Are you a Louisville, Indiana or Kentucky football fan? Howie Lindsey of 790 KRD and Jeff Nunn of Cardinal Sports Zone take a look at the upcoming season (and a bit of Fantasy Football, too).
By Howie Lindsey
If you would have told Louisville fans their team would finish 9-4 on the season with a win over Florida State and Lamar Jackson would win the Heisman Trophy, nearly all of them would be as happy as could be with the outcome. But the way last season finished, with three-straight losses including disappointing performances against arch-rival Kentucky and the bowl stinker vs. LSU, have Louisville fans wishing for more in 2017.
The good news? Jackson is back for his junior season, and a good number of talented players join him on both sides of the ball. Louisville figures to be an ACC contender again this season.
Bobby Petrino: “We have high expectations for this team. I know our coaching staff does. I know our players do. Certainly, our fans and our administration have high expectations for us, and this is a really tough conference. It’s going to be very competitive. Every team that we play has really good players. Every team that we play is very, very well-coached, so we’re going to have to do a great job of being in great condition, developing our depth, and being able to perform in the fourth quarter when the pressure is on. I think that’s what you’re going to see, a lot of fourth quarter wins or fourth quarter losses this year throughout the conference.”
Quarterback. With Jackson in the pocket for year three, Louisville figures to have the most dangerous offense in the ACC and perhaps the nation. Jackson broke Michael Vick’s ACC records last season, and he was still figuring out Bobby Petrino’s full offense. How good could he be this season? That may depend on the next item.
Offensive Line. Louisville struggled mightily at the end of the 2016 season and the LSU and Houston games were extremely frustrating for Jackson. He didn’t have a second to think much less make a play in either of those two games. Louisville lost starters Tobijah Hughley, Kahlil Hunter and Kiola Mahoni from last season’s line. Returning starters Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil are both all-conference caliber, but the players around them will determine the overall line performance. Can Kenny Thomas, Toriano Roundtree, Linwood Foy, Cole Bentley, Mekhi Becton and others step in to make Louisville’s line more effective?
Jaylen Smith. Louisville lost its top three receivers from 2016, wideouts James Quick and Jamari Staples and tight end Cole Hikutini. Stepping into the spotlight will be Smith, who has all the physical tools to be an elite wide receiver. He caught 27 passes for 599 yards and six touchdowns last season. Those numbers could double in 2017.
Reggie Bonnafon, senior RB with multi-position skills
Jeremy Smith, Louisville’s top returning RB
Trevon Young, all-league talent at DE returns from injury
Florida State, Oct. 21 in Tallahassee. The Seminoles are absolutely loaded with talent and most experts are predicting them to win the ACC this season. Playing at Florida State is never easy, especially when they have a team loaded with this many playmakers.
MY PREDICTION: The Cardinals will go 10-2. They will lose at Florida State and will slip up in one other game, possibly at N.C. State or at Virginia. The Cards will again just be on the outside of the playoffs and finish as a top 10 team.
NUNN’S WISE GUY PREDICTIONS
By Jeff Nunn
The Cardinals are coming off a season of highs and lows. They jumped out to a 9-1 start, beating second ranked Florida State by 43 points and only losing to eventual national champion Clemson in Death Valley.
But the wheels fell off during a trip to Houston. An unexpected home loss to Kentucky followed and an uninspiring performance against LSU in the Citrus Bowl concluded the season at 9-4. The offensive line was much to blame for the terrible finish as they surrendered 22 sacks over those last three games and 47 overall.
Louisville only returns four starters on offense but it helps that one of those four is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Going into this season, the offensive line remains the biggest question. The other questions that remain are how new offensive line coach Mike Summers and new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon will fare.
The Cardinals are loaded at wide receiver but running back is a different story. Due to injuries, it appears to be “running back by committee” this year. The defense returns seven starters, and the defensive line will be anchored by Drew Bailey. Inside linebacker Stacy Thomas and outside linebacker James Hearns will lead the charge in the middle while one of the best cover corners in college football, Jaire Alexander, will patrol the secondary.
