CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 11 South Carolina

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2011 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC (2nd in East)

2011 postseason: Capital One Bowl (30-13 win over Nebraska)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 9/No. 8

Head coach: Steve Spurrier (197-75-2 overall, 55-35 in seven seasons at South Carolina)

Offensive coordinator: Spurrier

2011 offensive rankings: 25th rushing offense (192.1 ypg); 95th passing offense (181.5 ypg); 74th total offense (373.5 ypg); 42nd scoring offense (30.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Lorenzo Ward (fifth season at South Carolina, fourth as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 45th rushing defense (136 ypg); 2nd passing defense (131.7 ypg); 3rd total defense (267.7 ypg); 11th scoring defense (18.4 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Columbia, S.C.

Stadium: Williams-Brice Stadium (80,250; grass)

Last league title: 1969 (ACC)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
The Ol’ Ball Coach is back to being his “chatty” self, a sure sign that he’s very confident in the talent level of the eighth edition of his Gamecocks.  And, coming off an 11-win season with 13 starters on both sides of the ball back, Spurrier should feel confident.  South Carolina will also get what figures to be its prime SEC East competition, Georgia, at home as well as Arkansas, new SEC member Missouri and what should be a much-improved Tennessee squad.

The Bad
The whole of the schedule. Three of what will arguably be South Carolina’s four stiffest tests in 2012 will come away from the friendly confines of Columbia — LSU and Florida back-to-back in mid-October, and then the regular-season finale at Clemson.  The Gamecocks also open the season at Vanderbilt, which some are viewing as a trap game given the Commodores’ improvement under James Franklin.

The Unknown
Über-talented running back Marcus Lattimore is coming off a devastating ACL injury that cost him the last six games of his sophomore season.  Nearly 11 months removed from that injury, Lattimore is 100-percent healthy heading into summer camp.  The real test, though, will come once the regular season commences and that surgically-repaired knee is tested by the stout defenses that litter the SEC. A healthy Lattimore portends good things for the ‘Cocks; any type of setbacks, however, and quarterback Connor Shaw, in his first year as the full-time starter, could be forced to pick up the offensive slack.

Make-or-break game: vs. Georgia, Oct. 6
Sorry Gators, but the early-October matchup between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs will be widely viewed as the SEC East title game.  While the Gamecocks actually came out of the 2011 edition of this matchup with a three-point win, Georgia ripped off seven consecutive conference wins as South Carolina stubbed its collective toes against Auburn and Arkansas to hand the division to the Bulldogs.  This year, Georgia will be forced to travel to Columbia for what once again could/should be the game that decides the East’s sacrificial lamb representative in the SEC title game.

Heisman hopeful: running back Marcus Lattimore
The ACL injury previously addressed notwithstanding, Lattimore is primed for a junior season that should include plenty of Heisman hype.  In 20 career games, Lattimore has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and scored 27 touchdowns on the ground.  Lattimore will once again be expected to play the workhorse role, although Spurrier would be wise to ease the junior back into the role he’s held the past two seasons, especially early on in the season.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Report: Kent State to hire Syracuse co-OC Sean Lewis as head coach

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The final open job in FBS is no longer open. According to a report from FootballScoop, Syracuse co-offensive coordinator Sean Lewis will be the new head coach at Kent State. (Full disclosure: I also work for FootballScoop.)

Lewis’s ascension to head coach completes a meteoric rise through the FBS coaching ranks. He was a graduate assistant at Akron in 2011, then joined Dino Babers‘s staff at Eastern Illinois in 2012-13. He followed Babers to Bowling Green where he served as wide receivers coach in 2014 and as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in ’15, then did the same at Syracuse from 2016-17.

The site also reported that former Babers staffer and current Chattanooga defensive coordinator Tom Kaufman will join the staff as defensive coordinator.

Lewis is set to take over one of the most down-trodden programs in FBS. The Golden Flashes carry a lifetime record of 321-500-8 and have three all-time bowl appearances, all of them losses. Kent State has one MAC championship in its history, coming under Don James in 1972.

The 2017 Flashes went 2-10 and ranked 129th nationally in yards per play and scoring, beating out UTEP for the cellar for both spots.

Report: Florida State TE Mavin Saunders pursuing graduate transfer to Kansas

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Florida State tight end Mavin Saunders will pursue a graduate transfer to Kansas, according to a report from Bud Elliott of SBNation.

Saunders did not record a statistic as a redshirt junior in 2017. He caught 10 passes for 182 yards in 12 appearances in 2016, and made two starts as a redshirt freshman in 2015.

A native of the Bahamas, Saunders graduated from The Kinkaid School in Houston before enrolling at Florida State. The Jayhawks are losing their top tight end from the 2017 team. Senior Ben Johnson finished second on the club with 30 receptions for 363 yards and one touchdown this fall. He was the only tight end to catch a pass this season.

Scott Frost adds AP Coach of the Year to award haul

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Scott Frost will have to make room for a little more hardware as he moves to Nebraska. On Monday, the Associated Press named Frost its coach of the year for the 2017 season.

Frost received 21 first-place votes and 100 total points in the voting consisting of 57 voters in the AP Top 25. Frost beat out Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney for the award following an undefeated 12-0 season at UCF that ended with an AAC championship and a berth in the Peach Bowl as the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Despite already being hired to be the head coach at Nebraska and UCF hiring a new head coach, Frost has stayed committed to coaching the Knights in the bowl game even if it makes for some long days flying between Lincoln and Orlando as he pulls double duty.

Frost turned UCF football around in short order. After inheriting a team that had gone 0-12 just prior to his arrival, Frost reinvigorated the mindset of the program and led UCF to a 6-7 season in his debut as UCF head coach in 2016. To follow that up in 2017, Frost led UCF to an undefeated season and conference championship to help return the program to a big bowl game for the first time since facing Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl with Blake Bortles at quarterback.

Frost already collected a few coach of the year honors with the Eddie Robinson Award from the Football Writers Association of America and the Home Depot Coach of the Year award.

West Virginia WR David Sills V to return in 2018

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Watch out Big 12, because West Virginia has a very dangerous combination confirmed to be returning in 2018. Days after quarterback Will Grier announced his intention to return to Morgantown for another season, his top wide receiver says he will be there too. David Sills V announced his decision to return for the 2018 season on Monday, giving West Virginia the most potent passing combo in the Big 12 heading into next season.

“After talking with my family and my coaches and taking time in prayer, I have decided to return for my senior season at West Virginia University,” Sills said in a released statement. “I look forward to our bowl game and having another year with my teammates here in Morgantown. It is important to me to finish what I started in the classroom and help our program win a Big 12 championship. WVU holds a special place in my heart, and I am looking forward to seeing what this team can accomplish next year.”

Sills V caught 60 passes for 980 yards and a nation-leading 18 touchdowns this season for West Virginia, leading to being named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award and multiple All-American nods.

“David proved this year that he can be one of the best receivers in college football,” West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Another season will help him improve in all areas, and I know our fans will be excited  to see him team up with Will Grier for another year.”