And Another Thing - Thanksgiving Edition
Both the NFL and college seasons are winding down and soon the fates of each team will be sealed. Many of the storylines for this season have involved injuries - at both the college and pro level - but some have been stories of hope, for the future. Here is a list of what the top teams in each conference have to be thankful for.
Clemson - A great recruiting staff. Clemson, under Dabo Swinney, has been able to recruit elite defensive talent consistently and it shows. The Tigers defense carried them to an early season victory over Auburn.
Louisville - Lamar Jackson. Jackson won’t win the Heisman again this year and the Cardinals are unlikely to ever compete for a playoff spot, but Lamar Jackson has made the team relevant and fun to watch for two seasons now, and that’s something any fan base needs.
Miami - Mark Richt. Richt was always a better coach than his record indicated. Georgia, at the University level, is far less forgiving of common infractions than other SEC schools which allow their Head Coach to determine the punishment. Richt had to follow University rules that suspended players when other coaches could have made them work harder in practice or demoted them for a series. Now that he’s at Miami he’ll recruit top level talent and be able to compete with FSU and Clemson on an annual basis.
Penn State - Saquon Barkley. Barkley is just a special player. He won’t be remembered among the all time collegiate greats because he won’t play for a full career but he will be remembered as one of the best players of his generation. He carried Penn State for the last two seasons further than they probably deserved.
Wisconsin - Favorable Scheduling! Wisconsin is the last remaining undefeated team in the Big Ten and appear to be the conference's best hope at a playoff appearance. Why? Because Wisconsin hasn’t played very many good teams. As of now Northwestern is the only ranked team they have beaten, although both Iowa and Michigan were ranked before losing to Wisconsin. The Ohio State game will be the first really good team that the Badgers have played and that might prove to be their downfall.
Nebraska - Scott Frost. Hope. Hope and strong ties to the hottest coach on the market. That’s all the Husker fans have at the moment. Maybe Frost sees a way to win there but it seems more likely that he would be inclined to choose Tennessee or Florida - either are superior programs to Nebraska these days.
Oklahoma - Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has had the best year of the highly touted quarterbacks entering 2017. He is the frontrunner for the Heisman trophy and will get consideration in the first round of the NFL draft. It is Mayfield more so than anyone else that has Oklahoma in contention for a playoff spot.
Iowa State - Matt Campbell’ The Cyclones beat two top ten teams in October, either of which would be considered the program's biggest win of the modern era. Campbell made this season happen despite injuries at quarterback and across his offense. The future looks bright and there will be a lot of offensive players that now start to consider Iowa State as a destination.
West Virginia - Will Greer. Greer makes the Mountaineers look like a completely different team. WIth him they are a top 20 program. Without him, we’ll see.
Washington State - Mike Leach! Leach makes football fun to watch. When he has a talented veteran quarterback to work with his teams can be very good. Before the start of 2016 it was inconceivable that Washington State would contend for a Pac-12 title within the foreseeable future, yet here we are. Mike Leach, ladies and gentlemen.
Arizona - Khalil Tate. Tate has taken to Rich Rodriguez’s system like bees take to honey. In a conference that boasts no fewer than 4 potential first round quarterback prospects Tate is in the Heisman race, ahead of all 4 of them. RichRod needed a big year and he got one. The Wildcats will be a trendy pick to make the playoffs next year because of Tate.
USC The Media Hype Machine. Whenever a Blue Chip quarterback is at USC, Notre Dame, Texas, Michigan, or Ohio State (Alabama could be included in this list too, if they ever had blue chip quarterback prospects) the media hype machine goes into overtime overrating the player and team. This year was no different with Sam Darnold. Despite looking like a very ordinary team throughout the year the Trojans find themselves in the top 10 with a good chance to finish there. They probably aren’t a top 15 team though.
Auburn - Kerryon Johnson. 2017 was Johnson’s best year to date and the former 5 star recruit finally established himself as one of the best players in the conference. Johnson has been consistent, explosive, and capable of impacting the game as both a receiver and runner. A big game against Alabama, and another against Georgia, should get him some Heisman consideration. His size and skill set have already caught the eyes of NFL scouts who believe he is a fits almost any NFL offensive scheme.
Mississippi State - Dan Mullen. It really can’t be overstated how important Mullen is to the Bulldogs success., He could have, and some argue, should have left Starkville for a better job years ago, but he chose to stay. He might choose to do so again this year, or he might not. middling programs like Mississippi State rarely get such a prolonged period of time with a great coach. Mullen made the team somewhat relevant again and Mississippi State should be grateful.
Jacksonville - A stifling defense. It apparently only takes a decade to build a talented swarming defense. The free agent acquisitions, high draft choices, and shrewd investment into Miles Jack soomes to have paid off for the Jaguars. IT certainly helps that the offense can sustain drives more consistently now but the Jaguars are fast and ferocious and should be for the next few years.
Houston - Deshaun Watson. Watson was as good as advertised, at least out of the pocket. Next year Watson will need to show a greater command of the system and make more plays in the pocket but he was able to do that at Clemson and should be able to do it in Houston assuming they find a replacement for Duane Brown.
Philadelphia - Carson Wentz Wentz has been spectacularly good. He looks like the next great quarterback. The Heir apparent to Brady, Brees, and Rodgers.
New Orleans - Drew Brees I mean, this is obvious right?
Arizona - Adrian Peterson. I mean, this is obvious right? (Part 2)
Los Angeles - Sean McVay. It’s tough to remember but just 5 months ago Jared Goff was considered a bust. Enter Sean McVay. Now Goff looks like a promising young quarterback who is well on his way to being a perennial Pro-bowler. Thank you Sean McVay.
Seattle - The Legion of Boom. Their days are numbered and it is worth considering if either Kam Chancellor or Richard Sherman will ever play for the Seahawks again. In their heyday they were the best overall secondary in the last 30 years and the main reason Seattle was an annual playoff contender.