American Football

College Football Week Three Preview

The weeks are ticking by as the college football season gears up for the third weekend of action. So far there has been little movement in the play-off places, aside from surprise package LSU starting strong and pushing itself into contention. This weekend doesn’t have the all-star matchup’s of last weekend, but there is an important rivalry game and some great low key interesting games.

1) Iowa – Iowa State Preview

This rivalry going underplayed on the national scale, but it’s real and deserves the recognition it’s getting this weekend. The College Gameday crew are visiting Ames for the first time.

This matchup is tough to predict, much like most rivalry games. Iowa is nationally ranked and matches up well talent wise, led by potential top five pick edge rusher A.J Espinosa. On the other hand, Iowa State is at home and is coming off an impressive 8-5 season last year. Iowa State started slow this season, but I think they edge this close game.

2) Washington State – Houston Preview 

This is a game most would overlook as both teams are not powerhouse programs, but this will be a very interesting game. Washington State comes into this game ranked 20th, but they have yet to be tested this season.

This Houston side will be a stern test for the Cougars. The game is being played in Houston, and this team is led by quarterback D’Eriq King, one of the most exciting players in college football. Houston almost scared Oklahoma opening weekend and both sides will put up points in this game.

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Iowa players lift the Cy-Hawk trophy after their close win over Iowa State last year. Who wins it this year? Photo: Thorn Compton/TimesRepublican.

3) Virginia – Florida State Preview

This is also a game many would pass up, but for ACC fans this game will have long running implications throughout the season. Virginia are riding the crest of a wave, having been nationally ranked the past two seasons, for the first time since 2004-05.

Things couldn’t be more different at Florida State, a storied program that has started badly this season. Losing the home opener to Boise State brought back memories of last season, and scraping past ULM 45-44  asked more questions then answers. Virginia needs to beat Florida State to take control of the ACC Coastal Conference.

4) Under the Radar Games 

Week three specialises in these under the radar games like the ones mentioned above, with yet more hidden away. Stanford travel to Orlando to take on the UCF Knights, a key game for both sides. Stanford wants to bounce back from last weekend’s loss to USC, and UCF wants to prove itself against major competition after being overlooked in recent seasons.

Elsewhere, Arizona State travels cross-country to East Lansing, to take on 18th ranked Michigan State. Michigan goes in as favourite and they should get the home win. Ninth ranked Florida takes on a Kentucky side reeling from the loss of QB Terry Wilson.

5) Stanford OL Walker Little Out for Year

Stanford offensive lineman Walker Little is having season ending knee surgery, which is a big loss for the Cardinal. He was their best lineman and the junior was expected to be a first round draft pick if he declared next year.

His loss is massive for a team trying to bounce back after losing to USC last weekend. It’s unclear at the moment whether he will stay in school or simply leave the program to focus on his rehab for the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Stanford lineman Walker Little went down in the opening game, and is now out for the season. This is likely the last time he will play for Stanford. Photo: Tony Avelar/AP Photo.

6) Injuries to More Future NFL Draft Picks

Whilst these players are not household names nationally, their injuries have implications for the 2020 NFL Draft. Senior Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey is undergoing season ending knee surgery, and will most likely declare for the draft. He is a promising player that could have been a day two pick, but this is unclear now with this injury.

South Carolina QB Jake Bentley is a more recognisable name, but has struggled to improve his draft stock after early college hype. He is out for the year with a foot injury, and he may apply for a medical redshirt to come back for one more year and try to improve his diminishing draft stock.

7) Latest Heisman Rankings

As of week three there are a number of contenders for the 2019 Heisman Trophy, with a new front runner seemingly every week. After his remarkable debut at Oklahoma it was Jalen Hurts out front, now it seems after week two Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa leads the standings.

He played more snaps last weekend compared to Hurts, with both having the chance to boost their numbers as they face poor South Carolina and UCLA sides respectively. An outside emerging bet is LSU’s Joe Burrow, who just like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray before him is shooting up Heisman boards with his impressive start to the season.

8) Clay Helton on Hot Seat at USC

This will seem a weird headline to write after USC upset 23rd ranked Stanford last weekend, but he has this week lost a key ally within USC. Athletic Director Lynn Swann resigned earlier this week, removing a big supporter of head coach Clay Helton.

Many called for Helton to be fired after a disastrous 5-7 season last year, yet Swann was a keen supporter of Helton. Now that he has resigned, the athletic department will likely go in a different direction if they struggle again this year. They have a very difficult schedule, and starting QB J.T Daniels is out for the year also.

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USC coach Clay Helton is on the hot seat now that AD Lynn Swann, left, has resigned from his position. 2019 may be a tough year for Helton. Photo: The Big Lead.

9) California Passes Law Allowing College Athletes to Get Paid

This is a story more for the future than the here and now, but this is a big step in the right direction for college players to get some compensation. This law would allow student-athletes at California college campuses to earn money from their likeness.

