Monthly Archives: August 2015

Top 30 Teams for 2015

1 Ohio State The Buckeyes have such an embarrassment of riches that Braxton Miller, a pre-season top Heisman candidate on year ago, is now the 3rd string QB and reportedly will move to WR/HB to add another dimension to the OSU offense. With 16 starters returning from last season’s national championship team, and a schedule with only 1 team that finished ranked in 2014, the Bucks are the biggest favorite to repeat as champions in many years.
2 TCU The Horned Frogs enter 2015 with a chip on their shoulder as the perceived best team in the Big 12 was left out of the inaugural playoffs last season. QB Trevone Boykin threw for a program record 33 TDs in ’14 and returns to operate behind a very experienced offensive line. The defense loses 5 of the team’s 6 top tacklers from last season, including their All American LB Paul Dawson. The net result is probably a repeat of a few shootouts in conference play, but the edge in QB goes to the Frogs in the marquee match-ups.
3 Oregon USC may be getting a lot of buzz for 2015 but the Ducks are the top program in the Pac 12 and are the winningest team in the FBS the last 5 years. The biggest challenge will be to replace Heisman winning QB Marcus Mariota, the 2nd pick in the NFL draft. The expectation is that Vernon Adams, a graduate transfer who put up prolific numbers in the high powered offense at FCS Eastern Washington, will win the starting job. The Ducks only return 12 starters overall, and the defense, which generally played well late in the year, was trampled by Ohio State in the national championship game. But even without Mariota, this is a very athletic, talented team and get’s the slight edge over USC to win the conference and get into the playoffs.
4 Alabama The sky is falling in Tuscaloosa as the Crimson Tide has gone TWO whole years without a national title and hasn’t even appeared in the championship game! If they are to get back to what Roll Tide Nation considers their rightful place, it will be behind a defensive front as good as any in the nation. The elite recruiting classes year after year means the talent is there on offense, but the experience is not. The guess is that former FSU QB Jacob Coker will win the starting QB but he didn’t dominate in the Spring. Every single team in the SEC West has talent and the schedule is one land mine after the other. The history of success even without a lot of returning starters, gives Alabama the slight edge in this deep division.
5 Michigan State The Big Ten is not shy on top flight QBs this season, and Sparty QB Connor Cook may be the top pick in the NFL draft come April 2016. Cook has led MSU to back-to-back major bowl victories and looks to break through with a playoff berth in 2015. Two huge games stand in the way – Oregon at home early, and Ohio State away late. Even just a split of those games could be enough for the Sparty to sneak into the playoffs.
6 Baylor The Bears aren’t going to go quietly even without the services of QB Bryce Petty the 3rd QB taken in the last NFL draft. With an incredible 18 starters returning, including every starter on the offensive and defensive line, this will be a talented team, in the thick of the race for the conference title and a playoff berth. I give the slight edge to TCU based on the more experienced QB, but it’s the Bears that have won 2 straight Big 12 Championships not TCU (or Oklahoma or Texas for that matter). The season likely comes down to the showdown at TCU on Thanksgiving weekend.
7 USC The Trojans are finally back to near full strength as the last of the sanctions have ended, and are poised for their best season since the Pete Carroll era. Leading the way will be QB Cody Kessler who finished 2014 with an amazing 39/5 TD/INT ratio! The men of Troy bring back every starting o-line so a good offense should be even better. Losing Leonard Williams to the NFL from the D line is a big loss, but the younger guys are all highly recruited talented players. The schedule isn’t easy with a non conference trip to Notre Dame and the 2 best teams from the North Division (Oregon and Stanford) are both on the docket. This team will be in the thick of the Pac 12 and playoff race.
8 Georgia The UGA program has underachieved in recent years, ranking as the 9th winningest program in the nation in HC Mark Richt’s first 10 years, falling to 23rd in Richt’s last 5. There is a lot to like about the Dawgs in 2015 and it stars with RB Nick Chubb who had 8 straight 100+ yard rushing games after filling in for the suspended Todd Gurley, and will run behind a very experienced o-line. The defense improved dramatically under 1st year DC Jeremy Pruitt., finishing in the top 20 in the country in total defense. The challenge will be finding a QB as last season’s backup Brice Ramsey battles incoming graduate transfer Greyson Lambert. Lambert lost the starting job at Virginia and arrived at Georgia during the summer. This is a very talented team but the QB situation is a big question. The schedule ramps up as Dawgs face the top two teams from the West Division, Auburn and Alabama in addition to a road game against improving Tennessee.
