Oct. 24, 2016
The Surprising Teams of College Football
One of the favorite hobbies of the sporting world is making predictions. It doesn't matter if it is February, sports fans are begging for a College Football preseason poll. Naturally, these predictions are all made off of gut feelings and guesswork from the past season's success. The teams with the biggest returning stars usually get the preseason top 25 nod (your Clemsons, Stanfords, and Oklahomas). With the premature and usually inaccurate rankings, teams are bound to rise from the land of the unranked into the spotlight of the top 25. These teams got dissed from the preseason festivities, but are currently enjoying successful seasons with impressive rankings.
Who saw these guys coming? Apparently not the voters, as they began the season unranked. I am even a fan of the Badgers, but I didn't expect much from the 2016-2017 season. Sure, star running back Corey Clement was back for his senior campaign, but he didn't have much star power surrounding him. The opener against LSU loomed, with the wrecking ball Leonard Fournette leading the team. No one expected much of a fight from the lowly Badgers, as a Senior was getting his first real shot, a kid by the name of Bart Houston. Somehow Clement and his band of misfit toppled the juggernaut Tigers, shocking the nation. Houston wasn't stellar, neither was Clement. Houston threw two picks, and Clement rushed for 80 yards on 20 tries. In the following non conference cupcake matchups against Akron and Georgia state, Clement began dominating. Houston, however, was slowly replaced by sophomore Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook took the starting job for the Michigan State job, which the badgers won by a convincing score of 30-6. Though the Badgers stumbled against Michigan in a hard fought 7-14 loss, they are here to stay in the national attention. J.J. Watt's younger brother, T.J., is leading the defense into a huge match-up with Ohio State. Number 8 Wisconsin is a legitimate threat to the Number 2 Buckeyes, and it is sure to be a great game.
Texas A&M Aggies
Boy, did the voters drop the ball with Texas A&M. The Aggies too started the season unranked for whatever reason. Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight has been tearing up defenses with his massive biceps (seriously, look at the arms on this guy!) Knight is deadly both with his arms and legs, passing for 1,500 yards and rushing for 502. Josh Reynolds and Christian "Captain" Kirk are enjoying the big arm of their new shot caller, both with 4 touchdowns and more than 300 yards receiving for both of them. It hasn't been an easy road to their current number 6 ranking. They escaped with overtime wins against an overrated UCLA team and an appropriately rated Tennessee team. They also man handled a then 17th ranked Arkansas squad. A&M is pissed about their preseason snub, and they are playing like it. Next up is Alabama, the epitome of the word "dynasty". The matchup is one made in the heavens, an underrated team versus a routinely top rated team. A stingy defense versus a potent offense. Following the Bama matchup, the rest of the season is a cake walk, the biggest challenging coming against Ole Miss. If the Aggies somehow secure a victory against their SEC big brother, they would all but punch their ticket to the College Football Playoffs.
Western Michigan Broncos
Of course the Broncos were unranked preseason, who has heard of them? Well, if you haven't heard of Zach Terrell yet, get ready for some education. The man has passed for 1,390 yards and 15 touchdowns. Good numbers, right? But nothing that special for a mid conference quarterback, right? Well, he also has a completion rate of 70% and has yet to throw an interception. Every pass thrown has a purpose, and more often than not reaches it's intended target. His favorite target, Corey Davis, is no slouch on the field either. He has compiled 589 yards and 8 touchdowns thus far on the season. One would be foolish to refer to the Broncos as one dimensional, however. Jamauri Bogan and Jarvion Franklin both have over 500 yards rushing and have 5 touchdowns each. Their top three backs are averaging 5.9, 5.0, and 6.7 yards per carry. In simpler terms, the Western Michigan Bronco's offense is not being very nice to opposing defenses. They already have wins over two power five teams, Northwestern and Illinois. The Broncos will finish the season undefeated. The rest of the season is as easy as easy gets. I can't determine who the best opponent left is, because they are all so horrid. The decision is up to the committee whether they will play in the playoff or not. Odds are they will not, as there are plenty of bigger programs that will finish undefeated or with no losses. But, hey, enjoy the top 25 ranking, you have earned it.
Surprising teams aren't always the winners. Sometimes the teams projected to have the best seasons crash and burn. That has been the case with a few big name teams this year. Teams with high dreams have been crushed by early season losses. Unproven reputations tarnished against lesser opponents. These teams were projected to dominate, and have done anything but.
It pains me to write this, it really does. As a die hard Irish fan, the last thing I want to do is bash them. The fact of the matter, however, is that Notre Dame is bad. Many viewed the opening loss to Texas as a fluke against an underrated team. The ship seemed to be turned around with a convincing Nevada win. That is when things got ugly in South Bend. Back to back losses against Michigan State and Duke derailed the playoff hopes and morale of the team. After a win against Syracuse that was way too close, the Irish lost yet again to NC State. How did the preseason number 10 team lay such an egg? Simply put, their defense is atrocious. The defense couldn't stop my nephew on a fly route, and he's three years old. All of Notre Dame fandom called for the immediate termination of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder. Their prayers were answered, but not much changed for the dismal Irish. The one bright spot of the Irish is standout quarterback Deshone Kizer. Despite the absolute lack of help from his defense, Kizer is doing his best to win games for Notre Dame. He's thrown for a respectable 1,621 yards and 14 touchdowns. As easy as the first half of the season should have been, the second half will be a nightmare for the floundering Irish. Match ups with Miami (FL), Navy, and USC are sure to be difficult for Notre Dame. They are in serious danger of missing the bowl season if they don't figure out their issues soon.
Stanford and Notre Dame are set to meet in a battle of the disappointments in week 8. Stanford has just as awful of a first half of the season as Notre Dame has. The Cardinal were the preseason number 8 team. They started strong, with wins against Kansas State, USC, and UCLA. Then, the wheels fell off of both Christian McCaffrey and his team. In the team's two most recent losses, McCaffrey posted a total yardage count of 79 against Washington, and a sickening 40 total yards against Washington State. The Washington game is justified, the Huskies are a very good football team. But putting up 40 yards against Washington State, the punching bag of the Pac-12, is inexcusable. Now of course, McCaffrey's poor performance hasn't been the singular reason that the Cardinal, not by a long shot. But when you are the base of the offense and a preseason Heisman favorite, sub-100 yards games are unacceptable. McCaffrey has an opportunity to redeem himself against the porous Notre Dame defense this weekend.
The poor Tigers have the unfortunate task of playing in the SEC. Any loss in the division means your chances of winning it all are gone. Add an out of conference loss on top of that, may as well scrap the season. Well, both of those unfortunate events happened to the currently unranked LSU TIgers, and apparently they agree. Head Coach Les Miles has been canned following losses to Auburn and Wisconsin. Guess those signing his checks were tired of waiting for him to beat Alabama. LSU's season is not completely lost, it is just essentially over. Odds are they won't win out, with remaining match ups including hosting Alabama and taking a visit to College Station to play Texas A&M. Leonard Fournette is still doing Fournette like things. He's averaging almost 6 yards per carry, but has only found the end zone twice. That may be one explanation for the struggles of his team. It could also be the quarterback issues. Who knows, LSU is still a good team, they have just had a few unfortunate slips. Yes, a preseason number 4 ranking was completely unnecessary. But, the team is growing, and can be dangerous later in the season.