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Another preseason unfolds as we move beyond National Signing Day to the start of Spring practices for many teams. Fans pin our hopes for this autumn on the progress our schools make in these February and March days.
Reflections on National Signing Day
The Kickoff ranked Alabama at the top of our 30 best recruiting hauls. Nick Saban and Company signed a total of 28 players, six of them in the Top 30, 14 of them in the Top 10 and two JUCO transfers. We expect that losing to Clemson in the title game won’t do much to affect Bama’s habit of reloading with the nation’s top talents. The six 5-star prospects this year for Bama are OT Alex Leatherwood, RB Najee Harris, OLB Dylan Moses, DW Labryan Ray, QB Tua Tagovailoa, and WR Jerry Jeudy. Last year, the Tide had a mere 25 recruits, including a mere four 5-star players, so watch for the abundance of riches to pay off in Tuscaloosa.
Across the state, rival Auburn claimed the top Junior College prospect, 5-Star Quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who picked them over Florida and Texas A&M. Considering the problems the Tigers have had at the QB position this past couple of seasons, Stidham will be a welcome addition to the team. They also just hired Larry Porter, one of the nation’s top recruiters, away from North Carolina.
Filling out the top 10 in recruiting this year are Ohio State (signing 21), Michigan (30), Southern Cal (24), Georgia (26), Florida State (23), LSU (24), Stanford (14), Oklahoma (27), and Auburn (21).
Out of the Top 30 Overall high school prospects, UCLA got 5-star defensive end Jaelen Phillips, whose father was also a Bruin. The Tennessee Vols signed 5-star offensive tackle Trey Smith, a Parade All-America honorable mention. We listed the Top 30 in the most recent edition of The Kickoff newsletter, as well as the Top high school prospects by position and where those guys committed to play.
Defending National Champs Clemson had the 13th ranked recruiting class with 14 signees, including two Top 30 prospects, WR Tee Higgins and QB Hunter Johnson, both considered 5-star players. Replacing Deshaun Watson is no small feat, but two other highly ranked QB recruits join Johnson in going after the job.
You can see the future of college football taking shape! Get ready to hear names like Tagovailoa, Cam Akers, Davis Mills, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Colby Parkinson, Trey Smith, Wyatt Davis, Cesar Ruiz, Jaelan Philips, Marvin Wilson, Dylan Moses, Jacob Phillips, Jeffrey Okudah, Jacoby Stevens, and Brendon White referenced on future Saturdays. Of course, there’s no guarantee these young men will live up to their hype (or how soon they will begin to make an impact). In the February newsletter, we designated which of these prospects we believe are future stars, program changers, first year contributors, developmental players, and FBS prospects.
When it comes to intra-state rival bragging rights, our February issue also listed the top recruit in all 50 states.
Among the changes on the sidelines to look forward to:
Tom Herman replacing Charlie Strong at Texas. Strong replacing Willie Taggart at USF. Former Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Luke Fickell replacing Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati. We also get to see how long Ed Orgeron can avoid the same fate as Les Miles at LSU. We’re curious how Former Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin does as Head Coach at FAU. Former Temple Head Coach Matt Rhule takes over from Jim Grobe at Baylor.
It is fun to imagine the impact these additions and changes will make, especially if our teams did not finish up to their full potential in 2016.
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Another great season of college football ended Monday night with Clemson’s last-second (literally) touchdown to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game. Tommy Duff, Editor of The Kickoff college football newsletter, believes quarterback play was the difference for the Tigers.
“Deshaun Watson took a lot of punishment all night long and showed a lot of ability to stay calm and show poise in pressure situations,” Duff said. “He torched the Alabama defense in the fourth quarter by wearing them out. They couldn’t stop him in the second half. Watson played with a chip on his shoulder because he’s from near Georgia but the kid they recruited for quarterback instead of him is now the Bulldogs’ back up punter. Watson deserves all of the accolades he is getting.”
Duff said Alabama switching offensive coordinators a week before the championship game did no favors for Quarterback Jalen Hurts. “Hurts made some good plays but he was off. He looked uncomfortable. When Bo Scarbrough got hurt, it deprived Alabama of their power back to pound the ball and Jalen had to carry the team.”
In the end, Clemson’s fourth quarter 21-point rally was too much for an Alabama defense that had dominated teams all season long.
