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

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


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.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 5 Rewind

Mark Dantonio
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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

The Big Ten entered Week 5 with the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams.  That conference could, and likely should, exit the weekend without a team in either slot.

There is one thing I can type with a great degree of certainty: there will be a new No. 1 come Sunday afternoon.  Ohio State’s performance, albeit on the road and against a much-improved — and unbeaten — Indiana squad, is not in and of itself enough to knock the Buckeyes out of the top spot.  However, when you add in the struggles at home against a MAC school last week… and their struggles at home the week before that against another MAC school… and their struggles the week before that against a school not even located on the United States’ mainland, and OSU simply isn’t the best team in the country.  I realized that a couple of weeks ago; here’s to guessing the voters catch up later on today.

And, while we’re kicking B1G teams down the poll food chain, give the boot to No. 2 MSU as well.  The Spartans, at home no less, had to hold off a Boilermakers team whose only win this season  came against an FCS team and has lost 10 straight to FBS foes.  The 24-21 win shows that I, and many others, had long overvalued the Week 2 win over Oregon and perhaps their reputation off that win far surpassed their actual on-field worthiness.

This isn’t to pick on the Big Ten, though.  Rather, that conference is merely the biggest symptom of a season in which there is simply not a No. 1 team in the truest sense of the words.  Not a single team seems to either want or, more importantly, deserves that top-dog ranking.

Mississippi v FloridaNo. 3 Ole Miss beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then loses badly to No. 25 Florida two weeks later.  No. 7 UCLA looked to have a case entering Week 5 before struggling with and finally losing to unranked Arizona State, while No. 8 Georgia was taken to the woodshed between the hedges by ‘Bama.  No. 4 TCU’s win over Minnesota loses luster with each passing week, and they have yet to face any real competition — Texas included.  No. 5 Baylor’s track-meet win over Texas Tech may wow some, but it’s still style over substance and will remain that way until they face their initial test (West Virginia in two weeks?).  No. 6 Notre Dame looked early on like it was ranked way too high, then showed some serious stones in its comeback in the eventual road loss to No. 12 Clemson.

So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s four of the Top Eight teams in the country who saw their perfect seasons go down in flames in Week 5, with most of the remaining unbeatens looking disheveled and not ready for the primetime of the College Football Playoff stage.

Out of all the teams in the top dozen or so, No. 10 Utah may have gained the most in Week 5 simply by being the lone Top 10 team on a bye weekend.  No. 9 LSU, meanwhile, is lurking in the background undefeated, with Les Miles‘ charges, which consists of a stout defense, the best running back in the country and a quarterback who plays within himself, seemingly awaiting to pounce and take full advantage of all of the tumult and uncertainty ahead of them.

Let’s simplify the current situation: take any of the teams mentioned above, and pit them against 2014 postseason Ohio State or 2014 regular season Alabama and Oregon or 2013 Florida State or 2012 Alabama; is there a single one of those 2015 teams that would be favored against any of those past teams?  Nope, they’d all likely be at least double-digit underdogs, even on a neutral field.

Through five games, there’s simply no clearcut No. 1 or no obvious 1-2 as in the past few years.  And, for the life of me, I can’t figure out whether that’s good or bad — although I am leaning toward the former as this could be the most wild and unpredictable season since, what, two-loss LSU won the whole thing in 2007?

All I do know is my personal Top Five below will have a decidedly different look than the week before, and I have the feeling the real polls will too.

Before getting on to more of the stuff y’all really care about, please allow me very quickly to touch on something truly inspirational.

While much has been made of late of the blind long-snapper at USC — and rightly so, incidentally — there’s another player at the same position with a similar disability at Tulane.  While Steve Sarkisian has talked of getting Jake Olson in a game with the Trojans, Curtis Johnson has acted on that notion.

In the fourth quarter of Tulane’s 45-31 win over UCF, Aaron Golub was the long-snapper on the Green Wave’s final extra point of the game.  Golub, who can’t see out of his right eye at all and has very limited vision in his left, thus became the first legally-blind player ever to appear in an NCAA football game.

“It was a great opportunity,” Golub said. “I’m happy they gave me a shot. It just felt great.”

And, for those who will no doubt whine and/or cry and/or bitch and/or moan about Johnson making Golub a charity case, just listen to the coach’s own postgame words.

“Every morning I’m up, he’s up in the weight room and he’s working and working and working,” Johnson said. “I would like to play him as much as I can because that’s what you do, you reward kids who work. I don’t care what they are or how they look. This kid works and he’s just like everybody else. I’m going to play him as much as I can.”

