College football quick hits: AP top 25 preseason poll

Photo via Getty Images

Earlier this week, the first AP top 25 Poll of the college football season was released. While a lot of the poll went according to expectation, there are a couple surprises later in the rankings.

While Alabama dominated the rankings and Ohio State took what many believed to be the obvious second, there was some debate over who should take third place.

In the end, FSU took third and USC took fourth, much to the dismay of Trojans fans.

The Crimson Tide are looking to start and end the season at No.1, with a championship to boot, a feat not accomplished since 2004 when USC took the trophy.

[irp posts=”8123″ name=”What needs to happen for the Alabama Crimson Tide to win national title”]

The SEC remains dominant, but by a less significant margin than in previous years—they sport six teams in the top 25, while the Big 12 and ACC have five apiece and the Big Ten and Pac-12 following them up with four. USF, the poster child of the AAC, is its sole representation.

Below are official AP Poll rankings with some commentary by The JR Report.

Photo via USA Today Sports

[irp posts=”11415″ name=”Ohio State Buckeyes top way-too-early college football top 25 rankings”]

  1. Alabama (52 votes)

Alabama seems to be impenetrable, although their pass defense leaves something to be desired. Anyways, the Crimson Tide deserve the top spot.

  1. Ohio State (3 votes)

There was little debate over who should be No. 2 in the rankings. Ohio State has shown that they deserve the ranking, and they’re the favorite for the championships in many people’s minds.

  1. Florida State (4 votes)

This wasn’t a surprising choice, but a good amount of projections had USC in the No. 3 slot. The Seminoles have an extremely strong-looking team, and they’ll be tested in Week 1 against Alabama, where the Noles are a heavy underdog.

  1. USC (2 votes)

USC fans are undoubtedly bitter, but the placement makes sense. It will be interesting to see how their season goes, because with a relatively easier schedule than the other three teams at the top, USC has little room for error.

  1. Clemson

No surprise Clemson isn’t No. 1 coming off their championship win. In fact, the JR Report had Clemson a No. 6 behind Penn State. Clemson lost a ton of talent, including Deshaun Watson, and it will be interesting to see how well they can handle themselves after this.

  1. Penn State

If Penn State wasn’t No. 5, they deserve this ranking at least. Fans believe they should’ve gotten a chance at the playoff last year, and now they have another chance. The Nittany Lions have an all-star offense, so it isn’t hard to project them clinching a spot in the playoff.

  1. Oklahoma

Clearly, the AP Poll thinks that legendary coach Bob Stoops’s retirement isn’t as much a cause for concern as the JR Report does. While we have them at No. 9, the AP Poll is a little bit more generous. As it is, the offense led by quarterback Baker Mayfield is absolutely explosive.

  1. Washington

Washington doesn’t have the toughest schedule, but they deserve this ranking for now. Time will tell if they have the strength to be a serious late-season contender, but they’ll most likely win the Pac-12.

  1. Wisconsin

It’s an interesting decision to put Wisconsin in front of Auburn, Michigan, and Oklahoma State. They’re a solid pick, and the AP Poll sees promise in incoming defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard. Along with a tough offense and a not-too-strenuous schedule, it will be interesting to see where the Badgers end up.

Photo via Getty Images
  1. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have created the team that might be able to take down the Sooners for the first time in three years. Although the Cowboys have a dominant offense, all signs point to them having a rather mediocre defense.

  1. Michigan

Both the AP Poll and the JR Report have Michigan hovering just outside the top 10. The Wolverines lost 18 starters, enough to scare any team, but Jim Harbaugh is a stellar recruiter and next year’s Michigan team will be exciting to watch.

  1. Auburn

The Tigers have an amazing running back duo and a reloaded defense. Is it enough to win the classic Iron Bowl? Auburn deserves a slightly higher rating—we have them at No. 10—but will quickly prove they deserve to be a top 10 team.

  1. LSU

There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the LSU offense, with incoming offensive coordinator Matt Canada and star running back Derrius Guice. The SEC has another powerhouse this year, and LSU might contend for the conference championship.

  1. Stanford

This is a surprisingly high ranking for Stanford. The JR Report had them at No. 17, on account of the quarterback worries and some unclear aspects of their incoming team. Their defense looks strong and should come out strong in the Pac-12.

  1. Georgia

This ranking is pretty close to accurate. The Dawgs return most of their defense, and return their all-star running duo, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They’ll be another strong contender in the SEC.

  1. Louisville

The JR Report had Louisville as No. 16 as well. Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is back to prove that he’s still relevant, but the team’s main concern is their lacking offensive line.

  1. Florida

Yet another strong SEC coming into the year, the Gators are headed by untested quarterback Feleipe Franks. The Gators most likely will not retain a ranking in the top 20 for long, but they may just surprise us.

  1. Miami

The Hurricanes are impressive on both sides of the ball, and their only concern is whether the quarterback replacement will be up to the task of keeping Miami relevant.

  1. South Florida

We had the Bulls at No. 18, so it seems we weren’t far off from what the AP Poll had in mind. The Bulls have a ton of talent, a new coaching staff, an underrated quarterback star, and a thirst to prove themselves.

Photo via Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Kansas State

The Wildcats have a quality quarterback and a potential to upset the big names in the Big-12 like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

  1. Virginia Tech

There was some ambiguity as to whether Virginia Tech would be ranked (we had them as “just missing” the top 25). The Hokies will have a tough run in a surprisingly strong ACC, but if they hold up on their end we could see them in the conference championship against FSU or Clemson.

  1. West Virginia

Will Grier, the quarterback transfer from the University of Florida, is already turning heads in Morgantown. WVU is strong on the offensive side of the ball, but if they can’t keep their defense up to snuff they won’t be ranked for long.

  1. Texas

The Longhorns have been disappointing lately, but it looks like Tom Herman has been turning it all around. We have them at No. 25, because it’s really unclear as to whether it’s all show or if we can expect great things in the next couple years.

  1. Washington State

Quarterback Luke Falk is shaping up to be a great quarterback, and the Cougars should make the game against Washington a good one. They have quality upset potential.

