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CFT Predicts: the ACC

ACC Championship - Virginia Tech v Clemson Getty Images

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the ACC.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SECBig Ten, Pac-12

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat LSU in Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Tigers shook their ‘Clemsoning’ curse and previous Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia by going 11-2 and beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
Offense, offense, offense. And some offense sprinkled in. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is a legitimate Heisman candidate and he’ll have Sammy Watkins to throw to for a third straight year. Watkins had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2012 — at least by his standards — because of a variety of issues, from a suspension to injuries, but he still finished second on the team in receiving yards. His touchdown production should rise again after getting in the end zone just four times.

Anything else?
The defense improved under first-year coordinator Brent Venables. With as good as the Tigers offense projects to be, there’s more wiggle room on that side of the ball. Also, can Clemson finally beat South Carolina after dropping four straight games?

2. Florida State (Last year: 12-2; beat NIU in Orange Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The ‘Noles won the ACC and beat NIU in the Orange Bowl. They also pulled their annual head-scratcher by losing to North Carolina State. The circle never ends, it seems.

So why are they ranked here?
Talent isn’t a question Tallahassee, but there are a lot of new faces. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has a ton of upside at the quarterback spot, it just remains to be seen at this point how he handles his first year as starter. Wide receiver depth is becoming an issue too. The defensive line loses two pass rushers in Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, but that’s an area stacked — almost unfairly — with capable players.

Anything else?
Florida State had a whopping 11 NFL draft picks in April, but Jimbo Fisher also had to replace roughly half his coaching staff. That’s a lot of turnover and it’ll be interesting to see how players and coaches jell this year.

3. Maryland (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Randy Edsall doubled his win total in year two with the Terps, but a linebacker was starting at quarterback by the end of the year because of injuries. Apparently, being a quarterback at Maryland can be equated to playing drums for Spinal Tap.

So why are they ranked here?
The quarterbacks are finally back with working knees and there is some talent on that side of the ball, namely wide receiver Sefon Diggs. Another running back will have to step up with Wes Brown being suspended for the year, though the running game in general needs to improve. The Terps also have to replace a sizable portion of their starting defensive front seven. Several of Maryland’s toughest games (Florida State, Virginia Tech) are on the road too.

Anything else?
It feels like wide receiver Deon Long has led the life of a traveled NFL veteran more than a college player, but he finally at Maryland. He was suspended this spring, but he should be a good addition to the passing game. He has the physical tools to make an impact, so he could be a player to watch.

4. Wake Forest (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
It was a tough season in hindsight for the Deacs when you consider they lost two games by an average of six points (against Maryland, Duke) that could have propelled them back into the postseason.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s some potential for this team, which returns a good portion of its starting 22 from a year ago. Tanner Price is a veteran quarterback and leading running back Josh Harris will be eligible to play in 2013. The problem is Wake Forest couldn’t find the end zone last year and were shut out twice. The defense wasn’t much better, but it does return eight guys from 2012.

Anything else?
There are plenty of manageable games on Wake’s schedule this year, including in the non-conference department. Getting back to a bowl is a realistic goal.

5. North Carolina State (Last year: 7-6; lost to Vanderbilt in Music City Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Though NC State hadn’t had a losing season since 2009, and despite upsetting Florida State, Tom O’Brien couldn’t keep his job. He’s replaced by former NIU coach Dave Doeren.

So why are they ranked here?
Turnover is rarely easy, and there’s a lot of it for the Wolfpack in 2013. In addition to a new coaching staff, this team loses quarterback Mike Glennon and, even though he had some disappointing moments in 2012, cornerback David Amerson. There’s plenty to be excited about with Doeren, but his first year could be rough.

Anything else?
If there’s one area of improvement to look for right away, it would be the ground game. NC State was among the worst rushing teams a year ago while NIU ranked 12th in the nation in that category. The offense does return its top two leading rushers from a year ago in Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy.

6. Syracuse (Last year: 8-5; beat West Virginia in Pinstripe Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Orange got off to a bit of a bumpy start, but won six of their final seven games in 2012. Two of those wins came in convincing fashion against Louisville and West Virginia.

So why are they ranked here?
The ‘Cuse lose coach Doug Marrone to the NFL and in comes Scott Shafer. The Orange are also entering a new conference with some key departures, including quarterback Ryan Nassib, wide receiver Alec Lemon and defensive back Shamarko Thomas — all leaders in their respective positions.

