Skip to content

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

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

I have some good news and bad news for you, Tide Nation.

The good? In the 2011 edition of CFT’s preseason Top 25, I predicted the Tide would rise again and claim its second BCS title under Nick Saban; five months later, Alabama did just that. The bad? More times than not, my preseason prognostications are historically and prodigiously horrendous… and that doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

In 2009, 2010 and 2012, Oklahoma, Florida and USC, respectively, ranked as CFT’s preseason No. 1. Five losses later for the Sooners and Gators, and six for the Trojans, none of those three finished the season ranked in either the final Associated Press or coaches’ poll. The eventual BCS champions those seasons — Alabama (2012), Auburn (2010) and Alabama again (2009) — were ranked No. 3, No. 15 and No. 19 by CFT in the preseason.

So, will 2013 be CFT’s Nostradumbass norm for the Tide, or will the 2011 exception take hold? Or, will the Tide fall somewhere in between? More than anyone else, and based on my track record, I don’t have a clue; that’s why they play the games, as the saying goes.

And that’s why, for better or worse and for posterity’s sake, the complete 2013 edition of CFT’s fifth-annual preseason Top 25 appears after the jump.  By conference, you’ll find six teams from the SEC — all in the Top 12 — five from the Big 12, four each from the Big Ten and Pac-12, three from the ACC and one apiece from the AAC, MWC and Independents.

I’d ask y’all to be some semblance of kind and/or gentle in the comments section, but there’s really no point…

1. Alabama
2012 record: 13-1 (won BCS title game, won SEC championship game)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 1 (coaches’ poll); No. 1 (Associated Press)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 1 (coaches’ poll); No. 1 (AP)

The Tide returns 13 starters from last year’s back-to-back BCS title squad, which the esteemed Phil Steele says is the team’s second-highest number of returnees since 2007. That’s all well and good, but Alabama’s 2013 season can be narrowed down to two titanic matchups: at Texas A&M Sept. 14 in an attempt to avenge their lone loss in 2012, and Nov. 9 vs. LSU in Tuscaloosa. Win both, and the Tide is on the fast track to an SEC title-game appearance and a shot at an unprecedented third-straight BCS title and four in five years. As they proved the past two seasons, though, even one loss in conference play won’t derail their title hopes. This team may not have the star power of the other title-winning Tide teams, but it has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best, of the Nick Saban era.

Ohio State Introduces Urban Meyer2. Ohio State
2012 record: 12-0 (no bowl game due to NCAA sanctions)
Final 2012 rankings: ineligible (coaches’); No. 3 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 2 (coaches’ poll); No. 2 (AP)

We could talk about returning starters (nine offense, four defense) or that one starter from each side of the ball will be suspended for various lengths of time to begin the season (starting running back Carlos Hyde for three, All-American cornerback Bradley Roby for at least one), but the reality is that the Buckeyes’ season can be summed up in one word: schedule. As in “pastry-soft schedule.” Their non-conference slate consists of Buffalo, San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M, with just one of those (the Golden Bears) on the road; the Aztecs at 9-4 were the only one of the four that won at least four games in 2012. Just three teams on their 2013 schedule (Michigan, No. 17; Northwestern, No. 22; Wisconsin, No. 23) are currently ranked in the AP Top 25. In fact, OSU will likely be favored in every single game this season, and will be expected by many to carry a 23-game winning streak into The Game, to be played this season in Ann Arbor. Look out for the Oct. 5 trip to Evanston, though; that game has “trap” written all over it.

3. Stanford
2012 record: 12-2 (won Pac-12 championship, won Rose Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings No. 6 (coaches’); No. 7 (AP):
2013 preseason rankings: No. 4 (coaches’); No. 4 (AP)

Entering his third season at Stanford, David Shaw has done nothing but build upon and, in some cases, improve the foundation laid by Jim Harbaugh. With 23 wins in two years on The Farm, Shaw has helped push expectations to the point where anything less than 10 wins would be considered a down season for the Cardinal. With one of the top defenses in the country and a more-experienced Kevin Hogan under center — and drawing four of their toughest on-paper games at home (Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon and Notre Dame) — Stanford should once again hit that mark and be in the BCS title mix. Replacing Stepfan Taylor would normally be a cause for concern, but possessing an offensive line that’s annually one of the best in the country will make even a by-committee approach a successful tack for the running game.

4. Louisville
2012 record: 11-2 (Big East champion, won Sugar Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 13 (coaches’); No. 13 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 9 (coaches’); No. 9 (AP)

Last year at this time, I was writing that I had the feeling, ala Auburn in 2010, that I was rating Louisville too low when I pegged them as the No. 24 team in CFT’s preseason Top 25. That won’t happen again this year. Not after watching the Cardinals roll through an 11-win season in Charlie Strong’s second year that included a route of SEC East runnerup Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Not armed with the knowledge that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, not Jadeveon Clowney, could very well be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. And definitely not after factoring in the combination of returning starters (six offense, 10 defense) and a schedule that includes exactly zero teams currently ranked in either of the two major polls. Talent-wise, the Cardinals might not be the No. 4 team in the country at the moment; given the experienced talent they do possess plus their current placement in the rebuilt and evolving American Athletic Conference — they’ll move to the ACC in 2014 — there’s no reason, other than inexplicably stubbing their toes against the likes of Rutgers of UCF or (shudder) Kentucky, Louisville can’t and won’t head into the 2013 postseason carrying an unblemished record.