This has been a major talking point in college sports which divides opinion, with the NCAA likely to do everything in their power to stop this. They have already mentioned that if this becomes law in 2023 as currently scheduled all California universities would be removed from NCAA competitions. This is certainly not the last we will hear on this matter.

10) Top Players Entering Transfer Portal 

The transfer portal has increasingly become a key component of college football in recent seasons, and this week two more talented young players have entered their names into it.

2019 five star defensive end Antonio Alfano has entered his name, after running into issues at Alabama surrounding missing school to be with a relative as they deal with a medical condition. He may stay at Alabama, but will have a lot of schools contacting him for sure. Four star USC wide receiver Devon Williams also entered his name this week, seemingly unhappy with a lack of playing time at the school. He would be another big addition to any program in the country.

 

That wraps up my preview for the upcoming weekend of college football, let me know if you have any thoughts on this piece let me know either in the comments section below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.  Finally, a big thank you for anyone who read this article I really appreciate it!

 

 

 

 

College Football Week Two Roundup

The college football season is now truly underway, with some brilliant matchup’s this past weekend that remind us all why we love the game. There were not any major upsets, but the games were entertaining from start to finish as the top ranked teams asserted their dominance. Let’s take a look at ten talking points from this past weekend.

1) LSU Win Big

LSU were the big winners of week two, knocking off a top ten Texas side in their house 45-38. The game of the weekend lived up to expectations, and now LSU fans are dreaming of the college football play-off.

QB Joe Burrow had a monster 471 yards and 4 TD’s, with receiver Justin Jefferson getting three of them along with 163 total yards. LSU have often struggled at the QB position, but now they have a stud in Burrow. They have NFL talent on both sides of the ball, and can legitimately think of the top four now.

2) Texas Have Plenty to Play for 

Texas will feel disappointed they could get a statement win at home, however they still have plenty to play for this season. It’s been a difficult decade for this storied program, but they now have a team with legitimate top ten hopes.

Boyhood fan Sam Ehlinger had a monster game 401 yards and 4 TD’s along with 60 rushing yards, leading the team. Texas were in this game until the very end against the best LSU side in years. They dropped to 12th in the AP Top 25 poll, but they can easily get back into the top ten.

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LSU QB Joe Burrow is the answer their fans have been waiting years for. He has led them to a play-off spot in a flying start to their season. Photo: AP/Michael Democker.

3) Clemson Overcome Texas A&M 

Clemson passed the test with a convincing 24-10 victory over a resurgent Texas A&M team. The final score doesn’t accurately reflect that Clemson flat out played better than Texas A&M throughout.

QB Trevor Lawrence rebounded from a patchy opening game with some beautiful throws, notably his TD. He added a rushing score also, and with how talented this Clemson team is he needs only to play sensibly and execute for them to have a good chance of victory. Texas A&M looked second best, but there’s no shame in that when you play Clemson.

4) Big Upsets in Week Two

Part of the fun of college football Saturday’s is checking out whose on upset alert, and there was some big results this past weekend. Maryland was the pick of the bunch, dismantling 22nd ranked Syracuse 63-20. This was a massive win that puts the program 22nd in the AP polls, the first time they’ve been ranked since 2013.

Other notable upsets were 23rd ranked Stanford getting rolled over by USC 45-20, an especially impressive result when considered USC lost it’s starting QB J.T Daniels for the season in week one. 25th ranked Nebraska also fell on a missed FG against Colorado 34-31.

5) Michigan Survive Close Call

The Michigan revival under Jim Harbaugh hasn’t quite gone to plan so far. His return to Ann Arbor was supposed to bring the glory years back but so far it hasn’t quite worked out. Only once have they finished in the top ten and they haven’t finished better than 10-3 under him.

So far this season they have looked less than convincing. They gave up 21 points in a 40-21 win over Middle Tennessee, and this past weekend needed double overtime to beat Army 24-21. Army played an incredible game in the Big House, however no disrespect to Army, but they shouldn’t be scaring Michigan this much in their stadium.

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Michigan players celebrate a double overtime scare against Army. They will need to improve before they face tougher competition. Photo: David Guralnick/Detroit News.

6) Heisman Week Two Report

After a scintillating week one, it was a quieter weekend for some of the key players in the early Heisman Trophy race. Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts saw limited action in a 70-14 demolishing of South Dakota, going 14-18 for 259 yards and 3 TD’s, along with 47 rushing yards.

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa was similarly dominant in their 62-10 win over New Mexico State, going 16-24 for 227 yards and 3 TD’s, with 33 rushing yards also. After falling behind in the opening week, Trevor Lawrence of Clemson reasserted himself in the Heisman race with his win over Texas A&M.

7) AP Top 25 Rankings

After a fairly predictable opening week, week two saw some movement in the AP Top 25 polls. The biggest move is LSU claiming the final play-off place in fourth, displacing Oklahoma and Ohio State after their statement win against Texas.

