2017 Northern Iowa Football Preview

Last season was a massive disappointment for the Northern Iowa Panthers.

Despite starting the year strong with a win over Iowa State, the Panthers failed to perform the rest of the way. They finished with a losing record for just the third time under head coach Mark Farley’s watch and are looking to bounce back with a vengeance. To do that, though, Northern Iowa will have to brave playing in the toughest conference in the FCS.

2016 Northern Iowa Football Season In Review

Aaron Bailey just wasn’t getting it done under center for the Panthers last season. He started the season as the team’s quarterback, but it went just 2-4 under his command. He had major issues with his accuracy and wasn’t able to make routine throws, completing just 51.5 percent of his passes.

After the sixth game of the season, Farley replaced Bailey with Eli Dunne, and the team’s fortunes improved. Although he threw quite a few interceptions, he was largely more accurate than Bailey. He went through quite the learning curve and showed that he can win games with his arm.

Northern Iowa didn’t have much of a running game to rely on last fall. Tyvis Smith ended the season as the leading rusher but only ran for 597 yards. The inability of the passing game to move the ball really hampered the effectiveness of the running attack, as defenses knew the offense would be forced to be more one dimensional.

Fumbles were a huge issue for this team last year, too. Northern Iowa fumbled the ball once every 33 rushing attempts, one of the worst rates in all of FCS.

The defense was very solid but underappreciated because of the struggles on the other side of the football. Karter Schult wrecked opposing offenses, winning the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the FCS. He finished with 17 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.

Northern Iowa went 5-6 last season, but only one of those losses was a blowout. The other five setbacks all came by six points or less, while the Panthers blew out three of their conference foes. They may be primed for a bounce back season in 2017.

2017 Northern Iowa Football Season Preview

Dunne is back and the team is excited about his development. He has a receiver in Daurice Fountain who has been unable to reach his full potential under the Panthers’ previous quarterbacks. If he can continue to improve as a passer, this offense can have a complete turnaround in 2017.

The big question on offense is whether or not someone can emerge as a solid option at running back. Smith graduated in the offseason, and the situation is running back by committee right now. There are a plethora of guys contending for carries, but no one has seized control of the position yet.

Defensively, losing Schult is going to hurt. He was the best defensive lineman in FCS last season, and his loss leaves a gaping hole along the line. The run defense is going to be susceptible to power running games, but the secondary will be a strength. The defensive backs are aggressive and aren’t afraid to take risks, which should lead to some takeaways.

2017 Northern Iowa Football Schedule

September 2: Northern Iowa at Iowa State
September 9: Northern Iowa vs. Cal Poly
September 16: Northern Iowa at Southern Utah
September 30: Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois
October 7: Northern Iowa vs. Western Illinois
October 14: Northern Iowa at South Dakota State
October 21: Northern Iowa vs. Youngstown State
October 28: Northern Iowa at North Dakota State
November 4: Northern Iowa vs. South Dakota
November 11: Northern Iowa at Missouri State
November 18: Northern Iowa vs. Indiana State

FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch

Northern Iowa will have to go on the road for its three toughest games. The Panthers showed they can knock off Iowa State last season, but that one is just for bragging rights.

The real tests will come against North Dakota State and South Dakota State. Each program is expected to start the season ranked in the FCS Top 5 and both are loaded with talent.

Northern Iowa must have done something to upset the conference schedule-makers. The toughest three games for the school are in back-to-back-to-back weeks when the Panthers travel to SDSU, host Youngstown State and travel to NDSU. The Panthers might be lucky to win one of those. Fade them all three weeks in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.

Nine Years Later, The 2008 Draft Class Is Making Its Mark

The 2008 MLB Draft Class had already paid dividends for some teams. Players like Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey and Craig Kimbrel had already established themselves as All-Stars. Others like Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn are legitimate big league starters.

While all drafts have their share of disappointments, the 2008 draft class was chalk full of them, particularly at the top. We now sit nine years after the draft, which is ample time to adequately evaluate the draft. Yet, the first round looks far different now than it did back in March.

Nearly a decade after reaching professional baseball, some of the bigger names on draft day are finally starting to put it all together.

After pigeon-holing themselves as part-time players, the breakout campaigns have thrusted these players into everyday roles much to the pleasant surprise of their clubs.

When talking about busts-turned-successes from the draft, let’s start at the top: Tim Beckham. Beckham was the first overall pick in 2008, taken by the Tampa Bay Rays. He was the prototypical five-tool talent, but the 18-year-old was slow to adapt to professional ball. He’s still with the Rays and is finally getting a chance to play every day at short.

The now-27-year-old is hitting .280 with 10 home runs and a .765 OPS. He’s still prone to the strikeout, which is common on the Rays, but his power is real.

Speaking of power, the corner bats in this draft were supposed to be elite, but most didn’t quite pan out. Up until this year, that included a pair of slugging American League first basemen.

