The College Football Teams to Watch Out for in 2017

As Labor Day weekend approaches, sports fans get to enjoy a vast array of events to wet our pallet. The U.S. Open kicks off this week; major league baseball enters the final month of the regular season; and football is so close we can touch it. While we have to wait until after Labor Day for the start of the NFL season, college football’s opening weekend will almost be complete when we fire up the grill on Monday.

And while January bowl games seem forever away, it’s never too early to start thinking about who might be standing at the end. Here’s a look at each of the Power Five’s top contenders for this year’s College Football Playoff and predictions for the National Semifinals and Championship:

ACC

Florida State

It’s not hard to recruit in Florida, and it’s really not tough if you’ve got the resume that Jimbo Fisher has built. FSU is chalk full of talent — Deondre Francois at quarterback while preseason All-Americans Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James lead the defense in Tallahassee. Add five-star freshman running back Cam Akers and it’s hard to find holes in this team. A brutal schedule, including games against Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Miami, and Louisville, may be tough to overcome, but the talent is there to do it. If they pass these tests, no team will be more proven when January rolls around.

Miami

If Malik Rosier proves to be top quarterback in the conference, then we might be talking about the Hurricanes in December, having a shot at cracking the top 4. The defense is, without question, very good, and running back Mark Walton has All-ACC written all over him. A great ground game with that defense makes Miami very formidable. Again, a lot rests on the arm and decision-making of Rosier.

Clemson

You never want to count out a champion, and the Tigers are just that. Even so, the 2017 edition of Clemson football will look a lot different than years past. And it starts with not having DeShaun Watson.

 

Big Ten

Ohio State

There’s little doubt that the Buckeyes are (and should be) the favorites to win another Big Ten title and advance on to the playoff. They return a slew of starters on defense as well as J.T. Barrett at QB. The game at the Big House in Ann Arbor in November could punch OSU’s ticket to Indy, and ultimately, to National Semifinals.

Wisconsin

Two keys to keep in mind with the Badgers in 2017: (1) they lost 3 one-score games last year and (2) they are the beneficiaries of a very favorable schedule this year. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is back with a stout offensive line, and the defense is well-built and returns a host of veterans, who are hungry to avenge last year’s conference championship game loss to Penn State.

Michigan

A lot of questions exist about Michigan: is Wilton Speight the guy at quarterback, can they replace all the seniors who left, can the defense return to it’s same dominating form in 2016, who will make the plays on offense? Jim Harbaugh gets paid the big money to answer those questions. But is it realistic to think the Maize and Blue are legit conference contenders right now or is 2018 their year?

Penn State

No team was hotter than PSU at the end of 2016. Everyone expects the Nittany Lions to pick up where they left off. Expectations are a funny thing, though.

 

Big 12

Oklahoma

The Sooners will enter the 2017 season without legendary head coach Bob Stoops. As strange as it will be to not see Stoops on the sidelines for OU, new head man Lincoln Riley takes over a team capable of winning immediately. The return of quarterback Baker Mayfield and his trusted offensive line might give the Sooners the edge over rival Oklahoma State for conference supremacy. But the addition of a Big-12 title game this year adds to the intrigue.

Oklahoma State

To win in the Big 12, a team needs offense — and the more, the better. Arguably, no team has more explosiveness on that side of the ball than the Cowboys. The three-headed monster of future NFL quarterback Mason Rudolph, stud wideout James Washington, and running back Justice Hill should be entertaining for fans of OSU and frightening for opposing defenses. If all goes according to plan, the Cowboys Battle in Bedlam with rival OU and then the conference title game should tell the tale of which Big 12 team has bragging rights and, more importantly, the best case for a playoff berth.

 

Pac-12

USC

Before we proclaim that Southern California is back to stake claim to the top spot in college football, let’s remember that this team got drubbed by Alabama in last season’s opener and, although they cruised most of the rest of the way, they never really looked like a playoff team. Sam Darnold is the talk of the town in SoCal and will make an NFL team very happy next May — as well as USC fans this fall; but the Trojans still have some work to do with their offensive line, if they want in the playoff conversation this year.

