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Category Archives: 2017 Season

Conference Championship Games Could Affect CFB Playoffs

The regular season ended with a bang as numerous coaches have been let go and the College Football Playoff picture is suddenly unclear with Alabama dislodged from the top spot. Auburn, Oklahoma and Wisconsin will all play in conference title games this weekend – if any of them lose, the job of the College Football Playoff Committee becomes more challenging. Would Georgia leapfrog Alabama if they were to somehow beat Auburn in convincing fashion this weekend?

Auburn’s Late-Season Surge

It’s remarkable that we’re having this discussion now. The Tigers were highly rated at the start of the season based primarily on potential with Quarterback Jarret Stidham, but most people wrote off Auburn as a Playoff contender after the Tigers blew a huge lead over LSU in Week 7, having also lost in Week 2 to the defending National Champion Clemson Tigers. In the span of three weeks, however, Gus Malzahn’s team has beaten the number one team in the country twice: The Georgia Bulldogs on November 11 and the Alabama Crimson Tide this past weekend. They face Georgia once again in the SEC Championship game this coming weekend in Atlanta. In the new Associated Press poll, Auburn jumped from No. 6 to No. 4, followed by Alabama at No. 5 and Georgia at No. 6. Alabama had held the top spot since the preseason.

“Those wins have Auburn amazingly in the playoff driver seat,” said Tommy Duff, Editor of The Kickoff college football newsletter. “Auburn will be in the Playoffs if (RB Kerryon) Johnson is healthy and they beat UGA. Alabama is still in a good spot. Oklahoma and Clemson are best positioned. Miami may be an outsider regardless of whether they beat Clemson. If Ohio State beats Wisconsin and Miami beats Clemson, then Ohio State is in.”

Changes in the CFB Polls

Clemson jumped from No. 4 to No. 1 in the AP Poll after blowing out South Carolina. Oklahoma is the new No. 2, followed by Wisconsin at No. 3. In the College Football Playoff rankings, Clemson is No. 1, Auburn is No. 2, Oklahoma is No. 3, and Wisconsin is No. 4. Rounding out the Top 10 are Alabama (which is trying to argue it still deserves to be in the Playoffs), Georgia, Miami (Fla), Ohio State, Penn State, and USC. In The Kickoff Top 25, we have undefeated Wisconsin in the No. 1 spot.

“Wisconsin is still in the Big 10, and it’s a Power 5 conference. We don’t like jumping teams for no reason,” Duff explained. “Clemson lost to a 4-8 Syracuse team. Oklahoma lost to a 7-5 Iowa State team. Throw out the losses and Auburn should be No. 1 on quality wins alone, but they lost to a Clemson team that lost to 4-8 Syracuse. Wisconsin doesn’t have a great win, but they have won every game they were supposed to. That’s how we see it at The Kickoff.”

Another upset last weekend was Miami (Fla) falling to Pittsburgh. The Hurricanes fell five spots to No. 7 on the AP poll. On the Kickoff Top 25, they fell from No. 3 last week to No. 7 this week.

Coaches Fired, Hired

The other huge news right now: The Coaching Carousel. Previously mentioned Arkansas canned Bret Bielema. Also dusting off the resume: Jim McElwain at Florida (replaced by Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen), Kevin Sumerlin at Texas A&M, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Tyson Summers at Georgia Southern, Mike Riley at Nebraska, Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss, Gary Andersen at Oregon State, Joey Jones at South Alabama, Butch Jones at Tennessee, Jim Mora at UCLA, and Sean Kugler at UTEP. Former Oregon Coach Chip Kelly was hired at UCLA.

Tennessee backed out of a memorandum of understanding with Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano after facing a backlash from the Volunteer faithful due to Schiano’s ties to Penn State during the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The Vols finished without a single SEC win this year, going 4-8 overall. Candidates for the job had to be looking at how Knoxville has cycled through three coaches in a decade, failing to win an SEC Championship since 1998 or win the SEC East since 2007.

“Tennessee is a mess,” Duff said. “Total meltdown in the athletic department. Apparently, Tennessee offers were too low. Florida didn’t get its first choice, but Mullen is the right fit. Arkansas is a mess too. Arkansas wanted to hire Gus Malzahn, but his success has left the brass there scrambling as there is little, if any, chance he would leave Auburn now. Ole Miss did the right thing.”

