The Citrus Bowl pits the LSU Tigers against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. These two teams played each other at the conclusion of the 2014 season in the Music City Bowl. Both teams had solid seasons again and were just a few wins away from reaching their goals. Here is the 2018 Citrus Bowl preview:
14 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3)
Josh Adams (Photo by indystar.com)
Notre Dame was a playoff contender going into the last three weeks of the season, but lost two of their last three games. They lost to Georgia, Miami and Stanford, which were all losses to good teams. They were able to beat some solid teams in USC, N.C. State and Michigan State.
The Fighting Irish score 35.3 points per game and run the ball well. They average 279.1 yards on the ground per game. Josh Adams has been their star running back this season with 1,386 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. The second leading rusher on the team is quarterback Brandon Wimbush with 765 yards and 14 touchdowns. They have two very good offensive linemen who clear holes for the running game in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.
Wimbush has had his struggles throwing the ball this season. He completes less than 50% of his passes at 49.8%. On the season he has 1,818 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. Wimbush has the potential to make good throws, but is inconsistent. Equanimeous St. Brown is the leading receiver with 468 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Their defense is one of the most improved units in the entire country and allow 21.8 points per game. They rank 49th against the run and 51st against the pass. Nyles Morgan is the leader of the defense with 82 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and a sack.
17 LSU Tigers (9-3)
Derrius Guice (Photo by gridironnow.com)
It looked as if the sky was falling when LSU lost to Troy, but LSU got to nine wins on the season. Their record is a bit inflated, as they only beat two bowl eligible teams in Texas A&M and Auburn. This was still a decent start for Ed Orgeron in his first full season as head coach of the Tigers.
The offense has still been an issue, but they score over 28 points per game. They also have a good running game that is the strong point of their offense. Two running backs have done a lot of damage for LSU. Derrius Guice has battled injuries to rush for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. Darrel Williams has been a great backup with 776 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Danny Etling is a senior who has started a lot of games in the past two years for the Tigers. He won’t make the most plays, but protects the football and manages the game well. He has thrown for 2,234 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions. Wide receiver D.J. Chark is a supreme talent who leads the team with 811 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
The defense, like usual, carries the team and allows 18.8 points per game. They rank 21st against the run and 20th against the pass. Pass rusher Arden Key will be out for this game after having surgery on his pinky finger. Freshman defensive back Andraez Williams has five interceptions this season.
Both of these teams are solid, but LSU has the advantage. If they can stop the run and make Wimbush beat them, they will be able to win. The LSU running game can control the clock, which will make it hard for Notre Dame to catch up.
With the college football season about to start there is a lot of excitement and hype, but for some coaches this season is a make it or break it year. If they don’t have good seasons they will be packing their bags and looking for new jobs. Here are the coaches that need to have good seasons:
Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
Brian Kelly (Photo by southbendtribune.com)
Kelly almost wore out his welcome with a 4-8 record last season, but it is hard to fire a coach a year after making the Fiesta Bowl. Overall in his time at Notre Dame he has made one New Year’s Six Bowl Game and one National Championship, while underachieving in other years.
His career record at Notre Dame is 59-31. That’s not good enough to be the head coach of one of the most storied teams of all time. It goes beyond the record with Kelly, as he has made fans cringe every time he yells at players and places blame on them rather than being accountable.
The Fighting Irish only have eleven starters returning from a team that wasn’t good last season. There hope to save Kelly’s job lies in winning a lot of the close games that they lost last season. Eight of their games were decided by one possession, with seven of them being losses.
A more detailed description of Kelly’s time at Notre Dame is laid out here. In order to save his job he needs to at least go 8-4 this season, which won’t be easy with teams like Georgia, USC and Stanford on the schedule.
Jim Mora, UCLA
Jim Mora (Photo by chatsports.com)
Mora has recruited a lot of talent to the UCLA campus, but they have not been able to capitalize on it. His total record at UCLA is 41-24 over five seasons, but last season really put a damper on things. The Bruins finished the year 4-8.
The saving grace for Mora may be that they give him a pass for last season based on how many injuries the team suffered. They were a better team than their record said and had quarterback Josh Rosen stayed healthy they would’ve been able to get to a bowl game. Even if they give him a pass for last season he needs to produce a good season again this ye
Only 10 starters return to the team, which could make things difficult on Mora. They still have a lot of talent, but players who didn’t play much last year will need to help out more.
