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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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Kyle Flood fires back at latest incriminating story

Kyle Flood

Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood is none too pleased about anonymous sources from Rutgers leaking information about an investigation to the media. Whether he violated university policy or directions or not, Flood has a legitimate gripe.

Earlier today NJ.com reported the latest developments on the investigation involving the head football coach, in which Flood is accused of intentionally going around the backs of academic support staff instructions to contact a professor at the university directly with regard to the eligibility of one of his players. After initially declining to comment on the latest story earlier in the day, Flood let it pour out.

As transcribed by CoachingSearch.com;

“Let me ask this question before I respond: What you’re saying to me is, that a process that I’ve been told from the university not to comment on was commented on by people from the university?” Flood said. “I’m going to continue to respect the process, and I won’t have any further comment until the end of the process.”

Again, whether Flood was in the wrong or not with his alleged actions, he absolutely has a right to be upset about this development. If he was given instructions not to comment on the investigation, then nobody else from the university should have shared pertinent information either. The fault here is not on the report from NJ.com or any other outlet that followed up with commentary on the report, but on the anonymous sources that shared the information.

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TCU defense will be down two players against Minnesota

Chik-fil-A Peach Bowl - Mississippi v TCU Getty Images

The names of two defensive players not playing the season opener at Minnesota have not been confirmed by head coach Gary Patterson, but the release of the Horned Frogs’ depth chart seems to draw some conclusions. Defensive end James McFarland and cornerback DeShawn Raymond were not listed on the depth chart for the season opener, which would seem to strongly suggest which two players will not be available for the game, for whatever reason or reasons that may be.

Patterson offered no information regarding the identities of the two players he said will miss the game, saying only “You’ll find out when we get to game time.”

McFarland was TCU’s leading sack master last fall with seven sacks. His defensive efforts earned him MVP honors in TCU’s blowout win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl. McFarland did miss some practice time this spring as he worked to get his foot back in good order. Whether an injury is the reason McFarland may not be available is unknown, as Patterson has designed.

If nothing else can be learned from a batch of the season’s opening depth charts, it is that coaches do not like to tip their hands. the number of quarterbacks listed with “or” by their names has become a bit of a humorous trend as coaches look to hide as much information as possible entering the first games of the season, and this is no different.

TCU’s defense is actually one of the bigger questions for the Horned Frogs this season, which seems to go against the grain when it comes to a Patterson-coached team. But even without a couple of players for the opener, it is expected Patterson will find a way to figure enough out on defense to give TCU a chance to make a run in the Big 12 and perhaps the playoffs.

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Nebraska’s Mike Riley accused of fostering sexually violent culture that led to rape in 1999

Mike Riley

Well, this is certainly among the last things Nebraska head coach Mike Riley would have liked to see just days before starting a new season at his new job. A former student at Oregon State has filed a Title IX lawsuit that blames Riley of failing to address an allegedly sexually violent culture at Oregon State, which allegedly led to a rape back in 1999.

According to a report from The Oregonian, the woman filing the lawsuit claims she was raped on October 9, 1999 while a freshman at Oregon State. According to the alleged victim’s story, she attended an off-campus party, passed out and was escorted to an apartment she claims some Oregon State football players lived. It is there she claims to have been raped.

“She was being sexually assaulted by the young man who had offered her the beer,” the suit says. “She was unable to move her arms or legs to fight back. She faded back out of consciousness.”

The alleged victim filed a report in the next 48 hours to an Oregon State sexual assault counselor and claims that counselor attempted to persuade her to thinking she consenting to the sexual interaction. The suit claims that counselor attempted to prevent the victim from pursuing any other assistance on the manner. This lawsuit now intends to correct a wrong that allegedly happened more than a decade ago, and Riley has been thrown into the mix as well. The alleged victim was inspired to come forward after a previous report on another victim surfaced in 2014, in which that woman claimed to have been raped by two Oregon State football players in 1998 in the same apartment complex.

