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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron throws on the run in front of LSU Tigers cornerback Ron Brooks during their NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in New Orleans AP

2011 record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 in SEC (2nd in West)

2011 postseason: BcS title game (21-0 win over LSU)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 1/No. 1

Head coach: Nick Saban (146-56-1 overall; 55-12 in five seasons at Alabama)

Offensive coordinator: Doug Nussmeier (first season)

2011 offensive rankings: No. 16 rushing offense (214.5 ypg); 69th passing offense (215.1 ypg); 31st total offense (429.6 ypg); No. 20 scoring offense (34.8 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (sixth season at Alabama, fifth as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: No. 1 rushing defense (72.1 ypg); No. 1 passing defense (111.5 ypg); No. 1 total defense (183.6 ypg); No. 1 scoring defense (8.1 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: four

Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; grass)

Last league title: 2009

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Nick Saban’s a lot of things (insert various one-liners at your leisure), but he’s not someone who allows himself, his coaching staff or his players to make the same mistake again.  Coming off its BcS title following the 2009 regular season, the Tide consistently stubbed its toe on the way to a three-loss post-crystal season in 2010.  Coming off its second title in three years, Saban’s determined to keep a repeat of 2010 from happening again in 2012.  Could it happen again?  Of course, anything’s possible.  But, in the case, I wouldn’t bet on history repeating itself.

The Bad
If the Tide does party like it’s 2010, however, it will likely be because of a defense that led the country in nearly every major statistical in the run to another BcS title last season.  Gone from that suffocating defense are seven starters, including its top three tacklers and four of the top five total; its top two tackles-for-loss producers; and two of the three leaders in sacks.  Certainly, thanks to the bounty that is recruiting, there is plenty of on-paper talent that can fill the depth chart.  How fast those replacements can actually fill the sizable shoes left in the wake of departures, though, will determine whether a third title in four years is in the offing.

The Unknown
The defense wasn’t the only side of the ball impacted by departures.  The loss of running back Trent Richardson will certainly affect an offense that will be under the direction of a new coordinator — former Washington OC Doug Nussmeier.  While there’s plenty of talent in the backfield — starter Eddie Lacy and backups Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon — the addition of the pass-leaning Nussmeier could be a signal that Saban is ready to put more responsibility on the right shoulder of AJ McCarron.  The starting quarterback proved last season that he was more than capable of handling the responsibilities in a balanced offensive attack; if called upon — and that’s a big coaching if right now — can he handle a bigger responsibility in the passing game?  Stay tuned …

Make-or-break game: at LSU, Nov. 3
No offense to Arkansas or new SEC member Missouri or even non-conference foe Michigan, the game on both of these team’s schedules this season is a rematch of the BcS title game.  And the field-goal-laden regular season game that cost the Tide a shot at an SEC title.  Much like with the USC-Oregon game the same day, this contest has the potential to feature a pair of unbeaten, Top 5 teams if the schedule plays out as expected, although in this case it will likely determine which team represents its division in the conference championship game.  The bad news for the Tide is the fact that they will have to travel to Death Valley, a place where the Tide has won just once in its last four attempts.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback AJ McCarron
Should Saban decide to put more emphasis on the passing game, and should the Tide perform up to its preseason expectations, McCarron should at least merit considerations on the fringes of the Heisman discussion early on in the season.  In his first season as a starter last year McCarron completed nearly 67 percent of his passes, throwing for over 2,600 yards, 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions, finishing third in the SEC in passing efficiency.  With even a slight bump statistically, McCarron will likely find himself in the Heisman mix.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Hoke on Shane Morris: ‘Attitude-wise he’s fantastic’

Shane Morris

Lost amidst the tumult of the Shane Morris saga is the player himself.

The Michigan quarterback is at the epicenter of what’s become a national debate over concussion protocols — and the continued viability of Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon as UM’s head coach and athletic director, respectively  — after his apparently concussed self was reinserted into the Minnesota game last Saturday.  At least according to his coach, the player is doing just fine both physically and mentally.

He’s doing great, he’s doing wonderful,” Hoke said on his radio show Wednesday night by way of mlive.com. “I don’t like to talk about injuries, but from a health point of view he’s doing great.

“Attitude-wise he’s fantastic.”

That said, Hoke laments what’s happening to Morris and those close to him on at least one front.

“I felt bad and do feel bad that Shane had to deal with some things,” Hoke added. “People calling his home, wanting to talk to his parents. All that bull.

“That’s not the right way to do things.”

