Category Archives: College Football

Week 2 College Football Picks

Tyler Vesely’s Season Record: 7-4

A lot of Road Underdogs and Over picks in week 2. Here are the picks:

Best Bet of the Week

South Carolina +3 @ Mizzou

South Carolina beat a good NC State team. Missouri’s defense is garbage and gives up a ton of points. I think South Carolina actually wins by double digits. Easy Money.

Friday Night Game

Oklahoma State @ South Alabama, Over 67

Oklahoma State can put up points… they also can give up a decent amount of points. South Alabama scored 27 points against Ole Miss, which means if they do the same Oklahoma State just has to score 40 points. The over is the right pick here.

Saturday Games

Oklahoma +7½ @ Ohio State

Ohio State’s secondary is not good, but they do have a good defensive line. However, Oklahoma has one of the most elusive quarterback and one of the best offensive line in the country. I think it is a close game the Oklahoma ends up winning in Columbus.

Stanford +6 @ USC, Over 55

USC will score points and Stanford showed by putting up 62 points the first week they can too. USC did not look great the first week and Stanford is getting 6 points? Give me the over and Stanford.

Clemson @ Auburn, Over 54

Clemson’s quarterback showed me enough in the first game that this team will still score points. Auburn will move fast too and has a new, very good quarterback in Jarrett Stidham. I am expecting a close 35-30 game that could go either way.

Georgia +6 @ Notre Dame

6 points??? Yes please. I get Georgia won’t have Eason , but Jacob Fromm did decent in the first week. The Georgia defense also held an underrated Appalachian State offense to just ten points. I think this is a game that Georgia actually wins. Georgia and give me the points too.

Minnesota +2 @ Oregon State

It worries me Minnesota traveling to Oregon State, but the Beavers are just not good. They squeaked by last week in a 3 point win over Portland State. I’m Rowing the Boat with Coach Fleck and saying Minnesota will bounce back after an unimpressive performance against Buffalo.

Iowa -2½ @ Iowa State

Iowa pummels Iowa State every year. Think this year is closer, but Iowa still wins more than a touchdown.

Louisville @ North Carolina Over 62½

Lamar Jackson and the Louisville offense will put up a lot of points. North Carolina put up 30 points last week against Cal and the Louisville defense didn’t do so great against Purdue. I think it ends up being a 42-31 game with Louisville winning.

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Week 1 College Football Recap

A lot of teams aren’t who we thought they were. It was a wild ride in week one with 34 point comebacks, major upsets and dominant teams remaining dominant. Texas may not be back, but College Football definitely is.

Here is a look at my top 25:

1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Oklahoma
4. Ohio State
5. Penn State
6. Oklahoma State
7. USC
8. Florida State
9. Auburn
10. Georgia
11. Michigan
12. Wisconsin
13. LSU
14. Stanford
15. Washington
16. Kansas State
17. Miami
18. Louisville
19. Virginia Tech
20. South Carolina
21. Maryland
22. Notre Dame
23. Washington State
24. UCLA
25. Tennessee

WEEK 1 HEADLINES

Alabama Remains on top

It’s scary, but this Alabama defense looks like it is going to be just as good as last year. They were flying all around the field on Saturday night. Ronnie and HarrisThis Alabama defense keys in more blitzes than last year since they don’t have Ryan Anderson or Tim Williams getting to the quarterback from the edge. To avoid an upset, the offense has to be better particularly in the passing game. To be fair, this Florida State defense is a top defense in the nation.

Texas is Back (To not being that good)

The Texas hype train got out of control again and crashed in the first week. Maryland over TexasTexas was 19 point favorites against Maryland, which had a better record and recruiting class than Texas last year. The defense continues to be bad. They gave up 263 yards on the ground on 43 carries. Not a good look for a team that plays in an offense-heavy Big 12. If Texas plays like they did on Saturday, it will be tough for them to reach 6-6.

Should Kevin Sumlin be Fired?

The coaching was just plain awful for Texas A&M on Sunday. Up 44-10 in the third quarter, the Aggies were still running the hurry up offense. SumlinThey continued to throw the ball with a true freshman quarterback instead of handing it to Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford who were collectively averaging almost 8 yards a carry. It may be one of the biggest collapses I have ever seen.

As for Sumlin being fired, not yet. Over the last four seasons the Aggies have finished 4th, 6th, 5th, and 4th… IN THE SEC WEST. The whole “Aggies taking over the SEC” was as big a myth as Johnny Football being a successful NFL quarterback. I think the Aggies fire Sumlin after the season and put their hat in the Chip Kelly race.

Oklahoma and Ohio State Game of the Week

In week 2, Oklahoma travels to Columbus to try and avenge last year’s take down.

Oklahoma ohio StateI am also changing my pick after watching Ohio State in week 1. Ohio State’s secondary is hot garbage right now and the only thing protecting them is their stout defensive line. But Oklahoma has one of the best offensive lines in the nation. I think Oklahoma’s line can give Baker Mayfield time to move around and pick that defense apart. I was also unimpressed with Ohio State’s passing game, as that continues to be their Achilles heel. Oklahoma wins by a touchdown.

Baylor losing to Liberty

Baylor’s defense was mostly an unknown going into the season especially since they were starting two sophomore cornerbacks. Liberty over BaylorWell it is known now that they are not very good. They gave up 447 passing yards to LIBERTY. Seriously a team that went 6-5 in FCS play last year. Baylor has gone from a projected middle Big 12 team to the bottom of the league. Maybe Matt Rhule should have stayed at Temple…

NC State and South Carolina

I was all in on NC State and that took a hit after Saturday.

SC NC

However, I think this is a case where both teams were underrated to start the year and both will finish in the top 25. It reminds me of when Michigan and Utah played their opening game against each other in 2015. Both teams were unranked and both finished the season 10-3.Now I’m not saying these two Carolina schools will be that good, but I think it was an underrated matchup and ended up being a great game.

Charlie Strong’s South Florida Team Disappoints

I really liked South Florida going into the season, but now I don’t even think they are the favorites in the American conference. They have had two extremely slow starts against San Jose State and Stony Brook. They were only up by a touchdown on Stony Brook late in the fourth quarter. An easy schedule is the only thing going for them right now. From what I have seen so far, this is not a top 25 football team.Flowers

Week 1 College Football Bets

COLLEGE FOOTBALL IS BACK! Here are my 10 bets of the week:

 

Best Bet of the Week

South Carolina vs. NC State (-5)

I’m all in on NC State finishing as a top 15 team in the nation. And do you know what Top 15 teams do? They beat the Gamecocks by double digits. A returning quarterback and one of the best defensive lines in the nation is the reason. I think South Carolina does have a talented football team, but the national media is not paying close enough attention to this Wolfpack team.

Thursday Night Games

Tulsa at Oklahoma State (-18) , Over 70

Oklahoma State is a Big 12 favorite. They return most of the offense and will put up a lot of points this year. Tulsa has lost a lot of starters from last year and the 18 points should be covered easily by Oklahoma State.

The one question about Oklahoma State is their defense. Phillip Montgomery (Tulsa’s coach) loves to go fast and put up points. I’m expecting a 49-24 high scoring affair on Thursday night.

Ohio State (-21) at Indiana

Ohio State is loaded with talent and Indiana looks to be a bottom feeder in the Big Ten. Last year Ohio State beat Rutgers, Nebraska and Maryland by an average of 59 points. This year’s Ohio State team should be better than last year and should cover easily.