Mora likely needs to win about eight games to feel somewhat comfortable after the season. Making a bowl game would be a good way to get back on track, but may not be enough to save his job.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Rich Rodriguez (Photo by fanspeak.com)
He is entering his sixth year at Arizona and had a pretty successful start to his time in the desert. He made four straight bowl games including the Fiesta Bowl in 2014. The problem is that the program has gone down hill from there.
Following the 2014 season, the Wildcats are 10-15, including a 3-9 record last season. The record has been bad and Rich Rod, who is no stranger to criticism, has been criticized for leaving players in while visibly concussed, but has said he errs on the side of caution.
The good news is that 14 starters return this season, which should help them improve on their record from last season. In the Pac-12 though there aren’t too many easy wins to be had. They do get the benefit of playing Cal and Oregon State in their crossover games.
Rodriguez needs to make a bowl game this season to save his job. Anything less than that and he may be fired.
Todd Graham, Arizona State
Todd Graham (Photo by alchetron.com)
With an eight win season and two ten win seasons in his first three years, Graham was also a coach that got off to a hot start. Since his third year, he has not had a winning record in any season. He has a career mark of 39-26, which includes a record of 11-14 over the last two seasons.
Graham has been seen as a job-jumper and will leave a school at a moments’ notice for a perceived better opportunity. He likely doesn’t have too many offers on the table at this time, but if he isn’t loyal to a school, why should a school be loyal to him?
Eleven starters return for him, but his team had a 5-7 record last season. Running backs Kalen Ballege and Demario Richard are good players, but they lack the same level of talent they had just a few years ago. Their schedule is tough, which won’t do Graham any favors.
In order to keep his job, Graham needs to improve on their 5-7 record last season. That may not be quite good enough, but is the minimum that needs to be done for him to keep his job.
Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
Kliff Kingsbury (Photo by si.com)
A lot of people liked the hire of Kliff Kingsbury at the time. He was a young, energetic coach that had broken records as a quarterback at Texas Tech. In his four years he has just two bowl appearances with the Red Raiders.
Kingsbury has an overall record of 24-26 and a terrible 13-23 record in conference play. The offense has been good, but the defense is unable to stop anyone and that will be Kingsbury’s downfall, unless a miracle happens this season.
Ten starters return, but Texas Tech will need a new quarterback because Patrick Mahommes left early for the NFL. The offense will likely take a huge step back, while the defense won’t get much better. They have challenging non-conference games against Arizona State and at Houston and haven’t ever gotten more than four conference wins in a season under Kingsbury.
For Kingsbury to return to Lubbock in 2018 he needs to make a bowl game and win at least four conference games in doing so. This is a tall task with the roster turnover and the Red Raiders will likely be looking for a new coach.
Brett Bielema, Arkansas
Brett Bielema (Photo by whnt.com)
Bielema was a great steal of a hire from Wisconsin, but has not done well at Arkansas. They are in a very tough SEC West, but have not been consistent. Unlike other coaches on this list, Bielema has been fairly consistent after his first season in Fayetteville.
He started with a record of 3-9 and has finished with at least seven wins every year since. That brings his total record to 25-26. What’s worse is his 10-22 record against the SEC in that time. While making bowl games is good, a record that bad in conference can’t be tolerated for too much longer.
Austin Allen returns at quarterback and the offense should be solid. The defense brings back five starters, but the unit wasn’t particularly good. They have one tough non-conference game against TCU. Other than that they need to capitalize on an SEC West that has some teams that are relatively down right now. This includes: Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
It is more than possible for this team to win seven or eight games this year. That will be good enough to bring back Bielema for another year. If the Razorbacks somehow fail to make a bowl game this season, he may be on his way out.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Butch Jones (tampabay.com)
The question for Butch Jones is: How patient can a die hard fan base be? Two straight 9-4 seasons aren’t bad, but it’s not up to Tennessee’s expectations. They haven’t been able to win the SEC East, which has been down the last several years. This is unfortunate timing, but it’s a make it or break it year for Jones.
