CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 12 Clemson

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2011 record: 10-4 overall, 6-2 in ACC (1st-tie in Atlantic)

2011 postseason: ACC title game (38-10 win over Virginia Tech); Orange Bowl (70-33 loss to West Virginia)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 22/No. 22

Head coach: Dabo Swinney (29-19 in four seasons at Clemson)

Offensive coordinator: Chad Morris (second season at Clemson, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 59th rushing offense (158.5 ppg); 21st passing offense (282.3 ypg); 26th total offense (440.8 ypg); 24th scoring offense (33.6 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: six

Defensive coordinator: Brent Venables (first season at Clemson, first as OC)

2011 defensive rankings: 83rd rushing defense (176.9 ypg); 50th passing defense (217.5 ypg); 71st total defense (394.4 ypg); 81st scoring defense (29.3 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Clemson, S.C.

Stadium: Memorial Stadium (81,500; grass)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Three of the most productive offensive players at their positions in the country — quarterback Tajh Boyd, wide receiver Sammy Watkins and running back Andre Ellington — are back for another season of havoc-wreaking in the ACC.  Perhaps the scariest part of that returning trio for the conference is last season was the first in Chad Morris’ scheme; with another offseason under its collective belt, that three-headed offensive monster should be downright frightening in 2012.

The Bad
See those numbers a few inches above, the ones that state the Tigers owned the 71st defense in total yards allowed and was an embarrassing 81st in scoring defense?  Yeah, that was bad.  While most people will point to — and laugh at — the 70 points hung on Clemson’s defense by West Virginia in the bowl game, the Tigers gave up at least 30 points to Maryland (45), North Carolina (38), North Carolina State (37), South Carolina (34), Georgia Tech (31) and Florida State (30).  The good in the bad, though, is the fact that Swinney “parted ways” with coordinator Kevin Steele and replaced him with Brent Venables, who comes to the Tigers after overseeing stifling defenses at Oklahoma for the past 12 seasons.  Another issue that most certainly falls into the bad for Clemson is freshman wide receiver sensation Sammy Watkins’ suspension for the first two games of the season, which includes the season opener against Auburn.

The Unknown
As odd as it may sound, it’s fair to ask if there will be any carryover from the 70-33 beatdown at the hands of the Mountaineers to close out the 2011 season.  The biggest plus from that shellacking is that it led to the change at coordinator and, especially with the presence of Venables, any chance of a lingering hangover is a long shot at best.  However, it will be something to watch early on in the season, especially with games against Auburn and Florida State in the first month of the new football year.

Make-or-break game: at Florida State, Sept. 29
The Seminoles were one of the Tigers’ victims in a string of eight straight wins to open the 2011 season, although Clemson would win just two of its final five games as the Tigers spit and sputtered their way through the remainder of the schedule.  Traveling to Tallahassee to face a team that (once again) is expected to be a prominent player nationally, however, is a different animal entirely for the Tigers.  Fortunately for Clemson, it will have three games to get its new defensive legs underneath them, as well as one game to work Watkins back into game shape coming off the suspension.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Tajh Boyd
Boyd flourished in his first season with Morris as coordinator, and 2012 portends even bigger production for the junior.  Last season, Boyd passed for just over 3,800 yards and 33 touchdowns, although the 12 interceptions — some at critical junctures — remain a lingering concern.  Not enough, however, to keep Boyd out of the Heisman mix as continued improvement is not only expected but being counted on to help elevate the Tigers to that next level nationally.

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Finalists announced for a number of individual awards

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The final week of the regular season is upon us. Heck, some teams still have two games to play between now and bowl season. Still, it’s awards season in college football, and the petty matter of actual games won’t get in the way of the pageantry.

Let’s dive right in.

