• Today is: Sunday, July 22, 2018
NCAA Conference

The American Conference - EAST

The American Conference East has produced two top ten teams and major bowl winners since 2013. Is there the possibility that there could be another one in 2017?
USF was good last season with 10 wins. They welcome a proven winning coach in Charlie Strong. Could they be a major player in the College Football Playoff race?
UCF made huge strides last season going from no wins in 2015 to six in 2016. What if they improve by a few more games in 2017? They could find themselves in the hunt.
Can Temple remain at the top of the division in 2017? Temple was 7-1 in the East last season. Will they rebound after getting trounced by Wake Forest in the Military Bowl? Here is a preview of all six AAC East teams and their upcoming schedules.
Cincinnati Bearcats: Coach Luke Fickell takes over as head coach of the Bearcats in 2017. He was the defensive coordinator for the Ohio State Buckeyes for the last 12 seasons and in that time the Buckeyes won a National Championship, were runners up twice, and last year were semifinalists. Can he jump-start the Bearcats’ program and get them back to the top of the East Division this season? Cincinnati normally competes for the championship and goes bowling, but last year they dipped to 4-8 and 1-7 in the AAC. Hayden Moore returns as the starting quarterback in 2017. Last year, after taking over for the injured Gunnar Kiel, he threw for 1744 yards and was 146 for 255. He had 11 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, which is not bad for a freshman. So the Bearcats do have something to be excited about.
Connecticut Huskies: The Huskies had a disastrous 2016. They were 3-9 and 1-7 in conference play. UConn welcomes back an old coach, Randy Edsall. Edsall took the Huskies to a Big East Championship and a BCS Bowl berth and then left for Maryland. The Huskies’ offense was horrible last season, and unless Shirreffs or Pindell step up at QB, it will be more of the same. Connecticut loses their best receiver and the offensive line is porous. The defensive situation is better. UConn has some solid linebackers and are good against the run. But with such a weak offense, they’re going to be on the field too much and will tire.
East Carolina Pirates: ECU is another East team coming off a dreadful 2016. They too have a new head coach in Scottie Montgomery, who is going into his second year after taking over for Ruffin McNeill. The Pirates struggled to a 3-9 and 1-7 mark in his first season in 2016. Will they improve in 2017? They have a starting quarterback with a bit of experience in Gardner Minshew, who passed for 1347 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. Their best returning rusher form last year is Devin Anderson, who had 258 yards. The defense needs a complete overhaul as they were 110th of 128 teams last season.
USF Bulls: Charlie Strong is now head coach of the South Florida Bulls. Strong takes over an already solid team. Quinton Flowers is back to run the offense after a very good sophomore season. He threw for 2812 yards last year with 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. USF lost some talent on offense but still have a solid backfield with D’Ernest Johnson and Darius Tice. USF needs to improve on defense. They return with most of the defensive core from last season.
Strong is a defense guy and should help the Bulls improve. 
Temple Owls: Temple is the defending AAC Champs, and like everyone else in this division, they will be under a new head coach in 2017. The Owls went 10-4 in 2016 and that was good enough to land head coach Matt Rhule a new gig. Geoff Collins takes over in 2017. Logan Marchi takes over at quarterback after going 2 of 6 last season. He takes over for the departed P. J. Walker, who threw for 3295 yards and 23 touchdowns last year. Ventell Bryant and Keith Kirkwood will still be there to catch passes for Marchi (or Frank Nutile if Marchi doesn’t cut it). They are two of the best receivers in the AAC. The defense isn’t in as good a position. The Owls lost most of their starting defense. It’s a transition year.
UCF Knights: Scott Frost is in his second year as UCF head coach, which makes him the elder statesmen in the division. The Knights came off an 0-12 season and in Frost’s first year went 6-7. McKenzie Milton comes back at quarterback after a decent freshman season a year ago. He threw for 1983 yards with 10 touchdowns to seven picks. He should be even better this year going into practice getting all the reps with the first team. With Tre’Quan Smith and Dredrick Snelson back to catch his passes, he will be familiar with his targets. Shaquem Griffin is back to lead the defense, a vastly improved unit over what they showed in 2015.

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The American Conference - WEST

The Western Division of the American Conference has some really good football teams. Navy has been very good in recent years, routinely going to bowls. Last year, the Middies won the division and played in the AAC Championship Game, then had to go play their big rivalry game the next week against Army. No other team in a conference championship game had to play their big rivalry game afterwards. Perhaps this was a big reason why Army finally beat Navy last year? Houston had some big wins following their dream season of 2015. They thrashed Louisville and beat Oklahoma. That’s some big stuff for the Cougars. Memphis got a win over a Big team when they beat Kansas 43-7, and they also beat Houston. Tulsa got a 55-10 bowl win over Central Michigan. So they can play a little ball in the AAC West.
Navy Midshipmen: Unlike in the East, where two years is the most any coach has been at his school, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo has been there for a decade now. He is 77-41 in his nine seasons and has taken Navy to a bowl game every year but one. Navy’s quarterback Will Worth ran for 1198 yards and an astonishing 25 touchdowns while passing for 1397 and eight more touchdowns. He has graduated, so now the job will go to sophomore Zach Abey. He made his first career start in the Army game after Worth went down to a season ending injury. He ran for two touchdowns and hit a 64- yard touchdown pass in the bowl game. The future looks good for Navy.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Tulsa will miss Dane Evans, who passed for 3348 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. This year, the number one quarterback is Ryan Rubley, who was 7 of 11 for 63 yards and one touchdown last season. Will he be able to put up the kind of numbers Evans did? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean Tulsa won’t do well again this year. Tulsa is losing more than a starting QB. RB James Flanders won’t be back, neither will the WR duo Keevan Lucas and Josh Atkinson. That’s a lot of star power to lose in one offseason. Tulsa’s electric offense gets most of the credit but the defense was above average. They were able to stop the pass, making teams perform below average when throwing the ball. But they’re losing a lot of starters. One LB, Craig Suits, and two corners, Kerwin Thomas and Reggie Robinson, are returning. Tulsa should still be able to compete on defense.
Memphis Tigers: Head coach Mike Norvell will be in his second year. The Tigers went 8-5 with another bowl trip to the Miami area. Memphis was 15th of 128 teams in FBS in points per game, averaging 38.8 per game. The defense could stand to improve a bit as they gave up 28.8 per game. Riley Ferguson returns at starting quarterback after throwing for 3698 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. That’s a luxury not many of the teams in the West have. A better offensive line could really improve both Ferguson’s and RB Doroland Dorceus’ output. Despite such a powerful offense, the line was weak last year. The defense wasn’t spectacular. The pass rush was average, they weren’t great against the run, and bad against the pass. The offense was able to keep the Tigers in games when the defense wasn’t performing. The Tigers need to change that this season.
Houston Cougars: Kyle Allen takes over at starting quarterback. He was a starting quarterback at Texas A&M and had some success there, so he’s not going to be intimidated at all about filling the shoes of a great quarterback in Greg Ward Jr. The Cougars should be one of the favorites in the West. They always have a high powered offense and with a former UT quarterback in charge and an SEC caliber starting quarterback, that isn’t likely to change. Houston also has speed all over the skill positions with guys like Steven Dunbar, who hauled in 53 passes a season ago. The offensive line needs to be stronger this year. Last year, the rush wasn’t a strong factor and the pass protection was worse. The Cougar defense is strong. The pass rush is nasty. While a few of the defensive stars like LB Steven Taylor are gone, Houston has enough talent to be great on the defensive side of the ball.
SMU Mustangs: SMU is coming in off a 5-7 season in 2016. One more win this year and the Mustangs will be going to a bowl game over the holiday season. Coach Chad Morris returns for his third season at SMU. Back at starting quarterback is Ben Hicks, who last season had 234 completions for 2930 yards and 19 touchdowns. Hicks also threw 15 interceptions, so that’s an area the Mustangs need to see some improvement. Courtland Sutton returns at WR, and the Mustangs have the receiving talent. They need a solid QB and consistent offense at this point. SMU also has 1000 yard running back Braeden West back this year. So the running game will be solid once again.
With the head coach/quarterback/leading rusher combo all returning, the Mustangs look like they can compete for a bowl bid and possibly even stay in the running for the division title in 2017.
Tulane Green Wave: The Green Wave comes back after a 4-8 2016 in coach Willie Fritz’s first year. Can they get a couple more wins in 2017 to get to a bowl? That seems like an attainable goal. Glen Cuiellette returns as the number one quarterback in 2017. Last year, he threw for 1309 yards and also ran for another 219. He had ten touchdown passes and eight interceptions, so that has to get better for Tulane to compete. Offense was the problem last year as the Green Wave were 104th out of 128 teams in points per game at 24.1. The defense was a middle of the pack unit, ranking 60th of 128 teams in points allowed per game at 27.7.

The ACC - Atlantic

The ACC has long been thought of as a “basketball conference,” and why not? The conference wins national championships about every other year. But people need to start paying attention to the ACC as a powerhouse in football. Last year in the ACC Atlantic, we saw a National Champion (Clemson) and the Heisman Trophy winner (Lamar Jackson). That was the second National Champion and Heisman Winner in the last four years in the division.
The ACC Atlantic has been in all three seasons of the new College Football Playoffs.
Boston College Eagles: Last season, Coach Steve Addazio’s Eagles finished 7-6 after going 3-9 in 2015. They improved their ACC record to 2-6 after going 0-8 the year before. BC capped off the season with a 36-30 win over Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl to end on a high note. Will BC improve even more in 2017? It will be tough to get a whole lot better when they have Clemson, FSU, and Louisville on the schedule. Those are three guaranteed losses nearly every season. They need wins over Wake, Syracuse, and NC State, and none of those three will be easy either. Back Jon Hilliman will be the team workhorse. Redshirt QB Anthony Brown has potential. The defense is still solid.
Clemson Tigers: Winning in their second National Championship Game appearance capped off perhaps the most decorated season in Clemson history. Of course, the projected starter, Kelly Bryant, will come in under a ton of pressure. Watson is going to be a very tough act to follow. Bryant comes in as a three star whose strength is more running than passing.
Looks like the Tigers might take a step back on offense this year. But the Tigers will be talented up and down the roster as they routinely land top five recruiting classes. So they will again compete for the ACC title. 
Florida State Seminoles: You have to like Florida State’s chances to overtake Clemson in the division with the return of Deondre Francois at quarterback. He turned in a nice freshman season last year, leading the Noles to a victory in the Orange Bowl over Michigan. FSU will miss Dalvin Cook as he leaves for the NFL, but they, like Clemson, are one of those teams with a talented roster in all spots.
Louisville Cardinals: Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson returns in 2017 for the Cards at quarterback. Can it get much better than that? Jackson set the college football world on its ear last year, especially early in the season when they routed Syracuse and Florida State on the strength of his arm and his legs. James Quick, Jamari Staples, and Cole Hikutini are gone this year, which means Jackson won’t have his biggest targets from last season on the field. Jaylen Smith and Traveon Samuel will need to pick up the slack.
North Carolina State Wolfpack: NC State ended on a high note with the bowl win over a hot Vandy team. So will the Wolfpack have something to build on for 2017? Ryan Finley is back to run the offense. Last season he was 243 for 402 for 3055 yards and 18 touchdowns with only eight picks. He will keep NC State in a lot of games.
Syracuse Orange: In the ACC Atlantic there was one team who failed to make it to a bowl in 2016. That team was Syracuse. Defense is an issue with the Orange. They lost games that looked like basketball scores: Notre Dame’s 50-33 win and Pitt’s 76-61 win. Eric Dungey returns at starting QB. He threw for 2679 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He should put some points up this season, so if they can find some defense, they could make a run towards bowl eligibility.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Wake won a bowl game last year. What was really amazing about that was they did it while they had a mole on the inside giving secrets away to the opposing teams. That makes us wonder how good they could have been if the other teams didn’t know what was coming. Wake’s going to be an interesting team to watch now that everything should be on the up and up.

