To be in the AP top 10 at this point in the college football season means that you have conquered some adversity, have made some big plays and maybe even had a bit of luck. As these teams move forward into the second half of the season they need to be sure to expand on their strengths and try to fix their weaknesses. Not sure what your team does well? Struggling to find a weakness? Let us help.
The heart of Wisconsin’s defense is their linebackers. Despite losing Chris Orr to an ACL tear on the first play of the season and Vince Biegel and T.J. Edwards for weeks at a time, the group hasn’t missed a beat. Led by T.J. Watt (5.5 sacks) and Jack Cichy (50 tackles, 7 TFL) the linebackers have been the heart and soul of the Badger’s ninth-ranked scoring defense. For the Badgers to stay competitive this group needs to keep leading the defense.
Weakness: Passing Offense
While it has had its bright spots, the Wisconsin passing offense has not been able to carry the team, especially in the last two games. Against Michigan, Alex Hornibrook only threw for 88 yards while completing 36 percent of his passes. While Michigan does have a great defense he missed some easy throws and also made some bad decisions. Hornibrook was better against Ohio State, but still struggled to get the ball out quickly on the deep dropbacks. For Wisconsin to get back into the Big Ten picture the passing game needs to be able to convert long third downs and make contested throws in the red-zone.
Strength: Spread Running Game
After ranking second in rush yards per game last year, Baylor ranks fifth this year. What’s impressive about Baylor’s rushing game is that it does not all come from a single player and that it comes in the Big-12. While the Big 12 is not known for its defense, most of the offense in the league comes from throwing the ball. Teams spread out and race to 50 points. Baylor tries to balance their attack more by running the ball an average of 50 times a game. They have five players with at least 30 carries and four players with at least 300 yards rushing. This balanced attack is unique for the conference and makes them tough to stop.
Weakness: Strength of Schedule
Baylor’s strength of schedule ranks third to last in the entire country. Their out of conference wins includes Rice, Northwestern State, and SMU. They only have two ranked teams on their schedule and will not have to play in a conference championship game. Baylor could go undefeated and still not make the playoff simply because they have not played any tough games.
Strength: Experienced Quarterback
Behind J.T. Barrett, Nebraska Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is the best quarterback in the Big 10. He has started 30 games over four years and this has been his best yet. He leads a balanced Nebraska offense with his running and passing ability. Armstrong has been known to make big mistakes in the past but has thrown only four interceptions this year and two of those came last week. If Armstrong keeps showing his maturity and command of the offense, then Nebraska can get to the Big Ten championship game.
Weakness: Strength of Schedule
Similar to Baylor, nobody knows how good Nebraska is. Their out of conference win against Oregon was impressive at the time, but now does not look as great. Nebraska’s first real test will come in two weeks against Wisconsin and then a week after that at Ohio State. These games will show how good the Cornhuskers really are.
With Lamar Jackson as your quarterback, anything is possible. He is fifth in the country in rushing and first in scoring and has been dominant in every game this year except for last week. The playbook is wide open with Jackson at quarterback, and his improvisational skills when the play breaks down are second to none. Like with Ohio State, Louisville’s offense runs through their quarterback and their success depends on how well he plays.
Weakness: Offensive line
Because Jackson has been so good, some other deficiencies have been covered up, namely the offensive line. While Louisville is leading the country in yards per rush, is that because of the offensive line, or in spite of them? They only need to hold their protection for a little in order for Jackson to make a play, but they may not be able to do that in tough upcoming games.
6. Texas A&M
Strength: Defensive line
Led by Miles Garrett, the A&M defensive line is their best chance to rattle Jalen Hurts and Alabama this week. While Garrett is not playing as well statistically this year, he is still projected at the top of the 2017 NFL draft and is a force on the A&M line. Quarterback Trevor Knight will also be important, but the defensive line needs to make Alabama uncomfortable or it will be a blowout in Tuscaloosa.
Weakness: Can the defense hold up?
