Mark Lindquist

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CFB Preview: Team Nos. 130-115

Monday, July 17, 2017


Note: Fantasy targets provided by CFB guru Thor Nystrom, whose rankings can be found here (quarterbacks), here (running backs), here (wide receivers), here (tight ends) and here (kicker/defense). Without further ado, let the games begin.


130.) UAB Blazers



Thor Nystrom fantasy targets:

Collin Lisa (No. 109 WR)



NFL Draft prospect to watch: LB Shaq Jones

How should I think of this team?: It exists!



A hearty welcome back to the Blazers, who had their football program shut down at the end of the 2014 season only for a rough, “Nah, just kidding” shortly thereafter which led to the program’s re-existence -- but not before they lost RB Jordan Howard, WR Jamari Staples and QB Jeremiah Briscoe, among others.


Just what head coach Bill Clark will be working with, here, as his spread offense takes flight once more, is something of a mystery box. Whoever comes out of the quarterback battle between A.J. Erdely, Tyler Johnston and John Jacobs will be facing starting fire for the first time in their collegiate careers. Erdely has the inside track on that starting job heading into August camp, with AL.com’s Drew Champin calling him and wideout Collin Lisa the team’s two offensive players who he has the most faith in. All three of RBs Donnie Lee, James Noble and Kalin Heath performed well this spring while Lucious Stanley (also probable to receive considerable carries) was limited by a shoulder injury. Of this lot, Kalin Heath -- initially a three-star signee with Kansas State -- offers the most in terms of intrigue.


While most positions with the Blazers remain somewhat in flux for obvious reasons heading into August camp, LB Shaq Jones (50 tackles, 13 TFL in 2014) gives them at least one know-he’s-going-to-be-there defender, while JUCO DT transfer Anthony Rush should serve as anchor on the defensive line. He opted for UAB over Power Five outfits Cal and Mississippi State. Realistically, this is a mulligan year for Clark and company.


Bovada over/under win total: 2.5

Prediction: UNDER

Projected record: 2-10

****


129.) Kent State Golden Flashes



Thor Nystrom fantasy targets:

Nick Holley (No. 55 QB)

Justin Rankin (No. 94 RB)



NFL draft prospect to watch: CB Demetrius Monday

How should I think of this team?: The defense is one of those delectable 10-piece chicken nugget packs that comes with 11 chicken nuggets; the offense is an empty box.



The Golden Flashes are in the unfortunate space of still trying to figure out their quarterback room. This one wasn’t settled out of spring practice, due at least in part to the fact that Nick Holley, who started seven games last season, is still on the mend from knee surgery. Holley -- a former skill-position player -- doesn’t offer much in the way of passing (868 yards, 4/3 TD/INT ratio, 43% completions) but serves as a real running threat (920 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns). He will be competing with Justin Agner, who won the starting job as a true freshman last season before going down injured in the first game of the season, Mylik Mitchell, who took over for Agner before breaking his wrist (to be replaced by Holley) and George Bollas, who filled in for Holley after the latter suffered his season-ending knee injury. Got all that? This is all a long way of saying that Kent State’s passing game -- which managed just over 141 yards passing last season -- remains a muddled proposition.

Perhaps the team’s most intriguing offensive weapon is RB Justin Rankin, who walked on at Kent State last season and showed off a fair bit of versatility in rushing for 511 yards (4.7 YPC) and three touchdowns while catching 28 passes for 335 yards and an additional score. Those 28 catches led the team (again, Kent State’s passing game, questionable). Rankin gives them a piece to lean on in the desolate wasteland that is sketchy quarterback play + almost non-existent wide receiver depth.

But the defense was actually good! Or at least respectable. They weren’t above their fair share of expected blowouts -- Alabama whooped up on them 48-0, Penn State 33-13, Bowling Green 42-7, Western Michigan 37-21 -- but outside of those four games, Kent State did not lose a contest by more than 10 points. While the front seven looks to be in decent shape outside of the loss of DE Terence Waugh, the secondary is in a decidedly less sturdy position. Safety Nate Holley was the name on the marquee and he is gone, now, ditto two of the team’s other top four safeties. Kent State held the opposition to under 200 yards passing last season, a mark they might be hard-pressed to match given the turnover at key positions. Corner Demetrius Monday is a stud, at least.


Bovada over/under win total: 3.5

Prediction: OVER

Projected record: 4-8
****


128.) Texas State Bobcats



Thor Nystrom fantasy targets: 

Damian Williams (No. 63 QB)

Stedman Mayberry (No. 119 RB)

Gabe Schrade (No. 34 TE)


NFL Draft prospect to watch: None

How should I think of this team?: A cool Mississippi State phone cover for your broken phone.



