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The Fifth Quarter: Week 9 Rewind

Chaos Theory

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

Chaos in the offing?
Don’t look now, but we could be in for an unprecedented controversy in the second-to-last year of existence for the BcS.  With five weeks left in the regular season, including conference championship game weekend in early December, there exists the very real possibility there could be four unbeaten teams from so-called BcS conferences left standing as No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Notre Dame all held serve and remained unbeaten this weekend — and, yes, I’m discounting Louisville from title talk at the moment.  While the chance for an upset is always right around the corner — hello Oklahoma State and Oregon State circa 2011 and 2012, respectively — the schedules for all four teams suggest the worst-case scenario before a four-team playoff is implemented in 2014 could very well become a reality:

Alabama: at LSU, Texas A&M, Western Carolina, Auburn
Oregon: at USC, at Cal, Stanford, Oregon State
Kansas State: Oklahoma State, at TCU, at Baylor, Texas
Notre Dame: Pittsburgh, at Boston College, Wake Forest, at USC

Again, there are plenty of late-season speed bumps for all five teams in the apocalyptic scenario for it to never fully come to fruition.  However, as an ardent anti-BcS proponent and even as I’d hate it for the teams and players involved, I would love nothing more than for that very thing to happen and further embarrass the sham that is the current system for determining a national champion, whether it’s in its last days or not.

Little Manhattan, big-time football
One of the best storylines in college football this season has been Kansas State’s ascension to the national stage, and in Week 9 K-State continued rolling right along.  Literally.  After falling behind No. 15 Texas Tech 10-3 early in the second quarter, the Wildcats scored on eight straight possessions, with the seventh of those possessions punctuated a minute later by an interception return for a touchdown.  That 52-14 run lifted K-State to its eighth consecutive win in 2012.  And further buttressed the case for Bill Snyder as it relates to national honors.  While there has been talk about the job Penn State’s Bill O’Brien has been doing in scandal-ridden Happy Valley, there’s only one logical choice for Coach of the Year honors all across the board.  What Snyder has done in Manhattan is nothing short of staggering and should be duly recognized for the masterpiece that it is.  Of course, having the presumptive Heisman front-runner — Collin Klein, two passing and two rushing touchdowns vs. Tech — doesn’t hurt, but it should take nothing away from the totality of Snyder’s 2012 work.

Can’t spell “Heisman Trophy” without “Manti Te’o”
Ben did an excellent job recapping the they’re-real-and-they’re-spectacular Notre Dame win over Oklahoma, so we’ll just touch on one angle of the fascinating 2012 story that is the Irish: linebacker Manti Te’o.  Simply put, the senior heart and soul of the Irish defense is, on a weekly basis, putting on the most dominating defensive display since Ndamukong Suh in 2009.  That year, the Nebraska defensive lineman terrorized opponents throughout the season and earned a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.  Based on his play thus far, Te’o deserves at least that much.  If Collin Klein, the presumptive front-runner at this point, were to stub his toe at some point, though, Te’o and the combination of his dominating play plus the poignant story attached to his 2012 season could become (gasp!) the first purely defensive player to take home the stiff-armed trophy.

Classy Vols
The heartbreaking injury suffered by Marcus Lattimore in South Carolina’s win over Tennessee did have one endearing moment, at least as much as could be had in such a devastating situation.  As Lattimore was being placed onto a cart to be taken into the locker room for further treatment, the running back was, understandably, surrounded by the entire Gamecocks squad.  In one of the classier moves you’ll ever see on a football field, though, the entire Volunteer team came across from their sidelines and did the same, with some offering personal “keep your head up” messages to the injured player.  “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like that,” head coach Steve Spurrier said of what UT did post-injury.  Top notch, Vols.  Top notch.  And, if you ever want to know what kind of player college football may have lost for good, that gesture from the opposing sideline spoke volumes.

Huskers: They are Legends
For the moment, at least.  Thanks to Nebraska’s 23-9 win over Michigan, the Cornhuskers and Wolverines are tied for first place atop the Big Ten’s Legends division at 3-1.  As the Huskers hold the head-to-head advantage, however, they tentatively sit in the driver’s seat with four conference games remaining — at Michigan State and Iowa and home games versus Penn State and Minnesota.  On the other side of the conference, and despite their overtime loss to Michigan State, Wisconsin is firmly in control of the Leaders division at 3-2; the next-best eligible team is Indiana at 1-3 and oh my goodness is the B1G just sad this season.

Buckeyes hoist IneligiBowl trophy
Thanks to NCAA sanctions, neither Ohio State nor Penn State are eligible for the 2012 postseason, turning the Week 9 matchup of the top two teams in the Big Ten’s Leaders division into a de facto bowl game for both programs.  And, thanks to a dominating second-half performance, the Buckeyes can continue to stake its unofficial claim as the best team in the Big Ten.  With the score tied at seven coming out of halftime, OSU scored 21 third-quarter points to effectively put the game out of reach for a Nittany Lions’ offense whose NASCAR package was the equivalent of Danica Patrick on this Saturday afternoon.  The 35-23 win pushes the Buckeyes to 9-0 in the first season under Urban Meyer and keeps them on track for the only thing other than pride they still have to play for: the Leaders’ division trophy, for which they are still eligible even as they are ineligible for the Big Ten title game.

Marquise performer
Based on God-given ability, there’s likely not a better or more naturally-gifted player than Marquise Lee at the wide receiver position in all of college football.  Never was that more evident than in USC’s game against Arizona.  The true sophomore caught 12 passes for 255 yards… then decided to come out and play in the second half.  Lee finished with 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns, with the yardage total representing new school and conference records.  Lee actually totaled 469 yards as he returned three kicks for 123 yards and rushed once for one yard.  It was all for naught, however, the No. 10 Trojans dropped a 39-36 decision to Arizona,

Sammy no longer MIA
— In 2011, Sammy Watkins caught 12 touchdown passes and accounted for 1,219 receiving yards en route to an All-American season as a true freshman. This season? Yeah, not so much. Through Clemson’s first nine games last season, the wide receiver had hauled in 10 touchdowns; Thursday night, in the Tigers’ ninth game of the season, Watkins caught his first touchdown of the season. Entering the 42-13 dismantling of Wake Forest, Watkins had 202 yards receiving on the season; he matched his season total in the game. Yes, there was the suspension for the first two games of the season due to an offseason arrest, and yes there was the missed late-September game against Boston College due to illness, but the fact that we’re deep into October and a talent such as Watkins has crossed the goal line for the first time and matched his seasonal yardage total in a single game is one of the more under-the-radar developments of the 2012 season.

