The JR Report’s way too early CFB Playoff predictions

Even though the college football season is just four weeks complete, it is never too early to predict who will be the last four teams standing.

Here are the JR Report’s predictions for the College Football Playoff.

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Photo via Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

1. Alabama

There is no controversy when talking about the No. 1 team in college football, the Alabama Crimson Tide.

The Clemson Tigers are a top-tier program and the defending champions, however, Alabama is just that dominant. Their defense is stout, their offense has playmakers in the backfield and Nick Saban is the greatest college football coach ever.

After slapping Vanderbilt into the earth, Alabama looks like a lock for the one seed once again.

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Photo via Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

2. Clemson

In 2016, former Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, along with a dominant defense, led Clemson to a surprise National Championship victory over Alabama.

Despite Watson’s move to the NFL, the Tigers haven’t taken any steps back.

The lack of a drop-off was apparent when Lamar Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals received a rude awakening in a 42-21 rout.

Current Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant was never expected to replace Watson, but rather just do his best not to be a liability. But the kid can ball and is especially dangerous running the football averaging nearly five yards a carry.

With Florida State crippled under center, Clemson does not have a legitimate threat to the ACC title. Even though the Tigers suffered a scare against Boston College, a betting man should consider the Tigers a playoff lock barring a catastrophe.

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Oklahoma Sooners QB Baker Mayfield (Photo via Getty Images)

3. Oklahoma

Just like Clemson, Oklahoma learned it is better to win ugly than lose pretty. They survived a late-game surge against Baylor to remain perfect on the season.

Baker Mayfield broke the 1,000-yard passing mark and has still not thrown an interception.

The Heisman hopeful leads a powerful Sooners offense which has amassed over 1,000 yards through the air and over 400 on the ground.

Defensively the Sooners are shaky. Baylor, still winless on the season (cough karma cough) torched the Sooners for 461 yards through the air and 41 points.

But still, Big 12 offenses can score with the best of them, so occasionally having a bad defensive night is expected.

Oklahoma State and TCU seem to be the Sooners’ biggest threat but OU still has a clear path to the College Football Playoffs after dominating its out of conference slate.

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Photo via Associated Press

4. Penn State

Iowa is not Baylor or Boston College bad, but still an unranked opponent Penn State was expected to handle. And like Oklahoma and Clemson, the Nittany Lions struggled mightily in an ugly victory.

Penn State has perhaps a Heisman winner on their roster in running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley is averaging an unholy eight yards per carry on 38 attempts. His 211 yards against Iowa furthers his cause to be at the award ceremony in New York.

Trace McSorley has been solid this season with nine touchdowns to only two interceptions.

Moreover, PSU’s defense is elite, pitching two shutouts and still not allowing a team over 20 points.

The Big 10 Championship is probably the hardest to predict this year, but Penn State looks very likely to come out on top of the scrum and earn that coveted playoff spot.


Michael Macon is a contributing writer for The JR Report.

College football quick hits: AP top 25 preseason poll

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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.

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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

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  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.

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

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

What needs to happen for Ohio State to win national title

Photo via Getty Images

With the regular season rapidly approaching and Spring games over, the debate shifts towards next year’s performance.

Ohio State is in everyone’s thoughts as a potential contender for the national title, and here’s what needs to happen for them to achieve it.

Last Season 

The Buckeyes finished out last season with an 11-2 record losing to the Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl.

The 31-0 loss was rather embarrassing, but OSU showed the country that they can still play at a high level.

They had impressive wins over Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma, as well as a narrow loss at Penn State.

OSU history 

Urban Meyer has brought his team to impressive heights. He went undefeated in 2012 and 2013, as well as only losing a single game in the three seasons after.

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The Buckeyes lost 12 players to the NFL Draft, but they didn’t miss a stride in recruiting new talent. Photo via Ohio State’s official athletic website

Meyer combines consistent recruiting with dedicated coaching, and the results are apparent. The Buckeyes went 11-1 last regular season even after losing 12 players to the NFL draft.

The recruiting slate—defense 

The Buckeyes were able to recruit the second best recruiting class in the nation. What this means is that they nabbed five five-star recruits and fourteen four-star recruits.

The Buckeyes lost Marshon Lattimore to the Saints, Malik Hooker to the Colts, Gareon Conley to the Raiders, and Raekwon McMillan to the Dolphins. Hefty losses, but Meyer didn’t lose sleep over finding replacements.

First among the recruits are two cornerbacks—Jeffrey Okudah, No. 1 cornerback in the nation, and Shaun Wade, the second highest ranked corner in the country.

They also recruited Amir Riep, Marcus Williamson, and Kendall Sheffield, all three four-star cornerbacks.

