Hot shooting carries Buffs to fifth straight win

The Colorado Buffaloes and Arizona Wildcats faced off at the CU Events Center on Sunday night. The Buffs looked to extend their winning streak to five games with a win over the Wildcats. Meanwhile, Arizona looked to snap a six game losing streak.

Sophomore forward Tyler Bey scored the first four points of the game as Colorado led 6-0 early. The Buffs hot shooting continued when sophomore guard Shane Gatling splashed a three and knocked down two free throws to put Colorado up 15-5.

Junior forward Lucas Siewert (4th in the Pac-12 in three point percentage) hit a three to give the Buffs their largest lead at 11. Colorado knocked down ten of their first 11 shots to begin the contest. A layup from Bey gave the Buffs a 27-16 lead, matching their largest of the game.

Colorado’s hot shooting continued with a jump shot from freshman forward Evan Battey. Battey began the game a perfect 3-of-3 from the field.

The three point shot kept the Wildcats in striking distance. They knocked down four in the first half. A scoring drought of over five minutes for the Buffs allowed Arizona to stay in the game. It was a six point game with just under a minute to play in the half. A pair of free throws from Siewert gave Colorado an eight point lead. However, a jam from sophomore forward Ira Lee cut the Buffs lead the six as time ran out in the first half.

Siewert led the way in the first half for the Buffs, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds. Senior forward Ryan Luther splashed three triples in the first half to keep the Wildcats in the game.

Junior forward Chase Jeter scored the first four points of the second half for the Wildcats, as Colorado’s lead was cut to two. Junior guard Shane Gatling opened the scoring for the Buffs in the second half with a layup.

Colorado struggled shooting the ball to begin the second half scoring just one of their first five. A floater from Luther tied the game at 36 with just over 15 minutes to play. A few moments later McKinley Wright IV and one gave the Buffs a 38-36 lead.

Wright IV scored seven straight for Colorado to give the Buffs a 43-36 lead. Bey was impressive on the glass for Colorado snagging seven boards (hw finished with ten)  with just under 14 minutes to play in the second half.

A Gatling jumper and Bey dunk gave Colorado an eight point lead. The Buffs were efficient from the free throw line throughout the game knocking down 14 of 15. A three from sophomore guard D’Shawn Schwartz gave Colorado a 12 point lead with under eleven minutes to play in the second half.

Since Arizona tied the game at 36, the Buffs went on a 17-5 run to take their largest lead of the game. Junior guard Dylan Smith scored four straight for the Wildcats to cut the deficit to seven.

A Siewert drive and score extended the Colorado lead to ten. A Smith three cut the Colorado lead to seven with two and a half minutes remaining. A Lee block on Wright IV gave Arizona the ball, however Colorado stopped the Wildcats on the following possession.

A pair of free throws from Gatling gave the Buffs a nine point lead with 30 seconds remaining. Colorado defeated the Wildcats 67-60. Wright IV and Siewert carried the load for Colorado scoring 14 and 15 points respectively.

Head coach Tad Boyle said of Wright IV, “The kids got the heart of a lion. He’s just a big shot taker and a big shot maker.” Colorado improves to 16-9, 7-6 in conference play.

A victory for the Buffs gave the Wildcats their seventh straight loss, something that hasn’t happened since 1983. The Buffs will travel to Pullman to take on Washington State on Wednesday night.

 

Colorado winning streak extends to four with 77-73 victory over Arizona State

The Colorado Buffaloes faced the Arizona State Sun Devils in a Pac-12 clash on Wednesday night at CU Events Center. Colorado looked to extend its winning streak to four following impressive victories over Oregon, UCLA and USC, the latter two of which came away from home.

Sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV set up sophomore forward Tyler Bey with two early dunks and the Buffs took an early 6-4 lead. The Sun Devils started the game cold from the field scoring just two of their first seven. Colorado was unable to solve Arizona State’s zone look defensively, shooting just 33 percent in the early going.

Freshman forward Taeshon Cherry, who missed the last two games with a concussion, led the way early for the Sun Devils, scoring eight points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field early in the game.

Impressive trios were the story in the first half. Bey, freshman forward Evan Battey and Wright IV combined for 25 points and 11 rebounds for Colorado. For the Sun Devils, Cherry, freshman guard Luguentz Dort and sophomore forward Romello White combined for 24 points. The game was tied 32 all at the break.

Junior forward Lucas Siewert splashed a three to open the scoring for the Buffaloes in the second half. Dort responded for Arizona State throwing down a baseline jam on a feed from sophomore guard Remy Martin as the Sun Devils took a 41-37 lead.

The Buffaloes were more successful against the zone in the second half. Bey scored six points for Colorado during a 9-2 run as they took a narrow two-point lead. The game flowed back and forth with multiple lead changes in the second half.

