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

Photo via The Associated Press

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

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

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Flowers led the Bulls to their first 10+ win season in program history. Photo via Andy Jones/TBO Staff

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

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

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

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

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New head coach Charlie Strong has raised hopes of a record season in Tampa. Photo via USF Athletics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Getty Images

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

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

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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.

Charlie Strong needs to gain control of USF Bulls

Photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports

Taking over a new football program is always difficult. University of South Florida coach Charlie Strong could easily attest.

There have been two instances of violent felonies caused by USF football players in the last few months.

The first incident came when defensive back Hassan Childs was dismissed from the school after a road-rage incident in late March. He was shot after he pointed a gun at a car.

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DB Hassan Childs was shot while pointing a gun at a car driving in front of him. Photo via Nick Lisi/AP

Childs was charged with three counts of aggravated assault and one charge of marijuana possession.

The latest scandal involved defensive end LaDarrius Jackson, who has two rape charges pending against him.

Last week, Jackson was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a female student in her dormitory. He was suspended from team activities pending an investigation.

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Jackson’s mug shot after his second rape case of the month. Photo via Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office/AP

On May 10th, Jackson was arrested on the same charges of sexual battery and false imprisonment for a different incident that allegedly took place on March 27.

Judge Margaret Taylor, who is presiding over Jackson’s case, removed herself from the case after making comments to Strong about his management of the team.

“Coach Strong, if you are listening, in the last couple of months there have been two arrests of your players for very violent felonies,” Judge Taylor told the court. “This court, and I’m sure I’m not alone, questions whether you have control over your players… It’s fairly clear you do not have control of them off the field, and I guess only time will tell whether you have control over them on the field.”

Although Strong defended himself by praising the majority of the USF program, it is clear that there is a problem with how the team is being managed.

Judge Taylor, a USF graduate, said that she “was never ashamed of being an alum until now.”

While USF should have a good football team next season, these crimes cast a shadow on Strong’s program and will be a tough distraction to shake.

Although he did not sign either of the players, he became responsible for them the second he walked onto campus.

If he cannot control his players, Strong will not be the head coach for very long.

Taggart looks to turn around Ducks program

Photo via Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard

Despite the Oregon Ducks being a dominating force for a good number of years, only missing out on one bowl game since 1997, they have not been good at football recently.

Rather, their basketball team is the talk of the town.

Ducks’ football went 4-8 this season with a conference record of 2-7, a stark contrast to the program’s history.

Going into the 2016 season, the hope was high that Oregon would be more than just competitive. They won their first two games and were ranked no. 22 by Week 3 and it seemed former Ducks coach Mark Helfrich had proved he could further the program’s domination.

However, that was far from the truth.

The Ducks’ defense could not stop anyone. For example, the Washington Huskies mopped the floor with them in a 70-21 win, and the Stanford Cardinal defeated them 52-27.

A surprise win over no. 11 Utah looked promising, but they never recovered from a slew of injuries that started the year.

The lack of success has cost Oregon seven committed players and Helfrich’s job.

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former Ducks coach Mark Helfrich (Photo via 247 sports)

What should we expect of the Ducks going forward? 

The Ducks will rebound with the hiring of former South Florida coach Willie Taggart, who has a record of turning programs around.

Taggart revitalized the USF program turning them into a 10-win football team.

At his previous job, he was able to turn a two-win Western Kentucky team into a bowl eligible team in just one season.

Clearly, Taggart has mastered the art of rebuilding. He has also surrounded himself with capable assistant coaches and coordinators that will make the transition for the program much easier.

One promising hire is former defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt from Colorado.

Leavitt has already had to rehabilitate another program, the Colorado Buffaloes. When he first arrived, Colorado had the no. 109 ranked defense. After last season, they were ranked as the no. 12 defense, per Football Outsiders. 

He switched the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4, allowing the players more independence and flexibility. The defense included all sorts of tricks, and surprising blitz packages, but now teams should know what is coming.

It will be much more difficult now, but if anyone can do it, it is him.

