2016 NFL Draft Preview: Myles Jack

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA’s Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an early impact at UCLA, scoring seven rushing touchdowns as a spot starter at running back in his first season. On defense, Jack finished fourth on the Bruins with 75 tackles and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on offense and defense.

After moving to linebacker full time as a sophomore, Jack recorded 88 tackles and earned Second Team All-Pac 12 honors. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL three games into his junior year. Shortly after sustaining the injury, Jack announced he would forego his senior season to enter the draft.


What makes Jack a consensus top-10 pick is his ability in the open field. A common issue with linebackers is their inability to perform on passing downs. Jack has no such concerns.

Athletically, few linebackers compare to Jack. His 40 inch vertical at UCLA’s Pro Day would have been tied for the highest at the combine, if he had participated. His 124 inch broad jump would have slated him in the top-5 of combine participating linebackers. Jack has some freakishly long arms, useful for gaining leverage in blocking and reaching to knock down passes.

Jack shows the speed, fluidity, and quickness to cover all offensive skill positions. Here Jack lined up across from a wide receiver (normally a matchup advantage for the receiver), flipped his hips and ran with the receiver step for step in a sequence normally executed by a cornerback.


The former Bruin linebacker also pairs his man-to-man skills with good instincts as a zone defender, displaying a good closing burst and instincts to track the ball. On the play below, off the snap, Jack locked onto the quarterback’s eyes, mirrored the quarterback when the play broke down, targeted the receiver coming into his zone and located the pass for a game-clinching interception.


Jack also possesses the type of range that makes him ideal for tracking down ball carriers. On this snap, Jack bit too hard on the play fake and took a few false steps out of position, but still had the speed to reach the receiver on the other side of the field for the tackle.


There is also mean streak to Jack’s game. He delivers some pop when he engages lineman or hits a ball carrier.


Some of Jack’s power as a blocker and tackler comes from his short area burst which is outstanding. That burst comes in handy when rushing the passer, or like in the play below, for blowing up the play for a tackle for loss, accumulating 15 in his time with the Bruins. Jack was so fast on the play that he burst past the offensive lineman trying to get set and brought down the ball carrier.



Health will be the primary concern for Jack. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine and only did some of the drills at the UCLA Pro Day. The fact that Jack can do the drills is a good sign of his recovery, but some teams might be scared off considering the severity of the injury.

While Jack excels in the open field, he struggles when confined to small spaces. Jack isn’t great when it comes to dealing with offensive linemen, and struggles to take good angles when he doesn’t have a clear path to the ball. On this play, Jack had the range to get to the running back but instead of taking a better angle to the play, got caught up navigating through the players between him and the ball carrier and got cut-blocked before he could make the tackle.


Although Jack plays with an edge, his aggressive style can sometimes put him out of position. Below, Jack is opted to make a big hit rather than the sure tackle, whiffed on the running back, and consequently allowed the back to fall forward for an extra yards.


Physically Jack has the range and physicality to be an effective run defender, but lacks great instincts to be a great run defender. In this snap, Jack confused the hole opening up near the bottom of the offensive line as the rush lane, when in fact the play went to the opposite direction.



ESPN, CBS Sports, and other draft sites have Jack as one of the top-10 players in this draft. That would be fine if Jack were as complete a run defender as he is a pass defender. Jack is still a first round pick, but should be valued as a mid-first round pick. Jack is certainly one of the best players in this draft with his outstanding athleticism and ability in passing situations, but concerns about his knee and his lack of refinement in the run game hurt his value.

Best Fit

Jack might not be great against the run, but he certainly won’t be a liability either. The team which drafts Jack is getting, if healthy, a player who has the potential to be an impact player on all three downs in a plethora of packages and situations.

It’d be very surprising for any team with a need at linebacker, like the Giants, Falcons and Lions, to pass on the UCLA linebacker.

2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Reggie Ragland

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes to join CJ Mosley, Rolando McClain, and Dont’a Hightower as Nick Saban coached linebackers drafted in the first round. Like the three aforementioned players, Ragland ended his Crimson Tide career with at least one SEC Championship, National Championship, All-American Team appearance.

Ragland spent his first two years at Alabama on special teams before starting at linebacker as a junior. He would excel as Alabama’s starting middle linebacker for the next two seasons, being named a Butkus award semifinalist in 2014 and 2015 (The Butkus award honors college football’s best linebacker).


