College Football Playoff Preview

1 Alabama

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

Much to the surprise of no one, Alabama has already established themselves as the “team to beat” just 3 weeks into the season. After throttling previously 3 Florida State in a highly anticipated Week 1 matchup, Alabama has once again secured themselves as the premiere powerhouse in college football.Alabama has a tough test late in the season, where they will travel to 17 Mississippi State on 11/11. Let’s be real though, this is Alabama; there is a very good chance that they win this game, and even if they don’t, there is almost as good as a chance that they will make the Playoff. At this point in the season, there is no foreseeable future where Alabama will not be playoff-bound once again.

Alabama has a tough test late in the season, where they will travel to 17 Mississippi State on 11/11. Let’s be real though, this is Alabama; there is a very good chance that they win this game, and even if they don’t, there is almost as good as a chance that they will make the Playoff. At this point in the season, there is no foreseeable future where Alabama will not be playoff-bound once again.

 

2 Clemson

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Photo Credits: College Football News

After winning their first College Football Playoff, Clemson has rebounded strongly this season, even with the loss of significant offensive playmakers in Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams. Clemson’s defensive line might very well be the best position group in all of college football, and their offense has been very good this year too, averaging nearly 520 yards per contest.

Just like Alabama, Clemson controls their own destiny and could probably survive a loss to a ranked team and still make the Playoff. After destroying Virginia Tech, Clemson only faces one tough tests over the rest of the season: a home game against 12 Florida State on 11/11. After their domineering wins over Louisville and Virginia Tech, if Clemson wins the ACC, they will likely be a shoe-in to the Playoff.

 

3 Oklahoma

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

It is often said that revenge is the best form of motivation; Oklahoma is the living embodiment of that saying. After getting embarrassed by the Buckeyes in front of their fans in Norman last year, Oklahoma showed them up in an assertive win over then 3 Ohio State. Since then, Oklahoma has continued their trend of being incredibly dominant; led by Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield, the Sooners’ offense is currently 4th in the nation, averaging an electric 599 yards per game.

Oklahoma has two tough tests remaining on their schedule: a road game at 15 Oklahoma State on 11/4, followed up by a home game against 8 TCU in the following week. Oklahoma’s remaining schedule is far from easy, but their strength of schedule and a huge win over Ohio State allows them to likely be in the Playoff even with 1 loss, as long as they win the Big 12.

 

4 Penn State

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Photo Credits: USA Today

After being left out of the College Football Playoff last season in one of the biggest snubs in recent history, Penn State has bounced back stronger than ever this year, obliterating their measly opponents thus far. Led by Heisman-favorite Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, the Lions possess one of the most potent offenses in the country. Barkley has been an absolute force for the Lions, averaging nearly 200 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown per game.

With plenty of tough opponents left on their schedule, Penn State has tons of opportunities to build up their resume. On 10/21, the Lions will play 7 Michigan at home, and the following week, they will travel to Columbus to play Ohio State. If they survive these two tough tests, there is no foreseeable future in which Penn State will not make the College Football Playoff.

 

5 Georgia

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Photo Credits: Bleacher Report

After starting the season off everyone’s radar, Georgia has quickly burst onto the scene and is currently the #5 ranked team in the country. Although Georgia has a potent offense, most notably led by their stout rushing attack in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, Georgia’s true excellence resides in their defense. Through their first five games, which included two ranked opponents and a stellar Tennessee team, the Bulldogs have astoundingly only allowed 46 points.

Georgia’s schedule includes two tough opponents at the end of the year in a home contest against 21 Florida on 10/28 and a road test at 12 Auburn on 11/11. Although Georgia has a very impressive resume, which includes two top-25 wins, as well as a pounding of then 17 Mississippi State and Tennessee, they still have work to do. Unless a team ahead of them loses, Georgia will not make the playoff unless they beat Alabama in the SEC title game.

