College football: 5 top 1-2 punches in 2016
One of the marks of a great football team is depth. While having standalone superstars might lead to some deal of success, having multiple formidable options in a unit can take the pressure off injury scares and prove too much to handle for opponents.
This college football season presents many notable team units that have multiple threats. Here’s a list of some of the top 1-2 punches across the nation:
Georgia – Running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel
Georgia caught some unlucky breaks to put a damper on its extremely talented running back group, but the Bulldogs still have plenty of punch in its ground game entering 2016.
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But the pair combined to rush for 1,908 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and if both are healthy early on in 2016, the Bulldogs offense may be a force to deal with in the SEC.
Chubb enters 2016 as a legitimate Heisman candidate and is progressing well from last year’s surgery. Michel has been limited to non-contact drills but has taken hand-offs in practice. It’s unknown if either will be available for Georgia’s opener, but the two are expected to make a scary pair once they both do return to action.
Clemson – Wide receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott
Losing your No. 1 wide receiver on the first drive of a season is not the ideal way to start off the year. But that didn’t phase Clemson in 2015, as Artavis Scott emerged as a go-to weapon for Deshaun Watson and the Tigers rode all the way to the title game.
Now Scott is rejoined by Mike Williams, who was sidelined by a neck fracture for basically the whole year, making Clemson one of the most dangerous offenses in 2016.
Williams reached the 1,000-yard mark as a sophomore in 2014 with six touchdowns and entered last year as a preseason All-American pick. In his absence, Scott did more than fill in adequately with 93 catches for 901 yards and six touchdowns.
Scott was masterful in turning short patterns into huge plays with his quickness and elusiveness at 5-foot-10. Now the 6-foot-3 Williams adds a deep threat to the mix to give Watson even more options.
Alabama – Inside linebackers Reuben Foster and Shaun Dion Hamilton
It’s no surprise Alabama tops the list of premier linebacking corps once again in 2016. Exit 2016 NFL draft second-round pick Reggie Ragland and enter Shaun Dion Hamilton next to the anchor Reuben Foster up the middle.
Foster, a senior, finished second on the team behind Ragland with 73 tackles in 2015 as a first-year starter. Meanwhile, Hamilton was effective as a third option with 14 tackles for the year.
Year in and year out, Alabama is always one of the toughest and deepest units in the nation. Foster and Hamilton will be a key part in continuing this trend and holding their own against the SEC’s top running backs.
Notre Dame – Quarterbacks Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer
It’s long been the belief that if a team has two starting quarterbacks, it has no starting quarterbacks. But with Notre Dame, this is not the case.
Malik Zaire started strong in 2015 after winning the starting job before going down with an ankle injury in the second week. DeShone Kizer then stepped in and threw for 21 touchdowns in 13 games.
Now both will get the opportunity to play in Notre Dame’s season opener against Texas.
Instead of giving the keys to one quarterback, coach Brian Kelly announced that both will receive playing time in Week 1. He justified his decision by explaining that both are “top five” playmakers within the Fighting Irish’s offense.
Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett struggled in a similar two-quarterback interchanging system for Ohio State last season, but Kelly seems confident that Zaire and Kizer can both contribute this season. At the very worst, this should provide a safety net if one of the two goes down to injury again.
Zaire’s limited sample size last year included 26-of-40 passing for four touchdowns. Kizer finished with 2,884 yards to go along with his 21 touchdown passes.
Washington – Defensive backs Budda Baker and Sidney Jones
Coming off a 7-6 2015 season, Washington is one of the surprise breakout candidates this year after being ranked No. 14 in the first AP top 25 poll.
This expected success stems largely from its returning defensive secondary, which allowed opponents to only nine touchdown passes a year ago.
Budda Baker anchors this unit at safety as an All-Pac-12 player that recorded 49 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass break-ups in 12 games last year. Baker has a good jump toward finding the ball in the air and can handle coverage against taller receivers.
Then there’s Jones, who led the Huskies with four interceptions and 10 break-ups in 2015. Jones is another ballhawk who can take any interception back to the opposite end zone.