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Ohio, Western Michigan, Miami and Toledo finished 2016 as the top teams in the MAC, and all four should be near the top of the standings in the 2017 predictions. The Broncos have some significant personnel losses to address, but new coach Tim Lester still has enough talent to guide Western Michigan to a division title. The Broncos’ top competition in the West is Toledo, which is led by a dynamic offense and senior quarterback Logan Woodside. In the East Division, Miami looks to use its momentum from the second half of the season to overtake Ohio for the top spot. With 16 returning starters, the RedHawks are primed for their best year under coach Chuck Martin.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s MAC predictions for 2017:

 

1. Miami vs. Ohio for No. 1 in the East Division

Ohio and Miami tied for the MAC East crown at 6-2 in league play last year, with the Bobcats earning a trip to Detroit thanks to a 17-7 victory on Oct. 1. These two teams should be the cream of the crop once again in the East, but the designation as the favorite shifts to Miami. The RedHawks finished 2016 by winning six out of their final seven games and return 16 starters this fall. Quarterback Gus Ragland’s return to the lineup from an offseason knee injury was a big reason for the second-half improvement, and the junior should push for all-conference honors with a full year of snaps. In addition to Ragland’s emergence, Miami’s offensive line is expected to take a step forward, and the defense should rank among the best in the MAC. While this year’s matchup between the Bobcats and RedHawks takes place in Athens, Miami has the easier crossover slate with the West Division. Ohio has been a model of consistency under coach Frank Solich and should be a lock to earn its eighth bowl bid in nine seasons. The defense ranked second in the MAC in fewest points allowed per game (22.6) and should remain near the top of the league despite a few personnel losses. The biggest concern for Solich is on offense. Can quarterback Quinton Maxwell take the next step in his development? Miami gets the nod as Athlon’s pick for the East champion, but this will be a close battle in the standings all year.

 

2. Toledo vs. Western Michigan for No. 1 in the West Division

Similar to the East Division, there was a lengthy debate in Athlon’s prediction meeting for the No. 1 spot in the West. Western Michigan is the defending champion, but the Broncos lost a significant chunk of talent, and coach P.J. Fleck departed to Minnesota. New coach Tim Lester is a former Western Michigan quarterback and has a good idea of what it takes to win in the MAC. Lester’s top priority is to find a quarterback to replace Zach Terrell and rebuild a receiving corps that will miss No. 1 target Corey Davis. While there are some significant personnel losses to overcome, Western Michigan still returns a solid one-two punch at running back with Jarvion Franklin and LaVante Bellamy and eight starters on defense. Considering the turnover on the roster and coaching change, the balance of power in the West should shift to Toledo. The Rockets are led by senior quarterback Logan Woodside, one of the league’s top receiving corps and seven starters on defense. Even though Toledo has to play at Ohio on Nov. 8, the defacto West Division title game takes place in the Glass Bowl on Nov. 24. Look for coach Jason Candle to guide the Rockets to their first appearance in the MAC title game since 2004.

 

Related: MAC Football 2017 All-Conference Team

 

3. Will Northern Illinois Rebound in 2017?

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Northern Illinois’ 5-7 record in 2016 was the program’s first losing mark since 2007. Additionally, the Huskies had their streak of eight consecutive bowl games snapped, and the five wins represented the second straight year the program watched its victory total decline after posting 11 in 2014. Injuries at the quarterback position are a big reason why coach Rod Carey’s team has been on a downward trend over the last two seasons. In 2016, Northern Illinois played four quarterbacks, including junior Ryan Graham and sophomore Daniel Santacaterina who are competing with freshman Rodney Hall for the starting job this offseason. Assuming the Huskies can find an answer at quarterback, Carey has the necessary pieces to guide this team to a bowl game. Senior running back Jordan Huff should pickup where Joel Bouagnon left off behind a solid offensive line with three returning starters. Finding a replacement for top receiver Kenny Golladay remains a concern for Carey, but this unit has reinforcements on the way from Iowa State transfer Jauan Wesley and Chad Beebe (back after missing 2016 due to injury). The Huskies return six starters on defense, and this unit has to take a step forward after giving up 30.3 points per game in 2016. One advantage for Northern Illinois’ bowl hopes – the schedule. The Huskies do not play Ohio, Miami or Akron – the projected top three teams from the East – and host Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan in key swing games. Expect Northern Illinois to rebound (slightly) in 2017.

 

4. Can Eastern and Central Michigan Keep it Going?

Eastern Michigan was the biggest surprise in the MAC last year. After a 3-21 start under coach Chris Creighton, the Eagles showed marked improvement in 2016. The program earned its first bowl trip since 1987 and finished with seven victories. Can Creighton guide the program to another postseason bid in 2017? Eastern Michigan’s hopes of a winning record rest with a dynamic offense and quarterback Brogan Roback. The Eagles will have to break in a couple of new starters in the trenches, and tight end Nigel Kilby won’t return to the team after catching 34 passes in 2016. While the personnel is certainly there to go bowling once again, Eastern Michigan’s schedule isn’t friendly. The Eagles play three out of the top four teams from the East Division, while catching Central Michigan and Northern Illinois on the road. At Central Michigan, coach John Bonamego has a tough assignment trying to replace quarterback Cooper Rush this offseason. Michigan transfer Shane Morris and sophomore Tony Poljan will battle in the fall for the starting spot, and if a clear answer emerges, the Chippewas have the necessary firepower to reach six (or more) wins once again. The backfield and receiving corps are deep with options, and the line returns all five starters from 2017. The defense has room to improve after giving up 30.3 points per game in 2016. But this unit returns six starters, including All-MAC selections Joe Ostman, Amari Coleman and Josh Cox.

 

5. Sorting Out the MAC East

As mentioned above, there is a clear top two in the MAC East. Ohio and Miami are the heavy favorites to finish at the top of the division this season, with a significant drop to the rest of the East. In Athlon’s prediction meeting, there was significant discussion of Bowling Green at No. 3, but Akron eventually emerged as the pick. The Zips aren’t without their share of question marks and face a brutal crossover slate (Toledo and Western Michigan). Quarterback Thomas Woodson had offseason shoulder surgery and is hoping to return to full strength in time for the 2017 campaign. If Woodson is limited, junior college transfer Nick Johns will start at quarterback. With four returning starters up front, and the return of running back Warren Ball from injury, the quarterback should have a solid supporting cast in place. Akron must find a few answers on a defense that gave up over 460 yards and surrendered 33.6 points per game last fall. Bowling Green closed 2016 and the first year under coach Mike Jinks by winning its last three contests. The Falcons utilized a favorable schedule – Akron, Buffalo and Kent State – to finish the season out on a high note, and Jinks returns enough pieces to build off that momentum. Quarterback James Morgan is a rising star, while favorite target Scott Miller (74 catches) also returns. Just like Akron, defense is an issue at Bowling Green. The Falcons gave up 38.3 points per game in 2016. The Sept. 30 game in Bowling Green could decide whether the Falcons or Zips end up in third place at the end of the year. Rounding out the East in fifth is Buffalo, while Kent State is projected sixth. The Bulls have some upside behind quarterback Tyree Jackson and a defense that returns eight starters. However, coach Lance Leipold’s team is likely a year away. 

 

MAC 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

MAC Football 2017 Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected MAC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Miami  6-2 8-5
2 Ohio 5-3 7-5
3 Akron 4-4 5-7
4 Bowling Green 3-5 4-8
5 Buffalo 2-6 3-9
6 Kent State 2-6 3-9
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected MAC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Toledo 6-2 10-3
2 Western Michigan 5-3 7-5
3 Northern Illinois 5-3 6-6
4 Eastern Michigan 4-4 5-7
5 Central Michigan 4-4 5-7
6 Ball State 2-6 4-8
         
MAC Championship Game
 Toledo over Miami 

 

MAC 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Logan Woodside

QB, Toledo

Logan Woodside

QB, Toledo

Logan Woodside

QB, Toledo

Defensive POY

Quentin Poling

LB, Ohio

Quentin Poling

LB, Ohio

Ulysees Gilbert

LB, Akron

Coach of the Year

Chuck Martin

Miami

Chuck Martin

Miami

Chuck Martin

Miami

Coach on Hot Seat

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Paul Haynes

Kent State

Top Freshman

Rodney Scott

WR, Buffalo

Brandon Martin

LB, Ball State

Khalil Newton

WR, Ball State

Top Newcomer

Shane Morris

QB, CMU

Shane Morris

QB, CMU

Shaq Jones

DB, EMU

Sleeper Team Eastern Michigan Eastern Michigan Eastern Michigan

Key Position

to Watch

Western Michigan WRs Western Michigan WRs Toledo RBs
Best Coordinator Hire

Tim Daoust

Co-DC, WMU

David Elson

DC, Ball State

David Elson

DC, Ball State

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Western Michigan Western Michigan Western Michigan
Coach on the Rise

Jason Candle

HC, Toledo

Chuck Martin

HC, Miami

Jason Candle

HC, Toledo

Must-See Game

Western Michigan at

Toledo

Western Michigan at 

Toledo

Toledo at 

Miami (Fla.)

Breakout Player

Gus Ragland

QB, Miami

Terry Swanson

RB, Toledo

Gus Ragland

QB, Miami

Comeback Player

A.J. Ouellette

RB, Ohio

Shaq Vann

RB, EMU

Warren Ball

RB, Akron

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MAC Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/projected-fcs-playoff-qualifiers-2017
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Which teams would be out of the FCS playoff field is almost as big as which ones are projected to be in this year’s 24-team field.

 

There are plenty of contenders.

 

The start of the second season over Thanksgiving weekend is a long way off, of course, but it’s always fun to look into the crystal ball. The power conferences – Big Sky, CAA Football, Missouri Valley and Southern – each had four qualifiers last season. Only one other conference – the Southland – had multiple bids.

 

This year, we’ll project the CAA (home to reigning champ James Madison) and Missouri Valley (home to 2011-15 champ North Dakota State) to lead the way with five bids each.

 

When it shakes out, there’s more than a half-dozen quality teams that roll off the tongue as being snubbed, including Illinois State, Kennesaw State, McNeese, Montana, Northern Arizona, The Citadel, UT Martin and Weber State.

 

Here is Athlon’s projected 2017 FCS playoff field (in alphabetical order):

 

Albany (at-large bid)

One of the final two teams left out of last year’s field needs running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks to return from a knee injury and bring the Great Danes in from the front porch.

 

Cal Poly (at-large bid)

A great start last season was followed by a disappointing final month, and the Mustangs don’t play Eastern Washington or Montana in the Big Sky’s unbalanced schedule.

 

Charleston Southern (Big South champ)

A strong defense will fuel the way, but the two-time defending Big South champ will have to win at Kennesaw State in a late-season clash.

 

Chattanooga (at-large)

A brutal early schedule – Jacksonville State, LSU and UT Martin – will challenge a Southern Conference power that has a new coach in Tom Arth.

 

Related: FCS' Southern Conference to Challenge Best in FBS in 2017

 

Central Arkansas (at-large bid)

Coming of a 10-win season, the Bears get the recent Southland powers – defending champion Sam Houston State, Southeastern Louisiana and McNeese – on their striped turf.

 

Dayton (Pioneer champ)

It’s risky business to not pick San Diego as it comes off the first-ever playoff win in PFL history, but Dayton may have an inside track with a home game against the Toreros.

 

Duquesne (NEC champ)

The Dukes tied for the Northeast title last season, but there’s always a hollow feeling when another team (Saint Francis) earns the automatic bid in a competitive conference.

 

Eastern Washington (at-large bid)

If a non-conference run of Texas Tech, North Dakota State and Fordham isn’t enough, first-year head coach Aaron Best and the defending Big Sky co-champ Eagles open conference play at Montana.

 

Fordham (at-large bid)

As Chase Edmonds chases the FCS career rushing record, the Rams hope to win the Patriot League title and guarantee they won’t be one of the final two teams left out of the playoff field like last year.

 

Jacksonville State (Ohio Valley champ)

With three straight unbeaten conference seasons, the Gamecocks always have their eyes focused on the postseason.

 

James Madison (CAA Football champ)

Head coach Mike Houston’s defending national champion Dukes should be favored in every regular-season game, including their opener at East Carolina.

 

Lehigh (Patriot champ)

The league schedule will get tricky because the defending champ has road games against the second- through fourth-place teams in last year’s standing – Fordham, Colgate and Bucknell.

 

New Hampshire (at-large bid)

With 13 straight appearances in the playoffs, head coach Sean McDonnell’s squad has the longest active run in the FCS – six more than North Dakota State.

 

North Dakota (Big Sky champ)

After sharing last year’s title, the veteran Fighting Hawks have a tough conclusion to the Big Sky schedule by visiting Southern Utah and hosting Eastern Washington.

 

North Dakota State (Missouri Valley champ)

Last year’s schedule was tougher, but how’s this for some road matchups: at Eastern Washington, Youngstown State, South Dakota State and Illinois State.

 

Northern Iowa (at-large bid)

The only team on this list to have a losing record (5-6) last season, the Panthers hope to make amends in the loaded Missouri Valley Conference.

 

Richmond (at-large bid)

The Spiders tend to rev up the play late in the season and this time it’s new head coach Russ Huesman, defensive coordinator of their 2008 national championship team, leading the way.

 

Samford (at-large bid)

The surging Southern Conference program has played in six playoff games over four appearances, but none have been at home.

 

Sam Houston State (Southland champ)

Only North Dakota State has more wins in the FCS since the start of 2011, but the Southland power keeps bowing out of the postseason in blowout fashion.

 

South Dakota State (at-large bid)

Five straight playoff appearances are great, but the Jackrabbits have been eliminated in three of those years by North Dakota State.

 

Villanova (at-large bid)

Head coach Andy Talley, who revived ‘Nova football in 1985, has handed the reins over to longtime assistant Mark Ferrante.

 

Western Illinois (at-large bid)

In head coach Charlie Fisher’s first season in Macomb last year, the Leathernecks started with a 5-1 record, but lost four of their final five games and missed the playoffs.

 

Wofford (Southern champ)

The schedule opens with two SoCon games for a team that might be the favorite in head coach Mike Ayers’ 30th season.

 

Youngstown State (at-large bid)

In ending the Penguins’ 10-year playoff drought, head coach Bo Pelini led them to four wins and a runner-up finish to James Madison.

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

 

(Top photo by James Madison Athletics)

Teaser:
Projected FCS Playoff Qualifiers for 2017
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 09:45
Path: /college-football/most-shameful-college-football-games-2017
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FCS football is fun and features plenty of talent. Games against FBS opponents can serve purposes, as they are oftentimes displays of in-state support and, of course, are big paydays that FCS programs need to survive.

 

But some games just make no sense. They are over before they start, and they do little but fill out schedules and act as glorified byes for bigger programs – often coming immediately before or after a big rivalry game for the bigger program.

 

These games are shameful. And this is the list of the most shameful games of the 2017 college football season. Take cover, SEC fans, as five of your schools make this list.

 

T-10. Charleston Southern at Mississippi State, Sept. 2

T-10. UMass at Mississippi State, Nov. 4

Neither of these opponents is strong, as Charleston Southern is an FCS team and UMass was an FCS team just six years ago. You can maybe get away with one of these two teams on your schedule, but both? C’mon, Bulldogs. You’re better than this.

 

9. Indiana State at Tennessee, Sept. 9

We’ll preface this by saying that Tennessee opens against Georgia Tech on Labor Day night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and that, even in defeat, the triple-option has wreaked enough havoc on opponents to have a carryover effect to the next game. In this case, the Volunteers’’ next game is only five days away, too. But Indiana State? The Sycamores went 4-7 last season, finishing tied for last in the Missouri Valley Conference. And they are in Year 1 of a new regime in 2017 under new head coach Curt Mallory.

 

8. Towson at Maryland, Sept. 9

Towson is an FCS school, making this a direct violation of Big Ten scheduling policy that took effect in 2016. It also was a not-very-good FCS school, going just 4-7 last year. Sure, the Terrapins might need a reprieve after a challenging opener at Texas, but they also get a bye after this game… which we suppose makes that two consecutive byes in the season’s first month.

 

7. Florida A&M at Arkansas, Aug. 31

It’s a Thursday night home opener for the Razorbacks, and it can’t get any easier, as they host a Florida A&M team that went 4-7 last season and lost to the only FBS opponent it faced, Miami, 70-3 in last year’s opener.

 

6. Jackson State at TCU, Sept. 2

This isn’t Jacksonville State, which has consistently proven itself to be among the FCS’ top programs, and which nearly won at Auburn in 2015. No, this is Jackson State, which went 3-8 last season, and just 3-6 in Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) play. Do better, Horned Frogs. (Coincidentally, TCU travels to the aforementioned, well-rested Razorbacks the following week.)

 

5. Liberty at Baylor, Sept. 2

Ex-Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw returns to Waco with his new school, which is transitioning to the FBS. Thank him for this game.

 

4. Morgan State at Rutgers, Sept. 16

This is another direct violation of the Big Ten’s no-FCS scheduling policy. Rutgers, which moved over from the AAC in 2014, will comply with the scheduling philosophy beginning in ‘18. Morgan State, by the way, went just 3-8 last season and tied for seventh-place in the MEAC under interim head coach Fred Farrier. Against FBS teams Army and Marshall last year, Morgan State lost by a combined score of 122-3.

 

3. Mercer at Auburn, Sept. 16

Mercer reinstated its football program in 2013. Auburn was in the national title game in 2013. The Tigers should not be playing the Bears.

 

2. Mercer at Alabama, Nov. 18

Neither should Alabama, although it’s cute that both the Tide and their rivals from Auburn have decided on the same FCS team to kick around this season. (Alabama actually played Mercer twice before, winning 20-0 in both 1939 and ‘40, so perhaps Mercer is playing with revenge on the mind here.)

 

1. Delaware State at Florida State, Nov. 18

The Hornets went 0-11 last season, which was only slightly worse than their 1-10 performance in 2015, or their 2-10 performance in ‘14. The Seminoles, meanwhile, will likely be a preseason top-five team. Shameful, indeed.

