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 Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham could follow Bears OC to a new job

WACO, TX - OCTOBER 24: Jarrett Stidham #3 of the Baylor Bears runs against Darian Cotton #23 of the Iowa State Cyclones in the second half at McLane Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
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College football recruiting has kicked into full gear the past few weeks and one of the more interesting decisions this month that could have a big impact on next season is finding out which school former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be playing for in 2017.

The signal-caller threw for 12 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards after taking over as the Bears starter midway through last year but he opted to transfer away from the program this summer when Art Briles was fired as the result of a sexual assault scandal at the school. While many have considered SEC schools such as Auburn, Texas A&M and Florida to be the favorites to land the coveted junior college QB, there may be another school that is in the running too: whichever program hires Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles.

“KB is my dude,” Stidham told ESPN.com. “I’m super tight with him. I still talk to him all the time. I’m still waiting to see what happens with him and where he might go and just take it into consideration.”

It remains to be seen if new head coach Matt Rhule will retain the younger Briles but it seems unlikely given the events in Waco the past six months and the school likely wanting a complete divorce from the previous regime. Kendal Briles own job prospects seem a bit unknown given everything at play but it could be an interesting combination for a head coach looking to jump start an offense.

There’s always talk of package deals in college basketball but this would be a potential one in football that may draw some interest.

RB Jordan Cronkrite to transfer from Florida

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 24: Jordan Cronkrite #32 of the Florida Gators heads for the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown reception against the Tennessee Volunteers in the second quarter at Neyland Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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And that’s the way it was, at least as it pertains to the Florida portion of Jordan Cronkrite‘s collegiate playing career.

Thursday, the Gators announced that Cronkrite has been granted permission to pursue other opportunities.  The release from his scholarship will afford the running back the opportunity to transfer elsewhere.

If that elsewhere is at the FBS, the sophomore would have to sit out the 2017 season.  He’d then have two seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2018.

Cronkrite was a four-star 2015 recruit who was rated as the No. 34 player at any position in the state of Florida.

As a true freshman, Cronkrite ran for 157 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries.  This past season, he carried the ball 31 times for 145 yards and a touchdown.  His 20 receptions were fourth on the Gators.

Oregon president takes thinly-veiled shot at Brady Hoke

CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 26: Defensive coordinator Brady Hoke of the Oregon Ducks dresses his players during the third quarter of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Corvallis, Oregon. The Beavers won 34-24. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Brady Hoke had a miserable one-and-done at Oregon, and this piling on just adds to it.

Brought in to turnaround the Ducks’ defense, Hoke instead was in charge of one of the worst units in the country.  Their play, in very large part, helped bring an abrupt end to Mark Helfrich‘s three-year tenure in Eugene.

Helfrich was officially replaced by USF’s Willie Taggart earlier this week.  The boss of Taggart’s boss, UO president Michael Schill, had one piece of advice and one piece of advice alone for his new head football coach.

Can we take that as confirmation that Hoke won’t be retained by the new regime?  At least statistically, though, the president has a point, no matter how clumsily or ill-advised it may have been.

Out of the 128 teams listed on the NCAA’s official stats website, the Ducks were 126th in scoring and yards allowed; 121st in third-down percentage and rushing yards allowed; 117th in turnovers forced; and 114th in passing yards. Last season, the Ducks were 114th in scoring and 116th in yards.

And Taggart’s defense this season? The Bulls were 86th in scoring defense and 120th in yards allowed.  So, there’s that.

Malik Zaire pens thank-you note to Notre Dame students, staff

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Malik Zaire #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws a pass in the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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A week after his departure from Notre Dame was revealed Malik Zaire has gotten down to saying goodbye.

In a letter to The Observer, the university’s student newspaper, Zaire thanked “the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be.” The notes comes a week after the quarterback was given an unconditional release from his Irish scholarship.

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Zaire expects to graduate in December, meaning he’d be eligible immediately at whatever FBS program he ultimately lands. The senior has already or will visit North Carolina and Wisconsin. Pittsburgh is also believed to be in play as well.