Way too early 2018-19 college basketball rankings

The college basketball season has just ended, which means it is time to look ahead to next season. Who are the teams that will be looking to cut down the nets in the 2019 NCAA Tournament?

25. Loyola-Chicago Ramblers

The Ramblers do lose Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram and Aundre Jackson, but return a lot of key players. This includes their two leading scorers, Clayton Custer and Marques Townes. Custer won MWC Player of the Year and will be a frontrunner to win the award again next season. The Ramblers have also been able to keep their head coach Porter Moser for the time being, who should keep the ball rolling.

24. Clemson Tigers

Clemson outdid expectations this year to earn a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. Mark Donnal, Gabe DeVoe and Donte Grantham are headed out the door, but they were successful after Grantham went down with an injury. Marcquise Reed, Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas will lead the team next season as seniors. Reed led the team in scoring and looks like he could break out next season.

23. Cincinnati Bearcats

Gary Clark and Kyle Washington are lost to graduation, but to add insult to injury Jacob Evans has declared for the draft and doesn’t plan on returning. The Bearcats still have talent and should be the favorites to win the AAC again. The backcourt play will be great with Jarron Cumberland, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome returning. Cincinnati will have to find productive frontcourt players to really be a threat to great teams, but they are solid as is.

Way too early 2018-19 college basketball rankings

Mike Brey (photo by cbssports.com)

22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Notre Dame seems to lose about two or three key players a year and do fine anyways. This year’s departing class will be a little harder to replace though, as the Fighting Irish lose point guard Matt Farrell and star Bonzie Colson. They do however have T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger and Martinas Geben returning, along with a solid recruiting class, which should help them compete in the ACC.

21. TCU Horned Frogs

The guard play should be good for the Horned Frogs next season as Alex Robinson and Jaylen Fisher return. Their two leading scorers, Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky, are both graduating and other players will need to step up to help make Jaime Dixon’s third year at TCU successful.

20. UCLA Bruins

Thomas Welsh graduates and Aaron Holiday has declared for the NBA draft. They do have a good incoming recruiting class, ranked third in the country by 247 sports, and some returning talent on the roster to work with. Holiday should be the only player who keeps his name in the NBA Draft, meaning Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands will be returning leaders.

19. LSU Tigers

Will Wade did an admirable job in his first season as LSU’s head coach. It was a program that wasn’t in the best shape and they finished with 18 wins. Tremont Waters and Skylar Myers will make the backcourt really good and they have the fourth best recruiting class (247sports). With two five-star big men coming in, they have a chance to compete again in the SEC.

18. Maryland Tigers

Maryland didn’t have their best season in 2017-2018 but have their top five leading scorers returning. This team will be headlined by Anthony Cowan, Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando. Assuming they all return to school, Maryland can make some noise.

17. Mississippi State Bulldogs

The Bulldogs had a nice run in the NIT and will return all key players from the team. To go with that, they have the ninth-best recruiting class, which should help push them into the NCAA Tournament. Ben Howland has plenty of experience of winning at UCLA and now has the players to do so at Mississippi State.

way too early college basketball rankings 2018-19

Terance Mann (Photo by news-press.org)

16. Florida State Seminoles

Leonard Hamilton led the Seminoles on a dream run to the Elite Eight. They used their length and athleticism well and created havoc. Phil Cofer and Braian Angola are moving on, but their best player, Terance Mann returns. With a lot of key players and length returning, the Seminoles should have a better regular season than this past season.

15. Virginia Tech Hokies

Justin Bibbs is gone, but the rest of the notable Hokies will return. Virginia Tech had a really good offense and should be able to fill the void left by Bibbs. Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear Jr. will be senior leaders who will be able to lead the team to a lot of wins after being two of the three top leading scorers from last season.

14. Kansas State Wildcats

Kansas State surprised some by making the NCAA Tournament, then surprised everyone by making the Elite Eight. They don’t lose any key players either, which should lead them to compete in the Big 12, although it will be tough to beat out their in-state rival. Dean Wade and Barry Brown will be starring in the conference next season.

13. Oregon Ducks

Troy Brown is reportedly leaving for the NBA Draft. He could still return, but they will lose MiKyle McIntosh to graduation. Other than that the Ducks should return everyone from a 23 win team. They have the second-best recruiting class in the country, which includes a unique talent in Bol Bol, son of Manute Bol. Payton Pritchard took a huge step from year one to year two and should take another step forward in year three.

12. Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers had a young team this year and will return everyone. Rick Barnes has done a fantastic job early in his tenure at Tennessee. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield will lead the team again with their great physical play. They are not expected to add anything special in the recruiting class because they aren’t losing anyone.

11. Michigan State Spartans

A lot has to be figured out with the situation at Michigan State, but as of now, they look like a good team heading into next season. Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges are going to the NBA. Gavin Schilling and “Tum Tum” Nairn will graduate, but a lot of talent should be returning to East Lansing. Cassius Winston, Matt McQuaid, Nick Ward and Joshua Langford should all be returning to school and will work with the 11th best recruiting class.

way too early 2018-29 college basketball rankings

Caleb and Cody Martin (Photo by twitter.com)

10. Nevada Wolfpack 

Nevada has five of their six key players who could potentially be coming back for next season. Caleb and Cody Martin could leave for the NBA, but the smart decision would be to come back to school. With those two, head coach Eric Musselman and Jordan Caroline returning and teaming up with some new recruits should make the team even better next season.