Off the SEChnide
Coming into Week 9, Missouri was one of just two teams in the country — lowly Hawaii being the other — that switched conferences for the 2012 season and had yet to win a game in league play.  Thanks to the gift that is Kentucky football, that’s no longer the case.  A 33-14 win over the hapless MWildcats gave Mizzou its first-ever win in SEC play and lifted the Tigers out of the East division cellar.  Despite the win, Mizzou showed that it still has a ways to go before it’s able to compete with the middleweights of the SEC, let alone the heavyweights like Alabama, Florida and LSU.

LOSERS

World’s Largest Penalty-Ridden Turnover Party
In the Florida-Georgia game, the two teams combined for nearly as many penalties (22) as points (26).  There were five interceptions and four fumbles lost for both teams, with the Gators committing six of those miscues — four fumbles, two interceptions.  The Bulldogs converted just one of 11 third downs in the 17-9 win, while the Gators averaged a paltry 1.7 yards on its 40 rushing attempts.  The two teams totaled 526 yards of offense, or 89 yards less than Oregon had in their win over Colorado.  Simply put, no amount of lipstick could mask this pig of a game… and as far as UGA’s concerned, it matters not a single bit.  Georgia, with wins over Ole Miss and Auburn the next two weeks, will clinch a second straight trip to the SEC championship game.  That qualifies this game as a thing of beauty to Bulldog Nation.

Beavers pelted from ranks of unbeatens
With another Upset Saturday in full effect, the final game of the night was the cherry on top of a ridiculously chaotic sundae.  Oregon State entered their game with unranked Washington as the No. 7 team in the country, the Beavers outgained the Huskies 427-293… but coughed the ball up four times in a stunning 20-17 road loss to UW.  Likely off the table?  OSU’s dreams of a spot in the Pac-12 title game and a seat at the BcS big-boy table.  A for-the-ages Civil War game against Oregon at the end of November.  While the season’s certainly not lost — a win over the Ducks could still lead to a division title — but the loss did put a significant dent in the feel-good story.  The loss is not exactly a surprise, however, as the Beavers had won their previous six games by a total of 58 points, including three by seven points or less and two by three points apiece.

Big East bushMACked again
Two weeks ago, the Little Conference That Couldn’t was one of the surprises of the 2012 season, boasting more undefeated teams — Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers — than any other conference not initialed “SEC.”  After Week 9?   Yeah, not so much.  One week after the Bearcats dropped their first game of the season to Toledo, the No. 15 Scarlet Knights served as the conference’s latest MACrificial lamb, with Kent State — they of the 7-1 Golden Flashes — traveling to Piscataway and heading back to Ohio with a 35-23 win.  Kent State forced seven turnovers in beating a ranked team for the first time in the program’s history, ending a losing streak of 22 straight games against ranked opponents.

Reverse MACtion
The Midwestern conference’s lone shot at playing BcS buster is no more.  Ohio University, which was ranked last weekend in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since 1968, came into their game with conference rival Miami of Ohio sporting an unblemished 7-0 record and ranked as the No. 23 team in the country.  The Bobcats’ dream season came to end, however, as the RedHawks found itself on the winning end of a 23-20 score. The loss dropped the Bobcats into a third-place tie in the MAC East, behind Kent State and Bowling Green.

Wolfpack special teams not so special
It’s one thing to lose late to a bitter in-state rival.  It’s another animal entirely to do so on account of a collective special teams gaffe.  With under 30 seconds remaining and the game tied at 35 — and surely headed to overtime — the Wolfpack punted to the Tar Heels’ Giovani Bernard.  73 yards later, and with just :13 left, UNC had a 43-35 lead and the ballgame firmly stuffed into its back pocket.  The game-winning return capped a wild day for the Tar Heels as they jumped out to a 25-7 lead, then fell behind 35-25 before scoring 18 unanswered fourth-quarter points.

Southern aMiss
Last season, Southern Miss finished the year at 12-2, claiming the Conference USA championship and a bowl win.  Head coach Larry Fedora subsequently left for North Carolina… and the Golden Eagles have completely unraveled under first-year coach Ellis Johnson.  The 44-17 loss to Rice was the eighth straight to open the 2012 season, with the losses coming by an average of 20 points per game.  USM and UMass, in its first year at the FBS level, are the lone winless teams in major college football.  It’s unlikely Johnson is in any type of danger of losing his job after just one season, but, if the losing continues through the end of 2012, he’ll enter 2013 squarely on the hot seat.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 6 Oregon State , Washington :

– No. 16 Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31: This was not your ordinary ranked-vs.-unranked matchup Friday night as the Bearcats, up until last weekend, were one of three undefeated Big East teams.  That fact showed as UC extended the Cardinals into overtime before the ‘Ville both snapped its four-game losing streak to this Big East foe and stayed unbeaten on the season.  This close shave continued a 2012 trend for the Cardinals; after winning the first two games by a combined 46 points, they’ve won the last six by a total of 31, including five by seven points or less.

– No. 17 South Carolina 38, Tennessee 35: Despite the loss of its top running back, the Gamecocks were able to hold off a game Volunteers squad and put a halt to a two-game losing streak.

– No. 19 Stanford 24, Washington State 17: Tied at the half at 10-all, the Cardinal hung on for a closer-than-expected win over the two-win Cougars.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — First real test of the 2012 season?  Passed with flying colors.  Next weekend, though, is the test for the Tide.(Last week: No. 1)
Up next: at No. 6 LSU

2. Oregon — The Ducks buffaloed (see what I did there?) their way to 56 points and 447 yards of total offense in the first half in a resounding evisceration of Colorado.  The relative cakewalk the 2012 season has been for UO comes to a halt next week as the Ducks travel to USC, followed by back-to-back games against ranked teams (Stanford and Oregon State) to close out the regular season. (Last week: No. 2)
Up next: at USC

3. Kansas State — Road wins over then-No. 6 Oklahoma and then-No.13 West Virginia added to the thrashing of No. 15 Texas Tech is enough for me to push the Wildcats into the No. 3 hole.  Well, that and the Gators’ loss, of course. (Last week: No. 4)
Up next: vs. Oklahoma State

4. Notre Dame — For the first time this season, the Irish enter my little corner of the rankings world.  The win over Oklahoma pushed the Domers to 8-0 for the first time since 2002, and they won’t be truly tested again until the season-finale against USC. (Last week: unranked)
Up next: vs. Pittsburgh

5. (blank as no one is worthy)

COACHING HOT SEAT
A weekly look at some of the current head coaches who could most likely be an ex-head coaches by season’s end — if not sooner.

