The college football season draws inexorably closer, and the hype is mounting for what some are calling the season opener of the century: Alabama Crimson Tide vs Florida State Seminoles.
Most predict that the Crimson Tide will be ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll when it comes out, and most estimates put the Seminoles at either third or fourth. Regardless of their actual rankings starting out the season, nobody can deny that this will be one of the biggest games of the year.
FSU is considered the underdog coming into the contest, but you can’t rule out Jimbo Fisher’s squad and their prowess.Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.
Alabama has to wash the bad taste of their national championship loss to Clemson out of its mouth, while FSU has to prove they have what it takes to be considered for the CFB playoffs. Although the game isn’t the end of the world for the loser, it shows the college football world who the clear powerhouse will be for much of the season. Whoever wins will have one of their hardest-fought victories of the entire season out of the way early.
Here’s some ways that either team can win.
Why Alabama will win
Alabama is a clear favorite to win this one in many people’s minds. The Alabama team is as powerful as ever, and Saban’s incoming recruiting class is one of his best.
The Tide bring in running back Najee Harris, a 6-foot-2, 224 pound powerhouse. They also bring in 5-star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a native Hawaiian who some say might be able to challenge Jalen Hurts for quarterback dominance. Along with these two guys, the Alabama team brings in a whole slew of other talent.
As far as opening games go, Nick Saban has a pretty hard record to beat at Alabama. In fact, he hasn’t lost a single one and is 10-0. Additionally, the Crimson Tide don’t just have history on their side: their defense is the best in the nation every year.
If this is the case, FSU is going to have a hard time getting anything through the Alabama line. Unless the incoming FSU offensive talent is as good as it can be, the Tide defense is going to keep the Seminoles to quite a low score during the game. Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick makes a case for being one of the best in the league at his position, and this game gives him the perfect opportunity to show what he’s got.
In addition, there are still some questions surrounding the FSU offense. The team still isn’t 100 percent clear who they’re fielding at running back, and much of their receiving corps is untrained.
This year there is much to be said about the 2017 Tide offense. Although a lot of it is hype, Jalen Hurts has matured since we saw him last. He has another offseason under his belt and has a great offensive unit to back him up once again. The offense has a lot going for it, but will it be enough in the face of FSU’s surprisingly strong defense?
Why Florida State will win
Last year’s FSU team would have lost to last year’s Alabama team. This year, however, it’s a lot more difficult to make the same argument. Although many do not want to get their hopes up, FSU’s team this year has the chance to bring down Alabama.
The hopes and dreams of the Nole nation ride not on the offense, but on the defense: specifically, on safety Derwin James. He’s being hyped up by virtually every college football commentator, and it’s easy to see why. In his true freshman season back in 2015, James racked up 91 tackles with 4.5 sacks. Last season, he was injured for all but two games.
If he lives up to the hype, he might very well stop Jalen Hurts and his offense in their tracks. Along with the rest of the Seminole defense, James will own the night when they go up against Alabama.
A victory from the Seminoles also comes down to how well quarterback Deondre Francois can deliver. He’s top ten in almost all “Heisman prediction” lists, and is predicted as being one of next year’s best quarterbacks.
Against Alabama, who has put up an iron grid against run plays, effective passing is a must.
The FSU defense is up to the challenge, but is the offense?
The winner is…
Alabama. It’s hard to predict against them, and this time FSU just doesn’t have the steam. It’ll be a close game, but Francois won’t be able to locate his targets often enough. It’s the season opener, his first chance of the season to test his chops, and it’s against the best team in the nation.
In the end, the Crimson Tide can perform just a bit better offensively in spite of FSU’s defense.
Alabama 14 FSU 10
For a more in-depth analysis of the game, check back on the JR Report a couple days before the big game.
Nicholai Babis is a lead contributor for The JR Report. For more news and JR Report updates follow him on twitter @nibabis.
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.
By now, many people have heard of Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo’s troubles on the field. Last season, Aguayo only made 22 of his 31 field goal attempts, putting him at a 71 percent conversion rate.
Many fans in Tampa Bay took this as enough to write Aguayo off. Many felt as if he had failed them by his consistently poor performances.
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Aguayo was a standout kicker during his tenure at FSU, making 88 percent of his attempts.
Others blame it on nerves, saying that Aguayo just can’t take the heat of the NFL. Because of this, a large percentage of Bucs fans decided it was time for Aguayo to go, and it seemed like the Bucs leadership agreed. As such, they picked up former New York Jets kicker Nick Folk as a potential replacement.
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There is now an intense kicking battle between Folk and Aguayo doing what general manager Jason Licht hoped it would do, kick Aguayo into gear.
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like Aguayo was shaping up in the Bucs’ minicamp. “Roberto is actually getting better,” Licht said via CBS Sports.
The kicker has been making progress in practice and Licht is “excited that he actually has progressed from where he was from last year.”
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The point is, Bucs fans and the NFL media need to give Aguayo a break. A disappointing rookie season for a kicker isn’t unprecedented.
Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who has made over 80 percent of his field goals over his 17-year career, had a similar rookie season. Janikowski, also out of FSU, made 68.8 percent of his kicks in his rookie season.