Riley is accused of not addressing the culture of his football team with regard to sexual violence. While he ultimately is not responsible for the action of players under his watch, it is his responsibility to ensure his players are aware of the consequences for putting the football program in a negative light. The sad reality is, whether Riley is to blame or not for what occurred at Oregon State, there is no telling how many of these sorts of cases are out there hidden in the shadows by victims on campuses across the country. The awareness has certainly grown in more recent years, but the turn of the century was a completely different environment, and the decades going back likely have more dark tales that may never be told.

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Report: Kyle Flood defied Rutgers academic support staff

Kyle Flood

Last week it was reported Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood was being investigated for alleged impermissible contact with a university faculty member. The latest twist in this story suggests Flood may have done so despite being advised not to do so by academic support staff members.

A new report from NJ.com cites multiple unnamed university officials in saying Flood was instructed by academic support staff not to make contact with a professor to inquire about the academic standing of one of his players, reported to be cornerback Nadir Barnwell. The university is investigating an email allegedly from Flood from a private account. But the scope of the investigation is focused more on the possibility Flood tried to work around the process regarding academics and football, not simply just that Flood used a private email to contact a professor.

While only one side of the story, the story painted by the NJ.com is none too flattering to Flood’s involvement with the status of Barnwell. Per the report, academic support staff had been communicating with a professor of Barnwell’s since May with regard to his academic standing. Flood was kept apprised of the situation, which is customary for an academic support staff and coach. However, one source to NJ.com suggests Flood attempted to intervene directly with the professor with regard to Barnwell’s eligibility despite the academic support staff handling the situation.

Per NJ.com’

“The communication with him was clear as to the status of Nadir’s grade and he still decided he could fight it,” said one official, who claimed Flood “had a long paper trail of information” and still contacted the professor.

Another official said: “It was already done and everybody in the program knew it. Kyle was told, ‘It’s done, leave it alone.’ ”

If found guilty of violating university protocol, the punishment for Flood could range from something as light as a reprimand to as severe as the termination of his contract. The Big Ten already had one coach fail to reach the start of the new season. The chances a second loses his job before kickoff are probably pretty small.

Flood responded to the initial report last week by saying the accusations insulted his integrity. When given an opportunity to respond to this latest development in the story, Flood did not comment out of respect for the university process.

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Washington State and C. Michigan to tangle in 2019 & 2021

Washington State and Central Michigan have agreed to a future home-and-home series that will see the Pac-12 and the world of MACtion cross paths. That could be a lot of fun, but we will have to wait for this particular series to begin.

Washington State will visit Central Michigan on September 14, 2019. Central Michigan will make the return trip two years later on September 4, 2021. Barring any potential bowl meetings before 2019, the 2019 meeting will mark the first in the series history between the two schools. The addition of Central Michigan to the 2019 schedule also completes Washington State’s non-conference portion of the schedule. The Cougars will also host Northern Colorado (Sep 7, 2019) and BYU (Oct 12, 2019). Central Michigan still has two vacancies to fill in 2019 and three in 2021. The Chippewas play at Wisconsin the week before hosting Washington State in 2019.

The series was put together by athletic directors Bill Moos (WSU) and Dave Heeke (CMU), who were former colleagues at Oregon in the past (according to The Seattle Times).

Unlike the ACC, Big Ten and SEC, the Pac-12 does not require its members to schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent. BYU does count toward satisfying those requirements though in each of those conferences, so if the Pac-12 did adopt a similar policy the Cougars would be in the clear by having BYU on the schedule in 2019.

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Clemson AD: ACC needs to prove itself on the field (again)

Steven Duggar, Thomas Brittle

For years the message from ACC commissioner John Swofford was the conference needed to win big game against other top conferences on the field. Despite some good results in recent years, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich says the conference will once again have to change the narrative circling its conference by winning big game son the field.

