Cleat Geeks

2017 College Football American Conference (West Division) Preview; Major Questions For Each Team

Every College Football season, each team from each conference has a major question that circles around the preseason progress of their potential success. Every year, the American Conference is one of the top conferences competing outside the power 5 (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC-12 and SEC). The West Division might be the most competitive division internally in the American Conference. Athlon Sports predicts that 5 of the 6 teams in the West Division will be playing in a bowl with at least 6 wins. The Tulane Green Wave are the lone team outside of the bowl berth talk. The American Conference is one of the toughest divisions to play against and have teams that are huge playoff contenders until they kick each other out. Last season, the Houston Cougars shocked the world and beat the Oklahoma Sooners in the first week of the 2016 College Football season. This is a division that is any team’s fair game to face the winner of the East Division for the American Conference Championship. Here are the biggest questions that each team will be facing in the upcoming 2017 College Football season.

 

Houston Cougars“Will new Head Coach Major Applewhite continue success after Tom Herman’s departure?”
9-4, 5-3 in American in 2016

The newest Nick Saban assistant turned Head Coach will lead his Cougars after two years as Offensive Coordinator. The first step to finding a starting Quarterback, former Texas A&M Aggies Kyle Allen could potentially be that starting Quarterback. The Cougars do return multiple players including the best Defensive Line in the American Conference led by former star freshman Ed Oliver. Houston might be hit hard by once again the startling lack of experienced Defensive Backs. This 2017 College Football season will be Applewhite’s biggest test yet as a coach.
Memphis Tigers“Are the Memphis Tigers a sleeper team in the American Conference?”
8-5, 5-3 in American in 2016

Last year, the Memphis Tigers were tied for 3rd in the West Division along with the Houston Cougars. This season, the Tigers are predicted by many analysts to win the Western Division of the American Conference. They return their starting Quarterback in Riley Ferguson, who passed for 3,698 yards last season. Memphis needs to address their defensive flaws but has tinkered with formations and systematics for this upcoming season. Their conference schedule is favorable with no match-ups against South Florida, Temple or Cincinnati. Ferguson’s arm might be the definitive answer to them being a playoff contender or pretender.

 
Navy Midshipmen“Will the Midshipmen regain the Commander-In-Chief’s trophy?”
9-5, 7-1 in American in 2016

Despite winning the West Division of the American Conference last season, the Navy Midshipmen lost an important series. Navy lost to both the Air Force Falcons and their rivals in the Army West Point Black Knights. To make matters worse, the Midshipmen had not lost to the Knights since the 2001 college football season. As much as Navy wants to win the American Conference, the Midshipmen also want to beat their military academy service rivals. Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo will have to start with replacing a Quarterback and two of their main Tailbacks, which is a crucial part of their triple-option offense.

 
SMU Mustangs “Is this a big or bust season for Head Coach Chad Morris?”
5-7, 3-5 in American in 2016

SMU has not been to a bowl game in Head Coach Chad Morris’ career with the Mustangs. Ultimately, they have not been to a bowl game since the 2012 College Football season. This will be the 3rd season with Morris as Head Coach with SMU and with it the best opportunity to get to a bowl game especially with the returning talent for this year. WR Courtland Sutton caught 1,246 yards and 10 touchdowns last season with the Mustangs. DE Justin Lawler accounted for 6 sacks and CB Jordan Wyatt accounted for 4 interceptions. This may not be the season that Morris could be gone if this season goes wrong but he’ll need to win to avoid that possibility.

 
Tulane Green Wave “Will the tough schedule make Tulane’s season difficult in 2017?”
4-8, 1-7 in American in 2016

Fresh off of a rebuilding season, Tulane wants to be more competitive in the American Conference title race. This year’s schedule might be a big roadblock of Tulane reaching that goal with games at Oklahoma, who will no doubt be ranked in the top 10 in the preseason. Tulane also has a competitive game at Florida International then conference play games back-to-back with South Florida and at Memphis. Finally, the Houston Cougars and a game at the SMU Mustangs will be at the end of the season. If Tulane wants a bowl berth, they have to more aggressive on offense than they were last year as they were 104th in points per game (24.1).

 
Tulsa Golden Hurricane“Will the new Quarterback need to be the leader of an efficient offense?”
10-3, 6-2 in American in 2016

Last season, Tulsa was ranked in the top 10 of every major offensive category except for passing yards per game. Tulsa was ranked 30th in the nation in passing yards per game (265.3). Once Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Phillip Montgomery finds a new starting Quarterback, they will be set with a strong line and backfield. The Golden Hurricane return 4 of their starting Offensive Line from last year, 3 of whom are pre-season All-Conference. Running Back D’Angelo Brewer is also a preseason All-Conference who rushed for 1,435 yards last season. The run game will be a huge relief factor to the new Quarterback once one has won the starting job.