Morris has not yet commented publicly since the debacle this past Saturday. On Twitter Tuesday, however, he let his feelings be known.

In addition to the concussion, Morris also suffered a high-ankle sprain in the loss to the Gophers. How long he’ll be sidelined is unknown, although the ankle issue is one that can linger for weeks if not months depending on the severity.

The injuries came in Morris’ first regular-season start. Hoke had previously announced that Devin Gardner would return to the starting lineup against Rutgers Saturday.

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Report: football one of Ole Miss sports under NCAA investigation

Hugh Freeze AP

The bad news for Ole Miss is that the NCAA has the Rebels football program in its sights.  The good?  It’s the emasculated NCAA, a shell of its formerly punitive self.

According to Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports, the Rebels football program is one the school’s athletic programs under investigation for potential NCAA violations.  However, Forde writes, “the current football staff of head coach Hugh Freeze is not believed to be implicated in any major violations, and that much of the football inquiry dates back to actions by a previous Ole Miss staff.”

The football investigation has been ongoing for more than a year, although “all NCAA interviews have [been] completed and the school is waiting for the NCAA Department of Enforcement’s next step.” One of the next steps could be an appearance in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions, which is next set to convene two weeks from today. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork confirmed to Forde that the athletic department has yet to receive a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, which would precede a COI hearing.

Exactly what the violations are that could net the Rebels some level of punitive measures from the NCAA are unknown.

Yahoo Sports filed a Freedom of Information request with Mississippi on Sept. 2 requesting all correspondence between the school and the NCAA Department of Enforcement between Sept. 1, 2013, and Sept. 1, 2014. The request was returned Sept. 26 showing 19 secondary or Level III violations in that time period, with names and affected sports redacted.

Again, it’s thought that Freeze, who is in his third year with the Rebels, is not involved in any major NCAA violations.  Whether any of the potential violations connected to the previous regime or regimes are major in nature remains to be seen.

Freeze was hired in December of 2011, replacing Houston Nutt.  After four years as the Rebels head coach, Nutt resigned in November of that year.  Nutt had replaced Ed Orgeron, who was fired in November of 2011.

Forde also allowed that the bulk of the potential violations currently being investigated by the NCAA involves the women’s basketball program.

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Cincinnati staffer to appeal firing over sex-abuse charge

Antrione Archer

Because, of course.

If you recall, a member of the Cincinnati football program, Director of Player Welfare & Development Antrione Archer, was fired earlier this week after the football program learned of an arrest in Kentucky in June. Following that incident, Archer was charged third-degree sex abuse.

Court records indicated that Archer “placed his expose penis” against a 73-year-old female employee’s backside on multiple occasions inside of a grocery store pharmacy. Archer’s attorney, however, has a vastly different description of what led to the charges.

“The alleged incident, which was recorded by Kroger security cameras, shows Mr. Archer and a Kroger employee having consensual close conversations in the pharmacy aisles followed by consensual dancing of a rhythmic nature,” James Noll told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Noll also stated that his client will appeal his termination and will seek a 60-day leave of absence so as to deal with the legal process. Noll added that the university acted prematurely in dismissing his client.

“He looks forward to having the issue resolved, and regrets any embarrassment the publicity has caused his family and the University of Cincinnati and the UC Cincinnati Bearcat Football program,” the attorney said.

Archer had held his position with the Bearcats since 2011.

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Mack Brown tweets he will decide on coaching future in December

Mack Brown

Will Mack Brown return to coaching? He has not said “no.” In fact, he says he will make a decision on his possible return to coaching in December.

Brown was asked by one of his Twitter followers if he would ever think about returning to the sidelines. The former Texas coach said a decision will come later this year.

This is noteworthy because just this week word came out some well-connected people at SMU are intrigued by the possibility of having Brown become the next head coach at SMU. Are the pieces starting to come together for Brown’s next job?

Brown is currently a studio analyst for ESPN.

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FSU booster group investigating fired booster for missing $500,000-$700,000

Clemson v Florida State Getty Images

The Seminole Boosters fired comptroller Sanford Lovingood on Wednesday after being accused og misappropriating somewhere between a reported $500,000 and $700,000. There is no connection to Florida State’s football program at this time, but this may be a story worth keeping an eye on with an investigation opening to attempt to track down where those funds went.

According to a statement released by the booster organization for Florida State athletics, the missing funds were discovered in a review of banking records Wednesday and the boosters are working to resolve the matter. A forensic audit is already getting started to determine how the funds were taken out of the organization’s coffers and what happened with them.

