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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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West Virginia punches first, OK State punches back; No. 22 WVU leads 14-10 at the half

Kevin White

No. 22 West Virginia looked like it was going to walk into Stillwater and come away with an easy victory. Seven minutes and 11 seconds into the game, the Mountaineers led 14-0 and quarterback Clint Trickett was making it look easy, hitting Kevin White for a 19-yard score and Mario Alford for a 79-yard catch-and-dash.

And then… it all stopped.

Oklahoma State stopped taking punches and then landed a few of its own, notching a 40-yard Ben Grogan field goal a minute into the second quarter and an eight-yard scoring strike from Daxx Garman to Teddy Johnson midway through the frame to bring us to our 14-10 halftime score.

West Virginia has been conservative, almost too conservative, carrying the ball 19 times for 85 yards while Trickett has hit 10-of-15 throws for 165 yards and those two scores. Wendell Smallwood has the bulk of West Virginia’s ground yards, carrying 11 times for 80 yards. Glenn Spencer’s defense has mostly bottled up All-America candidate White, limiting him to just one grab for four yards other than the touchdown.

Garman has completed 14-of-23 passes for 176 yards with a touchdown and a pick, while the Cowboys have accumulated 123 rushing yards through a committee of Brandon Shepard (one rush, 51 yards), Tyreek Hill (nine for 45) and Desmond Roland (nine for 34).

West Virginia will receive the ball to open the second half.

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Wolverines (somewhat) hanging with ‘little brother’ Sparty at halftime

Michigan v Michigan State

It’s not the embarrassment it’s been most of this season, but it’s still yet another first-half deficit for Michigan.

On a sun-splashed afternoon in East Lansing, Michigan State jumped out to a 7-0 first-quarter lead en route to a 14-3 lead after two quarters of play.  Jeremy Langford was responsible for both Spartan touchdowns, a two-yard run less than four minutes into the game and a one-yarder with :21 remaining in the half.

As has been the case the past couple/few seasons, though, it was the Sparty defense that set the stifling tone for the game.

Through the first 30 minutes, MSU had allowed its “big brother” to total just 37 yards of offense.  The Wolverines were held to minus-five yards rushing on its 10 attempts, an average of -0.5 yards per carry.

Conversely, and even as the scoreboard doesn’t quite indicate it, Sparty’s offense had little problem moving the ball either on the ground or through the air.  MSU was able to muster 256 yards of offense, 157 passing and 99 rushing.

Langford had 77 of those rushing yards, while quarterback Connor Cook was an efficient 110-of-17 passing.

UM has now trailed at the half in four of its previous six games; just once, against Penn State two weeks ago, were they able to come from behind to win.  Short of the kind of comeback that’s been atypical this season, the temperature underneath Brady Hoke‘s coaching seat will do nothing by rise at game’s end.

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Pitt fumbles way to deep first-quarter deficit vs. GT

Hot potato

And I mean that quite literally.

In a span of eight minutes and 30 seconds at the start of the first quarter of its game against Georgia Tech, Pitt fumbled five times… and lost all five fumbles.  Quarterback Chad Voytik and wide receiver Tyler Boyd were responsible for two apiece.

The first three lost fumbles came on the first five plays from scrimmage for the Panthers.

The five lost fumbles in a single quarter ties the FBS record set by East Carolina (1980 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette) and San Diego State (1982 vs. Cal).  Pitt has a ways to go before tying or breaking the single-game record of 10 set by Wake Forest in a 1969 game against Florida State.

The Yellow Jackets, incidentally, scored four touchdowns after the first four fumbles, and did so on just nine plays.

As of this posting, Tech is maintaining a 28-7 lead.  And, with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter, Pitt has gone nearly 11 minutes without losing a fumble, so they have that going for them, which is nice.

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Mother of Les Miles passed away Friday night

LSU v Auburn

Sadly, Les Miles will be coaching with a heavy heart Saturday night.

Friday night, a school spokesperson confirmed to Ross Dellenger of the Baton Rouge Advocate, the mother of the LSU head coach, 91-year-old Martha, has passed away.  No cause of death has been released.