9 Auburn The Tigers get back a couple of key players, one on offense and one on defense that were lost to injuries in 2014. But the most important addition is new DC Will Muschamp, former HC of the Florida Gators. Even without QB Nick Marshall, a Gus Malzahan offense is going to be good, and QB Jeremiah Johnson is likely a better passer than Marshall. But it’s the D that will make or break the season – the pick here is that Muschamp gets a lot more out of a talented and experienced defense than last year’s results would suggest.
10 Clemson HC Dabo Swinney has taken the Tiger program to heights not seen since the 80s with 4 straight double digit win seasons, 3 consecutive top 15 finishes capped by 3 impressive bowl victories. The top prize – an ACC title – has eluded the Tigers though, thanks mainly to the dominant run Florida State has been on. This season provides the best opportunity for Clemson to unseat the Noles in the division, and it starts with dynamic QB Deshaun Watson. Watson was a big playmaker when healthy last season and will be surrounded by a plethora of talent on offense. Clemson loses 8 starters off the #1 ranked defense in the nation but has the depth to reload rather than rebuild. Tigers get the Noles at home late in the year in what will likely be the division, and maybe conference, defining game.
11 Oklahoma 2014 was a season to forget for the Sooners, one that began with a #4 national ranking and ended with 5 losses, the last, a 40-6 blowout to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl (where OU trailed 40-0 after entering the game a 5 pt favorite). But there is some hope for a rebound. The Sooners have played well when expectations are lower, and the last two 8-win seasons were followed by 11 and 12 win campaigns, so OU has not been down for long under Bob Stoops. Sooners new OC will get more out of QB Baker Mayfield – with an already strong running game, the offense could be really good. Would have been hard to imagine just a couple years ago, but OU is still looking up at TCU and Baylor in the standings.
12 Florida State The Noles sport an eye-popping 27-1 record over the last two years, but a huge amount of that talent is now in the NFL. The program set a record by having a player at every offensive position go in last spring’s NFL draft. The rebuilding starts at QB where transfer Everette Golson from ND will battle Jr Sean Maguire. Whomever wins the starter’s job will operate behind an oline with 1 starter back and without the team’s top 2 pass catchers. Before you feel too sorry for the Noles though, HC Jimbo Fisher has brought in a ton of 4 and 5 star recruits, just waiting to take their place on the field. This is still a talented team, but look for a dropoff from the last 2 seasons.
13 Notre Dame The Irish looked every bit the playoff contender in the nail biting loss at Florida State, but then injuries and turnovers sent the team into a late season downward spiral. Optimism abounds though for a playoff run in 2015 thanks to 17 returning starters, including the then Fr QB that started the bowl win over LSU. That Fr, Malik Zaire, can run in addition to passing and will operate behind a more experienced o-line. The D has almost everybody back… but back from a unit that gave up 43 points in the loss to Northwestern and 49 to USC. This is a talented team with a manageable schedule, but not sure the defense will be good enough for a playoff berth.
14 Arizona State The Nomadic Todd Graham may have found his home in Tempe, leading the Sun Devils to back to back 10 win seasons for the first time since the old WAC days of the 70s. ASU will be categorized as a team not returning their starting QB, but a bit of semantics as last season’s “back-up” Mike Bercovici played several games when Taylor Kelly was injured. Bercovici finished with a higher completion percentage and led the team to wins over USC and Stanford. With 9 starters back on D, the goal is to keep up the sack machine and limit the big plays. In a strong division of a deep conference, ASU will have a say in the Pac 12 championship race.
15 Mississippi In spite of a dropoff late in the year that ended with a blowout loss in the Peach Bowl, 2014 was a break through season for the Rebels, highlighted by the upset win over Alabama. The eye-popping recruiting class that HC Hugh Freeze brought in finally showed on the field especially with a defense that went from allowing 28 pts/game in 2012 to 16 in 2014. Those big playmakers on D are back for this year, maybe their last before moving to the NFL, so this year needs to count. The Rebels return a lot of starters on the ofense too and would be picked much higher in the rankings if they weren’t losing their experienced QB. If the Rebs get better than expected play from a new QB, then this team will make a legitimate run at their first ever appearance in the SEC Championship Game.
16 UCLA An overall successful yet roller coaster season in 2014, where behind QB Brett Hundley (5th QB taken in NFL draft) led the Bruins to a 10 win year and a bowl win over K-State. The season was highlighted by the blowout win over crosstown rival USC but an odd mix of quality wins (Arizona State, Arizona) was offset by the drubbing at the hands of Stanford and a 2OT escape of hapless Colorado. Everybody is back in 2015 – except the most important player Hundley. The new QB will have a lot of familiar faces around him, but it will be hard to repeat Hundley’s numbers. The lack of the experienced QB is the only piece standing between the Bruins and a division or conference title.
