CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 7 Oregon

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2011 record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st in North)

2011 postseason: Pac-12 title game (49-31 win over UCLA); Rose Bowl (45-38 win over Wisconsin)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 4/No. 4

Head coach: Chip Kelly (34-6 in three seasons at Oregon)

Offensive coordinator: Mark Helfrich (fourth season at Oregon, fourth as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 5th rushing offense (299.2 ypg); 68th passing offense (223.6 ppg); 4th total offense (522.8 ypg); 3rd scoring offense (46.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: five

Defensive coordinator: Nick Aliotti (13th season at Oregon, 13th as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 54th rushing defense (142.8 ypg); 88th passing defense (247.3 ypg); 67th total defense (390.1 ypg); 52nd scoring defense (24.6 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Eugene, Ore.

Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
The defense returns six starters from a unit that’s one of the speediest and most athletic in the country, an imperative in the wide-open Pac-12.  The schedule is full of cupcake goodness, from three non-conference pastries to home Pac-12 games against Arizona, Washington and Stanford.  Add in plenty of talent and the experience gleaned from three straight conference titles, and the Ducks are solidly in the mix for a fourth in a row.  Well, except for…

The Bad
Losing its starting quarterback  (Darron Thomas, who inexplicably gave up his final season of eligibility for the NFL), leading rusher (LaMichael James, who led the country the past two seasons in rushing yards per game) and leading receiver (Lavasier Tuinei) will leave a mark on the Ducks offensively.  While the schedule sets up nicely, the toughest test of the season will come on the road versus USC.

The Unknown
Hands down the biggest unknown for the Ducks in 2012 will be who will replace Thomas under center — and on the edges — and how effective the replacement will be.  While Thomas’ decision-making ability was questioned this offseason — he ended up an undrafted free agent — there was no questioning his abilities in running Kelly’s offense.  The task of replacing such a talent will come down to sophomore Bryan Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, with the latter exiting spring as the decided favorite to win the job heading into summer camp.  Regardless of which player ultimately emerges, how well they can manage to replace Thomas’ production will go a long way in determining whether the Ducks will have a spot on both the conference and national stage

Make-or-break game: at USC, Nov. 3
As noted in the USC preview, both of these teams should enter this game with spotless 8-0 records and rankings that would likely be a matchup of Top 5 squads.  As noted up above, however, the Ducks will have to travel to Los Angeles this year.  Oregon came away from its last trip to the Coliseum with a win, although this year’s Trojans are a much different team than the 2010 edition.  The only certainty in this game is that the winner will emerge as one of the front-runners for a spot in the BcS title game with three-quarters of the regular season in the books.

Heisman hopeful: running back Kenjon Barner
Playing in the immense shadow cast by one of the top running backs (LaMichael James) in the country over the past couple of years, Barner has still managed to rush for nearly 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns.  With James off to the NFL, Barner will be expected to pick up a sizable chunk of the production lost.  The bad news for Barner’s Heisman chances?  Electrifying true sophomore DeAnthony Thomas is expected to play a bigger role in the offense than he did as a freshman last year, which could dampen any stiff-armed hopes Barner may be entertaining entering the season.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Texas LB Malik Jefferson’s status for bowl game still up in the air

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As Texas prepares to play in the Texas Bowl against former Big 12 foe Missouri, it remains unknown whether or not linebacker Malik Jefferson will play.

Jefferson was reportedly diagnosed with a case of turf toe recently and is said to be considered day-to-day. Nick Moyle of the San Antonio Express-News reported the medical update via Twitter, and he also notes Jefferson still has not made a definitive decision on whether to leave for the NFL or not.

Jefferson would be considered a solid draft pick option at linebacker in the event he decides to leave Texas a year early to pursue a chance to play in the NFL. How this injury might impact that decision is nothing but speculation. However, players deciding to take to the NFL Draft the following spring have increasingly made the trendy decision to forgo their senior season and skip the bowl game when injuries play a factor. If Jefferson is to go to the NFL, it would not be a stunner to see him decide to skip out on the bowl game as well.

Jefferson is Texas’ leader in tackles this season with 110, including 79 solo tackles.

Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit to FAU may be Snoop Dogg

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There is no denying the allegiance Snoop Dogg has for his beloved USC Trojans, but Lane Kiffin has managed to find some room in Snoop’s rooting interests to bring him aboard the Lane Train. With Kiffin preparing FAU for their upcoming bowl game in the Boa Raton Bowl this week, Kiffin managed to bring Snoop Dogg and Luther Campbell out to a practice.

Campbell, of course, is a Miami fan, but FAU has become a bit of a popular secondary team with Kiffin to lead the charge. Getting Uncle Luke to suit up in FAU gear and pose for a picture with Snoop Dogg deserves an automatic retweet of Kiffin’s account on Twitter.

Kiffin coached FAU to the Conference USA championship in his first season as the head coach of the Owls. With a good blend of JUCO transfers and new offensive mindset, FAU soared under Kiffin as he rebuilt his coaching pedigree. Kiffin remains one of the names to watch in the coaching carousel, although this year’s cycle may have gone through the motions without Kiffin getting a chance somewhere else. But if Kiffin is successful in Year 2, the Lane Train may be leaving the Boca Raton station for another destination soon enough.

Middle Tennessee holds on to win the bizarre (and turnover-filled) Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.

It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.

The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent  touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.

Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.

The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.

Defense comes up big to help Middle Tennessee grab Camellia Bowl lead at halftime over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for  80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.

Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.

The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.

It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.