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)

Arkansas kicker Cole Hedlund reportedly transfers to North Texas

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And you can pardon the whole of the state of Arkansas if they let out a collective “thank goodness.”

Citing multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle is reporting that Cole Hedlund is transferring to North Texas.  After redshirting as a true freshman in 2014 at Arkansas, Hedlund spent the next three seasons as a placekicker for the Razorbacks.

The Argyle, Tex., native opted to transfer from UA for his final season of eligibility.  He’s the youngest son of UNT women’s soccer coach John Hedlund.

For his career with the Razorbacks, Hedlund hit on 14 of his 24 field goal attempts.  He also connected on all 91 extra point attempts.  His best season came in 2015 when he led the team in scoring with 85 points.

The past season, however, was a rough one.  After missing both field goal attempts in a Sept. 9 loss to TCU — the misses came from 20 and 23 yards out — Hedlund never attempted another kick for the Razorbacks the rest of the season.

“It was basically a PAT, and it was a perfect protection and a perfect snap. It’s inexcusable,” then-head coach Bret Bielema said at the time.

Longtime BYU defensive assistant Steve Kaufusi steps down

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A constant on BYU’s defensive staff for nearly two decades has taken himself out of the football program’s equation.

The Cougars announced Friday that Steve Kaufusi has stepped down from his post as linebackers coach.  Per the school, Kaufusi’s departure was triggered by his desire to pursue other unspecified interests.

Kaufusi, whose wife Michelle is the mayor of Provo and has two sons who will play for the Cougars this season, had spent the past 16 seasons with BYU.  From 2002-16, he coached the defensive line; he took over linebackers in 2017 and spent one season overseeing that position.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to coach at BYU for the past 16 seasons,” Kaufusi said. “I’m honored to have had the opportunity to represent the University and everything it stands for. I will always be a Cougar and look forward to watching my sons play at BYU.”

“Anyone who knows Steve knows he is an exceptional coach and mentor to young men, which you can see in the players he has coached over the years and also in his own family,” head coach Kalani Sitake said. “I wish Steve nothing but the best for his future.”

In tandem with the Kaufusi announcement, the program also confirmed that Preston Hadley has been hired.  Hadley, who played defensive back for the Cougars and coached at Weber State the past two seasons, will coach safeties in his return.

Ed Lamb, who was responsible for safeties, will take over Kaufusi’s linebackers.  All other coaches on the defensive side of the ball will maintain their current positions.

Michigan State promotes Mike Tressel to DC, adds ex-Kent State HC as DBs coach

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Mark Dantonio looked inside and out of his football program to fill some holes in his Michigan State staff.

Nearly two weeks ago, Harlon Barnett left as MSU’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach to take a job at Florida State.  That left Dantonio with two openings, one of which the head coach closed Friday by promoting Mike Tressel to defensive coordinator.

Tressel and Barnett had served as co-coordinators the past three seasons; the nephew of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will now serve as the Spartans’ solo coordinator moving forward.

“Mike has done a tremendous job working with the defense,” said Dantonio in a statement. “He’s been deeply involved with everything with the defense since we first arrived here, and has helped coach some championship defenses that have been ranked consistently among the best in the nation, year in and year out. He did a great job as co-coordinator the past three years. He’s certainly earned this opportunity and I think he’ll do an outstanding job.”

To replace Barnett as defensive backs coach, Dantonio turned to Paul Haynes.  The past five years, Haynes was the head coach at Kent State before being dismissed at the end of the 2017 regular season.

This serves as a homecoming of sorts for Haynes as well.  From 2003-04, he was the defensive backs coach for the Spartans under John Smith.

The 48-year-old Haynes has also been a secondary coach at Arkansas (2012), Ohio State (2005-10), Louisville (2002) and Kent State (1999).

“We’re very, very excited about Paul,” said Dantonio. “He’s coached here before so he’s got a Spartan background. He was secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so he’s coached on the highest level with the secondary. He was a defensive coordinator at Arkansas as well. He’s been a head coach at Kent State, so I think that gives him a big picture feel. I think he’s an excellent recruiter. He’s a dynamic person as well, so we’re excited to have him on campus.”

Willie Taggart finalizes first Florida State coaching staff

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Exactly 45 days after being announced as Florida State’s new head coach, Willie Taggart has put the finishing touches on his first Seminoles staff.

Friday night, FSU confirmed that Taggart has completed his 10-man staff with the additions of five new assistants.  It was reported this week that Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell would be taking the same job at FSU; the school confirmed as much today, with Bell also taking over as quarterbacks coach.

The other four hires consisted of Greg Frey (offensive line/running-game coordinator), David Kelly (wide receivers/recruiting coordinator), Mark Snyder (defensive ends) and Alonzo Hampton (special teams coordinator).

That fivesome joins the other five assistants previously announced:

  • Harlon Barnett, defensive coordinator and defensive back
  • Odell Haggins, associate head coach and defensive tackles
  • Raymond Woodie, linebackers
  • Telly Lockette, tight ends
  • Donte’ Pimpleton, running backs

Haggins is the lone holdover from Jimbo Fisher‘s last staff.

“From the beginning of this process, my goal was to bring in the best coaches for our program and I believe we have done that,” Taggart said. “This group will do a great job of recruiting, developing, coaching and mentoring our student-athletes to reach their highest potential. I’m excited for the next few weeks as we are finalizing our 2018 signing class and then working with our team as we prepare for spring practice.”