1. Shane Buechele – SMU Mustangs
  2. Damonte Coxie – Memphis Tigers
  3. Reggie Roberson Jr – SMU Mustangs
  4. Brady White – Memphis Tigers
  5. Asher O’Hara – Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
  6. Jonathan Adams – Arkansas State Red Wolves
  7. Kylen Granson – SMU Mustangs
  8. Logan Bonner – Arkansas State Red Wolves
  9. Sandon McCoy – Army Black Knights
  10. T.J. McDaniels – SMU Mustangs
  11. Marcel Murray – Arkansas State Red Wolves

Happy drafting!!!

Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: AJ Dillon
Source: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images North America

Expect plenty of offense when the Broncos take on the Eagles in Dallas

The Boston College Eagles and Boise State Broncos will meet up in the SERVPRO First Responder Bowl in one of the more under-the-radar intriguing matchups of the bowl season.

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Boise State (10-3, 7-1 MW) comes into the game disappointed with how its season turned out. The Broncos lost the Mountain West Championship Game to Fresno State in overtime, sending them to Dallas instead of Vegas. Be that as it may, head coach Bryan Harsin and his squad will be motivated to notch their third 11-win season in the last five years.

After starting the 2018 campaign 7-2, Boston College (7-5, 4-4 ACC) backed its way into bowl season with three straight losses. They’ll be anxious to get back on the field and finish the year on a high note against one of the very best Group of 5 teams in the country.

SERVPRO First Responder Bowl: Boston College (7-5) vs. Boise State (10-3)

Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 26 at 1:30 p.m. ET

Where: Cotton Bowl Stadium (Dallas)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Boise State -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. AJ Dillon vs. the Boise State front seven

Dillon has been one of the best backs in the country during the last two seasons. He is the heart and soul of the Eagles’ offense, and this team goes as he goes. Four of Boston College’s five losses came when Dillon logged fewer than 20 carries or did not play. The coaching staff must make a concerted effort to get Dillon the ball early and often, and he must be able to consistently move the ball against a defense that has allowed fewer than 123 rushing yards per game. Wearing down the Boise State front seven early will be key for Boston College.

2. Brett Rypien vs. the Boston College secondary

Boise State wants to push the ball downfield through the air. It’s what the Broncos do, and they’ve done it well for a long time. They’ve got one of the most seasoned and capable quarterbacks in the country under center (or in the shotgun), and he can pick apart any defense you put in front of him. He’ll need to be careful against Boston College — especially in the red zone. The Eagles do allow plenty of passing yards (247.9 per game), but they also lead the nation in interceptions with 18 and have only surrendered 17 TD passes all season. A turnover in the red zone could leave to a significant swing in this game (and on the scoreboard). Boston College defensive back Hamp Cheevers — the nation’s leader in interceptions with seven — will play a vital role in how this all plays out. This matchup could end up being the difference.

3. Can Boston College stop Boise State on third down?

Boise State possesses the ball for about 33 minutes a game. One of the biggest reasons the Broncos are able to do this is their efficiency on third down. Their 52.7 percent success rate is third in the nation and Boise State’s 106 conversions are tops. For a team like Boston College that wants to run the ball, it is absolutely imperative that the Eagles’ defense gets off the field on the third down so Dillon can pound the ball and the offense can eat up clock. If Boston College can’t stop the Broncos on third down it will be a long afternoon for head coach Steve Addazio and company.

Final Analysis

Despite Boston College leaning on the run, the Eagles score points at a decent clip (32 per game). They are facing a Boise State offense that puts up more than 35 points per contest. Suffice to say, possessions will be key, and Boston College needs to figure out a way to get more of them. The Eagles are among the nation’s leaders in turnovers gained with 26. Unfortunately, the Broncos are stingy when it comes to giving them away. having turned it over just 13 times in as many games. The pace of the game and Boise State’s ball security will end up being the difference in this one. The Broncos simply have more ways to score and can do so from anywhere on the field. Look for dynamic running back Alexander Mattison to play a huge role in that effort. A close contest early will eventually evolve into a sound Boise State win.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Blake Barnett
Source: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Image North America

Thundering Herd and Bulls meet for first time in Tampa

Two Group of 5 programs will meet for the first time in sunny Tampa when the Marshall Thundering Herd take on the South Florida Bulls in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. The game is now being played at the Bulls’ home of Raymond James Stadium — moving over from Tropicana Field in nearby St. Petersburg.

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Marshall has made two appearances in this game (2011, when it was the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl; ’14, St. Petersburg Bowl), winning both against FIU and UConn, respectively. South Florida, meanwhile, has played in this bowl once, winning the inaugural game 41-14 against Memphis in 2008.

Now in his ninth season at the helm of the Thundering Herd, Doc Holliday is undefeated in bowls during his Marshall tenure. He’s tied with Bob Pruett — who led the Herd from 1997-2004 — for the most bowl victories (five) by a Marshall head coach. The Herd (8-4, 6-2 Conference USA) have had an up-and-down campaign with two non-conference losses courtesy of ACC opponents NC State and Virginia Tech and their two C-USA defeats coming by a total of 12 points to Middle Tennessee and Southern Miss. The loss to the Hokies — which was a makeup game scheduled for Dec. 1 after both teams had September dates canceled because of Hurricane Florence — snapped a three-game winning streak and ended any chance of Marshall posting its first 10-win season since tallying three straight from 2013-15.

