Michael Rocco

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 25 Virginia

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2011 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in ACC (2nd-tie Coastal)

2011 postseason: Chick-fil-A Bowl (43-24 loss to Auburn)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Mike London (36-18 overall, 12-13 in two seasons at Virginia)

Offensive coordinator: Bill Lazor (third season at Virginia, third as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 52nd rushing offense (162.1 ypg); 56th passing offense (238 ypg); 46th total offense (399.8 ypg); 86th scoring offense (23.2 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: six

Defensive coordinator: Jim Reid (third season at Virginia, third as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 48th rushing defense (139.5 ypg); 45th passing defense (212.2 ypg); 40th total defense (351.7 ypg); 46th scoring defense (23.8 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: five

Location: Charlottesville, Va.

Stadium: Scott Stadium (61,500; grass)

Last league title: 1989 (co-champs with Duke)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Winning five of six conference game had the Hoos eyeing a spot in the ACC title game heading into a home date with in-state rival Virginia Tech, although a 38-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Hokies ended any and all thoughts of a Coastal crown. The experience gleaned through that eight-win season, however, should serve Mike London and his players well as they look to build on that late-season conference momentum. The quarterback position seems in solid if unspectacular hands with the return of Michael Rocco. The backfield is also chock full of experienced backs, with three players capable of carrying the load at any given time.

The Bad
The conference road schedule, with trips to Georgia Tech, North Carolina State and Virginia Tech on the slate. The non-conference schedule is no bargain, either, with a home date against Penn State and a road game at TCU in early-season offing. Add in a very suspect defense, and the Cavaliers could be traversing a rough road in matching last year’s win total.

The Unknown
As much as we love what London is doing in Charlottesville, we have to wonder if 2011 was a perfect storm that will be very difficult to repeat despite some significant inroads made on the recruiting trail. Of the Cavaliers’ eight wins, five of them came by a combined total of 15 points. Will the same breaks be caught this season? Given the schedule, the Magic 8-ball response at the moment would be a resounding “Reply hazy, try again.”

Make-or-break game: at Virginia Tech, Nov. 24
It’s been eight seasons and nearly nine years — Nov. 29, 2003, to be precise — since Virginia was able to beat its in-state rivals. As previously noted, all the Cavaliers needed to do to be the Coastal’s representative in the ACC title game last year was beat the Hokies the last weekend of November. That didn’t happen, of course, and now Virginia will be forced to travel to Blacksburg in its attempt to win just its second game in 14 attempts in a rivalry that dates back to the late 1800’s.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Michael Rocco
OK, this is a stretch. A significant stretch. But, if the defense is as suspect as we, well, suspect, the Cavaliers will be forced to score a lot of points just to stay in games let alone win ’em. And the triggerman of what’s expected to be a vastly improved offense is Rocco, who threw for nearly 2,700 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He must improve in the turnover arena — 12 picks in just 366 attempts — but, based on his work in the spring, should show improvements in all aspects of the position.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Ohio State Buckeye first to make some Super Bowl history

Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman celebrates his two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against Purdue, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State 29-22 in overtime. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
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The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl on Sunday, which means tight end Jeff Heuerman is now the answer to a fun little trivia question for years to come. Heuerman became the first football player to win both a College Football Playoff national championship and a Super Bowl.

Heuerman was a senior tight end for Ohio State in the 2014 season, catching 207 yards and two touchdowns for the Buckeyes, who captured the first College Football Playoff national championship under the new postseason championship structure. He went on to be a third-round draft pick of the Broncos in the 2015 NFL Draft, but he tore his ACL in Denver’s rookie camp in May 2015. He was subsequently ruled out for the entire 2015 season, so his place in history comes with a tiny caveat. But he still will get a Super Bowl ring to go with his national championship ring from a year ago.

The search will go on now for the first player to both play in and win a College Football Playoff national championship and a Super Bowl. Former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was unable to make his own history with a Super Bowl win, but he may get another crack at that again before his career is done.