The ACC - Coastal

While the ACC Coastal might not be the powerhouse the ACC Atlantic Division is as of yet, they still have quite a bit to brag about after a fine 2016 season. North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky was selected by the Chicago Bears with the second pick of the NFL Draft. Pitt was the only team to win over the National Champion Clemson Tigers. Georgia Tech won a New Year’s Day Bowl over the SEC when they beat Kentucky at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, and Miami walloped West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl. 2017 promises to be another great season for the teams in the Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech Hokies: Va Tech won the Coastal Division in 2016 in head coach Justin Fuentes’ first season. They finished at 10-4, capping off the season with a 35-24 Belk Bowl win over Arkansas.
How will the Hokies look in 2017? They will again be one of the favorites to win the division, and why not? They will return with another talented roster that includes Trevon Hill, Tim Settle, Ricky Walker, and Tremaine Edmunds on what should be a fine defensive unit. They will be a little untested on offense where redshirt freshman Josh Jackson takes over. Jackson was a four-star recruit coming out of high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is the #9 dual threat quarterback in his recruiting class according to ESPN. The Hokies’ schedule has a tough opener against West Virginia, then three cupcakes with Delaware, at East Carolina, and Old Dominion. Clemson comes to Lane Stadium following that stretch, then they will visit Boston College.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: The Yellow Jackets boast one of college football’s best run offenses every year under head coach Paul Johnson. Last season, Tech rebounded from a dismal 2015 to run over opposing defenses while piling up a 9-4 record, going 4-4 in the tough ACC. Matthew Jordan, a redshirt junior, will take over at starting quarterback for the Jackets this season. Jordan is, of course, a dual threat quarterback who comes from Alabama. In the spring, he was bothered by an injured foot. So it may take a few games for Tech’s offense to get cranked up this season. That could be bad news because they open against Tennessee. Second year RB Dedrick Mills should step up this season, but GA Tech has lots of options when running the ball. The defense is good against the past but can improve overall.
Miami Hurricanes: Year two of Mark Richt begins in Coral Gables with a lot of optimism after their bowl win over West Virginia at the Russell Athletic Bowl. They will have to break in a new quarterback to replace Brad Kaaya, so that will be something to watch for early in the season.
Malik Rosier is listed as the number one on the depth chart. He is a redshirt freshman from Mobile, Alabama. Cade Weldon and Evan Shirreffs are waiting in the background. Miami looked good on defense in the spring. We know the Canes are always talented and have great speed on that side
of the ball. Expect the Canes to be in the hunt at the end of the season.
Virginia Cavaliers: Last year, the Cavaliers finished 2-10 and 1-7 in the ACC. There really is no reason to believe 2017 will produce much better results. One thing UVA does have going for them is a good head coach in Bronco Mendenhall. At his other coaching stop at BYU, he won two Mountain West Championships and about two thirds of his games. UVA does have a returning starting quarterback, though, which helps. Kurt Benkert threw for over 2500 yards a season ago with 21 touchdowns and only 11 picks. UVA’s running situation is questionable. Jordan Ellis isn’t a star and won’t become one. Luckily, Doni Dowling is still around as a target for Benkert.
North Carolina Tar Heels: The Heels will begin life after Trubisky this season -that shouldn’t be too difficult since he only started 13 games. They also lose RB Elijah Hood. It’s a rebuilding year for coach Fedora. Brandon Harris, the former LSU quarterback, is a senior transfer who will take over signal calling duties. He can play on an offensive minded team, which the Heels have been in recent years, without the rabid fan base there to pounce on him every time something bad happens. Transfer Stanton Truitt will add to the offense immediately at receiver. Defense is where Carolina struggles. Gene Chizik is gone at defensive coordinator. John Papuchis is in. Can he come up with something to slow down the opposition? The defense has some talented players, like LB Andre Smith, but didn’t gel as a unit. Pittsburgh Panthers: Max Browne transfers in from USC for his final college season to take over for the departed Nate Peterman. He has some big shoes to fill because Peterman had a great season in 2016, leading the Panthers to wins over Penn State and Clemson while going 8-5. Browne was the Trojans’ starter for the first three games. And we saw how good USC was last year when they won the Rose Bowl. So he must be talented. Browne has a solid group of guys to throw the ball to, including new transfer Chris Clark. Even with Browne at QB expect Qadree Ollison and the other backs to still be the focus of this offense. On the other hand, Pitt is adding itsthird offensive coordinator in as many years. Not the most promising stat. Narduzzi’s biggest issue is his defense. They gave up a lot of points last year. If the defense can come together, watch out.
Duke Blue Devils: In the past, there were many years where 4-8 would be considered a decent season. No longer is that the case. Can Duke get back into the bowl season in 2017? Daniel Jones returns as the starting quarterback. That may or may not be a good thing. His stats were not that bad. He threw for 2877 yards and 16 touchdowns to only nine picks. But he didn’t win too many games. Shaun Wilson returns at RB. And a lot of last year’s offensive base is back. The defense is a problem for Duke. They have a couple of solid linebackers but a lot of holes in other spots in the depth chart.

The Big Ten Conference - East

BigTen Conference

If there is a tougher division in college football than this one, I don’t know what it would be. Last year in this division, the second place team, Ohio State, went to the playoffs. Two others went to New Year’s Six Bowls. Of course, none of them won, but that’s still pretty impressive. The head coaches in this division are a “who’s who” list of the best college football minds in the game. Urban Meyer of Ohio State has three National Championships to his credit.  Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh has coached in the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and, oh yeah… the Super Bowl. James Franklin actually went to bowl games at Vanderbilt, and Mark Dantonio has been to the College Football Playoffs and the Cotton Bowl at Michigan State in the last three seasons. Who will emerge in 2017 as the best in the East? Whoever it is, you can bet they’ll be a playoff contender.
Penn State Nittany Lions: Penn State is back competing for championships under James Franklin. Last season, the Lions won the Big Ten Conference and played in the Rose Bowl. The Lions will try to defend the Big Ten crown in 2017 with a top ten defense and Trace McSorley returning at quarterback. McSorley threw for 3649 yards and 29 touchdowns to only eight picks a season ago. He made fans quickly forget about Christian Hackenberg. Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 1496 yards last season, is also back, so the Lions’ offense should once again be very good. Franklin’s teams are always tough on defense, going back to his days at Vandy. So Penn State will again be a contender.
Ohio State Buckeyes: Last year, Ohio State was 11-2 with wins over Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan. How do they top that? They have to win the National Championship. With J. T. Barrett back at quarterback, Ohio State has a Heisman candidate running the offense. With an extremely talented roster top to bottom, including RB Mike Weber, the Buckeyes could very well be in the last game of the season playing for the big prize. Like usual, OSU lost a lot of talent to the pros in the offseason. They were a top ten defense last year but they should be able to do it again this year. They lost quality players at LB and in the secondary. However, this isn’t the first time OSU has had to replace All Stars. They still have plenty of talent returning. And should be one of the better defenses in the Big Ten, if not the country.
Michigan Wolverines: The Wolverines came so close last year. They lost a couple of painful ones at the end of the season to Ohio State and Florida State. So Michigan comes into 2017 on a two-game losing streak and bad intentions. They averaged 40 points per game last season, which was 11th in the nation, while the defense allowed 14 points, which ranked them second. Those are National Championship numbers. Wilton Speight is back at quarterback after throwing for 2538 yards and 18 touchdowns last season. He’ll have to do it again with his best targets gone this year. The top three receivers from last season are all gone. There are new upcoming players but they’re young. Michigan has a solid run defense but they’re missing experience in the secondary. Like the receivers, Michigan has some talent but it’s young. Hopefully, they learn quick. Jim Harbaugh is looking to win the Big Ten and make the playoffs. He might have to settle for the Big Ten East.
Indiana Hoosiers: The Hoosiers were 6-7 last season with a trip to a bowl game. That was the second year in a row they went to a bowl. Tom Allen, who coached the team in their bowl game against Utah, is permanent head coach. Richard Lagow returns as the starting quarterback after passing for 3262 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. This year, he needs to cut down on throwing the ball to the other colored jerseys, which he did 17 times last season. Mike Majette is the number one on the depth chart after averaging 4.6 per carry. IU’s defense has improved over the last few seasons. They’re returning a lot of starters. This will be an experienced crew. Indiana is solid against the pass and decent against the run. If they want to break .500 this year, that’s something they need to work on. Maryland Terrapins: At 6-7, Maryland is making progress since coming over from the ACC. The Terps will begin this season with D. J. Durkin in year two. Durkin was the defensive coordinator for Florida and Michigan before coming to Maryland. Defense is his specialty, so look for Maryland to play tough on that side of the ball. Last season, they allowed 29 points per game. Look for that number to improve. The offense will probably struggle a bit in the beginning as they break in new quarterback Caleb Henderson. They do have Ty Johnson back to carry the ball. Last season, he rushed for 1004 yards and six touchdowns, and also had 206 yards receiving with a touchdown. So he should give Henderson some help if he can put him in third and short.
Michigan State Spartans: The Spartans crashed and burned last year. After great years in 2014 and 2015, they sunk to 3-9. What happened? Last season, they allowed 27 points per game, which ranked 61st, but the real problem was the offense, which ranked 105th of 128 teams at 24 points per game. One problem was the defense was very young. With a season under their belts, perhaps they will rise up in 2017. The offense has LJ Scott returning at running back after gaining nearly 1000 yards last year. But the starting quarterback has little experience, with Brian Lewerke as the number one. Last year, he passed for 381 yards with two touchdowns in limited playing time.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights: The Scarlet Knights are out of their league in the Big Ten. They were a mid-pack team in the AAC and jumped into college football’s toughest division. Rutgers will be lucky to beat anyone in the conference. Last year, they were 0-9 in the Big Ten. They failed to score a point against Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State. The closest game with one of them was 39-0. They lost 78-0 to Michigan. They do have a starting quarterback with some experience, Giovanni Rescigno. He’ll have a healthy Janarion Grant to throw to, which is an improvement over last season. The running game is still subpar, even with a few returning backs. Rutgers is in for another long, long year.

