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)

Transitioning-to-FBS Coastal Carolina gets woodshedded by FCS team

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The transition from FCS to FBS is normally not a seamless process.  Through three games, Coastal Carolina is proven as much.

The nascent FBS program was already behind the eight ball as, in late July, it was announced that head coach Joe Moglia would miss the entire 2017 season with health issues.  In Week 4, CCU watched another FCS team run the table on them as Western Illinois took the Chanticleers to the woodshed in a 52-10 win.  And at CCU’s home no less.

The FCS Illinois outgained the FBS Carolina 510-307.  The turnover battle did CCU no favors, either, as the Chanticleers had four — three interceptions, one lost fumble — to none for the Leathernecks.

CCU actually began its trek toward full-fledged FBS status with a season-opening 38-28 home win over a UMass team that nearly upset Tennessee in Knoxville in Week 4.  After a bye in Week 2, they then fell to a UAB team that’s in its first year back after the football program was disbanded before being resurrected.

The Chanticleers will earn full FBS status in 2018 after their transition season this year.  While they’re not eligible for a bowl game in 2017, they could theoretically win the Sun Belt Conference championship.

Western Illinois, incidentally, is currently 3-0 and ranked No. 21 in the latest FCS coaches’ poll, with those three wins coming by a combined 87 points (131-44).

Fab frosh Fromm fronts No. 11 Georgia in Bulldog Bowl blowout

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There were some questions entering Saturday night if Jake Fromm could handle the bright lights of an SEC primetime game in his first conference start, particularly against this Mississippi State team that so brutalized LSU last week.

Those questions were answered after Fromm’s first pass of the night.

After forcing a Mississippi State three-and-out, Georgia began its first possession at its own 41. Fromm handed to Nick Chubb, who turned around and tossed the ball back to Fromm, who then hit a wide open Terry Godwin for a 59-yard touchdown. Six minutes later, Chubb raced in from seven yards out for his own touchdown and the Bulldog Bowl was all but over.

No. 11 Georgia cruised from there, defeating their similarly-nicknamed cousins from the SEC West No. 17 Mississippi State, 31-3.

Fromm played an efficient and contained game, hitting 9-of-12 passes for 201 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Chubb spearheaded a versatile Georgia rushing attack, carrying 15 times for 81 yards and two scores, while D’Andre Swift rushed nine times for 72 yards and Sony Michel added seven carries for 32 yards.

While Georgia’s offensive effort was workmanlike, Georgia’s defense was superhuman. The red-and-black Dogs hounded Nick Fitzgerald all night, punishing him into a 14-of-29 night for 83 yards with two interceptions to go with 10 carries for 47 yards.

Fitzgerald’s first interception came midway through the third quarter, with Mississippi State already trailing 21-3, when Deandre Baker ended a promising drive by returning his pick 22 yards to midfield. Fromm ended any hope of a comeback three plays later when he found Isaac Nauta for a 41-yard score.

Georgia’s second interception came two passes later, as Dominick Sanders picked Fitzgerald in Mississippi State territory and set up a 49-yard Rodrigo Blankenship field goal to close the scoring for the night.

With Notre Dame and Mississippi State behind them, Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) can begin eyeing a possible 12-0 season. Kirby Smart‘s team will go on the road to Tennessee and Vanderbilt over the next two weeks and plays only two more ranked opponents: No. 20 Florida in Jacksonville and No. 15 Auburn in Auburn.

Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1 SEC) gets Auburn next week at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Notre Dame cruising past turnover-prone Michigan State

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Notre Dame has had no trouble with undefeated Michigan State through one half, leading 28-7 at the break in East Lansing. While Michigan State has been outmatched on a down-to-down basis, three Spartans turnovers have spelled doom for the green and white thus far.

After a 78-yard touchdown drive to open the game, Notre Dame cracked open a 14-0 lead when Julian Love stepped in front of a Brian Lewerke pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown.

The Spartans answered with their best drive of the night, moving 75 yards in seven crisp plays and culminating in a 4-yard toss from Lewerke to Darrell Stewart, Jr. Michigan State forced punts on the next two Notre Dame possessions, but a Lewerke fumble set the Irish up with the ball at the Spartans’ 24-yard line, which turned into a touchdown when Brandon Wimbush found Dexter Williams for an 8-yard touchdown.

Michigan State appeared to pull within 21-14 on the ensuing possession, but a 14-yard L.J. Scott run turned disastrous when he fumbled at the goal line for a touchback. Notre Dame opened its lead to three touchdown just five plays later when Williams raced in from 14 yards out.

Wimbush has completed 9-of-15 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown whilst rushing for 15 yards and another score. Josh Adams leads the Irish with five carries for 50 yards.

Despite his turnovers, Lewerke has led the effort for the Spartans, hitting 10-of-19 passes for 95 yards with a score and a pick and rushing a game-high five times for 54 yards with a fumble.

Michigan State will receive to open the second half.

Looking to end three decades of misery, Kentucky tied with No. 20 Florida at halftime

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It has not been a great day overall for showcasing the power of the SEC East but at least the division could see one of the longest losing streaks in the country come to an end as Kentucky is locked into a tight game with No. 20 Florida 14-all at halftime in a fun atmosphere in Lexington.

The Wildcats generally looked like the sharper of the two teams offensively, racking up nearly six yards per play and scoring on both of their trips into the red zone. The latter of those two touchdowns, a beautiful Stephen Johnson pass to the corner of the end zone and into the hands of Garrett Johnson, was setup by a long punt return from Charles Walker that setup a short field and gave the team another brief lead. Johnson — Stephen that is, the quarterback of the two above — finished with 100 yards through the air and two scores going into the locker room.

Florida would not go quietly into the night with that 30 game win streak against the ‘Cats on the line though. Feleipe Franks was surprisingly solid as a passer when he wasn’t met with a hand in his face and finished with 7-of-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown. Most of that yardage and the score came as time was winding down in the second quarter and the Gators were facing a 4th-and-short from midfield. Not content to just run the ball, the team instead opted to throw it… to a wide open Tyrie Cleveland for a 45-yard score after nobody covered him as part of a defensive miscommunication.

A Vosean Joseph targeting call on the ensuing drive cost the Gators their starting linebacker and nearly gave UK a chance to take the lead but their long field goal attempt from 48 yards out hit the upright.

Could this finally, finally… finally be the time Kentucky beats Florida? The early returns are that the Wildcats will certainly have a fighting chance in the second half in what could be a huge SEC upset.