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: Big 12 Preview

Updated: July 31st 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

  • Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State: Rudolph is the top QB prospect in the conference and likely has the most to gain from a good 2017 season.  His Heisman odds stand at 20:1 right now, tied for 5th highest; interestingly, fellow Big 12 QB Baker Mayfield is higher on that list but is seen as less of a pro prospect by most.  Rudolph has prototypical size at 6’5″ 230lbs and is a better runner than his 61 yard and 6 TD stat line would have you believe (don’t forget college rushing stats for QBs minus sack yardage; per Phil Steele’s stats he had 264 positive rushing yards in 2017).  In 2014, Coach Mike Gundy decided to remove Rudolph’s redshirt to have him start the last three games of the season.  In 2015 he was the starter and finished with 3,770 yards, 21 TDs and 9 INTs.  He improved on those stats in 2016 finishing with 4,091/28/4; other categories like completion percentage and yards per attempt increased slightly as well.  My main concerns after watching film of Rudolph against Oklahoma and Colorado last year are his accuracy and his ball security.  During the game against Oklahoma he fumbled one snap and dropped the ball during a zone read fake (he recovered both himself).  The rain may have exacerbated his handle of the ball but it’s not like he’ll never play in the rain in the NFL.  He also made a very poor decision on a quick out that was behind the back and nearly returned for a pick six; the play was a 1st down early in the 4th quarter when the Cowboys were down by 11 – there was absolutely no reason to take the chance and possibly lose any chance at a comeback.  During that game he had multiple bad throws, some underthrown and some overthrown.  Rudolph does throw the ball with some touch though.  Against Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, he had a nice touch pass from the opposite hash on a key 3rd & 9 in the 2nd quarter.  It was an NFL throw and shows the confidence that Rudolph has in himself.  As I mentioned above, Rudolph does have some rushing ability but I do not think that will translate into the NFL.  He is not quick and looks more like a statue in the pocket than a scrambler.  Against Oklahoma, I did count four designed runs for him, one of which was a TD, but none against Colorado.  I only noted one play combined in both games, where Rudolph bootlegged out of the pocket and threw on the run (not counting scrambles forced by the rush).  It was an inaccurate throw which leads me to believe that he and his coaching staff know that throwing on the run is not an attribute of his.  One thing that stood out while studying his stats were his game logs: in 22 of 29 career starts he has 250+ yards.  One last, cautionary, stat to point out: Rudolph’s red zone completion percentage last year was just 56.5% (compared to 62.7% for top QB prospect Sam Darnold and 70% for Mayfield).  He’s Phil Steele’s 3rd ranked QB for the 2018 draft, he’s WalterFootball.com’s 9th ranked QB and he’s DraftScout.com’s 1st ranked senior QB.  Ultimately I think that Rudolph will start the mock draft season as a late 1st round pick but will creep up into the 12-18 range come April 2018.  For RSO owners, you’re probably looking at an early third rounder in single QB leagues, maybe a round earlier in superflex.
  • James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: I got a sneak peek of Washington while I was watching Mason Rudolph’s tape and I honestly was not that impressed.  I was hoping that further study of his stats and game logs would help but I just can’t get excited about him as a pro prospect yet.  Washington has contributed since he was a true freshman in 2014.  In 2016 he totaled 71 receptions, 1,380 yards and 10 TDs.  He was 2nd Team Big 12 in 2015 and 3rd Team All-American in 2016.  I watched tape of Washington from 2016 against Texas and Kansas State.  It’s clear pretty quickly that he is fast (I would guess 4.30 fast) and a great open field runner (quick feet, good juke moves).  He has good hands and catches the ball away from his body – as evidenced by a double-clutch catch on a screen against Kansas State, I’m not sure how he ended up with it and gained positive yardage from it.  Also against K State, he had a beautiful high-point touchdown catch on a post.  His separation speed against single coverage reminded me of Desean Jackson (who is significantly smaller than Washington; his closest recent combine comp is Torrey Smith).  All that sounds great but there were a few things that gave me pause.  The Cowboys offense features Washington on a lot of short routes, screens and shallow crosses which help pad his stats a bit.  In the two games’ worth of film I watched, there were just two plays I noted that Washington was a plus blocker.  On other plays he was either to the opposite side or just disinterested (in fairness, the person making his film reels may be leaving out blocking plays).  On a number of plays across the middle when Washington was victimized by QB Mason Rudolph’s inaccuracy, Washington had alligator arms.  Rather than going all-out for the catch, he pulled back and let the ball fall incomplete (or worse, he let it be intercepted as happened against Kansas State which was then returned for a touchdown).  In the game against Texas, Washington ended up leaving early due to a concussion.  Not a huge red flag since I bet most of the 2018 prospects will have at least one in their history but it’s certainly not a positive.  I think most analysts will be higher on Washington than I.  As of today, I would say he’s a second round RSO target.
  • Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: Lazard is a senior and is looking to improve his counting stats for the fourth year in a row.  He shows a nice progression in receptions (45-56-69), yards (593-808-1,018), yards per catch (13.2-14.4-14.8) and TDs (3-6-7).  Lazard’s best attribute his his size: 6’5″ and 225lb.  Frequent Watch List readers will know I love to check combine comparables and Lazard has one of the best in Mike Evans.  I did not watch enough film of Lazard, just a mostly forgettable game against Oklahoma last year, to judge his concentration, hands or blocking ability.  Either way, I have him circled in my notebook and will keep an eye on him.  He was by far the best player on a bad Cyclones team the last two seasons (3-9 in both) so at least we know he’ll get the lion’s share of the targets in 2017.
  • Orlando Brown, OT, Oklahoma: This redshirt junior is massive. Like, unbelievably so at 6’8″ 340lb. He was Phil Steele’s #1 ranked OT prospect in his high school class and is still that now that he’s looking forward to the NFL. He decided to stay in school one more year despite being draft eligible for 2017 – not a chance he stays for his senior season. I’m no expert on offensive linemen technique but even in the few minutes of tape I watched I can see how dominant he can be. Don’t be surprised to see Brown atop NFL draft boards come the Spring.

