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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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Florida transfer Gerald Willis seeking ‘run-off’ waiver for immediate eligibility at Miami

South Carolina v Florida Getty Images

Yeah, good luck with that.

A month after it was confirmed he he would be “transferring” from Florida, Miami announced in February that Gerald Willis would be transferring into the Hurricanes football program.  Normally a player in Willis’ situation would be forced to sit out the 2015 season to satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws.

While that will very likely be the case with Willis, he’s giving immediate eligibility, Dorial Green-Beckham-style, the old college try.

In a conversation with CaneSport.com, Willis claims that he was actually dismissed by new UF head coach Jim McElwain.  The defensive lineman also confirmed that he has applied for a so-called “run-off” waiver with the NCAA.

From SBNation.com:

The “run-off” waiver is a little known provision of the NCAA handbook where a player can petition to be ruled immediately eligible if the NCAA finds that the player left their previous institution against their will, i.e. they were “run-off” from the program. Here are the requirements to apply for such a waiver, from athleticscholarships.net

  • Documentation demonstrating that the student-athlete would not have had the opportunity to return to the previous institution’s team for reasons outside the control of the student-athlete.
  • A written statement from the applicant institution that the student-athlete is in good academic standing and meets all progress-toward-degree requirements at applicant institution.
  • A written statement from the student-athlete’s previous institution indicating that the previous institution supports the request.

Willis’ self-proclaimed dismissal came after multiple physical run-ins with Gator teammates, so how he could argue that he could not return to the team for reasons outside of his control is head-scratching to say the least.  Additionally, as UF and The U are in-state rivals, it seems highly unlikely that the former would help the latter by writing a letter of support for Willis.

A decision on the waiver is expected at some point next month at the earliest.

Willis was a four-star member of the Gators’ 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 6 strongside defensive end in the country.  He played in five games as a true freshman last season.  Willis’ stay at UF was a brief one as, a couple of months after a verbal disagreement over a pair of cleats escalated into a physical altercation with a teammate, it was announced that Willis was leaving the program.

In addition to Miami, Willis told the Rivals.com website that Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M pursued him after he left UF.

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Hogs suspend Randy Ramsey as LB gets academic house in order

Corey Grant, Randy Ramsey

For the second time in six months, Randy Ramsey has some educational issues to clear up before moving forward.

Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema confirmed Monday that Ramsey has been suspended from the football program.  According to Bielema, the linebacker needs to clean things up academically, and needs to do it post-haste.

He has got to have some urgency in the classroom immediately,” Bielema said according to ESPN.com in explaining the suspension. “No off-the-field [legal issues], just got to get him going in the classroom because we invest a lot in them and we hope to have our biggest returns when they are sophomores, juniors and seniors and getting better.”

Ramsey didn’t travel to last October’s game against Texas A&M because of academic issues.

A three-star member of Bielema’s second Razorbacks recruiting class, Ramsey played in seven games as a true freshman last season. He started one of those contests, the Sept. 20 win over Northern Illinois.

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Jimbo to support Jameis draft night, serve as analyst next two days

Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston

Make room, David Shaw.  And, Jameis Winston, make room on your couch as well.

Earlier this month it was reported that Winston, expected to be selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the first-overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft, would not attend the Chicago festivities in person.  Instead, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner has decided to stay in his home state of Alabama to be close to his ailing grandmother, who is unable to travel due to health concerns.

According to tweet from a writer on Florida State’s official website, head coach Jimbo Fisher will be in Birmingham for the first round of the draft Thursday night, April 30, as well, offering support to a player who played a major role in FSU’s 2013 national championship.  After spending opening night with his former player, Fisher will then spend the next two days, Friday and Saturday, serving as a guest analyst on the NFL Network’s coverage of Rounds 2-7.

Fisher was also a part of the 2014 coverage of the draft, and acquitted himself quite well.

Shaw will serve as a guest analyst on the NFL Network as well.  The Stanford head coach will be the only college coach featured on the opening night of the draft.

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Pierre Ingram, Cal’s top recruiter, arrested for soliciting a hooker

Pierre Ingram

There has to be a recruiting/solicitation parallel in there somewhere, right?

Regardless, the latest individual to land on CFT’s “Days Without An Arrest” ticker is not a player but a coach, with Cal wide receivers coach Pierre Ingram arrested April 16 following a prostitution sting.  Ingram, who also holds the title of recruiting coordinator, was charged with misdemeanor solicitation of a lewd act.

The Contra Costa Times writes that Ingram “was arrested after he allegedly solicited an undercover officer online and then showed up at the Motel 6 on Embarcadero.”

