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.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Marshall pushes bowl winning streak to six in escaping with win over Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl

Associated Press
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The Streak lives.  Barely.

Marshall (8-5) came into Saturday’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl having won five straight bowl games.  Exiting Albuquerque, Marshall will head back to Huntington armed with a six-game postseason winning streak as they escaped with a 31-28 win over Colorado State (7-6).

The first half was all about the passing of quarterback Chase Litton.  The second half was all about the running game — with a little Litton sprinkled in as well.

Up 21-14 at halftime, Tyler King outran the CSU defense to score on a 90-yard touchdown run very early in the third quarter to give MU a 28-14 lead that had the feeling of putting the game out of reach.  King finished the win with 106 yards rushing, one of two Thundering Herd running backs to top the 100-yard mark as Keion Davis chipped in with a team-high 141 yards.  Davis himself scored on a 68-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give the Herd its halftime lead.

After throwing for 177 in the first half, Litton finished with 262 through the air.  Tyre Brady, who caught six passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, was named the Player of the Game.

Entering the fourth quarter, MU held what walked, talked and looked like an extremely comfortable 31-14 lead.  CSU, however, cut the lead to 31-28 midway through the quarter on a pair of Nick Stevens touchdowns (one passing, one rushing).  Getting the ball back with just over six minutes remaining and pinned back on their own 16-yard line, the Rams, who caught a break when a fumble recovered by the Herd was negated by defensive holding, couldn’t reach midfield on their last drive as their hopes for a come-from-behind win were extinguished after turning the ball over on downs.

(That Michael Gallup catch to briefly extend that last drive, though.  Wow.)

While Marshall extended its winning streak — Doc Holliday is 5-0 as head coach — Colorado State extended a skein in the opposite direction as the Rams have now lost four bowl games in a row.

FCS title game set: defending champ James Madison vs. five-time champ North Dakota State

Associated Press
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If everyone is being honest with themselves, and aside from the opposing fans, this is the matchup we were all looking for.

Friday night, No. 2 North Dakota State (13-1) routed No. 6 Sam Houston State (12-2) 55-13 to claim one spot in the 2017 FCS championship game.  One day later, top seed James Madison (14-0) easily took care of business against No. 5 South Dakota State (11-3), claiming the other spot with a methodical 51-16 semifinal woodshedding.

The top two seeds in this years tournament will now square off Jan. 6 in Frisco, Tex., for the 2017 FCS championship.

James Madison is the reigning national champion, claiming the school’s second-ever title with a 28-14 win over Youngstown State last season.  North Dakota State, meanwhile, will be looking to get back to the trophy mountaintop after they won a record five straight championships from 2011-15.

The Bison will likely be shorthanded for that contest, however, as their two starting cornerbacks — Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush — suffered knee injuries in the semifinal win while their second-leading rusher, Ty Brooks, suffered a shoulder injury.  Despite the game being nearly three weeks away, all three are expected to be sidelined for the contest.

Oregon rolls snake eyes in Mario Cristobal’s Las Vegas Bowl debut

Associated Press
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With Justin Hebert in the lineup, Oregon’s offense was one of the best in college football, racking up 50 points and 580 yards per game. The Ducks had Hebert in the lineup on Saturday, but the Oregon attack looked nothing like it had under Willie Taggart in Mario Cristobal‘s head coaching debut.

Oregon committed four turnovers, was doubled up on first downs, was out-gained by nearly 200 yards, did not cross the 50-yard line until more than midway through the third quarter and its offense did not score until the fourth quarter in a deceptively-close 38-28 loss to No. 25 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Boise State jumped out to a 24-0 lead, and hopped on the Ducks from the jump. The Broncos’ defense posted a three-and-out to open the game, then rolled down the field, going 67 yards in 13 plays and concluding with a nifty 1-yard Ryan Wolpin run.

Boise State forced another three-and-out on Oregon’s next possession and again moved into scoring territory when the Ducks scored their best play of the game, as cornerback Arrion Springs baited Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien into throwing an end zone interception.

It didn’t matter, though, because Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James was forced into a fumble by the Broncos’ Leighton Vander Esch, and Rypien erased his mistake with a 26-yard scoring strike to Cedrick Wilson

The first quarter closed with another minus-territory fumble, as this time Hebert lost the ball as he was being sacked at his own 21 but Boise State could not capitalize when Haden Hoggarth missed a 42-yard field goal.

After another Oregon punt, Hoggarth pushed Boise’s lead to 17-0 by converting a 39-yard field goal at the 8:59 mark of the second quarter.

Hebert followed up his fumble with two consecutive interceptions, with the second pick being returned 53 yards for a touchdown by Kekaula Kaniho, pushing the lead to 24-0 with 5:11 left in the first half.

