2018 College Football Preview

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but like I mentioned in the past, I’m a very busy man now. In addition to doing some work for Pro Football Focus, I’ve also landed a position with the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network as a Northeast Baseball Scout. So the blog has kind of gotten put on the backburner. However, with the college football season rapidly approaching (there will be some games on this weekend, including Colorado State vs Hawaii), I have found myself with a craving to get back into things. So let’s preview the college football season. I will be giving my preseason rankings, All Americans, Heisman winner, conference champs, and national champ. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Preseason Top 25

2018 University of Alabama Spring Football

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Clemson Tigers

3. Georgia Bulldogs

4. Wisconsin Badgers

5. Ohio State Buckeyes

6. Auburn Tigers

7. Penn State Nittany Lions

8. Miami (FL) Hurricanes

9. Washington Huskies

10. Oklahoma Sooners

11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

12. Michigan State Spartans

13. Michigan Wolverines

14. UCF Knights

15. Stanford Cardinal

16. USC Trojans

17. West Virginia Mountaineers

18. Virginia Tech Hokies

19. TCU Horned Frogs

20. Florida State Seminoles

21. Oregon Ducks

22. Boise State Broncos

23. LSU Tigers

24. Mississippi State Bulldogs

25. South Florida Bulls

A couple things to note about my rankings. Alabama mainly has the top spot again because they’re the reigning champs and I tend to lean towards the mantra of “you’re number 1 until someone proves otherwise.” But I actually think Clemson on paper is better. They’re basically returning everybody from the team that won the ACC and made the playoff last year. All they really lost were receivers Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud along with linebacker Dorian O’Daniel. Other than that, they’re returning QB Kelly Bryant, RB Wayne Etienne, OT Mitch Hyatt, DE’s Austin Bryant and Clellin Ferrell, and DT’s Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins. They also landed 5-star QB recruit Trevor Lawrence, who has reportedly looked so good in training camp that Kelly Bryant’s starting job may not be all that safe. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see part 4 of Alabama v. Clemson but unlike Cavs-Warriors, this one wouldn’t be a foregone conclusion as to who the victor ought to be. But basically I’ve got Alabama and Clemson as 1A and 1B in my preseason rankings. I’ve got UCF as my top non-Power 5 team despite the fact they lost head coach Scott Frost to Nebraska. McKenzie Milton is back at quarterback and if he has another strong season like he did last year, UCF could find themselves as not only the champs of the AAC, but potentially as the first non-Power 5 school to make the playoff. Florida State is coming off a horrid season and lost Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M (who barely missed the cut in this top 25), but they still have plenty of talent. Deondre Francois is returning from the ACL injury he suffered in Week 1 and Cam Akers was a revelation as a freshman last season. New head coach Willie Taggart’s task may not be as difficult as some may suspect.

Preseason All Americans

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QB: Khalil Tate-Arizona

RB: Bryce Love-Stanford, Jonathan Taylor-Wisconsin

WR: AJ Brown-Ole Miss, N’Keal Harry-Arizona State

TE: Noah Fant-Iowa

OT: Jonah Williams-Alabama, David Edwards-Wisconsin

OG: Martez Ivey-Florida, Michael Jordan-Ohio State

C: Ross Pierschbacher-Alabama

DE: Nick Bosa-Ohio State, Rashan Gary-Michigan

DT: Ed Oliver-Houston, Dexter Lawrence-Clemson

LB: Devin White-LSU, Devin Bush-Michigan, Cameron Smith-USC

CB: Greedy Williams-LSU, David Long, Michigan

S: Khaleke Hudson-Michigan, Lukas Denis-Boston College

K: Rodrigo Blankenship-Georgia

P: Mitch Wishnowsky-Utah

Return Specialist-Kavonte Turpin-TCU

Heisman Standings:

Valero Alamo Bowl - Stanford v TCU

1. Bryce Love-RB-Stanford

2. Khalil Tate-QB-Arizona

3. JK Dobbins-RB-Ohio State

4. Jonathan Taylor-RB-Wisconsin

5. Ed Oliver-DT-Houston

6. Nick Bosa-DE-Ohio State

7. Justin Herbert-QB-Oregon

8. Will Grier-QB-West Virginia

9. Trace McSorley-QB-Penn State

10. Rashan Gary-DE-Michigan

Bryce Love is the obvious favorite here. He was last year’s runner-up after exploding on the scene by rushing for over 2000 yards on 8.1 yards per carry. I actually anticipated Love to declare for the NFL Draft, which was why in my way-too-early Heisman rankings a few months ago, I picked Arizona QB Khalil Tate to take home the prize. But Love returned to Stanford and with Baker Mayfield now a member of the Cleveland Browns, he’ll be number 1 in most people’s initial rankings.

Conference Champs:

ACC: Clemson Tigers

Clemson University Defensive Line, 2018 College Football Preview Issue

 

As I mentioned before, Clemson lost very little from a team that made the playoff last season and they look primed for another National Championship run. I’m expecting a decline from Miami after the phenomena that was the Turnover Chain and while I do think Virginia Tech could sneak up on people, I don’t think they have the talent to unseat Clemson.

