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The Fifth Quarter: Week 9 Rewind

Tennessee v Alabama Getty Images

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

WINNERS

Alabama vs. Oregon: Tale of the Tape
Seeing as Alabama and Oregon play in different conferences on essentially opposite sides of the country, there’s very little concrete data available to compare the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.  With Tennessee on both of their schedules this season?  Yeah, the comparisons were going to be inevitable.  Back on Sept. 14 in Eugene, the Ducks led the Vols 38-7 at halftime; Oct. 26 in Tuscaloosa, the Tide led the Vols 35-0 after two quarters of play.  The final scores were 59-14 for the former, 45-10 for the latter.  The Ducks totaled 687 yards of offense while holding the Vols to 316; the Tide gave up 322 while gaining 479.

If special teams is your thing, Oregon was forced to punt three times while Alabama punted just twice.

The conclusion?  There is none, of course, other than UT was whipped six weeks apart by two very, very, very good football teams who could possibly square off in early January if they continue their winning ways.  That said, feel free to use the numbers to further whatever agenda you may be wanting to push.  Enjoy!

Brutus the Bully
With the three teams ahead of them in the BCS standings winning by a combined score of 136-41, Ohio State needed a statement game, something they’ve lacked throughout 2013.  Unfortunately for Penn State, that’s exactly what OSU went out and did.  The Buckeyes bullied the Nittany Lions in the first half, jumping out to a 42-7 before cruising to a 63-14 win.  Winning in this fashion won’t necessarily help Ohio State, though; they’re not leapfrogging Alabama, Oregon or Florida State anytime soon as long as those three teams keep winning.  Rather, such an impressive performance will likely keep the likes of Baylor from passing them in the polls and, thus, the BCS standings later on tonight.  That said, it’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that Ohio State could conceivably carry a 25-game winning streak into early January… and be on the outside looking in when it comes to the BCS title game.  Again.

Bobby Bowden, spear planter
After what was nearly a three-year sabbatical following his unceremonious dismissal in 2010, the legendary Bobby Bowden returned to the stadium that in part bears his name.  It was a glorious return for the Tallahassee icon, replete with a pregame ceremony featuring one of the most storied traditions in the sport: the planting of the spear at midfield of Doak Campbell Stadium.  Instead of Osceola and Renegade, though, it was Bowden doing the planting.  And, dadgummit, it was awesome:

Bowden Spear

(Tip O’ the Cap: SBNation.com)

The return of Bowden to his rightful place in college football was awesome. The spear-planting merely drove that point home, so to speak.

Connor Shaw
No pithy headlines.  Just this: Connor Shaw is a straight-up baller.  The senior did not start for South Carolina in the game against Missouri due to a combination of injury and illness.  With the Gamecocks trailing 17-0 in the fourth and in dire need of an offensive spark, Shaw slapped on his Superman cape and strapped the ‘Cocks on his back and grow up already people.  In the fourth quarter and first overtime, Shaw passed for three touchdowns; the middle one tied the game with :42 left in regulation, with the third coming on fourth-and-goal from the 15 to send the game into a second overtime.  It was a gutsy performance by an underrated player, one that helped keep what was merely a flicker of SEC East hope very much alive and well for USC.

Better late than never
A weather system filled with lightning delayed Texas’ game with TCU for three hours, six minutes.  As it turned out, the wait was more than worth it.  The Longhorns entered the extended break with a 17-7 lead, then extended that lead to 30-7 by game’s end as UT won its fourth straight contest.  Unbelievably, given the back-to-back embarrassing losses to BYU and Ole Miss last month, the ‘Horns are now 4-0 in Big 12 play, tied with Baylor for the top spot in the conference.  All the talk of Mack Brown being able to survive the season has suddenly morphed into conversations involving how UT can claim its first conference crown since 2009.  Amazing, amazing in-season turnaround going on in Austin.

Duke Virginia Tech FootballBowling Blue Devils… again
We could very easily put Virginia Tech tripping over its own junk in the “Losers” category, but instead we’ll give some love to the football nerds.  In Blacksburg Saturday afternoon, Duke upended a Hokies team that had won six straight games and had climbed inside the Top 20 of the rankings.  It was the Blue Devils’ sixth win of the season, meaning the football program at a university known more for academics and basketball is bowl-eligible for the second straight season; that’s the first time in school history that’s ever happened.  The win over the Hokies was historic as well as it marked the first time Duke has beaten a ranked team since 1994… and the first time it’s beaten a ranked team on the road since 1971.  Hats off to David Cutcliffe, his coaching staff and his players for what they’re doing with that program.  The entire university and its alumni should be proud of what’s going on.

Spartans: they are Legends
Missouri’s not the only surprise division leader just past the halfway point of the 2013 season.  Take Michigan State, for example.  Heading into the new season, most figured Michigan and Nebraska and Northwestern would be battling for the right to represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten title game, with the Spartans leading the middle-of-the-pack teams in that division.  The Wildcats have played itself out of contention with four straight losses to start conference play.  The Wolverines and Cornhuskers have each lost one league game; the Spartans, on the other hand, sport a perfect 4-0 mark at the halfway point of their conference slate, the latest coming courtesy of a 42-3 shellacking of Illinois.  The best part for the Spartans?  They face the Wolverines and Cornhuskers the next two weeks.  Win both, and MSU would all but have the division locked up with two games remaining in the season.  And, speaking of surprising division leaders…

Tulane road, with a side of Rice
Sorry, that’s the best I can do at about one in the morning.  Anyway, the past two seasons have seen Rice and Tulane combine for a woeful 14-35 record, with the Green Wave accounting for just four of those wins.  2013, however, is a different story.  At the end of Week 9, Rice and Tulane are tied atop the Conference USA West standings at a perfect 4-0.  The Owls and Green Wave, with six wins overall, are now bowl-eligible before the calendar flips to November; it’s the first time the latter has hit that mark since 2002.

Your move, JFFJordan Lynch, Willie Creear, Mycal Swaim
Last week, Jordan Lynch set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback.  This week, the Northern Illinois senior added another notch to his statistical legend.  In NIU’s cruise over Eastern Michigan, Lynch passed for three touchdowns, ran for one and caught another, and did all of that scoring damage in the first half.  Lynch became the first player at the FBS level since 2010 (Ohio’s Boo Jackson) to hit the two passing/one rushing/one receiving TD trifecta in the same game.  For the game, Lynch finished with six touchdowns — four passing, one each rushing and receiving — in less than three full quarters of play as the Huskies are off to a program-best 8-0 start, one season removed from its BCS bowl appearance.

Continuing the upHill climb
The first three games of the season, and aside from a 259-yard rushing performance against Texas, Taysom Hill struggled mightily.  The BYU sophomore was completing just over 35 percent of his passes and had tossed three interceptions to just one touchdown.  Since then, it’s as if someone has flipped the switch.  The last five games, Hill has completed more than 65 percent of his passes in four of them and has tossed 11 touchdowns and added another four on the ground.  Yes, he’s thrown five interceptions in that span, but the number is skewed somewhat by a three-pick anomaly against Houston a week ago.  Not so coincidentally, Hill’s blooming has coincided with a Cougars resurgence; after starting the season 1-2, BYU has ripped off five straight wins to become bowl-eligible for the ninth straight season.