Junior guard Shane Gatling extended the Colorado lead to seven with two free throws late in the second half. The Buffs struggled from deep throughout the game shooting just 28 percent, but a McKInley Wright three gave Colorado their largest lead at eight with under three minutes to play.

Wright IV led the way for the Buffs late in the second half. He finished the game with a season-high 24 points. Bey and McKinley Wright IV connected on a lob with just under a minute to play to extend the Colorado lead to nine, their largest of the game.  

Bey closed the game out by grabbing two rebounds in the last 30 seconds, finishing with a career-high 17. Colorado defeated Arizona State 77-73. The Buffs are now .500 in conference play. They will take on Arizona at home on Sunday.

CU Buffs Land Texas Speedster

Three-star athlete Daniel “D.J.” Oats committed to the Colorado Buffaloes following an official visit to CU in mid-January. Colorado’s roster boasts impressive talent from Texas, highlighted by a pair of junior wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and K.D. Nixon and redshirt senior quarterback Steven Montez.

Oats is new head coach Mel Tucker’s first prospect from Texas. The senior from Grace Preparatory Academy in Arlington, Texas has faced significant adversity in his life. After losing his mother to breast cancer and his father to a heart attack as a teenager in consecutive years, Oats’ grandmother, aunt, uncle and Elite Football Talent coach Mill helped to take care of him.

Competition became Oats’ outlet. He played baseball, basketball, football, and ran track throughout high school. After a breakout season on the football field, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and South Florida were among a handful of schools, in addition to Colorado, that expressed interest in Oats.

Coach Mill, speaking on Oats’ upbringing, said, “The kid is a success story. He is driven by angels.”

CQ: 247 Sports

Coach Mill’s relationship with Tucker was key for Oats’ commitment. “Coach Mel and I go back all the way to his days with the Chicago Bears, and when I moved to Georgia, we got close,” Mill said.

CQ: Ralphie Report

Mill guided Oats throughout the recruiting process and is excited about his future. “I am just so proud of D.J. The kid can fly, and he is a super hard worker,” he said.

CQ: 247 Sports

During his final high school season Oats posted impressive offensive numbers as a running back. He rushed for over 1,150 yards and 14 scores, while adding 130 yards receiving on 11 catches and one score. Despite his imposing offensive numbers, Oats will take his speed and athleticism to the defensive side of the ball and play cornerback for Colorado.

His blazing speed was put on display last spring in Dallas where he ran a 4.33 second 40-yard dash. Oats’ fastest 40-yard time was a 4.25. Don’t be surprised if he sees time early in his Colorado career returning kicks and punts for the CU Buffs.

As for what position he’d like to play in college, Oats said, “wherever you need me.” Oats earned the Division III First Team All-State honor as a senior, which makes him a strong candidate to potentially play on the offensive side of the ball as well, possibly at running back or slot receiver, in addition to special teams and defense.

CQ: Ralphie Report

Speaking on his recent visit to Boulder, Oats said, “They treated me like I was family the whole Colorado visit and made me feel as they really wanted me to be a part of the program. It was a beautiful time in Colorado.”

CQ: 247 Sports

Oats spent time with coach Tucker as well as defensive coordinator Tyson Summers. “They made me feel home,” he said.

CQ: 247 Sports

Coach Tucker spoke on Oats’ potential early impact for the Buffs, “The fastest man in the country in his class. This guy is extremely explosive. He’ll play defense for us, but as you’ll see, he can play offense. He’s a dynamic playmaker. He’s a sub-4.4 40 guy all day and every day.” Tucker is excited about his future.

Oats’ has the chance to be a difference maker on both sides of the ball early in his career. With 4.3 speed and the ability to play multiple positions, Oats versatile skillset separates him the other incoming cornerbacks for the Buffs. He’s just a special, special young man,” said Tucker.

Tucker went on to talk about Oats’ versatility. “He’s elusive, he’s got very good long speed, he can catch the ball, he can be a wildcat guy, he can be a bubble-screen guy, he can be a deep-threat guy, and defensively, he can run with any receiver in the country. He’s another versatile athlete for us that can do a lot and it’s very rare to find a guy with this type of speed.”

Despite the fact that his experience at running back likely won’t come into play immediately when he steps on the field for the season opener, Oats will likely see some time on offense, potentially at multiple positions for the Buffs. That high school experience could pay dividends later in his college career.

Oats is Tucker’s first commit from the state of Texas after linebacker Kamryn Farrar and offensive lineman Cam’Ron Johnson decommited following the firing of MacIntyre. Oats will join southern California natives Mark Perry and K.J. Trujillo in the secondary for the Buffs.

