CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 19 Duke

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2013 record: 10-4 overall, 6-3 in ACC (1st in Coastal division)
2013 postseason: Chick-fil-A Bowl vs. Texas A&M (52-48 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 23/No. 22
Head coach: David Cutcliffe (75-73 overall; 3144 in 6 years at Duke)
Offensive coordinator: Scottie Montgomery (First season as offensive coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 54th rushing offense (178 ypg); 50th passing offense (248.1 ypg); 47th total offense (426.1 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 8
Defensive coordinator: Jim Knowles (6th season as defensive coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 76th rushing defense (174.14 ypg); 84th passing defense (243.9 ypg); 83rd total defense (418.0 ypg); 64th scoring defense (26.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Stadium: Wallace Wade Stadium (33,941; Grass)
Last conference title: 1989 (shared with Virginia)

THE GOOD
Duke returns a good number of starters from last season, including star wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Braxton Deaver. The two should make for a strong 1-2 punch in the passing game with Anthony Boone taking on full-time responsibilities this fall. Boone brings a good amount of experience to the position and should feel comfortable despite a change in offensive coordinator. Dukes defense returns three starters in the secondary, a position that was ready to rise to the occasion in 2013. Duke also plays n a division that sees nobody ready to step up and grab firm control of the division race, something the program benefitted from at least in part last fall. Duke may not have the overall skill that others may have, but the ability to play together may be unrivaled in the ACC Coastal Division and that has to count for something at some point.

THE BAD
Duke’s defensive line was not particularly great in 2013 and now must replace three starters on the line. The line will see Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo move into a more prominent role after leading the Blue Devils in sacks in 013, but Duke needs to find a way to slow down opposing offenses capable of running the football to take the pressure off the secondary. Duke allowed a little more than four yards per play in the ACC Championship Game against Florida State and then allowed Texas A&M to storm back with some big plays in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The holes of the defense have been exposed, giving the Blue Devils something to work on in 2014 before taking whatever the next step is for the program.

THE UNKNOWN
How much of Duke’s success the past couple of seasons has been based on the work being done in Durham and how much has been influenced by the sputtering of the rest fo the ACC Coastal? In 2014, will Duke prove worthy of division champion favorite status or will Duke start to fall back in the wide open division as North Carolina, Miami or Virginia Tech potentially start to work back up the division?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Miami
Duke will get an early chance to set themselves apart from the rest of the ACC Coastal Division when they travel to Miami for a late-September contest, the first in ACC play for Duke. When they arrive in Miami Duke could (should) be 4-0 and already sniffing another bowl berth before flipping over to October. The contest against Miami could prove pivotal in the Coastal race so if Duke can slow down Duke Johnson‘s running and force any mistakes by a questionable quarterback situation, Duke could return home with a 5-0 record and feeling very good heading into a light and easy October with a pair of bye weeks to work with.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Wide receiver Jamison Crowder
Without much doubt, Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder is the most outstanding offensive player on the Blue Devils roster. Last season Crowder was second in the ACC in receiving with 1,360 yards (trailing only Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, who was pretty good too). Crowder will continue to be the go-to receiver for Duke and he will pile up the yardage along the way, proving why he was voted a preseason All-ACC receiver.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.

Ohio State claims 2017 national championship… for spring game attendance

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For the third consecutive year, Ohio State is your national champion in the all-important category that is spring game attendance. The Buckeyes once again had the largest attendance for its spring game this month despite stadium renovations cutting out 20,000 seats from Ohio Stadium. After a weekend that saw Alabama and Penn State prove to be the final hurdles necessary to clear, the Buckeyes can once again boast about having the highest attendance this spring, for whatever that is worth.

Alabama (73,426), Penn State (71,000) and Georgia (66,133) made their final push to round-out the top five spring crowds this year over the weekend. The only power conference programs remaining on the spring game schedule are Arkansas, Oregon, Virginia, and UCLA this coming weekend. If you took the combined spring attendance of each of those schools, they would collectively fall shy of Ohio State’s spring crowd total for this season.

Spring Game Attendance Top 10 for 2017 (as of 4/24/2017)

  1. Ohio State – 80,134
  2. Nebraska – 78,312
  3. Alabama – 74,326
  4. Penn State – 71,000
  5. Georgia – 66,133
  6. Clemson – 60,000
  7. Michigan – 57,418
  8. Florida – 48,000
  9. Auburn – 46,331
  10. Oklahoma – 43,723

How valuable the attendance figures for the spring game varies from fanbase to fanbase, and even within each fanbase there is a wide range of opinion on what the significance of the spring game attendance really is. It does help inject some reason to be enthusiastic about the program on the recruiting trail, but it ultimately is open to interpretation just like so many other recruiting tools. Remember, the majority of schools out there hardly make an effort to promote their spring game and make it an event fans look forward to. There may be no conference that demonstrates the wide range of affection for the spring game than the Big Ten.

The Big Ten is led by Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State and, recently, Michigan when it comes to spring game crowds, but then there is the curious case of Wisconsin. The Badgers have a loyal following, but have not cracked the 10,000-fan mark since 2014, when I began tracking spring game attendance figures. Northwestern has never even kept track of its spring scrimmage numbers, and neither has Indiana for the past three years.

You can check the updated spring game attendance numbers and sort them by conference HERE.

Edgerrin James’ nephew to transfer from Miami

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Last season, Jeff James was one of seven players  suspended for Miami’s Russell Athletic Bowl game against West Virginia.  Nearly four months later, he’s gone.

In a press release, Miami announced that the defensive back “is no longer a member of the football program.” No reason was given for the nephew of former Hurricane great Edgerrin James deciding to leave The U.

“I talked to Jeff and we both felt it was in his best interests to get a fresh start somewhere else,” head coach Mark Richt said in a statement released by the school. “We wish him all the best in his future plans.”

James was a three-star member of UM’s 2016 recruiting class.  247Sports.com had the Orlando high school product rated as the No. 112 safety in the country and the No. 1,678 player in its composite rankings.

The defensive back played in one game as a true freshman, the season-opening win over FCS Florida A&M.