Big 10: Ohio State Buckeyes

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 24 Big Ten Football Media Days

This one could be very tricky, especially considering all the controversy surrounding Urban Meyer right now. If Meyer gets canned as a result of the investigation about his potential knowledge of an assistant’s domestic abuse, the Big 10 gets a LOT more interesting. The last time Ohio State lost a coach due to investigation, Jim Tressel, they went 6-6 under Luke Fickel despite the extremely talented roster. Meyer is probably the second-best coach in college football after Nick Saban at Alabama so losing him could be catastrophic for this Ohio State team despite all its talent. And there isn’t a huge dropoff from Ohio State to the next-best teams in the Big 10 like Wisconsin, Michigan, Penn State, and Michigan State so Meyer could make all the difference.

Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

UTEP v Oklahoma

Losing Baker Mayfield is going to hurt but Oklahoma’s got Kyler Murray as his replacement for at least this season. Murray was a top-10 pick in the MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s and he has signed with the club, however they are allowing him to play out this season in Norman. Murray was a former 5-star recruit who transferred from Texas A&M to Oklahoma and has an abundance of talent. While he isn’t the passer Mayfield is, he’s a much better runner and the tandem of him and Rodney Anderson in the backfield could be deadly. After them, though, I don’t see a whole lot coming out of the Big 12. Oklahoma State lost a LOT in Mason Rudolph, James Washington, and Marcell Ateman while TCU is losing Kenny Hill at quarterback (though they’re returning plenty on defense). West Virginia seems to be everybody’s dark horse pick to win the conference but I’m not sold on them just yet. Overall I think TCU is Oklahoma’s biggest threat but they still have some work to do offensively.

PAC-12: Washington Huskies

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington

The PAC-12 is a crapshoot right now as there isn’t a clear best team in the mix. Washington on paper looks like the best but Stanford, USC, and even Oregon all have legitimate shots at taking home the title. Also keep an eye out for Arizona as we could see Khalil Tate have a similar impact on that squad that Lamar Jackson had on Louisville.

SEC: Alabama Crimson Tide

CFP National Championship presented by AT&T - Alabama v Georgia

While there are a ton of good teams in the SEC, it’s once again Alabama’s conference to lose. They did win the National Championship last season despite not winning the SEC (a poorly-timed loss to Auburn saw to that) but now they have an interesting quarterback situation on hand between Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa. Hurts had played well for most of the season but was struggling mightily in the National Championship game against Georgia. Enter Tua and he not only throws a better ball, but leads the comeback for the Alabama win. In truth, I think it would be better for everyone if Hurts move to runningback, not only for the depth chart situation but for his potential in the NFL. He’s not as good a thrower as Tua is but he can do a lot of damage with his legs, something he’ll have more opportunities to do as a runningback. Check out what happened with Braxton Miller when he took his name out of Ohio State’s QB battle a couple years ago. He goes from probably an undrafted quarterback to a third round pick as a wide receiver by the Houston Texans (hasn’t quite panned out yet, though). Hurts could see something similar. But as for the rest of the SEC, Georgia has a lot of production to replace in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, both of whom are in the NFL with the Browns and Patriots, respectively, but Jake Fromm is back and so is much of the defense, though losing Roquan Smith is going to hurt.

Playoff/Championship Prediction:

1 Alabama Crimson Tide vs 4 Oklahoma Sooners

Alabama’s defense will suffocate Oklahoma’s high-flying offense and will lead the Tide to a surprisingly easy victory.

2 Clemson Tigers vs 3 Ohio State Buckeyes

Again, Ohio State’s involvement in the playoff will hinge entirely on the Urban Meyer investigation. If he’s cleared, though, I expect Ohio State to be back in the playoff. However Clemson destroyed them in the playoff a couple years ago and while I do think it’ll be closer this time, it’ll be another Tigers victory.

National Championship: 1 Alabama vs 2 Clemson

The fourth straight year these teams will meet in the playoff and the third time they face off for the National Championship. Alabama won the first and third time while Clemson won the second. Clemson sorely missed Deshaun Watson in last year’s matchup and got beaten relatively easily. However I think they exact revenge and win their second title in three years, evening the rivalry to 2 wins apiece as Dabo Swinney cements himself as one of the best coaches of the last decade.

National Champion: Clemson Tigers

Clemson v Louisville

That’s going to do it for my college football preview. Please don’t save this to shove in my face in January, thanks. Let me know what your predictions for this season are in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Washington Nationals

More terror out of Boston sports as Chris Sale was drilled in the leg by a line drive in the first inning of his final spring training start. It’s apparently resulted in just a bruise and Sale claims that it looked a lot worse than it actually was so I’m breathing a sigh of relief, unlike with the Kyrie Irving news, whom I’ve just learned is expected to return in 3-6 weeks. Also, the Giants continue to get shit news as both Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija were injured, Bumgarner fracturing the pinky on his throwing hand and Samardzija suffered a pec injury. Both will open the season on the DL. But now we finally conclude this month-long series of 30 Clubs in 30 Days with the Washington Nationals.

