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CFT Preseason Top 25: three in a row, Roll Tide Roll

Alabama head coach Saban is doused with Gatorade after they defeated Notre Dame in the NCAA National Championship college football game in Miami AP

I have some good news and bad news for you, Tide Nation.

The good? In the 2011 edition of CFT’s preseason Top 25, I predicted the Tide would rise again and claim its second BCS title under Nick Saban; five months later, Alabama did just that. The bad? More times than not, my preseason prognostications are historically and prodigiously horrendous… and that doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

In 2009, 2010 and 2012, Oklahoma, Florida and USC, respectively, ranked as CFT’s preseason No. 1. Five losses later for the Sooners and Gators, and six for the Trojans, none of those three finished the season ranked in either the final Associated Press or coaches’ poll. The eventual BCS champions those seasons — Alabama (2012), Auburn (2010) and Alabama again (2009) — were ranked No. 3, No. 15 and No. 19 by CFT in the preseason.

So, will 2013 be CFT’s Nostradumbass norm for the Tide, or will the 2011 exception take hold? Or, will the Tide fall somewhere in between? More than anyone else, and based on my track record, I don’t have a clue; that’s why they play the games, as the saying goes.

And that’s why, for better or worse and for posterity’s sake, the complete 2013 edition of CFT’s fifth-annual preseason Top 25 appears after the jump.  By conference, you’ll find six teams from the SEC — all in the Top 12 — five from the Big 12, four each from the Big Ten and Pac-12, three from the ACC and one apiece from the AAC, MWC and Independents.

I’d ask y’all to be some semblance of kind and/or gentle in the comments section, but there’s really no point…

1. Alabama
2012 record: 13-1 (won BCS title game, won SEC championship game)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 1 (coaches’ poll); No. 1 (Associated Press)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 1 (coaches’ poll); No. 1 (AP)

The Tide returns 13 starters from last year’s back-to-back BCS title squad, which the esteemed Phil Steele says is the team’s second-highest number of returnees since 2007. That’s all well and good, but Alabama’s 2013 season can be narrowed down to two titanic matchups: at Texas A&M Sept. 14 in an attempt to avenge their lone loss in 2012, and Nov. 9 vs. LSU in Tuscaloosa. Win both, and the Tide is on the fast track to an SEC title-game appearance and a shot at an unprecedented third-straight BCS title and four in five years. As they proved the past two seasons, though, even one loss in conference play won’t derail their title hopes. This team may not have the star power of the other title-winning Tide teams, but it has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best, of the Nick Saban era.

Ohio State Introduces Urban Meyer2. Ohio State
2012 record: 12-0 (no bowl game due to NCAA sanctions)
Final 2012 rankings: ineligible (coaches’); No. 3 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 2 (coaches’ poll); No. 2 (AP)

We could talk about returning starters (nine offense, four defense) or that one starter from each side of the ball will be suspended for various lengths of time to begin the season (starting running back Carlos Hyde for three, All-American cornerback Bradley Roby for at least one), but the reality is that the Buckeyes’ season can be summed up in one word: schedule. As in “pastry-soft schedule.” Their non-conference slate consists of Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M, with just one of those (the Golden Bears) on the road; the Aztecs at 9-4 were the only one of the four that won at least four games in 2012. Just three teams on their 2013 schedule (Michigan, No. 17; Northwestern, No. 22; Wisconsin, No. 23) are currently ranked in the AP Top 25. In fact, OSU will likely be favored in every single game this season, and will be expected by many to carry a 23-game winning streak into The Game, to be played this season in Ann Arbor. Look out for the Oct. 5 trip to Evanston, though; that game has “trap” written all over it.

3. Stanford
2012 record: 12-2 (won Pac-12 championship, won Rose Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings No. 6 (coaches’); No. 7 (AP):
2013 preseason rankings: No. 4 (coaches’); No. 4 (AP)

Entering his third season at Stanford, David Shaw has done nothing but build upon and, in some cases, improve the foundation laid by Jim Harbaugh. With 23 wins in two years on The Farm, Shaw has helped push expectations to the point where anything less than 10 wins would be considered a down season for the Cardinal. With one of the top defenses in the country and a more-experienced Kevin Hogan under center — and drawing four of their toughest on-paper games at home (Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame) — Stanford should once again hit that mark and be in the BCS title mix. Replacing Stepfan Taylor would normally be a cause for concern, but possessing an offensive line that’s annually one of the best in the country will make even a by-committee approach a successful tack for the running game.

4. Louisville
2012 record: 11-2 (Big East champion, won Sugar Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 13 (coaches’); No. 13 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 9 (coaches’); No. 9 (AP)

Last year at this time, I was writing that I had the feeling, ala Auburn in 2010, that I was rating Louisville too low when I pegged them as the No. 24 team in CFT’s preseason Top 25. That won’t happen again this year. Not after watching the Cardinals roll through an 11-win season in Charlie Strong’s second year that included a route of SEC East runnerup Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Not armed with the knowledge that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, not Jadeveon Clowney, could very well be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. And definitely not after factoring in the combination of returning starters (six offense, 10 defense) and a schedule that includes exactly zero teams currently ranked in either of the two major polls. Talent-wise, the Cardinals might not be the No. 4 team in the country at the moment; given the experienced talent they do possess plus their current placement in the rebuilt and evolving American Athletic Conference — they’ll move to the ACC in 2014 — there’s no reason, other than inexplicably stubbing their toes against the likes of Rutgers of UCF or (shudder) Kentucky, Louisville can’t and won’t head into the 2013 postseason carrying an unblemished record.

