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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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One Buckeye not impressed with Wolverines’ move to Nike

Michigan v Ohio State

Whether it be late in the fall or early summer, the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is always simmering, although some times are hotter than others.  The latest to crank the knob to boil?  Ohio State’s Darron Lee.

Monday afternoon, UM announced that it was leaving adidas and moving on to Nike as its official uniform supplier for all of its men’s and women’s sports.  That move will come in 2016.

A few hours later, Lee took to Twitter to opine on the rival’s move and dissect just what it may mean for the football program’s fortunes.

Not suprisingly, the linebacker received some “feedback” on his twin tweets.

In last year’s win, the then-true freshman recorded a career-high nine tackles and returned a fumble 33 yards for a touchdown in the Buckeyes’ 42-28 win over the Wolverines.  This year’s UM-OU tilt, the first of the Jim Harbaugh era in Ann Arbor, will take place exactly 144 days from today in the Big House.

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Lawyer: woman hurled racial slurs prior to ex-FSU QB’s punch

Casey Anthony Released From Jail Getty Images

Not surprisingly, there’s yet another twist in the De’Andre Johnson saga.

Charged with a misdemeanor for an incident at a Tallahassee night club late last month, the quarterback was suspended and ultimately dismissed by Florida State after video of him punching a woman in the face went public, with FSU’s president issuing a statement of support for head coach Jimbo Fisher‘s decision.  According to Johnson’s lawyer, however, there are mitigating factors behind the punch.

From our pals at NBC News:

The woman raised her fist and shouted “racial epithets” at Johnson when the player accidentally made contact when he was walking up to the bar, lawyer Jose Baez told NBC News.

Johnson “tried to deescalate the situation” but the woman “kneed him in the groin area” and “took another swing before he retaliated,” the attorney added.

The lawyer stated that he has witnesses who heard the racial slurs, although Johnson “makes no excuses for what happened.”

Baez, mostly known as the defense attorney in the infamous Casey Anthony case, added that while his client wasn’t the initial aggressor, he’s “owning this” situation and trying to learn from it.

“All he wants to do is learn from this experience and move on and get an education,” Baez said. “We certainly don’t want him to pay for the rest of his life for an incident that occurred in a bar.”

According to Baez, Johnson is currently volunteering at a battered woman’s shelter.

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Duke’s Kelby Brown suffers fourth ACL tear, this one career-ending

Jameis Winston, Kelby Brown

There’s heartbreaking and unkind, and then there’s what God has wrought on Kelby Brown‘s knees.

In late November of 2010, the Duke linebacker tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee. He tore the ACL in the same knee in February of 2012 and missed that entire season.  Unbelievably, in August of last year, he tore the ACL in his left knee and missed all of the entire 2014 season.

Incredibly, Brown sustained a fourth ACL tear last Tuesday, the second to his left knee.  In a press release, the school confirmed that this latest injury will end Brown’s collegiate career.

“It’s difficult to put into words the feeling of heartbreak I have for Kelby and his family,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said in a statement. “While we will certainly miss his athletic abilities and leadership as one of the best linebackers to play at Duke, what is most important above all else is Kelby’s health. He is a truly special young man who is destined to accomplish great things in his life. Kelby’s strengths lie in his core values, and I know that despite this setback, he will continue to play an integral part of our program’s success both on and off the field.”

According to the school, Brown will serve the program as a student assistant for the 2015 season.

A first-team All-ACC selection in 2013, Brown ranked second in the conference with 8.8 tackles per game. He was a preseason All-ACC selection in 2014 as well.

All told, Brown started 29 games as a Blue Devil when healthy — 12 in 2013, 10 in 2011 and seven in 2010.  He played in 32 total games.

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Reports: Jimbo, FSU didn’t see punch video until Monday night

Florida State v Miami Getty Images

Very late Monday night, Florida State announced that quarterback De’Andre Johnson had been dismissed from the football program.  The announcement came several hours after video surfaced of Johnson punching a woman in the face following a bar confrontation, leading to a misdemeanor battery charge being filed against the 2015 four-star signee.

Some had questioned whether FSU had seen the video of the incident prior to it being released and was simply reacting to the public outcry with the dismissal, or if yesterday was the first time they had viewed the damning piece of evidence.

According to a pair of reports, it’s most certainly the latter.