Although Tide fans ended the night sad and shocked (perhaps having forgotten how it feels to lose a game), Nick Saban’s team is always a threat to be right back in the national championship game next year.
Looking Ahead Part I
Duff said he also sees great potential for USC and Penn State: “The Rose Bowl was a great game at the same level as the national title game. These teams are loaded with talent. If USC was playing Alabama right now, I think they could be very dangerous.”
He said the ACC showed it is moving closer to matching the SEC, but the loss by Ohio State and the performance of the Big 10 conference teams overall this season exposed “a flop. Penn State was the one good team that showed up this bowl season. Wisconsin was not a good matchup with Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl. The Big 10 had 4 good-to-great teams, then a lot of mediocrity. SEC teams might have one week where they play weak teams, but the rest of the season they have to rise and play to the best of their ability to win.”
Duff counts Oklahoma, which defeated Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, among the teams to watch in 2017 because of getting QB Baker Mayfield back.
“Georgia is also positioned to do well with Chubb and Michel returning,” Duff said. “He may be a great recruiter, but it remains to be seen whether Kirby Smart can head coach after they went 4-4 in the SEC. I expect LSU will also do well. Auburn must find a quarterback that can work in Gus Malzahn’s system. It’s hard to put my finger on Tennessee, which is losing some great talent but has this Jarrett Guarantano kid who reminds me of Marcus Mariota and is faster than Dobbs. There will be pressure on Butch Jones to demonstrate the Volunteers are beyond rebuilding years and Tennessee hasn’t peaked in what it can accomplish.”
Looking Ahead Part II
The next issue of The Kickoff, due February 6th, will have full National Signing Day coverage. Duff said he loves covering recruiting “because it has all of the fun and intrigue of the regular season – the last-minute decisions and teams sending out their best recruiters to battle for the next crop of great talent. We’ll be listing the Top 10 in every position and following these high school kids and JUCO talent.”
In fact, The Kickoff publishes a total of 23 issues each year, including 6 during the off-season. This fall, the cycle will begin anew.
“The Kickoff would like to thank everyone for helping to make our 67th year successful,” Duff said. “We are planning on some big additions for next year with weekly bonus coverage. We look forward to seeing you next season!”
To subscribe to THE KICKOFF, email email@example.com, call (423) 267-0953 or subscribe online: http://thekickoffstore.com/subscriptions/individual/
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College football bowl games are upon us and fans have plenty of viewing to do as the College Football Playoff approaches. Tommy Duff, Editor of The Kickoff newsletter, said “this is one of the better bowl seasons we’ve had in recent years with the way the bidding and acceptance has gone. There are some good matchups this time around.”
In the College Football Semi-Playoffs, No. 1 Alabama will play No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta while No. 2 Clemson matches up against No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale AZ on New Year’s Eve at 3 pm and 7 pm respectively.
Duff thinks Alabama and Washington has potential to be particularly interesting to watch.
“Alabama has been dominating all season, but Washington finished the regular season 12-1,” he said. “The Huskies could come in and play lights out because they’re one of the better coached teams in the country with Chris Petersen. However, they haven’t played Alabama’s schedule. Clemson and Ohio State should be a great game as well.”
The winners of those games will clash in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game January 9th in Tampa FL.
Alabama Offensive Coordinator Lane Kiffin announced he will coach in that game before leaving to become the head coach at Florida Atlantic. “FAU wasn’t exactly his first choice. He wanted a big-time coaching job, but I think there’s a ceiling on how far Kiffin can go because there are just too many questions about his character.” Steve Sarkisian, also an ex-USC coach, was hired by Nick Saban to lead the offense in 2017.
Looking back on the regular season, Duff said he was surprised by the ascent of Washington (which started ranked No. 14 in the AP preseason poll and No. 19 in The Kickoff’s preseason poll). “Colorado also did a pretty amazing job this season considering how badly they were recently,” he said. On the other side of the equation, Duff said he “kind of had a feeling” Notre Dame was overrated in the preseason and “it was shocking to see how bad Michigan State was this year, and I think a lot of people expected more from Houston.”
