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West Division

Even with Mitch Trubisky at QB last fall, and with a team that was largely though could waltz their way through the ACC Coastal, UNC still found a way to lose five games, win only eight, and somehow find a way to finish just second in one of the weakest divisions in Power Five football. I've never made a secret out of the fact that I am not a believer in Larry Fedora as head coach, but last year took the cake. The major issue is, in 2017, that Fedora does not have the weapons that he had last fall. How will this football team respond to a wasted opportunity and a lack of overall talent that existed a year ago?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
If you have to point to any one unit to be pumped about, it has to be the line, where at least three starters are returning. LT Bentley Spain, LG Tommy Hatton, and RG RJ Prince all return, and will probably, by far, be the best and most complete unit on the offensive side of the football. Mark Uptegraff will likely step into the starting Center role as a senior, and a pair of sophomores will battle it out at RT in William Sweet and Charlie Heck.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
One should be concerned about everything but most of the offensive line. There are few answers to go around as we head into fall camp, especially at QB, where Trubisky left...

Akron Zips
Injuries decimated the Akron Zips last fall to drop the program from an eight win bowl winner in 2015 to a five win team staying home for the holidays last season. Some of those injuries are still lingering as we head into fall camp, and if the roster does not get healthy in a hurry, it could be another slip for Terry Bowden and his Zips this fall. Can they get healthy and have enough in the tank to be a surprise team in the West and get back to another bowl in 2017?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Thomas Woodson was one of those injured players at QB, and was limited to eight games. If he is healthy in 2017, he is one of the better QBs in the league. He managed to pass for 2079 yards and 18 scores in those eight games, and tossed just six INTs. He missed spring ball due to shoulder surgery, and just got back to throwing in June. If he is not ready to go, this position gets devalued to a concern rather than a point of excitement. Virginia and JC transfer Nick Johns and Kato Nelson are the other options.
The interior line will be solid for the Zips in 2017, as both Guards and the Center all return. Stephen Erickson and Kyle Ritz will be back at the Guard spots, while LaVonne Gauthney will be back at Center.
Tom O'Leary is back as the PK, and was almost automatic last fall when he hit 10/11 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense

Projected Order of Finish
1. Oklahoma
2. Oklahoma State
3. West Virginia
4. TCU
5. Texas
6. Kansas State
7. Iowa State
8. Baylor
9. Texas Tech
10. Kansas

Oklahoma Sooners
The bombshell retirement of Bob Stoops last week certainly has not helped public confidence in the upcoming season for the Sooners, but the immediate move to elevate OC Lincoln Riley to the position was a good, and much needed move for this football program. Riley is one of the smartest and best young minds in the college game, and at 33, will be the youngest coach in FBS football this coming season. The good news is that Riley still has a top five caliber team that can contend for a Big 12 title, and could contend for a national playoff birth at the end of the season. Let's see if he has the drive to get them there after this late upheaval.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Despite his off-season shenanigans, the Sooners will have their Heisman candidate back at QB in Baker Mayfield. With Mayfield back, all other losses seem to be mitigated just a bit. He passed for 3965 yards last season, completed over 70% of his passes, and tossed 40 TDs to just eight picks, all while averaging 305 yards passing per game. Mayfield also added six more scores running the...

UAB Blazers
The Blazers are back from a two year football hiatus, and talented head coach Bill Clark is back as well. With a completely new roster, Clark is going to have his hands full this season, but the Blazer program already hit a win when Clark decided never to leave when he could have, and he is a winner. That being said, UAB is going to have some pains, as this has to be considered as a brand new program.

What To Be Excited About: Offense
It is going to be difficult to grade out the talent on this football team, because so much of the roster is based on transfers, many of which are JC transfers, or were backups from other programs. AJ Ederly, a former Alabama QB of the Year in high school, has transferred from Middle Tennessee by way of Mississippi Gulf Coast College. He is the leader at the QB job coming out of spring ball, but will have to lock it down in fall camp.
Clark also invested in the line by way of transfers. James Davis (LT), Chris Schleuger (LG), Lee Dufour (C), Malique Johnson (RG), and Justice Powers (RT) will all start, and looked solid in the spring game.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The skill positions are as thin as paper, and Clark has been trying to figure it all out. James Noble is the leader at RB as of now, but nobody has really taken a grip of the...