Saturday Games

Alabama (-7) vs. Florida State, Over 49

These are two teams that can score. People don’t realize Alabama almost averaged 40 points per game last year. Florida State averaged 33 ppg including 33 points against a tough Michigan defense. Take the over.

I never question taking Saban in opening kickoff games. I know Florida State is good, but Saban is 10-0 at Bama in opening games. Additionally, he has outscored opponents 412-120 and has won every game by double-digits. Trust Saban.

Maryland (+19) at Texas

Texas is talented, but giving 19 points to a team that didn’t make a bowl game? Don’t get me wrong, Texas wins this game. But Maryland is talented too with a top 25 recruiting class coming in. Maryland will keep it close and cover.

Gators (+3.5) vs. Michigan Over 45.5

I know Florida has most of their roster suspended for this game, but I think Michigan is getting too much preseason buzz. I see a 9 win team that has a lot to replace on defense. I think Florida is the more talented team and should take care of business in Dallas.

As for the over, Michigan lost 11 defensive players to the NFL. To expect this defense to be just as good as last year is insane. 45.5 is a low line and the Gators will have enough offense. I’m expecting a close 31-28 game.

Vanderbilt (-3.5) at MTSU

Vanderbilt is looking like a 6-6 SEC team… I’m betting for a bowl eligible SEC team to beat Middle Tennessee State by more than a touchdown every time.

Appalachian State at Georgia, Over 46

Appalachian State has a sneaky good offense. I really like the Georgia defense, but I still think the Mountaineers will put up points. Georgia’s offense will be improved as well. Expect a 31-20 type game.

Sleeper College Football Teams

It happens every year. A team comes out of nowhere and finishes the season in the AP Top Ten Rankings. Last year, we saw Washington make the playoffs as well as Penn State winning the Big Ten and making the Rose Bowl. The most difficult thing is identifying these teams who could make a run into the top ten. Baker and SidneyLooking into final AP poll data from the last 7 years and other similar characteristics helps us identify the potential teams that could finish inside the top ten.

Six out of the seven years since 2010, at least three teams have finished in the AP poll top ten after not finishing in the top 25 the previous year. 2011 was the only exception where USC was the one team that met that criteria. In 2016, there were three teams (USC, Washington and Penn State). In 2012, 2013, and 2015 four teams finished in the top ten despite not being in the top 25 before. The following is the full list of the teams (Rank in Parenthesis):

2010: Auburn (1), Stanford (4), and Wisconsin (7)

2011: USC (6)

2012: Ohio State (3), Notre Dame (4), Texas A&M (6), and Florida (9)

2013: Auburn (2), Michigan State (3), Missouri (5), and Central Florida (10)

2014: TCU (3), Georgia Tech (8), and Georgia (9)

2015: Stanford (3), Oklahoma (5), Houston (8), and Iowa (9)

2016: USC (3), Washington (4), and Penn State (7)

It is an occurence that happens almost every year. So who are the possible teams to do it this year? There are a few key factors that go into determining the potential teams:

The Process

We start with 43 possible Power 5 teams that did not finish in the AP top 25 the previous year. The list gets cut almost in half after the first two rules based on recruiting rankings:

Rule 1- Four year recruiting average must be less than 60 or eliminated from consideration.

Out of all the top ten Power 5 conference teams and the teams that made the jump from unranked to top ten, none have had a Recruiting Ranking Average over 60. 2014 Georgia Tech had the highest recruiting ranking with a 57 average (As you will see later that Georgia Tech team was a major outlier to normal top ten finishers).

Rule 2- Must have a recruiting ranking of less than 35 for the senior class or the senior class ranking must be the highest of the four classes. If neither are the case, must have at least one top 30 class in the last 4 years or else eliminated.

This is where it gets a little complicated, but the explanation is simple. Teams that normally don’t recruit well must have a strong senior class. All of the teams that finished in the top ten after making the top 25 the year before, fit this same mold. 2016 Washington, 2014 TCU and 2013 Michigan State are the best examples of teams who normally didn’t recruit well, but had a strong senior class recruiting ranking. All of these teams not only finished in the top ten, but they finished in the top 4. You can get away with not having a high ranking senior class if you’ve had at least one top 30 class.

The Results so far:

SEC

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

Georgia

5

8

5

8

6.5

2

Texas A&M

12

18

11

5

11.5

3

Ole Miss

30

5

17

15

16.75

4

South Carolina

21

25

20

19

21.25

5

Arkansas

27

23

22

29

25.25

6

Mississippi State

24

28

18

35

26.25

7

Kentucky

29

33

38

22

30.5

8

Missouri

42

43

25

39

37.25

9

Vanderbilt

64

54

49

46

53.25

Big Ten

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

Michigan State

34

17

22

26

24.75

2

Nebraska

23

26

30

35

28.5

3

Maryland

18

42

47

41

37

4

Northwestern

50

52

54

47

50.75

5

Iowa

41

47

60

59

51.75

6

Indiana

63

53

53

48

54.25

7

Rutgers

43

64

57

56

55

8

Minnesota

58

46

63

57

56

9

Illinois

45

73

48

72

59.5

10

Purdue

72

80

67

70

72.25

ACC

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

North Carolina

31

35

28

31

31.25

2

Pittsburgh

37

30

46

44

39.25

3

North Carolina State

52

50

31

34

41.75

4

Duke

48

32

55

60

48.75

5

Virginia

57

63

50

33

50.75

6

Georgia Tech

47

60

44

56

51.75

7

Syracuse

54

62

56

52

56

8

Wake Forest

67

57

51

67

60.5

9

Boston College

66

78

60

51

63.75

Pac-12

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

UCLA

20

13

12

18

15.75

2

Oregon

19

27

16

21

20.75

3

Arizona State

35

24

20

23

25.5

4

Arizona

44

48

43

30

41.25

5

Cal

73

31

34

55

48.25

6

Washington State

46

56

42

53

49.25

7

Oregon State

51

58

61

60

57.5

Big 12

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

Texas

26

6

10

17

14.75

2

TCU

28

22

42

43

33.75

3

Baylor

40

41

36

26

35.75

4

Texas Tech

49

44

32

40

41.25

5

Iowa State

53

55

64

58

57.5

6

Kansas State

60

72

55

49

59

7

Kansas

69

71

73

50

65.75

IND

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

Notre Dame

10

15

13

11

12.25

 

Now we are down to 26 teams… Next is returning starters

Rule 3- Must have at least 13 total starters returning or else eliminated from consideration. (2014 Georgia Tech as the outlier)

You may hear that returning starters is an overrated statistic for a football team. Looking at the Power 5 teams that made a run from unranked to Top 10, there is a correlation:

Team

Offense

Defense

Total

2016 USC

10

6

16

2016 Washington

9

7

16

2016 Penn State

9

6

15

2015 Stanford

11

4

15

2015 Oklahoma

7

6

13

2015 Iowa

7

8

15

2014 TCU

8

8

16

2014 Georgia Tech

5

5

10

2014 Georgia

6

9

15

2013 Auburn

6

9

15

2013 Michigan State

8

7

15

2013 Missouri

8

6

14

2012 Ohio State

9

10

19

2012 Notre Dame

8

7

15

2012 Texas A&M

9

8

17

2012 Florida

8

10

18

2011 USC

6

7

13

2010 Auburn

7

8

15

2010 Stanford

8

6

14

2010 Wisconsin

10

6

16

Average

7.95

7.15

15.10

Out of all the teams, 2014 Georgia Tech was the only team that didn’t return at least 13 starters. We are going to treat that team as them as an outlier.