Despite the loss, Miles is still in Baton Rouge and will be on the sidelines when LSU squares of against No. 3 Ole Miss.  He even appeared on ESPN‘s College GameDay pregame show this morning, but there was no mention of his mother’s passing.

Miles’ father, Bubba, died in 2000.  A car accident in April of 2011 claimed the life of Miles’ 54-year-old sister Ann Hope Browne.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to Miles for his loss.

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No. 25 UCLA jumps out early, but Colorado making things interesting

Paul Perkins, Caleb Benenoch

UCLA wasted no time in taking a lead on Colorado. Paul Perkins got the scoring started early in the first quarter with a 92-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage for the Bruins offense, following an offensive holding penalty.From there, the race was on for the Bruins, who lead Colorado 24-14 at the halftime break.

Brett Hundley has thrown for 105 yards and a touchdown so far, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Payton in the first quarter. Perkins would add a 24-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to help keep UCLA in front with a double-digit lead at the break. Colorado has made things a little interesting by finding success against the UCLA defense though. Tony Jones and Michael Adkins II each has a rushing touchdown for Colorado, and both have combined for 98 rushing yards so far.

UCLA snuck back into the top 25 this week, but may have to put together a stronger second half in order to convince enough voters to keep them there tomorrow.

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Illinois hands Minnesota first Big Ten loss

Illinois (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) may want to wear their gray alternate uniforms more often after today. The Illini rallied in the second half after it appeared the game had slipped away from them to hand Minnesota (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) its first loss in conference play this season. V’Angelo Bentley returned a Minnesota fumble 12 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown to give Illinois a 28-24 lead. It proved to be the game-winning score.

Minnesota outscored Illinois 21-7 in the third quarter to take a 24-21 lead on the Illini, but the Gophers proved incapable of holding on to the narrow lead. After taking its first lead late in the third quarter, Minnesota missed a field goal, had a lost fumble returned for a touchdown, punted, and lost another fumble on their following offensive drive sin the fourth quarter. All of this while forcing Illinois to punt on five straight possessions in the second half.

The final punt from Illinois came in the final seconds, which appeared to end with time running off the clock on the return. This led to a celebration by the Illini on the field, but the Big Ten refs threw a flag for defensive holding on the return. This gave Minnesota one untimed down to run a play, but it resulted in a deep pass falling out of play to end the game.

Minnesota let this one get away from them. The Gophers out-gained Illinois in total offensive yards, 411-263. The Gophers had three turnovers, with the one being returned for a touchdown. It took far too long for Minnesota to get the running game going with David Cobb not hitting his stride until it may have been too late. Cobb rushed for 118 yards and two touchdowns, but was stymied for much of the game before getting going. Quarterback Mitch LeidnerL was not particularly sharp either, completing just 12 of his 30 pass attempts for 240 yards and a touchdown and interception.

With the loss, Minnesota drops into a first-place tie with Nebraska in the Big Ten West with identical 3-1 conference records. Minnesota will play at Nebraska on November 22. Minnesota is already eligible for postseason play, which is good. The last leg of the season could be brutal for Minnesota, and a loss to Illinois was not necessarily in the plans.

Illinois is two wins shy of clinching postseason eligibility as well. Next week Illinois plays at Ohio State.

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Abdullah runs for 225 yards and 3 TDs as No. 16 Huskers pound Rutgers

Rutgers v Nebraska

Nebraska and Rutgers playing a Big Ten conference game was weird to see. Watching Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah run wild over an overpowered defense was nothing out of the ordinary though. Abdullah added to his Heisman Trophy profile by rushing for 225 yards and three touchdowns as No. 16 Nebraska (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) blew away Rutgers (5-3, 1-3 Big Ten) by a final score of 42-24.

Nebraska’s victory over Rutgers was fueled by Abdullah, but he had a supporting cast doing its part as well. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong passed for 163 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Kenny Bell led Nebraska with 63 receiving yards. Abdullah was the story of the game though, turning in the second highest rushing total of his career. Abdullah rushed for a career-high 232 yards in week one of the season against Florida Atlantic. His 225 yards Saturday afternoon tied the second-highest mark of his career.