Additionally, a school spokesperson stated that “[n]one of us saw it” when asked by the Tallahassee Democrat about the timing of the university’s first viewing of the video.

In a statement released late Tuesday morning, FSU president John Thrasher released a rather lengthy statement in support of Jimbo Fisher‘s decision to dismiss Johnson from the team.

“I fully support Coach (Jimbo) Fisher’s decisions to immediately suspend and subsequently dismiss De’Andre Johnson from the football team. While it is always important to adhere to due process, having now seen the physical altercation captured on video, there is no question in my mind that Coach Fisher made the correct decisions.

“I expect all students at Florida State University, including student-athletes, to adhere to the highest level of conduct. I have no tolerance for the kind of behavior exhibited in this case.

“Florida State University was forged from an outstanding college for women and has a long tradition of being a caring community that demands students be treated with dignity and respect. All students must know their university will do everything it can to ensure a safe, healthy and positive environment in which they can learn and enjoy their college experience. As president, I am committed to maintaining such an environment at FSU.”

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All three Buckeye QBs make Maxwell Award preseason watch list

J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller AP

One of the most prestigious awards in college football became the latest to toss its hat into the preseason watch list ring, and this particular honor carries a decidedly Ohio State tinge to it.

The Maxwell Award, given annually to the nation’s Player of the Year, released a preseason watch list Tuesday that included a total of 80 FBS players.  Among those 80 players are four Ohio State Buckeyes, including all three quarterbacks (in alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone): J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller.

The fourth Buckeye on the initial Maxwell watch list is Ezekiel Elliott.  The preseason Heisman favorite according to one wagering outfit, Elliott will enter the 2015 season coming off a postseason that saw him run for 696 yards and eight touchdowns in postseason wins over Wisconsin (220 yards, Big Ten championship game), Alabama (230, College Football Playoff semifinal) and Oregon (246, CFP championship game).

TCU was next among individual schools with three players, while Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Florida State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Stanford and Tennessee had two each.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is the only 2014 finalist to make the preseason cut this year.  There are also four 2014 semifinalists on the initial list: Florida State quarterback Everett Golson, who made it last year while at Notre Dame, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Pittsburgh running back James Conner and Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook.

The SEC led all conferences with 17 players listed — Vanderbilt was the only one of the 14 schools without a representative — followed by the Big Ten (12) and ACC and Pac-12 (11 each). The Big 12, with nine, had the fewest amongst Power Five leagues, while the AAC’s five were the most of the Group of Five conferences.

Last year’s winner was Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

2015 Maxwell Award Watch List

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Michael Irvin’s son commits to ‘Canes

Miami Hurricanes v Florida State Seminoles Getty Images

For those who thought they’d seen the last Michael Irvin taking snaps at wherever the Miami Hurricanes will continue playing football, you’d be wrong. Probably.

In a non-binding verbal commitment, Michael Irvin II announced Monday that he will begin his collegiate football career at The U. Irvin II’s dad is, of course, the former Hurricane receiving great who’s an NFL Hall of Famer — and who told the football program’s fans earlier this year to “calm their asses down” when it comes to the current head coach.

And, as a lot of football recruits are doing these days, Irvin made his initial announcement via social media — in head-scratching, make-the-NCAA-take-notice fashion — before expounding on the decision with other media entities.

The younger Irvin, a tight end to his famous pop’s wide receiver, had Syracuse as his No. 2 option. Georgia and Michigan were under serious consideration by the 2016 prospect as well.

It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Irvin told 247Sports.com about his commitment to his dad’s alma mater. “I like the coaches. They told me I would play all over for them. In the backfield, at tight end and at receiver.”

Suffice to say, Irvin’s dad is pleased with his son’s decision.

“We had been talking about where and what I was going to do for a very long time. He knew what was coming,” Irvin said according to the Orlando Sentinel. “We always stay in touch even though he’s still in Texas and I’m here playing at St. Thomas [in Florida]. We talk every day about everything and he was very excited, extremely excited. But I think he knew what I wanted to do. … I was a ‘Cane from the start. I grew up a fan and wanted to be a ‘Cane.”

Listed at 6-2, 200 pounds by Rivals.com, Irvin has been given a three-star rating according to that recruiting website. He’s also listed as the No. 81 receiver in the country and the No. 70 player at any position in the state of Florida.