This might prove to be the most important decision Taggart has made for the program. The Ducks desperately need veteran leadership to lead a new and improved defense.

Image result for scott pagano oregon
Photo via Steve Mitchell / USA Today Sports

Ducks recruiting

The Ducks have had some luck with recruiting in the past couple months, and although the results won’t show immediately, the future is bright.

Most impressively, Oregon landed former Clemson graduate defensive linemen Scott Pagano. He’s a 6-foot-4, 295-pound giant out of Clemson. Despite limited time on the field, he should be a powerful force for the Ducks’ D.

He had 93 tackles, eight for a loss, and 2.5 sacks in his 705 career snaps. In Oregon he’ll serve as a defensive anchor and will be a headache for opponents who rely on the run.

In the 2016 season, the Ducks only had one player to have more than 10 tackles for loss (Troy Dye), and they’re in sore need of more depth. Dye also had the most sacks with 5.5.

Also, the team was only able to force three fumbles all season.

The Ducks also snagged four-star cornerback Thomas Graham. Graham is ranked no. 6 in the nation at his position and no. 49 overall, according to the ESPN 300 rankings. He will provide help in the secondary, which Oregon desperately needs.

As a senior, Graham chalked up two interceptions (returned one for a touchdown), made 45 tackles, and had seven pass break-ups. The Under Armor All-American athlete also caught six touchdowns on 39 receptions for 490 yards in his last year.

As a team, the Ducks only had 10 interceptions during the entire 2016 season.

Three-star recruit Jordon Scott many also bolster the Ducks’ defensive. He is a 345-pound defensive tackle from Florida. Scott was ranked 51st in the nation at his position, per ESPN. During his senior season, he recorded 40 tackles with nine for loss and three sacks.

Oregon is looking for players with size, good instincts, and ability to put pressure on the quarterback. It seems Taggart may have found a few to help improve his new Oregon defense.

Four-star cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Jaylon Redd will make good compliments to the rest of the defense heavy recruiting class.

Lenoir had previously decommitted from Oregon, but Taggart was able to woo him back upon being hired. The 191-pound cornerback had 52 tackles and one interception in his 2016 season earning a no. 15 ranking at his position by ESPN.

However, Rivals has him ranked as the number one cornerback.

Jaylon Redd, who can also play wide receiver, adds a whole new element to an increasingly dynamic Ducks team. Rivals rates him as the no. 8 at his position (classifying him as an ‘athlete’).

These new hires and recruits should be enough to alter Oregon’s crash course to the bottom. However, it remains to be seen how Taggart will handle the pressure of being the man at Oregon.


 

A version of this article was posted to the JR report in December, entitled “What’s Wrong with the Oregon Ducks?” It was posted right before the 2016 bowl season, in which Oregon was painfully absent. Now, it is updated with additional information and thoughts.

December 29 Bowl Game Previews

Picture via Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Today we see Oklahoma State square up against Colorado in the Alamo bowl.  We also will see USF vs. South Carolina in the Birmingham bowl which has implications for the next season. I’ll be focusing on these two games, but will briefly discuss the Virginia Tech vs Arkansas Belk bowl at the end.

Birmingham Bowl — USF vs South Carolina 

2PM EST

Birmingham, Alabama 

ESPN

Winner: USF

USF has proven itself to be a quality team this year, and it has high hopes for the following years. If the Bulls win this one, they’ll most likely be ranked going into the next year. Taggart’s team went 10-2 and won many impressive games.

USC (South Carolina) will look to dominate possession to keep the USF offense off the field, as it may be the only way to stop them.  However, USC has had a decorated bowl past, making this game far from a sure win for USF.

Ultimately, I see the Bulls pulling out a win here. They’re fresh and young, and Taggart will want to go out with a bang before going over to Oregon.

