Les Miles

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 4 LSU


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

SEC preview, vote

Not everybody seems happy about USC’s hiring of Clay Helton

Clay Helton
1 Comment

If there is one thing that can be said about USC hiring Clay Helton as head coach on a permanent basis, it is that it provides stability for the program moving forward. Current players have responded well to Helton. Future Trojans players are responding well to Helton on the recruiting trail. Former USC players? Well, that’s a different situation.

We saw some of this at Miami in recent years with former Hurricanes ripping now former head coach Al Golden. That was a bit of a different situation with Golden being a coach that went against the grain of all that was perceived to be representative of The U. Helton is different because he has been loyal to the program as an assistant coach during a turbulent time. He at least deserves respect of those following and those who have played for USC for that alone. The problem is Helton lacks the kind of appeal most wearing USC lenses expect from their coaching hire and it seems more likely to believe athletics director Pat Haden settled for Helton instead of being able to expand the coaching search and bring in a high-quality coach for the job.

There is one way to swing the emotions the other way for those unhappy with the decision. If USC beats Stanford to win the Pac-12 championship this week, that would be one step in the right direction for the Helton haters and the Haden skeptics (myself included). The pressure will be on more next season regardless of what happens this week in the Pac-12 championship game and whatever bowl game USC ends up playing. USC will be loaded with talent and will be a trendy pick to make a run in the Pac-12 and, perhaps, even the College Football Playoff.

USC names Clay Helton permanent head coach

Clay Helton

The top coaching vacancy in college football has been filled. USC has announced it will remove the interim tag from Clay Helton and make him the permanent head coach moving forward.

Helton has gone 5-2 since taking over the program following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian as head coach. The most recent win this weekend against UCLA both snapped a three-game losing streak to the crosstown rival Bruins and clinched USC’s first trip to the Pac-12 championship game as Pac-12 South Division champions. Helton has been with the USC program since 2010 under various assistant roles. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013 and named interim head coach that season following the firing of Lane Kiffin. He stayed on the staff following the hiring of Sarkisian from Washington.

Helton had become a clear player favorite in the program, as Helton calmed a troublesome environment of uncertainty in the middle fo the season and delivered a division championship. The only losses under Helton came on the road against Notre Dame in Helton’s first game as interim head coach and more recently at Oregon, a program that revived itself as well. If nothing else, Helton’s being named the head coach provides for some stability for the program, although there should be some questions moving forward whether it will be the right move or not in the long term. The USC job was thought to be the top job on the market and worthy of some high-caliber candidates. There had been rumblings USC reached out to Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, a former Oregon coach of course, but the odds Kelly was going to leave the Eagles on his own a year after getting general manager power were always low.

USC will continue to bring plenty of pressure to win, and win big. Helton will continue to guide a roster packed with talent and getting back to full strength after a stretch of sanctioned seasons. If Helton does not win, he will quickly enter the hot seat conversation.

USC plays Stanford for the Pac-12 championship this week.

Will Mark Richt coach again? “Oh yeah, no doubt”

Mark Richt

On Sunday the end of the line for Mark Richt at Georgia was finally reached. The Bulldogs and the head coach will go separate ways after a 15-season run in Athens, but this will not be the final stop for Richt as a head coach. On Monday, during a press conference with the media to address the coaching change, Richt was asked whether he will coach again.

“Oh yeah, no doubt,” Richt said in his response. “I’m going to listen to anybody that’s interested in talking to me,” Richt said when again asked about what’s next for the now former head coach of Georgia.

The press conference with Richt was a bit unusual for these types of settings. First, Richt continued to show his Georgia pride by wearing a black coat and red tie and had a Georgia pin on his coat. Second, he sat right next to Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, who offered no insight whatsoever on what’s next for Georgia. When asked about the coaching search or the status for assistants, McGarity continued to shift the focus on Richt.

Richt expressed his enthusiasm for getting to coach one final game for Georgia. He will coach Georgia’s bowl game, wherever that may be, giving him one last chance to end a season with a bowl victory, which he has done nine times previously.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.