CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Six-Pack of Storylines

5 Comments

Finally, after (nearly) seven long, agonizing months filled with seemingly nothing but arrests, suspensions, transfers, lawsuits and one Sharknado, the dawn of a new season is upon us.

In just 24 days, we’ll be hunkered down in front of the television taking in the glory that is the South Carolina Gamecocks playing host to the post-JFF Texas A&M Aggies. The day before that, the most addicted of us [/raises hand slowly at first, then proudly and defiantly] will take in the actual kickoff to the 2014 FBS season: FCS Abilene Christian at Georgia State of the Sun Belt.

In between now and then? Previews. Glorious, illuminating, voluminous previews as far as the eye can see.

We’ll kick off the look at the upcoming season the same way we have the past five years: storylines that you should pay attention to or could be in play in the coming months.

Proceed, and enjoy.

YOU KIDDING ME?!?! PLAYOFFS?!?!
No, Coach Mora, we’re not kidding. And we’re going to talk about it as a playoff has finally, thankfully come to the game of college football, and it will be, at least entering early September, the most talked-about aspect and overriding theme of the new season.

We’ll have a more in-depth primer on the particulars of the new system exactly three weeks from today (check out the repository for all of the preview posting dates HERE), but for now here are the bare essentials of what you need to know: the playoff will consist of four teams and two semifinal games — this year hosted by the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl — played on New Year’s Day followed by a stand-alone national championship game 11 days later at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. The four teams will be chosen by a committee consisting of 13 individuals, a group made up of former coaches, current and former administrators — five current athletic directors, one each from a Power Five conference, included — one retired media member and a former United States Secretary of State.

If you thought controversy was a thing of the past with the glorious death of the BCS? Think again as the new College Football Playoff and how the committee selects the four teams will dwarf just about anything we ever saw in the decade and a half under the old bastard of a system. Buckle up — and grab your popcorn — as it’s going to be one hell of a ride as the new system in general and the committee specifically works its way through what’s expected to be some serious and controversial growing pains.

Florida State v ClemsonJAMEIS’ ENCORE, FSU’S TITLE DEFENSE
Both Jameis Winston personally and his Florida State Seminoles as a team will have tough acts to follow in 2014.

All Winston did in his first season as a starter at the collegiate level was become just the second-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy — along with an armful of other postseason honors — en route to leading his team to the last-ever BCS title. During that championship run, the Seminoles were a devastating football machine that destroyed just about everything in its path: FSU won every game but two — Boston College (48-34) and Auburn (34-31) — by at least 27 points; they won nine of the 14 by 30 or more. In other words, they were a veritable buzzsaw that will see a plethora of returning talent (15 starters), leaving the Seminoles as the favorite until someone knocks them off. That doesn’t mean the ‘Noles are without question marks, though, and not the least of which involves Winston.

The redshirt sophomore has had an, ahem, eventful last several months, from the rape allegations to the crab caper to media-created hiccups littered about here and there. He will enter 2014 with a Johnny Manziel-level of hype and will be under perhaps an even harsher microscope than Johnny Football ever faced at the collegiate level. What if any impact will the added scrutiny have on Winston on the field? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining how successful the ‘Noles are in their title defense. Well, that and replacing a couple of key pieces on both sides of the ball due to early departures for the NFL as well as the highly-respected defensive coordinator leavi… meh, who am I kidding. Barring a substantial injury outbreak, FSU will be a heavy, heavy favorite to stake its claim to one of the four spots in the inaugural CFP.

SEC LogoCAN THE SEC CLIMB BACK TO THE CFB MOUNTAINTOP?
For six consecutive years, from 2007 through 2012, the college football season ended the way it began: with an SEC team as the reigning BCS champion. Then 2013 happened as the conference of champions and its ballyhooed seven-year title run morphed into the conference of runner-ups as Auburn dropped a three-point heartbreaker to Florida State in Pasadena. The question now becomes, was it just a one-year blip or the beginning of a trend? The answer, of course, depends on who you ask and how much stock you place on a single season.