Washington

Chris Petersen’s team is back to prove their 2016 National Semifinal berth was not a flash in the pan. The Huskies bring back one of the nation’s best passers in Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin might be the best that the conference has to offer at the position. Don’t be at all surprised to see UW in the Pac-12 title game with another shot to make the playoff.

 

SEC

Alabama

Not sure anyone can test the Tide in the conference. Nick Saban’s team may drop a game along the way — heck, maybe two if they lose the opener to the Seminoles, but even a 2-loss Alabama squad is likely getting in the playoff. Too big, too fast, too good — at every position.

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

1. Washington (13-0)

2. Florida State (12-1)

3. Wisconsin (12-1)

4. Alabama (12-1)

5. Oklahoma State (12-1)

 

Rose Bowl

Alabama defeats Washington

Sugar Bowl

Florida State defeats Wisconsin

National Championship

Florida State defeats Alabama

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Why Ezekiel Elliott’s Appeal Hearing is More Significant to Roger Goodell

Dallas Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended on August 11 after the NFL completed its 13-month investigation into allegations of domestic violence made in July 2016. The account from the alleged victim is frightening and despicable. Although Elliott was never charged in connection to the events by Columbus police, the NFL has the power, granted to it in the collective bargaining agreement, to discipline players even if the judiciary system does not.

Enter NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — most often times the judge, jury, and executioner, when it comes to matter like these. And now as the player prepares for his appeal hearing on August 29, it’s not just Elliott’s reputation that is up in the air. Goodell’s is on the line, and it will be irreparable, if Elliott’s appeal doesn’t stand.

There are three possible outcomes that could come out of the August 29 appeal hearing:

The first being the one that every fan of the NFL should want to see, at least it’s the outcome I’m hoping for — the 6-game suspension stands. Make no mistake — it’s sickening to think these reports are true and I don’t want to believe these events transpired; however, the NFL and the commissioner need to have gotten this decision right. Beyond the fact that the investigation went on for more than a year (so you better be accurate), Goodell has gotten so many things wrong, from the year-and-a-half-long-joke that was Deflategate to the notion that the league cares more about curbing player celebrations and what color socks they wear than protecting the health of it’s current and former players.

The second outcome would be that the suspension is completely revoked and Elliott suffers no penalty, no suspension. Elliott’s defense team has wasted no time since filing the appeal to flex their muscle and let the NFL know that they mean business. If the suspension doesn’t stand and Goodell has to admit the league’s investigation was not thorough enough or yielded inaccurate findings, he cannot survive. This was Goodell’s opportunity to enforce the domestic abuse policy to the letter of the “NFL law” — if he has to backtrack, he cannot be trusted to get anything right and shouldn’t be given another chance to.

The last option would be the most troubling, yet it gets talked about in the media and by experts like it’s a real possibility — the suspension is reduced. What does that even mean if that in fact does happen??!! Elliott didn’t do everything in the report but just some things? So there’s a degree of domestic abuse now — 2 games for a slap? Four games for a punch? Six games for multiple punches? Please, I’m not trying to be flippant or insensitive, but this is the road we’re going down? Domestic abuse is wrong on any level you want to look at it. Period. If Goodell and the league give in and reduce the 6 games, what are they telling their fans, the public, domestic abuse victims? This outcome would be much worse than if the NFL nixes the suspension altogether.

Commissioner Goodell cannot afford an outcome other than that the 6-game suspension stands. If the August 29 hearing renders any other verdict, Goodell has failed the league and the public and the fans of the NFL, and he needs to resign.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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Don’t Touch! Fantasy Football Busts

Quarterbacks

Cam Newton

When everyone was clamoring and putting Cam Newton in the Hall of Fame after his great 2015 MVP season, I was skeptical. To me (and the numbers back me up), 2015 was more of an anomaly than any sign that Newton was the new face of the league. Aside from a couple outlier seasons, where Carolina went 12-4 and 15-1, Cam is, for the most part, a .500 quarterback.

Now, Cam is without Ted Ginn, Jr., has an overweight Kelvin Benjamin coming off of major knee surgery, and is coming off shoulder surgery himself. While he has some added weapons in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel, I’m reluctant to take Cam this season. Maybe he’s a solid QB2 to pop in on bye weeks or stream him in during favorable week matchups.