Shortly after Irvin’s verbal became public knowledge, head coach Al Golden — the one who has the approval of the father of his latest commit — posted the following to his Twitter account:

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FSU dismisses QB shown punching woman in disturbing video

De'Andre Johnson

Not surprisingly, the “career” of De’Andre Johnson at Florida State was a short one.

Shortly after security footage of a disturbing incident surfaced, FSU announced that Johnson has been dismissed from the football program. Earlier this month, Johnson was charged with misdemeanor battery after video from a Tallahassee drinking establishment showed him punching a female during the course of a verbal/physical incident that turned extremely physical.

Here’s the Orlando Sentinel‘s account of what led to Johnson’s charges and, ultimately, his dismissal:

According to the [Tallahassee Police Department] report, Johnson allegedly pushed a woman from behind “aggressively” when she approached the bar. The woman turned around to address Johnson and “raised her right arm to defend herself” when Johnson allegedly “grabbed her arm that was raised and began pushing her.”

The woman raised her knee to Johnson’s midsection to push him away and attempted to punch Johnson. One witness heard the woman yell “no” twice before Johnson allegedly punched her in the face, causing bruising under her left eye, swelling to her left cheek and upper lip, and a small cut on her nose.

The woman’s account is consistent with video obtained from security cameras, according to the police department.

For what it’s worth, Johnson’s attorney, Jose Baez, released a self-serving statement on his client’s behalf.

“While it is clear from the video that De’Andre Johnson was not the initial aggressor, his family wants to take the lead in helping him learn and grow from this experience. He is currently participating in community service, and faith-based programs focused on battered women, substance abuse, and the empowerment of children. De’Andre is extremely embarrassed by this situation and would like to express his heartfelt apologies to everyone, including those who were directly affected, Coach Fisher and his team mates, the entire Florida State University community, as well as his family and friends.”

For those who haven’t seen the video of the incident, it appears below. You decide how much longer it’s going to be OK for a man to punch a woman… I’m sorry, decide whether this woman deserved to be punched by a “man.”

 

Johnson was a four-star member of FSU’s 2015 recruiting class who will likely get a shot somewhere else at some level of college football because of his physical talent.

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South Alabama begins exploring possible on-campus stadium options

Georgia Southern South Alabama

South Alabama began playing college football just seven years ago in Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, and now the Jaguars are looking for a place to more appropriately call home. The university announced Monday work has begun on a preliminary study to explore the feasibility of constructing an on-campus stadium for South Alabama football, which is a long way from saying a stadium is going up. But it is a possibility down the line.

“Construction of a football stadium is an extremely complex undertaking that requires significant due diligence on the part of the University leadership, and we are at the very beginning of a process that will examine all the issues we must consider before a decision can be made,” said USA President Tony Waldrop in a released statement.

Trustees, administrators and select staff members will join forces to put together the feasibility study. The results of the report will be shared to the leadership of the university at a later point in time. There is no deadline for this process, and that is a wise decision. Given the experience and wisdom gained from watching the mishandling of the UAB football program, South Alabama officials should take all the time in the world needed to determine what is best for the university and football program, whether that means building a football stadium or not.

Ladd-Peebles Stadium is an aging facility, constructed in 1948. The stadium is currently home to South Alabama football in addition to the GoDaddy.com Bowl and Senior Bowl. The Senior Bowl has been played in the stadium every year since 1951, making it the go-to destination for college football’s top NFL prospects, not to mention NFL scouts and coaches every week in the offseason. History is nice, but if South Alabama can make it worth the effort and money to build an on-campus stadium, then it will help the Jaguars continue to build its own identity in the college football world.

Building a stadium is not the best solution for every program. Time will tell if it is the best option for South Alabama.

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Ohio State OL signee: I will be enrolling at Georgia

Mark Richt

Oh to be a fly on the wall of Mark Richt‘s office right now. Georgia will end up being the football home to offensive lineman Mirko Jurkovic, who had previously signed with Ohio State, coached by Richt’s former SEC East rival Urban Meyer. Jurkovic’s status at Georgia is still pending acceptance by the admissions department.

I will be enrolling at the University of Georgia,” Jurkovic announced on his Twitter account Monday. “I will be reporting for training camp on August 2md. I would like to thank Ohio State and all the other schools that gave me the opportunity to come play for them throughout this crazy process. Excited to start this journey to the next chapter of my life.”

