Creating the Ultimate College Football Fantasy Team for Week 1
Have you set your college fantasy football team yet for Week 1?
Odds are you don't actually have such a team, since fantasy sports at the college level isn't nearly as prevalent as the pro football version. But there are leagues available for those interested in adding even more excitement to their college football-viewing experience, so it's time to get your players locked in for the opening week of play.
Unlike the NFL, where there is a fixed amount of games each week pitting a finite number of teams, in college you have 128 teams to choose players from. And that's just the FBS level. To look even further down the line and set an FCS- or Division II-based team involves real passion.
Another way college football fantasy differs from the NFL version is in how star players get used. Blowouts and lopsided results are a much more common occurrence in college because of the prevalence of mismatches scheduled between power-conference teams and lower-division opponents, and that often leads to standouts getting pulled late in the first half or early in the second half of games.
While Peyton Manning isn't likely to still be slinging passes in the fourth quarter of a 56-0 game in the NFL, he's also not going to sit out the entire second half if that's the halftime margin.
With all that in mind, here are our choices for the players who would make the ultimate Week 1 fantasy lineup in college football, taking into account their opponents and the potential stats they're likely to put up.
Quarterback: Connor Halliday, Washington State
Week 1 matchup: vs. Rutgers (in Seattle; Thursday, 10 p.m. ET)
When looking for the best quarterback to go with each week in college football, there's one thing to focus on: the need to throw.
With the opening week to have so many projected blowouts—46 of the 84 games played on Thursday, Friday or Saturday feature FBS teams hosting FCS programs—the likelihood that notable quarterbacks will still be in the game (let alone still passing the ball) toward the end is minimal. That means the key thing to look for is a matchup that will make it so that the pigskin is getting slung all the way until the final whistle.
Look no further than Washington State and its Thursday night game against Rutgers in Seattle.
Last season the Cougars averaged 368 passing yards per game, fourth-best in FBS. Connor Halliday was responsible for nearly all of that, throwing for 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns in 13 games. He averaged just shy of 55 pass attempts per contest, including an FBS-best 89 throws in a loss to Oregon, the same game he threw for 557 yards and four TDs.
Halliday is primed for a huge day against Rutgers, which last year was 120th in FBS in passing defense at 318 yards per game. The Scarlet Knights faced a similar matchup in Week 1 of 2013, opening at Fresno State, and in that game they allowed 456 yards and five touchdowns to Derek Carr in an overtime loss. They bring back nine players who have started at least one game, according to Dan Duggan of NJ.com, but that could be considered as much a curse as a blessing considering that unit's performance last season.
WSU yielded more than 32 points per game last year, and its best defender (safety Deone Bucannon) has graduated to the NFL, so the Cougars are going to need every yard and TD from Halliday to come out a winner.
Other candidates: Taysom Hill, BYU; Brett Hundley, UCLA; Cody Kessler, USC; Hutson Mason, Georgia; Bryce Petty, Baylor; Keenan Reynolds, Navy; Trevor Siemian, Northwestern; Jameis Winston, Florida State
Running Back: Mike Davis, South Carolina
Week 1 matchup: vs. Texas A&M (Thursday, 6 p.m. ET)
Just like with quarterbacks, the key to picking a good college running back is not only finding a favorable matchup for the player but also a game where that rusher will likely still get carries late in the contest.
South Carolina's Mike Davis has a chance to run wild in Thursday's opener against Texas A&M, which in 2013 was 110th in rushing defense and allowed 222 yards per game.
Davis had been slowed by a rib injury late in training camp, but Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier deemed him "ready to go" on a teleconference Wednesday, per Mike Herndon of AL.com. That should make South Carolina fans giddy, and strike fear into the hearts of not only Texas A&M supporters but its defensive coaches.
Davis battled injuries most of last season but still managed to run for 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns while also catching 34 passes for 352 yards. With South Carolina playing a lot of close games, Davis saw action deep into the second half and finished with seven 100-yards games highlighted by a 167-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 28-25 win over UCF.
A&M has replaced Johnny Manziel with Kenny Hill at quarterback, but the Aggies are still likely to put up points on a retooled South Carolina defense. The more A&M scores, the more likely Davis will keep getting touches and churning out big fantasy numbers.
Running Back: Treyvon Green, Northwestern
Week 1 matchup: vs. California (Saturday, noon ET)
Treyvon Green was Northwestern's leading rusher in 2013, helping the Wildcats overcome the limited availability of Venric Mark because of various injuries. And now that Mark has surprisingly transferred from the program during training camp, the 5'10", 215-pound Green must once again step in to pace the running game.
Green, a senior, will be a huge part of the Wildcats' attack in their opener against California, much like he was in last season's 44-30 win over the Golden Bears in Berkeley. In that game, Green ran for 129 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries, and his 6-yard TD run with 1:51 left sealed the victory.
California was ranked 86th in FBS in rushing defense in 2013, allowing 188.6 yards per game. The Bears' online media guide lists 11 players who started a combined 60 games last season, but only two of those (and nine starts) are from defensive linemen.
Other candidates: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska; Travis Greene, Bowling Green; T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Wide Receiver: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
Week 1 matchup: vs. SMU (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET)
Wide receivers have the luxury of being able to have a big game by fantasy sports standards even with only a few contributions. That's because all it takes is one or two long touchdown catches in order for them to rack up the points.
This means the wide receiver position is almost matchup proof, opening up a much larger pool of candidates to choose from in a week with so many projected blowouts.
