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)

UNC and Minnesota line up future home-and-home deal

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While one football series between an ACC and Big Ten team may be hard to come by, North Carolina and Minnesota have put together a future home-and-home scheduling agreement to look forward to. The Tar Heels and Gophers will meet for the first time on the football field in 2023 and follow up with a second game in 2024, the schools announced on Wednesday.

North Carolina will host Minnesota on Sept. 16, 2023. The two schools will then open the 2024 season at Minnesota, either on August 31, 2024 or for a Thursday opener on August 29, 2024.

The ACC and Big Ten each require their members to play one game against another power conference opponent each season. North Carolina already satisfied that requirement in 2024 with a season-opener against South Carolina scheduled to be played in Charlotte, NC, but the 2024 game fulfills the power conference scheduling requirement for the Tar Heels. The home-and-home series will also satisfy Minnesota’s obligation to the Big Ten scheduling policy for both seasons (Minnesota is getting an exemption for 2018 and 2019 due to previous scheduling arrangements being in place prior to the Big Ten’s stance on strength of schedule in non-conference play.

Pitt leaves renewal of football series in Penn State’s hands

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Ever since the in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt came to a temporary end in 2001, it has been a struggle to get the two schools back on the field for any stretch of time. With the third in a four-game series upcoming this fall, Pitt is hoping to find a way to continue playing the Nittany Lions on future schedules, but the offer is now apparently in Penn State’s hands awaiting a response.

Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke told reporters Wednesday she has proposed a four-year series beginning in 2026 to her Penn State counterpart, Sandy Barbour, but Penn State has not responded to the offer.

“We’re going to wait a tad more patiently, but not much,” Lyke said, according to Trib Live. “We can’t. We have people who want to play us and good opportunities to play what would be a very attractive game.”

The four-game series currently ongoing between the Panthers and Nittany Lions comes to a close after their meeting in the 2019 season in Happy Valley. According to FBSchedules.com, Penn State will not have another opening for a non-conference game until 2021. That is also the first season Pitt will have scheduling availability for non-conference matchups. Both schools already have power conference opponents lined up through 2025 as well, perhaps eliminating the desire to add another power conference opponent to the schedule.

Both Penn State and Pitt have scheduling requirements for non-conference play from the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, to include at least one game against another power conference opponent. It seems like a natural solution for Penn State and Pitt to agree to a long-term scheduling commitment to satisfy their respective conferences’ scheduling requirements, but the old issue has always come down to the financial incentive of a game. With Penn State playing in a larger stadium, it would be losing out on potential revenue that could be gained by an extra home game when possible. And playing road games at Pittsburgh only helps another program in the state by filling the seats more than any other home game on Pitt’s schedules in just about any season (Notre Dame and West Virginia would be other candidates to help Pitt fill Heinz Field).

It took so long just to get the two schools together for a two-year series, which was later expanded to a four-year arrangement. Don’t count on this in-state rivalry being renewed for quite some time after the 2019 season.

QB Blake Barnett reportedly transferring from Arizona State

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Quarterback Blake Barnett is now on the graduate transfer market. According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Barnett will find a new program to wrap up his college football career as a graduate transfer. South Florida is reportedly set to get an official visit from the former Sun Devils and Alabama quarterback.

Barnett started his football career at Alabama, where he sat out the 2015 season as a freshman. During his redshirt freshman in 2016, Barnett appeared in just three games as Jalen Hurts rose to become Alabama’s starting quarterback that would lead the Tide for the next two seasons (until halftime of last season’s national championship game). Barnett transferred to Arizona State, leaving behind a seemingly tumultuous relationship with Nick Saban, and played in just two games for the Sun Devils last fall, while Manny Wilkins established himself as the quarterback for former head coach Todd Graham.

A former four-star recruit out of high school, Barnett has played in just five games and completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Barnett’s latest transfer news comes a day after former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a swipe at Barnett, who was ranked ahead of Rosen in various recruiting rankings out of high school.

“Blake Barnett was the Elite 11 MVP,” Rosen said, per SEC Country. “He was the dude that was going to go to ‘Bama, win a couple championships, call it quits and go to the league as the first overall pick. You don’t really hear about him too much.”

As a graduate transfer, Barnett will be eligible to play immediately this fall.

Transferring BYU QB Kody Wilstead finds new home at Kansas JUCO

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With eight quarterbacks on the roster, Kody Wilstead opted to leave the Cougars in mid-March.  A little over a month later, Wilstead has found a new home, albeit a little further down on the college football ladder.

According to the Deseret News, Wilstead has signed to play at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.  As Coffeyville is a junior college, the quarterback will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

It’s expected that Wilstead will spend at least one season at the JUCO level before looking at making a move back up to the FBS.

Wilstead, a three-star 2015 signee, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season after serving an LDS mission the previous two years.

After Wilstead’s departure, the seven remaining Cougar signal-callers are, in alphabetical order, Stacy ConnerJoe CritchlowHayden GriffittsBeau HogeTanner MangumBaylor Romney and Zach Wilson. Mangum, last year’s starter, is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in November of last year but remains on track to return for the start of summer camp in August.