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2017 Results:

Record: 97-65, won NL East, lost to Chicago Cubs in NLDS

Notable Offseason Additions: RP Joaquin Benoit, SP Jeremy Hellickson, SP Tommy Milone, 1B Matt Adams, C Miguel Montero

Notable Offseason Subtractions: LF Jayson Werth, C Jose Lobaton, SS Stephen Drew, RP Matt Albers, RP Oliver Perez, 1B Adam Lind, RP Joe Blanton, OF Alejandro de Aza

Best Offensive Player: RF Bryce Harper

Best Pitcher: Max Scherzer

Depth Chart:

C-Matt Wieters, Pedro Severino

1B-Ryan Zimmerman, Matt Adams

2B-Daniel Murphy, Howie Kendrick

3B-Anthony Rendon

SS-Trea Turner, Wilmer Difo

LF-Adam Eaton

CF-Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin

RF-Bryce Harper

SP-Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, AJ Cole, Jeremy Hellickson

Bullpen-Sean Doolittle (CP), Brandon Kintzler, Joaquin Benoit, Ryan Madson, Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, Enny Romero, Sammy Solis

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Dave Martinez (1st season with Nationals)

Hitting Coach-Kevin Long

Pitching Coach-Derek Lilliquist

1st Base Coach-Tim Bogar

3rd Base Coach-Bob Henley

Bench Coach-Chip Hale

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The Washington Nationals were dominant in 2017, winning 97 games and finishing with the 2nd best record in the National League behind the Dodgers, however they continued to struggle in the postseason as they got bounced by the Cubs in 5 games in the NLDS. Since becoming the Nationals in 2005, this franchise has yet to win a playoff series. Their time is running out, though, as Bryce Harper is an impending free agent that they have very little chance of re-signing since they have a lot of money committed to other key players and people speculate that Harper may land the first ever $400M contract. Here’s how the Nationals are expected to line up in 2018.

1. Trea Turner-SS

2. Adam Eaton-LF

3. Bryce Harper-RF

4. Daniel Murphy-2B

5. Anthony Rendon-3B

6. Ryan Zimmerman-1B

7. Matt Wieters-C

8. Michael A. Taylor-CF

9. Pitcher’s Spot

That’s arguably one of the most imposing lineups in baseball especially when you take into account the improvements a lot of these guys made. Bryce Harper is the obvious star here as the 2015 NL MVP likely would have won his second such award before his 25th birthday had he not stepped on a wet base the wrong way and missed the last month of the regular season. Harper finished 2017 hitting .319 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI and being worth 4.8 WAR in just 111 games, which was a huge step up from his disappointing 2016 season where a series of always getting walked put him in a funk at the plate. Anthony Rendon was probably the most underappreciated star in baseball, as he quietly topped the NL in WAR at 6.9 by slashing .301/.403/.533 and hitting 25 home runs, driving in 100 RBI and playing excellent defense at third base. Rendon also had the best single-game performance of the season when he went 6-for-6 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI in an April matchup against the Mets (which was also notable for being the game where Noah Syndergaard injured his lat and basically missed the remainder of the season). Trea Turner is also a dangerous player at shortstop as he hit .284 with 11 home runs and stole 46 bases. Daniel Murphy is another guy who will be tough to retire, though he’s going to miss Opening Day due to offseason knee surgery. Last season, Murphy hit .322 with 23 home runs and 93 RBI. The two best seasons of the 32 year-old’s career have come as a member of the Nationals, as he was particularly dominant in 2016 when he hit .347 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI. Top to bottom, this is a very dangerous lineup.

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The pitching rotation is just as dangerous as the batting lineup. The Nationals are spearheaded by ace and 3-time Cy Young Award winner (including each of the last 2 seasons) Max Scherzer. Last season, Scherzer dominated, going 16-6 with a 2.51 ERA and striking out over a dozen batters per 9 innings, which was the best number amongst righties in all of baseball. It doesn’t get much easier behind Scherzer as Stephen Strasburg was also a monster in 2017, particularly in the second half. Overall, Strasburg went 15-4 with a 2.52 ERA and struck out over 10 batters per 9 while having the best HR/9 in all of baseball at 0.67. After the All Star break, though, Strasburg was pitching out of his goddamn mind, as he had an ERA of 0.86 in 62.2 innings. With both guys pitching the way they did, you can pretty much pencil in the Nationals for 2 automatic wins in their 5-man rotation. Gio Gonzalez was strong on the surface last season as he had a 2.96 ERA, however his FIP was almost an entire run higher at 3.93, suggesting that his defense gave him a lot of help and that he may be due for some regression in 2018.