  1. Tennessee

Tennessee has a lot of work to do if they want to climb in the rankings—not because they’re not a good team, but because the competition in the SEC East is stiff this year. We’ll see if they can challenge regional rivals Georgia and Florida.


Nicholai Babis is a lead contributor for The JR Report. For more news and JR Report updates follow him on twitter @nibabis.

Crimson Tide vs. Seminoles: CFB opener of the century

Photo via Chris Kirschner/ SEC Country

The college football season draws inexorably closer, and the hype is mounting for what some are calling the season opener of the century: Alabama Crimson Tide vs Florida State Seminoles.

Most predict that the Crimson Tide will be ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll when it comes out, and most estimates put the Seminoles at either third or fourth. Regardless of their actual rankings starting out the season, nobody can deny that this will be one of the biggest games of the year.

FSU is considered the underdog coming into the contest, but you can’t rule out Jimbo Fisher’s squad and their prowess.Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.

Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.

Here’s some ways that either team can win.

Why Alabama will win

Alabama is a clear favorite to win this one in many people’s minds. The Alabama team is as powerful as ever, and Saban’s incoming recruiting class is one of his best.

Image result for tua tagovailoa
Quarterback recruit Tua Tagovailoa might give Jalen Hurts a run for his money. Photo via ROBERT SUTTON / ALABAMA ATHLETICS

The Tide bring in running back Najee Harris, a 6-foot-2, 224 pound powerhouse. They also bring in 5-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a native Hawaiian who some say might be able to challenge Jalen Hurts for quarterback dominance. Along with these two guys, the Alabama team brings in a whole slew of other talent.

As far as opening games go, Nick Saban has a pretty hard record to beat at Alabama. In fact, he hasn’t lost a single one and is 10-0. Additionally, the Crimson Tide don’t just have history on their side: their defense is the best in the nation every year.

Although Alabama lost six of their best defensive players, the incoming recruiting class looks promising, and whispers from Saban’s closed practices suggest that this year’s defense might be even greater than last year’s.

If this is the case, FSU is going to have a hard time getting anything through the Alabama line. Unless the incoming FSU offensive talent is as good as it can be, the Tide defense is going to keep the Seminoles to quite a low score during the game. Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick makes a case for being one of the best in the league at his position, and this game gives him the perfect opportunity to show what he’s got.

Image result for minkah fitzpatrick
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick is the key to the Alabama defense this year. Photo via Rolltide.com

In addition, there are still some questions surrounding the FSU offense. The team still isn’t 100 percent clear who they’re fielding at running back, and much of their receiving corps is untrained.

This year there is much to be said about the 2017 Tide offense. Although a lot of it is hype, Jalen Hurts has matured since we saw him last. He has another offseason under his belt and has a great offensive unit to back him up once again. The offense has a lot going for it, but will it be enough in the face of FSU’s surprisingly strong defense?

Why Florida State will win

Last year’s FSU team would have lost to last year’s Alabama team. This year, however, it’s a lot more difficult to make the same argument. Although many do not want to get their hopes up, FSU’s team this year has the chance to bring down Alabama.

Image result for derwin james
After missing almost all of the 2016 season, Derwin James has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Photo via Greg Oyster / 247 Sports.

The hopes and dreams of the Nole nation ride not on the offense, but on the defense: specifically, on safety Derwin James. He’s being hyped up by virtually every college football commentator, and it’s easy to see why. In his true freshman season back in 2015, James racked up 91 tackles with 4.5 sacks. Last season, he was injured for all but two games.

If he lives up to the hype, he might very well stop Jalen Hurts and his offense in their tracks. Along with the rest of the Seminole defense, James will own the night when they go up against Alabama.

A victory from the Seminoles also comes down to how well quarterback Deondre Francois can deliver. He’s top ten in almost all “Heisman prediction” lists, and is predicted as being one of next year’s best quarterbacks.

Heading into his second year, you can tell that he’s confident in himself in his abilities. His teammates point to him having taken on a key leadership role after the departure of Dalvin Cook. He needs to, now that passing power might be FSU’s greatest strength.

Against Alabama, who has put up an iron grid against run plays, effective passing is a must.

The FSU defense is up to the challenge, but is the offense?

The winner is…

Alabama. It’s hard to predict against them, and this time FSU just doesn’t have the steam. It’ll be a close game, but Francois won’t be able to locate his targets often enough. It’s the season opener, his first chance of the season to test his chops, and it’s against the best team in the nation.

In the end, the Crimson Tide can perform just a bit better offensively in spite of FSU’s defense.

Alabama 14 FSU 10


For a more in-depth analysis of the game, check back on the JR Report a couple days before the big game.

Nicholai Babis is a lead contributor for The JR Report. For more news and JR Report updates follow him on twitter @nibabis.

2017 Heisman Trophy race should be tight with many stars

Photo via Getty Images

Almost every Heisman race is a tight one, with few exceptions. This year’s Heisman Trophy race will prove to be no different. There are the several obvious candidates that will shine as well as some dark horse candidates with a realistic shot at winning.

Despite the plethora of contenders, there are a couple of names that top every list of betting odds to win the Heisman. Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett top almost every list.

Also frequenting the lists are names like Mason Rudolph, Deondre Francois and Saquon Barkley. The list goes on with the ever-exciting dark horse candidates such as Quinton Flowers and Cam Akers.

[irp posts=”12485″ name=”USF Bulls QB Quinton Flowers, a not-so dark horse Heisman candidate”]

Here are the reasons why each of the top four players has what it takes to bring home the trophy.

Sam Darnold — QB, USC

Although it’s definitely early, Sam Darnold emerges as the clear favorite for the Heisman crown. His name has been on everyone’s radar since the second half of last season, when he won USC’s last nine games and won the Rose Bowl for the Trojans.

[irp posts=”9144″ name=”What needs to happen for USC to win national title”]

In his starting season, Darnold threw for 3,086 yards, completed 67.2 percent of his 366 attempted passes and threw for 31 touchdowns. This is an impressive feat on its own and it becomes even more impressive when one considers that he only threw nine interceptions throughout the entire season.

As a relatively inexperienced quarterback, these numbers spoke to Darnold’s poise on the field and natural talent at his position.

