Skip to content

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.

Permalink 21 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Alabama Crimson Tide, American Athletic Conference, Arizona State Sun Devils, Atlantic Coast Conference, Baylor Bears, Big 12 Conference, Big Ten Conference, Boise State Broncos, Clemson Tigers, Florida Gators, Florida State Seminoles, Georgia Bulldogs, Independents, Louisville Cardinals, LSU Tigers, Miami Hurricanes, Michigan Wolverines, Mountain West Conference, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio State Buckeyes, Oklahoma Sooners, Oklahoma State Cowboys, Oregon Ducks, Pac-12 Conference, Rumor Mill, South Carolina Gamecocks, Southeastern Conference, Stanford Cardinal, TCU Horned Frogs, Texas A&M Aggies, Texas Longhorns, Top Posts, UCLA Bruins
yo

Oregon schedules three-game series with Hawaii

Marcus Mariota AP

While it’ll be too late for the reigning Heisman winner to enjoy, the flagship school in Marcus Mariota‘s home state and his former team will square off in a future series.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens confirmed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that UO and Hawaii have reached an agreement on three future games.  The first two games will be played in Eugene in 2020 and 2023, while the finale will be played in Honolulu in 2024.

“With so many players on our roster coming from Hawaii, it makes a lot of sense for us,” Mullens told the Star-Advertiser.

The paper noted that, including Mariota, the Ducks had six players born in Hawaii on its 2014 roster.

Since Hawaii moved to the FBS/Div. 1-A level in 1974, they have faced Oregon three times, with the Ducks winning all three matchups.  Including the Rainbow Warriors’ days as an FCS/Div. 1-AA program, the Ducks lead the all-time series 4-3.

The last meeting between the schools came in 1994.

(Tip O’ the Cap: FBSchedules.com)

Permalink 1 Comment Back to top

QB Caleb Rowe, RB Wes Brown to sit for Terps this spring

Caleb Rowe, Wes Brown AP

Two important pieces of Maryland’s offensive puzzle will be sidelined as the Terrapins begin preparations for the 2015 season in earnest.

Friday, head coach Randy Edsall confirmed that both quarterback Caleb Rowe (pictured, right) and running back Wes Brown (pictured, left) will be non-participants in spring practice.  Both players are still in the process of rehabbing injuries.

The absence of Rowe is not at all surprising as he tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice this past October, the same knee he suffered the same injury in the same month back in 2012.  Rowe, who will enter summer camp as the favorite to win the starting job, is seeking another season of eligibility that would allow him to play again in 2016.

Brown, who overcame off-field missteps that cost him the entire 2013 season, underwent surgery for a torn labrum sustained in the Terps’ bowl game.  Last season, Brown was second in rushing touchdowns (six) and third in rushing yards (356).  He’s also a threat coming out of the backfield, catching 21 passes in his bounce-back season.

Rowe and Brown are just a portion of a lengthy list of Terrapin players who will be sidelined this spring.  From the Washington Post:

Also out is long snapper Christian Carpenter (back), defensive lineman Ruben Franco (labrum), safety Elvis Dennah (labrum), defensive back Alvin Hill (knee), as well as wide receiver Taivon Jacobs (knee) and defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson (knee). Hill, Jacobs and Jefferson could potentially participate in non-contact drills this spring, Edsall said.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

Ex-UK QB Maxwell Smith may have early lead for SDSU starting job

Alabama v Kentucky Getty Images

It hasn’t taken Maxwell Smith very long to make a name for himself at his new workplace.

In January of this year, it was confirmed that the quarterback would be transferring from Kentucky to San Diego State to finish out his playing career.  The grad transfer left the Wildcats in search of a place where he could contend for a starting job, and it appears he he may have just picked the right spot.

While the Aztecs have used just three of their allotted 15 spring practice sessions, the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that Smith has seemingly distanced himself from the other five competitors for the the starting spot.  From the Union-Tribune:

With six guys competing, it’s like they come and go through a revolving door in drills, but there’s little question for me who’s looked the sharpest: Kentucky graduate transfer Maxwell Smith.

At 6-feet-4, Smith is the most imposing of the bunch and he’s shown the best arm strength and accuracy. Most impressive has been his targeting on outside curl routes by receivers, with Smith zipping the ball into spots where only his wideouts can catch it. He looks very poised and capable. I don’t yet have a strong read on his mobility, and that might be a concern given the issues with the offensive line (more on that later).

Also competing for the job is Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues, although the paper stated that he hasn’t had the best start to the spring.  That should be at least mildly concerning as Rodrigues has been in the offense for nearly a year, having left the Ducks for the Aztecs in May of last year.

