Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Best5Zach's Basics to Frog Fishing

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First off, I don't want anyone to take this the wrong way. I'm not a pro. I never will be. And I'll never claim to be a good fisherman. I have my strengths and my weaknesses and I am not going to try and convince you that froggin' is one of either of those. 

I have a good friend of mine that is getting into fishing and has spent his first few trips on Guntersville.  After our last tournament, he wanted to know the how, when, and where associated with our 5 fish limit.  We caught almost all of our fish in our last tournament on frogs and my friend was very curious and excited to learn to frog fish. As I started to talk it, I realized that it was a little more in depth to explain than I had time for, yet wasn't as complicated as many make it. You can read about our last tournament and see the vid here:

Up until that day, Josh and I had coached him up while playing softball. I have done my best to get him some cheap plastics from PTL that I have had success with since I get such a deep discount on them. However, plastics can be a particularly daunting technique from July and later on Guntersville because of the grass. Newbies will struggle with plastics for a few reasons. Chiefly among those reasons are: it's hard to feel bites when you are constantly "haulin' grass" AND "haulin' grass" can be tiring.

These are just a few of the technical reasons that frog fishing becomes paramount in the summertime on grassy lakes. 

Of course, frog fishing is also a favorite to fisherman because of the excitement it provides from of the devastating blow ups.

But, there are many other reasons that many people don't usually consider.

Chiefly among those reasons why I like frog fishing are: 
  • Ability to cast incredible distances
  • Ability to cover water quickly
  • Ability to eliminate many of the variable associated with sub-surface fishing (depth, fall rate, subtle presentation, etc)
  • Ability to get repeat strikes (the fish may miss the bait, or you miss the fish, but you can convince the fish to come back for another hit)
  • Ability to cast to specific areas based on visual clues
  • Slightly more impervious than other topwater grass techniques
This isn't to say that frogs are the only technique that will work, just the easiest. As the last bullet alluded to, there are others. One of my favorites can be found in this article:

Yet, there are some drawbacks to frog fishing in grassy lakes. Hook up ratio is usually exceedingly inefficient. I would venture a guess that the average fisherman will hover around a 30% hook up ratio. The bass have an inherent advantage on the fisherman with their ability to get in the grass and "bulldog" you. That is, to use the grass to take the tension off of them and allow them to shake the hooks.  

Again, I am no pro at frog fishing. It is simply a technique that is a tool to me. There are many fishermen who use this technique far more than I could ever use it...to the point of exclusivity. These guys will read this article and will undoubtedly see it as a very crude representation on a very fine-tuned technique. But, that's why I am going to entitle it "Basics." This is meant to be an 098 course....you know....intro to college math. I am not going to get into a ton of specifics on each aspect of it because 1) I'm not a pro and I am still learning 2)I don't believe in absolutes, ESPECIALLY with fishing.

There are a few subsections to address: equipment, bait selection, targeting and retrieve, hookset and finishing

This one is actually pretty easy. Starting with a rod: a 7" length to 7"6 is my preferred length. Length contributes to the physics of the cast. It creates a longer moment arm, which means more force at the release of the bait. Translation: the bait goes farther. Additionally, on the opposite end of the cast,  the length will help you with the force needed to set the hook, get the bait on top, and hoist it in. I like as balanced rod, but I do not like long handles. I have short T-Red arms and a long handle will constantly bump into my ribs or my forearm as I retrieve the bait. On hook sets, I can bruise my ribs up if the handle is too long. A heavy power is the bare minimum. If you ca, get an extra heavy, do so. If you do it right, you will be setting the hook after the fish is aready back in the water and in the grass, so you will need a super stiff rod to deliver the hook set needed. Additionally, you will have to haul that fish back to the top with your hook set and drag it in, sometimes with 15 pounds of grass. So, you need a rod that can deliver every ounce of energy you put into it. No flex. If I can get a rod with microguides, I will. This will drastically enhance your accuracy of your casts. One of my very favorites for the money is the H20 XPRESS Ethos rod, which is the house brand from Academy. It has every bit of the things I have listed and has it under $100. You can read my review here:

Product Review for Academy Sports H2O XPRESS Ethos Rods

Everybody has their own favorite brand for everything and reels are no exception. The basics for selecting reels for frogging are that you want a reel with extreme casting ability, as quick a ratio as you can get (to get ahead of the fish) while not sacrificing gear breakage from the higher ratio. Those higher ratios can have gear breakage because of the mechanical advantage. You want a reel which you can really tighten down that drag You REALLY don't want a reel that needs constant work with breaks and line tension, as I have found on some brands like Lews. I really like the Shimano Citica D and E models. The 6.3:1 ratio is about the perfect balance between quickness and reliability. I have only worn out one carbon drag after years and years and hundreds of frog fish. Most importantly, to me, is that the reel holds settings extremely well. Other than adjusting for some really nasty headwinds, I don't have to work on the settings....ever. The brakes have been set since I initially set it up. I don't have to thumb this reel. You may have your own brand, and that's fine, but reel setup is critical. Again, you want to be able to make consistent long casts, have a gearset that allows you to get ahead of the fish without breaking, have a drag that puts up with the hooksets and 20 pounds of grass, and can cast the same despite the conditions. 

Like the reels, lines are usually preference based. You must use braid in the grass, period. Not only do you need the strength to fish the grass, but the braid cuts through the grass, which is just as important. You want a brand that lives up to your desired performance requirements. You just need to find the medium between strength and line diameter. The higher the strength, the higher the diameter. The higher diameter doesn't cast as well and you can't get as much on the spool. I like the Suffix 832 braid in 50 pound test. I have never broken off with it, I can safely use it all year (trimming where needed, of course), and the small diameter lets me pack a lot on my reel. 

Bait Selection
Again, this is a preference based can of worms. So, I will just tell yall what I told my buddy. I have had the most experience with only two brands of frogs. That doesn't mean I haven't tried more, because I have. There are just the two that I have gravitated towards: Spro and Snagproof.  

The size of the frog doesn't really interest me. Again, I am no pro and so I don't have experience to say otherwise. The larger frogs may weigh more and allow you to cast further in windless days, but any wind will cause your bait to drift during cast. The smaller frogs won't experience such drift, though they may not go QUITE as far. But, I can compensate easily enough. I want the frog to go where I want it to go. 

The brighter the day, the darker the frog I am going to throw. As good as companies have become at mimicking forage, we still don't know what fish really want. The more sun there is, the better the fish can see what they are about to attack....or pass up on. They won't know if they are seeing a baits shadow or the bait itself when it's dark. I'd rather leave it to ambiguity. Conversely, the darker the skies, the lighter the color. I might even go pretty wild on frog selection. I am thinking primarily of an all white bait, or one of Snagproof's "tweetie", a half white, half yellow bait. 