So out of the teams we have left we can eliminate more from the list:

SEC

Offense

Defense

Total

1

Georgia

5

10

15

2

Texas A&M

5

6

11

3

Ole Miss

5

6

11

4

South Carolina

10

6

16

5

Arkansas

6

6

12

6

Mississippi State

6

6

12

7

Kentucky

8

8

16

8

Vanderbilt

8

7

15

Big Ten

Offense

Defense

Total

1

Michigan State

2

3

5

2

Nebraska

5

7

12

3

Maryland

6

6

12

4

Northwestern

8

7

15

5

Indiana

5

9

14

ACC

Offense

Defense

Total

1

North Carolina

6

6

12

2

North Carolina State

8

8

16

3

Virginia

5

8

13

4

Syracuse

9

10

19

Pac-12

Offense

Defense

Total

1

UCLA

7

5

12

2

Oregon

7

8

16

3

Arizona State

7

8

15

4

Arizona

6

7

13

Big 12

Offense

Defense

Total

1

Texas

5

10

15

2

TCU

8

7

15

3

Baylor

5

5

10

4

Kansas State

7

6

13

IND

Offense

Defense

Total

1

Notre Dame

8

7

15

That leaves us with 16 eligible teams for an average of three spots in the Final AP Top Ten. Here is the list ranking by returning starters and recruiting rankings:

Offense

Defense

Total

1

Syracuse

9

10

19

2

South Carolina

10

6

16

3

Kentucky

8

8

16

4

Oregon

7

8

16

5

North Carolina State

8

8

16

6

Texas

6

10

16

7

Georgia

5

10

15

8

Vanderbilt

8

7

15

9

Arizona State

7

8

15

10

Northwestern

8

7

15

11

Notre Dame

8

7

15

12

TCU

8

7

15

13

Indiana

5

9

14

14

Kansas State

7

6

13

15

Arizona

6

7

13

16

Virginia

5

8

13

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

Georgia

5

8

5

8

6.5

2

Notre Dame

10

15

13

11

12.25

3

Texas

26

6

10

17

14.75

4

Oregon

19

27

16

21

20.75

5

South Carolina

21

25

20

19

21.25

6

Arizona State

35

24

20

23

25.5

7

Kentucky

29

33

38

22

30.5

8

TCU

28

22

42

43

33.75

9

Arizona

44

48

43

30

41.25

10

North Carolina State

52

50

31

34

41.75

11

Virginia

57

63

50

33

50.75

12

Northwestern

50

52

54

47

50.75

13

Vanderbilt

64

54

49

46

53.25

14

Indiana

63

53

53

48

54.25

15

Syracuse

54

62

56

52

56

16

Kansas State

60

72

55

49

59

Sleeper Teams

Based on the data and looking at the actual teams, here are my predictions for the three teams to finish in the AP Top Ten after finishing unranked last year:

1. Georgia

I think this is the most obvious of the choices. Georgia Tech v GeorgiaGeorgia showed they were talented last year and return almost their entire defense. Add to that a quarterback returning from a decent Freshman season and you have a top ten team. Look for Georgia to compete for the SEC East and end up finishing in the top ten.

2. North Carolina State

The not so obvious choice. NC StateNorth Carolina State returns 16 starters and has one of the best defensive lines in the nation. This was also a team that lost to Florida State by 4 points and took Clemson into Overtime. Their tough schedule could make it difficult, but North Carolina State has the talent to compete for the ACC Championship Game and could finish the year in the top ten.

3. Kansas State

I know they’re ranked low in the returning starters and recruiting rankings, but this is a talented team. Jess ErtzThis could be one of Bill Snyder’s best offensive teams with Jesse Ertz coming back. The defense needs to replace the linebackers, but are strong upfront and in the secondary. They have an easier non-conference schedule and could upset some teams in the Big 12. This is a darkhorse to win the Big 12 and potential top ten team.

 

Tyler Vesely

Twitter- @nfldraftscout

Best College Football Prop Bets

It’s officially College Football betting season. Each week I will post 8-10 bets for the week  including a best bet of the week. This week will be prop bets before the season starts:

Best Bet of the Week

Kansas Over 3 (-115)

My favorite college prop bet. Kansas starts the season with Southeast Missouri, Central Michigan and Ohio. That should be 3 wins right there! Which means they only have to win one Big 12 game to cash the ticket. Worst case scenario- they don’t win a Big 12 game and it’s a push. This should be an improved Kansas team who will pull an upset or two.

Regular Season Wins Prop Bets

Oklahoma State Over 9 (-125)

This is a team that is a favorite to win the Big 12. They have a dynamic offense returning with Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill and James Washington. 9-3 should be the minimum. The non-conference isn’t too tough with only Pittsburgh as the possible loss. If they finish 3-0 in non-conference, 7-2 will get them to 10-2 and the over.

NC State Over 7.5 (-105)

The Wolfpack are going to be good this year. They have one of the top defensive lines in the country and a ton of returning starters. I can honestly see NC State finishing as a top ten team. They should have beaten Clemson last year and will be improved. The schedule is tricky with Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and Clemson. But they should pull an upset  or two out of those games and finish at worst 8-4.

Maryland Over 3.5 (-155)

Only 3.5 games?? Maryland is not great, but is a team that is more than capable of 4 wins. Especially considering they went 6-7 last year and had a top 20 recruiting class. They do have tough games against Texas, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State. However four wins out of Towson, UCF, Minnesota, Northwestern, Indiana, Rutgers and Michigan State should be manageable.

Texas Tech Under 5.5 -(130)

Their non-conference schedule is brutal. They could conceivably be 0-3 after Eastern Washington, Arizona State and Houston. If they go the likely 1-2 in non-conference play, they would have to finish 5-4 in the Big 12 in order to meet the over. Even 4-5 in the Big 12 is unlikely.  The easy bet is the under.

TCU Under 7.5 (+120)

You even get odds here. Arkansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma are the likely loses. They could also lose to West Virginia, Texas Tech or Baylor. A team that finished 6-7 last year with an inconsistent quarterback has 7-5 written all over it.

Georgia Over 8.5 (-145)

Georgia is the best team in the SEC East. They also avoid playing Alabama and LSU from the SEC West. Notre Dame is their toughest non-conference opponent, but the schedule is definitely manageable. Auburn and Florida are tough opponents, but even if they lose both they would have to lose two more games for the over not to hit. 10-2 or 9-3 is likely.

Mississippi State Over 5.5 (-155)

The Bulldogs will be bowl eligible. They have a young talented defense with one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC. They should be 4-0 in non-conference with their toughest competition being BYU. After non-conference play, they would just need two wins from Kentucky, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Ole Miss. LSU, Georgia, Auburn and Alabama are likely losses, but this team is too talented not to be bowl eligible.

