Friday, June 22, 2012

5 Teams That Could End The SEC's Championship Run

I do not think I have to tell any actual college football fan that the SEC has been absolutely dominant over the last several years. The last non-SEC champion was during the 2005 season when Texas defeated USC 41-38. Personally, I think the SEC bias was too strong last year and Oklahoma State should have had the chance to play in the championship game but that is a debate for another day. Still, there is no debating that the SEC has been nearly unstoppable over the last six years. Their reign could continue this year as well, with LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia all pre-season top 10 teams. However, there are plenty of other teams out there that think this year is their year. I have narrowed the field down to four strong contenders and one surprise contender to unseat the SEC. I will start at the most likely and work my way down.

Will Matt Barkley and the USC Trojans be hoisting the
crystal ball at the end of the 2012 season?
1. Southern California - this is not a shocking pick for the team most likely to stop the SEC's run. Matt Barkley, arguably the best quarterback in college football and possible future number one pick, returns for his senior year. Along with Barkley, USC returns two 1,000 yard receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. They also bring back their 1,000 yard rusher Curtis McNeal. All four offensive weapons guarantee the Trojans offense is going to be potent in 2012. On the other side of the ball, USC returns their four leaders in interceptions in 2011, their top five tackling leaders and their top five sack leaders from the previous year.  The Trojans defense is returning players with experience at nearly every position. With experience on both sides of the ball, USC has to be the non-SEC favorites to make the championship game. Looking at their schedule, the three hardest games for the Trojans are vs Oregon, at Stanford and vs Notre Dame. If they make it to the Pac-12 championship game, the Trojans may also have to face Oregon or Stanford again. They have a tough enough out of conference and in conference schedule to make it to the BCS Championship game, if they make it out unscathed. 

2. Oklahoma Sooners - Oklahoma will go as far as Landry Jones will take them. If he has a Heisman like year, they can make it out of the Big 12 and into the National Championship game. Similar to Southern California, the Sooners will rely on their offense to carry them throughout the season. Jones lost his leading receiver Ryan Broyles to the NFL but will still have Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds who were second and third in yards last year. The Sooners will also have their top two running backs available in 2012. If Landry Jones can keep his interceptions down, the Sooners can be a dangerous team. On the defense, Oklahoma returns their top two defensive backs, two starting line backers and three defensive lineman. If the Sooners are going to make it out of the pass oriented Big 12 they will need improved play from their defensive backs. Oklahoma's out of conference schedule is easy with their hardest game coming against Notre Dame on October 27th. Despite an easy schedule out of conference, their Big 12 conference is ridiculously hard. They play Kansas State on September 22nd, Texas on October 13th, at West Virginia on November 17th, Oklahoma State on November 24th and finally at Texas Christian on December 1st. With suck a hard in conference schedule, the Sooners could be candidates for the BCS Championship game even if they lose once. I cannot wait to see how the new look Big 12 shakes out. 

3. Florida State Seminoles - Florida State was a huge disappointment in 2011. The Seminoles started the season ranked 6th in the AP poll, but by the end had lost four games, were third in the ACC's Atlantic division and were ranked 23rd. Florida State has high hopes again in 2012 as they try to return to their prominence of the 1990s. In order to get to the championship game, they will have to rely on EJ Manuel to not only stay healthy but also have a stellar season. He has plenty of receiving help this year as Rashad Greene (So), Rodney Smith (Sr), Christian Green (So), Kenny Shaw (So) and Willie Haulstead (Jr) join soon to be star Kelvin Benjamin (Fr). The 'Noles will have to rely on their passing game as it looks like they have yet to establish a number one running back. Devonta Freeman took the most carries last year but has yet to solidify the top spot for 2012. Even without an efficient run game, they should not have a problem moving the ball. On defense, Florida State returns nine starters Brandon Jenkins (DE), Bjoern Werner (DE), Everette Dawkins (DT), Anthony McCloud (DT), Christian Jones (DE), Vincent Williams (LB), Greg Reid (CB), Xavier Rhodes (CB), and Lamarcus Joyner (S) all return. The potential star on the defensive side of the ball is defensive end Brandon Jenkins who had 8.0 sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and 41 total tackles in 2011. Florida State has also been compiling great recruiting classes over the last few years and the talent is starting to hit the field. Expect a number of freshman to contribute for the Noles in 2012. Finally, another reason to consider Florida State as possible BCS champions is their schedule. Their hardest games come Sept. 22 versus Clemson, Oct. 20 at Miami, Nov. 8 at Virginia Tech, Nov 24 versus Florida and, if they make it, Dec. 1 in the ACC Championship game where they could face Virginia Tech or Miami again. 