LOSERS

South Carolina v MissouriSoul-crushing
There are losses that feel like punches to the guts, then there are those that feel like kicks to what my seven-year-old (thankfully) mispronounces as “tentacles.”  And, boy, did Missouri take a steel-toed boot to the old giblets.  By now, you know the story: Mizzou took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter, only to see South Carolina tie it late to send it into overtime.  Then, giving up a touchdown on what was essentially fourth-and-15 to send it into the second overtime.  Then, in the second overtime, well, college kickers.  And holders.  With one clank off the left upright, the Tigers saw their unbeaten season go up in smoke.  What it didn’t see happen, and what’s been somewhat lost in the heartbreak of a devastating home loss, is the fact that Mizzou’s path to SEC title game has only become slightly cluttered.  The Tigers still hold a one-game lead over Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the loss column, and can probably — OK, maybe — punch its ticket to the Georgia Dome as the East’s representative by winning three of their last four games against Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.  All is not lost for Mizzou, even though it may very well feel like it in the here and now.

This displeases Touchdown Tommie
Last month, Nebraska legend Tommie Frazier blasted his alma mater, calling for essentially the entire defensive coaching staff to be fired following an embarrassing home loss to UCLA.  Saturday, the Cornhuskers gave Frazier additional ammunition.  A week after reentering the rankings, the Cornhuskers looked listless in their 34-23 loss to Minnesota.  The Huskers could do little offensively in the return of Taylor Martinez (no relation) while the Blackshirts were gashed for 430 yards, 271 of which came on the ground. “Do I need to say anymore? … This is simply inexcusable,” Frazier tweeted shortly after the loss, adding, “where do we go from here Husker Nation?”  That’s a very good question, but one that won’t have an answer for at least another month.

Guns down, foot shotTexas Tech v Oklahoma
With the chance to keep pace with Baylor and Texas, Texas Tech blinked.  And flinched.  And gagged on the moment.  Not only did the Red Raiders cough up its unbeaten season against Oklahoma Saturday, it suffered its first defeat in Big 12 play, one that puts Tech a game behind the Bears and Longhorns in the loss column.  The division chase is far from over as the Red Raiders close out the regular season with back-to-back games against the teams ahead of them.  They did, though, miss out an opportunity to drop an average Sooners team in Norman and put themselves in position to continue to control their own destiny in pursuit of the conference’s BCS bid.

Still Mullen
Including Thursday night’s six-point win over Kentucky, Mississippi State is 14-21 in SEC play since Dan Mullen took over as head coach in 2009.  Since 2011, the Bulldogs have won seven conference games against five different teams — Ole Miss, 2011; Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee, 2012; and Kentucky each of the past three years.  The combined league record of those schools at the end of the season/currently?  A miserable 5-47.  Mullen has yet to beat the two heavyweights in the SEC West, Alabama and LSU, since coming to Starkville, and lost to conference newcomer Texas A&M last season.  Again, if the MSU administration is comfortable with the mediocrity of Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl appearances, then so be it.  They shouldn’t, though, and should instead, if they haven’t already, do some soul-searching when it comes to the state of the football program and Mullen’s future in it.

Double-digit danger
In each of Chris Petersen‘s first seven seasons as Boise State’s head coach, the Broncos had won at least 10 games, winning at least 11 in six of those years and at least 12 in five of them.  That stunning string of success, however, is in serious jeopardy.  With just four games left in the regular season, Boise’s record stands at 5-3 after the beatdown at the hands of BYU Friday night.  In order to reach the double-digit plateau for an eighth straight season and match Petersen’s worst season at Boise — 10-3 in his second year in 2007 — the Broncos will need to sweep the final four games (Colorado State, Wyoming, San Diego State and New Mexico) as well as win their bowl game.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 6 Stanford 20, Oregon State 12: This is a bit misleading as the Beavers are ranked in the coaches’ poll, but, since we use the Associated Press rankings, it falls within the parameters.  While the Cardinal trailed just once (3-0 in the first quarter), they couldn’t put OSU away until a fourth-and-goal pass from the seven-yard line fell incomplete with one second left on the clock.  Stanford has now won two straight after what’s still an inexplicable loss to Utah and with, following a bye, what’s still a huge showdown with Oregon looming on the first-Thursday-in-November horizon.

Wake Forest v Miami– No. 7 Miami 24, Wake Forest 21: For the third time in as many weeks, the Hurricanes fell behind by 10-plus points.  As was the case in each of those games, the ‘Canes came back to keep their record perfect on the season.  That said, if The U plays the way they have during this stretch, Florida State will woodshed them next Saturday.

– No. 9 Clemson 40, Maryland 27: Perhaps suffering through the malaise of last Saturday’s crushing loss to Florida State, the Tigers led the injury-ravaged Terps just 19-13 at the end of the third quarter.  Three touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the final quarter, however, was enough to get Clemson back on the winning side of the ledger.

– No. 15 Fresno State 35, San Diego State 28: The two teams scored just 14 points total in the first 39 minutes… and then all MAC-like hell broke loose.    A total of 42 points in the final 21 minutes — and a blocked field goal at the end of regulation by Fresno — culminated in overtime, with the Bulldogs scoring a touchdown on its lone possession while keeping the Aztecs out of the end zone.  With the win, the Bulldogs keep its record unblemished and allows it to maintain its BCS-buster status for another week.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — Updating this little statistical chestnut, the Tide has outscored its opponents 246-26 in the six games since beating Texas A&M 49-42 in Week 3.  Bama has allowed just two touchdown in that stretch, with none coming in the first half when the game was in any kind of doubt.  (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: Bye (LSU Nov. 9)

2. Florida State — After a couple of weeks of contemplation, I’m finally pulling the trigger.  And this nothing to do with the team that’s held this spot throughout the season; rather, it has everything to do with the fact that, over the past month, I don’t know that’s there’s been a better team in the country than the Seminoles.  In fact, I wouldn’t argue too much if someone wanted to push FSU past the Tide in the rankings. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. No. 7 Miami

3. Oregon — Again, nothing against the Ducks for the move down.  And, yes, you normally don’t see a team drop after beating the No. 12 team in the country by 28 points.  It’s just, damn, that team in Tallahassee.  Really, it’s FSU, not you Eugene. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: Bye (Stanford Nov. 7)

Urban Meyer4. Ohio State — A 49-point win and 20 straight victories overall would normally mean something in the polls.  It won’t thanks to the three teams above, but the Buckeyes should be satisfied knowing they easily put together their most impressive all-around performance of the season. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: at Purdue

5. Baylor — Well hello Bears.  Good to see you in this rarefied air.  Of course, it came at the expense of Missouri, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.  How long they stay here remains to be seen; over the next three weeks, the Bears will face three ranked foes in the form of Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home, then travel to Stillwater to square off against Oklahoma State.  They will then finish off the season against TCU and Texas. In other words, if they stay here, they’ll have earned it. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: No. 15 Oklahoma

(Dropped out: No. 5 Missouri)

HE SAID IT
“We stunk it up the whole ballgame.  I don’t know how it happened.” — Steve Spurrier after South Carolina’s improbable overtime win over previously-unbeaten Missouri.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“We kind of felt disrespected because they called us the red team all week long and said we didn’t deserve to be called Alabama.” quarterback AJ McCarron after the red team beat up on the orange team in a 35-point win.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“Jimbo [F]isher will be hit with a bullying lawsuit tomorrow.” — Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix in a tweet posted to his Twitter account (@1IrishChocolate) in the midst of Florida State’s evisceration of North Carolina State.  And, yes, a big part of the reason I chose this “quote” was so I could type “Irish Chocolate.”

