Complete preview of the American Athletic Conference for 2018.
The American Athletic Conference is the top Group of 5 league and won’t lack for intrigue in 2018. UCF is back for another run at a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl, as new coach Josh Heupel hopes to pick up where Scott Frost left off last fall. The Knights should win the league in the 2018 American Athletic Conference, with Temple and USF rounding out the next tier in the East Division. The top of the West Division isn’t as clear. There’s very little separation at the top between Memphis, Houston and Navy, with Tulane and SMU also poised to play a factor in which team wins the division title.
Head coach Josh Heupel inherits an enviable situation but also some of the biggest expectations coming off last year’s perfect season and self-proclaimed “National Championship.” That said, with all the returning talent, particularly on the offensive side, UCF should be the odds-on favorite to repeat as conference champions with a good shot at returning to a New Year’s Six bowl for the third time in six years.
Coach Charlie Strong’s first season at USF was a bumpy adjustment at times from Willie Taggart’s Gulf Coast Offense. But now there’s more of a blank slate to implement Strong’s preferred style. The running game will have increased importance, especially while a new quarterback develops.
Overall, though, USF’s prosperity will be defined by continued improvement on defense. Don’t be surprised if the Bulls find themselves in another do-or-die showdown against UCF for an AAC Division title in the regular-season finale.
Former Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins took over from good friend Matt Rhule, who left for Baylor after putting together back-to-back 10-win seasons — at a program that had one double-digit win season in its history. In Collins’ debut season as a head coach, he had to replace a four-year starting quarterback. In the first eight games, the Owls lost at Notre Dame, at South Florida, to Houston and in overtime at Army. Their only blemish the rest of the way was a loss to UCF. That’s something to build on. The Owls just can’t afford to lose any games that they probably shouldn’t, like they did last year against 3-9 Connecticut in South Philly. This is Collins’ team now. Expect Year 2 to be another step in the right direction.
With a shortage of stars, and a coaching staff in Year 2 of a rebuilding project, a .500 record might be the best the Bearcats can hope for this season. UC has gone 8-16 during the past two years, but things appear brighter for the long term. Multiple recruiting services rated the 2018 UC class No. 1 in the AAC and tops among Group of 5 schools. “It shows us that we’re recruiting in the right way,” coach Luke Fickell says. “You continue to take those swings and you see them pay off. They’ll pay off for the next three, four or five years.”
The thought is that UConn will be better, with so many first-year players debuting last season and now returning, but that doesn’t mean an improved record should be expected. The Huskies aren’t quite big enough, strong enough or fast enough on either side of the line, and players at skill positions remain very raw. Barring a big surprise, UConn appears headed for an eighth straight losing season.
Coach Scottie Montgomery has five new coaches on staff this year, but David Blackwell is the most important of those changes, charged with salvaging a defense that was often defenseless last year. There’s some young talent among the sophomores and redshirt freshmen that can up the ante — on both sides of the ball — for the Pirates, who might finally have some wind in their sails again.
Memphis’ upward trend continued in 2017. The Tigers won 10 games, played in the AAC title game and appeared in a bowl game for the fourth straight season – a first for the program. They were also ranked in the AP Top 25 every week beginning in mid-October. To maintain the momentum, Coach Mike Norvell must find the proper triggerman, since the Tigers will have an experienced offensive line and depth in the backfield to counter the loss of Anthony Miller and Phil Mayhue. Defensively, the Tigers must overcome some alarming numbers and continue to win the turnover battle after ranking third nationally in that category a year ago at plus-1.15 per game.
PR hit or not, the hiring of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles shows that the pressure is on to return to the top tier in the AAC West. Back-to-back non-conference games against Arizona and Texas Tech in September should tell us where the Cougars stand. Otherwise, the schedule is favorable with just three trips outside the state of Texas.
New coach Sonny Dykes is a proven offensive guru with a scheme that should ease the transition to the new staff. Defensive coordinator Kevin Kane’s back-to-basics renovation of the defense should at least reduce the number of back-breaking plays allowed. If the Mustangs can make a marked improvement on defense, stay healthy on the offensive line and develop some playmakers, they could find themselves in another bowl game.
After losing to archrival Army for the second straight year, Navy closed on a positive note by routing Virginia 49-7 in the Military Bowl to post a winning record for the 14th time in the last 15 seasons.
