CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 17 Ole Miss

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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

THE GOOD
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…

THE BAD
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.

THE UNKNOWN
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)

VIDEO: UCF head coach Scott Frost shows off wheels running the option as scout team QB

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In terms of accomplishments as a college football player, few coaches have the resume of Scott Frost.

After all, the now-UCF head coach won a national title back in 1997 with Nebraska and compiled a 24-2 record as a starter with the Cornhuskers. What made him so dangerous? Well, he was the perfect fit for the team’s triple option offense and was one of the best in terms of using his arm and his legs in leading the team to all those wins.

“I love option football,” Frost told the Associated Press “I lived it. I feel like option quarterbacks now are kind of like giant pandas, they only exist in zoos and military academies now.”

That’s particularly relevant this week, as his Knights are set to play Navy on Saturday in a huge AAC matchup that will have an impact on who receives this year’s Group of Five bid. Given how well the boss is at running the option, it seems he decided to put on a helmet and run the scout team offense to better prepare his defense for what they’ll see out of the Midshipmen and signal-caller Zach Abey.

From the looks of things, Frost still has it even if he’s got 20 years on his players.

Ohio State reportedly opting for all-gray alternate uniforms for Penn State game

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Recruiting never stops, even for a blue-blood like Ohio State. That’s one reason why the team is reportedly set to go with an all-gray alternate uniform for the team’s biggest game of the year when Penn State rolls into Columbus.

Team site Eleven Warriors posted that they have obtained images of the retail uniforms the Buckeyes are set to wear, which includes a top that is completely gray with only a sliver of scarlet for the team’s logo on the chest:

OSU opting for alternate uniforms in big games is nothing new for the program under Urban Meyer, especially since a new Nike deal kicked in a while back. They donned some for the Michigan game last season and have worn several versions in other contests. This latest monochrome look, which is still a report and subject to change mind you, still seems a bit bland all things considered.

If nothing else, it could make things very hard for the broadcasters despite all eyes being on the horseshoe for one of the most important Big Ten games of the year.

ESPN apologized to Washington over cupcake stunt during broadcast

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It seems that budding feud between ESPN, Washington and Huskies head coach Chris Petersen is starting to die down just a bit.

ESPN has apologized to the school for a stunt on a broadcast two weeks ago during the Washington-Cal game, in which commentators took the team’s weak non-conference schedule to task and used literal cupcakes to represent the Huskies’ opponents during the first few weeks of the season.

“I felt more like that was such a disrespectful move for the people we play,” athletic director Jen Cohen told the Seattle Times. “For those that do this, we do this because we love the kids. These are somebody’s sons, somebody’s brothers. They’re 18- to 22-year-old kids, and so I was more offended, not for us, as I was for our opponents.

“It was a class act (to apologize), and he made the right call.”

According to the Times, Cohen received a call from Peter Derzis, ESPN’s senior vice president of college sports programming and events, offering the apology.

As nice as the mea culpa was from ESPN, Cohen and Petersen were probably even more elated to hear the news that their October 28 game against UCLA was slated to be televised at 12:30 p.m. PT after an oft-criticized string of night games that made the head coach quite ornery last week. It might not make up for the fact that the team lost to Arizona State on Saturday but there are definitely a few baby steps being taken to repair the relationship between the school and one of the Pac-12’s primary broadcast partners.

Athletic director Tom Jurich officially fired by Louisville board

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It’s official: Tom Jurich is out as Louisville’s athletic director.

The Cardinals board of directors voted 10-3 to oust the embattled AD on Wednesday afternoon, completing a pair of sweeping changes in the department following the growing college basketball scandal that has enveloped the school. Once one of the most powerful people in college athletics, Jurich was fighting to remain in his job ever since he was placed on administrative leave after the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York announced details of a wide-ranging investigation.

Vincent Tyra will continue to serve as acting athletic director until a permanent hire is made.

Perhaps the biggest effect on the football program following Jurich’s ouster is on the contract of Cardinals head coach Bobby Petrino. Notably, his buyout is set to be halved if Jurich was ever fired… which means it could be more likely he leaves the school this offseason for another job. Given potential openings such as Tennessee, it’s not out of the question that the halving of the buyout will come into play for some schools if the dominoes fall in the right way to allow somebody to hire Petrino away.

Oh, and for those wondering, yes that is indeed the Papa John of the pizza chain fame who voted to fire Jurich on Wednesday.