In his second season in Tampa, Charlie Strong has an opportunity to guide the Bulls (7-5, 3-5 American) to their fourth straight winning campaign, South Florida also is looking for its third straight bowl victory. Most importantly, Strong has an opportunity to close 2018 on a positive note after so many tough finishes at the end of the regular season. South Florida took off in the first eight weeks of the season, starting 7-0 and scoring more than 35 points per game in that span. The Bulls then hit a serious rough patch, losing five in a row and averaging just 20.2 points per game.

Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl: Marshall (8-4) vs. South Florida (7-5)

Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
TV: ESPN
Spread: Marshall -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Run defense disparities

South Florida brings the ninth-worst run defense in the FBS into bowl season, allowing nearly 245 yards on the ground per game. The only other teams to finish worse than the Bulls in that category combined for 21 wins, with four of those teams (Georgia State, Louisville, Oregon State and UConn) winning either one or two games. On the other side, Marshall has done a fantastic job of limiting any opposing ground attacks from thundering through its defense. The Herd are giving up just 105.3 rushing yards per game, good for the 10th in the country. Opponents gain just 2.98 yards per carry against this Marshall team, which is the sixth-best mark in the nation. The Bulls will have a tough time running the football against the Thundering Herd, so they’ll need to get enough production from their passing game to help them move the ball down the field and put some points on the scoreboard.

2. South Florida’s deep threats

The good news for the Bulls is that they have the pieces to make things happen through the air. It starts with Blake Barnett — who ranks third in the AAC and 19th nationally in total offense (280.6 ypg) — as the leader to this offense. He has help on the outside in the form of Randall St. Felix and Darnell Salomon. The wide receivers are explosive and in the top five in the conference in yards per catch at 19.0 and 17.6, respectively. Their ability to take the top off the Marshall defense could go a long way in helping the Bulls keep pace in this one. Marshall is in the middle of the pack in Conference USA against the pass, but has struggled against other teams in his respect. In four non-conference games, the Herd gave up 273.5 passing yards per game (compared to 210.8 in eight C-USA contests) with an 8:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio (vs. 7:9) and 141.45 passer rating (vs. 107.78).

3. Momentum (or lack thereof)

Once again, we see a situation where bowl teams aren’t exactly playing their best football when they reach the postseason. Marshall won three in a row and four of five before dropping the regular-season finale to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, which helped to give the Thundering Herd a boost entering December. South Florida, meanwhile, won its first seven games to stake its claim as one of the final undefeated teams in the nation. After a 21-point loss to Houston dropped the Bulls from the ranks of the unbeaten, the Bulls fell and fell quickly. Charlie Strong’s group lost its final five games of the regular season, including a 38-10 finish against UCF in the War on I-4. What remains to be seen is if Marshall will get over a small speed bump or if South Florida can manage to right the ship and send its seniors out with a win after a painful end to the regular season.

Final Analysis

While both teams ended their respective regular seasons with a loss, it is Marshall coming in playing with much more momentum. With both teams having played in this bowl before, and because this is effectively a home game for USF as the teams square off at Raymond James Stadium, there is a level of familiarity for both teams that could serve to help them in preparation for the game. Look for the Thundering Herd’s defense to be a big factor, especially if the Bulls struggle to get their offense going early.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Nathan Rourke (12) & Joe Lowery (65)
Source: Tim Bradbury/Getty Image North America

Aztecs from the Mountain West and Bobcats from the MAC tangle for the first time in Frisco

The DXL Frisco Bowl will showcase two teams from opposite ends of the country with San Diego State and Ohio set to face off for the first time. Both teams will look to use this game as a springboard for a successful 2019 season.

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San Diego State (7-5, 4-4 MW) comes into the Frisco Bowl in a bit of a slump, as the Aztecs have lost four of their last five games. This is still a team that should not be taken lightly, as SDSU’s season includes an upset of Arizona State and a 6-1 start. But the end of October and November were not kind to Rocky Long’s team, which lost close conference games on the road to Nevada (28-24), UNLV (27-24) and Fresno State (23-14) and finished things out with a one-point loss in overtime at home to Hawaii (31-30).

Ohio (8-4, 6-2 MAC) kind of followed the opposite path, starting out 3-3 with non-conference road losses to fellow bowl participants Virginia and Cincinnati. But the Bobcats were strong down the stretch, winning five of their final six MAC games, including a 52-17 rout of eventual East division champ Buffalo.

These two teams are certainly no strangers the postseason. San Diego State is making its eighth straight bowl appearance in as many seasons under head coach Rocky Long. It’s four in a row and nine of the last 10 years for Ohio under longtime head coach Frank Solich. This will be the first-ever meeting between these two schools whose campuses are separated by 2,300 miles.

DXL Frisco Bowl: San Diego State (7-5) vs. Ohio (8-4)

Kickoff: Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Toyota Stadium (Frisco, Texas)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Ohio -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Ohio ‘s running game vs. San Diego State’s rush defense

The Bobcats lead the MAC in rushing with an average of nearly 262 yards per game. Senior running back A.J. Ouellette leads the way with 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. The 5-foot-9, 210-pound back averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per carry and also has two touchdown catches. Fellow RB Maleek Irons (831 yards, 8 TDs) and quarterback Nathan Rourke (816, 13) give Ohio multiple options to run the ball with, and the Bobcats will need those going up against the nation’s fourth-stingiest run defense. The Aztecs are surrendering 94.5 yards per game on the ground. They gave up a total of 386 rushing yards to the six bowl teams – Arizona State, Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada and Stanford – they faced in the regular season.