“I think the ACC is a very, very good league. In some ways, it’s underrated,” Radakovich said in an interview with ESPN.com. “But like everything else, you need to go out and do it on the field. You’ve got to win games.”

The ACC went 4-7 in bowl games last season, which included losing seasons in head-to-head bowl matchups against the Big Ten (0-2), Pac-12 (0-2, including Florida State’s College Football Playoff loss to Oregon in the Rose Bowl) and the SEC (1-2). The ACC did win its only bowl match-up against the Big 12 with Clemson demolishing Oklahoma. The ACC also ended the regular season with four wins against SEC rivals, which should not be forgotten.

“We’re only [a year] from having a national champion, and Florida State obviously made the playoff last year. Our program has done well,” Radakovich explained. “Georgia Tech always seems to be in the mix and obviously did a great job last year in their bowl game. Virginia Tech traditionally has done very well. Louisville is a team that needs to be reckoned with. And Miami with all their history and tradition is one that everybody is waiting for them to get back to the Miami of old. So I think the league as a whole is still very, very good. But you have to prove it on the field.”

The importance on an entire conference winning big games in the regular season showed its value last season. The Big 12 had co-champions in Baylor and TCU with identical 11-1 records. One of the biggest criticisms of the Big 12 was the overall body of work, not just for Baylor but the conference as a whole. The Big 12 lacked key victories in non-conference games outside of TCU beating Minnesota and Oklahoma topping Tennessee. Not only is a school’s individual body of work important when assessing playoff contenders, but the conference’s overall reputation can help push a team into the playoff when push comes to shove. It is why you are already hearing some ask the question of whether or not a 2-loss SEC champion should still have a spot reserved in the postseason dance this fall. It is a question worth asking because the SEC has raised the bar and has a number of high-quality non-conference matchups lined up to fall back on.

But narratives are not part of the equation in the selection committee’s meeting rooms, says Radakovich.

“As a member of the playoff committee, people came in and had done their homework and had looked at the leagues they were first assigned to look at, and college football in general. They all came in prepared to talk about each team. There were no narratives brought into the room.”

What narratives won’t be discussed by the selection committee this season? We’re going to find out soon enough.

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Rutgers to name starting QB… at halftime?

Kyle Flood

By default we already know who the starting quarterback will be for Rutgers in the season opener against Norfolk State. Hayden Rettig has already been reported to be the starting quarterback for the Scarlet Knights in the first game of the season while Chris Laviano sits out the first half of the game. Laviano was suspended by the program for a violation of team rules in late August, but he — along with wide receiver Leonte Carroo — will be eligible to return to the game in the second half.

This is when Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood is expected to announce his quarterback decision for the 2015 season.

“Hayden Rettig is the starting quarterback,” Flood said, according to NJ.com. “We’re going to evaluate the first half and we’ll make a decision at halftime as to how we’re going to proceed.”

Rettig and Laviano had been competing for the starting job as Rutgers looks to replace Gary Nova. There had been no real separation in the competition out of the spring and over the course of the summer, and it would seem the first-half suspension has not put much jeopardy in Laviano’s chances to claim the starting job. Opening against an FCS program is always a good opportunity to play multiple quarterbacks if there is still a question to be answered at the position, and Rutgers has some time to work through the situation before entering Big Ten play.

It might be good for Flood if he can get it figured out a little bit earlier though as Washington State is scheduled to pay a visit in Week 2. The Cougars are known to move the ball through the air with Mike Leach at the helm, and Washington State is looking to avenge last season’s wild season-opening loss at home to Rutgers. Rutgers visits Penn State in Week 3 to open the Big Ten schedule.