17 Georgia Tech The Tech program had been stuck in neutral for several years, with decent records and bowl trips, but typically ending the season with a loss to rival Georgia and finishing unranked. The jackets broke out of their funk in a big way in 2014 with a top 10 ranking, a huge victory over the hated Dawgs and an impressive beatdown of the SEC”s 2nd best team in the Orange Bowl. HC Paul Johnson has what he most needs – a QB that may not look that impressive standing next to you, but that can run that triple option offense to perfection. Two big challenges face the Techsters to repeat last season’s success: 1) while QB Justin Thomas is back, almost everyone else that touched the ball is not and 2) the defense was barely in the top 80 in total D but made up for it by forcing a ton of turnovers. The same defense without the TOs is not a good one. A tougher schedule also makes 2014’s record hard to repeat, but the offense should still give all opposing D coordinators fits.
18 LSU The only thing worse than ending the season in the Music City Bowl for a program like LSU’s is to end the season with a loss in the Music City Bowl. The 8-5 final record was the worst since the same 8-5 record in 2008. There is some hope for a rebound in 2015 as the Tigers bring back more starters than usual to a program that typically loses a lot of underclassmen to the NFL. LSU will feature one of the top RBs in FBS In So Leonard Fournette, important in their run oriented offense. The Tigers return 6 starters on defense and should once again have one of the top secondaries in the nation. The big challenge once again will be at the QB position – LSU finished #114 in passing offense in 2014 and doesn’t appear to be heading towards any kind of breakout in 2015. While this is a very talented team, the question mark at QB and the loss of long time DC John Chavis to Texas A&M keep the expectations in check.
19 Boise State The Broncos ended last year where they remain in the hearts of most college football fans – with an upset over a Power 5 team in the Fiesta Bowl. Boise returns 17 starters from that squad, including the entire o-line and a number of playmakers on the D. The challenge is that the two biggest stars on last seasons team QB Grant Hedrick and RB Jay Ajayi are gone and an incumbent QB has not been identified. Nearly 80 teams went to bowls last season, but Boise only plays 5 of them, so a very good record is assured, but not enough quality wins to warrant a high ranking.
20 Wisconsin That smell in the air isn’t just bratwurst on the grill, it’s change; as in the stunning move HC Gary Andersen made when he left the Badgers for a seemingly lower profile program at Oregon State. In comes Paul Chryst from Pitt who will attempt to keep the strong running game and improve the passing attack. Badgers should have another stout D but do lose 3 starters on the o-line; plus the biggest loss – RB Melvin Gordon, a 1st round NFL draft pick. Only one team on the schedule that was ranked last year should result in a good record and even with coaching change and rebuilding o-line, the opportunity to get pummeled in the Big Ten Championship game is well within reach.
21 Tennessee Expectations are Smoky Mountain High after the bowl victory over Iowa last year gave the Vols a winning season for the first time since 2009. Tennessee returns 18 starters, the most in the SEC and features an exciting QB in Josh Dobbs that can make big plays with his hands or feet. There is talent around Dobbs at the skill positions but the o-line struggled mightily in 2014 – although now much more experienced than that group at the start of last season. The defense returns 5 of the 6 leading tacklers from a unit that finished in the Top 40 in the nation in total D. The schedule includes games at Alabama and a big non-conference showdown in Knoxville vs Oklahoma, but the Vols are realistically in the SEC East race and have a good chance to finish in the rankings for the first time since ’07.
22 Penn State Often the 1st year of a new coaching regime shows only modest improvement, then it’s the 2nd year that the program makes a big jump. James Franklin, after unbelievable success at perennial doormat Vanderbilt, is in just that position with the Nittany Lions. PSU features a solid defense and a talented QB in Christian Hackenberg who spent most of 2014 running for his life. WIth a more experienced QB is great, the more experience o-line is what will make a difference. Add in a very easy non-conference schedule, and the Lions have a good chance to finish in the rankings for the first time since 2009.
23 Stanford The Cardinal look to rebound from a disappointing season, the first in 5 years without double digit wins and it was the offense mostly to blame. QB Kevin Hogan returns as a 5th year Senior and could put up big numbers behind a very experienced oline. The defense does have some rebuilding to do too, losing 4 players to the NFL draft, but the Cardinal usually has some talent around for the D. Most of the tough conference games are at home, so Stanford has a good shot to get back into the rankings for 2015.