Not only did Ragland play on special teams, but he also played defensive end in Alabama’s nickel and dime defenses.


Ragland has great instincts at the middle linebacker position. He seldom takes a false step and quickly sees the play develop him. On the first snap against Clemson, Ragland was not distracted by the ball fake, located the ball carrier, and would have made the tackle had he avoided the Clemson blocker.


At 247 pounds, Ragland is sound when it comes to dealing with bigger, stronger offensive lineman. Where a smaller linebacker might get washed out of a play, Ragland uses his bulk to prevent the lineman from getting push and then effectively disengages. Notice how quickly Ragland engaged, then disengaged, the lineman on the play below.


Unlike some bigger linebackers, Ragland is not a slow footed athlete. He has an explosive first few steps that give him great burst to get behind the line and blow up a play. In the snap below, Ragland shows his acceleration in chasing down Deshaun Watson from the backside.


In the passing game, Ragland has enough range and fluidity to be effective when dropped into coverage. In this play, Ragland didn’t do a great job at preventing the tight end from picking up additional yardage, but still had enough range to reach the tight end and limit the damage.



Not only did the previous play highlight that Ragland is only adequate in coverage, it also highlighted a problem with his tackling; he didn’t use good form to bring down the tight end. Although Ragland is generally a good tackler, he can be inconsistent. On the snap below, instead of driving his hips through the running back, Ragland lets the back get into his body and push him backwards for an extra yard.


To be fair, Ragland went from missing ten tackles in 2014 to three this past season, so it’s an area he is improving in.

Even though Ragland is a solid athlete on tape, supported by how many different positions he played in college, he isn’t a workout warrior. He only had 13 reps on the bench press at Alabama’s Pro Day, a number which would have put him outside the top-15 performers at the combine had he participated in the drill. Of the drills Ragland did perform at the combine, he was only a top-5 performer in the 20-yard shuttle.


Ragland has all the makings of an excellent middle linebacker. His instincts, bulk, and burst make him ideal for hunting down running backs between the tackles. He also shows enough ability in the passing game to be able to play all three, or even four, downs (considering his experience as a special teamer).

Baring something unforeseen, Ragland seems like a first round lock. He has very few weaknesses and has the versatility to be deployed at defensive end or on special teams. He might not have the crazy athletic upside of Myles Jack, but Ragland certainly looks the part of a high-caliber, starting middle linebacker.

Best Fit

Ragland would be used best as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 base defense, but could play middle linebacker in a 4-3 if needed. Alabama primarily uses a 3-4 defense and while Ragland could adjust to a 4-3, it’d be foolish to take Ragland out of a system he has already excelled in.

The Ravens, Bears, Saints, Colts and Jets standout as teams which both run a 3-4 defense and are in the need of another middle linebacker.

All video content was provided by DraftBreakdown.com.

2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Ronnie Stanley

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.

Collegiate Career

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame over Miami, Oklahoma, Florida State, and several other notable programs. He was named the starting right tackle for his sophomore season, and then moved to left tackle the following year after the departure of first-round pick Zack Martin. A model of consistency, Stanley started 39 consecutive games for the Irish since 2013.


Standing at 6’5” and weighing 312 pounds, Stanley has the prototypical height and weight to play offensive tackle. More importantly, his 35 and 5/8th inch wingspan is above the combine average of 34 and 2/10th inches. Arm length is particularly important for offensive linemen because it gives them a leverage advantage over incoming defenders, allowing them to control the defender without him getting into the body of the offensive lineman. On the snap below, the defender attempted to convert his speed rush to a power rush, only to have Stanley (No.78) extend his arms and prevent the defender from getting a hand in his torso.


While some linemen have minimal mobility due to their massive size, Stanley has no such issues. He is incredibly light on his feet with the ability to quickly get set in pass protection and then move with the oncoming defender. In this snap, Stanley was matched up against Clemson defensive end and likely first round pick Shaq Lawson. Not only did Stanley quickly get himself in position to defend a wide rush, he also was quick enough to stone Lawson at the point of attack when he tried a spin move.


The above play also highlights another positive: intelligence. Earlier in that game Lawson had successfully executed a similar move against Stanley, resulting in a sack. Stanley would not be fooled again, as he anticipated the spin move when Lawson tried it again. In general, Stanley has good awareness for the position, and seldom misses on his blocking assignment. Here, the defense ran a stunt where the defensive end and defensive tackle switch positions after the snap. Stanley quickly picked up the stunt and properly switched his blocking assignment to the tackle, allowing the guard to pick up the defensive end.