The paper writes that “[o]ur standings after Week 1: Smith, [sophomore Christian] Chapman, [sophomore Nick] Bawden, Rodrigues, [JUCO transfer Adam] Wood and second-year walk-on Drew Anderson.”

Permalink 1 Comment Back to top

Departure, another injury further thins Stanford’s defensive line

Oregon State v Stanford

Stanford’s defensive line was already stretched thin because of various issues this spring.  After today, that unit is positively waif-like.

Defensive end Solomon Thomas did not participate in the spring practice session Saturday because of what was later described as a jammed toe sustained this past week.  While Thomas was seen wearing a boot on his injured foot, he’s expected back at some point before the end of spring.

Additionally, defensive tackle Alex Yazdi (pictured, No. 79) has decided to “move on” from the football program, head coach David Shaw confirmed following practice. Whether the fifth-year senior, who played in five games last season, will transfer to another program for his final season of eligibility or has simply decided to give up playing the sport has not been determined.

The combination of attrition and injury — starting lineman Aziz Shittu is out for the spring as he continues to recover from a serious knee injury sustained last October — has left the line on the defensive side very depleted. How depleted?

That trio’s performance was enough to impress even their head coach.

“It is very, very difficult,” Shaw said in quotes distributed by the school. “I had the guys give an applause to the entire defensive line. For three guys to make it through a full practice with scrimmaging and all that stuff and 9-on-7 … They didn’t bat an eyelash, they didn’t back off, they hustled throughout the whole practice, and that’s what it takes.

“As tough as it is, nobody is going to feel bad for us. We’ve got to fight through it.”

Fortunately for the Cardinal, there are still six months before they travel to open the 2015 season against Northwestern.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

Richt: ‘QB as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia’

Belk Bowl - Georgia v Louisville Getty Images

Not only will Georgia enter spring practice for the first time in nearly a decade with an offensive coordinator other than Mike Bobo, the Bulldogs will also be searching for a new starting quarterback for the second time in as many years.

After Aaron Murray more than ably handled the job from 2010-13, the signal-calling baton was passed to Hutson Mason for the 2014 season.  With Mason’s eligibility expired, the new starter is expected to come from a group of three players: redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey, redshirt freshman Jacob Park and redshirt junior Faton Bauta.

Ramsey served as Mason’s primary backup in 2014, completing 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Bauta completed four of his five pass attempts in 2014, while Park, a four-star member of UGA’s 2014 recruiting class, took a redshirt as a true freshman.

Based on experience alone, Ramsey will enter the spring as the favorite to win the job. The Bulldogs’ head coach, though, made it perfectly clear that, in the first year under the highly-paid coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the job is available to anyone for the taking.

“It’s just a lot of work to be done between now and that first game and a lot of competition to happen,” Mark Richt said according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “You know, the quarterback position is as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia probably. It’s going to be an interesting battle I would say.”

It’s unknown if Richt will name a starter exiting a spring, or wait until the competition shakes itself out a little more during summer camp before pulling the trigger.

Regardless of who lands the job, they’ll be able to ease into the position as UGA will open the 2015 season at home against Louisiana-Monroe before traveling to Vanderbilt for the SEC opener the following weekend.  The next three games are at home, with a game against FCS-level Southern sandwiched between matchups with SEC East rival South Carolina and West heavyweight Alabama.

Permalink 1 Comment Back to top

Carl Lawson expected ‘to partake in a good bit’ of Auburn’s spring

Carl Lawson, Bo Wallace

When it comes to the health of Carl Lawson, all of the signs are pointing toward the positive.

Lawson sustained a torn ACL during spring practice last year and, after some initial optimism, did not play at all in 2014.  With the start of Auburn’s spring practice right around the corner, it appears that the defensive end will be nearly a full-go for the 15 sessions.

Nearly is the key word, though, as the Tigers are expected to take the cautious approach with the talented lineman.

“(The coaches) haven’t made those decisions. Our doctors will make those decisions,” new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer when asked how much Lawson will participate. “He’s moving around extremely well. We expect him to partake in a good bit of spring. How much will be determined by our doctors.”

Having a healthy Lawson to start the 2015 season would certainly be a boon for Muschamp’s defense. In 2013 as a true freshman, Lawson was third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and second in sacks with four.  That performance led Lawson to being a consensus Freshman All-American.

The injury news along the Tigers’ defensive line wasn’t all positive, though, as Muschamp also acknowledged that end DaVonte Lambert will miss the whole of spring practice. Lambert was leading the Tigers defense in sacks when he sustained a season-ending knee injury that kept him out of both the Iron Bowl and the Outback Bowl.