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“I was disappointed in the way we blocked, but we rushed for 394 yards.” — Paul Johnson after Georgia Tech pushed its record to 5-3 with a 10-point win over Virginia.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK
If you’re anything like me — and God help you if you are — you’ve been fascinated by the fact that Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty phenomenon,  played college football at Louisiana Tech in the sixties and was the school’s starting quarterback.  And not only did he start, he kept future Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw on the bench for two seasons before quitting the game altogether.  I’ve always wondered what the Sage Bearded One looked like slinging a football instead of selling duck calls.  My prayers were answered earlier this week courtesy of al.com, which posted this clip of Robertson taking on Alabama in a 1966 game:

Not a bad set of skills from the younger, lankier Robertson, even as it came in a 34-0 loss to the Kenny Stabler-led Crimson Tide.

SAY WHAT?
Undefeated team, ranked No. 7 in the country.  News this week that the football program would be getting the proverbial “slap on the wrist” from the NCAA.  So, how do the Miami fans celebrate?  By not showing up at Sun Life Stadium, that’s how.  From the Twitter account of the USA Today‘s Paul Myerberg:

Miami Fans

Embarrassing.  That’s all you can say about that “turnout,” other than Nick Saban‘s head would explode if he ever witnessed that kind of support.

TRUE STORY
With losses by Missouri and Texas Tech, the ranks of the unbeaten have dwindled to just eight after Week 9.  The ACC is the only conference with two undefeated teams remaining (Florida State, Miami), while six other conferences are represented: Big Ten (Ohio State), Big 12 (Baylor), MAC (Northern Illinois), MWC (Fresno State), Pac-12 (Oregon) and SEC (Alabama).  Meanwhile, two teams, Western Michigan and New Mexico State, won its first games of the season.  That leaves five programs (Georgia State, Hawaii, Miami of Ohio, Southern Miss and UConn) without a win to show for its effort this season.  Southern Miss, incidentally, has now lost 19 consecutive games.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

Garrett Gilbert‘s 635 yards of offense (a school-record 538 passing, 97 rushing) in SMU’s win over Temple is the seventh-most in FBS history.  The record for single-game total offense is Houston quarterback David Klingler‘s 732, who passed for 716 and rushed for 16 against Arizona State in December of 1990.

Octavius McKoy of Division III Western Connecticut rushed for 455 yards on 43 carries, breaking the single-game all-division NCAA record.  Marietta’s Dante Brown had set the old mark of 441 yards back in 1996.  Ladanian Tomlinson, for those curious, holds the FBS record with 406 yards.

– Stanford held Sean Mannion to just 271 yards passing and one touchdown in its win over Oregon State.  The junior came into the game leading the nation in passing yards per game at 427.4 and had thrown an FBS-best 29 touchdowns, throwing at least three in each of the first seven games of the season.

Penn State v Ohio State– In Ohio State’s blowout of Penn State, Braxton Miller accounted for a career-high 261 yards passing and 68 yards rushing.  He also had five touchdowns: three passing, two rushing.  Meanwhile, Carlos Hyde carried the ball 16 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns as Ohio State won its 20th straight game.

Bryce Petty passed for 430 yards, 348 of which came in the first half, as Baylor scraped past Kansas 59-14.

Bishop Sankey, one week after rushing for a season-low 22 yards against Arizona State, rushed for a season-high 241 yards in Washington’s throttling of Cal.

– In two quarters of play plus the first possession of the third quarter, Jameis Winston passed for 292 yards and three touchdowns in Florida State’s romp over North Carolina State.

Duke Johnson rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with just under a minute left, to help Miami eke its way past Wake Forest.

– Clemson’s Sammy Watkins had a school-record 14 catches in the win over Maryland.

Connor Cook‘s 93.8 completion percentage (15-of-16) set a single-game Michigan State record.

Desmond Roland ran for a career-high 219 yards and four TDs in Oklahoma State’s 58-27 rout of Iowa State.

– Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah rushed for 165 yards on just 19 carries, pushing his total for the 2013 season to 981 yards.  He needs 19 yards to become just the eight player in the storied history of the football program to rush for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons.

– With a 17-yard reception late in the first half of Vanderbilt’s loss to Texas A&M. Jordan Matthews set the SEC mark for most career receiving yards.  The record of 3,093 had previously been held by Georgia’s Terrence Edwards.

Deontay Greenberry, Anthony Cioffi– Houston’s Deontay Greenberry caught six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of Houston’s blowout win.  The wide receiver finished with eight receptions for 168 yards and three touchdowns.

– In Louisville’s easy win over inept USF, Teddy Bridgewater passed for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

– Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller intercepted three passes in the loss to Duke, giving him five on the season.  Oregon State’s Steve Nelson and Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward entered Week 9 leading the country with five apiece.

– Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has thrown 25 interceptions the last 14 games, including three in the loss to Houston Saturday.  In fact, seven of those interceptions have come the past two weeks.  He also tossed six picks in a late-October loss to Kent State last year.

– BYU’s Cody Hoffman now has 31 career touchdown catches, breaking the old mark of 30 set by Austin Collie.

– Taysom Hill accounted for 408 yards of offense (339 passing, 69 rushing) and added three touchdowns passing and one rushing in BYU’s win over Boise State.

– The past three games, Florida State has outscored its opponents, all ACC foes, 163-31.

– This is a sobering stat for my adopted home state: in 34 games under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has lost nine of them by 21-plus points.  In 126 games under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, which spans a 10-year period, the Mountaineers were beaten by 21 or more points a total of eight times.  Hide the couches.  And the lighters.

– Despite jumping out to a 14-3 lead, Wake Forest was unable to hang on its upset bid of Miami.  It was the Demon Deacons’ 51st straight loss to a team ranked in the Top 10, with the last coming exactly 67 years ago yesterday against No. 4 Tennessee (Oct. 26, 1946).  That was also the football program’s only win over a Top-Ten team ever.

Nebraska v Minnesota– Minnesota’s 11-point win over Nebraska was the Gophers first over the Cornhuskers since September of 1960, snapping a 16-game losing streak.

– Penn State has allowed 40-plus points in three consecutive games for the first time since 1899.  The 686 yards they gave up to Ohio State was the most in the program’s storied history, which dates back to 1889.

– Kansas’ Big 12 losing streak has now stretched to a mind-boggling 25 straight games, with the last conference win coming on Nov. 6, 2010 against Colorado.  You have to go back to Oct. 10, 2009 (Iowa State) for the Jayhawks’ last win over a current member of the conference.  Since playing in the Orange Bowl following the 2007 season, KU has gone 6-40 in Big 12 play, with four of those wins coming in 2008.

– Forget the SI cover jinx: with the overtime loss to Iowa, Northwestern has now lost four straight games since ESPN‘s College GameDay show set up camp in Evanston.

