CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 4 LSU

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2011 record: 13-1 overall, 8-0 in SEC (1st in West)

2011 postseason: SEC title game (42-10 win over Georgia); BcS title game (21-0 loss to Alabama)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 2/No. 2

Head coach: Les Miles (103-39 overall, 75-18 in seven seasons at LSU)

Offensive coordinator: Greg Studrawa (sixth season at LSU, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 22nd rushing offense (202.6 ypg); 106th passing offense (152.5 ypg); 86th total offense (355.1 ypg); 17th scoring offense (35.7 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: John Chavis (fourth season at LSU, fourth as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 5th rushing defense (90.1 ypg); 8th passing defense (171.4 ypg); 2nd total defense 261.5 ypg); 2nd scoring defense (11.3 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: five

Location: Baton Rouge, La.

Stadium: Tiger Stadium (92,542; grass)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Normally when a team loses its two most experienced quarterbacks, it’s a cause for significant concern.  In LSU’s case, it’s cause for much joy and jubilation. Gone are Jordan Jefferson and Jarrett Lee, the Bonnie & Clyde of the QB position the past three seasons and who “helped” the Tigers to the 106th-ranked passing offense — out of 120 teams — last season.  In is Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger, a strong-armed passer who has the ability to keep defenses honest enough that they’ll actually have to (gasp!) respect the passing game and allow Miles to stick his fork deeper into his meat and potatoes — a power running attack.

The Bad
It looked like not much … until Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu got kicked off the team, which makes a return to the Top 5 much more questionable than we had originally presumed. The loss of seven starters from a defense that was second in the country in yards and points allowed will certainly have an impact.  Playing conference road games at Auburn, Florida, Texas A&M and Arkansas is certainly not optimal in the Tigers’ bid for a second straight SEC title, but it is manageable.

The Unknown
Certainly there’s a lot of hype surrounding Mettenberger, but what exactly will LSU be getting under center? Mettenberger has only thrown 11 passes — all of those in mop-up duty last season — during a collegiaie career that began at Georgia. After redshirting as a true freshman in 2009, Mettenberger exited spring practice in 2010 with perhaps a slight lead in UGA’s race to replace Matthew Stafford — a race that includes current Bulldogs starter Aaron Murray.  An arrest prior to the start of those spring sessions, however, led to his dismissal and a year in the JUCO ranks in 2010.  Obviously, Mettenberger has never started a game at this level, and to do it now on a team with title aspirations makes one wonder if he does indeed have “the chest” to handle such a responsibility.

Make-or-break game: vs. Alabama, Nov. 3
Last year, LSU got the best of Alabama in the soccer-style regular season match-up in Tuscaloosa, with the Tide pulling the ultimate defensive trump card in the BcS title game. This season, the Tigers get the Tide in Death Valley, and will be looking to avenge the stunning shutout loss this past January. The winner of this game will likely be in the driver’s for both the West’s slot in the SEC title game and, possibly, one of the two slots in the 2013 BcS title game. Yeah, not much at stake there.

Heisman hopeful: cornerback Tyrann Mathieu … oh, never mind.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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No. 5 Wisconsin remains perfect after win against Maryland

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You can probably pencil in No. 5 Wisconsin (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) to be representing the Big Ten West Division in the Big Ten championship game if you have not already. After taking care of Maryland (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) today in Madison, the Badgers are well on their way to Indianapolis for a second straight season with a 38-13 victory giving the Badgers a two-game cushion in the loss column. The chances anybody catches them are getting slimmer by the week. The question is quickly becoming whether or not Wisconsin will be 12-0 when they get to Indy.

Freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor continues to roll up the rushing yardage with another 100-yard afternoon (126 yards, 1 TD). Alex Hornibrook also passed for 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns to help the Badgers offense pull away. Wisconsin may have had a couple of turnovers in the first half that didn’t hurt them (Maryland managed just one short field goal after taking over at the Wisconsin five-yard line), but the Badgers were efficient on third downs (6-of-10). Maryland struggled on third downs against one of the top defense sin the Big Ten, which was to be expected, but Maryland did convert two fourth-down opportunities to keep drives alive.

Maryland just could not manage to play a clean enough game, could not take advantage of any opportunities presented to them by Wisconsin, or avoid costly penalties. In the end, Maryland was just outmatched against the heavy favorites in the West Division, and Maryland is once again sent home with a rough loss on the road against one of the Big Ten’s top programs.  Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland is 0-3 against the Badgers, and 0-2 in Madison.

Wisconsin has now won 13 consecutive regular season games dating back to last season (Wisconsin lost the Big Ten championship game against Penn State, which should be considered a postseason game.