– Auburn’s Gene Chizik: The latest data point that Chizik’s not long for The Plains?  At Jordan-Hare Saturday, the Tigers were down to Texas A&M 42-7 at the half, trailing in total yards by a staggering 464-91 count.  The most damning part of the evening, however, was the fact that the stadium was less than half full before the gun sounded on the second quarter.  There’s only one thing worse than a pissed-off fan base, and that’s an apathetic one.  If that’s indeed where the Tiger faithful are at the moment, Chizik is in deeper trouble than his president’s letter earlier in the week suggested.

– Tennessee’s Derek Dooley: The Vols are just 4-17 in SEC play in two-plus seasons under Dooley, 1-12 since the start of the 2011 season.  UT’s last conference win came in overtime against Vanderbilt Nov. 19.  The Knoxville natives are restless and are no longer drinking the Dool-Aid, and the clock is certainly ticking on coach’s time on Rocky Top.

– Kentucky’s Joker Phillips: Phillips has actually out-Dooley’d the coach he beat last year, going 4-18 in the SEC the past two-plus seasons.  The Wildcats could be one of four SEC programs in search of a new head coach at season’s end, joining UA (probably), UT (probably) and Arkansas (definitely).

HE SAID IT
“There’s a lot at stake down the stretch and we could still have a really good season.” — UT head coach Derek Dooley, presumably stated with a straight face and everything.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I still can’t believe it. I’m still shaking right now. After that I started crying. I couldn’t hold my emotions back.” — North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard following his game-winning punt return for a touchdown.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“He told us to kick ass.” — SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, when asked what former President George W. Bush said to the Mustangs in his pregame speech prior the Memphis game.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
This is a photo of Jordan-Hare Stadium, snapped by al.com just as halftime of the A&M-Auburn game commenced:

Yeah, Chizik might be in a bit of trouble.

YOU DON’T SAY?
Braxton Miller became the third different Big Ten quarterback and the first Ohio State quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El and Michigan’s Denard Robinson (twice) are the other two.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– During a stretch of 65 seasons — 1927-1988, 2006-08 — Kansas State won 168 games.  In 21 seasons under Bill Snyder, K-State has won 167 games.  Snyder has led the Wildcats to 14 winning seasons; in the 80 non-Snyder years, KSU has had 16 plus-.500 seasons.  And one more note on arguably the most underrated head coach in college football history: K-State has been to 15 bowl games in their history, with 13 of those appearances coming on Snyder’s watch.

– You might as well go ahead and write Jarvis Jones‘ name in Sharpie as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week: in the upset win over Florida, the Georgia linebacker was credited with a career-high 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

– Auburn’s 63-21 loss to Texas A&M was the worst home loss in school history, and the points were the most given up by the Tigers since 1917.  The 671 yards allowed were also the most ever surrendered by AU in a single game.

– In the past five games — two of them of them losses — Texas has given up 1,299 yards rushing.  That’s more than what nine teams gave up all last season.

– Kansas has now lost 16 consecutive Big 12 games.  Their last win in conference play came Nov. 6, 2010, against Colorado, which is now a member of the Pac-12.  Their last win against a team still in the Big 12?  Oct. 10, 2009, over Iowa State.

– With the 31-17 win over Illinois, Indiana snapped its 11-game Big Ten losing streak.  Still, the Hoosiers are just 4-32 in conference play since 2008.

– Playing in just his third game at Oklahoma since being cleared by the NCAA, Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders set school records for most receptions in a game (15) and a quarter (eight).

– It was a record-setting Thursday night all around for Clemson as Watkins’ 202 receiving yards broke the school mark that was just set earlier this year by DeAndre Hopkins (197), while Tajh Boyd‘s 428 yards passing surpassed Charlie Whitehurst‘s 420 yards in 2002.

– North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns against North Carolina… in the first half alone.  Glennon finished with 467 yards and five touchdowns in the 43-35 loss to the Tar Heels.

– In the above game, UNC running back Giovani Bernard accounted for 304 total yards: 135 rushing, 95 receiving and 74 on punt returns.

Connor Shaw threw for a career-high 356 yards in the win over Tennessee.

– The 70 points by Oregon in its 56-point throttling of Colorado set the school record for a conference game.

– Steele Jantz set career highs with 381 yards passing and five touchdowns in Iowa State’s 35-21 win over Baylor.

Max Tuerk became the first true freshman to start a game at left tackle in the storied history of the USC football program, protecting Matt Barkley‘s blind side in the loss to Arizona.

–- SID Stat of the Day, Thursday Night Edition: Clemson did not score in the third quarter of the win over Wake, marking just the second quarter all year in which the Tigers did not score.

– Tweet Stat of the Day, from Mark Story of Kentucky.com: “With loss to Missouri, UK all-time record is 579-580-44. Last time UK under .500 (44-45-6) was after falling to Transy in 1902 finale.”

– Navy rushed for 512 yards in a 56-28 win over East Carolina.

FINAL THOUGHT
If the rumors concerning the severity of Lattimore’s injury are true — we’re not going to touch on them until the situation is confirmed by South Carolina — it would be one of the most devastating injuries a football player can suffer.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the classy young man as he works his way through a situation that’s rough physically, mentally and emotionally.

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Alabama Class of 2015 receiver only eligible for 3 games this fall

No, we are not looking into the future at the 2015 Alabama outlook just yet, but this is a bit of an interesting story out of the state of Florida. One of Alabama’s recruits lined up for the Class of 2015, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, will only be eligible to play three games this fall for Monarch High School. The reason? An age restriction.

Ridley will be 19 years and nine months old following the third game of the season, which is the maximum age allowed for football players in the state of Florida by the Florida High School Athletic Association. That will allow Ridley to play in just three games this season for his high school in his senior season. His high school’s athletics director, James Klemke, told The Sun Sentinel there will be no appeal.

Ridley is a five-star wide receiver and top ten receiver nationally in the Class of 2015 according to Rivals. Ridley committed to Alabama in April as Alabama was already underway in organizing what will likely be another one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Staying in shape after he is done playing football will be key. It does not appear there are any restrictions on working out with his high school team after his eligibility runs out, but expect Ridley to do whatever he will be able to in order to stay in as close to game shape as possible as he prepares to head to Alabama.

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Jimbo Fisher comfortable with receiver position

Christian Green, A.J. Highsmith, Ladarius Gunter

Florida State lost a pair of wide receivers in the first round of the most recent NFL Draft, so you might think the Seminoles have some big shoes to fill. They do, after losing Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin. Fortunately, head coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well since taking over as head coach and has options ready to fill in. If the season were to start today, Rashad Greene and Christian Green. Fisher, though, has faith in all of the tools in his toolbox at the position.

“I feel very comfortable with eight guys in that rotation right now,” Fisher said, according to the Associated Press. ”That’s not playing them all, but I’d feel very comfortable if they had to go into the football game.”