Oats’ superior speed and experience at running back in high school will likely lead to him to success for the CU Buffs. If past talent is any indication, the Lone Star State standout should become an integral piece in all three phases of the game for coach Tucker and Colorado.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Preview: Michigan Wolverines vs. Florida Gators

Coming off successful 2018 campaigns, the Florida Gators and Michigan Wolverines will meet in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl.

After a devastating blowout loss to their rivals in Columbus, Michigan looks to cap their season with 11 wins and a victory over the Gators and first-year head coach Dan Mullen. As for Florida, reaching double-digit wins for the first time since 2015 would likely be considered a major success for Mullen, given last season’s disappointing 4-7 finish under Jim McElwain.

Michigan Wolverines

Running back Karan Higdon, defensive end Rashan Gary and Big Ten Linebacker of the Year Devin Bush (each first-team All-Big Ten selections) will sit out the Peach Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. Defensively, this will be a massive blow for a Michigan team that relies heavily on its front four and linebackers to win games. Look for senior defensive end Chase Winovich and junior end Carlo Kemp to step up in Gary’s absence. Considering that the Gators average more than 200 rushing yards per game, Bush will be missed in run support against leading Florida rusher Lamical Perine (cousin of Washington Redskins running back Samaje Perine).

Offensively, junior Wolverines running back Chris Evans will have to step up to fill the void left by Sarasota native Higdon, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season. Spelling Evans will likely be junior running back Tru Wilson, whose speed could be used on sweeps and end arounds. Higdon’s absence will be felt, thus quarterback Shea Patterson has to be accurate down the field in obvious passing situations.

Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins will likely be Patterson’s go-to targets through the air. Considering that the Gators rank No. 10 in the nation in passing defense, allowing roughly 175 yards per game, the Wolverines will need to have success running the football on early downs.

It’s highly unlikely that Jim Harbaugh’s entire offensive identity will shift without Higdon. Evans has been successful in previous seasons, but Higdon’s bell-cow status in 2018 meant a lack of opportunities for the Indianapolis native. If Evans can regain some confidence from 2017, the Wolverines should be able to control the clock and game.

Florida Gators

A win in the 2018 Peach Bowl would not only give first-year head coach Dan Mullen 10 wins, it would also give the Gators a tremendous amount of momentum heading into the offseason for recruiting. After the Gators’ disappointing 4-7 finish last season, Mullen and Florida should be pleased with their New Year’s Six matchup against the Wolverines.

The Gators will need to rely heavily on their defense and ground attack to beat Michigan. Given the Wolverines’ success defending the run (15th in FBS), look for Florida to involve Perine in the passing game on screens and wheel routes. Bush’s absence means Michigan will lack speed at the linebacker position; and if the Wolverines can’t get to the quarterback with their front four, something the team struggled to do against Ohio State, the Gators may be able to take advantage of Michigan’s isolated corners with slants and crossing routes.

Pressure on the passer from Winovich, Kemp and linebacker Josh Uche will be important in making Florida one dimensional offensively. If Florida’s offense can successfully run the ball and put themselves in third down and manageable, their lack of weapons in the passing game won’t be exposed, helping to keep the ball from Michigan’s offense.

Prediction

Both teams will need to be successful on the ground to establish balance offensively. Gary’s absence for the Wolverines should allow the Gators to run more efficiently, but the difference in this game should be Patterson’s ability to throw on the run to Peoples-Jones, Collins and Zach Gentry. His downfield accuracy and ability to extend plays should give the Wolverines an offensive edge over the Gators.

Michigan 27, Florida 20

 

Why Jabrill Peppers Isn’t out of the Heisman Race Yet

While the chase for the Heisman Trophy is currently dominated by quarterbacks, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers continues to make his way up the list.

Expectations couldn’t be higher in Ann Arbor as the 2016 college football season continues to play out. In Jim Harbaugh’s first year at his alma mater last year, Michigan won double-digit games (10) for the first time since Brady Hoke’s debut season as the Wolverines’ head coach in 2011. Michigan finished that 2011 season with 11 wins and a Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.

Yet, when the Wolverines fired Hoke in 2014, it wasn’t because of defensive inefficiency. Michigan gave up a little more than 22 points per game that season and had their offense been up to par, Hoke’s finale in Ann Arbor probably would’ve ended with at least a bowl appearance, if not a postseason victory.

Nevertheless, now in his second season, Harbaugh is putting his top five 2016 recruiting class to good use. It’s a class that includes No. 1 overall prospect and five-star defensive end Rashan Gary; and aside adding a plethora of young talent, the Wolverines returned eight offensive and six defensive starters from 2015. But of the 14 returning starters, 13 of them have a position attached to their name. One, however, can’t be identified by the side of the ball he plays on, nor a position on the field.