Wisconsin will play their next two games in Big Ten play on the road. Next week the Badgers head to Illinois (2-4 coming into today) and then Wisconsin makes a trip to Indiana (entering today 3-3, but 0-3 in Big Ten play with losses to Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan). If Wisconsin avoids an upset on the road, then the fate of a potential undefeated regular season is put on the line with home games against Iowa and Michigan. The Badgers already have a two-game lead in the loss column in the Big Ten West Division and appear ready to make a return trip to Indianapolis. What the stakes will be beyond a Big Ten title remain to be seen, but the Badgers are not fading out of the College Football Playoff picture anytime soon.

For Maryland, the chance to become bowl eligible is becoming more of a challenge that may require the Terrapins to pull an upset at home against either Michigan or Penn State in November. Maryland still needs three wins and must win their next two in order to keep the dream alive before the final three games of the season against the Wolverines, at Michigan State, and home against the Nittany Lions. Maryland hosts Indiana next week and travels to Rutgers after that.

In upending Texas Tech, Iowa State off to best start since 2002

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Very quietly, Matt Campbell is doing some high-quality work in Ames.

Thanks in large part to quarterback Kyle Kempt and an opportunistic, oft-times stifling defense, Iowa State went to Texas Tech Saturday afternoon and stole a 31-13 Homecoming Game win off the Red Raiders.  The Cyclones jumped out to a 24-6 halftime lead, and weren’t really challenged in the last two quarters in winning for just the second time ever in Lubbock.

After an early interception practically handed Tech its first touchdown, Kempt righted the passing ship by throwing three touchdown passes — all in the first half — in the win.  Defensively, the Cyclones held a Red Raiders offense that came in seventh nationally in yards per game at 543.7 to 336 yards.  The 13 points were a season-low for Tech, surpassing the 27 scored in the Week 3 win over Houston.

With the win, ISU improved to 5-2 on the season.  It’s their best start to a campaign since Dan McCarney‘s Cyclones started 2002 6-1 en route to a 7-7 season.

Taking over a program that won just eight games combined the previous three seasons, the Cyclones went 3-9 in Campbell’s first season last year.  In addition to beating a Tech team that was 4-2 coming in, ISU knocked off then-No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman a couple of weeks ago for the football program’s biggest win in years.

With one more win, Campbell will have the Cyclones bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012.

WATCH: Tim Tebow gives 36.5-point underdog Tennessee passionate pep talk ahead of Alabama game

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You know it’s bad when a former rival of yours feels the need to pump you up.

To say this has been a rough start to the season for Butch Jones and Tennessee would be a massive understatement.  In Week 3, they stole defeat from the jaws of victory in a rivalry loss to Florida.  A week later at home, they barely (17-13) got past a UMass team that enters this weekend winless.  The following week, they were embarrassed and humiliated in a 41-0 woodshedding by Georgia.  Week 7 brought a stinging loss to South Carolina.

At 3-3 overall and an unacceptable 0-3 in SEC play, Jones’ coaching seat is fully engulfed in flames, with nary a fireman in sight.  Enter one-time Volunteers nemesis Tim Tebow — record vs. Vols: 4-0 — with the former Florida quarterback-turned SEC Network analyst offering up a passionate message directed at UT ahead of its showdown with rival Alabama.

‘Bama opened as a 35-point favorite; with kickoff a little over an hour away, that number is up to 36.5.

Bovada.lv told CFT earlier this week that, over the last 31 years, the Vols have never been as large of an underdog as they are right now. Prior to a 23-13 loss, they were 30- point underdogs to Tebow-quarterbacked Florida in 2009. In 2011 and 2013, they were 29- and 28-point underdogs, respectively, to Alabama. They ended up losing both contests, 37-6 in the former and 45-10 in the latter.

In the previous 99 meetings between the rival programs, the Vols have lost by 35 or more points exactly four times. The first came in 1906 (51-0), the second in 1963 (35-0). The last two times? The 2013 game mentioned above and 2016 (49-10).

Big 12 upset brewing in Austin? Longhorns tied 7-7 with Oklahoma State at half

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Don’t hit the upset alarm just yet, but No. 10 Oklahoma State is in a bit of a defensive battle on the road against the Texas Longhorns. After one half of play, the Cowboys and Longhorns are knotted at seven points apiece to set the stage for an interesting second half of play in Austin.

J.D. King gave Oklahoma State a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on a seven-yard touchdown run. It came on Oklahoma State’s third possession of the game and at the end of a 96-yard drive. The next time the Cowboys had the football, another long drive for points was stalled when Justice Hill lost a fumble at the Texas 14-yard line. The Longhorns capitalized on the turnover by orchestrating a quick three-play 86-yard touchdown drive. Sam Ehlinger completed a 90-yard pass to John Burt on a 2nd and 16 and then Ehlinger took it in himself from two yards out on the next play to tie the game at 7-7.