The Big Ten Conference - West

BigTen Conference

Right now it looks like these divisions are a bit unbalanced in the Big Ten. The East has Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State, and even Michigan State. But let’s remember there was a time when the Nebraska Cornhuskers ruled this game. Wisconsin and Iowa are capable of getting to the top of college football as well. Illinois, Purdue, and Northwestern have all had seasons where they have been as good as any team in the Big Ten, and we don’t have to go back that far to find one. Minnesota was pretty good last season, and with their new stadium, who knows?
The West has no Rutgers, no Maryland, and no Indiana. This division has seven teams that if they are at their best, can beat you. How will they do in 2017? One of them could rise up and challenge for the Big Ten Championship.
Purdue Boilermakers: Jeff Brohm takes over as head coach this season and the Boilermakers are trying to get better after a miserable 3-9 2016 season. Can they get back to bowl eligibility in 2017? They will need to get better in every phase of the game because last year they were bad everywhere. The Boilers averaged 24.6 points per game, which ranked 101st of 128 teams, and gave up 38.2, which was 118th of 128. David Blough is the QB. Last year, he threw for 3352 yards and 25 touchdowns, but also threw 21 interceptions. Hopefully, Coach Brohm, or his offensive coordinator brother, Brian, can help stop Blough from throwing to the other team. There aren’t a lot of experienced
receivers for Blough to throw to now, and that needs to be fixed. The good thing about the defense is that there are a lot of returning players. But that crew was bad last year and unable to stop anyone from converting.
Illinois Fighting Illini: Illinois begins year two under Lovie Smith hoping to get a whole lot better than they were in the first year. The Illini were 3-9, and 2-7 in the Big Ten. They were the only Big Ten team that managed to lose to Purdue. The Illini ranked 122nd of 128 teams with 19 points per game, and 94th of 128 allowing almost 32 per game. They need to get better everywhere. Illinois has QB issues. Their star transfer fell through so they’re going with Chayce Crouch, a third stringer. If he’s not up to the task, Jeff George is waiting to step in. Illinois has a decent run game and a star receiver in Mike Dudek. For a defensive minded guy like Lovie Smith, the Illinois defense wasn’t impressive. They were weak against the run despite having a quality line. None of those guys are back this year, which could be an even bigger issue. The rest of the squad is young. Still, they’re more talented than last year’s play would imply.
Iowa Hawkeyes: Iowa comes into 2017 after an 8-5 year and a trip to the Outback Bowl. Coach Kirk Ferentz is back for his 19th season with a Hawkeyes team that should be near the top of the division once again. Last year, the offense struggled as they averaged only about 24 points per game and were ranked 95th of 128 teams. But the defense wastough once again as they allowed only 19 points per game, which was 13th in the nation.
Nate Stanley takes over as the starting quarterback in 2017. He hasn’t seen much action backing up C. J. Beathard, so that might mean the offense will struggle somewhat again, at least early on. The Hawkeyes do have one of their 1000 yard rushers back in Akrum Wadley, so that will help. The Hawkeyes’ defense is loaded with seniors and juniors in 2017, so they will be tough to move the ball on once again. If the offense can keep them off the field, Iowa will be really good.

Minnesota Golden Gophers: P. J. Fleck takes over at head coach for a Golden Gophers team that went 9-4, and 5-4 in the Big Ten. Minnesota and their previous coach was caught up in off season controversy. Fleck is looking to get past that and have his team focus on the 2017 season. The Gophers were 21st of 128 teams in points allowed at 22 per game. Where they struggled a bit was on offense, where they were 63rd at 29 per game. But when you score an average of seven points more than you allow, you are going to win your fair share of games. Will that be the case again in 2107? The Gophers will also
be breaking in a new starting quarterback in Conor Rhoda. He has had very little playing time behind Mitch Leidner, so Gophers fans will have to be patient in the beginning of the season. The defense also has quite a few young guys in starting roles, so look for the Gophers to start slowly.
Nebraska Cornhuskers: Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska has been a second tier team. Will they ever get back on top? With Mike Riley as the head coach, it doesn’t seem too likely Nebraska can compete with Ohio State and Michigan. Who would you rather play for if you’re a five or four star? Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, or Riley? Kind of a no-brainer. Nebraska used to be an offensive juggernaut. Last year, they ranked 79th of128 teams at 26.5 point per game. Can Riley get back the kind of skill position players that used to come to Nebraska like Johnny Rodgers, Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, or Tommie Frazier? Can he even get an Eric Crouch or a Scott Frost? The fans sure hope so. Their patience is wearing thin. The number one quarterback on the depth chart is Tanner Lee, who is a junior transfer from Tulane. If your starter comes from Tulane, that isn’t a good sign.
Northwestern Wildcats: Last year, the Wildcats were one of the few Big Ten bowl winners. They knocked off Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl 31-24. That was the same Pitt team that beat Penn State and Clemson. So that was an impressive win for coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team. Northwestern finished 7-6 on the season, their second straight winning season and fourth in the last six years. They have the starting quarterback, Clayton Thorson, returning for his junior season. Last year, he threw for 3182 yards and 22 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. If his numbers improve this year, the Wildcats should put a lot of points up. How will the defense look though? Last year’s defense carried the team, giving up only 22.2 points per game, which was 24th best in the nation. Godwin Igwebuike, a potential All-Big Ten performer, will have to come up
big this season.
Wisconsin Badgers: Wisconsin is coming into 2017 with big expectations. After last season’s performance they’re confident this season will be as good, if not better. That means winning the Big Ten and making it into the College Playoffs. Wisconsin has a real chance of achieving that goal. Their schedule is much kinder this season than last. Head coach Paul Chryst promoted Jim Leonhard to defensive coordinator. Leonhard takes over a defensive unit that returns most of its players from last season. Sure, some of the star power is gone, but new stars will be created this year. The Badgers are looking for another season where they give up less than 20 points per game. The only real issue for Wisconsin is its QB situation. Alex Hornibrook is taking control despite superstar QB recruit Jack Coan. Hornibrook needs to improve, especially his accuracy, if Wisconsin is to be an elite team.

Big 12 Conference

Big 12 Conference

The Big 12 Conference is used to producing National Championship contenders. Schools such as Oklahoma, Texas, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Baylor expect to be in contention for the College Football Playoffs every year. Some of these programs have had some down seasons in recent years and some have had their share of off the field issues, but the talent and the excitement for college football is as strong as ever among the Big 12 teams.
Oklahoma has been to the College Football Playoffs, getting there in 2015. They are the only Big 12 team so far to get there since they began three seasons ago. TCU and Baylor have come close. Oklahoma State and Kansas State have the potential to get there, maybe not this season, but at some point. All of the Big 12 teams are capable of getting to a bowl game. Texas Tech, Iowa State, West Virginia, and even Kansas on occasion will put together a good season and go bowling. The Big 12 is known for its offensive firepower. Teams in the Big 12 are normally near the top in the nation in putting points on the board. Games with both teams scoring in the 40s or even 50s are not uncommon.
Baylor Bears: The Bears struggled to a 7-6 season last year. Much of this was due to transfers and recruiting flips because of the scandals that have rocked the program. Matt Rhule has been hired to try to turn the program around and get them back to the top of the college football rankings. Will he be able to get them going again in 2017? Rhule comes in after leading Temple to a conference championship in the AAC last season. Zach Smith is the starting quarterback this season after getting quite a bit of playing time last year. He threw for 1526 yards and 13 touchdowns while playing as the number two QB behind Seth Russell. So the Bears at least know they have a guy with some experience coming in. Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty are a standout rushing combo. The offense won’t be as fast as in the past but will be effective. Baylor needs to improve their defense, which totally collapsed in the second half of last season.
Iowa State Cyclones: Iowa State comes back in 2017 trying to improve on their 3-9 record in 2016. Coach Matt Campbell begins his second season as head man and will be trying to get the team bowl eligible. Last year’s Cyclones averaged 27.7 points per game, which ranked them 71st of 128 teams, and gave up an average of 31.3, which put them at 88th of 128. So they have to get better on both sides of the ball. They have a starting quarterback in Jacob Park, who passed for 1791 yards and 12 touchdowns while splitting time with Joel Lanning. Last season’s third leading ground gainer David Montgomery is also back. He gained 563 yards last season while averaging a bit over five yards per attempt.
Kansas Jayhawks: Last year, in coach David Beaty’s second year, the Jayhawks were 2-10, and 1-8 in the conference. That’s about a typical football season at KU. The Jayhawks were 120th of 128 in points per game at 20.2, and 114th in points allowed at 37.3. And that’s how you go 2-10. Peyton Bender takes over at quarterback. He has not seen any playing time so expect some growing pains there. Bender has some quality targets to throw to. Steven Sims is one of the better receivers in the Big 12 and Daylon Charlot transfers over from Alabama. The defense needs big improvement, especially against the ground game. The defensive line is weak and needs work and some new talent. The Jayhawks’ pass rush is decent, but it doesn’t matter much since most teams spend so much time running against them.
Kansas State Wildcats: The Wildcats are coming off a 9-4 season in 2016. They had some big wins over Texas, Baylor, TCU, and Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl 33-28. Can they expect even bigger things in 2017? Coach Bill Snyder begins his 26th season as K-State coach. You know you are a legend when you’re still coaching in a stadium that’s already been named after you. K-State will have Jesse Ertz back at starting quarterback this year. Last season, he threw for 1755 yards and ran for another 1012. He is a balanced offense all by himself.
K-State ranked 45th in points per game at 32.2, and with Ertz back they will probably be even better. On defense the Wildcats were stingy at 22.2 per game, which was 25th in the nation. If they can come close to those numbers again, double digit wins are not out of the question.
Oklahoma Sooners: The Sooners come off another big season in 2016 that saw them win the Big 12 Championship and the Sugar Bowl over Auburn, 35-19. They were 11-2, and 9-0 in the Big 12 in coach Bob Stoops’ 18th year. Stoops is becoming the greatest OU coach of all time. OU has a Heisman front runner at starting quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Last season, he threw for 3965 yards and 40 touchdowns to eight interceptions. What will he do for an encore? OU lost a few stars in the offseason—RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, and WR Dede Westbrook. But they will be fine. They had one of the best offenses in the country last season and it’s going to be as good this year. Rodney Anderson will be stepping up at RB and TE Mark Andrews will be there for catching and blocking duty.
Oklahoma State Cowboys: Oklahoma State comes back after a ten-win 2016, hoping to get over the hump and beat Oklahoma and put themselves in the conversation for the College Football Playoffs. OSU is always very good, but just cannot seem to get past OU. But with coach Mike Gundy going into his 13th season, the Cowboys will be one of the top teams in the Big 12 once again. One interesting twist this season is the OU game is earlier in the season. Will that help OSU? It might. Maybe it takes a little bit of pressure off the Cowboys knowing they still have games left after that one. Mason Rudolph is back at quarterback. He had a great year in 2016 with 4091 yards and 28 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He could be in the Heisman talk if he can put numbers up like those again.
TCU Horned Frogs: TCU took a step backwards last season when they slipped to 6-7. They averaged 31 points per game, which ranked them 52nd in the country, and they allowed an average of 28 per game, which ranked 64th. Kenny Hill will be back for his senior year. He is a very talented quarterback who, if he puts it all together, could have a big senior year. Last season, he passed for 3208 yards and 13 touchdowns, yet still left fans thinking he could be so much better. RB Kyle Hicks will take some of the load off Hill’s shoulders. The offensive line is bringing back most of the starters so the pieces are there for a productive offense. TCU will be coming into the season looking to redeem themselves for a lackluster 2016. That makes them a dangerous team. Texas Longhorns: The Longhorns begin the Tom Herman era hoping to get back to the glory days. UT isn’t used to missing out on bowl season, losing to teams like Kansas, and having losing records, all of which happened in the three years of Charlie Strong. Strong took over three years ago and was told to clean house. He did that. Unfortunately, he didn’t win games. So Texas and Strong parted ways after a 5-7 2016, and in comes Houston’s Tom Herman. Shane Buechele is a starting quarterback with some promise. Buechele had some good numbers in his freshman season with 2958 yards and 21 touchdown passes. So Herman has something to work with here. Texas’ defensive was bad last year. Especially against the run. Their new defensive coordinator worked wonders at Houston. Hopefully he can pull off the same thing in Texas.
Texas Tech Red Raiders: The Red Raiders come in to 2017 hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 2016. Tech missed out on bowl season after finishing just 5-7 in Kliff Kingsbury’s fourth year. Tech’s offense is still high powered. They ranked fifth in points per game last season at 43.7. But the defense gave up 43.5 and was dead last of 128 teams. Tech has to figure out how to at least slow some people down enough to win some games with all the offense. Star QB Patrick Mahomes is gone. Replacement QB Nic Shimonek is good, but isn’t the QB Mahomes is. The backs and receivers are almost all coming back this season. The Red Raiders had the worst defense in all of college football last season. So things can’t get much worse.
West Virginia Mountaineers: The Mountaineers had a very good 2016 with ten wins in Dan Holgerson’s sixth year. Last season, WVU averaged 31 points per games, which ranked 50th in the nation, and allowed 24 per game, which was 36th. If they can improve a little bit in each area, they could contend for a conference championship in 2017. Will Grier will lead the offense at QB. He’s a transfer from Florida. He’s got lots of tools to work with. Both the backs and receivers are strong. Defense doesn’t look as good going into the season. They’re starting a new line, lost key players at LB, and have weak CBs.