That player is Jabrill Peppers, who said at the Wolverines’ media day in August regarding what position he plays, “I’d just say athlete.”

Michigan recruited Peppers as a defensive back, and the expectation coming into his first season (2014) was that he would play on one side of the ball. Yet, after playing seemingly every position on the field in 2015, Peppers already has 33 tackles, two sacks, 246 punt return yards and 95 kick return yards in 2016. He also averages 12 yards per carry on offense.

Through five games this season and despite being down 21-7 in the first quarter to Colorado, the Wolverines have controlled every opponent they’ve faced. As Michigan works its way through a trio of tough Big Ten road games later this season, don’t be surprised if Peppers sees a massive increase in usage.

Despite the fact that dual-threat quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson currently own the spotlight, Michigan will likely be a legitimate national championship contender come late November. If the Wolverines can defeat a tough Ohio State team in Columbus on Nov. 26th and win the Big Ten championship, Peppers (or “Charles Woodson 2.0” as he’s referred to in Ann Arbor) will likely receive national recognition for his role as a major catalyst on both sides of the ball for Jim Harbaugh’s second-year squad.

Don’t count Peppers out of the Heisman race yet.

Previewing The Top Matchups In College Football’s Opening Weekend (2016-17)

The start of the college football season is roughly three weeks away, and opening weekend has more than a few intriguing matchups.

Oklahoma Sooners vs. Houston Cougars | Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 | 12 p.m. (ET)

NRG Stadium in Houston will host one of the more highly anticipated “neutral site” games of the 2016 season. Houston head coach Tom Herman will look to build on an impressive 13-1 debut campaign last season, and had it not been for an underwhelming offensive performance on the road against UConn last November, the Cougars would’ve likely been in last season’s College Football Playoff.

Despite losing their top cornerback, William Jackson III, to the NFL Draft, Houston returns a plethora of playmakers at key positions. Senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who led the Cougars in both rushing and passing a season ago, will try to lead Houston into uncharted territory for non-power five schools in the playoff era. The Cougars’ sound, 38-24 defeat of Heisman Trophy contender Dalvin Cook and the Florida State Seminoles in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl last season is proof that they have the skill to run the table this season.

Baker Mayfield’s Heisman campaign will have to be in full effect on Sept. 3, that is if he hopes to lead Oklahoma to its second straight playoff appearance. The Sooners only notable loss from last season is wide receiver Sterling Shepard, who the New York Giants selected with the 40th pick in the 2016 draft. Offensively, the Sooners should run like a well-oiled machine from the opening kickoff.

The returning running back duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon should take pressure off Mayfield and an unproven receiving corps. If all goes as many anticipate, the Sooners will outscore Houston in a duel between two dual-threat quarterbacks and high-powered offenses.

The Cougars probably have the advantage in both defensive personnel and staff, as Herman and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando should be able to develop a relatively experienced Houston defense. If the Cougars defense can limit the impact of the Sooners’ rushing attack and upset Bob Stoops’ boys from Norman, Okla., Houston’s “Cinderella” run to the 2016-17 College Football Playoff will be very much alive.\

LSU Tigers vs. Wisconsin Badgers | Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 | 3:30 p.m. (ET)

Both the Tigers and Badgers ended the 2015-16 season on a high note. Wisconsin upset Cody Kessler and the USC Trojans in the Holiday Bowl with a stellar defensive performance and game-winning field goal by Brazilian sophomore placekicker Rafael Gaglianone. As for LSU, running back Leonard Fournette carried the Tigers to a 56-27 win over Texas Tech with 212 rushing yards and five total touchdowns in the Texas Bowl.

Despite their mutual success, both teams will enter the 2016-17 season with vastly different expectations. Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave played his final year in Madison, Wis. last season and as a result, the Badgers aren’t expected to contend for a national championship this year. The good news for the Badgers and head coach Paul Chryst is that running back Corey Clement returns for his senior season after missing much of his junior year with a sports hernia injury.

Wisconsin’s consistently stellar defense and rushing attack will give them a chance to upset championship-minded LSU, but the Badgers offense lacks enough playmakers to keep pace with Fournette. Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris showed flashes of improvement last season, but the junior’s questionable decision-making and small stature make his job anything but secure, especially if LSU doesn’t live up to expectations early in the season.

If Wisconsin comes out with a win at Lambeau Field in college football’s opening weekend, it’ll be because they made it priority to limit Fournette, with Harris not being able to deliver through the air. However, this seems like somewhat of a dream scenario for the Badgers, as Alabama was the only team that slowed down the Heisman contender last year. Despite that Wisconsin’s defense seems to consistently maintain a high level play, they don’t have the ability, like the Crimson Tide, to bring in instant impact freshman year after year.

