but I wanted to take some risks. I’ll be doing the same this week. However, I’ll try to make these more calculated. Let’s find out which players are my wide receiver edition of week six DFS don’ts.

Brandin Cooks: FanDuel Price $7,900

This pains me to say because I love Brandin Cooks. I was so excited when I found out he was traded to New England. However, there are problems with Cooks that emerged in last Thursday’s game against the Buccaneers.

As we all know, Rob Gronkowski was inactive in last week’s game. With Gronk out, we saw a shift towards the pass catching running backs and Danny Amendola. Cooks did see a season-high in targets, but it still failed to reach double digits. It’s clear that Chris Hogan is the number one receiving option in this offense going forward.

Offensive role aside, Cooks does not have a favorable matchup this week. Yes, I know they are playing the Jets. However, I’m referring to Cooks’ individual matchup versus Morris Claiborne. Claiborne has been deployed in shadow coverage every week since week two. According to Pro Football Focus, Claiborne has only been targeted 14 times since week two, allowing nine total catches for 95 yards.

We also have a track record of teams choosing to shadow Cooks over Hogan. In week four, James Bradberry shadowed Brandin Cooks on over 65 percent of the snaps. Bradberry was targeted six times, only surrendering three catches for 38 yards. Teams clearly see Cooks as the most talented wide receiver and are choosing to focus on him as opposed to Hogan or Amendola. If you want DFS shares of the Patriots, pivot to another receiver this week.

Demaryius Thomas: Fanduel price $6,800

week six DFS don'ts: wide receiver

Will Demaryius Thomas find a way to reach the end zone for the first time all season against the tough Giants secondary? (Photo: Denver Post)

2017 has been so disappointing thus far for Demaryius Thomas. Denver allocated resources in the offseason to build the offensive line and support Trevor Siemian, and it hasn’t translated to production for Thomas.

Granted, he’s had a solid floor in terms of point production. However, he failed miserably in a great matchup versus Oakland in week four. Thomas was only able to turn five targets into one catch for 11 yards.

This week’s matchup does not bode well for Thomas, or any Denver wide receiver. While the Giants are depleted on offense, they still have one of the best secondaries in the league. Another strike against Thomas is the 12-point spread.

This kind of spread indicates that the game will be over in the third quarter, or even by halftime. Meaning, the Broncos will look to sit on their lead and fee C.J. Anderson against a below average run defense. Consider other options in Thomas’ price range, as his matchup and role have landed him on my week six DFS don’ts.

DeVante Parker: FanDuel Price $6,000

You can attribute Parker’s place on this list to Jay Cutler. It’s embarrassing how poorly he played against a bad Titans defense. How on earth does a starting NFL quarterback not throw for 100 yards in a game in which they play all four quarters? Cutler failed to complete 50 percent of his passes, including one interception. His overall body language was disheartening and his interest in the game looked minimal. I don’t think anyone on the Dolphins offense has a chance to produce as long as Cutler remains the quarterback.

Parker’s health is also uncertain, as his status for Sunday’s game is questionable. Not all injuries are equal. Parker left the game with an ankle injury which can linger if not addressed immediately. If you really want to play Parker this week, keep checking practice reports and his official status as the week continues. Parker joins Thomas and Cooks on my week six DFS don’ts.

 

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week four DFS don'ts

Week four DFS don’ts: Wide Receiver

Wide receiver is, in my opinion, the easiest position to predict in DFS. Why? Because this is the only position where you can expect a 1 on 1 matchup. For example, there is no single linebacker that shadows a running back, or a defensive linemen versus a quarterback. Those players are competing against the oppositions’ unit of players, not just one. Given this information, here are the players with the toughest match ups in my wide receiver edition of week four DFS don’ts.

Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree: $7,500 and $7,400

We know how this story goes. You love drafting these two in seasonal fantasy, but, you know they are almost useless twice a year. As of today, both these players have the questionable tag. While neither are on track to miss Sunday’s contest, they won’t be 100%.