Jones started the Volunteers off with a 5-7 record, but has followed it up with three straight bowl appearances. His overall record at Tennessee is 30-21, but the record in conference play is just 14-18. Doing a lot of the same would be good at most programs, other than the lousy conference record, but it just doesn’t cut it for the Volunteers.
Tennessee has 12 starters back from last year’s team, which includes some talent. The problem is replacing Josh Dobbs. Dobbs was a great dual-threat quarterback, who bailed them out of a lot of close games last season. Through the first five games of the season, four of those were won because they had a poised quarterback in Dobbs down the stretch. A couple of guys are battling for the position, but none will be as effective as Dobbs in their first season.
The schedule provides some tough games against Georgia Tech, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and LSU. They won’t lose all of them, but will lose some. Jones needs to get them to eight wins to feel safe, but even eight wins can’t quell a rabid bunch of fans and boosters: Just ask Bo Pelini.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin (Photo by bleacherreport.com)
Sumlin is on the hot seat at some point in every season. After a big win, the Aggies can’t fathom being without him. After losing games down the stretch, his seat gets warm.
Out of all the coaches on this list, Sumlin has the best record, when taking into account his circumstances, at 44-21. This is impressive, but he also has a winning record in the tough SEC West at 21-19. He has never missed a bowl game at Texas A&M and never finished with fewer than eight wins.
The Aggies have had to deal with a lot of transfers over the past few seasons, but have talent. Armani Watts is one of the best safeties in the country, while Christian Kirk is a wide receiver that might be drafted in the top ten of the 2018 NFL Draft. The problem could be quarterback play, which has been hit hard by the transfers.
They have a tough non-conference game at UCLA, then have to go back to battle the SEC West, Florida and South Carolina. Eight wins should again be good enough to save Sumlin’s job, but with how inconsistent his hot seat is, nothing is for certain.
Other notable power five coaches whose seats could be hot with a bad season: David Beaty (Kansas), Dave Doern (NC State), Dave Clawson (Wake Forest), Steve Adazzio (Boston College), Mike Reilly (Nebraska), Gary Anderson (Oregon State), Barry Odom (Missouri).
You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Joe!
To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon
The college football season is just about to start and most teams will start with non-conference games to start their seasons. There are some great non-conference games this season that not only feature matchups of teams with a lot of history, but also games that will impact the College Football Playoff. Here are the ten best non-conference games for the 2017 college football season:
10. 22 West Virginia vs. 21 Virginia Tech (Landover,MD), Sep. 3
(Photo by manhattanhokies.com)
This is on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to help kick off the college football season. There will be no NFL games to compete against, so this game will have a lot of viewers.
Both teams came out in the AP Top 25 poll that was recently released. This game may be a little overshadowed by some other big games in the opening weekend, but it will have a huge impact on the college football season.
West Virginia finished last season with a 10-3 record and get new life at the quarterback position in Will Grier. In the first year of the new Big 12 Championship Game, the Mountaineers could beat out Oklahoma or Oklahoma State for a spot. With a win in the non-conference against a good team like Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers can catapult their way to the College Football Playoff if a lot of things go their way.
Virginia Tech won the ACC Coastal Division last season and will likely do so again this season. They have a great back seven of the defense, which will be challenged by Grier. The offense will give us the first view of Josh Jackson who will be a good dual-threat quarterback for the Hokies.
9. Notre Dame at 14 Stanford, nov. 25
One of many close games in the Stanford-ND rivalry happened two season ago. (Photo by youtube.com)
Notre Dame may have missed out on the AP Poll for the Preseason, but have a lot of intriguing games considering their history and talent. They still received 65 votes, which means if they win in week one they will be in the top 25. This rivalry game happens on the last weekend of the regular season, so Notre Dame will have to win some games to help earn this spot on the list.
It is a make it or break it year for Brian Kelly. If the season is going poorly this could be his last game at Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish can play up to their potential and only have two or so losses heading into this game, a win in this game could get them into a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. For Stanford they could be in a position where they have won the Pac-12 North and this game comes before the Pac-12 Championship game, or they could be trying to make their resume look better because they lost the Pac-12 North.