The Badgers defense will likely face its toughest task of the season against Fournette, and unfortunately, only one team in college football has shown the ability to limit his impact. That team consistently finishes with top-ranked recruiting classes. Even if Wisconsin is able to contain Fournette, his impact will likely be enough to lift LSU over a lackluster Badgers team.

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. USC Trojans | Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 | 8 p.m. (ET)

The defending national champions will face a USC team that despite losing quarterback Cody Kessler to the NFL Draft, brought in a top ten recruiting class that boasts two five-star and twelve four-star recruits, according to 247Sports.

The Trojans will have versatile junior Adoree’ Jackson, who starts at cornerback and wide receiver, and is notorious for his game-breaking speed and agility on special teams. He averaged 10.5 yards per punt return and took two to the house last season. As a receiver, Jackson averaged 15.3 yards per catch and totaled 414 receiving yards in the 2015-16 season. On a team that is searching for its leader at quarterback, look for Jackson to be the go-to guy on an inexperienced, but extremely talented Trojans roster.

What needs to be said about the 2016-17 version of the Crimson Tide? Per usual, they lack a clear-cut starter at quarterback, but have a plethora of talented options to choose from. Among the bunch is redshirt freshman Blake Barnett, a former five-star recruit who could emerge from the pack. Sophomore Bo Scarbrough, a former five-star recruit in his own right, will likely become Alabama’s next bell-cow beast at running back, as sophomore Damien Harris will serve as an extremely talented backup.

The Crimson Tide have had unwavering success in season openers on neutral fields, and if their matchup with USC goes as predicted, Alabama should easily defeat the inexperienced Trojans on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas.

Life Experiences Have Led Brad Underwood Back To Oklahoma State

Once recruited to play at Oklahoma State, head basketball coach Brad Underwood is now part of the Cowboys family.

Kansas Jayhawks head basketball coach Bill Self didn’t succeed in his first recruiting job. Self played for Oklahoma State University from 1981-1985, and while a player in Stillwater, Okla., he got a chance to recruit current Cowboys head basketball coach, Brad Underwood. During Underwood’s visit to Stillwater, Self was his campus tour guide.

“Eskimo Joe’s was a part of the recruiting visit, and sorority row,” Underwood, who Oklahoma State hired in March, said. “Bill took me out, we joke and kid all the time that he wasn’t that good of a recruiter back then because I didn’t come here.”

The reason behind Underwood deciding not to attend school at Oklahoma State is because then Cowboys head coach Paul Hansen was on his way out the door. Underwood, instead, chose to play his collegiate basketball at Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan.

Before he undertakes his first season as Cowboys head coach, Underwood admitted that coaching against Self twice a year will be extremely difficult.

“When you win twelve straight championships (Big 12 regular season titles), it’s never easy coaching against friends and I had to do that this year in the NCAA tournament (against) a mentor, Bob Huggins of West Virginia.”

Before he accepted the Oklahoma State job roughly three months ago, Underwood’s Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin defeated Huggins’ Mountaineers in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Underwood said maintaining that competitive edge, coaching against friends, is extremely difficult.  For 40 minutes, focus has to stay on the players, and personal relationships have to be pushed to the background.

Underwood has had several extremely influential people in his life. He mentioned former Western Illinois head coach Jim Kerwin, who Underwood worked under as an assistant coach for a decade. Underwood also acknowledged Jack Hartman, a former assistant coach at Oklahoma State and Underwood’s coach during his time as a player in Manhattan.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Underwood said. “Everybody’s a winner. All those coaches have one thing in common, and that’s winning.”

Throughout his evolution as a coach, Underwood has taken ideas from all of his influences.

“I’ve learned some things I liked, I’ve learned some things that I don’t like,” Underwood said.

The challenge as a coach is applying those philosophies and tips from other coaches, and manipulating them so they fit within the personalities of the staff and players on the team. Underwood’s challenge in 2016 will be getting the most out of his players. To survive the Big 12 gauntlet, Underwood’s Cowboys will have to play to their fullest capabilities in hopes of earning a berth in the 2017 NCAA tournament. Changing the culture of a program doesn’t happen overnight, but Oklahoma State’s hiring of Underwood is a step in the right direction.

20 Reasons Why Michigan Should Defeat Ohio State In 2016

Due to Ohio State’s departure of talent to the NFL Draft, the Michigan Wolverines are poised to defeat the Buckeyes in 2016 for just the third time since 2001.