Navy’s offense became one-dimensional during the second half of the season since QB Zach Abey was strictly an inside runner. QB Malcom Perry provides the all-important perimeter element of the triple-option, and coach Ken Niumatalolo is confident the offense will be more effective with him at the controls.
Navy will travel an incredible 26,496 miles this season due to its six road and two neutral-site games. Niumatalolo is not thrilled about facing defending AAC West Division champ Memphis on the heels of traveling to Hawaii for the season opener. This year’s game against Notre Dame is in San Diego.
Perry figures to have a huge season if he stays healthy, and Navy’s triple-option attack should continue to confound AAC opponents enough to ensure another winning season.
QB Jonathan Banks is the catalyst. If he improves as expected, the offense will be much more formidable after scoring 21 or fewer points six times last season and finishing near the bottom of the league in third-down conversions. The defense will benefit by not having to be on the field as much.
In what could be a defining fourth year for coach Philip Montgomery, Tulsa needs to show significant progress at quarterback and on defense to avoid a second straight last-place finish in the AAC West. And with a non-conference slate that features visits to Texas and Arkansas, reaching bowl eligibility will likely be a challenge.
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March Madness Round 64 Preview
San Diego State vs. Houston
Sixth-seeded Houston will have to cool off red-hot San Diego State to win its first NCAA Tournament game in 34 years. The 11th-seeded Aztecs head to Thursday’s West Region first-round game in Wichita, Kan., on a nine-game win streak.
San Diego State’s streak includes two victories against Mountain West Conference regular-season champ – and NCAA Tournament at-large pick – Nevada and Saturday’s 82-75 win against New Mexico in the conference tournament finals. A healthy and full roster has helped the Aztecs – who feature balanced scoring from the starting five and the bench – get hot at the right time. The Cougars are in the Big Dance for the first time since 2010 and haven’t won a tournament game since reaching the championship game in 1984. Senior guard Rob Gray leads a high-scoring Houston squad that can also play tough defense, allowing 64.9 points.
TV: 7:20 p.m. ET, TBS
ABOUT SAN DIEGO STATE (22-10): Senior forward Malik Pope – who missed one game after his name was included in a report for possible impermissible benefits but was later cleared by his school – leads the Aztecs with 12.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. Freshmen forwards Jalen McDaniels (10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds) and Matt Mitchell (10.7, 4.0) give the Aztecs additional options in the frontcourt, while senior playmaker Trey Kell – who had a career-high 28 points in Saturday’s title game – does a little bit of everything with 10.4 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.1 steals. Junior guard Devin Watson (12.3 points, 3.8 assists) is the fifth Wolf Pack starter averaging double digits.
ABOUT HOUSTON (26-7): Gray leads the Cougars with 18.5 points and 4.5 assists, while senior forward Devin Davis adds 10.8 points and a team-best 6.2 rebounds. Junior Corey Davis Jr. contributes 13.5 points while shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and sophomore Armoni Brooks – the American Athletic Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year – adds 9.8 points and shoots 42.3 percent beyond the arc. The Cougars can get defensive – holding opponents to 39.6 percent shooting, forcing 13.3 turnovers and control the boards – as shown in Sunday’s 56-55 loss to Cincinnati in the AAC championship.
1. Corey Davis Jr. led the AAC with 3.1 made 3-pointers and the Cougars average 8.6 3s per game. They went 7-of-23 in Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati.
2. The Aztecs went to the NCAA Tournament six straight years (2010-2015) – winning at least one game four times – before missing the past two tournaments.
3. Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is one of 14 coaches to take four schools (Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana, Houston) to the NCAA Tournament.
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HAWAII BOWL STORYLINES
1. Points could be a precious commodity on Dec. 24, when Fresno State faces Houston in the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. The Bulldogs led the Mountain West in scoring defense at 17.2 points per game while Houston possesses the top interior lineman in the country in Outland Trophy winner Ed Oliver, a sophomore defensive tackle who has made 37.5 tackles-for-loss in 24 career games. Oliver received American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year honors after recording 14.5 tackles-for-loss and 5.5 sacks this season.