5. Georgia
2012 record: 12-2 (lost SEC championship game, won Capital One bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 4 (coaches’); No. 5 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 5 (coaches’); No. 5 (AP)

In its attempt to get back to a third consecutive SEC championship game, Georgia has several challenges awaiting them. The Bulldogs’ first two SEC games are against top-12 teams, No. 6 South Carolina and No. 12 LSU. Fortunately for UGA both of those games are at home, although a season opener against No. 8 Clemson that should play a role in the BCS race is on the road. A defensive unit that was above-average in most categories nationally last year returns just three starters, and, especially in the secondary, has been bitten by the injury/suspension bug. The offense, on the other hand, returns nine starters from a unit that was one of the most explosive in the SEC. After that brutal opening gauntlet against ranked opponents, the Bulldogs’ schedule softens a bit and becomes much more manageable over the remainder of the year. In other words, by the end of September, we’ll know what if any type of presence the Bulldogs will have on the national stage at season’s end.

6. Oregon
2012 record: 12-1 (T-1st Pac-12 North, won Fiesta Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No 2 (coaches’); No. 2 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 3 (coaches’); No. 3 (AP)

What I think is that Mark Helfrich is going to be a very, very good head football coach at the FBS level. What I know is that, if Chip Kelly hadn’t bolted Eugene for the NFL in the offseason, the Ducks would be sitting closer to No 1 than they are right now given the amount of talent returning this year. And that’s no slight to Helfrich; rather, that’s a show of respect for the absolute machine Kelly built in the Northwest section of the collegiate football landscape. That said, it would not surprise at all if Helfrich pulled a Shaw: take over for an NFL-bound coach at a Pac-12 school and the program not skip a beat. Speaking of which, UO’s conference season and national title hopes could, for the second straight year, come down to one game. On Nov. 7, the Ducks will travel to Stanford on a Thursday night looking to avenge its only loss of the 2012 season, a 17-14 overtime heartbreaker to the Cardinal in Eugene. However, when you can bring the likes of Marcus Mariota, DeAnthony Thomas et al, you have to like your chances, whether it’s at home or on the road. And whether you’re replacing the man who took the program to the next level.

7. ClemsonChick Fil A Bowl Football
2012 record: 11-2 (t-1st, ACC Atlantic, won Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 9 (coaches’); No. 11 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 8 (coaches’); No. 8 (AP)

Open against No. 5 Georgia and close against No. 6 South Carolina, with a conference matchup against No. 11 Florida State thrown in the middle for good measure that could again determine the Atlantic’s representative in the ACC title game? A good numbers omen for the Tigers is that they have made the ACC title game in odd-numbered years under Dabo Sweeney; with this being 2013, and with the Seminoles visiting the East Coast version of Death Valley, that bodes well. Well, that and the presence of Tajh Boyd under center, a plethora of weapons at his disposal and a defense that’s improved exponentially since the bowl embarrassment against West Virginia to end the 2011 season. Whether Clemson can take that next step remains to be seen, especially with that trio of games littered throughout the season. This might, though, be Swinney’s best chance to get Clemson its first national championship in over three decades.

8. LSU
2012 record: 10-3 (T-2nd SEC West, lost Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 12 (coaches’); No. 14 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 13 (coaches’); No. 12 (AP)

Remember how I said earlier that there are times when I feel like I’m underrating a particular team? There are also times when the opposite is true — and this is one of those times. While LSU does return a respectable 10 starters from the double-digit-win team of a year ago, they were also hit hard by early departures for the NFL as a whopping 10 players with eligibility remaining left the program. Normally the strength of the team in both talent and experience, the Tigers will be forced to replace eight defensive starters. including all four defensive linemen and two of three linebackers. While the defense readjusts — notice I didn’t say rebuild — the offense and its eight returning starters, led by Zach Mettenberger, may have to shoulder a bit more of the responsibility than it’s been accustomed to. Fortunately, after the opener against No. 20 TCU, the Tigers get a bit of a scheduling breather before facing Georgia in late September which will allow the defense to grow for a stretch run that includes games against Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Texas A&M.

9. Texas A&M
2012 record: 11-2 (T-2nd SEC West, won Cotton Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 5 (coaches’); T-No. 5 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 6 (coaches’); No. 7 (AP)

After a normal offseason coming off such a smashing debut in the SEC in 2012, A&M would seemingly be comfortably slotted inside the Top Five of most if not all preseason polls. Of course, it was no normal offseason; we won’t rehash everything, or even anything, involving star quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, but suffice to say a cloud of NCAA uncertainty still hangs over College Station just days before the start of a new season. If Manziel can maintain his eligibility… if the Aggies can pull off a repeat in their rematch with Alabama the third weekend of the season… if both of those things happen, the sky appears to be the limit for A&M’s SEC encore. That may be easier said than done, especially when it comes to the Tide, who have had an entire offseason to adjust to what Manziel and Kevin Sumlin’s offense brings to the conference table.

10. Oklahoma State
2012 record: 10-2 (T-3rd Big 12, won Heart of Dallas Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings:  unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: No. 14 (coaches’); No. 13 (AP)

With the quarterback position unsettled — Mike Gundy will head into the opener without a starter in name among Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh — I may be inflating the value of the Cowboys’ 2013 stock. But, with 15 returning starters and a favorable schedule that hands the Cowboys Baylor, TCU and in-state rival Oklahoma in Stillwater, the table is set for OSU to claim the Big 12’s BCS berth in the final year of the current system. The quarterback situation, though, bears watching; if Gundy hopes to get the Cowboys back to the top of the conference, either Chelf or Walsh needs to grab hold of the job sooner rather later. And preferably before the Oct. 19 game against the Horned Frogs.