 

— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.

Teaser:
The Most Shameful College Football Games of 2017
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/big-ten-football-2017-predictions
Body:

The Big Ten had a top-heavy 2016 season, as four teams finished inside of the top 10, Ohio State earned a CFB Playoff spot, and Penn State fell just short of reaching the top four after defeating Wisconsin in the conference title game. Fast forward to 2017 and not much has changed with the depth at the top of the league. Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin are Athlon’s projected top four teams from the Big Ten, with the Buckeyes and Badgers picked to meet in Indianapolis for the conference title game. Outside of the top four, little separates Northwestern, Nebraska and Iowa in the battle to challenge Wisconsin in the West, and Michigan State looks to get back on track after a disappointing 2016 season. The league also features three new coaches: Tom Allen (Indiana), P.J. Fleck (Minnesota) and Jeff Brohm (Purdue).

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Big Ten predictions for 2017:

 

1. Ohio State and Penn State

The debate at the top of the Big Ten starts where it ended in 2016. Penn State and Ohio State tied for the East Division at 8-1 in league play last season, with the Nittany Lions owning the tiebreaker thanks to a 24-21 victory in Happy Valley over the Buckeyes. However, the balance of power should swing back to Columbus in 2017. Ohio State is primed for a run at the national title behind senior quarterback J.T. Barrett and one of the top defenses in college football. Barrett should thrive under the watchful eye of new play-caller Kevin Wilson, with a promising group of playmakers also ready to emerge on the outside. Urban Meyer’s defense is overflowing with depth in the trenches, but for the second year in a row, faces a rebuilding effort in the secondary. Despite the question marks in the secondary and the new faces at receiver, Ohio State is the pick to win the Big Ten over Penn State. However, the Nittany Lions shouldn’t be too far behind. Coach James Franklin’s team should make a run at a CFB Playoff bid behind quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley. Penn State’s quest to win the conference or earn a playoff spot is likely to depend on the development of the offensive line and the new faces at defensive end. The schedule isn’t daunting but Penn State does have to play at Columbus this year. After finishing 2016 by winning nine out of their last 10 games, can the Nittany Lions ignite the momentum again and continue where they left off?

 

2. Michigan…A Quick Reload or Rebuilding Year?

Michigan’s six returning starters are the second-fewest among Big Ten East Division teams. But the exodus of talent hasn’t slowed preseason expectations for the Wolverines. In Athlon’s projected top 25, Michigan is picked to finish No. 10 nationally. Coach Jim Harbaugh is one of the best in college football, and back-to-back top-five recruiting classes should ensure this program doesn’t fall too far in the win column. Helping the cause for a quick reload is the return of quarterback Wilton Speight and one of the Big Ten’s deepest backfields. Speight will have to hold off promising redshirt freshman Brandon Peters in the fall, as well as find new playmakers on the outside after tight end Jake Butt and receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson departed Ann Arbor. The line struggled at times last fall and remains a concern with just two starters back. Linebacker Mike McCray and senior Maurice Hurst are the leaders for a defense that suffered massive losses. But after limiting opponents to 14.1 points per game last fall, Michigan should still rank near the top of the Big Ten. Sophomore Rashan Gary is a rising star up front, and there’s a promising group of sophomores stepping into key roles in the back seven. With road trips to Penn State and Wisconsin, along with the home date against Ohio State, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wolverines slip to nine wins. However, despite the significant personnel losses from last season – Harbaugh’s team won’t fall too far in the national rankings in 2017.

 

3. Wisconsin a Clear Favorite in the Big Ten West

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The Badgers have earned a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game in two out of the last three seasons and all signs point to another appearance in December. Coach Paul Chryst’s team returns 17 starters from last year’s 11-3 squad, and sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook should take a step forward in his second season under center. But as with any Wisconsin team, expect Chryst to lean heavily on his ground game and defense. Running back Corey Clement will be missed, but the Badgers have a trio of talented options on the ground, including Pitt transfer Chris James and sophomore Bradrick Shaw. Replacing standout left tackle Ryan Ramczyk is the biggest concern for Chryst’s offense this fall. On defense, new play-caller Jim Leonhard must find replacements for linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt. However, Leonhard has plenty to work with at all three levels, and the return of Jack Cichy and Chris Orr from injury adds talent and competition to the linebacker unit. Another advantage Wisconsin has is its schedule. The Badgers won’t have to play Ohio State or Penn State in the regular season. Michigan also comes to Madison in late November. After winning 11 games against one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2016, Wisconsin figures to be a lock for double-digit victories against an easier slate in 2017.

 

Related: Big Ten Football 2017 All-Conference Team

 

4. After Wisconsin…What to Make of the Big Ten West?

While Wisconsin is a heavy favorite (and easy pick) in the West Division, selecting the order of teams in the next tier (2-4) is a little more challenging. Little separates Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa, and all three have a case to be selected at No. 2. Athlon eventually settled on Northwestern as the top challenger to the Badgers, largely due to a favorable crossover slate (no Michigan or Ohio State) and swing games at home against Iowa and Michigan State. Quarterback Clayton Thorson made strides in his second year as a starter in 2016, but the junior needs to find a new go-to target after Austin Carr expired his eligibility. Running back Justin Jackson returns after rushing for 1,524 yards last fall and could find more running lanes if the offensive line takes a step forward with four starters back. The Wildcats return seven starters from a defense that limited opponents to 22.2 points per game in 2016. Nebraska is one of the hardest teams to get a read on this offseason. The Cornhuskers are transitioning schemes on defense with the addition of new coordinator Bob Diaco. On offense, coach Mike Riley has a new quarterback (Tulane transfer Tanner Lee) and a revamped receiving corps. Nebraska also catches Penn State and Ohio State in crossover play. If Iowa finds the right answer – either Tyler Wiegers or Nathan Stanley – at quarterback – the Hawkeyes could emerge as Wisconsin’s top challenger. Coach Kirk Ferentz’s team returns one of the Big Ten’s best running backs in Akrum Wadley, and the league’s top offensive line. Additionally, seven starters from a defense that held opponents to 18.8 points per game in 2016 provide a strong foundation for 2017. Out of these three teams, Iowa has the toughest path to No. 2. The Hawkeyes play at Nebraska and Northwestern, while Ohio State and Penn State appear in crossover play.

 

5. Will Michigan State Rebound in 2017?

A year after winning the Big Ten Championship and earning a spot in the CFB Playoff, no one expected Michigan State to win the conference last season. However, it’s unlikely anyone could have predicted the drop off witnessed in East Lansing last fall. The Spartans completely collapsed in 2016, finishing 3-9 and just 1-8 in Big Ten play. The three wins were the fewest under coach Mark Dantonio and snapped a string of nine consecutive bowl trips. Is this a one-year blip or does Dantonio have a rebuilding project on his hands for 2017? The answer probably lies closer to rebuilding project. Michigan State returns just five starters but played a handful of young players that gained valuable experience last season. Brian Lewerke steps in at quarterback for his first full year as the starter, and the defense has to rekindle the pass rush after recording only 11 sacks in 2016. Running back LJ Scott just missed 1,000 yards (994) last season and is expected to handle a heavy workload this fall. Don’t expect Michigan State to rebound back into conference title contention. However, a reasonable expectation is six wins and a trip to a bowl game.

 

Big Ten 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.   3.  
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

 

Big Ten Football 2017 Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected Big Ten Record Projected Overall Record
1 Ohio State 8-1 12-1
2 Penn State 7-2 10-2
3 Michigan 7-2 10-2
4 Michigan State 4-5 6-6
5 Indiana 4-5 7-5
6 Maryland 4-5 6-6
7 Rutgers 1-8 3-9
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected Big Ten Record Projected Overall Record
1 Wisconsin 7-2 10-3
2 Northwestern 5-4 8-4
3 Nebraska 5-4 7-5
4 Iowa 4-5 7-5
5 Minnesota 4-5 6-6
6 Purdue 2-7 3-9
7 Illinois 1-8 2-10
         
Big Ten Championship
 Ohio State over Wisconsin 

 

 

Big Ten 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

Saquon Barkley

RB, Penn State

J.T. Barrett

QB, Ohio State

Defensive POY

Josey Jewell

LB, Iowa

Josey Jewell

LB, Iowa

Josey Jewell

LB, Iowa

Coach of the Year

Urban Meyer

Ohio State

Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern

Pat Fitzgerald

Northwestern

Coach on Hot Seat

Mike Riley

Nebraska

Mike Riley

Nebraska

Mark Dantonio

Michigan State

Top Freshman

Donovan

Peoples-Jones

WR, Michigan

Donovan

Peoples-Jones

WR, Michigan

Donovan

Peoples-Jones

WR, Michigan

Top Newcomer

Tanner Lee

QB, Nebraska

Tanner Lee

QB, Nebraska

Tanner Lee

QB, Nebraska

Sleeper Team Nebraska Indiana Northwestern

Key Position

to Watch

Ohio State DBs Michigan DBs Ohio State DBs
Best Coordinator Hire

Kevin Wilson

OC, Ohio State

Jerry Kill

OC, Rutgers

Kevin Wilson

OC, Ohio State

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Michigan State Michigan State Michigan
Coach on the Rise

Joe Moorhead

OC, Penn State

Jeff Brohm

HC, Purdue

Jeff Brohm

HC, Purdue

Must-See Game

Ohio State at 

Michigan

Ohio State at

Michigan

Ohio State at

Michigan

Breakout Player

Rashan Gary

DL, Michigan

Chris Evans

RB, Michigan

Rashan Gary

DL, Michigan

Comeback Player

Matt VandeBerg

WR, Iowa

Mike Dudek

WR, Illinois

Janarion Grant

WR, Rutgers

 

Teaser:
Big Ten Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/wake-forest-football-2017-demon-deacons-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Wake Forest went to and won a bowl game last season, but it could be tough to pull off a repeat of either feat this fall. The Demon Deacons remain a relatively young team and depth is at a premium, so the key players must stay healthy. The offense returns eight starters, but also was one of the nation’s least productive in 2016. The defense more than did its part in 2016, but only five starters return on that side of the ball, there are questions at both linebacker and in the secondary, and there’s a new coordinator running the unit.

 

Previewing Wake Forest Football’s Offense for 2017

 

Dave Clawson won a bowl game with the nation’s No. 118 scoring offense. He’s hoping that experience will improve that ranking. “This is the first time where the guys returning on the offensive two-deep will be in their third, fourth or fifth year,” he says.

 

Everything starts — or stops — along the line. The Deacons have struggled to keep quarterbacks John Wolford and Kendall Hinton healthy, allowing at least 39 sacks in each of the last three seasons. While Wake Forest’s average yards per carry in 2016 topped only 17 other programs, that’s actually an improvement.

 

The line loses two long-time starters but returns three rising juniors — Justin Herron, Phil Haynes and Ryan Anderson — who already have 62 combined starts. “Those guys are now legitimate ACC offensive linemen,” Clawson says. Depth is a concern: Only two of the projected non-starters have played.

 

Hinton missed most of last season with a knee injury. He can threaten defenses with his feet and a big arm, but accuracy is a concern. Wolford, a senior, has taken a beating, and he’s offset his positives with 35 interceptions.

 

The running game improved with Matt Colburn (626 yards) and Cade Carney (589). Still, the backs were stopped at or behind the line 21 percent of the time, and only 8.6 percent of their carries gained 10 yards or more, third worst in the Power 5. Speedy Arkeem Byrd could change that.

 

The receiving corps failed to produce explosive plays. Slot Tabari Hines has 70 catches in two seasons, and every player who caught more than one pass returns. But the Deacons need another outside receiver to develop — and for Cortez Lewis and tight end Cam Serigne to get over nagging injuries and back to their 40-plus-catch form.

 

Previewing Wake Forest’s Defense for 2017 

Wake Forest Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ ACC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

Wake Forest went from one of the worst in the country at creating turnovers to one of the best (No. 10), good enough to get coordinator Mike Elko hired by Notre Dame. New coordinator Jay Sawvel (Minnesota) will be without four of last year’s top six tacklers.

 

End Duke Ejiofor (fourth in the ACC with 10.5 sacks) leads the program’s best unit. The line goes at least six deep, and its excellence will have to cover for some question marks behind it.

 

The Deacons produced NFL-level linebackers in consecutive seasons (Brandon Chubb, Marquel Lee), but whether Jaboree Williams is next in line remains a question. Former walk-on Grant Dawson returns in the middle, as does Demetrius Kemp at rover. But the unit is so thin that two freshmen, Jeff Burley and Chase Monroe, could play.

 

Safety Jessie Bates made second-team All-ACC as a redshirt freshman, intercepting five passes to go with 100 tackles. The biggest issue will be finding two reliable cornerbacks — it looks as though sophomore Amari Henderson and graduate transfer Cedric Jiles will start.

 

Previewing Wake Forest’s Specialists for 2017 

 

Wake Forest returns All-ACC kicker Mike Weaver, automatic from inside 40 yards, and punter Dom Maggio, who impressed as a freshman. The return units remained at the bottom of the ACC, where they’ve been for most of the last decade, resulting in Clawson changing the special teams coach.

 
Final Analysis 

 

The Deacons had only seven seniors play more than 100 plays last year, and every player who scored is back. Still, this team is young, with only nine scholarship seniors. Clawson faces a much more difficult schedule, has four new assistants and questions about depth everywhere. Wake Forest has little margin for error, and injuries could wreak havoc. The Deacons are 6–24 in November over eight seasons, and they could need two late wins to go bowling. Clawson could field a better team but end up worse off in the standings.

 

National Ranking: 52

ACC Atlantic Prediction: 5

Teaser:
Wake Forest Football: 2017 Demon Deacons Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 09:15
Path: /college-football/memphis-football-2017-tigers-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Memphis has played in three straight bowls as Mike Norvell maintained the success the Tigers had under previous head coach Justin Fuente. Now in his second season, Norvell has 14 starters returning and an eye on a potential American Athletic Conference championship. Memphis’ offense should remain among the nation’s most productive but how far this Tigers team goes this fall will likely come down the performance of the defense.

 

Previewing Memphis Football’s Offense for 2017

 

In his first season as a head coach, Mike Norvell directed Memphis to its third straight bowl game. Riley Ferguson is back for his senior season after passing for 3,698 yards and 32 touchdowns after transferring from junior college.

 

Those numbers could improve as the Tigers return eight starters on offense, including one of the league’s top receivers — Anthony Miller, who came to the program as a walk-on and set the school record with 1,434 receiving yards in 2016. Miller will be joined by another reliable former walk-on in Phil Mayhue, a senior who was the team’s second-leading receiver. Mayhue averaged 16.1 yards per catch.


 

The running back position, headlined by senior Doroland Dorceus, will be deep. If Dorceus matches last season’s total (810 yards), he’ll finish as the program’s second-leading rusher behind DeAngelo Williams. Patrick Taylor, a powerful runner who averaged 5.9 per carry, and Darrell Henderson, the fastest player on the team, will get plenty of carries. Tony Pollard is a weapon both rushing and receiving.

 

The offensive line will be bolstered by Harneet Gill, a former Missouri signee who is expected to take over at left tackle. Trevon Tate, last year’s left tackle, will move to the right side. The interior positions will be manned by returning starters.

 

Previewing Memphis Football’s Defense for 2017 

Memphis Football/National College Football Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

Coordinator Chris Ball has reduced the defensive package to allow his unit to play fast. The Tigers ranked in the bottom half nationally in several categories, including sacks and tackles for a loss, and Ball would like to correct the shortcomings.

 

Improved play up front would be a start. Only 11 of the team’s 23 sacks in 2016 came from the defensive line. Linebacker will be the team’s strength, and Jackson Dillon’s return is among the reasons why. Dillon, who will play the hybrid outside linebacker/end position, played only eight snaps last season due to injury. Curtis Akins, at middle linebacker, was forced into the starting lineup in mid-October and blossomed. Genard Avery, at the other linebacker spot, will be one of the league’s best after leading the team with 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks.

 

Ball’s emphasis will be on finding replacements for six of his top eight defensive backs. Two former Oklahoma players — cornerbacks Tito Windham and Marcus Green — are poised to contribute. Although he’s only 5'9", Windham is a punishing tackler who took first-team reps in the spring. Green is rangy and athletic and has the size (6'2", 190) to match up against the elite wideouts in the AAC. Safety Jonathan Cook, an ex-Alabama player, had 88 tackles to lead the team.

 

Previewing Memphis Football’s Specialists for 2017 

 

Memphis must replace Jake Elliott, one of the most successful kickers in the program’s history. Riley Patterson, rated among the nation’s top 10 kickers by 247Sports, is next in line. After going 20 years without returning a kickoff for a touchdown, the Tigers returned three in 2016 — two by Pollard, one of the nation’s best.

 

Final Analysis

 

Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente — who guided the Tigers to back-to-back bowl games before departing for Virginia Tech — left off. Memphis ranked 14th nationally in passing offense (304.4 ypg), 15th in scoring offense (38.8 ppg) and 28th in total offense (463.7 ypg) and played in a third straight bowl game.

 

The Tigers should set a school record by playing in a fourth straight postseason game as Norvell returns eight starters on offense with multiple weapons at running back and receiver.
The defense will be a question mark, particularly with an overhaul in the secondary. But keep this in mind: Memphis won 17 games over the past two years with a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the AAC.

 

National Ranking: 51

AAC West Prediction: 1

 

(Riley Ferguson photo courtesy of Memphis Athletics)

Teaser:
Memphis Football: 2017 Tigers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Wednesday, June 7, 2017 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /nba/robert-horry-calls-out-former-spurs-teammates-tim-duncan-manu-ginobili
Body:

Robert Horry won't go down as one of the best players, but he's been in the right place at the right time to win seven NBA titles. 

 

That didn't stop "Big Shot Bob" from talking a little smack on ESPN's The Jump about his former Spurs teammates. Horry goes on to say that Hakeem Olajuwon was "20 times better" than the great Tim Duncan and their work ethic differed tremendously. He also said that if Manu Ginobili did what he was supposed to do, he would have more rings to add to his collection. 