After giving up 684 total yards to Tennessee two weeks ago, Texas A&M has had plenty of time to prepare for Alabama. Stopping Alabama has proved to be near impossible for most teams this year and A&M could just be the next team on the chopping block. A&M will need to rely on experienced defensive backs Armani Watts and Justin Evans to tackle well and keep Alabama from throwing deep.
Strength: Quarterback Play
Sophomore quarterback and Heisman candidate Jake Browning has proved himself as an efficient passer in Washington’s offense. His efficiency rating is the highest in the country, and he only throws an interception once every 50 pass attempts. Browning may not get the attention that others do since his games start at 9:30, but he has led his Washington team to the top of the Pac-12 and in prime position for the playoff. If he continues to play well and take care of the ball, then Washington should find themselves in the playoff.
Weakness: Is the Pac-12 good?
Even if Washington wins the Pac-12 their best non-conference win will be against Rutgers and their best conference win will likely be against Utah in a few weeks. Will they be able to compete against the powers of the ACC, Big 10, and SEC? It’s hard to say since Washington’s last out of conference ranked game was last year when they lost to Boise State. Tune in on January 1 to see Washington get blown out by Alabama.
Clemson knows what it takes to get to the College Football Playoff, as they did that last year. While they graduated some talent from their defense, their best player – DeShaun Watson – is still around for another championship run. By beating Louisville a few weeks ago Clemson set themselves up on a good road to the ACC championship game. After a bye week, they travel to play Florida State in their last real test of the season. Clemson’s experience and senior leadership should lead them to success for the rest of the season.
Weakness: Looking too far ahead
Clemson’s experience of getting to the championship game last year will help them going forward, but it almost cost them a couple times this season. By looking forward too far Clemson has forgotten the task at hand. They almost lost to Troy earlier in the season and they were a missed field goal away from losing to NC State. While they are favored to win the rest of their games, they need to be careful about looking too far ahead and need to take care of their week to week business.
Strength: Diverse Offensive Playbook
Michigan has four players who have rushed for at least 250 yards on the season as they employ different formations and personnel groups to move the ball. While Jim Harbaugh likes to line up under center with only one receiver and two fullbacks, he also can spread the field and go into the shotgun. Additionally, Harbaugh can use the Wildcat with Jabrill Peppers as the quarterback, and he loves to use his fullbacks near the goal line. By bringing different sets and players into every game, Harbaugh is able to keep teams off balance.
This weakness was clear in the 14-7 win over Wisconsin as Michigan missed three field goals. On the season Michigan kickers are 4-9 and have forced Harbaugh to decide to go on fourth down instead of kicking it. If Michigan finds itself in close games towards the end of the season, lack of confidence in the kicking game could hurt them. Remember what the kicking game did against Michigan State last year?
2. Ohio State
Ohio State Quarterback and Heisman Candidate J.T. Barrett single-handedly won the overtime game against Wisconsin. He was able to escape the pass rush and keep his eyes downfield and repeatedly pick up long third downs against the Badger defense. While Barrett may not be the fastest or most elusive quarterback, he is very difficult to bring down and he is very comfortable in the offense. Surround him with some talented recruits and you see what happens.
Weakness: Play Design
Since their quarterback is so talented, the entire offense runs through him. This also makes the offense predictable, especially in the running game. QB power, read option, veer option, speed option and QB draw make up most of the Ohio State running game, and if a team can stop or limit Barrett, then they make Ohio State one dimensional.
Strength: Non-Traditional Touchdowns
Alabama leads the country with 11 non-offensive touchdowns. That is more than the total touchdowns scored by South Carolina. When Alabama is not beating you with their offense they are letting you beat yourself by turning it over or by not executing on special teams. If you want to beat Alabama, you have to keep their scoring limited to the offense.
Weakness: Defending Big Receivers
In their only close game of the season against Ole Miss, Alabama struggled to defend the pass, especially to bigger receivers. Tight end Evan Engram caught nine passes for 138 yards and Alabama struggled to cover him all game. If Alabama finds itself matched up with Michigan or Clemson in the future, their big tight ends could cause some problems.