2017 Power 5 Preview: 1-4

2017 Power 5 Preview: 1-4

Submitted by Alex Cook on September 1st, 2017 at 1:08 PM

For 2017, instead of previewing conferences division-by-division, I decided to preview the 64 Power Five teams individually, so I ranked them and counted down from the bottom.

I created a ranking system based heavily off of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings: half of the ranking comes from the S&P rankings from the past five seasons among Power Five teams (1/3 of that number is 2016’s ranking; 1/3 is the average from 2014-2016, 1/3 is the average from 2012-2016); half comes from two component parts of his 2017 S&P+ projections, weighed evenly – recruiting impact and returning production – and ranked 1 through 64. There is no subjectivity involved in these rankings and they skew towards emphasizing where the teams were according the 2016 S&P+. I think it serves as a decent way to sequence these previews.

Previously: #64 Purdue, #63 Rutgers, #62 Kansas, #61 Illinois, #60 Boston College, #59 Virginia, #58 Vanderbilt, #57 Syracuse. #56 Maryland, #55 Arizona, #54 Wake Forest, #53 Duke, #52 Iowa State, #51 Texas Tech, #50 Missouri, #49 Oregon State. #48 Arizona State, #47 Cal, #46 Indiana, #45 Kentucky, #44 West Virginia, #43 South Carolina, #42 Washington State, #41 Northwestern. #40 Minnesota, #39 Iowa, #38 Colorado, #37 Kansas State, #36 Utah, #35 Georgia Tech, #34 Nebraska, #33 Michigan State. #32 North Carolina, #31 NC State, #30 UCLA, #29 Mississippi State, #28 Oregon, #27 Arkansas, #26 Pittsburgh, #25 Baylor. #24 Oklahoma State, #23 Virginia Tech, #22 Georgia, #21 TCU, #20 Texas, #19 Tennessee. #18 Ole Miss, #17 Texas A&M, #16 Miami, #15 Wisconsin, #14 Louisville, #13 Washington. #12 Penn State, #11 Florida, #10 Stanford, #9 Auburn. #8 Michigan, #7 USC, #6 Oklahoma, #5 LSU.

(I didn’t include Notre Dame)

[hit the JUMP for the previews]

2017 Power 5 Preview: 24-19

2017 Power 5 Preview: 24-19

Submitted by Alex Cook on August 25th, 2017 at 10:39 AM

For 2017, instead of previewing conferences division-by-division, I decided to preview the 64 Power Five teams individually, so I ranked them and counted down from the bottom.

I created a ranking system based heavily off of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings: half of the ranking comes from the S&P rankings from the past five seasons among Power Five teams (1/3 of that number is 2016’s ranking; 1/3 is the average from 2014-2016, 1/3 is the average from 2012-2016); half comes from two component parts of his 2017 S&P+ projections, weighed evenly – recruiting impact and returning production – and ranked 1 through 64. There is no subjectivity involved in these rankings and they skew towards emphasizing where the teams were according the 2016 S&P+. I think it serves as a decent way to sequence these previews.

Previously: #64 Purdue, #63 Rutgers, #62 Kansas, #61 Illinois, #60 Boston College, #59 Virginia, #58 Vanderbilt, #57 Syracuse. #56 Maryland, #55 Arizona, #54 Wake Forest, #53 Duke, #52 Iowa State, #51 Texas Tech, #50 Missouri, #49 Oregon State. #48 Arizona State, #47 Cal, #46 Indiana, #45 Kentucky, #44 West Virginia, #43 South Carolina, #42 Washington State, #41 Northwestern. #40 Minnesota, #39 Iowa, #38 Colorado, #37 Kansas State, #36 Utah, #35 Georgia Tech, #34 Nebraska, #33 Michigan State. #32 North Carolina, #31 NC State, #30 UCLA, #29 Mississippi State, #28 Oregon, #27 Arkansas, #26 Pittsburgh, #25 Baylor.