The “NEW” NFL OT Rules

In May, the NFL changed it’s overtime rules shortening the extra quarter from 15 minutes to 10, but many are still critical of the overtime rules that exist today. Bill Plaschke described it best when he wrote in the LA Times, “It’s like baseball allowing the first run to decide an extra-inning game without both teams coming to bat. It’s like basketball overtime games being decided on only half the court, with only one team having a chance to shoot.” Several years ago, the NFL made changes to its overtime rules saying that if the team that possesses the ball first and only scores a field goal, the other team would get a chance to either continue with a field goal or win the game out right with a touchdown.

Still, there is a touchdown loophole existing. What was lost in the shuffle when the New England Patriots and Tom Brady won a 5th Super Bowl 34-28 is that Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons did not get a possession. If the situation were reversed and Brady’s Patriots did not get a chance to respond with a touchdown, what would have been the reaction? There would have been a bigger sense of urgency to fix that. In January 2010, when Brett Favre was playing for the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints, the Saints kicked a game winning field goal on the first possession of overtime and the game was over.

A couple of seasons ago, the Denver Broncos lost a game to the quick scoring Seattle Seahawks in overtime, first possession and Peyton Manning did not have a chance to tie the game. “They changed the rules a little bit, but it doesn’t really change if you go down and get a touchdown,’’ Manning said at the time. “It puts a premium on the coin toss.”

Saints QB Drew Brees does not agree with the new rules saying that there will be more ties. “I’m not sure what the thought process was going into it, but just from what I see I would disagree with it because more games are going to end in ties now,” Brees said. He suggested that the NFL do what college football does and that is, each team gets a possession starting at the opponents 25-yard line with an un-timed quarter. However, there is no consensus on what the NFL should do, but Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said the same thing last year.

The NFL has not been serious enough about player safety, they talk a good game, but their actions speak otherwise. One of my issues with the league and owners has been that Thursday night game. The biggest flaw with Thursday night football is that teams who are playing only have 3 days to recover from injuries and less time to prepare for their opponent. The NFL was trying to fix something that was not broken and has created more problems than anticipated. I have been hesitant to support the college football overtime rules, but it has come to that point where the NFL must adopt NCAA football’s OT rules.  Football fans have something truly entertaining when both teams get the chance to have the football at the opponents 25-yard line and if the game gets to a third overtime, teams that scores a touchdown must attempt a 2-point conversion.

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The NFL is dealing with a PR fiasco they created and their actions will not help mitigate this whether you agree with the new rules or not. This rule change is nothing more than to put a band-aid on a problem that needs major fixing and people are seeing right through this. More importantly, what has the NFL learned from what happened at Super Bowl LI? Nothing.

2017 College Football ACC (Coastal Division) Preview

Every College Football season, every team from each conference has a major question that circles around the preseason progress of their potential success. The ACC is a conference that is filled with talent and elite teams. Despite Clemson and Florida State being the dominate teams in the conference, there is potential for a new leader. The Clemson Tigers won the 2017 National Championship against the Alabama Crimson Tide but is now expected to go through a rebuilding season. Clemson and Florida State are the only teams in the ACC who have been to the College Football Playoffs. The Miami (FL) Hurricanes (#20) and the Virginia Tech Hokies (#16) are the only teams in the ACC Coastal division that finished being ranked in the AP poll last season. They are also the only teams in the division that are currently ranked in the top 25. This is a division where the potential dark horses of the ACC can come out and win the ACC Conference Championship and possibly go to the College Football Playoffs.

This upcoming season will begin anew with each team fighting for the Coastal divisional title. Here are the biggest questions that each team will be facing in the upcoming 2017 College Football season.

 

Duke Blue Devils – “Can Duke overlook one horrid 2016 season to 2017?”
4-8, 1-7 in ACC in 2016

Before the 2016 College Football season, the Duke Blue Devils went to four straight bowl games. From 2013 to 2015, they accounted for a 27-13 record. This past season, however, they accounted for a 4-8 record. This is an unusual situation for the Duke Blue Devils now they are making consistent winning seasons under Head Coach David Cutcliffe. This 2017 College Football season can be a chance to recover from a rebuilding year. Duke returns two of their leading tacklers from last year’s team as well.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets – “Will their season be defined by one game?”
9-4, 4-4 in ACC in 2016

While the Yellow Jackets return a good margin of their Offensive Line, Running Backs and Defensive stars, they will need to find a new starting Quarterback. In the triple option offense, the Quarterback position is literally everything in terms of structure and execution. Head coach Paul Johnson will need to find a new Quarterback in time for the first game of the season. It may seem rash but most of the season’s potential success has be to a win over Tennessee in the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.
Miami (FL) Hurricanes – “Is this the time for Mark Richt to develop Miami into a powerhouse?”
9-4, 5-3 in ACC in 2016

For the past couple of seasons, the Hurricanes have been underwhelming trying to be a threat in the ACC. Now with Head Coach Mark Richt, they have the recruiting talent and the coaching skills to get the team to a high level of performance to be considered for the playoffs through the season. The Hurricanes return an entire starting Defensive Line and Linebacker squad on a defense that ranked 12th in the nation in points allowed per game.
North Carolina Tarheels – “Can the Tarheels get over multiple bad losses last season for 2017?”
8-5, 5-3 in ACC in 2016

