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Category Archives: 2016 Season

Are You Ready for Some College Football?

The Kickoff newsletter covers college football.

The countdown clock on our website can mean only one thing: We are getting close to the start of a fresh batch of college football. As months remaining become mere weeks, fans start gearing up to plan fun Saturdays full of action on their TV sets or on campus while tailgating.

Coaches have spelled out their expectations at Media Days events. All eyes turn to Sydney, Australia, where Cal and Hawaii will open the 2016 season on August 26th.

Asked to choose which SEC Coach is most on the “hot seat” this year, Kickoff Facebook fans chose Auburn’s Gus Malzahn over Les Miles, Derek Mason, Kevin Sumlin, or Mark Stoops. Last year, the Auburn Tigers were a pre-season pick to be in the College Football Playoff game; Instead, Auburn is 15-11 in the last two seasons and is expected to struggle again. They host national runner-up Clemson on Sept. 3, kicking off the nation’s toughest slate as rated by the Fremeau Efficiency Index.

“I think Malzahn, Hugh Freeze and Kevin Sumlin are all on the hot seat this year,” said The Kickoff Editor Tommy Duff.  “I don’t even know what’s going to happen at Ole Miss considering their situation with the NCAA. Les Miles is always in the hot seat because LSU is expected to play at such a high level every year.”

Duff is in the process of putting together The Kickoff’s final pre-season issue. He considers a lot of different information when assembling our proprietary Kickoff Top 25 rankings.

“At this stage, you have to go by the talent on these teams, their strength of schedule and the odds,” Duff said. “There are some teams that do not have a brutal non-conference schedule, but they have enough tough games to concern me and could just as easily end up 8-4 instead of 10-2.”

At this stage, there are lots of questions: Will Ole Miss beat Alabama for the third year in a row? Is Tennessee due to beat Florida after dropping 11 straight to the Gators? How will the Georgia Bulldogs change under Kirby Smart? Can Ohio State go all the way despite losing 12 players in the NFL draft? Will players injured in the spring be fully recovered by September?

Bovada is rating Alabama as the team most likely to win the 2017 College Football Playoff, with Ohio State, Clemson and Michigan also highly rated. The site gives Leonard Fournette top odds to win the Heisman, Ohio State to win the Big Ten Championship, Stanford to win the PAC-12, and Clemson to win the ACC.

The great thing about this sport, however, is knowing that on any given Saturday, teams can be upset and destinies changed with a single play. Some college football fans will test their luck by entering The Kickoff’s FANtastic Football Sweepstakes. Starting the first week of August, you can enter to win a weekly PDF subscription giveaway, enter for a chance to win one of two Polar Bear Coolers we’ll give away or the big prize: An HDTV perfect for watching the games on. We will draw for the television on Dec. 2nd. Learn more at

Get ahead of the action by taking advantage of The Kickoff’s Buy One Get One Subscription offer for a limited time. When you subscribe to an annual PDF subscription (23 issues), you can send The Kickoff to a friend at no extra charge. You can make someone’s autumn by introducing them to one of the most accurate prognosticators in college football since 1951. Subscribe today at

Copyright: yobro10 / 123RF Stock Photo

Several College Football Programs Facing Troubled Days

A number of college football programs are under scrutiny right now in the wake of scandals involving players. The Kickoff talked to Editor Tommy Duff about some of the stories that are in the news right now, getting his take as a passionate fan of the sport and his perspective on the potential impact.

Baylor Program’s Future in Question

The Baylor program, in particular, is in chaos after the school fired Head Coach Art Briles following revelations about the handling of sexual assault allegations against players. Now several highly regarded recruits have refused to enroll and are likely to ask the acting head coach, Jim Grobe, to let them out of their Letters of Intent. Ken Starr was stripped of his title as university president but will remain Baylor’s chancellor while Athletic Director Ian McCaw resigned.

“This Baylor story and the fallout from it are shocking, but it is obvious they found significant proof of someone covering up assault allegations when it goes as far as the head coach and university president losing their jobs,” said Duff.

There has been more attention given to the subject of sexual assaults by student-athletes since the release of Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula, which detailed a series of alleged rapes at the University of Montana.

Baylor finished last season with a 10-3 record and #13 national ranking. The inference one can make is whether that campus prized winning at any cost. It’s hard to see how the controversy can’t hurt Baylor’s season. For the moment, the school is the “poster boy” for the issue.

