2018 Heisman Trophy watch list

The spring football season is over and now fans can start gearing up for the regular season in a few months. As with every season, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to the game’s best player. With oddsmakers already putting out odds for the award, here are the top players to watch out for in the 2018 season.

Bryce Love, RB Stanford

Current odds: 5/1

Love wasn’t expected to go back to Palo Alto for his senior season after having a great season as a junior. Love rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns and was an All-American. He was invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony but ended up watching Baker Mayfield take home the award.

The production will be back for Love, who had over 100 rushing yards against multiple top 25 rushing defenses last season. He will have marquee matchups with Washington, Oregon, Notre Dame and USC. If he can put up big numbers against these teams on the big stage, Love can set himself up well to win the award.

Part of the award is playing on a good team and Stanford should be able to have a solid season. While tough games against the teams mentioned earlier, they should be able to win at least eight games and as many as 10 or 11 if they reach their potential.

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Current odds: 13/2

No one was expecting Taylor to have as good of a freshman season as he did. Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns while helping Wisconsin to a 13-1 record and an Orange Bowl win. He has a lot of his offense returning with him and should be poised for another big season.

The Wisconsin schedule is pretty light again, so Taylor will have to make the most of his opportunities. Games against Michigan and Penn State will be his big chances. Last year, against a tough Michigan defense, Taylor was able to rush for 132 yards, so tough competition doesn’t always slow him down.

Wisconsin should be heavily favored once again to win the Big Ten West, even if they drop the games against Michigan and Penn State. With another season that is similar in the stat line and the win column for Taylor, he could see himself hoisting the Heisman Trophy in December.

 

Khalil Tate, QB, Arizona

2018 Heisman Trophy watch list

Khalil Tate (Photo by ocregister.com)

Current odds: 14/1

Although he didn’t start the season as the starting quarterback for Arizona, Tate created some major buzz last season after taking over. He amassed over 3,000 total yards (1,591 passing and 1,411 rushing) in just 11 games played. His team didn’t have the best season, going 5-5 in games with him attempting over one pass, but he had a nice season nonetheless.

Arizona plays Houston and BYU outside of their conference schedule, making it tough. Tate won’t be on national television for a lot of games so will have to do well the few times he gets that opportunity. Games against USC and Oregon will be big games but if the team does well, he could have bigger games down the stretch.

The biggest question for Tate is if his team can be successful. Since they were only 5-5 with him in the lineup, he’ll have to prove he can lead his teams to victories this season. The Wildcats have a new head coach in Kevin Sumlin, which means Tate will have to get used to a new coach. He needs to go 8-4 while producing good stats to have a chance to win the Heisman.

Shea Patterson, QB, Michigan

Current odds: 16/1

Patterson has been cleared to play by the NCAA after transferring in from Ole Miss. He played seven games in Oxford last season before being lost for the season with a knee injury. In that short time frame, Patterson threw for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns on 63.8% passing.

The spotlight will be on Patterson from day one and he will have plenty of opportunities to show what he’s got. There are going to be four or five really big games that Michigan plays in this season: Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State. He has mixed results against good competition with bad outings against Alabama and LSU, but a solid game against Auburn. If he wants to win the award he’ll need to cut out those bad games.

Michigan fans have been waiting for a true contending team for a while now. They should have it this season with so many key players coming back and Patterson transferring in to play quarterback. Making the College Football Playoff isn’t out of the question, but they’ll need to get hot against their tough schedule. If Patterson can lead Michigan to a good record and maybe a Big Ten Championship he will be right in the thick of the Heisman talk.

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

2018 Heisman Trophy watch list

Tua Tagovailoa (Photo by golfdigest.com)

Current odds: 10/1

He still doesn’t have a start in his career but he played so well in the National Championship Game has him high on oddsmakers’ lists to win the Heisman. Realistically he still has to beat out Jalen Hurts for the job, even if he looks like the better player. He did see action in eight games, passing for 636 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Tagovailoa benefits from playing at Alabama, where they will be the talk of college football as long as Nick Saban is there. They have big games against Louisville, LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. To beat teams like this, Tagovailoa will have to be at his best.