5. Georgia
2012 record: 12-2 (lost SEC championship game, won Capital One bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 4 (coaches’); No. 5 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 5 (coaches’); No. 5 (AP)

In its attempt to get back to a third consecutive SEC championship game, Georgia has several challenges awaiting them. The Bulldogs’ first two SEC games are against top-12 teams, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 12 LSU. Fortunately for UGA both of those games are at home, although a season opener against No. 8 Clemson that should play a role in the BCS race is on the road. A defensive unit that was above-average in most categories nationally last year returns just three starters, and, especially in the secondary, has been bitten by the injury/suspension bug. The offense, on the other hand, returns nine starters from a unit that was one of the most explosive in the SEC. After that brutal opening gauntlet against ranked opponents, the Bulldogs’ schedule softens a bit and becomes much more manageable over the remainder of the year. In other words, by the end of September, we’ll know what if any type of presence the Bulldogs will have on the national stage at season’s end.

6. Oregon
2012 record: 12-1 (T-1st Pac-12 North, won Fiesta Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No 2 (coaches’); No. 2 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 3 (coaches’); No. 3 (AP)

What I think is that Mark Helfrich is going to be a very, very good head football coach at the FBS level. What I know is that, if Chip Kelly hadn’t bolted Eugene for the NFL in the offseason, the Ducks would be sitting closer to No 1 than they are right now given the amount of talent returning this year. And that’s no slight to Helfrich; rather, that’s a show of respect for the absolute machine Kelly built in the Northwest section of the collegiate football landscape. That said, it would not surprise at all if Helfrich pulled a Shaw: take over for an NFL-bound coach at a Pac-12 school and the program not skip a beat. Speaking of which, UO’s conference season and national title hopes could, for the second straight year, come down to one game. On Nov. 7, the Ducks will travel to Stanford on a Thursday night looking to avenge its only loss of the 2012 season, a 17-14 overtime heartbreaker to the Cardinal in Eugene. However, when you can bring the likes of Marcus Mariota, DeAnthony Thomas et al, you have to like your chances, whether it’s at home or on the road. And whether you’re replacing the man who took the program to the next level.

7. ClemsonChick Fil A Bowl Football
2012 record: 11-2 (t-1st, ACC Atlantic, won Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 9 (coaches’); No. 11 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 8 (coaches’); No. 8 (AP)

Open against No. 5 Georgia and close against No. 6 South Carolina, with a conference matchup against No. 11 Florida State thrown in the middle for good measure that could again determine the Atlantic’s representative in the ACC title game? A good numbers omen for the Tigers is that they have made the ACC title game in odd-numbered years under Dabo Sweeney; with this being 2013, and with the Seminoles visiting the East Coast version of Death Valley, that bodes well. Well, that and the presence of Tajh Boyd under center, a plethora of weapons at his disposal and a defense that’s improved exponentially since the bowl embarrassment against West Virginia to end the 2011 season. Whether Clemson can take that next step remains to be seen, especially with that trio of games littered throughout the season. This might, though, be Swinney’s best chance to get Clemson its first national championship in over three decades.

8. LSU
2012 record: 10-3 (T-2nd SEC West, lost Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 12 (coaches’); No. 14 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 13 (coaches’); No. 12 (AP)

Remember how I said earlier that there are times when I feel like I’m underrating a particular team? There are also times when the opposite is true — and this is one of those times. While LSU does return a respectable 10 starters from the double-digit-win team of a year ago, they were also hit hard by early departures for the NFL as a whopping 10 players with eligibility remaining left the program. Normally the strength of the team in both talent and experience, the Tigers will be forced to replace eight defensive starters. including all four defensive linemen and two of three linebackers. While the defense readjusts — notice I didn’t say rebuild — the offense and its eight returning starters, led by Zach Mettenberger, may have to shoulder a bit more of the responsibility than it’s been accustomed to. Fortunately, after the opener against No. 20 TCU, the Tigers get a bit of a scheduling breather before facing Georgia in late September which will allow the defense to grow for a stretch run that includes games against Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M.

9. Texas A&M
2012 record: 11-2 (T-2nd SEC West, won Cotton Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 5 (coaches’); T-No. 5 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 6 (coaches’); No. 7 (AP)

After a normal offseason coming off such a smashing debut in the SEC in 2012, A&M would seemingly be comfortably slotted inside the Top Five of most if not all preseason polls. Of course, it was no normal offseason; we won’t rehash everything, or even anything, involving star quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, but suffice to say a cloud of NCAA uncertainty still hangs over College Station just days before the start of a new season. If Manziel can maintain his eligibility… if the Aggies can pull off a repeat in their rematch with Alabama the third weekend of the season… if both of those things happen, the sky appears to be the limit for A&M’s SEC encore. That may be easier said than done, especially when it comes to the Tide, who have had an entire offseason to adjust to what Manziel and Kevin Sumlin’s offense brings to the conference table.