Anything else?
If there is one person to watch, it’s Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen. Though Shafer doesn’t plan on announcing a QB until the last possible moment, Allen is believed to be in a position to win the starting job. He played sparingly for the Sooners, but could be a key member of the offense for the Orange.

7. Boston College (Last year: 2-10)
What happened last season?
The Eagles won two games and Frank Spaziani got the long-awaited boot.

So why are they ranked here?
Former Temple coach Steve Addazio takes over and has, by all accounts, injected some energy into a program that desperately needs some. Whether that energy will turn into wins remains to be seen. This was an offense that couldn’t run the ball or score a year ago, but the passing duo of quarterback Chase Rettig and wide receiver Alex Amidon do give experience and play making ability to the passing game.

Anything else?
The front part of BC’s schedule is brutal, but there’s some room for the Eagles to make some noise toward the end of the year and build some momentum heading into 2014. The final two games against Maryland and Syracuse are on the road, but those aren’t impossible games to win.

Coastal Division

1. Miami (Last year: 7-5)
What happened last season?
The Hurricanes actually won a share of the Coastal Division, but they also self-imposed a postseason ban for the second straight year because of the ongoing NCAA investigation of the program.

So why are they ranked here?
Miami figures to have one of the more potent offenses in the entire conference thanks to the return of quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnsonwith the latter considered to be among the most exciting players to watch in the game. It’s the defense that has all the question marks for the ‘Canes. This was a team that was simply pushed around up front and gave up at least 40 points four times last year.

Anything else?
Give Al Golden credit. He’s identified the weakness on defense (not that it was too difficult) and recruited some immediate help. David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow join the team from Wisconsin and Virginia, respectively, and add an immediate boost along the defensive line.

2. North Carolina (Last year: 8-4)
What happened last season?
Like Miami, North Carolina had to watch the postseason from home thanks to a postseason ban. Unlike the Hurricanes, this was NCAA-mandated. Still the Tar Heels won eight games under first-year coach Larry Fedora.

So why are they ranked here?
There are two major departures from last year’s team: running back Giovani Bernard and offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper. Bernard received a bulk of the carries in the run game and had over 1,200 yards. So whether it’s one player — perhaps A.J. Blue – or a committee, that production will have to be replaced. But there are plenty of other playmakers on offense, including veteran QB Bryn Renner. Defense returns its entire secondary and should be an overall improved unit that fared well enough in Year 1 under Fedora.

Anything else?
UNC’s key stretch comes in the middle of the season. It starts with a road game at divisional opponent Georgia Tech and ends with another road game at North Carolina State. Get through that and a bulk of the Coastal Divsion contenders should be behind them by that point.

3. Virginia Tech (Last year: 7-6; beat Rutgers in Russell Athletic Bowl) 
What happened last season?
2012 was a disappointment by Virginia Tech’s standards. The Hokies needed overtime three times to pull out wins and there were some tough losses to Pitt and Cincinnati mixed in.

So why are they ranked here?
Primarily because health and depth are already concerns for Virginia Tech before a single regular season snap has been taken. Star cornerback Antone Exum will miss the season opener against Alabama and perhaps longer. The knee injury he sustained early this year was serious and there are few guarantees when it comes to a timeline for return. There’s been some attrition on both sides of the ball with various injuries and departures. If this team can get healthy as the season goes on, maybe it can make a run for the divisional title late in the season.

Anything else?
Scot Loeffler takes over as offensive coordinator. Quarterback Logan Thomas was, to say the least, inconsistent last year with just over a 50 percent completion rate and 18 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. He’s shown at times he can make tremendous throws, but he needs to be able to do it without a handful of bad throws and decisions in between. With Loeffler calling the plays, Thomas doesn’t need to throw for 4,000 yards — he just needs to play smarter.

4. Georgia Tech (Last year: 7-7; beat USC in the Sun Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Yellow Jackets backed their way into the ACC championship game, but embarrassed USC in the Sun Bowl. So, yeah. Georgia Tech came out ahead on that one.

So why are they ranked here?
Some key pieces of GT’s triple option are leaving, including Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith. But, Vad Lee moves in to take control of the offense, and he already saw plenty of game action last year. The defense ended up playing much better down the stretch last year after Al Groh was fired, so there’s definitely room to continue growing on that side of the ball.

