The Watch List: Week 3

Updated: September 12th 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the storylines, players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Storylines to Watch

  • Heisman Update: After two strong games to start the season, Josh Rosen will be climbing up ballots.  More on Rosen below.  Lamar Jackson, the reigning winner, will have to move up my personal ballot even though I am not a fan.  Through two games he has 771 passing yards, 5 TDs and zero INTs; plus 239 yards rushing and 3 TDs.  I can’t knock Jackson for his opponents either: both of those big games came against Power 5 teams in Purdue and North Carolina.  Darnold redeemed his Heisman hopes with a solid Week 2 outing against Stanford (316 yards, 4 TDs, 2 INTs) after a disappointing opener against Western Michigan (289-0-2).
  • Brian Kelly on the Hot Seat: The Irish kept it close against Georgia (20-19 final score) but the final score belies the situation.  Georgia was forced to start a true freshman at quarterback (Jake Fromm in for injured Jacob Eason) and should have taken advantage.  The more damning thing for Kelly might be the photos of the sea of red clad fans that peppered social media.  Georgia showed up en masse.  SB Nation tried to play it down but I think it will be tough for the administration to ignore the fact that fans may be turned off and staying home, whether or not it’s Kelly’s fault.  Landing on Deadspin with stories about his handling of the media won’t endear himself to university decision makers either.  I believe Kelly must win the next four games, and compete against USC in the fifth, in order to keep his job.  The opponents in that stretch are: Boston College, Michigan State, Miami of Ohio and North Carolina.  None of those teams should scare Notre Dame so a bad loss could mean Kelly doesn’t make it out of October.
  • Matt Rhule on a Hotter Seat: It’s odd to write that somebody is on the hot seat after coaching just two games but that must be the case for Rhule.  Baylor lost in Week 1 to Liberty of the FCS.  And to answer your question, no they are not some FCS powerhouse.  Liberty was 6-5 last year and was ranked 28th in the FCS heading into 2017.  After the win over Baylor they are just 19th in the FCS poll.  Baylor couldn’t possibly follow up that loss with a worse game, could they?  The Bears put up just 274 total yards in Week 2 against UTSA.  UTSA was 55th in total defense last year by yards, allowing 392 per game.  Between the two games Baylor also had 17 penalties.  So, not only are they losing but they are also undisciplined.  If Baylor doesn’t look better this week against Duke, I fear that Rhule might not even make it out of September (up after Duke in September are #2 Oklahoma and #18 Kansas State).

Players to Watch

  • Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: There has been a lot to love so far about Rosen.  By now everybody has seen highlights of, and heard all about, the miraculous Week 1 comeback over Texas A&M.  If you were paying attention, you would have seen that Rosen followed that up with a 5 TD game against Hawaii.  Through two weeks, Rosen’s totals are eye popping: 820 yards, 9 TDs, 0 INTs and a 67.9% completion percentage.  I am most impressed with the improvement of his TD:INT ratio (just better than 2:1 in his career) and his completion percentage (60% in 2015, 59.3% in 2016).  It’s not all rainbows though as I did take note of some concerning things during that miracle against the Aggies.  Two of Rosen’s late touchdown tosses were bad throws that should have been intercepted.  If either was picked off it likely would have spelled the end of the comeback attempt.  There were also three penalties down the stretch that were costly, but not killer.  One was a delay of game and the other two were false starts because he called for the snap before the team was set.  These negatives make me question his awareness and will hopefully be corrected with experience.  If he limits mental mistakes, keeps his completion percentage north of 63% and his TD:INT ratio above 3:1, Rosen will be the top pick come the NFL Draft.
  • Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Staying within the Pac-12, let’s take a look at Freeman thus far…  He started off strong with 150 yards and 4 TDs against FCS squad Southern Utah.  Freeman kept it up against Nebraska last week with 153 yards and 2 TDs.  He’s a workhorse that had 23 and 29 carries in the two games respectively.  If you happen to be in a devy league, Freeman should be on your radar right now because his stock is bound to skyrocket over the next two months due to the weak rush defenses he will be facing.  The next time he faces a team that is currently ranked 70th or better is October 28 against Utah.  Up next are: Wyoming (83rd so far in rushing yards allowed per game), Arizona State (108th), Cal (96th), Washington State (71st), Stanford (114th), USC (110th) and UCLA (128th).  The Stanford and USC rankings are thrown off a bit by their matchup against each other but still, the schedule is very favorable.  Freeman is a big back who runs upright and looks like he’s running downhill.  He doesn’t show much wiggle but he doesn’t need it.  I’m looking forward to watching a ton of film of his in the offseason.
  • Rashaad Penny, RB/KR, San Diego State: In the preaseason, I predicted that the Aztecs would steal a Power 5 win because of their special teams play.  In addition to kicker John Baron going a perfect 3/3 on field goals against Arizona State, Penny contributed with a kick-off return touchdown to start the second quarter when the game was tied 7-7.  Penny has also been a huge factor on offense with 451 combined rushing and receiving yards and 4 combined TDs.  He’s a multi-dimensional player that is fun to watch.  SDSU is a contender for a New Year’s Six bowl berth and a win against #19 Stanford this week should get them into the Top 25 and cement those chances.  If Penny keeps it up he’ll follow former Aztec Donnel Pumphrey to the NFL (a 4th round pick by the Eagles, although he was much more accomplished as the NCAA all-time leading rusher).
  • Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: Gallup is leading the NCAA in receptions with 26 (he played an extra game than most) but he has just 304 yards and a single score.  Gallup will need to step it up over the next few weeks to keep his draft prospects high.  In Week 3 he will go up against the stout Alabama secondary which is full of future NFL talent, so let’s see how he does.