11. South Carolina
2012 record: 11-2 (Third SEC East, won Outback Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 7 (coaches’); No. 8 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 7 (coaches’); No. 6 (AP)

South Carolina doesn’t need Mike Davis, the newly-minted starting running back, to be the next Marcus Lattimore; it needs the combination of Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson to improve their production in the passing game to the point where the field opens up and it seems like there are a whole bunch of Lattimores running around. The Gamecocks’ passing game has ranked 57th (2012) and 95th (2011) nationally the past two years, and hasn’t finished better than 44th (2010) the past five years. Either Shaw, entering his third season as the starter, or Thompson must take their play to the next level in order to break their SEC divisional title drought. There’s only so much that preseason Heisman contender Jadeveon Clowney and a defensive unit ranked in the top-13 nationally in total and scoring defense can do without a little help from the other side of the ball. And they’d better do it quick as they travel to Athens the second weekend of the season in a conference game that will set the tone for the year.

Jeff Driskel12. Florida
2012 record: 11-2 (T-1st SEC East, lost Sugar Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 10 (coaches’); No. 9 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 10 (coaches’); No. 10 (AP)

Florida has the running game, the defense and the special teams — save for replacing Caleb Sturgis — to be an elite team. Much like their SEC rival Gamecocks, though, there are question marks surrounding the passing game. Enter Jeff Driskel, the quarterback who Gator coaches have publicly and privately raved about throughout the offseason, praising the strides he’s made in becoming a more complete passer. An expected jump in performance by Driskel could portend well for the Gators’ fortunes, especially with road games against LSU, Georgia and South Carolina on tap in the conference and Miami out of conference. Or that daunting scheduling gauntlet could doom UF’s season. One of the two.

13. TCU
2012 record: 7-6 (T-5th Big 12, lost in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: No. 20 (coaches’); No. 20 (AP)

TCU easily carries the worst 2012 record out of any team I’ve ranked thus far, so this might be going out on a limb a bit placing the Horned Frogs inside the Top 15 — but it’s not exactly a thin one. TCU returns 16 starters, including Casey Pachall. While Gary Patterson has yet to commit to the rehabbed quarterback as his starter, Pachall is expected to be under center when the season opens against LSU. Over the past two seasons, Pachall is 15-2 as a starter; in games that Pachall doesn’t start, the Horned Frogs are 3-6. Coincidence or not, TCU is a better team with Pachall in charge of the offense. Add the senior’s return to a defense that returned to expected levels in 2012, and TCU should be in solid shape to contend for its first Big 12 title in its second season in the conference.

14. Florida State
2012 record: 12-2 (ACC champion, Orange Bowl winner)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 8 (coaches’); No. 10 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 12 (coaches’); No 11 (AP)

As the loquacious George W. Bush once oh-so-eloquently stated, “Fool me once, shame on me; fool me… you can’t get fooled again.” Such is my feeling in regards to Florida State. Each of the past three seasons I’ve proclaimed FSU to be “back,” only to be let down to one degree or another. Yes, the 12-win season last year was the program’s best since 1999, but the inexplicable midseason misstep against North Carolina State effectively crushed a season that began with such promise, especially after the win over Clemson two weeks before. In addition to replacing half the starting 22 — including the underrated and undervalued EJ Manuel at quarterback — Jimbo Fisher was forced to replace two-thirds of his coaching staff throughout the offseason. While that seems like a lot to overcome in one offseason, the talent is still there and Fisher is a helluva football coach. Just don’t expect me to proclaim “they’re back” again until after they actually are.

15. Michigan
2012 record: 8-5 (2nd Big Ten Legends, lost Outback Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked (coaches’); No. 24 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 17 (coaches’); No. 17 (AP)

Devin Gardner with half of a season under his belt, ready to become even more of a passer already than Denard Robinson ever was? Check. A top-20 defense that returns a sizable chunk of its productivity? Check. A schedule that gives them Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State in Ann Arbor? Check. A shot at its first Big Ten title in nearly a decade? Hold that check. Certainly there’s a shot — even a good one — but inexperience along the interior of the offensive line, replacing a couple of key defensive starters — linebacker Jake Ryan should be back no later than mid-October from a torn ACL — and depth at wide receiver could prove problematic, at least for the short-term. Again, the schedule is favorable, but road trips to Michigan State and Northwestern in November bear watching.

16. Notre Dame
2012 record: 12-1 (lost in BCS title game)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 3 (coaches’); No. 4 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 11 (coaches’); No. 14 (AP)

Prior to May 25 of this year, Notre Dame appeared primed for a return to the Top Ten of the polls — at least — coming off its BCS title game appearance. They had eight starters from a top-ten defense coming back, and six starters returning from an offense that had shown steady improvement. After May 25, the number on the latter side dipped to five as starting quarterback Everett Golson left school due to “poor academic choices,” casting a pall over the Irish’s prospects for the 2013 season. The good news at the position is that there’s an experienced hand to take over, with Tommy Rees expected to take back over the starting job — he was named the starter in June — and hold on to it as long as he can take better care of the football. Making the task all the more daunting is a schedule that includes Michigan and Stanford on the road and Oklahoma, BYU and USC at home. Based on everything, another 10-win season would be a positive for the Golden Domers.

