Will Muschamp

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 19 Florida

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2011 record: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in SEC (3rd in East)

2011 postseason: Gator Bowl (24-17 win over Ohio State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Will Muschamp (7-6 in one season at Florida)

Offensive coordinator: Brent Pease (first season at Florida, first as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 73rd rushing offense (143 ypg); 89th passing offense (185.7 ypg); 105th total offense (328.7 ypg); 71st scoring offense (25.5 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Dan Quinn (second season at Florida, second as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 40th rushing defense (132.7 ypg); 7th passing defense (166.8 ypg); 8th total defense (299.5 ypg); 20th scoring defense (20.3 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: 10

Location: Gainesville, Fla.

Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (88,548; grass)

Last league title: 2008

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
The Charlie Weis Era as offensive coordinator is over, replaced by former Boise State assistant Brent Pease.  Ask just about any member of Gator Nation and that will be the first … and second … and third, etc., thing mentioned if asked why they’re optimistic Florida will turn it around in the second season under Will Muschamp.  Well, that and the 10 starters returning from a unit that finished 8th and 20th in total and scoring defense, respectively, in 2011.  The schedule also bears mentioning as the Gators’ three toughest SEC games are all at home or at a neutral site — LSU and South Carolina in The Swamp, Georgia in Jacksonville.

The Bad
Did you not watch the Gators in 2011 or see the stats above? The offense was offensively bad, bordering on the criminal. Two of the few talented bright spots offensively for Florida — running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey — are gone.  Then again, so is Weis, so the slate is officially clean on that side of the ball.  And there is talent at the skill position.  And Weis is gone, too, so it might not be as bleak as first blush suggests.

The Unknown
One of the biggest and most talented reasons for such a staunch 2011 defense was the presence of defensive end/freak Ronald Powell.  Unfortunately, the junior tore an ACL during the spring and will be unable to make a return until, at the earliest, mid-October. The loss of a talent like Powell for half a season will have an effect; losing that talent for the entire season will indeed put a dent in what’s shaping up to be one of the best defenses in the SEC. Perhaps an even bigger unknown is at the quarterback position as Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel attempt to shake off the Weis malaise and solidify a position that’s been lacking since you-know-who blessed the Gainesville campus.

Make-or-break game: vs. South Carolina, Oct. 20
The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against Georgia could easily have been placed here, but the game against the Gamecocks will serve as the first real SEC East test for a team quietly holding increased expectations in its second season under Muschamp.  A 17-12 loss in Columbia last season will serve as additional motivation as the Gamecocks come to The Swamp.

Heisman hopeful: None
No apologies are really necessary, but, sorry, “Heisman hopeful” and “2012 Florida football” don’t even belong in the same library let alone in the same sentence.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Demoted by BC, Todd Fitch takes over as LaTech’s OC

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 19:  Head coach Skip Holtz of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs objects to a call during the first half of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 19, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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A promotion in 2015 was quickly followed by a demotion a year later for Todd Fitch.  Not long after the latter went down, Fitch left town for a fresh start to his coaching career.

Friday, Skip Holtz announced that Fitch has been hired as his offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech.  Additionally, Fitch will serve as the wide receivers coach for the Bulldogs.

Fitch had spent the past three seasons at Boston College, first as receivers coach and passing-game coordinator in 2013-14 before being promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015.  However, BC head coach Steve Addazio announced in mid-January that he had hired Scott Loeffler as his coordinator, effectively demoting Fitch back to receivers coach.

Three weeks later, Fitch headed south.

“I am excited to be joining a staff that is part of growing something special,” Fitch said. “This coaching staff has laid the groundwork for a program that has already done some great things and is building a foundation for future success. I am excited for the opportunity to be on a staff with Skip Holtz again and to keep growing this program.”

In addition to BC, Fitch had also been a coordinator at East Carolina and USF. Holtz was the head coach at both of those stops.

San Jose State QB Malik Watson latest to take grad transfer route

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The San Jose State Spartans marching band plays their fight song against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second quarter on November 29, 2013 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California.  The Spartans won 62-52.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to ply his final season of college football wares elsewhere.

The latest to take that tack is Malik Watson, who announced via Twitter that he has “decided that I will not be returning to San Jose State for my senior and will be seeking elsewhere to pursue my dream.”  As Watson will graduate from SJSU this May, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if he lands at another FBS school and enrolls in a grad program not offered at his former school.

Watson added that, as he awaits a new destination, he “will continue to train with my private QB coach in this meantime.”

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A California high school product who was born in Hawaii, Watson transferred from the junior college ranks to SJSU in 2014. After redshirting that first year, the 6-3, 208-pound Watson played in two games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.

In that time, Watson completed 9-of-15 passes for 59 yards and an interception. Of the 15 attempts, 14 came in the Week 3 loss to Oregon State.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.

Hip issue forces Mizzou RB Morgan Steward to retire

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Thomas Tyner isn’t the only Power Five running back forced to step away from the sport because of injury.

Back in November of 2014, Morgan Steward sustained a hip injury during the early portion of Missouri’s summer camp.  Specifically, the running back said at the time, “[m]y hip joint popped out of place, tore things around, pulled off some of the bone.”

Surgery that November sidelined him until camp the following year, but Steward managed to play the first three games of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, the back was shut down in late September for the remainder of the year; five months later, he’s being shut down permanently as Mizzou officials have confirmed that Steward will be forced to retire from the sport and end the playing portion of his football career.

A three-star member of the Tigers’ 2012 recruiting class, Steward ran for 84 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman. Prior to the hip injury the following year, Steward was viewed as a back who could potentially shoulder a significant portion of the running-game load, rushing for 117 yards and three touchdowns in a scrimmage during spring practice in 2014. Post-injury, he ran for 18 yards in the three 2015 games.

The good news for Steward is that he has his degree from Mizzou in business communications.