Stanley knows how to use his mobility to his advantage in the run game. He can effortlessly move from the line of scrimmage to the second level of the defense, and does a good job at sealing off defenders attempting to get in the backfield. On the snap below, Stanley locked onto a defender trying to shoot the gap, and kept his legs moving to create some running room for the back.



Although Stanley is a good run defender, he doesn’t consistently display the push needed to be a great run defender. On this play, Stanley and the guard double-teamed the defensive lineman off the snap, but once the guard peeled off to take on another defender, Stanley couldn’t move the initial defender further downfield.


Occasionally, Stanley will rely too much on his movement skills instead of being physical, which can lead to some wasted motion and energy on his part. In this snap, instead of delivering a counterpunch to the lineman’s bull rush, Stanley kept his feet mobile, making it easier for the defender to push him back, almost right into the quarterback. 



Stanley has the makings of a top-10 selection. As a pass protector, Stanley might be the most refined in his class with his combination of athleticism, smarts, and technique. He might not be as accomplished as a run blocker, but it’s certainly not an area he struggles in, and if he can get bigger without losing his mobility he would be an asset in the run game.

Best Fit

Usually teams picking in the top-10 of the draft have issues on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Even though Stanley projects as a left tackle long term, a team might consider playing him at right tackle as a rookie, where he would be matched up against lesser pass rushers, which would his transition into the league.

The Charges, 49ers, Jaguars, and Giants are all teams picking in the top-10 with needs at tackle, and will likely be in consideration for Stanley’s services.

Gifs were made through Giphy.com. All video content was provided by

2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Jack Conklin

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Jack Conklin from Michigan State.

Collegiate Career

A preferred walk-on at Michigan State in 2012, offensive tackle Jack Conklin was almost an afterthought, even to the Spartans. After redshirting his freshman year, Conklin was put on scholarship, named a starter, and played well enough to earn Freshman All-American status. Conklin’s play continued to improve, and, by the time he had completed his final season in East Lansing, he was a consensus All-American.


Whichever team gets Conklin will be getting a very tough player. Conklin plays through the whistle and shows little regard for the well-being of the defender while the play is live. His tape is littered with him pancaking defenders or driving the defender out of bounds entirely, as in the clip below.


Conklin’s best physical asset is his strength. He really shows off his effort as a run blocker as he combines his strength and nastiness to create openings. On this snap, Conklin plowed over the defensive end then quickly located and locked onto the linebacker at the second level.


When asked to make more than one block on a play, like the one above, Conklin is adept at handling multiple assignments. Where some offensive lineman struggle if they have to make blocks further downfield, Conklin looks comfortable making blocks past the line of scrimmage. Notice in the play below how Conklin came off the initial block then properly located and locked onto the defender at the second level of the defense.


As a pass blocker, Conklin is strong enough to sustain blocks for a relatively long period of time. He also has the ability to absorb and redirect incoming pass rushers. In the clip below, the blitzer tried to convert his wide speed move into a bull rush, but Conklin was strong enough to stone the defender and prevent him from collapsing the pocket.



The concerns with Conklin usually deal with his feet. While he is strong, Conklin is not the fleetest of foot. This really hurts Conklin in pass protection, where speed rushers can put him out of position. In this snap, the blitzer timed the snap count and effortlessly beat Conklin to the outside, although he does recover a bit. Had this been a longer developing pass play, the pass rusher probably would have beaten Conklin for the sack.


Aside from just adequate foot quickness, Conklin will sometimes abandon his footwork altogether, putting him off-balance and making his blocks ineffective. In the clip below, instead of continuing to mirror the rusher, Conklin lunged forward, dropped his head, and made it easy for the defender to avoid the block.



Conklin might not be the ultra-athletic left tackle teams look for in in the top of the first round, but he certainly deserves to be a first round pick. Conklin has a very complete skill set for a tackle. He is an outstanding run blocker and an adequate pass protector, and brings a nasty edge to both elements of his game.

Schematically, Conklin would be best served in an offense that runs a more power-blocking scheme where he can use his strength to win individual matchups against specific defenders. He does have the intelligence and enough mobility to be an adequate blocker in a zone-blocking system, but it wouldn’t play to his strengths.

Best Fit

The former Spartan has a chance to be a really good right tackle, where his skills as a run blocker would be more valuable than his pass protection. Conklin does have a long wingspan, so some team might consider him as a potential contributor at left tackle, but it’s probably not his best fit long-term.