As far as the color combinations, there may be some merit if you are fishing them in open water, where the fish can see the sides...but....and this is important....take a look at each and every frog from the underside. The sides and top will have all the detail, but the underneath is almost always a uniform color. Ironically, this is all the fish see in grass, anyway. So, you don't need a black frog with every combination of spots. Just pick one and go. Even in the scenario where you are fishing open water, the sides and top of the bait is never in the water (unless you weight it down, which is more of a 201 course), so I still caution about filling up box after box of frogs. 

The most important thing I told my friend involved the selection of frogs between these two different companies. As a beginner, his hook up ratio was going to be poor. He could offset that by using Snagproof, which is a softer plastic and a design that compresses in the fishes mouth very easily. However, the Snagproof doesn't last very long.....5-10 fish is usually a max for me. After that, the frog can rip or simply sink because of all the holes that the bait's hooks have put into it. Additionally, I don't think that the Snagproof makes you a better fisherman. Catching fish is catching fish, but the lessons you can learn from using the following brand can, and will, pay dividends in your games. 

Spro, on the other hand, is harder for a novice to use. The plastic is tougher and doesn't compress nearly as easily. Due to that, a beginners hook up ratio can be nonexistent. However, it is a much more hearty bait. I don't think I have ever had to toss one from overuse. Because the plastic is thicker, it is more buoyant and it will float, even filled with water. The hooks on the Spro are superior to the Snagproofs, however. The are passivated and won't rust and are also a much heavier gauge wire. Lastly, the hookset skill you learn while using a Spro can be monumental in other areas. With a Spro, you will have to be a lot more patient upon the strike. That will carry over elsewhere in your game. 

You may have guessed that I lean more towards the Spros, which is true. That doesn't mean that I won't throw a Snagproof. Truth be told, Spro doesn't have a light colored lure I like. And, if I am missing hooksets, I will tie a Snagproof on in a hurry. 

Many people augment their baits. Again, that's something for another day. I will say that setting your baits in the front window of your car for a week is one of the best things you can do. Soften up that plastic! Additionally, I like to trim my silicone tails so I shorten the bait overall. I want to pull the fish as far forward on the bait as I can. 

Targeting and Retrieve
Again, a wide-ranging topic that I won't go more than skin deep into. Every lake is different. Some lakes are best to target cover. Guntersville isn't that way, for me at least. Here are some very simple things I do.

I avoid drag lines, places where someone has caught a frog fish already (usually that day). I target dips and curves in the grass lines. I will spend a ton of time around transitions between two different grass types or stages of growth.  I concentrate on blow up holes where a fish has surfaced. 

Around those blow up holes, or even irregular openings from stumps, I will loiter the frog. Many times I will use the reel to twitch the bait in place. This is a great thing to do around those areas where you know fish are or have been....but also the perfect thing to do after a miss.

Speaking of misses....they are going to happen and happen often. After the initial strike, never automatically set the hook. Wait until you feel the fish. Make sure the bait doesn't bob to the surface. I know it's hard to do....but you have to. The worst thing you can do is either jerk the bait out of the fishes mouth or pull it out of the strike zone if the fish missed it. The latter happens a lot more than the former. After all, the fish is attacking a bait on the surface of the grass. But, after it's strike, it has created a blow hole. If you are patient and smart, you have left your bait in the perfect spot! Give it a twitch and watch the fish come back. I would venture a guess that 25% of misses will have a follow up strike, if played correctly. 

There is no answer to retrieve speed and cadence. Fish want something different each and everyday. However, I find that the best way to get a hit is to quit paying attention. Seriously, stay with me. Most of us will vary speed and we might vary cadence....occasionally. But, when we aren't getting bites, we will go into autopilot. That's when I get a ton of my strikes. Why? I think it's because even my irregular cadence isn't irregular enough on tough days. It isn't what a frog would really do. However, as I look at an eagle flying or I start talking, I am being for sporadic with the retrieve, which is a lot closer to what a real frog would do. Basically, fishermen are insane. We will do the same thing over and over all day without a change in result. Mix it up. Deadstick that frog. Throw on the brakes randomly. Burn it across the grass. Just do something different. 

Hookset and Finishing
This one is easy. I kinda hinted at it above. It is imperative that you wait until you don't see the frog resurface AND you feel the weight of the fish. If either of these things don't happen, just sit. The fish (or maybe another fish adjacent) will likely come back. 

Now, when you DO have these two qualifiers.....HIT 'EM HARD. Seriously. You can't hookset hard enough...unless you fall overboard or break your rod. I am not a huge proponent of monster hooksets, but it is important to know that you aren't just setting the hook into the fish. You are fighting all that grass between you and the fish.

Perhaps the most important part of the hard hookset is to get the fish on top of the grass. You will lose most every time if you let the fish get back in the grass after a strike. Not only does it give the fish the ability to pop those hooks loose, but it may get buried up so tight that you can't get to it at all. 

Finishing a hookset is just as important. Many fisherman allow a slight moment of slack after a hookset. The pressure of the moment seems to be off after they know they have the hooks in the fish. However, a great hookset can easily be outdone by allowing the fish back in the grass. You have to perform what we call "surfing." Get the fish on top with a brutal hook set and immediately hit the turbo button on your retrieve (that's a game term) and keep that fish on top.  We call it surfing because the fish skates on top of the water. Not only does this prevent the fish from getting into the grass, but also keeps the fishes head up. That keeps tension on the hooks and prevents the fish from being able to shake its head. 

Again, don't take this article the wrong way. I don't expect it to educate guys who have been doing this for 20 years. I'm certainly not trying to sound like an authority on the subject. There isn't much here in the way of techniques, just the basics. But, I hope that it gets people started down the path of a very versatile and fun technique.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Best5Zach Garden 2014

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I have really been slackin' on updates on the garden. No worries. No one reads them anyway! And it's a shame, because I usually include some yummy meal ideas with these updates.

So, everything is up and running (literally) in the garden. We ended up with just short of 20 tomato plants, a single row of corn, single row of okra, 6 cucumber plants, 9 zucchini and  6 crookneck squash. 

I have done my best to keep the garden weeded, but I am facing some trials with that. I was gone for a week on vacation to Jamaica (tough life) before coming home. Then it rained for 3 days straight. I finally got caught up on weeding, but now I am finding that my chickens are eating everything in sight. I don't want to keep them in their pens all day, but I can't have them eating the whole garden, either. 