The schedule is a little tougher than last season but no one in their right mind would bet against Alabama right now. They should get a large number of wins and Tagovailoa will get a lot of credit being the quarterback. If his stats are decent he’s a threat to win the trophy.

Jake Fromm, QB, Georgia

Current odds: 10/1

Fromm was the backup when Jacob Eason went down with an injury and filled in without looking over his shoulder. He led them to the National Championship Game with 2,615 passing yards and 24 touchdowns on 62.2% passing. While his production will need to go up to win the award, he should improve in year two as Bulldogs’ quarterback.

He too will have many chances to help showcase why he should win the Heisman. The Bulldogs play LSU, Florida and Auburn, which should make it tough on Fromm. He did have limited production against the better teams on the schedule last season and only had one game with 300 yards passing total but he will be asked to do more with Sony Michel and Nick Chubb taking their talents to the NFL.

Georgia may not be able to make it back to the National Championship but should have a solid season. If they win the games they should and Fromm improves in year two, Georgia could have their first Heisman winner since Herschel Walker in 1982.

 

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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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NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four

The Final Four is finally here after two great weeks of basketball in the NCAA Tournament. While these certainly aren’t the four teams with the best NBA Draft prospects, they have been given a chance to prove themselves on the big stage. NBA scouts will be watching. Here are the top NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four.

Loyola-Chicago Ramblers’ prospects

Clayton Custer, PG

Loyola will likely not have anyone drafted, but rather thrive on good ball movement and defense. Custer is the best player on the team and just won the MVC Player of the Year award. He averages 13.2 points and 4.2 assists per game and has helped get Loyola to the Final Four for the first time since 1963.

Custer is still a long shot to make the NBA, but he has the best chances of anyone on the Ramblers. He is just 6’0″ tall and 175 pounds but has some necessary skills that will help him when being evaluated. He has a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio, which is good considering how much he handles the ball. Custer also can light it up from deep, shooting 45.2% on the year.

He is just a junior and will likely return for his senior year before trying his luck as a professional.

Michigan Wolverines’ prospects

Moritz Wagner, PF/C

NBA Draft prospects in the Final Four

Moritz Wagner (Photo by sportingnews.com)

Wagner is a matchup nightmare in the college game, due to his size, shooting and mobility. He hasn’t had the best NCAA Tournament, other than a 21 point outing against Texas A&M, but is a very talented player nonetheless. Michigan was a trendy pick to reach the Final Four, with Wagner being a major reason for it.

At 6’10” and 210 pounds, Wagner fits the bill as a modern day big man in the NBA.  He has good post moves and shoots 39.6% from three-point land. To help his offensive game, he handles the ball well and can take bigger defenders to the basket. His defense has been good this season, he has a defensive rating of 92.1, but there are some questions on how he will do in that regard against NBA competition, as he isn’t a rim protector.

Most NBA mock drafts have Wagner as a late first or early second-round pick, but he is just a junior and could return to school.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, G

Abdur-Rahkman is a senior combo guard, who is the leader of this Michigan team. Michigan is usually a good offensive team but leaves a little to be desired defensively, but Abdur-Rahkman has helped change the narrative this season.

His on-ball defense is some of the best in the country, as he continually frustrates opponents trying to get to the basket. He picks up a steal a game, which helps solidify him as a good all-around defensive player. He isn’t the best shooter, at 38.8% from three-point range, but hits enough to keep defenders honest. While he can drive to the basket decently well, he needs to be more aggressive on offense at times.

Villanova Wildcats’ prospects

Mikal Bridges, SF

Bridges is a prototypical “3 and D” NBA wing prospect. He has improved every year he has been at Villanova and is now a star. He already has one National Championship under his belt and now can go for another.

His defense and shooting ability have put Bridges in a good position to be a lottery pick. His defensive rating has actually gotten worse every year he has been at Villanova, but Bridges now guards the opponent’s best perimeter player. His length, at 6’7″ really helps him contest shots. He shoots the three well too, at 43.6%, but needs to work on getting to the basket more off the dribble. Bridges will also need to add some muscle to match-up with some of the elite small forwards in the NBA.