2. Fresno State won the West Division of the Mountain West and completed the biggest turnaround in the FBS this season, going from 1-11 to 9-4 under first-year coach Jeff Tedford. The Bulldogs fell 17-14 to Boise State in the conference title game and will be looking to snap a six-game bowl losing streak when they face Houston, which finished second in the West Division of the AAC. Fresno State is making its first trip to the postseason since losing to Rice in the 2014 Hawaii Bowl, while Houston is playing in a bowl game for the fifth straight season.
3. Houston’s resume includes impressive road wins over Arizona (19-16) and South Florida (28-24), as well as narrow home losses to Texas Tech (27-24) and Memphis (42-38). The Bulldogs lost back-to-back games at Alabama and Washington by a combined 63 points but responded with four straight wins, a streak capped by a dominant 27-3 victory at San Diego State. Tedford’s squad followed the win in San Diego with an ugly home loss to UNLV but closed the regular season with four straight victories, including a 28-17 triumph over Boise State.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.
ABOUT HOUSTON (7-4, 5-3 American Athletic Conference): The Cougars are on their third starting quarterback of the season with sophomore D’Eriq King, who led a comeback win against South Florida and has completed 73 percent of his passes for 832 yards over the last three games. Wide receiver Steven Dunbar made eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown in a 24-14 win over Navy in the regular-season finale and has been especially dangerous on third downs. Senior linebacker D’Juan Hines set a career high with 104 tackles and was named to the All-AAC First Team, while safety Khalil Williams (eight tackles-for-loss) received Second Team honors.
ABOUT FRESNO STATE (9-4, 7-1 Mountain West): The Bulldogs’ remarkable turnaround has been sparked by a revitalized defense and the arrival of junior quarterback Marcus McMaryion, a transfer from Oregon State who has thrown 14 touchdown passes against four interceptions. The Bulldogs’ running game has been held to 3.5 yards per carry over the last three contests, but McMaryion has several dangerous receiving targets – including 6-2 junior KeeSean Johnson, who has eight touchdown catches and needs 82 yards to reach 1,000 for the season. The stellar defense is led by linebackers George Helmuth and Jeffrey Allison, an All-Mountain West First Team selection who has made a team-high 113 tackles.
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Thursday Fanpicks Games of the Week
Begin the football weekend with Thursday Night Football game between the Raiders and Chiefs. Mix it in with NCAA gridiron action between Memphis and Houston and you get the Games of the Week contest. Check out both games preview below and come play FanPicks cross sports contest!!! >>>Click here to join the game<<<
Oakland Raiders vs Kansas City Chiefs
The Oakland Raiders were a trendy preseason choice to wind up in the conference championship game, but they are in desperate need of a victory to keep from falling out of contention in the AFC West. Riding a four-game losing streak, the struggling Raiders face a daunting task when they host the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night (8:25 p.m. ET on CBS).
Oakland plugged a void this week with the signing of four-time All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman, a tackling machine who moves across the Bay after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers on Friday.
Kansas City became the last team in the NFL to lose, dropping a 19-13 decision at home to Pittsburgh on Sunday, but it has won five in a row against the Raiders.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS (5-1)
Kansas City averaged nearly 33 points through its first five victories, but its offense was bottled up while its 27th-ranked run defense was shredded for 194 yards. Kareem Hunt rushed for a season-low 21 yards but had five receptions for 89 yards to become the first rookie in league history to amass at least 100 scrimmage yards in each of his team’s first six games. Multi-threat receiver Tyreek Hill injured his neck in Sunday’s game and it was feared he might have a concussion, but the team pronounced him good to go. Smith threw for 246 yards and a TD last week, failing to post a 100-plus passer rating for the first time.
ABOUT THE RAIDERS (2-4)
Derek Carr returned to the lineup after missing one game with a fractured bone in his back, but had another mediocre game and has four interceptions in his past three contests after tossing only six picks in the entire 2016 season. The vertical passing game has been a staple in Oakland since the franchise’s inception, but deep threat Amari Cooper has a combined nine receptions for 51 yards during the four-game skid. Marshawn Lynch has not provided the expect jolt to the ground game, rushing for two TDs and an averaging 42.8 yards rushing. Only three teams in the league have fewer than the Raiders’ 11 sacks.
Memphis Tigers vs Houston Cougars
A short week will only add to the drama when Memphis visits Houston on Thursday night( 8 p.m. ET on ESPN) for a key American Athletic Conference West Division game. The past three meetings have been decided by four points or fewer.
