CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 24 Boise State

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 6-2 in Mountain West (2nd in Mountain division/tied 3rd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl vs. Oregon State Beavers  (38-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: Not ranked
Head coach: Bryan Harsin (7-5 overall; first season at Boise State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Sanford (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 33rd rushing offense (198.3 ypg); 27th passing offense (277.7 ypg); 20th total offense (476 ypg); 19th scoring offense (37.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Marcel Yates (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 64th rushing defense (164.2 ypg); 88th passing defense (249.2 ypg);  75th total defense (413.4 ypg); 50th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Boise, Idaho
Stadium: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
The Broncos’ skill positions are talented and athletic. Quarterback Grant Hedrick returns at the team’s starting quarterback. Hedrick played in all 13 games last year and threw 16 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Hedrick is rejoined in the backfield by running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi finished second in the Mountain West Conference last year with 1,425 rushing yards. And the team’s top two receivers from last season, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, are also back. Miller finished last year strong with 540 receiving yards in the final four games, including a 206-yard effort against the Oregon State Beavers in the Hawai’i Bowl. The Broncos had to reshuffle their offensive line in the off season, but if they can keep Hendrick upright the Broncos will be able to score plenty of points.

THE BAD
During Chris Petersen’s eight-year tenure as head coach, last season’s defense was by far the worst unit statistically. On top of that, the unit lost a dynamic pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence to the NFL. And key pieces such as Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe, Kharyee Marshall and Tyler Gray left after exhausting their eligibility. Last year’s group had to grow after returning four starters from the 2012 campaign. The silver lining to last year’s defensive struggles is this year’s unit is far more experienced entering the season. New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has eight returning starters. Yates returns to Boise State after a two-year stint as Texas A&M’s co-defensive coordinator. The Aggies finished 109th in total defense last season.

THE UNKNOWN
Boise State has a new football coach for the first time since 2006. Now that Petersen finally accepted one of the rumored jobs he was so often linked to — in this case, the Unversity of Washington — the school turned toward one of its prodigal sons, Bryan Harsin. Harsin, a graduate of Boise State, served on the Broncos’ staff from 2001-10 before leaving to become the offensive coordinator at the University Texas. Harsin used Texas as a stepping stone to get his first head coaching gig at Arkansas State. Harsin spent one year leading the Red Wolves, and the team finished 7-5. Harsin is a young coach that hasn’t had much time to establish himself or an identity, and Boise State took a chance in hiring him. If Harsin blossoms like Petersen did when given the opportunity, the Broncos will continue to be successful. Otherwise, a step back will take the program out of the national spotlight.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Ole Miss, Aug. 28
The Broncos built their reputation over the past decade by stepping up big in spotlight games. For most teams, the first game of the season usually isn’t considered a “must win” contest. Most teams aren’t in the Broncos’ situation. For the Broncos to return to national prominence, they’ll need to prove they can beat a talented SEC squad during a national televised game to start the season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Jay Ajayi
It’s been five years since a running back won the Heisman Trophy, and only two workhorses have been handed the hardware since the turn of the century. In a sport that is consistently more about spreading defenses and throwing the football, elite running backs tend to get overlooked. Ajayi, however, is a dark horse candidate to win the award due to a nose for the end zone and punishing running style. The 216-pound back is the nation’s fifth-leading returning rusher with 1,425 yards in 2013. Ajayi is also tied for first among returning backs with 18 rushing touchdowns. Boise State has multiple games slotted in prime time. If Ajayi shines in the spotlight and the Broncos make another run toward a major bowl appearance, Ajayi could work his way into legitimate Heisman contention.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Jimbo Fisher vows to change culture at Texas A&M

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If there was one thing that really seemed to put Kevin Sumlin on the hot seat during his time at Texas A&M, it was the Aggies seemingly annual collapse in the second half of the season and inability to finish games they had the potential to win. That explains some of the reason why the school ponied up to lure Jimbo Fisher from Florida State in a $75 million hire late last year.

While most of the outside focus on Fisher’s move to College Station has been centered on that humongous contract, there’s little question that hiring a national title-winning coach was a coup for the team. That subject was brought up again on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show Friday evening and ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland relayed a rather interesting conversation he had with the coach earlier this year in which Fisher said something you typically don’t hear made public. You can head to the 8:18 mark (or there abouts) for the interview.

“I talked to Jimbo in Atlanta. I told Jimbo point-blank — the same thing I told you guys about Texas A&M the last several years — A&M is a soft program,” McFarland said. “Jimbo looked me in the eye and was like, ‘You know what, you’re damn right. We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

Something says that Fisher and the Aggies strength coaches are going to use the comments as a bit of a challenge in the weight room and during spring practice over the coming months as they lay the groundwork for the 2018 season. Even the most ardent maroon and white supporters would probably agree with the sentiment that the team went a little soft toward the end of Sumlin’s tenure but it’s not everyday you see a coach call out his new program quite like that.

