With the College Football season past the halfway point, it is time to rank the Power 5 conferences from best to worst.
No. 1, Big 10
The Big 10 has three teams in the Top 10 and five total in the Top 25. There is no doubt that it will get at least one team in the playoff. If Penn St. and Wisconsin are both undefeated going into the Big 10 championship, then it has a very good chance at getting 2 teams.
The elite coaches set the Big 10 apart from the rest as Meyer and Harbaugh are probably among the top five coaches in the game. Behind them, they have James Franklin who is proving to be capable of building a championship contender now that scholarship restrictions are lifted.
The conference has also established consistent winners in Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Michigan State’s Mike Dantonio.
Finally, the Big Ten has young up and coming coaches in Minnesota’s P.J Fleck and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. With great coaches across the board, the Big Ten has the potential to dominate the college football landscape for the foreseeable future.
No. 2, SEC
After ruling the college football world for the entirety of the 2000s, the SEC has taken a step back.
Alabama is still by far the most dominant program in College Football, yet other traditional powerhouses such as LSU, Florida and Auburn have gone from perennial top 10 programs to very beatable teams typically ranked between 15 and 25. These teams still have unbelievable talent on their defensive lines and receiving cores, however, none of them have been able to find a reliable quarterback. Whether this is on the coaches or simply bad luck is unknown.
Until the majority of the SEC teams get championship caliber playmakers at the quarterback position, it will be difficult for them to re-establish themselves as college football’s unrivaled top conference.
No. 3, Big 12
The Big 12 will always struggle to be a great conference with only 10 teams and no conference championship game.
They have earned the No. 3 ranking because they have three teams with a legitimate chance at making the playoff in TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pending an undefeated finish. The same cannot be said for the ACC or the Pac 12.
The Big 12 has always seemed like the playground of college football, a cute place where everyone throws touchdowns, plays no defense and everyone is happy.
If Tom Herman can turn around Texas, then the Big 12 can return to the feared conference it once was when Michael Crabtree, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy held dominion over the college football’s top five.
Until then, the Big 12 will be limited by being somewhat top heavy and not having the potential resume builder that a conference championship game provides.
No. 4, ACC
The ACC is still a very formidable football conference, but it took a major step back in 2017.
The Atlantic Division, arguably the most feared sub-conference last year, has regressed mightily as Florida State and Louisville have fallen entirely out of the top 25.
Clemson is still a national title contender but, with a first-year starting quarterback, they appear much more beatable than they were last year.
On the Coastal Side, North Carolina went from a top 20 team to perhaps the worst team in the ACC after quarterback Mitch Trubisky left for the NFL.
Heading the Coastal is undefeated Miami and Virginia Tech with one loss. Any team in the ACC is not really a threat in the national championship race.
Although it is a down year for the ACC, it should improve when its teams and quarterbacks gain more experience.
No. 5, Pac 12
Rounding out the Power 5 conferences is the Pac 12, who has had an extremely disappointing year.
Unlike the ACC, the Pac 12 does not have the excuse of having inexperience as USC, Washington and Washington State all returned veteran quarterbacks with legitimate National Championship hopes.
USC’s Sam Darnold, the most exciting player since Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez has been an immense disappointment throwing countless interceptions and suffering an embarrassing defeat against arch-rival Notre Dame.
Washington’s Jake Browning has been uninspiring this year, crushing their National Championship in a humiliating loss to lowly Arizona State in which they only put up a measly 7 points.
Stanford has been the same team they have been since Andrew Luck left, consistent, and might get a cute bid to the Rose Bowl, but they still lack the all-around skill and speed to dominate a season from start to finish.
In order for the Pac 12 to return to the respected conference they once were, they must establish a dominant team capable of consistently competing with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
Until then, the Pac 12 will continue to occasionally submit apathetic teams to the playoff that are not truly taken seriously.
The North Carolina football team travels to Georgia Tech this weekend with a chance to win its first ACC game.
