CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 22 Arizona State

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2013 record: 10-4 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st in South division)
2013 postseason: Holiday Bowl vs. Texas Tech, (37-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 21/No. 20
Head coach: Todd Graham (67-38 overall; 18-9 in two years at Arizona State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Norvell (3rd year at Arizona State)
2013 offensive rankings: 40th rushing offense (191.4 ypg); 32nd passing offense (265.9 ypg); 32nd total offense (457.3 ypg); 10th scoring offense (39.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Co-defensive coordinators: Keith Patterson (1st year) and Chris Ball (3rd year)
2013 defensive rankings: 26th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 71st passing defense (234.7 ypg);  42nd total defense (372.4 ypg); tied for 63rd in scoring defense (26.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: two
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706; grass)
Last conference title: 2007

THE GOOD
When the game is on the line, it’s always beneficial to have one of the best players in the country at his position on the field and ready to make a play. Arizona State has one of those players in wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Strong, who is an early candidate to be a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, led the team last season with 1,122 receiving yards, which also makes him the leading-returning receiver in the Pac-12. At 6-3 and 212 pounds with some of the strongest hands in the nation, Strong is nearly impossible to cover. Opposing defenses will have to build their gameplans around stopping Strong. Once they do, senior quarterback Taylor Kelly can start to exploit mismatches elsewhere on the field. And Strong’s presence will open up the field for junior running back D.J. Foster, who finished third on the team in rushing yards and second with 63 receptions. Defenses will have to pick their poison when they scheme against the Sun Devils’ up-tempo offense.

THE BAD
The team’s front seven was obliterated by graduation. Gone are two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, disruptive defensive end Carl Bradford, fellow pass rusher Gannon Conway, productive defensive lineman Devon Coleman and linebacker Chris Young, the team’s leading tackler. Those four players combined to make 317 tackles, 24 sacks and 72 tackles for loss. The onus will now fall on junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood.  Hood is one of two returning starters on defense and the only one in the front seven. Defensive lineman Marcus Hardison will also be expected to step up and produce after playing in 13 games last year. The linebackers, meanwhile, will be led by Salamon Fiso, who played in 14 games last season and finished third on the team with 71 tackles.

THE UNKNOWN
If Arizona State plans on remaining one of the most aggressive defenses in the country, Graham will need help rebuilding the unit and devising game plans. Help is coming from Patterson, who was named the team’s new co-defensive coordinator in the offseason. Patterson will become Graham’s sounding board this season. Patterson wants to be the x-factor that helps an inexperienced defense gel this season.

“(I just want) to be the bond that pulls it all together,” Patterson told the Arizona Republic. “I look at that defensive staff, and that’s what has me excited, working with the caliber of coaches that we have here. I just want to slide into my role and try to add another perspective on things and hopefully be able to be a positive asset.”

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
If the Sun Devils are going to get over the hump in the Pac-12, they need to get past the Stanford Cardinal. Last season, the Sun Devils lost to the Cardinal twice by a combined score of 80-42. One of those losses came in the Pac-12 Championship Game and cost Arizona State an appearance in the Rose Bowl. This year’s meeting takes place Oct. 18 at Sun Devil Stadium, and it comes at the end of a brutal three-game stretch for Arizona State. Prior to Stanford, the Sun Devils face UCLA and USC. How Arizona State performs against Stanford at the end of the team’s toughest part of the schedule will determine expectations for the second half of Pac-12 play.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Taylor Kelly
The Pac-12 is littered with talented quarterbacks. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is considered a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this season. UCLA’s Brett Hundley is projected to be a top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion is the nation’s leading returning passer. Yet, Kelly has been as productive and efficient as any quarterback in the Pac-12 the past two years. Since becoming the team’s starter in 2012, Kelly has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 6.674 yards, 57 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Kelly is also a viable dual-threat quarterback. He’s rushed for over 500 yards each of the past two seasons. Another improbable run to the Pac-12 Championship Game could easily place Kelly in Heisman contention.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Purdue schedules home-and-home series with TCU… with games a decade apart

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There was a flurry of future schedule changes announced by several college football programs on Thursday afternoon but one of the most curious releases came from TCU and Purdue.

The Horned Frogs and Boilermakers jointly announced a new home-and-home series and the most interesting thing about that was not that the two teams would play at Ross-Ade Stadium on Sept. 14, 2019, but that the second half of the pairing would take place in Fort Worth… a decade later on Sept. 8, 2029. We’ve become used to teams scheduling years and years in advance but even this seems a bit much. Given how fluid some of these games are, one wonders if the teams will even play that second date, much less have their two head coaches around for it.

