Missouri v Mississippi

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 17 Ole Miss


2013 record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in SEC (T-5th in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Music City Bowl vs. Georgia Tech (25-17 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Hugh Freeze (45-18 overall; 15-11 in two years at Ole Miss)
Offensive coordinator: Matt Luke (third season); Dan Werner (third season)
2013 offensive rankings: 42nd rushing offense (109 ypg); 23rd passing offense (283.3 ypg); 21st total offense (473.3 ypg); 57th scoring offense (30 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Five
Defensive coordinator: Dave Wommack (third season); Jason Jones (second season)
2013 defensive rankings: 51st rushing defense (154.9 ypg); 36th passing defense (215.5 ypg); 38th total defense (370.5 ypg); 37th scoring defense (23.7 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Nine
Location: Oxford, Miss.
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 1963

Unbelievably, with Bo Wallace under center, Ole Miss will enter the 2014 season with the most experienced quarterback in the conference.  While that might give some cause for pause, Wallace was actually, quietly, a very solid quarterback in 2013.  While the Rebels lost its leading receiver yardage-wise in Donte Moncrief, they have a handful of talented players who can help replace the lost production.  The running game is a productive two-headed creature, while the defense returns nine starters from what was one of the more solid defenses in the defensive-minded SEC.  The schedule sets up somewhat favorably as well, with two of the four road games consisting of trips to Vanderbilt (9-4, but with a new head coach) and Arkansas (3-9 overall, 0-8 in SEC play).  But, then again…

Believe it or not, there’s not a whole heck of a lot bad going on down in Oxford.  Freeze has the Rebels rounding into a very nice football program, one capable of peeling off eight or nine wins a year and one that looks, based on recruiting, capable of reeling in the ofttimes elusive sustainability.  The offense will be one of the best in the SEC year-in and year-out, while the defense is vastly underrated.  The biggest bad for Ole Miss?  The division in which they reside, over which they have no control.  At the moment, they simply can’t consistently compete with West compatriots Alabama, Auburn and LSU.  Texas A&M, despite the attrition they’ve suffered in the offseason, are in this for the long haul as evidenced by the money they’re pouring into the football program, so there’s that College Station hurdle as well.  Since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, the Rebels are just 2-6 against those four programs — a three-point home win against LSU last season and a win in 2012 against an Auburn team that would ultimately win three games and fire its head coach.  And that’s without even mentioning that Ole Miss has lost four of the last five Egg Bowls against in-state rival — and divisional foe — Mississippi State.  Ole Miss has a tough row to hoe if they’re looking to climb to elite status; if they’re just looking for eight-ish wins a year plus a nice bowl bid, then they’re set.

While nine starters on the defensive side of ball return, just five do so on offense.  Included in the attrition are three starters along the offensive line along with, as previously mentioned, one of the most productive receivers in school history.  With a neutral-site game against a very good Boise State team with what should prove to be an improved — and disruptive defense — leading off the 2014 schedule, it’s imperative that Freeze and his offensive coaching staff quickly identify the line replacements and give them plenty of work as a unit in summer camp.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Texas A&M, Oct. 11
There’s a fairly decent chance that, heading into this game, the Rebels will be 4-1, with the lone loss coming the week before against powerhouse Alabama.  This could be viewed as a swing game for Ole Miss, with A&M serving as the second game of a gauntlet that goes Alabama/Texas A&M/LSU/Auburn in a span of five weeks.  If the Rebels can come out of that meat grinder 1-3 at worst, they’re set up for a perhaps a nine-win season that would likely launch them into one of the better bowl games to which the SEC is attached.  If they can somehow manage that beast of a four-game stretch at 2-2?   The Rebels could be staring their first 10-win season since 2003 square in the face.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Bo Wallace
This is one of those no-brainer kind of things.  And, as jarring as it may be, Wallace possesses the most impressive pedigree of all the returning quarterbacks in the SEC.  The stats, though, show Wallace has quietly put together a nice career.  Last season, he completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for over 3,300 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He added six touchdowns on the ground for good measure.  The 10 interceptions might be a bit of a cause for concern, but considering they came in the midst of 437 pass attempts the concern it’s somewhat mitigated.  Any off-the-radar Heisman candidacy that hopes to get on the radar will be determined by how Wallace — and his team — performs in that brutal four-game midseason stretch.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

WKU to host S. Miss/LaTech winner in C-USA title game

BOWLING GREEN, KY - NOVEMBER 27: Brandon Doughty #12 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers looks to pass against the Marshall Thundering Herd in the second half of the game at L.T. Smith Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The Hilltoppers defeated the Herd 49-28. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Not only is one-half of Conference USA’s championship game set, but so is the location.

East division members Western Kentucky and Marshall came into their game Friday afternoon at 7-0 and 6-1 in conference play, respectively, with the contest essentially serving as a play-in game to the league’s title game.  On the strength of Brandon Doughty‘s 370 yards passing and five touchdowns, the Hilltoppers played their way in and staked a claim to the division title with a dominating 49-28 win over the Herd.

The Hilltoppers became the first C-USA team to finish undefeated in league play since Houston in 2011. WKU is the seventh team to go unbeaten in league play in C-USA’s 20 football seasons.