The Tigers can gain the upper hand in the division and become bowl eligible for the fourth straight season — a program first — with a win. Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two games while the Tigers have scored 100 points during that span.
The Cougars have won 11 straight conference home games, and six of the past seven against Memphis.
ABOUT MEMPHIS (5-1, 2-1 AAC)
Ferguson leads the conference with 1,814 passing yards and 19 touchdowns, including nine TD passes to Anthony Miller (45 catches, 606 yards). Darrell Henderson (542 rushing yards, three TDs) is averaging 8.1 yards per carry to lead the ground game while Tony Pollard (39.3 yards per return) has two kickoff returns for touchdowns this season. Sophomore Austin Hall leads the Tigers with 44 tackles and recorded three of the team’s five takeaways (two interceptions, fumble) in last week’s victory over Navy.
ABOUT HOUSTON (4-2, 2-1 AAC)
Quarterback Kyle Postma (805 yards, five interceptions, four touchdowns) has made three straight starts but had three turnovers in Saturday’s loss at Tulsa. Steven Dunbar (team-best 40 catches for 462 yards) is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season while Linell Bonner (37 catches, 344 yards, three TDs) had five catches for 44 yards in his return from a concussion. Matthew Adams and D’Juan Hines each have 57 tackles for a defense that has 10 sacks and 12 takeaways.
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NCAA Football 2017 Season
AAC West Preview
The race to win the AAC West Division is crowded at the top. Houston, Navy and Memphis each have a strong argument for the No. 1 spot, while Tulsa and SMU aren’t far behind. The new season of fantasy college football kicks off Saturday August 26 at FanPicks.
Head coach Mike Norvell picked up where Justin Fuente — who guided the Tigers to back-to-back bowl games before departing for Virginia Tech — left off. Memphis ranked 14th nationally in passing offense (304.4 ypg), 15th in scoring offense (38.8 ppg) and 28th in total offense (463.7 ypg) and played in a third straight bowl game.
The Tigers should set a school record by playing in a fourth straight postseason game. Norvell returns eight starters on offense with multiple weapons at running back and receiver. The defense will be a question mark, particularly with an overhaul in the secondary. Still, Memphis won 17 games over the past two years with a defense that ranked in the bottom half of the AAC.
Getting swept by service academy rivals Air Force and Army cast a dark shadow over an otherwise successful 2016 season. You can bet that coach Ken Niumatalolo has put increased emphasis on recapturing the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
Navy’s defense, which was porous last season, is expected to be vastly improved. But they may need to win some games early while a young, inexperienced offense settles in. The Midshipmen have posted winning records in 13 of the last 14 seasons. There is no reason to believe that remarkable run of success won’t continue in 2017.
For two years the Houston program conducted business under constant speculation over the future of Tom Herman, who became the school’s third coach in the last nine years to leave for a more high-profile job. New head coach Major Applewhite, Herman’s offensive coordinator for the last two years, signed a five-year deal with the hopes that he can keep the Cougars relevant on the national scene.
The schedule is more manageable this year. The Cougars play three key AAC West Division rivals (SMU, Memphis and Navy) at home. A second league title in three years likely hinges on progress of the offense — namely Kyle Allen at quarterback and the development of a consistent running game.
Tulsa Golden Hurricanes
After winning six games in his first year, head coach Philip Montgomery overwhelmingly exceeded expectations in 2016 by delivering a 10–3 record and a second-place finish in the American Athletic Conference’s West Division, completing the turnaround from the 2–10 season that preceded his hiring.
To continue rebuilding the program and establishing the Hurricane as perennial contenders in the league, Montgomery will have to do his best coaching job given the high turnover, particularly from an offense that carried the team in the previous two seasons. If the defense can dramatically ramp up its performance despite relying heavily on youth, Montgomery will become only the second coach in program history to make bowl appearances in three consecutive seasons.
In his third season, head coach Chad Morris has SMU positioned for success. After going 2–10 in 2015, the Mustangs were on the verge of bowl eligibility at 5–5 last season, but they lost the final two games to South Florida and Navy.
Morris has made big inroads in changing the program’s culture with dramatic leaps in recruiting, depth and overall performance. Tweaks in the power spread scheme, including a faster pace, bolstered the offense, which ranked 55th nationally last year (427.3 ypg). Mobility at quarterback, or better protection for Ben Hicks — if he wins the job — will be needed. The defense also must take another step forward after ranking 103rd nationally a year ago.
