Conference Preview Part IV, 2018

The more and more football camp videos I see, the more excited I become. We’re one week away from the release of the first “Watch Guide” for the 2018 season. Get excited, people!

 

Pac-12

 

Last year’s champion: USC

Washington coming back to the pack and losing to Stanford really helped propel USC to this championship. Can’t take it away from the Trojans though, they won the games.

 

Predicted champion: Washington

With Darnold gone for USC, a home game vs Stanford, and no USC on the schedule, senior QB Jake Browning is going for one more as the Huskies starter. I’m expecting a market correction and a Washington Pac-12 title. Although I heard an interesting potential hiccup for the Huskies on the schedule: the road game at UCLA Saturday night, October 6th is followed by a road game at Oregon the following Saturday, where the Ducks will be coming off a bye and all too eager to take on their arch-rival Huskies. Look out for that road trip to Eugene!

Purple will reign again.

 

Player(s) to Watch: Stanford’s Bryce Love (HB)

Love rushed for 2,118 yards for the Cardinal last season. In the first seven games of the year he averaged 198.14 yards per game before he was lost for a game due to injury. The following six games, Love averaged only 121 yards per game. Love is explosive and boy, is he fast! He could be up for the Heisman, among many other awards, but being on the left coast could hamper his Heisman campaign (as geography has hurt many Pac-12 Heisman contenders that haven’t played for USC).

#20 Bryce Love ran away from a lot of people last season.

 

Arizona’s Khalil Tate (QB)

Tate was electric for Arizona last year, throwing for 1,591 yards, 14 TDs and 9 INTs, while rushing for 1,411 yards, scoring 12 TDs on the ground. Tate has a new coach in Kevin Sumlin, who had a reputation as a QB Guru until Johnny Manziel left for the NFL at A&M. Can Sumlin elevate Tate’s performance to Manziel-esq numbers?

 

Teams with Question marks: Arizona schools

Both Arizona and Arizona State have new coaches in Kevin Sumlin (Formally of Texas A&M and now at Arizona) and Herm Edwards (press conference fame/former NFL coach, now at ASU). Both schools missed bowl games in 2016, made bowl games in 2017 and then fired their coaches… Something must be in the water in the state of AZ, and I’m keeping an eye on the situation.

 

SEC

 

Last year’s champion: Georgia

HC Kirby Smart put it all together for the Dawgs as they finally lived up to the potential their fervent fan base so desperately wanted. While Georgia did win the SEC and overpowered the SEC East division, the Dawgs lost out to Alabama in OT in the national championship game.

 

Predicted champion:  Alabama

I may have been wrong about Alabama last year, picking them to win the conference only for Auburn to get white hot at the end of the season and prevent the Tide from reaching the SEC title game. However, the schedule lines up perfectly for the always-dominant Crimson Tide. Auburn travels to Tuscaloosa, along with A&M, while the Tide have road games at Tennessee (where they won their last five road games vs UT by an average of 27 points), and at LSU (where Alabama hasn’t lost since 2010). Oh, and they have two QBs.

QB Competition at Alabama

Player to Watch: Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham (QB)

Stidham was a highly touted transfer when he arrived on the Plains at Auburn last year and he lived up to the hype. 3,100 yards passing, 18 TD passes to only 6 INTs, Stidham, along with RB Kerryon Johnson, elevated the Tigers to the SEC title game. Johnson is in the NFL now, but Stidham returns and is looking to cement his status as one of the top QBs in the upcoming NFL draft.

#8 Jarrett Stidham was impressive in year 1 at Auburn.

 

Teams with Question marks: A&M, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU

All but LSU have a new coach, and with a new coach brings fresh new air for programs that desperately needed it. Expectations are high at A&M and Florida, and fans seem to think a new HC means the wins will return just as fast as they left under their previous regimes. Tennessee and Arkansas’ fans seem to expect a longer rebuild.

Lastly, LSU is on this list, and while they have the same coach as a year ago it appears that the program is heading for a rebuilding year (aka, not a good season). No stud RBs waiting in the wings like last year, no returning starter at QB and a tough schedule that is relentless. I could easily see LSU lose six games this season (vs Miami (FL) in Arlington, at Auburn, vs Georgia, at Florida, vs Alabama, and at Texas A&M.) Pressure rightly or wrongly will be on Coach Orgeron in Baton Rouge.

Pressure may build for HC Ed Orgeron at LSU.

 

SunBelt

 

Last year’s champion: Troy, App State

Troy reclaimed their place as a SunBelt staple, winning the conference (they tied on conference record with App State but had a better overall record). HC Neal Brown is the next up-and-coming coach in the college ranks, and I’m expecting big things out of him.

 

Predicted champion: Troy

We’ll finally have a SunBelt championship game this year after a couple years of co-champions. The league has been around for 17 seasons 8 of which ended with co-champs. I’m actually pretty excited about this SunBelt Championship Game – two well-run lower-tier FBS teams facing off. I’m expecting Troy to continue their run of 10-win seasons and top the conference once again. As long as Neal Brown is in charge of the Trojans, Troy reigns supreme in the SunBelt.

Troy claimed the SunBelt in 2017, they will again in 2018.

 

Player(s) to Watch:  Umm… Really trying to find someone to highlight here, but New Mexico State’s Jaleel Scott (WR) is in the NFL now and the Aggies aren’t in the Sunbelt any longer, so I’m leaving this blank as a protest. (Take that SunBelt!)

 

Teams with Question marks: New Mexico State, Idaho

Okay, this is not really fair, as both teams got kicked to the curb by the SunBelt a couple of years ago. Idaho is playing in the FCS now in the BigSky conference (where they should be a more natural fit amongst Montana and Eastern Washington), while New Mexico State is FBS independent for the foreseeable future. It’s too bad, because both schools had parting flashes of glory in the conference, with Idaho going 9-4 in 2016 and New Mexico State going 7-6 and making a bowl game last season. They’ll be missed here on DaveonCFB.com.

 

Next week we’re on to Watch Guide Week One (Part I), see y’all then!

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