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)

Report: departing Miami DL coach could be headed to Alabama

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And now we know a little bit more of the rest of the story.

Just a short time ago, Miami announced that defensive line Craig Kuligowski was leaving the football program after two years to pursue unspecified opportunities elsewhere.  Subsequent to that announcement, Bruce Feldman of SI.com tweeted that Nick Saban and Tuscaloosa could be the assistant’s ultimate destination.

Kuligowski and Saban have a previous connection as the former played defensive line under the latter at Toledo in 1990.  Saban is searching for a replacement to Karl Dunbar, the Crimson Tide’s defensive line coach who left for a job with the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this month.

Other names floated as possibilities have included former FAU head coach Charlie Partridge and former UA assistant and current South Carolina line coach Lance Thompson.

DL coach Craig Kuligowski leaves Miami ‘to pursue other opportunities’

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At one point it appeared that Mark Richt had dodged a coaching-departure bullet.  In the end, however, his Miami staff has been hit.

Reports surfaced earlier in the day Monday the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had interviewed UM defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski for the same job.  Not long after the initial speculation first appeared, the NFL club confirmed that it had hired someone other than Kuligowski for the position.

Tonight, however, the Hurricanes announced in a press release that Kuligowski “is leaving the program to pursue other opportunities.” What and where specifically that opportunity is wasn’t divulged by the football program.

Kuligowski had spent the past two seasons with the Hurricanes and is widely considered one of the top line coaches in the country.

Mark Your Calendars: KU, Wazzu reportedly set for 2027-28 home-and-home series

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Are you ready for some good news? Kansas and Washington State are (finally, FINALLY!) going to meet on the gridiron.

Are you ready for some bad news? You’re going to have to wait nearly a decade to see it.

The Jayhawks and Cougars have agreed to a home-and-home series in 2027-28, according to documents obtained by FBSchedules. Washington State is set to host the first game on Sept. 11, 2027, with Kansas returning the favor on Sept. 9, 2028. The programs have met 10 times previously, but not since 1977. Kansas holds a 7-2 all-time advantage.

Washington State is also set to visit Boise State in 2027, but does not have any other games lined up for ’28. Kansas does not have any other agreements for either season.

Interestingly, Wazzu’s Kansas home-and-home is sandwiched around a home-and-home with Kansas State in 2026 and ’29. Washington State has not faced a Big 12 opponent since a 65-17 loss at Oklahoma State to open the 2010 season.

Kansas, who also has future games with Rutgers, Boston College, Duke and Illinois on the docket, has not squared off with a Pac-12 foe — not counting former Big 12 bunk mate Colorado — since a 41-17 loss to UCLA on Sept. 8, 2001.

Cincinnati, Western Michigan ink home-and-home series

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Cincinnati and Western Michigan have agreed to a 2-game home-and-home series, it was announced Monday.

The Bearcats will host WMU on Sept. 12, 2020, and Western Michigan will host Cincinnati on Sept. 10, 2022.

The programs have met three times prior. Cincinnati and Western Michigan also played a home-and-home in 1949-50; the Bearcats won both games by scores of 27-6. Cincinnati also won their meeting in the 2007 International Bowl in Toronto,  a 27-24 triumph.

Cincinnati already has road games lined up with Miami (Ohio) and Nebraska in 2020, with a Sept. 5 opener still to fill. Considering the Bearcats already have two MAC opponents and a Big Ten trip lined up, that game will almost certainly be a home game and likely against an FCS opponent. In 2022, Cincinnati will host Indiana and play Miami (Ohio) at the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, with their Sept. 3 opener still unfilled.

Western Michigan also has a road trip to Notre Dame on the schedule for Sept. 19, 2020, and does not have any other games slated for 2022.