Gator Bowl - Ohio State v Florida

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 17 Ohio State

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2011 record: 6-7 overall, 4-5 in Big Ten (4th in Leaders)

2011 postseason: Gator Bowl (24-17 loss to Florida)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Urban Meyer (104-23 overall, first season at Ohio State)

Offensive coordinator: Tom Herman (first season at OSU, first as OC); Ed Warriner (first season at OSU, first as co-OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 27th rushing offense (191.1 ypg); 115th passing offense (127 ypg); 107th total offense (318.1 ypg); 81st scoring offense (24.5 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Luke Fickell (11th season at OSU, first as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 50th rushing defense (141.5 ypg); 14th passing defense (182 ypg); 19th total defense (323.5 ypg); 27th scoring defense (21 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: nine

Location: Columbus, Ohio

Stadium: Ohio Stadium (102,329; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2010 (co-champs with Michigan State and Wisconsin)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
A total of 16 starters returning from a season that the Buckeyes had to navigate its way through without long-time coach Jim Tressel.  In comes two-time BcS-winning coach Urban Meyer, injecting some much-needed enthusiasm and optimism to a program dealing with NCAA sanctions.  Part of that enthusiasm and optimism, especially from Meyer, comes from Braxton Miller, the true sophomore who showed flashes of brilliance in his first season as a starter at this level in 2011.  The best part when it comes to Miller may be — likely will be — yet to come as his dual-threat ability is a hand-in-glove fit for Meyer’s spread offense.  Add in a defense was above average in 2011 and returns nine starters in 2012, and you have a team hellbent on playing spoiler early — or very late in the season as the case may be — and often.

The Bad
Regardless of how well the Buckeyes adapt to Meyer and his new coaching staff, OSU will be ineligible for the postseason — Big Ten championship game and a bowl game — thanks to NCAA sanctions levied for the actions of the previous regime.  Keeping his squad focused on improving throughout the season — especially for what will be their bowl game, The Game vs. Michigan — will be Job One for Meyer & Co.

The Unknown
How much of an impact will Jordan Hall’s freak injury impact the running game?  Last season’s third-leading rusher was expected to provide half of a 1-2 RB punch with Carlos Hyde, but the senior cut the bottom of his right foot from stepping on a piece of glass.  That injury could have Hall, listed as the No. 1 RB on the depth chart prior to his injury, out through the middle of September if not longer.  While it’s certainly far from devastating, watching how Hyde and sophomore Rod Smith handle the running-game workload will be interesting to say the least.

Make-or-break game: vs. Michigan, Nov. 24
In a normal year, The Game would be the make-or-break game for either side.  With Ohio State on probation and ineligible for the postseason of any kind, The Game becomes The Postseason for the Buckeyes in 2012.  As if it needed an additional layer of importance, there’s the fact that the Wolverines dropped the Buckeyes 40-34 last season, snapping a streak of seven straight wins — six, technically — over its bitter That School Up North rivals.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Braxton Miller
A year away from entering any type of meaningful Heisman discussion, Miller is nonetheless the only current Buckeye with the type of talent to merit inclusion on even the periphery of the talk.  As a true freshman last season, Miller led the Buckeyes with 714 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, while also throwing for 13 touchdowns and tossing just four interceptions.  He was limited to just 157 pass attempts under interim head coach Luke Fickell; with Meyer at the helm and with that year’s worth of on-the-job training, expect that number to double and, potentially, place his name on the lips of Heisman voters.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Chip Kelly says he never met to discuss USC vacancy

Chip Kelly

Whether you chose to believe him or not, at least Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is officially on the record. During his regularly scheduled Monday press conference in Philadelphia, Kelly said he never met with anybody to discuss the previously vacant head coaching position at USC.

Alright then. So at least that’s that. (But what about his agent?)

USC filled the head coaching position this morning by officially announcing Clay Helton will remain the head coach after serving as the interim head coach following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian earlier this season. Kelly, the former head coach at Oregon, has had his name attached to multiple coaching rumors at the college level since he left for the NFL, including Texas and Florida before this position at USC opened. Kelly has stood firm on his public statements about not having any interest in a college job, but that never seems to silence the fun hypothetical discussions about his probable eventual return to college football.

