College Football 2016: Preseason Power-5 All-Conference Teams

College Football, Uncategorized

 

The upcoming NFL Combine will serve as a showcase for the top prospects in the 2016 NFL draft. Sadly, it will also serve as a reminder for college football fans about just how much star power departed for the pros this offseason.

Although many of the top performers from the 2015 season have left campus, fortunately, there’s still plenty of quality talent remaining at the collegiate level.

Returning standouts such as Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett and LSU RB Leonard Fournette have already ascended to star status and become household names. Plus, there are plenty of other young, up-and-coming potential breakout stars who are waiting to make a name for themselves as well this fall.

Here’s a look at the top impact players from each of the Power-5 conferences who are most deserving of preseason “All-Conference” accolades for the 2016 season.

Leonard Fournette Takes Early Lead in Race For 2015 Heisman

2015 Heisman, College Football

19 rushes for 228 yards and three touchdowns.

Those were LSU RB Leonard Fournette’s final stats from the Tigers’ 45-21 victory over Auburn. They’re the type of incredible eye-catching numbers that obviously give a pretty good indication of just how dominant Fournette was in Death Valley on Saturday afternoon.

Still, stat-sheets are often limited in their ability to convey the complete story of a performance.

Unless you actually watched how the powerful and explosive 6’1’’, 230-pound sophomore superstar rusher manhandled and overpowered the Auburn defense—shaking would-be-tacklers off like flies and piling up big-chunk run after big-chunk run—you couldn’t fully appreciate just how superior he truly was.

For the second straight week, Fournette made an SEC defense look like a second-rate JV squad, as he unleashed his rare blend of size, strength and speed onto the helpless defenders who had the unfortunate task of having to try to get in his way and slow him down.

It was a message-sending showing to everyone watching, especially to Heisman voters.

Though the 2015 season may only be three weeks old, it’s never too early to start speculating and trying to pinpoint which of college football’s elite stars have the potential to make a run at winning the sport’s most prestigious award.

At this point in the young season, there’s no other candidate in college football who looks as well-equipped to make that run than the former heralded No. 1 overall recruit from New Orleans.

Sure, Fournette has only played in two games, but in those victories over Mississippi State and Auburn, he’s outclassed the competition and made two opponents from what’s supposedly college football’s toughest division look foolish. He’s rushed for 387 yards and six touchdowns and broken more tackles than even the sharpest of statisticians could keep count of.

Once a man among boys during his high school career, Fournette has now managed to develop into that same caliber of mythical monster on the collegiate level.

Right now, there’s not another player in college football who has that buzzworthy, magnetic “must-watch” feel that Fournette brings to the table. He has that rare “put the ball in his hands and then wait for something special to happen” quality that you look for in a top-rate Heisman candidate.

There may be plenty of other worthy contenders in the race for the 2015 Heisman Trophy such as Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott, TCU QB Trevone Boykin, Georgia RB Nick Chubb, Michigan State QB Connor Cook and Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly. However, LSU’s gifted young physical specimen is the one that’s come bursting out of the gates and sprinted out to a large early lead.

Fournette’s captured everyone’s attention. Now it’s up to him to keep shining now that the spotlight’s focused on him.

Many say the Heisman has become a quarterback’s award (eight of the last nine winners have been signal-callers). Maybe, though, all the race needs is a special type of thoroughbred like Fournette to come along and show that elite rushers are just as worthy.

College Football Week 3 Predictions: Auburn vs. LSU

College Football, College Football Predictions

Matchup: No. 18 Auburn Tigers at No. 13 LSU Tigers

Location: Tiger Stadium (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

Kickoff Time: 3:30 pm ET

Spread and Total: LSU (-7), 48.5

Both breeds of Tigers head into this pivotal SEC showdown coming off of victories in Week 2. However, it’s the purple and yellow-striped cats that have the clear-cut momentum advantage over their orange and blue-clad counterparts.

Last Saturday night, LSU rode its freight train of a running back Leonard Fournette to a 21-19 victory over Mississippi State in Starkville. It was a game that was largely one-sided for three quarters before the Bulldogs rallied from a 21-6 deficit to make things interesting.