Conference USA - West

Conference USA

Conference USA West should be up for grabs this season as the defending champion Louisiana Tech has to break in a new starting quarterback. Southern Miss looks to be on their way back to where they once were after free falling for a few seasons. And welcome back, UAB! How could we not have football at a school controlled by the University of Alabama Board of Trustees? There needs to be college football at Legion Field, right? So what do we expect out of the West in 2017?
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: Louisiana Tech goes into the season as the favorite in the C-USA West. Coach Skip Holtz and the Bulldogs will be coming back from a very good 2016 that saw them win the Western Division, go to the Championship Game, and win The Armed Forces Bowl. QB Ryan Higgins is gone. The job now goes to J’Mar Smith, who saw limited action but was 30 for 43 when he did play. So there might not be a huge drop off. The face may change but the system will remain the same. The Bulldogs were second in the nation in scoring last year at 44.3 per game. The bad news is they were 97th on defense with 33 points per game. Can they get a little better at slowing people down? If so, the Bulldogs can be really good in 2017.
UT San Antonio Roadrunners: Still a relative newcomer to FBS and C-USA, the Roadrunners are building a competitive program. Last season, the Roadrunners went to the New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque. Considering it was the school’s first ever bowl and it was what amounted to a road game, they did very well, losing by only three points. Last season, the Roadrunners averaged 29.2 per game, which was 65th in the nation of 128. On defense, they were at 27.9, which was 63rd. So UTSA was about average on both offense and defense, which the record at 6-7 shows. But that does give them something to build on in the future. Dalton Sturm is back as the starting quarterback after throwing for 2170 yards and 20 touchdowns last year with only six picks. Those are some good numbers, and one would expect him to be even better with experience this year.
Southern Miss Golden Eagles: Last season, Southern Miss went 7-6, which included a win in the New Orleans Bowl over UL-Lafayette. What will it take to get the Golden Eagles back to the top of Conference USA? The Golden Eagles usually made their living on defense. Last year, they were 78th, averaging 29 points per game allowed. They need to get that number down a bit. They averaged 32 points on offense, which is pretty good for them. They used to be a team that would run the ball right at you and dare you to stop it. So if they can get back to playing some smash mouth defense and keep putting up offensive numbers like these, they could win this division. Keon Howard looks to be taking over at quarterback this season. He saw limited action last year, throwing one touchdown pass but four interceptions. Obviously, that number has to get a whole lot better.
North Texas Mean Green: Last season, the Mean Green went 5-8. They got to a bowl game based on academics. Last year, the Mean Green was ranked 99th on offense at 24 points per game and were 96th on defense at 32 points per game. So getting to a bowl was pretty amazing. As bad as these numbers sound they’re a huge step up from a couple of seasons ago, so North Texas is making progress. Mason Fine is listed as number one on the depth chart. Last year, he split time at quarterback and threw for 1572 yards and six touchdowns. He also threw five picks, so that ratio must get a lot better for the offense to improve. RB Jeffery Wilson is one of the better backs in C-USA. Now, if only he could get some blocking, it might make a difference.
Rice Owls: Rice will be trying to get back into bowl contention after a disappointing 3-9 mark in 2016. Can they do it? Not if they don’t get a whole lot better on defense, where they ranked 115th last season. They allowed an average of 37 points per game while scoring 25. That won’t win you many games. J.T. Granato is listed number one on the depth chart. He was third string a year ago and didn’t get much action. But he did throw two picks in 19 attempts. It’s not just the QB where Rice is lacking. They’re generally weak on both sides of the ball. Both lines need work and the secondary was non-existent last season.
UT El Paso Miners: The Miners are coming off a 4-8 season in 2016. Last year, they were 105th in the nation on defense at 35 points per game. So they must tighten up on that side of the ball. On offense, they were a little better, ranking 82nd at 27 per game. Yes, they could stand to improve there as well. If they can hang on to the ball a bit more, that will keep the defense off the field. Ryan Metz is back as the starting quarterback. Last season, he threw for 1375 yards and 14 touchdowns to only four interceptions. So that’s pretty decent production he can build on this year.
UAB Blazers: We have no idea what to expect from UAB because they haven’t played a football game in over two years. They used to have a pretty competitive team in C-USA, but don’t expect miracles in 2017. The depth chart lists Quincy Perdue as one of the wide receivers. He actually played for UAB before they broke up the band in 2014. Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess, but the other guys haven’t seen any college football action before

The Mid-American Conference East Division

The Mid American Conference

The Mid-American Conference East Division has some big name coaches, both current and past, who have been or are currently head coaches at some big time programs. This is one reason the MAC is called “The Cradle of Coaches.” Men such as Paul Brown, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Lou Holtz have come through the MAC. Ohio’s Frank Solich  was a successful coach at Nebraska, and Akron’s Terry Bowden once led Auburn to an undefeated season. This is one of the many reasons MAC Football is worth paying attention to.
Akron Zips: Coach Bowden begins his sixth season as head coach of the Zips. Last year was a bit of a letdown at 5-7, and 3-5 in MAC play. Akron has hopes of bowl invitations  now since Bowden took over. They are no longer the doormat of the division. Can they get one game better to go to a bowl in 2017? They do have a returning starting quarterback in Tommy Woodson. The junior threw for 2179 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016. He threw only six interceptions all season. The Zips didn’t have much of a running game last season, so that needs to improve for them to get to a bowl. The Zips also need to tighten up a bit on defense as they allowed 33 points per game in 2016 while the offense scored 27 per game.
Bowling Green Falcons: The Falcons went 4-8, and 3-5 in the MAC, last season, falling short of bowl eligibility. Will they get there in 2017? Coach Mike Jinks begins his second season hoping they can get to a bowl. To do that, they need to get better on both sides of  the football. Last year, the defense gave up 38 points per game, which was 118th, and the offense scored just under 25 per game and were 97th. When you get outscored by two touchdowns per game, you are almost fortunate to have four wins to your credit. James Morgan is back as the number one quarterback. Last season, he threw 16 touchdowns but had 15 interceptions. That has got to improve. In fact, those are also numbers that make you wonder how they won four times.
Buffalo Bulls: After a few decent seasons, the Bulls are back at the bottom of college football. Last year, they finished 2-10, and were 1-7 in the MAC. Last season, the Bulls averaged 16.5 per game, which was 126th of 128 teams. The defense gave up 32.8, which was 95th. Those are ugly numbers and it’s no wonder they lost double digit games. Tyree Jackson is back at starting quarterback, which might not be good news for Bulls fans. Last year, he threw for 1772 yards and nine touchdowns with nine picks. Those are not numbers that will win you many games. The Bulls also have to replace Jordan Johnson, who rushed for 1040 yards and averaged over five yards per carry. Johnathan Hawkins will be asked to pick up the slack. Hawkins averaged 4.6 per attempt last year. Kent State Golden Flashes: The Golden Flashes are coming off a tough season last year, hoping to improve in 2017. Coach Paul Haynes is in his fifth season and the pressure will be on him if they don’t get better. Last season, Kent State averaged only 20.6 points per game, which ranked 117th of 128 FBS teams. On defense, the Flashes allowed 28.7 points per game, which was 67th. The defense played well enough to keep them in the running most of the time, but the offense was inept. That’s where they need to get better in 2017, and hopefully the defense won’t regress.
Miami RedHawks: The RedHawks had a good season in 2016. They tied for first place in the East at 6-2 and played in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The RedHawks were 31st in the nation on defense, allowing 23 per game. The offense was 114th at 22 per game though. If they can play defense as well as last season but get a bit more production from the offense, they could find themselves in the MAC Championship Game at the end of the year. Gus Ragland is back at quarterback. He had a very good 2016 with 1537 yards and 17 touchdowns and only one interception. They also have leading rusher Alonzo Smith back to carry the ball. So one could see how the RedHawks could be much improved on offense this year.
Ohio Bobcats: The Bobcats come into 2017 as the defending Eastern Division champs. They were 6-2 in the MAC last season. Ohio was 8-6 overall and gave undefeated Western Michigan a very tough game in the MAC Championship before losing 29-23 The Bobcats had a tough defense that allowed only 22 points per game, which ranked them at 26th. But the offense scored only 26.3, which was 85th. Quinton Maxwell takes over as starting quarterback in 2107. He saw quite a lot of action last season, passing for 1247 yards and eight touchdowns. He threw only four interceptions as well. So he will be able to hit the ground running.