Ben Roethlisberger

I know people will disagree with Big Ben being included on this list — heck, I’m not sure I’m totally behind this one. But let’s look — Ben had a down year by all accounts in 2016, he’s 35, he’s a big target who gets hit hard by defenders, and he’s coming off an offseason where he seemed to seriously contemplate retiring.

All his backers will argue (rightfully so) that he’s got protection and weapons around him. But his reaction speed will get slower and he doesn’t have a proven #2 option at WR. If all things work out, Ben will be a good starting QB; but if they get rocky, he’s not a player you’ll want to start automatically, week-to-week.

Running Backs

Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard

There aren’t enough footballs to go around to please all the running backs in Cincinnati. Both Hill and Bernard have warts, themselves. And that’s before adding rookie Joe Mixon to the backfield. Expect Hill and Bernard to get used even less — and unpredictably, which is not what fantasy owners like hearing.

Tevin Coleman

I’ve been big on Coleman in his first two years coming out of Indiana, and I still like him — but you have to watch for a big drop off in 2017 for three reasons:

(1) What he did in 2016 is not sustainable. He scored 11 TDs — one every 14 carries (the NFL average is a touch for every 30-plus carries). In addition, Coleman carried the ball 3 times all season inside the 5 yard line and never was a target in the end zone.

(2) Devonta Freeman is the workhorse back in Atlanta and will continue to get the bulk of the looks and will be the option in the redzone and down on the goal line.

(3) The Falcons ridiculous, record-setting efficient offense will undoubtedly regress in 2017 — meaning drop offs in statistics for guys like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Freeman, and, yes, Coleman.

The “Old Guys” — Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Frank Gore

Age will catch up to everyone. And these three are no different from anyone else. For AP and Lynch, they’re on new teams, getting comfortable with the schemes and the plays, while at the same time trying to prove they can still tote the rock, productively. Honestly, both would be tremendous value in mid- to late rounds Lynch in 5th and Peterson in 10th), but ADPs suggest both will be gone much sooner than they should be — and that’s just not wise for old RBs with so many question marks surrounding them.

Frank Gore is still with Indy, but he probably would prefer not to be. I expect Marlon Mack to slowly start taking carries away early on, and by November, Mack may be the Colts top running back.

Wide Receivers

DeAndre Hopkins

How DeAndre Hopkins’s name keeps getting placed near the top of all these fantasy lists and projections is beyond me. He’s projected as a WR1 with an ADP placing him in the 3rd round. Hopkins’s ADP is really the result of a 10-week stretch in 2015 where he was on pace to becoming the highest-targeted receiver in NFL history. The Texans were not very good, they were slinging the ball down the field, and Hopkins was the major beneficiary. Now, the team in more balanced and Hopkins isn’t putting up numbers that match where fantasy owners draft him.

Since Week 11 of the 2015 season, he’s now had just two top-12, WR1 performances in PPR formats!! Did you hear me??? TWO, 2, dos, 1+1=2!!!! For the ADP, you better be getting more out of your WR1 than just 2 weeks worth of ranking inside the top 12 of WRs. C’mon, Brandon LaFell got in the top-12 three times last year alone.

Davante Adams

The Green Bay wideout was undraftable at this time a year ago. Now he’s projected to be a 4th round selection. Make no mistake — his 2016 season was magnificent with 12 touchdowns and 120 targets from Aaron Rodgers. But if you’re going to take this guy in the 4th round after ONE great year, I’d advise against it. Also, factor in (a) head coach Mike McCarthy’s promise to involve Randall Cobb more in the gameplanning after the WR suffered a down year in 2016 and (b) the addition of tight end Martellus Bennett.

Donte Moncrief

The Colts WR had an unreal season in 2016. Moncrief had only 10 red zone targets, yet produced 7 touchdowns. To put that in perspective, no wide receiver since 2009 has managed so many touchdowns with so few looks in the red zone. To be able to put another season up like that in 2017 would be asking a ton.