Michigan dropped from seventh to tenth after two uninspiring wins against Middle Tennessee and Army, vaulting Auburn and Florida to eighth and ninth respectively. Texas dropped from ninth to 12th, along with rivals Texas A&M who fell from 12th to 16th after losses last weekend. Washington fell from 14th to 23rd after a 20-19 upset loss against California.

8) True Freshman Impressing 

The 2019 season has already seen some true freshman QB’s assert themselves at their respective programs. Hank Bachmeier has impressed as Boise State upset Florida State on opening weekend, now they sit 22nd ranked and 2-0.

Sam Howell has done the same at North Carolina, leading them to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2014. He’s led the Tar Heels to comeback wins against South Carolina and Miami, showing up big in both games. Bo Nix has led eighth ranked Auburn to a massive in against Oregon, showing that the future is looking bright for these three programs.

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Boise State true freshman Hank Bachmeier was a highly rated recruit who has now led his team to a 2-0 start and top 25 ranking. Photo: Boise State Broncos.

9) Storied Programs Start Slow

Many of the teams in the early Top 25 rankings are not a surprise, however some other storied programs have started at the other end of the spectrum. Tennessee were the shock of week one as they lost to lowly Georgia State, but they lost again 29-26 against BYU. This is the first time they have started 0-2 since 1988 and head coach Jeremy Pruitt is definitely on the hot seat.

Miami lost a close game to Florida on opening weekend, but now compounded it with a 28-25 loss to North Carolina. They are now 0-2 for the first time since 1978, with new head coach Manny Diaz already struggling.

10) More Quarterback Injuries in Week Two

The opening two weeks have been rough for quarterbacks, with the likes of USC and Northwestern losing their starters on opening weekend. Week two unfortunately saw South Carolina QB Jake Bentley go down with a Lisfranc fracture on his left foot. This will require season ending surgery, and is a tough break for a player who was hoping to build his NFL Draft stock this season.

Kentucky QB Terry Wilson was the other big casualty, as he is now out for the season after tearing his patellar tendon in his knee in his teams win against Eastern Michigan. This is a tough break for a player who led the team to it’s first ten win season since 1978 last year.

This rounds up some of the main talking points from a busy week two of the college football season. If you have comments about this piece or the week two results feel free to comment below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you to anyone who read this article I really appreciate it!

 

 

 

College Football Week Two Preview

The opening week of college football didn’t provide many shocks, but that should change this weekend. There are some marquee games which will impact the Top 25 polls, as teams get up to speed after the opening week. Let’s look at the ten major talking points heading into week two.

1) Texas A & M @ Clemson Matchup 

The biggest matchup of the week is Texas A & M visiting Death Valley to face number one ranked Clemson. Last seasons game in College Station was a close 28-26 Clemson win, with home field advantage giving added confidence.

Texas A & M are now in their second year under Jimbo Fisher and showed signs of improvement in week one despite facing lowly Texas State. This will be a close game where Clemson will have to be at their best to win, but they will enter the game as favourites.

2) Massive Opportunity for Trevor Lawrence

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence took the college football world by storm last year, coming in mid-season and leading them to a national championship as a true freshman. This year the expectations are massive yet in the opening week he struggled.

He went 13-23 for 168 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT’s, yet the Clemson team still handily beat Georgia Tech 52-14. This can be put down to opening week rust, but this will not cut it against a very talented Texas A & M side. Clemson will need more than it’s rushing attack to win this game.

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Trevor Lawrence struggled last weekend, and will need a big game against Texas A & M if he harbors Heisman hopes this year. Photo: Ken Ruinard/Greenville News.

3) LSU @ Texas 

This is another massive game involving a team from the Lone star state, as LSU rolls into Texas. This top ten match-up between sixth ranked LSU and ninth ranked Texas will have play-off implications.  Both sides won comfortably in week one and have looked resurgent this season.

After years of struggle at the position, both LSU and Texas now have QB’s they feel confident with. Joe Burrow for LSU has rebounded from a difficult time at Ohio State, whereas Sam Ehlinger has lived out a dream and proved people wrong at Texas. This will be a highlight game this weekend.

4) Sam Ehlinger and Grant Delpit Marquee Matchup 

There are plenty of big name players on both teams, but the key matchup of the game will be Sam Ehlinger and Grant Delpit. Ehlinger has improved every year whilst at Texas, and could rise up draft boards with another good season. Key to that will be a impressive win in this game.

Standing in his way is the player some have called the best player in college football. LSU safety Grant Delpit is a likely top ten pick in next years NFL Draft,after proving himself a beast at LSU. Whoever wins this matchup will likely prove key to their teams victory.

5) Can Cincinnati Shock Ohio State?

A potential shock of the weekend could unfold in Columbus, Ohio, as Cincinnati will prove a stern test for Ohio State. The Bearcats are feeling confident after a 24-14 win against UCLA, and have taken a massive step forward these past two years.

Head coach Luke Fickell has taken them from 4-8 to 11-2 last year, along with an AP Top 25 berth. He was a former player and coach at Ohio State, so he knows the school well. Ohio State were not challenged in week one, and therefore new QB Justin Fields may struggle if pressured early. Ohio State should win, but an upset could happen.