10. Oklahoma State
2012 record: 10-2 (T-3rd Big 12, won Heart of Dallas Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings:  unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: No. 14 (coaches’); No. 13 (AP)

With the quarterback position unsettled — Mike Gundy will head into the opener without a starter in name among Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh — I may be inflating the value of the Cowboys’ 2013 stock. But, with 15 returning starters and a favorable schedule that hands the Cowboys Baylor, TCU and in-state rival Oklahoma in Stillwater, the table is set for OSU to claim the Big 12’s BCS berth in the final year of the current system. The quarterback situation, though, bears watching; if Gundy hopes to get the Cowboys back to the top of the conference, either Chelf or Walsh needs to grab hold of the job sooner rather later. And preferably before the Oct. 19 game against the Horned Frogs.

11. South Carolina
2012 record: 11-2 (Third SEC East, won Outback Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 7 (coaches’); No. 8 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 7 (coaches’); No. 6 (AP)

South Carolina doesn’t need Mike Davis, the newly-minted starting running back, to be the next Marcus Lattimore; it needs the combination of Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson to improve their production in the passing game to the point where the field opens up and it seems like there are a whole bunch of Lattimores running around. The Gamecocks’ passing game has ranked 57th (2012) and 95th (2011) nationally the past two years, and hasn’t finished better than 44th (2010) the past five years. Either Shaw, entering his third season as the starter, or Thompson must take their play to the next level in order to break their SEC divisional title drought. There’s only so much that preseason Heisman contender Jadeveon Clowney and a defensive unit ranked in the top-13 nationally in total and scoring defense can do without a little help from the other side of the ball. And they’d better do it quick as they travel to Athens the second weekend of the season in a conference game that will set the tone for the year.

Jeff Driskel12. Florida
2012 record: 11-2 (T-1st SEC East, lost Sugar Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 10 (coaches’); No. 9 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 10 (coaches’); No. 10 (AP)

Florida has the running game, the defense and the special teams — save for replacing Caleb Sturgis — to be an elite team. Much like their SEC rival Gamecocks, though, there are question marks surrounding the passing game. Enter Jeff Driskel, the quarterback who Gator coaches have publicly and privately raved about throughout the offseason, praising the strides he’s made in becoming a more complete passer. An expected jump in performance by Driskel could portend well for the Gators’ fortunes, especially with road games against LSU, Georgia and South Carolina on tap in the conference and Miami out of conference. Or that daunting scheduling gauntlet could doom UF’s season. One of the two.

13. TCU
2012 record: 7-6 (T-5th Big 12, lost in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: No. 20 (coaches’); No. 20 (AP)

TCU easily carries the worst 2012 record out of any team I’ve ranked thus far, so this might be going out on a limb a bit placing the Horned Frogs inside the Top 15 — but it’s not exactly a thin one. TCU returns 16 starters, including Casey Pachall. While Gary Patterson has yet to commit to the rehabbed quarterback as his starter, Pachall is expected to be under center when the season opens against LSU. Over the past two seasons, Pachall is 15-2 as a starter; in games that Pachall doesn’t start, the Horned Frogs are 3-6. Coincidence or not, TCU is a better team with Pachall in charge of the offense. Add the senior’s return to a defense that returned to expected levels in 2012, and TCU should be in solid shape to contend for its first Big 12 title in its second season in the conference.

14. Florida State
2012 record: 12-2 (ACC champion, Orange Bowl winner)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 8 (coaches’); No. 10 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 12 (coaches’); No 11 (AP)

As the loquacious George W. Bush once oh-so-eloquently stated, “Fool me once, shame on me; fool me… you can’t get fooled again.” Such is my feeling in regards to Florida State. Each of the past three seasons I’ve proclaimed FSU to be “back,” only to be let down to one degree or another. Yes, the 12-win season last year was the program’s best since 1999, but the inexplicable midseason misstep against North Carolina State effectively crushed a season that began with such promise, especially after the win over Clemson two weeks before. In addition to replacing half the starting 22 — including the underrated and undervalued EJ Manuel at quarterback — Jimbo Fisher was forced to replace two-thirds of his coaching staff throughout the offseason. While that seems like a lot to overcome in one offseason, the talent is still there and Fisher is a helluva football coach. Just don’t expect me to proclaim “they’re back” again until after they actually are.

15. Michigan
2012 record: 8-5 (2nd Big Ten Legends, lost Outback Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked (coaches’); No. 24 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 17 (coaches’); No. 17 (AP)

Devin Gardner with half of a season under his belt, ready to become even more of a passer already than Denard Robinson ever was? Check. A top-20 defense that returns a sizable chunk of its productivity? Check. A schedule that gives them Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State in Ann Arbor? Check. A shot at its first Big Ten title in nearly a decade? Hold that check. Certainly there’s a shot — even a good one — but inexperience along the interior of the offensive line, replacing a couple of key defensive starters — linebacker Jake Ryan should be back no later than mid-October from a torn ACL — and depth at wide receiver could prove problematic, at least for the short-term. Again, the schedule is favorable, but road trips to Michigan State and Northwestern in November bear watching.

16. Notre Dame
2012 record: 12-1 (lost in BCS title game)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 3 (coaches’); No. 4 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 11 (coaches’); No. 14 (AP)

Prior to May 25 of this year, Notre Dame appeared primed for a return to the Top Ten of the polls — at least — coming off its BCS title game appearance. They had eight starters from a top-ten defense coming back, and six starters returning from an offense that had shown steady improvement. After May 25, the number on the latter side dipped to five as starting quarterback Everett Golson left school due to “poor academic choices,” casting a pall over the Irish’s prospects for the 2013 season. The good news at the position is that there’s an experienced hand to take over, with Tommy Rees expected to take back over the starting job — he was named the starter in June — and hold on to it as long as he can take better care of the football. Making the task all the more daunting is a schedule that includes Michigan and Stanford on the road and Oklahoma, BYU and USC at home. Based on everything, another 10-win season would be a positive for the Golden Domers.