Add Darnold’s talent to USC’s less-than-tough schedule and he’s a recipe for Heisman success.

[irp posts=”8235″ name=”Penn State vs. USC: Morals in college football never existed”]

Lamar Jackson — QB, Louisville 

Although Lamar Jackson’s name still shows up near the top of every list, the defending Heisman champion has a tough crown to defend as he goes up against USC favorite Sam Darnold.

Jackson’s 2016 run was nothing short of miraculous. He ended the season with 3,543 passing yards, 1,571 rushing yards and 51 aggregate touchdowns.

What’s more? Jackson is new and improved, according to both himself and his team. A better Jackson would usually mean another Heisman, but with Darnold as a contender there are no guarantees.

In addition, Louisville may be looking towards some tough times. Their schedule isn’t easy and they lost many of their key starters.

If Jackson wants to take his team to glory, he will have to shoulder even more responsibility, but one should not discount him as he is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in history.

Baker Mayfield — QB, Oklahoma 

One can’t have a 2017 Heisman discussion without talking about Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield transferred from Texas Tech to Oklahoma after the 2013 season, sat out a year, and then entered the fray. In 2015 and 2016, he had standout seasons passing for 3,700 yards in 2015 and 3,965 the following year. What’s more impressive is his deadly accuracy—he had a 70.9 percent completion rate in 2016 while only throwing eight interceptions.

The Oklahoma quarterback is a favored runner-up for the Heisman and for good reason. He’s poised for another breakout year, but some have misgivings because of the departure of Bob Stoops and some key players on the Sooners’ offense.

However, the offensive line is shaping up to be one of Oklahoma’s best. That kind of protection will give Mayfield plenty of time to make his way to the Heisman podium.

J.T. Barrett — QB, Ohio State

The college football fan won’t hear nearly as much Heisman hype around Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, but a good case can be made for the Buckeye.

Many expected Barrett to have a breakout year in 2016, but he didn’t deliver. While he threw for 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns, these stats weren’t quite up to snuff to be seriously considered for the trophy. This season, however, oddsmakers think that he’ll transform into one of the top candidates.

[irp posts=”9648″ name=”What needs to happen for Ohio State to win national title”]

The secret is in the new additions to the OSU squad. The Buckeyes come into the season with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day.

Will Urban Meyer’s star break his Heisman drought and take home the trophy? He has a lot of competition and will need Ohio State to stay on top of the rankings all year.

There are several more candidates who deserve serious consideration for the trophy, but one thing is clear about this upcoming year. It will be an exciting race to the finish line. Whoever wants to win the Trophy will have to put up record numbers to even be considered.

[irp posts=”11415″ name=”Ohio State Buckeyes top way-too-early college football top 25 rankings”]

USF Bulls QB Quinton Flowers, a not-so dark horse Heisman candidate

Photo via The Associated Press

College football season is approaching fast and many analysts are starting to put their minds towards projecting potential Heisman Trophy winners.

Looking over the published lists so far, there are several recurrent names, such as Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Saquon Barkley, J.T. Barrett, and Deondre Francois.

[irp posts=”11415″ name=”Ohio State Buckeyes top way-too-early college football top 25 rankings”]

Image result for quinton flowers vs fsu
Flowers led the Bulls to their first 10+ win season in program history. Photo via Andy Jones/TBO Staff

One name that has largely flown under the radar, is USF quarterback Quinton Flowers. If he is mentioned, it is as a longshot candidate. Last year, Flowers led the Bulls to an 11-2 season and posted outstanding stats.

The Bulls only posted losses to the highly ranked Florida State Seminoles and in-conference opponent Temple. In the Birmingham Bowl, they were able to topple the South Carolina Gamecocks in overtime.

Flowers is entering his senior year at USF after passing for 2,812 yards and 24 touchdowns, which alone is impressive—but he also chalked up 1,530 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns. He completed 62.5% of his passes and only threw seven interceptions. With stats like these, Flowers should be getting more national attention—so what’s holding him back?

The answer, quite simply, is his team. The Bulls are often overlooked by being in the AAC. Just last year USF started gaining more attention and all signs point to the USF Bulls having a breakout season. The Bulls are a shoe-in for a top-25 ranking and some projections indicated that they might soon crack the top 10.

[irp posts=”11514″ name=”A case for the AAC and the ‘Power Six’ in college football”]

Image result for charlie strong usf
New head coach Charlie Strong has raised hopes of a record season in Tampa. Photo via USF Athletics

With a plethora of returning players and a postseason ranking of No. 19, incoming head coach Charlie Strong has a whole range of talented players at his disposal.

The Bulls do not play FSU this time around, which means that they have a good chance of having an undefeated season. Their only challenges seem to be against Houston, Temple, and perhaps Tulsa.

An undefeated season could mean a New Years Six bowl game, as well as ending the season ranked in the top 10.

Even after such a successful season, Flowers is not generating much press. He barely made it into the Sporting News “Top 40 College Football Players for 2017” at No. 39, and he is listed at No. 53 on the Sports Illustrated “College football’s top 100 players of 2017” list. Both of these rankings do a disservice to Flowers’ prowess on the field.

Quinton Flowers will surprise college football by performing even better than last year and putting up Heisman-level numbers. He will lead his team to either a 12-1 or undefeated season which will make it impossible for anyone to ignore the Bulls.

[irp posts=”12108″ name=”LeBron James, Dan Gilbert at fault for pending Cleveland Cavaliers disaster”]

Ohio State Buckeyes top way-too-early college football top 25 rankings

Photo via Getty Images

The 2017 season of college football is already promising to be a good one. With several teams poised to contend for the title and last year’s championship winner Clemson not yet in a position to defend its title, the top 25 looks like it could change at any moment.

With all this in mind, here is the JR Report’s way-too-early college football top 25.

Image result for jt barrett ohio state
JT Barret will need to have his best season yet for Ohio State to take the number 1 place. Photo via Getty Images

1. Ohio State

Picking Ohio State over Alabama is a bold move, considering the Buckeyes’ last game where they lost 31-0 against Clemson.

With new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and both returners and new starters to bolster the offense, OSU is looking better than it has looked in a long time.