The 1-3 Tar Heels have been plagued by injuries and outscored 54-20 in the fourth quarter this season. It will only get tougher on Saturday against a strong Yellow Jackets team. Here are three things to keep an eye on heading into the matchup in Atlanta.
Head coach Larry Fedora hasn’t been in a tougher position at UNC than he is now.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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.
Spring games are over, recruiting is wrapping up, and it’s time to start seeing how teams will square off against each other next season. Here are the JR Report’s thoughts on how the ACC will shape up, going from best to worst for both ACC divisions.
1. Florida State
The Seminoles ended last season on a high note by finishing 10-3, including an Orange Bowl win, with two of their losses coming by less than 3 points.
Although they lost running back Dalvin Cook to the NFL, FSU isn’t losing any sleep. They will replace Cook with freshmen running back Cam Akers, who is the No. 1 ranked running back in his class.
In his senior year of high school, Akers rushed for 2,105 yards and 34 touchdowns in addition to passing for 3,128 yards and 31 touchdowns.
The Noles are also bringing in the No. 4 ranked freshman running back, Khalan Laborn, and the No. 15 ranked RB Zaquandre White.
As for returning running backs, the Seminoles have junior RB Jacques Patrick, Cook’s former backup.
Most importantly, Florida State has quarterback Deondre Francois coming into his sophomore year after a 3,350-yard freshmen season. He is a dynamic dual-threat and presumably will get better each game he plays.
With a strong veteran defense and a promising recruiting class, the Seminole’s don’t lack anything on the other side of the football. They are no doubt the top of the ACC and a favorite to play in the conference championship.
The biggest question mark for the Tigers is who will replace future Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson.
The Tigers have two main contenders: junior Kelley Bryant and redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper. While Bryant hasn’t seen much of the field, he has completed 13 of his 16 passes and has one touchdown. Cooper passed for 1,132 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior year of high school.
If Clemson can’t find the right QB fit for the team, they won’t stand a chance against Florida State.
That being said, Clemson still has a strong defense that stops both the run and the pass. Clemson has three players who had more than 50 solo tackles in the 2016 season: Van Smith (65), Kendall Joseph (59), and Ben Boulware (58). Smith and Joseph will both return.
In fact, the Tigers might have the best defense in the country next season, although it’s a bit too early to tell.
The Louisville Cardinals have been in and out of national attention for the last couple of years for various upset wins and surprise losses.
They might not be starting next season in the top 10, but they have the potential to climb their way back up.
Louisville is coming back with Heisman-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. If he gets the O-line support he needs to succeed, the Cardinals will be a powerful force. Jackson was sacked a whopping 46 times, including being sacked 11 times in a loss to Houston.
Receiver Dez Fitzpatrick was signed in 2016 and showed promise during the spring game. Jackson needs adequate protection and needs to get the ball into the hands of his receivers if the Cardinals have title aspirations, but, in my opinion, they won’t be able to do enough to win the division this year.
4. NC State
NC State has a great team coming into next season but might struggle because of the stiff competition in the Atlantic division.
The Wolfpack have several players returning from injury that could make a difference on the field this fall and have bolstered their recruiting department to help in future seasons.
Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels seek to replace running back Matt Dayes. Hines had 782 yards at RB last year, while Samuels had 565.
NC State’s defense is one of the top in the country—the NCAA had them at No. 24 in total defense after the 2016 season. The Pack had 37 sacks as a team last year, and their entire D-line will be seniors. The O-line will have four returners, and NC State will return a total of 16 starters from last year.
5. Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons ended their season on a high note with a Military Bowl win against Temple. They went 7-6 on the season and had a close game against the Seminoles.
The Deacons leave a lot to be desired on offense. They need to find someone to carry the ball, as the team averaged only 4 yards per carry last season, while the O-line allowed 39 sacks. Without a doubt, there is a lot of work need to be done.