17. Boise StateColorado State v Boise State
2012 record: 11-2 (T-1st MWC, won Las Vegas Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 14 (coaches’); No. 18 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 19 (coaches’); No. 19 (AP)

Seven straight seasons, and in 10 of the last 11, Boise State has reached double digits in wins. Thanks to an ever-improving Mountain West Conference — yes, that’s actually happening — and a solid non-conference schedule, the Broncos streak of 10-plus wins could face a very stiff test. On paper, BSU’s toughest conference games this season will come against Fresno State, Utah State and San Diego State, and all three of those will be on the road. Additionally, the Broncos have to travel to Washington in the season opener and then to BYU in late October in non-conference action. While it’s not exactly an SEC-level meatgrinder, that’s actually a very, very solid slate and will prove to be a good test for Joe Southwick, with a season of starting under his belt, and a young but talented defensive unit. If the Broncos get back to a BCS bowl this year, there should be no wailing and gnashing of teeth as the Lil’ Program That Could will have earned it.

18. Oklahoma
2012 record: 10-3 (T-1st Big 12, lost Cotton Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 15 (coaches’); No. 15 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 16 (coaches’); No. 16 (AP)

Expected by some (most) to go with the Belldozer as Landry Jones’ replacement, Bob Stoops stunned some (most) by opting for redshirt freshman Trevor Knight as his starting quarterback over Blake Bell — and that decision could leave OU vastly underrated heading into the 2013 season. By all accounts, Knight is every bit the factor in the running game as Bell, and already twice the passer even as he has never attempted a pass at the collegiate level. With a veteran offense behind him that returns seven starters — including four offensive linemen — Knight will have plenty of support in his first season as a starter. Defense is another story, however, as the Sooners return just four starters from last year’s 10-win team. The schedule is a challenge, too, with trips to Notre Dame, Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State in the offing for Knight, although the latter three won’t come until after the eighth game of the season.

19. UCLA
2012 record: 9-5 (won Pac-12 South, lost Holiday Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: No. 21 (coaches’); No. 21 (AP)

The loss of all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin can be somewhat minimized by the combination of a bevy of talented — but inexperienced — running backs as well the continued improvement of Brett Hundley, who in his first year as a starter quickly became one of the best young quarterbacks in the college game. What can’t be minimized is an absolutely brutal conference schedule: at Stanford and Oregon in back-to-back weeks in October, then at USC to close out the season. Mix in a non-conference road game against Nebraska the second weekend of September, and the Bruins path back to the Pac-12 championship game, let alone the periphery of BCS title talk, is rife with landmines.

20. Baylor
2012 record: 8-5 (T-5th Big 12, won Holiday Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: unranked in both polls

Call this one a hunch. All Baylor did was win five of their last six games last season over the likes of, among others, No. 1 Kansas State, No. 23 Oklahoma State and No. 17 UCLA. Its only loss in that span was by eight points on the road against No. 12 Oklahoma. The Bears will return 12 starters, although Bryce Petty will be in his first season as a starting quarterback as he attempts to replace Nick Florence, who quietly did an outstanding job replacing Robert Griffin III. Given Art Briles’ track record with players at that position, and with the presence of Heisman sleeper Lache Seastrunk in the backfield, that should be the least of the Bears’ worries. After giving up over 800 yards and 70 points to West Virginia early on in 2012, and relative to the rest of the Big 12, the Bears’ defense actually showed improvement as the season wore on. If that improvement continues, the Bears could and should be a factor in the Big 12 race through November.

21. Nebraska
2012 record: 10-4 (lost Big Ten championship game, lost Capital One Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 23 (coaches’); No. 25 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 18 (coaches’); No. 18 (AP)

Losses by a combined 53 points in its last two games took some of the luster off of what was arguably Nebraska’s best and most complete team under Bo Pelini. Still, with eight starters, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, returning, the offensive side of the ball should be no cause for worry. A defense that brings back just four starters from last year’s unit, however, is. The fact that the Cornhuskers’ toughest road game is at Michigan in early November — and that they avoid both Ohio State and Wisconsin (accounted for two of their losses in 2012) — bodes well for the ‘Huskers finally getting over the hump and winning its first Big Ten championship. If they can get past the B1G’s Big Two, of course.

22. Arizona State
2012 record: 8-5 (T-2nd Pac-12 South, won Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: unranked in both polls
2013 preseason rankings: unranked in both polls

Todd Graham is building something for the long haul in the desert, provided he’s in the desert for the long haul of course. The Sun Devils return their starting quarterback, two top running backs and eight starters from a defense that finished second in the Pac-12 and 14th nationally in scoring. The offensive line, despite the loss of two starters, has the chance to be one of the top units in the conference. The depth and experience at wide receiver is a concern, as is a schedule that includes conference road games against Stanford and UCLA and nonconference matchups with Wisconsin and Notre Dame. In the end, though, No. 22 may be too low of a start for the Sun Devils.

Mack Brown23. Texas
2012 record: 9-4 (T-3rd Big 12, won Alamo Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 18 (coaches’); No. 19 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 15 (coaches’); No. 15 (AP)

And now we come to the portion of the rankings program where I get the most vitriol tossed in my general direction. Sorry, I’m not buying it. Not yet. Yes, Texas returns a whopping 19 starters, easily the most in the Big 12 and one of the top totals at the FBS level. Yes, David Ash may be the best quarterback in the conference (which may say more about the Big 12 than Ash). Yes, there’s the sense that, with all of the talent UT possesses, the Longhorns are primed for a return to the national stage for the first time since 2009. That’s the thing, though. There’s always talent in Austin thanks to top recruiting classes year-in and year-out. Translating that on-paper talent into on-field success has been the problem over the past three seasons. Until Mack Brown and his coaching staff can turn those clippings into winnings, I’m officially from Missouri when it comes to the Longhorns.