 

 

Horry probably shouldn't count on being invited to any team reunions. 

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 13:37
Path: /college-football/minnesota-football-2017-golden-gophers-preview-and-prediction
Body:

The P.J. Fleck era in Minnesota is ready to begin and while the future may look bright in Minneapolis, some growing pains should be expected this fall. After all, the Golden Gophers went 9-4 and won the Holiday Bowl last season. Fleck does inherit a strong running back tandem, but his quarterback will be unproven and the defense returns just four starters. A bowl bid is certainly attainable, but don’t expect much more from Fleck just yet.

 

Previewing Minnesota Football’s Offense for 2017

 

Head coach P.J. Fleck and his staff aren’t the only new faces in Minnesota, as the Gophers have to replace longtime quarterback Mitch Leidner, leading wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky and three offensive linemen with starting experience heading into 2017. It’s a good thing standout running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks return to shoulder the bulk of the offensive workload. Smith was second in the Big Ten with 16 rushing touchdowns in 2016, and Brooks, who missed a few games last season, has a knack for breaking off big runs. Both averaged 4.7 or more yards per carry last season.

 

“They showed why... they are really good backs and how they can continue to become elite,” Fleck says. “They make some runs, too, that wow.”

 

At quarterback, Conor Rhoda (one career start) and Demry Croft (none) are the two frontrunners to win the job. Both have attempted 17 career passes heading into ’17. Fleck and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Kirk Ciarrocca have each said that a starter might not be named until mid-August.

 

The receivers haven’t caught a lot of passes, but they figure to benefit from the tutelage of position coach Matt Simon and Fleck, a former college and pro wideout. Rashad Still is the most productive returning receiver, but he had only 18 receptions in 2016.

 

Previewing Minnesota Football’s Defense for 2017

Minnesota Football/Big Ten Magazine Athlon Sports’ Big Ten magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

The defense will be led by its deep linebacking corps, most notably Jonathan Celestin in the middle. He had 80 tackles in 2016 and has paid multiple visits to Fleck’s office to find out how he can be a better leader.

 

Defensive tackle Steven Richardson, at 6'0", 300 pounds, will work to keep Celestin free to roam while also wreaking havoc himself. He had a team-high 11 tackles for a loss as well as 7.0 sacks in 2016.

 

Without much depth along the defensive line, new defensive coordinator Robb Smith — who was at Arkansas last year — will need to be flexible and transition from his preferred 4-3 to a modified 3-4 to cover up the lack of size on the line.

 

Some impact sophomores are expected to be Carter Coughlin and Tai’yon Devers at rush end and Kamal Martin and Thomas Barber at linebacker.

 

Fleck is enamored with sophomore Antoine Winfield Jr., whose dad had a long NFL career. Winfield will provide instincts that can be invaluable at safety or cornerback.

 

Previewing Minnesota Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Emmit Carpenter won Big Ten Kicker of the Year for making 92 percent of his attempts (22-of-24) in 2016. He was 10-of-10 from 40 yards and beyond. Punter Ryan Santoso had a 40.9-yard average, and 38 percent of his punts ended up inside the 20-yard line. It will be an open competition to see who wins the returner duties after burner Jalen Myrick left for the NFL.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Gophers went 9–4 and beat Washington State 17–12 in the Holiday Bowl last season, but this year’s squad could take a step back. Fleck’s team will face a harder schedule, as Michigan essentially replaces Rutgers on the slate.

 

There’s also uncertainty with a lack of experience at quarterback and a lack of depth along the offensive and defensive lines as well as in the secondary. If they can shore up those questions and can get past Oregon State in Corvallis on Sept. 9, a 5–0 mark is attainable heading into the home game against Michigan State on Oct. 14.

 

Fleck has a track record for taking teams to unforeseeable heights. He took Western Michigan from 1–11 in 2013 to back-to-back 8–5 campaigns before a breakthrough to 13–1 and a Cotton Bowl berth against Wisconsin in 2016.

 

National Ranking: 50

Big Ten West Prediction: 5

Teaser:
Minnesota Football: 2017 Golden Gophers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/michigan-state-football-2017-spartans-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong last season did for Michigan State, as the Spartans tumbled all the way to 3-9 and just a game ahead of winless Rutgers for last place in the Big Ten East. Spartan fans should expect a bounce back this fall, but not all the way back to when Michigan State was contending for conference titles and appearing in the College Football Playoff, With only five starters returning, questions at numerous positions and minimal depth, this looks to be a rebuilding year of sorts for Mark Dantonio’s team.

 

Previewing Michigan State Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

Michigan State’s pro-style offense will get back to smashmouth basics and effectiveness in 2017 with a punishing tailback, good talent at wideout, a capable offensive line and a rising quarterback you may not have heard of in Brian Lewerke. The mobile, crafty Lewerke started two games at midseason last year as a freshman before being lost to a broken leg, but he has come back strong. Lewerke has the arm to throw to the wide side of the field and the quick mind to get the ball out on time.

 

Sophomore Trishton Jackson looks like a future All-Big Ten candidate at wide receiver. Donnie Corley was the leading returning receiver, with 33 catches a year ago as a freshman. However, Corley was dismissed from the team in early June.

 

Junior tailback LJ Scott broke the 100-yard mark in four of the last six games last year and is motivated to have a good enough season to leave for the NFL one year early. Senior Gerald Holmes is a rugged, reliable leader with 1,015 career rushing yards and 13 TDs.

 

There are questions at tight end with Josiah Price and his 22 career touchdowns having graduated, but junior Matt Sokol is taller, a bit more athletic and ready.

 

The Spartans are good at left tackle with Cole Chewins and center with Brian Allen. MSU can put players with starting experience at the other three positions.

 

Previewing Michigan State Football’s Defense for 2017 

 

Michigan State Football/Big Ten MagazineAthlon Sports’ Big Ten magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

Michigan State would like to get away from some of the predictable nature of its quarters zone defense, but it needs established, quality defensive backs to make progress in that area. The Spartans have developed talent in the back end but might be a year away from having the type of run-stopping front, pass rush and experience in the secondary to have hopes of fielding their first top-10 defense since Pat Narduzzi’s departure.

 

In the meantime, a strong tag team of young defensive tackles — sophomores Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk — is laying the groundwork for Michigan State’s defensive revitalization. Redshirt freshman Naquan Jones is a bull, too. However, there is a lack of a proven edge rusher. Demetrius Cooper was a disappointment and needs to have a bounce-back season. Robert Bowers is progressing nicely but isn’t a difference maker.  

 

Chris Frey brings psycho intensity at Sam linebacker. He’s not a superstar, but he’s dependable and energetic. A heady thumper with good speed, Joe Bachie is ready to emerge as the next standout middle linebacker for the Spartans.

 

Youngsters Justin Layne and Josiah Scott could be future stars at cornerback. Junior Vayante Copeland won't return to the team. Michigan State’s speed is suspect at safety with Khari Willis, Matt Morrissey and Grayson Miller.

 

Previewing Michigan State Football’s Specialists for 2017 

 

Jake Hartbarger is back after ranking sixth in the Big Ten in punting with a 40.9-yard average. Redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin, the new placekicker, had shaky stats as a high school senior.

 

Final Analysis

 

It’s doubtful that Michigan State will be able to rise up from last year’s disastrous 3–9 season to replicate something similar to the Spartans’ 2015 trek to the College Football Playoff or their top-five finishes of 2013 and ’14. A landing somewhere between those two extremes is more likely as Mark Dantonio tries to work past off-field problems and rekindle the discipline and toughness that helped him put Michigan State in the national picture.

 

The beginning of a new bowl streak is likely in 2017, as the rebuilding process takes shape with a number of intriguing young playmakers on the roster. However, Michigan State doesn’t have the proven depth or senior leadership of the championship-level teams Dantonio fielded earlier this decade.

 

National Ranking: 49

Big Ten East Prediction: 4

Teaser:
Michigan State Football: 2017 Spartans Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/vanderbilt-football-2017-commodores-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Big wins in its last two games sent Vanderbilt and head coach Derek Mason to a bowl game for the first time in three seasons. Now the challenge is to sustain that success. Mason has 15 starters returning, including his record-setting running back, but the offense needs to continue to improve if the Commodores want to win more than three conference games. There should be enough talent and experience on this roster to get Vanderbilt back to the postseason, but it would be a surprise if the Commodores emerged as a legitimate threat in the SEC East.

 

Previewing Vanderbilt Football’s Offense for 2017

 

Vanderbilt’s offense emerged from a prolonged slump — going on three full seasons — with an unlikely scoring barrage in the final two regular-season games of the 2016 season. The Commodores scored a total of 83 points in wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee, the most by the program in consecutive games since scoring 95 in victories over Auburn and LSU in 1948.

 

The offense took a step back in the bowl game — due in part to a foot injury sustained by quarterback Kyle Shurmur — but there were enough positive signs late in the season to suggest that the Commodores could take a step forward in 2017.

 

Shurmur struggled through the first two-thirds of the season but surged down the stretch, flourishing in wins over Ole Miss (273 yards, two TDs) and Tennessee (416 yards, two TDs).

 

Shurmur’s increased production was aided by the improved play of the wide receivers. Caleb Scott was the best of the bunch down the stretch, averaging 22.7 yards on his 10 receptions in the final three regular-season games. Two other seniors, C.J. Duncan and Trent Sherfield, and promising sophomore Kalija Lipscomb will form a solid four-man rotation.

 

Depth at running back was a huge concern at this time last year. It’s now arguably the deepest position on the roster. Ralph Webb returns for his senior season after rushing for a school-record 1,283 yards. Khari Blasingame was a pleasant surprise after transitioning from linebacker. The staff raves about redshirt freshman Jamauri Wakefield.

 

Two starters — NFL-bound left tackle Will Holden and center Barrett Gouger — must be replaced up front, but there is enough talent and experience remaining for the Commodores to field another solid offensive line.

 

Previewing Vanderbilt Football’s Defense for 2017

Vanderbilt Football/SEC Magazine Athlon Sports’ SEC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

The Commodores took a small step back defensively in 2016 but still finished in the top half of the SEC in both yards (sixth) and points (tied for fifth) allowed per game. They excelled in two key areas: red zone defense and big-play prevention. Now, they must forge ahead without Zach Cunningham, arguably the best defensive player in school history.

 

Senior Oren Burks will be tasked with replacing Cunningham at inside linebacker. Burks played most of last season at Star, a hybrid outside backer/end position.

 

The secondary figures to be the strength of the defense. Depending on the formation, the Commodores will at times have five seniors on the field at the same time. “That excites me,” coach Derek Mason says.

 

Senior nose tackle Nifae Lealao anchors what Mason is calling the deepest defensive line in his four seasons at Vanderbilt. That may true, but it’s still a group that loses four-year starter Adam Butler — the 2016 team leader in sacks — and key reserve Torey Agee.

 

Previewing Vanderbilt Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

The special teams were improved across the board, which no doubt helped the Commodores reach bowl eligibility. Placekicker Tommy Openshaw connected on 15-of-19 field goals, with three of the four misses from 45 yards or longer.

 
Final Analysis 

 

Perhaps no program changed its trajectory in the final two weeks of the 2016 regular season more than Vanderbilt. Double-digit wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee sent the Commodores to a bowl game for the first time under Mason and showed tangible signs that the program was headed in the right direction. Sustaining success has always been difficult for Vanderbilt, but Mason has a veteran team — 20 of the projected 22 starters are in at least their third year in the program — that should remain competitive. If the offense continues to progress, Vanderbilt is likely to make another trip to the postseason.

 

National Ranking: 48

SEC East Prediction: 6

Teaser:
Vanderbilt Football: 2017 Commodores Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 11:00
Path: /college-football/sun-belt-football-2017-predictions
Body:

A familiar trio of teams leads the way in Sun Belt football predictions for 2017. Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy were the league’s top three teams last year and begin this season at the top of Athlon’s projections. Just behind that trio is South Alabama and Idaho, while Louisiana and Georgia Southern headline the next tier of teams looking to get bowl eligible in 2017. The Sun Belt also welcomes Coastal Carolina to its league this fall, as the Chanticleers continue a two-year transition period to the FBS level. 

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s Sun Belt predictions for 2017:

 

1. Appalachian State, Troy and Arkansas State – A Cut Above the Rest

In Athlon’s Sun Belt prediction meeting, there was little debate about the top three teams in the league. Appalachian State, Troy and Arkansas State were a cut above the rest of the conference by a healthy margin. The Red Wolves started 0-4 last fall but won eight out of their last nine games to claim a share of the Sun Belt title. This program is once again a threat to win it all, as quarterback Justice Hansen should benefit from a full year to develop as the starter, and he’s surrounded by a talented cast of skill players. The biggest concern for Arkansas State’s offense remains in the trenches with five new starters. A defense led by end Ja’Von Rolland-Jones will once again rank among the Sun Belt’s best. Appalachian State’s recipe for success isn’t going to change in 2017. The Mountaineers punished opponents for 250.9 rushing yards per game last fall, and the one-two punch of Jalin Moore and Terrance Upshaw is among the best in the Group of 5 ranks. Coach Scott Satterfield’s defense led the Sun Belt by limiting opponents to 17.8 points per game last season. This unit will be strong once again, as Appalachian State features the league’s top linebacker and secondary groups for 2017. Troy had a stint in the top 25 last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Trojans push for that mark once again. Coach Neal Brown’s team is loaded on offense after leading the league in scoring (33.7 ppg) in 2016. Quarterback Brandon Silvers ranks as the Sun Belt’s top quarterback, and there’s no shortage of talent at receiver or running back. Replacing three starters on the offensive line and filling a couple of voids in the front seven on defense are Brown’s biggest concerns this offseason. One key factor at the top of the Sun Belt predictions: Appalachian State does not play Troy or Arkansas State.  

 

2. South Alabama or Idaho – Sleeper Teams to Watch?

While the top three teams at the top of the projections were a cut above the rest of the league, South Alabama and Idaho are an intriguing duo to watch in the next tier. The Jaguars have won at least six games in three out of the last four seasons and are led by one of the Sun Belt’s top coaches in Joey Jones. South Alabama went 2-6 in league play last year but earned a trip to the Arizona Bowl thanks to non-conference victories over Mississippi State and San Diego State. The Jaguars had some bad luck last fall with a minus-two turnover margin and five losses by 10 points or less. With quarterback Dallas Davis returning, along with a defense poised to take a step forward, South Alabama should push for another bowl trip. Idaho experienced a breakout season in 2016, snapping a string of six consecutive losing records. Propelled by a standout offense and a plus-11 turnover margin, the Vandals finished 9-4 and defeated Colorado State in an entertaining 61-50 shootout in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Quarterback Matt Linehan leads the way for Idaho once again in its final year at the FBS level, but his supporting cast is undergoing renovations. The Vandals lose four out of their top five receivers, three starters on the offensive line and suffered key losses on the defensive line and in the secondary. After using a plus-11 turnover margin to win four one-score games last season, Idaho is likely to regress slightly from its nine overall victories. But with Linehan at the controls, another bowl trip is likely.

 

3. Will Georgia Southern Rebound in 2017?

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ National College Football magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 coverage for all 130 teams. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

Georgia Southern made an easy transition to the FBS level under former coach Willie Fritz. From 2014-15, the Eagles won 18 games, claimed the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl title and only lost two conference contests in that span. However, Fritz left to take the coaching job at Tulane, and former assistant (and Georgia native) Tyson Summers returned to Statesboro to lead the program. Despite returning 12 starters and a core of talent capable of contending for the Sun Belt title, Georgia Southern regressed to 5-7 and 4-4 in league play. The Eagles strayed too far away from the option attack on offense and regressed in points and yards per play allowed on defense. A win over Troy in the regular season finale may have saved Summers’ job, which only illustrates the pressure this coaching staff is under for 2017. While the first year was a struggle, Summers took some steps to ensure improvement this fall. New play-caller Bryan Cook is well-versed in the option attack and is expected to get the offense back on track. But the Eagles have uncertainty at quarterback, as the battle between Seth Shuman and Shai Werts will continue into the fall. On defense, only four starters are back, with the front seven undergoing significant turnover. In addition to the personnel concerns, Georgia Southern faces a tough schedule in 2017. The Eagles play Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Troy – the projected top three teams – and a swing game at Louisiana. Georgia Southern still has enough talent to rebound back into a bowl game. However, a tough schedule limits the margin for error in Summers’ second season.

 

4. The State of Things in Louisiana

In Athlon’s Sun Belt prediction meeting, the two teams from the state of Louisiana – ULM and Louisiana – produced a significant amount of discussion. The Warhawks are trending in the right direction under second-year coach Matt Viator and finished 2016 by winning two conference games in the month of November – without starting quarterback Garrett Smith. With Smith healthy and back under center, ULM has a chance to match or exceed last year’s four victories. The Warhawks have to cut down on the turnovers (minus-11 margin last year) and perform better on the line of scrimmage to push into the top tier of the Sun Belt in 2017. How far can Viator take this program in his second season? After posting four consecutive nine-win campaigns and trips to the New Orleans Bowl, Louisiana took a step back in 2015 with a 4-8 record. But the Ragin’ Cajuns rebounded to 6-7 last fall and return 12 starters for 2017. Coach Mark Hudspeth needs to identify a new starting quarterback after the departure of Anthony Jennings, while standout running back Elijah McGuire expired his eligibility following the 2016 season. Hudspeth’s team is strong up front on both sides of the ball but will only go as far as the new backfield tandem on offense performs. Additionally, the schedule isn’t in Louisiana’s favor. The Ragin’ Cajuns play Appalachian State and Arkansas State and take on South Alabama and Idaho in key swing games on the road.   