Bridges is the best draft prospect left in the NCAA Tournament and will have to prove it for Villanova to win the title.

Jalen Brunson, PG

Brunson has won some national Player of the Year awards and is the best point guard in college basketball. The junior was also a part of the 2016 Villanova team that won the title but now gets a chance to get one where he is a major contributor.

He has decent size for a point guard at 6’3″ and 290 pounds. When watching Brunson, it is easy to see that he has done a lot of reps in order to hone his craft. This season he averages 19.2 points and 4.6 assists per game. He only turns it over 1.8 times per game, showing he values the ball. He can shoot from deep, drive to the basket, pass and even post up. Brunson will need to play better defense at the next level.

Most mock drafts have Brunson as a late first or early second-round pick, but he may elect to go back to school for his senior season.

Kansas Jayhawks’ Prospects

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, SG

Mykhailiuk is just 20 years old, but is already a senior. He went to Kansas when he was just 17 and is another player that has been given the time to get better.

If this were a really concise article, the reasons for Mykhailiuk the reason he’d be considered a draft prospect would be: Height and shooting ability. He is 6’8″ and is known primarily as a three-point shooter. With Kansas’ lack of size this year, he has been able to prove he can rebound and defend against bigger players as well.

He is a senior, who will be looked at late in the first round or early in the second.

NBA Draft Prospects in the Final Four

Devonte’ Graham (rockchalktalk.com)

Devonte’ Graham, PG

Graham has waited his turn to be the point guard behind Frank Mason. His patience has paid off, as he has led the Jayhawks to the Final Four, which is not something they have done since 2012.

He’s 6’2″ and 175 pounds, which is good enough to play point guard in the NBA. He is a great defender and protects the ball well on his end, with 1.8 turnovers per game. He averages 17.2 points and 4.1 assists per game. His defense has always been good, but his offense has had to develop. His three-point shooting could be a little better, but he has done a decent job of hitting from deep.

Graham too is a senior and will be likely selected in the second round of the 2018 NBA Draft.

*Udoka Azabuike and Malik Newman are also NBA Draft prospects, but will likely come back to school for another year. 

 

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Final Four team breakdown: Michigan Wolverines

The 2018 Final Four has been set. Fans are buzzing and pundits are predicting who will cut down the nets in San Antonio. Throughout this week, I am going to highlight each of the four remaining teams and break down their roster and their chances to win it all. Today, we will be focusing on the Western Regional champions: the Michigan Wolverines. Let’s do this!

Offense

Moe Wagner’s offensive production was key for Michigan’s run (USA Today / Via Reuters).

Most John Beilein coached teams are known for their offensive prowess. But this Michigan team is not your typical Wolverine squad. They only have three players to average double-digit points per game and struggle to find consistency scoring the ball.

Star center Moe Wagner is the key to Michigan’s offense. The German center averaged 14.3 points per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the field during the regular season. Wagner’s versatility allows Beilein to be creative when deploying him on offense. Even though Wagner stands at 6-foot-11 and weighs in at 245lbs, he has the quickness to work off the dribble on the perimeter and create outside shots. Most opposing centers struggle on the defensive end when forced out on the perimeter.

The offensive MVP in the NCAA Tournament for Michigan has undeniably been Charles Matthews. The Kentucky transfer poured in double-digit points in every game in the NCAA Tournament. In particular, his 17 points and 8 rebounds helped propel Michigan past a pesky Florida State team in the Elite Eight.

Zavier Simpson’s play at point guard in the latter half of the season cannot be overstated as well. One of the biggest issues for Michigan on the offensive side of the ball was the lack of a true point guard. Simpson, benched in the early part of the season by Beilein, may not be a consistent scorer, but his recognition and court awareness are key for Michigan’s offense. Simpson has averaged 4.5 assists per game throughout the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan’s offense is predicated on ball movement and attacking the rim. Michigan, while they can hit the three ball, does not simply rely on the three-point shot to buoy their offense. Playmakers such as Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Matthews and Wagner work best when they can attack the rim and create plays both for themselves and their teammates off the dribble.