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The bullpen for the Nationals has always been what’s held them back in year’s past, though this season it looks more solid than usual. Sean Doolittle was strong after joining the Nationals from the Athletics in a midseason trade, pitching 30 games in DC and carrying a 2.40 ERA and recording 21 saves. Brandon Kintzler was also solid out of the bullpen for them, posting a 3.46 ERA for the Nationals after being acquired by the Twins. After them, though, there are a lot of question marks. Koda Glover has shown flashes of dominance at times but there have also been moments where he gets hit harder than a Colts quarterback. Ryan Madson has had stretches of dominance, like last season, but he’s 37 years old and at one point missed 3 consecutive Major League seasons due to injury. Considering all the talent the rest of the roster has, though, if the Nats can maintain just a top-15 bullpen, they’ll consider it a success based on the struggles they’ve had in the past.

Overall, I expect the Nationals to run away with the NL East. It’s a weak division and the Nationals are far and away the most loaded team. The issue for them is going to be whether or not they can advance in the postseason. They pretty much have to be all-or-nothing this season, as they won’t be able to retain Bryce Harper in free agency so I expect them to be heavy buyers at the Trade Deadline in an attempt to gear up for that elusive title run. After all, when you take into account their Montreal Expos days, the Nationals and Seattle Mariners are the only two franchises that have yet to even reach a World Series. Perhaps this is the year? After all, Sports Illustrated picked them to win it all for the third time in six years.

Projected Record: 95-67, win NL East

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tom…wait, that’s it. That’s all 30 clubs. I actually succeeded in finishing this series. To be quite frank, this series didn’t do as well as I had hoped, as I think people got a bit tired of me posting about a new team every day. I had a ton of fun doing this, though, which is why I kept at it and didn’t ditch it like I have with my NFL Draft scouting reports. For the future, though, I’ll probably bring it down to just a division-by-division preview and make it a week-long thing rather than month-long. So thank you for keeping with me for all this time and let me know what you think of the Nationals’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Cincinnati Reds

Outside of 30 Clubs in 30 Days, JD Martinez’s contract with the Red Sox is finally official a week after the agreement was announced. Apparently their might be an issue with Martinez’s foot that could have some long-term implications that forced both sides to adjust some language in the actual contract. But nonetheless, Martinez is officially a member of the Boston Red Sox now. Also, in the world of football, it’s rumored that Roger Goodell is going to fine Cowboys owner Jerry Jones “millions” for “conduct detrimental to the league.” What did Jones do exactly? Criticize Goodell’s handling of the Ezekiel Elliott situation and tried to get other owners to side with him to dock Goodell’s pay and get him out of office. I’m not a Jerry Jones fan, I think he’s an ass, but I’ve got to side with him on this one. Fining a guy millions because he disagrees with the job you’re doing as commissioner and wants somebody better in charge? That’s dictatorial. It’s one thing if Jones did something like compare you to Hitler. That’s crossing a line. But to be outspoken because he thinks one of his players’ 6-game suspension was unjustified is well within his rights. It’s literally just Goodell trying to flex his power on the owners and prove to everybody he isn’t their bitch when everybody knows that’s just not the case. It’s like what happened with Deflategate and the loss of draft picks for the Patriots. It’s Goodell trying to prove to people that Robert Kraft doesn’t own him. Can’t wait until 2024 when this asshole retires and we hopefully get somebody competent in charge. So now we’re in Day 8 of 30 Clubs in 30 Days and we’re on to the Cincinnati Reds. Let’s get to it.

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2017 Results:

Record: 68-94, 24 games behind Chicago Cubs, 19 games behind Colorado Rockies for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: RP Oliver Perez, 2B Cliff Pennington, RP David Hernandez, SP Vance Worley, RP Jared Hughes, 2B Phil Gosselin, RP Kevin Quackenbush

Notable Offseason Subtractions: SS Zack Cozart, OF Scott Van Slyke, SP Bronson Arroyo, CP Drew Storen, SP Scott Feldman,

Best Offensive Player: 1B Joey Votto

Best Pitcher: CP Raisel Iglesias

Depth Chart:

C-Tucker Barnhart, Devin Mesoraco

1B-Joey Votto

2B-Scooter Gennett, Cliff Pennington

3B-Eugenio Suarez

SS-Jose Peraza, Phil Gosselin

LF-Adam Duvall

CF-Billy Hamilton, Phillip Ervin

RF-Scott Schebler

SP-Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo, Robert Stephenson, Vance Worley

Bullpen-Raisel Iglesias (CP), Michael Lorenzen, Wandy Peralta, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Ariel Hernandez, Kevin Quackenbush, Oliver Perez,

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Brian Pryce (5th Season with Reds)

Hitting Coach-Don Long

Pitching Coach-Mack Jenkins

1st Base Coach-Freddie Benavides

3rd Base Coach-Billy Hatcher

Bench Coach-Jim Riggleman

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If you read my preview of the Chicago White Sox yesterday, you may remember that they had one excellent first baseman, a guy who had one big season, and the rest was a bunch of guys who probably wouldn’t crack most Major League rosters. You can basically copy and paste that here with the Cincinnati Reds. One could argue that Joey Votto is the best pure hitter alive today and the reason he’s not getting Bryce Harper levels of coverage is because he plays for a bad Reds team. I mean, look at this lineup.