 

Related: Sun Belt 2017 All-Conference Team

 

5. Coastal Carolina’s FBS Debut

Under the watchful eye of coach Joe Moglia, Coastal Carolina is set to make its transition to the FBS level in 2017. The Chanticleers went 10-2 at the FCS level last year but lost a handful of key players from that squad, including running back De’Angelo Henderson and linebacker Alex Scearce. With the transition to the FBS level and just eight returning starters, Coastal Carolina is one of the tougher teams to predict in the Sun Belt this preseason. The Chanticleers were hit hard by injuries at quarterback last season, but Syracuse transfer Austin Wilson could bring some stability to the position this fall. Boston College transfer Marcus Outlow should team with Osharmar Abercrombie to form an effective one-two punch on the ground for new coordinator Jamey Chadwell. The defense must be retooled with losses at each level, but there’s a solid foundation in place after giving up only 19.3 points per game in 2016. Coastal Carolina is in good hands with Moglia leading the way, and the future looks bright for this program at the FBS level. 

 

Sun Belt 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL

Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.   3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.   4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.   5.  5. 

 

Sun Belt Football 2017 Predictions

         
Rank Team   Projected Sun Belt Record Projected Overall Record
1 Appalachian State 7-1 9-3
2 Troy 7-1 9-3
3 Arkansas State 6-2 7-5
4 South Alabama 5-3 6-6
5 Idaho 4-4 6-6
6 Louisiana 4-4 5-7
7 Georgia Southern 4-4 5-7
8 ULM 4-4 4-8
9 Georgia State 2-6 3-9
10 Coastal Carolina 2-6 4-8
11 New Mexico State 2-6 3-9
12 Texas State 1-7 2-10

 

Sun Belt 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Jalin Moore

RB, App. State

Larry Rose

RB, NMSU

Brandon Silvers

QB, Troy

Defensive POY

Ja'Von

Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von 

Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Ja'Von

Rolland-Jones

DL, Ark. State

Coach of the Year

Neal Brown

Troy

Neal Brown

Troy

Scott Satterfield

Appalachian State

Coach on Hot Seat

Tyson Summers

Georgia Southern

Tyson Summers

Georgia Southern

Tyson Summers

Georgia Southern

Top Freshman

Demetrice Lofton

DL, Ga. Southern

Bryce Roberts

TE, NMSU

Kieston Roach

DB, Texas State

Top Newcomer

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Sleeper Team ULM ULM South Alabama

Key Position

to Watch

Troy OL Troy OL Troy OL
Best Coordinator Hire

Jamey Chadwell

OC, Coastal Carolina

Jamey Chadwell

OC, Coastal Carolina

Jamey Chadwell

OC, Coastal Carolina

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Georgia Southern South Alabama Coastal Carolina
Coach on the Rise

Neal Brown

HC, Troy

Neal Brown

HC, Troy

Scott Satterfield

Appalachian State

Must-See Game

Troy at 

Arkansas State

Troy at 

Arkansas State

Akron at

Troy

Breakout Player

Damian Williams

QB, Texas State

Jordan Davis

QB, Louisiana

Dallas Davis

QB, South Alabama

Comeback Player

Penny Hart

WR, Georgia State

Larry Rose

RB, NMSU

Larry Rose

RB, NMSU

 

Teaser:
Sun Belt Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-running-back-rankings
Body:

Quarterback remains the premier position in the NFL but are running backs making a comeback? Last season, 12 running backs ran for at least 1,000 yards, compared to just seven in 2015. The top two ground gainers were a pair of rookies – Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard.

 

Whether the running back is once again becoming more of a focal point in NFL offenses remains to be seen, but one thing is clear – there’s a changing of the guard taking place. Only four of Athlon Sports’ top 10 running backs entering the 2017 season also appeared on the ’16 list. The one constant? The name at the top of both lists.

 

Athlon’s player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2017 NFL Preview magazine.

 

2017 NFL Running Back Rankings

 

1. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

No running back is more patient in allowing holes to open before exploding through them. Fastest player to ever reach 3,000 rushing and 1,500 receiving yards — at 38 career games.

 

2. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas

Became fifth rookie since AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to win league’s rushing title with 1,631 yards. Receiving threat as well with 1,994 scrimmage yards, marking the third-highest total ever by a rookie. 

 

3. David Johnson, Arizona

First player in NFL history to post 100-plus yards from scrimmage in first 15 games of a season. Set franchise record in that category (2,118) and scored NFL-high 20 touchdowns.

 

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo

Rebounded from injury-plagued 2015 campaign to post highest per-carry average (5.4 yards) of eight-year NFL career. Seven 100-yard games highest total for a Bills RB since Willis McGahee in 2004.

 

5. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee

The motor to Mike Mularkey’s “exotic smash mouth” offense with his downhill running style. Put lousy 2015 campaign with Philadelphia in rear-view mirror by plowing for 1,287 yards and nine TDs.

 

6. Jordan Howard, Chicago

Broke Matt Forté’s franchise rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards. A 5.2-yard average ranked fourth all-time among NFL’s rookie RBs with at least 250 carries.

 

7. Jay Ajayi, Miami

Consecutive 200-yard rushing games against Pittsburgh and Buffalo got Miami on winning track after 1–4 start. Enjoyed greatest increase in rushing yards from scrimmage (1,085) of any NFL running back from 2015.

 

8. Lamar Miller, Houston

Proved he could handle a heavier rushing load after being underutilized for four seasons in Miami. Fifth among all NFL running backs in rushing yards (3,044) and scrimmage yards (3,904) over the past three seasons.

 

9. Carlos Hyde, San Francisco

Enjoyed the sixth-best rushing performance in 49ers history last season with 193 versus the Jets. Should prosper in zone-rushing attack being installed by new head coach Kyle Shanahan.

 

10. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta

Dual threat as rusher and receiver. Ranked among top eight NFL RBs last season in total touchdowns (13), runs of 10-plus yards (30) and rushing first downs (61).

 

11. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

12. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

13. Adrian Peterson, New Orleans

14. LeGarrette Blount, Philadelphia

15. C.J. Anderson, Denver

16. Frank Gore, Indianapolis

17. Mark Ingram, New Orleans

18. Latavius Murray, Minnesota

19. Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati

20. Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland

21. Jonathan Stewart, Carolina

22. Matt Forté, New York Jets

23. Tevin Coleman, Atlanta

24. Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

25. Ty Montgomery, Green Bay

26. Bilal Powell, New York Jets

27. Dion Lewis, New England

28. Spencer Ware, Kansas City

29. Eddie Lacy, Seattle

30. Jamaal Charles, Denver

 

2017 NFL Fullback Rankings

 

1. Kyle Juszczyk, San Francisco

Expected to play big role in new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense after signing four-year, $21 million contract this offseason. Caught 78 passes the past two seasons.

 

2. Patrick DiMarco, Buffalo

Helped pave the way for Atlanta’s fifth-ranked rushing attack in 2016. Dirty work didn’t go unnoticed with Buffalo tendering a four-year, $8.4 million free-agent contract this offseason.

 

3. James Develin, New England

Once played in the Arena and United Football Leagues while making conversion from defensive end at Brown University. Former member of the Oklahoma City Yard Dawgz has two Super Bowl rings since joining the Patriots in 2012.

 

4. John Kuhn, New Orleans

Long-time fan-favorite in Green Bay found a new home with New Orleans in 2016 after being supplanted by Aaron Ripkowski. Scored five touchdowns on 34 touches in 2016.

 

5. Mike Tolbert, Buffalo

One of NFL’s best blockers the past nine seasons with Carolina (2012-2016) and San Diego (2008-2011). Could assume more of a traditional running back role after signing with Bills this offseason.

Teaser:
2017 NFL Running Back Rankings
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 10:15
Path: /college-football/sec-football-2017-predictions
Body:

The SEC had a down year in 2016. While Alabama made the CFB Playoff, every other team in the league finished the season with at least four losses. But that was 2016, and the outlook for the SEC in 2017 looks a little brighter. The Crimson Tide is once again the preseason favorite to win it all, with LSU and Auburn returning enough talent to rank as top 10-15 teams. It’s a tight battle at the top of the East Division between Georgia and Florida. The Bulldogs get the nod over the Gators thanks to 11 returning starters on defense, and the emergence of quarterback Jacob Eason. However, the addition of quarterback Malik Zaire as a graduate transfer should provide a boost under center for coach Jim McElwain. Outside of the top contenders, South Carolina, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas headline some of the dark horse teams to watch in 2017.  

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s SEC predictions for 2017:

 

1. No Dispute: Alabama No. 1

A significant gap separated Alabama from the 13 other teams in the SEC last fall. While Auburn, LSU or the champion of the East Division could take a step forward this season, there’s still a sizeable space between Alabama and the No. 2 team. The Crimson Tide are the only program to make the CFB Playoff in all three years, and coach Nick Saban’s team is Athlon’s pick to win it all in 2017. However, Alabama isn’t without its share of question marks. Can quarterback Jalen Hurts take the next step as a passer under new coordinator Brian Daboll? The right side of the offensive line exited spring ball with uncertainty, and Hurts needs another receiver to emerge to take the pressure off of Calvin Ridley. On defense, the losses in the front seven were heavy. End Jonathan Allen and linebackers Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams all moved onto the next level. Thanks to elite recruiting classes, there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings. But how quickly will this unit mesh with several new faces in the front seven? With a non-conference opener against Florida State, along with road trips in league play to Mississippi State and Auburn, a loss in the regular season wouldn’t be a surprise. However, with Saban on the sidelines and the nation’s best roster, the Crimson Tide is the team to beat in the SEC and for the CFB Playoff once again.

 

2. Georgia vs. Florida

Picking the East Division champion was the toughest debate of Athlon’s SEC prediction meeting. Florida has claimed back-to-back East Division titles and should be in the thick of things once again despite heavy losses on defense. This debate took an interesting turn in early June, as Malik Zaire announced his intentions to transfer from Notre Dame to Florida for the 2017 campaign. Zaire will compete (and is expected to win) the starting quarterback job against Feleipe Franks. While Zaire has a limited sample size during his stint in South Bend, his mobility is a huge asset for a Florida line that is once again a concern. The Gators feature one of the league’s top receiving corps, and running back Jordan Scarlett is primed for a breakout season. New coordinator Randy Shannon inherits only three starters on defense, but this unit features several promising names to ensure a quick rebuild. Georgia finished 8-5 in coach Kirby Smart’s debut last fall, but three of those losses came by three points or less. The Bulldogs are primed to push for double-digit wins in 2017, thanks to a defense that returns 11 starters and one of the nation’s top backfield tandems in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Quarterback Jacob Eason is also due to improve with a full year to work as the starter. Smart’s biggest concern remains in the trenches and finding playmakers for Eason on the outside. In the Georgia-Florida debate for the top spot in the East, the schedule favors the Gators. Florida hosts Tennessee, LSU and Texas A&M, while the Bulldogs play Auburn and Tennessee on the road. This division will likely be decided on Oct. 28 in Jacksonville when these two teams meet in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

 

3. Auburn vs. LSU

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ SEC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

The SEC East is improving, but the top challenger to Alabama is either Auburn or LSU. These two teams tied for second in the West at 5-3 last year, and there’s very little separation going into 2017. What might be the deciding factor between these two teams? Quarterback play. Auburn landed Jarrett Stidham as a transfer from junior college/Baylor, and the sophomore should be the missing piece for an offense that averaged 31.2 points per game last fall. In addition to Stidham, Auburn’s attack features a promising group of receivers, one of the SEC’s top offensive lines, and the one-two punch of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway at running back. The departure of defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams and safety Johnathan Ford leaves a few big shoes to fill on defense for coordinator Kevin Steele. But this unit still features rising star Marlon Davidson off the edge, one of the league’s top linebacker trios, and All-SEC cornerback Carlton Davis. Ed Orgeron’s first full season at the helm in Baton Rouge features one of the nation’s top running backs in Derrius Guice and a defense that will rank among the best in the SEC. However, LSU still features a question mark under center. How much of a difference can new coordinator Matt Canada make in his first season working with quarterback Danny Etling? Additionally, the Tigers have a revamped (but talented) group of receivers to break in this fall.

 

4. Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss or Mississippi State?

The tough predictions in the SEC’s West Division continue with sorting out the finishing order of Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Mississippi State. The Rebels were one of the toughest teams to a get a read on in our preseason predictions. While the offense should be explosive behind quarterback Shea Patterson, the defense finished last in the SEC in points allowed last season and remains a concern. Additionally, the ongoing NCAA uncertainty and no postseason opportunity will have some impact on this team in 2017. We slotted Ole Miss in seventh, but this team has enough firepower to challenge for the fourth spot. Arkansas eventually earned the nod as the No. 4 team in the West, and as evidenced by the 3-5 records, there’s very little distance between the Razorbacks and Texas A&M or Mississippi State. Bret Bielema’s team returns one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in Austin Allen, and the defense should take a step forward with Paul Rhoads calling the plays. The gap between the Razorbacks and the other two teams closed a little more after running back Rawleigh Williams retired following a neck injury in spring ball. However, Arkansas catches Mississippi State at home, and plays Texas A&M on Sept. 23 – will the Aggies find an answer at quarterback by then? Behind dynamic junior quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State is the dark horse to watch in the SEC West. The addition of coordinator Todd Grantham and a handful of junior college recruits should provide an instant impact on a defense that surrendered 31.8 points per game last fall.

 

5. Kentucky and South Carolina on the Rise

In our prediction meeting, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee were a clear top three in the East Division. However, keep an eye on South Carolina or Kentucky for sleeper potential. The Gamecocks finished 6-7 in coach Will Muschamp’s first year in Columbia and have a promising core of talent to build around in 2017. Sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley is a rising star, and he’s surrounded by one of the SEC’s top receiving corps. The defense is a work in progress – especially in the trenches – but the Gamecocks will regain the services of linebacker Skai Moore, who missed all of 2016 due to a neck injury. Kentucky showed marked improvement last fall, finishing 7-6 after three straight losing seasons under coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats can lean on running back Benny Snell and one of the league’s top offensive lines until the passing attack finds its rhythm in 2017. Kentucky needs to get tougher against the run, but the back seven should be a strength.  

 

SEC 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL

Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

SEC Football 2017 Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected SEC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Georgia 6-2 9-4
2 Florida 6-2 8-4
3 Tennessee 4-4 8-4
4 South Carolina 4-4 6-6
5 Kentucky 4-4 7-5
6 Vanderbilt 3-5 6-6
7 Missouri 1-7 5-7
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected SEC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Alabama 7-1 12-1
2 Auburn 6-2 9-3
3 LSU 5-3 9-3
4 Arkansas 3-5 7-5
5 Mississippi State 3-5 7-5
6 Texas A&M 3-5 7-5
7 Ole Miss 1-7 5-7
         
SEC Championship Game
 Alabama over Georgia  

 

 

SEC 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Derrius Guice

RB, LSU

Kamryn Pettway

RB, Auburn

Derrius Guice

RB, LSU

Defensive POY

Minkah Fitzpatrick

DB, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick

DB, Alabama

Minkah Fitzpatrick

DB, Alabama

Coach of the Year

Gus Malzahn

Auburn

Gus Malzahn

Auburn

Kirby Smart

Georgia

Coach on Hot Seat

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M

Kevin Sumlin

Texas A&M

Top Freshman

Trey Smith

OL, Tennessee

Ty Chandler

RB, Tennessee

Jerry Jeudy

WR, Alabama

Top Newcomer

Jarrett Stidham

QB, Auburn

Jarrett Stidham

QB, Auburn

Jarrett Stidham

QB, Auburn

Sleeper Team Mississippi State South Carolina Ole Miss

Key Position

to Watch

Georgia OL Auburn DL Georgia WR
Best Coordinator Hire

Matt Canada

OC, LSU

Todd Grantham

DC, Miss. State

Matt Canada

OC, LSU

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Ole Miss Tennessee Tennessee
Coach on the Rise

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Dan Enos

OC, Arkansas

Dave Aranda

DC, LSU

Must-See Game

Alabama at

Auburn

Alabama at

Auburn

Alabama at

Auburn

Breakout Player

Shea Patterson

QB, Ole Miss

Tyrie Cleveland

WR, Florida

Shea Patterson

QB, Ole Miss

Comeback Player

Skai Moore

LB, South Carolina

Skai Moore

LB, South Carolina

Skai Moore

LB, South Carolina

 

Ranking the SEC Quarterbacks for 2017

 

1. Jalen Hurts, Alabama

2. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn

3. Austin Allen, Arkansas

 

Click here to view the full QB Rankings for 2017

 

Ranking the SEC Coaches for 2017

 

1. Nick Saban, Alabama

2. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

3. Jim McElwain, Florida

 

Click here to view the full SEC Coach Rankings for 2017

Teaser:
SEC Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News, Magazines
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Body:

Summer is supposed to belong to baseball, but the NFL is never far from our minds. Even though the draft was more than a month ago, football fans are already looking forward to training camp and the start of the 2017 regular season.

 

Athlon Sports understands this itch and has just the thing to get you ready for the upcoming season. Athlon’s 2017 Pro Football Preview magazine, which is available through our online store and on newsstands.

 

To celebrate the arrival of this year’s NFL preview magazines, here's a sneak peek on how we see the divisions shaking out and our playoff picks for the 2017 season.

 

All of Athlon’s 2017 NFL preview magazines are available for purchase online and newstands everywhere.

 

  AFC East NFC East
1.  
2.
3.
4.
  AFC North NFC North
1.
2.
3.
4.
  AFC South NFC South
1.
2.
3.
4.
  AFC West NFC West
1.
2.
3.
4.
AFC Playoffs NFC Playoffs
Wild Card Wild Card

over

 

over

 

over

over 

Divisional Round Divisional Round

over

over

over

over

AFC Championship NFC Championship

over

over

Super Bowl LII (Minneapolis)
 over 

 

Teaser:
Athlon Sports 2017 NFL Division Picks and Playoff Predictions
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 09:45
All taxonomy terms: Baylor Bears, College Football, Big 12, News
Path: /college-football/baylor-football-2017-bears-preview-and-prediction
Body:

After a tumultuous and difficult 2016 season, both on and especially off of the field, no one really knows what to expect from Baylor this fall. Former Temple head coach Matt Rhule was signed to a seven-year contract and given the task of cleaning up the mess left behind by the former regime. Considering all of the turnover and culture change this program is undergoing finishing above .500 and earning a bowl bid would be an impressive debut for Rhule and the Bears.