Greene starting was a given, of course. Despite a paid of first-round receivers on the field, Greene was Florida State’s leading receiver in 2013 with 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. Green finished the year sixth on the Seminoles with 157 yards on 13 receptions. Running back Devonte Freeman finished fifth on the team with 278 receiving yards as well.

Of course, having a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jameis Winston certainly helps the stability in the passing game as well. Florida State looks pretty stacked for the upcoming season, and the passing game should once again be effective and ready to break out some big plays along the way to a potential title defense.

Florida State opens the 2014 season in Arlington, Texas against Oklahoma State.

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ND Shamrock Series uniform shows switching to Under Armour was wise

Notre Dame 2014 Shamrock Series

Notre Dame has had a cringe-worthy history when it comes to the special Shamrock Series uniforms. Two years ago brought us one of the most bizarre helmet designs that looked more like a printing error with its asymmetry, and last season’s uniform was only a little better. With the season drawing near and Under Armour taking over as uniform apparel provider, there were many questions about how the new uniform partner would leave their stamp on the Shamrock Series uniforms after years of working with Adidas.

Score one in the win column for Under Armour, which has come a long way since throwing together this atrocity.

Notre Dame and Under Armour unveiled the new uniforms for the upcoming season, and did so in non-offensive fashion by keeping true to Notre Dame’s classic look for the home and away uniforms and a Shamrock series

This video suggests the designers are trying to tell a story with the new uniform, which seems to be a trend for uniform designers lately. You can buy into the whole storytelling concept as you see fit, but the Cliff’s Notes version probably simply states Notre Dame sticks to the blue, slaps on a matte logo on the golden dome, which now features a subtle touch of a diamond pattern. At a quick glance, Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series uniform looks like it should have been shipped to Pittsburgh for the Panthers, but this is far better than past iterations of the alternate look.

Under Armour has already left a solid impression on a classic look, something Adidas was never able to do with the Irish. What do you think about the new uniform for Notre Dame?

Photo via Notre Dame Athletics.

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It’s official: Braxton Miller to miss 2014 season

Braxton Miller AP

O-H!  UH-OH!!!

Unfortunately for Ohio State and the fans of its football team, their worst fears have been realized as OSU announced today that, as widely expected, starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entire 2014 season.  Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year reinjured his right(throwing) shoulder during practice Monday, with at least a couple of reports indicating that the he suffered a dislocated shoulder on a throw in which there was no contact.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation.”

Other than he reinjured the same shoulder, the school declined to acknowledge the specific nature of the injury. They did allow that it was a non-contact play and the injury will require surgery to repair.

There is not timetable as of yet for surgery or a return to football activities.

Former Ohio State All-American wide receiver Joey Galloway, who was at yesterday’s practice, “said the injury to Braxton occurred on a rollout throwing a short pass toward the sideline.”

“He didn’t even get hit,” a source told Pete Thamel of SI.com. “He threw and it’s just a freakish thing. Everyone is scratching their head on how it happened.” Thamel added that Miller suffered a torn labrum, not a dislocation of his shoulder.

The injury didn’t go unnoticed all across college football and by former teammates.  And Las Vegas.

There was some good news, at least for now, amidst the gloom as Miller revealed that he will return to the Buckeyes for the 2015 season.  Miller is a fourth-year senior and has yet to use a redshirt.

He’ll use one this year and then, if he does return — he could change his mind and enter the 2015 NFL draft — he’ll be a fifth-year senior who would be poised to again lead his beloved Buckeyes.

“I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” said Miller, who is 26-8 as a starter, including 24-2 the past two seasons, in his statement. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season.”

That’s the future, though. The present is what currently matters most to OSU.

JT Barrett

JT Barrett

With the end of Miller’s season officially finalized, the Buckeyes will turn to, at least initially, J.T. Barrett.  The redshirt freshman had been in a battle throughout spring practice and on into summer camp with sophomore Cardale Jones to be Miller’s backup, only just recently moving into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Both Barrett and Jones received extensive work during the 15 spring sessions as Miller rehabbed the partially torn labrum he suffered in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, which was subsequently repaired in what at the time was described as minor surgery in late February.  That extra work for the two reserves continued into summer camp as Miller had been limited due to what was described as soreness in his shoulder.

While the pair have received additional reps because of Miller’s issues, it won’t help the game-day inexperience.  Barrett has never thrown a pass at the collegiate level, while Jones has thrown just two.

Despite the lack of on-field experience at this level, Barrett will enter the huddle with a fairly lofty recruiting pedigree and an assertive leadership style.

A four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, Barrett was rated as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  Easily the biggest knock on Barrett is his arm strength, or lack thereof.  His offensive coordinator/position coach, however, says the former Texas high schooler more than makes up for lack of a cannon on his shoulder in other facets of the game.

“Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader,” Tom Herman said earlier this month of a player who’s turned out to be his new starting quarterback. “I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him.

“We’ve got to work on strengthening his arm. He’s a distant third in terms of Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I’m very pleased with his continuing growth.”

Cardale Jones

Cardale Jones

Jones, a three-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2011 recruiting class who delayed his enrollment at OSU for prep school, was rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country that year.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman, then played sparingly in 2013; in 39 plays from scrimmage last season, Jones threw the ball twice (completing one for three yards) and ran 17 times (for 128 yards and a touchdown).

Meyer didn’t address just who will start the opener against Navy, although it was noted in the release that “[i]t was previously announced by Meyer on Saturday that Barrett, a 6-1, 225-pounder from Wichita Falls, Texas, had moved ahead of Jones for the No. 2 quarterback spot.”  Recently, Barrett has taken the lion’s share of reps with the first-team offense as he separated himself from Jones.

Taking all of that into account, there’s no reason to tap dance around it — losing Miller for the year is a significant blow to the Buckeyes and will certainly have an impact on the Big Ten Race.  It also may very well significantly impact the first year of the College Football Playoff as the Buckeyes, despite the Big Ten title-game loss to Michigan State, were the overwhelming favorites to claim the conference and emerge as the league’s playoff representative.  Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football; some would even argue that he’s the most irreplaceable and indispensable, given the unproven running backs in OSU’s stable and the coaching staff having to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen.

Even as it may seem like it in the here and now, the season’s not completely lost for the Buckeyes.  As, just to name a few, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel,  Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Florida State’s Jameis Winston have shown over the past couple of years, redshirt freshmen are perfectly capable of successfully leading their teams in their first seasons as starters.  One of those four (Winston) won a BCS title, while another (Golson) helped lead his team to the BCS title game.  Winston won the Heisman en route to the championship, while Manziel took home his while helping the Aggies win 11 games their first season in the SEC.  Mariota was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 as the Ducks won 11 games, including the Fiesta Bowl.