My grandmother just told me and my wife yesterday that you never plant a single row of corn because it won't get pollinated. If anyone knows, it's her. I guess we will see. I have done single rows of okra and they don't have a problem. In fact, I had more than I could deal with last year. Anyway, if the corn doesn't turn out, I guess we will know why.

The cucumber plants are just starting to run and I have done my best to redirect them to run along the rows instead of across the rows. Though they were small, I did pick 3 small cucumbers last night....I just couldn't help myself. More on them later.

Zucchini has been producing bit by bit for the last week. I have averaged about 1 a day. But, many have been picked early because of the rain. I would rather pick them too early than let them blow up because they absorbed too much rain. They simply lose flavor. Also, the baby has a bad habit of picking them on his own and doing this:

Yesterday was the first crookneck squash was ready to be picked. 

Final count was 2 zucchini, 1 squash, and 3 small cucumbers. If I added a nice bowl of soup to that, I figured it would be a nice meal.

So, I started with the zucchini and squash first. I preheated a pan with a mixture of olive oil and butter. You don't want too much of it won't fry. Instead, it would be rather limp and won't have the perfect amount of char on the outside. While I cooked it in 3 separate batches, I seasoned each finished batch with some basic rosemary/garlic seasoning with a slight bit of salt and cracked black pepper. When all 3 batches were cooked at least 80%, I dumped the oil and butter solution and threw all of the slices back in the pan for just a few seconds while letting them sear. 

I sliced the baby cucumbers up and put them in a small amount of apple cider vinegar. I added chopped white onion (just big enough to use a fork) along with some fresh herbs from my raised herb garden, which I recently completed. The herbs I used, specifically, were fresh minced mixture of dill and sweet basil. I dumped half of this mixture in the cukes.  Another bit of salt and fresh cracked pepper. You can read about my herb garden below. 

On another eye, I started a plain can of tomato soup. Now, doctoring up tomato soup has been a favorite hobby of mine since I was probably 10 years old.  Instead of using a whole can of water, I use a half water/half milk solution. When the soup is simmering, I add the other half of the dill/basil mix, plus about 10 minced leaves of rosemary and a clove of garlic. You can then salt and pepper as you desire. To top the soup off, I cut 3 chunks of mozzarella up and place in the center. 

Talk about a fine meal! 


Fishing Report for Guntersville 6/27/15

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And the struggle....continues. Seriously, I don't really understand why the "best bass fishing lake in the country" continues to be so hard for me to succeed on. I mean, I suck. I get it. But, I have had drastic growth on every other lake in 2015. Guntersville? Nah. The backslide continues. No, I am for real. I am regressing on this lake. The past 3 years have been absolutely dreadful. 

I guess it's time to reevaluate some things. But, yall don't want to hear about that. 

So, we had a club tournament out of Bucky Howe park in Guntersville this past weekend.  I was pretty excited about it, all things considered, because it meant ledge fishing. Between the ability to understand what we are seeing (we think...) on our graphs, dedication to off shore fishing, and a little luck, we (both Josh, Brad, and I) have built a solid amount of confidence in ledge fishing, whether that means cranking them as fast as we can, or throwing magnum shaky heads on a slow day. Now, most of that we can directly attribute to learning how to use our units (uh-huh-huh-huh). After all, it's easy to have confidence in techniques when you KNOW you are around fish. You can read about that here:

After all, magnum shaky head fishing has been my go-to technique this year...a little something that many people don't do...and with a bait no one around here is using. You can read about that below.

Magnum Shaky Heads: The Answer to Finesse Fishing in High Wind and Current

You may recall that it was only last year that we made the dedication to fish the ledges, and it began to pay off for us...netting us our first 20 pound bag during a tournament. 

Having built that confidence, we have put those skills to work on every other TVA lake we have fished in 2015 and you can see some of the payout in these fishing reports from earlier this year.

Ok, had enough clicking yet? Let's talk about the tournament. 

The weather was setting up simply PERFECT for this tournament. The water temps on Friday before the tournament had reached 90 degrees and there hadn't been rain in awhile. Friday night and Saturday morning brought a wealth of rain. We expected the water to be chilled off significantly and for TVA to run some current. The weather reports said that after morning showers, the clouds would be gone and replaced by sunshine. As far as we were concerned, we SHOULD be able to hit topwater early and scare up a limit before pushing to the ledges once the sun came up. The cool water and current should fire up the lethargic fish. The water temps at blast off was 84. 

At blast off, we ran into Allreds to a small pocket in the back that we had found a lot of success with fish in number on topwater. This pocket featured a winding creek channel that skirted a small island before cutting behind the island and running to the back. Off of that cut was a nice grassy flat. That flat, specifically the 6 foot edge, has held fish the last few years. With a creek channel that was probably holding fish in the hot weather, the flat offered a great place for the fish to push up to once the water cooled. And, we knew there were always fish on the flat already.

So, we went to work with a variety of topwater or subsurface baits. We worked the middle of the flat without a hit before following the flat to where it met the bank on the opposite side of the creek channel. I went to work with two baits. Around the edges I used a Lucky Craft Sammy and on the grass (even to the edge), a Spro Frog. The Sammy is and has been a solid produced for me each and every year, whereas the frog is a technique that is among my favs, but hasn't produced in the last year. 

While popping a Spro frog over scattered grass, I set the hook into a fish. Now, typically, if the fish doesn't completely miss it or if I set the hook and the frog doesn't automatically come to the surface, that fish is mine. After a brief fight, the fish made a terrific jump and managed to toss the hooks. The fish wasn't huge, but it was clearly measuring and would have been a terrific start to the day.

Upon retrieving, I noticed that I had made a great hook set, to the point that the plastic frog had been pulled all the way up the line and off the hooks. That fish was either very smart or very lucky.

Though I didn't get that fish in, it triggered a quick flurry on Josh's next cast. As he retrieved his spinnerbait, he saw he had 4 bass following it. Making another cast and a slight adjustment to the retrieve netted a keeper fish. 

I followed that with two more 14.5 inch fish on the same Spro frog before he bookended it with another keeper fish on the spinnerbait. After 45 minutes, we had 2 measuring fish...should have had 1 more....and 2 shorts. That wasn't a bad start.

The spot went quiet. We figured we would let the spot sit and we hopped over to a hump just a short drive away. 

The hump was covered with busting fish and we were graphing a ton of bait. Upon closer inspection (and about 100 futile casts with a Sammy), we figured out that we were seeing skipjack. 