Will the Oregon Mascot have reason to celebrate
in Eugene this year?
4. Oregon Ducks - Oregon is our first team that will not rely on a potential Heisman candidate to carry their team. The Ducks will continue to count on their speed to win them games. They have two speedsters at running back in Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas who will make Ducks' fans forget about LaMichael James. Currently, it looks like the Ducks are headed into the fall with Bryan Bennett and Marcus Mariota battling for the starting quarterback job. Bennett is a the faster player between the two but Mariota has a better pocket presence. There is no doubt that Oregon and Chip Kelly will run a no huddle, incredibly fast offense again in 2012. The defense is bringing back seven starters from last year. The two biggest question for Oregon headed into the 2012 season is whether or not the Freshman can play with poise in big games throughout the season and if they can stop Matt Barkley. Oregon's out of conference schedule may be one of the easiest in the nation as they face Arkansas State, Fresno State and Tennessee Tech. However, their Pac 12 schedule will be difficult again as they head to Southern California on November 3 and Stanford on November 17. If the Ducks win the North division of the Pac 12 they will most likely face Southern California and Matt Barkley one more time on November 30 in the Pac 12 championship game. 

5. Kansas State Wildcats - Ah, we have made it to my surprise pick for the 2012 BCS Championship game. While I think the four teams above have higher chances than the Wildcats, they are still being overlooked headed into the season. In May, ESPN created their "way too early top 25" (there is no such thing as too early) and put Kansas State at 18th. I think by the end of the season, the Wildcats will be a top 10 team. They have a number of big games that they will need to win in order to be in the hunt for the BCS Championship game but I think they have the players to win those games. 

Will Collin Klein lead the Wildcats to the BCS
Championship game and become the school's first
ever Heisman trophy winner?
To start, I believe Collin Klein can be this year's Robert Griffin III. Anyone who watched a lot of the Big 12 in 2011 should already know about Collin Klein. Last year, the Wildcats averaged 31.8 points per game for 34th best in the nation. Klein is a dual threat quarterback who is happy to run if the pocket is collapsing. In 2011, Klein ran the ball 317 times, which was the most of any quarterback in college football (75 more attempts than the closest QB). Klein ran for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns, along with passing for 1,918 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011. If Klein continues to improve he could easily surpass 50 total touchdowns in 2012. The Wildcats will have to hope Klein plays like a Heisman candidate if they want to win the Big 12. Another article will be coming highlighting some darkhorse candidates for Heisman, but right now, Klein is definitely in my top 5. It is easy to throw out Matt Barkley or Landry Jones, but Collin Klein can compete for the Heisman as well.

If Kansas State is going to make a run towards winning the Big 12, this might be their only year. Collin Klein is a senior. Their top running back, John Hubert is a Junior. Their top two receivers, Chris Harper (Sr) and Tramaine Thompson (Jr) are finishing their collegiate careers as well. Overall, the Wildcats return nine starters to the offensive side of the ball. They have a similar story on the other side with seven returning to defense. Cornerback Nigel Malone, returns for his senior year after leading the team with seven interceptions in 2011. Their top two sack leaders in Meshak Williams (7 sacks) and Adam Davis (4 sacks) also return for their senior years. Their defense will be improved again this year so many players returning. Experience will lead this team on both sides of the ball as they try to capture their first Big 12 Championship since 2003. 

Being in the Big 12, the Wildcats have a tough in conference schedule and have added Miami on September 8 to bolster their out of conference schedule. In the Big 12, K-State has to visit Oklahoma on Sept. 22, West Virginia on Oct. 20, Oklahoma State on Nov. 3, TCU on Nov. 10 and end their season by visiting Texas on Dec. 1. If Klein plays up to his potential, Kansas State could be a hard team to stop and run through the Big 12. This conference will definitely be one of the more interesting to watch this season. Conference previews will come throughout the summer. 

Notable others who could make it: West Virginia, Michigan, TCU, Wisconsin and Clemson. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fantasy 2012 - The Great Quarterback Debate

Will Aaron Rodgers Lead Leagues in Fantasy
Points Again in 2012?