Alamo Bowl — Colorado vs Oklahoma State

9PM EST 

San Antonio, Texas

ESPN 

Winner: Colorado 

Mike MacIntyre has instilled a confidence in his team leading to a great season and momentum into this bowl game. Oklahoma State will have a hard time making plays against an amazing Colorado defense, so OSU will need an innovative gameplan to overcome the Colorado defense.

One way that OSU might try to do this is through RB Justice Hill. He’s a great freshman RB with over 1,000 yards on the season, and he might be able to push his way through Colorado’s D-line.

It’s not hard to forget the Cowboys’ loss to Central Michigan, but you can’t discount them as a powerhouse team. They’re well-ranked and run a balanced team, and it’ll be hard for the Buffaloes to figure them out.

However, I think the Buffaloes will come out on top. They have something to prove as a team that doesn’t often get the national spotlight, and this game has the potential to send them into the top 10 next season.

Belk Bowl — Virginia Tech vs Arkansas 

5:30PM EST 

Charlotte, North Carolina 

ESPN

Winner: Virginia Tech 

Even though Arkansas has a disappointing record, this will be a close game because they are in a super hard conference and their record doesn’t truly reflect their talent. The Hogs have a strong offense, but they might not be up to the challenge tonight.

Virginia Tech has had a solid season. They played well against Clemson, and their strong defense will control the game and lead them to a victory.

What’s Wrong with Oregon?

Photo via Adam Eberhardt/Emerald

With bowl season just beginning and America’s tv’s tuned in to the great games this season, one team is very noticeably missing from the lineup: the Oregon Ducks.

This season definitely came as a surprise to most—yes, the Ducks lost famed QB Marcus Mariota in 2014, but then again, the Seminoles lost Jameis Winston and only missed a couple strides before finding their heads again. The Oregon Ducks have been a dominating force for a good number of years, and have only missed out on a bowl game once since 1997 in 2003.

The ducks went 4-8 this season with a conference record of 2-7, which starkly contrasts their storied 2014 season, which led them to the College Football Finals against Ohio State after a resounding win against the Seminoles in the semis. They dominated their conference, and made a statement that they were as strong as ever.

The Ducks didn’t have such a strong showing in 2015, but they definitely still made their mark; they went into the Alamo Bowl against a #11 TCU with nine wins under their belt and barely lost to the Horned Frogs. Even without Mariota and many of their defensive players, they managed to keep up the wins.

Going into the 2016 season, hope was high that the Ducks would continue being a cohesive and competitive program. They won their first two games and were ranked #22 by week 3—it seemed like the Ducks didn’t even need Mariota, and it seemed as if Mark Helfrich had proved he could further the program’s domination.

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AP Photo/Steve Dykes

So what the hell happened to the Ducks? 

It all started going downhill from there. It seemed as if they did indeed miss Mariota—they had become too comfortable with having him, and never quite found a suitable replacement. They started four separate quarterbacks since that 2014 season, and none found his stride in the hefty schedule that Oregon has set for itself.

More importantly, the Ducks defense suddenly lost all capability of holding their opponents’ offenses back. Looking at some of the blowout losses that Oregon was dealt, it’s easy to see this. Washington mopped the floor with them in a 70-21 win, and other PAC-12 opponent Stanford defeated them 52-27.

Oregon also sustained a slough of injuries throughout the year, and while they showed a hint of turning it all around in a surprise win against a #11 Utah program, they never recovered from their early losses and ended in a seriously disappointing season. Because of this season Oregon lost seven committed players, and Helfrich was unceremoniously fired despite his many earlier achievements.

What should we expect of the Ducks going forward? 

The Ducks may have been given a great opportunity to redeem themselves in the next several years with the hiring of USF coach Willie Taggart. Taggart is a talented coach with a record of turning programs around, if not a program as old and complex as UO.

Taggart turned a lagging USF program around, and while recruiting a strong backbone for the team also led them to a 10-2 season. For a more in-depth analysis, read my article ‘Don’t Overlook the USF Bulls.’ At his previous job, he was able to turn a 2-10 Western Kentucky team into a bowl eligible 7-5 team in just one year.