6. Boston College
The Eagles also ended their season at 7-6, with notable wins against Wake Forest and NC State.
They struggle to throw the football, only completing 46.5% of their passes last season. There also isn’t any apparent heir at quarterback, making it improbable they improve much from 2016.
Many of their receivers are returning, however, so we’ll see if any quarterbacks can take up the mantle and make plays.
Syracuse had a rough year, finishing 4-8. The Orange have a pretty difficult schedule for a team of their caliber—they had games against USF, Notre Dame, Clemson, FSU, and NC State to keep them busy—and they couldn’t pull through last year.
They gave up over 38 points per game and weren’t able to generate much noise on offense either.
They are in a rebuilding process and are unlikely to make any noise next season.
The ACC was unanimously considered the best conference in all of college basketball. Some dare said that this might be the best conference season of all-time.
People were saying the ACC was a shoe-in for ten tournament teams, and it looked like they would be until Syracuse, who probably got gypped, didn’t make the cut. Nine teams made the tournament from the ACC, still an impressive feat for a conference, making it the premier conference this season.
However, the tournament proved otherwise. After just two rounds, the ACC is down to just one contestant, the University of North Carolina.
Not only did the teams lose, they were embarrassed. The average margin of defeat for the ACC was 13.9 points per game. Most of the games were never even a contest. Florida State lost to an 11 seed by 25, Virginia lost to Florida by 26, and Miami lost to Michigan State by 20. The ACC lost almost every game they were in, and when they lost, they lost by a large margin.
Even UNC was minutes away from not advancing to the Sweet 16. They should have been eliminated but got lucky with a 12-0 run and a few good calls from the refs to barely beat out Arkansas.
2. The referees have been horrible
The referees have had an impact in too many games this weekend.
Northwestern’s cinderella story was cut short by the refs. A horrible miscall of goaltending cost NU two points, momentum, and a technical foul leading to more points the opposite way.
With 49 seconds left in the North Carolina Arkansas game, Joel Berry, up by one point, was driving and obviously traveled. The refs didn’t blow their whistles and let Berry throw up an errant shot that was then tipped in by center Kennedy Meeks. The lead extended to three and essentially wrapped up the game.
March Madness is always filled with “teams of destiny”. Teams that lack the talent to be elite, but seem to make an improbable tournament run.
This year, Northwestern, South Carolina and Michigan are making their cases for this year’s team of destiny.
Sadly, Northwestern’s case ended this weekend because of the poor call mentioned above.
However, Michigan and South Carolina are still alive with a ton of momentum and confidence.
South Carolina knocked off no. 2 Duke by scoring 65 points in the second half in an impressive 88-81 win. They are led by underrated coach Frank Martin and have a realistic chance to continue their run of destiny. With the no. 1 seed also knocked out from their region, their road to a Final Four is that much easier.
They take on the no. 3 Baylor on Friday.
Michigan has also continued their improbable run. It all started with an almost plane crash, to winning the Big-10 tournament and now an appearance in the Sweet 16. It is going to get much tougher with no. 3 seed Oregon on Thursday, but with the feeling of destiny attached to this Michigan team, it wouldn’t surprise me if they upset Oregon.
Our team and everyone in our travel party is safe. Update on today's travel accident.
UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is a stud. Ball played 38 minutes, scored 18 points, had 9 assists and 7 rebounds against Cincinnati. He seems to be the closest thing to LeBron James we have seen in a while, minus the once in a generation athleticism.
Lonzo, who is a better shooter than James, has a very similar play style. He isn’t going to will his team to victory by scoring 35 points on 30 shots. Rather, he is going to fill out the stat sheet like he did against Cincinnati. He is a 6-6 point guard, who can also lead his team in rebounds (averages 6.1 per game), can score when he wants (14.7 ppg), but most importantly, sets up his teammates (7.6 assists per game).
