2017 Kentucky Football Preview

 

This past season, head coach Mark Stoops lead UK to its first winning season since 2009, including 4 victories in the SEC.  Quarterback Stephen Johnson lead them to a 7-3 record after starter Drew Barker was sidelined all year with a back injury Johnson came in and threw for 2,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. 

This year could prove to be monumental, they could beat South Carolina for the 4th year in a row, they have a real shot at Tennessee and ending that miserable 30 year streak to Florida.  With the return of Johnson at QB they also bring in Benny Snell Jr. He rushed for 1000 yards as a true freshman.  On the outsides at WR they have deep threats in Dorian Baker and Garett Johnson.  They return one of the best offensive lines in the conference led by Nick Haynes and Landon Young.

The defense has its fair share of star power with the return of SEC leading tackler in Jordan Jones who had 109 tackles last season.  Mike Edwards All-SEC safety returns with 100 tackles.  The defensive line will have some issues with lack of depth and consistent play at the nose tackle position. Also LBs Josh Allen and Denzil Ware will be returning.

The cats travel to Hattiesburg, MS on Sept.2nd to take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in a revenge game after an awful loss to them last year at Kroger Field in Lexington.  Some games to to note on the schedule include South Carolina and Florida.  They are looking to extend a streak against South Carolina and kill a streak against Florida.

 Prediction- 8-4 3rd SEC East

Follow on Twitter  (@jordon_tarrence)

2017 College Football Season Preview - LSU Tigers

The LSU Tigers are preparing for their first full season under Coach Orgeron.  Even though they are coming off a disappointing (8-4) season, which led to the firing of Les Miles after only four games, LSU is still getting the national spotlight.  Although LSU is only returning 11 starters, they are hoping that these guys filling in the open spots can compete just as they did last year.

LSU is always among the best teams defensively every year, but due to the inability to develop at the quarterback position, LSU hasn’t been able to take that next step to contend for a national title.  However, with the hire of ex-Pitt OC, Matt Canada, the Tigers hope he can open up the playbook more.  With a returning quarterback in Danny Etling, LSU hopes for him to pick up on the new playbook, but coming back from an offseason back surgery, can Etling recover back to his full potential to help LSU compete in the SEC West?

The Tigers’ 2017 schedule is similar to all of their past schedules.  The only big difference is that they don’t open against a top 10 team, but still a tricky one in BYU.  However, with their schedule not becoming tough until October, LSU might be able to find a groove on the offensive side, allowing them to be one of the best in the league.  With the stereotypical deep SEC West schedule as well as their two SEC East opponents being both away against Florida and Tennessee, LSU will find it difficult to get to double-digit wins.

The LSU Tigers last year were the pick of many people to make the CFB Playoff as well as win the title.  Although people aren’t expecting them to do the same as they did last year, they still expect LSU to be one of the best in the SEC.  However, with a new head coach and returning only 11 starters, Coach O might need Etling and Canada to boost that offense to one of the best in the nation to compete for a spot in Atlanta.  This might not be the year with national title expectations, but maybe with a new high-flying offense under Matt Canada, can LSU push some of their SEC West opponents and make a surprise trip to Atlanta?

Twitter - @SpencerHren

2017 College Football Season Preview - Tennessee Volunteers

The Tennessee Volunteers’ narrative for the 2017 season is a little different than the one from a year ago. The summer of 2016 was filled with the hype of the Volunteer football team. They were the clear favorite to win the SEC East and with wins over Georgia as well as Florida, one would expect them to finally win the East. However, after a three game losing streak including losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt, Tennessee fell short once again to finish to a disappointing (9-4) season. With Tennessee losing many of their key veterans, they hope to find the next great stars to fill the void as well as keep Tennessee among the leaders of the SEC East.

