A lot has gone down in only four weeks into the 2016 college football season. There’s been a handful of coaches fired without reason, teams outperforming their prior expectations, and some just flat-out failing to live up to the hype. As conference play heats up, it’s time to look at which teams you should buy or sell at the quarter point of the season.
Who To Buy?
Tennessee: After their emotional win over Florida last week, which snapped their 11-year long losing streak, prompted head coach Butch Jones to tears following the game. Tennessee is 4-0 and despite being prone to sluggish starts each week, the Volunteers have shown their metal late in games, outscoring its opponents 80-24 from the 2nd half on.
It’s hard to comprehend how Tennessee has managed to stay unbeaten while suffering sub-par performances from its two best offensive players, Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd. Dobbs, the fourth-year senior quarterback was expected to make strides as a passer this season. But instead, has only registered a completion percentage of at least 60 percent in just one game. To go along with that, Dobbs has also thrown five interceptions. Really, the best asset that Dobbs has provided the Vols offense is making plays outside the pocket, as he has rushed for 241 yards and four touchdowns already. That speed, in addition to his physicality compliments Hurd in the backfield, who is still trying to break out this season.
Tennessee’s defense hasn’t been completely overwhelming thus far, but it has stepped up late when it matters. Issues still lie in its run defense which has surrendered almost 155 yards on the ground per game. However, the Vols experienced secondary has allowed only five passing touchdowns this season, good enough for 32nd in the FBS. From a glance, Tennessee’s victories have all been ugly, there’s not really another way to put it. However, it seems as if Tennessee plays better when there backs are pressed against the walls.
Lamar Jackson and Louisville: There isn’t a question over who is the nation’s best player currently, it’s Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. The sophomore quarterback is responsible for 25 TDs (and counting) through Week 4. That’s the most by an FBS player through four games since 2005. In just one month, Jackson engineers a Cardinals’ offense that’s shown it can outperform anyone in the nation, leading the country in points per game (63.5), yards/play (9.03), yards/game (682.0), as well as offensive touchdowns (34). Even their defense is imposing, coming in 5th best in the nation in terms of yards allowed per play (3.88).
Louisville already disassembled previously second-ranked Florida State two weeks ago, in a game where the largest margin was 52-10 in favor of the Cardinals. As of right now, Louisville sits at No. 3 in the AP Poll (the program’s highest ranking ever). With no doubt their biggest task on their schedule coming up this week at Clemson, the Cardinals’ best chance to make a claim in challenging Alabama revolves around its performance in Death Valley.
Wisconsin: The Badgers came into this season with plenty of “what-ifs”; starting with a quarterback who had only one year of collegiate experience, receivers that were unproven, and a defense that couldn’t stop the run. All of this, was reason for the pollsters to keep Wisconsin unranked and out of the Big Ten West title discussion.
But here they are, through just one month of play, the Badgers have reeled off two impressive victories over LSU and Michigan State in East Lansing. Now sitting at No. 8 in the nation, Wisconsin wants the rest of the nation to know that they’re for real. So how have they done it? One word. Defense.
First-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has invigorated a toughness to the Badgers’ 4-3 defense that so far has proved its worth. In its first four games, Wisconsin resides in the Top 20 involving two of the basic defensive categories – passing defense, where they’ve surrendered 195 yards through the air per game and just two total passing TDs. And on the ground, where the Badgers are allowing only 3.2 yards per carry and 81 yards per game (13th best mark in FBS). Despite a treacherous road ahead of them, where they face three Top 15 opponents (Michigan, Ohio State and Nebraska) in four weeks, Wisconsin contains the goods on defense to last against the Big Ten’s best.
Who To Sell?
Notre Dame: This wasn’t the start that Brian Kelly envisioned his Fighting Irish would make once fall camp broke out in August. Four weeks into the season, Notre Dame is already out of playoff, even New Year’s Six bowl contention with a 1-3 record. The majority of the Irish losses have come from numerous falterings defensively. As a whole, Notre Dame ranks 101st out 128 FBS teams in scoring defense, yielding 33.5 points and 452.3 yards per game.
Kelly took a call to action last Sunday and fired defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder who was in the midst of his third season in South Bend. At the surface, it’s perplexing to see the Irish’s struggles knowing how strong of a unit Notre Dame shares on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback DeShone Kizer has moved the ball effortlessly thus far, throwing for 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns to go along with a 63.1 completion percentage. Even Josh Adams, who hasn’t received the amount of carries that he should be (only 47 rushing attempts) is carrying the ball for a 5.2 YPC average.
Unfortunately for Kelly and the rest of Notre Dame, the defensive issues likely won’t be fixed quickly. Notre Dame might not have a shortage of talent on its roster, however its problems such as technique, scheming and coverage is going to keep Notre Dame short for wins the remainder of the season.
Oregon: The Ducks weren’t considered Pac 12 favorites in late August, which might have caused them to be undervalued to the rest of the nation. But did anyone actually predict that through four weeks, one of the decades most consistent programs would be 2-2 and searching for an identity?
So far Oregon’s troubles can be pinpointed solely on its inexperienced defense and foolish decision-making by head coach Mark Helfrich. For the Ducks’ defense, it was bound to endure growing pains this season under first-year defensive coordinator Brady Hoke, who is still trying to transition from a 3-4 defense into a 4-3. While the team has slightly improved its rankings nationally, vaulting from 124th to 99th in total defense, the same mistakes are resurfacing. Missed tackles, blown coverage on third down has resulted in the defense surrendering 5.5 yards per offensive play (450 per game) as well as 18 total touchdowns.
Part of the problem Hoke is faced with is the lack of playmakers. Outside of glimpses from junior cornerback Arrion Springs and true freshman defensive end Troy Dye, the Ducks don’t possess that true game-changer that they can turn to. It’s worth mentioning that Oregon is working with an entirely fresh defensive line and linebacking group. That alone merits low expectations for a team that already obtains a wealth of pro-ready offensive talents such as running back Royce Freeman and wide receiver Darren Carrington.
With the lack of urgency shown by Helfrich – who after not executing on five two-point conversions two weeks ago at Nebraska – again showed no preparation in the Ducks’ lackluster setback against Colorado during its conference opener. Right now, Oregon has lost sight of who they have always been. An up-tempo team which scores at will, but also puts pressure on its opponent every chance it gets. Oregon’s unenthused playing style is costing themselves ball games and even more is putting their head coach’s job security in question.