Boise State had a chance to close the half with a 31-0 lead, but instead let Oregon back in the game with two disastrous plays inside the final minute. First, a Statue of Liberty play backfired when Rypien’s exchange bounced off Alexander Mattison‘s face mask and Oregon’s Troy Dye picked it up and raced 86 yards for the Ducks’ first touchdown with 37 ticks left in the half. Then, after a 67-yard completion to Wilson, Rypien’s pass into the end zone was intercepted and returned for a 100-yard touchdown by Oregon’s Tyree Robinson with seven seconds left, giving Oregon 14 defensive points in a 30-second span.

The Broncos accepted the ball to open the second half and managed to complete this drive, moving 75 yards in a dozen plays, finding pay dirt on a 13-yard strike from Rypien to Alec Dhaenens to push their advantage to 31-14. The score remained there for the next quarter as the teams traded punts on six consecutive possessions until Oregon’s offense finally affected the score with an Oregon-esque 8-play, 78-yard drive that spanned less than two minutes. Hebert hit Brenden Schooler for a 24-yard score to bring the Ducks within 10 with 10:07 to play, then took over at his own 42 just over a minute later with a chance to pull his club within three, but he was sacked for a loss of 10 yards on a third down from the Boise State 42, forcing a punt. 

Boise State used the extra chance to put the game out of reach, slicing 86 yards in 11 plays, punctuated by another 1-yard Wolpin run with 2:22 to play. Hebert pulled Oregon back within 10 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jaylon Redd with 1:12 left, but the Ducks could not recover the ensuing onside kick. He finished the game an up-and-down 26-of-36 for 233 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions, one fumble, and four sacks. Even with those four sacks, Hebert rushed nine times for a team-leading 16 yards, as the Ducks were out-gained 112-52 on the ground.

Rypien completed 21-of-38 throws for 362 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and Wilson caught 10 passes for 221 yards and one score.

The win pushed Boise State to 4-0 in the Las Vegas Bowl, the best mark by any team in the history of the 26-year-old game, and to 3-0 all-time against Oregon. It also gave Boise State its 11th season of 11-plus wins over the last 16 years. This marked the sixth time Boise State has closed one of those 11-plus win seasons with a bowl victory over a Power 5 opponent, and the first since Bryan Harsin closed a 12-2 debut season of 2014 with a 38-30 Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona. That number trails only Ohio State for the most in FBS since 2002.

Oregon, meanwhile, concluded its season of multiple changes at 7-6. Saturday’s loss was not without precedent, though. Cristobal became the second consecutive coach to lose his debut in the Las Vegas Bowl, joining Major Applewhite, who dropped his Houston debut in a 34-10 rout to San Diego State last season. There was also another Oregon coach who began his tenure with an inauspicious loss to Boise State. He coaches at UCLA now.

Slumbering offenses awaken as Marshall takes halftime lead on Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl

Gildan New Mexico Bowl
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If you’re a fan of defensive football, you were loving the Gildan New Mexico Bowl — until the second quarter happened.

After a first quarter completely dominated by both defenses, the two combatants traded offensive jabs in the second as Marshall (7-5) took a 21-14 lead on Colorado State (7-5) into the halftime locker room.  And what a second quarter it was as the two teams combined for three lead changes and a pair of ties.

Very early in the period, Thundering Herd quarterback Chase Litton threw a 76-yard touchdown pass to Tyre Brady to account for the first score of the half.  On the ensuing possession, a Detrich Clark five-yard touchdown catch from Nick Stevens capped 15-play, 75-yard drive to tie the game at 7-all.  The possession after that, Litton tossed his second touchdown pass, hitting Ryan Yurachek from 15 yards out for MU’s second lead of the contest.  The possession after that, Stevens called his own number and scored on a nine-yard run to knot the score once again. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before but, on the possession after that, Keion Davis rumbled 68 yards yards for a touchdown to hand the lad back to the Herd.

Litton finished the half with 185 yards passing, 136 of which went to Brady.  Stevens, meanwhile, passed for 128 yards.

On the running side of the ledger, Davis had 85 yards on the ground on just six carries.

Thanks to special teams, the Herd, looking to win its sixth straight bowl game, could’ve taken a two-touchdown lead into halftime as Hyleck Foster returned a punt 83 yards for a score early in the first quarter.  However, he was penalized for an illegal fair-catch signal and the touchdown was taken off the board.

While the Herd is looking to extend a winning streak, the Rams are looking to snap its three-game bowl losing streak.  Their last postseason win? The 2013 New Mexico Bowl

Colorado State will get the ball on offense to start the second half.