– Auburn ran for 422 yards on 59 carries as the Tigers moved to 7-1 with the 45-10 win over FAU.  A total of 10 different Tiger players were credited with carries in the game.

– UCF scored 45 points in the first half of its 62-17 waxing of UConn; the Knights had not scored more than 38 points in a single game at all this season entering the weekend.

IN CLOSING…
For three years, Rice’s Jayson Carter has toiled through practice and summer conditioning and the like as a walk-on while never seeing the playing field on game day.  Carter’s story is not unlike countless other non-scholarship players who truly play for the love of the game.  Not many, if any, of them, however, were born with a genetic disorder that leaves them standing 4-9 and weighing 130 pounds.  After three years, though, Carter finally got his Rudy moment.  Late in the fourth quarter of the Owls’ blowout win over UTEP, head coach David Bailiff inserted the running back into the game.  And, not only did he get in the game, he got the carry that he’s earned after toiling for years on the scout team.

“I did what I was supposed to … I didn’t get negative yards,” Carter said of his one-yard run.

Bravo on the perseverance and the perspective, young man.  Bravo.

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Alabama Class of 2015 receiver only eligible for 3 games this fall

No, we are not looking into the future at the 2015 Alabama outlook just yet, but this is a bit of an interesting story out of the state of Florida. One of Alabama’s recruits lined up for the Class of 2015, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, will only be eligible to play three games this fall for Monarch High School. The reason? An age restriction.

Ridley will be 19 years and nine months old following the third game of the season, which is the maximum age allowed for football players in the state of Florida by the Florida High School Athletic Association. That will allow Ridley to play in just three games this season for his high school in his senior season. His high school’s athletics director, James Klemke, told The Sun Sentinel there will be no appeal.

Ridley is a five-star wide receiver and top ten receiver nationally in the Class of 2015 according to Rivals. Ridley committed to Alabama in April as Alabama was already underway in organizing what will likely be another one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Staying in shape after he is done playing football will be key. It does not appear there are any restrictions on working out with his high school team after his eligibility runs out, but expect Ridley to do whatever he will be able to in order to stay in as close to game shape as possible as he prepares to head to Alabama.

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Jimbo Fisher comfortable with receiver position

Christian Green, A.J. Highsmith, Ladarius Gunter

Florida State lost a pair of wide receivers in the first round of the most recent NFL Draft, so you might think the Seminoles have some big shoes to fill. They do, after losing Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin. Fortunately, head coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well since taking over as head coach and has options ready to fill in. If the season were to start today, Rashad Greene and Christian Green. Fisher, though, has faith in all of the tools in his toolbox at the position.

“I feel very comfortable with eight guys in that rotation right now,” Fisher said, according to the Associated Press. ”That’s not playing them all, but I’d feel very comfortable if they had to go into the football game.”

Greene starting was a given, of course. Despite a paid of first-round receivers on the field, Greene was Florida State’s leading receiver in 2013 with 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. Green finished the year sixth on the Seminoles with 157 yards on 13 receptions. Running back Devonte Freeman finished fifth on the team with 278 receiving yards as well.

Of course, having a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jameis Winston certainly helps the stability in the passing game as well. Florida State looks pretty stacked for the upcoming season, and the passing game should once again be effective and ready to break out some big plays along the way to a potential title defense.

Florida State opens the 2014 season in Arlington, Texas against Oklahoma State.

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ND Shamrock Series uniform shows switching to Under Armour was wise

Notre Dame 2014 Shamrock Series

Notre Dame has had a cringe-worthy history when it comes to the special Shamrock Series uniforms. Two years ago brought us one of the most bizarre helmet designs that looked more like a printing error with its asymmetry, and last season’s uniform was only a little better. With the season drawing near and Under Armour taking over as uniform apparel provider, there were many questions about how the new uniform partner would leave their stamp on the Shamrock Series uniforms after years of working with Adidas.

Score one in the win column for Under Armour, which has come a long way since throwing together this atrocity.

Notre Dame and Under Armour unveiled the new uniforms for the upcoming season, and did so in non-offensive fashion by keeping true to Notre Dame’s classic look for the home and away uniforms and a Shamrock series

This video suggests the designers are trying to tell a story with the new uniform, which seems to be a trend for uniform designers lately. You can buy into the whole storytelling concept as you see fit, but the Cliff’s Notes version probably simply states Notre Dame sticks to the blue, slaps on a matte logo on the golden dome, which now features a subtle touch of a diamond pattern. At a quick glance, Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series uniform looks like it should have been shipped to Pittsburgh for the Panthers, but this is far better than past iterations of the alternate look.

Under Armour has already left a solid impression on a classic look, something Adidas was never able to do with the Irish. What do you think about the new uniform for Notre Dame?

Photo via Notre Dame Athletics.

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It’s official: Braxton Miller to miss 2014 season

Braxton Miller AP

O-H!  UH-OH!!!

Unfortunately for Ohio State and the fans of its football team, their worst fears have been realized as OSU announced today that, as widely expected, starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entire 2014 season.  Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year reinjured his right(throwing) shoulder during practice Monday, with at least a couple of reports indicating that the he suffered a dislocated shoulder on a throw in which there was no contact.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation.”

Other than he reinjured the same shoulder, the school declined to acknowledge the specific nature of the injury. They did allow that it was a non-contact play and the injury will require surgery to repair.

There is not timetable as of yet for surgery or a return to football activities.

Former Ohio State All-American wide receiver Joey Galloway, who was at yesterday’s practice, “said the injury to Braxton occurred on a rollout throwing a short pass toward the sideline.”

“He didn’t even get hit,” a source told Pete Thamel of SI.com. “He threw and it’s just a freakish thing. Everyone is scratching their head on how it happened.” Thamel added that Miller suffered a torn labrum, not a dislocation of his shoulder.

The injury didn’t go unnoticed all across college football and by former teammates.  And Las Vegas.

There was some good news, at least for now, amidst the gloom as Miller revealed that he will return to the Buckeyes for the 2015 season.  Miller is a fourth-year senior and has yet to use a redshirt.

He’ll use one this year and then, if he does return — he could change his mind and enter the 2015 NFL draft — he’ll be a fifth-year senior who would be poised to again lead his beloved Buckeyes.

“I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” said Miller, who is 26-8 as a starter, including 24-2 the past two seasons, in his statement. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season.”

That’s the future, though. The present is what currently matters most to OSU.

JT Barrett

JT Barrett

With the end of Miller’s season officially finalized, the Buckeyes will turn to, at least initially, J.T. Barrett.  The redshirt freshman had been in a battle throughout spring practice and on into summer camp with sophomore Cardale Jones to be Miller’s backup, only just recently moving into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Both Barrett and Jones received extensive work during the 15 spring sessions as Miller rehabbed the partially torn labrum he suffered in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, which was subsequently repaired in what at the time was described as minor surgery in late February.  That extra work for the two reserves continued into summer camp as Miller had been limited due to what was described as soreness in his shoulder.

While the pair have received additional reps because of Miller’s issues, it won’t help the game-day inexperience.  Barrett has never thrown a pass at the collegiate level, while Jones has thrown just two.

Despite the lack of on-field experience at this level, Barrett will enter the huddle with a fairly lofty recruiting pedigree and an assertive leadership style.