No matter where Lonzo goes he wins. He has turned UCLA back into the big-time program they once were with his arrival. As a member of Chino Hills, his high school, he went undefeated with his two younger brothers and won the California Open Division State Championship. He expects to win every time he steps on the court and it is rare that doesn’t happen.
UNC, Kentucky and Butler better watch out. This man is no joke and he is coming for them.
5. Worst first-round of March Madness followed up by best second-round ever
The first two days of March Madness had barely any upsets. The upsets that occurred were upsets based on seeding. If the number next to their name was taken away, no one would be surprised by the results of those so-called “upsets”.
Nevertheless, it has been worth these first two boring days for one of the best weekends in college basketball history.
We saw powerhouses like Duke, Notre Dame, Villanova, Virginia, Louisville and Michigan State go down, while other top-tier programs, UNC, Kentucky, Gonzaga, Baylor and Oregon, hardly survived near-death experiences to advance.
The last two days were amazing to watch with almost every game coming down to the last few minutes with many resulting in major upsets of the most recognizable college basketball programs.
The ACC regular season only has a few weeks left with the end coming on March 4th. However, the excitement is only going to multiply from here on out. The race for the regular season banner is as tight as any year in recent memory because 5 teams (UNC, Duke, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Louisville), with just about two weeks left in the season, have a realistic shot of winning the title.
North Carolina sits in first place at 11-3 in the conference but has 4 teams right on their tail with 10 wins. Duke and Louisville have the best shot to upend the Tar Heels because they each have one game against the Heels. Louisville plays them tonight at 9 pm (ET) and Duke plays them March 4th in Chapel Hill. A Louisville win tomorrow would catapult them into a tie for first place with UNC. A Duke win over UNC on March 4th, if the records hold true, would give Duke the ACC title because they would own the tiebreaker by beating UNC twice.
Louisville would be in the driver seat with a win over UNC tomorrow because they have the easiest schedule down the stretch. After UNC, they will not have any ranked teams remaining on their schedule.
Duke, on the other hand, has the 2nd easiest schedule (out of the 3) because the only other ranked team they face, in addition to North Carolina, is Florida State.
Senior Guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes Celebrating During 88-72 Win Over Duke (Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports)
UNC will have to face Duke and Louisville, who are both top 10 teams, and will have to go on the road to Virginia, who have lost four in a row and were embarrassed last Saturday in Chapel Hill. UNC has no cupcakes left with the one other game being against Pittsburgh, who took them to the wire earlier in the year.
Whoever wins tonight, Louisville or UNC, will become the favorite to win the ACC. However, if UNC wins tomorrow night, it will be far from locked up because they will still need to beat Duke on their home floor in the regular season finale.
The ending to this regular season will be incredible. So many teams have a shot to win and many of those teams have to play each other down the stretch, making almost every one of the remaining ACC games must-watch basketball. Don’t forget, the ACC has been the most competitive conference in all of college basketball, so even if it isn’t one of the six teams ranked in the top 25, a tight game should still be expected. Especially teams like Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Miami and Virginia Tech, who are not ranked, but are a tough out and will probably end up making March Madness anyways (ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projects the ACC to have 10 NCAA Tournament Teams).
I expect UNC to win tomorrow night against Louisville and carry the momentum into the March 4 matchup against Duke, who I expect to also win out going into that game. Therefore, that game will decide the ACC regular season title. I will not pick a winner now but will come out with a preview and a predicted winner the week leading up to the massive showdown.
There is not anything more exciting, maybe in all of basketball, then Duke-UNC playing one game with a title on the line.
Luckily for us college basketball fans, what could easily be a pinnacle (the Duke-UNC showdown), will be nothing more than one moment on the way to a peak. The incredibly competitive and talented ACC teams will have to face off against each other once again in Brooklyn for the ACC tournament.
If the regular season is any indication of how the tournament will play out, then everyone is in for the best four days of college basketball this year, not including March Madness (of course).