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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend

Preseason Top 25

Preseason Top 25

1- Alabama- The Crimson Tide won the National Championship making it the first time under Saint Saban that they started the season as the number one team and ending as the number one team. There was a little bump after that Auburn game, but the Tide recovered well. This year it will probably depend on who starts at Quarterback, Hurts or Tagovailoa. Last year, the Tide won mainly by pounding the ball into the line of scrimmage and that worked most of the time. Enter Auburn;- the Tigers never respected the passing game. Mississippi State hadn’t, either, but the Bulldogs lost their game. With Hurts at QB, teams are not going to respect the passing game. The best stable of running backs in the country, and a massive mobile, hostile, agile offensive line will carry Bama through most of their schedule. If Tagovailoa is the starter, then every team will have to respect the pass and it’ll open up the run game even more. Tua is the path to another Championship, Hurts is a path to uninspired winning but falling short of the Title. The choice is St. Saban’s, and it won’t be just this season. Little brother Tulia is entering as a freshman, and his eyes are open. This could be a decision for the Tide starting QB until 2022.

2- Clemson- The Orange, purple, white, blue and whatever other color the Tigers wear, thought they had another Championship in the bag in 2018. They were facing a battered, bruised Alabama team that slid into the CFP amid controversy. Except, Alabama wasn’t quite as sick as they made out (that’s a nod to Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday in Tombstone and he was great!) After finding themselves in the role of Johnny Ringo, the East Coast Tigers have to recover. The entire defensive line returns, that’s a start, since every one of them could have gone to the NFL. Undoubtedly, they’ll be good again, with the high-paid Brent Venables directing them. The offense is quarterback-centric;- if the star QB isn’t on his game, or if he gets hurt, the offense stalls, and could disintegrate – reference the Syracuse game in 2018. QB Kelly Bryant is the projected starter, but he had a few problems last year, like getting pounded into the ground, he didn’t like it. Now, he is being pushed by incoming freshman Trevor Lawrence, who could end up as the starter. If, and it’s a big “IF”, both QB’s are on their game every game, then they could find themselves in the hunt for another CFP title.

3- Washington- Yes, CigarSmokinFootball as the Huskies WAY up in the poll. Why? Simply watch QB Jake Browning. By rights, he should have won the Heisman as a sophomore, but he didn’t. Last year was a bit of a regression, but expect him to be back on form this year. The receivers are a bit green, but all they have to do is catch the ball when it hits their hands, and it will, with Browning spiraling the pigskin. The offensive line returns most of their starters. Need a little help in the middle of the line, but they’ve got plenty of time for youngsters to gel together. The defensive returns nine starters and they will more than likely own the PAC-12. Now, if they don’t produce, and a Chris Petersen’s offensive doesn’t produce as it should, we’ll all make fun of the West Coast teams…again, with good reason.

4- Michigan State- This is Sparta! Two years ago the men in green did not perform well, they won only three games and (nearly) everyone on the planet thought MSU’s glory days were over. Last year, Sparty got back on track and won ten games. This year, they return just about everyone, as in 19 of 22 starters. The last time they returned so many they made it to the CFP playoffs and then were embarrassed by the Tide. (I’m an Alabama fan so I had to mention it.) The running game will be better this year with Lewerke and Scott comprising a fantastic duo, to borrow a line from the movie Lonesome Dove about a man who rents pigs, “They’ll be hard to stop.” The biggest advantage they have is that their schedule breaks very favorably. They play Michigan and Ohio State at East Lansing with only Penn State as a projected test away.

5- Georgia- Really, seriously, I want to rank the Bulldogs higher. They made it to the National Championship game and darn near won it. Remember when Saban surprised the world wit the onside kick against Clemson, recovered by Bama? Last year it was the gutsy QB switch at halftime to Tua that deprived the Dawgs of the Natty. This team was rolling last year and they could roll again this year. QB Fromm returns, but he broke his hand over the summer, luckily it wasn’t his throwing hand. He will have true freshman Fields behind him but he’ll mainly serve as the back up. Running backs Chubb and Michel will not be in the back field, but, thank goodness, they have D’Andre Swift who is a solid runner. The Defense has to replace nine starters and, let’s be honest, the defense was the strength of the team last year. They were weak in pass defense and that will more than likely hurt them this year as well. The Dawgs have recruited very well but they haven’t yet learned to replace all star players like they do in Alabama. Head Coach Kirby Smart learned his trade at the feet of St. Saban so he knows what do. Now, he has to do it. Let’s see if he does.

