The Swami

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Six-Pack of Storylines

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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)

Florida LB Cristian Garcia stops sexual assault behind Gainesville bar

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 13: The Florida Gators take the field before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Florida linebacker Cristian Garcia stopped a sexual assault behind a popular Gainesville bar, according to a police report.

Garcia told police he was taking out the trash early Thursday morning at 101 Cantina, where he works security, and witnessed a couple having sex by the dumpsters. Upon closer inspection, he says, Garcia noticed the woman was unconscious. He and a coworker approached the man, a 34-year old named Christian Shaw, who managed to escape but has since been arrested on sexual battery charges.

“I was taking out the garbage, and I saw the man pressing the woman up against the Dumpster. At first the guy said she was his girlfriend, but about five seconds later I realized the girl was unconscious,” Garcia told the Gainesville Sun. “I turned around and pulled the guy by the shoulder and said ‘get off.’ That pretty much ended the situation then. He was intoxicated and attempted to throw some punches, but he slipped and busted his face on the wall.”

The Sun notes that police video shows “the victim was mentally and physically unable to give consent due to her level of intoxication.”

Garcia is a walk-on from Miami who appeared in one game in 2015.

Bill Snyder thinks Nebraska has buyer’s remorse in the Big Ten

MANHATTAN, KS - NOVEMBER 05:  Head coach Bill Snyder of the Kansas State Wildcats walks on the field during warm-ups prior to the game against the Baylor Bears at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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There may be something to the fact that life in the Big Ten hasn’t proved to be all Nebraska thought it was. The money is nice, sure, but it hasn’t translated to Big Ten championships, and it’s not like the Huskers are cutting their fans in on any of the profits.

So, yes, Nebraska may have found, half a decade in now, that life in the Big Ten West is more similar to life in the Big 12 North than they’d ever admit publicly.

But that doesn’t mean they would ever actually go back to the Big 12.

And whatever amount of remorse the ‘Huskers may feel in the Big Ten doesn’t nearly equate to the desire some have in the Big 12 to make everyone think Nebraska has buyer’s remorse about its big move.

Case in point: K-State head coach Bill Snyder.

“When push comes to shove,” Snyder told ESPN, “I don’t want to speak for anybody, but I’m not so sure they’re pleased with the decision they made.”

Snyder also said he missed the Wildcats’ rivalry with Nebraska and thinks the two should still be playing.

And considering the state of affairs in Lincoln, perhaps Nebraska should feel the same way. The see-saw was somewhat even from the late-90’s through the early 2000’s — K-State actually held a 5-2 advantage from 1998-04, and the winner of their annual meeting went on to claim the Big 12 North title every year from 1996 through 2000. But other than that seven-year spurt, Nebraska-Kansas State was about as competitive as bugs vs. windshields — the Huskers hold a 76-10-2 edge, including a six-game winning streak.

Michigan State hires ex-Lions executive as program consultant

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 28: The Michigan State Spartans celebrate after the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Spartan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Penn State 55-16 to clinch a berth in the Big Ten championship game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State has hired former Detroit Lions personnel executive Sheldon White as an all-encompassing “program consultant,” the Spartans have announced.

“We’re extremely excited about the addition of Sheldon to our program,” Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. “He has a vast amount of experience at the highest level of football. We can’t wait to work with him and gain insight from his knowledge and expertise, while at the same time introducing him to our players and coaches. I think Sheldon will provide a great benefit to our program.”

White worked for the Lions for 19 years in a variety of roles, including as vice president of pro personnel and interim general manager. A four-year starter at cornerback at Miami (Ohio), White played for the New York Giants, Lions and Cincinnati Bengals before returning to his alma mater as wide receivers coach.

From Miami, White joined the Lions’ organization and steadily rose the ranks before being let go after last season.

As outlined in the press release, White won’t have a defined role for however long he works with the Spartans, instead lending a hand wherever they could use one.

“From the other perspective, whatever Coach Dantonio needs me to do, I’m all in with him and his entire staff. Michigan State has a great program and I’m looking forward to joining in and giving whatever insight I can provide. Anywhere I can help out and wherever Coach Dantonio needs me to go, that’s where I’ll be,” White said.

“One of the main things I’m excited about is being around the players and getting a chance to work with them. I hope I can add something that will maximize their performance and possibly get them ready for the National Football League.”

Michigan State finished 12-2 last season, winning the Big Ten title and reaching their first College Football Playoff semifinals. The Spartans open the 2016 campaign Friday, Sept. 2 against Furman in East Lansing (7 p.m. ET, BTN).

Former 5-star Chris Casher no longer on Florida State roster

TALLAHASSEE, FL - NOVEMBER 16: Chris Casher #21 of the Florida State Seminoles runs in a fumble made by Terrel Hunt #10 of the Syracuse Orange during the Second half at Doak Campbell Stadium on November 16, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Seminoles beat the Orange 59-3.(Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images)
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It seemed clear by now Chris Casher would never fulfill the promise he arrived to Tallahassee with five seasons ago.

Rated the No. 3 defensive end in the class of 2012 by 247Sports, Casher suffered a season-ending injury two games into his 2012 campaign, then never accumulated more than 28 tackles in a season before moving to tight end before this season.

“He was a very, very good receiver out of high school,” ‘Noles head coach Jimbo Fisher told the Palm Beach Post this spring. “He is a really good basketball player. He has a lot of natural offensive skill. … catches the ball and has natural hands.

“When I played quarterback, I knew who I wanted to throw it to. And the guys that caught my eye. So our guys have been bragging about him. We’ll see what he does.”

But Fisher confirmed Friday Casher is no longer on the roster.

Casher was placed a one-year probation by Florida State for his involvement in the Jameis Winston sexual assault case and, according to USA Today, was briefly detained alongside Winston by FSU police for carrying a pellet gun on campus.

The reason for Casher’s departure was not known at press time.