2. San Diego State LB Kyahva Tezino vs. Ohio’s offensive line

Tezino enters this game third in the Mountain West in sacks with 8.5 The junior also leads the Aztecs with 120 tackles (fourth in the conference) and 14.5 tackles for a loss (third). He really came on strong in November, recording 5.5 of his sacks in four games. Whether he can be as effective against Ohio remains to be seen. The Bobcats have given up a total of 19 sacks thus far, a number that’s helped by the running game as well as Rourke’s mobility in and outside of the pocket. So will the first-team All-Mountain West selection be able to add to his totals down in Texas? Or can Ohio keep San Diego State’s best defender from making plays behind the line of scrimmage?

3. San Diego State RB Juwan Washington vs. Ohio’s rush defense

A productive as the Bobcats’ running game has been, the Aztecs’ reputation for churning out productive running backs is well documented. Under head coach Rocky Long that’s a legacy that includes NFL players Rashaad Penny, Donnel Pumphrey and Ronnie Hillman. The current starter is Washington who has dealt with injuries this season and has still managed to compile 870 yards and 10 touchdowns in eight games. Washington isn’t the biggest (5-7, 190) back but he has more than enough speed to break off long gains. San Diego State makes a living out of the running the ball, so Ohio’s defense will focus on containing Washington. The Bobcats are No. 2 in the MAC against run, allowing 135.8 rushing yards per game.

Final Analysis

San Diego State slumped towards the end of the season, but the Aztecs’ last four losses have come by a total of 13 points. Ohio started off slow but really got things going in MAC play. Both teams have found success running the football, so this game will likely hinge on the team that does that better. It should be an entertaining game in Toyota Stadium, but the edge goes to the team from the MAC.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: A.J. Erdely
Source: Rob Foldy/Getty Image North America

The Blazers and Huskies meet in Boca Raton on Tuesday night

The Boca Raton Bowl features a rare meeting of conference champions in the 2018-19 postseason, as UAB meets Northern Illinois on Tuesday night in FAU Stadium. And if the regular season finale for both teams is any indication of how this game might go, Tuesday night’s matchup certainly won’t lack for intrigue or excitement. The Blazers used a late penalty against MTSU to hold on for a 27-25 victory in Conference USA’s Championship, while the Huskies rallied in the fourth quarter against Buffalo to a claim a 30-29 win in the MAC title game.

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UAB’s play on the gridiron has been one of college football’s best storylines over the last two years. The program was disbanded following the 2014 season but was later reinstated in ’15, with the team returning to the field and Conference USA play in ’17. The Blazers shattered preseason expectations with an 8-5 record last fall and capped the year with an appearance against Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl. Coach Bill Clark’s team was even better in 2018, finishing 10-3 overall with the program’s first Conference USA title. UAB also won 10 games for the first time in its program history, helping Clark earn Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year honors.

Success at a high level is nothing new to Northern Illinois. The Huskies have the most appearances of any school in the MAC in the conference title game, claimed four league titles since 2011 and made five bowl trips in six full years under coach Rod Carey. After a 5-7 mark in 2016, Northern Illinois has posted back-to-back 8-5 records and claimed the MAC title over Buffalo in dramatic fashion this year. After trailing 29-10 in third quarter, the Huskies scored 20 unanswered points to claim a 30-29 victory. Carey’s team faced a brutal non-conference schedule – Iowa, Utah and Florida State – but both losses in MAC play came by seven points or less.

This is the first meeting on the gridiron between Northern Illinois and UAB. The Huskies are 4-8 in bowl games, while the Blazers are 0-2.

Boca Raton Bowl: UAB (10-3) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5)

Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: UAB -2.5

Three Things to Watch

1. UAB’s Ground Attack

It’s no secret what UAB wants to do on offense in this matchup. The Blazers ranked first in Conference USA with 587 rushing attempts and ranked second in the conference by averaging 208.9 rushing yards a game. Sophomore Spencer Brown is the catalyst for UAB’s ground attack, as he eclipsed 1,000 yards for the second consecutive year by ending the regular season with 1,149 yards and 16 scores. Brown is averaging 4.7 yards a carry and has just one run of 30 yards or more this season. Helping Brown’s cause as one of the top Group of 5 running backs in the nation is an offensive line featuring four senior starters, including first-team All-Conference USA selection Justice Powers. Rishard Cook, James Davis and Malique Johnson each earned second-team honors this season.

Production by Brown on early downs is going to be crucial for UAB on Tuesday night. The offense exceled at converting third-down attempts (44.3 percent success rate) in the regular season, but Northern Illinois has been stingy all year against the run. The Huskies rank first in the MAC in rush defense, limiting opponents to just 2.7 yards a carry and 109.7 yards a game. Additionally, Carey’s team allowed only one opponent (Iowa) to rush for more than 168 yards in a contest this fall. All-America end Sutton Smith (24.5) is the main disruptor, but he will have help from linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis (13.5 TFL) and fellow linemen Josh Corcoran (12.5) and Jack Heflin (8.0). Considering the talent off the edge with Smith and Corcoran, Brown and UAB’s ground game would be wise to pound away at the interior.

UAB’s passing game wasn’t prolific by any means, but quarterbacks A.J. Erdely and Tyler Johnston III made enough plays to keep the offense rolling this fall. Erdely connected on 56.1 percent of his passes for 1,539 yards and seven touchdowns. Johnston’s completion percentage was slightly higher (56.8), as he added 950 yards and seven scores through the air. The two quarterbacks combined for 15 picks in 2018. Erdely was banged up late in the year, allowing Johnston to start four out of the final five contests. All signs point to Johnston starting on Tuesday night, and the freshman will certainly have his hands full with a defense that is limiting teams to just 21.5 points a game and 4.6 yards a play. Receivers Xavier Ubosi (21.8 ypc), Andre Wilson (30 catches), Kailon Carter (22) and Collin Lisa (14) give Johnston a solid group of weapons with big-play ability on the outside.