Maybe it’s something in the water down there in College Station though, judging by some other comments by the school’s athletic director, but one thing is for certain — things are going to be very different at Texas A&M going forward.

Scott Frost wants Nebraska football roster to grow to 150 players or more in 2018

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In the days before you were limited to 85 scholarship players, it was not totally uncommon to see teams stock their rosters full of players and wind up in the triple-digits with close to 200 players on a team. Even after the NCAA mandated a limit of 85 scholarships, roster sizes were still not that much smaller when you factored in walk-ons and others on a squad.

It appears Scott Frost wants to get back to those sort of days in Lincoln and is apparently pushing the school to help him expand the Cornhuskers roster right into the 150 range.

“I’d like to accommodate (Frost’s) desire” to expand the roster, athletic director Bill Moos said this week in an interview with Rivals’ HuskerOnline. “But we do have that issue with Title IX” along with locker room facilities challenges, organized practice schedules, and other daily management nuts and bolts to sort through.

“Nebraska has been known for having a lot of players on the team…a lot of walk-ons. I’d like to get back to that,” Frost had said on Signing Day earlier in the month. “The best thing Coach (Tom) Osborne did was have everybody practice… and part of that is what led to the development of players and helped walk-ons and young players get better faster and get on the field and help the team. I think that’s an asset that Nebraska can have if we’re willing to expand the roster.”

HuskerOnline details some of the compliance and budgetary challenges that going to 150 would entail but it certainly sounds like the school is making the effort to beef the numbers up. The Cornhuskers are well known in college football history for their walk-on program and roughly 10-15 walk-ons per class would apparently help them land right around Frost’s ideal roster size after factoring in the 85 full-scholarship players he would recruit.

Interestingly, going to 150 would allow the program to pass Michigan for the Big Ten’s biggest roster. The Wolverines under Jim Harbaugh are reportedly sitting at around 135 players after the 2017 season while most of the other conference’s schools are mostly around the 120 mark with a few exceptions. Title IX is not surprisingly the biggest obstacle for teams but it seems like some can manage things with no issue.

Frost was hired this offseason to help take Nebraska back to their perch atop college football and it seems like he is certainly attempting to do that in more ways than one when it comes to Big Red.

Purdue hires Utah State’s Mark Tommerdahl as special teams and tight ends coach

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Jeff Brohm is bringing in longtime coaching veteran Mark Tommerdahl to fill out his staff and serve as Purdue’s special teams and tight ends coach.

The Boilermakers announced the move on Saturday afternoon as Tommerdahl heads to West Lafayette after spending just a season at Utah State where he also coached running backs and ran the Aggies’ special teams. While his stay in Logan was brief, Tommerdahl has been all over the country in 34 years as a coach and is highly regarded for his work in the kicking game.

Tommerdahl has plenty of prior Power Five coaching experience and spent four seasons with Sonny Dykes at Cal where he coached three different position groups and served as assistant head coach. Prior to that he also had stops at Louisiana Tech, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU and several other schools.

The move to bring in Tommerdahl fills the spot on the Boilermakers’ staff that was left when former Houston coach Tony Levine left after one season with the school to pursue opportunities outside of the coaching profession. Brohm’s 10th assistant Kevin Wolthausen was also given special teams responsibilities when he was elevated to a full-time role so it’s possible the team is really beefing up their emphasis on the third phases of the game with the two new coaches splitting duties when it comes to special teams.

Either way, after a surprising 2017 season that ended with a bowl game victory it’s pretty clear that Brohm is not just sitting back when it comes to his coaching staff and is bringing in some veteran names to help the team take the next step in 2018.

Iowa State OC Tom Manning reportedly leaving Ames for Indianapolis Colts staff

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After one of the most successful seasons in recent memory at Iowa State, it appears head coach Matt Campbell will not be able to keep the band together for another run.

Campbell confirmed to The Des Moines Register on Saturday morning that offensive coordinator Tom Manning was leaving Ames and will be taking a job in the NFL. The paper later was able to confirm that the team in question will be the Indianapolis Colts for a spot on Frank Reich’s new staff. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg says Manning will be the team’s tight ends coach.

“I’m really happy and proud of him,” Campbell told the Register.

Manning has been with Campbell for years and the two actually played (and coached) together at famed D-III power Mount Union in the early 2000’s. Both were on the same staff at Toledo and Manning served as offensive line coach both there and at Iowa State. As offensive coordinator in 2017 he guided the Cyclones to a bit of an offensive renaissance despite relying on backup quarterback Kyle Kempt for most of the season, helping the team produce the third most points per game in school history while ranking in the top five in both total yards and passing.

ISU memorably upset Oklahoma in Norman and capped off an eight-win campaign in the Liberty Bowl with a victory over a ranked Memphis team.

The move leaves two openings on Campbell’s staff for 2018 but the Register notes that graduate assistant Jeff Myers is a possibility for the offensive line job and special teams analyst Joe Houston could be the team’s potential 10th assistant coach.