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)

SMU confirms hiring of Sonny Dykes as new head coach

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After a year away from the head-coaching game, Sonny Dykes is back in it.

Not long after reports had surfaced earlier Monday, SMU confirmed a short time ago that Dykes has been named as the football program’s new head football coach.  Dykes replaces Chad Morris, who left for the same job at Arkansas late last week.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to be introduced as the Head Coach at SMU,” a lengthy statement from Dykes began. “This is home and this is a program I grew up watching. I watched Mustang legends compete and I could always see myself putting on that iconic pony. Today, I’m proud to do just that.

“Coach Morris did great things here and I am fortunate that I have been selected to take the foundation Chad and his staff put in place and take it to a new level. And, make no mistake – That is what we plan to do.”

Prior to 2017, Dykes had spent the previous seven seasons as a head coach — four at Cal (2013-16) and three at Louisiana Tech (2010-12).  After being fired by the former school, he was considered a candidate for the offensive coordinator position at Arizona State.  Family issues, however, made TCU a better fit as he spent this past season as an offensive analyst with the Horned Frogs.

A native of Texas who played college baseball for Texas Tech, Dykes has gone 41-45 as a head coach — 22-15 at Louisiana Tech, 19-30 at Cal.

In Morris’ third season at SMU, the 7-5 Mustangs are bowl-eligible for the first time since 2012.

Florida DL Taven Bryan declares for NFL Draft

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The Dan Mullen era has everyone excited in Gainesville, but one key contributor won’t stick around to see it.

Defensive lineman Taven Bryan announced Monday he will leave school to enter his name in the 2018 NFL Draft. According to the statement released on his Twitter account, it sounds as if he made his mind up during the Jim McElwain and Randy Shannon regimes and nearly returned upon Mullen’s arrival.

Bryan ranked fifth on the team with 40 tackles while also recording six TFL and four sacks, just half a sack off the team lead.

A native of Casper, Wyo., Bryan will attempt to become just the third Wyoming native to be among the ranks of active NFL players.

SMU reportedly tabs former Cal, La Tech head coach Sonny Dykes as new head coach

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Sonny Dykes will take over as SMU’s head coach, according to multiple reports. The move was first reported by FotballScoop on Monday morning, and since confirmed by ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

Dykes takes over for Chad Morris, who left last week to become the head coach at Arkansas.

Morris was hired to re-establish ties with the Texas high school community after the program flatlined under June Jones, and Dykes has a similar appeal as his predecessor. Like Morris, Dykes is a former Texas high school coach, though only briefly. (He spent one year as the running backs coach at Richardson Pearce High School in 1994.) But more importantly he’s a name that will resonate with Texas high school coaches as the son of the legendary Spike Dykes.

The younger Dykes served as an assistant at Navarro Junior College and Texas Tech before taking over as the head coach at Louisiana Tech, where he led the Bulldogs to a 22-15 mark with one WAC championship from 2010-12. That success led him to Cal, where he took the Golden Bears to one bowl game in four seasons.

He was let go after the 2016 season, and spent the 2017 campaign laying low nearby the Hilltop, as an offensive analyst at TCU.

Dykes will inherit a 7-5 SMU team that ranked eighth nationally in scoring offense and 113th in scoring defense. The Mustangs will meet Dykes’s former team Louisiana Tech in the inaugural Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20 (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Interim head coach Jeff Traylor garnered significant support inside the locker room to take over on a full-time basis, so it will be interesting to see if Dykes works to keep the former Texas high school coach on staff, perhaps in an offensive coordinator capacity.

Report: Former Stanford QB Tavita Pritchard named Cardinal offensive coordinator

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It can be argued Tavita Pritchard started the current era of Stanford football. Trailing 23-17 with 48 seconds left, it was Pritchard that hit Mark Bradford for a 10-yard touchdown to push the Cardinal past No. 2 USC for a 24-23 win in 2007, at the time the largest point-spread upset in college football history and kickstarting the Jim HarbaughDavid Shaw era that continues today.

And now it will be Pritchard’s job to keep the ball he first pushed way back when rolling.

According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, Pritchard will be named Stanford’s offensive coordinator.

Still only 30, Pritchard graduated from Stanford in 2009, but he never really left the Stanford football program. He volunteered with the coaching staff in 2010, began working with the Cardinal defense in 2011 and was promoted to the full-time coaching staff in 2013, working with the running backs.

Pritchard was moved to quarterbacks and wide receivers in 2014 and has remained there the past four seasons, but is now in line to take over the entire offense with offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren now the head coach at Rice.

Led by Doak Walker Award winner Bryce Love, Stanford concluded the regular season ranked 32nd in rushing, 61st in passing efficiency, 19th in yards per play and 39th in scoring at 32.0 points per game. The 13th-ranked and Pac-12 North champion Cardinal will meet No. 15 TCU in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28 (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).