Rutgers put up a fight early on. A Gary Nova completion over the middle to Leonte Carroo turned a medium gain for a first down into a 71-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter. Nebraska responded in a big way by scoring two touchdowns off big runs by Abdullah to take a 21-7 lead into the half. Nebraska would later take a 35-17 lead to the fourth quarter, keeping the visiting Scarlet Knights at arm’s length the rest fo the way.

Nebraska only had three more rushing attempts than Rutgers, but Nebraska averaged 7.1 yards per rushing attempt to the 3.8 averaged by Rutgers. Nebraska also ended the game with 149 more rushing yards. Abdullah rushing for touchdowns from 53, 48 and 23 yards certainly helps inflate those numbers. Abdullah was quite the difference-maker.

Nebraska could very well be the favorite in the Big Ten West Division the rest of the way. Minnesota got a test on the road at Illinois today, but the Gophers remain in first place in the division with an uphill battle to climb the rest of the way. Nebraska will still have to play road games at Wisconsin and Iowa as well as a home game against Minnesota. Wisconsin and Iowa are still in the mix as well. Nebraska has a habit of winning nine games per year lately, so the Huskers are either going to break that trend this season or come stumbling down the finish line to the season in spectacular fashion. As long as Abdullah stays healthy and Nebraska keeps feeding his Heisman campaign, these Huskers could be rolling to the Big Ten championship game with double digits in the win column.

Rutgers is still one win shy of becoming bowl eligible in its first season in the Big Ten. Next is a home game against Wisconsin, with the Badgers coming off a pounding of Maryland in Madison. Rutgers will also host Indiana and finish the season on the road against Michigan State and Maryland. There could very well be a win to be had in there for Rutgers.

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No. 11 Kansas State does enough to stay perfect in Big 12

Jake Waters

When the sun comes up on Sunday, No. 11 Kansas State (6-1, 4-0 Big 12) will remain in first place in the Big 12. The Wildcats remain in control of the Big 12 after holding off Texas (3-5, 2-3 Big 12) on Saturday afternoon with a 23-0 victory over the Longhorns.

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters put together a workmanlike performance, which is to be expected when discussing Kansas State in general. Waters completed 18 of 29 pass attempts for 219 yards. The numbers will not impress much, but the majority of those yards came in key third-down situations. Kansas State converted eight of 15 third-down conversion attempts in the game. This helped to milk as much clock as possible for Kansas State, with the Wildcats controlling the football for over 38 minutes. Everything about the way this game played out is what has made head coach Bill Snyder a College Football Hall of Fame candidate. The Wildcats will not dazzle with flashy play, but there are few teams that are as fundamentally well-rounded as Kansas State right now. The recipe may not work against programs like Florida State, Auburn or Oregon, but it works for Kansas State in the Big 12. This is all that will ultimately matter.

Kansas State also played a very clean game as well. The Wildcats were flagged just three times in the game and the offense did not lose the football. It also helped to have a dependable kicker with Matthew McCrane successfully sending all three of his field goal attempts through the goal posts. Early on, this came in handy as Kansas State was stopped by Texas inside the red zone. Kansas State’s defense held Texas to just 198 yards of total offense too. This is Kansas State football.

Kansas State will host Oklahoma State next weekend before heading to TCU for what could be a pivotal match-up in the Big 12 race coming down the stretch. The Wildcats also have a road trip to West Virginia and a season-ending road trip to Baylor to come as well. It is still premature to suggest Kansas State is the favorite to win the Big 12 at this point. The conference is very much up for grabs for a few teams right now, including TCU, West Virginia and Baylor.

Texas is, without question, far from being in the hunt for the Big 12 championship. This afternoon’s loss drops the Longhorns to 2-3 in Big 12 play with four games to play. The goal now should be to scratch together three more wins to become bowl-eligible. Texas has played in a postseason bowl game every season but two since the formation of the Big 12 in 1997. Charlie Strong is in danger of becoming just the second Texas coach since Edwin Price in 1951 not to lead Texas to a bowl game in his first year on the job. Texas plays at Texas Tech next week and still has West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU on the schedule. Two losses and Texas will be staying home this offseason.

