Chick-fil-A Bowl - LSU v Clemson

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: USC AD Pat Haden undergoes unspecified medical procedure

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 03: 
USC Athletic Director Pat Haden speaks at a press conference introducing Steve Sarkisian as the new USC  head football coach at the John McKay Center at the University of Southern California on December 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Citing a source with knowledge of the situation, the Los Angeles Times reported overnight that outgoing USC athletic director Pat Haden underwent what’s only being described as “an unspecified medical procedure” at some point Thursday.

Early Wednesday afternoon, reports surfaced that Haden nearly collapsed outside of Heritage Hall and was treated by paramedics called to the scene. Shortly thereafter, per reports, he was taken to the hospital via ambulance.  A statement from the school confirmed Haden had felt lightheaded before being treated by medical personnel and ultimately transported to his doctor off campus.

The 63-year-old Haden, who has a pacemaker, was taken to one hospital later that day and discharged.  According to the Times, however, Haden was taken to another hospital at some point after the first visit and was held overnight prior to the procedure being performed Thursday.

It’s expected that Haden will remain hospitalized for another day or two, the paper reports.

A similar episode prior to the Notre Dame game last season prompted Haden to give up his duties as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Lingering health issues played a role in his decision earlier this month to step down as USC’s athletic director later this year.

Utah State continues filling holes on Matt Wells’ Aggies staff

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Departures had left Matt Wells with myriad openings on his Utah State coaching staff.  Earlier this week, Wells filled one hole on the offensive side of the ball; a day later, he turned to the defensive side.

The university confirmed Wednesday that Julius Brown has been added by Wells as cornerbacks coach.  Brown had spent the past two seasons as the secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Mountain West rival Boise State.

Brown, who played his college football with the Broncos, and his alma mater reportedly parted ways earlier this year.  The Idaho Statesman reported at the time that “[i]t was unclear if Brown’s departure would be termed a resignation or a firing.”

Prior to his first tenure at BSU, Brown was a secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Arkansas State (2013) and cornerbacks coach at Troy (2012).

“We are excited to add Julius to the Aggie football family,” said Wells. “He brings a lot of experience to our staff and team as both a secondary coach and former defensive back, and also has a reputation as an outstanding recruiter. He possesses key knowledge of the Mountain West that will aid us moving forward in our quest to win a conference championship.”

With the hiring of Brown, Wells still has a need for running backs and tight ends coaches as well as special teams coordinator.

Texas confirms it will ‘part ways’ with DBs coach Chris Vaughn

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 11, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Following up on reports that surfaced earlier today, Texas head coach Charlie Strong has confirmed in a statement that Chris Vaughn is no longer a member of his Longhorns coaching staff.

“Chris did a tremendous job for us,” the statement from Strong began. “He’s a terrific football coach and a great person.  However, circumstances have put us in a position that we are going to part ways.”

While those circumstances weren’t specified, it’s believed they’re tied to the NCAA’s investigation into the Ole Miss football program.

From 2008-11, Vaughn was an assistant under Houston Nutt with the Rebels.  One report in connection to Vaughn’s ouster at UT stated that “the facts against Vaughn [in the Ole Miss case] ‘were damning,'” while another said the “NCAA has a ‘thick file’ on Vaughn.”

Vaughn had spent the past two seasons as Strong’s defensive backs coach.  While his two-year contract had expired late last month, he had an option for a third year that, prior to the Ole Miss developments, was expected to be picked up by the football program.

Miss. St. confirms Maurice Linguist’s addition to Dan Mullen’s staff

STARKVILLE, MS - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head Coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs on the sidelines during a game against the Northwestern State Demons at Davis Wade Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi.  The Bulldogs defeated the Demons 62-13.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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For the third time this offseason, Dan Mullen has added a new face to his Mississippi State defensive staff.

The latest addition is Maurice Linguist, who the school confirmed Thursday has been hired as to coach the safeties for the Bulldogs. Linguist had spent the past two seasons as Iowa State’s defensive passing game coordinator.

“Maurice is a very sharp person with a bright future in the coaching profession,” a statement from Mullen read. “His knowledge of the game is exceptional, while his teaching and communication skills will resonate well with our players. We are happy to have him in Starkville and look forward to the impact he will make on our team.”

“I am excited to be a part of the tradition that Coach Mullen has established in his tenure here at Mississippi State,” Linguist said. “It’s a privilege to be a Bulldog, to coach in the Southeastern Conference and to mentor the dynamic safeties we have on this team.”

Linguist’s first on-field job at the FBS level came at Buffalo in 2012-13, holding the same job title he had at ISU. After finishing up his playing career at Baylor — as a safety he was team MVP and honorable mention All-Big 12 selection — he began his coaching career at his alma mater as a grad assistant in 2007.

The 31-year-old assistant has also spent time on staffs at Valdosta State (2008, defensive backs/special teams) and James Madison (2009-11, safeties).

Linguist joins Peter Sirmon (defensive coordinator) and Terrell Buckley (secondary) as coaches Mullen has hired over the past three weeks.