Road to the Orange Bowl: Two SEC teams in the playoffs, again?

Given the Week 4 rankings it’s going to be awfully difficult for the College Football Playoff committee to resist the urge to place two SEC teams in the final four. 

Once again, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia sit at the top of the rankings, along side with five other SEC members. The Crimson Tide held off a second half surge at No. 11 Florida while the Bulldogs dominated South Carolina at home. 

The last time both Alabama and Georgia were in the playoff, they met in the title game. Alabama won the national championship despite not even playing in the SEC title game.

It’s likely that the only time these two titans face off will be in the SEC Championship Game. Should they both maintain their respective standing going into the title game, would the results be moot? Would the loser simply end up at No. 4 when it’s all said and done?

For the other conference front runners, that would hopefully not be the case. No. 4 Oklahoma continues to go up and down the rankings because of how close the Sooners’ soft non-conference matchups have been. Oregon moved up to No. 3 but might not have to luxury of a forgivable loss entering their conference slate. The Big Ten’s three Top 10 teams (No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Penn State and No. 10 Ohio State) will likely beat each other up Until No. 8 Cincinnati enters the Big 12, the Bearcats will likely need to be perfect and hope for nationwide chaos to get in. 

The road to the Orange Bowl will likely go through the SEC but Oregon remains the best hope to crash the party. However, there are other teams new to the rankings who could make a surprise entry. 

The PAC is Wack

Speaking of Oregon, is it possible to count Fresno State as a signature win? The Ducks were initially looked at sideways after beating the Bulldogs by a single touchdown in Week 1, but Fresno State shocked the nation this past weekend with a 40-37 win over No. 13 UCLA, who dropped down to No. 22.

Overall it was a bad week for the Pac-12, starting with Colorado, which came close to knocking off a top 5 team a week ago, getting shutout at home 30-0 by Minnesota. 

“That was a complete, I would say, beatdown in every way,” Colorado coach Karl Dorrell said.

On the plus side, Buffaloes linebacker Nate Landman continues to look like an NFL Draft prospect with his second consecutive 10 solo tackle game.

Utah became the second Pac-12 team to fall to San Diego State with a 33-31 overtime loss. The Aztecs previously dominated Arizona the week before. The Wildcats are so bad this season that after losing to FCS Northern Arizona for the first time since becoming a member of the Pac-12 a winless season is now a highly probable outcome. 

“It’s embarrassing,” said wide receiver Stanley Berryhill III, possibly Arizona’s only good player.

Arizona travels to Oregon this week to be the Ducks’ late night sacrificial lamb on ESPN. 

The Pac-12 now serves to prop up Oregon, who will now have to run the table in impressive fashion in order to have a chance at the playoffs. USC winning again and Stanford reestablishing itself with a dominating win over Vanderbilt has helped the Ducks’ potential playoff resume. 

BYU is for real

The primary purpose of BYU going independent a decade ago was to have control over the schedule and give itself a better chance to get noticed by the BCS/CFP panel. Not only do the Cougars finally have that schedule but are also good enough to take advantage of it. 

The Cougars started the season with three Pac-12 opponents and have cleaned the slate with a 27-17 win over No. 19 Arizona State, who fell off the rankings. 

With 561 passing yards and seven touchdowns, BYU quarterback Jaren Hall seems to be picking up right where Zach Wilson left off.

“We’re 3-0 against good opponents,” Hall said. “What more can you ask for?”

The Cougars have Boise State, Virginia and USC as notable games. A perfect season for BYU might be enough to get the Cougars to a New Year Six Bowl if not the playoffs. 

“WE ARE!”

Any time an SEC team loses a non-conference game, another conference gets its wings. 

Memphis stunned Mississippi State 31-29, Stanford beat Vanderbilt by a 41-23 blowout, and Penn State took down Auburn 28-20. 

With the win, Penn State is positioned in the Big Ten’s driver seat. While the Nittany Lions are expected to get through Villanova (this aint basketball) and Indiana with ease, their looming road matchup with Iowa will tell the story of the season for that conference. 

Iowa knocked off the Big-12’s second best team in the most consequential matchup between the Hawkeyes and the No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones in recent history. Defense is their identity, so when the two teams face off on October 9, it will have the makings of a classic SEC slugfest, which might help both their causes. 

OK Boomer Sooner

Oklahoma entered the season with the Heisman front runner and as a virtual lock to get into the playoff. While the Sooners are 3-0, as their supposed to be, two of their games have been too close to call. Both Tulane and Nebraska came within an arms reach of upsetting the Sooners, which have prompted the AP to penalize them in the rankings. 

This may potentially be a down year for the Big 12, which is going to soon experience a boom in added teams before eventually losing their founding members in OU and Texas. Theres a good chance that the Sooners run the table once again and the title game ends up being a Bedlam rematch but until then, more ugly victories could potentially keep OU out this season.

Tua Tagovailoa left on a cart with bruised ribs in the first quarter of the Dolphins' 35-0 loss to the Bills.

Pressure Point: Progress of Miami Dolphins’ rebuild suspect after demoralizing defeat

This was always the biggest concern with this Miami Dolphins rebuilding project.

That Tua Tagovailoa would get hurt?

That’s always a possibility with any NFL quarterback — though it was a valid question with Tua when they drafted him given his injury history in college.

But the demoralizing aspect of the Dolphins’ 35-0 whipping in their home opener by the Buffalo Bills is the evidence it provided to this:

What if the Dolphins tear down their roster, build it back up with an abundance of draft picks, then when they think they’re playoff ready they discover they’re still not close to competitive with the best in their own division?