Texas State won two games under HC Everett Withers in his first season guiding the Bobcats, landing them at the bottom of the Sun Belt. Count them as yet another conference club looking to replace their quarterback. While Withers is declining to name a starter until August camp, Mississippi State transfer Damian Williams looks like a frontrunner based on his work in spring practice. Williams completed 14-of-22 passes for 174 yards while totaling four touchdowns during the team’s spring finale.

Joining (presumably) Williams with the lead offense will be RB Stedman Mayberry -- who averaged just 3.8 YPC but also caught 41 passes in 2016 -- and wideouts Tyler Watts (43-3641-1) and Thurman Morbley (35-400-2), plus Kentucky transfer T.V. Williams. Theirs isn’t a particularly formidable rushing attack (they averaged fewer yards than any team in the FBS), but at the very least, Williams (Damien, QB) offers enough upside and intrigue that an offense which ranked fifth-worst in the FBS last season could at least vaguely attempt to claw toward the light.

The defense, not so much. Texas State played at least somewhat respectably in terms of passing yardage allowed last season -- surrendering 247.67 yards through the air on average -- but they still ended up allowing more than 41 points per contest, a mark which ranked better than only Oregon, Cal and Texas Tech. Which probably says more about the defenses of Oregon, Cal and Texas Tech than it does about Texas State, a team which neither plays in a Power 5 conference nor carries the brand name of the other three programs.


South Point Sportsbook over/under win total: 2.5

Prediction: OVER

Projected record: 3-9

****


127.) Massachusetts Minutemen


Thor Nystrom fantasy targets:

Andrew Ford (No. 67 QB)

Marquis Young (No. 85 RB)

Andy Isabella (No. 48 WR)

Adam Breneman (No. 2 TE)



NFL draft prospect to watch: TE Adam Breneman

How should I think of this team?: An intriguing movie trailer for a middling thriller.



While head coach Mark Whipple’s crew cratered out at 2-10 last season, there are glimmers of offensive hope at UMass. At least in the passing game. Very quietly, QB Andrew Ford -- a transfer from Virginia Tech -- racked up 2,665 yards passing (60.8% completions) with a 26/14 TD/INT -- and in just 10 games at that, as he did not take over as starter until midway through September of the past campaign. He hooked up with TE Adam Breneman for a 70-808-8 receiving line. The Ford-Breneman connection is far and away the most bankable aspect of UMass’ offense and when you toss in lead wideout Andy Isabella (62-801-7) and running back Marquis Young (898 yards, 4.6 YPC), a potentially interesting attack starts to take shape.

And on defense? Row that rifle. Western Michigan defensive coordinator Ed Pinkham was brought over to assume the same role for Massachusetts this offseason. He boasted a respectable enough unit with the Broncos, who yielded fewer than 20 points a game while limiting opposing passing games to 200 yards passing and 153 yards rushing on average last season. The most notable immediate change under Pinkham will be a transition from a 3-4 front seven to a 4-3 as he looks to install a more aggressive attack. The breakout-star-to-be on the defense resides in the secondary. That would be Isaiah Rodgers, who logged 39 tackles and a pair of interceptions as a true freshman in 2016. It might take time for Pinkham to finish up with his transition, but Rodgers figures to be ready to roll out of the box at the start of the season.

The pieces are there for a four- or five-win campaign, particularly if Ford can eliminate some of his more bone-headed picks, but one major hurdle stands in their way -- that of the fact that they have to play the games on their schedule. Road showdowns with Temple and Tennessee in September are rough enough, but even beyond those two contests, UMass will also be hitting the dusty trail against South Florida, Mississippi State and BYU, plus an October 28th home game against Appalachian State. Those are six almost certain losses.  


South Point Sportsbook over/under win total: 2.5

Prediction: OVER

Projected record: 3-9

****


126.) New Mexico State Aggies


Thor Nystrom fantasy targets:

Tyler Rogers (No. 75 QB)

Larry Rose III (No. 16 RB)


NFL Draft prospect to watch: RB Larry Rose III


How should I think of this team?: Larry Rose of my heart.



In terms of Sun Belt Name Recognizability, NMSU RB Larry Rose III is up there. After missing the first three weeks of the 2016 season while recovering from sports hernia surgery, Rose was somewhat slow to get back into the flow of action, notching just one 100-yard game through his first five contests. He finished the season like a house on fire, though, surpassing the century mark in three of his last four games and wrapping up with 170 yards rushing against South Alabama to cap off a lost 2016 season in which the Aggies went just 3-9.