The Tarheels lost 3 of the last 4 games in the 2016 season including two embarrassing losses at Duke (by 1 point) and at home to NC State (by 7 points). While Duke and NC State are not particularly bad football teams, this is a derail of the progress that the Tarheels made in the 2015 season when they won the Coastal division. This was with star RB Elijah Hood and the 2nd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft in QB Mitch Trubisky on their team. Now that they are gone, North Carolina will need leadership and stars to lead their team and avoid these easily containable opponents.
Pittsburgh Panthers – “Can Pitt work off last year’s victories over Penn State & Clemson?”
8-5, 5-3 in ACC in 2016

Last year, the Pittsburgh Panthers made big waves in the world of College Football by defeating eventual Big Ten Champions in the Penn State Nittany Lions and later on the 2017 National Champions in the Clemson Tigers. Recruiting has been on the rise for Pitt and they are determined to use those wins to get past their 8-5 season. They did lose those 5 games to winning teams but focus maybe the best issue to work on. Addressing the pass defense might be best as well as they were 127th in the nation in passing yards per game (343.1 yards).
Virginia Cavaliers – “How will Bronco Mendenhall fight back after a disastrous 2-10 season?”
2-10, 1-7 in ACC in 2016

When Bronco Mendenhall was hired to Virginia from his tenured Head Coaching position at BYU, there was hope in Charlottesville. That hope quickly shattered when the Cavaliers lost to their FCS rival in the Richmond Spiders with a 37-20 score. The offense return 5 starters that was ranked 115th in the nation in points per game. Coach Mendenhall has his work cut off for him but has the confidence to make the Cavaliers relevant in the ACC. Don’t expect the Cavaliers to go from zeros to heroes this season with so much rebuilding expected to continue.
Virginia Tech Hokies – “Will Justin Fuente continue success with life without Frank Beamer?”
10-4, 6-2 in ACC in 2016 – Coastal Division Champs

One season after 29 years with Frank Beamer as their head coach and the Virginia Tech Hokies after doing just fine thanks to current Head Coach Justin Fuente. Last season, the Hokies got their first 10 win season since the 2011 College Football season. This 2017 season is going to be a test for Fuente as he does not have a Quarterback with relevant game experience. The defense does return 4 of the top 5 tacklers including ILB Tremaine Edmunds who had 18.5 tackles for loss. Longtime Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster has to be thrilled with the huge talent coming back to Virginia Tech.

Are you starved for FOOTBALL? @cleatgeeks has partnered with Pony Keg Sports to bring our fans a great podcast that you can listen to anytime! Tune in and quench your football thirst with the Pony Keg Sports Podcast as they discuss the NFC North and the next team up is the Green Bay Packers.

2017 ACC College Football (Atlantic Division) Preview – Major Questions For Each Team

Every College Football season, every team from each conference has a major question that circles around the preseason progress of their potential success. Last season, the ACC Atlantic division had three teams that finished in the AP top 25 in #1 Clemson, #8 Florida State, and #21 Louisville. The Clemson Tigers won the ACC Championship and then beat the Alabama Crimson Tide in a National Championship rematch from the 2016 Championship match-up. This preseason, Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville are all currently ranked ahead of their ACC Coastal divisional opponents. Boston College, NC State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest are the rest of the teams in the Atlantic division that have fair game of reaching for the College Football Playoffs. In the history of the College Football Playoffs, Florida State and Clemson are the only teams in the ACC to have made the College Football Playoffs. This upcoming season will begin anew with each team fighting for the Atlantic divisional title.

Here are the biggest questions that each team will be facing in the upcoming 2017 College Football season.

 

Boston College Eagles “Will the Eagles rise or fall past their usual 7-6 record?”
7-6, 2-6 in ACC in 2016

For 3 of the past 4 seasons with Steve Addazio as Head Coach, the Eagles have accounted for a 7-6 record. While this may not be a huge problem in the program, the football program has admitted they can achieve more. This season, the Eagles return the nation’s leading Sacker last season in DE Harold Landry (16.5). Boston College did account for a 2-6 record in the ACC and lost by 49 to Virginia Tech, 46 to Clemson, 47 to Louisville and 38 to Florida State. If Boston College wants to have a more successful season, they will need to play better against ACC foes.

 

Clemson Tigers“Repeat or rebuild season for Clemson in 2017?”
14-1, 7-1 in ACC in 2016 – ACC Champs & 2017 CFB National Champion

The Clemson Tigers return one of the best Defensive Line units in the nation as well as 4 of the 5 starting O-Line from last year. Despite this, the Tigers looks like they’ve lost more than they are returning including QB Deshaun Watson and WR Mike Williams. Coach Dabo Swinney will need to find new starters at crucial positions including Quarterback, two Wide Receivers, Running Back and multiple Outside Pass Rushers. The Tigers will have to play a more talented Auburn team and their rivals in Florida State and at Louisville if they want to repeat as National Champions.