1. Ohio State’s Exodus Of Talent

In the 2016 NFL Draft, it seemed like every time you looked up, another Buckeye was taken off the board. Despite the fact that the record-breaking draft class could help Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer in recruiting, players like Ezekiel Elliott don’t exactly grow on trees. Meanwhile, Michigan didn’t lose much in terms of their top talent. With seemingly the entire Buckeyes roster off to the pros, the Wolverines have a great chance to even the Jim Harbaugh vs. Meyer series at one game apiece.

2. Michigan’s Experienced Defense

The Wolverines’ defensive line could be one of the best in the nation. Returning edge rushers, junior Maurice Hurst and senior Chris Wormley, will likely serve as veteran leaders on a front seven stacked with young talent. Junior cornerback Jourdan Lewis is a legitimate lockdown corner, and he may have been a first-round pick had he declared for the 2016 NFL Draft. Despite standing 5-foot-10 and weighing roughly 175 pounds, Lewis’ physical play positions himself to be successful against top wide receivers. The Wolverines’ returning defenders combine high football IQs with constant physical play, which is why the unit could finish next season ranked in the top 5 on defense.

3. Ezekiel Elliott’s Departure

When a team loses a player who rushed for nearly 3,700 yards and 41 touchdowns in two seasons, a replacement of equal caliber probably won’t come around for at least a couple of years. Elliott burst onto the scene in the Buckeyes’ 2014 championship run. In the Big Ten Championship and the two College Football Playoff games against Alabama and Oregon, Elliott rushed for 696 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2015, he maintained his elite status and closed his Ohio State career with 149 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 44-28 romping of Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Elliott was selected fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys and hopefully, for Michigan’s sake, another Ezekiel Elliott won’t magically appear this upcoming season.

4. Jabrill Pepper’s Development Into A Star

Michigan used Jabrill Peppers in just about every way possible last season. In addition to Peppers’ contributions as a defensive back, the former five-star recruit was used as a running back, wide receiver and even a decoy. His ability to make something happen when nothing is there is what separates Peppers from the rest of the Wolverines’ offensive playmakers. Expect Peppers’ roles on offense and defense to increase in the 2016 season. He could be a top 10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, so expect the Wolverines to take advantage of Peppers’ unique talent while he’s still a collegiate athlete.

5. Jake Butt’s Decision To Stay For His Senior Year

Similar to Lewis, Jake Butt may have been a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft had he decided to go pro. However, Harbaugh’s persuasive skills proved effective, and the 2015 Big Ten Tight End of the Year decided to stay for his senior year. Butt’s offensive consistency will likely be used as a safety valve by whichever quarterback is awarded the starting job. His ability to high point the football and come down with contested throws is why Butt could be a high pick in next year’s draft.

6. Special Teams: Advantage Wolverines

Michigan has a plethora of offensive and defensive playmakers who will likely return kicks and punts in the 2016 season. Wide receiver Jehu Chesson is, according to his teammates, the fastest player on the Wolverines’ roster. Chesson’s 96-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff against Northwestern last season is proof of his prolific speed. Other than Chesson, there are players who are perfectly capable of producing big plays, including Lewis, who also returned kickoffs last season. Lewis’ relatively light frame is the primary reason why game-breaking speed is a part of his offensive repertoire. And, of course, there’s always Peppers.

7. Instant Impact Freshman: Advantage Harbaugh

In his first full recruiting year, Harbaugh was able to bring in 29 recruits. One of the 29 is five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary. Standing roughly 6-foot-4 and 287 pounds, one would think Gary lacks the speed needed to be an elite pass rusher. However, the former Paramus Catholic standout ran a 4.74 40-yard dash, which for a player with his physical stature is unbelievable. Given the Wolverines’ question marks at the quarterback position for the 2016 season, Michigan will most likely need an elite rushing attack to be successful. Freshman Kareem Walker will serve as a much-needed reserve for the more physically imposing De’Veon Smith. Walker resembles a hybrid of Smith and current Jacksonville Jaguar Denard Robinson. The Buckeyes depleted front seven could be extremely vulnerable to the Wolverines’ elite running back combination.

8. Hiring Of Don Brown

For those of you who don’t know who Don Brown is, here’s a brief background. Brown was the defensive coordinator for Boston College in 2015. Last season, the Eagles ranked No. 1 in total defense, allowing just 254 total yards per game. Brown proved he can use mediocre talent to produce the best defense in college football. Fortunately for Brown, there’s an abundance of elite defensive talent on Harbaugh’s 2016 squad. The Wolverines’ defensive depth will allow Brown to develop multiple rushing packages that could prove problematic for an Ohio State offensive line that seems to return little talent for the 2016 season.

