FOUR REASONS WHY BO NIX’S NUMBERS WILL REGRESS IN 2020

Bo Nix had a pretty impressive season at Auburn after winning the starting job in his true freshman season. The QB completed 57.6% of his passed for 2542 yards and 16 touchdowns, helping the Tigers to a 9-4 season. With a full year under his belt, Nix looks to improve off of his freshman season in his sophomore campaign. But that is easier said than done. Here are the four reasons I believe Bo Nix’s numbers will regress in 2020. 

4. He has been seen

Coming in as a true freshman, there was not much known about Nix’s style of play. Sure, you can look at high school scouting reports and game film, but you have to take that with a grain of salt – to compare Alabama high school football to the SEC West is to compare apples to oranges. So to prepare for Nix under center was difficult, especially at the beginning of the season. But now Nix has a full season of play that can be watched on film. 13 full games with 8 of them in SEC play. Teams can now see what worked against Nix and what didn’t which will hurt his numbers in 2020. 

3. The Schedule

In 2019 Nix and the Tigers really struggled away from Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn was just 2-2 on the road with those wins against Texas A&M, a game where Nix threw for just 100 yards,  and a very bad Arkansas team. They did beat #11 Oregon at a neutral site, but that was in the season opener, and Nix threw for just 177 yards and 2 interceptions. On the road, the Tigers lost to Florida, LSU, and Minnesota in the Outback Bowl at a neutral site, all games where Nix threw for less than 200 yards. In 2020 Auburn schedule flips and now War Eagle has to play Georgia, Alabama, and an interesting Mississippi State squad on the road, as well as an up and coming North Carolina team at a neutral site. Given Nix’s road struggles in 2019, he’s facing an uphill battle in 2020.  

2. The Offensive Line 

In 2019, Nix was one of the most protected quarterbacks in all of college football. The Auburn O-line only allowed 18 sacks in their 13 games, which was tied for 18th best in the FBS. The only problem: four out of their five starters in the trenches were seniors. Starting center Nick Brahmas is the only returner from last year’s unit, and he only won the job in week 10. Now with four first-year starters blocking for him, Nix will likely have to worry more about escaping pressure than finding receivers downfield. An inexperienced offensive line is certainly a problem for any young quarterback, but especially in the SEC West where defense reigns supreme.

1: Auburn is a run-first offense 

It is really no secret that Gus Malzahn wants to run the football. Since Malzahn took over the program in 2013, the Tigers have rushed for over 3000 yards in 4 out of 7 seasons. Their worst rushing season under Malazahn was in 2018, when the Tigers rushed for just 2177 yards, which was 10th in the conference. Last season, Auburn improved that number, rushing for 2588 yards, good enough for 4th in the SEC. In 2020, with an improving back in JaTarvious Whitlow, who had an excellent sophomore campaign, rushing for 798 yards in 11 games, the Tigers figure to keep the ball on the ground more frequently, giving Nix fewer chances to shine with his arm.

Its Been a Wild Ride for Steven F. Austin

When you think of sports in the state of Texas you think of a cheating baseball team from Houston, Longhorns in Austin, and high schoolers playing under Friday Night Lights. But what you don’t think about is the athletics from a school on the state’s east coast – a university named after the “father of Texas” that has had the strangest past six months.

On November 26 Stephan F. Austin University’s mens basketball team went into Cameron Indoor Stadium and shocked the world-beating, then-undefeated #1 Duke 85-83 in overtime on a buzzer-beating layup. The Blue Devils actually paid the Lumberjacks $85,000 to come to Durham and beat them, despite being 29 point underdogs. The win was the biggest ever in the history of S.F Austin basketball. 

Flash forward four months and that same ‘Jacks hoops team was riding a 15 game winning streak, 28-3 overall, and coming off a regular-season Southland conference championship. But just days before that conference tournament was set to begin the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the nation, denying SFA, the top seed in the Southland Conference, was denied the opportunity to go back to the NCAA tournament. 

On the gridiron, the school’s football team went through a rollercoaster of emotions as well. On February 5th, the team landed the #1 FCS recruit in the country. Barnard Wright, who played his high school ball at the famous Carter High that was featured on ESPN 30 for 30, chose to play for the Lumberjacks over offers from Clemson, Alabama, and LSU, among others. Wright is a defensive tackle at 6’3” 325 that looked to turn SFA from a 3-9 team in 2019 to playoff contender in 2020, or so he thought. 