Stats Prop Bet

Jake Browning Under 3200.5 Yards Passing (-120)

First off Jake Browning didn’t throw for over 3200 yards last year in the regular season. He finished with 3,162 yards. Add to the fact that they lose John Ross and have two very talented runners with Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman, I think he barely gets to 3,000 yards. There is also another secret out there that nobody talks about… Jake Browning isn’t that talented of a passer. He has decent accuracy, but lacks arm strength. This isn’t a guy that is going to throw for 3,500 yards. There is also the risk he gets injured. I don’t root for injuries, but it is a factor you have to consider when betting the Over/Under on statistics. Injury risk, more reliance on the run game and the top wide receiver gone is why I am all in on under 3200 passing yards.

 

2017 Big 12 Football Preview

The Big 12 enters the first year of a conference championship game since 2010. The concept made sense if they went forward with expansion, but a conference championship where everyone already plays each other? The conference championship will be entertaining, but it is a guarantee that it will be a rematch.

As for the competition, BakerOklahoma is the team to beat. Oklahoma State is the next contender and Bedlam should be a game to decide who goes to the conference championship. Kansas State is a darkhorse to make it to Dallas, and the storyline of Bill Snyder at the age of 77 making it to the Big 12 championship game would be phenomenal. The group of Texas, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor makes up the middle of the Big 12 and could go anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3. Texas Tech and Iowa State will fight for bowl eligibility. Kansas is still in rebuilding mode and will most likely finish in last.

Big 12 Predicted Standings

  1. Oklahoma
  2. Oklahoma State
  3. Kansas State
  4. Texas
  5. TCU
  6. West Virginia
  7. Baylor
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Iowa State
  10. Kansas

 

1. Oklahoma Sooners OU

Projected Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 9 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

8

19

14

14

13.75

The 2016 Oklahoma Sooners finished strong after early season losses to Houston and Ohio State. Bob Stoops decided it was time to hang up the visor and was replaced with visor-wearing Lincoln Riley. I guess Stoops hated the SEC so much that he wanted to retire after beating Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. The Sooners will be heavy favorites in the Big 12 again with Baker Mayfield returning. Additionally, Oklahoma returns all five starters on the offensive line and are one of the best units in the nation.

The offensive weapons are unproven, as they lost Dede Westbrook, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon from last year’s team. Sophomores Abdul Adams and Rodney Anderson will handle the running back duties. Mark Andrews is among the nation’s best tight ends and Dimitri Flowers is one of the only impactful fullbacks in the nation. Wide receiver is a major question mark, but they acquire Jeff Badet, a graduate transfer from Kentucky.

The defense’s strength is in the secondary. Corners Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker make up a tough combination. Pass rusher Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will hear his name mispronounced by Roger Goodell early in next year’s draft. The defensive line is the weakness of this Sooner’s defense.

The non-conference is a little easier than last year, but the trip to Columbus, Ohio won’t be fun. Ohio State’s defense comes back loaded and will give Baker trouble. It will be tough for OU to come out of that with a win. Other than that, UTEP and Tulane should be easy wins. The Sooners have the potential to go through the Big 12 schedule unscathed. Oklahoma will most likely play in the first Big 12 championship game since 2010 where the Sooners beat Nebraska.

2. Oklahoma State CowboysOSU Logo

Projected Record: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 7 Defense- 4

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

38

44

39

28

37.25

There’s a lot of firepower returning to Stillwater. Not only Mike Gundy’s mullet, but also Mason Rudolph returning for his senior season to command one of the deepest wide receiving corps in the nation. James Washington leads the unit and is one of the most dangerous receivers in the NCAA. Marcel Ateman and Jalen McClesky are returning starters, but the most intriguing is former 5-star, LSU transfer Tyron Johnson. He had 150 yards as a true freshman at LSU and has already impressed coaches during spring practices. Running back Justice Hill is coming off of being named freshman Big 12 offensive player of the year. Graduate transfer Aaron Cochran comes over from California-Berkley and will most likely start at left tackle right away to shore up the offensive line.

OSU defense is another story. The corners are young and inexperienced, and in the pass-happy Big 12, that is never good. The defensive line lost some beef in the middle with Vincent Taylor declaring for the draft, but it still remains a strength for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State returns their leading tackler Chad Whitener who will be a force at linebacker.

Oklahoma State may average over 40 points per game, but questions on defense keep them out of the early playoff contenders. The toughest non-conference game is a trip to Pittsburgh where last year they won 45-38. After last year’s “loss” to Central Michigan, Oklahoma State will try to avoid getting upset against Tulsa and @South Alabama. If the Cowboys play up to their potential, a repeat of Bedlam is likely in Dallas for the Big 12 championship game.

3. Kansas State WildcatsK state logo

Projected Record: 10-2 (7-2 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 7 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

60

72

55

49

59

The Wildcats had a solid year in 2016 under Bill Snyder finishing 9-4. Snyder returns another team that has the potential to make some noise in the Big 12. Jesse Ertz returns as the starter and even though he is not the most accurate passer (56.2% completion percentage), he has great command of the offense. Ertz was also a 1,000-yard rusher last year. Most of the offensive line returns and Byron Pringle is one of the most versatile players in the Big 12. This could be a dangerous offense to watch out for in the Big 12.

Defensively, they must replace the three starting linebackers and sack leader Jordan Willis. However, three returning defensive lineman and both starting corners makes this defense just as dangerous as last year where they ranked first in scoring defense in the Big 12 (25th nationally). Despite having to replace the linebackers, this Kansas State defense remains an older group.

Kansas State has two cupcakes before they face their top nonconference opponent, Vanderbilt, in Nashville. During league play, a key game that could decide who gets a Big 12 championship birth, is a trip on November 18th to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State. Kansas State is strong offensively and defensively and should be a major threat in the Big 12.

4. Texas LonghornsUT Logo

Projected Record: 8-4 (6-3 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 10

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

26

6

10

17

14.75

Charlie Strong sure did leave a lot of talent for Tom Herman. After three straight losing seasons and two straight seasons of not even being bowl eligible, it was time for a change. To put in context of how far Texas was away from greatness, Strong had more losses in his three years at Texas than Nick Saban has had during his entire tenure at Alabama. Charlie Strong’s teams majorly underperformed based on their recruiting class rankings.

Shane Buechele is a solid quarterback who should continue to develop in his sophomore year. He won’t be lacking offensive weapons. Despite losing D’Onta Foreman, running back Chris Warren III may be just as talented. Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, Jerrod Heard, Armanti Foreman, and John Burt are all talented wide receivers, but someone will have to step up and be the number one. The best player on the offense is left tackle Connor Williams. This will most likely be his last year as he will be a first round pick next April.

The Texas defense will attempt to keep their points per game under 30, as they have failed to do so the last two years. The linebackers are a major strength on the defense with Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler coming back. Breckyn Hager should be the main pass rusher coming off of 6 sacks from last year. Malcolm Roach and Poona Ford are strong defensive line players in the new 3-4 defense. The secondary is loaded with high ranking recruits, but it is yet to be seen if they will live up to the hype.

Texas has some of the best talent on their roster in the Big 12, but when will it all come together? It never did with Charlie Strong and it is a wait and see under Tom Herman. The non-conference schedule is not easy with an opening game against Maryland as well as going on the road and facing Pac-12 favorite USC. A benefit for Texas is not having to face Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, or Kansas State on the road. There is no reason this Texas team shouldn’t make a bowl game, but then again there was no reason they should have lost to Kansas last year. Texas’ success remains anybody’s guess.