9. Auburn Tigers

The FBI investigation could have derailed Auburn’s season, but they outdid expectations. They return all key players and should have Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley returning at some point next season. If the FBI investigation doesn’t progress too much further Auburn is a contender to cut down the nets at the end of the season. Mustapha Heron and Bryce Brown will create a great backcourt.

*Heron has since declared for the NBA Draft and hired an agent.

8. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson are both graduating. If Killian Tillie returns, Gonzaga is in store for another successful season. Four of their top five leading scorers would return and Mark Few can get another top seed. Making the Final Four isn’t out of the picture again for Gonzaga.

7. North Carolina Tar Heels

Losing Joel Berry and Theo Pinson is going to be tough to deal with early in the season, but UNC has a lot of returning talent. Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams all averaged double figures and will have a chance to be leaders of the team next season. The Tar Heels will also have two five star recruits coming in with Nassir Little and Coby White.

6. Michigan Wolverines

This ranking depends on Moritz Wagner coming back to school. He isn’t projected to be a lottery pick and could go back to school as he loves playing for Coach Beilein. With Wagner, Charles Matthews and Zavier Simpson back, they have the necessary pieces to be good again. Jordan Poole will take on a bigger role and the 16th best recruiting class is coming in.

5. Virginia Cavaliers

The sting of being the first one seed to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament will be there for a while, but they only lost three games all season. Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall leaving will hurt, but Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter should be able to lead Virginia to success.

4. Villanova Wildcats

Villanova is now a perennial contender and will be back next year. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges will likely be in the NBA next season, but there is so much talent returning outside of them. Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Omari Spellman will be stars next season. They also have the 12th best-recruiting class in the country including a five-star point guard in Jahvon Quinerly, who should be able to take over point guard duties from Brunson.

3. Kentucky Wildcats

The majority of Kentucky’s team should be back next season after securing a five seed and reaching the Sweet 16. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox should probably go to the NBA but are reportedly torn on what to do. Even if they leave, the Wildcats will have a great team next season. They have the sixth-best recruiting class in the country to pair with the vast returning talent.

way too early 2018-19 college basketball rankings

R.J. Barrett (photo by espn.com)

2. Duke Blue Devils

While most, if not all, their starters leaving, Duke will have a lot to replace. Fortunately, they have the top three recruits in the class coming in. All three were highly coveted and hyped. R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish will have NBA scouts going to Cameron Indoor Stadium often. Five-star Tre Jones was also signed to play point guard. Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Alex O’Connell are the leading returning players and need to grow up fast.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas will feel some growing pains while trying to replace Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. If Malik Newman, Udoka Azabuike and/or Lagerald Vick decide to go pro, Kansas will fall down these rankings a bit. Assuming they all return, Kansas should be one of the best teams in the country. They have those key players returning and the fifth-best recruiting class. To add to it, they have the Lawson twins, who were highly productive at Memphis, transferring in.

 

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Loyola Chicago Final Four

Loyola Chicago: From underdog to Final Four

A game-winning shot by Donte Ingram put the Ramblers passed the Miami Hurricanes in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Nine days later, the Ramblers punched their ticket to the Final Four with a win over Kansas State in the Elite Eight.

What does the future hold for the most surprising team in the NCAA Tournament? Can they cut down the nets come early April?

Statistics

Loyola has given up 62.4 points per game this season, which is fifth in Division I basketball. They have played less-talented offensive teams, but allowing under 65 points per game is still impressive. They struggle on the glass (326th in rebounds per game in all of Division I), but are sound on both offense and defense.

They also share the ball extremely well. Loyola averages 15.9 assists per game, which means they are not dominated by scoring off the dribble. They pass to get an open shot and are a balanced scoring team.

How they got here

Loyola Chicago Final Four

Victory over the Miami Hurricanes. (Photo by Kion)

The Ramblers have won four games in this NCAA tournament. The first three of them were won by a total of four points before beating Kansas State in the Elite Eight by 16 to get to the Final Four.

They are doing it through balance. Loyola has had six different double-digit scorers in their four wins in the NCAA tournament. They have had just one player over 18 points in any of those four games. The most impressive thing is how efficient they have been on both offense and defense.

In their most recent game against Kansas State, they held the Wildcats to 34.8 percent shooting from the field and just 23.1 percent from behind the arc. They won the rebounding battle by eight against a bigger team. Had they not turned the ball over nine more times than the Wildcats, they could have truly run away with the game in Atlanta.

The Ramblers have shot over 47 percent in each of their four tournament games. Despite a lack of forced turnovers, the Ramblers have battled on the glass, and have made each possession count on both ends of the floor. They have turned in solid performances and made teams grind out possessions. The Ramblers are a team that wears their opponent down and comes up with big plays because they are built to outlast other teams.

Playing Michigan

Michigan is the team that stands between the Ramblers and the championship game. The strength of Michigan is their spacing. They force teams to spread the floor on defense, which makes a team more vulnerable to cutters and to open shooters. Defenses tend to help and tend to leave open players. Michigan has five guys on the floor at all times that can shoot the three and make a team pay for helping too much.