However, the offense is prone to stagnation and scoring droughts. Throughout the Tournament (and season), Michigan has fallen in love with either the three ball or mid-range jump shot. When these shots are not falling, Michigan will fall into a drought offensively. Michigan is also an incredibly poor free throw shooting team. They collectively only shoot 66.2 percent from the field and this could come back to haunt them down the stretch of a close game.

Defense

Defense is the primary reason Michigan is in the Final Four. The Wolverines erupted offensively throughout the Big Ten Tournament, torching opponents from the three-point line and working their defenses inside and out. However, the NCAA Tournament has been a different story. The Wolverines struggled from the field in three of their four games during the Tournament (sorry Texas A&M).

Zavier Simpson’s on-ball defense is key to Michigan’s identity (Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press).

Michigan’s defense is predicated on aggressive, physical man-to-man on-ball pressure. Michigan does a great job of running teams off of the three-point line and forcing them into difficult looks from the field. No team has shot higher than 37 percent or 39 percent from three against the Wolverines throughout the Tournament thus far.

According to KenPom, Michigan comes in fourth place in adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation. Michigan’s versatility and length allow them to switch against on ball screens and effectively contest shots. This defensive pressure allows Michigan some room for error on the offensive end. When Michigan falls into a scoring drought, their defense is capable of keeping them in the game.

The thing about this Michigan team is that they love frustrating their opponents. They feed off of their opponents’ frustration and negative emotion. Abdur-Rahkman and Simpson do a masterful job of moving their feet and keeping their man in front of them. Most teams tend to occasionally fall asleep on defense, but not Michigan. They lock in from the minute the ball is tipped off and they hound their opponent until the final buzzer.

The only concern for Michigan on this end of the court is foul trouble. Wagner and Simpson have been prone to foul trouble in the past. Michigan is not the deepest team as Beilein usually prefers to play his starters, along with Duncan Robinson and Jordan Poole, most of the game. Simpson becomes too aggressive with his hands on defensive and Wagner can be overpowered in the post at times. It is critical that they avoid early fouls.

X-factors

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s offensive production is key for Michigan (Harry How/Getty Images).

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur Rahkman is one of the vocal leaders of this team. He is arguably their best on-ball defender and rarely gets into foul trouble. But Michigan is at their best offensively when Abdur-Rahkman is hitting threes and making plays off of the dribble. In the Big Ten Tournament, Abdur-Rahkman averaged 15 points and shot at least 50 percent in every game.

The NCAA Tournament has been a different story though. Abdur-Rahkman has averaged 14 points, but his efficiency is way down. In Michigan’s four games, he is only shooting 35.9 percent from the field. Outside of his 24-point explosion against Texas A&M where he shot 57.1 percent from the field, Abdur-Rahkman has not hit a mark higher than 33.3 percent. If Michigan wants to win a title, they need Abdur-Rahkman to play more efficiently on offense.

Free Throw Shooting: As stated above, Michigan struggles at the line. Teams have targeted Simpson repeatedly down the stretch of games as he is only a 51.1 percent free throw shooter. Abdur-Rahkman has the highest FT percentage out of the starters and his is only at 74.8 percent.

Beilein usually has Duncan Robinson, a 90 percent free throw shooter, in the game in these situations. However, opposing teams will look to force Michigan’s hand by forcing the ball to one of their poor free throw shooters and fouling them instead. Michigan cannot afford to leave points on the table against any of the three remaining teams, as all three of them are capable of capitalizing on Michigan’s inability to convert at the line. As a result, Michigan needs to find some consistency at the line this weekend.

Conclusion

Michigan’s defense catapulted them into the Final Four this season. When Michigan’s outside shots are collectively falling, they are nearly impossible to defeat thanks to their stifling defense (see Michigan’s 99-72 demolition of Texas A&M as an example). Michigan is capable of defeating Loyola-Chicago with a stellar defensive effort but will require an efficient offensive game to compete with the likes of Villanova or Kansas if it reaches the title game.