(I didn’t include Notre Dame)

24. OKLAHOMA STATEokst17

#4 Big 12

10-3 (7-2) in 2016

Mike Gundy’s been phenomenal at Oklahoma State, leading the Cowboys to a 104-50 record since taking over for the 2005 season. The former Cowboy QB has had five seasons with double digit wins as the head coach in Stillwater; in 2011, they finished with just one loss and were snubbed from the BCS Title Game in favor of giving Alabama a rematch against LSU. In three of the last four seasons, they’ve won ten games – ascending to at least the fringe of the Top 10 in each season before losing the finale to Oklahoma (they upset the Sooners in 2014, a down year at 7-6). Gundy’s shepherded the program for over a decade and has made good use of the T. Boone Pickens resource pool.

A definitive win over a legitimately good team in a bowl game will always lead to increased expectations for the next season, and with Oklahoma State’s 38-8 victory over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl to close out the 2016 campaign, the Cowboys are receiving plenty of hype as the start of the 2017 season approaches. 2016 was an odd year: they were robbed of a win against Central Michigan (the game should have ended before a late Hail Mary); they beat a better-than-expected Pitt team the next week in a shootout; they lost their first and last Big 12 games and won every game in between. Their hopes of a Big 12 title were still alive entering the regular season finale, but they lost to OU by three scores.

A bigger reason why Oklahoma State is getting the “darkhorse playoff contender” label: they return one of the best QB / RB / WR trios in the country fully intact. Mason Rudolph is now a senior and has had an excellent career thus far in Stillwater – last season, he threw for 4,091 yards at a 63% completion rate and had 28 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. RB Justice Hill was an unexpected instant impact player (rushing for 1,142 yards) and if he makes a freshman-to-sophomore leap, he could be an elite back. James Washington could have jumped to the NFL, but the senior WR is back after gaining 1,380 yards on an absurd 19.4 yards per catch last season. Rudolph / Hill / Washington is about as good as it gets, and they’re the biggest reason for excitement in Stillwater. Washington isn’t the only quality WR, as Jalen McCleskey and Marcell Ateman are proven commodities. The OL is experienced as well.

The defense will determine whether Oklahoma State is a threat to make the playoff or not. With just five starters returning from a unit that was average at best last season, there’s not much to indicate improvement. The Cowboys lost both DTs, both CBs, and two starting LBs – so there are some potentially glaring holes. If impact players emerge from the ether and the defense is good enough, OSU will be able to rack up a ton of wins leading up to their November showdown with Oklahoma (at home this time) – but that’s a big if.

The Big 12 is often criticized for its lack of defense, and Oklahoma State is the leading candidate to fulfill that stereotype. They have what could be the most explosive offense in the country helmed by one of college football’s best QBs. That alone is enough to put them near the top of the Big 12; if the defense is good enough, they should be able to win it.

23. VIRGINIA TECHvt17

#2 ACC Coastal, #5 ACC

10-4 (6-2) in 2016

It’s always difficult to replace a legendary coach, but Virginia Tech made a great hire in luring Justin Fuente away from Memphis when Frank Beamer retired following the 2015 season. Beamer’s teams had floundered late in his tenure (especially on the offensive side of the ball), but he’d built the program from nothing and maintained a mostly consistent level of success throughout his career. Fuente managed to convince Bud Foster, Beamer’s terrific longtime DC, to stay, even though he may have been passed over for the head coaching job. Tech had gone .500 in ACC play over Beamer’s last four seasons, so Fuente didn’t face outsized expectations right away in Blacksburg.

Still, he turned things around quickly – especially on offense – and the Hokies managed to win the ACC Coastal. Virginia Tech lost their first game against FBS competition in 2016 to Tennessee by three touchdowns at a neutral site and had a weird stretch mid-season when they trounced UNC, were upset at Syracuse, and destroyed Miami within a three-week span. They gave Clemson a good fight in the ACC Championship Game, eventually losing by a single touchdown, and beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl to finish 10-4 in Fuente’s first season.

Fuente is an offensive whiz, as evidenced by what he did with future first-round pick QB Paxton Lynch at Memphis, and he’ll have to get by in 2017 without many of the major pieces from last season – most notably QB Jerod Evans, who accounted for 41 total touchdowns as a senior in 2016. Redshirt freshman QB Josh Jackson (son of former longtime Michigan RB coach and famous exaggerator Fred Jackson) won the starting job; he’ll have Travon McMillan – the starting RB in 2016 – back as well as Cam Phillips, one of VT’s two major targets in the passing game. The Hokies also lost two key OL from last year’s squad. Jackson will inevitably be a downgrade from Evans in the short term and the attrition across the board suggests that the unit as a whole will take a step back even as Fuente goes from year one to year two in his new system.