If Loyola can contain dribble penetration to avoid helping and leaving open shooters, they can limit the threes that the Wolverines have poured in. Michigan struggled against a smaller and more athletic Florida State team, shooting just 4-for-22 from behind the arc. The Ramblers are a smaller team that can mimic what the Seminoles have just previously done.

Their team tends to mimic Florida State more than they mimic Texas A&M, a team that Michigan beat by 27 points less than a week ago. Texas A&M uses two big men, which the Ramblers do not have and do not use. The Ramblers match up well and could cause some problems for the Wolverines.

Can a Cinderella to win a National Championship?

At this point, we really cannot call the Ramblers a Cinderella. They are a very balanced team and not one that is just playing out of their element. The Ramblers clearly belong and are proving that to teams like Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State. Three of those teams have been ranked at some point this season. Loyola has a balanced attack and continues to prove that they belong.

They are no longer a Cinderella and proved that no matter the team they play, they are going to be a tough out.

 

Featured image from The Star.

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NCAA Tournament

Games to watch during the Sweet 16

Most people expected the number one, two and three seeds to make it all the way to the Sweet 16, maybe even into the Final Four. Some teams have punched their ticket in and some have been sent home and made people all over the United States very upset. Not to mention, everybody’s brackets are done for. There are new teams that have replaced the top seeds in the tournament, and they will go up against some really tough opponents this week. Here are some games you should watch during the Sweet 16.

Kansas State vs. Kentucky

NCAA Sweet 16 Kentucky

Kentucky basketball team
(UK athletics. aseaofblue.com)

The Kansas State Wildcats played an outstanding game on Sunday, beating UMBC 50-43. Everyone thought that UMBC would shock the nation by pulling another upset on Kansas State, since they’d beaten the University of Virginia in the first round. Well, not this time. The Wildcats came out on top after a hard fought game.

They had to play without their starting Forward, Dean Wade who was dealing with a foot injury. At first, the Wildcats were off to a bad start; they committed 18 turnovers and were 1-for-12 from the three-point line. They also couldn’t capitalize off of UMBC’s missed shots in the second half. Kansas State’s guard, Barry Brown, had 18 points. Xavier Sneed had the highlight reel of the night with a massive dunk off of a rebound. He finished the game with eight points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats are now in the Sweet 16, playing against the number five seed, the University of Kentucky, a team loaded with talent. They have two, young, amazing point guards that are going to be a threat in this tournament.

Loyola-Chicago vs. Nevada

NCAA Sweet 16 Loyola Chicago

Loyola’s Clayton Cluster spinning off Tennessee defender. (the kansas city star)

No-one had expected for this team to make it into the Sweet 16 at all. Loyola survived both rounds, due to a buzzer beater against Miami and a bounce on the rim, into the hoop, against Tennessee. With three seconds left to spare, Clayton Custer made a jumper that was living on a prayer in order to beat the Volunteers, 63-62. The Ramblers are now facing the University of Nevada.

In order to beat the Wolf Pack, Loyola will have to play hard on defense. Nevada has an outstanding offense that makes at least around 40 percent of their three pointers. They rarely handed the ball over in the game against Cincinnati, during the first round of the tournament.

Michigan vs. Texas A&M

Jordan Poole NCAA Sweet 16

Jordan Poole (UM) goes crazy after buzzer beater
(ftw.usatoday.com)

The Michigan Wolverines were able to beat the Houston Cougars on Sunday. They played outstanding defense against the Cougars, having Rob Gray on lock down during the first half. Fouls were a major problem in the second half for both teams. Houston’s forward, Breaon Brady was seated for the rest of the game due to foul trouble. Freshman, Jordan Poole, pulled a clean buzzer beater that shocked everyone in the arena, ending the game, with the score 64-63. Now Michigan will advance to the Sweet 16 as a number three seed, facing Texas A&M.

The Aggies have been dealing with a lot of injuries and suspensions this season. The future didn’t look bright for them during this whole tournament, but they proved everybody wrong. They’d shut down Providence in the first round and embarrassed the defending national champions, North Carolina, by 21 points in the second. If Texas A&M continues to play like this, they will have a one way ticket to the Final Four.

Florida State vs. Gonzaga

NCAA Sweet 16 Florida State Basketball

Florida State (tomahawknation.com. Photo by Rob Cur)

Florida State was another team that wasn’t supposed to make it this far into the tournament. The Seminoles’ future didn’t look promising at all, since they only won four of their last 10 games before the tournament. Now, they ruined everyone’s brackets by defeating Xavier, 75-70. They were behind 32-34 in the first half, but then Florida State started a rally down 12 points, during the last minutes of the second half. Nobody expected for Xavier to be eliminated in the second round of the tournament at all. Florida State will play Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 tournament.

The Bulldogs are now seeking to return to the championship for a second time and are planning to win it all. Due from the loss in the championship last year to North Carolina, this year’s team looks more promising than ever and more disciplined.

Clemson vs. Kansas

For the first time in 20 years, the Tigers had finally clinched a spot in the Sweet 16. With their powerhouse defense, Clemson has been on a roll, dominating New Mexico State, 79-68, in the first round and crushing Auburn, 84-53, in the second. The Tigers will face Kansas University in the tournament. The Jayhawks have also played very well during the first two rounds of the tournament, with the help of star center, Udoka Azubuike and senior guard Devonte Graham.