Where and when do you draft your fantasy quarterback (especially your #1 if you are in a two quarterback league). This is a debate I have with myself almost every year before entering my fantasy draft. Over the last two seasons, quarterbacks have put up amazing fantasy numbers. In fact, unless you have a completely custom scoring standard, last year's scoring leader was either Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers depending on your league. Here is a look at my fantasy league from last year. To start, I will give you guys the scoring categories for quarterbacks:
  • Every 25 passing yards was worth 1 point 
  • Every interception throw was worth negative 3 points 
  • Every touchdown thrown was worth 4 points 
  • Every 300-399 yards thrown was worth 3 points 
  • Every 400+ yards thrown was worth 5 points 
  • Every rushing touchdown was worth 8 points 
Furthermore, I want to provide you with the top five fantasy scorers in my league and where they were drafted in parentheses. You will notice that all five are quarterbacks:
  • Aaron Rodgers had 411 fantasy points (8th overall - 1st round) 
  • Drew Brees had 407 fantasy points (11th overall - 2nd round) 
  • Tom Brady had 383 fantasy points (10th overall - 1st round) 
  • Cam Newton had 372 fantasy points (98th overall - 10th round) 
  • Matthew Stafford had 341 fantasy points (61st overall - 7th round) 
Normally, the argument is you should select a running back in the first round and possibly even in the second as well. I want to take a look at the top five running backs in my league last year. You will notice I have added their overall draft selection as well:
  • Ray Rice had 333 fantasy points (7th overall - 1st round) 
  • LeSean McCoy had 328 fantasy points (9th overall - 1st round) 
  • Maurice Jones-Drew had 289 fantasy points (12th overall - 2nd round) 
  • Arian Foster had 289 fantasy points (3rd overall - 1st round) 
  • Marshawn Lynch had 247 fantasy points (108th overall - 11th round)

Is taking an elite back like Ray Rice a smart
decision? He lead all runningbacks in
fantasy points in 2011.
Last year's fantasy leaders seem to show that grabbing either a quarterback or a running back in the first round or early second is a smart choice but I tend to disagree. The top running back was selected 7th overall. The top quarterback was taken a pick later but scored 78 more points throughout the season. Aaron Rodgers only had one week with less than twenty fantasy points (week 14 against Oakland). He also had four weeks over thirty points (weeks four, nine, thirteen and sixteen). Finally, Rodgers also scored 53 points week four against Denver.

Ray Rice's numbers were lower overall and a lot less consistent. He scored under twenty points eight weeks of the season (weeks two, three, six, seven, nine, ten, twelve and fifteen). His season high was thirty-eight points which came in week seventeen, well after fantasy playoffs had ended. LeSean McCoy's number were a bit more consistent but still not the same compared to Rodgers. McCoy scored under twenty points seven weeks out of the season (weeks four, five, nine, ten, eleven, twelve and sixteen). 

Another argument for drafting a quarterback earlier than later is the offensive systems of a number of teams. Green Bay, Detroit, New Orleans and New England all rely heavily on the pass. You know these teams, and their quarterbacks, are going to deliver several big games throughout the year. When hitting on all cylinders, these teams can easily go over 300 passing yards. For example, Aaron Rodgers broke 300 passing yards in eight games last year. In addition, Drew Brees hit the 300 yard plateau thirteen times in 2011.

Drew Brees threw for over 300 yards thirteen
times throughout the 2011 season
A majority of leagues award extra points for throwing for more than 300 yards. Leagues often also give points if a running back rushes for 100 or more yards. Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy went over 100 yards six times last year. In my league, if you drafted Drew Brees over either of these backs, you would have received 21 "bonus" points throughout the season as Brees often threw for over 300 yards.

The next reason I normally choose a quarterback over a running back is because of the quarterback's role. In a pass happy offense such as Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers is easily going to throw the ball thirty times. In 2011, Rodgers attempted thirty or more passes in 12 games. The numbers for Drew Brees are even more staggering. He threw thirty or more passes in all sixteen games. Furthermore, Brees broke forty attempts in nine games last year. In offenses that rely on the pass, quarterbacks are going to throw the ball often and as a result rack up the fantasy points. A top running back is only going to rush twenty times a game. Ray Rice ran twenty times or more, eight times in 2011. More opportunities to move the ball (in this case with the quarterback) lead to more chances to score fantasy points.

Conclusion: With the pass oriented offenses of the NFL, I am likely to select an elite quarterback in the first round of my fantasy football draft.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

2012's Top Five Fantasy Football Busts

It is never to early to talk about fantasy football! I decided to take some time off from the blog because I have found there is not much to talk about without football around. I believe, from here on out this blog will mainly be an NFL, College, and Fantasy Football blog. Of course I will pepper in the occasional post about another sport (probably college basketball) I will focus on football. 

Despite planning on dominating my fantasy football league this year, I will take the time to give my competition (and the rest of you) a few tips for the 2012 fantasy football season. All five of the players below are within the top 50 fantasy football players for 2012. While these five players may not be "busts" or the type of player who completely destroy your team (think Chris Johnson in 2011), they will, in my opinion, not live up to their hype. I tried to make sure I selected a variety of players, instead of five running backs. I have included three running backs, a wide receiver and a quarterback. 