Trouble Brewing in Tuscaloosa?

There have also been off-the-field issues with college football’s defending national champions. Alabama All-SEC left tackle Cam Robinson and backup defensive back Laurence “Hootie” Jones were recently arrested in Louisiana on drug and weapons charges. Despite the incident, Coach Nick Saban told ESPN “the door remains open” for Robinson to play for the Crimson Tide this season.

Also in T-Town, Defensive Line Coach Bo Davis suddenly resigned April 29 for NCAA rules violations.

Duff said he does not see the actions of Davis (visiting players during a designated non-contact period) affecting Alabama in a major way considering other programs have not seen major penalties for doing the same.

“With (Davis) leaving, Alabama maybe saves the hassle of losing scholarships,” Duff said. “What’s more interesting to me is that you could read between the lines during Saban’s press conference this week when he talked about the NCAA’s testing during the College Football Playoff. There was an inference that some players could be missing in the fall because of it. It was one of those ‘thou doth protest too much’ things.”

Awaiting the Inevitable in Oxford

“The Alabama story certainly doesn’t seem as serious as the allegations of violations at Ole Miss. Eight of the 11 violations happened under Hugh Freeze’s watch. Four of those were considered severe. It’s pretty cut and dry. Rebel fans are probably hoping the NCAA is satisfied with the self-imposed sanctions, but, as a fan of the sport, I would support any sanctions imposed on them,” Duff said.

Coach Freeze told the news media he is “owning the mistakes” as the Rebels pre-emptively sign on for three years of probation and 11 fewer total scholarships over four years starting with the most recent recruiting class. He added, though, that neither he nor his assistants knowingly did anything wrong and the trouble is due to rivals hating his program’s success since 2012. Two years ago, Ole Miss ranked as high as #3 nationally, and the team is one of the few to beat a dominant Alabama two years straight.

Is this a case of Coach Freeze being delusional or trying to minimize the damage with plausible deniability? It will be interesting to see what happens when the hammer finally does comes down on Ole Miss.

Tennessee in Trouble?

Duff rejected comparisons between what’s happened at Baylor at Butch Jones’ program in Knoxville, where the Vols are facing a Title IX lawsuit. Former Receiver Drae Bowles said in an affidavit that he was attacked by teammates for helping a former UT athlete who claimed two Tennessee players sexually assaulted her. Several women claimed in the lawsuit that the athletics department created a hostile environment and favored athletes in investigations.

“Butch Jones set the example by suspending AJ Johnson and Michael Williams the day after the woman reported the rape,” Duff said. “That’s the only thing a coach CAN do legally unless he has proof that something criminal happened. When a player is suspended, he is off the team until after proven guilty or innocent in a court of law.”

Duff noted that Bowles contradicted himself, having earlier told the Knoxville News Sentinel that he did not know about any assault when he gave a ride to the alleged rape victim, who was a friend of his. Bowles transferred to the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga after failing to catch a single pass in his three seasons in Knoxville.

Could the assault lawsuit hurt Jones and his players at a time when the Vols are finally a breakout threat in the SEC? In 2015, Jones led Tennessee to their first bowl win since 2007.

Elsewhere in the SEC, Mississippi State is allowing recruit Jeffery Simmons to enroll with conditions and serving a one-game suspension. He has pending misdemeanor assault charges pending after being shown on video beating a woman repeatedly.


The world of college football is affected by these off-the-field stories. The question for fans of the sport is where lines are drawn on acceptable behavior by coaches, student-athletes and potential recruits.

Do you feel that your alma mater or favorite team does a good job of balancing character and athletic results? Has your coach set a good example? Has the program stayed clean in the eyes of the NCAA? Be a part of the discussion on Facebook ( ) and Twitter ( ). We want to know what you think!

Character is an issue many of us are taught by our parents. College football provides a context for many fathers to illustrate integrity and other concepts to sons and daughters. To thank your dad this Father’s Day, take advantage of THE KICKOFF’S “Buy One, Get One Free” special, now through June 17th:

Written by Steven Stiefel

Copyright: ostill / 123RF Stock Photo

Looking Beyond Spring Games in College Football

Longer days and rising temps mean it’s time for spring football. This is when we shake off the dust from the wreckage of last fall and renew our hopes that the forthcoming version of our school’s team is destined to become a great one.

