CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 24 Louisville

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2011 record: 7-6 overall, 5-2 in Big East (1st-tie)

2011 postseason: Belk Bowl (31-24 loss to North Carolina State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Charlie Strong (14-13 overall, 14-12 in two seasons at Louisville)

Offensive coordinator: Shawn Watson (second season at Louisville, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 93rd rushing offense (121.5 ypg); 74th passing offense (211.5 ypg); 103rd total offense (333 ypg); 98th scoring offense (21.9 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Vance Bedford (third season at Louisville, third as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 10th rushing defense (100.5 ypg); 68th passing defense (227.4 ypg); 23rd total defense (327.9 ypg); 17th scoring defense (20.1 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Louisville, Ky.

Stadium: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011 (co-champs with Cincinnati and West Virginia)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Every year I have a feeling that I’m rating a team way too low — see Auburn, 2010 — and this year the Cardinals are the team I simply, for whatever reason, couldn’t pull the trigger on a higher ranking and will likely regret it at season’s end. With 14 starters returning from a very youthful squad and West Virginia leaving for the Big 12, the ‘Ville is clearly the class of the Big East in 2012. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who started as a true freshman last season, is a superstar in training and in possession of a ceiling as high as any player at his position in the country. A defense that was well above average is expected to see nothing but improvement with seven returning starters.

The Bad
Two of the first three games of the new season are home contests against Kentucky and North Carolina, while road trips to defending Conference USA champ Southern Miss and Big East rival (for now) Pittsburgh as well as a home game against USF await in late September/mid-October. For a team as young as the Cardinals will be yet again, it could be a rough start to the season — or just the seasoning the squad needs to go back-to-back in the Big East.

The Unknown
Last season, West Virginia was the clear preseason front-runner in the Big East. This year, it’s Louisville. How that status as the hunted instead of the hunter is handled will be a fascinating dynamic to watch play out, especially, again, given the baby-faced makeup of the roster.

Make-or-break game: vs. USF, Oct. 20
I agree with the esteemed Phil Steele: USF should be the surprise team in the Big East and may loom as the Cardinals’ biggest obstacle to a conference title. The ‘Ville traveled to the Bulls and came out with a 10-point win in the regular-season finale that helped land the Cardinals a co-Big East title. Another win, this one at home, over the experienced Bulls would go a long ways toward securing another title.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
While 14 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions doesn’t exactly scream Heisman candidate, there’s no denying the talent Bridgewater possesses and how much potential the sophomore has still yet to tap into.  Charlie Strong and his coaching staff did a masterful job easing the true freshman into his role as a first-year starter, never allowing Bridgewater to throw more than 30 passes in a single game until the Belk Bowl loss to North Carolina State that saw the ball in the air 43 times. This year, however, expect to see more — much more? — of the offensive load to shift to Bridgewater’s right arm, which as a result should lead to a vast statistical improvement.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Wazzu statement: ‘The tragic news today surrounding Tyler Hilinksi is devastating to all’

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Tuesday night, the Pullman Police Department confirmed that 21-year-old Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski was found dead in his apartment of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.  Very early Wednesday morning, the football program and athletic department released statements addressing the devastating developments.

HEAD FOOTBALL COACH MIKE LEACH
We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Tyler’s passing. He was an incredible young man and everyone who had the privilege of knowing him was better for it. The entire WSU community mourns as thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

INTERIM ATHLETIC DIRECTOR John Johnson
The tragic news today surrounding Tyler Hilinski is devastating to all. Tyler was a tremendous individual, great friend and teammate, and he will be deeply missed. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.

Earlier tonight, the football team was brought together and informed of the tragedy. There, they were met by campus and department counseling and psychological services, including athletics’ on-staff clinical psychologist and a licensed mental health counselor, along with WSU Athletics medical team. The university will continue to coordinate and provide ongoing counseling care for all student-athletes as long as needed.