In order for UAB to win on Tuesday night, it has to establish the run by giving Northern Illinois a heavy dose of its star running back (Brown). An x-factor to watch: Johnston’s mobility. The freshman rushed for 331 yards and four scores in the regular season and posted double-digit carries in three out of UAB’s last four games.

2. Northern Illinois’ Offense

Similar to UAB, Northern Illinois’ offense wants to lean on its run to setup the pass. The Huskies posted 553 carries to just 372 passing attempts in the regular season. Carey’s group wasn’t overly prolific on the scoreboard, as the offense averaged only 20.7 points a game and 4.6 yards a play. However, this unit showed signs of progress in the MAC title win over Buffalo. In the victory, Northern Illinois averaged 6.1 yards a play, recorded 23 first downs and threw for 300 yards (a season high) versus the Bulls. Additionally, the 409 total yards was the third-highest total for the Huskies all year. Can Carey’s team build off that performance?

While the Huskies are a run-first attack, this team doesn’t have a 1,000-yard rusher. Instead, a couple of players will tote the rock for Carey’s team, spreading the wealth in the NIU backfield. Tre Harbison needs just 15 yards to reach 1,000, as he leads the team with 985 yards through 13 games. Marcus Jones (523) and Jordan Nettles (215) are next up at running back, and quarterback Marcus Childers has chipped in 496 yards and leads the team with six rushing scores in ’18.

As mentioned above, Northern Illinois hopes the performance on offense from the MAC title game travels to Boca on Tuesday night. Childers’ 300 passing yards and four scores through the air were the most this offense has generated all year with its passing game. The sophomore has an experienced group of receivers at his disposal, including Jauan Wesley (49 catches), D.J. Brown (55) and Spencer Tears (34).

While there are reasons for Northern Illinois’ staff to be optimistic about its offense, UAB has been stingy all season on this side of the ball. The Blazers rank first in Conference USA in scoring defense (17.3), limit teams to 4.9 yards a play, rank second in the conference in pass efficiency defense and have generated 43 sacks in ’18. This unit is also holding teams to 3.5 yards a rush and less than 120 rushing yards a game. Jamell Garcia-Williams (9.5 sacks), Tre’ Crawford (8.0) and Quindarius Thagard (4.0) are the main disruptors up front for Clark and will be tasked with keeping the offense in check.

It may seem like a broken record, but we have to mention it again. Northern Illinois wants to run the ball, and Childers is a big part of that plan. However, considering UAB’s strength up front, the Huskies will need to throw downfield with success on early downs to win this game.

3. Havoc Plays and Turnovers

There are several similarities between these two teams, so it’s no surprise the spread is right around a field goal. However, with a tight (and low-scoring) game anticipated, one play by the defense or a mistake on offense could be the deciding factor.

In the turnover department, UAB comes into this game with a minus-one ratio. The Blazers have generated 18 takeaways and lost 19 turnovers through 13 games. Northern Illinois is almost identical in this area. The Huskies have an even margin, losing 18 turnovers and gaining 18 this season.

The continuing similarities between these two teams continues with sacks generated. Northern Illinois leads the nation with 50 sacks, while UAB is tied for third nationally with 43. Smith has recorded 15 sacks, with Corcoran (10) also in double-digits. The Blazers are led by Garcia-Williams (9.5) and Crawford (8.0), but eight players have recorded at least two this season.

One defensive area where UAB owns a big edge is on third-down stops. The Blazers are limiting opponents to a 25 percent conversion rate, with the Huskies allowing 38.1 percent.

Final Analysis

Points will be a premium on Tuesday night. Both teams are averaging under 30 points a contest and will bring two of the nation’s top defenses to Boca Raton. With the defensive prowess in this matchup, timely offense and mistakes are going to be magnified. Winning the turnover battle and converting third downs to keep drives alive will loom large. Can UAB’s offense consistently generate enough push on first downs to keep Johnston out of third-and-long situations? When Northern Illinois has the ball, can Childers pick up where he left off in the MAC title game? Expect a low-scoring game, but the Blazers add to the best season in school history with the program’s first bowl victory.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Photo: Jordan Love – Source: Gregory Shamus / Getty Image North America

Former conference rivals and two of the nation’s top offenses face off in Albuquerque

North Texas and Utah State both used potent offenses to carve out successful seasons. Now the former conference rivals get to stake a claim on which team has the superior offense when they help open the 2018-19 bowl season at the New Mexico Bowl.

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Utah State (10-2, 7-1 MW) is playing in a bowl game for the seventh time in eight seasons. The Aggies ran off 10 straight wins for the first time in school history before losing to Boise State in the regular-season finale. Utah State is 4-8 all-time in bowl games and is looking to snap a two-game postseason losing streak. The Aggies won a bowl game most recently in 2014 when they beat UTEP 21-6 in the New Mexico Bowl.

North Texas (9-3, 5-3 C-USA) has won nine games in back-to-back seasons for just the second time in school history. The Mean Green are appearing in their third straight bowl game and 10th overall. North Texas is 2-7 all-time in bowl games and, like Utah State, is looking to snap a two-game losing streak in bowls. The Mean Green earned their last bowl victory when they beat UNLV 36-14 in the 2013 Heart of Dallas Bowl.