One possible replacement considered for Jones is North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren. Duff said the hire would be like a “rescue off the hot seat at NC State” where he is 33-30 in five seasons. The Wolfpack had an 8-4 record this season and reached No. 14 in the polls before losing late in the season to Notre Dame, Clemson and Wake Forest. “Brought to you by Little Currie, Jimmy Haslam and Peyton Manning, the brains behind the Greg Schiano and Butch Jones hires,” Duff added. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy rejected Tennessee on Tuesday. Duke’s David Cutcliffe also told Tennessee he was not interested, according to an ESPN report.

Texas A&M, which finished in 5th place in the SEC West, has lured Jimbo Fisher away from Florida State with a rumored 10-year deal worth $7.5 million per season. Fisher, who won the 2013 national championship at FSU, would become the third highest-paid coach per season in all of college football, trailing only Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban.

Duff said the current coaching turmoil in the SEC is “a direct reflection of Nick Saban’s domination. The SEC is so bloated that it’s now eating its own programs. Nobody else has gotten over the hump. Look at Malzahn. He was rumored to be on the hot seat – unfairly in my opinion – and then he beats Moby Dick and he’s a hero on the Plains.”

The Regular Season in Retrospect

Although Georgia may very well prevail against Auburn in a second game this season, their 40-17 loss to the Tigers magnified the lack of parity between the SEC East and West divisions this season.

It’s been a difficult season to judge performance based on teams played. Auburn, for example, lost to LSU, which Alabama defeated 24-10 on November 10th. However, the Tide struggled to beat the same Mississippi State team that Auburn beat 49-10 back in week 5. Georgia’s signature win this year was the week two win over Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish lost to Miami (FL) 41-8 on November 11th.

One could say that various teams have found ways to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” throughout the season. Some teams have been just plain awful and have fans just wanting to hurry up and set the refresh and rebuild button. The coaching changes we are seeing, as teams hope not to fall behind in recruiting, are a reflection of that.

Duff said LSU’s bet on Ed Orgeron paid off as the Tigers finished 9-3 to prove doubters wrong. The Kickoff doesn’t speculate on head coaches jumping to new programs, but there are coordinators who we feel are ready to move into the head coaching ranks. Some of the big names who may be considered for a head coaching vacancy include Jeremy Pruitt at Alabama, Kevin Steele at Auburn, Brent Venables and Tony Elliot at Clemson, Todd Grantham at Mississippi State, Manny Diaz at Miami, Tee Martin at USC, Jim Leavitt or Mario Cristobal at Oregon, just to name a few. We have a more extensive list in this week’s issue of The Kickoff.

Also included in Issue 14: A conference breakdown through issue 14, the FBS and FCS standings, complete regular season schedules and scores, a listing of the conference championship games ahead, our Top 25, our Games of the Week (AU vs UGA and Ohio State vs Wisconsin), plus overall trends, Division 1A FBS Expanded Standings, 2017 average margin of victory leaders, the 2017 Kickoff Power Rankings Spreadsheet, formula breakdown, news and notes, the Kickoff Thermostat, Top Assistant Coach Candidates, confirmed coaching changes, opening lines and Kickoff-recommended picks, and more.

In case you are wondering, The Kickoff was 7-5 against the spread on last week’s recommended picks, and we were 59-35 against the spread for the regular season.

The Kickoff has three remaining issues for this post-season phase, as well as 6 monthly issues covering recruiting, spring practice and transfers between February and July. You can still subscribe to have our valuable tool available by visiting

College Football: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

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We are now in the thick of the 2017 season, gaining some clarity about which college football teams are contenders and which ones simply hope to salvage what’s left.

The preseason was full of talk about potential, but we never really know how teams will perform and respond to pressure until practice turns into full-contact games.

The season, so far, has produced some stunning upsets and surprise upstarts. We are at the stage where teams are hoping the successes or losses of their recent opponents reflect well on the College Football Playoff selection committee. This is also a critical time when injuries will begin to slow the momentum of teams.

Vanderbilt started out 3-0 and was riding high after beating Kansas State 14-7 in Week 3. The Commodores, however, hit a brick wall called the Alabama Crimson Tide in Week 4 and found themselves 3-2 after losing to Florida.

Enthusiasm also rose in Starkville after Mississippi State beat LSU 37-7. This was tempered by a 31-3 loss to Georgia and a 49-10 pounding by Auburn, as well as the realization that LSU would lose to Troy in week 5. Speaking of Auburn, they got off to a slow start in 2017 with an anemic offense that failed to live up to preseason hype, losing to the defending national champion Clemson Tigers and barely beating Mercer before turning things around with impressive wins over Missouri, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Then they blew a 20 point lead in Baton Rouge and fell 11 spots in the latest AP Poll, breaking the hearts of fans who were beginning to think the Tigers might actually be in the College Football Playoff discussion after all.