Anything else?
Despite being a run-heavy offense, Georgia Tech has been known to have one big, physical receiver under Paul Johnson. Jeff Greene looked to be that guy until he left for Ohio State. Who will step up for the Yellow Jackets in that spot in 2013?

5. Pitt (Last year: 6-7; lost to Ole Miss in BBVA Compass Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Pitt got off to a tough start in Year 1 under Paul Chryst by losing to Youngstown State to start the season, but rebounded quickly by beating Virginia Tech in Week 3. The Panthers actually won and lost games in alternating pairs the entire way through the year before falling to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
After 14 years, 10 head coaches and 500 sacks, the Tino Sunseri era is finally over. Tom Savage, the former Rutgers quarterback who is also a veteran of the college game, enters 2013 as the starter. But there are a lot of concerns on offense, namely the running game. Ray Graham is gone and Rushel Shell, the running back figured to take bulk of the carries going forward, has moved on to West Virginia. Defense should be the strength of the team with defensive tackle Aaron Donald coming back along with a solid secondary that has safety Jason Hendricks, who led the team in tackles a year ago.

Anything else?
Pitt has the opportunity to make a huge first impression in the ACC if it can beat Florida State at home in Week 1. There are some tough games for the Panthers this season, including a road trip to Virginia Tech, and the Panthers are an unknown heading into ACC play.

6. Duke (Last year: 6-7; lost to Cincinnati in Belk Bowl)
What happened last season?
Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 under coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils ultimately lost a close game to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, but there was a lot to be happy with in 2012.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s little concern on offense. Even though quarterback Sean Renfree is gone, there’s a lot of buzz on Anthony Boone. Boone is a mobile guy who gives Cutcliffe another dimension to add to the offensive attack. If the ground game can improve, this is a team that could be tough to stop. Defense is a concern as it ranked among the worst in the country a year ago. The Blue Devils will probably find themselves in more than a couple shootouts this fall.

Anything else?
No matter where Duke finishes in the ACC this season, there’s something to be said for what Cutcliffe is building there. He’s had other opportunities to leave, and he’s chosen to stay. He’s one of the most well-regarded X’s and O’s coaches in the game and the Blue Devils should be in a position at the end of the year to possibly make it to a second straight bowl game.

7. Virginia (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Virginia got an early season win against Penn State when the Nittany Lions were struggling, and a late-season win over Miami. In between was when things were rough.

So why are they ranked here?
Mike London went with a coaching overhaul that brings in former North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien and Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator. Defense should be the greater strength for UVA this year with a seasoned secondary. It’s the offense that needs work. Two quarterbacks from 2012 — Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco — are gone, so this is a team that will probably have to rely on its run game.

Anything else?
It’ll be interesting to see if Virginia can make strides with a restructured coaching staff, but wins could still be hard to come by with a tough schedule. BYU, Oregon and even Ball State make up a difficult non-conference slate, and the last four games against Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech is a rough way to end the year.

———————————————

John Taylor’s Prediction:

ATLANTIC
1. Clemson
2. Florida State
3. North Carolina State
4. Wake Forest
5. Maryland
6. Syracuse
7. Boston College

COASTAL
1. Miami
2. North Carolina
3. Georgia Tech
4. Virginia Tech
5. Pittsburgh
6. Virginia
7. Duke

Ben’s ACC champ: Clemson
John’s ACC champ: Clemson

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Following injury, Air Force RB must earn his jersey back

One of the basic principles most coaches will abide by in sports is a player will never lose a job due to injury. There are exceptions to that mantra, of course, but one has to wonder to what degree Air Force is taking it. Running back Devin Rushing, who missed the last 10 days of practice due to an ankle sprain suffered in a drill, says not only must he earn his starting job back, but also his jersey. His actual jersey.

“They took my jersey,” Rushing told The Gazette. “I talked to the equipment manager and he said my jersey is still in there with Rushing written on the back, but I’ve got to earn it back.”

That’s right. He must earn his actual jersey back. If you have a problem with that, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun seems to think players who have a history of getting hurt may be better off finding some other activity to participate in.

“I think at every position we’re going to have tough, durable guys,” Calhoun said. “If you aren’t, you’re going to get us beat. I think the other thing is you have a built-in alibi if you’re a guy who gets hurt easily. If you’re a guy who gets hurt easily, you need to find another activity where there’s not contact involved.”