At safety, the Buckeyes grabbed Isaiah Pryor, a four-star safety out of Florida.

The Buckeyes also recruited what might turn into one of the best defensive-lines in the country. Last year, the Buckeyes ranked at sixth in total defense in the FBS, but in 2017 we will see this number go up because of the incoming class.

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Baron Browning is the top-ranked OLB, and he’ll be a great addition to the Buckeyes D-line. Photo via Scout.com

First is outside linebacker Baron Browning out of Texas, ranked first at his position. Weak defensive end Chase Young, the second ranked player at his position,.

Complimenting them on the line are four-star defensive tackles Haskell Garrett and Jerron Cage.

With this defensive class alone, OSU would be rated higher than most teams for recruiting, and I’m looking forward to seeing one of the absolute best defenses in the nation performing this season.

Does Barrett have what it takes? 

In early January, we found out that J.T. Barrett would be returning to the Buckeyes through his Instagram, shown below:

“I’m Coming back for my senior year,” Barrett said. “Much love to Buckeye Nation and thank God for the blessings.”

There’s no question that Barrett is a great quarterback, but does he have what it takes to bring home the title?

Last season, Barrett threw for 2,555 yards on 233 completions, with 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He also chalked up 845 rushing yards with nine rushing touchdowns—not a small feat, and a powerful statement for the dual-threat quarterback going into next season.

That being said, Barrett struggled with accuracy, completing only 61.5 percent of his passes.

His inconsistency showed through during games against Michigan State, Michigan and Clemson where he only threw for 86, 124 and 124 yards respectively.

Will his struggles prevent the Buckeyes from reaching a national championship once again?

I don’t think so.

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Curtis Samuel signed a $6.4 million contract with the Carolina Panthers. Photo via twitter.com/panthers

While the Buckeyes lose receivers Curtis Samuel, Dontre Wilson, and Noah Brown to the NFL, the upcoming recruiting class holds promise.

None of the three players boast many yards (none more than 500 yards) receiving, and looking at Meyer’s upcoming class, I feel confident that Barrett will have capable targets this season.

Wide Receivers and a new coach 

 First of all, the Buckeyes return three of their freshmen as receivers—Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and K.J. Hill. None of them got many playing time, even as the receiver corps consistently underachieved.

Now, they have a chance to prove themselves on the field. The Big Ten Network ranks OSU’s receiving corps as the third best in the conference behind Penn State and Indiana, and this is without taking the new recruits into account.

Two impact players to watch are four-star wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Jaylen Harris. Grimes is ranked the fifth-best receiver in the nation, while Harris is ranked No. 30. Not bad for an incoming class.

And now for the wildcard, or maybe secret weapon is a more apt name: Johnnie Dixon.

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Johnnie Dixon has had almost no playing time since 2014, but this is about to change now that he’s finally healthy. Photo via Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Dixon —the fifth-ranked wide receiver in the nation in 2014—only caught six passes in the 2016 season because of injury. He has only participated in 14 total games across his three years at OSU.

Now, he’s back and looking extremely promising. As an eligible junior, he was finally able to play in spring games, where he had six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

Dixon didn’t expect to be able to return to the team, but right after his spring game he posted on Instagram about his prospects:

Dixon might prove to be the strongest receiver for Ohio State, and I’m predicting a breakout season from him.

And there’s some icing on the cake: Kevin Wilson, the new offensive coordinator and tight ends coach for the Buckeyes, is one of the best OCs in the game, and he’s ready to test his skills in Columbus.

Wilson has a history of success for offenses. He led the Oklahoma Sooners to a historic 11-2 season and Fiesta Bowl berth. As the head coach at Indiana he brought the program from a 1-11 record to a 6-6 record by the end of his tenure five years later.

Urban Meyer knows how good he is for offenses, and he might be just what the Buckeyes need to win the national title.

Why Ohio State will win the national title game 

Ohio State is one of the favorites for the national title this year, along with Alabama. Clemson no longer has the ability to embarrass OSU, and the Buckeyes are by far the better team.

I don’t see many FBS teams with the ability to beat OSU. They’ll face a challenge against Penn State, Oklahoma, and Michigan, but I think they’ll overcome those obstacles.

Add in the absolutely outstanding defensive recruiting class, and you have an all-around amazing team. Greg Schiano, now the sole defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, led a great defensive program last year after being head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If Barrett comes into his own—which he will, considering the strength of his incoming receiving corps—and works well with Kevin Wilson, the Buckeyes have a great chance of winning the title.