The defense should be excellent as usual though. Foster corrected course last season after a brief blip in 2015, and even though the Hokies are still too prone to giving up big plays, their stout run defense has them as one of the better overall groups in the ACC. The heart of their defense is extremely strong, with both LBs – Andrew Motuapuaka and Temaine Edmunds – as all-conference type players. The DL will be reloading, but there’s more recruiting hype for that group than any other position group on the team. The DBs should be improved, with four of the five starters from last season back, led by CB Greg Stroman.

The Hokies open the season with a neutral site matchup against old rival West Virginia in a game that’s sure to recalibrate expectations for both teams. While the Coastal is improved, the best three teams in the ACC reside in the other division, so even with uncertainty on offense, Virginia Tech will have a shot at making it two consecutive division titles. A November showdown at Miami could prove to be decisive in that regard.

[19-22 after the JUMP]

2017 Power 5 Preview: 25-32

2017 Power 5 Preview: 25-32

Submitted by Alex Cook on August 22nd, 2017 at 1:26 PM

For 2017, instead of previewing conferences division-by-division, I decided to preview the 64 Power Five teams individually, so I ranked them and counted down from the bottom.

I created a ranking system based heavily off of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings: half of the ranking comes from the S&P rankings from the past five seasons among Power Five teams (1/3 of that number is 2016’s ranking; 1/3 is the average from 2014-2016, 1/3 is the average from 2012-2016); half comes from two component parts of his 2017 S&P+ projections, weighed evenly – recruiting impact and returning production – and ranked 1 through 64. There is no subjectivity involved in these rankings and they skew towards emphasizing where the teams were according the 2016 S&P+. I think it serves as a decent way to sequence these previews.

Previously: #64 Purdue, #63 Rutgers, #62 Kansas, #61 Illinois, #60 Boston College, #59 Virginia, #58 Vanderbilt, #57 Syracuse. #56 Maryland, #55 Arizona, #54 Wake Forest, #53 Duke, #52 Iowa State, #51 Texas Tech, #50 Missouri, #49 Oregon State. #48 Arizona State, #47 Cal, #46 Indiana, #45 Kentucky, #44 West Virginia, #43 South Carolina, #42 Washington State, #41 Northwestern. #40 Minnesota, #39 Iowa, #38 Colorado, #37 Kansas State, #36 Utah, #35 Georgia Tech, #34 Nebraska, #33 Michigan State.

(I didn’t include Notre Dame)

32. NORTH CAROLINAunc17

#4 ACC Coastal, #8 ACC

8-5 (5-3) in 2016

In 2015, UNC took a step forward under Larry Fedora; the Heels hadn’t won more than eight games in a season since Mack Brown was in Chapel Hill back in the 90s, but Fedora led them to an 11-3 season – after losing the opener, they won out over the rest of the regular season before dropping the ACC Championship Game to Clemson and the bowl game to Baylor. They’d improved their win total by five games over the previous season, and Fedora had the breakthrough that North Carolina had been waiting a long time for.

Last year, the Heels had a weird season: new QB Mitch Trubisky was far better than anyone expected (and was drafted second overall in the NFL Draft), but they went just 8-5 on the season. They lost the opener to Georgia in Atlanta; they were destroyed at home in midseason game against Virginia Tech in a heavy rainstorm; they upset both Florida State and Miami on the road; they were upset by in-state rivals Duke and NC State in two of the last three weeks of the season. They scored a late touchdown against Stanford in the bowl game, but the two-point conversion attempt failed and they lost 25-23.