Ohio State’s fortunes fell after the Buckeyes couldn’t complete passes over 10 yards against Oklahoma on their home turf, but came back with wins over Army, UNLV and Rutgers. They fell from a No. 3 ranking to No. 12 this week. The Sooners fell from their No. 3 ranking after losing a Week Six shocker to Iowa State, which was a 31-point underdog.

The Florida Gators lost their opener against Michigan, then struggled to beat Tennessee and Kentucky — then came Saturday’s 17-16 loss to struggling LSU. An ugly 41-0 loss by the Volunteers to Georgia was enough to make Butch Jones’ seat much warmer. The Bulldogs, in contrast, look like the team to beat in the SEC East. Speaking of Butch Jones, he looks like a “dead man walking” as he faces Nick Saban.

Alabama is off to an unsurprising undefeated start that included that 59-0 humbling of Vanderbilt and a 66-3 win over Ole Miss. So far, the Tide has done nothing to prove itself unworthy of the top spot in the polls. Aside from Bama and Georgia, the rest of the Southeastern Conference is uncharacteristically weak so far this season. Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M have had mixed success. Arkansas was 2-2 headed into the loss at South Carolina. On Sept. 2nd, the Gamecocks handed NC State their sole loss so far, which seems odd considering the Wolfpack has wins over better teams like Florida State and Louisville.

Perhaps no team in the country has disappointed this season like Florida State, which was expected to give Alabama more of a challenge in the season opener and also had that 27-21 loss to NC State. Initially ranked No. 4 in the preseason, the Seminoles aren’t even in the Kickoff’s Top 25 rankings anymore.

Things have not gone so well for Nebraska, Missouri or Stanford, earning them mention on the chilly end of the Kickoff Thermostat — our newsletter feature highlighting weekly good or bad superlatives.

On the flip side, Washington State’s 30-27 upset of USC had fans talking playoffs before they lost this past weekend. At the start of the season, USC was ranked No. 2 in The Kickoff Preseason Top 25. At UCF, Scott Frost has done a phenomenal job of turning the program around. Clemson has shown capable of winning without Deshaun Watson — at least until facing Syracuse.

Other teams on the rise so far this year include TCU, Michigan, Miami (FL), and Utah. However, the Wolverines lost 14-10 at home to Michigan State. The Hurricanes managed a last-minute win to end the losing streak to Florida State. And how about Penn State?!

The polls have seen tremendous change with so many upsets over the last couple of weeks. As the saying goes, any given Saturday…

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Hugh Freeze Phone Records Show Hundreds of Calls with Booster in NCAA Probe

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The headlines in college football…

Bleacher Report – Hugh Freeze Called Escort Service While on Ole Miss Recruiting Trip

Bleacher Report – Hugh Freeze Phone Records Show Hundreds of Calls with Booster in NCAA Probe

ESPN – Nick Saban: Did the best I could in communicating QB roles

Sporting News – College football Top 25: Best, worst case for every team – Bobby Bowden: ‘Wouldn’t surprise me for Florida State to eke it out’ against Alabama

Saturday Down South – Which QBs will exceed expectations or fall short in Year 2? SEC Network analyst makes his picks

Saturday Down South – Ole Miss has nothing to play for in 2017, which should make rest of SEC nervous

Saturday Down South – Ranking 10 most important people in Alabama’s decade-long dynasty

Saturday Down South – ESPN gives Alabama slim chance of entering CFP undefeated

Saturday Down South – Give them the ball: 1 player on every SEC team who needs more touches in 2017

Associated Press – Plenty of running backs, receivers could produce immediately

Associated Press – Lawyer: Baylor settles with woman who said rape was ignored

SEC Country – Notre Dame AD would ‘love to figure out’ how to schedule future game with Auburn football

Bleacher Report – 50 Names You Need to Know for the 2017 College Football Season

Associated Press – Georgia Tech kicks running back Dedrick Mills off team

Associated Press – Ex-Vanderbilt football player gets minimum 15 years for rape

ESPN – After Tebow and Dak, who’s next for QB guru Dan Mullen?