Injured players at Air Force reportedly wear red jerseys in practice and are isolated to watch the practice rather than kept close to the action, where they can hear what coaches are saying and see up close what is happening on the field. Calhoun says this is used to enhance the chemistry on the field more than anything else.

“They go to meetings,” Calhoun said. “I just think you either add to the chemistry or take from the chemistry. There’s no in between. If you’re a red jersey, I just don’t want anybody sucking the life out of everybody else who is working. Who is able to go out there even if they have an itch somewhere?”

“I think a warrior wants to be in battle, and we want warriors,” Calhoun explained.

This might not be the best way to change a potential image issue for Air Force’s football program.

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Aggies won’t have starting corner for opener vs. Gamecocks

Missouri v Texas A&M

One of the biggest question marks for Texas A&M entering the 2014 season is its defense.  Unfortunately for the Aggies, one of the positive certainties on that side of the ball will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

In discussing the release of the latest two-deep depth chart Wednesday, head coach Kevin Sumlin confirmed that De’Vante Harris will be sidelined for at least another month due to what’s being described as a urinary tract injury (not infection). The odd injury* means the starting cornerback will definitely miss the opener against South Carolina (Aug. 28) as well as games against Lamar (Sept. 6) and Rice (Sept. 13). Going by the strictest sense of the timeline presented by Sumlin, the Sept. 20 SMU game is out as well.

A&M resumes SEC play the following week against Arkansas.

Harris has started 18 games the past two seasons for the Aggies. That total would’ve been higher but he was one of three TAMU defensive starters suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season.

On the plus side, Sumlin confirmed that redshirt freshman Victor Davis is out of the doghouse and no longer under suspension. The defensive back was arrested last month on a charge of shoplifting and then indefinitely suspended.

Davis, a three-star 2013 recruit who redshirted as a true freshman, is expected to take over as the starter for Harris, or at least get the initial crack at it.

(*for those who are curious, the National Institutes of Health describes a urinary tract injury as a “[t]raumatic injury of the bladder and urethra [involving] damage caused by an outside force.)

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Fresno St. working on waiver appeal for Duck transfer

Oregon State v Oregon

Even as a new season is nigh, Fresno State is hoping one more move will be made that would allow a potential impact player to see the field immediately.

Tyrell Robinson transferred from Oregon in June and landed in Fresno late last month. While it was initially thought he would be forced to sit out the 2014 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, that may not end up being the case.

The Bulldogs are in the process of filing an appeal with the NCAA that, if successful, would give him immediate eligibility.

“We are in the process now of putting all of the information together,” interim co-athletic director Steve Robertello said according to the Fresno Bee.

We’re hoping to have a decision before the USC game, but in terms of a timetable we don’t have one yet because we don’t have all the pieces put together.”

Robinson, a linebacker, has been working with the No. 3 defense, although that’s a byproduct of the uncertainty over his availability for the upcoming season.

A four-star member of the Ducks’ 2013 recruiting class, Robinson was rated as the No. 5 athlete in the country. He played in nine games as a true freshman.

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Clemson’s leading returning rusher, Zac Brooks, lost for season

Zac Brooks, A.J. Marshall AP

This one will leave a mark.

Already charged with the task of replacing its five most potent offensive weapons from a year ago, Clemson will now have to replace an expected replacement for the lost production as Zac Brooks has been ruled out for the entire 2014 season due to injury.  Specifically, the running back suffered an unspecified foot injury during practice Monday night.

The head coach acknowledged the loss of Brooks is a big one.

“Zac was having an outstanding camp and was ready for a terrific year,” said Dabo Swinney in a statement. “The plan is for Zac to sit out this year due to the injury and come back next year as a red-shirt junior. This is a big loss because he is such a reliable player in all phases of the game. He knows the offense inside and out.”

In 2013, Brooks had 48 carries for 246 yards, a total that was third on the team. The good news for the Tigers is that there’s still talent in the backfield in the form of true freshman Adam Choice, junior C.J. Davidson, redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman and senior D.J. Howard.

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Two arrested Zips stripped of scholarships, still on team

Johnny Robinson, Jeremy Gallon

An off-field incident earlier this offseason will prove costly for a pair of Akron football players. Literally.