The announcement by Nick Chubb and Sony Michel that they’ll return in 2017 “is a huge deal,” Duff said. “It puts Georgia in positions to be favorites for the SEC East championship next season. I don’t think the Florida Gators have sold anyone on being that good. They sort of benefitted from Tennessee’s misfortunes to end up in the SEC title game. Tennessee is going to lose Dobbs. The Volunteers had a disappointing season because of so many injuries late in the season, same as at Auburn. Fournette leaving LSU isn’t really a big impact because he missed part of this year and the guy behind him, Darius Guice, is really good as well.”
As the teams play in and prepare for bowl games over the next several days, Duff isn’t one of those people who think there are too many bowl games. But then again, why would anyone who loves the sport want to see fewer games?
“I do wish the bowl games put more emphasis on New Year’s Day like they did 10 or 15 years ago,” Duff said. “It has kind of taken the shine of New Year’s Day having 3 games on the 23rd, 4 games on the 27th, 4 on the 28th, 4 on the 29th, 5 on the 30th, 4 on New Year’s Eve, and 5 on January 2nd. I have a lot of good memories of spending New Year’s Day watching it packed full of college football, but ESPN controls it all now, and they want to maximize viewership for every day by spreading it out.”
In Issue 16 of The Kickoff, we listed all of the bowls dates and start times, who is playing, in which cities, and on which TV networks, along with The Kickoff’s Power Ratings comparisons for each of the matchups. Being able to view their schedules and results side-by-side certainly makes it easier to measure expectations.
In that issue, we also listed the major award recipients in college football, listed the bowl game payouts, named players to our Kickoff First and Second All American Team, listed conference standings, listed our final pre-bowl power ratings for 128 teams
The Kickoff’s Post Bowl/Season Wrap Up Issue will come out January 10, 2017 – one day after Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, or Washington grabs the glory of a national championship victory.
Learn more about The Kickoff college football newsletter.
The coaching carousel is accelerating in college football.
LSU fired Les Miles in week four after starting the season 2-2, including a loss to an Auburn team that began the year 1-2 but has since prospered. Interim coach Ed Orgeron has helped the Tigers regain their confidence with wins, including a 38-21 win against Ole Miss, but the real test is Nov. 5th against Nick Saban and Alabama.
Tommy Duff, Editor of THE KICKOFF, said, “To be honest, I have no idea what will happen at LSU. They should hire Orgeron, but I don’t think the administration wants to. If they beat Florida, Arkansas, and A&M, I don’t see how they don’t hire him. They won’t beat Alabama. The school administration wants more of a marquee name for recruiting purposes. However, LSU recruits itself because of the large amount of in-state talent, so I personally don’t think it matters.”
The SEC West picture has gotten more interesting with the wins by LSU and Auburn, signaling to Bama that it will have to actually earn the West after putting away Texas A&M last week. Auburn thrashed Arkansas 56-3, yet Duff doesn’t think Gus Malzahn’s job is safe just yet despite the dramatic turnaround. “It’s Auburn. He’ll never be completely off the hot seat there,” Duff said. “They better stick to a coach for a while. But they have roared back to life and into SEC West contention.”
Texas Coach Charlie Strong is all but gone after the Longhorns are struggling for a third straight season. “Strong’s gone. They’ll get (Tom) Herman from Houston,” Duff predicted. Texas lost to Kansas State last week while Houston lost to SMU. “All Strong can do is just keep working hard to try and salvage the season. Houston was the toast of the football world after week one, now they are a playoff afterthought.”
Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick expressed “complete confidence” in Brian Kelly despite the Fighting Irish being 2-5 as they go into Saturday’s game against Miami. The Oregon Ducks are also floundering at 2-5 after a double overtime loss at California, but will Mark Helfrich have had enough recent success to avoid the hot seat after losing five in a row this season? Duff doesn’t think so if they continue to lose.
“Oregon will fire Helfrich,” he said. “Notre Dame won’t fire Kelly.”
In addition to Miles at LSU, Florida International fired Ron Turner after an 0-4 start and Darrell Hazell got canned at Purdue. Fresno State fired Tim DeRuyter after a 1-7 start to the season and a six-game losing streak. Going forward, besides Strong and Helfrich, Steve Addazio at Boston College (3-4), Georgia Tech’s (4-3) Paul Johnson and UCLA’s (3-5) Jim Morrow may all want to dust off their resumes. Duff said the injury to UCLA QB Josh Rosen has put the Bruins on the back foot.