Featured image by USA Today via Reuters.

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

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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Teams most likely to make the Final Four

While choosing who can win some of the first round games is hard enough, picking the wrong team to make the Final Four can ruin your bracket. There are so many good teams every year who don’t end up making it to the final weekend of college basketball. With it being so tough to pick who will get there, this article should help pick the team from each region with the highest chances of reaching the Final Four.

South Regional: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia and Kentucky are one of two teams in the region that rank in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Being ranked within those parameters, is a good indication of success in the 21st century, as all but one champion since 2002 were able to hit those marks.

The Cavaliers are really good defensively at 53.4 points allowed per game. The most points they have given up in a game this season is 68, which came on the road at West Virginia. Defense always travels, so even if they have a poor shooting game, the defense should be able to keep them competitive.

Stacking them up against everyone else in their region, Virginia is clearly the best and most battle-tested team. The two seed,Cincinnati, has some big wins over Wichita State and Houston, but were unable to beat good teams throughout the season. Tennessee, the three seed, is vastly undersized, which will make it easier for teams to match up with them. The four and five seeds in the region are Kentucky and Arizona, have potential, but are inconsistent.

Virginia has the best odds to win the whole tournament from the region at 5/1 odds. The next likely team from the region to win it all is Arizona at 12/1 odds, but they were only able to win a down Pac-12 by two games. They will be without sixth man De’Andre Hunter, but the Cavaliers should be able to cope without him.

East Regional: Villanova Wildcats

teams most likely to make the Final Four

Jalen Brunson (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Villanova is the number one seed and the most likely to advance out of the East. They had only four losses all season, which all came in conference play, and finished with 29 wins. While they fell short of winning the Big East in the regular season, they were able to win the Big East Tournament.

The Wildcats have the best offense in the country that scores 87.1 points per game. They are fueled by future NBA players Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Brunson is a point guard who can score, set up his teammates for easy shots and protect the basketball. Bridges is a mismatch for a lot of teams as a solid wing player that can shoot and drive.

Purdue will be a tough test as a two seed, but they have lost the last three games they have played against teams who made the tournament. The three seed, Texas Tech has not been able to beat a ranked team in over a month, when they beat a reeling Oklahoma team on February 13. Wichita State and West Virginia, the four and five seed in the region, but Wichita State hasn’t played the toughest competition this season and West Virginia hasn’t won four straight games (the number necessary to make the Final Four), since non-conference play.

Villanova is tied for the best odds to win the tournament with Virginia at 5/1. Purdue is the next likely from the region at 15/1 odds. They are a trendy pick to make the Final Four, but Villanova has the best chances to reach San Antonio.

 

Midwest Regional: Duke Blue Devils

Duke is just a two seed, but is the team most likely to come out of the Midwest. The Blue Devils finished the season at 26-7, but had a young team that had to take time to gel together. While they won neither the ACC regular season championship or the ACC Tournament, they have one of the most talented teams in the whole bracket.

The defense of Duke was criticized for most of the season, but Coach K then made the switch to go to a 2-3 zone, which has worked wonders for the Blue Devils. They are now one of the top ten most efficient defenses in the country. Their offense has never been in doubt, as they score 84.7 points per game and average the ninth most assists in the country at 17.5 per game. With Marvin Bagley III and Grayson Allen, along with a few other players who produce at a high rate, Duke has enough talent to win the whole thing.

Kansas is a solid number one seed, but they are very thin and have relied on point guard Devonte’ Graham all season. If he gets in foul trouble or injured, they are in some real trouble. Michigan State is a real threat, but Duke already beat the Spartans earlier in the year. Auburn and Clemson are both teams that are trying to overcome the loss of players, whether for injuries or the FBI investigation.

Duke has the third best odds to win the tournament at 6/1. Michigan State isn’t too far off in the region at 8/1. Duke has better odds by most sportsbooks, but Michigan State has a more experienced team. If you believe that Michigan State has a better chance at winning and want to get good value out of your wager, but don’t know where to start, take a look at Bovada sportsbook review. All the reputable reviews and user experiences will dampen any confusion that you may have.