Kudos to Golub, and kudos to Johnson for doing what’s right for a young man who’s obviously worked hard at his craft and deserves to be rewarded for it.

Chris Farley struck comedic gold with his “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” ditty in the cinematic classic “Tommy Boy.”  Two decades later, the largest man in college football has brought a similar predicament to the gridiron.

LaQuan McGowan is a Baylor tight end who’s listed at 6-7, 410 pounds on the official Bears roster. Prior to today’s basketball-game-masquerading-as-a-football-game against Texas Tech, McGowan did what most players do on game day: don their jerseys and shoulder pads.

When it comes to a man of McGowan’s size, nothing ever comes easy. Unlike most everybody else, his clothing struggles were caught on camera.

Somewhere, the much-beloved Mr. Farley is smiling. And laughing his ass off.

Below is a list of links for all of the Week 5 gamers posted by the CFT crew, placed in one handy and convenient space for you, our beloved and dear readers.

A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Sunday if I, ya know, had a real vote.  Also, note that my previous rankings had Michigan State, Ole Miss, TCU, Ohio State and UCLA at Nos. 1-5, in that order, prior to me tweaking the hell out of them this weekend as I just erased everything and started everyone with a blank slate.

1. TCU — Somebody’s gotta fill the spot, and it might as well be the Horned Frogs.  The wins over Minnesota and Texas Tech are solid-ish, while they’ve won their other three games (Stephen F. Austin, SMU, Texas) by a combined 125 points. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: at Kansas State, Oct. 10

2. Utah — The win over Michigan in Week 1 looks more impressive as time goes by, although the win over Oregon last weekend is looking less and less impressive the more the Ducks are exposed.  The next three weeks, against Cal, Arizona State and USC, will likely tell whether the Utes will have a spot on the national stage going into the last month of the season. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: vs. No. 24 Cal, Oct. 10

3. Baylor — BU beat SMU by 35 and Texas Tech by 28; TCU beats those same teams by 19 and three, respectively.  The Horned Frogs’ win over the Gophers on the road, though, trumps the Bears’ other two wins (Lamar, Rice). (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at Kansas, Oct. 10

4. LSU — One of just five unbeaten teams that have three wins against fellow Power Five schools, with the others being Cal, Florida, Northwestern and Texas A&M.  Two of those P5 teams the Tigers beat were ranked at the time, and the third, 3-1 Syracuse, they beat on the road.  And that’s my justification and I’m sticking to it. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at South Carolina, Oct. 10

5. Northwestern — Since losing to NU in Week 1, Stanford has won four straight and had moved back up to No. 18 in the Associated Press poll prior to Week 5.  Duke, which NU beat on the road in Week 3, is currently 4-1.  Finally, the Wildcats beat by 27 the same Gophers team that the Horned Frogs beat by six.  So there. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at Michigan, Oct. 10

(Dropped out: No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Ole Miss, No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 UCLA)

The whole “picture is worth a thousand words” thing is in play here.

Dumpster fire

Many individuals were excited for the Alabama-Georgia game.  One of those individuals was UGA basketball coach Mark Fox, who went very public in his support for the football Bulldogs.

Shawn Oakman is one of the most intimidating physical presences in college football today.  When the Baylor defensive lineman starts quoting a foreboding Edgar Allen Poe classic on Twitter prior to a game?  Get the hell out of his way, especially if you’re standing between him and a quarterback.  Or a good sandwich, even.

If you were playing West Virginia or Notre Dame or Wake Forest or myriad other teams Saturday, you couldn’t eat your opponents in the days leading up to a game, at least not the way current laws are structured.  If you’re Ole Miss, and you’re playing Florida?  Yeah, you could.  And the Rebels did.

Apparently, though, that meal turned on the Rebels.

Even with a huge game against Notre Dame on tap, Miami is still not far from the minds of Clemson fans.

You include a timely and relevant quote from one of the greatest movies ever, you deserve a nod.

Parents with kids at college right now, here’s a visual summary of what your money is getting you.

“Oh yes.” — Charlie Strong, asked if Texas’ woodshedding at the hands of TCU was his worst day as a head coach.

“I love our players, I love our school, love our colors, love Penn State, love Happy Valley, love the community. … Love our guys, love our staff, love the opportunity that we have here. … Love our players. Love our coaches. Love our media. Love everybody.” — A mash-up of James Franklin‘s lengthy response to a question that essentially asked if fans should be disappointed with Penn State’s six-point home win over 1-4 Army.