The Mid-American Conference West Division

The Mid American Conference

The 2016 season for the MAC West was one they won’t soon forget. Western Michigan was undefeated after the MAC Championship Game, then went to the Cotton Bowl and gave a Big Ten powerhouse in Wisconsin all they wanted before losing 24-16. They also saw Central Michigan go into Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma State’s home field and pull off a big win. So what’s in store for 2017?
Ball State Cardinals: The Cardinals will be coming off a disappointing 2016 hoping to get back into the bowl picture. They finished 4-8 last season so they only need to get two games better to get there. Last year, they averaged 27 points per game, which put them 75th in the nation, and gave up an average of 30 per game, which was 78th. Riley Neal is back as the starting quarterback. Last season, he threw for 2541 yards and 13 touchdowns, but also threw 12 interceptions. Obviously, he needs to take better care of the ball if the Cardinals are to get back into the bowl games. James Gilbert also returns after his fine 2016 season. He rushed for 1332 yards and 12 touchdowns. So the offense should be in pretty good shape for 2017.
Central Michigan Chippewas: CMU pulled off one of the biggest shockers of the season last year when they upset Oklahoma State. That win helped get the Chips to a bowl game as they finished the regular season at 6-6. The offense scored an average of 26 points per game, which ranked 83rd of 128. The defense gave up 30 per game, which was 79th in the nation. Shane Morris or Tony Lazzaro takes over as the starting quarterback. They will be trying to replace Cooper Rush, who had a fantastic career for the Chips.
Eastern Michigan Eagles: The Eagles come back after a good 2016 hoping to get even better in 2017. They were 7-5 in the regular season last year and went to the Bahamas Bowl. The Eagles’ offense was 61st at 29.6 points per game, and on defense they gave up 29.8 per game, which was 76th in the nation. So they have room to improve on both sides of the ball. Brogan Roback is back as the starting quarterback. Last season, he threw for 2694 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions. So if he can improve on last year, the offense should be pretty good.
Northern Illinois Huskies: The Huskies are usually the team to beat in this division, but last year they were only 5-7. Can they get back to the top of the West in 2017? Last season, the Huskies averaged 30.5 on offense, which was 55th in the nation. That’s about what we would expect from the Huskies on offense. But the defense allowed 30.3 points, which ranked 80th. And that’s why they missed bowl season. The Huskies will be led by a new starting quarterback this season in Daniel Santacaterina. He is a red shirt sophomore who was 18 for 38 last season for 362 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The numbers are not impressive but that’s a small sample size. So we’ll have to wait and see.
Toledo Rockets: The Rockets had a good 2016. They finished 9-4, and went 6-2 in the MAC. They capped off the season with a trip to the Camellia Bowl. Last year, the Rockets averaged 38 points per game, which was 19th in the nation. The defense allowed just under 26 per game, which ranked 48th. Logan Woodside is back at quarterback in 2017. He threw for 4129 yards last season with 45 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. With him back this season, Toledo would seem to be the favorites in the West. 

Western Michigan Broncos: The Broncos had a dream season in 2016. They were 13-0 in the regular season with a MAC Championship. They beat two Big Ten teams in Northwestern and Illinois, then went to the Cotton Bowl. Wide receiver Corey Davis went on to become a first round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans after becoming the NCAA’s all-time leading receiver. But now the Broncos must rebuild. They have to replace their star receiver, head coach, and star quarterback. Obviously, production will drop off. The question is how far. Tom Flacco takes over as the starting quarterback. He is Joe Flacco’s younger brother, so he comes in under a ton of pressure. But he just may have a lot of talent too.

The West Division of the MWC

The Mountain West Conference Mountain Division

The West Division of the MWC was clearly the weaker side in 2016. Can they catch up to the Mountain Division in 2017? If Fresno State and Hawaii can get back to what they have been in previous seasons, that would surely help. But even though the West may not have been as good as the Mountain, they did have some good teams and some things to be proud of in 2016, such as San Diego State’s rout of Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl. Who will make an impact in 2017?
San Diego State Aztecs: The Mountain Division may have had five of their six teams in bowls last year, but the Aztecs won the MWC Championship Game. They beat Wyoming 27-24 to win the Mountain West Conference Championship and then went on to the Las Vegas Bowl. What will they do for an encore in 2017? Christian Chapman will be back at starting quarterback this season. He threw for
1994 yards and 20 touchdowns and six interceptions last season, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but remember they had Donnel Pumphrey to hand the ball off to. Pumphrey ran for 2133 yards and 17 touchdowns, so that’s going to leave a gaping hole in the running game. Rashaad Penny will be back this year, though and he ran for over 1000 yards last season. So the Aztecs may be in good shape
in the running game.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors: Hawaii ended the season 7-7 last season and was yet another MWC team to win a bowl game. They beat Middle Tennessee State in the Hawaii Bowl 52-35 to finish at .500 for the season. Last year, they averaged 28.3 points per game, which was 69th, but gave up 37.3 per game, which was 113th. So they were probably fortunate to win as many games as they did. If they can get better on defense, maybe they can compete for the division title in 2017. Dru Brown is back at starting quarterback. Last season, he passed for 2488 yards and 19 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Diocemy Saint Juste is also back after rushing for 1006 yards last season. So the offense will be good once again.
Nevada Wolf Pack: Nevada was one win short of the six needed to become bowl eligible last season. Can they get that win in 2017? Last year, the Wolf Pack ranked 91st on offense at 25.4 points per game while giving up 29 per game, which was 72nd. So they need to put more points up of they want to compete for the division championship. Ty Gangi will be the starting quarterback in 2017.  He saw some action backing up Tyler Stewart last season and threw for 1301 yards and seven touchdowns with six interceptions. He needs to improve in the touchdown/interception ratio if the Wolf Pack are to go far. James Butler will be back at running back after 1336 yards and 12 touchdowns. So the running game will be in good shape. Will the Wolf Pack go to a bowl in 2017? If Gangi can take care of the ball, they have a good chance.
UNLV Runnin Rebels: The Rebs come off a bad 2016 that saw them go 4-8. They ended the season with a 45-10 loss to rival Nevada. So they should be coming into the season with a massive chip on their shoulders. Last year, UNLV averaged 31.6 points per game, which was good for 47th out of 128 teams. The problem was they couldn’t stop anyone. They gave up 36.8 per game, which was 112th. Ouch! So if UNLV wants to be part of the race for a bowl in 2017, the defense needs to get a whole lot better. Kurt Palandech is listed as the starter in 2017. He split time at quarterback last season with Johnny Stanton, who is listed as the number two. Sounds like we have a QB controversy that could erupt if the Rebels get off so a slow start offensively. Palandech had 647 yards and five touchdowns last season, while Stanton had 647 with five touchdowns. Will the Rebels go bowling in 2017? Somebody needs to establish himself as the number one quarterback first.
San Jose State Spartans: The Spartans averaged 24.4 per game last season, which was 103rd. They allowed 34.7, which was also 103rd. That is the formula for missing bowl season, which the Spartans did at 4-8. Will they get back into contention in 2017? To do that they must get better on both sides of the ball. A two-touchdown differential per game is a lot to make up for one unit. The Spartans have Josh Love listed as the starting quarterback. In limited action a season ago he threw two touchdowns with five interceptions. That has got to improve this season or the Spartans are in a lot of trouble.
Fresno State Bulldogs: The Bulldogs football team, once a source of great pride for the school as they went to many bowl victories, had winning seasons, and many star players, has bottomed out. In 2016, the Bulldogs were 1-11, and 0-8 in the MWC. Last year, the Bulldogs ranked 125th with 17.7 points per game. The defense allowed 30.9, which was 83rd. So they really need to get better everywhere, but especially on offense. Chason Virgil is back at starting quarterback in 2017. Last season, he threw for 1321 yards and 13 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He needs to get the ball into the end zone a lot more often this year.

The Mountain West Conference Mountain Division

The Mountain West Conference Mountain Division

The Mountain West Conference Mountain Division plays some very good football. Boise State used to be one of those Cinderella stories, but that is no longer the case. They are a college football powerhouse. Air Force has always been one of the better teams in this conference and up until recently were always the favorites to win the Commander in Chief’s Trophy. Wyoming and New Mexico are both coming off good seasons in 2016, and Colorado State has been known to put some good teams out of the field. Which of these teams will emerge in 2017 to give Boise State a battle for the Mountain Division? We will preview all six for you here.
Boise State Broncos: Of course, the Broncos are the favorites in this division. And why wouldn’t they be? Over the last decade plus, they’ve pretty much owned this conference. The blue “Smurf Turf” in Boise is one of the most difficult road venues in the country. Boise is always a talented team and in Bryan Harsin, they have a good young coach. The Broncos were 10-3 last season, and 6-2 in the MWC. The Broncos averaged 33.8 per game a year ago, which was good for number 38 in the nation. But where they really shined was on defense, where they allowed 23.3 per game, which was 29th. They have Brett Rypien back at starting quarterback too. He threw for 3846 yards last season for 24 touchdowns and only eight picks. So they should be in really good shape on offense going into the season.
Wyoming Cowboys: The Cowboys come in off a good 2016 that saw them go 8-6, and 6-2 in the conference. Wyoming won the Western Division in 2016 and played in the MWC Championship Game where they lost to San Diego State 27-24. The Cowboys averaged 35.9 per game, which was 25th in the nation. They gave up 34.1 per game, which was 101st in the country. So if the Cowboys can get batter on defense, perhaps they can compete for a conference championship. Josh Allen is back as the starting quarterback for 2017. Last year, he passed for 3203 yards and 28 touchdowns with 15 interceptions. He’s a big player maker who puts up the points. If he can cut down on the picks, that would help his cause even more.
New Mexico Lobos: The Lobos had a nice 2016 season which saw them go 9-4, and 6-2 in the MWC. They finished it off with a bowl win on their home turf in the New Mexico Bowl  Coach Bob Davie has used the triple option offense and turned them into a winner. New Mexico averaged 36.7 points per game in 2016, mostly by running the ball. That was 23rd in the nation out of 128 teams. The defense allowed an average of 31.5 per game, which was 89th in the nation. With a ball control offense, one would expect them to be better on defense. Lamar Jordan will be the starting quarterback. He saw quite a bit of playing time last season, so the offense should not drop off at all. But the backs are the real stars of this offense, like Richard McQuarley and Tyrone Owens. If the defense can play better, the Lobos could be a contender in the MWC this year.
Air Force Falcons: Air Force was yet another team in the Mountain Division that had an impressive 2016 season. The Falcons were 10-3 a season ago. They were 5-3 in the MWC and won the Commander in Chief’s Trophy with wins over Navy 28-14 and Army 31-12. The Falcons were 30th in the nation at 35.2 points per game and gave up 26.2, which was good for 49th. Air Force is another ground oriented offense. They had three players with over 600 yards on the ground and one of them was quarterback Arion Worthman, who will be back this season. Air Force always has something to look forward to in the Commander in Chief games. But this season they’re looking to make the MWC Championship game.
Colorado State Rams: The Rams were yet another Mountain Division team that had a winning record and went to a bowl last season. The Rams finished 7-6, and 5-3 in the MWC. The Rams were like a lot of the MWC teams. They were good on offense, where they were 28th at 35.3 points per game. But like the other MWC teams, they were not so good on defense, where they allowed 30.4 per game, which was 81st. Nick Stevens is back at quarterback after a good year in 2016. He threw for 1933 yards and 19 touchdowns with only five interceptions. Another good season from him and the Rams could get in the race for the championship game.
Utah State Aggies: Bringing up the rear in the Mountain Division last season was Utah State. The Aggies were the only one of the six Mountain Division teams with a losing record at 3-9 and no bowl game. Last year, the Aggies were 108th on offense, scoring 23.9 per game, and were 73rd on defense, giving up 29.3. So they need to improve everywhere in 2017. They do have their starting quarterback returning this season in Kent Myers. But he’ll need to get a whole lot better for the Aggies to get out of the basement. Last year, he threw for 2394 yards with ten touchdowns and eight picks. The offense might not have the weapons needed to hang with the new high powered games of MW teams.