West Regional: Michigan Wolverines

teams most likely to make the Final Four

John Beilein (Photo by usatoday.com)

Michigan came in fourth in the Big Ten, but got hot and were able to win the Big Ten Tournament. They finished the season at 28-7 and were rewarded with a number three seed in the West. While they are a three, they actually have the best chance to make the Final Four.

Under John Beilein, the Wolverines have always had good offenses. This year though, Michigan has a great defense that ranks ninth in the country allowing 63.5 points per game. Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman is a senior leader and scores from the perimeter, while Moritz Wagner is a do-it-all center, who is hard to stop.

The other teams in the region have their weaknesses. Xavier and North Carolina don’t have the best defenses and Michigan could take advantage. While Gonzaga has a good offense and defense, they haven’t faced the same level of competition as the rest of the region.

The Wolverines have the best odds in the region to win it all at 8/1 odds. North Carolina has the next highest odds in the region to take home the trophy at 18/1, which makes this region as rare as they come.

 

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Recapping the Big Ten Tournament Championship

What a wild ride! The Michigan Wolverines have defended their 2017 Big Ten Tournament championship by knocking off No. 8 Purdue 75-66. Moe Wagner was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2018 Tournament. Michigan will ride a nine-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s recap how it all went down.

Thoughts on No. 5 Michigan

Recapping the Big Ten Tournament Championship

Zavier Simpson’s all-around play catapulted Michigan to its second straight Big Ten Tournament title (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press).

The unsung hero of this game for the Wolverines is point guard Zavier Simpson. Simpson left his fingerprints all over the game, scoring 10 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists. Simpson dissected the Purdue interior defense, leading either Wagner or Jon Teske to the basket with pinpoint passes. Simpson’s patience and craftiness allowed him to penetrate the lane and find scoring opportunities in the paint.

Wagner, hindered by foul trouble most of the night, poured in 17 points on 63.6 percent shooting from the field. His perimeter game proved to be too great a mismatch for Purdue’s lumbersome big men. Wagner shot 50 percent from three-point range as Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms struggled to defend him on the perimeter.

The star of the first half for the Wolverines was sophomore center Jon Teske. Teske slowed down Haas after a fast start and poured in 12 first half points. He consistently found space in the interior of Purdue’s defense and feasted on easy dunks while working through the pick-and-roll. Teske ended the game with 14 points on six of nine shooting.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman’s consistent play on the wing was crucial throughout this tournament and will be critical moving forward into the big dance. Abdur-Rahkman has found his three point shot and that added dimension to his offensive game forces defenders to play him closer. This allows Abdur-Rahkman to work through high screens and gain easy access into the lane.

Abdur-Rahkman added 15 points on 50 percent shooting and recorded four assists. He knocked in three shots from beyond the arc as well.

One potential issue to note is that freshman forward Isaiah Livers went down early in the second half with a high ankle sprain. Thanks to the Big Ten Tournament being scheduled early, Livers will have more than a week to rest and recover. While Livers may only average four points per game, his aggressive on-ball defense is key for Coach John Beilein’s team.

Michigan’s stock heading into the NCAA Tournament should spike after their second Big Ten Tournament championship. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, they entered the title game as a projected number five seed. That projection ought to increase to either a four seed or potentially a three seed.

thoughts on no. 3 Purdue

Recapping the Big Ten Tournament championship

Isaac Haas’s big game was not enough to save Purdue’s title hopes (Julie Jacobson/AP).

Purdue entered this contest having defeated Michigan twice during the regular season. Purdue is a senior-heavy team, rolling out four senior starters (with Carsen Edwards being a sophomore). Regardless of their experience, Purdue fell short of their goal of bringing a Big Ten Tournament championship home and enhancing their resume in the process.

Michigan’s strategy heading into the game was to concede the obvious height advantage to Haas and Haarms. Rather than double-team the big men in the post, Michigan focused on limiting Purdue’s open looks from three-point range. Purdue feasted on Penn State from behind the arc, making 52.4 percent of their attempts from three.