Because, man, was that ever obvious in Sunday’s debacle. The Dolphins aren’t in the same league with the Bills by any measure.

Truth is, the 1-1 Bills haven’t even played their best in their first two games. But they’ve won the past six meetings with the Dolphins.

Buffalo’s advantage in the past two (the 2020 finale and Sunday) is 91-26.

Dolfans have reason to feel gut-punched

The Dolphins, after eking out a win at New England let their fans down mightily with an inept and undisciplined showing in the home opener. But the punch to the gut for Dolfans is the likelihood that this is who they are right now against a top-tier team.

Most glaring was the ineptitude of the offensive line, which allowed six sacks.

It caused Tagovailoa to get knocked out early.

The Dolphins have invested seven draft picks in the line in the past three years. Yet this vital unit remains a liability. Adding to the woes, Jesse Davis, their most experienced lineman, went out with a knee injury Sunday.

How about the receiving corps, a supposed strength? DeVante Parker dropped a touchdown pass. Albert Wilson dropped a first down. Jakeem Grant fumbled.

Then their highly touted first-round pick, receiver Jaylen Waddle, fumbled away a punt just before the half — he had a couple drops as well.

The tally was three turnovers (the fumbles by Grant and Waddle and Jacoby Brissett also threw a pick) in the first half, which ended 14-0 and still within reach.

Miami had seven unproductive drives in the opening half, including two that ended with turnovers.

Xavien Howard saves Dolphins from gut-wrenching defeat in season opener at New England

Offense inept with or without Tagovailoa

The report on Tagovailoa is bruised ribs, so probably not a long-term injury. For now the offense is in the hands of Brissett, who looked like what he is: a serviceable backup.

The defense gave up touchdowns on the Bills’ first two possessions. That included a 46-yard scoring run by former Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary, who had a massive hole to run through.

It is the longest rushing touchdown the Dolphins have allowed in more than five seasons.

After playing respectably through the second quarter, the defense offered little resistance on a 75-yard touchdown drive in eight plays to open the second half. It unraveled from there.

Lopsided defeat reveals Dolphins’ shortcomings

The Bills ran right over the Dolphins with a 143-71 advantage on the ground.

Not to bail on the Flores/Grier regime after a 1-1 start. But this had the look of a lot more than a bad day.

Can’t help but question the progress of the so-called rebuild at this point in year three.

The Dolphins have been butting into a glass ceiling for two decades. They haven’t put a crack in the glass yet.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Goldie’s Picks: Play the Chargers, Bills, Bengals, more

Goldie’s All Time Record: 135-61          Vs. Spread: 98-95

Goldie’s Week 1 Record : 9-6                 Vs. Spread: 9-6

Goldie’s Guarantee All Time: 10-5         21-22 Season: 1-0

Goldie’s Upset All Time: 10-4                 21-22 Season: 1-0

Crazy Uncle Jeff All Time: 17-2              21-22 Season: 1-1

 

Goldie’s Guarantee

Minnesota Vikings (0-1) @ Arizona Cardinals (1-0)

Vegas Picks: ARI -3.5

Goldie’s Take: Cardinals Win 31-21

Both of these teams showed the football world a lot during week 1. The Vikings showed us that they might not be as good as we thought, and the Cardinals showed us that they’re much better than we thought. Zona’ is the real deal this season on both sides of the football. Cards roll through the Vikes this weekend. I GUARANTEE IT!  

 

Goldie’s Upset of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals (1-0) @ Chicago Bears (0-1)

Vegas Picks: CHI -2.5

Goldie’s Take: Bengals Win 24-22

Joey Burrow looked great last week coming off a terrible injury that ended his rookie year. A big momentum boost to come back and win that one in overtime last week over the Vikings. Burrow and the Bengals will have some swagger coming into this one, as the Bears look like they’re treading water. I’m still baffled by their decision to stick with Andy Dalton as the starting quarterback. He wasn’t even good when he was in his prime, and the redheaded QB hasn’t been relevant in years. He’s costing Chicago wins and not letting the rookie Justin Fields develop. I don’t get it. Bengals UPSET the Bears in the windy city!

 

Crazy Uncle Jeff Lock of the Week: GB -11

Detroit Lions (0-1) @ Green Bay Packers (0-1)

Vegas Picks: GB -11

Goldie’s Take: Packers Win 30-24

Crazy Uncle is doubling down on Green Bay after a rare miss last week! Jeffy has concluded that last week was nothing but a fluke, and the Packers are locked in and ready to put a hurting on the Lions this Monday night. Rodgers may have not totally been in it last week, but he’s sure to put on a show for the home fans. If there’s something you can always count on in this world it’s: Death, taxes, and the Lions losing in Green Bay

 

Crazy Uncle Jeff Lock of the Week: DAL +3.5

Dallas Cowboys (0-1) @ Los Angeles Chargers (1-0)

Vegas Picks: LAC -3.5

Goldie’s Take: Chargers Win 27-24

Dak Prescott looked phenomenal in their last minute loss to the Bucs last Thursday. Jeffy thinks the Cowboys high powered passing game is going to be enough to avenge that loss with a big performance this weekend. However, I personally don’t they’re not going to win games until they figure out their run game. Zeke couldn’t get anything going in Tampa, and if that continues it’s going to be very difficult for the ‘Boys to stay competitive. Give me the Bolts in a close one. 