In a brief statement Tuesday, head coach Tommy Bowden announced that safety Johnny Robinson (pictured) and cornerback Donte Williams have had their scholarships stripped from them and will be forced to pay their own way through school. However, the players are still a part of the team and returned to practice this week.

Robinson will not start the opener against Howard, Bowden added.

A third player involved in the incident, running back Bryan Green, remains on scholarship and is listed on the team’s official roster.

In early June, all three were arrested by Summit County (Oh.) sheriff’s deputies and charged with aggravated rioting, which is a felony. Additionally, Robinson was charged with aggravated menacing while Williams was charged with obstructing and resisting arrest as well as being accused of fleeing the scene.

The felonies were ultimately reduced.

The incident occurred outside of an Akron McDonald’s two months prior to the arrests. The three players were part of a group of a dozen individuals arrested and charged in connection to the McBrouhaha.

The players had been suspended indefinitely by Bowden.

Over the past three seasons, Robinson has started 25 of the 34 games in which he’s played; 19 of those starts came the past two seasons. His two interceptions were tied for third on the team in 2013, and his 61 tackles were fourth on the team the year before.

Williams started three of the six games in which he played in 2013 as a junior.

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Washington schedules two future series with Michigan, BYU

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Washington is doing its part to continue what’s been a nation-wide push from (most of) the Power Conference members to strength their future out-of-conference matchups.

In that vein, UW announced Wednesday they have scheduled a pair of future home-and-home series with Michigan and BYU. The Wolverines will travel to Seattle Sept. 5, 2020, while UM will play host to the Huskies Sept. 18, 2021, in Ann Arbor.

Prior to that series, the Huskies will play host to BYU Sept. 29, 2018, and will travel to Provo on Sept. 21, 2019.

“We are excited about our future football schedules,” Huskies athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “Our goal is to win championships, and we will continue to work to supplement our challenging Pac-12 slate with games that are both exciting for our fans and beneficial for our program.”

UM and UW have faced each other 12 times previously, with four of those matchups coming in the Rose Bowl. UW and BYU have played nine times, the last coming in 2013 in the Fight Hunger Bowl.

UW also announced that, “due to conflicts with its Big Ten Conference schedule, Wisconsin was forced to cancel its two games with the Huskies, previously scheduled for 2018 and 2021.”

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UM’s Jake Ryan, three others added to Lott watch list

Jake Ryan AP

Just when you think you’re done with these watch lists for another year, they pull you back in.

Back in May, the Lott IMPACT Trophy released its initial watch list consisting of 42 players.  Tuesday, the award that’s given annually to the defensive player who has the biggest IMPACT — Integrity, Maturity, Performance,Academics, Community and Tenacity – on their teams both on and off the field added four names to that group, including one player each from the ACC, Big Ten, Conference USA and Pac-12.

Below are those players:

Xavier Cooper, Washington State, DL
Christian Covington, Rice, DL
Anthony Harris, Virginia, S
Jake Ryan, Michigan, LB

The most interesting names in that quartet are the last two.

Ryan suffered a torn ACL during spring practice last year and was limited to just eight games in 2013, including five starts. The year before, however, he was one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten as he started all 13 games and led the Wolverines in tackles as well as tackles for loss. In 2011 as a redshirt freshman, he started 11 games.

UVa’s Harris, meanwhile, led the nation in interceptions last season with eight.

Good to see the Lott people realized they made an oops in not including Ryan and Harris on their initial watch list.

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Okla. St. transfer Wes Lunt officially named Illini’s starting QB

Wes Lunt

Earlier this month, as part of CFT’s preseason previewpalooza, Wes Lunt was named as one of the key transfers entering the 2014 season.

With the news today, the quarterback will officially get the chance to prove just how key he is.

In a move that’s been expected since spring practice, head coach Tim Beckman announced today that Lunt has been named as the Illini’s starting quarterback. Lunt had been involved in a nominal competition with Reilly O’Toole and Aaron Bailey, although his experience and big arm gave him a decided edge over the competition.

On the whole, the experience may have been the biggest factor.

Lunt was named Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback after spring practice in 2012 as an early enrollee true freshman and started the first three games of the season before being sidelined with an injury.  He came back to start two more games before another injury sidelined him again.

Following a spring practice last year in which he had apparently slipped down the depth chart, Lunt decided to transfer from the Cowboys.  He moved on to the Illini in June of 2013 and sat out the season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

Illinois opens the season Aug. 30 at home against Youngstown State.