Houston and Tom Herman have agreement in principle on new contract

UH Coach Tom Herman
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As the coaching carousel continues to spin, it seems Tom Herman will rest comfortably in Houston for at least one more season. Herman reportedly has an agreement in principle on a new contract to remain the head coach of the Houston Cougars.

We’ve agreed in principle is the best way to put it,” Herman said Monday during a press conference. “We’re working out the details.”

It was previously reported Houston had approved a significant pay raise for the first-year head coach, going up to $3 million with the reworked contract and making it a financial incentive to stay put as job offers flowed in. The push to make Herman the highest-paid coach in the Group of Five, passing Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville ($2.2 million). With a solid foundation for future success, at least in the American Athletic Conference and Group of Five picture, Houston’s financial commitment to Herman is a sign the program is ready and able to work as close to a power conference program as possible.

Herman’s name will continue to be one to watch in future coaching rumors, and in this world we should never say never to the possibility of Herman still being in play for a job elsewhere in this cycle of coaching changes. If Herman and Houston continue to win games, there is no question his stock will remain a valued commodity for power conference programs in the years to come.

Herman and Houston will host Temple this Saturday afternoon in the first American Athletic Conference championship game. The winner will be a lock for receiving the New Years Six bowl spot reserved for the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Houston vs. Ohio State (Herman vs. Urban Meyer) is a real possibility in one of the New Years Six bowl games.

Not everybody seems happy about USC’s hiring of Clay Helton

Clay Helton

If there is one thing that can be said about USC hiring Clay Helton as head coach on a permanent basis, it is that it provides stability for the program moving forward. Current players have responded well to Helton. Future Trojans players are responding well to Helton on the recruiting trail. Former USC players? Well, that’s a different situation.

We saw some of this at Miami in recent years with former Hurricanes ripping now former head coach Al Golden. That was a bit of a different situation with Golden being a coach that went against the grain of all that was perceived to be representative of The U. Helton is different because he has been loyal to the program as an assistant coach during a turbulent time. He at least deserves respect of those following and those who have played for USC for that alone. The problem is Helton lacks the kind of appeal most wearing USC lenses expect from their coaching hire and it seems more likely to believe athletics director Pat Haden settled for Helton instead of being able to expand the coaching search and bring in a high-quality coach for the job.

There is one way to swing the emotions the other way for those unhappy with the decision. If USC beats Stanford to win the Pac-12 championship this week, that would be one step in the right direction for the Helton haters and the Haden skeptics (myself included). The pressure will be on more next season regardless of what happens this week in the Pac-12 championship game and whatever bowl game USC ends up playing. USC will be loaded with talent and will be a trendy pick to make a run in the Pac-12 and, perhaps, even the College Football Playoff.

USC names Clay Helton permanent head coach

Clay Helton

The top coaching vacancy in college football has been filled. USC has announced it will remove the interim tag from Clay Helton and make him the permanent head coach moving forward.

Helton has gone 5-2 since taking over the program following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian as head coach. The most recent win this weekend against UCLA both snapped a three-game losing streak to the crosstown rival Bruins and clinched USC’s first trip to the Pac-12 championship game as Pac-12 South Division champions. Helton has been with the USC program since 2010 under various assistant roles. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013 and named interim head coach that season following the firing of Lane Kiffin. He stayed on the staff following the hiring of Sarkisian from Washington.

Helton had become a clear player favorite in the program, as Helton calmed a troublesome environment of uncertainty in the middle fo the season and delivered a division championship. The only losses under Helton came on the road against Notre Dame in Helton’s first game as interim head coach and more recently at Oregon, a program that revived itself as well. If nothing else, Helton’s being named the head coach provides for some stability for the program, although there should be some questions moving forward whether it will be the right move or not in the long term. The USC job was thought to be the top job on the market and worthy of some high-caliber candidates. There had been rumblings USC reached out to Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, a former Oregon coach of course, but the odds Kelly was going to leave the Eagles on his own a year after getting general manager power were always low.

USC will continue to bring plenty of pressure to win, and win big. Helton will continue to guide a roster packed with talent and getting back to full strength after a stretch of sanctioned seasons. If Helton does not win, he will quickly enter the hot seat conversation.

USC plays Stanford for the Pac-12 championship this week.