Most of college football started their pre-season training camps late last week and we’re less than 3 weeks away from Duquesne at UMass (first game of the season). I’m so deprived of football that I’ve been reading The Atheltic’s coverage of Tennessee’s camp that had a play-by-play recap of the Quarterback passes in practice.
Last year’s champion: Florida Atlantic
HC Lane Kiffin went thru the C-USA like a hot knife thru butter. The Owls started the year 1-3 and not particularly looking that great in the process but their offense erupted behind RB Devin Singletary who rushed for 1,920 yards and 32 TDs on the season and the Owls sprinted thru conference place 8-0 before dismantling North Texas in the C-USA Championship game.
Predicted champion: Florida Atlantic
As mentioned above, the Owls and Kiffin torched the conference last year. I’m expecting the same from the Owls this year even though last year’s starting QB Jason Driskel is no longer with the team. Netflix’s Last Chance U star from season one, QB De’Andre Johnson is battling for the QB1 spot with Oklahoma transfer Chris Robison. Johnson was expected to start last year but Driskel beat him out in camp, and Johnson had a serious medical scare in week two that held him out for most of the season. That said, the return of RB Devin Singletary is a big plus for the Owls, I’m expecting a rerun of last year’s performance.
Player(s) to Watch: Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary (HB)
Devin “Motor” Singletary burned white hot for the Owls last season, doubling his carries, and just about doubling his production. Singletary had seven games of 3-TDs or more last season. He’s the staple of the offense and expect him to continue that production this year.
Teams with Question marks: North Texas
The Mean Green (Which have an Eagle Mascot?) were 5-8 in HC Seth Littrell’s first season, last year the Mean Green improved greatly to a 9-5 record and made the C-USA Championship game. QB Mason Fine returns along with three of their top receivers but they’ll be missing their leading rusher in Jeff Wilson who’s now in the NFL. Was last year a fluke for the Mean Green or indication of something larger for Littrell’s team?
Last year’s champion: Army, Notre Dame
Army won the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for the first time in 21 years and the first time to 10-wins in as many years as well. Notre Dame also had a nice year winning 10 games and battering many opponents with their effective running game.
Predicted champion: Notre Dame
Not going to lie, this was a really hard choice to make, looking at the schedules associated with these Independent teams are tough. Many don’t play each other and have had seemingly flukey, fragile seasons in my opinion. You have so many teams where you’re not really sure what to expect. UMass could go 6-6 or 1-11, New Mexico State made a bowl game last year but could just as easily go 2-10, BYU was 9-4 two years ago before last years debacle 4-9 season that included a loss to previously mentioned UMass at home. Overall though I see more winnable games for Notre Dame than for any of the other schools including Army who has arguably the easiest schedules of them all and are coming off a 10-win season.
Player(s) to Watch: UMass’ Andrew Ford (QB) (Kind of sarcastic)
Ford is a returning starter for the Minutemen as they look to make their first bowl game since joining the FBS (2012). Ford has improved each year since arriving in Amherst as last year he reduced his interceptions from 14 to 4 and managed to increase his yardage. Ford was listed as a Davey O’Brien watch list. Along with pretty much every senior/junior QB that’s a returning starter in the FBS.
Teams with Question marks: Notre Dame
Pressure is always on the Irish, and especially on HC Brian Kelly. The Irish are coming off a great bounceback year going 10-3 after they had gone 4-8 in 2016. But that bounce back was made possible bc of a dominant offensive line that will be without two top-10 picks in this years NFL draft (Guard Quenton Nelson and Tackle Mike McGlinchey). That hole on the offensive line needs to be filled in order for the Irish to maintain their forward momentum from last season. It’s starts with a blockbuster game week one vs Michigan (September 1st, 7:30PM EST).
Last year’s champion: Toledo
The Rockets led by their senior QB Logan Woodside smashed all before them as they won the MAC last year over Akron in a blow out.
Predicted champion: Buffalo
The media voted Ohio an overwhelming favorite to win the MAC this year, and I don’t blame them with all of the senior talent available to HC Frank Solich in Athens. However one program that’s been on the rise as of late has been the Bufflo Bulls. The Bulls were 2-4 in games decided by one score in 2017 in route to a 6-6 season. However when QB Tyree Jackson started games they were 5-3 which included a 3-1 run at the end of the season that saw the Bulls beat this years’ MAC favorite Ohio in the season finale 31-24. Jackson is back for his Junior season and I expect the Bulls to rush thru the MAC.
Player(s) to Watch: Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson (QB) & Buffalo’s Anthony Johnson (WR)
The 6’7” Junior exploded in the last 4 games of last season. Jackson averaged 340 yards per game and threw 9 TDs to 2 INTs while leading the Bulls to a 3-1 record. Jackson will also have his favorite target from last season, WR Anthony Johnson who caught 76 passes for 1,356 yards and 14 TDs in 2017, look out for this duo!
Teams with Question marks: Ohio
This is very much a “gut feeling” type of thought. I really do root for the Bobcats to do well in the MAC. I always felt that HC Frank Solich got a raw deal when he was fired at Nebraska for not winning enough in 2003. Solich parlayed that time at Nebraska to Ohio where he’s been in charge since 2005, leading the Bobcats to 4 MAC title games, losing them all. Let that sink in, he hasn’t won a conference title yet in Athens. The media seems to think that the Bobcats are the favorites to take home the MAC Crown this year and I’m not so sure. When the Bobcats been favored to win they haven’t.
2011 Solich had the Bobcats in the MAC title game for the third time in six years, but they lost 23-20 to Northern Illinois.
Back in 2012, the Bobcats began the year at Penn State and upset the heavily favored Nittany Lions en route to a 7-0 record that saw them reach as high as #23 in the polls, they then promptly lost to arch rival Miami (OH) for only the 2ndtime since Solich has been at Ohio (and hasn’t lost since) and followed that up by losing three of their next four games in-conference missing the division title.
2016 Ohio was a heavy underdog to an undefeated Western Michigan and played them to the wire but fell 29-23.
Can the Bobcats and Solich get over this psychological hump of not just getting to the MAC championship game but winning it?
Mountain West Conference
Last year’s champion: Boise State
Boise reclaimed their “rightful” place on top of the Mountain West Conference last season, topping the year prior’s conference champions San Diego State.
Predicted champion: Boise State
When Boise is able to get going like they did with Dan Hawkins and Chris Pedersen as HC they are hard to beat. It appears that HC Bryan Harson has the Broncos on the right track, as every year since he’s been the HC in Boise, the Broncos have finished first in the 247 recruiting rankings for the MWC.
Player(s) to Watch: San Diego State’s Juwan Washington (HB)
Washington was the back-up to last year’s national leading rusher Rashaad Penny. While Penny rushed for over 2,200 yards, Washington managed to get his fair share of yards, rushing for 759 on 127 carries. Can Washington be the Aztecs’ Penny in 2018?
Teams with Question marks: San Diego State, Wyoming
Both teams are replacing players who gave their respective programs national attention: San Diego State with Rashaad Penny and Wyoming with QB Josh Allen. It’s going to be interesting to see how both of these teams are able to replace such program-defining players.
Coming up next week are the previews for the Pac-12, SEC, and the SunBelt!