6- Ohio State- The Buckeyes will not enjoy being ranked sixth, but I don’t care, cause they haven’t proven they should be ranked higher. They thought they should have been in the CFB Playoff last year, but they just couldn’t shake that Iowa thumping they got, not to mention the one from Oklahoma. First, the Buckeyes have to replace J.T. Barrett, who, in CSF’s opinion, under -performed in big games. Three QBs are fighting for the job. Haskins got playing time last year and was pretty good, but Martell and Burrow think they can take it. Burrow might have won the job, but he transferred to LSU and it looks like he’s going to start for the Bayou Bengals. The running game has J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber coming back, so they may be good there. The Offensive line has to fill a few holes and the receiving corps is untested. Defense will carry the Bucks through the start of their season, but it can’t carry the team load all season long. They have two warm-up games before they face TCU. The Buckeyes must be ready before the Horned Toads come to town.

7- Penn State- For some reason, the writers that think they know everything are not very high on the Nittany Lions. It might be because they lost RB Barkley, who, let’s be honest, was outstanding last year, AND they only have two returning starters on defense. And just to put some whipped cream on top of it, they lost mastermind offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State. BUT, they do have Trace McSorley back under center, and I think he’s capable of carrying the team until the defense gets the picture. The running game will not be so much fun to watch without Barkely, but they do have Miles Sanders and he’s darn good. Defense is the main reason there is doubt, but HC Franklin’s young players are ahead of schedule and they have five games to gel before facing Ohio State. Pittsburgh could be a test, but if they get by the Panthers, they’ve got time to get it together. HC Franklin is doing a fantastic job at Happy Valley and he’ll continue to do so.

8- Wisconsin- The Badgers have two things going for them;- one, a weak schedule (maybe one of these days they’ll learn they need to schedule quality opponents), and, two, a strong defense. In a league dominated by offenses, it’s a nice change of pace to see someone take defense seriously. QB Hornibrook is back and that’s great news for Badger fans. He’ll be handing the ball off a lot to RB Taylor who could make a run (that’s a pun) to be invited to New York at the end of the season. Wisconsin has a history of producing Heisman backs. More than likely, they’ll make it to the Great White North Championship game, but whether they’ll be able to beat whoever they meet in that game is an entirely different story. I doubt it.

10-Stanford- Out on The Farm they have yet another outstanding RB in Bryce Love, who should have won the Heisman last year. He’s a monster running back and out on the left coast they have yet to come up with a proven way to stop him. QB Costello has shown he is capable, but he missed the entire spring practice because of an injury that was never disclosed. Besides, is he playing for Stanford or Tennessee? It’s ok, he shouldn’t have to throw that much. Last year the defense had trouble penetrating into the opponent’s backfield. Now that they’ve had a year to learn what to do, or what not to do, expect them to be much better. Stanford has a habit of going up and down with their defense, but in the up years they make the Cardinal a very formable team. If it wasn’t for those pesky Huskies up in Seattle they’d more than likely win the PAC-12 North.

11 – Mississippi State- What? Mississippi State ranked #10? Did we just slip down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland? Before someone accuses me of being on drugs or recently suffering a major blow to the head, let me explain. 1) This pick is entirely dependent on QB Fitzgerald being healthy to pick up where he left off. If he’s not ready to go, then, yes, this pick was made through the looking glass. 2) New head coach Moorhead has walked into the mother lode for a new Head Coach. At Fordham he made the Rams into a contender by having an unstoppable offense. Now he gets an offense loaded with talent all the way around, from receivers, running back to the solid offensive line. What’s not to like about this situation? Moorhead has to go to bed every night grinning. PLUS, the Bulldogs have a strong defense with very good and versatile linebackers. Remember, MSU darn near beat Alabama last year. Darn near. Darn near. Fortunately, that’s the refrain of SEC West teams concerning beating Alabama. He-he-he. (I told you I was an Alabama fan). Expect a huge jump from the Maroons. I do.

12- USC- No Sam Darnold, and the Trojans are going to be better? Yep. Southern Cal has been on a steady path of improvement under the leadership of HC Helton. They ended up winning the PAC-12 championship last year, but there wasn’t too much fanfare because the PAC-12 was weak and then they dropped a clunker to Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. This year, however, they should be better. Every position on the offense is deep with an offensive line that just might prove to be the best in the PAC-12. All they need is a QB candidate to step up, but this is USC! That shouldn’t be a problem. The Defense has to replace some holes but they do have some All-Stars returning who will provide solid leadership to the newbies. Then again, this is USC. They have talent that’s ready to step up. The Men of Troy have been quietly improving year after year, mirroring the demeanor of their coach. He’s not flashy, he doesn’t create headlines, but he is very good and he’s molded this team in his image.