This game features a good offensive line at Notre Dame against a very good Stanford defense, that ranked 18th in the country in scoring last season. If all goes as planned for both schools, some of the bigger names on the team could be fighting for draft position or for postseason awards. Mike McGlinchey can cement his status as a top tackle in the NFL Draft, while Bryce Love of Stanford can rack up more rushing yards.
8. 15 Georgia at Notre Dame, Sep. 9
Notre Dame Stadium will be packed for the Georgia game. (Photo by und.com)
SEC teams don’t often play Notre Dame, but two staffers met at a seminar and now we have two historic teams playing once this year and once in 2019 in Athens. If both teams win in week one, this will be a game between ranked opponents, making it even bigger.
Georgia is on a quest to win the SEC East and doing so is very possible. If they get to the SEC Championship with only a loss or two they could be in a “win and you are in” situation for the College Football Playoff. That is easier said than done, but a win at Notre Dame would be a nice feather in their caps. Jacob Eason, Nick Chubb and the Georgia offense will have a chance to light up a Notre Dame defense that struggled last season. The defense can help set the tone on what could be a great season.
The Fighting Irish will likely be in the AP poll in the second week and be tested with a very good Georgia team. Brandon Wimbush will be thrown into the fire against a Bulldog defense that returns 10 starters. The matchups to watch in this game are endless for a variety of different reasons: How many yards can the Georgia offense get? How will Wimbush fair against a good Georgia defense? How will the NFL talent on the Notre Dame offensive line do against the NFL talent in the Georgia front seven?
Even if this game becomes a blowout for one side or another, it will give fans a good idea of where each program is headed this season.
7. 4 USC at Notre Dame, oct. 21
No matter what side you root for, everyone remembers the “Bush Push”. (photo by insidesocal.com)
USC will take a break from their Pac-12 schedule to play this rivalry game with Notre Dame. Yes, Notre Dame is in a third straight game on this list, but they do play a great non-conference schedule with their 12 games to fill.
The Trojans want to make the College Football Playoff this season, that is for sure. Sam Darnold could be the next in a long line of Heisman Trophy winners out of USC. He has a chance to light up the scoreboard at Notre Dame Stadium and do it in front of a national audience.
After the Georgia game, the Fighting Irish have a chance to go on a win streak. They play Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (OH) and North Carolina before their two weeks to prepare for USC. Optimally they would be 6-0 at that point, but they have more talent than everyone, but Georgia. If they are 5-1 with a loss to Georgia this game would have huge implications. If their record is anything less than 4-2 at this point of the season, Kelly is likely looking at a new job.
One interesting battle to watch from this game is Iman Marshall and Jack Jones covering Equanimeous St. Brown of Notre Dame. All will be playing on Sundays in a few years and will like the challenge of playing against one another.
6. 23 Texas at 4 USC, Sep. 16
USC certainly didn’t take it easy in the non-conference schedule. They get a rematch of the BCS National Championship Game, arguably the greatest one of all time, when Vince Young ran in the game-winning touchdown and unofficially ended the USC dynasty under Pete Carroll.
The Trojans are a little bit ahead of the Longhorns right now in terms of getting back to a National Championship, but this game will be big nonetheless. With their aspirations to make it to the College Football Playoff, USC needs to take care of business out of conference. A key to this game is that they play Texas a week after Stanford and will likely be banged up from a physical game.
Texas has hired Tom Herman to get them back to their winning ways. They have the talent on the roster, but needed a man in charge to get them where they want to go. Shane Buechele will get a chance to show his improvement against a USC defense that should be pretty solid. Malik Jefferson is a star at linebacker for the Longhorns and will want to play well against a good offensive unit like USC to improve his NFL Draft stock.
5. 17 Florida vs. 11 Michigan (Arlington, Texas), Sep. 2
Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain will square off in week one. (photo by youtube.com)
The second best game of the opening weekend features two teams that finished with nine wins last season and two teams that struggled on offense. Both will try to have their defenses lead them to victory again in 2017.
Florida made the SEC Championship Game last year and have the capability to do it this year as well. They have talented players on their defense, but only four returning starters, so new stars will get their chance in a big game. The offensive line returns four starters, but the thing that they have lacked is a quarterback as Feleipe Franks tries to give them one. They will have to deal with seven players being suspended for the misuse of financial aid, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway.
