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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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Where did your team get its 2015 starting QB?

Cody Kessler

While many college football fans may not have a clue who will be the team’s starting quarterback in 2015 (Ohio State, LSU to name two), a handful of fans have a pretty good grip on which player will be taking snaps under center in the fall (USC, Penn State). No matter what the state of your team’s quarterback position is today, odds are probably pretty good your team’s starting quarterback came from California, Texas or Florida.

Athlon Sports did some digging through the recruiting archives to compile some stats on where starting quarterbacks were being found. Without much of a shock, California, Texas and Florida tend to be the most fertile quarterback recruiting grounds for power conference schools. Between the 65 power conference schools, 26 projected starting quarterbacks come from one of those three states. One interesting nugget from that research showed just one of the FBS programs in the state of Florida will likely have a starting quarterback from the state of Florida.

There are some other good pieces of information in the research by Athlon Sports. For example, the Big 12 seems to find most starting quarterbacks within its own footprint (hello there Texas), while the SEC, ACC and Big Ten all spread out to find quarterbacks from 11 different states.

Dig a little deeper into the research over on Athlon Sports.

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Nebraska recruit says Michigan’s Greg Mattison “tried to call me stupid to my face”

Indiana v Michigan

Nebraska defensive end Daishon Neal is committed to join the Nebraska Cornhuskers when National Signing Day comes next week. The Omaha native gave the Cornhuskers his verbal commitment last April and has stayed true to that even while evaluating other options following a coaching change in Lincoln. Michigan, with Jim Harbaugh and a newly assembled staff, have been one of those options until a recent recruiting pitch from the Wolverines turned sour for Neal.

Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison, who opted to stay on board as a Michigan assistant coach under a reduced and more focused role on the staff, made a visit to Neal and his family on Monday night. The hope was being able to sell Neal and his family on flipping to Michigan as the Wolverines try to give the Class of 2015 in Ann Arbor a late boost. The effort did not go so well for Mattison, who may have crossed a line with regards to academics.

According to a quote from Neal’s father, Abraham Hoskins Jr., on a local radio station in Omaha (1620 The Zone), Mattison said Neal would not be able to get into Michigan if not for football. Per a transcription from MLive.com;

“Michigan was a powerhouse, they came in and they stormed us, they made one bad statement and it was over,” Hoskins told 1620 on air. “They said without football, Daishon wouldn’t be able to go to Michigan. Like we couldn’t afford to send him there, or that we couldn’t get him in academically.

“Once he said that, we pretty much escorted him out of the house.”

Neal added his own summary of the interaction, telling the station “(They) basically tried to call me stupid in front of my face.”

Neal is a three-star recruit according to Rivals. He is also considered the top prospect in the state of Nebraska and he confirmed his commitment to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

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Marcus Mariota’s brother is heading to Oregon

Marcus Mariota

Oregon may be losing one Mariota, but the family legacy has a chance to continue with the Ducks this fall. Matthew Mariota, the younger brother of Heisman Trophy quarterback Marcus Mariota, will sign a National Letter of Intent to Oregon next week on National Signing Day.

KHON in Hawaii reports the younger Mariota will likely be a preferred walk-on at Oregon. The 6′ 3″, 220-pound defensive end is not a player with much of a scouting report from the major recruiting services, but there is no question he has the name recognition after what his brother managed to do at Oregon. Matthew Mariota has played outside linebacker as well as defensive end so there is a chance he could provide some flexibility for the Oregon defense. If he be developed to the same kind of level his brother reached, then Oregon may be getting a pure steal in the recruiting class. If nothing else, it helps keep Oregon’s pipeline pumping on the big island.

Marcus Mariota was a Class of 2011 recruit with a three-star ranking according to his Rivals profile. Obviously, Mariota was developed by the Oregon coaching staff led by Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich, and he blossomed into one of the top players in the country, winning the Heisman Trophy in 2014 and leading Oregon to a Pac-12 championship and berth in the first College Football Playoff national championship game.

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Ohio’s leading tackler Poling arrested for fighting

Ohio v Louisville

Ohio redshirt linebacker Quentin Poling was arrested early Sunday morning for fighting outside an Athens pizza shop. Poling was one of two men arrested after police showed up on the scene.