 

New Orleans Saints (1-0) @ Carolina Panthers (1-0)

Vegas Picks: NO -3.5

Goldie’s Take: Saints Win 26-21

NOLA had a serious statement win last week, blasting the Green Bay Packers 38-3. Carolina on the other hand, had a hard time putting away the Jets. The Panthers offense is too McCaffrey centric in my opinion and that tends to often be their downfall. Saints keep the train rollin’ with a win in Carolina this weekend.

 

Houston Texans (1-0) @ Cleveland Browns (0-1)

Vegas Picks: CLE -12.5

Goldie’s Take: Browns Win 35-19

Even though the Texans did look pretty good last week against the Jags, I feel they’ll come back down to earth this Sunday. Tyrod Taylor is going to have a much tougher time against the stingy Cleveland defense than he did against the Jags. Plus the Browns are looking to get back to .500 early in a season that has high expectations on them. Yes, you read that right, high expectations for the Cleveland Browns. Cleveland steamrolls the Texans in the Dawg Pound this Sunday. 

 

Las Vegas Raiders (1-0) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0)

Vegas Picks: Steelers Win 23-22

Goldie’s Take: PIT -6.5

Both of these squads pulled off impressive close upsets last week. In this one, I expect another close game controlled by defense. The Steelers defensive unit is no joke, evident last week by only allowing Josh Allen and the Bills 16 points. Although I think the line in Vegas is highly underestimating the Raiders, I do still expect the Steelers to win this one at home. Venue call. 

 

Buffalo Bills (0-1) @ Miami Dolphins (1-0)

Vegas Picks: BUF -3.5

Goldie’s Take: Bills Win 35-20

As a Dolphins fan this pains me to write, but the bottom line is Miami has never been a good matchup for the Bills. The last time these two teams played, the Bills absolutely destroyed the Fins, knocking Miami out the playoffs in the process. Plus, the Bills are going to be coming for blood after getting upset by Pittsburgh last week. Bills by multiple scores. 

 

Los Angeles Rams (1-0)  @ Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

Vegas Picks: LAR -4

Goldie’s Take: Rams Win 28-23

The Rams looked like a machine in their rout of the Bears last week, and they’ll try to bring that momentum right into this one as well. There isn’t a defense in the league that is stronger than the Rams, plus the addition of Matt Stafford seems to have the offense working pretty well too. Indy will put up a good fight at home, but in the end expect the Rams to prevail in this one. 

 

San Francisco 49ers (1-0) @ Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)

Vegas Picks: SAN -3

Goldie’s Take: Niners Win 27-17

After getting up huge on Detroit last week, the Niners ALMOST dropped the ball and blew that game. I feel they’ll learn from the bullet they dodged last week, and do a better job of closing this one out. Also, the Niners D will do a much better job of containing Jalen Hurts than the Falcons did. Niners win this one on the road to improve to 2-0. 

 

Denver Broncos (1-0) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)

Vegas Picks: DEN -6

Goldie’s Take: Broncos Win 26-17

This could be another long season for Jags fans as their week one matchup with Houston didn’t show many signs of life. The rookie QB and head coach tandem is still getting adjusted to the NFL, and it might take some time. Broncos win a snoozer. 

 

New England Patriots (0-1) @ New York Jets (0-1)

Vegas Picks: NE -6

Goldie’s Take: Pats Win 22-17

Bill Belichick is 22-7 in his career when facing a rookie starting quarterback. Expect that trend to continue this weekend as I can’t see the Pats losing 2 consecutive divisional games right off the bat. Defense rules and Pats get a gritty victory in Metlife this Sunday. 

 

Atlanta Falcons (0-1) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)

Vegas Picks: TB -12.5

Goldie’s Take: Buccaneers Win 31-20

The Atlanta Falcons are a mystery, and they’ve been mystery ever since I started last season with Goldie’s Takes. No doubt in my mind the Bucs are going to win this one, but I expect Matty Ice and the Falcons to at least cover the hefty point spread this Sunday. 

 

Tennessee Titans (0-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (1-0)

Vegas Picks: SEA -6

Goldie’s Take: Seahawks Win 35-31

I don’t think last week’s loss to Arizona is a true representation of the Tennessee Titans. They had a bad week all around, but it’s going to be tough having to follow up a bad week like that with a tough road game in a hostile environment. I think these two teams are pretty even on paper but Seattle’s home field gives the ‘Hawks a slight advantage. Seahawks in a venue call. LET RUSS COOK!

 

Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) @ Baltimore Ravens (0-1)

Vegas Picks: KC -3.5 

Goldie’s Take: Chiefs Win 31-26

Mahomes versus Lamar on primetime is not one you’re going to want to miss. Expect a back and forth game throughout, but the Chiefs historically have been the more clutch team. Give me Patty and the Chiefs to win and cover this Sunday night. 

 

Dolphins

3 Bold Predictions for the Dolphins against the Bills

The Miami Dolphins won in a nail biter against the New England Patriots in Week 1. Here are three bold predictions as the Dolphins face off against the Bills this Sunday.

Tua Tagovailoa balls out

Call me crazy, but I think Tua Tagovailoa will have flashes of brilliance against a talented Bills defense. Last week against the Patriots, Tagovailoa was average working through pressure and had some errant throws. Admittedly, he knows he needs to clean up some stuff. It was only Week 1 where everyone was rusty.

With all the criticism stemming from the offseason, Tagovailoa will need to silence his critics. It could come against the bills.

In an Offense designed for Tua and Tua only, he is comfortable knowing where he needs to throw the ball and who he needs to throw to. It is a timing based offense catered to his biggest strength. Timing and accuracy.

In a critical moment of the game, Tua checks out of the run play and throws a dart to DeVante Parker on a 1st and 14 to move the chains and close the game with a win.