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CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

As the 2015 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC), HERE (Big 12) and HERE (Big Ten) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

SEC EAST

1. Georgia (10-3; beat Louisville in Belk Bowl)
There is one certainty when it comes to the East: UGA will not finish lower than third, a low-water benchmark for each of Mark Richt‘s 14 seasons in Athens that has included five division titles — none since 2012, though.  They return the most talent of any team in the division, although the fact that they opted for Grayson Lambert as the starting quarterback has me second-guessing my prediction.  It’s been a decade since UGA’s last SEC championship, and if they’re going to get back to that level they’ll have to do so with a schedule that includes both Alabama and Auburn as well as a road trip to Tennessee.  Still, anything less than an East title and a spot in the SEC championship game would be decidedly disappointing — and would lead to yet another offseason of “is it time to go in another direction?” speculation.

2. Tennessee (7-6; beat Iowa in Taxslayer Bowl)
Am I a year early with this lofty projection?  Possibly, especially given the team right below them.  Still, there’s no denying that Butch Jones has stuffed his talent cupboard after the barren years under his predecessor, Derek Dooley.  The Vols closed out last year on a positive note, going 4-1 down the stretch — the lone loss coming by eight to Mizzou — capping it off with an impressive 45-28 win over the Hawkeyes in the bowl game.  That final flourish coincided with Josh Dobbs‘ ascension as the starting quarterback.  With the scintillating playmaker poised to build off his first season at this level, the Vols could very well challenge both UGA and Mizzou for East supremacy.

3. Missouri (11-3; beat Minnesota in Citrus Bowl)
“Here we go again, denigrating the two-time defending East champion Tigers.” — the two Mizzou fans who frequent this site, probably.  And, actually, that’s an understandable reaction, given how the Tigers have been the class of the division the past two seasons.  They’re also one of the few teams in the conference that returns its starting quarterback.  Still, there are concerns along the defensive line — they return just five starters on that side of the ball, period — and their schedule doesn’t do them very many favors as they play at Georgia and Arkansas as well as play host to Mississippi State.  It wouldn’t shock me, though, if Mizzou made it three straight titles.  In fact, the only thing that would shock the system is if they finish outside the top three in the division.

Continue reading »

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Nick Saban, winner of four national titles, says he should have won four more

Nick Saban

Winning a national championship is hard. Winning two can be even harder. Three or four? Nearly impossible in today’s world, but Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been the coach to have done it four times (one with LSU, three with Alabama). Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has three under his belt (two with Florida, one with Ohio State) and is looking for a fourth this season as well. Saban has proven capable of amassing enough talent to have a national title contender on an annual basis, but has ended the year with a postseason loss each of the past two seasons. That does not sit well with the Crimson Tide head coach, who said in a radio interview yesterday he feels he should have won four more national titles.

“We haven’t finished the season in the last two seasons like we’d like,” Saban said to ESPN’s Paul Finebaum (per Atlanta Journal-Constitution). “People talk about you won four national championships. Well, I feel like we’ve had good enough teams to win eight. So I feel like we failed four times. I feel like I failed four times.”

Alabama had a chance last season as the top seed in the new College Football Playoff. The Tide were turned aside by Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl semifinal game. The previous season Alabama missed a chance to play for the national title when Auburn stunned them in the Iron Bowl with the Kick-Six, knocking Alabama out of the SEC Championship Game out of the SEC West and relegating Alabama to a Sugar Bowl match-up with Oklahoma instead. You might say Alabama was one win away from a national championship each of the past two seasons. Alabama may have been a favorite against Jameis Winston and Florida State in the final BCS National Championship Game two seasons ago, and Alabama may have been a favorite against Oregon in last year’s College Football Playoff national championship game.

Saban also reflected on his coaching future while on air with Finebaum. He showed no sign of contemplating retirement, suggesting if he is in good enough shape to play golf for 16 more years, he should be able to coach as well. Saban will turn 64 years old this October.

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Could Sun Belt futures of Idaho, New Mexico State be in doubt?

Have you or anyone you know ever had one of those moments where you say something out loud during a conference call thinking your line is on mute – only it’s not? Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson may be fighting that feeling right now.

In a conference call heralding the addition of Coastal Carolina, Benson acknowledged far west members Idaho and New Mexico State could be on the chopping block.