What needs to happen for USC to win national title

Photo via Getty Images

Led by Sam Darnold, quarterback and Heisman contender, USC is one of the favorites to win the college football title. Here’s what needs to happen for the Trojans to take home the title this upcoming season.

Last Season

It seemed like USC was going to have one of the worst seasons in the program’s history this past season. They lost 52-6 to Alabama in their season opener, and won only one of their first four games (Utah State).

The Trojans bounced back, though, and didn’t lose a single game the rest of the season, finishing at 10-3.

Biggest obstacle: Schedule strength

If they’re going to contend for a title, USC could definitely have issues with their schedule strength–it’s just not hard enough. Being in the Pac-12 was useful last year as they were only challenged in a few of their games, allowing them to climb in the standings despite a rough start.

The Trojans have to stay on top of their game the whole season and beat (most likely) Washington in order to contend for the title.

Quarterback excellence, with a little help

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Darnold has shown his stoicism and confidence throughout his tenure at USC, and fans know he’ll only get better. Photo via Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images

USC is looking to dominate on offense next season. It starts with Darnold, who totaled 3086 yards on 246 completions, and threw for 31 touchdowns with only nine interceptions last season.

Here’s a video from SB Nation on Twitter showcasing one of Darnold’s many impressive passes.

Considering he didn’t start until the team’s fourth game and threw for over 3,000 yards, USC’s offense looks rock solid. Darnold also threw for 453 yards in the Rose Bowl. Barring any abnormalities, he will continue to play well.

An outstanding O-line did play a huge role in his success last season, though, and the Trojans lost three of their best linemen to the draft. Zach Banner went to the Colts, Damien Mama to the Chiefs, and Chad Wheeler to the Giants.

One of USC’s top priorities is to replace these guys. So far, it looks like they’re doing a good job of it. The Trojans have four O-line players poised to take over: four-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson, four-star offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, and four-star center Brett Neilon.

If this new class can pick up where Banner, Mama, and Wheeler left off, Darnold will have all the help he needs. Also, if Darnold does slip up for some reason, four-star recruit Jack Sears will be right behind him.

Ground game

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Jones’s run game will be an integral part of the Trojans offense next season. Photo via AP Photo / Gus Ruelas

The Trojans are returning an outstanding group of backs, and there’s some new talent coming in, too.

Rising junior running back Ronald Jones II was the team’s best option last year, running for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns. He hopes to retain the starter position this year in face of incoming five-star running back Stephen Carr.

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Carr could challenge Jones as the team’s top RB. Photo via Scout.com

A California native, Carr is the third ranked RB recruit in the nation. The two will make an imposing duo. Dominic Davis and Aca’Cedric Ware, who supplemented Jones well last year, are returning, too.

Outstanding recruiting class

Excluding the run game and the O-line, USC has an all around good recruit class.

The Trojans defense is shaping up to be much better than last year’s, which was ranked No. 36 in total defense.

This season, they recruited five four-star players to strength their defense, including DTs Marlon Tuipulotu and Jay Tufele.

The other big recruiting story besides Carr is five-star receiver Joseph Lewis IV. Lewis indicated his desire to play at USC in January on Twitter. If he clicks with Darnold, the Trojans will have some formidable offensive firepower.

Why USC will win the national title game

Many are projecting USC as an outside candidate for the playoffs this year, and their reasons are sound. USC’s schedule isn’t nearly as hard as some of the other contenders.

If the Trojans can dominate their conference, though, they should maintain a strong position in the rankings. If they beat Stanford, Texas, Notre Dame, and Colorado, they’ll be hard to ignore.

Darnold is a top contender for the Heisman. Supplemented by some amazing running and receiving talent, he should be unstoppable.
While the Trojans aren’t my top choice for the title, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it. They will definitely make the playoffs over Washington this year.

What needs to happen for Florida State to win national title

Photo via Associated Press

FSU ended last season ranked eighth in the AP poll, but they’re one of the top contenders for the college football title next season. Under the right circumstances, this year’s FSU team is a recipe for success.

Last Time Out 

Overall, the Seminoles had a successful 2016 campaign, but there were some bumps in the road, with surprise losses to UNC and Louisville. The ‘Noles bounced back and only suffered one more loss against powerhouse Clemson, and then edged Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

Throughout the season FSU had powerful players on both sides of the ball, but the big story is whether they’ll be able to replace RB Dalvin Cook, who just got drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.

Ground Game

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Top ranked running back recruit Cam Akers impressed all at the FSU spring game. Photo via AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst

It looks like the Noles have an answer to the Dalvin Cook question in freshman running back Cam Akers, who was ranked the No. 1 RB in his class by 247 Sports.