The Cards must cut down on turnovers and protect Jackson if they want to have any chance to win the ACC. Louisville will beat Purdue, North Carolina, Kent State, Murray State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Syracuse, Virginia and Kentucky. The two games they need to win to have a chance at the college football playoffs are Clemson and at N.C. State.
By Howie Lindsey
Lifted by a late-season win against Louisville, Kentucky’s optimism for 2017 wasn’t diminished much by a lackluster performance vs. Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl. After finishing 7-6 last season, expectations for this season include a bowl and possibly more. There have even been a few analysts calling Kentucky a dark horse for the SEC East crown.
Last season the Wildcats produced the third-most rushing yards in school history. This season they’ll likely rely on QB Stephen Johnson to even out the rush-pass percentages. Johnson won seven of his 11 games as the starter, and now he’s the full-time starter. The Wildcats are deeper and more talented than they have been in many years and a return trip to a bowl seems likely. Like the last few seasons, the final regular-season game vs. Louisville will be a key to how the fans view this season’s success or failure.
Mark Stoops: “We feel like we have an experienced football team. We’re returning 17 starters, nine on offense, eight on defense. And the maturity level of your team is getting better. They can handle more. So, it will be much of the same this summer: push them harder and be more consistent.”
Defensive Line. The Wildcats were downright dreadful for most of 2016 on the defensive line, and the final stats show an embarrassing lack of production. The line accounted for just 13 tackles and two sacks for the entire season. That’s a great single-game performance from a linebacker, but that’s what they did in an entire season. Stoops said the D-Line “must improve” for Kentucky to meet its 2017 goals.
Benny Snell. The sophomore back had a great first season, and SEC Network analyst Marcus Spears believes Snell could be one of the best in the nation in 2017. “He won’t get talked about because he’s at Kentucky. We’ll talk about backs at Bama and backs at LSU, but at the end of the year, Benny Snell is probably going to be one of the leading rushers in the conference,” Spears said.
Secondary safety. Mike Edwards has NFL talent, and the Wildcats also return talented defensive backs Chris Westry and Derrick Baity. At SEC Media Days, Stoops said, “We have some superstars in the making at that position.” UK can match up with every offense in the SEC in the secondary.
Stephen Johnson, now the full-time starter at QB and a team leader
CJ Conrad, this TE could be Kentucky’s top pass catcher for 2017
Josh Allen, a very productive OLB, led the team in sacks with 7 last season
Georgia, Nov. 18 at Georgia. The Wildcats have the advantage of hosting Florida (Sept. 23) and Tennessee (Oct. 28). The SEC East has been down the last two seasons and this season there is no clear leader. A trip to Georgia could tell the tale for their season with Louisville closing out the season in Lexington on Nov. 25.
MY PREDICTION: The Wildcats will go 7-5, winning two of those three make-or-break games. I want to predict eight wins, but I just don’t have enough faith in this coaching staff to do so. But, don’t be shocked if they win eight games.
NUNN’S WISE GUY PREDICTIONS
By Jeff Nunn
The Wildcats finished the 2016 regular season winning their last two games and tallying up seven victories with five losses. They then lost to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Kentucky amassed the most rushing yards in school history last season and even though power running back, Boom Williams, will be enjoying life on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad this year, they still have 2016 freshman All-American Benny Snell in the backfield.
UK returns a total of eight starters on offense and nine on defense. The offensive line will be one of the best in the Southeastern Conference, and dual-threat quarterback Stephen Johnson, who can throw an amazing deep ball, should be even better this year.
Offensively, Kentucky will look to pound the ball and take a few deep shots this year. The defense has a pretty good linebacking corp led by Jordan Jones. Pass rusher, Denzil Ware, will be a force against opposing QBs. UK gave up 200 rushing yards in nine games last season and allowed just over five yards per carry. If Kentucky can improve their run defense, then this could be a very good year for the Wildcats. I believe UK will beat Southern Miss, EKU, Eastern Michigan, Miss State and Ole Miss. UK has three games that could make or break their season: at South Carolina, at Vanderbilt and at home vs. Missouri.