This is the eighth meeting between the former Big West and Sun Belt rivals. Utah State leads the series 4-3, but North Texas holds a two-game winning streak in the series.

New Mexico Bowl: North Texas vs. Utah State

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. ET
Where: Dreamstyle Stadium (Albuquerque, N.M.)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Utah State -11

Three Things to Watch

1. Scoreboard explosion

A defensive battle isn’t likely in the works when Utah State and North Texas clash in Albuquerque. Both teams found success this season by overwhelming opponents with productive and efficient offense.

Utah State ended the regular season leading the Mountain West in total offense and scoring offense. The Aggies produce 47.2 points and 492.5 yards per game. Utah State already set school records after finishing the regular season with 72 touchdowns and 566 total points. Those marks eclipsed the previous records of 60 touchdowns set in 2011 and 454 total points set in ’12. The Aggies are within striking distance of the Mountain West record for points scored in a season. BYU set the current record of 608 points in 2001.

North Texas is almost as formidable on offense. The Mean Green lead Conference USA with 36.4 points per game. They are second in the league in total offense with 472.8 yards per game. North Texas is on pace to break school records in both categories. The current record for scoring offense in a season is 36.2 points per game, set in 1951. The current record for total offense is 454.7 yards per game, set just last season.

2. Jordan Love vs. Mason Fine

One of the appealing aspects of this year’s edition of the New Mexico Bowl is that it will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the country. Love and Fine have each put up ridiculous numbers while leading their respective teams to success.

Love threw for at least 300 yards six times during the regular season and crossed the 400-yard plateau twice. The sophomore has a strong and accurate arm, totaling 3,208 yards, 28 touchdowns, and five interceptions during the regular season. He ranks second in the Mountain West in pass efficiency (159.9), third in touchdown passes (28) and completion percentage (.658), fourth in passing yards per game (267.3) and fifth in total offense per game (272.3). Love also ranks in the top 30 nationally in all those categories.

While Fine’s numbers have dropped off a bit from a season ago, he’s still a major playmaking threat. He has totaled 3,734 yards and 27 touchdowns while throwing only five interceptions. Fine is the career leader at North Texas in passing yards (9,358), passing efficiency (140.05), completions (774), and passing attempts (1,229). Fine ranks as the top Conference USA passer in total yards and yards per game (311.2).

3. Can North Texas survive pressure from Utah State’s defense?

With both offenses being strong, the ultimate deciding factor will likely be defensive play. If that’s the case, Utah State has a definite edge in that department.

The Aggies know how to turn up the pressure on opponents and create disruption in the backfield. Utah State has totaled 89.0 tackles for a loss this season. More often than not, those plays lead to turnovers. The Aggies rank third nationally with 28 forced turnovers and are second among FBS teams with six defensive touchdowns. They have produced three or more turnovers in four games this season.

North Texas will need to do a good job of protecting its quarterback against Utah State. The Mean Green have been average in that department this season. They have given up 26 sacks and 84 total tackles for a loss in 12 games.

Final Analysis

Utah State will be going through a coaching transition as Gary Andersen returns to the program to succeed his one-time successor Matt Wells. Frank Maile will coach the Aggies in the New Mexico Bowl and David Yost will stay on to call plays before heading to Texas Tech with Wells. That’s huge news for Utah State. The Aggies have a superior defense to pair with their potent offense and should be well equipped to handle what North Texas can throw at them. It should be a fun battle, but USU is the one who ultimately will get to snap their bowl losing streak.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Clemson vs. Pittsburgh

Not many ACC teams can claim wins over Clemson in recent years, but Pittsburgh is one of them. The Panthers will try to play spoiler once again when they face the No. 2 Tigers on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C.

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The Panthers handed Clemson a 43-42 home loss in the most recent meeting in 2016 – the Tigers’ only loss en route to the national championship. Another loss to Pittsburgh would cost the Tigers their fourth consecutive ACC title, and it might deny them a chance to play for another national crown. Clemson has hardly been challenged lately, winning its past seven games by at least 20 points, though the vaunted defense had its most worrisome performance of the season in last week’s 56-35 victory over rival South Carolina. Pittsburgh had its four-game winning streak snapped with a 24-3 loss at Miami last week as the offense inexplicably fell flat after totaling 86 points in the previous two contests.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Clemson -27.5

ABOUT CLEMSON (12-0, 8-0 ACC): The Tigers have been dominant on both sides of the ball as they rank third in the nation in total offense and seventh in defense. Clemson boasts one of the most prolific – and most balanced – offenses in the nation with freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence (2,488 yards, 22 touchdowns, four interceptions) and running back Travis Etienne (1,307 yards, 19 TDs) leading the way. The defense has been especially tough against the run, allowing more than 117 rushing yards once and holding seven opponents to 90 yards or fewer on the ground.

ABOUT PITTSBURGH (7-5, 6-2): The Panthers averaged 40.8 points during their four-game run to clinch the ACC Coastal Division title, but managed only 200 total yards and did not find the end zone last week. To have a chance Saturday, they’ll need a big rebound from running backs Qadree Ollison (1,134 yards, 10 TDs) and Darrin Hall (935 yards, nine TDs), and quarterback Kenny Pickett (1,825 yards, 12 TDs, 5 interceptions) can’t make many back-breaking mistakes. They’ll likely need to put up some points, because a defense that allows 399.9 yards and 27.8 points per game will have a tough time shutting down the Tigers.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Clemson has won eight consecutive games in December dating to a loss to Virginia Tech in the 2011 ACC Championship.