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Texas QB Sam Ehlinger grew up a longhorns fan, and has helped restore them back to prominence. A win against LSU will thrust them into the play-off hunt. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images.

6) What Can USC do Against Stanford? 

This game was set to be another big matchup, however both teams are dealing with quarterback injuries. K.J Costello will miss this game for Stanford with a head injury, and J.T Daniels has a torn ACL for USC.

Stanford will go into the game as favourites as they are ranked 23rd in the polls, and their QB Davis Mills matches up well with USC QB Kedon Slovis. Mills is more experienced and was a former five star recruit, whereas Slovis is a true freshman going up against a good Stanford defence.

7) Can Opening Weekend Losing Sides Rebound? 

Opening week losses can ruin a season after it’s barely begun, so this week will prove crucial to those who lost last weekend. Top of the list is Oregon, who lost agonizingly to Auburn. They face a good Nevada side, however they should rebound comfortably.

Making unwanted headlines last weekend was Tennessee, who may struggle again this week against BYU. Both sides are 0-1, however BYU’s 30-13 loss to 13th ranked Utah is respected more than Tennessee’s loss to Georgia State. This will be a close game that BYU should feel quietly confident about.

8) Upset Alert for Week Two?

Everyone in college football loves upsets, and there’s some contenders in week two. Clemson could fall to 12th ranked Texas A & M, whereas sixth ranked LSU could lose to a very good ninth ranked Texas side.

Outside of these Maryland are coming off a 79-0 win and could upset 21st ranked Syracuse at home. As I mentioned above Cincinnati could also shock Ohio State in Columbus. 25th ranked Nebraska face a tricky road test against a good Colorado side. Teams that might also struggle include West Virginia, UCLA and Tennessee.

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The moment Oregon’s hopes of victory faded in the final seconds against Auburn. Their season effectively starts this week now. Photo: Matthew Emmons/USA Today Sports.

9) Games of the Weekend

The two standout games are undoubtedly Texas A & M at Clemson 3.30PM ET Saturday, before LSU travels to Texas 7.30PM ET. All four teams are ranked in the top 12 and would love to make early play-off claims with a win.

Outside of the obvious games, some hidden gems include Syracuse travelling to Maryland noon ET, Cincinnati vising Ohio State at the same time and Nebraska at Colorado 3.30PM ET.

10) Injury Curse Strikes at Northwestern 

Opening week injuries are tough, especially in this case. Northwestern QB TJ Green is out for the season after suffering a foot injury in their loss to Stanford last weekend.

The injury occurred in the third quarter, and means he may now be forced to seek a medical redshirt to preserve his eligibility as a fifth year senior. Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson will now take over, with the former five star prospect having a bye week to give him extra time to learn this offense.

That wraps up my preview of the main talking points heading into a loaded week two of the college football season. If you have any thoughts about this weekend’s game leave them in the comment section below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you for reading this article!

 

 

College Football Week One Talking Points

This is the first in a new series, examining the main talking points from the opening week of the college football season, from the eyes of an Englishman now living in the U.S.

The opening weekend didn’t throw up many shocks, however here are my ten major talking points. Also a quick disclaimer before I begin, this is simply a shallow dive into the main stories of the week through the eyes of a fan, if you want more in-depth articles it’s probably best to read the analysts articles.

1) Big Win for Auburn and Bo Nix 

Bo Nix and the Auburn Tigers took down the Oregon Ducks 27-21 in the only surprise result between ranked teams last week. The true freshman Nix threw a go-ahead touchdown with nine seconds remaining in a legendary moment on his debut.

Nix struggled during the game, going 13-31 for 177 yards with 2 INT to match 2 TD’s, but the five star phenom has Auburn fans feeling excited about the next three years. Auburn jumped to tenth in the AP Top 25 poll, and now face Tulane in their home opener on Saturday.

2) Oregon Big Losers in Week One 

Oregon will feel distraught after an especially tough opening week loss. The team played well throughout and led right up until the final nine seconds, with a long recovery ahead if they want to compete for the College Football Playoff.

Senior QB Justin Herbert was the better QB in the game, going 28-37 for 242 yards and a TD. Receiver Johnny Johnson III built good chemistry with Herbert, to the tune of seven receptions for 98 yards. This is a tough loss, but starting this week against Nevada, their schedule helps them going down the stretch.

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Bo Nix played beyond his true freshman status to earn the comeback win against Oregon last weekend. Photo: Ron Jenkins (AP).

3) Jalen Hurts Already Anointed Heisman Favourite?

Jalen Hurts proved the pre-season hype on him as a Heisman contender was justified in week one. The Oklahoma QB had a monster six touchdown game in their 49-31 win over a good Houston team. 332 passing yards and 3 TD’s was matched with 176 yards rushing and another 3 TD’s.