2016 was a moderate disappointment and 2017 looks to be a rebuilding season. They’re losing a ton on offense: in addition to Trubisky, UNC will be without its top two running backs (who combined for 1,508 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns a season ago), its top two receivers (including Ryan Switzer, who set the school single-season and career receiving yards records as a senior), and three starting offensive linemen. Fedora brought in a bevy of grad transfers from power programs to help stem the bleeding. QB Brandon Harris was benched at LSU and has big play potential despite his inaccuracy, Stanton Truitt comes in from Auburn to shore up the RB corps, and OL Cameron Dillard and Khaliel Rodgers arrived from Florida and USC, respectively.

DC Gene Chizik turned around Fedora’s tenure by steadily improving the defense season-over-season, but he retired after 2016. Chizik left the unit in good shape though: the top three tacklers from last season return and the front seven as a whole could be one of the better groups in the ACC. It’s a veteran-laden group highlighted by LB Cole Holcomb, DE Malik Carney, and SS Donnie Miles. Fedora’s a coach with a background on the offensive side of the ball, and while most of his teams at North Carolina have had better offenses than defenses, the opposite is likely to be true in 2017.

In 2015, UNC won the Coastal and in 2016, they finished tied for second a game back in the standings from Virginia Tech; they figure to take a step back in 2017. Fedora’s had explosive offenses throughout his tenure, but going from Trubisky and Marquise Williams before him to Brandon Harris or a young, unproven QB is a big downgrade. The Coastal has been steadily getting better and UNC has games against Louisville and Notre Dame from outside the division, so a reasonable goal for this season would be becoming bowl eligible.

31. NC STATEncsu17

#4 ACC Atlantic, #7 ACC

7-6 (3-5) in 2016

The Wolfpack exist in a difficult, purgatorial caste in the ACC: they’ve won nine games or more in a season just thrice since the 70s and play in the same division as powerhouses Florida State and Clemson as well as upstart Louisville. NCSU is historically mediocre but not exactly bad; Dave Doeren needed a one-year rebuild after taking over from Tom O’Brien, and has gone a combined 22-17 in seasons two through four in Raleigh. In 2016, they started off 4-1, including a win over Notre Dame in a hurricane, before taking Clemson to OT on the road and losing (later in the season, they blew a fourth-quarter lead against Florida State). They dropped games to East Carolina and Boston College and needed an upset over rival North Carolina in the season finale to become bowl eligible.

Doeren’s been steadily building, and NC State figures to improve as they’re one of the most experienced teams in all of college football. The offense took a step back last season after he got rid of OC Matt Canada, but they’re now in the second year of a new scheme and have nine total starters returning on that side of the ball. The headliner is Jaylen Samuels, the ultimate blocky-catchy guy and one of the most versatile players in the country: he ran for 5.7 yards per carry and six touchdowns while leading NCSU in receptions (with 55) and receiving touchdowns (with seven) in a hybrid FB / H-Back / TE role.

Samuels is a useful Swiss army knife weapon, and he’s joined by all but two skill position players from last season (1,000-yard rusher Matthew Dayes and a rotation WR). The Wolfpack moved Nyheim Hines from WR to RB and he projects to be the starter. Former Boise State QB Ryan Finley had a strong season in 2016 in his first season as the starting signal caller in Raleigh: he threw for 3,059 yards and 18 touchdowns to just 8 interceptions. The offensive line returns mostly intact, and it’s led by enormous senior guard Tony Adams.

The 2016 defense struggled with East Carolina and they were destroyed by Louisville, but otherwise they were one of the stoutest groups in the ACC. The Wolfpack allowed an impressive 3.3 yards per carry over the entire season, and their entire DL and LBs corps return – their 4-2-5 should be excellent against the run. DE Bradley Chubb is perhaps the best pass-rusher in the ACC, and LB Jerod Fernandez was quite productive in the middle of the defense. They lose three of their five starting DBs (including the leading tackler from last season), so the secondary is less proven than the rest of the defense.

So much points to a breakthrough year for NCSU – they could have one of the best run defenses in the country, have their QB back, and should have a solid offensive line (though the Wolfpack did have a hard time running the ball themselves last season). Still, they’re in the Atlantic, which may be the toughest division in the country in 2017. In order for them to contend for the division – and plenty of prognosticators think they have a shot – they’ll probably need to beat two of Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville. History suggests that it’s unlikely, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the Wolfpack regardless.