5. TCU Horned FrogsTCU Logo.png

Projected Record: 7-5 (5-4 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 8 Defense- 7

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

28

22

42

43

33.75

TCU and Kenny Hill had a disappointing 2016 season, finishing 6-7. In order to improve, Kenny Hill must limit the interceptions and be more effective. If they start to struggle, there could be a call from TCU fans to start incoming freshman Shawn Robinson. I’m sure there will also be a call for Gary Patterson to start wearing pants that fit as well so we don’t have to see him pull up his pants fifty times a game.

The receivers are plentiful and talented. The former top ranked JUCO WR Taj Williams will look to continue to shine after his 700-yard season. In the backfield, RB Kyle Hicks is dangerous on the ground or receiving out of the backfield. Also RB Darius Anderson is electric and will have an increased role this year. The offensive line should be adequate as they return three starters.

On defense, the secondary is experienced and the strength. Ranthony Texada is a solid corner and the safeties Niko Small and Nick Orr provide a great tandem. Linebacker Travin Howard led the Big 12 in tackles last year and is back for his senior season. TCU will have to replace sack leader Josh Carraway, but Louisiana-Monroe transfer Brandon Bowen could provide that missing piece. Gary Patterson usually has a defense that ranks top five in the Big 12 and this year should not be any different.

The non-conference is tough with an early game in Fayetteville on September 9th against Arkansas. They also face an improved SMU team. The defense should be good, and the offense is loaded with talented weapons. The team’s record will be heavily reliant on the play of Kenny Hill.

6. West Virginia MountaineersWV Logo

Projected Record: 7-5 (4-5 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 4 Defense- 3

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

56

39

35

38

42

West Virginia has a little bit of rebuilding to do with only 7 returning starters. Former Florida quarterback Will Grier should ease the transition. Grier guided the Gators to a 6-0 start in 2015 before he was suspended by the NCAA. Look for him to have the same type of success in the Big 12.

The offensive line will have to go through some change after losing two starters. Justin Crawford is a talented 1,000-yard rusher, but the receivers are a different story. Ka’Raun White, brother of Chicago Bears WR Kevin White, is a talented possession receiver. It is yet to be seen whether they can replace the deep threat left by Shelton Gibson.

Defensively, there is a lot of work to do. The Mountaineers must replace the entire defensive line. The linebackers are talented with leading tackler Al-Rasheed Benton returning. The two safeties Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyzir White, another brother of Kevin White, are also a strength of this football team.

The first football weekend of the year puts this young West Virginia team to the test against Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland. East Carolina and Delaware State after that should be easier wins. The Mountaineers finish the season on November 25 in Norman against the Sooners. I believe Will Grier will have a lot of success, but the rest of the roster has some work to do. One thing is for certain, there will be couch burning.

7. Baylor BearsBaylor Logo

Projected Record: 5-7 (2-7 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 5

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

40

41

36

26

35.75

Matt Rhule is doing one heck of a job keeping this Baylor team a float. Following a season worth of how much of a train wreck Baylor was under Art Briles, this still looks like a team that can be bowl eligible. Rhule was hired on December 6, barely had any recruits committed, and somehow turned out the 40th ranked recruiting class in the nation. Matt Rhule must be the most convincing sales person ever to get those recruits into Baylor jerseys while they were under NCAA investigation.

As for the 2017 Baylor Bears, Zach Smith will most likely get the start at quarterback, but the graduate transfer from Arizona, Anu Solomon, could make it interesting. Running back Terence Williams is an explosive runner out of the backfield. The biggest obstacle for the offense will be replacing the talented receiver duo of KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora. Chris Platt started last year at receiver and should take over as the number one target. Offensive line has three returning starters and should be adequate this fall.

On defense, Baylor returns their sack leader DE K.J. Smith who is a solid player upfront. Linebacker Taylor Young also will help this unit out as a returning starter. The secondary is young and inexperienced, as they will start two sophomore corners Grayland Arnold and Jameson Houston. The defense has a few bright spots, but is mostly unknown at this point.

Baylor normally has a laughable nonconference schedule, but this year isn’t the worst I’ve seen. They do play @Duke on the 3rd week of the year and UTSA will not be an automatic win as they are expected to compete in Conference USA. Baylor should take care of Liberty in the first week though. After last year starting the Big 12 with easier opponents, it is the exact opposite this year. Baylor starts off Big 12 play with the three favorites, Oklahoma, @Kansas State and @Oklahoma State. It is pretty realistic that Baylor will start Big 12 play 0-3, but it will all be downhill from there for Matt Rhule and his team. Baylor should contend to be bowl eligible this year.

8. Texas TechTTU Logo

Projected Record: 4-8 (3-6 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 7 Defense- 5

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

49

44

32

40

41.25

This could be the end of the road for Kliff who has a 24-26 record over his past four years at Tech. The offense has been exciting, the defense… has been exciting to watch for opposing fans. With Mahomes gone, a struggling offensive line and a questionable defense it will not be an easy year for the Red Raiders.

Patrick Mahomes leaving puts Nic Shimonek in charge of the offense. Reports out of spring camp have been excellent and he should have a nice year. The receivers are deep and talented as well despite leading receiver Jonathan Giles transferring. Derrick Willies, Cameron Batson, Keke Coutee, and Dylan Cantrell are a solid group of starting wide receivers. As for the questions, it starts with the offensive line. New highly recruited freshman Jack Anderson will start right away. Even with all the doubts about the defense, offensive line may be the Red Raiders’ biggest weakness. Da’Leon Ward will most likely start at running back after a nice freshman campaign.

Where do I start? The 2016 Texas Tech team finished last in the nation in scoring defense and total yardage. The tackling was poor, wide receivers were running wide open, they couldn’t get any pressure on the quarterback, and the opposing offensive line dominated the defensive line. Let’s just say the 2017 team can’t do worse. Returning is 2015 leading tackler, Last Chance U star, and JUCO transfer Dakota Allen. The combination of him and sophomore Jordyn Brooks will be an upgrade from last season. North Texas transfer DE Eli Howard will be counted on to give the Tech defense a pass rush. The secondary is a young group of cornerbacks who at times showed glimpses of promise. Senior corner D.J. Polite-Bray has had a good spring and will look to better his performance of 2016. There are also a group of JUCO secondary players that will see early playing time and hopefully improve on the 315 passing yards given up per game. The defense may not be great, but it will improve from 2016.

The nonconference schedule is brutal for Tech. They will look to avoid an upset against the No. 7 ranked FCS team Eastern Washington in the first week. The following weeks include Arizona State and playing @Houston. Going 3-0 in the nonconference would be ideal. But with Arizona State running the ball with Kalen Ballage and Houston having former Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen, 1-2 is very possible. If that is the case, Texas Tech students will be drinking at Chimy’s during most of the games instead of in the stadium.

9. Iowa State CyclonesISU Logo.png

Projected Record: 5-7 (2-7 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 5

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

53

55

64

58

57.5

Iowa State had a rough start last year losing to Iowa and FCS Northern Iowa. There was a glimpse of excellence with a 66-10 home win against Texas Tech, but finished the year 3-9. Coach Matt Campbell goal in year two should be to become bowl eligible.

Jacob Park split time at quarterback last year before being the starter in the final five games. Returning with him is one of the Big 12’s best receivers in Allen Lazard. At running back David Montgomery took over for Mike Warren last year. Warren had a down year from his 1300-yard freshman year and will look for 2017 to be a bounce back year. The offensive line is a question mark just like last year. New Michigan graduate transfer Dave Dawson is a start to sure up the line.