The good news is that Muschamp stated that Lambert is expected to be completely healthy for the start of summer camp.

AU, incidentally, will kick off spring practice March 10.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

Hip injury to sideline UNC QB Marquise Williams for spring practice

Marquise Williams AP

The bad news for North Carolina is that one of the top quarterbacks in its conference will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.  The good news?  The start of a new season is more than six months away.

In a preview article posted on UNC’s official website, the Tar Heels revealed that Marquise Williams will not participate in any of the 15 spring practice sessions because of a hip injury.  When and how Williams sustained the injury was not disclosed.

You can breathe easy, Tar Heel Nation, as the school stated that Williams “will return full speed in August.”

As a redshirt junior last season, Williams was third among ACC quarterbacks in passing efficiency in throwing 21 touchdown passes against nine interceptions.  His 788 rushing yards were 12th among all quarterbacks nationally, while his 13 rushing touchdowns were tied for fourth at the position.  The 35 total touchdowns were tied for 11th in the country.

With Williams sidelined, Mitch Trubisky will get a sizable portion of the first-team reps.  Despite all of Williams’ accomplishments, Trubisky could use the opportunity gain an advantage in what’s being described as a quarterback competition.

“There’s a lot of continuity with ’Quise coming back,” quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said. “Marquise is our starting quarterback, and it’s been that way since the middle of the season when he kind of took the reins and went with it. But that’s not going to eliminate the competition.”

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

Antonio Crawford’s divorce from the ‘Canes is official

Miami v Boston College Getty Images

After nearly a week’s worth of speculation, Antonio Crawford‘s status at Miami has officially been clarified.

Saturday afternoon, Miami officials confirmed that Crawford is no longer a part of the Hurricanes football team.  The divorce comes exactly a week after the cornerback took to social media to vent his frustrations regarding his perception of how he was being treated by the football program.

While Crawford deleted the rant, it apparently didn’t sit well with the coaching staff.

To where the Tampa native will transfer for his senior season is unknown.

Crawford, a three-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2012 recruiting class, started two of the 38 games in which he played the last three seasons.  Both of those starts came in 2013.

The defensive back likely would’ve entered summer camp as Miami’s top nickel corner.

Permalink 3 Comments Back to top

Badgers Settle on new RBs coach

Iowa Hawkeyes v Wisconsin Badgers

A couple of weeks after losing an assistant to an SEC school, it appears Wisconsin has found a replacement.

Citing a source close to the UW program, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported overnight that John Settle is set to be named as the Badgers’ new running backs coach.  Settle would assume the position vacated by Thomas, who left for the same joband a hefty raise — at Georgia earlier this month.

Settle is expected to arrive in Madison on Monday and begin work the next day.

When the move comes to fruition, it would serve as a campus reunion as Settle held the same job with the Badgers from 2006-10.  It would also serve as a working reunion as new UW head coach Paul Chryst had Settle on his 2014 Pittsburgh staff as running backs coach.

In between his UW and Pitt stints, Settle spent three years as an assistant in the NFL.

(Photo credit: Wisconsin athletics)

Permalink 2 Comments Back to top

TCU WR tweets he’ll finish career at Rutgers

SE Louisiana v TCU Getty Images

A wide receiver who began his collegiate career in the Big 12 will end it in the Big Ten, the player announced on social media Friday.

In a tweet posted to his Twitter account, TCU wide receiver Cam White announced that he would be transferring to Rutgers and finishing out his collegiate playing career with the Scarlet Knights.  Because he will be a graduate transfer, White will be eligible to play immediately for RU in 2015.

This upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

“I get to work towards my Masters at a great program academic wise man that’s a blessing,” White added in another tweet, although he does need to bone up on his Rutgers nomenclature.

Because of concussion issues, White did not play at all in 2014 for the Horned Frogs. In 2013, White was seventh on the team in both receptions (18) and receiving yards (182). The previous year was his best statistically, with his two receiving touchdowns fourth on the team and his 284 receiving yards good for fifth.

White was a three-star member of TCU’s 2011 recruiting class.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

UPDATE: John Chavis files suit against LSU, still in good standing with A&M

Louisiana Monroe v LSU AP

I can’t say with 100-percent certainty, but this might be the first time a college coach has filed a lawsuit against both his former and current employer over a contractual issue.

The parties involved are John Chavis, Texas A&M and LSU.  That’s one of the few things that are clear in this case.