24 Arkansas Few teams were hotter than the Hogs at the end of 2014, following up the upset win over LSU with the 30 pt shellacking of then #8 Ole Miss; the late season rallied was capped by a dominant bowl win over Texas. Expectations are running high this year, with a big, experienced o-line, 2 1000 yd rushers, and a Sr QB among 9 starters back on offense. The defense finished #10 in the nation last year, but does lose their top player at LB and on the D-line. The challenge for Arkansas is that upward movement in the SEC West is difficult, and with great RB’s and oline last season, the Hogs were just 2-6 in conference. Still, I expect the success of late 2014 to carry over into 2015 and a return to the Top 25 is possible.
25 Virginia Tech It’s hard to believe that the Hokies finished tied for last in their division and needed a bowl win just to barely finish over .500. The good news is that VA Tech appears primed for a big comeback season in 2015. The optimism starts with the defensive line which should be the best in the conference and improve upon what was already a top 15 scoring defense. The problems have been on offense, but with increased stability on the o-line, and a more experienced QB in former Texas Tech starter Michael Brewer the pieces are coming together for a much better offense. Throw in a schedule that allows the Hokies to skip Clemson, FSU and Louisville from the other division, a run at the division, and even conference title, are quite possible.
26 Missouri It’s that time of year where we again underrate the Missouri Tigers, the defending SEC East Champions for 2 years in a row. Last season, Mizzou was blown out at home by Georgia after already losing at home to lowly Indiana, and the season looked over… but 6 straight SEC wins had the Tigers back in the conference championship game once again. The Tigers only bring back 12 starters, although that includes QB Matty Mauk. Mauk is one of the grizzled veterans among SEC QBs and reportedly was in great shape at Spring practice, working to improve on his 2013 performance. The defense losses a lot of talent including Shane Ray, but does return their top 2 tacklers from a D that was #19 in scoring defense last season. The pick here is that Missouri still has a solid team on both sides of the ball, but may not beat other conference teams (Arkansas, Tennessee) that are improving.
27 Arizona The Wildcats were the surprise winners of the Pac 12 South last year and will be in the race once again. Arguably the most important player to the team is superstar LB Scooby Wright who can make plays all over the field. QB Anu Solomon led all freshmn Qbs with nearly 3800 yards passing and should be a more consistent good decision maker in his 2nd year. Cat’s pulled a lot of games out of their butts last season, the ball likely wont quite bounce their way as often.
28 OK State Five straight losses late in the season had sent the team into a terrible downward spiral, but an upset of rival OU and win over Washington in the Cactus Bowl has the team primed for improvement in 2015. QB Mason Randolph had his redshirt taken off with only 3 games remaining but he played well and is the hope for a big rebound for the team this season. The rest of the offense is talented and experienced and are ready for 2014. The defense is the bigger question mark, but is much more experienced going into this year than last. With cupcake non-conference schedule and many of the key Big 12 games at home, the ‘Pokes can get back on track after a disappointing 2014.
29 Texas A&M The 2014 season began with a bang for the Aggies, demolishing #9 South Carolina in Columbia; but ended with a whimper, 5 losses in the last 7 regular season games, including a 59-0 shellacking at the hands of Alabama. A program in flux in 2014 still has a lot of talent but also a lot of questions. The QB that led the team to the huge win over the Gamecocks has left the program, leaving behind So. Kyle Allen, who did lead the team to the biggest win of the year over Auburn. But it’s the other side of the ball where the work really needs to be done, after finishing #102 in total defense. So HC Kevin Sumlin brought in LSU’s well respected DC John Chavis to remake the defense – not sure how much improvement will happen in year 1. A&M remains a program with a lot of talented athletes, but in a division where literally every team is good, it will be a dogfight each week.
30 Nebraska HC Bo Penini lead the Huskers for 7 years but although the team was never bad, he couldn’t get the program over the hump into the upper echlon of the Big Ten and was fired. New HC Mike Riley takes over from Oregon State and has some talent to work with. The D lost it’s star in DE Randy Gregory but does return most of the rest of the D line. The excitement though is on the other side of the ball where Riley was known for high powered offenses and has an experience QB to work with. Huskers do have a couple tough games in the non-conference schedule with BYU and Miami, but are in the weaker Western Divsion of the Big Ten. Badgers are the favorite, but Huskers are definitely in the race for the Division.