Leonard Williams, RJ Morgan

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 14 USC

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2013 record: 10-4 overall, 6-3 in the Pac-12 conference (tied for 2nd in South division)
2013 postseason: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State (45-25 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 19/No. 19
Head coach: Steve Sarkisian (34-29 overall; 1st year at USC)
Offensive coordinator: Clay Helton (5th year at USC)
2013 offensive rankings: 59th rushing offense (172.8 ypg); 70th passing offense (227.1 ypg); 72nd total offense (399.9 ypg); 60th scoring offense (29.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Justin Wilcox (1st year at USC)
2013 defensive rankings: 15th rushing defense (120.6 ypg); 32nd passing defense (214.6 ypg);  13th total defense (335.2 ypg); 16th scoring defense (21.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607; grass)
Last conference title: 2008

THE GOOD
Once USC athletic director Pat Haden cut ties with head coach Lane Kiffin during the middle of season, the Trojans played very well down the stretch. The team won six of its last seven games to finish 10-4. The offense in particular played at a much higher level. In the team’s final seven games, junior quarterback Cody Kessler threw 12 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Kessler had to battle earlier in the season with fellow quarterback Max Wittek to earn the starting job, but once Kessler was handed the reins, the team’s offense played at a much higher level. They did so under the supervision of offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who was retained by new head coach Steve Sarkisian. An experienced quarterback and improved system should help the Trojans play at a more consistent level on offense during the upcoming season.

THE BAD
As the Trojans prepare for the season, the team’s situation at offensive line is tenuous at best. Max Tuerk may be one of the most versatile linemen in college football — he’ll start at center for the first time this fall — and Chad Wheeler improved throughout his freshmen campaign. But the rest of the projected starters along the offensive line lack experience. Aundrey Walker was expected to provide a veteran presence and potentially start, but he has yet to practice during camp due to a lingering leg injury. Zach Banner (right tackle), Khaliel Rodgers (right guard) and Toa Lobendahn (left guard) continue to practice with the first unit, yet Banner is the only one to even appear in a game as a member of the Trojans. In fact, Lobendahn is a true freshman. It’s a unit that will require time to gel and needs to gain experience throughout the season for USC to play to expectations this season.

THE UNKNOWN
Will the Trojans ever be able to recapture the magic that once surrounded the program during Pete Carroll‘s nine-year run as the team’s head coach? It already failed to do so when named Lane Kiffin, the team’s former co-offensive coordinator, was named as Carroll’s replacement. Yet, the school went back to the same well and named Kiffin’s former running mate as the program’s newest head coach. Sarkisian seems like an ideal fit due to his history with the team, but the coach was never able to get the Washington Huskies over the hump during his five seasons with the program. Granted, USC’s talent level compared to Washington’s at the time Sarkisian took over is night and day. It has to be a concern for USC faithful that Sarkisian never finished better than 8-4 as a head coach.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at UCLA
Last season, the Trojans got the proverbial monkey off their backs by beating the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal for the first time since 2008. The next obstacle for the Trojans is overcome their cross-town rival, the UCLA Bruins. As the Trojans dealt with NCAA sanctions, Bruins head coach Jim Mora rebuilt UCLA and made the Bruins into one of the top teams in the nation entering this season. While the Bruins haven’t been able to overcome the Trojans on the recruiting trail, UCLA still won the last two contests between the teams by a combined score of 73-42. It’s likely that when these two teams meet to play on Nov. 12 the Pac-12 South division and an appearance in the conference’s championship game will be on the line.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: DT Leonard Williams
Everyone knows that a only one player primarily from the defensive side of the football has ever won the Heisman Trophy, and Michigan’s Charles Woodson had the luxury of playing special teams and a little bit of offense too. However, Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o have shown in recent years that dominant defenders in the midst of a special season can garner legitimate consideration for the sport’s most prestigious trophy. Williams is the most talented player on USC’s roster. He’s projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. In 13 games last season, Williams was second on the team with 74 tackles and added 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think Williams will put together a season like Suh did in 2009 (85 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks) and establish himself as the most dominant defender in college football.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Second-half dominance powers No. 10 A&M past No. 17 Arkansas, 45-24

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 24:  Trevor Knight #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies runs for a touchdown against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the second quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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No. 10 Texas A&M grabbed a late touchdown run from quarterback Trevor Knight in the first half and shut down No. 17 Arkansas in the second half of a 45-24 victory in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Aggies shut down the Razorbacks in the second half and scored 28 points on offense to improve to 4-0 and head into October thinking about making a run at the SEC West title (and potentially for real this time).