A four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, Barrett was rated as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  Easily the biggest knock on Barrett is his arm strength, or lack thereof.  His offensive coordinator/position coach, however, says the former Texas high schooler more than makes up for lack of a cannon on his shoulder in other facets of the game.

“Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader,” Tom Herman said earlier this month of a player who’s turned out to be his new starting quarterback. “I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him.

“We’ve got to work on strengthening his arm. He’s a distant third in terms of Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I’m very pleased with his continuing growth.”

Cardale Jones

Cardale Jones

Jones, a three-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2011 recruiting class who delayed his enrollment at OSU for prep school, was rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country that year.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman, then played sparingly in 2013; in 39 plays from scrimmage last season, Jones threw the ball twice (completing one for three yards) and ran 17 times (for 128 yards and a touchdown).

Meyer didn’t address just who will start the opener against Navy, although it was noted in the release that “[i]t was previously announced by Meyer on Saturday that Barrett, a 6-1, 225-pounder from Wichita Falls, Texas, had moved ahead of Jones for the No. 2 quarterback spot.”  Recently, Barrett has taken the lion’s share of reps with the first-team offense as he separated himself from Jones.

Taking all of that into account, there’s no reason to tap dance around it — losing Miller for the year is a significant blow to the Buckeyes and will certainly have an impact on the Big Ten Race.  It also may very well significantly impact the first year of the College Football Playoff as the Buckeyes, despite the Big Ten title-game loss to Michigan State, were the overwhelming favorites to claim the conference and emerge as the league’s playoff representative.  Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football; some would even argue that he’s the most irreplaceable and indispensable, given the unproven running backs in OSU’s stable and the coaching staff having to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen.

Even as it may seem like it in the here and now, the season’s not completely lost for the Buckeyes.  As, just to name a few, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel,  Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Florida State’s Jameis Winston have shown over the past couple of years, redshirt freshmen are perfectly capable of successfully leading their teams in their first seasons as starters.  One of those four (Winston) won a BCS title, while another (Golson) helped lead his team to the BCS title game.  Winston won the Heisman en route to the championship, while Manziel took home his while helping the Aggies win 11 games their first season in the SEC.  Mariota was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 as the Ducks won 11 games, including the Fiesta Bowl.

More than likely, the Ducks and Aggies would’ve qualified for the playoffs were that system around in 2012, the former in particular.

Then there’s this: USC’s Matt Leinart (2004), LSU’s Matt Flynn (2007) Alabama’s Greg McElroy (2009), Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010), Alabama’s AJ McCarron (2011) and Winston (2013) all won BCS titles in their first year as starters over the last decade.

Who knows, Barrett could make it three seasons in a row for the second-year freshman/first-year starter phenomenon that’s done nothing but grow over the past handful of years.  And, for now, that’s about all Buckeye Nation can hang their title hopes on.

Well, that and a schedule that features just one team at the moment ranked in the Top 25 — No. 8 Michigan State in East Lansing.  That’s easily OSU’s toughest road game of the year, with other games away from The Horseshoe consisting of against Navy (9-4 in 2013) (in Baltimore), Maryland (7-6), Penn State (7-5) and Minnesota (8-5).  Their home slate features matchups against Virginia Tech (8-5), Kent State (4-8), Cincinnati (9-4), Rutgers (6-7), Illinois (4-8), Indiana (5-7) and Michigan (7-6).

According to FBSchedules.com, Ohio State’s 2014 schedule is tied for fifth-toughest, with Oregon, among the teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 10.  The .569 winning percentage of its opponents top that of defending BCS champion Florida State (.550), Oklahoma (.477) and Alabama (.473).

In other words, it’s not the cakewalk some have perceived to be.  It’s not exactly a football death march either, which means that, depending on how fast Barrett — or Jones — get acclimated, all the gloom and doom currently hanging over the football program could give way to a postseason full of possibilities.  Or it’ll be 2011 all over again in terms of the won/loss ledger.  One of the two.

 

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Backup Auburn DE transferring to Arkansas State

Arkansas State

For the second time in a little more than a year, defensive end Chase Robison is relocating to play football. The Auburn backup will hope to play a more meaningful role at his new school, Arkansas State.

According to information from A-State Nation, via Twitter, Robison will enroll and join the football program. Because he sat out the 2013 season after transferring to Auburn from Texas Tech, he should be eligible to play right away this season for the Sun Belt Conference contender. He will also be playing at the same program his father, Lanier Robison, once played.

Robison was never able to work his way up the depth chart at Auburn, but at Arkansas State he may have an opportunity to compete for a starting job. The former three-star recruit in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals, was offered a scholarship by Arkansas State but decided to accept an offer from Texas Tech. Maybe the third spot in as many seasons will allow Robison some peace and stability.

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Miami’s Rayshawn Jenkins could be back for spring ball

Virginia v Miami Getty Images

It has already been confirmed that one of Miami’s top players in its defensive secondary would not play at all this season.  Now we know when the player’s expected to resume football activities as well.

Miami announced Monday that Rayshawn Jenkins underwent successful surgery on his lower back Monday.  Because of the surgery, Jenkins’ 2014 season is already over before it began.

Jenkins is expected to be released from the hospital Wednesday, with rehab expected to take up to six months.  Such a timeline, though, would put the defensive back on track to return for the start of spring practice.

As a true sophomore last season, Jenkins started 12 of the 13 games he played at safety. His three interceptions were tied for second on the team, while he was a solo second with five passes broken up.

Jenkins, a three-star member of The U’s 2012 recruiting class, played in 10 games (two starts) as a true freshman that year.

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OSU’s CFP odds tumble on reports of Braxton’s season-ending injury

Braxton Miller AP

At some point this afternoon or this evening — maybe — Ohio State is expected to announce that starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the 2014 season with a shoulder injury.

In late July, Ohio State was the prohibitive favorite from the Big Ten to claim the College Football Playoff at 10/1; Michigan State was 25/1 while Wisconsin was 33/1.  Those odds for OSU were at 10/1 in January, prior to Miller’s “minor” surgery in February.

They were also, at 10/11, heavy favorites to win the Big Ten over the former (15/4) and the latter (9/2).

Now?  In the wake of Miller’s injury, reportedly one of the dreaded non-contact variety, the Buckeyes have tumbled in the eyes of Las Vegas.

“Ohio State was a major contender at 10-1 to win the National Championship and considering Braxton Miller was a frontrunner for the Heisman at 15-2, this injury has impacted their odds drastically going from 10-1 to 18-1 amidst the rumors of the injury and now are confirmed at 40-1,” Kevin Bradley, Bovada‘s sports book manager, said. “Michigan State and Wisconsin will now surpass them as favorites for the Big Ten and only time will tell if we are over-adjusting on the Buckeyes, even though they still have a fairly easy schedule.”

It’s far from surprising that the odds have plummeted as they have seeing as Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football.  It’s nonetheless startling to witness such a precipitous drop, less than two weeks before the start of the season, for one of the preseason favorites to claim one of the four spots in the newly-minted College Football Playoff.

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UMass, touted RB Drew Harris ‘part ways’

Drew Harris

In early June, UMass made what was considered by many to be one of its most important personnel addition of the offseason.  Just a month or so later? That important addition is no more.