For an SEC fan, it’s resoundingly the former, and for good reason. At least on paper, no fewer than five of the teams in the conference — Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina — have the kind of talent that could translate into a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Hell, there could even be two teams from the preeminent college football league qualify for the CFP, with some folks already planting the seed that it would be a shame and/or a crime if half the field didn’t come from the SEC. Nonetheless, don’t let one title-less year fool you — the SEC is still the deepest conference in college football, with any team looking to grab the first-ever playoff trophy facing the very real possibility of going through an SEC squad — or two — to get it.

On the flip side, there are concerns, especially when it comes to the most important position on the gridiron. Quick quiz: who is the most experienced SEC quarterback entering 2014? Answer: Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace. Now, when the answer to that question is “Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace,” red flags fly up and sirens go off at an alarming rate. That’s certainly a cause for concern, with four of the five perceived favorites — Auburn and Nick Marshall being the lone exception — breaking in a new starter. Another? The gap between the SEC and the rest of the country appears to be shrinking, at least slightly. Oregon, Oklahoma — as it showed in the Sugar Bowl thumping of Alabama — Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, Baylor and Stanford all have the look of teams who could not only keep pace with the best the SEC has to offer, but could prove teams that trump the best the preeminent football conference in the country.

Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, it will be fascinating to watch how the conference as a whole reacts to being the hunter instead of the hunted.

California v OregonWEST COAST PREPS FOR AERIAL BOMBARDMENT
There may be question marks pockmarking the SEC at the quarterback position all across the board, but that’s not even remotely the case in the westernmost FBS conference.

Start with the main ingredient of two serious Heisman contenders — Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley — add in a dash of under-the-radar candidates — Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion — and a pinch of above-average quality — Washington State’s Connor Halliday, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, USC’s Cody Kessler and Cal’s Jared Goff — and you have a recipe for Pac-12 quarterbacks keeping defensive coordinators across the country awake and balled up in the corner in the fetal position.

How quarterback-driven will the Pac-12 be in 2014?  The two preseason favorites — by both the media and gamblers — are Oregon and UCLA; it’s no coincidence that Mariota and Hundley, especially the former, are viewed as being head and shoulders above their conference counterparts.  How those two perform will go a long way in determining how the conference race plays out — and whether either can push their respective teams and thus their league into the College Football Playoff this January.

Will MuschampSCORCHING SEATS FOR UF’s MUSCHAMP, UM’S HOKE
Many coaches will enter 2014 on the proverbial hot seat — we’ll have a more extensive look at that in a little over a week — but none more so than the two referenced in the headline.

And, of the two, there’s none higher-up on the Scoville scale than Will Muschamp, as he readily acknowledged earlier this summer.  First, the particulars: coming off an 11-2 season in his second year at Florida that raised the hopes of Gator Nation, the football program hit rock-bottom with a resounding thud and in near-historic fashion.  The 4-8 record was the worst since 1979; a bowl-less postseason was the first for a non-sanctioned Gators team since 1986; a second 3-5 record in SEC play in three years showed just how far behind the conference elite they currently are; and, arguably most embarrassingly, UF lost to FCS Georgia Southern in The Swamp.  The calls for Muschamp’s head on a platter from the media and fans alike were coming fast and furious.  So much so that the athletic director had to offer his beleaguered head coach an in-season vote of confidence. While Jeremy Foley has publicly supported the coach, there is growing concern behind closed doors that Muschamp may not be the man to lead the Gators out of the post-Urban Meyer morass — which actually started while Urb was lording over Gainesville — in which the program’s currently stuck.  One more season even remotely similar to 2013 — I’m guessing 8-5/9-4 with a bowl win to slightly cool down the seat — and the post-Muschamp era will begin in earnest.

Now, if Muschamp’s a Carolina Reaper in Scoville Heat Units, that would make Brady Hoke a, what, Bhut Jolokia?