Health aside, the numbers are not great historically for either player. Since 2015, Crabtree has never scored double digit fantasy points against the Broncos. His highest scoring effort is 7.4 points. In that same time span, Cooper has had one game in which he’s scored double digit fantasy points. However, Cooper also recorded a zero in 2015 when playing at Denver.

In my opinion, this is the beauty of DFS. We can identify this nightmare match up for the Cooper and Crabtree and choose not to play them. Let’s all be smart and avoid watching Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. lock down the Raiders’ wide receivers. There are plenty of better options to consider that won’t be on my week four DFS don’ts list.

Pierre Garcon: FanDuel Price $6,600

week four DFS don'ts

Pierre Garcon will have one of the NFL’s toughest defensive backs shadowing him this Sunday (Photo Courtesy of; Gird Iron Experts)

Pierre Garcon is coming off a monster game against the Rams last Thursday night. Sadly, he’s has no chance to produce a similar result this Sunday. Garcon has one of the toughest match ups in the NFL this week, as he will be shadowed by Patrick Peterson.

Peterson has been great for years; however, this year has been even better. Quarterbacks are electing to avoid Peterson altogether. In three weeks, Peterson has only been targeted a total of three times. According to Jeff Ratcliffe at Pro Football Focus, Peterson has only been targeted three times when shadowing an opponents wide receiver.

Garcon has been a reliable receiver for multiple quarterbacks this decade. However, Garcon does not possess elite size, speed, or quickness. Meaning, he has no edge over Peterson in any physical facet of the game. If you want exposure to this game in DFS, look for Marquise Goodwin who will see a lot of Justin Bethel, a player who has been repeatedly exposed this season. Patrick Peterson has placed another player on my week four DFS don’ts list.

Marvin Jones: FanDuel Price $5,700

This is the third straight week that a wide receiver facing Xavier Rhodes is on my DFS don’ts list. You can read more about how good Rhodes is here, because I won’t be repeating stats. Rhodes in the last two weeks, has faced Antonio Brown and Mike Evans. While he hasn’t shut them down completely, he kept both out of the end zone and did not allow them to produce double their value for DFS purposes.

If Rhodes can play with two of the league’s best, I’m pretty damn sure Marvin Jones is going to get blanketed this weekend. Now, he won’t be on Jones for every snap. But, it’s likely he will shadow Jones for 70-80% of his offensive snaps. You could pivot to Kenny Golladay at this point, since he exploded in week one where Jones was being shadowed by Patrick Peterson. If you want to have a profitable DFS weekend, stay away from Rhodes. Jones, along with Cooper, Crabtree, and Garcon have landed on my week four DFS don’ts list.

 

Like what you read? Tune into the Suck My DFS Podcast this Friday and find out who TGH fantasy experts will be playing in their DFS lineups this week. You can find the link to our podcast on the Podcast page.

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week three DFS don'ts

Week three DFS don’ts: Wide Receivers

You’ll start to notice a trend with my opinion on wide receivers. It’s all about the matchup. Last week, all of the players on my DFS don’ts list had poor matchups against a good pass defense or defensive back. Some of them disappointed, and some rose to the occasion. I’ll be following the same formula in the wide receiver edition of week three DFS don’ts.

Mike Evans: FanDuel Price $8,600

Mike Evans had a great debut last Sunday vs. Chicago. He proved yet again to be the primary target of Jameis Winston and has great promise moving forward. Evans converted nine targets into seven catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. However, take a look at who Evans will play this week, then his placement on my week three DFS don’ts will make some sense.

I could easily copy and paste my paragraph from last week’s piece, which you can find here, about Xavier Rhodes. The Rhodes effect is real. While he didn’t line up on Antonio Brown every snap, he guarded Brown for the majority of the game. Brown only turned 11 targets into five catches for 62 yards and no touchdowns.

Now, Evans and Brown are by no means the same player. Evans is a monster compared to Brown, but is not as quick or precise with routes. Meaning, Evans doesn’t have to be “open” to receive targets and Winston has established he doesn’t mind targeting him in that situation.