1. Billy Hamilton-CF

2. Eugenio Suarez-3B

3. Joey Votto-1B

4. Adam Duvall-LF

5. Scott Schebler-RF

6. Scooter Gennett-2B

7. Tucker Barnhart-C

8. Jose Peraza-SS

9. Pitcher’s Spot

Don’t get me wrong, this team is capable of scoring runs. Despite lacking real talent, the Reds ranked 14th in the Majors in runs scored. Part of that is due to the fact that Great American Ballpark is very hitter-friendly but there is also some power in this Reds lineup. Aside from Votto, whom we know is about as dangerous a hitter as there is in baseball, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, and all of a sudden Scooter Gennett can take you deep if you’re not careful. Last season, Gennett became possibly the most unlikely member of the 4-home-runs-in-one-game club when he accomplished the feat in June. Prior to last season, Gennett’s season high home run total was 14. He hit 27 in 2017. And it wasn’t even like the benefit of Great American Ballpark was the big factor here, he played the first few years of his career at one of the more hitter-friendly parks in Miller Park in Milwaukee. Gennett just altered his swing and it seemed to unlock his power stroke. Hell, Gennett is 5’10 185 pounds. That doesn’t exactly scream “30 home run threat.” Adam Duvall is another guy who found his power stroke upon joining the Reds. After having been a career minor leaguer in the Giants’ organization, Duvall really came into his own in 2016 once he got regular playing time in Cincinnati when he hit 33 home runs and drove in 103 runs. He proved in 2017 that that newfound power wasn’t a fluke as he hit 31 home runs and knocked in 99 RBI last season. Duvall is pretty much an all-or-nothing guy at the plate as he typically hits in the .240’s and only walks about 6% of the time but also will hit 30+ home runs and provides some decent protection for Votto. And I’ve been beating around the bush quite a bit because I wanted to give his teammates a little bit of recognition, but Joey Votto really is the best pure hitter in the game. He just doesn’t take a bad swing. His patience at the plate is well-documented, as he walked 19% of the time last season, but when he does swing, he rarely misses. In fact, in 2016, Votto didn’t hit a single infield fly. Not one. He hit only hit 1 in 2017. Plus he only strikes out about 11% of the time so typically when he puts a swing on, he doesn’t miss. The fact that he’s spent his entire 10-year (entering 11th) career with the Reds during a time when they’ve typically struggled (they had some success at the start of the decade) is a shame and it will result in him probably not being remembered as fondly as he should, which is saying a lot since he was 2010 NL MVP. There’s your Joey Votto appreciation for the day.

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Reds pitching seems to always have been a struggle. In fact, the only pitcher I can ever remember having any real success in a Reds uniform is Johnny Cueto and he had to resort to a little gimmick to aid in his success (the shimmy he does in his windup). Last season the Reds finished with the second worst team ERA in the Majors (ahead of only the Tigers) and worst in the National League. Homer Bailey is their best starting pitcher but he’s dealt with a lot of injuries since he signed his extension with the Reds a couple years ago. The author of 2 no hitters in his career, Bailey hasn’t pitched a full season since 2013 and last season in 18 starts he had an ERA over 6. The best stretch of Bailey’s career was 2011-13 where he consistently had an ERA in the mid-3’s in all 3 years but he just hasn’t been on the mound since that time due to injury. The Reds will hope to have him return to full health this season if they’re going to have any hope of escaping the cellar of the NL Central, a place they’ve been stuck in since 2014. Anthony DeSclafani is a decent pitcher and Luis Castillo has some electric stuff, but nobody in their starting rotation is an established stud.

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If you think the Reds’ starting rotation is bad, shield your eyes from their bullpen. Aside from their closer, Raisel Iglesias, there is nobody in their ‘pen that would give manager Brian Pryce any confidence. Iglesias, who has also been an Opening Day starter for the Reds, saved 28 games last season and pitched to a 2.49 ERA while striking out nearly 11 batters per 9 innings. After him, their best options are Michael Lorenzen, a failed starter with inconsistent bullpen success (he was good in 2016, bad in ’17), Jared Hughes, who is actually pretty decent as his ERA is consistently in the low 3’s, and David Hernandez. Those are the best options the Reds have to set up Iglesias. Late innings should get interesting in Cincinnati.

Overall, I don’t expect much out of the Cincinnati Reds. In fact, I suspect they will finish last in the NL Central once again. Their bats coupled with the benefits of Great American Ballpark will keep them in games but their pitching is just so bad I can’t envision them ever really sniffing the .500 mark. They have a good closer, but actually having a lead so that he can shut the door is going to be a struggle for the Reds. They have some decent prospects in waiting, such as the 18 year-old flamethrowing pitcher/shortstop Hunter Greene, third baseman Nick Senzel, and outfielder Taylor Trammell, but those guys are still a little ways away. Expect the Reds to finish with one of the worst records in the National League in 2018.