With almost all of the key players gone from the highly successful Tennessee offense, they look for new blood to keep it one of the best in the East. Even though both Dobbs and Hurd are gone, Butch Jones hopes that with a veteran offensive line, he will be able to help grow his inexperienced offense. A top choice to replace Dobbs is junior, Quinten Dormady, but due to him being a prototypical quarterback instead of a dual-threat like everyone around the program has been used to, it could take a while for him to get comfortable in the system. However, there is a lot of hype around redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano, who fits the mold of Josh Dobbs and most fans are saying, could be the next great quarterback. Either way, Tennessee has two solid options to build their program around for the next few years, making for an interesting 2017 season.

The Volunteer’s schedule is always one of the toughest among the SEC, but this year appears to put them arguably with the toughest schedule. With 4 games against the top 4 teams in the SEC going into 2017(Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU), the Volunteers will struggle to accomplish their same record from a year ago.  In addition to this, Tennessee opens the year against Georgia Tech, making the quarterback battle even more interesting where both will most likely share snaps. However, with the normal cupcake games mixed in their season, Butch Jones will most likely find a starter early on in the year.

The Volunteers’ narrative is almost a complete 180 from last season. Instead of favorites to win the East, Tennessee is hoping to remain atop the East as well as compete with Georgia and Florida. With many bright young hopefuls to fill the major voids from last year, Tennessee fans hope they can showcase their talents and maybe even make some big upsets come this fall. Although Tennessee does not expect what they did last year, they hope to keep their team from sliding into mediocrity among the SEC East.

 

@SpencerHren

2017 College Football Season Preview - Florida Gators

The Florida Gators have the same amount of hype going into the 2017 season as they did last season, very little. However, coming off a respectable (9-4) season including winning the SEC East for the second straight year, I don’t think the Gators really care about the little amount of attention that they are getting. With 15 starters returning for next year including only 6 on the defensive side, the Gators are hoping that their defense can remain as one of the best in the nation.

The Florida Gators were among one of the best defensive teams in college football last year, but with a “lackluster” offense, the Gators weren’t able to become one of the top teams in the league. However, with the possible transfer of Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire, the Gators offense could finally get that spark that Jim Mcelwain has been waiting for. In addition to Malik Zaire, the Gators have one of the most prolific wide receivers in college football in Antonio Callaway, making the Gators one of the best offenses in the SEC.

The Gators’ 2017 schedule is comparable to all of their past schedules, tricky but manageable. With only 3 “true” road games, the Gators will never be light on fans at their games this year, giving their young defense some help. Among the Gators toughest tests this season include the season opener against Michigan as well as the heated in-state rival Florida State. Add two pre-season top 15 teams in Georgia as well as LSU and the Gators arguably have one of the toughest schedules in college football.

Flip the calendar back a year and the Florida Gators are looking very similar to what they do today. They have a big question mark at the quarterback position again coupled with a young and inexperienced defense. However, as the Gators proved last year, even with a shaky quarterback, they can still compete with the best in the nation. Can this be the year that Mcelwain gets solid play from his quarterback in Malik Zaire and be able to make a legitimate push to Atlanta as well as the College Football Playoff?

 

Twitter: @SpencerHren

2017 College Football Season Preview - Georgia Bulldogs

@SpencerHren

The Georgia Bulldogs are one of the many “trendy” teams going into the 2017 college football season.  Coming off a sub-par (8-5) season, coach Kirby Smart and the bulldog faithful are looking for a massive step forward.  With 18 returning starters as well as the third ranked recruiting class, the bulldogs are looking to answer the many questions that a lot of the analysts have for the team.

Jacob Eason in his second year as the Georgia starter looks primed to be one of the elite quarterbacks of the league.  With the many ups and downs of last year, a big question will be how well can he transition into becoming the player that everybody expects him to be.  In addition to Eason, Georgia arguably has one of the best backfields in college football in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel.  However, much like Eason, many fans are wondering if Chubb can return to his pre-injury caliber from 2014/2015.