Wright and the rest of the Lumberjacks were banned from postseason play in 2020 for having an academic progress score below the 930 threshold. APR scores were implemented in 2013 and a 930 score predicts a 50% graduation rate. S.F Austin’s baseball, basketball and football teams will not be able to participate in any postseason play next year, but the school has the option to push the penalty back to the 2021-22 school year because of the virus. Along with the three lumberjack teams, Alabama A&M, Alabama St., Coppin St., Deleware St., Grambling St., Howard, McNeese St., Prairie View A&M., and Southern all have athletic teams that are penalized as well.

It has been a roller coaster for Steven F. Austin University athletics over the past 6 months. But regardless of their major victories on the basketball court and the recruiting front, those accomplishments won’t raise any banners, and that’s the one thing that is for certain in this wild and unprecedented era for the Lumberjacks: No national champions for the SFA baseball, basketball, or football team.

Christoforo: It is Do or Die for Miami Football in 2020

Underwhelming. That has been the word to describe football at the University of Miami over the past 14 years. Since 2006 the Canes are just 103-76, 2-9 in bowl games, and have only finished inside the AP top 25 three times. 

The struggles for Miami certainly do not come from a lack of talent. Since ‘06 the Hurricanes have averaged the 16th highest recruiting class in all of college football and have brought in 10 five-star recruits. In the 2020 season, the team will consist of players from a 12th ranked 2017 class, an 8th ranked 2018 class, their 27th ranked 2019 class, and the 13th best overall recruiting class in 2020. But the main reason why 2020 is a make or break season for the Hurricanes is the new man under center. 

D’Eriq King left Houston at the altar just four games into the 2019 season, deciding to take a red-shirt to keep his final year of eligibility. In January, King became the second highly-touted QB to transfer to south beach in the past two seasons. Tate Martell did not work out for Miami and even saw more time at wide receiver than at quarterback in 2019. But to compare King to Martell is like comparing apples to oranges. 

Video courtesy of SD Highlights

D’Eriq King is a straight-up baller, who I ranked second in my ACC Coastal rankings and third overall in the conference (read my full ACC Coastal rankings here). He threw for 2982 yards in 2018 and also rushed for another 674. He broke the Houston record for touchdowns accounted for in a season with 50, and he did it all with missing the final two games of the 2018 season.

As of right now, the U is not back, but they do have a quarterback who is hungry and ready to lead Miami to an ACC Coastal championship. If Miami can’t get out of their slump of mediocrity with King under center and the highly-rated recruiting classes around him, I’m not sure they ever will. The 2020 season is do or die for football at the University of Miami. 

2020 ACC Atlantic Division Quarterback Rankings

The Atlantic Division, and the ACC in general, is run by Clemson. It still may be Trevor Lawrences’s conference, but what other signal-callers are going to shine in the ACC in 2020? Here’s the Atlantic Division QB rankings.

7. Dennis Grosel, Red-shirt Junior, Boston College

After Eagles’ starter Anthony Brown suffered a season-ending leg injury against Louisville in week 6, it was up to Grosel to finish out the 2019 season under center. He finished 3-4 as a starter and was primarily a game manager for the BC offense, which was 8th in the country and 1st in the ACC in rushing offense with 3,291 yards. After Brown transferred to Oregon in April, it seems like it is Grosel’s starting job to lose in 2020. Even with stud running back AJ Dillion off to the NFL,  the Eagles still have an excellent back in David Baily and a rock-solid offensive line that should lead to open passing lanes for Grosel off of play-action. 

6. Devin Leary, Red-shirt Sophomore NC State

Three different players threw for over 500 yards for the Wolfpack in 2019 but Leary was the leader throwing for 1,219 in eight games. Now in his redishirt sophomore season, the former four-star from Sicklerville, New Jersey, has been announced the starter going into camp. He became the first red-shirt freshman to start for NC State since Russell Wilson after starting the last 6 games of the season. However, he definitely has a long way to go. Leary completed just 47.5% of his passes in those 6 starts throwing only 8 touchdowns to go with his 5 interceptions as the Wolfpack lost every one of those starts. Hopefully going into the season as the main man under center will be just what he needs for more success. 

5. Sam Hartman, Red-shirt Sophomore, Wake Forest

After winning the starting job in his true freshman season back in 2018, Hartman lost the quarterback battle to Jamie Newman in 2019. But, with Newman transferring to Georgia, the job is Hartman’s again in 2020. Hartman was just a three-star recruit coming out of high school in  South Carolina, but he really improved when he got to Wake, throwing for nearly two thousand yards as a freshman. He can run into a bit of trouble with turnovers, throwing 10 career interceptions as opposed to his 20 touchdown passes. Hartman was able to get a red-shirt after losing the job last year, so with the team back under his reins in his sophomore season in 2020, Hartman will look to improve off of his 2018 campaign. 