Bednarik Award (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver)
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
David Sills V, West Virginia
James Washington, Oklahoma State

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Ed Oliver, Houston
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Butkus Award (best linebacker)
Devin Bush, Michigan
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Doak Walker Award (best running back)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josh Jackson, Iowa

John Mackey Award (best tight end)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Mike Geisicki, Penn State

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Dominik Eberle, Utah State
Matt Gay, Utah

Maxwell Award (best overall player)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Outland Trophy (best interior player)
Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Ed Oliver, Houston

Ray Guy Award (best punter)
Michael Dickson, Texas
J.K. Scott, Alabama
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah

Wuerffel Trophy (best community servant)
Blaise Taylor, Arkansas State
Courtney Love, Kentucky
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

Winners will be announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards show in Atlanta, Thursday, Dec. 7 on ESPN.

Kentucky loses TE C.J. Conrad to foot injury

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Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad has been lost for the season to a lisfranc injury in his left foot, head coach Mark Stoops announced Monday. He will undergo surgery to correct the issue on Tuesday.

Though he caught just 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Conrad was Kentucky’s leading receiver this season. The junior caught one 17-yard pass in Big Blue’s 41-38 defeat of Louisville last season.

With Conrad, a junior, out, Kentucky will turn to senior Greg Hart and/or sophomore Justin Rigg at tight end, though the Louisville Courier-Journal notes that both have battled injuries of late.

Kentucky will close the season against Louisville in Lexington on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network) and in a to-be-determined bowl game.

Joey Jones steps down as South Alabama head coach

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There’s never a good time to lose a football game 52-0, but even by that scale it’s an especially bad thing to lose 52-0 in a game you had to win to keep your bowl hopes alive to a team so disgusted by its own season that it fired its head coach a month ago.

That’s what South Alabama did on Saturday in dropping a 52-0 decision to Georgia Southern, giving the Eagles their first win of the season.

And on Monday, South Alabama announced head coach Joey Jones will resign following the Jaguars’ Dec. 2 finale at New Mexico State.

“There comes a time in every program where there is a need for change.  For this program that I love so much, that time is now,” Jones said in a statement.  “One of the proudest days of my professional life was being the named the first head coach at South Alabama.  Today is difficult, but it is the right step for me, my family and for this football program.”

Jones is the only head coach South Alabama has ever known, hired Feb. 15, 2008. He led the Jags for three seasons as an FCS Independent before joining the Sun Belt in 2012, taking the club to bowl games in 2014 and 2016.

The loss Saturday dropped the program to 4-7 this season, ending hopes of returning to a bowl game for the first time in the program’s short history.

“Joey Jones is the father of our football program.  He, his wife Elise and his entire family put their arms around the program and committed to its establishment and growth,” said AD Dr. Joel Erdmann.  “He has placed South Alabama Football on strong footing, which is something he and his family can be very proud of and we sincerely appreciate.  His good, hard work and commitment will forever be recognized.”

As Bronco Mendenhall denies interest, Oregon State reportedly interviews two Pac-12 coordinators

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A report broke over the weekend that Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall was a person of interest in the ongoing Oregon State coaching search. An Oregon State graduate with significant experience in the region as BYU’s former head coach, Mendenhall made a lot of sense for the Beavers. Problem is, the Beavers didn’t make a lot of sense for Mendenhall, and on Monday he effectively withdrew his name from the search.

No matter, Oregon State quickly moved on to a group of qualified, logical candidates. According to Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune, Oregon State interim head coach Cory Hall, Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin and Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith have interviewed for the post.

Eggers wrote that Hall is running significantly behind the other two, but that Oregon State AD Scott Barnes would work to influence the actual hire to retain Hall.

Baldwin has a decade of experience as a head coach in the Pacific Northwest, one 10-3 season at Central Washington and an 85-32 run with an FCS national championship in nine seasons at Eastern Washington. Baldwin left EWU to become Justin Wilcox‘s offensive coordinator in Berkeley last winter.

Smith doesn’t have Bladwin’s head coaching experience, but he does have more successful experience within the Pac-12 and at Oregon State in particular. Smith has been Chris Petersen‘s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for his entire run at Washington, and spent two years as Boise State’s quarterbacks coach before that.

Smith was also a record-setting quarterback at Oregon State and began his coaching career as a Beavers graduate assistant in 2002-03.