Tight Ends

Zach Ertz

After back-to-back 800-yard receiving seasons in Philly, Ertz has all the skill in the world to do it for a third straight season. His inclusion in this category is more a statement on the increase in weaponry that now exists for quarterback Carson Wentz — the team added WRs Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. I expect to see a decrease in Ertz’s production, which causes me to proceed with caution and not reach too early on the tight end.

Austin Hooper

For some of the same reasons why I’m not high on Tevin Coleman, I’m very sketchy about Atlanta’s tight end. The Falcons 2016 offensive efficiency will be difficult (if not impossible) to match this year, and it doesn’t help that Atlanta has struggled for years to properly utilize the tight end position. OC Kyle Shanahan is in SF so that probably doesn’t help Hooper.

O.J. Howard

The rookie out of Alabama is going off the board as a top-12 tight end in mocks. In NFL history, only 7 tight ends have hit the 50-reception mark as rookies. Even in a down year for the position in 2016, each of the top 15 fantasy tight ends hit the 50-reception mark. In other words, Howard is going to have to have one of the best seasons for any rookie tight end just to crack the top 15 in 2017.

Tampa Bay has too many options for Howard to be a main go-to target for James Winston. Mike Evans is the WR1 and the team also signed DeSean Jackson this past offseason. Tight end Cameron Brate is no slouch either.

Don’t reach for Howard — other (many reliable) options will be there late in your draft.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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Fantasy Draft Day Sleepers 2017: WRs and TEs

Wide Receivers

Pierre Garcon

New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and Pierre Garcon have a viable history together. The wide receiver led the NFL in 2013 with 113 receptions with Shanahan as the offensive coordinator in Washington. That history bodes well for Garcon; in addition, Shanahan uses his “X” receiver with great frequency — i.e. Julio Jones, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson. Garcon will be the top target in San Francisco with a catch rate of 65% over the past 4 years, making him a very valuable PPR WR.

Cameron Meredith

This is one reason certain football fans have such distaste for fantasy football. “Why would anyone care about any player on the Chicago Bears?” Correct, the team isn’t promising to be very good; and with either unproven Mike Glennon at QB or rookie Mitchell Trubisky, the offense is sure to go through some major growing pains. But…..fantasy football owners DO care.

The Bears have few weapons on offense aside from Jordan Howard. But someone has to catch passes from Glennon or Trubisky — and that man is probably going to be Cameron Meredith. Last year, the Illinois State product caught 66 balls for almost 900 yards. With Alshon Jeffery and his 8 targets per game gone for Philly, Meredith is worth a draft pick somewhere after the 10th round.

Ted Ginn, Jr.

Any fantasy owner has to give a second look to any WR in New Orleans. As long as Drew Brees is at the helm and Sean Payton is on the sidelines, the Saints are going to have a potent offense. This year the biggest benefactor could be Ted Ginn, Jr., with the departure of Brandin Cooks to New England.

The speedster has the ability to stretch the field, giving Brees that deep threat option every week. And even though the Saints’ offense is mostly predicated on shorter, quick routes, Ginn’s downfield breakaway speed should be enticing for Brees. Ginn might be more “boom or bust” from week to week, but he’s worth a late round pick.

Tight Ends

Hunter Henry

Everyone has been searching and waiting for the right guy to supplant Antonio Gates as the Chargers top tight end option. It looks like we have a winner. Henry put up 36 catches for 478 yards in 2016 as a rookie; and when targeted 4 or more times, he scored 7-plus fantasy points in 7 of those 8 games. Last season, Gates’s catch percentage was the lowest of his career at 57% — 10 points lower than Henry’s; and at 37 years old, it’s likely Gates will continue trending downward. In addition, Henry caught one more TD than Gates in 2016 despite 17 fewer receptions.

Henry should be one of Phillip Rivers’s go-to guys — especially with the bad luck of injuries that the Chargers continue to face with WRs (rookie Mike Williams could miss up to 8 weeks, and maybe the year).