After fishing that hump out, we went back to the spot where we had caught our first fish. Nothing. Not a nibble...even when we slowed down with plastics.

That's about the the time the bottom dropped out...again. Boy, am I thankful I bought a nice rainsuit. I purchased the H20 XPRESS setup earlier this year. You can read my review of it here:

And, I wasn't just thankful for it's rain proof abilities....cause it seemed that every time I put it on, the rain stopped! 

Looking around for answers, I remembered that there was a spot on an adjacent bank about 100 yards away where I have an on-going feud with a monster bass. For the last 2 years, there is a big momma that likes to live by this one laydown tree that hates a Lucky Craft Sammy. I mean...HATES it. She hits it so hard that it flies about 20 feet in the air (it seems). This has happened no less than 3 times.

I was determined to get her today, especially now that it has become a trend.

I would make as accurate a cast up to the shore line as I could, avoiding the grass (which the Sammy ALWAYS finds) and worked it slowly parallel to the lay down.

Then, I did the one thing you do to make SURE you get bit on topwater.

I looked away.

Only out of the corner of my eye did I see the fish explode on the Sammy. In my defense, this fish wasn't a bass. How do I know, if I wasn't watching? Well, because it was long and thick.
A monstrous fish.  And, I can't catch big fish this year...so it was obviously a carp. Don't tell me otherwise, it will just hurt my feelings.

After that, we tried the first spot for the 3rd time...again with no results. Odd. We were pretty certain there were more fish there, but decided it was best to push to the ledges. After all, it was nearing lunchtime.

We ran from Allreds to the 430 bridge. Found some fish on the ledges there. The only thing I caught was the marker buoy, which I am not a perfect 3/3. If the marker buoy goes in the water, I will catch it. Be warned.

We moved up towards Seibold and graphed ledges we had marked the night before during some map study. Plenty of ledges. Plenty of bait balls. No structure and nothing that looked like bass. Eventually we found two spots, each about 50 yards from the other, which looked extremely promising. What I mean is, structure on the ledges, bait in the channel, and fish either laying on the bottom at the ledge transition. However, none of them were in a stacked "attack" formation, which, in retrospect, should have been caused to keep moving. But, we had 2 total measuring fish and only about 3 hours before weigh in time and we hadn't had a bite in about an hour. So, out came the cranks and C-rigs.


We moved to the next ledge which looked even more promising.


Considering that we had hit 3 ledges which exhibited all the things we THOUGHT we needed for a ledge bite without so much as a sniff, we made the decision to go back shallow....this time in Seibold. Similar to the story about the big momma, I have another local fish or two in the back of Seibold that all seem to be in the exact same place, year to year.

Lo and behold, someone else was already fishing it! NO WAY!

Luckily, they were beating the grass next to the bank instead of the floating duckweed/grass mix, which has been where I have found fish with a frog and flipping. And, as luck would have it, they were also leaving.

So, we pulled in and began a mix of presentations. On the approach, I would cast the Sammy around the edges. As we got closer, I would throw the frog. And, when we got on top of one, Josh would flip it while I began casting at the next mound of duckweed.

The typical areas that I have caught fish are the weed edges on either side of a drainage ditch. Nothing. At the hour mark, we had to make a decision: hope that topwater would land us a few stragglers, or start hitting the ledges again and hope to find a school.

While discussing this, I started badmouthing the lake and how much I hated it. I was retrieving my frog around the back edge of a weed bed when a fish choked the frog. I didn't quite see it...cause I was bust cussing the lake. But, the explosion couldn't be missed. No issue with getting this one. She hammered it. I swung it aboard. It easily measured, but it wasn't a giant....nor even a fish that we could hope to build a good limit with. But, it was fish #3.

Josh noted that the lake must like the dirty talk. No problem there. I have plenty of bad words for this lake. So, I laid back into her. And, critical to the process, I quit looking at the bait.

Boom. #4.

Still not a fish we needed. But, by this point, we knew that we weren't going to win. We just wanted to weigh in a limit.

A little tangent here, but that's one of the things I really wanted to work on this year. In the past, I have been able to catch big fish but unable to catch a limit. I want to get more consistent at weighing in 5 fish, even if it means losing. You will always be in contention if you are catching numbers (BFZ's opinion, of course).

So, since we had 2 fish from this spot and another flipping bite that nearly resulted in me getting brained by a 1-ounce weight, we went back through the spot. Not a bite.

We figured out that topwater was obviously the key bait....but the real key was fresh water. We had never had 2 bites in the same place. So, we packed up and headed to the very back of Seibold where we caught fish one time (that seems to be a growing trend on this lake).

About the time Josh made the comment that fresh water MUST be the key, he set the hook on a decent fish. And, like the key to fresh water, the other key was to not be paying attention. He had heard the splash, but assumed it was from the popping frog. It was only when he felt the tug and saw his line darting to the side that he realized he might need to set the hook. By then, the cash was out of the water and throwing the frog at the boat.

I was sure that was our last chance to get a limit, considering it was 12:48 and weigh in was 5 miles away and in 22 minutes.

But, we put the first key to work. The trolling motor went on high and we covered a lot of water really fast.

It paid off! Josh bagged #5 and we hit it hard.

On the homestretch before the 431 bridge, we were cruising as fast as the Bullet would go when my raincoat went out of my hands and into the drink! We made a U-turn and managed to recover it. But, as I stretched over the side of the boat with my T-Rex arms, I felt something pop in my side and an amazing amount of pain.

It's not a rib, I am pretty sure...but it sure hurts...still!

Weigh in was pretty much what I expected. It had been tough on everyone, but everyone had caught fish. There were only 3 limits weighed in, ours being one of them. But, at 10.67...it wasn't going to beat anything...much less a 4 fish bag caught by John and his son (whom I fish with a lot) that featured a nice 5 and a half pound kicker. The 4 edged us out of 3rd by 0.30 pounds. Second was 11.0X and the winning bag was 16 pounds.

While talking to the winners, we discussed how we had just KNOWN the ledge bite would be key. But, the lack of sun most of the day must have kept them inactive, as well as the overall lack of current. In fact, they had let in 10,000 CFS through Nickajack while not letting out a single drop from Guntersville. Volume goes up, velocity goes down...so fluid dynamics tells me.

That being said, the winners HAD made the ledge bite work for them, but it turned on after 12...about the time the sun finally peaked out....and about the time we had considered going back to the ledges, but had instead stayed with the shallow bite.

The winners had plugged away at the ledges all day with no results, only to catch the limit in the final minutes of the day.