The PAC 12 North Division

PAC 12

The PAC 12 North Division saw one of its teams make it to the College Football Playoffs for the second time in the three seasons of its existence. Last year, the Washington Huskies made it to the National Semifinals. Will another North Division team get there this season? Could it be Stanford or Cal? Will Oregon continue to struggle or will new coach Willie Taggart turn them back around? What does Stanford look like after NFL first round pick Christian McCaffrey departs? These are the questions we will soon find the answers to in the PAC 12 North. Let’s look at each team.
Washington Huskies: The Huskies blossomed under coach Chris Petersen in 2016. In his third season since coming from Boise State, where he built a powerhouse, the Huskies won the PAC 12 Championship in a cake walk over Colorado 41-10 and then advanced to the College Football Playoffs. The Huskies averaged 41.8 points per game last season, which was 8th of 128 teams. They were also great on defense, where they gave up only 17.7 per game, also ranked 8th. Jake Browning is back at starting quarterback in 2017. All he did last year was throw for 3430 yards and 43 touchdowns with nine picks. If he puts up those type numbers again, Huskies fans won’t complain. Leading ground gainer Myles Gaskin is also back this season. He rushed for 1373 yards and ten touchdowns last season.
Washington State Cougars: The Cougars are putting together a good football program. Last season, they finished second in the PAC 12 North and went to a bowl game for the second straight year. Last year, the Cougars went 8-5, and 7-2 in the PAC 12. They ended with two losses, one to Washington in the Apple Cup and then in the Holiday Bowl to Minnesota 17-12. So this season the focus should be on finishing strong. The Cougars averaged 38.2 points per game, which was 18th in the nation. Coach Mike Leach’s teams always put points up in bunches. On defense, they were 50th at 26.4. If they can get a little better at stopping people, then perhaps they can compete for the division title. Last year, the Cougars also started 0-2 when they lost to Eastern Washington and Boise State. So the middle part of the schedule they went 8-1. Luke Falk is back as the starting quarterback. Last season, he passed for 4468 yards and 38 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. With him back for his senior season, look for the Cougars to put up a lot of points. Stanford Cardinal: Stanford had another great year in 2016 with another ten-win season. They came in third place in the North Division with big wins over Kansas State, USC, archrival Cal, and North Carolina in the Sun Bowl. Can they make it back to the top of the North Division in 2017? Last year, the Cardinal averaged 26.8 points per game, which was 84th in the nation. That’s not exactly what Stanford fans are used to. With Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey, they were likely expecting to be better on offense. But the defense was really good. They gave up only 20.4 per game, which ranked them 18th of 128. If they can play good defense again, especially against high powered teams like the Huskies and Cougars, they could find themselves in the race for the playoffs. Keller Chryst will be the starting quarterback in 2017. Last season he saw some action. He threw for 905 yards with ten touchdowns and only two interceptions. He will need to put up some good numbers to make up for McCaffrey’s 1600 rushing yards that are now going to the NFL.
California Golden Bears: The Bears went 5-7 in 2016. One more win and they would have qualified for a bowl game. Offense in the post Jared Goff era was not the Bears’ problem. They averaged 37.1 points per game, which was 22nd in the nation. Their problem was they couldn’t stop anyone. They gave up 42.6 points per game, which was 127th of 128 teams. They just couldn’t put up enough points to keep up with their defense. Now the offense must break in another new quarterback. Davis Webb is gone after throwing for 4295 yards and 37 touchdowns with 12 picks. If they can get that kind of production out of new quarterback Chase Forrest, no Bears fans will complain. But if Cal is to go to a bowl in 2017, they had better tighten up on defense. Last year, they lost shootouts with San Diego State 45-40, Arizona  tate 51-41, Oregon State 47-44, and Stanford 45-31. When your offense puts up 30 points, you should win more often than not.
Oregon State Beavers: The Beavers come off a tough 4-8 season in 2016. Can they get two games better in 2017 to get to a bowl? With the tough schedule they face, it will not be easy. Last year, the Beavers averaged 26.2 points per game, which was 86th in the nation. They gave up 30.5 points, which ranked them 82nd. So the Beavers need to get better on both sides of the ball to compete with the rest of the North Division in 2017. Jake Luton takes over as the starting quarterback this season after transferring in from a junior college. So look for the Beavers to struggle a bit in the early part of the season on offense.
Oregon Ducks: The Ducks really bottomed out in 2016. They went 4-8, and 2-7 in the PAC 12. This is a team that has played in two National Championship Games in this decade and has always been in the running for the PAC 12 Championship. 2016 was so bad it got fourth year coach Mark Helfrich fired two seasons removed from taking the Ducks to the first College Football Playoffs. The new Oregon head coach is Willie Taggart from South Florida. He led the Bulls to ten wins last season. We will now see what he can do in the Power Five. The Ducks’ offense is still good. Last season, they averaged 35.5 points per game, which was 27th in the nation. They just couldn’t stop anyone. The defense was awful as they gave up an average of 41.4 per game, which was 126th of 128. Taggart will need to find a way to bring toughness to the defense in 2017 if he wants to get the Ducks back into the bowl picture. Justin Herbert is back at starting quarterback. Last season, he threw for 1936 and 19 touchdowns with only four interceptions. That has to get the new head coach excited. PAC 12 NORTH The West Division of the MWC was clearly the weaker side in 2016. Can they catch up to the Mountain Division in 2017? If Fresno State and Hawaii can get back to what they have been in previous seasons, that would surely help. But even though the West may not have been as good as the Mountain, they did have some good teams and some things to be proud of in 2016, such as San Diego State’s rout of Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl. Who will make an impact in 2017?
San Diego State Aztecs: The Mountain Division may have had five of their six teams in bowls last year, but the Aztecs won the MWC Championship Game. They beat Wyoming 27-24 to win the Mountain West Conference Championship and then went on to the Las Vegas Bowl. What will they do for an encore in 2017? Christian Chapman will be back at starting quarterback this season. He threw for
1994 yards and 20 touchdowns and six interceptions last season, which doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but remember they had Donnel Pumphrey to hand the ball off to. Pumphrey ran for 2133 yards and 17 touchdowns, so that’s going to leave a gaping hole in the running game. Rashaad Penny will be back this year, though and he ran for over 1000 yards last season. So the Aztecs may be in good shape in the running game.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors: Hawaii ended the season 7-7 last season and was yet another MWC team to win a bowl game. They beat Middle Tennessee State in the Hawaii Bowl 52-35 to finish at .500 for the season. Last year, they averaged 28.3 points per game, which was 69th, but gave up 37.3 per game, which was 113th. So they were probably fortunate to win as many games as they did. If they can get better on defense, maybe they can compete for the division title in 2017. Dru Brown is back at starting quarterback. Last season, he passed for 2488 yards and 19 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Diocemy Saint Juste is also back after rushing for 1006 yards last season. So the offense will be good once again.
Nevada Wolf Pack: Nevada was one win short of the six needed to become bowl eligible last season. Can they get that win in 2017? Last year, the Wolf Pack ranked 91st on offense at 25.4 points per game while giving up 29 per game, which was 72nd. So they need to put more points up of they want to compete for the division championship. Ty Gangi will be the starting quarterback in 2017. He saw some action backing up Tyler Stewart last season and threw for 1301 yards and seven touchdowns with six interceptions. He needs to improve in the touchdown/interception ratio if the Wolf Pack are to go far. James Butler will be back at running back after 1336 yards and 12 touchdowns. So the running game will be in good shape. Will the Wolf Pack go to a bowl in 2017? If Gangi can take care of the ball, they have a good chance.
UNLV Runnin Rebels: The Rebs come off a bad 2016 that saw them go 4-8. They ended the season with a 45-10 loss to rival Nevada. So they should be coming into the season with a massive chip on their shoulders. Last year, UNLV averaged 31.6 points per game, which was good for 47th out of 128 teams. The problem was they couldn’t stop anyone. They gave up 36.8 per game, which was 112th. Ouch! So if UNLV wants to be part of the race for a bowl in 2017, the defense needs to get a whole lot better. Kurt Palandech is listed as the starter in 2017. He split time at quarterback last season with Johnny Stanton, who is listed as the number two. Sounds like we have a QB controversy that could erupt if the Rebels get off so a slow start offensively. Palandech had 647 yards and five touchdowns last season, while Stanton had 647 with five touchdowns. Will the Rebels go bowling in 2017? Somebody needs to establish himself as the number one quarterback first.
San Jose State Spartans: The Spartans averaged 24.4 per game last season, which was 103rd. They allowed 34.7, which was also 103rd. That is the formula for missing bowl season, which the Spartans did at 4-8. Will they get back into contention in 2017? To do that they must get better on both sides of the ball. A two-touchdown differential per game is a lot to make up for one unit. The Spartans have Josh Love listed as the starting quarterback. In limited action a season ago he threw two touchdowns with five interceptions. That has got to improve this season or the Spartans are in a lot of trouble.
Fresno State Bulldogs: The Bulldogs football team, once a source of great pride for the school as they went to many bowl victories, had winning seasons, and many star players, has bottomed out. In 2016, the Bulldogs were 1-11, and 0-8 in the MWC. Last year, the Bulldogs ranked 125th with 17.7 points per game. The defense allowed 30.9, which was 83rd. So they really need to get better everywhere, but especially on offense. Chason Virgil is back at starting quarterback in 2017. Last season, he threw for 1321 yards and 13 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He needs to get the ball into the end zone a lot more often this year.