If healthy, he is a good bet for the 1,000-yard mark during the coming season. It’s an interesting little offense on the whole even beyond Rose. Tyler Rogers was granted a medical waiver to allow for a fifth-year of eligibility for an injury he suffered in 2015 and will once again be slinging it for the Aggies. A year ago, he passed for 2,603 yards while posting a 16/12 TD/INT ratio. Wideouts Jaleel Scott (23-283-5), Gregory Hogan (32-377-3) and Izaiah Lottie (26-339-2) should all see work to various degrees depending on how the depth chart shakes out in August.

Rose will need some pyrotechnics here to cover for his defensive buddies, as the Aggies were one of the worst teams in the country in terms of both points allowed (38.83) and rushing yards allowed (248.92). And SB Nation’s Bill Connelly points to a remarkable stat -- no NMSU player recorded more than two sacks last season. That is Notre Dame-level awful.

While Idaho will be tangoing down to the FCS after 2017, it isn’t clear just what New Mexico State’s future plans are. They won’t be joining the FCS, but they won’t be in the Sun Belt after 2017, either. Regardless, this team is worth watching for Rose alone before they step into the unknown.



Bovada over/under win total: 3.5

Prediction: UNDER

Projected record: 3-9

****


125.) Buffalo Bulls



Thor Nystrom fantasy targets:

Johnathan Hawkins (No. 86 RB)

Tyler Mabry (No. 29 TE)



NFL Draft prospect to watch: None

How should I think of this team?: Well, they aren’t particularly offensive.



Here’s a bit of analysis for you -- Buffalo was bad offensively last season. Like really bad. They averaged just 16.50 points per game, ranking third-worst in the FBS in that category. Only Rutgers and UConn performed more poorly when attempting to put points on the board. There isn’t much sign that this might change, particularly given the losses of TE Mason Schreck and WR Marcus McGill. That pair represented the team’s most accomplished receiving threat for QB Tyree Jackson.

 

Speaking of Jackson, there is at least a little spark there, particularly in terms of his ability to rack up yards on the ground (399 yards, five touchdowns on 99 attempts). His passing game, less sturdy. He did turn in two games of 300-plus passing yards in 2016, but just one contest (against Ball State on October 15) saw him throw for more than one touchdown. He finished the campaign having completed 53.1% of his passes for 1,772 yards with a 9/9 TD/INT ratio. Again, Buffalo was bad offensively last season. And it’s difficult to see that turning around in short order.

So what did the opposition do once they put up an insurmountable 7-0 lead? They ran ran ran ran and then ran some more. Buffalo housed a bottom-five rush defense last year, surrendering 253.25 yards on average. That they were respectable against the pass (183.17 yards allowed through the air) did not matter so much given that teams rarely actually needed to pass. The run defense might actually be worse if that’s possible -- the team is out two of its most productive defensive linemen in Brandon Crawford and Remaine Douglas.

Buffalo HC Lance Leipold forged tremendous success at the Division III level with Wisconsin-Whitewater prior to his hiring at Buffalo in 2015, but following last year’s 2-10 season (1-7 in the MAC), we’re still waiting to see a blossoming.


South Point Sportsbook over/under win total: 3.5

Prediction: UNDER

Projected record: 2-10


****

124.) San Jose State Spartans



Thor Nystrom fantasy targets:

Malik Roberson (No. 118 RB)


NFL prospect to watch: CB Andre Chachere

How should I think of this team?: Air Raid without a pilot.



Another branch of the Art Briles coaching tree, here. OC Andrew Sowder began his coaching career under Briles as a graduate assistant at Baylor before tagging along with Briles disciple Dino Babers to Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green. And now he brings the Air Raid to San Jose State. Still sorting out the quarterback here, though, as four quarterbacks took part in a fast-paced spring game which saw the Spartans run 85 plays in a sort of proof-of-concept with the new offensive. After that game, HC Brent Brennan would only say that all of Montel Aaron, Josh Love, Michael Carillo and Sam Allen would be in competition come August.

 

If we’re to read between the spring practice tea leaves (this is probably not advised), Aaron and Love attempted 12 and 13 passes, respectively, while Carillo and Allen received less work. Love has an outward advantage in that he has experience where Allen does not. Whoever wins out will be throwing mainly to Justin Holmes (39-613-3) and Trey Hartley (33-572-4) -- both stand to benefit in the new scheme if the Spartans can actually find somebody who can consistently get them the ball.