Julius Thomas

A reunion with head coach Adam Gase is just what the doctor ordered for Thomas, who’s been relegated to a benchwarmer since 2015 when he left Denver (and OC Gase at the time) and went to Jacksonville. Gase uses his tight ends as well as any head coach in the league. In Denver as the offensive coordinator, Gase’s playcalling led Thomas to top-7 TE status in fantasy leagues in 2013 and ’14; then in Chicago, Gase did much of the same with Martellus Bennett and Zach Miller — the two combined to be top-7 in TE production in 2015. In 2016 in Miami, Gase’s 4-man combo at the position put them 10th in fantasy production.

In short, Gase uses his tight ends and uses them productively. And now he’s got Jay Cutler under center — and while many Dolphins fans are cringing at this thought, Cutler experienced one of his best seasons as a pro in 2015 under Gase’s tutelage in Chicago.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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2017 Draft Day Sleepers: Running Backs

Running Backs

Kareem Hunt

The rookie out of Toledo will need to carve out his spot in what is becoming a crowded backfield in KC. But Andy Reid loves using a multi-back system, and it’s hard to imagine the Kansas City coaches not seeing a place for Hunt after spending a 3rd round pick on him. Spencer Ware, Charcanderick West, and C.J. Spiller will all be options as training camp moves along, but Reid has been ultra-hesitant to commit to Ware or West fully as his top guys — which leads me to believe he doesn’t view them as workhorses. Hunt’s going in the 10th round of most mocks — pretty good value if he emerges as the guy.

Paul Perkins

The Giants should have one of the more explosive offenses in football, and Perkins should be the lead back. As much as Eli Manning is willing to chuck the ball around, the coaching staff (and NYG fans) would be quite pleased if Perkins could dispel some of the passing attempts. He’ll have to improve his catching abilities and he’ll have to prove he can reach the end zone. But if Perkins solidifies himself as the top RB in New York heading into the season, he should be very active.

Derrick Henry

Maybe the Alabama product isn’t that big of a sleeper candidate, but he made the list anyway. While DeMarco Murray’s been the definition of a workhorse running back for years now, one has to have doubts that he’ll continue playing at such a high level — especially when the team has a bruising, young runner in Henry waiting to get more reps.

Henry got more carries as the year went on in 2016, and I’d expect that trend to continue. Tennessee should have a fun offense with playmakers at practically every position. Even if he sees limited carries, Henry should still find enough touches that make him a fantasy value.

Duke Johnson

While all the talk when it comes to a Browns’ running back has centered on Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson has quietly built a nice little resume — especially in PPR formats. The former Miami Hurricane has caught more than 50 passes each of his two seasons in Cleveland.

The Browns should be improved in 2017 and the offense should be more exciting for Cleveland fans than it has been in a while. None of the projections put Johnson in the upper tiers or at a superstar level, but his passing catching capability makes him the best value pick of any of the four running backs on this list.

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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Fantasy Football Sleepers at Quarterback to Draft in 2017

Carson Wentz

Philly has surrounded their first round quarterback with a lot of weapons this offseason — and that should pay off for fantasy owners who select Wentz on draft day. The North Dakota State product finished as the 20th ranked QB in PPR leagues last season, and with another year of experience plus the added artillery at his disposal, in the form of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, Wentz could be looking at top 10 in 2017. The Eagles also return playmakers Darren Sproles, Zach Ertz, and Jordan Matthews.

Blake Bortles

It’s tough defending this one after Borltes opened up camp this past weekend with a 5-interception performance under the lights. But, who pays attention to practice, right? Allen Robinson returns and is a legitimate WR1, along with a versatile backfield led by rookie Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon. Giving the ball to Fournette on the ground 20-pus times a game will take the heat off Bortles. In addition, the defense is improved, which should help Bortles progress towards that “above average tier” of quarterbacks. He’s worth a flyer in the late rounds of your draft.

Eli Manning

Eli will make mistakes and drive fantasy owners crazy. But he’ll also throw the ball all over the field — for good or for bad. The offense lost Victor Cruz, but added Brandon Marshall and rookie tight end Evan Engram. Paul Perkins in the backfield is, also, ready to make a splash in 2017. The Giants’ offense should be involved in high scoring games, and Eli should stockpile the fantasy points. What makes Manning most enticing is that he will be available in the later rounds and carries little risk.

Other Sleeper QBs

Andy Dalton, Matthew Stafford

 

Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed, @brian22goodwin.

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