[25-30 after the JUMP]

2017 Power 5 Preview: 33-40

2017 Power 5 Preview: 33-40

Submitted by Alex Cook on August 18th, 2017 at 2:00 PM

For 2017, instead of previewing conferences division-by-division, I decided to preview the 64 Power Five teams individually, so I ranked them and counted down from the bottom.

I created a ranking system based heavily off of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings: half of the ranking comes from the S&P rankings from the past five seasons among Power Five teams (1/3 of that number is 2016’s ranking; 1/3 is the average from 2014-2016, 1/3 is the average from 2012-2016); half comes from two component parts of his 2017 S&P+ projections, weighed evenly – recruiting impact and returning production – and ranked 1 through 64. The ranking itself skews towards emphasizing where the teams were according the 2016 S&P+ and there’s no subjectivity involved. I think it serves as a decent way to sequence these previews.

Previously: #64 Purdue, #63 Rutgers, #62 Kansas, #61 Illinois, #60 Boston College, #59 Virginia, #58 Vanderbilt, #57 Syracuse. #56 Maryland, #55 Arizona, #54 Wake Forest, #53 Duke, #52 Iowa State, #51 Texas Tech, #50 Missouri, #49 Oregon State. #48 Arizona State, #47 Cal, #46 Indiana, #45 Kentucky, #44 West Virginia, #43 South Carolina, #42 Washington State, #41 Northwestern.

(I didn’t include Notre Dame)

40. MINNESOTAminn17

#4 Big Ten West, #8 Big Ten

9-4 (5-4) in 2016

It’s impossible to talk about Minnesota football without talking about how Tracy Claeys got fired after just one season as the head coach: he supported a player boycott in response to an investigation into appalling sexual assault allegations against members of the football team. The players wound up playing in the Holiday Bowl after threatening to sit it out; Claeys was fired after the New Year; some of the accused were expelled, some suspended, and some cleared.

PJ Fleck becomes the Gophers’ third head coach in three seasons – and it was a coup for the program to get a coaching prospect of his caliber who had been mentioned in connection with better jobs. Fleck and his energetic persona brought Western Michigan to unprecedented heights: the Broncos had an undefeated regular season in his fourth year in Kalamazoo and made the Cotton Bowl, built by a talent advantage he created by outrecruiting the rest of the MAC by a sizable margin.

He brought his offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, and while the Gophers will be moving to more of a spread attack, they’ll still be running the ball a ton: RBs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks totaled 378 carries a season ago and WMU ran the ball often with zone blocking schemes with Fleck and Ciarrocca in charge, setting up favorable coverages for their All-American WR Corey Davis. Minnesota will be choosing from a number of unproven quarterbacks and their only credible WR from last season is gone. If former Ohio State OL coach Ed Warinner works his magic with a cast of inexperienced if uninspiring linemen, Smith and Brooks will be leaned on all the more heavily. Minnesota does have one of the best kickers in the country in Emmitt Carpenter.

Minnesota got to a 9-4 record last season because of its defense – they won the scandal-marred bowl game over Washington State 17-12 in stereotypical Big Ten fashion. They have Steven Richardson back, a disruptive interior linemen who had seven sacks a season ago – potentially one of the best players in the Big Ten. Additionally, LBs Jonathan Celestin and Cody Poock as well as safeties Duke McGhee and Antoine Winfield Jr. make those above-average position groups. There are some holes though: cornerback is very unsettled and the defensive line outside of Richardson looks to be rather mediocre. If the defense can replicate what they did in 2016, Minnesota could challenge for the Big Ten West – but attrition makes that unlikely.

The schedule sets up nicely for Fleck, at least to start – the toughest game in the first half of the season is either @ Oregon State or home vs. Michigan State. The stretch run is brutal, with road trips to Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern, as well as home games against Nebraska and Wisconsin – the Big Ten West frontrunner. It’s not hard to envision a team with a gaudy record, maybe even 7-0, faltering down the stretch; it’s also possible that a trip to Indianapolis could be at stake when they host the Badgers in the regular season finale.