The Alabama graduate transfer smashed the Oklahoma record for single game yardage with 508, Baker Mayfield previously held it with 396 yards. Some call it the Lincoln Riley effect, but Oklahoma could have three consecutive Heisman Trophy winners come December.

4) Big Debut for Justin Fields

Another high-profile summer transfer showed up big in week one, Ohio State QB Justin Fields. The sophomore standout was key as Ohio State rolled over Florida Atlantic 45-21. He lit up the first quarter with 4 TD’s, in a statement performance on his debut after transferring from Georgia.

This Ohio state team is loaded with NFL talent, and Fields has shown after week one he can take over from Dwayne Haskins. The team will face a tougher test this week against Cincinnati, but they have already shown this team will be a serious play-off contender this season.

5) Florida State Return Still on Hold 

The Florida State Seminoles hoped to put last season behind them, but old demons returned in a 36-31 loss to Boise State in Tallahassee. The team collapsed in the second half after looking dominant in the first half.

QB James Blackman looked good with 327 yards and 3 TD’s, but they let Boise State score 23 unanswered points to steal the win. This FSU team has plenty of NFL talent, but under Willie Taggart they struggle to close games out. 5-7 is not acceptable at FSU, and Taggart will feel the pressure even more after this loss.

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A Florida State players reflects the mood of the team as they let Boise State come back for the win as the pressure piles on head coach Willie Taggart. Photo: Mark Wallheiser/AP.

6) Georgia State Win Upset of Week One

Another historic program currently struggling is Tennessee, and their home loss to Georgia State 38-30 was undoubtedly the shock of the opening week.  It’s been a while since Tennessee has been a title contender, but this is a new low for the once proud program.

A fourth quarter collapse gave the underdog Georgia State team the win. This is a historic win for their team and they deserve the plaudits. This season may prove tough for Tennessee fans in the ultra competitive SEC.

7) USC QB J.T Daniels Out for Season 

Week one was brutal for USC despite a 31-23 win against Fresno State. This is because of a torn ACL for starting QB J.T Daniels, after being sacked in the second quarter.

Daniels was a five star phenom in California and was hoping to step up after a mixed freshman season. USC had PAC-12 championship hopes, which now lie in the hands of true freshman Kedon Slovis. The season just got a whole lot tougher for USC.

8) Running Backs Put on a Show

Running backs stole the show for a lot of Offences in week one. Clemson junior Travis Etienne led the way with 205 yards in their win against Georgia Tech. Fellow junior D’Andre Swift ran for 147 yards in Georgia’s win over Vanderbilt. Jonathan Taylor got 135 yards and 2 TD’s against USF.

Cam Akers of Florida State and Eno Benjamin of Arizona State are two more highly touted backs who ran for over 100 yards on opening weekend. All of these players are juniors, which means the 2020 NFL Draft running back class may be the best in years.

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Clemson Running Back scampers past his sideline in one of his three touchdown runs to open the season. He will likely be a first round NFL Draft pick next year if he declares. Photo: Richard Shiro/AP.

9) UCLA Struggle Once Again

The Chip Kelly era started with massive promise, but is now in danger of flaming out. The once heralded coach is now on the hot seat after they lost their opening game 24-14 to Cincinnati.

UCLA struggled with ugly turnovers from QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and struggled for identity in a tough loss to a better Cincinnati team. The 3-9 record last year is well below expectations and this season hasn’t started any better.

10) No Major Top 25 Surprises in Week One      

Week one didn’t provide much upsets for the top 25 ranked sides, other than Auburn upsetting Oregon. Ranked teams usually like to start the season with easier opponents to give them time to get up to speed before the real season starts.

The NCAA does try to provide showcase games in the opening week, but more needs to be done to ensure we get bigger games in the opening week. For now the AP top 25 has stayed largely the same other than Auburn and Oregon moving.

That wraps up my brief look at some of the major talking points from the opening weekend of college football. Do you have any thoughts on these points or your college football team? Let me know either in the comments section below or find me on Twitter @JWjournalism. Finally, a massive thank you to anyone who reads this I really appreciate it!

 

 

 

Can Football Learn From the NFL?

As England still comes to terms with a crushing 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia, many are reflecting on how well the team played throughout the tournament. A particular strong point for the young England side has been their prowess from set-pieces.

Kieran Trippier’s free-kick against Croatia set a World Cup record, with England scoring nine goals from set-pieces during the tournament. Russia 2018 in general has seen in a rise in set-piece goals, with a record 30% of total goals up to the quarter-finals coming from corners or free-kicks, bettering previous recent records of 23% from the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

With set-pieces becoming increasingly important to international tournament football, not much has been written about what influenced England’s set-piece excellence under Gareth Southgate. England’s attacking coach Allan Russell has been praised by Southgate and his players, whom they credit for their drastic improvement in set-pieces.

Russell has spent his entire adult life within the world of professional football, yet Southgate has looked further afield for his set-piece influences. The England manager has spent time in the U.S visiting NFL franchise the Seattle Seahawks, has visited the last two Superbowl’s and has had numerous discussions with NFL analysts and NBA coaches to find out how their players find space in tight areas.