The data from 2016 is intriguing. In Evans four toughest matchups (Seattle, Kansas City, Denver and Arizona), he averaged 13.25 targets. It’s almost counter-intuitive, the harder the matchup, the more Winston will target Evans.

The opportunity will certainly be there. I won’t fault you for playing Mike Evans this week. But as always, there are other players in that price range with more favorable matchups that I’d rather pay up for.

DeAndre Hopkins: FanDuel Price $7,500

week three DFS don'ts: wide receivers

DeAndre Hopkins’ talent is undeniable, but will it be enough to overcome Bill Belichik and the Patriots this weekend? (Photo Courtesy of; Chron.com)

It’s obvious, yes. But I had to include DeAndre Hopkins on my week three DFS don’ts. I love Hopkins as a prospect, but, the Patriots eat rookie quarterbacks alive. Bill Belichick is a perfect 8-0 versus rookie quarterbacks at home. After this Sunday, they will extend that streak to 9-0.

This is that unique situation where I trust the wide receiver, but have zero trust in the quarterback. Deshaun Watson managed to squeak out a win against the awful Bengals on Thursday Night Football. In that game, he absolutely fed Hopkins. Statistically, Hopkins had 13 of Watson’s 24 attempts. That equates to a ridiculous 54 percent target share. Sadly, it won’t be enough.

If you actually watched Watson against the Bengals, and that’s a huge if, he was not good. I remember actually counting out loud the number of seconds before Watson would lower his eyes and look to run.

Yes, it was his first start. Yes, he got better as the game went on. But come on, Belichick is looking at that tape and laughing hysterically. Not to mention the pick six the Bengals dropped. I simply cannot do it this week. I will absolutely keep my eye on Hopkins in later slates, but not now.

Martavis Bryant: FanDuel Price $6,500

If you listen to the Suck My DFS Podcast, you know I love Martavis Bryant. But, I’ve had to temper my love and expectations for Bryant. Since 2015, Bryant hasn’t produced on the road. It goes beyond Ben Roethlisberger being bad as well.

Since 2015, Bryant has played six regular season road games. In case you forgot, he was suspended for all of 2016. In those six games, he averaged seven targets. That’s not bad at all. But, that includes a game in which he saw 13 targets. He’s converted his 42 total road targets into 19 catches.

Bryant has turned those 19 catches into 183 yards receiving, averaging only 30.5 yards per game. To top it all off, he’s only scored one touchdown in those games. If that doesn’t do it, I don’t know what will. To this point, Bryant is incredibly talented, but lacks efficiency. a catch rate under 50 percent on that Steelers offense is not good. Take the wait and see approach with Bryant, as his home/road splits have him on my week three DFS don’ts list.

 

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week 2 DFS don'ts

Week 2 DFS don’ts: wide receiver

Week 1 was tough for everyone, but it was especially tough for wide receivers. Players like Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Doug Baldwin no doubt disappointed their DFS owners.

How can we avoid busts at this position in week 2? For one, we’ll have more teams on the Sunday main slate, and more teams means more options. Let’s examine which options we should stay away from in the wide receiver edition of week 2 DFS don’ts.

Antonio Brown: FanDuel Price $9,400

Antonio Brown might be the only wide receiver in the NFL that is matchup proof. Brown is so talented and skilled that no scheme or player can fully contain him.

However, the same sentiment was being echoed for players like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, and they went bust in week 1. There are two things that scare me away from Brown: Xavier Rhodes and his staggering price tag.

If you don’t follow the NFL closely, you may not know how good Xavier Rhodes is. His 2016 season has catapulted him into the elite group of cornerbacks. Rhodes saw 79 targets last year. Of those 79 targets, he allowed a catch on 41.8 percent of those targets, which was the best. Rhodes’ impact even extends to the opposing team’s quarterback, as they averaged a 39.2 passer rating when targeting him. You can find the full report here, but this raises some serious concerns for Brown.