“The dam broke and unfortunately we just didn’t have enough counterpunches to get back in it. … We got whipped, we all know it and we’ve got to do something about it.” — Mark Richt, following Georgia’s shellacking at the hands of Alabama.

“It’s an insane game, that’s how it’s been. You can’t breathe for a half-second. If you have any hair, it’s blowing backwards and the game is screaming the whole time.” — Art Briles, following a game in which Baylor and Texas Tech nearly put a combined 100 points on the scoreboard.

“We’re turning the ball over at an alarming rate. That’s obviously a difference in the game. And at some point, that’s going to bite you. We have to fix that.” — Urban Meyer, portending future doom for his Ohio State Buckeyes if they don’t start cleaning things up.

Meads Cup Final - North Otago v WanganuiSTREAKING
Five wins to start the 2015 season have pushed Ohio State’s nation’s best winning streak to 18 straight.  Up next are TCU (13), Memphis (12, a school record), Michigan State (nine), Navy (eight), Clemson (seven) and Toledo (seven).

On the other side of the won-loss ledger, New Mexico State still owns the nation’s longest losing streak, which is now at 14 straight.  The second-longest negative streak falls to Wyoming (eight), followed by UCF at six in a row and North Texas at five in a row. Kansas deserves its own special sentence as the Jayhawks are the not-so-proud owners of the longest losing streak amongst Power Five conference members at seven straight.

… Kansas State was historically abysmal before the arrival of the Wizard of Manhattan: Bill Snyder currently has 190 career victories as Wildcats’ head coach, which are 151 more than any other coach in the football program’s history.

Matt Johnson in Week 4 became the first player in Bowling Green history to have four 400-yard passing games in a career. He accomplished that feat in the first four games this season as he had 400-plus yards in each.  Johnson had “just” 324 in Week 5.

Since 1980, TCU’s Gary Patterson leads all college football coaches with six winning streaks of 12 games or more. The 55-52 victory at Texas Tech in Week 4 enabled Patterson to break a tie with Florida State legend Bobby Bowden.

Entering Week 5, eleven FBS players have a run of 80 yards or longer this year, but Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida was the only one with two. He also led the FBS in 70-yard runs (three) and 60-yard runs (four).

Duke is 4-4 in its last eight games against ranked foes after losing 47 straight to ranked opponents (November 6, 1994 to October 25, 2013).

Cal’s victories in consecutive weeks at Texas and Washington marked the first time the Bears had won back-to-back road games in consecutive weeks since 1993 at Stanford (Nov. 20) and Hawai’i (Nov. 27). The Bears played back-to-back road games in consecutive weeks 27 times in between.

Courtesy of the Georgia Tech sports information department

Blocked Kicks

Courtesy of the Wyoming sports information department

Fewest Seniors

Most shutouts since 2010, courtesy of the Stanford sports information department

Shutout Leaders

Georgia Tech hasn’t been shutout at home in 361 games, tying BYU (1975-2003) for the longest such streak in NCAA history.  Tech was last blanked at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Nov. 30, 1957, a 7-0 loss to in-state rival Georgia.

Louisiana-Monroe is the only FBS program that will play eight road games this season.  ULM is also just one of four teams that play three consecutive conference games on the road, the others being Arkansas, Arkansas State and Florida.  Finally, ULM is one of six teams, the others being FIU, Middle Tennessee State, San Diego State, UMass and Western Kentucky, that will not play back-to-back home games in 2015.

Eastern Michigan v LSUDID YOU KNOW THAT…

Leonard Fournette has run for 200-plus yards in three straight games, the first time in the storied history of the SEC that’s happened?  The LSU running back’s 864 yards are the most in the first four games since at least the 2000 season, and likely the most since Barry Sanders‘ record-setting 1988 season.

… Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols is only running backs in FBS with multiple rushing touchdowns in all five games this season?

… with four receptions, Cal’s Bryce Treggs is now tied for fifth all-time in receptions with 167?  The individual he’s tied with is his father, Brian Treggs, who played for the Bears from 1988-91.

… TCU’s KaVontae Turpin had two career receiving touchdowns before catching four in the win over Texas?

… Boise State’s Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon have 17 career INTs, one away from tying the Mountain West record held by Utah’s Eric Weddle?  Both Thompson and Deayon had one pick each in Saturday night’s dismantling of Hawaii.

Texas v TCU… TCU has defeated Texas in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1958-59? Those back-to-back wins have come by 30 or more points; prior to last year, TCU had beaten Texas by that margin just once in the history of series that dates back nearly a century.

… Alabama’s 28-point victory margin in the 38-10 win over Georgia is the largest winning margin ever by a Crimson Tide team against a Top-10 team at an opposing site?