The Seahawks, Jets, Steelers, and Chiefs are all teams potentially in the market for a left tackle and all are picking in latter half of the first-round, where Conklin is best suited to be drafted.

All GIF content courtesy of draftbreakdown.com. GIFs were made using giphy.com.

UFC 195 Preview

Main Event: (C ) “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler vs. #4 Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit for the welterweight championship.

Last time anyone saw Lawler he was bloodied, but victorious in his UFC 189 title defense over Rory MacDonald by TKO, in what many view as the best fight of 2015.

Lawler has been described more of a brawler than a fighter due to very heavy hands and an aggressive style. In his fight against Josh Koscheck two years ago, Lawler was still able to win by 1st round TKO, despite most of the fight occurring with the two fighters on the ground and grappling against the wall, not typically great striking position. With the end of the first drawing near, Lawler’s heavy hands were on display when he used one strong punch to stun Koscheck, dislodge himself and then land several blows on Koscheck before the ref stopped the fight.

Even though Lawler does not look for much offense via submission or wrestling, he is solid at defending both. His 67% takedown defense is still out of the top-10 amongst active UFC welterweights (number ten on the list, Sean Spencer, is 72%). Where Lawler struggles is his striking defense where he averages almost the same numbers of significant strikes landed per round as significant strikes absorbed per round.

Another KO artist, Carlos Condit had his last win, a Fight Night victory over Thiago Alves, end in a knockout and has 15 of his 30 career wins come by knockout. Where the two differ is in versatility in striking. Where Lawler primarily use his punches, Condit is very good when it comes to mixing up his moves as far as punches, kicks, knees and looks more to use his strikes as a counter-attack. Against Alves, Condit showed punch to set up a kick, kicked to set up punches, and punched to set up elbows.

Defensively, Condit is a bit deceptive. On paper, Condit’s 58% total strike avoidance rate looks bad compared to Lawler’s 62%, but Condit’s significant strikes absorbed per round rate is significantly better than Lawler. Additionally, where Lawler once again has the advantage in takedown defense rate, Condit has 11 submissions in his career to just one by Lawler.

Ultimately, if Condit can find a way to avoid and then counter Lawler’s punches, he can take the title. Though, Lawler’s devastating power means he can change the direction of a fight with just one punch.

Three other bouts to watch

Heavyweight bout: #3 Stipe Miocic vs. #2 Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski

The winner of this match will probably have a date with the winner of Cain Velasquez-Fabricio Werdum title match next month.

Arlovski is going through a bit of a career revival at 36. Now in his second stint with the UFC, he has won his last four fights including two knockouts. In his first round knockout of Travis Browne earlier in 2015, Arlovski does a good job of mixing up his striking combinations, but tends to favor his punches. Those punches pack lots of power, as he was able to stun Browne numerous times in that one round. At one point during the fight Arlovski got a little to aggressive in his attempts to KO Browne, and Arlovski took a big punch. It’s not the first time in his career Arlovski’s aggressive KO attempts has backfired.

To counter, Miocic has a three inch reach advantage and is already pretty accomplished defending strikes, ranking third amongst active UFC heavyweights in significant strikes defended rate at 62.8% (Arlovski is 2nd on the list). Miocic also has an advantage in takedowns, landing 2.16 takedowns per 15 minutes and ranks in the top-10 amongst active heavyweights in total takedowns and takedown accuracy. Once on the ground, Miocic’s ground n’ pound is exceptional.

Welterweight bout: Lorenz “The Monsoon” Larkin vs. Albert “Einstein” Tumenov

The UFC may have something in the 24-year old Tumenov. He already has 16 wins at a very young age, and has only two losses, both by decision, and just one of those was a unanimous decision. Meanwhile he has won 10 of his last 12 bouts by knockout. In his only loss in the UFC,  the split-loss decision in what was his first UFC fight, Tumenov looked great at striking from the ground, but also looked very susceptible to takedowns.

Larkin’s resume includes a victory over current UFC welterweight champion Lawler, back when both fighters were part of the Strikeforce promotion. Larkin is primarily a striker who likes to mix in some flying front kicks. Defensively, Larkin holds an advantage over Tumenov, absorbing fewer significant strikes per minute (3.54 to 2.45) while also sporting better a total strikes defended rate (64% to 59%).