Tulane Green Wave
Tulane should be more competitive now that head coach Willie Fritz and his players are familiar with each other. Simply getting his quarterbacks to know when to pitch or run on options proved challenging a year ago, when Tulane beat UConn in its finale to avoid its first winless conference season since it left the SEC in the 1960s.
Being more competitive, however, won’t necessarily translate into more wins. Not only do the Wave play in the far more difficult West Division of the AAC, but they must also face USF, the overwhelming favorite in the East. And don’t forget about a game at Oklahoma. Anything close to a .500 record would be a great accomplishment.
Las Vegas Bowl Preview
Houston Cougars vs San Diego State Aztecs
The Las Vegas Bowl doesn’t have its traditional Mountain West vs. Pac-12 matchup, but this year’s game features two of the top Group of 5 teams (Play Now). Houston suffered three losses in league play but defeated Louisville and Oklahoma in non-conference action. With Tom Herman taking the job at Texas, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was promoted to interim coach for this game. Orlando won’t tweak too much, as the Cougars lean heavily on quarterback Greg Ward (349.6 ypg) and a defense limiting opponents to 22.6 points a game.
San Diego State earned its second consecutive Mountain West title with a 27-24 victory over Wyoming. The Aztecs rank No. 7 in the nation in rushing offense, featuring running back Donnel Pumphrey (2,018 yards). Pumphrey needs just over 100 yards (108) to surpass Ron Dayne for the FBS career mark. Houston leads the American Athletic Conference in rush defense (97.9 ypg), so this will be a tough challenge for Pumphrey and the San Diego State offensive line.
ABOUT SAN DIEGO STATE (10-3, 6-2 Mountain West)
San Diego State senior running back Donnel Pumphrey (6,290 yards) sits 108 yards away from surpassing Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne (6,397) as the all-time leading career rusher in FBS history. Moving past Dayne doesn’t come without controversy for Pumphrey as the NCAA didn’t recognize bowl statistics during Dayne’s career from 1996-99, otherwise Dayne’s yardage total is 7,125. Pumphrey rushed for 2,018 yards in the regular season but figures to be tested by the Cougars, who rank third nationally in rushing defense (97.9 yards per game) and allow just 2.9 yards per carry.
The Aztecs have won 11 games three times in their history. This squad is a run-based team that relies on Pumphrey and junior Rashaad Penny (995 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns). Pumphrey rushed for 16 touchdowns while shattering numerous records held by school legend Marshall Faulk. Penny averaged 7.9 yards per carry running the ball as well as averaging 31.9 yards and scoring two touchdowns on kickoff returns. Sophomore quarterback Christian Chapman (19 touchdowns, six interceptions) isn’t asked to do a lot in passing game. San Diego State rides a sturdy defense led by senior cornerback Damontae Kazee (seven interceptions this season, school-record 17 in his career) and senior outside linebacker Calvin Munson (team-best 108 tackles).
ABOUT HOUSTON (9-3, 5-3 American Athletic Conference)
Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. is playing the final game of his spectacular career. He ranks fifth in school history in both passing touchdowns (52) and passing yardage (8,476). Ward accounted for 31 touchdowns (22 passing, nine rushing) this season while throwing for 3,328 yards and rushing for 518. His health is something to watch. Ward has been dealing with shoulder soreness for most of the campaign. Leg soreness could have an effect as well on a player who has 38 career rushing touchdowns.
Ward fuels an attack that averages 38 points per game. Junior receiver Linell Bonner caught 93 passes for 1,076 yards but only found the end zone three times. The Cougars’ best player is freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver, who posted 19 1/2 tackles for losses (including five sacks). He could be hampered in the Las Vegas bowl game by a balky knee. Sophomore cornerback Howard Wilson intercepted a team-best five passes while senior outside linebacker Steven Taylor had a team-best 72 tackles.
Louisville Cardinals vs Houston Cougars
Ever since a six-point loss at Clemson on October 1st, Louisville knew it was going to need a number of upsets to happen to teams in front of them in the rankings in order to re-enter the College Football Playoff discussion, and most of them came to fruition last weekend. The Cardinals hope to take advantage of their good fortune and impress the CFP committee with a resume-building win Thursday when they attempt to end Houston’s 14-game home winning streak (Enter Contest).