It has been a long and dark period in Virginia football history, and Bronco Mendenhall will enter his second full season as coach of the Cavaliers, with his job being to find a light at the end of the tunnel. That light did not exist after a 2-10 finish last season that saw Virginia win just one game in ACC play. If Mendenhall stays at the level of expectations that I have for a new coach, year two should start to see this team showing some fight and getting competitive, but has the overall roster reached the point where that could be possible this fall?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
East Carolina transfer Kurt Benkert took off with the QB job, and gives the Cavaliers the best QB they have had overall in years. He passed for 2552 yards and 21 TDs to 11 INTs, and he figures in as the starter once again in 2017. If Virginia can get some talent around him, he should be able to far surpass the numbers that he posted last fall.
Benkert should have some solid targets in the passing game, as his top two receivers from a year ago, Doni Dowling and Olamide Zaccheus, both return. The two combined for 101 receptions last fall for 1210 yards on the season, and they also combined for 11 of the 21 TDs that Benkert threw for. With some losses behind them, both receivers may show an increased work load in 2017. Every key reserve from last season will return, but two starters were lost to graduation.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense

Texas Longhorns
The Charlie Strong era at Texas never fully got off the ground, nor was it ever really given the fuel to do so. Not everyone in the administration stood fully behind Strong, and it showed from day one. The new Tom Herman era begins, and the support level is a complete 180 degree turn from where it was under Strong. Everyone is all in on Herman, who was largely the hottest coaching target in the nation, which is debatable as to why he was after winning just nine games at Houston in a season in which the Cougars were largely expected to be a potential playoff buster. Herman has stormed into Austin with a ton of bluster, but he has to produce on the field now, and that may be easier said than done.

What To Be Excited About: Offense
The foundation of any good offense starts with the line, and four starters return this fall in Brandon Hodges, Zach Shackleford, Patrick Vahe, and Connor Williams. In short, the Horns could have one fo the most experienced lines in the Big 12 coming back, which could be a platform to boost them higher than fifth in the league, which is where I have them spotted at.
At QB, Shane Buechele returns after a freshman season that showed occasional flashes of brilliance. He passed for 2958 yards and 21 TDs, while he rushed for another two scores. Buechele completed 60.4% of his passes, and averaged 32.6 pass attempts per game. He finished the season with 246.5...

The bombshell retirement of Bob Stoops last week certainly has not helped public confidence in the upcoming season for the Sooners, but the immediate move to elevate OC Lincoln Riley to the position was a good, and much needed move for this football program. Riley is one of the smartest and best young minds in the college game, and at 33, will be the youngest coach in FBS football this coming season. The good news is that Riley still has a top five caliber team that can contend for a Big 12 title, and could contend for a national playoff birth at the end of the season. Let's see if he has the drive to get them there after this late upheaval.

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Despite his off-season shenanigans, the Sooners will have their Heisman candidate back at QB in Baker Mayfield. With Mayfield back, all other losses seem to be mitigated just a bit. He passed for 3965 yards last season, completed over 70% of his passes, and tossed 40 TDs to just eight picks, all while averaging 305 yards passing per game. Mayfield also added six more scores running the football, and will be a major contender for the award given to the best player in the nation this season if all things hold together.
Mayfield will be playing behind one of the best lines in the nation as well, and all five starters return there. Orlando Brown, Bobby...

Justin Fuente made it to the ACC title game in his first season as coach of the Hokies, but there are some serious questions as we head into fall camp for 2017. With star QB Jerod Evans gone, who will the Hokies rely on to move both the passing game, and the run game? Will the defense be the same unit that only allowed 22.8 points per game, or will the massive losses up front cause the overall unit to falter? These are questions that need answering if the Hokies are to be in the race in the Coastal Division in 2017.

