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)

Dad of RB Kingston Davis says son will transfer from Michigan

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Michigan’s the latest football program to see its roster hit with the annual spring personnel attrition.

The father of Kingston Davis confirmed to Sam Webb of Scout.com that his son informed UM officials earlier Friday of his intention to transfer from the Wolverines.  Apparently there were two reasons that triggered the running back’s decision: a crowded backfield and chatter that he would be changing positions.

While 2016 leading rusher De'Veon Smith is gone, the Wolverines’ second-, third- and fourth-leading rushers from last season — rising sophomore Chris Evans (614 yards), rising junior Karan Higdon (425), rising fifth-year senior Ty Isaac (417) — all return. Kareem Walker, a four-star 2016 recruit rated as the No. 4 running back in the country, sat out last season because of academics but should be a part of the rotation as a redshirt freshman. They also added four-star (O'Maury Samuels) and three-star (Kurt Taylor) backs as part of their 2017 recruiting class.

A three-star 2016 recruit, Davis was rated as the No. 1 fullback in the country in that year’s class. As a true freshman, the 6-1, 245-pound back carried the ball twice for 17 yards.

Fresno State formally announces Jamar Cain as DL coach

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Jeff Tedford‘s first coaching staff at Fresno State is once again whole.

As first reported earlier this month, the Bulldogs have confirmed that Tedford has hired Jamar Cain as his defensive line coach.  Cain will replace Tony Tuioti, who left last month — after less than two months with the football program — to coach outside linebackers at Tedford’s former employer, Cal.

“We’re excited about Jamar, I’ve had my eye on him a long time,” said the head coach in a statement. “He had a proven track record as a winner at North Dakota State, he’s highly respected in the field, a quality person, a great recruiter, and cares about the student-athletes on-and-off the field.”

Cain comes to Fresno from San Jose State, where he had spent less than two months as the line coach for the Mountain West rivals.  Prior to that, he spent three seasons (2014-16) as the line coach at FCS power North Dakota State.

Prior to NDSU, Cain was an assistant defensive line coach at Wyoming (2013), Cal Poly (2009-12), and Missouri State (2006-08). While with the Cowboys, Cain was promoted to interim defensive coordinator at midseason after Chris Tormey was “relieved of his duties.”

Syracuse makes hiring of ex-Wyoming DC official

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A week after it was first reported, the new hire for Dino Baber‘s coaching staff has been officially announced,

Syracuse confirmed in a release Friday that Steve Stanard has been hired by Babers.  Stanard will serve as the Orange’s defensive ends coach.

“Coach Stanard understands exactly what we want to do defensively,” Babers said in a statement. “Both his familiarity with our system and his experience running defenses at other places are tremendous assets for our program. We’re very excited to have Steve as part of our family.”

Stanard replaces Tom Kaufman, who left earlier this month for the defensive coordinator job at FCS Tennessee-Chattanooga.  Kaufman had served as the Orange’s linebackers coach in 2016, his first with the football program.

The past three seasons, Stanard was the coordinator at Wyoming, but wasn’t retained following the 2016 season.  This will mark his first job at a Power Five school.

“My family and I are excited and thankful to Coach Babers for this opportunity,” Stanard said. “The football tradition at Syracuse is second to none and I very much look forward to assisting Coach Babers in achieving the goals he’s set for this program – both on and off the field.”

Auburn, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech are Cal transfer’s final three

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We don’t yet know to where Aaron Cochran will transfer, but the potential landing spots have been narrowed.

Jake Trotter of ESPN.com revealed on Twitter that the Cal transfer has whittled his to-do list down to three: Auburn, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.  The offensive lineman is already known to have taken an official visit to the Cowboys nearly three weeks ago.

Per Trotter, he’ll visit The Plains this weekend, then Lubbock two weeks later.

In early February, Cochran announced that he would be transferring from Cal. As he is leaving Berkeley as a graduate transfer — he’s expected to graduate this spring — the lineman would have instant eligibility at another FBS school.

Cochran started 16 of the 28 games in which he played during his Cal career. 10 of those starts came this past season.

And, regardless of where he lands, his new school will be getting a very large human being.

For what it’s worth, Cochran is listed at 6-8, 350 pound on his official Cal bio page.