In November of last year, it was reported that Chavis and LSU had reached an agreement on a one-year contract extension that would keep the defensive coordinator with the Tigers through the 2015 season.  A month and a half later, the first reports surfaced that Texas A&M had reached out to gauge Chavis’ interest in its coordinator vacancy; a week later, Chavis-to-TAMU was a done deal according to media reports.  Feb. 13, Chavis’ hiring by A&M was made official.

What happened between Chavis’ LSU contract extension and Chavis’ official A&M hiring is at the heart of a lawsuit filed Friday by the coordinator regarding a $400,000 buyout LSU is pursuing, KBTX-TV is reporting.  In  the lawsuit, Chavis claims he doesn’t owe the six-figure buyout… but if he does, A&M is responsible for paying it.

As for the particulars of the lawsuit, here’s what the television station has gleaned:

Chavis claims under his contract, he was given a right to terminate his employment agreement with LSU without cause with 30 days notice. If there were between zero and 11 months left on the deal, Chavis claimed he would owe nothing to LSU, but if between 11 and 23 months were left, he would owe $400,000 to the university.

On January 2, 2015, Chavis claims LSU Director of Athletics Joe Alleva demanded that Chavis pay the university $400,000. On January 5, Chavis says he turned in this 30-day notice to terminate the contract without cause, making his last day February 4.

“Based on Chavis’ notice of termination on January 5, 2015, the ‘termination date’ according to the Amendment was effective thirty days after the written notice served to LSU or (sic) February 4, 2015, which falls within the 11th month remaining and Chavis’ Employment Agreement,” reads the suit. According to Chavis, he does not owe LSU $400,000 as a result.

On the A&M side, Chavis’ suit states that his current employer is “currently obligated to satisfy or cause to be satisfied the liquidated damages, if any, associated with Chavis’ previous Employment Agreement with LSU.” The problem with that? A&M is “unwilling to tender the liquidated damages demanded by LSU because it does [not] believe that liquidated damages are called for under the Employment Agreement as mentioned above,” the suit claims.

I don’t know how this will play out on either side, but I’m going to make a double batch of popcorn, just in case.

UPDATE [9:00 p.m. ET]: John Chavis remains in good standing with his current employer.

Texas A&M University denied any claim that a suit has been filed against it by Chavis, nor does the institution agree that their new defensive coordinator owes the LSU Tigers anything.

Texas A&M released a short statement Friday night, via The Advocate:

UPDATE [10:55 p.m. ET]: Texas A&M University released a short statement early Friday evening. LSU responded in kind later that night.

LSU expects John Chavis‘ lawsuit to be dropped over matters of proper jurisdiction, while the university counter-sued its former defensive coordinator in order to claim the $400,000 buyout stipulated in his previous contract:

Permalink 10 Comments Back to top

Texas Tech’s DC David Gibbs plans to use Justis Nelson at CB

Jhajuan Seales, Justis Nelson

Defensive back Justis Nelson experienced a breakthrough season as a sophomore. Nelson was named an honorable mention to the All-Big 12 team and a First-Team Academic All-Big 12 performer. However, he didn’t find a permanent home in the Red Raiders secondary.

Nelson played both safety and cornerback last season. But where will new defensive coordinator David Gibbs use this fall?

“We’re going to start him at corner and teach him the corner techniques, because at least the first two days — maybe more than that — we’re just going to be in base defense with three linebackers and teach him to play corner,” Gibbs told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Don Williams.

Nelson, who came to Lubbock as a three-star athlete, began his career at safety before switching to cornerback. Due to depth issues, he returned to safety. While the Red Raiders staff expects him to be a starting cornerback, Nelson will likely play some safety during the upcoming season.

“There are going to be times when he’s going to have to play safety, which I’ve done it (with starting cornerbacks),” Gibbs said. “I’ve had my starting corner in base be a safety in nickel and be the nickel in nickel.

“If he has the ability to go play safety and he’s better than my third safety, then I’ll move him to safety and bring those other corners in the game and let them play.”

Nelson’s length at 6’2″ and 179 pounds makes him an ideal cornerback, and he’s already shown the ability to close on the ball to make a play. The Mesquite, Texas, native led the team with 16 pass breakups, which was the school’s highest total since 2002.

However, his new coach hopes Nelson can turn those broken up passes into interceptions during his junior campaign.

“Justis could have had eight freakin’ interceptions last year,” Gibbs said. “He (then-defensive coordinator Mike Smith) put him in the right position. He could have. He didn’t. He’s got to catch those balls. If he catches those balls, it’s a whole different game.”