Lightweight bout: Scott “Hot Sauce” Holtzman vs Drew Dober

Holtzman enters this fight, just his second in the UFC, with a 9-0 record, but at 32, isn’t a youngster like Tumenov. In standup, Holtzman deploys some very good head kicks, but also has the ability to score a takedown to deploy some ground n’ pound punches. Defensively, Holtzman looks pretty comfortable at escaping or reversing when an opponent takes a dominant position in a clinch or on the ground.

Since joining the UFC, Dober has struggled, with one win in four bouts. Dober is a striker, but not a very accurate one, landing just 31% of his punches. Additionally, he takes a ton of big shots, averaging 4.57 significant strikes absorbed per minute. Dober is solid at takedown defense, stopping 69% of all takedown attempt by opponents.

SEC Coaching Tradition

Tradition and the SEC are synonymous. However, as awesome as tradition is and can be, it can clash with change, even if that change is ideally for the better.

Where the tradition-change clash is perhaps most apparent this offseason is in the SEC head coaching hirings. A case can be made that while the new hires reflect the SEC tradition, that familiarity with SEC tradition may not be as important as many consider.

It’s easy to see why former SEC coaches would work well as SEC head coaches. An assistant with years of SEC experience can enter with good knowledge of the conference landscape along with key recruiting insights.

A quick review of the coaches hired shows very apparent connections to the SEC. Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina Will Muschamp both played their college football at UGA (at different times) and both have held coaching positions for at least three different SEC schools.

Slightly the odd man out, Missouri’s new head coach Barry Odom does not have the same SEC resume as Smart or Muschamp, having just one season with Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC. Still, Odom has had multiple stints in Columbia and, similar to those of Smart and Muschamp, Odom’s hiring likely is based somewhat on his familiarity to the current landscape of the program, which includes experience in the conference.

Recent history shows that hiring ex-SEC coaches to SEC head coaching gigs does not provide as much of an advantage as one may think. This analysis does not include hiring of coaches who only served as head coach for one season. For instance, Robbie Caldwell, John L. Smith, and Lane Kiffin do not make the list, since one year is too small a sample size. Same goes for Jim McElwain, since he has only coached one season.

Coach Previous SEC ties Record 
Houston Nutt Arkansas 24-26 at Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze* Ole Miss 33-18 at Ole Miss
Dan Mullen Florida 54-35 at Mississippi State
Derek Dooley Georgia, LSU 15-21 at Tennessee
Nick Saban* LSU 98-18 at Alabama
Bobby Petrino Auburn 34-17 at Arkansas
Joker Phillips South Carolina 13-24 at Kentucky
Guz Malzahn* Auburn, Arkansas 26-13 at Auburn
Gene Chizik Auburn 33-19 at Auburn
Steve Spurrier Florida 86-49 at Florida
Will Muschamp LSU, Auburn, Florida 28-21 at Florida
444-261 (.630 winning percentage)

*Denotes current SEC head coach

A .630 winning percentage factored over a 12-game season equals seven and a half wins per season.

This might sit well with a South Carolina team coming off of three-win season or a Missouri team which won just five games the year prior. But for a team like Georgia that fired Mark Richt, who won at least eight games in every season but one under his tenure, having a coach that would average seven and a half wins a season could be considered a slight drop.

72% of the coaches on this list have a winning record over their tenure, so it is still possible to find a quality coach from SEC assistants and seven wins a season is usually considered a solid season.

By comparison, coaches without SEC ties have actually fared about the same as coaches with SEC connections.

Coach  Record
Les Miles* 111-32 at LSU
Urban Meyer 65-15 at Florida
James Franklin 24-15 at Vanderbilt
Butch Jones* 20-17 at Tennessee
Mark Stoops* 12-24 at Kentucky
Bret Bielema* 17-20 at Arkansas
249-123 (.669 winning percentage)

A .669 winning percentage over a 12 game season equals about eight wins a season.

Statistically, the difference between a former SEC coach and a non-SEC coach is rather insignificant with recent history showing that both should average at or close to eight wins a season.

If one were to blindly look at the average win-loss records of head coaches with SEC ties and without SEC ties, the numbers would look very similar.

Still, in a sport where one win could equal bowl eligibility or a major win over a rival, one win is significant. An eight-win team can crack a Top 25 ranking, while a seven-win team probably does not. So on a season-to-season basis, the difference between seven and eight wins could be substantial, but not when looking at a larger sample.