I am sure all five of these players will play like superstars and prove me wrong. I will be back in the upcoming days with five players who I think could carry you to the fantasy football playoffs or help win your league. 

1. Maurice Jones-Drew - Running Back - Jacksonville Jaguars - Call me superstitious but there is no way I am falling for this again. Ask those who drafted Chris Johnson last year how  picking a player who holds out worked for them. MJD wants a new contract and is willing to sit out to get one. Gene Smith, the general manager of the Jacksonville Jaguars has already come out and said they will not give into Jones-Drew's demands. I know MJD had the most rushing yards in the NFL last year but his touchdowns were abysmal. ESPN currently has Jones-Drew ranked 6th overall. There is no way I can justify spending my first round pick on MJD. Furthermore, nothing excites me about Blaine Gabbert. I love a team that relies on their running back when I am picking my back, but I also want a team that can actually throw the ball. Jacksonville was dead last in passing last year. Jones-Drew is going to get you rushing yards, but I have to wonder if with such an inept offense he is going to get into the end zone. There are a number of other first round players I would take over Jones-Drew. Unless he somehow slips to the late first, I will stay away from Jones-Drew this year. 

2. Matt Forte - Running Back - Chicago Bears - Stop me if this sounds familiar, a young player has an amazing season, wants a new contract, does not get contract and threatens to hold out. It happens nearly every off-season and could happen again this year with Jones-Drew and, possibly, Matt Forte. If Matt Forte skips workouts, mini-camp and even the pre-season, he could turn into this year's Chris Johnson (alongside MJD). Furthermore, the Bears brought in Michael Bush this off-season who could take away some of Forte's touchdowns. As much as I love my running back piling up rushing yards, I also want touchdowns. If Chicago is going to rely on Bush in the redzone than picking Forte in the first two rounds is pointless. I could buy into the idea that Chicago's offense will be more potent this year with the additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. However, if Jay Cutler is going to start throwing the ball more, will Matt Forte still get into the endzone? 

3. Reggie Bush - Running Back - Miami Dolphins - Quick, how many seasons has Reggie Bush ran for more than 1,000 yards? Once! Prior to last year, Bush had never gone over 600 rushing yards. Couple that with the fact that he only had six rushing touchdowns last year and I will be staying away from Reggie in 2012. ESPN has him ranked 42nd for the upcoming season. I do no think I would draft Bush within the top ten rounds. He cannot be relied upon and the Dolphins offense is, well, a joke. I personally think the Dolphins will compete for the worst record in the NFL this year. That cannot mean good fantasy numbers for Reggie Bush. In case you were wondering, other players below Bush in the top 50 that I would pick before him include Dwayne Bowe, Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston (if Brees is back), Miles Austin, Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and Demaryius Thomas. How Reggie Bush can be ranked this high is beyond me. Maybe someone knows more than I know but there is no way I would rely on Bush to be my number two running back this year. 

4. Greg Jennings - Wide Receiver - Green Bay Packers - I have a hard time picking wide receivers in the early rounds of the draft. I would rather have an elite quarterback or running back than an elite wide receiver. I would also argue that there are better wide receivers than Greg Jennings. I love the fact that he plays in a pass happy offense but the Packers also like to spread the ball around a lot. Last year, Jennings went over 100 yards three times. He still had a great season, but again, the Packers throw to everyone. One week Greg Jennings is going to be the star, the next Jordy Nelson is going to go off. I cannot waste a second round pick on a player who is not going to be my "superstar" type of player. I want my second round player to consistently give me points and that is something I cannot rely on with Jennings. I like the offense. Like the player. But cannot spend a second round pick on him. 

5. Michael Vick - Quarterback - Philadelphia Eagles - Maybe it is the fact that Vick has been injured the last two years. Maybe it is because LeSean McCoy is a beast. Maybe is is because ESPN has Vick ranked 17th overall, but I am not buying into Vick this year. He has the potential to be superstar and could win you your entire league. However, he could also be injured by week 5 and have you searching for a backup. I want my second/third round players to stick around the entire season. I also want my players there when the playoffs come around. Vick played in weeks 14, 15, 16 and 17 last year. If your playoffs start in week 13 or before, you were without your number one quarterback. By having the ability to grab a few rushing touchdowns, Vick has the potential to be a top 5 fantasy quarterback. However, he is also a high injury risk and could be out fairly early, sending your season into the toilet before you know it.