The Wolverines have problems of their own to worry about. They only have one returning starter on defense and four on offense, which struggled against good competition last year anyways. Their hope is that Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting pans out. Wilton Speight needs to take a step forward on offense, while the defense needs star recruits like Rashan Gary to step up.
This game will provide the chance to get to know a lot of the new faces on both of these teams and also allow fans to see if these teams have what it takes to win their divisions.
4. 3 Florida State at 17 Florida, Nov. 25
Florida State celebrating after a victory over Florida (Photo by cbssports.com)
At this point in the season, Florida State may be trying to stay in contention for the College Football Playoff, while Florida may be getting ready as the SEC East representative in the SEC Championship Game. Whether this rivalry game has as much riding on it as we expect is unknown, but it will be a good way to cap off the regular season for both teams.
The Seminoles may have one or two losses at this point in the season, but could still make the College Football Playoff. Deondre Francois will have already been tested by the defenses of Alabama, Clemson and Louisville, so this will provide him with another opportunity to see what he can do.
Florida lost to Florida State last year in this game and then had to prepare for the SEC Championship the next week. They will have a good defense again, but will need Franks to step up in this game especially. The Gators will need him to have a career day against the likes of Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James.
This game will likely have a lot riding on it, as it did last season and will also feature a lot of talented players going up against each other once again.
3. 12 Auburn at 5 Clemson, Sep. 9
Gus Malzahn and Dabo Swinney will square off again. (Photo by seccountry.com)
Clemson’s first big test as reigning champs is taking on Auburn, a team that has a lot of high expectations themselves. Auburn is looking to get back in the National Championship picture and can use this game to show people that they are for real.
The Clemson defense will likely be very good again with seven returning starters and a lot of good recruits waiting to fill in. Offensively Deshaun Watson will be replaced by Kelly Bryant (or Hunter Johnson), an this will be the first time to shine for a new quarterback. It won’t be an easy task for the new quarterback because Auburn was seventh best scoring defense in the country in 2016 and returns eight starters.
Auburn looks to Jarrett Stidham to get them back to their high-scoring ways on offense. He was successful at Baylor before transferring. With six starters on offense back, he should have a lot of the tools he needs to make things happen. The defense will be good again and will be trying to force an inexperience quarterback into turnovers.
The fun part of this game to watch is Stidham and the Auburn offense against the talented Clemson defense. If Stidham can live up to the hype, it could be a great game.
2. 7 Oklahoma at 2 Ohio State, Sep. 9
Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett will go head to head a second time. (Photo by thefootballbraniacs.com)
This game last year featured a lot of trash talk leading up to it, but Ohio State escaped Norman victorious, 45-24. With both teams having legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations, it makes it easy to call it one of the top two non-conference games of 2017. This will give fans a chance to see how Lincoln Reilly does in his first big game as head coach of the Sooners.
Ohio State lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but returns 15 starters and a lot of talent. J.T. Barrett will try to get back on track with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. He had a great game against the Sooners last year and will likely do so again in 2017. The defense has an inexperienced secondary that will be tested by Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield should put up points, but needs new weapons to step it up after losing a lot of key players to the NFL and graduation. His offensive line returns to protect him, which is a huge factor in this game. Defensively, Oklahoma isn’t great and needs that to improve for this game in particular. They have talented players, but because they can’t stop that many teams, they need to force turnovers.
The players to watch in this game are the ones in the trenches. Oklahoma features a good offensive line, including Orlando Brown. Ohio State has a good defensive line with Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. A lot of NFL talent will be going at it in this game.
While this game doesn’t rule a team out of College Football Playoff contention, Ohio State’s margin for error would be less and Oklahoma would have a lot of help needed with a loss.
1. 3. Florida State vs. 1 Alabama (Atlanta,GA), Sep. 2
Deondre Francois and Jalen Hurts. (photo by sbnation.com)
This is a game that we could be seeing again in the College Football Playoff. Both teams are that good. It is the perfect way to kick-off the season and both teams will be trying to make a statement.