Hosmer gets all the publicity for this draft at the position and he’s currently leading in the AL All-Star game voting, but Yonder Alonso and Justin Smoak are right on his tail. The two were the No. 7 and No. 11 picks in the draft, respectively.

Alonso was taken by the Reds, traded to San Diego for Mat Latos and has since found his way to Oakland. The now-30-year-old has an OPS of .989 and has already hit 17 home runs. That’s eight more than his previous career high.
Alonso had established himself as a good defensive first baseman with limited power and an average, line-drive bat in the mold of Casey Kotchman. His career slugging percentage of .406 feeds into that. This year, however, he’s slugging .602 in 65 games. In addition to 17 bombs, he’s also hit 13 doubles while getting on base at a .387 clip.
The slugger made a huge adjustment in his swing path over the offseason, giving himself added leverage and greatly improving his launch angle. That’s allowed him to turn some of his line drives into homers.

Up in Toronto, Smoak has been just as good. He’s hitting for a little higher average with fewer walks, more homers and less doubles. He’s batting .306 with 20 homers and 48 RBIs. He’s putting up a .967 OPS and has been the best hitter according to OPS+ on the Jays, a team that includes Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Kendrys Morales and Russell Martin.

It looked like the 30-year-old Smoak found a home north of the border the last few years, but in the Adam Lind role—a platoon first-baseman/designated hitter. For Alonso, the power is surprising. For Smoak, the average is the real shocker.

Smoak has hit for power before. He hit 20 homers in 2013 in Seattle and had 32 combined in his previous two years in Toronto. He could’ve easily topped 20 again either of those years had he been given enough at-bats, but his average—particularly against southpaws—just wasn’t good enough.

Smoak is a career .230 hitter with a .313 OBP. Even with above average power, he’s been nothing more than an average offensive player at a position that expects above-average production.

So, what’s the big difference this year? Well, he has a career .684 OPS against southpaws. Entering this weekend’s action, he was hitting .393 against them with a 1.096 OPS. Short answer: he’s no longer a platoon player. He’s also making better contact. While Alonso’s adjustment was launch angle, Smoak’s situation is different. He’s actually shortened his swing while maintaining his power.

Another over-due breakout from the 2008 class can be found in the outfield.

A lot of speculation has surrounded what has been driving the Yankees’ success this season. Even with their recent stumble, they still sit in the heat of the AL East race, far better off than most prognosticators expected. Sure, Aaron Judge, Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez are important parts of that, but Aaron Hicks is another player that cannot be overlooked.

Taken as the No. 14 overall pick by the Twins in 2008, Hicks has always been a great defender, but the bat never developed in Minnesota. Last year in New York, Hicks hit .217 with a .281 OBP, essentially branding him as a glove-first fourth outfielder.

He started in that role here in 2017, but all he’s done is hit when given the chance. He’s batting .294 with a .404 OBP and .526 slugging percentage. His 10 home runs are one off his career high despite only half as many at-bats. His 37 RBIs are already a career high as are his 15 doubles and 37 walks. The improved power and patience really stand out.

With these players on board, look to the Rays, A’s, Jays or Yankees as potential targets in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests. The Yankees get the headlines, but they’re not the only ones in this group to over-achieve. The Rays are sitting over-.500 and Toronto’s flirting with breaking even despite its tough, injury-plagued start.

2017 New Hampshire Football Preview

Making the postseason has become commonplace for the New Hampshire Wildcats.

The program has made it to the playoffs for 13 straight years, the longest active streak at the FCS level. The problem has been making deep runs once the team gets there.

Only twice during that time have the Wildcats made it past the Quarterfinals. For as great of a run as they have had, this team has never even made it to an FCS Championship Game. The Wildcats will try to change that in 2017.

2016 New Hampshire Football Season In Review

Last season, the Wildcats needed a win in the last week of the regular season to ensure a spot in the postseason. New Hampshire was 6-4 entering the final game and desperately needed a win against the Maine Black Bears in order to continue its season, and the Wildcats squeezed out a 24-21 victory on the back of Dalton Crossan.

Crossan ran all over Maine, logging 163 yards on the ground and scoring a touchdown. His success was in stark contrast to a Maine rushing attack that averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team.

The Wildcats relied heavily on Crossan late in the season. He dominated in their opening playoff game against Lehigh, carrying the ball 24 times for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a 64-21 rout.

However, quarterback Trevor Knight struggled in his sophomore season. He completed just 56.1 percent of his passes and averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt. He was woeful in the playoff loss to James Madison, though he was coming off of an injury and wasn’t at his best.

The defense held firm against most teams, but it couldn’t stop James Madison or Albany. The Dukes racked up 97 points on this team in two meetings, while the Great Danes ran for over 300 yards in a 36-25 win.

2017 New Hampshire Football Season Preview

The first order of business will be replacing Crossan. He was the most important player on New Hampshire’s offense last season, and the Wildcats will need to find a capable running back to step into his role. Expected starter Trevon Bryant suffered a season-ending injury in spring practice, further impacting the depth of this position.