Washington State QB Tyler Hilinski found dead in apparent suicide

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There is utterly tragic and horrific news coming out of Pullman Tuesday night.

According to the Pullman Police Department, Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski was found dead at his apartment late Tuesday afternoon of what was described as an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. “A rifle was discovered next to Hilinski and a suicide note was found,” the police stated in a release.

Police officers were called to the residence at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:40 p.m. local time) for a wellness check after the redshirt sophomore failed to show up for a team activity earlier in the day.

Hilinski was just 21 years old.

As of this posting, there’s been no official response from the football program regarding the passing of Hilinski.  Wednesday, the university had been expected to announce the new athletic director replacing Bill Moos, Florida Atlantic’s Pat Chun; because of the football player’s death, that press conference will be rescheduled for a later date.

In place of Luke Falk, Hilinski started Wazzu’s Holiday Bowl loss to Michigan State.  With Falk off to the NFL, Hilinski was expected to be the Cougars’ starting quarterback in 2018.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Hilinski’s way-too-early passing.

Former Nebraska OL coach Mike Cavanaugh hired by Syracuse

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Dino Babers has added a very experienced trenchman to his Syracuse coaching staff.

The school confirmed Tuesday that Babers has hired Mike Cavanaugh as his next offensive line coach. In a coaching career that spans 32 seasons, Cavanaugh has been a line coach in some form or fashion for 31 of them.

“Mike has an outstanding track record of teaching and developing quality offensive linemen,” Babers said in a statement. “He’s done it successfully at every level in college as well as the pros. This was an opportunity to add someone whose knowledge and experience will greatly enhance our staff and benefit our players.”

The past three seasons, Cavanaugh was the line coach at Nebraska. At the FBS level, he’s also served as a line coach at Oregon State (2005-14) and Hawaii (1999-2004).

From 1997-98, Cavanaugh was the assistant offensive line coach for the NFL’s San Diego Chargers.

“I’d like to thank Coach Babers for this opportunity and for welcoming me into the Syracuse family,” Cavanaugh said. “He and his staff have coached some of the most prolific offenses in college football. I’m excited to learn from them and to be part of the championship-caliber program they are building at Syracuse.”

The 2018 season will mark the first time since 2004 Cavanaugh is not a part of a Mike Riley-coached staff.

Kevin Stepherson one of four dismissed by Notre Dame

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At least in South Bend, Kevin Stepherson‘s freefall is complete.

According to 247Sports.com, Stepherson, along with three other Notre Dame football players — sophomore running backs CJ Holmes and Deon McIntosh as well as junior defensive tackle Brandon Tiassum — have been dismissed from the Fighting Irish program.  No specific reason or reasons for the dismissals were given.

Stepherson was one of four Irish players who were suspended for the team’s Citrus Bowl matchup with LSU, with the wide receiver’s suspension stemming from a handful of off-field issues.

Dec. 15, Stepherson was arrested for shoplifting.  The day before that arrest, Stepherson was pulled over on a traffic stop and charged with marijuana possession, driving without a valid license and speeding (he was clocked doing 80 in a 60 mph zone). To make matters worse, at the time of his twin arrests the receiver was already on probation for a marijuana-related arrest in August of 2016.

Adding to the off-field issues, Stepherson was suspended for the first four games of the 2017 season for reasons unrelated to the arrest in August of 2016.

At the time of the second suspension, Stepherson led the Fighting Irish in receiving touchdowns with five and yards per catch at 18.9 despite missing one-third of the regular season because of the first suspension.  His 19 receptions and 359 receiving yards were both good for third on the team.

Another of the players who were dismissed, Holmes, was arrested along with Stepherson in the shoplifting incident.  Holmes ran for 32 yards on eight carries this season.

McIntosh was the fourth of the four players suspended for the bowl game.  At the time of his suspension, McIntosh was third on the team in rushing with 368 yards and five touchdowns.

Tiassum played very sparsely this past season, and wasn’t looking at much more playing time in 2018.