I’d say Brown is usually worth every penny of his DFS salary, but Brown is too expensive. His status of the most expensive receiver by $600 is absurd. Brown will not catch 100 percent of his targets like he did last week.

Let’s say he gets the same number of targets and Rhodes has a down game and allows a 65 percent catch rate. That means Brown only gets seven catches on 11 targets. He would have to average 26 yards per catch to equal last week’s production without getting in the end zone.

As great as Antonio Brown is, he’s not worth the price. If he was $9,000 or $8,900, I would have no problem keeping him off my week 2 DFS don’ts list.

Alshon Jeffery: Fanduel price $6,900

You’ll start to notice a theme this week. Everyone on this list has a challenging matchup. Alshon Jeffery is no different, as he’ll likely see a heavy dose of Marcus Peters.

Since Peters entered the NFL, no player has more interceptions. In 2016, he was able to limit the number of big plays he gave up, while still being one of the best ball hawks in the NFL.

However, Peters ins’t a typical “shutdown” corner. He does not travel with a player across the field. He plays the left corner position. Jeffery spends almost all of his time on the outside and can bounce between the left and right side of the field. We saw Nelson Agholor as the primary slot receiver for the Eagles, so Jeffery won’t avoid Peters completely.

I don’t believe in Jeffery’s volume yet. Drawing Josh Norman in week 1 was tough. Jeffery did catch a two-point conversion, so maybe he will get an increase in red zone targets if the situation presents itself this Sunday.

Overall, I have faith that Jeffery will emerge and start producing as a WR1, just not this week. Jeffery is firmly on my week 2 DFS don’ts.

DeVante Parker: FanDuel Price $6,400

week 2 DFS don'ts

The arrival of Jay Cutler has placed some lofty expectations on the talented DeVante Parker (Photo Courtesy of; Fantasy Alarm).

I was incredibly excited about DeVante Parker’s prospects in week 1 vs. Tampa Bay. I’m not so excited about him this week, as he’ll face one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL in Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward.

On Monday night, the Chargers’ secondary held Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to eight catches on 14 targets for a total of 93 yards. Also, neither player saw a target inside the red zone.

In the aforementioned report about the best cornerbacks of 2016, Hayward was third. Like Rhodes, he only allowed a 51 percent catch rate out of the 100 times he as targeted.

Hayward was the highest targeted corner on that list, which may have been why he lead the NFL with seven interceptions. He has a track record of succeeding against great players like Mike Evans and Amari Cooper.

From a physical standpoint, Parker is more like Thomas than Sanders. Both players have unique speed and athleticism for their size. Thomas is superior in terms of run-after-the-catch ability. This is mostly because we haven’t seen that much of Parker thus far. Jay Cutler has openly said he likes targeting him, and Parker only needs one play to pay off his $6,400 price tag.

Sadly, I don’t see it happening this week. Thus, he’s on my week 2 DFS don’ts list.

 

Like what you read? Tune into the Suck My DFS Podcast this Friday and find out who TGH fantasy experts will be playing in their DFS lineups this week. You can find the link to our podcast on the Podcast page.

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week one DFS Dont's

Week One DFS Dont’s: Wide Receivers

NFL wide receivers are some of the most popular players among fans. Players like Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown and Julio Jones have massive followings and are revered for their explosiveness and raw talent. However, these three players are always among the most expensive DFS options every week. Are they worth their high price, or will one of these talents end up on my week one DFS Dont’s?

Dez Bryant – FanDuel Price $7,800

There are plenty of positives that point to playing Dez Bryant in week one. Bryant was able to spend an entire off season working with Prescott and developing more chemistry with the young quarterback. Also, Bryant is entering this season with his health in tact without any nagging injuries.

week one DFS Dont's

Dez Bryant’s talent is undeniable, but will it be enough to produce against one of the stingiest secondaries in the NFL? (Photo Courtesy of; Zimbio.com)

What doesn’t have me liking Bryant this week is the match up. This Giants defense is absolutely suffocating. This unit is headlined by multiple first and second team All-Pro players. Bryant will have to face Janoris Jenkins, Dominique-Rodgers Cromartie and Landon Collins on Sunday night. Apart from a great secondary, the Giants defensive line will cause problems for Prescott and company.