(Photo credit: Illinois athletics)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 9 Baylor

Bryce Petty

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Big 12 (1st in conference)
2013 postseason: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF (52-42 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 13/No. 13
Head coach: Art Briles (78-60 overall; 44-32 in six years at Baylor)
Offensive coordinator: Philip Montgomery (6th season at Baylor)
2013 offensive rankings: 13th rushing offense (259.7 ypg); 5th passing offense (359.1 ypg); 1st total offense (618.8 ypg); 1st scoring offense (52.4 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Phil Bennett (3rd season at Baylor)
2013 defensive rankings: 38th rushing defense (145.4 ypg); 34th passing defense (214.9 ypg);  28th total defense (360.3 ypg); 36th scoring defense (23.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: four
Location: Waco, Texas
Stadium: McLane Stadium (45,000; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The Baylor Bears are the Lamborghini of college football offenses. Last season, the Bears’ offense was ranked No. 1 overall and averaged 618.8 yards per game. To put that number in perspective, the Oregon Ducks finished 2nd overall in total offense and they averaged 53.8 less yards per contest. That is truly an astonishing number. It’s possible the Bears’ offense will be better in 2014. Quarterback Bryce Petty enters his third year as a starter. Five of the team’s top six receivers also return. Three offensive linemen are back, with a near 400-pound monster replacing one of the departing starters. And running back Shock Linwood was nearly as good as Lache Seastrunk when given the opportunity to carry the load. In the two games Linwood carried the ball more than 20 times, he rushed for at least 182 yards. To top it all off, the Bears added a pair of four-star recruits at wide receiver with K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. The Bears’ offense is simply a well-oiled machine that will be nearly impossible to slow down this season.

THE BAD
When a team’s offense throws the ball all over the yard while operating at a breakneck pace, opponents will try to keep pace. Baylor took a big step in the right direction on defense last season, but the lasting impression of that unit will be sacrificing 556 yards to the UCF Knights during a 52-42 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Each time Baylor made a comeback, the defense let them down. And the team now has to replace all but two starters from that game, four of which are currently on NFL rosters. Maybe a complete overhaul was needed. But there is always something to say about continuity within one unit of a football team. Baylor isn’t starting from scratch. They’re talented up front with both starting defensive tackles back for another season and the enigma known as Shawn Oakman at defensive end. Two key players, middle linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive end Jamal Palmer, will be asked to assume leadership roles as the rest of the defense continues to grow and improve around them.

THE UNKNOWN
With strength of schedule once again being an emphasis for determining the top teams in college football, the Bears fall short. Baylor suffers from a weak non-conference schedule. The Buffalo Bulls, which finished 8-5 and second in the MAC East last year, is the best non-conference opponent on the Bears’ schedule. Even when the Big 12 conference schedule is factored into the equation, the Bears only face two teams ranked in the preseason polls. A single loss could spell doom for the Bears. An undefeated run through conference play may be Baylor’s only chance to be named one of college football’s final four in the first College Football Playoff. Would that even be enough for the committee to vote the Bears into the tournament over a one-loss SEC or Pac-12 team?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Oklahoma
Baylor is still the new kid on the block with the shiny new toys. Whereas Oklahoma remains the Big 12’s neighborhood bully. As the two teams enter the season, the Sooners are considered national title contenders, while the Bears are still scratching and clawing to prove they can be an elite program over the long haul. This particular game is crucial for Baylor. The Bears have beaten the Sooners two years in a row. The Sooners, however, enter the season as the favorites to win the Big 12 and ranked in the Top 5 of both the AP and Coaches’ Polls. Another victory in Norman will clearly establish Baylor as the team to beat in the Big 12 this year and moving forward.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Bryce Petty
The thought of Baylor ever truly replacing quarterback Robert Griffin III was unimaginable. Yet, Petty quickly escaped RG3’s shadow and continues to build a legacy of his own. When RG3 won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, he threw for 4,293 yards, 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In 2013, Petty’s numbers were quite similar. The current Baylor quarterback passed for 4,200 yards, 32 and a microscopic three interceptions. While RG3 had decided advantages in overall accuracy and rushing yardage, Petty led Baylor to a better overall record (11-2) and a higher average per completion (16.8 yards). Due to the success of these two quarterbacks, Baylor is now considered a national contender. And in Briles’ explosive offense, the Bears’ starting quarterback has a chance to be in the Heisman conversation.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Kent State’s Jason Bitsko found unresponsive, passes away

Jason Bitsko

Sadly, there’s some terrible and tragic news coming out of Kent, Oh., this afternoon.

