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)

Mother’s health — and playing time — triggered Byron Cowart’s Aurbun departure

Associated Press
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Initially, there was no known reason for one of the top recruits in the Class of 2015 left his original college football home. Not long after, the window of insight was cracked a bit.

Tuesday, Byron Cowart was granted a release from his Auburn scholarship, one day after requesting it from the football program. In an interview with al.com, the defensive lineman revealed that his mother in Florida is going through an unspecified health situation and, as an only child, he wanted to be closer to her to help her through it.

Additionally, he acknowledged that, yes, his playing time, or lack thereof, played a role in his decision to leave The Plains.

“I’m happy with my decision and I know that this ain’t it for me,” Cowart told the website. “My main reason was my mother’s health is more important. Me being an only child, got to get back to home to her. Plus I already wasn’t playing enough and contributing to the team.”

In a separate interview with 247Sports.com, Cowart also acknowledged that he has twice previously considered leaving the Tigers, the last coming this past summer.

Cowart also indicated that, very soon, he will be starting up classes nearer his home in Seffner, Fla., presumably at a junior or community college. After that, he’ll decide where to continue his collegiate playing career at the FBS level.

“I’ll see what options I have and what the NCAA allows me to do,” the junior lineman told al.com. “This isn’t over for me and this definitely is not the end of my college career. … I can guarantee you football is not over for me. I still love the game, I love everything about football.”

A consensus five-star signee, Cowart was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 while 247Sports.com had Florida product as the No. 3 player overall on its composite board. In 26 career games, Cowart was credited with 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He was one of four Tigers arrested for marijuana possession in May of last year.

This past spring, Cowart was moved from end to tackle in an attempt to jumpstart his career. In three games at his new position this season, he had three tackles and half a tackle for loss in three games.

Div. II football player Robert Grays dies from neck injury sustained in game

Midwestern State athletics
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There’s horribly sad news to note today as Midwestern State University football player Robert Grays passed away Tuesday, the Division II school in Texas confirmed Wednesday morning.

Grays sustained a serious neck injury attempting to make a tackle during this past Saturday’s game against Texas A&M-Kingsville.  After initially being taken to a local hospital in Wichita Falls, he was life-flighted to a hospital in Houston, where he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

“Robert touched many lives while attending the university, but perhaps he will be remembered best for his smile,” a statement from university president Suzanne Shipley said, in part. “He was an inspiration on and off the field to those around him, and he will be remembered with love and affection by his friends, classmates, coaches, and teammates.”

Grays was listed as a 5-8, 160-pound sophomore cornerback on the Mustangs’ official roster.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Grays’ way-too-soon passing.

Wisconsin fans push two Provo bars to record-breaking financial weekend

Associated Press
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In a stunning development, it turns out that Wisconsinites (gasp!) like their beer.

Of course, it’s neither stunning nor a development that the state of Wisconsin tends to imbibe more than most others, as survey after survey after survey has suggested. This past weekend, a pair of Provo bars — in fact, the only two bar bars in the entire Mormon-heavy city — bore witness to the alcohol monolith that is the state in general and its college football fans in particular.

The Wisconsin Badgers invaded Provo Saturday for its Week 3 matchup with the BYU Cougars. With its fans in tow, it seemed as if the whole of the college football world was just daring Badger Nation to drink the city dry, a challenge from which they didn’t back down.

The damage? Both bars reported that they had their best financial weekends ever, thanks in very large part to the thirst of Badger Fan.

“Financially, it‘s the biggest day I’ve ever had here,” ABG’s Libation Emporium owner Gary Whitling told the Salt Lake Tribune, stating that he did triple the amount of business he would’ve normally done. For those curious, Wisconsinites mostly quenched their collective thirsts with Bud Light and Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey.

Despite the copious amount of imbibing, there were few if any incidents involving the out-of-towners, which serves s a significant testament to the fan base.

“It was a wonderful thing,” Whitling said. “The people from Wisconsin are fabulous. They‘re the nicest, funnest people we’ve ever had here.”

Shane Buechele taking majority of first-team reps at QB for Texas

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As expected, there will be no channeling of Lou Gehrig and Wally Pipp in Austin.  Probably.

Shane Buechele suffered an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in Texas’ season-opening loss to Maryland. Ever since, Tom Herman has stated very firmly that Buechele would return to his starting job when healthy.

After watching Buechele take what the Austin American-Statesman‘s estimated to be 60 percent of the snaps with the first-team offense in practice Tuesday, the first-year UT head coach pronounced that there’s “[n]o Wally Pipp for the moment.”

Sam Ehlinger, who started both games since Buechele’s injury, took the rest of the snaps with the starting offense.

“Thought both of them looked good,” Herman said according to the American-Statesman. “I asked Shane towards the end of practice and he said, ‘Coach I feel good.’ So we’ll continue to monitor his progress. Last week, he was a bit sore each day after throwing. But with a couple of days off here, hopefully we can get that soreness out.”

Herman stopped short of naming Buechele the starter in their next game, against Iowa State, although the Longhorns have a bye this weekend before squaring off with the Cyclones on Thursday the 28th.

In his two starts, the true freshman Ehlinger completed 36-of-67 passes for 520 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. Both of those picks came in UT’s near-upset of USC in Week 3.