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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Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.

Third ex-Vandy football player sentenced to 15 years for rape

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A third former Vanderbilt football player will spend a sizable portion of his adult life behind bars.

In June of this year, Brandon Banks was found guilty on one count each of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery related to a 2013 gang rape of an unconscious woman. Friday, Banks was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In July of last year, one of Banks’ former teammates, Cory Batey, was sentenced to 15 years after being found guilty of aggravated rape. Four months later, another former Vandy football player, Brandon Vandenburg, was sentenced to 17 years after being found guilty of the same charge as Batey. The judge gave Vandenburg a longer sentence than Batey because the former was the leader in the attack and betrayed the woman’s trust.

Banks, Vandenburg, Batey and another ex-Vandy football player, Jaborian ‘Tip’ McKenziewere initially charged Aug. 9, 2013, with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery each after a police investigation determined that the four had raped an unconscious woman.

On June 28 of 2013, Vanderbilt announced that four unnamed players had been indefinitely suspended amid reports that the players were connected to an alleged sex crimes case.  The next day, Vandy officials further clarified the players’ statuses, releasing a statement announcing the dismissals of the four.  That release further added that none of the four will be permitted to return to campus without permission from the office of student conduct and academic integrity.

McKenzie has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.  He has agreed to testify against his former teammates in exchange for what he hopes is a lighter sentence.

Georgia Tech dismisses leading rusher Dedrick Mills

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I believe this one would qualify as a significant development.

In a very brief press release, Georgia Tech announced Friday afternoon that Dedrick Mills has been dismissed by Paul Johnson from the football team.  The only reason given was an unspecified violation of Tech athletics department rules.

The head coach is expected to meet with the media following practice later on this afternoon.

Regardless of the specific reason for the dismissal, Mills’ departure serves as yet another blow for the run-heavy Yellow Jackets.

Last season, Mills’ 771 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns led all Tech ball carriers.  169 of those yards came in the bowl win over Kentucky.  Mills put up all of those numbers as a true freshman despite being suspended on two different occasions for a total of three games.

Mills’ dismissal is the second huge blow to their 2017 running game as Marcus Marshall, who was second on the team last season with 624 yards, announced in late November that he would be transferring from Tech.  Less than a month later, he moved on to James Madison.

With those twin departures, Clinton Lynch‘s 415 yards last season makes him the team’s leading returning rusher.