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)

Alabama confirms handful of staff changes, including addition of Miami’s DL coach

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An offseason of upheaval on Nick Saban‘s Alabama coaching staff has apparently come to an official end.

Early Thursday afternoon, the Crimson Tide announced the additions of two new assistant coaches as well as the promotions/new responsibilities for others on the staff last season.  As previously reported HERE and HERE, the new hires are Dan Enos as quarterbacks coach and Craig Kuligowski as defensive line coach.  Both coaches, who come to Tuscaloosa from Michigan and Miami, respectively, will also carry the titles of associate head coach.

“We are pleased and happy to have Dan Enos joining our coaching staff at The University of Alabama,” Saban said in a statement. “He brings a wealth of knowledge with five years of head coaching experience and numerous stops as an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Dan is a bright football mind and an outstanding recruiter who will strengthen our coaching staff and give our players the best chance to be successful.”

In addition to those hirings, Saban also confirmed that Mike Locksley (HERE) has been promoted to offensive coordinator and Tosh Lupoi (HERE) has been promoted to defensive coordinator.  Locksley replaces Brian Daboll, who left after one season in Tuscaloosa for the same job with the Buffalo Bills last month, while Lupoi takes over for Jeremy Pruitt, who left after Alabama’s win in the national championship game to take over as the head coach at Tennessee.

As had previously been announced, Jeff Banks will serve as special teams coordinator while also being in charge of the Tide’s tight ends.  Josh Gattis, who was confirmed as the new wide receivers coach late last month, will also carry the title of co-offensive coordinator, while Pete Golding, in addition to his duties as inside linebackers coach, has been given the title of co-defensive coordinator.

And, finally, Burton Burns will step away from his longtime role as running backs coach and take on an unspecified off-field position.  Replacing Burns in his on-field role is Joe Pannunzio, who had been in charge of tight ends.

NCAA grants Houston LB Austin Robinson another season of eligibility

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As it turns out, Houston will have the services of Austin Robinson a little while longer than originally expected.

The football program announced Wednesday that the NCAA has granted Robinson a sixth season of eligibility. While the school wrote in its release that the linebacker “received a legislative relief waiver” from The Association, the specific reasoning behind the waiver being granted is unclear.

With the NCAA’s decision, Robinson will now have eligibility he can use in both 2018 and 2019.

Robinson began his collegiate career at UT-San Antonio in 2014, playing in eight games as a true freshman before transferring to UH and sitting out the 2015 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. He then played in 11 games in 2016 and 12 this past season, starting four contests in 2017.

This past campaign, Robinson was credited with 33 tackles, four tackles for loss and a sack. He also had a pair of quarterback hurries on his statistical resume.

Minnesota losing CB Ken Handy-Holly to transfer

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Heading into spring practice, Minnesota will find its defensive secondary a bit thinner than it was when the curtain fell on the 2017 season.

A school spokesperson confirmed to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that Ken Handy-Holly has been granted a release from his scholarship. 247Sports.com had previously reported that the safety was looking to transfer to be closer to family in Jackson, Ala.

A three-star member of the Gophers’ 2017 recruiting class, Handy-Holly was rated as the No. 38 safety in the country and the No. 28 player at any position in the state of Alabama. Only one signee in Minnesota’s class that year, offensive tackle Blaise Andries, was rated higher than Handy-Holly.

Because of injuries, Handy-Holly was pressed into action as a true freshman. He made his collegiate debut in a Sept. 30 loss to Maryland, and went on to play eight games total this past season.

In that action, Handy-Holly was credited with 12 tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Arkansas QB Cole Kelley pleads guilty to DWI

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An off-field situation for one playing member of the Arkansas football program that began during the 2017 regular season has taken yet another step toward winding its way to a conclusion.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Cole Kelley pleaded guilty Wednesday to driving while intoxicated.  While the quarterback was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 89 of those days were suspended while he was given credit for time served for the other.  Additionally, the Democrat-Gazette wrote, the 20-year-old Kelley “was also ordered to complete an alcohol safety class and pay $720 in fines and court costs.”

Kelley was arrested for DWI and reckless driving in November of last year. A day after the arrest, Kelley was indefinitely suspended by the football program and missed UA’s Week 12 game; he was subsequently reinstated after serving what amounted to a one-game suspension.

Austin Allen started the first five games of the 2017 season before going down with a shoulder injury. Kelley replaced him and started the next four, with a healthy Allen returning to his starting role for the remainder of the year.

On the season, Kelley completed almost 58 percent of his 151 passes for 1,038 yards, eight touchdowns and four interceptions.  The rising redshirt sophomore is expected to compete for the starting job in 2018 under new head coach Chad Morris.