AP Photo/The Orange County Register, Bill Alkofer

BCS Championship coaches took different routes to Pasadena

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Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahn were each hired to do one thing; restore the pride in their respective programs. Each wasted little time in building a national championship contender, although they took different paths to getting to Pasadena, California for the chance to bring their programs t the top of the college football world.

Fisher is a branch off of the Nick Saban coaching tree. He served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU under the current Alabama head coach, but he remained in Baton Rouge when Saban decided to answer a call from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Now under Les Miles, Fisher made a name for himself as LSU’s offensive guru and helping to make quarterback JaMarcus Russell a top NFL draft pick (kindly forget how that all played out). As Fisher built up his resume at LSU, it was becoming clear Fisher was going to be given a chance to serve as head coach one day.

That path to becoming a head coach hit a road block in 2006. Fisher interviewed for an opening at the UAB, but his contract offer was vetoed by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. Saban, now back in the SEC after flaking out with the Dolphins, wanted to bring Fisher back on to his staff at Alabama. Fisher instead took an offer from Florida State to perform the same coaching duties, but this was more than a simple lateral move. Florida State went the extra yard to name Fisher the coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden. Bowden announced his resignation at the end fo the 2009 season. Fisher got to work right away by re-energizing a sleeping giant of a program. Fisher’s leadership in recruiting efforts showed immediate results and Florida State started building the foundation for long-term dominance in the ACC that had long been absent in Tallahassee.

The results of that first recruiting class under Fisher will now get a chance to demonstrate how far the program has come. Six starters for the Seminoles on Monday night were a part of the first recruiting class under Fisher as head coach. that includes strong safety Terrence Brooks, linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith as well as wide receiver Kenny Shaw and fullback Chad Abram.

In Fisher’s first year on the job at Florida State, Auburn was making a run for the first BCS championship in school history. Gene Chizik had surprised many by building a championship caliber program at Auburn, but the biggest asset on the sidelines was perceived to be offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who had served his time as a high school coach and college assistant coach at multiple stops. Malzahn quickly became a hot commodity as Cam Newton was playing his way to a Heisman Trophy in Malzahn’s offensive system. During that championship season for Auburn, Malzahn was named the top assistant coach in college football with the Broyles Award. Now a highly attractive option as a head coach, Auburn offered Malzahn a nice raise to keep him around.

Over time it was clear Malzahn was not going to be sticking around for long as an assistant coach. Whether it was a conflict of power or just a matter of getting out and giving head coaching a shot, Malzahn jumped at the opportunity to coach Arkansas State in 2012. It worked out extremely well for Malzahn, leading the Red Wolves to a  9-3 record and a Sun Belt Conference championship. As Auburn continued to falter the pressure was on Auburn to make a coaching change. That meant the end of the line for Chizik, leaving the door wide open for the assistant who was adored for his work within the program.

Malzahn was named the head coach of Auburn in December 2012, and he quickly went to work to put together a staff he felt comfortable working with. Although the optimism was high for the new Malzahn era at Auburn, few could have imagined how rapid the turnaround would be. Auburn was 3-9 in 2012 and immediately turned in a 13-1 season under Malzahn, knocking off rival and top-ranked Alabama in unbelievable fashion, running away with the sEC championship against Missouri and getting a chance to lay claim to one last BCS title on behalf of the time SEC.

On Monday night, the two paths will cross in what could easily be an epic showdown between two of college football’s top coaches today.

SEC announces coaches’ all-conference teams

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 5: Wide receiver Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide carries the ball against defensive back Quincy Wilson #6 of the Florida Gators in the first quarter during the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on December 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
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The SEC announced its coaches’ All-SEC selections on Thursday and, as you can imagine, these teams would be near impossible to beat on a field. Obviously, they’re stacked with the best players from college football’s most competitive conference. But they’d be extra-impossible to beat because the offense would take the field with 12 players on each side of the ball.

Some leagues name 15 or more players to their all-league teams, though, so the SEC isn’t the worst offender on the block. But, still, come on.

Anyway, here’s the first team:

First Team Offense
QB – Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
RB – Leonard Fournette, LSU
RB – Nick Chubb, Georgia
WR – Calvin Ridley, Alabama
WR – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
TE – O.J. Howard, Alabama
C – Ethan Pocic, LSU
OL – Cam Robinson, Alabama
OL – Dan Skipper, Arkansas
OL – Greg Pyke, Georgia
OL – Alex Kozan, Auburn
AP – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

First Team Defense
DL – Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
DL – Jonathan Allen, Alabama
DL – Derek Barnett, Tennessee
DL – Carl Lawson, Auburn
LB – Reuben Foster, Alabama
LB – Kendell Beckwith, LSU
LB – Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
LB – Jarrad Davis, Florida
DB – Eddie Jackson, Alabama
DB – Jalen Tabor, Florida
DB – Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
DB – Tre’Davious White, LSU

Specialists
PK – Daniel Carlson, Auburn
P – J.K. Scott, Alabama
RS – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
RS – Evan Berry, Tennessee

The coaches’ selections speak to the power imbalance in the conference; 20 of the 28 first-team slots (71 percent) went to West Division players. Of the eight East players chosen, half hail from Tennessee. Alabama comprised a quarter of the team with seven selections, followed by LSU and Texas A&M matching Tennessee’s four — although A&M’s selections were really just Myles Garrett plus Christian Kirk in three separate positions.