9. J.T. Barrett Is Now A One-man Show

For all of the Buckeyes departures in 2015, quarterback J.T. Barrett remains on the Ohio State roster. Barrett is the most dynamic quarterback in the Big Ten and is a dark horse for this year’s Heisman Trophy. If the Buckeyes can replicate their 12-1 record from last season, much of the credit will go to the 2016 Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP. The Buckeyes lost seemingly every offensive weapon from last season, so Michigan should be able to focus on containing one playmaker instead of the handful they failed to effectively defend in 2015.

10. Harbaugh Will Develop A Capable Signal-Caller

The only offensive question for the Wolverines is who their quarterback will be for the upcoming season. Whether it’s Houston transfer John O’Korn or Wilton Speight, Harbaugh will be able to mold either one into a capable, playmaking quarterback. Former Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock went from a poor decision-making, one-dimensional quarterback to a legitimate dual threat quarterback with confidence in his decision-making skills. Rudock is a perfect example of Harbaugh’s ability to create solid signal-callers in very little time. Fortunately for Wolverines fans, the Ohio State game concludes the regular season, so if all goes as planned, Harbaugh will have an experienced, confident quarterback at his disposal by the time his team takes the field in Columbus.

11. Ohio State’s Lack Of Playmakers

Braxton Miller is a Houston Texan, Ezekiel Elliott is a Dallas Cowboy and Joey Bosa is a San Diego Charger. The list could include nine more names, but I think you get the point. The Buckeyes lost a total of 12 players to the 2016 draft, not to mention undrafted free agents who were signed. Barrett may not have many reliable pass catchers or running backs to depend on, and as a result, the Buckeyes’ could take a big step back on offense.

12. Michigan’s Newfound Swagger

Ever since Harbaugh’s return to his alma mater, there’s been a renewed sense of optimism in Ann Arbor. That optimism has rapidly grown into sky-high expectations for the Wolverines in 2016. Michigan went from a team fighting to make a bowl game to one with College Football Playoff aspirations in just two years. The quick turnaround has Michigan fans and players confident that the team will be a legitimate title contender this season. Confidence is something that all championship teams must have, and Harbaugh has every fan and player believing.

13. Schedule Momentum: Advantage UM

Michigan finishes the 2016 regular season against MSU, Iowa and, of course, Ohio State. If Harbaugh’s quarterback development goes well, the Wolverines should enter the Horseshoe on a big winning streak with supreme confidence in their ability on both sides of the ball.

14. Michigan’s Front Seven

The Wolverines return nearly every defensive lineman from a season ago. Wormley, Hurst and Taco Charlton return for year two under Harbaugh with expectations of an elite defense in 2016. In addition to the veterans, Harbaugh did an excellent job on the recruiting trail. The aforementioned Gary will likely start at defensive tackle, and due to Michigan’s lack of depth at linebacker, four-star prospect Devin Bush Jr. will probably see the field early and often. The Wolverines have the perfect combination of veteran experience and young talent to knock off a seemingly depleted Ohio State team.

15. UM’s Running Back Depth

The lack of a clear cut, No. 1 quarterback means the Wolverines will need a reliable, productive running game to keep drives alive and opposing offenses off the field. Given the abundance of talent in the backfield, Michigan’s ground game should excel in 2016. Seniors Smith and Drake Johnson will likely be the two primary backs in the rotation, with USC transfer Ty Isaac and Walker probably playing important relief roles for the two upperclassmen. Given their big play ability, Peppers and sophomore speedster Karon Higdon could be used in the Wolverines’ trick play packages. Michigan’s versatility and depth in the backfield is the primary reason the team should defeat Ohio State in the upcoming season. Elliott is gone; therefore, Michigan should have the advantage over Ohio State in the backfield.

16. Jehu Chesson And Amara Darboh

During Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh were extremely underutilized. Under Harbaugh, Chesson became a dangerous deep threat with excellent speed after the catch. Darboh proved he has some of the best hands in college football when he made an Odell Beckham-like snag in the Wolverines’ 31-0 win over BYU last season. The quarterback who earns the starting job will be very glad to have two experienced playmakers to throw to. The duo should prove lethal to a Buckeyes secondary that was profoundly depleted in the 2016 NFL Draft.

17. The Michigan 2016 “Hype Train”

Michigan has been the talk of college football ever since Alabama’s win over Clemson in the title game. Given that the Big Ten should be top-heavy this upcoming season, the Wolverines shouldn’t have trouble in the majority of their conference matchups. Despite preseason hype skyrocketing expectations for the regular season, it also gives every player on the roster the unabated belief that they can win it all. Supreme confidence should assist Michigan in a hostile environment in Columbus.

18. Harbaugh’s NFL Philosophy vs. Depth-lacking Ohio State

Jim Harbaugh brought a “smash mouth” football philosophy to Ann Arbor and as a result, Michigan doesn’t need a high-flying offense to win games. The Wolverines should dominate time of possession with an elite rushing attack. Michigan should wear out a vulnerable Ohio State defense, which despite excellent recruiting, likely isn’t capable of replacing all of their lost talent overnight.

