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Cigars & Football – A Simple Blend

Who are the Dark Horses?

Summer Camps, at most colleges, are half over, very few position battles have been decided, but it seems that all the ‘experts’ know who the major contenders are in each of the Power Five conferences! In the SEC, it’s Bama. The ACC has Clemson, the Big 12 that only has ten teams, Oklahoma will reign supreme, Great White North, Ohio State, even if Urban Meyer is terminated (fat chance of that!) (here at CSF we pick Michigan State), in the PAC-12 it’s Washington. According to the sports writers, talking heads, and journalists who are paid to predict these things, the rest of the nation is just playing for fun as they have no hope of topping the preseason picks. But, what if the know-it-alls are wrong? Did you know that Babe Ruth struck out more than any other player of his era? Let’s be honest for a minute, they’re wrong more than right most of the time, anyway. So, let’s have a little fun. Who, in each conference, is the Dark Horse? Who has a legitimate shot to disrupt the status quo?

Great White North – (just a refresher, CSF calls the Big 10 the Great White North because they actually have 14 teams so they’re not the Big 10, and it’s frozen and snows up there nine months out of the year. That’s how we got the Great White North) Most people consider Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin to be the contenders for the title, no questions asked, so let’s rule them out. Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, Maryland, and Rutgers, bless their hearts, just don’t have the horses to make a decent run. That leaves Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Purdue (my editor wants it to be the Boilermakers because these guys know what a slide rule is. Historical it may be, they have still heard of them) . CSF’s pick – Iowa!! CSF actually has Iowa ranked in the Preseason top 25. Minnesota is too thin and needs a QB, Nebraska just got their new coach, and Purdue needs more time to figure out how to use a slide rule, but Iowa is poised to run up to the apple cart and kick it over. The best thing going for them is their schedule. The get Wisconsin and Nebraska at home, they miss Ohio State, Michigan State, and Michigan, and only have to contend with Penn State from the other division. Should QB Nathan Stanley become more of a passing threat and the replacement Linebackers turn out to be more capable than we thought, the Hawkeyes could end up in the Conference Championship game, and we know they’re not afraid of that other division. Don’t believe me? Ask Ohio State how it was sitting home during the playoffs nursing that big Hawkeye loss.

ACC– what’s not to like about Clemson? Well, they wear orange and that’s enough for anyone not to like them, but people do anyway. Miami is the cool-kid pick, some good press has come from Virginia Tech, and some believe Florida State can reclaim glory, even with a coach that’s never won a championship at any level. So, none of them qualify as a “Dark Horse”. There are two teams to consider, NC State, or Pitt. CSF’s pick – Pitt!! NC State is intriguing, and likeable, but they lost too much on defense. Pitt, however, did not have a stellar defense in the 2017 season, but, take just the last half of the season and the defensive numbers start rising. The young kids were actually learning. Then, this fledgling defense, in the last regular season game, took on #2 Miami, in South Florida! The Panthers stole their “turnover chain” and spanked the Hurricanes with it. IF, they can start the season off with that type of performance, the Panthers might very well be playing for the conference championship. On offense, the team struggled, they couldn’t seem to sustain anything. They made the change to Kenny Pickett at quarterback, and, “Da-Da, DADA!” the offense started to click. Schedule-wise, that Penn State game in the second weekend will be a worthy test, but if they upend the Lions, Wow! Look out, ACC, cause the Panthers will be roaring! And the biggest thing these boys have going for them, they are not afraid of Clemson, or Florida State, and probably aren’t afraid of Alabama.

Big 12 that only has ten teams – Here’s the problem;- just about every team has BIG problems. Most people are picking OU by default, WVU is going to have a go at it this year, K-State is a serious contender, and you never know about Texas Tech. After that, everyone is basically the same, except Kansas, they own the cellar. CSF’s pick – Iowa State!!– The Cyclones have a number of things going for them. Last year they were in every single game. Now, they’ve got to win those close ones. They know they can do it, they just have to do it every Saturday now. Not sure what Coach Matt Campbell has put in the team’s Gatorade, but these guys are drinking it up. The whole team has bought into what he’s preaching. This year they’ll have an experienced QB, who is steady, and already knows the system. There are plenty of weapons on offense, and they believe in a balanced attack. They’ve got to get that O-Line taken care of, though. The defense did a masterful job of persevering, no matter how the game was going, but they did appear to run out of gas toward the end of the season. That can be a sign of them being too thin on the defensive line. Very few substitutions, not much relief for the Big Uglies, but this year they’ll be able to plug in some youth and that’s going to help. It would not be that much of a stretch to see Iowa State in the Big 12 that only has ten teams championship game, come December.

PAC-12 – Washington, Washington, Washington, that is all that is coming out of the left coast. But, let’s not forget about Stanford, they’ve got that Bryce Love fellow at running back, and, hey, let’s face it, he’s good. Then there is USC…. blah, blah, blah…who is always in the mix, and that rounds out the favorites. Washington State is a legitimate threat, because you never know what Coach Mike Leach will conjure up from his pirate lore. Utah is, ah, they might do it, but might not. Colorado scared everyone a few years ago but that was a few years ago, and Oregon doesn’t give me the warm and fuzzies. SO,…..CSF’s pick- Arizona!!– I like Herm Edwards at Arizona State, but it’ll take time. Chip Kelly will also need a few months of the calendar to make the Bruins into the Oregon of the City of Angels. But Coach Kevin Sumlin might have stepped into the perfect situation for him. He has a dynamic QB in Khalil Tate, who could end up having a fabulous year. The Wildcats have running backs and wide receivers who like the wide open game. On the defensive side, Sumlin doesn’t have to prepare to play Alabama, so, hey! the defense doesn’t have to be “that” good! They just have to be passably good. It’s not like UA will be playing SEC schools week in and week out. Arizona has never won the PAC-12…as in NEVER. They’ve never played in the Rose Bowl;- in 2009 they came within a double overtime loss to Oregon in making it there. If Washington is who everyone predicts they are, they’ll make it to the CFB playoffs, and that means `Zona has two chances. They could come in second in the PAC and still go smell the Roses!

SEC- Defending National Champions are not Dark Horses, so Alabama is out. A team playing in the national champion game is not a dark horse, either, so Georgia is out. LSU, Florida and Auburn get a lot of love from people that don’t like Alabama, so out they go! CSF’s pick – Mississippi State! (the yell one just heard in the background was from The Daughter, the A&M fan, who disagrees with this pick). This is one of those situations where the right guy stepped into the right place at the right time. New Head Coach Joe Moorhead already has a fantastic QB in Nick Fitzgerald, who has a terrific backfield, with four starters on the offensive line coming back. Last year the receivers were sub par, but, they’re returning so they have to be better, right? Right. The defense could be a hidden tiger, lurking under the radar. Eight starters return from a unit that finished tenth in the nation last year. Most of the time they held opponents to under 21 points. There is little that doubt they will not be better in 2018. However, for all this to work, QB Fitgerald has to stay healthy, and he is injury-prone. If, and when, he goes down, so do the Bulldogs. There is a chance, not as small as one might think, that the Mississippi State Bulldogs will make their mark on the entire SEC, not just the SEC-West.

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