 

6 Washington

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Photo Credits: Sports Illustrated

While these top five teams have been stealing the national headlines, Washington has been slowly creeping its way into playoff contention. While Washington has been doing anything too special, as their offense is barely averaging over 400 yards per game and their defense has been good but not stellar, they have absolutely destroyed every team they have played thus far. Their closest game was all the way back in Week 1, where they manhandled Rutgers in a 16 point victory.

More so than any other team on this list, Washington needs help to get into the playoff. With a very weak schedule and a lackluster Pac 12, it is foreseeable that Washington could win out and still potentially miss the playoff. If they want any chance of getting in, it is imperative that they beat 20 Utah on 11/18 and 11 Washington State on 11/25 and win the Pac 12.

 

7 Michigan

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Photo Credits: AP Photo

For a team that is ranked #7 in the country, I have never seen one that is so incapable, yet has infinite potential. Even though they have played quite terribly (especially in the first half) in their first couple of games, Michigan has managed to dominate some quite terrible teams. Once Michigan starts to put it together, however, everyone should watch out, as they are capable of beating anyone. If they play like they did in the second half of their season opener versus Florida, they very well might be the best team in the country.

Although they are currently on the outside and looking in, Michigan has more opportunities to bolster their resume than any other team in the country. They face two very tough road tests at 4 Penn State on 10/21 and 9 Wisconsin on 11/18, followed up by a difficult homestand against 10 Ohio State on 11/25. However, if Michigan somehow survives all of these tests, they have a guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Football Reference, and NCAA.com. Thank you for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Getty Images

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Upsets Galore: Week 1 In Review (College Football)

Dubbed the “greatest opening weekend in history”, Week 1 of the college football season certainly lived up to its hype. Despite Week 1’s reputation for being a relatively low-action weekend, this year’s Week 1 was anything but that, as 5 out of the top 16 teams in the AP Poll suffered devastating losses.

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Tyrone Swoops, aka “the 18-wheeler”, dives into the end-zone to score the game-winning touchdown in Austin. Photo Credits: Eric Gay/Associated Press

Major upsets this week:

The #3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners fell victim to the #15 ranked Houston Cougars in a thrilling neutral site game in Houston, 33-23. Houston’s defense performed spectacularly, only allowing 17 first downs and 24:54 time of possession, while Houston’s special teams came up clutch with a game-changing 109-yard touchdown return on a missed field goal.

The #5 ranked LSU Tigers were outdueled by the Wisconsin Badgers in the first ever college football game at Lambeau Field, 16-14. Wisconsin’s defense shut down the Tigers’ offense, holding them to 257 yards of total offense, 23:03 time of possession, and a meager 20% conversion on 3rd-down plays.

The #10 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish were stunned by the Texas Longhorns in a double-overtime thriller in Austin, 50-47. Although Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was responsible for 6 TD’s (5 passing, 1 rushing), Texas’s two quarterback system worked brilliantly as both Shane Buechele and Tyrone Swoopes were responsible for 3 TD’s each.

The #16 ranked UCLA Bruins fell just short in overtime, losing to the Texas A&M Aggies in a nail-biter at College Station, 31-24. Despite allowing 468 yards of total offense, Texas A&M’s defense played phenomenally, as they picked off Josh Rosen 3 times and held UCLA to a 27.8% conversion rate on 3rd-down plays.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs suffered an embarrassing defeat to the South Alabama Jaguars in Starkville, 21-20. South Alabama’s defense was stellar, holding Damian Williams to 143 passing yards, as well as limiting the Bulldogs’ offense to a 22.2% conversion rate on 3rd-down plays and 23:19 time of possession.

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Joshua Dobbs (pictured with the ball) dives into the endzone on the last play of the game, and eventually fumbles, allowing Jalen Hurd to score the game-winning touchdown in OT. Photo Credits: AP Photo/Wade Payne

Too-close-for-comfort finishes this week:

The Tennessee Volunteers avoided disaster in Knoxville after edging out the Appalachian State Mountaineers in overtime, 20-13. Appalachian State’s defense was impressive, as they only allowed 3.0 yards per rush against star running back Jalen Hurd; however, Tennessee’s defense was better, only allowing a 23.1% conversion rate on 3rd-down.