Jurkovic took a round-about route to Athens. After signing with Ohio State in February, Jurkovic never showed up to Columbus to join the rest of the incoming class for summer classes. The holdup for the enrollment was deemed to be due to an academic issue, although the specifics of that situation were never really clarified. The three-star recruit will end up being a nice last-minute addition to the Georgia recruiting class, which will now include four offensive linemen. Georgia lost an offensive lineman in the Class of 2016 when DeVondre Seymour walked away from football, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I don’t know what all went on there behind the scenes there,” Jurkovic explained to the AJC. “It just kind of was what it was. I don’t know. I wasn’t admitted to Ohio State. That’s all I know.

“And there are no hard feelings against Ohio State. It’s a business. It didn’t mess me up too much. I ended up at Georgia, so I’m not too mad or disappointed about that. Ohio State is just a thing in the past now.”

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QB Vernon Adams eligible at Oregon, nearly ready to take aim at replacing Mariota

Eastern Washington v Washington Getty Images

In a transfer that has long been all but official, Vernon Adams has officially been approved for graduate classes at Oregon. This brings him one giant step closer to making his case to be the next starting quarterback for the Oregon Ducks in 2015.

The next step for Adams will be enrollment. Per The Oregonian, Adams has been admitted and is eligible to enroll, but has not done the later just yet. Enrolling at this stage may now just be a matter of procedure, because Oregon ruling Adams eligible to enroll is still a positive sign Adams will indeed be joining the Ducks for the fall.

Adams is transferring from FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington and is a likely contender to win the vacant starting quarterback job at Oregon, left vacant by Marcus Mariota. Mariota won last season’s Heisman Trophy, but Adams is a two-time Walter Payton Award runner-up at the FCS level. The Walter Payton Award is presented annually to the top player in the FCS, so this makes Adams the FCS equivalent of Andrew Luck, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting during his time at Stanford.

Adams has one final year of eligibility remaining, and he hopes to make the most of it with the Ducks. It is far froma  given he ends up being Oregon’s new starting quaretrback, but he could be a quick fix to the Oregon offense in the post-Mariota era. He has the ability to throw and run, making him a versatile player for the Ducks, even if he is measuring in at just 5′-11″.

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Michigan ditches Adidas for Nike (in 2016)

Michigan Football Spring Game

A week after Tennessee unveiled their brand new uniforms from Nike after moving on from a partnership with Adidas, the University of Michigan has rejoined The Swoosh. In an announcement made Monday afternoon, Michigan announced a new apparel partnership with Nike. The new contract will officially begin in 2016, which means one more football season for Michigan in uniforms designed by Adidas.

A return to Nike may not yield quite the same lucrative contract Michigan had with Adidas, but the image that comes with wearing Nike is quite a selling point as well. The Portland Business Journal previously valued Michigan’s contract as the most valuable apparel contract in college sports, with $4.4 million in equipment and $3.8 million in cash from Adidas. Under the terms of the agreement, Michigan was required to be the highest-paid partner with Adidas among college clients. A move to Nike likely will mean some sort of reduction in pay, as Nike has many partners to satisfy, including Michigan’s division rivals at Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State.

For the sake of comparison, Georgia’s new deal with Nike will result in a payment of $2.88 million annually in equipment and $1 million in cash.

A move away from Adidas has been speculated for a while, with new leadership in place at Michigan and the Adidas alternate uniforms being largely connected to the efforts of former Athletics Director Dave Brandon‘s branding initiative. And those alternate uniforms were just plain awful. Now we have to wonder if Adidas will serve up one final atrocity before Michigan leaves them this fall.

Adidas is losing some of its big contracts. In addition to Michigan, Notre Dame also left Adidas (for Under Armour). And, of course, Tennessee has abandoned ship.

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Ole Miss acknowledges NCAA investigation regarding Laremy Tunsil

Laremy Tunsil

When the stepfather of Ole Miss offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil dropped an allegation the Rebel was associating with sports agents, Ole Miss responded swiftly. So did the NCAA. Now both are conducting investigations to determine if Tunsil acted in violation of NCAA rules regarding agents. Ole Miss issued a statement Monday afternoon to say it is a manner the program takes seriously.