 

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Oklahoma Sooners: Going the wrong way at the wrong time

A month ago Trae Young was the front runner to win the Wooden Award. Oklahoma was the number four team in the nation and leading the Big 12. A lot has changed since the calendar month changed to February and we can only expect a lot more when it changes to March.

Wheels falling off:

Oklahoma Sooners

Khadeem Lattin, (Sooner Sports).

Well, Oklahoma is now essentially in a free fall. They just lost their second game to Texas, are 6-8 in conference play and have lost eight of their last ten. Trae Young has struggled lately, and so have the Sooners.

They have lost seven straight road games and have struggled to get wins that would increase their stock come March. The Sooners defensively haven’t held a team to under 65 points.

The best two wins they have are on the road against Wichita State and at home against Kansas, but the NCAA tournament cares about strength of wins, consistency of the team and the trend they are heading in. Oklahoma is heading in the wrong direction when they should be improving their resume.

Young is shooting just four for his last 27 threes in his last three games. The tough shots that he was making early in the season just aren’t consistently falling right now. Young is turning it over 5.3 times a game and is shooting just 37 percent from three.

Where they struggle:

Oklahoma is the number two offense in the country. They can put points up in a hurry and play at one of the fastest paces in basketball. Unfortunately they are the 337th ranked team in points defended against. They are +5.5 in point differential but give up 82 points per game.

The Sooners have lost to 5 teams with an RPI of 51+. To put it into perspective, that’s the same amount as Washington. They allow average teams to hang around due to their defensive inefficiencies. It’s not hard for an above average offensive team to hang around when playing Oklahoma.

A team that once was a sure thing for the NCAA tournament in slowly sliding toward the bubble.

Trae Young:

It’s unfair to blame Trae Young for this sudden slide. Many of the Sooners lack the ability to create space, in which Trae Young specializes in. Despite 5.3 turnovers a game, Oklahoma would struggle tons without his offensive play-making skills.

This is virtually the same team that that lost 18 games last season. People can’t assume that just because a young freshman guard comes in they will be the top of the Big 12. It takes both time and multiple play-makers to make this team go.

What they need to do:

As of right now it will be tough for Oklahoma to improve their resume with four games left in the season. With that being said, it would be rather easy for them to hurt their resume. A loss at home to either Iowa State or Kansas State would be extremely detrimental to the Sooners chances to get a higher seed.

Oklahoma needs to go 2-2 in their next four games. I don’t see them going to Kansas or Baylor and coming out victorious. They are both 12-4 and 12-3 respectively at home and the Sooners have just two true road wins.

On the other side Iowa State is 0-8 on the road and Kansas State is 6-3 on the road. Although Kansas State is 6-3 on the road, they have yet to beat a ranked team on the road. Oklahoma is 11-2 at home and seem like a completely different team when they are in Norman.

Oklahoma will have to do some damage in the Big 12 tournament. They are 7th in the conference right now and would have to win at least one game in the Big 12 tournament to stop the free falling of their stock.

Ultimately I think that Oklahoma will be an 8 or a 9 seed come selection sunday. They have done enough early in the season to solidify themselves in the tournament barring a 0-5 finish. Despite lacking a ton of late quality wins, the Sooners will limp into the NCAA tournament and be a very dangerous higher seed.

 

Featured image from Sooner Sports.

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Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Alabama had a thrilling comeback to win yet another title. It included putting in a freshman quarterback, who hadn’t played a meaningful snap all season long. The game just goes to show that college football is unique and great. While the 2017 season is now over it is time to look ahead to the 2018 season. Here is the early college football top 25 for the 2018 season:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

While they always lose talent to the NFL, Alabama can replace it. Jalen Hurts or Tua Tagovailoa will lead the offense alongside any of the talented running backs that decide to return to school. Najee Harris found some daylight in the title game and will also be back. The defense will lose a lot more talent to the NFL, but they always step up. A lot of players got experience this season due to injuries.

2. Clemson Tigers

Clemson made a third straight College Football Playoff and will compete for another next season. Kelly Bryant and the talented running backs will be back. Deon Cain and Hunter Renfrow need to make their decisions still, but Clemson can replace them. The defense always reloads and will at the very least have stud defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence to build around.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

J.K. Dobbins (Photo by cleveland.com)

J.T. Barrett may be leaving, but Dwayne Haskins looked good in relief against Michigan. Add him with J.K. Dobbins, Mike Weber and the majority of the offensive line returning and it has the makings of a good offense. The defense will still have Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones, which will help make up a good defensive line.

4. Washington Huskies

The Huskies had a young team this season that saw them replace a lot of NFL talent on defense. Jake Browning should return to school to lead the team at quarterback. Myles Gaskin and Dante Pettis could both be lost to the NFL, but if Gaskin elects to return to school, the offense will be solid. The majority of the defense will return, but will have to fill holes left by Vita Vea and some very good linebackers.

5. Miami Hurricanes

Is Malik Rosier the answer at quarterback? Only time will tell. The Hurricanes should have him, Mark Walton and Ahmmon Richards back to make plays. They do lose a lot on the offensive line, but should be able to replace it. Miami should also get most of their defense back, which includes a great back seven of talented linebackers and a good secondary.