Games to Watch

  • Illinois @ #22 South FloridaFriday 7:00pm on ESPN: USF is currently the only Group of 5 team ranked in the Top 25.  Their non-conference schedule is laughably weak, with Illinois as the only Power 5 team.  Phil Steele had their strength of schedule ranked 110 out of 130 teams heading into the season.  Regardless, an undefeated campaign would likely land the Bulls in a New Year’s Six bowl game so there is some cash on the line this Friday night.
  • #23 Tennessee @ #24 Florida, Saturday 3:30pm on CBS: The Gators are off to a rough start.  The team suspended a number of players, including their leading rusher (Jordan Scarlett) and receiver (Antonio Callaway) from 2016 for the opener.  Subsequently, their offense was horrible with both Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire versus Michigan.  Last week’s game against Northern Colorado, which would have been a good “get right” game was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma.  To make things even worse, word is that the suspensions may be extended and force Scarlett and Callaway to miss this matchup as well.  I’m not sold on either Franks or Zaire after seeing them against Michigan so I fear this may already be a lost season for Florida.  Tennessee’s offense is lead by RB John Kelly who started strong with 208 yards and 4 TDs; he also has added 10 receptions in two games.
  • #18 Kansas State @ Vanderbilt, Saturday 7:30pm on ESPNU: In my SEC preview, I predicted that Vandy would win 8 games this year.  They are off to a 2-0 headstart with convincing wins over Middle Tennessee State and Alabama A&M.  In order to hit my 8 win mark, the Commodores will likely need to steal a game against a ranked opponent.  Kansas State will be an easier get than #1 Alabama and #13 Georgia who they have coming up over the next three weeks.
  • #3 Clemson @ #14 Louisville, Saturday 8:00pm on ABC:  The quarterback matchup here will be an interesting contrast.  Lamar Jackson’s numbers are about as good as they can be (see above) while Kelly Bryant’s have been nowhere near those of the departed Deshaun Watson.  Bryant did show his toughness last week when he came back from injury to lead the team to a W.  Bryant has just one passing touchdown but does lead the team in rushing with 136 yards and 3 TDs.  If any defense can slow down, notice I didn’t say stop, Lamar Jackson, it will be Clemson’s.  The Tigers have 16 tackles for loss through two games and 11 sacks.  DE Austin Bryant outshined Christian Watkins and Dexter Lawrence last week with 7 tackles and 4 sacks.
  • Texas @ #3 USC, Saturday 8:30pm on FOX:  Texas is in turmoil at quarterback.  Sophomore Shane Buechel was supposed to be the starter after a decent freshman season but he bruised his shoulder during the upset to Maryland.  Apparently, head coach Tom Herman is now saying that even if he is healthy, there is no guarantee that Buechel starts over freshman Sam Ehlinger.  It might just be coach speak but it’s a mess already and not a good way to head into the biggest game of the young season.  Texas isn’t doing great on defense either where they are 79th against the run and are facing a Trojans team averaging 269.5 rushing yards a game so far.  Ronald Jones and Stephen Carr have caught my eye, specifically against Stanford, and have combined for 463 rushing yards and 7 TDs thus far.  They will continue to roll against the Longhorns.  Of course you should also keep an eye on Sam Darnold.
  • #19 Stanford @ San Diego State, Saturday 10:30pm on CBSSN: Not sure that I’m willing to call the straight-up upset here but I will definitely be taking SDSU with the points, especially since they are at home.  Rashaad Penny is quickly becoming one of my favorite players and I am looking forward to seeing him against another Power 5 team this week.

Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

The Watch List: Mountain West

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players, storylines and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  Check back throughout the Summer for previews on each conference and my preseason Heisman predictions.  During the regular season, The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Players to Watch

  • Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming: Depending on where you look, junior Josh Allen is one of the top quarterback prospects for 2018 along with USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen.  I had heard and read some of the Allen hype, so going into my MWC preview, I knew he would be featured.  I honestly came away a bit disappointed but with a lot of notes.  I decided to watch tape of Allen against Nebraska, figuring that was the most NFL-like defense he would have faced.  Nebraska predictably dominated at the line of scrimmage and Allen was under pressure all game long.  Allen finished with a horrible stat line: 16-32, 189 yards, 1 TD, 5 INTs (he also had a backward pass that was recovered as a fumble and was not charged to him).  He was erratic and inaccurate for most of the game including three bad under throws which led to interceptions.  The inaccuracy is borne out in his season totals too: a poor 56% completion percentage and 15 INTs.  There were also at least two times when Allen was about to be sacked and he just flung the ball trying to avoid the loss; one resulted in an intentional grounding and another harmlessly hit the turf but could have been another turnover.  If he doesn’t have pocket presence against Nebraska, will he have it against the Houston Texans?  It wasn’t all negative though, there were some good takeaways.  First off, Allen is big and statuesque at 6’5″ and 222lb.  When he takes a shotgun snap and quickly gets the ball out without a drop step, he looks like an NFL quarterback.  He didn’t show it against Nebraska, but Allen is a threat on the ground too (523 yards, 7 TDs).  I don’t think it’ll be enough to consider him a mobile quarterback in the NFL but he could have the same 300 yard, 3 TD rushing upside as Andrew Luck if he puts on a few pounds.  NFL personnel will also like the fact that Wyoming’s offense features a number of plays from under center: against Nebraska, I counted ten snaps from under center.  One play against Nebraska sums up everything Allen can do right…  It was a 4th and 12 from 35 yards out with just a few seconds to go in the half.  Not trusting the kicker, Allen and the offense stayed on the field.  He rolls right to buy time for his receivers, starts directing traffic in front of him and hurls a high arching pass to the back corner where nobody but his receiver could get to it – near perfection.  If Allen can show scouts, and RSO owners, plays similar to that throughout 2017 he will stay at the top of draft boards.  Luckily, two early season games against Iowa and Oregon will give us some good tape to digest.  At this point, I expect Allen to go in the Top 5 in the NFL draft and depending on your RSO format, anywhere from mid- or late 1st (Superflex) to mid-2nd (standard).
  • Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State: Rypien, another junior QB, is Phil Steele’s 15th ranked draft eligible quarterback for 2018.  Another resource I use, Lindy’s, has him at 17th but says they don’t think he will come out early.  I did some further online research and couldn’t come up with anything more definitive either way.  For now, keep Rypien on your radar but don’t waste a devy pick on him.  He won’t be the best at his position in the MWC but he could garner enough draft hype to force him to come out.  He’s significantly smaller than Allen (6’2″, 200 lb) which caught my eye because media guides often lie and that even 200 sure looks like it was rounded up.  I looked back and there are not many QBs in recent years who weigh as little as 200 lb.  The lightest two from 2017 were Brad Kaaya (214) and Seth Russell (213) but at least they were an inch or two taller.  Rypien is not a scrambler, but still, NFL scouts will be concerned about his ability to stay healthy throughout a season.  His stats over two years as the starter are good: nearly 7,000 yards, 44 TDs, 16 INTs and a 62.8% completion percentage.  Ultimately, I think Rypien’s stock will be buoyed by the name cachet of Boise State and some gaudy numbers, like the 5 TD game against New Mexico last year, but once he hits the combine, his stock will fall.
  • Cedric Wilson, WR, Boise State: Rypien will need somebody to throw to and more often than not, that will be 2016 JUCO transfer Cedric Wilson.  Wilson is tall at 6’3″ but needs to add at least ten pounds to his 183 lb frame (since 2010, no WR measuring 6’3″ weighed less than 194 lb at the combine).  I watched Wilson’s tape against San Jose State and he really impressed me as a blocker: he flew in with reckless abandon, and with effect, multiple times.  I was disappointed in seeing how often he lets the ball get into his body rather than catching it with his hands, hopefully something he can improve on.  In the tape I watched, it seemed that his height was wasted on crossing patterns and bubble screens, routes that don’t seem to match his stature; I’d need to watch more film to see if that was constant throughout the season.  Wilson averaged an impressive 20.2 yards per reception in 2016 so even when he gets the ball near the line of scrimmage he can pick up yards.
  • Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: Like Wilson, Gallup is a former JUCO transfer so we don’t have much of a sample to work on, although what we do have from 2016 was great: 76 receptions, 1,272 yards and 14 TDs.  He had monstrous games against Air Force (13-213-1) and San Diego State (7-139-3) so we know he can dominate a game.  I’ll be interested to see how he tests at the combine; when watching highlights of him, it seems like he accelerates faster than anybody else on the field once the ball is in his hands.  He had a number of nice contested catches against Fresno State and Air Force so his ability in the air might be better than his 6’1″ height would suggest.  I’m going to keep Gallup’s name filed away and check in late in the season to see if he dominates the MWC like he did in 2016.  If so, he could be a late round steal for a savvy RSO owner.

