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.

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Report: Alabama RB B.J. Emmons, CB Aaron Robinson leaving program

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The Alabama Crimson Tide may not be hurting on the depth chart as a result, but two players are leaving the program in search of other opportunities. Running back B.J. Emmons and cornerback Aaron Robinson are both leaving Tuscaloosa, according to a report from AL.com.

As the news was breaking, multiple reports say Emmons has enrolled at Hutchinson Community College. Emmons missed some games last season due to a foot injury, but he is expected to be back to 100 percent health this fall. Of course, at Alabama, the running back position is stacked and difficult to get much playing time to begin with. Robinson was also expected to be a backup for Alabama this fall after working with the second team unit in the spring.

Emmons was Alabama’s fifth-leading rusher in 2016 with 173 yards and a touchdown in seven games. Robinson appeared in 13 games and recorded five total tackles as a freshman.

Both Emmons and Robinson will be eligible to play for another FBS program starting in 2018 after sitting out the 2017 season, due to NCAA transfer rules. They are eligible to play at a lower division school this fall, whether it is an FCS or lower program or a junior college. The junior college route appears to be the path Emmons is taking by enrolling at a community college.

Fifth member of Jim McElwain’s first recruiting class at Florida to transfer

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Florida’s secondary continues to face some depth concerns ahead of the 2017 season. The depth chart lost Chris Williamson, multiple reports confirmed today, who is opting to transfer to a new school.

The former four-star defensive back was recently guided through a position change to pad the depth at the safety position this spring. Williamson has spent the past two seasons in Gainesville and has appeared in 14 games with one start. He came to Florida as part of the first recruiting class signed by Gators head coach Jim McElwain in 2015, and he is now the fifth player from that class to transfer, according to Inside the Gators.

From Inside the Gators;

Williamson is the fifth player from Jim McElwain’s inaugural recruiting class at Florida in 2015 to transfer from the program, joining running back Jordan Cronkrite (USF), offensive lineman Brandon Sandifer, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (USC) and tight end/linebacker Camrin Knight (Georgia State).

The news of Williamson’s intent to transfer comes on the same day Florida revealed it will be without safety Marcell Harris for the 2017 season. Harris suffered a torn Achilles tendon that will force the fifth-year senior to miss the entire 2017 season.

Williamson will have to sit out the 2017 college football season if he transfers to another FBS program, according to NCAA transfer rules. He will be eligible to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a program at the FCS level or below.

Report: Joe Flacco’s brother no longer part of the Western Michigan program

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P.J. Fleck may not be the only person leaving Western Michigan this year. It appears as though quarterback Tom Flacco could also be out.

As reported by Andy Pepper of WWMT-TV, via Twitter, Flacco has left the football program for what is now undisclosed reasons. The school has not announced or confirmed this development, but Hustle Belt has noted Flacco’s name is nowhere to be found on the team’s roster on the school’s official website.

Where Flacco goes next is anybody’s guess at this point. If he does end up transferring to another program, he will do so with two years of eligibility to use after sitting out the 2017 season. He would be eligible to play immediately this fall if he ends up at a lower division football program.

Flacco is the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback and former Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco. Maybe Tom is following in his brother’s footsteps. Joe Flacco started his collegiate career at Pittsburgh. After backing up Tyler Palko in 2004, Flacco opted to transfer to Delaware, where he helped get the Blue Hens to a national championship game, where they lost to the same Appalachian State that upset Michigan in 2007.

Lane Kiffin stands by decision and process of hiring Kendal Briles

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When Lane Kiffin made the decision to bring Kendal Briles to FAU as an assistant, plenty of eyebrows were raised. Considering the fallout from Baylor and the connection Briles had to it, it was a controversial staff decision, to say the least. Kiffin explained at Conference USA media day FAU’s compliance office took care of conducting a thorough vetting process to make sure the hiring of Briles would not come back to haunt them.

They really handled that,” Kiffin said, per 247 Sports. “That was more from an athletic director standpoint to handling all that stuff, talking to him and talking to people there and going through it. Then they felt sure. I was more from a football standpoint, saying, ‘Hey, I this is the guy I want to hire.’ Then they did the rest and said, ‘Hey, we feel comfortable about this.’”

This is not the first time Kiffin has had to address the hiring of the controversial assistant football coach. the new head coach of the FAU Owls though remained focused on what Briles brings to the table from a football standpoint and not what kind of baggage comes with it. A month after Briles had been hired, a report connected Briles to contributing to the disturbing culture that took over the Baylor football program under his father, Art Briles. The same report said a lawsuit alleged 52 rapes by football players in the Baylor football program.

“At the time it was not as magnified as the stuff is now,” Kiffin explained, referring to the timeline of events from hiring Briles to the release of the report. “It really wasn’t like it is now. These articles and stuff weren’t out there at the time. So there wasn’t a shock factor like now would be.”

The shock factor may have been elevated, but simply hiring anyone from the Baylor football program coming off the scandal it experienced alone was controversial enough. That it was Kiffin who made the call brought even more notoriety to the hiring.