17. Boise StateColorado State v Boise State
2012 record: 11-2 (T-1st MWC, won Las Vegas Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 14 (coaches’); No. 18 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 19 (coaches’); No. 19 (AP)

Seven straight seasons, and in 10 of the last 11, Boise State has reached double digits in wins. Thanks to an ever-improving Mountain West Conference — yes, that’s actually happening — and a solid non-conference schedule, the Broncos streak of 10-plus wins could face a very stiff test. On paper, BSU’s toughest conference games this season will come against Fresno State, Utah State and San Diego State, and all three of those will be on the road. Additionally, the Broncos have to travel to Washington in the season opener and then to BYU in late October in non-conference action. While it’s not exactly an SEC-level meatgrinder, that’s actually a very, very solid slate and will prove to be a good test for Joe Southwick, with a season of starting under his belt, and a young but talented defensive unit. If the Broncos get back to a BCS bowl this year, there should be no wailing and gnashing of teeth as the Lil’ Program That Could will have earned it.

18. Oklahoma
2012 record: 10-3 (T-1st Big 12, lost Cotton Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 15 (coaches’); No. 15 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 16 (coaches’); No. 16 (AP)

Expected by some (most) to go with the Belldozer as Landry Jones’ replacement, Bob Stoops stunned some (most) by opting for redshirt freshman Trevor Knight as his starting quarterback over Blake Bell — and that decision could leave OU vastly underrated heading into the 2013 season. By all accounts, Knight is every bit the factor in the running game as Bell, and already twice the passer even as he has never attempted a pass at the collegiate level. With a veteran offense behind him that returns seven starters — including four offensive linemen — Knight will have plenty of support in his first season as a starter. Defense is another story, however, as the Sooners return just four starters from last year’s 10-win team. The schedule is a challenge, too, with trips to Notre Dame, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State in the offing for Knight, although the latter three won’t come until after the eighth game of the season.

19. UCLA
2012 record: 9-5 (won Pac-12 South, lost Holiday Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: No. 21 (coaches’); No. 21 (AP)

The loss of all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin can be somewhat minimized by the combination of a bevy of talented — but inexperienced — running backs as well the continued improvement of Brett Hundley, who in his first year as a starter quickly became one of the best young quarterbacks in the college game. What can’t be minimized is an absolutely brutal conference schedule: at Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks in October, then at USC to close out the season. Mix in a non-conference road game against Nebraska the second weekend of September, and the Bruins path back to the Pac-12 championship game, let alone the periphery of BCS title talk, is rife with landmines.

20. Baylor
2012 record: 8-5 (T-5th Big 12, won Holiday Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: unranked in both polls

Call this one a hunch. All Baylor did was win five of their last six games last season over the likes of, among others, No. 1 Kansas State, No. 23 Oklahoma State and No. 17 UCLA. Its only loss in that span was by eight points on the road against No. 12 Oklahoma. The Bears will return 12 starters, although Bryce Petty will be in his first season as a starting quarterback as he attempts to replace Nick Florence, who quietly did an outstanding job replacing Robert Griffin III. Given Art Briles’ track record with players at that position, and with the presence of Heisman sleeper Lache Seastrunk in the backfield, that should be the least of the Bears’ worries. After giving up over 800 yards and 70 points to West Virginia early on in 2012, and relative to the rest of the Big 12, the Bears’ defense actually showed improvement as the season wore on. If that improvement continues, the Bears could and should be a factor in the Big 12 race through November.

21. Nebraska
2012 record: 10-4 (lost Big Ten championship game, lost Capital One Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 23 (coaches’); No. 25 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 18 (coaches’); No. 18 (AP)

Losses by a combined 53 points in its last two games took some of the luster off of what was arguably Nebraska’s best and most complete team under Bo Pelini. Still, with eight starters, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, returning, the offensive side of the ball should be no cause for worry. A defense that brings back just four starters from last year’s unit, however, is. The fact that the Cornhuskers’ toughest road game is at Michigan in early November — and that they avoid both Ohio State and Wisconsin (accounted for two of their losses in 2012) — bodes well for the ‘Huskers finally getting over the hump and winning its first Big Ten championship. If they can get past the B1G’s Big Two, of course.

22. Arizona State
2012 record: 8-5 (T-2nd Pac-12 South, won Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: unranked in both polls

Todd Graham is building something for the long haul in the desert, provided he’s in the desert for the long haul of course. The Sun Devils return their starting quarterback, two top running backs and eight starters from a defense that finished second in the Pac-12 and 14th nationally in scoring. The offensive line, despite the loss of two starters, has the chance to be one of the top units in the conference. The depth and experience at wide receiver is a concern, as is a schedule that includes conference road games against Stanford and UCLA and nonconference matchups with Wisconsin and Notre Dame. In the end, though, No. 22 may be too low of a start for the Sun Devils.