Last year, he lacked the ability to signal his WRs to get out of bad plays, and he took the blame for that by saying it was because he didn’t know the playbook well enough. At a crucial point in the game, he signaled to get out of the bad play and put the ball into a position where only DeVante Parker could succeed.

From his former OC in Steve Sarkisian:

“Tua, very instinctual. He can make RPOs work. He’s the best signaler I’ve ever been associated with. This guy will signal things that didn’t even practice, but he’ll signal it, and it works.”

He will have several “gotta have it” moments against the Bills.

His Stat line: 350 Yards, 3 TDs.

Jevon Holland is the Josh Allen Killer

Jevon Holland played only 24 snaps and was the highest graded rookie per PFF, he had an 82.5 overall grade. I expect that to change against the Bills.

Buffalo comes into Miami with a potent aerial attack led by Josh Allen who haunts the Dolphins. Allen is 7-1  against Miami in his career.

However, Josh Allen struggled against Pittsburgh and looked like his old self in 2018 and 2019. The Steelers employed a heavy usage of two-safety looks and showing man coverage. Instead they played a lot of Cover 3 buzz and had safeties dropping into the middle of the field, not deep. This led to Josh Allen holding the ball longer, facing pressure and not converting his plays.

Miami’s corners handled the deep ball against the Patriots in Cover 3 and Tampa 2 but they have to face Stefon Diggs who can take passes to the house. Albeit, I believe Xavien Howard is equipped to handle Diggs.

The issue is that Miami’s LB corps cannot cover the middle of the field well, this is where Holland comes to play.

Minkah Fitzpatrick played a fantastic game as a deep and intermediate safety and did not allow players to get deep very often. Holland replaced Fitzpatrick, and is a better fit in Brian Flores’ scheme.

With over 800 career snaps in the slot, more than 300 as a free safety and 300 more in the box, Holland could be tasked in securing the Middle of the field and not allowing players to move upfield.

Josh Allen runs for over 100 yards

Josh Allen can destroy offenses with his arms and his legs. If Miami could do some of the same things Pittsburgh did, Allen could look to do some damage with his legs.

The Dolphins Defense have had issues with many Mobile QBs and Allen is the biggest name of them all.

If Miami is able to hold up in coverage but not put any Pressure on Allen, it will be a tricky day for the Defense as Allen can move the chain with his legs on critical third downs. Gassing the Defense.

His stat Line just running against Miami? 340 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs.

Follow Hussam Patel on Twitter

Tua Tagovailoa greets Kyle Van Noy after the Dolphins' win at New England.

Pressure Point: Xavien Howard saves Miami Dolphins from gut-wrenching defeat

This is why the Miami Dolphins had to pay Xavien Howard and make their star cornerback happy.

Their best player saved them from a gut-wrenching loss Sunday at New England.

The Patriots avoided throwing in his direction all day. Then, with a one-point lead slipping away, Howard dislodged the ball from Damien Harris and dug it out at the Miami 9 with 3:31 remaining.

Thanks to the timely takeaway in the red zone, the Dolphins ended up with an uplifting if somewhat unlikely 17-16 victory.

It was nice to see Bill Belichick in the role of Charlie Brown with the football yanked away at the last instant, for a change.

But it was a victory to leave Dolfans feeling somewhat queasy.

Patriots’ Jones impresses in first NFL start

Consider the Patriots’ lopsided advantage in yards gained, 393 to 259, and in time of possession by nearly 13 ½ minutes.

And that they didn’t have an answer for rookie Mac Jones, who played like a seasoned veteran in his first NFL start.

Jones led an offense that converted 11 of 16 third-down situations.

Tua Tagovailoa gets the W in the Battle of Bama quarterbacks. But Jones had the advantage. He completed 29 of 39 passes for 281 yards, a touchdown and passer rating of 102.6.

As the afternoon turned to dusk, it felt like many Dolphins-Patriots games throughout the Tom Brady era. Except it was Mac Jones playing pitch-and-catch with his receivers. Making every correct decision. Stepping up to avoid the rush or letting it go just in time — on time and on target. Time and time again.

Even though Miami held the lead most of the second half, a New England victory seemed inevitable until Howard’s heroics.

Tagovailoa wasn’t bad. He led impressive touchdown drives on the first Miami possession of each half. He capped an 80-yard drive with a three-yard keeper for the early lead. Then connected with rookie Jaylen Waddle from three yards out to end a 75-yard drive in nine plays for a 17-10 Miami lead after halftime.

Tagovailoa can’t quiet critics

Tagovailoa’s performance won’t quiet his doubters in Twitter land, though.

He ended the day 16 of 27 for 202 yards and a passer rating of 79.6. In addition to the touchdown to Waddle, he made a horrendous decision in throwing a desperation pass on the run that was picked off late in the fourth quarter.

That set up New England for a would-be winning drive until Howard intervened.

Tua would have gotten savaged on Twitter this week if that pick had cost the Dolphins the game. He still may. Not that it matters.

What does matter is that more flaws were revealed than Dolfans would have expected after a busy offseason, especially on offense. After that sublime opening drive, it was crickets from the offense for most of the rest of the half.

The Dolphins went a stretch in which they gained 17 yards over a span of 11 plays. Three consecutive possessions lasted less than a minute and a half.

Somehow tight end Mike Gesicki was targeted only twice all game and finished without a catch.

Dolphins leave much room for improvement

The offensive line still looks suspect. Pass protection was shaky and there wasn’t a lot of space for the running game.

