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CFT preseason No. 2: Florida State

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2010 record: 10-4, 6-2 (1st ACC Atlantic)

2010 bowl: 26-17 win over South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl

2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 17th/16th

Coach: Jimbo Fisher, second year; 10-4 overall, 6-2 conference

Offensive coordinator: James Coley, second year

2010 offensive rankings: 33rd, scoring offense (31.4 ppg); 60th, total offense (381.3 ypg); 39th, rushing offense (171.4 ypg); 68th, passing offense (209.9 ypg)

Defensive coordinator: Mark Stoops, second year

2010 defensive rankings: 20th, scoring defense (19.6 ppg); 42nd, total defense (353.7 ypg); 29th, rushing defense (128.7 ypg); 71st, passing defense (225 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: 8

Returning defensive starters: 8

Location: Tallahassee, Fla.

Stadium: Doak S. Campbell Stadium (grass; 82,300)

Last league title: 2005

2011 schedule: [view]

2011 roster: [view]

2010 statistics: [view]

Snapshot: Surprise!!! The Seminoles didn’t even sniff the Top 10 in the two major polls at the end of last year. They lost their starting quarterback and two long-time starters along the offensive line. They will face a stiff non-conference test in the third week of the season against a team (Oklahoma) that will likely be ranked ahead of them to start the year.

Yet, here they sit at No. 2.

Of course, the question is, why? First and foremost, it should be acknowledged that the loss of Christian Ponder could potentially be a significant blow to FSU’s chances of getting back onto the national stage — were it not for the presence of EJ Manuel. The redshirt junior brings a different dynamic to the table than did Ponder, namely the ability to make yards with his legs if a play breaks down. And it’s not like he’s a totally raw unknown, either; he’s started six games the past two seasons in place of an injured Ponder, winning four of those contests. While there’s no guarantee a seemless transition from Ponder to Manuel will take place, the new starter has shown enough flashes during his limited appearances to give the ‘Noles confidence that the offense will be in more-than-capable hands. Also, it’s not as if the transition will be made with a bare offensive cupboard. FSU returns four of their top five receivers from a year ago — the lone exception being Tawain Easterling, who left the program earlier this offseason for a career in pro baseball — as well as their top three rushers from the running back position. The defense was above average during the 2010 season, and, with eight starters returning from that unit as well, nothing but improvement is expected from that group.

Add it all up, and taking into account the “softish” nature of the ACC as a whole, the talent is there for the Seminoles to make a return to prominence sooner rather than later. There will be one game, though, that will determine whether their return is of the ACC variety once again or, for the first time in a decade, a national one.

Make-or-break game: Sept. 17 vs. Oklahoma

If the Seminoles are to be the national contenders I, as well as a few others, expect them to be, this is a must-win game for them. And, making it all the more intriguing, it’s the same for the Sooners as well. The advantage for the ‘Noles, obviously, is that they will be playing the game at Doak Campbell Stadium. The advantage for the Sooners may be they will be coming off a bye week, although the Seminoles might as well be coming off a bye as well as they will face Div. 1-AA (FCS) Charleston Southern the week before this showdown. And then there’s the been-there, done-that angle; the Sooners overwhelmed the ‘Noles 47-17 in Norman last season. Regardless of what went down last season, the winner of this year’s game will likely set themselves up for a season-long run that could end with a January date in New Orleans.

Heisman hopeful: Manuel

This might be a significant stretch given it’s his first year as a full-time starter at this level, but if Manuel can play to the level his coaches think he can … if his team can win — especially in high-profile games — the way some think they can … if those two things come to fruition, and experience be damned, Manuel will be in the discussion throughout 2011. In 12 games in which he’s played and thrown a pass, Manuel has amassed nearly 1,700 yards and six touchdowns. One area of concern is turnovers; Manuel has thrown 10 interceptions in just 199 attempts.

Postseason projection: BcS championship game

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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UNLV goes Ivy in replacing RBs coach poached by North Carolina

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 12:  Members of UNLV Rebels marching band perform in the stands during UNLV's game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 69-66 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Raided by the ACC, UNLV has officially turned its eyes to the Ivy League for its coaching replacement.