With the game tied at 17-17, Arkansas put together a draining 89-yard drive on 19 plays, but it was the Texas A&M defense that held strong down by the goal line. Just as they had done twice in the first half, Texas A&M prevented Arkansas from punching the football across the goal line, this time with a fourth-down stand. Two plays later, Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight unloaded a deep ball to Josh Reynolds racing down the right sideline. The ball was placed perfectly for Reynolds and he let his speed take care of the rest on a 92-yard touchdown drive. It was quite the momentum swing and the Aggies did not look back.

Texas A&M scored a touchdown after forcing Arkansas to punt on the ensuing possession and took advantage of a short field from the 15-yard line after an Arkansas fumble. Trayveon Williams did the honors on the first touchdown with a 33-yard scamper and Christian Kirk got his hands on a pass from Knight after the Razorbacks’ fumble.

Four games into the season and there appears to be enough evidence to suggest this Texas A&M defense has improved, and that helps make Texas A&M a formidable player in the SEC West moving forward. Is it ready to take down Alabama? Probably not, but the Aggies have the look of the second-best team in the SEC behind the defending national champions. Arkansas still has the potential to play spoiler with anyone on their schedule though, including Alabama.

Knight was a machine for the Aggies, ending his night with 225 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, a game-high 157 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Arkansas quarterback passed for 371 yards and two scores, but took a beating all night.

Texas A&M is 4-0 for the third straight season under Kevin Sumlin. The last time Texas A&M went 4-0 in three straight seasons was 1939-1941. It is also the third straight undefeated September for Texas A&M, which was last achieved from 1997 through 1999. The hot seat talk has been nowhere to be heard in College Station this season.

Arkansas gets a likely breather next week when they return home to host Alcorn State. A home game against Alabama looms after that. Texas A&M will stay in SEC play next week when they head to South Carolina. The Gamecocks are coming off a 17-10 loss at Kentucky.

Seth Russell’s 4 TD night vs. Oklahoma State helps No. 16 Baylor remain undefeated

WACO, TX - SEPTEMBER 24:  Seth Russell #17 of the Baylor Bears looks for an open receiver against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first quarter at McLane Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
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In a game that was delayed over an hour by weather, featured a bizarre coaching decision and over 1,000 yards of combined offense, No. 16 Baylor (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) managed to pull away and remain one of two remaining undefeated teams in the Big 12 with a 35-24 victory at home over Oklahoma State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12). West Virgina is also undefeated after beating BYU earlier in the day.

Baylor quarterback Seth Russell passed for 387 yards and four touchdowns in the win, and he also led the ground attack with 65 rushing yards on 10 carries. Ishmael Zamora, in his first game back from a three-game suspension for beating his dog, caught eight of the passes from Russell for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Platt also hauled in a 100-yard day with a pair of touchdowns.

While the winning formula for Baylor typically revolves around the offense, Oklahoma State coughed the ball up four times, although they did pick up 30 first downs and run 100 plays of offense as well. It was far from pretty for Baylor, with seven penalties and giving up 28 first downs, but the Bears will take it and enjoy the undefeated start to the season regardless.

Baylor head coach Jim Grobe did make one puzzling coaching decision late in the third quarter when he kept the offense on the field to try to pick up a first down on fourth and one from Baylor’s 24-yard line. You read that correctly. They went for it from the Baylor 24-yard line, with a lead mind you, in the third quarter. Oklahoma State stuffed the play for no gain and the offense was unable to capitalize. That may have cost Oklahoma State, and it bailed Grobe out for an absolute bonehead coaching decision.