Curated by Steven Stiefel

The Kickoff: Thoughts on the College Football Season Ahead

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Our patience is nearly rewarded as we get ready for the start of another exciting season of college football action. Kickoff Editor Tommy Duff offered a few thoughts while preparing Issue One of the college football newsletter, arriving August 28th. The new and improved newsletter is adding two additional pages to the PDF version this year, available for a limited time as a Buy One Get One Free Subscription Special online.

The early lead to the College Football Playoff starts on September 2nd at Mercedes Benz Stadium. That game will be one of our Games of the Week, along with Florida vs Michigan and West Virginia at Virginia Tech.

“We will know quickly whether Alabama will live up to the high expectations as the Tide play FSU on a neutral field in their opening game,” Duff said. “It will be interesting to see as that game should tell us whether FSU is ready to take the next step and/or if years of recruiting at an elite level gives the Tide an advantage of filling holes with seasoned talent.”

Duff said defending National Champions Clemson could be right back in the playoff picture for 2017, but “they’ll need for their young talent to mature fast. Kelly Bryant is expected to take over at the QB position. On defense, Clemson will be strong up front with 5 of their front 7 back. They have an extremely tough early schedule, with Auburn and Louisville in the 2nd and 3rd weeks.”

An embarrassing loss to Clemson in the playoffs should give Ohio State’s 15 returning starters motivation, which they may need going into an early season matchup against Oklahoma. “It is always very difficult to project how a program will respond to the loss of a head coach as respected as Bob Stoops, but Oklahoma returns a load of talent, including All American Quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Oklahoma State game on the road becomes a lot more interesting with Stoops retired.”

Duff expects much from Southern Cal as they build upon a 9-game win streak and a victory in a Rose Bowl Classic. “Though their schedule isn’t easy, they play all their toughest matchups at home,” he said.

Penn State’s success last season surprised many. “Nobody saw them making it to the Rose Bowl Game, but now the faithful expect them to build upon that success, and the pieces are in place for them to do just that. Their most challenging games are in late October, though having Michigan and Ohio State in consecutive weeks is never ideal,” he said.

Other question marks heading into the new season:
• Can Ed Orgeron continue to right the ship at LSU with QB Danny Etling and RB Marion Guice as his main weapons?
• Will Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham finally give Auburn a proven efficient passer with a cannon under center who can make Gus Malzahn’s offense finally produce again?
• Can we expect some significant improvement in Mark Richt’s 2nd year at the helm in Miami?
• Will Richt’s old team, Georgia, be able to capitalize on a wealth of returning talent and avoid the last second meltdowns?
• How will the suspension of 7 players, including star WR Antonio Callaway, affect the Florida Gators in their opener against Michigan?
• Will defending Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson — the most electrifying college football player in the country last year – make Louisville one of the hottest teams in the country again after 3 losses to end the year left a sour taste?
• Will Michigan be able to replace the talent lost from their 10 win squad of last year before facing off against Penn State on October 21?
• Has Stanford’s rising junior Keller Chryst fully recovered from the ACL injury from last season’s Sun Bowl?
• Can Boise State prevail in week two, when they travel to Washington State, and enjoy one of those type years they perfected during the BCS era?
• What will Charlie Strong be able to do with a South Florida team with one of the country’s most manageable schedules and led by one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Quinton Flowers?
• What will be the impact of all of the turmoil on Ole Miss?
• Where will teams like Tennessee, Oregon, Texas A&M, and Arkansas end up after teams in the Top 25 start to fall?

Catch more of Duff’s Analysis of college football news and statistics in Issue One of The Kickoff, coming August 28th. Our prognosticator-in-chief gives his opinions each Friday from noon to 1 pm Eastern on WAAK 94.7 FM radio in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can listen online at

The long wait for a new season officially ends at 1:30 pm Eastern on Saturday, August 26th as Oregon State and Colorado State clash at Sonny Lubick Field. Stanford, Rice, Hawaii, UMass, South Florida, San Jose State, Portland State and BYU also have games that day before the majority of FBS teams play on Thursday, August 31-Saturday, September 2nd.

To get the special Buy One Get One Free Special on 2017 electronic versions (PDF) of The Kickoff newsletter, delivered weekly on Monday mornings to email inboxes (as advertised on WDEF Channel 12), visit  

Additionally, you can subscribe by visiting this link to print, fill out, and mail the form to us with your enclosed check or credit card number. A third option is to call our office at (423) 267-0953.

Just don’t wait because the season is almost underway!

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