The #4 ranked Florida State Seminoles squeezed out a close one against the #11 ranked Ole Miss Rebels, after scoring 39 out of the final 45 points in a clutch win in Orlando, 45-34. It was a surprise that this one was even close; Florida State’s offense had 200 more yards, 4 fewer turnovers, 25 more minutes on offense, and 11 more first downs than Ole Miss’s offense.

The #2 ranked Clemson Tigers stopped a last-second effort from the Auburn Tigers, narrowly coming out on top, 19-13. Clemson’s inability to score was the only thing that made this game close, as Clemson’s offense severely outperformed Auburn’s in terms of yards per pass attempt, yards per rush attempt, and 3rd-down efficiency.

The #13 ranked TCU Horned Frogs had a late surge, pushing them over the South Dakota State Jackrabbits in a close one in Fort Worth, 59-41. Just like the Clemson vs Auburn game, this one shouldn’t have been close as TCU’s offense recorded 662 total yards as well as an impressive 73.3% 3rd-down conversion rate.

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Karan Higdon and Michigan ran all over Hawaii, racking up 306 rushing yards. Photo Credits: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America

Surprising blowouts:

The #1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide cruised to an easy victory over the #20 ranked USC Trojans in an uneventful neutral site game in Dallas, 52-6. Alabama was lights out on both sides of the ball, as they recorded 465 yards of total offense, while only allowing 194 yards of total offense and a 22.2% conversion rate on 3rd-down.

The #6 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes blew out the Bowling Green Falcons in a record-breaking game in Columbus, 77-10. Ohio State’s offense was unreal, as they recorded a school-record 776 yards of total offense (417 passing, 359 rushing), while also scoring 10 offensive touchdowns and converting on 84.6% of their 3rd-down plays.

The #7 ranked Michigan Wolverines annihilated the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in a rout in the “Big House”, 63-3. Michigan’s offense was brilliant, as they averaged 10.3 yards per pass attempt and 7.8 yards per rush attempt, while also converting 100% of their 3rd-down plays.

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, Pro Football Reference, Fan Sided, and For The Win. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Cover Photo Credits: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Heisman Trophy Watch List 2016

Here are our preseason picks for the Heisman Trophy winner for this upcoming season

The Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football’s best player, is the most prestigious award in college football. Here are our preseason picks for the Heisman Trophy for this season:

 

Co-Favorite: Leonard Fournette (Running Back), LSU Tigers

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Fournette was the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy last season before an abysmal performance (19 carries for 31 yards) against the top defense in the nation, the Alabama Crimson Tide. While that game may have tarnished his Heisman resume, Fournette was simply spectacular last season with the exception of that game; it was the only game where he had less than 100 yards from scrimmage and averaged less than 4.3 yards per carry.

Over the course of the season, Fournette averaged an electric 6.5 yards per rush attempt. In fact, Fournette was so good last season that he was only 1 of 7 running backs (Division I) with at least 200 carries to average 6.5 yards or more per carry. While Fournette’s 22 rushing touchdowns largely powered his performance, he averaged about 0.07 TD’s per carry, which is only a tad high. However, we could attribute his size and athleticism to that. This means that he likely won’t experience regression this year, which is quite good for his outlook.

Fournette’s kryptonite will likely be his offensive line, as LSU only managed to hold onto 3 of their starters. While LSU’s offensive line is likely the weakest part of their offense, Les Miles, LSU’s coach, has consistently had one of the best offensive lines, despite losing key starters to the NFL Draft every year.

 

Co-Favorite: Deshaun Watson (Quarterback), Clemson Tigers

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Watson was simply spectacular last year, finishing as both one of the best passing and running quarterbacks in the nation. Watson ran a remarkably efficient offense last season, despite missing his best receiver, Mike Williams. Watson finished 9th in passing yards, 24th in yards per attempt, and 5th in completion percentage last season. In addition, Watson finished 13th in passing efficiency and 8th in passing touchdowns, even with an extremely low touchdown rate that is sure to regress next season.

