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)

Former Michigan WR, Notre Dame DB move on to JUCOs

MORTON GROVE, IL - JANUARY 23: A U-Haul truck sits in front of a U-Haul store January 23, 2003 in Morton Grove, Illinois. Reno, Nevada-based U-Haul Co. is discussing debt restructuring. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)
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Two former members of Power Five football programs have decided to slide far down the college football ladder in restarting their respective careers.

According to 247Sports.com, Cole is on the campus of East Mississippi Community College and will play for the JUCO team in 2016.  The report comes nearly four months after it was reported that Cole had decided to transfer from Michigan to Kentucky.

The recruiting website writes that UK “is a school Cole continues to consider.”

Cole was a highly sought after four-star 2015 recruit who was an early enrollee in Jim Harbaugh‘s first UM class.  The No. 74 player nationally on 247Sports.com‘s composite board, Cole was also the No. 1-rated player at any position in the state of Michigan.  He played in two games at receiver with the Wolverines; he’ll move to safety with his new program.

Speaking of defensive backs, former Notre Dame safety Mykelti Williams has also decided to go the JUCO route.  It was confirmed in March of this year that Williams had decided to leave the Irish and transfer elsewhere.

As it turns out, that elsewhere is Iowa Western.

Williams was a three-star member of the Irish’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 29 safety in the country; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Indiana; and the No. 464 player overall according to 247Sports.com. The 5-11, 200-pound defensive back chose Notre Dame over offers from, among others, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Nebraska, Purdue and Wisconsin.

He took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

Transferring Utah DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu visits Alabama, too

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu
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Earlier this month, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu made the decision to transfer from Utah. Over the weekend, the defensive lineman paid a visit to Nebraska as he began the process of finding a new college football home.

Earlier this week, Tu’ikolovatu continued that process at the defending national champions.

According to the defensive tackle’s Twitter account, Tu’ikolovatu paid a visit to Alabama on Monday. While the Tide, as always, remains loaded along the line even after losing so much to the NFL draft, they could certainly use someone with the talent — and size — the 6-1, 320-pound Tu’ikolovatu possesses if the player and team find common ground.

Last season with the Utes, Tu’ikolovatu played in all 13 games, starting two of those contests. His four fumble recoveries were tied for the lead in the Pac-12 and second nationally.

All told, Tu’ikolovatu played in 25 games the past two seasons. As a graduate transfer, he’d be eligible to play immediately in 2016 whether he moves on to Alabama, Nebraska or any other FBS program.

The 2016 season will, though, be his final year of eligibility.

Tim Irvin takes to Twitter to announce transfer from Auburn

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Eli Jenkins #7 of the Jacksonville State Gamecocks spins to avoid a tackle by defensive back Tim Irvin #22 of the Auburn Tigers on September 12, 2015 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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After just one season on The Plains, Tim Irvin will be plying his football wares elsewhere moving forward.

On his personal Twitter account Tuesday, Irvin, the nephew of former Miami Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys receiving great Michael Irvin, announced that “it will be better for me to pursue my career elsewhere.” The 5-9, 194-pound defensive back gave no reason for his decision.

The Miami, Fla., native was a four-star member of AU’s 2015 recruiting class. 247Sports.com had Irvin rated as the No. 38 player at any position in the state of Florida and the No. 285 player overall in its composite rankings.

As a true freshman last season, Irvin played in 10 games. He started at nickel corner in games in which the Tigers opened in the nickel package.

As for potential landing spots?  It’s being reported that East Carolina, Miami and Texas may be considerations.

Dede Westbrook, Sooners’ leading returning receiver, arrested Monday

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 19: Wide receiver Dede Westbrook #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners pulls down a pass as cornerback Brodrick Umblance #4 of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane defends September 19, 2015 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Tulsa 52-38.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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Oklahoma has a huge season opener at a neutral field against Houston to kick off 2016 in a couple of months.  Whether their top returning threat in the receiving game is on the field remains to be seen.

According to multiple media outlets, Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook was arrested late Monday morning on a charge of criminal trespassing.  The arrest occurred in Westbrook’s hometown of Cameron, Tex.

No details of what led to the arrest have been released.  An OU spokesperson said in a statement that “[w]e’re aware of it and are addressing internally.”

With Sterling Shepard off to the NFL, Westbrook is OU’s leading returning receiver.

In his first season with the Sooners, Westbrook was second on the Sooners in receptions (46) and receiving yards (743).  His 16.2 yards per catch was tops on the team for those with 20 or more receptions, while his four receiving touchdowns were tied for third.

For that production, Westbrook was named the Big 12’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year.