Fleck will need to find a passing game – and the run game will have to be much better at keeping the offense on schedule. If he can cobble together a decent offense and keep the defense at a reasonably high level, they could surprise in his first year. That’s a lot to ask – they’ll probably finish near the middle of the West.

39. IOWAiowa17

#3 Big Ten West, #7 Big Ten

8-5 (6-3) in 2016

With Bob Stoops’s unexpected retirement, Kirk Ferentz is college football’s coach with the longest continuous tenure (as Bill Snyder briefly retired from his job at Kansas State). He’s entering his 19th season at Iowa; over his career, he’s posted a record of 135-92 – that would average out to 7.7 wins per 13-game season. Ferentz has had a few especially strong years – most recently in 2015, when they went undefeated through the regular season (before losing the Big Ten Championship Game and the Rose Bowl) – but most years, he’s squarely in 7-5 / 8-4 territory.

2016 was up-and-down: Iowa lost to North Dakota State (an FCS powerhouse, but still) in September and only scored 14 points in a win over Rutgers the following week; they were drubbed at Penn State and turned around to pull one of the biggest upsets of the season over then-undefeated Michigan on a last-second field goal; they crushed a 9-4 Nebraska team to close out the season and were blown out by Florida in the bowl game, 30-3.

Both halves of their RB platoon went for over 1,000 yards and had 10 rushing touchdowns each, and the passing game was mediocre, especially after the early-season injury to WR Matt VandeBerg (who took a medical redshirt). Iowa figures to rely heavily on its veteran OL – that’s particularly strong on the right side – and its RBs. LeShun Daniels is gone, but Akrum Wadley is back, and the latter showed more big-play potential than the former a year ago. The Hawkeyes also added Nevada transfer James Daniels, Nevada’s best player on offense in 2016, to the mix – whatever percentage of the carries he and Wadley each get remains to be seen, but they’ll run the ball so often that both will play prominent roles. Whoever wins the QB job (and whoever it is, they’ll be unproven) will be handing the ball off a lot.

The defense returns quite a few pieces, though they did lose star CB Desmond King and disruptive DT Jaleel Johnson. LB Josey Jewell is the best player on the defense – he’s an instinctive middle linebacker who’s stout against the run and had 124 tackles last season. The defensive line is mostly intact outside of Johnson, and Anthony Nelson has potential as a pass-rusher. The secondary looks shaky, as Brandon Snyder, an excellent safety, tore his ACL in the spring. Iowa’s defense will probably be pretty good – like it almost always is under Ferentz.

The QB situation and dearth of proven and healthy WRs are good reasons to be skeptical of Iowa’s chances of winning the West. Penn State and Ohio State come to play in Iowa City from the East in 2017, an unfortunate scheduling disadvantage. Ferentz promoted his son from OL coach to coordinator, a sign that things are unlikely to change much. Odds are that this will be a classic Ferentz team: strong running game, good defense, and seven or eight wins.

[33-38 after the JUMP]

2017 Power 5 Preview: 41-48

2017 Power 5 Preview: 41-48

Submitted by Alex Cook on August 15th, 2017 at 12:09 PM

For 2017, instead of previewing conferences division-by-division, I decided to rank the 64 Power Five teams and count down from the bottom.

I created a ranking system based heavily off of Bill Connelly’s S&P+ rankings: half of the ranking comes from the S&P rankings from the past five seasons among Power Five teams (1/3 of that number is 2016’s ranking; 1/3 is the average from 2014-2016, 1/3 is the average from 2012-2016); half comes from two component parts of his 2017 S&P+ projections, weighed evenly – recruiting impact and returning production – and ranked 1 through 64. The ranking itself skews towards emphasizing where the teams were according the 2016 S&P+. I think it serves as a decent way to sequence these previews.

(Note: I didn’t include Notre Dame.)

Previously: #64 Purdue, #63 Rutgers, #62 Kansas, #61 Illinois, #60 Boston College, #59 Virginia, #58 Vanderbilt, #57 Syracuse. #56 Maryland, #55 Arizona, #54 Wake Forest, #53 Duke, #52 Iowa State, #51 Texas Tech, #50 Missouri, #49 Oregon State.