It was frequently seen in England World Cup games, when the team was taking a corner beforehand the players would quickly huddle together, before going into a line formation. As a casual fan of both football and American football this sounds much more like an NFL play then a football set-piece.

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England players set-up for a corner against Colombia using a move known as “the love triangle”. Nine of England’s 12 World Cup goals came from set-pieces. Photo copyright: Getty Images. 

With England showing how vital set-pieces can be in major international tournaments, will world football begin to follow the England example and adopt the mindset of an NFL franchise when it comes to set-pieces.

In the simplest sense a set-piece in football can be largely similar to an NFL play, a chance to score from a dead ball.  The NFL is constantly using shifts and motions to buy players space in tight windows, something that could prove massively beneficial with set-pieces.

Teams could use cleverly designed set-pieces where players disguise and then go in motion to fool opposition defenses, much like an NFL offense does. Football has tended to view American sports with a certain level of ignorance, dismissing it as not relevant to football.

What Gareth Southgate and England have highlighted is that in a time where set-pieces are becoming increasingly important in major tournaments, there is a lot world football can learn from American sports in how to create space in tight areas of the pitch.

By Jordan Wilkins find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

Let me know your thoughts on this article in the comments section below. 

What’s Going Wrong For The Ravens?

Two weeks can be a long time. Especially in the NFL. Two weeks ago the Baltimore Ravens were riding high in the NFL, having started the season 2-0 in very convincing fashion. Yet as I write this on Monday October 2nd the Ravens season looks a lot less promising. Two successive emphatic defeats leave them at 2-2 and looking to get their season back on track.

Whilst the defense faltering has contributed to their recent poor two games, the Ravens offense hasn’t really got firing all season. Not one unit has stood out this season, from quarterback Joe Flacco, to the wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. The offensive line has also been hit with injuries already this season, as the Ravens hold the dubious honour of leading the NFL in injuries.

It’s hard to point to one single problem which explains the Ravens offensive woes. They have struggled since Gary Kubiak led Joe Flacco to his best statistical season in 2014. With current offensive co-ordinator Marty Mornhinweg in his second season since taking over from the fired Marc Trestman, Flacco has struggled so far this season. He ranks 32nd in the NFL with 601 passing yards through the first four games, and only 5.09 yards per passing attempt.

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Something Ravens fans are not used to seeing this season, an offensive touchdown. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.

 

His bare statistics are also not pretty. He has thrown for four touchdowns and six interceptions, whilst also setting a current NFL record with an interception in ten straight games stretching into this season.  Flacco himself admitted after the most recent loss to bitter rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers “I sucked.” He also admitted about the offense “We’re not creating a lot for ourselves right now. We’re just going the hard way.”

Whilst the quarterback is the leader of the offense, Joe Cool has not been helped from his wide receivers this season. The Ravens signed receiver Jeremy Maclin after he was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs in June, with the team heading into the season with arguably the best receiving unit since Flacco joined the Ravens in 2008.

Maclin was signed for big money on a two-year $11 million dollar deal, but so far through four games the 29 year-old has accumulated only 116 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Wallace was another big name receiver signed for big money in free agency, with his two-year $11.5 million dollar deal producing his first 1000 yard season 2011. So far he has 76 yards this season and one touchdown.

The teams next highest profile receiver is third year player Breshad Perriman. He was the teams first round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, but has so far not lived up to his draft position. He was unlucky to lose his entire rookie season to injury, however through last season and the season so far he has accumulated 510 yards and three touchdowns. The failure to meet expectations so far with Perriman is evidence of a wider recent issue with the Ravens.

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Mercedes Lewis scoring one of the Jaguars touchdowns as they obliterated the Ravens 44-7 in London. Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images.

 

Excluding the recent 2017 NFL Draft, from 2014 through 2016 they have drafted 12 offensive skill position players. Of these 12 only three(Crockett Gillmore,Breshad Perriman and Buck Allen have so far contributed over 500 yards, with just as many players already out of the league.

GM Ozzie Newsome and Assistant GM Eric DeCosta are very highly regarded within the league, especially for drafting players, but you have to begin to question their recent success in the last three draft classes. Of course this is only my opinion and I’m not saying they should be fired, it’s simply an observation of a recent trend which could prove problematic the longer it carries on.

No matter what offensive stat you look at, it doesn’t look pretty. The team are averaging 270 yards per game(30th in the NFL), 60 total points from four games (tied 30th)and 150 passing yards per game (32nd). It’s not just in the stats that a problem shows up. Any Ravens fan watching the games this season will have seen the offensive sputtering, with Flacco missing throws, receivers not on the same page as him and runners who are struggling to find running lanes.

By no means at all is this crisis point for the Ravens, but the recent two defeats have given cause for concern amongst fans. Of course we are only four weeks into the season, but the manner of the defeats highlight obvious offensive weaknesses which will need to be addressed if the team has any hope of returning to the playoff’s for the first time since 2014.