It was a different story against Michigan’s top 10 defense. Purdue only made four three-point attempts throughout the entire game. Michigan’s perimeter defense limited Big Ten first team All-American Carsen Edwards to 25 percent shooting from the field and 12 points. Edwards struggled to find clean looks from the perimeter all night.

Regardless of Michigan’s defensive strategy, Haas had himself a day. He poured in 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds.

Dakota Mathias had difficulty finding space on the perimeter as well. Coach Matt Painter likes to run Mathias through numerous off-ball screens to free up the sharp-shooter. Michigan’s defensive communication and switching allowed the Wolverines to clamp down on these plays and contain Mathias throughout most of the game.

Purdue can only wait and see where the selection committee places them. The Boilermakers will most likely land a two seed or, at worst, a three seed.

Featured image by Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press.

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2018 Big Ten Tournament preview

The Big Ten made some headlines when they moved their tournament up a week in order to play at Madison Square Garden. This means the Big Ten Tournament will take place from February 28 through March 4. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said that this scheduling wasn’t healthy, with so many games having to be played a week earlier, so this may not be a trend.

Teams will get extra time off before Selection Sunday, which is important because there are still some teams trying to get to a number one seed and other teams trying to secure a bid to the field.

Overview

Regular season champion Michigan State will be one of the favorites to win the tournament. Ohio State tied for second with Purdue, but beat the Boilermakers head to head this season. The other big challenger will be Purdue, who has had a great season that has gotten them into the national spotlight.

The four seed is Nebraska, who is still on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament. Michigan, the reigning champion, is right behind them in the standings at number five, but the Wolverines are going to be in the Big Dance. Penn State is another team that is right on the bubble and needs to have a good showing in this tournament. They are seventh in the conference, but have some big wins this season.

Other than the teams listed, it would take a dramatic Cinderella run for the other teams to win the Big Ten Tournament, but crazier things have happened in March.

All-Tournament Team and MVP

The All-Tournament team is very dependent on who goes deep in a tournament. Who will be the best players in the Big Ten Tournament?

Big Ten Tournament Preview

Vincent Edwards (Photo by rivals.com)

Carsen Edwards, G, Purdue

Tony Carr, G, Penn State

Keita Bates-Diop, F, Ohio State

Miles Bridges, F, Michigan State

Vincent Edwards, F, Purdue

MVP: Vincent Edwards

Darkhorse: Penn State

Big Ten Tournament preview

Tony Carr (Photo by roarlionsroar.com)

The Nittany Lions play Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament. While they split the regular season series with Northwestern, Penn State should be favored on the neutral court. They have lost their last three games, but have proven the doubters wrong this season.

Penn State’s path to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament is unique. If they beat Northwestern, they will play Ohio State. They have beaten the Buckeyes both times they have played. After that, their likely opponent would be Purdue. While the Boilermakers are a very good team, Penn State lost by just three points in their first matchup. If Tony Carr gets hot, and gets some decent help, Penn State will be hard to beat.

While they aren’t one of the favorites to win the tournament, Penn State is a team that nobody wants to play.

Champion: Purdue

Purdue had a bad three game skid, but otherwise had a fantastic conference season that got them the third seed in the tournament. They lost the three games by a total of eight points. The three seed comes with a two round bye, which puts the Boilermakers in the quarterfinals.

Their first round game will not be tough and Purdue should blow past their opponent. If the rest of the bracket holds to form, they will have to play Ohio State and Michigan State in their other two games. The Boilermakers did lose to both of these teams in the regular season, but they are clearly the most battle-tested team in the Big Ten. If they play to their potential, they will win the tournament.

They have just about everything a team needs to be good in March: Size, shooting, good guard play and experience. Vincent Edwards can be the x-factor for the Boilermakers. He missed two games with an injury, but returned to play on senior day. With his 14.7 points, 7.6 and 3.0 assists per game, Edwards is a versatile, matchup nightmare.

 

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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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