According to a report by The Athens News, police responded to a call at 1:50 a.m. on Sunday and observed a large crowd of people outside a local establishment as a fight was starting. Two men, one said to be intoxicated according to the police report, were identified and taken to Athens Police Department. Charges related to fighting were levied against the two men. It is unconfirmed which man was the intoxicated individual in the police report.

Poling led Ohio with 89 tackles in 2014, including 55 solo tackles. Poling also had a team-high three interceptions last fall.

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Oregon governor makes good on CFB Playoff championship wager

Urban Meyer

Ohio State defeated Oregon in the first College Football Playoff national championship just two weeks ago, and Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber did not delay on making good on a friendly wager.

The Columbus Dispatch says Kitzhaber’s shipment to Ohio Governor John Kasich arrived Monday, thus fulfilling his side of the bet prior to Ohio State and Oregon clashing in the national championship game. The prize for the Ohio governor following the Buckeyes victory was a package of cheese, honey and jam. A six-pack of a locally brewed product is still on the way.

Had Oregon won its first national championship in school history, the Ohio governor would have sent a shipment of a six-pack of a local Ohio brew, buckeye candy and lasagna.

Gov. Kasich can send that my way if he wants.

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Pair of Iowa running backs cited for a disorderly house

Two Iowa running backs were cited for a disorderly house, but it is not because they failed to clean up the pizza boxes and dust the furniture.

Iowa redshirt freshmen Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley were cited by police Saturday night after being called to respond to a complaint about a noise disturbance. Police discovered  a large gathering of people, and a scent of marijuana was reported to be stemming from the residence. According to a report from Iowa City Press-Citizen, both players were released later that night.

Parker and Wadley were apparently responsible for the party, but nothing beyond the disorderly house citation has been dropped on either player. As far as crimes and violations go in the offseason, this is hardly much reason for much concern given the information available at this time.

Parker rushed for 141 yards and one touchdown for the Hawkeyes in 2014. Wadley rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown after appearing in eight games in 2014.

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Report: LSU to earn $8.75 million from future neutral site games

Playing a marquee game on a neutral field has become rather common in college football in recent seasons, and the paydays that come with them tend to be the reason why. Aside from solving scheduling conflicts by avoiding arguments over home-and-home or one-and-done scheduling arrangements on one school’s campus without a return trip, neutral sites tend to cut rather significant paychecks to the participants. It is for this reason the neutral site game is far from a fad in college football. It is a new luxury that will be sought after by major programs for years to come.

According to information obtained by The Advocate, LSU will be cashing in on a pair of future non-conference match-ups taking place on a neutral field. As reported, ESPN will pay LSU a sum of $4 million when the Tigers face BYU in Houston in 2017. ESPN will cut another check in the amount of $4.75 million when LSU travels to Arlington, Texas to face Miami the following season (2018).

LSU is starting to see some nice income from neutral site arrangements. The $4.75 million due from the Miami game in 2018 is expected to be the most LSU will receive to play in a neutral site game, but the school is likely padding the coffers with frequently scheduled neutral site games. LSU has played in a neutral site game four out of the last five seasons.

Alabama and West Virginia split $6.4 million to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta in 2014. Ole Miss and Boise State split $3.1 million for the same event a couple of days earlier. The Cowboys Classic offered even bigger payouts for each school in its game. In 2012 Alabama and Michigan each received $4.7 million. The previous year LSU was paid $3.5 million and Oregon received $2 million to play in the game. The Florida Gators are expected to receive $6 million to play in the 2017 Cowboys Classic, against Michigan. Florida State will receive $3.5 million to play Ole Miss in Orlando in 2016.

It is no wonder Auburn is looking to secure a neutral site game in 2018 when so much money is involved.

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NAIA national champs asking for donations to buy championship rings

Austin Dodge, Heston Altenbach

One of the perks of winning a national championship is receiving a national championship ring. These are luxuries that may be taken for granted at the highest level of college football. This past season’s champions from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Southern Oregon University, are in need of donations just to buy the team championship rings.

A statement from Southern Oregon states NCAA championship rings are paid for ahead of time. This is not the case in the NAIA. the school must find a way to purchase championship rings for players and coaches, with the rings costing $250 each. Assuming everybody on the team’s roster page and each coach is supposed to get a ring, Southern Oregon is looking to raise $31,000.