Michigan, Clemson and Washington were three of the teams Louisville in the coaches’ poll before Saturday. In one single day, those three programs fell from the ranks of the unbeaten, putting the Cardinals in a much more favorable position. Louisville moved from No. 6 to No. 5 in the CFP rankings. Top 4 teams will have a chance to play for a national championship. For the first 45 minutes of its last contest, Louisville appeared to be on the verge of joining the aforementioned top-five teams before piling up 34 points in the fourth quarter en route to a 44-12 win over Wake Forest on Saturday. It is the most productive quarter in NCAA football history since a 35-point eruption against Washington-Tennessee on October 8, 1913.
The Cougars lost two of their first three games in October to fall out of the Top 25, but they have seemingly righted the ship with back-to-back wins. Houston served notice early last season that it was ready to wreak havoc on the big boys of college football, forcing four turnovers and blocking a potential tying field goal in the final minute to pull off a 34-31 upset at Louisville.
ABOUT LOUISVILLE (9-1)
Quarterback Lamar Jackson continued to shatter records on a near-weekly basis last Saturday, breaking Teddy Bridgewater’s single-season school record of 4,048 offensive yards and tying another single-season school mark with his seventh 100-yard rushing effort. While the Heisman Trophy frontrunner was limited to season lows in total yards (298) and touchdowns responsible for (one), senior running back Brandon Radcliff sparked Louisville’s 41-point second-half explosion with a career-high three TDs and rushed for 141 yards, giving the Cardinals a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game for a school-record third time this season. The Cardinals lead FBS with 6.68 yards per carry. Devonte Fields matched a personal best with three sacks Saturday, while fellow linebacker James Hearns added a career-high two of Louisville’s season-high seven sacks.
ABOUT HOUSTON (8-2)
Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. joined Case Keenum (20,114) and Kevin Kolb (13,715) as the only players in school history to amass 10,000 yards of total offense last weekend, and he moved into a second-place tie with Kolb (26) for the most wins by a Cougars quarterback. Junior wide receiver Linell Bonner caught nine passes for 97 yards Saturday, marking the fifth time this season he has managed at least eight receptions and 97 yards in the same game. Freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver continued to wreak havoc in last weekend’s 30-18 win over Tulane, recording his FBS-best (among defensive linemen) sixth pass breakup while adding 1.5 tackles for loss to give him 16.5 for the season. Houston’s average margin of victory during its home winning streak is 19.3 points.
Connecticut (2-2) vs Houston (4-0)
Seventh-ranked Houston gets a chance to avenge its only loss from last year when it hosts Connecticut in an American Athletic Conference game Thursday night (Enter Contest). Both starting quarterbacks missed the majority of last year’s meeting but return healthy for this game.
Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. played one quarter of the UConn game last year, but missed most of it because of an ankle injury. After their victory over Texas State last week, Ward managed to have won 17 straight as the Cougars’ starter. Ward (936 passing yards, five touchdowns and 113 rushing yards, three TDs) leads a balanced offense that’s averaging 44.8 points. Senior linebacker Steven Taylor (tied for second nationally with 5.5 total sacks) leads a unit that is ranked first in the nation in rushing defense (37 yards), fourth in scoring defense (10.5 points) and fifth in total defense (228.8 yards). Houston held six straight opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards, including three straight (Texas State, 33; Cincinnati, 30; Lamar, 15) to 33 or fewer. They’ve recorded at least 40 points and 500 total yards in three straight games.
This Cougars squad is looking to begin 5-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history. They are the only team in the country holding opponents to fewer than 1.5 yards per rush. Houston will be without CB Brandon Wilson (lower leg) and RB Mulbah Car (knee) who are out due to injuries.
QB Bryant Shirreffs, who left last year’s game with a concussion on the second series, helped the Huskies overcome slow starts in all four games. UConn has been outscored 31-0 in the first quarter this season before having all four games decided by seven or fewer points. Shirreffs threw for 819 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Noel Thomas Jr. (40 receptions, 388 yards, one TD) has nearly half of UConn’s catches (81) and receiving yards (861) after a 14-catch performance against Syracuse. The Huskies were stopped at the goal line in losses to Navy (as time expired) and Syracuse (late in the fourth quarter), and got late game-winning field goals from Bobby Puyol (5-of-5 in field goals and 10-of-10 on extra points) in their two wins.
