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)

Maryland down to No. 3 QB as Kasim Hill exits UCF game with injury

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As was the case a few years ago, Maryland might want to consider bubble-wrapping their quarterbacks.

In the second half of Maryland’s season-opening 51-41 upset of Texas Saturday, Tyrrell Pigrome went down with what was later diagnosed as a torn ACL, ending his 2017 season.  Quarterback No. 2, Kasim Hill, took over for the starter and guided the Terrapins to an easy 46-point win over FCS Towson the following weekend.

Coming off a bye, Hill started the Week 4 game against UCF, and promptly went down with what looked to be a very serious-looking injury to his right leg.  Hill put no weight on the leg as he left the field with assistance from the team’s training staff, and was ultimately taken via cart into the locker room for further evaluation.

The true freshman has been ruled out of returning to the non-conference contest.

Hill was replaced by No. 3 quarterback Max Bortenschlager, who started one game last season for the Terps. Trailing the Knights 21-10 late in the third quarter, Bortenschlager has completed 9-of-16 passes for 83 yards, one touchdown and one interception in relief.

No. 5 USC opens flat against Cal and it’s all tied up in Berkeley at halftime

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Imagine telling somebody before the season that No. 5 USC would dominate Stanford in the trenches during a blowout, but struggle against the other Bay Area team in a nail-bitter. Up is down, down is up in the Pac-12 apparently.

The Trojans came out flat to start their annual weekend trip to the Bay Area and needed a few defensive stands to keep the score locked at 13-all on a warm California day between the two in-state rivals.

Quarterback Sam Darnold (157 yards, one touchdown) did his Heisman campaign no favors, tossing his seventh interception of the season (after just nine in all of 2016). Things could have been worse for the signal-caller and his inexperienced receiving corps too as the Golden Bears nearly grabbed two others. Part of the issue could be that his terrific tailback Ronald Jones II failed to make the trip up for the game with an injury and true freshman Stephen Carr (36 yards) was forced to carry much of the load.

Cal’s offense had its own moments but was just 2-of-8 on third down conversions to help stall some early momentum. QB Ross Bowers threw for 124 yards but it was big running back Vic Enwere who was the star of the show with 42 yards on the ground and a touchdown he punched in on 4th and goal. The real story for the home team was the continued play of their defense however, pressuring Darnold on a number of snaps, forcing two turnovers and covering exceptionally well downfield to limit big plays.

The performance through two quarters will lead many to question whether USC really should be ranked in the top five and considered the Pac-12 favorite but the cardinal and gold could turn things around with a trip to the locker room and some adjustments. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed with Justin Wilcox’s squad giving everything they can to another big name opponent in Berkeley this month.

Alabama dropping anchor on Vandy’s upset dream, leads 31-0 at half

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Vanderbilt came into the afternoon with the SEC’s top-ranked scoring defense. Yeah, about that…

No. 1 Alabama scored touchdowns on three straight offensive possessions to build a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and the Crimson Tide lead the Commodores 31-0 at halftime in Nashville. Bo Scarbrough was responsible for two of the Alabama touchdowns, and Damien Harris has take credit for the other two. Jalen Hurts has even gotten in on the running game a little bit while not having the pressure to perform through the air in this one.

On defense, Alabama has held Vanderbilt down quite well too. The Commodores converted just one of six third down situations and the Vandy offense has lost the football twice by way of a fumble.

If you had hoped Vanderbilt could maybe keep this one interesting for at least a half, you were out of luck. Alabama is about to cruise its way to a 4-0 record.

Michigan starting QB Wilton Speight knocked out game by Purdue

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Given the offensive struggles through three weeks of the season, there were a growing number of fans and media calling for Michigan to make a change at quarterback.  Unintentionally, that wish was granted Saturday afternoon.

In the first quarter of UM’s Big Ten opener against Purdue, Wilton Speight was sacked by Markus Bailey for an 11-yard loss on a third-and-five play.  Speight left the game and, ultimately, the stadium entirely as he was taken to a local West Lafayette hospital for further evaluation.

At least for the moment, it appears doubtful he’ll return to the game.

Prior to the injury, Speight was 2-4 passing for 10 yards.  His replacement, backup John O’Korn, is currently 5-5 for 61 yards.  O’Korn has the game’s lone score as well, a 12-yard pass to Zach Gentry early in the second quarter.

Entering the game, Speight had led the Wolverines to just one touchdown on 10 drives into the red zone.  That was O’Korn’s first red-zone trip of the season.

Through the first 19 minutes of game time, the two teams have combined for 154 yards of offense.  The Boilermakers have been held to just a pair of first downs with 11 minutes left in the second quarter.

UPDATED 5:22 p.m. ET: Of course, almost as soon as I hit publish, the Boilermakers tied the score at seven-all.