There is no word from the school on what this does or doesn’t do to Ingram’s status with the football program moving forward, although an indefinite suspension will likely be the first order of business.

Ingram spent the past two seasons as the Bears’ running backs coach before moving over to receivers. He’s also widely considered the program’s top recruiter.

(Photo credit: Cal athletics)

UPDATED 5:24 p.m. ET: Cal has confirmed that Ingram has been placed on administrative leave, presumably paid, as they further assess the situation.  Ingram did not take part in Saturday’s spring game because of the incident.

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NIU suspends LB Rasheen Lemon after domestic battery arrest

Boca Raton Bowl AP

A mini-run of players diving headfirst into offseason legal issues continues, with Northern Illinois the latest program to take a hit.

The DeKalb Daily Chronicle is reporting that linebacker Rasheen Lemon has been arrested on a domestic battery charge. The charges stem from an incident that occurred April 12. No details of what led to the arrest have been released.

NIU officials learned of the situation late last week, and indefinitely suspended Lemon from the football program.

If the incident results in any type of game or games suspension, it would be a significant blow to the Huskies’ defense.

After starting two games in 2013, Lemon started every game in 2014 as a redshirt junior. Lemon was second on the team in tackles (90) and quarterback hurries (six), and tied for second in forced fumbles (two). He was also tied for fifth in sacks (2.5).

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Auburn does the expected, names Jeremy Johnson as starting QB

Arkansas v Auburn Getty Images

Earlier this month, Jeremy Johnson had yet to separate himself from the rest of the Auburn quarterback pack, even as he’s long been expected to be the successor to Nick Marshall.  Monday, the expected officially came to fruition.

Head coach Gus Malzahn took to Twitter Monday afternoon to announce, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Johnson has been named as the Tigers’ starting quarterback.  The anointing comes two days after Auburn’s spring game.

“Everyone in our program has 100 percent confidence in him!” Malzahn wrote in his tweet.

Johnson’s main competition had been redshirt freshman Sean White.  Jason Smith and Tyler Queen were also technically in the mix.

Last season as Marshall’s primary backup, Johnson completed 28-of-37 passes for 436 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. More than half of those pass attempts (21) came in the 2014 opener against Arkansas as Johnson started in place of Marshall, who was suspended following an offseason weed incident.

Johnson and Auburn will open the 2015 season Sept. 5 against Louisville in a neutral-site matchup in the Georgia Dome.

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Buckeyes title team feted by POTUS at White House event

Urban Meyer President Obama

As has been the case for at least a decade, winning a national championship has its presidential privileges.

Monday afternoon, Ohio State became the latest college sports team to be feted at the White House, with President Barack Obama hosting the Buckeyes three months after OSU claimed the first-ever College Football Playoff title.  OSU is actually the first college football team since Alabama in 2013 to visit 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as Florida State was unable to manage a trip to D.C. last year to celebrate the Seminoles’ 2013 title.

This visit marked Urban Meyer‘s third, with the first two coming while he was the head coach at Florida.  Meyer was hosted by George W. Bush following the Gators’ first title in 2006, then by Obama following the second one for the 2008 season.

As for this trip, the President hit on several notes surrounding the Buckeyes, mentioning defensive end Joey Bosa‘s now-famous shoulder shrug as well as his newly-shorn locks; thanked running back Ezekiel Elliott for tucking in his shirt, with the preseason Heisman contender asking the POTUS for a little help with the recent rule change on crop-top jerseys; referred to Michigan as “a certain team up North;” and made mention of title-winning quarterback Cardale Jones‘ “12-gauge” nickname.

Wisely, the President didn’t wade into who should start at quarterback for the Buckeyes this upcoming season.  One member of the Buckeyes, though, did have a little fun at the POTUS’ expense.

The President was given a game ball and jersey by the football program.  He was also introduced to a pair of Buckeye legends, Cris Carter and the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.

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WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez takes to Twitter to announce A&M transfer

LaQuvionte Gonzalez, Ross Cockrell

In Texas A&M’s Class of 2013, seven wide receivers were signed.  With this latest development, as SBNation.com notes, that seven has been whittled down to two.

On his Twitter account Monday afternoon, LaQuvionte Gonzalez announced that he has decided to transfer out of the A&M football program.  No reason was given for Gonzalez’s departure, which comes a week or so following the end of spring practice.

A four-star member of A&M’s 2013 recruiting class, Gonzalez was rated as the No. 30 player at any position in the state of Texas and the No. 234 player overall by Rivals.com.