More than likely, the Ducks and Aggies would’ve qualified for the playoffs were that system around in 2012, the former in particular.

Then there’s this: USC’s Matt Leinart (2004), LSU’s Matt Flynn (2007) Alabama’s Greg McElroy (2009), Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010), Alabama’s AJ McCarron (2011) and Winston (2013) all won BCS titles in their first year as starters over the last decade.

Who knows, Barrett could make it three seasons in a row for the second-year freshman/first-year starter phenomenon that’s done nothing but grow over the past handful of years.  And, for now, that’s about all Buckeye Nation can hang their title hopes on.

Well, that and a schedule that features just one team at the moment ranked in the Top 25 — No. 8 Michigan State in East Lansing.  That’s easily OSU’s toughest road game of the year, with other games away from The Horseshoe consisting of against Navy (9-4 in 2013) (in Baltimore), Maryland (7-6), Penn State (7-5) and Minnesota (8-5).  Their home slate features matchups against Virginia Tech (8-5), Kent State (4-8), Cincinnati (9-4), Rutgers (6-7), Illinois (4-8), Indiana (5-7) and Michigan (7-6).

According to FBSchedules.com, Ohio State’s 2014 schedule is tied for fifth-toughest, with Oregon, among the teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 10.  The .569 winning percentage of its opponents top that of defending BCS champion Florida State (.550), Oklahoma (.477) and Alabama (.473).

In other words, it’s not the cakewalk some have perceived to be.  It’s not exactly a football death march either, which means that, depending on how fast Barrett — or Jones — get acclimated, all the gloom and doom currently hanging over the football program could give way to a postseason full of possibilities.  Or it’ll be 2011 all over again in terms of the won/loss ledger.  One of the two.

 

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Backup Auburn DE transferring to Arkansas State

Arkansas State

For the second time in a little more than a year, defensive end Chase Robison is relocating to play football. The Auburn backup will hope to play a more meaningful role at his new school, Arkansas State.

According to information from A-State Nation, via Twitter, Robison will enroll and join the football program. Because he sat out the 2013 season after transferring to Auburn from Texas Tech, he should be eligible to play right away this season for the Sun Belt Conference contender. He will also be playing at the same program his father, Lanier Robison, once played.

Robison was never able to work his way up the depth chart at Auburn, but at Arkansas State he may have an opportunity to compete for a starting job. The former three-star recruit in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals, was offered a scholarship by Arkansas State but decided to accept an offer from Texas Tech. Maybe the third spot in as many seasons will allow Robison some peace and stability.

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Miami’s Rayshawn Jenkins could be back for spring ball

Virginia v Miami Getty Images

It has already been confirmed that one of Miami’s top players in its defensive secondary would not play at all this season.  Now we know when the player’s expected to resume football activities as well.

Miami announced Monday that Rayshawn Jenkins underwent successful surgery on his lower back Monday.  Because of the surgery, Jenkins’ 2014 season is already over before it began.

Jenkins is expected to be released from the hospital Wednesday, with rehab expected to take up to six months.  Such a timeline, though, would put the defensive back on track to return for the start of spring practice.

As a true sophomore last season, Jenkins started 12 of the 13 games he played at safety. His three interceptions were tied for second on the team, while he was a solo second with five passes broken up.

Jenkins, a three-star member of The U’s 2012 recruiting class, played in 10 games (two starts) as a true freshman that year.

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OSU’s CFP odds tumble on reports of Braxton’s season-ending injury

Braxton Miller AP

At some point this afternoon or this evening — maybe — Ohio State is expected to announce that starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the 2014 season with a shoulder injury.

In late July, Ohio State was the prohibitive favorite from the Big Ten to claim the College Football Playoff at 10/1; Michigan State was 25/1 while Wisconsin was 33/1.  Those odds for OSU were at 10/1 in January, prior to Miller’s “minor” surgery in February.

They were also, at 10/11, heavy favorites to win the Big Ten over the former (15/4) and the latter (9/2).

Now?  In the wake of Miller’s injury, reportedly one of the dreaded non-contact variety, the Buckeyes have tumbled in the eyes of Las Vegas.

“Ohio State was a major contender at 10-1 to win the National Championship and considering Braxton Miller was a frontrunner for the Heisman at 15-2, this injury has impacted their odds drastically going from 10-1 to 18-1 amidst the rumors of the injury and now are confirmed at 40-1,” Kevin Bradley, Bovada‘s sports book manager, said. “Michigan State and Wisconsin will now surpass them as favorites for the Big Ten and only time will tell if we are over-adjusting on the Buckeyes, even though they still have a fairly easy schedule.”

It’s far from surprising that the odds have plummeted as they have seeing as Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football.  It’s nonetheless startling to witness such a precipitous drop, less than two weeks before the start of the season, for one of the preseason favorites to claim one of the four spots in the newly-minted College Football Playoff.

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UMass, touted RB Drew Harris ‘part ways’

Drew Harris

In early June, UMass made what was considered by many to be one of its most important personnel addition of the offseason.  Just a month or so later? That important addition is no more.

According to MassLive.com, head coach Mark Whipple confirmed that Drew Harris is no longer a part of the Minutemen football program. There was no specific reason given for the abrupt divorce, although the head coach didn’t appear too happy when discussing it.

“He’s gone. He left. It just wasn’t a good fit,” Whipple said. “Personally, he was a good kid, but it just wasn’t a good fit for the program.”

Based on his pedigree, Harris was expected to make an immediate and significant impact this season.

The four-star recruit was rated as the No. 22 running back in the country in the Class of 2012. With offers from, among others, Arizona State, Arkansas, Georgia, Miami, Michigan State, Penn State, South Carolina and West Virginia, the Pennsylvania native signed with Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, Harris failed to qualify academically and spent 2012 and 2013 at a prep school and a New York JUCO, respectively.

To where Harris may ultimately end up next is unknown.

“We’ve got too many other issues to worry about things I can’t control,” Whipple said when asked what Harris next career move will be

There was some concern that Harris may not qualify academically at UMass, however, although it’s unclear if that aspect played a role in the departure.

(Photo credit: UMass athletics)

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Ex-Herd RB Grooms lands at Liberty

After a trio of legal issues over the past 15 months, Kevin Grooms was summarily dismissed by Marshall in late July. A couple of weeks later, the running back has found a new home.

In a press release, Liberty announced that Grooms has enrolled at the school and will be a member of the Flames football team. Despite the fact that Liberty plays at the FCS level, Grooms won’t be eligible to play immediately in 2014. He will have one year of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

Below is a statement attributed to head coach Turner Gill.