The booster organization says it has updated the university administration, Board of Trustees, athletics department and more about the unsettling news and will update accordingly. Lovingood apparently turned himself over to Leon Country Sheriff’s Office and is cooperating with law enforcement.

“We will aggressively pursue recovery of the funds and are confident they will be restored,” said Mike Harrell, chairman of the Seminole Boosters Board of Directors. “We take our fiscal responsibilities very seriously.”

It is important to state once again, at this time there is no documented connection to the Florida State football program. If it is discovered Florida State players accepted payments from Lovingood or any other boosters, then we would be looking at the possibility of NCAA involvement and potential sanctions or vacated wins, but that is not the case now. It may be possible Lovingood simply took the money for himself for all we know right now. For the time being, you may just want to keep an eye on the developments regarding this case.

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Clemson OL Gore out 2 games following appendectomy

Joe Gore, Nick Schuessler, D.J. Reader

Clemson’s offensive line will be without one part-time starter the next two games. Joe Gore underwent an appendectomy to have his appendix removed Wednesday.

As reported by The Charlotte Observer, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced Gore’s status following a practice today. The two games Gore is expected to miss will be this weekend’s home game against North Carolina State and next weekend’s home game against Louisville. Both are division games for the Tigers.

Gore has started three games for Clemson this season. He is listed second on the depth chart for this weekend’s game behind Isaiah Battle at left tackle.

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Suspended Notre Dame CB KeiVarae Russell: This school is becoming ridiculous

KeiVarae Russell

The hearings for a handful of Notre Dame players continues this week, and the waiting game is starting to get to at least one of the suspended Irish players. Or so it seems. Cornerback KeiVarae Russell shared some thoughts on Instagram on Wednesday confirming he has gone through his hearing regarding academic dishonesty. He said the hearing went well, but he does not seem pleased with having to wait to find out the ruling from the committee conducting the investigation and hearings.

As reported by College Football Talk contributor JJ Stankevitz for CSN Chicago, Russell said the following on Instagram

“Noooo, still not back. It sucks. Hearing went well in my opinion thought. Was able to express my case from my POV and bring to light alot of what was false “evidence.” But they are making me wait till every hearing is done to make a decision… it sucks.”

In a separate comment, Russell said Notre Dame is “becoming ridiculous.” Again via CSN Chicago;

“This school is becoming ridiculous. I killed my meeting; I was so prepared and ready and was able to refute damn near every suspicion they had. Described details of assignments thoroughly so they couldn’t say I didn’t do it, AND THEY STILL SAID MY DECISION WONT COME UNTIL ALL 5 OF US (and some other minor hearings) ARE DONE. Decision MIGHT come next week, not even 100% it’s tough to understand these people..”

There is also this…

Notre Dame is conducting hearings for wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive back Eilar Hardy, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore in addition to Russell. As far as we know, none of these players have taken to Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat or whatever social networking service the kids are using these days to voice their opinions.

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OSU TE Heuerman on Maryland: We’re going to show them what Big Ten football is

Jeff Heuerman Getty Images

Maryland played its first Big Ten game last week, and it went well. The Terrapins picked up a road win at Indiana, a week after the Hoosiers upset Missouri on the road. It was a big win for Maryland, but this weekend comes the first real dose of Big Ten football. Maryland is hosting Ohio State, and Buckeyes tight end Jeff Heuerman is looking forward to extending a welcoming hand to his new division rival.

“We’re going to go there and we’re going to welcome them to the Big Ten,” Heuerman said Wednesday, per Cleveland.com. “We’re going to go on the road and it’s going to be a big game and we’re going to show them what Big Ten football is and hopefully it’ll come out in our favor.”

This will mark the first meeting between the two schools in football. Maryland was a founding member of the ACC before joining the Big Ten this season. Ohio State, of course, has been one of the landmark institutions in the Big Ten since the conference was formed. The Buckeyes have also been one of the programs carrying the national reputation of the Big Ten for the past decade or so, for the most part. Despite losing quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, the Buckeyes still have the look of a top Big Ten contender this fall.

Maryland has already suffered a close loss at home, to West Virginia, but the Terrapins have looked pretty good the rest of the season so far by winning on the road at Syracuse and Indiana in recent weeks. But this is Ohio State, and things have a different feel when the Buckeyes are lining up on the other side of the field.

“They’re saying it’s one of the biggest games in Maryland history,” Heuerman said. “Whatever that means.”

