CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 13 LSU

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2013 record: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in SEC (third in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Outback Bowl vs. Iowa (21-14 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 14/14
Head coach: Les Miles (123-45 overall; 95-24 in nine years at LSU)
Offensive coordinator: Cam Cameron (second season)
2013 offensive rankings: 29th rushing offense (202.3 ypg); 44th passing offense (251 ypg); 35th total offense (453.3 ypg); 23rd scoring offense (35.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: John Chavis (sixth season)
2013 defensive rankings: 35th rushing defense (143.2 ypg); 13th passing defense (197.5 ypg);  15th total defense (340.7 ypg); 21st scoring defense (22 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Baton Rouge, La.
Stadium: Tiger Stadium (102,321; grass)
Last conference title: 2011

THE GOOD
The good when it comes to the LSU Tigers is usually the following: powerful running game and dominating defense.  2014 is not expected to be any different.  Sure, the Tigers lost their leading and No. 3 rushers, but Nos. 2 and 4 — Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard — return.  Oh, and there’s the addition of one of the most touted running back prospects in a decade or more, 2014 five-star signee Leonard Fournette — he could immediately make anyone and everyone say “Jeremy Hill who?” given the immense talent he possesses.  Among the returning starters are four offensive linemen, three of them seniors, which bodes well for both the revamped running game and whoever the new starter under center will be.  The defense returns seven starters from a group that finished inside the Top 20 in total defense and just outside the Top 20 in the most important statistical category: scoring defense.  LSU has won 10 or more games in seven of Miles’ nine years in Baton Rouge, including each of the last four seasons; given the amount of returning talent and the deep recruiting classes brought in year after year — all but two of those classes in the Top 10, none outside the Top 18 — don’t expect that win total to dip below double-digits in 2014.

THE BAD
As is ofttimes the case with the Tigers, it’s the departures, early and otherwise, that constitute a negative.  On offense, LSU lost its starting quarterback, top two wide receivers and nearly 1,800 rushing yards.  Defensively, the Tigers must replace its top two defensive tackles, although they grow athletic, dominant tackles on trees down on the bayou.  All of the departures, especially offensively, could make for choppy, uneven play early on; fortunately, after the opener against Wisconsin in Houston, LSU has a four-game stretch that consists of three games — Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State — that are essentially scrimmages that actually count.  The first conference tilt comes in the fourth game against Mississippi State (Sept.20); the first true conference test comes two weeks later against Auburn, which gives Les Miles and his coaching staff what they hope will be plenty of time to work out the kinks.

THE UNKNOWN
As is the case up and down the SEC, the quarterback position is a big unknown.  With Zach Mettenberger‘s departure, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris — not necessarily in that order — will battle to take over as the starter.  While Jennings has the edge in experience — he served as Mettenberger’s primary backup in 2013 —  Harris came out of spring practice looking as the slight leader in the eyes of some observers.  Regardless of which player wins the job, LSU will, as it always does, rely heavily on a force-of-nature running game and ask its quarterback to be a mistake-free(ish) game manager.  Can either, though, come up big in the passing game when the need inevitably arises?  That question can’t and won’t be answered for several weeks on down the road.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Auburn, Oct. 4
Given how the series has played out over the last few years — and how important it’s been in both the conference race and national chase — I was extremely tempted to go with the Alabama game Nov. 8.  Instead, I’ll go with the road trip to Jordan-Hare a month earlier.  After all, The Plains Tigers are the defending SEC champions and BCS runner-ups, making them the first measuring stick (sorry, Badgers) for just where the Bayou Bengals are as a team.  With the two Tiger teams and the Tide all coming off a season in which they won 10 or more games — and with Texas A&M expected to dip a bit given the offensive departures and defensive attrition — most expect the SEC West to come down to, essentially, a three-team round-robin tournament.  The first of the three all-important games is LSU-AU; how that game plays out could go a long way in determining the division’s rep in the SEC title game.  Then again, Auburn lost to LSU last year and still stood atop the league at season’s end, so…

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Leonard Fournette
The past two Heismans were won by a redshirt freshman for the first two times in the history of the award.  Could a true freshman ever break through that stiff-armed ceiling?  It seems doubtful, but Fournette certainly looks the part.  Fournette is a highly-touted five-star member of LSU’s most recent recruiting class, rated as the top running back in that class; the No. 1 player in the state of Louisiana; and the No. 4 player at any position in the country.  He’s a mountain of a man-child already at 6-1, 230 pounds, yet he’s one of the fastest players on the Tigers team.  His ability is off the charts; whether that ability translates into immediate on-field results is unknown, but don’t be surprised if he’s not at least on the periphery of the Heisman discussion at some point this season.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Report: Big 12 still raking in SEC-level cash

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It’s a bad time for the Big 12. The conference isn’t signing blue chip prospects at the rate of its peers, isn’t producing draft picks at the rate of its peers and isn’t reaching and winning big games at the rate of its peers.