Mack Brown23. Texas
2012 record: 9-4 (T-3rd Big 12, won Alamo Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 18 (coaches’); No. 19 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 15 (coaches’); No. 15 (AP)

And now we come to the portion of the rankings program where I get the most vitriol tossed in my general direction. Sorry, I’m not buying it. Not yet. Yes, Texas returns a whopping 19 starters, easily the most in the Big 12 and one of the top totals at the FBS level. Yes, David Ash may be the best quarterback in the conference (which may say more about the Big 12 than Ash). Yes, there’s the sense that, with all of the talent UT possesses, the Longhorns are primed for a return to the national stage for the first time since 2009. That’s the thing, though. There’s always talent in Austin thanks to top recruiting classes year-in and year-out. Translating that on-paper talent into on-field success has been the problem over the past three seasons. Until Mack Brown and his coaching staff can turn those clippings into winnings, I’m officially from Missouri when it comes to the Longhorns.

24. Miami
2012 record: 7-5 (T1st ACC Coastal, ineligible for postseason)
Final 2012 rankings: ineligible (coaches’); unranked (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: unranked in both polls

Self-imposed sanctions kept Miami from an ACC title game date with Florida State in 2012, but that won’t be an issue this year. And neither will the competition in the Coastal, which continues to languish behind the upper-echelon of the Atlantic talent-wise. With Virginia Tech racked with injuries and a shell of its former 10-wins-annually self, North Carolina and Georgia Tech looks to be the Hurricanes’ only significant competition in the division. While the ‘Canes will be forced to travel to Chapel Hill in a game that could very well decide the division’s representative in the conference title game, they get the Yellow Jackets at home. The fact that they return 18 starters — tied with Boston College for the ACC’s most — sends all signs pointing to The U appearing in their first-ever ACC Championship game.

25. Northwestern
2012 record: 10-3 (3rd Big Ten Legends, won Gator Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 16 (coaches’); No. 17 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 22 (coaches’); No. 22 (AP)

Yes, the nerds make it into CFT’s Top 25 ahead of, among others, defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin… and for good reason. By all accounts, this is Pat Fitzgerald’s most talented team in his seven years in Evanston, with 15 starters coming back from last year’s 10-win squad — the program’s first double-digit win total since 1995. Fitzgerald’s biggest problems might be, one, expectations (with Fitz, complacency won’t be an issue) and, two, the schedule. After avoiding Ohio State and Wisconsin last year, the Wildcats get them both (Buckeyes at home, Bucky in Madison) as well as a road trip to Nebraska. Conversely, NU drew both Michigan and Michigan State at home. While one wouldn’t expect a repeat of the 10-win season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if/when it happens.

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Former USC AD Dr. Richard Perry dies

Oregon State v USC

Here’s a good way to judge the tenure of an athletics director – if you manage to outnumber national championships by years served at a 2-to-1 clip, you’ve had an insanely successful run.

Dr. Richard Perry was USC’s athletics director for a decade, from 1975 to 1984, and oversaw 20 Trojans national championships, eight on the men’s side and a dozen on the women’s. Perry passed away Sunday in Riverside, Calif., USC announced on Monday. He was 85.

“Dick Perry created the `Trojan Family’ concept at USC, bringing a sense of unity and family not only within our athletic department but with the alumni and fans,” said Stan Morrison, who was hired by Perry as the USC men’s basketball coach and then later served as UC Riverside’s athletic director like Perry. “He was a great source of poise and reason for me when I was USC’s basketball coach, and he provided me with great wisdom and counsel. I loved him dearly and will really miss him.”

Perry aided USC to the 1978 national championship under coach John Robinson, its ninth claimed national title, but his legacy is that of extending the Trojans’ presence as an all-sports power. Trojan teams claimed national titles in baseball, men’s swimming, tennis (men’s and women’s), volleyball (men’s and women’s) and women’s basketball.

A basketball coach by trade, Perry served eight seasons as the men’s hoops coach at Long Beach State (and worked as an assistant football coach for three of those years) and coached basketball, football and baseball at Emporia College (now Emporia State) in Kansas. After Long Beach State, Perry worked as an associate professor of physical education from 1967-75 before rising to the athletics director’s chair in 1975.

After his time at USC was done, Perry became the AD at UC Riverside from 1987 to 1992.

He is survived by his wife Donna, four children and six grandchildren.

 

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Bo Pelini on ESPN’s marriage to the SEC: “I don’t think that kind of relationship is good for college football.”

Bo Pelini

Deep breaths, everyone. There are three SEC teams in the latest editions of the AP and Coaches polls. But it is Week 8. That does not necessarily mean the SEC is receiving three golden tickets to the College Football Playoff. (Nebraska, 6-1 on the year, is ranked 16th in both polls.)

It hasn’t stopped the media from asking about it, though, and it hasn’t stopped coaches from answering those loaded questions.

“I don’t think that kind of relationship is good for college football. That’s just my opinion,” Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini said Monday. “Anytime you have a relationship with somebody, you have a partnership, you are supposed to be neutral. It’s pretty hard to stay neutral in that situation.”

The relationship Pelini describes is ESPN’s partnership with the SEC in the SEC Network. But ESPN also has a relationship with Pelini’s own Big Ten. And the ACC. And the Big 12. And the Pac-12. And every other FBS conference.

ESPN is the cartel that’s proverbially pays off the police department, but they’re also in business with the sheriff’s office, the fire department, the mayor’s office, the DEA, the public library and everyone on down to the local PTA.