By Howie Lindsey
Indiana made a bowl last season. That’s a headline worthy of repeating. It was Indiana’s second bowl in more than two decades. Now the Hoosiers are going to have to try to replicate that success with new coach Tom Allen after Kevin Wilson resigned under duress after a scandal that involved how he treated players who were injured.
Allen, the former defensive coordinator, knows his defense will lead the way in 2017, and the question is whether the offense can put up enough points to win games. New offensive coordinator Mike DeBord was hired from Tennessee to lead the offense, and he’s very much a defensive coordinator’s pick – an extremely conservative play-caller.
Opening the season with Ohio State won’t be easy. Out-of-conference games vs. Virginia, FIU and Georgia Southern are all winnable games. The season-ending stretch of at Illinois, vs. Rutgers and at Purdue could be needed to snag a second-straight bowl.
Tom Allen: “I think anytime it’s your first year, it gives opportunities to be excited. Having that experience is huge and having the whole offseason behind us and spring ball, that creates a lot excitement and confidence for what’s ahead.”
Secondary. Marcelino Ball is a big-time playmaker. He can rush the passer, he can cover a tight end, he can stop the run and he has playmakers around him to allow him to focus on his assignment. IU’s secondary is ready to compete at the highest level.
Running Back. Indiana was 92nd in rushing offense last season and doesn’t return a lot of firepower. Even worse, against winning teams the Hoosiers averaged less than 100 yards per game last season. Throw in a new offensive coordinator and there are huge question marks about Indiana’s rushing attack.
Tegray Scales. The senior linebacker had 126 tackles last season with a ridiculous 23.5 tackles for a loss. He had seven sacks, four QB hurries, a forced fumble and an interception. And if the NFL doesn’t call at the end of this season? He says he’ll go into MMA.
Richard Lagow, the giant senior QB is Indiana’s clear leader at QB
Nick Westbrook, Had 995 yards receiving last season with 6 TDs
Marcus Oliver, Upcoming senior had 15.5 tackles for a loss last season
Michigan, Oct. 14 at Indiana. The competition for toughest game is tough with road trips to Penn State and Michigan State and home games vs. Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. That Michigan tilt might be the toughest because it is sandwiched in between trip to Penn State and Michigan State.
MY PREDICTION: The Hoosiers will go 6-6 again and win a bowl game, but don’t be surprised if they upset an upper level Big 10 team this year. They could be a sleeper in the Big 10.
NUNN’S WISE GUY PREDICTIONS
By Jeff Nunn
The Hoosiers came off a very offensive 2016 season. I mean offensive as they scored a lot of points, averaging just over 25 points per game in the regular season. It appeared as though head coach Kevin Wilson had a plan to try to outscore the opponent rather than stop them.
And why not when the strength of your team is your wide receivers.
Wilson is now the offensive coordinator at Ohio State so IU’s defensive coordinator from 2016, Tom Allen, is now the head coach.
Indiana boasts one of the best receiving duos in the Big 10 conference with Nick Westbrook and Simmie Cobbs. So the question is will Tom Allen continue the offensive mentality from last season or will he focus more on defense? Indiana finished last season 6-6, which was good enough for fourth in the Big 10 East. I feel like this year’s version of the football Hoosiers has the ability to hang with almost every team in the Big 10 but lacks that one piece to put them near the top. With the elite level receivers and very solid linebackers, this team should be fun to watch. They should be able to beat FIU, GA Southern, Maryland, Illinois and Rutgers. The two games that could make or break their season are at Virginia and Purdue.
Pick Your Fantasy
By Jeff Nunn
FANTASY FOOTBALL has been around for a long time. In fact, it was born in a New York hotel room back in 1962 by three guys from Oakland. While the game has changed and adapted with various modifications over the years, the enjoyment of playing has not wavered. That very enjoyment has led to millions of people playing every National Football League season. So, what universal longing does fantasy football satisfy and what exactly is fantasy football?