Of the six coaches, just 66% have winning records. However, of the SEC head coaches hired since 2005 without SEC ties, 66% are still employed with their respective school, where just 36% of those with SEC ties are still employed by their SEC school.

In fairness, three of the coaches (Jones, Bielema, and Stoops) currently employed started in 2013 and with all three of their records close to or below .500, might be out of a job if this study was conducted five years in the future should their records not improve or remain the same.

Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect formula for projecting how well a coach will perform at his new job. The fact that the majority of the coaches on both lists have winning records does not seal the fate of the most recent hires, or any future hires. 

Still, those in a position to hire should not assume that a coach with SEC ties is going to fare significantly better than one without SEC ties.

SQ C-USA Championship Preview

Just because the Conference USA title game will likely not have playoff implications, does not mean it is not worth watching. This year’s C-USA title game features a juggernaut Western Kentucky team (11-2, 8-0 C-USA) looking to win its second straight conference title against an upstart Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) squad, who can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1988.

The Offenses

Chuck Cook (USA Today)/ Tedd MonkenOne of the best passing offenses in the country resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Head coach Jeff Brohm has continued running the passing scheme brought over by predecessor Bobby Petrino. The Hilltoppers lead the nation in passing touchdowns with 44, and are the only team in the country to have a completion percentage greater than 70%.

WKU’s offense is no slouch passing the football either. They rank 4th in the nation in passing yards, and 23rd in passing attempts. However, the Golden Eagles have outgained Western Kentucky in total yards, and rank 6th in the nation with an impressive 7.12 yards per play. After two years of losing records, Todd Monken has led the Golden Eagles to it’s first winning season since 2011, led by this prolific offensive attack.

The Defenses

Western Kentucky employs a “Bend don’t break” style of defense, allowing just under 400 yards per game, while still holding them to 25 ppg.

The Golden Eagles defense is more opportunistic, looking to create more big plays. USM has more sacks, tackles for loss, and pass breakups than the Hilltoppers. Southern Miss’s Overall Havoc Rate (which looks at TFL’s and turnovers on a per play basis) is ranked 21st compared to Western Kentucky’s 46th ranking.

Key Stats

34: For all the hype about the Western Kentucky passing attack it is a bit alarming the number of bad pass defenses the Hilltoppers faced this year. Entering Championship Week their opponent with the best ranked pass defense in terms of yards per game is Marshall at 34. Even more alarming is that the Hilltoppers lost to Indiana who has the worst ranked pass defense in the country. Perhaps this makes the WKU passing attack slightly less intimidating.

10-20: Throughout the season Southern Miss had a tendency to win, and lose, big. 10 of Southern Miss’s games have been decided by 20 points or more. That includes a pair of 20-point losses to Mississippi State and later in the season Marshall. So there is a decent chance this championship game will not be decided by a field goal as time expires.

Key Players

Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty
The success of the Hilltopper offense will undoubtedly be tied to the success of the fifth-year senior passer. Doughty will probably fall short of his 2014 yardage totals and touchdown totals, which is understandable considering he threw for over 4,800 yards and 49 touchdowns. In 2015, Doughty’s passer rating and completion percentage are improved and his interception totals are down. He still leads the nation in passing touchdowns and claims a passer rating higher than Heisman contender Baker Mayfield and projected 1st round pick Jared Goff.

Southern Mississippi RB Jalen Richard

When the the Golden Eagles need a score they turn to their star senior tailback. Richard is an adept rusher who not only leads the Golden Eagles in rushing yards and touchdowns, but can also be a factor as a receiver and returner, having recorded touchdowns in both areas.


Southern Miss is certainly capable of creating a big play, but they lack the offensive efficiency of the Hilltoppers. This may very well come down to the defenses, and in this area Western Kentucky may have the advantage. The Hilltoppers seem to be comfortable giving up yardage so long as it does not result in points. They concede five yards to prevent fifteen yards while Southern Miss thrives on the big plays to drive the offense.

Ultimately, Doughty and the rest of the Western Kentucky offense are so good at limiting turnovers that the Southern Miss defense could be in for a long day if they can’t pressure Doughty into mistakes. 

Western Kentucky 48, Southern Miss: 38

Proud To Be An American

When the American Athletic Conference became a Division I football conference in 2013, it seemed to be a punchline. With a combination of a handful of former Big East teams along with a hodge podge of schools ranging from Rutgers in the northeast, to South Florida in the south, to SMU all the way in Dallas, it seemed that several non-power five schools decided to make a conglomerate.