Evan Gray left spring as the presumptive starter but is extremely inexperienced. The sophomore only carried the ball 14 times last season and will likely split time with Donald Goodrich and Jerickson Fedrick.

The wide receivers are very good for a team that doesn’t throw the ball that much. Malik Love had an excellent spring, and head coach Sean McDonnell raved about his hands. Neil O’Connor is more of a deep threat than his teammate and will be used to stretch the field.

Defensively, the secondary is the potential cause for concern. This group is very talented but very young and inexperienced as well. The starting five defensive backs are all sophomores and some of them have seen very little action. Prince Smith Jr. and Pop Lacey will lead the group, but it could have some struggles.

2017 New Hampshire Football Schedule

August 31: New Hampshire vs. Maine
September 9: New Hampshire at Georgia Southern
September 16: New Hampshire at Holy Cross
September 23: New Hampshire vs. Rhode Island
September 30: New Hampshire vs. Bryant
October 14: New Hampshire at Stony Brook
October 21: New Hampshire vs. Towson
October 28: New Hampshire at James Madison
November 4: New Hampshire at William and Mary
November 11: New Hampshire vs. Elon
November 18: New Hampshire at Albany

FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch

New Hampshire is fortunate the way its conference slate shapes up for the second season in a row. The Wildcats once again dodge powerhouses like Richmond and Villanova, which will help their chances at the postseason. However, their two toughest CAA games will be on the road.

The game against Albany at the end of the season could very well be for a playoff spot. The Great Danes pounded the Wildcats on the ground last season and will rely on the legs of Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks to get the job done once again. Provided Ibitokun-Hanks rehabs well from a torn ACL, fade New Hampshire in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests at the end of the season.

MLB 13-Run Contest Standings (Updated June 24)

Our MLB 13-Run Contest is one of our most popular baseball games here at Contest General. You can create a new 13-run baseball contest at any point during the season, but for those of you that started your pools back in the beginning of April, here’s a look at the most up-to-date standings. The below table displays the date in which each of the 30 teams completed a particular run total, and just how close they are to completing the 13-run goal.

Team Remaining Games Scores Needed
Cleveland Indians 0 Complete May 28
Chicago Cubs 0 Complete June 6
Baltimore Orioles 0 Complete June 7
Tampa Bay Rays 0 Complete June 9
Atlanta Braves 0 Complete June 22
Seattle Mariners 0 Complete June 23
Arizona Diamondbacks 1 12
Boston Red Sox 1 10
Chicago White Sox 1 13
Colorado Rockies 1 13
Detroit Tigers 1 12
Houston Astros 1 11
Los Angeles Angels 1 13
Miami Marlins 1 13
Pittsburgh Pirates 1 13
Cincinnati Reds 2 10, 11
Los Angeles Dodgers 2 11, 13
New York Yankees 2 0, 13
Milwaukee Brewers 2 12, 13
San Francisco Giants 2 11, 12
St. Louis Cardinals 2 12, 13
Texas Rangers 2 12, 13
Washington Nationals 2 0, 9
Kansas City Royals 3 10, 11, 13
Minnesota Twins 3 10, 12, 13
New York Mets 3 10, 12, 13
Oakland Athletics 3 11, 12, 13
Philadelphia Phillies 3 8, 12, 13
San Diego Padres 3 10, 11, 13
Toronto Blue Jays 4 10, 11, 12, 13
TM 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
ARI 4/19 4/10 4/12 4/9 4/4 4/26 4/2 4/7 4/5 4/6 5/19 4/8 4/21
ATL 4/3 4/18 4/6 4/5 4/7 4/9 5/23 4/27 4/26 4/16 4/28 4/29 6/22 6/4
BAL 4/25 4/11 4/13 4/3 4/22 4/8 4/7 4/30 5/4 5/31 6/7 4/16 4/12 5/16
BOS 4/19 4/8 4/15 4/5 4/13 4/3 4/23 4/9 4/11 5/24 5/6 5/21 5/30
CHC 4/12 4/7 4/4 4/2 4/13 4/23 4/6 4/9 5/2 4/18 6/6 4/8 4/22 5/21
CHW 4/15 4/7 4/12 4/4 4/17 4/26 4/8 5/4 5/17 5/14 4/13 4/6 4/24
CIN 4/19 4/13 4/5 4/3 4/8 4/21 4/11 4/6 4/9 4/12 5/20 5/5
CLE 5/12 4/12 4/8 4/7 4/4 5/19 4/14 4/26 4/3 4/5 5/28 4/18 4/30 4/15
COL 4/12 4/5 4/6 4/11 4/8 4/15 4/4 4/3 4/23 5/6 5/9 5/3 4/22
DET 4/26 4/18 4/6 4/28 4/8 4/9 4/4 4/14 6/11 5/20 5/28 5/16 4/23
HOU 4/10 4/7 4/4 4/3 4/25 4/5 4/21 4/11 5/2 4/28 4/12 5/16 6/14
KC 4/10 4/3 4/19 4/6 4/9 4/7 5/1 4/8 6/11 5/14 6/3
LAA 4/16 4/6 4/3 4/12 5/15 4/5 4/11 4/4 4/26 5/30 4/9 6/8 5/18
LAD 4/4 4/7 4/8 4/5 4/19 4/21 4/23 4/14 4/15 5/28 4/6 5/8
MIA 4/29 4/17 4/3 4/14 4/5 4/15 4/22 4/7 4/8 5/28 4/30 5/23 6/9
MIL 5/5 4/6 4/7 4/29 4/9 4/3 4/5 4/18 4/28 4/25 4/14 4/24
MIN 6/22 4/11 4/8 4/7 4/9 4/6 4/15 4/3 4/25 4/5 6/2
NYM 5/7 4/5 4/7 4/21 4/10 4/9 4/3 4/28 5/5 4/13 5/6
NYY 4/5 5/11 4/2 4/8 4/4 6/16 4/9 4/10 4/16 5/8 4/22 4/29
OAK 4/5 4/9 4/10 4/21 4/3 4/6 4/4 6/10 4/12 4/19 6/3
PHI 4/5 5/16 4/14 4/10 4/3 4/23 4/7 4/26 5/9 5/1 6/5
PIT 4/5 4/10 4/11 4/3 4/14 4/7 4/8 6/9 4/15 5/25 5/18 6/4 4/28
STL 4/7 4/4 4/17 4/11 4/2 4/20 4/10 4/28 4/27 5/8 5/5 6/16
SD 5/9 4/5 4/8 4/3 4/4 4/10 4/12 4/7 4/26 6/12 4/29
SF 4/15 4/8 4/18 4/6 4/10 4/2 4/5 6/4 4/14 6/8 6/2 6/11
SEA 4/3 4/4 4/14 4/5 4/6 4/11 4/10 6/4 4/16 4/9 4/19 4/23 6/2 6/23
TB 4/4 4/10 4/6 4/8 4/12 4/16 4/22 4/2 4/19 5/20 4/7 5/14 5/10 6/9
TEX 4/15 4/8 4/18 4/4 5/10 4/3 4/5 4/16 4/9 5/17 4/7 5/9
TOR 4/12 4/5 4/3 4/11 4/14 4/6 4/23 4/18 4/7 5/19
WAS 4/12 4/15 4/6 4/3 4/28 4/5 4/7 4/11 5/23 4/26 6/20 6/2