 

Previewing Baylor Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

Like a big melting pot, Baylor’s blended offense takes a sprinkle of Temple’s power offense with a tight end and fullback, adds in a few concepts from what Chip Kelly did with the San Francisco 49ers and throws it in with the spread attack that’s made the Bears one of the most explosive teams in the country.

 

First-year head coach Matt Rhule insists that it’s not as complicated as it sounds, saying, “You’ve got to give [defenses] different things they have to defend... The biggest thing is the ability to change tempo, change personnel groupings,” he says. “We’ll mainly be spread out with a couple bigger sets every once in a while — just really try to take advantage of what the defense is doing.”

 

Grad transfer Anu Solomon from Arizona was brought in to compete for the quarterback job, but sophomore Zach Smith has the stronger arm and is expected to be at the helm. True freshman Charlie Brewer is expected to redshirt.

 

Even with KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora both leaving early for the NFL, the receiving corps might be the deepest and most talented position group on the team. Blake Lynch, Chris Platt and Pooh Stricklin are the most experienced, but sophomore Denzel Mims could be the next in a lineage of talented Baylor receivers that includes Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Corey Coleman.

 

A power back who also has breakaway speed, Terence Williams gave Baylor a 1,000-yard rusher for the seventh straight year, racking up 1,048 yards and 11 touchdowns. With sophomore JaMycal Hasty, the Bears have one of the best 1-2 combos in the Big 12.

 

Three starters return up front with Blake Blackmar and Ishmael Wilson at the guards and Patrick Lawrence at right tackle, but the depth is razor-thin. Former junior college transfer Mo Porter steps in at left tackle and might have the most NFL potential.

 

Previewing Baylor Football’s Defense for 2017 

Baylor Football/Big 12 Magazine Athlon Sports’ Big 12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

With defensive coordinator Phil Snow, everything is in the details. “You do the little things, and the big things work,” he says. “They don’t quite understand that, they haven’t totally bought into it yet, but it’s a process. It takes about a year to learn this defense, and we’re still in the early stages.”

 

Snow has some nice pieces to build around, with All-Big 12 defensive end K.J. Smith and a fourth-year starter in Taylor Young at weak-side linebacker. Young has amassed 265 career tackles, while Smith had a breakout junior season with 67 tackles and a team-high seven sacks.

 

“As I watch all the kids, Taylor is our best defensive player, by far,” Snow says. “He’s playing a position that allows you to make a lot of plays, so he should have a really good year.”

 

Greg Roberts, Cactus Bowl Defensive MVP Tyrone Hunt and four other returners have made starts on the defensive line and are joined by former high school All-American Brian Nance, who sat out last season.

 

The secondary was injury plagued in the spring, but there’s plenty of promise with sophomores Jameson Houston and Grayland Arnold at the corners and Henry Black at safety.

 

Previewing Baylor Football’s Specialists for 2017

 

Drew Galitz handled the punting (41.6-yard average) and kickoff duties last year and might even take over kicking chores if sophomore walk-ons Connor Martin and Peter Webster can’t get it done.

 

Final Analysis

 

There are too many holes and question marks for Rhule to match the back-to-back 10-win seasons he had in his final two years at Temple. But Baylor — which returns 10 starters from a team that went 7–6 — is good enough to reach a bowl game for the eighth consecutive season.
 

National Ranking: 47

Big 12 Prediction: 7

Teaser:
Baylor Football: 2017 Bears Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/athlon-sports-preseason-fcs-top-25-2017
Body:

James Madison winning the 2016 national championship changed everything in FCS college football.

 

Along the way, the Dukes served notice to the rest of the FCS that North Dakota State is no longer invincible in the playoffs. They won inside the Fargodome in the semifinals before going on to beat Youngstown State, 28-14, in the title game in Frisco, Texas.

 

James Madison and North Dakota State are still the teams to beat in 2017, but there are enough strong teams heading into the season, and others ready to surprise and build momentum once the games begin, that a contested race to the top is highly anticipated.

 

Here is Athlon’s projected top 25 teams in the FCS, with where teams might finish after the national championship on Jan. 6:

 

Note: 2016 record is in parentheses

 

1. North Dakota State

(12-2, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

The Bison’s five-year run as FCS national champions ended against James Madison in the 2016 playoff semifinals, but their dynasty isn’t necessarily over because they’re strong enough (16 returning starters) to climb back to the top of the mountain. Oh yes, coach Chris Klieman’s program is probably a little more motivated this time around. With linebacker Nick DeLuca and defensive tackle Nate Tanguay returning from injuries, the veteran defense is the nation’s best and also features defensive end Greg Menard and safety Tre Dempsey among its bruisers. The loss of two starters on the offensive line is a bit of a concern, but quarterback Easton Stick will spread the ball around to running backs Lance Dunn and Bruce Anderson and wide receivers Darrius Shepherd and R.J. Urzendowski. The Bison have won at least a share of six straight Missouri Valley titles and are 83–7 in that time.

 

2. James Madison

(14-1, 8-0 CAA)

The Dukes captured the 2016 national championship in coach Mike Houston’s initial season in Harrisonburg. Despite some key losses, they’ve reloaded for a shot at capturing back-to-back titles. Clutch quarterback Bryan Schor, the 2016 CAA Offensive Player of the Year, is back as a senior. While 1,800-yard rusher Khalid Abdullah is gone, two-time Georgia Tech leading rusher Marcus Marshall has transferred into a deep backfield alongside running backs Cardon Johnson and Trai Sharpe. The defense features end Andrew Ankrah and safety Raven Greene. The schedule is advantageous, as last year’s other top CAA teams have to visit Bridgeforth Stadium. Plus, a season-opening win at East Carolina is possible.

 

3. South Dakota State

(9-4, 7-1 Missouri Valley)

Last year’s national quarterfinalists have an FBS-level offense, led by junior quarterback and Missouri Valley Offensive Player of the Year Taryn Christion. His go-to targets, NFL prospects Dallas Goedert (tight end) and Jake Wieneke (wide receiver), combined for 170 receptions, 2,609 receiving yards and 27 touchdown catches in 2016. All-conference linebacker Christian Rozeboom was nearly the National Freshman of the Year, but the defense needs to improve for coach John Stiegelmeier’s squad to meet the team’s higher expectations.

 

4. Sam Houston State

(12-1, 9-0 Southland)

The Bearkats’ offense could be the nation’s deepest behind senior quarterback Jeremiah Briscoe, who threw an FCS single-season record 57 touchdown passes while winning the 2016 Walter Payton Award. Coach K.C. Keeler’s offense has an embarrassment of riches with wide receivers Yedidiah Louis, Davion Davis and Nathan Stewart and running backs Corey Avery and Remus Bulmer. Senior defensive end P.J. Hall and linebacker Justin Johnson must lift a defense that lost six starters. In six straight playoff appearances, the snakebitten Bearkats have been eliminated by four eventual national champs and one national runner-up.

 

5. North Dakota

(9-3, 8-0 Big Sky)

A Big Sky co-title and first-ever FCS playoff appearance have whet the appetite of a UND program that will move to the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020. Safety Cole Reyes, the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year, joins cornerbacks Deion Harris and Torrey Hunt in a shutdown secondary. Senior quarterback Keaton Studsrud has improved as a passer, but he’ll give many handoffs to junior running backs John Santiago and Brady Oliveira and Minnesota transfer James Johannesson.

 

6. Eastern Washington

(12-2, 8-0 Big Sky)

New coach Aaron Best has spent 20 years in the program, so the Eagles expect a smooth transition following Beau Baldwin’s departure to Cal as offensive coordinator. Unfortunately for last year’s national semifinalists, the early-season schedule is brutally tough, and all-world wide receiver Cooper Kupp graduated. Junior quarterback Gage Gubrud will make new connections after throwing for an FCS single-season record 5,160 yards as well as 48 TDs.

 

7. Richmond

(10-4, 5-3 CAA)

With coach Danny Rocco off to Delaware, Richmond hired Russ Huesman, the defensive coordinator of the Spiders’ 2008 FCS championship team, from Chattanooga. He inherits a ready-to-win team. Two-time 3,000-yard passer Kyle Lauletta is returning from an ACL tear, and he’s backed by Kevin Johnson, who helped key a run to the national quarterfinals. Injuries at running back opened the door for Deontez Thompson to surpass 1,000 yards as a redshirt freshman.

 

8. Villanova

(9-4, 6-2 CAA)

The post-Andy Talley era begins under new coach Mark Ferrante, an assistant for 30 years. Dual-threat quarterback Zach Bednarczyk is one of nine returning offensive starters, and running backs Aaron Forbes and Matt Gudzak form a dynamic duo. Last year’s FCS-leading defense returns safety Rob Rolle, whose seven interceptions tied for the national lead, and linebackers Ed Shockley and Jeff Steeb.

 

9. Jacksonville State

(10-2, 7-0 Ohio Valley)

Quarterbacks Bryant Horn and Kendrick Doss hope to replace Eli Jenkins, the key to three straight unbeaten seasons in the OVC. Jenkins’ loss means running back Roc Thomas will become the focal point of the offense. An outstanding defense returns eight starters, including the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year (end Darius Jackson) and Freshman of the Year (safety Marlon Bridges).

 

10. Wofford

(10-4, 6-2 Southern)

Having beaten SoCon champion The Citadel in last year’s playoffs, the Terriers seek to replace the Bulldogs atop the conference. They’re bolstered by a stout defense, including Miles Brown and Tyler Vaughn up front, and two strong QBs to run the triple option, Brandon Goodson and Joe Newman. Coach Mike Ayers, in his 30th season, is three wins shy of 200 at Wofford.

 

Related: FCS' Southern Conference to Challenge Best in FBS in 2017

 

11. New Hampshire

(8-5, 6-2 CAA)

A season opener against archrival Maine could jump-start the Wildcats to a 14th straight playoff appearance under coach Sean McDonnell. They need steadier play out of junior quarterback Trevor Knight, who has excellent wide receivers in Malik Love and Neil O’Connor. The future is now in the secondary with sophomores Pop Lacey and Prince Smith Jr., last year’s CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year.

 

12. Lehigh

(9-3, 6-0 Patriot)

Quarterback Brad Mayes is thrilled to have the keys to the offense because the defending Patriot League champ returns a two-time 1,000-yard rusher, Dom Bragalone, and last year’s two 1,000-yard receivers, Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey — a trio that combined to score 42 touchdowns. Still, the Mountain Hawks have to face fellow league powers Colgate and Fordham on the road.

 

13. Northern Iowa

(5-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley)

One of the more disappointing teams in the FCS last season (preseason No. 3) seeks to make amends. While 2016 Buck Buchanan Award winner Karter Schult graduated, the Panthers return 16 starters. A veteran offensive line will protect junior quarterback Eli Dunne. Senior linebacker Jared Farley, son of coach Mark Farley, headlines the defense.

 

14. Youngstown State

(12-4, 6-2 Missouri Valley)

The former FCS power in the 1990s ended a 10-year playoff drought by reaching the national championship game, where the Penguins fell to James Madison. Despite losing a lot of talent, they hope to become a consistent winner under coach Bo Pelini. Quarterback Hunter Wells and running back Tevin McCaster took big steps forward down the stretch.

 

15. Chattanooga

(9-4, 6-2 Southern)

New coach Tom Arth has made the jump from Division III John Carroll, where he knocked off both Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater last year. His Mocs are retooling after losing six starters on each side of the ball, but the return of seniors Alejandro Bennifield (quarterback) and Richardre Bagley (running back) provide a good start. The Mocs have won 26 of their last 31 SoCon games.

 

16. Charleston Southern

(7-4, 4-1 Big South)

FBS-bound Liberty’s ineligibility in the Big South race makes it easier for the Buccaneers to claim a three-peat. Mark Tucker is the new coach following Jamey Chadwell’s departure to Coastal Carolina as offensive coordinator. Losses at running back mean sophomore quarterback Shane Bucenell must mature quickly. Defensive end Anthony Ellis and linebacker Solomon Brown fuel an excellent front seven.

 

17. Central Arkansas

(10-3, 8-1 Southland)

The defense was formidable in the Bears’ playoff season a year ago, and All-Southland picks George Odum and Tremon Smith return to the secondary. But the offense is primed to reach a higher level because it returns underrated quarterback Hayden Hildebrand, a stable of quality running backs and all five starters on the offensive line. The Bears will face most of the Southland powers at home.

 

18. Samford

(7-5, 5-3 Southern)

SoCon Offensive Player of the Year Devlin Hodges passed for 4,088 yards and 36 touchdowns as a sophomore last season, and he pairs again with wide receiver Kelvin McKnight. While the Bulldogs need to improve their rushing attack, they should stop the run with a solid defensive line, backed by linebacker Shaheed Salmon and cornerback Omari Williams.

 

19. Western Illinois

(6-5, 3-5 Missouri Valley)

A 5–1 start last season, including an upset of Northern Illinois, fell apart on the Leathernecks. They return 18 starters, including the 1-2 offensive punch of quarterback Sean McGuire and running back Steve McShane, but the team’s best player is All-America linebacker Brett Taylor. As a junior, he ranked No. 3 in the FCS in tackles.

 

20. Albany

(7-4, 4-4 CAA)

A return to form by junior running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks (1,401 rushing yards, 16 TDs), who suffered a torn ACL in the season’s final game, is vital for the Great Danes as they come off their best season since joining the CAA in 2013. They need improved play at quarterback to avoid being one of the last two teams left out of the playoff field again.

 

21. Fordham

(8-3, 5-1 Patriot)

Denied an at-large playoff bid in 2016, the Rams want to go back in as the Patriot League champs in 2017. Senior running back Chase Edmonds (5,285 rushing yards, 69 TDs) is ready to cap a scintillating career. Opposing defenses can’t just concentrate on him, though, because fifth-year senior Kevin Anderson was the league’s passing leader a year ago.

 

22. Cal Poly

(7-5, 5-3 Big Sky)

The Mustangs’ triple option will rank among the nation’s best rushing offenses with the return of All-America fullback Joe Protheroe, slot back Kyle Lewis and an experienced offensive line. Coach Tim Walsh’s squad seeks a return to the FCS playoffs, but it needs improvement against the pass. It should come with the return of senior safety B.J. Nard.

 

23. Liberty

(6-5, 4-1 Big South)

Coach Turner Gill’s squad is ineligible for the Big South title and FCS playoffs while they transition toward FBS independence in 2018, but they’ll have a strong team nonetheless. Last year’s youthful offense will come of age behind sophomore quarterback Stephen Calvert, while the defense has a senior standout in defensive end Juwan Wells. The special teams are outstanding.

 

24. McNeese

(6-5, 5-4 Southland)

The Cowboys have posted 12 straight winning seasons, but they’re seeking significant improvement in coach Lance Guidry’s second season in Lake Charles, La. The offense is diverse, led by quarterback James Tabary, who is coming off a 3,000-yard season, and senior running back Ryan Ross. The defense returns its top seven tacklers, including Jammerio Gross and Chris Livings, who anchor the defensive line.

 

25. The Citadel

(10-2, 8-0 Southern)

A handful of potential returning starters departed in the offseason, including two-time All-America cornerback Dee Delaney, who left via a graduate transfer to Miami (Fla.) and is a projected starter for the Canes. The losses severely dampen the Bulldogs’ bid to win a third straight SoCon title. Triple-option quarterback Dominique Allen is back to guide last year’s FCS-leading rushing attack, and safety Kailik Williams is the unquestioned leader in the secondary.

 

OTHERS TO WATCH: Harvard (7-3, 5-2 Ivy), Illinois State (6-6, 4-4 Missouri Valley), Kennesaw State (8-3, 3-2 Big South), Montana (6-5, 3-5 Big Sky), Nicholls (5-6, 5-4 Southland), North Carolina A&T (9-3, 7-1 MEAC), Northern Arizona (5-6, 4-4 Big Sky), Southern Utah (6-5, 5-3 Big Sky), UT Martin (7-5, 6-2 Ohio Valley), Weber State (7-5, 6-2 Big Sky)

 

This is just one of the features found in Athlon Sports' 2017 National College Football Annual, which previews the entire upcoming college football season. Get your copy online or at newsstands everywhere today!

 

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

 

(Top photo by James Madison Athletics)

Teaser:
Athlon Sports Preseason FCS Top 25 for 2017
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 09:15
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Ole Miss Rebels, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/ole-miss-football-2017-rebels-preview-and-prediction
Body:

High expectations entering the 2016 season materialized into a 5-7 season and no bowl invite for Ole Miss. There will be no postseason appearance this fall either, as the school has imposed a one-year bowl ban in the midst of an ongoing NCAA investigation. That may end up being the least of head coach Hugh Freeze’s worries depending on what the NCAA reports, but for now the focus on the field will center on sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson and the offense’s potential.

 

Previewing Ole Miss Football’s Offense for 2017 

 

Shea Patterson, the No. 1 quarterback in the 2016 recruiting class, lost his redshirt and became the starter after Chad Kelly tore an ACL with three games remaining. He led the Rebels to a win at Texas A&M in his debut before lopsided losses at Vanderbilt and at home to Mississippi State. Patterson’s completion percentage was only 54.8 due in part to an inordinate amount of dropped passes.

 

Patterson has a plethora of targets with big, physical sophomores A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf the most intriguing. He will not have tight end Evan Engram, who had 65 catches and eight touchdowns while narrowly missing 1,000 yards last season.

 

The offensive line returns four starters and showed increased physical play in the spring. Depth is inexperienced but promising. Sophomore left tackle Greg Little, a five-star recruit, could blossom.

 

The running game has interesting potential under new coordinator Phil Longo, whose offenses at Sam Houston posted gaudy numbers in recent years. Jordan Wilkins and Eric Swinney both missed the entire 2016 season. Swinney was rated among the top-15 running backs in the 2015 recruiting class.

 

Previewing Ole Miss Football’s Defense for 2017

Ole Miss Football/SEC Magazine Athlon Sports’ SEC magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

 

Ole Miss struggled across the board defensively in 2016, ranking 100th or worse in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and red-zone defense. Wesley McGriff, who was on Freeze’s first staff in 2012 as the defensive backs coach, is the new defensive coordinator. He has installed a base 4-3 defense.