Rookie tackle Liam Eichenberg got beaten badly for a sack and was flagged for a penalty that wiped out a gain. Guard Solomon Kindley got caught downfield on a pass, negating a first-down reception.

But credit the men up front on the final possession when they ground out the first down needed to kill the clock. Tua also had a first-down toss to DeVante Parker on that drive.

The most positive sign of the day was rookie Waddle showing evidence of the dynamic weapon envisioned when Miami selected him sixth overall in April. He finished with four catches for 61 yards, including a leaping grab for 36 yards. That made up for a bad drop on a third-down pass that killed one possession.

On the short touchdown catch, Waddle did a nice job slipping the ball inside the pylon.

Defensively, the Miami pass rush was lacking except for Emmanuel Ogbah, who looks like a monster.

Xavien Howard saves day for Dolphins

Overall the defense gave a lot of ground but on three occasions made the Patriots settle for field goals after lengthy drives. They had two takeaways, extending their streak to 23 games with at least one, longest active in the NFL.

Then Xavien Howard showed why he is indispensable by making the kind of play it takes to win at New England.

Any win at Gillette Stadium is an accomplishment not to be taken lightly.

It’s always preferable to be trying to fix shortcomings coming off a win. Especially when the other three teams in the AFC East lost on Sunday.

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Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Road to the Orange Bowl: Oregon upset paves playoff path for Pac-12

The Pac-12 has been left out of the college football playoff picture for many years. The only two teams from the conference to reach the playoff have been Oregon in the first edition and Washington in 2016. 

Yet after five years on the outside looking in, there may finally be hope for the Pac-12 in the form of Mario Cristobal’s Ducks. 

There were originally some concern after beating Fresno State by only a touchdown but Oregon’s 35-28 upset win over No. 3 Ohio State has the newly ranked No. 4 Ducks in the CFP hunt as the Pac-12’s flagship program. 

Ohio State hasn’t lost a regular season game since 2018 against Purdue but the Buckeyes’ were shown to be vulnerable to the ground game. Minnesota senior running back Mo Ibrahim ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State last week.  

The Ducks were carried by junior running back CJ Verdell, who ran for 161 yards and two touchdowns and also caught three passes for 34 yards and a score. 

“We saw the Minnesota running back was having a good game, and we wanted to do the same thing,” Verdell said after the game.

It seems like an entire NFL big board could be compiled of running backs on Ohio State’s schedule. 

It’s not quite a fatal loss for the Buckeyes, but it does leave with running the conference table as their only remaining path. Ohio State, now on the outside looking in at No. 9, will take on a Tulsa team that nearly defeated Oklahoma State after losing to UC Davis of the FCS ranks the week before. 

As for Oregon, all that’s left is to win the Pac-12 title. The Ducks have a good chance of running the table but a midseason matchup with No. 13 UCLA, led by former Ducks coach Chip Kelly makes for an interesting obstacle. 

Outside of Stanford, who avenged its lopsided loss to Kansas State with a convincing win over then ranked No. 14 USC, the Pac-12 North Division is entirely winnable. Whoever comes out of the South Division to meet in the Pac-12 title game maybe a harder challenge. As of now it’s race between UCLA and No. 19 Arizona State, who took care of UNLV. The two teams face off on October 2 in the Rose Bowl.  

Rat poison proof

After dismantling Miami last week, No. 1 Alabama mauled Mercer 48-14 on Saturday. As seemingly customary during the week against an outmatched opponent, head coach Nick Saban goes on his yack-fest calling the media and other outside influences “rat poison.” 

The schtick is getting old, especially coming off a season in which the Crimson Tide won the national championship playing an all-conference schedule. With Mercer, Southern Miss and New Mexico State slated this season, maybe the schedule is the rat poison. Why waste money scheduling those teams when there are fourth other conferences littered with worthy opponents (in name only)?

As usual, there seems to be no stopping Alabama this season. At least the upcoming games against No. 11 Florida, No. 17 Ole Miss and No. 7 Texas A&M will make for interesting potential roadblocks. 

Closing the gap

There has been a growing trend this season of Power 5 teams having trouble against lower level counterparts. 

The first week of the season saw FCS beat six FBS opponents including Montana upsetting Washington, who were ranked No. 20 at the time. The opening week also saw Washington State, Duke, Cal, Illinois and Georgia Tech fall to FBS opponents. 

There weren’t as many upsets this week but there were a lot of close calls. No. 22 Miami almost followed up an embarrassing loss to Alabama with an even more embarrassing loss to Appalachian State. It took a game winning field goal to save the Hurricanes’ hide. 

No. 12 Notre Dame also needed some fourth quarter magic to topple Toledo 32-29. South Carolina needed a game winning field goal just to beat East Carolina. Same goes for Vanderbilt against Colorado State. Oklahoma State and Minnesota both won by only five points against Tulsa and Miami OH. Kansas State had a harder time with Southern Illinois than it did against Stanford the week before. 

There was one upset and if involved Florida State. Jacksonville State shocked the Seminoles  20-13 by scoring 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Florida native Damond Philyaw-Johnson’s only catch in the game was a 59-yard touchdown reception on the final play of the game. 

Just goes to show in 2021, you can’t take a victory over a G5 or FCS team for granted. 

Welcome to the SEC

The season started with the shocking news of Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, making the already power packed conference even more powerful. 

While the move won’t happen until 2025, Texas got an early look at what its new life will be like with a Week 2 matchup against Arkansas. It wasn’t pretty as the Razorbacks stampeded over the Longhorns 40-21. 

