CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 12 Georgia

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 5-3 in SEC (third in SEC East)
2013 postseason: Gator Bowl vs. Nebraska (24-19 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Mark Richt (126-45 overall; same in 13 years at Georgia)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bobo (eighth season)
2013 offensive rankings: 65th rushing offense (169.9 ypg); 15th passing offense (314.2 ypg); 17th total offense (484.2 ypg); 21st scoring offense (36.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Jeremy Pruitt (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 41st rushing defense (148.2 ypg); 60th passing defense (227.4 ypg);  45th total defense (375.5 ypg); T-78th scoring defense (29 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Athens, Ga.
Stadium: Sanford Stadium (92,746; grass)
Last conference title: 2005

THE GOOD
The Bulldogs return nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, with new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, who bolted Tallahassee for Athens, being widely considered a significant upgrade over the departed Todd Grantham.  Pruitt’s focus during his first handful of months with the Bulldogs has been twofold: one, creating more turnovers — 27 last year isn’t enough for a coordinator who watched his FSU group force 39 — and, two, stop giving up the game-changing plays like the one that cost them the Auburn game last season.  Given the returning talent and Pruitt’s presence, there are no more excuses for subpar defensive performance game-in and game-out (eighth in the SEC in scoring defense, tied for 78th nationally).

THE BAD
On the flip side, the offense barely returns half of its starters from a season ago, less than half if wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell is an injury no-go to start the season.  For the first time since the 2009 season, someone who doesn’t answer to the name “Aaron Murray” will be under center when the Bulldogs take the field against Clemson, exacerbating the inexperienced starting talent on offense.  If a couple of receivers can get healthy on that side of the ball… if Todd Gurley can stay healthy in the backfield… if Murray’s replacement, a fifth-year senior, can use the early beginning to his starting career to his advantage… if all of those happen, this group could be less of a liability than some think they will be.  It may take time, though, which is bad news with a key SEC matchup very early on the schedule.

THE UNKNOWN
The worst news for Georgia last season was long-time starting quarterback Murray going down with a serious knee injury in late November.  It may have also served as the best news as Hutson Mason got a two-game head-start on his career as the Bulldogs’ starter.  That experience, as limited as it is, will serve Hutson and UGA well; what won’t is the lack of depth at the wide receiver position.  The Bulldogs certainly have the talent, but at least half that experienced talent — Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley — has injury issues heading into the season.  If at least one of those two can get healthy and stay there for the year, it will certainly help cushion Mason’s learning curve.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at South Carolina, Sept. 13
As both Georgia and South Carolina are expected to be the cream of the crop in the SEC East, it would stand to reason that this game, played the third weekend of the season, could prove to be the SEC title game ticket-puncher for the winning side.  That could prove problematic for the Bulldogs as not only will they be playing on the road in Columbia, they will be facing what is arguably the best squad Steve Spurrier has assembled during his decade with the Gamecocks.  While UGA won last year’s game, USC has owned the series of late by winning the previous three by a combined 42 points.  The good news is that, as was the case in 2012, a loss wouldn’t derail UGA’s SEC championship game hopes as there’s plenty of time for the Gamecocks to trip on their own junk heading down the stretch.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Todd Gurley
There are several no-brainers when it comes to this category amongst our Top 25 teams; this is one of the biggest of the no-brainers.  When healthy, Gurley is arguably the most talented player at his position in the country.   He’s rushed for nearly 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns in his two seasons in Athens.  Injuries cost him three games in early to mid-October last year, or those two-year totals would have been close to 3,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns on the ground.  He’s also turned into a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, as evidenced by his 37 catches and six receiving touchdowns in his injury-stunted season.  Again, if he can stay healthy, the talent and production are and will continue to be undeniable.  Simply put, a healthy Gurley is a Heisman candidate from Game 1 on through early December.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

UCF to be without starting LT for Peach Bowl matchup with Auburn

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UCF will have its head coach for one of the biggest games in the football program’s history, but they’ll be without their quarterback’s blindside protector.

According to Shannon Green of the Orlando Sentinel, Aaron Evans will not play in No. 12 UCF’s Peach Bowl matchup with No. 7 Auburn New Year’s Day.  The specific nature of the injury that will sideline the offensive lineman wasn’t detailed.

The past three seasons, Evans started 36 of 37 games at left tackle.  12 of those starts came during the Knights run to a perfect regular season and American Athletic Conference championship that helped propel them to a New Year’s Six bowl.

With Evans out, Jake Brown will likely get the start against the Tigers.  Brown started 11 games at left guard for the Knights this season.

Baylor reportedly losing QB Zach Smith to transfer

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Two-thirds of the way through a one-win season, Zach Smith lost his job as the starting quarterback at Baylor.  Nearly three weeks later, it appears the sophomore has decided to ply his future football wares elsewhere.

According to ESPN Radio‘s Central Texas affiliate, Smith will be transferring from the Bears football program.  An official announcement, either from the player or the team or both, is expected to go down at some point in the not-too-distant future.

As a true freshman, Smith started the last four games of the 2016 season because of an injury to starter Seth Russell.  He started six games this past season before true freshman Charlie Brewer started the last four.  Brewer is now the only scholarship quarterback the Bears have on their roster.

Smith will leave Waco having thrown for 2,997 yards and 21 touchdowns.  The highlight of his career was a 463-yard, four-touchdown performance in an eight-point loss to Oklahoma this past September.

Jalen Jelks eschews leaving early for NFL, will return to Oregon

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We haven’t yet reached the first-ever early signing period, and Oregon has already bolstered its 2018 defense.

Jalen Jelks confirmed to The Oregonian that he has decided to push off the NFL and will instead return to Oregon for another season.  The redshirt junior indicated that he needs to work on his game before he takes it to the next level.

“I’m back for sure,” the redshirt junior defensive end told the newspaper. “I talked to my parents and my family and everything and just probably the best decision for me is to make the best out of next season and make a lot more plays than I did this season.

“I missed a lot of plays, and if I can capitalize on that and translate it to next season I could contribute a lot to the draft.”

This season, Jelks led the Ducks in tackles for loss with 15; in sacks with 6.5; and in quarterback hits with four.  The tackles for loss were second in the Pac-12 to Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa‘s 21.5.

Rashaan Salaam’s 1994 Heisman up for auction, could fetch $300K

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A little over a year after his death, one of the most noteworthy pieces of Rashaan Salaam‘s athletic career finds itself up for sale to the public yet again.

According to the Denver Post, the former Colorado star running back’s 1994 Heisman Trophy will be auctioned off next month and is expected to sell for upwards of $300,000. A portion of whatever the trophy fetches will be donated to CTE research.

Salaam, who took his own life at the age of 42 last December, was diagnosed with CTE symptoms postmortem.

After rushing for more than 2,000 yards, Salaam in 1994 became the first, and thus far only, Buffaloes football player to win the most prestigious trophy in college football.  In 2013, Salaam sold the trophy to a sports memorabilia dealer who subsequently sold it to the unnamed individual who is selling it at auction. “The trophy also includes a letter from Salaam, acknowledging the 2013 sale,” the Post wrote.

Based on what we’ve found, the largest amount a Heisman Trophy has ever brought in was the $395,000 a California businessman paid for Minnesota’s Bruce Smith‘s 1941 award in 2005.