2017 Lehigh Football Preview

The Lehigh Mountain Hawks took the Patriot League by storm last season.

The team averaged 41.5 points per game in conference play and posted an undefeated record against league foes. The Mountain Hawks were only tested by Bucknell in Patriot League play, as the Bison managed to stay within a touchdown.

What’s in store for the Mountain Hawks in 2017?

2016 Lehigh Football Season In Review

Lehigh had an extremely balanced offense last season, rushing and passing with effectiveness.

Quarterbacks Nick Shafinsky and Brad Mayes combined to lead the best passing attack in the conference and one of the best in the nation. The Mountain Hawks were sixth in the country in passing yards, averaging 324.9 yards per game through the air.

Shafinsky was the starter and saw the majority of action on his way to winning the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year award. However, Mayes was no ordinary backup, throwing 154 passes over seven games. His peripherals were almost as good as those of Shafinsky, too.

Running back Dominick Bragalone looked very strong as the season wore on. Over his last five games, he averaged 7.8 yards per carry and found the end zone seven times. He ended up averaging 5.7 yards per run for the season, but he wasn’t utilized as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

Receivers Troy Pelletier and Gatlin Casey had standout seasons in this offense as well. Pelletier was the more frequent target, catching 96 passes for 1,278 yards and 12 touchdowns to lead the Patriot League, while Casey was the big-play threat. He averaged 18.3 yards per reception on his way to a 1,000-yard season as well.

For as good as the offense was, defensive improvements played a large part in this team going undefeated in conference play. Lehigh allowed over 35 points per game in 2015, but it gave up just 26.9 per contest last season.

As exciting as the year was for the Mountain Hawks, it ended with a thud. Lehigh made its first playoff appearance since 2011, but it was hammered by New Hampshire once it arrived. The defense completely collapsed, allowing 639 total yards of offense on the day. The only reason the 64-21 drubbing wasn’t worse was because New Hampshire’s backup quarterback threw three interceptions.

2017 Lehigh Football Season Preview

It’s rare to see a team return as much skill position talent as Lehigh does. Mayes showed he has what it takes to lead the offense last year and it’s his time now. He doesn’t make mistakes with the football and should thrive under new offensive coordinator Scott Brisson.

The offensive line has been hamstrung in recent seasons, but this could be the best unit Lehigh has had in some time. There is a lot of experience up front and some young players that can step in and make an instant impact. Brandon Short and Zach Duffy are the leaders as fifth-year seniors, and Alex Motley might be primed for a huge leap forward in his second season.