One of the coolest position changes in College Football is Joel Lanning who started 9 games at quarterback last year. His new position is middle linebacker and he will try to improve a weakness of the Cyclones. The Cyclones return a good secondary with star safety Kamari Cotton-Moya. The defensive line is dependent on the three JUCO defensive lineman they grabbed in this recruiting class. Good defensive line play could lead Iowa State to not finish in the bottom half of Big 12 defenses again.

Iowa State again goes through the Iowa gauntlet, playing Northern Iowa and Iowa. The Cyclones have the potential to pull the upset against the Hawkeyes. Look for Iowa State to play spoiler in the Big 12 this year.

10. Kansas JayhawksKansas Logo

Projected Record: 4-8 (1-8 Big 12)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 4

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

69

71

73

50

65.75

Kansas only had two wins in 2016, but one of them was a win Kansas or the rest of the Big 12 will never forget. On November 19, 2016, Kansas upset Texas in an Overtime thriller. Their first Big 12 win since 2014 and their first win against Texas in 75 years. This could spark year three for Coach David Beaty’s rebuild.

The offense starts with the quarterback battle between JUCO transfer Peyton Bender and the starter for the last three games, Carter Stanley. They will contend to throw to last year’s leading receiver Steven Sims Jr. LaQuvionte Gonzalez would have been a top returning receiver, but he was dismissed from the football team. Alabama transfer Daylon Charlot will look to fill his shoes. Charlot won’t be the only Alabama transfer as former 5-star offensive tackle Charles Baldwin will most likely start at right tackle. There are also three returning offensive lineman starters returning. Add in a stable of young running backs and this offense has some potential. Even with them finishing last in almost every offensive category in the Big 12 last year.

Kansas has one of the top defensive players not only in the Big 12, but the nation. Dorance Armstrong Jr. is a dangerous edge rusher and will cause problems for offenses this year. Daniel Wise is another impact defensive lineman. Joe Dineen Jr. returns after an injury filled 2016. The secondary is a trouble area. Mike Lee is coming off of a Freshman-All American at safety. The rest of the secondary is questionable, even though they do have a corner with one of the best defensive names (Hasan Defense). I guess you could say he was born to play defense…

Kansas should beat their win total in the first three weeks when they play Southeast Missouri State, Central Michigan and Ohio. They will look to sneak a few wins in Big 12 play as well, as there is more talent on this year than last year’s team. The game against Texas this year will be in Austin on November 11, and then they finish with tough games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Kansas is slowly rebuilding and they probably won’t be bowl eligible, but the 2017 Kansas team will be an improvement.

2017 SEC Football Preview

Since 2013, every SEC team has finished at least one season ranked in the top 25 except Kentucky and Arkansas. The conference is deep, but a team other than Alabama has to step up for the SEC to be known as the premier conference again. Auburn, LSU, Georgia and Florida have the capabilities to step up and be a top ten team in the nation this season.

In the SEC West, Alabama has had success unmatched by the rest. Jalen HurtsAuburn and LSU round out the top tier of the West. As for the bottom tier, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Arkansas could finish in just about any order. All four (except Ole Miss because of their bowl ban) are going to compete and should be bowl eligible. Look for Alabama to end up in Atlanta again.

The SEC East should be a two horse race between Georgia and Florida. Kentucky could be a darkhorse pick in the division to end up in Atlanta. Nick ChubbTennessee is a team that will be in transition, while Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Missouri will all be improved. The SEC East will be better than previous seasons and is closing the talent gap with the West. In the end, I believe it is Georgia’s division to lose.

Here are the full rankings and team-by-team previews:

SEC West

  1. Alabama
  2. Auburn
  3. LSU
  4. Texas A&M
  5. Ole Miss
  6. Mississippi State
  7. Arkansas

SEC East

  1. Georgia
  2. Florida
  3. Kentucky
  4. Tennessee
  5. Vanderbilt
  6. South Carolina
  7. Missouri

 

SEC West

1. Alabama Crimson TideAlabama logo

Projected Record: 13-0 (8-0 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 6 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

1

1

1

1

1

No surprise here. Alabama lost some key defensive players, but has a lot of young talent to fill those positions. The secondary will be an area of strength with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Anthony Averett and Ronnie Harrison. Offensively, Brian Daboll steps in as the replacement to Lane Kiffin. If the spring game was any indication, look for the offense to throw the ball down the field a lot more in Jalen Hurts’ Sophomore year. The backfield is simply unfair with Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Joshua Jacobs, and the number one recruit in the nation, Najee Harris. Alabama returns a veteran offensive line as well.

The two toughest tests are the first and last games as Florida State and Auburn will be talented this year. The bottom of the SEC West is down this year so it would be a surprise if they lose a game between the opening kickoff (Florida State) and November 4th (LSU). This could be one of Saban’s best teams and will be in the hunt for yet another playoff berth and the National Championship.

2. Auburn TigersAuburn Tigers Logo

Projected Record: 10-2 (7-1 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 7 Defense- 7

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

9

9

8

6

8

All eyes will be on Jarrett Stidham. The talented former Baylor Quarterback steps into Gus Malzahn’s offense and hopes to do it in stride. Auburn returns veteran talent on the defense, but will have to replace Montravious Adams, Carl Lawson, and Rudy Ford. Maybe former number one ranked recruit DE Byron Cowart can have a breakout year.

Auburn has a tough non-conference game with Clemson and also faces Georgia from the SEC East. A talented quarterback added to this Auburn team makes them more dangerous than years past. They could roll into the Iron Bowl with only one loss, but then will probably lose to Alabama. If Auburn can control Clemson’s defensive line, they could pull the upset.

Outside of Clemson, Auburn faces lackluster talent in Georgia Southern, Mercer and Louisiana-Monroe in their nonconference schedule. A possible tripping point could come from October 14-November 11 where they play @ LSU, @ Arkansas, @ Texas A&M and Georgia. Auburn could be a top ten ranked team when all is said and done.

3. LSU TigersLSU Tigers

Projected Record: 9-3 (5-3 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 4

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

7

3

6

2

4.5

Every year it is the same question, does LSU have a quarterback that can play?  Danny Etling in 8 SEC games threw for 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Etling is your classic “don’t mess anything up and hand it to the running back” type QB. This didn’t work in their three conference losses last year against good run defensive teams like Auburn, Alabama and Florida. Maybe new offensive coordinator Matt Canada can do the same thing with Etling that he did with Nathan Peterman last year.

The non-conference opponents this year aren’t as tough with home games against BYU, Chattanooga, Syracuse, and Troy. Side note, how about BYU fans traveling to Baton Rouge? Nothing like Mormons visiting Baton Rouge for a Saturday night football game. I am ready for some Mormons vs. Mardi Gras shirts. Back to the schedule, I think I could play quarterback and hand off the ball to Derrius Guice for those games.

LSU won’t miss a beat going from Fourntette to Guice; However, losing linebackers Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith will be tough, as well as 1st round picks from the secondary, Jamal Adams and Tre’Davious White. Pass rusher Arden Key is one of the best in the nation, but they will be inexperienced outside of him. October 7th-November 4th will be tough as LSU plays @ Florida, home versus Auburn, @ Ole Miss, and @ Alabama. Expect a repeat of last year and a few entertaining post-game press conferences from Ed Orgeron.