4. Tommy Devito, Red-shirt Junior, Syracuse

The great people of central New York were expecting big things from Devito in his first year as the starter. But the Orange win total regressed from 10 in 2018 to just 5 in 2019. Most of that, however,  was not the fault of Devito who spent most of the season either on his back or running for his life behind one of the worst offensive lines in the conference. Devito was sacked more than any other quarterback in the nation – 44 times in 2019.  The New Jersey native, who was a four-star recruit, completed 63% of his passes for 2,360 yards and 19 touchdowns. Hopefully, with a full year under his belt and a better O-line, Devito and the Orange can get back on track in 2020.

3. James Blackman, Red-shirt, Junior, Florida State

Blackman has had a very interesting career in Tallahassee. He won the starting job as a true freshman back in 2017, throwing for 1,997 yards in 12 starts. In 2018 he lost the QB battle to Deondre Francois and took a redshirt season. Then in 2019, he beat out Wisconsin grad-transfer Alex Hornibrook and threw for ,2339 yards in 10 starts. At 6’5” Blackman was a three-star recruit out of high school and another QB with the misfortune of playing behind a pitiful offensive line. He was sacked 27 times in his 10 starts and Hornibrook who also made starts for FSU was sacked 20 times. Hopefully, with a better line upfront, Blackman can have a breakout season in 2020. 

2. Micale Cunningham Red-shirt Junior, Louisville

Micale Cunningham turned Louisville football around in 2019. After going 2-10 with wins against Indiana State and Western Kentucky in 2018, the Cards had an eight-win season in 2019, including a victory in the Music City Bowl. After leading the Birds by rushing for 497 yards in 2018, the former three-star from Montgomery, Alabama threw for 2,061 yards and ran for 482 more in 2019. Cunningham also set the Louisville record for passing efficiency with a mark of 194.45. The highly talented dual-threat signal-caller will look to continue to improve his numbers as well as the team’s success in 2020.

1. Trevor Lawrence, Junior, Clemson

Not maybe, possibly, or potentially – Lawrence IS and WILL BE the number one selection in the 2021 draft. Coming out of high school in Cartersville, Georgia Lawrence was the number one recruit in the class of 2018 and the sixth-highest recruit since 2000. At Clemson, he has lived up to expectations and then some. As a true freshman, he beat out returning starter Kelly Bryant, who took the Tigers into the college football playoff as the #1 team the year before, and won the national title. As a sophomore, Lawrence went all the way back to the national championship game. He led the ACC in passing in 2019, throwing for 3,665 yards to go along with 36 touchdowns. Lawrence will look to continue his college football dominance in 2020 for a Clemson team who once again is a favorite to win another national championship. 

ACC Coastal Quarterback Rankings

The ACC Coastal division, as it has been for several years, is both the little brother of the ACC and completely wide open. The division has sent all seven of its teams to the conference title game in the past seven years, although none of them have emerged a winner. That trend figures to continue, as the winner of this division will have an uphill battle against Clemson, assuming the Tigers hold serve in the Atlantic Division. However, this should make the regular season highly interesting, as no team is truly incapable of making a run within the division. A key part of each team’s ability to make such a run will hinge on their quarterbacks, so let’s take a look at the rankings for the ACC Coastal signal-callers.

7. Chris Katrenick, Red-shirt Junior, Duke

Katrenick was a true backup in 2019 behind senior Quentin Harris, who started all 12 games for the Blue Devils. The former three-star recruit is a 6’3 red-shirt Junior from Algonquin, Illinois. He is just 8 for 25 passing in his collegiate career and is not in the best situation to succeed in Durham. Duke was 114th in total offense in 2019 and just 5-7 on the year. The sample size is very small for Katrenick, but with a lack of experience and not much offensive talent around him, it might be an uphill battle in 2020.

6. Brennan Armstrong, Red-shirt Sophmore, Virginia

Another guy who spent last season servicing as a backup. Unlike Katrenick, Armstrong is getting put into a good situation, as the Cavaliers spent most of 2019 ranked inside the top 25 and played in the ACC championship game. The former three-star is a  6’2 southpaw from Shelby, Ohio, and he looks to pick up right where last season’s starter Bryce Perkins left off. Perkins threw for 3538 yards in 2019, breaking the school’s passing record. Armstrong showed promise in his limited action in 2019 completing 15 of 20 passes for 196 yards. He could succeed in 2020 but he finds himself at #6 on the list largely due to his lack of experience. 