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Junior Travon McMillan is back at RB after finishing with 145 carries last fall. With serious issues at the QB position expected, McMillan may finally get to be a feature player that is given more than 10 carries per game in 2017. Look for him to be a potential breakout star for the Hokies this fall.
The new QB will at least get WR Cam Phillips back. Phillips finished second on the team with 76 receptions in 2016. He scored five times and averaged just over 70 yards per game last fall.
The line should be in decent shape, as three starters return. Yosua Nijman is back at LT, Wyatt Teller returns at LG, and Eric Gallo returns at C. Junior Braxton Pfaff looks like he could be taking over at RG, while Parker Osterloh is in line to start at RT as a RS senior. Every key reserve returns from C to the left side of the line as well.
Joey Slye is back at PK...

Projected Order of Finish

Atlantic Division
1. Florida State
2. Louisville
3. Clemson
4. NC State
5. Syracuse
6. Wake Forest
7. Boston College

Coastal Division
1. Georgia Tech
2. Pittsburgh
3. Virginia Tech
4. North Carolina
5. Miami
6. Duke
7. Virginia

Florida State Seminoles
Last season seemed to be the year to take down the Seminoles if you were going to do it, and some teams, such as Louisville, took full advantage of that. That window has now closed, as Florida State seems to be in prime position to make another run for a national title in 2017. Despite opening the season with Alabama, win or lose, Florida State should have enough in the tank to get back for a possible rematch in January. This could be a big year in Tallahassee.
What To Be Excited About: Offense
Deondre Francois is not getting the kind of attention that he should be getting, because I feel that 2017 is going to be a major breakout year for the sophomore that won the ACC Rookie of the Year award on offense last season. Francois passed for 3350 yards and 20 scores, and just missed a 3:1 TD to INT ratio.
Alec Eberle is back at C, and RT Brock Ruble are both back on the line, and instant holes are likely to be filled by Rick Leonard and Landon Dickerson, who were both key reserves last fall. This position was recruited well, so even with the losses, there...

Baylor Bears
After a brutal year of off-field issues and fired coaches and overall darkness, the Baylor football program is looking for a way back into the light under first year coach Matt Ruhle and a new staff that is largely in place die to their Texas High School connections. In many mindsm the damage has been done, and continues to happen as more and more allegations of sexual assault and wrongdoing by the former staff continue to bleed into the public eye, and it has killed recruiting in many ways. Can Ruhle eventually overcome this drama? Why did a guy with Northeast roots even want this job in the first place?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Zach Smith played in ten games at QB in 2016 due to injuries to Seth Russell. He played well enough to earn a lean on getting the starting nod this season, but a late development may have changed all of that, when former Arizona starter Anu Solomon transferred in. Solomon had a truly amazing freshman season,but the injury bug then set in and has largely derailed his career, as had terrible coaching from the current Arizona staff. Solomon has a chance to hit the reset button, and if he can hold the job through fall camp, and stay healthy, Baylor has a solid situation on their hands in the passing game.
Shock Linwood left early to prepare for an NFL draft...

UTEP Miners
The Miners have been more up than down in Sean Kugler's era as head coach at UTEP, and last season was definitely a down year, as the Miners finished just 4-8. Kuger currently ranks #17 on the rankings for coaches who are in jeopardy of losing their jobs, but if the Miners get off to a rocky start, he could rocket up that list.

What To Be Excited About: Offense

Ryan Metz returns for his junior season, and was a solid performer last fall. He tossed 14 scores and only tossed four INTs. He needs to not have to look over his shoulder at Zack Greenlee, who also received significant snaps last fall, and if he can get full control of this offense, he may blow up this season.

What To Be Concerned About: Offense

I've given you all of the good news I can muster up for the Miners this fall. There is much more negative news that good. Aaron Jones, the one massive star player the Miners had, is gone at RB. Quardrais Wadley, the likely leader at RB heading into fall camp, carried the football just 47 times last season.
Eddie Sinegal and Warren Redix got some experience starting last fall, but they combined for just 41 receptions last fall, and Sinegal had 29 of them. There will be very limited...