Preferably, when working in a new offensive system, you would like a little leeway from the defense to allow for growing pains. The Spartans will not be afforded that this season, not after surrendering just over 34 points a game in 2016. They were decent against the pass (188.58 yards per game) and downright awful against the run, surrendering 246.67 yards a game -- the exact same number as Oregon, by the by. That probably isn’t going to change beyond degrees. Linebacker Frank Ginda (98 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks) remains a force, but has little help in the front seven, while upperclassman corners Andre Chachere and Jermaine Kelly, plus safeties Maurice McKnight and Trevon Bierria offer a nice backbone in the secondary, though it’s fair to wonder why a team would test that secondary when they can just run over and over again.

Of course, in theory, Sowder’s offense would minimize that opposing run game because teams would need to pass to keep up on the scoreboard. That’s not going to happen this season, especially after a quarterback failed to emerge from the pack during the spring. Check back next July and perhaps the outlook will be a little more sunny.


Bovada over/under win total: 3.5

Prediction: UNDER

Projected record: 3-9

****


123.) Charlotte 49ers



Thor Nystrom fantasy targets:

Robert Washington (No. 93 RB)

Trent Bostick (No. 144 WR)



NFL Draft prospect to watch: None

How should I think of this team?: A baby bird growing feathers.



You may remember Charlotte from their time as Lamar Jackson’s Heisman launching pad to open the 2016 season in a 70-14 defeat. That game was terrifying, not only for the fact that Louisville casually dropped 70, but for the pure electric athleticism on display. 70-14 will probably go on their tombstone, but the 49ers weren’t horrible last season. Bad, but not horrible. Five of their games in conference were decided by one possession or less. They beat both Marshall and Southern Miss and they nearly beat Middle Tennessee. A bowl berth very much could have been in play had they been able to pull through in a few of their more narrow losses.

Expect heavy doses of RB Robert Washington, who posted big efforts against Eastern Michigan (120 yards) and Southern Miss (94 yards on just six carries), wrapping up the campaign as a whole with 489 yards (5.0 YPC) and five touchdowns. He did this as a true freshman and in OC Jeff Mullen’s run-first system, those numbers could see a real jump during the coming campaign. So long as QB Hasaan Klugh can provide a repeat of his relatively mistake-free 2016 season (just three interceptions) and maybe up the completion percentage from the 53.6% he was hitting on last season, there’s a little hope on offense.


The defense, meanwhile, might collapse into a black hole and subsume all light. Charlotte was almost completely incapable of stopping the pass last season, surrendering just over 309 yards through the air on average. Their saving grace, if there was one, came in the fact that they performed relatively sturdily against the run (143 yards rushing on average, though that is at least in part due to the fact that teams had no incentive to run), something they might be hard-pressed to do again this season given that they just lost DL Larry Ogunjobi, DE Brandon Banks and LB Nick Cook, all of whom were instrumental in locking down that aspect of the game.  


Bovada over/under win total: 4

Prediction: UNDER

Projected record: 2-10

****


122.) Louisiana-Monroe

Thor Nystrom fantasy targets: 

Garrett Smith (No. 71 QB)

Derrick Gore (No. 111 RB)

Marcus Green (No. 102 WR)


NFL Draft prospect to watch: G Frank Sutton Jr.


How should I think of this team?: Water in a hole-covered bowl.



The Warhawks served as a sort of slip-and-slide for opposing running games last season, landing fourth-to-last in the FBS in terms of rushing yardage allowed on average with 257.83. Almost all of the same culprits who wheeled running backs down the field in 2016 are returning to the front seven, though if we’re looking for positives, the team’s linebacking corp includes three young gentlemen (David Griffith, Chase Day, Cortez Sisco) who registered at least 60 tackles last season. Day and Sisco did so as true freshmen and have the potential to develop.  

It would have eased the burden on that defense if the offense gave them a few breathers, but that was not to be, either, as ULM managed just over 23 points on average. That the Warhawks managed to surrender almost 40 points a game, score a touch over 23 and still somehow win four contests is proof of the mysteries of the universe.

August camp figures to see a quarterback competition between incumbent starter Garrett Smith (who was knocked out injured last year after posting 1,237 yards passing with a 9/7 TD/INT ratio in eight games) and on-the-rise sophomore Caleb Evans. Evans completed 9-of-19 passes for 170 yards and three touchdowns during the team’s spring game. Wideout Marcus Green had himself a somewhat subdued 2016 season after catching 62 passes for 687 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman in 2015, but could be a sleeper for 800-plus receiving yards for the coming campaign.


Bovada over/under win total: 3.5

Prediction: UNDER

Projected record: 3-9

****



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Mark Lindquist holds a master's degree from the University of Iowa and writes baseball and college football for Rotoworld.com. He's currently working on a memoir about life, death, rock 'n' roll and his year teaching at a Chinese university. You can reach him on Twitter @markrlindquist.
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