College Fantasy Football Leagues: The New Drug

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Starting Thursday night, you cling to the edge of your couch screaming for your fantasy team player to score a touchdown. You shoot up out of your seat and jump around every time your starting defense picks off the opposing quarterback. You curse and yell when you watch your No. 1 running back fumble the ball on the goal line. The biggest satisfaction you gain from playing, however, is the sweet taste of victory when you beat a close friend. I mean, heck, I won my NFL league last year with a dominating roster built around Drew Brees, Jamaal Charles and Jimmy Graham. I don’t think I’m ever going to let my friends forget it.

Fantasy Football is a lifestyle that has grabbed Americans by the jugular, and seems to have no interest in letting go. In fact, Brian Goff, a contributor to Forbes, said a combined 32 million Americans spend roughly $15 billion a year on Fantasy Football. Now that was a good money-making venture!

So — why does it seem like College Fantasy Football is just now catching on? College football has an enormous fan base, with an estimated 216 million people tuning in according to Football Foundation, yet even I, a die-hard and passionate football fan, knew nothing about  fantasy leagues at the college level until recently.

This past week, I logged on to ESPN.com and joined its College Football Challenge. The game, unlike the NFL version, allows you to select a roster of only two quarterbacks, two running backs, two wide receivers/tight ends, a team’s place kickers and a team’s defense. For that week, you receive points based on how your roster performs, and the next week you can choose an entire new roster of players from all the Division I schools. It’s kind of a weird system compared to the pro version. Also unlike what most NFL Fantasy Football players are accustomed to, there is no draft. There is simply a large list of all the players in the CFB world, and you can choose to add any of them to your weekly roster.

Mariota's dual-threat abilities make him a great fantasy option.

Kevin Cline

Mariota’s dual-threat abilities make him a great fantasy option.

Millions of players could own Marcus Mariota as their Week 1 starting quarterback, and in fact, of all the players available, Mariota had the highest “ownage percentage” of nearly 71%. As for scoring, ESPN has set it up very similar to the pro version. It’s six points for a rushing or receiving touchdown, four points for a passing touchdown, one point for every 10 yards rushing or receiving, one point for every 25 yards passing, and so on.

Your goal at the end of the week is to have the highest score out of anyone playing, especially in your group. I joined the University of Oregon group, which was seventh-largest on ESPN with nearly 1,700 members (the Crimson Tide group leads all others with nearly 2,500 members).

Once I got my bearings about how the game is played, I decided it was time to make a team of my own. One player can make up to three teams, but I’m sticking to just one. My Week 1 team finished with a total of 172 points, which was tied for 210 out of the 1,700 in the Oregon Duck Fantasy Challenge. Not bad, but I can do better. I played it safe, choosing popular players such as Bryce Petty of Baylor, Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska and Amari Cooper of ‘Bama, but I learned playing it safe won’t get you to the top. Here were my four biggest notes from Week 1:

  • If a team is going to blow its opponents out (like most Week 1 matchups), try to find other players – most starters were taken out by the second half.
  • Look for dual threat quarterbacks because rushing touchdowns help.
  • Running backs that get targets in the passing game, too, are a big help.
  • Receivers that get targeted a lot will probably rack up the biggest yards, so although Ty Montgomery of Stanford is promising, try to stick to receivers such as Malcome Kennedy of Texas A&M who led all receivers with 14 receptions Week 1.

That being said, with a week of experience under my belt, here are my Week 2 starters:

Halliday should put up huge numbers in the pass-happy Cougar offense.

Craig Strobeck

Halliday should put up huge numbers in the pass-happy Cougar offense.

Quarterback 1: Connor Halliday, Washington State Cougars I’m sure Halliday will be a popular pick this week, and hey, why shouldn’t he be? In Week 1 Washington State came out guns ablazin’, calling a ridiculous 56 passing plays to only 14 rushes! Halliday took full advantage, as the senior completed 40 of those 56 for an astounding 532 yards and five touchdowns.

Fun fact: three quarterbacks threw for over 500 yards in Week 1 of the 2014 College Football season, when only eight did it all of last year (via ESPN). In this pass-first offense, and against a Nevada team that should put up plenty of points against the weak WSU defense, I expect Halliday to play the whole game and put on a show.

Quarterback 2: Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks I’m sticking to my promise that I will select one member of the Oregon football team every week, and although Byron Marshall was an absolute force in the passing attack against South Dakota, I think Mariota will be my best fantasy option against a much tougher Michigan State team.

Mariota looked like the Heisman candidate everyone expected to see in Week 1, completing 70% of his passes for 267 yards and three TDs, and he added another 42 yards on the ground with another score. He’s going to have to play the whole game against a stingy Spartan defense, so don’t expect to see Jeff Lockie in the third quarter. This is a make or break game for Mariota and the Ducks, and I expect him to meet the challenge this week head-on.