To supplement Akers, FSU is also bringing in the No. 4 ranked running back Khalan Laborn and the No. 15 ranked RB Zaquandre White. Laborn is a five-star recruit out of Virginia, and is ranked No. 1 among all-purpose backs.

With this stacked RB recruiting class, it seems the Seminoles have solved the problem of Cook’s departure for the long term. If Akers, Laborn, and White perform as well as they’re ranked, FSU won’t lose any sleep over running concerns.

Passing Prowess

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Deondre Francois threw for over 3,000 yards in his debut season for the Seminoles. Photo via Wayne McGahee III

Any doubt that people had about Deondre Francois’s passing game is all but gone.

In his first season as FSU’s quarterback, he threw 235 completions for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Francois has been working consistently to become a better team leader, and he thinks he’s doing well. “I feel like I’ve gotten better this spring,” he told ESPN in an interview. “I will never be pleased with myself internally, but as a team and as an offense, I am very pleased with how we’ve been doing.”

One thing that Francois did struggle with was protection – he was sacked 37 times last season, and if changes aren’t made to the O-line the ‘Noles have a problem.

O-Line Issues

The main culprit for all these sacks is the rest of the offense. Francois was also tackled for a loss 86 times and was hurried 28 times, terrible numbers for a top-10 team.

The bottom line is, if Francois doesn’t receive better protection, he’s going to continue to get sacked, which will impair FSU’s ability to reach the title game.

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Offensive tackle Roderick Johnson leaves a gaping hole in the O-Line for the Noles. Photo via Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

All-American offensive tackle, Roderick Johnson, recently left for the draft, leaving yet another hole in the Seminole O-Line. For a line already plagued by injury, losing a player like Johnson is a recipe for mediocrity. If FSU is going to have a strong offensive line, their young players are going to have to step up.

Josh Ball, a 6’8″ 287 pound offensive tackle out of Virginia, might help the Noles answer some questions. He redshirted last season and comes into this season as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Jauan Williams, a four-star offensive tackle, and Baveon Johnson, a four-star center, also hope to supplement the struggling line.

Sense a trend here? It looks like FSU had a lot of talent in reserve last season. If this group of promising players pans out, FSU looks good for the post-season.

Top-Notch Recruiting, as Usual

Ranked as the sixth-best recruiting class in the nation, the Noles have an impressive group of young talent coming in on both sides of the ball. Besides the obvious with Akers at running back, the Seminoles have some quality offensive players for the upcoming season.

FSU’s receiving corps added eighth-ranked wide receiver D.J. Matthews. He’s joined by wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, and tight ends Tre’ McKitty and Alexander Marshall.

It seems like FSU put more focus on the defense this year, though. Defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, a five-star recruit out of Florida, is the third-ranked WDE in the country and ranked ninth in the nation overall.  He’s joined by four-star cornerback Stanford Samuels and four-star safeties Cyrus Fagan and Hamsah Nasirildeen.

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Five-star defensive tackle provides a backbone to the growing FSU defense. Photo via Miller Safrit/ESPN

The Seminoles also recruited five-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, who is the No. 1 ranked defensive tackle in the nation.

Add four-star defensive tackle Ja’len Parks, and FSU looks strong on defense for the upcoming season.

Why Florida State will win the college football title game

FSU has played well consistently since 2012, and last season was no exception. This year they come back with a more mature quarterback and a stellar ground game, as well as a defense that’ll be tough to beat.

The most important thing for the Seminoles to focus on right now is their opening game against Alabama. It could prove to be their toughest game of the year, and the Crimson Tide won’t hold back.

It will be interesting to see the Hurts-Francois matchup, since so many people have compared them this offseason. FSU will also be going up against one of the best offenses and defenses in the nation.

Even with an opening day loss, the ‘Noles won’t completely lose their spot. It would be an important win for Francois’s confidence and their ranking, though.

The new receivers will have to learn how to work with Francois as he develops, and his offensive line will need to make sure he has time to get rid of the ball.

If those two things happen, the Seminoles will be a hard team to beat, and will most likely make the title game.

College football playoff will now have big-name halftime show

Photo via Getty Images

In a move to depart from the typical marching-band style halftime show, the College Football playoff has decided to have a more commercial show, much like the Super Bowl.

The new halftime show will debut in 2018, according to the Associated Press. The concert will be at Centennial Olympic park, right down the street from Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz stadium, where the game will be held.

Expect a big name to headline this show.

ESPN and the CFB Playoff crew has an interactive experience with screens showing the game in tandem to the concert for those who need a break from the stands.

They are obviously hoping to recreate the NFL halftime show, and they definitely have the budget to do it.