By: Hunter Schmidt
Welcome back to the “Teams to Play, Teams to Fade” series. This will be the fourth and final edition, as we are just over one week away from actual college football. Thanks to those of you who have followed the entire series. I’ll be posting a weekly gambling picks column on Wednesday nights starting next week, so be on the lookout for that.
Training camps are going to wrap up next week and depth charts are starting to be finalized. Just this week some notable quarterback decisions were made. Arizona State named Jayden Daniels the starting quarterback in the desert. We also saw Jarren Williams beat out former starter N’Kosi Perry and Ohio State transfer Tate Martell to win the job at Miami. There are several other quarterback battles going on at USC, UCF, Ohio State and Florida State just to name a few. Keep an eye on these position battles as they could impact Week 1 lines.
This week we visit the beautiful city of Miami to talk about one of the most underrated football teams in the state of Florida. We also touch on a team in North Carolina where Dave Doeren needs to replace 75% of his offensive production from a year ago.
TEAMS TO PLAY
Previously: Utah, Virginia, Missouri
Florida International: Butch Davis won a record nine games in 2018, including a 35-32 win over Toledo in the bowl game. Those of you who listened to the podcast last year know that FIU was one of my favorite teams to bet on along with Utah State. FIU went 10-3 against the spread last year including a 5-0 mark on the road. Florida International brings back eight starters on offense, including quarterback James Morgan.
Morgan threw just north of 2,700 yards last year along with 26 touchdowns. He is going to be accompanied by a loaded backfield that will be led by Napoleon Maxwell, who was just three yards short of 700 last year. They return four guys total that had over 300 rushing yards last season, so expect the running game to wear teams down as they work through their stable of backs. Anthony Jones showed out in the bowl game, so he has a chance to be the leading carrier over Maxwell. The offensive line lost Jordan Budwig, who was one of the best linemen in the C-USA, but they bring back three starters with plenty of experience.
The defense brings back Sage Lewis, who has a chance to win DPOY in the C-USA. He will be accompanied by six of the seven top tacklers from a year ago. That defense held teams to 24 points a game and should be a force once again.
They have three seniors in the secondary that all have starting experience as well as C-USA All-Freshman Dorian Hall. The defensive line has some question marks, but this linebacker crew is going to be one of the best in the C-USA.
FIU has a tricky schedule because they play all of their toughest opponents on the road. They travel to Louisiana Tech, FAU, and Marshall to end the season. The game at Marshall could potentially be for the C-USA East Title.
They also have some cupcakes on the schedule in UMass, UTEP, and Charlotte, who were some of the worst teams in all of college football a year ago. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team facing Miami on November 23rd coming off a bye with an undefeated record. I expect Butch Davis to reach 10 wins in his third year at FIU and I will be backing them as an underdog Week 1 at Tulane.
TEAMS TO FADE
Previously: Ole Miss, Kentucky, West Virginia
– North Carolina State: Dave Doeren is going to have his work cut out for him in Raleigh this year. He has lost 11 guys over the past two years to the NFL draft, including first-rounder Garrett Bradbury last year. His toughest challenge is going to be replacing Ryan Finley, a three-year starter at quarterback that was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 4th round.
They also lost playmakers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers, along with three offensive linemen. The offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz left for the head coaching job at Appalachian State and two assistants from last year are taking over as co-coordinators. The running game is going to have to carry this team, but the bad news is that they ranked 99th in rushing yards a year ago. The running game simply can’t make up for all of the production that the Wolfpack lost from last year’s potent passing attack.
I would expect Matthew McKay to get the starting spot at quarterback while being challenged by Florida State transfer Bailey Hockman. Emeka Emezie will be one of the best wideouts in the SEC, but if the opposing team has a lockdown corner, other targets are going to need to step up. This offense could take a few weeks to click with all of the new pieces that will need to gel together.
The issue for the defense last season was the fact that they got carved up in the secondary, giving up over 260 yards per game. This included a 380-yard and 480-yard output to Clemson and Syracuse respectively in back-to-back weeks.
The defense brings back a lot of starters from the team a year prior, so they’re going to need to take a big leap in order to gain bowl eligibility. The defense kept teams out of the end zone last season, giving up just 24 points per game, but they can’t rely on the offense to win games anymore. They’re going to have to force turnovers and make things happen after only forcing 19 turnovers last season.
Eastern Carolina is going to be hungry in Week 1 after losing 58-3 a year ago without starting quarterback Holton Ahlers, but NC State should get the win. The good news for this team is that the ACC is pathetic this year.
The NC State schedule is pretty lackluster with their most likely losses coming at Florida State and Clemson. Look for this team to be overvalued against those teams after piling up wins against a weak schedule.
Cover photo via: Al Diaz/Miami Herald
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