Storylines to Watch

  • It’s all about the Mountain Division: Forgive me West Division, but I just don’t find you interesting.  The Mountain will feature a three team race to the conference championship between Boise State, Wyoming and Colorado State.  I’ve written enough above and below about Boise and Wyoming, who will go as far as their quarterbacks can carry them, but let me spill a few more words about Colorado State.  They won’t feature the best QB in the league in Nick Stevens but they will likely have the most potent ground game.  Head Coach Mike Bobo likes to spread the carries around, evidenced by having three 500+ yard rushers the last two seasons.  Two of the backs, Dalyn Dawkins and Izzy Mathews, were there for both seasons and will provide a good one-two punch.  As I mentioned in my MAC preview when I picked Central Michigan as a potential division spoiler, I like to consult Phil Steele’s experience charts to find teams that could outperform last year.  The Rams return a whopping 88% of their offensive yards from 2016 (15th in the NCAA).  That bodes well for 2017.  The games between Boise, Wyoming and CSU should be fun to watch and will feature a number of NFL prospects.  They should be high scoring too: the teams ranked 52nd, 104th and 69th in total defense respectively.
  • San Diego State’s special teams will steal them a big win: I have otherwise ignored the West Division in this preview but I knew I had to at least mention the team that should win the division: San Diego State.  Strangely, it was their special teams that stood out to me.  RB/KR Rashaad Penny won MW Special Teams Player of the Year the last two seasons (32.4 average with 5 TDs).  Penny will also see an uptick in touches on offense with Donnell Pumphrey gone to the NFL; he had nearly 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 14 combined rushing/receiving TDs in 2016.  Kicker John Baron was an impressive 21-23 with a long of 50 yards.  Reliable college kickers are hard to come by and an explosive return man can be a significant field position advantage in a close game.  My bold prediction is that the combination of Penny and Baron will help the Aztecs steal a non-conference win against either Arizona State or Stanford.

Games to Watch

  • September 1, Colorado vs Colorado State; September 16, Colorado State at Alabama: The Rams have a tough non-conference schedule in 2017 (also including Oregon State).  Colorado and Alabama had the 20th and 24th ranked pass defenses last year, respectively, so they will be a great test for WR Michael Gallup.  Gallup went 10-81-1 combined in his two biggest games last year against Colorado and Minnesota so he needs to prove that he can produce against NFL talent, not just against our future servicemen.
  • October 21, Wyoming at Boise State: It’s all about the two quarterbacks: Rypien vs Allen.  Most of the games these two play this season won’t make it onto the national radar but this one should be with a late eastern time zone start time and not much else scheduled against it.  They’ll both need to make it count as it will be the biggest game they play in the second half of the season until a bowl game and another national broadcast.

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.