CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 15 Arkansas

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2011 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in SEC (3rd in West)

2011 postseason: Cotton Bowl (29-16 win over Kansas State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 5/No. 5

Head coach: John L. Smith (132-86 overall, first season at Arkansas)

Offensive coordinator: Paul Petrino (first season back at Arkansas as OC after spending two seasons at Illinois)

2011 offensive rankings: 81st rushing offense (137.4 ypg); 13th passing offense (300.7 ypg); 29th total offense (438.1 ypg); 15th scoring offense (36.8 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Paul Haynes (first season as Arkansas DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 74th rushing defense (167.6 ypg); 25th passing defense (195.2 ypg); 47th total defense (362.8 ypg); 33rd scoring defense (22.2 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Fayetteville, Ark.

Stadium: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (80,000; PowerBlade HP turf)

Last league title: 1989 (Southwest)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
For one, quarterback Tyler Wilson, one of the top players at his position in the country.  Despite the loss of a handful of talented receivers, Wilson will still have plenty of returning talent to which to throw.  Drawing the powerful combo of Alabama and LSU at home is certainly a plus, although playing the likes of those two national title contenders anywhere would certainly not qualify as a picnic at any level.

The Bad
Take your pick as to the bad for the Razorbacks in 2012.  The offseason soap opera that led to a change at head coach, with John L. Smith replacing the ousted Bobby Petrino on what’s presumed to be a one-year basis.  Or there’s still having to get over that SEC West hump that consists of the annual matchups with Alabama and LSU.  Or Knile Davis returning to full strength health-wise in the rugged SEC after a significant ankle injury prematurely ended his 2011 season.  Arkansas certainly has the talent of a Top 10 team, but will it be able to successfully navigate all three of those obstacles, particularly the latter two?

The Unknown
Flip a coin between Davis staying healthy and maintaining his explosive self or the squad being able to get past the drama that was the Hogs’ offseason.  Losing Petrino, merely from the offensive perspective and even with another Petrino at the steering wheel, is a huge blow that seems to have been pushed to the side by the presence of the verbose and ultra-confident Smith.

Make-or-break game: ???
Grab another coin, or the same one used above, and flip it again.  Alabama Sept. 15?  LSU Nov. 24? “Sir, would you like the steel-toed boot that’s hurtling toward your groin to be a size 12 or size 13?”  The Razorbacks only two blemishes in 2011 were to the Tide and Tigers; the past three years, Arkansas has just one win in six attempts over the twosome.  Until the Hogs can get past both, they’ll continue to be perennial SEC West also-rans.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Tyler Wilson
3,648 yards passing and 24 touchdowns — against just six interceptions — while playing quarterback for a top-ten SEC team will certainly get you attention from the voters, and that’s certain to happen as the senior embarks on his final season with the Razorbacks.  The loss of the man who put him into the position to be mentioned in Heisman talk will likely hurt, but the fact that Bobby Petrino’s brother Paul is the offensive coordinator can do nothing but soften the blow.  Wilson expects no hiccups as a result of the coaching change; whether that’s the case will determine how deep into the season he remains a topic of Heisman conversation.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.