 

The defensive line has the potential to be outstanding. End Marquis Haynes, who flirted with the NFL Draft, is third on the school’s career sack list with 24.5. If junior tackle Breeland Speaks bounces back from a disappointing season, the run defense should be much improved.

 

The key could be the play of the linebackers, which was a position in flux a year ago. There’s no can’t-miss prospect arriving on campus, but there are lots of bodies and a measure of experience in rangy senior DeMarquis Gates.

 

Sophomore Myles Hartsfield made an impressive move from strong safety to corner in the spring. He will team with senior Ken Webster, who is returning from a torn ACL, to form a solid cornerback tandem.

 

Previewing Nebraska Football’s Specialists for 2017 

 

Kicker Gary Wunderlich is back for his senior season after earning third-team All-America honors from the Associated Press. The Lou Groza Award semifinalist connected on 22-of-23 field goal attempts and led the nation with a 95.7 percent success rate. Wunderlich split time at punter with Will Gleeson, who also returns.

 

Final Analysis

 

If the opportunity to play in a bowl game is the only motivation, the 2017 season is already lost. Ole Miss players insist it is not. They found out in late February they have no chance at bowl game, not because of what may or may not happen on the field, but because of the school’s own ban, part of its self-sanctioning amid an NCAA investigation that approaches its fifth birthday.

 

“We were devastated, but the next morning we had a 6 o’clock workout, and everybody showed up with high energy,” junior offensive lineman Javon Patterson says. “That showed a lot about our team.”

 

Spring practice also showed that Ole Miss — with two new coordinators and three new position coaches under Hugh Freeze — is still pretty good on offense. And that question marks remain on defense.

 

The Rebels want to make amends for a disappointing season that saw them ranked as high as No. 11 before falling to 5–7. Twelve regular-season games, to them, is far more important than one postseason exhibition. “We’ve moved way beyond that,” Haynes says. “There are no frowns, none of that. We’re all here as a family, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

 

National Ranking: 46

SEC West Prediction: 7

 

Teaser:
Ole Miss Football: 2017 Rebels Preview and Prediction
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 09:00
Path: /nba/what-worst-trade-nba-history
Body:

What is the worst trade in NBA history?

 

What's the worst NBA trade ever?The Kings shocked the NBA by trading All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins in a deal centered around a 2017 first-round pick and Buddy Hield, a rookie who Kings owner Vivek Ranadive reportedly believes has “Steph Curry potential.” Kings GM Vlade Divac — who, as a player, was traded from the Lakers to the Hornets for Kobe Bryant in a regrettable 1996 deal — admitted to having a better offer “two days” before making the deal.

 

The Kings are a rudderless ship, but there have been many terrible trades in NBA history. The Celtics traded draft picks to the Warriors for Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish in a 1980 deal. Former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien traded away first-round picks in five consecutive years — one of which turned into 1982 No. 1 overall pick James Worthy — inspiring the “Stepien Rule,” which prohibits teams from trading first-round picks in successive seasons.

 

But even that rule hasn’t been able to protect teams from themselves. In 2013, the Brooklyn Nets traded a handful of draft picks to acquire veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce from the Celtics. As a result, Boston has the No. 1 overall pick this year (through an option to swap picks with Brooklyn) and could again in 2018 (with Brooklyn’s unprotected pick outright).

Teaser:
Is it Boogie for Buddy, Vlade for Kobe, or the infamous Brooklyn-Boston trade in 2013?
Post date: Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - 06:17
All taxonomy terms: Babe Ruth, Shohei Otani, MLB
Path: /mlb/will-there-ever-be-another-two-way-baseball-player-babe-ruth
Body:

Will there ever be another two-way baseball player, like Babe Ruth?

 

There may never be another Ruthian two-way MLB player, but Shohei Otani is currently the “Babe Ruth of Japan,” earning Pacific League “Best Nine” honors as both a starting pitcher and designated hitter in 2016. Otani, 22, was named Pacific League MVP for the Japanese Series champion Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters after posting a 10–4 record with a 1.86 ERA and recording the fastest pitch (102.5 mph) in Nippon Professional Baseball history as a right-handed ace, while hitting .322 with 22 HR as a left-handed-hitting slugger. Nearly 100 years prior, a 24-year-old Ruth went 9–5 with a 2.97 ERA and hit .322 with 29 HR in his last season with the Boston Red Sox in 1919. Unfortunately, for baseball fans stateside, the 6’4”, 200-pound Otani will have to wait to be posted by his Japanese club before arriving in MLB.

Teaser:
Japanese star Shohei Otani is a dominant hitter and pitcher
Post date: Monday, June 5, 2017 - 17:13
All taxonomy terms: NBA, Overtime
Path: /nba/kobe-bryant-jalen-rose-star-epic-81-commercial-lakers-raptors
Body:

You're probably aware that Kobe Bryant once scored 81 points in a game.

 

It was an unforgettable game that Jalen Rose and the Raptors still can't live down. Rose even blocks people on Twitter for mentioning 81. Trust me, I know from personal experience.

 

 

The 81 joke will never get old.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, June 5, 2017 - 11:40
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/nfl-quarterback-rankings
Body:

Football is a team sport, but when it comes to the NFL the most important individual on a team is the starting quarterback. Nine of the past 10 MVPs have been quarterbacks with five different signal-callers winning the award since 2007.

 

So it should come as no surprise that in Athlon Sports’ rankings of quarterbacks entering the 2017 season starts with three former MVPs – Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan – with a fourth (Cam Newton) rounding out the top 10. In fact, only three of the quarterbacks in the top 10 have never even appeared in the Super Bowl, while the other seven have started 16 times on Super Sunday. It appears that more than ever success in the NFL starts with who is under center.

 

Athlon’s player rankings are just one of the features that appear in the 2017 NFL Preview magazine.

 

2017 NFL Quarterback Rankings

 

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

The passer with the top quarterback rating in NFL history (104.1) remained dominant. Led NFL with 40 touchdown passes and guided Packers to eight straight wins before NFC title game loss.

 

2. Tom Brady, New England

A season that opened with a four-game Deflategate suspension couldn’t have ended any sweeter — with Super Bowl LI MVP honors. Shows no signs of slowing down as he reaches age 40.

 

3. Matt Ryan, Atlanta

An MVP season was ruined by Atlanta’s collapse in Super Bowl LI. However, the loss shouldn’t diminish a brilliant 2016 campaign highlighted by a career-high 38 touchdown passes and 117.1 quarterback rating.

 

4. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh

Overcame an early season knee injury to lead Pittsburgh to eight straight wins and AFC title game berth. Now ranks in top 10 all-time for touchdown passes (301) and passing yards (46,814).

 

5. Russell Wilson, Seattle

Carried Seattle’s offense while playing through a knee injury suffered in Week 3. Posted career highs in completions (353), attempts (546) and passing yards (4,219).

 

6. Drew Brees, New Orleans

Keeps rolling even at age 38. Amassed highest yardage and touchdown totals (5,208 and 37, respectively) since 2013.

 

7. Derek Carr, Oakland

Value to the Raiders was further reinforced when Oakland collapsed following his season-ending leg injury in Week 15. Expected to sign a monster contract extension before start of 2017 campaign.

 

8. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

The Colts have failed to make the playoffs in two straight seasons for the first time since 1997-98. But 8–8 records the past two years would be far worse if Luck weren’t there.

 

9. Matthew Stafford, Detroit

Part of 2016 MVP conversation until finger injury triggered a late-season slump. No quarterback has ever passed for 30,000 yards in fewer games (109).

 

10. Cam Newton, Carolina

Performance of 2015 MVP took noticeable dip last season, partially because of a shoulder injury and Carolina’s offensive line woes. Must improve career-low 52.9 completion percentage from 2016.

 

11. Kirk Cousins, Washington

12. Eli Manning, New York Giants

13. Dak Prescott, Dallas

14. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

15. Joe Flacco, Baltimore

16. Andy Dalton, Cincinnati

17. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee

18. Carson Palmer, Arizona

19. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay

20. Alex Smith, Kansas City

21. Ryan Tannehill, Miami

22. Sam Bradford, Minnesota

23. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia

24. Tyrod Taylor, Buffalo

25. Blake Bortles, Jacksonville

26. Trevor Siemian, Denver

27. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams

28. Jimmy Garoppolo, New England
29. Mike Glennon, Chicago

30. Colin Kaepernick, UFA

Teaser:
2017 NFL Quarterback Rankings
Post date: Monday, June 5, 2017 - 11:30
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, NBA
Path: /college-basketball/early-college-basketball-top-25-2017-18
Body:

The deadline for college basketball underclassmen considering entry into the NBA draft passed last month. Barring a handful of transfers – like Pittsburgh guard Cameron Johnson – and straggling 2017 recruits, rosters for the 2017-18 season are set.

 

Thanks to the revised draft deadline, in its second year, college basketball is awash in returning talent. The bevy of veteran leadership returning to the NCAA hardwood promises for a competitive and wildly entertaining season to come.

 

Some honorable mentions that did not make the Top 25:

- Oregon

- Butler

- Baylor

- VCU

- Virginia Tech

- TCU

- Texas

- Texas A&M

- South Carolina

- Arkansas

 

As we journey into the summer, the following is your updated college basketball Top 25 for 2017-18:

 

1. Arizona Wildcats

Key Returners: Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Dusan Ristic, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Keanu Pinder

Departures: Kadeem Allen, Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons, Chance Comanche

New Arrivals: DeAndre Ayton, Emannuel Akot, Ira Lee, Brandon Randolph, Alex Barcello

Buzz: Rarely does a team lose four prominent players, including its defensive stopper (Kadeem Allen) and a rare offensive talent (Lauri Markkanen), yet seemingly improve the next season. Such is the case for Arizona.

 

Arizona scored big this spring, with both Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins opting to return for at least one more season. The Wildcats got further good, unexpected news in May when 5-star prospect Emmanuel Akot reclassified into the class of 2017. He joins DeAndre Ayton to headline a stellar crop of recruits joining a veteran roster. Among the returners with breakout potential are Dusan Ristic and Parker Jackson-Cartwright, and reserve Keanu Pinder has high upside.

 

The Wildcats have not been to the Final Four since losing the 2001 national championship game. Four Pac-12 championships and three Elite Eight trips under head coach Sean Miller have fans and pundits alike antsy for Arizona to get back to the Final Four. The pressure is on, as UA will likely enter this comings season as the No. 1 team in the nation.

 

2. Kansas Jayhawks

Key Returners: Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk, Lagerald Vick

Departures: Frank Mason III, Josh Jackson, Carlton Bragg, Landen Lucas

New Arrivals: Billy Preston, Marcus Garrett, Charlie Moore, Sam Cuncliffe, Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson

Buzz: Despite losing some playmakers critical to Kansas' success last sesason — namely Oscar Robertson Player of the Year Frank Mason III and freshman phenom Josh Jackson — the Jayhawks have reloaded nicely. 

 

Transfers play a key role in Bill Self's new-look roster. Charlie Moore (Cal) joined Memphis transfers Dedric and K.J. Lawson in April, while former Arizona State guard Sam Cuncliffe pledged his commitment to the Jayhawks in the winter. All four can make an instant impact alongside returning leaders Devonte' Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. Add talented freshmen Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett, and Kansas has all the makings of a Final Four team. 

 

3. Michigan State Spartans

Key Returners: Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Tum Tum Narin, Cassius Winston

Departures: Eron Harris, Alvin Ellis

New Arrivals: Jaren Jackson, Xavier Tillman

Buzz: Michigan State took its share of lumps in the 2016-17 season. However, the hard knocks Tom Izzo's squad endured as part of relying on a three-man freshman corps bolster the Spartans for a potential national title run.

 

Miles Bridges spurned the NBA draft, giving the Spartans a potential All-American around which to build. Bridges averaged 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds in his impressive debut campaign. Fellow first-year star Nick Ward and Cassius are also back, giving Michigan State its own Big Three. Freshman Jaren Jackson makes it a Big 4. 

 

Jackson's one of the most highly touted recruits ever to sign with Izzo's Spartans. Along with Ward and Bridges, he gives Michigan State arguably the best frontcourt in college basketball.

 

4. Duke Blue Devils

Key Returners: Grayson Allen, Marques Bolden

Departures: Amile Jefferson, Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III, Frank Jackson

New Arrivals: Trevon Duval, Gary Trent Jr., Wendell Carter, Alex O'Connell

Buzz: Despite the exodus out of Durham this offseason, Mike Krzyzewski positions Duke in familiar territory as a Final Four contender. The incoming recruiting class is on par with the 2014 bunch that won a national championship, and perhaps the most impressive all-around since Coach K landed Elton Brand, Shane Battier and William Avery two decades ago.

 

Trevon Duval signed late in the spring to cap a recruiting class already featuring 5-stars Gary Trent Jr. and Wendell Carter. With veteran Grayson Allen opting to return for his senior season, Duke has an experienced presence to complement the youthful talent up and down the roster.

 

5. Kentucky Wildcats

Departures: Malik Monk, De'Aaron Fox, Isaiah Briscoe, Derek Willis, Dominique Hawkins, Mychael Mulder, Bam Adebayo

New Arrivals: Hamidou Diallo, P.J. Washington, Nick Richards, Quade Green, Jemarl Baker, Jarred Vanderbilt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Buzz: John Calipari loses great players. John Calipari adds great players. The circle of college basketball continues. Despite freshmen phenoms De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk leaving as expected, and big man Bam Adebayo opting for the pros, Kentucky replenishes its ranks with a stellar signing class. 

 

Hamidou Diallo's flirtation with the NBA — he met the age requirement despite having not played in college — came to an end at the deadline. He'll wear Kentucky blue, and figures to be an immediate star for a Wildcat team with a much different, but ultimately still Final Four-quality look.

 

6. Wichita State Shockers

Key Returners: Darral Willis, Shaquille Morris, Markis McDuffie, Landry Shamet, Zach Brown

Departures: None

Buzz: Any threat of taking a step back from last season's 31-win finish at Wichita State was diminished when both Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie opted to return for another campaign. The duo leads one of the most veteran squads in college basketball, and the immediate favorite to win the American Athletic Conference in the Shockers' first season as a member.

 

Gregg Marshall's team ranked No. 8 in the nation per KenPom.com metrics last season, and boasted a No. 13 ranking in both defensive and offensive efficiency. With so much veteran presence back, Wichita States will make a serious run for No. 1 — both analytically, and by more traditional metrics.

 

7. Louisville Cardinals

Key Returners: Deng Adel, Quentin Snider, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud

Departures: Mangok Mathiang, Tony Hicks, Jaylen Johnson, Donovan Mitchell

New Arrivals: Brian Bowen, Malik Williams, Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Lance Thomas

Buzz: Even with Donovan Mitchell and Jaylen Johnson opting to say in the NBA draft, the Cardinals are in good shape entering this season after picking up two big pieces in the spring.

 

One is Deng Adel, the Australian forward who made big strides last season and chose to return to school. Should he continue his upward trajectory, he'll be a breakout star in the coming season. Louisville also appears virtually guaranteed to add 5-star prospect Brian Bowen, who enrolled for classes (though has not signed a letter of intent as of this writing).

 

Bowen would join a class featuring potential instant-impact player Malik Williams.

 

8. Florida Gators

Key Returners: KeVaughn Allen, Chris Chiozza, Keith Stone, John Egbunu

Departures: Kasey Hill, Canyon Barry, Devin Robinson

New Arrivals: DeAundrae Bullard, Chase Johnson, Isaiah Stokes, Mike Okauru

Buzz: Florida came a few minutes away from reaching the 2017 Final Four. With the corps Mike White returns, and an impressive crop of newcomers, the Gators may well finish the job in 2018. 

 

The Gators' foundation starts with veterans KeVaughn Allen and Chris Chiozza. Both impressed in the NCAA Tournament, with Allen in particular showing superstar potential. He'll land on some preseason All-America teams. John Egbunu returns from a knee injury to solidify the Gators' interior.

 

9. North Carolina Tar Heels

Key Returners: Joel Berry II, Theo Pinson, Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Brandon Robinson

Departures: Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks, Nate Britt, Justin Jackson, Tony Bradley

New Arrivals: Jalek Felton, Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley, Andrew Platek, Brandon Huffman

Buzz: Early departures and graduations hit defending national champion North Carolina hard, though not as dramatically as they could have. While Justin Jackson opted to remain in the NBA draft pool, and Kennedy Meeks' would-be post successor Tony Bradley also exited UNC, the Tar Heels return guards Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson.

 

Berry and Pinson will lead an impressive kiddie corps. Guard Jalek Felton and Berry should complement each other nicely, with either able to produce points. Power forward Garrison Brooks signed in May. He'll fill the void Meeks left in the middle, which Bradley originally appeared positioned to step into.

 

Related: Ranking the North Carolina Tar Heels' Six National Championships

 

10. Xavier Musketeers

Key Returners: Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura, Sean O'Mara, Kaiser Gates

Departures: Edmond Sumner, RaShid Gaston, Malcolm Bernard

New Arrivals: Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, Elias Harden, Jared Ridder, Brady Ernst, Kentrevious Jones

Buzz: Trevon Bluiett is back, solidifying an impressive starting lineup for possible Big East Conference Xavier. The Musketeers regrouped from a midseason stumble in 2017 to reach the Elite Eight, and have the core pieces back to build off that run.

 

The addition of 4-star recruits Paul Scruggs and Naji Marshall further stocks what could be Chris Mack's most talented team in his time as Xavier head coach.

 

11. West Virginia Mountaineers

Key Returners: Esa Ahmad, James Bolden, Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles

Departures: Tarik Phillip, Teyvon Myers, Nathan Adrian

New Arrivals: Derek Culver, De'Angelo Hunter, Teddy Allen, Brandon Knapper, Wesley Harris

Buzz: Bob Huggins returns a veteran roster to employ his physical, defensive-minded approach. Jevon Carter's decision to return to Morgantown sets the stage for a teamt that was a 2017 Sweet 16 participant and the nation's No. 4 defense per KenPom.com adjusted efficiency metrics.

