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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Florida’s statement on Jim McElwain’s death-threat claim is interesting, to say the least

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Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s something.  Regardless, it’s something that bears watching.

Losers of two in a row and off to a 3-3 start to the season,  Florida has underperformed and underwhelmed to say the least.  So much so, in fact, that head coach Jim McElwain indicated Monday that he, his family, his coaching staff and players have been subjected to death threats by unknown individuals.

The head coach went into no detail publicly regarding the nature of the threats.  Apparently, it was the same privately when discussing the situation with his employer.

OK then.

Again, it could be in the same neighborhood as naked shark humping — nothing. Bears watching, though, as one very outspoken member of the Florida media is very much already doing publicly about a situation that was apparently reported to the media before it was reported to the police or even the university.

LOOK: Arizona State to wear Pat Tillman-themed uniforms

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Pat Tillman is essentially the Knute Rockne of Arizona State football, the central figure that will be as important to the program 100 years from now as he is today. And while Notre Dame will wear Rockne-themed uniforms later this season, so, too, will Arizona State.

The program revealed Tillman-centric uniforms on Monday for their Nov. 4 game with Colorado, based on the uniform Tillman wore as a member of the U.S. Army while fighting in Afghanistan.

Tillman played linebacker at Arizona State from 1994-97 (he was named the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior) and then spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before the events of 9/11 inspired him to join the U.S. Army. He was a member of the Army Rangers before he was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, at age 27.

Arizona State unveiled a Tillman statue at Sun Devil Stadium at its season-opening win over New Mexico State.

“Pat spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could possibly be,” Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother, said at the unveiling. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was, ‘How can I make myself a better person in all these different facets of my life?’ And ASU gave him an opportunity to do that.”

Jim McElwain says family, players have received death threats over 3-3 start

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Florida has lost two in a row and is off to a 3-3 start, and that streak will probably reach three on Saturday after the Gators meet No. 3 Georgia. While everyone knows SEC fans are passionate about their football, some have taken Florida’s struggles too far.

How far? By threatening to kill the players and coaches.

“I think it’s a pretty good lesson for the way things are,” head coach Jim McElwain said, via Only Gators. “There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger. And yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when it’s threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there. And yet, I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. There’s a lot of angry people, and in this business, we’re the ones you take the shots at. And that’s the way it is.”

In my experience, it seems people lodging death threats are far more serious about the threat part than the, uh, other. But that’s easy for me to say, I’ve never received one.

Report: Sam Darnold expected to return to USC in 2018

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Sam Darnold was appointed the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the second day of 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold torched Penn State to the tune of 33-of-53 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a 52-49 Rose Bowl win.

One problem, though. Darnold hasn’t played like a No. 1 pick this season.

While he hasn’t been the most disappointing player on what’s turning out to be a disappointing USC team, Darnold has posted pedestrian numbers (for him): hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for an even eight yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He ranks 38th nationally in passing efficiency. This puts him, coincidentally, one spot ahead of former USC quarterback Max Browne.

On Monday, NFL Draft analyst Benjamin Allbright shared a report that Darnold is expected to return to USC next season.

Considering Ronald Jones could return next season and that Stephen Carr is just a freshman, the prospect of Darnold returning in 2018 has to take the sting out of a lost 2017 for Trojans fans.