But the defensive stop was just the start. Oklahoma State’s defense could not hold Baylor down and the Bears put together a 99-yard touchdown drive, with Seth Russell finding Chris Platt from 15 yards out on third and goal. It served as the knockout blow from the Bears offense, who had four touchdown drives of at least 73 yards on the night.

Baylor will be on the road next week for more Big 12 competition. The Bears hit the road to take on Iowa State for an early kickoff next Saturday. Oklahoma State will be home next week for a meeting with the Texas Longhorns. Texas will be coming off a bye week after losing on the road at Cal last weekend.

With seven more, Lamar Jackson has more TDs than all but ONE FBS team

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) awaits the snap during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Huntington, W. Va., Saturday Sept. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Walter Scriptunas II)
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With the final games of the first month of the 2016 season being quickly put to bed, we can officially hand the September Heisman Trophy to Lamar Jackson.  In an utter and absolute landslide.

The Louisville quarterback’s ridiculous, video game-like month has officially come to an end, with Jackson accounting for seven touchdowns in a 59-28 win over Marshall in Huntington.  The true sophomore threw for five touchdowns and ran for another two in a performance that did nothing but show how remarkably easy the game is for Jackson right now even as he “struggled” early on.

With this showing, Jackson has now accounted for 25 touchdowns on the season — 13 passing, 12 rushing.

Remarkably, Jackson now has more touchdowns individually than all but one team — aside from his own — playing at the FBS level.  That one team?  Michigan, with 28.  USF, with 25 as a team that played this week, is tied with Jackson as an individual.

I guess you could technically add an asterisk to the “one team” theme as Texas Tech (25), Ohio State (23) and Miami (21) were all on byes this weekend.  And I’m also going under the assumption that Washington (19 entering Week 4) won’t get beyond 25, even as they are currently tied 14-14 with Arizona at halftime.

Still, the numbers Jackson is putting up are historic and epic, and that was even before he added Nos. 6 and 7.

I have no clue how Jackson will close out the season, but I do know that, at the moment, there’s the Cardinals’ signal-caller and then there’s everybody else when it comes to the 2016 Heisman race.  Just as it was exactly a week ago.

Thrilling comeback gives No. 7 Stanford a wild win over UCLA

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Francis Owusu #6 of the Stanford Cardinal fumbles after a hit from Tahaan Goodman #21 and Adarius Pickett #6 of the UCLA Bruins during the second quarter at Rose Bowl on September 24, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Death. Taxes. Stanford over UCLA.

Cardinal head coach David Shaw ran his record to a perfect 7-0 against the Bruins in thrilling fashion on Saturday night thanks to a 22-13 comeback victory at the Rose Bowl.

Trailing 13-9 with just two minutes left in the game, the Cardinal marched 70 yards in 101 seconds to take an improbable lead after failing to score a touchdown until their final drive.

Quarterback Ryan Burns was behind most of the yardage on what would be the game-winning drive, going 5-of-8 to finish off the Bruins by lofting a perfectly thrown fade into the hands of 6-foot-3 receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside near the corner of the end zone. Burns finished with just 137 yards through the air on the night and tossed an interception in a middling performance but came up clutch for the first moment of his career.

Heisman Trophy candidate Christian McCaffrey had an unusually effective but quiet night a few months after setting a few records at the same venue in January. He had a healthy 5.3 yards per carry for the game and led the team with  165 all-purpose yards but only had one play over 10 yards all night.

UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen on the other hand, was the offense for the Bruins considering they could only muster 2.3 yards a carry on the ground. The sophomore signal-caller finished with 248 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t quite pull off the win over the one team that has become a bit of a nemesis to Jim Mora and company in Westwood.

Perhaps fittingly — as if to almost twist the knife into another excruciating loss to their Bay Area rivals — Rosen was sacked on the final play of the game and fumbled, which was then returned by linebacker Joey Alfieri for a touchdown that was of plenty of interest to certain folks up the highway in Las Vegas.

The improbable victory for Stanford keeps alive their College Football Playoff hopes for another week and sets up a huge showdown next Friday at Washington in what looks like the Pac-12 game of the year.