Whether or not Nelson makes those catches or not, he is still one of the team’s best defenders. The flexibility he provides in the secondary gives Gibbs plenty of options as he instills a new scheme to improve upon last year’s 95th-ranked pass defense.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

Kansas State schedules two home-and-home series against SEC programs

Kansas State v Iowa State

The Kansas State Wildcats apparently learned a lesson after the Big 12 Conference was shut out of the first College Football Playoff. The program is now beefing up its future non-conference schedules.

Bill Snyder‘s squad decided to invade the SEC — that is, if Coach Snyder is still coaching the team in 2017 (and I wouldn’t bet against it).

Kansas State scheduled a pair of home-of-home series with SEC programs, according to ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy:

The Wildcats’ non-conference schedule prior to 2017 includes the South Dakota Coyotes, UTSA Roadrunners, Louisiana Tech Bulldogs, Missouri State Bears and Florida Atlantic Owls. Not one opponent from a power conference counted among the lot.

Not only is it important for the Wildcats to improve the team’s non-conference schedule, but games against SEC teams will improve the team’s recruiting presence in the Southeast.

Snyder’s staff showed more of an emphasis on recruiting traditional SEC states this year with six commitments from Alabama, Florida and Georgia in the 2015 class. The trend should continue with the team’s agreements to play four games against SEC opponents from 2017-20.

Permalink 8 Comments Back to top

Bret Bielema explains approach to recruit new coaches to his staff

Bret Bielema

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema doesn’t want to do things like everyone else. That applies to his coaching hires, too.

First, Bielema made the surprise move to poach a sitting head coach from the MAC by hiring Dan Enos as the team’s new offensive coordinator.

He rounded out his coaching staff Wednesday with the hire of Jemal Singleton as the team’s new running backs coach.

Neither of these hires went through a traditional hiring process, though.

“To get to where we are today was kind of a unique process,” Bielema said, via CoachingSearch.com.. “I had a list of names. I was talking to [Air Force head coach] Troy Calhoun at the rules committee meeting, and Coach Calhoun would come watch us when we were at Wisconsin. I’d asked him about another coach that had previously worked for him, and he looked at me and said, ‘You need a running backs coach?’ ‘Yeah, I do, I’m losing my guy to the Saints.’ He goes, ‘I’ve got the guy for you.’ He mentioned Jemal.

“I was impressed the first time I read his bio. He hurdled past everybody else. I had a list of probably 23 coaches at one point. To finally get a chance to sit down with him Monday and visit was an easy decision.

“Whether that’s a normal process or not, I met with him, Coach Enos met with him, he had individual meeting time with every one of our offensive coaches. It’s just how I do it. I also have my secretaries sit down with him. I have my DFO sit down and have breakfast with him. I’ll have my recruiting staff take him to lunch. It’s a team atmosphere. You cultivate that in the way you recruit people.”

It can’t be too difficult to recruit a position coach when Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins form the best running back duo in college football. Singleton will simply be the beneficiary of the talent on the roster after impressing everyone around the Razorbacks program.

Permalink 5 Comments Back to top

Spurrier ‘letting legal system play out’ on 2015 signee

Shameik Blackshear

Arrested earlier this month, 2015 signee Shameik Blackshear remains a part of the plans for the South Carolina football program in 2015 and beyond.  Whether that will remain the case moving forward remains to be seen.

In his first public comments since Blackshear was charged, head coach Steve Spurrier said he and the program are essentially in wait-and-see mode, and that they’ll make a decision once the criminal proceedings have run their course.

We’ll let the legal system play out,” Spurrier told The State newspaper earlier today. “He’s claiming his innocence, so we’ll see what happens.”

Blackshear is alleged to have taken a purse and safe from a Mill Creek (SC) home Feb. 7. The total value of the items contained in the purse and safe totaled nearly $1,400. He was arrested at his high school and charged with one count of petit larceny.

If Blackshear is able to get past his legal hurdles, he has the type of potential to contribute to the Gamecocks’ defense immediately.

A four-star member of USC’s 2015 recruiting class, Blackshear was a rated as the No. 18 strongside defensive end in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the state of South Carolina.  Only two other Gamecock defensive signees in a class that ranked 19th nationally were higher-rated than Blackshear.

Blackshear, the first commitment to USC’s 2015 class when he verballed back in May of 2013, earned those lofty recruiting marks despite missing most of the past two seasons due to injuries, one of which was an ACL tear incurred last September.  Entering the 2015 season and prior to the significant knee injury, the 6-4, 245-pound lineman was the top-rated player in the state and was a Rivals.com five-star.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

Permalink 2 Comments Back to top