The PAC 12 South Division

PAC 12

The Colorado Buffaloes were a “feel good” story in 2016. They have been really down in recent years, but in 2016 they won the South Division and played Washington in the PAC 12 Championship Game. But USC sort of stole the show after they got hot and wound up beating Penn State in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans were one of the few teams to beat Washington last season and many feel had they gotten into the playoffs, they might have won it all So what’s in store for 2017 in the PAC 12 South? Can USC get to the playoffs? Can Colorado repeat their success from last year? Will UCLA get back into contention? Can Utah stay up front in the south race? Let’s look at each team.
Colorado Buffaloes: The Buffs were a surprise team in 2016, going 10-4, and 8-1 in the PAC 12. They ended on a disappointing note, losing the PAC 12 Championship Game to Washington 41-10 and then losing the Alamo Bowl to former conference rival Oklahoma State 38-8. But considering where Colorado has been the past few years, it was still a great season in Boulder. Last season, Colorado beat Stanford 10-5, UCLA 20-10, Washington State 38-24, and Utah 27-22. They averaged 31.1 points per game, which was 50th, but it was on defense where the Buffaloes were really tough. They gave up only 21.7 per game, which was good for 20th in the nation. Colorado gives teams like Rutgers and Syracuse hope. They had been the downtrodden team since joining the PAC 12. But no more. Steven Montez is the starting quarterback going into 2017. Last year, he passed for 1078 yards and nine touchdowns and five interceptions. The Buffs would like to see that ratio improve if they are to compete against USC and Utah for the South Championship.
Arizona Wildcats: The Wildcats come to 2017 coming off a terrible 2016 under fifth year head coach Rich Rodriguez. Is Rich Rod in the hot seat in 2017? If the Cats don’t improve, don’t be surprised if they have a new coach next season. So Rodriguez is clearly on a warm seat this season. The Wildcats were awful on offense at 24.1 points per game, which was 100th. And they were worse on defense, giving up 38.3, which was 118th. There was not much Bearing Down in Tucson last season. Can the Wildcats turn things around this season? Brandon Dawkins is back as the number one quarterback. He didn’t do much to impress in 2016 with 1348 yards and eight touchdowns with six picks. He’ll have to play a lot better in 2017 if Arizona is to get into bowl contention. Dawkins was also the team’s leading rusher last year with 944 yards. They need some more production out of other people.
Arizona State Sun Devils: The Sun Devils had a tough 2016 when they finished 5-7. They come into 2017 on a six-game losing streak. They even lost to a bad Arizona team in the big rivalry game 56-35. That was the Wildcats’ only PAC 12 win of the season. So coach Todd Graham comes in on the hot seat. ASU started 5-1 last season  with wins over Texas Tech, Cal, and UCLA. But that was wiped out by an 0-6 finish that
left them with no bowl game. They averaged 33 points per game on offense, which was 40th in the nation. Not bad, but the defense was terrible, giving up 39.8 per game, which was 124th of 128. Blake Barnett takes over as the starting quarterback after transferring in from Alabama. If he was good enough to play for Alabama, then he has to be talented. So there is some hope for the Sun Devils.
UCLA Bruins: 2016 could not have gone any worse for the Bruins. They finished 4-8, and 2-7 in the PAC 12. Those are not very UCLA-like numbers. The Bruins are supposed to be one of the top teams in the South every year. Can they get back to the top in 2017? If they are to get back to winning football, they have to get the offense going. Last year, the Bruins averaged only 24.9 points per game, which was 96th of 128 teams. That won’t get it done. The defense was respectable, giving up 27.5 per game, which was 59th. But the Bruins would love to see that statistic improve too. Josh Rosen will be back at starting quarterback in 2017. He has the potential to be really good. In his freshman season two years ago, he looked like he was going to be a superstar. Last year, a shoulder injury cut his season short. Still, he passed for 1915 yards with ten touchdowns and five interceptions before he was hurt. If he stays healthy, the Bruins could get a whole lot better this season.
USC Trojans: After a rough start to 2016, the Trojans took off. After a switch to quarterback Sam Darnold, USC was 9-0 after a 1-3 start. The Trojans come into 2017 as one of the favorites to win the National Championship, and Darnold is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. It wasn’t that long ago that the Trojans were losing games to UCLA, which meant they were not even the best team in the city. Now they may be the best in the country. Last year, Darnold threw for 3086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. That’s not too bad for a guy who started the year as the second stringer. What will he do this year going in as the number one guy? The sky is the limit. The Trojans averaged 34.4 points per game last season, which ranked them 36th. Those numbers will look even better this time next season. On defense, they gave up 24.2, which was 38th. They need to get a little bit better there if they want to win it all.
Utah Utes: Utah is coming off a good season in 2016. They were 9-4, and 5-4 in the PAC 12. The Utes had big wins over BYU, USC, UCLA, and over Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl 26-24. Can the Utes compete for the South Division Championship in 2017? They will certainly be one of the contenders if USC stumbles. Last year, the Utes averaged 29.6 points per game, which was 60th in the nation. They need to pick up the pace a bit on offense if they want to win the division. On defense, the Utes were really good, giving up an average of 23.9, which was 23rd of 128 teams. Troy Williams comes back as the starting quarterback in 2017. Last season, he passed for 2757 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight picks. He will be one of the best quarterbacks in the South Division in 2017.

The SEC East

The SEC

The SEC East is not the juggernaut the West is. That’s the perception anyway. But
take Alabama out of the equation and the SEC East actually did pretty well against the West. Alabama swept its two East opponents, and so did Texas A&M. But every other West team went 1-1 against the East. Towards the end of the season, the East actually did pretty well against the West. In the final three weeks of the season, the Florida Gators beat LSU, the Missouri Tigers beat Arkansas, Vanderbilt beat Ole Miss, and Auburn lost to Georgia. A few weeks earlier, Kentucky beat Mississippi State. Had Tennessee been able to beat Texas A&M, they would have won the East. That game was a thriller that the Aggies pulled out in overtime. So maybe the East isn’t so bad after all. How will they do in 2017?
Georgia Bulldogs: UGA should be one of the favorites to win the East in 2017. They have a sophomore quarterback in Jacob Eason who looks like a future NFL star. Last year, the Bulldogs finished 8-5, and 4-4 in  the SEC, under first year head coach Kirby Smart. Despite Eason looking pretty good at times in his true freshman season, the Bulldogs averaged only 24.5 points per game, which was 102nd in the nation. Expect those numbers to be much better with Eason having a year under his belt. On defense, they gave up an average of 24 points, which was 36th in the nation. Georgia always has a tough defense, and with Smart, a defensive coach, don’t expect that tochange. Eason threw for 2430 yards and 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions in his freshman season. He stands in the pocket like a professional quarterback and throws darts. As he learns to read defenses, watch out. Georgia is in store for some really good days ahead.
South Carolina Gamecocks: The Gamecocks’ first season under head coach Will Muschamp could have been worse. They finished 6-7, which included some nice wins over Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and Missouri. They had some close losses to Texas A&M and Kentucky, and lost in overtime to South Florida in the Birmingham Bowl as well. The Gamecocks found a quarterback late in the season in Jake Bentley, who looked pretty good in his starts. He threw for 1490 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions. With him coming in as the number one quarterback this season, South Carolina’s offense looks to be in good shape. Last year, they averaged only 20.8 points per game, which was 116th in the nation. On defense, the Gamecocks gave up only 26.5 points, which was 56th nationally. Defense is Muschamp’s specialty, so look for South Carolina to get even better on that side of the ball.
Tennessee Vols: Last year, everybody had Tennessee winning the SEC East. After the Vols finally beat Florida for the first time in 13 years, they should have been a lock. But they lost some games nobody had them losing, such as South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and as a result, the Gators went to the SEC Championship Game yet again. Tennessee wound up 9-4 and ended on a good note when they whipped Nebraska in Josh Dobbs’ final game at the Music City Bowl. But hardly what the Vols fans thought would be the end result when the season began. On offense, the Volunteers averaged 36.4 points per game, which was 24th. But on defense they gave up 28.8 points, which ranked 70th. That side of the ball was supposed to be much better than they turned out to be. Quinten Dormady takes over as the starting quarterback in 2017. He threw 17 passes last season, completing 11 for 148 yards. That’s not a huge sample size, so we do’’t really know how that will go.
Vanderbilt Commodores: The Commodores had a good 2016 season. They were 6-6, and 3-5 in the SEC, during the regular season. They went to the Independence Bowl where they ended on a disappointing note, losing to NC State 41-17 to finish 6-7. With a little but more offense, Vandy could have had a very good record. Vandy averaged 23 points per game, which was 113th of 128. On defense, they gave up 24 per game, which ranked 35th. Kyle Shurmur is back at starting quarterback. Last year, he threw for 2409 yards and nine touchdowns with ten interceptions. If he can get his touchdown passes up and INTs down, then perhaps Vandy can improve and become a legitimate contender in the SEC East.
Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats had a pretty good 2016, going 7-6 and 4-4 in the SEC. They went to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville and lost to Georgia Tech 33-18, which was disappointing for UK fans. But the fact that UK was playing football in Florida on New Year’s weekend was a rarity that had to be a very exciting thing for the Big Blue Nation. Last year, Kentucky averaged 30 points per game, which ranked 58th in the nation. They allowed 31 points per game, which ranked them at 60th in the nation. Stephen Johnson will be back atquarterback in 2017. Last season, he threw for 2037 yards after taking over for Drew Barker. He had 13 touchdowns with six interceptions and he also ran for 327 yards and three touchdowns. 

Missouri Tigers: Missouri comes into 2017 after a dismal 2016 that saw them go 4-8. They did have a few things go right last season though. They ended the season with a nice win over bowl bound Arkansas 28-24. They also appear to have found a good young quarterback in Drew Lock. Lock passed for 3399 yards and 23 touchdowns and ten interceptions. He comes in with a lot of fanfare in 2017. Last year, Mizzou averaged 31.4 points per game, which ranked 48th nationally. They gave up 31.5 per game, which was 90th. They need to get a bit better on that side of the ball if they want to compete for the SEC East and a bowl game. Head coach Barry Odom begins year two at Mizzou. He replaces a coaching legend in Gary Pinkel. It’s always difficult being the coach who comes after one of the all-time greats at a school. Odom will try and become a winner in his own right.
Florida Gators: The Gators begin year three of the Jim McElwain era not really knowing what to expect. They just got Notre Dame transfer quarterback Malik Zaire added to the roster. He will compete with other quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask for the starting quarterback job in 2017. Florida has been the preseason favorite to win the SEC East in neither of Coach Mac’s first two seasons, yet have won it both times. They are not the favorite going into 2017 either. This may bode well for them. Florida won the last two East Championships because they had a great defense. They scored 23 points per game, which ranked them 107th of 128 teams. How does a team ranked 107th finish the season 9-4 and 6-2 in the SEC? They gave up only 16 per game, which ranked 6th in the nation. The Gators went to the Outback Bowl on New Year’s and hammered Iowa 30-3 to end the year on a high note. They will need that momentum going into 2017 because the schedule is brutal once again.