Arkansas ran for 333 yards against Texas. The last time the Razorbacks had a run game that prolific was in 2016, which was also their last winning season. 

Texas started the Steve Sarkisian era with a win over then ranked No. 23 Louisiana but a blowout loss to one of the SEC’s weaker teams brought the Longhorns back down to Earth.

“This was not a performance I was anticipating,” first-year coach Steve Sarkisian said.

“Welcome to the SEC, I guess,” Arkansas linebacker Hayden Henry said. 

Despite the loss, the Big 12 may still be a race between Texas and Oklahoma. 

Potential party crashers

No. 23 BYU hast started the season with wins over Arizona and No. 21 Utah and could crash the playoff party this season before entering the Big 12. 

The Cougars already snapped their long losing streak against their arch rivals with a 26-17 win over the Utes. A win over Arizona State would position them nicely for a potential perfect season ending with a trip to USC.

BYU is certainly taking advantage of its independence this season with seven Power 5 opponents on the schedule. Running the table this time around could give the Cougars their best chance at the playoff since leaving the Mountain West Conference a decade ago.

Dolphins

Dolphins 3 keys to the Season: Defense

As the Miami Dolphins prepare to begin the regular season, hopes are undeniably high among the fan base.

So with this in mind, here are the three keys to defensive success this season.

Scoring Defense

The Dolphins were ranked the majority of the 2020 season ranked near the top of several key defensive categories. The most important category, points per game (PPG), Miami finished sixth in the league, giving up only 21.1 PPG. 

 

Miami recorded 41 sacks ranking in the top half of all NFL Teams, 10th overall. The Dolphins led the NFL with 29 takeaways and continued their takeaway streak from 2019 to 22 games last season. Currently, it is the longest active streak in the NFL and third longest streak in team history.

Miami’s 3rd down defense was the best in the NFL last season, limiting opposing teams to a 31.2 conversion rate. That is the best mark since 1999 (28.8%). 

 

Not to mention they did not allow a touchdown in three different games in 2020. Two coming against the New York Jets and against the New England Patriots.

If the Dolphins defense was able to accomplish this while starting three different rookies in 2020, having this defense return along with new rookie additions we should expect this defense to continue their dominance.

Raekwon Davis and the DL

Defensive tackle Raekwon Davis was one of the league’s best rookie defensive linemen in 2020, earning All-Rookie team honors. Despite primarily playing the nose position in Flores’ defense he collected 40 tackles, the second most by a rookie D-lineman in 2020. 

The Dolphins beefed up front by adding DL Adam Butler and DT John Jenkins. In 63 career games with the New England Patriots, Butler has 15 sacks.  Jenkins enters his ninth NFL season and had 34 tackles for Miami in his first stint with the team in 2019. Jenkins and Butler will add extra depth and keep Wilkins and Sieler’s legs fresh in crucial moments.

Davis, Wilkins, and Sieler are stout run defenders, per PFF they were three of the Top 5 run defenders on the team last season. These 3 will be critical in helping to stop the run and allow Linebackers to clean up tackles and make plays in space.

Furthermore, it should open up avenues for the pass rush to get better with the addition of first round rookie Jaelan Phillips. He’s fundamentally sound and has the toolkit to wreak havoc against opposing offensive line in Brian Flores’ scheme.

Emmanuel Ogbah was able to become one of the league’s most productive pass rushers in 2020, his first season as a Dolphin. If Ogbah can continue the same success, the Dolphins Defense could look scarier compared to last season. He saw a six-game sack streak come to an end in Denver. The streak was tied for the second-longest in team history behind Hall of Fame LB/DE Jason Taylor’s eight-game streak in 2002. 

Brian Flores and Josh Boyer create pressure through exotic schemes and blitzes, but with the addition of new talent and returning players it may become effortless.

Weapon X

Cornerback Xavien Howard led the league with 10 interceptions last year, earning a Pro Bowl selection and being named first-team All-Pro. He became the first NFL player since 2007 to record double-digit INTs in a season. He also bailed out the Dolphins countless times, at times leading them to wins.

 

Howard had two interception streaks during the season, one being a four-game streak and the other a five game streak, which is tied for the longest in team history. Howard was limited to five games in 2019 and 12 in 2018 due to injury. Currently, he still leads the NFL in interceptions dating back to 2017.

 

In 2020, his 20 passes pass breakups were a career high and also led the NFL. It was the most by a Dolphins player in a single season since CB Patrick Surtain had 21 in 2000.

Having Howard back for this season amid an offseason controversy regarding his contract is huge as the secondary would have taken a big blow without him.

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Tua Tagovailoa is on the spot to show he can lead the Miami Dolphins to the playoffs.

Pressure Point: Opening at New England perfect gauge for Miami Dolphins

No NFL team relishes making a road trip to New England — certainly not for the past couple decades. For the Miami Dolphins, facing the Patriots at Foxborough in Sunday’s opener is the perfect challenge to begin one of the most important seasons in franchise history.

The Buffalo Bills are the team to beat in the AFC East, a bona fide Super Bowl contender. But the Patriots are the best gauge for where the Dolphins stand right now and what was achieved during the offseason.

It will be tough as hell. It always is going into Gillette Stadium.

And that’s the point: It will give an indication if the Dolphins really are moving beyond rebuilding mode into not only attaining but being capable of advancing in the playoffs.

It is a prime opportunity for Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins to shred the doubters and begin the season with a significant statement.

The Patriots are coming off their first losing season (7-9) since 2000, their first missing the playoffs since 2008.