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In his defense, Benson only acknowledged the obvious. Considering the Big 12 and ACC-led legislation allowing leagues to hold title games outside the 12-plus team, two-division structure should pass before Coastal Carolina joins the conference in 2017, adding a 12th team for the sake of holding a conference championship game makes about as much sense as…. having your conference footprint spread from Moscow, Idaho to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

That’s not to say the Vandals and Aggies should go packing their bags, however.

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Still, chalk that decision up to a commissioner throwing cold water on a line of questioning that he himself opened.

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Georgia (finally) receives approval for indoor facility

Georgia Southern v Georgia

For years, Georgia’s indoor facility was like that swarm of African killer bees you heard about as a kid: rumored to be on its way, though no one ever actually laid eyes on it.

Well, the bees have arrived.

The University of Georgia athletics board has approved construction on a $30 million indoor facility, to break ground after the 2015 season. The facility will run 140 yards long, 80 yards wide and 76 feet high.

Previously, the Dawgs bussed to the Atlanta Falcons facility when Mother Nature deemed necessary, a wart on the program coaches say was used against Georgia on the recruiting trail.

“I know he is excited for this day to come,” athletics director Greg McGarity said of head coach Mark Richt. “He is chomping at the bit to send renderings to prospects and team members and the coaching staff. And now we’ve got that done.”

“I know our competitors are not going to say nothing bad about the coaching staff here, they’re not going to say nothing bad about the people here because it’s a great place,” defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt said last November. “One thing they’re going to say is, and that they’ve always said is, ‘How important is football at Georgia if they don’t have an indoor practice facility?’ Well they won’t be able to say that anymore.”

Half of the $30.2 million will come through the department’s reserve fund, and the other half through fundraising. Construction is expected to be complete “hopefully early on” in 2017.

“Getting the $15 million raised as quickly as possible would be optimal,” Georgia president Jere Morehead told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Here’s hoping the Dawgs can keep those bees out.

 

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Michigan State QB Connor Cook on not being named captain: “It stinks.”

Connor Cook

Ninety-nine percent of the time, a quarterback headed into his third year as starter on a successful team is chosen by his teammates as a captain. Connor Cook, it appears, is the one percent.

Cook was not chosen as one of three captains by his fellow Spartans – senior center Jack Allen, senior defensive end Shilique Calhoun and senior linebacker Darien Harris were – but still holds a leadership spot as a member of the 12-person “eagles council.” And, you know, by virtue of being a senior quarterback many believe will be a first-round pick next May.

Still, Cook spoke of the decision to the Detroit Free-Press:

“Obviously, I was disappointed. But we have the whole leadership council, the 12 guys, and I think the whole senior class takes pride in everyone being leaders. And we’re not all about the title and stuff like that. And I for sure want to be captain, but it’s not gonna limit me from leading. I think for the position that I’m in, being a quarterback here, that’s already assumed.

“I’ve been a leader here, I’ve been a leader since I’ve been starting here. The coaches believe in me, I think that’s been known. Coach D. believes in me, they all believe in me. My teammates believe in me. And they still look to me as a leader. And I am a leader on this football team. I may not be a captain, but every time I step in the huddle, everybody looks to me to lead. Every time we step on that football field, I touch the ball every single play on offense. And I lead that offense down, I lead it to game-winning drives. I’ve led us in big-time games before.

“And guys still look to me as a leader, and obviously it stinks not to be captain. But that’s why we have the leadership council, the 12 guys. Coach D. really likes to not just have three guys leading, but 12. We’ve got such a deep senior class, too. We’ve got guys like Shilique, Darien, me, Jack. Joel (Heath) is a great leader. If you could pick five captains, there would be five captains. If there could be six, there’d be six guys. All 12 guys are worth enough to be captains. But it’s definitely not gonna limit my leadership role. And it’s just gonna make me hungrier.”

So, there’s that.