 

Florida State Seminoles“Will the Seminoles be the kings of the ACC again this season?”
10-3, 5-3 in ACC in 2016 – Orange Bowl Champs

With Clemson on a possible rebuilding year, the Florida State Seminoles have high hopes to reach for an ACC Conference Championship and a College Football playoff berth. While they only return 5 starters on offense, they do return QB Deondre Francois, who threw for 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Not to mention, they have 9 starters returning from last year’s defensive unit. They will have to play better defensively than last year when they were ranked 44th in scoring allowed but they have strong potential.

Are you starved for FOOTBALL? @cleatgeeks has partnered with Pony Keg Sports to bring our fans a great podcast that you can listen to anytime! Tune in and quench your football thirst with the Pony Keg Sports Podcast as they discuss the NFC North and the next team up is the Detroit Lions.

 

Louisville Cardinals“Can QB Lamar Jackson lead the Cardinals to the College Football Playoffs?”
9-4, 7-1 in ACC in 2016

The Cardinals were in the playoff conversation up until two weeks of the regular season left when they suffered horrible losses to the Houston Cougars (by 26 points) and to SEC rival Kentucky Wildcats at home. Sloppy playing came upon the Cardinals both on offense and defense. This season, they are hoping to learn from those mistakes by playing more efficiently. With a tough and more efficient defense and dominating performances by QB Lamar Jackson, the Louisville Cardinals can be the dark houses in the aggressive Atlantic ACC division.

 

NC State Wolfpack“Could this be the breakout season to save Head Coach Dave Doeren’s job?”
7-6, 3-5 in ACC in 2016

The Wolfpack had potential and talent to have themselves a breakout season in 2016 and proved it by almost beating Clemson. Instead, they withered down and settled for a 7-6 season including a 4 game losing streak midway through the season. With 8 returning starters, both on offense and defense, this 2017 season will be the most stacked team Head Coach Dave Doeren has had in his 5 years with NC State. This may be his biggest chance to prove he is the coach to be in Raleigh.

 

Syracuse Orange“Will the tough schedule derail the season even before it starts?”
4-8, 2-6 in ACC in 2016

When you’re a team in the lower-tier of a power 5 conference, you need everything to work out in your favor. The Orange’s schedule is one of the toughest in the entire College Football Nation. They have to take a week 4 trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to face the LSU Tigers. Then they have to play a tough home game against Clemson then away games at Miami, Florida State, and Louisville. Even though Syracuse has 19 starters returning, this is going to be a tough road for the Orange in 2017.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons“Will the Offense improve under Head Coach Dave Clawson?”
7-6, 3-5 in ACC in 2016

Even though the Demon Deacons had one of the worst offenses in the nation (124th in total yards per game), Wake Forest went to a bowl game and won against the Temple Owls. This season, the main focus has to be about making the offense more efficient. Clawson is hoping that his offense under Offensive Coordinator, Warren Ruggiero, will be able to keep up with the top offenses in the conference. In 2016, S Jessie Bates was a freshman phenomenon but is now looking to be the leader of a tough, aggressive defense.

 

College Football: Top Ten Hidden Gem Games 2017

Part of my survival guide for this off-season was looking into the entire College Football Schedule to find hidden gem games. I have done so myself and share with you my Top Ten List. The major criteria for this list was; other marquee games during the week of the game, “bang for you buck” on ticket prices, and how the two teams stack up against each other. It was so hard to put these games in order, so here we go in no particular order.

 

10. Week 3: Wisconsin v. BYU

There are not many marquee games this week of the season, and both Wisconsin and BYU have had strong seasons in the past few years. The last time these two teams met it was at Camp Randall in 2013 with Wisconsin coming away with the 27-17 victory. Four years can change a lot, and this could be a highlight game in a week with very few bold match-ups on the docket.

9. Week 8: Utah St. v. UNLV

Once we get into this part of the schedule all eyes will be on the big conference games like the SEC, BIG Ten, PAC-12, etc. This hidden gem could be one of the best games of the week. Both teams have had sub-par seasons over the past few years, but this is an even match-up coming up. If you’re in Vegas and want to watch some College Football action, this game should provide fairly cheap tickets and entertaining action.

8. Week 12: Western Michigan v. Northern Illinois

MACtion is ESPN’s way of trying to market a Mid-Major conference to the masses, and sometimes it works. Both of these teams have made a mark in the BCS and post-BCS era over the last ten or so years. This should provide a late season game with conference implications, and maybe even a major Bowl Game birth again. If you’re around the Chicagoland area, take a look at making a drive out to DeKalb for a high thrill game.

7. Week 4: Texas Tech v. Houston: 

Houston was built up under Tom Herman who left, now it is time to see what Major Applewhite can do. If you’re in Texas and don’t want to pay to go see Texas, TCU, or Texas A&M, this game is your key to lower priced tickets and quality action. These teams are 50/50 in this match-up and could be an early season crazy finish game.