No one is questioning the security of Urban Meyer’s job at Ohio State despite the Buckeyes falling to Penn State and tumbling from #2 to #6 in the AP Top 25 and #8 in the Coaches Poll. They fell from #2 to #9 on the Kickoff Top 25.
On the other side of football fortunes, Duff said #10 West Virginia and unranked Syracuse are trending up on the Kickoff Thermostat. “The Orange have their first back-to-back wins of the season (against then #17 Virginia Tech and Boston College), with one major upset while the undefeated Mountaineers look like a Big 12 Title contender.” Syracuse faces Clemson on Nov. 5th while West Virginia plays Oklahoma State this weekend.
Like everyone else, Duff’s eyes will be on these games and the huge contests ahead this week. The Kickoff’s Games of the Week are #3 Clemson at #12 Florida State, #14 Florida vs Georgia, and #7 Nebraska at #11 Wisconsin.
As we make our way through the second half of the season, The Kickoff continues to accept entries for the FANtastic Football Sweepstakes. On December 2nd, we’ll draw a random entry to win a 48-inch HDTV (retail value: $349.99). Weekly winners are also winning annual subscriptions to THE KICKOFF as well as Polar Bear Coolers. Make sure your name is in the hat: http://thekickoffstore.com/
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A month into the 2016 college football season, the College Football Playoff picture is not quite locked, although it’s clear which teams are most unlikely to play in it.
Some picked LSU pre-season to win the National Championship, yet the Tigers are 2-2 and without Head Coach Les Miles after losing 18-13 to Auburn, despite scoring as time expired just before the snap. Tommy Duff, Editor of The Kickoff, said he wasn’t shocked to see Miles get fired considering the pre-season expectations.
“LSU could’ve waited until the end of the season, but they named Ed Orgeron as interim head coach so they can get a head start on the search for a replacement,” Duff said. “Miles was the second-winningest coach in school history, posting a 114-34 record in 11-plus seasons at LSU. (Auburn Coach) Gus Malzahn saved his job for the time being, but there’s no job security there either. LSU will get their pick of coaches, I expect, and Miles will be one of the first choices anywhere else needing a new coach.”
There’s still a long way to go in the season, but this could be a very long season for Notre Dame, where they lost to Duke 38-35 for a 1-3 start to the year.
“Stoops at Kentucky is also in trouble. Will Muschamp at South Carolina has some time to develop that program but the talent level have severely dropped in Columbia,” Duff said.
Another pre-season favorite, Georgia, has also struggled against North Carolina and Missouri before falling this past weekend to Ole Miss. “Firing Coach Mark Richt made a lot of sense last season when the favorites to win the SEC East lost to Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, but a program had better have a plan in place to keep things up if it makes a decision like that,” Duff said. He thinks new Head Coach Kirby Smart is not exactly on the hot seat, although some Georgia fans may lose patience if the Bulldogs can’t beat a resurgent Tennessee that’s fresh off breaking an 11-year losing streak to the Florida Gators.
Duff thinks Tennessee is better than some polls have them. “Saturday’s game against Florida showed why we’ve ranked them higher than other polls, but there’s a tough schedule ahead with Georgia, Texas A&M, and Alabama. They need to be consistent. I think Tennessee had better be careful this weekend. Georgia is going to be out for blood.”
Alabama still sits atop the Kickoff Top 25 Poll as well as others. “They’re certainly beatable, but you have to beat them on speed,” he said. The Tide faces off against Kentucky after beating Kent State 48-0. The Kickoff has Ohio State at #2, ahead of Louisville and Clemson. The Louisville-Clemson game on Saturday will force some separation between the two.
“That’s going to be a hard one to predict,” Duff said. “You wonder if Florida State is not as good after losing so badly to Louisville or are the Cardinals capable of playing as good as they did in that game against other top teams this year. Clemson still looks solid, but I don’t think they are playing as well as they did last year. How much can you tell by almost losing to Auburn and beating Georgia Tech this year? Deshaun Watson was the Heisman front-runner at the start of the year, but he has been overshadowed by Lamar Jackson after that performance against Florida State.”
The Kickoff’s other Games of the Week are Stanford at Washington, Wisconsin at Michigan, and Texas at Oklahoma State. Find out more about these and other content in this week’s issue, which includes the Kickoff Thermostat, Conference and team standings through week 5, and The Kickoff’s Power Ratings to compare the match-ups.
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