6. Michigan State Spartans

L.J. Scott decided to return to school, giving Michigan State almost all their starters back for next year. After winning ten games this season, they should be expected to compete even more next season. Brian Lewerke is a dual-threat that is expected to improve this offseason. The defense was very young and should also get a lot better next season.

7. Georgia Bulldogs

The Bulldogs just played in the National Championship, but are going to lose a lot of talent, especially on their defense. They could lose up to nine or ten players from the defense, which will not be easy to replace. Georgia has some playmakers on offense returning in Jake Fromm, D’Andre Swift and Riley Ridley. Most of their offensive line also returns.

8. Wisconsin Badgers

Wisconsin got a huge win when linebacker T.J. Edwards said he was returning for his senior season. He will give the defense some stability, as they lose a lot this offseason. The offense will be expected to pick up the slack, as Jonathan Taylor had a fantastic freshman season and most of his offensive line will return. The question is: How well can Alex Hornibrook play?

9. Oklahoma Sooners

Lincoln Riley did a fantastic job in his first year as head coach, but now has to move on without Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray was a highly-touted recruit that Riley can mold. Freshman running back Rodney Anderson also returns after having a great season and Rose Bowl. Add those two to wide receiver “Hollywood” Brown and the offense should be set. Defensively, some talent will move on, but the offense is the strength of the team.

10. Virginia Tech Hokies

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Josh Jackson (Photo by cjonline.com)

Josh Jackson had a fantastic freshman season that resulted in nine wins. His progression is what carries this ranking. Travon McMillan and Cam Phillips, his two offensive weapons at running back and wide receiver, are gone. Young receivers will need to step up and they will also need to replace a few offensive linemen. The Hokies will return about six or seven starters on defense, but will need to replace some NFL-level talent.

11. Penn State Nittany Lions 

Saquon Barkley is gone, but Trace McSorley is back again. He will now have to be the focal point of the offense with a new offensive coordinator. Most of the offensive line returns, but a lot of new faces will have to step up on defense, as they had a lot of seniors getting significant playing time.

12. Auburn Tigers

The Tigers had a great season that resulted with them playing in the Cotton Bowl. Auburn gets quarterback Jarrett Stidham back, while Kerryon Johnson is leaving for the NFL. They will lose some quality players on defense, but will get the majority back for 2018.

13. Stanford Cardinal

Bryce Love is likely going to the NFL. The good news for Stanford is they can seemingly plug in a lot of running backs into their system to be productive. K.J. Costello also showed some flashes of being a very good quarterback. They lose more than half of their defense to seniors, but the returning players are solid.

14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Both Josh Adams and Equanimeous St. are trying to make it at the next level. Losing Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson deals a significant blow to the offense of Notre Dame. They still have some good offensive linemen, running backs and wide receivers who will step up next season. That only leaves the matter of quarterback. Ian Book and Brandon Wimbush will battle it out in the offseason for the starting role. The seniors leaving the defense will leave a mark, but a lot of players returning have gotten significant playing time due to injuries over the previous few seasons.

15. Boise State Broncos

Boise State has a chance to be in the national spotlight again this year, after fading in the past few seasons. Quarterback Brett Rypien and running back Alexander Mattison return, which should help keep the offense rolling. Losing wide receiver Cedrick Wilson and some offensive linemen will hurt, but they will manage. The defense is young and pretty much all returning next season, meaning they should be dominant.

16. LSU Tigers

The Tigers will have to replace a lot of their offense, but they have some talented recruits waiting to take the team to the next level. Myles Brennan looks to take over at quarterback after seeing action in six games this season. He was a highly-touted recruit that should be able to make plays with another year under his belt. A lot of good players from LSU’s defense will be missing as well, so they’re recruits will need to step up.

17. Michigan Wolverines

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Shea Patterson (Photo by freep.com)

Michigan won the Shea Patterson sweepstakes and the quarterback transfer from Ole Miss. Brandon Peters also showed potential at the position this season. They’ll need skill position players to step up next season. Donovan Peoples-Jones is in store for a big year at wide receiver if the quarterback play is good enough. The defense returns most of its key players. A player to watch is linebacker Devin Bush, who is one of the best in the country.

18. USC Trojans

Sam Darnold helped lead USC back to prominence, but now he is gone. Gone too are running back Ronald Jones and wide receiver Deontay Burnett. Two offensive linemen also graduate, so they will have some big shoes to fill in Los Angeles. A lot of their players on the defensive side of the ball will be testing the NFL Draft waters, so sophomore corner Jack Jones will have to step up and be a leader.

19. West Virginia Mountaineers

Will Grier had a great season for West Virginia and has decided to return to school. With most of his weapons back, Grier should have the Mountaineers in good position to have one of the best offenses in the country once again. While the defense isn’t the strength of the team, a lot of returning players will be good to work with.

20. Florida Atlantic Owls

Florida Atlantic hit a home run when they hired Lane Kiffin. He took a team that was supposed to be very bad and made them a conference championship team. Running back Devin Singletary was one of the most productive running backs in the country this season and will be back for his junior year. A young defense should also improve as a lot more people hop on the “Lane Train”.