“Kevin sought out our football program because he is at a point in his life where he wants to make some positive changes. He believes Liberty University would provide the type of atmosphere that would allow him to be successful in this endeavor. He understands that he will be expected to grow academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Kevin and be a part of his growth and maturity.

“While Kevin has enjoyed success both academically and athletically at Marshall, the thing that made Kevin attractive to us is the fact that he has had some adversity and he wants to make changes in his life. Liberty University is a place that has always offered young people a second change and we are excited to be a part of that process in Kevin’s life.”

Most of the adversity to which Gill refers was of the player’s own doing.

His departure from the Herd came a few hours after Grooms was arrested on a felony burglary charge as well as misdemeanors of domestic assault, petit larceny and fleeing on foot.

The arrest was Grooms’ third in a little over 15 months. In late April of last year, the back was charged with underage consumption of alcohol and obstruction. Seven months later, he was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with domestic battery and obstruction.

Head coach Doc Holliday reinstated Grooms before the start of spring practice, with the player exiting the 15 sessions as the clear starter at the position.

After redshirting as a true freshman — he was a three-star member of the Herd’s 2011 recruiting class coming out of high school in Hollywood, Fla. — Grooms led Marshall in 2012 with 737 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He was named Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year following that season.

Despite not playing the in the last three games last season due to a combination of injuries and his suspension, Grooms finished third on the team with 503 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.

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Ole Miss WR Sammie Epps charged with pot possession

Sammie Epps

An off-field incident could lead to on-field punitive measures for one of the newest member of the Ole Miss football team.

According to the Tupelo Daily Journal, wide receiver Sammie Epps was arrested late last week and slapped with a pair of misdemeanors.  Specifically, those were possession of marijuana and driving without valid license.

What led to the initial traffic stop by the Oxford Police Department wasn’t detailed.

We are aware of the matter and will address it once we have gathered more facts,” Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said in a statement.

Epps was a three-star member of Ole Miss’ 2014 recruiting class who was rated as the No. 27 tight end in the country. The 6-5, 215-pound Epps was subsequently moved to receiver.

(Photo credit: Ole Miss athletics)

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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

Washington v Arizona State Getty Images

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Pac-12. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 11-2; beat Texas at Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks have been on the cusp of elite status as a program for the past four seasons. It’s time for the program to get over the hump and win a national title. This year’s squad may have the best chance to capture the school’s first national championship. It all starts with the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is the best signal caller currently playing collegiate football. Yes, that includes Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota may have hoisted the trophy last year if he didn’t suffer a knee injury late in the season which hampered his style of play. Mariota is extremely efficient as a passer, highly intelligent with his decision-making and a deadly athlete when he decides to run with the football. The Ducks also return key starters at vital positions. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu may have been the top players selected at their position in May’s NFL draft. Yet, they decided to return to Eugene.  The team’s leading rusher (Byron Marshall), tackler (Derrick Malone) and sack artist (Tony Washington) return as well. As Mark Helfrich enters his second year as head coach, there aren’t any excuses for the Ducks this season. It’s a national championship or bust. This is the year for Oregon to prove its more than a flashy offense and uniform trendsetters.

2. Stanford (Last year: 11-3; lost to Michigan State in Rose Bowl)
Cardinal faithful will almost certainly remind anyone who will listen that their team beat Oregon the past two seasons and claimed Pac-12 conference titles. However, the Cardinal simply aren’t as talented from top to bottom as the Ducks. The key players Oregon retained; the Cardinal lost. The team lost it’s leading rusher, tackler, sack artist and four of its starting offensive linemen. While Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan may be entering his second full season as the team’s starter, he’s a notch below the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.David Shaw is one of the best coaches in college football. This team will continue it’s winning ways. But Stanford will likely take a slight step backwards as the Ducks reclaim the honor as the best team in the Pac-12 Conference.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 7-6; beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl)
College football’s leading-returning passer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns for his senior campaign after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. But Mannion won’t have Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks to throw to anymore. And that ‘s a good thing. Mannion’s experience behind center is a major positive for the Beavers, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley admitted the coaching staff became enamored with throwing the football due to their dynamic duo at quarterback and wide receiver. This season, the Beavers will be more balanced on offense and more closely resemble the team that went 9-4 in 2012 instead of the one that was 7-6 last season. Senior Terran Ward and junior Storm Woods combined for 1,060 rushing yards last season. They should receive bigger workloads. With a more balanced attack, the Beavers hope to avoid another five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The team seen during its 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl is the one Pac-12 opponents should expect to face Saturdays this fall.

4. Washington (Last year: 9-4; beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl)
The University of Washington did the impossible; they pried Chris Petersen out of Boise and made him their new head coach. Petersen inherits a talented roster built slowly over time by previous head coach Steve Sarkisian. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies finally broke through with an 9-4 campaign in 2013. The team then lost it’s head coach, quarterback and workhorse running back. Change of that degree will likely cause the Huskies to take a small step back during the upcoming season. While Peterson was ultra-successful during his eight seasons at Boise State, his team stumbled last year and lost four games for the first time in eight years. The last coach to have that type of success at Boise then finish with a four-loss team before moving to the Pac-12 was Dan Hawkins. Furthermore, there are still questions at quarterback for the Huskies. Cyler Miles hasn’t shown he’s ready to take over the team. Until one of the quarterbacks does, the Huskies will have to rely on a talented defense, particularly a defensive line that features nose tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha.

5. Washington State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl)
This will be Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman, Washington. It was in Leach’s third year at Texas Tech he was able to lead the Red Raiders to a nine-win season. He won’t be as lucky with the Cougars. It’s taken Leach some time to implement the “Air Raid” offense that far north. This should be the first season in which it’s fully functional with senior Connor Halliday as the trigger-man behind center. However, the team’s defense struggled mightily in 2013 and finished 102nd overall. Leach’s run at Texas Tech was special, because he could out-scheme nearly everyone in the Big 12. But he could always rely on the talent he recruited in the state of Texas. The state of Washington doesn’t present the same level of talent. In three recruiting classes, only one former four-star recruit, wide receiver Gabe Marks, is expected to contribute for the Cougars this season. And that talent disparity will keep Wazzu toward the bottom of the Pac-12.