If each of you donated one dollar, they should be able to reach that goal rather quickly. I will go ahead and get the ball rolling with a $5 donation (it’s on the way Southern Oregon).

The school is now reaching out to the public to raise money to purchase the rings, and every little bit should help. You can make a donation online on this donation page. The “Ring ‘Em up” campaign also allows you to sponsor a specific position on the team or a general donation for the entire squad.

Here’s hoping Southern Oregon can raise whatever funds are needed in order to provide some championship bling to the NAIA national champions.

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FCS power North Dakota State rewards Klieman with contract extension

Chris Klieman

After coaching FCS power North Dakota State to a fourth straight national championship, Chris Klieman has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension. The new deal will secure Klieman at North Dakota State through 2021.

“Chris understands the culture of Bison football and what it takes to continue the program’s high level of success,” athletic director Matt Larsen said in a released statement. “The excitement around the football program has never been greater and I look forward to having Chris and his family in Fargo for the long term.”

North Dakota State went 15-1 in 2014, highlighted by a victory over Big 12 school Iowa State and capped with a fourth straight FCS national championship. Klieman was as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award.

“I’m excited to continue to build on the great tradition of Bison football,” Klieman said. “My family enjoys being in Fargo and I am extremely thankful for how this community and Bison Nation have embraced my family and me.”

Klieman succeeded Craig Bohl after the former Bison head coach accepted a job offer at Wyoming after three straight national championship seasons at North Dakota State.

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Alabama adding former Chicago Bears DC Mel Tucker to staff

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears

Alabama’s coaching staff has been undergoing some changes this offseason with a handful of coaches leaving to pursue other opportunities. That means Nick Saban has had some vacancies to fill on his staff in Tuscaloosa. Former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker looks to be the next addition to the staff.

According to Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Alabama will add Tucker to the coaching staff as a secondary coach. When not filling the role of defensive coordinator throughout his coaching career, coaching defensive backs is what Tucker has done most often. Tucker has coached defensive backs for Miami-Ohio, LSU, Ohio State, the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Considering how some teams managed to expose Alabama’s secondary at times in 2014, bringing in a coach with that level of expertise seems to be a good fit to the coaching staff for Saban and Alabama.

Alabama was generally a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to pass defense in 2014. The Crimson Tide defense had 11 interceptions and allowed 19 passing touchdowns, while allowing 226.0 passing yards per game in 2014.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is also expected to take on coaching inside linebackers as the staff shuffles responsibilities.

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The AAC wants at least one more bowl game

Mike Aresco

Oh, you thought college football had enough bowl games, or perhaps too many bowl games? Tell that to schools like UAB, Georgia Southern and Temple. All reached the required win minimum in order to be bowl eligible in 2014, but none were sent an invitation to play in a bowl game. Georgia Southern was ineligible due to playing its first season at the FBS level, but UAB and Temple were simply left out.

Perhaps because of that, the American Athletic Conference is looking into the possibility of introducing another bowl game to the college football calendar.

“We have a great bowl lineup that we think is just going to get better and better next year as we add a couple of bowls to lineup and we may even add a few more,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said to The Orlando Sentinel. “No one wants to have teams left out as several conferences did and several conferences have had it historically happen every year so we’re trying to prevent that.”

Naturally, Aresco did not dive any deeper into explaining how far along any potential plans to add a new bowl game may or may not be at this point.

This would not be the first time the AAC has had a hand in creating a new bowl game. The conference worked with the Miami Marlins of Major League Baseball to create the new bowl game, which this year ended in a brawl between Memphis and BYU players.

The AAC has seen a handful of teams reach the normal bowl eligibility requirement in the win column the last few years, so creating at least one extra bowl to help send all bowl-eligible programs to a postseason game should not be a huge surprise.

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Report: ACL rehab sidelines Clemson safety for spring practices

Travis Blanks

Promising Clemson safety Travis Blanks will be forced to miss the spring practices this year after suffering a setback in his rehab for a torn ACL.

Blanks suffered a setback in his rehab process for his torn ACL during Clemson’s practices leading up to the bowl game, according to Aaron Brenner of Post & Courier (via Twitter).

Blanks was one of Clemson’s top freshmen in 2012 and was a starter for much of the 2013 season before having his year ended due to an injury. Blanks then suffered the knee injury in the spring of 2014, which kept him out of action last fall. Perhaps fortunately, Blanks had a redshirt year to spare in 2014, so he did not lose out on any eligibility at Clemson. He will still have two years to use starting this fall.