5. James Graham, Red-shirt Sophmore, Georgia Tech

Graham and the rest of the Yellow Jackets really struggled in their first season away from Paul Johnson and the triple option. In his red-shirt freshman season, Graham was the main guy under center in Atlanta. He came to Tech as a four-star commit out of Fitzgerald Georgia with big upside as a dual-threat QB. After a red-shirt year, he only completed 45% of his 193 passing attempts in 2019. He finished second on the team in rushing with 290 yards. Graham will look to make a jump in his second full year under center for the Jackets.

4. Hendon Hooker, Red-shirt Junior, Virginia Tech

After injuries left starting QB Ryan Willis sidelined, Hooker was forced into action in his red-shirt sophomore year making eight starts for the Hokies. At 6’4” the former four-star for Greensboro, North Carolina, is a very dangerous dual-threat quarterback who was second on the team in rushing a season ago with 520 yards. Hooker is also a very accurate thrower who completed 61% of his passes while only getting picked off twice. Coming into the season as the starter, Hooker is set up for success with more control of the offense on a team that is favored to win the ACC Coastal. 

3. Kenny Pickett, Senior Pittsburgh

It took us all the way to number three on our list to find a guy who has not taken a red-shirt season in his college career. In his true junior season, Pickett’s number took a massive jump, turning himself into one of the top passers in the conference. Pickett went from averaging 140 yards per game passing in 2018 to nearly 260 yards per contest in 2019. He was a three star-recruit coming out of Oakhurst, New Jersey, and tossed for nearly 3,100 yards in 2019, the fourth-most in the ACC. If Pickett’s numbers continue to raise he could be a late-round steal in the 2021 draft. 

2. D’Eriq King, Red-shirt, Senior, Miami

Don’t look now, but the U has a quarterback. King said enough with the University of Huston just four games into the 2019 season and decided to red-shirt to keep a year of eligibility, before choosing Miami in January. He is a very dangerous dual-threat QB who rushed for 674 yards in 2018 to go along with 2,982 passing yards. He accounted for 50, yes 50, Cougars’ touchdowns in 2018, the most in a single season in school history, and he also sat out the last 2 1/2 games with an injury. If King can put up anywhere near the production for his historic 2018 season, the Hurricanes will get what the so desperately crave: national relevancy

1. Sam Howell, Sophomore, North Carolina

Sam Howell had one of the best true freshman seasons in the history of college football in 2019. He was second in the ACC in passing with 3,641 yards, and he set the FBS freshman record as well as the UNC school record with 38 passing touchdowns. He was the 2019 ACC Rookie of the Year and took the Tar Heels from two wins in 2018 to seven wins in 2019, punctuated by a 55-13 beatdown of Temple in the Military Bowl. The sky is the limit for Howell in 2020, as the sophomore will look to build off of his incredible first-year campaign.

Despite Criticism, Michigan Football Remains Elite

You can say what you want about the success of Jim Harbaugh since he took over the head coaching job at Michigan back in 2015. In Harbaugh’s tenure, the Wolverines are just 47-18, have lost at least three games in every season, are only 1-4 in bowl games, and they haven’t beaten their hated rival Ohio State. But Harbaugh has had one major success at Michigan that is undeniable: He produces pros. 

The 2016-17 season at the University of Michigan was the best season Jim Harbaugh has had in Ann Arbor. In his second season as head coach the Wolverines finished the season at 10-3 losing two games by one point and the other in triple overtime, a couple of bounces away from the Playoff. But it is what happened that off-season that is even greater. 

Two big things happened for Michigan that off-season. In two years Harbaugh took in a group of underclassmen that he did not recruit and developed them into the largest draft class in Michigan history. After only having 3 players drafted in 2016, the Wolverines had 11 players selected in the 2017 draft, two of them going in the first round, the most of any team in college football. 

What also happened in the  2017 off-season is that Michigan brought in the 5th ranked recruiting class in the country, sandwiched between the 4th ranked class of USC and Florida State at #6. In three seasons, Harbaugh turned that fifth-ranked recruiting class into 10 picks in the 2020 draft, the second most of all of college football. USC and Flordia State had 3 combined players picked in this year’s draft.  

It is easy to criticize the job that Jim Harbaugh has done as the head football coach at the University of Michigan. But, after playing 14 seasons and coaching 4 years in the NFL and reaching the Super Bowl he knows what it takes to become a professional football player, and that is exactly what he turns his players into. In Harbaugh’s 5 years at Michigan, he has had 31 of his players drafted, five of them in the first round. So despite being underwhelming in the win and loss column, Michigan recruits at a high level, and they turn that talent into NFL-ready players. Make no mistake, the Wolverines are still a college football powerhouse.