6. Week 9: Oklahoma St. v. West Virginia 

Two teams that have gone back and forth in the BIG-12 should provide for some exciting action. This is a game that could help decide the conference later in the season This game becomes a hidden gem because most people are not looking at this as a conference deciding game. But, last season both teams finished with the same record. Many look at Oklahoma vs these two as the conference deciders. But, this game should live up to the hype of a hidden gem in 2017.

5. Week 9: Arkansas v. Ole Miss

Another Week 9 game makes the Top Ten. Ole Miss and Arkansas have a great history of playing each other, but are often overshadowed by other SEC teams when they play. That’s why this game makes the list in 2017. It should be one of the most thrilling games in the 2017 season, and could very well be overlooked for bigger match-ups in the SEC, BIG-Ten and other major conferences.

4. Week 5: Nebraska v. Illinois

Illinois gave Nebraska a run for their money last season when nobody expected them to0. A bad fourth quarter cost Lovie Smith a huge upset win in his first season as Head Coach. None the less, he proved he can coach a team to play with the top teams in the BIG-Ten. This season with a year to work players into his system this game should be just about the same, but with a closer margin of victory. Tickets for this game shouldn’t be terrible as Illinois has not had a fantastic season 2007.

3. Week 1: Wyoming v. Iowa

Wyoming burst onto the scene last year with a major breakout season. Iowa had a good year as well. It all comes to a head in week one of the season, and yet is a hidden gem game. When most people look at the schedule this game could easily get overlooked. Iowa is not a BIG-ten powerhouse year after year, and nobody thinks of Wyoming as a football school. With tickets under thirty dollars you can get more than your moneys worth with this game.

2. Week 7: Ohio v. Bowling Green

Another MACtion game makes the list. These two teams have been atop the MAC-East for the past few seasons and no doubt will be battling it out again for the top spot. A Mid-Major conference game that will provide back and forth action will be overlooked again due to school size. If you don’t want to pay the price to get into the Horseshoe at Ohio State, this is one of your next best options.

1. Week 6: Penn State v. Northwestern

Pat Fitzgerald has gone up and down in his time at Northwestern, but always has his team put up a fight. Reigning BIG-Ten Champions Penn State visit in Week 6. This game might become the highlight of the week, but is also under the radar since it is on the road for PSU. Tickets under forty dollars are hard to beat getting a chance to see the reigning BIG-Ten champs. And expect Northwestern to fight tooth and nail for an upset.

 

It was hard to choose these Ten games as the Hidden Gems of the upcoming season. You might disagree with me on some, and you might think I am spot on with others. Putting all that aside, these games that made the list should live up to the hype of College Football. Now, breath, and go back to looking for more games so you don’t drive yourself crazy until August.

 

No College Football! What Do Fans Do For Three Months?

It’s been some since the 2017 College Football Championship. Signing Day is behind us as well, and everyone is talking baseball for the summer. So, what do die hard College Football fans do for the remaining three months before the season kicks-off the weekend of September 2nd? Enjoy the summer weather, watch some baseball, or dig ever deeper into your fandom and go crazy. All valid options, but the best thing to do is put the season on the back burner for the time being. Sounds crazy? Maybe not as crazy as you think.

Like any sport, College Football has an off-season. Now, it is a lot different from the NFL. There is no draft, no free agency period, and no blockbuster trades to talk about. But, what it does offer is the excitement if seeing where the next generations will play, big time coaching moves, and time to heal from the heartbreaking moments from last season. So, below are the Top Three things you can do with the remaining three months before the season starts to try and not go crazy.

  1. Research the upcoming Season 

Seems simple enough, look at the teams you are going to play. Which are home, and which are away. Mark the rivalry games with a big red circle. Expand your horizons though, look at local colleges around and see when and who they are playing. If you are near a major city the odds are you have a decent shot of having more then one Division 1 school within a few hours driving distance. They may offer some hidden gem games for the season. An example of this, Northwestern University in Evanston, IL is hosting Penn State October 7th. If you are southern Wisconsin, central Illinois, Northern Indiana, and even some parts of Michigan you could make a couple hour drive to see the reigning Big Ten Champions play, in a game where tickets could be mildly inexpensive. Even the smaller schools can offer some great games. The schedule has hidden gems like these throughout the entire season. So, on top of buying those season tickets for your team or finding the top games you want to go to for your team, expand your horizons for more good games to go and see.

2. Research the next generation

Every team has to recruit players each season to build the team you see on the field season after season. Look into the recruiting class your team has put together for this past year to find out what you can about the new fresh faces. Watch highlights you find of these new players to see what kind of impact they will have on your team. Who knows, you might see the next Star QB or LB for your team in this class. You can even look at who is committed for the upcoming seasons class and who your team is looking into. Even dive into the underclassmen who are ready to make an impact. You and your friends can spend hours debating who was a good signing and who they should have gotten but let slip away in the final days.

Is this article making you wish for football? Let @cleatgeeks and Pony Keg Sports help you with that by visiting the Pony Keg Sports Podcast where you can get a ton of football information from guys who really know their stuff!