If Aguayo doesn’t shape up for next season, then, by all means, the Buccaneers should replace him with a different kicker. But given his previous excellence in college, he needs a chance to settle into the NFL.
Hopefully, Aguayo can continue his improvement and become a consistent kicker so the Bucs can live with themselves after taking him in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft.
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.
Given the right circumstances, the Crimson Tide will retake their place at the top of the college football world.
Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts showed intelligence and talent last season, giving fans a lot to look forward to as Hurts matures as a player.
Here is why Hurts and the rest of the Tide will be National Champions in 2018.
Top-flight recruiting class
Nick Saban is bringing in one of the most talented recruiting classes in Crimson Tide history.
The biggest story for the Tide is incoming running back Najee Harris. He’s 6-foot-2, 224 pounds and is ranked as the third best RB in the 2017 class.
His story is interesting, having been homeless for a portion of his life and moving from place to place. More on his past can be found here.
Five-star offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood and 5-star offensive linebacker Dylan Moses, as well as four 4-star offensive linemen will start this year at Bama.
Alabama also brings in an impressive young receiving corps, headed by WR Jerry Jeudy, a five-star recruit out of Florida, and three 4-star wide receivers and a 4-star tight end.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a 5-star recruit out of Hawaii, will challenge Hurts at his own game, and there’s nothing wrong with a little competition from the two to decide who is the better quarterback.
Can the Crimson Tide reload on defense?
Bama only allowed 13.7 points per game, the best in the FBS. They also had 11 defensive touchdowns last year, as well as 54 team sacks. They were one of the best defensives of all time last season, proved by this ESPN article.
There’s only one problem, a lot of this talent left for the NFL draft this year.
They’re losing a couple of their best defensive players: Washington Redskins defensive end Jonathon Allen, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Tim Williams, Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson and New York Giants defensive tackle Dalvin Johnson.
Despite the losses, it looks like the Tide will reload on defense. Outside linebackers Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings, and Terrell Hall return to the team and will look to replace the defensive talent from last year.
Da’Shawn Hand, a backup senior defensive end, looks to take over Allen’s spot. He played a supporting role for most of his career to date, but looked productive during his playing time.
Alabama’s weakness: pass defense
It’s hard to find weaknesses with the Alabama team, but Alabama has shown the inability to defend the pass during stretches.
The Tide gave up over 400 yards against both Ole Miss and Arkansas, both teams that shouldn’t have been much of a threat.
Those were the only two games where an opponent got more than 14 points on the board in the regular season, but the slip-ups are telling. Saban knows he has to close the gap quickly if he hopes to get a season-opening win over Florida State.
Can Alabama overcome their tough schedule?
Alabama always has a tough schedule, but this year should prove to be especially challenging. Their season opener is against a very strong FSU team, and momentum is everything for the Tide. FSU is projected to be one of the best teams in the country and anything can happen on opening day.
An opening day slip-up would force Alabama to win out if they want to make it to the playoffs.
Even after the first game, Bama goes up against Tennessee, always tough rival LSU, Auburn, and whoever they play in the SEC title game (most likely either Florida or Georgia).
Why Alabama will win the college football title game
Betting that Alabama will be in the title game is always a safe move. There’s plenty of teams that have the skill to challenge the Crimson Tide this year, but, like always, Alabama finds their way into the title game.
Alabama’s incoming offense is one of the best in the country, and as Hurts matures he’ll find that he has a ton of talent to challenge defenses.
Alabama will continue to have a dominant defense with their new recruits, but that won’t be the reason for them winning a championship this season.
Hurts’ improvement in his second season will make them that much better offensively and push them over the hump to winning another national title.
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.
Florida State safety Derwin James isn’t a name that you hear often in college football; he hasn’t been relevant since 2015.
In the 2015 season, the safety was named to the freshman all-american team by several news outlets after clocking 91 tackles with 9.5 for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 4.5 sacks. He looked to be on the upward trend for Heisman consideration by his sophomore year.
Early last season against Charleston Southern, James tore his meniscus forcing him to miss the last 11 games of the season.
The Florida native is ready to play for the Seminoles this upcoming season and is already considered a Heisman candidate, according to Pro Football Focus.
He would be the first defensive player to win the Heisman since 1997, when Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won it. Woodson went on to play for the Oakland Raiders and the Green Bay Packers, before retiring in 2015.
After being out an extended period of time with the injury, James is excited to get back in the game, per his own twitter page.
I'm Finally back can't wait to get back out there with my brothers again #Spring Ready #NoleNation
James excels in every aspect on defense, making him a strong force for the 2017 season. Florida State is looking to prove that they deserve to be in the national title conversation again, after not having been to the championship since 2013.
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, one of the premier outlets for sports betting odds, released their newest board for the college football title today. Earlier today, ESPN’s David Payne Purdum tweeted out the following odds:
Odds to win college football national title @LVSuperBook: Alabama 7/2 FSU 7/1 Ohio St 7/1 USC 7/1 OU 10/1 Mich 12/1 Louisville 15/1 LSU 15/1