According to MassLive.com, head coach Mark Whipple confirmed that Drew Harris is no longer a part of the Minutemen football program. There was no specific reason given for the abrupt divorce, although the head coach didn’t appear too happy when discussing it.

“He’s gone. He left. It just wasn’t a good fit,” Whipple said. “Personally, he was a good kid, but it just wasn’t a good fit for the program.”

Based on his pedigree, Harris was expected to make an immediate and significant impact this season.

The four-star recruit was rated as the No. 22 running back in the country in the Class of 2012. With offers from, among others, Arizona State, Arkansas, Georgia, Miami, Michigan State, Penn State, South Carolina and West Virginia, the Pennsylvania native signed with Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, Harris failed to qualify academically and spent 2012 and 2013 at a prep school and a New York JUCO, respectively.

To where Harris may ultimately end up next is unknown.

“We’ve got too many other issues to worry about things I can’t control,” Whipple said when asked what Harris next career move will be

There was some concern that Harris may not qualify academically at UMass, however, although it’s unclear if that aspect played a role in the departure.

(Photo credit: UMass athletics)

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Ex-Herd RB Grooms lands at Liberty

After a trio of legal issues over the past 15 months, Kevin Grooms was summarily dismissed by Marshall in late July. A couple of weeks later, the running back has found a new home.

In a press release, Liberty announced that Grooms has enrolled at the school and will be a member of the Flames football team. Despite the fact that Liberty plays at the FCS level, Grooms won’t be eligible to play immediately in 2014. He will have one year of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

Below is a statement attributed to head coach Turner Gill.

“Kevin sought out our football program because he is at a point in his life where he wants to make some positive changes. He believes Liberty University would provide the type of atmosphere that would allow him to be successful in this endeavor. He understands that he will be expected to grow academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Kevin and be a part of his growth and maturity.

“While Kevin has enjoyed success both academically and athletically at Marshall, the thing that made Kevin attractive to us is the fact that he has had some adversity and he wants to make changes in his life. Liberty University is a place that has always offered young people a second change and we are excited to be a part of that process in Kevin’s life.”

Most of the adversity to which Gill refers was of the player’s own doing.

His departure from the Herd came a few hours after Grooms was arrested on a felony burglary charge as well as misdemeanors of domestic assault, petit larceny and fleeing on foot.

The arrest was Grooms’ third in a little over 15 months. In late April of last year, the back was charged with underage consumption of alcohol and obstruction. Seven months later, he was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with domestic battery and obstruction.

Head coach Doc Holliday reinstated Grooms before the start of spring practice, with the player exiting the 15 sessions as the clear starter at the position.

After redshirting as a true freshman — he was a three-star member of the Herd’s 2011 recruiting class coming out of high school in Hollywood, Fla. — Grooms led Marshall in 2012 with 737 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He was named Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year following that season.

Despite not playing the in the last three games last season due to a combination of injuries and his suspension, Grooms finished third on the team with 503 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.

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Ole Miss WR Sammie Epps charged with pot possession

Sammie Epps

An off-field incident could lead to on-field punitive measures for one of the newest member of the Ole Miss football team.

According to the Tupelo Daily Journal, wide receiver Sammie Epps was arrested late last week and slapped with a pair of misdemeanors.  Specifically, those were possession of marijuana and driving without valid license.

What led to the initial traffic stop by the Oxford Police Department wasn’t detailed.

We are aware of the matter and will address it once we have gathered more facts,” Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said in a statement.

Epps was a three-star member of Ole Miss’ 2014 recruiting class who was rated as the No. 27 tight end in the country. The 6-5, 215-pound Epps was subsequently moved to receiver.

(Photo credit: Ole Miss athletics)

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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

Washington v Arizona State Getty Images

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Pac-12. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 11-2; beat Texas at Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks have been on the cusp of elite status as a program for the past four seasons. It’s time for the program to get over the hump and win a national title. This year’s squad may have the best chance to capture the school’s first national championship. It all starts with the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is the best signal caller currently playing collegiate football. Yes, that includes Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota may have hoisted the trophy last year if he didn’t suffer a knee injury late in the season which hampered his style of play. Mariota is extremely efficient as a passer, highly intelligent with his decision-making and a deadly athlete when he decides to run with the football. The Ducks also return key starters at vital positions. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu may have been the top players selected at their position in May’s NFL draft. Yet, they decided to return to Eugene.  The team’s leading rusher (Byron Marshall), tackler (Derrick Malone) and sack artist (Tony Washington) return as well. As Mark Helfrich enters his second year as head coach, there aren’t any excuses for the Ducks this season. It’s a national championship or bust. This is the year for Oregon to prove its more than a flashy offense and uniform trendsetters.

2. Stanford (Last year: 11-3; lost to Michigan State in Rose Bowl)
Cardinal faithful will almost certainly remind anyone who will listen that their team beat Oregon the past two seasons and claimed Pac-12 conference titles. However, the Cardinal simply aren’t as talented from top to bottom as the Ducks. The key players Oregon retained; the Cardinal lost. The team lost it’s leading rusher, tackler, sack artist and four of its starting offensive linemen. While Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan may be entering his second full season as the team’s starter, he’s a notch below the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.David Shaw is one of the best coaches in college football. This team will continue it’s winning ways. But Stanford will likely take a slight step backwards as the Ducks reclaim the honor as the best team in the Pac-12 Conference.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 7-6; beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl)
College football’s leading-returning passer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns for his senior campaign after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. But Mannion won’t have Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks to throw to anymore. And that ‘s a good thing. Mannion’s experience behind center is a major positive for the Beavers, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley admitted the coaching staff became enamored with throwing the football due to their dynamic duo at quarterback and wide receiver. This season, the Beavers will be more balanced on offense and more closely resemble the team that went 9-4 in 2012 instead of the one that was 7-6 last season. Senior Terran Ward and junior Storm Woods combined for 1,060 rushing yards last season. They should receive bigger workloads. With a more balanced attack, the Beavers hope to avoid another five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The team seen during its 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl is the one Pac-12 opponents should expect to face Saturdays this fall.

4. Washington (Last year: 9-4; beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl)
The University of Washington did the impossible; they pried Chris Petersen out of Boise and made him their new head coach. Petersen inherits a talented roster built slowly over time by previous head coach Steve Sarkisian. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies finally broke through with an 9-4 campaign in 2013. The team then lost it’s head coach, quarterback and workhorse running back. Change of that degree will likely cause the Huskies to take a small step back during the upcoming season. While Peterson was ultra-successful during his eight seasons at Boise State, his team stumbled last year and lost four games for the first time in eight years. The last coach to have that type of success at Boise then finish with a four-loss team before moving to the Pac-12 was Dan Hawkins. Furthermore, there are still questions at quarterback for the Huskies. Cyler Miles hasn’t shown he’s ready to take over the team. Until one of the quarterbacks does, the Huskies will have to rely on a talented defense, particularly a defensive line that features nose tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha.