3. Get the Fan Gear ready for the new season

*Disclaimer, this should only be done in the weeks right before the season*

Once August rolls around and coaches, players, trainers, and writers are at training camps and in full practice mode you should get the gear ready for the season. Now, this isn’t saying you can’t go out and buy new gear or wear your favorite team t-shirt in the middle of the summer. It just makes you want the season to come around sooner. Gear up for the season with the tailgating gear, face paint, and the party must haves for your Saturday viewing pleasure when the time comes around once again. Get ready for the first College Gameday of the season and wait for the crisp Fall air to return for the best time of year. College Football Season.

Now, try not to go crazy with me for the next three months.

 

Browns Cash in With Trio of 1st Round Draft Picks

 

 

The Cleveland Browns were the worst team in the league last season with a record of 1-15. We new coming into this draft Hue Jackson and his staff wanted to make a splash and bring in talent and that’s exactly what they did. With the number 1 pick the Browns selected Myles Garrett, the defensive end out of Texas A&M. According to Hue Jackson Garrett ” Is the best he seen in a while.” For the Browns their hoping that Garrett can be the next great pass rusher for the next 15 years.

Garrett, who missed out on the draft and instead watched it with friends and family in Arlington Texas, spoke to an ESPN reporter on getting drafted.

“It was really just a weight off of my shoulders to finally just get the announcement that what I have been working for is finally came to fruition and I can actually know where I am going, know who I am going up against and know the schedule,” said Garrett, “Now, it’s time to put in that work so I can be prepared to go against the best.”

Drafting the All American standout defensive end was not the surprise, but trading the 12th pick in the draft to the Texans, who drafted Deshaun Watson with that pick. In doing that the Browns got the 25th pick in exchange and a first rounder next year. Jabril Peppers from the University of Michigan was selected with that pick.
Huge Jackson told an ESPN reporter that Peppers will play some offense. In conclusion the Browns made another trade, this time trading the number 33 pick and a fourth round pick to Green Bay for the 29th pick in the draft.  They used that 29th pick on David NJoku, the tight end from Miami. In 12 games last year NJoku caught 43 passes and scored 8 touchdowns.

It was a busy night for the Browns, as they were the first team to draft three players in the first round since the Vikings in 2013.  Many wondered why one of the three picks was not used on a quarterback, which was one of many of their positions needed. Vice President Sashi Brown explained the reasoning to a ESPN reporter.

“We obviously value the position, but we don’t want to force certain positions,” vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said. “Obviously we have guys here on the roster and we want to give them an opportunity and we will continue to look, but we wanted to make sure we got players we felt good about. We’ve got a lot of holes to fill on this roster, so this is just about making sure when we get the quarterback it’s someone that we all believe in and get behind and move forward.”

Although the Browns did not draft a quarterback in the 1st round, the definitely got a huge amount of talent with the trio of first round picks they had.  

NFL Scouting Report; Reuben Foster

Linebacker/ Alabama

6’1/ 245

Stats: Senior Year/ 15 games

115 tackles/ 13 TFL/ 5 sacks/ 2 pass deflections

Strengths:

  • Great size for inside linebacker
  • Great production from college ++
  • Thumper +
  • Once he finds target, comes in like a missile in the backfield ++ (ELITE)
  • Short area quickness ++ (ELITE)
  • Instincts ++
  • Leader on the Alabama defense +
  • Gets to the quarterback on blitz- uses quickness and power to apply pressure +
  • Sideline to sideline speed +
  • Finds area to attack well
  • Doesn’t miss tackles ++ (ELITE)
  • Good tracking speed (pursuit)

 

Weaknesses

  • No interceptions in 3 years? –
  • Great teammates up front take up blockers
  • Injury —
  • Doesn’t read read-option well
  • Not good in coverage — (man or zone)

Summary

Reuben Foster is the best run-stopping inside linebacker coming out of the draft since Luke Kuechly. There, I said it. Foster does everything you want when it comes to stopping the run. I was very impressed by his ability to find the running back’s intended hole to run through, and stopping the running back. He plays downhill as a linebacker, and comes in like a missile to stop the running back. There are multiple plays where he tackles a running back, and you can hear the *pop* from the big hit Foster made. Foster is a big hitter, let’s say. Not only does Foster play downhill, but he also gets to both sidelines extremely well. His instincts help him make these tackles, and I think his instincts are elite for a college linebacker. Also, Foster is a sure tackler. He barely misses a tackle. For being an inside linebacker, his pass rushing skills are very polished. He gets pressure most of the time when he is sent on a blitz. His production at Alabama is very surprising to me. He produced with great numbers in his junior and senior seasons. Also, his leadership of the Alabama defense is something that is impressive. He led that defense to having a very good year. With that being said, there are some problems with Foster. The first problem I have with Foster, is his shoulder injury. For his position, and the way he plays the game, his shoulder is a vital part to him. He needs that to be healthy to fully reach his potential. The glaring weakness I see with Foster is his coverage ability. He has very little coverage ability, and that shows with his lack of interceptions and pass break-ups. Surprisingly, this is the only glaring weakness to Foster’s game. If he can show signs of improving coverage ability, Foster has the chance of becoming a top 5 inside linebacker in the NFL.