… Memphis and Temple are both 3-0 on the road, serving as the only teams in the nation with 3-0 road records?

… with its late loss to Illinois, Nebraska becomes the first team since at least 1940 to lose three of its first five games in the last 10 seconds or less?

… Florida State has opened up a season without an offensive turnover in four straight games for the first time in the football program’s history?

… North Carolina is the only team this season that has not had a punt returned against it?  Baylor and Navy had both entered Week 5 without having one returned against them.

… Air Force and Toledo are the only teams that have not allowed a sack this season?

491157738… Iowa is the only team that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown?  Navy hadn’t allowed one before Air Force got one in the fourth quarter of its 33-10 loss to the Midshipmen.

… Duke had not started 4-1 or better in consecutive years since 1962-65 prior to this season’s 4-1 start?  The Blue Devils also recorded a win against ranked teams each of the last three years, a first for the Program since 1955-60.

… Navy is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2004?  The Midshipmen finished that season 10-2.

… Baylor is now 4-0 for the third-straight year, the first time that’s happened since 1915-17?

… Indiana is now 0-16 all-time against top-ranked teams, including an 0-6 mark against Ohio State?

… Boise State, Bowling Green and Toledo, with two each, are the only Group of Five teams this season with more than one win against Power Five opponents?  The Falcons are the only one of that trio to win both of their P5 games on the road.

… Temple played three straight road games to start the 2015 season and won all three for the first time in the program’s history?

… Boston College became the first ACC team and only the fifth FBS team this century to permit 225 or fewer yards in each of the first four games of a season?  BC allowed 228 in a 9-7 loss to Duke.

… San Jose State has allowed just nine passing touchdowns since the start of the 2014 season, a stretch that includes 17 games?  Penn State is next with 13, followed by Temple’s 14, Clemson’s 15 and Duke’s 17.

… there are three schools at the FBS level that have three offensive lineman on their roster who are listed at least 6-7? That tall trio consists of Florida State, LSU and Penn State.

… Washington State has sold out five games since Mike Leach took over as head coach in 2012?  Prior to his arrival, Wazzu had sold out one game the previous five seasons.

Brian Kelly’s decisions see No. 6 Notre Dame fall two points shy of No. 12 Clemson

Brian Kelly

No. 12 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) seemed to have No. 6 Notre Dame under firm control as the rain came down Saturday night. A sure win, with Clemson leading the visiting Irish 21-3 in the fourth quarter, nearly washed away, but the Irish rally fell two points shy. Clemson stuffed a two-point conversion attempt by Notre Dame with seven seconds to play to preserve a 24-22 victory in the rain.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson struggled to get a  grip on the football and completed just 11 of his 22 pass attempts for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His counterpart, freshman DeShone Kizer, had a much better day through the wet air after a sluggish start. Kizer ended the game with 321 passing yards and two touchdowns in leading the Irish rally from 21-3. Watson did add 93 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown to remind those watching just how effective he can be as a dual-threat.

Clemson’s offense got stuck in the mud after going up 21-3 in the third quarter, but the defense managed to hold on for the win. It was not easy, but forcing four turnovers helped. None may have been more critical than a forced fumble by Jayron Kearse on Notre Dame’s Chris Brown as the receiver was moving inside the five-yard line on a drive that looked to be reaching the end zone for Notre Dame. B.J. Goodson came away from the pile with his hands on the football, but Clemson’s offense would go three-and-out to give the Irish one last chance in great field position. It nearly paid off.

There were two decisions by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly worth second-guessing that may have cost Notre Dame a win, or at least a chance to do something in overtime. Both occurred in the fourth quarter and involved two-point conversion attempts.

Notre Dame had a chance to make it a seven-point game early in the fourth quarter. After C.J. Prosise managed to stay in the field of play down the right sideline for a 56-yard touchdown pass, Kelly opted to go for two points instead of kicking the extra point. Had Notre Dame kicked the extra point, the Irish would have been down 11 points. Instead, after a failed conversion attempt, the Irish were down 12 points. As it turned out, had Notre Dame kicked the extra point, that would have put Notre Dame just one point away from tying Clemson in the final 10 seconds.

Speaking of that last Irish touchdown, Notre Dame obviously needed to go for the two-point conversion to force a tie game. The call was to run the football, and the ball was kept in the hands of Kizer. Kizer did end the game as Notre Dame’s leading rusher, but he had little room and no ability to make any push as the line collapsed on him. Prosise carrying the football may have been too obvious to fool Clemson’s defense must have been the logic in that situation. But this situation never had to happen in the first place.