6. Cal (Last year: 1-11)
The hiring of Sonny Dykes as Cal’s head coach was an absolute disaster. The Golden Bears finished 1-11. They didn’t play any defense whatsoever. Players were leaving the program as soon as possible once the season ended. The only expectation for the team this season is to improve on last year’s record and actually win a conference game. Cal should be able to move the ball in Dykes’ version of the “Air Raid” offense. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his second season as starter after he put together a solid season as a true freshman. Plus, four of Goff’s top five receivers return. The Golden Bears will be able to throw the football, but the question is whether or not the defense will be able to stop anyone. History says no. Art Kaufman was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator this off season, and he has an uphill battle in front of him. Even when Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, a national ranking and nearly defeated a Texas A&M team led by Johnny Manzielthe Bulldogs were the worst defensive team in college football. Dykes’ emphasis falls on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not going to change. It’s only a matter of time before Cal is looking for another head coach once the school’s new athletic director is named.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. UCLA (Last year: 10-3; beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl)
Expectations are sky high at UCLA. And they should be. In two short years, Jim Mora has completely rebuilt the culture in Westwood. Plus, the Bruins are fortunate to have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley. If Hundley declared for the NFL draft this year, he would have been a first-round selection. He’s projected to be a Top 10 pick for next May. The quarterback is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent on this roster. Senior Jordan James and sophomore Paul Perkins return in the backfield after combining for 1,107 rushing yards in 2013. Devin Fuller is a dynamic play maker out of the slot. And the defense may be even more talented. The two-way superstar Myles Jacks is one of college football’s top linebackers and a pretty good running back too. Erik Kendricks is highly instinctive and a tackling machine. Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes will be one year better and impossible to move along the defensive interior. And the secondary is experienced with Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams returning. The No. 1 one goal for the Bruins will be to claim a Pac-12 championship, but this team has legitimate national championship potential. They simply have to get past Oregon and Stanford to prove they’re worthy of a berth in the College Football Playoff.

2. USC (Last year: 10-4; beat Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl)
It’s hard to maintain momentum from one season to another. Although, USC appeared to regain its confidence and swagger as a program when it won six of its last seven games under the direction of interim head coach Ed Oregeron. Despite the team’s late season success, Oregeron wasn’t hired to become the team’s permanent head coach. Enter Steve Sarkisian, a former co-offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll. Despite sub-par seasons by USC’s standards in recent years, the team has two things in its favor. First, the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom is always among the best in college football. Second, the team’s depth will continue to improve as the bottom of the roster is rebuilt after being previously hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. The Trojans will be led by a strong defense which features the potential No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The unit finished 13th overall in total defense last season. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to grow under the direction of offensive coordinator Clay Helton and junior quarterback Cody Kessler. The offense played at a much higher level once Lane Kiffin was fired and Helton became the primary play-caller. It was a smart decision by Sarkisian to retain Helton on his staff.  All the pieces are in place for the Trojans to become a factor in the Pac-12 again. USC faithful has to hope Sarkisian was the right hire to keep them in the national conversation.

3. Arizona State (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl)
Since the Pac-12 South is generally considered the weaker division in the conference, it’s been somewhat overlooked that the Sun Devils played in the league’s championship game last year. Head coach Todd Graham has built a team that is known for its fast-pace offense and aggressive defense. In fact, Arizona State features the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 with Taylor Kelly behind center and Jaelen Strong creating mismatches for defenses. Kelly, in particular, has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons. And running back D.J. Foster is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Arizona State may even be able to challenge UCLA and USC atop the Pac-12 South, but the team’s previously devastating defensive front is being completely rebuilt. The team lost it’s top tackler, sack artist and two-time Pac-12 Defense Player of the Year Will Sutton to the NFL. Graham will continue to blitz every chance he gets, but he no longer has the talent to win individual match-ups on a regular basis. The offense will score points, but the defense will have trouble stopping anyone. 

4.  Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Boston College in AdvoCare V100 Bowl)
Is the year the Wildcats are ready to take the next step under head coach Rich Rodriguez? During his first two seasons with the program, Arizona finished with an 8-5 record. The problem with Rodriguez is the passing game and defense suffer from the coach’s insistence to implement his offensive scheme, which is a zone-read heavy. The x-factor this season will be whomever Rodriguez’s names as his starting quarterback. Last season, B.J. Denker didn’t provide any consistency throwing the football. It will either be redshirt freshman Anu Solomon or senior transfer Jesse Scroggins which takes over the offense. Solomon reportedly has a slight lead in the competition during fall camp. These two will have to be better dual-threats out of the backfield than Denker was. And the defense has to be better after surrendering 401.1 yards per game last season. If these two things happen, the Wildcats will finish higher in the standings than CFT currently projects. But, it’s unlikely.

5. Colorado (Last year: 4-8)
A 4-8 record for any other program would be a disappointment. Colorado, however, isn’t just any program. It’s a school that went through an ugly divorce with previous head coach Jon Embree. Four wins by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre was actually a three-game improvement. MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding a program in a similar fashion. He took San Jose State from a one-win team to 10 wins in three seasons. While the growth at Colorado should be far more incremental, the Buffaloes will continue to improve under the current coaching staff. The team returns 16 starters, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, and has a manageable non-conference schedule. There are at least five games the Buffaloes could be considered the favorites to win. It will be up to the coaching staff and players to steal one or two more wins from Pac-12 opponents.

6.  Utah (Last year: 5-7)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his 10th season with the program, and it could be his last if the Utes fall to the basement of the Pac-12 South. The problems start on the offensive side of the football. Whittingham used numerous different play-callers in recent years, but the Utes’ offense continued to sputter. Utah finished 76th overall in total offense during the 2013 campaign. Last season the defense wasn’t the team’s saving grace either. The Utes finished 60th overall in total defense. Whittingham will need key players to step up this season if the team has any hope of consistently competing in the Pac-12. Quarterback Travis Wilson has to improve after throwing 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a sophomore. Another 5-7 season or worse will likely signal change within the program.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Oregon over UCLA

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2014 lost to torn ACL, Buffs’ starting DB Jered Bell seeks sixth year

Colorado Arizona NCAA Football AP

While Colorado has seen the last of a starting member of its defense for 2014, they likely haven’t seen the last of him at the school.

Last week, Jered Bell suffered a torn ACL during practice that will cost him the entire 2014 season. Because he already missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, the redshirt senior would make a solid candidate for a sixth season of eligibility.

That appears to be the tack the defensive back will take.

“It’s a shame being a guy with so much experience, good leader,”head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I think he will come back (in 2015) for his sixth year. I believe that will all go through. He told me he wanted to if the knee heals right and (rehabilitation) goes as it should.”

Bell has played in 36 games when healthy for the Buffs, starting 14 of those contests. 11 of those starts came at free safety in 2013.

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Maryland announces ‘lifetime degree guarantee’ for athletes

Maryland Terps

Dubbing it “The Maryland Way Guarantee,” the University of Maryland is blazing a trail on which most, if not all, Power Five conference schools will ultimately travel.

The university announced Tuesday morning that, beginning in November of this year, it will offer a lifetime degree guarantee for student-athletes in all sports. Maryland is one of the first, if not the first, to offer such a guarantee in all sports, not just the revenue-producers in football and basketball.