John had 1 fish until 12 as well, but a shallow bite had turned on for them just as it had for us. Except they had found a kicker.

I hate losing, but we did manage to make it work and get a limit. At least we are thinking analytically. In the past, we probably would have fished shallow...but for the wrong reasons. We probably wouldn't have figured out the clean water key. But, then again, we probably wouldn't have spent hours fishing ledges....so who knows.

The silver lining on this day was that I was 5-6 on fish that hit the frog. As many of you know, frog fishing has a very high miss probability. I would venture to say that it is typically around 50% for an experienced frog fisherman and closer to 25% for everyone else. Being able to get hooks into every fish that hit the frog AND boat 5 of the 6 was probably an all-time high. It's probably even more impressive considering that 2014 was the worst frog year for me and, according to my Fish of 2014 Page, I only caught a single fish all year on a frog. That isn't because of misses, but because they wouldn't hit it.

On the downside, this is the first time that I haven't placed in 2 consecutive club tournaments....ever. And that hurts.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Best5Zach's Best 5 Tight Ends for Fantasy College Football

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Best5Zach's Best 5 QBs for 2015

Best5Zach's Best 5 Fantasy Receivers for 2015

Finding productive tight ends is....difficult. Unlike the NFL where there are fully 10 top TEs that everyone knows about, there may be only 10 TEs in all of college football with real fantasy value. And, there is a disturning trend that makes TEs a tough pick. Usually top TEs are found on bottome wrung offenses because the TE is the check down guy. So, I am always wary on picking a guy who finished the previous year on top. I'd rather have someone on a respectable offense who didn't produce the huge numbers the year before rather than a guy who may flake out after a big season. So, let's cut right to it.

Jonnu Smith (FIU)-It's hard to argue with Lindy's who lists this guy as the #1 fantasy TE. I might argue that my next pick is the best, but let's go with it. Smith led all TE with 61 catches, 700 yards, and 8 TDs after a respectable 2013 season. His QB and most of the the offensive line are back. Most importantly, he is the only starting receiver to return. The 6'3" 230 pounder will become a security blanket for his sophomore QB. 

Allow me to play the devil's advocate and say why he wouldn't be MY first choice. FIU is ranked as the 120th offense in 2015. That's nearly dead-frickin-last. Sure, Jonnu got all the touches. But that is something that could be worrisome. Teams will know that he is the go-to guy for the Golden Panthers. But, then again, they knew that last year when he had 3 times as many catches as the very next leading receiver. The Panthers were terrible running the ball, though they broke it open late in the season, esp the last 5 games when Samuel ran for 400 yards. The ability for the Panthers to run the ball will open up the play-action pass, specifically up the seams for Smith. He may not be my number 1 pick, but he is a top 5. Play him the whole way through. 

Evan Engram(Ole Miss)-The kid sat out 3 games in 2014 but still put up nearly 40 catches for 650 yards and a pair of TDs. He averages a whopping 17 yards per catch. At 6-3 220, he moves extremely well and can play in the slot. He is a matchup nightmare against LBs. Though he didn't have as much production as I would have liked, as I paired him with Bo Wallace early, I was able to get a double up effect. He caught at least 1 pass in every game he played and was only held under 3 catches in 3 games. However, he didn't catch TDs. Why? Because when the Rebels were in the redzone, Bo Wallace ran it in. Well, Bo is gone and though Chad Kelly may be the next man up, he won't run it like Bo. The Rebels have no other run game to speak of, so when it is redzone time, it will be Engram time. I would't be surprised in the slightest if Engram goes for 10 TDs this year as defenses are spread out to defend Ole Miss' deep core of receivers.  With the amount of targets he gets each game and he YPC average, start him in all games.

Bucky Hodges(VT)-Two things I hate to admit: Lindy's has another one right. And Scott Loeffler may have one of the best offensive units in the ACC in 2015. But, I qualify that last with a big "MAY." Though they were midpack in every single category last year, this is the year that could be special. The offense returns 8 starters on offense. In that offense are running backs that could do work, if they can stay healthy. They couldn't last year and it forced Tech to be 1-dimensional....and it hurt them. Well, it didn't hurt Hodges fantasy value as he reeled in 45 catches for 525 yards and 7 TDs. He did this mostly by being a checkdown guy, averaging right at 11 YPC. Lindy's says to expect big things this year as the emergence of the run game, a solid line, and field stretching WRs could make work a little easier. Honestly, though, an extra year doesn't make an offensive line who was bad into a good unit. Nor does a few months make struggling and injured RBs top notch. I am actually going to bet they don't improve nearly that much and Hodges again becomes a check down guy and a redzone threat. Outside of the first game, they have a soft schedule, so moving between the 20s SHOULD be easy. Hopefully he will be the man inside the zone. 

However, I am wary of using a player who has the potential to play in a widely shifting offense from year to year. Hodges now has 70 receptions in 2 years and I expect 40 or so in 2015. 

Braxton Deaver (Duke)- In the last two years, Cutcliffe has managed to get Duke to two straight bowl games. While challenging for the ACC, specifically without Boone and Crowder, isn't going to happen, Cutcliffe is bound to have a decent offense. Braxton Deaver was ranked as the 7th best option in 2013, but tore his ACL and he missed all of the 2014 season. The senior was granted a 6th year of eligibility. A massive 6-5 240 mismatch is what you get for a guy who had at least 2 catches in each and every game in 2013. He caught 46 passes for 600 yards and 4 TDs while averaging a very nice 13 YPC. Cutcliffe is breaking in a new QB who has only been used as a running threat in the past. He has only one returning WR to throw to. With uncertainty in pushing the ball down the field with a new QB, a line that is being overhauled, and new WRs, you can expect Deaver to become a security blanket. Inside the redzone, he could be Duke's best weapon. The first few games will be easy contests before entering the ACC schedule. Regardless of who they play, defenses will have a tough time matching up with this guy. I look at the Miami game, specifically, as the Canes lost their best LB and are very shaky on D. 

Austin Hooper (Stanford)-Stanford really struggled last year and a lot of fantasy owners felt it. Stanford has produced some of the top fantasy TEs in the last few years thanks to the hard-nosed approached of Harbough and then Shaw. Last years offense was in the lower half of the country in every single offensive category. Between a struggling QB and the lack of a power runner, the offense just couldn't get rolling. However, Hogan is now a senior and looks to be much improved. He has a veteran line, though missing a top NFL pick that left early in Peat. WR Cajuste is back with his ability to stretch the field, though it remains to be seen if CAjuste can fil in for Montgomery. That will be great for Hooper, who will benefit from the Cardinal's lack of a run game...especially in the red zone. Hooper was the 16th best TE last year with 40 receptions and 500 yards. By mid-sesason, he was held to under 3 receptions in a game only once (and he had 2 with a TD). He has a solid 12.5 YPC average. The only thing that kept him from being a top 10 (or better) TE in 2014 was his lack of TDs, which he only had 2. But, an improved offensive unit in 2015 with a dip in the power run game will open up the redzone opportunities for the 6-5 250 TE.  

