Kurtis Drummond, Shilique Calhoun, Darqueze Dennard

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 11 Michigan State

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2013 record: 13-1 overall, 9-0 in Big Ten (1st in Legends division, Big Ten champions)
2013 postseason: Rose Bowl vs. Stanford (24-20 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 3/No. 3
Head coach: Mark Dantonio (82-46 overall; 64-29 in 7 years at Michigan State)
Co-offensive coordinators: Jim Bollman (2nd season at Michigan State), Dave Warner (7th season at Michigan State)
2013 offensive rankings: 59th rushing offense (173.79 ypg); 84th passing offense (211.7 ypg); 81st total offense (385.5 ypg); 63rd scoring offense (29.4 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 7
Defensive coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (8th season at Michigan State)
2013 defensive rankings: 2nd rushing defense (86.57 ypg); 3rd passing defense (165.5 ypg); 2nd total defense (252.2 ypg); 3rd scoring defense (13.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 5
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Stadium: Spartan Stadium (75,005; Grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
Michigan State will likely have the best defense in the Big Ten, once again, despite losing some key players that eld the Spartans in 2013. Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have put together a defensive style that is aggressive and tough to counter in the Big Ten, and that should prove to be the case this fall. Opposing teams will certainly be able to score on Michigan State, but they will have to truly earn it. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun and safety Kurtis Drummond could be among the best at their respective positions in the nation. On offense, Connor Cook came along at just the right time for Michigan State last season, and now he enters the season a seasoned and trusted leader on offense. The Spartans should be able to run the football with Jeremy Langford back as well. Michigan State’s offense will thrive on efficiency over explosiveness, and with the defense doing its job that should lead to a winning formula.

THE BAD
Michigan State may have enough ingredients to make a push for a spot in the College Football Playoff, but that will probably require wins against Ohio State and Oregon. The early-season match-up at Oregon could be an early hurdle unable to be leaped by Michigan State, although the Spartans have the defense to give a team of Oregon’s offensive nature some trouble (see: Stanford). If Oregon’s offense can set the tone at home in Eugene, Michigan State may not have quite enough offense to keep pace.

THE UNKNOWN
Can Michigan State really go through another season with just one loss? The track record has been a positive one for Dantonio’s Spartans for years now, but have they peaked or are they just getting started? It seems somewhat unfair to have to ask a program that has accomplished so much and built such a solid foundation to go out and prove they are for real, but that is just what will be asked of them this season. A road game at Oregon and a home date against Ohio State will serve as the true measuring sticks for the defending Big Ten champion in the national perspective, fair or not. The schedule, outside of the Oregon game, is extremely favorable for the Spartans with additional home games against Nebraska and Michigan.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Ohio State
Yes, Michigan State does have a bit of a chance to make a statement early on in the season with a road trip to Oregon, but it is the home date against Ohio State that will headline the 2014 schedule in East Lansing. With Michigan State and Ohio State now in the same division, the road to Indianapolis at the end of the year could very well be paved with the result of this early November match-up. Ohio State has been tabbed the preseason favorite in the Big Ten, but the Spartans get the Buckeyes at home. With a shot to play in the Big Ten championship game possibly on the line, there is no other game that better defines “make-or-break game” for the Spartans in 2014.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Defensive end Shilique Calhoun
Defensive players will not win a Heisman Trophy, but it should be recognized that Michigan State’s best player plays on the defensive line. Calhoun is every bit the playmaker any other on the field at any time could be, regardless of position. He can come up with a big play when the Spartans need it most just by beating his blocker and causing trouble in the backfield or stuffing a runner before momentum can start up. Last season he recorded three defensive touchdowns, proving he can change the momentum of a game at any moment. He may not win the Heisman, but Calhoun could easily make some room on the trophy case for some defensive awards 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.