Wide receiver will be another position of strength. Pelletier and Casey are both back and could see even bigger numbers in 2017. Brisson is Lehigh’s former wide receivers coach and may want to get his guys even more involved in the offense.

Defensively, the bend-but-don’t-break philosophy will be tested once again. All three of Lehigh’s starting linebackers from last season have graduated and the players behind them don’t have much experience. The good news is that the defensive line is in quite the opposite shape, as everyone returns from last season.

2017 Lehigh Football Schedule

September 2: Lehigh vs. Villanova
September 9: Lehigh at Monmouth
September 16: Lehigh vs. Yale
September 23: Lehigh vs. Penn
September 30: Lehigh at Wagner
October 7: Lehigh at Colgate
October 14: Lehigh vs. Georgetown
October 28: Lehigh at Fordham
November 4: Lehigh at Bucknell
November 11: Lehigh vs. Holy Cross
November 18: Lehigh vs. Lafayette

FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch

Lehigh will be tested right out of the gate in 2017 with arguably its toughest game of the season. Villanova is traditionally one of the powerhouses at the FCS level and handed Lehigh a loss when these teams met last year. The Mountain Hawks will host the game this year and can turn a lot of heads with a win.

The Patriot League isn’t one of the strongest conferences, but don’t be surprised to see the Mountain Hawks drop a road game in league play. Lehigh must face Colgate, Fordham and Bucknell on the road this season and it seems unlikely that it will get a sweep. Keep this in mind for your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.

2017 Wofford Football Preview

There’s no secret to what the Wofford Terriers want to do on the football field each and every Saturday during the fall.

Mike Ayers is in his 30th season as the head coach of the program, and he has built it on the back of the triple-option offense and a strong defense. The Terriers rode that mentality to the FCS Quarterfinals last season before dropping a heartbreaker to Youngstown State.

Wofford will now look to build off of that standout campaign in 2017.

2016 Wofford Football Season In Review

Wofford played in plenty of nail-biters last fall. The Terriers didn’t blow anyone out, or get blown out, after the first few weeks of the season, which led to some exciting back-and-forth affairs.

The Terriers were able to get the better of Chattanooga, Charleston Southern and The Citadel in this fashion. The win against The Citadel was especially important as it was the first postseason victory for the program since 2012.

Brandon Goodson was a great point man for the offense. He led a unit that was the fourth-most productive rushing offense at the FCS level, averaging 279.6 yards per game. That efficiency helped keep the defense off of the field and well-rested. Wofford was 11th in the country in time of possession last year.

Fullback Lorenzo Long was the primary option for the team’s run game. He carried the ball three times as often as any other Terrier and averaged over 100 yards per game along with 18 touchdowns.

Defensively, this was one of the better teams in the country. The Terriers allowed just 17.1 points per game and under 300 yards per contest thanks to a stout front seven.

The most underappreciated player on last season’s team was David Marvin. He was the team’s kicker and punter, and he was one of the best in the nation at both. He averaged 46.2 yards per punt and showcased his booming kicking leg too, knocking through a 57-yarder at one point during the year.

2017 Wofford Football Season Preview

Most of last season’s team returns, including many of the key pieces. Although Long is gone, the running game still has Goodson calling the shots and will be one of the most productive units on the ground in the country. He isn’t a great passer and won’t lead this team from behind very often if it gets down too many points, but he knows how to manage a lead and maintain tempo.

The offensive line is a solid unit and will be adept at leading the way for the running attack. There may be only two seniors, but the team knows how to recruit the type of linemen that are consistent in run blocking for this scheme.

Defense is going to be the strength of this team once again. Eight starters return from last year’s group that was the best in the conference, so expect it to consistently shut down opposing offenses again. Miles Brown and Tyler Vaughn led the way with 30 tackles for loss between them and are both looking to build on those totals in 2017.

2017 Wofford Football Schedule

September 2: Wofford vs. Furman
September 9: Wofford at Mercer
September 23: Wofford vs. Gardner-Webb
September 30: Wofford at Presbyterian
October 7: Wofford vs. Western Carolina
October 14: Wofford at The Citadel
October 21: Wofford vs. Samford
October 28: Wofford at East Tennessee State
November 4: Wofford vs. Chattanooga
November 11: Wofford at VMI
November 18: Wofford at South Carolina

FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch

The Terriers have a chance to run the table up until the end of the season if everything breaks just right. With Chattanooga replacing its head coach, one of the powers of the Southern Conference is an unknown quantity heading into the year.

However, the one conference game in which Wofford is expected to be an underdog is at The Citadel, which will be out for revenge after getting vanquished by the Terriers in the playoffs last year. That’s the one time to possibly go against Wofford in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests.

South Carolina shouldn’t be sleeping on this team either. The Gamecocks play Wofford in a classic trap game, the week after the Gamecocks play Florida and the game before they battle Clemson. The Terriers’ triple option is different than anything Will Muschamp’s squad will see in 2017. So this one might be closer than anyone expects.