Early on, it was all chili puppy dogs and pizza rainbows for Hoke in Ann Arbor.  In his first year at Michigan, the Wolverines went 11-2 and beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.  Most importantly, and even as it came between the tenures of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, UM ended a six-game losing streak against hated rival Ohio State.  The honeymoon was hot, steamy and sweaty; the marriage since?  Ankle-length robes and open bathroom doors.  The Wolverines have gone a pedestrian 15-11 the last two years — two losses in minor bowls included — and returned to their losing ways in The Game.  Not only that, but UM has watched as “little brother” Michigan State has leapfrogged them, with the Spartans not only turning themselves into a force in the conference but a factor on the national stage as well.  Throw in some coaching changes, uncertainty at the quarterback position, an offensive line that’s subpar and suspect, just add everything all up and, like Muschamp, this could very well be a make-or-break year for Hoke.

Charlie StrongCAN CHARLIE MAKE TEXAS STRONG IMMEDIATELY?
The short, and likely correct, answer: nope. Or, unlikely if that makes you feel better. There are several unknowns when it comes to Charlie Strong taking over as Mack Brown‘s replacement at Texas. How will he handle the pressure cooker — created by media, fans and boosters alike — that is Austin and football-mad UT after coming from a hoops school like Louisville? More to the point, how will he handle the politicking and, even more importantly, the back-room games that are ofttimes played at a university and within an athletic department the size of the Longhorns?

Those are but a couple of the unknowns; here’s a known: Strong is a damn-fine head football coach, one who isn’t getting his just due as the home-run hire he was for UT. He may not have been the “people’s choice” to replace Brown, may not have even been the boosters’ choice, but, after Nick Saban or his agent spurned the reported nine-figure overtures, he was the best option for the Longhorns moving forward. Does that mean UT will be back on the stage immediately? Heck no, a point Strong somewhat controversially conveyed this offseason… and one he stated it for good reason.

The cupboard wasn’t exactly stocked or overflowing when Strong took over, with the coach doing some additional cleaning of the pantry the past couple of weeks.  Texas is behind at least Oklahoma, Baylor and, probably, Kansas State in the Big 12 let alone whatever their standing is nationally.  And, for good measure, keep in mind that this is a team that, over the past four years, has gone just 30-21, which is more Texas Tech University than University of Texas. Strong is a good coach; he’s not, however, an instantaneous miracle worker. Strong will need time to put his imprint on the football program, to trudge through the malaise and institute a much-needed culture change. Hopefully the athletic department, boosters and fans give him the time he will need to turn things around.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Report: Foot injury puts Georgia WR Riley Ridley on sideline for spring

Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Georgia wide receiver Riley Ridley has not been practicing this spring, but it has nothing to do with his offseason misdemeanor from a couple of weeks ago. Instead, a foot injury appears to have sidelined Ridley for the spring.

According to a report from Gridiron Now, Ridley has been out due to the foot injury. When the foot injury occurred is not reported. Even if his foot was not injured, it remains unknown if Ridley would be participating int he spring, at least at this point. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has said Ridley will be internally disciplined for his misdemeanor pot possession from earlier this month.

“He’ll receive discipline,” Smart said. “We are very disappointed in his decision. We do not condone that behavior. I think Riley is going to learn a valuable lesson from this mistake.”

When Ridley may be available again remains unknown, as does what exactly the punishment to him will be from Smart. A one-game suspension is the expected result for Ridley according to the university’s student-athlete handbook.

USF DB Hassan Childs in stable condition after overnight shooting incident

Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Leave a comment

USF defensive back Hassan Childs was injured in a shooting incident overnight. Fortunately, Childs is currently said to be in stable condition, according to USF.

“We are deeply concerned that an incident occurred overnight in which one of our guys, Hassan Childs, was injured in a shooting,” a statement from USF head coach Charlie Strong said. “Thankfully, Hassan is in stable condition and being well cared for, and no one else was injured. There is an ongoing investigation of the incident and we are in the process of gathering further information.”