Travis Burkett, the football program has announced, has been hired the Rebels’ running backs coach.  Burkett will replace DeAndre Smith, who left last week for a job at North Carolina.

Smith had been with Tony Sanchez‘s program for just three months or so, coming to Las Vegas by way of Purdue.

The past 10 seasons, Burkett served as an assistant at Cornell.  Prior to that, he was a graduate assistant at Bucknell.

This will be Burkett’s first job at any capacity at the FBS level.  His new employer added the following in announcing his addition:

At UNLV, Burkett inherits a rushing attack that stood 15th in the nation last fall with 241.5 yards per game, which ranked fourth in program history and was the most since 1979. All three of the team’s top rushers return in 2017.

Vandy turns to familiar face to fill coaching role of assistant fighting cancer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 22:  Josh Crawford #22 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee State Tigers scored by teammate Trent Sherfield #10 during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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With an assistant fighting a significant health issue, Derek Mason has turned to someone very familiar with the Vanderbilt football program to fill the coaching void.

Vandy confirmed Monday that Warren Belin has been hired as the Commodores’ outside linebackers coach. Belin will, at least temporarily, replace Osia Lewis, who stepped down from his job as he battles liver cancer. Lewis will transition into an of-field role within the program as he fights the disease.

The announcement came on the same day Vandy kicked off spring practice.

From 2002 through 2009, Belin was Vandy’s linebacker’s coach under Bobby Johnson. He was at Wake Forest in the same role from 2013-15.

Last season, he was with the Demon Deacons in an off-field role as director of high school relations.

Blocked from Pitt and Syracuse, Gus Edwards’ transfer from Miami to Rutgers is official

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Gus Edwards #7 of the Miami Hurricanes rushes for a touchdown during a game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Sunlife Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In opting to leave Miami in late January, Gus Edwards was restricted by the university from transferring to two of his top choices in Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they were on this coming season’s schedule. A little over a month later, the Staten Island native, who wanted to transfer and move closer to home as he was a new father, has found his new college football home in the same area of the country.

On its official Twitter account earlier Monday, Rutgers announced that Edwards has transferred into the Scarlet Knights football program. As Edwards will be coming in as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

The upcoming season will be the running back’s final year of eligibility.

Edwards was third on the team this past season in rushing with 290 yards. For his Hurricanes career, the 6-1, 230-pound back ran for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries.

A foot injury suffered in summer camp cost Edwards the entire 2015 season. He received a medical redshirt for that season.

Mississippi State announces contract extension for Dan Mullen

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 5:  Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates with fans after the end of an NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State beat the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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With its Egg Bowl rivals knee/neck-deep in controversy — and with said rival reportedly trying to bring it down as well at one point — Mississippi State has taken the time to put a positive face on the current state of its football program.

The Bulldogs announced Monday night that they have reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with head football coach Dan Mullen.  The new deal means Mullen is signed through February of 2021.

According to the school, Mullen’s financial package will be $4.5 million for 2017.  Mullen was paid $4.2 million in 2016, a figure that was seventh in the SEC according to USA Today‘s salary database.

“I am very thankful to the University and athletic administration for their belief in me,” Mullen, the subject of myriad coaching carousel rumors the last handful of years, said in a statement. “We have built a special program over the last eight years, creating a culture where winning is expected while achieving that in the toughest division in college football. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I am truly excited about the direction we are heading as a program. This extension allows my family a long-term future here in Starkville, a place we are proud to call home.”

Since taking over as MSU’s coach in 2009, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 61-42 record overall and 29-35 in conference play.  In those eight seasons, the best divisional finish was second in 2014.  In the other seven seasons, they were either fifth (five times) or fourth (twice) in the SEC West.

The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game each of the past seven seasons, the longest such streak in school history.  They’re also 5-3 against Ole Miss under Mullen.

“Dan has brought unprecedented success to Bulldog football and is one of the elite coaches in the country,” athletic director John Cohen said. “From a school-record seven straight bowl games to our performance in the classroom, he continues to raise the standard of excellence.”