21. Kansas State Wildcats

Bill Snyder is back for another season. They won nine games in 2016 and eight games this season with young teams. Now, with a bunch of veterans, the Wildcats are looking to compete more in the Big 12. Wide receiver Byron Pringle will be asked to do a lot for this team, but they will mainly try to run the football. If D.J. Reed decides to return at corner, it should be another solid year for the Wildcats.

22. Northwestern Wildcats

They won ten games this season and will be back for more next season. While their career leading rusher, Justin Jackson, is graduating, they seem to believe freshman Jeremy Larkin can be a workhorse back in his sophomore year. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is also back for next season, but is recovering from a torn ACL in the Music City Bowl. Freshman linebacker Paddy Fisher looks like he will be on of their all-time greats.

23. Florida State Seminoles

Early college football top 25 for the 2018 season

Deondre Francois (photo by gridironnow.com)

Willie Taggart did a good job of turning around Oregon in his one season in Eugene. He is a solid coach who will get some talent returning. With Deondre Francois back at quarterback, Cam Akers at running back and a lot of good receivers, they should be solid on offense. The offensive line has struggled in the last few years, they are young and shold improve. A lot might need to be replaced on defense, but they have recruited well.

24. Mississippi State Bulldogs

If Nick Fitzgerald can recover from a gruesome leg injury, the Bulldogs have the makings of a good team. They get most of their team back, which is encouraging, but Dan Mullen left for Florida. Joe Moorehead will try to make Mississippi State’s offense a lot better, just like he did at Penn State.

25. Texas A&M Aggies

Jimbo Fisher is a great haul for Texas A&M. He will have to work with quarterbacks Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel, but they can be successful. Trayveon Willliams returns at running back, along with a lot of the offensive line, but they will have to replace Christian Kirk. A lot of their best defensive players will be playing on Sundays next year, so Fisher has a little bit of work cut out for him on that side of the ball.

 

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NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Cactus Bowl

The 2017 Cactus Bowl will have the likely number one pick, Josh Rosen, but will also have some other good prospects. Kansas State and UCLA will be in a battle and some of the players involved will be seen on Sundays soon. Here are the top NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Cactus Bowl:

Kansas State Wildcats

D.J. Reed, CB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Cactus Bowl

D.J. Reed (Photo by youtube.com)

Reed is a JUCO transfer who has now played two full seasons for the Wildcats. He is questionable for this bowl game with an injury. In his two seasons at Kansas State, Reed has totaled 121 tackles, seven interceptions, 35 passes defended and a touchdown. His great season in 2016 put him on the map and his solid year this season kept him there.

Although he is undersized at 5’9″ and 188 pounds, there will be a spot in the NFL for him. Like most undersized corners, he can play in the slot. He’ll need to add play strength for when he goes up against bigger and stronger receivers. Reed is just a junior and may stay for another season.

Projected draft range: 6th round-undrafted free agent

Dalton Risner, OT

Risner has played center and tackle during his time as a Wildcat. He is a junior and will need to declare early for the 2018 draft, but is probably better off if he comes back for his senior year. His versatility will come in handy when trying to make an NFL team.

He doesn’t have the biggest size for a tackle, but does so for an offensive lineman in general. If he doesn’t work out at tackle for a team, his experience at guard and center could keep him on a roster.

Projected draft range: 7th round-undrafted free agent

UCLA Bruins

Josh Rosen, QB

Rosen has been a starter since his freshman season at UCLA. He has 9,301 passing yards, 59 touchdowns and 26 interceptions in his career. While he did have a very serious arm injury that cut last season short, he has proven that there is not too much to be concerned about going into the draft. He has the necessary arm strength and accuracy, but needs to work on his decision-making.

The size and weight of Rosen, 6’4″ and 220 pounds, are pretty good in terms of NFL measurables. Unless concerns about him come out that aren’t known now, Rosen will be a top five pick and be the franchise quarterback for an NFL team. He could elect to come back to school, but he has made comments about not likely school before. He’ll go into the NFL Draft.

*It was recently announced that Rosen will sit out this game with a concussion.

Projected draft range: Top five pick

Kenny Young, LB

NFL Draft prospects in the 2017 Cactus Bowl

Kenny Young (Photo by lasentinal.com)

Young has been getting playing time ever since his freshman season, but has really blossomed the last two seasons. In his career he has 295 total tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He has done a little bit of everything for UCLA, but this season has been going after tackles with 101 total tackles this season.

At 6’1″ and 240 pounds, he doesn’t have the biggest height for a linebacker, but does have a good amount of muscle. Questions about his ability to cover and be a three down linebacker will need to be answered. Young has a chance to be drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, but it will be late.

Projected draft range: 6th round-undrafted free agent

Scott Quessenberry, C

Quessenberry has been at UCLA since 2013 and has seen a lot of playing time. He has experience at center and guard over his time at UCLA, but has mainly been the center. Not only has he been a good pass blocker for Rosen, but a few years ago he helped pave the way on the ground for Pac-12’s leading rusher Paul Perkins.

He is 6’3″ and 310 pounds, which should be good enough for an interior offensive lineman in the NFL. Quessenberry could get drafted, but he will likely be an undrafted free agent.