In a release Wednesday, Kent State announced that offensive lineman Jason Bitsko died unexpectedly this morning.  According to the school, Bitsko was found unresponsive in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment shortly before 9 a.m.

Police believe he passed away from an undetermined medical issue.

Bitsko was just 21 years old.

“Kent State University and the entire Kent community mourns his passing,” said athletic director Joel Nielsen in a statement. “We are heartbroken by the news of Jason’s death. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and everyone whose lives he touched.”

“Our players, coaches and everyone involved with our team are hurting because he was family,” head football coach Paul Haynes said. “As a team, we will come together and get through this one day at a time.”

The school added in its release that Bitsko would’ve been entering his fourth year with the Golden Flashes and that he would’ve been the starting center this coming season.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to everyone impacted by Bitsko’s way-too-early death.

(Photo credit: Kent State athletics)

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Four-star 2015 QB: ‘being mentored by Braxton Miller, that’d be awesome’

Torrance Gibson

Could Braxton Miller‘s devastating season-ending injury actually have a positive impact on the recruiting trail for Ohio State? That could very well be the case.

As a fourth-year senior who had yet to use his redshirt season, 2014 was set to be Miller’s final year of eligibility. The shoulder injury — or reinjury as the case may be — changed all of that, with Miller vowing to come back from the non-contact injury and return to the Buckeyes in 2015.

In tandem with that, Torrance Gibson, a top 2015 quarterback recruit, currently has OSU as his top choice of myriad interested schools. The fact that Miller would likely be around if/when Gibson arrived in Columbus next year? That appears to have done nothing but further cement OSU’s positioning as Gibson’s leader.

“Being mentored by Braxton Miller, that’d be pretty awesome,” Gibson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s Ari Wasserman during a telephone interview shortly after the announcement on Miller’s injury. “Being mentored by one of the best quarterbacks that ever came to Ohio State, man that would be something. It would be great if I decided to go to Ohio State.”

Gibson is rated as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com and is the No. 6 quarterback in that class according to Scout.com.  He is expected to announce his verbal commitment Oct. 20.

In Late May, Gibson released a Top Seven ($ link) that consisted of Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Miami and UCF. Tennessee and Auburn were his two favorites at the time.

However, a visit to Columbus in July ($ link) flipped his order of preference, with Ohio State jumping to the lead. That’s where they’ve stayed the past couple of weeks — and where they’ve apparently solidified themselves on the strength of the Miller gloom and doom.

“Nothing has changed, Ohio State is still the leader,” the player told the paper.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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FAU to name field after Howard Schnellenberger

NCAA Football - Florida Atlantic vs Kansas - September 3, 2005

And it’s about damn time.

Nearly three years after retiring, the man who was largely (mainly) responsible for the creation of the FAU football program is finally being honored, with the university announcing that the field at FAU Stadium will henceforth be known as Howard Schnellenberger Field.  Schnellenberger coached the Owls for the first 11 years of their existence before announcing prior to the season that 2011 would be his final year in coaching.

A ceremony will be held prior to the Sept. 13 home opener against Tulsa to honor Schnellenberger.

“I am humbled beyond belief that the University would bestow this great honor on the Schnellenberger family, and me personally,” said Schnellenberger in a statement. “This is probably the highlight of my coaching career. Thanks to the FAU Board of Trustees, the University, the fans, the players and the coaches that were an integral part of this.”

With the Owls, Schnellenberger had a 58-74 overall record.  Schnellenberger’s finished with a career mark of 158-151-3 that included stops at Miami and Louisville.  Included in that total is the 1983 national title he won with the Hurricanes.

And, now that he’s been honored by the football program he built from scratch, it’s time for the College Football Hall of Fame to rid itself of the archaic and asinine rule that’s keeping a more-than-deserving coach from being honored.

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Louisville’s Lyn Clark transfers to FCS program

Lyn Clark

When it was reported over the weekend that Lyn Clark was leaving Louisville, the initial speculation was the linebacker would end up at Tulane. While the state turned out to be correct, the specific program and level of football weren’t.