“They play good football, and I know there is some good football played in some other conferences, too,” Pelini said. “It’s hard to say because you just don’t see, unfortunately, in this day and age, a lot of crossovers. So you don’t get a lot to make that decision on, to be able to compare and contrast. You have to go off what the media says to a certain extent and what some people say.”

The good news for Pelini and the rest of the non-SEC loving world? There are seven weeks of football between now and Selection Sunday, and just because the writers and coaches have the SEC filling 75 percent of their hypothetical bracket doesn’t mean the selection committee agrees.

We’ll begin to find out a week from tomorrow when the committee reveals its first Top 25.

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Illinois expects to play both backup QBs vs. Minnesota

Reilly O'Toole, Ted Karras, Maliek Collins

You know the saying – if you play two quarterbacks, you’re probably grasping at straws in hopes of saving your job.

With starting quarterback Wes Lunt out four-to-six weeks with a leg fracture, Illini head coach Tim Beckman told the Associated Press he expects to play both backups, senior Reilly O’Toole and sophomore Aaron Bailey, Saturday versus Minnesota.

“I think that for them to prepare for two is always a little more challenging than to prepare for one,” Beckman said.

Both quarterbacks played in the Illini’s 38-28 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 11. O’Toole completed 12-of-19 passes for 96 yards with two touchdowns while adding 29 rushing yards, and Bailey hit 2-of-5 passes for 39 yards with an interception while leading the club with 12 rushes for 75 yards and a score.

Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit sounded very, for you Seinfield fans out there, Krueger-ian about the idea.

“I don’t know. I’ll be honest with you — I’ve never done it before,” Cubit said. “Both guys have pretty good qualities. We’ll figure it out.”

O’Toole has thrown for 524 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions this season. Bailey had not recorded a statistic this season until entering the Wisconsin loss late in the game.

With Lunt out until mid-November, Beckman has to gamble in hopes of saving his job. The Illi are 3-4 this season (0-3 Big Ten) and are winless against Power Five competition. Their only two FBS wins, over Western Kentucky and Texas State, came by eight and seven points respectively.

Beckman is 9-22 in his third season at Illinois, and 1-18 in Big Ten play.

Illinois will host Minnesota at noon ET on ESPNU.

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Tulsa World photographer apologizes to Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard for hitting him with his $10,000 lens

Sterling Shepard

During the second quarter of No. 17 Oklahoma’s loss to No. 11 Kansas State, Sooners wide recevier Sterling Shepard efforted for a would-be touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Knight in the back of the end zone. As has happened a thousand times before and will happen a thousand times again, Shepard’s momentum took him out of the field of play and into the photographers’ row, where he collided with equipment belonging to Tulsa World photographer Mike Simons.

“When he landed, he fell into me and came down on my Canon 400mm F 2.8 lens. Shepard was hurt. He let me know it while he writhed in pain. For that, I would like to apologize that our paths crossed. I felt horrible and still feel very bad about that. I was relieved when he came out and played in the second half,” Simons wrote in an apology letter to Shepard.

Shepard led all receivers with 15 grabs for 197 yards and a touchdown – including seven grabs for 100 yards post-collision – in the Sooners’ 31-30 loss.

Simonds noted that places his gear on the ground because that is where he feels it is safest both for himself and the players. His system, Simonds notes, worked perfectly until Saturday. It was the first time in 26 years of photographing football games to collide with one of his subjects.

In the end, it was Simons’ (very, very expensive) lends that sustained the only real damage.

“The carnage from my end of this incident was that a Canon 400mm F 2.8 lens was broken in half. The lens sells for $10,499. It’s a lot of money, but nothing in comparison to a player’s safety. I feel lucky to have escaped the incident unhurt.”

 

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Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly expected to start vs. Washington

Taylor Kelly, Jake Gallegos

There is no Wally Pipp situation breaking out in Tempe.

At his weekly press conference on Monday, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham told the assembled media he expects Taylor Kelly to resume his roll atop the quarterback depth chart Saturday versus Washington.

Kelly hasn’t seen the field since leaving the Sun Devils’ Sept. 13 win over Colorado early with a foot injury.

Backup Mike Bercovici finished that game and started the next three. He threw for 488 yards and three touchdowns with two costly interceptions as the Sun Devils were bludgeoned over the head for a 62-27 loss to UCLA on Sept. 25, but the junior has rebounded nicely since then. He hit 27-of-45 passes for 510 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-34 stunner over USC, and threw for 245 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s 26-10 win over Stanford.

Most importantly, Bercovici has not thrown an interception in 50 combined attempts over the last two seasons.

Alas, Kelly was the entrenched starter heading into this season, and the entrenched starter he will remain.

For the season, Kelly has completed 42-of-68 passes for 625 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing 19 times for 168 yards and two more scores.

The 14th-ranked Sun Devils will visit Washington at 10:45 p.m. ET on ESPN this Saturday.

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Purdue loses linebacker Robinson to torn ACL

Sean Robinson, Malcom Agnew

Purdue senior linebacker Sean Robinson has played his final game of the 2014 season. Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell announced Monday Robinson tore his ACL in his right knee in a game earlier this season.

Robinson’s ACL was torn back on October 4 against Illinois. He recorded five tackles in the game before having to leave for medical treatment. He did not play in either of Purdue’s two most recent games, against Michigan State or Minnesota. Hazell said Robinson will undergo surgery later this month, on October 28.