Running Back 1: Jay Ajayi, Boise State Broncos This guy is a freaking workhorse! Boise State started off the season against a tough opponent in Ole Miss, but the Broncos didn’t even try to disguise what their offensive game plan is: get the ball to Ajayi. He carried the ball 20 times, sadly for only 86 yards, but those numbers will go up when they’re not playing an SEC defense.

But there’s a catch! Quite literally, actually. Ajayi caught 12 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. That’s right — the ball was in Ajayi’s hands on 32  plays, and even on a tough night to rush, he amassed 179 total yards of offense. When a guy sees this much action, I feel like I have to take him!

Running Back 2: James Conner, Pittsburgh Panthers Conner is an absolute tank. The sophomore is 6’2 and 250 lbs. of pain coming at you full-speed, and he showed in Pitt’s Week 1 matchup against Delaware how he can use his size to do damage. Conner ran over defenders and just generally bullied his way to four touchdowns, all within the 10-yard line, spare one 19-yarder. Although Conner is one of the three main running backs for the Panthers, he is by far the most dangerous weapon they have and is the clear goal-line back. He actually reminds me of a famous Ducks running back, LeGarrette Blount. He might not rack up 153 yards against Boston College this week, but I’ll still take a touchdown machine any day.

Devin Funchess is a huge target in the red zone.

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Devin Funchess is a huge target in the red zone for Devin Gardner.

Wide Receiver/Tight End 1: Devin Funchess, Michigan Wolverines Really wanted to take Rashad Greene here, but in a week where FSU plays The Citadel (who?), I figured I’d keep him on the shelf for another week. But anyway, Funchess is my back up guy! He’s a huge target for Devin Gardner in the red zone at 6’5, and the two seemed to be in sync last Saturday when Funchess caught three touchdowns before being taken out of the game later during the Wolverines’ blowout. This week, Michigan takes on a much more competitive Notre Dame, and I bet I know where Gardner’s going to be looking all night long.

Wide Receiver/Tight End 2: Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech Red Raiders I’m going to be blunt here — Texas Tech is not a good football team. Letting Central Arkansas give you a run for your money is never a good thing, and TTU barely escaped da Bears in Week 1. There is one thing for certain about Texas Tech though – they love to throw the ball. Davis Webb threw the ball 52 times, and 25% of those attempts were directed at Marquez. Marquez finished with 11 receptions and 184 yards to go along with two touchdown grabs. Tech plays UTEP this week and no doubt Webb will be looking at Marquez to bail the Raiders out of another embarrassment.

Place Kicker: Alabama Crimson Tide Kickers No surprise that Alabama went after a kicker following last year’s stunning loss to Auburn. Tide kicker Adam Griffith looked like the one true bright spot for Alabama, nailing all four of his field goals including a 47-yarder. This is an offense still looking to find its rhythm so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few kicks early, even against a lackluster Florida Atlantic team.

Defense: Ole Miss Rebels It would’ve been easy to take FSU or ‘Bama here as they both have ridiculously easy opponents, but I’m going with Ole Miss. The Rebels picked off Boise State four times in the season opener and played some pretty stingy D, holding Ajayi and a talented Broncos offense to only 13 points. They tackled exceptionally well too, not giving up any easy yardage. This week they play Vanderbilt, who lost by 30 points to Temple, so nothing spectacular there. The Rebs should have this game in a blowout anyway, but its defense should be just as strong as it was in Week 1.

Jamison Crowder is a small, but explosive threat for Duke.

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Jamison Crowder is a small, but explosive threat for Duke.

Barely Missed the Cut:

QB: Brandon Doughty, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

QB: Cody Fajaro, Nevada Wolfpack

RB: Paul James, Rutgers Scarlet Knights

RB: D.J. Foster, Arizona State Sun Devils

WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State Spartans

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke Blue Devils

So, there you have it. My Week 2 starters. I am by no means an all-knowing college fantasy guru (not yet, at least), so if you have a bone to pick with my roster, please leave your thoughts in the comment section below. Hopefully my skills will progress as the season goes along, and my rosters will become more interesting and include more than just the big-name players. I’d love to know how many other people out there play the College Football Challenge, and if it’s really getting as big as I think it could be.

Top photo courtesy of Kevin Cline

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Caleb Couturie

Caleb Couturie

Caleb is a freshman at the University of Oregon intending to double major in Journalism and Sports Management. A lifetime Saints and San Francisco Giants fan, Caleb fell in love with sports at a young age and developed that love into a passion for sports analysis. He is looking forward to cheering on the Ducks throughout his career at Oregon, and is always willing to talk sports with any fellow fan.