As you may know, I’m a film guy. There’s nothing better than a cup of coffee, music playing (anything from Biggie to country, if you’re curious), my office chair, and football games in front of me. That’s when I’m in my element, my comfort zone.
Throughout the process of watching offensive linemen kick-slide with their set foot or noticing how a running back laterally cuts his way to the end-zone, I find these ideas in my head.
They’re opinions, really. Of course, they’re about football. I wonder how dangerous Mitchell Trubisky could become for the Chicago Bears under Matt Nagy. But usually, I’ll circle back to college football and the NFL Draft. So to the followers of my work, bear with me, and I promise, we’ll return to your scheduled broadcast of film breakdown and NFL Draft prospects in short order. However, I simply couldn’t restrain myself from these three storylines as we approach the 2018 college football season.
Chip Kelly Goes Back to School
After a failed trip to the NFL, Chip Kelly is back in college football. No, he’s not back at Oregon with the Ducks; instead, he finds himself with the Bruins of UCLA. For a moment, I thought I was talking about hockey, but nope, we’re still walking down the line of Pac-12 football.
Don’t be surprised if Kelly struggles, at least initially, with the Bruins. Shocking, I know. They’re “Rosen-less” now that quarterback Josh Rosen is in the NFL. But this was a 6-7 football team that lost to Kansas State in the It Doesn’t Really Matter Bowl, aka Cactus Bowl. I don’t expect much improvement regardless of the quarterback play. Whether it’s true freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson or someone with experience, such as Devon Modster or Wilton Speight.
Much like previous Chip Kelly offenses, the UCLA incarnation will be founded upon its rushing attack. From 2009-2012, Kelly’s offense for Oregon averaged 47 rushing attempts per game. Last season, Bolu Olorunfunmi was UCLA’s leading rusher with 117 carries for 565 yards and five touchdowns. Don’t be surprised when Soso Jamabo turns the corner and is the name that emerges out of this backfield, though. Soso is a former 5-star recruit and passed on offers from Texas and Notre Dame to play for UCLA. Even though his results have been mediocre, one coach that could get him running in the right direction is Chip Kelly and his zone-blocking offense.
Caleb Wilson is your highest-graded returning TE pic.twitter.com/NozM1Wj91M
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 4, 2018
Importantly, they’ll get a healthy Caleb Wilson starting at tight end, and he’s easily one of the best in the country at his position, at least when on the field. His production will depend on who’s throwing the football and how healthy he can stay, but he will factor into this team’s success on offense in a major way. As for their defense, Kenny Clark and Myles Jack aren’t returning anytime soon.
They lost their best defensive player (LB Kenny Young) to the 2018 NFL Draft. They have young players such as Darnay Holmes and Jaelen Phillips, but this defense is still another player or two away from being really good.
This UCLA team has the ingredients to be successful in the Pac-12. There are some promising players across the board, and Chip Kelly should make a difference in a couple of games. Realistically, this is an 8-4 team at the top end, in my opinion. Their schedule includes games against ranked opponents, including Oklahoma, Washington, Oregon, USC, and Stanford. Their currently-unranked opponents are Utah and Arizona State. The schedule isn’t the most difficult in college football, but it’s far from easy for a team that is still a few players away from true contention. It’ll be interesting to see how this season unfolds for them, but we get Chip Kelly back in his comfort zone: college football and the Pac-12 Conference.
The Big Ten Has All the Drama
Every conference has its storylines and intrigue. Maybe I’m biased, but the Big Ten has me pulled in like a midday soap opera. James Franklin has been considered “overrated” by his peers, Jim Harbaugh has a fresh pair of khakis for his hot seat, and Urban Meyer is on paid administrative leave.
Starting with Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, I’m going to be short with this. There’s a lot going on in Columbus with former coach Zach Smith and his troubled past of domestic abuse. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with Urban Meyer. He didn’t handle the situation properly, and for that, he’s getting suspended for the first three games of the season. That’ll include games at home against Oregon State and Rutgers. Their third game of the season is on the road against the TCU Horned Frogs. Even though Meyer won’t be on the sidelines for those three games, there’s still a good chance they make it out undefeated. If they do, a lot will fall on their offense with Dwayne Haskins at quarterback and J.K. Dobbins at running back. We’ll see how well this team meshes together without their head coach.
