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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Nick Saban thinks skipping bowl games could lead to recruits doing same thing in high school

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Grand Poobah of college football and Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had some interesting ideas about the sport over the years that conflict with the general consensus of his peers. The latest subject to fit that mold? How players like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skipping their bowl games could filter down to the high school level with recruits.

“Same thing will happen in high school if they make the signing day before the season,” Saban told CBS Sports. “It will take a few years, then some kid will say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Notre Dame. I’m not playing my senior year.'”

The Crimson Tide coach is referencing not only the two tailbacks skipping bowl games but also the possibility that upcoming December signing date could be moved up on the calendar. Big 12 commissioner (and chairman of the Football Oversight Committee) Bob Bowlsby said at his conference media days that the date for signing could be changed or even extended to a longer signing period as part of ongoing discussions about the recruiting process.

Talk of players signing with a college prior to their senior season in high school has not been broadly talked about by coaches or administrators but it does seem like everything is on the table when it comes to NCAA reforms in this area. It remains to be seen if any recruit will actually go as far as sitting out a full year in order to protect himself from injury in order to play in college… just as it remains questionable as to whether Fournette and McCaffrey’s decisions will develop into a broader trend at the college level.

Coaches are no fans of dramatically altering the status quo and it seems Saban is among the group who want to stem the postseason defection of players before things turn into a regular occurrence at any level of football.

Coastal Carolina coach Joe Mogila has precautionary surgery on trachea

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Coastal Carolina is one of the newest members of the FBS ranks and the program’s first ever Sun Belt conference media day was supposed to be one of the highlights for the school transitioning the ranks in college football. Unfortunately for the Chanticleers, their head coach won’t be able to make it following a health scare.

The Sun Belt released a statement Friday afternoon saying that Coastal Carolina assistant Jamey Chadwell will represent the team at media day after head coach Joe Mogila “had a precancerous nodule on his trachea and doctors wanted it removed as a precaution.”

The 68-year-old Mogila is perhaps best known to those outside the sport for his time on Wall Street, including a productive stint as CEO of the company now known as TD Ameritrade. He got the itch to coach college football however and has been in charge of the Chanticleers since 2012, leading the program to a 51–15 record at the FCS level.

Chadwell was named CCU’s offensive coordinator this past January after previously serving as head coach at Charleston Southern. Neither the school or the conference indicated any timetable for Mogila’s recovery but based on the release it seems the operation was a success and the coach is now recovering.

Coastal Carolina opens the season on September 2nd against UMass in what will be the school’s first game as a FBS program.

So it begins… Ole Miss recruit decommits after Hugh Freeze departure

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It didn’t take long before Ole Miss to suffer on the recruiting trail from the abrupt departure of Hugh Freeze as head coach on Thursday evening.

In what was probably only a matter of time (just a few hours as it turns out), Rebels 2019 Houston (Tex.) cornerback recruit Bobby Wolfe confirmed to ESPN that he had decommitted from the program on Thursday night following Freeze’s resignation. Several other recruiting services also confirmed the news and noted that many of Ole Miss’ 2018 commitments are starting to have second thoughts about the situation in Oxford.

That the team is struggling to pull in recruits like they were in Freeze’s heyday when the Rebels were a regular in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings is not exactly surprising. Even before the head coach was shown the door, the school was dealing with the fallout from an ongoing NCAA infractions case and are facing the possibility that their bowl ban will extend beyond the self-imposed sit-out of the 2017 season.

With Wolfe no longer committed, Ole Miss doesn’t have a single 2019 pledge according to 247Sports and has just 10 players in the 2018 class — all of whom are three-stars or lower — that currently sits 11th in the conference team rankings. As for the Texas cornerback, he recently picked up an offer from SEC rival LSU and had Baylor extend a verbal scholarship offer not long after re-opening his recruitment.

Former 49ers executive reportedly joining Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor

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Jim Harbaugh is reaching back to his NFL days for the latest hire at Michigan.

Veteran Bay Area journalist Tim Kawakami reports that recent San Francisco 49ers personnel executive Tom Gamble is headed to Ann Arbor to join the Wolverines staff.

According to the fine folks over at sister site ProFootballTalk, Gamble left the 49ers in February shortly after John Lynch was hired by the franchise as general manager. He worked with Harbaugh when their tenures with San Francisco overlapped in 2011 and 2012 before Gamble eventually departed for a two-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s unclear what role specifically Gamble will take with the Wolverines as Harbaugh already hired a new director of player personnel this year by bringing Sean Magee over from Navy. The former 49ers executive doesn’t have much college experience in the past few decades beyond scouting so it will be interesting to see what his official title at Michigan will be once formally announced by the school.

Either way, it seems like Harbaugh is fully investing in off-the-field roles like his peers at Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State and he is not shying away from reaching into the NFL ranks to do so.