What A 2016 Season! What Is In Store For 2017?
The 2016 college football season provided a roller coaster of swings that had fans sitting on the edge of their seats until the final play of the 2016 National Championship game between Clemson and Alabama.
I have never seen a season that was so unpredictable from the start of the year until the end. However, the model of consistency during the regular season – was the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Head coach Nick Saban reloaded with top 5 talent yet again and started the year with his third straight signal caller with freshman phenom Jalen Hurts. Hurts burst onto the scene in 2016 and showed poise and confidence in leading Alabama back to the National Championship game.
Alabama won all 9 SEC games including the SEC Championship by 24.8 points per game in 2016. The closest SEC game the Crimson Tide played all season was against Ole Miss in Oxford. Alabama trailed 24-3 in the first half and went onto to the 48-43 road victory led by their defense and special teams.
Clemson had a different road to the National Championship game. They started their season with lack luster wins against Auburn (19-13) and Troy (30-24) which had many fans thinking that the Tigers were not the same team as the one that challenged the Crimson Tide the year before in the title game.
However, after the Tigers beat Louisville and quarterback Lamar Jackson (42-36), it showed the nation that the Clemson Tigers were one of the most dangerous teams in the country. Clemson beat all three SEC opponents in 2016 in Auburn, South Carolina and Alabama by a total score of 110-51 or 19.6 points per game. Clemson also dominated Ohio State in the College Football Playoff by a score of 31-0.
Clemson finished with a 8-1 ACC mark (only loss to Pitt 43-42) and defeated those opponents by an average margin of victory of 20.5 points per game.
The ACC finished with an 9-3 record in the 2016 bowl season which was the conference’s best in its entire bowl history. The most bowl wins the conference has ever had since its inception was 5 bowl wins. The 2016 season proved that the ACC has closed the gap from the SEC and was the most dominant conference in college football last season.
When looking at the ACC in comparison to the SEC-it was evident that the ACC was the best and there was parity in college football last year.
Clemson: (3-0 vs. SEC-wins vs. Auburn, South Carolina and Alabama)
Virginia Tech: (1-1 vs. SEC-win against Arkansas)
North Carolina State: (1-0 vs. SEC-win vs. Vanderbilt)
Florida State: (2-0 vs. SEC-wins vs. Ole Miss and Florida)
Georgia Tech: (3-0 vs. SEC-wins vs. Vanderbilt, Georgia and Kentucky)
North Carolina: (0-1 vs. SEC-lost to Georgia)
Louisville: (0-2 vs. SEC-lost to Kentucky and LSU)
The ACC was 10-4 overall or .714% (regular season and bowl season) against the SEC in 2016.
In my opinion, I believe that the 2017 season will provide more fireworks than last year, with a wide open playoff race that will most likely go down to the final week of the season this year.
While Alabama seems to reload year in and year out, we saw a chink in the armor in the National Championship game against Clemson. I have always believed that as dominant as the Crimson Tide’s defense has been under Nick Saban tutelage, the way to attack their stout defense is vertically on seam routes-down the deep middle of the football field.
In order to do that, you need versatile players that can be utilized in the slot (running backs and wide receivers) and force the Crimson Tide defense out of their base scheme. Clemson utilized multiple looks with receivers like Mike Williams, Hunter Renfro, Jordan Leggett (tight end) and running back Wayne Gallman in the championship game to allow mismatches with their play makers. By the time the fourth quarter had come around, the Crimson Tide defense was gassed from the up-tempo attack.
Alabama is still the team to beat when it comes to their ability to reload each and every year. However, I believe that this will be the year the Crimson Tide are on the outside looking in for the Playoff. Alabama opens up their season against the Florida State Seminoles and quarterback Deondre Francois. This will be the biggest game Alabama has played in recent years to start their season.
Yes, they opened in recent years with Michigan, Clemson, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and most recently the USC Trojans. However, this will be the first team for a week one match-up that has the offensive personnel to challenge the Crimson Tide secondary. It won’t be easy, but this will be a true challenge for Nick Saban and Alabama.
Along with the week one game against Florida State, the Crimson Tide must deal with the defensive losses of defensive end Johnathon Allen, linebackers Reuben Foster, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has moved on to become the offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons with new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll (New England Patriots) taking over the offense. The pressure is on Daboll to work with the “mad scientist” and still get the most out of sophmore quarterback Jalen Hurts. All while trying to help lead the Crimson Tide back to the College Football Playoff this year.
Teams like LSU and Arkansas could pose a problem for the Tide in the West during the regular season. While a bevy of SEC East contenders like Georgia, Florida and Missouri look to make it to Atlanta representing the SEC East in the championship game come December.
There is parity in college football. This means that any team can come out of nowhere to sneak into the playoff and steal the crown. With parity comes fireworks and non-stop action that keeps fans engaged each and every Saturday.
In my opinion, there is not one elite conference over the rest like we have seen even four years ago. Last year, LSU opened with Wisconsin and lost a close 14-13 game which sent the Tigers spiraling into an abyss and sent former head coach Les Miles packing after their road loss to Auburn.
Oklahoma was supposed to be a dominant team last season, however, when they played top 25 opponents Houston and Ohio State the Sooners were 1-2 in the month of September and already playing for respectability.
The Big 10 had teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State all in the top ten by Championship Saturday, but when the stakes were on the line-three of the four lost their bowl games.