Watson was quite efficient on the ground as well last season. Watson finished 44th in rushing yards among all players, while also finishing 94th in yards per carry. Additionally, Watson finished 37th in rushing touchdowns among all players, while experiencing a horribly low touchdown rate. Next season, Watson’s touchdown rate is sure to regress and should result in a much higher rate (and likely more touchdowns).

Watson only has room to improve this season, as he retained all of his top rushers, receivers, and lineman from last season. As mentioned earlier, Watson was without his best receiver, Mike Williams, who will likely be a 1st-round pick in this year’s draft and will surely boost Watson’s production next year.

 

Don’t count him out: Christian McCaffrey (Running Back), Stanford Cardinals

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McCaffrey was easily the best all-around player last year, and possibly of all-time. Last season, McCaffrey recorded 2,664 yards from scrimmage, which ranked top in the nation and 5th all-time behind Smith, Gordon, Sanders, and Allen. In addition to that, McCaffrey broke Sanders’ record for all purpose yards by recording 3,496 all purpose yards last season. To put this into perspective, the next closest player in the country last season only had 2,410 all purpose yards.

In addition to his spectacular play on offense, McCaffrey was among the best in the nation on special teams. McCaffrey had the 5th highest kick-off return average (min 20) and 67th highest punt return average among all returners last season. McCaffrey was much better at punt returns than his numbers would suggest, as many of the leaders only had a few returns last season.

Despite his stellar performance in terms of yards, McCaffrey only scored 13 touchdowns last season (8 rushing, 5 receiving), which is far below that of his peers. McCaffrey’s shockingly low touchdown rate last season is sure to regress in this following one. On the other hand, yards do not typically regress, so next season we can expect McCaffrey to maintain his performance in terms of yards and increase his performance in terms of touchdowns. One concern regarding McCaffrey’s low touchdown rate is that his size played a factor, but he more than makes up for that with his speed and quickness.

 

* Our projected Heisman Trophy winner *

Dark Horse: Dalvin Cook (Running Back), Florida State Seminoles

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Cook was one of the best running backs in college football last season, but went largely unnoticed for most of the season, despite his stellar play. Cook was one of the most dynamic running backs in the country last season, as he was 4th in yards per rushing attempt. Out of the 3 players ahead of him, only one of them had 200+ rushes (Cook had 229 rushing attempts last season).

Cook was so spectacular last season that he only had one game where he played poorly (against Boston College in Week 3). That game was his only one of the season when he had under 100 yards from scrimmage and did not record a touchdown. Last season, Cook had the 8th most rushing touchdowns, largely fueled by his week to week consistency. Despite scoring so many touchdowns, his touchdown rate was not very high, which suggests that it should not regress this next season. Cook now has a solid starting quarterback in Deondre Francois, who should only help Cook’s performance next season.

Cook should look for even more success this season, as Florida State hardly lost any important players. In fact, it was Florida State’s weakest draft class in years, as the only crucial player they lost was Jalen Ramsey, who should not impact Cook’s performance at all. A strong recruiting class and a great returning group of starters should equate to even more success for Cook this season.

 

While Fournette, Watson, McCaffrey, and  Cook are run-away favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this year, there are some other major contenders for the award listed below (listed in order of likelihood of winning the award):

Nick Chubb (Running Back), Georgia Bulldogs

Baker Mayfield (Quarterback), Oklahoma Sooners

Royce Freeman (Running Back), Oregon Ducks

Jabrill Peppers (LB / S / CB / RB / WR / KR / PR), Michigan Wolverines

Adoree’ Jackson (WR / CB / KR / PR), USC Trojans

 

Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, heismanwatch.com, Fox Sports, cfbstats.com, and Football Reference. Thanks for reading!

Written by Jason Platkin

Photo Credits: heismanwatch.com, Derick E. Hingle / USA TODAY Sports, USATSI, Tony Avelar / AP, Taylor Wilder/Emerald