The 230-pound sophomore Heisman contender kept the opposing crowd’s cowbells quiet, as he posted one of the best performances of his career, rushing for 159 yards and all three of his team’s touchdowns.

Auburn, on the other hand, narrowly avoided disaster in Week 2. It needed overtime to eke out a 27-20 win over Jacksonville State—an FCS program from the Ohio Valley Conference. The Tigers’ lackluster performance at home against an off-the-radar team caused them to drop 12 spots in the latest AP Top 25 poll and it diminished the perception that they are a viable national title contender.

Not only do the boys from Baton Rouge enter this showcase showdown with a clear momentum advantage, they’re also motivated by the thought of avenging last year’s embarrassing 41-7 defeat at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

LSU QB Brandon Harris—who had just eight completions in that blowout loss—looks to be much more confident and comfortable leading the offense this year. The same can’t be said, though, for Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson, who has plenty of potential and physical ability but little experience running Gus Malzahn’s spread attack.

It doen’t help that Johnson doesn’t have a true featured rusher in the backfield to take some of the pressure off him.

The efficiency of Harris, the powerful presence of Fournette, the overall experience edge on the offensive side of the ball and the hostile atmosphere of Death Valley will likely be the difference in this matchup.

It also wouldn’t be surprising if the dangerous receiving duo of Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural—who combined for 12 touchdowns in 2014—ends up stealing the show against an Auburn secondary that was routinely toasted against quality passing offenses last season. The only question is will Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron give Harris enough chances to air it out (LSU attempted just 14 passes last week) to his two stud wideouts?

Ultimately, both these teams have a great chance to materialize into contenders for a West division crown this season. But at this early juncture in the season, it’s LSU that looks to be the more well-rounded squad.

Prediction: LSU 31, Auburn 20

LSU Football: Ranking the Top 10 Tigers For 2015

College Football

It’s pretty easy to figure out the reason why LSU never materialized into a true bona fide contender in the SEC in 2015. It’s obvious which side of the ball simply didn’t live up to its end of the bargain.

The Tigers defense was one of the most stout units in the country last year, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense. Unfortunately, the offense turned out to be just as bad as the defense was good. The meager attack averaged just 27 points and 387 yards per game in 2014 and it failed to generate much of an exciting spark.

Luckily, the offense is shaping up to be one of the most improved units in the SEC this fall. The Tigers are welcoming back a host of key starters, none more important than budding star sophomore RB Leonard Fournette.

Fournette will be the focal point on offense once again in his second season carrying the rushing load. However, the former blue-chip recruit isn’t the only Tiger who will play a key role in the team’s quest to get back to the top of the SEC ladder.

Here’s a look at LSU’s top 10 players for the 2015 season.

Ole Miss Football: Ranking The Top 10 Rebels For 2015

College Football 2015

Incremental improvement has been the main storyline of Hugh Freeze’s three-year tenure as head coach at Ole Miss. Freeze’s squad has managed to continually get a little bit stronger and a little bit better in each of the past three seasons, going from seven wins in 2012, to eight wins in 2013, and then to nine wins in 2014.

The next logical step for the Rebels is to become a true championship contender in 2015.

This is the year many fans have been pointing to ever since Freeze and his staff assembled a widely praised a top-5 recruiting class back in the winter of 2013.

Many of the high-profile names from that group such as WR Laquon Treadwell, DT Robert Nkemdiche and OT Laremy Tunsil have emerged as standout starters who are on the verge of becoming true superstars in the third year of their collegiate careers.

Treadwell, Nkemdiche and Tunsil are the three Rebels that will surely garner the most praise and attention this offseason. However, Freeze has built a roster that features plenty of other top-tier talent as well.

Here’s a look at the Mississippi’s top 10 players for 2015.

SEC Football: 5 Players Who Are Ready to Become Stars In 2015

College Football

This past season, the SEC featured plenty of breakout stars. Shane Ray, Dak Prescott, Nick Chubb, Pharoh Cooper, Reggie Ragland and Senquez Golson were just a few of the players who made a name for themselves and emerged as some of the top performers in the conference in 2014.

Looking ahead to the 2015 season, it appears that the league is once again loaded with plenty of promising players who are ready to reach their potential and become a household name.

Here’s a look at five SEC players who are ready for stardom this fall.