UPDATE: While at the Combine, Foster was drug tested just like every other athlete entering the draft, and the test came back positive. He claims it was food poisoning, but what do we know. This is a huge blow to Foster, once considered a top 5 pick, but will now most likely be dropping a bit. I wouldn’t expect too much of a fall, but one significant enough that it could result in a loss of a decent amount of money.

Comparison: Bobby Wagner

Grade: 93.5/100

2017 NFL Draft: 3 Running Backs Have 1st Round Talent

 

There are multiple positions in the NFL Draft that can be high-valued and diverse in talent, usually in skilled positions such as Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers. Another skilled position that recently had a high increase in value in the Draft is the Running Back position. In the past two NFL Drafts, there have been three Running Backs that have been drafted in the 1st round, two of them in the top 10 in Todd Gurley (10th pick by St. Louis in 2015) and Ezekiel Elliot (4th pick by Dallas last year). Before Gurley and Melvin Gordon were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft, there hasn’t been a Running Back selected in the 1st round since 3 were drafted in the 2012 NFL Draft. Scouts and analysts are quick to devalue a Running Back because they have the lowest shelf life in the NFL and it is easy to detect them as a bust.

This 2017 NFL Draft however, the need for a Running Back is extremely high and there are three Backs with 1st round talent. Leonard Fournette (LSU), Dalvin Cook (Florida State) and Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) are all players who have NFL worthy talent and each of them has a distinctive skill setting that makes them different from one another. Here are the 3 Running Backs and what their input might be for their respective selected team.

Leonard Fournette (LSU)

Fournette was on many team’s list of potential prospects since his early Collegiate days at LSU. Listed as the 9th best overall prospect by CBS Sports, the big bruising back is listed at 6-0, 240 pounds. Fournette is one of the most punishing backs in the Draft since the 2012 Draft in Trent Richardson (Alabama). He possess a large frame, a continuing motor, a surprising acceleration and is able to have the patience to wait for his Linemen to create holes on the defense. Fournette is by far one of the biggest, most powerful backs in this NFL Draft as he is able to create multiple yards after first contact. This back is also hard to tackle because of his size and surprising athleticism. In the 2017 NFL Combine, Leonard accounted for a 4.51 in the 40 yard dash and a 28 1/2 inch vertical jump which is only 2 inches behind Dalvin Cook (Florida State). Fournette is one of the strongest pass blocking Backs in this draft as he doesn’t have to cut the incoming blitzer to protect the Quarterback.

Despite being a punishing back, Fournette can be easy to stop in a long haul of a game if the opposing Defensive Line creates multiple penetration at the line of scrimmage. Fournette did not have solid games against the Alabama Crimson Tide in his 3 years because he was hesitate to make decisions whenever holes were closed. Outside of his questionable decision making, Fournette does not have the best hands. He had ball security issues throughout his career at LSU and is not a reliable target in the passing game. He has also suffered from injuries throughout his career as well mostly in is ligaments.

Fournette has a high amount of upside but has some questionable traits that can fixed in the film room and through practices. A team who selects this power back will need a solid Offensive Line and a smart Quarterback to lead him. The Carolina Panthers are a team that can make Leonard into a Pro-Bowler with their Quarterback in Cam Newton and an Offensive Line that is recovery through injuries and newly acquired pieces in OT Matt Kalil. If remained healthy, Fournette can be a force in the NFL for years to come.

Dalvin Cook (Florida State)

If there is a Running Back close to Ezekiel Elliot’s talent, it would be Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. The former Seminoles Running Back is one of the fastest Backs in the Draft along with Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. The attribute that separates Cook from the other top Backs in this Draft is that he can play in the Running & Passing game. Last season for Florida State, Cook accounted for 488 receiving yards due to his presence in the passing game from screens and simple Hitch routes. To go along with presence in the passing game, Cook has great instincts, fast breakout speed, agility and is able to make defenders miss in open spaces.

Although Dalvin Cook is one of the best outside runners in this draft, he does not have the physicality to run in between the tackles efficiently. Cook also has issues handling the ball on certain runs where he loses the ball to opposing teams. Of the top 3 Running Backs in the Draft, Cook has some of the same off-the-field issues that he will need to avoid in the future of his NFL career. The most recent NFL prospects who had multiple off-the-field issues were CB Justin Gilbert and QB Johnny Manziel (both selected by the Cleveland Browns).

If Dalvin Cook wants to have a great potential NFL career, he will need to avoid any potential off-the-field issues. Cook has great agility and speed, perfect for a team who is looking to establish a faster pace offense. If the New York Jets select RB Leonard Fournette with the 6th pick in the Draft, then the Carolina Panthers could be the ones to select Cook. The Cincinnati Bengals (9th pick), Indianapolis Colts (14th pick) or the Philadelphia Eagles (15th pick) are also looking to acquire a speedy back like Cook in the Draft.