Keeping him out of the spring will hopefully allow him to be ready to go in the fall.

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Arkansas AD Jeff Long to continue in role as CFB Playoff Chairman

Jeff Long

The planning for year two of the College Football Playoff continues with a familiar face filling the role of chairman. Arkansas Athletics Director Jeff Long was elected to serve as the chairman of the College Football Playoff for a second straight season today.

“Jeff has been a terrific chair and I am delighted that the committee elected him to serve again,” College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said in a released statement. “Jeff is a thoughtful and dedicated leader who conducted the meetings skillfully. He also did a very good job answering questions about the rankings so fans could gain insight into the committee’s decisions. It’s clear that he has the full respect and confidence of the other committee members.”n the second half of the season on ESPN’s weekly

In the second half of the season Long made an appearance on ESPN’s weekly College Football Playoff selection committee rankings program to explain some of the logic used to form the latest committee rankings. It was a good idea in principle but struggled to provide clarity or show consistency in the ranking process. Whether that continues in year two has yet to be determined. Regardless, Long’s responsibility will continue to be to speak on behalf of the committee whenever possible. Year two of the system is not without its challenges, but Long is appreciative of the opportunity to continue to serve in this role.

“I appreciate the confidence that the committee members have shown in me,” said Long. “I am truly honored that they have chosen me to serve in this capacity this coming year. The real strength of this committee is the work that each member does to rank the teams each week and ultimately select the best four teams for the playoff. I am honored to represent them in the role of chair.”

ESPN is already reportedly putting pressure on the College Football Playoff to adjust its schedule for the 2015 playoff games, which are currently scheduled to be played on December 31. ESPN has concerns about scheduling the game on New Years’ Eve against traditional programming at the end of the year, as well as potential scheduling conflicts with the NFL and a possibly expanded playoff schedule by the pro football league.

Long will also be tasked with ensuring more consistency in the selection committee in the public’s eye. It is not necessarily his duty to ensure the committee is consistent, but it is his job to show the public there is an existing consistency with the playoff model.

Good luck Jeff.

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James Franklin scorns PSU player on Twitter for settling for a B on exam

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Boston College v Penn State

Some day college football players will learn not everything needs to be shared to the public. Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones found that out, as you may have heard by now, but things turned out OK for him. Maybe Penn State sophomore safety Bryant Harper will learn a lesson after being publicly scorned by his head coach on Twitter.

On Monday, Harper took to Twitter to boast about a B he received on a recent anatomy exam.

Penn State head coach James Franklin, known to be fluent with Twitter, saw the tweet from his player (or had somebody point it out to him), and responded…

Who knows just how serious Franklin was about the Twitter comment, but if nothing else a lesson should be learned by all college football players. What you put on Twitter (or Facebook or Instagram) will have someone watching, so be careful what you share! Harper was reminded of the Penn State philosophy of Success With Honor by way of some public humiliation from his head coach. Harper took this lesson in stride, and odds are he will not be bragging about any B‘s anytime soon.

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Oakland Raiders target Louisville DC Todd Grantham for Del Rio’s staff

Todd Grantham

The head coaching carousel around the NFL may have come to a close, but assistants are still ripe for the picking. That means some college football assistants are going to get some looks to fill some vacancies in the NFL. The Oakland Raiders have an eye on Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

The Raiders hired Jack Del Rio to be the team’s new head coach recently. The two coaches have never coached together, but there are some good reasons why Grantham would be considered for the job in Oakland. First, Grantham has some NFL coaching experience. The current defensive coordinator for Louisville has coached defensive line for the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys in addition to serving as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns for three seasons. Grantham last coached in the NFL in 2009 as a defensive line coach for Dallas. He then coached four years as the defensive coordinator at Georgia before moving to Louisville last season. In his one year at Louisville, Grantham coached the second-best total defense in the ACC and held opponents to just 308.5 yards per game.

If Grantham does leave Louisville after one season to return to the NFL, the Cardinals should be able to find a suitable replacement. The timing may be unfortunate for Louisville, with National Signing Day coming up next week, but it is a reality of the profession. Louisville should have the resources to keep things afloat on the coaching staff as well.

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