The Buckeyes also return seven of their defensive starters, who looked great in spring games. Ohio State has a chance to keep Alabama from winning a title, but will the Buckeyes be the ones to win it?

Image result for jalen hurts
Jalen Hurts had an amazing rookie season, and is looking to do even better in his sophomore year. Photo via Getty Images

2. Alabama

Even after losing several of their key starters, the Crimson Tide look great. Jalen Hurts looked amazing in the spring games, and so did his potential backup Tua Tagovailoa.

It’s an almost sure thing that the Tide are No.1 in the AP Poll, but it won’t last if they can’t hold up in the season opener against FSU. Their offense needs significant improvement with a better receiving corps and a more consistent pass attack.

Jalen Hurts is more than up to the task, but Ohio State will likely overtake the Tide in the polls.

Image result for deondre francois
Deondre Francois has some more improvement to do if he hopes to be considered for the Heisman. Photo via Bobby Ellis / Getty Images

3. Florida State

The Seminoles are looking great for the preseason. It wouldn’t be surprising if they’re ranked worse, but No. 3 is a good place for them. They will have a lot to prove in their first game against a first or second-ranked Alabama, but they’re ready for a dog fight.

Five-star running back recruit Cam Akers is prepared to take up the job that Dalvin Cook left for him, and safety Derwin James is finally healthy enough to tear up the field.

Quarterback Deondre Francois seems to have improved on the field, and as he gets more and more comfortable in his role, opposing teams have more to worry about.

Image result for sam darnold
Sam Darnold is already being projected as the 2018 NFL No.1 draft pick. Photo via Otto Gruele Jr. / Getty Images

4. USC

It’ll be interesting to see if the Trojans live up to all the off-season hype. True, Sam Darnold is a Heisman-caliber quarterback and it’s unlikely that he’ll have a bad season, but the strength of schedule is a recurring question for USC.

USC played the spring game with plenty of injuries, so we didn’t get a good picture of how the offense is shaping up for 2017. The Trojans are a favorite for the college football playoff, but it remains to be seen where they can ascend to despite their poor schedule.

If the Trojans can get over all the injuries and come into the season at 100 percent, No. 4 is the perfect ranking for them.

Image result for saquon barkley
Running back Saquon Barkley is undoubtedly one of the best backs in the game right now. Photo via USA Today Sports

5. Penn State

There’s no doubt that Penn State and its fans are still unhappy about being edged out of the playoff despite winning the Big Ten title.

With the trio of quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley, and redshirt sophomore receiver Juwan Johnson, the Nittany Lions will once again be a contender for the Big Ten championship.

The Nittany Lions have a lot to prove if they want to show that they deserve a place in the college football playoff, but this year’s team makes it look possible.

Image result for dabo swinney
Head coach Dabo Swinney has a lot of rebuilding to do if he hopes to keep the Tigers on top. Photo via Getty Images

6. Clemson

Although the Tigers lost star quarterback Deshaun Watson, they have some good players fighting for the position. In addition, the Clemson defense is one of the best defenses in the team’s history and will contend with Alabama for the best defense in the nation.

Clemson’s early schedule will be the perfect testing ground for the young team with games at Auburn and Louisville—there, we will see if the Tigers’ offense is reloaded enough to be a serious threat to FSU in the ACC.

Image result for jake browning
Jake Browning should be healthy by the start of the season after his shoulder surgery. Photo via Otto Gruele Jr. / Getty Images

7. Washington

Washington had a couple hiccups in the offseason like quarterback Jake Browning’s shoulder surgery and losing wide receiver John Ross to the NFL, but they are back and ready to compete.

Although the Huskies face tough opponents like Colorado, Stanford, and Washington State, they won’t face serious challenges beyond these teams until they play in the Pac-12 title game. Until then, they’ll stay on top of their side of the Pac-12 and likely in the top 10 nationally.

Image result for mason rudolph
Mason Rudolph is looking to make a splash in the Big 12 this season. Photo via Sue Ogrocki / AP Photo

8. Oklahoma State

The offseason was the perfect storm for Cowboys fans: their biggest rival Oklahoma lost both legendary coach Bob Stoops and outstanding running back Joe Mixon.

In addition, quarterback Mason Rudolph and his receiving corps are one of the best offenses in the nation. With returning receiver James Washington and LSU transfer wide receiver Tyron Johnson, the Cowboys are prepared to take on the Sooners’ offense better than they have in a good number of years.

If the Cowboys can bolster their mediocre defense and stay dominant offensively, this could be the year that they beat Oklahoma for the Big 12 crown.

Image result for bob stoops
Legendary coach Bob Stoops recently announced his retirement–how much will this impact the Sooners’ 2017 season? Photo via CBS Sports

9. Oklahoma

Despite Oklahoma’s recent misfortune, they’re still Oklahoma. Legendary coach Bob Stoops announced his surprise retirement last week, and many are wondering what this means for the Sooners.

Although star quarterback Baker Mayfield returns with his entire offensive line, the Sooners lost a lot of other offensive depth, such as wide receiver Dede Westbrook, running back Joe Mixon, and running back Samaje Perine.

The offense should still be explosive headed by Mayfield and Oklahoma will still have a good chance of winning the Big 12—now, they just have to try a little harder.

Image result for jarrett stidham
Baylor transfer quarterback Jarrett Stidham seems to be a good fit for the Tigers. Photo via Peter G. Aiken / Getty Images

10. Auburn

Auburn fans are excited this season, and rightly so—some are saying this is the Auburn team that can beat Bama for the first time since 2013.

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham has been performing well in practice and in the spring game. With running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson behind him, the Tigers offense is ready to go.

With a stellar recruiting class and a reloaded defense, the Tigers will be a big contender in the top 10, even if they lose the Iron Bowl.

Image result for derrius guice
Derrius Guice is the perfect running back answer to LSU’s offensive problem. Photo via Bill Feig / The Advocate

11. LSU

With the arrival of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, Tigers fans are cautiously optimistic about the 2017 season. A lot of this optimism stems from hopes about running back Derrius Guice. Guice is set up to be one of the best running backs in the nation next year.

The Tigers don’t have a running problem, and they definitely won’t have a defense problem after completely turning around the defense under defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.