13- South Carolina- Most people didn’t notice but the Gamecocks went 9-4 last year, and came from behind in the Outback Bowl to put a sock in Jim Harbaugh’s mouth so he couldn’t bash the SEC again. There is nothing flashy about this team…..NOTHING! They play hard-nosed football. It appears that Coach Boom has improved as a head coach, go figure. The defense is the key to this team’s improvement. They should continue their solid performance, and, as they do, they’ll take the team with them. The offense is boring, to say to tell the truth, like dry toast. No butter, no orange marmelade in sight. But they score more points than the opposing teams and that makes them winners. Right, Harbaugh? Doubt they’ll lose to Kentucky again this year and don’t be surprised if they don’t hang close with Georgia in the second game of the season. USC-South is entering this season with more stability across the board than the Bulldogs and that’s going to pay dividends in the developing SEC-East.

14-Michigan- IF Jim Harbaugh is going to win the Great White North Title, this should be his year. Last year he played a very young team on both sides of the ball and they did pretty well. Not great, but well. Now they have a Quarterback from the SEC who is a proven game changer and, if that was the missing piece, then all should come together. Will this be enough for them to make it to the playoffs? Hold on there partner, might be getting a little ahead of yourself. First, they have to beat Michigan State, and they’ve only done that once in the “Favorite Son” (Harbaugh) era. Then, they have to beat Ohio State and they haven’t accomplished that at all during his tenure. As if that wasn’t enough, they need to win both of those in the same season. Plus, they start with Notre Dame, and a new coach at Nebraska, who is going to cause trouble from the get-go, and, just to add a cherry on top, they must also beat Penn State. It’ll be tough going, but with Shea Patterson under center the Maize and Blue will improve. They should have a very stout defense, not sure if they’ll beat OSU, MSU or PSU, much less all three in one season, but they’ll do alright, go to a bowl game and the Michigan fans will have to be good with that. Even if it is a “lesser” bowl.

15- Iowa- If the Hawkeyes want to end the Wisconsin dominance of the GWN-West, then this is the year to do it. The schedule sets up very nicely for the Hawkeyes with the only real conference test coming from Penn State. Let’s not forget about the much-improved Iowa State, but the Cyclones are not in the BIG Ten conference with fourteen teams. Iowa State could be a hard out. Iowa should get by them this year;- next year,…maybe not. The Hawkeyes open conference play with Wisconsin, and if they can pull off the victory, then it’s a smooth path to the Conference Championship game. They face a tough Penn State squad,, but the Nittany Lions are in the Great White North – East. The Hawks do have holes to fill but Coach Ferentz has been recruiting his type of players and there shouldn’t be much of a down turn. Most of the key positions are returning starters, Linebacker would be the most worrisome position, but, hey, it’s not like the state of Iowa doesn’t have linebackers. Expect their record to be very good, with lots of W’s, even if they don’t beat Wisconsin at the start. If they don’t take advantage of 2018 it might be a while before they get another opportunity like this one.

16- Oklahoma- Everyone and their uncle has OU ranked higher than I do, most people have them in the top ten and even in the top five, but here’s the reason. CSF is not smoking what everyone else is. That would the QB position and Kyler Murray being the starter. Yes, he won state championships in the state of Texas – that was high school – and, yes, he was a highly-recruited lad, but has everyone forgotten what happened at Texas A&M? He pretty much single-handedly destroyed the A&M season for 2016. Out of high school, he refused to go to a school where he wasn’t guaranteed playing time and Sumlin, unwisely, made that promise. He couldn’t read defenses and his passing was terrible. Unless the receiver was in a part of the field all by himself, with no one around, only then would Murry throw to him. Otherwise, this kid would do nothing but run the ball. It destroyed the offense of the Aggies and sent them on a downward spiral. Now this same guy is supposed to replace Heisman winner Baker Mayfield and OU isn’t going to miss a step? HA! Oh, before I forget, QB Murray is a one-year experiment since he’s already signed a pro baseball contract. So, is his mind seriously on football? The rest of the Sooners are going to be fine. They’re going to win games in the weak Big 12 that only has ten teams conference, but they won’t come out of it unscathed and in playoff contention.

