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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About-face: Derrius Guice will play vs. Syracuse after all

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Never mind, I guess.

Wednesday night, Ed Orgeron flatly stated on his radio show that Derrius Guicewill not play this week” against Syracuse because of a left knee injury sustained in Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Mississippi State. Thursday, there was a complete 180-degree reversal.

“We got some good news today, at the beginning of the week, Derrius was ruled out, up to yesterday he wouldn’t be able to play,” Orgeron said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He came to us today and said ‘Coach, I’m feeling better, I want to practice.’ He practiced pretty good today so he’s going to get some snaps. He will play.”

OK then.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

Pitt FB/TD machine George Aston set to return vs. Georgia Tech

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One of the most efficient touchdown producers in college football in 2016 that you were probably completely unaware of appears ready to make his 2017 debut.

A vague lower-extremity injury knocked George Aston out of most of not only summer camp but also Pittsburgh’s first three regular-season games as well. With Georgia Tech on the horizon in Week 4, the fullback is listed as probable on the team’s official injury report released Thursday.

For a team that has scored just four offensive touchdowns in two games against FBS competition, Aston’s potential return could serve as somewhat of a boon for that side of the ball.

Last season, Aston totaled 75 yards on 22 carries as well as 169 yards on 22 receptions. In those 44 touches, Aston totaled 10 touchdowns — five on the ground, five through the air.

Saturday’s game will serve as the ACC opener for both Pitt and Tech.

NCAA approves waiver to allow UCF to schedule Austin Peay as hurricane replacement game

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Hurricane Irma forced a lot of shuffling and cancellations on the college football schedule but perhaps no team was more uniquely affected than Central Florida.

The Knights had two home games cancelled as a result of the storm, last weekend against Georgia Tech and a contest against Maine that was bought out as a way for the team to play their full AAC conference slate. Dropping the games left UCF with only 10 games for the 2017 season and a not ideal five home games as a result.

That has been cleared up somewhat however, as the school announced on Thursday that the NCAA has approved a waiver and that Austin Peay is now scheduled to go to Orlando for a Oct. 28th contest.

“I can’t thank Oliver Luck and the staff at the NCAA enough for their help and understanding of our situation,” UCF athletic director Danny White said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate Austin Peay being willing to visit Spectrum Stadium. We’re thrilled for our student-athletes, who deserve every opportunity they can get to go out and compete. I know our fans will be excited about the opportunity to have another Saturday at Spectrum Stadium.”

The Knights are currently 1-0 heading into their trip to play Maryland on Saturday. With the addition of an 11th game to their 2017 slate, UCF needs to go at least 6-5 in order to become bowl eligible as a result.

Clemson kicker Greg Huegel injured during practice, out for the season after ACL tear

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If Clemson is to defend their national title this season, they will do so without the services of their reliable kicker.

The school confirmed various reports on Thursday evening that redshirt junior Greg Huegel was injured during the Tigers’ practice on Wednesday night — on the final kick, no less — and tore his ACL. He will have surgery and will not play again in 2017.

While he didn’t get the press of Deshuan Watson or others, Huegel was a key part of the Clemson run the past few seasons after taking over as the starter in 2015. The former walk-on was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last year and had hit two of his four field goals to start off this season, one of which was a career-long 49 yard kick just last week.

Backup kicker Alex Spence is likely to take over for the Tigers in Huegel’s absence. The redshirt junior has never attempted a field goal in a game but has kicked off and made an extra point for Clemson this season.

Reserve tight end Cole Renfrow, the younger brother of title game star Hunter Renfrow, also tore his ACL in practice and is out the rest of the season as well.

Given the thin margins that College Football Playoff teams have nowadays, the loss of Huegel figures to be a big one for Dabo Swinney and company going forward. Clemson hosts Boston College this week but will face a stiff test on the road at Virginia Tech in an ACC title game rematch to end the month.