The main problem for LSU going into next season is quarterback Danny Etling. If he can show improvement next season, the Tigers will be another thorn in Alabama’s side in the SEC.

Image result for jim harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh has a lot of rebuilding to do to shape Michigan into a team like last year’s. Photo via Getty Images

12. Michigan

Jim Harbaugh’s team will likely be good once again, but the important question is whether they have the talent to be a top-10 team. With the way things are looking now, the answer is not quite.

Michigan lost 18 starters, but Harbaugh excels in turning a team of rookies into a high-caliber team. The Wolverines boast one of the top recruiting classes in the nation which has convinced many that while Michigan will be a different team next year, they will still be great as long as Harbaugh is in charge.

Image result for alex hornibrook
Alex Hornibrook is a more than adequate quarterback for a solid Badgers squad. Photo via Jeff Hanisch / USA Today Sports

13. Wisconsin

Wisconsin is a solid pick to play well every year. The Badgers, under new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, look to dominate the Big Ten West via defense.

The Badgers also have the duo of solid quarterback Alex Hornibrook and wide receiver Jazz Peavy, so there is still the potential to make a major impact offensively.

Wisconsin won’t have a particularly difficult schedule, either. They only face Michigan as far as powerful Big Ten teams go, which should go as a big advantage for them staying on top of their division and staying ranked all season.

Image result for nick chubb
Nick Chubb has been a celebrity in Athens for his years at UGA. Photo via Dale Zanine / USA Today Sports

14. Georgia

The well-known running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel return for the Bulldogs along with the passing attack from sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason.

The Dawgs’ defense is also nothing to joke around about. With 10 returning starters, the Georgia defense will be one of the best in the league. Along with Auburn and LSU, the Bulldogs are among the SEC teams with the capability of finally beating Alabama.

Image result for mark richt miami
Miami head coach Mark Richt is hard at work figuring out a replacement for quarterback Brad Kaaya. Photo via Luis M. Alvarez / AP Photo

15. Miami

The only thing different between this year’s Miami team and last year’s will be the quarterback. With Brad Kaaya’s departure, the Canes are choosing between three potential replacements.

The Hurricanes have an impressive receiving and running game, as well as a stellar defense. If the quarterback choice meshes well with the rest of the offense, Miami will clinch the ACC Coastal division.

Image result for lamar jackson
Lamar Jackson, one of the best quarterbacks in the league, leaps over a Syracuse defender. Photo via Rich Barnes / USA Today Sports

16. Louisville

Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson returns to Louisville this season, and every season that he’s on the team is a season where the Cardinals will be good.

The biggest concern for the Cardinals is protecting Jackson. If they can improve their offensive line, Jackson won’t need to be worried about being sacked 46 times again this season.

Louisville may have a similarly disappointing season to last year’s 9-4 finish, but they will certainly start off strong.

Image result for keller chryst injury
Keller Chryst suffered an injury late last season, but hopes to return for 2017. Photo via Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

17. Stanford

With quarterback Keller Chryst injured and hoping to return before next season, the Cardinal have put some confidence in backup quarterback Ryan Burns. The Cardinal will have an uphill battle to remain relevant in 2017 with an early game against USC.

Stanford isn’t worried about things on the other side of the ball, and will tout one of the best defenses in the Pac-12.

Image result for quinton flowers
Quinton Flowers has put the USF Bulls in position for a breakout season. Photo via USF Athletics

18. USF

USF is the AAC team receiving the most hype coming into the 2017 season led by dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate and star quarterback Quinton Flowers.

Charlie Strong has made great strides as the incoming coach for the Bulls making the offense is stronger than it has ever been. More importantly, the defense is also looking strong.

With the way things are going and the rise of the AAC, it wouldn’t be surprising to see USF as a top-10 team by the end of the season.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding transfer quarterback Will Grier. Photo via Kelsie VanderWijst / BGS

19. West Virginia

Florida transfer quarterback Will Grier already seems to be finding more success at West Virginia than he ever did for the Gators. He performed well during spring games and the hype is building in Morgantown.

Grier will benefit from a solid running back and wide receiver corps, so the offense isn’t the main worry for the Mountaineers.

The main concern is the defense, and if WVU can find its defensive stride they will be a contender for the Big 12 championship.

Image result for feleipe franks
There are a lot of questions surrounding the Gators this year, and a lot of their success rests on Feleipe Franks. Photo via David Bowie / Gator Country

20. Florida

Redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks has made some waves in Gainesville after he won the quarterback battle.

The Gators hope to clinch the SEC East, but they will face stiff competition from Georgia and a surprisingly strong Tennessee team.

Image result for jesse ertz
Wildcats quarterback Jesse Ertz battled injury last year, but will most likely be healthy for 2017. Photo via Bo Rader/ the Wichita Eagle via AP Photo

21. Kansas State

The Wildcats are shaping up well, and all three avenues of offensive playmaking are wide open. Dual-threat Jesse Ertz should be cleared after his shoulder surgery, and he’s got a deep corps of receivers and running back Alex Barnes as options.

Kansas State also returns a significant amount of defenders, and they will prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the Big 12. They’re an outlier like West Virginia and TCU, but they have upset potential for opponents such as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Image result for willie taggart oregon
Former USF coach Willie Taggart is ready to revamp the Ducks’ football program. Photo via Chris Pietsch / The Register-Guard

22. Oregon

2016 was a year of disappointment for the Ducks after they dipped below five wins for the first time since 1991 and had their first losing season since 2004. It was  a wakeup call for Oregon, and with incoming coach Willie Taggart the Ducks are looking to climb their way back to the top again.

Oregon is an iffy choice for the top 25 at this point, but they have the tools they need to stage a comeback in 2017. With a surprisingly strong recruiting class, the Ducks will rack up at least seven wins and will remain hovering around the rankings all season.

Image result for luke falk
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is underrated coming into 2017, but he’ll prove himself quickly. Photo via USA Today Sports

23. Washington State

The Cougars look great coming into the 2017 season headed by quarterback Luke Falk. Falk has a great spread of receivers to pass to, as well as a strong running corps.

Washington State should field a good defensive line as well, and the Cougars are set up to be good competition for their in-state rivals, Washington.