2. The Tigers have scored at least 27 points in a school-record 12 straight contests.

3. Pitt has won its last four games against top-three teams when unranked, including the 2016 victory over No. 2 Clemson and a 24-14 win over No. 2 Miami to close the 2017 regular season.

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Posted in CFB, Top Fantasy Picks

Preview: Northwestern at Ohio State

Sixth-ranked Ohio State looks to strengthen its case for a College Football Playoff berth when it faces No. 21 Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game on Saturday in Indianapolis. Ohio State eviscerated seventh-ranked Michigan 62-39 to capture the Big Ten East Division title and vault into contention for a postseason spot, but No. 4 Georgia and fifth-ranked Oklahoma are potential roadblocks in their path to the playoff as the Buckeyes aim to win their second consecutive conference championship game.

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“When you start using terms like national championship and playoffs, that’s very rare air,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told reporters. “That’s why we have a job to do … to go win the Big Ten championship and worry about that down the road.” Northwestern is making its first Big Ten Championship game appearance after ending Wisconsin’s dominance in the West division. The Wildcats have won seven straight conference games, including a 24-16 victory over Illinois to capture the Land of Lincoln Trophy last week, and hope to ride the momentum by knocking off the Buckeyes for the first time since 2004. “I’m fired up to take the purple down to Indy as every year our goal is to win the Big Ten West and we’ve gotten over that hump,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters. “We have an opportunity to take the team to the Rose Bowl and if that doesn’t motivate you then I don’t know what does.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Ohio State -14

ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (8-4, 8-1 Big Ten): Clayton Thorson completed 12-of-18 passes for 110 yards and a pair of touchdowns while adding another on the ground as the Wildcats downed the Fighting Illini for the fourth consecutive time. Linebacker Paddy Fisher earned All-Big Ten First Team honors after making 92 tackles and forcing three fumbles, while defensive end Joe Gaziano was named to the second team following six sacks and 11 tackles for loss in 2018. Fitzgerald was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year after guiding the Wildcats to eight conference wins, which matched a single-season program record.

ABOUT OHIO STATE (11-1, 8-1 Big Ten): Dwayne Haskins continued his push for the Heisman Trophy as he threw for 396 yards and equaled a program record with six touchdown passes in the win against Michigan. Haskins was named the Big Ten Player of the Week for a record sixth time after his dominant display against the Wolverines, breaking the old mark of five set by former Heisman Trophy winner and former Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006. Defensive tackle Dre’mont Jones was selected to the Big Ten First Team after registering 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss to go along with a pair of touchdowns while Chase Young earned second-team honors.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Ohio State has won six consecutive meetings with Northwestern.

2. Haskins set Big Ten single-season records with 4,081 passing yards and 42 touchdowns.

3. The Wildcats have won 15 of their last 16 Big Ten games dating back to last year.

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Preview: Alabama vs. Georgia

Top-ranked Alabama will undoubtedly be part of the four-team College Football Playoff but fourth-ranked Georgia isn’t a lock as the two squads prepare for Saturday’s SEC championship game at Atlanta. The Bulldogs can clinch a CFP spot by beating the Crimson Tide but risk being bypassed for the playoff if they should lose the contest.

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The two squads met in last season’s national title game with Alabama prevailing 26-23 in overtime in what was the coming out party for Crimson Tide quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes. “He can sit in the pocket and make every throw,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said during a press conference. “He’s very confident, and he’s got a presence about him in the pocket. He doesn’t fear rush; if he’s got guys bearing down on him, he sidesteps and gets the ball out, and that’s what makes him very special.” Alabama has been dominant all season but coach Nick Saban is very wary of Smart – his former defensive coordinator – and the Bulldogs. “Georgia is one of the most complete teams in the country,” Saban said at a press conference. “I think Kirby’s done a fantastic job there in terms of taking the players that were there and developing them in the style that he wants and doing a great job of recruiting to get new players to come and buy into their system. This is going to be the biggest challenge we’ve had to date.”

TV: 4 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Alabama -13.5

ABOUT ALABAMA (12-0, 8-0 SEC): Tagovailoa has thrown a school-record 36 touchdown passes against two interceptions and the sophomore fuels an offense averaging 49 points per game. Jerry Jeudy is enjoying a standout season with 56 receptions for 1,079 and 11 touchdowns while fellow sophomore receiver DeVonta Smith (27 receptions) will forever be remembered in Alabama lore for catching the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass in the national championship game. The Crimson Tide give up an average of 13.8 points with sophomore nose guard Quinnen Williams recording a team-leading 16 tackles for loss and senior defensive end Isaiah Buggs notching a team-best 9.5 sacks.

ABOUT GEORGIA (11-1, 7-1): Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm was intercepted twice in last season’s title game but has been picked off just five times this season while passing for 2,236 yards and 24 touchdowns. The attack that produces an average of 40.1 points per game also relies on two standout running backs in sophomore D’Andre Swift (962 yards, nine touchdowns) and junior Elijah Holyfield (896 yards, seven scores). The defense allows an average of 17.2 points with senior linebacker D’Andre Walker (team-high 6.5 sacks) and sophomore safety Richard LeCounte (team-leading 64 tackles) among the standouts.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Alabama has won the past four meetings.

2. Bulldogs junior WR Mecole Hardman leads the SEC with a 21.8 average on punt returns – he has one touchdown – and also averages 26.2 yards on kickoff returns.

3. Crimson Tide junior LB Terrell Lewis (knee) returned to practice from summer surgery and his availability will be determined later in the week.