One could argue that Bryant is talented enough to overcome a touch match up, and, you’d be correct. However, talent alone is not the most important factor in winning tough 1 on 1 battles. Skill and precision are more important. Sadly, Dez has a limited route tree. This claim has been well documented by NFL greats like Drew Pearson and Cris Carter. Creating separation at the top of routes and accelerating out of breaks is something Dez is not elite at, despite his incredible talent.

Match up aside, Bryant’s history against this team is not great. Last year, Bryant turned 14 total targets into two receptions, 18 yards, and zero touchdowns. I’m not saying this trend will continue in 2017. But, I’m not willing to take a chance in week one given Bryant’s $7,800 price tag. There are plenty of better options with similar price and production on this slate. It’s possible he overcomes this tough match up and is “productive”, but I don’t see him exceeding 6 catches for 50 or more yards. Thus, he winds up on my week one DFS Dont’s.

Golden Tate – Fanduel Price $6,900

At this point, we know exactly who Golden Tate is. He’s a great possession first wide receiver who is a PPR monster with above average run after the catch ability. But, we also know that Tate has trouble reaching the end zone on a consistent basis. For this reason, he is usually a wide receiver three among my DFS rosters. The only problem is he’s being priced as a solid number two.

week one DFS Dont's

Golden Tate has established himself as a valuable piece of this Lions’ passing game. (Photo Courtesy of; ESPN Insider)

Tate’s placement on my week one DFS Dont’s is more about his match up and value. Yesterday I outlined how incredible the Cardinals defense was against tight ends. The statistics against wide receivers are not as impressive; however, Tate will have to face Patrick Peterson or Tyrann Mathieu for about half the game. Those two players, along with the versatile Deone Buchanon, will no doubt have Tate on their radar for Sunday’s game.

Let’s say Tate still finds a way to be “productive” by recording at least eight catches for 70 yards despite this unfavorable match up. Well, you just paid close to $7,000 for at best 11 points when you could have chosen Alshon Jefferey for $100 more, or Michael Crabtree as the exact same price! Jeffery has shown he is the primary receiving target for Carson Wentz this preseason, and, Crabtree has proven to be a red zone machine. Not to mention, Brandon Marshall and Davante Adams are both $100 cheaper with a better match up, or a better quarterback respectively.

Jarvis Landry – Fanduel Price $6,400

I feel sorry for Jarvis Landry. No other wide receiver has fallen so far out of favor for almost no reason. The preseason injury to Ryan Tannehill and subsequent signing of Jay Cutler has destroyed Landry’s value. He has proved to be a force when operating in the middle of the field. However, Cutler prefers throwing down the field to large-body receivers, i.e. DeVante Parker.

I’m not saying Landry is unplayable the rest of the season. I’m saying that right now, I prefer Parker, who happens to be $100 cheaper and has more touchdown upside. Now, this could change depending on the weekly match up or health. The quickest way Landry becomes more appealing is if his price drops to reflect his number two status. If he eventually becomes $6,100 or lower, he will no doubt find his way on to my cash games lineups.

Finally, there seem to be other circumstances in play here. Rumors have been swirling of a potential domestic violence allegation against Landry. Of course, these are just rumors. But, when you combine this allegation with the fact that he does not have a long-term deal inked, and the emerging trade talks, it makes me seriously question how much the Dolphins want him. I hope Landry’s situation becomes more clear. Sadly, talent ins’t enough to steer clear of my week one DFS Dont’s. Obviously, this analysis was crafted before the cancellation of this week’s Miami and Tampa Bay game. So technically, all players in that game are on my week one DFS Dont’s list.

 

Like what you read? Tune into the Suck My DFS Podcast this Friday and find out who TGH fantasy experts will be playing in their DFS lineups this week. You can find the link to our podcast on the Podcast page.

 

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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.

Wow.

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.

Literally.

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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