Robinson was Purdue’s fourth-leading tackler this season with 42 tackles, including 27 solo tackles.

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Sorry Florida fans, Muschamp not going anywhere (yet)

Will Muschamp

As the season got off to a poor start in Gainesville, Florida, athletics director Jeremy Foley issued a statement saying the performance of head coach Will Muschamp and the direction of the football program would be evaluated at the end of the regular season. That still appears to be the case despite one of the worst losses the Gators have experienced in some time at the hands of Missouri.

“At the beginning of the season we said we would evaluate the season as it plays out,’’ Foley said in a statement released on the school’s athletics website. “We will continue to do so. Our sole focus right now is supporting our coaching staff and players as they prepare for Georgia.”

Florida’s 42-13 loss at home to Missouri dropped the Gators to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. Florida still has games against Georgia in two weeks and Florida State at the end of the regular season. Coming off a blowout loss and going into a bye week feels about as good a time as any for a school to make an in-season coaching change. As it appears Muschamp will manage to hold onto the job, it would appear Muschamp will remain on the sideline in charge of the Florida program through the end of the regular season.

Making a change in season likely does nothing in terms of making changes for the future, other than showing fans change is coming. Florida should be attractive enough as a football program to lure just about any coach it would have its sights on, even with a potential vacancy opening up at a school like Michigan. There could be some former Florida assistants worth keeping an eye on as well, such as Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and Steve Addazio at Boston College. Charlie Strong is another former Florida assistant as well, and is currently the head coach at Texas. Would Strong leave Texas for Florida?

We will see where Florida goes from here, but for now, the program is in the hands of Muschamp.

At least for another week or two.

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Media doesn’t learn lesson, Jimbo Fisher cuts interview short

Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston

Florida State is coming off its biggest win of the year, against Notre Dame. The Seminoles are now staring down a possible 12-0 regular season and third straight ACC championship en route to a spot in the first College Football Playoff. They will do so while facing all sorts of drama off the field surrounding Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. The focus on Winston may be getting to head coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher lashed out at media coverage of his program a week ago, and today he decided to cut an interview short after fielding too many questions about Winston.

Asked if there was any update on the university disciplinary hearing for Winston, Fisher attempted to shift the focus to Louisville in a similar fashion to how he did last week with Notre Dame.

“We’re moving on with Louisville and talking about the other things,” Fisher said. “Everything should be great.”

Fisher soon got hot under the collar and brought an end to the interview opportunity once questioned about his reputation.

“I don’t want to get into this,” Fisher said. “These questions weren’t supposed to be asked today.”

If not today, Fisher, when would work best for you?

Fisher put his integrity on the line with his public defense of Winston, saying there was no crime committed because Winston was never charged. Coaches will come to the defense of their players, so this is not exactly going against the grain for Fisher, but to do so in such an adamant fashion and direct blame on media coverage opens Fisher up to possible warranted criticism if Winston is found guilty of violating the university code of conduct.

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Ohio State assistant Larry Johnson not bitter, looks forward to return to Penn State

Larry Johnson

Former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson has no bitter feelings about his previous employer, and he is looking forward to returning to Beaver Stadium this week.

Johnson is now a member of the Ohio State coaching staff. Urban Meyer was quick to pounce on Johnson after the longtime Penn State assistant stepped away form the program. Johnson had interest in the head coaching vacancy after Bill O’Brien left Penn State to coach the Houston Texans in the NFL, but Penn State opted to go with James Franklin. With Franklin bringing as much as his staff as possible from Vanderbilt, Johnson saw the writing on the wall and decided to move on from Penn State. Franklin made it clear from the day he was hired he is extremely loyal to his guys. That should have suggested Johnson was not coming back.

“I had a great time in 18 years at Penn State,” Johnson said Monday in a conference call with the media. “Made great friends and the great players I coached and have been a part of their lives for a long time. It’s a new job and a new place and a new school. So, I’m looking forward to coming back.”

Ohio State visits Penn State this weekend in a primetime Big Ten contest at Beaver Stadium. For the first time, Johnson will be coaching from the visiting sideline.

Penn State was hit hard by NCAA sanctions in recent years, but Johnson stepped up to keep things afloat as much as he possibly could. Johnson was named the interim head coach after O’Brien left for the NFL, but because this happened after the season Johnson’s job was more to keep the roster stabilized and keep the recruits calm. Johnson could have left Penn State a handful of times before for a more prominent role on a coaching staff as a defensive coordinator, but he stuck by Penn State through some tough times on and off the field. After giving the program as much as Johnson had, you could understand if Johnson had some hard feelings about Penn State after not being given a chance to be the head coach or even defensive coordinator, but he says that is not the case.

“There was no bitterness when I left,” Johnson said on Monday. “It was my decision to leave, it was my time to move on. I felt that, with Coach Franklin coming in with a new staff, he had a lot of guys he really liked a lot and I just felt it was the right thing to do to have a chance to step away from it for a while. It was a tough decision to make. But, looking back, it was the right decision to make. So, I have no bitterness at all.”

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Alabama starting center set to return this week

Florida v Alabama

Alabama certainly came back with a strong showing against Texas A&M after critics nitpicked a 14-13 victory over Arkansas enough to set head coach Nick Saban off. Now, as the Crimson Tide get set to travel to Tennessee, the offensive line should get a little stronger. Center Ryan Kelly will return to the starting line-up in the middle of the offensive line this week, according to Saban.