Image result for quinten dormady
Volunteers’ quarterback Quinten Dormady is raising hopes in Tennessee. Photo via Andrew Bruckse / Tennessee Athletics

24. Tennessee

Vols quarterback Quinten Dormady shined during the spring game, and Tennessee is looking good on both sides of the ball for 2017.

Tennessee faces stiff competition in the SEC East against Georgia and Florida. They have upset potential, however, and will be looking to try for the SEC East crown.

Image result for tom herman
There are already noticeable changes in the Texas program under new head coach Tom Herman. Photo via the Associated Press

25. Texas

After a disappointing decline for the Longhorns’ football program, head coach Tom Herman is looking to turn it around with a complete program overhaul. Herman’s recruiting and redesigning has brought new life to Austin.

The Longhorns are looking to retake their place as one of the strongest college football programs, and although a change like that doesn’t happen overnight, they will be contenders to edge into the top 25 next season.

“26”. TCU, Virginia Tech, Boise State

These three teams are right on the edge of the top 25, and could very well see their names on the list when the first polls are published.

 

A case for the AAC and the ‘Power Six’ in college football

Photo via The Associated Press

Recently, the American Athletic Conference has become more and more a part of the national conversation. The AAC commissioner sees this as a great thing, as he wants to be seen as a “Power Six” conference.

An unfortunate aspect of their consideration as a conference is that football will be the major deciding factor here, but of course, if the AAC is included in a new “Power 6” metric other sports will be included.

Traditionally there are five power conferences: the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, and the Pac-12. Many college football fans and the programs of the AAC itself hope to rally behind the younger conference and establish it as a power conference.

The major problem is the balancing game that the AAC knows it’s playing. If the teams get too good for the conference, they will likely jump ship to a P5 conference if given the chance. But if the teams do not continue to improve and generate more revenue, then the conference will never be considered as a new power conference.

Image result for mike aresco aac
Commissioner Mike Aresco is heading efforts to gain the conference more recognition. Photo via Cloe Poisson / Hartford Courant

Last year, the Big 12 considered adding some AAC teams to their ranks, but ultimately passed. Conference commissioner Mike Aresco was more than relieved—even though many perceived insult in the Big 12’s decision—when he realized he wasn’t losing his best teams.

With the AAC teams locked in (for now), their most important task is elevating themselves in the eyes of their peers and “earning” placement among the power conference teams. The two most important ways of achieving this, wins and money.

Is the AAC winning enough games?

The AAC makes a compelling case to be included among the power conferences when one looks at the recent upward trends of their teams’ performances. As the AAC is comprised of younger teams with fewer resources, they cannot consistently have top 10 teams, but this will continue to change as the conference fields more and more impressive teams each year.

Image result for houston vs fsu
Houston upset Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl, shocking the college football world. Photo via The Associated Press

Let’s consider 2015, a year in which signified the beginning of the AAC’s possible breakthrough. Houston spent the entire year climbing in the rankings, first breaking through in Week 6 and continuing until it was ranked No. 8 in Week 15.

The Cougars beat all three of their P5 opponents: Vanderbilt, Louisville, and Florida State. They beat FSU in the Peach Bowl when FSU was ranked No. 9 in the nation and their only loss was against Connecticut.

Usually, around now the argument is made that they had an easy schedule and this isn’t an accurate representation of a truly powerful team, but this was not the case in 2015.

Temple was ranked for the second half of the season, and ended their season at 10-4. They had an outstanding win against Penn State, as well as a narrow loss to Notre Dame.

Navy ended the year ranked at No. 18 after an 11-2 season with a great win against Pitt in the Military Bowl.

Memphis hovered around the middle of the rankings midseason in 2015 and got up to No. 15, ultimately ending the season at 9-4 and losing to Auburn in the Birmingham Bowl.

Was this a one-off year?

Did these teams drop off the face of the earth after 2015? No, and some other teams began performing just as well.

Memphis ended the season at 8-5 with a P5 win over Kansas.

Navy enjoyed a successful 9-5 season while hovering around the rankings and entering them for four of the weeks.

Temple had narrow losses to both Wake Forest and Penn State, ending the season at 10-4 having been ranked during the season at least once. Houston ended the season at 9-4 with wins over San Diego State, Louisville once again, and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Image result for quinton flowers
USF quarterback Quinton Flowers led the charge for the Bulls in 2016, and has helped the program gain national recognition. Photo via Andy Jones / TBO Staff

The USF Bulls had a breakout season, going 11-2 with a high-profile win over South Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. They ended the season ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll.

Tulsa also ended its season positively, with a 10-4 record and hopes of cracking the rankings in 2017.

Navy, Houston, Tulsa, USF, and Temple are all expected to have impressive seasons next year as well. In the last few years, five of these AAC teams have enjoyed being ranked at some point.

In 2016, seven of the Pac-12 teams were ranked at some point, with five of them ending the season ranked. The Big Ten hosted six ranked teams as well. The Big 12 only had four teams that held rankings in 2016, and TCU dropped out early and ended their season at 6-7.

It is clear that the AAC deserves consideration. They’ve been winning games against P5 opponents consistently and have been ranked. USF is already being predicted as an outlier for the New Year’s Six bowls.

If the conference can continue this trend of winning—and there is no indication that they won’t—we are doing them a disservice by continually discounting their achievements and refusing them higher status as a conference.

Image result for aac power 6
The AAC released their plan to become a “POW6R” conference earlier this year. Photo via TheAmerican.org

Is there enough money in the conference? 

In a perfect world, the amount of money the teams could put into the industry wouldn’t have to matter for consideration, and the article would end here. Unfortunately, revenue plays a considerable role in gaining access to the P5 group.

The AAC released a detailed and ambitious plan to become a P6 conference. The five-pillar plan includes several discussions on revenue, marketing, and more.

“Pillar 4” is entitled “Branding, Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations” and Pillar 5 is entitled “Revenue Generation.” Read the plan for a more detailed view on how the conference will attain and maintain the finances and revenue of a P5 team.

In short, they have been making impressive steps in recent years with media partnerships, stadium renovations, and pumping more money into their football teams. They aren’t there yet and they know it.