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Utah State says Chuckie Keeton likely out for the season

Chuckie Keeton

The return of Chuckie Keeton to the football field did not go as planned this fall. And now it looks as though it is over. Utah State sent out a release Wednesday evening stating Keeton is likely out for the rest of the 2014 season.

Keeton suffered a left knee injury against Wake Forest earlier in the season. The injury was to the same knee that underwent surgery last season for a torn ACL and a torn MCL. The initial feeling seemed optimistic at the time, although the team decided it was bets to play it safe. He sat out Utah State’s game against Arkansas State as a caution. Apparently things have not gotten much better in the weeks since the injury took place.

“Chuckie’s health is our top priority and he has not been cleared to play by our medical staff,” said Utah State head coach Matt Wells in the school’s released statement. “We will continue to monitor his progress throughout the fall, but given his current condition it is unlikely that he will play in any games in the foreseeable future.”

Keeton has never redshirted during his collegiate career, but this is his senior year. Whether or not he will be able to use a medical redshirt remains to be seen at this point. Here’s hoping Keeton can find a way to stay healthy though and maybe get another chance on the field. He has battled injuries throughout his collegiate career, so the concern is great for his potential future.

One thing is for sure. College football is much more entertaining and enjoyable when Keeton is healthy. Sadly, we have not been treated to enough of it.

As for Utah State, Darrell Garretson will once again assume the starting job for the Aggies. Just as he did last season, Garretson will look to lead Utah State forward through Mountain West Conference play. Last year, while filling in for Keeton, Garretson threw for 1,436 yards and 10 touchdowns and led Utah State to the Mountain West Conference championship game, where Utah State fell shy against Fresno State. This season could play out in similar fashion.

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Alabama RB Jones has surgery for torn tendon in finger

Florida Atlantc v Alabama

It is a good thing Alabama is stacked at the running back position, because one player is going to be out of action for an extended period of time. Tyren Jones will be out for several weeks after undergoing surgery on his finger.

Nick Saban announced Wednesday Jones had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his finger. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide, running back depth is not a concern in Tuscaloosa. T.J. Yeldon remains the team’s starter, followed by Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake on the depth chart before getting to Jones.

Jones had rushed 13 times for 89 yards and a touchdown in the three games he has appeared in. He is fifth on the team in rushing.

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Promising USC freshman receiver suffers hamstring

Fresno State v USC Getty Images

USC saw some promise in freshman wide receiver Ajene Harris last weekend against Oregon State, but he will be sitting on the sideline this weekend. Harris suffered a hamstring injury, which was announced by head coach Steve Sarkisian following Wednesday’s practice.

This is a setback for Harris, who has been impressive to the USC coaches and making a push for a significant role in the offense. While it remains unknown just how much time he will miss, the future is still incredibly bright for Harris, a former three-star recruit according to Rivals.

Last week Harris caught three passes for 30 yards, with a chunk of that coming ona  21-yard reception. He had been swapped in and out of the first team offense through the first few weeks, but that was more a credit to the quality depth at the position USC is playing with than anything else. Hamstring injuries are tricky to predict. The severity of the injury is unknown, but hamstring injuries have a way of lingering longer for some players than others without any way to know when it will be fully healed.

Helmet sticker to Conquest Chronicles.

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Louisville congratulates Bridgewater on first NFL win with billboard

Teddy Bridgewater

Former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater got his first start in the NFL on Sunday afternoon for the Minnesota Vikings. He was injured in the game, but he got the job done before having his first start end early. Everyone, it seems, is sending him congrats this week, including Louisville.

As seen in Minneapolis, this digital billboard message congratulates the former Louisville Cardinal on his first start and victory with the Vikings.

Bridgewater went 19-of-30 for 317 yards to help the Vikings defeat the Atlanta Falcons, 41-28. He was carted off the field with a sprained ankle on Sunday and underwent a MRI on Monday. It remains unknown if he will be playing Thursday night, for those college football fans looking to kill some time before Oregon and Arizona kick off.

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Will Brady Hoke reach the end of the season?

Brady Hoke

The temperature is boiling in Ann Arbor for head coach Brady Hoke and athletics director Dave Brandon. Will either of these two men be able to hold onto their jobs through the entire football season?

Noted Michigan football historian and author John Bacon feels somewhat confident in suggesting Hoke’s job will be safe for the remainder of the season, but an evaluation will likely take place after that. As for Brandon, well…

I asked Bacon for a quick clarification. He says a change of head coach is still likely, but it will not happen or begin to take place during the course of the season.