5. Washington State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl)
This will be Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman, Washington. It was in Leach’s third year at Texas Tech he was able to lead the Red Raiders to a nine-win season. He won’t be as lucky with the Cougars. It’s taken Leach some time to implement the “Air Raid” offense that far north. This should be the first season in which it’s fully functional with senior Connor Halliday as the trigger-man behind center. However, the team’s defense struggled mightily in 2013 and finished 102nd overall. Leach’s run at Texas Tech was special, because he could out-scheme nearly everyone in the Big 12. But he could always rely on the talent he recruited in the state of Texas. The state of Washington doesn’t present the same level of talent. In three recruiting classes, only one former four-star recruit, wide receiver Gabe Marks, is expected to contribute for the Cougars this season. And that talent disparity will keep Wazzu toward the bottom of the Pac-12.

6. Cal (Last year: 1-11)
The hiring of Sonny Dykes as Cal’s head coach was an absolute disaster. The Golden Bears finished 1-11. They didn’t play any defense whatsoever. Players were leaving the program as soon as possible once the season ended. The only expectation for the team this season is to improve on last year’s record and actually win a conference game. Cal should be able to move the ball in Dykes’ version of the “Air Raid” offense. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his second season as starter after he put together a solid season as a true freshman. Plus, four of Goff’s top five receivers return. The Golden Bears will be able to throw the football, but the question is whether or not the defense will be able to stop anyone. History says no. Art Kaufman was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator this off season, and he has an uphill battle in front of him. Even when Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, a national ranking and nearly defeated a Texas A&M team led by Johnny Manzielthe Bulldogs were the worst defensive team in college football. Dykes’ emphasis falls on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not going to change. It’s only a matter of time before Cal is looking for another head coach once the school’s new athletic director is named.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. UCLA (Last year: 10-3; beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl)
Expectations are sky high at UCLA. And they should be. In two short years, Jim Mora has completely rebuilt the culture in Westwood. Plus, the Bruins are fortunate to have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley. If Hundley declared for the NFL draft this year, he would have been a first-round selection. He’s projected to be a Top 10 pick for next May. The quarterback is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent on this roster. Senior Jordan James and sophomore Paul Perkins return in the backfield after combining for 1,107 rushing yards in 2013. Devin Fuller is a dynamic play maker out of the slot. And the defense may be even more talented. The two-way superstar Myles Jacks is one of college football’s top linebackers and a pretty good running back too. Erik Kendricks is highly instinctive and a tackling machine. Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes will be one year better and impossible to move along the defensive interior. And the secondary is experienced with Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams returning. The No. 1 one goal for the Bruins will be to claim a Pac-12 championship, but this team has legitimate national championship potential. They simply have to get past Oregon and Stanford to prove they’re worthy of a berth in the College Football Playoff.

2. USC (Last year: 10-4; beat Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl)
It’s hard to maintain momentum from one season to another. Although, USC appeared to regain its confidence and swagger as a program when it won six of its last seven games under the direction of interim head coach Ed Oregeron. Despite the team’s late season success, Oregeron wasn’t hired to become the team’s permanent head coach. Enter Steve Sarkisian, a former co-offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll. Despite sub-par seasons by USC’s standards in recent years, the team has two things in its favor. First, the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom is always among the best in college football. Second, the team’s depth will continue to improve as the bottom of the roster is rebuilt after being previously hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. The Trojans will be led by a strong defense which features the potential No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The unit finished 13th overall in total defense last season. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to grow under the direction of offensive coordinator Clay Helton and junior quarterback Cody Kessler. The offense played at a much higher level once Lane Kiffin was fired and Helton became the primary play-caller. It was a smart decision by Sarkisian to retain Helton on his staff.  All the pieces are in place for the Trojans to become a factor in the Pac-12 again. USC faithful has to hope Sarkisian was the right hire to keep them in the national conversation.

3. Arizona State (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl)
Since the Pac-12 South is generally considered the weaker division in the conference, it’s been somewhat overlooked that the Sun Devils played in the league’s championship game last year. Head coach Todd Graham has built a team that is known for its fast-pace offense and aggressive defense. In fact, Arizona State features the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 with Taylor Kelly behind center and Jaelen Strong creating mismatches for defenses. Kelly, in particular, has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons. And running back D.J. Foster is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Arizona State may even be able to challenge UCLA and USC atop the Pac-12 South, but the team’s previously devastating defensive front is being completely rebuilt. The team lost it’s top tackler, sack artist and two-time Pac-12 Defense Player of the Year Will Sutton to the NFL. Graham will continue to blitz every chance he gets, but he no longer has the talent to win individual match-ups on a regular basis. The offense will score points, but the defense will have trouble stopping anyone. 

4.  Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Boston College in AdvoCare V100 Bowl)
Is the year the Wildcats are ready to take the next step under head coach Rich Rodriguez? During his first two seasons with the program, Arizona finished with an 8-5 record. The problem with Rodriguez is the passing game and defense suffer from the coach’s insistence to implement his offensive scheme, which is a zone-read heavy. The x-factor this season will be whomever Rodriguez’s names as his starting quarterback. Last season, B.J. Denker didn’t provide any consistency throwing the football. It will either be redshirt freshman Anu Solomon or senior transfer Jesse Scroggins which takes over the offense. Solomon reportedly has a slight lead in the competition during fall camp. These two will have to be better dual-threats out of the backfield than Denker was. And the defense has to be better after surrendering 401.1 yards per game last season. If these two things happen, the Wildcats will finish higher in the standings than CFT currently projects. But, it’s unlikely.

5. Colorado (Last year: 4-8)
A 4-8 record for any other program would be a disappointment. Colorado, however, isn’t just any program. It’s a school that went through an ugly divorce with previous head coach Jon Embree. Four wins by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre was actually a three-game improvement. MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding a program in a similar fashion. He took San Jose State from a one-win team to 10 wins in three seasons. While the growth at Colorado should be far more incremental, the Buffaloes will continue to improve under the current coaching staff. The team returns 16 starters, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, and has a manageable non-conference schedule. There are at least five games the Buffaloes could be considered the favorites to win. It will be up to the coaching staff and players to steal one or two more wins from Pac-12 opponents.

6.  Utah (Last year: 5-7)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his 10th season with the program, and it could be his last if the Utes fall to the basement of the Pac-12 South. The problems start on the offensive side of the football. Whittingham used numerous different play-callers in recent years, but the Utes’ offense continued to sputter. Utah finished 76th overall in total offense during the 2013 campaign. Last season the defense wasn’t the team’s saving grace either. The Utes finished 60th overall in total defense. Whittingham will need key players to step up this season if the team has any hope of consistently competing in the Pac-12. Quarterback Travis Wilson has to improve after throwing 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a sophomore. Another 5-7 season or worse will likely signal change within the program.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Oregon over UCLA

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2014 lost to torn ACL, Buffs’ starting DB Jered Bell seeks sixth year

Colorado Arizona NCAA Football AP

While Colorado has seen the last of a starting member of its defense for 2014, they likely haven’t seen the last of him at the school.

Last week, Jered Bell suffered a torn ACL during practice that will cost him the entire 2014 season. Because he already missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, the redshirt senior would make a solid candidate for a sixth season of eligibility.

That appears to be the tack the defensive back will take.

“It’s a shame being a guy with so much experience, good leader,”head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I think he will come back (in 2015) for his sixth year. I believe that will all go through. He told me he wanted to if the knee heals right and (rehabilitation) goes as it should.”