17- Texas A&M – When new head coach Jimbo Fisher arrived at College Station, he was given a National Championship plague with the year blank, but ready to be filled in, so no pressure there, Jimmy Boy! Isn’t that just like the Aggies? The first thing Fisher is doing is changing the culture of the team. It’s no longer the happy, feel-good practices. It’s hard-core and very serious. No more rocking to the oldies while you work there. The Aggies have talent on offense, QB Nick Starkel, when he is healthy, has proven to be very effective. The biggest challenge for the new coaching staff is, can they make the defense the “Wrecking Crew” once again? In the past years they haven’t even come close to living up to that nickname. Should they learn how to stop the run, this team could be very good and could be in every game. The Clemson and Alabama games don’t look like gimmee’s, but they should be competitive with Miss State and Auburn by the end of the season.

18- Auburn- First, I rated the Tigers 7th, but I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve demoted them. The Tigers lost to Clemson beginning last season and then played like a dead puppy against LSU, but they ended the regular season very well. I’ve already told you all this, but, by way of review, they beat Georgia, and then, two weeks later, they beat Alabama. Both at home Jordan-Haire. But they couldn’t hold their serve and lost to Dawgs in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, and then to Central Florida, giving the Golden Knights a false sense of “Championship-itis”. Thanks a lot for that one Auburn! That’s another reason you lost 11 spots in my poll. This year they start off with Washington and LSU. The Defense that wrecked so much havoc at the end of 2017 is gone and they’ve got to replace key players in the front seven. It’s doubtful they’re going to get by Washington with a win, but if they can just hang close, keep it interesting, a loss will not affect their season that much. If they get blown out, it’s Katy, bar the door! They could stagger through their SEC-West schedule. The offense should be fine with QB Jarrett Stidham at the helm. The running game is looking at a fall-off, but, hopefully, it won’t be too much. The Plainsmen could be ranked higher but their defense has too many question marks. And if I keep thinking, I may drop them more. I remember the Kick-Six!

19- West Virginia- If the Mountaineers are going to make a run for the Big 12 that only has ten teams conference championship, now is the time. The conference is weak, and WVU has a very good QB in Will Grier. He’s getting a lot of press and they are already putting him in the Heisman race. They could be right. In 2018 he is going to have this offense humming, expect them to put up a lot of points because it’s doubtful there’s a defense in that conference to stop them. BUT, there’s the rub, defense. The entire time Coach Dana Holgorsen has been there, he has never given the defensive side of the ball much attention, and they’ve never risen above the middle of the pack. This year they might….MIGHT…have a couple of standouts on the defense, which will be more like a UFO sighting. People will say they’ve seen it, but they have no proof. Should the defense actually stop a team or two, then West Virginia could be in the race for the top spot of the ten team race.

20- Virginia Tech – This pick is completely based entirely on the fact that CSF as faith in HC Justin Fuente. If it was any other coach, the Hokies wouldn’t have gotten a second look. The defense lost five starters, the linebackers slotted to be their replacements still have High School yolk hanging off their beaks, the offense doesn’t have a proven receiver, much less two of them, the running game has to find a back that takes his job seriously, and they don’t have the dynamic quarterback that a Fuente-led team relies on. But this is Justin Fuente, that turned Memphis into a winning football team. Most people didn’t even know Memphis had a football until he got there. So, yes, CSF is drinking the maroon flavored kool-aid. The first game will tell a lot, as they play the Florida State Seminoles. FSU is in a serious rebuild, which should work in the Hokies’ favor. The rest of the schedule is manageable. At the end of the season they’ll be vying for the chance to take on Clemson in the ACC championship game.

21- NC State – The Wolfpack is a team that one can’t help liking even though they never really make it to the championship level. They are a good team, and the improvement that HC (DAN?)Doeren has done has not gone unnoticed. He was tossed into the Tennessee salad coaching search. NC State did everything they could to keep him and now he has to prove to them that their efforts were not in vain. QB Ryan Finley is coming back for his senior year and that gives NCS the most experienced and efficient passer in the conference. Going over the offense, there isn’t one position with a negative. So look for this team to keep the ball for long periods of time, which is a good thing, cause their defense needs help. They have to replace eight starters on the D side, they may be preaching the “Next Man Up”, but they are a far cry from being Alabama. Having said that, they did rotate a lot of their defensive players last year, so the guys stepping up are not novices to game experience. Maybe they’ll do better than we expect, maybe they won’t, but they’ll win games and be likeable.