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Preview: Memphis at Central Florida

Seventh-ranked Central Florida attempts to finish the job after an emotional week and earn a second straight American Athletic Conference title when it hosts surging Memphis in the championship game Saturday. The Knights extended their national-best winning streak to 24 games with a resounding 38-10 victory at South Florida last Friday, but the triumph came at a cost as star quarterback McKenzie Milton was lost to a severe right knee injury.

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“Everyone in our program has great love and respect for McKenzie and our thoughts and prayers are constantly with him,” UCF coach Josh Heupel told reporters regarding the junior from Hawaii, who was responsible for 34 touchdowns this year. “At the same time, we’re gonna go out and play our hearts out. He’ll be part of who and what we’re doing on the field.” UCF, which is eighth in the College Football Playoff rankings, will hand out 40,000 leis to fans at the game to honor Milton, while freshman quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. gets the job of trying to lead the Knights to another title. Memphis comes to Orlando, Fla. with one of the nation’s best running backs in junior Darrell Henderson, a four-game winning streak and the confidence of two near misses against UCF during the Knights’ winning streak – but a 1-12 all-time record against the Knights. “We’ve competed extremely well against them, but at the same point, we always had mistakes late in games that have cost us,” Tigers coach Mike Norvell, whose team lost in double-overtime at last year’s title game and 31-30 against UCF on Oct. 13, told reporters. “They’ve made plays late in games that have helped them to victory.”

TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: UCF -3

ABOUT MEMPHIS (8-4, 5-3 American): Henderson is second in the nation in rushing yards (1,699), tied for second in TDs on the ground (19) and second in yards per carry (8.6) after gaining 178 and scoring twice in the 52-31 win over Houston last week. Junior quarterback Brady White is 53 passing yards from reaching 3,000 on the season, but has thrown four interceptions (seven overall) and three TD strikes (25 overall) in the last two games. Sophomore wide receiver Damonte Coxie is White’s top target with 63 catches for 1,062 yards and seven scores while junior Tony Pollard had career highs of eight receptions and 116 yards last week and is one of the top kick returners in the nation.

ABOUT CENTRAL FLORIDA (11-0, 8-0): The Knights will lean more toward the ground attack with the 6-3, 230-pound Mack at the helm as he has run for 281 yards (7.0 per carry) and completed just 48.8 percent of his passes in a limited role. UCF’s rushing attack has gotten better each game and sophomore Greg McCrae (895 yards, eight TDs on the ground) took the leading role at the end of October while junior Adrian Killins Jr. (1,023 yards rushing and receiving) is always a threat. The Knights’ defense, led by sophomore defensive back Richie Grant (team highs of 98 tackles, five interceptions) and senior lineman Titus Davis (six sacks, 15.5 tackles for loss), must step up again versus the talented Tigers.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Memphis junior RB Patrick Taylor Jr. needs 106 yards rushing to give the Tigers two players with 1,000 in a season.

2. UCF sophomore WR Gabriel Davis leads a balanced receiving corps with 44 catches for 655 yards and six TDs.

3. Tigers LB Bryce Huff is tied for 14th in the nation is tackles for loss per game (1.5) with 18 overall.

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Preview: Stanford at California

Two weeks after poor air quality in the Bay Area forced officials to postpone the annual rivalry game between California and Stanford, the teams are set to close the regular season Saturday in Berkeley. Cal has lost its last eight meetings against the Cardinal, which rebounded from back-to-back losses to the Washington schools by recording wins over Oregon State and UCLA.

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Known for their run-first offense in recent years, the Cardinal have become a pass-oriented offense behind junior quarterback K.J. Costello, who ranks first in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and second in the conference in passing yards per game. Costello has thrown 15 touchdown passes over his last four games and continued to impress in last Saturday’s 49-42 win over UCLA, completing 23-of-37 passes for 344 yards and a career-high five scores. “Costello is coming into his own,” coach David Shaw told reporters. “Over the next year, he’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in America.” The Stanford offense figures to be tested by Cal’s stellar defensive unit, which has allowed an average of 14.2 points over its last five games.

TV: 3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: Stanford -3

ABOUT STANFORD (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12): JJ Arcega-Whiteside returned last week after missing one game due to injury and tied the school’s single-season record with 14 touchdown receptions after recording seven catches for 106 yards and three scores against the Bruins. Bryce Love had 22 carries for 85 yards and a score but has battled injuries all season and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, well below his 8.1 average from last year. Senior linebackers Sean Barton and Bobby Okereke have a combined 153 tackles to lead the defense, which needs to regroup after allowing 528 total yards against UCLA.

ABOUT CAL (7-4, 4-4): The Bears’ defense forced a season-high five turnovers in last Saturday’s 33-21 win over Colorado as Elijah Hicks and Ashtyn Davis each scored on interception returns for touchdowns. Freshman Chase Garbers (13 touchdowns against five interceptions) has settled in as a reliable starter for the Bears, who clinched their first winning season since 2015 with last week’s victory. Running back Patrick Laird had 153 rushing yards in last season’s 17-14 loss to Stanford but has been held under the 100-yard mark in his last four games.

EXTRA POINTS

1. Stanford holds a 63-46-11 lead in the all-time series – including a 27-21-6 advantage at Berkeley.

2. Cal linebackers Jordan Kunaszyk and Evan Weaver lead all FBS duos in solo tackles per game (13.7) and all Power 5 duos in total tackles per game (23.2).