Projected Record: 69-93, last in NL Central

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me tomorrow when I discuss the Cleveland Indians, who look to exorcise their postseason demons in 2018. Let me know what you think of the Reds’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Super Bowl LII Preview

So it’s all come down to this. Super Bowl Sunday. The Eagles and Patriots took very different routes to get to this point. The Eagles were running roughshod over the league before losing their potential MVP quarterback in Carson Wentz to an ACL tear. He gets replaced by Nick Foles, who had been inconsistent up until the NFC Championship game, where he absolutely lit up the NFL’s #1 defense in the Vikings. Meanwhile the Patriots got off to a rough start and everybody wondered if this was the beginning of the end of their dynasty. Then they remembered they were the Patriots and proceeded to collect win after win en route to another AFC Championship game appearance, where they had to overcome a 10-point 4th quarter deficit to defeat the upstart Jaguars. So lets do what I always do with championship games and go position-by-position to see which team has the advantage.

Quarterback

Patriots: Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer

Eagles: Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Advantage: Patriots

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Was there really ever any doubt? Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time whether he has protective bandages over his throwing hand or not. While Nick Foles played extremely well in the NFC Championship game, he’s too inconsistent for me to really give him a chance here. And as much as I love Nate Sudfeld, him being the previous Indiana quarterback, he can’t hold a candle to Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was the 49ers starting quarterback to start the season and how many guys can say they have a winning record as a starter for the reborn Browns? Just Hoyer. So this was a pretty easy choice here.

Runningback

Patriots: Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Clement, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Patriots

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While I do think that the Eagles runningbacks are better rushers, the Patriots runningbacks are far more dynamic and versatile. Ajayi and Blount are good running the football, but they have bricks for hands out of the backfield. They usually have Clement receiving the passes. Lewis, White, and Burkhead are all not only good rushers, but they’re good receiving out of the backfield as well, which is why they’re getting the nod over the Eagles backs.

Wide Receiver/Tight End

Patriots: Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski, Dwayne Allen, Jacob Hollister

Eagles: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins, Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Advantage: Patriots

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A healthy Julian Edelman would’ve made this an easy choice, but alas, we take what we get. This is probably one of the most balanced receiving groups the Patriots have had since the Moss-Welker days as they have a speedster who can take the top off (Cooks), possession receivers that can move the chains (Hogan and Amendola) and a huge red zone threat (Gronkowski). The Eagles have a similar group of guys (Agholor moving the chains, Smith the speedster, Jeffery the huge red zone threat), but I think the Patriots have utilized them most effectively this season.

Offensive Line

Patriots: Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, La’Adrian Waddle, Cameron Fleming

Eagles: Hal Vatai, Stefen Wisniewski, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson

Advantage: Eagles

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Finally, the Eagles are on the board here and it’s thanks in large part to probably the best right side of an offensive line I think I’ve ever seen. You can make an argument for all three of Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson being the best at their respective spots on the offensive line in the entire NFL. While the Patriots’ O-line is solid, they don’t have nearly enough talent to contend with the Eagles. And imagine if Jason Peters were healthy on the left side. Vatai is the weakest link on either of these offensive lines, but his teammates are so good they make up for his shortcomings.

Defensive Line

Patriots: Trey Flowers, Malcom Brown, Adam Butler, Alan Branch, Deatrich Wise, Lawrence Guy, Ricky Jean Francois, Eric Lee

Eagles: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Beau Allen, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Vinny Curry

Advantage: Eagles

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There’s just too much talent on this Eagles defensive front. In fact, I think Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan, the starting DT’s, are going to be the most critical pieces if the Eagles hope to beat the Patriots. Brady does pretty well when there’s pressure coming from the tackles but he’s like a deer in the headlights when there’s pressure coming up the middle. Cox and Jernigan are one of the best DT duos in the NFL and they’re going to need to get lots of pressure to stifle Brady. For the Patriots, their defensive line is a patch-up job as they lost a lot of their guys to either free agency in the offseason or to injury and it’s resulted in them being possibly the weakest unit on this team.

Linebacker

Patriots: Kyle Van Noy, James Harrison, Elandon Roberts, Marquis Flowers, David Harris

Eagles: Mychal Kendricks, Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode, Dannell Ellerbe, Kamu Grugier-Hill

Advantage: Eagles

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This was probably the closest one to choose from and I debated calling this a tie. But I hate ties so I decided to go with the pure talent aspect and that’s where the Eagles won out. Both teams lost their star middle linebackers midway through the seasons (Dont’a Hightower for the Patriots, Jordan Hicks for the Eagles) and they’ve both been trying to get by with the pieces they have. While Van Noy is having a career year, the talent around him in Elandon Roberts and a 39 year-old James Harrison doesn’t quite stack up to what the Eagles have in Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham.

Secondary

Patriots: Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Eric Rowe, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Johnson Bademosi, Brandon King, Jordan Richards

Eagles: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Malcolm Jenkins, Corey Graham, Rodney McLeod

Advantage: Patriots

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It was a tale of two halves of the season for the Patriots’ secondary and no better was it personified than in the play of Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore looked lost in Matt Patricia’s system his first few weeks, as he would blow coverage after coverage while the Patriots would get lit up by quarterbacks that probably shouldn’t be doing so. He suffered a concussion midway through the year and after he returned, he’s been his old Pro Bowl-caliber self, locking down any receiver that he’s matched up on. Eric Rowe has also been a bright spot in this secondary as well and it’s interesting to note that the Patriots acquired him from the Eagles in a trade a couple years ago after a poor showing to start his career in Philly. For the Eagles, their secondary is considered their weak spot as their cornerbacks in particular have been very inconsistent this season.