If they can take the steps outlined in the plan, then the AAC will look much better for consideration to be in the exclusive P5 group.

Two possible outcomes 

The AAC starting to look more and more desperate, trying to sit with the cool P5 kids at lunch. There are two possible outcomes for the conference: gaining admittance to the P5 is the obvious favored choice as it has the teams, the potential, and the drive to do so.

The other outcome is detrimental to the AAC. The better teams in the AAC keep trying to gain admittance to the P5 conferences, and they start biting. The AAC loses its best teams and becomes much like the rest of the Group of Five conferences. It becomes another Mountain West or Sun Belt conference: they have one or two good teams, but won’t ever be that much a part of the national conversation.

So whatever happens, the AAC has to act quickly. They clearly deserve the consideration, and these next few seasons are vital. If the teams can go above and beyond expectations, they may find themselves in a good position for bargaining their place among the big boys.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo deserves second chance

Photo via Orlando Ramirez / USA Today Sports

By now, many people have heard of Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo’s troubles on the field. Last season, Aguayo only made 22 of his 31 field goal attempts, putting him at a 71 percent conversion rate.

Many fans in Tampa Bay took this as enough to write Aguayo off. Many felt as if he had failed them by his consistently poor performances.

[irp posts=”9836″ name=”Why the Buccaneers’ Vegas win totals are wrong”]

Image result for roberto aguayo fsu celebrate
Aguayo is regarded as one of the best kickers in FSU history. Photo via the Associated Press

Aguayo was a standout kicker during his tenure at FSU, making 88 percent of his attempts.

So why the drop-off in performance?

Some just chalked it up to the difference between the NFL and college football. However, back in 2014, Aguayo made this 53-yard field goal against Miami, clearly, distance was not his issue.

Others blame it on nerves, saying that Aguayo just can’t take the heat of the NFL. Because of this, a large percentage of Bucs fans decided it was time for Aguayo to go, and it seemed like the Bucs leadership agreed. As such, they picked up former New York Jets kicker Nick Folk as a potential replacement.

[irp posts=”10451″ name=”DE Noah Spence is key to Bucs’ defense in 2017″]

Image result for nick folk
The Bucs picked up Jets’ kicker Nick Folk as a potential replacement for Aguayo. Photo via Saed Hindash / the Star-Ledger

There is now an intense kicking battle between Folk and Aguayo doing what general manager Jason Licht hoped it would do, kick Aguayo into gear.

A couple of weeks ago, it looked like Aguayo was shaping up in the Bucs’ minicamp. “Roberto is actually getting better,” Licht said via CBS Sports.

The kicker has been making progress in practice and Licht is “excited that he actually has progressed from where he was from last year.”

[irp posts=”10908″ name=”Buccaneers’ RB Doug Martin must be healthy on and off field before NFL return”]

The point is, Bucs fans and the NFL media need to give Aguayo a break. A disappointing rookie season for a kicker isn’t unprecedented.

Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who has made over 80 percent of his field goals over his 17-year career, had a similar rookie season. Janikowski, also out of FSU, made 68.8 percent of his kicks in his rookie season.

If Aguayo doesn’t shape up for next season, then, by all means, the Buccaneers should replace him with a different kicker. But given his previous excellence in college, he needs a chance to settle into the NFL.

Hopefully, Aguayo can continue his improvement and become a consistent kicker so the Bucs can live with themselves after taking him in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft.

Buccaneers’ RB Doug Martin must be healthy on and off field before NFL return

Photo via Getty Images

By now, Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans are well familiar with running back Doug Martin’s difficult journey back to the team. He’s had a rough time since his start in 2012, despite being an outstanding running back.

In both 2012 and 2015, Martin ran for over 1,400 yards. However, in 2013, 2014, and 2016 he ran for under 500 yards.

The difference is stark: when he’s healthy, Martin tears up the field.

[irp posts=”10451″ name=”DE Noah Spence is key to Bucs’ defense in 2017″]

Image result for doug martin running
When healthy, Martin is an outstanding running back and an invaluable asset to the Bucs. Photo via Jamie Squire / Getty Images

Most of last season, Martin was sidelined with a hamstring injury, and he only accumulated 421 yards. This didn’t look great for a running back closing in on his thirties, but he more recently dealt with another setback.

At the end of the 2016 season, Martin was suspended for four games because of drug use. Many speculated that Martin would lose his spot on the team.

Martin then checked himself into rehab, and recently broke his silence and made a statement about his rehab for the first time. 

“It was a journey these past few months,’’ he said. “You know, with the statement and I had to get help. It was a journey of self-development. I learned a lot about myself. I’ve had the support of my family, my friends and teammates all around and I’m happy to be back here.’’

Martin claims that his drug use is completely behind him. Assuming it is, he still has a lot of ground to cover if he hopes to retain his starting position for Tampa Bay.

[irp posts=”9836″ name=”Why the Buccaneers’ Vegas win totals are wrong”]

Martin, now 28, is coming close to the age where running backs seem to drop off in performance. Most running backs lose steam around the 30-mark, and unless Martin proves himself as absolutely indispensable, his days in Tampa Bay might be close to being over.

In order to stay relevant, Martin must prove to the Bucs leadership that he’s an asset that will pay off. With the Bucs on the brink of what could be a playoff season, every player has to carry his load and be at their bests.

As long has he stays healthy, Martin will prove once again he’s one of the best running backs in the NFL.

Predicting the winner of every power 5 college football conference, plus one

Photo via Ty Russell / SoonerSports.com

It’s never too early to think about the winners of the Power Five conferences in College Football. In addition, the American Athletic Conference is turning some heads as a potentially powerful conference for next season. This year will prove to be an exciting year, as several of the potential winners aren’t last year’s champions.

As such, it should prove to be an exciting year, as several of the last season’s winners are not expected to repeat.

Image result for deondre francois
Deondre Francois is set up for a standout season as the head of the Seminoles’ offense. Photo via Wayne McGahee III

ACC: Florida State 

Usually, the ACC is one of the toughest conferences to predict, but it often ends with the Clemson Tigers or Florida State Seminoles representing the Atlantic Division.