24. Miami
2012 record: 7-5 (T1st ACC Coastal, ineligible for postseason)
Final 2012 rankings: ineligible (coaches’); unranked (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: unranked in both polls

Self-imposed sanctions kept Miami from an ACC title game date with Florida State in 2012, but that won’t be an issue this year. And neither will the competition in the Coastal, which continues to languish behind the upper-echelon of the Atlantic talent-wise. With Virginia Tech racked with injuries and a shell of its former 10-wins-annually self, North Carolina and Georgia Tech looks to be the Hurricanes’ only significant competition in the division. While the ‘Canes will be forced to travel to Chapel Hill in a game that could very well decide the division’s representative in the conference title game, they get the Yellow Jackets at home. The fact that they return 18 starters — tied with Boston College for the ACC’s most — sends all signs pointing to The U appearing in their first-ever ACC Championship game.

25. Northwestern
2012 record: 10-3 (3rd Big Ten Legends, won Gator Bowl)
Final 2012 rankings: No. 16 (coaches’); No. 17 (AP)
2013 preseason rankings: No. 22 (coaches’); No. 22 (AP)

Yes, the nerds make it into CFT’s Top 25 ahead of, among others, defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin… and for good reason. By all accounts, this is Pat Fitzgerald’s most talented team in his seven years in Evanston, with 15 starters coming back from last year’s 10-win squad — the program’s first double-digit win total since 1995. Fitzgerald’s biggest problems might be, one, expectations (with Fitz, complacency won’t be an issue) and, two, the schedule. After avoiding Ohio State and Wisconsin last year, the Wildcats get them both (Buckeyes at home, Bucky in Madison) as well as a road trip to Nebraska. Conversely, NU drew both Michigan and Michigan State at home. While one wouldn’t expect a repeat of the 10-win season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if/when it happens.

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

Seeing writing on QB wall, SDSU’s Nick Bawden shifting to FB

Bawden

After the first couple of spring practice earlier this year, Nick Bawden was third in San Diego State’s quarterback pecking order.  Exiting spring, he was at least fourth.

Now, as the Aztecs are about to embark on the start of summer camp, Bawden is off the quarterback depth chart completely.

Head coach Rocky Long confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that, following the conclusion of spring practice, he gave Bawden a choice: switch positions or transfer somewhere else if he wanted to continue playing quarterback.  The 6-3, 220-pound Bawden decided to take one for his current team and agreed to move to fullback/H-back moving forward.

While Long’s not really certain about the fullback part of the equation, he praised Bawden for his selflessness in making the move.

“There are very few of those guys left,” Long told the Union-Tribune. “You appreciate those guys. I don’t know if he can play fullback. He’s a good athlete; he weighs 230 (officially, 220) pounds. Just the attitude … ‘I want to be on this team. Tell me where I can play and I’ll do the best I can.’ That’s great stuff.”

Bawden began the spring behind Kentucky graduate transfer Maxwell Smith and Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues. He left behind those two as well freshman Christian Chapman.

As a true freshman last season, Bawden started two games in place of the injured Quinn Kaehler.  In those two games — one win, one loss — he completed 13 of 37 passes for 147 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  He also ran the ball 11 times for 43 yards.

Permalink 1 Comment Back to top

UCF wants DB recovering from gunshot wounds to sit this season

Tulsa v Central Florida

If George O’Leary gets his way, Chris Williams won’t see the playing field this coming season.

Earlier this month, Williams was shot twice the arm at a bar near the UF campus.  While the injuries weren’t life-threatening, the recovery time is sufficient that O’Leary wants to see the defensive back sit this one out — athletically and academically — instead of missing a month or more of the 2015 season.

“With that injury alone, [it] was a eight- to-10 week injury, so I would say, again, I’m leaning more toward medical withdrawal to stop his eligibility so he doesn’t have this year count and bring him back in January,” O’Leary said regarding Williams’ status. “The police are involved with what took place there, so it’s really their response, not mine as far as what transpired.”

Williams spent last season as a member of UCF’s scout team, using a redshirt year as a true freshman. In UCF’s spring game, Williams recorded 10 tackles and an interception, which was returned for 52 yards. Based on that performance, and the fact that the Knights are replacing all four secondary starters, Williams was being looked upon a likely starter.

Additionally, O’Leary acknowledged that wide receiver Taylor Oldham likely won’t return until October after sustaining a significant ankle injury during the spring. Oldham caught three passes for 35 yards as a redshirt sophomore in 2014, but, like Williams, was expected to be more of a contributor due to attrition at the position.

Permalink 1 Comment Back to top

Dismissed Auburn DE Elijah Daniel won’t play for Bo Pelini after all

South Carolina v Auburn

Back in mid-June, it was reported with 100-percent certainty that Elijah Daniel would be continuing his collegiate playing career for Bo Pelini at Youngstown State.  Monday, the first-year YSU coached said the odds of Daniel playing for the Penguins were “50-50.”

One day later, those odds were “0-100.”

Murray State announced in a press release that Daniel will attempt to revive his career Mitch Stewart‘s squad.  Because the Racers play at the FCS level, the defensive lineman will be eligible to play immediately in 2015 and have two years of eligibility remaining.

Daniel was dismissed by Auburn in early may following his late-April arrest on four counts each of theft of property and four counts of burglary.  One of the victims of the alleged crimes is current AU wide receiver Stanton Truitt.

According to Stewart, he’s being given his one and only chance with the program.

“I believe in second chances and last chances,” Stewart’s statement began. “I have told Elijah that we are willing to give him this opportunity, because I believe, large or small, everyone makes mistakes and most people are deserving of a second chance.

“But I also made it clear to him, that this is his last chance and that any further incidents like the one at Auburn would be met with an immediate dismissal from the team.”

