The college football outlook for 2017 will be shaped by the ways in which rosters can maintain continuity at their strongest points. Some schools are known for their linebackers, while others are known for their defensive linemen. Other schools will depend on their skill-position players to score huge numbers of points, knowing that their defenses probably won’t be able to shut down opponents. This roster continuity is based on many factors, one of them being the ability to field a high-quality pair of players who bring stability into the equation. Here are four such examples for the 2017 season:
Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards
The Wisconsin Badgers depend on solid, attentive linebacker play, and in the combination of Cichy and Edwards, they think they have the right people to continue their winning ways. Wisconsin, under Paul Chryst, plays games by relying on defense, the running game, ball control, and not making mistakes. The Badgers are not equipped to win 38-35 games. They need to win 24-14 games. Their defense has to be robust and consistent, and since linebackers are the nerve centers of a defense – needing to stuff the run and provide pass coverage in relatively equal measure – they are centrally important pieces for Wisconsin in 2017. Cichy is a proven veteran, and Edwards is the energetic upcoming performer who is expected to produce at a high level.
Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley
Penn State Nittany Lions
There was no better or more attractive bowl game than the Rose Bowl last season, and although Penn State lost to USC, the Nittany Lions’ offense more than did its job with 49 points against the Trojans. Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley made large quantities of huge plays. McSorley relentlessly stood in a tight pocket and took hits to get the ball to his receivers. Barkley made a dazzling, darting, twisting open-field run in which he juked four USC defenders out of position. These are two remarkably skilled players who continuously won shootout-level games for the Nittany Lions last year. They will be expected to carry the team again this year, and many people feel they’ll be up to the task.
Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell
When Clemson starts 2017, it will not have Deshaun Watson at quarterback, and that will lead many to think that the Tigers will not be as good. This might be true, but Clemson could still very easily defend its division and conference titles and make it back to the College Football Playoff for a third straight year. The main reason Clemson will still be a factor is its powerful defensive line. The Tigers have terrorized opposing quarterbacks by generating a very strong push. Next season, Wilkins and Ferrell should be able to consistently make life miserable for opposing passers. Clemson can win ugly defensive games and still get where it wants to go in 2017.
Mason Rudolph and James Washington
Oklahoma State Cowboys
When Oklahoma State plays any Big 12 game except for, perhaps, Kansas, it expects a shootout. Big 12 games are offense-dominated games. With that in mind, the Cowboys have the resources to win Big 12 shootouts. Rudolph and Washington, the quarterback and the star wide receiver, have multiple years of experience at OSU and form what might be the single most trusted duo in the whole Big 12.
Washington probably could have left for the NFL Draft but he decided to come back for one more seasons. NFL scouts already view him as one of the top wide receivers in the country. With another stellar season, he could wind up being a top five pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. As for Rudolph, the Pokes have been pretty close to elite ever since he took over the job. He enters the season as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. That’s what will make this duo unstoppable next season.
There’s no question that the Cowboys need them to be at their best in order to contend for the conference championship. And if the defense is somewhat respectable, the Cowboys could find there way into the College Football Playoff conversation.
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