Kelly missed the last two games for Alabama with a minor knee sprain. While out of action, Alabama used redshirt freshman Bradley Bozeman in the middle of the line. As reported by Al.com, Kelly was dressed for Alabama’s game against Texas A&M but was not used. Also, starting right tackle Austin Shepherd injured his ankle or knee during the win over the Aggies that took him out of the game. He is expected to skip practice on Monday but should return after Monday.

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Clemson loses leading rusher to torn ACL

Clemson v Boston College

Clemson managed to avoid an upset at the hand of Boston College, but came at a cost. Freshman running back Adam Choice has been lost for the season after tearing his ACL on Saturday.

The injury occurred early in the game, on Clemson’s second offensive possession of the game. Choice will now rehab and work to return to the field in 2015. It should be expected Clemson will go light on him in the spring as a precaution, but if all goes well Choice will be back in the mix in 2015 for the Tigers. Choice ends his freshman season with 218 rushing yards and one touchdown.

With Choice now done for the season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will be quick to try and get Tyshon Dye plugged in on offense. Dye tore his Achilles back in February. Dye has been practicing with the team recently and he made the trip up to Boston last weekend. Swinney says Dye is in good shape and said Sunday Clemson is close to getting Dye back on the field. Without Choice, Dye’s return may be accelerated if it does not pose a threat to his health.

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Texas Tech’s leading receiver treated for laceration from off-campus melee

Jakeem Grant, Lloyd Carrington

Texas Tech wide receiver Jakeem Grant was injured in an off-campus alumni gathering gone bad with a shooting and melee incident early Sunday morning. He was treated for a laceration and released at a nearby hospital, but his status with Texas Tech’s football program is unknown or unconfirmed at this time.

According to the information in a report by The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, more than 20 rounds were fired from multiple weapons early Sunday morning, but the details of the incident appear to be hazy right now due to the number of people potentially involved. An officer providing details for the report suggested there is no way to tell right now what may have caused the laceration Grant was treated for. As of now, no arrests have been made for the incident that is currently being reviewed by authorities.

Through seven games, Grant is the leading receiver for Texas Tech with 629 receiving yards and five touchdowns. His 50 receptions this season lead the team.

UPDATE (11:55 a.m. ET): Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury said on the weekly Big 12 conference call he is hopeful Grant will be able to play this weekend. Texas Tech will visit TCU this weekend.

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No update on QB Trevor Knight form Bob Stoops

Trevor Knight

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight was forced to be taken out of Saturday’s game against Kansas State, but he did return. On Monday, during the weekly Big 12 coaches conference call, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops had no updates to share on Knight’s status moving forward.

Knight returned to Saturday’s game with a brace on his left arm. He was seen testing the flexibility in his elbow before heading to the locker room after being knocked out by Kansas State’s defense. Knight had taken off to run with the football when he stretched for some extra yards with a head-first dive. He landed on his left arm and required some medical attention that forced him to sit out the remainder of the offensive possession, but he returned the game after a brief absence. He was intercepted deep in his own side of the field, which Kansas State returned for a short touchdown, but he answered back on the next possession with a quick two-play, 69-yard touchdown drive.

Oklahoma is off this week. The Sooners return to Big 12 play next week with a road game at Iowa State.

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Heisman trust ‘erroneously’ removed integrity from Mission Statement after website redesign

Heisman Trophy

There was a bit of a kerfuffle earlier this month when Sports Illustrated noticed the word “integrity” was no longer part of the Heisman Trust’s Mission Statement. Now we know why: A mix-up in a redesign of the Heisman’s website.

“During the website creation process ‘integrity’ was erroneously omitted from the Trust mission statement by staff without Trust authorization,” Heisman Trust president William J. Dockery told Sports Illustrated.

Seems to me like that’s a pretty significant omission, especially at a time in which Jameis Winston’s integrity is being questioned and the Heisman front-runner was suspended for signing autographs for money.

But breathe easy, folks. The word integrity is back in the first line of the mission statement, which is now updated to read:

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. Our goal through these charitable endeavors is for the Heisman Trophy to symbolize the fostering of a sense of community responsibility and service to our youth, especially those disadvantaged or afflicted. All assets of the Trust beyond the expense of maintaining the annual presentation of the Heisman Memorial Trophy are reserved for such charitable causes. The Trustees, who all serve pro bono, are guided by a devotion to college football and are committed to community service and the valued tradition which the Trophy represents.

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The Will Muschamp era at Florida summed up in one stat

Will Muschamp AP

Florida held Missouri to 119 yards of offense on Saturday. Maty Mauk completed six of 18 passes for 20 yards while Mizzou combined to rush 31 times for 99 yards, barely a three-yards-per-carry average.

The final score: 42-13 Mizzou.

Three years ago, Florida State gained 95 yards on the Gators in the Swamp. E.J. Manuel completed six of 13 passes for 65 yards while the Seminoles rushed 46 times for 30 yards.

The final score: 21-7 Florida State.

Now take a look at this:

No doubt Will Muschamp will make an excellent defensive coordinator for someone when his time at Florida is up. And that time, one would think, will be up soon.

Hat-tip to Dan Wolken’s misery index for pointing out the stat.

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