Last season, Daniel played in all 13 games for the Tigers, making two starts.  His 17 quarterback hurries led the team.

Permalink 1 Comment Back to top

Mike Leach continues stumping for 64-team playoff

Mike Leach

Along with eccentric, Mike Leach is nothing if not consistent.

Even before a four-team playoff was approved in June of 2012 and implemented for the 2014 season, Leach was espousing the virtues of a 64-team playoff field, labeling such a size as “ideal.”  As part of the Pac-12 coaches turn through the ESPN car wash Wednesday, Leach stated, as he has one more than one occasion, that he’d like to see the playoff expanded beyond its current four teams.

And, yet again, Leach made the case for a 64-team field.

I don’t know why you don’t have 64 teams,” the Washington State coach said according to the World Wide Leader. “The notion of pinpointing and selecting four perfectly, well that’s not going to happen. That can’t happen effectively. …

“It’s remarkably easy. If you’ve got 64, there wouldn’t be a lot of debate. … It would be indisputable that it was settled on the field and somebody that wins playoff games accordingly deserves to be champion and there’s no debate. It would be great fun to watch — just like it is at all the other levels.”

The closest any level of football gets to Leach’s number is the FCS with 24 teams qualifying, up from 20 just a few years ago. The former Div. 1-AA, though, only plays 11 regular season games, with last year’s champion, North Dakota State, playing 15 games counting the playoffs.

For Leach’s proposal to work and garner any type of support, you’d have to get the most powerful conferences in the country to roll back the regular season even further, to 10 games, which would keep any team that made the title game in that size field at just 16 games played; Ohio State and Oregon, the two College Football Playoff championship game qualifiers, played 15 games and even that amount raised a bit of a ruckus from those concerned over player safety.

And even getting to that number, the 10 regular season games, is not as simple as waving a magic wand and getting all on board with wiping out two potentially lucrative regular season games as well as a lucrative conference championship game that benefits all league members.

Despite the CFP’s protestations to the contrary, the field will expand, sooner than later, from four to eight teams, and possibly even 16 on down the road.  Getting to Leach’s ideal number?  You never say never, but that will never happen in my lifetime.  Or the lifetime of my children, for that matter.

Permalink 13 Comments Back to top

Victim asks that charges against LSU QB, teammates be dropped

Anthony Jennings

At the SEC Media days earlier this month, head coach Les Miles was confident that a handful of his LSU players, including potential starting quarterback Anthony Jennings, would be back with the football team soon as their off-field issues were “approaching a resolution.”

As it turns out, the coach was potentially very prescient when it comes to this situation.

Wednesday afternoon, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore confirmed to a group of reporters covering a speech at the Baton Rouge Rotary Club that the victim in a case involving the LSU football players have asked that the preliminary charges against the trio be dropped. Moore, who has yet to formally charge the trio — Jennings, defensive lineman Maquedius Bain and defensive back Dwayne Thomas — stated that, if the case didn’t involve football players, it would likely be over and done with.

“If this was a regular case, take football out of it, if it just involved a regular LSU student, you wouldn’t have known it happened. It would routinely be dismissed,” the DA said. “I’m taking my time to get it right.”

Moore added “possibly next week” when asked when a resolution can be expected.

The three players were arrested in the middle of last month for unauthorized entry of an inhabited building. Essentially, it’s being alleged that the three went into the open apartment of another LSU student to retrieve items they claim were stolen the week before.

All of the players involved have been indefinitely suspended.

Moore was in attendance to the speech at the Rotary Club, with the keynote speaker being, of course, Miles. During the course of that speech, Miles jokingly directed a message involving his current players at the DA, which he quickly noted to the scribes covering wasn’t suitable for publication.

“I’m right with you. You hear me? As we have always operated, I’m on your schedule, Miles said as he pointed at Moore. “You tell me what you need to tell me, and I will operate accordingly. I promise you.”

Permalink 6 Comments Back to top

C.J. Reavis loses appeal, remains dismissed by Hokies

It appears that Virginia Tech’s secondary will indeed be without a likely starter heading into its season opener against defending national champion Ohio State.

In a series of tweets Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times confirmed that “safety C.J. Reavis lost his appeal of a student conduct hearing decision” on Tuesday and “remains dismissed from Virginia Tech.” Earlier this month it was reported that Reavis was no longer enrolled at the university following the completion of a student-conduct hearing.

There still has been no reason given for the student-conduct hearing, although Reavis’ attorney is far from pleased with the outcome of the appeal, intimating that his client may take legal action against Tech.

Reavis played in 12 games as a true freshman last season, mainly on special teams. After a strong spring, he was viewed as a likely starter at safety for the Hokies.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

Ex-Buckeye Jayme Thompson tweets he’ll continue career at Indiana

Jayme Thompson

Jayme Thompson may have left Ohio State, but, as it turns out, he hasn’t permanently left the Big Ten.

The former Buckeye defensive back posted a tweet to his personal Twitter account in which he revealed that he will be continuing his collegiate playing career at Indiana.  As Thompson spent the 2014 season at Iowa Western Community College, he will be eligible to play immediately for the Hoosiers in 2015.

And he will play against his former team as well as the Hoosiers will play host to the Buckeyes Oct. 3.

The Toledo, OH, high schooler was a four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, rated as the No. 29 safety in the country and the No. 11 player at any position in the state of Ohio.  He missed all of his true freshman season due to a broken ankle, but had participated in spring practice the following year before deciding to transfer in mid-April of last year.

Prior to landing at IU, Kentucky, Louisville, Penn State, Rutgers and West Virginia — Thompson verbally committed to WVU before flipping to OSU — were rumored as potential destinations as well.