“Having played and coached under Howard Schnellenberger, I am a firm believer in playing the most competitive schedule you can on a yearly basis,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said in a release. “TCU has a great history and tradition, and certainly fits the criteria of an outstanding non-conference opponent. We look forward to the matchup.”

While the two schools are on opposite ends of the standings on a regular basis, the meeting in two years could be intriguing given Brohm’s high-scoring offense going up against TCU’s Gary Patterson’s renown defensive schemes. At this point though, it’s probably not even worth the effort to pencil in either of the two for that meeting in 2029, which is one of the more unique scheduling dates on the college football calendar.

Ohio State adds Washington to future schedule, tweaks TCU series

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Thursday was a day of scheduling announcements for the Ohio State football program.

Both OSU and Washington announced this afternoon that the schools have reached an agreement on a future home-and-home series. The Huskies will play host to the first game of the series on Sept. 7, 2024, with the Buckeyes returning the favor Sept. 13, 2025.

The teams have met 11 times previously, the first in 1957 and the last in 2007. All of those games have been played during the regular season.

“Big, early-season matchups between traditional powers is a highlight of every college football season,” said UW head coach Chris Petersen in a statement. “I’m really excited that we’ll be able to bring the Buckeyes to Seattle for what should be a great September afternoon for Husky fans and college football fans everywhere.”

Additionally, OSU announced that its home-and-home with TCU scheduled for the 2018 and 2019 seasons will be pared in half to just one game — a neutral-site matchup Sept. 15, 2018, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Both teams will receive $5 million for playing the game at Jerry World.

With the 2019 game with TCU off the schedule, OSU has confirmed that they have replaced that game with one against Miami of Ohio. Concurrently, TCU announced that it has replaced the second game against OSU with the front-end of a home-and-home with Purdue in West Lafayette. The back-end is scheduled to be played a decade later in Fort Worth.

There are also a couple of additional scheduling notes dropped by OSU this afternoon.

  • The home-and-home with Boston College, originally slated for 2023 and 2024, has been pushed back.  The Buckeyes will be the home team for a game on Sept. 19, 2026, and then travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass., on Sept. 18, 2027.
  • A home game against Bowling Green Sept. 5, 2020, has been added.
  • A home game against Tulsa Sept. 18, 2021, has been added as well.

Travel stipends for families remain in place for 2017 playoff semifinals, title game

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At least on one level, common sense will continue to prevail in big-time college football.

Ahead of the first College Football Playoff championship game after the 2014 regular season, the CFP announced that it would provide a travel stipend of $2,500 for the parents/guardians of up to 100 players from each team playing in the title game.  The past two years, those stipends were expanded to include the playoff semifinals as well.

Moving into the the fourth year of the playoff structure, the stipend will remain in place.

It’s assumed that the travel stipend will again be extended to 125 parents/guardians for the two semifinal games as well as title tilt, the same number that’s been in place each of the last two years.

For the 2015 playoffs, a total of $1.5 million was doled out to players’ families. There was a similar figure for the 2016 playoffs.

Over the 12-year life of the contract it reached an agreement on in November of 2012, it’s believed ESPN will pay in excess of $7 billion for the right to broadcast the playoffs as well as the so-called New Year’s Six bowl games.

One final bit of CFP housekeeping while we’re here as the dates for the releases of the 2017 playoff selection committee rankings were announced. The first set of Top 25 rankings will, appropriately enough, be released on Halloween night.

WATCH: Ohio State fans infiltrate Michigan’s practice in Italy

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The greatest rivalry in all of sports never takes a break, even during the offseason on an entirely different continent.

One day after he showered Pope Francis with some Michigan-themed gear, Jim Harbaugh and his Wolverines conducted the first on-field practice of their Italian road trip.  There were some “spies” in their midst, however, as a handful of Ohio State fans clad in Buckeyes colors drove a couple of hours to take in their enemy’s practice.

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“I’ve still got my eyes on those guys,” an amused Harbaugh said. “Still a little suspicious.”

The fans, though, came in peace, with one even offering kind words for what the head coach has meant to The Game.

“We love the Big Ten,” Alicia Sexton, a military teacher based in Naples and a graduate of OSU, told the Detroit News. “We really are appreciative to Jim Harbaugh. We love that the rivalry is back, and it makes watching the game in November fun. Harbaugh has definitely brought the rivalry back.”