Daily Focus: Most underrated teams in preseason Coaches Poll
Every weekday in “Daily Focus,” Pro Football Focus looks at the top college football storylines and explains what they mean from a PFF perspective.
Which team is the most underrated in the preseason Coaches Poll? The Amway Coaches Poll released its preseason edition on Thursday, and the top few teams played out as expected:
- Florida State
- Ohio State
It’s hard to argue against the defending national champion Crimson Tide coming in at No. 1, given how much returning talent they have on defense and at the offensive skill positions. Clemson and Oklahoma bring back two of our top-graded quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson and Baker Mayfield, respectively, and the Seminoles are loaded on defense. The Buckeyes might be a little high at No. 5, only because of how much production they lost off of last year’s team, particularly on defense.
But which teams are underrated? No. 10 Tennessee has the talent to win the SEC this season, behind its three-pronged rushing attack of QB Joshua Dobbs (45 forced missed tackles a year ago) and RBs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara (two of the top 25 returning backs in PFF grades), and the nation’s second-ranked defender in edge rusher Derek Barnett. No. 18 Washington has good returning production at nearly every position, most notably in the backfield with super-sophomore tandem QB Jake Browning and RB Myles Gaskin.
But there’s also a case to be made that Michigan, which came in at No. 8, deserves to be a little bit higher. We’ve already made the case that the Wolverines’ defense is the best in the country heading into the season. They have four players up front in Chris Wormley, Maurice Hurst, Ryan Glasgow, and Taco Charlton, who all graded well against the run and ranked among the most efficient pass-rushers in the nation. They also bring back Jabrill Peppers, a top-five safety in PFF grades last season, who figures to star in a hybrid linebacker-safety role this year, and the No. 1-graded cornerback in college football last season in Jourdan Lewis.
They haven’t yet settled on a starting quarterback, but it’s worth noting that they were a top-10 team for much of last season, despite well-below-average QB play. Starter Jake Rudock came on very strong to close out the year, but through Week 9, he ranked No. 150 out of 159 qualifying college quarterbacks in overall grades. Even if the team’s new starter takes a little while to get up to speed, the defense should be good enough to carry the Wolverines in the early going.
The Big Ten race figures to be very competitive this season, but based purely on returning players who have already seen the field, it’s difficult for us to put Ohio State ahead of Michigan heading into 2016. There’s certainly an argument to be made that the Wolverines belong in the preseason top-five.
What to expect from new California QB Davis Webb: The Golden Bears named Webb, a transfer from Texas Tech, as their starting quarterback on Thursday.
In his piece on key transfers earlier this week, colleague Steve Palazzolo called Webb potentially the biggest impact transfer in the nation this season. Webb’s upside was on display during the 2014 season for the Red Raiders, when he struggled as a result of making too many risky throws, but still graded positively overall, ranking fifth in the Big 12 in QB grades and having one four-game conference stretch in which he graded well in every game.
He was most effective at the intermediate and deep levels (throws of 10-to-19 and 20-plus yards), and given that former Bears quarterback Jared Goff (who went on to become the No. 1 overall pick of the Los Angeles Rams) had tremendous success throwing the deep ball (Goff’s 50 percent adjusted completion rate on deep throws ranked 12th nationally last season), it’s fair to expect that to be a big part of Webb’s game this season.
He’ll join an intriguing group of returning Pac-12 passers that also includes Arizona’s Anu Solomon, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Washington’s Jake Browning, and Washington State’s Luke Falk.
Is Josh Rosen poised for a breakout season? The UCLA quarterback burst onto the scene as a true freshman, earning a higher grade in his Bruins Week 1 debut against Virginia than predecessor Brett Hundley (now with the Green Bay Packers) did in any one game in 2014. More star-caliber performances followed, including against Arizona, Stanford, and Oregon State, and a less impressive—but still strong—bowl game versus Nebraska. But a pair of disastrous grades—against BYU and USC— evened things out a little bit.
If Rosen is to match the potential being placed upon him this preseason (he recently ranked in the top 30 of ESPN’s player ranking countdown), he is going to need to improve his performance against pressure. When the opposing pass-rush got to him—whether via a hit or a hurry—his passer rating dropped 60 points compared to when throwing from a clean pocket. But his work at the intermediate depth is a very promising sign in his development; on throws between 10 and 19 yards downfield, he completed 63 of 102 passes for 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns to just one interception.
As we’ve mentioned a few times this offseason, Washington’s Jake Browning actually out-graded Rosen in the battle between these two true freshman Pac-12 QBs last season. But Rosen clearly demonstrated the ability to be one of the elite quarterbacks in the nation, if he can limit or eliminate his poor performances.