The SEC’s season begins a week from tonight when Tennessee hosts Appalachian State (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) and South Carolina visits Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

CFT Preseason Previews: Heisman Watch

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Dalvin Cook #4 of the Florida State Seminoles runs for a 24-yard touchdown against the South Florida Bulls in the third quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. Florida State defeated South Florida 34-14. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The 2015 season was the Year of the Running Back in college football. Alabama’s Derrick Henry became just the second ball-carrier to claim the Stiffarm Trophy since the turn of the century, and running backs accounted for the top two and five of the top eight voting slots. Three of those five are back this season. With that in mind, will running backs continue their forward momentum and claim back-to-back Heismans, and the first non-Alabama running back Heisman, since 1998-99? Or will quarterbacks wrestle it back? Or how about a wide receiver, an offensive lineman or a defensive…. okay, let’s keep this realistic.

Leonard Fournette, LSU RB: Undoubtedly the most talented player in college football. Problem is, he knows it. The talk of him sitting out the season to devote himself to a nine-month NFL Draft prep is an odd crusade for some in football, but it’ll never happen. Still, though, Fournette is already dealing with injuries this season. He knows the pot of gold awaiting him on the other side of that rainbow. Will he dig deep, put his head down and charge for those two extra yards, or will he opt for self-preservation and do his best to simply ride this season out?

Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB: He’s got the skills, and he’s got the tools around him. Better yet, Clemson’s defense will probably take a step back this season, meaning he could stay on the field for more fourth quarters as the Tigers pile on points to put people away. So, yeah, everything is here to make a Heisman run. On the other hand, how often does the preseason favorite actually win the Heisman these days? There was Marcus Mariota in 2014, yes. Before that you may have to go back to Troy Smith all the way back in 2006.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford RB: The quarterback is new. The wide receiving corps and offensive line are re-tooling. Everyone in the stadium knows McCaffrey is getting the ball as often as possible, and in as many ways as the Cardinal can possibly get him the ball. Should his numbers remain anywhere close to his 2015 statistics, McCaffrey could benefit from voters’ desire to choose a “throw-back” candidate.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State RB: Cook’s numbers from a year ago — 229 carries, 1,691 yards, 19 touchdowns, a ridiculous 7.38 yards per carry, a full foot-and-a-half more than the next closest runner with at least 225 attempts — were Heisman-esque, yet only good enough to get him to seventh place in last year’s voting. Do that again on a team that should seriously contend for a national championship and Cook may jump all the way to first.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB: The knock against Mayfield is that he’s a system quarterback. But if you’re going to be a system quarterback, what better system to run than one with two All-America caliber running backs, playing in a conference where 40 points a game is a baseline, and with one of college football’s strongest brand names on your helmet?

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB: Barrett has been oddly overlooked this preseason. All he did two years ago was toss 34 touchdowns against 10 picks, hit nearly 65 percent of his throws for nine yards per attempt, finish second nationally in passing efficiency whilst rushing for nearly 1,000 yards — all as a redshirt freshman.

Quick hits on the rest of the field:

Josh Rosen, UCLA QB: Maybe the best pro-prospect in college football, but NFL scouts may like him more than Heisman voters.

Royce Freeman, Oregon RB: The overlooked running back of 2015 — 1,800 yards, 17 touchdowns. But will the Ducks’ defense hold his candidacy back?

Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech QB: The most talented in the long line of prolific Red Raider quarterbacks. But can Texas Tech get enough stops to mount him a serious campaign?

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan ATH: Could he follow another Wolverine’s path to a do-it-all Heisman win?

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M DE: If the Heisman is going to a full-time defensive player, Garrett is it. But if Suh, Clowney, et. al., couldn’t break through that glass ceiling, why would Garrett?

ECU transfer Kurt Benkert wins Virginia’s starting QB job

In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert rolls out to pass during NCAA college football practice in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Four months ago, Kurt Benkert was one the losing end of a quarterback competition at East Carolina.  Fastforward to today, and he’s now the trigger man in a Power Five offense.

First-year Hoos head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced Wednesday that Benkert will start the season opener against Richmond.  Benkert had been involved in a competition that included returning starter Matt Johns and Texas/Arizona transfer Connor Brewer.

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Benkert came to the Cavaliers as a graduate transfer, but is not a one-year stop-gap as he has two years of eligibility remaining.

Named the Pirates’ starter in early August of 2015, Benkert sustained a right knee injury a couple of weeks later that knocked him out for the entire season.  Blake Kemp took over and kept a stranglehold on the starting job through spring practice this year, triggering Benkert’s decision to move on.

Benkert has attempted 10 passes in his collegiate career, all in 2014.

In starting all 12 games for the Cavaliers last season, Johns’ 2,810 passing yards were third in school history while his 20 touchdowns were tied for fourth.  His 17 interceptions, though, were the most of any FBS quarterback in 2015.

Cassius Peat granted release by Mich. St., appears headed to JUCO

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 15:  A Michigan State Spartans helmet on the bench during a college football game against the Maryland Terrapins at Byrd Stadium on November 15, 2014 in College Park, Maryland.  The Spartans won 37-15.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, Mark Dantonio stated that Michigan State was giving Cassius Peat “an opportunity to work on his academics and get himself in order” as his status with the program was “in flux.”

A week or so later?  He gone.

MSU confirmed Wednesday that Peat has been granted a release from his scholarship and will transfer from the Spartans.  And, in fact, the defensive lineman may have already found a new home, one at the junior college level.

Peat, initially a UCLA commit, was a three-star 2015 recruit who was rated as the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Arizona.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman, and had been listed as the No. tackle heading into summer camp.

However, according to mlive.com, Peat did not report for camp amidst his academic issues.