As a true freshman in 2013, Gonzalez was fifth on the team with 21 receptions and 240 receiving yards.  His production took a precipitous drop in 2014, however, as he finished with just five receptions for 77 yards.

Ricky Seals-Jones and Jeremy Tabuyo are the only 2013 receivers still with the Aggies. That said, A&M is still loaded with talent at the position, mitigating all of those personnel losses.

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Ex-Utah State QB won’t be permitted to transfer to UW Huskies

Utah State v UNLV Getty Images

We don’t know yet to where Darell Garretson will be transferring.  We do, though, know one place where he won’t be.

ESPN.com‘s Joe Schad tweeted that the former Utah State quarterback will be unable to transfer to Washington.  Garretson had apparently expressed a desire in the Huskies, but because UW is a future USU opponent — the two teams will play in 2015 — the quarterback wasn’t given a release to that program.

As to where Garretson might end up, it was reported earlier this month that Oregon State is a very realistic possibility.  Part of the draw for Garretson to the Beavers is that his former Aggies offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Kevin McGivens, is now the quarterbacks coach at OSU.

Schad also noted that the West Coast OSU is a possibility.

After starting seven games as a freshman in 2013, Garretson played in just five games in 2014 before suffering a season-ending wrist injury.  It was announced late last month that he was transferring out of USU.

Garretson will be forced to sit out the 2015 season if he ends up at another FBS program.  Beginning in 2016, he would then have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

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Georgia Tech, UCF announce future home-and-home series

Bitcoin St Petersburg Bowl - North Carolina State v Central Florida

George O’Leary‘s former team and his current one have agreed to meet on the gridiron a little further down the road, Georgia Tech and UCF announced Monday afternoon.

The Yellow Jackets will travel to Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 16, 2017, and will then host the Knights on Sept. 19, 2020. The 2017 game will mark Tech’s first regular season non-conference game in the state of Florida since Sept. 19, 1981, a 27-6 loss to Florida in Gainesville.

Tech and UCF have met three times previously, the first coming in 1996 and the last in 2000. All three of those games, played at Bobby Dodd Stadium, were won by the Yellow Jackets.

O’Leary has been the head coach at UCF since 2004. Prior to that, he served as Tech’s head coach from 1994-2001.

With the addition of Tech, UCF continues to bolster its future schedules, with previously announced series including Stanford (2015,2019), Michigan (2016), Maryland (2016, 2017) and Texas (2017). Tech had previously announced a future home-and-home with UCF’s in-state rival USF (2021, 2022), and now has games scheduled every year from 2017-22.

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Judge sides with Notre Dame in ESPN’s open-records lawsuit

Touchdown Jesus AP

In mid-January, ESPN filed a lawsuit against the University of Notre Dame contending that the school was withholding police documents involving alleged campus crimes committed by unnamed student-athletes, which would be a violation of Indiana’s open records laws.  Three months later, a judge has disagreed.

Monday, the South Bend Tribune writes, “[a] St. Joseph County judge ruled… that the University of Notre Dame isn’t required to give ESPN campus police department records because it’s not a public agency under state law.” While the judge sided with the private institution, he did so with some hesitancy and trepidation.

From the Tribune‘s report:

Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler said he shared the Indiana public access counselor’s “discomfort” with the notion that a private party can exercise police powers without sharing records related to that power with the public, but that’s simply how the state’s Access to Public Records Act is written and has been interpreted.

Furthermore, the judge wrote in his 11-page ruling that “[t]his court will not strain the language of the statute in order to do what the Legislature has not, even though there are indeed persuasive reasons why the statute should be amended to read the way ESPN desires.”

ESPN had filed an open-records request with the university in November. An Indianapolis attorney representing ESPN told the Tribune he’s uncertain if an appeal of the ruling will be filed.

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Hoosier DL Ralph Green III arrested on battery charge

Ralph Green III, Nate Hoff, Jake Rudock AP

Well, so much for all of the feel-good in the post directly below this one.

According to the Bloomington Herald-Times, Indiana defensive lineman Ralph Green III (pictured, No. 93) was arrested very early Sunday morning following an off-campus incident.  Green was charged by Bloomington police officers with a trio of misdemeanors: battery, public intoxication and disorderly conduct.

As for what led to the arrest and charges…

Bloomington Police Department responded to a disturbance at the residence on North Lincoln and found Green struck the victim in the face, causing a complaint of pain, according to a preliminary police report.

IU has yet to comment publicly on the situation.

Green started nine of the 12 games in which he played as a redshirt freshman in 2013.  He played in 11 games (no starts) this past season, and is expected to be a significant part of the Hoosiers’ line rotation in 2015.