On the downside, UConn lost six turnovers (four fumbles, two interceptions) with three (two fumbles and an interception by Shirreffs) returned for touchdowns.
CFB Thursday Preview
Houston (2-0) vs Cincinnati (2-0)
No. 7 Houston will be back at full strength on offense when it tries to win at Cincinnati for the first time since 1971 on Thursday night. Heisman Trophy-candidate Greg Ward Jr. (shoulder) and running back Duke Catalon (ankle) were held out of last week’s dominating victory over Lamar so that they’d be ready for Thursday’s American Athletic Conference opener. Join this CFB game, play it here.
This game will be Cincinnati’s defense first real challenge this year. They were ranked 124th in turnover margin last year. The Bearcats scored 35 points off the 8 turnovers they’ve forced. They give their inexperienced offense much needed support. Coach Tom Herman called his D-squad the “backbone of his team” on Monday. Sophomore quarterback Hayden Moore (510 passing yards, five TDs, one INT, 71 rushing yards and two TDs) was responsible for five scores in a road win at Purdue last week. Nate Cole (12 catches, 145 yards, three TDs) and Devin Gray (nine catches, 167 yards) heads a new group of receivers after the Bearcats graduated six senior receivers. Linebacker Eric Wilson leads the AAC with 24 total tackles. Cincinnati ranks second in the league with 13.5 points allowed.
The Cougars are no slouch in defense either. They lead the AAC in total defense (233 yards), scoring defense (11.5 points), sacks (eight) and tackles for loss (20). Houston held their last four opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing. Greg Ward will return to the lineup after sitting out one game. In the team’s season opener against Oklahoma, he threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Duke Catalon added 88 rushing yards in that matchup. Kevrin Justice (111 yards, two TDs), Mulbah Car (109 yards, TD) and quarterback Kyle Postma (106 yards, two TDs) all rushed for more than 100 yards versus Lamar. Linebacker Steven Taylor leads the league with 3.5 sacks. Freshman lineman Ed Oliver collected 10 tackles, two sacks and 4.5 tackles. The Cougars have won 16 of their past 17 games.
NCAA Football Preview
Top Transfers 2016 season
While college players have been transferring to new schools for years, it seems like they’re having a much bigger impact on the college football landscape now than ever before. A large reason for this is the graduate transfer rule that allows players to move to a new school after receiving their degree and not have to sit out for a season. To start off the 2016 NCAA Football preview (play at FP), here are five of the top transfers for the upcoming season.
5. Duke Catalon, RB, Houston: Catalon had originally committed to Texas out of high school. He became a four-star member of Texas’ 2014 recruiting class, but never really gained traction in Austin. He redshirted his inaugural season on campus, then, for whatever reason, he decided to transfer and moved on to Houston where he sat out last season.
Now, Catalon is in a prime position where he could play a large role in an offense that was very dangerous last season. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. was the show for the Cougars. He prepares to be that again in 2016 with some reinforcement. Kenneth Farrow, Houston’s second-leading rusher last season behind Ward, is now holding a position with the San Diego Chargers. This opens the door for Catalon to step in and have a major impact in Tom Herman’s offense.
4. Hardy Nickerson Jr., LB, Illinois: Cal hasn’t exactly been recognized for its defense in recent years. When the Bears did make a tackle, odds are it was Hardy Nickerson dragging the ball carrier to the dirt. Nickerson had 112 tackles for the Bears last season, and 245 in his Cal career.
Nickerson has now transferred to Illinois, where his father, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer linebacker Hardy Nickerson, is now the team’s defensive coordinator. Junior steps into a situation where he’ll be sorely needed, as Illinois lost its three leading tacklers from last year, including two linebackers. Illinois will need Nickerson to continue being the tackles machine he was at Cal.
3. Kenny Hill, QB, TCU: Kenny Hill showed up at Texas A&M as a four-star recruit in 2013. He saw a little bit of time as a true freshman behind Johnny Manziel. The following year Hill began the season as the Aggies starter. He threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns in A&M’s opening game versus South Carolina. With a incredible month of September, his name started to be tossed around as a Heisman candidate. He even got fitted with the nickname of Kenny “Trill”. In October, it all came crumbling down. The losses started piling up, and eventually Hill lost his starting gig after a 59-0 stomping against Alabama.