This year, however, Clemson will downgrade significantly at the quarterback position. With no clear replacement for quarterback Deshaun Watson, they won’t pose any threat offensive threat to the Seminoles.

Quarterback Deondre Francois has developed significantly since starting on the team, and with the top-rated running back recruit in the nation Cam Akers and a crop of new receivers, the FSU offense will have the strength to take down any ACC team.

[irp posts=”8472″ name=”What needs to happen for Florida State to win national title”]

Image result for jalen hurts
At only 18 years old, Jalen Hurts surprised everyone with his level-headed approach to the QB position. Photo via AP Photo / Brynn Anderson

SEC: Alabama

The Crimson Tide return this year stronger than ever. With an outstanding recruiting class and developing quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Tide have already proved they’re national championship material.

Alabama returns most of its defensive prowess as well, and the only teams in the SEC that even stand a chance against them are LSU, Georgia, and Florida.

[irp posts=”8123″ name=”What needs to happen for the Alabama Crimson Tide to win national title”]

Image result for JT barrett
J.T. Barrett announced that he would return for his senior season, and the Buckeye has something to prove before he goes pro. Photo via Art Foxall / UPI

Big Ten: Ohio State

The Big Ten, maybe the most competitive conference in the country, will end with Ohio State taking the crown narrowly with Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan all close behind.

That being said, the Buckeyes will be one of the best teams in all of college football. They put together one of the best defenses in the country and return Heisman-hopeful quarterback J.T. Barrett.

[irp posts=”9648″ name=”What needs to happen for Ohio State to win national title”]

Image result for sam darnold
Sam Darnold is a prime candidate for the next Heisman Trophy. Photo via Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

PAC-12: USC

USC, a college football playoff favorite, is the heavy favorite in the PAC-12.

Quarterback Sam Darnold is one of the biggest reasons for the team’s success after throwing for 3,086 yards and 31 touchdowns last season while not starting until the team’s fourth game.

In addition to Heisman-contender Darnold, USC has the extremely talented five-star running back Stephen Carr to add a new dimension to the Trojan offense.

USC’s main competition, Washington, will have a tough time catching the Trojans as the Huskies have a much tougher schedule and has to play Colorado, Washington State, Oregon, Stanford, and Utah.

[irp posts=”9144″ name=”What needs to happen for USC to win national title”] 

Image result for bob stoops
Legendary Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops announced his retirement recently, but will this be a barrier for the Sooners going into next season? Photo via USA Today Sports

BIG-12: Oklahoma

Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield will once again have an outstanding season with their new and skilled recruiting class. As such, they’ll take the BIG-12 throne once again.

One thing to cause them worry—and one thing that will probably be a barrier between them and anything beyond the conference title—is the fact that Bob Stoops retired last week.

Oklahoma’s only real threat is offense-heavy Oklahoma State, and at the end of the day, the Sooners should have an easy time getting past their contender in the conference championship game.

Image result for quinton flowers
Quinton Flowers impressed many last season with his dual-threat approach to the quarterback position. Photo via AP Photo

American: University of South Florida 

The AAC has been one of the most exciting conferences to follow for the last few seasons. With breakout teams such as Houston, Navy, and Temple, the AAC is a surprisingly stacked conference.

Temple will lose 16 of its starters and is projected to fall behind in USF’s division, leaving the Bulls an open trip to the conference championship.

Houston, Navy, and Tulsa will all battle for the AAC West title, with no clear favorite.

Quarterback Quinton Flowers has been gaining national attention for the last year or so as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Flowers chalked up 2,812 passing yards and 1,530 rushing yards during his junior season.

Under head coach Charlie Strong, the Bulls will continue to improve. Their roster remains strong from last year and they should find no serious conflict in their schedule besides games against Houston and Tulsa.

DE Noah Spence is key to Bucs’ defense in 2017

Photo via Getty Images

By the numbers, it looks like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offense is set up to be phenomenal this season. All the keys are there, with Jameis Winston holding the fate of the offense in his hands.

But what about the defense?

Tampa Bay’s defense wasn’t remarkable last year, but there’s one impact player who will change the course of the Buccaneers’ defense: defensive end Noah Spence.

[irp posts=”9836″ name=”Why the Buccaneers’ Vegas win totals are wrong”]

If you haven’t heard of him, that’s because he hasn’t spent that much time on the field. Last year was his rookie season, and it was plagued with injury.

In Week 4 he partially tore his labrum and dislocated his shoulder in a game against the Denver Broncos.

Image result for noah spence vs broncos
Spence dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum during a game against the Broncos. Photo via Icon Sportswire

In a show of his dedication to the sport and his team, he popped his shoulder back in before returning to the sideline and trying to get back into the game. This story continued for the rest of the season, as he played the next week, and the next 12 games after the injury.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht said “it’s hard to keep him off the field,” and Spence agrees—“Being away from it makes you want it even more,” he said during OTAs this Spring.

Image result for noah spence dirk koetter
Bucs head coach Dirk Koetter talks with Spence during a mini camp in Tampa. Photo via Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter also had high praise for his young defensive end after OTAs.

“He’s looked really good. I love his attitude, definitely has pass rush ability, love how our defensive coaches are bringing him along, but especially I just like his attitude and the way he’s approaching it every day.”

[irp posts=”10491″ name=”It’s A Different Game: How zone defense changed everything in the NBA”]

Just as impressive as Spence’s dedication are his stats. Playing in a very limited role during his rookie season, Spence recorded 5.5 sacks despite being injured the entire time.

Now that Spence is in full health, many on the team are looking forward to his return to the field.

Veteran defensive end Robert Ayers sees big achievements in Spence’s future. “I think he’s a player who could be a 15-plus sack guy this year,” Ayers said in a press conference in May. “He’s going to tear some stuff up this year and I’m looking forward to it.”

This is a big claim considering the Bucs haven’t had a player with more than 10 sacks in a season since Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice in 2005.

Regardless, when you consider the fact that even in a limited role Spence was able to rack up 5.5 sacks, his future looks good. Fully healthy, he’ll be the key to the Bucs’ defensive prowess this upcoming season.

[irp posts=”10101″ name=”LeBron James’ ‘The Decision’ costing him the 2017 NBA Finals”]