“The University of Mississippi Department of Athletics is aware of the allegations made by Laremy Tunsil’s stepfather regarding potential NCAA violations involving Laremy,” the statement opened. “As we do with any allegation, we initiated an internal investigation last week and have offered the NCAA our full cooperation. We take the obligations to the NCAA and SEC very seriously, and we will continue to educate, monitor and enforce all applicable rules. Any other reports are speculation until the process is complete.”

Tunsil was arrested and charged for domestic violence after punching his stepfather, Lindsey Miller. Tunsil reportedly was acting in defense of his mother at the time. Tunsil and his mother pressed charges against Miller, at which time Miller let it be known his stepson had been riding around with agents. It was this that he claims started the discussion that turned violent. Once that became public, the NCAA got involved to see what they can find.

While most will praise Tunsil for defending his mother in a tense moment, his eligibility will eventually have to be analyzed. If he is found guilty by the NCAA and Ole Miss of associated with and accepting any kinds of benefits from agents then his eligibility will be put at risk, even if just for part of a game. So for now, let’s let the legal process play out on one end, and the NCAA and Ole Miss investigations play out on the other.

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Disturbing security video of FSU QB De’Andre Johnson (allegedly) punching woman surfaces

Florida State Spring Game

Any time a player is accused of punching someone in the face, it’s not a good look. It is particularly bad when that accusation has a female on the other end of it. And it only gets worse if video is available of said punch of woman. Florida State quarterback De’Andre Johnson is now captured on security video punching a female right in the face at a bar.

Johnson was suspended indefinitely after being charged with misdemeanor battery. Today The Tallahassee Democrat shared security camera footage of the incident that led to the charge, in which Johnson appears to have a verbal exchange with a woman at the bottom of the video feed before exchanging blows with her. Johnson’s punch, captured below, was the one that landed Johnson in jail and could potentially ruin a college football career before it ever truly gets started.

For now, the legal process is still playing out. Johnson turned himself into authorities and state attorney Willie Meggs stepped in to prosecute the case. Given the graphic detail of the video, it would be hard to imagine Johnson would have a great chance of playing football this fall, but that should be the least important part of this story for now.

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Utah suspends alleged knife-wielding Dominique Hatfield

Dominique Hatfield

Well, you probably saw this one coming. Utah has suspended defensive back Dominique Hatfield for an indefinite amount of time. Hatfield was arrested last week for alleged aggravated robbery, in which the Ute is accused of brandishing a knife and demanding money after luring the alleged victim to a location through an online sales pitch.

Because the incident in question happened just before the July 4th weekend, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utah staff have been unable to issue any comments or statements regarding the incident until today. Whittingham, in a released statement, stressed the violent nature of the accusations being the reason to issue the indefinite suspension for the potential starter.

Hatfield started 10 games at cornerback for Utah last season after making the transition to the defensive side of the football from wide receiver. Now it will be largely up to the legal process to determine his fate with the Utah program in 2015.

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Florida State taking 2016 spring game to Citrus Bowl in Orlando

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

In 2016, Florida State is taking its show on the road to Orlando. Twice. The Seminoles, already scheduled to open the 2016 season in Orlando against SEC foe Ole Miss, will get an early taste of the Citrus Bowl by taking the annual spring game on the road to Orlando. Florida State announced the spring game news Monday afternoon.

Florida State’s spring game in the Citrus Bowl will be played on April 9 at 5:00 p.m. The big reason for the relocation of the spring game is due to the renovation schedule on Doak Campbell Stadium.

“The short term construction challenges of building the Champions Club in Doak Campbell stadium have provided a unique opportunity for our 2016 spring football game,” said FSU Director of Athletics Stan Wilcox.  “We are pleased to offer our fans greater access to Florida State football at an exciting and refurbished venue in one of the best destinations cities in the world.  Moving the game to Orlando and partnering with Steve Hogan and his staff at Florida Citrus Sports will allow us to platform the game and Florida State athletics in exciting and unique new ways.”

Oh, it is also a nice little money-maker as well. Tickets will be sold for general admission seating at $5.00 per ticket. For the sake of comparison, admission to Florida State’s spring game was free this past spring. Florida State attracted a crowd of 17,250 to this year’s spring game. Weather kept many fans away, after drawing over 36,000 fans the previous spring.

Florida State last played in the Citrus Bowl Stadium in the 2011 Russell Athletic Bowl, defeating Notre Dame 18-14.

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