CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Michigan

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2011 record: 11-2 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten (2nd in Legends)

2011 postseason: Sugar Bowl (23-20 OT win over Virginia Tech)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 12/No. 9

Head coach: Brady Hoke (58-52 overall, 11-2 in one season at Michigan)

Offensive coordinator: Al Borges (second season at Michigan, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 13th rushing offense (221.8 ypg); 93rd passing offense (182.8 ypg); 42nd total offense (404.7 ypg); 26th scoring offense (33.3 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Greg Mattison (second season at Michigan, second as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 39th rushing defense (131.7 ypg); 16th passing defense (190.5 ypg); 17th total defense (322.1 ypg); 6th scoring defense (17.4 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Ann Arbor, Mich.

Stadium: Michigan Stadium (109,901; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2004 (co-champs with Iowa)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
A defense that was leaps and bounds above anything seen during the Rich Rodriguez era returns seven starters and a year’s worth of experience in coordinator Greg Mattison’s system, which certainly bodes well for UM’s chances both in the conference and nationally.  Speaking of another year in the same system, quarterback/running back Denard Robinson will look to benefit from the experience he received last year in Al Borges’ offense, brought over from San Diego State but which also utilized some of the elements of the run-based spread that made Robinson so successful his first two seasons in Ann Arbor.  Robinson reportedly had a very solid spring throwing the football earlier this year which, when combined with his still-lethal running ability, could have the senior poised to take his game up another notch or two.

The Bad
Robinson, at least early in the season, may have no other choice but to take his game to the next level thanks to the off-field antics of one of his backfield mates.  Fitz Toussant, who led all Wolverine backs in rushing last year with 1,041 yards, has been indefinitely suspended following a drunk-driving arrest last month.  It’s unclear how many, if any, games Toussant will miss, although it’s a near certainty he will be unavailable for the opener.  As critical as that game is for any BcS hopes the Wolverines entertain, losing Toussaint would serve as a significant blow.

The Unknown
While I lobbed plaudits on the defense, there is still uncertainty when it comes to that unit.  Specifically, the defensive line and the loss of three of the four starters on that unit.  How quickly the new starters as well as the rest of the line rotation adjust to the upgraded workload will go a long way in determining whether the defense as a whole continues its progress under Mattison.

Make-or-break game: vs. Alabama at Arlington, Texas, Sept. 1
The Game will always be The Game; this season though, with stratospheric expectations firmly in place, the game for the Wolverines will not be the regular-season finale at Ohio State, but the opener against the defending BcS champions.  What better way for a team to measure itself and gauge its ability to compete on the national stage than to go to a neutral field and face a team that’s won two of the past three BcS titles?  The Wolverines will do just that in front of a nationally-televised primetime audience, with the Tide providing as stiff an early-season litmus as one could hope to find.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Denard Robinson
Last season for Robinson paled in comparison to his 2010 sophomore campaign, with the QB posting 923 yards less of total offense — 397 passing, 526 rushing — and a lower completion percentage — 55 percent to 62.5 — than he did during the final season under RichRod.  He did account for four more total touchdowns, but even that was mitigated somewhat by four more interceptions than the year before as well as a handful more fumbles.  That said, there were signs during spring practice that the light bulb may have indeed gone on for Robinson.  If that’s the case, Robinson and his electrifying skills will be a part of the Heisman discussion throughout the year.

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Neal Brown completes Troy staff with FCS co-DC

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For the most recent addition to his Troy coaching staff, Neal Brown has dipped into the Football Championship Series.

The Sun Belt Conference program confirmed Tuesday that Brandon Hall has been hired by Brown as his new linebackers coach.  Hall had spent the past four seasons as the co-defensive coordinator at FCS Jacksonville State.

“Brandon is an outstanding defensive coach and has experience coaching at a lot of different levels,” a statement from Brown. “He is relentless on the recruiting trail and already has developed strong relationships in the areas that we believe are key. Looking at his track record, it comes as no surprise that Brandon helped build one of the top defenses in the FCS at Jacksonville State over the last four years.”

Prior to JSU, Hall had spent time at Arkansas State, Auburn and Oklahoma.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to join this program and coaching staff,” Hall said in his statement. “You can’t help but get excited as a coach when you look at what Coach Brown and the rest of this staff has done over the past three years with the Troy program. My family and I are looking forward to becoming part of the Trojan Family and continuing the strong tradition of Troy football.”

Longtime UCLA staffer Angus McClure’s hire one of two announced by Nevada

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The departure of a longtime UCLA staffer has officially been confirmed.

Late last week, reports surfaced that Angus McClure was leaving UCLA for a position at Nevada.  Tuesday, the Mountain West Conference football program confirmed that McClure has been hired as Jay Norvell‘s new offensive line coach.

McClure had been with the Bruins since 2007, serving at various times as position coach for both sides of UCLA’s lines as well as special teams.  Most recently, McClure had served as recruiting coordinator for the Pac-12 school.

McClure and Norvell have a prior working relationship as they were both on the same staffs at Nebraska and UCLA.

In addition to McClure, David Lockwood was announced as Nevada’s new safeties coach.  Lockwood was on the UNLV staff last season after spending the previous three years as the cornerbacks coach at Arizona.

“I think we made our staff stronger with these two veteran hires,” Norvell said in a statement. “I’m excited about the experience and expertise that we have added to the Wolf Pack coaching staff.”

Former Kansas State head coach Jim Dickey dies at 84

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Former Kansas State head coach Jim Dickey died on Saturday night at the age of 84.

A Texas native, Dickey played quarterback at Houston in the 1950’s and started his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater. From there he took assistant jobs at Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas and North Carolina before landing the K-State job ahead of the 1978 season. He went 25-53-2 in seven-plus seasons on the job, which doesn’t look like much at first blush until one takes stock of where the Wildcat football program was at the time.

Dickey took Kansas State to the Independence Bowl in 1982, a 14-3 loss to Wisconsin, which was the first bowl appearance in program history. He was named the Big 8’s Coach of the Year for that season.

After back-to-back 3-win seasons in 1983 and ’84, he was let go after an 0-2 start to the 1985 campaign. The program would remain historically down until future College Football Hall of Famer Bill Snyder built the program up in the 1990’s.

Dickey finished out his career as an assistant on the pre-Steve Spurrier Florida teams before retiring in 1989. He lived at a rest home in Houston at the time of his passing, according to the Manhattan Mercury. Dickey’s son, Darrell Dickey, is the former head coach at North Texas and currently the offensive coordinator at Texas A&M.

Mario Cristobal reportedly reuniting with former assistant in Eugene

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The Oregon coaching staff is going to have a specific South Florida flavor to it. Head coach Mario Cristobal is a Miami native, a former Hurricanes player and assistant, and the former head coach at Florida International. On Tuesday, Cristobal moved to bring a fellow South Floridian with him to the Pacific Northwest.

According to Grant Traylor of the Huntington (W. Va.) Herald-Dispatch, Marshall offensive line coach Alex Mirabal is leaving the staff to reunite with Cristobal in Eugene.

Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman added Mirabal will work under Cristobal, who will handle the offensive line.

Mirabal is also a native of Miami and a Florida International graduate. He spent the first decade-plus of his career working in Miami’s high school ranks before joining Cristobal’s FIU staff as tight ends and later offensive line coach from 2007-12. He landed at Marshall in 2013 after Cristobal was forced out at FIU, where he remained until Tuesday.

Under Mirabal’s guidance, Marshall finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed at just 0.85 per game. Oregon finished 54th nationally in that same metric.