4. Texas A&M AggiesTexas A&M Logo

Projected Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

12

18

11

5

11.5

Is this Kevin Sumlin’s last season? If they don’t get at least 8 wins, it is. Sumlin turned the Johnny Football craze into some great recruiting classes, but not much else. Since 2013, Johnny’s last season, Texas A&M is 15-17 in SEC play and top ranked quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray both transferred out. Better years than their rivals in Austin though.

With Texas A&M it starts with the quarterback battle. Jake Hubenak the senior, Nick Starkel the redshirt freshman, or former IMG top recruit Kellen Mond. Mond gives A&M the most upside, but may not be ready to play right away. In addition, a true freshman’s first game on the road at UCLA? I think the job will come down to Hubenak and Starkel, with Mond getting a redshirt year. Outside of quarterback, Christian Kirk should have another electric year before going to the NFL. They also have two talented running backs in Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford. The Offensive line will have to replace both offensive tackles.

Defensively, replacing pass rushers Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall will be tough. However, they are talented and deep at defensive tackle. The linebackers must be better than last year where they struggled to stop the running attack.

The nonconference schedule should be three guaranteed wins, but a loss at UCLA is definitely possible. Playing Alabama at home will be their biggest game of the year, but @ Florida, Auburn and @ LSU will be tricky games. Looks like A&M will enter the Chip Kelly sweepstakes.

The nonconference schedule should be three guaranteed wins, but a loss at UCLA is definitely possible. Playing Alabama at home will be their biggest game of the year, but @Florida, Auburn and @LSU will be tricky games. Looks like A&M will enter the Chip Kelly sweepstakes.

5. Ole Miss RebelsOle Miss logo

Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

30

5

17

15

16.75

Hugh Freeze was “escorted” out of Oxford and it will be interesting to see what direction the new Rebels go. The Chad Kelly/Hugh Freeze era is over and it is officially time for Shea Patterson and the rest of the Freeze recruits to move on. No matter what happens, Ole Miss will not be playing in a bowl game this year because of a self-bowl ban. It looks like the Egg Bowl will be the ultimate prize for the Rebels.

Shea Patterson has plenty of playmakers on the outside including Van Jefferson, A.J. Brown and Damarkus Lodge. Top 2015 recruit, Greg Little, steps into the left tackle spot. The offense should be top five in the SEC; it is the defense that will be the question mark.

Marquis Haynes leads the defense with 24.5 career sacks along with five other returning starters. However, it is a defense that was 111th in yards per game. If Ole Miss wants to win games in the SEC this year, the defense must improve.

Ole Miss has an easy non-conference with a road trip to Cal-Berkeley as their toughest opponent (A little PAC-12/SEC football at NIGHT). Ole Miss toughest test will be the back-to-back away games against Alabama and Auburn that could make them go 3-0 to 3-2 really quick. Ole Miss needs a good season to get back the momentum from the NCAA investigation and the Hugh Freeze scandal.

6. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Miss State Logo

Projected Record: 6-6 (2-6 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 6 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

24

28

18

35

26.25

Nick Fitzgerald had a solid first year as the starter for Mississippi State. However, the rest of the team will have to step up if they want to be a challenger in the SEC. They do have six starters on each side of the ball returning. On defense, sophomores Leo Lewis and Jeffery Simmons are very talented. Two defensive players have made controversial headlines including 5-Star DE Simmons punching a woman and LB Leo Lewis allegedly accepting money from Ole Miss. Both players should be on the field when the 2017 season kicks off.

Mississippi State’s toughest non-conference opponent is BYU as they will take the trip to Starkville (Could BYU count this trip as a Mormon Mission?). Outside of that, Mississippi State should have it easy with Charleston Southern, Louisiana Tech and UMass. SEC season starts fast for the Cowbells as starting September 16th they host LSU, @ Georgia, and @ Auburn with no bye week in between. I think it will be another tough season, but Fitzgerald and good returning lineup could cause some trouble for SEC opponents.

7. Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas Logo.png

Projected Record: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 6 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

27

23

22

29

25.25

Since 2013, 12 of the 14 SEC teams have finished the year in the top 25. The only two teams that haven’t are Kentucky and Arkansas. They had a chance last year if they could’ve won the Belk Bowl, but they blew a 24-0 halftime lead.

Austin Allen is one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC, it is the playmakers around him that will need to step up. The starting running back from last year, Rawleigh Williams, retired from football due to a neck injury. Devwah Whaley will replace him after a strong freshman season. The question remains who will step up at the wide receiver after losing three of the four top receivers. Offensive line is also a question mark, but Frank Ragnow is a bright spot.

Arkansas is transitioning to a 3-4 defense which could cause trouble considering they lack linebacker depth. Defensive line is also a weakness after losing four contributors from last year’s team. Former 5-Star DE McTelvin Agim will be asked to pick up the slack. Having a weaker front seven in a conference that loves to run the football could give the Razorbacks problems.

Arkansas doesn’t have a tough non-conference schedule outside of the early game against TCU. Florida A&M, New Mexico State and Coastal Carolina should be easy wins. Arkansas also plays the easiest opponents from the east with South Carolina and Missouri. Getting through the SEC West is where it will be obviously difficult.

 

SEC East

1. Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia Logo

Projected Record: 10-3 (6-2 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 10

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

5

8

5

8

6.5

Georgia should not only be the favorite in the East, but they should be getting more hype as a top ten team. The defense returns ten starters and all of them are upperclassmen. A defense that was ranked 16th last year returning that many starters is going to be dangerous.

The main question is if the offense can take a step forward. Starting quarterback Jacob Eason played ok as a freshman, but will need to improve on his 8 interceptions and 55% completion percentage. At running back, look for Nick Chubb to bounce back after a down year. Sony Michel is also a dangerous runner and gives Georgia a great 1-2 punch. Brian Herrien, Elijah Holyfield and Deandre Swift round out the running back unit as one of the deepest in the country. The major weakness of this offense is in the offensive line and wide receivers. The returning leading receiver is Terry Godwin who had just 397 yards and 0 TDs.

The schedule shapes up well for Georgia. The nonconference isn’t overly difficult with a road trip to South Bend to take on Notre Dame and a short drive to Atlanta for the annual Georgia Tech game. In the SEC, “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” game against Florida should decide who gets to lose to Alabama in the SEC Championship. A trip to Auburn late in the year will be a tough one as well.

2. Florida Gators

Florida logo

Projected Record: 9-3 (6-2 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 9 Defense- 3

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

11

12

21

9

13.25

Last year, the Florida offense was dreadful. The quarterbacks combined for 18 TDs and 15 INTs with the offense averaging just 17 points over the last five SEC games. The defense was a different story with 7 Florida defensive players getting drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft.

The 2017 Gators are a different story. The returning defense is young and inexperienced with cornerbacks Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner leading the defense. The offense is not lacking playmakers as Antonio Callaway is one of the most explosive receivers in the country. The offensive line should be solid as well, returning 4 out of their 5 starters.

So who starts at quarterback? Malik Zaire transferred from Notre Dame as a graduate transfer and could play right away. Zaire only has 98 career college attempts and is no sure bet to be the starter. He will have to beat out the favorite after spring practices, Feleipe Franks, for the starting job.