I didn't exactly label these 5 as who would be my top. But, from a risk perspective, Hooper from Stanford and Evans from Ole Miss are guys that I can circle and be reasonably certain will produce. 

Bonus Pick

Jaylen Samuels (NC STATE)-Listed as a TE, Samuels had 140 rushing yards and a TD in 2014 to go along with 6 receptions and another TD. He had at least 1 rush attempt in every single game as a freshman. 

This isn't a guy that I am telling you to draft. But, with a loaded offensive line, a great dual threat QB and not another skill positions penciled in except TE, this may be a guy that could become a multi-faceted weapon that could blow up in 2015 for the Wolfpack. With TE being a position that is a crap-shoot outside of the top 10 guys, this is a guy that could win you some weekly matchups. If Doeren continues to feed carries to Samuels, it gives him automatic value. Between the loaded line, the trust Doeren already had in this guy as a freshman, and the question marks at the other skill positions, he is worth a stash. 

Zach's Extra Special Get Him Now Guy

Josiah Price (MSU)- Lindy's has him listed at 12, but I have to think he is a Top 5...maybe even the top over-all TE. Starting in 2013, Price put up 17 catches and 4 TDs, despite not playing in 4 games. The same type trend happened in 2014 as he caught 26 balls for 375 yards and a more than respectable 6 TDs in 10 games. We see guys listed above that get tons of touches each game but can't find the redzone. This isn't Price's problem. If I extrapolate his stats to include playing the games he didn't play, he would have had 12 TDs on 43 receptions and 625 yards. That would have tied, almost exactly, the fantasy points of the leading TE, Junno Smith, with 180 total points. The Spartans are going to be one of the best teams in the country, overall, and will return a very very good offense that is reloading at each and every skill position. That's right. Price will be the only returning receiver. Another monster, Price comes in at 6-4 250 and is said to be as athletic as they come. Without a proven receiver or run game, Price will be the man. He is a must have, just watch the news and make sure he isn't getting sat....which seems to happen way to often. But, this is an NFL talent guy going into his Junior year and a chance to leave early for the NFL. He will act right. He will do his best to stay healthy. And, he will make the most of his chances. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Best5Zach's Best 5 DSTs for Fantasy College Football

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Best5Zach's Best 5 QBs for 2015

Best5Zach's Best 5 Fantasy Receivers for 2015

Well, we are almost through with predicting the top 5 (or so) players and units for the 2015 college football season. All we have to do is wrap up DSTs. 

DSTs may be one of my favorites to pick and predict. Maybe that's why I am the only guy that manages to draft one in a 20 man league that only drafts 10 rounds. But, then again, I pick the best and having a DST that averages 25 points a game sure doesn't hurt. 

Like most scoring systems, we will assume that sacks are worth 2 points, turnovers worth 3, TDs worth 6 and that we have a scaling factor for points scored against, which we will say bottoms out at 30 or greater.....just to make life interesting. What we won't assume is that it is possible to get negative points...which I hate. Anyway, so the book keeping is done. Let's talk the top 5 defenses. 

Temple Owls- The Owls were 4th in the Nation in points scored against with a 17.5 per game average. Astounding, really, considering they played some decent teams. What's even more astounding is the fact that the defense did so well despite having a bottom 3rd offense which ranked nearly dead last in yardage and a QB who tossed a 13:15 TD/INT ratio. They still managed to be +3 in turnover ratio, simply because of the defense. 

They are near the top of the passing charts, ranking 13th with 187 yards per game allowed while hovering around 50 in the rushing category. But, lets keep in mind that they played Keenan Reynolds and Navy, who put up 487 rushing yards on the way to a a Midshipman win. However, what I love about Temple can be personified in this game. Despite having that much yardage piled up in a loss, they still held Reynolds to 80 pass yards and managed to force 3 fumbles, one of which was returned for a TD. 

Against Penn State, the Owls held NFL-talent Hackenburg in check with 2 INTs. But, the Owls offense turned the ball over 5 times, several inside their own half of the field, which proved to be the difference in the game. Though it was a loss on the scoreboard, the defense still turned in great numbers in a loss. 

I say all of that to say this: Temple returns 10 starters on a defense, with the 11th being a breakout star in Kareem Ali at the cornerback position. Additionally, a North Carolina swapover in Greg Webb at DT could result in a ton of sack production. The one knock against the Temple DST was their inability to kick fieldgoals, being 10-16 UNDER 40 yards. But, that's a trend that is sure to change. If it does, you have a loaded defense which is among the statistical best with an offense that can't score TDs (97th), which could mean lots of FGs.  Temple should be at the tippy-top of your lists. They have a very favorable schedule including Penn State and Notre Dame at home as their toughest games. Both of these teams, on paper, look like games to avoid starting the Owls. But, I caution that line of thinking. I think they must be started in each and every game on the schedule. 

Michigan State Spartans - One of two Big 10 defenses that I will feature in the Top 5, and for good reason. It seems that for each of the last few years, fantasy people have had reason to doubt that the Spartans could repeat as one of the top defenses in the country. Once again, the Spartans have to replace a top cover corner from the NFL draft. In fact, Sparty needs to replace both of their corners from a top 2014 team.  But, it all starts up front. State returns 2 of the front 3 mean including an all-american in Calhoun. Although the backend must be overhauled, with as good as a front 7 as MSU has, I wouldn't sweat it. What I do know is that Dantonio is proving to be a top 5 coach in college football each and every year. Other than games against Oregon, which they get at home, they have to play at the Horsehoe against Ohio State, which is probably a sit situation. However, I don't think I would fear Oregon nearly as much as most people would.  

One of my main concerns is actually about their offense, which is a clock-draining machine. Except this year MSU has to reload at every skill position other than QB, including Lippett, who was a multi-threat as a returner and WR. However, they have 4 out of the 5 front men back, so I wouldn't be terribly concerned that the identity may shift much. MSU's offense has been efficient and methodical, allowing the defense to be fresh and create that +19 turn over margin which ranked 2nd in all of college football. 

