Arkansas Wilson passes as Kansas State Kibble applies pressure during the Cotton Bowl Classic football game in Arlington, Texas

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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Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.

Penn State fires offensive coordinator John Donovan

Penn State football practice, Sept 9, 2015

Penn State has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan, the program announced Sunday.

“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

Donovan originally hooked up with Franklin when the two were at Maryland, then coordinated his offenses at Vanderbilt and later Penn State.

Despite playing with what many project to be a future first-round pick in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State ranked 101st nationally in scoring, 108th in total offense and 80th in yards per play.

Penn State dropped its final three games of the regular season and averaged only 14.6 points in its five losses.

Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

Markell Jones
AP Photo

It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

Associated Press

Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.