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: Wisconsin and Notre Dame discussing Soldier Field series

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Notre Dame and Wisconsin have not met on the football field since 1964, but that drought in the series could come to an end in the somewhat near future. The Chicago Tribune reports the two schools are discussing plans for a potential football series that would be played in Chicago’s Soldier Field, home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears.

Why Soldier Field? Why not?

Notre Dame last played in Soldier Field in 2012 when they played Miami as part of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series of games traveling around the country. The Shamrock Series has also made stops in San Antonio, New York, Arlington, Indianapolis, and Boston. There is no Shamrock Series game in 2017, but it is expected to return in 2018 (playing Navy in San Diego). Notre Dame has never lost a game in Soldier Field. Wisconsin has also played in Soldier Field. In 2011, the Badgers dominated Northern Illinois.

Of course, the contrarian view here wonders why two programs with fantastic football environment s would want to abandon their locales in Madison and South Bend to play a game in Chicago. The obvious answers here are that it is easier to schedule one game on a neutral field and it tends to be more financially motivated to do so. Until an agreement is announced, it is just speculation to suggest both Notre Dame and Wisconsin will receive a nice paycheck out of playing in Soldier Field once or twice (or more).

Ideally, having Wisconsin and Notre Dame agree to a home-and-home deal would be the way to go, or a three-year deal with a home-and-home series and a neutral site game in Chicago. But we’ll just have to wait and see

Soldier Field hosted a 2015 Big Ten game between Northwestern and Illinois and the Illini are going to be hosting USF in Soldier Field in 2018.

From a Big Ten scheduling standpoint, a game against Notre Dame would satisfy Wisconsin’s non-conference scheduling requirement to include a game against another power conference program in whatever season or seasons the Irish appear on the schedule. Wisconsin currently satisfies that scheduling requirement in 2018 and 2020-2025. The non-conference schedule is full in 2019, meaning the Badgers need a road game against USF or a home game against Central Michigan or North Texas to be given approval from the Big Ten (or work out a deal to slide Notre Dame into that schedule. Notre Dame currently has a schedule vacancy on September 7, 2019, which is when Wisconsin is scheduled to play Central Michigan, but the Irish have a full 12-game schedule in place for the 2019 season.

The bottom line is whenever this scheduling arrangement is announced, it may not be happening until 2020 at the earliest.

Fire up the Les Miles rumor mill at Ole Miss, even if just for fun

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The head coaching vacancy that has opened up at Ole Miss has gotten the ball rolling on a number of potential coaching rumors for some notable names on the coaching free agent market. As noted this weekend, the betting favorites have been listed, and they include SMU head coach Chad Morris as the betting favorite, followed by former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley. Former LSU head coach Les Miles has been given some decent odds to land the job as well, and he is now one of the most interesting names being debated by those monitoring the situation at Ole Miss.

When Miles was pushed out of the way at LSU last season, he made it perfectly clear he was still looking to coach and win. It was just a matter of finding the right opportunity and having the right offer come along. He had his name attached to various coaching rumors during the last go around the coaching carousel last season, but remained a free agent when all was said and done, for whatever the reasons may be. But with a job in the SEC West suddenly on the market, Miles reportedly has expressed his interest in the job.

This should hardly come as a surprise, as Miles has made it known he wants to continue coaching, and the Ole Miss job could be in need of a coach who can weather the storm. The unknown and cloudy future Ole Miss has to navigate through makes the job less desirable on the surface, but a questionable outlook as far as the NCAA is concerned does not mean the job will be without its potential suitors. After all, it may not be Alabama or LSU, but a job in the SEC West will always be worth checking out regardless of the program.

One of the most popular questions asked during a handful of recent radio interviews since the firing resignation of Hugh Freeze has been where will Ole Miss turn next for its head coach? It may be too soon to accurately answer that question, although I have suggested we should not rule out the possibility of Ole Miss landing a good coach, even if that coach is flying well below the radar right now. It may be popular to suggest the Ole Miss job is toxic right now, but if Penn State and Baylor could end up finding decent coaches to take over their programs (and admittedly, Penn State got lucky with hiring Bill O’Brien and we’ll see if Matt Rhule works out at Baylor), then there is no reason to believe nobody would have any interest in the Ole Miss job.

As for Miles, if he wants to have one more chance at winning a championship, Ole Miss may not be the most desirable option. But if scoring revenge against LSU is the motivating factor, then Ole Miss can still work out. Ole Miss hiring Miles may feel like a reach and it feels like a combination that doesn’t quite fit at this point in time, but it would be advisable for Ole Miss to at least make the phone call to Miles and have a discussion.

And all of this may be for nothing. Maybe interim head coach Matt Luke will prove to be a solid coaching option for the Rebels moving forward. We can at least watch him coach a game or two before diving too deep into the coaching future of Ole Miss.

But having Les Miles back on a sideline somewhere will be fun if and when it happens.

UAB adds former Tennessee DE Mykelle McDaniel

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UAB is returning to the playing field this fall after a brief absence from the world of college football, and head coach Bill Clark is working hard to build a program once again. This weekend, Clark was more than happy to announce the latest addition to the program in the not-so-subtle ways college football coaches tend to do on Twitter.

A couple of hours after that tweet was posted by Clark, former Tennessee defensive end Mykelle McDaniel announced on his Twitter account he had committed to the Blazers, followed by a retweet of Clark’s previous post.

McDaniel will be forced to sit out the upcoming 2017 season due to NCAA transfers. He will be eligible to play again in 2018 with three years of eligibility remaining. McDaniel sat out the 2016 season at Tennessee as a redshirt.

Get an early look at those brand new $10,000 Texas lockers

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One of the fun headlines from this offseason has been focused on the amount of money Texas is spending to upgrade its lockerroom, complete with a full redesign of the individual lockers. Longhorns football players will now have fancy HD TVs fixated above their locker showing off their profile. The season may still be a month away, but we now have an early look at how those new lockers look.

And it looks like it was worth the money.

It is just a brief glimpse of the new lockers, but it falls in line with locker renovations being seen around the country at schools capable of investing in the resources to do so. The locker setup itself appears to be similar to lockers used at some other programs, but the burnt orange looks smooth in these lockers.