2017 Jacksonville State Football Preview

The Jacksonville State Gamecocks have been on a remarkable tear through the Ohio Valley Conference. The program has not lost a conference game dating back to the 2013 season, and it is the overwhelming favorite to win the league once again in 2017.

Although the Gamecocks no longer have star quarterback Eli Jenkins, there is plenty of reason for optimism with the overall talent on this roster.

2016 Jacksonville State Football Season In Review

Jacksonville State once again dominated its competition in conference last season. Only Southeast Missouri came within single digits of this team, as it blitzed the other squads in the OVC.

Jenkins was the heartbeat of the offense in 2016. The dual-threat quarterback accounted for 3,091 yards and 24 touchdowns between his arm and his legs. His ability to make things happen with his feet kept many drives alive for the Gamecocks.

The team relied heavily on the run game. Jenkins, Josh Clemons and Roc Thomas each carried the ball over 100 times, with all three averaging at least five yards per carry. Clemons and Thomas were reliable when it came to holding onto the ball, too, with only one fumble between them in 283 carries.

The defense was lights out as well. The Gamecocks gave up the fourth-fewest yards at the FCS level, allowing just 18.3 points per game.

However, seemingly everything went wrong for the team in its stunning loss to Youngstown State in the postseason. Jenkins was awful, going just 6-of-26 passing with two interceptions, and the secondary was beat for two 70-yard pass plays. It was an unfortunate end to the season for the team that entered the playoffs ranked third in the nation.

2017 Jacksonville State Football Season Preview

Jenkins is gone, and his skills as a runner will be difficult to replace. Either Bryant Horn or Ole Miss transfer Kendrick Doss will replace him and try to follow the tough act.

Fortunately, the running game returns one of its biggest pieces in Thomas. He should see plenty of action now that he is the primary ball carrier.

Additionally, the defense is going to be one of the best in the nation once again. Eight starters are returning to a unit that is elite, including Darius Jackson and Marlon Bridges.

Jackson is already getting buzz as a potential high NFL Draft pick next year after a season in which he earned All-American honors and was named the OVC’s Defensive Player of the Year. He registered 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss and is expected to dominate once again.

As for Bridges, he was great in his freshman season as a hard-hitting safety. He picked off four passes and forced five fumbles on his way to being named the conference’s Freshman of the Year.

2017 Jacksonville State Football Schedule

August 26: Jacksonville State vs. Chattanooga (In Montgomery)
September 9: Jacksonville State at Georgia Tech
September 23: Jacksonville State vs. Liberty
September 30: Jacksonville State at Tennessee Tech
October 7: Jacksonville State at Austin Peay
October 14: Jacksonville State vs. Eastern Kentucky
October 21: Jacksonville State at Eastern Illinois
October 28: Jacksonville State vs. Southeast Missouri
November 4: Jacksonville State vs. Murray State
November 11: Jacksonville State at UT Martin
November 18: Jacksonville State vs. Tennessee State

FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch

Jacksonville State has a history of showing that it can hang with the big boys. Just two years ago, the Gamecocks almost knocked off Auburn and hung with LSU for 30 minutes last season. Georgia Tech better be ready when this team comes to Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets will be on a short week following a Monday night game against Tennessee, while the Gamecocks will have two weeks to prepare. Paul Johnson’s squad has a real chance of being upset.

The non-conference slate is harrowing, but the Gamecocks have two weeks to prepare for each game. The showdown against Chattanooga on a neutral site should be a good first test for the passing game, as the Mocs have one of the best defensive backs in the country in Lucas Webb.

The tilt against Liberty will be a great time to take Jacksonville State in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests. The Gamecocks will have plenty of time to prepare for Liberty’s dynamic attack and should be able to grind out a win.

2017 Villanova Football Preview

It’s the beginning of a new era in Philadelphia.

The Villanova Wildcats football program saw long-time head coach Andy Talley retire in the offseason. Talley had been the main man at ‘Nova for 32 seasons, but he was ready to move on to the next stage of his life.

It will be difficult to replace the coach who was the grandfather of the program in so many ways, but the Wildcats’ replacement has been with Talley for the last 30 years. Mark Ferrante will try to keep the ball rolling with the help of a phenomenal defense.

2016 Villanova Football Season In Review

It all started with the defense for the Wildcats last season. Villanova had the top unit in the FCS in terms of both total defense and scoring defense and was shutting down some of the best offenses in the country. No team at the FCS level scored more than 23 points against this unit all year.

Offensively, it was all about quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, who completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,158 yards and was able to pick up yards with his legs as well. He was the second-leading rusher on the Wildcats, but he averaged just 4.3 yards per rush.

The Wildcats had some issues with their kicking game last season. Gerard Smith was the place kicker for the team and had some trouble keeping it between the uprights. He missed four extra points and only went five for seven on field goal attempts.