All stats sourced with thanks from Ravens.com and ESPN.com.

Have any thoughts on this article? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below. I hope you enjoyed reading it and if you want to reach me I’m on Twitter @JWjournalism.

 

2016 NFL Mock Draft Part 2

This is part two of my look at the fast approaching 2016 NFL Draft. Teams will be fairly confident of who they want and realistically will be able to select come Thursday evening. For part one of my mock draft looking at picks one to ten, please click this link NFL Mock Draft Part One .

This part of my mock draft is dedicated to the real meat of the draft, picks 11 through 20. There is lots of potential for trades with these picks as teams either move up or down to select the player they want. Without further ado, let’s look at my predictions for these middle first round picks.

11th Overall Pick: Chicago Bears – Shaq Lawson – Defensive End – Clemson

The Chicago Bears are in the unfortunate position of having a varied amount of team needs, but without a top ten pick to use as trade material. With the eleventh pick their top need seemingly is with their pass rush which ranked 22nd in sacks last season, this despite signing promising free agent Pernell McPhee last off-season.

With this in mind I think the Bears will select Clemson’s all-American defensive end Shaq Lawson. He led college football in tackles for loss and was top five in sacks last season. He is a very good player who could team well with McPhee to strengthen and inject some youth in Chicago’s pass rush. For every quarterback in the NFC North, they should be worried if the Bears make this pick.

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Shaq Lawson was a wrecking ball last season as Clemson reached the national championship game. Can his immense talents translate well in the NFL? Photo copyright USA Today Sports.

12th Overall Pick: New Orleans Saints – Sheldon Rankins – Defensive Tackle – Louisville

The New Orleans Saints have been significantly hindered from addressing their areas of need thanks to a significant lack in cap space. This didn’t allow them to make any splashes in free agency, which means they really have to nail the draft if they want to address their weaknesses.

Much like the Bears their biggest issue is their pass rush, which was an abysmal 25th in the NFL for sacks last season. With this in mind they can immediate improve this with the selection of Sheldon Rankins from Louisville. He was a very productive player in college and should translate well into the NFL.

Whilst some may argue getting an offensive weapon for quarterback Drew Brees is a more important position to address, I feel it would be a reach to select a wide receiver with this pick. We’ll see which side of the ball the Saints address with this first round selection.

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Rankins showing his ability to be a disruptive pass rusher in college, but can he have similar success with the step up to the NFL level? Photo copyright Tim Easley/Associated Press.

13th Overall Pick: Miami Dolphins – Ezekiel Elliott – Running Back – Ohio State

The Miami Dolphins are close to being a play-off calibre team, they only have a few positions to address to achieve this. They stole headlines with their defensive free agent signings last off-season, but they still need help with the offense. Ryan Tannehill is firmly entrenched as their starting QB, but they need to give him further help.

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry helps with this, but with this pick I think they will select premier running back Ezekiel Elliott to help their at times spluttering offense. Elliott is by far the best back in this draft, and rumours of the Cowboys selecting him with the fourth pick are a smokescreen in my opinion. He could immediately come in and becoming a 1,000 yard rusher in his first season, something that would hugely help Tannehill and the offense to score points and win games.

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Elliott proved himself as the best college running back at Ohio State, and looks set for a successful career in the NFL. Photo copyright Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images.

14th Overall Pick: Oakland Raiders – Taylor Decker – Tackle – Ohio State

The Oakland Raiders were one of the major winners from the free agency period, as they made several significant statements with their signings that they want to win now. They have also drafted well in the past few years and will be looking to continue this year.

Although they signed Kelechi Osemele they still have needs on the offensive line. This is something they will address with the selection of Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker with this pick. Drafting an offensive lineman in the first round is never a sexy pick, but provides great insurance for QB Derek Carr and adds some youth to the line.

Some may argue they should select Jake Conklin instead, I think the size and good technique skillset of Decker will win over the Oakland front office.

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Taylor Decker showed despite his 6ft 7 size, he still has good footwork and technique for a tackle. Photo copyright Justin Galler/Getty Images North America.

15th Overall Pick: Tennessee Titans – Jack Conklin – Tackle – Michigan State

The Tennessee Titans started the trade madness that has engulfed this draft in the past few weeks, after they traded away the first overall pick to the L.A Rams. After swapping first round picks they not sit with the 15th pick, with some major needs for the organization.

After selecting building blocks such as Marcus Mariota last year, this year they need to help him by giving him some protection on the offensive line. They can use this pick to select Jack Conklin from Michigan State, who has elite technique for a tackle.

Some experts have questioned his physical attributes at the NFL level, but he could be a day one starter at either tackle position. This gives insurance to Mariota as he looks to progress in his second NFL season. It also adds some youth to the line and the franchise can be confident in Conklin for the coming years.

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Jack Conklin has some question marks on his physical intangibles heading into the draft, but can overcome this with his excellent technique. Photo copyright USA Today Sports.