Hello, J.K. Dobbins. pic.twitter.com/APLYtPVVwQ
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) August 20, 2018
As for the Buckeyes’ “rival”, Michigan … well, it’s a different story in Ann Arbor. There’s a different tone. It’s not all prestige and conference championships. It’s piles of excuses, and every year we hear “it’s our time”. Michigan hasn’t won the Big Ten since 2004. Think about that — 2004. What were you doing in 2004? College dorm room with a half-gallon of bottom shelf whiskey? Still on the elementary playground? Getting married and having kids? Hell, 2004 was the year that George W. Bush was re-elected as President of the United States and Donald Trump was filming the first season of The Apprentice. Needless to say, winning consistently has been a thing of the past for the Wolverines.
I use the term “rival” loosely. Michigan is 1-13 against Ohio State since 2004. But before the fanbase gets mad at me, realize that you’re not much better against Michigan State. Wait, no, now you’re even madder. Since 2004, Michigan is 6-8 against the Spartans but is 3-8 against them since Mark Dantonio was hired in 2007. The Wolverines have lost 18 straight road games against ranked opponents and are 1-5 against their primary rivals (Michigan State and Ohio State) since Jim Harbaugh took over. For whatever reason, they’re getting a lot of hype to win the Big Ten East, but the best they’ve finished under Harbaugh is third.
Chase Winovich returns as part of a talented Michigan defense in 2018 pic.twitter.com/hNv5JklnNr
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 21, 2018
It’ll be interesting to see how far Michigan goes this season, but I can’t ignore that they have some serious talent on defense. Devin Bush, Chase Winovich, Rashan Gary, and Lavert Hill are all names that have serious NFL Draft potential. Their offense will start and end with the quarterback position. Shea Patterson will lead them onto the field, but there’s no certainty that he gets this team back on top. If he can’t, then there are no more excuses for Jim Harbaugh. He should be on the hot seat, especially if this team finishes third or worse.
The rest of the conference should come down to Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Penn State. At this point, Wisconsin should be the favorite to win the Big Ten West, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see them in the Big Ten Championship game. They have a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Jonathan Taylor, and their defense will be led by Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards. It’ll be a typical Wisconsin team that runs the ball down your throat and plays stout defense. They have to travel to Michigan, Iowa, Northwestern, and Penn State, which won’t be easy, but they should be a safe bet for the Big Ten West.
As for Penn State, how can this offense recover without Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton? They have Juwan Johnson at wide receiver, and quarterback Trace McSorley will be the guy that gets him the football. Their secondary will have to find ways to replace Marcus Allen, Troy Apke, and Christian Campbell. They’ll do their best with cornerback Amani Oruwariye and defensive end Shareef Miller, but it won’t be surprising to see this Nittany Lions football team take a step back, and I say that with the utmost respect to James Franklin, who isn’t overrated.
Joe Bachie, my goodness. He diagnoses so quick, sometimes it's too quick. But this one is excellent. pic.twitter.com/IQPQRz7Yn2
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) July 23, 2018
Lastly, the Spartans. They have Brian Lewerke, who could very well be the best quarterback in the conference, and their defense won’t be no slouch, either. Before we get into the defense, they have LJ Scott returning for his senior season at RB. He needs to work on his ball security issues, and Gerald Holmes and Madre London are gone, so the timeshare in the backfield should be over. Defensively, they’re led by LB Joe Bachie. He led the team with 100 tackles last year, but their secondary is on the “come-up”. David Dowell, Justin Layne, and Josiah Scott are a serious trio and should shut down just about every receiving unit they face. Many people are going to overlook this Spartans team, but they’re well coached and have some serious talent. If they make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship, I won’t be surprised.
Alabama Quarterback Controversy?
When the 2018 National Championship game was played, nobody knew that it would lead to the quarterback battle of the summer. If you’ve been living under a rock, Jalen Hurts got benched in the National Championship against Georgia. Backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came into the game and helped the Crimson Tide string together 20 points in the second half, and eventually threw the game-winning 41-yard touchdown pass in overtime.
— Russell Brown (@RussNFLDraft) January 9, 2018
Now that it’s said and done and moving on to this season, there’s some serious quarterback controversy in Tuscaloosa. When speaking with Chris Low on ESPN, Nick Saban provided an update on the situation.
“There could be a role for both of them, but there’s been no decision made either way. Just like every position, there’s good competition at quarterback, and nobody’s backing away from that competition. As much as anybody, the other kids on the team will let us know which one of those guys gives us the best chance to win. The good thing is that we’ve won with both.”
It’ll be interesting to see what role each quarterback has on the team, but you’d have to think they’ll both be playing for the Crimson Tide in some capacity. They begin the season against Louisville, so don’t be surprised when both quarterbacks take the field, but if you had to guess who the starter is, who would it be? My guess is that Tua Tagovailoa will lead the charge week one.