In its simplest description, fantasy football is a math-based game based on stats from real NFL players on a weekly basis. Participants (usually 12 people) join a league and draft a team of NFL players. Each week, they decide which players from their team to enter into their starting line-up based on projections and match-ups.
The goal is to start the players that you think are likely to achieve the most fantasy points. The number of players that you can start is based on the league setting. Most commonly, a league will require you to have a starting roster that consists of one quarterback (QB), two running backs (RB), two wide receivers (WR), one tight end (TE), one kicker (K), one defense (D/ST) and one FLEX (usually RB or WR) that you pick from the 13 NFL players you drafted.
The on-field statistics each of those starting players accumulate in their NFL game are calculated into a value for each stat set by the league settings to give a weekly player point total. The point totals of all the players in your starting lineup are tallied into your weekly score, and if you have a higher total than your opponent (another member of your league) you win that week. Players on your roster who you do not start are considered on your “bench.” They’ll still score points like everyone else, but those points will not be counted toward your weekly total.
Each week you will face a different opponent in your league. At the end of the fantasy regular season (usually NFL Week 12 or Week 13), the teams with the best win-loss records will enter the fantasy playoffs. Playoffs are a “win and advance or lose and you are out” proposition. Whoever wins the remaining games in the playoffs is crowned league champion following Week 17 of the NFL season, although many fantasy football leagues are starting to hold their championship on week 16 of the NFL season because typically a NFL team who has clinched a playoff berth will rest their best players in week 17 (the final NFL regular season week).
Winning a fantasy football league can be quite profitable or it can just simply give you bragging rights, depending on your league. Like most things in life, there are many different levels and require different amount of commitment.
Personally, I play in four very different fantasy football leagues every year, two of which have high-dollar entry fees. One is a smaller entry fee, while the fourth is free and strictly just for fun and bragging rights. One of the high-dollar entry fee leagues that I play in has a weekly payout to the person with the overall weekly highest point total. Weekly payouts keep people interested all season despite not having a chance to win the league after starting the season with a bad record.
A profitable payout or just the joy of winning are not the only reasons fantasy football is played by more than 75 million people every year.
Some people are just superfans and feel a closer connection to their NFL team if they have players from their favorite team on their fantasy team. It gives them a greater rooting interest. Or they just love NFL football and want a reason to follow all 256 games played in a NFL season. Many people are simply competitive and love the adrenaline rush of winning and the motivation from the fear of losing.
Staying connected to friends is also another reason people play. Many high school or college friends move away after school, so online leagues offer a reason to stay connected for several weeks out of the year. Coworkers may not want to be left out of the water cooler discussions so some people play in office leagues just to be included.
In some families, the spouse plays just to have a closer relationship with their significant other. With your spouse having a vested interest, it can change their point of view on watching football. On Sundays, you can hear a question about how many touchdowns Tom Brady has thrown rather than, “Are you gonna watch football all day?” It should be noted that it has been estimated that 1 out of every 5 fantasy football players are female.
With there being so many different types of leagues, there is something for everyone. Yes, a standard league is the most popular, but there are also auction draft style leagues, dynasty leagues, keeper leagues, survivor leagues and IDP leagues. All have different variations within each individual league settings set by the league commissioner but all have the same basic strategies involved.
If you haven’t played but are interested, I suggest you go to Yahoo and check out the mock drafts. You can participate in a mock draft just to see what a draft is like or to see who the masses are picking with their first few picks. There are many other sites that offer mock drafts, but I feel Yahoo is the easiest. There are drafts starting literally ever few minutes.
Who knows, maybe you will be hooked and become one of the growing number of fantasy football players. If you decide to play or already are playing, best of luck to you. Unless, of course, you happen to be in one of my leagues, because then I hope have an average year.
IN ITS SIMPLEST DESCRIPTION, FANTASY FOOTBALL IS A MATH-BASED GAME BASED ON STATS FROM REAL NFL PLAYERS ON A WEEKLY BASIS.
Why do more than 75 million people participate in fantasy football? The reasons are many.