Villanova beat all of the teams it should have on its schedule, but it couldn’t knock off the top teams in the country. The Wildcats lost by double digits to Pittsburgh, Richmond and James Madison during the regular season and suffered a tough defeat at the hands of South Dakota in the postseason.

2017 Villanova Football Season Preview

This defense should be one of the best in the nation once again. Rob Rolle is one of the best safeties in the FCS and a future NFL talent. He was tied for the national lead in interceptions in 2016 and will be the leader of a fearless unit.

It would be nice if Villanova could get some better performances from its offense to help out the defense though. In their four losses last season, the Wildcats scored seven points three times and were shut out once.

Bednarczyk is back, but he hasn’t been a consistent passer. He is more of a game manager than anything else. He doesn’t have any real weapons at wide receiver to throw the ball to either, leaving ‘Nova to lean heavily on the run game.

The ‘Cats were tied for 24th in the nation in rushing last season with an average of 206.3 yards per game. However, of all the teams that averaged at least 200 yards on the ground, the Wildcats were the second-least efficient. They picked up just 4.66 yards per carry, well behind the elite teams in the FCS.

2017 Villanova Football Schedule

September 2: Villanova at Lehigh
September 9: Villanova at Temple
September 16: Villanova vs. Lafayette
September 23: Villanova at Albany
September 30: Villanova at Towson
October 7: Villanova vs. Maine
October 14: Villanova at James Madison
October 28: Villanova vs. Elon
November 4: Villanova vs. Richmond
November 11: Villanova at Rhode Island
November 18: Villanova vs. Delaware

FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch

The Wildcats have a very tough September. They go on the road in four of their five games and have to play against a solid Temple club. The good news is that all of those road games are extremely manageable distances, so travel fatigue won’t be an issue.

The toughest matchup will be when ‘Nova has to play at James Madison. The Wildcats were able to stay close almost the entire way last year thanks to a fantastic defensive effort. If ‘Nova has any shot to win this game in 2017, it needs a better effort from Bednarczyk, who went 12-of-30 passing for 71 yards with four interceptions against the Dukes.

The best spot to play Villanova in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests will be on November 4 when it hosts Richmond. The Wildcats will essentially be coming off of a double bye, with only bottom-feeder Elon on the schedule in the three weeks leading up to it. Meanwhile, Richmond has challenging games against Delaware and Stony Brook and will have to play a road game at James Madison the week after this one.

Pitching A Fit: The Case Of The Baltimore Orioles’ Pitching Staff

Monday night’s 12-0 loss was just more of the same for a struggling Baltimore Orioles team: a ton of strikeouts, an underwhelming start and no relief out of the bullpen.

The Orioles were red hot in April and a perfect selection for our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests, but on May 10 something changed. After a six-game winning streak, the O’s went in a tailspin, going 12-25 since.

The hot start has kept Baltimore around .500 through the struggles. The O’s are still within striking distance of the second wild card, but they need to turn things around in a hurry. They are not only losing, they are losing badly.

They have the second-worst run differential in the American League. For the O’s, the struggles primarily rest with the pitching staff.

After Monday’s debacle, the Birds rank dead last in baseball with a 5.06 ERA, passing a Cincinnati Reds team in the midst of a similar—though perhaps slightly less epic—collapse for the dubious honor.
Baltimore has now allowed at least five runs in a game in 15 consecutive contests, which is a team record. The O’s have a team ERA of 7.12 in June.

The bullpen has been a bit better than the rotation, but it too is an issue. That’s unfamiliar territory for veteran manager Buck Showalter, who leaned on the ‘pen the last several years—except when it came time to use Zach Britton in the wild card game last year, of course.

Speaking of Britton, he’s only pitched nine innings this year. His injury has been disastrous. Not having Darren O’Day doesn’t help either. Brad Brach and Mychal Givens have been okay overall, but they’ve had their hiccups and are heavily overworked. Besides, they can only do so much.

In the rotation, Dylan Bundy has the only arm with respectable numbers. He’s 7-6 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.217 WHIP in 92 innings. That’s solid for 24-year-old with a riddled injury history and minimal experience.

Nevertheless, even Bundy has been a concern lately. He was on the mound for Monday’s loss. After getting through three innings unscathed, he allowed four in the fourth and couldn’t make it out of the fifth. In the end, he gave up six runs in 4.1 innings.

Through April, Bundy’s ERA was 1.65. It had climbed to 2.89 by the end of May and now sits at 3.72. It’s trending in the wrong direction.

He has just one quality start in his last four outings after delivering 10 in his first 11. In those last four games, he’s pitching to a 6.64 ERA. He’s allowed 10 runs in his last two games, spanning just 9.1 innings.
Bundy is also just 17.2 innings away from his total count from a year ago, leading to a question of just how long the Orioles will go before shutting him down.

That’s a lot to consider for a pitcher who, by the numbers, should be the least of the team’s concern. The only other starter with even passable overall numbers is Wade Miley, and he’s pitching to a 4.29 ERA. But his WHIP is 1.612 and he’s walking five per nine innings. He’s been getting in trouble all year, leading to short outings.