SEC Football: Picking Every Team’s 2015 MVP

College Football

Amari Cooper, Shane Ray, Landon Collins, Senquez Golson, Benardrick McKinney and La’el Collins are just a few of the many big-name players that the SEC waved goodbye to this offseason. However, as is always the case with college football’s most talent-stocked conference, no matter how much talent the league loses in a given year, there are always new stars waiting to be born next season.

After a two-year championship drought, the SEC is an unfamiliar position heading into the 2015 season. The most talked-about league in college football will be looking to reassert its dominance this fall. Luckily, there’s plenty of star power sprinkled throughout the conference once again.

So who will be the spotlight standout players on each of the 14 teams?

Here’s a look at every SEC team’s most valuable player for 2015.

Terry Beckner Jr. Could Be Mizzou’s Next Sheldon Richardson

College Football, College Football Recruiting

When trying to project what type of player a highly rated blue-chip high school football recruit will eventually become once he reaches the collegiate level, often times the comparison game can reach dangerous levels. Unfortunately, many young athletes are saddled with the pressure of having to be “the next (insert current star)” before ever even enrolling in college.

Sometimes, however, obvious parallels between a proven star and a young up-and-comer whose displayed tremendous potential are just too difficult to ignore.

Such is the case with Jets DT Sheldon Richardson and All-American DT Terry Beckner Jr.

Back in 2009, Richardson—then a dominant All-American standout for Gateway High School in St. Louis—was being showered with accolades and hailed as one of the best overall high school recruits in the nation. The highly touted tackle was ranked as a 5-star prospect by both Rivals and Scout and projected to be a difference-making defender in college.

Six years later, it’s now Beckner who is soaking up the spotlight as one of the premier prospects of the 2015 college football recruiting class. The heralded 5-star prospect hails from East St. Louis, Illinois, which is just a few miles east over the Mississippi River from where Richardson grew up.

On National Signing Day, Beckner followed in Richardson’s footsteps and opted to sign with the University of Missouri, giving the Tigers another potential stud defensive lineman to cultivate for the future.

The fact that both defensive tackles grew up in the greater St. Louis area and opted to go to Colombia to play their college ball is just the starting point for their correlation.

Recorded measurements of both players’ physical statures are about as equal as you can get. Richardson currently measures in at 6’3’’, 294-pounds, while Beckner stacked up at 6’3’’, 298-pounds at Nike’s “The Opening” event this past summer.

Equivalency in terms of size and stature is clear but it’s the natural combination of quickness, power and instincts that both possess which truly jumps off the screen when you turn on their respective game films.

That combination made Richardson a star for Mizzou during his junior campaign in 2012, when he recorded 75 total tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. It was that breakout performance that led the Jets to pick him with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.

It’s too early to say that Beckner will follow the same path as Richardson and become a future first-round NFL draft pick. But it’s certainly not too early to admire the type of rare physical traits and potential he has to offer. During the last two seasons, the tenacious tackle dominated his often over-matched peers, racking up over 100 tackles as both a junior and a senior, while displaying the type of complete skill-set that made recruiting analysts salivate.

Beckner’s decision to pick Missouri over the many other prestigious power programs that courted him will likely prove to be very beneficial in the long run. The Tigers have a well-documented recent history of developing standout defensive linemen such as Richardson, Shane Ray, Aldon Smith, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Ziggy Hood and Markus Golden. Plus, playing in the SEC will give the young blue-chip prospect the opportunity to prove himself against some of the best offensive linemen that the collegiate ranks have to offer.

Luckily, Beckner won’t have to take the long road to Colombia like Richardson, who had to spend two years in junior college to work on his grades before enrolling at Missouri. That means ESPN’s No. 2 overall recruit in the 2015 class will have the chance to make an instant impact as a freshman for the Tigers this fall. His presence will be a welcome addition to a defensive line that loses its top four performers from this past season, most notably Shane Ray, who will likely be a top-10 pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

The freakish physical ability that the gifted young DT has to offer already has folks around the SEC buzzing. Now, it’s up to Beckner to prove he can handle the pressure and the hype that comes along with being a top-rated blue-chip recruit.

If he can do that, the Tigers may have just found their next Sheldon Richardson.