All this DST needs is a good punt returner and a healthy kicker. Geiger took a massive step back in 2014 after going 15 for 16 in FGs in 2013. He is coming off hip surgery, so there is a concern. However, we know there is potential for a top-notch performance. On the returner front, replacing Lippett will be tough. But, again, Dantonio has done well without top talent. This year he landed the #22 overall class, which will pay dividends. This is one department that really needs it. 

In conclusion, MSU is a annual top pick in the DST department thanks mostly to great defensive fundamentals and a grinding offense. I don't see why this year won't be a continuation of that. 

Ole Miss Rebels- The chances that this unit repeats as the Number 1 unit in terms of points allowed (16 in 2014) is.....not probable. Additionally, the vaunted secondary who seemed to pick off every pass that was thrown last year are gone. So, despite losing nearly half the starters including some All-SEC and All-Americans, why do I have them listed here? 

A few reasons: It's put-up-or-shut-up time for Robert Nkemdiche. He seems to be on the Clowney train where you lay low until that right time, and the time is now. Though he may get constant double teams, true sophmore Haynes is sure to have grown into an even better player even though he led the team in sacks in 2014. With the front line loaded for bear, C.J. Johnson, a solid player on the line in the past, is moving to linebacker where he will be paired with Denzel Nkemdiche, who was an All-SEC player for missing all of last year. Hilton moves over to safety from starting at cornerback in the past to make room for Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard. Shepard is a former 5 star guy who figures to be huge in 2015. Both safeties have started all 4 years they have been in the Grove. 

Sure, the losses to graduation and NFL always hurt. However, this is a team that is poised to have a very similar year as 2014 where they were a fantasy monster because of turnovers and the ability to hold offenses in scores. 

I really like their schedule....a lot. The first 2 games are gimmes. They have to play at Alabama, but Ole Miss has the ability to stuff the run and I honestly think that's all Alabama can do. Even if Ole Miss losses the game, I think they have a lot of fantasy value in this game because it will be a low scoring affair. They are a solid start for the next 4 games before Texas A&M comes to town. By then we will know if TAMU is for real, so wait until then. They play at Auburn. I don't think this is worth the role of the dice. I think you sit them against Auburn. Up next is Arkansas which will be very similar to the Alabama match up. Though they may lose the game, the potential for low scores makes this a decent gamble. With the mystery-meat situation at LSU, this is another solid play. LSU has the run game and Ole Miss can stop it. They finish with Mississippi State. This is a definite bench game, if you asked me RIGHT NOW. MSU may not be who we think they are by late November, but right now they have a Heisman contender and amazing receivers. 

In conclusion, even a departure from the Top 10 in total scoring isn't a horrible thing for fantasy players. They will have sacks. They will have INTs. And, they play in the SEC West in tough and tight games. They are worth a first DST pick. 

Utah State Aggies- In many ways, this is a homer pick. I spend a lot of time in Logan Utah, so I have gotten to know this team fairly well in the past few years. So, now you are all rolling your eyes at me asking why I have these guys listed. Let me tell you. 

The Aggies defense is one of fundamentally sound and ferocious defenses found west of the SEC. Statistically, they were 12th in the nation in 2015, even playing some very prolific offenses and having an offense that started 4 different QBs by the end of the season. They are one of the very best against the run (24th) and 57th in passing despite playing mid-west and west-coast run-game-optional offenses.       

Here is what matters: They were 20th in the country in turn over margin, and that's with QBs that sometimes forgot who to throw to. Guys like Nick Vigil know how to strip the ball and their cornerbacks are salty and experienced. They do have losses at safety to contend with as well as the loss of the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in Zach Vigil.

They also feature one of the best returners in the game in JoJo Natson (listed in my post on receivers) who already has 4 returning TDs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
On the topic of schedule, they don't have to worry about getting thumped by SEC competition  a la Tennessee in 2014.  In fact, they have a very favorable schedule which features no real top contenders. Every team that would seem to be a threat (Colorado State/Boise State) will have a new QB. 

Between their great fundamental defense, potential in the kicking game, and weak competition, Utah State locks up a top 5 position for me. 

Georgia Bulldogs- It really pains me to write this. Though many people had listed the Dogs as a top fantasy prospect, I initially laughed it off. I knew they lost a lot of starters and that was initially enough to ignore them. Then I did some research.  The Dogs exited 2014 as #17 in total defense while sporting the 4th best turnover margin (much to do with the offense, too) in the country. They "struggled" against the run in 2014 allowing 167 yards per game, which ranked 61st. However, they were top notch against the pass, ranking 5th despite playing in a more throwing-oriented division. 

In the 3-4 system, the backers are setup to make sacks off the edge, which plays to UGAs talents. Despite losing two entrenched starters to graduation the Dogs look to be fine. The front 3, though none are returning starters, are just as talented as any of the recent roadblocks the Dogs have fielded. That includes one of the top (if not THE top) recruit out of highschool in Trent Thompson. The entire secondary returns., which was one of the top...total. 

In combination with the run-first/run-often offense that we all expect from the Dogs, expect a lot of low scoring games and a fresh defense that will blitz a lot. What will that mean? Lots of sacks and lots of quick/off balance/rushed throws towards one of the best defensive backfields in college football (read: picks).  It will be awfully hard to lose points due to high scores with the Dogs offense. 

In terms of schedule, UGA does have to play at  Auburn and Alabama at home, a rare occurrence. Their in-divisional games of note are all at home, including Mizzu and Tennessee. With South Carolina having a lot of question marks in the back field and only one real playmaker on the outside, this game can still work in your favor. Simply put, only the game against Auburn is a real question mark, as most prognosticators THINK Auburn will be a run-first team, when in reality they could easily be an extremely balanced....and deadly....offense. UGA has had the ability to stuff the run and that is all Alabama will throw at them. Still, even with a low scoring game expected, turnovers may be hard to come by, forcing a decision on a start or sit for the Dogs. Tennessee, to many, would seem like a risky play, but I am not so sure the Vols are ready for the athleticism up front, nor for a good secondary. While this game may score points, dual-threat QBs are good for a lot of turnovers. This might end up being a great play, considering the likelihood of sacks and turnovers. Outside of these tests, expect UGA to with their +16 turnover ratio from last year to really shine against completely inferior opponents.                                                                                                                                                         

Zach's Why Nots

Ohio State- So, I am reading the Lindy's rag and they list Ohio State as a top fantasy defense. But I honestly hesitate on listing them as a top 5 DST in fantasy, and not because of the talent of the gameplay of the starters. Ohio State scored over 50 points 6 times in 2014 including another 5 games over 40 points. They had one of the best offenses in the entire country, statistically, despite playing in a very good conference.  Because of that, the second and third teamers were playing a lot. That's great for OSU fans. Not for fantasy owners. 