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Nebraska hires PA announcer, fires PA announcer over critical Facebook post

McNeese State v Nebraska Getty Images

Strange story out of Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers recently hired Jon Schuetz as Memorial Stadium’s public address announcer, and then turned around and fired him one day later.

Schuetz, formerly the sports director for KETV-TV in Omaha, told his former employer he was fired after university officials discovered a social media post he made critical of former Huskers coach Bo Pelini. The post has since been deleted.

It is worth noting, of course, Schuetz was not a Nebraska employee at the time, and Pelini is no longer Nebraska’s head coach. Still, Schuetz told his former employer he holds no animosity toward the Huskers.

“If I were in their shoes, I would’ve done the same thing. I’ve hired people. I get it. … If you say something about a prospective future employer, it’s legitimate to say if you’re not on board with what we do here, maybe you shouldn’t be here,” he told the Omaha World-Herald. “I respect the decision. I hold no hard feelings toward anybody down there. The worst part is I feel like I’ve left some great people at HuskerVision in a difficult situation just a few days before the first game of the season.”

The post in question, according to the paper, appeared on Facebook on Nov. 30, 2014:

Harvey Perlman is as (sic) disgrace. Remember this was the guy who extended Steve Pederson’s contract only to fire him a few months later. When will he be held to account?

Schuetz was hired to replace Patrick Combs, whom the university dismissed this summer after he was arrested on suspicion of conning two elderly women out of more than $350,000.

Whomever the Huskers turn to next, they’d better do it quickly. Nebraska’s home schedule opens Saturday against BYU.

Update: The Huskers apparently found the one person that never criticized the program.

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Memphis suspends six connected to Miami Beach Brawl

Memphis v Mississippi AP

BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall will announce which of his players were suspended because of their actions in last year’s bowl game after the 2015 opener is played.  His counterpart, however, is a being a little more forthcoming.

Monday, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente announced six players are facing game suspensions because of their actions in the infamous post-game Miami Beach Bowl brawl.  The official move comes seven months after Fuente announced that a dozen unnamed players would be facing various suspensions/sanctions for their roles.

The stiffest suspension was doled out to starting linebacker Leonard Pegues, who will have to sit for the first 1.5 games of the season. The senior will be forced to sit out the entire opener against Missouri State this Saturday, then the first half of the Kansas game the following weekend.

Additionally, defensive tackle Isadore Outing has been suspended for the opener for his role. Outing took a redshirt as a true freshman, and wasn’t listed on the two-deep depth chart.

Finally, four players were slapped with half-game suspensions: defensive back Chauncey Lanier and offensive linemen Michael Stannard, Trevon Tate and Nick Thomas. Lanier is the only starter in that sextet.

“The [American Athletic Conference] looked at the video for a long time,” Fuente said. “We looked at it for a long time. We tried to do our best to come up with the appropriate punishments.”

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UCLA indefinitely suspends CB Ishmael Adams

UCLA v California AP

Not surprisingly, there are immediate repercussions for Ishmael Adams’ alleged off-field misdeed.

UCLA head coach Jim Mora confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Adams has indefinitely suspended from the football program.  The move comes roughly 24 hours after reports surfaced that Adams had been arrested in connection to an on-campus robbery.

It was subsequently reported that Adams had stolen the cell phone of an Uber driver.  Originally jailed in lieu of a $100,00 bond, Adams was released earlier today.

The fact that the suspension comes just four days before the opener means the defensive back will miss Saturday’s game against Virginia.  Mora said Adams will remain suspended until additional facts are gathered.

Such a stance could put Adams’ availability for the following week’s game against UNLV in jeopardy as well as a brutal four-game stretch that begins with BYU; continues with a road trip to No. 22 Arizona and a home game against No. 15 Arizona State; and concludes with a road date against No. 21 Stanford.

Adams has started 26 games at cornerback the last two seasons.  He’s also one of the top kick- and punt-return men in the country.

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