16th Overall Pick: Detroit Lions – Reggie Ragland – Linebacker – Alabama

The Detroit Lions are another team who have plenty of the building block to be real contenders, but are just one or two pieces away from achieving this. The franchise has a lot of needs on defense, and despite losing superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson to retirement, the defensive side of the ball is what they will improve with this 16th pick.

Reggie Ragland is the latest linebacker stud to come out of serial winners the University of Alabama, and will be a great pick for the Lions. He can play outside but is much better suited as an inside linebacker, but his versatility is one of the many strengths of his game. He could be an immediate starter and impact player in Detroit, as they look to building a winning team.

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Reggie Ragland showing his big hitting ability at Alabama. Could his talents make other teams which they had selected him in the coming years? Photo copyright Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports.

17th Overall Pick: Atlanta Falcons – Leonard Floyd – Linebacker – Georgia

The selection of Ragland will start a run on linebackers, as many defensive needy teams select the best available talent after the early talents are taken off the board. The Falcons have a sound offense, but need some help on defense if they want to become a serious play-off contender in the coming seasons.

The franchise will have the choice between Darron Lee of Ohio State or Leonard Floyd from Georgia. I think they will select Floyd, who had more production in college. Some argue he is the best pure pass rusher in this draft, and the chance to select such an athlete at this stage in the lower middle first round is surely too enticing for the Falcons to pass on.

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Leonard Floyd showed tremendous athleticism and production whilst at Georgia, and will be rewarded with a first round selection in this years draft. Photo copyright Brett Davis/Associated Press.

18th Overall Pick: Indianapolis Colts – Darron Lee – Linebacker – Ohio State

The Colts will be looking at a return to the play-offs as their objective this season, after an injury plagued 2015 season. The franchise has a very good young offense who can outscore almost anybody in the league, but needs help on defense to become a true all round championship calibre team.

With this in mind I feel they will select Darron Lee from Ohio State, the best available linebacker after Ragland and Floyd come off the board. He didn’t have as much game time at Ohio State as he would of liked, but when he did play he showed he is a very gifted football player. His athleticism is up there with any linebacker in this draft and will likely become a day one defensive anchor for the Colts in the coming seasons.

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Darron Lee showed his potential on a loaded Ohio State team, and will now take his limitless talents to the NFL. Photo copyright USA Today Sports.

19th Overall Pick: Buffalo Bills – Laquon Treadwell – Wide Receiver – Ole Miss

The Bills are still in transition under head coach Rex Ryan, but showed great potential with their debut 8-8 season last year under Ryan. With the top end prospects at positions of more important need already off the board, I predict they will choose to fill a lower end need at wide receiver.

They will have the opportunity to select any of the top level receivers in this draft, in what many consider a slightly down year for the position. This should not put teams off as there are still at least half a dozen player who have the potential to be great in the NFL. Despite some pre-draft concerns with his measurable, I feel the Bills will select Ole Miss man Laquon Treadwell.

He was a stud player in college and this should not change once he moves into the NFL. The partnership of Treadwell of Sammy Watkins will be a scary prospect for any NFL defensive cop-coordinator, and arguably the best young receiver combination in the NFL this coming season.

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Laquon Treadwell is for many NFL personnel and draft experts the best WR available this year, and would cause defensive nightmares in partnership with Watkins. Photo copyright USA Today Sports.

20th Overall Pick: New York Jets – Noah Spence – Linebacker -Eastern Kentucky

The New York Jets are in the very tricky position of being very close to a serious contender in the NFL, but with several pressing needs going into the 2016 season. These needs are not something the franchise is unlikely to be able to address with this 20th pick in the draft, therefore they have the potential to be a team that organises a trade to move up or out of this pick.

If they keep this pick I think it would be hard for the team to pass up selecting the high profile prospect Noah Spence from Eastern Kentucky. The former Ohio State linebacker has showed he is in terms of pure talent probably one of the best linebackers in this draft, but has off-field concerns.

He was dismissed from Ohio State for repeated failed drugs tests for Ecstasy, but has rebuilt his draft stock at Eastern Kentucky. He appears to have come through the draft process well and has solidified himself as a first round talent. Some teams may be wary of drafting him so high, but purely based on his production and talent he is a top 15 pick. The ability to get a top 15 calibre player with the 20th pick is an enticing prospect for the Jets front office, and something they may find hard to pass on.

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Noah Spence has proved he’s going to be a disruptive pass rusher in the NFL, but can he leave his off-field concerns behind him? Photo copyright Kirk Irwin/Getty Images.

That wraps up part two of my NFL mock draft, looking at picks number 11 through 20. There could be some very productive future NFL players who slide down because of a myriad of concerns, both on and off field. Time will tell who makes the right and wrong selections this year, but all of these players can contribute immediately at the next level.

The third and final part of my mock draft will look at the final eleven picks from 20 through 31, looking at who the play-off contending teams will select to push them one step closer to the Superbowl this coming season. Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed my NFL mock draft.