Bell has played in 36 games when healthy for the Buffs, starting 14 of those contests. 11 of those starts came at free safety in 2013.

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Maryland announces ‘lifetime degree guarantee’ for athletes

Maryland Terps

Dubbing it “The Maryland Way Guarantee,” the University of Maryland is blazing a trail on which most, if not all, Power Five conference schools will ultimately travel.

The university announced Tuesday morning that, beginning in November of this year, it will offer a lifetime degree guarantee for student-athletes in all sports. Maryland is one of the first, if not the first, to offer such a guarantee in all sports, not just the revenue-producers in football and basketball.

The historic program coincides with the school’s official move from the ACC to the Big Ten last month.  It also comes a couple of weeks after a mediated settlement was reached in the lawsuits filed by both the school and its former conference.

“Our vision is to be the best intercollegiate athletic program while producing graduates who are prepared to serve as leaders in the local, state and global communities,” athletic director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. “We are confident ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will further demonstrate our commitment to our student-athletes’ pursuit of a college degree.”

The school described the parameters of the program as follows:

Beginning in November of 2014-15, ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will provide all incoming student-athletes with a multi-year scholarship guarantee. Pursuant to this program, should a student-athlete exhaust his or her eligibility prior to graduating, Maryland will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation. If a student-athlete is injured and unable to compete, we will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation.

Additionally, Maryland will provide tuition, books and fees for any student-athlete who leaves the institution in good academic standing and returns to complete his or her degree.

Again, student-athletes will be permitted, at no cost to them, to return to the university and obtain their degree at any point in their life.  Previously, and as is the case all across the country in every sport, Maryland student-athletes were offered one-year scholarships, which were subject to renewal every year.

Kudos to Maryland for taking a step that the rest of the power conferences will eventually take as autonomy begins to take hold.

(Photo credit: University of Maryland)
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Four-star LSU signee in ‘final phases of admission process’

Travonte Valentine

It appears LSU’s long wait for the arrival of one of its top 2014 signees is all but over.

Travonte Valentine‘s high school, Mike Tunsil, confirmed to the Baton Rouge Advocate that his former player has been cleared by the NCAA and will play for the Tigers this fall. The defensive lineman had been awaiting clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Valentine is expected to arrive on campus Tuesday and begin practicing with his new teammates in the next day or two.

For its part, LSU would only state that “Valentine is going through the final phases of the admission process.” “He has not been cleared to join the football team,” the school added.

As noted by the Advocate, Valentine must go through the NCAA’s mandated four-day acclimation period and won’t be in full pads until his fifth day of practice.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2014 recruiting class, Valentine was rated as the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 7 player at any position in the state of Florida.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 10 Stanford

Ty Montgomery

2013 record:11-3 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12 (1st overall in Pac-12)
2013 postseason: Rose Bowl vs. Michigan State (24-20 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 11/No. 10
Head coach: David Shaw (34-7 overall; 34-7 in three years at Stanford)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bloomgren (4th season at Stanford)
2013 offensive rankings: 22nd rushing offense (207.4 ypg); 92nd passing offense (197.9 ypg); 69th total offense (405.5 ypg); 45th scoring offense (32.3 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Lance Anderson (8th season at Stanford)
2013 defensive rankings: 3rd rushing defense (89.4 ypg); 96th passing defense (253.8 ypg); 16th total defense (343.1 ypg); 10th scoring defense (19.0 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Palo Alto, California
Stadium: Stanford Stadium (50,000; grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Everyone knows exactly what to expect of Stanford. The Cardinal will have a smash-mouth offense and a hard-nosed defense. Stanford overwhelms at the point of attack, and that won’t change any time soon. Stanford head coach David Shaw won’t allow the program to veer off course. When Shaw had to replace Derek Mason as defensive coordinator after four years with the program, the head coach promoted from within his coaching staff. Enter Lance Anderson as the new Willie Shaw Director of Defense. Anderson was originally hired when Jim Harbaugh took over the program. He’s coached the defensive line and linebackers. And now Anderson will provide stability to one of the most physical and intimidating defenses in the country. Continuity has become a staple of the Cardinal program.

THE BAD
There is no way to replace what Stanford lost when Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds exhausted their eligibility and are now members of NFL teams. Skov led the team with 108 tackles. Murphy led the FBS with 15 sacks. And Reynolds was the team’s leader in the secondary. Junior Blake Martinez takes over for Skov, while senior A.J. Tarpley will become the leader of the defense. Senior Kevin Anderson will step in as Murphy’s replacement, but he only registered 1.5 sacks in 14 games last season. Kodi Whitfield will be the team’s new starter at safety. Each will live up to the team’s standards as well-coached and disciplined defenders, but it’s hard to imagine these three players replacing the production Stanford lost.

THE UNKNOWN
Since Harbaugh took over the program and Shaw replaced him, the big uglies have become Stanford’s calling card. Each week, whatever opponent Stanford plays absolutely knows they are going to get punched in the mouth by an overwhelming offensive line. Stanford plays with six or seven offensive linemen at any given time and situation. However, talent doesn’t always trump continuity up front. The Cardinal lost four of its five starting offensive linemen to the NFL after last season. Kyle Murphy (right tackle), Joshua Garnett (right guard), Graham Shuler (center) and Johnny Caspers (left guard) will replace Cameron Fleming, Kyle Danser, Khalil Wilkes and and David Yankey. The only mainstay is left tackle Andrus Peat, who just happens to be projected as first-round talent for the 2015 NFL draft.  Good offensive line play demands proper communication, technique and an understanding of what the man next to you is going to do each and every play. Stanford will once again feature a tremendously talented offensive line this season, but at what point during the season will this group completely gel and play at the level expected of them?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. USC
This could easily be Oregon in this slot, but the Cardinal have beaten the Ducks two years in a row and the team will have the utmost confidence facing them again during the upcoming season. USC, meanwhile, was one of the Cardinal’s key losses last season. The Trojans were playing extremely well down the stretch and stole a 20-17 victory that was decided by a field goal with 19 seconds remaining in the game. The timing of Stanford’s meeting with USC this year is also important. The Cardinal hosts the Trojans the second week of the season with a national audience prepared to watch the game. The last time Stanford lost a game that early in the season was five years ago when it fell to Wake Forest 24-17. A win against the Trojans will help set the table in Pac-12 play and spur national conversation. A loss will likely place Stanford in the background as other teams programs roll through their early-season schedules.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: WR Ty Montgomery
Stanford doesn’t run an offensive scheme where a wide receiver (or any other skill position) will post the level of individual numbers necessary to win a Heisman Trophy. After all, Andrew Luck was the best  quarterback in the nation for two seasons, and he finished as the runner-up for the award twice. Montgomery, however, is one of the most dynamic offense weapons in college football. The wide receiver’s numbers are meager when compared to other receivers that play in spread offenses. Last year, Montgomery registered 61 receptions for 958 yards. While those numbers should be expected to improve during his senior campaign, Montgomery doubles as one of college football’s top kick returners. He was named a Walter Camp All-American as a kick returner. Stanford is expected to contend in the Pac-12 Conference again this season. Big plays from Montgomery in big moments might help Heisman voters overlook the fact he’ll never put up eye-popping numbers as a wide receiver. 

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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