22- Utah – They say, “Timing is everything”. If that be true, this is the right time, for the Utes have a chance to make it to the PAC -12 championship game. The West Coast South is in disarray. Arizona, Arizona State, and UCLA all have new coaches. Colorado is improving, but they appear to need a little more time. The only big obstacle in the way is USC, and the Utes have beaten them before, so it can be done. The offense is looking great at all skill positions, and the ever- important O-line needs just a few tweaks. Defense will improve greatly if they can get some pressure on opposing QB’s. Utah has yet to play in the PAC-12 championship game. They’ve got to make a huge push to make it this year, because it appears the door will only be open for a short time.

23- Miami- Last year everyone was mesmerized by the “Turnover Chain” and jumped to the conclusion that the ‘Canes were back’! They did defeat VA Tech and a WAY over-ranked Notre Dame team. But CSF was never a believer, and the last three games of the season proved us right. Now, if the “U” wants to make it back to the main stage of college football, they need to listen closely, cause we’re about to spill a secret. Here it is, listen closely;- “Defense wins championships”! We got that from Bear Bryant, but it’s still true. On top of that, they’ve got to get better at the QB position and find a back or two that likes to run the ball. It helps if they’re determined to get that extra yard or two, instead of going down with the first hit. They take on LSU first game of the season, and they should win, because right now we have no faith in Coach Orgeron. He could prove to be the magician’s cape covering glaring weakness, but when the cape is removed at the end of the season,….again. Miami has improved under Richt, and they’ll be good this year, too, but they’ve still got a ways to go. The “Chain” is only a strength as its weakest link. And the Canes have weak lengths.

24 – Kansas State- The last time K-State won the conference championship, the Big 12 actually had 12 teams! They’ve come close since then, but not quite made it. Now is one of those years where a Bill Synder led teams appears from nowhere and catches folks by surprise. The Big 12 that only has ten teams, is weak, and the Wildcats have all five O-line starters returning. The backfield is loaded and the receivers are good, as well. If they can avoid the injury bug, the defensive front 7 should have a break out year, plus an improved secondary. This is the situation that HC Synder lives for, no one is expecting much from his team, the rest of the conference is searching for stability and he’s there plugging away. The second game of the season against Mississippi State is going to be a test, but the rest of the season is theirs for the taking. If they seek the spotlight, the time is now to take it.

25- Texas – The Brunt Orange fans of Texas were convinced that last year was going to be their year. It wasn’t. They finished at 6-6. Not exactly what the boys at 40 acres wanted. They might have had unrealistic expectations from the new coach Tom? Herman. 2018, though, is looking better. For one thing, this is the best recruiting class the Longhorns have had in eons. The defense that wasn’t anything to write home about is expected to show improvement this year. In 2017 the defense kept the Horns in most of the games. Maybe not against TCU, but the others weren’t that bad. Should they show expected improvement, they’ll have Texas in most of their games again. The QB situation is showing the same problem it’s shown for the past few years;- it’s iffy, at best. The running game should be improved, and if transfer RB Tre Watson came becomes the every down back they need, it should relieve some of the pressure on the Quarterback. BUT, if the Longhorns get their horns sawed off again by Maryland at the start, all bets are off.


Notable snubs:

Florida State – The Noles had to struggle at the end of the season to become bowl eligible. Then Head Coach Jimbo Fisher cashed in at Texas A&M, which caused FSU to bring in a new coach, who, by the way, has an overall losing record. Not ready to throw our chips behind this team, but we are watching.

LSU- several polls have the Tigers in the top 25, they still have issues at QB, running backs, receivers, O-line, and defense. Besides, CSF doesn’t think Orgeron has proven anything yet.

Notre Dame- Again, several polls have the Irish ranked. That’s a Pre-season always. CSF does not drink Irish Kool-aid. ND hasn’t been good since 1988, but they’ve got a press corps that can hype them up like no one else. We’ll see.

Central Florida – CSF believes that other polls are tossing the Golden Knights a bone for their great season last year, but this year they have a new coach and they’re not going to take anyone by surprise. Life is a lot different when a team wears a target.

Boise State- The Broncos will be good, they’ll win games, and should win their conference. But, they’re not as good as they used to be.

Nebraska – Just because a team gets a new head coach does not mean they’re suddenly good again. The Cornhuskers have a ton of work to do, and HC Scott Frost needs to recruit his type of players, which he doesn’t have now. Give them time.

Florida – Dan Mullens jumped to the other side of the SEC, but that doesn’t mean he’s fixed the Gator’s problems. They still don’t have Tim Tebow in the Quarterback position. Maybe, after Mullens recruits his type of guys, Florida will earn a ranking.

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