Idaho Vandals

The final season of FBS football is set to commence for the Vandals, and the shame of it is that this is happening right when the Vandals are becoming interesting in the Sun Belt. Idaho finished with nine wins last season, by far one of their most successful seasons as an FBS (1-A) program.Paul Petrino has the Vandals ready to charge once again, and this team will try to challenge for a conference title on their way out the door. Can they upstage everyone as they leave the group?

What To Be Excited About: Offense

Matt Linehan returns as a senior, and will close out his career at Idaho as a four year starter. He has evolved into a solid passer, as he passed for 3184 yards and 19 TDs last season. He averaged 244.9 yards passing per game, and added another four scores on the ground.

The receiving unit does suffer the loss of their two leading receivers, who were both TEs, but the group is decent enough to carry the day this fall. Reuben Mwelha caught 16 passes last season, and steps into a starting role, but Alfonso Ununwor and Jacob Shannon both return as well, and they combined for 67 receptions last season.

The Vandals have a solid combo pack coming back at RB this fall in Aaron Duckworth and Isaiah Saunders. The two combined to rush for 1403 yards last season, and scored 14 times.

What To Be Concerned About: Offense

Four starters...

Iowa State Cyclones
Iowa State and Matt Campbell were so close to being a very good football team last season. They lost five games by seven points or less last fall, and had they found a way to win those games, they would end up being an 8-4 football team with a bowl bid, and would have been considered one of the best programs in the conference in 2017. They lose all five of those games in 2016, and finish with three wins overall, and now they are a team that may be on the cusp of something big. Can they turn the corner and get there this fall?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Two QBs played extensively for the Cyclones in 2016, but it sure would be nice to get just one in the starting role and ride with him. Jacob Park had the best numbers last fall, and returns as a junior in 2017. He passed for 1791 yards and 12 TDs to just five picks in ten games. He completed 58.8% of his passes, a number that certainly could be improved upon.
Senior Joel Lanning also returns this fall after passing for 1290 yards and nine TDs to just three INTs. He completed just 58.6% of his passes, but where he is different than Park is that he has a dual threat part of his game, and he managed to rush for 518 yards and a team high 11 scores. Again, if one can take the reins, it is possible that the Cyclones could fly higher.
The passing game could really have a major impact this fall, as four different receivers who had starting experience last...

BYU Cougars

Kelani Sitake is heading into year two of his term as BYU head coach, and despite some things going up and down at the QB position, the Coougars could be called a success last season after winning nine games. Sitake did not walk into a typical empty cupboard as a new head coach sometimes does, and there is some serious talent coming back this season, although there are losses as well. Still, it will be interesting to see how the Cougars come back in year two under Sitake, and try to emulate and surpass the success of last season.

What To Be Excited About: Offense

Tanner Mangum finally gets to gt out from the shadow of Taysom Hill, and quite frankly, that should have happened last season when it was painfully obvious that Hill was a shadow of his former self. Mangum was the hero of two seasons ago at QB, and now, this is fully his show. Mangum completed 22/33 passes last fall, and showed that he really is the guy to run this offense. In 2015, he passed for 3377 yards and 23 TDs, so we all know what he can do.

Jamaal Williams is gone as the all-time leading rusher for BYU, and Squally Canada is slated to start, but look out for RS freshman Ula Tolutau, who originally signed with Wisconsin before going on his two year Morman mission. He is a big, bruising back that could carry the load for this run game.

Four starters return on the line for the Cougars in LT Thomas Shoaf, LG Keyan Norman, CTejan...

New Mexico State Aggies

Doug Martin marches into his fifth season as head coach at NMSU with just a 10-38 record, and the Aggies have not won as many as four games since 2011. It would serve to say that with a relatively new AD, everything rides on this season for Martin, as the Aggies have been removed from the Sun Belt conference after the 2017 season. The Aggies will play as an independent next season, even though there were options on the FCS level, much as Idaho found. This program cannot sustain long term as an independent, and if they are to find a home, finding a way to win now would prove prudent. The problem is, I am not sure that this team can win now at all.