However, the AAC’s odd geographical combination of teams has led to one of the most compelling to follow and one of the best in the country, due to a very simple fact: the AAC wins.

A conference which wins a lot conversely must have few losers. Just four of the 12 teams in the AAC have losing record and of those just three teams are eliminated from finishing the season with at least a .500 record.

Those look good compared to other non-power five conferences. Conference USA has nine teams with below .500 record, the MAC has six teams, the Mountain West has six, and the Sun Belt has seven.

Against Power Five teams, the AAC have eight wins entering Saturday. The AAC had just four wins against Power Five conference schools all of last year. 

Although the conference is doing well as far as winning top to bottom, it has been helped by four teams, which should all be at the very least, inline for a very good bowl game come post season. 

Two of the newest members of the conference in Memphis and Navy have also been two of the most impressive teams.

Memphis was ranked 10th in first 2015 CFP Poll after an 8-0 start, which included a thorough victory over Ole Miss thanks in large part to an offense which entered Saturday ranked 8th in points per game. Those wins plus the offense had the Tigers ranked as high as 10th in the coaches poll.

The team that dropped Memphis, Navy, currently sports just one loss on the season, a closer than perhaps anticipated game against Notre Dame. Perhaps most amazingly for the Midshipmen, who were ranked 20th in the latest CFP poll, is they have scored fewer than 30 points just twice this season, despite running an option offense. These accomplishments are that more impressive considering the disadvantage the Navy has when it comes to recruiting due to how hard it is to get into a service academy.

Additionally, Temple was another school which started out 7-0 including. Unlike Memphis and Navy, the strength of the Owls is defense. A unit which ranks 20th in points allowed per game. The notable win for the Owls includes a win over Penn State, the first time that has happened in 74 years.

While Temple, Navy and Memphis are all impressive, the cream of the crop of the American Athletic Conference is the Houston Cougars. Houston currently stands undefeated at 9-0 and has wins over an ACC team in Louisville, 34-31 and over a very strong defensive team in Vanderbilt, 34-0. The Cougars currently sit at 24th in the latest CFP Poll. Houston and its opponent Saturday, Memphis, are two of just eight averaging more than 44 points per game.

If there is a blemish it is that the AAC is also home to two of the teams that win the least (a combined 1-18 record), UCF and SMU, call the conference home.

Some of these impressive records might appear more blemished by the seasons end. As mentioned Houston plays Memphis, who faces Temple next week. Navy closes out the season against the Cougars. Still, this is the season the AAC needed to show that it’s conference can provide top-notch football.

Keenan Reynolds Rushes To Endzone, Runs To Legend

Tell me if this story sounds familiar: An individual who has taken a commitment to defend our country returns to their home state and does something remarkable.

On Saturday, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds will travel to Memphis to take on the #13 Tigers. Not only does it have large implications for both teams in the American Athletic Conference, with both teams sporting an 4-0 conference record, but the game has special meaning to Reynolds.

A native of Antioch, Tennessee (about a four hour car ride from Memphis), Reynolds has never played a college game (he did play Middle Tennessee in a bowl game, which was held in Texas) in his home state and he has a chance to break the NCAA career rushing touchdown record.

Perhaps more remarkable than Reynolds returning to his hometown to break a major NCAA record is how Reynolds got to those totals and how truly dominating he has been in his almost four years at Annapolis by both his total numbers and which players he has passed while collecting those totals.

Consider that of the all the players ranked in the Top-10 for total rushing touchdowns (several ties exist in the Top-10), the highest total by a quarterback since 1956 had been 59 by Eric Crouch and Colin Kaepernick. Reynolds passed that total just nine games into his junior season in 2014.

Beyond the quarterbacks, Reynolds will be passing some of the biggest names in college football, most notably Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball, whom Reynolds is currently tied with at 77.

In just this season, which he entered with 64 rushing scores, Reynolds has passed exceptional college players such as Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, and Ron Dayne.
Still, an overview of the top rushing scorers in NCAA history shows that most of the players reached these milestones while playing at major powerhouse conference like Texas (Williams and Benson), Wisconsin (Ball and Dayne), or Nebraska (Couch).

Reynolds has statistically become one of the best rushers in college football, and did so at a military academy where football ability comes second to the ability to lead soldiers in a time of war.

Reynolds physical ability and Navy’s desire to find future leaders proved to be a perfect match for both.