The SEC West

The SEC

Many college football fans believe the SEC West to be the toughest division in the sport. It’s tough to make that claim after 2016 when three Big Ten East teams went to New Year’s Six Bowls, but then again so did two SEC West teams and one of those (Alabama) played for the National Championship yet again. There has been an SEC West team in every National Championship Game since 2009 except for the Ohio State vs. Oregon game three years ago.
One of those Championship Games had two, LSU vs. Alabama in 2011. So considering Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Arkansas have also had some very good teams over the past decade, maybe the SEC West is still the best. How will these teams do in 2017? Just about all of them will be darn good.
Arkansas Razorbacks: The Hogs are coming into 2017 with head coach Bret Bielema on a warm seat. A lot was expected form Arkansas in 2016 and they fell short of fulfilling those expectations. Arkansas went 7-6 last year, and 3-5 in the SEC. Last season, Arkansas was 57th on offense at 30.3 points per game. That’s not too bad, but it is when the defense is ranked 85th, allowing 31.3 per game. They have to tighten up in defense in 2017 if they want to compete with the big boys of this division. Austin Allen is back as the starting quarterback. This is good news for Arkansas fans because he is a good one. Last year, he threw for 3430 yards and 25 touchdowns. But he did also throw 15 interceptions. He has to take better care of the ball this year for the Hogs to win games. Rawleigh Williams is back at running back after gaining 1360 yards and scoring 12 rushing touchdowns last season. So the offense should be in good shape.
Auburn Tigers: Auburn was a pleasant surprise in 2016. They wound up playing in the Sugar Bowl and had it not been for some injuries late in the season, who knows how good they might have been. The Tigers ended the year 8-5, and 5-3 in the SEC. Star RB Kamryn Pettway is back this season after gaining 1224 yards and 14 touchdowns before his injury. If he stays healthy, look for the Tigers to be good on offense again. The Tigers have a new quarterback in Jarrett Stidham, who is listed as the number one. We don’t know anything about him because he did not play last season. He is a JuCo transfer who will be a junior this season. But his job will be mainly to hand the ball off to Pettway anyway. Auburn could stay in the running for the West Division if all goes well. The Iron Bowl against Alabama could be the deciding game like it has been so many times before. But they will definitely be going to a bowl no matter what.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Alabama is the top program in college football. Yes, Clemson won the National Championship last season. But make no mistake about it, Alabama is the team you’d take if you had to pick one team right now to win it all next season because your life depended on it. Why? Because they are always good enough to win it. The Tide rolled to another appearance in the College Football Playoffs in 2016. They are the only team to have appeared in all three of them. They were in the National Championship Game against Clemson for the second straight year. They averaged 38.8 points per game, which was 16th in the country. That’s impressive enough. This next stat is ridiculous. They gave up 13.3 points per game, which was number one, and it wasn’t really even close. Jalen Hurts is back at quarterback. All he did as a freshman was throw for 2780 yards and 23 touchdowns. And he also ran for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns. He should be a Heisman candidate before his career ends at Bama.
LSU Tigers: 2016 was a stormy season for the Tigers, literally and figuratively. They had a coaching change four games into the season when, after the loss to Auburn, long time coach Les Miles was fired. Ed Orgeron was named interim head coach and did such a good job he is now the head coach. But after all was said and done, LSU went 9-4 and won the Citrus Bowl over Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals. So it wound up being a decent season, and one they can build upon for 2017. Last year, the Tigers averaged 28.3 points per game, which was 68th. But they gave up an average of 15.8, which was fifth in the nation. Scoring on the Tigers is tough. Danny Etling goes into the season as the starting quarterback. He isn’t going to strike too much fear into the opposing defensive coordinators. Last year, his job was to not turn the ball over and hand it to Leonard Fournette as much as possible. He threw for 2123 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions, so he really did pretty well.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: The Bulldogs come off a disappointing 2016 that saw them finish 6-7. It was made a bit easier for coach Dan Mullen when the Bulldogs were picked to go to a bowl game at 5-7 because of his team’s academics. Last season, the Bulldogs averaged 30.4 points per game, which was 56th in the nation. But they gave up 31.8, which was 93rd of 128. You cannot compete in a tough division like the SEC West with a porous defense. The Bulldogs lost some tough games, such as the 28-21 loss to BYU, the 40-38 loss to Kentucky, and the 23-20 loss to LSU. Get a couple of those to go the other way and the season looks much better. The Bulldogs have a promising young quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald. Last season, he threw for 2423 yards and 21 touchdowns with ten interceptions. He also ran for 1375 yards and 16 scores. He is on the verge of becoming the next Tim Tebow/Cam Newton in the SEC if he can turn stats into wins.
Ole Miss Rebels: Ole Miss hasn’t got much to look forward to in 2017. They come off a disappointing 2016 that saw them finish 5-7. They were blown out by rival Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl. And now they go into 2017 on a self-imposed bowl ban. And the NCAA could still impose further sanctions for recruiting violations. So how does coach Hugh Freeze get his team to be excited about the upcoming season? He has to get them to buy into the spoiler role. Last year, the Rebels lost to Alabama only by a 48-43 score and to Florida State 45-34. So they did have some talent, and with a little defense could have been really good. They averaged 32.6 points per game, which was 42nd, but gave up 34 per game, which ranked #100. Shea Patterson is back as the starting quarterback. He looked really good after taking over for the injured Chad Kelly last year. He threw for 880 yards and six touchdowns on 132 pass attempts. He also ran for 169 yards on 41 attempts. He will be a good quarterback, and when they meet Mississippi State, that will be worth watching him take on Fitzgerald.
Texas A&M Aggies: The Aggies had a decent 2016 season that saw them finish 8-5, and 4-4 in the SEC. They ended the year with a loss to Kansas State in the Texas Bowl 33-28, so all wasn’t great in Aggie Land. But Kevin Sumlin and his team should be looking forward to 2017. Can they compete for the West Division Championship? If all goes extremely well, maybe so. Last year, A&M averaged 34.8 points per game on offense, which was 34th in the nation. They also had a really good defense that gave up only 24.5 per game, which was 40th. Defensive end Myles Garrett led the defense and went number one overall in the NFL Draft to the Cleveland Browns, so his shoes are going to be huge ones to fill. Jake Hubenak takes over at starting quarterback for Trevor Knight. Last season, he threw for 884 yards and six touchdowns as the backup. He is a senior, so this is his one chance to show what he can do. Aggie fans hope he makes the most of it.

The Sun Belt Conference

The Sun Belt Conference

The Sun Belt Conference is known for some exciting teams with some great fan bases. UL Lafayette is a regular fixture at the New Orleans Bowl and their rabid red clad fans make that game one of the best of the early bowl games. Last season, we saw Idaho put up 61 points in their first ever bowl win in Boise. Maybe they should reconsider moving back to the FCS after this season? Coastal Carolina joins the fray this year with some name recognition after their baseball team won the National Championship in 2016. And everybody now knows who App State is. Teams have also learned not to sleep on Georgia Southern in recent years. What should college football fans expect in 2017 out of the Sun Belt?
Appalachian State Mountaineers: App State has gained a reputation as a giant killer. This stems from the 2007 shocker over a top five Michigan at the Big House. However, they are knocking on the door at pulling off their next surprise. So will they pull off a big one in 2017? Do not be surprised. Last year, the Mountaineers won the Sun Belt Conference Championship and finished 10-3 on the season. They won the Camellia Bowl 31-28 over a tough Toledo Rockets team. App State averaged 29.3 points per game, which was 64th in the nation. But where they were really good was on defense, where they gave up only 17.8 per game, which was 9th of 128 teams. The Mountaineers have Taylor Lamb returning at starting quarterback. Last season, he threw for 2281 yards with 15 touchdowns and only eight picks. Those are numbers plenty good enough to win when you have a top ten defense. Look for the Mountaineers to be right there for the Sun Belt Championship again.
Arkansas State Red Wolves: The Red Wolves are coming off a good season in 2016 that saw them go 8-5, and 7-1 in the Sun Belt. They ended with a very impressive Cure Bowl win over UCF in Orlando 31-13. Can they get back to a bowl in 2017? They would seem to be a good bet. Last year, the Red Wolves averaged 27.3 points per game, which was good for 74th in the nation. On defense they were really good, giving up 21.5 per game, which was 19th in the nation. Justice Hansen comes back as the starting quarterback in 2017. He threw for 2719 yards and 19 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. So the offense is in good hands. If they still play defense like they did in 2016, they will stay in contention.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers: The Chanticleers finished their final season in the FCS at 10-2. Will they be able to win games at the FBS level in 2017? While the competition will be a bit tougher, they should be able to compete. They have some teams to look to such as Georgia Southern, App State, and Old Dominion, who made the transition and got to bowl games pretty quickly.
Georgia Southern Eagles: The Eagles are another Sun Belt team that is capable of pulling a big upset. We know this because they’ve done it before. They beat Florida in Gainesville and took Georgia to overtime in Athens within the past few seasons. Who will be next? Last year, the Eagles were a bit of a disappointment at 5-7, and 4-4 in the Sun Belt. They missed out on bowl season after a really successful 2015. Can they get back into the bowls in 2017? The Eagles averaged 26.6 per game, which was 78th in the nation. They gave up 26.5 per game, which was also 78th. Seth Shuman takes over as the starting quarterback in 2017. He saw a little action in 2016 when he threw for 357 yards and a touchdown. But he threw three interceptions so he will need to take better care of the football.
Idaho Vandals: The Vandals are sadly headed back down to the FCS after this season. They come off a 2016 that saw them win a bowl game when they went 9-4, and 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference, and beat Colorado State 61-50 in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. It’s a shame they can’t find a spot in the FBS because they can obviously compete at that level. But after this year they are going back to the Big Sky Conference, so they will be looking to go out on a high note. Can they get back to a bowl this year? It would be nice to see them do it. Last year, the Vandals averaged 30.8 points per game, which ranked them 54th. They allowed 31.3 per games, which was 86th in the nation. This is a bit misleading, though, because they lost to Washington 59-14 and Washington State 56-6. Colorado State also scored 50 in the bowl game, many of those points late in the game after it was decided. Take those three out and the defense wasn’t that bad. Matt Linehan is back at starting quarterback after throwing for 3184 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Leading ground gainers Aaron Duckworth and Isaiah Saunders are also back. They combined for over 1400 yards last season. So the offense should be in great shape.
Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns: The Ragin’ Cajuns may as well put the New Orleans Bowl on their schedule. They seem to go there every year. They have been to the New Orleans Bowl five of the last six seasons and won it four times (two were vacated). Last year, they lost there for the first time to Southern Miss 28-21. ULL finished 6-7 last year, and 5-3 in the Sun Belt. On offense they were led by Anthony Jennings at quarterback. He threw for 2169 yards and 11 touchdowns, but threw 13 picks. He is gone now and Jordan Davis takes over as the starter. He threw only three passes last season. So the offense may take a step back.
New Mexico State Aggies: The Aggies come off a disappointing 3-9 record last season. Can they get to a bowl this year? It’s not too likely. Last year, they averaged 24.8 points per game, which was 90th in the nation, and they gave up 38.8, which was 121st. That’s a recipe for a bad year. The Aggies do have their starting quarterback returning in Nick Jeanty. Last season, he threw for 2603 yards and 16 touchdowns. But he also threw 12 interceptions, so that ratio needs to get a lot better if they are going to make a run at a bowl.
South Alabama Jaguars: The Jaguars went 6-7 in 2106. They finished the season at the Arizona Bowl where they lost to Air Force 45-21. Last season, they averaged 25.4 per game on offense and on defense gave up an average 27 per game, which was 56th in the nation. The Jags went 2-6 in the Sun Belt last season, so if they want to compete for a conference title, that has to get much better in 2017. They do have a returning starter at quarterback in Dallas Davis,
who threw for 2706 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. But he also threw 12 interceptions. That has to improve this season if they want to get better on offense.
Texas State Bobcats: The Bobcats had a rough 2016. They were 2-10, and 0-8 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Bobcats were 124th on offense, averaging a paltry 18.6 points per game. They were even worse on defense at 41.5 per game, which was 125th. It’s amazing they won any games at all. Texas State should get better though. Texas is full of high school talent so if they can get some of that talent to stay in the state, they will get better. Connor White takes over as the starting quarterback in 2017. He saw a little action in 2016, throwing for 223 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Leading rusher Stedman Mayberry is back in 2017. He had 593 yards last year.
Troy Trojans: Troy had a very good 2016 season. The Trojans were 10-3, and 6-2 in the Sun Belt Conference, with a 28-23 win over Ohio in the Dollar General Bowl. It was the Trojans first ten-win season since joining the FBS in 2001. The Trojans went to Clemson, the eventual National Champions, and lost by only six points, 30-24. Other than a 35-3 loss to Arkansas State, the Trojans played tough in every game. Troy averaged 33.7 points per game, which was 39th in the nation. But they were even better on defense where they allowed 22.1 per game. That was 22nd in the nation. Will they be as good this season? Brandon Silvers is back at starting quarterback. That’s a good place to start. He threw for 3180 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. They also have leading ground gainer Jordan Chunn back this season. He rushed for 1288 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. So if the Trojans are anywhere close to where
they were on defense last year, they should be a contender for the conference championship in 2017.
Louisiana Monroe Warhawks: The Warhawks come off a tough 2016 that saw them go 4-8, and 3-5 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Warhawks need a couple more wins in 2017 to get to a bowl game. Can they get them? If they do want to go bowling, they need to get better on offense. Last year, they averaged 23.3 points per game, which was 111th. But they were equally bad on defense, where they gave up 39.1 per game, which was 122nd. They lost to archrival UL Lafayette 30-3, lost to New Mexico 59-17, and lost to Arkansas State 51-10. So they have a lot of catching up to do to become a contender in the Sun Belt. Caleb Evans is listed as the starting quarterback going into the season. Last year, he threw for 834 yards and four touchdowns. But he also threw six interceptions. So he has to get better for the offense to improve.

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