Patriots aim for bounce back

Worse, for Bill Belichick, he had to watch Tom Brady win the Super Bowl with Tampa Bay. Then he got busy retooling his roster, doling out more than $150 million guaranteed in free agency with particular attention to fortifying a substandard offense, especially the receiving corps and line. Then he went all in on rookie quarterback Mac Jones (drafted 15th overall) and cut ties with Cam Newton.

Most of the so-called national experts are already ranking the Patriots above the Dolphins, who went 10-6 in 2020 and narrowly missed the playoffs.
Nine of 11 of ESPN staff members are picking the Patriots in the opener. Home-field advantage certainly factors into that. But what about the Patriots starting a rookie quarterback in his first NFL game?

Already national sentiment is favoring Jones over Tua Tagovailoa, who preceded him at Alabama.
Michael David Smith, of Pro Football Talk, wrote: “I’m looking forward to the Mac Jones–Tua Tagovailoa quarterback matchup, one in which I see Jones coming out on top.”

The offseason has been rife with silly Tua drama, from a flurry of interceptions in one OTA practice to concern now that him not being voted offensive captain indicates he’s not a leader.

Tua can lead on field

Wide receiver Mack Hollins, who was voted offensive captain, said this week, “Just because you’re a quarterback or just because you’re this doesn’t mean you have to be the captain or you have to be this.

“Tua is an excellent leader, an exceptional leader. The transformation he’s made from last year to this year is incredible. I think you all have seen that in how calm he feels in the pocket now versus last year.

“If you put a clip side-by-side, the changes he’s made are really night and day. That goes to leadership. It’s not like his arm magically got 10-times better. It goes to his confidence, his ability to lead and feel comfortable in the huddle.”

Brian Flores puts Dolphins quarterback controversy to rest

Tagovailoa will have a chance to add validity to all of that on Sunday. He will be on the spot to do so.

He certainly has a lot to prove. Based on what he showed in training camp and two preseason games, I’m confident in Tua — that he will distinguish himself, that the Dolphins can win with him. That he will prove to be the leader of the offense that they need.

And that over the course of the season his performance will provide a serious dose of “Shut the F up” to the critics.

He has more play-makers to work with now. I can’t wait to see No. 6 overall pick Jaylen Waddle unleashed in the regular season.

Offensive line Dolphins’ biggest question

To me, the key to the Dolphins’ success this season — the No. 1 area of concern — is the offensive line. The Dolphins have invested heavily in trying to build that unit with five picks since 2019 on the roster. It remains a bigger question mark than Tagovailoa.

If GM Chris Grier and Co. got it wrong with those players, that will stunt the progress on offense.

The defense is already good enough — the Dolphins allowed the sixth-fewest points in 2020 — and has every reason to be better this season.

Scanning the roster, the lack of star players is undeniable. But there is more quality depth than the Dolphins have had in years.

The 10-6 season gave credence to Grier’s roster building and to coach Brian Flores’ system. But taking the next step to elite will be tougher.

Standing in Miami’s way in the division are those formidable Bills and likely improved Pats.

Certainly, Tagovailoa and the offensive line have to perform a lot better than in the past. But the same can be said for much of the roster.

Dolphins’ mission clear

Judging from all the predictions, there’s not a lot of belief in these Dolphins. It borders on disrespect.

It’s up to them to change the conversation.

If you’re embarking on a mission of “Shut the F Up” in the NFL, can’t think of a better place to start than at New England.

Craig Davis has covered South Florida sports and teams, including the Dolphins, for four decades. Follow him on Twitter @CraigDavisRuns

Led by Boca native Michael Pratt, nomadic Tulane a potential AAC contender

As a Group of 5 program with minimal success in the face of the No. 2 team in the nation, if victory is unattainable, the next best thing is to win respect. 

Tulane fell to No. 2 Oklahoma 40-35 but has come away as a team worth respecting this season. The Green Wave entered the season aiming for a fourth straight bowl appearance but their performance on the road has broaden aspirations. 

One of the main reasons why is the emergence of Boca Raton native Michael Pratt. Prior to joining the Green Wave, Pratt led Deerfield Beach High School to the Florida Class 8A Semifinals as a senior in 2019.

The freshman quarterback made his debut last season in a year that doesn’t count towards eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic. After taking the reins in Week 3, he finished the year with 1,806 yards passing and 20 touchdowns, the most among any true freshman quarterback in the nation. He also scored eight touchdowns on the ground. 

With Pratt under center, Tulane went from 2-4 to 6-4 going to its third straight bowl game. The Green Wave offense scored at least 21 points or more each game throughout the season.

Pratt was practically the entire offense against the Sooners last week, throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns while leading the Green Wave in rushing with 34 yards and a touchdown. An argument could be made that he out-dueled Heisman Trophy frontrunner Spencer Rattler, who throw form 304 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. 

The Sooners led 37-14 at halftime and normally a score like that in Week 1 would mean it’s time to hit the clicker and find a more compelling game. Tulane outscored Oklahoma 21-3 in the second half to nearly pull off the comeback. 

For not winning by a higher margin, Oklahoma dropped from No. 2 to No. 4 in the rankings this week.

“That was one of the hardest hitting teams, one of the most physical teams I’ve played,” Rattler said after the game. “They came out there, and they played great, better than us, for sure. They wanted to win more than us. You could tell it.”

Tulane has gone from one crazy season to the next. After a year that kept fans away from the stadium, Tula has yet to play in their home turf due to Hurricane Ida. The opener against Oklahoma was supposed to be in New Orleans and this week’s game against Morgan State has been moved to Birmingham, Ala. 