What To Be Excited About: Offense

Tyler Rogers is not a perfect QB, but he is a good QB for this football team. He passed for 2603 yards and 16 scores, but the drawbacks are a 55.4% completion rate and 12 INTs. Still, he is the best hope the program has of getting it done in 2017.

Larry Rose III is a rock solid back, and may be one of the best in the nation that not many people know about. His major issue this season is that he must stay healthy, as he missed three games last season. He still managed to rush for 865 yards per game, average 96.11 yards per game, and 5.44 yards per carry last season. He rushed for 1651 yards in 2015, when he was last completely...

Marshall Thundering Herd
What a difference a year makes for the Thundering Herd, as the team plummeted to a 3-9 record which included a 60-6 loss to Western Kentucky in the season finale. There is a huge part of me that feels as if last season was a blip on the radar, but how far can this program go in 2017 to make sure that the dark season is behind them?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Chase Litton is back at QB, and was one of the dew bright spots on the football team as a sophomore last fall, as he passed for 24 TDs and just nine INTs. He completed 62.3% of his passes, but there is no reason to expect that he will not improve upon that mark this fall. He averaged 261.2 yards passing per game last season.
The line should be rock solid this fall, as four starter return up front. Sandley Jean-Felix (LT), Jordan Dowrey (LG), Levi Brown (C), and Nate Devars (RG) all return. AJ Addison, the backup at LT last fall, shifted over to the right side this spring, and is in the lead to be the starter there.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The Herd rushed for a pitiful 108 yards per game last season, one of the worst marks in the nation. Trey Rodriguez has transferred from FAU, and left spring ball with the lead at RB, ahead of Keion...

Florida Atlantic Owls
FAU made some major waves when they hired controversial coach Lane Kiffin this off-season, and he has gotten to work doing what Kiffin does, as he has already offered a scholarship to at least one kid that is not yet in high school. Hiring Kiffin was a slippery slope for FAU, but they needed a big name with the hire of Butch Davis at FIU. This hire will create attention, if nothing more, but will it be enough to move the Owls up in the CUSA East?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
The run game is in solid hands with the return of both Devin Singletary and Gregory Howell, Jr. They combined for 1849 yards and 25 scores last fall, and will be one of the better combo sets at RB in the nation this fall. Expect the offense to center around the run game early, even if that is not what Kiffin normally would do.
Kalib Woods is back for his senior season at WR, and was the lone bright spot at receiver last fall, when he caught 68 passes for 934 yards and a score while averaging 5.7 receptions per game. Tavaris Harrison also returns, and caught 18 passes for 304 yards last fall, and he could be a big play threat if he can break through this fall. He averaged 16.89 yards per catch last season. Henry Bussey caught 24 passes last fall, and could be in a fight at the slot with Kamrin Solomon, who caught just 12 passes last fall.
The line...

Ohio Bobcats

Frank Solich has had an incredibly solid run at Ohio, with this being his 13th at the school. The Bobcats, once again will be the favorites in the MAC West, even with a tinkered offense and some QB issues that may come into play. Where the Bobcats have excelled is on defense in recent years, and that should be the same once again, but will the defense be strong enough with a changing offense in play to help carry the load to a division title once again?

What To Be Excited About: Offense

The Pistol will largely be gone in 2017, with the offense going back to having the QB under Center. A more traditional offense will actually work to compliment the run game, as Ohio has a loaded group in the backfield to run the football. AJ Ouellette is back from injury to lead the way, and is joined by Dorian Brown, who rushed for 825 yards last fall, and Maleek Irons. They combined for 22 carries per game last fall, and with Ouelette back in play, the run game should be a focal point of the offense.

Three starters return up front in LT Joe Lowery, C Jake Pruehs, and RG Darrell Wood. Pruehs played almost every snap last season, and is the leader. Joe Anderson, a junior, is slated to start at LG, while Jared McCray will likely start at RT. He will be a senior this fall.