Christian McCaffrey (Stanford)

The 3rd most likely Running Back to be selected in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft could be one of the most versatile players in the Draft in Christian McCaffrey. Not only is McCaffrey elusive and dangerous in the running & passing game but he is also dangerous in the return game. In the 2015-2016 College Football season, McCaffrey ran for 2,019 yards and 8 touchdowns, accounted for 645 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. He was also the most efficient kick returner in the nation by accounting for 1,070 yards and a touchdown along with a touchdown as a punt returner. To go along with his elusive fast speed, McCaffrey has incredible acceleration once he continues on a drive or route. McCaffrey can also play in a fast pace offense in the run game and in the passing game as a slot receiver due to his excellent route running.

Last season, opposing teams didn’t give a lot of chances for McCaffrey to return any kickoffs or punts. Once he was made inefficient in the return game, the Stanford Cardinal offense was not the high power team when Christian was returning kickoffs. Despite rushing for 1,603 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, McCaffrey is a limited player on offense. McCaffrey is a player who has a small frame and does not have efficient power in his run game. In the passing game, McCaffrey is a great receiver but does not have the strength and aggressiveness to block blitzing defenders.

McCaffrey is one of the most efficient specialists in this year’s NFL Draft. There will be teams looking to draft a simple Running Back may not get Christian because he may not fit systematically into their system. Every team needs a specialist in the return game and on offense that can be a wildcard in the run and pass game. One team that might be perfect for McCaffrey as a overall playmaker could be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (19th pick) because they have found their Quarterback in Jameis Winston, a Running Back in Doug Martin and Wide Receivers in DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans.

Is it to early to do a fantasy football draft? Not if you are the guys at Pony Keg Sports. See where they draft, who they draft and why they choose to draft those players at those spots as they draft live on their latest podcast right here.

 

There are 10 teams in the NFL that have a high-valued need for a Running Back and could acquire one in this Draft. Baltimore, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Washington and Tampa Bay are organizations that could’ve made a playoff run if their offense was more balanced due to a sufficient run game. While the Carolina Panthers (8th pick) have the biggest need for a Running Back in this Draft, you could see one go as early as the 4th pick to Jacksonville or the 6th pick to the New York Jets.

NFL Scouting Report; Solomon Thomas

Defensive Lineman/ Stanford

6’3 /270

Stats: Junior Year/ 13 games

61 tackles/ 14 TFL/ 8.5 sacks/ 1 forced fumble

Strengths:

AP Photo/Michael Conroy

  • Possesses spin move
  • Power/Strength ++ (ELITE)
  • First step burst ++
  • Great use of hands ++/ throws off blocker often
  • Relentless getting to the football ++ (ELITE)
  • Play recognition + / great in reading screens +
  • Sheds blocks ++
  • Versatile in college/ 4-3 or 3-4 end
  • Excellent play recognition/ SMART ++ (ELITE)
  • Rarely takes play off
  • Leader/ Loves the game of football / Won games for his team

 

Weaknesses:

  • Doesn’t finish in all plays
  • Not agile enough to counter a juke/shake move – /trouble containing mobile QB’s
  • Big enough to play 3-4 end? Fast enough to play 4-3 end in pros?
  • Does not take best angle when in pursuit of ball carrier (in open space)
  • Offside issues in North Carolina game- lined up in neutral zone
  • Didn’t play well when double teamed
  • Sometimes gets overpowered by bigger guards and centers

Summary

Watching Solomon Thomas play is very enjoyable. This is because he is the best defensive player on the field. He is a disruptor. He makes plays. He leads his defense to success. Solomon Thomas’ strengths are endless. His power, play recognition and relentlessness are all traits that will transition right into the NFL. His block shedding is the best I have seen while watching such a big defensive lineman. This is because of the excellent hand usage on offensive lineman, and his ELITE first step quickness. In games versus North Carolina and Colorado, there are multiple plays where he literally throws an offensive lineman out of the way while getting to the football. Solomon Thomas possesses an arsenal of pass rush moves including a bull rush, spin, and speed rush. Thomas’ size is great for a 4-3 defensive lineman spot. He also produced well on a talented Stanford defensive line. Most of all, Solomon Thomas loves the game of football. He’s going to produce wherever he is put. He will be the leader on the defensive line. While being basically a prototype defensive lineman, he does need to work on some areas. Solomon Thomas would often get juked out while trying to finish a sack on a mobile quarterback. He does not possess a quick, agile, change of direction move. In some plays while tracking a running back from behind, Thomas took a poor angle which led the running back to keep running without getting stopped. The most major flaw I saw from Thomas was that he was cancelled out on plays where he was double-teamed. If the double team came from an additional offensive-lineman, or a back, Thomas was stood up straight in his tracks. Besides these weaknesses, Solomon Thomas has the skill-set, mindset, and leadership ability to be the best player in this draft class. He has the potential to be the best defensive player for any team in this league.

 

Grade: 97/100

Comparison: A mix of 2013 Robert Quinn, and Aaron Donald, with the LEADERSHIP of JJ Watt.

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