WKU is in just its second season in Conference USA, and will be playing for its first conference title in Bowling Green as the win wrapped up home-field advantage for the Hilltoppers.

The opponent will be determined Saturday afternoon. West leaders Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech, both 6-1, will square off Saturday in Ruston, with the winner moving on to face WKU next Saturday. Tech lost to Marshall in its first-ever title game appearance last season, while USM is looking to get back to the game for the first time since 2011 and the third time overall.

Late pick-six gives unbeaten Iowa first-half lead on Nebraska

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With No. 4 Iowa’s unbeaten regular season and, potentially, a playoff berth on the line, Nebraska is doing its damnedest to ruin their rival’s postseason plans.

Thanks in very large part to a second-quarter defensive play, the favored Hawkeyes have taken a 14-10 lead on the Cornhuskers into halftime on a windswept day in Lincoln.  An interception from Tommy Armstrong Jr., his second of the contest, was returned four yards by Parker Hesse for a touchdown with 6:38 left in the second quarter and is the difference in the game.

A Drew Burns 39-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half sliced the Cornhuskers’ deficit to its current four points.

The Hawkeyes’ defense, stout all season long, was what’s everyone has come to expect, limiting the Cornhuskers to just 109 first-half yards before NU’s last drive netted 59 and led to the three-pointer.  NU’s defense was very much the equal to its counterpart’s stoutness, holding the Hawkeyes to 112 yards.  In fact, the two offenses combined to average just 5.4 yards per play, a number aided greatly by that last ‘Husker drive.

Armstrong now has 14 interceptions on the season; only three FBS quarterbacks have thrown more — Virginia’s Matt Johns, Maryland’s Caleb Rowe and Hawaii’s Max Wittek, all of whom have tossed 15 with one game each left to play.  Eight of Armstrong’s interceptions have come in the last three-and-a-half games.

Nebraska won the pregame coin toss and will get the ball on offense to open the second half.

Reports: Les Miles told boosters A&M game will be last at LSU

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07:  Les Miles, head coach of the LSU Tigers, reacts during the first quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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It appears that, after a couple of weeks worth of speculation, the Les Miles era in Baton Rouge is indeed coming to an end.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that, at a booster club meeting, Miles informed those in attendance that Saturday’s game against Texas A&M will be his last as LSU’s head coach.  One person in attendance said that while Miles didn’t come right out and say the A&M game would be his last, he heavily intimated that very thing.

“He didn’t use those words but he made it clear that Saturday is his last game,” an unnamed Gridiron Club member told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“He said , ‘We’re a second family to him and he’s going to miss us, he appreciates his real friends, and then he told us goodbye. It was very emotional but in control.”

Miles also reportedly stated that he would not coach the Tigers in a bowl game. Whether the parting of ways will be termed a dismissal or a mutual agreement remains to be seen, although it’s quite obvious the former is in play.

However, there is a different interpretation of both the scene at the booster meeting earlier today and the Miles’ current status:

If this is the end of Miles’ time with the Tigers — we’ll know for certain at some point after Saturday’s game despite today’s confusion —  he’ll end his 11-year tenure as one of the winningest in the program’s history. Miles has won 110 of the 142 games he’s coached at LSU, a winning percentage of .775, the best ever at the school.

He won two SEC West titles, but none since 2011. His Tigers won the national championship in 2007, and lost in the ’11 title game to nemesis Alabama. Since going undefeated in conference play in that latter season, the Tigers have lost two, three and four games the next three seasons; they are 4-3 in conference play ahead of the A&M game.

If the 62-year-old Miles wants to continue coaching — and all the indications are that he does — there will not be a shortage of suitors as there are currently a dozen openings, including nine at Power Five schools.  One intriguing possibility is Miles taking over for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, speculation that’s gained momentum over the past few days as the rumors of Miles’ imminent demise have grown in recent days.

As for LSU?  Be careful what you wish for.  That grass that looks greener on a replacement’s lawn may turn out to be nearly a decade’s worth of fool’s gold — just ask Tennessee.

No. 24 Toledo’s loss hands MAC West to N. Illinois

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One of the biggest winners in college football this Black Friday didn’t even have to step foot on the field to become one.

At a cold and rainy Glass Bowl Friday afternoon, Western Michigan took the lead in the middle of the second quarter and never trailed again, dropping host Toledo by the score of 35-30.  The loss drops the 24th-ranked Rockets to 9-2 overall and 6-2 in Mid-American Conference play.

With the loss, UT and Northern Illinois, which lost to Ohio Tuesday night, are now tied atop the MAC West.  However, because of the Rockets’ 34-27 home loss to the Huskies Nov. 3, it’ll be NIU facing Bowling Green in the conference championship game next weekend.

This is the seventh consecutive season NIU has either won outright or shared the West division title.  This will also be NIU’s sixth straight appearance in the league title game, with the Huskies winning in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Even more to the point, it will be an NIU-BGSU MAC championship game each of the past three seasons.

One final note: not that there was much doubt before, but the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl bid will almost certainly go to the AAC.  The winner of that conference will be determined next week in Houston, with UH hosting either Temple (if it beats UConn) or USF (if Temple loses).