Louie Zervos was amazing during his freshman season at PK,...

Rutgers Scarlet Knights
It has been a long time since I have seen a team in a power conference have as bad a season as Rutgers had in 2016, and is likely to have in 2017. The Big 10 has had it leak that the leadership of the conference has regretted letting the Scarlet Knights into the conference almost from the day that the invitation was given. There have been disastrous issues on and off the field and court in football and men's basketball, and the team has not competed worth anything in either sport. The TV revenue from the New York City market has been negligible, at best, and the market largely does not care about college football in any capacity. Chris Ash was bought in from Ohio State to turn this football program around, but is that even possible under the current conditions?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
You really have to pick everything apart with this offense and hunt down anything to be excited about in the most remote way. With that being done, you can look at the line and see that three starters return, and they have to have improved, right? Tariq Cole is back at LT, Dorian Miller is back at LG, and and Kamaal Seymour is back at RT.
Robert Martin is back at RB, and he averaged 5.17 yards per carry. One would hope that the current staff would take the leash off of him and just let him be the focus on the offense, which was something they were unwilling or unable to do last season. He scored only two times all last fall.
What To Be Concerned About:...

Texas State Bobcats

Everett Withers came from a strong run at James Madison to take over a program that Dennis Franchione never got off the ground, and he had a tough go of it in year one, as the Bobcats finished with just two wins. Withers, the former Ohio State assistant, has the pedigree to win, but this roster is in just year two of a complete rebuild, and it's very tough to see how long it will take to get competitive. After getting blown out on a regular basis last fall, this team has to find some confidence, and just learn how to best compete with talent that just is not entirely up to par across the board. That process is in place, but nothing gets built in one year.

What To Be Excited About: Offense

The passing game should receive a boost this season, as all three starting receivers return in Tyler Watts, Elijah King, and TE Gabe Schrade. King is the best of the bunch, as he averaged 16.43 yards per catch last fall. Thurman Morbley returns as well to give the Bobcats a solid receiving corps. Now they just need someone to get them the football on a consistent basis.

Three starters return on the line, including both Tackles in Tristan Mizerak and Jacob Rowland, and Aaron Brewer at Center.

Marcus Ripley did not get a ton of work in, but he took advantage of what opportunity he had by hitting 5/6 FG attempts. He will return to handle the...

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Middle Tennessee ran into injury issues at the wrong time last fall, as the Blue Raiders went 2-3 to finish the year 8-5 overall, with a 52-35 loss to Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. Considering that the Blue Raiders lost QB Brent Stockstill for the final three regular season games, it's a strong indication of the talent that he had around him that the team was able to win two of those three games that they had won. He should be healthy and ready to go, but keeping him on the field all season will be a key in winning the CUSA East.

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Stockstill is the leader of this offense, and returns holding the school record for TD passes (61), 300 yards games (14), and passing yards per game (303.3). He passed for 3233 yards and 31 scores to just seven INTs last season, while averaging 323.3 yards per game.
Stockstill's top target, and one of the best receivers in the nation, Richie James is back for more this fall as well, as he has over 200 receptions the last two seasons for almost 3000 total yards during that time period. One of the most exciting players in the nation, he also flies under the radar nationally more than most. He caught 105 passes last fall for 1625 yards and 12 scores, and averaged 15.48 yards per catch. Ty Lee is back as a sophomore, and was voted as a freshman All-America, and scored nine times on 63 receptions last fall. Patrick Smith rounds out the receiving group...

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
A new era has begun in Bowling Green, Kentucky, as the Brian Brohm era has ended, and that of Mike Sanford, Jr. has begun. One bit advise that I would give to Sanford is to not change a thing. Do not fix what is not broken, and do not tweak what does not need tweaking for the sake of personal ego. If that advise is taken, there is no reason to expect WKU to not compete for yet another CUSA East and conference title in 2017.