Projected draft range: 7th round-undrafted free agent

 

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2017 Cactus Bowl preview

Two teams that did not live up to expectations will square off in the 2017 Cactus Bowl. UCLA was supposed to compete for the Pac-12 South with quarterback Josh Rosen. Kansas State did well last year with a young team, but they failed to take the next step this year. Here is the 2017 Cactus Bowl preview:

Kansas State Wildcats (7-5)

2017 Cactus Bowl preview

Byron Pringle (Photo by wibw.com)

Bill Snyder is still coaching for Kansas State and was looking forward to a great year. That didn’t quite happen, but they still won seven games. They finished the season strong, beating three bowl eligible teams in the last four weeks (Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State).

The offense scores 32.1 points per game, but isn’t really dynamic. Their running game is the forte of the offense and averages 186.7 yards per game. Running back Alex Barnes leads the team in rushing with 702 yards and six touchdowns. Other than him, quarterbacks pick up most of yards on the ground. Alex Delton, Jesse Ertz and Skylar Thompson have all played significantly at quarterback and have combined for 941 yards rushing.

Passing the ball has been a challenge for the Wildcats. Thompson is the current starter for the Wildcats and was a big part of their wins over Oklahoma State and Iowa State. On the season he has 662 passing yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Although they don’t do the best in the passing game, one of their best players, Byron Pringle, is a wide receiver. Through the changes at the quarterback position, Thompson has 705 yards receiving and six touchdowns.

Their scoring defense is average at 25.8 points allowed per game. They rank 20th against the run, but their problem is that they rank 128th against the pass. Linebackers Jayd Kirby and Trent Tanking are tackle machines and are tied for 11th in solo tackles this season with 70 each.

UCLA Bruins (6-6)

2017 Cactus Bowl preview

Josh Rosen (Photo by gg.com)

UCLA beat three bowl eligible teams on their way to a .500 record. Jim Mora was fired as head coach and Chip Kelly is now the man in charge. Coaching changes are a part of life with bowl games, but there are always questions of how much teams will be motivated to play in bowl games when coaching changes happen.

The Bruins score 33.8 points per game, but lack a good running game. They rank 117th in rushing yards per game. Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi have gotten the bulk of the carries and have combined for just under 1,000 yards on the season. They do a good job when they get touches, but UCLA tries to throw the ball as much as possible with their star quarterback.

Josh Rosen is likely going to be the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has had a fantastic junior season with 3,756 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Rosen has done all this while completing 62.6% of his passes. He was recently ruled out for this game with a concussion, so unproven backup Devon Modster will play. Jordan Lasley has been the most productive receiver for Rosen with 1,136 yards and eight touchdowns. Darren Andrews has also been a good target with 773 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Their defense is a problem and ranks 117th with 36.8 points per game allowed. The Bruins rank 128th against the run and 39th against the pass. Linebacker Kenneth Young and safety Jaleel Wadood are good tacklers and are among the country’s leaders in solo tackles. Young has 68 solo tackles, while Wadood has 57.

Prediction

This game prediction was thrown completely out of whack with the news that Josh Rosen wouldn’t be playing. Rosen carried the UCLA team this year and without him, UCLA will have more questions than answers. Bill Snyder will get the bowl win.

Kansas State Wildcats 38 UCLA Bruins 28

 

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Five things we learned from college football week 12

College football week 12 didn’t offer much, but more can still be learned. Here are five things we learned from the games in week 12:

1. USC the much better team, Rosen the better quarterback

college football week 12

Sam Darnold (Photo by nydailynews.com)

USC beat UCLA 28-23 to finish off a 10-2 regular season. The Trojans are in the Pac-12 Championship and are likely at least going to be in a New Year’s Six bowl game. There is no doubt that USC is the better football team, but this game was marketed as a duel between top quarterback prospects, and probably rightfully so.

Josh Rosen had a great game that saw him throw for 421 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He literally had to carry his team to keep them close, something he is very used to. He showed in this game that he is the much more polished quarterback.

Sam Darnold threw for 264 yards and an interception. The most impressive thing he showed off was his scrambling and athletic ability. He may have a higher ceiling than Rosen, but he showed that he has a lot of developing to do before he gets to that point.

2. Jonathan Taylor can produce against good competition

Taylor had a tall task this week going up against the Michigan defense. He started off slowly, but ended up thriving. The freshman finished with 132 rushing yards. He did have a 56 yard run, but in the second half he started running more consistently.

For Wisconsin to have any shot to beat Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, Taylor has to produce. Taylor should be able to get near 2,000 yards on the season and is a serious Heisman contender, but he had yet to prove it on the big stage. Now, Wisconsin knows they can lean on him in tough games.

3. UCF will a chance to prove themselves

College football week 12

McKenzie Milton (Photo by hawaiiprepworld.com)

The UCF Golden Knights have been snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee with their rankings so far. They are undefeated and actually, up through last week, had a better strength of record than Wisconsin. While they will not make the CFP, they should be getting more serious attention.

For UCF, it all comes down to the last two games of their season. First they get to play their rival USF, who has just one loss on the season. If they win that game, they get to play what will likely be a one loss Memphis team in the AAC Championship Game. Memphis is ranked currently and moving up. This gives UCF two great opportunities to show the world what they’ve got. If they win both, they are going to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

4. Bill Snyder is going bowling again

Kansas State got a big upset win over Oklahoma State this week. Oklahoma State will likely not be in the Big 12 Championship Game because of the loss. Just when everyone starts to doubt Snyder, he gets his team ready to go and they pull off the upset win.