It won’t be easy for whoever gets named the top quarterback as they open against Michigan in Jerry World. Florida may have the toughest non-conference schedule out there as they also end the season with a home game against National Champion contender Florida State. Their SEC headline game outside of Georgia is LSU. Florida, in an ultimate power move, made LSU their homecoming game. Coach Orgeron said in response, “GdkjfEAUX fEAUX putEAUX thEAUX footbEAUX.” As you can tell he is fired up.

3. Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky logo

Projected Record: 7-5 (4-4 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 8 Defense- 8

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

29

33

38

22

30.5

Kentucky returns a lot of players from last year’s 7-6 team and should be a contender in the East (I swear, I’m not crazy and know this isn’t basketball). Offensively there is a lot of potential with quarterback Stephen Johnson and returning 1,000-yard rusher Benny Snell. Kentucky also has one of the best returning offensive lines in the SEC. As long as a few wide receivers can step up, this offense should be pretty solid.

Defensively, the Wildcats will have to improve the front line. Former five-star recruit Matt Elam will have to show something in his senior year. Crazy to think he almost went to Alabama where he would probably be riding the bench. The linebackers are a position of strength returning all four starters in their 3-4 set. ILB Jordan Jones will try to build off his 109 tackles during his sophomore year. The secondary should be solid as well with both corners and star safety Mike Edwards returning. If the defensive line comes alive this could be a good group.

Kentucky’s non-conference includes Southern Miss and Louisville. Last year, they lost to Southern Miss and beat Louisville. It will most likely be reversed this coming year with Lamar Jackson returning. In the SEC, Kentucky has it easier than most East teams playing against the low end of the West with Ole Miss and Mississippi State. If they can put it together Kentucky has an outside chance of making it to Atlanta.

4. Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee Vol logo

Projected Record: 7-5 (3-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 5 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

17

14

4

7

10.5

Maybe I should write this Tennessee preview like they played in 2016… Coast through the first half and finish the second strong. The offense is in total transformation mode with Joshua Dobbs, Alvin Kamara, Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone all finding better colors to wear than orange (except Josh Malone will still wear orange with the Bengals and I’m sure Jalen Hurd will wear some terrible design that Baylor put together). The new quarterback job will come down to junior Quinten Dormady or redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano. The offensive line is a question mark, but ESPN’s top ranked recruit for 2017, Trey Smith, should see playing time right away. At wide receiver Jauan Jennings can fly and Ethan Wolf is a reliable tight end target. It is going to be anyone’s guess on how well this offensive group comes together.

The defense last year had their fair share of injury problems. The 2017 defensive unit will look to make improvements especially after giving up over 200 yards a game on the ground. DT Kahlil McKenzie is a space eater and an impact player. The safeties are the strength of this unit with Todd Kelly Jr. and Nigel Warrior. Evan Berry (Kansas City Chiefs Eric Berry’s brother) will also look to end on a high note for his senior season. It will be the last time we see a Berry in orange until 20 years from now when one of their sons is playing.

Tennessee gets the worst of it from the West, having to play both Alabama and LSU. The non-conference is manageable, but whoever starts at quarterback better be ready for Georgia Tech in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I think it is a transition year where Butch Jones isn’t given any time to transition. Tennessee goes 7-5 and enters the Chip Kelly sweepstakes.

5. South Carolina Gamecocks

SC logo.png

Projected Record: 5-7 (3-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 10 Defense- 6

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

21

25

20

19

21.25

I actually really like the Gamecocks this year, but their non-conference schedule could hold them back. QB Jake Bentley is very talented and should continue to develop in his sophomore year. The offensive line returns four starters and offensive playmakers are not lacking. WR Deebo Samuel may be one of the most dynamic players in the SEC and will look to grow on his 783 receiving yards last year.

LB Skai Moore is back after missing all of the 2016 season. He was the leading tackler in his first three years and will come back to lead the defense again. Joining Bryson Allen-Williams, the linebacker core should be one of the tops in the SEC. Where Will Muschamp has his hands full is trying to improve the secondary and pass rush. These units will have to step up if South Carolina will become bowl eligible.

Their last game of the season will be against Clemson and could have some playoff implications for the Tigers. They also start the year against NC State who could be a surprise team in the ACC. Louisiana Tech won’t be an automatic win either as the boys from Ruston, Louisiana are projected to win Conference USA. Thank God they at least have Wofford on their schedule. The Gamecocks do avoid the powerhouses in the West by playing Arkansas and Texas A&M, but a road game against Georgia and Florida at home the very next week isn’t ideal. It could be really bad or be a pretty good year, but either way the Cocks will make it interesting.

6. Vanderbilt Commodores

Vandy logo

Projected Record: 6-6 (3-5 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 8 Defense- 7

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

64

54

49

46

53.25

Vanderbilt has a lot of starters coming back from a 6-7 team and should be highly competitive in the East. The offense made great improvements near the end of the year putting 38 points against Ole Miss and 45 points against Tennessee. Returning quarterback Kyle Shurmur will have to continue to improve if they want to get over the 6 win mark. Ralph Webb is one of the most talented running backs in the SEC and set a Vanderbilt record last year for rushing yards in a season. The offensive line will have to replace Will Holden, who was drafted in the fifth round, but will still have three returning starters.

The defense will have to replace All-SEC Zach Cunningham, but Derek Mason’s group is filled with veterans. The secondary is the strength of the defense. The defensive line has good depth, but the overall talent of the defense isn’t on par with the rest of the SEC. The defense should be good, not great this season.

The non-conference schedule won’t be easy for the Commodores as they face a tough Kansas State team at home and a decent Middle Tennessee State on the road. Vanderbilt got the bad draw of playing against Alabama from the SEC West and it will be their first SEC game of the year nonetheless. The talent level of Vanderbilt is alright, but not based on SEC standards. Getting to 7 wins would be a good year for Derek Mason.

7. Missouri Tigers

Mizzou logo

Projected Record: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: Offense- 10 Defense- 3

Recruiting Rankings:

2017

2016

2015

2014

4 YR AVG

42

43

25

39

37.25

The Tigers had a rough 2016 season finishing 4-8 on the year and just 2-2 in non-conference play. Ever since Gary Pinkel left, the team has not been the same. Add in the fake protests and downward spiral of the basketball team, the Missouri faithful are going through some tough times. As for the football team, Missouri does return a lot of offensive talent, but the defense will probably be the weak link this year. At least their basketball team will be talented.

Returning QB Drew Locke has a lot of talent and is coming off a 23 touchdown sophomore year. Along with Locke is 1,000-yard senior wide receiver J’Mon Moore. The offensive line struggled last year, but does return everyone. If they improve the biggest beneficiary will be dangerous RB Damarea Crockett. This team should finish the year as a top half of the SEC offense.

The defense is another story. Missouri’s defense last year was horrendous even giving up 51 points to Middle Tennessee State. That defense only returns three starters. One of the few bright spots is the return of former five-star Terry Beckner Jr. from injury. Marcell Frazier will give Missouri a reliable pass-rusher as well. Linebackers will need a major improvement from last year. They will also have to figure out how to replace their two starting cornerbacks from last season. The optimism on defense is bleak and will affect how they compete in the SEC this year.

The non-conference record should improve this year as their toughest opponents will be UConn and Purdue. The rest of the schedule is not as easy as they face Auburn and Arkansas from the SEC West. They will have to travel to Georgia, but have Florida and Tennessee at home. Missouri is a long time away from their back to back SEC East championships. I’m sure Missouri wishes they were playing against Big 12 competition this year.