 

Carter and fellow returner Daxter Miles were West Virginia's only double-digit scorers last season. However, James Bolden could be a potential breakthrough performer. He connected on 45 percent of his 50 3-point attempts.

 

12. Cincinnati Bearcats

Key Returners: Jacob Evans, Kyle Washington, Quadri Moore, Jarron Cumberland, Gary Clark, Tre Scott

Departures: Troy Caupain

New Arrivals: Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme

Buzz: Jacob Evans' decision to put off the NBA fortifies Cincinnati as Wichita State's primary challenger in the suddenly top-heavy American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats also have the makings of a possible Final Four team.

 

Evans rejoins Kyle Washington and Jarron Cumberland from a 30-win lineup a season ago. An effective 3-point shooter (42 percent on 165 attempts), Evans provides an offensive spark to complement the Bearcats' tenacious D. UC ranked No. 5 nationally in opponent field-goal percentage a season ago, and the big man Washington rated as one of the nation's best defenders per KenPom.com.

 

13. USC Trojans

Key Returners: Elijah Stewart, Jordan McLaughlin, Nick Rakocevic

Departures: Charles Buggs

Wild Cards: Bennie Boatwright, De'Anthony Melton, Chimezie Metu, Shaqquan Aaron

New Arrivals: Charles O'Bannon Jr., Jordan Usher, Victor Uyaelunmo

Buzz: Andy Enfield may have benefited more from the extended NBA draft deadline than any other head coach in the nation. USC is loaded with key returners from a team that came just a few possessions shy of advancing to the Sweet 16. Bennie Boatwright, Chimezie Metu, Shaqquan Aaron and De'Anthony Melton all return to the fold, joining Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart to form one of the most veteran lineups in the nation.

 

The addition of highly touted freshman Charles O'Bannon solidifies the Trojans' depth, and reserve Nick Rakocevic showed breakout potential in an NCAA Tournament win over Providence.

 

Initial expectations for Enfield's crew are high — some outlets rank USC has high as No. 5 heading into the summer. That may be a bit optimistic, though it points to the very real sky-high ceiling of the 2017-18 Trojans.

 

14. UCLA Bruins

Key Returners: Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, G.G. Goloman

Departures: Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf, Isaac Hamilton, Bryce Alford, Ike Anibogu

New Arrivals: Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes, Jalen Hill, LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley, Chris Smith

Buzz: UCLA blended one-and-done talent with established playmakers nicely last season, seemingly giving Steve Alford a recipe for success. So long as the veterans who should return do, UCLA has the makings of a similar roster in 2017-18. Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday were key role players last season, poised to become leaders in the next campaign.

 

They join the nation's No. 2-ranked recruiting class, headlined by 5-star prospects Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands. Wilkes and Hands should transition into the roles T.J. Leaf and Lonzo Ball occupied a season ago, and local prospect Cody Riley could be a significant force on the interior at 6-foot-7 and about 240 pounds.

 

15. Miami Hurricanes

Key Returners: Bruce Brown, Ja'Quan Newton, Dewan Huell, Dejan Vasiljevic

Departures: Davon Reed

New Arrivals: Lonnie Walker, Chris Lykes, Deng Gak, Sam Waardenburg

Buzz: A top 10-ranked recruiting class joins an established corps of veterans at Miami, making for an intriguing dark-horse contender in next season's loaded ACC race. Jim Larranaga scored his first major win of the offseason early, when Bruce Brown declared he would return.

 

Incoming freshman Lonnie Walker could be an instant force for the Hurricanes. The McDonald's All-American guard is an athletic slasher — just the kind of playmaker who thrives in Larranaga's system. He'll also adds versatility to an already-impressive defense, which ranked No. 25 nationally for adjusted efficiency in 2016-17.

 

16. Villanova Wildcats

Key Returners: Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall, Phil Booth

Departures: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins

New Arrivals: Dhamir Crosby-Roundtree, Jermaine Samuels, Collin Gillespie

Buzz: Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins were the heart and soul of the last two, outstanding Villanova teams. Their departures leave a considerable void, but talented duo Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson stand ready to fill that void.

 

Both opted to return after testing the NBA draft process. Brunson evolved into arguably the most dangerous player on Villanova's roster a season ago, and Bridges has the tools to be a breakout star.

 

Jay Wright adds a potential future star in Dhamir Crosby-Roundtree, an elite-level local prospect with the ability to make an immediate splash. Villanova also gets back Phil Booth, who missed all but three games in 2016-17 due to injury. Booth was a surprise star of the Wildcats' national title win over North Carolina two seasons ago.

 

17. Minnesota Golden Gophers

Key Returners: Jordan Murphy, Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, Eric Curry, Dupree McBrayer

Departures: Akeem Springs

New Arrivals: Isaiah Washington, Jamir Harris

Buzz: Minnesota's surprising season came a year ahead of schedule. The overachieving Golden Gophers of a season ago look like potential Big Ten contenders in 2017-18, bringing back just about every key component from the previous campaign's run.

 

Jordan Murphy and Nate Mason are both early challengers for Big Ten Player of the Year as the established leaders for Richard Pitino's squad. Highly regarded 4-star freshman Isaiah Washington could provide additional firepower.

 

18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Key Returners: Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, Temple Gibbs, Rex Pflueger

Departures: V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, Matt Ryan

New Arrivals: D.J. Harvey

Buzz: Mike Brey scored a major victory when talented Bonzie Colson announced his intention to return to Notre Dame for another season. Colson will contend for ACC Player of the Year as the centerpiece of a veteran team.

 

Notre Dame currently has just one recruit coming in, but he's a good one: 4-star D.J. Harvey. Don't be surprised to see the Fighting Irish add another to fill the void left by Matt Ryan, who is transferring.

 

19. Seton Hall Pirates

Key Returners: Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell 

Departures: Madison Jones

New Arrivals: Myles Cale, Jordan Walker, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Darnell Brodie

Buzz: Big man Angel Delgado returns for his senior season, giving Seton Hall a potential Big East Player of the Year candidate, and making the Pirates challengers for the conference title.

 

Delgado led the nation in rebounds a season ago, while also showing off an improved offensive repertoire. He'll be the centerpiece of the Pirates' attack, but don't sleep on Khadeen Carrington. The fellow senior is a reliable 3-point shooter. Should top-100 recruit Myles Cale add additional scoring pop, look out. He would give the Pirates a dangerous three-man rotation on the perimeter, along with senior forward Desi Rodriguez.

 

20. Purdue Boilermakers 

Key Returners: Vince Edwards, Isaac Haas, Carsen Edwards, P.J. Thompson, Dakota Mathias 

Departures: Caleb Swanigan

New Arrivals: Nojel Eastern, Eden Ewing, Matt Haarms, Aaron Wheeler, Sasha Stefanovic

Buzz: Had All-American forward Caleb Swanigan opted to return, Purdue would have had a very strong case for No. 1. As it stands, though, head coach Matt Painter still has a team capable of making a run at top honors in the Big Ten.

 

Purdue gets back both Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas, who tested the NBA draft waters. Edwards has continuously improved in his Boilermaker career, and is on the precipice of being a star performer. Haas is a reliable post presence. Joined by promising newcomers Nojel Eastern and Eden Ewin, Haas could be the centerpiece of one of the better frontcourts in college basketball.

 

Carsen Edwards provided a huge boost in his freshman season. If veterans P.J. Thompson and Dakota Mathias make strides as key contributors, Purdue will be a dangerous team to watch this season.

 

21. Saint Mary's Gaels

Key Returners: Jock Landale, Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson, Jordan Ford, Stefan Gonzalez

Departures: Joe Rahon

New Arrivals: Kristers Zoriks

Buzz: A Top 25 team for most of the 2016-17 season, Saint Mary's retains all but one key piece to last season's success. West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year Joe Rahon is difficult to replace, but big man Jock Landale — arguably the most improved player in the nation a season ago — and guard Emmett Naar give Saint Mary's plenty of experience to build around.

 

The veteran core might make Saint Mary's the favorite in the West Coast Conference, and arguably the best mid-major conference team in all of college basketball next season.

 

22. SMU Mustangs

Key Returners: Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster

Departures: Semi Ojeleye, Sterling Brown, Ben Moore

New Arrivals: Akoy Agau William Douglas, Ethan Chargois

Buzz: SMU won 30 games and the American Athletic Conference championship in Tim Jankovich's first season. Replicating those feats makes for a difficult encore, but SMU could be in a more favorable position come 2018 NCAA Tournament time, nonetheless.

 

SMU was a victim of the selection committee's evaluation of the AAC. The arrival of Wichita State and Cincinnati reloading gives the league three Top 25-caliber teams entering 2017-18 — and SMU will indeed keep pace with those other two. The foundation was set in May with Shake Milton opting to return for another season, and Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau landing at SMU.

 

23. Gonzaga Bulldogs

Key Returners: Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, Silas Melson

Departures: Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Collins, Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Mathews

Buzz: Departures hit 2017 national runner-up Gonzaga hard. Jordan Mathews and Przemek Karnowski graduate, while All-American Nigel Williams-Goss and supremely talented Zach Collins opted for early entry into the NBA draft. As it stands, the Zags may not even be the preseason favorite to win the West Coast Conference.

 

Nevertheless, Johnathan Williams — who enjoyed a star turn in the NCAA Tournament — provides a talented cornerstone around which to rebuild. Underrated wings Josh Perkins and Silas Melson also are back in the fold.

 

24. Northwestern Wildcats

Key Returners: Bryant McIntosh, Dererk Padron, Isiah Brown, Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey

Departures: Nathan Taphorn, Sanjay Lumpkin

New Arrivals: Anthony Gaines

Buzz: Reaching the first NCAA Tournament in program history wasn't the culmination of head coach Chris Collins' efforts. Northwestern is primed for big things, beginning with a Top 25-caliber team this season.

 

Guard Bryant McIntosh headlines the veteran roster, which also returns promising post player Dererk Padron, and athletic swing man Scottie Lindsey.

 

25. Michigan Wolverines

Key Returners: Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Duncan Robinson

Departures: Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton Jr., D.J. Wilson

New Arrivals: Jordan Poole, Isaiah Livers, Eli Brooks

Buzz: Michigan's run through the Big Ten Tournament and subsequent dash to the Sweet 16 — which came one basket shy of extending into the Elite Eight — earned the Wolverines a spot in the top 20 of the final KenPom.com rankings. Not bad for a team that began March very much on the bubble.

 

The question looming for Michigan ahead of 2017-18: Was the Michigan team that nearly reached the Elite Eight the real Wolverines? Or was the squad that was on the outside looking in ahead of the Big Ten Tournament a more accurate representation? The answer likely lies somewhere in the middle.

 

Moritz Wagner showed superstar potential late in the season, particularly in a Round of 32 upset of Louisville. He's back, joined by defensive stopper Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman.

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
Early College Basketball Top 25 for 2017-18
Post date: Monday, June 5, 2017 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Texas Longhorns, Big 12
Path: /college-football/ranking-toughest-games-texas-college-football-schedule-2017
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Texas’ schedule does new head coach Tom Herman no favors in his first season with the Longhorns. In addition to the Big 12’s round-robin slate, his team has a road date with USC and a home game against an improving Maryland program.

 

If Herman can make some noise this season, it will be a sign that he’s worthy of the fanfare. If not, he should get a pass for taking on arguably the toughest schedule in the country.

 

It sounds like a can’t-lose scenario from a perception standpoint for Herman. Unfortunately for his team, there are plenty of can-lose games on the docket this year. Here are the Longhorns’ 12 regular season contests ranked from easiest to most challenging.

 

12. Sept. 9 vs. San Jose State

UT needs to make the most of this home date with the Spartans, the only non-conference reprieve on the schedule this year. SJSU will actually have an extra game under its belt at this point thanks to an Aug. 26 tilt with South Florida. That shouldn’t stop Texas from making quick work of new head coach Brent Brennan’s team.

 

11. Nov. 11 vs. Kansas

Insert joke here about not getting distracted by the fact that Texas lost to the Jayhawks last year. If anything, that should actually help the ‘Horns stay focused for this visit from KU, a perennial cellar dweller in the Big 12.

 

10. Nov. 24 vs. Texas Tech

Kliff Kingsbury could use a turnaround this fall to solidify his hold on his job. Texas, however, could put a nail in his coffin in the season finale at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

 

Virginia Tech Football/ACC Magazine Athlon Sports’ Big 12 magazine delivers full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, national rankings, as well as complete 2017 college football coverage. Click here to buy your copy today or visit your local newsstand!

9. Sept. 2 vs. Maryland

Herman would surely prefer a gimme in his debut game, but taking on a solid Maryland squad to start the season does have some advantages. Primarily, it forces the ‘Horns to stay focused in preseason practice. It also provides a decent barometer to help Herman and his staff see what they’re really working with.

 

8. Oct. 28 at Baylor

You’ll find more than a few fans from around the American Athletic Conference who will tell you that Baylor actually hired the better coach from their ranks this offseason. Herman holds a 1-0 head-to-head advantage over Matt Rhule from their days at Houston and Temple, but Rhule managed to win 20 games at Temple in the last two seasons. Anyone familiar with the Owls’ history knows that’s a huge accomplishment.

 

The Bears are going through their own rebuild, but Waco has become one of the most inhospitable environments in the Big 12.

 

7. Sept. 28 at Iowa State

A Thursday night game in Ames – hard to imagine anything weird happening, right? The last time Texas traveled to Jack Trice Stadium, the Longhorns came away 24-0 losers. It was one of only three wins for Paul Rhoads in what turned out to be his final season as the Cyclones’ head coach.

 

ISU started a new era last year under Matt Campbell. His team played hard, even if it didn’t have many wins to show for it. This season, the ‘Clones will almost assuredly sneak up and bite someone in the Big 12. Texas seems as likely of a candidate as any.

 

6. Nov. 18 at West Virginia

The Mountaineers enjoy a formidable home-field advantage in the remote confines of Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown. They also appear to have the Longhorns’ number, winning three of five matchups since WVU joined the Big 12. Notably, the ‘Eers throttled UT the last time the two teams met on WVU’s turf, 38-20.

 

Texas also has to guard against the letdown factor playing a week after the revenge game versus Kansas.

 

5. Oct. 7 vs. Kansas State

Speaking of having Texas’ number...

 

The Wildcats have beaten the Longhorns in five of their last seven meetings, and each win has come by an average of nearly 14 points. A year ago, UT enjoyed a turnover margin of plus-three against KSU - and still lost.

 

K-State comes to Austin a week before the Oklahoma game, which sounds like a perfect opportunity for Bill Snyder to spring a trap on the ‘Horns. On the other hand, if Texas gets a W, that may give the team a little extra confidence heading into the grudge match in Dallas.

 

4. Nov. 4 at TCU

TCU head coach Gary Patterson seems to take a special measure of satisfaction in whooping the Lone Star State’s 800-pound gorilla. The Horned Frogs have won their last three matchups against Texas by 22, 43 and 38 points. Two of those games took place at DKR.

 

This game comes on the back half of consecutive road games, which ups the degree of difficulty a smidge for UT, and Patterson will have his team way up emotionally for this one.

 

3. Oct. 21 vs. Oklahoma State

Even though OSU has to come to Austin, that hasn’t fazed the Cowboys lately. Mike Gundy’s team has won four consecutive times at Texas.

 

If the Longhorns want to end that streak, they will need to do better than allowing the Pokes to gain nearly eight yards per play, as was the case a season ago. OSU isn’t losing much in the way of firepower from last year’s squad.

 

As an added bonus, UT gets this game the week after OU.

 

2. Oct. 14 vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl)

Talk about a segue. The Red River Revolving Name isn’t necessarily Texas’ toughest game every year. But it’s still the most important.

 

Despite their overall putridity in the last four years, the Longhorns are in the middle of strong run of games against their blood rivals. In addition to upsetting OU in 2013 and ‘15, they played to the wire in ‘14 and ‘16.

 

Herman had his Houston team psyched to play the Sooners last season. If he can coax the same kind of effort out of his new outfit, UT has a good chance to knock off the consensus Big 12 favorite again.

 

1. Sept. 16 at USC

The first road game of Herman’s tenure will find his team at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for a date against ballyhooed USC. The ‘Horns will almost certainly be kicking off in prime time so keeping players’ emotions in check could be tough.

 

For the Longhorns to pull off this upset, Texas needs to figure out how to slow down USC quarterback Sam Darnold and his array of weapons. That’s a tall order for a team that is adjusting to a new coaching staff.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.

Teaser:
Ranking the Toughest Games on Texas' College Football Schedule in 2017
Post date: Monday, June 5, 2017 - 10:45
Path: /college-football/american-athletic-conference-football-2017-predictions
Body:

The American Athletic Conference leads the way among Group of 5 leagues, with USF entering 2017 as the clear favorite. The Bulls are the predicted champion by Athlon Sports, and coach Charlie Strong’s team has a good shot at an undefeated record. Defending AAC champion Temple and UCF are the top challengers to USF in the East Division. The race to win the West Division is crowded at the top. Houston, Navy and Memphis each have a strong argument for the No. 1 spot, while Tulsa and SMU aren’t far behind.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s American Athletic Conference predictions for 2017:

 

1. USF’s Run to an Undefeated Regular Season

Selecting USF as the American Athletic champion for 2017 was one of the easier picks during Athlon’s prediction meetings. The Bulls won 18 games over the last two seasons and returns much of that core this fall. Leading the way is senior quarterback Quinton Flowers, who should be a dark horse Heisman contender after accounting for 42 total scores in 2016. Flowers will have a new backfield mate after running back Marlon Mack left for the NFL, but the Bulls have a couple of talented options, including redshirt freshman Elijah Mack and senior D’Ernest Johnson. New coach Charlie Strong should help a defense that surrendered 31.6 points a game last fall. USF returns nine starters on this side of the ball, including standout tackles Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, along with linebacker Auggie Sanchez. The Bulls are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and could be favored in all 12 regular season games. Even if this team stumbles once in conference play, USF should be the top Group of 5 program in 2017.