Alabama is coming off of a loss to an ACC team in the National Championship Game. Nick Saban is going to try to make the ACC pay in this one. Jalen Hurts is back, but won’t be able to run as much on this very athletic Florida State defense. He will have to use his arm, which was average at best last year. He will have help from Calvin Ridley on the outside. The defense will continue to plug in players like they do every season and will once again be elite.
Florida State has a lot of tough games this season, so winning this one would be a huge relief and give them a chance to make a mistake later on in the season. The offensive line will be tested by the good Alabama defense. They have to protect Deondre Francois long enough for him to make good throws. On defense the Seminoles will try to make Hurts beat them with his arm, which will be tough with McFadden and James in the secondary.
Watching Calvin Ridley and the Alabama receivers try to get separation from the Florida State secondary will be fun to watch in this game.
Thank the football gods for this game. It is a great game in week one and should get everyone hyped for a great season.
You can like The Game Haus on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Joe!
To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon
The college football season is about a month and a half away and it can’t come soon enough. As rosters are finally completed with transfers (thank you Malik Zaire) and spring ball all wrapped up, it’s time to look forward to the fall. Who will be the top 25 teams in college football this season?
25. Kansas State Wildcats
Bill Snyder is back for another season as the head man of Kansas State. He had his youngest team ever last season and still finished 9-4. This year should show improvements for the Wildcats, but the record will likely be similar. They will grind out games in typical Snyder fashion.
Jesse Ertz will be back to lead the offense at quarterback with his dual-threat abilities. He led the Wildcats in both rushing and passing last year and looks like he will do the same this season.
A few running backs will get a chance to help him out on the ground, including Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon. Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath are good wide receivers on the outside, and will have to make the most of their opportunities, as Ertz only threw for 1,755 yards last season.
The bulk of the offensive line is back including center Reid Najvar and tackles Scott Frantz and Dalton Risner, which should help create more than the 32.2 points per game last year.
Defensively, the Wildcats will have to replace the pass-rushing ability of Jordan Willis, who is off to the NFL, but they do return the other three starters from the defensive line. They help make this defense great at stopping the run which ranked 11th in the country.
The linebackers will be all new starters this year, but keep an eye on Da’Quan Patton who was one of the best JUCO linebackers last season.
Three out of four starters from the secondary return to a unit that needs to improve from its 114th ranking against the pass a year ago.
With an easier non-conference schedule this season, the Wildcats should be undefeated heading into conference play. Their big games at home will be TCU, Oklahoma and West Virginia, while they will be on the road to face Texas and Oklahoma State. With these games posing problems, Kansas State should be able to get out of the regular season with a maximum of four losses by grinding out games and winning the turnover battle.
24. Northwestern Wildcats
Northwestern had a solid 7-6 season last year that was capped off with a win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. This season they return a lot of key players that should help them compete for the Big Ten West.
Justin Jackson (Photo by: Chicago Tribune)
The backfield is stacked with talent for the Wildcats, featuring three-year starter Clayton Thorson at quarterback and the man who will likely be the school’s all-time leading rusher at year’s end, Justin Jackson at running back. Both can run the ball really well and Thorson improved significantly as a passer from his freshman to his sophomore year. With his natural progression he can make Northwestern’s scoring offense one of the best in the Big Ten.
Four starters return on the offensive line, but they will need to replace Big Ten leading receiver Austin Carr from last year’s squad.
Defensively the Wildcats are best in the secondary, with Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero, who are two of their best players and are paired with two other returning starters.
They lose Anthony Walker from their linebacking core, but feature a lot of capable replacements. There isn’t much depth on the defensive front, but their starters are solid. The defense lost its best player in Walker, but there is no reason why they should take a step back this year after ranking 24th in the country in scoring defense.
The schedule matches up favorably for Northwestern. They travel to Wisconsin and play Penn State at home in back to back games, but the rest of the games on their schedule should be manageable. The Wildcats will be going to a bowl game and expect at a very minimum eight wins.
23. Washington State Cougars
Winning the Holiday Bowl would have been a nice way to cap off the season, but the Cougars fell to Minnesota to finish with an 8-5 record. Mike Leach got the team rolling and won all eight games in a row, including seven of them being in conference. Washington State got the most important player to return to school for one more year, which will give them another solid season.