Storylines to Watch

  • OU’s Experienced OL: The Sooners return the most offensive lineman career starts in the Big 12 (9th overall in the FBS). Experienced offensive lineman often translate into reliable offensive production which should help Baker Mayfield & Co. eclipse the 43.9 points per game that they put up last year. OT Orlando Brown is the clear leader of the bunch but they also have versatile OG Dru Samia Jr., who is Phil Steele’s 18th ranked draft eligible player at the position, and has starts at RG, LG and RT in his career. This group will buoy Baker Mayfield’s NFL draft stock and will help an inexperienced RB corps decimated by the departures of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
  • Return to Relevance for Texas: New head coach Tom Herman comes into town hot off of two spectacular seasons at Houston. Herman managed to beat both Oklahoma and Louisville last year, both ranked 3rd in the nation at the time. If Herman can beat OU this year he will immediately endear himself to the Longhorn faithful. Herman had an impressive record at Houston (22-4, 3-0 vs Top 10, 6-0 vs Top 25) and with a larger recruiting base at Texas he should thrive if given time. The squad did lose their best offensive player in D’Onta Foreman but they return their top three receivers and sophomore QB Shane Buechle. As a true freshman, Buechle was solid enough to warrant some excitement this year under Herman (2,958 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs).
  • Baylor Under New Rhule: We all know that Baylor is a mess. I would not have been upset to see their program get the “death penalty” given how likely it is that the coaching staff and administration knew what was going on. Instead, the Bears are gearing up for another season and this one under Matt Rhule. Rhule’s resume is less impressive than Herman’s so I’m less bullish. Rhule is 28-23 in his career as a head coach but can hang his hat on back-to-back 10-4 seasons at Temple. If Rhule can win a game in the second half of the season, the Baylor fans should welcome the change with open arms (Baylor started 6-0 last year and finished 7-6 after a bowl win).

Games to Watch

  • September 16, Oklahoma State at Pitt: The 2016 version of this matchup ended up being a 45-38 shootout in which OKST prevailed. It’s the Cowboys toughest non-conference game and is in the middle of a stretch where three of four games are on the road. If OKST can come through unscathed, specifically against Pitt, they will be in good position to challenge Oklahoma for the title.
  • October 14, Oklahoma vs Texas: The Red River Rivalry is one of the best name-brand rivalries in college football. Despite Texas’ struggles in recent years, it is surprising to see how close it has been. In the past four years Oklahoma has come into the game ranked while Texas was unranked; they split the series 2-2. Texas coach Tom Herman will have a lot to prove and the Sooners will be looking to stay relevant in the conference championship race – this should be a good one.
  • November 4, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: Over the last five years, Bedlam has been just that: the games average 73.6 total points. This matchup will likely be a conference championship game preview (new for 2017 for the Big 12) and that is likely the reason it is being played earlier in November than the usual late season date. If somehow both teams make it to Stillwater undefeated, I would bet that even the loser has an outside shot to factor into the College Football Playoff.

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.