Helmet sticker to Reddit.

Ex-Houston coach Tony Levine reportedly finds new home at WKU

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 11:  Head coach Tony Levine of the Houston Cougars during a game against the BYU Cougars on September 11, 2014 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Jay Drowns/Getty Images)
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Former Houston coach Tony Levine — the guy who was fired after winning 21 games in three years and replaced by Tom Herman — will join Western Kentucky’s staff as an offensive assistant, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.

Levine was fired in December 2014 after coaching Houston to a 7-5 season, but the general feeling around the program appeared to be that he wasn’t keeping it on the same upward trajectory forged by Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin before him. There was some staff instability — he fired offensive coordinator Mike Nesbitt two days into the 2012 season — as well as a few embarrassing losses for a program trying to assure its foothold in the ultra-competitive football state of Texas.

At Western Kentucky, Levine will work under third-year-coach-to-be Jeff Brohm, who just steered the Hilltoppers to a 12-2 season. Not only has Western Kentucky made back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history under Brohm, they’ve won both of them. While Levine’s tenure at Houston ended abruptly, he still took the Cougars to two bowl games and should be a nice addition to a coaching staff that has to deal with plenty of personnel turnover from last season.

Gone is 5,000-yard quarterback Brandon Doughty, as well as the team’s third-, fourth- and fifth-leading pass-catchers in receiver Jared Dangerfield (82 REC, 844 yards, 8 TDs), receiver Antwane Grant (55 REC, 701 yards, 7 TDs) and tight end Tyler Higbee (38 REC, 563 yards, 8 TDs).

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

In this photo taken Nov. 21, 2015, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, right, applauds a touchdown by his team next to James Conner in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Pittsburgh. Conner spent the last three months weighing whether to return next fall or head to the NFL after a torn knee ligament ended his junior season before it really began. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES; MONESSEN OUT; KITTANNING OUT; CONNELLSVILLE OUT; GREENSBURG OUT; TARENTUM OUT; NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD OUT; BUTLER OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Cost of attendance not having negative recruiting impact on Group of Five (yet)

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs for a first down against Temple during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Houston. Houston won 24-13. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
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The outlook on the impact cost of attendance has on non-power conference institutions may not be known for another year or so, but after one recruiting cycle since the power conferences were granted autonomy powers, cost of attendance stipends have not been seen to be a major difference in the game as one might have thought originally.

Underdog Dynasty took a look at the issue and how Group of Five schools have fared. The initial findings suggest Group of Five programs are not struggling nearly as much as once suspected when it comes to cost of attendance stipends, although it is something that not every program has jumped into providing just yet. And yes, the topic of stipends does pop up on the recruiting trail, which suggests the Group of Five programs that can provide a little extra money as part of a player’s enrollment do figure to have some sort of advantage. However, stipends do not appear to be a game changer on a massive enough scale.

From Underdog Dynasty;

Another fear from last season was that smaller athletic departments couldn’t afford it. Those may have been overblown as well. My Google search turned up news of South Dakota State phasing in COA stipends for all student-athletes, something North Dakota and North Dakota State already have done.

All three are FCS schools. If they can afford the stipends, albeit funding 63 football scholarships rather than 85, G5 schools should as well. Even the Sun Belt distributes more than $1 million per school in College Football Playoff payouts.

Houston, of the American Athletic Conference, just landed a recruiting class that would make a good number of power conference programs jealous, although the Cougars were the only Group of Five program to finish ranked in the top 50 in the final team rankings compiled by Rivals (BYU finished No. 48). Boise State, UCF and Temple fell in the upper half of the FBS mix as well.

Just as one year of the College Football Playoff system did not provide enough empirical evidence to suggest the Big 12 should expand to 12 just to get a conference championship game, one year of cost of attendance stipends is not nearly enough to suggest it has a devastating or minimal impact on the recruiting game in college football. This is just something that will have to be watched for a few more years in order to gather more evidence to evaluate.