(Photo credit: Ohio State athletics)

UPDATED 7:01 p.m. ET: As it turns out, Thompson will be a part of IU’s 2016 recruiting class and will not play for the Hoosiers until next season.  He will spend the 2015 season at a JUCO.

Permalink 1 Comment Back to top

Chris Petersen ‘not looking forward to’ Boise game ‘because I recruited so many of those kids’

chrispetersen Getty Images

One of the best storylines heading into Week 1 of the 2015 season will be Washington’s road trip to Boise State, and not necessarily for what will happen on the field during those 60 minutes.

UW is coached by Chris Petersen, who is heading into his second year with the Huskies.  Petersen, of course, was the long-time — and very successful — head coach at Boise who had turned down multiple offers from more “prestigious” programs before finally pulling the trigger on a move from the Broncos to the Huskies in December of 2013.

While everybody else in the college football world is eagerly anticipating his return to Boise for the Sept. 4 Friday night game, the coach himself isn’t.

“I’m not looking forward to it because I recruited so many of those kids,” Petersen said during his time running through the ESPN car wash, adding that, when it comes to the kind of reception he’ll get for his homecoming, he understands the boo birds will be out.

“They’re fans, they’re gonna boo me,” said the coach. “But it’s such a great place.”

Petersen did dip his toes into the controversy over the Broncos’ Smurf Turf, all with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

The game itself is likely causing as much or more trepidation for Petersen than the homecoming angle, though.

While both teams will be breaking in new quarterbacks, UW will be breaking in a new signal-caller behind an offensive line that returns just one starter from 2014.  Boise, meanwhile, returns all five line starters.

Combine that with eight returning starters from a Broncos defense that was above average in nearly every major statistical category — the Huskies return four on that side of the ball — and the game being played in Boise, and it could add up to a very long night for Petersen’s homecoming in more ways than one.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

After leaving Buckeyes to focus on med school dream, Frank Epitropoulos to walk-on at Mich. St.

Frankie Williams, Frank Epitropoulos AP

If you remember back to August of last year, Ohio State revealed that Frank Epitropoulos has decided to give up football to focus on academics. Specifically, the little-used wide receiver was leaving to “concentrate entirely on his biology and pre-med/pre-dental academic program.”

Nearly one year later, Epitropoulos is returning to play football — for one of OSU’s Big Ten East rivals.

Epitropoulos, whose father and uncle played for OSU, confirmed via Twitter on Tuesday that he has decided to resume his collegiate playing career for Michigan State.  Epitropoulos will be a walk-on for the Spartans who will be eligible to play in 2015 because he sat out the 2014 season.

Epitropoulos’ father confirmed to the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the receiver is still a pre-med student.  According to the dad, his son “got most of his hard stuff out of the way” during his brief sabbatical from the sport.

“To do how he did in school, and take the kind of classes that he took, I highly doubt that he’d been able to get the grades he needed,” John Epitropoulos told the Plain Dealer. “To try to go to medical school, you’ve gotta put yourself in a position to do that. There’s some minimal things you’ve gotta do, and that doesn’t guarantee you anything. I’m confident, and he said too, that he would not have been able to get the grades that he needed.

“That (football) part of his life slowed down so he would have a chance, because there’s no guarantee obviously. It’s very competitive. If you want to put yourself in a spot to do that, then that’s what you gotta do. I can tell you as a father, I’m fairly confident he wouldn’t have been able, or he would’ve had to switch his major out. To his betterment, he didn’t want to do that. That’s the right call for him.”

On the football field, Epitropoulos played in four games as a redshirt freshman in 2013. He had one career catch for six yards — vs. Purdue in early November

Permalink 8 Comments Back to top

Uncle Luke, coach trade Twitter barbs over 5-star FSU decommit

Isaac Nauta

On the field the Florida State-Miami rivalry is a shadow of its former self, with the Seminoles winning five straight; six of seven; and nine of 11.  The last time the Hurricanes won at least two in a row in the series was the end of a six-game winning streak that ran from 2000-2004.

Off the field and in the social media arena?  The rivalry is alive and well.

Late Tuesday morning, five-star 2016 tight end Isaac Nauta, the highest-rated offensive commit, along with quarterback Malik Henry, in FSU’s class next year, announced via Twitter that he had decided to decommit from FSU and reopen his recruitment.  In his tweet missive, he took what some took to be a vague slap at the current “culture” around the FSU football program, writing that “I have decommitted to make sure that I make the best possible decision for my future in becoming a man and developing as a student-athlete.”

To add insult to injury, Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, an unabashed and very public supporter of Miami football, took to the same social media website to take a jab at the FSU assistant who would’ve been/will be Nauta’s position coach, tight ends coach Tim Brewster.

Brewster, of course, responded with a reference to the date of the next meeting between the in-state rivals.

FSU, incidentally, is still ranked third for the Class of 2016 by Rivals.com.  The U, meanwhile, is ranked seventh.

As for 6-4, 235-pound Florida native Nauta’s future?  Florida, Georgia, Michigan and USC are all schools that are listed as “High” in the interest category.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

Permalink 10 Comments Back to top

Academic reasons cost USF its leading 2014 sacker

Derrick Calloway

USF released its updated depth chart ahead of the start of summer camp, and there’s one very noticeable absence.

Derrick Calloway is no longer listed as a member of Willie Taggart‘s squad.  According to the school, the defensive tackle has withdrawn from the university because of academic reasons.

It was noted by the school itself that Calloway could return to USF after 2015.