This seems to make sense, if you believe change is inevitable at Michigan. If the university feels the leadership needs a change starting at the AD position, why let go of the football coach now and allow the AD a chance to hire the next head coach? This would be similar to a major league baseball team allowing a lame duck general manager to hire a new manager and make some trades. Hoke may very well be on his way out at the end of the season unless he finds a way to get the Wolverines to rattle off a winning streak and Big Ten championship nobody sees coming. But for the state of the football program, not much will be better by making a change at head coach now compared to the end of the season. It is a different situation with an athletics director.

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Pac-12 offers another reason to lose sleep Thursday night

Oregon v Arizona Getty Images

The Pac-12 has been serving up plenty of excitement for college football fans choosing to stay up late and sacrifice a few hours of sleep on Thursday nights this season. In week one we saw Rutgers and Washington State trade blows on college football’s first Thursday night. The following week saw Arizona take to the road to escape San Antonio with a win over UTSA. Last week rewarded late-night viewers with the first dominant performance by UCLA of the season, on the road at Arizona State on a Thursday night.

There may be some concerns about the Pac-12’s late night kickoffs, but there is no disputing the games have been worth staying up for from an entertainment standpoint. The Thursday night game this weekend could be another. No. 2 Oregon hosts Arizona in a cross-division match-up between 4-0 teams with a revenge factor on the line. Arizona snapped Oregon’s Rose Bowl dreams last year in blowout fashion.

The game is scheduled to kickoff at 10:30 p.m. on the east coast. Degenerates like me will be going against the east coast bias narrative and staying up to watch it, but how important is it that the nation’s second-ranked team is playing so late, when the majority of the potential east coast viewership will be going to bed well before the game is over? Should this continue to be a concern for the Pac-12? Will voters be influenced purely by the score because they didn’t stay up to watch the Ducks and Wildcats?

Ultimately, the concern as far as a playoff standpoint should be a non-issue, if you believe the members of the selection committee for the College Football Playoff are doing their due diligence. But from a conference standpoint, it feels as though the Pac-12 misses out on an opportunity to showcase one of the banner programs in the conference the last few years. A game involving two 4-0 teams deserves a better primetime slot for a larger audience, does it not?

This goes back to one of the problems the Pac-12 has been facing. The conference is improving its football brand. Teams are better and the conference should be going the extra mile to ensure more potential viewers get a chance to see them. By kicking off half past ten o’clock in the night, the reach has to be decreasing. Or is it?

Thursday night is highly competitive for college football now that the NFL has a weekly game on Thursday nights. This week the college football card of UCF-Houston and FAU-FIU will likely be squashed by the NFL match-up between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Throw in some playoff baseball (Baltimore Orioles hosting Detroit Tigers in the early game and Los Angeles Angels hosting the Kansas City Royals in the later game), and you can see why the Pac-12 may not be too upset having Oregon and Arizona kicking off at 10:30 p.m. The Pac-12’s core audience is on the west coast, so the time difference is not as much a concern to them. By the time Oregon and Arizona kick off, the NFL will be in the second half (and given the track record for Thursday night football this season, the game will be ugly and fans will be looking for something different), the two other college games will be wrapping up and the only real competition for viewers will be with baseball.

What will you be watching Thursday night?

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LSU transfer among two Arizona players leaving team

UNLV v Arizona

Jordan Allen‘s stay in the desert didn’t last nearly as long as expected.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, the defensive end was one of two Arizona football players to leave the football program recently.  No reason was given for the decision, although the Star did indicate that Allen (pictured, left) is likely done with football.

Allen started the first game of the year for the Wildcats, although his playing time has dipped dramatically since.  It’s unclear if that was the impetus for his decision.

In early April of this year, Allen left LSU seeking a transfer.  At the end of that month, he landed at Arizona.

Allen’s decision to transfer from the Tigers earlier this spring was reportedly more about academics than football as the lineman he couldn’t get into grad school at LSU after receiving his bachelor’s degree.

Allen entered the 2013 season as a starting end before losing that job. He ultimately played in all 13 games for the Tigers after missing most of the 2012 season with a knee injury.

A four-star member of LSU’s 2010 recruiting class, Allen was rated as the No. 10 strongside end in the country coming out of high school in West Monroe, Louisiana.

In addition to Allen, linebacker Mekani Kema-Kaleiwahea has left the program as well.  Kema-Kaleiwahea, who would like to transfer to a place closer to his home in Hawaii, has been buried on the depth chart after competing in summer camp for a starting job.

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