Snyder is now going to his 19th bowl game as the head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats. This is an impressive feat, given that Kansas State was atrocious before he got there and he is in his second stint as head coach for the university at age 78. This year will help him into 12th place all by himself for bowl game appearances by a coach.

5. Late season cupcake games need to end

Yes, playing FCS teams funds their athletic department, but the games are not fun to watch.  College football is in the heat of a great playoff race and it is all interrupted to play FCS teams. The drama that has built up for weeks, just took a pause in week 12 and is expected to pick back up for rivalry week. There should be a way around this, whether it’s hosting the games at another time (early in the season), or just as an exhibition.

All teams in the top ten won this weekend and it has nothing to do with the quality of the teams, it has to do with the quality of the competition. If college football wants to really draw in the most viewers, it can do so by not having its best teams schedule cupcake games in November, a time when fans are supposed to be getting ready for bowl and playoff season. While it likely won’t be fixed for a while, if at all, it made week 12 very mundane and should be corrected for the future.

 

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Five things we learned in college football week 3

The third week of college football has reminded fans why we love the sport. It is crazy, dramatic and unpredictable. In all of the football played, here are five things we learned:

1. Kelly Bryant is capable of leading Clemson to the ACC Championship

Clemson’s defensive line has gotten a lot of the press in the opening weeks and they continued their dominance with four sacks of Lamar Jackson. Really the whole team has played well, but there were some questions on whether quarterback Kelly Bryant could step up against good competition. On Saturday night he proved that he can.

Bryant threw for 316 yards and a touchdown, while running for two more scores. The most impressive thing about his performance was how he completed a lot of throws down the field. He utilized his offensive weapons, which he has a lot of. If he can continue his progression Clemson will be even tougher to beat.

The remaining schedule has a few tough games left, including matchups with Virginia Tech and Florida State. Even if the Tigers drop one or two of their games, they should still be able to make the ACC Championship Game and possibly the College Football Playoff.

2. Baker Mayfield has a huge lead in the Heisman race

College football week 3

Baker Mayfield (Photo by usatoday.com)

Mayfield has the most signature moment of the season with his flag-plant at Ohio Stadium. He also has led his team to the best win of the season thus far. With 715 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions he is on the right track to make himself this year’s Heisman winner.

Against Tulane Mayfield threw for 331 yards and four touchdowns to continue his great pace. The Big 12 struggles with defense, so he will likely put up some ridiculous numbers in the next few weeks. He will have a chance to have more big moments against Oklahoma State later in the season.

Part of the reason why Mayfield is so far out ahead is because of Lamar Jackson’s loss to Clemson. There is still a lot of football to play and Jackson, along with others, have time to play catch up with Mayfield.

3. The SEC West is murky behind Alabama

Week 3 college football

Nick Fitzgerald (Photo by al.com)

Alabama is off to a great start to the season with a big win over Florida State. They also took care of business against Fresno State and Colorado State. There were some contenders for the SEC West, but they have all already lost. This doesn’t mean teams can’t improve and compete, but right now Alabama looks like a runaway favorite in the SEC West.

Last week, Auburn lost to Clemson and this week they struggled to pull away from Mercer. LSU was thought to be another one of Alabama’s contenders, but they got destroyed at Mississippi State this week. Arkansas lost to a good TCU team, but looked very bad doing so. Texas A&M lost to UCLA and had a horrendous first half against the Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. The new trendy contender is Mississippi State, but only time will tell if they can hold up.

While many people predicted Alabama to win the SEC West and more, it is looking like it might be easier than expected. It is unlikely an SEC East team will be able to knock them off in the SEC Championship game either.

4. Don’t kick to Dante Pettis

Week 3 college football

Dante Pettis (Photo by seattletimes.com)

Dante Pettis is a dangerous wide receiver for the Washington Huskies, but is also a star in the return game. He returned a punt 77 yards against Fresno State for a touchdown and reminded everyone that they are better off kicking the ball out of bounds.

The punt return touchdown against Fresno State was the eighth of his career, which ties an NCAA record. Seeing how much success he has had, it would not be a surprise to see him break the record soon. While Washington hasn’t played anyone of note yet this season, his punt return ability could prove to be an x-factor in a much bigger game down the road.

Hopefully teams don’t learn and continue to kick to Pettis so that football fans get to see more highlight reel plays from the dynamic playmaker.

5. It’s going to be a wacky season

College football week 3

Chase McGrath (Photo by nbclosangeles.com)

Texas was supposed to lose by a lot, they took USC to overtime. Memphis beat UCLA in a thrilling game. Kansas State traveled to Nashville and lost to Vanderbilt. Stanford went to San Diego and lost to the Aztecs. Mississippi State upset LSU. Florida beat Tennessee on a last second bomb. Northern Illinois upset Nebraska in Lincoln. Are you not entertained?

This was seen as a rather mundane weekend going into it after two good weeks of football, but it turned out to have a lot of good games. More of this will go on as the season progresses. The main lesson is to be very careful of road games and who you schedule on the road.

With how crazy the football season has already been, watch out for a lot of surprises still to come.

 

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College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

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.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Byron Pringle

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.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

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.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

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.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

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.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo courtesy: athlonsports.com)

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

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