The Buckeye's were not a turnover machine. They were an overall +7 and not because the offense turned the ball over. Quite the opposite. OSU QBs combined for 12 INTs all season. If you allow points, you have to have turnovers. OSU wasn't very good at that.

What they are good at is sacks. Bosa and Co are among the very best in all of football. But, again, those sacks don't count nearly as much as those TOs and can be offset with allowing a lot of scoring. 

That isn't to say that the Buckeye's aren't or can't be a top fantasy value. They can. I think their defense, with the addition of McMillen at LB may be better than last year. The problem is simply that the defense will be forced on the field more and more as the year goes on because the Buckeye offense is THAT GOOD and the opposing teams are THAT BAD. 

So, I wouldn't be picking them in my top 5. 

Standford-Lindy lists the Cardinal as #6 on the fantasy ranking of DSTs. But, Ty Montgomery, an incredible return tool, is in the NFL. That hurts, right up front. 

Despite being perhaps the best overall defense in college football last year, sitting well inside the top 10 in every category, the fact remains that the team was -5 in total turnover ratio. 

The biggest question is this: how does a unit who lost 8 starters and exited spring practice with only 1 starter playing in the spring game going to respond? The meat and potatoes that made this unit so good in 2014. In fact 4 players went in the first 5 rounds of the NFL draft. Sorry, but you don't replace that kind of talent without a slight dropoff, at least early. 

While I don't think the Pac-12 will have the head-and-shoulders-above elite teams as they have had the last few years, I expect that the conference will be better, overall. The tests start in week 3 against a USC team that I predict will torch the Cardinal defense. Though Hundley is gone, I expect UCLA to be better this year than last. And, they have Oregon as usual. Washington State is another game to watch, considering that even in a blowout, WSU is still capable of putting up 35 or more points and a ton of yardage, both really bad depending on the scoring system. 

In all, a top unit lost a ton of top talent to the NFL. They are playing a very difficult schedule. While people have them listed really high on their boards, I would avoid them.

TCU- TCU is listed as the number 1 fantasy defense. They were in the top 10 in scoring and against the run. But, they struggled against the pass while playing some very soft competition. Much of that COULD be attributed to garbage time, considering how they blew people out last year. Let's keep in mind that they couldn't convince the playoff committee to let them in based upon their margin of victory. Ultimately, the downfall was allowing 61 points to Baylor, the only legitimate offense they played all year. 

Additionally, they return 5 starters on defense including an All-American LB. Just like the statement about Stanford, you don't have stats like those in 2014, loose more than half the starters, and have no risk of slipping. 

Add in the loaded offense with Heisman hopeful Boykin and you can expect runaway victories, something that isn't good for a fantasy defense. Garbage time points are going to be a weekly possibility.

I don't want to take too much away from this defense. The numbers are solid and the Frogs are still a Top 15 DST. But, although their schedule is relatively light, I fully expect Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech to be MUCH better than they were in 2014, specifically first 3 on that list. Texas can't stay down for long, Big Game Bob MUST win the Big 12, and State had a baffling down year on offense. As usual, playing your DST against Texas Tech is a boom or bust. You can pick off 4 passes as easily has you can give up 28 points and 500 yards.

With the limited amount of returning starters, a powerful offense that will have gaudy numbers put up to showcase a Heisman candidate, and a much improved Big 12, I can't list TCU as a top 5.  

Mississippi State-Lindy's has the Bulldogs listed as a top fantasy DST. Bbbbuuutttt.....they return 3 total starters on defense including the loss of all of their playmaking production. They were the worst in the SEC against the pass, a figure that will undoubtedly remain a huge risk for fantasy owners. They are playing at TAMU and at Auburn, early in the year, both games which are going to be fantasy matchup nightmares, considering the passing statistics and who they will be playing. They get SEC East teams Kentucky and Mizzu in back to back games (though they will have a week off), which could be extremely tricky, especially playing at Mizzu. I fully expect Arkansas to be a huge challenge. Though the Bulldogs might win, I see no value in starting the DST against the Hogs...or Bama the week before. 

In all, this is a team with a ton of turnover, weak against the pass (an Achilles heel for anyone playing pass-happy teams early in the year) , with a ZERO turn over ratio, playing a schedule with very little fantasy value. Pass. 

Zach's Sneaky Teams to Watch

San Diego State- 13th in scoring in 2014. Returns 7 starters on defense including their breakout star of 2014 at LB. 3 returning starters on D-line. Excellent against the pass and returning much of that defensive backfield. Though they were gashed at times last year, specifically against very good QBs from Boise State, Oregon State, and Fresno State, the Aztecs won't have as much in-conference competition. The downside is that the out of conference play will be tought, playing Colorado State,  Cal and Penn State. The former won't be as much of an issue, as they lost their coach/o-coordinator and the entire backfield. Cal  and Penn State will win, but I am not sure that it isn't a solid play, as both teams are likely to sit their starters early, and that's assuming that Hackenburg and Goff don't struggle, which is certainly possible. 

Pumphrey, one of the very best backs in America returns to run behind a good returning line and lead blocker. Expect a lot of clock control, which will really help the Aztec defense. 

They have questions at depth on the D-line. 

This unit looks to be the best in the Mountain West and I don't really see any games that I would stay away from. This team only had 30 or more points scored against it 3 times all year. Two of those teams were in conference teams who lost NFL talent QBs. 

Houston-They return the entire defensive backfield and their play-making LB. Though they lost the majority of the D-line, the swap to a 3-4 will alleviate some of the depth issues. This unit was 15th in scoring ad 20th overall while boasting a +8 TO margin with a middle-of-the-road offense. 

The good news is Farrow  is back to run the ball after a 1,000 yard 14 TD 2014 season. 

The schedule is VERY manageable with most of the in conference games at home while traveling to Louisville in week 2 against a team who will be coming off a huge opener against Auburn. That could turn out to be a sneaky-good play. Only the late games against Cincinnati and Navy (both at home) are potential sits. But, Gunner Kiel has been injury prone as has Munchie, so who knows who will be starting for the Bearcats when that game rolls around. I might be cautious of Cinci if Kiel is still healthy, but the Bearcat D has been absolutely dreadful so far in Tuberville's era and I wouldn't be surprised if Farrow controls the game. 

This unit has a secondary that could pick off a lot of passes against a pass-happy laden schedule.