A big reason the fit was so good, at least on the field, was because of the triple-option scheme and Reynold’s best attribute, based on the record he is chasing, is his legs. In his three plus seasons, Navy has never ranked lower than 3rd nationally in total rushing attempts.

As a freshman, Reynolds got the nod as the starting quarterback just five games into his time at Annapolis, with the team just 1-3. This includes being thrashed by a Notre Dame team, a team that would eventually reach the National Championship game.

Once Reynolds took over the job, he saw instant success and it turned into wins, with the Mid’s losing just one more time during the 2013 regular season.

Reynolds truly became a stat stuffer as a sophomore rushing for 31 touchdowns, which tied him for the lead amongst all Division I players and also set the mark for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season. He had more rushing touchdowns than Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch and Boston College running back Andre Williams, both of whom were Heisman finalists.

That year, Reynolds also set the record for most rushing touchdowns in a game by an FBS quarterback with seven against San Jose State.

Although Reynolds’ rushing totals are the most impressive, he has proven to be a solid passer within the option system. He has thrown for over 1,000 yards twice which might not seem impressive, but consider how few times Navy throws the ball. Navy has never ranked higher than 121st in total pass attempts during Reynolds career.

The result of this is that Reynolds has not only been an effective scoring the ball on rushing attempts, but also through the air.

Currently, Reynolds sits at 38th on the list of total touchdowns, tied with Geno Smith at 102, and having passed Peyton Manning already. By seasons end, Reynolds likely can crack the Top-30 which would include passing Drew Brees, Matt Leinart and Brett Hundley, amongst others.

So when Reynolds crosses the goal line, hopefully on Saturday, he will not only be setting a milestone, but cementing his status as one of the best players in NCAA history.

Life With And Without Luke

In “The Numbers Say” SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.

The mood in Carolina was not that great when All-world linebacker Luke Kuechly was knocked out of Week 1 just 32 snaps into the season. In a fantastic twist, the Panthers have actually been playing outstanding with a 4-0 start, and with Atlanta’s loss, now sit in first place in the NFC South.

Perhaps most comforting, is that despite losing arguably the team’s top player, the defense has played well through the first four games of the season.

A crunch of the numbers says that while the Panthers are playing at an elite level, the return of Kuechly cannot come soon enough.


Of the four teams Carolina has played (Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Houston) 23.2 represents the average of where the teams rank in points per game. Clearly, the best way to keep the defense in shape while the star player is gone is to play offenses that are not that good to begin with.


In the absence of Kuechly the biggest star has been #24 cornerback Josh Norman. The former sixth-round pick from Coastal Carolina is off to an outstanding start, ranked the number one cornerback by Pro Football Focus. Despite Norman’s best efforts, the Panthers have not been stellar against the pass, with the team ranked…


Although the Panthers have one of the better defenses in the league, and Norman is one of the better corners in the league, the Panthers currently sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to defending the pass. That number could potentially worsen in the coming weeks because…

4, 4, 3

The Panthers next four games are against Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay. All four finished last season in the Top 10 in points per game. Three of those teams–Seattle, Indianapolis, and Green Bay–had their respective starting quarterbacks finish the Top 10 in QBR.

In fairness, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis have not had the win loss records they had last season. Still, the Eagles have won their last two, Andrew Luck appears set to return soon, and two of Seattle’s losses have been to undefeated Green Bay and Cincinnati. All three could be due for a breakout.


Although Kuechly has not played a full regular season game, he earned a coverage score of 84.1 which ranks him 6th amongst linebackers. Yes, the sample size is small, but it echoes what many have said about Kuechly being outstanding in coverage.
Against some of the better offenses, and specifically the better passing games, Kuechly’s coverage ability will be critical in the coming weeks.


For the Panthers concerns with the passing defense, there are very few concerns about the run defense. The unit is surrendering just 92.0 yards per game, good for 6th in the league.

Unsurprisingly, Kuechly is also tremendous against the run. Specifically his tackling and range skills are some of the best in the NFL. In theory, Kuechly’s return should make the Panthers run defense better over this stretch. That will be important because…


Two teams (Seattle and Green Bay) have a rushing attack that ranks in the Top 10.
Through four games, the Panthers defense has been exceptional, but it is truly going to be tested with some of the better offenses coming up. The good news is that since Kuechly is so stout against the run and athletic in coverage, the Panthers defense should be able to at least contain some of the better offensive teams coming up. He makes a great run defense elite, and solidifies an already elite pass defense.