Specialists

Patriots: Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona, Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden

Eagles: Jake Elliott, Donnie Jones, Nelson Agholor, Rick Lovato, Kenjon Barner

Advantage: Eagles

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I’d probably give this a tie to the kickers and punters, as both units for both teams have been very solid this season. The thing that puts the Eagles over the top is Kenjon Barner as their return man. While he isn’t Devin Hester by any means, Barner would definitely be an upgrade over Lewis and Amendola as returners.

Coaching

Patriots: Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia

Eagles: Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, Jim Schwartz

Advantage: Patriots

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Got to go with the Patriots here for obvious reasons. While it can’t be overstated the job that Pederson and company have done with this Eagles team, it’s Bill Belichick for Christ’s sake. Plus, he’s got two head coaches serving as his coordinators in McDaniels and Patricia, who will be taking over the Colts and Lions respectively after this game ends.

Scoreboard: Patriots 5, Eagles 4

No need to even watch the game now, congratulations to the Patriots on their sixth Super Bowl victory. As a Pats fan, I pray I don’t regret that sentence. This will be my third championship prediction segment, first time around I picked the Dodgers to win the World Series (I was wrong) then I picked Alabama to win the CFP National Championship (I was right). So really there isn’t anything to suggest how this is going to go based on my picks. Let me know who you think is going to win the Super Bowl in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

My Problem With the NCAA

So first of all, congratulations to Baker Mayfield for winning the Heisman Trophy. Easily the most deserving player and he did it as a former walk-on. Truly a feat for the ages. That being said, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny finished fifth in voting after a fantastic season, rushing for over 2000 yards and 19 scores. Penny may have done this for free, but his coach Rocky Long received a $10,000 bonus because Penny made first team All American. So the schools can’t pay their players for their performance, but they can pay their coaches for that player’s performance. Explain to me why that’s fair. Now to set the record straight, Long is a Hell of a coach. San Diego State is perennially among the best non-Power 5 teams in the country and it’s amazing some high-profile school hasn’t tried to sign him away yet (or maybe they have and he’s just turned them down, I don’t know. Wouldn’t surprise me, San Diego is one of my favorite cities and he’s probably in a really good situation there). He’s not the only coach with contract stipulations like this. Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury would receive a quarter of a million dollars if a Red Raider won the Heisman. Those are the only ones I’m aware of but I guarantee you those aren’t the only coaching bonuses in the NCAA for individual player performances.

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The problems start at the top with NCAA head Mark Emmert. This guy makes Roger Goodell look like Yoda in how incompetent he can be at times. This is an unedited quote from Emmert after Lavar Ball pulled LiAngelo from UCLA to “better prepare” him for the NBA:

Is this a part of someone being part of your university as a student-athlete or is it about using college athletics to prepare yourself to be a pro? If it’s the latter, you shouldn’t be there in the first place

So what he’s trying to say is if a player uses college athletics as a stepping stone to go pro, then he shouldn’t be in college in the first place.

This is possibly the worst thing he could have said regarding the whole LiAngelo Ball situation. For a lot of athletes, it’s go pro or bust and they kind of have to prepare that way because they can be cut and lose their scholarship at any time. Being a student, as many of us probably know, is a full-time job. Being a Division 1 collegiate athlete is also a full-time job. So as a student-athlete, these kids are basically balancing two full-time jobs and they can’t receive any compensation for either unless they do make it in the pros, which for most sports isn’t really an option. Hell, NCAA has a tagline that reads “there are over X-number of student athletes and almost all of them will go pro in something other than sports.” By saying what Emmert said, you’re basically devaluing the work a lot of athletes deliver for their schools.

The fact that schools can make millions off of these kids’ performances and get away with not allowing the kids to make any sort of money off their own play is criminal. But the NCAA has put themselves in basically the perfect situation with their defense: “we don’t pay them because they’re amateurs, they’re amateurs because we don’t pay them.” It’s so simple yet it pretty much makes any athlete trying to make money shit out of luck.