A major problem for Georgia last year was their offensive line, being bullied by almost every team they played.  However, with Pittman bringing in the biggest O-line class of 2017 including 6’7, 350lb Isaiah Wilson, can this front 7 finally be an asset for the bulldogs instead of a liability?

One of the bulldogs’ strengths from 2016 was their stout defense, and with the return of 11 starters, it appears that they won’t miss a beat with freshman 5-star Richard Lecounte replacing graduate Maurice Smith at the star position.

The Bulldogs 2017 schedule appears to be easier compared to some of their SEC partners.  With away games at Notre Dame and Auburn as well as a neutral-site game against Florida in late October, Georgia looks to make a push for Atlanta.  Can this be the year Kirby Smart finally pushes Georgia into the elite category after being out of the spotlight for the past few years?

Too Early Previews: Army Black Knights (QUOTES from Jeff Monken-Army HC)

The Black Knights encountered adversity early in the season with the tragic loss sophomore cornerback, Brandon Jackson, in a single-car accident Sept. 12.  Nevertheless, the team constructed a respectable record, finishing the regular season 7–5 and downing the North Texas Mean Green 38–31 in the Dallas Bowl.  Army had notable wins against Wake Forest and Navy (snapping a 14-year losing streak in the series), but suffered a loss to Air Force.  Returning 15 of last year’s starters, Army football plans to build on the momentum.  My initial reaction after looking at their returning roster was that the team was stacked.  However, the coach thought differently.

"This Spring we’ll go back to working on fundamental,” explained Jeff Monken, Head Football Coach of the Black Knights. “We don’t have a lot of depth at safety, and with the injuries we’ve had at cornerback, we’re not deep there either. I don’t feel as though we have a veteran team, and it’s a little nerve-racking.”

Nevertheless, Monken is approaching his fourth season with Army, and has seen a ladder-like improvement each year.

“I think the 2015 season was an inclination that we were headed in the right direction, I understand a lot of people didn’t see it that way, said Monken. “ we went 4-8 the first year, 2-10 the second, but it was clear to me that we were building a better team.  Seven of those ten losses were by a touchdown or less. This year was a good year, not a great year.  We had some adversity, obviously, with the death of Brandon Jackson.  But, our guys bounced back, beat Navy, and it spoke to their character."

The fact that Army brings back so much experience will be tough to contend with if you’re and steadfast Navy team or rebuilding your entire defense like Air Force.  If you have concerns, look no further than the backfield, which returns nine of their top ball carriers from last year.  Yes, that’s correct, nine large members of offensive production are back, as well as four of five offensive linemen.   Army will find themselves topping both its rival academies, as well as several other worthy opponents.

My regular season prediction: 9-3

@miles_migs

Too Early Previews: Air Force Falcons

@miles_migs

The “king of the hill” for military academies in 2016 was the Air Force Falcons, racking up a 10-3 regular season, winning notably against Army, Navy, and Boise State, and took the Nova Home Loans bowl from Southern Alabama 45-21. Nine-year Falcons coach Troy Calhoun seems to have Air Force in a winning direction, but for how long can he keep the good times rolling?

One reason Air Force has found success is their adaptation to modernized football. The falcons tend to throw the ball more than their academy colleagues. “(Playing modern football) helps on two fronts,” explained Air Force Head Coach Tony Calhoun. “For one, can take advantages of big plays in regards to play action passes. Secondly, our defense benefits because they see formations (in practice) they they experience against our non-academy opponents and are better suited to defend against it.”

Air Force returns five starters on offense. Their defense? One. Yikes.

I asked if the Falcons had found success in filling those holes during spring ball. Calhoun replied that the process would lead into August. “We had Jacoby Owens, who rushed for over 3,000 yards in three years. Had one of our finest receivers in school history graduate as well. That’s the way football goes, its cyclical. But we have good guys right now, guys who like going in the weigh room, throwing on the pads, so we’ll get there.”