Antwan Goodley might not see much action after halftime of Sunday's game against SMU, but that probably won't matter considering his ability to put up huge early numbers in Baylor romps. Throw in a Mustangs defense that allowed 272 passing yards per game in 2013, ranking 113th in FBS, and you have all the ingredients needed for a tasty and rich fantasy dish.
Goodley had 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, with a lot of that getting generated during Baylor's super-soft nonconference schedule. He had 124 yards and one TD on four receptions in a 70-13 win over Buffalo, then a week later had 156 yards and two TDs on just five catches in a 70-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
SMU gave up 33 points per game in 2013, a number Baylor is capable of doubling. If that happens, expect Goodley to be responsible for a decent chunk of that scoring.
Wide Receiver: Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Week 1 matchup: at Purdue (Saturday, noon ET)
The first week of any season can serve as a breakout for new stars, and this is especially true in college football. Unknown players from small schools will have a big game, and suddenly become a hot commodity.
You should jump on the Corey Davis bandwagon before it gets crowded, as it could become after he and Western Michigan play at Purdue this weekend.
The 6'2", 205-pound Davis was pretty much the only offensive bright spot for Western Michigan in 2013, when then Broncos went 1-11. He set school freshman records for receptions (67), yards (941) and 100-yard games (five) and scored six touchdowns, and some of his best performances were early in the year on the road against Big Ten teams.
Davis had eight catches for 96 yards and a TD against Michigan State and pulled in five receptions for 112 yards and a score at Northwestern. His best game coincided with WMU's only victory, when he caught 10 passes for 154 yards and two TDs against Massachusetts.
Purdue, which was 1-11 as well last season, allowed 38 points per game and yielded 27 passing touchdowns. According to Travis Miller of SB Nation's Hammer and Rails blog, the Boilermakers return five upperclassmen in the secondary with starting experience but lost top cornerback Ricardo Allen, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Atlanta Falcons in May.
Other candidates: Jamison Crowder, Duke; Deontay Greenberry, Houston; Justin Hardy, East Carolina; Tyler Lockett, Kansas State; Matt Miller, Boise State
Tight End: Blake Bell, Oklahoma
Week 1 matchup: vs. Louisiana Tech (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET)
If this were a year ago, the choices for your tight end would be simple and easy, and might not have needed to be changed except for when they were on a bye. Texas Tech's Jace Amaro was far and away the most productive at his position in 2013, followed by North Carolina's Eric Ebron, but both went pro and left a bit of a void at this slot, fantasy-wise.
Also, Michigan's Devin Funchess has been officially converted into a tight end, according to NBC Sports' Kevin McGuire, because the Wolverines graduated top receiver Jeremy Gallon and needed Funchess' production (49 catches, 748 yards, six touchdowns) and his 6'5", 230-pound frame in a more defined role.
That means the tight end spot is going to be one that's based more on week-by-week matchups than overall season expectations. And for the opening week, we're going with a newcomer to the position in Oklahoma's Blake Bell.
A converted quarterback, the 6'6", 259-pound senior certainly has the body to be a tight end, and his value as a passer was tempered by the emergence of Trevor Knight as quarterback late last season. Sooners offensive coordinator Josh Heupel told Ryan Aber and Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman that Bell "dramatically changes the ability for play-action passes in the middle of the football field because of his size and length."
With Oklahoma's receiving corps breaking in some newcomers, Bell will no doubt get some good looks in this first game.
Other candidates: O.J. Howard, Alabama; E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State; Tyler Kroft, Rutgers; Nick O'Leary, Florida State; Maxx Williams, Minnesota
Kicker: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
Week 1 matchup: vs. Oklahoma State (in Arlington, Texas; Saturday, 8 p.m. ET)
The kicking game is probably the least important aspect of college football, since the scoring is usually so high and coaches love to go for it that field goals aren't nearly as prevalent as in the pro game. But there are a few kickers who can be called on to produce whenever and wherever, and therefore are fantasy locks.
The No. 1 kicker on that list has to be Roberto Aguayo, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner from Florida State.
Not only did the freshman make 21 of 22 field goals last season—tied for seventh-most in FBS—but because of the Seminoles' nearly unstoppable offense Aguayo also got to attempt (and make) 94 extra points. All told he scored 157 points, trailing only Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and Colorado State running back Kapri Bibbs (both of whom scored 31 touchdowns).
Let's put this another way: Aguayo nearly outscored FSU's opponents, who collectively managed just 170 points in 14 games in 2013.
Other candidates: Ryan Bustin, Texas Tech; Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State; Mike Hunnicutt, Oklahoma; Marshall Morgan, Georgia
Defense: Michigan State
Week 1 matchup: vs. Jacksonville State (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET)
If there's one fantasy category where mismatches mean the most, especially at the college level, it's on defense. And with plenty of overmatched FCS teams visiting FBS powerhouses in Week 1, the choices for a high-value defense are bountiful.
But look no further than Friday night, when Michigan State hosts Jacksonville State in one of the few games on the schedule that could produce a shutout.
Last year MSU allowed just 13.2 points per game, third-best in the nation, and never more than 28. The Spartans lost some key players from that team, but still have defensive end Shilique Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond to help produce big plays. In 2013, Calhoun had 7.5 of MSU's 32 team sacks, while he also contributed a trio of defensive touchdowns, while Drummond had four of the Spartans' 17 interceptions and was involved in five of their 28 total takeaways.
Jacksonville State made the FCS playoffs and went 11-4 last season, but the Gamecocks lost their coach (Bill Clark) to UAB and is just 5-17 all time against FBS opponents.
Other candidates: Florida (vs. Idaho), Louisiana-Lafayette (vs. Southern), Memphis (vs. Austin Peay), Middle Tennessee (vs. Savannah State), Oregon (vs. South Dakota)
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.