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)

Washington State coach Mike Leach fires a shot at the SEC

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 19: Head coach Mike Leach of the Washington State Cougars looks on from the sidelines during the second quarter of the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on October 19, 2013 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Washington State coach Mike Leach is known across the country as one of college football’s most interesting characters, rambling on from time-to-time about everything from pirates to the history of Geronimo. The latest subject the quirky head coach has turned his sights on? The big ol’ SEC.

The Jackson Clarion-Ledger spoke to Leach recently as part of a profile on new Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo, and let’s just say the Air Raid guru of the Palouse didn’t hold back when discussing the state of offenses in the league widely considered to be the best in the sport.

“I’ve got bad news for all these levels people,” Leach said. “Your level isn’t special, your conference isn’t special. All this different level this, different level that. That’s crazy.

 

“This is a great time to be in the SEC, everybody’s got the same offense: run right, run left, play action. And they tease themselves  and say we threw it four more times a game this year than we did last year.”

Leach, who coached in the league at Kentucky, also added some other, more colorful language to describe his impression of the SEC and the offenses teams run. While he did play at Auburn with the Cougars a few years ago, he clearly hasn’t kept up with the way things are trending down south as even pro-style stalwarts like Alabama and Arkansas are using more and more tempo and spread principles on a weekly basis.

Either way, let’s hope the Washington State athletic director is already making calls to schedule an SEC opponent in the coming years. If nothing else, any future appearance by Leach on the Paul Finebaum Show should be must-see entertainment.

Willie Taggart completes Oregon coaching staff with familiar face from USF

TAMPA, FL - NOVEMBER 26: South Florida Bulls head coach Willie Taggart during the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images)
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It probably took a little longer than most to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, but Willie Taggart has completed his coaching staff at Oregon and the latest addition is a familiar face.

The school announced Thursday afternoon that Raymond Woodie would be taking over as the Ducks’ new special teams coordinator, having previously spent the past four seasons at USF with Taggart and three more before that together at Western Kentucky.

Woodie most recently served as the Bulls’ defensive coordinator this past season but has been a linebackers coach dating back to 2012. He is regarded by many to be a quality recruiter with good ties to the state of Florida in particular and has also coached the defensive line. While his title makes him responsible for the third phase of the game for Oregon, he figures to also help out new defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt in some fashion as well.

The announcement is a bit of positive news for Taggart and the Ducks this week after a considerable bit of bad press for the program stemming from the revelation that multiple Oregon players wound up in the hospital following offseason workouts. New strength coach Irele Oderinde (who also came over from USF) was eventually suspended for one month without pay by the school as a result..

Despite Auburn interest, Texas A&M OC Noel Mazzone staying put in College Station

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 14:  The Texas A&M Aggies offense huddles against the Missouri Tigers at Kyle Field on October 14, 2006 in College Station, Texas. Texas A&M won 25-19. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Gus Malzahn’s quest to find a new offensive coordinator has zigged and zagged in the past few days since the surprising departure of Rhett Lashlee to UConn. One place it will not be going however, is to a fellow SEC West school.

Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle reports that despite some interest in Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the Aggies’ coach is staying put in College Station.

Mazzone arrived at A&M prior to this past season from UCLA and found early success with the Aggies and transfer quarterback Trevor Knight before a late slide in 2016. Travis Haney of 247Sports reported earlier Thursday that he could be considered the leader in the search to replace Lashlee, but it appears that will not be the case.

The longtime coaching veteran’s name being linked to Auburn isn’t too surprising considering he was the OC there from 1999-2001 but Mazzone’s hefty salary and likely high buyout figure provided some big obstacles if he wanted to reunite with the school.

Instead, it’s on to the next one for Malzahn and company.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan coaches ride go-karts with five-star recruit in Georgia

ANN ARBOR, MI - OCTOBER 17:  Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines reacts during the college football game against the Michigan State Spartans at Michigan Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 27-23.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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National Signing Day is just around the corner and that means a flurry of in-home visits by coaches across the country trying to lock up the next class of impact players for their program.

We’ve seen plenty of unique attempts by coaches to impress prospects over the years as a result, from often used cookie cakes to sleepovers and limo rides. When it comes to this subject though, few have been as creative as Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh. This week, he certainly cemented that reputation.

According to the Detroit News, Harbaugh and several Wolverines coaches took an in-home visit with five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon out of Leesburg, Georgia and went bowling with the recruit’s family before finally racing go-karts together.

And even better, there’s video via ESPN:

Solomon is also strongly considering Alabama and Georgia in addition to Michigan, but something says neither Nick Saban or Kirby Smart will be heading to the race track with the big defensive tackle on their visit. You have to love recruiting either way.