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Mike White Returns for his senior season at QB, and he broke through last fall and took the leadership reins of the offense in an effortless transition. He passed for 4363 yards and 37 TDs to just seven INTs, and completed a very respectable 67.3% of his passes, while averaging 311.6 yards passing per game. He will be one of the top ten QBs in FBS football in 2017.
I will talk about the loss at RB in a moment, but there is good news there as well. Quinton Baker is back to try to win the starting job, and averaged 5.47 yards per carry last fall while rushing for 542 yards and four scores in a backup role. Look for him to be a CUSA and WKU breakout candidate this season. Leon Allen also returns, and has 14 starts under his belt and could share time with Baker.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
The receiving corps was decimated by the loss of...

Minnesota Golden Gophers
It would seem to me that a potentially blind eye may have unraveled much of what has been built at Minnesota in the last few years under both Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys. I was never the biggest Kill fan, but could never really put a finger on as to why, but now maybe I know. There was a culture of lacking accountability that grew under Kill, and an early season alleged sexual assault case led into a massive demonstration of ignorance and irresponsibility in December that caused a walk out by the team just before the bowl. While Claeys supported the suspensions that came out of the investigation of the assaults privately, he took the wrong turn and publicly backed his players, which was the wrong course to set, and it cost him his job. Enter PJ Fleck, a guy who certainly knows how to promote his interests and that of his football team. He took Western Michigan to an undefeated season before losing to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl, and he took the opportunity to launch himself into a bigger job. Can he continue to build on what has been laid out as a foundation, or did the bad behaviors off of the field last season create such a mess, that the foundation must be rebuilt? Will this group of players buy into the Fleck policy of accountability, or will they continue to buck the trend of taking responsibility for their actions and become better players...

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles
Southern Miss completely underachieved in year one under Jay Hopson, and even found a way to lose to Charlotte. What happened last fall should be enough to push this team in 2017 to not slide back again. If they can use that as motivation, the West Division is wide open for the Eagles to grab. Is there enough in the tank to get it done?

What To Be Excited About: Offense
Ito Smith may be the most important returning player in CUSA in 2017. He is absolutely a pre-season CUSA player of the year candidate after rushing for 1459 yards last fall. He scored 17 rushing TDs, and avereaged 5.51 yards per carry. George Payne and Tez Parks both will return as the primary backups as well, so the run game should not be a major issue. Smith also added 43 receptions.
Isaiah Jones and Korey Robertson will be back to settle their battle for one of the starting WR jobs, and combined for 57 receptions. Allenzae Staggers is also back, and led the team in receiving last fall with 62 receptions for 1157 yards and seven scores.
Parker Shanfield is back at PK, and was almost automatic last fall, as he hit 12/14 FG attempts.
What To Be Concerned About: Offense
QB Nick Mullins is gone, and that is a problem. Keon Howard was the primary...

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Nobody accepts 4-8 seasons at Notre Dame, and because that is where this team ended up last fall, Brian Kelly is squarely in the firing line if the ship does not turn completely around in 2017. The Irish are turning up the tempo on offense under OC Chip Long, and Mike Eiko's defense will be under heavy scrutiny. Do the Irish have enough gas in the tank under this staff to make the complete turnaround and return to the lofty heights that are expected every season?

What To Be Excited About: Offense

Josh Adams returns to the tea as he led them in rushing last season as a sophomore. If Notre Dame wants to win and win now, a switch to a more balanced approach with Brown getting 18-20 carries per game would probably be more the way to do it. He rushed for 933 yards and five scores while averaging 5.91 yards per carry last fall.

The receiving group should be one of the best that Kelly has had at Notre Dame. Equanimeous St. Brown is the leader of the group, as he caught 58 passes last fall, or 20 more than anyone else. He went for 957 yards and nine scores, while averaging 16.57 yards per grab. He has the size and strength to match up well on the outside. Myles Boykin and Chase Underpool are projected as starters as well, but CJ Sanders and Kevin Stepherson will challenge for time as well. Look for Alize Mack to have a breakout season at...

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