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)

Doak Walker Award watch list highlighted by 2016 semifinalists Barkley and Pettway

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A watch list of the top running backs in the nation has been released by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum on Thursday. The Doak Walker Award watch list is full of great players, including 2016 Doak Walker Award semifinalists Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Kamryn Pettway (Auburn).

Among those included on this year’s initial Doak Walker Award watch list (more players can be added at any time) are LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, LJ Scott of Michigan State, Mike Weber of Ohio State, and Bo Scarbrough of Alabama, Washington’s Myles Gaskin, and Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin.

D’Onta Foreman of Texas beat out both Barkley and Pettway last season for the award. The Doak Walker Award has been presented to the nation’s top running back annually since 1990. Among the winners over the years have included Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush, and Montee Ball.

To be included on this watch list, the university athletic department must submit a nomination.

2017 Doak Walker Award Watch List

Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Ryquell Armstead, Temple
Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Alex Barnes, Kansas State
Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan
D’Angelo Brewer, Tulsa
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Jordan Chunn, Troy
Justin Crawford, West Virginia
Damarea Crockett, Missouri
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina
D’Andre Ferby, WKU
Kendrick Foster, Illinois
Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
Myles Gaskin, Washington
James Gilbert, Ball State
Derrius Guice, LSU
Damien Harris, Alabama
Kyle Hicks, TCU
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Jon Hilliman, Boston College
Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Chris James, Wisconsin
Ty Johnson, Maryland
Ronald Jones II, USC
Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
Phillip Lindsay, Colorado
Tonny Lindsey Jr., Utah State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Sony Michel, Georgia
Dedrick Mills, Georgia Tech
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Jamal Morrow, Washington State
Ryan Nall, Oregon State
Jacques Patrick, Florida State
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
Demario Richard, Arizona State
Diocemy Saint Juste, Hawaii
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Jordan Scarlett, Florida
LJ Scott, Michigan State
Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin
Armand Shyne, Utah
Justin Silmon, Kansas State
Ito Smith, Southern Miss
Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky
Terry Swanson, Toledo
Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Mark Walton, Miami
Warren Wand, Arkansas State
Tre Watson, California
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
Mike Weber, Ohio State
Braeden West, SMU
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
Aeris Williams, Mississippi State
Shaun Wilson, Duke
Marquis Young, Massachusetts

Florida’s Marcell Harris out for 2017 with torn Achilles

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The 2017 season has already ended for Florida’s Marcell Harris. Florida announced today Harris has suffered a torn Achilles tendon during a team activity on Wednesday.

“As a coach this is one of the hardest things you are faced with,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said in a released statement. “Here is a kid who has made great personal growth during his time here and has really matured both on and off the field. It is tough to see a player invest so much in himself and his teammates and have this happen, but I do know that we will support him every step of the way as he works through this injury.”

Harris was Florida’s leading tackler in 2016, so his loss is clearly a tough blow to the Gators defense this fall. The fifth-year senior will now see his college football playing career come to an end, unless the NCAA issues a medical waiver to gain a sixth year of eligibility. That may not end up coming in to play, as Harris can take the time to recover from this injury and begin training for the NFL Draft next spring.

Harris recorded a team-leading 73 tackles for Florida in 2016, with 43 solo tackles. Harris picked off two passes and recovered a fumble for Florida in 2016. That fumble recovery also resulted in a touchdown off a fumbled punt against Florida State.

Iowa OL Sean Welsh opens up about depression battle in op-ed essay

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Iowa offensive lineman Sean Welsh has gone public about his ongoing battle with depression.

In a first person essay posted to Iowa’s official website, Welsh (No. 79, center) says symptoms emerged during his redshirt freshman season. He noticed himself eating less and spending more time isolated from other people, and felt his enthusiasm for school and football evaporate. He played through the depression, but felt his play suffer as the season progressed.

Football, the driving force for many years of my life, went from a source of purpose to a source of apathy. I started to feel a myriad of negative emotions: sadness, anxiety, dread and anger. They hit me like a bombardment from the moment I woke up to when I went back to bed.

It was every dimension of terrible. And I kept wondering what was wrong.

My family and I both needed some answers so I went to a therapist where we talked about identity and why I played football. It was like pulling teeth. Up to then, I felt that inner motives or emotions weren’t something to be shared – they showed your weaknesses. Plus, I didn’t have time for this stuff in the fall. I had a full class load and football on top of it. So I swept my depression under the rug and promised to revisit it after the season.  Which worked…for a while.

Welsh wrote that his symptoms peaked in the spring of 2015, when classes and tests slipped from his mind and, at one point, he spent three straight days holed up in his room. That experienced forced him to leave the team and return home for therapy. Welsh returned to the team that summer and remained in Iowa City to help the Hawkeyes to a 12-0 regular season, a Big Ten West championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. He wrote that he opened up with his story to the rest of the team and feels enthusiastic for the upcoming 2017 campaign.

Welsh says he opened up to the public to help people understand that a high status in life or a long list of accomplishments doesn’t shield anyone from depression.

First off, depression doesn’t discriminate. You can have everything working in your favor – a strong upbringing, a loving family, a promising future – and depression can turn it upside down.

It can make your successes feel unimportant and your problems seem monumental. It made me feel empty, like I had nothing.

But it also galvanized me. It gave me a perspective that I never would have gained without it. Depression also taught me pure, visceral humility and that I need to be honest with myself and others about how I feel.  Without the support of my family, Coach Ferentz and his staff, my teammates and my friends – I’m not sure I would’ve gotten off the mat.

Read the full essay here.

Baylor DB Travon Blanchard arrested on family violence charges

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As Matt Rhule was winning Big 12 media days on Tuesday, one of his players was generating an all-too-familiar headline.

Bears defensive back Travon Blanchard was arrested Tuesday night on family violence charges. He was released later Tuesday night on $6,000 bond.

Blanchard was arrested in Waco, but the warrant for his arrest originated out of Fort Bend County, near Houston. Blanchard’s attorney Michelle Tuegel made a statement late Tuesday evening, saying, “we look forward to representing Travon and bringing out the truth in court.”

Blanchard was suspended from the program before Tuesday’s arrest, and Rhule said Tuesday (before news of the arrest broke) that his status remain unchanged.

“Travon Blanchard was suspended from all team activities immediately after learning of allegations made against him in February,” Baylor said in a statement. “That status has not changed and he has had no involvement with the program since that time. The university is aware of the arrest made today in connection with the previous allegations against Blanchard and will monitor the developments of this charge for any additional decision regarding his affiliation as a student-athlete.”

Blanchard appeared in 11 games last season, registering 73 tackles and nine TFLs.