But the Big 12 is still getting paid at the rate of its peers.

The league’s contracts with ESPN and FOX combined with its 10-team set up have allowed the Big 12 to keep pace with the SEC and Big Ten and remain ahead of the ACC and Pac-12 in financial distribution. The Dallas Morning News‘s Big 12 writer Chuck Carlton tweeted on Friday the league’s per-school distribution will again grow 10 percent to more than $33 million in 2017-18.

The SEC distributed just north of $40 million in 2016-17, while the Big Ten was at $33 million by 2014-15.

However, since the Big 12 does not have its own television network, its conference distributions do not include third-tier rights, which its schools keep and sell on their own — like the Longhorn Network. So schools like Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are likely getting paid equal or above their SEC and Big Ten peers.

Now if only they could start recruiting and winning like them, too.

Former Texas DT Jordan Elliott headed to Mizzou

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Former Texas defensive tackle Jordan Elliott will now be a Missouri Tiger, he announced on Friday.

Elliott chose Missouri to follow Brick Haley, his defensive line coach in Austin that landed at Mizzou after Charlie Strong‘s firing.

“They’re a program that’s on the come up, SEC ball is the highest level,” Elliott said in an interview with Power Mizzou. “Coach Haley is one of the best D-Line coaches out there. Missouri’s a powerhouse for defensive linemen. They’re coming and going first round every year. That’s real appealing to me.

“I talked to coach Haley and got it rolling.”

Elliott was a Signing Day addition to Strong’s 2016 class who was committed to Michigan before his late flip. He said that his one season in Austin amounted to a year-long version of buyer’s remorse.

“There’s a lot of speculation going around, but at the end of the day I just wasn’t happy there,” he said. “It’s nothing against the coaches at Texas, they’re great coaches. It’s a great program and I really learned a lot of things, but I just never really enjoyed Texas since I first got there.”

Elliott posted eight tackles and 1.5 TFLs in six appearances as a true freshman last season before suffering a torn MCL against Iowa State in October.

He would have been in line for starter’s snaps had he remained on Tom Herman‘s squad this fall. Instead, Elliott will sit out the 2017 campaign and have three years remaining to compete as a Tiger beginning in ’18.

 

WATCH: FCS player paralyzed in 2015 game vs. Georgia walks

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Tired of the continuous stream of negative college football news? Here ya go.

During a September 2015 game against Georgia, Southern wide receiver Devon Gales sustained a severe spinal injury that left him paralyzed and hospitalized for five months. This week, Gales used Twitter to offer up a very encouraging and inspiring update — the former wide receiver, with the assist of a couple of physical therapists, taking a dozen steps.

On the way indeed.

In February, Georgia announced that it was launching “Drive to Build a Dawg House” for Gales and his family.

Nebraska WR Stanley Morgan avoids felony pot possession charge

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One of the top playmakers in Nebraska’s passing game has avoided what was originally a serious legal charge.

According to KETV-TV in Omaha, Stanley Morgan was arrested following a traffic stop May 6 in Port Orange, Fla., for possession of 21.4 grams of marijuana; according to the penal code in the state of Florida, possession of more than 20 grams of weed is considered a felony.  However, the television station wrote, “prosecutors charged the case as ‘possession of cannabis not more than 20 grams,’ making it a misdemeanor.”

Why the the charge against Morgan went from a potential felony to a misdemeanor — or reduced as the Associated Press reported — wasn’t detailed.  A misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia charge was dropped as well.

Cornhuskers defensive back Antonio Reed was also in the vehicle that was driven by his teammate and was charged with misdemeanor pot possession as well.

“Head Coach Mike Riley and the Athletics Department are aware of a recent incident in Florida involving Stanley Morgan Jr.,” a statement from the university began. “We will have no additional comment until we have all information regarding this matter.”

Morgan’s 33 receptions for 453 yards were second on the team last season.  With Jordan Westerkamp‘s departure, the junior is the Cornhuskers’ leading returning receiver.

Also a junior, Reed played in 22 games last season.  He was credited with 22 tackles.