Northwestern State, located in Natchitoches, La., announced Tuesday that Clark has transferred into the football program. Because the Demons play at the FCS level, the New Orleans native will be eligible to play immediately in 2014.

Prior to a scrimmage this past Saturday, UofL head coach Bobby Petrino confirmed that Clark had asked for and been granted a release from his scholarship.

Clark, a two-star member of the Cardinals’ 2013 recruiting class, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season. He had been working as a No. 2 linebacker throughout spring practice and on into summer camp.

Counting 2014, he’ll have four years of eligibility remaining.

As it turns out, Clark wasn’t the only former FBS player added by NSU. Former Navy quarterback Nick Fabrizio was added to the roster as well. Fabrizio is a legacy addition, being the son of former Demon quarterback Rob Fabrizio (1984-86) and brother of junior linebacker Robert Fabrizio.

Unlike Clark, Fabrizio will be forced to sit out the 2014 season. He’ll have three years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

(Photo credit: Northwestern State athletics)

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Syracuse’s starting TE set for surgery

Boston College v Syracuse

Whether or not Syracuse has a starting skill player on offense for all, some or none of the 2014 season remains to be seen.

Josh Parris, the school announced Tuesday, suffered what was described as a lower-body injury during a recent practice session. As a result, the tight end will be forced to undergo surgery to repair the unspecified injury Wednesday.

How long and the number of games Parris will — or won’t — miss is still to be determined.

Head coach Scott Shafer did say the team was hopeful Parris would make a speedy recovery, although there are no guarantees.

“He’s got a little clicking in his knee, so we got it checked out, had a little cartilage thing,” Shafer said. “Hopefully it’s something (doctors) can just go in and clean up and get him back quickly.”

Parris caught 13 passes for 90 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The 6-2, 252-pound redshirt sophomore would’ve will enter the 2014 season as the Orange’s starting tight end.

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Optimistic Urban Meyer opens up on Braxton Miller injury, impact

Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller

If you were expecting a sullen and despondent Urban Meyer in the wake of the Braxton Miller injury, you will be sorely disappointed.

Wednesday morning, the Ohio State head coach, during an interview on the Mike & Mike Show, made his first public comments since yesterday’s announcement.  While acknowledging “your gut starts to hurt” when ” a member of your family [goes] down,”  Meyer was optimistic about the future of his squad, which, prior to Miller’s season-ending injury, was viewed by many as the Big Ten favorite and potential playoff qualifier.

I think we’re going to be a very good team,” the coach said in quotes transcribed by the Columbus Dispatch. “Has my thought changed? Not at all. …

“Our guys have responded [positively to the injury news].”

Meyer also praised Miller for his attitude since the injury, which has seemed to have an impact — a positive one — on the entire team.

“The best thing is Braxton’s reaction,” Meyer said. “Braxton has a big smile on his face, is out at practice, is talking to our quarterbacks. I’m telling you, he’s a grown man. That’s credit to him, his family and his high-school coach, Jay Minton.”

The quarterback who’ll likely lean on Miller, the quasi-coach, the most is T.J. Barrett.  The redshirt freshman has never played a down at the collegiate level let alone attempted a pass.  He’s expected to get the start, at least in the opener against Navy,  ahead of Cardale Jones.

Miller will be looked upon to provide a veteran presence for Barrett, one who can be both a mentor and a coach all in the same package.  Meyer’s going to do his part as well, scaling back the offense and tailoring it to Barrett’s skillset.

“We’re not at this point going to ask him to throw that post corner on the field a 35-yard route on a seven-step drop,” Meyer said as an example of tailoring the offense for Barrett. “He’s not made for that yet.”

The Dispatch pointed out that “the offense under Barrett is likely to resemble what it looked like when Kenny Guiton took over when Miller was injured early last year.”

Miller suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the Week 2 win over San Diego State and was replaced for the remainder of that game as well as the next two by Guiton.  Guiton totaled 13 touchdowns — 12 passing — in those three games before Miller returned for the win over Wisconsin.

The difference between Barrett and Guiton?  Guiton was a senior with at least some playing experience before being tossed into the fray.  Neither Barrett nor OSU has that luxury this time around, with Barrett’s acclimation to the game at this level likely going a long way in determining whether or not, as Meyer stated, the Buckeyes are a very good team at season’s end.

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