Calhoun also responded on the future hardship of starting their season with five of their first eight games on the road. “It translates in a military aspect to our players. Not every mission they will go on will be in the continental United States. Sometimes you take these things day by day, and that’s how we’ll work through that part of the schedule.”

So what about those “good times” mentioned back in the first paragraph? My prediction is that they end this season. No matter how powerful a program is, rebuilding and restructuring an entire defense will flatten most chances of a ten-win season. With Army’s potential rise to relevancy and Navy seemingly chugging along at their own pace, the Falcons may take a significant dive in academy bragging rights. Despite this, Air Force should still have a winning season and be bowl-eligible.

My prediction: 6-6

What to make of Josh Rosen (Op-Ed.)

(@miles-migs)

Injuries, lack of production in big moments, and pre-season hype that was too big to match. That’s how we saw and can explain how a UCLA team that was predicted to closely contend for a PAC 12 championship back-peddled its way out of the top 20 last season. When there’s not much running back production and sub-par defensive play, you can expect to see Josh Rosen put a season on his back and play well to compensate, which he did, most of the time. His touchdown to interception ratio against Texas A&M leaves a highlighted blemish on his resume, but if we see even slight improvement across the board this year, Rosen will be a top 10 draft pick.

I don’t believe Josh Rosen’s talents and appearance will keep him from being a competent NFL quarterback. I think his maturity level might.

A F--- Trump hat worn at Trump National, that’s funny (depending on how you feel about our Commander in Chief). A hot tub in your dorm, that’s cool. Outspoken opinions on twitter, that’s confident. To an NFL scout, coach, or general manager, that’s a sign.

It’s a blessing in disguise for Rosen that he was able to witness the rise and fall of "Johnny Football" before he gets his shot at the NFL. Josh Rosen is a smart kid, and I don’t believe he’d succumb to Manziel-esqe mayhem in his career. However, when I see Rosen in a controversial hat on Donald Trump’s golf course, I see Manziel being kicked out of a University of Texas frat party he knew he wasn’t wanted at. Give me Rosen writing eye-raising tweets, and I’ll give you a Manziel who fired back at every twitter egg with a derogatory comment about him.

Similar backgrounds, same level of professional-level hype, same playing position. Lets just hope same career isn’t going to be one of the boxes we check.

Too Early Previews: Navy Midshipmen

(@miles-migs)

The Midshipmen saw momentary success in 2016, crafting up a 9-4 regular season, but dropping their bowl game 48-45 to Louisiana Tech. Nine-year head coach Ken Niumatalolo led Navy to wins over Houston and Notre Dame, the Midshipmen could not overcome either Army or Air Force, leaving them at the bottom of the military academy totem pole for the 2016 season. I asked Coach Niumatalolo about the upcoming year.

“I don’t want to be one of those coaches that says I don’t look at that stuff (pre-season magazine/content), because I do,” said Nuimatalolo. “I always use it for motivation, always look to see where we’re ranked. I’m a super competitive person and I love to see people doubt us, rank us at 90 or whatever, and then exceed every year.”

Navy will start a quarterback who was thrust into the drivers seat late last season, and after experiencing losses at Army, their conference championship, and bowl game, there’s not much more heartbreak that can affect Zach Abby. He now has the experience to be aware of situations where the team is losing and be able to work to dig the team out of trouble.

When asked how Abby has responded to spring practice, Coach Niumatalolo informed me that he was improving daily. “The great thing about Zach is that he has the physical tools, he’s strong, fast, and has a good arm,” explained Niumatalolo. “He simply wasn’t ready last year, he hadn’t gotten many reps as the third-string quarterback, then got thrust into the toughest part of our season. But even with those growing pains, I think he got increasing better in each of the three games he played. Now he has spring ball under him and it’s encouraging.”

However, it’s no secret that Navy’s offense outweighs the defense in production. It’s not a certainty on whether we will see much growth from Navy this season, but there chances look slightly better than Air Force’s. Navy will be plagued by three rough weeks toward the end of the regular season.

My regular season prediction: 6-5