“It’s an unusual story what we’re doing right now,” Tulane head coach Willie Fritz said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “We’re in a hotel and I don’t know how long were going to be here. We’re well taken care of, and I think I’ve mentioned it the other day in our team meeting, I told the guys that I haven’t been in a hotel this nice until I was over 40 years old, I mean this is a nice place here this Sheraton. We’re getting feed well and everything else, but we are a bit disconnected from what normal is right now. We just want to get better and its easy for me to do that, but I must convince a bunch of 18–22-year old’s that every day we got to get out there and focus, concentrate, and get better.”

Assuming the Green Wave dispatches their FCS opponent on Saturday, the next true test will come at Oxford against No. 20 Ole Miss. Even if that game also results in a close loss, Tulane could go into the American Athletic Conference slate with every game seen as a winnable one. 

No. 7 Cincinnati is seen as the favorite to run the table and win the conference title again but it might have competition this time around. 

Hurricanes Flub Their Lines in Opener

The stage was set.

The once proud Miami Hurricanes were going to take on Goliath, a college football dynasty, at its peak.

We were under no illusion of victory. That was a bridge too far.

But we certainly were reasonable in assuming Miami would try and get some punches in. When I go to a Fast and Furious movie, I don’t expect to see some sort of life changing move a la Schindler’s List. But I do expect Vin Diesel and cars.

I didn’t get that on Saturday. I got Gigli.

The biggest crime the Hurricanes committed on Saturday wasn’t that they were outclassed, although they were.

The biggest crime the Hurricanes committed on Saturday wasn’t that they missed tackles, although they did.

The biggest crime the Hurricanes committed on Saturday wasn’t that they were physically dominated, although they were.

No, to a certain extent, sans the missed tackles, a lot of that was expected.

The Hurricanes crime on Saturday was they were boring. Everyone knew it would take something extraordinary, other-worldly for Miami to win that game. So, you expected them to throw the kitchen sink at Alabama.

Instead, we got run plays on 3rd and 7, we saw no trick plays, we saw very vanilla offense and defense. Miami didn’t just get destroyed by Alabama, they set up to get destroyed, accepted their fate. They capitulated. I wanted them to empty the clip, and instead they waved the white flag.

I wanted Tony Montana telling Alabama to say hello to our little friend, and instead I got the lawyer from Jurassic Park abandoning children in an unsuccessful attempt to save himself. The lasting memories of this game for Canes fans will not be the displays of brilliance from Alabama, but the shameful cowardice of the Hurricanes’ approach.

The Shame of It

The saddest part of the game was actually the 2nd half, when the Canes opened up offensively and defensively. Granted, the game was over. Granted Alabama had taken their foot off the gas. But they were plays to be made, and Miami made some of them. They drove multiple times, they scored, they played some defense.

Some dubious officiating is likely what prevented the Hurricanes from playing an even second half (or maybe even winning it) on the scoreboard.

Of course, context matters. Had the game been moderately competitive, you knew Alabama would always be able to crank it into high gear and pull away. So certainly that the Hurricanes play making started after the game was essentially over was far from a coincidence.

But there were 2 parts that went into that, and only one is that Alabama naturally let up. The other part? Miami didn’t actually try to threaten Alabama until the game was over.

As the game unfolded, you saw our players put in a position to fail, and compete their butts off. Rallying to tackles, almost oblivious to the score. Late in the game. The effort was there, the pride was there.

What was lacking was basically everything the coaches are responsible. When the Canes weren’t missing tackles and blocks, their defensive leader was getting ejected for a brain-dead, completely unnecessary targeting penalty that was so difficult to actually accomplish it looked like he was trying to get ejected. You can’t blame the player, though. Because it’s never one player, and it’s never the same one. It’s always multiple players exhibiting committing similar mistakes. When it is a one off, that could be a player. When it is systemic, that’s the coaches.

The players wanted to rise to the moment, but the coaches did not give them the ability to even attempt to do that.

Never Again

This has been a rolling pattern for Manny Diaz’s Canes…poor preparation when there was additional time to prepare, big game yips, blown out at the critical moment.

Some of that is the opponent, but most of it rests squarely on the coaches’ shoulders. Whatever they’re doing is not working.

This can’t happen again. Manny Diaz’s administration is teetering. You’d have to bury your head in the sand to not have doubts. But he has 11 games to right the ship. The task in front of him is arduous. He needs to win enough to arrive at the big stage (the ACC Championship game, likely against Clemson), then deliver on that stage. Not necessarily win, but at least show the team has a clue, that they are capable of competing against college football’s elites.

Miami’s test on Saturday was not to beat Bama, but to prove they belonged. They didn’t do that. To say, “well Bama does this to everyone” is to jettison Miami to the scrap heap of college football, defining them as an also ran. If that is the desire of this school, this fan base, then so be it and we’ll stop pretending we’re trying to “Build Champions.”

But if not, then the next time Miami enters this stage, they must show they at least belong on the field. Otherwise, administration-level changes need to be made. The sands in the hour-glass are truly accelerating, time is short. The sun is setting on the historic remains of a once proud program.

For Miami to pass the test in their next go ’round, they actually have to show up to take it. Against Alabama, the coaches decided they weren’t good enough to do that.

The best way to guarantee a loss is to quit. –Morgan Freeman

The players certainly didn’t quit on Saturday, but the coaches appeared to do so before the game even started, never preparing to win. You only get so many chances, and Miami can’t afford to waste any more.

Vishnu Parasuraman is a contributor for @FiveReasonsSports and generally covers the Miami Hurricanes. You can follow him on twitter @vrp2003