Clearly, Taggart has practice in this. He has also begun surrounding himself with capable assistant coaches and coordinators that will make the transition for the program much easier. With his recruiting he will make up for the damage that Helfrich caused, and with his hiring he will prove that he’s willing to collaborate and get his hands dirty to lift this program out of the muck. He is hungry for a win, and is fully confident in his abilities to get Oregon to where it needs to be in the next couple years.

One hopefully promising hire is Jim Leavitt from Colorado—Leavitt worked for a successful Colorado program as the defensive coordinator (and, it is important to note, he also worked at USF). This might prove to the the most important decision Taggart has made for the program yet, because the Ducks desperately need veteran leadership to head a new and improved defense.

Will these new hires be enough to alter Oregon’s crash course to the bottom? Perhaps, but it remains to be seen how Taggart will handle the pressure of such a weighty position in a power conference. Only time will tell if the Ducks will reclaim their spot at the top of football after such a resoundingly disappointing season.

Don’t Overlook the USF Bulls

Photo via gousfbulls.com

It can’t be denied that Florida is a powerhouse for College football. Programs like FSU, UF, and Miami are historically strong, and are the first teams that come to mind when one thinks of Florida football. In the last 16 years each team has posted at least one top-10 team, more than most states can say.

The result of this thinking is that other teams like FAU, USF, and FIU (and the myriad of other teams in Florida with less successful programs) are often overlooked. As a longtime resident of Tampa, I was always exposed to Bulls football, but the truth is that USF is a frequently overlooked program.

One only needs to look at the most recent season to realize that it’s time to start thinking about adding a fourth name to the list of impactful programs out of the Sunshine State. USF’s only losses this year came from a strong FSU team and Temple, which ended out the season at 10-3 with a strong win against Navy.

USF finished this season with a 10-2 record, which is the best record they’ve ever had ending out a season. They had wins over strong programs such as Syracuse, Cincinnati, Navy, and South Carolina. The Bulls were 7-1 in-conference, the same record as the leader of the AAC West, Navy, and Temple, the leader of the AAC East.

The Bulls aren’t scheduled for a particularly glamorous Bowl game—the Birmingham Bowl against a 6-7 Gamecocks—but they have edged themselves into the AP poll at #25 and show no signs of slowing down before taking them on.

At first, it seems as if the Bulls losing their head coach would be a blow to the program. Willie Taggart is moving on to bigger and better things by going over to a struggling but historically powerful Oregon program, but it seems as if the Bulls have found an even stronger replacement that will continue their upward momentum.

Charlie Strong is a well-known name in football. He had a hand in UF’s extremely strong recruitment class back in the day, and before being the head coach at Texas he was the head coach for a strong Louisville program. He has had a deep connection to recruitment in the state of Florida for years, and now as the head of a USF program at the heart of the Sunshine State he will truly be able to test his prowess.

Tampa is the perfect place for Strong to save face in the wake of his overall 16-21 record at Texas. He was fired earlier this year after a disappointing three seasons, despite bringing the Longhorns into the rankings several times—many think that he wasted a very powerful recruiting class and did not deliver on his potential.

The first argument I can think of against the growing strength of the Bulls is them being held back by the relative weakness of the AAC, but recently this has proven to not be the case. The AAC has become a training ground for many powerful coaches, teams and players, and the programs within the conference are starting to become formidable opponents.

Both Temple and USF are ranked in the AP poll currently (at #23 and #25), and Navy was ranked as high as #20 earlier in the season. Houston started the season at #6 after a record season and an upset against the Seminoles in the Peach Bowl. The conference is growing, and soon it’ll be hard to ignore. The American is becoming a powerful arena for young teams and coaches to test their strength, and I don’t think it’ll slow down in becoming a relevant conference in the coming years.

The Bulls are such a new team, but their potential is impressive and they now have a coach who is a veteran recruiter. Most years, FSU and UF snatch up the best new talent and dominate the recruitment classes; this year and in the next few years, however, perhaps USF will surprise many with its performance.