 

Related: American Athletic 2017 All-Conference Team

 

2. Temple vs. UCF

Deciding between Temple and UCF for the No. 2 spot was the toughest prediction in Athlon’s AAC projections. The Owls are the defending back-to-back champs of the division, but this team has a new coach (Geoff Collins) and returns eight overall starters. Quarterback Philip Walker and defensive end Haason Reddick leave big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball. While the losses are heavy, Collins isn’t inheriting an empty cupboard. Running back Ryquell Armstead is a rising star, the receiving corps is one of the best in the conference, and the defense has plenty of young talent to prevent much of a drop in production. Behind first-year coach Scott Frost, UCF was one of the nation’s most-improved teams last fall. The Knights went from 0-12 in 2015 to 6-7 in 2016, and Frost should be able to build on his debut thanks to nine returning starters on offense. Sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton needs to take the next step in his development, but UCF is loaded at the skill positions, and the line should improve with three returning starters. Just like Temple, UCF’s defense is also in rebuild mode. The Knights return only four starters – all in the front seven. Alabama transfer Shawn Burgess-Becker is a name to watch in the secondary. The winner of the Nov. 18 game between these two teams in Philadelphia is likely to decide second place in the division.

 

 

3. Analyzing the West Division Favorites

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It’s a three-team debate at the top of the West Division. Houston, Navy and Memphis each received consideration for the projected division champion in Athlon’s prediction meeting. The Tigers eventually emerged as the pick, but only one game separates the Midshipmen and Cougars in the projected standings. Memphis should be explosive on offense thanks to the return of quarterback Riley Ferguson and one of the league’s top receiving corps. The biggest concern for the Tigers is on defense, especially in a secondary that returns only one starter. Coach Mike Norvell’s team won’t have to play USF in crossover play but does have road trips to Tulsa and Houston. Navy’s 10 returning starters are the fewest of any team in the West Division. However, coach Ken Niumatalolo will ensure little drop off. Quarterback Zach Abey gained valuable experience late last season and now steps into the full-time role. Abey can lean on a strong backfield tandem of fullback Chris High and running back Darryl Bonner, along with one of the league’s top offensive lines. The Midshipmen do have a few holes to fill on defense with just five returning starters. Despite coach Tom Herman leaving for Texas, Houston is still equipped to win the league title. Texas A&M transfer Kyle Allen is eligible at quarterback, and tackle Ed Oliver is among the nation’s best defensive players. Assuming new coach Major Applewhite has a smooth transition into the full-time job, a schedule that features home games against Memphis and Navy could be the difference in a tight division.    

 

4. Tulsa and SMU

The tough debates in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division extend outside of the top three. Tulsa checks in fourth in the projected standings, while SMU is one spot behind in fifth. If one of the top three teams stumbles more than expected, don’t be surprised if the Mustangs or Golden Hurricane jump into the mix. SMU is loaded with potential on offense in coach Chad Morris’ third year on campus. The Mustangs are led by All-America candidate Courtland Sutton at receiver, while 1,000-yard rusher Braeden West leads the way on the ground. In order for SMU to challenge the top teams in the West, improving the defense is a priority. The Mustangs gave up 36.3 points per game last fall. The schedule isn’t too daunting, as UConn, Cincinnati and UCF are the three crossover games with the East, and Tulsa visits Dallas in late October. The Golden Hurricane have thrived under coach Philip Montgomery, but this team has a few significant personnel concerns to address. Quarterback Dane Evans expired his eligibility, and redshirt freshman Luke Skipper and sophomore Chad President finished spring locked into a tight battle for the No. 1 spot. Additionally, top receivers Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson must be replaced, and the defense suffered a few key losses in the front seven. SMU and Tulsa could be two of the league’s more entertaining teams to watch in 2017 – and both are potential sleepers to watch in the division title picture.

 

5. Cincinnati and Tulane

Looking for two teams that could exceed preseason expectations? Take a look at Tulane and Cincinnati. The Green Wave finished 4-8 in coach Willie Fritz’s debut last year but lost four games by 10 points or less. Tulane should feature one of the league’s top defenses, and the offense will take a step forward behind new quarterback Jonathan Banks. The former Kansas State signal-caller is a perfect fit for Fritz’s offense, and this unit will benefit from another offseason to work in this scheme. Cincinnati has missed out on a winning record just twice since 2006, with one of those coming last season (4-8). New coach Luke Fickell certainly knows the terrain thanks to extensive ties to the state of Ohio as an assistant with the Buckeyes. A fresh start under Fickell should provide a spark for this team, and Cincinnati still has a solid core of talent. With Ohio State transfer Torrance Gibson likely to redshirt, Hayden Moore and Ross Trail will battle for the starting quarterback job. In addition to finding a quarterback, the defense needs to take a step forward after giving up over 400 yards per game in 2016. Also in the East Division, East Carolina is relying on three graduate transfer – quarterback Thomas Sirk, running back Tyshon Dye and end Gaelin Elmore – for improvement after finishing 3-9 in coach Scottie Montgomery’s debut in 2016. UConn hired a familiar face (Randy Edsall) to lead the program after dismissing Bob Diaco last season. Edsall won 74 games from 1999-10 and inherits a program with 13 returning starters for 2017. The hire of Rhett Lashlee to call plays should provide some immediate help for an offense that averaged just 14.8 points per game in 2016. While the offense may struggle, the defense should be a strength.

 

AAC 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units
Best LB
Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

 

American Athletic Conference 2017 Football Predictions

         
East Division
Rank Team   Projected AAC Record Projected Overall Record
1 USF 7-1 12-1
2 UCF 5-3 7-5
3 Temple 4-4 6-6
4 Cincinnati 2-6 4-8
5 UConn 2-6 3-9
6 East Carolina 2-6 3-9
         
West Division
Rank Team   Projected AAC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Memphis 6-2 9-4
2 Navy 5-3 8-4
3 Houston 5-3 7-5
4 Tulsa 5-3 7-5
5 SMU 3-5 7-5
6 Tulane 2-6 4-8
         
American Athletic Conference Championship Game
USF over Memphis 

 

AAC 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Quinton Flowers

QB, USF

Quinton Flowers

QB, USF

Quinton Flowers

QB, USF

Defensive POY

Ed Oliver

DL, Houston

Ed Oliver

DL, Houston

Ed Oliver

DL, Houston

Coach of the Year

Mike Norvell

Memphis

Mike Norvell

Memphis

Charlie Strong

USF

Coach on Hot Seat None None None
Top Freshman

Luke Skipper

QB, Tulsa

Luke Skipper

QB, Tulsa

Leroy Henley

WR, ECU

Top Newcomer

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Sleeper Team SMU Tulane Tulsa

Key Position

to Watch

Memphis DB Houston OL USF RB
Best Coordinator Hire

Sterlin Gilbert

OC, USF

Rhett Lashlee

OC, UConn

Rhett Lashlee

OC, UConn

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

Houston Houston Temple
Coach on the Rise

Mike Norvell

HC, Memphis

Mike Norvell

HC, Memphis

Mike Norvell

HC, Memphis

Must-See Game

Navy at

Memphis

Navy at 

Memphis

UCLA at

Memphis

Breakout Player

Jonathan Banks

QB, Tulane

Jonathan Banks

QB, Tulane

Kyle Allen

QB, Houston

Comeback Player

Mike Boone

RB, Cincinnati

Duke Catalon

RB, Houston

Mike Boone

RB, Cincinnati

 

Ranking the American Athletic Conference Coaches for 2017

 

1. Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

2. Philip Montgomery, Tulsa

3. Charlie Strong, USF

 

Click here to view the full 2017 American Athletic Conference Coach Rankings

 

Ranking the American Athletic Conference Quarterbacks for 2017

 

1. Quinton Flowers, USF

2. Riley Ferguson, Memphis

3. Kyle Allen, Houston

 

Click here to view the full 2017 American Athletic Conference QB Rankings

 

Grading the American Athletic Conference New Coach Hires for 2017

 

1. Randy Edsall, UConn (B)

2. Geoff Collins, Temple (B-)

3. Luke Fickell, Cincinnati (B-)

4. Major Applewhite, Houston (C+)

 

Click here to view the full 2017 New Coach Hire Grades and Ranks

Teaser:
American Athletic Conference 2017 Football Predictions
Post date: Monday, June 5, 2017 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/acc-football-2017-predictions
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The ACC stuffed the trophy case last season and claimed the top spot among college football’s conferences. Clemson defeated Alabama for the national title, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy, Florida State defeated Michigan in the Orange Bowl, and 11 teams finished with a winning record. Additionally, the ACC capped a strong regular season by claiming nine bowl victories

 

There’s little reason to doubt this league will be back near the top of the pecking order once again in 2017. Athlon’s predictions place Florida State and Miami as the favorites to win the divisions and rematch in Charlotte in early December to decide the conference title. However, Clemson is once again a playoff contender, Virginia Tech is a close No. 2 behind Miami in the Coastal, and with Jackson leading the way, Louisville is a top 25 team.

 

Here are five key storylines or discussions that shaped Athlon’s ACC predictions for 2017:

 

1. Clemson vs. Florida State

With Deshaun Watson taking snaps in the NFL, the balance of power in the ACC is likely to swing back to Florida State. The Seminoles return one of the league’s top quarterbacks in Deondre Francois, along with a defense that should be among the nation’s best with nine returning starters. Additionally, this unit will get a boost with safety Derwin James – arguably the top defensive player in college football – back from a knee injury. The biggest question marks surrounding coach Jimbo Fisher’s team remain in the trenches and depth at receiver. The schedule also works against Florida State. The Seminoles play Alabama to open the year, along with road trips to Clemson (Nov. 11) and Florida (Nov. 25). The Tigers also have their share of obstacles in the schedule, as a non-conference date against Auburn and a road trip to Blacksburg to play Virginia Tech won’t be easy. But Clemson’s hopes of a repeat bid to the CFB Playoff rest with the development of the quarterbacks. Kelly Bryant closed spring as the No. 1 option, but true freshman Hunter Johnson will make a push in the fall. The offense is likely to take a small step back without Watson, but the Tigers are loaded once again on defense. Even if Clemson regresses in the win column, don’t expect too big of a drop. Despite the Clemson-Florida State matchup in Death Valley this year, Athlon likes the Seminoles to regain control of the Atlantic Division.

 

2. Miami vs. Virginia Tech

Deciding between Miami or Virginia Tech for the top spot in the Coastal Division was the toughest debate of Athlon’s ACC predictions. Both teams bring similar strengths to the table this fall. The Hokies and Hurricanes should rank near the top of the conference in defense, but both could start a freshman quarterback in the opener. Miami is in slightly better shape in terms of skill talent, and these two teams are relatively even up front on the offensive line. Whichever team finds the right mix on offense early in the 2017 season is likely to hold a slight edge for the top spot. Both teams have difficult crossover matchups. The Hurricanes have to play Florida State, and the Hokies host Clemson in late September. However, the defacto Coastal title game between Miami and Virginia Tech is at Hard Rock Stadium on Nov. 4. That could be the difference in the Coastal Division race.  

 

3. North Carolina’s Rebuilding Effort

As evidenced by our staff picks below, North Carolina was one of the toughest teams to get a read on this offseason. The Tar Heels suffered some significant personnel losses. On offense, quarterback Mitch Trubisky, running backs T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood, receivers Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard, along with three key linemen have all departed Chapel Hill. The rebuilding effort starts with LSU transfer Brandon Harris under center, while Auburn transfer Stanton Truitt could provide some punch at running back or receiver. Two graduate transfers – Cam Dillard (Florida) and Khaliel Rodgers (USC) – should help in the trenches. That’s a lot of new faces to blend on offense in just one offseason. The defense returns six starters and could be the strength of this team. New coordinator John Papuchis inherits some solid pieces in the front seven, while cornerback M.J. Stewart should push for All-ACC honors. This unit has to get better against the run after giving up 227.3 yards per game in 2016. In addition to all of the roster turnover, North Carolina plays at NC State and catches Louisville in crossover play. The Tar Heels also have road trips to Georgia Tech and Pitt – two key swing games. That’s a lot of question marks for Larry Fedora’s team, pushing North Carolina to fifth in our Coastal picks.

 

4. Can Louisville Challenge Clemson or Florida State?

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While Florida State and Clemson enter 2017 with better overall rosters than Louisville, Bobby Petrino’s team has the ultimate equalizer: Lamar Jackson. The dynamic junior helped the Cardinals outgain ACC opponents by 255.3 yards per game last season and is capable of another monster statistical season. But in order for the Cardinals to catch the top teams in the Atlantic Division, Jackson needs more help from his supporting cast. Louisville’s offensive line surrendered 47 sacks last year and remains a concern. Last season’s leading rusher (Brandon Radcliff) and key receiving targets James Quick, Cole Hikutini and Jamari Staples departed Louisville. The skill players will be missed, but the Cardinals have a collection of promising options ready to step up. But the play of the offensive line – especially against the Seminoles and Tigers – is crucial to cutting the gap in the Atlantic. Peter Sirmon replaced Todd Grantham as the program’s defensive coordinator, and he’s tasked with simplifying things for a unit that ranked 31st nationally in scoring defense last fall. Seven starters return on defense, and linebacker Trevon Young is slated to return after missing 2016 due to injury. Another key component to Louisville’s hopes of winning the Atlantic: Turnover margin. The Cardinals ranked 107th nationally by posting a minus-seven margin in 2016.

 

Related: ACC 2017 All-Conference Team

 

5. Dark Horse Teams to Watch

While Virginia Tech and Miami earned the top spots in Athlon’s Coastal Division predictions, keep an eye on Georgia Tech and Pitt. The Yellow Jackets showed marked improvement after a 3-9 record in 2015, defeating eventual Coastal champ Virginia Tech 30-20 and finishing with a 9-4 overall record. Coach Paul Johnson’s team returns 17 starters, including breakout star Dedrick Mills at running back. Can the Yellow Jackets find the right answer under center and improve a defense that ranked 10th in the ACC against the run? Considering how tight the Coastal Division usually is, Pitt’s schedule should allow for coach Pat Narduzzi’s team to hang around in the title picture. The Panthers don’t have to play Louisville, Clemson or Florida State – the top three teams from the Atlantic. But Narduzzi’s team isn’t without question marks. Pitt has a new play-caller (Shawn Watson) on offense, a transfer (Max Browne) stepping in at quarterback, and the defense surrendered 35.2 points per game last fall. In the Atlantic Division, NC State is the dark horse team to watch. The Wolfpack are strong on the line of scrimmage, feature a returning starter (Ryan Finley) at quarterback, and feature one of the nation’s most underrated players in all-purpose threat Jaylen Samuels. NC State has to play at Florida State, but Louisville and Clemson come to Raleigh. 

 

ACC 2017 Unit Rankings

Best RB

Units

Best WR

Units

Best OL

Units

Best DL
Units

Best LB

Units

Best DB

Units

1.  1.  1.  1.  1.  1. 
2.  2.  2.  2.  2.  2. 
3.  3.  3.  3.  3.  3. 
4.  4.  4.  4.  4.  4. 
5.  5.  5.  5.  5.  5. 

 

ACC Football 2017 Predictions

         
Atlantic Division
Rank Team   Projected ACC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Florida State 8-0 12-1
2 Clemson 6-2 10-2
3 Louisville 5-3 9-3
4 NC State 4-4 7-5
5 Wake Forest 3-5 6-6
6 Syracuse 2-6 5-7
7 Boston College 2-6 5-7
         
Coastal Division
Rank Team   Projected ACC Record Projected Overall Record
1 Miami 5-3 9-4
2 Virginia Tech 5-3 9-3
3 Pitt 5-3 7-5
4 Georgia Tech 4-4 7-5
5 North Carolina 4-4 7-5
6 Duke 2-6 4-8
7 Virginia 1-7 3-9
         
ACC Championship Game
 Florida State over Miami 

 

ACC 2017 Superlatives and Season Predictions

 

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

Mark

Ross

  @AthlonSteven @AthlonMitch @AthlonMarkR
Offensive POY

Lamar Jackson

QB, Louisville

Lamar Jackson

QB, Louisville

Lamar Jackson

QB, Louisville

Defensive POY

Derwin James

S, FSU

Harold Landry

DL, BC

Harold Landry

DL, BC

Coach of the Year

Mark Richt

Miami

Mark Richt

Miami

Mark Richt

Miami

Coach on Hot Seat

Dave Doeren

NC State

Steve Addazio

Boston College

Dave Doeren

NC State

Top Freshman

Cam Akers

RB, FSU

Cam Akers

RB, FSU

Michael Carter

RB, UNC

Top Newcomer

Dee Delaney

DB, Miami

Brandon Harris

QB, UNC

Dee Delaney

DB, Miami

Sleeper Team NC State NC State NC State

Key Position

to Watch

Florida State OL Florida State OL Florida State OL
Best Coordinator Hire

Jay Sawvel

DC, Wake Forest

Jay Sawvel

DC, Wake Forest

Peter Sirmon

DC, Louisville

Hardest Team

to Evaluate

North Carolina North Carolina North Carolina
Coach on the Rise

Brent Venables

DC, Clemson

Jeff Scott

Co-OC, Clemson

Brent Venables

DC, Clemson

Must-See Game

Florida State at

Clemson

Florida State at

Clemson

Florida State at

Clemson

Breakout Player

Dedrick Mills

RB, GT

Nyqwan Murray

WR, FSU

Quadree Henderson

WR, Pitt

Comeback Player

Derwin James

S, FSU

Derwin James

S, FSU

Derwin James

S, FSU

 

Ranking the ACC Quarterbacks for 2017

 

1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville

2. Deondre Francois, Florida State

3. Eric Dungey, Syracuse

 

Click here to view the full QB Rankings for 2017

 

Ranking the ACC Coaches for 2017

 

1. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

2. Dabo Swinney, Clemson

3. Bobby Petrino, Louisville

 

Click here to view the full ACC Coach Rankings for 2017

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ACC Football 2017 Predictions
Post date: Monday, June 5, 2017 - 10:00

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