CFB DFS Spring Report: The Non-power conference schools
When one of your bosses is an East Carolina diehard, you kind of get forced into extra assignments. For instance, when you only write about the power five football conferences, you get suggestions to write about a certain purple and gold team that is typically good at football. Well, this is the case as Mr. Lu has not impressed by the lack of Pirates’ coverage this summer.
It’s all in good fun though as I consider East Carolina a rival of mine, but one that I respect immensely. For those that don’t know, they donated money to Virginia Tech after the shooting in 2007 and were the first team to play us that fall. It also helps that this team consistently puts up points and has had some very impressive offensive players in college football the past few seasons. So, in this edition of my spring reports, I’m going to be talking about seven teams who will have an impact on CFB DFS this season and a player or two who step into larger roles or guys that will be worth keeping an eye on this season.
It’s only fair to start this off with the team I’ve already discussed: the East Carolina Pirates. When it comes to the Pirates, there are two players I’m most intrigued by: Isaiah Jones and whoever wins the quarterback spot. It all starts with the quarterback in this offense, so I’m going to start there. Kurt Benkert has a hold on the job for now and with good reason. He’s played well in the spring, and junior college transfer Blake Kemp doesn’t have the deep ball that Benkert has. This offense is based off efficiency and I believe that everyone on that coaching staff thinks Benkert can be that guy for them. The quarterback for this team is going to have massive potential due to their usage. Shane Carden was their quarterback the last three seasons and threw a combined 1,579 times.
Isaiah Jones has some big shoes to fill with Justin Hardy gone to the NFL, but I think he can definitely handle that. He was the number two guy last season and quietly had an even better season than he did his freshman year. He caught 19 more passes (81) for 224 more yards (830) this year compared to 2013. He isn’t a high yards per catch guy yet, but with a bigger role I think his talent will shine even more his junior year. Bryce Williams and Trevon Brown are interesting receiver options going into the fall with big play potential but their combined catch rate last season was just 50%. Williams is a 6’6, 250lb nightmare of a matchup at receiver, while Brown is a young player with a few big games in 2014.
This past season we saw one of the most underrated college quarterbacks get hurt and directly impact his team’s season. Taysom Hill broke his leg and injured ligaments in his knee in early October in their game against Utah State. The great news for us college football fans is that he seems to be back and at full strength at this point. When he was getting reps, he was confident and forceful on his passes and all of this was without a knee brace. When Hill wasn’t getting reps, Christian Stewart was getting reps even though he has no eligibility left. That’s right, Stewart was asked back due to the lack of depth at the quarterback position this spring and he helped the receivers grow a ton. Coaches, and even a former player or two, questioned his intensity (in a good way) because they didn’t expect someone with nothing left to play for to care so much about how the team is playing.
This offense is going to be based around Hill, but early on we might see more out of guys like Mitch Mathews (receiver) and Jamaal Williams (running back). Williams is also coming back from an injury and is a little behind in terms of return date compared to Hill, but everyone feels confident he will be ready for the season opener. Williams is a former 1,000-yard rusher (1,233 in 2015) with 24 career touchdowns. The BYU receiver coach has talked about improvement in the deep passing game this spring and Mathews should be the one targeted the most downfield. He is a 6’6 receiver who averaged 17.3 yards per catch in 2013, and then turned it up in terms of receptions and went from 23 that season to 73 in 2014. Those are the two guys I’m looking at the most after Taysom Hill in this offense.
There’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a Red Wolves fan because of the amount of talent they are returning in 2015. They return their top quarterback, top two rushers and top five receivers, including their tight end. It’s mighty impressive what they bring back and there’s no reason to think that this offense won’t average 36+ points a game this season like they did in 2014.
The key guys to look at this offense are Freddie Knighten (quarterback), Michael Gordon (running back) and J.D. McKissic (receiver). Knighten totaled 35 touchdowns last season with 3,277 passing yards and 779 rushing yards. He’s one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the country and plays in an offense meant for dynamic quarterbacks like him. Gordon averaged about 16-18 carries a game, missed two games in 2014 and still managed 1,100 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. His upside is limited due to Knighten’s presence, but his talent and production are very good. Finally, it’s tough to pick one receiver based on the way Knighten spreads it around, but McKissic is the biggest PPR threat of all Arkansas State receivers. His catch totals have declined since 2012 (103, 82, and 52 from 2012 to 2014), but some of this was due to him missing three games last season. His touchdowns will always be limited because of the routes he runs, but he consistently gets the most targets in this offense when healthy.