Luke Falk (Photo by: seattletimes.com)
Luke Falk could’ve gone to the NFL Draft, but elected to come back to Pullman for his senior season. Falk has two-straight 4,000-yard passing seasons and has a touchdown to interceptions ratio of over three to one. He will have another big year, even though he loses key receivers River Cracraft and Gabe Marks.
Multiple wide receivers are capable of stepping up, but Tavares Martin Jr. is the big play guy. Three returning starters on the offensive line will help protect Falk and the Cougars are also very deep at running back.
Last season, Washington State ranked in the top half of the country in scoring defense, and with that offense humming that’s all they really have to do to make the team successful.
The passing defense is awful and they lost Shalom Luani which hurts. They do return four starters from the secondary, two linebackers and two defensive linemen. Peyton Pelluer is a great linebacker who brings back a lot of experience with 233 career tackles. They will need the secondary and pass rush to get a lot better to be a successful defense.
Washington State has it’s fair share of tough games in 2017 including: Boise State, USC, Stanford and at Washington. Having three of those key games at home is a huge boost to the Cougars. They should be able to beat Boise State at the very least. Getting USC in the crossover game is tough, but Washington State could max out at 10 wins or bottom out with eight, assuming they don’t lose to an FCS opponent for the third year in a row.
22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
There is no doubt that Brian Kelly’s seat is hot after finishing 4-8 last season. He brought in new coordinators so now the onus is totally on him. No Notre Dame team should ever go 4-8, especially given their schedule. A lot of players need to step up this season, but the talent is there.
Equanimeous St. Brown (Photo by: usatoday.com)
Notre Dame will be breaking in a new quarterback in Brandon Wimbush. He was a highly-touted recruit, but he didn’t play well in the spring game. The key for Wimbush’s development is the great offensive line he has in front of him. Four of the linemen are returning starters and two, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, could have been drafted very early in the 2016 NFL Draft.
A lot of the wide receivers are inexperienced, but Equanimeous St. Brown (along with being one of the coolest names in college football) is blossoming into a star. Durham Smythe and Alize Mack (formerly Alize Jones), provide good targets at tight end.
Running the ball is a versatile player who is capable of running and catching out of the backfield, Josh Adams.
The Fighting Irish have been decimated with injuries the past few seasons on the defensive side of the ball and don’t return many starters. The good news is that a lot of players have gotten experience over the last few years. The bad news is they didn’t play particularly well.
This season they need to get better at stopping the run. Nose tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Nyles Morgan will do what they can, but will need help. The secondary and defensive lines are shaky overall, but the linebackers are talented and will have to lead the team.
As always, Notre Dame does have some marquee games this season. They host Georgia and USC and travel to Miami and Stanford. Other games on the schedule are tricky, but those are the bigger games. Their matchup with Georgia in week two will let everyone know if the Fighting Irish are bouncing back or not. Notre Dame should win eight games during the regular season and if they don’t Kelly likely won’t be on the sidelines anymore.
21. Virginia Tech Hokies
Justin Fuente rejuvenated the Hokies last year and got them a 10 win season after they defeated Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. They lost some key players, but with Fuente, Virginia Tech will be able to figure it out.
Jerod Evans surprisingly left for the NFL Draft and went undrafted, so the Hokies will likely turn to Josh Jackson, who has great playmaking ability. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges also left school early, but Cam Phillips will be a great target for Jackson. Other receivers need to produce as well.
Travon McMillan saw his production slip during his sophomore season, but is a solid running back and should have a good junior season. Three returning offensive linemen will help the Hokies move the chains.
The defensive front has one starter returning in Viny Mihota, but the back seven brings back a lot of experience. Their secondary should be one of the best in the country with Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman. Tremaine Edmunds will stand out as the best linebacker in the ACC. Virginia Tech was good on defense last year, but should be able to take it to another level in 2017.
The schedule shouldn’t be too rough on the Hokies, but they do have a few big games. They play a neutral site game against West Virginia, Clemson at home, at Miami, at Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech should be able to win most of those games. The Hokies can win anywhere between nine and 11 games in the regular season and can get back to the ACC Championship Game.
Featured image: mysanantonio.com
You can “Like” The Game Haus on Facebook and “Follow” us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles written by other great TGH writers along with Joe!