48. ARIZONA STATEasu17

#5 Pac-12 South, #10 Pac-12

5-7 (2-7) in 2016

Maybe Todd Graham should have bailed when he had the chance. The notorious job-hopper has been in Tempe for a half-decade now, and after two straight seasons with a losing record, his job security is tenuous. Graham won ten games in 2013 and 2014; in 2013, they won the Pac-12 South and in 2014, it came down the last weekend of the season – they lost by a touchdown on the road to rivals Arizona. The trajectory for both programs (utter freefall) has been quite similar – they were both in the Top 15 for that game in 2014, and both of their coaches are now on the proverbial hot seat.

Graham’s 5-7 campaign last season was more disastrous than the record indicates: they started the season 4-0 and 5-1, though all of those wins came against bad teams, and all but one of their Pac-12 losses came by three scores or more – including a season-ending 56-35 defeat at Arizona, a team that hadn’t won a conference game all season. That loss prevented ASU from reaching a bowl game for the first time in Graham’s tenure. It’s worth mentioning that injuries, particularly to the QBs, definitely played a role in Arizona State’s slide.

QB Manny Wilkins showed some promise and he’ll be joined by blue-chip Bama transfer Blake Barnett at the position in 2017 – surely the Sun Devils will get better play from the position than they did last season, when they were forced to turn to a fourth-stringer. RB Kalen Ballage – a versatile bruiser who scored 8 touchdowns against Texas Tech last season – but ASU ran for just 3.3 yards per carry as a team last season. Sophomore WR N’Keal Harry showed off his blue-chip potential in 2016 and could be a star.

Arizona State’s had a very aggressive, blitz-heavy scheme since Graham arrived, and that led to a ton of big plays against the Sun Devils last season. Only one starter returns in the secondary – box safety Marcus Ball, who was second on the team in tackles – and dealt with some unexpected attrition as well. Graham brought in former Baylor DC Phil Bennett to fix the defense, but the Sun Devils would have to improve a lot to approach respectability.

Like Rodriguez, Graham will have to show some results this season: there’s talent on offense and if the line improves, ASU will probably put up big numbers on the scoreboard. Still, the defense was terrible a year ago and they’ll have a tough time with the many explosive offenses on the schedule this season. A lot rides on if Bennett is able to turn things around quickly.

47. CALcal17

#5 Pac-12 North, #9 Pac-12

5-7 (3-6) in 2016

When Cal replaced longtime head coach Jeff Tedford with Sonny Dykes, they committed to overhauling the program’s identity and embracing the “Bear Raid” aerial offense that Dykes had at Louisiana Tech. Long story short: it didn’t work. Cal went 1-11 in Dykes’s first season as the roster turnover basically ensured a lost season; his combined 18-19 mark over the next three seasons (despite the presence of future #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, QB Jared Goff, for two of them) led to his firing following 2016. It was never a great fit – Dykes reportedly was looking around for a different job following the 8-5 campaign in 2015, Goff’s last season, and now the program will be searching for a new identity after hiring away DC Justin Wilcox away from Wisconsin to be its head coach.

Wilcox made a great offensive coordinator hire by luring former Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin away from one of the best programs at the FCS level. Baldwin will be looking for a new QB after one-year grad transfer rental Davis Webb’s departure; Webb was a very solid Goff replacement and it stands to reason that Cal will take a step back at the position with an unsettled situation there. The Bears’ top RB and WR also are gone, though Dykes left the cupboard full at the receiver position. The offensive line also needs to be overhauled.

The defense was an utter disaster a season ago: the Bears gave up 42.6 points per game and were involved in plenty of shootouts – somehow, they lost three games (against San Diego State, Arizona State, and Oregon State) in which Cal scored at least forty points. They had a six-game stretch in the middle of the season in which they gave up at least 45 points per game, and somehow won one of those games (against Oregon, who had a similarly awful defense). Eight starters return, but Wilcox has a massive rebuilding job after last year’s implosion.

The schedule is difficult: of Cal’s three non-conference games, two are against power conference programs (at North Carolina and home vs. Ole Miss, a program in an incredible amount of disarray) and even though there are some winnable conference games at home – Arizona and Oregon State – them getting to a bowl game would be surprising.

[46-41 after the JUMP]