Now to be fair to the universities, there will be a huge problem if it becomes mandated that the schools have to pay the athletes: they would have to pay ALL of the athletes. Not just the revenue-generating sports of football and men’s basketball. I mean gymnastics, swimming, water polo, you name it, all have to get paid, otherwise you’re going to create huge problems within your school. Let’s look at Title IX for a moment. Now yes, Title IX was a great innovation that gave women equal opportunities to receive an education and be treated like their male counterparts. But the problem with Title IX was that for every collegiate sport men had, women had to get as well (it’s a little more complicated than that, but that’s the dumbed down version I’m going with). Well whenever a school wants to install a new sport, they need money to pay for uniforms, equipment, a field, coaches, etc. The schools already had lots of money poured into the revenue generators and would need to come up with even more money to accommodate the women. One thing they could have done was try and more evenly distribute the funds dedicated to each sport. But how can a school like Alabama cut down their funding for football when it is probably the biggest attraction the school has to offer? How do you tell a guy like Nick Saban you have to pay him less than what his contract says so that the girls can play volleyball (don’t worry, I’ll get into coach salaries soon)? So what did the schools do? They started cutting male sports and using the funds that had been dedicated to them and repurposing them for the new women’s sports. Wrestling got hit particularly hard by this because let’s face it, outside of staged wrestling, how many women do you really see get into the sport? You can probably count them on one hand, if at all. So many schools cut different male programs and put thousands of students out of a scholarship, possibly killing their chances at a degree and potential career after sports. If the NCAA mandated that the schools had to pay the athletes, I guarantee a similar thing would happen.

One argument I keep hearing in favor of not paying players is that they¬†are paid: with a full ride to college. That’s not 100% accurate. Really only the best of the best get a full ride, the Marvin Bagley’s and Saquon Barkley’s of the world. I’ve talked with several athletes around campus at Indiana who are only on partial scholarship. And don’t even get me started on the walk-ons who have to pay in full, which Baker Mayfield was. Plus, as I mentioned before, players can get cut and in many cases, lose their scholarship, which for many athletes was their one real ticket into college in the first place. Hell, I’ve been paid for my broadcasts with the Big Ten Network’s Student U program and I had about as much to do with the game I’m calling as the guy scalping tickets in the parking lot. If I were to do play-by-play with a current student athlete and they were to get paid to do the same job I just did, that would be an NCAA violation and they could get the school in big trouble even though it’s the Big Ten Network that handles the salary (I think, I’m not 100% sure on that, I kind of just blindly filled out some paperwork to get on payroll).

Another thing I keep seeing is people saying sarcastically “there’s no money to pay the players” when a coach gets signed to a lucrative contract. It kind of goes back to the line about amateurism I referenced before. There isn’t the money for athletes because they pay the coaches so much, they pay coaches so much because there isn’t money for athletes. Not quite the same, but it now puts them in a bind because there is as much as $9 million before incentives (Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh) dedicated towards a single head coach. Now I’m sure there are plenty of coaches who would gladly cut their salaries so that their guys can make money, but that’s just not fair to ask of them. Because you’re paying them so much, they’re now accustomed to a certain life style. Granted, a college football coach probably doesn’t get to bask in that money a whole lot because they’re always on the road either recruiting or coming up with gameplans, but the schools have created this roadblock in coaching salaries that makes it nearly impossible to pay players what they’re worth, which is a ton considering how much money sports can rake in for a university.

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Which brings me to my next point, how much money a university actually profits. It turns out, most schools actually don’t turn a profit from college athletics and are actually operating at a deficit. It’s the major schools such as Texas that actually turn profits. While a school like Texas could probably afford to pay their players (their athletic department rakes in over $180 million a year as of 2016, according to Business Insider), a smaller school such as Ball State can’t. So that creates another conundrum, especially considering players can’t just become free agents and seek larger markets to get a bigger salary for their performance like they can in the pros. Once you pick your school, you’re basically stuck there for three to four years. The only form of leaving is transferring and by NCAA rules you have to sit out an entire season if you do. It also becomes tricky as to how much you should pay each player and whether or not athletes in one sport make more than athletes in another. There are a whole lot of logistical problems surrounding all of this that there’s really only one viable solution that I can come up with in which everybody wins.

Allow players to sign with agents and make money off their own name on their own time. No money has to come out of the pockets of the athletic departments, they can keep paying their coaches their ridiculous sums (Harbaugh makes more than all NFL head coaches) and the players can use their performance to make some money. Now yes, football players and basketball players will likely receive more phone calls than water polo players. But I guarantee you there will be some money to be made from local businesses, such as sporting goods stores, that would love to feature a softball player in their ads and whatnot. The only real concern would be potentially shady agents taking advantage of kids who might not know any better. My response to that is that if the NCAA cares as much about the student athlete as they claim to, then monitor these actions. Have all contracts go through the NCAA offices and be approved by an NCAA official before allowing it to go through so that an athlete isn’t being taken advantage of. I haven’t really heard any horror stories about agents taking advantage of their professional clients, so I doubt this really would become a problem. The shadiest thing I’ve heard is Emmanuel Sanders signed with the Broncos while his agent agreed to a deal with the Chiefs a few years back, which sounds more like a miscommunication than anything. But otherwise I never hear about any real issues regarding agents and their clients. I see no reason why these players can’t make money off their name and likeness. Plus if that happens, then I’ll get my NCAA video games back, which I’ve missed terribly since they were discontinued following the 2013 season. Which really is the important thing here.

Should players be paid by the universities? Should players be allowed to sign with agents and do endorsement deals? Is the current system fine with you? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon. Also, sorry for not posting yesterday. It’s Finals Week at IU and I’ve been pretty busy. I’m going to try and continue my normal posting routine this week, but if I break off of it, it’s because I’ve got exams to worry about.