The historic program coincides with the school’s official move from the ACC to the Big Ten last month.  It also comes a couple of weeks after a mediated settlement was reached in the lawsuits filed by both the school and its former conference.

“Our vision is to be the best intercollegiate athletic program while producing graduates who are prepared to serve as leaders in the local, state and global communities,” athletic director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. “We are confident ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will further demonstrate our commitment to our student-athletes’ pursuit of a college degree.”

The school described the parameters of the program as follows:

Beginning in November of 2014-15, ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will provide all incoming student-athletes with a multi-year scholarship guarantee. Pursuant to this program, should a student-athlete exhaust his or her eligibility prior to graduating, Maryland will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation. If a student-athlete is injured and unable to compete, we will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation.

Additionally, Maryland will provide tuition, books and fees for any student-athlete who leaves the institution in good academic standing and returns to complete his or her degree.

Again, student-athletes will be permitted, at no cost to them, to return to the university and obtain their degree at any point in their life.  Previously, and as is the case all across the country in every sport, Maryland student-athletes were offered one-year scholarships, which were subject to renewal every year.

Kudos to Maryland for taking a step that the rest of the power conferences will eventually take as autonomy begins to take hold.

(Photo credit: University of Maryland)
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Four-star LSU signee in ‘final phases of admission process’

Travonte Valentine

It appears LSU’s long wait for the arrival of one of its top 2014 signees is all but over.

Travonte Valentine‘s high school, Mike Tunsil, confirmed to the Baton Rouge Advocate that his former player has been cleared by the NCAA and will play for the Tigers this fall. The defensive lineman had been awaiting clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Valentine is expected to arrive on campus Tuesday and begin practicing with his new teammates in the next day or two.

For its part, LSU would only state that “Valentine is going through the final phases of the admission process.” “He has not been cleared to join the football team,” the school added.

As noted by the Advocate, Valentine must go through the NCAA’s mandated four-day acclimation period and won’t be in full pads until his fifth day of practice.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2014 recruiting class, Valentine was rated as the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 7 player at any position in the state of Florida.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 10 Stanford

Ty Montgomery

2013 record:11-3 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12 (1st overall in Pac-12)
2013 postseason: Rose Bowl vs. Michigan State (24-20 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 11/No. 10
Head coach: David Shaw (34-7 overall; 34-7 in three years at Stanford)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bloomgren (4th season at Stanford)
2013 offensive rankings: 22nd rushing offense (207.4 ypg); 92nd passing offense (197.9 ypg); 69th total offense (405.5 ypg); 45th scoring offense (32.3 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Lance Anderson (8th season at Stanford)
2013 defensive rankings: 3rd rushing defense (89.4 ypg); 96th passing defense (253.8 ypg); 16th total defense (343.1 ypg); 10th scoring defense (19.0 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Palo Alto, California
Stadium: Stanford Stadium (50,000; grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Everyone knows exactly what to expect of Stanford. The Cardinal will have a smash-mouth offense and a hard-nosed defense. Stanford overwhelms at the point of attack, and that won’t change any time soon. Stanford head coach David Shaw won’t allow the program to veer off course. When Shaw had to replace Derek Mason as defensive coordinator after four years with the program, the head coach promoted from within his coaching staff. Enter Lance Anderson as the new Willie Shaw Director of Defense. Anderson was originally hired when Jim Harbaugh took over the program. He’s coached the defensive line and linebackers. And now Anderson will provide stability to one of the most physical and intimidating defenses in the country. Continuity has become a staple of the Cardinal program.

THE BAD
There is no way to replace what Stanford lost when Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds exhausted their eligibility and are now members of NFL teams. Skov led the team with 108 tackles. Murphy led the FBS with 15 sacks. And Reynolds was the team’s leader in the secondary. Junior Blake Martinez takes over for Skov, while senior A.J. Tarpley will become the leader of the defense. Senior Kevin Anderson will step in as Murphy’s replacement, but he only registered 1.5 sacks in 14 games last season. Kodi Whitfield will be the team’s new starter at safety. Each will live up to the team’s standards as well-coached and disciplined defenders, but it’s hard to imagine these three players replacing the production Stanford lost.

THE UNKNOWN
Since Harbaugh took over the program and Shaw replaced him, the big uglies have become Stanford’s calling card. Each week, whatever opponent Stanford plays absolutely knows they are going to get punched in the mouth by an overwhelming offensive line. Stanford plays with six or seven offensive linemen at any given time and situation. However, talent doesn’t always trump continuity up front. The Cardinal lost four of its five starting offensive linemen to the NFL after last season. Kyle Murphy (right tackle), Joshua Garnett (right guard), Graham Shuler (center) and Johnny Caspers (left guard) will replace Cameron Fleming, Kyle Danser, Khalil Wilkes and and David Yankey. The only mainstay is left tackle Andrus Peat, who just happens to be projected as first-round talent for the 2015 NFL draft.  Good offensive line play demands proper communication, technique and an understanding of what the man next to you is going to do each and every play. Stanford will once again feature a tremendously talented offensive line this season, but at what point during the season will this group completely gel and play at the level expected of them?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. USC
This could easily be Oregon in this slot, but the Cardinal have beaten the Ducks two years in a row and the team will have the utmost confidence facing them again during the upcoming season. USC, meanwhile, was one of the Cardinal’s key losses last season. The Trojans were playing extremely well down the stretch and stole a 20-17 victory that was decided by a field goal with 19 seconds remaining in the game. The timing of Stanford’s meeting with USC this year is also important. The Cardinal hosts the Trojans the second week of the season with a national audience prepared to watch the game. The last time Stanford lost a game that early in the season was five years ago when it fell to Wake Forest 24-17. A win against the Trojans will help set the table in Pac-12 play and spur national conversation. A loss will likely place Stanford in the background as other teams programs roll through their early-season schedules.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: WR Ty Montgomery
Stanford doesn’t run an offensive scheme where a wide receiver (or any other skill position) will post the level of individual numbers necessary to win a Heisman Trophy. After all, Andrew Luck was the best  quarterback in the nation for two seasons, and he finished as the runner-up for the award twice. Montgomery, however, is one of the most dynamic offense weapons in college football. The wide receiver’s numbers are meager when compared to other receivers that play in spread offenses. Last year, Montgomery registered 61 receptions for 958 yards. While those numbers should be expected to improve during his senior campaign, Montgomery doubles as one of college football’s top kick returners. He was named a Walter Camp All-American as a kick returner. Stanford is expected to contend in the Pac-12 Conference again this season. Big plays from Montgomery in big moments might help Heisman voters overlook the fact he’ll never put up eye-popping numbers as a wide receiver. 

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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