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)

Akron earns second-ever spot in MAC championship game

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Akron came into Week 13 needing to either win or rely on someone else to lose.  In the end, the Zips decided to just go ahead and punch their own ticket to the Motor City, thank you very much.

Jumping out to a 24-7 halftime lead Tuesday night, that margin proved to be more than enough for Akron as they easily cruised past rival Kent State in a 24-14 win.  Kent actually outgained its hosts 246-191, but a fumble return for a touchdown with less than 20 seconds left in the second quarter essentially sealed the win for Akron.

Both Akron and Ohio entered this week tied atop the MAC East at 5-2.  However, the Zips beat the Bobcats in Week 12, meaning Akron is the first MAC team to claim a spot in the conference championship game at Detroit’s Ford Field next weekend.

This will mark the Zips’s second-ever title-game appearance, with the first coming in 2005.  That season, Akron beat Northern Illinois 31-30 for its first-ever conference championship.

Akron will play either NIU (6-1) or Toledo (6-1) in this year’s title game, although it’s trending heavily toward the Rockets as they own the head-to-head with the Huskies.  So, the possibilities?

Toledo wins the West with either a win over Western Michigan OR an NIU loss. Northern Illinois needs to beat Central Michigan AND have Toledo lose to WMU at home to win the division.

Report: Florida appears ready to move on from Chip Kelly pursuit if deal isn’t consummated soon

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Florida’s search for a new head coach could very shortly be ready to take another twist.

Despite a certain former Head Ball Coach saying UF’s new head coach would be a current one, speculation on Jim McElwain‘s replacement has seemingly centered on Chip Kelly over the last few days. In fact, a group of UF officials headed by athletic director Scott Stricklin and president Kent Fuchs visited with Kelly in New Hampshire over the weekend to discuss the job.

While it walks, talks and smells like the university has targeted Kelly as its top choice, it appears they want an answer, one way or the other, from the former Oregon head coach sooner rather than later. From Yahoo! SportsPat Forde:

But with other potential candidates becoming available for discussion this weekend, Florida officials appear to be ready to move on shortly after Thanksgiving if a deal has not been struck with Kelly.

Potentially mucking up the works in Gainesville is UCLA, which fired Jim Mora Sunday and is also said to be targeting Kelly as a replacement.  In fact, it’s being reported that the Bruins’ search contingent has already met with Kelly.

UCF’s Scott Frost, who is believed to be Nebraska’s top choice when/when it moves on from Mike Riley, and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen are thought to be likely targets should either Kelly snub the Gators or they move on.

One very likely reason for UF’s reported urgency for a decision from Kelly is the revamped recruiting calendar. This year marks the first time that there’s an early signing period in football, with Class of 2018 recruits given a 72-hour window from Dec. 20-22 to sign their National Letters of Intent.

The sooner UF can wrap up its search, the sooner its new coach and his staff can try to hold together some semblance of a first recruiting class with the program – especially with two SEC programs, Tennessee and Ole Miss, already looking for a head coach while a couple of others (Arkansas, Texas A&M) could be on the hunt as early as this coming weekend as well.

Miami jumps Clemson, Wisconsin remains No. 5 in latest CFP rankings

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The third-to-last edition of the College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, and the only changes in the top 12 came at spot No. 2, where Miami jumped Clemson ahead of the pair’s ACC title clash on Dec. 2.

USC remained the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at No. 11, dimming any hopes the Pac-12 could back-door its way into the top four should chaos reign elsewhere. The Trojans were one spot ahead of TCU and two spots ahead of the Pac-12’s second-highest ranked team in Washington State. Central Florida again led all Group of 5 teams at No. 15.

Virginia Tech re-joined the rankings at No. 25, one spot behind the debut rankings for South Carolina.

The top 25:

1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Wisconsin
6. Auburn
7. Georgia
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
10. Penn State
11. USC
12. TCU
13. Washington State
14. Mississippi State
15. Central Florida
16. Michigan State
17. Washington
18. LSU
19. Oklahoma State
20. Memphis
21. Stanford
22. Northwestern
23. Boise State
24. South Carolina
25. Virginia Tech

Report: LSU victory would not save Kevin Sumlin’s job

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Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday afternoon he expects to be Texas A&M’s head coach in 2018. A report Tuesday night says otherwise.

Sumlin will be fired in the day or days following Saturday’s game with No. 20 LSU, win or lose, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle. The Aggies are 0-5 against LSU under Sumlin and double-digit underdogs for Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge. The Chronicle‘s report is not the first to proclaim Sumlin’s future firing, but it is the most definitive.

Sumlin is 7-4 (4-3 SEC) this season and 51-25 overall, a mark that ranks in the top-third of the SEC since joining the league in 2012 — but Sumlin is not paid to deliver top-third results. His program failed to live up to the standard set in that debut campaign, with an 11-2 mark, a win in Tuscaloosa, a Cotton Bowl blowout of Oklahoma and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel.

The Chronicle reported that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher will be A&M’s top target to replace Sumlin.