In our March issue of the The Kickoff, we listed the schedule for spring games, as well as giving Editor Tommy Duff’s insight into the recruiting wars. As we approach the later half of April, most teams have already had those spring games with thousands of alumni and fans converging on campuses for a look at things to come.

All eyes will be on the Alabama Crimson Tide to see if Nick Saban’s crew can reload and take home yet another trophy. They recently signed four 5-star players, including 3 ranked in the Kickoff Top 30 and eight ranked in the top 10 at their respective position out of 24 total signees. The Tide returns 11 starters this fall and are given 19/4 odds of defending their national championship, according to Sportsbook.

“Really, you can close your eyes and put your finger on the page, and you will undoubtedly choose a potential headliner for this recruiting class,” Duff said. “Most impressive, however, was the number of highly touted LBs Saban signed, led by 5-star Ben Davis.”

Duff also had praise for the recruiting efforts of Florida State, LSU, Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, Ole Miss, Georgia, Southern Cal, and Auburn. Rounding out our Top 20 were Texas, Tennessee, UCLA, Florida, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Penn State, Stanford, Texas A&M, and Baylor.

Duff said Clemson, which came within five points of a national championship earlier this year, looks to be fierce again with Deshaun Watson returning and new talent added. “Dabo and Co. signed 2 players ranked in our Top 30 and 8 players ranked in the top 10 at their position, including the #2 overall prospect DT Dexter Lawrence and the #1 overall RB Tavien Feaster. Lawrence was the #2 overall prospect and will provide immediate help on the Tigers’ DL. Feaster is an electric playmaker who could’ve gone anywhere in the country and competed for playing time.”

Sportsbook gave Clemson 15/2 odds of winning the CFP this coming season. They start the campaign Sept. 2nd on the road against Auburn, which endured a massively disappointing season in 2016 but should perform better with Coach Gus Malzahn on the hot seat, signing two players rated in the Kickoff’s Top 30.

“Auburn was one of the big Signing Day winners, having multiple players commit on live television, and none may have been bigger than 5 star DT Derrick Brown,” Duff said. “The #1 rated player from the state of Georgia, he picked the Tigers over UGA and Tennessee. Juco DT QB John Franklin is expected to step in and compete for the starting job. Franklin played for the Seminoles for a season before transferring and is considered an excellent run/pass option at the QB position.”

LSU also looks to win the SEC West. Duff said the Tigers would have finished even higher than #3 in its recruiting class if Les Miles had not been surprisingly forced to deal with questions about his job security last season. “Regardless, LSU signed two 5 stars in our top 30 and 10 players rated in the top 10 at their position. The biggest news for LSU’s class has got to be the DB haul Coach Miles signed,” Duff said.

This time last year, everyone expected Ohio State to compete for the CFP. Coach Urban Meyer has added several players expected to be solid contributors in the years ahead.

Look for Michigan to make waves with Jim Harbaugh’s first full signing class, which included the #1 ranked recruit DT Rashan Gary, RB Kareem Walker and WR Eddie McDoom.

The Ole Miss Rebels have to replace WR Laquan Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, but they finished with the 7th rated class, with two players ranked in our Top 30, including the #3 overall prospect in OL Gregory Little.

Kirby Smart left Alabama to be head coach at Georgia, which pulled in 3 players in the Kickoff Top 30 and 5 players ranked at their position, including 4 wide receivers. Mark Richt, who left for Miami (FL), was undoubtedly disappointed when the Hurricanes lost two highly coveted prospects to Tennessee early on signing day.

A coaching change didn’t seem to hurt Southern Cal much either after the removal of Steve Sarkisian due to off-field issues and the promotion of interim Head Coach Clay Helton. The Trojans reeled in the #1 WR prospect in the nation, Tyler Vaughns.

These are just some of the new names you’ll probably be hearing this fall as college football teams look ahead to a blank slate and the championship hunt begins anew.

How did your team do on national signing day? Did anyone impress you during the spring game? Can anyone stop Alabama from running away with a fifth national championship since 2009? Talk to us on our Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn  pages.

Test your knowledge of college football every Thursday on Facebook as we present a trivia question. Answer correctly and you could be in the drawing for a free 2016 PDF/email subscription to The Kickoff.

To subscribe to The Kickoff, receiving 6 pre-season issues (Feb-July) and 17 weekly issues this fall, visit – Look for the April issue out next week!

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