In 2014, Calloway’s three sacks led all Bull defensive linemen, as did his two quarterback hurries.  The Tampa Bay Times notes that, with Calloway’s departure, USF has just one defensive tackle on the roster with starting experience — Deadrin Senat, who has just two starts on his résumé.  Calloway himself had just three starts, all of which came last season as a sophomore.

(Photo credit: USF athletics)

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

ECU gives projected starting guard Larry Williams the boot

Larry Williams

On yet another day of additional player movement, we’ll close shop for the night with one final departure.

East Carolina announced in a press release that Larry Williams has been dismissed by head coach Ruffin McNeill.  The dismissal comes after Williams was accused of violating unspecified team rules.

“It is always disappointing when someone is dismissed from the program, but there comes a time when an individual’s actions force the loss of a privilege, which in this case is being a part of our team,” McNeill said in a statement. “We all have the responsibility of being accountable.”

After redshirting as a true freshman in 2013, Williams played in all 13 games. Most of that action came on special teams.

However, the 6-4, 331-pound lineman was expected to head into summer camp as the projected starter at right guard.

(Photo credit: East Carolina athletics)

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

Dismissed by Wazzu, Daquawn Brown expected to land at Fresno

Washington State v Stanford Getty Images

Nearly seven months to the day he was dismissed by Washington State, it appears that Daquawn Brown has found a landing spot.

According to FOXSports.com‘s Bruce Feldman, Brown “is expected to be cleared to transfer to Fresno State.”  Because of NCAA transfer rules, Brown will be forced to sit out the 2015 season.

He would have two seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2016.

Back in late December, Brown was kicked off Mike Leach‘s football team.  While Wazzu never confirmed the dismissal, it was reported that it had involved, of course, a violation of unspecified team rules.

Brown started 11 of 12 games at cornerback in 2014, with the only start missed due to a second-half targeting penalty against Oregon State that kept him out of the first half of the Arizona State game.  He led the team in tackles with 82, and was named honorable mention Pac-12 following the regular season.

Permalink 0 Comments Back to top

QB Donovan Isom takes to Twitter to announce transfer from Utah

Isom_Donovan, Utah Football August 6, 2014 in Salt Lake City, UT. (Photo / Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah)

Utah’s quarterback meeting room will be one lighter when it enters summer camp than when it exited spring practice.

On Twitter Saturday evening, Donovan Isom tweeted out a photo of him wearing a Southeastern Louisiana uniform and helmet.  The quarterback confirmed to the Salt Lake Tribune that he decided to transfer from Utah to be closer to his family in Louisiana.

Last month, his family’s home was destroyed by fire, which triggered his decision to leave the Utes.

Another factor in the decision could very well have been the depth chart at his position.  Not counting Isom, the Utes’ roster is littered with five quarterbacks, including the incumbent Travis Wilson as well as well as former Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

Isom was a three-star member of Utah’s 2014 recruiting class who took a redshirt as a true freshman.  He took part in the spring game, rushing for 42 yards on 11 carries and completing seven passes for 15 yards.

Because Southeastern Louisiana is an FCS school, Isom will be eligible to play in 2015.  Including this year, he’ll have four years of eligibility remaining.

(Photo credit: Utah athletics)

Permalink 2 Comments Back to top

Michigan ditching ‘Legends’ jerseys, will re-retire iconic numbers

Appalachian v Michigan

One of the more controversial and clunky decisions of the Dave Brandon era at Michigan will officially come to an end this season.

Tuesday afternoon, UM announced that it plans on re-retiring the uniform numbers of seven of its football legends: Gerald Ford (#48), Tom Harmon (#98), Ron Kramer (#87), Bennie Oosterbaan (#47) and the Wistert brothers (#11) — Albert, Alvin and Whitey.  The jerseys associated with what are dubbed the Michigan Football Legends will be taken out of circulation as well.

The re-retirement ceremony will take place Nov. 28 prior to the annual grudge match with rival Ohio State.

Additionally, the No. 21 worn by Desmond Howard in a career that included a Heisman Trophy will be officially retired during the same ceremony. The initial decision to begin unretiring the jersey numbers began nearly four years ago under Brandon, as mlive.com explained:

Brandon started the Legends program during Howard’s Hall of Fame ceremony in early 2011. At the time, Howard’s No. 21 was the only number to receive the “Michigan Football Legend” distinction. Any player wearing the No. 21 during this time (Junior Hemingway and Jeremy Gallon were the only two) donned a commemorative patch on their uniform and sat in a specialized locker honoring the “Legend” player.

However, over the next four years, Michigan slowly began to bring all of its previous five retired uniforms back out of circulation, handing them to individual players who were selected by then coach Brady Hoke.

Following Brandon’s ouster and under interim athletic Jim Hackett, momentum grew for the jersey numbers to be tucked back in their rightful places.

“During the search process for our new football coach, I had a meeting with the Michigan Football team, and they expressed their feelings associated with wearing these legendary jerseys,” Hackett said in a statement. “At one end of the spectrum they are awed by the legacy of the men that wore them, and at the other end of the spectrum, and as part of a team sport, they wondered why we would call attention to one of our team members. I brought this issue to our new head coach Jim Harbaugh. He agreed with me that it needed a review. I then talked to the families of these great Michigan players. I called them directly and laid out the paradox of seeing players as a team and the due respect to these individual great players.

“The right plan is to retire them and display them in Towsley Museum which is connected to Schembechler Hall. Because we don’t have the display area inside the stadium, we have found a high-profile area on the concourse where fans can see and honor these retired jerseys.”

The only current player who will be impacted by the move is Desmond Morgan, who has worn No. 48 since 2012.

Permalink 14 Comments Back to top