Hill transferred the following season, and after sitting out last year, he seems to be the apparent heir to Trevone Boykin at TCU. It will be large shoes to fill, but if Kenny “Trill” shows up again for the Horned Frogs, they’ll once again be a major factor in the Big 12.
2. Dakota Prukop, QB, Oregon: For the second year in a row, Oregon is counting on a graduate transfer from FCS to fill it’s QB slot. Last season it was Vernon Adams making his way to Eugene from Eastern Washington, and this year Dakota Prukop comes from Montana State. During his two seasons as a starter at Montana State, Prukop threw for 5,584 yards and 46 touchdowns while also rushing for 1,743 yards and 24 touchdowns. The Ducks will need him to keep on being productive if they want to compete for a Pac-12 title and College Football Playoff berth this season.
Last year, Vernon Adam wasn’t able to enroll at Oregon until mid-august, which left him a month to get himself acquainted with the new team. The Ducks won’t have the same issue with Prukop this year. He has been at Oregon since January, so he’ll have gone through spring and fall camp before the season begins.
1. Trevor Knight, QB, Texas A&M: It looked like Trevor Knight was on his way to becoming another star quarterback for the Sooners a couple of years ago. In Oklahoma’s 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl following the 2013 season, Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns. After that game however, things were not good anymore. Knight struggled a bit in 2014, throwing for 2,300 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in nine games before suffering a scary neck injury. That injury cost Knight the rest of the season. He lost the starting job to Baker Mayfield. Mayfield later led Oklahoma to a Big 12 title and a CFP berth.
Following that, Knight chose to transfer to Texas A&M. The move was made right after both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray left the Aggies. He’s now poised to take over the reins of Texas A&M’s offense. He’ll also have plenty of explosive weapons surrounding him. If Knight can limit the turnovers that plagued him in 2014, the Aggies offense could become a major force in 2016.
Final Four Scores
Final Four Scores – Armed with a couple of blowouts, the Final Four may not have been as thrilling as the previous rounds, but you won’t anyone complaining about witnessing two quality teams put in work.
Now that the Final Four has come to a close and March Madness is nearing it’s finish, it’s time to reflect upon what has been another great show by our nations best young basketball players. It’s been an exciting run that began with 68 teams competing to be crowned champions, but now only two remain.
Those two teams competed for the right to play in that title game on Saturday, April 2nd.
No. 2 Villanova easily handled No. 2 Oklahoma by a score of 95-51. That 44-point spread was the biggest margin of victory in Final Four history.
Later that evening, North Carolina took care of business against Syracuse and came out on top of an 83-66 score. Syracuse kept it close for most of the game, but UNC was just too dominant down low again.
Villanova has reached the national championship game for the first time since 1985, while North Carolina returns for the first time since 2009.
The March Madness Championship Game takes place on Monday, April 4 2016 at precisely 9:19 PM at NRG Stadium, Houston, Texas.
Top 10 DBs 40-Yard Dash Results
On the final day of the NFL Combine, we saw the DBs fly into action. It’s always an exciting day when the ultra-athletic defensive backs take to the field and this year was no different. Here we take a look at the 40-yard dash results from the top 10 performers at the position.
Jalen Ramsey came in with the highest of expectations as a sprinter and champion long jumper for the Seminoles track team, and hit a 40-inch vertical leap in high school.
He did not disappoint.
At 6’1 209 lbs, a 4.41 40-yard dash is an excellent showing for Ramsey. He also finished first place in broad jump and vertical leap. But make no mistake, he is not just a workout warrior, The kid can ball. He is the top db in this class by a mile and is adept at playing cornerback or safety. His ability to make plays all over the field have many teams penciling him in at free safety next season, rather than limiting him to the boundary.
One of the nicest surprises of this years combine has been Houston’s William Jackson III. At 6’0 he has nice length, and put up the fourth best time 40 time at 4.37. He was already considered a second rounder, and now he may slide up into the first if a team likes his athletic package enough. He led the nation in pass defenses with 23 this season. I can see a team like the Patriots taking him, or the Raiders trading back in to try and get a nice value pick late.
40-yard dash winner Jonathan Jones is undersized for the corner spot these days, but his great speed may have just earned him a career. With questions about his overall ability to defend (especially at the next level), coming through with such a great time was crucial for the potential 5th round pick. He is now a certified draft worthy prospect.