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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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Local Auburn man arrested after setting Toomer’s Corner oak tree on fire

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Fans of the Auburn Tigers roll trees at Toomer's Corner after defeating the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Jordan Hare Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Arkansas State Red Wolves 51-14.(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Police have identified and arrested a 29-year-old Auburn, Ala. man after he allegedly set fire to one of the oak trees at the famous Toomer’s Corner.

Fans traditionally celebrate a Tigers victory by “rolling” the trees with toilet paper and did so once again on Saturday night following an 18-13 victory over LSU. However, video surveillance showed a suspect lighting some of the paper on fire, setting the tree ablaze as he walked away.

The Auburn city police department, in a release obtained by USA Today, stated that “witnesses at Toomer’s Corner identified a suspect, who was immediately detained and taken into custody by police on an unrelated charge of public intoxication.” Several reports identified the suspect as Jochen Wiest.

Firefighters quickly responded to the fire and extinguished the burning tree but university officials are still evaluating the damage to the oaks.

“From the ground we can easily see damage to the leaves and base of the tree. It is significant,” Professor of Horticulture Gary Keever said in a statement released by the school. “I expect the foliage will continue to drop. The full extent of damage may not be known for several weeks. The best case scenario would be to see a flush of new growth next spring, but right now it’s too early to tell how the tree will respond.”

The incident is all the more emotional for Auburn fans given that the tradition had just been revived this season following a three-year absence as a result of an Alabama fan poisoning the oaks. Hopefully the area around Toomer’s Corner can recover in time for the Tigers’ next win, which might be as soon as Saturday when they host Louisiana-Monroe.

Notre Dame officially parts ways with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder

FILE - In an Aug. 29, 2014 file photo, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, right, talks with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder during practice during media day for a NCAA football team in South Bend, Ind. It was announced Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder following a 1-3 start. The school tweeted a new release saying VanGorder is being replaced by defensive analyst Greg Hudson.(AP Photo/Joe Raymond, File)
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Notre Dame has officially parted ways with embattled defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

“This is a difficult decision,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”

Notre Dame has allowed 134 points through their first four games and are just 1-3 after extremely high preseason expectations. This was VanGorder’s third season in South Bend but the Irish have regressed significantly and ranked 101st in FBS scoring defense after Saturday’s home loss to Duke.

Defensive analyst Greg Hudson, a former Notre Dame linebacker who has served as defensive coordinator at Purdue, East Carolina and Minnesota, was elevated to fill VanGorder’s role.

“It’s never easy to make a change on your staff, but I’m confident in Greg’s ability to lead our defense,” Kelly added. “As a former player at Notre Dame and an experienced defensive coordinator, he not only understands the expectations necessary to compete at the highest level, but he’ll bring a fresh perspective to our sideline, practice field and meeting rooms.”

The move to make staff changes on the defensive side of the ball isn’t exactly surprising to Irish fans who have seen the team play this year but the timing is notable. Kelly remarked that the coaching was not the problem on defense after the loss to the Blue Devils but still opted to make a change on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if a very young defense will respond, and perhaps even rally, now that a big message has been sent.

Notre Dame plays Syracuse on Saturday at noon ET.

Florida International fires head coach Ron Turner after 10-30 run

HADLEY, MA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head coach Ron Turner of the FIU Golden Panthers looks on during the game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Hadley, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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The firing season in college football is getting started earlier and earlier. Just ask Ron Turner.

The Florida International head coach was fired early Sunday in a move that was hardly surprising aside from its timing.

“I want to thank Coach Turner for his contributions to the FIU football program, most importantly his commitment to academics and community service,” athletic director Pete Garcia said in a short statement. “At this time Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Ron Cooper has been named interim head coach.”

Turner went 10-30 over four years at the school but was 0-4 to begin the season after a 53-14 loss to Central Florida last week. While he is far from the first coach fired in 2016, Turner did become the first head coach to be fired after the season got underway.

Cooper had a 45–55 record in nine seasons as a head coach at Eastern Michigan, Louisville and Alabama A&M. He was elevated to FIU’s defensive coordinator prior to the season and notably served as LSU’s defensive backs coach when Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu starred in Baton Rouge.

The Panthers are set to play local rival Florida Atlantic on Saturday.

LSU head coach Les Miles, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron fired

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers looks on during the game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Mad Hatter is looking for a new gig.

LSU has fired head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the school announced on Sunday. The news was first reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate.

“Decisions like this are never easy ones to make,” athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement. “Coach Miles has done a tremendous job here and he’s been a great ambassador for our University, which makes this even more difficult.

“However, it’s apparent in evaluating the program through the first month of the season that a change has to be made. Our commitment to excellence and competing at the highest level is unwavering, and our goals for the remainder of this season haven’t changed. We have an obligation to our student-athletes to put them in the best position to have success on the football field each week and we have great confidence that coach Orgeron will do just that.”

The move comes just hours after the Tigers lost to Auburn in the final seconds to drop to 2-2 after beginning the year as a trendy national championship pick and top five team in the polls.

Miles has been in Baton Rouge since 2005 and posted a 114–34 record at the school, including a national title in 2007 and a pair of SEC championships. He was nearly let go after the 2015 season but was retained following a huge wave of public support and potential implications with a large buyout.

Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was named the interim head coach for the rest of the season. Former LSU quarterback and current tight ends coach Steve Ensminger is slated to become the new offensive coordinator, according to Fox Sports.