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Kentucky’s Stanley Williams not cleared to play against No. 1 Mississippi State

Kentucky v LSU

The Kentucky Wildcats will face the No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs this afternoon without one of their most potent offensive weapons.

Freshman running back Stanley Williams suffered a concussion last Saturday against the LSU Tigers. He didn’t return to the game nor did he practice all week.

Williams announced on twitter that he won’t be available for today’s contest:

The 5-9, 200-pound running back was third on the team with 222 rushing yards. The talented freshman averaged 7.4 yards each time he ran the ball, though.

Williams was Kentucky’s best all-around threat. The running back already had eight catches for 90 yards this season. He is also the team’s primary kick returner and averages 30 yards per return.

With Williams out of the lineup, the Wildcats have three capable running back that already split time in the backfield. Sophomore JoJo Kemp, junior Braylon Heard and freshman Mikel Horton will continue to rotate at running back against the Bulldogs’ talented defensive front.

On special teams, sophomore cornerback J.D. Harmon is Williams’ likely replacement as the team’s top kicker returner. Harmon returned two kicks this season for 53 yards.

Anytime the No. 1 team in the country comes to town, the underdog needs all the help it can get to potentially pull off an upset. Unfortunately for Kentucky, one of the Wildcats’ most explosive players isn’t available, and they’ll have to adjust.

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Iowa suspends starting LB after alcohol-related incident

Indiana v Iowa

Iowa’s on a bye this weekend, but the Hawkeyes still managed to find a way to make headlines.

In a press release, UI announced that Reggie Spearman has been suspended from the football program for at least one game.  The release stated that the linebacker was cited for an alcohol-related offense early Saturday morning.

Just what the specific citation was wasn’t detailed.

“I was disappointed to hear of the charges against Reggie,” said head coach Kirk Ferentz in a statement. “Reggie will face a minimum one-game suspension, as well as other consequences within the program. We will work with authorities in gathering all the facts. Reggie will go through the UI Student Athlete Code of Conduct process and we will move forward from there.”

The suspension means Spearman will miss at least the Nov. 1 game against Northwestern.

Spearman has started all seven games for the 5-2 Hawkeyes this season. He’s currently tied for seventh in tackles with 34.

UPDATED 2:13 p.m. ET: According to the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Spearman was charged with operating while intoxicated after being pulled over shortly after midnight local time.

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Fat guy TD pass to long-snapper? God bless Arkansas

Bret Bielema

I can now, officially, die a happy and contented man.

In the second quarter of Arkansas’ game against UAB this afternoon, arguably the greatest touchdown in the history of college football — or any level of football for that matter — was scored as Sebastian Tretola tossed a six-yard “strike” to Alan D’Appollonio.  The greatness lies in the particulars: Tretola is a 350-pound offensive guard, while D’Appollonio is a long-snapper by trade.

Perhaps the best part?  Tretola was lined up in the shotgun.  The second-best part?  Tretola striking the Heisman pose after the catch.

Below is the video.  Soak in its greatness in and enjoy.

 

God bless Tretola.  And God bless Bret Bielema for bringing that play into our collective lives.  We’re all forever in your debt.

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Kansas State ahead but letting Texas hang around

DeMarcus Robinson

Kansas State played a clean half of football, but has struggled to bury Texas in the first half. With some tough defense pulling through in key situations, Texas has managed to get to halftime only trailing 13-0 on the road.

Texas was called for six penalties in the first half, while Kansas State avoided giving officials a reason to throw a penalty flag. There have been no turnovers in the game as well. This all seems to play in Kansas State’s favor as they try to stay in first place in Big 12 play. The offense could use a little more in the second half though, just to deliver a knockout punch to the visiting Longhorns.

Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has completed just six of 16 pass attempts for 40 yards. Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray each have 18 rushing yards for the Longhorns, and Swoops has added 16 more yards on the ground. Texas just cannot get an edge in the field position game. Texas went three-and-out three times in the first half and has had to punt the ball away each of their six first-half possessions.

Kansas State has been mildly better for much of the half. Both of the first two possessions for Kansas State had to settle for field goals inside the red zone, and then the Wildcats had to punt on their next two possessions after losing a total of 14 yards combined. Kansas State did break through with a touchdown before the half with a 12-play drive ending with DeMarcus Robinson scoring from three yards out for a 13-0 lead.

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Minnesota playing like they’ve seen a ghost vs. Illinois

Illinois v Wisconsin

Minnesota entered this weekend unbeaten in Big Ten play, but perhaps the image of gray uniforms staring them down was too much to handle in the first half. Illinois, wearing specially designed uniforms to honor Illini legend Red Grange, has taken a 14-3 lead into halftime Saturday afternoon.

Illinois scored both touchdowns of the half in the first quarter. Quarterback Reilly O’Toole tossed a short pass to Jon Davis for the first score of the game. He would later run for the game’s second touchdown as Illinois took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Minnesota finally got on the scoreboard in the second quarter with a 44-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso.

Illinois had been struggling against the run this season, but the Gophers have failed to get on track on the ground. David Cobb has been stuffed for just 24 yards on 12 attempts. Illinois has held Minnesota to just 86 yards of total offense after one half. The Illini offense has recorded 165 yards of offense.

Despite O’Toole playing well early on, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman replaced him under center with Aaron Bailey to mix things up after jumping out to a 14-0 lead. This was probably part of the game plan going in, but it was a bit of a questionable decision when things were going well. O’Toole did return to lead the offense soon enough though.

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Huskies’ starting QB, Cyler Miles, won’t play vs. Sun Devils

Washington v Oregon Getty Images

If Washington is going to pull off the upset against 14th-ranked Arizona State later on tonight, it’ll have to do so without its starting quarterback.

Citing school sources, the Seattle Times reported overnight that Cyler Miles will not play in Saturday night’s game against the Sun Devils.  ESPN‘s College GameDay show subsequently reported something similar.

Miles, 41st nationally and eighth among Pac-12 quarterbacks in passing efficiency, was knocked out of the Week 8 loss to Oregon with a concussion.

With Miles likely out, Troy Williams appears set to make his first start at the collegiate level.  The redshirt freshman took reps with the first-team offense throughout practice this week in preparation for the start. Williams had been behind sophomore Jeff Lindquist in the quarterback pecking order until recently.

Lindquist had started the season opener after Miles was suspended for the game against Hawaii.

Not only will Miles likely be sidelined, but the Huskies’ top two running backs could join him.  Both Dwayne Washington and Lavon Coleman are questionable, the Times reported, for the Sun Devils after suffering injuries against the Ducks. The latter leads UW in rushing with 438 yards, while the former is second with 239.

Should either or both of those two not play, it’d mean more playing time for Deontae Cooper linebacker Shaq Thompson.

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Oklahoma State dismisses freshman CB

Juwan Offray

Oklahoma State has dismissed freshman cornerback Juwan Offray from the football program.

According to the original report published by OColly.com, Offray was let go by the football program following an arrest for public intoxication Sunday morning. Offray was arrested with wide receiver Jhajuan Seales after the two were found passed out in a fast food drive thru. Per the report, this was not the first strike for Offray, but the details of any previous infractions have not been confirmed.

Offray is still enrolled at Oklahoma State, although it is being reported he will pursue a transfer in the future to continue playing football elsewhere in the Big 12.

Offray has appeared in all seven games to this point in the season for Oklahoma State, with three tackles to show for it. Oklahoma State’s secondary should prove to be as vulnerable as ever as the depth thins out following this dismissal. Oklahoma State ranks 10th in the 10-team Big 12 against the pass. The Cowboys have allowed an average of 288.4 passing yards per game, and Baylor and Oklahoma still remain on the schedule after West Virginia today. So do Kansas State and Texas.

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