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Blind fan who inspired USC could play in a game for Trojans

Pete Carroll Jake Olson

If you can’t hardly stomach all of the off-field issues surrounding the game of college football, this may be the elixir you’ve been looking for.

A few years back, the Pete Carroll-led USC Trojans football team essentially adopted Jake Olson, a teenage fan suffering from cancer of the retina in his right eye (he lost his left eye when he was less than one year old).  It was subsequently determined that Olson would need the right eye removed; on his final day of sight prior to the surgery that would leave him blind for the rest of his life, he chose to attend a Trojans football practice.

Fast-forward roughly five years, and Olson is now an 18-year-old young man who became a long-snapper for his high school football team and is about to embark on his journey as a college student — at USC, of course.

Olson, the Los Angeles Times writes, “is a recipient of a Swim With Mike scholarship, awarded annually from the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship fund.” While he’s not a part of the Trojans’ incoming recruiting class, it appears that he will have part of his favorite team as a walk-on.

From the Times‘ report:

Olson, 18, was introduced as a Swim With Mike scholarship winner in February during an event where video highlights of incoming football players were shown to Trojans fans. He would join the program as a walk-on.

Olson said he was “stoked” to be headed to USC, which also accepted his sister.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said.

For Steve Sarkisian, it’s a matter of when, not if, Olson takes the field in a real football game.

“Someday, he’s going to snap in a game for us,” the head coach said. “When? I don’t know. But it will happen.

“When that day comes, it will be awesome.”

“I can’t even fathom what an extraordinary thing that would be,” Carroll said when asked about Olson playing in a game for his former program, with Olson, when the subject of preferential treatment came up, adding, “[I] just [want] the opportunity to prove myself like anyone else.”

Bravo to Olson, Sarkisian, Carroll and the entire USC program. That is going to be one special day when the young man takes the field for the first time.

(Photo credit: openyoureyes.org)

 

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After position switch, Wyoming QB Austin Fort to transfer

Craig Bohl

In revealing a few days ago that former Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman was sitting atop his depth chart, Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl confirmed that 6-4, 218-pound Austin Fort would be moving from that position to tight end.

Less than a week later, the player is moving on entirely.

This weekend, Bohl confirmed that Fort has decided to transfer out of the Cowboys football program and continue his playing career elsewhere.  According to Bohl, Fort’s decision to transfer was triggered by his desire to play quarterback at the collegiate level.

The coach also confirmed that Fort will likely move on to the JUCO level initially.  If Fort had decided to transfer to another FBS program, he would’ve been ineligible to play immediately in 2015.

Fort was a two-star member of Wyoming’s 2014 recruiting class.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

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Nevada OL coach Ron Hudson out for spring after heart surgery

Ron Hudson

We noted last week that Marshall defensive tackles coach J.C. Price recently underwent corrective heart surgery.  As it turns out, Price isn’t the only FBS assistant dealing with an issue involving the very essential organ.

In a story posted to the Reno Gazette Journal‘s website, writer Chris Murray details how, seven weeks ago, Nevada offensive line coach Ron Hudson underwent open-heart surgery to repair damage that was initially discovered during an emergency room visit last May.

From the report:

But after he started to develop symptoms — light-headedness and fatigue the biggest indicators — he finally went to the ER. After a battery of tests, it was determined he had atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating. It would first be treated with medication. That helped, but it didn’t fix the issue. So, once Nevada’s season ended, he’d get an ablation.

That’s a fairly routine, although invasive, surgery in which abnormal heart tissue is melted away. Hudson went in for that surgery Feb. 25. It would be a 45-minute procedure and he’d be good to go.

“I went into the hospital, they put me to sleep and I woke up and said, ‘How did it go?'” Hudson said. “They said, ‘We didn’t do it.’ I said, ‘Why not?’ The doctor said, ‘We found a blood clot in your heart.'”

Open-heart surgery was performed the very next day, likely saving his life or, at the very least, prevented him from suffering a debilitating stroke.

“We’re incredibly lucky that he’s healthy,” head coach Brian Polian said. “That was an awfully scary deal.”

Per doctor’s orders, Hudson, who is in his third season with the Wolf Pack, is not permitted to coach this spring. He should be back on the sidelines beginning in summer camp this August.

What he’s gone through, however, has given the entire staff a new outlook on their professional and personal lives.

“”It puts things into perspective very quickly,” Polian said. “The fans and everybody, I don’t think they understand the level of commitment the coaches and players give. People tell you it’s not life or death, but we take this very seriously. When you see something like that, you take a step back and remember what’s really important. Obviously, being a husband and father is the most important thing for him.”

(Photo credit: Nevada athletics)

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