The shooting took place off campus, but details about the incident have not been reported.

Childs played in eight games for the Bulls last year. He recorded 16 tackles and returned two punts for three yards in a backup role.

Turner Field on schedule to be ready for Georgia State season opener

Leave a comment

The Atlanta Braves opened the doors to their brand new baseball stadium over the weekend to fans as the baseball team gets ready to open the 2017 season in their new digs. Meanwhile, at the old home of the Braves, Georgia State University is moving along according to schedule in downsizing and renovating Turner Field to serve as the permanent home of the football program. So far, so good, as the university fully anticipates the stadium will be ready to go for the season opener on August 31 against Tennessee State.

The job that’s being done is incredible,” Athletic Director Charlie Cobb told 11Alive. “Each and every time I walk in, I see something new being done.”

Renovation and construction at Turner Field got started in February. The entire project will be done in phases as the university plans to develop around thew football stadium for an expanding university. As far as the stadium goes, the seating capacity will be retrofitted to hold a capacity of 23,000 fans. That will be the first phase of the master plan, with a second phase to complete building the rest of the stadium and add additional seating for fans.

“We plan on doing some unique things capturing the history of the stadium, but also creating a football facility that speaks to Georgia State,” Cobb said. “One of the stories we want to tell is the fact that it went from being an Olympic venue, to the home of the Braves, and now to the home of Georgia State. I think we can write that third chapter.”

Georgia State previously played its home games in the Georgia Dome, the now former home of the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL. The Falcons are also moving into a new football stadium this season. The Falcons’ new home at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will also welcome some college football action to the stadium this season with the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff will move to the new stadium from the Georgia Dome. This year’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff features Alabama and Florida State on September 2 and Georgia Tech and Tennessee on September 4. The SEC Championship Game and the Peach Bowl will also be hosted in the new stadium and the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game will be played there on January 8, 2018.

Georgia State may have their new home, but perhaps one day they will get to play in the new stadium too.

UConn hiring of Randy Edsall’s son questioned for ethics

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
1 Comment

Football coaches having their sons on a football staff is nothing new. It’s been done for decades, and is still done to this day. That is not stopping the Office of State Ethics in Connecticut from digging into a recent hire at UConn, where the hiring of Corey Edsall has come under investigation. Edsall is the son of UConn head coach Randy Edsall. Apparently, this line of questioning has been going on for months, according to The Courant.

The Office of State Ethics is concerned whether or not the hiring of a head coach’s son as an assistant coach is in violation of the university’s Code of Ethics. According to the code, state employees are banned from using their position to benefit family members. The board has asked for an advisory opinion to address this concern and a request from the UConn associate general counsel to deny was voted down unanimously by the board. The advisory opinion is scheduled to be shared at the next board meeting on April 20.

UConn has stood by the hiring process and feels there is no violation of ethics. A statement from the university reads;

“When UConn was negotiating [Randy Edsall’s] contract, university ethics staff consulted with the Office of State Ethics on Coach Edsall’s behalf and sough an informal opinion regarding the potential hiring of the coach’s son. … In keeping with standard practice, the university presented this as a hypothetical scenario that mirrored the facts: specifically, that the university was negotiating with a candidate as that part of the negotiations included a contractual provision regarding the potential future employment at UConn of a member of the candidate’s family, who would work in the same department as the candidate.”

In the end, the hiring of Corey Edsall is unlikely to be overturned. The biggest impact this process seems to have is finalizing contracts. Randy Edsall’s contract still has yet to be officially finalized, but that appears to be a mere formality before being approved by the board. Corey Edsall’s contract is also being hung up as a result of this, but this also should be cleaned up once this ethics concern is sorted.

Corey Edsall is UConn’s tight ends coach. He spent the previous two seasons working as a staff member at Colorado as a graduate assistant working with the defense. The 24-year old has also spent two summers working as a scouting intern with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles in 2013 and 2014, respectively.