The PAC-12 couldn’t get out of its own way last year with USC opening their season with an embarrassing 52-6 loss to Alabama. After losses to Stanford and Utah, the Trojans caught fire and became one of the hottest teams in the country. However, that was when the pressure was off and there were no expectations on the team with new quarterback Sam Darnold.
UCLA was picked as a front runner for the conference by many experts and limped to a 4-8 record in 2016. Oregon showed fans that it is not the uniforms that run, pass and tackle-it is in fact the players. Uniforms alone will not get the job done.
While Washington was in the College Football Playoff last year they had an opportunity to make a statement against the SEC in their game with Alabama. The Huskies opened up a 7-0 lead against the Crimson Tide, however, the team folded in the second half against the constant pounding of the Crimson Tide’s offensive and defensive lines. Washington lost that game 24-7 with their hopes for a title ending in Atlanta in front of an SEC crowd.
That brings us back to the ACC and the Clemson Tigers. If you think last year’s victory over the Crimson Tide was a fluke – think again!
Even though the Tigers escaped with a narrow victory over N.C State in overtime and survived a late season loss in Death Valley to Pittsburgh, the Tigers were a team that stepped up when the stakes were on the line. Head coach Dabo Swinney is one of college football’s best coaches and he is quickly becoming known as a “giant killer”. He has showed the college football world his ability to recruit along with coaching up talent similar to the great Nick Saban. Swinney has knocked off teams like: Ohio State (two times), LSU, Oklahoma (two times), Auburn (three times), Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgia and Florida State. He is a big game head coach that is known as one of the best motivators in college football.
Dabo Swinney & Clemson Since 2011:
3-0 by 9.0 points per game
3-3 by 6.0 points per game
2-0 by 18 points per game
2-0 by 27 points per game
LSU & Georgia:
2-1 (won 25-24 Chic-Fil-A Bowl 2012) (won 38-35 in 2013 in Death Valley)
1-1 (played in two National Championships vs. Crimson Tide)
1-0 (won 24-22 in Death Valley in 2015)
3-0 by 5.0 points per game
Swinney has compiled a 17-5 record or a .772% against the teams listed above and will look to hoist the trophy in 2018 as defending National Champions. Repeating that effort will not be easy for the team in the 2017 season. Clemson will lose quarterback DeShaun Watson, wide receiver Mike Williams and running back Wayne Gallman entering 2017. The stress of breaking in a new signal caller is never easy, however, Nick Saban has proved it is possible to get the job done.
Along with the offensive losses, Clemson loses their emotional leader of the defense-linebacker Ben Boulware. Boulware was the quarterback of the defense and a player that made sure the unit was aligned right in their scheme at all times. How Clemson responds in the early part of the year from a defensive perspective will give fans an indication if this team can make it back to the playoff at the end of the season.
Louisville has Heisman Trophy quarterback Lamar Jackson but the team showed it lacked the physicality in their bowl loss to the LSU Tigers. In order to make a run at the ACC this year, the team must get more of their offensive play makers involved in the offense. The offense cannot solely revolve around Lamar Jackson. On top of that, the Cardinals lose key defensive players like defensive end Devonte Fields, linebacker Keith Kelsey and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons.
North Carolina will take huge losses entering the 2017 season. The Tar Heels will lose quarterback Mitch Trubisky, running backs Elijah Hood, TJ Logan along with wide receivers Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, Mack Hollins and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Those are gaping holes to fill and will put pressure on head coach Larry Fedora to look for answers.
Florida State could be the team that starts fast and runs its way to a National Championship in the 2017 season. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has an experienced returning quarterback in Deondre Francois and a defense that gained continuity down the stretch in 2016 culminated with their bowl win over Michigan 33-32.
The Seminoles seem to be the team to beat in the ACC, however, the team will also have to make up for huge losses from last year. Gone are running back Dalvin Cook, wide receivers Travis Rudolph and Bobo Wilson along with defensive end Demarcus Walker that led the team with 16.5 sacks.
There are so many burning questions that need to be answered for the 2017 season and as college football fans, we will not know the answers to the test until the first week of December. That is what makes this game the best in town.
For the fans that believe there should be an eight team playoff, I will say this-do not even think about it! I love the format of the College Football Playoff. I love the controversy, the debates and hearing fans scream why their team should make the big show. That is what makes this sport the best. Controversy has been a part of college football since my childhood. Growing up in New Jersey, split National Championships like those in 1990 (Georgia Tech and Colorado) and 1997 (Michigan and Nebraska) were the norm. If the NCAA take the guess work out of the playoff and allows more and more teams the opportunity to advance, they will be diluting their product.
The reason why college football is great, is that it is full throttle ahead week one of the season. There is no looking back. If mistakes are made (upset losses) deal with it and move on. You only get one opportunity to play this great game and you should make the best of it. That is why they call it competition. Sometimes you cannot always get what you want. That is part of life.
Once we start expansion, the regular season will become meaningless. College football will have a watered down product like college basketball where teams will walk through the motions (resting players) in the regular season and turn it on when the tournament begins. That is non-sense.
College football is a sport that comes right out of the gate hitting on all cylinders. Fifteen weeks of non-stop action that showcases inter-conference battles, rivalry games and under the radar teams looking to make the playoff. That’s what I am talking about. If we expand to eight teams fans will then want twelve and so on and so on. Next thing you know fans will be watching a meaningless LSU vs. Alabama match-up in November because both teams are guaranteed a playoff berth.
If you do not like the controversy-get over it. It is here. Alive and kicking. It has been with college football since its inception and will be for years to come. If you want to watch a “true” playoff format – watch the NFL.
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