Brian Kelly has taken a Notre Dame program that was down and led them to a National Championship game. Unfortunately, he has also led the Fighting Irish full circle, as they finished 4-8 last season. That isn’t the only reason that Kelly is catching heat right now, but is it too soon to consider firing a coach that took a team to a National Championship just five years ago?
The Wins and Losses
In his seven years as Notre Dame’s coach, Kelly has posted a 59-31 record. This makes his winning percentage 65.6 percent, which ranks 18th in Fighting Irish history. At most schools, this would be a good record, but at a school that has the history and pageantry of Notre Dame, that’s not good enough. He was given some leeway because he made the team better, but it seems they are trending back downward.
Brian Kelly with Nick Saban (Photo by: cleveland.com)
The height of his success was a thrilling 12-0 regular season in 2012, which resulted in an appearance in the 2013 National Championship game. They ended up getting killed by the Alabama Crimson Tide, 42-14.
What stands out for Kelly is that he only has two ten-win seasons in his seven years, a trend that will likely continue this season. With multiple eight-win seasons and a four-win season, Kelly has to turn it around to save himself.
There is a lot of turnover from last year’s team to the team that will take the field against Temple on the opening weekend of college football. The good news for Kelly is that the offensive line should be great with Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson returning to school. While it may be a tall order, if Kelly doesn’t get at least eight wins, he might get fired.
Off The Field
The win-loss record isn’t great, but issues surrounding the team will also play a factor in the decision to let him go if it comes to that point. Some of this actually affects the on the field results, as 21 wins have been vacated (not demonstrated in earlier statistics). The 21 wins had to be forfeited due to academic misconduct by eight players.
There have been numerous cases of players being suspended for academic issues, arrests, DUIs and other transgressions under Kelly’s tenure. These incidents are something that give a black eye to the university that prides itself on molding players into better people. While a coach shouldn’t be responsible for every bad thing his players do, at some point enough is enough. One more incident like this could put the boosters over the edge to get rid of Kelly.
While these incidents surely aren’t great, the worst thing that has happened has been the death of Declan Sullivan. Sullivan was a junior manager who died when a scissor lift collapsed while he was video taping practice. It was a windy day when this happened and the head football coach should have moved practice indoors or scrap the video taping of practice from a lift.
The report found that Notre Dame was at fault and that the staff was negligent about wind conditions and how they affected lifts. If Kelly truly was negligent and didn’t know that 50-60 mile per hour winds can knock things over, he isn’t fit to be the coach at Notre Dame.
Attitude and Responsibility
Another thing that has been turning people off of Brian Kelly is his demeanor. It is very common to see him chewing out a player on the sidelines. Other coaches do this too and are good disciplinarian coaches, but Kelly has no limits and seemingly does it more than any other coach in America.
Photo by: athlonsports.com
During interviews he very rarely takes the blame for a loss and usually finds a way to throw his players under the bus. He even said after the loss to Duke last season that he felt good about the coaching. Kelly decided to make all positions open for competition. Later that week defensive coordinator Brian Vangorder was fired.
This criticism for players, while taking no blame on himself, doesn’t just last while the players are at school. He recently said DeShone Kizer wasn’t ready for the NFL, even saying he has maturing to do. Whether he agrees or not with Kizer’s decisions, it definitely didn’t help Kizer’s draft stock.
So the question becomes why say anything like that? The best case scenario for saying that is that Kelly is right. The worst case scenario is that it hurt Kizer’s draft stock. At a time in a player’s life when the former coach should be supporting and selling that player to pro teams, Kelly couldn’t resist the urge to criticize Kizer one last time.
A lot has to be weighing on Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick’s mind as he goes into this season. He has a good coach with some issues. The saying that “winning cures everything” might be true at other places, but Notre Dame is supposed to hold themselves to a higher standard than most places.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Kelly will be the coach to start the 2017 college football season. He likely won’t be fired for his and the program’s off field issues, because he’s already been given a long leash. The decision will be made on wins and losses and if the Irish don’t win at least eight games in the regular season, it’s time for the Fighting Irish to move on from Brian Kelly.
You can ‘Like’ The Game Haus on Facebook and ‘Follow’ us on Twitter for more sports and esports articles from other great TGH writers along with Joe!