Last season the Bearcats had issues with consistency in their running game and threw it a ton with Gunner Kiel at quarterback. This season I’m hoping they give one guy, Mike Boone, most of the carries in this dynamic offense. The Bearcats are going to put up a ton of points and if he can get 18-20 carries a game then he’ll have major value in this offense. In the spring game, he saw limited carries (13), but still managed two touchdowns and 152 yards. Some encouraging news is Tommy Tuberville’s quote: “Mike Boone is going to be a force in college football for the next three years…” What’s discouraging is how he ended that quote: “But he’s got some competition. Hosey and Tion are playing harder, with Mike Boone out there probably leading the pack. We’ll have three good running backs next year.”
Last season, Chris Moore averaged an insane 22.4 yards per catch (30 catches) and in the spring game he showed more of that talent. He caught seven passes for 133 yards while lesser used 2014 receiver, Nate Cole, caught nine passes for 105 yards and one touchdown. This is an odd situation in that last season we didn’t see one receiver really be the guy the entire season and I think we’ll see more of that in 2015. One last thing to add is that while the offense for Cincinnati should be very good, the defense gave up yards to everyone in the spring game and should be a good target for running backs if things stay the same.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Dane Evans has a monster year for Tulsa in 2015. He’s gotten the experience (688 passes) and now he has the coach (Philip Montgomery). Montgomery is bringing his fast paced Baylor offense with him to Tulsa and it has seemed to work for the team so far. Coaches will say anything during the spring, but I love hearing that the quarterbacks have focused a lot on footwork. Anyone that has played or watched a lot of football knows that footwork is essential to throwing.
The quarterback battle was supposed to be a thing around my neck of the Twitter woods, but Evans has impressed throughout spring practice and the only other guy getting big reps in the spring game is a senior with limited experience. I could have seen early enrollee, Chad President, come in and win the job, but I can’t see a senior backup beat out Evans. This will be Evans’ job all season long and he’ll do it very well. And as we all know, Keevan Lucas is a superstar in the college ranks and will be his go-to-guy in 2015. I think 101/1,219/11 is his floor this season.
The Broncos quarterback battle is going to be one that lasts all summer long, with four guys shooting for the spot, but really only two that should be considered contenders. Last season’s backup, Ryan Finley, and true freshman, Brett Rypien, are those two guys. The good news for CFB DFS players is that their coach has said he’ll know who the starter is 10 days prior to the opener.
The receiver group is going to be a talented, but undersized one with Shane Williams-Rhodes and Thomas Sperbeck leading the way. Those two are talented players, but only come in at 5’6 and 6’0. Jake Roh is a good returning tight end for them as well. The running back situation is interesting in that there is no one guy that has stood out, but a bunch of very possible candidates. Jeremy McNichols was considered by some as the likely starter but was injured in the spring. Then freshman Cory Young hopped into the picture by having a great spring. And then the final guy in the picture is Young’s older brother. He just transferred from Stanford this offseason and will be eligible immediately. Personally, I can’t see Young holding onto the job if he is in fact given the starting spot in week one, but we’ll have to see. This is another battle that will be determined just before the season opener.
Bowling Green State
BGSU suffered a tough injury to their quarterback last season, Matt Johnson, and so James Knapke was the guy in 2014. Now, after some great practices and a very efficient spring game, Johnson has been named the starter for the opener against Tennessee. He was 17 of 23 for 182 yards and four touchdowns through the air and added a one-yard keeper in the spring game. This shouldn’t come as a surprise with the way he played in 2013. That season he threw for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns.
This typically high powered offense returns pretty much every playmaker it has with guys like Travis Greene and Roger Lewis returning in 2015. Overall, this team returns its two quarterbacks who have received a lot of experience the last two seasons, their top three running backs and every receiver who caught 25+ passes last season (all six of them). This offense will be a fun one to follow and we’ll be able to do so with their four mid-week games. Each of those games should be on ESPN.
Check out Chris’ Spring Reports for the power conferences:
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What players or teams do you have your eye on for the upcoming CFB DFS season?