3. Stanford is 7-0 this season when forcing at least one turnover and 0-4 when not recording a turnover.

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Preview: Texas vs. Oklahoma

Lincoln Riley’s dynamic offense at Oklahoma has consistently been explosive enough this season to make up for one of the worst defenses in the country, but Texas knows all about the one time it wasn’t. The fifth-ranked Sooners hope to avenge their only loss of the season and impress the College Football Playoff committee enough to move up from the No. 5 spot in the CFP rankings when they meet No. 9 Texas on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas.

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Oklahoma, which leads FBS in scoring (50.3 points) and total offense (583.8 yards), finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak despite surrendering 47.3 points per game in its last four contests – and at least 40 points in each contest – by averaging 53.3. The Sooners have failed to score at least 48 points in only three games, the last of which came on Oct. 6 when Oklahoma needed less than six minutes in the fourth quarter to erase a 21-point deficit before the Longhorns got a game-winning 40-yard field goal from freshman Cameron Dicker as time expired for a 48-45 victory. Texas has been living on the edge for most of the season, playing all but one of its last eight opponents within one score and winning six of them. The Longhorns are making their sixth Big 12 Championship appearance and first since 2009, while the Sooners are seeking their fourth consecutive conference crown and a ninth championship win in 18 league title games.

TV: Noon ET, ABC. LINE: Oklahoma -8

ABOUT TEXAS (9-3): Sam Ehlinger, who produced 386 yards of total offense and five total touchdowns in the first meeting, is responsible for the two highest total offense outputs by a Longhorn quarterback in the 113-game history of this rivalry (388 last season) but has been playing through a shoulder injury since Oct. 13. Lil’Jordan Humphrey (72 catches, 1,058 receiving yards and eight TDs) and Collin Johnson (57, 768, six) are one of only 14 duos in FBS with at least 55 catches, and Humphrey is only the fifth player in school history with at least 1,000 yards and eight receiving TDs in a season. Dicker’s 34-yard field goal against the Jayhawks tied him with Dusty Magnum (16; 2001) for the most made field goals ever by a Texas freshman.

ABOUT OKLAHOMA (11-1): Heisman Trophy candidate Kyler Murray is the first player in FBS history to average at least 300 passing yards (306.2) and 60 rushing yards (71.1) for an entire regular season and leads an offense that is the first in FBS history to record at least 500 yards of total offense in nine regular-season games. With Trey Sirmon (shoulder) still limited due to injury, freshman Kennedy Brooks took over the team lead in rushing with 993 yards and boasts an FBS-best 9.6 yards per carry (minimum five rushing attempts per game). Since returning to full strength prior to the Oklahoma State victory on Nov. 10, junior receiver Marquise Brown has caught 25 passes for 450 yards and three TDs.

EXTRA POINTS

1. This game marks the second in-season rematch between the arch-rivals and first since 1903.

2. Oklahoma’s eight-game streak of scoring at least 45 points is tied for the longest among FBS teams since at least 1980.

3. The Longhorns, who are the only school in the Big 12 with a winning record against the Sooners (62-46-5), are 6-3 in one-possession games this season.

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Preview: Utah vs. Washington

Without decorated quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk, the Pac-12 took on a more defensive tone in 2018. And that’s certainly reflects in Friday night’s conference championship game which pits No. 17 Utah against No. 11 Washington in Santa Clara, Calif.

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Both teams boast top-20 FBS total and scoring defenses with the Huskies allowing 311.3 yards and 16.5 points and the Utes permitting 315.8 yards and 19.3 points per game. “You (had) better get your mind right,” Washington coach Chris Petersen said Sunday in his weekly news conference. “Our guys know it’s going to be (a defensive game). They (the Utes) don’t give you anything. Lots of man coverage, (they) pack the box and are extremely active and aggressive.” Washington will be playing in its second Pac-12 title game in three years while Utah is making its first appearance since joining the conference in 2011. “It’s our first trip to the championship, and I’m proud of our guys for continuing to persevere and fight this season,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said at his Monday media gathering. “We overcame so many obstacles and so much adversity. They are a great group to be around, and this has been one of the most enjoyable years of coaching for me.”

TV: 8 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Washington -5

ABOUT UTAH (9-3): The adversity Whittingham referenced centers mainly on the early-November injury losses of starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and tailback Zack Moss, who had accounted for 84 percent of the Utes’ total offense in the first nine games. Freshman Jason Shelley has stepped in at quarterback, and while he’s averaged only 208 passing yards over the last three contests, he’s also rushed for 112 yards and accounted for six touchdowns with no turnovers. Defensively, safety-turned-linebacker Chase Hansen has notched a conference-most 22 tackles for loss to pace a unit which has been the Pac-12’s stingiest against the run with 100.3 yards allowed (fifth nationally).

ABOUT WASHINGTON (9-3): Unlike Utah, the Huskies have the advantage of health and experience in the backfield with the senior duo of Jake Browning and tailback Myles Gaskin. Browning, despite averaging a career-low 224.3 aerial yards this season, is the school’s career passing yards leader and Pac-12’s all-time winningest quarterback, while Gaskin is averaging 107.6 yards on the ground and is the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns. Senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven is tied for the lead nationally with 155 tackles and paces a defense which ranks second in the conference against the run (121.8 yards allowed) and pass (189.4 yards).

EXTRA POINTS

1. With a 21-7 road win at Utah on Sept. 15, Washington has won five of the six meetings since Utah entered the Pac-12.

2. In the September contest, Gaskin rushed for 143 yards and a TD on 30 carries while the Huskies’ defense forced three turnovers and had a trio of fourth-down stops.

3. The Utes figure to have the edge in the kicking game, ranking in the top 14 nationally in field goals made (23) and net-putting average (40.6).

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