Early on in the season, Miley was able to avoid damage. Lately, however, it has been unavoidable. His ERA was 2.82 after a June 1 start against Boston. Since, he’s made three appearances and failed to get out of the third twice, allowed 15 runs and pitching just 10.2 innings.

Beyond those two, the rest of the rotation is an unmitigated disaster. Chris Tillman has been awful since returning from injury. He’s 1-5 with an 8.07 ERA and 2.103 WHIP. His command is off and his pitches lack movement.

Then, there’s Kevin Gausman, who leads the league in runs allowed. He’s made 15 starts and has a 6.60 ERA after posting a 3.61 mark last year in what looked like a huge step forward.

Lastly, there’s Ubaldo Jimenez, who is back in the rotation after briefly losing his spot to Alec Asher when he arrived from the Philadelphia Phillies. Jimenez’s quirky delivery makes him incredibly inconsistent, yet his WHIP is better than any other arm in the rotation besides Bundy. Sadly, he’s made the best start this month, holding the Cardinals to two runs in seven innings his last time out.

The ‘pen doesn’t have many more answers. Brach and Givens are good, and Richard Bleier has been a pleasant surprise from the left side. But nobody else is grabbing the opportunity. The Orioles have been shuttling arms up and down from Triple-A Norfolk and have used 23 different pitchers already.

Britton is now beginning a rehab assignment. The Orioles desperately need him back to better align the ‘pen. Even if he’s the cure for the relief corps, the O’s still need to find a way to get to the sixth with the game still in grasp.

At this time, that’s asking an awful lot.

2017 Richmond Football Preview

The Richmond Spiders will begin the post-Danny Rocco era in 2017. Rocco turned around a program that had fallen on hard times before he arrived on campus. The Spiders had gone from a national championship winner to a team that went winless in conference in a span of three seasons prior to his hiring. Rocco left to take over the head coaching job at Delaware in the offseason, leaving Russ Huesman in charge of the program.

2016 Richmond Football Season In Review

Richmond started the 2016 season with a big win in Charlottesville. The Spiders knocked off Virginia, 37-20, in a game in which they led the whole way. The offense was stellar, racking up 530 total yards against the Cavaliers. Defensively, the team was on point too. The Spiders held UVA to just 38 rushing yards on 21 carries and forced three fumbles.

Quarterback Kyle Lauletta was a star for the Spiders last season. He threw for over 3,000 yards and had a three-to-one touchdown to interception ratio despite playing some of the best pass defenses at the FCS level. Sadly, his season was cut short after he tore his ACL against William & Mary, and the Spiders’ hopes of making a long playoff run were dashed as well.

Brian Brown was the primary target for Spiders quarterbacks last fall, catching more than double the number of passes of the next leading receiver. He finished the year with 81 receptions for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The Spiders left something to be desired on the defensive side of the ball, though. There was a stretch in the early part of the season in which the team gave up an average of 34 points per game against teams that went a combined 21-22 on the year. The defense collapsed in losses to James Madison and William & Mary as well and was nonexistent in the playoff loss to Eastern Washington.

2017 Richmond Football Season Preview

Huesman was the defensive coordinator for the Spiders’ lone national championship team. He left to take the head coaching job at Chattanooga and is now back after eight seasons in southern Tennessee.

He will bring a much-needed defensive mindset to the team that doesn’t return much from 2016. The hope is that his schemes will overcome some of the talent deficiencies.

On offense, the Spiders bring a lot of talent back. Lauletta is returning from the torn ACL and things seem to be coming along nicely health wise. There’s no denying that he is a great decision maker in the pocket and he should be able to put up big numbers again in 2017.

He is going to have plenty of help in the backfield too. Running backs Gordon Collins and Xavier Goodall are both coming back from injuries that sidelined them in 2016 and are ready to roll. That will be good news for a Spiders team that wants to run the ball and keep the defense off of the field.

2017 Richmond Football Schedule

August 27: Richmond at Sam Houston State
September 9: Richmond at Colgate
September 16: Richmond vs. Howard
September 23: Richmond vs. Elon
October 7: Richmond vs. Albany
October 14: Richmond at Towson
October 21: Richmond at Delaware
October 28: Richmond vs. Stony Brook
November 4: Richmond at Villanova
November 11: Richmond at James Madison
November 18: Richmond vs. William and Mary

FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch

One of the best FCS games of the season will be one of the first. When Richmond travels to take on Sam Houston State, there are likely to be plenty of points scored. Reigning FCS Offensive Player of the Year Jeremiah Briscoe will be ready to come out gunning after how the Bearkats finished last year, and Lauletta should be able to keep up with him given the sorry state of Sam Houston State’s secondary.

When the Spiders travel to take on James Madison in the penultimate week of the regular season, the Colonial crown might be on the line. The Dukes were able to get the better of the Spiders in a back-and-forth game last season and will likely do the same on home turf this year. Fade Richmond in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests that week.