19. CFP Berth And Big Ten Championship On The Line

The reality of Michigan being a legitimate title contender in 2016 has sunk into the college football world. Harbaugh has instilled a culture that won’t easily erode. The players bought into his system in 2015 and this season, they should see encouraging results that will only inspire the team to reach new heights. When they enter the Horseshoe in late November, the Wolverines could be undefeated. The Buckeyes, despite their difficult non-conference schedule, could enter the game with Michigan with maybe one loss. Michigan hasn’t won a Big Ten Championship since 2004 and in 2016, the Wolverines will likely have adequate talent to support their burning desire to win their first national championship since 1997.

20. Harbaugh vs. Meyer Round 2

Containing Barrett will be No. 1 on Harbaugh’s defensive to-do list. Fortunately for the Wolverines, containing the junior signal-caller will likely be the only daunting defensive task. The Buckeyes’ versatility on both sides of the ball proved way too much for Harbaugh’s first year squad. If Meyer is able to sneak out a win with substantially less talent, much of the credit will go to the dual-threat quarterback. Brown will be able to key in on Barrett with elite pass rushers like Gary and Wormley. Harbaugh prepares too well to not take advantage of a depleted Ohio State team with a trip to the Big Ten Championship and the College Football Playoff likely on the line.

The Fulgent Future Of The Detroit Pistons

Stan Van Gundy has the Detroit Pistons pointed in the right direction.

The Detroit Pistons reached the playoffs this year for the first time since 2009. Despite being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round, Detroit can be extremely proud of what it was able to accomplish this season. After Detroit finished the 2014-15 season with a 32-50 record and failed to reach the postseason for the sixth consecutive season, Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy began to resurrect the franchise before the 2015-16 season ever began.

With the 8th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Detroit selected Stanley Johnson, a freshman small forward from the Arizona Wildcats. Johnson was limited after the 2016 All-Star break after spraining his right shoulder. However, when Detroit began postseason play, Johnson showed why he is part of the reason the Pistons have an extremely bright future. He took on the unenviable task of guarding LeBron James during the Pistons’ first-round series against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Johnson didn’t back down from the challenge, and the rest of the league noticed when he said he’s “in the head” of James following Game 2 of the series.

Van Gundy worked his magic last summer when he traded a second-round pick in 2020 for Marcus Morris, Reggie Bullock and Danny Granger. The Pistons’ decision-maker was at it again when he acquired versatile forward Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings just before February’s NBA trade deadline. Jennings’ departure was a difficult reality for Pistons fans to accept, but Reggie Jackson, who Detroit also traded for in 2015, has been just as good if not better than Jennings when he took over starting point guard duties.

Even though Detroit didn’t win a game in the 2016 postseason, the Pistons aren’t far from being a consistent playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Bench scoring is something that Detroit will have to address in the offseason, as the Pistons’ reserve guards are the definition of mediocre. Steve Blake has been a decent player throughout his 13-year career, but he averaged just 4.4 points per game this season. Jodie Meeks played in just three regular season games for Detroit this season, as he had a tough time recovering from a broken foot. Meanwhile, Bullock has yet to prove he can be a solid contributor on a nightly basis.

Oklahoma Sooners guard Buddy Hield would have been the perfect pick for the Pistons in the upcoming draft. Unfortunately, thanks to his unbelievable 2016 college basketball season (25.0 pts, 5.7 rebs), Hield’s draft stock skyrocketed. Barring unforeseen events, Hield is virtually guaranteed to be selected in the top 10 picks, which takes him off Detroit’s draft board. The Pistons will have the No. 18 pick in June’s draft.

However, Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis, a prospect Detroit should seriously consider drafting if he’s available, could be there when the Pistons are on the clock. Despite his lack of size (5-foot-9), Ulis’ scoring ability and facilitative skills make him a practical first-round pick. If guards to Detroit’s liking aren’t on the board when it’s the team’s turn to pick, the Pistons could take a power forward with jump shooting skills. Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, who’s physical enough to score down low and an excellent shooter, fits the profile. This season, the 6-foot-11 Sabonis shot better than 35 percent from the three-point line and nearly 77 percent from the free throw line, the latter a place where Pistons All-Star center Andre Drummond will most likely struggle from the rest of his career. If the Pistons were able to draft Sabonis, he could steal some minutes from Morris next season.

Although it would help, Detroit doesn’t need to go out and get a big name free agent in the offseason. The Pistons should be able to contend in the East for years to come if they can improve their bench. However, if the team doesn’t make a big splash in free agency within the next couple years, Detroit will have a tough time competing for a title until it does so.

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